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Today, Flynn Sentencing Filing, Manafort Hearing; Michael Cohen Sentencing Tomorrow; Accused Russian Spy Maria Butina to Plead Guilty in Deal; Source: Trump Sees Impeachment as "Real Possibility"; Trump to Meet with Schumer, Pelosi to Avoid Government Shutdown; 44 Former Senators Warn "We're Entering Dangerous Period"; Top Democrats Raise Prospect of Impeachment, Jail Time for Trump. Aired 11-11:30a ET

Aired December 11, 2018 - 11:00   ET



[11:00:43] KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: Hello, everyone. I'm Kate Bolduan.

A presidency under siege. A president on edge. Despite his constant dismissals of the Russia investigation, President Trump is reportedly rattled. A source tells CNN that the president himself now thinks it's, quote/unquote, "a real possibility" that he could be impeached when Democrats take over the House. That is a pretty stunning statement in already pretty stunning times.

So is this. A Republican veteran of the U.S. Senate brushing off concerns that the president may have violated campaign finance laws with those hush money payments to cover up two alleged affairs with two women during the election. Here is Orrin Hatch.


SEN. ORRIN HATCH, (R), UTAH: The Democrats will do anything to hurt this president. Anything.

MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: It's not the Democrats. It's the southern district of New York, the attorney that's making this allegation.

HATCH: OK. But I don't care. All I can say is he's doing a good job at president. I don't think he was involved in crimes. Even then, you know, you can make anything a crime under the current laws if you want to. You can blow it way out of proportion. You can do a lot of things.


BOLDUAN: This, as a new CNN poll shows the president's handling of the Russia probe matches his all-time low. And Robert Mueller is also taking a hit as well.

Today is also another full docket for the Russia investigation. At any time now, Trump's former national security adviser, Michael Flynn, will formally ask a judge for no jail time, despite pleading guilty to lying to the FBI.

And this afternoon, a hearing in Paul Manafort's federal case where prosecutors will further explain what they say he lied about to them.

And there's more, everybody. Minutes from now, President Trump is going to be meeting with the Democratic leaders of the House and Senate. That is right. Chuck and Nancy heading back to the White House. The goal, to prevent a government shutdown, but the border wall may be the biggest obstacle to any bipartisan deal. I'll get to that in a second.

Let's start, though, with all of the developments in the Russia investigation.

CNN's Kara Scannell is here to break it down for us.

Kara, what are you expecting to learn in the Flynn and Manafort cases?

KARA SCANNELL, CNN REPORTER: Kate, like you said, this is another busy day in a busy week for the Mueller investigation. We're expecting to see the sentencing memorandum from Michael Flynn in which he's going to ask for no jail time. We expect they'll play up his years of government service. He, of course, was the head of the Defense Intelligence Agency under the Obama administration, after a career serving in the military. We're expecting them to play that up. It was then that Flynn was out there on the campaign for Trump as a surrogate and that he was then appointed national security adviser, and at that job is when he got fired for his lying to the campaign and the administration about his contacts with Russians. And he ultimately pleaded guilty to that.

Mueller's team, in a filing on Friday or last week, rather, made clear that Flynn was very helpful to them. He's helping them on three criminal investigations. And they said his early willingness to cooperate with them was very helpful in providing information, including first-hand information about Trump campaign and transition officials' contacts with Russian officials.

And Manafort will be back in court today. We expect his lawyers to say that he didn't lie as the special counsel's office has laid out in a filing on Friday. We'll see if they're going to really want to push that and see if the special counsel will provide more information about these lies or if they'll ask the judge, let's move this along to sentencing and try to just move Manafort ahead to that stage early next year -- Kate?

BOLDUAN: And speaking of sentencing, a big day tomorrow for President Trump's former personal attorney and fixer, Michael Cohen. Also, there's Maria Butina, the accused Russian spy. I have a hard time keeping track of it and it's my job. Tell us about that.

