Return to Transcripts main page


Explosive Charges Filed in Trump-Russia Probe; Three Trump Campaign Associates Caught Up in Probe; Interview with Congressman Adam Schiff, Democrat of California; Ex-Trump Campaign Foreign Policy Adviser Pleads Guilty to Making False Statements to FBI. Aired 4-4:30p ET

Aired October 30, 2017 - 16:00   ET



ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: Good afternoon, everyone. Welcome to THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper.

We begin with seismic breaking news in our politics lead. It's a landmark day, the United States of America vs. three Trump campaign associates, a dramatic new phase of special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election and possible collusion by members of the Trump team.

Today, two senior members of the Trump campaign, including former campaign chair Paul Manafort, surrendered themselves to federal authorities, while we also learned of a third member of the campaign team who pleaded guilty. Very real steps in a grave law enforcement investigation, despite cries, including from the president himself, that there is nothing to investigate, that it's a witch-hunt, that it's fake news, that we should be paying attention to this or that, a chorus of empty and desperate cries, as it turns out.

In terms of collusion, let us look into the case of the United States of America vs. George Papadopoulos. He is one of five campaign foreign policy advisers that then candidate Trump named to "The Washington Post" in March 2016. He's pictured here with President Trump in a photo from the president's Twitter feed that month where he's meeting with foreign policy advisers.

At that meeting, which is mentioned in the affidavit, the defendant said that he had connections that could help arrange a meeting between then candidate Trump and President Putin. Papadopoulos was additionally told by an unnamed professor with connections to the Kremlin that the Russians had dirt on Hillary Clinton, thousands of e- mails, he said.

Papadopoulos pleaded guilty for lying to federal agents about that conversation and other conversations with a female Russian national and a connection to the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

Today's other big news, of course, is the case of President Trump's former campaign chairman, Manafort, and campaign official Rick Gates. Both surrendered this morning on charges of conspiracy and money laundering, with more than $75 million flowing through hidden offshore accounts, according to the affidavit, much of which came from the party and government of Viktor Yanukovych, who has been referred to by critics as a Ukrainian puppet of Vladimir Putin.

In the last hour, a federal judge ordered house arrest for Manafort and Gates, with bond set at $10 million and $5 million respectively.

Joining me this hour to discuss this is Leon Panetta and Congressman Adam Schiff, the top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, which is also conducting its own Russia investigation.

But we're going to start right next to me with CNN's Pamela Brown, one of the team at CNN who broke the story Friday of the pending indictment.

This story has taken on a whole new level with George Papadopoulos and the guilty plea.

PAMELA BROWN, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Yes, that's right, because the White House clearly has been trying to distance themselves, saying, look, with Rick Gates, Manafort, these charges have nothing to do with us.

But with Papadopoulos, the claims, the allegations from the FBI have to do with the campaign, Jake, and in these court documents, there are all of these e-mails that show these communications between Papadopoulos and Russians trying to set up a meeting between the campaign and the Russians.

And also it is clear that that he was acting on the campaign's approval, Jake. If you look at some of these e-mails, Papadopoulos e- mails a top campaign official, who turns out to be Manafort, according to a source, saying that Russia wants to immediate with Donald Trump and that that it's been approved.

He forwards it on to another campaign official, who turns out to be Rick Gates, according to this source. So while the White House may be trying to say he was a low-level player, clearly, at the highest levels of the campaign at the time, they were aware of this behavior.

What it also shows is a very clear influence campaign on behalf of the Russians that they were trying to infiltrate the Trump campaign starting at the lower levels and trying to build their way up. And it's clear that they wanted the campaign to know that they believed they had dirt on Hillary Clinton through e-mails. As you know, the Don Jr. meeting, they claimed they had dirt.

And so I think that's very telling that they believed that they could get into the campaign this way.

TAPPER: Now, the White House obviously trying to dismiss this as not a big deal, but you can't dismiss the fact that the president's campaign chairman, Paul Manafort, who played a very important role in the Trump campaign before he was dismissed, he is accused of having been given $75 million in his offshore accounts, him and Davis -- Gates, rather -- that they laundered.

