Return to Transcripts main page

CNN NEWSROOM

Michael Flynn Expected to Plead Guilty to Lying to FBI. Aired 10-10:30a ET

Aired December 1, 2017 - 10:00   ET

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


[10:00:00]

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN Breaking News.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: The major breaking news this morning, you are looking at live pictures from Washington, D.C., the federal courthouse, where any minute, we are expecting to see former national security adviser Michael Flynn. He will appear in court and is expected to plead guilty to one count of lying to the FBI twice. Remember, Michael Flynn, a key foreign policy adviser to then candidate Trump's campaign, then ultimately the national security adviser in the White House for more than 20 days before he was fired. This is a major advance in the special counsel's investigation into possible Russian interference into the election.

Let's get straight to our chief national security correspondent Jim Sciutto in Washington, with the details. Jim?

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Well, we're hearing here now in this indictment as far as we have seen so far from Robert Mueller, it is one count of lying to the FBI. This relates to conversations that Michael Flynn had during the transition, specifically in December 2016, with then Russian ambassador to the U.S., Sergey Kislyak. Now on the face of it, just one count, just one count of lying, conversations with the Russian ambassador.

But remember the context here. These conversations came around the time that the Obama administration and, of course, President Obama was still president at the time, had imposed new sanctions on Russia for interference in the 2016 election. And these conversations, the question is, was Michael Flynn conveying that the new sheriff in town, that the incoming president, president-elect Donald Trump, was going to have a different approach to Russia? This is why these conversations are important for one reason. Two because they were with Russia, part of the broader investigation here, were there contacts, were there conversations between Trump and Russia that went beyond the pale to some degree. And then, of course, the question why did Michael Flynn then lie about those conversations?

So, the initial indictment here, one count of lying, but the context of this relevant to the broader investigation because it was with Russia, it was at a time that the outgoing president had just imposed new sanctions on Russia and an incoming president who had spoken very publicly about having a different approach to Russia, what was being conveyed in those conversations and of course the obvious question, why did Michael Flynn, Jr., lie about those conversations? Beyond that there is the broader legal question here, often prosecutors in cases like this, will go for the lowest hanging fruit as it were legally. The charge that they can substantiate most quickly, which raises a question, we don't know, is Michael Flynn, Jr., willing to cooperate on a broader investigation? Because we know that special counsel was also looking into other potential illegal activities by Michael Flynn including not reporting himself as a foreign agent for work, paid work, he did for overseas countries, France -- rather Russia and Turkey included.

In addition to that, we know the special counsel was also looking into why Michael Flynn did not properly report income he received from foreign entities, specifically from Russia for paid speech he gave in December 2015 at a gala honoring R.T., which is a Russian news network which U.S. Intelligence views as a propaganda arm of the Kremlin. So we know that the special counsel was looking at other potential illegal activity. Why was this not included in here, we don't know the answer to that question. And then, final question I would just mention, John, we've spoken about this, what is the legal position of Michael Flynn, Jr., because we know that he, as well, was under legal scrutiny by the special counsel because he was very involved very closely and directly in Michael Flynn, Sr.'s business activities overseas.

BERMAN: Look, let's just say this clearly, number one, trying to influence a former -- foreign adversary, a different government when you are not working for the administration. That is illegal. That is a big deal. Lying to the FBI, that is illegal, that is a big deal. The biggest deal here may be what we don't know, which is if this means that Michael Flynn is cooperating with the special counsel's office in this investigation and perhaps providing information about other figures within the administration. Other figures perhaps more senior and you don't get much more senior than the national security adviser.

Let's go outside the courthouse right now. You see live pictures there. Our Evan Perez is standing by there. Evan, we expect, perhaps, to see Michael Flynn walk in in the next few minutes?

