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THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER
Trump Blasts Mueller; Did Paul Manafort Meet With Julian Assange?; Roger Stone's Efforts to Seek WikiLeaks Documents Detailed in Draft Mueller Document. Aired 4-4:30p ET
Aired November 27, 2018 - 16:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: Is Robert Mueller about to show his hand?
THE LEAD starts right now.
Significant new insights today into Robert Mueller's playbook, as we're learning new details about the potential case against Trump's former campaign chairman and alleged efforts by Trump associates to try to get information from Russian hackers.
This while President Trump is going on defense with an offensive, accusing Mueller of nasty things and lashing out against his own Justice Department.
Plus, Vladimir Putin testing President Trump just days before they meet again. Will matters be different with an international crisis unfolding and actual lives at stake?
Welcome to THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper.
We begin with the politics lead.
President Trump and the White House going to war with special counsel Robert Mueller over the Russia investigation. The president lashing out today on Twitter against Mueller, a widely respected former FBI director and a Republican, and lashing out against his team as well, as Mueller seems to be coming close to issuing his final report.
Rudy Giuliani telling CNN today that President Trump has been -- quote -- "upset for weeks" over the prosecutorial methods used on his former campaign chair Manafort to get him to tell them everything he knows, and what Giuliani described as a -- quote -- "perverse, overzealous desire to get the president."
Mueller's latest move against Manafort, court filings alleging that the former lobbyist violated his plea agreement by lying to the FBI and the special counsel team after he started cooperating with them, suggesting that Manafort has shared extensive information with prosecutors and that prosecutors have been able to verify and potentially refute at least some of the information Mueller -- I mean, Manafort told them.
In other words, in theory, Mueller knows things that Manafort didn't know he knew.
CNN's Jessica Schneider joins me now.
Jessica, Mueller's team is tight-lipped about what exactly Manafort's lies were about, at least so far.
JESSICA SCHNEIDER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Jake, Mueller's team being purposefully vague, only disclosing that there were several lies about various subjects.
But prosecutors, they will be a lot more detailed when they submit their sentencing memo to the judge, and that's when we could learn the details of what Mueller's team asked Manafort and get an even better sense of what the special counsel knows.
SCHNEIDER (voice-over): Former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort facing a full prison sentence now that special counsel Robert Mueller's team has called off all cooperation, accusing him of lying during plea talks.
After pleading guilty in September, Manafort met several times with the special counsel's team, seeming to live up to his star witness spot in the Russia probe. But, on Monday night, Mueller's team told the court, the plea deal was off, saying Manafort lied multiple times about various subjects, breaching his deal.
Manafort's lawyers shot back, saying Manafort believed he provided truthful information. Mueller's team will now have to tell the judge what Manafort lied about, revealing part of the investigation.
Manafort's reported secret meetings with WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange also being scrutinized, after a report in "The Guardian" newspaper saying they met on at least three occasions. "The Guardian" citing sources who say that Manafort traveled to the Ecuadorian Embassy in London to meet with Assange between 2013 and 2016, including one meeting around March 2016, the same month Manafort joined the Trump campaign.
CNN has not confirmed the reporting and it is unclear why Manafort wanted to see Assange and what was discussed, according to "The Guardian." Manafort's visits were reportedly not officially logged. And CNN has also learned that the special counsel has been investigating a meeting between Manafort and Ecuadorian President Lenin Moreno in 2016 and that Mueller's team has asked if WikiLeaks or Assange were discussed in that meeting.
Assange has been holed up at the embassy since he was granted asylum in 2012. And in the months leading up to the 2018 election, Assange's WikiLeaks posted thousands of hacked e-mails from the Democratic National Committee and the Clinton campaign.
JULIAN ASSANGE, FOUNDER, WIKILEAKS: We have more material related to the Hillary Clinton campaign.
SCHNEIDER: It's something candidate Trump bragged about on the campaign trail.
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: This just came out. WikiLeaks. I love WikiLeaks.
SCHNEIDER: WikiLeaks denies that Manafort ever met Assange, and Assange's lawyers also deny the story. But any meeting between Assange and Manafort would likely of high interest to the special counsel and its collusion questions.
SCHNEIDER: And Paul Manafort, who is behind bars, he has just responded to that "Guardian" report saying that he met with Julian Assange, saying this.
He says: "This story is totally false and deliberately libelous. I have never met Julian Assange or anyone connected to him. I have never been contacted by anyone connected to WikiLeaks either directly or indirectly. I have never reached out to Assange or WikiLeaks on any manner" -- "on any matter," actually.
