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INSIDE POLITICS

Flynn in Court; Flynn Continues With Sentencing; Judge Rebukes Flynn; Aired 12-12:30p ET

Aired December 18, 2018 - 12:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


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[12:00:07] ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

JOHN KING, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome to INSIDE POLITICS. I'm John King. Thank you for sharing this big, breaking news day with us.

Breaking just this hour, inside a Washington courtroom, you see the court building right there, Michael Flynn, the president's former national security adviser, waiting to find out his fate. A judge now weighing how to sentence Flynn and if Flynn wants to put off a decision. The judge repeatedly warning Flynn his crime, lying to the FBI inside the White House, is a, quote, very serious offense. The judge, Emmet Sullivan, made no promises that Flynn would not get jail time, even though the prosecutors have recommend he not get jail time.

I want to go to CNN's Pamela Brown. She's right outside the courtroom as this plays out.

Pam, inside the courtroom, a lot of drama. The judge at one point asking Michael Flynn, do you want to withdraw your plea. And then prosecutors noting that he could -- could still be a cooperating witness.

PAMELA BROWN, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: That's right, John, the judge giving Michael Flynn several outs to withdrawal his guilty plea, citing the circumstances surrounding his FBI interview, where Michael Flynn's lawyers had argued he was not warned about the repercussions of lying to the FBI, that counsel was not recommended for the interview. But now the sentencing seems to be taking off on a different tone with the judge expressing the seriousness of the offense of Michael Flynn lying on the FBI.

I want to bring in my colleague, Shimon Prokupecz, to break down these new details coming in.

SHIMON PROKUPECZ, CNN CRIME AND JUSTICE REPORTER: Well, the judge certainly not mincing words here, going after Michael Flynn saying, the aggravating circumstances are serious. Not only did you lie to the FBI, you lied to senior FBI officials in the -- senior officials in the incoming administration. He then says all along you were an unregistered agent of a foreign country while serving as the national security adviser to the president of the United States. That undermines everything this flag over here -- the judge pointing to a flag behind him -- arguably, he tells Flynn, you sold your country out.

BROWN: Wow.

PROKUPECZ: So clearly this is taking on a different tone now.

This is still ongoing. We've heard a lot about this judge and how he does not hide his opinions. He's very expressive. And we are certainly seeing this from this judge here who really, some tough, tough words for Michael Flynn.

And we'll see. We'll see how Michael Flynn responds. We have yet to see what Michael Flynn has said. But Michael Flynn is standing there and taking this from the judge right now.

BROWN: Hearing from that judge, you sold your country out as the national security adviser in the White House.

This is a unique case in so many ways. This is the first former White House official to face a sentencing in the Russia probe. Michael Flynn telling the judge he was aware that lying to the FBI was a crime and he didn't just lie one time and the judge has noted this, right, Shimon.

PROKUPECZ: He has. And, you know, and just to keep going on what the judge is saying, he says, the judge tells him, I am not hiding my disgust, my disdain for your criminal offense. He then took a brief pause and then the judge said, yes, your honor. And the Flynn responds, I should say, yes, your honor. And that's basically it.

So Flynn just stood there, took this lashing, really, from the judge. It just went on and on.

And you could tell this judge is angry. Look, I think a lot of people are angry for what happened here. Many people were -- feel that what Michael Flynn did here was wrong. He lied. He did things he shouldn't have done. And clearly I think the judge is speaking for a lot of people here. The question is, what happens now?

BROWN: What's going to happen? What's his fate going to be?

Something that could help him is, of course, the special counsel's --

PROKUPECZ: That's right.

BROWN: Argument that, look, he has been very helpful in the investigations in the various federal probes. He has been -- he has offered substantial assistance. And we saw that play out yesterday, right?

PROKUPECZ: Yes, we did.

Look, I think the substantial assistance is what's going to save Michael Flynn here. It's clear the judge has said he's going to take that into consideration. And he has to. That's the 5k (ph) letter we kind of talked about that was filed by the special counsel. And really that's the thing that's going to save him. Yes, he's facing up to six months in jail. It could be that the judge does give him some jail time here. That certainly would be an astonishing moment. If the judge decides that, in this case, Michael Flynn should do some jail time, that's going to change everything, obviously.

