Return to Transcripts main page


Michael Flynn Pleads Guilty to Lying to FBI. Aired 11:30-12p ET

Aired December 1, 2017 - 11:30   ET


[11:30:00] KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: With me now, more on these developments, back with me is Michael Moore, a former U.S. attorney. and Jeffrey Toobin, CNN chief legal analyst and former federal prosecutor.

Jeffrey, on this new information that is coming in from inside the courtroom, some answers to some of the questions Gloria actually posed, who directed Flynn to have these conversations or was he freelancing. According to prosecutors, according to the FBI, a Trump transition official directed Flynn to have these conversations. These previously unknown discussions specifically between the Russian ambassador and Michael Flynn about that U.N. Security Council vote. That was not known before. It is now. That's coming out in this hearing. Your reaction to all this?

JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: Well, you know, that's only the beginning of what we need to know about these conversations. Yes, he was told to have these conversations by a Trump transition official. Who was it. And then perhaps more importantly, who did he tell about those conversations? These are certainly presidential level -- this is presidential level information, so it is critical to know whether he shared this with the president.

BOLDUAN: Actually, Jeffrey, just as you're asking that, my producer is handing me more information coming out from the courtroom, that gets to exactly what you're asking. From inside the courtroom, the prosecutor statement in court -- and I'll read it. This is fascinating, "December 29th, Flynn called senior Trump transition team at Mar-a-Lago to discuss conversations with Kislyak. There were multiple conversations with the transition while he was having conversations with Kislyak about Russia sanctions and the Russia response."

The prosecutors did not name who these transition officials were, though. Fascinating.

TOOBIN: Yes. I mean, yes. We're getting piecemeal information about what went on here. I think it is critical to find out why he had these conversations, at whose direction, did anyone now that he was going to lie to the FBI? Did anyone know he was going to be interviewed by the FBI? And what did he tell people, and did he tell the president or the president-elect about these conversations? I mean, it's -- this has to be done --

(CROSSTALK) BOLDUAN: A little bit and raises more questions.

TOOBIN: Sorry?

BOLDUAN: We're getting these little bits, but it raises many more important questions.

TOOBIN: Yes. It certainly does. We're agreeing about that.

BOLDUAN: We can always agree on that.

Michael, something that I've kind of wondering as all of this is playing out, more information from the courtroom about what the FBI knows, what they -- and what is in this plea, why would prosecutors cut the deal with him?

MICHAEL MOORE, FORMER U.S. ATTORNEY: Well, they're trying to get more information on people, perhaps involved in a cover-up or obstruction or a violation of the Logan Act or whatever theory that Bob Mueller is moving forward on. The hearing that took place today is a very simple hearing. It's just to come forward and say yes, based on this indictment, which is basically a page and a half charging document, it's an information indictment, that, you know, I did those things. The prosecutor has to set out how they believe the government would prove that and why, in fact, these are lies and how they know that's a lie. They're not telling the whole story. They're not under any duty in the courtroom to talk about other aspects of the investigation or statements Flynn might have made about conversations with Donald Trump or Paul Manafort. This is a fairly limited-information charging document that sets forth several ways which they allege that he committed a violation of the federal law. And to simply giving some information to support moving forward and support the court accepting this plea. So we really don't know what else is out there. But I can tell you that having looked at this, and been involved in plea negotiations for some time, that this tells me that Bob Mueller's team has gotten some information from Michael Flynn they believe to be critical in their investigation going forward. Now, whether that's an investigation against Trump, whether that is an investigation on Jared Kushner, or little don, or Manafort or whoever it is, then it tells me that they believe that he's got credible information that is essential for them to give him this type of plea.

BOLDUAN: Michael, Jeffrey, hold on one second.

I want to head back to the courthouse in D.C., the federal courthouse where Michael Flynn is inside.

Evan Perez is outside and getting more detail -- Evan?

[11:35:33] EVAN PEREZ, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Kate. We have now on the record statement from lieutenant general Michael Flynn, retired General Michael Flynn. I will read the entire statement. He says, "After over 33 years of military service to our country, including five years in combat, away from my family, and then my decision to continue to serve the United States, it has been an extraordinarily painful to endure these many months of false accusations of treason and other outrageous acts. Such false accusations are contrary to everything I have stood -- I've ever done and stood for. But I recognize that the actions I acknowledge in court today were wrong. And through my faith in God I am working to set things right. My guilty plea and agreement to cooperate with the special counsel's office reflected the decision I made in the interest -- best interest of my family and of our country. I expect -- I accept full responsibility for my actions."

