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Mueller to Release Filings on Manafort and Cohen; Rex Tillerson Breaks Silence on President Trump; Stock Market Plummets. Aired 3- 3:30p ET
Aired December 7, 2018 - 15:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN ANCHOR: Evan Perez with the two big pieces of news just in the last hour, Evan, thank you so much.
I want to jump right in.
With me now, CNN contributor Garrett Graff. He wrote the book "The Threat Matrix: Inside Robert Mueller's FBI and the War on Global Terror." Here with me in New York, former federal prosecutor and CNN legal analyst Jennifer Rodgers.
And so good to have both of you guys with me.
And, Jennifer, let me just start with you on the piece on Trump Tower and what Giuliani is saying about Manafort and Mueller. And so do you think, as we're waiting for these filings to come down on Mueller, is this -- and you have to always wonder about, when Giuliani talks, why is he talking right now?
Do you think this is foreshadowing to what we're about to see?
JENNIFER RODGERS, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: It could be.
I mean, again, I'm always skeptical of Giuliani's reports. But there's no question that when somebody is a cooperator and they go south, it's because they're protecting someone, usually.
So if what he was protecting is the president's involvement in the Trump Tower meeting, his knowledge about it beforehand, his knowledge about it beforehand, then that makes sense. You know, I don't know if it's true, but it makes sense that he wouldn't tell them about that, he's hiding it, and yet they knew about it from other sources, maybe phone records, maybe other witnesses or so on, and pushed back at him and said, you know he knew about it.
And maybe that's how it all fell apart.
BALDWIN: I had Clinton's former general counsel on last hour saying to me, take with Rudy Giuliani is saying with a grain of salt, is what he what he mentioned.
BALDWIN: Garrett, let me ask you this.
What about -- do you think, given what we're hearing, would this mean that the Mueller team has concrete evidence regarding that Trump Tower meeting and that, in fact, the president did indeed know about it?
GARRETT GRAFF, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Yes, Brooke, I have not -- I have yet to see a grain of salt large enough that I think it would be worth comparing to Giuliani's word at this point.
GRAFF: I think what we are -- is just really, really hard for us to wrap our minds around is just how much Bob Mueller knows by this point, not just the things that we have heard this week of the number of hours that Michael Cohen has spent testifying with him, the number of hours Michael Flynn has spent testifying, but the thousands, hundreds of thousands, probably millions of e-mails, telephone records, recordings even from Michael Cohen of specific conversations that Mueller has amassed, and then obviously a lot of witnesses that we haven't even seen publicly.
I mean, one of the things that came out of the Michael Flynn document this week, which actually did have a lot of revelations buried in between those redactions, was that Flynn's cooperation helped encourage other people to cooperate who we haven't really heard from yet.
And so Mueller in every court document he has offered knows a lot more and is much more detailed and is much more insightful than we thought that he was. And I'm sure that his level of knowledge about that Trump Tower meeting far surpasses anything that we could imagine.
BALDWIN: Yes. Yes.
And just staying on Manafort for a second, because, again, that filing could come down any second now. And Garrett's right that there was a lot, despite all the redactions, in the Flynn memo.
We could learn a lot. Elie Honig was sitting in your seat last hour, and he was saying to me, oh, my gosh, this Manafort memo is going to be the main event that we will finally see sort of who he was lying or covering for and the lies to protect whom.
What will you be looking for?
RODGERS: I'm looking for exactly that, right?
They're not -- they're not a team anymore, right? They have -- he's not cooperating anymore.
RODGERS: So, they're not protecting him. And, in fact, to the contrary, they want the judge to know exactly why this all went bad and why they withdrew the cooperation agreement.
On the other hand, they're still not going to jeopardize ongoing investigations. So we're not going to see complete layout of everything that Manafort ever told them when he was cooperating. So I think that we will get some pretty good detail on the reasons it went bad. And that's what's going to be very interesting to see today, but not necessarily on the stuff he told them before.
Garrett, on the piece we were talking to Evan about, the reporting that John Kelly had been interviewed by Bob Mueller on this obstruction probe -- and say what you will about Paul Manafort or Michael Cohen, neither has actually been in this administration. And John Kelly has served as the chief of staff, right, since July of last year.
He is at the heart of the West wing, the heart of the president's behavior. How big of a deal is this?
