Return to Transcripts main page


Comey Calls on Americans to Use Every Breath to Oust Trump; "New York Times" Says Federal Prosecutor Should Focus on Trump's Family Business; Source Who Has Read Transcript Says Khashoggi's Last Words Were "I Can't Breathe". Aired 2-2:30p ET

Aired December 10, 2018 - 14:00   ET


[14:00:00] BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN HOST: Brianna, we'll take it. Thank you so much. Hi, everyone. I'm Brooke Baldwin. Thanks for being with me. It is becoming increasingly clear that Robert Mueller's walls are closing in on directly on the President and his inner circle. Including, for the first time, prosecutors are now implementing the President of the United States in a felony. And it's all thanks to his one-time fixer, Michael Cohen, and the hush money he paid to those two women, alleging affairs with then-candidate Trump. But Cohen isn't the only one causing headaches for the west wing today. I give you Paul Manafort, the former campaign chairman accused of lying to the special counsel five different times. Now, Manafort denies it. Team Mueller says it has proof and CNN has confirmed that at least 16 people in Trump's world have had contacts with the Russians. 16. Despite the President saying this last year.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I have nothing to do with Russia. To the best of my knowledge, no person that I deal with does.


BALDWIN: So, what does this mean for the President, politically? Legally? Will he be indicted? Can he even be indicted? A long- standing view at the justice department says that it is not possible for a sitting President. So, would he be impeached? Democrats seem to be walking a fine line. Perhaps waiting for Mueller to issue his final report. And at least one person who has been very public odds with the President thinks maybe we should all hit pause on the impeachment talk, at least for now. Here is James Comey during an appearance at New York City's 92nd street "Y," just last night.


JAMES COMEY, FORMER FBI DIRECTOR: I hope Donald Trump is not removed from office by impeachment, because, it would 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 landslide, rid ourselves of this attack on our values.


BALDWIN: CNN politics reporter and editor at large, Chris Cillizza is with me now. Chris Cillizza, let's start here. What specifically led prosecutors to allege that the President is involved in a felony and what lies is Manafort accused of telling?

CHRIS CILLIZZA, CNN POLITICS REPORTER AND EDITOR AT LARGE: OK, Brooke. So, let's go through it. Because Friday, the whole last week got us into a lot of things. There are three basic buckets. And we're going to start with fraud. Now, this is Cohen/Trump. The allegation here is that Donald Trump, and this is the southern district of New York believes this. Michael Cohen has pled guilty to it, Donald Trump has denied it, just for context's sake. That Donald Trump directed and coordinated those payments to both Stormy Daniels, the pornographic actress, as well as Karen McDougal, the former playboy playmate, both of whom were alleging that they had had affairs with Donald Trump in the mid-2000s. That Trump coordinated and directed those payments in the course of the 2016 campaign. You cannot do that, because it amounts to an in-kind contribution to your campaign. So, we got some clarity on that. Let's go to the next bucket. This is obstruction. Here's Paul Manafort. So, Paul Manafort convicted by a jury of his peers on a number of counts, but then pled guilty before a second trial. OK. Well, it turns out, and we learned about this late Friday that Manafort has repeatedly broken the terms of his plea agreement, most notably, Brooke, by being in contact with Trump lawyers and Trump officials about what Mueller is working on. So, fraud, obstruction, and let's go up to the last one. OK, conspiracy. So, this broadly speaking, I would say, is the Russia interference probe. Maria Butina, who was arrested as an alleged spy has now cut a plea agreement. We don't know what's in the plea agreement. We know that there is a plea agreement, expected to be announced tomorrow. Now, she's accused, at least, of cozying up to top government officials, to further Russia's influence in the election. We, obviously, know, thanks to the intelligence community in the U.S., that Russia thought to interfere in the 2016 election to help Donald Trump and to hurt Hillary Clinton. So three buckets, fraud, obstruction, election interference broadly writ, and that's sort of where, when you say the walls are closing in, it's also getting clear, the picture is clearing up a little bit about where -- and this is a combination of the Mueller special counsel, which is here and here, and the southern district of New York, which is this one.

BALDWIN: So, pushing it ahead, the 16 Trump associates that we're reporting, you know, which is in stark contrast to the zero that the President had said, you know, in touch with Russians. Who are we talking about?

