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Mueller Charges Lawyer with Lying; Kushner Meetings during Transition; Politicians Work on Gun Control. Aired 12-12:30p ET

Aired February 20, 2018 - 12:00   ET


[12:00:00] JOHN KING, CNN ANCHOR: Your day with us.

A new charge from the Russia special counsel sends the message, if you lie, you will be hauled into court.

Plus, your president at work. Morning tweets attacking the media, his predecessor and a woman who says Donald Trump forcibly kissed her years ago.

And student survivors from Parkland, Florida, are heading to the state capitol today, vowing their new activism will not fade with time.


DELANEY TARR, SURVIVED FLORIDA SCHOOL SHOOTING: There is no going back from it. There is no going back from being so outspoken on Twitter, from organizing meets with the legislators in Tallahassee, because even if and when we solve this and this all passes, it's -- there's no -- there's no going back. There's no going back to the way things were before. That has been taken from us. So all we can do now is just keep moving forward and grow into these people that we have determined to be.


KING: Back to that big story in a moment.

But we begin with a new charge today from the Russia special counsel. And with that charge, a major message, lie or hide and you will be charged. Today's surprise, Robert Mueller charging a British lawyer, Alexander Van Der Zwaan, with lying to investigators. At issue were Van Der Zwaan's interaction with Rick Gates. He's the former top Trump campaign aide who is already under indictment and who CNN is told is now trying to negotiate a plea deal.

The bigger fish, if there is such a deal, is Gates' longtime partner, Paul Manafort, who was the chairman of the Trump campaign and whose financial dealings with Russia ties are of major interest to team Mueller. It's a safe bet that when all of this is over, whenever that is, that Alexander Van Der Zwaan will be put a footnote. But it's just as safe a bet any other witness with business before the special counsel is well aware of these new charges.

Shimon Prokupecz, of CNN's justice team, joins us now. Shimon, how important is this to the substance of the Mueller investigation and might it be, forgive me, more important to the tenor of the Mueller investigation?

SHIMON PROKUPECZ, CNN CRIME AND JUSTICE REPORTER: Yes, I would say it's more important to the tenor, to the larger picture. To bring a charge like this usually would mean that they want something more here. Certainly this lawyer looks like he's charged with lying about an interaction he had with Rick Gates in 2016 during the campaign.

Now, that time period is of issue to Mueller. It is something that his team is investigating. So perhaps this is a sign that this grows into a bigger investigation. Perhaps this lawyer has some information on someone else. It could be Manafort. It could be Rick Gates. But we know Rick Gates isn't talking in his own talks of cooperating. So it does appear that this is part of a -- the larger picture here and just sort of the one chip or so here that Mueller wants in. Perhaps maybe this lawyer will cooperate. We don't know. We will know more this afternoon when he appears in court.

KING: And so a bit of a mystery on that new front.

Shimon, let's move to your reporting, part of a team, last night, that special counsel team now wants to know why Jared Kushner took some meetings at an important time during the presidential transition, so after the election, with Chinese and Qataris investors in hopes of securing financing for some troubled real estate investments. What do we know about the meetings and why do they matter to the special counsel?

PROKUPECZ: Right. So this has to do with the 666 Fifth Avenue building that's over a billion dollars in debt that's tied to Kushner and his family. There was some meetings, some discussions that took place during the transition. And they were close. They were -- Kushner was close to getting a deal done that would have given them an infusion of cash from some Chinese folks and even at one point some Qatari folks.

That deal broke down. It was never clear as to why the deal broke down. But some of the discussions occurred during the transition. And we've been told by several sources Mueller is now asking questions about those meetings. And at issue is whether or not there was any kind of quid pro quo. Whether or not Kushner may have made some promises to any of these foreigners if they invest in these properties. Was there any promises made that once he got into the White House, they'd get some kind of favorable treatment.

