Return to Transcripts main page


U.S. Clips Accused Russian Spy Who Infiltrated NRA and GOP Circles; Judge Sets January Hearing Date for Manafort Lying Accusations; Cohen Aided Prosecutors in Trump Organization Probe; Democrat Who Will Lead Oversight Committee Weighs in on Trump; Trump Says He'd Be Proud to Shut down the Government. Aired 3:30-4p ET

Aired December 11, 2018 - 15:30   ET



BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN HOST: Just in, another update from the hearing involving the President's former campaign chairman Paul Manafort who is accused of lying to Special Counsel, Robert Mueller. So, the judge has set a new date for the end of January for both sides to discuss how to address all these allegations. So, that's Manafort.

Let's move on to this Russian spy. She's an accused Russian spy who's now cooperating with U.S. authorities. But Russian President Vladimir Putin says he doesn't know who Maria Butina is. Butina's court hearing is now been moved from tomorrow to Thursday. She is expected to plead guilty to one count of conspiracy.

She is suspected of trying to infiltrate the NRA and Republican circles in order to advance Russian interests. And according to this whole deal, she will mainly focus on telling investigators about the role of her boyfriend. This guy by the name of Paul Eriksson, and her interactions with her Russian handlers. So, Steve Hall is joining me. He's a retired CIA chief of Russia operations and CNN national security analyst. So, Steve Hall, good to see you. You tell me first and foremost how rare is this to have this alleged -- this accused Russian spy actually cooperating with the U.S. government?

STEVE HALL, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: Well, Brooke, not to get too much into the technicalities of this but it's my theory that Butina probably not actually a staff officer of any Russian intelligence service. She's what we would refer to as a co-optee. Somebody that has been co-opted by somebody else in the Russian government to do a job. In this particular case what's beginning to emerge is that Butina was in contact with a couple of oligarchs, one them being a guy by the name of Torshin, who is a senior Kremlin-type of person who would know guys like Vladimir Putin and others. And they came up with this idea -- it was seeming to me to say, hey, let's get into the NRA, look at the right-hand side of the American political spectrum and see what damage we can do there. So, it's not as though they've caught a spy. They've caught a Russian citizen acting at the behest of the Russian government to try to do damage here in the United States.

BALDWIN: All right, so spy, co-optee -- if she doesn't end up, Steve, if she doesn't end up serving prison time, would she really want to go back to Russia?

HALL: Well, you have to ask yourself to start with whether anyone would want to go to Russia to live as opposed to the United States. My argument would be no. But not everybody would feel that way, I guess. A lot of it depends on what she cooperates with. So, you were just talking about her boyfriend here. If the cooperation is more focused on or limited to him, then I think the Russian government is going to be will be less concerned about what she additionally talks about. If she goes too far into how it all started in Moscow, who told her to do this, how she was being paid, the relationships that we have with various Russians, then it could be a lot less pleasant for her upon her return to Moscow. So, a lot of it we're going to know when we see the details as to the plea agreement and what actually happens after this is done.

BALDWIN: Got it. And again, all this happens now on Thursday. It's been pushed back a day. Steve Hall, thank you very much. Appreciate it.

Just in to CNN, a Congressman who will have subpoena power in the new Congress weighs in on the President's legal troubles and what he's interested in investigating.

[15:35:00] And taking you back to northeast France to a town called Strasbourg, national police there say at least one person has been killed and nine others injured after gunshots near this Christmas market. 9:30 at night in France. We'll stay on it.


BALDWIN: We have some news just in from the hearing involving the President's former campaign chairman, Paul Manafort. He is accused of lying to the special counsel Robert Mueller.

[15:40:00] The judge has set a new court date for the end of January and our senior justice correspondent, Evan Perez, just left that courtroom. Evan, what did the judge say?

EVAN PEREZ, CNN SENIOR JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Brooke, first of all, I think one of the things that we were surprised by at it hearing was that the prosecutors and the Manafort lawyers came in and said that they were having some discussions behind the scenes. They're not even sure whether or not there's a dispute over the five different set of lies. Such if you recall, prosecutors accused Paul Manafort of lying during the time that he was supposed to be cooperating with the Special Counsel.

So, at this point the two sides are going to continue having these discussions. The judge seemed a bit surprised by this and so now she has set some court dates in January for them to resolve whatever differences there may be. So, by the time January comes around, Brooke, either Paul Manafort's lawyers are going to come up and say, we disagree that he lied all of these five times or maybe he unintentionally didn't tell the truth. It's some mix of those facts there that could come up in January. But at this point the judge has set new court dates well after Christmas, after everybody gets back from their break to see whether or not these two sides have come to some kind of agreement.

