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Now: First Person Sentenced in Mueller Probe; Memo: Mueller OK'd to Investigate Manafort on Allegations of Collusion, Ukraine Payments; Trump Called EPA Chief, Told Him "We Got Your Back." Trump Repeats Debunked Claim Amazon Costs Post Office Money. Aired 10-10:30a ET

Aired April 3, 2018 - 10:00   ET



ERICA HILL, CNN ANCHOR: -- the FBI. This is Alex van der Zwaan arriving to court moments ago. This is a milestone, not only for van der Zwaan, the defendant, but for Robert Mueller, the special counsel who charged van der Zwaan, persuaded him to flip and will no doubt use him to help investigate others.

CNN's Evan Perez is at the D.C. Federal Courthouse now with more. Evan?

EVAN PEREZ, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Erica. Alex van der Zwaan is on the third floor at the Federal Courthouse behind me. And as you said, this is an important milestone in the Robert Mueller special counsel investigation. Alex van der Zwaan pleaded guilty to lying and conspiracy charges. One of the things he lied to federal investigators about is his knowledge about information that Rick Gates and Paul Manafort, he worked with Paul Manafort and Rick Gates in the Ukraine, he failed to tell federal investigators about Rick Gates apparently having contact with a Russian intelligence agent Konstantin Kilimnik.

Now this is something that we learned just last week as federal investigators were getting ready for this sentencing. He's facing zero to six months in prison. We expect that he's probably going to end up getting closer to no time in prison. He's expected to -- his wife is expecting to have a baby in August. So that's one reason why we expect that perhaps he won't serve any jail time, despite the fact he's admitted to lying to the FBI. He's also facing a $250,000 fine as a result of this case.

We know that obviously this is part of the special counsel investigation and this is a really big connection here between van der Zwaan and Paul Manafort and Rick Gates in the fact that Robert Mueller is investigating collusion between the Russians and the Trump campaign. This is part of what the special counsel has been trying to put together in this case. And van der Zwaan is a key connection as Mueller makes that investigation go forward. Erica?

HILL: Evan Perez with the latest for us there from outside the courthouse. Thank you. Also, this morning, the special counsel defending its case against former Trump campaign chairman and former client of Alex van der Zwaan, Paul Manafort. Manafort wants charges related to his Ukraine lobbying work for now. On the ground today, cede Robert Mueller's authority. Mueller though has a formerly secret memo that says otherwise.

CNN's Shimon Prokupecz breaks it down for us. So what specifically does that memo say?

SHIMON PROKUPECZ, CNN CRIME AND JUSTICE REPORTER: Right, Erica. All of this happening as a result of Manafort's attorney challenging the special counsel's authorization to investigate Paul Manafort as it relates to the Ukraine.

Now this memo lays out exactly what the special counsel was authorized to investigate by Rod Rosenstein, deputy attorney general, and who is overseeing the Russia investigation. But really the big piece of info here is there is an active collusion investigation relating to Paul Manafort. It shows this memo, the scope as it relates to Manafort and there is two things here in this memo that is up on your screen now really that kind of explains it. This is an allegation that the special counsel is investigating Manafort committed a crime, crimes by colluding with Russians, and then also says that Mueller is authorized to investigate Manafort for money he received while working for the pro-Russian head of the Ukraine, which are the charges he's now facing for that, for making that money, for not reporting it, from hiding it in offshore accounts.

HILL: We're looking at all of that. There is also this "Wall Street Journal" reporting about Roger Stone and "WikiLeaks." We know Roger Stone has denied much of this. So -- why is it back in the headlines today?

PROKUPECZ: Well, because yesterday, the "Wall Street Journal" reported that -- they claim in their story that they had seen an e-mail that Roger Stone wrote to former Trump campaign adviser Sam Nunberg, back in August of 2016. And in the e-mail, he wrote to Sam saying that, quote, "I dined with Julian Assange last night." Obviously, Julian Assange, Roger Stone, all under sort of the crosshairs here in the crosshairs of the Mueller investigation because they want to know if there was any collusion, any coordination, between the release of the "WikiLeaks," the e-mails of the DNC and the eventual e-mails that were released, the John Podesta e-mails.

