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Mueller Team to Consider More Charges Against Manafort; Trump Emerges as Central Subject in Mueller Probe; Trump Said to be in Terrible Mood at G20 Summit; Paul Manafort to be Sentenced on March 5th. Aired 10-10:30a ET
Aired November 30, 2018 - 10:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
[10:00:26] POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: All right. Top of the hour. Good morning, everyone. Good Friday morning. I'm Poppy Harlow in New York. Jim Sciutto has a well-deserved day off.
They don't all see eye-to-eye, far from it, but right now leaders of the world's most vital economies are about to stand shoulder to shoulder in Buenos Aires. It's called the class picture. And it is class picture time.
This morning at the G20, President Trump may be very focused on a different picture back in Washington, though. As we speak lawyers representing his former campaign chairman Paul Manafort are in federal court for the first time since the special counsel accused Manafort of lying and breaking his plea agreement.
We could learn more today from them about what they say Manafort lied about as we get a date for his sentencing.
Earlier, the president was still on edge about the guilty plea yesterday from his former lawyer and right-hand man, Michael Cohen. Cohen admits he lied to Congress about attempts to build the Trump Tower in Moscow, though as he walked the streets of New York just about an hour ago, he did not want to talk about it.
Let's begin our coverage on the Manafort hearing. Our Kara Scannell is on top of that story.
And I understand prosecutors now are suggesting there could be more charges against him, but maybe not. What do you know?
KARA SCANNELL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's right. Poppy. The hearing has been under way for about a half hour, and the judge is, you know, quizzing the lawyers on both sides about how this plea agreement and this cooperation agreement fell apart.
So, Andrew Weissmann, one of the special counsel prosecutors, now he said in court that, "I don't know at this time if they will bring additional charges against Manafort for the lies that the special prosecutor has said that he had committed." He said, "We will have to evaluate whether it would be fruitful to take action."
Now one of the attorneys for Paul Manafort, Kevin Downing, he replied by saying, you know, he expects he'll ask the prosecutors to give him some evidence of how Manafort did lie and how he broke his cooperation deal. And if that happens, it's possible that Manafort's team will learn some more information about what Mueller has obtained through its interviews and its ongoing investigation, how they're able to say that Manafort was lying.
And we do know that Manafort's lawyers are talking and sharing some information with the president's team, so there's always a possibility that that information could go back to the White House, Poppy.
HARLOW: Right. Because of what we learned this week about sharing information between Manafort's lawyers and the president' lawyers.
Kara, thanks for all the reporting.
With me now is CNN legal analyst Paul Callan and CNN political and national security analyst David Sanger.
Good morning, gentlemen. No shortage of things to talk about, that's for sure.
Paul Callan, if we could just take a step back at the week that has been, remarkable. So Manafort is accused of lying. We find out that Manafort's lawyers have been briefing the president's lawyers this whole time. A draft court filing shows that the president's confidante, Roger Stone, was trying to get ahold of hacked Democratic e-mails from WikiLeaks.
Just yesterday, the president's fixer, a man who said he'd take a gun -- take a shot, a bullet for the president, says, well, I actually lied to Congress about, you know, business dealings during the campaign in Russia. Of all those things, what is legally the most significant here?
PAUL CALLAN, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Well, it's an interesting question because when we're covering these stories, they break really hot, as you know. It seems -- you know, it's seems so shocking when you hear something that the president has done, that has been -- that is so politically, you know, off the rails. But at week's end when the dust starts to settle, the way I see it is this. This new Trump Tower story involving Michael Cohen, unless the president can be implicated in coaching Cohen to lie to Congress, it's probably a political offense of the president's dealing with the Russians during a campaign for the U.S. presidency as opposed to a criminal offense.
The Manafort issue, I think the most important thing that's going to come out of that is, will Mueller use that as a mechanism to fight back and get some information about his investigation to the public or when he proves that Manafort was lying, or is he simply going to back off and say, as Kara was saying very well, there's a possibility here that Manafort will just be sentenced.
Manafort is facing -- you know, he could go to prison for 20 years.
HARLOW: Yes. Yes.
CALLAN: Under the charges he's already been convicted of. So maybe he doesn't have to go forward on that. That leaves us with one final thing. And I think the most important thing of all.
HARLOW: Roger Stone.
CALLAN: Roger Stone. Roger Stone is a direct connection to WikiLeaks and it's a direct connection to an illegal attempt to tamper with the American election. There we have criminality. If that gets linked back to the president, that's something substantial.
