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White House Briefing amid Controversies; Manafort's Secret Talks with Assange; Manafort and Ecuador's President. Aired 1-1:30p ET

Aired November 27, 2018 - 13:00   ET


[13:00:00] JOHN KING, CNN ANCHOR: White House briefing set to begin any moment. Brianna Keilar will bring you that. She starts right now. Have a great day.

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN ANCHOR: I'm Brianna Keilar, live from CNN's Washington headquarters.

Underway right now, we are moments away from the first White House briefing in nearly a month as several controversies swirl around the president, including a question about whether his convicted former campaign chairman is expecting a pardon. Why Robert Mueller says Paul Manafort lied again, breaching his plea deal.

Speaking of Manafort, did he secretary meet with Julian Assange in the heat of the campaign? WikiLeaks denying an explosive, new report.

And as anger boils over, GM is slashing jobs across the rust belt. The question now, what does this mean for the future of America's car industry?

We begin with the White House briefing set to begin any minute now. And with so much going on, there are a lot of topics that are likely to come up. The breached plea deal involving former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort. Those GM plant closings and job cuts. The tensions between Russia and Ukraine. The Saudi's role in the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi. And the looming showdown over a possible government shutdown.

I want to bring in CNN chief White House correspondent Jim Acosta.

Give us a preview of what we can expect here.


Yes, that's right, it has been a little while since we've had a briefing here in the White House Briefing Room but everybody figured out where to go. As you mentioned, there are several topics that are expected to come up. And I think first among all of those topics will be the fate of Paul Manafort, the president's former campaign chairman, who, of course, has been in the news the last 24 hours with the special counsel's office saying that he violated the terms of his plea agreement by lying to investigators. That's obviously something going to be asked of the press secretary, Sarah Sanders. It's not clear as to what she will say.

As you know, Brianna, in the past, when questions of the Mueller investigation have come up, they've basically deferred to the president's outside legal team. There have been times, though, when she has weighed in on some of these matters. And so we'll just have to wait and see in terms of what she has to say.

And, of course, so much has been said in the last couple of days about the crisis down at the border, the migrant caravan that has reached the border with the U.S. and Mexico. And, of course, the use of tear gas on some of those migrants coming towards the fence, coming towards those sections of the fence separating the U.S. and Mexico. Obviously the question will come up whether or not that's appropriate for the United States to be using tear gas. We do know that the border patrol authorities have been cautioning to reporters that tear gas has been used in the past down there and so this is not all together new. But when it's put in the frame of how the president and how this White House has been dealing with the subject of immigration, that obviously is going to be something that's going to come up.

And, of course, as you said, Brianna, this decision by General Motors to start shutting down plants, laying off employees, the president was just saying yesterday that he's very disappointed in that decision, that he would like to see the head of GM do more and bring more jobs into some of those states that he cares so much about. That blue wall that came troubling down, of course, in 2016 on election night. And so I suppose that will come up as well.

And then there, of course, is this -- this special election down in Mississippi. The Senate race down there. The president had some very heated rhetoric that he served up last night to his supporters at a couple of rallies. At one point referring to the Democrat in that race, Mike Espy, as sort of being out of place down in Mississippi despite the fact that his family has been in that state for a very, very long time. I think that is a question that will also come up as well, as well as whether or not the president defends some of this rhetoric that we've seen from the Republican down in that race and in -- whether or not the White House will continue to stand by her. The president said yesterday he doesn't believe that there is any ill will on her part, on the part of Cindy Hyde-Smith, in terms of what she's had to say during that -- during the course of that election campaign.

But, Brianna, just -- just a whole host of subjects to talk about in this briefing. We'll see how much time we have with Sarah Sanders. As we've seen with some of these briefings, they end very quickly. And, of course, the -- in recent weeks, as you've noticed, as we've all noticed, they've put in place some ground rules for reporters in terms of what they can ask of the press secretary, who many questions they can ask. We've noticed that the president hasn't really been abiding by those rules, but we'll see whether or not there's a different rule book for the press secretary than you have for the president.


KEILAR: What are the rules, Jim? ACOSTA: Well, we were told in the last couple of weeks that you could

ask a question and then if the press secretary or the president deems it appropriate, you could ask a follow-up question. That was part of the rule book put out by the White House. Almost immediately after they put that out, we saw the president taking multiple questions from reporters, multiple follow-ups questions from reporters. We haven't really seen Sarah Sanders take a whole lot of questions from reporters outside of her appearances on conservative media outlets. And so it will be interesting to see just how he handles that rule book that she put in place when she comes out here hopefully in a few moments.