EVAN PEREZ, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: That's right, John. We expect that he will be arriving here at the courthouse. That the hearing is scheduled for 10:30 a.m. before a federal judge, and the expectation is that he's going to plead guilty to this one count of criminal information that has been filed. It's a criminal information that has been filed by the Office of Special Counsel and the difference here is between that and an indictment is that a criminal information is charged usually as a sign that there is a plea deal, that the defendant is going to come into court and agree to this one charge that the prosecutors have filed against him.

[10:05:13] And really, what we see in the two-page document that was filed in the courthouse this morning is that what they're saying is that he essentially lied to the FBI four times. There were four lies that he told the FBI. Two of them had to do with relations to sanctions that the Obama administration had imposed in reaction to the meddling in the 2016 election. The other lies had to do with an argument that the U.S. was having with the Israelis over a resolution in the United Nations for the first time in a long time, the United States had decided not to veto a resolution that was essentially condemning the Israeli government.

And so, that is what the second set of lies so to speak was really what this was all about. And so, the government has now charged him with one count of making these four false statements to the FBI and from all appearances, Michael Flynn has decided to plead guilty to that. We don't know whether or not what other agreements they have made, whether or not he is going to provide continuing cooperation with the government. We don't know the other details of the agreement. We expect that we're going to learn a lot more when the court hearing convenes at 10:30 a.m., John.

BERMAN: All right, Evan Perez, stand by for us. I do want to note the White House has made no official statement on this to date and President Trump, who likes to say many kinds of different things out loud and also on social media, has not posted anything on Twitter for the last three hours.

Joined now by CNN's chief legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin. Jeffrey, any minute now, we are expecting to see the president's former national security adviser Michael Flynn walk into that federal courthouse and plead guilty to lying to the FBI, a significant milestone in the special counsel's investigation.

JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN CHIEF LEGAL ANALYST: Well, it certainly is. And if you look at the information which is essentially the equivalent of an indictment, an information is what a prosecutor files when a defendant waves indictment, agrees to plead guilty without going to the grand jury. But if you look at the indictment -- I mean, one of the remarkable things is, is this crime was committed while Michael Flynn was the national security adviser. This is not something that took place during the campaign, and, you know, that's a profound thing, to think that the national security adviser to the president, someone who is in the interest of inner circles in the White House, was actually committing a crime while he was -- while he was working in the White House.

And, of course, you know, this -- it is a very important moment in and of itself, but the question that, of course, it raises is, what's next? Does he cooperate and does he have any information about other crimes, other activities, within the special counsel, Robert Mueller's investigation?

BERMAN: And again you have been around and near these types of investigations, back when you were a working lawyer, Jeffrey, so the fact that he is pleading guilty to this charge, a narrow charge. I'm not saying it's insignificant, but it is narrow here. Does the fact that he is pleading guilty to this, tell you that there is something bigger at play here?

TOOBIN: Well, I don't think we can speculate about that. I think certainly a prosecutor doesn't accept a plea bargain without cooperation in virtually all circumstances. And the other question is is he pleading guilty to this narrow crime of lying to the FBI, does that mean that he didn't commit other crimes? You know, issues involving lobbying, issues involving reporting of income? And the answer to that is no. It does not mean that he doesn't commit -- he didn't commit those other crimes. Plea bargains are bargains. Each side gets something and one of the things defendants get in a plea bargain is they plead to one count when potentially they are exposed to multiple counts. So this doesn't mean he was not guilty of other crimes.

Again, it's going to be very important to hear what -- how he pleads guilty in court today, in just a few minutes, about 20 minutes. And then, what's very important is whether the prosecutors will release the cooperation agreement. Cooperation agreements are not oral agreements, they are written agreements, and oftentimes they become public at a time of a guilty plea. So that's something very much to look at. What sort of agreement Michael Flynn has made to assist the continuing investigation of Robert Mueller.

BERMAN: Could that documentation, the terms of the agreement come out as soon as today, Jeffrey?

