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ANDERSON COOPER 360 DEGREES
President Trump Ally Roger Stone Taking the Fifth In Senate Russia Probe; Interview with Senator Ron Wyden of Oregon; GOP Senator Graham on Saudi Crown Prince's Involvement: "There's Not A Smoking Gun, There's a Smoking Saw". Aired on 8-9p ET
Aired December 4, 2018 - 20:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
[20:00:10] ANDERSON COOPER, CNN HOST: Good evening from Washington.
Tonight is the deadline for Robert Mueller's prosecutors to submit sentencing recommendations for President Trump's disgraced national security adviser Michael Flynn. Now, midnight tonight is the latest it could happen. It may happen over the course of the next hour. When it does we should know details of General Flynn's cooperation with the Russia investigation which we don't know of as yet, and how the prosecutors believe it could reflect on his sentence.
We've been waiting for this much of the day. And as we did, we also got a piece of breaking news about another figure in the Russia affair, long-time Trump associate Roger Stone.
Stone as you know appears to be of interest with investigators in connection with where he may fit in the chain of events and alleged participants that delivered Democratic e-mails hacked by Russian intelligence into the public eye for WikiLeaks. Stone teased them before they hit. Candidate Trump delighted in each new reveal and praised WikiLeaks again and again on the campaign trail.
Now, presumably, Roger Stone might have a lot to say about all of this including any possible ties between the campaign, WikiLeaks and the Russians. Late today, though, we learned he would not be cooperating with any congressional panels about it anytime soon. He is taking the Fifth, invoking his Fifth Amendment protection against self- incrimination, refusing a request for documents from the top Democrat on the House Judiciary Committee. He claims he's done nothing wrong.
The letter informing the committee was sent yesterday morning shortly before the president tweeted this out approvingly quoting Stone, saying, quote, I will never testify against Trump. The president went on to say, this statement was recently made by Roger Stone, essentially stating that he will not be forced by a rogue and out of control prosecutor to make up lies and stories about President Trump. Nice to know that some people still have guts.
Stone's attorney told CNN his client was, and I'm quoting, surprised by the president's tweet yesterday. That may or may not be.
Keeping them honest, though, this much is true. The president didn't always believe in people's right to plead the Fifth, at least when the people pleading the Fifth were not connected with him.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Have you seen what's going on in front of Congress? Fifth Amendment, Fifth Amendment, Fifth Amendment. Horrible. Horrible.
The mob takes the Fifth. If you are innocent why are you taking the Fifth Amendment?
When you have your staff taking the Fifth Amendment, taking the Fifth, so they're not prosecuted, I think it's disgraceful.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
COOPER: Easy for him to say back then, not so easy to say when his close associate is on the hot seat and he might have something to actually say.
Joining us, Senator Ron Wyden of Oregon, Democratic member of the Intelligence Committee. Thanks so much for being with us.
SEN. RON WYDEN (D-OR), INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE: Thank you, Anderson.
COOPER: Roger Stone also took the Fifth Amendment back in September when your committee requested documents. Why do you think he refuses to talk?
WYDEN: To me, Roger Stone is taking the Fifth so he doesn't have to lie under oath in order to protect his longtime friend. And people were asking today on the Hill, what does Roger Stone know?
I think the question is, what does Roger Stone not know? Because you think about WikiLeaks, you think about Russia, you think about financial issues.
These are two people who have been very close personal friends for decades. We've all been reading the stories about these late-night phone calls. I think the reason he's taking the Fifth is you don't want to lie under oath and he is protecting his longtime friend.
COOPER: So, the -- Senator Feinstein does not have subpoena power to force him to hand over documents. Did he actually need to plead the fifth in order not to hand over documents? I thought the fifth was usually about public statements, not necessarily covering documents.
WYDEN: What he was trying to make sure of is that he wasn't going to incriminate his friend. And look, this is part of a pattern. We have seen all of these individuals who have close relationships with Donald Trump, who have been involved with the Russians. And all of them either have lied or stonewalled or in some way were covering up. So, this is a pattern.
COOPER: Is there anything, you know, anybody in Congress can do about it?
WYDEN: You bet. I mean, I'm working very hard for example on following up in other areas, particularly the relationship between the NRA and the Russians. We are getting some documents now, emails and the like. I intend to follow up so we get the financials.
Maria Butina, as you know, has been indicted. So, there are a host of issues to follow up on. I'm also looking at the whole question of this Moscow hotel because I think there are serious questions about whether the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act was violated.
COOPER: How much do you think we will know by the end of this week from the Mueller team?
[20:05:03] I mean, obviously, tonight, there is a deadline on Michael Flynn. There maybe more coming off this week on Manafort and others.
WYDEN: Bob Mueller is very methodical. We were waiting by the hour to get a sense of what was happening with Michael Flynn. That's one of the biggest boots to fall.
This is hugely important, because what we want to know is what Michael Flynn was talking to the Russians about before the president was sworn in. We can only have one president at a time. It was a key time because what was at issue was what was going to happen with the Russian sanctions.
I also have some questions about whether Michael Flynn was talking about potential personal favors for the president to be.
COOPER: It's also -- I mean, Michael Flynn was really one of the first people early on. He's been on the hook now with the Mueller team for a long time and what's so fascinating about what we may learn tonight is we really have no idea what information if any he has given to Mueller. But in order to get a deal, he must have some information that was of interest.
