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Trump: "I Had to Fire Flynn Because He Lied to VP & FBI"; Source: Kushner Directed Flynn to Contact Russian Ambassador; NYT Report Disputes. Aired 5-6p ET

Aired December 2, 2017 - 17:00   ET


ANA CABRERA, CNN ANCHOR: The president now saying in a tweet he knew Michael Flynn lied to the FBI and that's partly the reasons he fired him as national security adviser.

Now this is huge because as you know Flynn pleaded guilty just yesterday to the federal crime of lying to the FBI. Now, if the president's words are true then he knew about this crime, this felony back in February and it would mean he knew this when he asked Comey, the former FBI director to drop the investigation into Flynn.

Here is the president's tweets in full, "I had to fire General Flynn because he lied to the vice president and the FBI. He has pleaded guilty to those lies. It is a shame because his actions during the transition were lawful. There was nothing to hide."

These are the first public comments from the president since Flynn's appearance and guilty plea in federal court yesterday. Take a look at this from California Democrat Ted Lieu, quote, "This is obstruction of justice. POTUS now admits he knew Michael Flynn lied to the FBI yet Trump tried to influence or stop the FBI investigation on Flynn."

With us CNN's Boris Sanchez, there is some new reporting today about the time of Michael Flynn's firing. Tell us about this new report in the "New York Times."

BORIS SANCHEZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Ana, this is new reporting from the "New York Times" released just a short while ago, and it indicates that there were some contacts between Michael Flynn and the White House that the administration was, let's say, less than forthcoming about Donald Trump and company.

Initially portrayed Michael Flynn in February as a rogue actor saying that he acted independently of the transition team back in December when he discussed the easing of sanctions with Russian diplomat, Sergey Kislyak.

According to e-mails gathered by the "New York Times" as well as documents and interviews submitted in court, it appears that Michael Flynn had contact with the Trump's transition team before and after his meeting with Sergey Kislyak to discuss sanctions that were enacted by the Obama administration against Russia for interfering in the 2016 election.

The same day that Michael Flynn had a foreign conversation with Sergei Kislyak on December 29th, an e-mail was apparently sent by Donald Trump adviser, KT McFarland in which she described how the Obama sanctions could hinder a potential warming of relations that the Trump future administration would want to have with Moscow.

At one point, she writes that Russia, quote, "had just thrown the election to him," him being Donald Trump. The White House attorney says the McFarland was actually referring to the way that Democrats were portraying Russia's role in the 2016 election not her own beliefs.

But we should mention that after his conversation with Sergey Kislyak, Michael Flynn briefed administration officials on their discussion and Russia never diplomatically responded to the sanctions that were imposed by Obama.

If you recall after several diplomats were removed, several Russian properties in the United States were shutdown, Russia took essentially a patient stance, didn't immediately move against the United States, but rather opted to be patient.

One last note, that e-mail from KT McFarland was actually forwarded to six other advisers within the administration including Steve Bannon, Tom Bosert, Reince Priebus, and Sean Spicer.

So, for the White House to claim that during the transition they had no idea that Michael Flynn was having these contacts with Russia, now becomes quite a bit more dubious -- Ana.

CABRERA: The clock is ticking. Boris Sanchez, thank you.

Let's get straight to our panel, former spokesman for Republican Congressman Darrell Issa, Kurt Bardella, also with us, former prosecutor, Renato Mariotti, and with me here in New York, CNN presidential historian, Tim Neftali.

Everyone, I want to first show you a timeline. On January 24th, Flynn had this interview with the FBI. We now know he lied about his call with the Russian ambassador in that interview.

Three days later, by the way, this is a live image right now with the president just coming back from his trip to New York landing there at the White House. We'll keep that up in case he makes a comment.

Back to that timeline about who knew what when, we know it was when the president invited former FBI Director James Comey to dinner and asked for Comey to pledge a loyalty happened after Flynn went and testify before the FBI.

