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Trump Tweet Says He Fired Flynn for Lying to FBI; Trump Tax Reform; Immigrants in U.S. Tech Sector Go Back Home. Aired 1-1:30a ET

Aired December 3, 2017 - 01:00   ET




CYRIL VANIER, CNN ANCHOR (voice-over): The U.S. president, Donald Trump, says he fired his former national security adviser, Michael Flynn, because he knew Flynn had lied to the FBI.

What are the legal implications for the president?

We'll dive into that.

And Mr. Trump's biggest political win yet could be around the corner as both chambers of Congress prepare to reconcile their versions of tax reform.

I'm Cyril Vanier at CNN Headquarters here in Atlanta. Thank you for joining us.


VANIER: So the U.S. president on Saturday sent out a tweet that raises serious legal questions especially when it comes to obstruction of justice.

Donald Trump tweeted from his personal account, "I had to fire General Flynn because he lied to the vice president and the FBI. He has pled guilty to those lies. It's a shame because his actions during the transition were lawful. There was nothing to hide."

Now this may be a potential problem for the president. Just one day after firing Flynn back in February, Mr. Trump asked then FBI director James Comey to drop the investigation into Flynn.

The question now, did Mr. Trump know Flynn had lied to the FBI when he met with Comey?

Here's what the president said about Flynn on Saturday.


DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: What has been shown is no collusion. No collusion. There's been absolutely -- there's been absolutely no collusion so we're very happy. And frankly, last night, with one of the big nights. UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: (INAUDIBLE).

TRUMP: We'll see what happens. Thank you all very much. Thank you very much. Thank you.


VANIER: Adding to the intrigue, new information that contradicts White House assertions that Flynn was acting alone last year when he met with the Russian ambassador to the U.S. CNN's Boris Sanchez has more on this.


BORIS SANCHEZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: The Russia investigation and the dismissal of former national security adviser Michael Flynn likely the last thing that the White House wanted to be talking about just hours after their first major legislative victory in passing tax reform. But with a swift tweet, the president has raised serious questions about what he knew and when he knew it.

In this tweet, the president suggests that part of the reason that he fired Michael Flynn as national security adviser was because he knew that he had lied to the FBI. That raises serious questions possibly about obstruction of justice, if after all the president as has been reported asked former FBI director James Comey to get rid of the investigation into Michael Flynn.

Further, it also raises questions about the White House's efforts to distance themselves from Michael Flynn. At first on Friday calling him a former Obama administration official and also making the case that President Obama approved of Michael Flynn's conversations with Sergey Kislyak, the Russian ambassador, to discuss sanctions.

The reaction from Democrats was swift, including this tweet from Adam Schiff, the ranking member of the House Intelligence Committee. He responded to the president's initial tweet writing, quote, "If that is true, Mr. President, why did you wait so long to fire Flynn? Why did you fail to act until his lies were publicly exposed? Why did you pressure Director Comey to let this go?"

The White House has a series of questions before them, clearly something that is not likely going to go away anytime soon. Specifically because now there is a new "New York Times" report that indicates that several key figures within the Trump transition and within the administration were briefed on Michael Flynn's conversations with Sergey Kislyak before and after their meeting and so this investigation likely will explore where that goes.

And as more information continues to leak out during this investigation, it really hangs a cloud over this White House as they continue moving forward with their legislative agenda -- Boris Sanchez, CNN, in New York.

(END VIDEOTAPE) VANIER: The White House says journalists are reading too much into the president's tweet on Flynn. John Dowd, an attorney with Mr. Trump's outside legal team tells CNN the tweet was a paraphrase of Ty Cobb's statement yesterday. I refer you to Comey's testimony before Congress about FBI view of Flynn's answers.

Ty Cobb is special counsel for the White House. His statement on Friday after Flynn pleaded guilty did not mention lying to the FBI as a factor in Flynn's firing.

For the legal implications I spoke earlier to Troy Slaten. He's a former prosecutor.


TROY SLATEN, ATTORNEY: If we were talking about anyone other the President of the United States, then that would certainly be a prima facie case for obstruction of justice.

However --


SLATEN: -- if you subscribe to the theory of the unitary executive where the president being the chief of the executive branch and having the power to pardon vested only in him, them the theory goes -- and it's also been advanced by Alan Dershowitz here on CNN -- that the president cannot by definition engage in obstruction of justice.

