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Mueller to Reveal How Michael Flynn Cooperated; GOP Election Fraud in North Carolina?; Dow in Freefall. Aired 3-3:30p ET

Aired December 4, 2018 - 15:00   ET



ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

ANA CABRERA, CNN ANCHOR: Here we go, hour two. I'm Ana Cabrera, in for Brooke Baldwin. And we continue with the breaking news.

All eyes are on the financial markets, where stocks are once again in free fall, at one point, in fact, the Dow dropping more than 800 points, wiping out much of the gains for the entire year. Right now, you can see the Dow's down or than 660 points.

Driving much today's steep declines, confusion over the status of the U.S.-China trade deal.

And with me now is Catherine Rampell, a CNN political commentator and a columnist for "The Washington Post."

Catherine, yesterday, investors were essentially cheering the news out of the China-Trump talks. What's going on today?

CATHERINE RAMPELL, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, what happened is what often happens when Trump decides to meet with foreign leaders, which is that he comes out of the meeting declaring that there's an incredible deal, when there is in fact no such deal, right?

This is what happened after the North Korean denuclearization talks. This is what happened after a meeting with a leader of the E.U. as well. And this time around, Trump met with Chinese President Xi. He came out of this meeting declaring that the biggest deal ever had just been made.

In fact, if you look at the announcement, the statement that came out of the U.S. side of things, and the statement that came out of the Chinese side of things, they don't match at all. It's not clear that anything specific was agreed to.

And markets yesterday took Trump at his word that something massive was agree to, when, in fact, that doesn't seem to be the case.

CABRERA: But nothing's changed since yesterday. So do you attribute this to just the Trump-China conversation and trade issues? Or is there something more?

RAMPELL: Well, some things have changed, in fact, since yesterday. We know that Trump has rejiggered who's going to be leading the talks with China, and it's going to be a China hard-liner, Lighthizer. We know that China has put out additional statements or sort of been refusing to confirm things that Trump has said.

So there have been some changes, but I think some of this is sort of a whipsawing effect, because markets were too buoyant yesterday in response to whatever came out of this meeting. And some of it is just, you know, flat-out concern over what's going to happen going forward.

There was also a discussion yesterday between Larry Kudlow, who's the National Economic Council director, and reporters, and Kudlow said some things that they then substantially had to walk back about the time frame for these discussions and so on.

So I think markets are very concerned about what's going to happen going forward, how much -- how much potential there is for an actual deal, and whether they should expect tariffs to rise even further going ahead.

And, of course, Trump tweeted today that he's a tariff man, suggesting that markets have a lot to worry about.

CABRERA: All right, well, we know those Trump tweets can change things in an instant.

Thank you so much, Catherine Rampell, for being with us.

Some Republican lawmakers are defying the president today over the murder of "Washington Post" journalist Jamal Khashoggi. They say there is extremely clear evidence that the Saudi crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman, is responsible for the killing after receiving a long-awaited intel briefing from the CIA director, Gina Haspel.

Now, Republican Senators Lindsey Graham and Bob Corker say, if the president won't hold MBS accountable, they will.


SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: So here's my takeaway, that Saudi Arabia's a strategic ally and the relationship is worth saving, but not at all costs.

We will do more damage to our standing in the world and our national security by ignoring MBS than dealing with him. MBS, the crown prince, is a wrecking ball. I think he's complicit in the murder of Mr. Khashoggi to the highest level possible.

I think the behavior before the Khashoggi murder was beyond disturbing.

SEN. BOB CORKER (R), TENNESSEE: I have zero question in my mind that the crown prince, MBS, ordered the killing, monitored the killing, knew exactly what was happening, planned it in advance.

If he was in front of a jury, he would be convicted in 30 minutes guilty.


So the question is, what do we do about that? So far, it's unfortunate, but I think they feel like this is something that's come and past because the administration has not spoken to this in a way that -- they've spoken to it in a manner that really gives them immunity.

And so what the message is to him and those around him is that, you can go around killing journalists.

GRAHAM; Secretary Pompeo and Mattis are following the lead of the president.

There's not a smoking gun. There's a smoking saw.


CABRERA: "A smoking saw," as in the bone saw that was allegedly used to dismember Khashoggi's body.

CIA Chief Gina Haspel traveled to Istanbul after Khashoggi's disappearance in October to assist in the investigation.

And two CNN global affairs analysts are here with us now. Max Boot is a senior fellow on the Council of Foreign Relations and a columnist for "The Washington Post." Also with us, Aaron David Miller, the vice president of the Woodrow Wilson International Center.

