Return to Transcripts main page


Manafort Enters Plea Deal, Agrees to Cooperate with Special Counsel; Hurricane Florence Stalls on Carolina Coast Battering Cities; Rescues Launched in New Bern, North Carolina. Aired 11:30a-12p ET

Aired September 14, 2018 - 11:30   ET


[11:30:00] EVAN PEREZ, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: So again, a lot of details yet to come out. But this was a bit of a surprise in court.

I can describe to you right now a little bit of the scene. Paul Manafort is standing there in a dark-gray suit with a purple tie, and he's very glum. We have seen him smiling a lot in court, especially in Virginia where he was on trial. Today, he's not smiling at all. He's glum and he's quietly responding, "Yes, Your Honor," when the judge is explaining to him all the rights that he's giving up as a result of this plea deal.

As a result of this plea deal, Kate, one of the things he's doing is giving up his right to any appeal and the government is agreeing to drop the remaining 10 charges that he faces in Virginia. So this is going to resolve the charges that he's facing in Virginia as well as here in the District of Columbia.

One other interesting thing mentioned by the judge is that Paul Manafort is giving up the rights to his story, essentially. He's giving up the right to make any money off of publishing any book or any movies that might be made from this entire saga.

KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: Before then, we have a lot more questions right now.

Evan, hold on.

Let me get back to Shimon.

Shimon, there's a big question right now, is why didn't he do that sooner? Do you know why?

SHIMON PROKUPECZ, CNN CRIME & JUSTICE REPORTER: Right. We don't know that. That's an excellent question. He could have done this sooner, could have avoided the trial. Again, we don't know everything about this cooperation. We will probably learn some time soon what it will involve.

But, you know, think about this, Kate. You now have a key figure in this entire investigation, Paul Manafort, who's met with the special counsel, has offered information to the special counsel. We don't know what that information is. This is something that we have all, all along, been saying the special counsel wanted. They wanted his cooperation. It could be that his cooperation is limited only to certain things. Obviously, the big question is, does that involve anything with the president or the campaign or does this involve other things. Hopefully, those questions will be answered.

But this is certainly, and you know, something that will change the impact. This will impact the investigation. This will change the way this investigation goes. I had never expected certainly that Paul Manafort would sit with the special counsel, sit with him for interviews, tell him things he knows, tell him crimes he's committed, perhaps crimes he knows of that other people have committed. No doubt the fact that the special counsel has met with him, that they did this proffer agreement, that he's entered into this cooperation agreement, changes the entire dynamic of this investigation. And really the story as we move forward -- Kate?

BOLDUAN: Yes, I mean, this has been a huge question from the very beginning when there wasn't even an investigation into Paul Manafort, and now this absolutely has to change the dynamic of this entire thing.

Joining me now, joining all of us right now is CNN legal analyst, Shan Wu, defense attorney and former federal prosecutor. For a time, he served as an attorney for Rick Gates, the star witness in the first trial of Paul Manafort. And CNN chief legal analyst, Jeffrey Toobin, is here.

Jeffrey, what do you -- does this surprise you?

JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN CHIEF LEGAL ANALYST: Well, I mean, what surprises me is that he didn't do it earlier if he was going to do it. All of the benefit you get from cooperating is you don't force the government to go to trial. You get the benefit in sentencing of cooperation. He will get some benefit in sentencing from cooperation, but it's not -- it certainly wasn't as advantageous of him to go to trial and then cooperate.


TOOBIN: It is. I mean, criminal defendants don't always act very rationally. They sometimes are angry. They're nervous. They think they can beat a case. He obviously didn't beat this case.

But the real question now is, and the question that consumes the whole matter is, what is he telling Mueller's office? What does he know about other peoples' criminality? And what does he know about any illegality, in particular, regarding the Trump campaign in 2016?

BOLDUAN: Shan, what do you think -- and this is an unknown -- but what are the -- what's the universe of possibility of what the terms of this Cooperation agreement could be?

SHAN WU, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Oh, I think we can discern that without it being in writing. A little bit unusual, it was not reduced to writing. If I was his counsel, I would have wanted that guarantee in writing. But the universe is a very broad one for the benefits to Manafort. If his cooperation is helpful, his sentence could be vastly reduced through a number of mechanisms. They can file a letter to the judge to go beneath the guidelines. This can do a Rule 35 asking for the sentence to be reduced later. I agree completely --


BOLDUAN: What kind of jail time was he looking at?