[10:10:02] TOOBIN: Absolutely, absolutely. That -- it is sometimes filed the day of the guilty plea. I mean it varies by jurisdiction how that works. And also, you know, Mueller is in a unique situation, he is not a member of the U.S. Attorney's Office. He is literally an independent prosecutor, and he and his team will make the judgment about how much is disclosed about his cooperation in their own fashion. And that's why it's important to wait and see what happens at 10:30 a.m.

BERMAN: All right, Jeffrey, standby for a second here because we are getting reaction from someone close to the president here. Our Gloria Borger reports. I want to read this to you because it's interesting. One source close to the president attempted to mitigate the severity of the charge against Flynn by pointing out that everyone lies in Washington. The source will not comment on the record, seemed to be trying to figure out the implications of the charge along with everyone else. Although the source maintained that he was still not worried about any potential cooperation between Flynn and the prosecutors, if that were to be the case. That again, Jeffrey, while I have you, react to that, a source close to the president, not worried about any cooperation between Flynn and the prosecutors, do you believe it?

TOOBIN: I think Gloria's source might work on his or her spin a little better than "everyone lies." I don't think that's going to be a persuasive argument. I think what you are going to hear and what I have heard from lawyers affiliated with Trump, I've been interviewing Jay Sekulow, who is one of Trump's private lawyers, Ty Cobb, who is the special counsel, who is the special -- the lawyer in the White House who was in charge of dealing with the Mueller investigation.

BERMAN: Right.

TOOBIN: The point they have been making is you know, anything that Michael Flynn could plead guilty to, has nothing to do with Donald Trump. BERMNAN: Right.

TOOBIN: And certainly, you will hear that about this guilty plea today. A false statement to the FBI on January 24th, 2017 does not tell you that the Trump campaign or certainly Donald Trump did anything untoward with Russia during the campaign. It is a discreet crime. It is an individual crime. It is not a conspiracy. And that, I think, is a legitimate point to make on the part of, you know, Trump partisans. I think "everybody lies" is not a very effective argument. Everybody does not lie when they are interviewed by the FBI. I assure you of that.

BERMAN: All right, I want to bring in our chief political correspondent Dana Bash joins us now. Dana, again, we're hearing people, Gloria talking to, trying to downplay this, you know. But the fact remains, Michael Flynn was the national security adviser, you don't get much closer to the president. He was the chief foreign policy adviser during the campaign. He is a major player or was a major player in Trump world.

DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: No question. And you look at the date that the -- that Michael Flynn was interviewed, January 24th, 2017. He was on the job for four days, three and a half days probably. It was right after the inauguration. So he was really a freshly minted national security adviser being asked about really important conversations that he had with the Russian ambassador and if he is going to plead guilty as we are being told in about 15 minutes, he lied about it. The sitting national security adviser being interviewed by the FBI, and seemingly, lied about it.

Everyone lies, no. That is -- I mean, what Jeffrey said is totally true. I mean, give me a break. On the political side of this, John, of course they're downplaying it in Trump world. I'm hearing it as well, because of the narrow scope of this charge. However, if, in fact, Michael Flynn does go on to work with prosecutors, then it's a whole new ball game. And I think at the end of the day, we have to remember that Michael Flynn and Donald Trump were together practically 24/7 during the campaign.

He was his national security adviser but his playing buddy. He was around and involved in so much that went on in the Trump campaign. And that is something that prosecutors can and likely will use to the nth degree if in fact Michael Flynn does make a deal with them. And politically, you know, there is no question that that is something that, you know, has a lot of people inside the White House and around the White House worried. Not necessarily saying that, you know, that we know that there was something to be worried about, but I think any time you have somebody on the inner most circle potentially talking to prosecutors who are investigating the president on down, it's not a comfortable position to be in.

