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Mueller Team Believes Paul Manafort Lied About Business Dealings; Trump Says Paul Manafort Pardon Not Off the Table; Senate Defies Trump on Saudi Arabia After Khashoggi Murder; Lindsey Graham Flips Saudi Arabia Vote; Trump's Ex-Attorney Michael Cohen Expected to Plead Guilty for Misleading Congress About Russia Probe. Aired 9-9:30a ET

Aired November 29, 2018 - 09:00   ET


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[09:00:16] POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: All right. Top of the hour. Good morning, everyone. I'm Poppy Harlow.


President Trump about to set out for the sort of trip that most presidents in his position jumped at. Of course few if any president have been in his position, at least for a special counsel probe is concerned now, and few if any president have shared his demonstrated contempt at times for meetings abroad with fellow world leaders, allies among them.

The president leaves the White House one hour from now for a G20 Summit in Argentina. And if he stops to speak to reporters, you will hear him start to finish right here on CNN.

HARLOW: You, Jim, mentioned the special counsel. Well, new reporting overnight reveals at least some of what Paul Manafort allegedly lied to investigators about after he signed that plea agreement.

That's where we begin this hour. Alex Marquardt joins us from Washington.

Good morning, Alex.

ALEXANDER MARQUARDT, CNN SENIOR NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Jim and Poppy. Yes. This really shows the very contentious relationship between Paul Manafort and the Mueller team. The Mueller team now saying that since that plea deal was struck two and a half months ago that Manafort has repeatedly lied. Manafort's team says he was telling the truth.

And we have now learned from "The Wall Street Journal" what this is all centered around and it's Paul Manafort's relationship to a Russian businessman named Konstantin Kilimnik. They have long had a relationship. Mueller has been very interested in that relationship and says that Manafort has not been truthful about it.

The FBI believes that Kilimnik does have close ties to Russian intelligence and that's where that interest come from. Now Kilimnik and Manafort have both been charged by the Mueller team with trying to influence two witnesses. Kilimnik has not appeared in court. He has not been arrested.

And Jim and Poppy, this is not necessarily central to the Russia probe per se, but it really does speak to that contentious relationship, as I mentioned, between the two of them. So Manafort -- between the two sides, Manafort really does find himself in hot water right now. And so it would appear that his best possible chances of any sort of leniency are -- is a presidential pardon, which as we heard yesterday from President Trump is not off the table.

HARLOW: Right.

MARQUARDT: As the result of this lying, the special counsel has asked that a date for sentencing be set. There is a hearing here in D.C. tomorrow to talk about that sentencing.


SCIUTTO: And we should note the president publicly dangling a pardon for people tied to him in an ongoing investigation which he is involved is remarkable. I think that --

HARLOW: For a convicted felon.

SCIUTTO: Exactly.


SCIUTTO: Multiple counts.

On other issues central to Mueller's investigation, the president -- CNN, some exclusive reporting, learned about the president's answers to some of those questions. What do we know?

MARQUARDT: Right. Remember the president has now sent back written answers to a list -- a long list of questions from the special counsel. Foremost among them was what he knew, if anything, about that 2016 meeting at Trump Tower between Donald Jr., Paul Manafort, Jared Kushner and a Russian lawyer with ties to the Kremlin.

The president has said according to this exclusive reporting by our Dana Bash that he knew nothing about that. He also says he knew nothing about Roger Stone's relationship with WikiLeaks. Now Roger Stone, a long-time associate. WikiLeaks obviously a pivotal player in all this and let's just remind the viewers why.

That's because Russian military hackers who hacked into the DNC and the Clinton campaign then handed off that trove of e-mails to WikiLeaks, and so now the special counsel Robert Mueller is focusing on that potential relationship between WikiLeaks and Roger Stone to see if there's any collusion between the Trump campaign, WikiLeaks and of course that all tied back to the Russian hackers -- Jim and Poppy.

