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Michael Flynn Sentencing Filing and Paul Manafort Hearing This Week; Nancy Pelosi, Chuck Schumer Meeting with Trump Over Looming Shutdown; Trump Interested in David Bossie as Chief of Staff; NOAA Reports on Human-Made Climate Change; Aired 10-10:30a ET

Aired December 11, 2018 - 10:00   ET

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


[10:00:01] JEAN CASAREZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: I incessantly had nothing other than scorn for humanity. I have been desperate to feel anything positive for someone for my entire life. And recovered from his computer was a spreadsheet that Lanza put together for over four years, from 2006 to 2010, detailing mass killings all the way back to 1786. According to "The Current" there was great detailing of these mass murders by Lanza, and the killings were arranged by how many people were murdered.

POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: Jean Casarez.

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN ANCHOR: Just heartbreaking. Thank you.

HARLOW: Thank you. Important update. We appreciate it.

SCIUTTO: Well, good morning to you. Thanks so much for joining us. I'm Jim Sciutto.

HARLOW: And I'm Poppy Harlow. We're glad you're with us this morning. A major week, as every day goes by, we could learn more crucial information about the Russia investigation. Starting today, as lawmakers for former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort go to court, they will be trying to explain what prosecutors say are the lies that Manafort repeatedly told them.

Also, at any moment now, former Trump National Security adviser Michael Flynn will ask a judge for no jail time. That is right in line with what Mueller, the special counsel, said he deserved for all the cooperation that he has given in the Russia investigation.

SCIUTTO: Now this is happening as the president is trying to make a deal to avoid a looming government shutdown. He's going to meet with Democrats, Nancy Pelosi, the incoming speaker, Chuck Schumer, the incoming -- well, the current minority leader. This in the next hour. But we start with the Russia investigation and CNN reporter Kara Scannell joins me now.

So, what are you looking for in these documents today? Always difficult to interpret. A lot of the details taken out. But what might be learn?

KARA SCANNELL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Jim, I think what we're going to really look for in the Michael Flynn sentencing memo is, you know, what his version of his cooperation is. Special counsel gave him a very supportive letter saying he had help -- he's helping them on three criminal investigations, his early access, his early ability to cooperate was instrumental. They said he was providing first-hand information about Trump transition team members, contacts with Russians, that they view as being all part of a substantial assistance effort by Flynn for the government.

Now Flynn, his lawyers are going to make the point that, you know, this was a blip in what has been the general's very admirable career where he's been, you know, a public servant for the U.S., serving in the military for decades. So they're really going to, you know, push the point not only has he been cooperative but also his human qualities and how he has, you know, really been, you know, a servant of the U.S. government for years.

You know, we may also see a little bit more information from the Manafort hearing today, see what his lawyers are going to say about the lies that Special Counsel Mueller's team has said Manafort committed including lying about continued contacts with the White House administration during this year leading up to Manafort's trial, as well as his contacts with his former business associate who the special counsel's office says has tied to Russian military intelligence.

So we might learn a little bit more in court today about how Manafort's team is going to combat that. Are they really going to push back on these lies which could lead to even more information coming out? Mueller's team said they're ready to prove point by point each and every one of these lies, or will they ask the judge to let move this forward to sentencing and have Manafort eat his lumps. That we should learn a little bit more about later today -- Jim, Poppy.

SCIUTTO: We'll be watching. Kara Scannell, thanks very much.

Joining us now is former federal prosecutor Stephen Binhak. He was also involved in the Whitewater investigation of the Clintons. A lot of relevant experience.

Stephen, thanks for taking the time this morning.

STEPHEN BINHAK, FORMER ASSOCIATE INDEPENDENT COUNSEL IN WHITEWATER INVESTIGATION: Thanks for having me.

SCIUTTO: So, the fact is, even though we don't know a lot about the Mueller investigation, we do know a fair amount.

HARLOW: Yes.

SCIUTTO: We know the number of contacts between Russians and the Trump campaign right through the transition. Many of them lied about. We know the nature of what the Russians were offering the Trump campaign, cooperation, synergy, they said, politically. Offers of business cooperation. We know that there was interest expressed from the Trump campaign side. They took all these meetings. They never said no, never reported it to the FBI. And then repeatedly lied about it.

You have that. What do you need from there to meet the threshold of a conspiracy?

BINHAK: Well, a conspiracy under the laws of the United States means that two or more people agree to violate the laws of the United States. There are various laws that apply to campaign finance, to election law, and things like that. So you would have to show that two people made an agreement.

