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CNN Asks Ex-Russian Ambassador About Michael Flynn Who Lied About His Contacts with Sergey Kislyak; Michael Cohen Braces for Sentencing Tomorrow, Feds in NY Urging "Substantial" Prison Time. Aired 6-7p ET

Aired December 11, 2018 - 18:00   ET

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


[18:00:02]

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: How much did she learn about the GOP and the NRA? We're going to tell you. And what did she tell the Kremlin?

How Manafort lied. A federal judge tells Robert Mueller to provide more information about the former Trump campaign chairman's alleged lies to prosecutors. Will more crucial clues about the broader Russian investigation be revealed publicly?

And out like Flynn. The special counsel says the president's former national security adviser deserves to stay out of prison because of his cooperation. Tonight, Flynn is weighing in on his own fate and his role in the Russia probe.

We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world. I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

BLITZER: Breaking news tonight.

A president who almost never accepts blame claims he doesn't mind taking ownership of the government shutdown he's threatening to unleash it just days from now. Mr. Trump, speaking just a little while ago, doubling down on his demand for a border wall funding, or else.

His remarks followed an extraordinary confrontation with top Democrats Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer in the Oval Office with cameras rolling.

We're also following breaking news on accused-Russian spy Maria Butina and her cooperation with U.S. prosecutors. A federal judge has delayed a hearing on Butina's plea agreement by a day, until Thursday, but new details about the deal are emerging tonight.

This hour, I will talk with the former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, and our correspondents and analysts are also standing by.

First, let's go to our senior White House correspondent, Jeff Zeleny.

Jeff, the president says he would be proud to have a shutdown.

JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, good evening.

The president said that more than once. He would be proud to have a shutdown, he says all in the name of border security. But it was less of trying to reach a deal today in the Oval Office when the president met for the first time in more than a year with the Democratic leaders of the House and Senate. It was far more about putting on a show.

And that show offered a window into what divided Washington may look like next year.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I will shut down the government.

SEN. CHUCK SCHUMER (D-NY), MINORITY LEADER: OK, fair enough. We disagree. We disagree.

TRUMP: And I am proud -- and I will tell you what.

SCHUMER: We disagree. We disagree.

ZELENY: A first look tonight at divided government in Washington.

REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA), HOUSE MINORITY LEADER: The fact is you do not have the votes in the House.

TRUMP: Nancy, I do. We need border security. It's very simple.

ZELENY: A civics lesson short on civility, ending with President Trump vowing to shut down the government if he doesn't get his border wall.

TRUMP: I am proud to shut down the government for border security.

ZELENY: The president, trying to gain the upper hand by inviting cameras in for his first meeting with Democratic leaders Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer, got something else entirely, ownership of a potential shutdown.

TRUMP: So, I will take the mantle. I will be the one to shut it down. I'm not going to blame you for it. The last time you shut it down, it didn't work. I will take the mantle of shutting down.

ZELENY: They talked past each other.

TRUMP: then we have the easy one, the wall. That will be the one that will be the easiest of all. What do you think, Chuck, maybe not?

SCHUMER: It's called funding the government, Mr. President.

ZELENY: And over one another. PELOSI: I think the American people recognize that we must keep

government open, that a shutdown is not worth anything, and that you should not have a Trump shutdown.

You have a...

(CROSSTALK)

TRUMP: Did you say Trump?

(CROSSTALK)

TRUMP: No, we don't have the votes, Nancy, because in the Senate we need 60 votes, and we don't have it.

PELOSI: No, no, but in the House, you could bring it up right now.

TRUMP: Yes, but I can't -- excuse me, but I can't get it passed in the House if it's not going to pass in the Senate. I don't want to waste time.

PELOSI: Well, the fact is, you can get it started that way.

TRUMP: The House, we could get passed very easily, and we do.

PELOSI: OK, then do it. Then do it.

TRUMP: But the problem is the Senate, because we need 10 Democrats to vote.

PELOSI: But the fact is, is that legislating, which is what we do, you begin, you make your point, you state your case. That's what the House Republicans could do if they had the votes.

But there are no votes in the House, a majority of votes, for a wall, no matter where you start.

(CROSSTALK)

SCHUMER: That's exactly right. You don't have the...

(CROSSTALK)

TRUMP: If I needed the votes for the wall in the House, I would have them in one session. It would be done.

PELOSI: Well, then go do it. Go do it.

ZELENY: At times, it seemed more like a New York street fight playing out in the Oval Office, taunts and all.

TRUMP: And we gained in the Senate. Nancy, we've gained in the Senate. Excuse me. Did we win the Senate? We won the Senate.

(CROSSTALK)

SCHUMER: When the president brags that he won North Dakota and Indiana, he's in real trouble.

TRUMP: I did. We did. We did win North Dakota and Indiana.

ZELENY: As Schumer confronted the president on exaggerations and mistruths.

SCHUMER: "The Washington Post" today gave you a lot of Pinocchios because they say you constantly misstate how much of the wall is built, and how much is there.