Max, Lindsey Graham, we just heard from, says he's not going to support Saudi arm sales, he wants sanctions.

If Congress does in fact act, is that enough to outweigh how the president has responded so far?

MAX BOOT, CNN GLOBAL AFFAIRS ANALYST: Well, I think if Congress acts, it will send a very strong message.

I mean, remember, last year, the president did not want to get tough with Russia. And so both houses of Congress passed by veto-proof majorities sanctions bills that, in fact, were enacted. And I think you could see something similar happening with Saudi Arabia.

I think what you might see happen is that the president and Pompeo and Mattis have all been offering these kind of lame, uncredible denials, and I think that is backfiring right now, because it is so at odds with the reality that members are seeing now that they're being briefed on the intelligence.

I think it's giving them more impetus to act.

CABRERA: But the fact that Pompeo and Mattis, who are two seasoned people on these matters, are backing what the president is saying, how do you explain it? BOOT: This is the kind of loyalty that Trump demands. And,

unfortunately, I think everybody who serves in this administration, however well-intentioned, winds up walking away a little bit diminished from the process.

I think that Pompeo and Mattis will come to regret their attempts to serve as apologists for Saudi Arabia and to perpetuate this untruthful Donald Trump line, saying that we don't know whether the crown prince killed Jamal Khashoggi or not. Just not the facts.

And as Lindsey Graham pointed out, we may not have a smoking gun, but we got a smoking saw. I mean, MBS' fingerprints are all over this operation. And it's unfortunate, I think, for Mattis and Pompeo that they were trying to deny the obvious reality.

CABRERA: I think the bigger question in some ways is, does it matter to the president if that is the case?

Aaron, President Trump has called the Saudis a -- quote -- "spectacular ally." Secretary of State Pompeo has echoed that.

Do you think the president is looking at the Saudis in the same light as Britain, Canada, France? And why do you think that is?

AARON DAVID MILLER, CNN GLOBAL AFFAIRS ANALYST: I'm not sure the president cares much about the promotion of American values.

Look, Ana, there is a reality here. This administration, like many of its predecessors, has convinced itself that somehow Saudi Arabia, and certainly Saudi Arabia under Mohammed bin Salman, is an ally of the United States.

Saudi Arabia doesn't share common values with the United States, as we do with Canada, Britain and France. At best, Saudi Arabia is a security partner which episodically shares American interests. And, frankly, the article that Secretary of State Pompeo wrote in "The Journal," I think, takes the argument to the extreme.

Saudi Arabia under MBS is not a force for stability. It's a force or instability. Saudi Arabia under MBS is not a catalyst to contain around Iran. It has only deepened Iranian influence in the region through its disastrous war in Yemen and its boycott of Qatar.

So the reality is, we are living to some degree with a certain mythology. And I think that's reflected in the administration's hard- core view that they will allow nothing to come between the fact that MBS is a reformer in their mind. Maybe, but he's also created a regime that is among the most oppressive and ruthless in Saudi history.

And I think we have to look at the Saudis in a much different way now and rethink the relationship. Yes, maintain ties, but, no, compromise American values and interests, in the face of this horrific murder of Jamal Khashoggi, and unwillingness of the administration, I think, to recognize reality when it comes to dealing with MBS. BOOT: Just to follow up quickly on Aaron's point, I think one of the

major mistakes the administration has made is, they equate MBS with Saudi Arabia.

But we have had an American alliance with Saudi Arabia for 80 years without MBS. He's only been the crown prince since last year, so they need to focus on holding him accountable, and not pretend that the entire U.S. alliance with Saudi Arabia depends on MBS being the crown prince.


CABRERA: Aaron, does it have to be one or the other? I mean, is having a tough line against MBS and Saudi Arabia's actions, essentially saying, now, we're just throwing out the entire relationship with Saudi Arabia?

I mean, it seems like the president seems to look at this in absolute terms, along with Russia.

MILLER: Well, in large pardon -- and there is a comparison -- the president also conducts a diplomacy that is highly personalized, in the case of Russia, for reasons we are not entirely sure and may or may not become clear in the weeks ahead, and with Saudi Arabia as well.

Instead of looking at the Saudis with an objectivity to judge what, in fact, is in American national interest, the president and his son-in- law, Jared Kushner, have undertaken a highly personalized view. We don't have an ambassador there. We seem to be incapable of making an assessment, an objective assessment of what in fact Mohammed bin Salman is doing.