And the Russians and Russian-allied Ukrainians knew of this, and this was his campaign chairman.

BROWN: Yes, that's right.

And, allegedly, according to the FBI, these activities, this behavior was ongoing while Rick Gates and Paul Manafort were part of the campaign, so even though the White House is clearly trying to say the charges have nothing to do with us, they were part of the campaign allegedly during this time.

So what is clear here, Jake, is while the Mueller investigation enters this new phase, it could be just the beginning with this possibly of more charges against Manafort and Gates and a third campaign associate charged with lying to the FBI now cooperating with authorities about his time in the campaign when he was allegedly in touch with Russians.



BROWN (voice-over): It's the first signs special counsel Robert Mueller is zeroing in on collusion with Russia in the 2016 campaign.

George Papadopoulos, a former foreign policy adviser to the Trump campaign, seen here meeting with Trump as part of his campaign's national security team last year, pleaded guilty for making false statements to the FBI about his contacts with Russia.

According to records unsealed today, the FBI alleges Papadopoulos falsely described his interactions with a certain foreign contact who discussed dirt-related e-mails concerning Trump's opponent, Hillary Clinton.

One of the court documents describes an e-mail sent by Papadopoulos to a high-ranking campaign official who a source says is former campaign chairman Paul Manafort. The e-mail had the subject line "Request from Russia to meet Mr. Trump." It went on to allegedly say Russia was eager to meet with the candidate and had been reaching out.

The documents allege the campaign official forward that had e-mail to another official, saying -- quote -- "We need someone to communicate that D.T. is not doing these trips. It should be someone low level in the campaign so as not to send any signal."

In another e-mail, a campaign supervisor allegedly tells Papadopoulos -- quote -- "I would encourage you" and another policy adviser to the campaign to "make the trip if it is feasible." That trip to Russia never happened, according to officials.

Despite the court documents indicating Papadopoulos was acting with campaign approval, the White House today attempted to minimize his role in the campaign.

SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: It was extremely limited. It was a volunteer position, and, again, no activity was ever done in an official capacity on behalf of the campaign.

BROWN: Also today, surrendering at the FBI in Washington former campaign manager Paul Manafort and campaign official Rick Gates. The two were business associates prior to the work on the Trump campaign.

The 12-count indictment against the two men focus on their years as political consultants and lobbyists working in Ukraine. The counts include conspiracy against the United States, conspiracy to launder money and seven counts of failure to file reports of foreign bank and financial accounts.

Both men have previously denied financial wrongdoing and pleaded not guilty today. At Manafort's Alexandria, Virginia, home in July, the FBI executed a so-called no-knock search warrant with guns drawn, seizing financial and tax documents.

The indictment alleges Manafort and Gates received tens of millions of dollars for their Ukraine work and to hide that income they laundered the money through scores of United States and foreign corporations, partnerships and bank accounts.

And the documents include details about their lavish lifestyle, that they used money from offshore accounts to pay for mortgages, luxury cars and clothing, children's tuition and home decorating, activities that federal officials say were ongoing while both Manafort and Gates were working on behalf of the campaign.

President Trump briefed on the charges from the White House this morning distanced himself from Manafort tweeting, "Sorry, but this is years ago, before Paul Manafort was part of the Trump campaign. But why aren't crooked Hillary and the Dems the focus? Also, there is no collusion."


BROWN: And, today, the government asked for bail set at $10 million for Manafort and $5 million for Gates, with both men put on house arrest after surrendering their passports -- Jake.

TAPPER: All right. Pamela Brown, thanks so much.

Let's bring in our legal panel.

We have with us CNN legal analyst Laura Coates, CNN justice correspondent Evan Perez, and CNN chief legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin.

Thanks, one and all, for being here.

Jeffrey, let me start with you.

We have just learned that Manafort and Gates are going to remain in house arrest. What's your take on the events? Do you think that they are in real legal trouble?

JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: Oh, they are in desperate legal trouble. The sentences have gotten much higher in white-collar crime in recent years, and the real question is whether either of them or both will want to plead guilty and cooperate.

The other thing that's quite clear from an indictment of this complexity, it's 31 pages, is that it will not go to trial, if it goes to trial at all, probably for at least six months. That's just how the -- the pace at which the criminal justice system works in federal court.

So that means the Mueller investigation will be going on at least through the middle of 2018, and perhaps much longer, since these are just the first -- the first charges that he's brought, so this is not the beginning of the end of the Mueller investigation. This may only be the end of the beginning.

TAPPER: And, Evan, you were part of the team that broke the story of the indictment on Friday. Congratulations on that big scoop.

You were in the courtroom today. Tell us what that scene was like.

EVAN PEREZ, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Well, you know, there were a couple of strange things that happened.

One of them was the fact that Rick Gates did not have an attorney. His own attorney did not show up today, and he had a public defender who was representing him in the court proceedings. So things were delayed a little bit as the judge tried to figure out exactly how he was going to plead.


And, you know, that was a little bit strange, considering we're talking about white-collar defendants who usually have their lawyers. Everybody knew this day was coming, certainly since Friday, when we reported this, so it was a very odd thing.

Both men walked in. They didn't say anything. They were wearing blue suits. And, you know, it was a very normal sort of by-the-book type of proceeding.

I will say one last thing, though,with regard to what Jeffrey was just talking about. It's interesting to me that this 12-count indictment does include any specific tax charges.

TAPPER: Because that's apparently what they were trying to avoid, was having to pay taxes on this, right, allegedly.


PEREZ: Right. They apparently had these foreign bank accounts which they failed to declare.

But the government does not say -- and we know the IRS is part of this investigation. We know that this has been looked at for years by the FBI and the Tax Division of the Justice Department, but they do not allege any specific tax evasion or anything like that.

And that's interesting to me because we previously report that the that the Justice Department had looked at this, those same facts, and had decided there wasn't enough evidence to bring a case. So we will see whether or not the defense can try to figure out whether to poke some holes in what the government is presenting here.

TAPPER: Very quickly, we don't know why his attorney didn't show up.

PEREZ: Well, we talked to his spokesman. He said that it was a scheduling issue, but, you know, during the hearing...

TAPPER: Scheduling issue.

PEREZ: Right.

During the hearing, the public defender said he's going to hire a public attorney -- sorry -- a private attorney.


TAPPER: Laura, the other big case, of course, has to do with George Papadopoulos.

Here's part of an e-mail that he turned over to the government -- quote -- "We need someone to communicate that Donald Trump, D.T., is not doing these trips. It should be someone low level so as not to send any signals."

This is about a trip, a hypothetical trip to meet with Russian officials. A congressional source told CNN's Jim Sciutto that that exchange was between Manafort and Rick Gates.

Papadopoulos turned it over, but it was between Manafort and Gates.

Does that seem significant to you?


I mean, you have got the hook being people who are part of the campaign who are engaged in activity knowingly to try to work with a foreign agency of some sort or a foreign nation to try to collude.

That's the crux of what Mueller's investigation is about. It's no longer hypothetical. Collusion is not a nebulous term any longer. It's about pinpointing who the actors are, what was the activity, and also not only was it co-signed. It was encouraged by these two men who walked into the federal district court today and had 12-count indictments on them.

And I don't buy for one second about a scheduling issue with the attorney, Jake, by the way. What it says to me when you have two co- defendants who are on the same indictment that they would like to be thought of as different. They don't have the same attorney. They both want to argue about different rights that they have.

They both want to elbow different positions and perhaps one does not want to be the cooperator. One wants to be in a cooperating position. So you're going to have jockeying, not only Papadopoulos. How about you're going to have jockeying between Manafort and Gates, if you can believe it.

TAPPER: And, Evan -- go ahead, Jeffrey.

TOOBIN: I just think it's also important in the Papadopoulos -- in the charging document, there's a reference to the thousands of e-mails that the Russians apparently have.

