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FBI: Papadopoulos Obstructed Probe by Shutting Down Facebook Account Showing Communications with Russians. Aired 5-6p ET

Aired October 30, 2017 - 17:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now, breaking news. Russia probe plea. A Trump campaign foreign policy adviser pleads guilty after lying to the FBI about his contacts with people linked to the Kremlin and efforts to deliver dirt on Hillary Clinton. But he's now flipped and is cooperating with investigators. Does that put other Trump associates now at risk?

[17:00:31] Inner circle indicted. The guilty plea bombshell follows the indictments of two top Trump campaign figures, including former chairman Paul Manafort. They pleaded not guilty in federal court today to a dozen charges, including conspiracy against the United States. Are more indictments now in the works?

Dinner date. On the same day that former foreign policy adviser George Papadopoulos was interviewed by the FBI, President Trump called then FBI director James Comey and invited him to dinner, where he demanded a loyalty pledge. How far along was Comey's investigation?

And Putin's puppet. Paul Manafort, who became Trump campaign chairman, allegedly took millions of dollars from the former Ukrainian president, who was a puppet of Russia's Vladimir Putin. Why did Donald Trump pick a campaign boss with Russia connections?

I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

BLITZER: Breaking news. A day of stunning developments in the special counsel's investigation into Russia's election meddling and possible collusion by Trump associates. We've seen the first indictments as two former top Trump campaign officials appeared in court today, facing multiple criminal charges, and there's been a bombshell guilty plea from a third person in FBI records unsealed today. That under-the-radar plea by a former Trump campaign foreign policy adviser has the potential to rock the White House.

George Papadopoulos admits lying to the FBI about his dealings with foreign nationals tied to the Russian government and outlines communications aimed at feeding dirt on Hillary Clinton and arranging meetings between the Trump campaign and Russian leadership.

Perhaps most worrisome to the Trump administration right now: Papadopoulos is cooperating with the FBI, and that could be much more damaging than today's indictments of former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort and his deputy and business associate Rick Gates. There are a dozen separate charges, including conspiracy against the United States and money laundering, focusing in on their years as political consultants and lobbyists working with Ukraine. Both pleaded not guilty and are now under House arrest.

The White House is trying to distance itself from the indictments and guilty pleas, saying they have nothing to do with the president or the campaign.

I'll speak with a key member of the House Intelligence Committee, Democratic Congressman Jim Himes, and our correspondents, specialists and guests, they are standing by with full coverage.

The special counsel's Russia investigation produces its first charges with a pair of indictments and a guilty plea. Let's begin with our chief national security correspondent, Jim Sciutto.

Jim, a stunning series of developments today. Take us through it all.

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, from the very beginning and until as recently as this morning, President Trump and the White House have dismissed both allegations of coordination with Russia and any meaningful contacts with Russian officials as false, as a hoax. In George Papadopoulos' case we learned of more e-mails and communications that belie that claim, and in a court opinion just unsealed, there is this language: "This is a matter of national importance."

The U.S. is investigating foreign interference in the 2016 presidential election, and these key words, "and potential collusion in those efforts by American citizens." And today we saw progress in that case.


SCIUTTO (voice-over): It is the clearest evidence yet of Russian efforts to connect with the Trump campaign and campaign officials' interest in responding.

Former Trump campaign foreign policy adviser George Papadopoulos pled guilty on October 5 to lying to the FBI about his contacts with Russians tied to the Kremlin, including one claiming to have, quote, "dirt" on Hillary Clinton.

The special counsel's office said that its January 2017 interview of Papadopoulos was part of a then still open investigation into, quote, "whether there was any coordination between the campaign and Russia's efforts to interfere in the election."

Papadopoulos, who joined the Trump campaign in March 2016, was in repeated e-mail contact with Russians to set up a meeting, first between Russian President Vladimir Putin and Trump, and later between Trump campaign officials and other Russians.

According to court documents, one foreign contact told Papadopoulos in April 2016 that he, quote, "learned that the Russians had obtained dirt on then-candidate Clinton." [17:05:06] In May, Papadopoulos e-mailed a high-ranking Trump campaign

official, who CNN has learned is former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort, that, quote, "Russia has been eager to meet Mr. Trump for quite some time and had been reaching out to me to discuss."

Manafort then forwarded that e-mail to another campaign official, who CNN has learned is Rick Gates, stating, 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."

Today the White House said that Papadopoulos never acted in an official capacity.

SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: He reached out, and nothing happened beyond that, which I think shows, one, his level of importance in the campaign and, two, shows what little role he had within coordinating anything officially for the campaign.