HARLOW: All right. So, David Sanger, to you. For our viewers, if you have not read David's piece in "The New York Times," don't read it during this segment, but pick it up right after because it's fascinating, David.
[10:05:06] This is about an in depth conversation you had with the president back in March of 2016, focused on foreign policy. And he made a lengthy case to you about why he, you know, was more supportive of giving the Russians a bit more relief when it comes to the annexation of Crimea, the aggression against Ukraine.
Let me read the president to you in 2016. Quote, "It didn't seem to me like anyone else cared other than us." He went on to say, "The least effected by what happens with Ukraine is us because we're the farthest away."
Explain the significance of what he told you then now given the last 24 hours.
DAVID SANGER, CNN POLITICAL AND NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: Well, Poppy, the interview seemed remarkable to us even then, before we knew about the degree to which the president's team was still trying to negotiate a building deal in Moscow.
Now when you go back and look at it, think about the timing of this interview. It's late March of 2016. My "Times" and CNN colleague Maggie Haberman and I are conducting the first detailed foreign policy interview with the president. I asked him about Russia because his positions on Russia were distinctly different than those of all the other Republican candidates. They took a pretty traditional hard line. He was saying, why are we doing all these sanctions? Who cares about these?
SANGER: And of course, at this time, Poppy, what did Vladimir Putin want most? He wanted relief from the American-led and European sanctions.
SANGER: That were imposed on Russia after they took Crimea. And the president, or the then candidate Trump was the only one arguing for giving them that relief.
HARLOW: Right. Yes. And we know that it was a member of the Trump team that worked on changing the Republican platform and really watering down the defense of Ukraine in the face of that Russian aggression.
More on that in a moment with you, David, but jumping over to you, Paul, and the breaking news we just got in, 30 seconds ago. Paul Manafort will be sentenced on March 5th. That's a major headline. But ahead of that, December 7th, is the deadline for the special counsel's team, Mueller's team, to file a brief on the factual question of Manafort, they say, violating the plea agreement. Meaning they're going to tell us publicly what he lied about, Paul. Significant.
CALLAN: Yes, and that's an opportunity for the special counsel to lay out part of really his investigation. I mean, this really would be kind of a partial indication of what might come out in an ultimate report. When he goes into these lies individually and what counterevidence he has to the things that Manafort has stated. It's an opportunity for him to really be aggressive and fight for his own survival. Mueller, that is, if the president is going to try to terminate him.
HARLOW: And if the president pardons him, which he's not taken off the table this week, that could happen any time. That would happen after a sentencing.
CALLAN: I think my own feeling there is that the president will wait as long as possible because the moment Manafort gets pardoned he can be forced to testify under oath. He has no Fifth Amendment right not to testify. So best to pardon him after the Mueller investigation has been shut down.
HARLOW: David, bringing us back to your piece and how it ties in to Manafort, the -- you know, the Republican platform when it comes to Ukraine, et cetera. Connect the dots for us here, because now we know when Manafort is going to be sentenced. We know about his work in Ukraine for the pro-Russian regime there, Yanukovych. We know that he was chairman of the campaign during the RNC when the platform was changed. Connect the dots for us.
SANGER: Sure. So Mr. Manafort came in to the campaign right before we conducted that interview with the president, and then quickly became the campaign chairman. He was out by August of that year. But during that time, as you point out, the Republican platform got watered down to avoid what seemed to be a pretty ritual condemnation of the Russians taking over foreign territory. And the president has said and has said since he had nothing to do with that. But what we're now seeing is a possible explanation for why Donald Trump's approach to Russia during the campaign and during his presidency was so different from the rest of his Republican colleagues and of course even the Democrats at the time.
Now this does not prove causality, Poppy. It does not --
SANGER: You cannot say that he changed his view because he had a business deal that was pending. And his view has remained the same even after that business deal fell apart. HARLOW: That's true.
SANGER: But it is pretty interesting that we did not know at the time that we conducted this interview that he still had hopes of making the Trump Tower in Moscow deal come together. And that they were going to people around Putin, President Putin, to try to make that happen.
[10:10:06] And all of a sudden, here he is sitting down with "The New York Times" to describe a policy position that he knew would be music to the ears of Vladimir Putin, who is trying to get rid of those sanctions.
HARLOW: Right. And I think, you know, you rightly note in your piece, there are Russia experts who do say, you know, look, in many ways, the Obama policy of ramping up sanctions on Russia failed so perhaps this was President Trump taking a different tactic.
SANGER: That's right.
HARLOW: But timing matters. It does not prove causality, but as you know that matters.
