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THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER
GOP Senators Demand Harsher Punishment for Saudi Prince; Attorneys General in DC, Maryland to Subpoena Trump Hotel Records; Wisconsin and Michigan Republicans Try to Shrink Authority of Incoming Democrats; Mueller to Reveal How Michael Flynn Cooperated; Dow Collapses. Aired 4-4:30p ET
Aired December 4, 2018 - 16:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
ALISON KOSIK, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Despite the White House speaking positively about meetings at the G20, there is this realization now in the financial markets that nothing concrete actually came out of those meetings and that there is no deal.
And even President Trump's series of tweets this afternoon that really tried to explain the trade negotiations, those, Jake, actually caused even more uncertainty that fuelled the sell-off.
Not helping, President Trump-appointed Robert Lighthizer -- he's a hard-liner -- to head the talks with China. But there's concern it could wind up leading to a bitter contest -- Jake.
JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: All right, Alison Kosik at the exchange, thanks so much.
And now to our politics lead and what could be one of the biggest weeks so far in the Russia investigation, with major moves from the special counsel expected on three high-profile former advisers to President Trump, Michael Flynn, Paul Manafort and Michael Cohen.
As of right now, the investigation President Trump calls a witch-hunt has secured the indictments of 26 individuals and the guilty pleas from seven others. That's quite a sizable coven.
And at any moment, special counsel Robert Mueller will divulge more I to the public in a court filing due by midnight tonight. Federal prosecutors are expected to describe how Flynn has helped the Russia investigation since agreeing to cooperate with the probe a year ago.
Flynn, of course, was a key Trump campaign aide and a former national security adviser inside the White House when he was charged. The special counsel described how Flynn had lied about passing messages between members of the Trump campaign and the Russian ambassador to the United States.
It was the Flynn investigation, you might remember, that prompted President Trump to say to then FBI Director James Comey -- quote -- "I hope you can see your way clear to letting this go, to letting Flynn go," according to Comey.
President Trump denies saying that, but the alleged request and subsequent firing of Comey have been key parts of Mueller's investigation into whether President Trump obstructed justice.
Now, one of the biggest mysteries in all of this is, why? Why did Flynn lie? What was he hiding? And why did President Trump want Comey to let it go?
We're supposed to learn much more about all of this in the next few hours and days.
CNN's Jessica Schneider joins me now.
Jessica, prosecutors delayed the sentencing for Flynn four different times, but now, post-midterms, Mueller has apparently gotten what he needs from Flynn and is set to reveal what he told him and whether he thinks Flynn should go to jail and, if so, for how long.
JESSICA SCHNEIDER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, and that filing could come at any minute, Jake.
And it's notable that Mueller delayed sentencing four times over the past year, meaning he kept getting more and more from Flynn. And then, in September, prosecutors asked the judge to keep a tight schedule on the filings. That was a move that ensured that nothing would be revealed leading up to the midterm election.
So that leads to the question, what kind of political fire could this filing that's coming down at any moment contain?
SCHNEIDER (voice-over): The yearlong silence surrounding Michael Flynn and his cooperation with the special counsel could finally be broken today.
MICHAEL FLYNN, FORMER U.S. NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISER: Yes, that's right. Lock her up.
SCHNEIDER: The president's short-lived national security adviser was front and center throughout the 2016 campaign.
FLYNN: The next president of the United States right here.
SCHNEIDER: And has been talking to Mueller's investigators since he pleaded guilty to lying to federal investigators last December.
Now, with Flynn's sentencing scheduled in just two weeks, the special counsel will brief the judge about the extent of his cooperation and could reveal how much Mueller knows about the Trump campaign and the administration's dealings with Russia.
FLYNN: I have called on Hillary Clinton to drop out of the race. because she, she put our nation's security at extremely high risk.
SCHNEIDER: Flynn was the first high-ranking former Trump adviser to cut a formal cooperation deal.
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Mike Flynn is a fine person. He was just doing his job.
SCHNEIDER: The man who once sat next to Russian President Vladimir Putin at a dinner in 2015 lasted less than a month in the White House before he was ousted for lying to Vice President Pence about discussing sanctions relief with then Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak, who U.S. intelligence considers a Russian spy.
