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General Mark Mille Is The New Head Of The Joint Chiefs Of Staff; Special Counsel Robert Mueller Says Former Trump Campaign Chairman Paul Manafort Lied About Five Major Things; John Kelly Will Be Leaving White House At The End Of The Year; President's Former Campaign Adviser George Papadopoulos Is Out Of Prison. Aired 1-2p ET
Aired December 8, 2018 - 13:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
[13:00:13] FREDRICKA WHITFIELD, CNN ANCHOR: All right. Hello again, everyone. Thank you for being with me. I'm Fredricka Whitfield.
All right. We are following major revelations in the Russia investigation. Federal prosecutors are implicating the President of the United States in two federal crimes during the 2016 Presidential campaign. This, as Mueller says former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort lied about five major things, including how long he stayed in touch with the White House indicating communication was going as recently as this year.
And we are waiting to see transcripts from the former FBI director James Comey's testimony on Capitol Hill yesterday about the FBI's actions leading up to the 2016 election. Although Comey says they primarily talked about Hillary Clinton and her emails. The transcript's expected today.
But first, let's start with the President being implicated in two crimes. Prosecutors say former attorney and fixer Michael Cohen acted at the direction of Donald Trump when he committed campaign finance violations for hush money payment to former playboy model Karen McDougal and adult film star Stormy Daniels.
Prosecutors write, I'm quoting now, "while many Americans who desire the particular outcome to the elections knocked on doors, toiled at phone banked or found other number of legal ways to make their voices heard, Cohen sought to influence the election from the shadows." And the filing goes on to say in particular, as Cohen himself has now admitted with respect to both payments, he acted in coordination with and at the direction of individual one which we now know is President Trump.
Let's get started with CNN's Sara Murray with more on the filings.
So what else can you tell us?
SARA MURRAY, CNN POLITICS REPORTER: Well, let's start with the special counsel's filing. Because, you know, Cohen is really facing a double whammy. And the special counsel was mainly dealing with the fact that Cohen lied to Congress when he was talking about the Trump tower Moscow project. And what they tell you is that, look, Michael Cohen was very
cooperative. The fact he provided information to the special counsel on this Moscow project, the fact that it went way longer he originally said. The fact that he kept President Trump apprised of his communications with the Russian government. That tells you that the special counsel's team looks at the Moscow projects as key to their investigation and as part of their broader question about whether there was any kind of collusion between members of the Trump's orbit and members of the Russian nationals.
The other thing the Michael Cohen cooperation with the special counsel reveals is there was another Russian national who reached out to Cohen in November of 2015 offering synergy on a government level, whatever that means. This person actually tried to arrange a meeting between then candidate Trump and Russian president Vladimir Putin.
Now, it says Cohen didn't take him up on this offer. But this is yet another example of the Russians trying to make inroads with another member of Donald Trump's inner circle, just like it did when it came to Michael Flynn, just like they did when it came to George Papadopoulos, just like they did when it came to them try to set up the meeting with Donald Trump Jr., the now infamous meeting in Trump tower.
Now, the other thing that we learned from the special counsel is that Michael Cohen was still in touch with the White House as of this year although it does not say exactly with who.
Now, if you move on to the sentencing memo we got from the southern district of New York, this one was much harsher on Cohen. They said that he deserves to serve substantial jail time. And it wasn't just about his lies, it was also about a number of financial crimes, said he was motivated by greed.
But the top line in this Cohen filing is it's the first time we have seen prosecutors say well Michael Cohen said in court, which is it was Donald Trump, then a candidate, now the President who directed these hush money payments to women that he was actually involved in some way implicated in what was the campaign finance crime.
WHITFIELD: Sara Murray, thank you so much.
All right. So what does the White House think about all this? If you ask President Trump, he is free and clear. The President tweeting this morning after two years and millions of pages of documents at a cost of over $30 million, no collusion.
Right now, the President is on his way to Philadelphia for the army/Navy football game, a tradition among Presidents. And that's where our White House correspondent Sarah Westwood joins me now.
All right. So Sarah, today is a nice distraction for the President. But he did tweet about the matter this morning.
SARAH WESTWOOD, CNN WHITE HOUSE REPORTER: That's right, Fred. The White House may certainly be hoping this is a distraction. The President has been active on twitter this morning going after special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation a day after we learned new details about Mueller's progress from those court filings.
He has been highlighting the lack of Russian collusion related details in those filings arguing the filings vindicate him and sort of ignoring the fact that prosecutors did highlight the President's involvement in a campaign finance violation.
