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Former Vice President Biden Says He is the Most Qualified Person to Be President; Fraud Allegation could Lead to New North Carolina Election; President George H.W. Bush Lies in State at U.S. Capitol; Trump to Meet Privately with Bush Family Today; Washington Post Reports the Bush Family Wants to Steer Clear of Anti-Trump Sentiment; CIA Director to Brief Key Senators on Murder of Jamal Khashoggi; Forty Six Freshmen Dems to Leaders: Legislation Before Investigation; Dow to Fall at Open, Investors Watching U.S.-China Deal; Michael Flynn Report Expected to Reveal New Details in Mueller Probe; Eric Trump Slams George Conway For Showing "Utter Disrespect". Aired 9-9:30a ET

Aired December 4, 2018 - 09:00   ET


[09:00:00] POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: -- that is until today because today exactly two weeks ahead of his sentencing, the Mueller team is due to tell a court just how cooperative he has been about Russia, the Trump inner circle and any possible connections between the two.

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN ANCHOR: On Capitol Hill, meanwhile, politics are on hold while the nation honors the 41st president, George H.W. Bush. President Trump due to pay his respects to the Bush family today at the Blair House just across the street from the White House. Much more on that in a moment. But we begin with the Michael Flynn filings, CNN's Jessica Schneider.

Jessica, the key thing about these filings, as you've seen with Cohen and other targets of this investigation, is that they often reveal what those targets have revealed to investigators. What do we expect to see from Michael Flynn's sentencing document today?

JESSICA SCHNEIDER, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Well, you know, Michael Flynn's cooperation deal has been shrouded in mystery for the past year but really, Jim and Poppy, by the end of today we're expecting at least some revelations here. We could know the extent of Flynn's conversations with the special counsel and really anything the former National Security adviser may have revealed about dealing that may have happened between the Russians and the Trump campaign.

Because remember, it was Michael Flynn at the forefront of those Trump campaign rallies. He was often the one up on stage leading that chant, lock her up. Well, now Michael Flynn is the one looking at time behind bars. He faces up to five years. But given the fact that he's cooperated for the past year, it's likely that Flynn would actually get between zero and six months in prison, and if he assisted the special counsel enough they could ask the judge to actually give him no prison time.

And really Flynn could have been crucial over the past year. He was the first high ranking Trump adviser to agree to formally cooperate. He was front and center in the early days of the Trump White House. And that means he could really reveal what the administration's dealings with Russia were, the campaign's dealings with Russia as well, especially since of course it was Michael Flynn who was in regular contact with then Russia Ambassador Sergey Kislyak, and that's exactly why Michael Flynn was charged.

He was charged for lying about his contacts with Kislyak and the fact that he discussed the possibility of easing sanctions. So really, Jim and Poppy, a lot could be revealed today. We haven't heard anything about Michael Flynn for the past year.

HARLOW: Right.

SCHNEIDER: So we'll know by midnight what is in there and what the special counsel is revealing about this cooperation deal.

HARLOW: By midnight or any minute. A lot of things could happen between the hours of 9:00 and 11:00 a.m. when it has to do with court filings.


HARLOW: Jessica, thank you.

On the same day the president unleashed on the Mueller probe on Twitter, Eric Trump, his son, takes on the husband of one of his top White House advisers. That is Kellyanne Conway. George Conway, her husband and a frequent vocal critic of President Trump, took to Twitter to imply the president's tweet, one of them, was witness tampering.

SCIUTTO: So Eric Trump then slammed the lawyer for what he called utter disrespect towards Kellyanne's career and job.

Joining us now with more Abby Phillip, CNN White House correspondent.

You know, it's interesting, this is part of a sort of public, I don't know if you want to call it, feud but certainly difference of opinion between George Conway and Kellyanne Conway. It's the first time amidst any of these critical tweets from Conway that Eric Trump, though, has piped in here.

ABBY PHILLIP, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: It is the first time that the president's son has weighed in on this. And, you know, you would be forgiven for mistaking this for some kind of scripted drama, but this is in fact real life and it's been playing out in public for some time now.

