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THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER
Trump Planning Second Nuclear Summit With North Korea?; Trump Under Pressure After New Special Counsel Filings; Trump Awkwardly Greets Ex-Presidents at Bush 41 Funeral. Aired 4-4:30p ET
Aired December 5, 2018 - 16:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: Those redacted Mueller documents still allow you to read between the lines.
THE LEAD starts right now.
The informant. A memo landing with an echoing thud on President Trump's Resolute Desk. Not only did the president's former national security adviser speak to Robert Mueller for hours and hours and hours; it's clear that there is much more to come.
That was awkward. Donald Trump taking his place in the president's club at Bush 41's funeral, and that uneasy feeling in the pew serving as a metaphor for his entire week.
Plus, scary images out of North Korea, long-range missile bases expanding, even as a second summit with President Kim is in the works. So what's that about Kim Jong-un no longer being a nuclear threat?
Welcome to THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper.
We begin with the politics lead, and the phrase likely hanging over a few people in Washington right now, substantial assistance to the government. That's how special counsel Robert Mueller described the information that Lieutenant General Michael Flynn, President Trump's former national security adviser, has provided to his team over 19 separate interviews over the course of the last year, 19.
Think about how few people in your world that you have met with 19 times in the last 12 months. Now, much of the information provided is so sensitive, the six-page document contained 65 lines of text that are partially or fully redacted.
But, attempting to read between the redacted lines, it is clear there is still a lot more that Mueller knows that we do not. The document revealing that Flynn has helped the special counsel with an unknown criminal investigation, the details of which are completely redacted.
But Mueller says these are investigations that are ongoing, meanwhile -- meaning, rather, that this is not over. And for this week in particular, this is just the beginning. Mueller is expected to file two more documents before the weekend, memos on former Trump fixer Michael Cohen and on former Trump campaign chair Paul Manafort.
Don't get numb to it. Think about it. The special counsel has secured guilty pleas or jury convictions against the president's former top lawyer, the president's former campaign chair and the president's first national security adviser.
CNN's Sara Murray joins me now.
And, Sara, Mueller describing Flynn's cooperation as particularly valuable because Flynn provided firsthand insight for the investigation and his cooperation paved the way for others to do so. And this comes at a time that President Trump is openly discouraging his associates from cooperating with the law.
SARA MURRAY, CNN NATIONAL POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Absolutely.
But it's clear that Flynn did cooperate voluminously. This document, though, answers some of our questions, but it leaves many things unanswered, very heavily redacted.
MURRAY (voice-over): President Trump's Former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn provided substantial assistance to the special counsel and should not receive jail time, special counsel Robert Mueller's team saying in Flynn's sentencing memo that he sat for 19 interviews with the special counsel and other Justice Department offices and provided valuable information for at least three active investigations, including a criminal probe, the details of which are redacted.
Investigators said Flynn was particularly valuable because he offered long-term and firsthand insight, including about potential coordination between Russians and senior members of the Trump transition and campaign.
MICHAEL FLYNN, FORMER U.S. NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISER: Lock her up, that's right. Yes, that's right. Lock her up.
MURRAY: Flynn was a fixture on the Trump campaign trail, even famously leading that anti-Hillary Clinton chant at the GOP convention.
FLYNN: If I did a tenth, a tenth of what she did, I would be in jail today.
MURRAY: But his stint as White House national security adviser lasted less than a month, after he was caught lying to senior members of the Trump administration.
MIKE PENCE, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I talked to General Flynn yesterday. And the conversations that took place at that time were not in any way related to new U.S. sanctions against Russia or the expulsion of diplomats.
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: He didn't tell the vice president of the United States the facts. And then he didn't remember. And that just wasn't acceptable to me.
MURRAY: Ultimately, Flynn lied to federal investigators, too, about his conversations with then Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak regarding Russian sanctions.