Now the President has also been changing the subject with a series of personnel announcements. The latest one coming this morning ahead of his attendance at the Army/Navy game, he announced that he will be nominating General Mark Mille of the army to serve as the new chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff to replace outgoing chairman general Joseph Dunford. And that came just one day after the President announced his new attorney general pick, William Barr, his new pick for United Nations ambassador Heather Nauert. And those personnel changes coming against the backdraft of renewed speculations about whether his chief of staff John Kelly will remain in the west wing for long.
So as the President becomes the 10th sitting president to attend the Army/Navy game as the tradition, there is a lot of drama going back in Washington, Fred.
[13:05:53] WHITFIELD: To say the very least. So can you elaborate further on what the White House is saying about the Mueller investigation and what the filings say about correspondents between White House officials and Paul Manafort?
WESTWOOD: Well, Fred, essentially the White House is arguing that, especially Cohen is not a reliable witness for prosecutors, that he can't be trusted, and they are pointing out the fact in Manafort's case, the details that the special counsel is reviewing have to do with lobbying violations. Nothing to do with Trump or the White House.
Press secretary Sarah Sanders said in a statement the government's filing in Mr. Manafort's case says absolutely nothing about the President. It says even less about the collusion and is devoted almost entirely to lobbying related issues. Once again, the media is trying to create a story where there isn't one.
And the White House also attacked Cohen's credibility with press secretary Sarah Sanders saying in another statement the government's filings in Mr. Cohen's case tell us a value that wasn't already know. Mr. Cohen has repeatedly lied and as the prosecution has pointed out to the court, Mr. Cohen is no hero.
Now, as has been the case with other Trump associates who have been caught up in the Mueller probe, the White House has repeatedly tried to distance the President from the people implicated, even though Paul Manafort was the campaign chairman and Mr. Cohen, Fred, a close lawyer and fixer for the President. So hard to distance him from those two characters.
WHITFIELD: All right. Sarah Westwood, thank you so much. All right. Joining me right now to discuss, congressional reporter
for the "Washington Post" and CNN political analyst Karoun Demirjian and attorney general and legal affairs commentator and CNN legal analyst Areva Martin. Good to see you both.
So Areva, you first. The White House or the President tried to discredit, you know, these defendants in a way of distancing itself. How helpful is that when these are people who were intimately involved in the President's orbit before these charges came?
AREVA MARTIN, CNN LEGAL CONTRIBUTOR: Yes. I think, Fred, you know, those die-hard supporters of President Trump, his base that he is often playing to, I think, you know, the message the President is putting out, it will resonate with his base. They have heard it before. No collusion. This say hoax. This is a witch hunt. So I think it's the same theme the President plays over and over again which his base does receive very well.
But to anyone that's objective, to anyone that's willing to, you know, look at the facts and listen to what happened, yesterday in federal court, it's a very different story. For the first time we saw federal prosecutors, not Michael Cohen who made these same statements about the campaign finance violations in court himself. So not out of the mouth of Michael Cohen who the President can just, you know, discredit. But from his own department of justice, we heard and saw in these filings that the President is implicated in two violations -- campaign finance violations. And you can't dismiss that. No matter how hard the President tries to spin that, the reality is this President has been implicated in federal court for two felony violations. That is substantial. That's shocking news.
And I would expect, and I think the country would expect, to see GOP congressional leaders, senators, speaking out about the seriousness of these allegations. But so far, crickets from the GOP. They are missing in action on a very important filing.
So Karoun, right now, I mean, radio silence. Nothing coming from GOP leadership on this. The President, you know, defending himself saying -- he tweeted this morning this, you know, filing totally clears him. But it does anything but, right? I mean, there is an association between he and these main players. There are redacted names. And we also know this really is just sentencing documents from Mueller. There's so much more.
KAROUN DEMIRJIAN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Right. Anything that would be information that they can use up the chain wouldn't be in the sentencing document because that's the stuff that would be helpful for latter stages of the investigation and future sentencing documents.
But look, this is the President's modus operandi. Every time he is not directly accused of Russian collusion in any sort of court filings, which is no court filing yet, he tries to spin in some sort of major exoneration. The fact that they are coming closer and closer to him, this time he has implicated into other sorts of crimes though, he seems to discount. And it's not surprising GOP has not stood up and started on him over this because this is often how they operate. I'm sure that you will see certain Republicans be asked about these filings on the Sunday shows and those who are forced to answer will probably say, well, this is not a good thing but then repeat the point about how the main focus of the Mueller probe was just to find out if there's coordination with Russia hasn't been done yet.
