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Mueller Closes in on Trump; Trump Possible Jail Time after Presidency; Dems Raise Impeachment; Kushner Offered Advice. Aired 1- 1:30p ET

Aired December 10, 2018 - 13:00   ET


[13:00:00] JULIE HIRSCHFELD DAVIS, CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT, "THE NEW YORK TIMES": Is that what the electorate is going to want after Donald Trump? Everything is so polarized right now.


DAVIS: Does the candidate have to be someone who really comes in from the far left and not someone who's coming in from the middle.

KING: We shall see. It's going to be a lot of fun.

Brianna Keilar starts right now.

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN ANCHOR: I'm Brianna Keilar, live from CNN's Washington headquarters.

Underway right now, a presidency in peril. As we learn more about the Mueller investigation, the walls are closing in on President Trump and his inner circle. This as one of the top Democrats in the House says the president could face possible jail time.

Plus, it's one of the most prestigious positions in the West Wing, but there appears to be little interest in becoming the next chief of staff.

And she's accused of being a Russian spy infiltrating Republican circles inside America. But now a new sign that she's ready to spill her secrets.

First up, a simple, private transaction, that's how President Trump is characterizing payments to two women in exchange for their silence about alleged affairs, stressing they were not campaign contributions. In this morning's tweets he tried to steer the narrative away from Friday's court filings by Special Counsel Robert Mueller, once again using his favorite phrase, no collusion, as well as the phrase, witch hunt.

Let's take a closer look at why the Russia investigation is getting a little too close for comfort for Mr. Trump's inner circle. We have senior justice correspondent Evan Perez here to take us through it.

Evan, what did we learn from these court filings? EVAN PEREZ, CNN SENIOR JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Brianna, on Friday

everything got a lot more real for this president. And just take a look at the two -- the two court filings that the government filed on Friday.

And, first of all, President Trump has been implicated by the crimes that Michael Cohen has now pleaded guilty to. Not only is the government saying -- the prosecutors in New York saying that Michael Cohen organized these two payments to Stormy Daniels and Karen McDougal, but they're saying that the president directed these payments. That he was part of the discussion. That Michael Cohen has recordings of him talking to the president about making these payments.

And so now the president is implicated in this alleged crime that they're charged -- that they've charged Michael Cohen. Michael Cohen has now pleaded guilty to.

Closer to conspiracy. The president is a lot closer now to being part of this alleged conspiracy. Obviously not only being part of the payments that Michael Cohen has now said he violated campaign finance law on, but also in the main part of the Russia investigation because, according to the filing in the Paul Manafort case, you see a series of contacts between the Russians beginning in 2015 into 2016 at a time that the president was saying he had nothing to do with Russia.

And, finally, the obstruction case, which has to do with the president essentially helping to organize these lies, to line up the lies that Michael Cohen and Paul Manafort are now saying that they committed. They've pleaded guilty to.

And the other big takeaway from Friday is the big number, 16. That's the number of people in the president's orbit who have now been shown to have contacts with Russians.

Let's start with the president's family, his kids. Donald Trump Junior, who was, of course, the one who helped organize that June 2016 Trump Tower meeting with the Russians who were promising dirt on Hillary Clinton. There's Jared Kushner, who had meetings with the Russian ambassador in late 2016 during the transition. Ivanka Trump, who was part of the dealings talking about a Trump Tower in Moscow at a time the Russians were interfering in the 2016 election.

Michael Cohen, of course, he talks about all of his contacts and he's now pleaded guilty to lying about those to Congress. Felix Sader, who is someone who was doing business with the Trump Organization for many years. He was part of this Trump Tower discussion with the Russians.

George Papadopoulos, of course, is the foreign policy adviser, who was the first one that the FBI noticed was -- they got information that he was talking about possible dirt on Hillary Clinton coming out from WikiLeaks. That began the FBI investigation and that we're now talking about. Paul Manafort, of course, the chairman of the campaign. Carter Page, who is one of the first persons who the FBI took notice of because he was spending time in Moscow in June and July of 2016. Brianna, it's clear now that after all of the claims from the campaign

and from the White House that the Trump campaign and the president and his family had nothing to do with Russia, that is simply not true and it's clear that Robert Mueller is pursuing the president as a target of this investigation now.

KEILAR: And that is some cast of characters you're showing us there.

Evan Perez, thank you so much.

Democrats are closely scrutinizing Mueller's court memos, openly considering the possible criminal consequence of the president's actions. Here's what Congressman Adam Schiff, the likely incoming chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, said on "Face the Nation."

[13:05:01] (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. ADAM SCHIFF (D), RANKING MEMBER, INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE: My takeaway is 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.