WU: Well, if you're looking at the Virginia one alone at this point, it looks like under the guidelines that's probably going to be around 10 years. The D.C. One could have been much higher when you put on top of that. But I understand that part of this deal was they capped it at 10 years. And I would expect that his defense team is looking for it to be substantially less than that in light of the cooperation.

[11:35:05] And you know, to Jeffrey's point, it's surprising he didn't do it earlier. It definitely would have been advantageous for him to do it earlier. But you know, they go through -- people in this situation go through a very slow change in their attitude. They start off very angry, often in denial. His clearly was willing to fight very, very hard. They took a gamble splitting it into two cases, and that began to unravel early.

And this is a huge victory for the Mueller prosecution. They just put huge pressure on Manafort, tying up all of his assets in the bail negotiations. Most of those are going to be forfeited now. They flipped his business partner, Gates. It's been a march of going forward with tremendous pressure, and now they have basically caused him to cave.

TOOBIN: And part of the plea agreement is he admits to absolutely everything that he was charged with. Everything.

BOLDUAN: Everything he fought in the last trial.

TOOBIN: Everything he fought in the last trial. The 10 -- the outstanding charges.

BOLDUAN: On the most-simple level, he has to provide -- the government, the Mueller team needs to get something out of this cooperation. They wouldn't agree to this deal unless they were going to get something significant out of it.

TOOBIN: Correct. That's true. I mean, they didn't really give up very much here. Since he's admitted to everything, a 10-year cap, I mean, he probably wasn't going to get more than 10 years anyway. So the way federal sentencing works is if it's done -- criminal sentences, you have to serve 85 percent of a sentence that you get in federal court today. If he got 10 years, he was looking at eight and a half years in prison. He's 69 years old. Eight and a half years at 69 is a very, very long sentence. If you cooperate and the prosecution agrees that your cooperation is significant, they can go to the judge and reduce your sentence dramatically. The judges in federal court reward cooperation a great deal. But prosecutors have to be impressed by this cooperation. They have to believe that you are telling the truth. Presumably, there have been discussions here. I mean, you have what's called proffer sessions where prosecutors get a good sense of what you're saying.


BOLDUAN: Do they --


TOOBIN: They already know what he's going to say, and they obviously think it's worthwhile making this deal.

BOLDUAN: Let me bring in CNN's chief political analyst, Gloria Borger.

Gloria, as Shimon says, this is a huge moment in changing the narrative, in changing the dynamic of this entire story regarding Robert Mueller's investigation into possible collusion and obstruction of justice. That leads up to the president.

GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: Right. Well, we don't know. And I think Shimon was saying this, and Jeff. We don't really know at this point what cooperation will mean in this particular case. And I just got off the phone with a source who is familiar with the Manafort case and is a pro-Trump source. And you know, this source says that, all along, Manafort's attorneys had been telling the president's lawyers that he had nothing to say about Donald Trump. And we just saw that Sarah Sanders just tweeted right --


BOLDUAN: She just put out a statement, Gloria. "This had absolutely nothing to do with the president" --

BORGER: Right.

BOLDUAN: -- "or his victorious 2016 presidential campaign. It is totally unrelated."

BORGER: Right. So that's their story, and they're sticking to it. And we should also note, as Caitlin Palance (ph) has reported in all her great reporting this morning, that Donald Trump's name has not come up at all in the courtroom and, you know, throughout much of this case. And so they are saying that the White House shouldn't be worried. John Dowd, who used to represent the president of the United States, has always been saying that this case has nothing to do with Donald Trump. So what he is going to cooperate on is going to be pretty interesting.

BOLDUAN: And clearly, that's the entire -- that's the whole -- that's the whole ball game.


BOLDUAN: What is he cooperating on? That's everything. I'm remembering, I think it was a tweet. Of course, it was if it came from the president.

But on that remarkable day of Manafort being convicted, and Michael Cohen being pleading guilty, Gloria, the president at one point tweeted that, "Unlike Michael Cohen, Manafort refused to break, make up stories in order to get a deal. Such respect for a brave man."

BORGER: Right.

BOLDUAN: I now wonder what -- if the president feels that confidence today.

BORGER: If he thinks Manafort is so brave -- I have a tweet -- there's a tweet for everything, as we know.


