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THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER
Michael Flynn Pleads For No Jail Time; British Prime Minister Theresa May Survives No-Confidence Vote. Aired 4:30-5p ET
Aired December 12, 2018 - 16:30 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.
JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: And we have some breaking news in our world lead now.
British Prime Minister Theresa May is safe, at least for the moment. Just a few moments ago, May survived a no-confidence vote from her own party. Backlash had been growing for a while from pro-Brexit lawmakers, frustrated with her negotiations to leave the European Union, criticizing her for not making a completely clean break in the negotiations.
CNN's Bianca Nobilo is in London for us.
And, Bianca, despite the fact that Prime Minister May is safe for the next year, the Brexit plan is still in chaos. March 29 is the agreed- upon date that England will leave the E.U. What will happen if a firm plan is still not set?
BIANCA NOBILO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Jake, the default option, if there is no Brexit plan agreed upon, is a no-deal Brexit.
The U.K. is leaving the European Union on the 29th of March next year. That's enshrined in law, and subject to anything else being agreed, that's what's going to happen. And that's the scenario that businesses and lawmakers and many people in the nation fear most.
So that's what the prime minister is trying to avoid. But her plan is so unpopular and loathed by members of her own party for all different reasons. Today, she tried to relaunch her mission. Let's take a listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
THERESA MAY, BRITISH PRIME MINISTER: So here is our renewed mission, delivering the Brexit that people voted for, bringing the country back together, and building a country that truly works for everyone.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
NOBILO: Now, Jake, whether or not she will be able to do that remains to be seen.
And many M.P.s were quite disappointed by the results, because over one-third of her party do not support her. So whether or not she will be able to deliver any form of Brexit plan still is up in the air, which, of course, is damaging to business confidence and her authority, too.
TAPPER: All right, Bianca, thanks so much. Appreciate it.
Let's go to CNN's Nic Robertson. He's at 10 Downing Street. He just saw the prime minister come out.
Nic, what comes next?
NIC ROBERTSON, CNN INTERNATIONAL DIPLOMATIC EDITOR: Jake, I think in many ways what we have seen tonight is a dry run of what we are going to see again, maybe once, maybe twice, maybe more.
That is, this deal and the possibility of it completely falling apart, becoming a very public rift, tonight within the Conservative Party, the next time, perhaps across Parliament, with the opposition calling for a vote of no confidence in Theresa May's government itself.
So the knock-on effect potentially becomes much, much more real that Britain leaves the European Union without a deal, to uncertain economic times, to a knock-on economic impact in Europe that Europe doesn't want either, that will affect Britain badly, and will also have a ripple effect, potentially impacting businesses in the United States.
This is not a small thing that is happening here. As I say, the tensions tonight, the drama, a dry run. We're really back where we were, exactly the same place we were this morning. The troubles are just beginning, renewed tomorrow -- Jake.
TAPPER: And, Nic, what does this mean, this vote total, in terms of Prime Minister May's future ability to govern?
Look, it wasn't the resounding sort of win that really gave her a strong position over the rest of the party. There is still at least one-third of her party members who don't support her leadership. Are they going to vote against her when this Brexit agreement eventually over the next month comes to Parliament for what's called a meaningful vote?
If they still plan to vote against her, there is no way that can pass. The opposition won't support it. The other smaller parties won't support it. She didn't get what she really, really needed to have even a hint of walking forward with this and changing the dynamic at all. That didn't happen.
TAPPER: All right, Nic and Bianca, thank you so much. Appreciate it.
One key thing we still don't know about the special counsel findings on Trump's former national security adviser, Michael Flynn, that's next.
TAPPER: Some breaking news just in.
A top contender for a chief of staff job at the White House is now out. White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders releasing a statement saying -- quote -- "Congressman Mark meadows is a great friend of President Trump and is doing an incredible job in Congress. The president told him we need him in Congress, so he can continue the great work he is doing there."
Also in the politics lead, you might call them the big three. Michael Cohen sentenced to three years in prison just hours ago. Paul Manafort, who ran the Trump campaign, staring at 10 years in the slammer. And President Trump's fired National Security Adviser Michael Flynn pleading with a judge right now for no prison time, citing his long history of military service and his full cooperation with the special counsel, Robert Mueller.