GRAFF: Well, it's a big deal it, depending on what Don McGahn has said.
I mean, that's sort of, again, one of these things that we know that Don McGahn has actually spent a lot of time testifying with Bob Mueller and his investigators about his time as White House counsel, which was one of these, like, baffling surprises, even to the Trump administration, that their own White House counsel was cooperating with the investigation.
And so if John Kelly is able to corroborate the information that Don McGahn has already provided, that's potentially a very significant development in this obstruction question, which -- this is a case that is still unfolding, up until tweets day by day and the obstruction question.
There was a key word, though, in our reporting on this John Kelly obstruction case, which is resistance, resistance to this interview, that the quote from our reporting is: "The resistance to Kelly doing an interview represented a key turn by the president and his attorneys, who previously allowed special counsel to interview current and former White House staff and handed over hundreds of thousands of documents."
So, Jennifer, something changed, right, for there to be this pushback, to be this resistance for them to talk to the chief of staff.
RODGERS: Well, there was no question that there was a sea change.
When Ty Cobb went out and the others came in, and Giuliani kind of ramped up, I think that they felt that they didn't get anything from being cooperative. This just kept going and kept gaining steam and kept being the forefront of the news.
And I think the president and his close team ultimately felt like, why are they cooperating? They're not -- they're not getting any benefit of that, and there's a lot of downside.
So I think they have the strategy of pushing back with more force. And that's what we're seeing in the -- now we're learning in the cooperation of John Kelly with the special counsel and in other ways as well.
BALDWIN: Yes, which may be part of the explanation why Trump and his own chief of staff are not even on speaking terms at the moment.
And I know we have said it before. It could be any day now. But they're saying, no, really, it could be any day now until he resigned from his post.
Garrett, Michael Cohen, so not only are we waiting for this doc to drop on Paul Manafort, but we're waiting on the president's former fixer, Michael Cohen. He's been cooperating. It's this joint filing between SDNY and the Mueller team.
You wrote about -- we talked months ago about the five big buckets in the Mueller investigation, money laundering, collusion, possible obstruction. Between what we learn from Cohen and Manafort, which one of those five buckets you think really gets filled up today?
GRAFF: Well, so the question it with -- that was sort of most interesting about Michael Cohen at this point is, in both of his plea agreements in August and last week, he went out of his way in court to say that Donald Trump directed him to make a -- make the campaign finance violations in August, and to sort of help align his story with Donald Trump's lies about the Trump Tower Moscow project, and that he went out of his way in the plea agreement to also say that he kept Donald Trump and the Trump Organization, potentially the Trump family, up to date on his conversations about Trump Tower Moscow.
What has been notably absent from those documents is what the reaction to those conversations were. What did Trump tell him? How did Trump react to the updates on the Moscow project? And that's, I think, the biggest, most interesting question, is, we have seen Donald Trump pop up in these court papers as individual number one.
Who knows who he is? Except that he became president of the United States in January 2017, according to the court filing. Could be anyone. Could be absolutely anyone who became president in January 2017.
GRAFF: And how -- and sort of how that reaction and what that direction was that Michael Cohen was taking.
That's a huge criminal liability. BALDWIN: Yes.
Garrett, Jennifer, thank you so much.
Again, those filings from -- on Cohen and Manafort could drop any second. Appreciate both of you. We're standing by for that.
Also, we just reported the President Trump is feeling anxious behind the scenes about the stock market, doesn't understand why his truce with China isn't helping. Well, in this last hour of trading, the Dow has been sinking even though lower.
So let's go straight to the New York Stock Exchange, to my colleague Alison Kosik.
And, Alison, what is this all about?
ALISON KOSIK, CNN CORRESPONDENT: What's interesting here, Brooke, is it's a jobs day. We got the November jobs report, but investors are trade -- are focusing on anything but, especially when you have got the White House putting out these conflicting messages about the unresolved trade situation between the U.S. and China.
So, earlier today, White House economic adviser Larry Kudlow, he sounded kind of an optimistic note on CNBC about talks with China, and then you had trade adviser Peter Navarro on CNN warning of higher tariffs if issues aren't resolved during this 90 day cease-fire.
Well, all this confusion, that's what's helping to juice the volatility in the markets that we are seeing right now. It's increasing the anxiety as we get closer to the weekend, where you see investors not willing to hold on to stocks.