Back on August 22nd, where Donald Trump tweeted that, "I feel very badly for Paul Manafort and his wonderful family. Justice took a 12- year-old tax case among other things and applied tremendous pressure on him."

It's part of the same quote, I guess, that you're reading.

[11:40:09] BOLDUAN: Yes, yes.

BORGER: Exactly. So I wonder if the president still feels badly.

And don't forget, you know, Manafort and the president, during the campaign at least, were not particularly close. According to my sources. Manafort was brought in to the campaign by a mutual friend of Manafort and the president, Tom Barrack. And when stories started being written about his connections with Ukraine and lobbying for the pro-Russia president, he was dumped unceremonially from the campaign. So this is all moving very quickly now. And we're just going to have to let it unspool a little bit to see what it really means.

BOLDUAN: Let's go over to the White House right now. Jeff Zeleny has reporting on possibly what the president thinks about all this.

Jeff, what are you picking up?

JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Certainly, President Trump is watching all of this unfold. And as Gloria was saying, the president certainly made his views clear a month ago after the first proceeding here in Virginia. But the president, I'm told, has been watching all of this unfold this morning on television. He was briefed by his lawyers earlier. He's in the residence of the White House, as we speak.

The first scheduled item on his agenda was supposed to be a security briefing, an intelligence briefing, but he is focusing on this at least at the moment. You saw the statement from the White House press secretary, Sarah Sanders, again saying this has nothing to do with the president. But that's unclear. And one thing also unclear here is the level of cooperation, as we have been saying. We certainly know that the president's mood cannot be bright on this. He has always thought that Paul Manafort, even though he's distanced himself from him, saying, oh, he only worked for me for a brief period of time, they've always thought that Paul Manafort would hold firm. Now, when you add this to the list of others who have pleaded guilty and are cooperating with authorities, certainly, it's not something the president was hoping for or expecting. So we'll see if we do hear from the president directly on this.

You'll remember, after the sentencing of George Papadopoulos just a week or so ago, the president immediately was mocking the 14-day jail sentence, really within minutes of that being announced. He's quiet so far. Of course, not saying much at all today, as he and other members of his administration are overseeing hurricane coverage. But this is something that certainly I expect would shake him -- Kate?

TOOBIN: Can I just add one thing about this notion of what is the cooperation?


TOOBIN: What's unclear is what Manafort is saying. The way cooperation agreements work virtually all the time is you have to sit there and answer every single question the prosecutors have. There are not cooperation agreements where you say, well, I'm going to cooperate about X subject but not Y subject. If you are cooperating, you are cooperating.

BOLDUAN: They're not limiting -- the universe of possibility is the universe of possibility, any question that the special counsel would want him to answer.

TOOBIN: Absolutely. Now, what is unclear and it's very important to point this out is whether Paul Manafort has anything incriminating to say about any other person.

BOLDUAN: Right, but, again, would the special counsel, would prosecutors agree to the deal if they didn't think he had anything?

TOOBIN: Well, I mean, they would agree to the deal if they believed he was telling the truth. And if they believe he's telling the truth and there's nothing incriminating about Donald Trump or anywhere else, I think they would take the deal. Usually, they want to build other cases. But I think the ethical obligation of a prosecutor is to try to get the truth. And if they believe the truth is that he doesn't know about any illegal activity on the part of the president or anyone else, then they'll make this deal. What we don't know is what Manafort is saying about other people.


BORGER: And also, Kate, let me just add. It may not just be about the president of the United States. If you read through this -- and I have just done that -- Manafort came up with this entire scheme to hide money. So he wouldn't pay taxes on it. And it seems, in fact, that there were both public relations firms and law firms that went along with the scheme, that lobbied members of Congress and others without letting them know that, in fact, this fake entity that they were working for, run by Manafort, was actually being run by the president of Ukraine at the time, the pro-Russian president. And so it's clear to me that Manafort's probably going to be talking a lot about that, too.

BOLDUAN: There seems to be a lot to talk about now. BORGER: Yes.

BOLDUAN: For us and for Paul Manafort.

Gloria, thank you so much.

Everybody, thank you.


[11:45:00] BOLDUAN: Again, the breaking news, just to wrap up, Paul Manafort has entered into a plea deal with prosecutors and agreed, importantly here, agreed to cooperate with the special counsel, Robert Mueller, in his investigation. Very important breaking news on the Russia investigation.

