Return to Transcripts main page


Trump Emerges as Central Subject in Mueller Probe; Trump Said to be in Terrible Mood at G20 Summit; Interview with Senator Jeff Flake; CIA Chief Haspel Caught in Khashoggi Briefing Tug-of-War; Trump Takes Class Photo with World Leaders in Buenos Aires; Hackers Hit Marriott, Steal Info on 500 Million Guests; U.K. Believes Putin Approved Nerve Agent Attack on Ex-Spy; Trump Begins G20 Summit as Mueller Revelations Rattle Him. Aired 9-9:30a ET

Aired November 30, 2018 - 09:00   ET


[09:00:00] POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: Michael Cohen told a federal judge he lied to avoid contradicting the president's, quote, "political messaging." He further admitted having kept Trump family members in the loop all the while, and at this very hour lawyers for the president's former campaign chair, Paul Manafort, are in court in Washington to set a date for sentencing.

Manafort effectively brought himself a longer sentence than he might have gotten by allegedly lying to the special counsel after he pledged to cooperate and tell the truth.

Kara Scannell joins us in Washington.

I'm fascinated by this for so many reasons, Kara. He's not going to be in court and that's a bit unusual in a criminal case like this, but we also may learn from prosecutors today exactly what they say Manafort lied about. Right?

KARA SCANNELL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Poppy. So this sentencing hearing was set after the surprise announcement on Monday when the special counsel's office said it was tearing up Paul Manafort's cooperation agreement because he had lied to them and lied to FBI agents about several different topics.

Now we don't know exactly what those are and we're hoping we might get some insight into what these lies entail today, and that's what we'll be listening for. But this was a real turn of events. Manafort was convicted of eight counts then he pled guilty, have this cooperation deal. We know he was in meeting with Mueller's team at least nine times, and appeared he was cooperating. Now they're saying he had lied multiple times.

Manafort's attorneys of course say they don't agree with the government's characterization, but one thing they both do agree on is that they want to move this to sentencing. Like you said, Manafort is not going to be there. He waived his right to appear. The last time we saw him in court he arrived in a wheelchair with one of his feet elevated and wrapped, his attorneys, you know, had intimated he had some kind of medical condition, he was -- that was a result of his confinement. But Manafort won't be there today, but we will be looking to see what

we can learn about what happened between Manafort and the special counsel's office, and also get a sentencing date -- Poppy.

HARLOW: OK. Kara, thank you. I know you'll be on top of all of it.

Let's jump to Buenos Aires now. The president is there for the G20. Abby Phillip, our colleague, joins us there as well.

Look, we've been watching some of these pressers that the president has had all morning with world leaders. We saw him with the president of Argentina. What is his mood on the ground right now?

ABBY PHILLIP, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Poppy, the president landed here late last night and according to our sources coming in to this G20 meeting or series of meetings, distracted. And it was clear based on his comments to reporters as he was leaving the White House and that again this morning before he even left his hotel for his first meeting of the day, the subject that is on his mind is this Michael Cohen plea deal.

The president's former personal attorney pleading guilty to lying about something that directly implicates him and President Trump has been defending himself in these tweets this morning saying that his business dealings during the campaign were known at the time even though as we know they were not known at the time. They only came to light after he was elected president. And President Trump is once again calling this all a witch hunt.

But according to our source the president's distraction because of all of this is because he is spooked by what is happening with Michael Cohen. Again, this is the Mueller investigation showing a little bit of their cards and showing something that is clearly very troubling to President Trump. In the meantime, all of this is really hanging over a weekend of meetings, these high stakes meetings with foreign leaders.

And we know based on what the president has said in the past, Poppy, that he believes that this Mueller investigation makes him look weak on the world stage. So the timing really could not be worse for President Trump when it comes to all of this.

Again, as we walk through the next couple of days, it will be interesting to see if President Trump takes an opportunity to comment more on this subject matter that has been on his mind for several days now. We know that he was notified earlier this week, or that his attorneys were notified on Wednesday night by the Justice Department. So as he woke up on Thursday morning, the president began tweeting about Mueller and it's clear that it was because something was coming down the pike that he was deeply concerned about -- Poppy.

HARLOW: OK. Abby, thank you very much.

