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U.S. Senate Passes Republican Tax Reform Bill; Flynn Pleads Guilty to Lying; Interview with Sergey Kislyak; FIFA World Cup Draw Held in Moscow. Aired 5-6a ET

Aired December 2, 2017 - 05:00   ET




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

GEORGE HOWELL, CNN ANCHOR (voice-over): 5:00 am on the U.S. East Coast. We're following the breaking news this hour here on CNN.

A dramatic day of highs and lows for the U.S. president. First, success with tax reform on one hand and, on the other, the looming pressure of the Russia investigation ratcheting up.

I'm George Howell out of CNN World Headquarters in Atlanta. Welcome to viewers here in the United States and around the world.

Let's look at tax reform first. It happened just hours ago, in the middle of the night here in the United States, and perhaps the president's most important and significant moment since his inauguration.

The U.S. Senate passed a major overhaul of the U.S. tax code with a vote that came down to 51 to 49, almost strictly along party lines, after a string of high-profile failures in Congress, this vote marked the first significant legislative win for the Trump White House and for the Republicans who control the Congress.

But that victory comes after a low point for the administration.

This happened Friday, you see the former national security adviser Michael Flynn. He pleaded guilty in court to lying to the FBI in the probe in the Russia election meddling investigation. Flynn becomes now the fourth Trump campaign official caught up in this investigation so far and the second to plead guilty. So a lot happening this day.

First, let's talk about this tax reform bill that passed through the U.S. Senate. Listen to the moment that it passed.


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

(END VIDEO CLIP) HOWELL: The Vice President of the United States, Mike Pence presiding over that vote and president Donald Trump weighing in on Twitter with his congratulations, saying this, quote, "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."

CNN's Phil Mattingly has been there through the night and has the latest details from Capitol Hill.


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 pass 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.


HOWELL: Phil, thank you very much.

Now to our other big story we're following, the ongoing investigation into Russian meddling in the presidential election. Moscow has already dismissed it, as it has before. And Michael Flynn's guilty plea on Friday hasn't changed that view. According to Russian --


HOWELL: -- media, one Russian politician said that Flynn was just a scapegoat and another called the situation a sack of smoke. We'll get more from Moscow later in this newscast.

Despite the denials from Russia, the fact remains that Michael Flynn cut a deal facing serious legal jeopardy, CNN's Pamela Brown explains.


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.


HOWELL: Pamela, thank you.

President Trump has yet to publicly react to Flynn's plea deal and the president ignored questions from reporters while welcoming the Libyan prime minister to the White House.

One source telling CNN the president and his staff are in denial about the seriousness of the Russia investigation. They believe Flynn's guilty plea means the special counsel's probe is wrapping up and that the president will soon be cleared. That source also saying they are, quote, "totally in a bubble."

Let's bring in Troy Slaten, Troy, a criminal defense attorney and former prosecutor, joining from Los Angeles.

It's great to have you with us, Troy. Let's talk about this legally. Mr. Flynn has pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI.

It is described as a good deal for him, all things considered, which leads to the question now, is there an expectation that Mr. Flynn has a story to tell?



Both by the terms of the plea deal itself as well as General Flynn's public statement. He's certainly cooperating with the special counsel's office. And he had a lot of criminal exposure, each count of lying to the FBI carries with it a maximum of five years in federal prison.

Now what they did was they combined these four lies into one count, which means theoretically he faces maximum of five years in prison. But if he cooperates and if he does everything that he says he's going to do, then the special counsel's office will make a sentencing recommendation when that time comes.

And it's likely that he could do no jail at all.

HOWELL: From a prosecutorial perspective, is there a sense that Michael Flynn Jr., Mr. Flynn's son, that somehow he was a part of the fact that his father decided to cooperate here?

SLATEN: Prosecutors use whatever leverage they have. And certainly it's been reported that General Flynn's son had potential criminal exposure himself. He was chief of staff for General Flynn.

And so anything that a prosecutor can use, to turn the screws and get a target to cooperate, they're going to do it. And General Flynn was a big fish. He was intimately involved in both the campaign and the early days of the Trump administration.

HOWELL: So let's talk about how this might play forward.

So are these bread and butter prosecutors just focused on lying to the FBI?

