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Michael Flynn In Court Expected To Plead Guilty To Lying To FBI. Aired 11-11:30a ET
Aired December 1, 2017 - 11:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: Hello. I'm Kate Bolduan. We are continuing to follow this breaking news. President Trump's former national security adviser, Michael Flynn, is expected to plead guilty to making false statements to the FBI, a felony. This could be happening as we speak.
This is the -- this in the special counsel's investigation into possible collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia. This is the first charge in Robert Mueller's probe that has reached President Trump's White House. We are watching that courthouse.
So, let's get straight to that courthouse where Michael Flynn is inside right now with his attorneys. CNN justice correspondent, Evan Perez is there. Evan, Michael Flynn, he's still facing the judge the last that we know. What do we know is happening inside?
EVAN PEREZ, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Right. Right now, we're hearing reports from reporters who are inside the courtroom that the judge has now accepted that guilty plea from Michael Flynn. That means he is now officially pleaded guilty to this one count from the U.S. special -- from the Special Counsel Robert Mueller's office.
Again, there are four separate lies that he's agreeing to, to plead guilty to. Two of them having to do with conversations with the Russian ambassador at the time, Sergey Kislyak back in December, and then a separate two conversations that he apparently had with the Russians related to a U.N. Security resolution regarding Israel.
There was a lot of lobbying from the Israeli government to the incoming Trump administration to try to stop that and it appears, according to the court documents that were filed today, that Michael Flynn was part of those conversations with the Russians regarding that.
So, four separate false statements, one guilty count that he has now agreed to. So, we're not going to see a trial. But at a minimum, what we expect from this, and again we're waiting to hear more details of what was discussed in the courtroom, but at a minimum we expect that Michael Flynn will be telling the prosecutors everything he knows. Who might have told him to have those conversations with the Russians? We don't know who might have directed him to do that. We know from the White House in the past that the president has said that he didn't know about those conversations.
We'll see what Michael Flynn says when he talks to the FBI, when he talks to the special counsel's office, about those conversations. Again, at this hour, we're waiting to see whether Michael Flynn comes out this door or perhaps another door.
We know that he has been in the courtroom for about a half hour and we're hearing from reporters in the room that the judge has now accepted the guilty plea. So, right now, Michael Flynn has pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI at least four times.
BOLDUAN: All right. Well, and yes, he walked into that courtroom right past you a little over a half hour ago. Let's see if -- I think it's highly unlikely he will probably want to talk on his way back out, but that's why we are there, and you're positioned there. Evan, great to see you. Thank you so much.
Let's get from the courthouse now straight over to the White House in this very serious moment. CNN White House correspondent, Abby Phillip is there. Abby, we've had no -- I've seen no official reaction from the White House quite yet. But what are you hearing?
ABBY PHILLIP, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Kate. Radio silence from the White House this morning. We asked for a statement several hours ago now, the White House has promised one coming from the lawyer within the White House, Ty Cobb, who deals with the Russia investigation, but so far nothing.
We are hearing, though, from some sources close to the White House who are painting this as an expected result of Michael Flynn lying. We know that he lied to the vice president about these very same conversations that led to this indictment and that those lies led to his firing from the White House less than a month after the inauguration.
So, folks close to the White House are essentially saying we knew this was coming down the pike and we knew that Michael Flynn would likely be in trouble for that kind of conduct.
At the same time, this is really different because he was the national security adviser at the time. It is very close to the president's inner circle and is within the realm of this administration -- Kate.
BOLDUAN: At the very same time, this is also coming as "The New York Times" is reporting overnight and into today that President Trump over the summer had been trying to pressure top Republican lawmakers on Capitol Hill to wrap up and I think the wording was move on from their own Russia investigations. What kind of reaction are you getting to that over at the White House now?
PHILLIP: Well, the White House is essentially saying that the president really did nothing wrong here. We know that as you said he spoke to three different United States senators, pressuring them to bring this investigation to a close quickly.
The White House principal deputy press secretary, Raj Shah, put out a statement yesterday that said that the president has at no point attempted to imply undue influence on the committee members.