There you have Michael Flynn for the first time officially acknowledging that he, obviously, has pleaded guilty and he has agreed to cooperate with the office of special counsel. Obviously, a painful day for somebody who has served the country for three decades. We know his family members were in court today watching this all go down. He's going to exit this courthouse with people holding signs that say, "lock him up" "people power versus Putin power." People who are unhappy with the Trump administration and with what Michael Flynn has done.

But there's no doubt, you know, after serving the country for 30 years, it's a difficult day for Michael Flynn to be pleading guilty to a federal crime in the courthouse here in Washington.

BOLDUAN: Yes. I mean, of course, Michael Flynn very famously during the Republican convention joined in the chants of "lock her up" why the signs are out there now.

Let me go back to Jeffrey and Michael, back with me.

Jeffrey, we have confirmation from Michael Flynn himself in the statement he is cooperating with the special counsel's office. What -- do we find out what that cooperation is?

TOOBIN: Well, we don't know the full extent of it. We know that he has agreed to cooperate and be fully debriefed in this -- and the information that the prosecutor is saying in court, even as we speak, right here, is certainly part of the information he provided.

If I can just react a little to --

BOLDUAN: Of course.

TOOBIN: -- to Michael Flynn's statement there. He served for 33 years. And, you know, I think it's an insult to the hundreds of thousands of veterans in this country who manage to serve their country admirably for 30 years or three years, and then not become convicted felons. Just because you served your country in the military, doesn't mean that you get a pass for being convicted felon which is what Michael Flynn is right now. Most veterans in this country are honorable, law abiding citizens, not felons, like Michael Flynn. The idea that, you know, he gets, you know, he gets credit and somehow an excuse that he served his country I think is pretty unpersuasive, at least to me.

BOLDUAN: All right. So breaking news in, Michael Flynn, pleads guilty to lying to the FBI in a federal courtroom right now. We are looking outside the courthouse waiting for him to depart. Also confirming a statement is Evan Perez was reading he is cooperating with the special counsel, with Robert Mueller's team, in their investigation into Russian collusion during the 2016 election with the Trump campaign.

Much more on this breaking news after a quick break.


[11:42:43] BOLDUAN: All right. We are back following the breaking news coming out of Washington. President Trump's former national security adviser, Michael Flynn, pleading guilty moments ago to lying to the FBI in conjunction with conversations he had with then Russian ambassador to the United States Sergey Kislyak, pleading guilty. And in a statement that he issued moments ago confirming he is now cooperating with Robert Mueller and his special counsel team.

I'll read you just a part of the statement. "My guilty plea and agreement to cooperate with the special counsel's office reflects a decision I made in the best interest of my family and of our country. I accept full responsibility for my actions."

Michael Flynn, we are waiting to depart from the courthouse any time now, and we will bring that to you when it happens.

With me Michael Moore, former U.S. attorney, and Steven Levin, former federal prosecutor and former U.S. attorney.

Thank you for being here.

Steven, new voice to the conversation, your reaction to everything we're seeing coming out especially what we're hearing now from Michael Flynn?

STEVEN LEVIN, FORMER FEDERAL PROSECUTOR & FORMER U.S. ATTORNEY: So just to follow up on Jeffrey Toobin's point, before the break, I have been in the Army for almost 30 years, I was active duty and now I'm in the reserves and as Jeffrey mentioned, I am offended by Michael Flynn's remarks about his prior service. It is his military service that put him in a position that he was in and he squandered that opportunity to serve this country, to continue to serve this country, by lying to FBI officials. So it is offensive. His remarks should have been nothing more than I lied to the FBI, I regret it, I have extreme remorse for it and I chose to plead guilty and cooperate. Instead, he distances himself from any feelings of remorse, and just says, well, what I did was in my family's best interest. But then he references his military background. So, it's offensive and I don't think he served himself well by making --


BOLDUAN: I'm going to cut you off. Looking at Michael Flynn leave right now. Let's listen.


(SHOUTING) [11:45:14] BOLDUAN: And that was a quick departure. Michael Flynn,

retired general -- retired lieutenant general, departing after the courthouse after he becomes the first member of the Trump administration to be charged and plead guilty in Robert Mueller's Russia investigation. Quick departure, no surprise. Absolutely.

Steven, you're back with me still.

As you were just reacting, and I think your reaction is very important, that gets to what Michael Flynn said in this -- I think we lost Steven.

Let me go to you, Michael, because, of course, you're qualified to answer this question as well.

Michael Flynn departs the courthouse, what is next?

