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Answers from Trump to Mueller; Manfort's Lawyers Talked with Trump's Lawyers; Muller Bill Fails to Reach Senate Floor; Pompeo Briefed Senators on Saudi Arabia. Aired 1-1:30p ET

Aired November 28, 2018 - 13:00   ET

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


[13:00:00] JOHN KING, CNN ANCHOR: News day. Thank you for watching us today on INSIDE POLITICS. Come back this time tomorrow. Don't go anywhere, Brianna Keilar starts right now. Have a great day.

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

And we're beginning with breaking news. We are learning the first details about what President Trump told Special Counsel Robert Mueller's team in response to those written questions he received. A source reveals what the president said about two key issues that are part of Mueller's Russia investigation.

Joining me now we have CNN reporter Kara Scannell, former federal prosecutor and CNN legal analyst Shan Wu, crime and justice reporter Shimon Prokupecz, and our chief political correspondent Dana Bash.

Tell us about this new reporting.

DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Brianna, as you mentioned, we are getting the first insight into how the president responded to Robert Mueller's written questions, which, until now, has been a big unknown.

So, sources familiar with this matter tell CNN two things. Number one, the president told the special council that Roger Stone did not tell him about WikiLeaks and, number two, that the president was also not told about the 2016 Trump Tower meeting between his son, campaign officials and a Russian lawyer, who, of course, promised dirt on Hillary Clinton.

Now, the president's answers were described to us without providing any direct quotes and said that the president made clear he was answering to the best of his recollection.

But, Brianna, these two points here. WikiLeaks and the Trump Tower meeting, they are really key, as far as we know, to Robert Mueller's central mission when he started this investigation, which is, was there any collusion between team Trump and the Russians.

KEILAR: And, if so, how high up does it go as well?

BASH: Yes. KEILAR: How is this different, what we know he's said here, compared to what he's said publicly?

BASH: So we are told, Brianna, that what the president said in these written answers is similar, matches, actually, what he has said in public. But, of course, that's a big difference, these written answers would be subject to criminal charges if false. That's why it is our understanding that the president made clear his answers were the best of his recollection, which is standard for lawyers as a way to shield their client to make sure that they're not in any legal trouble if their answers are challenged.

KEILAR: And especially, Shimon, because some time has passed since we know -- some time has passed, of course, since the Donald Junior Trump Tower meeting with a number of campaign officials, including Jared Kushner, Paul Manafort, with the Russians. There was a blocked call that Donald Junior was talking to someone who had a blocked number after the meeting. He has said repeatedly that that was not his father. The president here is saying to the best of my recollection. Where are we on the blocked call and how significant that could be when we know what Dana is reporting here?

SHIMON PROKUPECZ, CNN CRIME AND JUSTICE REPORTER: And that is still a very significant thing that we don't have answered. We don't yet know who that blocked call was from.

Look, the special counsel will know who that blocked call was from because we know they've subpoenaed phone records, e-mails, all that information they know have. Whether or not they get to follow up with the president, I think that's the key point here also that we -- do they now have enough to follow up to the president if this does exist, if there are phone calls, if there is information that people were communicating, whether it's WikiLeaks, whether it's the Trump Tower meeting, whether they were communicating in real time information to the president. Does this now, if this exists, does -- is there enough information for them to follow up with the president about?

KEILAR: Shan, you're a former federal prosecutor. When you hear that these are the president's answers to these written questions from the special counsel, what's your reaction?

SHAN WU, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: My reaction is, I would really want the follow up. That phone call has been just a nagging red flag to me for a long time because it's such an easy answer. And I think it's significant he's talking about this recollection there because he's definitely leaving himself a little bit of fudge room.

KEILAR: So that is significant to you. That's not just lawyer speak, to the best of my knowledge. That's not just providing cover. Do you think he should be able to recollect if he did indeed talk to his son?

WU: I think so. I mean it is lawyer coaching. I mean we tell people, if you don't remember something, say that you don't remember it. Given these circumstances, I don't really believe that he would remember such a thing. And I always like my clients just to say, no, I don't think that happened. KEILAR: Well, but that's not what he says, Kara.

KARA SCANNELL, CNN REPORTER: No. And it also put potentially his son in some legal jeopardy if his answer were to go the other way because Don Junior has testified before at least three congressional committees where he has said under oath that he did not tell his father about the e-mail, about the meeting in advance of it. So if Trump answered the opposite way that would also put his son in some trouble too.

KEILAR: And what about the WikiLeaks part of this, Shan? What's the significance there for you?

WU: Well, the WikiLeaks part of it just seems to be so much sort of tension building on that front. And I think that really is what Mueller is interested in to really put the campaign in touch with the Russians. I mean that's kind of the missing link there is if you can connect those dots for it. And so I think that's what the significance is.

