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Flynn Pleads Guilty to Lying; U.S. Senate to Vote on Republican Tax Reform Bill; FIFA World Cup Draw Held in Moscow. Aired 1-1:30a ET

Aired December 2, 2017 - 01:00   ET




CYRIL VANIER, CNN ANCHOR (voice-over): An admission of guilt: disgraced former national security adviser Michael Flynn confirms that he lied to the FBI. And his guilty pleasure implicates the U.S. president's inner circle when he called the Russian ambassador during the political transition. Michael Flynn was coordinating with senior Trump campaign officials.

All this as we watch the floor of the U.S. Senate. Live pictures right here. We're keeping an eye as Republicans are expected to give the president a major win on tax reform in the coming hours.

Hi, I'm Cyril Vanier live from CNN Headquarters right here in Atlanta. Thank you for joining us.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE (voice-over): This is CNN breaking news.

VANIER: Guilty, with that one word, the investigation into Russian election meddling has pierced President Donald Trump's inner circle. You're looking at disgraced former national security advisor Michael Flynn outside a federal courthouse in Washington on Friday morning.

The former White House official pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI about his contacts with Russian officials last year. Flynn, who was fired by the president in February, also confirmed that he is now cooperating with investigators.

Flynn is the fourth Trump campaign official to be caught up in the investigation so far and he is the second to plead guilty. And he may not be the last. Flynn revealed that he was in constant communication with other members of the president's inner circle while he was talking with the Russians. Let's get more from Pamela Brown.


PAMELA BROWN, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): President Trump's former national security adviser Michael Flynn arriving at a federal courthouse in Washington today before pleading guilty to lying to the FBI, making him the first person who worked inside the White House to be charged in the Russia probe and the fourth campaign official to face charges so far.

The charge and plea agreement center around conversations he had with then Russian ambassador to the U.S., Sergey Kislyak, in December of last year. Court documents show that others on the Trump team knew of Flynn's efforts.

On December 29th, Flynn called former deputy national security adviser K.T. McFarland, along with other transition officials, at Maralago, where they discussed what to say to Kislyak about the new sanctions being imposed on Russia by the Obama administration.

According to Flynn, the transition officials did not want Russia to escalate the situation. Flynn immediately called Kislyak, asking Russia not to overreact to those sanctions. Shortly after that call, Flynn briefed McFarland that he did, indeed, discuss sanctions with the ambassador, according to two people familiar with the matter.

But in January, then vice president-elect Mike Pence told the nation that Flynn assured him he did not talk about sanctions with Kislyak.

MIKE PENCE, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: They did not discuss anything having to do with the United States' decision to expel diplomats or impose censure against Russia.

BROWN (voice-over): Then on December 31st, three days after their conversation about sanctions, Kislyak confirmed to Flynn that Russia had chosen not to retaliate in response to Flynn's request.

Also today, court documents revealed another interaction Flynn had with Kislyak, calling him at the direction of a, quote, "very senior member of the transition" about a coming U.N. Security Council vote on Israeli settlements.

Sources tell CNN that person was Trump's son-in-law, Jared Kushner. According to the filing, Flynn and Kislyak spoke about the incoming administration's opposition to the resolution and asked Russia to delay or vote against it.

CNN can also now report that there were intelligence intercepts that picked up Kushner in conversations with foreign intelligence targets, talking about efforts to stop the resolution, according to an official briefed on the matter.

Flynn didn't respond to shouted questions when leaving the courthouse today and afterwards visited his son, Michael Flynn Jr., who was also a potential target of the Russia investigation.

In a statement, Flynn acknowledged wrongdoing, saying, "My guilty plea and agreement to cooperate with the special counsel's office reflect a decision I made in the best interests of my family and of our country."

Last month Trump's former campaign chairman, Paul Manafort, and his deputy, Rick Gates, were indicted for conspiracy to launder money, among other charges. Both men have pleaded not guilty. And Trump campaign foreign policy adviser George Papadopoulos pleaded

guilty to lying to the FBI about his communications with Russian nationals.

The White House tried to down play the significance of the Flynn revelations today, with one source close to the president telling CNN that everyone lies in Washington. President Trump has long maintained there was no collusion with his campaign and Russia.