SCIUTTO: But e-mails included in the court filing indicate that he did, at times, have campaign backing, including one in which a campaign supervisor told Papadopoulos, quote, "I would encourage you to make the trip if it is feasible."

The White House is also seeking to distance itself from the indictment of Paul Manafort and his longtime associate and campaign deputy, Rick Gates, who were charged in relation to their business dealings as lobbyists for the Ukraine government. The indictment alleges that they received tens of millions of dollars for their work and, to hide that income, laundered the money through, quote, "scores of United States and foreign corporations, partnerships and bank accounts."

Manafort's lawyer addressed the charges outside the federal courthouse.

KEVIN DOWNING, PAUL MANAFORT'S LAWYER: There is no evidence that Mr. Manafort or the Trump campaign colluded with the Russian government.

SCIUTTO: The charges cover activities prior to Trump's presidential campaign, a point the president made on Twitter this morning saying, quote, "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?" That argument then echoed from the White House podium.

SANDERS: Today's announcement has nothing to do with the president, has nothing to do with the president's campaign or campaign activity.

SCIUTTO: However, Manafort and Gates are accused of lobbying U.S. lawmakers on behalf of a Ukrainian political party opposed to NATO and in support of the jailing of a political opponent of a Russian-backed Ukrainian politician, both contrary to U.S. foreign policy interests.


SCIUTTO: Now beyond the many communications between the Trump campaign and Russians, the time line of those communications is telling. Let's look at it. In April, Papadopoulos is told that Russia has thousands of Clinton e-

mails. The very next month, Papadopoulos e-mails Paul Manafort, then the chairman of the Trump campaign about, quote, "a request from Russia to meet with Trump." You may remember then it's the following month, in June 9, when we have that meeting in Trump Tower between Don Jr., Russian lawyers who we know from another e-mail were offering damaging dirt, damaging information on Hillary Clinton.

Look to the next month. In July, on the 14th of July, Papadopoulos proposes another meeting in August or September between Trump campaign members and members of Putin's office, the office of the Russian president, adding, "It has been approved from our side," saying that he had approval from higher-ups in the campaign. The very next month, campaign supervisory -- campaign supervisor communicates that Papadopoulos encourages him, in fact, to go ahead with a promised meeting.

Wolf, as you look at these, as you put them in order, you're seeing repeated communications here and repeated interests from both sides in communicating about dirt, damaging information on Hillary Clinton.

BLITZER: That explains why the special counsel was so interested in all of this. All right, Jim Sciutto, thanks very much.

The White House was seemingly caught off guard by today's developments. Let's go to our senior White House correspondent, Jim Acosta. Jim, what's the reaction over there?

JIM ACOSTA, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, the White House was back on its heels today after the indictments came down, naming former Trump campaign Paul Manafort and his top aide, Rick Gates.

The president appeared to be completely blind-sided by perhaps the biggest bombshell of the day: the plea deal with former campaign adviser George Papadopoulos. A story the president has called fake news got very real for the White House today.


ACOSTA (voice-over): With the Russia investigation heading to court, the White House trotted out a stack of misleading talking points to downplay the first big moves from Special Counsel Robert Mueller.

SANDERS: He responded the same way the rest us in the White House have, and that's without a lot of reaction.

We're not worried about it distracting, because it doesn't have anything to do with us. This is something that is an action that took place outside of the campaign or campaign activity.

ACOSTA: That certainly echoes what the president tweeted about the indictments of former campaign chairman Paul Manafort and his deputy, Rick Gates. "Sorry, but this is year 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." But the White House spin doesn't work for George Papadopoulos, the

former Trump foreign policy adviser seen in this March 2016 campaign photo, who pleaded guilty to making false statements to the FBI about his efforts to funnel dirt from Russian sources to top Trump campaign officials.

[17:10:07] White House press secretary Sarah Sanders portrayed Papadopoulos as having a limited role with the campaign, but then- candidate Trump described Papadopoulos as one of his foreign policy advisers in an interview with "The Washington Post" in March last year.

DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: George Papadopoulos, he's an oil and energy consultant, excellent guy. It's a group of some of -- of the people that we are -- that we're dealing with. We have many other people in different aspects what have we do, but that's a pretty representative group.

ACOSTA (on camera): How can you describe Mr. Papadopoulos as having a limited role when there's a photograph of Mr. Papadopoulos sitting at a table with then-candidate Trump?

SANDERS: The president takes thousands of photographs with millions of people.

ACOSTA: How is it not conclusion when George Papadopoulos is in contact with various people who are promising dirt on Hillary Clinton, a series of events that closely mirrors what occurred with the president's own son? How is all of that not collusion?

