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Trump Knew Flynn Misled FBI; Lawyer Told President about Flynn; Trump Speech in Utah. Aired 2-2:30p ET

Aired December 4, 2017 - 14:00   ET


[14:00:32] ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN ANCHOR: Hi there, I'm Brianna Keilar, in for Brooke Baldwin today.

Breaking news providing an even clearer picture of what President Trump knew when he fired his national security adviser Michael Flynn. Flynn was fired in February and a source now tells CNN that Trump knew in January that Flynn misled the FBI, as well as Vice President Pence.

This ties into a tweet that was posted on the president's account that reads, I have to fire -- I had to fire General Flynn because he lied to the vice president and the FBI. He has pled guilty to those lies. It is a shame because his actions during the transition were lawful. There was nothing to hide.

The president's personal attorney, John Dowd, says that he's the one who wrote that tweet, not the president.

I want get now to CNN's Kara Scannell, who has more on this breaking news.

So, Kara, what did the president's lawyer, Don McGhan, tell the president about Michael Flynn and this interview that he had with the FBI?

KARA SCANNELL, CNN REPORTER: So we -- what we know is that when Don McGhan was greeted by Acting Attorney General Sally Yates in January, he took the impression away from that meeting that what Michael Flynn had told the FBI was the same thing that he had told Mike Pence, the vice president, about his conversations with a Russian ambassador and -- which Don McGhan believed to be a lie. We understand that he relayed that to the president. That Sally Yates, the acting attorney general, did not, you know, confirm any information to him, but that was his belief and he shared that with the president at the time in late January, before -- weeks before he was fired.

KEILAR: So do we have a sense of whether the president understood? I mean certainly he should have understood that that is an offense, right? That misleading the FBI is -- that is a major problem. Is there a sense that he understood that?

SCANNELL: That's not as clear. What we understand from our reporting is that Don McGhan did not tell the president that he believed he committed a crime because there are more elements that go into lying to the FBI, you know, such as the intent and the conversation.

And we also know that McGhan's office, you know, they don't have a copy of the transcript of the FBI interview. They don't know what was said. So it was really their impression. They did not think, they did not tell the president that he had lied but -- and that he had committed a crime, but they certainly felt that he had lied.

KEILAR: Such important knowledge for the president to have had at that point in time. Great reporting.

Kara Scannell, thank you so much for that.

Now these latest breaking details are intensifying the question, did the president obstruct justice when he tried to interfere with the investigation of Michael Flynn? Well, the same attorney who says he wrote the president's tweet, John Dowd, told Axios this, quote, the president cannot obstruct justice because he is the chief law enforcement officer and has every right to express his view on any case.

I want to turn now to CNN's Sara Murray at the White House.

The president continues to talk about this case today, Sara. Despite being the first person in the administration to plead guilty in the Russia investigation, Michael Flynn seems to still be getting the president's support here.

SARA MURRAY, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONNDENT: That's absolutely right. And look, in this case, many lawyers advising the president may prefer that he stay silent, but that's clearly not the tactic this president is going to take. When he was leaving the White House earlier today for a stop in Utah, he did speak to reporters about Michael Flynn and he spoke pretty firmly about him. Listen to what he said.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Well, I feel badly for General Flynn. I feel very badly. He's led a very strong life, and I feel very badly, John.

I will say this, Hillary Clinton lied many times to the FBI. Nothing happened to her. Flynn lied and they destroyed his life. I think it's a shame.

Hillary Clinton, on the Fourth of July weekend, went to the FBI, not under oath. It was the most incredible thing anyone's ever seen. She lied many times. Nothing happened to her. Flynn lied and it's, like, they ruined his life. It's very unfair.


MURRAY: Now, Brianna, we know that even when it came to firing Michael Flynn from this White House, the president had reservations. He's expressed privately his concern over the toll that this has taken on Michael Flynn's life. Now we see him saying that publicly. But this what about ism, the notion that Hillary Clinton was a liar, that she's the one who should be facing some sort of criminal prosecution, look, quick fact check. The FBI concluded she did not lie during her 2016 interview with investigators. They also cleared her of criminal wrongdoing after that investigation, of course, that you covered extensively into her e-mail server. So that may be where the president wants to put his attention. But, of course, Robert Mueller and his team, the special counsel's investigation, they're looking elsewhere.

[14:05:22] KEILAR: All right, Sara Murray at the White House. Thank you.

There are a lot of moving parts on who knew what when with all of this. I want to back up and see how this played out in real time.