There is this rallying around the President because he is still the leader of the party that I don't see as actually going to dissipate unless you actually see Mueller come up with what the President says isn't there, which is some sort of indication that there was direct coordination, collaboration, between his campaign and Russian officials. We aren't at that point of seeing that yet. And until we get there, it's going to be difficult to break this line of defense that the GOP has formed around the President.
[13:11:13] WHITFIELD: We continue to look at live pictures as we are all talking, of air force one and joint base Andrews. The President will be making his way from Washington D.C. area heading to Philadelphia, where the U.S./Army Navy game is going to be under way after he does the coin toss.
So Areva, you know, Mueller writes that, you know, Cohen provided the special counsel useful information, you know, on Russia related matters core to its investigation. What do you interpret that to mean?
MARTIN: Well, very clearly, from the special counsel's filing, Fred, they consider Michael Cohen to be very important. They consider him to be someone who provided useful information with respect to the Russian meddling in the 2016 election. And I believe from what we saw from Mueller there are more people that are going to be either already under investigation or will be the subject of investigation as a result of the information that Michael Cohen provided.
We saw the opposite from the filing in the southern district of New York. The prosecutor in that case were more harsh. They were very critical of Michael Chen, talked about, you know, his motivation being greed. Talked about the major crimes that he committed. And although they ultimately got to the same conclusion that as a cooperating witness, you know, his testimony, his cooperate should be taken into consideration with respect to sentencing, they were harsh as it relates to their interactions and said on some of the other investigations that were going on in New York, he wasn't as helpful. Some of those investigations related to the Trump organization related to, you know, financial issue and the Trump family. Michael Cohen apparently did not provide the kind of cooperation that he did with the special counsel and his investigation primarily focused on Russian interference in our elections.
WHITFIELD: And Karoun, this is very strategic, isn't in behalf of the Mueller team, I mean, to release drips of information even in a sentencing, you know, document filing like this, there's information that has to be, you know, shared so that sentences can be considered. Yet at the same time, it does sense some smoke signals, does it not, about where the investigation might go or perhaps it makes it more ominous in terms of where is it going.
DEMIRJIAN: Yes. I mean, look. It's not just Cohen that we have seen violence come out recently. We saw the special counsel's office saying how cooperative Flynn has been. And you can kind of connect the dots between where these characters were and what role they played both in terms of their personal dealings with Trump, how they were working with Trump before he was president, what role they played in the campaign, what role after the campaign/ And all these things come together. And so, with each step, you potentially implicate other people.
If we are seeing these figures who are fairly serious figures in the Trump orbit be sentenced at this point, it doesn't mean that the probe is going to be other tomorrow. It means that they basically had something to trade up on which means it is going to be somebody likely closer to the President that is going to be implicated in the next round.
And so, yes, it's a kind of creeping circle that grows closer in towards the President's direct orbit and inner circle, but how close it gets is still an open question because we are not seeing every piece of information the investigators have. We are not seeing every single line of every filing yet either. And until we do, we won't have the full picture.
WHITFIELD: All right. Karoun Demirjian, Areva Martin, good to see you ladies. Thank you.
MARTIN: Thanks, Fred.
DEMIRJIAN: Thank you.
WHITFIELD: All right. Coming up next, what the special counsel says about Paul Manafort's lies including lying about contacts with the Trump administration.
And later, the investigation into election fraud in North Carolina and the possibility that there could be calls for a new election there.
[13:19:03] WHITFIELD: The special counsel says there's a lot, a lot of line rather going on in the Russian investigation. We are getting the specifics of the lies that led to the unraveling of a plea deal for President Trump's former campaign chairman Paul Manafort. Robert Mueller says Manafort lied about five major issues after agreeing to cooperate, including his contact with the Trump administration officials as recently as this spring.
With me now is CNN politics reporter Jeremy Herb and political reporter Daniel Lippman. Good to see you both.
So Jeremy, you first, so specifics on the kind of lying that may have been taking place in this sentencing document.
JEREMY HERB, CNN POLITICS REPORTER: Yes, that's right, Fred. The Mueller document lays out five separate lies that he accuses Paul Manafort of committing after agreeing to cooperate with the special counsel earlier this year.
