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U.S. Senate Passes Republican Tax Reform Bill; Flynn Pleads Guilty to Lying. Aired 3-3:30a ET

Aired December 2, 2017 - 03:00   ET




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

CYRIL VANIER, CNN ANCHOR (voice-over): Thank you for joining us. I'm Cyril Vanier at the CNN HQ here in Atlanta. We've got breaking news on multiple fronts.

U.S. President Donald Trump just had one of the best moments since taking office. A short time ago the U.S. Senate passed a major overhaul of the U.S. tax code on a vote of 51-49 on almost strictly party lines.

This is the first significant legislative win for the Trump White House. It was much needed by the Republicans controlling both houses of Congress.

Friday was also simultaneously one of the worst days of the administration. Mr. Trump's former national security adviser, Michael Flynn, pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI in the probe of Russian election meddling.

Flynn, who was fired by the president in February, also confirmed he is cooperating with investigators. He is the fourth Trump campaign official to be caught up in the investigation so far. The second to plead guilty. He may not be the last.

Since Flynn revealed that he was in constant communication with other members of the president's inner circle while he was talking with the Russians.

First let's cover our top story. Let's go to Capitol Hill where a long day for U.S. senators has ended with a major, major Republican victory.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: On this vote, the yeas are 51 and the nays are 49. The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act as amended is passed.

VANIER: The vote was split down party lines. All the Democrats and one Republican, Senator Bob Corker from Tennessee, voted against it. Republicans say the bill will bring jobs to the middle class and boost economic growth.

The Democrats respond that it is actually a tax cut for the rich and that this has never worked. The Congressional Budget Office says it will increase the deficit $1.4 trillion over 10 years. The bill still needs to be reconciled with the U.S. House version of the tax reform. CNN congressional correspondent Phil Mattingly has the details.


PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: For Republicans long frustrated by the legislative process, unable to achieve a cornerstone of domestic legislative achievement, like the repeal and replace of ObamaCare, they are now on the brink of one.

The U.S. Senate voting 51-40 to pas the Republican tax overhaul plan. That means both the House and Senate have passed their own versions of this. It's one step closer to being signed into law, to being sent to the president's desk and to becoming that major legislative achievement of 2017 that they've so desperately sought.

Now Democrats very opposed to this tax plan from the beginning, unified in their opposition on the floor and furious about the process, a process that led Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell to know he had the votes at 10:00 am on Friday morning and still not release the bill until 8:00 pm later that day.

Democrats, waving amendments around, waving legislative text with handwriting on them, making major, major substantive changes, saying they hadn't seen the bill, there hadn't been enough hearings.

Well, I asked the majority leader about those complaints. Take a listen.

Is this how you envisioned passing such a large legislative bill?

SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R), MAJORITY LEADER: This has gone through the regular order. Democrats had plenty of notice. Chairman Hatch can attest to all of the multiple hearing, markups, open amendment process. Everybody had plenty of opportunity to see the measure.

You complain about process when you are losing and that's what you heard on the floor tonight.

MATTINGLY: Guys, that isn't the final step. The Senate still has to take another vote. So does the House. Right now, the next step will be both chambers will have to reconcile their bills, which do have significant differences in various parts. But the framework of the two is the same.

And if you talk to Republican officials at the White House, in the Senate and the House, they believe the Senate was by far the biggest hurdle. They're on the right path. It's only just a matter of time.

Now like anything else, things can spin out of control very quickly in the legislative process, particularly so complicated as taxes. However, keep in mind, they have done this, both passed the House and the Senate in a matter of weeks.

It is very clear, they're on the pathway to sending this to the president's desk, likely by end of the year -- Phil Mattingly, CNN, Capitol Hill.


VANIER: We now have now have a reaction by the U.S. president on this. Donald Trump just tweeted, "We are one step closer to delivering massive tax cuts for working families across America. A special thanks to Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell and chairman Senator Orrin Hatch for shepherding our bill through the Senate. Look forward to signing the final bill before Christmas."

Let's take you to our other top story of the day, back to the U.S. special counsel's investigation of Russian meddling on the presidential election. We have no reaction from Donald Trump on that front. Moscow --


VANIER: -- has always dismissed it. And Michael Flynn's guilty plea on Friday hasn't changed that view.

According to Russian media, one Russian politician said Flynn was just a scapegoat. Another called it "a sack of smoke." But Flynn's legal predicament is serious and he could face years in prison. Here's more now from CNN's 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, 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: So earlier I spoke with former U.S. Attorney, Michael Moore, about the case against Flynn and where the investigation goes from here.


