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A Bombshell from a Former Cabinet Member; Cover-up in the White House. Aired 10-11p ET
Aired March 30, 2017 - 22:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
(JOINED IN PROGRESS)
[22:00:00] ANDERSON COOPER, CNN HOST: .. with Don Lemon for CNN Tonight. I'll see you tomorrow.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is CNN breaking news.
DON LEMON, CNN HOST: Breaking news. General Michael Flynn is willing to testify in exchange for immunity.
This is CNN Tonight. I'm Don Lemon.
President Trump's former national security adviser, the man who was fired for lying about his contacts with the Russian ambassador now willing to be interviewed by the FBI and congressional officials investigating the Trump campaign's potential ties to Russia in exchange for immunity from prosecution.
Flynn's attorney in a statement saying, quote, "No reasonable person who has a benefit of advice from counsel would submit to questioning in such a highly politicized witch hunt environment without assurances against unfair prosecution."
So let's get right to it now. Our CNN's -- CNN senior White House correspondent Mr. Jeff Zeleny and he joins us now from the White House with more on this.
Jeff, good evening to you. There are serious questions facing the White House tonight and people are asking if there is a cover-up. And we are learning some very serious information about the president's former national security adviser, Lieutenant General Michael Flynn. Fill us in.
JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WHITE House CORRESPONDENT: Well, Don, as you said, Michael Flynn through his lawyer has offered to testify in this ongoing Russia investigation before the House committee and the Senate intelligence committee as well as the FBI in exchange for some type of immunity we're being told.
Now we do have a statement from his lawyer. You saw part of it a second ago. But he also goes on to say this. He said, "General Flynn certainly has a story to tell. And he very much wants to tell it should the circumstances permit."
That is very interesting there, Don. General Flynn certainly has a story to tell. So we don't know exactly what he means by that. What type of a story he wants to tell. But certainly a tantalizing bit of information if you're one of those investigators on the House committee or the Senate committee, or even perhaps the FBI.
But it's important to point out the people we have spoken to on the House committee and the Senate committee say that they have not offered to have him in, or certainly have not taken him up on this immunity offer at this point, Don.
LEMON: So Jeff, it's day 70.
LEMON: This administration barely two months in. And we're talking about the president's former national security adviser, potentially seeking immunity to testify into investigation of possible collusion with Russia. I mean, can we stop for a moment and put this into context?
ZELENY: Don, I think it is important to put it all into context. And to clear that Michael Flynn only lasted about 24 days in this administration as a national security adviser. But I can tell you, his shadow hangs over this White House.
In fact, the conversations he had throughout the course of the campaign with Russian operatives and others are also now at the center of this other investigation. Now, Don, this is what worries the republicans in this town who want the president to succeed the most.
They believe that it is one thing after another here. They're simply being mired into all of this. And this cloud of Russia this investigation is hanging over the White House. It happened again today. So, there's, you know, never mind the agenda that this president wants to talk about. These daily developments, are a drum beat here.
And again, as you said it, it's on day 70 here. So if General Flynn would happen to talk to the House committee, the Senate committee, if they would take him up on that offer, Don, this would be something that would be explosive.
Now, I asked the White House if they had comment on this tonight. I ran into Press Secretary Sean Spicer as he was leaving the building just a short time ago, and he said, look, we have no comment on this tonight. but I can tell you they'll be asked about it again tomorrow, Don.
LEMON: Interesting that you mention that, Sean Spicer, because the other big story tonight, originally our lead story, the New York Times, Jeff, reporting two White House officials helped Devin Nunes view the secret reports that are at the center of this. How did Sean Spicer respond today at the briefing?
ZELENY: Well, Sean Spicer, the White House Press Secretary did not confirm or deny this report in the New York Times. And you know, if you're watching at home, you might be sort of losing track of all these different threads here.
But this particular thread goes back to the House intelligence Chairman, Devin Nunes, who was on the grounds of the White House last week looking at the classified information. There's been a question here hanging over the White House, who brought him in, who invited him in, who, you know, showed him this information.
Well, the New York Times is reporting that it's two members of the national security council staff. Sean Spicer would not comment on that at all today.
But at the same time this New York Times report was coming out, the White House suddenly sent a letter to the House committee and the Senate committee, both republicans and democrats, inviting them over to the White House to look at this classified information that they say backs up its whole wiretapping claim.
That's where this all started. The president saying that President Obama was somehow involved in wiretapping him last year at his office at the Trump Tower.
[22:05:04] Of course, that's unsubstantiated so that's where all this started. But the White House responded to the New York Times report by inviting the House and Senate over. The House said, OK, we'll come and look at that. The Senate said, no, thank you, you bring that information over to us here on Capitol Hill.
LEMON: Interesting they want to separate themselves and keep it above board. Thank you for that, Jeff Zeleny. I appreciate that.
I want to bring in Congressman Eric Swalwell, he is the democrat who serves on the intelligence committee. Thank you so much.
ERIC SWALWELL, (D) UNITED STATES REPRESENTATIVE: Yes.
LEMON: So good to have you on tonight. I mean, this is unbelievable. I want to read part of General Flynn's statement and I'm going to get your response. So, General Flynn, this is through his attorney tonight saying. "General Flynn certainly has a story to tell and he very much wants to tell it should the circumstances permit. No reasonable person, who has the benefit of advice from counsel, would submit to questioning in such a highly politicized with hunt environment without assurances against unfair prosecution."