KEILAR: CNN congressional correspondent Phil Mattingly on Capitol Hill for us.

Phil, the House is in session. What are lawmakers saying?

PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Brianna, I think everyone in the House Democratic Caucus and Senate Democrats read what they saw on Friday and kind of came to the same conclusion. It was severely problematic. There were potentially laws broken. And there should be something done.

Now, you listen to Adam Schiff, the incoming House Intelligence Committee chairman, and he pointed to something that would happen after the president leaves office and not done by the president, instead done by the Southern District of New York. One of the questions right now kind of rippling through the House Democratic Caucus is, what should they be doing? I think the big question overhanging all of this is the "i" word impeachment. House leaders have been trying to beat it back for the last couple of months saying, we're going to focus step by step on our agenda. This wasn't necessarily what we ran on.

If you look at the new Democrats class, they weren't individuals who were going out every single day and talking about impeachment. But when you see filings like you saw on Friday from the Southern District of New York, from the special counsel, Democrats naturally react.

I was struck, Brianna, by what we heard on Sunday, on Jake Tapper's show, "STATE OF THE UNION," from Jerry Nadler. He's the incoming chairman of the House Judiciary Committee. He would be the one to oversee an impeachment process if it were to start. He said what he saw on Friday did rise to the level of impeachment, but he had an important point as well. That doesn't necessarily mean that the House pursues it. And what you see here is the calculation by Democratic leaders in both chambers, that impeachment is not just a process that moves forward on the legal side of things and that Congress can pursue, it's also a very political one.

And what you hear from Democrats is, be careful with this. We don't want to go too far, get too far over the skis and actually end up helping the president. They want the special counsel to continue its investigation. They want the Southern District of New York to continue its investigation. And they will focus on bits and pieces of that until that comes to completion. Once it does come to completion, where do they go from there? Well, that remains an open question for the time being. There are certainly some House Democrats who are agitating that they should start moving forward and quickly. Leaders, though, Brianna, have made it very clear, not yet, take our time.

KEILAR: We'll see if that holds.

Phil Mattingly on Capitol Hill, thank you so much.

And to discuss all of this, I'm joined now by CNN legal analyst and defense attorney Ross Garber, and Jack Quinn, who's a former White House counsel for the Clinton administration.

I want to pose a question to both of you, Ross, first. Can a sitting president be indicted?

ROSS GARBER, DEFENSE ATTORNEY: Well, so the Department of Justice has said very clearly that a sitting president can't be indicted. So the answer right now is, no, unless and until the Department of Justice wants to change its mind, which I think it's unlikely to do in this administration.

KEILAR: What do you think?

JACK QUINN, FORMER WHITE HOUSE COUNSEL IN CLINTON ADMINISTRATION: Well, look, I -- there's no doubt that the current Department of Justice policy is not to try to indict a sitting president. So I accept that.

I also happened to think that that policy is not founded on a strong constitutional basis. Let me give you one example of why not. The founders, the people who wrote the Constitution, knew how to immunize people in the government. They immunized members of Congress in two different ways, when they were traveling to and from sessions of Congress they're free from arrest, and when they are engaged in speech and debate in the Congress, they can't be brought to answer for anything they say in that context. So they knew how to immunize people. They did not say a word in the Constitution about immunizing the president merely because he's president.

And, lastly, I'll point out that the people who wrote those policy papers saying that the president can't be indicted, wrote them while they were working for a president who was himself, in two cases, those two presidents were under investigation themselves.

GARBER: I mean just a couple of quick points on that.

Number one is, that's how it's going to wind up going. The president is actually always responsible for the Justice Department, and so there's always going to be that issue. And the framers of the Constitution actually did sort of think about this stuff when they adopted an impeachment provision. And that's how it works, Congress has the power to impeach.

KEILAR: They have -- and they also have discretion. I -- the constitutional definition of impeachable offenses, treason and bribery, specific, yes, other high crimes and misdemeanors. There is a lot of vagueness in this, Jack.

QUINN: Yes. And I accept what Ross says. It's -- nothing he said is untrue. But the Constitution doesn't say that these are exclusive remedies. So, for example, it's theoretically possible for the Southern District of New York to file an indictment against a sitting president and leave it sealed during the course of his presidency and then unseal it after he's out. The Department of Justice policy would seemingly prohibit that. But as a practical matter, I think it won't.

KEILAR: OK. Well, to that point, if there's a -- let's say on the violations in these court filings that are alleged campaign violations, there's a statute of limitations on that, Ross.

GARBER: There is.

[13:10:09] KEILAR: If that -- let's say that were to be sealed and he is -- President Trump would be re-elect and this could be an ongoing issue for him, would that then go away if he were re-elected?