SCIUTTO: Central to the special counsel's investigation. Alex Marquardt, thanks very much.

One day after the president refused to speak on the record about a potential pardon for his one-time campaign chair, well, he told the "Washington Post" now that he would not take it off the table.

CNN's Joe Johns is at the White House.

So, Joe, I mean, let's, you know, cut right to the chase here. The president is publicly dangling a pardon, it appears, to someone who is a convicted felon.

JOE JOHNS, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: Remarkable, but not shocking given what's happened at this White House, quite frankly. That "New York Post" interview, the president indicating he would not take it off the table, asking a question why would I take a pardon off of the table.

Now this is a kind of issue that has been floating around for a long time, ever since Paul Manafort was indicted. He, of course, was the Trump campaign manager. But this is the closest the president has ever come to telegraphing his thinking. And once again, this is one of those issues simply not that shocking given the fact that we're in an environment where the president of the United States has fired the FBI director, ousted the attorney general, and installed a critic and skeptic of the Mueller investigation there to essentially oversee the investigation.

[09:05:18] Not that surprising at all. Jim and Poppy, back to you.

HARLOW: All right. Joe Johns, thank you.

With us now is CNN chief legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin and CNN political commentator Errol Louis.

Good morning to you both. Where do we begin? Let's begin with the president saying to the "New York Post" when I should note he went off the record on certain issues with the "Washington Post." So then with the "New York Post" he goes on the record, Jeffrey Toobin, and says, why would I take a pardon off the table?

JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN CHIEF LEGAL ANALYST: Well, I mean, you know, it is worth remembering that one of the Articles of Impeachment against Richard Nixon included the allegation that the president abused the pardon process. So, you know, that can be part of obstruction of justice. If you say to someone who is potentially cooperating, don't cooperate because you will get a pardon.

HARLOW: Interesting. Even if you just message it in that way through an interview?

TOOBIN: Well, that becomes a hard question. Obviously impeachment is a political process.

HARLOW: Sure. TOOBIN: It depends what the House of Representatives thinks. But the

-- but the issue of abuse of the pardon process as part of obstruction of justice is a real one and certainly his comment to the "New York Post" raises that issue.


SCIUTTO: Errol Louis, the politics here. I mean, the politics have and have always been central to this investigation, right? From a political standpoint, can the president politically get away with pardoning folks tied to himself in the midst of an ongoing investigation with himself as a potential target of this investigation?

ERROL LOUIS, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, it depends on what getting away with it means. If politically the president is going to continue what we've seen in the midterm elections which is playing solely to his base, really almost ignoring the rest of the world and sort of trying to tell the people who already like him, stick with me, prosperity is around the corner, we're going to win more, we're going to be fine, then, yes, some of his follower as he has famously said would forgive him almost anything.

If they literally saw him committing a crime, they would forgive him. For everybody else, though, and politically speaking since that's how you asked it, I mean, no, of course not. I mean, going back to the Watergate template, at some point in '73-'74, the country woke up, mostly while they were watching hearings in the House committee and started to realize that there is something seriously wrong here.

And I think something like that is more likely than not because, you know, when you are talking about pardoning people, you are dangling it. That is a problem sort of legally speaking, but it also sort of suggests, well, Manafort is not done yet. You know?


LOUIS: I mean, if you're talking about pardoning somebody who is in a position to actually commit more crimes, more deception, I think the general public will look at this and say this is not what we want our president to be doing.


TOOBIN: Can I --

HARLOW: Jeffrey, yes. Yes.

TOOBIN: I disagree, which must mean I'm wrong because Errol is always right.


TOOBIN: But what this -- you know, you say get away with it. The question is, will there ever been 67 votes in the Senate to remove Donald Trump from office? My answer is no. Nothing related to Mueller will ever get him to 67 votes in the Senate. And that means he can get away with it. I mean, yes, he could get impeached like Bill Clinton was impeached. But like Bill Clinton, I don't see any scenario where 67 votes remove him.