And then a couple of weeks later on February 13th after the public learned Flynn discussed Russian sanctions, Trump fired Flynn. The next day on the 14th, Trump asked Comey to let the investigation into Flynn go.

So, Renato, my first question to you, if Trump knew Flynn lied to the FBI, wouldn't he asked Comey for loyalty, and then he asked Comey to drop that investigation, is that obstruction of justice? RENATO MARIOTTI, FORMER FEDERAL PROSECUTOR: Let's put it this way, that's really good evidence of obstruction of justice. I have to say that if I was President Trump's lawyer, I would be telling him that he should remember that he has the right to remain silent.

[17:05:13] His tweets today, I don't know why he decided that today was the day to reveal to everyone around the world that he knew that Michael Flynn lied to the FBI and really calls into question why he's telling the FBI director that Flynn is a good guy and he should let it go because good people should not be lying to the FBI.

So, I think that President Trump would be best served not by saying anything else and what will be interesting to see is what evidence -- two things, what evidence Bob Mueller has of Donald Trump's corrupt intent, which is what's required under the statute, the 18USC-1505.

But then also will -- if he does have enough evidence, will Robert Mueller indict, or will he present that to the Congress for impeachment? I mean, those are huge questions obviously earth- shattering question if things go that far.

CABRERA: Just a quick follow to you, Renato, would it be in the president's best interest if this tweet is being interpreted in a way he did not mean it for him to come out and clarify what he meant?

MARIOTTI: The best thing to do is to let his attorney do it. Here's a tip for people at home, when your attorney says something, it cannot be held against you because your lips are not moving. Smart people when they're under investigation have their attorneys do the talking.

And when you've seen some people like Jared Kushner do a very good job of releasing carefully worded statements by their attorneys, I think the president will do well to let his lawyers do the talking for him from now on.

CABRERA: So, Kurt, take a look at how Congressman Adam Schiff is reacting. He, of course, is a ranking member on the House Intelligence Committee, which is also investigating its own Russia probe.

He reacted to the president's tweet today writing this, "If that's true, Mr. President, why did you wait so long to fire Flynn and why did you fail to act until his lies were publicly exposed, and why did you pressure Director Comey to let this go?" Valid questions?

KURT BARDELLA, POLITICAL COMMENTATOR AND PUBLISHER, MORNINGHANGOVER.COM: Absolutely. I mean, the president has opened himself up voluntarily to these type of questions, what did you know, when did you know it? It is almost a classic if nothing bad happens or nothing illegal happens, you guys are doing a great job making it looked like there was something there.

It is just not the crime, it's a cover that gets here and seems to be so much that's happening here. That people are arrested or charged so far at this case, they are charged and lying with the FBI. They insist that these things -- there is for collusion and no collaboration with Russia and if that case, why are people lying about it and why is the president of the United States openly on Twitter admitting that he knew the national security adviser lied to the FBI and takes these meetings with Comey pressuring him to dropping the investigation. He looks guilty as in.

CABRERA: There were four people who have been part of the Trump's team who now have been indicted and/or pleaded guilty. The two people who pleaded guilty specifically pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI.

Tim, I want to get you in here because you are, of course, the former director of the Nixon Library. I heard one of the lawmakers yesterday on air saying this is a Watergate moment and we also had John Dean and Carl Bernstein, who also obviously were prominent figures. Listen to this exchange between them.


CARL BERNSTEIN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Bob and I were talking today and we asked each other is General Flynn going to be John Dean? Does he have enough knowledge and was he part of the conspiracy that he admitted, admits to a criminal conspirator, is that what we are seeing, John?

JOHN DEAN, FORMER NIXON WHITE HOUSE COUNSEL: Look, Carl, I certainly think he has enough knowledge, more knowledge than I did. He was much closer to Trump than I was to Nixon. I had like 20 meetings with Nixon and 39 totals where other people were there. Some 20 one on one where Flynn was meeting with Trump throughout the campaign and throughout the early 24 days of his job as national security adviser daily and frequently. So, I think he's much more knowledgeable than I am. If there is collusion and conspiracy, nobody is more likely to know it than he is.