The expected Flynn revelations come as the Trump administration braces for Mueller to reveal his findings. Yahoo News reports that special counsel prosecutors have told defense lawyers in recent weeks that they're now tying up loose ends. Plus, Mueller's office told congressional investigators Monday that the investigation has reached a mature enough stage regarding possible obstruction that any new subpoenas issued from House and Senate committees would not interfere with the overall Russia probe.
And two key filings are expected from Mueller by week's end, one on Michael Cohen, who continues to cooperate, and one on Paul Manafort, whose plea deal has been called off after the special counsel accused him of lying.
The Manafort filing is expected to detail exactly how Manafort lied. It could give a window into what the special counsel asked him and reveal how much Mueller knows about the campaign's ties to WikiLeaks.
SCHNEIDER: And when this Flynn filing comes down, we should also get a glimpse at what kind of sentence prosecutors will ask for. It will likely be between zero and six months, but if he helped Mueller's team significantly, they could ask for no prison time at all -- Jake.
TAPPER: All right, Jessica Schneider, thanks so much.
Let's talk about this all with my panel.
Now, in a September court filing, prosecutors said that the details were not going to come out until after the midterms. That has led some to hypothesize that it's going to be explosive. Of course, we don't know.
But let me just ask you, we will just go around.
Philip, what are you -- what do you want answered? What are you looking for in either the Manafort or the Flynn or the Cohen filings coming forward?
PHILIP BUMP, "THE WASHINGTON POST": So I think the Flynn filing is probably the biggest black box. We haven't heard anything from him for a year. It was a year ago, December 1, that he actually -- he made this plea.
We don't know what he knows. We don't know what he talked to Mueller about. He spent a lot of time talking to Mueller. We have no idea what that's about. It's going to be fascinating to see what Mueller actually leaks out.
I think it's important to note, too, it's not just the midterms we're past Now. We're also past the point in which Donald Trump gave his answers to the special counsel about the questions he had. And that's what really fascinates me about the Cohen and Manafort situation, because we have heard CNN report that Trump said, I didn't know about the Trump Tower meeting in advance.
We may get some real hints about that from Manafort and Cohen this week.
TAPPER: What are you looking for? Obviously, we're all looking for everything that everybody else says. But what else are you looking for?
ASTEAD HERNDON, "THE NEW YORK TIMES": I would zero in on the Flynn document as well.
I think that that is the black box and that is the greatest unknown. But I think we also have to say that President Trump's reaction is for me going to be the key.
When you -- when we see some of this information coming from the special counsel, we have seen him have flurries of insults, flurries of kind of his most outlandish Twitter moments or moments that have sparked deep interest.
So to me, it's going to be, does the president turn on some of these allies that he's held close to in even the last year or is this the point where we see the president pull out the full arsenal against the special counsel?
TAPPER: Yes, the president just praised Roger Stone and attacked Michael Cohen. Stone, obviously, not cooperating. Cohen cooperating.
TAPPER: What do you want to know?
MARGARET HOOVER, CNN POLITICAL CONTRIBUTOR: Look, if Donald Trump is the master marketer, right, the one line he's sold to his base is that there is no collusion. No collusion, no collusion, no collusion.
What we're going to begin to see is whether there was any kind of collusion between anybody connected to his campaign and connected to that campaign apparatus and the Russian government. And we're going to know that a lot -- we're going to have much more definitive answer to those questions, by the way, during the campaign, not during transition, not early in the presidency, during the campaign.
TAPPER: Right. What about you? JOHN AVLON, CNN POLITICAL CONTRIBUTOR: That will be questions about
What I'm most interested in is Cohen. One of the real questions is why Donald Trump is loathe to criticize Vladimir Putin, why he's the only human being he won't criticize.
And so Cohen, given the history of his knowledge of the business, might be able to answer whether Russian money has been flowing into these properties, at a time when American banks would not loan to Donald Trump. That to me is a key question, and Cohen may have the key to unlock that.
TAPPER: On Twitter, President Trump complained about Michael Cohen's plea deal this week.
He continued -- quote -- "I will never testify against Trump. The 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.'" I don't know why he put that in quotes.
"Nice to know that some people still have 'guts.'"