Michael Flynn, the whole purpose of his cooperation was to avoid jail time. Yes, he was facing exposure and criminal charges in another criminal case, which is also the reason why he chose to plead guilty here and cooperate. But if this judge, and we don't yet know what's going to happen here, but if this judge decides to give him jail time, it's going to be a moment because certainly I don't think anyone is expecting that in this case.

[12:05:12] BROWN: And, of course, Robert Mueller's team asked the judge for leniency --

PROKUPECZ: Right.

BROWN: To not give him jail time. Initially this judge, John King, leaving us on the edge of our seats, telling Michael Flynn inside that courtroom, you sold your country out, lying to the FBI, lying to senior officials in the White House about his conversations with Sergey Kislyak, the former Russian ambassador. Some very strong words there to the former national security adviser.

KING: And, Shimon --

PROKUPECZ: And, John, if I can, we're now in a recess. The judge has taken a recess.

KING: A recess?

PROKUPECZ: John, I'm sorry. The judge just took a recess. He says he's going to take the bench back at 12:30. So it sounds like the judge has some things he wants to think about. He's taken a brief pause. And so we'll be back here around 12:30.

BROWN: And just for context, John, we thought this could wrap up relatively quickly, again, given that the recommendation from Robert Mueller's team of no jail time at typically sentencings like this don't drag on like we're seeing. But, of course, this is not a regular situation. This is an unusual case, very high profile, involving the president's former national security adviser.

John.

KING: Pam and Shimon, stay with us.

Evan Perez is in the courtroom. We should get some color from him, too. A dramatic, dramatic day.

I want to bring you some more of Judge Sullivan before taking this recess, voicing his scorn at Michael Flynn, directly asking Michael Flynn, again the president's former national security adviser, the highest ranking official to be sentenced in the Mueller probe, asking Michael Flynn if he believed his conduct, quote, rises to the level of treasonous activity. The prosecutor speaking for the special counsel's office said prosecutors did not consider charging Michael Flynn with treason. The judge asked again, could he have been charged with treason? The prosecutor would not go there.

Again, we're waiting for the judge to come back to the bench for the sentencing.

Let's discuss this. With me to share their reporting and their insights, CNN's Kara Scannell, CNN legal analyst Carrie Cordero, CNN's Abby Phillip, "The Washington Post's" Karoun Demirjian, and in Raleigh, the veteran white collar defense attorney, Sol Wisenberg, whose resume also includes being the number two to the special prosecutor Ken Starr.

Carrie, let me start with you, and then to you Sol.

Just this judge. We're ending now with the judge voicing his scorn. Do you think you committed treason? Do you understand you were in the White House when you told these lies? You've let down your country, pointing to a flag. After starting the hearing, at the other end of the spectrum, telling Michael Flynn, do you think the FBI mistreated you? Do you want to withdraw your plea? What are we getting here from this judge?

CARRIE CORDERO, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: I think there's two pieces. There's a national security side and there's a legal side. On the national security side, I think the judge was conveying the gravity of the national security adviser who, at the beginning of the administration, was working in the White House and affirmatively lied to FBI agents in an interview. And especially somebody who was not new to government. He had been the head of an intelligence agency. He was a long time career intelligence expert with decades of service to the country. And so I think, on one hand, the judge was underscoring of gravity of the fact that we have a national security adviser being sentenced today in federal court.

On the legal side, I think the defense attorneys for Michael Flynn made somewhat of a mistake in their filing where they inferred in writing to the judge that perhaps Michael Flynn didn't understand why he was under obligation not to lie to federal investigators when he was interviewed. They inferred that in the paperwork, even though he had already pled guilty to this. And so I think in that sense all they had to do was accept the prosecutor's recommendation that he not be sentenced to any jail time. And then underscore that with all of the supportive information that people who had worked with Michael Flynn for decades, attesting to his service to country and his credibility, had to do. And they just -- they created drama where they didn't need to create any.

KING: And to that point, Sol, jump into the conversation.

Have you heard of this before where a judge -- this is all cooked. You know, the special counsel recommends no jail time. As Carrie just notes, General Flynn's attorneys then raise some questions about his treatment, to the point where the judge offers him an opportunity to withdraw your plea. I would like to proceed, your honor, Michael Flynn says. Judge Sullivan says, because you're guilty of this offense? Yes, your honor, Michael Flynn says.

