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Giuliani Says Mueller Has Accused Manafort Of Lying About Trump; Mueller's Team Has Questioned John Kelly; Rex Tillerson Says Trump Is Undisciplined and Doesn't Like to Read. Aired 2-2:30p ET

Aired December 7, 2018 - 14:00   ET


[14:00:00] BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN HOST: I'm Brooke Baldwin, you're watching CNN. It a Friday afternoon. Even by the unprecedented standards of the Trump news cycle, today is an extraordinary day. The Russia investigation has just taken another dramatic turn right in the heart of the west wing. CNN is learning Special Counsel Robert Mueller actually questioned the chief of staff, John Kelly, in regard to potential obstruction of justice by the President of the United States.

Let me let that sink in for a second. This, just hours after sources say Kelly is on his way out, he's expected to resign soon. The brand- new developments happening as we wait for two court filings that will most definitely shed light on the size and scope of Mueller's mysterious investigation, specifically about two of Trump's former insiders, one who is cooperating, Michael Cohen, and one who is allegedly not, Paul Manafort. We're expected to learn any moment about how Cohen has cooperated and what Manafort may have lied about to recently break his plea deal. Let's start with Dana Bash she is our CNN chief political correspondent who is breaking the story on John Kelly for us today. Before you get to John Kelly, you have more breaking details on Paul Manafort. Hit me.

DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Right, Brooke. This comes from Rudy Giuliani, the President's lawyer, who as we've been reporting over the past week or so is in touch with Paul Manafort's Attorney General. What Giuliani is told by Manafort's team is they believe that Mueller's team, in fact Mueller's team has told Manafort that he doesn't believe what Manafort is saying to the special counsel's investigators about President Trump. That is a big deal in any case, but particularly as we are potentially just hours away from this really important filing that the Mueller team is going to put forward in a court to explain why this plea deal that they had fell apart. Generally, what we've seen in these filings is evidence and explanations of what they believe and don't believe that these witnesses or these accused individuals are saying. In the case of Manafort, what Giuliani says is that the Mueller team is making clear to his attorneys is they don't believe what Manafort a saying, that the President did not know at the time about the 2016 Trump Tower meeting. There are other things that the Mueller team think that Paul Manafort is just lying about. But as it relates to the President of the United States, that is a key issue. So, we're going to be waiting to look at this file and look at a lot of issues, but whether or not there's any suggestion that the Mueller team believes Manafort is lying about something that the President knew, a very, very key, maybe the key event during the 2016 event as it relates to allegations of collusion. This Trump Tower meeting with Manafort, Manafort was there, Don Jr., Jared Kushner and of course a Russian attorney who had this meeting with the promise of bringing dirt on Hillary Clinton.

BALDWIN: So that is in one breaking news bucket. The other breaking news bucket this afternoon is that this piece on John Kelly, who just reminding everyone he didn't come to the White House and have the job until July of '17, has been serving as the chief of staff, is questioned on this obstruction case. Tell me what you've learned.

BASH: That's right. I should say that this is reporting with Evan Perez, who has learned his sources and mine as well that what John Kelly has done is talked to Robert Mueller's team in the past few months. It is so significant on a number of fronts. Number one, he's the highest-ranking person in the White House, at least as we know of aside from those written questions from the President to have this kind of conversation, kind of interview with Robert Mueller. But also, as you mentioned, the time frame around which this is relevant, any testimony he could give is relevant, that could be relevant because it is no question on the issue of obstruction. What I was just talking about was potential collusion. This is whether or not the President did anything that could be seen as criminal to obstruct an investigation. And so what Evan is hearing is it could be something he was witness to, a conversation that Kelly was a witness to dealing with Don McGahn, the former White House counsel, and others about this investigation.

[14:05:00] What's also noteworthy is that the Trump administration in the White House counsel's office in recent months has been fighting much more so than when this investigation started, senior people like John Kelly going before the special counsel. But in this case, it had to have been proven to the White House counsel that Mueller couldn't get this, whatever information they were seeking from anyone else except John Kelly, which is why after a lot of careful negotiation, he was allowed to go and speak to Robert Mueller's team.

BALDWIN: And now he's not on speaking terms with the President of the United States.

BASH: And there's that.

