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Three Caught up in Mueller Probe; White House Indictment Reaction; Papadopoulos Please Guilty. Aired 12-12:30p ET

Aired October 30, 2017 - 12:00   ET

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


[12:00:18] WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome to INSIDE POLITICS. I'm Wolf Blitzer, for John King. We want to welcome viewers here in the United States and around the world.

Very dramatic developments are unfolding right now in the investigation led by the special counsel, Robert Mueller. Two people who had high level roles in the Trump campaign have just become the first two to face multiple criminal charges stemming for Mueller's probe into Russia's election meddling here in the United States.

And perhaps even more troubling for the White House right now is the role of a third person named in the FBI records also unsealed today. They say a Trump campaign national security adviser, George Papadopoulos, has now pleaded guilty to making false statements about interactions he had with people he believed were close to the Russian government. His role could be very significant when it comes to establishing any collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia. He's now cooperating, we're told, with federal investigators.

As for the indictment, it levels 12 separate charges against former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort and a long-time associate of his, Rick Gates, who also worked for the campaign as Manafort's deputy.

They're set to make their first court appearance in about 90 minutes from now. Stand by for that.

Meanwhile, President Trump is scheduled to have lunch with the attorney general of the United States, Jeff Sessions, this hour. A source close to the president says he's been briefed on the charges. He's reacted on Twitter. More on that in just a moment.

First, though, let's bring in our Jim Sciutto, our national security -- chief national security correspondent, and CNN's Sara Murray, she's our White House correspondent.

Jim, tell us first of all more about the case against George Stephanopoulos -- Papadopoulos, I should say, George Papadopoulos, whose role could be very significant in this investigation.

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: That's right. Well, certainly on a day that the president's former campaign chairman is charged with federal crimes, it may be difficult to say that this other case could be more significant. But there are reasons that it would be, one, Papadopoulos, he was a foreign policy adviser to the president, described by the president as such. And this is different because it's not a charge. He has pled guilty to a crime and is now cooperating with the Mueller investigation, pled guilty to lying.

And this is -- this is key because in the statement of the offense, Mueller, the special council, makes clear that this is not related to non-campaign activities or previous business dealings, but it is related directly in the copy here to the investigation into whether, quote, there was any coordination between the campaign and Russia's efforts.

So despite the fact that Trump and his supporters have said that that line of inquiry is closed, making very clear here that it is not. In fact, if you have someone who has admitted to a crime related to that inquiry specifically lying.

It goes on to say that these communications, contacts, relate to Russians, and foreign contacts, offering Papadopoulos, quote, dirt on Clinton. Again, this damaging information that Russia had offered similarly in that June 2016 meeting in Trump Tower.

Finally, I would just highlight that point, which is contained on the final line of this. That is that Papadopoulos has cooperated now with authorities and it notes here that he has met with the government on numerous occasions to, quote, provide information and answer questions.

A final point on George Papadopoulos. I'll just -- and, again, the -- there are a lot of legal papers here, but some of them catch your eye more than others. This is contained on page eight of the statement of offense. It refers to Papadopoulos e-mailing another high ranking campaign official and there's a footnote to that, which might just seem like a footnote, but seems significant. I'm going to read from that footnote.

In that e-mail he stated, let's discuss. We need someone to communicate that DT, presumably standing for Donald Trump, is not doing these trips. It should be someone low level in the campaign so as not to send any signal. Seeming to indicate here that Papadopoulos, and perhaps others in the campaign, knew that these trips to discuss this information with Russians, with foreigners, was not 100 percent kosher, perhaps illegal, and therefore were sending people other than the president to do so.

Again, a lot contained here, but you have a direct connection between someone who worked for the campaign as a foreign policy adviser, who has now plead guilty to a crime, and as part of the continuing investigation as to whether there was coordination between the Trump campaign and Russia. Truly a momentous and you might even say surprise revelation today, Wolf.

BLITZER: Certainly is very significant. And as you point out in that last line of the U.S. district court statement, the statement of the offense, it does say specifically that on July 27, 2017, this past summer, the defendant, Papadopoulos, was arrested upon his arrival at Dulles International Airport. Following his arrest, defendant Papadopoulos met with the government on numerous occasions to provide information and answer questions.

