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NYT: Papadopoulos May Have Sparked FBI Russia Probe; WAPO: Concerns Grow as Nunes Reasserts House Intel Leadership; Trump Takes Credit for 2017 Airline Safety; Pakistan Holds Emergency Meeting Over Trump Tweet; South Korea Pitches High-Level Talks with North Next Week; New Details on Americans Killed in Costa Rica Plane Crash. Aired 11:30-12p ET

Aired January 2, 2018 - 11:30   ET



[11:30:30] ANA CABRERA, CNN ANCHOR: A New Year, but one thing that remains the same, the Russia investigation looms over Washington. Questions are still swirling over reports that a conversation between a former Trump aide and a foreign diplomat may have kicked off the investigation into Russian hacking and possible collusion with the Trump campaign. Now "The New York Times" reports George Papadopoulos, who pleaded guilty already to lying to the FBI, apparently, told an Australian diplomat in London that Russia had dirt on Hillary Clinton. At the time, Papadopoulos was the foreign policy adviser to the Trump campaign. A couple months after that discussion, leaked e-mails from Democrats started appearing online. The "Times" reports it is Papadopoulos' conversation and the e-mail hacking that, combined, led to the FBI's Russia investigation, and that Papadopoulos had a much bigger role in the campaign than the White House admits.

Joining us to discuss, CNN political reporter, Rebecca Berg, and former federal prosecutor, Renato Mariotti.

Rebecca, two things from Republicans all along on the Russia probe, George Papadopoulos was just a coffee boy. Oh, yes, and that dossier was the reason the FBI started investigating the Trump campaign's ties to Russia. Does this new reporting undercut all of that?

REBECCA BERG, CNN POLITICAL REPORTER: Well, absolutely. This is mostly the spin we've been hearing from the White House on it, that Papadopoulos was not an important player in the campaign, but specifically and I think this is the most important part of the "New York Times" report, the White House and the president have been suggesting that this dossier was the grounds for the initial investigation into Russia and potential collusion with the campaign. Their suggestion, of course, being that this was a political witch hunt, that this was politically motivated because the dossier was a piece of political opposition research essentially. To have this report out now suggesting the opposite, that the dossier was not the foundation of the investigation, really undercuts the suggestion this is a political witch hunt as the president has said, and really brings this closer in to the campaign, gives it a new sort of veneer of credibility the White House will have trouble trying to spin. CABRERA: Also, when you look at Papadopoulos' role, they keep calling

him a coffee boy. Sarah Sanders referring to him as like a low-level volunteer, at one of her White House briefings. But according to the "Times" report, Papadopoulos edited a foreign policy speech that then candidate Trump gave at the end of April, in which he talked about having a warmer relationship with Russia. He also helped facilitate, according to the "Times," a meeting between then candidate Trump and the Egyptian president, just a couple months before the election.

Renato, when you look at the new revelations about Papadopoulos and his conversation he apparently had, does it indicate any further crimes?

MARIOTTI: Well, I think the most interesting thing in the piece in terms of potential criminal exposure was the fact that Papadopoulos was continuing to try to set up a meeting between Vladimir Putin and then candidate Trump even after the meeting that they had which Attorney General Sessions claims he told him, you know, not to do that, to put the kibosh on that, so to speak. That's really interesting because first of all, obviously the Attorney General Sessions has talked about that to Congress, it is a crime to lie to Congress, and at some point, Attorney General Sessions may be asked to talk about that under oath. If Papadopoulos, according to "The New York Times" article, there's e-mail traffic where Papadopoulos was, you know, discussing setting up that meeting on e-mail and if everyone in the campaign was ordering Papadopoulos not to pursue a meeting between Frum and Putin, that would be running counter to what is in the e-mails. I think the biggest potential exposure there is, frankly, more falsehoods to the FBI, which we've already seen charges against Papadopoulos and against Mike Flynn for doing that.

CABRERA: That's right.

Rebecca, there's new reporting in "The Washington Post" on Devin Nunes, the House Intel chair. He had, at one point, recused himself while being investigated by the Ethics Committee and cleared, by the way, but he's back. In some ways, he never left. Even some Republicans, however, are concerned about where he is taking things. Tell us about it?

[11:35:00] BERG: Right. The concern right now, Ana, especially among Democrats, but there are some Republicans feeling this way as well, is that newness is taking this in a partisan direction looking into potential corruption in the Department of Justice and the FBI because this is a concern of the president of the United States, of Donald Trump. So there is the concern especially among Democrats, thou Nunes will try to clip the wings of the House intelligence investigation into Russia, into potential collusion, the fact of the matter is, Ana, this has been the most partisan investigation on Capitol Hill from the very beginning, even when new ness recused himself. The committee has done a better job of keeping things nonpartisan, bipartisan, but there's still concerns that that will be affected by some partisan fighting, especially because we're now in an election year. I think both parties are really looking to Mueller's investigation to be the final word on this. These committees still do want to produce some reports at the end of the day, potentially reach some conclusions. When Nunes is doing now is going to cloud whatever potential conclusions the House committee does reach.

