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Trump Advised on Gun Control; Gates Reaches Deal; Gates Pleads Guilty. Aired 12-12:30p ET

Aired February 23, 2018 - 12:00   ET


[12:00:00] JEREMY DIAMOND, CNN WHITE HOUSE REPORTER (ph): Those unanswered.


FREDRICKA WHITFIELD, CNN ANCHOR: All right, Jeremy Diamond, thank you so much.

I'm Fredricka Whitfield. See you tomorrow. "INSIDE POLITICS" with John King starts right now.

JOHN KING, CNN ANCHOR: Thank you, Fredricka.

And welcome to INSIDE POLITICS. I'm John King. Thank you for sharing your day with us.

The Trump White House launches new sanctions against North Korea, sending a message by upping the pressure on Pyongyang before the Olympics in South Korea come to a close.

Plus, new charges from the Russia special counsel and a White House scramble now to help presidential son-in-law Jared Kushner keep his access to the government's most sensitive intelligence.

And the president gets a hero's welcome at CPAC, promoting his border wall and his call to arm teachers , and proving how much the right has embraced a man that not too long ago considered a cancer.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: By the way, you don't mind if I go off script a little bit, because, you know, it's sort of boring. It's sort of boring. I've got this beautiful speech. Everything's wonderful. But it's a little boring. We have to, you know, interject.


KING: We begin the hour with the president and guns and some mixed messages from a leader who both sees different from career politicians, but at least today is acting very much like one. In a few moments we expect more gun talk when we hear from President Trump and Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull of Australia at the White House. They are meeting this hour, and we'll take you there when we get a glimpse of their sessions. The president has spoken publically twice already today about guns, including in an often rowdy speech to conservatives in which he made his case that some teachers should be trained and then allowed to carry weapons in school.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: It's not all of them. But you would have a lot. And you would tell people that they're inside. And the beauty is, it's concealed. Nobody would ever see it. Unless they needed it. It's concealed.

So this crazy man who walked in wouldn't even know who it is that has it. That's good. That's not bad, that's good. And a teacher would have shot the hell out of him before he knew what happened.


KING: The president at that session also pitched strengthened background checks and better mental health screening. But in a room packed with conservatives and NRA backers, the president said nothing about two other ideas he has promoted this week, banning so-called bump stocks and raising the age limit to buy a long gun. That silence begs a question, is he just being a typical politician not risking boos or is he already backing away from those idea because the NRA doesn't like them and because many of his own allies and advisers, we are told, are now urging the president not to go too far in pushing new gun controls?

With me today to share their reporting and their insights, Margaret Talev of "Bloomberg," Karoun Demirjian from "The Washington Post," FiveThirtyEight's Perry Bacon, and Mary Katharine Ham from "The Federalist."

Which is it? Do we know the answer to the question? We've seen this before in other big issues. If the president wants to convince conservatives to raise the age limit, to pass legislation as opposed to administrative actions to ban bump stocks, here's your chance. I'm your president, you like me, I need you here. And he passes. Why?

MARGARET TALEV, SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, "BLOOMBERG": Yes. Well because -- probably because this is the ultimate in red meat crowds, because you need to know your audience, because you don't necessarily go here to do that, and because in talking about this alternative idea, this idea of arming teachers, perhaps you are offering them something there that you need in exchange. If that's what he's doing. But we don't know yet. We don't know yet. And we won't until we see more concrete steps.

KING: Right. It's -- I get the politics of that, but isn't this the magic moment? I'm with you on arming teachers.

TALEV: Well --

KING: A lot of people don't like that. I will fight for the Second Amendment, you know, with every last fiber of my being. He could have pulled a Charlton Heston if he wanted to and raised his arms. But I need your help on this and people -- and I think it's the right thing to do. Why not? Isn't this the right place to show the courage if it's what you believe?


KING: If it's what you believe.

HAM: Right. I mean what you believe is a loose term with Trump at any given time. I don't know how committed he is to this. I know he's much more committed to getting a lot of applause in the room he happens to be in. So that would be the reason for not doing that.