SANDERS: Look, this individual was the member of a volunteer advisory council that met one time over the course of a year, and he was part of a list that was read out in the "The Washington Post." I'd hardly call that some sort of regular adviser or, as want to, you know, pledge that he's, like, a senior member of the staff. He was not paid by the campaign.

ACOSTA (voice-over): Sanders also mischaracterized the extent of Papadopoulos's actions, failing to mention that federal investigators say he made repeated attempts to obtain information from the Russians and that his efforts were discussed in detail by campaign officials.

SANDERS: He reached out, and nothing happened beyond that.

ACOSTA: As for Manafort, Sanders minimized his role with the campaign.

SANDERS: Paul Manafort was brought in to lead the delegate process, which he did, and was dismissed not too long after that.

ACOSTA: The fact is, Manafort served as campaign chairman for three months, at one point denying contacts with the Russians during last year's conventions.

GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS, ABC NEWS: Are there any ties between Mr. Trump, you or your campaign, and Putin and his regime? PAUL MANAFORT, FORMER TRUMP CAMPAIGN CHAIR: No, there are not. It's


ACOSTA: The White House is still making the case that it's the Clinton campaign that's guilty of collusion.

SANDERS: The big difference here is you have a meeting that took place, versus millions of dollars being sent to create fake information to actually influence the election. You compare those two, those are apples and orange.

What the Clinton campaign did, what the DNC did, was actually exchange money.


ACOSTA: Now the White House was also asked whether the president is considering the possibility of issuing pardons in the Russia investigation. Press Secretary Sarah Sanders said it's too early to consider that, but as to the prospect of firing special counsel Robert Mueller, Sanders wasn't offering any iron-clad commitments, saying the president, quote, "has no intention or plan to make any changes."

Wolf, that does not sound like a guarantee.

BLITZER: Jim Acosta at the White House, thanks very much.

Let bring in our chief legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin.

Jeff, we've seen two major moves today, a pair of indictments and a guilty plea. Which is the most damning?

JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN CHIEF LEGAL ANALYST: The Papadopoulos case, I think, because for one thing, it's a guilty plea. I mean, the case is over. But if you look at what he admitted to and the e-mails described, there are explicit references to thousands of e-mails, Hillary Clinton e-mails, that are apparently in the possession of the Russians.

This is the first time that we know there is any direct or indirect connection between the Trump campaign and those e-mails, which turned out to be so important in this case. That alone is extremely provocative information that -- that certainly investigators are following up on.

BLITZER: Yes, they are, and what else stands out to you in those court documents? We've all read them thoroughly, relating to this former national security adviser, George Papadopoulos?

TOOBIN: You know, there was something that our legal eagles on our team discovered late in the afternoon. Not in the original document but in the -- the document that explained why the Mueller team wanted the documents sealed.

They said that the timing here is very important. The alleged false statement was in January, before Mueller was even appointed. He was arrested, Papadopoulos was, in July, but he didn't plead guilty until October. So what was going on between July and October? Well, there's a very tantalizing hint in these court papers.

The court papers suggest that -- and I think we can put it up on the air -- "Defendant has indicated he is willing to cooperate," and then on the next page, "Public disclosure of the defendant's initial appearance, however, would significantly undermine his ability to serve as a proactive cooperator."

What this says to me is that Papadopoulos, between July and October, was wearing a wire. He was recording conversations secretly with people who are subjects and targets of this investigation. That's the only reasonable explanation of what's in those court papers.

[17:15:09] If he was wearing a wire this summer and fall -- think about that, just weeks ago -- that is a whole new chapter of possibilities in this investigation and potentially a very, very big deal.

BLITZER: Yes. I wonder who he was talking to if, in fact, he was wearing a wire.

Stand by, Jeff. We're going to get back to you the shortly.

Joining us now Democratic Congressman Jim Himes of Connecticut. He's a member of the House Intelligence Committee.

Congressman, thanks for joining us.


BLITZER: Is this evidence of collusion?

HIMES: You know, it depends a lot on how you or how I or how the public defines collusion. What we do know, Wolf, is that this is the second, with all due respect to to Jeffrey Toobin, this is the second example of somebody involved in the campaign aggressively seeking out contact with Russia while the -- while the campaign was under way. The other, of course, being Don Jr. and celebrating and getting an "attaboy" for trying to get dirt on the Hillary campaign.

So as investigators -- and this will be at the FBI, and it will be at the congressional level -- we have a responsibility to find out what chapter two there is. In other words, was incriminating information passed back to either Don Jr. or George Papadopoulos?