That certainly raises the question of what did the Trump campaign know about the hacking that had already been done? And it is also worth remembering that it is a crime to aid and abet the hacking of e-mails.

So that reference to thousands of e-mails will certainly want to be teased out. Who was on the other end of that e-mail chain? Were there other references to e-mails in the chain and what did Papadopoulos know at that time and what conversations did he have of any e-mails? Very important subject.

TAPPER: Evan, you have been following this story very closely, the White House claiming Papadopoulos was just in a volunteer position, low-ranking. How important is he?

PEREZ: He's important enough that this e-mail when he sends it, Paul Manafort and others take it seriously.

Instead of just dismissing it and not paying attention to it, they do sort of come up a plan and say, look, we're going to have to have some low-level people handle this. This is not something for the candidate to do.

And so, look, that doesn't tell me that this is -- that there's nothing here. And to Laura's point, this is what collusion looks like. A lot of people have been wondering what that is. We have even talked about how there's no specific crime of collusion.

But what you have seen described in these documents, in the Papadopoulos plea agreement, is certainly what collusion would look like.

TAPPER: Laura, lastly, what message do you think the court is trying to send with the $10 million bail and $5 million bail for Manafort and Davis -- respectively -- and Gates, I mean, respectively?

COATES: And, even more importantly, taking away their passports. These men are flight risks.

They're being accused of having coordinated with foreign governments, the Ukraine in particular. I'm sure these two men have thought about leaving the country perhaps.

And so it's sending a clear message to say, I know this is a financial crime. It's a very high amount of money for a white-collar crime. It's locking them down on house arrest, not that they want to leave their houses anyway for the next six months or so.

But it's sending a message to say, you will not evade the scrutiny of the American people or the courts, and you will be perhaps having your funding and any money you gained taken away from you.

TAPPER: It's pretty amazing, taking away their passports --

COATES: It's shocking.

[16:15:00] TAPPER: -- saying that we think you might actually try to flee the country.

Jeffrey, Laura, Evan, thanks so much. Appreciate it.

And don't forget, there are still congressional investigations going on. What might today's events mean for that? Stick around. We'll talk to the leader of one of the intelligence committees.


TAPPER: And we're back with our breaking news coverage. Three Trump campaign officials, including the campaign chairman, caught up in special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation, one of them pleading guilty to lying to the FBI about his contacts with Russia.

Joining me now is the top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, Congressman Adam Schiff, Democrat of California.

Congressman Schiff, thanks so much for joining us. Appreciate it.


TAPPER: So first things first. I want to get your reaction to today's news.

SCHIFF: Well, I think the Manafort and Gates indictments are significant, though this is not a peripheral player here. We're talking about the campaign manager. It's also significant that at the time of the campaign, it's been reported that Mr. Manafort was reaching out to Russia through Oleg Deripaska, an oligarch close to Putin, offering information on the campaign in an effort to collect more of the money that he's been indicted for laundering today or that's present in today's indictment.

[16:20:20] So, he's reaching out to the Russians at the same time that the Russians are reaching out to him and other campaign people at that Trump Tower meeting. So, if he decides to cooperate down the road, we could learn a lot about these interactions.

TAPPER: Then there's the matter of George Papadopoulos, the FBI says Papadopoulos lied about repeated contacts he had with people he believed were associated with the Kremlin to Russian nationals at the very least, one of whom said -- one of the three people said that the Russians had dirt on Hillary Clinton. But the indictment doesn't contain any evidence of actual collusion per se. We have an apparent willingness to get information from the Russians perhaps, and then he lies about it, but I don't see any evidence here that Papadopoulos actually got the dirt. SCHIFF: Well, you know, we have to put these pieces together and look

at the big picture. Here we learned that in April of last year the Trump campaign becomes aware that the Russian government is in possession of thousands of stolen Hillary Clinton e-mails. They learn this before the American people learn this and maybe before even some of her own intelligence agencies were aware of what the Russians were doing. It may explain why these top Trump campaign officials, including Manafort, the president's son and son-in-law, take a meeting with other Russian officials who are also promising derogatory information. It may be why they were disappointed at that meeting not to get these e-mails.