HARLOW: And you obviously are saying then you also don't see him as a president who would ever resign?

TOOBIN: No. Never.

HARLOW: No question.

TOOBIN: And so, look, we're obviously playing --


LOUIS: In 24 months, there's going to be election.

TOOBIN: Yes, you're -- we're playing --

LOUIS: And I think that's where the cards really were.

TOOBIN: I mean, that's where I think this is going to get there. Yes.

HARLOW: Jeffrey, can I ask you about Dana's fascinating, exclusive reporting yesterday on some of the answers, written answers that the president gave to Mueller and his team? In both of them, on Roger Stone and WikiLeaks, and saying he had no knowledge of the Trump Tower meeting in 2016, the key phrase in both of them was, to the best of my knowledge.

TOOBIN: Right. Best of my recollection, I believe. Yes.

HARLOW: Recollection. How significant is that? And also, you know, wouldn't it be pretty easy at this point for Mueller's team to confirm that given how much it's clear that they know because they could say that Manafort was the liar?

TOOBIN: No, not necessarily. I mean, I think it's hard to prove what people remember. And in fairness to President Trump he has a lot of phone calls and he's had a lot going on in his life over the past two years. So to prove that someone remembers a phone call is very difficult. That's why lawyers love that phrase, to the best of my recollection.

SCIUTTO: Unless there were multiple phone calls over time, right? And part of this is, does Mueller ask questions that he doesn't know the answer to, right? If he's spoken to other witnesses and he's corroborated a line, you know, something that happened, do we presume that he -- he posed that question to the president because he has information to back up?

[09:10:02] TOOBIN: Not necessarily. I mean, this isn't a courtroom where -- in front of a jury where, you know, according to the, you know, traditional rule you don't ask a question you don't know the answer to. HARLOW: Yes. Yes.

TOOBIN: If you are simply trying to collect information maybe you do ask questions you don't know the answer to. And if, for example, Roger Stone and Donald Trump are the only people who are parties to this conversation and you don't trust either one of them, as Mueller may well not trust, how do you prove what was said? How do you prove what Donald Trump remembers about that? I think it's very difficult and maybe impossible.


SCIUTTO: All right. A lot more to discuss. Jeffrey Louis, Errol Louis, thanks very much. And we're going to be right back.


SCIUTTO: The Senate delivering a rebuke to President Trump's handling of the murder of the journalist Jamal Khashoggi. A majority, a large one, voted to advance a measure to end U.S. military support of the Saudi-led war in Yemen. In a briefing to senators on Wednesday, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said there was a, quote, "no direct reporting linking the Saudi crown prince to the killing."


POPPY HARLOW, CO-HOST, NEWSROOM: No, notably missing from that briefing, CIA Director Gina Haspel, one of the president's biggest supporters on the Hill, Senator Lindsey Graham expressing more than just a little frustration with her not being there. Why? Because she is the one who heard the tape --


HARLOW: Of the murder of the journalist Jamal Khashoggi. Listen to Senator Graham.


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.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Have you made that clear to the president?

GRAHAM: I just did.


HARLOW: All right, we have significant breaking news to bring you this morning regarding President Trump, regarding Michael Cohen. Let's go to our colleague Pamela Brown, and Pamela, give us the main headlines here.

PAMELA BROWN, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: What we are learning, Poppy and Jim, that Michael Cohen, the president's former attorney for more than a decade is expected to make a surprise appearance in front of a federal judge in New York this morning where he is expected to plead guilty to misleading Congress in the Russia investigation.

So we know that Michael Cohen has previously testified to Congress on a number of issues related to the Russia probe including his efforts to brand the Trump Tower in Moscow. He has previously told Congress that those efforts have ceased in January of 2016.