CABRERA: Do you agree with that?

TIM NAFTALI, CNN PRESIDENTIAL HISTORIAN: First of all, Flynn was much -- there is no question that Flynn was much more closer than Dean was to President Nixon. Flynn is also close to the Trump family in the sense that he was -- we know he is talking to Jared Kushner at one point, at least once on these issues.

So that leads and that raises the question here of the legal jeopardy and not simply for the president and members of his family. That's different from Dean. I want to point out two things very quickly.

[17:10:06] One is that on the timeline, I would also add January 26th. Two days after the FBI interviews Flynn, the FBI tells the acting attorney general that Flynn lied under oath. The acting attorney general --

CABRERA: I don't know if we know that, though. I don't know if we know that -- NAFTALI: Sally Yates went to the White House and said that Flynn is

now vulnerable to blackmail.

CABRERA: Because he lied to the vice president and we know he lied to the vice president --

NAFTALI: I am sorry, let me say that is speculation and I would suspect that is -- and in any case, Sally Yates --

CABRERA: But that's a good question, did she say that?

NAFTALI: She comes to the White House and she says I believe that the national security adviser is vulnerable to blackmail. And then we know from Sean Spicer because he said it publicly that the president was informed immediately of all of this.

So, one of the things that investigators will have to determine is whether President Trump knew on the 26th of January that Mr. Flynn had lied to the FBI which is a felony. That's a big deal.

The other point I want to raise is that today President Trump has I think undermined his position publicly, but he's also given us the impression that he believes that Mr. Flynn did not make a mistake and if no mistakes were made during the transition, which means that President Trump believes if it is OK that his team undermined our effort to place sanctions on Russia after Russia had intervened in the 2016 campaign because that is part of the official document we saw regarding Flynn.

We know now because Mr. Flynn has admitted this that he talked to the Russians and signals to the Russians that the Obama approach would not be the approach of the upcoming Trump administration, which means that Mr. Trump believes that's OK, us going light on Putin was the right thing to do. That raises all kinds of good questions.

CABRERA: Although, so many questions, and one of them, Renato, is, you know, within that guilty plea, we see that Flynn was in communication with prominent members of the Trump inner circle that were part of the transitions and CNN sources are telling us one was Jared Kushner who was instructing Flynn to make phone calls not just to Russia but other members of the U.N. Security Council to ask them not to have this resolution on the Israeli settlement. There was not an effort according to Flynn to intervene in that way. Is Jared Kushner in legal trouble?

MARIOTTI: Well, it certainly a very strong possibility and one thing that I will say about the Flynn's legal -- Flynn's plea agreement is he got a really, really good deal. Despite all these rumors that we heard and reports that we heard about the extensive liability that Flynn had, he only had a plea to one count of a false statement to an FBI agent.

The sentencing guideline range is zero to six months. When you are looking at a federal investigation and a lot of potential felonies, zero to six months is a very, very good scenario. There is nothing in life that's free, OK. And certainly, in the world of federal prosecutors, if you do not give out good deals unless they are getting something in exchange, and what that would mean is what we call -- the federal prosecutors call substantial assistance.

And that means that Flynn has to provide testimony that not only it seems to be truthful, but would result in a prosecution of somebody sort of at his level or higher or somebody of a significant figure and certainly Jared Kushner would fit that bill.

It maybe another person, time will tell who that person is, but one thing for sure is, you know, it is very hard to imagine Robert Mueller giving that kind of deal to Michael Flynn unless Michael Flynn giving him essentially someone else of his testimony.

CABRERA: Kurt, Senator Richard Blumenthal says these charges extend all the way to the vice president. Let's listen.


SENATOR RICHARD BLUMENTHAL (D), JUDICIARY COMMITTEE: This acknowledgment of criminal guilt is a shattering moment for the Trump's presidency.

