Return to Transcripts main page


U.S. Warship Prepping to Sail Into Black Sea Amid Russia- Ukraine Tensions; Trump Planning Second Nuclear Summit With North Korea?; Trump Under Pressure After New Special Counsel Filings. Aired 3-3:30p ET

Aired December 5, 2018 - 15:00   ET



DANA BASH, CNN ANCHOR: Thank you for watching.

You have been watching CNN's special coverage of George Herbert Walker Bush's state funeral.

CNN's Brianna Keilar picks up our coverage right now.

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN ANCHOR: Dana, thank you so much.

I'm Brianna Keilar. And thank you for joining us.

A new twist in the Russia investigation leading to new pressure and a new mystery for the president of United States. One of the people who worked closest with President Trump during his campaign, his transition and the early days of his presidency is cooperating so extensively with Robert Mueller that the special counsel is recommending that fired National Security Adviser Michael Flynn does not serve any prison time, none, for lying to the FBI.

So take a look. This is Mueller's sentencing memo for Flynn. A lot of it is redacted, as you can see there in the blacked-out parts. And what's beneath those lines may not bode well for the president and those around him.

We're going to explain why in just a moment, but keep in mind the new revelations hang over the president as he also faces a plunging stock market over his trade war in China, an extraordinary standoff with Congress over the U.S. response to the murder of a journalist by the Saudis, and the prospect of even bigger bombshells in two days, when additional critical deadlines and events in the Russia probe are due.

Let's start the hour talking about Michael Flynn.

CNN justice corresponding Jessica Schneider here with us now.

You have the biggest takeaways from this sentencing memo. What more details have we learned?

JESSICA SCHNEIDER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Brianna, I think the biggest revelation here is that Michael Flynn has been providing information related to not just the Russia probe, but also to two other previously unknown and still non-public investigations, one of which is criminal.

So these two investigations, they are a mystery, but their mention means that Mueller's team has already gathered significant information, enough to prompt other investigations and at least one criminal inquiry.

And with this filing, Mueller really does seem to be sending a message. He's recommending no prison time for Michael Flynn because of what they called substantial assistance. And that could really be a signal to people like Michael Cohen and Rick Gates, the former deputy chairman to the campaign, that maybe they should continue cooperating and ignore any temptations to bank on a possible presidential pardon.

And Flynn's cooperation, it really was substantial. He's done 19 interviews over the past year with Mueller's investigators since he pleaded guilty. And Mueller's team has said Flynn gave them firsthand information about the interactions between the Trump transition team and Russian government officials.

Now, we don't know what Flynn revealed. All of that, of course, has been redacted. But it does beg the question here, is anyone else in the president's orbit now in the special counsel's crosshairs as a result of Flynn's information?

So, Brianna, some details, but perhaps a lot more questions than answers.

KEILAR: A whole lot of questions. Jessica, thank you so much.

I want to dig into all that we have learned here.

We have CNN political correspondent Sara Murray, former federal prosecutor Joseph Moreno, and Michael Zeldin, Robert Mueller's special assistant at the Justice Department, also a CNN legal analyst.

So, Sara, there are at least three investigations. That's pretty fascinating that we know that from this -- from this information that we have from the sentencing memo.

What do we know about the other two? Because this is why I ask. There's a whole lot that is blacked out.


SARA MURRAY, CNN NATIONAL POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: We don't know much of anything about the other two. And it's really frustrating when you look at it, because one of the pages actually references this criminal investigation.

It says the defendant has provided substantial assistance in a criminal investigation, and then all the rest of it is blacked out.

KEILAR: It's killing us. MURRAY: But it does tell you -- I mean, look, it's notable that it

doesn't say in this the special counsel's criminal investigation, and it's notable that when they talk about the 19 interviews Flynn has done, they said it's with the special counsel team, as well as other Justice Department offices.

So that means there are some mystery investigations going on with the special counsel right now. He could have more bombshells still to come. But it also means that it's possible that his work has prompted other investigations that have moved out to other jurisdictions.

And so that's the other kind of component of this that we're going to be looking.

KEILAR: That may not have anything even to do with what the special counsel is looking at, right?

MURRAY: They may not get to his core mission. It may be something he turned up along the way, and we know that he's not just going to ignore illegal activity, but that he and his team have been good about sort of referring things out when they say, this is not central to what we are here to investigate, so let's send this, for instance, to SDNY or somewhere else to have them look into it.


