Return to Transcripts main page


Pelosi Nominated as House Speaker; No CIA Briefing to Senate on Journalist's Murder; President Trump Not Ruling Out Pardon For Paul Manafort. Aired 3-3:30p ET

Aired November 28, 2018 - 15:00   ET



DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: And then you have the president hearing about the way that at least he is told Robert Mueller is being overzealous, trying to get Manafort and maybe even Roger Stone -- we're not sure, but particularly Manafort -- to say things that he doesn't know the answers to, to say things that he doesn't know necessarily to be true, all as a way to get at and get to the president.

These are the things that the president is being told by his attorney Rudy Giuliani, who told me that yesterday morning, OK?


BASH: So there's that.

And then the question is -- I know what you're going to ask, I'm sure, is the pardon. Why would he even say that? And the answer is, because he's very transparent in what he's thinking.


BASH: He's not thinking about the next step, thinking about, wait, is this a political problem for me to say? He's angry and he's spitting out what's on his brain and that's what it is.

BALDWIN: So, it's interesting that, yes, it is in part this Kabuki dance, but, as you just pointed out, it is totally transparent, not even for the president to tell "The New York Post," yes, I may pardon him, but also the fact that it's out there now, as you have been reporting, that the Manafort team had been talking to the White House -- to Trump's lawyers about what they were discussing with Mueller.

And so, Shimon, just on that, that shouldn't be lost in all of this, that Manafort's lawyers have been telling the president's team about what they have been telling Mueller.

SHIMON PROKUPECZ, CNN CRIME AND JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Right, and it's not just the Manafort team.

There are other lawyers that we now know there have also been telling Trump's lawyers what's going on inside the building, inside these offices where they're interviewing people, that is, the special counsel, the different people that are coming in, what kind of questions are being asked, where the investigation stands.

I mean, we now know how the Mueller -- how the Trump legal team, that is, knows about all of this. The other thing that's important here on the whole pardon issue is, we know from all of our reporting that his lawyers, the president's lawyers have not wanted him to talk about whether or not he's going to pardon Manafort.

Now that we are where we are, where it seems that Manafort's case is done, the special counsel is done with him, they want him sentenced, we could be in a different place now, where the president feels comfortable talking about it.

The other thing is, Brooke, is that the idea that the president has never discussed pardoning Manafort is just not true, based on some of the reporting that we have done. We know that there were discussions about whether or not the president could pardon Manafort and others, including Michael Flynn, that there have been these discussions.

And really his attorneys have wanted him to stay away from this while the special counsel investigation is under way because they do not want it to appear that he's in any way interfering.

BALDWIN: Sure, sure.


BALDWIN: No, I just I think I remember from Dana, Giuliani -- reporting yesterday that Giuliani did acknowledge that a pardon had been discussed. But I think it was April-May was what he was telling you was the last time it had been at all discussed.

But, Harry Litman, possible pardon, what are you thinking?

HARRY LITMAN, FORMER U.S. ATTORNEY: Well, we are in a different place, as Shimon says, but it's no place that Trump should feel comfortable in.

I mean, the complication of the last 24 hours with Manafort's plea agreement having imploded almost sets the table with a circumstantial case of obstruction. Any pardon now would look like a reward to Manafort for an extraordinary kind of double-cross of the prosecutor here, both promising to be truthful and not being so, and then funneling information to Trump, which I can't tell you how extraordinary that is.


BALDWIN: But it's not illegal. Is that correct? It's not against the law?


LITMAN: That's not clear. So it would depend on the facts, but it could potentially be obstruction on his part and witness tampering on the other end.

But what it really is clearly is a violation of the agreement. And the pardon itself, if it were to transpire in those circumstances, would look like a potential -- a reward for not giving truthful information. That's obstruction.

BALDWIN: It is extraordinary that in the same week that we're hearing from the special counsel that Manafort repeatedly lied to him and his team, we have the president saying he may pardon him, just big picture thought.

Kaitlan, back over to you at the White House. Once Manafort started getting into trouble, the president downplayed his role in the campaign. But, recently, the tone has changed. And now President Trump is singing his praises.

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Yes, we're seeing a total 180 here, Brooke.

We have gone from over the summer the president never ruled out a pardon for Paul Manafort, but he downplayed any role that Paul Manafort had in his campaign, even though he was the campaign chairman for several months, and he would often say he worked for me for a very short period of time. And then he would point to the other Republicans that Paul Manafort had worked for, even if it was dating back decades ago, because he wanted to distance himself from Paul Manafort as much as possible.