In a sentencing memo, Flynn's defense team also suggested that the FBI may have duped him into lying when two agents failed to remind Flynn that misleading or lying to investigators is, in fact, a crime.
According to the filing, the FBI -- quote -- "decided agents would not warn Flynn that it was a crime to lie during an FBI interview because they wanted Flynn to be relaxed and they were concerned that giving the warnings might adversely affect the rapport."
CNN justice correspondent Evan Perez joins me now.
Evan, the big question here, and we still don't have an answer to it, why did he lie? Why?
EVAN PEREZ, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Right, Jake. And why is it that in this court filing, where all they had to say was, we agree with Robert Mueller, we deserve no prison time, and here are some recommendation letters, that the lawyers included this package that described -- this passage that describes the circumstance under which he was questioned by these FBI agents.
They essentially walked -- they came over there. Andrew McCabe, the former deputy director of the FBI, called him up and said, I'm going to send a couple agents over to come talk to you. And then they had this conversation during which he proceeded to lie about these contacts with the Russian ambassador.
Look, Michael Flynn used to be the national security adviser. He used to be the director of the Defense Intelligence Agency. He's not someone who needs to be reminded that lying to the FBI is a crime. So it's a very strange thing to include in this document asking for no jail time, Jake. TAPPER: And, Evan, Flynn pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI about
contacts he had with Russia's then ambassador to the U.S., Sergey Kislyak.
What more did we learn about the extent of Flynn's cooperation with Mueller and the special counsel team?
PEREZ: Well, it looks like Mueller is keeping those cards close to his vest still. He still won't say what exactly Flynn said. We know he spent more than 62 hours with the special counsel.
That's a lot of time, Jake, during which time, according to the court filing, he turned over electronics and all kinds of documents to help this investigation. So, whatever it was, was of substantial help to the investigation, according to the special counsel.
What exactly it is, we do not know yet. That's something that we expect Robert Mueller will tell us at some point.
TAPPER: All right, Evan Perez, thanks so much.
My panel is back with me.
Scott, this remains the mystery, why? A national security adviser is allowed to talk to a foreign ambassador. Why would you lie to Vice President Pence? Why would you lie to the FBI? What's he -- what's he trying to hide?
SCOTT JENNINGS, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Yes. There's some questions about both the previous situation with Cohen that we discussed and this one. And it all has to do with who told you to do this? Who are we talking about when you say you coordinated with the campaign? Well, who? When Flynn picks up the phone and calls the Russian ambassador, well who told you to do that? We do not know the answers to these questions yet.
Look, I expect people who lie by the way to get punished. I don't know what's going to happen to Flynn. But as a military officer this idea that you were duped into lying, that you didn't know, that you were supposed to tell the truth unless reminded otherwise, to me, it does not wear well on a general. So I think that's not a great explanation for the matter out there today.
TAPPER: And Laura, in last week's memo the Special Counsel argued about Flynn that what he had been testifying about that took place during the transition was relevant to the Russia investigation. And I've seen conjecture out there speculation that maybe there was some quid pro quo, something happened during the campaign. And then in the transition, OK, we're going to lift the sanctions. That's pure conjecture. But what could it be?
LAURA COATES, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Well, you know, there's so many points in time. Remember he was somebody who was the first person to tell the President that Vladimir Putin contacted them to congratulate him for the victory. He's somebody who has an amnesia every time it comes to Sergei Kislyak. He's somebody who's part of the transition team as well which also implicates people like Paul Manafort, Rick Gates, Donald Trump Jr., etcetera, the list goes on. What information he could provide is basically useful.
And remember, he has been on the hook for a year, for a year, and 60 hours' worth of conversations. I mean, all of Game of Thrones is like 70 hours long. This is a very long a period of time to talk to him. So, what could possibly, could possibly have kept their attention. Well, you know that the ideas of where he is and the unique position is important. But also, one of the reasons why he got this sort of lenient sentencing memorandum from Mueller team is because he was the first domino to fall.
And as being the first domino to fall the first to squeal gets the best deal and he created an opportunity where all this anxiety happened around Washington D.C. about what does Michael Flynn know, encouraged others by the veer of virtue of being a cooperator to come forward. And so now, by that door opening, you have the idea of not what Flynn could provide, but what everyone who talked to Flynn could actually provide.
