Return to Transcripts main page

INSIDE POLITICS

Dutch Lawyer Sentenced; Mueller Authorized to Investigate Manafort; New Push on Immigration. Aired 12-12:30p ET

Aired April 3, 2018 - 12:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


[12:00:18] JOHN KING, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome to INSIDE POLITICS. I'm John King. Thank you for sharing your time with us.

The Russia special counsel says there's a big message in today's sentencing of a man caught lying to investigators. And a new court filing highlights possible collusion by the Trump campaign chairman.

Plus, leaders of three Baltic nations are meeting with the president this hour. Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia are looking for a more consistent and a tougher White House posture against Russia's Vladimir Putin.

And more horrible headlines, yet the EPA administrator, Scott Pruitt, gets a presidential vote of confidence. His keys to survival, constant Obama era policy rollbacks and constant praise of the boss.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SCOTT PRUITT, EPA ADMINISTRATOR: This is another step. This is another step in the president's regulatory agenda. A billion dollars in savings with respect to over 22 significant regulatory actions that we've been involved in here at the agency. This president has shown tremendous courage to say to the American people that America is going to be put first.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: We begin the hour with a signature moment in the Russia special counsel investigation. The first sentencing of someone charged by Robert Mueller and a new court filing that puts the question of Trump campaign collusion with Russia front and center.

In court today, a Dutch national who's the son-in-law of a Russian oligarch. Alex van der Zwaan sentenced to 30 days in jail and a $20,000 fine. Van der Zwaan admitted he lied to investigators about his work with two men who went on to become key players in the Trump campaign.

Now, van der Zwaan likely will be a footnote when all of this is said and done, but the case against him includes documents detailing how van der Zwaan and those two key players, Paul Manafort and Rick Gates, had discussions with a known Russians intelligence operative late in the 2016 campaign. That's a hint of possible collusion. There's more in a separate court filing. This one in the pending case against Manafort, stating plainly, look at this, when he was appointed, Special Counsel Mueller was specifically tasked by the deputy attorney general, Rod Rosenstein, to investigate whether Manafort, again, the Trump campaign chairman, quote, committed a crime or crimes by colluding with Russian government officials with respect to the Russian government's effort to interfere with the 2016 election for president of the United States.

Let's start with CNN's Evan Perez. He's outside the courthouse, the federal courthouse here, where van der Zwaan was sentenced a short time ago.

Evan, give us details on the proceedings and how it fits into the bigger investigative puzzle.

EVAN PEREZ, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Well, John, in court today prosecutors with Robert Mueller's special counsel's office emphasized that the importance of this sentence was certainly sending a message that -- of the consequences of lying to investigators. And that's what van der Zwaan, Alexander van der Zwaan, has admitted to doing. He was facing charges of conspiracy and admitted to charges of lying and conspiracy. And, as you mentioned, the judge sentenced him to 30 days in prison and a $20,000 fine.

Earlier, he apologized to the court. He said, what I did was wrong. And his -- his lawyers argue that he should receive no jail time, but that is not what happened.

Now, what is he accused of lying? He is accused of lying -- of lying about his interactions in particular with Paul Manafort and Rick Gates. And in particular Rick Gates, who, according to prosecutors, was in touch -- was in frequent touch with a known Russian spy, a man by the name of Constantine Kolumnik (ph). According to prosecutors, during the middle of the campaign, in September and October of 2016, Gates was interacting with this man who worked for the Russian spy services and that Gates knew that this man worked for the Russians.

Now, what this -- the importance of this is that this brings front and center what Robert Mueller's mission here is, which is to prove or to show whether or not there was any legal coordination between Russians and the Trump campaign. And, obviously Paul Manafort and Rick Gates are at the center of that.

John.

KING: Evan Perez for us outside the courthouse.

Evan, appreciate that.

With me here in studio to share their reporting and their insights, Julia Pace of the "Associated Press," former federal prosecutor Michael Zeldin, CNN's Shimon Prokupecz and CNN's Sara Murray.

Michael, I want to start with you in the sense that you have this sentencing today, 30 days in jail. I'm asking this as a layman. Michael Flynn, the national security adviser, pled guilty to lying as well. He has not been sentenced. He is cooperating. Most people think that he has essentially gotten a traffic ticket for robbing a bank, if you will, because he's cooperating. What signal does it send you that van der Zwaan get 30 days in jail? What does Michael Flynn have is the question if he's getting lighter treatment?