George Conway, who is a lawyer here in Washington, who is also the husband of Kellyanne Conway, counselor to the president, has been an outspoken critic of President Trump's. After President Trump tweeted yesterday that he believed that Paul Manafort had or I'm sorry, Roger Stone had guts for not wanting to testify because he didn't want to, in his words, lie, George Conway tweeted that he thought that was a clear case of witness tampering or obstruction of justice. And now Eric Trump weighing in here saying this, "Of all the ugliness

in politics, the utter disrespect of George Conway shows towards his wife, her career, place of work and everything she has fought so hard to achieve might top them all. Kellyanne Conway is a great person and frankly, his actions are horrible."

And if anyone missed that last night, Eric Trump retweeted it again this morning to all of his followers so they could see what he had to say.

George Conway has, in his own way, been retweeting defenses of himself. But underlying all of this is about whether or not the president was trying to send a message to Roger Stone or to anyone else who is thinking about testifying in this Mueller investigation. And that question is still out in the open. Was the president trying to send that kind of message? And does that amount to any kind of witness tampering, as George Conway seemed to imply yesterday.

HARLOW: It's a really important question. That is why we have legal experts with us. Thank you, Abby.

Our legal analyst Elie Honig is here, also political analysts Margaret Talev and Molly Ball.

Good morning to you all. And Elie, you have a fascinating new piece on The headline, "Mueller is about to have his say in a big way."

[09:05:06] Let me read everyone a part of it. "When it comes to official court filings, indictments, plea agreements, sentencing memos, Mueller has been loquacious and at times downright chatty. By the end of the week, we'll know much more about the strength of his hand."

So when it comes to his hand here, walk us through what these filings mean for Flynn, because we'll get that one today, for Cohen and for Manafort. The big picture.

ELIE HONIG, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: So starting with Michael Flynn. Flynn has been a mystery man really since he pled about a year ago. When he pled, I think a lot of people's reactions is, wow, this guy is highly placed in the campaign and briefly in the administration. He's going to have really important information on really important people. But it's been radio silence since then.


HONIG: However, I think we have a couple clues. First of all, the prosecutor has asked for adjournments, postponements of his sentencing four times. And what that tells me as a former prosecutor is they're using Flynn and they're using his information. If they were done with him or concluded he was useless, he would have been sentenced a while ago. And second, remember what he pled guilty to. He pled guilty to lying to the FBI about a conversation he had with the Kislyak, the Russian ambassador, about relaxing sanctions that Obama had imposed relating to election interference. So keep that in mind. That I think even brings more important now.

SCIUTTO: Elie, just a quick follow up on that.


SCIUTTO: Because it gets again to the timing. In their last filing in mid-September, the special counsel, I don't want to get too deep in the weeds here on how he did this, but made sure that there were no revelations then before the midterms, which seemed to indicate to some folks who read these documents closely that there was information that could be politically explosive regarding Flynn's cooperation, now delayed until after the midterms. And of course that's where we are today. Is that a correct reading of the most recent filing prior to this?

HONIG: Yes, Jim. I think there's a couple of things at play there. Number one, I do think Mueller was trying to do his best to not do anything explosive in the run-up to midterms. I also think Mueller is being tactical smartly. He -- for every piece of information Mueller puts out there, some of the witnesses or potential targets adjust their story accordingly. And as a prosecutor you want to hold close for as long as you can properly and appropriately any information you have.

And I think we saw that potentially last week when Mueller waited until he got his written answers from Trump before announcing the Cohen -- the new Cohen plea, for example. So, yes, I do think that's what Mueller was doing there.

HARLOW: Margaret, what about that? What Elie just gone over, both waiting until after the midterms, but also the postponement four times of Flynn's sentencing on the request of his counsel and the agreement of and request of Mueller and his team of prosecutors. Politically, what does that indicate to you?

MARGARET TALEV, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, politically it suggests that he had more information, more ways that they believe that he could cooperate to help them fill in some of the nuances or question marks in other sort of story lines that they were trying to develop. I think one thing that we will see in the next day or so is whether or not any of these details are under seal or whether they are all publicly revealed.

HARLOW: Right.

TALEV: And we may get a sense throughout the rest of the week of some of the other folks who have been cooperating with Mueller or decided not to cooperate with Mueller and where all of that is going.