Keep in mind, John, we're told that Kushner is not the target. He's not under investigation. And that perhaps maybe this could be something that Mueller is just exploring, wants to make sure there was nothing nefarious here. But we don't know. We really don't know. This is -- this comes from people who have been before the special counsel, people who are familiar with some of what the special counsel is asking. But, again, as with everything in the special counsel, it's very hard to read exactly what their far-ranging, their wide-ranging investigation is about.

KING: I think that's an excellent point at the end, there's a lot more we don't know that we do know.

Shimon, appreciate that reporting and we'll continue it.

Jared Kushner's lawyer, we should say for the record, Abbe Lowell, dismissing CNN's reporting, saying, quote, another anonymous source with question able motives now contradicts the facts. In all of Mr. Kushner's extensive cooperation with all inquiries, there has not been a single question asked, nor document sought, on the 666 building or Kushner company deals, nor would there be any reason, Mr. Lowell continues, to question these regular business transactions.

With us to share their reporting and their insights today, CNN's Dana Bash, Sahil Kapur from "Bloomberg," CNN's Jeff Zeleny and Eliana Johnson of "Politico."

[12:05:01] I want to spend most of our time in this segment on Jared Kushner and what this means for the special counsel. But this indictment today of somebody who, no offense, most likely will soon be forgotten, to me it's like the Papadopoulos information, it just sets a marker. In Papadopoulos' case, I have somebody cooperating with me. Then General Flynn turns, I have somebody else cooperating with me who's a bigger fish. In this case, another person who lied, didn't disclose e-mails, and Mueller says, that's the way you want to play, welcome to court.

DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, and, look, it's -- you're right, this is somebody who is really tangential in terms of the personality and the character, much more so, I think, than Papadopoulos is or was. But it certainly is a big red flare -- big red flag and a flare, I should say, to anyone and everyone who has come before Mueller or will come before Mueller or is dealing with Mueller, don't mess with us. Don't lie to us. Don't withhold documents, because we will find you and we will prosecute you.

JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: And the timing was done for a reason. And Bob Mueller knows why he is -- decided to release this now. So who knows who else he's meeting with this week or in the coming weeks. I mean the time is all his here. He controls the clock in this investigation. Something always important to remember here.

But, you know, in the end of the day, so much action now is happening. Look what happened Friday. Look what happened today. You just get the sense that this is escalating, of course, leading up to what, we don't know. But much more movement than at any other point in this case.

KING: In the sense of what, we don't know.

And to CNN's reporting about Jared Kushner, with all due respect to Abbe Lowell, he says, you know, we haven't been asked for those documents. We've learned from the other witnesses that's not how Bob Mueller works. He asked you for your documents last. He builds the case against you. This information filed against the attorney today. Apparently they asked him for his e-mails. He turned over some e- mails. Left some out. Guess what? Mueller's team has the e-mails and they say, sir, you didn't give us this one and they have the chain. So a lot of the -- a lot of Trump allies and Mueller critics are going

to say, hey, wait a minute, wait a minute, what are you doing asking about meetings with Qataris, meetings with Chinese investors during the presidential transition? What does that have to do with Russia election meddling? What does that have to do even with the question Trump allies dismiss, this idea of possible collusion between team Trump and the Russians?

I just want to go back to Rod Rosenstein letter appointing Mueller on May 17, 2017. It saying he can investigate any lengths and/or correlation between the Russian government and individuals associated with the campaign of President Donald Trump and -- here's the wildcard -- any matters that arose or may arise directly from the investigation. In other words, if you can connect the dots back to, I was in a conversation about Russia when I learned about China and Qatar, it's OK?

ELIANA JOHNSON, NATIONAL POLITICAL REPORTER, "POLITICO": Well, essentially Mueller can investigate anything. And conservatives are critical of that because they say -- they are arguing that Rosenstein failed to impose a lawful, limited charter on the Mueller investigation. And conservatives are critical, not just of the Mueller investigation, but of all special counsel investigations that they say allow these guys to investigate anything until they find evidence of a crime. And they say, you know, it ends -- it does end up being sort of a witch hunt for crimes that are only tangentially relate to what the investigation -- initial investigation was about.