TRUMP: The entire thing has been a witch hunt and there is no collusion between certainly myself and my campaign. But I can always speak for myself. And the Russians. Zero.


BROWN (voice-over): But as the investigation intensifies --


BROWN: -- so does the scrutiny on the president and his inner circle.

Michael Flynn and this plea agreement now facing up to five years in prison but if he had been charged with every count of lying listed in the court document released Friday, he could have faced 35 years in prison at least -- Pamela Brown, CNN, Washington.


VANIER: With me now to unwrap all of this, CNN national security analyst Steve hall, criminal defense attorney Troy Slaten and Michael Genovese, author of "How Trump Governs."

Troy, as a lawyer, as an attorney, let's go to you first. Signing a guilty plea to reduce his criminal exposure, does that mean that Michael Flynn necessarily has something big or someone big that he can give up?

TROY SLATEN, ATTORNEY: Well, absolutely and that's indicated in both his public statement, where he says he's cooperating with the special counsel's office, and the fact that he had much more potential criminal exposure.

Each one of the allegations of lying to the FBI carries a maximum of five years in federal prison. That means if we take those four lies that we see in the information today, that's over 20 years of potential exposure.

So the fact that he's only pleading to one count, that all of these lies were consolidated into one count, means that he's absolutely cooperating with the special counsel and that he has information that the special counsel believes is important.

VANIER: What leaps out at you in that court document?

You're able to read between the lines better than most of us.

SLATEN: Well, what jumps out to me is that Michael Flynn was heavily involved in the Trump transition. And we've heard from the president and the administration so far that all these other people, that were indicted or pled guilty, like Papadopoulos, that he was low-level; that Gates, that he didn't rely know him that well; that Manafort, these are financial crimes from a long time ago.

But with Michael Flynn, he was the national security adviser. He was the person that, every single day, went to the president and told him about the worst stuff that's going on in the world.

So this was an intimate. He was intimately involved in both the campaign and in the start of the actual administration. So this is a big fish for Robert Mueller and, if he rolls over and cooperates, well, then that could be very damaging.

VANIER: And you're telling us that he's necessarily got something or someone that he can give up.

Michael Genovese, the White House has been saying since the beginning of this year, almost a year now, whatever happens to Flynn has got nothing to do with us. There's no direct connection, from whatever he may have done to the president.

And in fact, that's exactly what they said again today. Ty Cobb, Mr. Trump's lawyer, says this stops with Flynn.

Does that defense still hold today?

MICHAEL GENOVESE, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, the sound you heard from Washington was Flynn being thrown under the bus by the White House. But regardless of what the White House wants to be true, hopes to be true, believes to be true, the Flynn deal is a big one.

He's going to cooperate and so the White House is really caught in a bind. We don't know exactly what he's going to say; you don't know how much he's going to turn over. You don't know which rock he's going to uncover a family member, Don Junior, Jared or does it go to the president?

So it's been a rough day for the president.

VANIER: Let's bring in CNN national security analyst Steve Hall.

I think one of the questions everyone is going to be asking themselves and that would include, I assume, the leader of the Russian investigation, Bob Mueller, is could the U.S. president, could Donald Trump, at the time he was president-elect, when all of this was going on back in December of last year, could he have not known that Michael Flynn was reaching out to the Russian ambassador, given that Michael Flynn was getting instructions and exchanging information about this with senior members of the Trump campaign?

STEVE HALL, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: It's very difficult to imagine that the highest levels of the government, to include the president, would not have known that. But I'm worried there might be a little too much focus on the contact with Ambassador Kislyak and policy decisions that were being made by the transition team.

I think what's actually going on here is this is just the first bar in a symphony that Mueller is about to begin playing. And I think he gets more to the collusion question and less about -- and I'll defer to the lawyers on this -- but less about whether or not it's appropriate or legal for somebody who is the national advisor elect to begin consulting with foreign governments before the inauguration.

Remember, the intelligence community first assessed that Russia was essentially attacking our elections. It was trying to penetrate and conduct a operation to hopefully influence the outcome of the election. I think that the information that Flynn is going to give up has to do with that question rather than whether or not and when he --


HALL: -- spoke to Kislyak and other Russians.

VANIER: We're definitely going to get to the question in this conversation of whether that's legal, whether it's legal to do that.