ZELENY: But it came back again and again to border security and the wall.

TRUMP: We have to have border security. We have to have a wall as part of border security. And I don't think we really disagree so much.

I also know that, you know, Nancy's in a situation where it's not easy for her to talk right now. And I understand that, and I fully understand that.

[18:05:08]

We're going to have a good discussion, and we're going to see what happens. But we have to have border security.

PELOSI: Mr. President, please don't characterize the strength that I bring to this meeting as the leader of the House Democrats, who just won a big victory.

SCHUMER: Elections have consequences, Mr. President.

ZELENY: Taking a page out of the president's name-calling playbook, it didn't take long for Democrats to brand a potential shutdown as Trump's.

PELOSI: The Trump shutdown is something that can be avoided.

ZELENY (on camera): Was it any more productive behind the scenes, Madam Speaker? Was it any more productive after the cameras left?

PELOSI: We didn't want to contradict the president when he was putting forth figures that had no reality to them, no basis in fact. I didn't want to in front of those people say, you don't know what you're talking about.

ZELENY (voice-over): A few hours later back in the Oval Office, the president called it a very good meeting, a rare view in Washington.

TRUMP: I don't mind owning that issue. If we close down the country, I will take it, because we're closing it down for border security. And I think I win that every single time.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ZELENY: So, at the end of a loud day here at the White House, with all of that sparring back and forth, not much progress into whether there will be a government shutdown, whether they will find a way to keep the government open over the holidays.

The funding will end a week from Friday, on the 21st of December at midnight. But, Wolf, through all of this in a private meeting as well when the cameras were not there, we are told that the president assured the Democratic leaders that Mexico will, in fact, pay for this wall, a campaign pledge he made again and again through the new version of NAFTA.

But, Wolf, there's no truth or evidence that Mexico has ever agreed to that. In fact, they have never agreed to that.

So, Wolf, at the end of the conversation back and forth, it is back to the drawing board here tomorrow and on Capitol Hill to see if that shutdown can be averted.

BLITZER: Yes, and they only have a few days left.

All right, Jeff Zeleny at the White House, thank you.

Now to the breaking news on the accused Russian spy who cozied up to President Trump's party and his allies over at the National Rifle Association. Tonight, we are learning more about Maria Butina's cooperation with the feds, as a federal judge has delayed a hearing on her plea deal by a day. Now it will take place on Thursday.

Our political correspondent, Sara Murray, is covering the case for us.

Sara, what are you learning tonight?

SARA MURRAY, CNN NATIONAL POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, as you pointed out, Butina is cooperating, and not just about the contact she had with her Russian handler, but also her contact with an American who helped aid her endeavors in the U.S., her boyfriend.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

MURRAY (voice-over): Accused Russian spy Maria Butina is now cooperating with prosecutors and offering a window into how she worked at the direction of a Russian official to infiltrate political groups like the National Rifle Association.

As part of a plea deal, Butina is poised to plead guilty to one count of conspiracy in D.C. federal court on Thursday, according to draft filings obtained by CNN. The documents show Butina worked with her boyfriend...

PAUL ERICKSON, CONSERVATIVE POLITICAL OPERATIVE: We live in a time of a testing of public character.

MURRAY: ... conservative political operative Paul Erickson, and a former Russian central banker, Aleksandr Torshin.

With Erickson's assistance and at Torshin's direction, "Butina sought to establish unofficial lines of communication with Americans having unofficial powers over U.S. politics. Butina sought to use unofficial lines of communication for the benefit of the Russian Federation," according to the draft filing.

Butina is telling investigators about Erickson's role in her plot and offering intel about her contacts with Torshin, who left his post at the Russian Central Bank amid reports that Butina was nearing a deal with federal prosecutors.

Today, Russian President Vladimir Putin weighed in on her case.

VLADIMIR PUTIN, RUSSIAN PRESIDENT (through translator): This poor girl is sitting here, our Butina. She faces 15 years in prison. For what? When I heard that something was happening to her, I went and asked all the heads of our intel services, who is this? No one knows anything about her at all.

MURRAY: A Russian native, Butina founded a gun rights group back home and used it to build ties with the NRA.

MARIA BUTINA, DEFENDANT: My story is simple. My father is a hunter. I was born in Siberia.

MURRAY: She became a regular at NRA events and set out to meet politicians and document the encounters.

In 2016, Torshin requested she write him a note justifying his travel to the NRA's upcoming meeting in Kentucky. She did as he directed, encouraging his attendance partly because of his opportunity to meet political candidates, according to the draft filing.

They didn't score a meeting with Donald Trump then, but earlier in 2015, Butina questioned Trump about his views on Russia at a political event.

BUTINA: If you are elected as president, what will be your foreign politics, especially in the relationships with my country?

TRUMP: I believe I would get along very nicely with Putin, OK? And I mean where we have the strength. I don't think you would need the sanctions. I think that we would get along very, very well.