Or could they possibly use the Logan Act?

For our viewers around the world, it's an obscure law, 218 years old, that hasn't been invoked in modern history dealing with undermining an existing President of the United States or an existing administration.

Help our viewers to understand that law and whether you feel it could come into play here.

SLATEN: The Logan Act hasn't really been tested in modern times. There are many constitutional scholars that feel that it may very well be unconstitutional. And it basically stands for the proposition that there's only one administration at a time.

And that if you're not a representative of the United States government, that you're not entitled to conduct foreign policy. So the allegation here is that Flynn, in speaking with the Russian ambassador, Kislyak, in negotiating about sanctions that the Obama administration had just imposed on Russia, and asking them to not take any action and to delay a U.N. vote that was coming at the time, that the incoming administration, the Trump administration, was conducting foreign policy before they took the helm, before the inauguration.

And so that could be a theoretical violation of the Logan Act but that's not what is being alleged here. And even that, even if there was to be an allegation that the Logan Act was violated, that doesn't go to the heart of what the special counsel was constituted for, which is to look at whether or not the Trump campaign was colluding with Russia in order to defeat Hillary Clinton and get Donald Trump elected.

HOWELL: Troy Slaten, we appreciate your time today and perspective on this. We'll stay in touch. Thank you.

SLATEN: Thanks for having me.

HOWELL: So from a member of the inner circle, a confidant, to now a key witness, how Michael Flynn's ties to both Russia and President Trump could deal major damage for this White House.






GEN. MICHAEL FLYNN, FORMER TRUMP NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISER: We do not need a reckless president who believes she is above the law. Lock her up.

That's right. Yes, that's right, lock her up.


HOWELL: 2016, that was the retired lieutenant general Michael Flynn on the campaign trail with the U.S. president, Donald Trump, at the RNC convention. Fast forward now to Friday, this was the scene in Washington as Flynn walked into court.




UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Do you know you betrayed your country?


HOWELL: The questions there, shouted to him as he walked in and, as he walked out, there were chants of "Lock him up," this after he pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI about his contacts with Russian officials last year.

So Flynn is cooperating with the special counsel's probe and his personal ties to Russia and the U.S. president Donald Trump could make him an important piece of this puzzle. Our Tom Foreman explains.


TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: The working relationship between Michael Flynn and Donald Trump now goes back almost two years. But it is Flynn's contact with various Russian interests that are exciting so much interest with the investigator and in the White House as well.

For example, we know, in 2015, he spoke to a Russian airline company, that he was paid more than $11,000 for. That's something that he did not report early on in the process when he would have been expected to.

We know he received a similar fee through his speaker's bureau for an engagement involvement involving an American subsidiary of a Russian cyber security firm. He met Sergey Kislyak, this is the Russian ambassador to the U.S.

They developed a relationship which was underway throughout the transition. And, by the way, he spoke to Kislyak on the very day that President Obama issued sanctions against Russia.

And we also know he attended a gala dinner for RT, the Russian television network. He was paid more than $30,000 for going to that event. And by the way, while he was there, he was seated at the very same table as Russian president Vladimir Putin.

So if the White House wants to say this is all just contacts with Russians but not the Russian government, that becomes complicated, too, for several reasons.

One, Sergey Kislyak over here, he works for the ministry of foreign affairs, which is directly tied to the Kremlin. RT is controlled by the ministry of telecom and mass communications. Again, tied directly to the Kremlin and both of them, of course, linked directly to Vladimir Putin.

The airline up here has done some business deals over time with the Russian government. And while the cyber security lab says that it really has nothing to do with the Russian government, there are intelligence officers in the U.S. government that have told the Senate they wouldn't trust any software from this company on their computers.

All issues for the White House to consider as they try to figure out what to do about Michael Flynn and his Russian connections.


HOWELL: Tom Foreman, thank you so much.

2So with regard to Russia, officials have offered denials but this past August, CNN's Matthew Chance caught up with the former Russian ambassador, Sergey Kislyak. Kislyak had just returned to Russia after his term as ambassador to the U.S. after that had ended.

Some important context of this image you see, this exclusive interview came after Kislyak's infamous meeting with the U.S. president Donald Trump that took place in the Oval Office. That's where Mr. Trump shared highly classified information with the ambassador.


