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Trump Tweet Says He Fired Flynn for Lying to FBI; Who is Michael Flynn?; Uncovering Libya's Slave Auctions. Aired 0-0:30a ET

Aired December 3, 2017 - 00:00   ET

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


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CYRIL VANIER, CNN ANCHOR (voice-over): A new reason for firing Michael Flynn. The U.S. President Donald Trump now says he got rid of national security adviser partly because of his lies to the FBI.

Could that spell legal trouble for the president?

We'll tell you in a moment.

And according to "The New York Times" reporting, a senior adviser to Donald Trump during the transition wrote that Russia had, quote, "thrown the election to him."

What did she mean?

We'll be asking our panel.

Plus after CNN's exclusive reporting uncovered slave auctions in Libya, we take you behind the scenes of that investigation.

Hi, I'm Cyril Vanier at the CNN headquarters here in Atlanta. Thank you for joining us.

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VANIER: So a single tweet from the U.S. president on Saturday may have exposed him to serious legal questions, especially when it comes to obstruction of justice. Donald Trump tweeted from his personal account, "I had to fire General Flynn because he lied to the vice president and the FBI. He has pled guilty to those lies. It's a shame because his actions during the transition were lawful. There was nothing to hide."

Now this may be a potential problem for the president after firing Flynn back in February, Mr. Trump asked then FBI director James Comey to drop the investigation into Flynn.

The question now, did Mr. Trump know Flynn had lied to the FBI when he met with Comey?

Here's what the president said about Flynn on Saturday.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: What has been shown is no collusion. No collusion. There's been absolutely -- there's been absolutely no collusion so we're very happy. And frankly, last night, with one of the big nights.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: (INAUDIBLE).

TRUMP: We'll see what happens. Thank you all very much. Thank you very much. Thank you.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

VANIER: Adding to the intrigue, new information that contradicts White House assertions that Flynn was acting alone last year when he met with the Russian ambassador to the U.S. CNN's Boris Sanchez has more on this.

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BORIS SANCHEZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: The Russia investigation and the dismissal of former national security adviser Michael Flynn likely the last thing that the White House wanted to be talking about just hours after their first major legislative victory in passing tax reform. But with a swift tweet, the president has raised serious questions about what he knew and when he knew it.

In this tweet, the president suggests that part of the reason that he fired Michael Flynn as national security adviser was because he knew that he had lied to the FBI. That raises serious questions possibly about obstruction of justice, if after all the president as has been reported asked former FBI director James Comey to get rid of the investigation into Michael Flynn.

Further, it also raises questions about the White House's efforts to distance themselves from Michael Flynn. At first on Friday calling him a former Obama administration official and also making the case that President Obama approved of Michael Flynn's conversations with Sergey Kislyak, the Russian ambassador, to discuss sanctions.

The reaction from Democrats was swift, including this tweet from Adam Schiff, the ranking member of the House Intelligence Committee. He responded to the president's initial tweet writing, quote, "If that is true, Mr. President, why did you wait so long to fire Flynn? Why did you fail to act until his lies were publicly exposed? Why did you pressure Director Comey to let this go?"

The White House has a series of questions before them, clearly something that is not likely going to go away anytime soon. Specifically because now there is a new "New York Times" report that indicates that several key figures within the Trump transition and within the administration were briefed on Michael Flynn's conversations with Sergey Kislyak before and after their meeting and so this investigation likely will explore where that goes.

And as more information continues to leak out during this investigation, it really hangs a cloud over this White House as they continue moving forward with their legislative agenda -- Boris Sanchez, CNN, in New York.

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VANIER: The White House says journalists are reading too much into the president's tweet on Flynn. John Dowd, an attorney with Mr. Trump's outside legal team tells CNN the tweet was a paraphrase of Ty Cobb's statement yesterday. I refer you to Comey's testimony before Congress about FBI view of Flynn's answers. $

Ty Cobb is special counsel for the White House. His statement on Friday after Flynn pleaded guilty did not mention lying to the FBI as a factor in Flynn's firing.