BALDWIN: There's that whole other story. Dana, thank you so much, my friend. Let's dive right into analysis. With me former federal prosecutor Elie Hornig and former New Jersey Attorney General Anne Milgram. Both CNN legal analysts. Ladies first, and to you on the first bit of news on Giuliani on Manafort and Mueller and this Trump Tower meeting, do you think some of what Dana, was reporting might be foreshadowing to what we may be seeing at some point today?

ANNE MILGRAM, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: So, the special counsel's office said there were a number of things that Manafort lied about. It's very possible that this was one of them. This would be a central question for the investigation. For example, if the Mueller team had evidence and other information that Trump was informed before that 2016 meeting and Manafort and particularly with that information said that Manafort knew and here's how we knew Manafort knew and lied, that would be something that would be a deal breaker if you're asking someone to cooperate. The one thing I would caution on is I suspect if that's part of the filing, we may not see it today, it may be blacked out because of an ongoing investigation into the President.

BALDWIN: So, would this mean that potentially this meeting that could be the crux of this obstruction investigation the Mueller team has concrete evidence that the President of the United States knew this meeting was going to happen?

ELIE HONIG, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: I would bet on it. That's why Dana's report is so earth shaking heading into the filing of the Manafort memo is who was Paul Manafort protecting? When cooperators go bad and I'm sure both had that experience, it's almost always because they're hiding something, trying to protect somebody. So, my question was who was he trying to protect? Sounds like that could be the President of the United States on the central meeting that happened in Trump Tower.

BALDWIN: Since you brought up the Manafort filing coming down at some point today, you, I read your piece, you were saying that is the main event. That is where we learn the lies. What could we learn?

HONIG: Dana just gave us a great preview. I think we're going to learn all sorts of things that Manafort lied about. We're going to see a filing from a ticked off group of prosecutors. Mueller called out Manafort. He said he lied and we'll prove it to you, judge, chapter and verse. I think that means we have definitive proof. Could go to Trump, could go to collusion with Russia, could go to junior, could go to Kushner. Manafort was an inner circle guy.

BALDWIN: Let me come back to that. On the other piece of reporting on John Kelly, questioned by the Mueller team on this obstruction case. Our CNN reporting is the resistance to Kelly doing an interview represented a key turn by the President and his attorney who had previously allowed special counsel to interview current and former White House staff and handed over hundreds and thousands of documents. I wanted to hone in on the word "resistance." Why would one resist a chief of staff from speaking to the special counsel? And the fact is it's not just someone who had been on the campaign. That is someone at the heart of the White House.

MILGRAM: it's I think there's two things that are important to think about. The first is that the whole Trump approach to dealing with the special counsel's office changed dramatically about halfway through and this is about the time that that happened. So, they were incredibly cooperative. You've seen Don McGahn met repeatedly with Mueller's office and all of a sudden, one day, Trump came in, changed lawyers and said no more cooperation. I suspect a big part of it is that. The second part is that Mueller to have proven this is the only way that he could get that information there's not many people in the room. We're probably talking about President Trump, McGahn or Kelly or some small set of people from which Mueller could learn this information, if they asked him to make that sort of proffer and proof. And so that would concern Trump enormously to have someone like Kelly talk.

BALDWIN: Is it ultimately up to Trump to say, nope, you can't talk to my guy?

MILGRAM: No. He doesn't get to decide.


MILGRAM: But he can invoke privileges. They could've litigated some of these issues depending on the circumstances, but I think what they were doing was more just pushing back against the special counsel walking in and saying to anybody they wanted, come sit for five days and come talk to us.

HONIG: They may have invoked executive privilege. I think Mueller was absolutely right to talk to Kelly. When it comes to obstruction of justice, Trump's actions aren't really in dispute. He fired Comey, he tweeted what he tweeted. The question is what was in his head. We want to know from the few people in the room.

[14:10:00] What was he saying? What was on his mind?

BALDWIN: You talked a second ago, thinking ahead too of these filings both on Manafort where you are keen to learn who he was lying for or covered up for? Michael Cohen is someone else we will learn a lot more about today, someone who has been cooperating both with SDNY and the special counsel's team. What are you looking for there?

