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THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER

Mueller Investigation Reveals Trove of Docs; Papadopoulos' Fiancee: He Wasn't A "Low-Level Volunteer"; 288,000 Jobs Added In November; GOP Sen. Collins Considers Changing Tax Vote; NY Times: FBI Warned Trump Adviser Hope Hicks About E-mails From Russian Operatives. Aired 4:30-5p ET

Aired December 8, 2017 - 16:30   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


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[16:34:09] JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: Welcome back to THE LEAD. It may be the end of the workweek for you, but that does not mean that the investigators into Russia's election meddling and possible Trump team collusion they're heading home for an early happy hour. Pamela Brown and our political panel are here to discuss the latest developments.

But first, let me tell you about a status report from the team of special counsel Robert Mueller which just this afternoon disclosed how wide the scope of their investigation has been in the case of the United States of America versus Paul Manafort and Rick Gates.

The former Trump campaign chairman and his business partner were indicted, of course, you remember for charges including money laundering and conspiracy against the U.S. relating to their lobbying for a pro-Russian government in Ukraine.

Mueller's team told the U.S. district court in D.C. today that it will produce in this case more than 400,000 items, including financial records, e-mails and corporate records. Two thousand documents that the government is identifying as hot documents, meaning that they're especially pertinent to the case. Copies of 36 electronic devices such as laptops, phones, thumb drives and copies of 15 search and seizure warrants and related applications.

In addition to dealing with the hostile witnesses and clever attorneys, the Mueller team has been fighting some Republicans in Congress and the pro-Trump media who have rapidly travelled from questioning the investigation to attempting to discredit it at every turn.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. MATT GAETZ (R), FLORIDA: We are at risk of a coup d'etat in this country if we allow an unaccountable person with no oversight to undermine the duly elected president.

STEVE DOOCY, FOX NEWS ANCHOR: The people who are handling all of these sensitive investigations, looks like they had their thumb on the scale of justice tipping it towards Hillary and away from Donald Trump.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: As the investigations pursuit inches closer to the White House, the president, too, is playing offense, suggesting that the FBI's reputation for objectivity is in, quote, tatters.

All of this as we're learning new details about the investigation this afternoon. The fiancee of George Papadopoulos, that's the former Trump campaign foreign policy adviser who pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI about his contacts with Russians, that fiancee just spoke with CNN to push back against White House claims that Papadopoulos was just the coffee boy.

As you might recall, Papadopoulos joined the Trump campaign as a foreign policy adviser in early March 2016. Soon after, then candidate Trump first referenced him as an adviser on March 31st. Papadopoulos attended this foreign policy meeting with candidate Trump.

CNN's Pamela Brown spoke with his fiancee and joins us now.

And, Pamela, she's fighting back for her husband to be against the attacks, including the attacks from the White House.

PAMELA BROWN, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: That's right. This is really the first time today, Jake, that we are hearing this side of George Papadopoulos, his side of the story through his fiance. As you said, he was the former foreign policy adviser on the Trump campaign and the fiancee really wanted to share things that Papadopoulos himself has not been able to discuss because on the advice of his lawyers he's not speaking publicly with the media as he awaits sentencing.

His fiancee, Simona Mangiante, an Italian national, who says she too was interviewed by the FBI and the Russia investigation, strongly refutes claims by the White House and campaign officials that Papadopoulos only acted on his own without campaign approval and that he was nothing more than a coffee boy.

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BROWN: What have you seen, what have you read that doesn't square with the George Papadopoulos you know?

SIMONA MANGIANTE, GEORGE PAPADOPOULOS' FIANCEE: George Papadopoulos is everything but a coffee boy. He is an outstanding personality. He's very educated, articulated and even his contribution to the campaign has been much more relevant than bringing coffee.

BROWN: Why do you think the white house was so quick to come out and call him a coffee boy or a low-level volunteer?

MANGIANTE: I think they wanted to disassociate from the first person who decided to actually cooperate with the government on the right side. And probably the easiest way out is to dismiss his personality and lower him to a low-level volunteer.

BROWN: And you don't believe he was?