Because he can decide if the attorney general is fired and if the FBI director is fired. So essentially the chief of the executive branch can decide who is prosecuting and that would make it impossible for the president to commit the crime of obstruction of justice. Everyone below the president, from the vice president on down, could engage in obstruction of justice.

VANIER: So if you espouse this legal interpretation, then Mr. Trump's tweet doesn't have any legal implications?

SLATEN: That would be that effect. However, this has really never been tested. So the ultimate issue would be if Robert Mueller, the special counsel's office, decides to indict the President of the United States or make a referral to Congress for potential articles of impeachment, then that's a different story because a president can be impeached for whatever crime the Congress decides.

It's really not defined in our Constitution. It really just says high crimes and misdemeanors and treason, which is whatever a majority of the Congress decides.

VANIER: By the way, Troy, do you think the White House lawyer signed off on that tweet before the president sent it?

SLATEN: You know, who knows. I really don't think so. I think the president -- and we've seen this all throughout the campaign and during the administration -- the president seems to speak from his heart and talk off the cuff.

If I was the president's lawyer, I certainly would not want him to tweet that. But, you know, it's anyone's guess. I think that the White House counsel's office and even his private defense lawyers that are related to the -- this Mueller investigation, it doesn't seem like those lawyers would sign off on this tweet.

VANIER: And the background argument or the fundamental argument, perhaps is that the president put forth again in that tweet is that aside from lying to the FBI, which is the sole responsibility of Michael Flynn, according to them and according to the White House, everything that was going on during the transition is not illegal.

SLATEN: Well, that is also yet to be determined. So there is an old law from the 1790s called the Logan Act and that's really never been tested. And there is a lot of debate among constitutional scholars about whether that law is even constitutional.

And that law basically says that we have one president at a time, one administration. And if you are not working currently for the government of the United States, then you negotiate on behalf of the government of the United States.

And the allegation here is that General Flynn during the transition -- so before the president was sworn in on January 20th, 2017, that he was engaging in negotiations with Russia about a vote at the U.N. and about other matters, about asking the Russians to not react to the sanctions that the Obama administration imposed on Russia.

And that would be negotiations. But this is what transitions do all the time. It's their job to start talking to the foreign governments.


VANIER: Back with us this hour are our panel, CNN political commentator John Phillips and political analyst Ellis Henican. He also writes the "Trump's America" column at Metro Papers.

Now I'd like to address the reporting by "The New York Times" on Saturday, which raises eyebrows but we don't quite know exactly what to make of it. Here it is.

"During the transition period, KT McFarland, the senior adviser to Mr. Trump, wrote that Obama's sanctions" -- this was back in December of 2016 -- "Obama's sanctions on Russia could make it harder for Mr. Trump to improve relations with Moscow, quote" -- this is the important part --"which has just thrown the USA election to him," meaning to Mr. Trump.

John, does that -- what did you think when you saw that?

JOHN PHILLIPS, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, KT McFarland at that point was a FOX News contributor or FOX News foreign policy analyst. So that --

(CROSSTALK) TRUMP: -- a senior adviser within the Trump campaign, within the

transition. And she was she was just a few weeks away from becoming the deputy national security adviser.

PHILLIPS: Look, I don't know. I haven't spoken to her. That may have been her opinion of what happened. It's not my opinion as to why he won the election. I can give you a whole litany of reasons as to why that occurred.

But, you know, it's a certain -- it's a thing that people come back to all the time because they can't -- the polls were wrong.


PHILLIPS: The polls said that Hillary Clinton was going to win and I think a lot of people have a hard time accepting the results of the election.

VANIER: This is not something that people are coming back to. This is in an email in the transition.


ELLIS HENICAN, METRO PAPERS: Well, clearly, KT McFarland thought the Russians played a big role here. Listen, all of it just inches this closer and closer to the Oval Office, right?

These emails, which we know now were CC'd to half a dozen other high aides in the group. So it's just getting harder and harder for these folks to say, oh, we didn't know what was going on. We had no idea. There was no information.

If anyone did anything like that dastardly Flynn fellow, he must have been acting on his own. Those kinds of defenses which we've been hearing for 10 or 11 months now, are just becoming completely untenable. And I think we can, in part, thank KT McFarland for that.

VANIER: But, Ellis, we also have to make it clear. We don't actually know how to interpret that. "The New York Times" article, which gives us this quote, makes it a clear also, we don't know whether KT McFarland did meant that Russia did indeed hand Trump the election.