MICHAEL ZELDIN, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Well, we don't know what treatment Flynn will get and it may be that Flynn gets harsher treatment because he was exposed to greater liability on a full sentence. So he could get six months and it be a, you know, walk in the park compared to what he could have gotten.

[12:05:06] But I think it tells us that Mueller is serious about his investigation, and particularly serious about lies to his investigators. And so, if you do, there is a consequence, as the court said today.

So I think it sends a message that Mueller wants people to cooperate and be truthful. And I think it tells those who have information to give up to make sure they give it up. Because we saw in this van der Zwaan case, he waived his right to seek Freedom of Information Act information, which he's entitled to, because Mueller has asked him not to do that because it could tip off where their investigation is going.

KING: Right.

ZELDIN: So there's a lot of moving parts here.

KING: And that's a critical point, because we don't know so much. We don't know so much. So with every court filing, we look for a clue. In the van der Zwaan filings, they talk about a meeting in late 2016 with a known Russian intelligence operative. Then in this filling, Paul Manafort wants the case dismissed. Bob Mueller has to go tell the judge, no, here's why we're investigating his business dealings in Ukraine, because we have a specific charge by the Justice Department to do so.

I want to put up this document that has two paragraphs about Paul Manafort. It says, investigate collusion, possibly crime or crimes in the top, then investigate payments from political groups in Ukraine associated to Russia. It's the black redacted part. If you're Donald Trump, that has to send a chill up your spine. If you see these documents, the tip of the iceberg is Manafort. What does that say? We don't know about everybody else. But that is where Paul -- that is where, forgive me, Robert Mueller began, his charge from the deputy attorney general, the president's deputy attorney general.

SHIMON PROKUPECZ, CNN CRIME AND JUSTICE REPORTER: This document here which was, as you said, was filed yesterday, I think sort of tells us that there is a lot that Robert Mueller is looking at because about where they start to talk about allegations, practically the entire page is redacted, is blacked out. If I was Paul Manafort, certainly I'd still be worried that I can potentially face more charges involving collusion. That is where it's clear by this document that Paul Manafort still has exposure on. And there are other people that we know whose names have been out there that are potentially facing some scrutiny, some charges.

But, yes, this is definitely -- and what we don't know and what we see here blacked out is probably more notable than what we know.

KING: Right.

JULIE PACE, WASHINGTON BUREAU CHIEF, "ASSOCIATED PRESS": And beyond the redactions that will, I think, get under Trump's skin, it's the idea that Rosenstein himself --

KING: Right.

PACE: Was issuing this order that essentially broadens the scope of this investigation. It shows that Rosenstein is somebody who is giving Mueller a really broad purview. And Trump has repeatedly gone after Sessions for stepping aside, putting Rosenstein in charge. I think this puts him now in the spotlight for the administration much more than he already was.

KING: Right. And this is where Mueller began -- began in his special counsel.

Michael, you've worked in these investigations. You start with your charge. But if you come into other evidence along the way, you go back and get more. And to that point, you have this document right there, the first paragraph about Paul Manafort, crime or possible crime or crimes involving collusion. There's the word in this. The van der Zwaan filings, meetings with a Russian operative, the Trump deputy campaign chairman meeting with a Russian operative late in the campaign season. The president has said consistently, there's nothing there.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: There is no collusion between me and my campaign and the Russians.

There's been absolutely no collusion. There's been no collusion between us and the Russians.

There has been no collusion between the Trump campaign and Russians or Trump and Russians, no collusion. Bottom line, they all say there's no collusion. And there is no collusion.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Now, again, nothing has been proven. But now you have court documents that do establish meetings. Court documents that do establish from the day Robert Mueller started, this is essentially when James Comey ended when he was fired looking into possible crime -- crime or crimes involving collusion.

SARA MURRAY, CNN POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Right. I mean, at a minimum, we know that there is actually a robust investigation into collusion. I think there was a moment there where people were wondering if this was just going to be an obstruction of justice investigation and whether they would find anything on the collusion. And like you said, nothing has been proven and it certainly hasn't been proven that President Trump knew of any of these interactions, for instance, between Rick Gates and Paul Manafort and the suspected Russian intelligence operative Kolumnik.