We have a moment similar to Watergate with the questions going to be what did they know and when did they know it. Not just the president but Jared Kushner and Michael Pence, the vice president because they were part of the transition and every other top official in the transition team may be a part of this Russian collusion that's involved here.


CABRERA: So these court documents again showed Flynn talked to members of the Trump transition team about these calls with the Russian ambassador. Kurt, Pence was the head of the transition team. Do we need to know more about what he knew and when he knew it?

[17:15:04] BARDELLA: Absolutely. It was pointed out over the last couple of days by the research group, American Bridge, that his signature is on transition documents putting him in charge of what everyone beneath him was doing and what interactions they were having, what other officials, foreign governments.

So, in some level, if Pence's name was on those documents, what was he doing? And if he did not know, why would that be? Why would people be operating without the knowledge of the person who's absolutely in charge?

I think there is going to be a lot of questions about that inner circle and we know this is a tight knit circle. They are very exclusive. It was only basically Priebus, Pence, Bannon and Jared and Flynn.

So, the circle of people that could have been involved in this and aware of it is very small like the former prosecutors pointed out. They're not going to make this deal not just for Flynn but his son as well without there being the goods to pass this forward and pass it up.

So, without question, Pence is also going to come under the microscope. His name is all on the documents.

CABRERA: Kurt, before we go, I have to ask you about your shirt. Explain it.

BARDELLA: I am a big supporter of Saint Jude Children's Research Hospital and in the month of December, they are doing a promotion. This shirt saves lives to help some kids who are very -- deserve to have all (inaudible) to have a great holiday season.

CABRERA: I just wanted to point out that is not a political statement.

BARDELLA: No, just helping some kids.

CABRERA: Good to hear it. Thank you, Gentlemen. Renato Mariotti, Tim Naftali, and Kurt Bardella, we really appreciate it.

We are following the fast-moving developments. We are continuing to see new fallout from Michael Flynn's guilty plea. Democratic Senator Dan Kildee will join us live with his reaction next in CNN NEWSROOM. Don't go anywhere.



CABRERA: President Trump's private (inaudible) legal team scrambling to deal with this controversial tweet today about firing Michael Flynn. The president turned to Twitter hours ago, quote, "I had to fire General Flynn because he lied to the vice president and the FBI. He has pled guilty to those lies. It is a shame because his actions during the transition were lawful. There was nothing to hide."

Well, Trump private attorney, John Dowd, now tells CNN after that tweet that it was a paraphrase of White House Special Counsel Ty Cobb's statement yesterday. Now I refer you to Comey's testimony before Congress about the FBI's point of view regarding Flynn's answers.

There is nothing in Ty Cobb's statements that suggests lying to the FBI was a factor in Flynn's firing. I want to talk it over with Michigan Congressman Dan Kildee. He is a Democrat.

Congressman, they are saying that the president's tweet today was just more or less the same thing that his lawyers said yesterday. Is that how you interpreted it?

REPRESENTATIVE DAN KILDEE (D), MICHIGAN: No, not really. I mean, first of all, he's the president of the United States and he speaks for the U.S. government and he makes official statements through his Twitter account and he contradict himself. So, no, I take pretty seriously. You know, first of all, the president is wrong. It is not lawful to lie to the FBI. So, it is pretty difficult for me to accept the fact that the president says that, well, what Mr. Flynn did was lawful.

Then he says what Flynn did was lied to the vice president and the FBI, and that's why I had to for fire him. He had a real problem. He's got a problem with the truth, but he has a real and that he cannot seem to keep his fingers off his Blackberry or whatever he uses.

He's going to get himself in a lot of trouble. You know, he's the president and he can do what he wants, but this is not smart.

CABRERA: Do you think we need to hear from the president in person or should his lawyers who release the initial statement yesterday be coming out to speak about this?

KILDEE: Well, I think that's problematic especially when the lawyers are obviously also trying to spin -- you know, provide political spin. Here is the way I look at this, Mr. Mueller is using a very deliberate approach. He's doing his job and the president ought to do his.