[11:05:05] And he's reiterated what he said publicly, which is that there is no evidence of collusion and that these investigations must come to a fair and appropriate completion.
So the White House is essentially saying there was nothing wrong with the White House -- with the president having these conversations and notably, the Republican members of Congress that he pressured in this way have chalked it to President Trump being a political novice.
BOLDUAN: So, you have that as well going on at this very moment. Abby, thank you so much. We'll see if we get any reaction from Capitol Hill. When we do, we will bring all of that to you.
But let's discuss this big moment as we keep our eyes on the screen on the courthouse, the federal courthouse, in Washington, where Evan Perez is outside. Gloria Borger is joining me now, CNN chief political analyst, Michael Moore, a former U.S. attorney, Jeffrey Toobin, CNN's chief legal analyst and former federal prosecutor, and Jim Sciutto, CNN's chief national security correspondent.
Thanks all for being here. Keep our eye to see if Michael Flynn will be leaving and what more we learn from the courtroom, but Gloria, as we do that, just taking stock of this moment, what does this all mean?
GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, look, I think you have the very senior person who didn't last long in this administration, but somebody who was quite close to the president, at the heart of foreign policy admitting that pleading guilty to lying to federal investigators about conversations with foreign governments.
And I think it's incredibly serious. I think there are tentacles that will come out of this and questions that we should be asking that come out of this, which is, was he taking direction from anyone?
Was he freelancing when he spoke during the transition with Ambassador Kislyak about important matters of state? Was he freelancing or was he directed? And was he freelancing when he spoke about a pending United Nations vote with the Russian ambassador?
Why was he doing that? Was it just something he decided to do on his own? Was he charged or tasked with doing it? And if there is a cooperation going on here, we ought to be asking the question about why the special counsel's office thinks that it's so important to have Michael Flynn cooperate.
And while I've spoken be to a source close to the president who kind of downplays this, and said he doesn't believe that there's any problem here for the president of the United States, the question is, you know, whether they were trying to conduct foreign policy before they were in office. BOLDUAN: Yes. And that's a very important thing. There is this whole standard of one president at a time, but let's see what comes out of all of this. They clearly say in this -- in this agreement, if you will, in the charge that they don't think he was doing just that.
Jeffrey Toobin, we're waiting to see Michael Flynn leave the courthouse, but this is narrow, this charge is narrow. That doesn't diminish its significance, but it is narrow. Does that out of necessity, when he pleads guilty, mean that he has cut a deal?
JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN CHIEF LEGAL ANALYST: Yes. It does mean he cut a deal. I mean, a plea bargain is by definition a deal. He's agreed to waive a grand jury indictment. He has avoided the prospect of charges in other areas, and the prosecutors have given up the right to charge him in other areas in return for the certainty of a guilty plea.
Something to keep in mind as we think about this guilty plea today, think about James Comey, the former FBI director's testimony about what happened on February 14th, Valentine's Day of this year.
When he was at a group meeting at the White House with the vice president, with the attorney general, and the president asked everyone to leave except for James Comey, the FBI director, and what does the president say to James Comey. He says, according to Comey, go easy on Mike Flynn.
BOLDUAN: Lay off Flynn, right.
TOOBIN: Can you lay off Flynn? Can you figure out any way, you know, to lay off Flynn? And the question that is even more important to answer today is why, why was the president so concerned about a criminal investigation of Michael Flynn? Was it because he just liked Michael Flynn?
It was a humanitarian gesture or was he worried about what Michael Flynn might say if he cooperated with the government. This question becomes extremely important and that's why Michael Flynn's cooperation is important.
[11:10:04] Another thing to ask is, look at the lies that he has admitted to making. They involve subjects that Donald Trump is very interested in, relationships with Russia, relationships with Israel. What conversations did Michael Flynn have with the president of the United States about the subjects that he lied to the FBI about?
TOOBIN: And why did he lie to the FBI about them? While he was national security adviser. That's the other important thing to remember, is that these lies took place on January 24th. He was already the national security adviser. He was briefing President Trump every morning about the state of the world.
