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Michael Cohen Due to be Sentenced Today; Michael Flynn Seeks No Prison Time; Trump Threatens to Shut Down Government Over Border Well; Aired 10-10:30a ET

Aired December 12, 2018 - 10:00   ET


[10:00:00] JIM SCIUTTO, CNN ANCHOR: With just one hour from now the president's longtime lawyer, longtime fixer is due to be sentenced on nine counts ranging from tax evasion to lying to Congress. New York prosecutors want the president's former lawyer, mouthpiece, to do serious time and his family is now bracing for the worst.

It's a sad day for them. And you can see it in their faces there as the sentencing approaches.

POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: Yes. Just about one hour from now.

Early next week the retired general who served for less than a month as the president's National Security adviser will face his sentencing for lying to the FBI. Michael Flynn says he shouldn't go to prison because he cooperated with the special counsel. He also says the FBI when they came to talk to him never told him not to lie. So that should help him out but frankly he should know that.

While that sinks in, let's preview the Cohen hearing with our Shimon Prokupecz who is outside the federal courthouse.

So because of the images, we just saw Michael Cohen and the family leave the apartment, we know he's en route right now to where you are. What do we expect today?

SHIMON PROKUPECZ, CNN CRIME AND JUSTICE REPORTER: Yes. So he should be here probably within the next 20 minutes or so, Poppy. As you said he left there with his family his two kids, his wife. It will be the first time that they appear in court with him. Obviously an important day for the family with Michael Cohen now facing the prospect of several years in jail.

So here's what we expect here today. Certainly we expect to hear from Michael Cohen. He will make a plea to the judge in his own words. He'll stand up, he'll tell the judge why he is hoping for some leniency, perhaps no jail time at all. And then we're going to hear from prosecutors at some point. And two sets of prosecutors. We're going to hear from the Special Counsel's Office and we're also going to hear from the prosecutors from the Southern District of New York where in both cases the president, Donald Trump, is the central figure in this entire investigation.

It's the campaign finance laws that Michael Cohen admitted to violating, breaking the law to protect the president from these hush payments that prosecutors here say the president coordinated and directed Michael Cohen to make these payments. And then, of course, there is the Russia investigation where Michael Cohen is also involved in because he lied to members of Congress investigating whether or not there was contacts with campaign officials and the Russians. And there is that Moscow project that Michael Cohen of course lied about to protect the president essentially.

So we'll get to hear from prosecutors. Perhaps the big question is whether or not "Individual 1" is mentioned here in court. That is the president, Donald Trump. Whether or not they bring him up in some way. And then we're going to get reaction from the judge. How is the judge going to react to all of this? He'll have something to say. He'll explain why he is handing down the sentence that he is.

It will also be interesting to see, you know, his views and his comments on the fact that Michael Cohen violated the campaign finance laws which really prosecutors have argued robbed people of a fair election. That is the information that should have come out in the election did not because of Michael Cohen's payments to the two women.


HARLOW: All right. Shimon, thank you. A lot ahead, a very important day for him and someone so close to the president who facilitated these payoffs. We'll keep an eye on that sentencing.

At the same time Michael Flynn this morning is asking a judge not to send him to prison at all. And the special counsel Robert Mueller agrees.

SCIUTTO: So Jessica Schneider, she joins us now with the details.

Mueller has said that Flynn provides his office with, quote, "substantial assistance." Do we believe that that assistance to the special counsel will mean no jail time for Michael Flynn?

JESSICA SCHNEIDER, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: It could. That's what Flynn's lawyers want, that's also what Mueller's team want. So the court filing, they revealed that Flynn did meet 19 times with Mueller's team and other Justice Department lawyers. So Flynn's lawyers last night in that late-night filing they're pointing to the extensive cooperation as really the big reason for no prison time here.

But they're also suggesting that Michael Flynn may have been tricked into lying to the FBI. So in these filings Flynn's team detailed how they met with FBI agents inside the White House.

HARLOW: Jessica Schneider --

SCHNEIDER: Yes. I can see Michael Cohen.