Also there's the part of this where, politically, don't stop the other side from taking itself down a flight of stairs, because there are a lot of people on the left who are openly calling for a pretty broad, semiautomatic weapons bans. That is not a bad place to be standing against. And so Trump may feel strengthened by the fact that much of the rhetoric on this has gone to that place, which is a more honest place than it usually is in these debates, so that's fine with me.

KAROUN DEMIRJIAN, CONGRESSIONAL REPORTER, "THE WASHINGTON POST": There's room for him to take a stance that actually is in support of certain gun control measures. You saw, you know, the Florida governor today making his announcement. You saw the things that Marco Rubio said at that town hall, which was stopping short of the assault weapons ban, but actually being pretty open to most of the parts of went into -- what went into the Manchin-Toomey proposal that couldn't get past Congress a few years ago.

[12:05:10] But the president took several days to even start to talk about this shooting at the very beginning, right? We only started to hear him talking about gun control when he was seeing the kids on television, realizing what, you know, a -- how much effect that they were having. Then started to being like, oh, maybe I'm open to this, at Mar-a-Lago. And now, as you pointed out, he's at CPAC and he's a very different audience that he's hearing from. And so this president does not seem to have a true core of, you know, this is what I came into the office within my principles I'm going to follow.

KING: But to that point, Perry, we've seen this a bit before. We've had this question before. He was the art of the deal president. He was going to repeal and replace Obamacare. Never got there. He was -- it was easy. He was going to protect the dreamers and do a DACA deal and get the conservatives on board by giving us some (ph) things. At least as of today, maybe when we get back to the spending plan next month, we'll get -- we're not there.

The only Nixon can go to China argument keeps coming up. Only Trump can do this. If only Trump can sell pretty modest new gun controls and it's not our -- not my job, anyway, some people in the business think it is their job, it's not my job to say what's right or wrong. It's my job to say, let's have a debate about these things. Let's air them out. And if people have the courage, vote on them.

But if he wants to raise the age, if he wants to ban bump stocks, why not go into that crowd and say, let's do this together, and to your point, so that we can look liberals in the eyes and say, you're going too far?

PERRY BACON, FIVETHIRTYEIGHT: I don't think he has the power. I don't have a Trump's inner view of this issue. I think the Congress writes the laws just generally.

KING: Right.

BACON: He's followed them, not led them, in most cases like Obamacare and things like that.

I'll be curious -- right now we've heard Marco Rubio, Rick Scott and Donald Trump saying things. I'll be curious what Paul Ryan, the Freedom Caucus, ultimately the Florida legislature has to vote on gun control laws in Florida. The Congress here has to vote for them in Washington. I just don't know that Trump making comments ten days after a shooting, I'll be curious to see what happens a month from now if Paul Ryan is driving the issue, and I'm not sure he will be.

HAM: The bump stock thing isn't even controversial in the room he was in.

KING: Right.

HAM: He could have certainly mentioned that.

DEMIRJIAN: But that would be undercutting the administration, right? His own administration is supposed to be taking on that issue. And if you push for it too much, it looks like you're trying to get a law, which is not what the NRA wants. And then that gets a little bit murky.

KING: And so we have this national debate. We're going to hear more from the president later today.

We also have, in one of the nation's most evenly divided, big, important battleground states, Florida, where the Parkland shooting took place, the governor stepping forward. The governor, Rick Scott, is a Republican. He has been a favorite of the NRA. But he's also running in a Senate election next year and he just had this horrible tragedy play out in his state. So let's not put it all on politics. He's thinking about this play out.

Listen to the governor this morning, who is going to talk about where -- how he's trying to strike what he believes to be the right balance.


GOV. RICK SCOTT (R), FLORIDA: I know there's some who are advocating a mass takeaway of Second Amendment rights for all Americans. That is not the answer. I do know that some are going to accuse me of unfairly stigmatizing those who struggle with mental illness. I reject that. I'm not asking them to wear a scarlet letter, nor am I unsympathetic to their plight.


KING: Now, let's look. We showed you earlier what the president has said he's for and what he didn't mention in one speech. Here's what the governor of Florida says. Mandate law enforcement --

I'm sorry, I'm going to stop now for some breaking news here in Washington. We are told right now that ex-Trump campaign aide Rick Gates has now reached a deal -- reached a deal to plead guilty to charges in Robert Mueller's sprawling Russia election meddling probe.