It wasn't just the president. It was his press secretary as well, other aides inside the White House really trying to distance themselves from Paul Manafort.

And now we have in an interview today, he's saying he won't rule out a pardon for him. He's calling him very brave for what he's done. And, of course, this comes after this special counsel says that Paul Manafort has lied to them repeatedly, breaching that plea deal.

And another interesting thing to think about here, Brooke, is just down Pennsylvania Avenue earlier today, they blocked that bill to protect the special counsel and to protect his investigation, with Republicans saying they do not feel it is necessary.

Now, regardless of that legislation, if that ever comes to be a thing, that bill protecting Mueller, the president still has this pardoning powered. He could pardon Paul Manafort, Roger Stone, if it ever came down to it, Donald Trump Jr., whoever he wants. The president has that power to pardon them, which would likely cause him a ton of headaches from Capitol Hill, if he does.

BALDWIN: So there's all of that. Kaitlan, thank you.

I want to get to the breaking news exclusive here to CNN, the details about what President Trump told Robert Mueller in writing about two key issues that are significant parts of this Russia investigation. The answers he provided pertain to WikiLeaks and the 2016 Trump Tower meeting.

So, Dana, back to you on your reporting here. What did the president provide to Mueller?

BASH: Well, this is noteworthy because it's really the first insight that we have gotten, Brooke, into how the president responded at all to Mueller's written questions.

Until now, it's been a big unknown. And what sources familiar with the matter tell us are two things, number one, that the president told the special counsel that Roger Stone did not tell him about WikiLeaks and, number two, that the president was also not told about that 2016 Trump Tower meeting between his son, campaign officials and that Russian lawyer promising dirt on Hillary Clinton.

Now, the president's answers were described to us without providing any direct quotes. And we're told that the president made clear as part of his answers that he was giving them to the best of his recollection.

Now, these two key points, though, kind of big picture, WikiLeaks, the Trump Tower meeting, remember, they're key to Mueller's central mission, which is investigating whether the Trump campaign colluded with Russians during 2016.

And the other thing I just want to add here is that I'm told that the public statements that the president has made on these issues match what he did in writing to Robert Mueller. Now, there is a difference between saying something in public and saying something in writing to a special counsel, which, of course, if he gives false information, he could be subject to criminal charges.

BALDWIN: Shimon, with regard to the Trump Tower meeting that Dana was just pointing out, we know that the soon-to-be House Intel chair, Adam Schiff, says that he will push for more information about Don Jr.'s phone records.

Remind us what's missing.


So there's this phone call that was made, and it's a blocked call from Donald Trump Jr's phone that Adam Schiff and others certainly on this committee, the Democrats have been asking questions about, and Republicans have refused to do any kind of work on it and to subpoena any information it.

Obviously, the concern is that this call was made around the time that Don Jr. was planning the Trump Tower meeting and they want to know who Don Jr. spoke to. Don Jr. has said he doesn't recall who he spoke to on that night.

So there's a lot of questions certainly by people on the committee whether or not he spoke to his father, the president, during the campaign on that night about this meeting that was about to take place. We will see. I mean, I think also the other person who may know

anything about this phone call would be the Mueller team because they would have those records. They can easily subpoena those records and they may already have them. But the Hill now wants those records and they make subpoena the phone company to try and get more information.

BALDWIN: So, Harry, words matter. How lawyers characterize this matters on the Trump Tower meeting, on Roger Stone and WikiLeaks.

Trump in these written statements to similar in both cases saying he wasn't told, to the best of my recollection. What do you make of those phrases, as a lawyer?

LITMAN: Well, they're -- yes. Well, as a lawyer, I think they are lawyer. I mean, they were obviously penned by lawyers.

But still, Dana's reporting, which is phenomenal, by the way, really reveals two concrete answers. One, it tells us where Mueller's thinking was, and maybe is, but also it precludes -- unless the president has perjured himself, always a possibility -- it precludes two important avenues of criminal activity, if he's really now said Stone never followed through on WikiLeaks, I never knew about the Trump Tower meeting.


That's that's pretty significant stuff. And it's factual. It's a little bit more, I think, than we might have expected the answers would provide. It really draws a line in the sand in a couple places that Mueller -- that the case now precludes, absent perjury.

BALDWIN: Dana, what do you think, to Harry's points?

BASH: No, I mean, I think that's true.