And, Jake, Manafort now saying he is now considering all legal actions against "The Guardian" newspaper.
TAPPER: All right, Jessica Schneider, thanks so much.
Today, the president's lawyer Rudy Giuliani told CNN that he is in contact with Manafort's defense team, confirming that he was aware that Manafort was -- quote -- "running into problems" with the special counsel.
CNN's Pamela Brown picks up the story now from the White House.
PAMELA BROWN, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders in her first briefing in nearly a month asked several times about the Russia probe.
SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: The president was involved in wrongdoing, was not part of any collusion.
BROWN: But special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation has clearly been on the president's mind.
TRUMP: We have a lot of phony stuff, like the Russian witch-hunt garbage.
BROWN: Bringing it up at rallies last night in Mississippi and again in a series of tweets today, saying in part: "Wait until it comes out how horribly and viciously they're treating people, ruining lives for them refusing to lie. Mueller is a conflicted prosecutor gone rogue."
Those attacks coming as Mueller's team starts writing its report. HUCKABEE SANDERS: I don't think the president has any concerns about
the report, because he knows that there was no wrongdoing by him and that there was no collusion.
QUESTION: Why is he tweeting it so vociferously?
HUCKABEE SANDERS: The president has voiced his unhappiness from the beginning that this has gone on, this ridiculous witch-hunt, for more than two years. Still nothing that ties anything to the president.
BROWN: The White House also addressing several new developments about former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort, including special counsel Robert Mueller's announcement that Manafort broke the terms of his plea agreement by lying to federal authorities.
QUESTION: Would the president recommend that Mr. Manafort begin to cooperate, offer full cooperation to the special counsel's office?
HUCKABEE SANDERS: We can only speak to what our role is in that process. And not only has the president, but the entire administration has been fully cooperative.
BROWN: Also a report in "The Guardian" newspaper today claiming Manafort met with WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange several times, including in March 2016, around the same time Manafort joined the Trump campaign.
Asked if the Trump administration will ask for more information on the alleged meetings, Sanders said:
HUCKABEE SANDERS: We encourage the process to continue to play out, but I'm not going to get engaged in specifics of that case. The things that have to do with Mr. Manafort, I would refer you to his attorneys.
BROWN: The Manafort case and the Russia probe both on the mind of President Trump. His attorney Rudy Giuliani telling CNN: "He's been upset for weeks about what he considers the un-American, horrible treatment of Manafort," adding, "This wouldn't be happening to him if not for this perverse, overzealous desire to get the president."
Giuliani also admitting he's been in contact with Manafort's defense team, saying he knew Manafort was -- quote -- "running into problems with Mueller."
BROWN: And the White House is saying today that there are no conversations about a presidential pardon for Paul Manafort, after prosecutors claim that he had lied to the FBI after reaching that plea deal.
Also, Sarah Sanders, the press secretary, is saying that the fact that the president hasn't directed the firing of Robert Mueller shows that he doesn't want to short-circuit this investigation. It's just clear he likes to air his grievances, his frustration on a regular basis over Twitter -- Jake.
TAPPER: Except for firing the FBI director.
Anyway, Pamela Brown, thank you so much. Appreciate it.
Kaitlan Collins, let me start with you and our expert panel.
Take a listen to White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders about the president's concerns or lack thereof about the Mueller report.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
HUCKABEE SANDERS: I don't think the president has any concerns about the report because he knows that there was no wrongdoing by him and that there was no collusion. So I don't think he has concern on that front.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
TAPPER: No reports about the report, of course, but this morning, the president tweeted, among other matters: "Wait until it comes out how horribly and viciously they're treating people, ruining lives for them refusing to lie. Mueller is a conflicted prosecutor gone rogue. The fake news media builds Bob Mueller up as a saint, when in actuality he's the exact opposite. He's doing tremendous damage to our criminal justice system."
Once again, that's the president of the United States attacking the person investigating this all. Doesn't seem like somebody unconcerned about the final report.
KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Yes, I often tweet in all caps multiple times on things that I'm not concerned about.
COLLINS: I think it's clear the president is concerned. His tweets are a window, essentially, into his mind, and we have made that very clear of the last two years that he's been in office.
So it's clear the president is concerned. He's attacking Robert Mueller personally, saying that he's ruining the criminal justice system, though when Sarah Sanders was asked about that today, she couldn't list any reasons of how exactly he's ruining it.
And he's also going after him, saying, we should look at his past and the people who are on his team's past. But Robert Mueller was a Marine veteran, someone who served his country, even though he didn't have to, even though he was shot and could have gone home. He stayed and became an officer's aide.