He struck a plea deal and has spent more than a year cooperating with investigators. That early cooperation likely affected the decisions of related firsthand witnesses to be forthcoming with the special counsel's office and cooperate, according to the special counsel's filing.
Flynn's revelations to Mueller could involve the president's son-in- law and adviser, Jared Kushner, who directed Flynn to contact the Russians about a key security counsel vote on Israeli settlements when Obama was still president, before Trump had taken office.
As Mueller commended Flynn's service record -- he's a retired lieutenant Army general -- the special counsel issued what might be seen as a warning shot to others in the Trump administration.
"Senior government leaders should be held to the highest standards."
MURRAY: Now, Jake, maybe the special counsel recommended no jail time for Flynn because his case is so specific, he provided so much cooperation, he has this record of service to our country.
But maybe, just maybe, he is trying to send a signal at the same time that President Trump is waiving these potential pardons that it also pays to cooperate with the government -- Jake.
TAPPER: Right. All right, Sara Murray, thanks so much.
Let's dissect all of this with our legal experts and our political experts.
Let's start with the legal ones.
Laura Coates, a lot of folks zeroing in on this phrase -- quote -- "the defendant's substantial assistance to the government."
As a former federal prosecutor, how significant is that language?
LAURA COATES, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Extremely.
It tells you that this person was not only giving information that was useful, but perhaps it was not known by any other means. Of course, the government does not give plea offers if they're able to independently get the information. There is no incentive to do so.
So for him to be able to be in a unique enough position to have them have a receptive ear over 19 meetings, Jake, over the course of a year -- and we forget, he pled last December, 19 meetings, and only started as national security adviser for, what, 23 days.
This is telling you that this, in the cooperation and in his efforts, he was critical in not one, but three separate investigations. And, of course, he only pled guilty to one count. So the idea that he for over almost a year now has been cooperative, when he likely would have had a sentence probably less than that, is striking.
TAPPER: And, Kim, let me ask you, because Laura brings it up, 19 meetings. How significant is that? I'm a layman. I don't know. It sounds like a lot to me.
KIM WEHLE, FORMER ASSOCIATE INDEPENDENT COUNSEL: Well, you mentioned this at the point that how many people do you talk to 19 different times? And I think the other point you made is don't get numb to it.
And I think the American public is getting a bit numb to it. This is astonishing when you think about it. It's a national security adviser. And he was close to Trump. He knows a lot of information. And it's very clear from this document that he is continuing to cooperate on multiple fronts.
And we're just going to see, I think, more and more of this kind of information come out of the Mueller probe, and the question is going to be, how is this going to shake out as a matter of our system of accountability under the Constitution?
TAPPER: Laura, in Mueller's sentencing recommendation in which he says that he doesn't recommend any jail time for Flynn, he notes -- quote -- "The defendant's record of military and public service distinguish him from every other person who has been charged as part of our investigation. However, senior government leaders should be held to the highest standards."
Is he only talking about Flynn there, do you think?
COATES: No. I think he's talking about a double-edged sword. Who do we know who perhaps has not served his country in the same way that, say, General Michael Flynn has? He's talking about people who have perhaps been very close to the Oval Office or actually occupy it, perhaps.
It's probably a message there. The other idea is that he is giving a very specific reason why this person is not getting the jail time recommendation. Compare and contrast this, if you will, to Paul Manafort, where the Mueller special counsel team just last week went to the court to say, we want him sentenced immediately for having lied to us, not cooperating, and not holding up his end of the bargain.
I highly doubt his service to perhaps other countries or to officials in the United States of America would insulate him from the wrath of Mueller, as it has for Flynn. The question is usefulness.
TAPPER: Kim, just a quick question for you and then I'm going to bring in my political panel.
I still don't see here, just on the facts on the ground, evidence of conspiracy to change the election between the Russian government and anybody in the Trump orbit. Maybe it's under the black marks there, the redactions. I don't know. But I still don't see that final piece of the puzzle.