What's your reaction to that?
SWALWELL: It sounds like a guy that wants immunity. And generally innocent people don't seek immunity. I don't to hear from him in a setting where there are conditions. I think we should hear from him in the public.
And that we should get to the bottom of just exactly why was he working with Russia today, who as a former defense intelligence agency director, he of all people knows that that agency is connected to Russia's intelligence services. So to take money from them, and then to work with the Russian
ambassador after sanctions are put on Russia, and lie to the vice president, you know, that's powerful evidence that he knew what was going on. And this was converging at the time of Russia's interference campaign.
LEMON: So let's talk about Nunes. You're on the intelligence committee with him. A spokesman for the chairman told CNN earlier that, no, Michael Flynn has not offered to testify to HPSCI in exchange for the immunity. But who would make that decision? Who makes the decision whether he's going to receive immunity or not?
SWALWELL: Well, ideally we work together as far as witness testimony. And this is not anything that I or my colleagues are familiar with. And so we want to hear from Michael Flynn. We want to hear from Paul Manafort and Carter Page and Roger Stone. But I think, Don, it's time for Chairman Nunes to step aside from this investigation. We want it to be independent, credible, and make progress. And right now it's not doing that.
LEMON: Do you think he is going to stay on?
SWALWELL: I think if he cares about us getting to the bottom of what happens, and Speaker Ryan, who ultimately his call, wants us to be credible and independent, I hope that by next week he steps aside.
LEMON: And you are going to...
SWALWELL: I continue to call for that.
LEMON: You are continuing to call for that.
SWALWELL: Because we need to keep going forward.
LEMON: Are there other members in the intelligence -- or at least on the committee who are calling for that?
SWALWELL: I believe most of the democrats have. The republican in the House has also made a call for this.
LEMON: Yes. OK. I want to ask you about this New York Times reporting. Two White House officials helped Devin Nunes view the secret reports. In your mind, is that a cover-up?
SWALWELL: It looks like a cover-up. And Don, when I say that, I don't say it lightly. But when I was a prosecutor, I'd tell juries, you know, take all the facts and look at them like it's a bundle of sticks. Each stick is a fact. And you can pull one out and bend and apply pressure, and maybe there's an innocent explanation.
Maybe there's an innocent explanation for why Michael Flynn talked to the Russian ambassador and then lied to the vice president, maybe he forgot. Maybe there's an innocent explanation for why Jeff Sessions misled the Senate about his prior contacts with the Russian ambassador. Maybe he is being careless.
Maybe there's an innocent explanation for why Jared Kushner didn't reveal that he was talking to a sanctioned Russian bank. I mean, there is so many of this now. Maybe there is an innocent explanation for why Devin Nunes went over to the White House.
But when you bundle those facts together, this is becoming unbreakable evidence. That there is a consciousness of guilt going on around all of the players involved with the deep Russian ties.
LEMON: Yes. And I know you don't want to speculate here, but everyone, the question is, so what's at the bottom of this?
SWALWELL: Well. There are deep personal, political and financial ties that Donald Trump and his team had with Russia. And what it looks like right now, this is what we have to investigate, is was that converging with Russia's interference campaign.
If these are just, you know, business ties, because he was a businessman and these are a thousand coincidences, then we should know that, too. But right now it looks a lot like there was collusion.
LEMON: So what I hear from the Trump side is, and to be fair, it's been eight months that they've investigated and found nothing. At least that we know from Director Comey.
SWALWELL: And as Director Comey said in his testimony, eight months is very early into an investigation like this. Especially people make the comparison to Watergate. This is nothing like Watergate for a lot of reasons.
But this is an international crime that took place. So Watergate, you know that on the front page of the metro section in the Washington Post.
SWALWELL: This has so many complex financial transactions that took place, so many individuals over in Russia, in the United States, it's going oh take time to get to the bottom of it.
LEMON: Could it just be that the question -- this is -- here's the thing. When I hear people defending the administration, and they have every right to defend the administration, it's the same people who when you heard about Hillary Clinton's server, most democrats said, it was wrong, she should not have had that server, but they didn't think there was anything there with the server.
[22:10:13] No one will ever say question this president's judgment to have people like Michael Flynn around him to hire him in the first place. No one -- why does -- why does no one question that?
SWALWELL: It should be questioned. Also, why was the second person he named as a senior foreign policy adviser when asked by the Washington Post was Carter Page, someone with deep ties to Russia. Who also by the way, Don... (CROSSTALK)
LEMON: He doesn't say he doesn't say who he is.
SWALWELL: Yes. It is the second person he named. I mean, you would think you're running for President of the United States, your senior foreign policy adviser would be someone that you knew. I think he did know him. And now they're backing away for obvious reasons. It doesn't look good.
LEMON: Why do you think that the White House changed course today and invited democratic and republican leaders in the Intel committee to view the information?
SWALWELL: They got their hand caught in the cookie jar.
LEMON: You think so?
SWALWELL: Yes. That seems to makes sense.
LEMON: So what's next? Do you even know what's next?