TALEV: But, you know, Mr. Flynn's role was so prominent. You know, a year ago he seemed so important and then the case began to appear to move in different directions. And so I think part of all of us who were watching this, what we want to know is how these are connected, whether Mr. Mueller's probe ultimately went in the direction of the things that Michael Flynn could tell him and some of those early conversations with the Russians, the back channels on Syria, all kinds of stuff, or whether it ended up leading to different paths, which become more fruitful through the course of his probe. And I think, you know, we're about to hopefully find out more.


SCIUTTO: Molly, connecting the dots between what we learned last week about Michael Cohen testifying to his own lies about campaign contacts between Trump campaign and Russia regarding the Moscow tower project and what Flynn's lies were about, which was during the transition December 2016, contacts again between Russia and Trump world regarding Russian -- U.S. sanctions against Russia there. I mean, the commonality here are lies by people close to Trump about contacts with Russia, both during the campaign pre-election and after the election here.

Contrary to the president's repeated public claims that there were no contacts, there were no interests, et cetera, in your dealings with the White House, do they have a good answer for that?

MOLLY BALL, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: I don't think there's ever been a good answer, and that's why they keep saying things that aren't true, because there is so much that has now been proven about these contacts. And as you say, there are all these dots. There is a constellation of dots. They are all out there to be connected.

[09:10:03] And as Elie was saying, the -- Mueller in his filings has really been telling a story. He's been providing a whole lot of information above and beyond what he really needed to. And so in these filings that we are expecting now, we can expect a lot more information, a lot more of those dots to be connected as this picture starts to fill in.

HARLOW: One thing that I wonder if it will matter or how it will play into this is that the president has not, Elie, criticized Michael Flynn. I mean, looking back this morning at the president's tweets about Flynn after his guilty plea, not one of them is anywhere remotely like it was about Michael Cohen, right, or his public comments about Flynn. I mean, he even says, look, he lied to the FBI and his life will be destroyed. Like that shouldn't happen.

You know, he said at one point in March of last year Michael Flynn should ask for immunity. This is a witch hunt. But now we know Michael Flynn is cooperating one would assume pretty extensively given this four-time delay in his sentencing.

HONIG: Yes, Poppy. So the president has established a very clear pattern here in how he talks and tweets about his former associate. If they are talking to Mueller, then they are rats and flippers and liars and he's publicly abusing them. Look at Michael Cohen, for example.

HARLOW: Right.

HONIG: If they're not talking to Mueller or refusing to speak to Mueller then they're heroes and they have guts. Look at yesterday's tweet about Roger Stone. Now as you said he said the president --

HARLOW: But Flynn is talking to Mueller.

HONIG: Right. Well -- but I think he's encouraging Stone to stay strong, stay quiet. You know, keep the party line here. If you look -- if your question about Flynn, the president has not said anything about him. And I think that means one of two things. Either the president has no idea what Flynn has said or has not said or somehow believes that Flynn maybe has not hurt him directly.

SCIUTTO: Well, that's the thing. Listen, the president has had and Rudy Giuliani had praised Michael Cohen as a truthful man who's going to do the right thing until --

HARLOW: Right.

SCIUTTO: -- he turned against the president. And then he was a liar.

Margaret Talev, I mean, there is a phrase for what we're describing here if you talk to legal experts. It's called witness tampering. Right? I mean, you know, the president, the most powerful man in the country, sending clear signals, it seems, to reward those who stay strong and punish those who cooperate against him.

Is there any awareness of that in the White House? Is there any sense that the president pays a penalty for that? Because, you know, we saw this lay out in the public -- in the president's Twitterfeed very much in public yesterday, sending very clear signals that he would reward. You have Roger Stone fundraising off the president's tweet and the perception that he is, you know, standing strong here.

TALEV: Yes. I don't know of a lawyer inside or outside the White House who thinks this is a great idea and would advise their client to do this. But I think there is a recognition and acceptance essentially within the White House that it is very difficult to try to manage what the president says over Twitter.

There is a debate among legal scholars. Then it's a really -- it is an interesting debate about forget about layman's terms or how people generally feel about it. Whether this sort of behavior meets the legal definition of witness tampering under the code and why.

HARLOW: Right.