HOWELL: Here's Matthew Chance, speaking with Kislyak.


MATTHEW CHANCE, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Mr. Ambassador, a quick question, did you discuss lifting sanctions with any members of the Trump team when you were in the United States?

SERGEY KISLYAK, FORMER RUSSIAN AMBASSADOR TO THE U.S.: With your respect, I'm here to talk to Russian people.

CHANCE: I understand that. You say you've got no secrets.

KISLYAK: I've said everything I wanted prior to this.

CHANCE: Did you discuss opening secret channels with the Kremlin with Jared Kushner, for instance?

KISLYAK: I've said many times that we do not discuss the substance of our discussions with our American interlocutors (ph) out of respect to our partners.

CHANCE: Fair enough. But when you met Donald Trump, the president, were you surprised when he disclosed secret information to you about Syria?

KISLYAK: I'm not sure that I heard anything that would be secret. But that was a good meeting. And we were discussing things that were important to your country and to mine.

CHANCE: What about this allegation that you're a spy master, a spy master --

KISLYAK: Nonsense.

CHANCE: Did you attempt to recruit any members of the Trump administration?

KISLYAK: You should be ashamed because CNN is the company that keeps pointing to this allegation. It's nonsense.

CHANCE: It's U.S. security officials, intelligence officials, that made it, of course.

KISLYAK: I heard that in a statements by them. Also by former head of the FBI who said that I was a diplomat. I have no reason to doubt that he knew what he said.


CHANCE: Just one last question.


CHANCE: What's your prediction for the future of U.S.-Russian relations?

KISLYAK: I'm afraid it's going to be difficult. And it's not because of us. It's because of the U.S. political dynamics. The anti- Russian laws isn't going to help Russian-American discussions and relations.

CHANCE: These are the sanctions law?

KISLYAK: It's the sanctions law, but sanctions is an instrument. It's basically a statement of being kind to Russia. That is the most important thing. And it's not going to be whisked away. It's going to stay.

And it's going to spoil ability of both countries to resume a normal (INAUDIBLE) relations. And normal (INAUDIBLE) relations is exactly what is missing.


HOWELL: That interview from August 23rd, the former Russian ambassador to the U.S., Sergey Kislyak, speaking exclusively to our Matthew Chance.

So let's get the view today from Russia. Let's bring in CNN's Clare Sebastian, following the story live in Moscow. And, Clare, what has been the reaction from officials there about what

has been a seismic shift here in the United States, in this investigation?

CLARE SEBASTIAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, George, nothing as fulsome as you heard just there from Sergey Kislyak. We heard nothing from the Kremlin so far. They haven't responded to our requests for comment. I also contacted the foreign ministry, their spokeswoman, Maria Zakharova in a text message to me last night, simply saying, what does this have to do with us?

An interesting echo perhaps of the White House response to this today. But a couple of politicians have come out, that tends been the case and some prominent politicians have been fairly vocal all along about this. One of them, Franz Klinsavich (ph), a senator, spoke to state media (INAUDIBLE) and he said this really isn't about Michael Flynn. He said the real target of this attack is Donald Trump.

That's something we've heard on multiple occasions from the Russians. That the whole Russia issue is simply being used as a method by Trump's critics to hurt him.

Another senator, Aleksey Pushkov, tweeting that this is simply the U.S. inflating what he called "a sack of smoke."

He called the whole Flynn case, quote, "empty." So a lot of denials and dismissals here today. But most of all, you know, deafening silence essentially -- George.

HOWELL: So Clare, the backdrop of all of this, the deteriorating relationship between United States and Russia, where does this latest revelation, where does it leave things, where do things stand now?

SEBASTIAN: Well, George, I think it's fair to say that if the Russian calculation, if Flynn's testimony is to be believed and the Russians didn't retaliate against sanctions on the hope that they would be lifted and there would be this new chapter in the relationship, that calculation dramatically backfired.

We now have a situation that not only have sanctions not been lifted but the U.S. passed a new bill to impose new sanctions on Russia. Both countries have since taken retaliatory methods to reduce the size of each other's diplomatic presences in the country.