And again a lot of this overshadowing a very significant thing we just saw. You just saw, you know, Mexico and Canada, and the United States signing a new trade agreement that is very significant. We'll keep following what's happening at the G20 but get, though, to our chief legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin.

And Jeff, you've been by my side and Jim's side through a lot of this, this week. And it's only been five days. And let me just tick through for the American people, just a reminder of what has happened in the last five days on this front.

The special counsel accused Paul Manafort of lying. We have the revelation that Manafort's lawyer was secretly briefing the president's lawyers while Manafort was allegedly lying to the special counsel. A draft court filing claimed that the president's confidant Roger Stone tried to get ahold of those hacked Democratic e-mails by WikiLeaks, and just yesterday the president's former fixer and personal attorney said he lied to Congress about business contacts with Russia during the campaign. How much --


[09:05:08] HARLOW: Wow. Right?

TOOBIN: Why don't we just knock off early, Poppy? You know? It's high --

HARLOW: You know, Jim took the day off and I came. It's been a busy week.


TOOBIN: Exactly.

HARLOW: How much does this -- in all seriousness -- this move the Mueller probe, move the ball forward?

TOOBIN: I think, you know, this is a very significant moment, because -- I mean, let's think about three areas of the Mueller investigation and what Donald Trump's position is on each one. Yesterday we learned more about the Trump Tower project. Something he had said nothing about during the campaign. And his position is that he had absolutely -- essentially nothing to do with it during the six months when he was running in the Republican primaries. That's his position.

Also, WikiLeaks. He, it's clear, was talking to Roger Stone throughout the campaign. Roger Stone and Donald Trump were both obsessed with WikiLeaks. But they both assert they didn't talk about WikiLeaks to each other. And third, there's the issue of the Trump Tower meeting where Donald Trump Jr. was meeting with this representative of the Russian government saying, I love the idea of dirt on Hillary Clinton. Yet his position and the position of his father is that they never discussed this meeting.

When you combine those three implausible stories about Trump Tower and Moscow, about WikiLeaks, about the meeting in Trump Tower in New York, it adds up to a very improbable story that the president is telling and I think it's a problem for him.

HARLOW: Timing, very suspect. Timing, a huge question. Where the direct line is, if there is one, that's the key question that remains. Don Junior, the president's son, has provided testimony under oath to

three congressional committees. They do their job in Congress when it comes to asking important questions on this stuff. So I think any reasonable person can assume that he was asked about the Trump Tower Moscow proposal. What does this mean for him now that Michael Cohen said that he was in talks with family members about this, and that it extended much further? I mean, is Don Junior likely in jeopardy?

TOOBIN: Well, he's in potential jeopardy. We've seen his testimony and he basically says, you know, I was only vaguely aware, I wasn't involved.

HARLOW: Right.

TOOBIN: In the negotiations. I think it's important to, you know, draw people's attention to one point about, you know, credibility. Rudy Giuliani, the president himself, both said that Michael Cohen is lying, he's trying to save his own skin.

When prosecutors look at someone's credibility, the key issue is not how they look, how they sound, what their motivation is. It's corroboration. So how can you prove through other witnesses or more importantly other documents or electronic records that they're telling the truth?


TOOBIN: What's so significant about Michael Cohen's guilty plea yesterday and his statements about Trump Tower Moscow is that there were e-mails that backed up what he was saying.

HARLOW: Right.

TOOBIN: The question about Donald Trump Jr. will be, are there e- mails that contradict what he told the Senate --

HARLOW: Right.

TOOBIN: The Senate Intelligence Committee. We know the president doesn't do e-mail, but the other people do, and their problem, even more than Michael Cohen's testimony, who is, of course, you know, suspect because he has an ax to grind. What is the documentary evidence that Donald Trump Jr. may have told -- not told some untruths. That's going to be the most important question.

HARLOW: Right. Important point. All right, now you can go take your weekend.

Jeffrey Toobin, thank you.

TOOBIN: And you have another 52 minutes to work.

HARLOW: I -- no. An hour and 52 minutes. I got a long time ahead.

TOOBIN: Of course. That's right.

HARLOW: Well, luckily -- thank you, Jeff.

Joining me now is Republican Senator Jeff Flake of Arizona who serves on both the Senate Judiciary and the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

It's so nice to meet you in person.