MURRAY: Butina's attorney has claimed Erickson wasn't merely part of her plot, even releasing this video to show they were actually in love.

[18:10:10]

(END VIDEOTAPE)

MURRAY: Now, it is unclear what happens next in this love story. Erickson is under scrutiny by investigators. His lawyer declined to comment today.

And as for Butina, her plea deal notes that, as part of this agreement, she is likely to be deported to Russia -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Sara Murray reporting for us, thank you very much.

Joining us now, James Clapper, the former director of national intelligence. He's now a CNN national security analyst.

General Clapper, thanks for coming in.

JAMES CLAPPER, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: Thanks, Wolf.

BLITZER: How rare is it for an alleged Russian spy to flip, to cooperate with federal prosecutors, investigators? How important would that kind of cooperation be?

CLAPPER: Well, it is pretty unusual, but I would also point out, I don't think -- as Mr. Putin said, I don't think she is actually an operative of one of the Russian intelligence services.

But the Russians have many ways of extending their tentacles and attempting to exert influence. And I think what is interesting about this is, the Russians singled out conservative right-wing groups, notably the NRA, and they certainly understand the death grip that the NRA has on many of our politicians.

So it makes every bit of sense from their standpoint to try to implant her in an organization like this that would have access and gain information, as well as exert influence.

BLITZER: Was she being used by the Russians unwittingly as someone to try to establish these kind of contacts?

CLAPPER: Well, I don't -- it remains to be seen just how witting she was. I suspect she was she's witting.

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: She is going to plead guilty as part of this guilty plea agreement with federal authorities, the U.S. attorney here in the District of Columbia.

CLAPPER: Right, which tells me that the federal authorities, I think, have enough evidence against her that, you know, they could use leverage -- exert leverage over her and get her to talk.

There is the connection with the Russian oligarch who, in turn, I'm sure, is connected with Putin. So Putin's public denial of her being an intelligence operative is probably technically true, but the Russians, they use their citizens in many other ways, not necessarily formally connected to an intelligence service.

BLITZER: Because I know that -- this is what I have been told, that federal investigators are following the money, as they say. They are trying to figure out where she got all of the money she used to travel all over the United States, to establish these contacts.

Where was the money coming from? And was she at least indirectly involved in getting Russian money through rich billionaires, oligarchs, through various organizations to conservative pro-Trump organizations...

CLAPPER: Exactly.

BLITZER: ... here in the United States, like the NRA?

CLAPPER: Yes, I think that's quite true, quite right, that the money trail will be very interesting here.

I also thought it was very interesting, an interesting coincidence, that she showed up at that session with then candidate Trump in 2015 in Las Vegas and just happened to be called upon to ask a foreign policy-laden question.

BLITZER: That he clearly was anxious to answer.

CLAPPER: And which he seemed to be -- wanted to make a point...

BLITZER: Was that coordinated?

CLAPPER: ... about getting along with the Russians.

BLITZER: Do you think that was coordinated, that was all staged, that he knew to call on this woman...

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: ... she was going to ask a question about Putin and the sanctions?

CLAPPER: That's certainly one possibility. I don't know. I don't have any evidence of that.

But I just -- it just struck me as very curious, a coincidence, that she was got called upon at that session and gave -- afforded an opportunity for then candidate Trump to express his views about Russia.

BLITZER: I'm going to put on the screen -- we have a graphic of 16 Trump associates who during the campaign or the transition had some sort of contacts with the Russians. And several of them wound up lying about those contacts with the Russians.

None of them ever notified the FBI or authorities that Russians were trying to deal with them on various aspects.

What is your reaction to that? You were the director of national intelligence when this was all unfolding.

CLAPPER: Well, exactly. And I never did understand why all the focus, attention and outreach to Russia, of all countries, our arch adversary.

And so now, as we have certainly learned a lot more since I left the government in January of 2017 about these -- more and more knowledge about these contacts. And what's, of course, curious is why there was so much lying to cover up those contacts. So I don't know if this -- you know, this is a foundation for

collusion or not, but it has been bothersome to me since I was in the government.

BLITZER: Well, did you know when you were -- without providing any classified information -- about all of these contact when you were director of national intelligence?

CLAPPER: I did not. Most of this I have learned since I left.

[18:15:03]

I certainly wasn't aware contemporaneously at the time of the extent of these contacts.

BLITZER: Well, don't you think you should have known about these kind of contacts between Trump associates? He was running for president. He eventually got the Republican nomination. They were meeting with Russians pretty regularly.

That seems to me something the director of national intelligence would be briefed on.

CLAPPER: Well, we had an insight into some of these. We didn't exactly understand what was going on.

We didn't necessarily have the content of the conversations, and we didn't -- and I will certainly acknowledge that we didn't know about all of them. But we knew about some Russian contacts, which even then were certainly bothersome to me. And, as I have said before, our dashboard yellow warning lights were on.