CABRERA: Renato, a key focus of Devin Nunes has been the dossier, and now we have Senator Lindsey Graham calling for a special prosecutor to investigate the dossier. Do you see an argument for one?

MARIOTTI: I think that the dossier is properly under Mueller's investigation. We know that Mueller has already interviewed many people about that. I think that -- that is I think the right way for that to go because Mueller is conducting I think a counterintelligence investigation as well as a criminal investigation. I think the focus on that has been very political and I agree that, you know, Mr. Nunes is really acting in a bizarre way, particularly for someone who supposedly recused from the investigation. I think what makes the most sense now is, I do think that Robert Mueller is going to be the one who ultimately is going to, you know, investigate that dossier, but it's unfortunate that our political leaders in both parties can't come together to, you know, have a more bipartisan investigation in Congress because if there are no charges to a particular portion of the Mueller investigation none of us will find out what he did uncover because that's not the purpose of a criminal investigation. That's why we need Congress.

CABRERA: Renato and Rebecca, thank you both. Happy New Year, too.

The president is taking credit today for a great year for commercial airline safety. Did it have anything to do with Trump? That's next.


[11:41:34] CABRERA: 2017 was a good year for commercial airline safety. No fatal accidents last year anywhere in the world. Now the president is taking credit, tweeting this out today, "Since taking office, I have been very strict on commercial aviation. Good news, it was just reported that there were zero deaths in 2017. The best and safest year on record."

No deaths when it comes to commercial jets is the key factor here. So parts of this tweet are true, but there's a lot more to this.

CNN's Tom Foreman is here to break it down for us.

Tom, bring us the facts.

TOM FOREMAN, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Ana, like a lot of things the president tweets, it comes flying in with a whole squadron of question marks around it.

When he talks about the idea it was a safe year, what we know to be true, yes, worldwide, no fatal commercial airline accidents. In the United States, though, that's not such an unusual thing. In fact, it's been eight years since we've had the last fatal commercial crash in the United States, which was ruled to be a crash by an airline in which people died. So that record goes back a long time before Donald Trump was even a candidate, let alone, the president of the United States. So what does he mean when he says he's being strict on things? We've

reached out to the FAA and we've reached out to the White House to say explain exactly what procedures did he put into place and why would you say those were responsible for safer airline travel?

Terrorism is certainly something the White House has waved a big flag about and say we want to push measures in place to stop terrorism, but how that relates to mechanical failures or pilot failures or other things that might make an airplane crash are a big mystery out there. There are an awful lot of flights in the air every day and it has been a good year for air traffic. What we don't know is if that has anything to do with the White House and this president -- Ana?

CABRERA: Tom Foreman, thanks so much.

Now the tweet that forced an emergency meeting of an American ally is next. Pakistan, a partner in the war on terror, scrambling to respond after President Trump accuses them of lies and deceit. Details ahead.


[11:47:17] CABRERA: Pakistan is holding an emergency meeting today attended by the prime minister and top military advisors. This is in response to a tweet from President Trump slamming the country, saying it has given the U.S. nothing but lies and deceit, despite billions of dollars in aid. The U.S. ambassador was even summoned by Pakistan's foreign ministry over this tweet. Now, the White House says it will continue to hold $225 million in military aid to the country for what it says is Pakistan's lack of help in breaking up terror networks there.

CNN's Barbara Starr is at the Pentagon for us with much more on this.

Barbara, a hardline from the president here on Pakistan, but remember just a few months ago, wasn't it, that he was saying they were ready to help the U.S. in a way they had never had before?

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: He had. He was talking about Pakistan now respecting the U.S. and respecting his administration. Now a very different tune being sung and one he has heard before. The U.S. under several presidents has been critical of Pakistan's, shall we say, willingness to cooperate on going after terror networks, that the U.S. Feels are getting shelter inside Pakistan, that money has been withheld for many years now. Certainly, under the Obama administration as well because the U.S. did not feel that Pakistan was doing enough.

The president's language, however, pretty angry, talking those words about lies and deceit and getting a very upset reaction inside the government of Pakistan. The defense minister himself tweeting back. And let me read what the Pakistan defense minister had to say. He said, "Pakistan, an anti-terror ally, has given free to the U.S. land and air communication, military bases, and intel cooperation that decimated al Qaeda over the last 16 years, but they have given us nothing but invective and mistrust. They overlook cross-border safe havens of terrorists who murder Pakistanis." And that last sentence refers to a very long-held view in the Pakistan

government that they have made an effort and they feel their casualties -- they have lost hundreds, if to the thousands of troops actually in their fight against terrorism over the years. They feel the U.S. not paying enough attention to that. Defense Secretary Mattis was in Pakistan just a few weeks ago looking for more cooperation. The signs appear to be they're not getting it.

[11:49:49] CABRERA: Barbara Starr, reporting at the Pentagon, thanks.