Let's get, for the details, now to Evan Perez, outside the D.C. courthouse.

Evan, what do we know and how'd this come about?

EVAN PEREZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, John, we've been waiting for this for a couple of days now. For the last -- at least the last week or so, Rick Gates and his attorney, Tom Green, have been in talks with the special counsel trying to reach an agreement. We heard multiple times that they were close to an agreement and that they fell apart.

As recently as yesterday, some of Rick Gates' own family and friends were encouraging him to keep fighting. But now we're told that there is -- they've reached a deal with the special counsel for him to plead guilty to criminal charges. We don't know the details of exactly what he is going to plead to and what exactly are the terms, but this is a big deal for the government.

With Rick Gates as a -- on their side now, with him pleading guilty, he's going to -- he's expected to help in their case against Paul Manafort. As you had alluded earlier, yesterday the government added 32 counts and charges that were filed across the river in Alexandria, Virginia. That's in addition to 12 counts that were filed in October here at this courthouse here in Washington.

So now you have two cases against Paul Manafort and Rick Gates. We expect that as soon as later today, Rick Gates will plead guilty to these criminal charges as part of a plea agreement with the special counsel.

Again, we don't know exactly what the terms are. He had been saying as recently as yesterday and as recent as this morning, people close to him were expecting that perhaps he might be able to hire a new lawyer, continue to fight this case, but now we're told that that is no longer the case. He's throwing in the towel and he's expected to plead guilty, John.

[12:10:02] KING: Evan Perez outside the courtroom.

Evan, if you have any -- if you get new information, raise your hand. We'll bring you back in.

Also our crime and justice reporter, Shimon Prokupecz, joins us as well.

So, Shimon, we knew -- we knew and had been reporting for weeks that Gates was trying to negotiate such a deal. In the middle of that, he gets slapped with a long list of new charges yesterday. You might call that a momentum builder, a momentum breaker, a momentum encourager by the special counsel.

While we wait to find out exactly what he is pleading guilty to and exactly what the -- then the information decree will say about his level of cooperation, what does this tell us about the special counsel's tactics?

SHIMON PROKUPECZ, CNN CRIME AND JUSTICE REPORTER: Well, clearly it's another line of tactics here that we have seen throughout this case where they're just chipping Away at people that are close to this investigation who have information in this investigation. When you look at others who are cooperating, George Papadopoulos, former campaign adviser, former national security adviser, Michael Flynn, all of these folks now cooperating. And now with Rick Gates cooperating, you have a third person who is part of this campaign providing information to the special counsel.

And Mueller's team knows what Rick Gates knows at this point because he's been in to see them. He's done that profer (ph). He's come in. He's told them everything he knows. And while some suspect it may only have to do with Paul Manafort, there could be other things that he knows, other information that he may have regarding whether it's the Russians or Ukrainian or the lobbying work that he and Paul Manafort were doing during the campaign, before the campaign. All of that is information that he has already given to the special counsel. And, obviously, they deem it worthy of their investigation for them to go ahead and offer him a cooperation agreement.

And then the other thing, John, as well, we're all saying this is in a way to put pressure perhaps on Manafort. Really most folks feel that the end game here for this special counsel investigation is to get Paul Manafort to flip and get him to provide information because there are indications two investigators that he has a lot of information and that his cooperation would be key and central in this investigation.

KING: Shimon, stay with us, if you can. If you need to pick up your phone and do some reporting, that's OK. People on television can watch how we make the sausage here.

Let's bring into the conversation Solomon Wisenberg. He served as Ken Starr's number two in the Lewinsky investigation. He interviewed Bill Clinton in the grand jury in that investigation.

Sol, take us inside Mueller's calculations in that you were in plea negotiations, they weren't working well. You slap a number of new charges down against Rick Gates and then you get a plea deal. Just take us inside the prosecutor's mindset and what that tells you about what comes next.

SOLOMON WISENBERG, FORMER PROSECUTOR: Well, one thing we know about Bob Mueller's team is they're very aggressive. And when they set a deadline, they're going to stick by that deadline. If they make a threat, they're going to follow through on that threat. I think that all of us should be looking out for when the Gates plea

agreement comes out. Each one of these agreements that Mueller has done have had three aspects. They've had the criminal information or the indictment, they've had the plea agreement itself, and then they have the statement of the offense. You can't plead guilty unless you stand in front of a judge and say, this is what I did.

