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Prosecutors Implicate Trump in Two Crimes in 2016 Campaign; Top Democrats Raise Prospect of Impeachment and Jail Time for President Trump; Comey: Impeachment would "Let the Country Off the Hook"; Futures Point Slightly Lower Amid Trade Tension. Aired 9-9:30a ET

Aired December 10, 2018 - 09:00   ET

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


[09:00:00] CAMEROTA: But on that note, "CNN NEWSROOM" begins right now.

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning. I'm Jim Sciutto in New York. Poppy is off today.

The Mueller findings are coming in. Are the walls closing in? For the first time since taking office the president is now directly tied to alleged federal crime.

Here is what we know. Prosecutors say that President Trump directed his former fixer, Michael Cohen, to make illegal hush money payments to two women, claiming they had affairs with then candidate Trump.

We also know in 2015 Cohen spoke with a Russian national who offered him government-level political synergy, that is a quote. Cohen turned that meeting down because he already had another Russian contact under way. Cohen also lied about negotiations to build a Trump Tower in Moscow, those negotiations continuing well into the 2016 campaign.

Then there is Paul Manafort. We now know that the former campaign manager, chairman of the Trump campaign, lied about his contact with the White House including contact made after he was indicted. Manafort also lied about contacts with Russians tied to Moscow's military intelligence agency, the same agency that led the interference in the 2016 campaign.

And then there is this. A stunning "Washington Post" report. In all, Russians interacted with at least 14 Trump associates during the campaign and the transition.

So in the middle of this legal nightmare you've got to ask yourself, who would want to be chief of staff in this administration?

John Kelly's days are now numbered, we know that. And so are apparently the list of candidates still up for the gig.

We begin with Abby Phillip at the White House.

Abby, we've heard a lot of names and then we've heard many of the people on that list immediately take themselves out of the running. Is there anybody that we know that is credibly interested in taking this job?

ABBY PHILLIP, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: That's exactly right, Jim. On Saturday, President Trump said that he expected to announce a replacement in the coming days but his top candidate for the job, the vice president's chief of staff, Nick Ayers, took himself out of the running in a stunning development, in something that President Trump probably thought was a done deal. Now he is back to the drawing board, looking at some names of people who, frankly, we've heard in the past come up in conversations about chief of staff. But the problem is, as you pointed out, many of them are sending strong signals right now that they don't even want the job.

Let's talk about a few of those. Mark Meadows, the Freedom Caucus chairman, is someone who's very close to this White House. He's a congressman, a Republican from North Carolina. He appears to be someone whose name is being floated around right now. He might be one of the few people that we are hearing about so far who would be interested in actually taking the job. Clearly Republicans are going to be in the minority of Congress come next year. So a White House chief of staff role would certainly be a more exciting and powerful place to be here in Washington.

But there are others, Steve Mnuchin, the Treasury secretary whose name has come up. But we've heard from sources that he's not interested in the job. He feels like he can serve President Trump better in the post that he currently has. And then there is Mick Mulvaney, the Office of Management and Budget director, who has been farmed out to all kinds of different roles in this government over the last two years. But sources close to Mulvaney are also telling us he wants to stay where he is at OMB, continuing to help manage the operations of the federal government from that position.

So President Trump is in a bit of a bind right now. And our sources are telling us this is very, very fluid. No decisions have been made. And frankly, President Trump hadn't really thought past Nick Ayers as his top pick and will now have to go through this top process of evaluating all these potential candidates -- Jim.

SCIUTTO: You'd think it's a plum assignment but difficult to fill at this point.

Abby Phillip, at the White House, thanks very much.

Let's take a moment here because the ongoing investigation of this president is long -- it has been long and at times confusing. But the filings out Friday were significant. To explain that, let's focus on one key revelation and one key lie.

Following the findings, the president tweeted, quote, "Totally clears the president. Thank you." His lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, tweeted, quote, "Fake news coverage can't change the reality that Mueller's late Friday dump demonstrates yet again no evidence connected to the president," end quote.

In fact both statements are false. Read the filing. It says, and I'm quoting here, that, regarding payments of hush money to two women during the campaign, quote, "As Cohen himself has now admitted with respect to both payments, he acted in coordination with and at the direction of Individual 1."

Individual 1 is the president. And therefore Cohen is testifying that the president directed him to allegedly break campaign finance law with those payments. That allegation, of course, directly implicates the president.

[09:05:01] And the testimony of the president's long-time lawyer and fixer, as well as any other documents, correspondence, even recordings he may have to substantiate the claim would be evidence directly implicating the president.