That's what national security advisors do. Why was he committing a felony on the day he was the national security adviser? Incredibly important questions that we may or may not get answers to. BOLDUAN: That's exactly right. And also, while these documents do not mention Donald Trump, do not mention the election, do not mention, you know, that sort of thing, it does, as he put it that way, seems to also kind of put the spotlight back on the president.
Michael Moore, a question for you, when it comes to what -- where this moment that we're in right now, the fact that they have let's say they have a guilty plea, and assume that there is cooperation, of course, with Michael Flynn, does that happen at the beginning or the end of the cooperation that this all comes out and becomes public?
MICHAEL MOORE, FORMER U.S. ATTORNEY: I think this is exactly what you expect to see if there was cooperation and from a timeline standpoint, there's probably ongoing cooperation, but my belief is that Bob Mueller already has the information from Michael Flynn that he needs.
There's nothing particularly innovative about what's happening today, and that is that this is simply a plea, clearly what the lesser charge he could have gotten with all the allegations that have been swirling around Mike Flynn, but this is normal.
There's nothing innovative about it. I think this is classic federal prosecutor style and what we expect from Bob Mueller and I think what's got the White House probably scared to death.
This is not unlike a tube of toothpaste. You squeeze it at the bottom and the more you squeeze the more evidence comes out at one end. That's what's happening here as we continue to see Bob Mueller squeezing people in Trump's inner circle.
What's significant and let me go back to something that Jeff said, you know, Jim Comey talked about the fact that the president tried to stop the investigation into Mike Flynn. Trump has called that fake news, a fake investigation.
Well, as of about 5 minutes ago when a federal judge accepted a guilty plea, it's not fake anymore. It's a legitimate investigation where a member of Trump's inner circle tried to communicate or did communicate apparently with a foreign government, trying to effect national policy or international policy. So, it's no longer fake. It's real today.
BOLDUAN: Yes. And Jim, when it comes to kind of the context of all of this and maybe I'm making it too simplistic, but I think it's worth kind of breaking it down, he's charged for lying, yes, it's narrow, but what he's charged with is lying about talking or working with a Russian government official about official government business before they were officially in office? That's the whole thing.
JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: That violates the one president at a time issue right. The transition, President Obama is still president and President Obama had imposed new sanctions on Russia for election interference. There's one president at a time.
Keep in mind, the White House and the president's pushback on the Russia probe from the beginning is it's a witch hunt and nothing there and involved low-level people, coffee boy like Papadopoulos. That has broken down at every turn.
One, we're talking about very senior people, the president's national security adviser here, his former campaign chairman, Manafort, deputy campaign chairman, Rick Gates. Two, lying is a federal crime and as Evan Perez has made the point on the air, it's one count, yes, but about four separate lies.
So, repeated lying is what we're talking about here. Finally, those lies are not conversations about golf games. These are lies about conversations about issues material and very relevant to this administration and to national security of this country.
Conversations with the Russian ambassador, the ambassador to the country that had just interfered in the election. Conversations about a U.N. Security Council resolution regarding Israel, very material, important conversations, so the defense breaks -- the administration's defense or dismissal rather I should say of the investigation, breaks down.
One final point when you look at the timeline here, Flynn lied I believe it's January 24th. He was interviewed by the FBI then. Couple days later Sally Yates makes her warning to the White House because he lied he could be a national security risk.
And a couple weeks later, the president asks the then director of the FBI, James Comey to stop the investigation into Michael Flynn.
[11:15:07] That's the president's direct involvement in this or attempting to be directly involved. That timeline is very key.
BOLDUAN: And Gloria, as you're getting reaction from folks close to the White House and president, what do you make of what Jim Acosta got for a source close to the White House, that poor judgment -- poor judgment, but that -- but this was expected. Trump fired him for lying to the VP, of course, he lied to the FBI too.
BORGER: Right. Look, this is what -- this is what people close to the White House are saying, which is that, you know, they're circling the wagons around the president and saying none of this could potentially affect the president because whatever Flynn did, he did on his own.