If he has nothing to hide or fear, he should focus his attention on the big problems that we face as a country. If he is nervous about this, I guess, I would have to ask why. Why is he so obsessive about it?

Why was he so obsessive about getting, you know, Mr. Flynn kind off the hook in the first place. Why did he go to Mr. Comey and asked him to layoff of Flynn? He seems to have an obsession about what Michael Flynn may say and that does raise a lot of suspicion.

CABRERA: Do you have any concerns about Mueller maintaining his position as part of the special counsel investigating the Russia interference and potential obstruction of justice and if Congress discussing what needs to happen to protect this investigation?

KILDEE: Well, I think it would be a big mistake for the president or anybody in Congress to try to reign in Mr. Mueller. The integrity of the federal government and the integrity of our systems of democracy would be tested and that would raise a whole series of other questions.

I mean, I don't generally like the Watergate or Nixon comparisons because this is a different time and place and a different president. But if either Republicans in Congress or the president of the United States does anything to constraint Mr. Mueller, then I think we have some questions that actually take us to those comparisons in pretty stark terms.

They should not obstruct and if we are going to have integrity in our system and if there is nothing to hide, they should not fear this investigation.

[17:25:03] CABRERA: Let me ask you about the big news overnight, early this morning, the Republicans scoring major victory passing their Republican tax plan. You called that plan a scam, that it only helps the wealthiest American and corporations.

You and I have had this conversation before when the House plan moved forward. Now, it's passed the Senate, but I want to ask you the fact that Republicans we know have a lot on the line if this plan really is just to giveaway to the rich.

That would not go over so well with a lot of the president's phase. Why would Republicans be voting for this tax plan at the risk of their own political future?

KILDEE: Well, this sort of revealed themselves. Their true base is their donor base and in this case, they are being very aware of the interests and the needs of their true base being their donors.

We heard members of Congress on the Republican side actually acknowledged that. so unfortunately, they are pandering to the people that they listen to their votes and that's those people who would be the greatest beneficiaries of this.

The problem with this tax bill is that it is not just something you can put up on the board as a victory. It actually could be examined. Now, they did not want to examine it before it was passed, but folks are going to take a look at this.

What we are seeing in talking to, you know, groups and individuals who are going to be affected by this, if you make less than $100,000, fasten your seat belt. It is a bad bill for you.

If you're a farmer in a coop growing sugar beets in Michigan, your taxes are going to grow up. The very people that they say they want to help are actually going to get hit very hard. They give you an increase, for example, on the standard deduction but take it away with the loss of the personal exemption.

So, they've got some explaining to do to the American people. The people who are cheering are those megadonors sitting in their board rooms who saw the U.S. Senate just give them the biggest transfer of wealth from hardworking Americans to the people to the top in the history of the United States of America.

CABRERA: Congressman Dan Kildee, thanks for joining us.

KILDEE: Thank you very much.

CABRERA: Up next, back to our top story, the president's reaction to Michael Flynn's guilty plea, a former Watergate special prosecutor will join us live, next.


[17:31:47] ANA CABRERA, CNN ANCHOR: Just one day after Flynn pleaded guilty of lying to the FBI and agreed to cooperate with the Russia probe, President Trump set up a storm on Twitter. "I had to fire General Flynn because he lied to the vice president and the FBI. He has plead guilty to those lies. And it's a shame because his actions during the transition were lawful. There was nothing to hide."

Some key members of Congress are taking issues of the first part of that tweet, saying Trump admits to obstruction of justice in that tweet.

One of three articles of impeachment used against President Nixon in the Watergate investigation were obstruction of justice.

Joining us now, someone who knows a lot about Watergate, CNN legal analyst, Richard Ben-Veniste.

Richard, you were a Watergate special prosecutor. Do you agree with lawmakers who say President Trump admitted to obstruction of justice in this tweet?