[14:05:00] CILLIZZA: OK, first of all, let me make a broad point. There's just -- there's no proven fire other than on the campaign finance violations, as it relates to Donald Trump.


CILLIZZA: What there is a lot of smoke. And what this represents is all that smoke. You'll notice, here's one, two, three people who are directly related to Donald Trump. His eldest son, Donald Trump Jr., and his eldest daughter, Ivanka. Jared Kushner, both of these two serve in the White House. Obviously, Jared Kushner married her. We've gone over Cohen, we've gone over Manafort. Padopoulos, we know, George Padopoulos, former foreign policy adviser who started the entire investigation, when in a night of drinking in London, he bragged to an Australian diplomat that the Russians had dirt on Hillary Clinton. That's what triggered all of this. But look, Michael Flynn was the national security adviser. Jeff Sessions was the Attorney General. These are not, as Trump famously described Padopoulos, coffee boys, by and large. These are family members and absolutely, in the most part, senior, either campaign officials or administration officials. Gosh, there's a lot of smoke here, Brooke.

BALDWIN: Yes. Smoke, but, you know, they're looking into everyone. Chris Cillizza, thank you, here in New York. Michael Cohen's revelations are sparking renewed scrutiny of the Trump family business. "The New York Times" is reporting the federal prosecutors are honing in on what executives in the Trump Organization knew about Cohen's payments, including one that was granted immunity in the investigation just over the summer. With me now, one of the reporters behind this story, William Rashbaum. Nice to have you on. What a piece. Now that you essentially have Cohen in the rearview mirror, what is next for SDNY? For Southern District of New York. Who are they looking at?

WILLIAM RASHBAUM, SENIOR WRITER, "THE NEW YORK TIMES": Well, Brooke, we understand they're looking at other executives at the company who, trying to determine whether or not they knew about the actions that were taken that formed the substance of the campaign finance crimes, that Mr. Cohen pled guilty to.

BALDWIN: Are we talking specifically family members, Alan Weisselberg, he had the immunity, those kind of people?

RASHBAUM: Well, I think our story said that they were interested in what precisely Mr. Weiselberg knew. I think they're looking at what some other people knew. We weren't in a position to say precisely who those people were or are.

BALDWIN: Sure. We've said the prevailing view in the justice department is that you cannot indict a sitting President. But what are the options at the state level, both now and once Trump leaves the White House?

RASHBAUM: Well, at the federal level, he could still be charged, if he leaves -- if he's not re-elected in 20, the campaign finance violations would still be within the statute of limitations. He could theoretically be charged at that time, if there is sufficient evidence for them to bring a case against him. As far as possible state crimes involving the company or other executives at the company, I think that there were state prosecutors who started looking into that around the time of Mr. Cohen's guilty plea. They got waved off at the time by federal prosecutors. And you know, that's -- that's where we left off.

BALDWIN: William Rashbaum, thank you so much. I want to stay upon what we've been discussing. You know, can the President of the United States face prison time? Listen to Democrat Adam Schiff, whose opinion will carry even more weight in less than a month when he's expected to take charge of the House Intelligence Committee.


REP. ADAM SCHIFF (D), CALIFORNIA: There's a very real prospect that on the day Donald Trump leaves office, the Justice Department may indict him. That he may be the first President in quite some time to face the real prospect of jail time. We have been discussing the issue of pardons that the President may offer to people or dangle in front of people. The bigger pardon question may come down the road, as the next President has to determine whether to pardon Donald Trump.


BALDWIN: With me now, Paul Rosenzweig, served as Deputy Assistant Secretary of policy for the Department of Homeland Security. He is now senior editor at the "Journal of National Security Law and Policy." Paul, nice to see you, sir. Welcome back.


[14:10:00] BALDWIN: Let me start with one more piece of sound and then we'll chat. This is from Jerry Nadler, likely to lead the judiciary committee. He disagrees with the premise that we've all been hearing, that a sitting President cannot be indicted. Here he was.


REP. JERRY NADLER, (D), NEW YORK: There's no reason to think that the President should not be indicted. The reason given by the office of legal council is that it would take up too much of his time, he couldn't do his job. But, you know, the constitution specifically allows an impeachment. That certainly takes up a lot of time for the President. So, I don't agree that a President can't be indicted.


BALDWIN: So, Paul, can you just clear this up for all of us? Can a sitting President be indicted?

