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Stone Associate in Plea Talks; Trump's Tumultuous Week; Fiery West Wing Meeting; Comey Fights Subpoena; Trump Wanted Comey and Clinton Prosecuted; Next Chief of Staff. Aired 1-1:30p ET

Aired November 23, 2018 - 13:00   ET


[13:00:02] BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN ANCHOR: I'm Brianna Keilar, live from CNN's Washington headquarters.

Underway right now, breaking news, one of Roger Stone's associates now in talks with Special Counsel Robert Mueller for a plea deal.

The president approves lethal force on the border after reports of a fiery West Wing confrontation over his constitutional powers.

Here we go, House Democrats saying they'll investigate whether the president's personal financial dealings are tied to his pardoning of the Saudis in a murder.

And young, rich, and loyal. Meet the man who might become the president's next chief of staff.

We are beginning with breaking news this hour.

An associate of former Trump adviser Roger Stone says he is in plea negotiations with Special Counsel Robert Mueller. Jerome Corsi is an associate of both President Trump and Roger Stone. And the Mueller team is believed to be looking for any connections between the Trump campaign, between the president and his advisers and WikiLeaks.

I want to bring in CNN senior White House correspondent Pamela Brown. We also have Samantha Vinograd with us. She's a former senior adviser to the national security adviser under President Obama.

First off, Pamela, as you've been looking into this, what does this mean for the president?

PAMELA BROWN, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, that is the big question. And I can tell you the president and his legal team have been waiting to see, Brianna, if anything would happen to Roger Stone or any of his associates, including Jerome Corsi. And now we are learning that Jerome Corsi is in plea talks with the special counsel, which means that there is the potential that he would plead guilty in exchange for leniency.

Now, Jerome Corsi said just last week that he expected to be indicted in the investigation for giving false information to Mueller's team or to the grand jury. So, clearly, since then, Brianna, it appears that there have been these plea talks. It's unknown what will happen. But we do know that investors have been looking at whether Jerome Corsi was an intermediary between Roger Stone and WikiLeaks. In fact, Jerome Corsi said in the summer of 2016, he admits that he told associates that he believed WikiLeaks would dump these e-mails of John Podesta before it happened. And so that has certainly caught investigation's attention, how did he know that? He says it was just a theory based on public sources of information.

KEILAR: It's a theory with a lot of specifics in it. It sort of strains credulity that he just sort of guessed this information, that it would be in October. And what else is interesting is, he said he shared that prediction, not based from information, but just from his sort of theorizing. He shared it with Roger Stone, he said, but Roger Stone says that he didn't share that information with him. So it seems like this is an important link, right?

BROWN: It is an important link. And, of course, Robert Mueller's investigators have been looking to see if anyone associated with the Trump campaign, including Jerome Corsi, had advanced knowledge of what WikiLeaks was going to do. And so the fact that he told associates well before the October document dump that this could happen certainly has raised eyebrows.

Now, Jerome Corsi, for his part, has said, well, this is a theory based on the fact that when WikiLeaks revealed the DNC e-mails, as you'll recall that were hacked that summer, they didn't include John Podesta. So I was just piecing it together that eventually they would likely release John Podesta's e-mails. That is what he has told other media outlets. But certainly Robert Mueller's team is very interested in this and the fact that they are now in plea negotiations, it's clearly a big development. Of course that could still fall apart. Just because they're in talks doesn't mean those talks could end.

KEILAR: Sure. And they've gone back and forth with Corsi, it's worth pointing out.

Sam, when you look at this, what does this tell you about where the Mueller investigation may be headed?

SAMANTHA VINOGRAD, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: Well, Brianna, it certainly tells me that the Mueller investigation is going full steam ahead, but it's important to remember why Jerome Corsi signing a plea deal is so important. The intelligence community concluded two years ago, almost two years ago in January, that the Russian government at Vladimir Putin's behest laundered information through third parties and WikiLeaks to discredit president -- Secretary Clinton and to help President Trump.

So when I look at this news, my first question is, who else knew what Jerome Corsi may have known? Did he know and did he work directly with WikiLeaks when this information was coming out? Was he the missing link in this case? And who else had that information? Did Roger Stone know, for example, that Jerome Corsi had any advanced warning, if Jerome Corsi did, about the information that was about to become public. And then, of course, Bob Mueller would have to look at whether President Trump had any advanced warning as well.

So the first question is was -- was whether Jerome Corsi was the missing link in some way between the Russians and this information dump. And then, second, who else had that information? And actively participated in the laundering of information to discredit a presidential candidate.

KEILAR: Pamela.