We don't know whether that's her opinion or whether she was just saying that Democrats are going to portray it this way.

HENICAN: It's a fair comment. Her email probably could have used a copy editor. I think that's probably fair.

VANIER: Yes, a White House lawyer actually says, unsurprisingly perhaps, that it's the latter. That it's just she was referring to how the Democrats are going to paint this.

HENICAN: No doubt.

PHILLIPS: Also, when they are coming in, every administration wants to have a reset of relations with big, powerful countries out there. That was one of the big things that President Obama promised when he was elected, that Hillary Clinton was actually in charge of, when she was secretary of state.

Of course, when he was running for reelection had that conversation with Medvedev that was caught on a hot mike, reset. Let me get reelected and we'll be able to smooth some things over.

VANIER: Yes, absolutely. It's worth pointing out every transition team gets in touch with foreign officials and tries to lay the groundwork for what they want to do when by the time they're actually in power.

Ellis Henican, John Phillips, I want to thank you both for your time and for coming on the show.

Republican lawmakers are celebrating what may be President Trump's first legislative achievement.

But will their tax overhaul produce the results they promised?

We'll take a look at that when we come back.





TRUMP: It was a fantastic evening last night. We passed the largest tax cuts in the history of our country and many other things along with it, tremendous tax reform. But it was the biggest package in terms of tax cuts ever passed in our country.

Now we go on to conference and something beautiful is going to come out of that picture. People are going to be very, very happy. They're going to get tremendous --


TRUMP: -- tremendous tax cuts and tax relief. And that's what this country needs.


VANIER: That tax overhaul Mr. Trump is touting passed early Saturday morning. This despite the Congressional Budget Office saying that it would add $1.4 trillion to the deficit over the next decade.

Republicans believe the tax cuts will pay for themselves through the economic growth that they'll generate. But critics say it doesn't work that way.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) SEN. CHUCK SCHUMER, (D-NY), SENATE MINORITY LEADER: Republicans are reaching heretofore unreached heights of hypocrisy and the Senate is descending to a new low of chicanery.

Read the bill?

They're still writing it by hand mere hours before voting on it.

Is this really how Republicans are going to rewrite the tax code, scrawled like something on the back of a napkin, behind closed doors with the help of K Street lobbyists?



SEN. BERNIE SANDERS (I), VT.: Tonight the Republicans provide $1 billion in tax breaks for the wealthiest people in this country and to the largest corporations while raising the deficit by over $1.4 trillion.


VANIER: With us now, Chris Lew, former assistant to President Obama, former White House cabinet secretary and former Deputy Secretary of Labor.

Mr. Lew, Mr. Trump said his tax plan would give big tax cuts to the middle class. I assume that's something that Democrats would want.

Do you think the middle class will be better off, thanks to this?

CHRIS LEW, FORMER ASSISTANT TO PRESIDENT OBAMA: Well, it is something that middle class should get and something Democrats want but unfortunately they're not going to get it. And that's not me saying that. That's all the independent scorekeepers on Capitol Hill.

If you earn less than $75,000 a year, you'll get a tax increase. If you're one of the 13 million people who are going to lose their health insurance, that's going to be a problem.

And then the $1.4 trillion of debt that this adds is going to necessitate cuts into programs like Medicare and Social Security. So the big losers out of this tax plan are the American middle class.

VANIER: But the Republican argument is essentially the trickle-down argument. And Democrats have been very critical of it. The argument is that if you give tax cuts to businesses, and they undoubtedly will get them in this plan, then the businesses will create more jobs and add salaries and ultimately that wealth trickles down to the middle class.

Why do you disagree with this?

LEW: Well, the problem is that argument is contradicted not only by history but by virtually every respectable economist. If you go back and look at the 2001 Bush tax cuts, you look at the tax cuts that the state of Kansas put in, in 2012, they didn't actually create any jobs.

And I was struck by that moment where Gary Cohen asked a group of CEOs whether they would invest and create more jobs in the United States. And no one raised their hand or very few people raised their hand, saying they'd do this.

The economists who have looked at this just haven't found any job growth. Right now, U.S. corporations are sitting on $2 trillion of capital that they could be investing and they're not. This bill is essentially a giveaway to the super wealthy in this country.

VANIER: You talked earlier about the deficit this is going to create and this has been projected by independent bodies. They say it's going to create just a hair under $1.5 trillion of deficit over the next 10 years.