And, look, just even generally getting a better sense or any sense at all of what the president has said in these written answers, the fact that the president's legal team and the Mueller team, they were going back and forth about even the kind of questions that Mueller could ask, whether it would be written or live.

And, finally, after months and months of negotiations, the Trump team sent those answers back. And the fact that we at least have an idea of a couple of them is noteworthy, and the fact that you're right that they're the concrete ones is even more.

BALDWIN: So, grab that water, Dana. Grab the water. I hear your voice.

Harry, stepping back just for a second, we found out Manafort continued to lie after his plea deal. I know you wrote about this. Why would Manafort continue to lie right now?


So, first, let me take a step back and say how stunning it is. This is a high-level cooperation agreement. It looked like he had finally seen reason and had nowhere to go, and he was nevertheless playing both sides.

Why would he do it? My best supposition -- I tried to go through hypotheses -- is just that he -- some combination of ignorance and false bravado, that that's the -- that's his M.O. for years. But also, of course, now that we know he was all the time funneling information to the Trump camp, it might have been that that's how he thought he could be most useful to the president, most enhance his opportunity for a pardon down the line, which, as we learn now, is very much on the table.

BALDWIN: Yes, coming back full circle.

The president's quote, pardon for Paul Manafort not off the table.

Harry Litman, Shimon, Dana, thanks to all of you.

LITMAN: Thanks, Brooke.

BALDWIN: Coming up next: the defense secretary saying that there is -- quote, unquote -- "no smoking gun" to implicate, connect the Saudi crown prince in the murder of U.S.-based journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

A number of senators, though, are not satisfied after they were briefed up on Capitol Hill. One Republican now saying he won't vote on any spending bills until he hears straight from the CIA.

Plus, more on our breaking news, President Trump just telling "The New York Post" that a pardon for Manafort isn't off the table.



BALDWIN: Just in, after weeks of drama, House Democrats officially nominating Nancy Pelosi as House speaker.

Let's bring in CNN congressional correspondent Phil Mattingly.

And, Phil, what was the final vote? How close was it?


And to put it in perspective, I will give you the tally first. It was 203-32. In 2016, when Nancy posters running for House minority leader, she actually had 64 no-votes.

Now, Brooke, it's important to note this was the caucus vote. There still needs to be a floor vote. And based on the 32 who voted against her, Nancy Pelosi still has worked to do. Basically, if Democrats have a majority with 235 seats, she will need 218 of those individuals to vote for her on the floor to officially become speaker.

So she's going to have to flip at least 16 or 17 votes. That said, Brooke, there are five, six weeks before that vote will actually occur. And the extent of the effort behind the scenes that Pelosi, her allies both inside and outside of Congress over the last couple of weeks have done to get her to this point has been immense. It's expected to continue.

The expectation right now when you talk to senior Democrats is that she will be able to get there, but, Brooke, again, more work to do, but a very, very good first step for Nancy Pelosi in this process to become speaker once again.

BALDWIN: Phil, hang tight for me, because I want to get into another huge topic up on the Hill.

Today's classified briefing to the entire U.S. Senate has changed few minds about how the U.S. should be dealing with Saudi Arabia. A bipartisan group continues to call for the U.S. to pull its support for the Saudi-led war in Yemen as one way to crack down on the crown prince who ordered the killing of U.S.-based journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

At least, that is the assessment from the CIA. But both Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Defense Chief James Mattis are backing away from directly linking the crown prince, saying that the intelligence doesn't support it.

The two gave the briefing to the senators this morning, advocating the president's stance that the U.S. should continue its current support of the Saudis.

Here was the secretary of defense moments ago:


JAMES MATTIS, U.S. SECRETARY OF DEFENSE: We have no smoking gun that the crown prince was involved, not the intelligence community or anyone else. There is no smoking gun. We have not changed that accountability for the murder is our expectation of everyone involved in the murder.

Accountability is our position, has not changed at all. And, by the way, I have read all the intel. I have personally read all the intelligence. I have read all the translations.


BALDWIN: Meantime, I just talked to you Democratic Senator Jeanne Shaheen, who told me she has read that intelligence report. She concludes that the crown prince is indeed responsible and said this about the briefing by Mike Pompeo:



SEN. JEANNE SHAHEEN (D), NEW HAMPSHIRE: I think it's important to point out that I think Secretary Pompeo has misjudged the frustration that exists in the Senate of a series of actions by the Saudi government.


BALDWIN: So, Phil Mattingly is back with me.

Also joining us, CNN global affairs correspondent Elise Labott.