OK, so that's President Trump's tweet.
Here's how Neal Katyal, the acting solicitor general under Obama, reacted to that and the other tweets.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
NEAL KATYAL, FORMER ACTING U.S. SOLICITOR GENERAL: He didn't order Stone not to testify. He didn't have to do that. He said, don't cooperate, and, effectively, you're going to get a get-out-of-jail card. But if you do, then I'm going to tell everyone to throw the book at you.
And, you know, the mob does it with violence. He's doing it with pardons and with the law enforcement apparatus.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
TAPPER: What do you think?
AVLON: It just makes the mind boggle that the president of the United States could use the pardon power to coerce people. But that's what he seems to have done.
If you look at the statute, it's not terribly subtle. It basically says it's illegal to try to influence, delay or prevent the testimony of any person in an official proceeding. What's he doing...
AVLON: ,... with his tweets, praising the people who are refusing to cooperate, talk, other than sound like a mob boss? TAPPER: Do you agree?
HOOVER: Yes. All of this is utterly improper, without -- and without precedent, and defies not just -- it's the spirit of the law, the spirit of respect for the rule of law and the Constitution.
So we're -- do I agree? Yes, I agree. Is this utterly inappropriate? Yes.
HOOVER: Every now and then, yes.
TAPPER: I just wanted to see.
It is pretty incredible just on its face. And once again you have to play the, what if Obama did it, what if Bill Clinton did it, what if, you know, George W. Bush did it? And the reaction would be explosive.
Because it's Donald Trump and we're so numb to it, people, oh, yes, he did those tweets.
HERNDON: I think numb is a good word.
I think that it continues the dynamic we have seen from across this presidency. If something happens in private, if we have a newspaper or TV investigation that revealed e-mails that said that he said the exact same things he said in the tweet, it would have been explosive.
But he tweets it on the morning, and it's just Tuesday, right? It's just Monday. And that's been kind of the staying power of this presidency, is that he has allowed for the bar to be pushed further and further that we have become numb to some of these things that are just totally outside of traditional norms.
TAPPER: I'm just trying -- I'm trying to come up with President Obama had plenty of scandals, but he didn't have any quite like the Russia investigation.
But let's say in Benghazi he had said something on Twitter, social media or a private e-mail that got leaked to somebody who was going to testify, you know, along the lines of that tweet. It would -- there would be calls for his impeachment immediately.
BUMP: Well, two points I would make.
The first is that, yes, there would have been, but that would have been outside the norm for President Obama. This is by no means outside the norm for President Trump. We have seen this over and over and over again.
And to the point about being numb, it's like we're just -- it's this constant cascade. It's hard to pick out individual drops from a waterfall, which is what we're standing under. I will also say, though, that sort of disagree with John in that I
think this is not really about Roger Stone. If there is anyone who understands how loyalty works in Trump world, it's Roger Stone. So I don't know that he's going to necessarily seize on to that tweet the way that one might suspect.
But, rather, Donald Trump is simply trying to say, look at how bad and deranged and corrupt this investigation is, which is I think his key lifeline that he's seizing on to is, I need to portray this as being so far out of control, that once it comes down and says what I did, no one is going to believe it.
TAPPER: Mark Warner, the top Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee, suggested the president was trying to influence potential witnesses in that tweet.
He is basically accusing him of breaking the law.
AVLON: Yes, because that's what it appears to be.
Now, look, when he was praising Manafort and condemning Cohen, that could be an explanation for why Manafort would lie to investigators late in the inning or late in the game. Was he trying to, you know, bet on a plea deal with some back channel? So, you know, I understand loyalty is a one-way street in Trump world.
And presumably Roger Stone understands that too. But if you look at Corsi and Stone's language, they're saying, no one is going to make me say a bad word about Donald Trump, because that would be a lie.
TAPPER: You said no one needs to teach Roger Stone about loyalty. He literally has a tattoo of Nixon on his back, just if you want to know how loyal he is. So that's just the beginning of the tattoos, I assume he will be able to get.
You will never guess who just said Donald Trump is wrong about the murder of Jamal Khashoggi.
Plus, Republicans in several states bracing for incoming Democratic governors by trying to rewrite the law and take away some of their power. So much for losing graciously.