[13:05:13] PROKUPECZ: I think what's interesting is what we learned from the whole -- the entire Corsi situation yesterday, is that there is information that the special counsel believes that they have that Roger Stone was communicating with senior members of the Trump campaign about WikiLeaks. These documents that Corsi released to everyone doesn't say who that senior member is.

And it's clear -- it's clear that the special counsel believes this. Whether or not they actually have solid information about this or that they can present at a court of law and use in a criminal case is a whole other thing. But at least we can tell, and when you read these documents that Corsi released, there is information. Something exists within the special counsel's office that says Roger Stone was communicating about WikiLeaks, about other stuff, with senior members of the Trump campaign.

BASH: And that's such an important point, Shimon, because it's connected to what we're reporting about the president's testimony because the context of this, of course, is that you talk to people even real time in 2016, it's like, oh, yes, Roger Stone was kind of kicked to the curb, but he still talks to the president all the time. So separate from this whole question of whether he talked to other members of the Trump campaign, Roger Stone, has been whether he had any side conversation with the president of the United States. And if the president has said effectively under pain of criminal charges no with the caveat as far as I recollect, that's important.

KEILAR: And the reason, Kara, that the special council is so interested in the WikiLeaks connection is because WikiLeaks dumped a bunch of hacked e-mails from Hillary Clinton's campaign chairman John Podesta. And then you had some timing that seemed more than coincidental between the -- between then candidate Trump talking about WikiLeaks and Roger Stone tweeting, I believe, about WikiLeaks. How does that all fit together and what does special counsel do if he can't actually connect the dots here? SCANNELL: Well, there are a lot of tweets that were, you know,

premonition about John Podesta's time in the barrel coming up. And then you see there are these efforts behind the scenes to try to figure out information, particularly Corsi saying, you know, telling Sara Murray that, you know, he created this document, this -- you know, to explain this e-mail after the fact because Roger Stone, you know, kind of went out there saying that, you know, there was -- this was based on Corsi's research. And then Corsi says the tweet came before the research. So, you know, that shows that there is a bit of a cover up, but not necessarily illegal, but one that they're having, at least among themselves, to get their stories straight about the timing here. And there's still a lot of missing links here. I mean even if we see that Roger Stone might be saying to Corsi, well, come on, find out some information, you know, we don't see the connection from Corsi to WikiLeaks yet. And so there's still some gaps in the information that is public, but that doesn't mean that Robert Mueller hasn't filled in those gaps either.

KEILAR: But they clearly think there could be a link, right, Shimon, because Corsi is -- his line is, well, this was just a prediction I had --

PROKUPECZ: Right.

KEILAR: That WikiLeaks was going to do this. And I did. I shared my prediction with Roger Stone he says. Roger Stone's like, no, no, he didn't tell me about that. So there is -- they're getting their stories kind of mixed up.

PROKUPECZ: They clearly don't believe what Corsi is saying because --

KEILAR: The special counsel does not.

PROKUPECZ: The special counsel.

KEILAR: Yes.

PROKUPECZ: Because when he came up with this story, he tells his story in one of the first interviews he did this week he tells this story about how it just -- he's connecting the dots and he's doing forensic work and it just kind of comes to him and that's how he knew this. And he tells a story about how this special prosecutor, one of the special prosecutors, is like -- that just does not believe him. So they don't believe him. That's why they're having issues with it. And they may have other information that we just don't know about.

The other thing that's important I think with Dana's -- what Dana here is reporting is that, you know, you would hope that given how much trouble people have gotten into when they appear before the special counsel and that they lie, you would hope that the president is not dumb enough to do this. You would hope that his lawyers are not dumb enough to go ahead and lie. And you would hope that they have done some work so that it doesn't set him up in what he's been calling a perjury trap. He has, by saying he doesn't recall, obviously that protects him in some light. But imagine if the special counsel comes out and has information in this report that refutes this entire story. That's going to be a pretty big deal.

KEILAR: Shan.

WU: Yes, I mean, to Kara's point, I think it's fascinating that he's trying to couch his memory that way because if he really wants to stand up for his son there, he just needs to be completely confirming, absolutely that didn't happen.

BASH: And I just want to be clear that the answers that the president gave to Robert Mueller were described to us. So we don't --

WU: Right.

BASH: Have the -- and so the description from our sources was the gist was, as far -- you know, to the best of my recollection.

WU: Sure.

BASH: We don't have the exact wording.

WU: Yes.

KEILAR: I want Shimon to tell us about some other reporting that we're following, and then I want to get your impression of it, Shan.

[13:10:01] So we've learned, Shimon, that Paul Manafort's lawyers, as Paul Manafort was supposed to be cooperating with the special counsel, his lawyers were communicating with the president's personal legal team.