So what is -- what do you make of this?

SOLOMON WISENBERG, FORMER PROSECUTOR: Well, there are a lot of things to make about it. On the one hand, the judge has clearly been affected by the filing of Flynn's attorney. So he wants to make it absolutely clear -- and by a lot of public commentary, op-eds, suggesting that Flynn really wasn't guilty and really didn't lie. So he wants to make it absolutely clear again, giving Flynn every opportunity to withdraw. Are you guilty? Are you pleading guilty because you're guilty? That's number one.

Number two, the judge is not going to ignore the reality that we have a president of the United States who's been acting like a mob boss, a political mob boss, and been continually attacking Bob Mueller and been calling people rats and acting like essentially a Mafioso (ph). And so the judge doesn't like that. And so when the judge starts talking about the seriousness of what Flynn did and selling your country out, I think he's making a decision not to ignore the larger political reality and saying, this is serious. So the idea that he isn't -- he -- his comments have not been affected by the president of the United States and his campaign of vilification is farfetched. He is affected by that. And I think it's proper for him to take that into consideration in terms of what he publicly says.

[12:10:57] KING: To that point, let's get to CNN's Evan Perez, who is in the courtroom as this drama played out.

First, the judge asking Michael Flynn, Evan, if he wants to withdraw his plea. Michael Flynn says, no, I want to go forward. And then, at the end, confronting Michael Flynn, did you commit treason? Do you understand where you were when you told these lies?

Take us inside that courtroom.

EVAN PEREZ, CNN SENIOR JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: John, look, I think everybody in the courtroom was simply stunned at the way the judge approached this simply because when you have prosecutors recommending essentially no prison time, you have the defense agreeing, the prosecutors are describing how much cooperation that Flynn has given, valuable cooperation Flynn has given, and the judge simply isn't buying that Michael Flynn is accepting full responsibility for this. And he simply goes into some of the offenses that Michael Flynn has now pleaded guilty to, including the fact that he was an unregistered foreign agent during the time that he was serving as national security adviser. And the judge turned to the flag that was sitting there right next to the judge and he says, arguably this goes against everything that this flag stands for. He says, arguably, you sold your country out. And he said, I cannot hide my disdain, my disgust for what Michael Flynn has done.

And I can tell you, Mike Flynn and his lawyers, you could see them becoming very uncomfortable as the judge sort of went into a tirade about what Michael Flynn has now pleaded guilty to. He said he mentioned the fact that Michael Flynn lied to FBI agents on the premises of the White House, in the West Wing, while he was serving as a senior official in the government. Again, the judge repeatedly saying, this is a very serious offense.

And essentially taking a break now, John. The court is in recess for about 30 minutes while the judge contemplates what exactly he is going to do. Again, not the way we thought today was going to go. I've been to sentencings before. And especially when the two sides are essentially in agreement, the judge usually goes along with what the two sides are saying. Today, Judge Sullivan, is not doing exactly that.

KING: And let's stick with that for a minute because now the judge decides that he wants some time to go think about this in private after being very clear how unhappy he is in the presence in that courtroom.

Take us to the moment where he's looking directly at Michael Flynn asking him if he thinks he's guilty of treasonous conduct. The special counsel's office says they never considered charging Michael Flynn for treason. That's high drama.

PEREZ: That is high drama. You could see Michael Flynn, you know, sort of taken aback really by the judge. And in that exact moment, his lawyers are all looking at each other. It is -- it is a moment of high drama, not something you normally see in a situation like this.

And I can tell you, Flynn himself, you know, if you spent any time with Michael Flynn, you know he's a very, very sure person. He's very, very sure of himself, you know. He's perhaps a little bit arrogant some people would say. Today he spoke so quietly, you could almost, you know, at the beginning certainly, you almost couldn't hear him. But, you know, certainly when the judge was asking him questions, he said, yes, your honor, yes, your honor, essentially being very, very polite. What you'd expect, frankly.

I think when he reads the -- as he was reading the judge's tenor today in court, John, I think he saw exactly how angry this judge was and he was going to play it exactly that you would expect, which is polite, yes, your honor, yes, your honor, because, you know, arrogance was not exactly -- would not be something that would be welcome in this courtroom today.