WEHLE: I'm sure there are pages and pages and pages beyond even the black marks. We're only seeing a little sliver of things. But what we do know that there is information that was material to the voting public with respect to that election that was withheld by senior members of this administration or the transition team or the campaign.
We know that, and we also know from the Cohen documents last week that Mr. Trump had had communications with people who had had communications with the Russians.
So the notion there was no communication with the Russians and the campaign, that's not true either. What we don't know is why these people lied. Was there a reason? Were they getting something from, some goodies from the Russians in exchange? And if that's the case, that's extremely serious, both as a matter of legal liability and democracy and accountability.
TAPPER: All right, Kim and Laura, thank you so much.
Let's bring in the political panel.
And that's really the first question I have. Why lie? You know, incoming national security adviser, you're allowed to talk to the ambassador from Russia. I mean, you're allowed. And it wouldn't even surprise me. Like, they have a different position on sanctions.
Why lie about it?
AMANDA CARPENTER, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: I always thought there was much more mystery around General Flynn, because he is such a skilled person, has such vast experience serving his country.
But there are some words from earlier this year that sort of haunt me as we look at this investigation. And that's when his lawyers went to the press and said, General Flynn has a story to tell. Well, he sure must have, because that memo that came out last night, it didn't spell out collusion, but it spelled out that he's cooperating with not one, not two, but three cases, one of which is a criminal investigation that we don't know what it is.
That's my big question. What is that criminal element, and is that what Flynn -- is that what Flynn brought to the special counsel?
TAPPER: And let's show this to the viewers at home. We know Flynn was helping with these other investigations.
On page two of this document, it reads: "The defendant has provided substantial assistance in a criminal investigation." And then there are 22 lines of redacted text. So frustrating. What does it say? And then on page four: "The
defendant has also provided useful information concerning," and then another 25 lines of redactions.
PAUL BEGALA, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes, it's probably not John Podesta's recipe for creamy risotto. That was in the Wiki. That was one of the great bombshells that came out of the Russian theft.
BEGALA: What we do know is that Mike Flynn is a liar and he's a felon. And those defendants will point that out when he testifies against them. They will be right to do so. The president and his team have a good case in that sense in the court of public opinion.
My expectation is that Mueller would not give a liar and a felon such a light pass, unless the substantial cooperation was documented. You can't just rely on Mike Flynn's words, because we know he's a liar. So there must have been actual evidence that Flynn steered them to or gave them to help make these cases, because, as the defendants will, I think quite rightly, say, he's a liar.
BEGALA: You can't believe him. And we know that he is. He betrayed -- I have to say, when you're appointed to a high job like that, you get a commission signed by the president, signed by the secretary of state, and the first sentence of it is, know ye that we're posing special trust and confidence in the integrity and ability of Mike Flynn.
So he violated that trust and confidence and he showed a complete lack of integrity. And I don't think that should be lost here. I'm not like on the Trump side, but the Trump people will make a very good case in court if and when this comes to trial, if they don't have more than just Mike Flynn's word.
TAPPER: And, David, so Michael Cohen talked to Mueller's team for more than 70 hours. Don McGahn, the White House counsel, for 30 hours. Now we know Michael Flynn had 19 separate interviews with them.
They're talking about something.
DAVID URBAN, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Yes, exactly.
So let's just kind of put a pin in this and go back and look and see. Number one, there is zero evidence here that points anything to the president.
TAPPER: At Trump himself. URBAN: Yes, this does not implicate the president. Specifically,
this talks about discussions that were held during the transition. Doesn't say during the election. If you look at the document...
URBAN: I understand, but it doesn't talk about during the election itself.
And to go back and look at what General Flynn lied about, that is somewhat puzzling. He lied about two specific instances, one, where he talked to the Russians about taking it easy and not overreacting to President Obama throwing out some diplomats and closing two missions. That was the first thing he asked them to do.
