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Paul Manafort Held Secret Talks with Julian Assange Three Times; Voters Head to the Polls in Mississippi Senate Runoff Election; Interview with Representative Carlos Curbelo; General Motors to Close Five Plants in North America; Aired 10-10:30a ET

Aired November 27, 2018 - 10:00   ET

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


[10:00:07] JIM SCIUTTO, CNN ANCHOR: We have news this top of the hour. I'm Jim Sciutto in New York.

POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: And I'm Poppy Harlow. We begin with a new report that Paul Manafort, the president's former campaign chairman paid secret visits, multiple ones to Julian Assange at the Ecuadorian embassy in London. This is according to "The Guardian."

Let's bring in our legal analyst Shan Wu. He joins us from Washington.

Shan, just to tick through some of these "Guardian" reporting here. They say that Paul Manafort held these secret talks with Julian Assange at the Ecuadoran embassy in London in 2013, 2015 and 2016, of course, you know, that's in the time when he played a key role on the Trump campaign. Unclear why he went or what was discussed. But significant, no?

SHAN WU, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Hugely significant. This really could be one of the two real missing links to show interference and knowledge of the Russian involvement. This could certainly explain the focus we've been seeing on Stone because he could be the other direct link there. But I think if Mueller's team already knew this, which they certainly could have, then this would be very, very significant. And it really would be corroborated looking at it from the outside by the focus on Stone.

If they didn't know it, perhaps this is one of the allegations that he has been withholding that we're reading about in the latest pleading. That's very significant as well. I mean, it's devastating for Manafort. But it's a potentially enormously important link in the Russian probe.

SCIUTTO: Shan, so this third meeting, according to "The Guardian" took place in March 2016 around the time Manafort taking on a senior role in the campaign. But also four months before WikiLeaks released the first trash of stolen e-mails, e-mails stolen by Russia. And I'll just remind our viewers that it's the view of U.S. intelligence that WikiLeaks was in effect a middleman here, a cutout, as they call it. Russia gave him the e-mail and they released them to the public.

That timing, keynote of prosecutors, he goes in March, a few months later these e-mails come out.

WU: Yes. That timing is enormously significant. And particularly, I think when we look at Manafort's history, contextually, you know, of having connections with Russia, then it may make a lot of sense that he's there as a potential intermediary with Assange. I mean, obviously that's speculation. I was looking in from the outside. But the timing makes it very, very significant. That this could be exactly the link that we have all been missing. And you know, Mueller's team may have already known this, but for "The Guardian" to report on it really is very, very informative. A very tantalizing tidbit.

SCIUTTO: So much attention here has been on that Trump Tower meeting in June 2016.

WU: Right.

SCIUTTO: As a possible point where, you know, this offer was made. There's some evidence of that, but of course the Trump campaign says nothing came out of it. Is this the more important one that raises a question.

HARLOW: Yes. And also the element of Roger Stone. And Roger Stone who has not been called before the Mueller team, as far as we know, who has said that he's expecting to be indicted. How might he tie in here?

WU: Well, I think Stone would tie in as the other link. I mean, Manafort -- again, this is speculative, based on what we're seeing, but Manafort, with those connections could have been speaking to Assange about the interest of the campaign. And then Stone may have acted as a further intermediary about actually arranging the e-mails. But I think when we put these two things together, when we look at the very heavy focus intensely on Stone, and now this piece of information, I think this is one of the first times we're really seeing the potential path, in this chain of links to the campaign.

Obviously the convention manager and the campaign manager being involved in discussions with Assange is enormously important.

HARLOW: Yes. OK. Shan Wu, thank you on that breaking news that just crossed.

Meantime, Mississippi voters back at the polls today to make their final choice for the special election Senate seat. Republican Cindy Hyde-Smith who was appointed to fill the spot vacated by Thad Cochran faces former Agriculture secretary Mike Espy.

SCIUTTO: Well, on the eve of that election, President Trump headlining not one but two rallies in support of Hyde-Smith who has been mired in several racially controversies.

Joining us now to discuss CNN political analyst and Washington bureau chief for "The Daily Beast" Jackie Kucinich and Washington bureau chief for "USA Today" Susan Page. So, Susan, you look at this race, yes, in any other year, it should be

a slam dunk for Republicans but on the flip side, still, Cindy Hyde- Smith has, at least according to the latest polling, a fairly sizeable lead here.