BLITZER: I suspect we are going to be learning a lot more once the Mueller report is made available.

Where do you think all of this is heading?

CLAPPER: I would expect so, too.

And I certainly will be watching any court filings or deliberations in court that would be revelatory, absolutely.

BLITZER: But do you think -- in the end, what is going to happen, if you wanted to make a prediction right now?

CLAPPER: With...

BLITZER: With the investigation with the president of the United States?

CLAPPER: Oh, well, I can't -- if I knew the answer to that, I -- I honestly don't know where this is going to go.

I don't think this is -- the last couple of weeks have been necessarily good ones for the White House. Increasingly, it looks to me as though special counsel Mueller is kind of closing in. I don't think the -- his investigation is going to end shortly. I will put it that way. We will see that.

BLITZER: Yes, we will see what happens, but he obviously knows a lot more than we do right now with all of this.

CLAPPER: Always. Always.

BLITZER: A ton more.

General Clapper, as usual, thanks very much.

CLAPPER: Thanks, Wolf.

BLITZER: Just ahead: After Robert Mueller tried to explain why he believes Paul Manafort lied, a federal judge isn't necessarily satisfied with his explanation. What more will the special counsel now have to reveal to the court and to the public?

And we're also hearing tonight from Michael Flynn and his lawyers just days after Robert Mueller said the president's former national security adviser should not pay for his crimes with actual prison time.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[18:21:52]

BLITZER: We're following breaking news on the Russia investigation in the case against former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort, a federal judge telling Robert Mueller to provide more information about the alleged lies Manafort told prosecutors, in violation of his plea agreement.

I want to go to our justice correspondent, Jessica Schneider.

Jessica, tell us more about today's hearing and what it all means for Manafort and the Russia probe.

JESSICA SCHNEIDER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, the judge here wants more information, but she likely won't get it until at least late January.

That's because Paul Manafort's team, they are now negotiating with Mueller's team about how they will proceed and whether or not Manafort's lawyers will challenge the special counsel and its allegations that Manafort lied in interviews when he was supposed to be cooperating.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

SCHNEIDER (voice-over): Tonight, Paul Manafort's legal team wants to keep the details of his lies out of public view for now.

Manafort's attorneys told a judge they have not decided whether they will challenge the government's assertions and will continue to confer with Mueller's team about what specific lies are being alleged and what the consequences might be for Manafort. Prosecutors have already called off the cooperation deal and could

potentially add more charges, given Manafort's alleged breach. The request from Manafort's team to hold off on releasing specifics about Manafort's alleged lies came after the judge told the special counsel's lawyers she needs more details beyond what was laid out in that 10-page filing Friday.

Besides a lot of blacked-out lines, Mueller's team specified five different subjects where Manafort lied, including about meetings Manafort had with his Konstantin Kilimnik, his former business associate who has ties to Russian intelligence, and about his contacts with White House officials, up to and including in February 2018, well after he had been indicted, and in May 2018, one month before he was thrown in jail for alleged witness tampering.

While Manafort's attorneys argued the 69-year old has always been truthful, prosecutors argued in the papers they have proof to back up their claims. They cited text messages to prove Manafort's contacts with administration officials, including a senior administration official, as well as electronic communications and travel records related to Kilimnik.

Questions of collusion have swirled around Konstantin Kilimnik, given his close ties to Manafort and his links to Russian intelligence agencies that were aggressively meddling in the election. Mueller's team even said earlier this year that the FBI believes Kilimnik had active ties to Russian spies in 2016.

But the specifics have not been spelled out as to why Manafort was meeting with Kilimnik or why he was contacting White House officials in the months after he was indicted. Manafort has long been considered the key to several questions central to Mueller's investigation into Russian meddling and the 2016 campaign.

Manafort attended that June 2016 meeting at Trump Tower with Donald Trump Jr. and a Russian lawyer who had offered dirt on Hillary Clinton, but never delivered. And his time on the campaign coincided with Russian hackers' efforts to steal Democratic Party and Clinton campaign e-mails, eventually distributing them publicly.

Manafort also was the lead on the campaign manager during the Republican National Convention, when the party slightly backed off its stance to provide U.S. assistance to Ukraine against Russian-backed militias.

[18:25:07]

But now, with the cooperation deal called off, prosecutors are taking off the gloves, and Manafort could even face more criminal charges.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SCHNEIDER: And Manafort's lawyers plan to hold more talks with the special counsel in the next few weeks to negotiate what happens next.

Both sides will be back in court on January 25 for a hearing, at which point it is possible that Mueller's team could call witnesses and even present evidence about how Paul Manafort allegedly lied.

But, of course, until then, we will be left wondering about the exact details of Manafort's alleged lies -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Good point. All right, Jessica, thanks very much, Jessica Schneider reporting.

Let's bring in our senior justice correspondent, Evan Perez.

Evan, Manafort's attorneys can't say whether he lied or not. Explain what is going on. How significant is that?