It's interesting because in the wake of these allegations, this testimony by Michael Flynn coming out yesterday, Sergey Kislyak's successor, the new Russian ambassador to Washington, Anatoly Antonov (ph), was speaking in San Francisco and he had this to say yesterday about the state of the relationship.


ANATOLY ANTONOV, RUSSIAN AMBASSADOR TO THE U.S.: Today, we are faced with the aftermath of an unprecedented campaign to discredit Russia in an attempt --


ANTONOV: -- to punish our country for protecting its interest and pursuing independent foreign policy.

Regrettably, relations between our countries are still being politicized and abused. Russia is being groundlessly accused of meddling into the United States elections as well of other domestic and external problems of the United States.


SEBASTIAN: So Antonov went on to joke that Russia could perhaps be blamed even for bad weather in Washington and New York. But I think neither the relationship at this point now the testimony that came out yesterday from Michael Flynn and the fact that he's now cooperating with the investigation, none of these things are a laughing matter for Russia -- George.

SEBASTIAN: Clare Sebastian, following this story live in Moscow, Clare, thank you.

So major moves in this investigation but relative silence from the White House after one of its top former aides says that he's working with the special counsel's Russia probe. More on the implications of Michael Flynn's plea deal -- ahead.

You're watching CNN NEWSROOM live from Atlanta, Georgia, simulcast on CNN USA here in the States, CNN International worldwide. Stay with us.




HOWELL: Welcome back to our viewers here in the United States and all around the world, you're watching CNN NEWSROOM and it is good to have you with us. I'm George Howell with the headlines we're following this hour.



HOWELL: The White House has offered little public response to the guilty plea from Michael Flynn for lying to the FBI. One source telling CNN the president and his staff are in denial about the seriousness of this investigation. That source saying they are, quote, "totally in a bubble." Jim Acosta picks it up from here.


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 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 2to 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 --


ACOSTA (voice-over): -- 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. (END VIDEOTAPE)

HOWELL: All right, Jim, thanks for the reporting.

And you just heard in Jim's piece there that Barack Obama warned incoming president Donald Trump about Michael Flynn. Now the White House is minimizing the significance of the Flynn guilty plea.

One argument they may use, Flynn was working on behalf of the Obama administration when he spoke with the Russian ambassador. My colleague, Jake Tapper, asked the former head of the U.S. national intelligence if there was any truth to that notion.


JAMES CLAPPER, FORMER DIRECTOR OF NATIONAL INTELLIGENCE: That's absurd. That is absolutely absurd. There was great concern at the time, not just with this particular contact, but with the violation of the principle that has normally been followed of one president, one administration at a time.

And that was what gave rise to because of all of these contacts that Mike was having and others in the transition with the Russians and other foreign entities, you know, what the -- what was this all about? So to say that we blessed it or acquiesced in it is a stretch.

JAKE TAPPER, CNN CHIEF WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: What is your reaction to today's news that Flynn has pleaded guilty and specifically to lying to the FBI about conversations he was having with the Russian ambassador?

CLAPPER: Well, it's dramatic but not surprising. It was not in my take. I do know Mike's great devotion to his family. I, you know, I am surmising that the Special Counsel's office leveraged that awareness with respect to his son. And I think Mike would do whatever he could to preclude his son from legal jeopardy or even jail time. So I think that's, you know and it is in a sense with respect to Mike kind of a tragedy in a way, given the service, long and distinguished service he rendered in the Army over 30 years, lots and lots of deployed time to Iraq and Afghanistan.

You have to acknowledge that. 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. That to me is very important. Obviously huge implications for the White House, it's not a good day. You know, he's not a coffee boy. This is not a hoax. It's not fake. It's real. And I think as a friend and admirer of Jim Comey, I think there is a certain amount of vindication there.

I've often wondered what would have happened had he not been fired. Probably the outcome would have been the same. And I do think the larger interest here is served is 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 this singular indifference to the threat posed by Russia.


HOWELL: The former DNI under President Obama, James Clapper, speaking with my colleague, Jake Tapper.

Let's talk more now about this with Leslie Vinjamuri. Leslie is an associate professor of international relations at SOAS University of London.

It's always good to have you, Leslie.


HOWELL: A lot happened today.

VINJAMURI: A lot happened.