PROKUPECZ: Yes. And you -- as you can imagine, I think people at the special counsel were somewhat annoyed about that. I don't think they were entirely surprised by this. It's just not heard -- right, it's not something you often hear about where a lawyer whose client is cooperating in an investigation that involves other people that they are perhaps in some kind of an agreement to share information with, that they go ahead and share information. Information that, you know, the special counsel has specifically wanted to know about the president and the president's son and meeting and WikiLeaks. The fact that the lawyers here were sharing this information I think is truly stunning.

And I think Shan could probably talk about this a little bit more. But you just don't hear of these situations, let alone do you ever hear of a cooperator going in and repeatedly lying to FBI agents and U.S. attorneys.

WU: Right.

KEILAR: This is unusual, right?

WU: It is very odd. It's extremely risky for all the lawyers involved to be doing an arrangement like that because if you're representing the non-cooperator, they're talking and then they could just be feeding your client's information back to the government, which you don't want to happen.

But here I think what's really quite fascinating to me is that if Manafort's attorneys are talking with Trump's team and there's some hint that Trump's team is actually suggesting to them what he should be saying and what he's saying is false on top of that, you've got the potential there that the special prosecutor wants to look at the Trump team lawyers as witnesses to obstruction.

BASH: Can I just ask you, because I was told about this yesterday morning, frankly it's Giuliani and Ken Downing, who is the Manafort lawyer, who have had a long relationship. They've been talking and he's very open about it. It's not -- it's not illegal, obviously.

WU: That's right.

BASH: And it's -- it may be rare in this case, or it may be bad form, but it's certainly not unprecedented. They don't have a formal joint defense agreement, but a lot of lawyers for clients who have at least, at the time, similar interests, talk, right?

WU: Right. Yes.

KEILAR: But when one of the clients is the president, I mean, is that what's different here?

WU: No, what's really different is that one of the clients is formally cooperating. And that, in my experience, is almost unheard of because it's so risky for both sides to be talking then. Usually the moment that somebody is going to cooperate, that's when you withdraw --

BASH: You shut down.

WU: You shut down, you withdraw (INAUDIBLE).

KEILAR: So, Kara, as you followed this story and just sort of the culture of these legal teams, help us explain why they would open themselves up to that kind of exposure that Shan is describing?

SCANNELL: I mean I think for the outset, the president's legal team has had a relationship with all the potential witnesses where they feed back some information to them and they kind of keep a sense and kind of keep tabs on what people are telling Mueller's team. We've seen that not necessarily work all of the time with Don McGahn. Trump's legal team had been caught off guard that he was in as many times as he was in for 30 hours in total and some of the topics they spoke about.

But it's been kind of the way that this has been set up, partly, you know, because the -- Trump's legal team wants to keep a handle on what they're being told. But it doesn't necessarily mean they're going to get the full picture. And what's very interesting in the Manafort case is it sounds like they are keeping them in the loop on some of this, which just raises all of these issues of, you know, could they be keeping fed answers or getting heads up on things or knowing what Manafort's going to tell Trump -- Mueller's team, which just seems very unprecedented when Trump potentially could be a target of the investigation.

WU: Yes. Right.

PROKUPECZ: Well, even Corsi's attorneys were telling the president's attorneys about what was going on and how he was set to plead guilty. And one of the things they wanted that was in the information, in the documents, mentioned Donald -- the president, mentioned Donald Trump and Trump's legal team pissed. In fact, you know, our reporting shows that they even -- they called the special counsel about concerned about this.

And that's what delayed the questions being sent.

KEILAR: Yes.

PROKUPECZ: Remember we waited -- we were told it was going to go before Thanksgiving. Then they waited to send the questions. That's because they were concerned that something was going to come of this.

BASH: And the way -- the reason this all quickly came out was because we were trying to get to the bottom of why the president was tweeting up a storm, like he was yesterday. And the answer in part was because his legal team was hearing for some time from Manafort's legal team that the Mueller investigators were pressing him, from his perspective, too hard on questions about what the president knew about many things, including the Trump Tower meeting.

KEILAR: Very interesting.

All right, thank you so much. Great reporting, you guys.

We're following two other breaking stories coming off of Capitol Hill. A bill to protect Robert Mueller and his Russia investigation just got blocked.

[13:15:00] And senators just left a closed door briefing on the Saudi's involvement in the murder of Jamal Khashoggi. I will speak with one of them to find out what they learned.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KEILAR: There will be no vote today on a bill to protect Special Counsel Robert Mueller's Russia investigation. Just moments ago, a trio of senators tried to force a vote on this bill but they were blocked by one single senator.