WYDEN: The fact that this has gone on so long and seems to be a key building block in the home stretch makes this particularly significant. As you know, there was discussion about Michael Flynn having positions in the Trump administration, vice president. I mean, enormously important positions.
And I have always felt that what Bob Mueller was doing was very methodically going forward with these individuals. There were indictments. There were convictions. But now we are building to the home stretch, the Michael Cohen arrangement last Thursday was particularly important, because it showed that the president hadn't been straight about business connections.
We all know he put out all these tweets. I have no interest in Russia. Finally, I guess the last few days he said well, maybe I had some light conversations about those matters.
COOPER: And they seem more than light clearly. Seems like something he was pursuing for a long time.
Senator Wyden, appreciate your time.
WYDEN: Thanks for having me.
COOPER: Thanks very much.
A lot may happen in this next hour. Joining us now is our legal, political and journalistic all stars, former federal prosecutor Laura Coates, "New York Times" White House correspondent, Maggie Haberman, and CNN chief political correspondent Dana Bash.
Dana, what do you make of what Roger Stone has done here?
DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, you just heard directly from the senator himself who's on the committee. There's a lot of skepticism, genuine skepticism among Democrats and some Republicans about the motives that Roger Stone has in pleading the Fifth.
But look, it is his right. And I think one open question is whether or not when Democrats actually take control of the House of Representatives, they try to offer him immunity, they use the power of the gavel. You know, when you're a chairman in the House, you have a lot of power. Of the intelligence committee or any other relevant committee, and see if that buys anything, if that lures him up to testify in any way, shape, or form.
COOPER: Maggie, I mean, do you see that having a -- why would Roger Stone, I mean, if he's publicly now saying he's not going to ever testify against the president? Why wouldn't offering immunity make a difference?
MAGGIE HABERMAN, NEW YORK TIMES WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, because I think if you are invoking the Fifth Amendment under the auspices of not incriminating yourself, if somebody says we will not let you do that, then theoretically you could. But yes, I think he has set up another condition by which he would not go ahead and testify. And I think at the end of the day, he does not want to talk about Donald Trump. I think that is a real thing.
Well, whether that means he has something to offer on Donald Trump as relates to Russia, we do not know. We know there is a whole separate issue with Roger Stone and what he himself knew about WikiLeaks. We do not know whether this was actually part of his conversations with Donald Trump.
We don't know whether Roger Stone was getting information or whether it was puffery. A lot of the issue with figuring out what Roger Stone is doing often depends on figuring out, you know, how much is sort of him making himself -- writing himself into history which he has a habit of doing. But I don't expect this to change when Democrats take over. I just
don't. I think this is going to be his position. And I think we will be doing this for quite some time.
COOPER: Laura, in terms of when we may learn from the Mueller team about Michael Flynn tonight, what's the spectrum of things we could learn?
LAURA COATES, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Well, of course, Michael Flynn had a very prominent role not necessarily in the administration. He was fired three weeks into the administration. But his role is particularly unique in that he was part of the transition.
While we often talk about the firing of James Comey, the former FBI director, remember there was that important question the president insinuated, can you see your way to letting Michael Flynn go? That all talks about not only the beginning of that obstruction of justice inquiry perhaps but also what role he played, whether or not Kislyak and Michael Flynn had the conversations they are purported to have, to what extent they shaped the impression by Russia that there was a receptive ear in the Trump campaign to not only have somebody who may be willing to perhaps collude or at least entertain the suggestion of being influenced.
[20:10:07] All that's extremely important. And for me, the biggest question I have is about timing. You mean to tell me with Manafort and Michael Cohen, who pled guilty and at least one of them was tried, within months, you're talking about actual sentencing requests. Papadopoulos, the same thing.
Now with Michael Flynn, we're a year into him having pled guilty, and for four separate occasions, they requested a delay of sentencing. What could have possibly entertained the special counsel for a year period? That's a question.
And, of course, you think about this being a big jigsaw puzzle. Within days of the president of the United States providing his written answers under the impression I'm sure he had he was stalling to try to gain an advantage over the Mueller probe, essentially what he has done is given time for the Mueller probe and the investigation to confirm what they believe are credible truths, and why that can be set against the president's own statement.
I'm -- the timing of it is just so peculiar. I wonder next, where is Rick Gates and where does he fit into this?
COOPER: Also, Michael Flynn, he was -- talking about in the room where it happened. He was on the plane going from campaign stop to campaign stop. I mean, he was unusually -- in this unusual position for somebody becoming national security adviser. He was leading chants of "lock her up" and he was on the plane going with Trump to rallies.
HABERMAN: Not only that, he was also -- to your point about transition -- he was literally the person who came in to help take over the transition when Chris Christie was fired. He was the person who have been not recommended by Chris Christie and by Jeff Sessions who were running the transition together, not recommended as the national security adviser because they thought that that would be potentially dangerous.
He put himself in the position that he wanted. When he was put in some more of a leadership role by the Trump children during the transition, he put himself in a position to have more influence over the president. And I think all of these are going to be factors that are going to be examined in the coming months.
I don't want to go too far in guessing the what this memo shows us from the special counsel's office. I think only they know the cards they hold. And this could end up being something of a disappointment to them.
COOPER: What's interesting about it is we have heard nothing about Michael Flynn since --
BASH: For almost a year.
COOPER: For almost a year. I mean, it's kind of stunning.
BASH: It is stunning. That's why what Laura said is so important about the fact that the Mueller team has had that long to gather and glean as much as they could from Michael Flynn and made a very proactive choice to do not once, twice, three times, four times to keep talking to him. One thing I will add, although I agree with you that it's dangerous to guess because we really don't know what we --
HABERMAN: Let's be careful.
