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Manafort Pleads Guilty; Florence Hammers Coasts; Rescues Underway on the Coast; Radar for Hurricane Florence. Aired 12-12:30p ET

Aired September 14, 2018 - 12:00   ET


[12:00:00] ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

JOHN KING, CNN ANCHOR: I'm John King in Washington.

You see the pictures there. Hurricane Florence tearing through the Carolinas. We'll get back to our storm coverage. The big, new developments in just a moment.

But first, here in Washington, a huge win this hour for the Russia special counsel. Paul Manafort, the former Trump campaign chairman, just moments ago pleading guilty in Washington, a federal courtroom, to one count of conspiracy, one count of witness tampering. In court, very significant, Special Counsel Robert Mueller's prosecutors say Manafort is now agreed -- has now agreed and is now cooperating with the federal government.

CNN's Evan Perez is outside of the courtroom in Washington.

Evan, the key question, do we know the details of that cooperation?

EVAN PEREZ, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: That's right, John, that still remains the big question. We do not know yet what the cooperation agreement that Paul Manafort has signed, what that entails. But just a few moments ago, Paul Manafort formally -- officially now admitted to the crimes that he is pleading guilty to. As you mentioned, there's now two changes that he has pleaded guilty to. Both of them are conspiracy charges.

But really the first conspiracy charge was conspiracy against the United States, admits to pretty much everything that he was facing here in -- in Washington. These -- he's saying that he's essentially admitting to the fact that he was -- received about $60 million from the Ukrainian government while he was working for them. He laundered $30 million during that time and he cheated the U.S. government out of $15 million in taxes.

So you have Paul Manafort standing up in court saying, I did, admitting to everything that the government has now laid out. As you said, one of the big surprises today -- earlier today, just about 30 minutes ago, prosecutor Andrew Weissmann stood up and mentioned that there was a cooperation agreement. We do not know the details of that.

This is a cooperation agreement that was hammered out over the last few days. We had seen members of Paul Manafort's legal team at the special counsel's office. We saw people from the prosecution team that brought the charges over in Virginia also over at the special counsel's office. So we knew something was coming. And now we have the fact that he has pleaded guilty.

I will read you a brief statement that we just got from President Trump's legal team from Rudy Giuliani. He says, in reaction to this, the fact that there is a cooperation agreement, he says, quote, once again an investigation has concluded with a plea having nothing do with President Trump or the Trump campaign. The reason, the president did not wrong.

Again, that's Rudy Giuliani talking on -- speaking on behalf of President Trump and the President Trump legal team because they knew that there were these talks. And the big question, of course, was, does this implicate the president? We have had conversations with members of the legal team, John, and they have expressed confidence that they said that they've felt that even if Manafort cooperates with the special counsel, cooperates with prosecutors, they felt that it had no impact or no implication against the president.


KING: Evan Perez outside the courtroom. That's an important point to note. Nothing in any of these court documents has anything to do with the president or the 2016 campaign. We should note that with Paul Manafort now pleading guilty, four people who worked directly for the Trump campaign, one, the national security adviser Michael Flynn, who also worked in the Trump White House, have now entered guilty pleas in this investigation.

And, Evan, thank you very much. Come back to us if there's any new information at the courthouse.

As the Manafort news unfolds, right here live breaking news on television, sources tell our Jeff Zeleny the president is watching the coverage in the White House residence and that he was briefed earlier today by his lawyers. The White House issuing its official response just moments ago from the press secretary, Sarah Sanders, quote, this had absolutely nothing to do with the president or his victorious 2016 presidential campaign. It is totally unrelated.

Let's discuss this enormous development with CNN's Sara Murray, CNN's Shimon Prokupecz, CNN legal analyst Michael Zeldin, and CNN's Gloria Borger.

Michael, I just want to start with you because of your experience working with Bob Mueller, your experience working on these kind of investigations. You get a plea from a man who consistently said he would not plea. He admits in this document to everything. He's only charged with two crimes, but he admits to everything. This, if you want to understand the swamp, here it is. Read it. Now he's cooperating. The question is, is he cooperating? There are other consulting firms, other lobbying firms named in these documents who, if they were in cahoots with Manafort, were probably violating laws as well. Is that the cooperation or is this something about at least the cast of characters involved in the 2016 campaign, whether that gets to the president or not?