Among the most significant, the interactions with Konstantin Kilimnik who is a Russian national that prosecutors have said has ties to Russian intelligence services. He is also close to Manafort and the two of them were involved in, you know, what the prosecutor said was witness tampering earlier this year, which eventually sent Manafort to prison before he was convicted of charges.
In addition to that, we have seen the accusations that Manafort lied about his contacts with White House and administration officials. Mueller says that there are multiple contacts that Manafort had with officials in the administration including in February and in May of 2018. And Mueller has the text messages he says that show these engagements happening. Now what we don't know is who Manafort was talking to and why. And more importantly, why did he lie about those contacts to the special counsel.
[13:20:53] WHITFIELD: Right.
And Daniel, I mean, lying says, you know, you just don't want to share perhaps the context of the discussion. But I mean what could they possibly have been talking about, Manafort and the White House? Any White House officials? Was it, you know, potentially this is what they asked me, this is what I told them, this is the story. I mean, what do you think?
DANIEL LIPPMAN, REPORTER/CO-AUTHOR OF PLAYBOOK, POLITICO: It is almost like they were trying to get on the same page. And especially for someone who just got convicted of ten felonies or pled guilty to some of them, the fact he continued to lie to Mueller's folks is just extraordinary. Does he not realize the amount of prosecutorial firepower? This is the best in the business going against, you know, the Trump team. And so you could see a scenario where, you know, Manafort reached out to White House officials when he knows that certain members of this people are going to be witnesses against him or, you know, talk about their interactions with him. And so, if they say -- if he goes to them and says, well, don't say I talked to you, you know, you can see that happening.
WHITFIELD: And Jeremy, you know, are these contacts between the White House and Manafort, part of a larger pattern perhaps?
HERB: Well, it's interesting. This wasn't the only contacts with White House officials that we learned about yesterday. In the Michael Cohen filing, there's also a separate note that Cohen, part of his cooperation with the Mueller team, was that he had described contacts that he had among officials close to the White House in 2017 and 2018. Again, we don't know what that is getting at and what Mueller is getting at. But you know, the fact this was in both filings suggest there probably is something still there involving these contacts with some of the targets of the Mueller probe.
WHITFIELD: All right, Daniel and Jeremy, thanks so much. I'm going to leave there for now. We have got this breaking news. ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.
WHITFIELD: Particularly tumultuous times this White House not just dealing with the sentencing documents but now this information into us that President Trump says chief of staff John Kelly will leave at the end of the year.
CNN's Boris Sanchez is at the White House for us. These comments coming before the President is to board air force one there.
BORIS SANCHEZ, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Fred. The President departing the White House just now on his ways to Andrews air force base to depart on air force one headed to Philadelphia to the Army/Navy game.
The President began his comments to the press talking about heading to that game. He's going to flip the coin there. He also talked about Mark Mille, his new pick to lead the Joint Chiefs of Staff which he announced this morning on twitter.
Then he answered some questions from the press about the Russia investigation. The President was asked point-blanc if he directed Michael Cohen to make payments to Stormy Daniels and Karen McDougal. Remember that in the special filing yesterday by the special counsel, it reveals individual one told Michael Cohen to effectively pay off these women as part of the 2016 campaign to keep a sex scandal from preventing President Trump to get to the White House. Any way you read that filing, individual one is clearly President Trump. But he denies ever having directed Michael Cohen to do that. Something that could potentially be a felony.
After that, I asked the President specifically if he was aware Paul Manafort was still having conversations with administration officials as recently as May. He ignored my question, Fred, and moved on. That is another revelation coming from the filing by the Robert Mueller yesterday that Manafort as recently as May while he was under indictment was still communicating with the senior administration officials.
And lastly, as you noted, the President making the announcement as we've been speculating in recent weeks that chief of staff John Kelly will be departing at the end of the year. He did not state who his successor will be. But sources here at the White House have indicate that the President is likely going to select Nick Ayers. He is currently the vice President's chief of staff -- Fred.
WHITFIELD: OK. And so, "Politico" Daniel Lippman, I want to bring you back in to the equation here as you are hearing this reporting from Boris. While the President didn't make any announcements on who might be next, but there's a suspicion it might be the vice president's chief of staff Nick Ayers. What do you make of this potentially at the end of this year that the President says John Kelly is out?
[13:25:23] LIPPMAN: Yes, just remember that this is an administration -- WHITFIELD: And by the way, we are looking at marine one heading to
Andrews air force base before the Presidents gets off the Marine one and then gets on air force one. So go ahead.