SWALWELL: We're going to continue our investigation. Whether it is one that is seen as independent, credible and making progress or not, we can still review documents, we can still hear from witnesses.
But I think the American people are counting on us to really find out what happened, whether U.S. persons were involved, and most importantly, Don, make reforms so that we're never in this mess again. So in 2021, the incoming president is not, their legitimacy is not questioned.
LEMON: Thank you, Representative.
SWALWELL: Yes, my pleasure.
LEMON: I appreciate it.
When we come back, much more on our breaking news story. Michael Flynn seeking immunity to testifying the investigation into Russia's interference in the 2016 election.
[22:15:00] (COMMERCIAL BREAK)
LEMON: Our breaking news, former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn is willing to testify before a federal and congressional investigators, but only if he is granted immunity. That according to his lawyer.
Joining me now, CNN's David Gergen, Nia-Malika Henderson, and also CNN political commentator Matt Lewis, legal analyst, Laura Coates, historian Jon Meacham, author of "American Lion, Andrew Jackson in the White House," and CNN national security analyst, Juliet Kayyem.
Good evening. Juliet, fitting to start with you because the Wall Street Journal first, is the first one, they were the first ones to report that General Flynn is willing to be interviewed in exchange for immunity. This is something that you thought that we might see. In fact, you said it on this very show on Friday night. Juliet?
JULIETTE KAYYEM, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: Yes, that's right, Don. That's right. I think we were leading to this moment. And the clues were there. It's just sort of putting them all together. They begin with how Flynn was fired.
Remember that Sally Yates had warned the White House that the department -- the head of the Department of Justice at the time had warned the White House that he could be compromised. The White House held on to him for several weeks suggesting Flynn knew a lot.
We then, once he gets fired we don't hear from him. And yet we hear from Manafort and Carter Page and Roger Stone, the other, you know, of the four that we always talk about. The other three were quite public. That began since they suggested Flynn might be on his own. And looking for a deal.
There were other hints over the course of the last couple of weeks, including, of course, last Friday when two stories came out. And in the strange world of 2017, forgive me for quoting the National Enquirer, but it is a pro-Trump publication.
Now the National Enquirer had a story throwing Flynn under the buzz. And by the end of Friday the Wall Street journal had a story that suggested that Flynn was doing very bad things regarding Turkish citizens and the possibility that a Turkish citizen would be sent back to Turkey.
KAYYEM: All of those clues together made me think that there's a bigger story here which is Flynn wants a deal. And we don't know what the nature of that deal is. Or what he's proffering. But certainly there's just no way...
LEMON: You were...
KAYYEM: ... to think -- go ahead.
LEMON: You were essentially reading the tea leaves having done this before. And I think that's what you said, having done this before, what is interesting is that you had not heard from General Michael Flynn. And generally what that means. I understood what you were saying when you said that.
But I want to bring Laura, I want to bring other folks in here. Laura, Flynn's attorney is saying, this is part of it. He said, "General Flynn certainly has a story to tell should the circumstances permit." The letter then goes on to say, "No reasonable person who has a benefit of advice frm counsel will submit to questioning in a highly politicized witch hunt environment without assurances under unfair prosecution." Flynn's attorney isn't using legal jargon here. But when you -- when
you read that, what do you thinking?
LAURA COATES, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: I read that and I say you are asking for immunity. And of course, the issue is not why you'd request immunity. Of course, if you're going to be presented with a criminal investigation and you already heard the FBI director say there's a criminal investigation into whether or not people in the Trump campaign, to which he was a part of, were involved in collusion. You have that.
You also have the Logan Act allegations that he may have represented the United States in a way what is supposed to, not a very well-used law at all by imagination. But a little bit bigger question is, why would I give you immunity?
And as a prosecutor, he blasts all the time. The reason I would give immunity is if there is a bigger fish to fry that you can actually give me. Or with what you're going to tell me I can find nowhere else.
So what he has to do first is tell the prosecutors kind of off the record what I'm offering here. Why it's worth your while. And then if they decide that it is worth their while, guess who has to give immunity. It's not just the FBI. It's the Department of Justice. Which means that Jeff Sessions' recusal now has monumental implications.
LEMON: Yes. Let me ask you something. This is someone at CNN that made a very good point, Laura, and this is for you. I'll get to everyone else. This is someone who was in the military. They also sent it to me and they also sent to my colleague Anderson.
He says "My guess is that lieutenant General Flynn will fully support and protect the Trump administration, fall on the sword and even take some more blame with the Russians. I do believe he will ultimately quote something esoteric, but with some news value and defaming about the Obama administration." What do you think of that? I found that e- mail interesting.
COATES: It is interesting. Because his letter suggests that he wants vindication from the kind of, not only the witch hunt he's expecting, but one that he believes he was a victim to and he seem scapegoated...
LEMON: But would he fall on the sword for the entire Trump administration to make that?
[22:20:01] COATES: You know, I wouldn't -- I would not be shocked. A lot of people nowadays seem to be willing to lose all their credibility for the administration. But they have to do it.
LEMON: Would the FBI allow that if they know that going into it?
COATES: No. LEMON: No, OK.
COATES: No. And the reason is, because first of all, I have to believe you as the FBI and the prosecutor that what you're trying to do is assist the investigation. Not simply save your tail. What you have to give me must be useful.