SHIMON PROKUPECZ, CNN CRIME AND JUSTICE REPORTER: John, just if I -- we were getting an update, just so viewers know, from the courtroom. We have a producer there. The judge just explained what this cooperation agreement is going to be. And it says, interviews and briefings that Manafort will give to the special counsel. So that means they're going to be interviewing him again. We know he already met with special counsel. Turning over documents to the special counsel. Testifying in other proceedings. Manafort has waived his right to have his lawyers representing him, present at any interviews he does with the special counsel's office.

[12:05:09] Bottom line, this is a huge deal. This is a -- means Paul Manafort is now a major, major cooperator in this investigation. He will independently, without his lawyers, meet with the prosecutors, which tells us that he's no longer facing any kind of potential prosecution.

The other thing that we don't know is, what effect will this have on his other case? Does he get out of jail now? But, clearly, what we have now from the court, from the judge who has basically gone over what his cooperation agreement will be, this is substantial. This is a game changer certainly in this entire investigation.

KING: So a Paul Manafort who was a hostile witness, when interviewed previously, who was denying the charges, who was saying he would not cut a deal, now is free of any future criminal liability, therefore it's a whole new game.

MICHAEL ZELDIN, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: He has no Fifth Amendment right if he has given up his right to appeal his convictions in Virginia and he's pleaded guilty to all of the counts in D.C., and the prosecutors are not going to bring the cases that he got a hung jury on, that he's got no Fifth Amendment rights. He can be forced to testify, even if he wasn't going to do so willingly.

But he is doing so willingly. And the questions that you asked was, what is he going to testify about? I would think that the topics that Mueller is interested in includes the June 9th meeting that Manafort attended with Kushner and Don Junior with those Russian representatives.

KING: Right.

ZELDIN: What was going on there? Who knew what and when?

Secondly, the other consulting firms that Manafort hired on as part of his Ukrainian representation who themselves are under inquiry for violation of FARA, the Foreign Agent's Registration Act. What does he know about what they knew and how does that impact their criminal liability.

And then I think, most importantly, what does Manafort know about Trump's overarching relationship with the Russians financially and otherwise? And I think Mueller's interest is going to be specific and the Southern District of New York's investigation may be more interested in Manafort if he knows anything about the Trump Organization's financial dealings.

KING: And they already have an immunity agreement with the CFO.

SARA MURRAY, CNN POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: The one thing that I would add to that, though, is that we know that, you know, Roger Stone, a longtime political adviser to President Trump, helped bring --

KING: A longtime partner of Paul Manafort too.

MURRAY: And a longtime partner of Paul Manafort helped bring Paul Manafort into that campaign in that role. And we know they the special counsel has been sort of circling Roger Stone. They've called in other people around him.

PROKUPECZ: That's right.

MURRAY: So it's also possible, and we just don't know, that Paul Manafort may have some back story about how he ended up in that role in the first place or how Roger Stone may fit into all of this. We just don't have a good sense.

PROKUPECZ: Can I also --

GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, there were two people who brought him in. It was Roger Stone and Tom Barrett (ph), who's another good friend -- another good friend of the presidents.

But I just want to say, and I think you're right on all these issues, and that's why the White House is saying this has nothing to do with Donald Trump, you know, sort of strange credulity at a certain point, particularly if you're asking about the Trump Tower meeting, which how can they -- how can they not.

But I also think, you were saying, John, that this document shows you the swampiest of the swamp. You're 100 percent right. There is one quote in this document that stuck out to me, which is, an employee of one of these PR companies says -- called it, you know, you're not -- they knew they were working for Ukraine, but they weren't allowed to say it. He said, this employee said, it's like Alice in Wonderland, a fig leaf on a fig leaf.

KING: A fig leaf on a fig leaf. And, again, we need to be fair to the president, there is nothing in any of the charges so far that allege any illegal activity by the president, that bring up issues of Russian collusion. However, I just want to show you, and add Paul Manafort to this. Rick Gates was the deputy chairman of the Trump campaign. He has pleaded guilty. Michael Flynn, an active surrogate in the Trump campaign, then the national security adviser to the president of the United States, one of the most sensitive jobs in the United States government, has pled guilty. George Papadopoulos, the president might want to call him the coffee boy, he has pled guilty. You have two others guilty pleas there from people not involved in the campaign.

But if you put Paul Manafort there with Gates and Flynn and Papadopoulos, four people, hired by this president or his team, and brought into the campaign, have now pled guilty to serious federal offenses.

Jeff Toobin's also with us to come into the conversation.