LIPPMAN: Yes, there was promising that John Kelly would be here until 2020. And last I checked, next year is 2019. I think there were a lot of people that were concerned that the relationship between Trump and Kelly had really frayed over the last few months. And they view Nick Ayers as a good choice because he has sharp political instincts. He is a guy who can lead Trump into the, you know, next year which is going to be a huge fight with Democrats in control of Congress. But we should say that there are a number of White House colleagues who might quit because of Ayers. He doesn't have that many internal, you know, friends in the building except for people like Jared and Ivanka and Mike Pence. So, he has friends that matter but some of his White House colleagues view him as sharp elbow.
WHITFIELD: Right. I was going to say in Trump's world that really may be the only thing that matters. That you know, he has an affinity for the person and that his daughter and son-in-law also endorsed him.
So let's listen now to President Trump. This is at the White House before he got on to marine one which you just saw there. Let's listen in.
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I'm going now to the Army/Navy game. I think we are going to flip a coin. And I know both teams are going to do great.
General Mark Mille as you know was just appointed the head of the Joint Chiefs of Staff to be determined date a little bit later in the year. They usually quite a bit (INAUDIBLE) for a lot of reasons. Mark Mille, he is a great gentleman. He is a great patriot. He is a great soldier. And I look forward to that.
On the Mueller situation, we are very happy with what we are reading because there was no collusion whatsoever. There never has been. The last thing, I wanted is help from Russia on the campaign. You should ask Hillary Clinton about Russia because she financed the fake dossier which I understand they tried to get some information and help from Russia. But you ought to ask them about that. Very one-sided situation. But I think it's all turning around very nicely. But as far as the reports we see according to everybody I have spoken to, I have not read it. There's absolutely no collusion which is very important.
TRUMP: Go ahead. Yes, go ahead.
TRUMP: No, no, no.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: John Kelly --
TRUMP: Say it.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Does John Kelly still have a job?
TRUMP: John Kelly will be leaving. I don't know if I can say retiring, but he is a great guy. John Kelly will be leaving at the end of the year. We will be announcing who will be taking John's place. It might be on an interim basis. I will be announcing that over the next day or two. But John will be leaving at the end of the year. He has been with me almost two years now as you know between the two positions. So we will probably going to see him in a little while. But John Kelly -- ready, are you ready? So John Kelly will be leaving towards the end of the year, at the end of the year. And I appreciate his service very much. Thank you. Thank you all.
WHITFIELD: Very short there.
Boris Sanchez at the White House there. So the President, you know, addressing a few things. Like you mentioned his, you know, the chair of the joint chiefs. Mueller actually saying he is happy about the way things are going. The way we are reading it. It's turning around very nicely. But that, you know, he really was kind of bearing the lead on that with his chief of staff who is on his way out, John Kelly. It had been reported, Boris, that they hadn't been speaking recently. That the relationship was rather tenuous. What are your sources telling you about their relationship and how it has crumbled or how this has led to -- how their relationship has led to this demise that is leaving?
SANCHEZ: Well, Fred, it's gone through a number of tasks. As was noted earlier, John Kelly had been asked to stay on as chief of staff through 2020. Now it appears he is going to be leaving before the end of the year.
As you recall, when he first came in, he was replacing Reince Priebus who many in the administration felt was too lax on the President and didn't do enough to try to rein in who was seeing the President and when. There was sort of an open door to the oval office and many felt that contributed to what was perceived as chaos within the White House.
When chief of staff Kelly came in, he installed new rules about who could see the President and when. He tried to tamp down on leaks by preventing staffers from taking their cell phones into certain parts of the White House. They would have to leave them in lockers and so forth.
But ultimately, Kelly faced a number of controversies himself with comments that he made about people enrolled in DACA as well as the controversial phone call the President had with the family of sergeant David Thompson. Recalled that he passed away in Niger and there was a dispute between his family and the President over specifically what was said. And ultimately, John Kelly tried to defend the President. That got him in hot water as well.
Over time what we have seen is essentially a reversion to that sort of chaos that we saw early on in the administration where John Kelly's power was reduced within the administration. There were reports of him having shouting matches with the national security adviser John Bolton and continuously threatening to resign a number of times.
Ultimately, it appears their relationship frayed and now John Kelly is on the way out. Nick Ayers is -- as I noted previously, who many here at the White House have pointed to as a potential successor. There is some friction between he and others within the administration. He really built rapport with the President through lunches that the President would have with vice President Mike Pence.