And the statement of the offense is really the key document because -- take Mike Flynn, for example, Michael Flynn. His statement of the offense didn't indicate that he had any information about criminal collusion. That's very important. That says, at least with respect to Flynn, there's no collusion case. Same thing with the Papadopoulos statement of the offense. So I would look at that. That will be a clue.

Statement of the offense, there's also a provision in the plea agreement, all these plea agreements, that say you're protected, you're covered against prosecution for anything mentioned in the statement of the offense. So if you look at the Gates statement of the offense and plea agreement together and it doesn't say anything about Trump, if it's all about Manafort, that's an indication that Gates really doesn't have any information to give on Trump or the Trump people.

KING: Is it -- let me jump in there, Sol, and stick with you for a second.

Is it an indication of that period or is it an indication that Mueller's at least not willing to go public with that part of it right now and he's just trying to send a signal to people that I have yet another cooperating witness?

WISENBERG: It could be what you're talking about. That could be it. They -- I looked at the Flynn papers and --

KING: Is there some ethical -- is there some ethical -- I don't mean to interrupt you, but is there some ethical burden on Mueller that if that's where he's going, he's supposed to lay it out with these witnesses or is keeping secrets a prosecutorial -- at the prosecutor's discretion?

WISENBERG: Absolutely his discretion. I just think it's unlikely here. Possible, but unlikely. It's not a typical way of going about it.

KING: OK, great.

And, Evan Perez, to you first. Sol, please stay with us.

On the question, as Shimon just laid out, if you get a plea deal from Rick Gates, the first instinct is, now you have his long-time business partner, who's cooperating with the government, who we assume would not get a deal unless he agreed to testify against Manafort if there's a trial. In your contact with Manafort's legal team over these past months, is there any indication that that would be enough, the idea that you would have a credible witness who was an insider on his business dealings to testify against him. Would that get Manafort to cut a deal? Or is he stubborn and in for trial?

[12:15:22] PEREZ: Look, I think what you get in these types of cases, John, and you know this from covering this stuff over the years, you get a lot of bravado, right? And everybody right now says, you know, sure, we want to get to trial. They say that they're getting ready for trial. They want to do battle. They've filed a lawsuit against the special counsel challenging the jurisdiction of the special counsel to even bring these charges. So they're looking to fight on various grounds.

But I got to tell you, you know, this is a game changer. The idea that you will get Rick Gates, who is a close employee of Paul Manafort, he did everything for him, that he would turn against Manafort has to change your calculus. Manafort is 70 years old. I mean the idea that he wants to spend the rest of his life in prison if he is found guilty of these charges.

And now he's got two cases, one here in Washington, one across the river in Alexandria. There is no doubt that it has to change your calculus, at least has to make you think, do I really want to go through this? Do I really want to spend the money?

He's got -- it doesn't appear that he even has the money to mount this kind of defense. I mean we're not sure, because they haven't even been able to approve their bail package, this for a case that was brought in October.

So, look, I think this has got to at least make them stop and think. Without Gates, the Manafort case is a little more difficult for the government. This is a key witness, and it's got to change some of that calculus. And the question is, what does Manafort have? What is he able to offer Special Counsel Mueller that may change all of this investigation?

KING: Evan and Shimon, thank you both. I want to clear you guys so you can do some reporting. Come back if we get more details of the plea agreement.

One more question for you, Solomon Wisenberg.

From your experience -- I was covering the Clinton White House at the time. You were leading an investigation. It came under a ton of criticism, that how did Ken Starr start with a Whitewater real estate investigation and end up with Paula Jones and then on to Monica Lewinsky. A lot of pressure. A lot of people saying this is government resources. This is the president of the United States.