SAHIL KAPUR, NATIONAL POLITICAL REPORTER, "BLOOMBERG": And the possible relevance is if there was a financial connection between the Trump family, potentially Jared Kushner, and the Russians. Again, we have no evidence of this. But the Trump family's finances have been very opaque. President Trump has been the first president since the '70s not to release his tax returns. And it sounds like Bob Mueller is at least trying to shake the tree on this.

I think it's interesting that this latest plea comes as he is, you know, working on Jared Kushner's information in this regard and the fact that Michael Flynn and George Papadopoulos were also nailed for lying to the FBI, not underlying charges beyond that. So I think he's trying to send a message, don't go there.

KING: Right. When you're -- we know he's going to talk to Hope Hicks, the communication director. He was talking to Steve Bannon, the former chief strategist. Also talking to a lot of their deputies. A lot of lower level people who have been in on meetings, who have been part of e-mail exchanges, and -- but the information today is technically not an indictment because the individuals pleading guilty sends a message, if you lie to me I'm going to catch you. I have all the documents.

In the case of Jared Kushner, he's central to so many parts of this. Part of the Trump Tower June 2016 meeting, set up by Donald Trump Jr. in which they met with Russians who promised dirt on Hillary Clinton, at least three other meeting with the Russians that he did not initially disclose, or he was late to disclose, let's put it that way. He ran the Trump campaign analytics operation. We know the special counsel is looking at some of the things the Russians did with data, social media, matched them up to see how closely they compare with what the Trump and the RNC did during the campaign, a relationship with Michael Flynn and the Kushner companies' financings coming (ph).

This is the president's son-in-law who we've also been talking about for much of the past week because he can't get a permanent -- or has yet to get a permanent security clearance. You're the president of the United States and you see this CNN reporting, you see how central Jared Kushner is to all of this and what do you -- what do you think, in part after being told by your attorneys this would all be over by now and it's not anywhere close?

ZELENY: It's not close. And I think that -- I mean we don't know where this is going in terms of how central he will be, if he'll be a target. But they're spending a lot of time investigating a lot of things here.

And for Jared Kushner, it means that he no longer is the adviser he hoped to be and that the president brought him in for. He was front and center in so many things the president was doing. Now he is on the sidelines. I can't remember the last time he was in front of the cameras at the White House. And that was not always the way.

[12:10:10] But that security clearance point that you mentioned, John, so important. John Kelly trying to bring some order to this broken system has a new policy in place apparently this week. And by the end of the week, Jared Kushner, if this follows through, will not be able to see the presidential daily brief. So that, of course, sort of sets him out of the ring of this.

But back to the Mueller investigation. He knows that a lot is going on. I do not think that they know exactly what that is.

KING: I think that's part of it. Mueller is -- you could say he does Manafort and Gates first. Everyone says that's not about Trump, that's about Manafort and Gates and their business before the campaign. Then he does Papadopoulos and he does Flynn. And you think, oh, wait a minute, not we're inside the campaign or at least people senior in the campaign. Then the Russians. Trump says no collusion. Now this attorney, some part of lying --

JOHNSON: Gates turns on Manafort.

KING: And Gates turns on Manafort.

The interesting part for me is that, especially because of this new CNN reporting, that they're looking more into Jared Kushner's meetings, potential financial transactions they're interested, is how little we have heard from him in this administration. You mentioned you're seeing less of him. This is July of last year, after he went up to testified before congressional investigators. I believe the only time we've heard Jared Kushner's voice, let alone his voice talking about the allegations.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) JARED KUSHNER, SENIOR WHITE HOUSE ADVISER: All of my actions were proper and occurred in the normal course of events of a very unique campaign. I had no improper contacts. I have not relied on Russian funds for my businesses. And I have been fully transparent in providing all requested information.


KING: Am I right about that? I mean that -- that's the only time he's addressed the allegations. A little bit of small talk maybe at a pool shot here or there?

BASH: Very, very little. You're absolutely right.