Sources tell CNN at one specific lunch late last year, the President invited Ayers and John Kelly in to be sort of a team of people having lunch and that continued throughout and that's how Ayers continued to build a rapport with the President.
Ayers, of course, is a very distinguished political background, having worked for a number of prominent Republicans including Sonny Perdue of Georgia. He also work for the Republican governors association. He brings a pedigree of political awareness that many have complained to the President John Kelly does not have. That will likely serve the President going into 2020 if he, in fact, does replace the current chief of staff, Fred.
[13:32:13] WHITFIELD: All right.
I also want to bring into the conversation "RELIABLE SOURCES" anchor Brian Stelter.
So Brian, the President, you know, boarding air force one there. He is on the way to Philadelphia for the Army/Navy game where he will be, you know, doing the coin toss. This is his opportunity also to change the subject. While he did address Mueller, he also dismissed it as you know it's turning around nicely. He doesn't seemed threatened all by it. But now that he has mentioned his chief of staff who has been with him for a couple of years now, close to a couple of years now. John Kelly on the way out this year. What signals is the President sending?
BRIAN STELTER, CNN SENIOR MEDIA CORRESPONDENT: I think he's trying to change the subject, but he is changing something from one bad story to another bad story. This amount of turmoil is never good for any White House. And even if the President enjoys drama and infighting and he enjoys this kind of turmoil and turnover, it's not good for the country than if it might good for the President or he might think it is good in the short term.
Look, I think the big headline here is that John Kelly was expected to stay on until 2020. That's what Trump said he wanted. He wanted the chief of staff to stay on for a while longer. All of a sudden, that's not happening anymore.
And our colleague Kaitlan Collins reporting was spot on. She said yesterday morning this was going to happen soon. The question is how soon. Collins said in the coming days we would see John Kelly leaving and sure enough, here we are with a confirmation from the president. Two details from Kaitlan's reporting I think were really important.
First was that, she said Kelly and Trump had stopped speaking in recent days. The two men were no longer speaking. Obviously, you can't be the chief of staff if you are not speaking to the boss. And number two, Kaitlan pointed out on twitter that Trump is allowing Kelly a graceful exit. That is pretty rare in the trump administration. Maybe at some point down the line Kelly will be called dumb as rocks or whatever she said about Tillerson yesterday. But for now at least trump is trying --.
WHITFIELD: It depends on what he says publicly, right?
STELTER: Exactly, right.
For the moment, at least, they are departing on positive terms so that might be a positive sign. But overall, it's never positive to see this much turnover in a White House. It is rare to see another chief of staff change so soon in the first term of the presidency.
WHITFIELD: OK. Political reporter Daniel Lippman also back with us.
So Daniel, what message does this send that this relationship that at first between John Kelly and the President, you know, seems so great, and now, you know, no speaking terms and an exit?
LIPPMAN: Yes, it's kind of a reminder what people have told me which is, you know, working for the President almost never leads to good things for you. And so, while it may be great to have this big White House job or be the secretary of state, inevitably things turn on a coin. And things go south. And that's what we see with almost every person that has worked for Trump.
Paul Manafort, he, you know, has ten felonies no. Michael Cohen, he is facing, you know, three to four years in jail. Reince Priebus, you know, his reputation, you know, took a little bit of a hit when he was chief of staff.
[13:35:13] WHITFIELD: With that precedence then, you wonder why anyone would now say yes to an opportunity.
LIPPMAN: It's hard to just get a job in the White House -- or it's hard to find people in the White House who would face such a harsh working environment. And so that's just the case with Trump world. Now it's very tough to attract top talent. Nick Ayers is kind of the only one left standing who would want that job and is trusted by the family.
WHITFIELD: So what do you know about Nick Ayers and why he would? I mean, we don't know he said yes. But you know, that the President did say it. We know reportedly that he would likely be the one. But then why would Nick want that job?
LIPPMAN: I think Nick is a very ambitious person. And he is also built a rapport with Mike Pence that has led him to this point. And he feels - he is a loyal Republican. And so he feels he can make a difference. And he might be the most successful chief yet. We don't know. But it also depends on what his priorities are.
He doesn't have a huge background in policy. And so, that's a question some Republicans are wondering if he wants to build some policy, wins next year with a Democratic House. Does Nick have those relationships on the Democratic side of the aisle? Probably not.
And Brian, you have something more to add on John Kelly?