GARBER: So first, potentially it would. There is potentially a statute of limitations issue. But what I tell clients is, never rely on a statute of limitations. There are lots of ways around that in terms of continuing conduct or tolling (ph). So, yes, there is potentially a statute of limitations issue. But, you know, if I were the president, I'm not sure I'd want to rely on it.

The other quick thing is that even if the president can't be indicted, that doesn't mean that his business and his associates and colleagues and even family members can't. So, you know, it's part of, I think, the system that we have that a sitting president can't be indicted. It's kind of -- it's a tradeoff.

KEILAR: We see the -- and all those almost player looking cards that Evan just spelled out, all of those different figures who could be under scrutiny at the very least here.

Congress has the discretion. This is what -- it's so important that we heard Congressman Nadler say. They may be impeachable offenses in his opinion, but that doesn't necessarily mean that Congress would move to impeach.

How much of this, Jack, is political? That if the voters are not with the impeachers, if the president does not have some Republicans who turn against him if this does move in that direction, that there would actually be a will on the part of Democrats who have a memory back to Bill Clinton's impeachment that, hey, they may or may not move forward with this.

QUINN: Yes. This is political and legal. Clearly in the case of Bill Clinton, I think both the voters and, you know, the Senate ultimately thought, this is not a violation that warranted his removal from office. And to be -- I was going to say to be clear, because this is not terribly clear, the term high crimes and misdemeanors refers to a whole range of conduct that is criminal, but it doesn't refer to all -- include all crimes. That much is clear. It basically is meant to get at crimes that imply a violation of one's public trust, an abuse of office, misappropriating official funds, bribery, things of that kind.

But, importantly, and particularly now, it also reaches crimes that involve how one attained the presidency. So illegal behavior that takes place before an election, but that contributes to one's success in that election, it can form the basis without any doubt for an impeachable offense. The --

KEILAR: I want to give a quick final word on that to Ross, because we do -- we are out of time.


KEILAR: But what do you think about that.

QUINN: Bribing electors (ph).


So the answer -- the answer is maybe. As you noted, the standard is treason, bribery and other high crimes and misdemeanors. It is vague, but it's not, you know, sort of without borders. It's got to be something so egregious that we're going to throw out an election. And that's the standard.

We've never, in our history, removed a president. The two times there have been impeachments, you know, Jack has noted one, the other is Andrew Johnson. I think, you know, looking back on them, I think we'd all probably agree they were mistakes. And so it's got to be something so egregious that we're going to throw out an election.

KEILAR: You're -- quick, quick, quick.

QUINN: OK. The authors of the Constitution repeatedly referred to the bribery of members of the Electoral College as impeachable offenses.

KEILAR: I think this conversation just demonstrates how much thought would have to go into where Democrats are thinking they'd pursue a line of action, if they do at all. I think it's such a great conversation.

Ross Garber, Jack Quinn, thank you so much to both of you. QUINN: Thanks for having us.

KEILAR: Absolutely not. That is how one person is responding to being on the president's chief of staff short list. Here's who else is not interested.

Plus, new revelations on Jared Kushner's contact with the Saudi crown prince after the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, including Kushner's advice to him.

And breaking today, the woman accused of being a Russian spy and infiltrating Republican circles, appearing to have reached a plea deal. Stand by for those details.


[13:18:49] KEILAR: We are getting an inside look at Jared Kushner's relationship with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman. "The New York Times" reports that the pair are on very friendly terms, including having private calls, exchanging texts and referring to each other on a first name basis. The paper says this close communication even continued after "Washington Post" contributor Jamal Khashoggi was murdered, with Kushner advising MBS on ways that he could weather the storm.

Joining me now to discuss is Democratic senator from Maryland, Chris Van Hollen.

Senator, thank you so much for joining us as we have such a big news day here.

We're learning today that some House Democrats may probe Kushner's ties to the crown prince. Do you support an investigation?

SEN. CHRIS VAN HOLLEN (D), MARYLAND: Well, Brianna, it's great to be with you.

Yes, I do. I think a large part of the problem that we've had with the crown prince has been due to the sense that he's gotten from Jared Kushner and President Trump that he can act with impunity. That the crown prince can do whatever he wants around the world, whether it's kidnapping the prime minister of Lebanon or orchestrating the assassination of an American resident and reporter for an American newspaper, Khashoggi.

[13:20:00] This has been a part of the problem from the beginning. And I think it's very important that we get to the bottom of how this relationship unfolded and how it is the crown prince thought he could act with impunity around the world and be patted on the back about it from both the president and the president's son in law.

KEILAR: Do you think that he had -- are you saying that you think he had that confidence because he had this relationship with Jared Kushner?