TALEV: And interestingly enough, many of the courts, the federal courts, have not in this case but in other cases sort of picked away at rulings that might go to this. And different courts have different interpretations. (INAUDIBLE) the legal blog, has actually done a deep dive on this. It's really interesting. The 9th Circuit, that circuit that the president hates so much, actually may be the friendliest toward what the bar is on actually crossing the threshold for witness tampering.

But this is something that's now a matter of discussion debate among legal scholars. And we think, when we talk about Eric Trump's tweets or, you know, George Conway, or this sort of stuff, it's really -- it's interesting. It's -- as Abby Phillip said, it's sort of like watching a TV show. But it is a side issue that distracts from the actual court question, which is, is this legally dangerous behavior for a sitting official, no less the president.

What are the implications for the actual thresholds for when you are expressing your opinion and when you are trying to -- what the legal -- would judge you as trying to direct a witness.

SCIUTTO: Well, we know that the special counsel has looked at the president's tweets, whether they establish legal wrongdoing, he has looked at them as part of his investigation.

HARLOW: They are official White House statements, right?

SCIUTTO: Absolutely.

HARLOW: Thanks, guys.

SCIUTTO: And the White House has told us to treat them that way.

HARLOW: Right. Right.

SCIUTTO: Margaret Talev, Molly Ball, Elie Honig, thanks very much.

President Trump set to pay his respect to the Bush family today as former -- the late President George H.W. Bush lies in state on Capitol Hill. We have the latest.

HARLOW: And if this is a hint I don't know what is. Former Vice President Joe Biden says he is the most qualified person to be president.

[09:15:00] POPPY HARLOW, CO-HOST, NEWSROOM: What do other Democrats think about that? We'll ask one. Plus, fraud allegations are shaking North Carolina this morning and could lead to a new election. In one congressional House race, officials investigating irregularities and possible criminal activity with absentee ballots. We are on it.


JIM SCIUTTO, CO-HOST, NEWSROOM: In minutes, several groups will join the long line of Americans who have been filing past the casket of the late George -- President George H.W. Bush lying in state in the U.S. Capitol. We're going to see former directors of the CIA. Of course, Bush was head of the agency in 1976. It was a short tenure, but according to those at the agency, he left his mark as one of its top chiefs, in fact the headquarters there now bears his name.

HARLOW: Right, and that apparently it was his favorite job that one year. Later today, President Trump will meet privately with the Bush family at Blair House, which is the president's official guest house.

[09:20:00] Let's go to our Phil Mattingly, he joins us from the capital with more. So what do we know, Phil, about the meeting today between the two families?

PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, it's going to be private, it's going to be --

HARLOW: Yes --

MATTINGLY: Behind closed doors, and I think when you talk to people that were involved in both parties, that's kind of how they wanted it to be. And to be frank, Poppy, when you talk to people up here, that's how they want it to be a kind of quick anecdote.

Yesterday, a senator pulled me aside and said don't make this about the current president. It's not about the current president. And to be frank, that appears to be the way the Bush family has gone about this as well. Our Jamie Gangel reporting, that even before President Trump took office, President George H.W. Bush was mapping out the plans for this moment, for this week.

And that included once President Trump was elected, the participation of President Trump. There is some talk of basically saying that there was a talk between the two families, which there is no shortage of animosity, that's the most obvious thing.

I think anybody seen over the last three years, but for the explanation as to why, take a listen to what George P. Bush; the grandson of President Bush, Texas Land Commissioner had to say earlier this morning.


GEORGE PRESCOTT BUSH, COMMISSIONER OF THE TEXAS GENERAL LAND OFFICE: If there's anybody that spoke to bipartisanship and rising above the politics of today, that would be my grandfather. And whether it's him or his staff, I know -- and my grandmother, they all wanted all current occupants to be a part of this process, and to take advantage of this time where we can put politics aside and focus on the greatness of our country.


MATTINGLY: And you're not going to find a lot of moments these days, and you guys know quite well that politics or actually put aside, but you've kind of seen that over the course of the last 24 hours, obviously, a bipartisan show of support and respect last night in the ceremony throughout the course today.

Guys, not only Jim mentioned CIA directors, military leaders from desert storm, people from the Points of Light; his charitable organization will all be coming through leading into that big Washington funeral ceremony tomorrow, guys.