He also had told Congress that the president barely knew about it. So that was just one of the issues that we know Michael Cohen has previously talked to Congress about. And now this morning, we are learning ahead of his sentencing coming up later in December, that he is going to be appearing before a federal judge and pleading guilty to misleading Congress.

This is significant for a number of reasons because the question is how will this impact the president? Michael Cohen is someone who has previously said he would take a bullet for the president and now it turns out he could be one of the most damaging witnesses to the president and his presidency.

And so we could learn more about potentially, what the president has known as it pertains to the Russia investigation. We are waiting to find out what happens when he does appear before this federal judge. Shortly, he has already pleaded guilty to eight counts as we all know, as we've covered previously, that involves tax fraud as well as campaign finance violations.

So this is certainly significant, because this is different. This is pleading guilty to misleading Congress and the Russia investigation. Poppy and Jim --

SCIUTTO: So Pamela --

HARLOW: Yes --

SCIUTTO: The timing here is key because he had testified that the talks regarding Trump Tower, the Trump Tower project in Moscow ended in January, 2016. He is now saying, is it correct, that those talks continued into June of 2016?

That timing of course key because the president by then was presumptive Republican nominee for president. That timing key, no question. Is he also testifying that the president was aware that those conversations were continuing?

HARLOW: We're going to have to wait and see what he says. I can only just tell you what he has testified to Congress in the past. He says that those discussions about Trump Tower in Moscow ceased in January of 2016. And he also said that the president barely knew about it.

So those are two key points he has previously told Congress. And we know that the president has come out and said on several occasions that there is no deals with Russia. He has no financial dealings with Russia. He said that during the campaign. He said that again January 2017.

So it certainly would be significant if Michael Cohen does appear before a judge and says that he misled Congress in terms of what the president knew about Trump Tower in Moscow and those efforts. Of course, nothing ever came of it as we know, the deal fell apart.

But there was a letter of intent signed by the president in 2015. But again, the president continually distanced himself, saying he didn't know anything about it. Michael Cohen has come out in the past when he was Trump's attorney, he no longer is, and said that he didn't know much about it.

So we're going to have to wait and see exactly what Michael Cohen is going to say in terms of pleading guilty to misleading Congress.

HARLOW: So also, Pamela, you know, up until now, at least Michael Cohen has not -- yes, he pled guilty to those eight counts. He has not had a cooperation agreement with prosecutors in the Southern District. A, do we know if that changes today?

Because we know he's facing a sentencing on December 12th, the sentencing where he could get 46 to 63 months in prison, and in the federal sentence, you have to serve 85 percent of it. So is he -- is this a cooperation agreement now? Do we know, and B, do we know if prosecutors from the FDNY or from Mueller's team will say anything about the effectiveness of what he has told them or how truthful they think it is?

[09:20:00] BROWN: Well, we're waiting to find out, you're right, there is no cooperation agreement between Michael Cohen and Robert Mueller's team, even though Cohen has been a significant of time, talking to Robert Mueller's team about the Russia investigation. He's also spoken to prosecutors in the Southern District of New York about the other charges that he pleaded guilty to including of course as we know, tax fraud in campaign finance violation.

So the question is, is this an effort to perhaps get more leniency ahead of his sentencing coming up on December 12th. It's unclear at this point who will be present in that courtroom when Michael Cohen does plead guilty to misleading Congress.

But that is certainly something to watch out for. Robert Mueller's team, their reaction to this, and what led to this because presumably he told Congress what he told Congress. But we know Robert Mueller's team has already been looking into this issue, what the president knew about the Trump Tower deal in Moscow.

And so the question is, is through that investigation they were able to uncover that what Michael Cohen has told Congress didn't line up with the facts that they had from other communications from other people involved in this investigation. And as Michael Cohen is pleading guilty to misleading Congress in an effort to get leniency in his sentencing. We'll have to wait and see what happens on that front --

HARLOW: Right -- SCIUTTO: Well, so this is happening now, well, presumably, we're

going to know a lot more, one, about how far he goes, about the president's knowledge, et cetera, based on what he says in that courtroom, but also how the special counsel views his -- how helpful his testimony has been. That's correct, right? He is making this -- he is making these statements now in a courtroom here in New York.