MILGRAM: I think there will be a couple things. The first will be Cohen set out in his sentencing memorandum, I've been cooperating, I've had all these meeting. I've given a lot of information in at least two investigations, at least one

other criminal investigation. So, I think people like Elie and I will be looking to see, OK, what is the government saying? Was he cooperative? Did he provide substantial assistance? And I don't expect Mueller to tell us what the other cases are, obviously, but certainly there may be some clues there.

BALDWIN: You make a point on Michael Cohen since it's both SDNY and Mueller, it would be what? A joint filing today.

HONIG: I would imagine, yes.

BALDWIN: That one could see a federal offense on behalf of the President?

HONIG: Yes. The big question is the Department of Justice going to sign on to what Michael Cohen has already said, when Michael Cohen pled guilty and again when he submitted his own sentencing memo last week, he said I committed the campaign finance violations, the hush payments to Stephanie Clifford and Karen McDougal at the direction of the candidate for office. But everyone knows it is Donald Trump. It is one thing for Michael Cohen to say that is significant but it's very different if D.O.J. says, yes, that is what he told us and we accepted as face value then you would have the Department of Justice on record saying the President committed a federal offense.

BALDWIN: And then as all of our correspondents and producers are hitting refresh, waiting for this today, it's like will it be so redacted like the Flynn memo earlier this week that we'll be wondering I want to know more!

MILGRAM: My guess is yes.

HONIG: We'll read through it. We have ways to decode it.

BALDWIN: Elie and Ann, thank you so much. I really appreciate it. Happening also right now, former FBI Director James Comey is sitting behind closed doors with lawmakers. One Republican congressman says Comey is not answering key questions. We have those details for you ahead.

Also, a court hearing that could impact the financial markets. A top executive for a Chinese technology giant is facing extradition to the U.S. Might this disrupt President Trump's fragile trade truce with China?

He has kept a low profile since been fired as Secretary of State, Rex Tillerson, is speaking his mind about his former boss, President Trump.


REX TILLERSON, FORMER SECRETARY OF STATE: To go to work for a man who is pretty undisciplined, doesn't like to read, doesn't read briefing reports, doesn't like to get into the details of a lot of things, but rather just kind of says, look, this is what I believe...



BALDWIN: Now to critical court findings in regard to the Russian investigation. One involves President Trump's former fixer and attorney Michael Cohen, the other involves Trump's former campaign manager, Paul Manafort, who is accused of lying and breaching his plea deal with the special counsel. With me is Shimon Prokupecz. Remind us how we got to today.

SHIMON PROKUPESCZ, CNN CRIME AND JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: It's been a long road, lots of obstacles we've come across. It all really started back when he pleaded guilty on September 2nd when he basically -- he pleaded guilty, he was going to cooperate, there was that stunning announcement in court where he said I'm going to join the Mueller team, I'm going to help them, I'm going to cooperate with them and then just within basically a couple of months we learned after continuous meetings that the special counsel is now accusing Manafort of lying. They said that in all the repeated Sessions and meetings they had with them, he wasn't honest with them. So today we will learn once these filings are made public what exactly they're talking about. How much we will learn we will see because a lot of this is still under investigation. But this is important for the special counsel's investigation. We have always said Paul Manafort was going to be a key cooperator. We learned the information was being shared with the President's attorneys, was in he was learning and Manafort was learning in these meetings. It's a big day. This can happen at any point today. We're all standing by and waiting. BALDWIN: Waiting for Manafort, also waiting for the filing for

Michael Cohen. Talk to me about what you're looking for.

PROKUPESCZ: This is another key file hearing. This also just last week a huge surprise when we learned that Michael Cohen is pleading guilty to lying to Congress to protect the President. It was about the Moscow project. So really Michael Cohen when you look at the timeline here, the FBI raids his home, he then eventually winds up getting arrested, pleads guilty and then has a change of heart and sees what's going on and that the President is basically distancing himself from Michael Cohen, kind of blaming him for some of what was going on.