Donald Trump is man we know values loyalty in those around him. During the 2016 --

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VANIER: -- presidential election, Michael Flynn sang candidate Trump's praises. Tom Foreman takes a look at their history together.

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MICHAEL FLYNN, FORMER NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISER: The next president of the United States, right here.

TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): On the campaign trail, Michael Flynn seemed a true fan of Donald Trump and the admiration mutual as the candidate courted votes from the military community.

TRUMP: We have tremendous military support, unbelievable military support. And having, as you know, General Flynn here and having so many of the generals at our side. In fact, we have -- where is General Flynn? He's around here someplace.

FOREMAN: Flynn was once a member of Barack Obama's team and a top military intelligence officer. Then he fell out of favor. He was fired. By the summer of 2015, he had done an odd about-face and

began talking to Republican candidates. And when he met Donald Trump, "I knew he was going to be president of the United States."

FLYNN: For Donald J. Trump to be the next president of the United States.

FOREMAN: Flynn began advising the campaign in early 2016. By the time of the Republican Convention that summer, he was leading the chants against Democrat Hillary Clinton.

FLYNN: Lock her up, that's right.

CROWD: Lock her up. Lock her up.

FLYNN: If I did a tenth -- a tenth -- of what she did, I would be in jail today.

FOREMAN: On Twitter, Trump praised Flynn's book on "How to Defeat Radical Islam." And 10 days after winning the election in November, he chose Flynn as his national security adviser. Flynn took the job in January after the inauguration.

KELLYANNE CONWAY, SENIOR ADVISOR TO PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: Yes, General Flynn does enjoy the full confidence of the president.

FOREMAN: Then it all unraveled. Flynn admitted he misled the Trump team about his Russian communications.

SEAN SPICER, FORMER WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: At some point, that trust eroded to a point where the president did not feel comfortable.

FOREMAN: Still, even as Flynn was given the boot and the Russia investigation swirled, the president seemed reluctant to let him go.

TRUMP: When I looked at the information, I said, I don't think he did anything wrong. If anything, he did something right.

FOREMAN (voice-over): Tom Foreman, CNN, Washington.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

VANIER: Joining me, CNN political commentator John Phillips and political analyst Ellis Henican. He also writes the "Trump's America" column at Metro Papers.

Now Mr. Trump's tweet about firing Michael Flynn on account of his lies to the FBI raises just an avalanche of questions. In no particular order here, they are.

Why did he wait almost three weeks after Flynn lied to the FBI to fire him and do so only under intense political pressure? Why did he ignore previous warnings about Flynn that were given to

him?

Why has he kept referring to Flynn since then as a great guy?

And why did he ask James Comey to lay off the Flynn investigation and then fire Comey after it became clear that he wasn't going to lay off the Flynn investigation?

So, John, I'd like your reaction on some of these. But first I want to ask you, as a Republican supporter, when you saw that tweet by the president, did you think, uh-oh, trouble?

JOHN THOMAS, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: No, I thought that when I saw the Brian Ross report and then I stopped sweating when I found out it wasn't true. Just to go through a couple of the questions that you raised.

First I'll start with why it was the Trump brought Flynn into this White House and into the campaign after he was warned by Obama and others not to. Flynn was a Democrat. A lot of people forget that. He served in the Obama administration. They had a pretty nasty falling out after her left the DIA.

And so there was a political backstory to that as to why the Democrats had hostility to him.

As to the tweet that the --

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VANIER: By the way, he was presented by the White House recently as an Obama guy, which, I mean, honestly --

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VANIER: -- hard to believe, for anybody who has seen Flynn on stage, we just saw him there with Trump during the campaign.

THOMAS: Right but he did serve in two very senior level positions within the Obama administration and as to the tweet today that went out today, it was essentially correct. What Flynn did, what he's alleged to have done and has pleaded guilty to is not a crime. The problem was when he lied.