Keep in mind, Brooke, Paul Manafort was convicted last summer so he's facing a sentencing over in northern Virginia in Alexandria, just across the river from me here. So, that is coming up very quickly in February. So, Paul Manafort is going to spend, you know, if both of these courts make their decisions certainly by early next year, he's looking at perhaps a couple decades in prison. He's a 70-year-old man. That's not a small thing of course, Brooke. Behind the scenes, of course, everybody is wondering whether or not he's going to get a pardon from the President, Brooke.

BALDWIN: A couple decades from prison, a pardon from the President. Who knows at this moment. Evan Perez, though, just out of that courtroom. Thank you so much. We'll look for those hearings in the new year.

Now to Michael Cohen who will be sentenced tomorrow. And while Robert Mueller says Trump's former attorney has been quite helpful, federal prosecutors in New York disagree. Saying that he has refused to commit to quote, full cooperation. But Cohen is proving useful to another New York investigation. One focused on the Trump organization as court filing show.

Cohen admits he set up two hush money payments for Donald Trump. Those payments were falsely recorded as legal expenses to the Trump organization. After he pleaded guilty, documents say Cohen was, quote, forthright and credible to federal prosecutors about those reimbursements and that may end up posing the most significant threat to the President's family business.

My next guest believes Cohen may not get much mercy from this judge tomorrow. He is Elie Honig. Who is a former federal prosecutor in the southern district of New York. The office that blasted Cohen for his lack of cooperation. And Ellie's now a CNN legal analyst. And so, you have appeared many, many times -- it sounds like -- in front of this judge. Judge William Pauley. How tough is he?

ELIE HONIG, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: He is tough. He's intimidating. I feel like every case I got in my first year was wheeled out to him and I would go, oh, no. He's scary. Look, he's fair. He's fair, he looks at the whole picture. He can be merciful if there are genuinely sympathetic circumstances. But someone like Michael Cohen, a professional, an attorney, someone who should have known better. Who committed these crimes in the pursuit of wealth and power, just greed. Judge Pauley is going to have no sympathy for Michael Cohen.

BALDWIN: What you think of how SDNY feels about this guy?

HONIG: I know exactly where they're coming from. So, in the southern district we are very set in our ways. They work. Right. And cooperation with the southern district is always all or nothing. You come in, you tell us everything you know about every person you know and every crime they may have committed. And what Cohen tried to do was halfway cooperate. The SDNY's memo says, there were certain areas he did not want to talk about. And I think the southern district response appropriately was, fine, you don't want to do this right, you're not going to get the full benefit. And so, they sent him a lukewarm to negative sentencing memo.

BALDWIN: He may cooperate more. I was reading your piece that you wrote for talking about this Rule 35. Explain that and about how the more time he may end up getting, the more he may end up cooperating.

HONIG: Right, so, there is a rule, Rule 35. And what that says is prosecutors can go back after someone is sentenced and say, judge, since the date of this person's sentencing, he's given us additional cooperation and he should get an extra benefit. I've done them. They're not super common. But you do them from time to time.

So, let's say tomorrow Judge Pauley gives him three years. That's a lot of time for someone in Michael Cohen's position. He's hoping for zero. If he decides he cannot bear that, he will be heavily incentivized to give up every he has to anyone who will listen, southern district, Mueller, the state A.G. in hopes of someone going back to the judge Pauley and saying, OK, judge we move to Rule 35, let's try to get him down a little more.

BALDWIN: OK, and so this all happens. The sentencing happens tomorrow. Elie Honig, thank you very much.

[15:45:00] Still ahead here, the shutdown, showdown in the oval office. We'll discuss what happened in front of all these cameras between the President and Democratic leaders and a very quiet Mike Pence, all over the wall and border security.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Yes, if we don't get what we want one way or the other, whether it's through you, through a military, through anything you want to call, I will shut down the government.

SEN. CHUCK SCHUMER (D), NEW YORK: OK, fair enough. We disagree.

TRUMP: And I am proud and I'll tell you why --

SCHUMER: We disagree.

TRUMP: I am proud to shut down the government for border security, Chuck. (END VIDEO CLIP)


[15:50:00] BALDWIN: Just one day before Trump's former fixer is sentenced, CNN has learned that President Trump is increasingly concerned about his being impeached. A source tells CNN that the President now believes it is, quote, a real possibility when Democrats retake the House in the new year. And one of the men who could lead the investigation is Democratic Congressman Elijah Cummings. He is said to be the next chairman of the House oversight committee. And CNN politics congressional reporter Lauren Fox is with me now. You just interviewed the Congressman. What did he say? LAUREN FOX, CNN POLITICS CONGRESSIONAL REPORTER: Well, Elijah

Cummings has perhaps some of the broadest jurisdiction of any of the incoming committee chairmen to do investigations into the Trump administration. And he's going to look into everything from security clearances at the White House to potential at the collapses of cabinet secretaries. And while he told me that he is still discussing with leadership about what those priorities should be, what the first committee hearing should be, what his first subpoena would be, he did offer some clues about what he's interested in.