BASH: Also some of this might be classified and might be redacted. So, it might be blocked from us seeing it.
HABERMAN: That's right.
BASH: But during the transition, the key thing was that Michael Flynn called the Russian ambassador, said please don't retaliate on these sanctions, the Obama administration just put into effect against you and then went back and told senior officials in the Trump orbit that he did that and was actually told by some officials to do that.
So, maybe -- maybe we'll learn the question -- or the answer to the question of who were those officials, and what was the motive?
COOPER: Right. Also of course there is the question of what the White House did when informed by Sally Yates about Michael Flynn, because there was a big window between the time that Sally Yates made a point of rushing over to the White House to talk to Don McGahn and Michael Flynn actually being fired.
COATES: In fact, 18 days transpired from the time that she ran to the White House essentially to say there is reason to believe that the national security adviser is compromised and compromised by Russia, a geopolitical rival for decades. The notion that that took 18 days to actually then expand upon and figure out and in the interim a conversation with James Comey to see his way to let this thing go. It's all -- it's more than titillating. It actually can lead people to believe -- I'm sure Mueller is leading to draw these conclusions together.
Again, what was the role of somebody who is prominent on the campaign as to be the main ring leader behind the chant "lock her up" to then go from that position to then being national security adviser to being told he was compromised and then there to be a collusion investigation, all --
BASH: Collusion and obstruction of justice in one witness.
COOPER: Yes. Dana, Maggie, Laura, thanks very much. Appreciate it.
A lot to watch for. Again, we are watching any filings by Mueller. We know it's happening tonight. It's just a question of when. Is it going to be in this hour or the next?
Coming up next, what the CIA director told lawmakers today about the murder of Jamal Khashoggi versus what the administration including the president have been saying, someone not telling the whole truth. We're keeping them honest, next.
Also, former Vice President Al Gore joins me to talk about President George H.W. Bush, the person he knew and the legacy we're all taking note of this week.
[20:19:06] COOPER: Well, as painful as the horrifying details of Jamal Khashoggi's murder must be for anyone who knew and loved him, imagine how much more terrible it is to know that people in a position to know who's responsible haven't been forthcoming with the truth.
For sometime now, CNN and many others have been reporting that the CIA, with high confidence, believes that Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, or MBS, as he's often known, personally ordered Khashoggi's murder. President Trump was briefed, of course, now presumably so was the Secretary of State Pompeo and Defense Secretary Mattis. Our sources told us what the assessment was.
The president, Secretaries Mattis and Pompeo tried to tell us something different. The president even said the agency had not reached any conclusion at all.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: They did not make that assessment. The CIA has looked at it. They studied it a lot. They have nothing definitive. And the fact is maybe he did, maybe he didn't.
And they have vehemently denied it.
[20:20:00] The CIA points it both ways, you know? And as I said, maybe he did, maybe he didn't.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
COOPER: Well, keeping them honest, he might simply have said something along the lines of the CIA has given them their assessment, I won't say what it was, but I'm still not persuaded the crown prince ordered this.
That's not what he said. He might have shaded the truth or dodged the question as other presidents certainly have when they know something they'd rather not reveal. Instead, the president looked the public in the eye and said just what you heard him say about the CIA's assessment.
His secretary of defense reinforced it on Saturday.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JAMES MATTIS, DEFENSE SECRETARY: Right now, we do not have a smoking gun. Except for the last 24 hours, ladies and gentlemen, I have seen all the intelligence we have. We do not have a smoking gun that the crown prince was involved.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
COOPER: No smoking gun. He has seen all the intelligence. Now, he might have been splitting hairs on that precise wording.
Our own source, a senior U.S. official, also said there's no smoking gun. However, according to the source the conclusion was based on a recording provided by the Turkish government and other evidence including American intelligence. And two sources say the assessment of MBS's responsibility was solid.
So perhaps Secretary Mattis was being literally accurate but he was not exactly faithfully representing the CIA assessment. How do we know that this was in fact the CIA's assessment? Well, in part because we have reliable sources on it and now because CIA Director Gina Haspel has apparently confirmed it.
We say apparently because her briefing today to a select group of lawmakers took place behind closed doors. However, for all the secrecy about the classified details, key senators who heard her went away convinced about what the CIA believes when it comes to MBS's role. Listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: There is not a smoking gun. There is a smoking saw. You have to be willfully blind not to come to the conclusion that this was orchestrated and organized by people under the command of MBS and that he was integrally involved in the demise of Mr. Khashoggi.
Open source reports show that he had been focusing on Mr. Khashoggi for a very long time. It has zero chance, zero, that this happened in such an organized fashion without the crown prince.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
COOPER: Zero chance, he says, a smoking saw, he says, a saw as in a bone saw.
His colleague Senator Bob Corker who chairs the Foreign Relations Committee was no less blunt, saying a jury who heard what he heard today would convict Mohammed bin Salman in his words within 30 minutes. Which brings this back to the administration and the president who rarely fails when the subject of the murder comes up to steer the conversation back to what a good ally the kingdom of Saudi Arabia is.
And it's certainly within the president's purview to cultivate any and all alliances he believes would be in the vital interests of the country.