SCANNELL: That's right. Michael Cohen will be in court tomorrow morning at 11:00 a.m. where he'll be sentenced. He's asking the judge for no time in prison, citing his cooperation with the special counsel's office. But the U.S. attorney's office in Manhattan has come out very strongly against Cohen, saying he's motivated by greed. They said just because he agreed to plead guilty and not wait for a pardon did not make him a hero. So we're expecting to have harsh arguments from the U.S. attorney's office here.

And Butina will be pleading guilty tomorrow to a conspiracy charge, according to sources. That is also part of a cooperation deal with prosecutors in Washington, D.C., as they look to her to learn more information about how she was used as a Russian agent and any connections she may have had in attempts to influence conservative groups here including the NRA -- Kate?

[11:05:06] BOLDUAN: Fascinating.

Kara, thank you so much. We'll be back with you.

Joining me to discuss all of this, Shawn Turner is here, CNN national security analyst, former director of communications for U.S. national intelligence. Jennifer Rodgers, a CNN legal analyst and former federal prosecutor. And Matt Viser is a national political reporter for the "Washington Post."

It's great to see you guys.

Jennifer, let's start with Flynn. What are you looking -- what do you think is the most important thing we could learn today coming out of this?

JENNIFER RODGERS, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: I actually don't think we're going to learn very much. The government has already said he did a good job. He really should see no jail time at all. His sentencing memo is going to re-enforce that. He has this long, you know, stellar career in the military. They're going to ask for no time. He's going to get no time. The deal he made that was helpful to him was back in the beginning when he pled only to the false statement. Had he pled to some of the other charges, he might face real time, but that deal secured it for him. He cooperated, he's going to get nothing. I don't expect to learn a lot from the memo today. It'll just be more of the same.

BOLDUAN: Fascinating.

Shawn, when it comes to Flynn, he was the national security adviser. When we already have the special counsel saying he provided, and the way they put it, first-hand information about interactions between Trump transition and Russia, it does lead everyone to wonder, what could that mean?

SHAWN TURNER, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: I think that's right. I mean, if you go back and look at the two buckets of information that Flynn might be able to provide, he's going to be able to talk about what he himself did in his connections with Russian operatives, but he also was in a position because of his high-level position to be able to have some understanding about what others who were part of the administration may have did in those interactions. I think that's where you get to the level of cooperation he may have had with the special counsel. It's also the case -- and I think folks are right here. That second bucket, you know, providing information about what others did, is what Mueller was really interested in. I think for the reasons that have been stated, Flynn is unlikely to get any time today.

But I will say, I do think there's one element here that could impact the judge's decision. Flynn was a career intelligence officer. We can't forget the fact Flynn began to engage in bad behavior under the previous administration, and in terms of his contact with Sergey Kislyak. So that's something the judge may take into consideration. No one has ever been convicted under the Logan Act, but this was the previous administration, certainly an attempt to undermine what the policy officials in the last administration were doing.

BOLDUAN: Yes, forcing everyone to remember once again what the Logan Act is, because everyone had to dig up the legal dictionaries once again.


BOLDUAN: Matt, this is one of the things that the president is watching. The president, that is rattling the president. With all that CNN is reporting, that the president is worried about the possibility of being impeached by the House. Do you see that this concern, this possibility that he's worried about, do you see that changing the way that he operates, though, whenever Flynn is sentenced or whenever there's a move when it comes to the Manafort trial, or whenever Mueller puts out his report?

MATT VISER, NATIONAL POLITICAL REPORTER, WASHINGTON POST: I don't anticipate President Trump really changing. I mean, he's not shown much evidence of doing so. But I think it's important to just look at the walls sort of closing in, in all different directions. You have the Flynn, Manafort today, Ms. Butina, Michael Cohen, and on multiple layers and in multiple directions are sort of closing in on President Trump. And at a time when his chief of staff is on the way out. He doesn't have a new chief of staff yet identified. So you know, in every direction right now, I think President Trump is under pressure. And I do think that the incoming House with Democrats taking control of the House, you'll see a likelihood for impeachment, for more investigations, and more areas to pull on. So I do think that we're seeing President Trump kind of under pressure in all directions.