And the thing also to keep in mind is that, you know, the reporting that Shimon and our other colleagues did was about the transition. And it was broader. And what they are saying is that the Mueller investigation is looking beyond Russia, at other countries.

The thing to keep in mind is that during that time, during the transition, when Jared Kushner and everybody else did not expect to be in that position, they expected to be going back to their businesses and not planning a presidential -- a presidency, he was dealing with a very big problem for his family's company, which is that 666 building, that it was in debt, and he was trying to figure out how to get financing from it. And the person who he was with in the meetings that he had with the Russian ambassador and perhaps others was Michael Flynn. And Michael Flynn not only has turned, but also is clearly not somebody that we now know who would have given him the best advice on what to do and what not to do in terms of protocol and ethics.

KING: Right, and Michael Flynn got such a sweetheart deal from the special counsel that it's clear he's giving valuable information because you don't get off with one charge --

BASH: Right.

KING: Unless you're giving very valuable information.

JOHNSON: Well, I think the (INAUDIBLE) question here is, was Jared Kushner just naive in kind of continuing his business practices while he was a member of the presidential transition and then into the administration, or did he intentionally commit a crime? And that's very important when it comes to the Mueller investigation and whether or not he committed a crime and -- or will be charged with a crime eventually.

KING: Maybe unintentionally.


KING: Maybe unintentionally did something wrong, thinking, here's this moment where I do have this leverage.

BASH: Right.

KING: Maybe I can get financing today that I couldn't get yesterday before the election.

BASH: But it doesn't matter. That's not an excuse.

KING: Right. Right.

You had a point?

KAPUR: No, it may also be piquing Mueller's interest, the fact that Jared Kushner has had to update his financial disclosure an unusual number of times. The fact that, you know, he's millions of dollars in debt.

I think the issue -- the money issue gets to the clarity of the case that Mueller can make. The definition of collusion, it's unclear legally. The obstruction of justice, we know that's an extremely high bar to get to. But if you get to money, if you get to a financial connection, that's a pretty clear shot.

KING: If you can document that.

All right, we'll continue to watch all this.

Up next, do Americans blame gun laws or mental health issues for the mass shooting in America? New polling sheds some light on a question now once again in the middle of a national debate.


[12:18:16] KING: Welcome back.

I want to show you a live look here. This is Parkland, Florida, six days after the school shooting that left 17 people dead. Some students getting ready for a bus trip to the state capitol. An important one, they say, to demand action from Florida lawmakers. A bit more on the students and their effort later in the program.

There's a national conversation underway, as well as the state conversation in Florida. In a new poll from "The Washington Post" and ABC News shows Americans don't think the federal branches of government are doing enough to prevent mass shootings. Only 19 percent, look there, say Congress is doing enough, and only 29 percent think President Trump is doing enough. Of course, it is when you discuss the specifics of what should be done, that things tend to get testy and partisan.

A bit of advice here from the mother of Scott Beigel. He was a geography teacher who was killed in Parkland after ushering his class to safety.


LINDA BEIGEL SCHULMAN, MOTHER OF TEACHER KILLED IN SCHOOL MASSACRE: I would like the lawmakers and the president to erase their minds for one moment, to forget that they're politicians, to forget that they have to be reelected and to take a deep breath and think about the fact that if they watched TV and it was one of their children -- and I'm not talking about a cousin or a friend's child -- their own child, OK, what would they want to do? What would they want to have done?


KING: Whatever your position on gun control, or gun violence, when you listen to the students and then there a mother who lost her son, the poise is remarkable.

To that point, she didn't say, Mr. President, Republicans, Democrats, pass new gun controls or increase funding for mental health. She said, can you sort of flush everything out of your brain -- paraphrasing -- and just have a conversation? Any chance of that happening here in the nation's capital?

[12:20:02] KAPUR: It seems unlikely.

ZELENY: So far it hasn't. I mean I hate to be skeptical on this, but as, you know, covering the Sandy Hook case, and Dana and I were on Capitol Hill during that debate in 2013, and we saw parents and young brothers and sisters walking the halls of Congress, lobbying members of Congress. And I thought, OK, this is a time when something is going to change. It didn't. It didn't make it through the Senate even. So a little skeptical on this.