HARLOW: Hold that thought. Sorry to interrupt. We are looking at Michael Cohen here, the president's former personal attorney for years and years. Former fixer. He is arriving at a federal courthouse. This is in Lower Manhattan. You are looking at live pictures. Today the judge in this case, U.S. District Judge William Pauley III will hand down the sentence to Michael Cohen for lying to Congress, for tax evasion, for fraud, for campaign finance violations. You see him walking in there with his family, could face up to a little over five years in prison.

SCIUTTO: Let's see if he answers questions here. I know they're going to be shouting. Doesn't appear that he is. Keep in mind this and we should underline the gravity of this. This is Donald Trump's long-time fixer, lawyer for many, many years who did a lot of things for this president, defending him in public, but a lot of things in private including these payoffs to two women weeks from a presidential election campaign, to keep their stories of affairs with this president quiet.

[10:05:11] He is going to jail. President Donald Trump's former fixer and lawyer is going to jail. It is a significant event.

HARLOW: Right.

SCIUTTO: Let's bring in our CNN legal and national security analyst Asha Rangappa, CNN legal analyst Paul Callan. We also still have Shimon Prokupecz who's outside the courthouse there.

But, Asha, underline that for us. You can say that, listen, in this environment, you know, who knows, whatever the news of the day is, you kind of forget about by the next day. But historically, in historic terms, to see the president's long-time fixer and lawyer going to prison. And keep in mind, he's implicated the president in crimes as he goes to prison.

What is the significance of that?

ASHA RANGAPPA, CNN LEGAL AND NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: That's right. I think Michael Cohen will be the first person in the inner circle of Trump's team to go to prison for a significant period of time. We have yet to see what the judge is going to sentence him to. But this is going to be much longer than, say, the two weeks that George Papadopoulos got and potentially no jail time for Flynn for lying to federal agents.

And what we have is the severity of the offense here. We have, you know, tax evasion. We have bank fraud. We have campaign finance violations. These are serious financial crimes which are taken seriously by the New York, you know, U.S. attorney's office. So I think this should worry the president because not only does Michael Cohen know a lot about the president's own finances in terms of the Trump Organization, but this is a signal that those will be punished severely.

HARLOW: And, Paul Callan, to you, as we look at these pictures moments ago, Michael Cohen arriving with his family. He could face up to a little over five years in prison. It will be a federal prison sentence. What that means, he's going to have to serve at least 85 percent of that sentence. And remember, when he stood up in court months ago and said that he made these payoffs to these women at the behest of the president, right? At the behest of "Individual 1." At the direction of "Individual 1." And then he lied to Congress at the direction of -- or to go along with the party line of "Individual 1."

The president addressing this in a Reuters interview last night really down played it. He said what we did. What does this mean in your opinion for the president?

I think the president address this in a Reuters interview last night, really downplayed it, Paul Callan. You know, civil, et cetera. But he said, quote, "What we did." What does this mean in your opinion for the president?

PAUL CALLAN, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Well, I think the president is going to see a relatively harsh sentence imposed on Michael Cohen. He hasn't made a great impression on prosecutors. I mean, Mueller, who sent the friendliest letter about him said in that letter he had provided useful information. Now that's not the phrase you want to see. You want to see substantial assistance is the phrase that means you're going to get a big reduction in sentence.


CALLAN: Federal prosecutors in the Southern District here in New York are recommending a substantial jail sentence for him. So he is looking at probably close to five years in prison. And he's going in prison as what some people would say a snitch. He is somebody who has informed on the president of the United States. Snitches always have a tough time in prison.

HARLOW: Can I just ask you what we know about this judge? And, you know, why that matters who the judge is that decides on the sentencing? What can you tell us about Judge Pauley?

CALLAN: They all have very different sentencing philosophies but they have to operate within the federal sentencing guidelines generally. Now William Pauley was appointed by President Clinton as a federal judge. He has a reputation as a very stern, tough guy on the bench. And I will tell you that other politicians who have been indicted and tried before him have faced a very difficult, tough judge. So I think that Michael Cohen might be facing somebody who will sentence him to prison.

SCIUTTO: Shimon, you're outside the courthouse there. This is a sad day for Michael Cohen and his family. His public statements in the days and weeks in advance of this said that he wanted to make things right. He wanted to rescue his name. He wanted to admit to crimes to help clear his name, to do it for his family and his country. As you saw him there with, I believe, his wife, daughter and son, you can see it in his face, could you not, the weight of what he is facing here today.