Now Republicans actually disagree with this because they say it's going to create revenue and that revenue is going to pay for the deficit.

So why do you disagree with that?

LEW: Well, again, it's not me saying that. It's the Joint Committee on Taxation, it's the Congressional Budget Office, who have said that the amount of economic growth, the additional growth that you get is about $400 billion. So you're still adding about a trillion dollars of debt.

And --


VANIER: What about the argument that it's going to pay for itself in growth?

LEW: Again, it's not me saying that. It's the scorekeepers on Capitol Hill, who have said it does create some growth. It's not going to create enough to outweigh the additional debt that's going to be added.

And then when you deal with that debt and you already have senators who are saying the only way now to bring down the debt is to start cutting spending on things like education and Medicare.

VANIER: What about the politics of this?

Do you think this is going to help Mr. Trump, the U.S. president, in the short term?

LEW: A political win is certainly important but what is striking is that, if you look at some of the political polling, about 25 percent to 30 percent of Americans are actually supporting this proposal and it's striking that this is actually less popular than the 1990 Bush 41 tax increase, the 1993 Clinton tax increase.

And it's striking that when a tax increase is actually more popular than what is ostensibly a tax cut, I think in the long run this will not be helpful to Republicans and certainly those that are standing for election in 2018.

VANIER: The economy has been doing very well since the beginning of Mr. Trump's presidency. Unemployment is down. The -- obviously, the stock market has been breaking records.

Are you willing --


VANIER: -- to give him credit for his handling of the economy?

LEW: Well, if we're going to simply talk about the stock market, the S&P 500 almost tripled under President Obama's watch. It set new highs, 127 times.

But there's a reason President Obama didn't -- wasn't tweeting about the stock market all day long because the stock market really is not a great indicator of how well the economy is doing. Sure, unemployment rate is doing great. But this really --

VANIER: We're looking at it right now, by the way, Mr. Lew. And the unemployment rate, which, when Trump was elected it was 4.6 percent. On this graph in July it was at 4.3 percent and now stands at 4.1 percent.

So in one year, that's a pretty big decline of the unemployment rate.

LEW: Oh, it certainly is. But then go back to look at where it was back in 2010, when it was at 10 percent. We were on the brink of the next great depression. And so the policies that the Obama administration put in have really begun this incredible economic recovery. But --

VANIER: Sure. But my question is, do you give him credit for not just the stock market but what's happening in the real economy, unemployment rate and the growth that continues to go up since the beginning of the year?

It's been a year now. We have a big sample size.

LEW: And it absolutely has been a year. And I guess the question is, is what the policies you would attribute to whether it's the stock market, whether it's the economy. Look, obviously, post-tax reform, if the economy continues to progress the way it is, you can certainly give him edit.

But really, over the last 10 months, this has not really been an administration that's had a huge number of policy gains that you can then tie back to where the economy is. This is the natural state of where the economy is and I think often presidents get too much credit for where the economy is going and they obviously get too much blame for where it is as well.

VANIER: Chris Lew, former assistant to Barack Obama. Thanks very much for your insight.

LEW: Thank you.

VANIER: A U.S. official is downplaying North Korea's Tuesday missile test. The official says the weapon likely broke up reentering the atmosphere. Remember that Pyongyang claimed the missile could strike the entire U.S. mainland and the White House appears to be taking the danger seriously.

On Saturday the national security adviser said North Korea represents the, quote, "greatest immediate threat to the U.S." H.R. McMaster also told a defense forum the potential for war with North Korea is increasing every day, which means that we're in a race, really, we're in a race to be able to solve this problem.

In the Middle East, Yemen's former president is offering to open talks with Saudi Arabia. Ali Abdullah Saleh says if the Saudi-led coalition stops raining airstrikes on rebel bases and lifts a blockade to let food and supplies into the country, he'll be open to turning the page in the ongoing war.

But Houthi rebels, Saleh's allies, are rejecting the possibility of talks with the Saudis. This is the latest sign of splintering rebel factions in a conflict that's already killed thousands of civilians.

Let's go to the ongoing legal immigration battles here in the U.S. A federal judge has now ruled the Trump administration cannot delay an initiative to admit foreign entrepreneurs into the country. That program allows foreigners who launch certain startups to live in the U.S. legally.

