Return to Transcripts main page


Google CEO to Respond to Claims of Political Bias; China Detains Former Canadian Diplomat; Forty Four U.S. Senators Warn of Entering a Dangerous Period; GOP Shrugs at Trump's Involvement in Cohen Crimes; Pelosi, Schumer Meeting with Trump Over Looming Shutdown; U.S. Futures Higher After Wild Day on Wall Street. Aired 9- 9:30a ET

Aired December 11, 2018 - 09:00   ET


[09:00:11] POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: All right. Top of the hour. Good morning, everyone. I'm Poppy Harlow.


The possibility of impeachment -- that's right, impeachment -- is now weighing on the president himself. But that's still several weeks away. And even a single week like this one could bring a flood of new information peeling back the layers, the many layers of the Russia probe.

Today alone there is a hearing for former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort as his lawyers try to explain what prosecutors say are the lies that Manafort told repeatedly regarding in particular his contacts with Russians. And at any moment former Trump National Security adviser Michael Flynn will ask a judge for no jail time in line with what Mueller said he deserves, this because of his cooperation with the Russia investigation.

HARLOW: As the court drama continues a new CNN poll out this morning shows faith in the president's handling of the Russia's probe is beginning to slip. You see the numbers there. At the same time, though, the same poll shows support for special counsel Bob Mueller is also declining.

Joining us now to help unpack all of it, our reporter Kara Scannell joins us.

I mean, is this fatigue? Why is it we're looking at dip on both fronts?

KARA SCANNELL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, I think, you know, what we're seeing is the reality of this, all the information that's been coming out in the last couple of weeks. And, I mean, this week is really going to be a super busy week in the Mueller investigation. We begin today with lawyers for Paul Manafort back in court. They're going to make their case about, you know, this issue of lies.

I mean, prosecutors from the special counsel's office on Friday had said that Manafort has lied about his contacts with individuals in the White House that were continuing into this year as he was facing his criminal trial, as well as his ongoing conversations with one of his former business partners who the special counsel's office has linked to Russian military intelligence.

We're also going to learn today from Michael Flynn. We're going to hear from his lawyers who are submitting their sentencing memorandum where they're going to make their case for why he should get no jail time. It's -- you know, we heard from the special counsel's office last week that Flynn was very critical as an early person in cooperating. He's one of the first people in. He also offered first- hand information about interactions between Trump's transition team and Russian officials. But that sentencing memorandum was heavily redacted.

We anticipate Flynn's court filing today will also be very heavily redacted. But it's going to really kick off what is a busy week. Tomorrow we have Michael Cohen being sentenced. He faces around four years in prison. He's going to make the case that he shouldn't get, you know, any time and a reduced jail sentence. We should hear from prosecutors there in the court hearing tomorrow.

It will be a very dramatic day. The culmination of Michael Cohen's story. And then we're also expecting tomorrow afternoon, Maria Butina, the accused Russian spy, is changing her plea. She's going to plead guilty, according to sources, to a conspiracy charge. And we might learn additional information about how she's going to cooperate with government officials in that case -- Poppy, Jim.

HARLOW: Kara, thank you for all of that.

There is a lot coming this morning. Let's talk to our chief legal analyst, former federal prosecutor Jeffrey Toobin about this. Alex Burns, our political analyst and national political reporter for "The New York Times" is also with us.

So, Alex, let me just go to you first on the politics by the American people are feeling and that is the fact that, you know, you've got 29 percent of people approve of how the president is handling the Russian probe right now. If you break it down among party lines, Trump has a new low among Republicans' support of how he's handling it, which is 51 percent of Republicans. That's a 17-point drop from October. That is notable right now. Right now 50 percent feel that Mueller's investigation will likely implicate Trump in wrongdoing.

I mean, what do you make specifically of the decline in support among Republicans for the president's handling of the probe?