PROKUPECZ: No. And you can certainly feel it in his family. Look, this is the first time that we see him coming here to court with his family. It was a little, let's say, different I should than normally when he comes to court. Sometimes he'll speak to reporters on his way in. You can tell, you know, there is a lot of concern obviously on his face. It's very telling that his family is here with him. Like I said it was the first time that we see his family here. I think he is about to face something very serious as noted here just a short time ago.

[10:10:05] This judge is known to be sort of a strict sentencer. That's why I think what he has to say about this is going to be interesting. The key issue here, obviously, is what happens in terms of how they address the issue of the president and individual number one. Does that somehow get mentioned here today either by the prosecutors, the judge or even Michael Cohen himself?


PROKUPECZ: I think that's something to really look towards.

SCIUTTO: One note you might be seeing there, his daughter with crutches. Why does she got a crutch? We're told she recently had hip surgery there just so you're aware. That's his daughter with him as well as wife and son behind him in that picture.

HARLOW: And that's an important point that Shimon makes about what will, if anything, Michael Cohen say about the president.

Paul Callan, back to you, when you look at Michael Cohen who clearly in the last few weeks coming forward with all of this stuff then going again to the federal courthouse last week and saying that he had, you know, admitted to lying to Congress, wanted to be the John Dean. Right? Talk about the comparisons, the parallels and the contrasts here. What he is likely to face versus John Dean and what this means ultimately. Because the Southern District viewed his cooperation as so insignificant compared to what Mueller's team has argued.

CALLAN: Yes, there was almost a feeling of anger by the Southern District.


CALLAN: The prosecutors, in the submission that they made to the court. Cohen of course was hoping that this would be an enormous help to him cooperating with both Southern District prosecutors and Mueller. But it went the other way. And I think we see two things being demonstrated here. Number one, his own background, I mean, he was Trump's bully. He was his legal bully. This is a guy who would threaten people to destroy their lives using the legal system, using the club of the legal system to get Trump's way.

And I think that rubbed a lot of lawyers the wrong way and it's going to rub Judge Pauley the wrong way as well. But secondly prosecutors tend to be generous to the -- I call it the first guy through the door.


CALLAN: You know, if you cooperate early with federal prosecutors before your indictment you have a chance like Flynn will have I think to get no jail. What happened with Cohen? Cohen was totally non- cooperative until he was indicted. And then when he was indicted even there he as the papers indicate didn't provide full cooperation. He was holding information back. So --

SCIUTTO: That doesn't fly.

CALLAN: It doesn't fly.

SCIUTTO: What he says. Yes.

CALLAN: So you've got to cooperate early and you have to be totally open.

HARLOW: And fully.

CALLAN: And fully. And he didn't do either of those things.

SCIUTTO: The reason I said that is because by cooperating early you take away the need for them to continue this investigation. Keep digging elsewhere.


SCIUTTO: That's an actual help.

Paul Callan, Asha Rangappa, thanks very much for helping walk us through was a momentous time.


SCIUTTO: In this administration, for the Cohen family certainly, but for the country.

HARLOW: Absolutely.

All right. We'll get that sentence in a matter of minutes.

President Trump saying that he will own a government shutdown if he doesn't get the $5 billion he is demanding for a border wall. Political posturing or is the shutdown imminent? We'll have a live report from Capitol Hill.

SCIUTTO: And in just a few minutes House leadership will be briefed on the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi. CIA director Gina Haspel arriving just moments ago. This after the Senate was briefed last week. We're going to be on top of it.



[10:17:45] SEN. CHARLES SCHUMER (D), MINORITY LEADER: The president is so used to obsequious advisers who fail to dispel his false and made-up facts that he lives in a cocoon of his own mistruth. Leader Pelosi and I had to tell him no, Mr. President, that's not true. We had to puncture that cocoon in the unfortunate event that President Trump causes a shutdown the Democratic House will come into power January 3rd, and pass one of our two options to fund the government and then it will fall right back in Leader McConnell's lap.


SCIUTTO: He says lives in a cocoon. Senator Chuck Schumer just moments ago describing that tense meeting alongside Nancy Pelosi with President Trump.