[10:15:12] BERMAN: You know, Dana, stand by. Not just a key foreign policy adviser Michael Flynn, you know he was on stage at the convention during the "lock her up" chants. Of course, that had to do with Hillary Clinton, you know. He, of course, is in a key memorable picture with Russian leader Vladimir Putin that I want to talk about in just a second. You know, Jim Sciutto, to you, the idea, you know the spin that might be out there, that oh, this doesn't really relate to the president, doesn't hold a lot of water, Jim.

SCIUTTO: Well, John, the timing of this plea agreement is remarkable. It was two years ago almost to the day when the event that this picture we showed up there chronicles took place. That was Michael Flynn, a supporter of President Trump and his soon-to-be national security adviser sitting next to the Russian President Vladimir Putin at a gala in Moscow honoring R.T., a Russian television station, which U.S. Intelligence views as a propaganda arm of the Kremlin, interesting bedfellows.

Two, keep in mind this, we know that Michael Flynn was paid for the speech that you're seeing him give right there now, more than $30,000. We know that Michael Flynn did not report that payment. We know that Michael Flynn lied about the source of that payment in public comments. He said he did not receive any money from the Russian government. We now know through documentation that, one, R.T. paid the money, R.T. is tied to the Russian government, that money was routed through London and through Michael Flynn's speaker's bureau which represents people when they give paid speeches abroad but the money certainly came from Russia and that's something that Michael Flynn was not forthcoming about. We also know that that lack of reporting that payment was also subject of legal scrutiny, subject to this investigation by the special counsel. It's not included in the plea agreement that was unsealed today. But doesn't mean that that's still not a legal question for which Michael Flynn might face legal consequences. That's a small picture.

But big picture, here is Michael Flynn, like President Trump himself, who pursued both before and after the election, a friendlier relationship with Russia. He said that in public comments and there he is sitting next to the Russian president and, of course, the timing of that part of bigger conversation because Michael Flynn was supporting a closer relationship with Russia at a time that Russia was interfering in the U.S. election. So, it's -- you know, the timing is pretty remarkable, two years ago almost to the day, Michael Flynn next to the Russian president and here we now have Michael Flynn pleading guilty today to lying about conversations during the transition with the Russian ambassador.

BERMAN: All right, Jim, stand by. Gloria Borger with us now, and Gloria, you have -- Gloria is not with us just yet. I'm sorry to report that. Do we have Evan Perez with us outside the courthouse? All right, Evan Perez is standing by outside the courthouse. We will get to him again in a second.

You know, Dana Bash, first to you, we do not have an official response from the White House itself yet but this was a day, you know, the White House wanted to be talking about tax cuts, the White House was going to be spinning about the fact that they're not firing Rex Tillerson. This just casts appall over the end the year for the Trump administration.

BASH: Oh, no question about it. Again, they are going to continue to say, unless we learn officially formally that Flynn is working with Mueller and his office, that this is a kind of -- a crime if he does again plead guilty that is contained, but there's no question, as we speak, Republicans are pulling their hair out in the United States Senate trying to figure out how they get to that magic number of 50 so that at least they could have the vice president cast a tie vote for 51 to get the tax bill moving through the Senate. And they're trying to figure that out. They, obviously, last night thought that they were close to getting there and they had a huge -- basically blew up on the Senate floor because of the deficit issues and senators upset about that and a lot of procedural back and forth.

If the Senate does actually get that done today, that's a huge win. Not the end of the road but a huge win that the president, no doubt -- sorry I'm just looking down to see if that is Michael Flynn and stop me if it is -- that the president no doubt will try to tout and will tout and rightly so.

Can I just say one other thing about Michael Flynn that I think we should keep in mind? And that is, remember James Comey. James Comey said that one of the things that he was very alarmed about was the president asking him to lay off Flynn.

[10:20:00] And so, this whole Flynn situation raises questions, again about why? Was it just because Michael was very, very loyal to the president? Michael Flynn had become a good friend of the president? Or is there more of a reason that he asked him to lay off Flynn. And more importantly, perhaps, will Flynn tell the prosecutor something, if they do make a deal, that puts the question of obstruction of justice into clearer light. Those are all open questions now that this very important player is going to the courthouse and potentially talking to prosecutors.