And by any accounting over the last year -- and Max, I think, is absolutely right. We can maintain a relationship with the Saudis. We have for seven decades, ever since FDR met Abdul Aziz Ibn Saud, the founder of the modern Saudi state.

We do not have to agree with the Saudis on everything, and we have to make it clear when our interest and our values depart from theirs. And, frankly and sadly, even tragically, we're not doing that now.

CABRERA: All right, got to leave it there.

Aaron David Miller, Max Boot, thank you both for being with us.

Up next, it's been months and months of silence. At any moment, we expect Robert Mueller to reveal details on how Michael Flynn, the former national security adviser, cooperated with the special counsel.

Plus, dozens of suspicious ballots turning up in a North Carolina House race that is still yet to be called. They appear to favor the Republican, but this time around, the GOP is silent on the fraud allegations.

And we are watching live pictures on Capitol Hill, where more than 200 members of President George H.W. Bush's extended family are paying their respects this hour. And we have learned which former presidents will attend his services tomorrow.

Stay with us.



CABRERA: After what seemed like a barrage of bombshells last week in the Russia investigation, today, we may get the biggest one yet.

I'm talking about the sentencing memo of President Trump's former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn. At any moment now, the court could drop this filing. This memo is supposed to describe not just the crimes Flynn committed, but, more notably, how Flynn has been cooperating with the special counsel team since he pleaded guilty last December.

It's been now over a year. And today's filing comes as part of a major week in the Russia probe. Friday is another day to watch. Mueller's prosecutors must present their case on why they believe Trump's former campaign chair, Paul Manafort, broke his plea agreement with them.

Also on Friday, the special counsel's team must submit their sentencing memo on Trump's ex-personal attorney Michael Cohen.

Let's go now to CNN justice correspondent Jessica Schneider.

And, Jessica getting back to Michael Flynn, bring us up to speed on how we got here.


You know, Ana, Michael Flynn has been silent in the year since he pleaded guilty. But he has been talking that entire time to the special counsel, also cooperating with investigators.

So here's a look at what we know about Michael Flynn himself. So, first off, this was the scene in December 2015, when Flynn, who was working in his private capacity, he spoke critically about the Obama administration at an event run by R.T. That's Russia's state-run broadcaster.

And, as you can see here, Flynn sat right next to Russian President Vladimir Putin at that dinner, and Flynn was ultimately paid more than $30,000 by R.T., though Flynn had said he was paid by a speakers bureau, and not Russia.

So, fast-forward one year to December 2016. That's when Flynn has been named national security adviser. And during the transition, he talked multiple times with then Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak on several issues, including sanctions relief for Russia.

Well, Vice President Mike Pence just a few weeks later, though, on January 15, 2017, he denies that Flynn and Kislyak ever discussed sanctions, so that's what prompted then Acting Attorney General Sally Yates to warn the president on January 26, 2017, that Flynn could be compromised by the Russians after the vice president's comments denying that discussions on sanctions ever happened.

Still, it took more than two weeks for Flynn to finally be forced out. He resigned on February 13, 2017, admitting then that he lied to Vice President Pence about his conversations with Kislyak.

Now, it was the day after Flynn left the White House that then FBI Director James Comey said to the president -- I'm sorry -- that Comey actually said the president asked him to end any investigation into Flynn, saying -- this is what Comey says the president says -- "I hope you can see your way to letting him go."

Then, by the end of that year, 2017, just about one year ago, on December 1, Michael Flynn pleaded guilty to lying to federal investigators, and he's been cooperating ever since.

And, of course, Ana, we're expecting the filing by today to detail exactly how he's been cooperating, what he said, and what insight he shed into the Trump transition, as well as the beginning days of the Trump administration -- Ana.

CABRERA: Due by midnight.

Jessica Schneider, thank you.

Now let's dive deeper.

I have with me former U.S. attorney Greg Brower and CNN chief political analysts Gloria Borger.

I want to know what each of you are watching for in today's Flynn filing.

Gloria, you first.


GLORIA BORGER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: All of that Jessica is talking about.


BORGER: I mean, I think the major question we will get an answer to today is, did Flynn provide substantial assistance to the Mueller probe on the very questions that Jessica outlined?

Did he help Mueller get to the bottom of the question of the -- of the improper communications between Flynn, if they were improper, improper communications between Flynn and the Russian ambassador, and also trying to influence a vote in the United Nations on Israeli settlements before, of course, they took office.