So I wonder, Michael, when you think about Jared Kushner here, because he worked so closely with Flynn, should he be concerned that Flynn spoke at such length with the special counsel?

MICHAEL ZELDIN, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Depending on what Kushner has said when he's been interviewed by Congress and elsewhere.

We know from Mueller that if you lie to him or you lie to government generally, you're going to get charged with a crime. We don't know what Kushner said.


We do know that Kushner, K.T. McFarland, Michael Flynn were all transition people who were actively engaged in communications with Russians and others at the U.N. around the Palestinian settlements issue.

And so if Mueller feels that there was misstatements by them or that they have somehow obstructed something to do with his investigation, then maybe they have something to worry about. But it's pretty speculative at this point, but those are the names that come to mind.

KEILAR: And there's so many redactions here that we have been talking about, Joseph, and that means outstanding questions.

Those close to Trump, though, can seize on some of these reactions. They can say, well, look, there's nothing in here that is saying there is definitely collusion. They can say that no conclusions have been drawn. But if you look at page three of this memo, it says, "The defendant provided firsthand information about the content and context of interactions between the transition team and Russian government officials."

Do you think that's the most direct statement that we have seen so far from the special counsel that there could be ties between Russia and the Trump campaign?


Two things, right? It's not hypothetical, right? So it's saying there were interactions, and they're firsthand. So, Michael Flynn is not talking about hearsay or double hearsay or a document he may have seen. He's talking about firsthand knowledge, being involved, potentially, in communications between the parties.

And so it could be potentially very valuable information he's providing.

KEILAR: And, as we watch, I know one of the things that stood out to all of us was, he's asking that Michael Flynn get no jail time.

I wonder your impression, Michael, of that. Is that the special counsel, as the president -- he has even said for Paul Manafort a pardon is still on the table. That could be a message to other people too.

Is this the special counsel saying, I have a pretty good deal here, too, if you want to cooperate?

ZELDIN: It could be remember. Choice sometimes is between who you want as your benefactor.

If it were I in the hot seat somewhere, I think I would choose Mueller as a reliable partner for a disposition, as opposed to the president, who seems to have vague notions of loyalty, unless it affects him personally. Loyalty seems to come and go.


MURRAY: Yes, I do think it does send -- it's a very interesting signal, because on the one hand with some of these other people that have lied to investigators, they have actually asked for jail time and said, we want to send a signal about what happens when you try to impede an investigation.

But, in this case, it does seem like they took into account Flynn's history of service -- obviously, he's a retired lieutenant Army general -- and the fact that he cooperated early, he cooperated voluminously and for a long time.

And it's telling that this comes at the same time the president is essentially dangling pardons out there. I mean, Paul Manafort, he said he hasn't taken off the table. He's sort of thinly veiling, he's dangling the idea of pardon for Roger Stone potentially.

And so I think the special counsel team does have to send a signal that, look, it pays to tell the truth also, even it will ultimately be up to a judge decide that. They don't get to make that call.

ZELDIN: And may just add one thing to that point, which I agree with completely, is that if you are pardoned, if you're Manafort or any -- Stone and you're Pardoned, you can still be required to testify. And if you testify untruthfully, you can still be charged with perjury.

And the likelihood of being pardoned for a secondary perjury seems to me very remote.

KEILAR: When you look at this happening at this moment in time, we want to know when the Mueller investigation is going to wrap up. What does this tell you about the arc of the timeline?

MORENO: I think that's the ultimate question, right?

I mean, I had said before this document came out, the more rejections we see, more likely the longer it's going to take. There's a lot of reductions in here. That means that Bob Mueller is not prepared to put the cards on the table. He's got a lot more work to do. There's more charges coming.

We will see in the next two weeks in these two subsequent filings we're expected to see, again, how much is redacted, whether they're sealed. That will give us an indication. But my read quickly is a lot more to go.

KEILAR: A lot more to go. So interesting.

Thank you so much, Joseph, Sara, and Michael. Really appreciate it.

And we breaking some news, what we're learning about U.S. plans to position a warship in the Black Sea amid escalating tensions in the region between Russia and the Ukraine. We're going to have a live report from the Pentagon.