All of that, Erica, is part of the special counsel investigation. Roger Stone has denied having any contact, having any dinners, with Julian Assange, but certainly the idea that he sent this e-mail to Sam Nunberg is of interest to the special counsel. Roger Stone claims he was joking with Sam Nunberg when he sent that e-mail.

HILL: Shimon, appreciate it, as always, thank you.

Joining me now to break all of this down, CNN chief legal analyst and former federal prosecutor Jeffrey Toobin. So, Jeff, first of all, starting off with this new memo that we have in the filing here, and Paul Manafort's attorney who was challenging it, why are you going back, why are you looking so far back here? Well now we know that Rod Rosenstein some time ago said, hey, go ahead and look into this if you need to. Is any of that surprising?

[10:05:00] JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN CHIEF LEGAL ANALYST: It is not surprising, but it just shows that the Mueller investigation is like an iceberg. You know three-quarters of it is stuff we can't see. I mean that blacked out area in that memo shows how many areas he's looking into that, you know, have not been publicly disclosed yet. It is not a surprise. But it also shows how meticulous Mueller has been about getting authorization from the Justice Department to do what he's doing, and how unlikely it is Mueller -- that Manafort will get the charges against him thrown out.

HILL: Let me ask you, it may sound like a simple question but I don't mean it that way, in terms of how, you know, how meticulous, as you point out, Robert Mueller has been, why is it even more important in terms of this investigation?

TOOBIN: Well, it is important because, you know, his jurisdiction, at least according to the public disclosure, was so broad. Basically, anything related to the 2016 campaign and related matters. You could see why people would think, well, that's just outrageous, that's too broad a mandate. What Mueller has done is he has specifically asked for authorization of each area that he's investigating.

We now know that the two areas related to Manafort and another thing that is very important about it is that it is not just the charges that Manafort has already been charged with, the misconduct relating to Ukraine. It is also the 2016 campaign and collusion where, you know, one of the lines that the president and his supporters have made often is that, well, collusion is not illegal. Mueller obviously thinks otherwise. That's what that first bullet point means, also very significant.

HILL: Is there a chance that Paul Manafort will flip, you think, after all of this.

TOOBIN: I think it's better than even chance. When you look at the magnitude of the evidence against him, plus the fact that Rick Gates, his partner and close associate has flipped, I think once these motions are declined, which I expect they will be, Manafort will come under enormous pressure, given that the fact he's just about 70 years old, and it is looking like, if he's convicted after trial, he may spend the rest of his life in prison.

HILL: There is also the Alex van der Zwaan part of the equation. We'll learn a little bit more about today. What are you expecting though will come out of that? What are we going to learn?

TOOBIN: Well, I don't think we're going to learn -- the specific thing we'll learn is what sentence he gets. And I think he's very likely to get probation, not a prison sentence. The federal sentencing guidelines for a first offense like this, where the defendant admitted responsibility, I just don't think a prison sentence is likely. What is unusual about this guilty plea, this early in the investigation, is that there is no cooperation agreement. He's simply cooperating because he was willing to do it.

So, again, it suggests that this is someone who is really admitted his responsibility, and is trying to move on with his life, and someone that the government has not asked for a prison sentence, Mueller's office has not asked for a prison sentence. I think it is likely he'll get probation.

HILL: There is also in terms of the "Wall Street Journal" saying now they have seen this e-mail involving Roger Stone, we heard this before, we heard his denial before, did that change anything?

TOOBIN: Well, I mean, it is more evidence of possible connections between the Trump campaign and "WikiLeaks." Roger Stone being affiliated with, though not an employee of the Trump campaign. Now, I know Roger Stone very well, I've written about him a lot, the possibility that he was joking in this e-mail is a real possibility. He's a joking fellow.