COATES: Remember, if they can prosecute everyone, why would they exclude one. Unless that person has information I can get nowhere else.
LEMON: Got you. I got it. OK. David Gergen, this is what General Flynn told Meet the Press last September about the Clinton campaign legal issues. Listen to this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MICHAEL FLYNN, FORMER UNITED STATES NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISOR: The very last thing that John Podesta said is no individual too big to jail. That should include people like Hillary Clinton. Five people around her have been given immunity, to include her former chief of staff. When you are given immunity, that means you probably have committed a crime.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
LEMON: Probably wishing he hadn't said that.
DAVID GERGEN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Do you think? Listen, it's deeply disturbing to have a president in the first hundred days to be embroiled in what may be a scandal. And increasingly, it appears that with General Flynn now saying he would come up for, he would testify if granted immunity, that really suggests very heavily there is more nefarious and definitely fire.
And what we've been seeing over the last few weeks is a lot of attempts to cover up the fire with smoke. We've seen a lot of different diversionary things. And, you know, I would say one thing about it.
I would imagine the FBI would -- and the Justice Department would wait on granting immunity, Don. Typically what you want to do is, you know, in any criminal investigation is to start way down the chain. People at the lowest level and build up your evidentiary case. So you may give immunity to the lower level people so that you can go after the big fish.
Michael Flynn is a big fish. Had not somewhere down here. He's the former national security adviser. We've never had a national security adviser accused of anything like this since John Poindexter way back in the Reagan years.
LEMON: But usually they want a bigger fish, right?
LEMON: And the person that they're giving immunity too. Who's bigger than him?
GERGEN: Well, that's right. They are now only a couple of people in the United States and one of them included the president of the United States that you would think of. That's why I think they're going to build their case, you know, more carefully, and over time. And they may eventually give him immunity because they need it to go on.
GERGEN: They have suspicion, but I think it's early.
LEMON: So David has given us perspective here. If I can just -- if I can go to my historian here, Jon. Because, you know, you have been, you've dealt with Watergate. We keep bringing up Watergate. We don't know if there's anything here. No one has been prosecuted. No information has been found.
But it is huge that he's asking for immunity. All the president's men, right?
JON MEACHAM, HISTORIAN & AUTHOR: Right.
LEMON: What about that comparison? I mean, to put it in perspective. We're 70 days in and we have a former national security adviser asking for immunity.
MEACHAM: Yes. You're right, your presidential memoirs, this is not the way you want to leave. Your national security adviser asking for immunity before you hit day 100.
LEMON: The one who had to, the one who was fired.
MEACHAM: The one who was fired, yes. And you know, I will say this. People were privately saying, both republicans and democrats in the transition, that while they were more impressed than they expected to be by Trump's appointments, Flynn was an exception to that.
I suspect David heard a lot of this, too. Former republican cabinet members, former democratic cabinet members all were a little anxious about General Flynn. And so I think that, you know, historical analogies here would be Iran Contra, it would be Watergate, it would be while there was an investigation it would be President Nixon, President -- or Vice President Nixon at the time, trying to influence the Vietnamese peace talks late in 1968. The '68 campaign.
And what you often look for in these is the proffer. You look to see who's going to talk first. And this is what's interesting to me about this, is usually at this point in one of the stories, you're still talking about the press uncovering things.
You're talking about the prosecutorial machinery, the congressional machinery is not quite as far along. This is moving at a kind of warp speed. And I don't think it's just the news cycle. One other point. The most sulfurous conversations I've had with people
who really support President Trump and those who don't, and I've witnessed them, is about this issue. Is about the question of whether or not Russia was trying to explicitly help Trump and to what extent Trump himself might have known this.
And I think that we're interesting -- we're going to be entering a really interesting period in the next days and weeks, which is, at what point will facts begin to shift opinion. Our opinions now are so impregnable sometimes, so resilient to contrary information.
[22:25:04] It's going to be interesting to see if Flynn has something to say that's undermining of the president. How much of Trump's base of support, 30, 35, 37 percent, of the people who approve of what he's doing, how much will those people follow that. It's going to be interesting to watch.
LEMON: When will they start to believe fact and reality over ideology...
LEMON: ... which is the issue that we have been dealing with, Nia. This is a difficult place for the White House to right now. Jeff Zeleny said he asked Sean Spicer who is leaving the White House to respond. Sean said no. So how do you -- how do you think they handle this?
NIA-MALIKA HENDERSON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL REPORTER: Yes. We'll have to see tomorrow at Sean Spicer's briefing how he handles it. I imagine he is thinking about how to approach this. And he's probably talking to his advisers about how to frame this tomorrow at that press briefing.
LEMON: This doesn't help with the narrative that they've been given. Remember, the president said, you know, I would have told them to speak to these people. He was just doing this job.
HENDERSON: Right. I mean, none of this is help. I mean, if you just think back a week ago. We were talking on this program about the imploding the health care bill, right? And now we're talking about Russia. And those two things aren't unrelated.
They go to why this president isn't able to drive an agenda. They go to why this president isn't able to go on the offense. And any sort of consistent way, and have political capital and be able to use that political capital.