KING: And, Evan, this is a legal proceeding, but it's a legal proceeding that is wrapped in politics, including the president of the United States just this morning tweeting good luck to General Flynn. The president and his allies making the case that General Flynn was somehow entrapped, that the FBI duped him. The judge asked that question directly to Michael Flynn. Take us inside that moment when the judge said, do you understand -- did you understand, back when you sat down for that interview, that lying to the FBI is a crime.

[12:15:05] PEREZ: Yes, exactly. The judge asked him, did he understand that lying to the FBI was a crime. He said, yes, your honor. He -- the two -- his two lawyers were standing next to him and the judge asked whether he felt that he was entrapped. And the lawyers answered for his -- on his behalf saying, no, he did not feel entrapped.

Again, this all goes back to a court filing that the defense made just a few days ago, John, in which they raised the circumstances of Michael Flynn's interview, the fact that the FBI came in, sort of didn't give him any warnings about lying to the FBI. That Michael Flynn essentially was unguarded. And the judge even raised that question and said the fact that, you know, you were unguarded, did that -- does that mean that you didn't know lying to the FBI was a crime? And, again, Michael Flynn repeatedly said, no, yes, your honor and he said he accepted responsibility for making those false statements, as well as saying that he wanted to plead guilty today.

Again, the judge, I think this 30-minute delay in sentencing was also partially to give Mike Flynn one more chance, whether he wants to back out of this plea agreement, whether he wants to say -- whether he wants to fight it because I think once the judge -- obviously once the judge gives a sentence, then there's no turning back. And I think he's giving Mike Flynn every opportunity. Based on the fact, you know, that that court filing from a few days ago seemed to raise some doubts in the mind of the judge, he's giving him a little more time to think about this again before he issues a sentence, John.

KING: Just moments away from hearing from Judge Emmet Sullivan, who clearly voicing his scorn at the defendant, Michael Flynn. The question now is, will the judge accept the special counsel's recommendation that Michael Flynn get no jail time?

We're going to take a quick break. We'll be right back with this major breaking news story.

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[12:21:01] KING: Michael Flynn now just moments away from learning his fate. The judge calling a recess in the court proceeding. The scheduled sentencing today of the president's former national security adviser, who is charged with lying to the special counsel about contacts with Russia, but the hearing turned tense this morning. The judge directly asking Michael Flynn if he thought his conduct was treasonous.

Let's go back outside the courthouse. CNN's Pam Brown there with Evan Perez and Shimon Prokupecz as well.

Pam, as we prepare for the judge to go back in, this hearing -- and the judge, I think, wanted to take time himself, but he also wanted to give Mike Flynn some time to think things over, right?

BROWN: That's right.

To be clear, this is not how we thought this sentencing would play out today. It appeared both sides were in agreement in terms of sentencing for Michael Flynn. But this judge really gave Michael Flynn a scolding inside the courtroom and the tone shifted.

I want to talk to Evan Perez, who was actually inside that courtroom.

It appears that the judge was concerned about Flynn's lawyers' argument about the circumstances surrounding the FBI interview. What was the context surrounding that? PEREZ: Well, you know, we talked about this when the defense filing

was made and we said, you know, all you needed was two sentences.

BROWN: Right.

PEREZ: One that said, we agree with zero, zero time in prison. And, secondly, here are recommendation letters, as is typical what you do, you provide recommendation letter, people saying how good you are. Something for the judge to consider. And say, thank you, your honor, I'm done.

Instead, what the defense did was file a bunch of stuff that really had nothing to do with pleading guilty. It sort of raised concerns. It raised questions in our minds certainly that what they were trying to say was that Flynn was tricked into making those false statements to the FBI. And I think you heard that today from the judge. The judge said it raised concern in his mind as to whether -- what exactly Flynn was saying. Was he tricked into this? Was he -- was he not really pleading guilty? Was he not taking full responsibility? And one of the things he did, he brought the prosecutors up to talk about that and said, do you believe that this filing takes away from the credit he should receive for accepting responsibility? That is one thing that he raised with the prosecutors.

PROKUPECZ: Well, I'm wondering if we're going to have a sentence today.

BROWN: Wow.