The president is going all in on him because he knows this report is coming. His legal team is preparing a response to it, for whatever it's going to be, whatever we're going to see. And President Trump wants to be able to discredit this report. That's
why he's saying things like, why didn't he interview the hundreds of people on my campaign who didn't collude with Russia? Because, clearly, they're becoming concerned that that is...
TAPPER: That's a great question.
COLLINS: I'm not kidding. He actually tweeted that.
TAPPER: I know. I know he tweeted that. But it's so preposterous, like, why didn't the police arrest the hundred people that didn't commit murder?
And then today Sarah Sanders said something like, the president wasn't aware of anything about the WikiLeaks. So she made clear to say, it wasn't just anyone on the campaign, which is what they said before. She said President Trump.
TAPPER: Specifically about the president.
Let's talk about the Manafort lying allegation for a second. The prosecutors say he lied on a variety of subject matters. They haven't provided details. Mueller's office said they will.
It could really be about anything. We know he was at that Trump Tower meeting with Donald Trump Jr. and Jared Kushner and the Russian lawyer. He reportedly offered private briefings on the campaign to a Russian oligarch. He was the campaign chair for a while. There's a lot he knows.
NIA-MALIKA HENDERSON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, there's a lot he knows and there's obviously a lot that Mueller knows, too, right?
Obviously, in conversations that investigators were having with Mueller, something struck them as untrue, in terms of what he was saying vs. what evidence they had.
I think the big question now going forward, if you're Paul Manafort, is what kind of sentencing you're going to get. Obviously, now there's not going to be any mercy in terms of that. Are there going to be additional charges at this point as well?
But, also, what is the president thinking at this point in terms of possibly pardoning Manafort? We know he has pardoned other people like Joe Arpaio. He has talked affectionately in some ways about Paul Manafort in the past and said he felt like he was railroaded and treated worse than Alphonse Capone. And so we will see what he does. Obviously, he at some point
essentially flipped on the president. Now he seems to maybe be trying to eye a pardon. We will have to wait and see what this president does.
TAPPER: President Trump obviously has been trying to undermine Mueller and the entire intelligence community and anybody that might be investigating him for quite some time. Clearly, it's had a political effect where a lot of people believe, a lot of Republicans believe him and do not believe Robert Mueller.
And, clearly, there might be a political reason for that, if it does actually come for impeachment. But isn't there a flip side in this? Isn't there a risk that what if Mueller comes forward with a report that is very convincing, very credible, doesn't actually impugn President Trump and people see, oh, wait, the president was not telling the truth about this?
KRISTEN SOLTIS ANDERSON, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: Well, you can see these polls switch lightning fast in terms of which side of the political aisle likes which players in the game.
You saw this happen with James Comey. Prior to his firing as FBI director, Republicans loved him. He had put out that memo in the days leading up to the 2016 election. Democrats thought he was this enemy of democracy who had ruined the chances of Hillary Clinton becoming president.
The moment he gets fired by Trump, suddenly you looked at the crosstabs in the polls and suddenly he was enemy number one for Republicans and Democrats thought he was a champion of democracy. So it wouldn't surprise me, if Mueller's report comes out finding that the president himself was not directly involved with anything with collusion, sort of affirming what the president said.
You will immediately seeing Republicans say, see, this report is great, it didn't find anything. I wouldn't surprised if, on the flip side, you see some Democrats beginning to sort of criticize the process.
These things flip in politics.
TAPPER: Take a listen to the president last night campaigning in Mississippi and talking about the Russia investigation.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: And you still have deep state, but one by one, we're getting them out. You have deep state bad people. You have a lot of phony stuff going on. But you know what? One by one, we're winning. We're winning, winning, winning.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
TAPPER: Effective? JEN PSAKI, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: It's effective with that
audience. And he's obviously speaking to people who love him. He's in Mississippi, a very red state.
One of the reasons he loves to campaign and loves to do rallies is because he gets that adoration. And I think he's betting on the fact that if he can garner enough support from his base, the people who elected him, then he can discredit people like Mueller and he can discredit some of the people who are his opponents or who he sees.
That's all a calculation for if it gets to a point where there is a report and he has to fight that politically, because, ultimately, as we know, things like impeachment are a political process and he's betting on trying to discredit the people who would be trying to take him down.
TAPPER: And, of course, the big question right now is what if Mueller files his report to the attorney general, who is an acting attorney general, Mr. Whitaker, and he does not release it to the public, does not give it to the Congress?