But, you know, this idea that there was no contact, that there was no cooperation, that we had nothing to do with Russia, is long gone, despite the fact that the president continues to tweet it; despite the fact that Sarah Sanders continues to be paid by the American people to lie to them. We now have clear evidence in the form of this guilty plea that people inside the campaign were seeking Russian assistance, and that is a big deal.

BLITZER: Papadopoulos was told that the Russians had what they called dirt on Hillary Clinton in the form of thousands of e-mails, and this was back in April 2016, long before the American American public learned of those hacked e-mails. So what does that suggest to you?

HIMES: Well, again, sometimes we get so caught up in the -- in the details here, but also in the chaff that the -- you know, that Sanders and the White House is trying to throw out there about Uranium One and Hillary Clinton.

Let's step back here and realize that this member of the Trump campaign, while communicating with other members of the Trump campaign, thought it was a good idea to go to an antagonistic, adversarial foreign power and get their help in a presidential election. That's the bottom line here.

Now, whether laws were broken, that remains to be seen, and based on what I saw today, boy, is Bob Mueller going to work hard to determine that. But people inside this campaign sought the help of the Russians. They then lied about it, and we have the guilty plea today, you know. Don Jr. didn't come clean. Michael Flynn lost his job because he lied about it. The attorney general, Jeff Sessions, on his forms, whether he lied about it or simply wasn't thinking straight when he filled out those forms, that's a pattern here.

And then, of course, part three of the pattern is "Please don't look over here. Look at Hillary Clinton. Look at Uranium One," where anybody who looks at five facts related to any of those things will see that that is nothing other than a distraction away from some very serious developments here.

BLITZER: And these are clearly dramatic developments indeed.

After Papadopoulos sent an e-mail entitled "Request from Russia to Meet Mr. Trump," Paul Manafort, the campaign chairman, forwarded that e-mail to Rick Gates, his deputy, and he wrote this -- and I'll put it up on the screen. "Let's discuss. We need someone to communicate that D.T., Donald Trump, is not doing these trips. It should be someone low-level in the campaign so as not to send any signal."

So Congressman, how do you read that comment from Manafort?

HIMES: Well, more importantly than how I read that comment -- and that comment does suggest, at least to me, that they're carefully stewarding the signals they send to Russia. It's sort of hard to read that any other way.

But far more important than what I think about that is the fact that Paul Manafort, as we learned this morning, is now charged with some very serious crimes, and he will have every incentive to explain that to Bob Mueller and the FBI. So I imagine that that is probably one of the things that the FBI is going to ask him, just as they are asking George Papadopoulos about some of the -- some of the people that he might have been communicating with within the campaign.

BLITZER: As you know, back in June of 2016, right during the middle of the campaign, Russians actually reached out to Donald Trump Jr. to set up that meeting offer damaging information on Hillary Clinton as, quote, "part of Russia and its government support for Mr. Trump." And in July of 2016 then-candidate Trump encouraged Russia to find

Hillary Clinton's deleted e-mails. How do those incidents fit into what we now know about Papadopoulos' Russia links?

[17:20:09] HIMES: Well, I think the key there is that -- you know, the question is how are the people from Donald Trump to his son, to George Papadopoulos, how are they thinking about whatever those contacts with the Russians were?

Now, again, there's still a story to be told there. But we now know, again, from the president's son and from the guilty plea, the admission of George Papadopoulos, that those conversations were going on.

So what do we know about them? Did the campaign say, "My God, we are dealing with an adversarial foreign power. We're dealing with an enemy around our presidential election. Therefore, we need to shut this down immediately"?

On the contrary, if I remember, the Don Jr. e-mails, he said something like along the lines of "I love it, and especially if the timing is such that it would affect the -- the election."

We know from the papers unsealed today that George Papadopoulos not only pursued this aggressively but did it with -- in consultation with other people in the campaign.

And then, of course, as you point out, Wolf, the president publicly urged Russia to hack or to release whatever they had from hacking Hillary's e-mails. So the question is, is this something that was, you know, as any prudent person would do, rejected by Donald Trump on down? No, it was celebrated. It was, as Donald Trump Jr. said, "I love it." That was the attitude they took to the efforts of the Russians to cultivate them.

BLITZER: The White House argues that the charges against Paul Manafort and Rick Gates have nothing to do with the 2016 presidential campaign. It's true that the charges relate to their business activities over many years, but that work did also involve some pro- Putin lobbying and involved their activities during the 2016 campaign, as well.

Does that White House defense to you, Congressman, make sense?

HIMES: Well, it sort of feels like grasping at straws. It may -- it may prove to be technically true. What Paul Manafort and -- and his partner have been charged with don't obviously point back to collusion with the campaign.