The second was to vote no -- to vote yes and be supportive on a U.N. resolution supporting Israel. So it's curious why would you lie to the FBI about those two specific things.
CARPENTER: He also lied about his work in Turkey.
URBAN: That's a third thing.
URBAN: Your original question about why is really puzzling. That seems like something you would say pretty easily you could talk about.
TAPPER: Karine, just want your reaction to the document.
KARINE JEAN-PIERRE, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: Yes.
Look, I think that this investigation with every court filing that we have seen, especially in the past week, is that this investigation is deeper, it's bigger, it's a lot more complex than we ever thought it was.
And, you know, we have to remember that Flynn was known as the whisperer to Donald Trump. He was traveling with Donald Trump for a year during the campaign. And so I think also there's a message, too, that Mueller is sending to Corsi, to Roger Stone, to Don Jr., which is, instead of obstructing, why don't you cooperate?
CARPENTER: Well, on that note, there would be a big difference in sentencing between Flynn and Manafort.
TAPPER: Right, right, exactly. You cooperated and you don't go to jail at all, like Michael Flynn.
(CROSSTALK) CARPENTER: Exactly.
TAPPER: Everyone, stick around. We have got more to talk about.
The presidents club, it's one of the most exclusive in the world. President Trump has mostly avoided it. Today, he came face-to-face with his four living predecessors.
Then, new satellite images obtained by CNN that may prove Kim Jong-un is trying to deceive President Trump, as they prepare to meet again.
Stay with us.
[16:18:29] TAPPER: For the first time since his inauguration, President Trump was in the company of all the former living presidents today, and their interactions to many observers looked quite a bit awkward.
This all comes as Mr. Trump is battling a tough week here at home and abroad. The stock market tanking over fears that his talks with China's President Xi will not avert a trade war. With each passing day, special counsel Robert Mueller reveals absolutely stunning new details about the breadth of the Russia investigation and how much we still don't know. And staunch allies in the Republican Party are breaking with the president very publicly in his defense of Saudi Arabia's crown prince about the murder of that U.S.-based journalist, Jamal Khashoggi.
CNN's Kaitlan Collins is at the White House for us now.
And, Kaitlan, all eyes are on President Trump and his interaction with the Obamas and the Clintons and the Carters, and, boy, to a lot of people, it seemed awkward.
KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Yes, it was this rare meeting of the presidents' club but, Jake, it was made even more noteworthy by the fact that the current president has criticized the other people who are sitting in that row with him. Now, before President Trump and the first lady arrived, you saw the Clintons, Obamas, Carters, smiling, laughing, talking amongst themselves.
But when President Trump and Melania showed up, it seemed that the small talk had come to an end.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: An imperfect man, he left us a more perfect union.
COLLINS (voice-over): As the nation said goodbye to the 41st president today, the 45th was seated in the front row, coming face-to- face with his predecessor for the first time in nearly two years, shaking Barack Obama's hand as he sat down in the same row at the National Cathedral but skipping greeting his 2016 rival, Hillary Clinton. [16:20:12] As those who knew George H.W. Bush best, paid tribute to
him, those in the room couldn't help but think of the man who occupies the office now.
BRIAN MULRONEY, FORMER PRIME MINISTER OF CANADA: When George Bush was president of the United States of America, every single head of government in the world knew that they were dealing with a gentleman, a genuine leader, one who was distinguished, resolute and brave.
COLLINS: But as the Bush family prepared to leave for Texas, Trump returned to the White House to confront the realities of Washington, as officials are forced to read between the lines of the special counsel's redacted memo on Michael Flynn, recommending no jail time for the former national security adviser because of his, quote, substantial assistance, including 19 meetings with Robert Mueller's team.
And the opening bell of the stock market quiet today in honor of the former president after stocks took a dive yesterday due to lingering concerns of a trade war between the U.S. and China.
The president trying to shore up confidence today, he struck a successful deal with the Chinese leader, tweeting, not to sound naive or anything, but I believe President Xi meant every word he said.