EVAN PEREZ, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Well, what is going on behind the scenes, Wolf, is that Paul Manafort is facing 10 years. That's the maximum here in D.C. after pleading guilty.

And so what they're trying to make a calculation on here is whether or not these lies really make a difference in that sentence. It appears that it may well not. So while they said in court today that they still dispute whether or not he lied -- they still say that he didn't lie -- they want the evidence from the special counsel.

They want to have a conversation with them, and they want to negotiate to see whether or not they can jointly agree essentially to disagree, and whether or not that makes a difference in what he's facing. As I said, 10 years is what he is facing here in D.C.

And this is -- you know, obviously for a man who is 70, he's already been convicted across the river in Alexandria, Virginia, where it is decades that he is facing there. So that's the big question, is whether or not this makes a big difference in the long run for Paul Manafort, Wolf.

BLITZER: The federal judge, as you know, Evan, he is asking for more facts.

What more could we learn about the evidence the special counsel has in the Russia investigation? I think the federal judge is a woman. I misspoke.

PEREZ: That's right.

She did ask for more information, because she said, look, before I make a decision on sentencing, I want to know more.

And, look, what -- that's exactly what we were hoping to see today. Certainly, we wanted to see more glimpses of what the special counsel has found, especially on the central question, Wolf, of collusion, of perhaps any kind of illegal coordination between people associated with the Russians and the Russian intelligence and people associated with the Trump campaign.

That, we did not get today. We may get some of that beginning in January, when the judge asks them to provide it. And keep in mind, Wolf, the sort of elephant in the room here is, no matter what the sentence is that Paul Manafort gets, either in Virginia or here in D.C., the big question is whether or not he will end up getting a pardon from President Trump.

He's already -- the president has already said, most recently to "The New York Post," that that is still something that is on the table. And so that is sort of the thing that is hanging over all of these court hearings and all these filings in the end.

BLITZER: Evan, thank you very much.

We are going to break all of this down with our analysts and our correspondents. They are standing by here.

Everyone, stick around. We have lots to dissect right after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Tonight, federal prosecutors are putting together a new piece of the Russia puzzle as they get information from accused Kremlin spy Maria Butina. A judge has delayed a hearing on Butina's plea agreement until Thursday. We've already gotten some key details about the deal.

[18:33:16] Let's bring in our analysts. And Gloria, what do prosecutors hope to learn from Maria Butina?

GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: I think, and according to Sara Murray's great reporting, what they -- what they want to know is how she conspired with Russians to -- to give them information about how organizations like the NRA operate and how you can infiltrate.

I mean, she's not like a big spy. She's kind of a tool, a littler spy, spy-lite, as you call it, Susan. And she is somebody that they are charging, according to the plea agreement, who agreed and conspired with a Russian government official and at least one other person to -- to spy about -- on, for example, the NRA and to figure out how to infiltrate certain organizations that are very important to American elections.

BLITZER: Jeffrey, how do you see all this?

JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN CHIEF LEGAL ANALYST: Well, you know, the question is who told her to go infiltrate the American conservative movement? What information did she get? And who did she contact there? And was there any connection to the Trump campaign?

It's worth pointing out that this case is being prosecuted by the Department of Justice, not the Mueller office. So on the surface, it doesn't have any connection to the -- to the Mueller investigation, but certainly, if she says she had any contact, including the still- mysterious reason why she was called on in 2015 at that news conference, whether the president -- or then-candidate Trump had any advance notice or a tip-off that she was going to ask the question, that's what you want to know. It's like why was she doing what she was doing? Who did she now? And was there any connection to the Trump campaign?

[18:35:00] BORGER: Well, we do know that her handler was this former Russian banker, Aleksandr Torshin, who is important.

TOOBIN: Right.

BORGER: And that, you know, they -- I think what they're looking at is the relationship between the two of them and how she was directed by him.

TOOBIN: And the important thing about cooperating is that then that means all of her phone records, all of her e-mails. It's pretty easy to see who she was in touch with.

BLITZER: Where was she getting money and if there was other money that was being funneled through various ways to the NRA or other conservative groups.

When she asked that question back in 2015 and then-candidate Donald Trump, Susan, he responded, "I want to have good relations with Putin. We don't need sanctions, stuff like that," it was at a time when his people were working on a deal to maybe build a Trump Tower in Moscow, which you need Putin's support for.

SUSAN HENNESSEY, CNN LEGAL AND NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: Right, so it certainly is a remarkable coincidence, and that's been one sort of the hallmarks of the Russia investigation. We have all these, you know, sort of unconnected pieces of evidence that all look pretty bad, sort of whenever they're -- whenever they're all together.

And I do think that that is one of the core questions sort of in the Butina case here. You know, I think it shows -- it's another case that shows sort of the depth and breadth and sophistication of the Russian influence operation against the United States. We saw this social media propaganda. We saw hacking operations. Now we've seen someone sort of actually on the ground, trying to infiltrate these various groups.