[12:05:22] And as you say, Jim, that suggests he's now fully cooperating, potentially raising all sorts of problems for others in the Trump campaign.

SCIUTTO: Absolutely. Listen, as folks with more knowledge than me, such as Jeffrey Toobin and others who have been involved in investigations like this, they note that in situations like this, guilty pleas like this are most often initial steps in investigation, then potentially net other defendants, other criminal charges, because if he is cooperating, he could then provide information on others who perhaps have not been fully forthcoming with the investigators. Might have lied in their interviews with the FBI. Might also be able to explain or supply e-mails that contradict both the administration and other's storyline, narrative of their interaction with Russians during the campaign as well.

Very interesting as well, Wolf, that this comes out today. There was no reason the special counsel had to release this today because the guilty plea, as the documents note, took place in early October, some four weeks ago, looks something like a signal, if not to the administration, then to the broader public, that these lines of inquiry continue.

BLITZER: Very significant development indeed.

Let me bring Sara Murray in over from the White House.

Sara, what are we hearing from the president so far?

SARA MURRAY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, so far the president has weighed in on the indictments of Paul Manafort and Rick Gates, but he has not weighed in on Papadopoulos. I'm going to read you some of his tweets from this morning.

The president 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?

You see him there trying to turn the attention back on his former political rival, who I would add is not the president of the United States.

And in a second tweet, the president followed up and said, also, there is no collusion.

So he's weighing in here on the Paul Manafort matter. When it comes to Papadopoulos, we have no official word from the White House. We have no official word from the president. But we have heard from a number of sources who are already trying to downplay Papadopoulos's role during the campaign, saying this was someone who was more of a hanger on, who was essentially irrelevant.

But, remember, this is someone the president himself named as an foreign policy adviser. This is also someone who was in the meeting with president -- in a meeting in Washington with President Trump in the same room with him. So clearly they have met face-to-face. It's a good indication, of course, that these questions are not going away. This line of inquiry isn't going away. We're going to hear from Sarah Huckabee Sanders not too long from now. You can bet she is going to be asked about this, Wolf.

BLITZER: Do we know who brought Papadopoulos into the campaign, Sara? Was it the -- one of the president's top national security adviser?

MURRAY: Papadopoulos actually was a former adviser to Ben Carson, who, of course, is now serves in the Trump administration, and then found his way into the Trump campaign. But he's part of a national security team that was led by Jeff Sessions, who is now the attorney general, who has recused himself from the Russia investigation.

And, interestingly, President Trump does have a meeting set up today with his attorney general, Jeff Sessions, as well as his vice president, Mike Pence. This was set up beforehand. We're told that it has nothing to do with the Russia investigation. But, of course, you could imagine that questions about this and about the role of Papadopoulos during the campaign may come up.

BLITZER: I can only imagine.

All right, Sara and Jim, guys, thanks very much. I know you're both working your sources.

Let's talk a little bit more about all of this. Our chief legal analyst, Jeffrey Toobin, is with us. Our legal analyst Paul Callan is with us. And our justice correspondent, Pamela Brown, is with us as well.

You're working your sources, Pamela, and the Papadopoulos acknowledgement, he's pleading guilty to lying to the FBI, that potentially raises all sorts of headaches for the Trump campaign.

PAMELA BROWN, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: And he's now cooperating as part of a plea deal as part of this investigation. And when you look through the statement of offense, what jumps out to me is that Papadopoulos allegedly had these communications with officials tied to senior Russian government officials, but also that the campaign -- campaign officials were aware of these communications. In fact, in one e-mail where Papadopoulos allegedly talked about setting up meetings with Russians, a campaign supervisor, Wolf, said, quote, great work to that.