STELTER: Yes. I think it's interesting to think back four months ago, the end of July, that is when Kelly announced to his entire senior staff that the President asked him to stay on through 2020 and that he agreed to stay on through 2020. Because back in over the summer, it was one of these periods of rumors that Kelly was about to leave, you know, there had been rumors about that all along the time of Kelly's tenure as chief of staff.
WHITFIELD: Yes. There had been like some really loud exchanges that precipitated that kind of brand.
STELTER: Yes. But back then, at least at the end of July, Kelly said yes, I'm going to stay on through 202. The President might have asked me to stay even longer but I'm committing through 2020. So you have to wonder what has led to this blowup now. Well, one answer may be our colleague's reporting yesterday about Mueller, about the fact that Kelly did speak to the Robert Mueller investigators who were looking into obstruction issues - obstruction of justice by the President. That could be one of many factors. But what we know from our colleague Kaitlan Collins is that the two men did stop speaking recently. And obviously, the chief of staff job is one of the most important unelected roles in the United States. He has to decide who goes in, who goes out. So for the two men not to be on speaking terms means this was going to have to come to an end. And it will be interesting to hear Kelly's version of events because right now Trump is being relatively kind to Kelly on the way out.
WHITFIELD: Right. And everyone always seems to be eventually talk - I mean, Rex Tillerson. It may take a few months, but they eventually express themselves.
STELTER: I always think back to what Reince Priebus said, right. Reince Preibus, the first chief of staff, he famously said to an author, whatever you have heard, whatever you think, it's always worse. It was 50 times even wilder than you can imagine.
So Kelly tried to bring order. Kelly tried to bring some sort of structure. Some folks thought of Kelly as an adult trying to supervise. But we started the year, Fred, with the book "Fire and Fury," Michael Wolfe's book. That was the first week of January. All about the chaos in the White House. And here we are now in December at the end of the year once again seeing a period of turmoil.
WHITFIELD: Playing it out now in real time.
OK, Brian, Boris, and Daniel, thank you so much. As air force there one takes off on the way to Philadelphia. The
President will be doing the coin toss there at the Army/Navy game.
We have much more straight ahead after this.
[13:43:24] WHITFIELD: Welcome back.
The President's former campaign adviser George Papadopoulos is out of prison and he is speaking at a Republican event in Washington right now called the American priority conference. He was released on Friday after serving 12 days of his 14-day sentence for lying to investigators about his contact with individuals tied to Russia during the 2016 campaign. And his first tweet after being released, he thanked patriots for supporting his cause.
I want to bring in Caroline Polisi, she is a criminal defense attorney and represents George Papadopoulos in the Russia investigation. Good to see you.
CAROLINE POLISI, CRIMINAL DEFENSE ATTORNEY: Hi, Fred. Thanks for having me.
WHITFIELD: So he is released from jail, 24 hours later, his first order of business is a speaking engagement. Why?
POLISI: Well, George has not been shy throughout this entire investigation. Some people love him. Some people hate him for it. But look, he is just looking to move on with his life and figure out a way to become a contributing member to society. He has a book coming out. He very much wants to get his story out there. You know, it's a different tact that most of the subjects of this investigation have taken. But he is really an open book at this point.
WHITFIELD: So has his story, has his reflection on everything changed at all after serving, you know, 12 out of the 14 days of his sentence?
POLISI: You know, he definitely had an OK time in prison. He did tell me it was somewhat boring. He did have a lot of time to reflect. I think he is interested now in really clearing his name. You know, I would just note that the judge at sentencing even himself noted that George had no desire to undermine the United States of America. He had no improper context while he was on the campaign. I think he wants to sort of rehabilitate his image.
[13:45:14] WHITFIELD: So what is the message? I mean, how does he do that, you know? What's the story that will help rehabilitate his image?
POLISI: Well, I think, for one thing, he is trying to do that there today. He is trying to make it known that, you know, he has been nothing but a patriot throughout this entire ordeal. This has been really hard on him, Fred, you know. And he still has a year of probation to serve. He is on supervised release. We have - we just filed a motion to dismiss the case that the DNC brought against him in a multitude of other defendants in the southern district of New York. That's a civil Rico case charging him with a sort of a massive conspiracy. So he has got a lot of - he is an uphill battle to go from here on out.
WHITFIELD: All right. Caroline Polisi, thank you so much. Good to see you.
POLISI: Thanks, for having me.
WHITFIELD: And we will be right back.