There have been some new moves by both North and South Korea. The South today proposing high-level talks with the North that could happen as soon as next week at the DMZ, the Demilitarized Zone at the border. This, after Kim Jong-Un struck a softer tone with South Korea in his New Years message. He, too, called for dialogue and even talked about his hopes that North Korea will participate in the Winter Olympics next month. But keep in mind, this outreach to the South came in the same message that the North Korean leader warned the U.S. not to test him, saying the nuclear button is always on his desk and that the entire country is within range of his nuclear weapon.

Joining me now to discuss all of this is CNN political and national security analyst, and national security correspondent for "The New York Times," David Sanger.

David, what is behind this new call for talks from the North?

DAVID SANGER, CNN POLITICAL & NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: The main thing I think is going on, Ana, is the North sees an opportunity to split the South Koreans from their 70-yeawer-long alliance with the U.S. or to at least take advantage of a breach that has been underway between President Trump and President Moon as the Olympics approach in South Korea. That breach has been over what conditions you place on negotiations, over whether or not to conduct military exercises around the time of the Olympics. The South has asked the U.S. to defer those exercises. And you may recall that a few months ago, President Moon said -- told his own people that he had a veto right over any American decision to use military action against the North. And the administration immediately came out and said, no, they don't. So there is this division between the presidents of the two countries. I think Kim Jong-Un has concluded this is the moment to make the most of that.

CABRERA: You point out this alliance is 70 years old between South Korea and the U.S. You think that's really at risk here?

SANGER: I don't think the whole alliance is at risk, but I think a unified strategy going into 2018 certainly is at risk. The president's strategy, and he reiterated it again in his tweet this morning, is maximum sanctions, maximum -- he referred to other action, I assume that to be covert action against North Korea, and the threat that the U.S. could take preemptive military steps, meaning taking out North Korean missiles or nuclear sites if diplomacy failed. And the South Korean view, of course, is a lot softer. And remember President Moon, when he was -- served in a previous administration, as chief of staff to the president, was in charge of the Sunshine Policy to the north, an opening up economically. That failed, but that's still very much President Moon's view of how to deal with North Korea.

CABRERA: Would it really be a bad thing though if there is some success in deescalating the situation if they are talking to each other and excluding the U.S.?

SANGER: It wouldn't be bad at all. It would buy everybody some time. The risk here is that you get into one of these cycles of spinning away on time while the North builds up its nuclear missile capability. And as we said before, they are quite close to proving this ability to reach any American city. They are interested in having more time in which there are no limits on their nuclear missile program. That's the main risk. There was a North/South accord reached in 1992. I was serving in Japan and South Korea as a "Times" correspondent at the time and covered the negotiations. That reached a broad agreement that included a denuclearized Korean peninsula. It was discarded almost as quickly as it was signed.

CABRERA: A lot of reluctance to believe what's happening there.

David Sanger, we appreciate your analysis and expertise on all thing in is that region. Thank you for joining us.

SANGER: Thank you. Great to be with you.

[11:54:16] CABRERA: Two American families are now confirmed dead after this small plane crash in Costa Rica. New details ahead.


CABRERA: We are learning more about the Americans who lost their lives in a New Year's Eve plane crash in Costa Rica. The victims include members from two different families, from Florida and from New York. Also among the dead, their 33-year-old tour guide, Amanda Guysler.

I want to bring in CNN's Athena Jones, who has been researching and learning more about these families.

Tell us what you're learning.

ATHENA JONES, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Ana, it's such a tragedy to have one death, but to have entire families lost around the holidays is more heart breaking. We have the Mitchell and Leslie Weiss and their children, Hannah and Ari, from Clearwater, Florida. Mitchell and Leslie were both doctors. He was a vascular and interventional radiologist and she was a pediatrician and neonatal specialist. They were lost in that crash on New Year's Eve.

So were the Steinbergs, from Scarsdale, a suburb of New York. Bruce and Irene Steinberg, with their children, Zachary, William, and Matthew. The rabbi at their temple put a post on Facebook saying the tragedy hit the community very hard. One of the neighbors said this was a family you wanted to emulate. So a lot of loss and devastation. And as you mentioned, 33-year-old Amanda Guysler was the travel guide leading the families. She led families on tours. Her family, in a statement, wrote about her love of the outdoors, setting goals and crushing them. Said, "Amanda could leave us with one thing, write down what you want to do and make it happen."

Also lost, a Costa Rican pilot, so a big tragedy. The investigation is just now getting under way.

CABRERA: No word on what caused the crash.


CABRERA: OK, Athena Jones, thank you for that update. Such a sad story.

Thank you for being with us on this Tuesday, January 2nd. Happy New Year to you. That's going to do it for us.

"INSIDE POLITICS" with Dana Bash starts next.

[12:00:06] DANA BASH, CNN HOST: Welcome to INSIDE POLITICS. I'm Dana Bash. John King is off.

President Trump's America First policy is on full display as --