VAN HOLLEN: Oh, I think there's no doubt that the crown prince thought he could get away with a lot of things, including murder, because this administration, from the beginning, has put up no obstacles or never demonstrated any kind of opposition to the actions that the crown prince was taking. He took a series of reckless actions even before he ordered the murder of Khashoggi in Istanbul. And I think the fact that he thought he could get away with it is in part due to the fact that he was getting a green light from Washington for reckless actions.

KEILAR: I want to talk to you about the prosecutors now implicating the president in two federal crimes, campaign finance violations, for that hush money that was paid to Stormy Daniels and Karen McDougal.

Important to point out, you are a recovering lawyer yourself. Are those in your view as a senator, as someone with a legal mind, impeachable offenses?

VAN HOLLEN: Well, clearly if the president orchestrated and ordered Michael Cohen to break the law, to act in a criminal manner, and did so knowingly, as Jerry Nadler, the incoming chairman of the House Judiciary Committee said, that would be an impeachable offense potentially, again, if knowledge was there.

However, there is a difference between something being an impeachable offense and something reaching the threshold where the House should decide to take on that issue. And I think that in order for that to happen, you'd have to see clear collusion when it comes to the president operating in connection with the Russians. It appears, from all the pieces that are falling in place, that may be the direction that Mueller and his team are headed. But, again, we haven't seen the end of the story with respect to the Mueller support.

KEILAR: I know Democrats must be looking at this as they await the Mueller report. They're thinking when they get the report what action are they going to take? Is there going to be an offense spelled out that would push them towards impeachment? I'm sure they are looking back towards the Clinton impeachment as a lesson learned.

With an appetite from some Democrats, but it doesn't seem from leadership perhaps in the House to, at this point, pursue impeachment, is there a sense that Democrats have of -- if they do not pursue impeachment, even if it's just these federal campaign violations, if they don't pursue impeachment, what the Democratic base may demand of them or punish them for?

VAN HOLLEN: Well, Brianna, first of all, I think now that you have a Democratic majority in the House and they have the gavel, they should absolutely have additional hearings and get to the bottom of some of these issues. Now, it may be that the court up in New York, the federal court in New York, as well as the other independent Mueller investigation, they're, of course, going to be proceeding and bringing new facts to light. But that can be augment and strengthened by the House Democratic majority holding hearings on these things.

And then they'll have to make a decision at some point whether or not the president's conduct has reached the tipping point that would justify impeachment. And that, obviously, requires both a legal calculation, but also a political one. And I'm sure the members of the House will be looking at those two and weighing where exactly that threshold is.

Again, nobody is eager to stampede into an impeachment proceeding, but if you have very serious violations of the law, then that is the process for holding a president accountable. But again, let's wait and see what the Mueller report brings.

KEILAR: I want to ask you about former FBI Director James Comey. Last night he was at an event at the 92nd Street Y in New York and he said, quote, all of us should use every breath we have to make sure the lies stop on January 20, 2021. Is it appropriate for him to be so political when it comes to President Trump?

VAN HOLLEN: Well, he is now a private citizen. And so I believe, in fact, he -- he thinks he has an obligation --

KEILAR: And a witness in an active investigation though, right? And also --

VAN HOLLEN: That's right.

KEILAR: I mean it's not as if he's divorced from this entire process.

VAN HOLLEN: No. No, no, he's not, but I think it's appropriate for him to express his views as he has said publicly. He is scared to death that this president is taking a wrecking ball to the Department of Justices, that this president doesn't respect the rule of law. And if you feel that way, and I share his feelings, I think people need to do everything they can to make sure that we change out this president in 2020.

[13:25:17] KEILAR: Do you worry that he just plays into the role that the president has cast him in a biased former FBI director, that maybe that doesn't serve Democrats?

VAN HOLLEN: Well, look, I think he's got to make that assessment. I think that he obviously has to be cautious about that. But, at the same time, I think he rightfully feels an obligation as a citizen of this great country to speak out and express his views when he thinks there's a clear and present danger to our democracy.

Look, he was in the meeting with the president when the president indicated that he did not want Comey and the FBI to move forward with the Michael Flynn investigation. Now we have a situation where it looks like Flynn was able to give important information to Mueller, the special counsel. None of that would have happened if the president had his way. And it was clear the president was and has been trying to put every obstacle in the path of the Mueller investigation and the effort to get to the truth here. That's what the president's been up to and I do think it's dangerous to our democracy and to protecting the rule of law.

KEILAR: Senator Chris Van Hollen, thank you so much for being with us.

VAN HOLLEN: Great to be with you. Thanks.

KEILAR: The hunt is on. Nick Ayers, the leading candidate to replace John Kelly as White House chief of staff, says thanks but no thanks. Hear the other names on the short list.