Keeping them honest, though, there are ways of doing that that don't involve misleading the American public. There is no good reason to send your cabinet members out to say things like this when you know what they're saying isn't true.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MIKE POMPEO, SECRETARY OF STATE: I have read every piece of intelligence in the possession of the United States government. And when it is done, when you complete that analysis, there is no direct evidence linking him to the murder of Jamal Khashoggi. That is an accurate statement. It is an important statement. And it is the statement that we are making publicly today.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
COOPER: Well, keeping him honest, it doesn't seem as accurate then, doesn't seem accurate now. And now, some influential lawmakers are saying that as well.
More on how the White House is choosing to frame the issue. CNN's Jim Acosta joins us now from the White House.
So, has the White House responded to any of these statements made by senators today? I mean, Lindsey Graham's statement, Bob Corker's statement is pretty extraordinary.
JIM ACOSTA, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Pretty extraordinary, Anderson, but some extraordinary silence at the White House. They have not responded to what the senators said following the briefing with the CIA director Gina Haspel.
The national security adviser earlier this morning John Bolton did say at an event here in Washington that they still don't believe that there is conclusive evidence that shows that the crown prince was behind Jamal Khashoggi's murder. So, Anderson, at this point tonight it appears maybe he did maybe he didn't is the official stance of this administration. COOPER: So, again, you have the CIA's assessment along with
bipartisan agreement from senior senators. Any idea why the president continues to downplay all of this?
ACOSTA: Well, one thing we should point out, Anderson, and you know this, is that the CIA doesn't put out smoking gun evidence or direct evidence as the secretary of state and the former CIA Director Mike Pompeo said. They deal with assessments and it's up to policy makers, it's up to president's administrations to deal with those assessments, and they're just choosing not to do anything with that assessment.
We've heard the president say time and again, and I suppose it still is his feeling tonight, that these business dealings with the Saudis trumps any kind of concern about what happened to Jamal Khashoggi. And you have to wonder, Anderson, if the CIA were to present smoking gun evidence, direct evidence, conclusive evidence that shows that the crown prince was behind the murder of Jamal Khashoggi and that was put out publicly to the American people and the entire world, it does beg the question would the president do anything about that anyway? Anderson?
[20:25:04] COOPER: Yes, Jim Acosta. Appreciate it.
I want to get some more perspective from Phil Mudd, former CIA and FBI senior official and CNN counterterrorism analyst. Also with us, CNN global analyst Max Boot, author of the new book, "The Corrosion of Conservatism: Why I Left the Right."
So, Max, I mean, is there any way to put it other than the administration is trying to basically ignore the murder of Khashoggi in order to maintain what they feel is an important relationship?
MAX BOOT, CNN GLOBAL ANALYST: I think that's a very accurate summation, Anderson. But I think in the process, they're carrying out this very clumsy cover-up which is backfiring. If they had been more honest as you suggested at the top of the show, they might have more credibility with lawmakers if they said, listen, we understand that MBS did this, we're going to pressure him but you can't cut off the relationship entirely.
If they had been a little bit more honest, I think they would have had more credibility. But instead, you know, President Trump and his aides have engaged in this cover-up which was inevitably going to fall apart as soon as the intelligence was presented to lawmakers. And you saw that happen today.
And in the process of course people like Jim Mattis, who have sterling reputations, are seeing their own reputations be undermined because they've had to carry water, or felt compelled to carry water for this spectacularly dishonest president.
COOPER: Phil, Max used the word "cover-up". Do you see this as a cover-up?
PHILIP MUDD, FORMER FIB SENIOR INTELLIGENCE ADVISER: I guess I sort of do. But let me explain what's happening to take you behind the scenes because I've seen this game before. We saw it, for example, looking at Iraq war intelligence.
Let me tell you why both sides are technically right. The intelligence guys, like any jury in America, is looking at a lot of information. A jury in America might look at a murder trial and say the murder that we -- or the murder defendant never said he killed anybody. But he was around the scene of a crime.
His friends talked about his negative relationship with the individual who was killed. We have information on his cell phone about communications before the murder that indicated he had a relationship, the murder did, that is, with people around the murder. We're going to make beyond a reasonable doubt a judgment that despite the fact that we don't have an admission, that murderer committed a crime.
Let me look at the intelligence here for a second, Anderson. I'm going to bet that the crown prince shockingly is not on the phone saying "kill that guy." But he's in direct connectivity with the people conducting that operation. He's had a close relationship with them historically. The backdrop is that people in the kingdom don't conduct operations without the support of the crown prince.
So, the secretary of state and the secretary of defense can say, we don't have definitive intelligence, that is, we don't have the crown prince on the phone. But any intelligence person and any person in a court of law today would say, really, but if you're a reasonable person, you'd say they did the deed. That's what's going on here, Anderson.
COOPER: Well, Max, Lindsey Graham, who also said about Mattis and Pompeo today, said, if they were in a Democratic administration, I would be all over them for being in the pocket of Saudi Arabia. I mean, that's -- again, he's also the same person who said there's not a smoking gun but there is a smoking saw.
BOOT: Right. Well, you would hope that Lindsey Graham would be dedicated enough to his job as a United States senator and the oath he took to uphold the Constitution that he would be all over them even though it is a Republican administration. And he was actually -- Lindsey I think w better than a lot of Republicans on the hill today in actually calling out the White House and leveling with the American people about what the intelligence actually says.
But, you know, I think this raises interesting questions. We just had the revelation from Michael Cohen about how Donald Trump was pursuing a business deal with Russia in 2016, as he was talking in very glowing terms about Vladimir Putin. And I think it's imperative now to ask what is behind this pro-Saudi stance of the administration?