Jeff, as you do, Michael Zeldin just raised an important point going forward. These cases by Mueller so far have nothing to with any misconduct by the president, but the meticulous nature -- I want to show on the screen here one of the charts, some of the charts, that are included in this new filing today. You don't need to understand these charts, but Manafort got away with this for years with all these overseas transactions, moving money around back and forth.

And if we could just show our viewers the level of detail in this information, the level of the forensics, criminal, digital, criminal work they have done here. If this is what they did to Paul Manafort, Jeffrey Toobin, my question is, if they have the CFO of the Trump Organization and they're looking at every other record -- financial record involving, whether it's the president's campaign or the president's business, that has to scare you.

[12:10:00] JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN CHIEF LEGAL ANALYST: And keep in mind that many of those transactions are international transactions. Many of them come from Cypress. It is incredibly time consuming and difficult to assemble records like that. And the fact that this was done is really an extraordinary tribute to the success of the Mueller office.

You know, the -- Rudy Giuliani, Sarah Sanders today, can say, as they have, that this has nothing to do with the president and, on its face, it doesn't. But this man was the campaign chairman of the president campaign for six months. Now the prosecutor -- the -- Giuliani and Sanders are saying, well, only six months. Six months. That's a long time. That's meeting every day. that's knowing how the campaign was structured. The prosecutors are now going to have a window into the campaign and into the highest levels of that campaign that they've never had before. It may be that they find out there is nothing untoward that went on there, but they will now have an entire new perspective on how this campaign is run.

KING: And now -- and now to the point you made about the infamous Trump Tower meeting. I know from my reporting that the president has vented to several of his friends that he's, a, worried about Roger Stone and that, b, he's worried that after that they're focusing on his son, Don Junior, who was at that Trump Tower meeting.

In Paul Manafort, now cooperating witness, someone with a history with the Russians, who was also in that meeting, now, if you're trying to figure out what happened in the days and weeks before and what happened in the days and weeks after, he's a central witness.

PROKUPECZ: John, also in the years, right? We're talking about Russian influence that goes back years. Paul Manafort has had a seat at lot of this for a long time with the Ukrainians, with the Russians. He knows a lot. And the special counsel, from all the reporting we at this table have done, we know that Paul Manafort was an important piece in this investigation, more for his cooperation than anything else. That is why this special counsel and Robert Mueller went after him so hard and with such evidence and with such charges. And when you think about everything that he must know, I mean, they're going to have such a window into years and years of really politics, you know, in this country and --

BORGER: And Rick Gates, too.

PROKUPECZ: That's right.

BORGER: Rick Gates has also cut a deal, worked in the campaign longer than Manafort, was still there as deputy after Manafort left and was -- and is cooperating.

KING: And they haven't' sentenced Michael Flynn yet --

BORGER: Right.

KING: Because they're waiting to see how his -- what fruit is born of his cooperation.

BORGER: I think it's like a little Lego they're building, right?

MURRAY: It's sort of like a broad view. You know, we've wondered what -- how they're going to handle President Trump, whether they would subpoena him. You know, the notion that he can't be indicted.

But even if you walk away from this and the president, you know, he's not subpoenaed, he's not indicted, you leave this sort of aftermath where everyone he has surrounded himself with is dirty. The man who ran his campaign, the deputy on that campaign, his longtime lawyer, his national security adviser, the aftertaste is that -- is that this guy, who ran on draining the swamp, surrounded himself with people who would not have -- would not play by any of the rules and who are looking to enrich themselves.

BORGER: It was a different swamp. It was a different --

ZELDIN: May I add one last thing on this testimony by Manafort, which is, remember we have two indictments against groups of Russians for hacking and social media. And the question -- and we have all those indictments unknown American participation. Does Manafort fill in the blank on whether or not there was any knowing participation with those Russians which affects either of those indictments, the hacking or social media? If so, that brings it right back to the campaign and it's important.

KING: Right. And --

BORGER: (INAUDIBLE) commissioner, who was also in the Trump Tower meeting (ph).

KING: And the important -- yes, the important thing is a huge win for the special counsel. A significant victory in the investigation. More proof this investigation is going nowhere any time soon. And to Michael's question, now the question is, how is the ark built? How is the ark built from there? We're going to continue to follow these developments. We'll bring you any new developments from the courtroom or the White House in reaction. But, obviously, we're still tracking a very important, breaking news story, that is Hurricane Florence. Anderson Cooper leading our coverage there. He's in Wilmington, North Carolina.