And while this is going on, President Trump's anti-immigration stance is leading some in the U.S. tech industry to return to their homelands. Our Matt Rivers has this story from Beijing.


MATT RIVERS, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): It's tough to get a meal like this in the United States.

(On camera): Did you miss this?


RIVERS (voice-over): Though as tasty as Chongqing noodles can be, it's not why 28-year-old Xie Ke moved back to Shanghai from San Francisco earlier this year.

XIE KE, FOUNDER, GUILIAN: You kind of feel you are pushed out of the door and people are closing doors to you?

RIVERS: Xie used to work for Twitter as a data analyst, but decided to start his own company.

XIE: So here's my app.

RIVERS: He is developing an app called Guilian. It's a messaging program that relies exclusively on video.

XIE: Hi, James. Say hi.

RIVERS: He'd planned on developing it in the U.S., even applying for his green card last year but then things changed.

TRUMP: We have taken historic steps to secure our border.

RIVERS: The Trump administration's decidedly anti-immigration stance has spooked many in the U.S. tech world, an industry that relies heavily on immigrant talent. Trump's travel ban back in late January was the first omen for many, but the more relevant move could deal with visas called H-1Bs.

Trump signed an executive order that called for a review and ultimate reform of the policy that allows highly skilled foreigners to work in the U.S. Critics complained it allows companies to hire cheaper foreign workers instead of Americans. Most of the 85,000 people granted the visa each year work in tech. But exactly how the president plans to reform the program isn't yet known.

MICHAEL SOLOMON, 10X MANAGEMENT: The uncertainty is what's really driving the fear because nobody is really clear on what's going to happen.

RIVERS: Michael Solomon runs 10x Management, a tech recruiting firm and says foreigners in tech are either trying to get into the U.S. fast --


RIVERS: -- or figure out what to do if they're already in the country but forced to leave. He says Trump's policies and rhetoric could impact Silicon Valley's reputation as the best place in the world for tech talent.

SOLOMON: We are going to see a tarnishing of those images if we continue to have this anti-immigration sentiment.

RIVERS: Solomon also says there is just not enough qualified Americans to fill out all the jobs the tech world needs. So if companies can't find the workers they need in the U.S. --

SOLOMON: They're going to move those functions offshore. And we're going to see the jobs evaporate in a different way and probably in larger numbers.

RIVERS: And then there is people like Xie Ke back at the noodle restaurant. He started his company in China partly because this is a booming market for tech and partly because starting a company is hard enough.

XIE: I'm building a business and you're asking me to worry about my status, my immigration status and --

RIVERS (on camera): You got enough to worry about already. XIE: Exactly. So I think, OK, that's too much.

RIVERS (voice-over): And if Guilian takes off, the company will pay taxes in China and create jobs in China instead of doing so in the United States -- Matt Rivers, CNN, Beijing.


VANIER: In the wake of CNN's exclusive reporting on slave auctions in Libya, exposing the modern-day buying and selling of African migrants, the Italian president says the brutal images show how slavery is still present around the world.

Sergio Mattarella says all forms of slavery are an aberration that can't be tolerated. His statement marked the International Day for the Abolition of Slavery and he reaffirmed Italy's commitment to fighting the slave trade.

Next week, CNN's Freedom Project looks at how African migrants get caught in the dark web of human trafficking when they risk everything to find better lives in Europe. On Monday, Arwa Damon speaks to a young Nigerian woman from Benin City, where thousands have been trapped with false promises of safe passage to Europe.

It will be the first piece in our in-depth five-part series.



UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes, very much. I trusted him. And most of the times I don't even -- since I tell him, I don't tell my parents.

DAMON (voice-over): Sandra (ph) is talking about her deputy pastor, who told her he had a vision from God that she traveled overseas. Then he said, his sister in Russia could get her a job in a hair salon.

When she arrived in Russia, the sum was more than she could have ever imagined.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: But the first thing she did, she took away my passport. That unless I finish paying our money, $45,000.

DAMON: $45,000?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes. Yes. That's what she said.

DAMON (voice-over): And the only way to pay that off was prostitution.


VANIER: The Freedom Project means a great deal to us here at CNN. We hope you'll tune in on Monday to see the rest of this woman's story. That's at 9:00 pm in Hong Kong, 8:00 pm in London. All part of CNN's Freedom Project series all this week on CNN.

All right. Thanks for watching the show. I'm Cyril Vanier. I'll be back with the headlines in just a moment. Stay with us.