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Special Counsel Mueller Empowered to Investigate Paul Manafort on Collusion; First Person Sentenced in Mueller Probe; Trump Takes on Media, Immigration Policy, Obama on Twitter; Memo Outlines Scope Of Mueller Investigation Into Manafort; Mueller: Van Der Zwaan Ties Gates To Russian Intel; Wall Street Braces After Monday Sell-Off. Aired 9- 9:30a ET

Aired April 3, 2018 - 09:00   ET


[09:00:00] ERICA HILL, CNN ANCHOR: -- first sentencing of a defendant who flipped. We'll go live to the D.C. federal courthouse in just a moment.

But first, a bombshell from the special counsel himself. A memo written last August attached, though, to a brand new court filing which shows Mueller was specifically empowered to investigate former Trump campaign chairman, Paul Manafort, and not only for Manafort's possible collusion with Russians during the campaign.

CNN's Shimon Prokupecz is in Washington with the very latest.

What more are we learning?

SHIMON PROKUPECZ, CNN CRIME AND JUSTICE REPORTER: Yes, Erica. Certainly significant because you just never see this kind of filing by Justice Department officials. And the memo really just lays out exactly what the special counsel was authorized to investigate by the Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein who was overseeing the Russia investigation.

Now the big piece of info here is that there's an active collusion investigation relating to Paul Manafort, but it also shows that the scope as relates to Paul Manafort did go beyond Russia.

And here is what the memo says. First, it says that the special counsel is authorized to investigate allegations that Manafort committed a crime or crimes by colluding with Russians. And then it also says, and this is outside of the Russia scope perhaps, that Mueller is authorized to investigate Manafort for money he received while working for the pro-Russian head of the Ukraine.

And as we know now that Manafort has been charged with the money he made from that work. His attorneys are arguing that Mueller has overstepped his jurisdiction by bringing those charges because it has nothing to do with the Russia investigation. But clearly what this memo shows is that the special counsel was authorized to go ahead and investigate Manafort for those issues.

HILL: So we do have that part of it. The memo itself, though, is heavily redacted, correct? PROKUPECZ: Yes. It certainly is heavily, heavily redacted. We only

see a glimpse of what the scope is. And that is as it relates to Paul Manafort. I mean, it's certainly notable for what we don't see. Those parts, as you say, are redacted. They're blacked out. And what it appears to show is other allegations and people, the Mueller team are investigating, perhaps some other folks who they have some allegations against and they're looking at.

The special counsel says that that information needs to remain classified. You know, the investigation here still ongoing.

But, you know, Erica, the important thing here that the notion that the collusion investigation is over and that Manafort isn't potentially facing any charges related to Russia, I think this memo makes it pretty clear that that's just not true.

HILL: Simply not the case at this point.

There's also some reporting from the "Wall Street Journal" about Roger Stone and WikiLeaks. Not the first time we've seen these two in the same sentence. But what's new here?

PROKUPECZ: Right. So what's new here is that the "Wall Street Journal" says that they have seen an e-mail that Roger Stone sent to Sam Nunberg who is -- who was a Trump campaign adviser. He's been in the news recently. He testified before the grand jury.

It was an e-mail that he sent to Sam Nunberg about having -- dining with the WikiLeaks head, Julian Assange. But what's notable about this is that he says this happened in August of 2016, August 4th. And on July 22nd, as we know, is when WikiLeaks published the hacked e- mails. Certainly all of this is very important to the Mueller investigation. Roger Stone denies that he dined, said it was a joke -- this e-mail was a joke.

But again, all of this goes into the larger investigation, the conspiracy investigation that Bob Mueller and his team are now investigating.

HILL: Never a dull moment. Shimon, thank you.

And to that point, now to the sentencing hearing about to get under way for Alex van der Zwaan. He's a Dutch lawyer with ties to both Manafort and his former deputy Rick Gates.

CNN's Evan Perez right now outside the courthouse in Washington.