MOORE: Well, this is not a charge that requires even a consideration for mandatory incarceration after a plea. There are some charges that do. This is not one. He will be out. There will be a presentence report that's prepared that will give the court some information on his background. My guess that will be pushed off, sentencing some time months away that will give the special counsel time to continuing to talk to Flynn, to continue to talk to people around him.

I'm not surprised really at all to hear his statement. I've heard those statements from both people that I've prosecuted and people I've represented. And they get in there and they invoke god and invoke country and they -- somehow, they think that cleanses them of all wrong doing. But in this case, this is not a situation where he got caught drunk driving on the Army post. This is a situation where he during the time of presidential transition, he was communicating with a foreign government about effecting international policy and matters affecting our national security. This is not a small thing. You don't get to shrug it off. I'm not surprised to hear him talk about all the great things he's done, because I don't know how a man of much substance would have stood up cheering about locking Hillary Clinton up when he knew this type of thing was going on in his background, too, and was capable of making these communications with Russian officials. So I don't really think there's anything spectacular about what he said.

We know from the documents he's cooperating. We know probably from the timing of this that he's cooperating. We don't know who the target now is or the targets are for the Mueller investigation but my guess they've been squeezing Michael Flynn pretty hard to get information that he knows about high up Trump administration officials and what communications and dealings are going on with Russia. As I said earlier, not many months ago, the president liked to call this fake news and a fake investigation and a witch hunt. As of today, this -- there is no fake investigation. There is no fake news. There is no witch hunt. Mike Flynn, a high-ranking member of the Trump administration, in charge of our national security, has now come in and admitted that the allegations are, in fact, true.

So, the tone has changed for the investigation, the perspective has changed, and my belief is probably that right now, that's why people in the White House are -- have white knuckles as they grab on to the desk and watch the news of Mike Flynn's guilty plea today.

BOLDUAN: Let's find out. Let's get more reaction of what we're hearing from folks around the president right now.

Let's get over to White House correspondent, Jim Acosta. Jim, has more reaction coming in from the White House -- Jim?

JIM ACOSTA, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORREPONDENT: That's right, Kate. We do have that statement from Ty Cobb the White House attorney that just came in a few moments ago, basically, and I think you addressed this earlier, that they feel that these false statements, that Michael Flynn is admitting to, really just pertain to him. Now, obviously, that, as your guest was just saying a few moments ago, that is not exactly the case. The president of the United States has told reporters repeatedly that the Russia investigation is fake news, that there were no contacts between his campaign and his associates and the Russians. We now know all of that to be false. And in this Ty Cobb statement, it goes on to say that they believe that Michael Flynn's cooperation will somehow lead to a speedy conclusion or a swift conclusion to all of this. I was talking to a source close to the White House earlier this morning who advises this White House on strategy, communication strategy, and this person was saying that this is not good for this White House. Somebody who usually offers a lot of fresh spin in terms of White House activities over here, Kate, this person was being pretty blunt, that this is not good, that this really is to be determined in terms of what happens next with the Russia collusion investigation. But this person was also trying to make the point, and I think that's why you're seeing some of this creeping into the White House statement here, they're trying to make the point that this is Michael Flynn's poor judgment here, it was the words used by this one particular source, they feel that that does not paint the rest of the White House in the same fashion. But make no mistake, if Michael Flynn is cooperating with investigators saying that he was directed by Trump transition officials to make contacts with the Russians, that, obviously, involves more people than just Michael Flynn and this investigation is going to drag on -- Kate?

[11:50:21] BOLDUAN: Jim, I'm looking for the exact wording that came out from inside the courtroom. But one thing that did come out was that in this plea agreement, Michael Flynn made clear that the officials directed his contacts with Russian officials and that he also then reported back to transition, unnamed transition officials about the contacts while it was ongoing. There seems to be questions of who the transition officials would be of course, Jim. And also that seems to contradict what Ty Cobb is going after, that this is Michael Flynn alone.

ACOSTA: To try to make the case that this is isolated to Michael Flynn is not going to work anymore. If Michael Flynn is telling federal investigators that Trump transition officials were directing him during that transition period, keep in mind there are other legal implications with all of this. The U.S. government operates one administration at a time. It would have been the Obama administration that would have been in contact with the Russians with a government propriety standpoint when it comes to dealing with the Russia sanctions. Apparently, that was what Michael Flynn was lying about, about these sanctions imposed on Russia after the election in response to Russian meddling in the 2016 election. Michael Flynn is an adviser or was an adviser to the president-elect and not his job to mitigate the sanctions during the transition period. After January 20th, sure, that is part of his responsibilities. That is why the special counsel's office is looking at all of this. There are propriety issues that Michael Flynn should not have been conducting that business with the Russians before they were sworn into office. My guess is that there are other Trump transition officials that will be asked about this.