In another e-mail that Papadopoulos allegedly sent, according to the statement of offence, it said the -- Russia was eager to meet with the candidate, talking about Donald Trump, and have been reaching out. The response -- this was forwarded, that e-mail from Papadopoulos, according to the statement, was forwarded on from one campaign to another campaign official. And here's what that e-mail said, Wolf. We need someone to communicate that DT, Donald Trump, is not doing these trips. It should be someone low level in the campaign so as not to send any signal. This is the -- this is talking about meeting with Russians. The

campaign meeting with Russians. And so this is a real problem for the White House. The White House can distance itself from Rick Gates, from Manafort because it is true those charges are not connected to the campaign, though it is significant. But this has to do with the campaign and the campaign being aware of the attempts to set up meetings with the Russians.

[12:10:22] I want to add one more thing. When you -- now that we have this information, it makes clear what you have been hearing, the concern from intelligence officials. They saw an effort, an influenced campaign, by the Russians to try to infiltrate the Trump campaign with Carter Page, as we had previously reported, now appears with George Papadopoulos, who was part of the foreign policy team as well. It said in the complaint that when one of the contacts, the foreign contacts, realized he was part of the campaign, that is when he started reaching out about this alleged dirt on Hillary, setting up meetings with Russians. So at the very least, there was an influence campaign on the part of the Russians.

BLITZER: And according to the statement, all of a sudden the Russians respected him a bit more as a result --

BROWN: Exactly, when they realized he was part of the campaign and he presented himself as an adviser to Donald Trump in some of his communications according to these documents.

BLITZER: Very significant.

Let me bring in Jeffrey Toobin.

How do you see the Papadopoulos issue unfolding right now, Jeff?

JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN CHIEF LEGAL ANALYST: Well, it's enormously significant at several different levels. You know, as Pamela was discussing there, you know, the -- there is a lot of interaction in e- mails between Papadopoulos and Trump administration officials. They are not identified in the government's filing today, but they are certainly known to Director Mueller. And certainly they will want -- he will want to interview them about what their interactions were with Papadopoulos about contacts with Russia.

Certainly these e-mails and this document will be read by the House and Senate investigators. They will want to talk to the government official -- the campaign officials who were talking about reaching out to Russia. I mean this is the heart of the inquiry. What was the relationship between the Trump campaign and the Russian government or entities affiliated with Russia?

That's what the e-mails are about. They showed detailed interest on the part of the relationship between Trump and the Russians. And there's a lot more to explore there.

BLITZER: There certainly is.

And, Paul, the White House argues that the charges against Manafort and Gates have nothing to do with the campaign. But the special counsel, you know, he took over, Robert Mueller, in May. All of these others investigations started much earlier, including right after the election when there were all these allegations of Russian interference in the U.S. presidential election, including the questioning of Papadopoulos back in January, shortly after the election. So it suggests this is moving full speed ahead. The FBI was well into it even before Mueller got involved.

PAUL CALLAN, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Yes, it does suggest that, Wolf. And it's clear that Comey also, in his position, was probably well aware that these things were going on.

You know, the Papadopoulos thing is especially important because as of March of 2016, Papadopoulos had been named as one of five foreign policy advisers to candidate Trump. And that's when the Russians really took an interest in him. And Papadopoulos claimed he had a connection to a Russian national who was Putin's niece who could supply information to the Trump campaign, along with another Russian connection, who was a highly connected Russian professor with connections to the Russian government.

So those Russian connections then lead directly to a group of five elite foreign policy advisers to candidate Trump. So that's the importance I think of the Papadopoulos indictment. It really shines a picture on the connection between the campaign and the Russians.

BLITZER: And, you know, Jeffrey, he's now fully cooperating. He's -- he and his attorneys have decided he will plead guilty to these charges of lying to the FBI. Presumably the more he cooperates, the less sense -- the less of a sentence he might get. That's the whole -- the whole notion of a plea bargain.

TOOBIN: Absolutely. And given what I know about how federal sentencing works, if he cooperates, and if the Mueller office is satisfied with his cooperation, I think it's very likely he will not receive jail time. By the same token, looking at the other indictment where Rick Gates is clearly the secondary figure, if he decides to plead guilty and cooperate, I think it would be very likely that he would not receive a prison sentence, which is something his attorneys will certainly be telling him and is something he will have to weigh in whether he will decide to plead guilty and cooperate. Certainly there will be a lot of pressure on him to cooperate.