But also it might explain why the e-mails were later delivered, but delivered through WikiLeaks DC Leaks and Guccifer 2. The Russians may have concluded through these overtures, to people like Papadopoulos, to Manafort, Kushner, and Don Jr. that the Russians could expect an eager receptive audience in the Trump campaign to their help, and they decided it was cleaner to do that help through their own cutouts and through willing parties like WikiLeaks. So, we have to view this as part of the bigger picture.

TAPPER: And one message Papadopoulos suggested a meeting between members of President Putin's office and his national chairman. Is that a reference, do you believe, to campaign chairman Paul Manafort?

SCHIFF: We don't know. We also obviously want to find out what took place subsequently. There was an effort to perhaps arrange lower level meetings that wouldn't call so much attention as a presidential candidate meeting with Putin, so what was the follow-through and were there additional communications that would make that connection between the offers of help by the Russians, the receptivity, Don Jr. saying I would love to get that kind of help on the campaign side. What took place between those interactions, between essentially the Russians feeling out the campaign for their willingness to work with them and the ultimate dumping of those documents?

So, a lot more work that needs to be done, but those e-mails and securing his cooperation, and I hope that was part of the plea agreement, could be very important to answering these questions.

TAPPER: Do you expect more indictments to come?

SCHIFF: I think that's certainly very possible. There have been a lot of public reports in terms of the focus on Mike Flynn and whether he made truthful statements or not, whether he reported his activities on behalf of foreign governments or not. In essence charges that would look just like the charges against Papadopoulos, Manafort and Gates, and so, we ought to let Bob Mueller do his work. We need to stay out of his way. We ought to let him follow facts, just as we're trying to follow the facts in our congressional investigations.

TAPPER: Congressman Schiff, thanks so much for your time.

SCHIFF: Thanks, Jake.

TAPPER: President Trump says there's no collusion. What exactly do we know at this point in the investigation? We'll take a deeper look next.


[16:28:08] TAPPER: Welcome back.

Let's take a closer look at the guilty plea by this man. His name is George Papadopoulos. He was a foreign policy adviser to candidate Trump. You see him sitting there in this picture that Mr. Trump himself tweeted in March 2016 as one of his foreign policy team. Papadopoulos has admitted to lying about contacts he had with Russians during the campaign.

CNN's Manu Raju has been diving into this.

And, Manu, despite a campaign official saying he was a zero, this is someone that President Trump, then candidate Trump, mentioned by name as one of his top foreign policy advisers back in 2016. He called him an excellent guy.

MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, no question. And after that March 2016 comment, prosecutors really reveal the extent to which Mr. Papadopoulos went to try to set up meetings between Trump campaign officials and officials in the Kremlin, even pushing on multiple occasions for meetings with President Putin of Russia with then candidate Trump.

Now, today, Sarah Huckabee Sanders says he was just a volunteer and there was really nothing to it, but also the question today, Jake, is why did Papadopoulos lie about this to authorities?


RAJU (voice-over): Soon after joining the Trump campaign in March 2016, George Papadopoulos had a meeting with the London-based professor. Papadopoulos, a Trump campaign foreign policy adviser, was promised dirt on Hillary Clinton in the form of thousands of e-mails obtained by the Russians around the time that Clinton's campaign chairman John Podesta was hacked.

According to court documents unsealed today, Papadopoulos admitted lying to federal authorities when he said that those contacts occurred before joining the Trump campaign. He also falsely told authorities that the professor was, quote, just a guy talking up connections or something when in fact Papadopoulos knew that the professor had substantial connections to the Kremlin and had repeatedly sought to arrange a meeting between the Trump campaign and Russian government officials.

SEN. MARK WARNER (D-VA), INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE: Papadopoulos is direct evidence that someone with the campaign was being contacted by the Russians with information that they had lots of so-called dirt --