We'll be getting to Troy. But I want to circle to my earlier question, which is Michael Flynn was -- everybody at the time figured he was going to be the national security adviser.

You're a national security analyst. Would it be normal for the incoming national security adviser, would it be expected for him to discuss things with a Russian ambassador without his boss, the candidate, then president-elect, knowing about it?

Would an incoming national security adviser have that level of autonomy on a campaign?

HALL: I would doubt that, based on my experience. I don't think that an incoming national security adviser -- or, really, any senior member of an incoming team, which is still very much forming itself at this particular stage, would undertake such a serious cooperation or coordination, discussion, negotiation with the Russians without the president-elect knowing about it. I think that would be unusual.

Again, whether or not that was appropriate or legal to do it, prior to the inauguration, is another question. But it's difficult for me to imagine a situation, where president-elect Trump would not have known that Michael Flynn was having these conversations with the Russians.

VANIER: We'll have more with our panel in just a moment.

But for the latest on how Russia is responding to news of the Flynn plea deal, let's go to Clare Sebastian in Moscow.

Clare, are you getting any reaction from Moscow yet?

How is this playing out on the Russian side? CLARE SEBASTIAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It's interesting. As has been the case on a number of occasions, as revelations from the Russia investigation have emerged, the rhetoric we see from Russia is perhaps an echo of what we see from the White House.

And this was no different. The foreign ministry spokeswoman texting last night saying, what has this got to do with us?

As for the Kremlin, no reaction, no response for our request for comment last night. But previously they have said, yes, they were contacts between Flynn and the then Russian ambassador Kislyak but sanctions weren't discussed. That's something that Kislyak himself has also said.

But a couple of Russian politicians have come out this morning with a couple of lines. I just want to bring you a new one just in the last hour from prominent Russian senator Aleksey Pushkov.

He tweeted, "In the U.S., they continue to inflate a," quote, "sack of smoke. With Manafort and Papadopoulos, nothing came out. Now they are hyping the no less empty Flynn case."

So you see denial, dismissal, perhaps silence as a policy in itself. But none of this takes away from the stunning revelation in Michael Flynn's testimony that his conversation with then ambassador Kislyak may well have altered the course of Russian foreign policy in convincing them not to retaliate against sanctions.

That calculation we now know spectacularly backfired for Moscow. Not only were sanctions not lifted but now new ones are set to be imposed. So it may well be in Russia's interest to stay silent on this.

VANIER: If you take a step back, look at the big picture, how has this impacted since Donald Trump has come to power, U.S.-Russia relations?

SEBASTIAN: I think the phrase that comes to mind is what a difference a year makes. When Trump came to power, there was a lot of hope in Moscow that relations would improve. And now we have a situation where that clearly isn't the case. The opposite has happened.

As I say, new sanctions are set to be imposed. Russia did eventually retaliate with its own sanctions back in August, dramatically reducing the size of the U.S. diplomatic presence in Russia.

They're disagreeing on all kinds of international issues. Just this week, the Russian foreign minister accusing the U.S. of playing with fire when it comes to North Korea. So I think relations are extremely tense. We do still hear occasionally from both sides there are issues they can they can work together on. But as yet there's very little sign of that.

Clare Sebastian, reporting live from Moscow. Thank you very much.

And we're also waiting for the U.S. Senate to vote on the Republicans' massive tax reform bill, the vote expected to split down party lines. U.S. Vice President Mike Pence is in there in case he needs to break a tie.

The Congressional Budget Office estimates the cost at $147 trillion. However, there's no analysis showing growth will offset that cost. Republicans say the bill's lower corporate tax rate will get businesses to add jobs.

Democrats responded that strategy has never worked and that the bill is nothing more than a tax break for the rich. The bill also ends the law requiring individuals to have health insurance. Here's Phil Mattingly with more.


PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Cyril, at this point, it's not a matter of if. It's a matter of when Senate Republicans will pass their almost historic tax overhaul, something that hasn't been done in 31 years.

It is a far cry from where they --


MATTINGLY: -- were just 24 hours ago, the idea that perhaps the bill would stall out altogether became a reality at one point on Thursday. By Friday morning, that was all wrapped up. They had a deal. They had the votes.