Evan, good morning.

EVAN PEREZ, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Erica. As you mentioned, in the next hour we expect Alexander van der Zwaan to walk into the federal courthouse behind me and he's expected to be sentenced. He's facing zero to six months in prison. And right now we expect probably closer to zero, no time in prison despite the fact that he is now admitting to lying and to conspiracy charges in the special counsel investigation. Now this is a big milestone in Robert Mueller's investigation. This

is the first person to be sentenced in this almost year-long investigation.

And just to bring it back, as Shimon was talking about with this memo from Rod Rosenstein which authorized the special counsel to look into specifically collusion, it's the first time we've heard that. And we saw a little bit of that in a memo that the prosecutors wrote in the sentencing of Alex van der Zwaan. They said in particular that he was aware and he lied to prosecutors about Rick Gates who is Paul Manafort's deputy, and the fact that Gates was in touch -- constant contact with what the FBI believes was a Russian spy, an intelligence agent working for the Russians, that Rick Gates was aware that this person was working for the Russians despite the fact that he was working for the campaign, this is in September and October of 2016.

[09:05:10] So it brings it back to the fact that Robert Mueller's investigation is still very squarely on the mission here which is to look into whether or not there was any collusion between the Trump campaign and the Russians -- Erica.

HILL: Evan Perez with more for us there. Evan, thank you.

Also this morning, President Trump continuing to unleash on Twitter, taking on immigration, taking on the media, taking on Obama, and the brig question, is Scott Pruitt going to last the week?

Abby Phillip is at the White House with the very latest there.

So, Abby, let's start first with what we're hearing from the president this morning.

ABBY PHILLIP, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: That's right. Good morning, Erica. The president really making a hard pivot to his base with a new hardline stance on immigration. He has been referencing this issue of caravans of illegal immigrants coming to the United States border from Central America. He's referring here to a group of immigrants organized by immigration advocates who are seeking asylum here.

But here's what he tweeted, "The big caravan of people from Honduras now coming across Mexico and headed to our weak laws border had better be stopped before it gets here. Cash cow NAFTA is in play, as if foreign aid to Honduras and the countries that allowed this to happen. Congress must act now."

Now this is the first time that President Trump has specifically threatened Honduras with withdrawing foreign aid over this issue. And the White House is also preparing to present to Congress some new plans or some old plans that are being brought back to deal with the illegal immigration issue.

They want some changes to the way that they deal with immigrants, children coming across the border and also families who they want to be able to hold in detention facilities longer -- Erica. HILL: So that's all what we're hearing from the president this

morning. In terms of Scott Pruitt, I do want to get some information on this, Abby. What more are we hearing? He is under obviously increasing pressure, the headlines not kind at this point. Is there a sense he will not make it through the week?

PHILLIP: Well, you know, this is one of those situations that we've seen with a lot of other Cabinet secretaries. The frustration is definitely growing here in the White House with Scott Pruitt.

These stories keep coming day after day about his use of taxpayer dollars, but also about ethical issues concerning his lodging here in Washington. White House aides are frustrated, the president is frustrated by these distractions. But the question is, will that be enough for Scott Pruitt to be taken out of this administration.

The one caveat to all of this, sources tell us is that the president actually likes what Scott Pruitt has been doing over at the EPA. And it's not clear whether these scandals are going to be enough to push him out of the Cabinet -- Erica.

HILL: Abby Phillip at the White House for us this morning. Abby, thank you.

Joining me now Ryan Lizza, CNN political analyst, Susan Page, Washington bureau chief at "USA Today" and Amber Phillips, political reporter for "Washington Post's" "The Fix" blog.

Good to have all of you with us. I just want to pick up on that point that Abby was making there. As we look at what's happening or not happening at this point with Scott Pruitt, the fact that the president may be frustrated by the distraction but is actually fairly happy with what he's seeing in terms of action from Scott Pruitt.

