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Opening Bell Trading; Lawyer Charged with Lying about Gates; Parkland Students Rally at Florida Capitol; Trump Jr. Ethical Questions. Aired 9:30-10a ET

Aired February 20, 2018 - 09:30   ET


[09:30:00] JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: That this -- this day has gotten off to a bang here.

I want to get right to Christine Romans at the start of trading for the opening bell.

Romans, what are you seeing?

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN CHIEF BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: I'm seeing a market that looks like it's going to fall a little bit this morning. You know, John, last week was -- is the best week in years for some of these stock averages, you know, bouncing back after the worst week in years for some of these stock averages. So today it looks like a little bit on the down side. Triple digits for the Dow at the opening bell here. It just rang about 15 seconds ago. We'll have more for you in the next half hour.


[09:35:08] BERMAN: All right, the breaking news this morning, a new surprise from Special Counsel Robert Mueller, who, frankly, seems to be a lot more full of surprises than we had any idea of. This is a new indictment against a man named Alex Van Der Zwaan.

I'm joined now by CNN's Shimon Prokupecz. Also here, Jeffrey Toobin, Mary Katharine Ham and Caitlin Huey-Burns.

And, Shimon, if you will, place this individual, Shimon, in the larger investigation.

SHIMON PROKUPECZ, CNN CRIME AND JUSTICE REPORTER: Well, John, as you said, you know, we're kind of surprised by this. It's not exactly clear how he's placed in the larger investigation. But he's certainly connected to Paul Manafort.

"The New York Times," back in September of last year, did a story about -- about him. And in it they basically describe how the Department of Justice and special counsel were looking at -- were looking at him. And it has to do with some work that he was hired for to do for Paul Manafort. And it says that he arranged for this law firm, this Skadden Arps, this prominent law firm in New York that he worked for, to do -- compiled -- to draft a report that was used to essentially jail a political rival of Ukrainian Viktor Yanukovych. As we know, and we've done some reporting on this, Manafort had done

some work for the Ukrainian political leader Yanukovych. And it appears that he had hired this firm to do some work for him in justifying the jailing of Yanukovych's political rival. It's kind of interesting, I guess, that the special counsel had started to look into this, that they were asking questions about this, about the payments for this work. And it appears, at least according to the charges have that haven't filed, the attorney that has been charged there, Alex Van Der Zwaan, lied to the special counsel. He also did not turn over some e-mails they had asked for. And now he's expected to plead guilty this afternoon.

BERMAN: All right, Jeffrey Toobin, back with us again.

Jeffrey, I think you've had a chance to look at some of the indictment here. Again, it deals with -- the indictment says he lied to the special counsel. Also suggested didn't turn over e-mails or destroyed e-mails around the time frame of the fall of 2016.

JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN CHIEF LEGAL ANALYST: Now, I still haven't seen the actual court papers. But I'm in touch with our colleagues who are there. And this appears to be an information, not an indictment.


TOOBIN: And the difference there is, when there's an information filed, that means the person is going to plead guilty. That means the person is waiving indictment, is not -- doesn't -- is admitting that -- is going to admit the conduct, not challenge it. So this is not a new case that's going to go to trial.

BERMAN: Right.

TOOBIN: This is apparently an admission by this lawyer that he misled or lied to the investigators, which is exactly the same thing that happened with George Papadopoulos. George Papadopoulos waived indictment, he agreed not to have his case go before the grand jury and agreed to plead guilty for lying to the FBI. This appears to be different in the sense that it's lying to the Mueller investigations directly.

BERMAN: Right.

TOOBIN: But it's the same crime and it's a very serious thing, especially for a lawyer.

BERMAN: And it says -- and it says that right here on the indictment that I am -- no the indictment. It is an information, as you say, it's titled information right there, Jeffrey. So thank you very much for that correction.

You know, Mary Katharine Ham, your reaction to this? This just shows the scope of what the special counsel is doing.

MARY KATHARINE HAM, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Yes, I mean, this is tangential. The work they're talking about was -- predates the campaign. But the conversation is during the campaign. It all gets very mixed up here.