And he lied not only to the FBI but he lied to the vice president. He was fired in short order after that happened. And if he broke the law, he should face the consequences.

VANIER: Ellis?

ELLIS HENICAN, METRO PAPERS: I think this is the first we've heard that the president thought that he broke the law. Up until now, the president's explanation for firing Flynn was that he lied to the vice president.

Now, you know, maybe that's not a nice thing to do but it's not illegal. We can all -- remember this, we all have the right to lie to the vice president. But when you're putting it into the realm of actual criminality and you realize that it took weeks before he fired him, once he supposedly knew this and it brings up a whole host of questions here about who else around the president knew about these contacts.

We're now getting a trail of emails that suggest -- 2 [00:10:00]

HENICAN: -- that there was plenty, plenty of back and forth with KT McFarland and others around the transition and in the early days of the White House. This thing unfortunately from the president's point of view, I think just inches it closer and closer and closer to those closest to the president and perhaps to him as well.

VANIER: Yes, the 800-pound gorilla in the room here, John, is, does this suggest or show or even prove that there was obstruction of justice on the part of the U.S. president when he fired James Comey?

THOMAS: No, l don't think it did. You go and look at the timeline. This happened after he was elected so there's no collusion relating to the campaign that's associated with this. I think that the firing of James Comey --

VANIER: John, I think what critics of the president would say here is that the president fired James Comey after having asked him to lawyer off the Flynn investigation, and we now -- it appears the president knew Flynn had lied to the FBI.

So long story short, he asked the then FBI director to lay off an investigation on somebody who had lied to FBI.

Could that not be obstruction of justice?

THOMAS: Well, the criticisms that the president had with Jim Comey go back a long time. It goes all the way back to the campaign, when he criticized the way that he handled the Hillary Clinton email investigation.

I'm sure this played a role into why he fired him and the Lester Holt interview, I believe, is probably what triggered the Mueller investigation, in and of itself.

But there were a lot of factors that are on the record speaking to why Donald Trump didn't have confidence in James Comey. That being said, I think in retrospect it was a big mistake to get rid of him.

VANIER: Gentlemen, thank you so much for your time and thank you for joining us on the show.

THOMAS: Thank you.

VANIER: Still to come, we'll take a closer look at Michael Flynn's guilty plea and what it might mean for Donald Trump's future.

Plus CNN's Nima Elbagir has reported from war zones and humanitarian disasters around the world but uncovering migrant slave auctions in Libya gave her nightmares. We'll tell you about that.

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GEN. MICHAEL FLYNN, FORMER TRUMP NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISER: She put our nation's security at extremely high risk with her careless use of a private email server. If I, a guy who knows this business, if I did a 10th, a 10th of what she did, I would be in jail today.

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VANIER: TV can be unforgiving sometimes. That was Michael Flynn last year, talking about the Hillary Clinton email scandal. Now Flynn is at the center of his own scandal after pleading guilty to

lying to the FBI. In February, President Trump said he fired Michael Flynn as national security adviser because he had lied to the vice president. At the time, Donald Trump did not mention the FBI.

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DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I didn't. But me -- excuse me -- no, I fired him because of what he said to Mike Pence. Very simple. Mike was doing his job. He was calling countries and his counterparts.

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TRUMP: So it certainly would have been OK with me if he did it. I would have directed him to do it if I thought he wasn't doing it. I didn't direct him. But I would have directed him because that's his job.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

VANIER: But then on Saturday, the president gave new information in a tweet, Donald Trump says he fired Flynn because he lied to both the FBI and the vice president. And he maintains that everything Flynn did was lawful. That part has not changed.

Critics say if Mr. Trump knew Flynn had lied to the FBI and then tried to influence's the bureau's investigation of him, well, that's obstruction of justice.

Let's find out with a lawyer now. Troy Slaten is with us. He's a criminal defense attorney and former prosecutor.

Troy, again, just consider the following timeline. January 24th, Flynn lies to the FBI during his interview. Three days later, Mr. Trump asked James Comey to be loyal. In February, Flynn is fired and, the next day, the president tells the then FBI director, Comey, that he hopes he can drop his investigation into Michael Flynn.