From that perspective, having lived through that, when you look at what Mueller has done, Papadopoulos pleads guilty, Manafort and Gates indicted, Flynn pleads guilty, a California man (INAUDIBLE) pleads guilty to identity fraud, Russians indicted, the Dutch lawyer just last week, now the new case against Manafort and Gates and now a plea deal. Does Bob Mueller, in your view, have both the legal and, importantly in the town I work in, Washington, political standing to look people in the eye and say, back off. What I'm doing is yielding fruit. Get out of the way. WISENBERG: Oh, I think an indictment -- you hit the nail on the head. An indictment is bearing fruit. It tells a story. It's saying to the world that, I'm moving along. I'm doing stuff. I'm not just twiddling my thumbs. So I think it's very important. At on one level, I don't think Bob Mueller cares what anybody thinks, because that's the kind of public servant he is. I think if the evidence led to his mother, she would be indicted. But I think that it does. It buy him some time. I think that's very important.

I understand the argument against the jurisdiction of the special counsel, the jurisdictional argument. I think it's going to be a tough sell.

And the other interesting thing, though, that's related to that is, take a look at the original Manafort/Gates indictment. That, obviously, is not specifically covered in the charter. That means that Mueller had to go to Rod Rosenstein and get Rod Rosenstein's OK to broaden the investigation to include these unrelated international financial transactions and bank fraud. And that means that Mueller's already been essentially given that authority with respect to President Trump. So we're already -- he's already got a very broad mandate that he has been given by Rod Rosenstein.

KING: To that point, I said this would be the last question, but I lied. Let me come back and ask you another one. Given your experience, and, again, I remember this, you interviewed a president of the United States, got him to admit that a lot of things he had said publicly -- not under oath, but a lot of things he said previously publically about some conduct was incorrect, were lies.

Based on what you know about what Mueller has done so far and about who he is and how he operates, if you were advising this president of the United States, would you tell him to sit down for that interview, or would you tell him no way?

WISENBERG: I would tell him it's very, very dangerous to sit down for an interview with Mueller. I'd tell him to go in front of the American people and say the Supreme Court has said since the 1950s that the Fifth Amendment privilege against self-incrimination protects the innocent as well as the guilty. I've said from the beginning that this is a political witch hunt. I'm not going to play gotcha politics or gotcha law with Bob Mueller. And I'm not going -- I'm innocent and I'm not going to go in and testify.

[12:20:05] KING: But you don't -- do you personally believe it's a political witch hunt or do you think that's just the best way to publically spin it?

WISENBERG: Oh, no, no, I'm saying that's how he would publicly -- I don't -- I don't believe that it's a witch hunt. But I believe that that would be the way to play it for PR.

I'll tell you one thing, if you had a regular client in his situation, the client who was not a celebrity or the president of the United States, you would -- you would never let that person go in for an informal interview. And if the prosecutor then hit you with a grand jury subpoena, you would invoke -- you would have your client invoke the Fifth Amendment privilege. He is in very dangerous territory if he speaks to Mueller.

KING: Very smart, legal advice. I don't know, Sol, if you can hang out. The producers will tell you this. We're reading the charging document now. If you can hang on and help us with it when we get it, that would be great. Otherwise, thank you for coming in today to share with this.


KING: And just to bring it in the room here for a minute now. This is the deputy campaign chairman of the Trump campaign. Who was not at the campaign for the entire campaign, but he was at the campaign for big moments.

So you have an adviser they want to call the coffee boy, Papadopoulos, has flipped. You can't call Michael Flynn the coffee boy. He was the national security adviser to the president of the United States. He has flipped.

Rick Gates, we don't know if it has anything to do with the campaign or we don't know if he knows anything about anything bad that happened during the campaign. But he's about to enter a plea deal that at least puts his former boss and business partner, Rick Manafort, in more legal jeopardy. Where are we today? How is today different from yesterday?

DEMIRJIAN: This is the domino situation, right? I mean it is significant potentially what we're going to see come out in this plea arrangement from Gates directly. It is -- he stuck around the campaign longer than Manafort did and he was an adviser that could, you know, basically have some contact with the White House in the first two months of the presidency.

But he is the guy that's been, you know, by Manafort's side through all of this. And if he flips with information on Manafort, the question is, can Manafort then tell the Mueller team something that they want to know about people above Manafort, and that would be the president and his, you know, family, inner circle? So the question is, it's a step wise pattern as we've seen. We know Papadopoulos was kind of the bottom of the food chain but has moved up from there. And, similarly, Gates is not, you know, the end all and be all, that he wouldn't have a plea arrangement if he actually was, you know, the target of this. So it's a question of what does that then -- what's the next step after that, presumably Manafort, and then what can Manafort tell us that, you know, we haven't been focusing on?