Comey, who is a witness in the Mueller probe, weighed in on Whitaker today. Take a listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
QUESTION: To what extent do you think he can derail the special investigation?
JAMES COMEY, FORMER FBI DIRECTOR: I think it's a worry, but to my mind, not a serious worry. He may not be the sharpest knife in our drawer, but he can see his future and knows that if he acted in an extralegal way, he would go down in history for the wrong reasons, and I'm sure he doesn't want that.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
[16:15:05] COLLINS: I actually think it will be really tough for them not to release this report, because one of the White House's main lines has been, this has taken so much time, this has taken so much taxpayer money, so I don't think the argument will be made, then don't the American people deserve to see something that so much of their money went into? So I actually think it will be really difficult for them not to release this.
I think the White House will want to release the report. And if they do -- excuse me, not want to release the report. And if they do release the report, they will release their own counterreport refuting what is laid out in the report and how it has nothing to do with the president. Expect some kind of statement like that from the White House, if this does come out.
HENDERSON: Yes, I think that's right. But it is interesting that the conversation around Whitaker and the impatience that you hear from some Republicans about him still being in that job, the president essentially saying, oh, yes, maybe I'm kind of interviewing. But listen, Whitaker is great. He's a good, solid man.
So, that will be really interesting to watch. I mean, obviously, the president wants him in this job for all sorts of reasons. Republicans getting impatient and we'll see what happens in this next Congress. If he remains there, I guess he's got something like 200 days to remain there. And the idea that he remains there through this Mueller probe, we'll have to see.
TAPPER: Are you surprised that Whitaker is still there after all this time?
PSAKI: No. But the point that Nia made is an important one and that the timeline determines itself and it's outside of Trump's control. He can only serve I think just about 210 days total because of the Vacancies Act, and that is not that far into early next year. So, we all keep saying, the Mueller report is coming soon, but we really don't know that. So he's going to have to by law nominate somebody at some point.
Also, Democrats will control the House starting in January. They have all sorts of subpoena power, all sorts of capability to get this information out if it's not released publicly.
TAPPER: All right, everyone, stick around. We got a lot more to talk about.
Breaking news: documents shared with CNN providing a significant inside look at what special counsel Robert Mueller might know about former Trump adviser Roger Stone and his potential ties to WikiLeaks.
Plus, a bold threat from President Trump to General Motors that could spell even more financial trouble for the American automaker. Stay with us.
[16:21:11] TAPPER: A new look today into how special counsel Robert Mueller may be trying to build a conspiracy case. Draft court filings obtained by CNN outline actions by Roger Stone, a Republican strategist and longtime Trump associate, who once bragged about having back-channel connections to WikiLeaks.
Let's bring in CNN's Sara Murray who's breaking this story for us.
And, Sara, you just spoke with Jerome Corsi, he's accused of being Stone's middle man to WikiLeaks. He's the one with these new documents.
What is he saying about this case that Mueller's trying to build against him?
SARA MURRAY, CNN POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: That's right. He provided these documents to us, Jake. He's in some legal hot water. And, you know, they've outlined the alleged lies, of course, he told. But also, Roger Stone's, you know, sort of willingness, efforts to try to get these documents from WikiLeaks, at least, from Robert Mueller's point of view.
And one of these documents is actually an e-mail on August 2nd. It's an e-mail from Jerome Corsi to Roger Stone. And Corsi said, word is friend in embassy plans two more dumps. One shortly after I'm back, second in October. Impact planned to be very damaging.
So, you can see why the Mueller's team believed that Corsi had intel, was sharing that with Stone. Corsi says he was never in touch with Assange. Now, there is a comment from Roger Stone. He insists he never got a heads up on any actual information and says: Like every politico and every political reporter in America, I was curious about what WikiLeaks had. So insisting he never did anything wrong, Jake.
TAPPER: And there's always been this question about why this WikiLeaks dump was on the same day, minutes after the release of that "Access Hollywood" tape. But what did Corsi have to say? You asked him about it.
MURRAY: And one of the questions was whether it was somehow orchestrated. So, Corsi said that he's actually provided information to the grand jury and he said Roger Stone was in touch with him that day. Here's what he had to say about it.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JEROME CORSI, ROGER STONE ASSOCIATE: We get to October 7, which was a very, very busy day from here in New York. And Roger calls me three times. We have three times we have a discussion.