RICHARD BEN-VENISTE, CNN LEGAL ANAYST: No. I don't think he admitted to obstruction of justice but his actions regarding General Flynn have changed dramatically since Flynn's guilty plea. What puzzled a lot of people and myself included was his defense of Flynn after he fired him. So he had this ambivalence all along regarding Flynn and now it appears that he's prepared to throw him under the bus.

However, there's a few things about the guilty plea and the agreement that went along with it that I think are worth mentioning. Two things. One is Flynn agrees to be polygraphed in terms of truthfulness of his cooperation. That's somewhat unusual. And secondly, he agrees to covert methods if called upon. It is unlikely that covert methods would be used prospectively. What if General Flynn, who has a background of military intelligence, as we all know, took the precautions of tape recording conversations with others who might be involved and directing him throughout the transition to do certain things, and has those tape recordings. Those would be valuable to Flynn and Mueller, of course, if Flynn anticipated that someday he would be hung out to dry and made to be the patsy here.

CABRERA: Last night, we heard former Nixon White House counsel, John Dean, say on air that Flynn was much closer to Trump than he was to Nixon. The parallels are uncanny. Dean also plead guilty to a single felony in exchange for becoming a witness for the prosecution. Could Flynn be Trump's John Dean.

BEN-VENISTE: We wait to see what Flynn has the offer Mr. Mueller. His actions and Mr. Trump's action in defense of him even after he found to have lie to the FBI and lied to the vice president and to Mr. Trump's then-chief of staff, Mr. Priebus, are still inexplicable, and they point to some reason why he wanted to be defending General Flynn in light of his false statements to the FBI.

[17:35:11] CABRERA: The documents that were tied to the Michael Flynn plea deal implicate Jared Kushner, the president's son-in-law. It says, "A very senior member Trump's transition told Flynn on December 22 to contact officials from Russia and other foreign governments about how they would vote to influence those governments to delay the vote or defeat the resolution." This is tied to that U.N. Security Council vote on Israelis settlements. We learned from sources that person who instructed Flynn to have conversations with foreign leaders was Jared Kushner. There's been talks now on the president's ability to pardon Kushner or Flynn. Can he do that? And what do you think of that?

BEN-VENISTE: Well, you know, since he brought on Watergate, one of the things that President Nixon did covertly in Watergate was to signal to one of the Watergate burglars, Howard Hunt, that he may be receiving clemency, presidential clemency in connection with his criminal activity. That was in return for Hunt's continued silence. It all depends on the intent of the president in providing presidential pardon or clemency, which is unfettered, except if it was corruptly given.

CABRERA: I want to get your take as you just take a bigger look at how Special Counsel Robert Mueller has conducted this investigation and what we learned so far from it. What do you make of it, and what do you think is next for him?

BEN-VENISTE: Mueller is just about the best person in the United States to have received this assignment. He's gone on building a case and a wall of evidence, brick by brick, quietly and professionally and determinedly, while all these Twitter storms go on and all these divergent attempts to distract from the investigation. He's doing, as far as I can tell, a splendid job and we'll what the result is. I am confident that he will conclude his work professionally, without fear or favor, and without any political influence whatsoever.

CABRERA: Do you have any reason to believe that he's near the end of the investigation or any sense of where he's at?

BEN-VENISTE: It is such a wide range of target-rich opportunities with so many different aspects springing from the initial Russian connection, money laundering and Foreign Corrupt Practice Act violations, FARA (ph) violations. The list goes on and on. And so it is not possible I think at this point I think to determine how long it will be until he concludes the investigation. But you can be sure that he's keeping his eye on the ball. He's not wasting time and he's proceeding efficiently and professionally as far as I can determine.

CABRERA: Richard Ben-Veniste, thanks you for your take. We appreciate it.

BEN-VENISTE: Thank you.

CABRERA: The White House has claimed former national security advisor, Michael Flynn, acting independently in dealing with Russia, but "The New York Times" has new reporting that disputes that account. The journalists who just broke that story this afternoon will join us live with the details.