Interestingly enough, the day started out flat. The weaker-than- expected jobs report, it was getting some thinking that the Fed may decide to slow down its interest rate hikes next year, or maybe not hike as much as it had initially planned.
That kind of thing is reassuring to investors. But then came all these conflicting headlines about trade. And the markets right now, they're just so fragile to every headline about trade, that it just increases this kind of volatility that you're seeing.
Want to put this in perspective? Where are stocks at this moment? All Dow 30 stocks, all 30 stocks in the Dow are in the red. And the Dow, Nasdaq and S&P 500, they have all wiped out all of their gains for 2018 -- Brooke.
BALDWIN: Wow. Just taking a minute for that sink as I'm listening to that.
BALDWIN: My goodness. Just a couple weeks to go before the end of the year.
Alison Kosik at the New York Stock Exchange, thank you for that.
Ahead, more on our breaking news, both on Manafort and Cohen, news expected to drop any moment now. CNN has crews on standby.
Also just in, President Trump firing back with harsh words against his former Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, this as Tillerson breaks his silence for the first time since March, claiming Trump's ideas would have broken the law.
Wait until you see this.
BALDWIN: Just in, President Trump -- I'm going to read this for you in a second -- with a harsh, harsh response to the man he fired at the State Department, Rex Tillerson.
Take a look at this Trump tweet just in: "Mike Pompeo is doing a great job. I am very proud of him. His predecessor, Rex Tillerson, didn't have the mental capacity needed. He was dumb as a rock, and I couldn't get rid of him fast enough. He was lazy as hell. Now it is a whole new ball game. Great spirit at State!"
Yeah. So, what sparked this? Want you to listen to this Rex Tillerson interview. And keep in mind, Tillerson is known to be tight-lipped. He's really hunkered down since he left State in March, very safe with his word choice. He has not spoken out at all since leaving.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REX TILLERSON, FORMER U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE: We did not have a common value system. When the president would say, "Well, here's what I want to do, and here's how I want to do it," and I would 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."
TILLERSON: You know, he got really frustrated. And I think he grew tired of me being the guy every day that told him you can't do that.
He acts on his instincts. In some respects, that looks like impulsiveness. But it's not his intent to act on impulse. I think he really is trying to act on his instincts.
It was challenging for me, coming from the disciplined, highly processed-oriented ExxonMobil Corporation, to go to work for a man who is pretty undisciplined, doesn't -- doesn't like to read, doesn't read briefing reports, doesn't -- 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. (END VIDEO CLIP)
BALDWIN: I have got David Axelrod with me, host of "THE AXE FILES," former senior adviser for the Obama White House.
David Axelrod, wow.
DAVID AXELROD, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Yes, wow.
You know, you -- well, first of all, you can understand why the president would be irritated to have a former member of his Cabinet speaking out in that way. So, in certain ways, you can -- you could anticipate this.
On the other hand, you got to wonder why people accept these jobs knowing that, if things go south -- and they almost always do, it seems -- that you are at some time or another going to be on the other end of one of these blasts, so -- but the things that Tillerson said, though not surprising, are -- continue a disturbing portrait of the way the president does his job.
And that's probably what we should focus on.
BALDWIN: Well, let me ask you about that, because, again, this is a man, Tillerson, who hasn't spoken up and out since he left his post at State in March.
What do you make of why he is speaking up now, how he's speaking up now?
BALDWIN: What's in it for him?
AXELROD: Just to set the record straight, I'm sure. He was kind of unceremoniously replaced. And there were questions about how he ran the State Department.
And there are differences between running a corporation and being America's chief diplomat and running the State Department. But there's no doubt that the president grew weary of him, and he grew weary of the president.
The quotes that we saw from him about the president while he was secretary of state, though he never entirely embraced them, made it clear that he didn't have a high regard for the president.
The president, remember, tweeted that he shouldn't be wasting his time talking to the North Koreans. Kind of ironic in retrospect. But theirs was a checkered relationship from the start. And I think Tillerson has chosen this Q&A format to get some of his side of the story out.
BALDWIN: In Texas, and a group of potential wealthy Republican donors is where he's saying what he's saying.
When you listen to the substance of what he's saying, he wasn't specific, but he definitely shed light on Trump's leadership style. And we have heard bits and pieces of this from sources on how Trump behaves or reacts, or maybe thinks he's above the law, Trump often getting frustrated when told his ideas would break the law.