So the source of Michael Flynn's troubles really based on two conversations that he had with the Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak. That December 22nd call that was about a United Nations vote on Israeli settlements. And then you had the December 29th call, which was about sanctions against Russia that the U.S. was imposing.

So we now know, according to federal documents, that Flynn told the FBI on January 24th these topics were not discussed. That was key because he lied.

Remember, President Trump had just taken office and then Sally Yates, who was the acting attorney general, a carryover from the Obama administration, found out about Flynn's false statements. And then on January 26th, she warns the White House that Flynn is compromised and that because of that he could be blackmailed by the Russians. He is vulnerable to that is what she told them.

So what followed? Well, nothing. Not to Flynn, but Yates then loses her job on another matter because she defied the travel ban, defied enforcing that.

Meanwhile, Flynn is national security adviser got top-level briefings on national security issues, the most sensitive information, for two weeks.

Then "The Washington Post," they broke the story on February 9th that revealed that Flynn did indeed discuss sanctions with Kislyak, which is not what he told the FBI. And then he resigned four days later for misleading the vice president about that conversation because Pence had really gone out on a limb defending him.

The next day the president allegedly tells then-FBI Director Jim Comey that he hopes Comey can let the case against Flynn go. This is according to Comey's testimony to Congress.

Several months later the president fires Comey on May 9th, very key date. Two days after that, the president reveals what was on his mind when he terminated Comey.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Regardless of recommendation, I was going to fire Comey, knowing there was no good time to do it. And, in fact, when I decided to just do it, I said to myself, I said, you know, this Russia thing with Trump and Russia is a made-up story. It's an excuse by the Democrats for having lost an election.


KEILAR: To the legal minds now to unpack all of this, and there is a lot. I've got with me CNN legal analyst Michael Zeldin, who used to be special assistant to Robert Mueller at the Justice Department. Mueller, of course, now leading that Russia investigation. And CNN contributor Norm Eisen, who was the White House ethics czar under President Obama. He is the co-founder of Citizens for Responsible in Ethics in Washington.

OK, Michael, so you heard Kara's pretty bombshell reporting that President Trump was made aware by White House Counsel Don McGhan that Flynn had misled the FBI. How significant is it that the president knew this?

MICHAEL ZELDIN, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: It's significant especially if the president then asks Comey to let up on the Flynn investigation. The president has denied that, but if --

KEILAR: Has denied that he said that, let up.

ZELDIN: He said that -- exactly. He has denied that. But if it --

KEILAR: But, just to be clear, Comey has a document contemporaneously prepared where he has written down what President Trump said.

ZELDIN: That's right. That's right. Exactly.


ZELDIN: But -- so if he is told, as Kara reports, that there was a misleading statement to the FBI by Flynn, and he knows that, and then some time after that he goes to Comey and says let up on it, that's really obstructionist behavior. That's not what he's supposed to do. That is not, according to his lawyer, something that is not obstruction. It can be obstruction.

KEILAR: It's obstructionist. It can be obstruction. But is it obstruction?

ZELDIN: Well, we have to see other facts. I think on itself, in and of itself, it's probably not an indictable obstruction of justice offense, but it is interference. And so it becomes a puzzle that we're putting together with multiple parts and this becomes one of those corner pieces that let you build a lot further into the puzzle. It's significant.

KEILAR: Norm, it seems like when you listen to the legal argument coming from the president's lawyers, at first it was the president did not obstruct justice. Now it has turned into, well, the president cannot obstruct justice, which there does seem to be consensus among legal experts that the president can, indeed, obstruct justice. What does this argument mean coming from the president's legal team?

[14:10:04] NORMAN EISEN, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Thanks for having me back.

KEILAR: Of course.

NORMAN EISEN, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: And what it means is -- what it means is, they are grasping at straws. After the Flynn plea and the -- letting it slip this weekend in a tweet that the president knew, and whether it came from the president or his lawyer or I believe it was a collaboration, they tipped their hand. Once they've done that, they are squarely within the box on obstruction.

I believe that the special counsel is taking a very hard look at it. He's going to decide, did President Trump do these things with corrupt intent. And it's very well established at law, Michael referred to this, if an official, a government official, exercises their legal powers with corrupt intent to interfere with an investigation, that's obstruction. So now all they've got left, their best argument becomes the legal argument, oh, a president can't obstruct justice. Well, we're a country of laws. Nobody is above those laws, least of all the president.

KEILAR: And, Norm, it sounds like when you do talk to a number of legal experts to make that very point you just made, which is, you may have the power to do something and you're speaking about the intent and how important that is, they say you can have the power to do something and you can do something, but just because you have the power, just because you can do something doesn't mean that it is not obstruction. And that's where the president's lawyers really get undercut in this argument, right?