ALEX BURNS, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, I think it's really notable that that 17-point drop --


BURNS: Comes before or after the midterm elections, right? So at the peak of the midterm campaign you do have a pretty strong majority of Republicans saying we're going to stand by our man. We think he's doing a fine job. You can see that in a lot of political polling that at the heat of an electoral campaign, everything is just more polarized. The people go to their corners, right? And now that you have the pressure of a D versus R choice coming off of voters, maybe some Republicans are more comfortable expressing some reservations that they may actually have had all along.

It's also been a pretty eventful few weeks in the investigation. The president has not exactly been covering himself with glory by any traditional political or legal standard. But I do think the notion of the pressure of the midterm elections coming off loosening the Republican coalition is something you're seeing on a bunch of different fronts.

SCIUTTO: Jeffrey Toobin, so today you've got -- we're going to learn something. We're not going to learn everything because this after all is Robert Mueller, the special counsel. It will be cloaked in legalese and so on.


SCIUTTO: But we'll learn something about Michael Flynn and his substantial assistance to investigators. I mean, the difference with Michael Flynn is that the communications with Russia he lied about were during this transition. They were after this president was elected dealing with sanctions or real issues, something that Russia wanted lifted, and appeared with the possibility the Trump administration was offering that to Russians.

[09:05:07] How is that different for this president in terms of the cooperation that Michael Flynn can offer special counsel investigators versus others like Michael Cohen?


JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN CHIEF LEGAL ANALYST: Well, I think what's important about Michael Flynn is that he operated at the very high level. He was the National Security adviser. He was a close aide to candidate Trump during the campaign. They can't -- no one can say, as they said about George Papadopoulos, that he was just the guy getting coffee. And what I think is extremely important to know from Michael Flynn is what were the nature of the context he was aware of between people affiliated with Russia and the Trump campaign and the candidate himself during 2016?

You know, that's what this investigation is about at its core. Was there coordination, a conspiracy, collusion between the Trump campaign and Russian interests? Mike Flynn is someone who would clearly know something about that.

HARLOW: Jeffrey Toobin, also I want to get your take on, as it pertains to Michael Cohen, Newt Gingrich, a prominent Republican obviously, says look, for the American people to get the full picture, because you have so many Republican senators brushing off pretty much everything Michael Cohen has said. Newt Gingrich said the American people should get to hear the tape of Cohen's testimony before Mueller and his prosecutors. Your thoughts? TOOBIN: Well, I think one thing you know for sure is that Michael

Cohen is going to be summoned to testify before committees in the House -- in the Democratically-controlled House of Representatives. I have been talking to members of Congress who are already planning to bring him in. And it's not just one committee either. So I don't think there is going to be a shortage of opportunities to hear what Michael Cohen has to say.

We still don't know the full nature of his cooperation. We do know that Mueller wrote a memo that said he cooperated in some very important areas, and his guilty plea was -- you know, revealed a whole new chapter of the relationship between Donald Trump and Russian interests. But I don't think we have to worry that Michael Cohen is going to disappear from the face of the earth. The Democrats in Congress now have the ability and very much the intention of calling him as a witness to testify in public.

HARLOW: Right.

SCIUTTO: So, Alex Burns, the Republican line in response to Cohen's testimony here is clear. The president and his lawyers have said for some time he's a liar, although previously they said he wasn't a liar. But anyway, they're lately calling him a liar. And you saw Republican senators line up behind that yesterday. Orrin Hatch, John Kennedy, John Thune.

Let's listen to Orrin Hatch because he was particularly forward leaning on this point.



SEN. ORRIN HATCH (R), JUDICIARY COMMITTEE: The Democrats will do anything to hurt this president, anything. And what happened before he was elected president, you know, it's one thing. But since he's been elected, the economy has done well, our country is moving ahead, we're in better shape than we were before he became president. I think we ought to judge him on that basis.

MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: But this is not the Democrats. It is the Southern District of New York, the U.S. attorney. I mean, that's what's making these allegations.

HATCH: You think he's a Republican, do you?

RAJU: Well, he was appointed by the president. He's been appointed by the president.

HATCH: OK. But I don't care. All I can say is he's doing a good job as president.