BROWN: That's right. He's going to be in front of a federal judge pleading guilty to this. And it's significant and unusual for this to happen, for this turn of events before someone is sentenced. I mean, this is someone who has already pleaded guilty to eight counts related to campaign finance violation and tax fraud.

And now in a turn of events just before his sentencing, he's going to go before this federal judge in a surprise appearance and say that -- and plead guilty to lying to Congress. So the question is what role did Robert Mueller's team in this, and how will this impact things moving forward?

And will it shed any light on the testimony that Michael Cohen has been giving to the Robert Mueller's team, how helpful it has been as it pertains to the president. You can imagine the president and his legal team would be paying close attention to this because Michael Cohen knew the president very well.

He was his attorney for more than a decade, again, he was one of his fiercest defenders and of course he had then come out -- came out in court and said that he paid off those -- the two women in campaign finance violation at the direction of the president.

So that sort of up ended any legal defense agreement between the president, his team and Michael Cohen's team. But certainly, the big question today is how has the testimony Michael Cohen has given to Robert Mueller's team impacted the president in this --

HARLOW: Yes --

BROWN: Russia investigation.


SCIUTTO: We're getting those --

HARLOW: Yes --

SCIUTTO: We'll be getting those reports from inside the courtroom. Pamela Brown, thanks very much as this goes forward, we have with us Jeffrey Toobin, Asha Rangappa.

Jeffrey, let's talk about and again, we're going to be getting more information here, clearly. We have someone inside the courtroom, we're going to share that once we know -- once we know the details of that reporting. But just on what we know now, so he's going to say that he misled Congress on when those discussions regarding Trump Tower in Moscow ended. Initially, he said January, now he says it goes all the way into June,

a month before the Republican convention when the president is the presumptive nominee. Legal significance to that, is it about abuse of the position, right?

JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Well, I mean, legal significance in terms of Michael Cohen is you can't lie to Congress.

SCIUTTO: Right --

TOOBIN: I mean, that's pretty straightforward --

SCIUTTO: For the president --

TOOBIN: What it means for --

SCIUTTO: Right --

TOOBIN: The president is a lot more complicated. I mean, you know, this is an investigation about whether Donald Trump was working with the Russians to get himself elected. That's what this is about. That's what collusion means. And what the president has said over and over again is I have nothing to do with Russia.

Here you have Michael Cohen saying apparently, that there were discussions, negotiations, something -- I mean, we'll see in court today between the president and his -- between the president's representative, at least, and the Russians in the middle of the 2016 campaign at a time when he was been extremely solicitous --

SCIUTTO: Right --

TOOBIN: To Vladimir Putin at a time when they changed the Republican platform at the convention to make it more --


TOOBIN: Sympathetic to Russia --

HARLOW: I mean, with the Russia -- and that, by the way, tied into Ukraine as well which is obviously --

TOOBIN: Paul Manafort bailing writ, yes --

HARLOW: A key interest right now and for the president has responded to Russia's aggression against Ukraine. Let's remind people what Michael Cohen told Congress behind closed doors when he said, look, all talk about a Moscow-Trump Tower ended in January 2016.

[09:25:00] He said because, quote, "the proposal was not feasible for a variety of business reasons and should not be pursued further." He said it ended then. Now we know from this reporting that there are questions about the honesty of that and where it went and who was involved and who in Russia was involved, Asha.

As you look at this, Pam noted how rare it is for him to be coming forward and saying, look, I did this. What do you think this means about a cooperation agreement? What --


HARLOW: Are we two weeks away from a sentencing?

ASHA: When Cohen originally pleaded guilty, there were -- you know, it was clearly that he was trying to posture himself as somebody who could help Mueller and it seemed that Mueller was kind of rebuffing it, he was not interested.