MANGIANTE: I know he wasn't.

BROWN: How do you know he wasn't?

MANGIANTE: He shared with me some details about his contributions to the campaign.

BROWN: You say that he was consistently in touch with these high- level campaign officials.

MANGIANTE: Yes.

BROWN: What was his interaction with Michael Flynn?

MANGIANTE: He was no contact with Michael Flynn and he worked with Michael Flynn during the transition and he was actively contributing to develop the foreign policy strategies for the campaign. He didn't take any initiative on his own without campaign approval.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BROWN: And Mangiante says that Papadopoulos communicated with Flynn, Steve Bannon and former campaign adviser Rick Dearborn about topics other than Russia. But she says she did interact with other top campaign officials including Corey Lewandowski, Paul Manafort, and Sam Clovis. Sam Clovis earlier in the campaign about setting up Russia meetings. Now, they have all denied, downplayed or have said that they don't ever recall interacting with Papadopoulos.

She also says the campaign's deputy campaign director Brian Lanza, now a CNN contributor, allows him to do the only interview with the Russian news agency, Interfax. Lanza declined to comment, as Papadopoulos awaits his sentencing. She says she hopes President Trump will pardon him. Of course we reached out to the White House and the White House did not provide a comment for this story, Jake.

TAPPER: All right. Pamela Brown, thanks so much.

My panel is here with me. Just to remind people, Papadopoulos pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI and among the statements he made that were true after he was caught in the lie, he had admitted that he met with a professor in England who had ties to the Kremlin who said that people in Russia claimed that they had dirt on Hillary Clinton. This was like April of 2016.

Robby, obviously you were a former campaign manager for Hillary Clinton.

[16:40:04] I imagine that you're pretty interested in the case of Mr. Papadopoulos.

ROBBY MOOK, FORMER CAMPAIGN MANAGER, HILLARY FOR AMERICA: Well, this only seems to be going one direction, you know? There were frequent communications with the Russians. I was on your show in the summer and Don Jr. said it was outrageous that -- I think he said it was disgusting that we implied the Russians were trying to help the campaign.

You know, at every point, everything they said, every refutation they made has been pushed away by the facts. So, yes, I guess I'm just not surprised by any of this anymore. I think it will just get deeper and deeper.

I do think that they're likely to get to president Trump's financials and potential financial dealings with the Russians quicker than they're going to get to any of the -- you know, issues of collusion. That may actually end up being his real Achilles heel.

TAPPER: And this fiance was saying he didn't do anything without approval from the campaign. I mean, that was one of the big messages that she was saying out there. She was asked in a different interview what would the title of the book about George Papadopoulos be and I think she said "the first domino", which is the kind of an interesting thing to say.

AMANDA CARPENTER, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Yes. I mean, she's trying to help her fiance and at the same time she is not helping the Trump administration at all. And while I do agree with Robby, this is all going in one direction. Man, if you tune in to conservative media, the story you hear there is completely different.

TAPPER: Well, they're talking about Hillary, right?

CARPENTER: Yes. Well, forget alternative facts, there are alternative narratives and story lines. Very prominent conservative talk radio shows are on the airwaves telling their views so what if they accepted some e-mails from the Russians? So what? It's a nothingburger.

Well, I don't agree. It's sort of choose your own criminal adventure. It could be obstruction of justice, abuse of power, perjury, and, you know, coordinating illegally with a foreign entity. But that's not what people believe.

So, while the investigation is advancing, there are a lot of people -- a lot of people I know who don't accept the very premise of this investigation. So, if there are charges brought, I'm very worried it can cause a lot of internal turmoil.

TAPPER: And not only that, but conservatives, pro-Trump media, Fox News and some of the talk radio that Amanda's talking about, they're pushing the idea that Robert Mueller, who had an impeccable reputation for integrity, that he is corrupt, that he is a tool of Hillary Clinton. I mean, there are -- this goes beyond questioning individual acts or individual FBI agents. This goes to -- you heard the congressman saying that this was a coup d'etat. It's pretty stunning.

