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Trump Tweet Says He Fired Flynn for Lying to FBI; Uncovering Libya's Slave Auctions; Kim Jong-Nam Carried Antidote To VX Poison; Aired 3-3:30a ET
Aired December 3, 2017 - 03:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
CYRIL VANIER, CNN ANCHOR (voice-over): A tweet from the U.S. president's account is raising troubling new questions.
And global outrage over slave auctions in Libya. We'll be taking you behind the scenes of our exclusive CNN report.
Plus tourists and locals alike watch and wait for a potential violent eruption from a volcano in Bali.
I'm Cyril Vanier from CNN Headquarters here in Atlanta. Thank you for joining us.
VANIER: So 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 he knew it.
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."
If is 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 it 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: There's also new information that contradicts White House claims that Flynn was acting alone a year ago when he spoke with the then Russian ambassador to the U.S. Here's CNN's Boris Sanchez with more on that.
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.
VANIER: So what's the response then from the White House?
They say journalists are just reading too much into the president's tweet on Flynn. John Dowd, an attorney with Mr. Trump's private 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. And his statement on
Friday after Flynn pleaded guilty, did not mention lying to the FBI as a factor in Flynn's firing.
For the legal implications of all of this, I spoke earlier to Troy Slaten, he's a criminal defense attorney and former prosecutor.
TROY SLATEN, ATTORNEY: 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 if 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.
VANIER: Back with us this hour are our panel, CNN political commentator John Phillips and political analyst Ellis Henican. He also writes the "Trump's America" column at Metro Papers.
Now I'd like to address the reporting by "The New York Times" on Saturday, which raises eyebrows but we don't quite know exactly what to make of it. Here it is.
"During the transition period, KT McFarland, the senior adviser to Mr. Trump, wrote that Obama's sanctions" -- this was back in December of 2016 -- "Obama's sanctions on Russia could make it harder for Mr. Trump to improve relations with Moscow, quote" -- this is the important part --"which has just thrown the USA election to him," meaning to Mr. Trump.
John, does that -- what did you think when you saw that?
JOHN PHILLIPS, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, KT McFarland at that point was a FOX News contributor or FOX News foreign policy analyst. So that --
TRUMP: -- a senior adviser within the Trump campaign, within the transition. And she was she was just a few weeks away from becoming the deputy national security adviser.
PHILLIPS: Look, I don't know. I haven't spoken to her. That may have been her opinion of what happened. It's not my opinion as to why he won the election. I can give you a whole litany of reasons as --
PHILLIPS: -- to why that occurred.
But, you know, it's a certain -- it's a thing that people come back to all the time because they can't -- the polls were wrong. The polls said that Hillary Clinton was going to win and I think a lot of people have a hard time accepting the results of the election.
VANIER: This is not something that people are coming back to. This is in an email in the transition.
ELLIS HENICAN, METRO PAPERS: Well, clearly, KT McFarland thought the Russians played a big role here. Listen, all of it just inches this closer and closer to the Oval Office, right?
These emails, which we know now were CC'd to half a dozen other high aides in the group. So it's just getting harder and harder for these folks to say, oh, we didn't know what was going on. We had no idea. There was no information.
If anyone did anything like that dastardly Flynn fellow, he must have been acting on his own. Those kinds of defenses which we've been hearing for 10 or 11 months now, are just becoming completely untenable. And I think we can, in part, thank KT McFarland for that.
VANIER: But, Ellis, we also have to make it clear. We don't actually know how to interpret that. "The New York Times" article, which gives us this quote, makes it a clear also, we don't know whether KT McFarland did meant that Russia did indeed hand Trump the election.
We don't know whether that's her opinion or whether she was just saying that Democrats are going to portray it this way.
HENICAN: It's a fair comment. Her email probably could have used a copy editor. I think that's probably fair.
VANIER: Yes, a White House lawyer actually says, unsurprisingly perhaps, that it's the latter. That it's just she was referring to how the Democrats are going to paint this.
HENICAN: No doubt.
PHILLIPS: Also, when they are coming in, every administration wants to have a reset of relations with big, powerful countries out there. That was one of the big things that President Obama promised when he was elected, that Hillary Clinton was actually in charge of, when she was secretary of state. Of course, when he was running for reelection had that conversation
with Medvedev that was caught on a hot mike, reset. Let me get reelected and we'll be able to smooth some things over.
VANIER: Yes, absolutely. It's worth pointing out every transition team gets in touch with foreign officials and tries to lay the groundwork for what they want to do when by the time they're actually in power.
Ellis Henican, John Phillips, I want to thank you both for your time and for coming on the show.
VANIER: Time to see what else is happening around the world. Yemen's former president is offering to open talks with Saudi Arabia. Ali Abdullah Saleh said if the Saudi coalition stops dropping bombs on rebel bases and if it allows food and supplies into the country, he'd be open to turning the page of the ongoing war in Yemen.
However, Saleh's own allies, Houthi rebels, disagree with this. They are rejecting the possibility of talks with the Saudis. This is the latest sign of splintering rebel factions in a conflict that has killed thousands upon thousands of civilians.