The trade drama coming as senators from the president's own party are firmly at odds with his administration, saying that a briefing with the CIA director only solidified their view that the Saudi crown prince ordered the killing of the journalist, Jamal Khashoggi.
SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: There's not a smoking gun, there's a smoking saw.
COLLINS: That takeaway from one of the president's top allies seen as a rebuke of how he described things last month.
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Maybe he did or maybe he didn't.
COLLINS: Now, Jake, we know President Trump had not spoken to President Obama since his inauguration almost two years ago, but he had spoken to the late President Bush two summers ago when he called him for his birthday, and George W. Bush when he called him when he selected Brett Kavanaugh for the Supreme Court. But other than that, it does not seem that the newest member of the presidents' club is very close with the rest of it -- Jake.
TAPPER: Not one of them voted for him, including the Republicans in that club. Kaitlan Collins, thanks so much.
Let's talk about this. But first, I want to run this clip again of President Trump and Melania Trump walking in and sitting next to the Obamas. You see Melania Trump shakes hands with the Obamas, with Bill Clinton, Hillary Clinton looks over and nods at Melania. A handshake between Obama and Trump, Michelle. But not warm. I mean, is that fair to say?
CARPENTER: Yes. There's not a lot of warmth there. But everyone was on their best behavior, as they should be. And to be on your best behavior when president Trump is around pretty much means you can't engage with him too much. And that's just the fact.
TAPPER: When George W. Bush walked in -- now, he has a different role, obviously. He's the patriarch of the family now and the son of the man who just passed away. But when he walked in, he walked around and shook hands with all of them.
TAPPER: I'm not saying that President Trump should have done that. But the body language just didn't scream like, I'm one of you. I welcome you here.
JEAN-PIERRE: Well, that's the type of campaign Donald Trump ran, as well. Which is I'm going to take down the infrastructure or what is the presidency in his way, right? And this is a man who attacked President Carter and said he was the worst president ever.
TAPPER: I think he called him the second worst, behind Obama.
JEAN-PIERRE: Behind Obama. And that would make sense.
DAVID URBAN, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: They were both there.
JEAN-PIERRE: He made racial slurs against -- false racial slurs against president Obama.
TAPPER: You mean the birther --
JEAN-PIERRE: The birtherism in 2011 that he led and was the spokesperson for. And then President Clinton, he attacked -- he berated for two years on the campaign.
So, yes, it's going to be uncomfortable. It's not going to be pleasant for him. And let's not forget about a week ago, he tweeted a picture -- he retweeted a picture of his political opponents behind bars.
JEAN-PIERRE: And, you know, this is not too long --
TAPPER: Maybe three of them in that row.
JEAN-PIERRE: Exactly, three in that row. And let's not forget what happened about a month ago, pipe bombs were being sent around the country --
TAPPER: To all of them.
JEAN-PIERRE: To all of them. So this is a president that did he debases the office he sits in.
TAPPER: I mean, Karine makes a good point. He was elected to be a disruptor and one of the things he is disrupting is that order.
URBAN: Listen, so I think exactly -- Karine puts it exactly -- that's a campaign poster, right, not shaking the guy's hand in there, kind of shake things up in Washington.
Look, there was a headline in politico the other day that says the president acted abnormally normal in this case, right? Very genteel, went over to Blair House, sent Air Force One, was really acting extremely presidential, which makes everybody in this town go crazy, because he's not acting as a disrupter.
[16:25:00] So the guy can't win either way. I think, you know, kudos for the Bush family. This was about 41. This isn't about Donald Trump. This isn't about crazy tweets. This is about 41 and a great giant of our country. And I think it should be.
TAPPER: Paul, I'll come back to you. We're going to take a quick break.
And when we come back, allegations that votes weren't counted and possibly even destroyed, fears a stolen election rising in one key race. Stay with us.
TAPPER: Welcome back.