Ryan Lizza, is that enough to get him to -- to keep him where he is now?

RYAN LIZZA, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: No. Because we know from previous senior officials in the Trump administration that ideology alone is not enough for Trump. I mean, Trump is all over the place ideologically. The way to remain in his good graces is twofold. One is to maintain relationships with his children, if you cross the children you're out in the Trump world. And two is to not embarrass or upstage the president. And we know he's very, very sensitive to, you know, officials who are on the covers of magazines, have too much time in the press for positive or negative reasons.

But more so if it's negative reasons, and more so if it's things that -- you know, that irritate Trump like these ethical issues like spending too much money, seeming like you're into luxurious travel or sweetheart deals with lobbyists.

You know, we've seen other officials who were pushed out over these kinds of things. So I don't think just because Pruitt is implementing the sort of Trump agenda at EPA that's enough. Trump is not someone who sticks with people for -- just because they are with him on ideological issues.

HILL: In terms of those who've been pushed out, they have been -- it feels somewhat uncharacteristically vocal and honest in terms of how they are feeling afterwards. We can look just most recently at Shulkin, at Tillerson, at Andrew McCabe. And we're also hearing from Andrew McCabe's wife, Jill McCabe, in a piece she wrote for the "Washington Post," where she basically calls out the president as a liar.

Susan, is this unprecedented in terms of that raw honesty and how vocal these folks have been since being fired, or has it just been a little while and we don't remember?

SUSAN PAGE, WASHINGTON BUREAU CHIEF, USA TODAY: No, it has been remarkable. And one of the reasons that it seems unprecedented is because there are so many people who have been fired. I mean, it is not customary in an administration to have so many vacancies. You know, traditionally presidents are reluctant sometimes to fire somebody or to push somebody out because it may be hard to get a new person confirmed for that post.

[09:10:10] That has not been the case with President Trump. And you also see people fired for reasons that they don't think are fair. That would certainly be true for Mr. McCabe pushed out of the FBI. So we hear from -- we heard from him last week, we hear from his wife this week with her story about how she feels that she and her family were treated really unfairly by President Trump.

HILL: I want to shift now, as we're looking at what more we're learning about the memo, the reporting we just heard from Shimon, that the filing was really significant here, too, is what we don't see. And there's always something that's going to be redacted understandably, but it's significant when you look at this large chunk of that memo that is blacked out, and the concern about who else could be a part of that, Amber.

How much of a concern is that as to who may be a target at this point?

AMBER PHILLIPS, POLITICAL REPORTER, WASHINGTON POST'S "THE FIX" BLOG: Yes, that's got to be a concern for the Trump White House, absolutely, because according to CNN's own reporting Paul Manafort didn't even know that Mueller got the OK from the Department of Justice at the highest levels to say, yes, look at Manafort's allegations to collusion. The only reason we know this is because Manafort actually challenged Mueller's ability to investigate him.

He said, hey, I think you're stepping out of bounds by looking at my ties to Ukraine and charging me with fraud and finance issues. You know, you're not focusing on Russia. Well, Mueller hands him, you know, this information from the Department of the Justice that says actually you could be a principal figure for the reason my investigation got started in the first place which is Russia collusion.

And the Trump White House has got to be wondering who else's names if anyone else might be on that list that has the OK from the Justice Department to look into whether their ties to Russia raise to the level of collusion legally.

LIZZA: Hey, can I -- can I add one thing on this?

HILL: Yes. Go ahead.

LIZZA: Because I think it's really interesting politically what's playing out in this case. You know, legally, most of the legal analysts don't seem to think that Manafort has much of a case here, right? He's challenging the authority of the special counsel. But he's forcing the special counsel to reveal some more information, to develop a full-throated defense of its authority, putting some new information into the public domain.