Stay with us.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
[16:16:18] SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: MBS, the crown prince, is a wrecking ball. I think he's crazy. I think he is dangerous. There's not a smoking gun, there's a smoking saw.
(END VIDEO CLIP) TAPPER: In our world lead, one of the president's closest allies on Capitol Hill, Republican Senator Lindsey Graham, absolutely unleashing this afternoon after a briefing with the CIA director on the murder of "Washington Post" journalist Jamal Khashoggi. Graham and many other top Republicans now saying that they are overwhelmingly confident that it was the Saudi crown prince, Mohamed bin Salman, who ordered his killing. And they're demanding tougher actions from the Trump administration.
Now, President Trump has led the charge in trying to let the crown prince off the hook by publicly questioning how solid the intelligence pointing to the crown prince truly is.
CNN's Alex Marquardt joins me now.
Alex, another Republican senator said the evidence was so convincing a, jury would convict the crown prince in 30 minutes.
ALEX MARQUARDT, CNN SENIOR NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Jake. That was Senator Bob Corker, the head of Foreign Relations Committee, who has really been leading the charge in trying to get the Senate to punish Saudi Arabia and Mohammed bin Salman for the murder of Jamal Khashoggi. And corker was one of the senators today who said that Gina Haspel, the head of the CIA, did come armed with new evidence.
Remember, Haspel is the senior-most American official who has listened to that horrific tape of Khashoggi getting murdered. And one by one, we saw these senators, Graham, Corker and all the others, who had been convinced already that MBS was behind this come out and say that there is no doubt in their minds that it was the crown prince of Saudi Arabia who ordered this killing.
Take a listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GRAHAM: Business as usual has come to an end for me. I will not look at the kingdom the same way I used to look at it. I will not support arm sales until all responsible for the death of Mr. Khashoggi have been brought to justice.
SEN. BOB CORKER (R), TENNESSEE: I have zero question in my mind that the crown prince, MBS, ordered the killing, monitored the killing, knew exactly what was happening, planned it in advance. If he was in front of a jury, he would be convicted in 30 minutes, guilty.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MARQUARDT: Jake, these were the same senators who were frustrated, even irate that Haspel did not show up to the full Senate last week by Secretaries Mike Pompeo and James Mattis. Today's briefing was to a much smaller group, around a dozen senators, many of them in leadership positions, where many senators, including Rand Paul, who were furious that they were not included in today's briefing.
But, Jake, the big question now is, given what they are now convinced of, how do they act on it? How do they punish Saudi Arabia? How do they punish the crown prince? Is it through sanctions? Is it through withdrawing U.S. support for the Saudi war -- the U.S. support for the Saudi war in Yemen? What do they do?
Because the Trump administration has shown that they have zero inclination to actually act on this. The strategic interests, the national security interests of the United States are more important than this horrific murder -- Jake.
TAPPER: All right. Alex Marquardt, thank you so much.
The attorneys general in Washington, D.C., and Maryland, are planning on issuing subpoenas for 13 business entities in the Trump Organization and to at least five federal agencies to try to find out if President Trump is making money off the presidency. That could be a violation of what's known as the Emoluments Clause to the Constitution.
CNN's Laura Jarrett joins me now from the Justice Department.
And, Laura, break this down for us. What is this case specifically about?
LAURA JARRETT, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Jake, this entire case surrounds whether the foreign money flowing into the Trump Hotel here in Washington, D.C., violates the Emoluments Clause, that little-known clause in the Constitution that prohibits federal officials from taking a thing of value from a foreign government.
[16:20:08] Now, the Trump Organization and Trump's legal team has been fighting off this suit, along with a slew of others for months. But a federal judge in Maryland has decided that the case can go forward and that the plaintiffs here, those state A.G.s, can actually get discovery, meaning documents, depositions.
And so, they're now readying these subpoenas, everyone from the IRS to the Treasury Department, trying to get their hands on this information within the next six months. But the Justice Department may be ready to keep this fight going and has signaled that they may try to go to the Fourth Circuit of Appeals to try to get a pause on this discovery process, Jake.
TAPPER: Laura, these documents they're trying to get, could they potentially include President Trump's tax returns?