SCIUTTO: "I don't care" kind of says it all. I mean, and just for the fact, I just want to remind folks of what Orrin Hatch said in 1999 when a different president, a Democrat as it happens, was being, you know, risked impeachment because of personal issues. "Committing crimes of moral turpitude such as perjury and obstruction of justice go to the heart of qualification for public office. These offenses were committed by the chief executive of our country, the individual who swore to faithfully execute the laws of the United States."

I mean -- and it's not only Orrin Hatch who has a direct contradiction between what he said then regarding crimes of lying, personal issues, et cetera. There are other Republicans. Does that matter to Republican lawmakers or Republican voters today? That contradiction.

BURNS: The contradiction I think clearly does not matter, right? Orrin Hatch, though, does have the luxury of only having a couple more weeks left on the job, right?


BURNS: That he'll be out of the Senate a month from now. A lot of other Republican senators are going to need to confront all these issues and a lot more. And Jeffrey mentioned the House -- the likelihood -- certainty of House hearings on all of this. You're going to have Republicans in a much more uncomfortable position that they've ever been before when you have a very public, very adversarial hearing on all of this.

HARLOW: It seems like Orrin Hatch is trying to differentiate here by saying, look, there are things that happen before you are in the office of the presidency and after. And the quote, you know, in 1999, he's referring to while -- he's being a sitting president and it seems like that's what a number of Republican senators -- Jim named just a few of -- the many of them are trying to do, saying look, it's one thing before, talking about campaign finance violations here, and one thing when you're in office.

[09:10:13] How long can they walk that line and have it fly with voters?

BURNS: Well, if that's the line you are trying to hold here, that would essentially make the entire Mueller probe irrelevant, right, because it scrutinizes events that happened during the presidential election. Maybe to some extent since he became president.

HARLOW: Right.

BURNS: But the whole Russia story in its inception is a pre- presidential story, right? If that's the line you're taking, I don't think we have any indication that that's going to fly with voters and even with a lot of Republicans as CNN's polling suggests, don't really buy this idea that all of this is drummed up.

HARLOW: Right.

BURNS: I do think there's a warning flag for Democrats there in what Orrin Hatch had to say about trying immediately to cast the SDNY prosecutors as Democratic partisan.

HARLOW: Right.

BURNS: Which they're not. But the Democratic House, they certainly are.

SCIUTTO: It's such an obvious misleading statement. In fact, the previous occupant of that seat was fired by President Trump, Preet Bharara, and replaced with a Trump appointee. So to call -- you know, to put him in that category of, you know, 17 or 18 angry Democrats.

HARLOW: Great point.

SCIUTTO: Which also isn't founded because, you know, Bob Mueller and others are Republicans, but, you know, sometimes the facts just don't matter anymore in public statements.

Anyway, Jeffrey Toobin, Alex Burns, thanks very much.

Mueller's probe and impeachment talk front and center as President Trump scrambles to find a new chief of staff. This as a source tells CNN that the president was, quote, "super pissed," excuse the use of that word, after the person he wanted to replace John Kelly, Nick Ayers, turned the job down.

HARLOW: Our next guest is reporting the president did not have a plan B. With us CNN political analyst Josh Dawsey with a fascinating new piece out this morning in "The Post."

Look, many great lines, but let me read one of them from your reporting this morning. "Trump was left at the altar." Imagining that. You report extensively on how this all went down and that the president was pretty clear he wanted Nick Ayers. They had all of these lunches with the four of them, with Kelly, with Ayers, with Pence, with the president leading up to this. They had gotten very close. And that there was no plan B. How can there be no plan B for such an important post?

JOSH DAWSEY, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, the president frankly thought Nick Ayers was going to take the job and so did most others in the White House. I mean, Nick Ayers was somewhat integral to the entire push of John Kelly leaving the post. The president had been frustrated with Kelly for several months and was ready for him to go. And Jared and Ivanka were obviously big supporters of Nick Ayers and wanted to impose him on the job, and the president was prepared for him to accept it.

In fact they had already begun, you know, dropping new releases and talking about how they were going to roll it out, and then Ayers got cold feet. Now the president is interviewing or talking to a number of candidates and a pretty discordant and wide-ranging search where it's really unclear at this point who it is going to be now. And it could take several weeks, we're told.