So the fact that he is doing this and clearly has information that's valuable to Mueller is significant. I would say that the other significant thing here is that Mueller has enough information to know that Cohen lied to Congress.

And we have had many other people also testify in front of Congress, and I think they should be very worried because if Mueller gets a hold of those transcripts, he clearly has intelligence information evidence of what actually went on and those people could be on the hook as well.

SCIUTTO: OK, this is ongoing as we speak. Michael Cohen's surprise appearance in the court of the Southern District of New York federal court there. We have a reporter inside the courtroom and our colleague Kara Scannell who is in Washington is getting color from inside the courtroom. Kara, tell us what you are hearing about what Cohen is saying to the judge.

KARA SCANNELL, CNN REPORTER: Well, Jim, so we do have a colleague in the courtroom who is telling us that Michael Cohen has waived his right to an indictment which signals he is about to plead guilty, if he hasn't already. And what he is going to say that he did according to our colleague there is that he made false statements regarding the Moscow project and discussions about the Trump Tower-Moscow project.

Now, this was a project that Cohen was involved with starting in the Fall of 2015 when Trump was beginning his presidential bid, and that he told Congress that it ended in January of 2016, you know, when the president was really getting underway with his bid for the then candidate.

But Cohen is now saying that he lied about this, so the question is what did he lie about and what did the president know about this project? This was, though, a critical meeting, it was, as we had seen Michael Cohen has provided Cnn previously with the letter of intent about this deal that he has -- that Trump had signed between -- in the end of 2015.

And this was all plans to build a luxury condominium tower like Trump has done elsewhere where they would make $4 million off that project. Michael Cohen has said to Congress that, you know, he reached out to the spokesman for Vladimir Putin trying to get a deal.

And he had told us previously that, that had gone nowhere. So now we're learning that some of these statements that Cohen had made were not true, we don't know the details of that yet, but it's likely playing out in court right now as Cohen is pleading guilty.

Again, he had already pleaded guilty in August to other --

HARLOW: Yes --

SCANNELL: Offenses, and that time --

HARLOW: Right --

SCANNELL: He implicated the president in the campaign finance piece.

HARLOW: So Kara, stay with us on this because we're just getting these alerts out of our colleague Julia Jones in the courtroom, and significant what she is reporting is that Michael Cohen is now saying that he had discussions about this project as late as August of 2017 --

SCIUTTO: That's after -- that's after Trump has already -- he's already the Republican --

HARLOW: He's president --

SCIUTTO: Nominee.

HARLOW: Yes --

RANGAPPA: In 2017 --

SCIUTTO: August 2017 --

HARLOW: August 2017 --

SCIUTTO: August 2017 after he's --

HARLOW: President --

SCIUTTO: Elected president. So this is even further than -- well, it's more than a year and a half beyond what he initially testified to Congress --

RANGAPPA: And when the special counsel was already investigating.

SCIUTTO: Yes, so our legal experts sitting next to us here, significant, Asha, for the president.

RANGAPPA: Well, then you're getting into, as Jeffrey mentioned earlier, you are now in a place where he is holding an office and has certain fiduciary duties to his office to, you know, to not be profiting from, you know, whatever leverage he has over foreign relations or anything that Russia might want.

And I think that this is really critical because I would like to know if any of the written questions that Mueller presented to Trump included questions in this vain. I expect that they did if Michael Cohen was already talking to them about this, and if he lied about those questions, dealings with Trump Tower, that could be a big problem for him as well.

TOOBIN: Let me just give another piece of context for all of this. I -- you know, I went to Moscow, I did a "New Yorker" piece about the Miss Universe pageant which his business partners in the Miss Universe pageant was the Agalarov family.

The Agalarov family, the leader of that family is a big builder and sometimes called the Donald Trump of Moscow. Agalarov was the person who wanted to build the Trump Tower in Moscow.