Does Donald Trump have business dealings with Saudi Arabia? Something that he has bragged about in the past. He's bragged ball the money he's made from Saudis and said what do you expect me to say something bad about them?
That is something we need greater insights into. Of course it's something I hope the Democratic House looks into. But the Republican Senate should look into it as well. This should not be a partisan issue. This is a national security issue.
COOPER: Phil, I mean when the president says, look, the CIA, they haven't made a conclusion, technically that's right. That's not what CIA analysts do, is it?
MUDD: It's not. Because typically if you look at the intelligence game, especially when you're working against organizations overseas or governments overseas, the North Koreans, the Russians, the Chinese, the Saudis, the Iranians, you are not going to have direct access to the leader of that entity, whether it's a president, a prime minister, in this case a crown prince, issuing an order on a phone. You do not get that kind of intelligence.
So, you are going to rely on things how do we think this organization, this government operates, and what's the information around the event? For example, what is the rate of communications between the assassination team in Turkey and the crown prince's office? We don't have the assassination team talking to the crown prince but we have a burst of activity between them.
What does that tell you? As an intelligence professional that tells you I will never see the crown prince on the phone but I can tell you with high confidence that based on what I see he knew what was going on there. You are never going to get what the Secretary of Defense and the Secretary of State are asking for. That is the crown prince saying, "Go ahead and do it on the phone."
ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: And, Max, I mean, just the idea that an assassination team, a hit squad, you know, with a surgeon -- a high- level surgeon with a bone saw could wander into the Saudi embassy or a consulate in Istanbul without the highest level of approval, even just to pave the way for them to get into the embassy is -- I mean, it's an unimaginable the way -- if you know anything about the way Saudi Arabia is set up.
MAX BOOT, CNN GLOBAL AFFAIR ANALYST: It's ridiculous and absurd, Anderson, which is why the cover-up that the administration has tried to run on behalf of the Saudis has been so laughable. Even before this intelligence came out, it was obvious that this cover story that maybe the crown prince didn't know about it, that could not possibly be the case.
What we really need to have now is a serious debate about what should be our policy towards Saudi Arabia going forward? Nobody is saying to jettison the alliance, but we have to be realistic here.
And Secretary Pompeo and the administration I think have been feeding a line to the American people basically trying to suggest that we need to preserve this alliance at all cost because the Saudis are stabilizing influence. That's been true in the past.
But under Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, the Saudis are actually a destabilizing influence with their war in Yemen, with their blockade of Qatar and all this other stuffs. So we need to really think about what is our relationship and it can't be one that as subservient as the administration seems to want at this point. COOPER: Yes. Max Boot, Phil Mudd, appreciate it always.
Quick reminder, we're continuing to wait for the Michael Flynn sentencing memo to hit. It could happen any moment. In the meantime, poignant moments today as family, friends, and members of the public paid their respects to former President George H.W. Bush. And remarkable images we saw today taking place in the Capitol rotunda. We will talk to former Vice President Al Gore and also two of the former President's granddaughters next.
COOPER: Breaking news right now, the moment we've been waiting for all evening, probably all day. Robert Mueller's sentencing memo for Michael Flynn just hit. We are learning his provided substantial assistance, Michael Flynn has to the special counsel and now we're just getting a copy of it. We want to get a quick first tape from CNN Sara Murray and our Shimon Prokupecz. Shimon, Sarra, what you find out what you're reading right now?
SARRA MURRAY, POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: We don't have much more at this point. It's about a 13-page document. As you pointed out, the special counsel is asking for no prison time.
COOPER: Asking for no prison time because of the level of his cooperation.
MURRAY: Citing his substantial assistance. And we should remember, we really didn't know very much about what was going on with Michael Flynn. He struck this plea deal in December of last year and every time they tried to move forward with sentencing, the Mueller's team has said, "Let's kick it back. Let's kick it back. We need more time with him." And now they finally agreed, OK, they were willing to move forward.
But we've really gotten very little information about what he was providing to the government that they found to be so valuable. Obviously, you know, he was working with Trump throughout the campaign. He was with him on the trail. He was with him during the transition when he was having those conversations with then Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak.
COOPER: But, I mean, he was traveling not just with him and he was, you know, leading the chants of lock her up. He was on the plane going to campaign events.
[20:35:06] MURRAY: Exactly.
COOPER: That really on unusually high level role.
MURRAY: And outside of, you know, those contacts that he had with the Russian ambassador that he lied about that got him into so much trouble. You know, there's also been reporting since he began cooperating with the Mueller probe in the "Wall Street Journal," for instance, saying that Flynn did have some relationship with this guy, Peter Smith, if you can remember this Republican guy who was looking for, you know, Hillary Clinton's missing e-mails. So, as we dig through this we're going to try to figure out if sheds light on what he was actually providing.
COOPER: Right. But, Shimon, the fact that -- and that Mueller is recommending no prison time for Michael Flynn, that's very significant. It shows a level of cooperation that has been in place.
SHIMON PROKUPECZ, CNN CRIME AND JUSTICE REPORTER: Yes. So the fact -- and I've been talking about this all day, Anderson. The fact that they're calling it that they're saying that he provided substantial assistance, those are key words. And you see this in these kinds of cases with cooperators any time they provide very helpful information.
What's not clear is what that substantial assistance is, the impact of the information that he provided to them. Did they learn things they didn't know about before because of his cooperation? And I'm not sure that they're going to put all that in this memo right now because there's still an ongoing investigation.