Going back to what Jim was just saying, this timeline, is really, really important to key in on because people don't do these things on their own. Would Flynn as an acting, you know, national security adviser be contacting these officials on his own or would it have been something that he had talked to others in the White House about? Potentially including the president of the United States. I mean, we don't know. What we do know is that these --
BOLDUAN: Small conversations, right? These weren't small things.
BORGER: What we do know is that Sally Yates over at justice was looking at intercepts of these conversations and she found them so troubling that she personally rushed over to the White House and met with the White House counsel, Don McGahn, and said, you need to know about these conversations, these are inflammatory, right. And then two days later, I mean, two days before that, Flynn had been interviewed. So, I think we -- we have to kind of --
BOLDUAN: That is amazing.
BORGER: -- step back and look at a big picture here and say, what was the Justice Department so concerned about? These conversations that should not have been taking place. Who directed these conversations? Then we have to proceed from there. Why is he cooperating? And why does the special counsel think what he knows is important?
BOLDUAN: Right. Why do they see it as worthy to cut this deal with him? Someone was trying to pipe in?
MOORE: Kate, let me just say this real quick, you know, one rule when you look at these plea agreements is the better the deal, the bigger the fish. Prosecutors don't cut a good deal with somebody unless they are going way up the chain --
BOLDUAN: Do you think this is a good deal?
MOORE: Yes. I think with all the things swirling around that he could have been charged with, only lesser felony he could have been charged with on the federal code would have been something like misprision of a felony, this carries one to five years, that sounds like a lot.
But think about what we've had with the monetary allegations, with the lying, the discussions with Russia, this whole thing, whether or not it's about the kidnapping with his son and Turkey, he's got a lot of stuff hanging out there.
So, this is about as light a slap on the wrist and I don't ever want to call a felony a slap on the wrist, about as good a deal as he could have gotten at the time. That tells me they have good information and that he has -- his lawyers have cut him a deal and said if you want the person up the chain whoever that is, we need that good deal.
BOLDUAN: Well, I mean, it is fascinating in this moment as we get answers as we see as this happens, it is creating a whole new round of questions that you all are raising that are super important at this moment.
Keeping our eye on the courthouse, we will continue following the major breaking news, of course. Former national security adviser, Michael Flynn, appearing right there in a federal courtroom to plead guilty to lying to the FBI.
Lying to the FBI on four different things. A major advance in these special counsel's investigation into Russian election meddling. More, much more of this, right after a quick break.
BOLDUAN: All right. Breaking news unfolding in Washington right now. Just moments ago, President Trump's one-time national security adviser, Michael Flynn, entered a federal courtroom, he is there right now, and expected to plead guilty to one felony count of lying to the FBI about conversations that he had with Russia's ambassador to the United States.
This is a major move in Special Counsel Robert Mueller's investigation. This also now marks the first Trump administration official to be charged in Mueller's investigation. We're keeping our eye on that courthouse right now to see Flynn is expected probably to be leaving any minute now.
As we wait for that, let's go over to the capitol, where there are, of course, three separate ongoing investigations into Russian meddling in the 2016 election.
CNN's Manu Raju is following all of this for us. So, Manu, how are lawmakers reacting to the big news this morning?
MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL REPORTER: Well, you're hearing more Democratic reaction than Republican reaction at the moment. Democrats saying this raises significant concerns about just how -- who directed Michael Flynn to do what and they say this really shows a good reason why the special counsel's investigation should continue unimpeded.
Now, Dianne Feinstein, who is the top Democrat on the Senate Judiciary Committee, just put out a statement saying this, "It's critical that we determine whether Flynn spoke with the Russians on his own initiative and who knew and approved of his actions. This is just one more proof point that these investigations must be allowed to continue without interference."
Now Kate, I also spoke with Tim Kaine, who is Hillary Clinton's vice- presidential running mate last year, and he recalled all those instances of Michael Flynn saying "lock her up, lock her up" referring to Hillary Clinton during the campaign season.
[11:25:11] I asked him for his reaction. Here's what he said.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SENATOR TIM KAINE (D), VIRGINIA: Not surprised. Yes, not surprised.
RAJU: Why do you say that?