TAPPER: And look, I mean, this put all this into context. Don McGahn, the former White House Counsel, he met with Mueller for about 30 hours. Flynn met with Mueller 19 times for more than 60 hours as Laura says. Cohen met with Mueller for at least 70 hours. That's a lot of time to be meeting with prosecutors to be doing whatever they were doing.
SYMONE SANDERS, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: And answering questions presumably. Telling their side of the story. Illuminating the facts of the situation. I just remember when Sally Yates was fired. And it came out after she testified to Congress and everything that she went and she sounded the alarm to the White House. She spoke -- she sounded the alarm to Don McGahn. She said that what the Vice President Mike Pence is going out there and saying was not true. That there are -- there are nefarious things afoot.
One could argue that Sally Yates tried to save them, and yet because the White House was so headstrong, because they felt like they knew what they were doing, because this was a band, again, many of -- many of the folks in that row are crooks. I'm going to keep saying it. They were crooks, Jake. The President is -- the President's lawyer was sentenced to jail today because --
TAPPER: To prison.
SANDERS: To prisons. To be clear, to prison because he did things according to him, at the direction of the President of the United States. The President is crook. This is -- this is more than problematic, our democracy. That's why people are saying our democracy is at stake.
NIA-MALIKA HENDERSON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL REPORTER: And three others of course have been sentenced. At some point Paul Manafort who is in jail right now because he violated the terms of his bail. He will get sentenced at this point. You've had the president's defense basically witch-hunt, there's no collusion, he's tweeted about it. TAPPER: And in the Reuters interview, he calls it -- he calls it a peanut stuff.
HENDERSON: He calls it -- yes, peanuts. Exactly. Peanuts. And when you look at all of these folks, sixteen people at some sort of contact with Russians, all of these folks are testifying for hours and hours and hours at a time. They weren't talking about peanuts. They were talking about something. Three years isn't peanuts. That's how long Michael Cohen is going to be behind bars. Manafort probably got something like ten years. That isn't peanuts.
TAPPER: And think about this also. The fact is, that the President and his team repeatedly lied to the American people about any contacts with Russia. Take a look at this small sample, the small medley of lies.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Did any adviser or anybody in the Trump campaign have any contact with the Russians who are trying to meddle in the election?
MIKE PENCE, VICE PRESIDENT, UNITED STATES: Well, of course not.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Are there any ties between Mr. Trump, you or your campaign, and Putin in his regime.
[16:50:03] PAUL MANAFORT, FORMER CAMPAIGN MANAGER, TRUMP CAMPAIGN: No, there are not. That's absurd.
REINCE PRIEBUS, FORMER CHIEF OF STAFF, WHITE HOUSE: We don't know of any contacts with Russian agents.
KELLYANNE CONWAY, COUNSELOR TO THE PRESIDENT: This conversation never happened.
DONALD TRUMP JR., SON OF DONALD TRUMP: This is time and time again, lie after lie. It's disgusting. It's so phony.
PENCE: Why would there be any contacts between the campaign?
TRUMP JR.: I can't think of bigger lies.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
TAPPER: Well, that's a lot of lie.
HENDERSON: Yes, yes. I mean -- and obviously, some of those people may not have known. Somebody like Vice President Pence who is always sort of like oh, you know, it wasn't me or this happened before I was on the campaign. But yes, I mean this was an incessant line that they had, that all this was just a Democratic plot. They were making something up. But now you've got Mueller who's been hard at work, has racked up all of these indictments and convictions and jail time. We'll see what the President says. It will also be interesting to see what Republicans start to say.
Again, we always -- oh, maybe they're going to start criticizing this President or being a little bit more a harsh. We saw Orrin Hatch obviously say, oh, I don't care. It doesn't really matter. I think that stance is going to be a little harder to maintain.
TAPPER: All right, this just in. The President's attorney Rudy Giuliani's told CNN about Michael Cohen. "It's not true he was blindly loyal to the President. He was aggressively disloyal." And Giuliani noted to CNN that Cohen deceived the President by recording their conversations. We also just learned that Michael Cohen is open to testifying in front of the Democratic-controlled House according to Cohen's lawyer. That could include the House Judiciary and or the House Intelligence Committees.