And it looks like there are some stuff that's redacted and there may be a separate letter that they're filing under seal, which is going to -- which would give more information on exactly how he was cooperating.
MURRAY: Yes. And it does say, it does say that part of the filing includes sensitive information about ongoing investigations. And so the public version that we're getting is at least partly redacted. So, you know, again still this ongoing investigations into the Mueller probe.
PROKUPECZ: So just one thing on how they talk about the -- talk about Michael Flynn. They say that his military and public service are exemplary. And so as a result, that's why they recommending in part why he should not serve any jail time. So clearly --
MURRAY: Yes. I mean, the defendant -- we were talking about the substantial cooperation we're just, you know, pulling stuff as we're reading it. You know, the defendant participated in 19 interviews with the special counsel's office or attorneys from other DOJ offices, including providing documents and communications.
I mean 19 interviews, that's a lot of time. That's a lot of hours, not only explaining their communications, but talking about, you know, conversations you had with people, other things you maybe observed, so.
COOPER: You continue to read the document. I'm going to go to Jeff Toobin who is standing by. Jeff, what do you make of the fact that because of substantial assistance according to the Mueller team there is a recommendation of no jail time?
JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN CHIEF LEGAL ANALYST: Well, it's very significant. It's very good news for Michael Flynn. I think it's particularly important to remember that other people, like Papadopoulos who pleaded guilty did not get a recommendation of no jail time, even the lawyer, the young lawyer who cooperated -- who pleaded guilty and they didn't cooperate, they recommended some jail time for him. This is very substantial cooperation, extremely extensive.
The frustrating part of this for those of us who are interested in the case is that the core of his cooperation is blocked out. I mean there are literally black lines in the brief that was released to the public.
So what he told Mueller about -- yes, there you go -- what he told Mueller about the Russia investigation as far as I can tell in my first quick review is just not disclosed at all. I mean, you just held up one page there. There are page after page of blacked out material.
You know, the part about, you know, the underlying false statement that he gave that's disclosed, his history as a military officer, as a public official, you know, the fact that he served this country for a long time, that's included.
But in terms of what he provided information about to the Mueller investigation about the issue of any relationship between the Trump campaign and Russia, it's just not disclosed at all.
COOPER: Right. And as Shimon said, there is still ongoing investigation. As we continue to look through it, I want to bring in former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, also Laura Coates is back, analyst and author, retired Lieutenant Colonel Ralph Peters is with us as well.
Colonel Peters, are you surprised at the recommendation for no jail time?
LT. COL. RALPH PETERS (RET.), U.S. ARMY: No, I 'm not because I think Mueller's playing chess. Trump is sending the signal, "Hey, shut and I'll pardon you." Mueller is sending the signal that, "You cooperate and you might get to go home."
And, you know, General Clapper and I were talking about this earlier. I really have mixed feelings about this, because as a former officer I'd send him to jail for life. He betrayed his country. But, as someone who has known Mike since 1985 and he has served his country well, he was a superb officer --
[20:40:07] COOPER: In the field.
PETERS: -- in the field.
PETERS: Yes, was not a strategist. He's not a strategic level officer. But just in Afghanistan and Iraq, just terrific work. So, you know, you wind up being torn about it. You know, on a personal level, his life is already ruined. He is broke. A proud man has been humbled to the nth degree.
But on the other hand, this was -- to me, for a former officer and a military intelligence general to have done what he did with the Russians, and we don't even know all the details yet, he may be pardonable, but it's unforgivable.
COOPER: Laura Coates, what do you see in this document so far?
LAURA COATES, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Well, the 19 meeting strikes me as probably the most stark thing at the moment. And also the idea that they actually incorporate in the statement that they are giving him this lenience because his early acceptance of responsibility you talk about was one of the reasons they feel other people were more willing to be forthcoming and other people were more willing perhaps to actually tell their stories and be truthful and cooperate.
So in many ways they are saying that he was the first domino to fall, but it led to a long list of people perhaps who were far more incline to give information and for that reason they were able to extend lenience. And then you think about this --
COOPER: I'm sorry, let me just interrupt. We're getting some more details from this and I just want to add this in. He apparently -- according to this document, he's cooperated in a multiple investigations, at least one is a criminal investigation including a name or names that are actually redacted.
So we don't know who the criminal investigation is regarding, but that criminal investigation is separate from the investigation than the one into the campaign. That's what we are learning.
COATES: And that's so important because, remember, you have a year of this person being on the hook. Four separate instances when Mueller's team has said, "We do not yet want him to be sentenced because ultimately he is still useful and willing to cooperate and it's in his interest to do so."
And I would note that at each of those instances it was unopposed by Michael Flynn's team that he will extend it generously over and over again. So you have this person who is so critical in the transition, now you know about the comments in the actual writings.
They mentioned the Logan Act. For the people who can't remember, that was early on in his firing and early on in the investigation about whether or not he was trying to usurp the role of the President of the United States by essentially acting as a diplomat without authority in terms of Israel, in terms of the course of the Russian sanctions.
He apparently gave a heads up to the Russians about -- and Sergey Kislyak about just being forthcoming and Vladimir Putin not wanting to retaliate. And the President of the United States then tweeted about Vladimir Putin being a smart guy about this issue. So you have it going back as far as that.
And the fact that Mueller is essentially, as you're talking about, rewarding the cooperation as a perfect foil to the President's perhaps dangling of a pardon should essentially suggest yet again what Mueller said, that he is rewarding those who came forward to encourage others to follow this investigation and be cooperative.