MICHAEL MOORE, FORMER U.S. ATTORNEY: You are seeing things in the transition, where people were either incompetent or they were complicit. And we know that the vice president was actually in charge of the transition. We know that Jared Kushner was very involved in the transition.

We know other individuals were considered high-ranking administration representatives during the transition. It's hard for me to believe that Michael Flynn, who's been a soldier his whole life, wouldn't take a directive from somebody.

The question will now be, where does that line run to?

Does it run all the way from the Oval Office or the presidential transition office to Michael Flynn or does it run to somebody else so that there could be plausible deniability between the president and Michael Flynn?

VANIER: So the special counsel at this stage, as you say, has to be asking himself, could Mr. Trump --


VANIER: -- not have known at the time?

He was president-elect at the time.

Could he have not known about this?

MOORE: I'm sure that's what Bob Mueller is asking. And I think at the end of the day that's where his investigation will go. If you think about it from a very common sense viewpoint, hard to believe that you could have your son-in-law, who he is obviously very close to, and Mike Flynn, who I don't know if he had many people in the presidential transition and in the campaign who were closer to the president than Michael Flynn was. If you could actually, arguably say that the president had no idea what was going on.

I mean, I don't think at the time that they put him in a dark room and turned the lights out and said we're going to wait until Inauguration Day.

VANIER: So presumably the special counsel is going to want to find the answer to that question.

How does he go about doing that?

MOORE: He does just exactly what he is doing. This is basically classic federal prosecutor work. And he takes this case and it's a lot like a tube of toothpaste. And he's squeezing it from one end. And as he continues to squeeze and continues to squeeze, more information comes out other end.

And that's what we're seeing here really with Mike Flynn. We've seen it with Paul Manafort. Imagine we'll see it with other people throughout the ongoing investigation in the coming days. He will continue to squeeze people and say, look, you can go to prison or you can come tell me what you know.


VANIER: What does the Russian government think of the news of the Flynn plea deal?

Let's find out with Clare Sebastian who's reporting from Moscow.

Clare, we know that Moscow just does not like to be dragged into the middle of this story. And they've said so multiple times.

What are you hearing today?

Clare Sebastian Yes, Cyril, that's right. Perhaps as a result of that, we've heard little when it come to an official response from this. The Kremlin has not responded to our request for comment. The foreign ministry spokeswoman in a text message to me last night simply saying, what has this got to do with us?

An interesting parallel to the response from the White house there. But as for their position, on this whole issue, both the Kremlin and the former Russian ambassador to Washington, Sergey Kislyak, have long maintained that sanctions were not discussed in these conversations.

There's no change to that stance as it stands at the moment. We have, as you said, had a couple of prominent Russian politicians come out on these revelations. I just want to read you one that we've had in the last couple hours from Russian senator Aleksey Pushkov.

He says, "In the U.S. they continue to inflate a, quote, 'sack of smoke' with Manafort and Papadopoulos. Nothing came out. Now they're hyping up the no less empty Flynn case." So denials, dismissals, perhaps tactical silence from Moscow this morning -- Cyril.

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

Earlier I spoke with our political commentators, Dave Jacobson and John Thomas, about this up-and-down day for the White House and for Republicans with a win on tax reform and a setback in the Russia probe with Michael Flynn's guilty plea. Here is that conversation. (BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

DAVE JACOBSON, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Look, I think this is the first legislative -- I'd say semi-win, right, because he still has the reconciliation process when it comes to the House GOP tax bill.

But this was the first sort of movement that we've seen legislatively for the Trump administration. Of course, I definitely agree with you that this was a very, very bad when to the Russia scandal.


JOHN THOMAS, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Obviously we agree on the win on the legislative victory. But yes, obviously it's never a good day when we're talking about Mueller and distracted about this stuff.

But what's interesting to me about the Flynn situation here is that it didn't prove there was any collusion. So any collusion at this point is just us speculating. And it also almost in a way exonerated the Trump campaign from the collusion argument because the conversations that Flynn had with the Russians were after the election.

VANIER: You're going to have to just explain that a little bit more.

THOMAS: Sure. Well, in the court document, it was revealed that the conversations that Michael Flynn had with the Russians --

VANIER: No, John, sorry. I understand what you're saying, that the conversation happened after the election.

How does -- my question is how does that exonerate the White House from any potential collusion argument?

I just don't get that.