But I think the theme you see running through here, and something I thought of -- long thought about this is, that the people in the Trump orbit are not particularly disciplined with the truth. They get sloppy. They lie. And when you're in an investigation like this, and when you're talking to several different people and there are legal consequences for whether you're saying consistent things, you're going to run into this problem. And they're running into this problem over and over again.

BERMAN: We don't even know if, you know, Alex Van Der Zwaan had anything to do with Donald Trump. He may be in the Rick Gates, Paul Manafort orbit. So it's, you know, two steps removed, maybe. We simply don't know. The time frame here is the campaign.

Caitlin Huey-Burns, you know, to you, Robert Mueller is producing here. You know, it may be that this investigation started somewhere else. But every day that passes, there are new -- new indictments or new information, new charges here.

CAITLIN HUEY-BURNS, NATIONAL POLITICAL REPORTER, REALCLEARPOLITICS: Sure. Exactly. And what's so interesting to me is that how close to the vest that the Mueller team has played all of this. This is a surprising information, indictment. And not -- this person was not on anybody's radar. So it kind of goes to show that who knows who he is talking to.

And the fact that Gates is reportedly cooperating with Mueller, there are lots of questions about, of course, what that means for Manafort and whether that's in a separate silo. But also, who knows what those conversations are like. And I think this information that came out today just underscores the point that we don't know what's coming next.

[09:40:11] BERMAN: Shimon, you wanted to make one more point here?

PROKUPECZ: Yes. Yes, John.

So, you know, we've done a lot of reporting on Paul Manafort. And this appears to be solely related, at this point, to Paul Manafort. And it would just seem that a stronger case is being built against Paul Manafort perhaps, perhaps, to get him to eventually cooperate. And I think that's an important point to make here because we've been focusing a lot on Rick Gates, who also perhaps may cooperate, another piece that could perhaps cause Paul Manafort to cooperate. And it seems that this is more towards a building block to get to Paul Manafort.

BERMAN: All right, Shimon, Jeffrey, Mary Katharine Ham, Caitlin Huey- Burns, thank you all very, very much for helping us try to understand what's going on this morning.

In the meantime, survivors turned activists. More from Florida where busloads of students are heading to the Florida capitol to rally for gun control. We are there live.


[09:45:11] BERMAN: This morning, the students of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School working to turn tragedy into advocacy. First, they will pay their respects at funerals for three of their classmates. Then, around 100 students and chaperones will leave by bus and drive nearly 500 miles to the state capitol in Tallahassee. Then tomorrow they hope to meet face-to-face with lawmakers to talk to them about gun control.

Joining me now, CNN's Rosa Flores in Parkland, Florida.

Rosa, what are you seeing there today?


Turning pain into action. That's exactly what we're seeing here as dozen of students who are still mourning the deaths of 17 of their fellow classmates and teachers are headed towards Tallahassee. They plan to demand that lawmakers there listen to their voices. They want the type and style of weapon that was used here to kill 17 people to be banned from this state.

And they don't plan to take no for an answer from lawmakers. They plan to challenge lawmakers who might think or believe that they know more about gun control because they're older than these students who literally saw death face-to-face.

These students don't plan to stop. They don't plan on just coming back to their hometown after this. They plan to continue. More plans to head to Washington later next month as well.

But, as I mentioned, the mourning here still continues. There are three more funerals and two visitations today here. And, you know, as you -- as you think about what this community is going through, John, you've got to think that all of that pain that these students are feeling and that emotion, they're packaging it up and sending it to Tallahassee to make sure that no other community has to go through this again.


BERMAN: We're also learning new details, Rosa, about the shooter's past. This from the Florida Department of Children and Families?

FLORES: We are. Now, this is a report that was released by DCF, as you mentioned, the Department of Children and Families. And it's about a call that they received in 2016 regarding the suspect, about the suspect cutting his arms on Snapchat after breaking off with his girlfriend. Now, they sent someone to his home and they initially thought that perhaps his caregiver, his mother, was perhaps abusing him. So they started investigating. They found out that he had intentions to purchase a gun. They also found out that he wrote down hate speech and a Nazi symbol on his book bag.

So, John, again, these are just other clues that investigators are using to piece the puzzle and also to determine motive here, figure out what happened and why.