SUSAN PAGE, WASHINGTON BUREAU CHIEF, USA TODAY: Yes, remember, she's not been elected to the seat before. She was appointed this spring when Thad Cochran resigned for health reasons and she's proved to be a pretty weak candidate in some ways. She seems uncertain, she wasn't very powerful in the debate they just had. On the other hand, we have very few public polls available.

[10:05:03] But they show her with -- the latest show her with a 10- point lead. That's -- you know, you'd expect her to have a 10-point lead in a state like Mississippi that went by 18 percentage points for Donald Trump in 2016. So the fact that we are -- that this is worthy of looking at as a possible upset tells you a lot about the difficult landscape that she faces. And that Republicans have faced, including in Alabama next door in their Senate race last year.

HARLOW: I mean, Alabama, obviously, Jackie, a one-off. Maybe, maybe not, right? I mean, if you see Mississippi go blue as well, is that just two candidates not running good campaigns with some major issues here? Or is that something telling about the energy of the Democratic voters in those deep red states?

JACKIE KUCINICH, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: I think it's probably the former. I mean, they are -- Roy Moore was uniquely challenged as a candidate, to say is an understatement. And I haven't gotten a sense that there's the same -- that Cindy Hyde-Smith has similarly wounded herself. It's certainly bad. I mean, the president wouldn't be going to Mississippi if she wasn't imperiled. That said, in terms of even the urban populations and in terms of, you know, who shows up to vote, it really -- it doesn't seem like this one is going to fall through the cracks, but you know what, it's 2018. Anything can happen.

SCIUTTO: Right. So, Susan Page, big picture here, kind of gradually, drip by drip, this has turned into quite a historic Democratic gain on the House side. Night of the election there was talk of kind of Democratic gains in the low 20s, mid 20s, just gaining control of the House. But now it's marching towards 40, 38 so far. Two remaining races that appear to lean Democrat here.

Just to throw up on screen, we did a little research, this is the biggest or would be the biggest Democratic gain since Watergate in 1974 there for Democrats, that is. How significant from your view?

PAGE: Right.

SCIUTTO: Clearly a blue wave now?

PAGE: Clearly a blue wave, not only by the fact that we now expect Democrats to gain 40 House seats which is really a lot. But they have already broken the Watergate record for the percentage advantage in the national household. More than 8 percent more people voted for Democrats than for Republicans in the House. That is a remarkable number. And it sets Democrats up for being optimistic about what may happen in the presidential race in two years.

HARLOW: But, Jackie, will have those, including the president who will say, no, no, look at the Senate. Look at the Senate, look at the Republican pickups in the Senate, and that's where the focus should be. You say?

KUCINICH: The Republican map looks a lot different going into 2020 for the Senate. But it does matter, if we're talking about the presidential race, again, we were just talking about, candidates do matter. And it really depends on who the Democrats put up against the president. And the machine he's built. This is a president who declared he was running for re-election the day he was inaugurated. So the war chest he is assembling, the -- his ability to really get his people out which we saw in a lot of these red states.

Red states did get redder this last election, even though Democrats clearly had some gains in the House. But, you know, Republicans are definitely looking at a more challenging environment going into 2020, just in terms of who's up.

SCIUTTO: So, Susan Page, the president would like to be rid of the Mueller investigation. He was tweeting about it again this morning, part of his ongoing campaign to undermine confidence in it. And yet now we have this report, reported a short time ago, about this meeting between Manafort and Assange could be of interest to the special counsel.

We have now Manafort lying again at the special counsel repeatedly. Of course, we don't know what's going to be in the final report. But at a minimum the results of that investigation hanging over the president's politics and Republican politics in coming months.

PAGE: Well, yes, you see the president facing all kinds of challenges including the situation on the southern border, which is very serious, and what is he tweeting about this morning? It's attacking the Mueller investigation with even more fervor than he has in the past. These are two sets of extraordinary developments over the past 12 hours. First, that Mueller has lost his plea deal, that makes you wonder what he was lying about, and how did Mueller figure out that he was lying about it.

And to this report this morning from "The Guardian" that just may explain how Russia managed to have direct contact with the Trump campaign. That would be the definition of collusion.

HARLOW: Thank you both for being here.

Still to come for us, Congress heading toward a spending fight as the president renews his demand for border wall funding. Could this push partial trigger, at least a partial government shutdown. We'll ask a Republican lawmaker.