One thing they did not have was the bill. Hour after hour after hour, senators waited for the deal to actually turn into legislation, legislation that they could eventually vote on. The reality behind the scenes was they were trying to draft what they'd all agreed to.

The types of provisions that will apply to millions of people, every company, every industry, kind of scattershot, put together at the last minute to try and actually get things through. As it currently stands, the Senate is pushing through various amendments towards a final vote. A final vote that everybody already knows the end game on.

Senate Republicans will pass the bill with 51 of their 52 members voting for it. Those issues that they had last night, those issues about the deficit, something like Senator Bob Corker from Tennessee, who made very clear he had problems with that, they just decided to dispatch with them altogether. Corker now a no vote.

But everybody else that had a problem with this is now on board. Senator Susan Collins, she's on board because of the inclusion of a state and local tax deduction for property taxes capped at $10,000.

People like Jeff Flake, he's on board because of an expanded expensing provision.

Senator Ron Johnson, he is on board because of an expanded tax cut for pass-through entities, basically business entities that pay taxes through the individual side. That all came together in quick fashion. But the optics, the idea

that Senate Republicans are going to pass a bill that's so meaningful, so consequential to so many people, so many industries companies from around the world, without actually having a final text for the vast majority of the day, well, Democrats have seized on that issues, attacking Republicans, holding up of the bill that had handwritten changes on them throughout the debate, calling on Republicans to start over or at least give them a couple of days to read the bill.

Republicans, they're not going to do that. They have the votes. They are going to vote. They are on track to pass this, which means that is one more major hurdle that they will clear in their effort to lock down a cornerstone domestic legislative achievement for President Trump, something they've fallen short of throughout 2017.

Big question now is, once they get it through the Senate, how do they reconcile a bill that differs in so many ways from their House counterpart?

Republican leaders in both chambers, they're confident that they can get that done in the next couple of weeks. But as of now, still an open question. But in the Senate, no more questions. Just an answer. They actually have the votes -- Cyril.


VANIER: Phil Mattingly, reporting from the U.S. Congress there. We're going to take a quick break.

Remember our top story, the Russia investigation now striking closer to the Oval Office than ever before. We'll have more from our panel on the fallout from Michael Flynn's plea deal -- just after this.




VANIER: Welcome back.

Former national security advisor Michael Flynn has pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI but perhaps more importantly --


VANIER: -- he's cooperating with special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation into Russian election meddling in the 2016 election. Michael Flynn has now confirmed that. That could very well impact more of President Trump's inner circle as well as potentially Mr. Trump himself.

Let's get back to our panel now: CNN national security analyst, Steve Hall, is with us, as are criminal defense attorney, Troy Slaten, and Michael Genovese, author of "How Trump Governs." Troy, Michael Flynn admits that he influenced foreign policy during

the transition period. At the time, he was weeks away still from becoming national security adviser. So he was just a private citizen working on a campaign, albeit a successful one.

He called the Russian ambassador, asking Russia not to react to the sanctions that Barack Obama was passing against Russia. They did not. And then they circled back to him. The ambassador called him back and confirmed to him, we did what you asked of us.

So my question to you, is that illegal?

SLATEN: Well, there's a question about whether or not that violates a late 1700s statute called the Logan Act. I think it was 1790- something when it was put into law and it basically says that, unless you're a member of the United States government, you're not allowed to negotiate on behalf of the government.

And it's never been tested and no one's ever been convicted of it. And many constitutional scholars think that it might be unconstitutional. And so that would be the allegation. But I think aside from that, the --

VANIER: So Troy, let me just stop you there.

So is that the trump card -- no pun intended.

But is that the major legal leverage or tool that Bob Mueller has on Michael Flynn, then?

SLATEN: Well, I'm not even sure, because here -- it's clear that the cover-up is worse than the crime. Here, he's being convicted of and has pled guilty to lying to the FBI. He didn't plead guilty to colluding with Russia. He didn't plead guilty to helping Russia defeat Hillary Clinton or help Donald Trump become elected.

And that's the mandate for the special counsel. And that is the problem that special counsel investigations tend to have. They tend to metastasize and grow beyond their mandate.