If the Russians tried to get to the election -- to the election group of Donald Trump and they didn't succeed, if they came in and somebody said no, I don't want to talk to you, get away from me, that would not be collusion. That would not be a conspiracy. What you need to show is that the Russians made an effort and that someone accepted the agreement to make a problem with the elections and then committed what's called an overt act, which means that you have to do some act in furtherance of the conspiracy.

[10:05:01] So what we're looking for right now is an agreement from the campaign side to also engage in this collusion or this conspiracy, a criminal conspiracy, and an overt act in furtherance of the conspiracy.

HARLOW: Let me ask you as it pertains to that and what you just laid out. Of all the filings that we are expecting to get this week, Kara just laid out some of them, which one are you watching most closely and why?

BINHAK: Well, they're all interesting in their own way. Flynn, very interesting because he was so highly placed and because the special counsel's office has said that he had particularly valuable cooperation. Interesting thing about Flynn, though, is typically a prosecutor will not sentence fully a cooperator prior to the end of his cooperation. So if Flynn is sentenced, gets no sentence or a probationary sentence, then the prosecutor really has nothing over him. So he would not make a typical witness.

HARLOW: Right.

BINHAK: So that's interesting in the sense that he hasn't.

Manafort is interesting in two respects. One is it appears that he lied about a number of things, the special counsel saying he lied about a number of things, but the special counsel is basically cutting him loose, saying to the court he breached his plea agreement. He's lied repeatedly. He's useful to us, so he can't be much of a witness.

Cohen is interesting, too, because he is cooperating, the special counsel on one hand says he's cooperating in a very fulsome way on the Russian investigation. The Southern District of New York saying he is not cooperating very well on his own conduct.

HARLOW: Right. BINHAK: So you get this dichotomy between the two of them, and he

will have a significant sentence, probably, over his head after he is sentenced.

HARLOW: Yes.

SCIUTTO: Stephen --

BINHAK: And so he may be the best witness going forward.

SCIUTTO: Let me ask you this, because the Cohen -- Cohen is the one so far that has directly implicated this president in a crime. Cohen has testified under oath that the president directed him to break campaign finance laws allegedly. The president, Republicans lining up now behind this argument, well, Cohen is a liar, which is a fair argument. You can make that argument. But the special -- the Southern District of New York, it is pursuing these charges which makes you assume that they would have more evidence to back that up.

I mean, what is the key here? What would be the bar for that to be a crime for the president to have directed this? Because I know part of it is about the timing of the payments. Was it relevant to the election, you know, an attempt to defraud and affect the voting public. Another bid is about the intent to cover up that behavior.

From a lawyer's perspective, is calling Cohen a liar enough to defend the president here?

BINHAK: Well, no. And every defense attorney, myself included, calls every snitch a liar. I mean, that's the stock and trade of cross- examination. So that is what it is. But I think you have two issues that you have to watch with Cohen. One is an evidentiary issue. What can the Southern District of New York or any other federal prosecutor in any district corroborate what he says. He said in his plea colloquy in front of the judge in count seven and count eight, he said I'm guilty. I made these payments to these two women, and I did it in coordination and at the direction of Individual 1, who is president of the United States, Donald Trump.

So number one is do you have corroboration beyond that to -- so that you just can't say it's my word against his, he's a liar. That's hard to get beyond a reasonable doubt in that, which is what you need to make a criminal conviction. The evidentiary burden is also very important. For a federal election campaign violation, it has to be knowing and willful violation.

HARLOW: Right.

BINHAK: Willful meaning that the defendant must know and intend to break the law. So even if Cohen intended to break the law, you would still need Individual 1, the president, Donald Trump.

SCIUTTO: Right.

BINHAK: To also intend to break the law. So you got this evidentiary side you have to satisfy and you also have to have a witness who can say that in a believable, credible, corroborated way so that it gets beyond a reasonable doubt.

SCIUTTO: Well, the attorney for the Southern District of New York appointed by President Trump.

HARLOW: Thinks it is, yes.

SCIUTTO: Apparently thinks he has a case there. Now the judge, jury, might decide otherwise.

HARLOW: That's a fact that you point, Stephen.

BINHAK: Well --

HARLOW: And then of course you have the whole John Edwards case and Rudy Giuliani bringing that up and what sort of precedent that sets as well. We'll have you back. We're out of time. But thank you for being with us.

BINHAK: Thanks so much for having me.

HARLOW: Nancy Pelosi, Chuck Schumer heading to the White House next hour to meet with the president. To be a fly on the wall, right, for that one.

A partial government shutdown less than two weeks away if the two sides can't agree on funding for border security.

Let's get to Phil Mattingly who's on the Hill.

So confident something gets done today to keep the engine running and the government open?

PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, in short, no. But it's part of the process. Look, in talking to aides and officials who are involved on all sides of these negotiations, particularly those that are heading over to the White House today and the White House staff, one person equated it to kind of a boxing match right now where this is a round and there are multiple rounds to go, but it's an important step.

[10:10:12] And it might be posturing and they might come out of the White House with both sides still firmly entrenched on opposite sides of these talks, but this is something that needs to happen to get to an end game. The real question right now, guys, is what that end game will actually be.

President Trump has made clear, he wants $5 billion for his border wall. What Senator Chuck Schumer has said is the Senate on a bipartisan manner has agreed to $1.6 billion. That's as far as he's willing to go. Where House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi stands is she believes that they should just continue the current levels of funding through September of next year.

Now how do you bridge a $3.6 billion gap? That remains a very open question. There are off-ramps here, there are ways to get around this, punting this for three months, but at this point in time, someone is going to have to back down. And as we head into this meeting, I can tell you that at this moment, nobody is budging yet. We'll see if that shifts over the course of the next couple hours -- guys.

SCIUTTO: We know you'll be watching. Phil Mattingly, on the Hill, thanks very much.

Still to come this hour, sources tell CNN that President Trump sees impeachment as, quote, "a real possibility." All of this as the president is on the hunt still for a new chief of staff.

HARLOW: We also have details on a new climate change report released moments ago, this after a Trump adviser was laughed at during the world's biggest climate change conference for promoting fossil fuels.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[10:15:47] SCIUTTO: Right now President Trump is scrambling to lock in his next chief of staff and he's got impeachment on his mind. One source telling CNN that the president is now interested in David Bossie's impeachment experience as he searches for a new chief of staff. Could his former deputy campaign manager get the gig as a result of that experience?

HARLOW: Maybe. With us now CNN political commentator, former Hillary Clinton presidential campaign manager, Patti Solis Doyle, and CNN political commentator and former Ted Cruz communications director Alice Stewart.

Good morning, ladies. Nice to have you. And Alice, let me just begin with you. Given the mind frame of the president as it comes to impeachment, as we know the Democrats will take control of the House in a matter of days, come January. David Bossie, political. He knows how to deal with impeachment proceedings. Very different skill set than John Kelly. Smart pick for the president if it is him?

ALICE STEWART, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: I think so. Because look, the chief of staff moving forward into 2020 needs to be different than the one moving into the White House when the president first got there. He needs to be strategic, he needs to be political, he needs to be able to handle the investigative side of this, which is what he has experience to do, and he needs to marry that with strategic communications going into 2020.

And with his political experience working in the past on various issues and campaigns, I think there's tremendous names on the list for chief of staff, but David Bossie checks all those boxes in my view of the perfect person not only that can fill the role necessary but someone that gets along with this president as well as the current staff. And he has that built-in relationship. So I think all the great names we have on the list, I see him as someone right at the top right now.

SCIUTTO: Patti Solis Doyle, I wonder if that is an indicator that the focus for this president, perhaps by necessity, in the second half of his term, is going to be on defense like this rather than, again, you know, there are other handicaps in the way. One being the Democrats now control Congress. Makes it of course more difficult to push through legislation.

In your view, is that going to be the driving force in these last two years?

PATTI SOLIS DOYLE, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: I think so, Jim. This is a very, very difficult terrain for the president right now. He's already been implicated in crimes from the Southern District of New York. We have the Mueller probe that is ongoing, but all signs seem to point to coming -- near its end with a probably very difficult report for the president. We've got a, you know, Democratic-led House in Congress with all sorts of subpoena power. And more importantly, though, a much more better hand to play in terms of legislating.

So he's going to have a lot of difficult fights with Congress. And we have a president with a very, very low approval rating. And so yes, whoever the chief of staff is going to be, they are going to be playing defense from day one as soon as they take the job.

SCIUTTO: Alice, you're aware of the developments with Michael Cohen. The line coming now, not just from the president but from a string of Republican senators, in defense of the president is basically that Michael Cohen is a liar on this. And of course, they changed their tune because prior or earlier in this year, they were saying he was an honest man who would tell his story correctly. But I want to play what the president has said about those payments to the women during the campaign in the final months of the campaign and ask you about it. Have a listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Did you know about the payments?

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Later on, I knew. Later on. But you have to understand, Nancy, what he did, and they weren't taken out of campaign finance. That's a big thing. That's a much bigger thing. Did they come out of the campaign? They didn't come out of the campaign. They came from me.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SCIUTTO: So the president, of course, prior to that admission, had said he knew nothing about the payments.

HARLOW: Right.

SCIUTTO: So why is the president's word more trustworthy here? He has an interest in this, than Michael Cohen? I mean, if that statement he just said is true, then his prior statements were lies.