But he also was talking a lot about "WikiLeaks" during the period when "WikiLeaks" was releasing e-mails that were extremely damaging to the -- to the Clinton campaign, e-mails that are apparently hacked by Russian government. So the special counsel is obviously very interested in Roger Stone's role, if any, and, you know, the explanation I was joking sometimes is not the most persuasive even though in this case it might be true -

HILL: It could be true. We all know e-mail can be misinterpreted.


TOOBIN: I never had one -

HILL: No, no, me neither, Jeffrey, never, not one, thank you.

Also this morning, President Trump has a new message for embattled EPA Chief Scott Pruitt, keep fighting. And he's also keeping up a fight of his own with Amazon.

CNN's Kaitlan Collins is at the White House with the new details. Kaitlan, good morning.

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE REPORTER: Good morning, Erica. Yes, that's right. We are reporting now that President Trump did phone, the EPA administrator, Scott Pruitt last night, per my colleague Dan Merica, to tell him to quote, "Keep fighting. Keep your head up. We got your back." Essentially, amid all those stories of scandal regarding his living situation here in D.C. and his use of money over at the EPA and that we are also told that the Chief of Staff John Kelly phoned Scott Pruitt as well this morning to essentially reinforce the president's message of confidence.

[10:10:02] Of course, this comes as Scott Pruitt has surely felt that his standing in the administration was on thin ice amid all of these cabinet scandals. But, Erica, it is important to keep in mind here just what this vote of confidence from the president and from the chief of staff actually means for Scott Pruitt. And it is very unclear at this point because you have to keep in mind that they did the same with the National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster expressing confidence in him just one week before he was sent packing out the door and was replaced by John Bolton.

So you have to keep that vote of confidence from them in mind here, take it essentially with a grain of salt. But Scott Pruitt has certainly come under fire. There has been a rash of stories, very negative stories, and those are certainly on the White House's radar. I'm actually told by sources that people have stopped defending Scott Pruitt inside of the West Wing to the president, to other senior administration officials.

But there is no clear indication that Scott Pruitt has fallen out of the president's good graces in the way that the former Veterans Affairs Secretary David Shulkin did. The president essentially let him twist in the wind for a few weeks before replacing him with the White House physician. But he really likes Scott Pruitt. He likes what he's doing at the EPA, just a few weeks ago he was quizzing people about what they thought about him replacing Jeff Sessions over at the Department of Justice. So it is important to keep in mind that it is not clear that the president is ready to fire him anytime soon. There is certainly no clear replacement for him, and the president is expressing confidence in him for the time being. But, Erica, with this administration, we have got to see just how long that can last.

Now, over on the president's Twitter feed, it doesn't speak much about any of the scandals that have surrounded his cabinet in recent days. In fact, he's tweeting about pretty much anything except that this morning. Not just immigration, not just his predecessor, President Barack Obama.

But also a tweet just a few minutes ago, is continuing his fight with Amazon, saying, quote, "I am right about Amazon costing the United States Post Office massive amounts of money for being their delivery boy. Amazon should pay these costs (plus) and not have them bourne by the American taxpayer. Many billions of dollars. Post Office leaders don't have a clue (or do they)?

So there, Erica, you see what's on the president's mind. He's just continuing to ratchet up this fight with the Post Office here on his Twitter feed. And no mention of what is going on over there at the EPA with Scott Pruitt.

HILL: Kaitlan Collins with the latest for us from the White House. Kaitlan, thank you.

And as Kaitlan pointed out, the president making full use of his executive time this morning. Our panel is here to break it all down.

Plus, we're tracking the markets after that Monday sell-off, a lot of talk about Amazon, of course, which we just heard from Kaitlan. He's mentioning on Twitter again, stocks trying to rebound. How will the president's latest tweet though impact those efforts?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) [10:16:47] HILL: Moments ago, CNN learned President Trump called EPA Chief Scott Pruitt last night to deliver this message. "Keep fighting. We got your back."