And so here we have a president who is sitting at 35 percent. And there are partisan divides as Jon was talking about. But here you have the specter of Michael Flynn who in many ways was a darling of conservatives, sort of the Breitbart audience.
And people thought it was unfair that he was pushed out of the White House and it was the media's doing. So here we have the specter of him actually testifying possibly against this White House. What does that do to those approval ratings. And what does that do to what has been this administration's stance on this story, which is probably there's nothing to see here.
But also that this is fake news. Right? That this is really a hoax. We saw the president tweet about that...
LEMON: I remember thinking that whole fake news thing when I had to come on the air and announce breaking news, that Michael Flynn had resigned. In the back of my head I kept saying, so much more fake news, so much for fake news.
LEMON: Because all these things are happening. And when I had to say the Jeff Sessions had to recuse himself. So much for fake news. And now you have Michael Flynn asking for immunity. And you forgot one thing. At 11 o'clock last night, our lead story was the travel ban.
LEMON: I mean, they had issues with that as well. So Matt Lewis, I'm going to give you the last word in this block. But what does this speak about the president's judgment on choosing his advisers, and the people around him?
MATT LEWIS, CNN COMMENTATOR: Well, look, I think that it was Jon Meacham earlier, someone was talking about how people were generally pretty happy with the advisers that Donald Trump picked. I would say pleasantly surprised, you know? He had some good people in there.
But Michael Flynn was the one that I think obviously very credentialed. Obviously great military background. But, you know, in the last couple of years, especially during the campaign with the lock-her-up chant and all of that and tweets.
LEMON: He led those lock her up chant. I mean, this could be karma, it's -- yes, but go on.
LEWIS: Yes. It's so ironic, right?
LEWIS: And the tweets. And he seemed to be unhinged. And so, yes.
LEMON: The birther.
LEWIS: Yes. It seemed like he was somebody that was sort of an accident waiting to happen. You know? You learn when you're a kid, your parents tell you, like be careful the people you hang around with. One does get the sense that Michael Flynn was a bad influence on that administration.
LEMON: Or as the president says, a bad hombre.
LEWIS: One that hombre.
LEMON: We'll continue. We'll be right back.
[22:30:00] (COMMERCIAL BREAK)
[22:30:00] DON LEMON, CNN HOST: Our breaking news tonight, President Trump's former national security adviser, General Michael Flynn, breaking his silence, offering to testify before federal and congressional investigators, but only if he is granted immunity.
It is the latest headache for a White House reeling from the unfolding Russia investigation.
But how did we get here? Let's go back to the morning of March 4th, a Saturday at Mar-a-Lago. President Trump is angry and tweeting, quote, "Terrible. Just found out that Obama had my wires tapped in Trump Tower just before the victory. Nothing found. This is McCarthyism."
And this. "How low has President Obama gone to tap my phones during the very sacred election process? This is Nixon Watergate. Bad or sick guy." The president offering absolutely no evidence to back up his shocking accusation against former President Barack Obama.
The White House in full spin mode for days, trying to defend the indefensible. And offering no evidence because there is none.
But 11 days later, President Trump tells Fox's Tucker Carlson this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I've been seeing a lot of things. Now for the most part I'm not going to discuss t because we have it before the committee and we will be submitting things before the committee very soon. That hasn't been submitted as of ter. But wiretap covers a lot of different things. I think you're going to find some very interesting items coming to the forefront over the next two weeks.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
LEMON: And he was right in a way, some very interesting items are revealed on March 20th. FBI Director James Comey testifies publicly saying he has found no evidence to support the president's accusations, but even worse for the president revealing that the FBI is investigating Russian interference in the 2016 election.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JAMES COMEY, UNITED STATES FBI DIRECTOR: And that includes investigating the nature of any links between individuals associated with the Trump campaign and the Russian government and whether there was any coordination between the campaign and Russia's efforts.
As with any counterintelligence investigation this will also include an assessment of whether any crimes were committed.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
[22:35:00] LEMON: The next day things get really interesting. And maybe this is what President Trump was suggesting to Tucker Carlston.
House Intel committee Chairman Devin Nunes who was a member of the Trump transition team makes a secret trip to the White House grounds where he is led into a secure room, and given information he claims suggest that Trump team communications may have been swept up in surveillance of foreign nationals.
The big question, by whom? Nunes holds a news conference the next day then rushes to the White House to brief the president. And later, cancels all hearings.
President Trump claims the newly revealed information vindicates him which it didn't at all.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: I somewhat do. I must tell you, I somewhat do. I very much appreciated the fact that they found what they found. But I somewhat do.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
LEMON: But the next day White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer faces tough questions about the source or sources of that information.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: So, will you rule out that the White House or anyone in the Trump administration gave Chairman Nunes that information?
SEAN SPICER, UNITED STATES WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: I did not sit down that briefing. I'm not -- it just doesn't -- so, I don't know why he would travel and brief the speaker and then come down here to brief something that we would have brief him on. It doesn't really seem a kind of sense. So, I'm now aware of it but it doesn't really pass the smell test.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
LEMON: Does that pass your smell test? Or today the New York Times report that two White House officials help give Nunes those reports.
Back with my panel. David Gergen, you first. Yu heard that the time from the first week from President Trump accusing President Obama to what we're learning about today. Is this cover up do you think?