STEWART: Sadly, Jim, neither one of them in my view are very truthful with regard to this matter because there's not just the political aspect of this but there's the personal aspect of this for the president. [10:20:05] And with all this talk about what to do moving forward with

the president, look, this Mueller investigation, this probe started off with really serious concerns about whether or not this administration colluded with Russia to influence the election.

We're truly not seeing that. It's important to have a wait and see mode with regard to this. And what we're seeing out of Cohen is clearly in my view nothing more than pay-off to a porn star and a Playmate to cover up an affair. And in my view, that's not grounds for impeachment. That's grounds for divorce. And I'm saying I'm a communications expert, I'm not a marriage counselor, but moving forward I don't see from a political standpoint that's anything more than a personal matter that the president needs to deal with.

SCIUTTO: Point of fact, Michael Cohen also testified about Russian Trump campaign discussions of a business deal in Moscow, so it wasn't purely confined to the marriage. But just point of fact there.

HARLOW: Let me ask you, Patti, just jumping back to the chief of staff conversation here because a former tweet of the president has been brought up a lot now. Having to do with chiefs of staff. He wrote back in 2012, "Three chiefs of staff in less than three years of being president, part of the reason why Barack Obama can't manage his agenda."

The irony is priceless, I get that. Right? There's a tweet for everything.

DOYLE: Right.

HARLOW: But this would be Trump's third chief of staff in two years, but President Obama over his years had five. George W. Bush had two. Bill Clinton had four. And those are over more years, yes, I understand that, but is it so abnormal here?

DOYLE: Look, the turnover rate for this particular administration, the Trump administration, is like 63 percent. And yes, that is abnormal when you compare it to most recent presidents.

HARLOW: So you think it's part of a big picture issue here, not just that this will be a third chief of staff.

DOYLE: I think that the president of the United States, Donald Trump, does what he wants, says what he wants, whenever he wants. And he will not be managed. And so I think it puts whoever the chief of staff is in a very, very difficult position. One that is not only unpleasant but very humiliating at times. And we've seen that with Reince Priebus and we've seen it with John Kelly.

I think save for Nikki Haley, it is hard to find someone who has left this administration without their reputation and integrity intact. And so I think it's going to be very difficult for the president to find someone who is, you know, not only willing to take on a Democratic-led House and a Mueller probe and partisanship, but to take on, you know, losing their reputation.

HARLOW: Thank you both for being here. Patti, nice to have you, as always, and Alice, we'll have you back soon.

All right. A very important new climate change report. There have been a number of them lately, and they're all very important. Even if some in Washington try to dismiss them. Talking about human caused climate change, causing unparalleled warmth in the arctic. This as a Trump adviser is laughed at during a climate change conference overseas this week.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[10:27:53] SCIUTTO: So some big environmental headlines today that will affect our lives. President Trump is expected in the next hour to roll back clean water regulations put in place by the Obama administration.

The president fulfilling a campaign promise to change the definition of which waters in the U.S. are protected under the Clean Water Act. This coming as the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration known as NOAA just released its report moments ago showing the arctic ice experiencing unparalleled warmth and human-caused climate change is to blame for that. On top of all that, Trump adviser was mocked, laughed at even, during a major climate change conference as he at a climate change conference tried to push the use of fossil fuels.

Joining me now is Martin Hoenling, he's the research meteorologist with NOAA and a co-author of the new report.

I want to start with a couple of things here, because you have said that from this report that, quote, "the human fingerprint" is more evident today. Tell us why.

DR. MARTIN HOENLING, RESEARCH METEOROLOGIST, NOAA: Well, part of this has to do with the ongoing warming that the planet is experiencing. I mean, even in the seven years in which this report, I'm linking climate to weather patterns and extreme events, in that seven years, we've seen the global temperature rise about a quarter of degree Celsius. Sounds like a small number, but it has a huge effect on not just extreme weather but the way those weather patterns are impacting society.

SCIUTTO: Understood. And just for our folks at home, this data just struck me, that the arctic air temperatures for the past five years, 2014 to 2018, have exceeded all previous records since 1900. The hottest five years in the last five years. I got a taste of that. I went up to the Arctic in March with the U.S. Navy. And the U.S. Navy chronicles, tracks the shrinking of the Arctic ice as well. And we got a vision of that from up there. It's clear. You can see it. You can see it in the air. Tell us about this data and what was most striking to you.

HOENLING: So, in our report, in addition to looking at Arctic changes, we have looked at weather events that occurred in the past years throughout the world, including such remote areas as the Tasman Sea and a hot ocean temperature event that occurred in 2017 over the Tasman Sea.