Joining me now, Molly Ball, CNN political analyst and CNN political commentators, Patti Solis Doyle and Scott Jennings. Good to have all of you with us. As we know, and as heard from colleague, Kaitlan Collins, just pointed out, we hear the message from the president there, "I got your back" to Scott Pruitt. That the president is happy with some of what he's seeing at the EPA.

Molly, that being said, we know how quickly things can change in the White House. What is the sense around Washington in terms of the president's messages being put out there and what is really happening behind the scenes for Scott Pruitt?

MOLLY BALL, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: The sense in Washington is that everything depends on Trump's whim and Trump's whim can change, can turn on a dime. You know that we have seen cabinet officials forced out over these types of scandals of whatever caliber you consider them. Tom Price, David Shulkin, and then we have seen some who are staying on, Ben Carson is still there, and Scott Pruitt, entangled in this matter, seems to have the president's support for the moment. But you never know.

You never know when Trump is going to wake up on the other side of the bed and suddenly fire off a tweet and fire someone. So I think that keeps everyone in Washington on tenterhooks or a feeling like they're walking on eggshells. And not really certain how to stay in the president's good graces for that matter.

HILL: It is also remarkable what we have seen from people who have been fired in terms of how vocal and how honest they have been in terms of their displeasure, how broken they feel Washington is. And most recently, we're hearing from not someone who was fired, but obviously related to Andrew McCabe, his wife, Jill McCabe penning this op-ed in the "Washington Post" where she's calling out the president and saying that he's been lying about not only the timeline of events, but a good deal of what happened involving her and even her husband.

Scott, when you see this, this is her side of the story that we're hearing. We're hearing other sides of the story from Andrew McCabe, from David Shulkin, from Rex Tillerson. Does it matter that they're speaking out at this point, because as we know, this is a divided country and people hear what they want to hear.

SCOTT JENNINGS, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: I mean, look, they're free to speak, just like anybody else is. I would say in a case of McCabe, his problems are related to an internal investigation at the Department of Justice that was conducted by a career FBI people. And he's going to have due process on what happened to him. I don't disagree that -- how he was fired and the way the president treated him was rough treatment. It absolutely was rough political treatment. But as it relates directly to McCabe's career, he's going to get a chance to go through a due process situation there and argue his side of the case. All of these people who leave government have every right to argue their side of it for their own personal public relations efforts. But the facts will stand on their own merits once they all become clear. We don't know everything that happened with McCabe, report has not been made public, but I'm sure it will be in the near future.

HILL: Patti, how damaging are -- some of these reports and some of these folks speaking out after leaving. Because this is a shift in the way we typically see people speak out, even in just in terms of how quickly their talking out at this point.

PATTI SOLIS DOYLE, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, first, let me just say on the Jill McCabe piece, I found it a very compelling piece.

[10:20:04] And one that really sheds light on the effects on real people and their families when it comes to Donald Trump's public attack and bullying, whether it is, you know, via tweet or, you know, via his bully pulpit. You know, she spoke, nothing ever really preparing you for having a conversation with your teenage kids about what is about the public onslaught or fearing a, you know, suspicious package being delivered to your home. So I found it very compelling, number one.

Number two, the people who leave Trump's government speaking out, you know, you sew what you reap. When you treat people badly and when you publicly attack them, and you fire them over tweet. What do you to expect? You know, I don't think you should expect loyalty. They have been mistreated. And now they have a chance to speak out. And that's what they're doing.

HILL: In terms of the president's tweets, we're hearing a lot from the president this morning, obviously. One thing I want to pick up on, though, is immigration. Because as we have been looking at this over the last 24 hours or so, and what we've heard from the president, there is understandably a lot of backlash not just in terms of how it is being brought up and perhaps how the case is being laid out by the president in terms of DACA, but also just the simple facts.