Let's bring in CNN congressional correspondent Sunlen Serfaty.

So, Sunlen, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has been steadfast in his refusal to bring any such bill to a vote. What happened here?

SUNLEN SERFATY, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: That's right, he has been, Brianna, and this effort for the moment is absolutely stalled out. You had a group of three senators, Republican Jeff Flake and Cory Booker and Chris Coons come to the floor and try to force this to a vote on the Senate floor, but it was blocked, and it can be blocked by just one senator. They're bringing up through unanimous consent, which means just one sole senator can block it. And that was Mike Lee from Utah.

[13:20:19] But certainly, as you noted, this bill to protect Robert Mueller does not have the support of Republican leaders here in the Senate. Mitch McConnell, as recently as yesterday, said he did not think it was necessary. He says he doesn't have any indication that President Trump is going to move to fire Mueller. And that is something that Republican Senator Jeff Flake fired back on from the floor of the Senate just moments ago.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. JEFF FLAKE (R), ARIZONA: And with the president tweeting on a regular basis, a daily basis, that the special counsel is conflicted, that he is leading so called 12 angry Democrats, and demeaning and ridiculing him in every way, to be so sanguine about the chances of him being fired is folly for us, I believe.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SERFATY: And attempting to use a little bit of leverage, Senator Jeff Flake, he has vowed to withhold his vote on judicial nominations until this bill gets a vote. But as of now, Brianna, no vote scheduled and no indication from Senate leadership that they will move to have one.

KEILAR: All right, Sunlen Serfaty on The Hill. Thank you.

And coming up, I'm going to take with a Republican senator who just received a classified briefing on Saudi Arabia. Was he convinced by what Mike Pompeo and James Mattis had to say in the wake of Jamal Khashoggi's murder?

Plus, more on CNN's breaking news. Sources are revealing two of the president's written answers to Robert Mueller's investigation. One about the Trump Tower meeting, the other about WikiLeaks.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[13:26:30] KEILAR: The full Senate getting a classified briefing from Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Defense Secretary James Mattis. They were there to talk about the United States support of Saudi Arabia in the war in Yemen, but many of the senators were looking for other answers. They want to know about the Trump administration's support of Saudi Arabia's royal family in the wake of the killing of U.S. resident and "Washington Post" journalist Jamal Khashoggi at the Saudi consulate in Turkey. Sources tell CNN that U.S. intelligence has accessed with high confidence that Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman directed the murder.

Conspicuously absent from this briefing was the CIA director, Gina Haspel, who would have been able to answer questions on that CIA assessment of Khashoggi's murder. Joining me now from Capitol Hill is Mississippi Senator Roger Wicker.

He is a Republican on the Senate Armed Services Committee. He was in this briefing.

And, sir, before I get your perspective on the briefing, I want to know where you are when it comes to the crown prince's involvement in this murder of Jamal Khashoggi. The president is largely looking past this. What do you think about the involvement of the crown prince?

SEN. ROGER WICKER (R), ARMED SERVICES COMMITTEE: OK. Well, without getting into any information provided in the briefing, I think based on what we know from public sources, it's hard to imagine this level of activity taking place, this number of Saudi personnel being transported to Turkey and carrying out this heinous act without the support of the crown prince. So I think every indication, as far as I'm concerned, is that he was involved and possibly at the onset of it.

KEILAR: OK. And we'll talk about Yemen in a moment. But as we discuss the Khashoggi murder and obviously knowing that this was a classified briefing, what did you think about the briefing and the answers that you got when it came to that investigation?

WICKER: Well, I think we are well served by this team. Secretary Pompeo and Secretary Mattis. And I think they provided us some good information and some good perspective.

And let me just say this, because I know you're going to try to get to it. I think what we do with regard to our Saudi allies is decide what is in the best interest of the United States of America. You mentioned in your lead up support for the royal family. What we do is not so much to support or not support any particular part of the regime. We are involved over there because our national interests are very much involved in terms of fighting ISIS, fighting al Qaeda on the Arabia peninsula and protecting the United States military and civilian personnel. That's why we do what we do is if we make a calculated decision, that it helps the United States of America.

KEILAR: Sure. And I do want to talk about that with you in a moment.

I do want to ask you, though, about something. Dick Durbin came out of this briefing. He said that you all were told the White House decided not to send Gina Haspel, the CIA director.

Lindsey Graham, your Republican colleague, said this was -- he was incensed. He said, this was inadequate because Gina Haspel wasn't there. He said he doesn't want to vote on any legislation that the White House would rely on him to vote on until he hears testimony from her. Do you agree with him?

[13:29:54] WICKER: No, I don't take that position. But I think the attendance of the CIA director would be helpful and being able to question her would provide additional information over and above the very fine briefings.