Does this sequence of events raise any red flags for you as a lawyer?

TROY SLATEN, ATTORNEY: Well, certainly, look, if we were talking about anyone other the President of the United States, then that would certainly be a prima facie case for obstruction of justice.

However, if you subscribe to the theory of the unitary executive where the president being the chief of the executive branch and having the power to pardon vested only in him, them the theory goes -- and it's also been advanced by Alan Dershowitz here on CNN -- that the president cannot by definition engage in obstruction of justice.

Because he can decide if the attorney general is fired and if the FBI director is fired. So essentially the chief of the executive branch can decide who is prosecuting and that would make it impossible for the president to commit the crime of obstruction of justice. Everyone below the president, from the vice president on down, could engage in obstruction of justice.

VANIER: So I you espouse this legal interpretation, then Mr. Trump's tweet doesn't have any legal implications?

SLATEN: That would be that effect. However, this has really never been tested. So the ultimate issue would be if Robert Mueller, the special counsel's office, decides to indict the President of the United States or make a referral to Congress for potential articles of impeachment, then that's a different story because a president can be impeached for whatever crime the Congress decides.

It's really not defined in our Constitution. It really just says high crimes and misdemeanors and treason, which is whatever a majority of the Congress decides.

VANIER: By the way, Troy, do you think the White House lawyer signed off on that tweet before the president sent it?

SLATEN: You know, who knows. I really don't think so. I think the president -- and we've seen this all throughout the campaign and during the administration -- the president seems to speak from his heart and talk off the cuff.

If I was the president's lawyer, I certainly would not want him to tweet that. But, you know, it's anyone's guess. I think that the White House counsel's office and even his private defense lawyers that are related to the -- this Mueller investigation, it doesn't seem like those lawyers would sign off on this tweet.

VANIER: and the background argument or the fundamental argument, perhaps is that the president put forth again in that tweet is that aside from lying to the FBI, which is the sole responsibility of Michael Flynn, according to them and according to the White House, everything that was going on during the transition is not illegal.

SLATEN: Well, that is also yet to be determined. So there is an old law from the 1790s called the Logan Act and that's really never been tested. And there is a lot of debate among constitutional scholars about whether that law is even constitutional.

And that law basically says that we have one president at a time, one administration. And if you are not working currently for the government of the United States, then you negotiate on behalf of the government of the United States.

And the allegation here is that General Flynn during the transition -- so before the president was sworn in on January 20th, 2017, that he was engaging in negotiations with Russia about a vote at the U.N. and about other matters, about asking the Russians to not react to the sanctions that the Obama administration imposed on Russia.

And that would be negotiations. But this is what transitions do all the time. It's their job to start talking to the foreign governments.

VANIER: All right. Troy Slaten, thank you very much for your legal insights into this. I'm sure we'll need to speak to you again. Thanks.

SLATEN: Thanks for having me.

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VANIER: And a CNN team is speaking out about what it took to exclusively uncover migrant slave auctions in Libya.

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NIMA ELBAGIR, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Every day in an environment like that counts. Not being able to take a good shower. Sitting there, not having the food you need. Being thirsty. So every hour counts.

VANIER (voice-over): Next, CNN journalists recount witnessing traumatizing violations of human rights. Stay with us.

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VANIER: Welcome back.

Yemen's former president is offering to open talks with Saudi Arabia. Ali Abdullah Saleh says that if the Saudi-led coalition stops raining airstrikes on rebel bases and lifts a blockade to let food and supplies into the country, then he'll be open to turning the page into the ongoing war.

But Houthi rebels, Saleh's allies, are rejecting the possibility of talks with the Saudis. This is the latest sign of splintering rebel factions in a conflict that has already killed thousands and thousands of civilians.

A CNN exclusive investigation is sparking global outrage after revealing African migrants are being auctioned off as slaves in Libya.

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ELBAGIR (voice-over): $400. $700.