REBECCA BERG, CNN POLITICAL REPORTER: It's incredibly, especially if you compare those statements and that narrative, that alternative universe of facts to what Republicans said when Mueller was named as the special counsel. They used words like unimpeachable to describe Robert Mueller because his reputation is just so sterling.

There wasn't even an avenue to criticize him as the pick for this job. So what this is about, Jake, is not about Mueller actually being corrupt or any evidence that these conservatives actually have before them right now. In fact, there is a lot of evidence to the contrary. He fired someone from this inquiry because he found text messages that might have suggested this person was not without conflict. That he might have supported Hillary Clinton over Donald Trump and that would throw into doubt any conclusions he reached.

So, what this is about is all about politics. It's about winning in the court of public opinion, trying to undermine whatever conclusion Mueller reaches.

TAPPER: Everyone stick around. We got more to talk about. Is the Trump administration trying to erase science? The changes being made to the EPA's Website that are causing alarm among scientists. That's ahead.

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[16:45:00] TAPPER: Welcome back. The Dow and the S&P 500 both closing this hour at record highs following today's release of another strong jobs report. Employers added 228,000 jobs in November and the unemployment rate remained at a 17-year low, 4.1 percent. The report echoing other signs of strength, including the best quarter of economic growth since 2014. Let's talk about this with the panel. Robbie, some key industries have been hiring in November, manufacturing added 31,000 jobs, construction, 24,000. Isn't this what President Trump promised?

ROBBY MOOK, FORMER CAMPAIGN MANAGER, HILLARY FOR AMERICA: Look, this is great news, but there are two things we should keep in mind. One, this is because of the work under President Obama's administration. It's not like a new president comes in and suddenly companies suddenly --

TAPPER: We're -- I mean, it's December already.

MOOK: Yes, but these things -- these economic forces take a lot longer. But the second and the more important to me is we are passing a tax bill that gives away billions of dollars to the wealthiest people in this country to "stimulate the economy" when it's looking like the job market is basically getting as tight as it possibly can, but that income gap is widening. So we're solving a problem that doesn't exist and we're making a problem that does exist a lot worse and that is income inequality.

TAPPER: I mean, is it -- is it -- is that a fair criticism in this sense? What is the impetus for this tax bill if the economy is so strong and it does look pretty strong, if you want to give to the credit to President or President Obama, it does look pretty strong, at least on the surface.

AMANDA CARPENTER, FORMER COMMUNICATIONS DIRECTOR FOR TED CRUZ: And you can never be too rich or too skinny, right? Isn't that what people say? But listen, I think that Trump does gets a lot of credit even though he didn't do anything because there's such confidence in the Democrats leaving the White House and stopping the threat of more regulations coming down the pike. Trump didn't have to do anything and he gets that benefit. But here's what makes Republicans sick is that the economy is doing great. Trump was supposed to be the jobs candidate. Somehow he didn't have to do anything and he's the jobs President. They don't get any credit for it and he's still at historic approval lows. So what happens if the economy does go down? It could get really ugly.

[16:50:07] TAPPER: So -- and why is that? Because this usually -- you know, as James Carville said, it's the economy, stupid. Usually if people -- if the voters feel like the economy is doing well, that's reflected in their approval rating for the President. That is not the case here. The economy is definitely improving and President Trump's approval ratings are at historic lows, they're in the 30s. Why the disconnect?

REBECCA BERG, CNN POLITICAL REPORTER: Well, a big part of it is what the President himself is talking about and drawing attention to, Jake. Any other President given this set of circumstances, a booming economy, you know, pretty positive economic news, that's exactly what that President would want to talk about. They would want to talk about the tax reform legislation that is going through Congress and could be a major policy victory for Republicans. Instead, Donald Trump, if you take a, you know, casual glance at his Twitter, would see he is talking about none of those things. He is talking about things that make voters nervous, that upset voters.

Voters we are seeing now, there was some doubt about this during the election, but there are actually still many Americans who believe a President act presidential. And on the campaign trail, I talked to even Trump supporters who said they thought as president he would become more presidential, would tamper his language. Obviously, he hasn't done that. And so you see people now disappointed in what he has -- how he has acted as President.