But there is one different player in this. And that is the president. President Trump will have to decide if he is going to lead on this or not. And there was a sign we were hearing a lot over the weekend -- I was down in Palm Beach as he was vacationing in Mar-a-Lago, and we heard from a lot of people, he was deeply moved by this -- you know, these stories on television. Who wouldn't be, of course.

So he is open now to some discussions. We'll see if it goes anywhere.

We also heard the White House say that they were open to a bump stock revisions after the Vegas shooting. That didn't happen. But it is a different moment and I think that he is the different player here. It's on his shoulders, quite frankly.

KAPUR: And the most important difference in this situation is that we now have children who are speaking out in a way that we hadn't seen before. Children are, you know, in front of the camera, putting Congress on notice saying, saying thoughts and prayers are not enough, you need to actually do something.

I share Jeff's skepticism simply because after Sandy Hook we saw a 90- 10 (ph) issue attempted to be brought to the Senate floor, the issue of background checks for private sales, including gun sales on the Internet. And the reason it was blocked, the reason 46 senators ended up filibustering it is that the intensity among those 15 to 20 percent is so much stronger than the other side. It has less to do with NRA donations. A lot of people talk about that. The average NRA donation to a House candidate is $2,700, to a Senate candidate, $1,500.

Lawmakers and candidates are not losing their sleep in the (INAUDIBLE) world over that. They are worried that voters will punish them, single issue gun voters, until there is a comparable intensity on the gun control side. It's very difficult to see this changing. We've seen some shifts since Newtown. The politics have definitely changed. But enough? Not yet.

BASH: The other difference between then and now is there's a Republican in the White House. And, you know, that could make a difference if he decides that he's going to jump in. I was communicating with somebody who talks to the president, who has been pushing the president to do something and said, much like you reported over the weekend, Jeff, that he's not only up against his base, and many of whom are single issue voters, are single issue voters on guns, but people in his family, his sons, who are hunters, who are -- people who are -- who have a connection to that base and are explaining to the president how potentially bad it would be if he -- if he went for it.

But, you know, it just depends because if you look back at where the president has been before he became, you know, a real politician, he was somebody for gun control.

KING: Well, he was once for an assaults weapon ban --

BASH: Yes.

KING: When he was thinking about running for the reform party's independent back in 2000. He was for gun control then.

The question is, what will Washington do? And the thing that always frustrates me is, can Washington have a conversation? And why does the word "comprehensive" have to come into everything? On an issue where you've had such a divide, where it's been impossible to get any consensus, can you have a building block?

And the potential building block is the so-called Cornyn-Murphy bill. Senator Murphy of Connecticut, a liberal Democrat, who has been very aggressive. He wants a lot of gun controls. John Cornyn of Texas, not someone who's in favor of gun controls but he does favor this bill, which would ensures that federal and state authorities comply with existing laws and report criminal records, holds states accountable if they fail to upload the records by withholding financial incentives, better monitoring of gun buyers. Essentially to strengthen the existing background system and to try to bring in some more notifications, some more resources.

Is there a world in which Washington could pass that and -- and the liberals who want more gun control could say, look, we don't think this is enough, but, in good faith, let's do this. Let's not add anything to it. And a year from now, if it doesn't work, if we have two or three more mass shootings, I expect you people to have this other conversation. Could that happen?

JOHNSON: You know, my reporting suggests that if there's anything that's going to pass in this climate, it is a -- it is that bill. And the president, when he's talked about strengthening background checks, he's referring to this bill. He often doesn't get into the specifics about legislation, but in his general language. His aides are steering him towards this bill.

So I think if there's anything that's going to happen, it's going to be a bill like this. But it cannot be attached to any other bill. It has passed the House already, but in the Senate was attached to a bill that Democrats could not abide.