HARLOW: Every time we talk or I see you, it's, you know, through a TV screen. So thank you for being here, sir.

FLAKE: Glad to be here.

HARLOW: Let's talk about your push to protect Bob Mueller and how the last 24 hours may have changed that. Bipartisan legislation with Senator Coons, S-2644.

FLAKE: Right.

HARLOW: To protect the independence of the special counsel. It didn't even get brought to the floor this week. McConnell called it a solution in search of a problem.

Do the events of the last 24 hours change that? And if so, meaning do you think it will make the floor?

FLAKE: Right.

HARLOW: Do you have the Republican votes now to get it through?

FLAKE: I think there are the Republican votes.

HARLOW: You do.

FLAKE: Let's back up a little. This was passed by the Judiciary Committee in May, May 26th, by a vote of 14-7. There were four Republicans voting for it including the chairman, Chairman Grassley. It's not often that we get bipartisan --

HARLOW: Right.

FLAKE: You know, legislation out of the Judiciary Committee but it came. That has sat in the Judiciary -- I'm sorry, on the floor now waiting for floor action for eight months now.

[09:10:05] And initially, the majority leader said, well, nobody's being fired. Nothing to see here.


FLAKE: Don't worry about the Mueller investigation. That all changed, I would argue it changed the floor. And it really changed --

HARLOW: You think it's was because of Michael Cohen --


FLAKE: Well, no, when the attorney general was fired. Then, you know, this additional information coming forward really points up the need to protect the special counsel. So I do believe the votes are there on the floor, if we can just get a vote. And that's what I'm calling for. Let's just have a vote.

HARLOW: You're not just calling for it. You are blocking other things. Judges, we'll get there in a moment. But about the attorney general, now the acting attorney general, Matthew Whitaker, he didn't stop what happened yesterday, and he has a lot of power over the Mueller probe. Doesn't what happened yesterday with Michael Cohen and Mueller show that at least for now Whitaker has not stood in the way of this probe?

FLAKE: I hope so.

HARLOW: I mean, does it make you feel better about him?

FLAKE: I sure hope that this indicates that Bob Mueller can still act independently. The truth is we don't know. We don't know what conversations go on between Bob Mueller and now Matt Whitaker. What -- if Bob Mueller gets everything he needs in terms of subpoenas and whatnot, when the report is ultimately issued, Matt Whitaker can decide what Congress sees and what Congress doesn't see. That's important. We think that it ought to be handled by somebody who has at least been, you know, confirmed by the Senate.

HARLOW: It's very important. Many of your Republican colleagues, though, I was a bit surprised to see some of the reaction yesterday downplaying the importance of what we heard from Michael Cohen yesterday. Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn said all it is speculation. Lindsey Graham said I don't know how that has anything to do with colluding with the Russians in terms of the campaign. Senator John Kennedy called it another log in the fire of speculation.

Do you have a message to fellow Republican senators?

FLAKE: I don't know how we can be so sanguine about what's going on over the Department of Justice in terms of the Mueller probe. It's important to protect it. I agree with Jeff Toobin. What will really matter is if there are e-mails, if there's documentary evidence that somebody lied to Congress, or wasn't truthful before various subcommittees or committees.

HARLOW: So let's talk about --

FLAKE: That's important.

HARLOW: Let's talk about what you're doing. You are opposing all judicial nominees until a full floor vote is brought on protecting the special counsel. 21 judges who were set to advance yesterday, they did not because of the stand you're taking. Senator Orrin Hatch said that's, quote, "not a smart move." Senator Ted Cruz called it not productive. Former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee went this far. He said, "Flake is a selfish narcissist who would stop one of the few things he actually could do for his country, confirm responsible judges. His hate of the president exceeds his sense of duty, the proposal is unconstitutional," and I won't even finish the rest because it is just personally very insulting.

But what do you say to them about why you're taking this stand?

FLAKE: We need to protect the special counsel. It's important. Confirming judges is important. I should note that since we passed this legislation in the Judiciary Committee eight months ago, we've confirmed 50 judges so we're doing that work and we need to continue to do that work, but this has to be priority now.

HARLOW: Number one, clearly, for you.

FLAKE: It is. It is. And so I want to confirm more judges. There's a judge from Arizona that we passed over yesterday, but this is -- this has to be priority now, and you have to take a stand. And I have leverage because we have a narrow majority on the Judiciary Committee, and so I'm using it. You use leverage to get votes to the floor that should be on the floor.