BERMAN: All right, Rosa Flores for us in Parkland. Rosa, thanks very much.

And, of course, join CNN tomorrow night, a special live town hall with students and parents from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School as they demand action to end violence. Jake Tapper will moderate the discussion. It's at 9:00 Eastern, only on CNN.

So, Donald Trump Jr. wining and dining buyers who have paid big bucks for Trump branded condos in India. Should this raise a red flag about possible ethical issues? Stick around.


[09:52:32] BERMAN: His morning, Donald Trump Jr. is in India to promote Trump branded condos in two cities there. This is a trip that's raising all sorts of questions. Some of those condos cost up to $1.6 million. Trump Jr. is attending two dinners for people who have already pre-booked spots in those buildings. Developers promoted these dinners with full page, front page ads this weekend in two of India's biggest newspapers. One blared, Trump has arrived, have you?

Joining us now, CNN contributor Walter Shaub, the former director of the United States Office of Government Ethics. He's now senior director of ethics for the campaign Legal Center.

Walter, so this is a full on marketing blitz here. We see the newspaper ads. The meet and greets. Public speaking. What message does this send?

WALTER SHAUB, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Well, it sends the message that the presidency and the United States is for sale. This is the son of the American president marketing properties branded with the president's name. And the beneficiary of this is going to be the president because he owns the business that the son, who's over there, is running. So you could not have anything more intertwined with the presidency.

This is trading on the name of the president. The ads didn't say Don Jr.'s coming to India. They said Trump is here in India. And that's exactly the point they're trying to sell is, you buy a property here, and you can get time, whether you're a foreign national or a foreign government, to bend the ear of the president's son.

And, of course, they've got to keep these buyers happy because if they don't sell enough of these, people aren't going to keep licensing Trump's name. And so what's to keep somebody from asking Don Jr. to pass a message to Donald Trump on a policy issue a foreign government cares about? And the answer is, absolutely nothing.

BERMAN: So, Walter, though, I can see Donald Trump Jr., or Eric Trump for that matter, saying, hey, look, you know, I don't work for this White House. I'm going over there for my business. Why can't I be allowed to do my business?

SHAUB: Well, and, in fact, the rules, even if Trump was a regular official, would not necessarily cover what any relative, even a child, does. But let's remember that this is the president's business. This isn't a separate business that Don Jr. is involved in. This is the president's own business. So he's over there asking people to spend money on properties that are branded with the president's own name.

[09:55:00] And the line gets a little blurry because he's been asked to speak at a business conference there at which the prime minister of India is speaking on a topic of foreign policy. And, of course, that's just absurd because nobody thinks of Don Jr. as a foreign policy expert.

But what it does is it adds gravitas to his mission over there and connects it more closely in the minds of people with the American president, to basically remind them, you know, buy these properties because this is a guy who's connected to the White House.

BERMAN: It sounds as if, in your mind, one of the big problems was the way that the president chose to deal and not deal with divesting himself from his business when he became president.

SHAUB: Yes, this all goes back to the original sin of not divesting his properties, because we wouldn't be in this situation and we wouldn't have nearly the same concerns here in America if his son wasn't over there hawking his properties. If he had sold them, even if he had sold them to family members, the president of the United States wouldn't stand to profit from this adventure over in India.

BERMAN: Any of this actually legal, Walter, or just in the realm of the swamp and ethical questions?

SHAUB: Well, it's technically legal only because there aren't laws covering the president. It's the same idea that the president was able to get away with keeping his properties because there aren't laws covering him.

But let's remember that the reason there aren't laws covering him is because nobody thought a president would do this kind of thing. President George H.W. Bush, the senior Bush, actually sent a letter to his family asking them to avoid even the appearance of trading on the presidency. And that sort of was the model that modern American presidents have always followed, is at least ask their families to try to start avoiding entanglements that would suggest that they're involved.

But this isn't just the appearance of impropriety. This is actually over there hawking the president's properties. You can't get more direct than that.

BERMAN: Walter Shaub, thanks so much for being with us. Appreciate it.

SHAUB: Thanks.

BERMAN: The breaking news this morning, new charges from the special counsel, Robert Mueller, in the Russia investigation. Stand by for new details just ahead.