[10:10:01] SCIUTTO: Plus, President Trump refuses to condemn Russia after its ships opened fire on and seized three Ukrainian vessels. The NATO secretary-general giving a much stronger response to the escalating aggression. Hear more from our interview with him coming up.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SCIUTTO: Live pictures there from Capitol Hill. Back now with the nation's latest spending fight. Lawmakers on Capitol Hill this morning now have 10 days, just 10 days, to reach a compromise, or trigger a partial government shutdown. And for President Trump, the border wall funding is key.

Joining me now is Republican Congressman Carlos Curbelo of Florida.

Congressman, thanks for taking the time again this morning.

REP. CARLOS CURBELO (R), FLORIDA: Jim, good morning from Miami. It's good to be with you.

[10:15:02] SCIUTTO: So we're told by senior Republican on the Senate Appropriations Committee, the chairman, in fact, Richard Shelby, that President Trump has made $5 billion his red line funding target for border wall spending. Is that your understanding? And if he doesn't get that, is it your understanding that the president would be willing to shut the government down?

CURBELO: That's exactly right, Jim. And the good news in all of this is that this presents Congress with yet another opportunity to address immigration reform in a meaningful way. I think most Americans agree that we can do more to secure the border. We've seen a lot of the chaos that's going on in the border over the last few days. In addition to that, a lot of people know that there's a lot of drug trafficking that goes on at the border. Obviously, human trafficking.

We can improve that situation, while also providing an opportunity for a lot of the victims of a broken immigration system, such as Dreamers. A few million young immigrants who live in this country, who live in uncertainty, we can provide them with a secure future as well. So I do think that here in the lame duck session, we can secure the border and secure a future in America for Dreamers. And we can turn what's an ugly issue, a very divisive issue in American politics into a unifying issue.

SCIUTTO: So that quid pro quo has been suggested a whole bunch of times. But is there any appetite among Republicans to give that in return for the president's border wall funding? Is there any appetite for the president to make a deal on Dreamers in exchange, especially considering you don't have many days, you don't have many days to do it?

CURBELO: It's the only way that we'll get anything meaningful done. And by the way, we invested a lot of time and effort into this topic a few months ago when a group of us led a discharge petition effort in the House of Representatives. We forced an immigration debate, we forced a negotiation that produced a bill that I think could be the base of any agreement between Republicans and Democrats here in the coming weeks.

And the truth is that, yes, the White House is open to a path to citizenship for Dreamers. We got them on the record a few months ago, when we undertook this effort. We also got 121 House Republicans, a majority of the majority on the record, in support for a path to citizenship for almost two million young immigrants who were brought to our country as children, who are contributing to our economy, who have followed the law.

So, yes, I do think we have a window. And I look forward to getting to D.C. this afternoon and doing everything I can to try to get us closer to that immigration deal that's been elusive for about 13 years now.

SCIUTTO: Well, good on you. We'll see. We'll see how it comes out.

I want to ask you a final question on climate change, because you're one of the few Republicans and you live in a district that has already seen the effects of climate change, rising seas, stronger storms, et cetera. The president said when his own administration released a report talking about the economic consequences, a whole host of consequences of climate change, he said simply I don't believe it.

What was your reaction to hear a president reject a report that his own administration produced out of hand? He just didn't like what he saw.

CURBELO: Extremely disappointing. It's reckless. It's irresponsible. The president should come back to south Florida. I had a conversation with him last time he was down in Key West, in my district, where you can see the real life effects of climate change.

This is a report, as you indicated, that was put together by members of his administration. Scientists that have no agenda, except to tell us the truth. They did not even prescribe solutions in this report. They just told us what the facts are. What's happening. And what could happen if we don't act soon. I think the only solution --

SCIUTTO: So let me ask you a question --

(CROSSTALK)

CURBELO: Yes.

SCIUTTO: You've interacted with president. You showed him the effects. Is it your impression that the president just doesn't believe it? Or doesn't want to believe it, and to be politically inconvenient to address these issues?

CURBELO: I think he doesn't want to believe it. He's dug in. He's on the record saying that climate change is a hoax invented by the Chinese, something that's absurd. And I think it's going to take him swallowing his pride to just accept the reality of this and do what's right for the American people, for the American economy. And for parts of the country like South Florida and other coastal communities that are the tip of the spear when it comes to the effects of climate change.

SCIUTTO: Yes. CURBELO: We see the evidence every day. And it's not that climate

change creates hurricanes. We've been seeing hurricanes for a long time in this region, but it certainly makes them stronger and bigger and more dangerous. Rising sea levels threaten our drinking water supply here in South Florida.