HARLOW: You use them, but people often use them most when they're not running again. And I will never forget your interview recently with "60 Minutes" ever, with Senator Coons, where you says I couldn't have done this, I couldn't have reached across the aisle if I were running again.

FLAKE: That's true.

HARLOW: Could you have done this with the judges if you were running again, Senator?


FLAKE: Probably not.


FLAKE: But it's not that it shouldn't be done. I just felt that it was important to do. You have to take a stand, and we've got to protect the special counsel. We don't want to provoke a constitutional crisis. And I think it's for the good of the country. I really do.

HARLOW: Let's talk about Saudi Arabia. Obviously you sit on the Foreign Relations Committee. Senator Lindsey Graham just said yesterday the CIA has agreed to brief him on the Khashoggi tape because of course Gina Haspel, the CIA director who heard it, didn't come to the all-senators briefing this week.

Are you also going to get that briefing by the CIA? Are you requesting it?

FLAKE: Yes. We want to get that briefing. We were very disappointed that Gina Haspel wasn't there when Mike Pompeo and Mattis were there.


FLAKE: She needed to be there. It's a CIA's assessment that I think is the most important here. They're the ones with access to the intelligence. First access to the intelligence.

HARLOW: So I mean, she's heard the tape. You know, no one in the room has heard the tape.

FLAKE: Right.

HARLOW: You -- the president, as you know, recently called Saudi Arabia, quote, "a great ally."


You responded in no uncertain terms to that, saying quote, "Great allies don't plot the murder of journalists."

You and 63, 63 total senators voted this week to withdraw U.S. support for Saudi in Yemen. But you need 67 votes to override a potential presidential veto. Is there that much Republican support today for that measure?

FLAKE: I think there will be. If the administration doesn't change their policy, and if we continue to ignore what happened to Khashoggi, then we will have the votes. You have to remember, when the Russian sanctions were first brought up, the president --

HARLOW: I do --

FLAKE: Said I will veto it.


FLAKE: And the House --

HARLOW: And then it was a veto --

FLAKE: Yes, 98 votes.

HARLOW: Yes --

FLAKE: So I think we're going to reach that, but I think probably what will happen is the administration will actually change the policy.

HARLOW: You do you think they will?

FLAKE: I do, I do. I think they're going to have to, they don't want to face a Congress that will defund or take other steps that will be even more draconian in the administration's view than change our policy in Yemen. So --

HARLOW: So you think the Trump administration is going to stop acting in Saudi Arabia and Yemen on its own?

FLAKE: Yes, I do.


FLAKE: I do.

HARLOW: Before you go, you can't avoid this question, especially since you're in person here. In 2020, will we see a candidate Flake?

FLAKE: I on record many times saying that I hope that a Republican runs in the primary against the president. I think that Republicans need to be reminded what it means to be conservative, and what it means to be decent.

HARLOW: What are the chances that Republican is you?

FLAKE: I prefer it's somebody else, but I'm not ruling it out --

HARLOW: And if it's not?

FLAKE: I'm not ruling it out, but certainly a long way from my mind right now.

HARLOW: Senator Flake, it's nice to have you on important topics, thank you very much.

FLAKE: Thank you.

HARLOW: Enjoy the weekend.

FLAKE: Will do --

HARLOW: Thanks again. All right, just in, take a look at this. Michael Cohen, this is just moments ago, leaving his apartment in New York one day after he pled guilty. So with all the news this week about him and Paul Manafort and the Russia probe, what should be -- who should rather be the first person Democrats call on to talk to in -- when they take over on these House committees?

I will ask a member of the House Intel Committee ahead. Also, will President Trump run into Russian President Vladimir Putin at the G20? He canceled their meeting, will they run into one another? We'll bring you live pictures. And one of the world's largest hotel chains this morning hacked? The personal information from half a billion guests of Marriott stolen, an update next.


HARLOW: British Intelligence has determined Russian President Vladimir Putin approved the nerve agent attack on a former Russian spy in the United Kingdom. According to a reporting by our own Jim Sciutto, who reports even when he has the day off the show, two officials familiar with the matter say Putin not only approved the attack but also had a say in the amount of the nerve agent used.