I was talking to somebody before going on the air who was saying, and this might be a cover that you hear later from other people here at the White House, that, yes, Michael Flynn might have been directed to talk to the Russians, but various officials were directed to talk to people from different governments during that period to start making contacts with foreign governments as the Trump team was coming into office.


ACOSTA: So you may hear that argument being made as it moves forward -- Kate?

BOLDUAN: We directed them to talk, we didn't direct them to cut a deal. I see what you are saying.

ACOSTA: That's right. Big distinction.

BOLDUAN: I've got it.

ACOSTA: Absolutely.

BOLDUAN: And an important one. How this plays out is an important distinction to make.

Jim Acosta. Thank you, Jim. We will be getting back to you.

As Jim was mentioning, this was playing out, the conversations were playing out during the Obama administration during the transition. We will get reaction after the break from a former Obama official to this breaking news, the president's former national security adviser, Michael Flynn, pleading guilty in federal court moments ago and also acknowledging he is cooperating now with Bob Mueller's investigation, the special counsel, looking into collusion with Russians and the Trump campaign. That investigation and much more on the breaking news after this.





[11:55:55] BOLDUAN: Breaking news we are following, moments ago, Michael Flynn left the federal courthouse in Washington, D.C. The president's former national security adviser pleading guilty to lying to the FBI about conversations he had with then Russian ambassador to the United States. And also in court acknowledging that he is cooperating with the special counsel's investigation.

Joining me now for more reaction, David Axelrod, CNN senior political commentator, and was the senior adviser to President Obama, also the host of "The Axe Files."


BOLDUAN: I want to get your reaction on how all this is playing out this morning.

AXELROD: Well, I have several. One is to see Michael Flynn, who just 10 months ago was national security adviser, walk into that courthouse surrounded by his lawyers and plead guilty was a sobering thing. It was also a testimony to the fact that we are a nation of laws and not of men. That's something that the president seems not to fully grasp at times. It is reassuring that there is a system of laws and nobody is above them. It was a sobering moment, but on the other hand an inspiring moment to know that the system does work in that way.

In terms of my other reaction, it was widely reported at the beginning during the transition that President Obama had counseled President- elect Trump not to appoint Michael Flynn as national security adviser.

BOLDUAN: That's right.

AXELROD: I don't know what President Obama was privy to but, clearly, he was privy to intel and some of this may have crept into the advice he gave President Trump. It turns out, it was very good advice.

BOLDUAN: The context is important, and I want to get your take on it. He pled guilty and the Russian response to sanctions imposed when President Obama was in place. Also on the Russian response to U.N. Security Council vote with regard to Israel. This all during the transition when the president was President Obama. As a former Obama official, what do you say?

AXELROD: Not just as a former Obama official, but I was with him during the transition.


AXELROD: And it's against the law to pursue your own foreign policy in the transition when there is a sitting president. This is a serious thing.

BOLDUAN: You actually posed something interesting. Gloria asked this question, David, would he be freelancing in the conversations, would he be directed?

AXELROD: No. Right

BOLDUAN: I want to get your take. In court, they say he was directed by the transition to have these conversations. The White House's reaction is -

AXELROD: Well, remember, not just in --


BOLDUAN: Go ahead.

AXELROD: There was another subject in there, which was the U.N. resolution relative to Israel, something Jared Kushner was deeply involved in, which may explain why he was called in the other day. It is inconceivable that Michael Flynn, particularly someone who has grown up in the military, went and did these things without some instruction from others, from people above him. I'm sure that this is a major subject of discussion between him and the special counsel and one that must be of great concern to the White House right now.

BOLDUAN: When Ty Cobb, the White House lawyer, Ty Cobb, said, "Nothing about the guilty plea or the charge implicates anyone other than Mr. Flynn," what do you think is going on in the White House right now?

AXELROD: He is technically right, but he also must know the implications of that plea. Michael Flynn pled guilty to a count based on something understanding he has with the special counsel and his commitment to cooperate. The White House knows, and the president and the people around him know what Michael Flynn knows. So I'm sure that there are deep concerns and some intensive discussions going on right now.

BOLDUAN: To say the very least.

David, it's great to see you.

I want to make sure --

AXELROD: Good to see you, Kate.

BOLDUAN: -- our viewers know that tomorrow there is a very important episode of "The Axe Files" that, of course, David is hosting. "The Axe Files" with Tom Hanks. That's at 7:00 p.m. eastern. You don't want to miss that.

David, thanks for you time --