SCIUTTO: So many parts of the service --

HARLOW: Wow --

SCIUTTO: Maybe, CIA, ambassador --

HARLOW: It's -- SCIUTTO: To the UN, vice president, president, father of a president.

There are a lot of folks who want to make their mark by paying tribute to him --

HARLOW: What a life? Reading right after his death, all of these amazing quotes by him. The one that struck me the most is when he said, "I've climbed the highest mountain, but all of it has paled in comparison to being Barbara's husband." That incredible.

SCIUTTO: Yes, he also had to --

HARLOW: Yes --

SCIUTTO: One that stuck out to me is that his family still visits him -- I'm paraphrasing here, but he said, one of the most valuable things --

HARLOW: Of course --

SCIUTTO: Is that his family still visits him -- true treasure. Well, in just over an hour, this current CIA Director --

HARLOW: Yes --

SCIUTTO: Gina Haspel, she will brief a small group of key senators on the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, this of course -- this of course was delayed from last week, the timing, put in the middle of these --

HARLOW: Right --

SCIUTTO: The Bush ceremonies. You wonder if there is a political motivation to that for this administration.

HARLOW: Right, this is after a number of senators across party lines rebuked the Trump administration, demanding to hear from her directly. Alex Marquardt with us now. And Alex, obviously, they want to hear from her because she's the one who traveled there to hear the tape.

We had Senator Flake on the show on Friday, obviously, he's outgoing, but sits on Foreign Relations and he said he was going to request that he will be one of the ones briefed as well.

ALEX MARQUARDT, CNN SENIOR NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Jim, Poppy, isn't this remarkable, seeing where you've got one former CIA director who as you mentioned said that, that was his favorite job, George H.W. Bush lying in state.

And then, not far away, you've got Gina Haspel; the current director who is going to be grilled today by senators over what she knows about the killing of Jamal Khashoggi. What we know about this briefing is that it's going to be quite small, it's going to take place around 11:00 a.m. in what's known as the SCIF which is a classified briefing setting, unlike the big briefing to senators that we saw last week to all 100. This one, we know, will be to the chairman and ranking Democratic

members of the Foreign Relations Committee in the Senate, the Arms Services Committee and Appropriations Committee.

Now, among those names that you can see there on the screen, you've got Bob Corker, Bob Menendez and Lindsey Graham who have been the most vocal critics of the Trump administration's response to the killings of Jamal Khashoggi and among the most vocal critics of the Trump administration for failing to send Gina Haspel to that big briefing last week.

Now, just remind our viewers, that was when the Secretary of Defense James Mattis and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo briefed all 100 senators extensively on the war in Yemen on the U.S. efforts or U.S. participation in the war in Yemen. But it was really all about Khashoggi.

Poppy, as you noted, Haspel is the senior most member of this administration that we know of who has heard the tape of the killing of Jamal Khashoggi. We know that the CIA has assessed with high confidence that the Crown Prince Mohammad Bin Salman was the one who ordered this.

And now we've seen that the "Wall Street Journal" has revealed that there were 11 text messages between the Crown Prince and his top lieutenant that is as close to a smoking gun as you can get in this case. So assuming that Haspel tells these senators all this, it will be very interesting to see if they come out even more aggressive about the need to take action against Saudi Arabia, which the Trump administration has showed zero inclination to do. Jim and Poppy?

[09:25:00] SCIUTTO: And even the --

HARLOW: Yes --

SCIUTTO: Republicans in the room, I mean, Graham and Corker, they have been very critical of the administration's stance on this, so you're not going to have defenders --

HARLOW: Right --

SCIUTTO: Of these sort of wait-and-see --

HARLOW: Right, and they already had 63 votes to sort of tie Saudi hands and the president's hands in action in Yemen. Will they get to 67, right? There would be veto proof for this after today, I don't know.

SCIUTTO: Right, well, in other news, 46 freshmen Democrats have a message for their party leaders, make legislation, not investigations, the party's priority in January. Do Democratic Party leaders agree? We're going to be asking one of them after the break.

HARLOW: Moments away from the opening bell on Wall Street, take a look here, Dow futures up, pointing a little bit lower at last check, there you go. Stocks set to dip a little bit, why investors want to know exactly what was agreed to between China and the United States on trade. What will this mean for markets? We'll take a look at the open.