ROSENZWEIG: Well, there's -- I can't clear it up, because nobody's ever been indicted, so we've never tested the question. I think the easiest way to answer it is this. The Department of Justice policy says that a President can't be indicted. And Robert Mueller works for the department of justice. He's going to follow that policy, I predict, and that means that whether or not, as a theoretical matter he can be, he probably won't be. And I think that Congressman Schiff has it right, that the real jeopardy for the President, President Trump, if any, will come the day after he leaves office.

BALDWIN: Schiff also said Trump could face, quoting him, Trump could face the real prospect of jail time. And he's referencing those illegal hush money payments. And so, my question is, what constitutes an impeachable offense? Can you define that for me?

ROSENZWEIG: Well, that's an interesting question. Gerald Ford famously said that an impeachable offense is whatever the House of Representatives says it is. But classically, we've come to think of high crimes and misdemeanors as acts by the President that either, "A," violate serious federal criminal law or, "B," call into question his ability to serve as President. One of the examples that the founders gave, for example, was this emoluments clause we've been hearing about so much. If a President took foreign bribe. George Mason said that a President who violated the pardon power and abused it to protect himself should be impeached. So those are examples of things that are clearly impeachable offenses. What the outer limit is, who knows?

BALDWIN: We don't know. But what about the other piece that's maybe complicating this, is the statute of limitations on Trump's campaign finance violation. It's five years, meaning if this happened in 2016 and you do the math and if Trump wins re-election for another four years, by the time he would walk out of the White House in 2024, the statute of limitations would run out. Is re-election Trumps get out of jail free card?

ROSENZWEIG: Well, for offenses whose statute of limitations would expire in his second term, it possibly is. There might be an answer in terms of seeking an indictment and then staying it and keeping it sealed and unsealing it only upon his --

BALDWIN: Leaving.

ROSENZWEIG: -- end of his term. But if you really believe that a President is not indictable while he's sitting in office, then you have to acknowledge the possibility that there may be some crimes for which he's just going to get away scot-free.

BALDWIN: Paul Rosenzweig, thank you.

ROSENZWEIG: Thank you.

BALDWIN: Coming up next, it is normally considered one of the highly sought-after jobs in all of the White House, but these are not normal times. Why President Trump seems to have difficulty replacing his chief of staff's John Kelly.

And Jamal Khashoggi's final words now out in the open. What a source says is on that tape of his murder.

And Jehovah's Witnesses in one state targeted in at least five separate attacks. Is there a serial arsonist on the loose? You're watching CNN. I'm Brooke Baldwin.


BALDWIN: Within the White House, the chief of staff is usually a highly sought-after job. It's the chance to run the west wing, steer the course of history, and right now, that job is open with John Kelly stepping down in 21 days and replacing him, proving to be difficult. Nick Ayers was the front-runner. He's now turned down the job. The others on the short list include Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin, budget chief Mick Mulvaney, and Republican congressman, Mark Meadows. Mnuchin and Mulvaney are making it known, they're not interested. The same was reported about meadows, but now he's telling CNN it would be an incredible honor to serve. Whoever gets the job will inherit a west wing in crisis. Among the myriad of challenges, everything from the Russia investigation, this new Democratic house come January to impeachment drama. And the challenge of keeping Trump in check. So, with me now, Jen Psaki, former White House communications director under President Obama. Jen, nice to see you.


BALDWIN: You know, as I pointed out, and you well know this, having worked in the White House. This is the big gig. This is a job that normally people stand in line for, right? And I'm wondering as far as all these no's, do you think it's Trump, do you think it's the nightmare scenario that this person would be walking into, or do you think it's all of the above?

PSAKI: It's all of the above, Brooke, is my best guess. And if you look at the high-level individuals he's considering or who have been put out there publicly, they're looking at the White House now and they know a couple of dynamics are at play. One is the Mueller investigation, seems to be closing in on a circle closer to President Trump. And that's certainly concerning and not something you want to leap into, as a future chief of staff.

[14:20:00] And the second is, for the last few chiefs of staff, they've seen this playbook before. Usually, there's a short honeymoon period, where the chief of staff enjoys the confidence of the President. And then after that, they're completely destroyed by the President. And it's a unique circumstance that we are all watching for a variety of reasons, but one is that high-level people who are serving in the White House and in this administration are leaving, not with their reputation evaluated, but their reputations really diminished. And I think most of these people look at that and they know this would be a tough spot to walk into.