And, Phil, on the reaction to this briefing today, it's not just the Democrats, but it's also Republicans who want more done against the Saudis. Tell me what Senator Lindsey Graham said.

MATTINGLY: Yes, Brooke, it's always worth remembering that at least when they're caring about it, the congressional prerogative that senators have, one thing that gets their backs up is when they feel like they're being ignored.

And that's exactly what's going on right now. And you mentioned it's not a partisan issue. It's not just Democrats that oppose the Trump administration. It's Republicans as well, including one of the president's most vocal and trusted allies, Senator Lindsey Graham.

Take a listen to what he said after the briefing.


SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: I'm glad we had it. I admire both the secretaries, but it was inadequate because the CIA was not there.

Any key vote, anything that you need me for to get out of town, I ain't doing it until we hear from the CIA.

QUESTION: Have you made that clear to the president?

GRAHAM: I just did.


MATTINGLY: So, just to put that in perspective, there's a government funding deadline in nine days. And Senator Lindsey Graham, who is an appropriator who would be working on that bill, is saying he will not vote for whatever they come up with if he does not get a CIA briefing.

Now, Brooke, there's also a separate issue here. You were talking about U.S. support for Saudi Arabia as it pertains to Yemen. In just about an hour, maybe even less than that, we're going to have a critical vote on the Senate floor where senators who were supposed to be briefed today in an effort by the administration to synch that vote, to basically kill that resolution to block the support, will have an opportunity to take that vote.

And, Brooke, what I'm being told right now, and based on what I have heard from senators who have voted against it in the past, that resolution is likely to move forward. So, on multiple fronts right now, the Trump administration is dealing with senators in both parties who are very upset by what has transpired over the course of the last couple of weeks with Saudi Arabia.

BALDWIN: So, as the White House deals with that, you have Secretary Pompeo, who came out of that briefing, Elise, and was asked, why wasn't the CIA chief in the room?


QUESTION: Why wasn't the currency CIA director here briefing senators as well?

MIKE POMPEO, U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE: I was asked to be here. And here I am.

QUESTION: But senators were very frustrated.

Normally, in your past role as CIA director, you would be here briefing these senators on an issue this sensitive. Why isn't the CIA director herself here today?

POMPEO: I was asked to be here. And I'm here.


BALDWIN: Elise, he's totally not answering the question.


And this, I think, as Phil got to, the frustration that was from senators in the room, that these senators, look, they have always been concerned about the war in Yemen, but they were enabling the administration to go forward with Saudi Arabia.

In the wake of the murder of Jamal Khashoggi, there's a lot more concern about this crown prince. And now they're saying, listen, we can't let this go business as usual. And this is the rub with the administration.

And the secretary had this incredible, incredible op-ed in "The Wall Street Journal" really berating lawmakers on both parties, anybody who disagreed with the administration's desire to focus on the relationship with Saudi Arabia over any concerns that they have, whether it's about Jamal or other actions from the crown prince, really berating them.

And I think that kind of bled into the frustration on the Hill. Phil had some great reporting that that op-ed fell flat. And he's not answering the question. This administration is acknowledging that this happened. President Trump has even said in interviews it's possible that the crown prince did know about this murder, but they want to move on.

And the senators, as Phil said, using their prerogative to say not so fast.

BALDWIN: Well, we will see if Lindsey Graham's able to turn the tables, as he said, in those nine days before they do anything with the spending bill. We will see.

Phil and Elise, thank you both so much.

Breaking news now, President Trump telling "The New York Post" that a pardon for his former campaign chairman Paul Manafort is not off the table, not off the table. How this could impact the Russia investigation.

And we are learning about an incident at La Guardia Airport in New York involving President Trump's private plane.

We will be right back.



BALDWIN: Here's the breaking news.

If you are just now tuning in, President Trump has now told "The New York Post" that he is not ruling out a pardon for his former campaign chairman Paul Manafort.

This is what he told "The Post" -- quote -- "It was never discussed, but I wouldn't take it, being a pardon, off the table. Why would I take it off the table?"

I want to bring in CNN chief political analyst Gloria Borger and CNN legal analyst Paul Callan.

And, Gloria, first to you.

Why would the president, in the same week that the special counsel is saying that he has breached this plea deal, he has repeatedly lied to federal investigators, now you hear the president on the record saying, I may pardon him?

GLORIA BORGER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Because he doesn't believe the special counsel. He doesn't like the special counsel.

The narrative coming out of the White House and the allies of the White House are that people like Manafort have been telling the truth, but that the special counsel is trying