A CNN team tells us what went into their exclusive investigation that uncovers migrant slave auctions in Libya. Next, CNN journalists were counting witnessing traumatizing violations of human rights.
Plus record breaking rainfall brings flash floods to three southern Australian states. We'll have our experts from the CNN Weather Center -- next.
VANIER: Protesters clashing with police in Germany as the anti- immigration party, Alternative for Germany or AFD, elected a right- wing nationalist as their new co-leader. Alexander Garland (ph) has supported rewriting history to focus more on the German victims of World War II.
The AFD is now the third largest party in the German federal parliament and is hoping to gain more political ground in regional elections next year.
Now to the political crisis in Honduras. The opposition is condemning a mandatory curfew as a government power grab. The curfew was imposed after violent protests over voter fraud allegations.
The opposition is accusing the incumbent president of manipulating the result from last week's presidential election; however, the president denies these allegations. He and the opposition candidate have both claimed victory. Honduran election officials are reviewing the ballots for any irregularities.
Italy's president is reacting to CNN's exclusive reporting on slave auctions in Libya, exposing the modern-day buying and selling of African migrants. President Sergio Mattarella says the brutal images show how slavery is still present around the world and he says all forms of slavery are an aberration that cannot be tolerated.
He released a statement to mark the International Day for the Abolition of Slavery and to reaffirm Italy's commitment to fighting the trade. That CNN exclusive investigation is sparking global shock and outrage after revealing African migrants are being auctioned off as slaves in Libya.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
NIMA ELBAGIR, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): $400. $700.
The numbers roll in. These men are sold for 1,200 Libya pounds, $400 apiece.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
VANIER: Our senior international correspondent, Nima Elbagir, and her team, producer Raja Razek and photojournalist Alex Platt are recounting what they went through to undercover this story.
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 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 --
ELBAGIR: -- 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.
VANIER: And this week, CNN's Freedom Project looks at how African migrants get caught in this 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. This will be the first piece in our in-depth five- part series.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
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.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes. Yes. That's what she said.
DAMON (voice-over): And the only way to pay that off was prostitution.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
VANIER: And we hope you will 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 here in London.
Days after North Korea's latest missile test, at least one U.S. official is downplaying it. The official says the weapon likely broke up when reentering the atmosphere. Remember Pyongyang had claimed it could strike the entire U.S. mainland and the North Korean foreign ministry says the Trump administration is -- their words -- "begging for nuclear war."
The rhetoric comes as the U.S. is set to start a military drill with South Korea on Monday. On Saturday, U.S. national security adviser H.R. McMaster said North Korea represents the greatest immediate threat to the U.S.
He also told a defense forum the potential for war with Pyongyang is, quote, "increasing every day, which means that we are in a race -- we are in a race to be able to solve this problem."
There's a new twist in the murder of Kim Jong-nam, the half-brother of North Korean leader, Kim Jong-un, who died in February after he was attacked with a nerve agent in Kuala Lumpur.
As Paula Newton reports, it appears that he was prepared for that very situation.
(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) PAULA NEWTON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It is a prophetic twist. North Korean leader Kim Jong-un's half brother was actually carrying an antidote to the poison nerve agent that killed him within minutes.
Kim Jong-nam was allegedly poisoned with a VX nerve agent at the Kuala Lumpur airport in February. This new information from Malaysian state media possibly indicates that the elder Kim knew he was a target.
DR. NIAL WHEATE, UNIVERSITY OF SYDNEY: It sounds like to me he knew what was coming and he wanted to give himself the best chance.
NEWTON: Kim was approached by the who women in the airport who smeared the odorless, colorless liquid on his face, those two women on trial now in Malaysia. One of the women's defense attorneys has said that the antidote known as atropine was found on Kim Jong-nam's carry- on bag in tablet form.
But in the state media report, there was a reference to glass vials, possibly indicating the substance was in liquid form. Regardless of its form, experts caution, it was unlikely to save him.
WHEATE: The VX or any nerve agent is very fast acting. We're talking, if you get exposed enough to it, death within a couple minutes.
NEWTON: To save him from death, atropine would have to be administered immediately into the blood stream or muscle. Here is another intriguing twist in an already baffling story, the two women charged in the murder say they are innocent and thought they were part of a reality TV prank.
And a mystery still why Kim Jong-nam apparently didn't attempt to consume the substance, he instead stumbled into an airport clinic and was rushed to hospital in ambulance. He died en route.
NEWTON: As this trial continues, suspicions may now be backed up by evidence, that Kim Jong-nam lived in fear of being assassinated by his half brother and took an educated guess on how he would be murdered. North Korea denies any involvement in his death -- Paula Newton, CNN, Seoul.
VANIER: This is another story we've been tracking. You'll know this if you've been watching us. Indonesia is warning Bali's residents not to underestimate the Mount Agung volcano. For weeks it's been actively erupting ash clouds, steam and debris into the sky.
You're seeing the pictures there. Authorities say it's still threatening a major eruption. Some 100,000 people have evacuated from villages in the immediate danger zone. The lingering ash cloud around Bali's major international airport means more canceled flights and more frustrated tourists.
VANIER: Thank you for watching CNN. I'll be back with the headlines in just a moment.