COOPER: Director Clapper, what are your thoughts? LT. GEN. JAMES CLAPPER (RET.), FORMER DIRECTOR OF NATIONAL INTELLIGENCE: Well, we're all scrambling here to squeeze insight out of this filing and the purpose of which as I understand it was simply to characterize his performance during this year-plus engagement with the Mueller team. And so like Ralph, I'm ambivalent about Mike.
COOPER: Because of what he did in the field in Afghanistan and Iraq --
CLAPPER: Well, exactly.
COOPER: -- but then what he also did here.
CLAPPER: The contrast between his long and distinguished service in uniform and then what happened afterwards. And I also think about his family. I think part of this was his son, which he -- who was also under scrutiny by Mueller.
But, again, so much of this apparently, I haven't seen it that's been redacted. So the actual substance of what he may have shared with the Mueller team, I don't -- probably not a lot of light on that.
COOPER: We're also just getting -- I'm just getting some word in my ear also that part of the cooperation between Michael Flynn -- that Michael Flynn is giving has to do with the transition team and Russia. So that it happened after the campaign itself.
CLAPPER: Well, exactly. And this is why I think Mike is so crucial, not only for the reason Laura outlined, you know, that he was kind of the first domino to fall, but also the key role he played early on because he latched on to then candidate Trump very early.
And so all of this debate about collusion or not, you know, if anybody has insight into that I would think it would be Mike Flynn. We don't actually know that, but the fact that he was -- all during the campaign he was there at now President Trump's side and then, you know, briefly at least, 23 days, within to the new administration, so he was there for the transition period as well.
[20:45:08] COOPER: Right. A transition period that was probably unusually -- I mean, they're all chaotic. This was probably even more so given that the makeup of the Trump organization and the characters involved.
CLAPPER: It was. You know, I was part of the Obama team that met with them and we had different cast of characters every time and they weren't very well organized.
COOPER: At some point -- I mean, jump in here if you just learn anything new. Shimon, do you have something.
PROKUPECZ: No. I just think that the substantial assistance part is the most important aspect of this document. The government does not put words like that in a sentencing memorandum without someone's really extensive and very impactful. We're going to learn probably later on how impactful his cooperation has been to the special counsel, meaning how important it's been.
Look, I mean, they're talking about learning about interactions between individuals in the presidential transition team and Russia. This is the heart of the investigation. So we have yet to learn a lot.
And the other thing this tells us is that this may not be over. As much as we are thinking perhaps this is coming to an end, the fact that this information is redacted means other people are probably going to be charged, means that there are still many people perhaps under investigation.
MURRAY: And I think, you know, you were talking about whether this --
COOPER: By the way, I just want to show our viewers, this is the page you're looking at.
MURRAY: This is a sample redacted.
COOPER: Oh, you know, actually, look, these are multiple --
MURRAY: You see a lot of redacted.
COOPER: These are multiple redacted pages here. So it's --
CLAPPER: It looks like a redacted intelligence document.
MURRAY: No, I'm just talking about, I mean, there's a whole, you know, criminal investigation it refers to and the entire explanation after the word criminal investigation is redacted because they don't want you to know what's going on.
But when you're talking about, you know, why Flynn's cooperation was so important and how it may have led other dominos to fall, this actually addresses that and it says it was particularly valuable because he was one of the few people with long-term and first hand insight about events under investigation.
It also says his decision to pled guilty and cooperate likely affected decisions of other first hand witnesses to be forthcoming with the special counsel's office. So, you know, essentially by his cooperation it put pressure on others to participate and tell the truth.
COOPER: To paved the way. Jeff Toobin, I know there is something you want to say.
TOOBIN: Yes. I just want to call attention to two sentences that jumped out at me. One is -- this is talking about Flynn as the person. They said the defendant's record of military and public service distinguish him from every other person who has been charged as part of the special counsel's investigation. And here is the key sentence. However, senior government leaders should be held to the highest standards.
PETERS: Yes. TOOBIN: As we think about how Mueller is going to characterize what went on in the Trump White House, the fact that he is saying senior government leaders should be held to the highest standards, I would be a little nervous if I were the people involved in the obstruction of justice investigation starting, of course, with the President of the United States.
That statement that senior government leaders should be held to the highest standards, I don't think that is just filler material. I think that is a statement of how Mueller is going to approach the remainder of his investigation as he starts thinking about the people in the White House.
COOPER: And then -- and Colonel Peters, that's something you had essentially said earlier that he should be held to a higher standard given his background. I mean, I'm sure books will be written about this, but I'm sort of fascinate with the idea of what happened to Michael Flynn, to sort of what did from going from somebody who was universally described as a operational, tactical -- I don't know if genius is the right word.
PETERS: Just about a genius.
COOPER: Just about a genius in the field to then, you know, running the DIA and being, you know, said to be not very much of a strategic thinker or manager. And then leading chants of lock her up which for a former high ranking military officer -- I mean, I know many in the military were just stunned that he was going that far to campaign for Trump.
PETERS: Yes, indeed. But I'll tell you, with Mike, we were captains in the captain's course together in training in '85. And if there was one person in that class who would pick out who's going to be a general, it was Mike Flynn. Shiniest boots for shiny mind too.
And as he matured through the service, his work improved and improved. He was -- I'm just thinking of the word hero that his work certainly verged on the heroic. And then when -- and General Clapper can talk to this -- him better than I can.