Yes, this is probably the calmest we have seen it here in Wilmington in the last several hours and even probably the last 24 hours or so. The winds have died down. The rain has died down significantly. This is a little bit of a lull. Chad Myers was saying we're expecting a lot more rain in the coming hours, but it is certainly a little bit of a break from what we have seen.

It got very windy. In fact, record-setting wind gusts here in Wilmington earlier this morning. Not -- they have -- wind gusts, they haven't seen that strong since 1960. So you've got a sense of the kind of speed of the winds up to 90 miles an hour, 92 miles an hour recorded here in Wilmington.

I want to go over to Miguel Marquez, who is in, I think, Carolina Beach.

Miguel, I understand you're -- you've got a lot of water on the ground already.

[12:15:05] MIGUEL MARQUEZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: What is stunning about what you're seeing, Anderson, is that you were about 20 or 30 miles from where we are and it has been non-stop. Just not letting up.

This is the intersection of Myrtle and Carl Winter (ph) Avenues in Carolina Beach. Flood, clearly. What's significant about this, this water has come up in the last half hour, 45 minutes or so. Very quickly. And it's all -- it's rising. Just over here, this is the marina. This is an area that often floods in this town, but the speed at which this water has come up is what they are concerned with.

The winds have shifted directions since we started out this morning. It -- we were in the eye of the storm, it was completely calm. Then the wind was coming from the west and now it's coming up from the south and it just hasn't let up. The waves on the ocean are getting bigger. We're just past high tide at this point. So the worst of it at the moment has probably come -- we'll probably have another high tide to go.

Across New Hanover County, some 95,000 people or so are without electricity. Carolina Beach has no electricity right now. No sign that there are serious issues out there. The one problem that authorities here have right now is that so many people are calling 911 about downed trees or downed lines or things that aren't life-threatening that they're worried that people who have a serious issue won't be able to get through. So they are asking those who are calling 911 only to call if you have a life-threatening emergency in New Hanover County.

Right now the town just battening down, waiting to see how much longer this is going to go. But this is significant flooding. It does a good 200 yards up into the town here. This is a hotel behind me where the electricity is cut off, and you can see -- I don't know if you can hear it or see it, but the -- the emergency signals are going off and just a lot of water and they're not quite sure how much more is coming. So the town, bracing.


COOPER: Yes. And we've seen a lot of rescues in New Bern, the area of River Bend, up there. We're going to show you some of that in the -- in the -- coming up.

We're going to take a short break. Our coverage continues here of Hurricane Florence and also more with John King in Washington.


[12:21:43] COOPER: And welcome back to our continuing coverage of Hurricane Florence. A strange storm. It has been moving very slowly. A lot of water has already been dumped in North Carolina. Still, they say, a lot to come. But the scene right now in Wilmington is certainly the calmest we have seen it certainly all day today. A little bit of drizzle. A very -- a few wind gusts here or there. But this -- I'm not sure if this is the eye or close to the eye, but it certainly feels kind of like the -- an eye of the storm based on what we have seen earlier and what we are told to expect later in the day.

But there's -- there's certainly a lot of, you know, of relief so far over what -- what's been taking place. Brian Todd has been driving around Wilmington just getting a sense, getting a look at the trees on the ground. There have been calls to authorities for help.

Brian, what do you know about any kind of efforts by police just to check up on people?

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Anderson, police are checking up on people, but we have just come upon the scene of a rescue that's unfolding right here as we speak. This is a house just west of downtown Wilmington where a tree fell right on top of the back of it.

I am here with Chief Buddy Martinette, the fire chief of Wilmington.

Chief, tell us what's going on here. First of all, are there victims still inside?

CHIEF BUDDY MARTINETTE, WILMINGTON, NORTH CAROLINA: We have some -- still some (INAUDIBLE) to do here on the scene. We had a very difficult extrication. A large -- a very large tree took off the back of this house. And it took us about three hours or so to rescue a victim out of here. They have been transported to New Hanover Regional Hospital and I'm not really sure about their condition at this point in time.

TODD: Can you tell us how many people are still inside?

MARTINETTE: I can tell you that we still have some work to do here. And we have the assistance of the Federal Research and Rescue Task Force, a component of Task Force One from Indiana. And they're helping our guys to kind of give them a break.

I want to make sure people know, my firefighters have been out here since the high of this storm in hurricane winds trying to save that -- that one person that was transported and it was a very, very difficult extrication and they did a remarkable job.

TODD: Can you give us any more detail on the extrication? What did you have to do to get that person out? Was it an elderly person?