TAPPER: So, I should point out because you brought up the tax bill. Republican Senator Susan Collins who voted for the tax bill last week, she now said she's considering removing her support of it because she told a CNN affiliate she could change her vote if her proposed amendments don't make it to the final version. So it's not out of the woods yet but you still think it's probably going to pass?

MOOK: I don't know. I think the devil is in the details. It's a lot easier to pass something, get it to committee and then decide -- than decide on the final version. I honestly hope it doesn't. This is really bad. This is exactly what happened when George W. Bush came into office. Strong economy, big tax breaks for the wealthiest people for corporations and the economy, you know, the bubble blew up, burst and the economy crashed. This crash I fear could be worse because there are so many people who aren't doing better. And those are exactly the people who voted Trump in. So this is not a good recipe for re-election for Trump.

TAPPER: All right, we're going to take a quick break. I think we're going to show you some pictures of President Trump. There it is, getting ready to take off for Pensacola. There he is at Joint Base Andrews in Maryland. He's heading to Florida to rally for the candidate across the border in Alabama. We'll take this quick break. We'll be right back.

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[16:55:00] TAPPER: This just in, the New York Times is reporting that earlier this year the FBI warned one of President Trump's closest confidants Hope Hicks of repeated attempts by Russian operatives to make contact with her during the Presidential transition. We should underline there's no evidence that Hicks did anything improper. The New York Times also reporting that the senior FBI counterintelligence agency -- agents met with Hicks in the White House situation room at least twice because of this warning giving her the names of Russians who had contacted her and said that they were not who they claimed to be. In addition, the Special Counsel we're told interviewed Hope Hicks yesterday and today, the New York Times says, as part of their probe into Russian interference and possible collusion by the Trump team. Stunning news but I suppose not surprising that people were trying to get to Hope Hicks and they were Russians pretending to be people that they weren't.

CARPENTER: Yes, I mean, this confirms that there's a very sophisticated campaign conducted by the Russians to make contact and influence the Trump campaign. Hope Hicks hopefully was smart enough not to take the call. Others may not have been as smart as her.

TAPPER: The idea that they would interview her today and yesterday not a surprise, given that Hope Hicks was on Air Force One that time when Donald Trump Jr. was trying to come up with his initial explanation for that meeting with the Russian government lawyer that he had been told was a Russian government lawyer -- she wasn't actually -- with dirt on Hillary Clinton coming up with that initial explanation that there was a false explanation.

BERG: Absolutely. And it wasn't just that episode that Hope Hicks would have been there for, Jake. She has been there from the very beginning. She's one of the Trump family's, not just Donald Trump, but also Ivanka Trump and the rest of the Trump family, one of their most trusted loyal advisers. She has been with them truly from the very beginning of all of this. She was in the room for many of the important episodes on the campaign. She's going to potentially be a very important witness to this whole investigation.

TAPPER: And interesting though that the FBI, which President Trump is currently attacking and trying to undermine, earlier this year they were trying to warning Hope Hicks, trying to give her this defensive briefing about people with nefarious intent they thought are trying to reach out to her.

MOOK: Well, it makes me wonder, my gosh, what was going on in the campaign? I'm certain the risks were there at that time, too. I think it's interesting to think about this, that in the future, political operatives or people working on campaigns needs to start worrying about this. You know, one of my criticisms of the FBI and the Department of Homeland Security throughout the last campaign is I don't think they were aggressive enough about talking to the campaigns about what was going on and flagging for people. I'm glad they did this for Hope Hicks. But it really makes me wonder what else do we not know.

TAPPER: Thanks one and all. You guys were great. Great panel. Have a great weekend. Be sure to tune into CNN this Sunday morning for "STATE OF THE UNION." I have a great show. My guest will be the Ranking Member of the House Intelligence Committee Congressman Adam Schiff, Alabama Senator Richard Shelby who will talk about the Alabama Senate Race, plus of course, U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley to talk about all things foreign policy. It at all starts at 9:00 a.m. and noon Eastern. That's it for THE LEAD, I'm Jake Tapper, turning you over to Wolf Blitzer. Have a great weekend. I will see you Sunday morning.