[14:20:00] Two key things with Michael Cohen we learned is that when he's in court, when he first pleads guilty to tax evasion, the campaign finance violations, he said he did it on direction of the President and accusing the President of orchestrating this scheme. Then he goes into court and admits that he lied to congress about the Moscow project, again also to protect the President. So today we will learn more he said he did it on direction of the President and accusing the President of orchestrating this scheme. Then he goes into court and admits that he lied to Congress about the Moscow project, again also to protect the President. So today we will learn more about his cooperation with the special counsel. Obviously for Michael Cohen it's about reducing whatever jail time he's facing, which is substantial. His lawyer is hoping for no jail time. We'll see what the special counsel here does. It's a little different with Michael Flynn and Michael Cohen because Flynn got this letter, this motion from the special counsel which essentially will reduce his jail sentence substantially and he's probably not going to serve any time. Michael Cohen doesn't have the same situation. So, it going to be interesting to see how the special counsel portrays him, whether or not they say that he's been very helpful, how helpful, where was he helpful. It's going to be an interesting couple of hours certainly.

BALDWIN: We're within the three-hour mark for Michael Cohen. We wait for him. Don't go too terribly far. Thank you, more on her other breaking news.

Rudy Giuliani says Robert Mueller believes Paul Manafort is lying about President Trump. We'll talk to a former White House counsel and get perspective on that. Mueller's team believes Manafort is lying about President Trump. Plus, breaking his silence after flying under the radar since his State Department departure, fired Secretary of State Rex Tillerson is talking claiming some of the President's ideas would have broken the law.


BALDWIN: Two of the latest in this Russia investigation as we wait for these two court filings from special counsel Robert Mueller and his team, we're getting a new information on Paul Manafort today. Mueller's team believes Manafort is lying about President Trump. This is according to the President's attorney, Rudy Giuliani. He said investigators told Manafort they do not believe that the President didn't know about the 2016 Trump Tower meeting. So, with me now to discuss, former White House general counsel under President Clinton, Nelson Cunningham. Welcome back.


BALDWIN: On this latest piece of news, does this mean that Mueller's team may actually have concrete evidence that the President did, in fact, know about that much-discussed 2016 Trump Tower meeting, do you think?

NELSON: Absolutely it could. Look, first of all, let's consider the source here. Rudy Giuliani is the President's lawyer. Most of what we know about Mueller's investigation we seem to know because Rudy Giuliani lets tidbits drop here and there. Mueller himself is way too disciplined to be giving this out himself. I frankly think that Mueller probably has a great deal of evidence on the Trump Tower meeting. I would take what Rudy Giuliani has to say with a strong grain of salt.

BALDWIN: Hmm. Let me add to this. We are also learning this afternoon that Robert Mueller and his team questioned Chief of Staff John Kelly in regard to this potential obstruction probe by the President. I'm curious this isn't just someone who was on a campaign, this is the chief of staff being questioned in this obstruction case. How significant is that?

CUNNINGHAM: It is significant and remember, Kelly wasn't there at the time that much of this took place.

BALDWIN: He joined July of '17.

CUNNINGHAM: Correct. So, he came in after most of the allegations that we believe Mueller is chasing occurred. He might have been there, though, for pieces of obstruction, conversations that he might have overheard or participated in which those in the White House talked about how to shape testimony or shape the evidence as it was coming out.

BALDWIN: So, he then would have been involved in questions, I believe it was a narrow scope. The White House didn't want him to but it's not like at the end of the day, unless it's executive privilege, the President can't say, no, you can't talk to my chief of staff, is that right?

CUNNINGHAM: It becomes a push me/pull you, where the White House insists on executive privilege, the prosecutor pushes. Push comes to shove of course it can go before a judge to decide the matter. Nobody at the White House really wants a judge to be deciding on this because then you really lose control. It's what's significant here is that this may be part of the breakdown in relations between Trump and Kelly that we see possibly leading to Kelly's leaving the White House this weekend.

BALDWIN: That's right. They're not on speaking terms. We've heard this before but we're hearing now that it really could be days. I have to ask you about Rex Tillerson, former Secretary of State really opening up about his time working with President Trump. Here is one snippet.


[14:30:00] REX TILLERSON, FORMER SECRETARY OF STATE: We did not have a common value system. When the President would say here's what I want to do and here's how I want to do it, and I'd have to say to him, well, Mr. President, I understand what you want to do but you can't do it that way. It violates the law, it violates treaty. You know, he got really frustrated. And I think he grew tired of me being the guy every day that told him he can't do that.


BALDWIN: Nelson, at one point does Trump's ignorance not work as a defense?

NELSON: That is a great question.