Now, my recollection is that Roger is saying this Billy Budd (ph) is going to be dropped and Assange better get going, why don't you get to your buddy Assange and tell him to start? Well, I didn't have any contact with Assange. But Roger, going back to July and August, may have -- you know, may have led him on.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MURRAY: Now, Roger Stone insists that this is false. He said he didn't talk about this with Jerome Corsi. He said he had no heads up in the hours before this "Access Hollywood" Billy Bush tape was released. So it's a he said/he said situation right now, Jake.
TAPPER: Between two gentlemen, both of whom have credibility issues, I think it's fair to say.
TAPPER: Sara Murray, thanks so much.
Let's talk about this with our legal experts. Let's zero in on that e-mail from August 2nd, 2016. Corsi allegedly wrote to Stone, quote, friend in embassy plans two more dumps, dumps of these WikiLeaks just six days earlier. Then candidate Trump said this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) DONALD TRUMP (R), THEN-PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Russia, if you're listening, I hope you're able to find the 30,000 e-mails that are missing.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
TAPPER: And on that same day, according to Mueller's team, the same day Trump said that about Russia, if you're listening, Russians did attempt to hack Hillary Clinton's e-mails. Is this all starting to add up into a case that you see?
LAURA COATES, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Of course it is. I mean, there's no real such thing as a coincidence. All of these things, either he is the most unlucky person or the most prescient person in the world. But it sounds more like the case that they're building against -- and note, they have never spoken to Roger Stone, which is frankly key. I never spoke to the defendant in my cases or the target of my investigation. I spoke to people who could corroborate or could support the premise or give more evidence in some way, shape, or form.
And so, you're seeing the development of all of these coincidences just simply smell funny to Mueller and his team, and they should.
[16:25:00] And, of course, you have either the notion that people are extraordinarily smart or very, very dumb. Thinking they could actually hide the evidence.
I mean, who is the friend in the embassy? Who can we think about who has been in an Ecuadorian embassy for quite some time? Is it Julian Assange? This is not a coincidence. This is a case that's being built.
TAPPER: And when you have -- when you're a prosecutor and you have a case where there are people who are known liars, like Jerome Corsi, who's behind many political smears, Swiftboat Veterans for Truth, lying about Obama's birth certificate, et cetera, et cetera, Roger Stone, who takes flights of fancy himself, how do you assess who's telling the truth or even whether either of them should be relied upon in a court of law?
ANNE MILGRAM, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Well, the thing that you try to do is you corroborate all the details and the facts around them. And so, you know that they may not give you an accurate piece of information and so, you're going to go out and you're going to look for whether it's phone records or e-mails like you just read or other witnesses who you do trust. And you try to corroborate as much as you can, knowing that those two gentlemen, as you just said, are people who the government would be very, very distrustful -- like, saying that they would be distrustful of them I think is an understatement.
TAPPER: I mean, they're both known as liars. But Corsi is providing documents, as you point out, and that seems significant.
COATES: It is, because, of course, even a broken clock is right twice a day. Even the most ardent liars can tell the truth in some capacity. The question for you, trying to figure out the credibility assessment
is, can I corroborate to show this is not just you going on that wings and flights of fancy, that you're actually trying to tell me something that's truthful. Now, I have to verify. It's almost a trust or, you know, don't trust and verify anyway sort of scenario here. And so, the corroboration by the actual documents is very useful.
But mind you, also, Roger Stone has his own corroboration here, his own documentation in the form of his statement.
COATES: He certainly has try to hold himself out to be somebody who knows a great deal about Julian Assange or WikiLeaks. And so, you have the corroboration from Corsi's documentation, you have Roger Stone's own statements, and now you have the pulling back when you realize there may be an issue of trying to say, no, no, no, don't look behind that curtain. No one is falling for the "Wizard of Oz" act and I doubt that Mueller is.
TAPPER: And we should point out that CNN can't confirm the authenticity that Corsi shared, but they are consistent with other documents from the special counsel's office. Corsi said he plans to reject the plea deal that's been laid out, according to him. Could he be in trouble for sharing these documents with us?
MILGRAM: I mean, as a role if they're his documents and he has access to them, he can share them. So, a witness in a grand jury, he was clearly a witness in a grand jury, if they're talking about a perjury charge, because he would have given testimony under oath. And so, a witness in a grand jury can share information that they've provided.
What's interesting about the document is that, you know, if Robert Mueller goes and gets the documents, he's going to get every e-mail for the last three months or whatever the period of time is. You have Jerome Corsi here choosing to hand you one e-mail, right, and not all of them? So I think we have to also keep in mind that this may be very self-serving in some ways as well.
TAPPER: All right. Thanks, one and all. Appreciate the expert opinion.
The historic number that will likely put a smile on the faces of House Democrats, what is it?
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