THOMAS: Because it was days before being sworn in and the argument, as I understand it, is that the campaign itself colluded to rig the election to swing it to Donald Trump. Well, if the conversation was held after the election, how could they have colluded to rig the election?

VANIER: This is a step in the process though.

Dave, maybe I'll let you pick this up.

But, John, this is just a step in the process. Nobody is saying the investigation is over and we have a final verdict. We're just saying now Bob Mueller has a big fish that he's clearly leaning on to get --


VANIER: -- at other things or possibly other people.

THOMAS: Well, that may be true. But as it relates to what we know about Flynn, he pled guilty to lying to the FBI about his conversations with the Russians and that conversation occurred in December after the election.

So of course, maybe there are other fish out there. I can't speak to that. But as of what we know today, if we all know is today here was no collusion.

VANIER: Dave, that's the White House's argument.

JACOBSON: Well, I beg to differ. I think it's clear that Michael Flynn got the squeeze. And he's starting to talk obviously. And clearly he got a minimal charge today and pled guilty to that.

I think, look, I'm not a prosecutor but I think it's clear that he did this because and Mueller did this because they wanted to go up the food chain, whether it's Jared Kushner, perhaps Vice President Mike Pence or even all the way to the president, Donald Trump.

But I think the fact of the matter is, this is escalating and it's intensifying at a very rapid clip. It also begs the question of perhaps why the Senate GOP sort of moved forward on this power grab in the middle of the night, shepherding through a 500-page piece of legislation on a Friday evening at 2 o'clock in the morning on the East Coast. Perhaps they think that Mueller's about to drop the hammer with additional information.

Perhaps people who are currently serving in the White House like Jared Kushner and Republicans on Capitol Hill felt like the clock is ticking and they have no more time if they want to get at least one thing done before perhaps Trump goes down in some meaningful way, they have to spearhead this through the Congress.


VANIER: That was my conversation earlier with Dave Jacobson and John Thomas.

Now from confidant to key witness, how Michael Flynn went from one of the president's closest allies to an apparent threat to the White House.

Plus German police investigating an explosive device found near a Christmas market on Friday. A chilling reminder of last year's deadly terror attack in Berlin. Stay with us.




VANIER: The White House is distancing itself from Michael Flynn after the former national security adviser pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI. From a legal standpoint, Flynn was very vulnerable, having failed to disclose multiple foreign interests. So he could have been charged with a lot more yet he was just charged with lying to the FBI.

And that's leading many to believe that Flynn may be promising dirt on the president in exchange. Here is Jim Acosta.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Comment on Michael Flynn being indicted, sir.

Could you comment on Michael Flynn being indicted?

JIM ACOSTA, CNN SR. WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): President Trump was silent when asked about his former national security adviser, Michael Flynn, pleading guilty to lying to federal investigators about the retired general's --


ACOSTA (voice-over): -- contacts with former Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak.

But inside the White House, the president's lawyers were once again busy shielding Mr. Trump from the investigation. In a statement White House attorney Ty Cobb described Flynn as a former national security adviser at the White House for 25 days during the Trump administration and a former Obama administration official.

The statement adds, Flynn's "false statements" "mirror the false statements to White House officials, which resulted in his resignation in February of this year. Nothing about the guilty plea or the charge implicates anyone other than Mr. Flynn."

TRUMP: We discussed a lot of different situations, some wonderful and some difficulties.

ACOSTA (voice-over): But the White House statement ignores the fact that Obama warned the incoming president to stay away from Flynn in the Oval Office two days after the election.

Nine days before he was sworn into office, Mr. Trump refused CNN's attempts to ask whether his campaign had contacts with the Russians before the election.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Mr. President-elect --

TRUMP: Go ahead.


TRUMP: -- don't be rude.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Mr. president-elect, can you give us a --

TRUMP: Don't be rude. You are fake news.


ACOSTA (voice-over): The next month, the president defended Flynn's contacts with the Russians. TRUMP: Mike was doing his job, he was calling countries and his counterparts. So it certainly would have been OK with me if he did it. I would have directed him to do if I thought he wasn't doing it. I didn't direct him but I would have directed him because that's his job.

ACOSTA (voice-over): The president went on to suggest there were no contacts during the campaign.

TRUMP: Russia is a ruse. I have nothing to do with Russia. I have nothing to do with Russia. To the best of my knowledge, no person that I deal with does.


ACOSTA (voice-over): Flynn, who repeatedly led chants of "lock her up" about Hillary Clinton.

FLYNN: We do not need a reckless president who believes she is above the law. Lock her up. That's right.