You are live in the CNN NEWSROOM. Don't go away.


[17:43:26] CABRERA: Breaking news at this hour on CNN. A single tweet from the president today adding to the twist and turns in the Russia investigation. The president, in his tweets, suggests he knew Flynn had lied to the FBI about post-election contact with the Russians. That revelation is shocking because that was not the president's story earlier this year when Flynn was sacked just 24 days on the job.

I want to get to "New York Times" reporter, Scott Shane.

Scott, the president and the White House has continued to say this was all on Flynn, he acted alone in these conversations with Russia. But your new reporting today says otherwise. Tell us about it.

SCOTT SHANE, NATIONAL SECURITY REPORTER, THE NEW YORK TIMES: That's right. My colleague, Michael Schmidt, got a hold of e-mails from December of 29 of last year. It was a big day. It was the day that Flynn called Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak and talked to him, it turned out, about the sanctions that the Obama administration had put on Russia in retaliations for the Russia interference of the U.S. election. The White House has suggested, you know, ever since basically, the Trump associates suggested that Flynn was operating on his own. And the president says he's a good man but that he was essentially freelancing at that time. What the e-mails show and what the documents released when Flynn pleaded guilty is that actually all of the top transition officials seem to have been aware that he was going to make his call to the Russian ambassador, seemed to have been briefed on what happened during the call afterwards, and they were focused on Russia and how to improve relations with Russia.

[17:45:23] CABRERA: What stood out the most to you in reading or what you have learned about these e-mails?

SHANE: We were given one e-mail exchange and other e-mails were described. And the ones that were give given, what stands out is a comment by K.T. McFarland, who was going to become deputy national security adviser under Michael Flynn. She says, in characterizing -- it appears to be her characterizing how this will look, says that Russia had thrown the USA election to Donald Trump. That's something that the president denies, that everyone in the White House thinks -- is an impression they want to avoid. Ms. McFarland says she was only characterizing how Democrats would sort of portray the Russian interference, that the Democrats would claim that Russia had thrown the election to Trump. There it is in the e-mail. So I think that was quite striking to see that they were certainly considering that as a possibility.

CABRERA: The other thing I have been wondering all along, first, when we saw the plea agreement documents and some of the conversations are discussed in those documents and other members of Trump's team and the transition team specifically. There is no mention of the president being part of any of these conversations. The e-mails that you have read and that you have been describing, any indication that the president knew about these conversations or was involved?

SHANE: No, that remains uncertain. Michael Flynn was briefing him frequently, if not every day. There was a call involving President- Elect Trump and all these aids scheduled for 5:00 p.m. on the 29th of December. Which we believe would have been before Flynn called the ambassador. Whether the call took place or not, we are not certain. There was a call scheduled.

What's significant about all this, and I think a lot of viewers minds may boggled of all the details of this evolving Russia story, but they may remember President Trump urged James Comey, the FBI director, to shut down, to drop the investigation on Michael Flynn. When Comey declined to do that, he was fired. The big question lingering behind all this about the e-mails is, why did the president want to shut down the investigation of Flynn, which resulted in the guilty plea on Friday? And why did he fire James Comey when he did not shut the investigation down? What was it that bothered Mr. Trump so much about the investigation? We still don't have an answer to that question.

CABRERA: Such a big question.

Scott Shane, with "The New York Times," thank you for that.

SHANE: Thank you.

[17:48:54] CABRERA: Coming up tonight on CNN, CNN's David Axelrod sits down with Academy Award-winning actor, Tom Hanks. "The Axe Files" tonight at 7:00 eastern, here on CNN.

We're back in a moment.


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CABRERA: You can vote for Mona or any of our top-10 heroes now at CNN

I'm Ana Cabrera, in New York. Thank you for being here. I'll be back at 8:00 eastern, live in the CNN NEWSROOM.

At 7:00, don't forget CNN's David Axelrod sits down with Actor Tom Hanks.

But first, "SMERCONISH" up next. Stay tuned.