JARRETT: Well, it's always been speculated that may be the ultimate goal from these two Democratic state A.G.s. But as of right now, this lawsuit is only proceeding against the Trump Organization. And a spokesperson for the D.C. attorney general's office just told us right now in a statement, Jake: at this time, we are not seeking information from President Trump in his individual capacity and have not issued any notices of deposition to date. So, they're punting for now, Jake.
TAPPER: All right. Laura Jarrett at the Justice Department for us, thanks so much.
If you can't beat 'em, take away their power? The move that has people shouting in the halls of several state capitols.
Stay with us.
[16:26:03] TAPPER: Our national lead now.
Before Democratic governors in Wisconsin and Michigan take over in January, Republican -- replacing Republican governors, the Republican legislatures in those states are trying to strip executive authority away from those gubernatorial positions so the legislators can keep more control for themselves.
Now, they say they're trying to make the legislatures more coequal to the governors' offices, but to many the fact they only decided to do this when the other party took over the governors' mansions makes it look like a petty power grab.
CNN's Kyung Lah is in one of these states, in the capital of Madison, in Wisconsin, where the state assembly is debating this issue right now.
And, Kyung, we're learning that protesters were just taken out of the Senate gallery. What happened?
KYUNG LAH, CNN SENIOR NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: This happened about 30 minutes ago, before all of this began, before debate opened. They were warned to not make any noise, and it appeared from where we were standing that they were just simply reacting to a joke from a senator. The reaction, as you can hear, was not good. People screaming, saying that this was not democracy as they were ordered out of the Senate gallery.
They're now standing out here, waiting to find out what happens. This capping two days of ongoing outrage.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We have everybody take their seats, please.
LAH (voice-over): The call to order in Wisconsin's special legislative session would not be heeded. The chants audible through the walls of the committee hearing room punctuated by pounding.
KATHY KENNEDY, PROTESTER: I think they can only win by cheating and that's what they're doing in there right now. They're a bunch of cowards.
LAH: She is talking about Wisconsin Republicans in their last days of GOP control of the top statewide offices in Wisconsin. Republicans introduced a sweeping plan last Friday to curb early voting and strip power from the newly elected governor, Tony Evers, and Attorney General Josh Kaul, both Democrats.
The proposal would give Republican lawmakers more control over state litigation, taking that power away from Evers and Kaul, who have pledged to withdraw Wisconsin from a lawsuit challenging the Affordable Care Act.
As police guarded the doors, lawmakers began debate over the 141-page bill.
KATRINA SHANKLAND (D), WISCONSIN STATE REPRESENTATIVE: This bill was only written because Republicans are sore losers. They lost statewide elections and they decided as a result to take away power from the governor and attorney general, and they had this opportunity for eight years.
SEN. SCOTT FITZGERALD (R), WISCONSIN SENATE MAJORITY LEADER: The number one priority for us is to make sure we restore the balance of powers between the two coequal branches of government.
LAH: Republican leadership defended then starkly laid out why they're pushing this bill.
FITZGERALD: But listen. I'm concerned. I think that Governor-elect Evers is going to bring a liberal agenda to Wisconsin.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Good.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Hey! Hey, hey, hey!
LAH: As they were trailed and taunted by protesters.
PROTESTERS: Shame! Shame!
LAH: In nearby Michigan, a similar lame duck session move. Republicans introduced bills that boost the GOP-controlled legislature's power in legal fights and campaign finance, taking power away from the newly elected governor, attorney general and the secretary of state, all three Democrats. The first time in nearly three decades a party will hold those posts at the same time.
SCOTT ROSS, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, ONE WISCONSIN NOW: And the Republicans inside of that building, our capitol, refuse to accept the results of the 2018 elections!
TONY EVERS (D), WISCONSIN GOVERNOR-ELECT: I am the next governor. And I think there's some legislators that want to reverse that.
LAH: Tony Evers is Wisconsin's governor-elect.
(on camera): Is this about stripping power?
EVERS: Absolutely. I can guarantee you, if Scott Walker would have won this race, those people wouldn't be across the street making those same -- making those same decisions that they're making today.
LAH: OK. So, what's happening right now? Behind these doors, this is the Senate gallery here in Wisconsin.