HOWELL: So let's talk about the options of this. On one hand, a member of the president's inner circle pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI, signaling that he will cooperate with this investigation.

On the other, the president had arguably one of his best moments as tax reform passed through the U.S. Senate.

Which overshadows the other, in your estimation?

VINJAMURI: Well, these are both very significant items. What I think we'll see the president doing is continuing to distance himself from Mike Flynn, from this charge and really trumpeting his success in getting something, finally, his first major legislative item.

And this is a big one. This is the one he wanted. This is the one that many people have been saying, if this president can get tax reform through, he can, you know, keep the White House for as long as he wants it.

Not sure that will be true. Remember, this was pushed through very quickly, a 500-page bill, apparently with a number of scribbles and memos made to it that people didn't have sufficient time to read. So I think there will be a lot of debate about it as we move forward.

Nonetheless, there will be a lot of significant claims of victory coming out of the White House. And a lot of people, certainly corporate America, which will benefit from this tax cut very significantly. But a lot of people won't.

So I think as we move forward, there will be some controversy surrounding the bill. The Congressional Budget Office has anticipated that this will lead to a $1.4 trillion increase in the budget deficit over the next 10 years. So it won't be without controversy.

HOWELL: Well, let's talk more about this bill, because again, as it is laid out now, so the tax breaks will sunset, for many, many, Americans; at the same time, the corporate tax will remain constant.

VINJAMURI: That's right. This is really where the rubber hits the road. If you think about the president's rhetoric during the campaign, his rallies, his appeal has been meant to be to working class America, to the ordinary American.

And yet what we're seeing in this tax bill --


VINJAMURI: -- and again, there are a lot of detail here that I don't think even those who have voted on it have had a chance to consider it carefully --it's the least deliberated tax reform that we've probably ever seen in the nation's history, so there's a lot still to be told.

But it looks like the cuts are going to benefit corporate America. And a number of benefits that the average American have experienced, look like they're going to be rolled back. That individual tax cut has got a time limit on it.

But also things like college tuition, the ability to take a deduction for interest rate on college loans, tuition, a number of things that are really important to average Americans, a lot of changes with respect to medical care that are in there.

But again, we don't know the details of yet because it's been pushed for. This is really the key point. It's been pushed through so quickly without proper deliberation. And this is just deeply problematic for something that will have such an extraordinary impact on so many people's daily lives.

HOWELL: Yes. So the question is, you know, in the coming years, will people be paying more. You're saying that they will be paying more for this new tax bill.

But at the same time, many of the president's supporters saying that this wasn't a case where the president lived up to his campaign promise and offered tax cuts; albeit, tax cuts that will sunset, given a time period.

Let's talk about Michael Flynn's guilty plea now. The White House saying this is just a matter of Michael Flynn. It has nothing to do with the president, it has nothing to do with his teams.

But here's the question to you, Leslie, should his teams, should the president be concerned about this?

VINJAMURI: Oh, absolutely. I mean, if you read the facts as they were agreed between the U.S. government and Michael Flynn, remember, the first member of his cabinet, you know, his ex-national security adviser, now has been charged, single charge.

But he says in that document that he made a phone call to a senior member of the Trump transition team before he contacted the Russian ambassador. He then spoke to the Russian ambassador. Then he went back to and made another phone call to a senior member of the transition team.

He's clearly cooperating. There's clearly more that's going to come out of this. And the question is who is that person. And really the broader question is, why was the Trump transition team

so eager to encourage the Russians not to respond to the sanctions, which had bipartisan support across Russia, that were imposed because Russia had interfered in the U.S. presidential election?

So why is it that the incoming administration was so keen not to be behind those sanctions?

What was it that they -- were they promising or were they hoping to promise that the sanctions would be lifted?

And is this really just about Trump wanting to rewrite that relationship with Russia, which he's obviously not been able to do?

Or was there something more there?

And I think all of these questions are what Mueller will be drilling down on in his investigation. And now he has a very significant individual, who is clearly going to cooperate with him and work with him to get some answers to those questions.

HOWELL: A lot of questions. And time will tell, Leslie Vinjamuri, live in London, thank you.

VINJAMURI: Thank you.