And let's be honest, a case like this is obviously very political. Manafort, you know, one avenue available to him is eventually a pardon, which there's been reporting recently that Trump -- one of Trump's aides may have dangled before Manafort's lawyers. And the other avenue available to him is politically to work up this argument that the special counsel is this out-of-control authority, somewhat similar to what Clinton defenders did with Ken Starr, and to push this idea in friendly media that somehow Mueller is just out of control and to push the White House maybe to do something about him.

So I think that's the political context that Manafort is operating in with this case that legally is not very strong.

HILL: Well, there's also -- I mean, just from looking at this practically, Susan, how much of this could also be some sort of public pressure on Paul Manafort, to Ryan's point, to remind him of everything that is happening?

PAGE: Yes. I think Paul Manafort must feel like he is really the man -- you know, keep in mind, he has one trial that's expected -- now scheduled to begin in July and a second one in September. This is really coming to a boiling point for Paul Manafort and his legal problems. He has not been one of those who has agreed to cooperate with the special counsel. You know, some people must be wondering if there comes a point where he might be willing to do that.

And, you know, there are not very many figures who are more important than Paul Manafort would be. That would be a very big development indeed.

HILL: And as all of this is developing, of course, we're hearing from the president. We're seeing what he's tweeting about immigration, slamming U.S. policies, threatening Honduran aid, also tweeting about these caravans, which, Amber, he doesn't seem to fully understand what's actually happening there.

How much of these tweets, though, these tweets in terms of immigration could be in some way, Amber, the president saying, you know what, come back to me on this? In some ways this is ways the president tries to negotiate, right? I'm going to throw it out to you, throw in an insult, and then I want you to come back and make me an offer.

PHILLIPS: Yes, yes. That is absolutely right, Erica. I think the president's negotiating MO is to leverage threats. You know, he told Mexico yesterday, I might exit NAFTA if you guys don't beef up your own security at the border. You know, he's threatening Honduras today for the first time with ripping out aid. We know he's done this to Democrats where he says, I'm going to, you know, considering veto an entire spending bill which -- that would also affect Republicans in a very negative way.

If you don't try to open the door to negotiate with me on immigration, it seems like the president really has one path forward and that is to issue threats and hope that scares the other side to the table to negotiate.


You know, so far, he has one legislative accomplishment, the tax bill Congress passed in December under his belt and not much else to show for that strategy. I think that's an important way to underscore that tweet.

ERICA HILL, CNN ANCHOR: Ryan Lizza, Susan -- go ahead, Ryan, real quick.

RYAN LIZZA, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: The threats seem kind of hollow. NAFTA negotiations are ongoing, and the current status of those negotiations is that the immigration issue is not part of them. He's trying to throw this on the table, but they've already agreed it's not part of them.

In Congress, his immigration effort failed to even get 51 votes. I think it was 39 or something. So, these threats are very hollow and as president, you could threaten so many times. If you don't back it up, you really lose your credibility.

HILL: I think there's another story, the boy who cried wolf. Ryan Lizza, Susan Page, Amber Phillips, appreciate it. Thank you.

We are minutes away from the first sentencing in the Mueller probe. Now we know the special counsel was given the OK to investigate the former Trump campaign chairman for possible collusion. Our legal expert weighs in on what this all means.

Plus, investors on edge over trade war fears and the president's attack on Amazon. What is happening to Wall Street's so-called Trump bump.

Day two of teacher protests in Oklahoma, schools shut as they fight for better pay and more education funding.



HILL: Back now with the big headlines this morning. CNN has learned Special Counsel Robert Mueller was authorized by the DOJ to investigate alleged collusion between Paul Manafort and Russia. Joining me now CNN legal analyst, former federal prosecutor, Laura Coates. Laura, as we look at this, put it in perspective for us, how significant is this filing in terms of what it tells us about the scope of the investigation, specifically where Manafort is concerned?

LAURA COATES, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: It's very significant given the fact it's one of the first times that you really see the power and influence of Rod Rosenstein in the overall investigation. A lot of fingers have pointed towards Robert Mueller as being the person who is backing the entire investigation.