[13:50:22] WHITFIELD: All right. New memos from the Mueller investigation are taking things to a whole new level implicating the President himself in two federal crimes during his 2016 campaign. So the question is, can you indict a sitting President?
And joining me right now Avery Friedman, a civil rights attorney and law professor and criminal defense attorney Richard Herman. Good to see you both.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Good to see you, Fredricka.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Thanks, Fred.
WHITFIELD: So before I ask you about, you know, whether you can indict a sitting President, I do have to ask you a follow-up on the news that just has, you know, come to our attention. While we know that the chief of staff, John Kelly, talked to the Mueller team, we have learned this, as a result of, you know, the sentencing filings, we are also now hearing from the President of the United States, just about ten minutes ago that John Kelly is on his way out.
So Avery, you know, what does this signal to you?
AVERY FRIEDMAN, CIVIL RIGHTS ATTORNEY: It signals a lot. We have several things. One of the things that strikes you about the memoranda that we saw yesterday in federal court, and the remark -- confirmation that John Kelly is on his way out, is that the redactions tell us there is a lot more.
Kelly is going to be part of what we don't know. So at the end of the line, while a lot of people are thinking this is the end of the Mueller investigation, in my opinion, John Kelly has a lot to say, the redactions have a lot to say. I believe that the Mueller investigation is far from over. And John Kelly will actually be a part of that.
WHITFIELD: So Richard, John Kelly leaving by the end of the year, you see a connection to his testimony to the Mueller team and the investigation overall?
RICHARD HERMAN, CRIMINAL DEFENSE ATTORNEY: They are not even talking, I understand, the President and John Kelly.
WHITFIELD: That's true. Our Kaitlan Collins reported that yesterday.
HERMAN: Yes. I mean, it is just insanity going on in the White House. But of significance on the filings yesterday, Fred, was that southern district pre-sentence memoranda, that alone in and of itself vaporized the ability for Michael Cohen to be used as a witness by Mueller or anybody. When you lie during the cooperation period, Fred, your testimony is useless and the southern district said he withheld information, he is not credible, no reduction, slam in. So he is done. Mueller can't use him for anything.
FRIEDMAN: I don't agree.
WHITFIELD: But it has been concluded, you know, by the filings that the President is being implicated in two, you know, felony crimes here.
WHITFIELD: So then it, you know, promotes the question of, you know, while there is the justice department policy that says a sitting President cannot be indicted, does that mean this President could be implicated in these crimes and nothing could be done besides, you know, Congress impeaching, but then nothing in terms of being held accountable of crimes -- Avery?
FRIEDMAN: Well, while he serves as President, it is the policy of the department of justice, not to seek indictment. That doesn't set him free until, you know, at least during his term, he can't be. He is not Scott-free to use President Trump's language, after he's completed his service as President.
But at the end of the day, I think the timing is very important on this. While there is, it is clear, based on the memoranda that were filed yesterday, that the President is now a federal unindicted co- conspirator, in a federal crime. Two federal crimes. That's very, very significant. In the history of American law, you look at Teapot Dome, you look at Watergate, this is a chapter that from a legal perspective is a profound one, and while he may escape prosecution during his term as the President, he is not going to escape prosecution for the rest of his life.
WHITFIELD: So Richard, that same memo says a federal civil officer is immune from prosecution while in office, and then I'm just reading the policy, in 1973, the department concluded that the indictment or criminal prosecution of a sitting President would in permissively, sorry, undermine the capacity of the executive branch to perform its constitutionally assigned functions.
HERMAN: That's right.
WHITFIELD: The, policy -- this is not law. This is policy, which means policy can be rewritten or policy can be honored. So Richard, what do you see, potentially happening here?
HERMAN: Right, Fred. You are right on. That policy is not definitive. And the answer to that question will be determined by the U.S. Supreme Court. They are the only body that can interpret the constitution on this issue. And it has never been tested there before. And the issue of whether or not the distraction factor is sufficient -- look, Bill Clinton used that in 1997 and the Supreme Court ruled no, you have to participate in a civil litigation, so that kind of fell, but the ultimate issue is Kavanaugh is going to say the ultimate authority of the department of justice resides in the President, therefore a President can't prosecute himself. That's where it is going, Fred, unfortunately, at least in my opinion.
WHITFIELD: OK, Avery, Richard, thank you so much. Thanks for being flexible.
FRIEDMAN: Of course.
WHITFIELD: I appreciate it.
All right. We will have much more right after this.