EISEN: Think about the amazing statement that John Dowd -- both Michael and I know John from our years in the profession. Think about the amazing statement he made this morning that a president cannot commit a crime when exercising his official acts. Could the president, if a mobster came to him and said, I'm going to give you a bribe, fire Jim Comey. Go ahead and -- he's investigating me. And the president fires him and then the president can't be investigated for taking a bribe, for a violation of 18 USC 201? It's absurd. That is not the kind of country that we have. It's of a piece with many other assaults by this White House on the Constitution on the rule of law. And it's -- will not stand.

KEILAR: Let's take a closer look, Michael, at this tweet that Norm was just referencing that the president put out, but then his lawyer John Dowd said actually I drafted that. Norm thinks it was a collaboration.

It says, I had to fire General Flynn because he lied to the vice president -- and here's the key part -- and the FBI.

Do you believe this explanation from John Dowd that he is actually the one who drafted this or do you think this is just, oh, my goodness, I have to step in and cover the president on this? ZELDIN: So, in some sense it doesn't matter in legal terms. Over the weekend, I thought to myself, this --

KEILAR: Why doesn't it matter?

ZELDIN: Well, we'll get there in one second.

So, over the weekend I thought to myself, Dowd just made a mistake. Sloppy draftsmanship. He was trying to conflate a couple of terms and he's 76 years old and he's not a Twitter guy.


ZELDIN: Now I'm not so sure. I know --

KEILAR: But he's a lawyer.

ZELDIN: He is a lawyer. He is a lawyer indeed.

But now why I say it's not so meaningful, if the lawyer constructs it and the president, through his communications team allows it to go out, and it says that they knew that Flynn lied or misled, and then the key part, then they go to Comey and say, stand down on this, it doesn't make a difference at that point to me who drafted it, whether it's Norm's theory of collaboration, whether it's the president, whether it's the communications director. If they have knowledge that somebody has committed a crime and then you ask the FBI to stop investigating it, I think that's corrupt intent, which what Norm talked about. And when you act with corrupt intent, even though you have the constitutional right to do that without corrupt intent, it lets you allow a prosecutor to investigate whether, I guess, obstruction of justice is an indictable offense or whether obstruction of justice then needs to be referred to the House for an article of impeachment. And it can go either way on this thing.

KEILAR: Gentlemen, I really appreciate the conversation.

Michael Zeldin, Norm Eisen, thank you so much to both of you.

EISEN: Thank you.

KEILAR: And coming up, President Trump ripping the FBI. He says its reputation is, quote, in tatters after years under Jim Comey's leadership. Why the current FBI chief has yet to speak out and defend his agency. Is he doing maybe just what he should do?

Also, Trump goes all in for Roy Moore. The president this morning calling the controversial Alabama Senate candidate accused of sexual assault and misconduct, calling him from Air Force One. What the president told him as new polls show where the race stands with the election just a week away now.

[14:15:07] And national parks shrinking. Soon President Trump will be speaking live from Salt Lake City, and he is expected to make a major announcement that we are going to bring to you live.


KEILAR: The White House battle to control the narrative in the Russia probe took a big hit when President Trump's former national security adviser Michael Flynn pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI on Friday. And then this happened. We learned that Special Counsel Robert Mueller sent one of the probe's top FBI investigators packing. This happened last summer, as we found out. And Mueller did this because the agent had sent texts that could be interpreted as showing a bias in support of Hillary Clinton and against Donald Trump.

[14:20:07] Trump jumped in with this tweet over the weekend saying, report, anti-Trump FBI agent led Clinton e-mail probe. Now it all starts to make sense.

As a result, the president attacking both the FBI and the Justice Department. In one tweet the president called an FBI agent, quote, tainted and very dishonest. Then Trump declared in another tweet, after years of Comey with the phony and dishonest Clinton investigation and more, running the FBI, its reputation is in tatters. Worst in history. But, fear not, we will bring it back to greatness.

And I want to go now to Salt Lake City where President Trump is going to make an announcement about two national monuments that he's supposed to say will be significantly reduced.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Thank you to a -- thank you to a very special man, Orrin Hatch, for the introduction. And that was truly a nice introduction. And I appreciate it.

You are a true fighter, Orrin, I have to say. I've gotten to know him very well. I've gotten to know a lot of people very well. You meet fighters and you meet people that you thought were fighters, but they're not so good at fighting. He's a fighter.

We hope you will continue to serve your state and your country in the Senate for a very long time to come.