But this does tell you, you know, there were contacts that would raise alarm in any other normal campaign. It is not normal campaign behavior for your chairman and your deputy chairman to be in touch with a suspected Russian intelligence operative. That's not normal campaign fair. There is a reason that this is being investigated, because it looks suspicious. It is suspicious in the context of a presidential campaign.

KING: It's just not normal. It's incredibly abnormal.

MURRAY: It's incredibly.

PROKUPECZ: And also, I mean, for Paul Manafort, this is not good news, right? This is an indication that there is still mounting pressure, perhaps, that the special counsel wants his cooperation. The fact that they are continuing their investigation of him -- you know, I've talked to some -- of some former DOJ people today and have all said to me, they don't understand why this memo was even put together.

[12:10:05] And then it was released. You know, you can argue there was some political pressure and they need to perhaps show what they've been authorized to do. But there is still mounting, mounting pressure here on Paul Manafort because in the end there is every indication that they want and need Paul Manafort's cooperation.

KING: Right. You've started with -- from square one to the big build of an investigation. You know for months people have been saying, you know, what does Mueller have? It's time for Mueller to shut down. Mueller's way outside of his original mandate. Now these documents get you back to the original mandate and he's spreading out from there, which is common sense investigation (INAUDIBLE).

When you look at what we know now, the new -- this new filing, what happened in the van der Zwaan case, what does it tell you about the build, if you will?

ZELDIN: That it is multifaceted, that it involves multiple people, because if you look at what Shimon is talking about, the redacted part, it's about six inches long. And those are lists of names of people who are under inquiry, in addition to Manafort. So there are a lot of people who were under investigation for the collusion and other crimes within the Mueller mandate.

And I also think what's important, really important, and what you talked about, John, was the allegation here that Mueller can investigate crimes arising out of monies received from the Ukraine payments. That means that financial crimes committed prior to the commencement of the 2016 campaign is on the table. That's not good news for the president or Jared Kushner or Don Junior or anybody else that has financial relationships with these people who may have a predicate basis for colluding later on. Terrible news for them, I think.

KING: Right. And as we go forward, I just want to note, we expected to get an Oval Office pool spray of the president meeting with the three leaders of Baltic nations today. We're told that has just been canceled, the plans to go in. Draw your own conclusions as to why the president might not want to take questions or have questions shouted at him from reporters today.

So let's come back to this and let's put it on our screen where we are so far.

Paul Manafort has been charged. Thirteen Russian nationals have been charged. Three Russian companies have been charged. Guilty pleas from the former national security adviser, Michael Flynn. From George Papadopoulos, a campaign foreign policy adviser, from Rick Gates, from van der Zwaan and from a gentleman named Richard Penato (ph).

In Gates, Papadopoulos and Flynn, you have three people -- especially Flynn and Gates -- who have inside information about what was happening during the campaign. What we don't know from the redacted part of this document is, does it say Donald Trump Junior and the June 2016 meeting. Was that on the table at the time?

But you have here the beginning of -- if it continues, a very detailed document laying out specifics, allegations -- important to say allegations -- but a long, detailed list there. In part, I wonder, is this usual? Is this normal? Or is this Rod Rosenstein knowing the president just fired Jim Comey and is politically looking to take this investigation down, in his view, for posterity, putting all this in writing?

ZELDIN: I think it's appropriate. You have a May 17th public notification. This is why I'm appointing Mueller. Then Mueller has to say to Rosenstein, look, part of this investigation started before me. March is when Comey announces it. I'm appointed in May. What happened before me? What do you want me to do? What are grand juries looking at? Give me some specific parameters about what I should be looking at. And then, as I proceed, and I look at my mandate and it says, cases that may arise out of, I'll come back to you and ask you about that. And that's what he seems to have done. And on August the 2nd, Rosenstein detailed for him more information about the scope of his mandate.

This is important because Manafort, of course, has challenged him in court saying that you are acting without authority and that this case should be dismissed. The Rosenstein letter, along with the Mueller filing yesterday, says to the court, absolutely not, we are kosher and moving forward.