How damaging is that, Molly, to try to move something forward for the president because we know there are still Democrats and Republicans in Washington who are willing to continue to work together to find a solution.

BALL: Yes. I mean the president obviously is not trying to move anything forward. He's trying to blow up whatever -- whatever sort of meager attempts may still be in place. I think the fact that a court has stayed the suspension of DACA has taken a lot of urgency out of it for the Congress. And so even though there is some still trying to work out some kind of agreement, Republicans aren't going to do anything if the president doesn't have their back. This is a tough issue in the first place and if Trump is going to basically attack the Republican Congress for whatever they try to do, they're certainly not going to go out on a limb. You don't see -- there are a few, but you don't see a lot of profiles in courage on immigration among the Republicans in Congress.

So, you know, what that means is that this is just stalled and Trump tweeting about it and ranting about it is basically theater. It's theater for his base. He's sort of able to make up these ideas about what is actually happening that don't actually comport with reality, but to construct a situation where he can gin people up about an issue that he believes still very much exercises the people who like him the most.

HILL: The president also tweeting this morning, once again, about Amazon. We saw significant moves on the market yesterday over fear -- over not only Amazon, fears of a trade war. Scott, the president has owned the Trump bump as we have seen since the inauguration. Is the president going to own this as well if we continue to see fallout from his tweets over Amazon, over the impact of these tariffs?

JENNINGS: Yes, I mean, he will own it. All presidents own the stock market. All presidents own the overall health of the economy, which is why it is unwise to try to equate the two. The stock market is not the economy. Right now Donald Trump's economy is doing great. We have low unemployment. There was an article in "The Wall Street Journal" this weekend. There are more jobs available in Iowa than Iowans to fill them. We have a humming economy, thanks to the fact that they have reformed the tax code, and rolled back the Obama regulatory state.

We have a new pro-business attitude in this country. It's leading to better jobs. That's what they need to be touting. That's what the president needs to focus on. Focusing on the day to day match nation of the stock market is unwise whether it is up or down. I think in the case of Amazon, the president is going to drill down on a point, which is Amazon pays, virtually no federal income tax. I think in 2017, they paid quite a bit of foreign income tax, but no U.S. federal income tax. I think if he sticks to a message that makes sense like that, the American people, he's going to have a -- he's going to be able to win that PR battle with Amazon. I'm sorry that their stock is falling. But it is a poor public policy question we have to ask ourselves about a company that size.

HILL: Patti, is picking a fight with Amazon the right way to go?

DOYLE: Look, I mean, you can argue both sides of this case. You know, does Amazon taking up too much of -- or are they causing retailers to go out of business? But here's the real issue, I fear, is that he's going after Jeff Bezos and Amazon because of the Washington -- he doesn't like the coverage of "The Washington Post." I mean that is the bottom line. That's why he's attacking Amazon. He attacks CNN this morning. He's supporting Sinclair. When he doesn't like coverage, he goes on the attack. And I fear that that's what's behind this Amazon attacks and this personal Jeff Bezos attacks.

HILL: Patti, Molly, Scott, appreciate it. Thank you, all.

Speaking of stocks, let's head over to the New York Stock Exchange for a look at how the market is reacting after that Monday sell-off. That's next.


[10:29:36] HILL: We are keeping an eye, Scott Pruitt, at an event in northern Virginia. All this, of course, comes amid the headlines that are less than favorable. Questions about just how long he could last in his job as head of the EPA as we learn that the president called him to say, "We've got your back." We'll continue to follow that.

Meantime, minutes ago, the president continuing his fight against Amazon, tweeting the online giant cost the Post Office money. Are the president's tweets now costing Amazon?

Alison Kosik is on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange. CNN money editor-at-large, Richard Quest is also with us. Alison, first of all, how is it looking there on the floor?