DAVID GERGEN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Don, you know, if you've been seeing that in the White House and trying to plan out a way to convince the public that you've done something that you've been up you no good and you've done a cover for it, you couldn't come up with a better way to do this. And what they're done it's just astonishing.
They could have in so many ways done things and there may be a lot of innocence here but they've done things in such a suspicious way that they're natural questions about why and how would you go in there. Why did you guys lied about it? Why wasn't Sean Spicer given the truth?
LEMON: And what was interesting to me is that maybe there's nothing there.
GERGEN: Maybe. For the country's sake you'd like to...
LEMON: But for the country's sake there would be if nothing was there, right, it would be for the good of the country.
LEMON: But the cover was always worse than the crime. You're covering up for Devin Nunes and you're getting information, that's a lie. Then you know, I'm not saying that they have lied to the FBI but that's usually what happens. you end up lying to investigators and you end up getting yourself in trouble. And that's what it looks like that there is some cover up there even though nothing maybe.
GERGEN: Absolutely. This has to be one of the clumsiest cover up in history.
GERGEN: But even so you cannot escape the feeling that there is something more there.
GERGEN: That there is a fire and we have, and we need to need. And thank goodness the Senate is going to be in there with a serious investigation as long with the FBI.
LEMON: Jon Meacham, does this pass your smell test?
JON MEACHAM, HISTORIAN & AUTHOR: Well, just disagreeing with you slightly with great respect.
LEMON: Just fine, go on, yes.
MEACHAM: The cover up isn't always worse than the crime actually. You know, there could be some pretty serious underlying crimes here. Vice President Cheney said, you know, Russia trying to influence the election could be consider an act of war. That's Dick Cheney, let me, let that sink in for a second.
So, I think that, I think that we're -- I don't think we -- I think and to use another figure from the Ford/Bush 23 years, Donald Rumsfeld who said we have known unknowns. Right now it's a known unknown.
LEMON: You're pulling out your entire arsenal, aren't you?
MEACHAM: It's all here, baby, you know, it's all here. So, I think that, I think that we don't know exactly what it is here. But I would -- I would suggest this, and David has worked in several White House and can disagree if he disagree.
But the character of the president is determined. And I would argue that from everything we know about Donald Trump he's conspiratorial minded, the notion of truth is not something with which he's intimately familiar. What he says in one hour he will say the opposite the next hour. He lives very much in a moment.
And I'm wondering if what we're seeing with the Nunes drama and with may or may not appear at this point to be a cover up is are flection of the president living in this kind of conspiratorial universe where they all really understand is you push back. And the Nunes business may have been a punch back. We're just not sure what's behind them altogether.
LEMON: Yes. It'll hard for me to disagree with the historian on our panel so I won't, so I'll just, I'll let that stand.
MATT LEWIS, CNN COMMENTATOR: Can I just say that, Don?
LEWIS: A punch back, if a punch back is sending out a tweet or attacking somebody rhetorically from a podium, then that's one thing.
[22:39:59] But if a punch back involves manipulating a chairman of a committee, and entering into this sort of facade going over to the White House, then all of a sudden now you're a pawn in this game. And that could take on some very serious ramifications. He would be basically a patsy is what Nunes would be in this scenario.
GERGEN: I think that he meant to say, I think that Jon Meacham is on to something important. It may well be, and people in his districts think of Mr. Nunes, is a man of great character. Maybe they're actually right. You can just get swept into a White House net.
GERGEN: And pulled in, sucked in, in ways that innocent people get really hurt very fast.
LEMON: Hold your thoughts. We'll be right back.
LEMON: Here's our breaking news tonight. General Michael Flynn, President Trump former national security adviser offering to testify in exchange for immunity. Meanwhile, the Senate intelligence committee holding its first public hearing today into Russian meddling in the election.
Let's discuss now with my panel. They are back. So, Nia, some of the big moments from one of the Senate intelligence hearing of Russian meddling in the election and possible collusion with the Trump campaign. Look at this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
RICHARD BURR (R) UNITED STATES SENATOR: Our community has been a target of Russian information warfare propaganda and cyber campaign, and still is.
CLINTON WATTS, SENIOR FELLOW, FOREIGN POLICY RESEARCH INSTITUTE: Russia over at media outlets and cover trolls sort -- sought as sideline opponents on both sides of the political spectrum with adversarial views towards the Kremlin.
[22:45:03] They were in full swing during both the republican and democratic primary season. It may have helped sink the hopes of candidates more hostile to Russian interests long before the field narrow.
MARK WARNER, (D) UNITED STATES SENATOR: This is not fake news. This is actually what happened to us.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
LEMON: Nia, what's your reaction?
NIA-MALIKA HENDERSON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL REPORTER: No, I mean, it was a powerful committee hearing today all of these revelations about Russia. Rubio revealing that he had been hacked as well. This idea that all along they had been playing this game of favorites and thinking candidate that they viewed as not being favorable so then they've been so much concerned, right, about this House intelligence committee taken over by Nunes and seeming to lack all credibility.
At this point I think this ease some concerns with the Senate intelligence committee there with those opening statements from Richard Burr and then -- and then Mark Warner, Senator Mark Warner talking about this being a non-partisan investigation.
They want to follow where it leads and we'll just have to see. It's very early in this process.
