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Mueller's Team Questioned John Kelly; Cohen Misleading Congress Brings into Question Donald Trump Jr Testimony; Flynn Cooperation with Mueller Could Implicated Kushner; Issa: Comey Refusing Some Answers Behind Closed Doors; Some Question Nauert's Qualifications as U.N. Ambassador. Aired 1:30-2p ET

Aired December 7, 2018 - 13:30   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


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[13:32:18] BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN HOST: We are following new developments unfolding in the Russia investigation, including breaking news. CNN learned that Robert Mueller questioned White House chief of staff, John Kelly, in recent months. Kelly is the highest-ranking White House official known to have provided information. The questions to Kelly focused on potential obstruction of justice. The comes as sources say Kelly is poised to resign in the coming days.

Joining me now, we have Democratic Congresswoman Jackie Speier, of California, a member of the House Intelligence Committee.

Congresswoman, thank you for being with us.

Give us your reaction to the Mueller team questioning the White House chief of staff.

REP. JACKIE SPEIER, (D), CALIFORNIA: Special Counsel Mueller has been very systematic in building blocks that sit on top of each other to make a very strong foundation for whatever case he is trying to make. It doesn't surprise me that he talked to General Kelly. It doesn't surprise me that the president wanted to fire Mueller. He does not believe in following the law. He never has. As we start to unwind his commercial dealings, his business dealings before he was president, we'll find out he violated one law after the other.

KEILAR: Sources say that the questions Kelly focused on for Kelly really had to do with potential obstruction of justice. Where else do you think the Mueller investigation is going here?

SPEIER: I think it's very clear that he is going to try and establish the link between the Trump campaign and the Russians through WikiLeaks in terms of trying to undermine the election. I think that's one component. I think obstruction of justice is another component. I think the potential for Russian engagement and financial engagement with the Trump Organization is also going to be huge. I think the fact that he brought the CFO in for interviews is going to probably be a significant component in the end.

KEILAR: I do want to shift gears because we know that court documents released show Michael Cohen misled your committee as well as the Senate Intel Committee. He admits he lied about his and the Trump family's Trump Tower Moscow proposal during the campaign. Have you gone back and looked at the transcripts of his testimony to your committee to get a better sense of where his and Donald Trump Jr's seven hours of testimony intersect, if you have concerns about misstatements?

[13:35:02] SPEIER: I haven't personally reread the transcripts yet. I know the committee staff has and they will be making recommendations to us. What I find so stunning and I sat in on virtually every interview that took place in Washington, D.C. When you swear under oath, the expectation is that you are going tell the truth. That's the one time and place that I think you are going to tell the truth. There have been a number of people that we have interviewed that have absolutely lied to us. You cannot lie to Congress. That is a felony. I think what needs to happen is they need to be prosecuted. For too long, that law has just been ignored. It's time for people to realize that you cannot lie to the authorities and you cannot lie to Congress?

KEILAR: Do you think Donald Trump Jr lied to your committee?

SPEIER: I believe he did.

KEILAR: About?

SPEIER: I don't want to go into it at this point, but I think there's at least two occasions when he lied to the committee.

KEILAR: Did this come to light to you after learning what Michael Cohen said he was dishonest about?

SPEIER: In part. But, in part, it is related to documents we were never able to subpoena because the Republicans were really the puppets of the president in terms of trying to protect him and not being the independent investigative authority that we should have been looking at the issue.

KEILAR: So you, Democrats, are taking control of the House come next month. Adam Schiff, the incoming Intel chairman, said he wants to bring in witnesses the Republicans did not bring in. You will have the ability to subpoena the documents that were not subpoenaed by Republicans. What do you want subpoena and who do you want to hear from?

SPEIER: We want to hear from I think a number of people that we have already interviewed. There were another 30 individuals we wanted to interview that were never approved by the majority. And --

(CROSSTALK)

KEILAR: Can you give us a sense of some people? I think you are able to disclose it, right?

SPEIER: They are individuals that don't necessarily come to mind in terms of being engaged in the Trump orbit. There people somewhat tangential to it. I would say all of the phone bills and phone calls made and all of the direct messages and the e-mails that were never subpoenaed need to be subpoenaed for the primary persons that were part of the Trump orbit and campaign.

KEILAR: You said you want to hear from people you heard from before? Do you want to hear from Donald Trump Jr and Jared Kushner again?

SPEIER: Absolutely.

KEILAR: In that regard, Michael Flynn is cooperating with the special counsel and has given 19 interviews at this point. He worked very closely with Jared Kushner, who testified before your committee. Do you think that there for any implications for Kushner in the fact that Flynn is cooperating with special counsel?

SPEIER: I think that there's probably some implications for Steve Bannon, Jared Kushner. I can't begin to know what went on in the 19 interviews, but the fact that he is getting virtually no jail time is pretty stunning. It would suggest he was very thorough in his interviews and must have provided the special counsel with some significant information that can be used to make the case to the American people and to Congress as to what went wrong in that election cycle.

KEILAR: Do you expect -- just to go back, you want to hear from Jared Kushner and Donald Trump Jr again. Will you? Are those folks going to be subpoenaed?

(CROSSTALK)

SPEIER: I think they will be subpoenaed if they don't come voluntarily and we will certainly subpoena their records.

KEILAR: Do you think it will be public? The hearings?

SPEIER: We will try to make as many hearings as possible public. I can't specify which ones. Certainly that's under the control of the chairman of the committee in consultation with committee. I think as many as possible will be made public.

KEILAR: Congresswoman, we appreciate you being with us.