All right. Everyone can go read your piece now, David Sanger, thank you.
Paul Callan, good to have you on that breaking news.
CALLAN: Thank you, Poppy.
HARLOW: All right. So this just in, President Trump arriving at the G20 summit in Buenos Aires. He's going to stand, there you see him moments ago, he's heading in for the so-called class photo with all of the world leaders. You'll see it here in just a moment.
[10:15:17] HARLOW: All right. Let me take you now to Buenos Aires. The president is there for the G20. There he is with the president of Argentina, Macri. President Macri. They're getting ready for what's called the class photo. This is ceremonial. This happens at every G20.
Abby Phillip is with me. And Abby, this is quite a moment for the president to be on the world stage. But you really can't overstate the importance of the G20. You've got the most significant world economies all here meeting and the president's most important meeting here arguably is going to be the one with the Chinese president.
ABBY PHILLIP, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: That's right. Trade being a top issue for President Trump coming into this G20. And it's been interesting, Poppy, to see President Trump coming into this meeting, but doing something, talking about something that is really unrelated to a lot of these issues at hand here with some of these meetings. He's been talking about the Mueller probe. Talking about this issue with his former personal lawyer, Michael Cohen, pleading guilty to lying to Congress over some issues related to business dealings during the campaign.
And this has been really overshadowing this trip. The president even before he left Washington has been talking about this with reporters, calling Michael Cohen weak and calling the Russia probe a witch hunt. And now, you know, just moments ago, the White House just released a new statement, after President Trump yesterday cancelled his meeting that was planned on Saturday with Russian president Vladimir Putin, that meeting was supposed to be two hours long.
President Trump said it was because of the situation with Ukraine in which Russia had seized ships and sailors but there was some speculation that perhaps this was also related to his agitation over the Russia probe. But Sarah Sanders says in this statement that, "The Russian witch hunt hoax which is hopefully now nearing an end is doing very well. Unfortunately, it probably does undermine our relationship with Russia. However, the reason for our canceled meeting is Ukraine. Hopefully, that will be resolved soon and productive conversations can begin."
It seems by that statement, that statement sounds very Trumpian, almost as if President Trump had a heavy hand in writing it or drafting it. But there, the White House pushing back on this idea that the Russia probe and the president's obvious upset with that situation is contributing to the meeting being canceled, though the president over the last day or so has spent a lot of time on this issue, and according to one of our sources, the president has been distracted by it all.
That he's been concerned about the impact that this probe could have on him and on his presidency. And as he said in the past, he believes the Mueller probe contributes to undermining him on the world stage. That could not perhaps be more true than this weekend when he is going into such crucial meetings with President Xi tomorrow.
PHILLIP: And also with several other leaders later today as well, Poppy.
SCIUTTO: Yes. And, Abby, can you see the images we're looking at? We're looking at the class photo coming together, Abby. You see these leaders?
SCIUTTO: So we have -- yes, so we have --
PHILLIP: Yes. And president -- yes.
HARLOW: You see President Trump there. You see President Xi of China, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is there. Theresa May, and also Mohammed bin Salman, if they zoom out, the crown prince of Saudi Arabia, you see standing in the upper right hand corner of your screen. There's been a lot of talk about whether President Trump will talk to Mohammed bin Salman after the murder of the journalist Jamal Khashoggi while he is there. And you see the president talking right now to Shinzo Abe, the Japanese prime minister, Abby.
PHILLIP: Right. That's right. And Shinzo Abe being one of the world leaders that President Trump still has a pretty good relationship with. But there is a lot of tension in that room. A lot of tensions with a lot of those world leaders over -- especially trade, really, but over a number of different issues. And President Trump at this G20 is in a position where he could be perhaps more isolated than he has been in his presidency.
I remember his first G20, when he was first getting to know these folks, he seemed to really enjoy kind of being part of this club. But over the last two years, there have been some serious ups and downs. And I think we can expect that even in addition to some of these meetings that he's having that are formal meetings, there are going to be some pull-asides and I think one of the things we are looking at is whether or not perhaps there might be pull-asides with Mohammed bin Salman, for example, even though there is no formal meeting scheduled.
There was some talk perhaps that the meeting with Putin might be something informal and they might have some opportunities to interact with each other right now or later today. But according to the White House, we are hearing that there are no plans as of this moment for them to do that.
HARLOW: Right, and we just saw them take that photo and now go their separate ways. You only saw two women, I believe, in that photo, Theresa May, and also the IMF chief Christine Lagarde there. I think Angela Merkel didn't make it on time. But it still shows you so male dominated, still, world leadership.