BERMAN: And we have our eye on this car here. We've been looking at all arrivals at this federal courthouse to see if we will get a look at retired General Michael Flynn as he walks into the courthouse. Evan Perez is standing by outside there. Evan, you know Dana brought up a good point about the link between James Comey and Michael Flynn and the investigation there. You point out one of the ironies here is that James Comey didn't think there was enough to get Michael Flynn on the issue of lying to the FBI. Explain.

PEREZ: Right, exactly. That's one of the ironies here of the situation, John. I mean, this is something we've said repeatedly which is a decision that the president made to fire Jim Comey has backfired in so many ways and this is exactly what we're talking about. The team that was doing the investigation of Michael Flynn had made a decision earlier this year that there wasn't enough evidence to bring charges against him for lying. They had decided that there wasn't enough evidence to show that there was willful intent in the way he answered these questions falsely. You see four lies that the special counsel is charging Michael Flynn with here today. That is -- these are the same facts that the team of investigators at the FBI had looked at and had come to an opposite conclusion.

And so, what we have is a new team that came in under Robert Mueller after he was appointed in May and has looked at the same facts and arrived at a different conclusion and this is crystal clear the result of the president's decision to fire James Comey. If he had not done that, if Comey was still in charge, I don't think we would be here today. I don't think we would see these charges against Michael Flynn. And I think it's fair to say that most of what we've seen the last -- I think we see someone emerging from the vehicle right now. The expectation is that this court hearing is going to start in the next -- less than a half hour. That's Michael Flynn just stepped out of - (INAUDIBLE)

There you see Michael Flynn just came in without saying any words to the group of reporters here, assembled here. We expect that he will be pleading guilty in the next few minutes at the -- here at the federal courthouse in Washington. John?

BERMAN: All right, Evan Perez, standby. What we hear coming out of this courthouse over the next several minutes, crucial. We will find out exactly how he does plead in this case. We expect him to plead guilty. But the words he chooses to use will be interesting, also as Jeffrey Toobin noted earlier, if we get any details about a possible cooperation agreement that will be key as well. So we will be watching these doors and information coming from there very, very closely.

Want to go to the White House now. Our Abby Phillip is there. Abby, I understand we're getting some new response from inside there?

ABBY PHILLIP, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: That's right. John, the White House is not putting out an official statement just yet. They're saying that the White House lawyer that deals with the Russia issue, Ty Cobb, will be doing that shortly. But a few minutes ago a source close to the White House who advises them on the Flynn issue told CNN's Jim Acosta that this was expected, that Michael Flynn had demonstrated poor judgment and that he was fired for lying to the vice president. And so, of course, he would lie to the FBI. So the source saying that Michael Flynn's charge of lying to the FBI was expected in part because he had demonstrated a willingness to lie elsewhere, particularly to the vice president, something that the White House with was confronted by and ended up firing him for.

Again, this puts the White House in a tough position because for a long time, they've been saying this investigation doesn't have anything to do with us because all of the charges up until this point had been before the president was inaugurated. This is different. Michael Flynn was the national security adviser at the time. He was behaving in an official capacity. These conversations happened during the transition and he lied about it when he was in his official role. So the White House still waiting to hear what they're going to say about that and how exactly they're going to spin it, but this source close to the White House on the Flynn issue is saying that they expected it, they thought it was going to be coming. John?

[10:25:04] BERMAN: All right, Abby stand by for us. Let us know if we get more from the White House.

Again, Michael Flynn expected to plead guilty within minutes inside that federal courthouse where he just entered. Want to bring back our chief legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin once again. Jeffrey, Evan Perez has made a very interesting point which is that James Comey had believed before that there was not enough information to charge Michael Flynn on, on the issue of lying to the FBI in those interviews. That was our reporting from before. Robert Mueller feels differently.