Now a court could find the president innocent, however saying that the charges we saw here totally clear Mr. Trump is entering truly Orwellian "two plus two equals five" territory. Don't listen to the lies. Listen to the facts.

Joining me now is CNN contributor Garrett Graff, and Garrett, you've been following this story for a long time. You did a great job of distilling all we know so far in this investigation. Because I think it's important for us, it's important for folks out there, because this is hard to follow. It's legalistic. It's taken many months.

Let's start with the headline here because you outline these seven possible scenarios here and you zero in on the scenarios that appear most likely to be substantiated at this point, scenario number five, we'll put this up on the screen so folks get it.

"Russian intelligence actively penetrated the Trump campaign and Trump knew or should have known about it." Up to scenario six, kompromat, the idea that there was compromising material. And you're saying basically we're at five, possibly going to six. Explain why you think that.

GARRETT GRAFF, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Yes. So this was a series of scenarios that Lawfare's Benjamin Wittes and Quinta Jurecic outlined about a year and a half ago, ranging from most innocent to most guilty. And I think what's really striking is when you begin to put together the pieces that we've learned, even just over the last two weeks. We are squarely into territory that shows that the Russian intelligence ran an extensive, multi-layered, multi-pronged operation targeting Donald Trump's campaign and his transition.

Those 14 contacts that you previously mentioned across the campaign. And that we are now thoroughly into the territory where Donald Trump should have realized this and may have been an active contributor and part of this active conspiracy. The only real question left is how deep the conspiracy goes and just how much the Trump campaign was involved. And what we're beginning to see even is hints that we're at least into that sixth scenario where the Russia possessed blackmail material or leverage on the Trump campaign.

Because, remember, one of the things that we have learned in the last 10 days is Michael Cohen was lying to the American public and Donald Trump was lying to the American public about the state of the Trump Tower Moscow deal, that it went on longer.

SCIUTTO: Yes.

GRAFF: That conversations were more serious and that they directly involved the office of Vladimir Putin. And so what we do know --

SCIUTTO: What you --

(CROSSTALK)

SCIUTTO: On that point, just, Garrett, just so we can highlight it as you go through it because I think it's a lot for people to digest. A kompromat, a compromising information does not have to be salacious. Right? We know that there were lies about those contacts, lies about continuing business negotiations during the campaign. We also know that Russia knew about those lies. Just as they knew about, for instance, Michael Flynn's lies about conversations during the transition and knowledge of lies by itself, is it not, potentially compromising information?

GRAFF: Not only is it potentially, that's precisely what a foreign intelligence operation would try to instill. You know, you've covered national security yourself for years. That is the central point of an intelligence operation, is to gain leverage over an asset that you can use to blackmail them and get them to do the things that you want them to do. And the fact that up until two weeks ago, Russia knew that Donald Trump was lying and the American public didn't know, that's precisely the worst case scenario that we, as the United States, could face in an intelligence operation.

SCIUTTO: And it gets to the issue of deception, as well, during a presidential campaign.

Garrett Graff, thanks very much for helping us boil that down.

I'm joined now to discuss this with Jim Schultz, he's former Trump White House lawyer, and Jack Quinn, he's former White House counsel for the Clinton administration.

First of all, thanks to both of you on this Monday morning.

Jim, if I could begin with you there. One point as well that we learn and some of this has been out there but it was further highlighted in these filings on Friday because we learned about another Russia contact at the end of 2015 where the Russians offered synergy with the Trump campaign, business cooperation, political cooperation. You now have more than a dozen contacts outreach by the Trump campaign.

Rebuffed zero times by people in the Trump campaign. They never said no. They never referred it to the FBI. They showed enthusiasm, in fact, for each of those attempts at outreach from Russia discussing both business deals, political cooperation, et cetera, a major U.S. adversary.

[09:10:11] Defend that, Jim Schultz, to the American people. Why is that the right thing to do? And not just during the campaign. Why? Because that outreach continued in the transition after the election.

JIM SCHULTZ, CNN LEGAL COMMENTATOR: Well, we don't know what we don't know. Right? And I think we still -- there's still a lot to be revealed as it relates to what Mueller and his team knows about the contacts and what went on. What we do know --

SCIUTTO: We know that because we've seen e-mails and we've seen people testify under oath as to the existence of these contacts and we've seen a guy like Michael Flynn --

SCHULTZ: Well, there's an existence --

(CROSSTALK)

SCIUTTO: The president's national security adviser, plead guilty to talking about it.

SCHULTZ: OK. The fact that there was -- there were contacts, the question is, was there conspiracy? To date, there hasn't been anyone charged with conspiracy as it relates to campaign-related activities in coordination with Russia as it relates to campaign activities. That's the big question. We don't know yet. So I think it's premature for anyone to come to a conclusion as to what Mueller is going to say about this and what evidence Mueller has because a lot of those filings are redacted at this point, which is separate.