Also, does North Korea deserve a second summit with President Trump, even as John Bolton admits they have not lived up to their commitments? CNN has obtained new satellite images that show North Korea has actually significantly expanded a key missile base.

And 2020 maneuvering, new insight on two rising stars in the Democratic Party who have met privately with former President Barack Obama.

Stay with us.



KEILAR: We have breaking news, a CNN exclusive.

We are just learning that the United States is making preparations to sail a warship into the Black Sea. And this is coming at a volatile time, with heightened tensions between Russia and Ukraine.

CNN's Ryan Browne is breaking the story for us at the Pentagon.

Tell us, what's going on here?

RYAN BROWNE, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Well, Brianna, we're being told by multiple U.S. officials that the U.S. military has asked the State Department to notify the government of Turkey that it plans to send a warship into the Black Sea.

Now, this is an area very close to where Russia and Ukraine clashed late last month, an incident that resulted in the capture of 24 Ukrainian sailors. And that prompted Donald Trump to cancel his meeting with President Putin.

Now, the reason the U.S. has to tell Turkey, there's a decades-old treaty called the Montreux Convention, and the U.S. is required to notify them when they pass through the straits there by Istanbul, the Bosporus Straits.

Now, again, the U.S. has not had a warship in the Black Sea since October. It's been sometime since they had one. And U.S. official want to have this option. They haven't necessarily ordered a warship into the Black Sea, but they want to be prepared to be able to move a ship into the region, given all the tensions that are going on there right now.


Ukraine has accused Russia of building up its forces in the region. Russia today announcing they're conducting multiple military drills. So tensions are very high. And we heard about this at the recent NATO conference in Brussels, where all of the 29 NATO allies called on Russia to release those detained sailors.

So all eyes right now on the Black Sea, as Russia, Ukraine and now potentially the U.S. could enter a very tense geopolitical situation.

KEILAR: Ryan Browne with a CNN exclusive, thank you for that, sir.

BROWNE: You bet.

KEILAR: Also, just into CNN, new satellite images that show North Korea is not living up to its promise to denuclearize. Is it a second summit with Kim Jong-un really the way to go? The president's national security adviser thinks so.

Plus, who to believe? U.S. senators from both sides say they have heard vastly different assessments surrounding the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi. One lawmaker says that Secretaries Pompeo and Mattis both misled them on Saudi intelligence. We will have details ahead.



KEILAR: This just into CNN, new satellite images that show North Korea is significantly expanding a key long-range missile base, despite President Trump's historic summit with the country's leader, Kim Jong-un back in June.

Trump often touts North Korea's lack of ballistic missile tests in recent months as a sign of diplomatic progress toward denuclearization. All of this comes as the Trump administration plans for a second summit with North Korea early next year.

I want to bring in CNN senior national correspondent Alex Marquardt.

Walk us through these new satellite images.

ALEX MARQUARDT, CNN SENIOR NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: All right, well, Brianna, what these show is clear evidence that North Korea continues to build up their long-range missiles capabilities, even as the two sides, the U.S. side and North Korea, say that they are working towards getting rid of nuclear weapons on the Korean Peninsula.

That was the pledge that they made back in June. Now, remember, these long-range missiles that we're talking about can carry nuclear warheads, and they can hit the United States.

The images we're about to show you, we obtained them from the military -- from the Middlebury Institute -- excuse me.

Let's first start with this map here of North Korea. This is the region that we're talking about, the expanded base, the new facility, right up here in the mountainous region of northern North Korea, right up against the border with China.

There's already a base there called the Yeongjeo-dong missile base. That has already been well-known to intelligence agencies and analysts. But then just seven miles from there is this new base, is this new expansion that we're talking about.

And when you look at that closely, when you zoom in on that satellite imagery, you can see this construction activity. And what you're looking at here is the headquarters and barracks of this new base. You can see the construction and maintenance there. This was taken on November 12, so just under a month ago, relatively new images.

Now, Brianna, in addition to that, you also have these new administration buildings. You have got a massive amount of tunneling activity that has been carried out over the last few years. You also have what are called hardened bunkers that have been camouflaged, also drive-through shelters, which analysts say are large enough for those ballistic missiles, similar to the ones that we saw at the older base.

Now, we should note that everything we're showing you here is not a violation of any agreements between North Korea and the U.S. or with South Korea. But the Trump administration has insisted that the North's ballistic missile program be eliminated as part of a future deal.