PROKUPECZ: But this was -- this memo was done in August, so that's three months after Mueller took over. So the question then certainly we've been asking is, what was going on at that -- why did -- why did Rod Rosenstein, at that time in August, three months after Mueller had already been appointed, decided to do this memo? Was there something that may have happened during that period?

KING: Right.

ZELDIN: Yes.

KING: Right. A lot of questions to be asked. But you look -- you just -- you look at the parts of that memo we can read and, boy, you look at that big, giant redaction and it raises a number of questions, but it also begins to give you a road map of where -- why the special counsel -- how the special counsel got started and where he's going.

Appreciate everyone coming in for this part.

When we come back, the president's tweeting constantly about immigration. What does he want the Congress to do, and is there any indication that Congress will even try?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[12:18:42] KING: Welcome back.

More angry immigration tweets from the president today. And the White House says they are a call to action, not just presidential venting. Stoking the president's anger is conservative media coverage of an annual migrant caravan making its way north through Mexico. The president has fired off no fewer than 10 tweets on illegal immigration since Sunday, promoting his border wall, threatening to rip up the NAFTA trade deal with Mexico and to cut foreign aid to Honduras. Plus, he's demanding Congress act now on tougher immigration laws.

Something the president doesn't mention in his tweet storm? He signed off on a spending deal that has just a tiny down payment on his border wall. And Congress took a run at passing most of the other changes the president is demanding now but came nowhere close to the votes needed for passage. Still, the White House says it wants to try again.

Let's talk it over. Julie Pace is still with us. Joining us for the rest of the hour, "Bloomberg's" Sahil Kapur, Michael Bender of "The Wall Street Journal," and "The Daily Beast's" Jackie Kucinich.

The president says a call to action. Is there any indication the speaker and the majority leader, who understand the quicksand that is immigration, are going to come back from passing this spending deal to say, hey, let's talk about immigration again?

SAHIL KAPUR, NATIONAL POLITICAL REPORTER, "BLOOMBERG": The short is probably not. I've spoken to a number of Capitol Hill sources who doubt that Republicans are going to return to this issue, number one, because DACA is stranded in the courts right now. There's no imminent deadline. And without a deadline, it's very difficult to get this Congress, which has been paralyzed for a decade on immigration, to act. And the fact that, you know, the Republican leaders are heading into an election, they know that this is an issue that divides their base and in many cases pits their party against the general public. So there are a lot of things here that are preventing them, I think, from moving forward.

[12:20:17] PACE: And despite the fact that the White House is saying that this is not just venting, that he actually does have a policy mission here, you have to remember that a lot of this is just a messaging play for the president. He knows coming off of the spending bill that a lot of his core supporters are pretty frustrated that -- with the size of the spending bill and the fact that it didn't include the wall funding. So for him to be out there at least messaging on this to say, no, I'm not done, I'm pushing this forward, I actually want action, it is more, I think, about that message, making sure his base knows he hasn't abandoned them on immigration, than actually trying to get Ryan and McConnell to move on something in the next couple months.

JACKIE KUCINICH, WASHINGTON BUREAU CHIEF, "THE DAILY BEAST": And it could win for the president because he could say the swamp stopped him if they don't end up taking this up, which, as Sahil said, it probably is no going to happen.

KING: The swamp -- he can say the swamp stopped him, but didn't he campaign saying this was his trademark?

KUCINICH: Yes.

KING: That this was his calling card? I do deals. I get the stupid politicians, I get them in a room and I get these things done?

MICHAEL BENDER, WHITE HOUSE REPORTER, "THE WALL STREET JOURNAL": Yes, immigration is not going anywhere for Trump no matter -- well, I guess if he can find a deal, it can go away then. But I don't think the deal is at least imminent right now.

And I think what the president is trying to do here, you know, this caravans issue is very -- is a very resonant one. It's a very resonate one for him and one he can latch on to. But even his aides know that this push towards -- from Central America to the U.S./Mexico border is cyclical in nature and it may have a little bit of -- to do with some of the talk about easing DACA or finding a legislative fix for DACA.

But there are -- also they're much more nuance and broader issues here. But what the president -- more of a risk from this caravan for the president is him, at some point, having to own immigration. And what we're seeing him do here is a sort of normal thing for him to blame some of the nation's biggest problems on his political opponents. And, yes, DACA was an issue that President Obama put into place. But this is the president who's ended it and now it's on him to find a fix for it.