Still ahead here, the fall of a U.S. Army general now at the center of the probe into Russian election meddling. A fellow Army officer weighs in on Michael Flynn.





HOWELL: Welcome back to CNN NEWSROOM. I'm George Howell.

More now on President Trump's former national security adviser, Michael Flynn. He was a three-star general when he retired from the U.S. Army. And that's important. It's a rank that relatively few people hold. His guilty plea on Friday for lying to the FBI sent shock waves throughout the U.S. military.

CNN military analyst Mark Hertling held that same rank. He also knows Michael Flynn well. And here Hertling explains to my colleague, Anderson Cooper, why Michael Flynn's actions are so upsetting.


LT. GEN. MARK HERTLING, CNN MILITARY ANALYST: The emotions kind of go back and forth between embarrassed for the Army because this is a guy who was at the senior ranks. There's only about 20 or so three-star generals, the same rank I held in the Army and Mike Flynn was one of them.

So because he's in that position, he's given a special trust and confidence by the government and the military and the soldiers that he leads.

So the first part is being embarrassed by what happened today and then the second part had to do with the emotion of being furious.

When he came out with his statement and started off by saying, hey, I've served 33 years honorably and, you know, served in combat for five years, yes, well, that's interesting, it's also not important given the situation he's in right now. He went against the Constitution of the United States.

General officers, soldiers are held to higher standards. We are taught throughout our career to honor the values of things like duty, honor, country, integrity, respect, loyalty, selfless service and America expects that of its general officer ranks because they give us their sons and daughters to defend the country.

So when you have an individual who lies, who serves one individual as opposed to the Constitution of the country, it just truthfully makes me a little bit furious.


HOWELL: CNN military analyst, Mark Hertling, a retired three-star Army general, reflecting on the actions of now disgraced fellow Army general, Michael Flynn.

Still ahead here on NEWSROOM, we look at other stories around the world for you, including how Pope Francis is wrapping up his Asia trip. His new comments on the Rohingya crisis, actually saying the word. That story, ahead.






HOWELL: Welcome back to CNN NEWSROOM. I'm George Howell.

In the U.S. House of Representatives, investigators want all the records on sexual harassment, on discrimination and other misconduct involving members of Congress. It's part of an ethics probe, prompted by accusations against Congressman John Conyers and Senator Al Franken.

Over the past 20 years, the U.S. Treasury has paid more than $17 million to settle employee complaints, complaints including sexual harassment. The U.S. Defense Secretary, James Mattis headed to Jordan soon after a stop with Egyptian. He just met with the Egyptian president, Abdul Fattah al-Sisi. Mattis is on a tour through the Middle East and Pakistan to reaffirm the U.S. commitment to its allies in the region. The trip will also take Mattis to Pakistan and Kuwait.

Pope Francis is wrapping up his Asia trip in the capital of Bangladesh. In these live images you see Pope Francis at the airport in Dhaka. Again, he's set to give an official farewell at the airport this hour.

Earlier in the day he visited a church, the Rohingya crisis in Myanmar has been the focus of the pontiff's trip. Again, live images this hour, as the pope leaves Bangladesh. The question, though, that many people have asked throughout his trip, would he say the word Rohingya.

In fact, he did say the word Rohingya as he left. He said that in Bangladesh. He met with a group of Rohingya on Friday and said, quote, "The presence of God today is also called Rohingya."

Moving on now to football news. The draw has been made for next year's FIFA World Cup in Russia. And there's no clear group of death but there's definitely some exciting matchups. Our Don Riddell has a look ahead at this big event.


DON RIDDELL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: The World Cup might still be six months away but it is starting to feel very --


RIDDELL: -- 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.

(END VIDEOTAPE) HOWELL: Don Riddell, thank you.

And we end this hour with Prince Harry's new fiancee, who says she's eager to get her boots on the ground in Britain and, on Friday, Meghan Markle did just that. In the couple's first official royal appearance, they greeted cheering crowds in Nottingham, a city where Prince Harry has spent a significant amount of time working with the community there.

The pair visited a charity fair, marking World AIDS Day, and spent time at a local school.

That's this hour of CNN NEWSROOM. I'm George Howell at the CNN Center in Atlanta. For our viewers in the United States and around the world, "NEW DAY" is next.