North Korea so far has balked at that. Talks are very much at a standstill right now. The Trump administration is arguing that North Korea is not living up to their end of the bargain. And they argue that's why that second summit between the two leaders is needed -- Brianna.

KEILAR: Hmm. It's such an interesting argument. Alex Marquardt, thank you so much.

The Trump administration is now pressing ahead with those plans for a second summit with Kim Jong-un early next year, National Security Adviser John Bolton saying the two sides will look at commitments made at the June summit and discuss how to them.

Let's take a look.


JOHN BOLTON, U.S. NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISER: They have not lived up to the commitment so far. That's why I think the president thinks another summit is likely to be productive.


KEILAR: All right, joining me now, we have Bob Baer. He's a former CIA operative and CNN intelligence and security analyst.

It's interesting to hear the rationale here, Bob, because normally the U.S. does not say, yes, let's have a second meeting when a country isn't holding up its end of the bargain.

BOB BAER, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: No, I mean, this is just -- you don't do that. You do the preparation. You make the agreements in advance, then you have the summit.

If North Korea is not adhering to any agreements, you don't meet them until they're ready to do it, until you can show some progress, until you have done your homework. And they're not doing it.

So Trump's shoot-from-the-hip international relations and the rest of it is just crazy.

KEILAR: How does the square that, what they say about ballistic missile tests, and then when you see these -- this activity in these pictures? You can't, right?

BAER: Well, I think anybody who knew North Korea knew they wouldn't disarm.



BAER: I mean, that's their trump card. They weren't going to give this stuff up without a significant, significant agreement, and with Russia and China's input in this.

And we have just ignored Russia and China on this. So, it was never going to happen.

KEILAR: Let's talk about the murder of Jamal Khashoggi, the "Washington Post" journalist, at the Saudi Consulate in Turkey.

You had Defense Secretary James Mattis, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo going to the Hill, briefing senators, clearly following the president's script on this. Lindsey Graham called it a technical interpretation of the evidence, as they declined to blame Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.

But, clearly, they're toeing the line here. Let's listen.


SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: As to Pompeo and Mattis, I have great respect for them. I would imagine, if they were Democratic -- in a Democratic administration, I would be all over them for being in the pocket of Saudi Arabia.

But since I have such respect for them, I'm going to assume that they're being good soldiers, and when they look at the analysis, they're being technical in their statement, but they're not giving the assessment that I think the Senate will have.

I would really question somebody's judgment if they couldn't figure this out. It is there to be figured out.


GRAHAM: Please let me finish.

And I think the reason they don't draw the conclusion that he's complicit is because the administration doesn't want to go down that road, not because there's not evidence to suggest he's complicit.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Maybe he did, maybe he did. They did not make that assessment. The CIA has looked at it, they have studied it a lot. They have nothing definitive.

Nobody's concluded. I don't know if anyone's going to be able to conclude that the crown prince did it.

JAMES MATTIS, U.S. SECRETARY OF DEFENSE: We have no smoking gun that the crown prince was involved.

MIKE POMPEO, U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE: There's no direct evidence linking him to the murder of Jamal Khashoggi.


KEILAR: Well, senators briefed on the intel believe something very different, Bob.

And they got another briefing from Gina Haspel when they were upset that she didn't come up, that the CIA director didn't brief them initially. It was just Mattis and Pompeo. When you look at this, and you have Republican and Democratic senators

saying they're being misled, what are the ramifications of that?

BAER: It's bad.

I mean, what you're doing is, you're signaling the Saudi royal family is, maybe we can live with this guy Mohammed bin Salman, maybe we can't. So this doubt in Riyadh is going to cause instability.

What this president should be doing is signaling the Saudis, we can't live with this guy. He's a murderer. He's a psychopath. He's definitely involved.

When a senator comes out you could get a murder conviction in 30 minutes, when he says that, trust him. The guy is guilty.

KEILAR: All right, Bob Baer, thanks so much for your insight.

Coming up: The midterms may not have panned out for them, but it seems rising Democratic stars Beto O'Rourke and Andrew Gillum both have 2020 on their minds. Are they getting advice from former President Obama about potential runs?

And the day after the president declared himself tariff man and the markets tumbled nearly 800 points, is the White House now in damage control when it comes to confusion over its trade war with China?