PROKUPECZ: It seems the judge is giving Michael Flynn an out here to say, I don't have in front of me your entire cooperation. Special counsel has come in and said, he's continuing to cooperate. So we have yet to learn how much more help he could be to the government. And it seems what the judge could be doing here and saying, hey, you may want to wait until I know the extent of your full cooperation.

PEREZ: Right.

PROKUPECZ: He may be signaling to the Flynn folks, you may not want to do this today.

BROWN: Wow.

PEREZ: And the great -- there's some irony in that because, frankly, this judge, he's the second judge to take this over. The first judge recused himself. And so one of the things he did when he took over is case over the summer, he started prodding them saying, OK, when -- when are we going to have a sentencing? So, some of this timeline essentially was because of Judge Sullivan and his impatience, essentially. He wanted to know exactly what was going on. And so -- so there's great irony in that.

And then also -- you know, the second part of that, what you said, Shimon, I think, this judge also, you know, I think that's where everything shifted in the courtroom. At the moment where he said, you know, look, you might want to wait until the government can tell me fully that you finished your cooperation because then I think it's the first time anybody in the courtroom got the idea that maybe he's not ready for sentencing.

PROKUPECZ: Because usually --

BROWN: And the mood too. I mean I think that this is important. You know, before it all started, you had Flynn's family members outside the courthouse. They were smiling.

PEREZ: Yes.

BROWN: There was a sense of relief that finally it's sentencing day, we can put this behind us. But the mood shifted inside that courtroom and you watched it play out.

PEREZ: It really did. And, you know, look, he's got a huge family. He comes from a very big family in Rhode Island. There's probably about a dozen family members here, extended family, inside the courtroom. And I think everybody was in a pretty good mood. You saw them at the beginning. And then everything changed.

[12:25:08] BROWN: You hear the words "treason" from the judge. You sold your country out, talking directly to Michael Flynn, the president's former national security adviser. Again this judge keeping us on the edge of our seats as we await to learn the fate of Michael Flynn. And as Shimon pointed out, John, we may not even find out today. It is unclear as this judge took a recess, giving both sides some time to think in this case, high drama inside that courtroom.

John.

KING: Pam, Evan, and Shimon, thank you. And stay right there. Evan, I know, is heading back into the courtroom. The judge just moments away from resuming that hearing.

And the question is, was he sending Michael Flynn a signal? Was he saying, based on everything I know today, actually, I might send you to prison, so maybe you want to delay this and we see the full extent of the cooperation.

To that point, Kara, you've been following this case. The prosecutor, Brandon Van Grack, said it remains a possibility that General Flynn is continuing to cooperate with the government. Also in his sentencing memo, the special counsel's office said that Flynn has been cooperating, that pretty quickly early on, when he realized he was caught in a lie, he said, you're right, I lied, and since then has been cooperating.

We know two of his business partners were indicted. But what else? What else? There's no way, correct me if you think I'm wrong, Robert Mueller is going to say no jail time just for testimony against the other lobbyists.

KARA SCANNELL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: No. I mean, absolutely not. And, in fact, in the sentencing memorandum that the government submitted, they credited Flynn with coming in and giving early cooperation, even before they talked about charging him. And they said that, you know, it also -- his cooperation forced other people to decide that, you know what, they want to cooperate, too.

And in the sentencing memorandum, you see they credit him for helping on three investigations at least. One of those is the one that we were talking about yesterday with his business associates being charged. They also say helping with the Trump transition team members cooperate -- or conversations and communications with Russians.

But there's an entire section that is redacted that we don't know what that says. It's not a short redaction. It's several paragraphs. So that is another piece of what Michael Flynn is cooperating on that we just don't know what that is or how significance that is. But it's included in there. And under the banner of how he's helping the special counsel. So there's a leg of this investigation and Michael Flynn's cooperation that we just don't know what that is.

KING: And, just remember, and again, this is something -- you just have to infer some things. The central core of the special counsel's investigation is about, is there Russia -- what was the Russia meddling? Was there coordination with the Trump campaign? Were there contacts -- the contacts with Russians? So you assume it's about the central mission because Robert Mueller has farmed out so many of the other things. But, again, one of the mysteries, as we wait to see what happens.

We're going to take a quick break. The hearing about to resume any second now. The judge, Emmet Sullivan, back on the bench. He called a time out. The next question, will he sentence Michael Flynn today or will there be another delay?

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