MARTINETTE: Well, it's a -- it's a lifting operation that we had to -- to do. The way the tree fell, and because the canopy of the tree is so heavy, it was a lot of leverage involved in that, not to get too much down into physics, but there's a tremendous amount of leverage with the canopy of the tree. And so trying to figure out a way to lift enough of the tree to get the victim out took us a little while. It took a number of high pressure air bags and we also had a process where the tree was actually rotating as we were lifting. So we had to stabilize it from two points, horizontal and vertical.

TODD: Can you give us a sense of the injuries that that person suffered?

MARTINETTE: I'm not aware. It looked like to me lower extremity injuries. But, you know, I'm not really aware of the condition.

TODD: Can you tell us what your personnel are doing in there now? I saw people going in. They're in there now.


TODD: Give us a sense of what they're doing to try to effect a rescue of whoever's in there.

MARTINETTE: We're formulating a plan to try to lift that tree. We think that that tree's about 30,000 pounds.

TODD: Wow.

[12:25:06] MARTINETTE: And we've got a lifting wrecker here that can help us with a boom. The first plan a is, we're going to try to lift it and second -- plan b is we're going to disassemble it.

TODD: Give us a sense of just how difficult it is and has been all day, all night, for your people to get around these neighborhoods and get to these people.

MARTINETTE: This has been -- this has been crazy. We -- we have a policy that basically says at 50 miles an hour sustained winds, we don't operate. We haven't even been able to get into that policy. We haven't been able to get into that mode. The firefighters have basically been out here all during the hurricane. We had -- we've had residential structure fires. We've had rescues of people being blocked in their houses by trees. And, of course, this event right here.

TODD: All right, Chief Martinette, thank you so much for talking to us. We appreciate it. Good luck to your guys here. Thank you.

MARTINETTE: Thank you.

TODD: So, John, there you have it, a rescue being undertaken as we speak. No sense right now of how many people are still inside, but we're going to keep on top of it for you.

COOPER: All right, Brian, thanks very much.

I want to go to Ed Lavandera, who's in New Bern, where overnight there were hundreds of people being rescued by volunteers in boats.

Ed has just been seeing that situation unfold even as we speak now. Actually, I'm told we just lost contact with Ed. We'll try to get -- re-establish contact with him.

Let's go to Jennifer Gray in the Weather Center just to get a sense of where this storm is.

Jennifer, talk about the -- what you are seeing on the radar, what we should expect over the coming hours, because it seems awfully calm right now here in Wilmington.

JENNIFER GRAY, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Right. Well, you're just in a lull. The eye is well to your southwest. The eye is now pushing into I would say portions of South Carolina or the center of the storm. Not really an eye anymore. It's collapsed. But around Wilmington, you're still getting one of those band of rain. It's basically setting up where depending on where you are in Wilmington, you may be in a little bit of a dry spell.

But, otherwise, you're getting a torrential downpour. So we're seeing these storms set up and trail where you see the storms go one after another right in those same spots. And so that's one of these locations that we're going to get incredible rainfall totals. Winds now still 80 miles per hour. This is still a hurricane with gusts of 100 moving to the west at six.

And, of course, this storm is still going to meander across extreme southeastern sections of North Carolina, South Carolina, before finally moving off by the very end of the weekend, Anderson. We're going to be talking about this all weekend long. Winds are still very strong. About 50 miles per hour gusts. And Wilmington we're seeing those winds still peak out very strong.

And we are seeing impressive rainfall totals. Look at this. Oriental (ph), North Carolina, more than 18 inches. Surf City has gotten more than a foot. So we are already getting those rain totals reach a foot, a foot and a half, and we are still in this for another day, day and a half at least.

Here are the wind gusts. Davis, North Carolina, had a 108 mile-per- hour wind gust. Cape Lookout had a 106 mile-per-hour wind gust. And with this storm just sitting here, the rain is going to continue, the winds will continue, even though with it just sitting over land, the winds expect to just gradually die down over the next 24 hours.

But with this storm, as we've been talking about the last couple of days, it's not the wind that we're concerned about, it's the rain, it's the storm surge, it's the flooding. And that's going to continue as we go through the next 24 to 36 hours, Anderson, at least until you can get that wind shift. And I know places in Myrtle Beach, they've been getting that offshore wind because they're on the south side or the southeast side of the storm. You're still getting that onshore flow because you're on the north side. So the flooding will continue for you up in those rivers as well.

COOPER: It's a lot still to come.

Jennifer, thank you very much.

We're going to take a short break. Our coverage continues and we'll also have more with John King in D.C.