[13:05:12] We also believe we're going to hear from the national security adviser, John Bolton. He may be taking some questions in advance of the president's trip down to Argentina for the G-20 Summit. Of course, a lot of questions for John Bolton in terms of what's happening in the Ukraine right now and some of these hostilities between Russia and Ukraine. I think that's going to be a big topic here as well, Brianna.

KEILAR: All right, Jim, we'll see how this goes. As you and I both know, it's the follow-up question that really matters. So we'll see how this all goes down as we await this White House briefing.

ACOSTA: Absolutely. That's right.

KEILAR: Now to this new report about President Trump's former campaign chairman Paul Manafort. "The Guardian" is reporting that Manafort secretly met with WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange several times at the Ecuador embassy in London. It reports the last meeting was right around the time that Manafort joined the Trump campaign in March of 2016. Manafort says this is 100 percent false.

CNN senior national correspondent Alex Marquardt joining us now.

What can you tell us about these reported meetings?

ALEX MARQUARDT, CNN SENIOR NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Brianna, these meetings at the Ecuadorian embassy reportedly took place starting in 2013. There was another in 2015. But it's that March 2016 meeting that you just mentioned, as Manafort was joining the Trump campaign, that would be of most interest to Robert Mueller and his investigators.

Now, "The Guardian" report does not say what was discussed in that meeting, but the reason this was so vital to the Russia probe is that it could create a direct link between the Trump campaign and the Russian hackers who gave the e-mails that were stolen from the DNC and from Hillary Clinton's campaign chairman to WikiLeaks just a few months before the 2016 election.

Now, Manafort has denied this, as you mentioned, as has WikiLeaks, which tweeted in part very aggressively, WikiLeaks is willing to bet "The Guardian" $1 million and its editor's head that Manafort never met Assange. According to the report, Manafort was not registered in the embassy's entrance logs for that 2016 meeting, but the meeting is said to have lasted around 40 minutes and that Manafort did come to the embassy alone.

We do know that the Mueller team has been zeroing in on links between WikiLeaks and the Trump campaign. One of the two main questions that President Trump has provided the special counsel with written answers to is about those hacked e-mails and what he knew. So this comes at an already very fraught time for Paul Manafort, who just yesterday was accused by Mueller of repeatedly lying to the FBI since he struck his plea deal two months ago. Mueller says that Manafort committed what they called crimes and lies on a variety of subjects, a variety of matters, and the Mueller team asked that a date be set for his sentencing.


KEILAR: All right, Alex, thank you for that report.

And joining me now to discuss this, we have CNN legal and national security analyst Carrie Cordero, CNN's senior political reporter Nia- Malika Henderson, and CNN chief political analyst Gloria Borger.

OK, we should note, Gloria, in this report, "The Guardian" is unclear why Manafort wanted to see Assange.


KEILAR: And what exactly was discussed. And we've also seen from WikiLeaks there that adamant denial. So we're trying to get to the bottom of this.

But this is reportedly a major development.

BORGER: Right. And, you know, we've also seen denials from Manafort's attorneys as well.


BORGER: And Rudy Giuliani telling Dana Bash that this never happened.

The -- this is -- if it did happen, what it does is it places the Trump campaign -- because, don't forget, Manafort was going to run the convention. He was going to be campaign manager. It places someone at a high level in the Trump campaign in communication with WikiLeaks. And that -- that is a dangerous place to be. We know that Mueller is so careful that he would not do this unless he had corroborating information. We do not know, of course, what that corroborating information is, but he can no longer use Manafort as a witness because he's disqualified --

KEILAR: He would jettison Manafort.

BORGER: Well, he's now disqualified him. And, by the way, Manafort cannot take back his guilty plea and also Mueller can charge him with more things.

KEILAR: And the sentencing is still to come. BORGER: And this will -- all of this information, or as much as

Mueller feels he needs to provide, now goes to Judge Berman. And this judge has to look at this and say, OK, who's right here? What's going on? And we don't -- we -- and that -- you know, they're going to do a sentencing memo and we should maybe get that within a month or so.

KEILAR: And when you look at what "The Guardian" is reporting here, Nia, the timing is significant because you're talking about meeting over the course of years, but one being in March of 2016, which is either before or during the time that Manafort is coming on to the Trump campaign.

NIA-MALIKA HENDERSON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL REPORTER: Right. And he's coming on to the Trump campaign at that time, just as Trump is about to wrap up the nomination. He's supposed to be someone who can wrangle the delegates because he's had, you know, a pretty significant history of working with other presidential candidates and in Republican Party politics more generally.