And so I do think that the big unanswered question is, you know, to what extent are all these various pieces connected either on the Russian side or within the United States.

BLITZER: David Swerdlick, how do you see it?

DAVID SWERDLICK, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes. All the dots aren't connected yet, but it shows that Russians clearly understand where there are some soft spots in the political system.

Why was Maria Butina at this press availability with then then- candidate, now president, Donald Trump, and happened to get called on? If in fact, it was a coincidence -- maybe it is.

And also, the fact that she clearly saw the NRA has a way to infiltrate Republican centers of power, even if it wasn't technically spying. It was certainly a route into the politics.

BORGER: And -- and they were willing to deal with her, which is another -- which is another part of this, which has not been --

SWERDLICK: Right. She talked to a bunch of people including Donald Trump Jr., took a picture with him.

BORGER: Right.

TOOBIN: And she also used, of all things, the National Prayer Breakfast --

BORGER: Right.

TOOBIN: -- as a way to ingratiate herself with leading political figures, which, you know, sounds sort of wacky but is actually very savvy and very clever, because there are a lot of very important people who are affiliated with that group.

SWERDLICK: Right.

BLITZER: There was an extraordinary moment, I should say 16-1/2 moments, minutes in the White House today when the Democratic leaders of the House and Senate, as the president calls them, Chuck and Nancy, they had an exchange with the president on the government -- looming government shutdown, if there's going to be a government shutdown, because the president wants $5 billion for the border wall. Watch this.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA), MINORITY LEADER: We're coming in, in good faith, to negotiate with you about how we can keep the government --

SEN. CHUCK SCHUMER (D-NY), MINORITY LEADER: Open!

DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We're going to keep it open if we have border security. If we don't have border security, we aren't going to keep it open.

PELOSI: The American -- the American I'm with you. I'm with you. We are going to have border security.

SCHUMER: And it's the same border. You're bragging about what has been done.

TRUMP: By us.

SCHUMER: We want to do the same thing we did last year this year. That's our proposal. If it's good then, it's good now. And it won't shut down the government.

TRUMP: Chuck, we can build a much bigger section with more money.

SCHUMER: Let's debate -- let's debate in private, OK? Let's debate in private.

PELOSI: You're taking this conversation to a place that is devoid, frankly, of fact. And we -- we can settle that.

TRUMP: We need border security. I think we all agree, we need border security. SCHUMER: Yes, we do. We do.

TRUMP: Good. See? We get along.

SCHUMER: Twenty times, you have called for, "I will shut down the government if I don't get my wall." None of us have said --

TRUMP: You want to know something?

SCHUMER: You said it.

TRUMP: Ok. You want to put that on my --

SCHUMER: You said it.

TRUMP: I'll take it.

SCHUMER: OK, Good.

TRUMP: You know what I'll say? 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.

SCHUMER: OK. Fair enough. We disagree.

TRUMP: And I am proud. And I'll tell you what.

SCHUMER: We disagree.

TRUMP: I am proud to shut down the government for border security.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: What did you think?

BORGER: I think Chuck Schumer could not even look at Donald Trump. Did you -- did you see the body language in that room?

And afterwards, you know, Nancy Pelosi was saying, you know, she wanted it to be private, because she didn't want to correct the president on his facts publicly.

Welcome to divided government. This is the way it's going to be. Maybe they'll get to "yes" at some point, but it is the new world order. And these people don't like each other very much, and it was -- it was completely clear with all three of them. And of course, Mike Pence sitting there, and you're kind of wondering what is going on in his head.

SWERDLICK: Just mum. Yes.

BORGER: Because nothing, didn't even move.

TOOBIN: Has there ever been a news event in history that is a more certain "Saturday Night Live" skit?

BORGER: It is.

TOOBIN: I mean, right. Just show the video.

BORGER: Yes.

SWERDLICK: Speaker Pelosi and leader Schumer, complete -- they good copped/bad copped President Trump into saying exactly what they wanted him to say, which was that he was all about having a shutdown. That's their opening bid. There may or may not be a shutdown, but now they've got that in their hip pocket, and they can use it.

BORGER: That works for Donald Trump. Each of them was playing to the base.

SWERDLICK: I think it works for 40 percent of the American people, yes.

[18:40:11] HENNESSEY: What it was successful on was allowing the framing to be that this wall is equivalent to border security. Substantively, that's not true. People who do care about border security, security experts have said time and time again the way to secure the border is not to construct this wall. It's not to waste huge amounts of federal funding on it.

And so I do think that he was successful in sort of leading them into that trap.

TOOBIN: But this argument that he made about the wall was his whole message leading up to the midterm election.

BORGER: True.

TOOBIN: I mean, he kept talking about immigration, and it didn't work, by and large. He's going back to it. We'll see whether it works. I mean, I don't know, but it is certainly -- it just shows that he's not changing direction at all.

BORGER: Not at all.

TOOBIN: Notwithstanding the border itself.