BROWN: I just -- I just want to say on Sam's note, one of the questions to the president in the recent batch of questions from Robert Mueller's team was whether Roger Stone had told him about the WikiLeaks and the fact that they would release John Podesta's e-mails. So we know that's been of interest to Mueller's team.

[13:05:13] Now, the president and his legal team denied they had any advanced knowledge, but what is interesting is, there was a delay in returning the response to Mueller's questions because the legal team wanted to see if anything would happen on the Roger Stone front or any of his associates.

KEILAR: That is very interesting.

Pamela Brown, Sam Vinograd, thank you to both of you.


KEILAR: This development marks the end a tumultuous week for President Trump from insulting the admiral who oversaw the bin Laden raid, to siding with the Saudis instead of the CIA in a brutal murder, from Ivanka's e-mails, to Acting Attorney General Matt Whitaker's financial deals, from sparring with the Supreme Court chief justice, to calling for political enemies to be prosecuted. And that's just a partial list. You'll remember that Thanksgiving call to the troops that turned into a heaping serving of political grievances as well.

So let's find out what is on the president's mind right now. We have CNN's senior White House correspondent Jeff Zeleny. He drew the short straw, as you can see. He's in West Palm Beach this late November, near where the president is spending his holiday.

What's the president tweeting about today, Jeff?

JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Brianna, the president always says this is a working vacation, and it indeed has been that because he's been talking and tweeting a lot. At this hour, at this moment, with the sun you can see, about 75 degrees here or so, he is on the -- out at his golf course here in West Palm Beach at the Trump International Golf Course.

But before he did that, of course he tweeted, looking ahead to that lame duck session in Congress, talking about funding the wall. Let's take a look at what the president was tweeting this morning before he went to the golf course. He said this, Republicans and Democrats must come together finally with a major border security package, which will include funding for the wall. After 40 years of talk, it's finally time for action. Fix the border once and for all now.

Now, breaking that down, the reality here is the president unlikely to get the full 25 or so billion in funding for the border wall, but wants funding for some of it, but that could be the sticking point. There's always the possibility of, will the government shut down or not before it ends the end of its funding run. The president just said yesterday that's a possibility. Certainly the politics around that are very perilous to say the least. So the president getting a jump on that but still so much on his mind and plate.

And the other thing, the incoming chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, Adam Schiff, signaling today that he plans to open an investigation into this whole Saudi Arabia situation with the White House backing the crown prince in the death of the "Washington Post" journalist, Jamal Khashoggi. So certainly a lot facing the president as this is a respite, but, Brianna, he faces a new political order at the beginning of the year with House Democrats in charge and investigations underway.


KEILAR: All right, Jeff Zeleny in West Palm Beach.

And we are learning new details about President Trump's order, which allows U.S. troops at the border to use lethal force. According to "Politico," this is a decision that came after a fiery meeting between top administration officials. The president announced this order in a Q&A with reporters.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: If they have to they're going to use lethal force. I've -- I've given the OK. Yes, if they have to. I hope they don't have to. But, you know, you're dealing with a minimum of 500 serious criminals. So I'm not going to let the military be taken advantage of. I have no choice. Do I want that to happen? Absolutely not. But you're dealing with rough people.


KEILAR: Joining me now, we have "Politico's" senior writer and congressional reporter Jake Sherman. You may get his "Playbook" newsletter in your e-mail inbox each morning.

So this article, Jake, it describes an explosive meeting with the chief of staff, John Kelly, and the Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen, arguing against this order. Why were they so incensed?

JAKE SHERMAN, SENIOR WRITER AND CONGRESSIONAL REPORTER, "POLITICO": Because this is not traditional behavior from a president, right? I mean we don't have a militarized southern border as much as the president would like to. But the more important thing is, this is a continuing kind of narrative, right? The professionals in his administration, people who have served in government for many years, versus the Steven Millers and the outside groups that have outside influence.

And I think it's important when keeping in mind this new political order that Jeff Zeleny's talking about, when we get into January 2019, every decision like this will be subject to oversight from Congress, which it hasn't been in the past. So Nielsen and Kelly, if they're still around, might be dragged to the capital to explain how they got to these decisions and who had influence, who's talking to the president, who has his ear.

KEILAR: You know, something that stands out to me is, when President Trump was bringing in all of these generals to serve in positions that historically you just don't have that many generals in --


KEILAR: The concern was that they would pursue the sort of go military point of view, and yet you actually have a general here kind of holding the president by the shirt collar when it comes to this.

[13:10:05] SHERMAN: Yes. Definitely more of an institutionalist.


SHERMAN: And I think to say that is, in this administration, is important. But, yes, it's definitely not what we expected going in.

KEILAR: So "Politico" reporting here that Vice President Pence was in the meeting but he didn't take a stance?