But despite Sarah Sanders' best effort of painting Paul Manafort as his sort of an extraneous and tangential person, this guy was the campaign chairman. We know that he has long-established links with pro-Russia people, and you can imagine that he now has a real incentive to be very honest for the first time, to be very, very honest about what those links, communications, efforts to reach out might have been. Technically speaking, the White House is right. These -- these crimes

that Manafort is charged with don't point to collusion, but they point to this individual, his caliber and his ethics; and this individual, at the end of the day, was chairman for the Donald Trump for president campaign.

BLITZER: Yes. Manafort and Gates now both under House arrest, Manafort $10 million bail; Gates $5 million bail.

We've got much more to work on. Congressman, I want you to stand by. We'll resume all of our breaking news coverage right after this.


[17:27:38] BLITZER: Our breaking news. The White House knocked on its heels by a surprise guilty plea from a former Trump campaign adviser who's now cooperating with the FBI. That comes as two former Trump campaign officials are indicted on charges which include conspiracy against the United States.

We're talking with Congressman Jim Himes of the House Intelligence Committee. Congressman, stand by. I want to bring in CNN's senior Washington correspondent, Brianna Keilar. Tell us about the guilty plea, Brianna.

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, this is very significant, because George Papadopoulos struck this plea deal in relation to a contact with a Russian source. So even as the White House is trying to say today that these indictments have nothing to do with campaign activities, this plea deal most certainly does.


KEILAR (voice-over): Tonight, a member of President Trump's campaign foreign policy team has pleaded guilty to making false statements to the FBI during its investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 election.

According to court documents unsealed today, George Papadopoulos pleaded guilty on October 5 to lying and omitting material facts after he was interviewed by the FBI starting in January about his contacts and connections with foreign sources, including Russian nationals.

Those documents state "Papadopoulos falsely described his interactions with a certain foreign contact who discussed dirt related to e-mails concerning then presidential candidate Hillary Clinton when, in truth and in fact, Papadopoulos had repeated communications with that foreign contact while Papadopoulos was serving as a foreign policy adviser to the campaign."

Papadopoulos e-mailed a high-ranking campaign official, who CNN has learned is Paul Manafort, and later a campaign supervisor, indicating the Russians wanted to meet Trump. One of those officials then forwarded the Papadopoulos e-mail to a separate campaign official, who CNN has learned is Rick Gates, writing, "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."

Then in July 2016, Papadopoulos said that a meeting between senior Trump campaign officials with Putin aides, quote, "has been approved from our side."

During the campaign, Papadopoulos exchanged numerous messages on Facebook with foreign contacts, one of whom he believed to be a Russian national with connections to the Russian ministry of foreign affairs.

In February, Papadopoulos shut down his Facebook account a day after speaking with FBI agents in a follow-up interview, an action the FBI believe demonstrated intent to obstruct and impede the FBI's ongoing investigation.

Papadopoulos' attorney declined to officially comment today, stating, "We will have the opportunity to comment on George's involvement when called upon by the court at a later date. We look forward to presenting all the facts that led to the events that resulted in this charge."

Papadopoulos joined the Trump campaign in March of 2016 after briefly serving as an adviser on Ben Carson's campaign. According to his LinkedIn page, Papadopoulos graduated from DePaul University in 2009 before earning his masters in securities studies in London.

A former Trump campaign official described Papadopoulos as having a significant amount of interactions with the Trump campaign while he was part of it, and Papadopoulos was touted by then-candidate Trump as an excellent guy in a meeting with "The Washington Post" editorial board.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We heard you might be announcing your foreign policy advisory team soon.

DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: George Papadopoulos, he's an energy and oil consultant, excellent guy.

KEILAR: But today the White House tried to characterize Papadopoulos's relationship with Trump much differently.

SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: This individual was the member of a volunteer advisory council that met one time over the course of a year, and he was part of a list that was read out in "The Washington Post." I'd hardly call that some sort of regular adviser.


KEILAR: Except what is clear is that George Papadopoulos did have contacts with high-level officials, Wolf, including the campaign chairman, Paul Manafort.

And what's so interesting about what we've learned is the timing of what he was saying. When he was initially interviewed in January by the feds, he tried to say that the foreign source, the Russian source that he'd been speaking to, he reached out to before he was a part of the campaign, but it became clear that it was only after he was associated with the campaign that that foreign source was interested, was very interested.

BLITZER: That's why he's now decided to plead guilty to all of this. He's got some issues. All right. Thanks very much for that.

We're back with the Democratic congressman, Jim Himes, of the Intelligence Committee.