KAINE: Well, I think the, at least the quick report of the charge, it seems obvious to me that he had made a lot of misstatements to a whole lot of people. The frightening thing this guy was the national security adviser of the United States and key foreign policy adviser to the president.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
RAJU: Now Republicans on the other hand have not been as vocal including the Senate Intelligence Committee chairman, Richard Burr, who I tried to ask about the Flynn news as well. He did not want to comment on that.
In addition, he's been under some scrutiny after a "New York Times" report from last night saying the president himself reached out to him earlier this summer and asked him to end the Senate Intelligence Committee's Russia investigation.
But trying to get him to respond to that report today, Richard Burr refused to answer questions, walked down the hallway pretty briskly, into an elevator, said that he did not want to respond to any questions whatsoever about this topic today.
Largely because a lot of questions about whether the president acted inappropriately. Burr had told the "Times" he saw it as someone who is a newcomer to politics, more than anything else. But a lot of questions about that and what that means for the investigation going forward -- Kate.
BOLDUAN: That's absolutely right. A lot of pats on the shoulder for you in that video as Richard Burr tried to get in the elevator as fast as possible. We'll get back to you, Manu, more to come from Capitol Hill for sure. Thank you so much.
We got more breaking news coming in. Let's go straight back over to the courthouse where Michael Flynn has been inside pleading guilty -- we're learning that he is pleading guilty as he was expected to do.
CNN's justice correspondent, Evan Perez, is there with much more detail coming out of the courtroom. Evan, what are you picking up?
PEREZ: That's right, Kate. We had one of our writers inside the courtroom who tells us that he has now officially pleaded guilty. He really only answered yes, and no questions to the judge, to essentially describe that he was not being coerced to plead guilty or promised anything in particular.
But we learned from the hearing that prosecutors in court and the FBI essentially described that Flynn had conversations with senior Trump officials during the transition and also with the Russian ambassador, according to the FBI, which was -- which spoke inside the hearing.
Flynn communicated with Kislyak after asked by a senior Trump transition official to find out how foreign governments stood on the upcoming U.N. Security resolution about Israel. This is new information that we learned from the -- information from filed in court this morning.
We knew about his conversations with Kislyak regarding sanctions that were leveled by the Obama administration relating to the 2016 Russian meddling. What was new in these documents was the additional conversations with the Russians about the U.N. Security resolution over Israeli settlements.
If you remember, the Obama administration decided for the first time in a long time, to abstain from that vote, which was, of course, a very controversial thing, very unpopular with the Israelis, and they had reached out to the Trump administration to try to get some intervention.
It appears Flynn was part of that and according to the FBI in court today, Flynn communicated with Kislyak after being asked by a senior Trump transition official to find out how foreign governments stood on the -- on that U.N. Security Council resolution.
The problem for Flynn was this, there's a law, a law that's never really been tested in court, the Logan Act, which says that there is only one government at a time, one U.S. government at a time, and it is illegal for a U.S. citizen to do anything to interfere with the exercise of foreign policy by the sitting U.S. government and that's what the allegation has long been on this.
Of course, it's a law that a lot of people say is unconstitutional, has never been tested. In court today, we're learning that that is part of what was at play here for prosecutors in the U.S. -- in the special counsel's office -- Kate.
BOLDUAN: So now, Evan, we know that he has pleaded guilty and this new information is coming out, is the hearing with the judge over? Do we know?
PEREZ: We know that the hearing is wrapping up and we expect that he's going to be leaving the courthouse any time now. We see a vehicle that we expect he's going to get into sitting here waiting. So, he's making his way down here. We expect that at any moment he might be exiting, and of course, we'll try to see if he wants to answer any questions. Don't hold your breath on that.
BOLDUAN: I will not. That is for sure. Evan, but nonetheless, always try. We'll get back to you, Evan. Thank you so much.
With me now, more on these developments, back with me is Michael Moore, former U.S. attorney, and Jeffrey Toobin, CNN's chief legal analyst and former federal prosecutor. Jeffrey, just on this new information that is coming in from inside the courtroom, some answers to --