So you talked earlier about it. I want to go to a point you made earlier on the Cohen issue. So Giuliani said this weekend that -- and related to the dump that Mueller made. Well, the dump that Mueller made related to the Russia inquiry and Mueller's investigation. The Southern District of New York is entirely different from the Mueller investigation. And that's where the campaign finance issue comes into play.

So technically, you know, it may be a distinction without a difference to the general public but what Giuliani was saying was true as it relates to the Mueller filing because we haven't learned that there was any conspiracy.

SCIUTTO: Although --

SCHULTZ: We haven't learned that there has been any activity that is -- that is potentially criminal as it relates to the campaign or the president of the United States.

SCIUTTO: Right. And that's -- you're absolutely right on that. The evidence of that, if there is evidence, has not been presented by the special counsel to date.

I should note that Rudy Giuliani did not make that distinction, saying there was nothing implicating the president in the Mueller findings versus Michael Cohen. He made a blanket statement.

But, Jack Quinn, your response to Jim --

SCHULTZ: Actually he called it Mueller's dump. I read your statement. It was Mueller's dump is what he said.

SCIUTTO: When we have a moment I'll read you the various statements that -- blanket statements about them not implicating the president.

SCHULTZ: OK.

SCIUTTO: But on this point, Jack Quinn, because Jim has a point there. You have a lot of lies documented by the special counsel. You do not, at least yet, have a conspiracy between members of the Trump campaign and Russia to influence or somehow meddle in this election.

JACK QUINN, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Yes. So, Jim and Rudy Giuliani and everyone else on the president's team are essentially saying Robert Mueller has not yet made a case. He hasn't laid out a case from A to Z. But there's sort of a false assumption, there's a false assumption in there, namely that Mueller should have done so by now. And this puts Mueller -- every time Mueller does something in court this -- let me finish, Jim. I see you're ready to jump at me.

Every time Robert Mueller does something in court, they love to say, well, this doesn't prove a conspiracy between, you know, the campaign manager and Vladimir Putin. Of course not. What Mueller is filing here -- he's not reading his opening statement to the jury. He's not saying let me start at the beginning and tell you all the things that were done that were illegal or that undermined American democracy, if that ends up being his conclusion.

And Jim is right to say we don't yet know that. He hasn't yet intimated that that is what he's going to conclude. But to every time there's a filing in court it proves nothing is to, you know, essentially knock down a straw man.

SCIUTTO: In fact shouldn't --

SCHULTZ: No, no. Jack, I didn't say --

(CROSSTALK)

SCIUTTO: And listen, again, I'm not lawyer. I don't know how long it takes but, Jack, shouldn't --

SCHULTZ: I said we have to wait and see.

SCIUTTO: Shouldn't we (INAUDIBLE) to getting to that question? We're about a year and a half into it. Should the special counsel be at least close to answering that question as to whether there is evidence of that conspiracy?

QUINN: You know, I've been involved with special counsel investigations for a long time and I recall one that went on for seven years. I don't know the answer to that. It depends on the complexity that Robert Mueller is trying to unwind.

But, you know, look, what happened last Friday was terribly meaningful and there are a couple of other -- you know, in terms of the areas in which he was going to get cooperation from Michael Cohen. I've got the filing right here.

Let me, just for example, he -- Cohen is cooperating on matters core to the investigation. Now let's remember what core to the investigation can only --

[09:15:00]

SCIUTTO: Yes --

QUINN: What core to the investigation can only mean connections between the campaign and Russia. So Michael Cohen has information there because that is the core of the investigation. He's -- where is he getting that information? From Trump company executives during the campaign. Now, let's see --

SCIUTTO: It's a good line, Jack, to highlight just because --

QUINN: Who might be Trump company executives?

SCIUTTO: Right --

QUINN: If it's not Allen Weisselberg, it's somebody by the name of Trump.

SCIUTTO: Right --

QUINN: Right?

SCIUTTO: There are a top heavy company, it's a fair point, it's a good line, and Jim, I'm curious because that was another line that we highlighted from this. It appears as Jack was saying that there's this other stream of information that Michael Cohen has provided to special counsel, and not just on business stuff, tax, licenses, et cetera, but on something as Jack said, core to the investigation. What does that tell you?

SCHULTZ: Well, a couple of things. One, Manafort, you know, is being sentenced, two, Cohen is being sentenced. That likely signals that they're through with them, right? And that could also likely signal given the fact that the president has been given written questions and he's answered those.