He told me he wants to hear from Wilbur Ross, President Trump's Commerce Secretary, about why a question about citizenship was included on the census. He also told me that he has got questions about potential FBI building and the President's business interests. How the Trump hotel could potentially open the President up to being influenced by foreign governments. Here's what he told me during our interview.


FOX: Do you believe the President of the United States is being influenced by a foreign government?

REP. ELIJAH CUMMINGS (D), MARYLAND: I don't know. But all the evidence points to that. And that's one of the things that we want to look into. We want to look and see exactly what's happening. How much money is actually going into his pocket? And whether -- and try to make a determination whether he's making decisions in the interest of the American people or his own bottom line.

FOX: We've talked about the Trump hotel. Are there other areas where you think that could be a problem?

CUMMINGS: Well, there's another hotel, too.

FOX: Right.

CUMMINGS: We have two hotels we're really concerned about. And, I mean -- but there's a lot that we don't know. So, again, we want to look and just see exactly -- we want to look at how he -- decisions are made, even with some of his family members.


FOX: Now, cummings told me it is too early to talk about impeachment. This is someone who has been in the minority for a long time, nearly a decade. And he is going to be very deliberate about the kinds of questions he asks. He said he wants to have these investigations, he wants to see where they lead, before he makes any determinations. And it's not just the Trump administration he wants to look into. He wants to hold hearings on voting rights and lowering prescription drug prices. So, you can bet that this is a chairman who is going to come in and be very busy in January, but very deliberate -- Brooke.

BALDWIN: Lauren Fox with the big get. Lauren, thank you very much. Up on Capitol Hill for us. Come coming up next, the white nationalist who killed a protester in

Charlottesville, Virginia, has learned his fate. Details on the sentence the jury just handed down.

And the breaking news out of Strasburg in Northeast France. At least one person was killed, ten others injured after an unknown gunman opened fire near this Christmas market. Back in a moment.


BALDWIN: All right. So, we are about 30 seconds away from getting this tape we'll play for you from the President who just opened up this event to White House pool reporters. And so, we'll get to see the comments he's just made. Just keeping in mind context. A couple of hours ago, he had two Democratic leaders in the oval office, and it was quite contentious. So, here's the President.


TRUMP: Well, believe it or not, I think it was a very friendly meeting. You know, you saw the beginnings of it, but it actually worked out to be I think pretty good. I've actually liked them for a long period of time. And I respect them both. And we made a lot of progress. If you look at criminal justice reform, that's a big thing. You know, we've been looking to do that for many years, and they haven't been able to do it. We've done it, hopefully very soon, in a bipartisan way. The bill, as you know, you probably heard today, was put up by Mitch McConnell, has been terrific. And it's going to be voted on very shortly, maybe Friday. But very, very soon. And we're looking forward to that.

We've made tremendous strides on the farm bill. And we're working on border security. You know, Republicans want very strong border security. And honestly, the Democrats or most of them, it's hard to believe, but most of them want open borders. And that leads to crime and leads to other problems.

And you know, of the problems that people don't talk about, you have a tremendous medical problem coming into a country. Communicable disease, tremendous problems. People don't want to talk about it. I don't like talking about it. But these are the difficulties of what they want to do. So, we want strong borders, we want people coming into our country legally, through a process. We want people that are going to love and help our country. And I don't think they feel the same way, or maybe they just don't want us to get a vote. It could be that, too. Because it's hard to believe that they don't want some form of protection.

And with that, I have to say, I thought it was a very good meeting. When you left -- when the press left, we had a fairly long meeting and we really discussed a lot of great subjects. Mike, come on over. Mike Pence. Come on over, Mike.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Who's asked (INAUDIBLE) and you own the idea of a (INAUDIBLE). TRUMP: I don't mind. No, no. You know what, I could have debated Chuck Schumer for a long period of time. Because he was saying, it's yours, it's your idea. And finally, I said, look, I don't mind -- I don't know. What do you guys think? I don't mind having the issue of border security on my side. If we have to close down the country over border security, I actually like that in terms of an issue. But I don't want it to be an issue. It's not really an issue. It's something the country needs. It's common sense. The country needs it. We need protection. We need border security. We need security from drugs -