BOLDUAN: And, Jennifer, these elements, tomorrow I think seems to be a really important day for Michael Cohen in his sentencing. I wonder what you think and expect there. But also, the simple fact that we now have someone, Maria Butina, who is an alleged Russian spy, who is cooperating with the U.S. government. Just that simple fact in and of itself, that seems a very big deal.

RODGERS: It is a big deal. What I don't know, Kate, is the parameters of her cooperation. If she were cooperating in the southern district of New York, I would be 100 percent certain that she would have to cooperate about everything she knows, including all she learned as a spy and her interactions with the Russian government. I'm just not so certain with this deal with the Washington, D.C., office where they have limited it to the parameters of what she was doing here, kind of her specific dealings with the NRA and with Republican operatives here and not kind of a broader look into what she knows about the spy network more generally.

But even that said, I still think it's very interesting. I still think we'll learn a lot. We should want to get to the bottom of what the NRA was doing, whether they were funneling money and so on, so I think that's great. And, yes, Cohen is going to be big tomorrow. I think he'll see serious time.

[11:10:12] BOLDUAN: We'll see.

Shawn, I want to get your take. And I know we're running out of time, but I want to play this one more time for our viewers. What Orrin Hatch told Manu Raju about his take on the fact the prosecutors say that the president directed Michael Cohen to commit a crime. And this was Orrin Hatch's reaction.


HATCH: I don't care. All I can say is he's doing a good job as president. I don't think he was involved in crimes. But even then, you know, you can make anything a crime under the current laws. If you want to, you can blow it way out of proportion. You can do a lot of things.


BOLDUAN: If that's the defense, Shawn, and the view of this is "I don't care if he committed a crime," what do you do with that?

TURNER: Yes, that's a good question. Orrin Hatch is on an island by himself when he says he does not care. Look, the reason we're going through this is because, while Orrin Hatch may not care and other members of Congress may not care, the American people care. Certainly, it's the case that people in the national security space care about whether or not crimes were committed in cooperation with Russian operatives. So when I hear Orrin Hatch say that, it's the epitome of partisanship and kind of just kind of political jockeying. This is important. And Orrin Hatch, of all people, should care about what's happening here.

BOLDUAN: Let's see what happens just in the next hour, and we'll see what changes.

Great to see you all. Thanks so much. Really appreciate it.

TURNER: Thank you.

BOLDUAN: Coming up for us, how mad is President Trump over the search for his new chief of staff? So mad that one source says that the president is, quote, "super pissed." So why is he so "super pissed?" Stay with us. We'll tell you in a second.


[11:16:10] BOLDUAN: Moments from now, a Chuck and Nancy reunion. President Trump meeting at the White House with the two top Democrats in Congress later this hour. The big question is, can they reach a budget deal to avoid a partial government shutdown by next Friday's deadline, and maybe more importantly, if they reach a handshake deal, do they trust that everyone will stick with it once they leave the room?

CNN congressional correspondent, Phil Mattingly, is on Capitol Hill.

Phil, it looks like another slow-motion car crash we're watching play out yet again. Where do things stand now?

PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: At an impasse. When you talk to lawmakers and people in the room negotiating, the talks essentially fell apart eight or nine days ago. They haven't come back together. The issue remains the same. You talk about, Kate, there are seven appropriations bills that need to be passed by December 21st. It's only one appropriations bill and one issue holding things up. That's Homeland Security and the border wall. The president made clear, he wants $5 billion. Democrats made clear they won't go near that. Senate Democrats say there's a bipartisan proposal that will give him $1.6 billion. That's where they'll go. Nancy Pelosi, the Democratic leader, said she's willing to sign off on continuing the funding from the current level, about $1.3 billion, through the end of September. You need to bridge about a $3.4 billion gap right now, and that's a pretty big gap to bridge.