Remains to be seen whether he gets more questions or not. That this may be coming to a conclusion as it relates to the president. Who knows if this takes off on other issues, but it could be wrapping up as it relates to the president. And I think it's important to note that the Justice Department, especially in the Southern District of New York is hammering Cohen because they don't believe he told the truth.

And Mueller -- and Mueller said was look, we're not going to pile on that. Enough is enough, he was helpful to us. But we're not going to pile on. But let's not forget the fact that it's one Justice Department and they're hammering Cohen.

SCIUTTO: Well, they should -- QUINN: Well --

SCIUTTO: Be clear, they didn't say he's not telling the truth, they said they haven't -- he hasn't told the truth about everything because they called his testimony on these issues credible. We should distinguish --

(CROSSTALK)

QUINN: Correct, and also draws credibility --

SCHULTZ: And any questions --

QUINN: His cooperation -- his cooperation on those fronts --

SCHULTZ: Sure --

QUINN: Is --

SCHULTZ: Yes --

QUINN: Ongoing. Now look, is it true --

SCIUTTO: Guys, I think --

QUINN: Is it true?

SCIUTTO: Quick final thoughts only because we're running out of time. But Jack, I'll give you the privilege of the quick final thoughts.

QUINN: OK, true enough that nobody has indicated that the president is complicit in all of this. But it is incredibly noteworthy that this cast of characters from Flynn to Manafort to Cohen, all of their lies involve what? Russia. That is --

SCIUTTO: Yes --

QUINN: A gigantic question mark and a gigantic cloud over this group of people --

SCIUTTO: It gets -- it gets to the point what was the -- what was the reason to lie, Jim Schultz, Jack Quinn, I know it's complicated stuff and we're going to keep talking about it, so hope to have you on again. Thank you for taking the hard questions this morning.

Top Democrats raised the prospects of impeachment for President Trump, but they also raised questions about whether they will actually do it. What kind of precedent does it set if they do not? Plus, a Cnn exclusive this morning. Murdered journalist Jamal Khashoggi's last words, they were "I can't breathe". More on the audio transcripts of his final moments.

And other news, British Prime Minister Theresa May delays the final vote on her Brexit deal, it's supposed to be tomorrow. Clear sign that she doesn't have the votes she needs to withdraw from the European Union. [09:20:00] (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JERRY NADLER (D), NEW YORK: Well, they would be impeachable offenses, whether they are important enough to justify an impeachment is a different question. But certainly, they'd be impeachable offenses because even though they were committed before the president became president, they were committed in the service of fraudulently obtaining the office. That would be the -- that would be an impeachable offense.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SCIUTTO: Quite a warning from the top House Democrat, incoming chairman of the House Judiciary Committee. If allegations that then candidate Trump directed illegal hush money payments are proven true. But the question is, will Democrats make the political decision to move forward with impeachment proceedings?

That's a separate question. Joining me now, Margaret Hoover and Robby Mook. Robby, it's quite a you know, fine line, a balancing act that the Democrats are trying to strike here because of course, they want to provide oversight if Robert Mueller turns up evidence of significant crimes beyond what the Southern District of New York has turned up.

But they're aware that if they push too hard, they could pay a political price for it. What is the right course of action here as opposed to the politically astute course of action?

ROBBY MOOK, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, I'm certain about two things. First of all, Democrats are going to wait until Mueller's report comes out. And that's absolutely the right thing to do on every level. Let's get all the facts on the table before any decisions are made.

But secondly, and this is really important, as both politically and the right thing to do as Americans, the Democrats are not going to let the Republicans dodge yet again their responsibility as members of Congress to hold this president accountable.

The party did not properly vet Donald Trump when he became the nominee. When Republicans were in a position of power in the House and the Senate, they did virtually nothing at all to vet him for his crimes that we're talking about now, but also for his actions in the administration.

And so Democrats aren't going to let them dodge this again. They are paid by the taxpayers to hold this administration accountable. Both parties need to get on board to pass articles of impeachment, and I think you're going to see Democrats hold Republicans feet to the fire once all the evidence is on the table and once it's established that this is the right way to go, they're going to hold them to the fire to be part of this.

[09:25:00] SCIUTTO: Margaret, I know you want to react.

MARGARET HOOVER, REPUBLICAN CONSULTANT: OK, so the problem, Robby, is that you said what I know for certain is that Democrats aren't going to do anything until Mueller's report comes out.

What I don't think as an American, aside from the fact that I'm a Republican, is that by then making all this speculation about what's going to be in that report and saying so we have to do articles of impeachment immediately is helpful for the country, is helpful for this process and is helpful for frankly, the Democratic Party or the Republican Party in the process of fair and independent process that isn't politicizing impeachment.