ACOSTA (voice-over): Spoke with Ambassador Kislyak during the transition. But transition officials never mentioned that Flynn spoke to the ambassador about new Obama administration sanctions against Russia.

SEAN SPICER, FORMER WHITE HOUSE SPOKESPERSON: The call centered around the logistics of setting up a call with the president of Russia and the president-elect after he was sworn in. And they exchanged logistical information on how to initiate and schedule that call. That was it, plain and simple.

ACOSTA (voice-over): Former FBI director, James Comey, says the president pressed him to drop the case.

JAMES COMEY, FORMER FBI DIRECTOR: Understood him to be saying that what he wanted me to do was drop any investigation connected to Flynn's account of his conversations with the Russians.

ACOSTA (voice-over): The president has also repeatedly tried to knock down new revelations in the Russia probe. Tweeting in march, "Mike Flynn should ask for immunity," and that, "This is a witch hunt. Excuse for big Election loss by media and Dems of historic proportion."

When former campaign manager, Paul Manafort was indicted along with a guilty plea from former national security official, George Papadopoulos, the president tweeted, "The fake news is working overtime as Paul Manafort's lawyer said there was no collusion and events mentioned took place long before he came to the campaign. Few people knew the young low-level volunteer named George, who has already proven to be a liar. Check the Dems."

The Democrats say that won't work with Flynn, who was a senior White House official. SEN. MARK WARNER (D-VA.), SELECT COMMITTEE ON INTELLIGENCE: They can't distance themselves from President Trump's national security adviser, who has acknowledged a crime.

ACOSTA: And a senior White House official claimed the Obama administration, quote, "authorized Flynn's conversation with Kislyak," but a former Obama administration national security official told CNN that claim from Trump White House is, quote, "laughable" -- Jim Acosta, CNN, the White House.


VANIER: Former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper spoke to CNN's Jake Tapper about Flynn's plea deal. Here's what he said.


GEN. JAMES CLAPPER, FORMER DIRECTOR OF NATIONAL INTELLIGENCE: I think the overarching implication for me, the first thing that came to mind, is that, at least right now, the rule of law does prevail in this country. And that, to me, is very important.

And I do think the larger interest here is served as to try to understand exactly what was going on with the transition, the campaign and the Russians. And we need to get to the bottom of what today remains still a mystery to me, is the singular indifference to the threat posed by Russia.

JAKE TAPPER, CNN CHIEF WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: Does today's news make you more suspicious of collusion?

What do you think?

CLAPPER: Well, it does. Again, circumstantially. But, again, we haven't seen any smoking gun evidence of that. Now if anyone would know about that, it would be Mike Flynn.

So hopefully, given that the terms of his plea bargain, his agreement, that that, you know, truth on this will come out because, to me, what is even more important than whether or not there was collusion, which is hugely important, is the threat posed by the Russians and the administration's singular indifference to that -- to that threat. And that, to me, is what --


CLAPPER: -- is, in terms of long-term concern for the country, is that.


VANIER: And Clapper went on to reference previous White House spins, saying, quote, "This it's not a hoax. This is not fake. This is real."

Moving on now, German police say they successfully defused an explosive device found in a Christmas market on Friday. The device was delivered to a pharmacy near the outdoor market in Potsdam, in the outskirts of Berlin.

Police say it was an object full of wires, batteries and nails but there was no detonator. Germany is on high alert for terror attacks, especially around its traditional open-air Christmas markets. Last December, a tractor-trailer rammed into a crowd in Berlin, killing 12 people.

Also Pope Francis on Friday used the word that everyone has been listening out for. In Bangladesh, he called the Rohingya by name. He said, quote, "The presence of God today is also called Rohingya."

He also met members of this persecuted ethnic group, many of whom have fled Myanmar to the tune of 600,000-plus since August. The pontiff is wrapping up an Asia trip and he was criticized for not publicly saying Rohingya earlier in the week while he was in Myanmar.

The Rohingya topic has dominated his tour. However, the pope is also attending other events. This was the scene just hours ago, when he visited a church in Bangladesh.

Now in football news, the draw has been made for next year's FIFA World Cup in Russia. And there's no clear group of death this time, as there often is. But there are definitely some exciting matchups. Our Don Riddell has this look ahead to the big event.


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: That's CNN's Don Riddell there on the World Cup. Thank you for watching CNN NEWSROOM. I'm Cyril Vanier. As always, I'll be back with the headlines. That's in just two minutes. So we want you around for that. Stick around. Thank you.