How does that, again, color our knowledge or analysis about what's going on today? Again maybe Mueller is choosing this because it's a convenient plea deal in exchange for something else.

TOOBIN: Well Robert Mueller is not the only one who thinks there's enough evidence to charge him. Michael Flynn and his lawyers also agree because he's pleading guilty in the next five minutes.

BERMAN: Right.

TOOBIN: So I don't think there's any doubt that Michael Flynn is guilty of lying to the FBI on January 24th. You know, I think it is difficult to speculate about sort of how many different crimes were taking place. And, you know, what exactly the thought process was. I mean -- the reason people plead guilty and this is part of what goes on in a courtroom when someone does plead guilty, is the judge says, is the reason you are pleading guilty that you are guilty? That is a part of every guilty plea in federal court, in state court because it's very important for judges to establish for themselves that there is, in fact, a basis for the guilty plea. That it's not just some strategic move on the part of the defendant.

So, you know, as for whether there are other crimes that he could have been charged with, I don't know. The fact that James Comey in the beginning of 2017 didn't think there was enough evidence, doesn't mean that had he continued investigating for the next 11 months as, you know, Mueller's team has done, Mueller was appointed in May.

BERMAN: Right.

TOOBIN: Mueller -- Comey may have found this evidence. I mean that's why investigators work, is they try to find more evidence. And what you have in January is different from what you have in November. And so that's -- you know, one thing we know for sure or will know in the next, you know, few minutes, is that everybody agrees, that there was enough evidence not only to charge Michael Flynn, but to convict Michael Flynn of lying to the FBI.

BERMAN: You know, Jeffery Toobin stand by for just a minute.

Let me just read you some of the things that President Trump has written about the investigation over the last several months. September 22nd, 2017, the Russia hoax continues. May 8th, 2017, the Russia Trump collusion story is a total hoax. March 27th, Trump Russia story is a hoax, yet over the next few minutes his former national security adviser Michael Flynn will plead guilty to lying to the FBI about Russia.

Paul Callan is with me right now. Paul, I want to know what's going on behind closed doors. Walk us through this process.

PAUL CALLAN, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Well, you know when you surrender a client for indictment or in this case it is information to be arraigned in front of a federal judge, usually there's a procedure that is going to be very uncomfortable for General Flynn. You have to go through fingerprinting because those records are usually presented to the federal judge at the time of the arraignment. Now, we don't know what's happened in the background, whether justice has waived this because if he's going in, we expect him to actually be appearing in front of a federal judge in a very, very short period of time. That means that this stuff has already been done or an agreement to do it in the future.

In a normal case, a normal American citizen who gets picked up, they surrender them at 6:00 a.m. in the morning because it's a long process. Fingerprinting then got to be run through the system and then you get produced in front of a federal judge. So it's interesting to see if he's getting any kind of special privileges in the way his arraignment is being handled.

BERMAN: As far as perp walks go that was not the longest one I've seen. It was also much more rushed than I've seen. I don't know if that indicates in all of this came together very quickly or not. You know, Dana Bash joins us once again. You know, Dana, again, I am struck by Michael Flynn, the role he played during the campaign, the role he played during the transition. Remember, when president-elect Trump wasn't getting security briefings the same security briefings that other president-elect had in the past the response was it's OK, Michael Flynn is the one doing it, he's in the room here. He was that important.

BASH: Exactly, exactly. Look, the last time -- the only time that we have seen a plea is Mr. Papadopoulos. And he was a fringe member of the campaign. I mean, he clearly had access to campaign officials. He was e-mailing campaign officials, but he wasn't somebody who was you know eating Big Macs on Trump's airplane with him every day. Michael Flynn was. I can't confirm about the Big Mac part but they definitely were together a lot, pretty much every day.