When Mike -- when he was basically fired from DIA if with velvet gloves (ph), he got angry and he got greedy. And, you know, Theodore Dreiser's book, "An American Tragedy," steal the title. For me, the rise and bitter downfall of Mike Flynn is an American tragedy.
[20:50:03] But to the core of your question, we all come at these problems with their own prejudice, with their own background abuse. And mind is that at a time when in Washington ethics are in virtual collapse on many fronts, military officers must be held to higher standards. We have to show that somebody still has integrity and honor in government. We should be the example, which is why in my early remarks I came down so hard on Mike.
COOPER: Shimon, Sarra, I know you're looking at more.
PROKUPECZ: So there's a part here that talks about -- so we know that Michael Flynn was talking to the former Russian ambassador, but there's a part here where the Mueller's team is talking about Flynn reaching out to a Russian government emissary. It was regarding -- he conveyed to the Russian government through that emissary and Russia's response to those request that it had to do with the U.N. national -- the Security Council resolution.
And it said here that Flynn was talking with this Russian emissary and it was about material that was important to the FBI's investigation into the nature of any links or coordination between the Russian government and individuals associated with the Trump campaign.
So certainly he had (INAUDIBLE). They have a ton of other information that they're able to corroborate, probably intelligence that they were able to gather, and now they have a witness. They have Michael Flynn who can talk about some of these reach outs and some of these contacts.
COOPER: What is so fascinating about the kind of the dribs and drabs we are learning is that there has just been radio silence about Michael Flynn for more than a year now, so to finally suddenly see anything, even if it's, you know, heavily redacted and they're sort of, you know, more questions than answers, it is fascinating.
MURRAY: It is. And there are really only hints of it, but they do talk about, you know, how he had firsthand knowledge, how he was there so early and you get hints in this filing. They're not just talking about one or two of these instances, they're talking about potential contacts with Russians during the campaign.
They're also talking about it during the transition and then obviously we know what happened to Michael Flynn once he got into the White House and then tried to cover all of these things up.
And so Flynn I think is such a useful witness to the government because he can help show that ark of the story, how these contacts perhaps may have started, how they evolved during the transition.
I mean one of the things that this doesn't name names of who he was speaking with, that's one of the big question is who did he share this information with as he was learning. We know some of the senior Trump campaign and transition officials he shared information with. But, you know, there's no mention of whether the things he was doing ever made, made their way to the top.
COOPER: But also, Director Clapper, the fact that, you know, Sally Yates upon gaining some information about Michael Flynn rushes over essentially to the White House and meets with Don McGahn and then Michael Flynn essentially saying he could be compromised. Michael Flynn is not fired or let go for some two weeks and so that's an interesting time of, you know, timeframe that we don't know much about what was being said in the White House, why it went on for two weeks.
CLAPPER: Yes, exactly. And I think that that is a very key period of what went on in the White House, what were the discussions with Mike and with those around him about what was transpiring during that period so that -- and, again, we don't know exactly the substance of any of this, but the inference here is that his revelations, I think, can prove to be quite significant.
COOPER: Laura, also, you know, there's been a lot of talk, well, is the Mueller investigation wrapping up? We're going to hear more about Manafort this week. We're going to hear filing on Michael Cohen and certainly focusing in Trump world have been saying this thing is wrapping up now for -- I mean, I can't remember how long they've been saying this, but it seems like every holiday was the time it was going to wrapped up. Does this give you a sense of any kind of timeframe?
COATES: Well, certainly it does in terms of the usefulness of at least one person, Michael Flynn, with one president responding in writing. You've essentially wrapped up three, other cases have moved to the forefront of the court's mind, Mueller, Cohen and Michael Flynn within a week of the President handing (INAUDIBLE).
Manafort, excuse me, Cohen, and Michael Flynn, they've all been accelerated to the front of the line of cases being handled, although there was in radio silent and frankly doing this has been a recluse effectively (ph) for the past year. So it does tell me that there perhaps was a linchpin aspect to the President's own testimony.
One thing very interesting to me about the filings is that they point out and they go to great length to talk about that they don't believe in the false absence of recollection, that the faulty memory of Michael Flynn was played in issue and how they were to confirm that he was making missed statements and lies.
And that should speak of volumes because we already know that Mueller has a particular version to those who lie to his investigators. He details in the report that he is saying essentially it impedes the ability of the American people to understand what just happen and most importantly, the President of the United States just handed him a series of answers.
It all began with the best of my recollection, is the notion that Mueller's team is not persuaded by those with so-called faulty memories or perhaps inflicted amnesia when you can corroborate the contrary is going to be very important going forward in how he deals with this.
[20:55:13] COOPER: Jeff Toobin, do you have anymore sense now of, you know -- do you believe this thing is wrapping up?
TOOBIN: It sure doesn't look wrapped up to me. I mean, you know, just think about the very fact that so much of this is redacted. If it -- I mean the whole point of redacting something, and we're not talking about classified information, we're talking about law enforcement information.
The whole point of redacting information in a legal document is not to tip off people who are involved or subjects of an investigation, not to tell people where he is going. If you're done, you can tell people where you're going and you can tell people what you've done. The only reason to redact all this information is that more is coming.
Now, does that mean there will be more indictments? Does that mean some of the sealed documents that are in Washington court relate to this case? I don't know. But this document does not suggest to me that Mueller is done by any means.
COOPER: I want to thank everybody for covering this with me. Chris Cuomo is obviously going to take this in and take up the subject. The news continues after a short break.