BLITZER: Well, don't you think -- don't you think, Jeffrey, they may have offered him that plea agreement before today?

[12:15:11] TOOBIN: They may have, but, you know, a 12-count federal indictment has the effect of focusing the mind. And I think it is not necessarily a done deal that he is -- that he will not plead guilty.

If I can just raise one more point that's, I think, important about the indictment of Manafort and Gates. Yes, it's true that it deals with transactions mostly with the Ukraine before the Trump for president campaign. But the indictment very clearly says that the criminal conspiracy that is at the heart of that indictment continued through the time that Paul Manafort was the campaign chairman. So you can't say that this has nothing to do with the campaign. According to the indictment, which is not proof, it's just an accusation, he was conspiring to violate U.S. law while he was the chairman of the Trump campaign. That's important.

WALLACE: That's very important. Yes, he was -- and, let's not forget, he was the chairman of the Trump campaign for several months, including during the convention.

All right, Jeffrey Toobin, Paul Callan, Pamela Brown, guys, thanks very much.

Up next, the political fallout over the latest charges in the Russia investigation, especially one former Trump adviser looking for so- called dirt on Hillary Clinton.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[12:20:39] BLITZER: We're back with our continuing coverage of today's very dramatic developments in the special counsel probe of Russian interference in the 2016 election here in the United States.

Today we learned that the former foreign policy adviser to the Trump campaign, George Papadopoulos, had pled guilty to lying to the FBI about interactions he had with people tied to the Kremlin. And he's now cooperating with Robert Mueller, the special counsel, in his investigation.

And two former Trump officials, Paul Manafort and Rick Gates, will be in court next hour facing a 12-count indictment on charges that include conspiracy and money laundering.

Joining us now to dissect all the breaking news up on Capitol Hill, our senior congressional correspondent Manu Raju is with us. Here with me, "The New York Times," Julie Hirschfeld Davis, and CNN's chief political correspondent Dana Bash.

Dana, on this Georg Papadopoulos affidavit, he had contacts with people, the Russians, who were promising dirt on Hillary Clinton. This was a significant development now because he was arrested a while back. He's now fully cooperating with the special counsel.

DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: This is very significant. Look, Paul Manafort, who was the president's campaign chair, and Rick Gates, who people -- maybe people who are not political junkies might not know the name, but he was a significant player for a period of time, they're the names. But it -- the White House says, and it is true, at least from what we know, what they are being indicted for is separate from Trump campaign work and is separate from the key mission and the core mission of the special counsel, which is Russia and collusion with the Trump campaign.

This Papadopoulos indictment and the affidavit that goes along with it is not. It is a direct alleged contact between somebody who the president had called, a foreign policy adviser, and the Russians. And specifically, if you go through it, somebody who was trying to get even more connections between Putin's people and people inside the campaign. And he -- Papadopoulos had connections and contact with an unnamed senior campaign official. Campaign officials had discussions among themselves about this offer. And they had discussions about what to do about who they called DT, Donald Trump, and maybe sending a low level official because they were, you know, concerned about the optics. So when you look at the core question of collusion, this is a bombshell today.

BLITZER: And the bombshell is maybe he has information that could result in the arrest of others.

JULIE HIRSCHFELD DAVIS, "THE NEW YORK TIMES": Right. And this is a person who was not, as Dana said, on many of -- many people's radar screens. And people in the White House I think expected that Paul Manafort was going to be indicted. And you read through that indictment and I think they were reading through it very eagerly at the White House this morning and there is no actual direct link between what Rick Gates and Paul Manafort were indicted for and these accusations of the campaign having colluded with Russia.

But if you look at the plea agreement that George Papadopoulos has reached, he's clear that he is now cooperating with investigators. He was arrested and that was about a month ago. And so who knows who he has talked to or had interactions with, who is connected with the White House or the Trump campaign since then.

And what this tells you is that contrary to what the White House said after that meeting that Donald Trump Jr. had at Trump Tower was disclosed, this was not a one-off thing that the Russians were approaching the Trump campaign with offers of dirt on Hillary Clinton and trying to be taken up on that offer. And so George Papadopoulos may have a lot more information than what we see in this plea about what exactly those instances were and what the reaction was by the campaign.