But this is the first time we have heard on the record from a Cabinet level official, David.
AXELROD: Yes, absolutely.
It completely confirms all the reporting that's been done for two years. And you hear a lot of unsourced quotes from people in the administration that support this. We saw a whole essay on this that remains anonymous at its source.
AXELROD: So he's confirming what a lot of people have written and said, but it is jarring coming from him.
As far as the setting, those are his people. I mean, when you say wealthy Republican donors in Texas, well, that's his community. So he probably felt that that was a good place to unburden himself.
BALDWIN: But when you hear him say the president just doesn't like to read, doesn't like to read briefing reports, you -- as a former presidential adviser, imagine working with a commander in chief who's not reading your briefing reports, David.
BALDWIN: Is that not worrisome?
AXELROD: No, it's worrisome. It's been worrisome. We have heard that they have prepared briefings with photographs and illustrations because it holds his attention more.
When I worked -- I worked for a president, President Obama, who used to go home with a thick sheaf of briefing papers under his arm. And when we would meet the next day, it was very clear that he had read his brief, he had thought about his brief, and he had a lot of good questions based on what he had read.
And it gave you confidence, as someone who worked for the president, that he was on top of things, that he was going to make thoughtful decisions, informed decisions. That's what people should want from a president.
But that's not what got Donald Trump to the White House. What Tillerson said about following his instincts, he believes his instincts are infallible. They led him to where he is today. All of the experts did it -- said do it a different way. He ignored them. And he believes in following his instincts.
The problem is, the rest of the country is attached to the decisions that he makes.
BALDWIN: Let's talk about this weekend ahead on "THE AXE FILES."
You have got Rahm Emanuel. Let me just set this clip up. So this is you and Rahm Emanuel talking about -- of course, we know have got an incoming Democratic majority on the House side come next year. And so this was his advice to these Democrats.
Play the clip.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
RAHM EMANUEL (D), MAYOR OF CHICAGO: Don't focus immediately on Trump.
Focus immediately -- you have something with the secretary of labor. You have with EPA. You have Interior Department. You have it at the Commerce Department. You have it at HUD.
He has brought the swamp to Washington and flooded -- flooded the plains. And I think Mueller will deal with Trump.
AXELROD: And he's begun to turn over his cards.
EMANUEL: That's right. You don't have to go and lead Mueller. You need Mueller to lead. You have an entire government that is not on its game protecting the American people.
The House should focus there.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BALDWIN: So it sounds like he's saying to the Dems, focus on governing, and let Mueller handle the big investigation.
AXELROD: There's no question about it. And it's meaningful coming from Rahm Emanuel, because he was the number four Democrat in the House, before he became White House chief of staff under President Obama.
And he was known as a shrewd legislative political strategist and tactician. And his advice is, don't jump into the deep end of the pool here by trying to plow the same ground that Mueller is plowing. Focus on individual agencies and issues that are important to people in their lives, and the rest will take care of itself.
I think it's pretty sound advice.
BALDWIN: We will tune in tomorrow on "THE AXE FILES."
David, thank you so much, with Rahm Emanuel tomorrow night 7:00 right here on CNN.
AXELROD: Thanks, Brooke.
BALDWIN: Stay with me. We are waiting for what could be a major breaking news drop, really,
these two files in the investigation into this possible Russian collusion, a pair of court filing deadlines hitting today involving both Paul Manafort and Michael Cohen. So stand by for that.
We will also continue coverage on other of the day's breaking news, new questions about the role of Chief of Staff John Kelly in the Mueller investigation.
BALDWIN: Now to these critical court filings due today in this whole Russia investigation.
One involves Trump's former attorney, former fixer Michael Cohen, who pleaded guilty last week to lying to Congress. The other case involves Trump's ex-campaign chairman Paul Manafort, who's accused of lying and breaching his plea deal with special counsel Robert Mueller.
So, for a refresher of these two, I have got CNN crime and justice reporter Shimon Prokupecz and CNN national political correspondent M.J. Lee.
So, Shimon, starting on Paul Manafort, remind us how we got to today.
SHIMON PROKUPECZ, CNN CRIME AND JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Right.
So, we really got to today because the special counsel is accusing him of lying.