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Trump Tweet Says He Fired Flynn for Lying to FBI; Trump Tax Reform. Aired 2-2:30a ET

Aired December 3, 2017 - 02:00   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): Hi, everyone. I'm Cyril Vanier at CNN headquarters. Thank you for joining us.

A tweet on Saturday from the U.S. President's Twitter account raises serious questions concerning what Donald Trump knew about Michael Flynn and when.

It reads, "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 if true, this is an explosive statement. It means that Mr. Trump knew Flynn had broken the law when he asked then FBI director James Comey in February to drop the investigation into Flynn. Here's what the president said about that 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 this context, there's new information that contradicts White House assertions that Flynn was acting alone 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.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

VANIER: So what is the White House saying about all of this?

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.

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

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 --

[02:05:00]

VANIER: -- 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 PHILLIPS, 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 --

(CROSSTALK)

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.

PHILLIPS: 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 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?

PHILLIPS: 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?

PHILLIPS: 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. PHILLIPS: Thank you.

VANIER: Meanwhile, President Trump is touting the tax bill that passed the Senate early Saturday morning. He calls it spectacular.

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TRUMP: It was a fantastic evening last night. We passed the largest tax cuts in the history of our country and many other things along with it. Tremendous tax reform, but it was the biggest package in terms of tax cuts ever passed in our country. Now we go on to conference and something beautiful is going to come out of that picture. People are going to be very, very happy. They're going to get tremendous, tremendous tax cuts and tax relief. And that's what this country needs.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

VANIER: Now this is despite the Congressional Budget Office saying that it will add $1.4 trillion to the deficit over the next decade. Republicans say the tax reform, the tax cuts will pay for themselves through the economic growth that they will create.

The Democrats say that's just wishful thinking and they are criticizing the way the bill came together as well.

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SEN. CHUCK SCHUMER, (D-NY), SENATE MINORITY LEADER: Republicans are reaching heretofore unreached heights of hypocrisy --

[02:10:00]

SCHUMER: -- and the Senate is descending to a new low of chicanery.

Read the bill?

They're still writing it by hand mere hours before voting on it.

Is this really how Republicans are going to rewrite the tax code, scrawled like something on the back of a napkin, behind closed doors with the help of K Street lobbyists?

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SEN. BERNIE SANDERS (I), VT.: Tonight the Republicans provide $1 billion in tax breaks for the wealthiest people in this country and to the largest corporations while raising the deficit by over $1.4 trillion.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

VANIER: One U.S. official is downplaying North Korea's Tuesday missile test. The official says the weapon likely broke up reentering the atmosphere. Pyongyang claimed the missile could strike the entire U.S. mainland and the White House appears to be taking that danger seriously.

On Saturday, the national security adviser said North Korea represents the greatest immediate threat to the U.S. H.R. McMaster also told a defense forum the potential for war with North Korea is increasing every day which means that we're in a race, really we're in a race to be able to solve this problem.

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

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

Syria says one of its military sites was attacked by an Israeli missile strike on Saturday. Syrian state media say it happened near Damascus and the site was damaged. Israel didn't comment on the reports but hours later took aim at Iran on Twitter. In a video tweet, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu appeared to warn Tehran about its presence in Syria.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BENJAMIN NETANYAHU, PRIME MINISTER OF ISRAEL: So let me reiterate Israel's policy. We will not allow a regime hell-bent on the annihilation of the Jewish state to acquire nuclear weapons. We will not allow that regime to entrench itself militarily in Syria, as it seeks to do, for the express purpose of eradicating our state.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

VANIER: Indonesia is warning Bali's residents not to underestimate the Mount Agung volcano. For weeks it's been erupting ash, steam and debris. And authorities say it's still threatening a major eruption.

Several airlines canceled flights again from Bali on Saturday, stranding thousands of tourists. About 100,000 people have been evacuated from villages in the immediate danger zone.

And that's it for now. Thanks for watching CNN NEWSROOM. "MARKETPLACE AFRICA" up next on CNN. Stay with us.