SCIUTTO: So what happened to the best of your knowledge, Josh Dawsey? "Vanity Fair" made a good point that Nick Ayers was concerned beyond the legal issues, Russia investigation, et cetera, beyond the difficulty of working for this president as a chief of staff, we've seen that, Nick Ayers made a lot of money, nothing wrong with that.

DAWSEY: Right.

SCIUTTO: Tens of millions of dollars in fact as a political consultant before he entered this administration. His level of concern about scrutiny for those findings, was that a major factor?

DAWSEY: It was a factor for some in the White House. They had already begun receiving lots of questions from reporters. There was a chance there was going to be Democratic oversight. If you talk to Nick Ayers supporters they'll say to you that he wanted to go back to Georgia. He's going to be supporting the president on the outside running his super PAC. He's going to be doing in private sector. There are a whole host of reasons for him doing it that are not negative.

But, you know, others in the White House tell us his finances were certainly part of the calculation. And also the difficulty that both Reince Priebus and John Kelly had on the job. In some ways Ayers got the best of both worlds. He's got the president clamoring for him, really wanting him, him being speculated for front runner in choice without actually having to do the job. Because for the last two chiefs of staff, it really didn't end well and it ended with kind of a diminish reputation and, you know, a lot of bad blood with the president. A considerable bad blood. So Ayers is able to avoid that, still support the president. So I'm not sure that he actually turned out so bad here.

HARLOW: That's an interesting point. And, you know, we might know today, we might know in the next minute, in the next hour, because the president said I think two or three days ago now that he'd make the decision in the next few days.

SCIUTTO: If he's got candidates


DAWSEY: I don't think we're quite there yet, guys. I think it will be a while.

HARLOW: All right. All right. We'll take your word for that.

Josh Dawsey, great reporting. Thank you very much.

Ahead for us, 44 former senators with a dire warning. We are entering a dangerous period. Why they are telling current senators to be, quote, "steadfast and zealous guardians of democracy."

Also minutes from now, what could be a very tense hearing on Capitol Hill. Google's CEO will testify publicly for the first time facing allegations of political bias against conservatives. What will he say?

SCIUTTO: Plus U.S.-China tensions rising. A former Canadian diplomat being detained in China, this as you'll remember a top Chinese executive remains in a Canadian jail, possibly to be extradited to the U.S. What's happening here? Tit-for-tat? Hostage-taking? The major implications ahead.


[09:15:00] HARLOW: Facing allegations of political bias against conservatives. What will he say?

SCIUTTO: Plus, U.S.-China tensions rising -- a former Canadian diplomat being detained in China. This as you'll remember, a top Chinese executive remains in a Canadian jail, possibly to be extradited to the U.S. What's happening here? Tit-for-tat, hostage taking and major implications ahead.


SCIUTTO: A dire warning and a plea for bipartisanship. Forty four former U.S. senators, Republican and Democrat, we should note, signing on to an open letter in the "Washington Post". In it, they warn current lawmakers of a tipping point in the U.S. as Robert Mueller finalizes his report and House Democrats prepare to investigate this president.

Here is part of that letter and we're quoting. "It is our shared view that we are entering a dangerous period -- at other critical moments in our history when constitutional crisis have threatened our foundations. It has been the Senate that has stood in defense of our democracy.

[09:20:00] Today is once again such a time. We urge current and future senators to be steadfast and zealous guardians of our democracy by ensuring that partisanship or self-interest not replace national interest."

Let's discuss now with Democratic Congressman Mike Quigley of Illinois; he's on the Intelligence and Appropriations Committees. Congressman, thanks for taking the time this morning.

REP. MIKE QUIGLEY (D), ILLINOIS: Good morning, thank you.

SCIUTTO: So this letter, it gives a noble message, an important one, but not the first time we have heard one like this if not from former lawmakers, from former national security officials, defense officials, but those messages have not sparked action.

And you've seen a very partisan response for instance in the last couple of days to the revelations from the Mueller and Cohen investigations. Why has this kind of urging from some very respected Republicans and Democrats not sparked change?