Jackie Speier joining us from San Francisco.

SPEIER: Thanks, Brianna.

KEILAR: Thank you.

[13:39:37] Just in, one Congressman said James Comey is refusing to answer key questions as the fired FBI director testifies on the Hill. We will take you there.

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KEILAR: Right now, on Capitol Hill, former FBI Director James Comey is testifying behind closed doors to the House Judiciary and Oversight Committees. Republicans are grilling him about the investigation into Hillary Clinton's private e-mail server and Russian interference in the 2016 election. One GOP lawmaker says Comey is not answering all the questions.

Let's go to CNN congressional correspondent, Manu Raju.

And you are live where the closed-door hearing is going on. What are you hearing?

[13:44:51] MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: That's right. This has been going on since about 10:00 a.m. The question is whether or not they will get this interview done today. They are talking about bringing Comey back in for a second day of questioning, in part, because Republicans have been asking a range of questions about what happened in the 2016 campaign, the efforts to surveil that former Trump campaign advisor, Carter Page. They are not satisfied with what they are hearing. They said the Justice Department attorney, seated next to James Comey, has objected to certain questions asked, that he will not answer them because of the ongoing Mueller investigation.

Democrats have been saying it's appropriate for him not to divulge information about a key investigation that's ongoing and they made it clear that James Comey objected strongly to the president denigrating the FBI, saying it hurts the morale of the Justice Department.

But you're hearing two competing narratives coming out. Republicans say they want more information and Democrats saying this is a phishing expedition.

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REP. MARK MEADOWS, (R), NORTH CAROLINA: I can't say is that without talking about the specifics happening today. Throughout the interviews with multiple witnesses, the FBI objected to a number of questions that should have been answered. And only to find out that we were being able to get some of the answers to those that were denied during the transcribed interviews. I don't want to characterize that her objections are appropriate or recognized by Congress.

REP. JERRY NADLER, (D), NEW YORK: It's a waste of time to start with. The entire purpose of this investigation is to cast dispersion on the real investigation under Mueller. There's no evidence whatsoever of bias at the FBI or this other nonsense they are talking about.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

RAJU: So now they said he would not condition this investigation when he becomes chairman in January. This is the last month the Republicans will be in power here, which is why they are bringing in Comey now as part of the investigation into what the FBI did in 2016. They believe there have been biased actions.

And we will see how this ends. But we expect James Comey to answer questions at least talk to reporters around 4:00 this afternoon -- Brianna?

KEILAR: It is so interesting when you hear the Republicans taking aim not at Jim Comey, but at the government lawyer who is objecting presumably, as we heard, with the objective with certain information in an ongoing investigation. Right, Manu?

RAJU: That's right. That's been normal to the course of the investigation. It's interesting that this was happening next to James Comey. He is a civilian, not a member of the FBI, but the Justice Department is concerned that this information could get out, especially the transcript that will be released by tomorrow of this interview -- Brianna?

KEILAR: Manu, thanks so much.

Still ahead, President Trump making a controversial pick for U.N. ambassador. Why some Senators are called her unqualified.

The Dow is plunging yet again. Fears growing over the president's trade war with China.

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[13:52:29] KEILAR: President Trump confirming today he is picking State Department spokeswoman, Heather Nauert, to replace Nikki Haley as U.S. ambassador to the United Nations. It sets the stage for a tough confirmation with some Senators already insisting that the former FOX News host is not qualified for the job.

CNN's Elise Labott joining us now.

Critics are saying, look, she's only been in government for a year and a half, she was a journalist before that. No aspersion on journalists, but usually someone in this position has a lot of experience in foreign relations and she does not. What's the answer to that for those who back her?

ELISE LABOTT, CNN GLOBAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Unquestionably, she's not the foreign policy heavyweight they've had in years past, such as Richard Holbrooke, national security advisor, John Bolton, Madeleine Albright. But what her supporters are saying, Brianna, she's someone who defends the president's goal well, she's an effective spokesman for the State Department, and she's spent a lot of time in travels with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, been to North Korea three times at his hand. She'd be reporting to him. And that also she's a defender of human rights along the way of Nikki Haley. That could be something she would follow in her next job. I think people think she's a quick study and will be able to.

KEILAR: So she's in step with Mike Pompeo. Very important.

Important to note this position is likely going to be downgraded.

LABOTT: That's right. Initially, it was a cabinet position. That's really what Nikki Haley insisted on and what Democratic presidents often do. But it goes to show, when you have someone, like Heather Nauert, who they're looking for in a spokesman, they don't want a foreign policy heavyweight in this job. John Bolton has an outsized interest in issues at the United Nations like the International Criminal Court. This could be a way for Secretary Pompeo to assert himself at the United Nations and more on the world stage. And so I think it's a very interesting choice for the president but not necessarily what it says about Heather Nauert but what it says about what they want for this job, an effective spokesman who defends the president. And that's what Heather Nauert does.

I think one area she might have trouble in is in the kind of negotiating at the United Nations trying to get those votes. That's something Nikki Haley didn't have a lot of experience but she was a legislator and was able to bring people together. We'll have to see how she does at confirmation. That may give a hint on how she does at the U.N.

[13:55:01] KEILAR: It will certainly be interesting.

Elise Labott, thank you so much for that.

More on our breaking news, Chief of Staff John Kelly has spoken to Special Counsel Robert Mueller's team. This, as we're expecting court filings by Mueller which could shed new light on the scope and direction of the probe.

This is CNN special coverage.

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[14:00:03] ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN ANCHOR: I'm Brooke Baldwin. You're watching CNN.