[10:20:03] This is all very real. The solution is a market-based solution, pricing carbon, taking into account the fact that there's a cost to carbon dioxide emissions doing everything we can to reduce them and also investing in American infrastructure that will keep coastal communities safe.

SCIUTTO: Well, we'll see if there's a move for that.

Carlos Curbelo, Congressman, thanks for taking the time.

CURBELO: Thanks, Jim. Have a good day.

HARLOW: All right. Let me take you to Mississippi now. It is election day as you know, in the runoff Senate race there. And the Democratic candidate Mike Espy who is trying to make history if he wins here just voted. And he spoke after that. Let's listen.

MIKE ESPY (D), MISSISSIPPI SENATE CANDIDATE: Well, I can't do it alone, but I am certainly (INAUDIBLE) work with everyone, irrespective of race, irrespective of party, irrespective of religion, irrespective of sexual orientation. I work with everyone of goodwill who wants to pick Mississippi up. I've done it all my life and I'm going to do it as the next senator.

So, you know, it's into the hands of the people now. It's out of my hands. All of the bells have been rung, all the songs have been sung. And so now the votes just have to come in. So I'm privileged to vote today. We live in a country that we can vote, you know, for the candidate of our choice. I encourage everyone to vote. And if I can just say vote for Mike Espy, I'll be the best senator you've ever had. Thank you.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Mr. Espy, I want to you ask --

ESPY: And I'll ask you, simple if you want to.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Yes.

ESPY: OK.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Secretary, just real quick, you last ran for elected office I guess it was the late '80s or early '90s.

ESPY: 1992 was my last term.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: So what's the biggest difference between running then and running now?

ESPY: Technology, technology for sure. I mean, in 1986, and you can ask anyone, we had the best organized campaign in Mississippi up until that point. And it was mainly boots on the ground. We organized the precincts and the zones because Mississippi's a very rural state. We don't have a lot of urban centers like Atlanta, and like they have in Florida. We have rurals so you have to recruit people that other people know.

So we had folks on our election payroll for almost a year ahead of time, getting to know the folks in their neighborhoods and their polls, getting to know them, encouraging them to get out to vote that November. And that was a district that was not a majority black. I want to remind everyone. Go back and look. In 1986, in the 2nd District of Mississippi, the poorest district in Mississippi, the poorest state, there's about a 53 percent gross black population.

So a slight majority population, but we have to discount for voting age population and then registration. It was like 46 percent or 45 percent African-American. And I won 85 percent black, 11 percent white. I beat the governor's grandson. I beat the senator's nephew in the primary. I mean, and I beat the incumbent Republican in 1986. And then as things progressed and people believed that I would serve everyone, when I ran in 1992, I got 95 percent of the black vote and 40 percent of the white vote. It is not just because I wore great suits and my personality was sterling, it's because I served everyone equally.

HARLOW: All right. We're keeping a very close eye on Mississippi today. Obviously the Senate runoff race there. You just heard from the Democratic candidate Mike Espy. We'll keep an eye on this all day.

All right. So ahead for us, how bad could the fallout be? We already know how many jobs it's going to cost. Anger is rising after General Motors said it's closing five plants, laying off 15,000 workers.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[10:28:27] HARLOW: All right. So this morning, nearly 15,000 Americans are beginning the holidays knowing they will soon be out of work. Here's why, General Motors is closing five plants in North America. That means these workers must now come to terms with the sobering reality that the man many of them helped catapult to the White House with promises of more and better auto jobs has made a promise that he cannot keep in some key swing states.

Here is one of those promises from President Trump last year in Ohio.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I was looking at some of those big, once incredible job-producing factories. And my wife Melania said what happened? I said those jobs have left Ohio. They're all coming back. They're all coming back.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SCIUTTO: Cristina Alesci is outside the plant that is now closing in Ohio. It has to be emotional times there. It's just before the holidays. Just devastating for these communities.

What are you hearing on the ground?

CRISTINA ALESCI, CNN MONEY AND POLITICS CORRESPONDENT: A huge blow to this community. They're angry, they're frustrated, but to the point about the political shift, the political change here came hard and fast in 2016. This was a Democrat stronghold. In fact, I was in the union leader's office this morning, and pictures line the walls with President Clinton and President Obama.

This was a Democrat town until 2016. The community here, the area, voted for Trump on the promise of getting jobs back. And that has not happened. In fact, as Poppy said up in the intro, people are losing their jobs. In this community alone, 1500 jobs directly impacted.