The attack sickened Sergei Skripal and his daughter, you'll remember that name well. The nerve agent was Novichok hidden in a perfume bottle, it was eventually found by a British woman leading to her death. Officials also tell Cnn that enough Novichok was smuggled into Britain to kill thousands of people.

Moments from now, President Trump is set to meet with more world leaders on the global stage at the G20 in Buenos Aires. This morning, the anticipating -- we are anticipating some interaction perhaps between the Russian President Vladimir Putin and President Trump.

Of course, President Trump canceled his formal sit-down with Putin, citing Russia's aggression towards Ukraine. But likely, the two do bump into one another. Michelle Kosinski joins us there as well as Nic Robertson. Good morning to both of you. So Nic, let me begin with you.

So official cancellation of the meeting with Putin. What's the likelihood to --though, the two do cross paths today?

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN INTERNATIONAL DIPLOMATIC EDITOR: It seems extremely likely. This is -- the Kremlin had wanted this meeting, they're playing down, that it isn't happening. We heard from the foreign ministry spokeswoman in Moscow today saying that this was merely a matter of U.S. domestic politics rather than what President Trump has said because Russia still has control of a couple of Ukrainian vessels as well as some Ukrainian sailors.

So this -- the interpretation that the Russians are putting on this is that the issue that's being put up by the president is not the real issue, so therefore, they would like to get some face time with him. But clearly, this is not going to be a replacement for a full sit-down bilateral which is what the Russians really wanted, clearly it's not get the two leaders time to get into the situation in Ukraine or weapons, missile systems controls.

All the sort of detailed issues that are a thorn between the two countries at the moment. Clearly, the Russians, though, will take something from the fact that this will not focus more attention on Russia's nefarious activities in the U.S. presidential election, 2016. That for them would be a gain if there is one, in not having a proper sit-down meeting.

HARLOW: And now, look at the significance of Jim Sciutto's reporting on the Skripal poisoning, right? And the direct sign off by President Putin of that. Michel, to you, what we just saw this morning, we saw, you know, the head -- you know, we saw President Trump signing the NAFTA 2.0 if you will, with the USMCA with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and the Mexican president there.

The significance of that is large, but they didn't get the concession they were hoping for. I mean, Mexico and Canada are still facing these tariffs on aluminum and steel, and many thought they might not sign this --


HARLOW: Use it as leverage, but they did. [09:25:00] KOSINSKI: Yes, I mean, this was a good show and a good

get for the U.S. side. Another big thing that could come out of this, even though in the grand scheme of things, it's nothing final. But it would be signing some kind of agreement or coming to an agreement with China on trade.

What that would likely look like would be an agreement to hash out a framework for talking about trade issues. Coming up with a timeline to talk about this, these issues, laying out all the subjects that will be discussed.

So that's by no means a resolution of all the trade issues similar to what we're seeing between the U.S., Canada and Mexico. But it would be something, so you would think that the appetite would be big right now for Trump to be able to accomplish that.

The Chinese also want that. So I think that's likely to be something else that the U.S. can chock up to its side on this. What we are hearing, though, leading up to the G20 is that the U.S. has been incredibly tough on the language that will go into the G20 communique.

This big group statement that always comes out of these big gatherings. The U.S. has been playing a really hard line, and other G20 leaders are expecting national security adviser John Bolton to essentially give them an ultimatum, saying this is the language we want in this, and if we don't get it, then we are not going to be part of the G20 communique.

Some of that language is on trade --

HARLOW: Right.

KOSINSKI: They don't want mention of free trade without fair trade, some of it --

HARLOW: Yes --

KOSINSKI: Is on climate change, they don't like references to the Paris climate deal. So --

HARLOW: Right.

KOSINSKI: It's likely that if Trump wants to be a part of this communique and not be isolated, he's going to have to accept some of the language that the U.S. just doesn't like.

HARLOW: But you remember what the president said of the G7 about being onboard with the communique and then to reneging on that when he got on to Air Force One.

KOSINSKI: Exactly --

HARLOW: Thank you both, Nic Robertson and Michelle Kosinski for being there. Right now, Paul Manafort and the special counsel Bob Mueller's team is back in court about to explain why Manafort's cooperation deal blew up.

What did he lie about according to Bob Mueller's team, we may find out very soon.