SHERMAN: Yes, that's right. And important also to keep in mind that his chief of staff, Nick Ayers, is likely to be the next chief of staff to the president. So -- and you see this kind of throughout the administration that Vice President Mike Pence has taking a quiet role in large meetings, but outsized influence behind the scenes.

KEILAR: Critics say, you know, this order really strains the limits of the president's constitutional powers. I mean this will be up for debate and the president doesn't seem to mind.

SHERMAN: No. And the president believes, and we're going to see this over the next month, that the southern border is of the utmost influence. And, remember, in a couple weeks, December 7th, which is not too far in the future, the government is slated to shut down because the president wants increased border security. This is going to be very real. Holiday travel season. The TSA could be -- could see cutbacks in their funding. This is a very real problem that the president has to face.

KEILAR: That's crazy that that would be the parting gift of, you know, House Republicans, at least, as they leave Congress. Do you think that's going to happen?

SHERMAN: I do. I think you have a lot of House Republicans who thought the president won election in 2016 based on a restrictive border policy. And his views on this have been very clear since the moment he got into the race. And Republicans on Capitol Hill have not delivered. Democrats are not going to asseed (ph) in 2019. So this is the last gasp for this House Republican majority.

KEILAR: OK, so let's look ahead here --


KEILAR: Because the president has such a busy week. He's got the G-20 summit. He's meeting with President Xi of China. He's heading to Mississippi ahead of the runoff election there. You've got the Mueller investigation, which is clearly top of mind for him. What are you keeping an eye on?

SHERMAN: Nancy Pelosi is up for re-election as -- or election as House speaker. In a closed door meeting, it will be important to see how many people vote against her. And, again, the president has said he will supply the votes for Nancy Pelosi, Republican votes, which I'm a little bit skeptical of, to make sure she is speaker again. That's something to watch.

Also, the G-20, the president is slated perhaps to meet with the crown prince of Saudi Arabia. Again, that will be in the headlines that the president is siding with the crown prince instead of the CIA.

KEILAR: Unbelievable. All right, Jake Sherman, thanks so much for being here.

SHERMAN: Thanks, Brianna.

KEILAR: Have a good one.

All right, James Comey fighting the subpoena from House Republicans to testify unless it is an open testimony so that the public can hear it. Does he have a case here?

Plus, Hillary Clinton warning Europe that if it's not careful on one issue, the number of nationalists, like President Trump, could be on the rise.

And young, rich, and loyal. Meet the man who may become the president's next chief of staff.


[13:17:07] KEILAR: A parting shot by House Republicans. The House Judiciary Committee sending subpoenas to former FBI Director James Comey and former Attorney General Loretta Lynch. Comey saying that he'll refuse to testify behind closed doors, but he will show up if the cameras are turned on and the public can watch.

Joining me now is Pennsylvania Congressman Ryan Costello. He's a Republican on the House Energy and Commerce Committee.

Thanks so much for being with us this holiday week. We do appreciate it.

You have critics --


KEILAR: Good afternoon.

And you have critics here saying this is just a political stunt. What do you think about what Republicans are doing?

COSTELLO: I don't understand why they weren't called earlier if this was a matter that requires immediate consideration by the Judiciary Committee. I would have to look a little bit closer at what the scope of the subpoena is and why it's timely now but it wasn't timely a few months ago.

Having said that, I'm not sure that Mr. Comey gets to decide whether or not to appear behind closed doors or in front of the cameras. So there could be a scenario here where I'm not quite clear why we have to do it now, but at the same point in time, if the Judiciary Committee does have the power to do this, that Mr. Comey doesn't have the right to say the terms by which he would appear.

KEILAR: Well, speak to his concern then. His concern is, if it's behind closed doors, that some of what he said could be leaked, it could be misconstrued. I mean do you think that's a concern that's warranted?

COSTELLO: I think that that's the practical reality any time someone appears before Congress and whether -- no matter who is in charge. I mean there have been any number of complains about Democrats leaking information out of the Judiciary or Intelligence Committee. So I don't think that the concern over leaking really is a concern dedicated to just one party or the other.

I think also I would say, Mr. Comey, in my opinion, has proven himself to be a little bit of a showboat over the past year. And so I take issue with him only wanting to appear in -- if the cameras are there. I mean he -- his obligation is to appear with a committee with jurisdiction and the right to subpoena subpoena's him. I don't think he has the right to say the terms by which he would appear.

KEILAR: Changing subjects a little bit here.

It came out this week that the president was pushing for the Department of Justice to prosecute Comey and Hillary Clinton, and he got pushback, including from his White House Counsel on this, Don McGahn. He had White House lawyers actually write a memo that spelled out potential consequences of such a move that would include possible impeachment.