I want to especially thank you for the tremendous work in ushering massive tax cuts and reform through the Senate. Just happened and we have a final step to go and I predict we're going to be very successful. We're talking about massive, massive tax cuts.

It's tax cuts and reform. But I always mention tax cuts first because that's what people like to hear.

We're now one huge step closer to delivering to the American people the historic tax relief as a giant present for Christmas. Remember, I said we're bringing Christmas back? Christmas is back. Bigger and better than ever before. We're bringing Christmas back. And we say it now with pride.

Let me just say to those here today and all across the country, Merry Christmas to everybody.

And also happy holidays and a great new year. We're going have a great, great year. Joining us at this ceremony are many other tremendous leaders from

Utah, including your great senator, Mike Lee. Where's Mike? Mike, come (INAUDIBLE). Come here, Mike. Get up here, Mike.

He worked along with Orrin and the rest of them. We got it done.

Mike, thank you very much. Appreciate it. Appreciate it. You want to say something? Huh?

SEN. MIKE LEE (R), UTAH: It's not every day the president of the United States asks you to take the microphone from him.

But I want to say, Mr. President, thank you for your leadership. Thank you for being here. Thank you for the standing with the people of Utah. We appreciate it deeply.

TRUMP: Thank you, Mike.

I also want to recognize your fantastic representatives who are with us, Rob Bishop, John Curtis, Chris Stewart and Mia Love. Thank you all. You're here. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.

And I have to (INAUDBILE) really talk about a very special guy that I made secretary of the interior. Does he know the interior? He knows it. He loves it. He loves seeing it and riding on it. Ryan Zinke. Who truly believes in protecting America. He is protecting America. And nobody loves it more. Ryan. Thank you.

Just as he protected America as in office of the legendary SEAL Team 6. He's a tough cookie. And you've done a great job. Thank you, Ryan.

Governor Gary Herbert. Where's Gary? Come on. Gary. Come on, Gary. Get over there, Gary! And your wife, the first lady, is fantastic. Thank you very much. First lady. Thank you, first lady.

Attorney General Sean Reyes. Sean, thank you. Thank you.

An original supporter of mine. You know, you always remember those original supporters. Greg Hughes. Greg, thank you. He was an original -- right at the beginning. Thank you, Greg. He had a feeling.

[14:25:05] Finally, I want to recognize the members of the local Utah Navajo. Thank you very much. Thank you very much. Thank you very much. I really appreciate it. We're profoundly honored by your presence here today.

And I am thrilled to be here with so many wonderful friends, and so many people that saw something a little special and they said, we're with him. And I'm really working hard to put it back.

And that's what we're doing today. This magnificent capital in your incredible state and it is special people in a special state. Thank you very much for being here.

I've just come from touring Welfare Square with Senator Hatch and some amazing people from the leadership of the Church of Jesus Christ of the Latter-Day Saints. Special.

I spent a lot of time with them. In fact, I went around the store. I wanted a nice can of tuna fish. And they had plenty. They really help people. Incredible. After our visit, I can truly say first hand that Utah's awesome, natural beauty is exceeded only by the warmth and grace and hospitality of its citizens. This state has many natural treasures, but its greatest treasure by far is its people. And we will ensure the right of the people to live according to the faith in their hearts, which is why we will always protect your religious liberty. And we've been doing that.

I know all of you feel blessed to be living among some of the most glorious, natural wonders anywhere in the world. You cherish Utah's gleaming rivers and sweeping valleys. You take inspiration from its majestic peaks. And when you look upon its many winding canyons and glowing vistas, you marvel at the beauty of God's great creation.

And that is why I'm here today. Because some people think that the natural resources of Utah should be controlled by a small handful of very distant bureaucrats located in Washington. And, guess what? They're wrong.

The families and communities of Utah know and love this land the best. And you know the best how to take care of your land. You know how to protect it. And you know best how to conserve this land for many, many generations to come.

Your timeless bond with the outdoors should not be replaced with the whims of regulators thousands and thousands of miles away. They don't know your land and, truly, they don't care for your land like you do.

But from now on that won't matter. I've come to Utah to take a very historic action, to reverse federal overreach and restore the rights of this land to your citizens.

Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.

But before I began, because I understood how big it is, I'm a real estate developer. When they start talking about millions of acres, they say, say it again? That's a lot.

[14:29:45] So before I began, I met with Senator Orrin Hatch, who loves Utah and loves the people of Utah. I called Senator Mike Lee, who loves Utah and loves the people of Utah. I called your governor. I called my original -- where is he? There he is. I called all of the friends that I have in Utah. I said, what do you think?