$700? $800?

The numbers roll in. These men are sold for 1,200 Libya pounds, $400 apiece.

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VANIER: Now our senior international correspondent, Nima Elbagir, and her team are recounting what they went through to uncover this story.

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ELBAGIR (voice-over): Once we arrived in Tripoli, it was essentially a waiting game. We knew that there were a number of these auctions going on in a variety of different locations. And we knew that they happened once or twice a month. It was I think probably the longest few days -- among the longest few days of my life waiting to hear whether this was actually happening.

We needed to push to try and get access to those people. There are one to two of these auctions every month and that there's one happening in the next few hours. So we're going to --

I don't honestly know what I was expecting going in. I think I couldn't figure out how you could mentally process selling other human beings and then when I heard them -- when we heard them speaking about these people that they were selling as merchandise it made sense because you need a certain degree of cognitive dissidence. You have to dehumanize someone.

Finally, it's time to move.

RAJA RAZEK, CNN PRODUCER: You still have a job to do. So it distracts you a bit from what you just witnessed, but when we were actually sitting there and watching the auction, it felt like everything was going in very, very slow motion.

ELBAGIR: There were all the things that we knew we needed to hit as journalists. Getting him to use the word auction on our audio to confirm that it's an auction. Getting the auctioneer to confirm that they had sold 12 people that night. Having all of that as evidence.

ALEX PLATT, CNN SENIOR PHOTOJOURNALIST: I remember being outside in the car park of the detention center. So I went around the corner and there was this massive room and the front was open to the elements. And extensively it was a cage. Right? It was a wire cage and people were looking at you --

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PLATT: -- from the other side. And I remember thinking, you know, if it was a single gorilla in there, people would think how sad. He hasn't got a lot of room. And then it turns out there were over a thousand people in there.

RAZEK: Every day in an environment like that counts. Not being able to take a shower, sitting there and not having the food you need, being thirsty, so every hour counts. Leaving them behind in an enclosed space like that and not being able to help because you can't help one of them. You'd have to help all thousand plus because you can't just go to a few people and be like, how can I help you? You really need to help them all.

ELBAGIR: There was a point where Alex and I were interviewing (INAUDIBLE), the 21-year-old who'd been enslaved and I was overwhelmed because (INAUDIBLE) was overwhelmed. His dream was to be a designer. He wants to come to Italy and work as a stylist and maybe one day work with Dolce and Gabbana and it was such a relatable dream.

PLATT: And why not? Because he's African?

ELBAGIR: And why not?

Exactly. I think this is the first story in a long time where I had nightmares. There was just something really fundamentally heartbreaking about people's dreams being exploited in that way. I think we were all thinking that, you know, we just hope we can do justice to this.

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VANIER: This week, CNN's Freedom Project looks at how African migrants get caught in the web of human trafficking when they risk everything to find better lives in Europe. On Monday, Arwa Damon speaks to a young Nigerian woman from Benin City, where thousands have been trapped with false promises of safe passage to Europe.

It will be the first piece in our in-depth five-part series.

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ARWA DAMON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: You trusted him?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes, very much. I trusted him. And most of the times I don't even -- since I tell him, I don't tell my parents.

DAMON (voice-over): Sandra (ph) is talking about her deputy pastor, who told her he had a vision from God that she traveled overseas. Then he said, his sister in Russia could get her a job in a hair salon.

When she arrived in Russia, the sum was more than she could have ever imagined.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: But the first thing she did, she took away my passport. That unless I finish paying our money, $45,000.

DAMON: $45,000?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes. Yes. That's what she said.

DAMON (voice-over): And the only way to pay that off was prostitution.

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VANIER: Now we do hope that you'll tune in to CNN on Monday to see the rest of this woman's story. That's at 9:00 pm in Hong Kong, 8:00 pm if you're in London. That's part of CNN's Freedom Project series, all this week on CNN.

Thanks for watching. I'm Cyril Vanier. I'll be back in just a moment with the headlines.