Here's why. It's the politics of things right now. The president has consistently threatened to shut down the government over this issue. Republican leaders have pushed him away from that until after the election. Well, Kate, we're now after the election. Democrats, they are about to take control in the House. That would essentially put to bed the wall effort for the time being. They're trying to get to that point. They're not in the mood to make concessions either.

How do you bridge that gap? That's the open question. To see where it stands now, take a look at the prebuttals of sorts. Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer putting out a statement saying, "At this point, the president's proposal doesn't have the vote to pass the House or the Senate." That's mostly true. And the president taking to Twitter, making clear, as he says, "Chuck and Nancy need to come to the table on a deal. There are off ramps here, short-term solutions, ways to try to bridge the gaps."

I will say this. Nobody that I'm talking to expects this meeting to be the moment where the gap is bridged, but they all acknowledge it's an important point and an important part in a process that's going to be taking place as they try to bridge the gaps. Will that process finish in 11 days? That, Kate, remains a very open question.

BOLDUAN: One thing that's almost always guaranteed, it's not going to finish short of 11 days. They never beat the deadline if they meet it. They never beat it. And yes, you're right. There's always an off ramp, a way to get it done. These are public posturing statements. Let's see what happens when they go behind closed doors.

Great to see you, Phil. Thank you, buddy.

Joining me to get another perspective on the state of play, Democratic Congressman Jamie Raskin, of Maryland. He's on the House Judiciary and Oversight Committees.

Congressman, thanks for coming in.

REP. JAMIE RASKIN, (D), MARYLAND: Thanks for having me, Kate.

BOLDUAN: Phil lays out perfectly as always. Reports are Pelosi and Schumer are going to go therein and talk to Trump about $1.3 billion, the existing levels right now for a border fence. You previously called, and I want to make sure I get it right, called the wall "a 14th century solution to a 21st century problem." Would you be OK with them agreeing to any money for any wall, fence, whatever you want to call it?

RASKIN: Our feeling about it is that the Republicans, at least for another three weeks, control the House, the Senate, and the White House. And if they want to go ahead and pass the budget without us, they can do it. But if they need our help, we don't believe in their wall. We're with the majority of American people who think it's a ridiculous waste of money. And the president is being very irresponsible if he's threatening to shut down the U.S. government at a time when the markets are already roiling and there's all this uncertainty out there over the wall, which we don't support. So our position is, sure, let's invest in border security. Let's do immigration reform. But let's get to the business of the American people and stop the nonsense about the wall.

[11:20:03] BOLDUAN: Two things. Yes, they are in control. But they do need, especially in the Senate, it's got to beat the 60-vote threshold. Just by the math, they need Democrats. But does that mean, then, that if -- would you come to the table and would you be OK with $1.3 billion or $1.6 billion in border wall funding?

RASKIN: No, we're for zero dollars in border wall funding. Now, we obviously support money for security measures at the border, as we always have. And so we're not averse to that, but we don't want to go down the road of putting, you know, $50 million in there and they say, oh, we have started the wall. It's true that the president promised he would build a wall. He also promised that Mexico would pay for it. If he wants to keep one promise, he should keep the other, too. Let the Mexican government pay for it.

BOLDUAN: If the government -- if there's a partial government shutdown and you're standing up for what you think is right and what you think the American people -- what you think the American people support, which is you don't want to support a border wall is what you're saying, do you risk, though, facing some of the backlash if again Republicans and Democrats can't find a way to come to the table? You guys could get something too, maybe he doesn't get $5 billion --

RASKIN: Well --

BOLDUAN: -- maybe he gets less, and it's under the umbrella of border security.