[13:10:15] So here we have, at least according to "The Guardian," an alleged meeting that's happening in March, just as he's coming onto this campaign. Of course we know about this Trump Tower meeting that obviously people were interested in. Mueller interested in that as well. What came of it? Of course if you're Paul Manafort and your Donald Trump Junior essentially say nothing really came of it even though there were sort of promises about something that could come of it. So, yes, this is incredibly significant. There were obviously two other meetings before this 2016 meeting, but if this meeting happened, that -- it could potentially be a smoking gun linking the Trump campaign to WikiLeaks, which, of course, had links to Russia as well.

KEILAR: Carrie, what do you make of these denials that we're seeing from WikiLeaks and from Paul Manafort, who, obviously, his credibility is at issue, but it's -- it's just hard to navigate this.

CARRIE CORDERO, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: Well, it sure is, because on one hand we have "The Guardian" report where the sourcing of these allegations and these meetings is very unclear from the written report. On the other hand, we have Paul Manafort, a verifiable liar, and Julian Assange, who I would submit is not the most credible figure either. So we really have a difficult time until there's more verified reporting determining who's telling the truth. Is "The Guardian" reporting accurate or are the denials coming from these two very suspect characters accurate.

If the reporting is true, it's really quite significant as far as the Mueller investigation goes and the overall theory of their case, which is conspiracy to defraud the United States and the role of Russia in trying to affect the election because this is the direct communication, multiple meetings if the report is correct, the timing of the meeting of 2016 is very significant and the crux of the, quote, whether or not there was, quote, collusion or conspiracy between the Trump campaign and the Russian efforts to undermine the election is at the heart of it and whether or not there was actually that coordination.

KEILAR: I'm going to have you all stand by for just a moment. We have much more ahead, of course.

We're also going to talk about how Mueller is accusing Manafort of breaching his plea deal by lying repeatedly.

Plus, any minute, we're going to hear from the White House. These are live pictures as we await the press briefing. The first press briefing in nearly a month.


[13:16:52] KEILAR: Welcome back.

As we are awaiting the first White House briefing in nearly a month. It's going to happen any moment now. Really any moment it was supposed to happen moments ago. And we are just waiting. It should happen any moment now, right now at 1:16 p.m. Eastern. So we are watching that.

As we do watch that, we want to talk about a big headline today about Paul Manafort, that Robert Mueller is accusing him of lying to the FBI in breaching his plea agreement.

Back now with me, Gloria Borger and Nia and Carrie, appreciate it.

Why would he lie? Why would you lie when you are up against a -- up against Robert Mueller, who seems to know a lot more than all the people he's questioning?

BORGER: Right. Right. He says he's not lying, but obviously Mueller has some proof and he's going to put it in writing. One obvious point is that maybe he's looking for a pardon from the president of the United States and that he's saying --

KEILAR: Like protect him and get a pardon, is that what you're saying?

BORGER: Yes, that he might, you know, that he might -- he might be doing that.

And the other -- you know why -- you were asking the right question, why would you risk spending the rest of your life in jail for -- for what reason? And we don't know. We just don't know the answer to that. Parton seems likely. From Mueller's point of view, I think once he determined that he thought he wasn't credible, he's just going to -- he's just going to throw it all out there at him because he can't use him anymore. And maybe it's a way for him to go around Matt Whitaker and let the public in, lift the veil a touch on some of the information that he knows about Manafort without having to get it sort of preapproved over at Justice.


BORGER: I mean you know more about this than I do, Carrie.


KEILAR: But, Carrie, if -- if you -- if you were in Robert Mueller's position and you realize that you have a cooperating individual like Paul Manafort and that he's been lying, so he's not credible, in a way he has undercut his own testimony on other issues, right?


CORDERO: Well, he has. And that's why actually the plea to begin with of Manafort was, I thought, the more surprising aspect. I am less surprised to learn that he has been lying than I was a couple months ago when he actually agreed to the plea agreement because last spring when he was pretrial -- in his pretrial process before his Virginia trial and before the D.C. trial was even close, he actually violated the terms of his home detention where he was -- he was trying to witness tamper and he was secretly writing op-eds and he was doing things that he was not supposed to be doing.

BORGER: Right.

CORDERO: And so they actually had to roll back agreements that they had at that time.