KING: This footnote as we continue the conversation. I said a few moments ago there was no Oval Office spray with the leaders of three Baltic nations visiting the president. There was not. But they are having a working lunch. We're told reporters have been invited in to that. A separate room inside the White House. So we'll bring you that tape when we get there.

Why the change in tone? The president's now saying our country is being stolen. You know, the border laws are terrible. Congress has to do more. Here's what the president tweeted just a couple weeks ago. A 45-year

low on illegal border crossings this year. ICE and border patrol agents are doing a great job for our country. MS-13 thugs being hit hard.

Is it just because, to Julie's point, that, you know, the Ann Coulters of the world are beating him up and saying, you know, they're going to revolt against him and become former Trumpers? Is that it?

KAPUR: It's a pattern. When the president feels defensive and under attack, he tends to retrench to his base. And this is a powerful issue, to Michael's point, to, you know, to kind of sell to his base. There are people coming in from south of the border to --

KING: With his base. Forgive me for interrupting, but you write about this -- you write about this and I want everyone -- to his base, yes.

KAPUR: Yes.

KING: But what about the broader election for 2018? If you're looking at a House map and the districts that Democrats would need to take from Republicans, those are not Trump -- full Trump -- some of them are Trump carried districts, but they're not Trump based districts.

KAPUR: The role he --

KING: Or if you're Dean Heller, you write about this, the senator in Nevada, and Latinos come flooding out to the polls this year, you're probably going to lose your seat.

KUCINICH: But -- but it's never --

KAPUR: The role he's going to play is one --

KUCINICH: Right.

KAPUR: Of enthusiasm and mobilization, not of persuasion.

KUCINICH: Right.

KAPUR: That's left to Ryan and McConnell and the Republican leaders who only want to talk about tax cuts between now and November because they think that is an issue of persuasion. President Trump is not (INAUDIBLE).

PACE: And this is the -- this is the problem for Republicans with having a president who is by name of their party but not really of their party. At the end of the day, he cares about his own base --

KUCINICH: Yes.

PACE: And his own electoral success. And when you talk to advisers, both current and former White House advisers, they say nothing rattles this president more than the prospect of turning off that 30 percent of Americans that have been with him, that have been loyal, stuck by his side through so many controversies and fires. That really is something that he fears.

KING: Might he not be a little more rattled by a speaker Nancy Pelosi?

KUCINICH: Perhaps, but it's never been to this president. It's never been about broadening the base. As you were saying, it was never about reaching out to anyone else. It's all about firing up his people to come to the polls. I think we'll keep on hearing about the Second Amendment and the threats to the Second Amendment because he knows it's a motivating issue that gets particularly Republicans out to the polls. And it -- and, you know, we've got these midterm elections come up. So we'll -- I think we're going to keep seeing him push these flashpoints as a way to keep people excited and engaged and, you know, ready to go out there and beat the Dems.

KING: Right. And this could be the defining question. He was right in 2016 when a lot of people said he was wrong, talking about immigration, talking about trade. He thinks he's right again. Most of his party think he's not. But a long way between now and November. We will see.>

[12:24:52] A quick break. When we come back, President Trump backs up his embattled EPA chief, telling him to keep fighting. But, can Scott Pruitt really survive amid looming ethics questions?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: Welcome back.

The Trump administration announcing today another big rollback of Obama-era environmental rules. And the man making that announcement, breathing a little easier about his job status.

Today's change, the Environmental Protection Agency administrator, Scott Pruitt, says emission standards put in place under President Obama are too strict.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SCOTT PRUITT, EPA ADMINISTRATOR: This president has shown tremendous courage to say to the American people that America is going to be put first. And I think this midterm evaluation, the auto sector, the importance of auto manufacturing in this country, the president again is saying, America is going to be put first. And we have nothing to be apologetic about.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Now, look for a court fight over the proposed new emissions rules. But just seeing Pruitt make that announcement is news in its own right. Pruitt's pricy travel has been in the headlines and now a low rent deal on a Washington condominium owned by a lobbyist who has EPA interests. But an administration official tells CNN, the president himself called Pruitt just last night and told him, quote, keep your head up. Keep fighting. We've got your back.

[12:30:13]