We also continue to follow the other very important breaking news on the coast of the Carolinas as Hurricane Florence is now just sitting there, slowly walking along the coastline and battering cities along the way. We're going to get back to Anderson Cooper on the ground right after this.


[11:50:09] ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: We're coming to you live from Wilmington, North Carolina. The story right now is in New Bern, North Carolina.

That's where Ed Lavandera is. We have seen rescues there going on for hours. Hundreds of people have been rescued from their homes.

Ed, explain the situation you are in right now.

ED LAVANDERA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Anderson, you mentioned we are in New Bern, and we came across two guys who drove down from an hour away with a boat. We have Clay Rogers (ph), Brant Webb (ph), who have launched this boat in. Clay had received a Facebook message from a friend, telling him there was a mother and two-year-old child trapped in their flooded home in this neighborhood outside of New Bern where we are. We are on this boat and they let us jump on and navigate the flood waters through this rural neighborhood trying to reach this home. It's proving difficult. The water gets shallow and you can see, Anderson, what they are dealing with as they walk through about three feet of water. They are pushing the boat through. And they are trying to reach this neighborhood. We have been cutoff this other way that we came off from the woods. The rain just is torrential. A downpour. They are doing all of this in the downpour of this rain. They came down here a little while ago and drove an hour and they heard reports of people needing help. They brought their boat down here and we are following them to see. Reminiscent of what we saw a year ago in Hurricane Harvey in the Houston area. People who descended on the scenes and the floodwater situations and dispatched their own boats, launched their own boats into the flood waters to help people who needed to be helped. This is just now starting to unfold. We will see how it develops in the hours ahead -- Anderson? COOPER: In this case they have the address. Have they actually

communicated with the person? Is this just word of mouth on Facebook? It's possible that person has been taken out. Have they talked to the person?

LAVANDERA: Clay, you told me you spoke directly with the woman, right.


LAVANDERA: Yes, Clay told me he had a conversation with the woman and they told them they were on the way. Whether or not they have been rescued since then is not exactly clear.

They are still trying to navigate. We're not that far off. Sounds like the house they are looking for is just beyond this tree line that you see to the side. They were trying to navigate through the floodwaters to get back in the neighborhood. We got to the end of the road and couldn't cut through. Now they are trying to figure out another route in. They have communicated with the woman and child and trying to reach her right now.

COOPER: How tricky is it, when there's water on the ground, it's tricky to tell, you know, sometimes you are walking on someone's lawn and sometimes on the street. You may hit a ditch. It's difficult to know how deep it is. You have to move slowly.

LAVANDERA: It's nerve-wracking. As we were launching and pushing the boat and helping them get the boat into the water, we had to do it off the side of the road where the road dipped down to get this boat in. As we walk through and stepped over large limbs, it's definitely nerve-wracking. You don't know exactly what is under this water.

But as Clay mentioned, you have to do these things to help your neighbors. That's why they are putting themselves and going to these lengths to get into the situations and try to reach this woman. You try to follow the path of the street that you know is there, but what is off the roads is treacherous. Especially, if you look over here, off to my side, this is an industrial area. There's a large piece of wood and industrial debris. It's not clear if that might have been floated out beyond that fence. Those are the hazards you are dealing with as they make their way through the area and try to make sense of how they will reach this mother and child.

COOPER: Do you know, if they are able to get to her, where would they bring her? Are there shelters that she can go to?

LAVANDERA: I don't think -- we haven't thought that far ahead. There are some places to take them or family friends that they can reconnect them with, it the plan. But initially, you get out of these neighborhoods and you come back to dry ground and put them in a car and drive them off. There are ways. The flooding is isolated in various areas so you have to navigate the dry roads around to get into the situations. We will get to that bridge once we get there, but, first, we need to get to the house.

[11:55:05] COOPER: We will continue to follow that with you, Ed.

We will take a break. We want to see how that turns out. We hope they are able to help that mom and child that they have been in communication with.

Our coverage continues in a moment.


[12:00:01] ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

JOHN KING, CNN HOST: I'm John King, in Washington.

You see the pictures there. Hurricane Florence steering through the Carolinas. We'll get back to our storm coverage, the big new developments in a just a moment.

But first, here in Washington --