RASKIN: Well, border security we support and we have always supported. We can work with that. We don't support a border wall under any circumstances. And we think it's irresponsible for anybody who controls every branch of government right now to be threatening to shut down the government over that. We have always opposed government shutdowns. The GOP has favored government shutdowns. The president has said maybe what we need is a good government shutdown.


BOLDUAN: You can't really say the GOP supports government shutdowns but the president himself has said a government shutdown could be a good thing. He has --


RASKIN: The president has said it's a good time, what we need is a good government shutdown. That's tremendously irresponsible with all of the instability taking place around the world, with our markets in an uproar right now. So we're urging the president and anybody around him to encourage him to come to the table, pass something we can all agree to, and let's move forward and we will be able to insure some responsible government starting in January.

BOLDUAN: Let's see what happens in the next 11 days, then we'll talk about January.


BOLDUAN: I want to ask you about something else. Forty-four former Senators from both parties signed an opinion piece in the "Washington Post" today calling on current Senators to move beyond party, kind of a little bit of what we're talking about. They said this, in part: "We're at an inflection point in which the foundational principles of our democracy and our national security interests are at stake."

Do you think that's where we are? Are the foundational principles of democracy at stake right now?

RASKIN: I agree with their letter because, all over the world, authoritarianism is on the march against democracy. You have Putin in Russia, you have Orban in Hungary, Duterte in the Philippines. All these people are Donald Trump's friends, and we made league with every autocrat and despot around the world. We have to stand strong for the principles of liberal democracy, freedom of the press, freedom of speech, freedom of religious worship, all of the things that are under attack in countries like Saudi Arabia, where the homicidal crown prince orders the assassination of an American journalist, and the president simply winks at them and says that the arm sales to the Saudis are more important than enforcing the rule of law. So, yes, I do think that the rule of law and democracy are under attack. And it's very important for everybody, regardless of political party or persuasion, to stand up strong for democracy.

BOLDUAN: Congressman, you're a member of House Judiciary. The top Democrat on the committee, Jerry Nadler, he said this weekend, if the president did direct his former attorney, Michael Cohen, to make hush payments to women, they would be impeachable offenses, is how he put it. Whether they're important enough, though, he goes on to say, to justify impeachment is a different question, is where Nadler put it. Where do you land on this?

RASKIN: I think the chairman or the soon-to-be chairman, Nadler, is correct on this. If you take the Republican standard, the Republicans impeached Bill Clinton for telling one lie and for committing obstruction of justice about one affair. Allegedly, according to the U.S. attorney in the southern district of New York, President Trump directed a whole campaign finance cover-up scheme to pay off his former mistresses in order to conceal two affairs that he had. So it's pretty much the same kind of offense, although there were --


BOLDUAN: The president says that -- the reporting is that the president is worried about the House moving to impeach him or impeaching him when Democrats take over. Should he be worried?

[11:24:57] RASKIN: Well, I think he should be worried about what he did. Basically, he directed his private lawyer to circumvent the $2700 campaign finance limit by steering $150,000 there from his private company. It's a corporate contribution. It's over the limit. And it wasn't reported. He seems to be conceding now that these were campaign finance violations. He's trying to make them sound like they're mere technicalities, but it's serious business for people who take the campaign finance laws seriously. Of course, there are bigger fish to fry by the special counsel, who has zeroed in on the Moscow project, as they're calling it. That is the whole effort to use Russian influence in order to undermine our election and to steer the election towards the Republicans. I think that's where the bigger problems are going to be for this president. But nonetheless, I think the campaign finance scheme is a very serious one. And certainly, on the benchmark of Republican standards from the past, it would be an impeachable offense.

BOLDUAN: Yes, your words can come back to haunt you.

Great to see you. Thank you so much for coming in, Congressman.


RASKIN: Thanks for having me.

BOLDUAN: Thank you.

Coming up next for us, "super pissed," that's how one source describes the president after his top pick for chief of staff turns down the job. What's the plan B? That may be why he's so mad.