And so that's the problem I think Democrats make by Jerry Nadler, Nadler did it with Jake Tapper this weekend. When you rush to say this would be an impeachable offense and we're going to have to draw up impeachment articles, that's a problem.

SCIUTTO: But Nadler --

MOOK: Well --

SCIUTTO: Was to be -- he was talking about the Southern District of New York. He was talking about the --

HOOVER: Oh, I'm sorry --

SCIUTTO: Campaign finance -- are you saying, Margaret, that there's not enough evidence there to judge whether that actually helped?

HOOVER: I'm saying any speculation about articles of impeachment before anything from Robert Mueller has been shown to the public is too soon --

SCIUTTO: Right --

HOOVER: It's too quick and it undermines a fair and independent process.

SCIUTTO: Rob, fair point, get through the investigation, then start talking. It is quite a thing for the incoming House Judiciary Committee chairman to declare in effect, what we know already is impeachable, whether the Democrats decide to pursue that as impeachable.

MOOK: Yes, I don't think we're really listening to what he said, though. He made two distinct statements. The first is he said, yes, what has come out could be impeachable, but there's a second determination as to whether to move forward with articles of impeachment. So I think he's actually doing exactly what you said.

And like I said --

HOOVER: That's not what you said, Robby.

MOOK: No, go back and listen to this transcript, Jerry Nadler was very clear --

HOOVER: And I'm talking about what you just said --

MOOK: He said there are two separate considerations --

HOOVER: Right at the top of this show, you said we have to move towards articles of impeachment. You said that.

MOOK: I didn't say that at all. I said that Democrats are going to wait until Mueller's facts get on the table, make a determination and if they determine this is how they have to move forward, they're going to get Republicans on board.

SCIUTTO: Listen --

MOOK: And we can't move forward without that.

SCIUTTO: To both of you, I want to play some sound -- James Comey, of course, the former FBI -- the fired FBI director over the weekend at an event here in New York at the 92nd Street Y, talking about 2020 and what he basically called an American duty here. Have a listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JAMES COMEY, FORMER FBI DIRECTOR: I hope Donald Trump is not removed from office by impeachment --

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Listen, Democratic --

COMEY: Because it will let the country off the hook, and it would drive into the fabric of our nation a third of the people believing there was a coup. And we need a moment of inflection where we all get off the couch and say that is not who we are, and in a land slide, rid ourselves of this attack on our values.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SCIUTTO: So to you first, Margaret, but I do want to get to you, Robby, your reaction to that?

HOOVER: Look, I actually think James Comey -- and I know, he's not a popular person in Washington these days, but he's right. The Democratic process is what should -- fair and reasoned electoral Democratic process is what should remove a president.

That is by design, that is in keeping with our traditions and frankly, in a hyper-polarized climate, there's no way impeachment doesn't become a politicized process, it actually is a politicized process anyway. It's just not going to be a good -- actually serves the country be far better if the president, people who don't like him remove him from office.

But let me just say, I'm concerned about -- and Robby should react to this --about whether Democrats are actually going to be able to nominate somebody who can in a land slide beat Donald Trump --

SCIUTTO: Right --

HOOVER: Particularly because super delegates aren't going to be able to vote in the first round of balloting at the Democratic convention.

SCIUTTO: Robby Mook, on the question or the point rather that James Comey made there.

MOOK: Yes, well, like I said, the most important thing here is to wait for what Mueller has to say and make a determination based on the facts that he lays out. So that's step one. You know, I think -- I think James Comey is entitled to say what he wants.

I find it ironic that he is talking about the election when he certainly did a lot to intervene at the very end last time, and I still have yet to hear him to say that, but -- or rather to address that issue, but you know, I think let's get the facts on the table and then move forward from there.

SCIUTTO: Yes, you know, you make a point, I often remind people of that as Comey is vilified by Republicans is somehow defend their democrat -- Democrats blame him for helping lose the election, Republicans blame him for undermining the Republican presidency. Anyway, Robby Mook, Margaret Hoover, thanks very much to both of you --

HOOVER: Next time --

MOOK: Thanks.

SCIUTTO: And still to come, a Cnn exclusive -- this is a very important story, the chilling final words from the murder -- brutally murdered journalist Jamal Khashoggi. And we are just minutes away as well from the opening bell on Wall Street.

Market futures slightly lower as investors keep a close eye on the trade negotiations between the U.S. and China, all of this comes after a round of heavy selling on Friday, capping a heavy selling week on Wall Street, we're going to stay on top of it.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)