HENDERSON: They've got many more witnesses I think the witness list is something like 20. But, my goodness, so disturbing to hear today about Russia's involvement, and this idea that this happened to us, right? That is what Mark Warner said, and I think that's the focus of this Senate intelligence committee wants to have that it's not a partisan fight. LEMON: So, Juliette, let me, can I ask you something, Juliette. So, if Flynn wants immunity and he testifies, FBI obviously that would not be a public, but the Senate, well, that would be a public hearing, will it?
JULIETTE KAYYEM, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: I think it would be.
LEMON: It would. OK.
KAYYEM: I think that the House and the Senate would want it to be and that maybe that Flynn actually wanted to be his lawyer release the statement today. So I would suspect whatever story he does have to tell he would want it to public.
LEMON: Can you imagine the entire country, the entire world sitting there watching him testify?
KAYYEM: I know, I know. I'm just going to take a step back here for a minute and just how deeply disturbing today is. Because I think we tend to forget it on sort of, you know, what we can, who knew, what, when, and does this get to the White House or to Donald Trump himself.
This is a not a foreign policy or an international crisis. And while this is happening in the United States, North Korea, China, Russia, famine in Africa, hurricanes and storms here, terrorism and ISIS Iraq, more troops in Syria, I'm going to forget the rest of the list.
The world is threatening to us and we have not talked about policy since this administration began and we have certainly not talked about foreign policy. That is something that sort f chokes me up because I just find it so tiresome that this administration cannot either face the truth or worse that the truth is as bad as some of fear.
LEMON: Interesting perspective. Laura, Mark Warner, Senator Mark Warner says the goal of the hearing was to determine if there was any actual fire but so far there is a great, great deal f smoke he says. Given the testimony that we heard today do you see fire?
LAURA COATES, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Yes. But I see fire in a way that people don't consider. And that is circumstantial evidence does carry a great deal of weight. And I know it may not be a smoking gun, there may not be a source at this actual flame.
But that's going to be one of the reasons why someone like Michael Flynn be indeed be very useful to the administration -- to the investigation. Because it may be about placing certain people together or getting certain facts in a circumstantial way that will lead you to conclude the obvious whatever that may be ultimately.
So what this tells me that we actually maybe having an investigation. Remember this all comes down to one thing. We are presuming that there is in fact, a collusion perhaps but the investigation has to actually takes place.
But what cannot happen is a premature undermining of that investigation. It would be a great thing if General Flynn was (Inaudible) to actually give information that the FBI does not already know whether it would help the Senate or the House that will restore his credibility but also illuminate an issue that we do not know much about at this point.
But you know, it's absolutely true that this is very, very disturbing. But one of the things that we, that is very obvious to me is that we're not discussing foreign policy because so far the policy has been that a foreign government has perhaps interfered. And that has to take precedents.
LEMON: I want to do we...
COATES: In many respects.
LEMON: Do we have time for Clinton Watts, yes? I want to play this, OK. The national security expect, Clinton Watts, giving chilling testimony about tracing Russian influence. Listen to this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
WATTS: Follow the trail of dead Russians. There's been dead Russians in the past three months that are tied to this investigation who have assets in banks all over the world. They are dropping dead even in western countries.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
[22:50:01] LEMON: Jon, really chilling. Can we make that connection, though?
MEACHAM: Well, I mean, look, Putin is not what we would call good news. Unquestionably. And there have been reports of longstanding, decades long or more, of foreign intelligence operation to influence the politics of other nations. He's playing a kind of pre-Cold War great game.
He wants spheres of influence. He wants energy-rich countries. He is willing to do almost anything to contain the opposition at home and do exert his influence abroad. And I think to some extent we may even be underplaying this. Mitt Romney was ahead of the curve. Remember, people mocked him.
LEMON: Yes. Indeed, they did, right.
MEACHAM: Five years ago when he said Russia was our most significant geopolitical threat. And it may well be. So I think that these questions are important, they're urgent.
I go back to what Vice President Cheney said, I mean it quite seriously. He believes that this could be at the level of an act of war of another foreign power interfering with our politics.
LEMON: People, we often tend to romanticize the pass. But that's not romanticism there. That was the truth. He actually did say that. I know you want to weigh in. I want to get this question in, David.
Because Watts also testified that Vladimir Putin's government uses an army of paid internet trolls. They spread fake news online. He says that they tweet conspiracy theories at President Trump when they believes -- believe he is active on Twitter.
With the goal of being there to create distrust among Americans and our allies. Is that a new theory in terms of them trying to directly influence the president on Twitter? First Matt, and then David, weigh in. Matt?
LEWIS: Yes, I haven't heard of this before. I think partly because we've never had a president who was so vulnerable to taking the bait before. This is a pretty smart idea because Donald Trump might just re-tweet something that could start a firestorm.
And so, I think that's very shrewd of them. It sounds very sneaky and clever. I also just want to say, anecdotally speaking, that, you know, during the campaign, I was inundated by tweets from trolls and I thought it was the alt-right. You know, the Pepe the Frog thing, and people calling me names and attacking me if I said anything critical about Donald Trump especially in the primary.
And you know, Don, a funny thing happened. As soon as the election was over, all these people went away.