SWERDLICK: He is not. Susan, you think the president led them into a trap?

HENNESSEY: No, no, no.

SWERDLICK: Oh, OK.

HENNESSEY: I'm just saying whenever we sort of -- whenever we're analyzing the various dynamics, I do think that there were missteps on both sides. And we focus a lot on sort of the theatrics of it, but actually substantively, as Jeffrey said, we still are in this exact same place, the exact same, which should be an easy policy point for the Dems to knock down and, frankly, position themselves as smarter on security. SWERDLICK: I see your point. But I do -- I think there's a deal to

be had, and the Democrats know what they will give up. But it was not clear to me from that exchange that the president knew what he was going --

BLITZER: They all have until the end of next week to figure this out. Otherwise, there could be a partial government shutdown.

Everybody stick around. Just ahead, CNN catches up with a key figure in the Russia investigation, the former Kremlin ambassador to the United States who had multiple contacts with the Trump campaign. We're going live to Moscow.

And as Michael Cohen braces for sentencing, we will trace his journey from the president's trusted fixer to a flipper who turned on his boss and confessed his crime.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[18:46:29] WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: We're standing by for a new court filing by Michael Flynn and his legal team ahead of his sentencing. The special counsel has recommended that the president's fired national security adviser get zero jail time because of his cooperation. Flynn pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI about his contacts with then-Russian ambassador to the United States, Sergey Kislyak.

Our senior international correspondent Fred Pleitgen is joining us from Moscow right now.

Fred, you had a chance to catch up with Ambassador Kislyak and you asked about Flynn. What did he say?

FREDERIK PLEITGEN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, I certainly did, Wolf. You know, Sergey Kislyak now today is actually a senator in the Russian senate. So, we went over earlier this morning and caught him as he was trying to get into or trying to go to a session of the Russian Senate. And, you know, it didn't look like he was very keen to speak to us, but to his credit, he actually did.

I think there were two things that really stood out. On the one hand, not clear whether he is still feeling some sort of loyalty towards Michael Flynn, but he really wasn't too keen to go into details about what the two actually spoke about as pertains to possible sanctions relief at the time in particular. He still certainly does have a lot of hard feelings towards the U.S. for some of the things that happened, especially in 2017.

Here is what we heard from Sergey Kislyak today.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

PLEITGEN: General Flynn is filing his plea today. Do you have any comment on it?

SERGEY KISLYAK, EX-RUSSIAN AMBASSADOR: Absolutely not. Thank you. PLEITGEN: How do you feel about the way the Mueller investigation is

going forward? Are you still following it? Do you think it is a big hoax?

KISLYAK: I certainly read things that have been published, that's about it.

PLEITGEN: How do you feel you have been treated in the whole thing?

KISLYAK: Very disappointed. I think we could have done better in our Russian/American relations. I would say that Russian/American relations have become hostage of your internal debates, and that's disappointing because we are losing a lot of opportunities to work on issues that are important to you and to us.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

PLEITGEN: So, there you have it, Wolf. Clearly, he is frustrated about some of the things that went down, especially towards the time that Michael Flynn was getting into trouble there for those meetings that he had with Sergey Kislyak and for some of the things that they obviously spoke about.

But I think the last part of what he said was absolutely key to us because it is one of the things we have been hearing from a lot of officials here in Russia, and really to us signals a changing mood here in Russia, where a lot who had shown the optimism when President Trump became president -- remember, Sergey Kislyak was actually in the Oval Office together with the Russian foreign minister. So, a lot of them had really high hopes.

You can really hear that and feel that fading here in Moscow as a lot of them don't believe that President Trump can deliver better U.S./Russia relations. It's something that we have been hearing time and again from officials, and now, also from Sergey Kislyak, of course, such an important figure over the past year, Wolf.

BLITZER: Certainly has been. All right. Fred Pleitgen, excellent reporting for us. Thank you very much.

Just ahead, Michael Cohen soon will learn whether he is getting substantial jail time as federal prosecutors have requested. Was his cooperation worth it? We are going to take a closer look at the president's former personal attorney and his decision to cop a plea.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[18:54:10] BLITZER: Tonight, former Trump lawyer Michael Cohen is bracing for his sentencing tomorrow as federal prosecutors in New York are recommending he get a substantial amount of time in prison.

Our chief political analyst Gloria Borger reports on Cohen's journey from fixer to flipper.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

MICHAEL COHNE, FORMER TRUMP LAWYER: The words the media should be using to describe Mr. Trump are generous --

GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST (voice-over): He was the ultimate loyalist.

COHEN: Principled.

BORGER: Protector and defender.

COHEN: Kind, humble, honest, and genuine.

BORGER: The Trump fixer who said he would take a bullet for his idol, his boss.

COHEN: They say I'm Mr. Trump's pit bull, that I am his -- I'm his right-hand man. I mean, there's -- I've been called many different things around here.