BALDWIN: You also make the point that Trump is surrounding himself with yes men and yes women. What's the danger in doing that?

PSAKI: There's a big danger, Brooke. Reputations really diminished. And I think most of these people look at that and they know this would be a tough spot to walk into.

BALDWIN: You also make the point that Trump is surrounding himself with yes men and yes women. What's the danger in doing that?

PSAKI: There's a big danger, Brooke. And look, for all of Trump's faults, he's not the first President to do a version of this, but what he's done is he has created the team around him that he wants, which means to him, people who are going to nod their head and say "yes" to whatever he wants to do. And if you are a high-level cabinet member, if you're a senior adviser in the White House, your job is to stand up to the President respectfully, but tell them when there's something they can't do, because it's wrong or it won't play well. And it seems in this case, it's illegal. And what he's doing is in national security team, he's surrounded himself with people who have a similar military-first view of international policy. He's looking for people who are going to simply agree, you know, his positions. And that's dangerous, because he clearly doesn't have an understanding of and has a problematic understanding of the law and international diplomacy, both of them.

BALDWIN: You know Rahm Emanuel, President Obama's former chief of staff?

PSAKI: I do.

BALDWIN: He penned this opinion piece, essentially arguing that Trump doesn't actually want a chief of staff. And he also, by the way, said other Presidents wouldn't either. They want to be able to do everything at all times and you need to have a gatekeeper. This is what he wrote, does someone need to impose order on the White House? The answer is obvious. But it doesn't matter who you put on the job, George Patton, Judge Judy, Darth Vader, if the President is going to outsource significant authority to Jared Kushner, Ivanka Trump, no chief of staff can perform.

PSAKI: And it's impossible to serve in any of these public-facing roles in this White House. Trump takes his own counsel. He's his own chief of staff in some ways, he's his own press secretary. And this is a role who I think anyone who's on the outside who understands how it functions, you're setting yourself up for failure. Which is one of the reasons that I think it's so difficult for him to fill the position.

BALDWIN: How would you characterize, is it not only what he's doing or not doing. I want seems like he's drastically redefining these top-tier positions within the government. No formal communications director, downgrading the U.N. ambassador, someone with much less on her resume. What is the net effect of doing that, Jen?

PSAKI: It really diminishes your capacity to govern. And that means it diminishes your ability to get laws passed. It diminishes your ability to run the country. It diminishes your ability to drive the agenda internationally. Because if a President of the United States, Trump aside, but in general, staffs their cabinet members, their high- level advisers with people they trust, then they're really relying on them to be ambassadors to the world, ambassadors to the country. And not only does Trump have terrible and illegal at times judgment, but he's also limiting his capacity to be impactful. And that's, you know, really a huge detriment to the White House and to, you know, his ability even to get his own agenda done.

BALDWIN: Jen Psaki, thank you very much.

PSAKI: Thank you.

BALDWIN: Coming up next, a CNN exclusive. Jamal Khashoggi's last words, painful to hear, but so important for the world to know. What the transcript reveals about who was there in his final moments. And another huge story the world is watching right now as the U.S.

markets react to news out of the United Kingdom, we'll take a look at what's at stake if this Brexit deal falls through.


BALDWIN: The CIA briefed key U.S. senators on its assessment of "Washington Post" columnist Jamal Khashoggi's murder. And the senators were horrified and said so very publicly. And now a source has given CNN a briefing on a transcript of an audio recording of Khashoggi's final moments. And CNN's Nic Robertson was provided with details of the translated transcripts, reproduced in this report of that audio. And what it does is it correlates with the CIA finding that the Saudi team sent to Istanbul came with the intent to kill.


NIC ROBERTSON, CNN INTERNATIONAL DIPLOMATIC EDITOR: CNN can now reveal Jamal Khashoggi's last words. "I can't breathe. I can't breathe."

[14:30:00] These previously undisclosed details of what happened that afternoon in October come from a source who's been briefed on the investigation. The source has read a full transcript of an audio recording of Khashoggi's horrific final moments. Within moments of his fateful steps into the consulate, Khashoggi recognizes someone, asks why they are there. The answer, you are coming back. According to CNN's source, the Turkish transcript identifies that person as working for Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman, who Khashoggi knew. Khashoggi is clearly alarmed and replies, you can't do that. People are waiting outside for me. According to the source, the conversation ends right there.