[10:20:08] All right, Abby, thank you. We'll get back to you shortly.
So right now Paul Manafort's sentencing hearing has just wrapped up in court. Let's get to our colleague Evan Perez. He joins us now.
What have we learned today?
EVAN PEREZ, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Hey, Poppy. We've learned today that the so-called witch hunt that the president is so upset about is going to go well into 2019. March 5th is the sentencing date, and that may still slide a bit, according to the judge today, who was hearing for the first time from the prosecutors of the Mueller team.
The concerns that they have that they say Paul Manafort lied during his cooperation -- time of cooperation with prosecutors. They have now laid out a timeline. Next week we're going to hear some of the details of the alleged lies that they say have caused them to breach the cooperation agreement, and now this goes to a period of debate, really, between the two sides. The Manafort team says that Paul Manafort did not lie. And so once they get to see what the alleged lies are, they get to respond, they're going to ask for a hearing, they're going to ask for evidence.
So they're going to be fighting over this now, Poppy, for quite a while. And, you know, this is important because as you know, the president is very upset about why -- about this investigation in the first place. And that it is taking so long. That it is dragging on so long. And the president's team is increasingly concerned that really what this is all about is -- is about the Mueller team trying to get to the president.
And I think that became abundantly clear yesterday in the Michael Cohen documents, the documents that were released in court, of Michael Cohen pleading guilty to lying to the Congress. And so one of the things that is beginning to emerge as we get to March of 2019 and the sentencing is that the president's team believes that this investigation is out to get the president.
HARLOW: Evan, before you go, let me just read for our viewers the statement we just got from the White House, from White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders, because it's pretty remarkable here, blaming the special counsel probe for hurting U.S. relations with Russia. Let me read it to you in its entirety. "The Russian witch hunt hoax, which is hopefully now nearing an end, is doing very well. Unfortunately, it probably does undermine our relationship with Russia. However, the reason for our canceling the meeting with Putin is Ukraine. Hopefully, that will be resolved soon so productive conversations can begin."
If the reason for cancelling the meeting was Ukraine, the president had days of opportunity after what Russia did to that Ukrainian ship and Ukrainian sailors to cancel the meeting. But instead, he just cancelled it yesterday right after the Michael Cohen news.
PEREZ: That's right, Poppy. And I think, look, I think you saw that also in the statement that we got from Rudy Giuliani, one of the president's lawyers, yesterday. One of his complaints is that the president was just about to leave for this very important trip, the G20 in Buenos Aires, when Robert Mueller and his team dropped this Michael Cohen -- this plea agreement with Michael Cohen that he was pleading guilty to lying to Congress.
PEREZ: And so they believe that this is now the second time that the Mueller team and that these investigators have dropped important, you know, indictments or court action right before the president goes off on an important international trip. And they believe it's on purpose. They believe it's meant to interfere with the president's ability to do his job, Poppy.
HARLOW: OK. Evan Perez, thank you for all the reporting there in Washington outside the courthouse. Quick break. I'll be right back.
[10:28:26] HARLOW: All right. Moments ago in Buenos Aires, Argentina the president there, you see his adviser and his daughter Ivanka Trump next to him, speaking with President Erdogan. Also Treasury Secretary Stephen Mnuchin, and I believe, guys, if we can re-rack that video, I think that was Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in that group as well but we'll try to get that video back. Now you're looking at live pictures of the president there, speaking
with Theresa May, other world leaders.
Abby Phillip is with us. Abby, what can you tell us?
PHILLIP: Well, President Trump going into some of the more substantive parts of this day. A day that's really chock full of meetings with world leaders. He's already gotten a couple of things off of his agenda, signed that new free trade agreement with Mexico and Canada. There were a few words from the Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau about the issue of aluminum and steel tariffs. But that really seemed to have gone off without a hitch. A big win for President Trump there.
But we're heading into a period now where President Trump is going to have more meetings, perhaps more consequential meetings, especially some meetings scheduled for tomorrow with China over trade. Followed by a dinner with President Xi where they try to work out some of these issues related to whether, you know, hundreds of billions of dollars in tariffs will either be put on hold or will be pulled back altogether.
There is a lot riding on this weekend, really. A lot for President Trump. A lot for a lot of these world leaders. And as you mentioned, Mohammed bin Salman also in that room, and in many of these rooms with President Trump, they have no plans to meet as of right now, but there are a lot of questions about whether they might interact with each other. And if they do will President Trump say anything about the murder of "Washington Post" journalist Jamal Khashoggi.