KING: And, again, every time this happens, this is -- this is probably the ultimate red America-blue America debate, guns. People in San Francisco and Boston and New York and Washington, D.C., say, why can't we ban these AR-15s? Why can't we, you know, ban these big magazines? And people in rural America say, you don't understand, you don't' get us you don't respect us.

A "Washington Post" poll today, very important numbers here. Mass shootings, a reflection of mental health problems or inadequate gun control laws? Fifty-seven percent of the American people think it's inadequate mental health protections and mental health problems. Only 28 percent say the need for more gun control. So, again, if you're thinking that there's going to be this national ground swell of public opinion, you're not going to get it. You're --

[12:25:06] ZELENY: I think that we're desensitized to this, unfortunately. But this is one -- one other thing that's different about this is, and, you know, not to inject raw politics into this, but that's what it is, this is happening in a swing state --

BASH: Yes.

ZELENY: With a critical Senate race in the fall. And I can't recall any other massive shooting like this happening in a swing state, I guess, short of Columbine, but that was not in a midterm election year.

So watch what Rick Scott does, the governor of Florida. He initially was coming out saying, he's open --

KING: Let's listen. I don't mean to interrupt. I want you listen to him.

ZELENY: Sure. Yes.

KING: I want you to listen to him right here. This is Rick Scott, the governor of Florida, who's going to be -- he hasn't announced yet -- we expect him to run for Senate against the Democratic incumbent Bill Nelson. Here's the governor just after the shooting.


GOV. RICK SCOTT (R), FLORIDA: Everything's on the table, all right? I'm going to look at every way that we can make sure our kids are safe.


KING: Now, since then, the governor has understandably, understandably, pointed at the FBI, which has publicly admitted it did not follow its protocols here. And so very understandable and a damn legitimate point, that there were a number of warnings about this shooter that were not followed up on. Will that become the, well, wait a minute, this isn't about guns, the FBI screwed up.

JOHNSON: I think there are few things that make it easier for legislators and for the president to do nothing. The first is that warnings, dozens of warnings in this case, went unheeded by the FBI. The second is that in two previous shootings, one in Sutherland Springs, Texas, and the other in the Charleston shooting, information that should have gone into the federal background check system from local authorities did not go in. So in all three of these cases, the shooters should not have been able to purchase weapons under existing laws. And Republicans like to say, you know, the first point they make is, enforce the laws on the books. And there are a few cases in -- over the past couple of years in which that's actually true.

BASH: Which is why that Cornyn-Murphy piece of legislation --


BASH: Conservative, liberal, is so critical, because Chris Murphy, of course, senator from Connecticut, who has been so passionate and kind of the political face of this issue since Newtown, is sort of approaching this Ted Kennedy style, which is, don't just put the most liberal thing out there, take -- to your point --

KING: Get what you can.

BASH: Take what you can, get what you can.

KING: Yes.

BASH: And in that legislation it would be to strengthen.


ZELENY: (INAUDIBLE) the FBI, his own -- his own agencies also were to blame here. So I'm not sure it's going to be that easy for Rick Scott only to blame the FBI.

KING: Well, we'll watch how this one plays out in the campaign.

KAPUR: (INAUDIBLE) a modest one. It's a modest one that only -- it involves compliance with existing laws, which, as Eliana pointed out, is a sweet spot the conservatives are comfortable and the NRA has also applauded this bill. There's no reason it shouldn't pass unless games are played on Capitol Hill.

KING: Right. If you can do that, if you can maybe have a conversation about mental health, whether it's the reporting (ph) issues, some funding issues, call them building blocks, build (ph) the respect and we'll see. Again, skeptical given the history of this town, but who knows.

A reminders for our viewers, tomorrow CNN holds a very important discussion on this issue. A live town hall with the students of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School as they demand actions from their state lawmakers and their national lawmakers. CNN's Jake Tapper will moderate that discussion. Again, that's tomorrow night, 9:00 Eastern, right here on CNN.

Up next, the president getting a lot of his chest this morning on Twitter, but how much of what he's saying is actually true?