BLITZER: And it was very significant what jumped out at me, Julie, among other things -- a lot of other things in the affidavit -- was that they were -- they thought he was important enough that they obtained what they called a judicially authorized search warrant to go through his e-mail, to go through his FaceBook, to go through his phones. They were monitoring him big time.

DAVIS: Absolutely. And he had obviously come to their attention in their investigation of this larger issue of the extent to which Russia was trying to find an in to the Trump campaign and they obviously had a lot of access to his files and whatever his communications were. And he may have e-mailed with or called other people who may -- who are now under scrutiny by the special counsel who have not yet been named and we don't know who those people are.

[12:25:06] BASH: And then just -- there are these little kind of bread crumbs about what the special counsel's office is looking at in -- in this indictment or this agreement. A footnote that -- that talks about a -- the Papadopoulos e-mail to another campaign official. And it says, let's discuss. We need someone to communicate that DT is not doing these trips. It should be someone low level in the campaign so as not to send any signal. So does that mean, any signal like to the Russians that we're not

going to play here or a signal to the world that sort of betrays the fact that they're playing ball with the Russians? It's a big question. And there's a, you know, a, as I said, a bread crumb there to try to answer that question.

BLITZER: Yes, they have authorized search warrants for him. I assume they have authorized search warrants for others involved in the campaign as well.

Manu, you're up on Capitol Hill right now, This is going to be a bombshell up there.

MANU RAJU, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, no question about it. The question is, how does it impact the investigations that are happening already in the Senate, in the House Intelligence Committees in particular because up until this point, you heard some Republicans increasingly voice concerns about the lack of any definitive evidence of the collusion narrative. Some on those key committee saying, you know, it's time to essentially pull the plug. We're reaching the end of this investigation and we don't have any definitive evidence yet.

But this new information from the George Papadopoulos plea agreement really shows a really sustained effort by Russian officials to use a Trump official to try to pass along dirt on the Clinton campaign, saying that they had the thousands of Russian e-mails -- the Russians had thousands of Clinton's e-mails that they're willing to share with the Trump campaign.

And this will almost certainly lead the investigators down this path as well. George Papadopoulos had been on the radar screen of the Senate Intelligence Committee for some time but it's unclear the extent to which they've been able to get him to cooperate with their own investigation, particularly as he's come under scrutiny from Bob Mueller. So, in that regard, Wolf, it's going to have an impact on the investigations.

But politically, too, Republicans in particularly are going to be under a lot of pressure to both defend Bob Mueller, try to see if they can get behind legislation that's been proposed to protect Bob Mueller from getting fired, as well as a Democrat today, Mark Warner, the vice chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, saying both sides should say that nobody should be pardoned by the president who's part of this investigation, saying that they should urge the president to make that declarative statement. We'll see if he does just that. But that part of the political argument of the investigation presumably can get some more steam after some of these revelations today, Wolf.

BLITZER: And you -- very quickly, Manu, you say he was on the radar of these congressional committees that are doing their own investigations into Russian meddling in the U.S. presidential election. Is there any indication that George Papadopoulos actually was interviewed by any of these committees?

RAJU: We actually don't know that yet, Wolf. That's a question that we're going to try to answer today. But we do know that a number of his e-mails had been turned over to these committees through the Trump campaign. So a number of these committees have seen a lot of these e- mails to the extent to which Papadopoulos has cooperated. That's an open question. Something we'll have to try to answer later today, Wolf.

BLITZER: Yes, I'll be curious to see if the special counsel, Robert Mueller, sort of encouraged the committees up on The Hill not to interview him because he was apparently started cooperating with him, with Robert Mueller.

Manu, stand by. We're going to get back to you. I know you're doing some reporting up there. Dana and Julie, stand by as well.

Paul Manafort and Rick Gates, they're set to appear before a federal judge next hour. They're inside that federal court building right now after turning themselves in to the FBI this morning. What we know about these two men and the very, very serious felony charges they're now facing. Stand by.