And did he lie to the feds about what he said and what he did? I mean, don't forget, you had an acting attorney general running to the White House counsel with her hair on fire trying to tell him that Mr. Flynn, General Flynn could be subject to blackmail.

And it took 18 days for the White House to get rid of Flynn, saying that he had lied to the vice president about actually what he had done. So some of these questions, I think, are going to be answered in this memo and we will be able to see how much cooperation he gave.

I mean, there were -- I think sentencing was scheduled four times and pulled back every time. So that shows you that they thought they could get some more out of him.

CABRERA: And so, Greg, that being said, what are you watching for?

GREG BROWER, FORMER FEDERAL PROSECUTOR: Yes, that was an excellent summary by Jessica.

There's clearly a lot there. Flynn's cooperation has been ongoing for, as was pointed out, some time now, more than a year. And so, given the fact that he was at the center -- appears to be -- to have been at the center of whatever communications the Trump campaign was having with Russia and with Russians, we can assume that there's a lot there in terms of what he has been able to share with the special counsel.

And so whether or not we see a lot of detail in the upcoming disclosure is one question. But I think that the fact must be that Flynn knew a lot, he's shared it all, and, as a result, Bob Mueller's team has a lot of information about the Russia-Trump campaign connection.

CABRERA: Gloria, this court filing could implicate others in Trump's orbit, possibly even family members.

BORGER: Well, we have to know who Flynn was communicating with.

There had been reporting, including our own, that he had communicated with K.T. McFarland, who worked for him, when she was at Mar-a-Lago, perhaps Jared Kushner on this question of the U.N. settlements, the Israeli settlements question with Jared Kushner.

So we -- yes, it does bring more people into this sort of question about, was he getting advice from the president on what he should do vis-a-vis sanctions? Was he talking to anybody else? I mean, this was the national security adviser. And that is why it's so important.

And that is why Sally Yates was so concerned about any kind of improper communications with the Russians that could leave him and the administration vulnerable. So, I mean, there are lots of layers to this onion, and it includes a lot of people.

So this has gone on for a very long time. We have to presume that Mueller knows a lot.

CABRERA: Greg, President Trump keeps tweeting, sending encouraging messages to people like Roger Stone, saying he has guts after he said he would definitely not testify against the president. And, of course, last week, Trump was also saying he wouldn't rule out a pardon for Paul Manafort.

Has he crossed any legal lines through these statements? Is this witness tampering?

BROWER: Well, it may be.

It's certainly something that the special counsel's team is looking at. And I would say, in my experience as a federal prosecutor, it's the sort of thing that would cause investigators and prosecutors to at least explore the idea that perhaps this is evidence of obstruction or witness tampering.

The very public nature of it is not only bizarre and unprecedented, but it also means that perhaps it's not quite rising to the level of obstruction. Typically, obstruction is -- consists of activity that's done secretively, covertly, without the -- with an attempt to make sure that the government doesn't know about it.

And here, we see it right out there in the open. So it's certainly being looked at, but it's hard to gauge exactly how it's going to be evaluated.

BORGER: Right.

CABRERA: And if he's not talking to them directly, if it's just through the Twittersphere or through making statements on TV, sending a message, but it's not direct message and coordination with them, does that also change the dynamic and whether it's legal or not?


BROWER: Yes, that's one of the things that just makes it so unlike typical obstruction or witness tampering efforts by targets of investigations.

This is just not the sort of thing that prosecutors are used to seeing, much less used to seeing from the president of the United States.

BORGER: But it is a political question here, I think. It's not a legal question.

And I agree with you, because it's so public. I mean, can you obstruct justice in public? I think the question that it may come to the Congress to decide, but it is a political one, which is, if you are seen to be dangling a pardon in some way, shape or form, is that an abuse of your presidential power, if you're dangling that pardon for your own personal reasons?

And I think that more -- that that is a question clearly that members of Congress are going to have to look at, whether it's in congressional committees or something more ominous for Trump.

But that's what I'm hearing, sort of, this is not what pardons were designed for.

CABRERA: All right, Gloria Borger, Greg Brower, thank you both. We await that filing from Mueller's team.

Again, the clock is ticking.

A Republican leads a House race now by just 905 votes, and now some unusual developments that are putting the victory in limbo.

Plus, more on our breaking news, the Dow plunging, as confusion breaks out over what President Trump and China actually agreed to in their trade war.

Look at that, down 722 points right now.