Congressman, Papadopoulos was interviewed by the FBI, actually, on the same day that the president invited FBI director then at the time, James Comey, to dinner in an attempt to get a loyalty pledge from Comey. This is back in January. What do you make of that?

REP. JIM HIMES (D-CT), INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE: Well, obviously, we can't say for sure, but it's a coincidence. If Papadopoulos had indicated that he'd been interviewed by the FBI, maybe that catalyzed the president wanting to see if he couldn't twist Jim Comey's arm to make this thing go away.

But, you know, obviously that is something that probably nobody but Bob Mueller knows right now.

The other interesting issue, Wolf, is you know, I can't help but notice that in the last week or so, we've seen all of the usual crazy conspiracy theories, many of which we thought we disposed of long ago, chief amongst them Uranium One and, you know, did Hillary Clinton single-handedly approve a deal to sell U.S. uranium, you know, just the -- just the nonsense that we hear, not only be now subject to a congressional investigation but actually used in the media by everyone from "The Wall Street Journal" to the usual right-wing pundits.

And it's something of a coincidence to me that we're seeing a particularly dense cloud of mud thrown into the water just now, right before these indictments came down and the George Papadopoulos case was unsealed.

BLITZER: The guilty plea. Does your committee, the House Intelligence Committee, Congressman, want to interview Papadopoulos?

HIMES: Well, you know, it's an interesting question, Wolf. The answer to that is yes, and while I would suspect that Paul Manafort and his partner, who are, you know, under indictment, would not come before us -- obviously, no defense attorney on the planet would want them to do that -- because George Papadopoulos has already pled guilty and clearly has been cooperating, I would think that, with some assurances that he weren't in further legal jeopardy, he might consider testifying before Congress, particularly if Congress and the DOJ agreed that that would be a constructive help in our putting together our investigation and our study of what actually happened.

BLITZER: Congressman, thanks so much for joining us.

HIMES: Thank you, Wolf.

BLITZER: Jim Himes of Connecticut.

Coming up, the political impact of today's revelation that a Trump campaign adviser has pleaded guilty to Special Counsel Robert Mueller's Russia probe and has been proactively cooperating with the FBI. Are other members of the Trump team in legal jeopardy?


[17:39:40] BLITZER: Our breaking news today. Surprise revelation that a Trump campaign foreign policy adviser named George Papadopoulos already has pled guilty to charges in special counsel Robert Mueller's Russia probe and is now providing information about his contacts with senior Trump campaign officials and Russians offering dirt, dirt on Hillary Clinton.

Let's bring in our political specialists. And David Chalian, so we now know that the first effort to get Russian dirt on Hillary Clinton was made available back in April of 2016. The Trump campaign chairman, Paul Manafort, was aware of Papadopoulos' Russian connection, efforts to set up an in-person meeting between Trump and Kremlin officials. How significant is this?

DAVID CHALIAN, CNN POLITICAL DIRECTOR: Right. It's hugely significant, and here's why. Because what Sarah Sanders is saying from the White House podium doesn't hold water. That's why this is significant, because here in black and white, while the White House press secretary today says this has nothing to do with the campaign, absolutely nothing to do with it, here it is.

This person was working for the campaign and is setting up meetings for the campaign to interact with people who have relations with Russian officials or people that are connected to the Russian government in order to have a relationship to get Russia's desire to get some Hillary Clinton dirt -- They had thousands of e-mails, they say -- into the political bloodstream to hem Donald Trump.

So what we've learned from months ago and all my colleagues here have reported, that this is an effort to help [SIC] Hillary Clinton and harm [SIC] Donald Trump, this is that effort that we're seeing in black and white. For Sarah Sanders to say there's nothing to do with the campaign, it simply is not supported by the facts.

BLITZER: Susan Hennessey, you're a former National Security Agency attorney. How do these Papadopoulos communications line up with the public's understanding of Russian hacks and their influence, their efforts to influence the 2016 presidential election?

SUSAN HENNESSEY, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: So this is all occurring in the spring of 2016, a period in time in which we now know that the DNC e- mails and also John Podesta's e-mails had been hacked, but that wasn't yet publicly known at this point. There is some ambiguity about sort of what e-mails are they talking about. Are they talking about Podesta? Are they talking about DNC? Are they talking about these 33,000 e-mails that Hillary Clinton -- related to Hillary Clinton's time at the State Department that had been well known at this point? But it's clear, especially from the Papadopoulos plea agreement, that this -- these -- sort of the trend of communications continues well into June. June is when sort of the infamous Trump Tower meeting occurs, and at that period, it was publicly reported and well-known that there were Russian attempts to interfere in the election and, potentially, Russian hacking attempts.