BORGER: Now, in a plot twist worthy of Shakespeare, the fixer has flipped, with prosecutors saying he has provided relevant and useful information on contacts with persons connected to the White House and his own conversations with individual number 1, aka candidate Donald Trump, to criminally influence the election.

[18:55:20] In more than 70 hours of interviews, Cohen confessed to his own financial crimes and past lies and stands to pay the price.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: He's a weak person, and not a very smart person.

BORGER: A betrayed Trump says it's all a lie, the deceit only serving Cohen's self-interest.

TRUMP: Michael Cohen is lying and he's trying to get a reduced sentence.

BORGER: But wait. Just this past spring --

TRUMP: I always liked Michael and he's a good person.

RUDY GIULIANI, TRUMP ATTORNEY: The man is an honest, honorable lawyer.

TRUMP: So what changed? Michael Cohen.

LANNY DAVIS, ATTORNEY FOR MICHAEL COHEN: This man has turned a corner in his life, has hit a reset button, and he is now dedicated to telling the truth.

TRUMP: No longer dedicated to being Donald Trump's mini-me as he was when he started working for the boss more than a decade ago.

SAM NUNBERG, TRUMP CAMPAIGN AIDE: Michael was, I'd always like to say, the Ray Donovan of the office.

He took care of what had to be taken care of. I don't know what had to be taken care of but all I know is that Michael was taking care of it.

DAVID SCHWARTZ, FRIEND OF MICHAEL COHEN: He's the guy that you could call in 3:00 in the morning when you have a problem.

BORGER (on camera): Do you know stories of Donald Trump calling him at 3:00 in the morning?

SCHWARTZ: Donald Trump has called him at all hours of the night.

BORGER (voice-over): He's not calling now because Cohen is singing, admitting negotiations about Trump Tower Moscow continued during the presidential campaign while Trump denied having any business interests in Russia. He says he was in touch with Trump's lawyers and White House staff as he prepared a false statement to Congress.

And Cohen says at the direction of the candidate, he coordinated payoffs to women accusing Trump of sexual relations -- even releasing a secret recording about one of them.

COHEN: When it comes time for the financing, which will be --

TRUMP: Wait a second, what financing?

BORGER: All part of the job.

COHEN: My job is I protect Mr. Trump. That's what it is. If there's an issue that relates to Mr. Trump that is of concern to him, it's, of course, concern to me, and I will use my legal skills within which to protect Mr. Trump to the best of my ability.

It's going to be my absolute pleasure to serve you with a $500 million lawsuit.

BORGER: Often with threats as in this 2015 conversation with a reporter.

COHEN: I'm warning you, tread very (EXPLETIVE DELETED) lightly because what I'm going to do to you is going to be (EXPLETIVE DELETED) disgusting. Do you understand me?

MICHAEL D'ANTONIO, TRUMP BIOGRAPHER: This is also part of the Trump- Cohen method is you skate on the edge of what's reasonable and maybe even on the edge of what's ethical or legal.

BORGER: Cohen, a sometimes Democrat, first came to Trump's attention after buying apartments in Trump developments, then went to the mat for Trump against one of his condo boards and won.

SCHWARTZ: Trump loved him for it. I mean, that was the beginning of it, and then after that, they became close. It was much more than an attorney-client relationship. It was certainly -- it was something much deeper, almost father and son kind of thing.

BORGER: For Trump, hiring Cohen wasn't about pedigree. Cohen, who was 52, got his degree from Western Michigan's Cooley Law School and eventually entered the less than genteel world of New York taxi cab medallions.

NUNBERG: If you look where Michael came from in his legal career, before he started working for Trump Org, it wasn't like he came from a white shoe law firm. He came from, you know, a hard nosed -- a hard nosed New York trial firm.

TRUMP: I will faithfully execute --

BORGER: But when Trump became president, he did not bring his brash wingman to Washington.

(on camera): Do you think he wanted to be in the White House, be White House counsel or --

D'ANTONIO: There must have been a part of him that was dreaming of a great job at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. But he's also the guy who not only knows where all the bodies are buried, he buried a lot of them himself, and that, ironically, disqualified him.

BORGER: Maybe from working in the White House, but not from working with Bob Mueller.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BORGER: You know, I'm told that Cohen himself pushed for this sentencing now because he wants to get on with his life but that does not necessarily mean that he's going to stop helping prosecutors as they continue to investigate the president.

BLITZER: Excellent piece. Thank you very much, Gloria, for doing that.

Finally tonight, on a very, very different note.

The verdict is in, CNN attorney Drew Shenkman's new baby boy is healthy and adorable. Drew and his wife Patty welcome Benjamin Levi Shenkman into the world overnight. He weighs in at just over 9 pounds. We're told mom and baby are doing well and that the Shenkman's older brother Brody can't wait to meet his little brother.

Congratulations from all of us here in THE SITUATION ROOM. We're thrilled to celebrate another new member of the family.

And thanks to all of our viewers for watching.

"ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.