He was giving full authority on how it would proceed. In reality that power belongs to Rod Rosenstein to be able to sanction and help to coordinate whatever investigative tactics are going to be used.

So, this filing is the first time we're really seeing that the scope of the Mueller mandate also included things that were not otherwise known to the public, in a sense to say we'd like to have some things close to the vest.

We're going to try to plumb some of the motives that are being used, any opportunities for undue influence. It really for the first time shows you that the timeline of the Mueller investigation predates the election. It goes back to a time when there was an opportunity to influence.

HILL: That is something obviously that will be a significant focus. There's also the fact we're seeing the first sentencing in terms of Alex Van Der Zwaan. Walk us through the connection here because this, too, is a significant moment.

COATES: It is. So, Van Der Zwaan is an attorney who used to worked for (inaudible), a white shoe law firm who allegedly had made misrepresentations to the special counsel. Now the idea of lying to special counsel is not the first thing we've seen.

Papadopoulos, Michael Flynn, they've all had their bouts of being inaccurate and misleading and lying to investigators. This particular attorney is the one who can connect what Rick Gates knew, when he was corresponding to people who had Russian ties, connections to the intelligence community and Russia, what he knew, and potentially the mental state of Rick Gates and other people.

It's very important to find that out. What's not known at this point in time is what other information he knew and who that "Person A," the Russian intel figure on your screen is.

The reason for that is because there's a lot of information that Van Der Zwaan knows that no one else has been privy to by virtue of the fact that he has been a cooperator of sorts to the Mueller investigation.

So, it covers up the context of Rick Gates and Manafort and he had these ties to Russian intelligence. What we're going to learn today is the extent that Van Der Zwaan played a key role. We're also going to learn, however, Erica, how a judge is going to view the muzzling of people like Van Der Zwaan and Rick Gates, and everyone going forward because there's a lot of information that Mueller still wants to keep close to the vest still to keep away from the public eye to be able to do his investigation further.

HILL: As you're looking at all of this, in many ways to putting it out there, there's so much that Robert Mueller would want to keep close to the vest. But also with some of this information out there, is that perhaps a not-so-indirect message to Paul Manafort?

COATES: It absolutely is and other people who -- remember, the memo that came out last night had almost a full page of people who were redacted, whose names were not known, whether they're being investigated, whether they're targets or witnesses, it's almost a shot across the bow to tell people that there is no certainty with respect to this investigation.

Now prosecutors' investigation works really, really well when you have this idea of uncertainty, when everyone is on their toes, they will all jump more readily for Robert Mueller, and that's the key here.

It also signals to people, well, how is the Mueller investigative team going to deal with people who are lying, with people who are cooperating. Will there be true lenience? Will there be some incentive for somebody like Paul Manafort if the Mueller investigative team say today in court we'd like a light sentence, closer to zero months as opposed to six months in prison. Will that be an indication maybe he should try to cooperate too if there is a bigger fish?

HILL: We'll be watching for that. Laura Coates, appreciate it as always. Thank you.

COATES: Thank you.

HILL: Could we be in for another stock shock? Moments away now from the opening bell after Monday's brutal selloff. There are two big factors we're watching, fears of a trade war and the president's tweets.



HILL: Just about 30 seconds to go before the opening bell on Wall Street which is bracing after yesterday's major selloff, trade war fears, the president's attacks on Amazon. Will that big Trump bump begin to fade?

CNN correspondent, Alison Kosik, is on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange, Erin Brown, head of Asset Allocation for UBS Asset Management, and CNN senior media correspondent, Brian Stelter here with me in the studio.

There we hear it. The bell beginning to ring. Alison, what's the talk on the floor there this morning specifically involving Amazon? ALISON KOSIK, CNN BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: (Inaudible) Amazon is saying President Trump stop attacking Amazon on Twitter because it's causing --