BLITZER: But Bianna, after Papadopoulos sent an e-mail entitled "Request from Russia to Meet Mr. Trump," Paul Manafort, then the campaign chairman, forwarded that e-mail to his deputy, Rick Gates, and wrote, "Let's discuss. We need someone to communicate that D.T." -- Donald Trump -- "is not doing these trips. It should be someone low-level in the campaign so as not to send any signal."

How do you read that comment, that e-mail from Manafort?

BIANNA GOLODRYGA, YAHOO! NEWS: Well, one thing, Wolf, that comes to mind is the concept of plausible deniability.

Remember, Donald Trump at this time was already the front-runner to clinch the nomination. There had already been eyebrows raised by Republicans and Democrats as to why he was only leaping [SIC] praise towards Vladimir Putin. He hadn't said anything negative about him. A few months prior to that, he even said, you know, when he was asked by Bill O'Reilly, "He's a killer. He kills journalists." He said, "What, are we so innocent? We have killers here, too."

So the concept of the president, now Donald Trump, the nominee at the time, the candidate Trump, for him to have met with Vladimir Putin, which, I think, raised too many eyebrows. Thus, you could see the concept of some low-level person who works on the campaign, that the president can then say, "I don't even know who he was," setting up a meeting and passing along information to where both Vladimir Putin and Donald Trump could say, "I had no idea this was taking place. I have no idea what's going on," because I think that a meeting between the two of them would have just been too suspicious at the time.

BLITZER: Pamela Brown, you're -- the White House argues, and you heard it today, that the charges against Paul Manafort and Rick Gates have absolutely nothing to do with President Trump or the 2016 presidential campaign. Your reporting, though, suggests otherwise.

PAMELA BROWN, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Well, it is true that the charges don't relate specifically to his activities in the campaign but, according to the court documents, Wolf, the time frame in which these crimes are being committed, where both of them were allegedly taking millions of dollars from Ukraine, putting the money into offshore accounts, wiring the money, not reporting it, allegedly giving false and misleading statements, that ran all the way up through 2017.

So during the time that Paul Manafort was the campaign chairman, during the time Rick Gates was his deputy on the campaign, they were allegedly engaging in this type of behavior, which is notable because then-candidate Trump sort of ran on this idea that he surrounds himself with the best people. And now we have an example of two of the people on his campaign, while it may not have been the whole time, now being indicted, Wolf.

BLITZER: Yes, very serious indeed.

What do we know, Evan, about the so-called professor with good ties, good connections with Russians and this other Russian woman, supposedly a niece of Putin, that -- that Papadopoulos had communications with?


BLITZER: And described at length in these affidavits.

PEREZ: Apparently, he thinks it's the niece of Putin, but it turns out, perhaps, that he learns later that she is not.

Look, I think what's important about those contacts, that it really goes to what we've been talking, certainly, here for the last few months, which is the Russian playbook. It really highlights exactly what the Russians are -- have been up to.

And one of the things that we know is that, you know, they reached out to Papadopoulos just right after President Trump names him as one of his national security advisers in a meeting with "The Washington Post."

They were targeting him. They were using him. They thought they had somebody that they could use to try to get into an access to the campaign. That was what this was.

And if you look at what these documents describe, I mean, it's sort of -- you know, a lot of us have been talking about collusion, whether or not it's a crime and whether or not we'd ever find proof of it. Well, if you look at these pages, this is what collusion looks like.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Well, that and that Russian efforts succeeded, right?

RAJU: Exactly. It succeed. It insinuated itself into the campaign through Papadopoulos and perhaps other people. And look, the meeting didn't happen, but it does tell you exactly what they were trying to do.

PAMELA BROWN, CNN JUSTICE AND SUPREME CORRESPONDENT: And we have reporting that they tried to do it allegedly with Carter Page and other low-level policy advisers.

RAJU: And other people, correct.


BROWN: And you can understand now, in retrospect, why intelligence officials sort of were sounding the alarm, seeing these curious contacts between these lower level -- and we don't know how high up it goes -- people in the campaign and the Russians because they saw, at least on the Russian side, at the very least, an effort to infiltrate the campaign. GOLODRYGA: Yes.

DAVID CHALIAN, CNN POLITICAL DIRECTOR: Well, we know it goes high enough to Donald Trump, Jr. because the e-mail --

BROWN: That's right. Yes.

CHALIAN: -- about the infamous Trump Tower meeting suggests that they saw Donald Trump, Jr. as a possible avenue.

BLITZER: Very quickly, Bianna.