QUIGLEY: Yes, I don't know that it will. It's extraordinarily disappointing. I would only amend the letter to say we entered that dangerous period some time ago. What's disheartening for me is that those who have stepped up are those Republicans who are leaving, right?

I mean, I appreciate Senator Flake's effort to get the bill on the floor to protect the Mueller investigation. Where are those who are sticking around? Where are their efforts to do this? Where are the equivalents of Senator McCain on the House Republican side?

This is the time to step up. This is the extraordinary period of our life where the rule of law and our constitutional protections are at risk. We are learning each day of new threats to this. I think last week, we saw for the first time, witness tampering by tweets by the president of the United States. Now is the time to act.

SCIUTTO: Let me ask you, because four Democrats you have a challenge coming up, it's been articulated by members of your own party, Jared Nadler, incoming chairman of the House Judiciary Committee who said, listen, what he has seen so far looks like an impeachable offense specific to campaign finance violations or alleged violations.

But the Democrats, it still might not be politically smart or wise for them to pursue impeachment against this president. Where do you stand on that?

QUIGLEY: I've --

SCIUTTO: Or is the evidence you've seen so far, are those of impeachable offenses and would you then vote to impeach?

QUIGLEY: Look, I put it this way. I have told the Republicans that they need to let the Mueller investigation continue to its completion and restart the House investigation to find out exactly what took place and how to stop it in the future.

I think it's only fair for me to say to those in my own party, let the Mueller investigation complete its work. Let's get the complete round up. There are those who wanted to move forward with impeachment months ago, before we knew anything about the extraordinary details of the Cohen investigation, Manafort and General Flynn.

Those were pretty breath-taking revelations that have taken place. And we're those who wanted to go forward before we knew any of that. I think we have to be fair and consistent. We're going to take control of the House in January, and I believe it's incumbent upon us to work on a bipartisan basis or at least to offer to our Republican counterparts to do so, then it's up to them to act. Show the American people that we're going to be fair --

SCIUTTO: OK, but from your perspective -- because to be fair, you will have the majority. You have the ability to act on your own. The evidence you've seen so far are those impeachable offenses by this president.

QUIGLEY: I'll put it this way. The president has abused his power. We have seen a detailed accounts of the Trump financial and political world forging ties with a foreign adversary for their own political and financial gain. I believe there has been an effort, a conspiracy to work with Russians toward that end.

I believe the president of the United States obstructed this investigation and others joined in that obstruction. And I believe my Republican counterparts were complicit in that obstruction. These are extraordinary statements. But I was a criminal defense attorney for ten years.

I know that you don't stop an investigation halfway through because you think you have enough. You want to find out --

SCIUTTO: Right --

QUIGLEY: Everything because you want to protect the American public, you want to inform the American public.

SCIUTTO: OK, I want to ask you about a very immediate issue, and that is funding battle on the Hill. You saw the president today signal something -- I mean, it's hard to read in his tweets alone. But he seemed to be saying that more of the wall has been built already than people realize and that the Defense Department, the military, could complete it.

You've got Democratic leaders meeting with the president today. Does that look like an off-ramp to you that the president might back down on that $25 billion figure and you can therefore avoid a government shutdown?

[09:25:00] QUIGLEY: We want to avoid a government shutdown. As you know, though, unfortunately, the president has been predictably unpredictable and reliably unreliable. There was funding for border security that passed in last year's budget, over a billion dollars that they haven't used yet.

If they want to compromise, continue that funding on into this year, let's not hold up the other six appropriations bills that need to get done. And all by the way, passing a bill to protect women against violence, a farm bill, disaster relief, the list goes on.

We have work to do. We don't need a president who's had a bad month acting out and making that even more difficult.

SCIUTTO: Congressman Mike Quigley, thanks for joining us this morning.

QUIGLEY: Any time, thank you.

HARLOW: All right, so we're just moments away from the opening bell on Wall Street. Let's take a look at futures pointing a little bit higher I believe this morning in the green there. Investors though keeping a very close eye on the tense trade talks and where they stand between the U.S. and China. Back with more in a moment.