KING: Right. And to the points I think Evan Perez and Sol both made them in the sense that when we actually get this document it will be a fascinating read because in the case of General Flynn, for example, we were told though sources he was under investigation for a long list of things. In the end, he admitted four crimes, but the document only charges him with one crime.

DEMIRJIAN: That's right. KING: Which is what the prosecutor does as essentially a gift.


KING: You are a witness who is now cooperating who I believe has high value information, therefore you get a gift. So what we see in the document in the Rick Gates filing will give us a lot of clues about how valuable he is viewed.

TALEV: There will be a tremendous amount of reading between the lines. The gift -- another way to look at the gift is like a shoe dangling from a thread that might drop later, or the shoe might just stay up on the wire.

So if nothing else were to come out of this, if -- if they can squeeze Gates for Manafort but they can't squeeze Manafort for anything except for himself, you still have, ironically, President Trump promised to drain the swamp and you have a really strong signal to lobbyists, to foreign registered lobbyists, or to people who should be foreign registered lobbyists, about the way they do business and the way they've done business. And registrations and tax evasion and all kinds of stuff.

KING: So Bob Mueller's draining the swamp.

I don't mean to interrupt, but Shimon Prokupecz has been reading the charging document -- that wasn't a joke, actually -- and has more information on exactly what Rick Gates is admitting to here.


PROKUPECZ: That's right. This was just filed moments ago by prosecutors, by the special counsel's office, and it's two counts that Rick Gates is expected to plead guilty to this afternoon. It's criminal information that he's pleading guilty to. This is normal in these kinds of cases where people will cooperate. The prosecutor is filing information and then the defendants would plead guilty to it.

And there's two counts here. One of them has to do with fraud and defrauding the United States, and that has to do with more of his tax violations and (INAUDIBLE) violations and not registered as a foreign agent.

The other thing here, and we've seen this in this case with other people, he's going to plead guilty to making a false statement. That is -- we've seen that's very common in these cooperation agreements when defendants are pleading guilty, and we're seeing that in this case again. He would be the third person that is now cooperating with the special counsel's office to plead to a count of making a false statement. And that has to do with conversations that he had with investigators. So there it is. It's two counts. And we expect him to be in court this afternoon where he'll plead. And as we've been reporting, cooperating with the special counsel.

KING: And do we know anything about, is there a sentencing? In the case of Papadopoulos and Michael Flynn, there were dates set and they've been extended and extended because of their cooperation.

[12:25:00] Any sense there, Shimon, as you answer -- also to your point about another charge of a false statement. Again, Mueller's presenting a legal case here. But in the arena of there are still people to come in and give their story, I've read every one of those as a message that if I catch you in a lie, you're going to court.

PROKUPECZ: That's exactly right. Look, you know, we have this lawyer from last week that was charged that came out of nowhere, actually this week, that people were surprised by. We are -- it's not -- you know, it seemed innocuous. It didn't seem like it had anything to do with this investigation. But that was clearly a signal to these people who have come before the special counsel, who will come before the special counsel, don't lie to us. We had -- there are FBI agents who sit at these meetings, there are prosecutors, U.S. attorneys, who you just can't lie to, because if you do lie to them, they -- Mueller clearly has no issues with charging people with lying.

In this case, you know, and where we've seen cooperation agreements, they tend to do what's called plea down, right? So you have defendants who are pleading down to lesser crimes. It's an incentive to get them to cooperate. And that certainly appears to be the case here.

You know, and as we've said earlier, Gates has been -- it's been difficult for him to come to this, to say I'm ready to do this. And it looks like they pretty much have given him a pretty good deal here from what you can see in these documents where he's going to plead to crimes that will probably save him from spending the rest of his life in jail.

KING: Shimon Prokupecz, appreciate the reporting. Evan Perez, Solomon Wisenberg, my group in here, appreciate it as well.

We're going to take a quick break. We'll come back to this story if we get more information.

When we come back, though, we're going to turn to the gun and mental health proposals being put forward by the governor of Florida.