So even if everything that the special counsel's office says here is true and even if everything that Michael Flynn pled guilty to is true, it doesn't paint a picture that the Trump administration colluded with Russia in order to tip the scales in the 2016 election.

VANIER: Yes, Steve, Michael, I want to hear you both on that very question. I think that's what everybody watching is wondering, each time they get new revelations from the Russia investigation.

Are we any clearer on whether or not there was, indeed, collusion?

Steve, you first.

HALL: You and I are not any clearer on it, I don't think today, because we don't know what Bob Mueller and his team know. I think there's a little bit of confusion, a little bit of bleed-over in people's minds, understandably so.

These are complicated legal and counterintelligence issues. Between, you know, these times when Flynn went out and spoke to Kislyak and whether or not that was permissible, legal, appropriate, whatever, and what I think Mueller is really trying to get at, which is he got cooperation out of Flynn because of this -- people would argue relatively small charge.

But I think what Mueller is hoping for and what he's planning on is getting additional information to the collusion question. I don't think Mueller is in this to try to, you know, get people thrown into jail because they lied to him. He's trying to investigate exactly as you indicated, whether or not the Russians were -- well, we already know from our own intelligence assessment the Russians were trying to do something in the election.

The question is was anybody on the Trump team trying to cooperate with them and, if so, how?

That is, I think, where Flynn's assistance to the special prosecutor, that's what is really going to be valuable as to whether or not that happened and how it happened.

VANIER: Michael Genovese, on how you see Friday's revelations fitting into the bigger picture?

GENOVESE: Well, that's the key because this is just one small piece of the big puzzle. And, in fact, Mueller has a lot of information about Turkey, about other things that Flynn may have done, other things that Manafort may have done, other things that Jared may have done.

Remember, all these people have been talking to Congress. It's perjury if you lie to Congress. They've been testifying under oath in some cases.

So you're building the case. We're still at the very early stages. And this is the tip of the iceberg for Flynn because what they got him on was one smaller thing. And in response to some of the other comments, it is not unusual for a president's team in a transition to make contacts with other governments.

But they're usual courtesy calls, get-to-know-you calls, sort of just, you know, hello, how are you, this is who I am. Let's just have a little chat.


GENOVESE: In the context, though, of this campaign, where there was Russian activity to undermine the election, that's -- the sensitivity to that was absent.

If, in fact, there were those kinds of actions by Russia, which we knew there were, when Flynn had these meetings, then common sense would tell you, you don't talk about policy things like the U.N. vote or the sanctions that the Obama administration had imposed. So it's really a muddied water here and we only know the very tip of

that iceberg.

VANIER: Pope Francis on Friday uttered the word "Rohingya" publicly for the first time on his Asia trip.

He met with members of the persecuted ethnic group in Bangladesh and said, quote, "The presence of God today is also called Rohingya."

More than half a million of the mostly Muslim Rohingya have fled Myanmar. The pope has defended them in the past but didn't publicly say their name while in Myanmar earlier this week. That drew criticism as the Rohingya issue has dominated his Asia tour. He's now wrapping up the trip and has visited a church in Bangladesh.

Also in football news, the draw has been made for next year's FIFA World Cup in Russia. There's no clear group of death but there are definitely some exciting matchups. Our Don Riddell has this look ahead.


DON RIDDELL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: The World Cup might still be six months away but it is starting to feel very, very real after Friday's tournament draw in Moscow.

With the Russian president, Vladimir Putin, in attendance, the host nation couldn't have been handed an easier draw alongside Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Uruguay in Group A. Russia are the lowest ranked team in the competition but this represents a good opportunity to make it to the knockout stages.

There doesn't seem to be a so-called group of death in part perhaps because many established teams didn't make it to the tournament. But there are nonetheless some very juice fixtures.

For example, an Iberian Darby in Group B, European champions Portugal against Spain, pitting Cristiano Ronaldo against many of his Real Madrid teammates. And in Group D, it's welcome to the party for Iceland. The plucky underdog team playing in its very first World Cup is going up against Lionel Messi and Argentina in their very first game.

For a country of just 330,000 people, it doesn't get much bigger than that -- back to you.


VANIER: Thanks for watching CNN NEWSROOM. I'm Cyril Vanier. I'll be back with the headlines in just a moment. Stay with us.