LEMON: All those, isn't that amazing?
LEWIS: It's really interesting.
LEMON: I would look at my feed and say this has to be bots.
LEWIS: I think they're now focused in France.
LEMON: David Gergen, what do you think? And also I think it's interesting, too, the Marco Rubio stuff as well, saying that he was victimized by hacks multiple times.
GERGEN: Absolutely. As recently as, you know, just the last few days. Listen, the attempts to influence elections in other countries, the Russians have been up to this ever since the end of the Second World War, and truth be known, the United States did it, too, especially in Europe.
We wanted to -- we wanted to make sure countries didn't go communist and we got involved import the money in, serve through the CIA. So, this is all and what's new about this is the internet and the capacity with the social media to invest stories and spread them very, very quickly and influence things.
And I do think it's quite serious. And I have to tell you, Don, in contrast to the House intelligence committee, which really has botched everything, almost the sense that Nunes, you know, the chairman tried to sabotage the committee. Because it's now completely compromised. I don't know where it goes from here. You've known some good people.
By contrast, the Senate looks very promising.
GERGEN: You know, there are some serious people who are conducting this. And today's hearings were important because they laid a foundation for understanding here's what the Russians are up to. Let's understand that before we turn to the question of collusion of Americans.
LEMON: And how might the Senate be different? We'll discuss that when we come right back.
GERGEN: Yes. Good.
[22:55:00] (COMMERCIAL BREAK)
LEMON: Our breaking news, former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn willing to testify before federal and congressional investigators but only if he's granted immunity.
And back now with my panel. What do you think -- do you think, Jon Meacham, do you think Nunes lasts on this committee?
MEACHAM: I don't think so. And I think that it's -- it's an easy way for the republican leadership to show that they're being responsive to what's a growing and very uncomfortable story.
LEMON: Yes. David Gergen, you think he lasts?
GERGEN: You said you wanted the last...
LEMON: Simple and concise. I wanted a lightning round. What do you think, Nia?
HENDERSON: Yes, probably not. I mean, if you see what's happening here, the Senate is essentially maligning the House as it goes. I mean, Senate republicans are essentially talking trash about the House. And you imagine that somebody's going to step in and ask Nunes to step aside and recuse himself. So we'll have to see what happens over the next couple days.
LEMON: And that would have to be Paul Ryan, Juliette, if that happens.
KAYYEM: It would have to -- I mean, Paul Ryan can show a backbone right now and do it. And I'll tell you why he should do it also not just for the hearing. Other republicans on the intelligence committee are being brought down by Nunes.
KAYYEM: And I suspect they don't like it very much, either.
KAYYEM: So, it's a be smart political and the right thing for Paul Ryan to just yank him.
LEMON: Will that happen, Matt Lewis?
LEWIS: I think it might. And here's the reason. According to Paul Ryan today, Nunes did not tell him that the information came from the White House, but that it came from a, quote, "whistleblower-type person." And so maybe he's misleading the speaker of the house.
COATES: Every day that Nunes refuses to provide the information to his committee is every day that the committee loses its credibility indefinitely.
LEMON: Is there any recourse for that, for if you are not -- if, you know, tell things that are in factual, or if you lie? Does Nunes face anything?
COATES: Well, you can lie to the media but you can't lie under oath and you can't lie to the FBI. That's what he's doing by withholding information or trying to business mislead or undermine, and there will be criminal consequences I'm sure.
LEMON: I want to ask you, Jon, do you think that the president is starting to change his tune on Russia now or is this going to force him to do that?
MEACHAM: You know, that's the thing to watch, right? I don't think he is right now. I think that one of the things that has kept this going, one of the -- we've used the fire analogy a lot.
One of the things that's blown a lot of oxygen into this is this remarkable spirit of generosity that Donald Trump has expressed toward Russia and you can argue maybe that this is his one great Kissinger/Nixon insight, that he wants some great geopolitical balance, but that would be the one.
And so I think that one of the things that has kept this going is why does President Trump continue to appear to give Vladimir Putin the benefit of the doubt at every turn?
LEMON: Yes. David, I ask that because sources say President Trump believes the current atmosphere with ongoing probes into Trump/Russia/Putin ties in the election meddling, it's going to make it impossible for him to make a deal. That's the first time we heard something like that from the president.
GERGEN: He's right. He's right. Listen, it's of his own doing. I mean, we wouldn't be here trying to discuss all this had he shown the same sort of respect toward Russia he does toward China, that is he's kept call about some aspects of the relationship.
LEMON: But what's interesting to me, everyone, is that when he said it's of his own doing, this -- Nunes thing may not have happened, a lot of this may not have happened if not for that Saturday morning tweet, those tweets about the former president. This was a completely self-inflicted wound.
GERGEN: I totally agree with that. We've been off on a wild goose chase here for a long time, but it's also important to remember the FBI investigation began before that tweet. That there's something more serious underneath all this.
LEMON: Thank you. Amazing panel. I really appreciate you guys joining me for the entire hour. Thank you so much.
GERGEN: Thank you.
KAYYEM: Thanks, Don.
COATES: Thank you.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is CNN breaking news.
[23:00:01] LEMON: Breaking news, General Michael Flynn offering to break his silence.
This is CNN Tonight. I'm Don Lemon.