Coming up it's the election wrought with so much alleged fraud. Both political parties now say it's time for a redo. Stay with us.
TAPPER: Stayed in a Starwood Hotel recently. China might know. More scary hacking news in our "MONEY LEAD" today. The New York Times reporting the Chinese are behind that hack at Marriott that exposed the personal information of half a billion customers in the Starwood reservation database. A group of hotels that includes the St. Regis, and the Westin, and the Sheraton, and W hotels. According to The Times, these hackers got their hands on data as sensitive as security clearance files and health insurance, perhaps even credit card numbers.
In our "NATIONAL LEAD," it all now seems but unavoidable that North Carolina voters will have to head to the polls again as unbelievable details are beginning to emerge or continuing to emerge rather about alleged fraud committed by Republican operatives during the race for the state's Ninth Congressional District. CNN's Ryan Nobles has a story from North Carolina.
RYAN NOBLES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: In North Carolina's Ninth Congressional District, a new election is all but inevitable.
DALLAS WOODHOUSE, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, GOP NORTH CAROLINA: Should the early voting numbers have been leaked out by election officials, that is a fundamental unfairness in this election. We are pretty certain that happened.
NOBLES: Dallas Woodhouse, the state's GOP executive director is talking about early vote totals in Bladen County being reviewed prior to election day. This in addition to growing evidence of alleged fraud by McCrae Dowless, a local political operative who was working for a Republican candidate Mark Harris. Now leaders from both sides of the aisle are forced to conclude a new election is likely necessary.
WOODHOUSE: If it is confirmed, a new election is appropriate. KENNETH SIMMONS, RESIDENT, BLADEN COUNTY: I don't care if you're
Republican-affiliated or Democrat, I want it fair.
NOBLES: Kenneth Simmons, a Bladen County Republican signed an affidavit claiming he saw Dowless with a stack of absentee ballots prior to Election Day. By law, only close relatives are supposed to turn in voters' absentee ballots.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Does that look like your handwriting?
NOBLES: You don't have to go far to find people impacted by the Dowless operation.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Some lady come and picked up my ballot.
NOBLES: Thomas Berry's absentee ballot application was submitted by Dowless. He told CNN that someone else sent in his ballot for him, a direct violation of the law. Records also show Crystal Adams had an absentee ballot application filed in her name and submitted by Dowless. Her ballot was never cast and she told CNN she never submitted an application.
So when I tell you that I -- you know, we've got this list that shows your name and that you requested an absentee ballot, I mean what did -- that surprises you?
CRYSTAL ADAMS, RESIDENT, BLADEN COUNTY: Yes, because I don't sign them. I usually shut the door at people's faces.
NOBLES: But just how close Dowless was to Harris is unclear. The candidate claims he knew nothing of the operative's work.
MARK HARRIS (R), CONGRESSIONAL CANDIDATE, NORTH CAROLINA: And although I was absolutely unaware of any wrongdoing, that will not prevent me from cooperating with this investigation.
NOBLES: Records show the Harris campaign paid a political consulting firm that then hired Dowless.
Are you Sandra or --
SANDRA DOWLESS, EX-WIFE OF MCCRAE DOWLESS: Yes, I'm Sandra.
NOBLES: His ex-wife's signatures appear on multiple absentee ballot envelopes, but she says she wasn't a part of any scheme.
Your name is on ballots that he witnessed.
S. DOWLESS: I wasn't working.
NOBLES: You -- were somebody forging your signature then?
S. DOWLESS: No, I didn't say that either.
NOBLES: Because I've heard your name bandied about and I'd like to hear directly from you. You weren't working for him but you did witness ballots though? Yes. You did that independent of McCrae. You didn't have anything do with McCrae?
S. DOWLESS: Well, I was there when they needed a witness.
NOBLES: And just how close and how much Harris knew about the Dowless operation is a key part of this story. And tonight CNN is learning from an associate of McCrae Dowless by the name of Jeffrey Smith that he actually saw Dowless and Mark Harris meet on at least one occasion at a satellite office in Bladen County. Harris also -- or I'm sorry, Jeffery Smith also says that said that Dowless and Harris met on multiple occasions. Jake?
TAPPER: Ryan Nobles in North Carolina, thank you.