Then he went to trial in Virginia. He was convicted. And then he agreed to this plea agreement. So an alternative theory is that Paul Manafort's entire strategy has been delay perhaps with the end goal of obtaining a pardon. I do agree that a pardon is still a very live issue. All of the words that have come out of the president's mouth over the period of time that Paul Manafort has been in legal jeopardy have been favorable to him, along the same lines of the types of things the president has said about other people who he actually has pardoned. So I think pardon is a live issue and this could just be another attempt.

[13:20:00] So now he -- he revokes his plea agreement. This will take more time. He'll be sentenced. Perhaps he thinks he's going to get a pardon. And then we'll find out if there's -- people have speculated whether or not there is some state court that would override a pardon that he could potentially be prosecuted there. But that, again, is many, many months or perhaps years for that legal process to play out. This is a theory, you know, not necessarily -- we don't know.

KEILAR: That -- a theory. And that is -- I would -- I wonder, Nia, though, to be in a place where you're betting on a pardon from President Trump, who can be unreliable sometimes in his allegiances --


KEILAR: Is that a place to be unless Paul Manafort feels as if he has some assurance that that would come through.

HENDERSON: Well, listen, I mean if you look at the patterns of pardons from this president, you know, they're essentially political allies, political pardons, right? You look at Arpio, for instance, somebody like Dinesh D'Souza, people who conservatives thought were railroaded. You look at the president's tweets on Paul Manafort. He's also talked about this idea that he felt like Paul Manafort was being railroaded as well and sort of a victim of rogue justice.

So, you know, if you're Paul Manafort, who is in this very difficult position, possibly facing 10 years or possibly facing a pardon, maybe it is best to put your money on a possible pardon, because this is a president who has again expressed sort of loyalty towards him in terms of how he's framed him on Twitter.

BORGER: We also know that the issue of a pardon for Manafort was discussed months and months ago by one of the president's attorneys with Paul Manafort's attorneys. This lawyer is no longer with the president. But it apparently was raised and was reported about at the time. So the notion of a pardon is not -- is not new.

KEILAR: That assurance could be out there.

CORDERO: And that right around the time that they were discussing also getting advice on firing Attorney General Sessions.

BORGER: Exactly. Exactly.

KEILAR: All right, you guys, stay with me. Much more ahead.

Carl Bernstein actually has some new information, some new reporting on Paul Manafort. He's going to be live with us next.


[13:26:41] KEILAR: All right, live pictures of the White House Briefing Room. The first briefing in almost a month, expected to start any moment now. So we're keeping an eye on that and we'll bring that to you as soon as it gets started.

But in the meantime, we're getting some new information on the situation involving the president's convicted former campaign chairman Paul Manafort.

CNN's Carl Bernstein joining me now.

Carl, what can you tell us?

CARL BERNSTEIN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, according to sources familiar with aspects of the Mueller investigation, the special prosecutor has known for more than a year that Manafort visited in president of Ecuador in Ecuador, that the special prosecutor has been intentionally interested, not just in that meeting, but that meeting in terms of what it might mean in regard to Manafort, WikiLeaks, and contacts with Assange.

There is no question, according to people familiar with some things that the special prosecutors know, and it has been confirmed by people who are close to Manafort, that he did indeed travel to Ecuador in the spring of 2017 to visit with the president. And that for more than a year, Mueller's investigators have been following up on leads emanating from that visit and what that visit portends and what it means and what kind of key it might be to understanding a relationship between Assange, Manafort, the campaign, and WikiLeaks and whether or not such a relationship does exist.

Among the reason that this is so significant is it comes at a time when the president, since the midterm elections, has been, according to those closest to him, absolutely obsessed with the Mueller investigation and where it is heading. And even today he has been talking about this rogue investigation. According to aides, it's what consumes his thinking much of the time. We certainly see it in the tweets. But those around him note it in his behavior. I said on the air last night that some of these people are saying that he acts as if he fears in some way that he has been cornered, fairly or unfairly by the special prosecutor, and whatever is going on, he thinks it is very unfair or certainly that is what he is expressing to those around him.

Now, how this might relate to this information about Manafort, we don't know. But there's something very interesting about the timing of all this.


BERNSTEIN: That -- and that is three weeks ago, at the midterm election, since then and he replaced his attorney general, Jeff Sessions, with the acting attorney general now, Mr. Whitaker, and immediately when Whitaker became the acting attorney general for the first time the president of the United States had a window into Mueller's investigation. He'd been frustrated for more than a year, a year and a half, telling people he can't find out what's going on with Mueller, he doesn't know where the investigation is going. And now he has a window into it, assuming as through around the president say is the case, that Whitaker is giving him information about this investigation.

[13:30:03] KEILAR: I have a question, Carl. We know in "The Guardian" report it talks about this.