You tweeted about this. You said that this was a CYA memo, a cover your tushy, for lack of a better word, memo.

COSTELLO: That's right.

KEILAR: Explain that.

COSTELLO: Well, I think Mr. McGahn did the right thing by putting it in writing. And that is to say any time a client wants to do something that's improper, and this would have been improper, if the -- had the president -- had they effectuated what the president reportedly instructed -- you have an obligation as a lawyer to make sure you put in writing your advice so that if it's not followed, nobody can point -- nobody can put the dead cat on the doorstep of the lawyer, so to speak, to use another expression.

[13:20:25] So I think that Mr. McGahn was appropriately put it in writing and it was highly improper for the president to suggest that certain people should be investigated simply because they're opponents of -- political opponents of the president.

KEILAR: We have some breaking news today, congressman, that an associate of Roger Stone's, Jerome Corsi, who's also been someone who's had links to President Trump as well, he's working on a plea deal with the special counsel's office. And what really seems to be at issue here is what he knew about WikiLeaks, dumping hacked e-mails in October of 2016. He said that this was just a theory he had. So this is really a question of, was he actually discussing this with WikiLeaks or some intermediary with WikiLeaks, which then leads to the question of, did the president or his associates like Roger Stone know this? Was there some connection, some collusion, it would appear, is the question here with the counsel's office? If the president keeps saying no collusion and yet we see this potential direction here with Corsi now cooperating, you know, where -- do you think that he'll be able to keep say no collusion?

COSTELLO: Well, first, I'm not surprised that someone around Roger Stone is cooperating under the threat of indictment related to dirty, political tricks. I cannot say with any degree of certainty or even speculation that there was collusion. In fact, there's not been any evidence that there has been. So to treat the president fairly here, Mueller certainly has information -- more information than anyone. And what he's now doing is digging -- digging up dirt to determine whether or not this gentlemen, Roger Stone, if there's any evidence there that would suggest some sort of correlation or connection with the president.

It is possible that there is none and that Roger Stone and this associate were doing it on their own. It's also possible, let's just be fair, that this was totally just a theory on their part. I'm a little suspicious of that. But having said all that, unless and until there is evidence that's out front, that's not rebuttable, that somehow there was collusion, I take the president at his word, even though I get -- can be very frustrated and critical of the president, in this, in this kind of environment, with the investigation being where it is, I think Mueller's going to get to the bottom of this entire thing and that anyone who did something improper is going to -- there's going to be consequences for that person or persons.

KEILAR: You left -- you're leaving Congress, Congressman Costello. You decided not to run for re-election. And we should be very clear that it would have been a tough race with your district being reconfigured as it was. But I wonder, as someone who is leaving, what are your parting words for your party and for Washington in general?

COSTELLO: Well, I think the American people spoke. And they want to see Congress hold the president accountable when circumstances warrant. They don't like the tone or the rhetoric coming out of the president at times. They want to see background checks. They want to see an economy that's working for everyone. And I think more than anything else, they want to see both parties working to get things done.

I think the president has done some very good things over the past two years. I think he, as with anyone, he's his own worst enemy and there are a lot of people who feel the policies are actually good, or most of the policies have been positive, but they don't like some of the rhetoric. And I would like to see, moving forward, Republicans speak out when they disagree with the president, because I think a lot of voters wanted to see that in their representatives on Election Day.

KEILAR: All right, congressman, thank you so much. Congressman Ryan Costello joining us.

COSTELLO: Thank you.

KEILAR: We have heard of shouting matches and feuds involving the current Chief of Staff John Kelly. And now there is talk of a 36-year- old taking his place. You're going to meet him.

Plus, former President Obama weighing in on who could beat the president in 2020. We'll talk about that.


[13:29:09] KEILAR: Now that President Trump has broadly hinted he's considering staff changes in the White House, including replacing Chief of Staff John Kelly, the race is on to see who might replace him.

You may not know the name Nick Ayers, but some consider him a leading contender at the moment. And right now he is the chief of staff for the vice president, Mike Pence. Insiders say he's ambition, that he's worked hard to insulate his boss from the chaos of the West Wing and that both of those are qualities that would likely get the attention of President Trump.

We have CNN congressional reporter Liz Landers with us now.

So, I mean, tell us how this happens. Not only he's in the running, yes, for White House chief of staff, but he was also the chief of staff to the -- or is to the vice president.

LIZ LANDERS, CNN CONGRESSIONAL REPORTER: Sure. I mean, as you know, Brianna, there's constant talk about White House shake-ups. And Nick Ayers' name continues to surface as President Trump continues to clash with his current chief of staff, John Kelly.

[13:30:01] My colleague, Jeremy Diamond and I, spoke with more than two dozen people for this story to really understand, who is this relatively young man.