GOLODRYGA: Well, and I was just going to say that this comes at a time where, now, you see that Russia had access to Hillary Clinton's e-mails, potentially not knowing necessarily what to do with it.

Oh, music to the ears. Here's the front-runner who is lauding praise towards Russia talking about bettering the relations between the two countries. And then you can see, huh, maybe the Russians are saying this is the person we should be dealing with in truth to get something in exchange.

BLITZER: All right. Everybody stand by. There's a lot more coming in to THE SITUATION ROOM. Let's take a quick break. We'll be right back.


[17:51:38] BLITZER: We're going to take a closer look now at an important part of today's breaking news, President Trump's one-time campaign chairman, Paul Manafort, pleading not guilty to charges brought by Special Counsel Robert Mueller. One of Manafort's top associates also was indicted, also pleading not guilty.

Our Brian Todd has a closer look at the allegations. Brian, what are you finding?

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, tonight, we're getting more information about how Paul Manafort allegedly repeatedly worked against America's interest and worked for a government in Ukraine that was considered a puppet of Vladimir Putin's.

This indictment also alleges that Manafort even went so far as to support the imprisonment of a rival of the Ukrainian President, a pro- Western politician who wanted Ukraine to join NATO.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Mr. Manafort, did you commit a crime?

TODD (voice-over): While the indictment revealed today against the President's former campaign manager may not point to a direct relationship with Russia, it reveals a web of close connections between Paul Manafort and some of Vladimir Putin's most valuable allies. Including this man, Viktor Yanukovych, the former Ukrainian President,

who was viewed by many as Putin's puppet in the former Soviet Republic. A brutal leader who wanted to maintain control of his country.

And for years, Manafort was paid millions to sell Yanukovych's interests on the world stage.

KEITH DARDAN, ASSOCIATE PROFESSOR, AMERICAN UNIVERSITY SCHOOL OF INTERNATIONAL SERVICE: He was working for a government that was trying to keep Ukraine out of NATO, was moving against U.S. interest within Ukraine and within Europe, more broadly, and was siding with Russia on every international issue.

So to the extent that we were at odds with Russia and Europe, he was working for the other sides.

TODD (voice-over): Yanukovych has been accused of corruption and was ousted during a violent uprising in 2014 by pro-Western forces. For years, he pushed a pro-Putin agenda in his country, pushing to maintain ties with Russia, and working to keep the country from joining NATO or becoming more democratic.

Tonight, the U.S. government suggests Paul Manafort and his partner, Rick Gates, were part of that effort, hiding for years the fact that they were working for him, acting, quote, as unregistered agents of the government of Ukraine and the party of regions which, a former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine tells CNN, was a group favored by the Kremlin.

JOHN HERBST, FORMER UNITED STATES AMBASSADOR TO UKRAINE: That part of the region has also, at times, found it in its interests to take strong anti-NATO actions.

For example, when there were exercises in Crimea in the summer of 2006, they were busy organizing demonstrations against them. And so from the standpoint of American interests, this was questionable, you might say.

TODD (voice-over): One example in the indictment, firms directed by Manafort and Gates, quote, lobbied multiple members of Congress and their staffs about the impropriety of Yanukovych's imprisoning his political rival, Yulia Tymoshenko. Tymoshenko was a former Prime Minister of Ukraine who wanted her country to join NATO.

HERBST: Clearly, if this was a Manafort initiative, then what he was doing certainly does not -- seems to be something very nasty.

She was the principal rival to Yanukovych, and probably, in a free and fair election, she would have won. So she was seen as a great danger and so he put her in jail. And that was political repression, pure and simple.

TODD (voice-over): One reason Manafort may have wanted to hide many of his dealings with Yanukovych? According to the indictment, Manafort laundered more than $18 million he received from the Ukrainian government.


[17:55:02] TODD: The White House says the indictment of Paul Manafort and Rick Gates has nothing to do with the President or his campaign. Manafort and Gates have pleaded not guilty to all the charges in the indictment, including money laundering.

Manafort also denies ever knowingly communicating with Russian intelligence operatives during the election, and he denies participating in any Russian efforts to undermine the interests of the United States -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right. Brian, thanks very, very much.

Coming up, more breaking news, the White House knocked on its heels by a surprise guilty plea from a former Trump campaign adviser now cooperating with the FBI. And that comes as two former Trump campaign officials are indicted on charges which include conspiracy against the United States.


BLITZER: Happening now, breaking news. Evidence of collusion? A former Trump campaign advisor admits he lied to the FBI about his Russia contacts in a surprise deal to cooperate with investigators.

[18:00:04] The plea by George Papadopoulos reveals critical new information about Moscow's election meddling and its outreach to the Trump camp.