HARLOW: With us now is Phil Mattingly live from Capitol Hill.

I paused for a moment because I was just having that image of the president living in a cocoon. That was quite a, you know, word choice that Chuck Schumer chose there.

All right/ This is the fallout and the aftermath of the awkward, tense Oval Office meeting that played out in public. What is the reaction you're seeing?

PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Look, I think you can take your cues off of what the Democratic leader of the United States Senate just said on the floor, and that is the Democrats came out of that meeting feeling empowered.

Now going into that meeting, we talked about this yesterday, guys, Democrats were not willing to budge. What they are offering right now is essentially maintaining the current level of funding on border security through September of next year and that's it. The president has made clear he wants $5 billion. Republicans on Capitol Hill at this point, they're not willing to undercut them.

But things I heard, guys, repeatedly over and over from both Republicans and Democrats yesterday, the game and standoffs like this is to blame the other side for a shutdown. And the president being willing to embrace the shutdown, it would be his fault that he would take the blame for it, is considered at least a rhetorical or PR win for Democrats.

Here's the reality of what's going on right now. Obviously, Senator Schumer making clear Democrats aren't backing down with where they are. That said, that meeting yesterday as electric or as much of a blowup as it was an important part to actually reaching a resolution. You need blowups, you need the bad meetings as appropriate as I always say to get to the good meetings.

What needs to happen now is talks need to start behind closed doors, trying to find a pathway forward. I think the big question, guys, right now with everybody I'm talking to who was involved in these negotiations or has been involved, is who is going to start giving something to get to an end game?

[10:20:07] Senator Schumer saying clearly he is not going to. Is the president willing to or is he willing for political reasons to take the shutdown? That remains an open question and that will decide whether or not 10 days from now I'm spending my holidays in the capitol.

HARLOW: Let's hope not. Phil Mattingly, all right. Because I don't want to be in the room when you have to tell your wife I'm not going to be home for Christmas with the kids.


HARLOW: All right? Let's get this done, Congress.


HARLOW: Phil, thank you very much.

Jim, important fact-check time.

SCIUTTO: We're going to do a fact check now. Yesterday in that raucous Oval Office on funding for the border wall President Trump made a claim that recent terror arrests at the border made a wall necessary.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We caught 10 terrorists over the last very short period of time. Ten. These are very serious people. Our border agents, all of our law enforcement has been incredible. What they've done. But we caught 10 terrorists. These are people that were looking to do harm. We need the wall.


SCIUTTO: CNN asked the White House to provide details of those 10 terrorists the president claimed. The White House referred us to the Department of Homeland Security. However, DHS did not have any information about 10 recent terror arrests. Instead, it referred CNN to a previously issued statistic not specific to the southern border but referring to individuals attempting to travel to the U.S. from across the globe by air, sea or land and including efforts to obtain visas from embassies and consulates around the world.

On average last year DHS prevented 10 individuals tied to known or suspected terrorists from traveling to the U.S. each day. Now that is very important work. But this is a worldwide figure not principally related to the southern border. DHS did not provide evidence of a single terrorist caught at the southern border over the very last short period of time as the president claimed.

This is not the first time that the president has implied that the wall is necessary due to the terror threat. Prior to the election, just prior, the president implied that potential terrorists were mixing in among the migrant caravan. On October 27th -- 2nd, rather, he tweeted in part, "It looks like Mexico's police and military are unable to stop the caravan heading to the southern border of the United States. Criminals, unknown Middle Easterners are mixed in. I have alerted Border Patrol and the military this is a national emergency."

So the next day the DHS spokesperson tweeted., quote, "DHS can confirm that there are individuals within the caravan who are gang members or have significant criminal histories." DHS did say that 17,000 criminals were caught at the border last year but notably nothing about terrorists in the caravan. Instead DHS then tweeted, quote, "Citizens of countries outside Central America, including countries in the Middle East, Africa, South Asia and elsewhere are currently traveling through Mexico towards the U.S."

Crucially not in the caravan but somewhere in Mexico. And crucially, no evidence provided evidence that any of those people from the Middle East had terror ties. That's a major difference. The president can make many arguments for a border wall but has completed a claim about a terror threat specific to that border that the agency responsible for protecting the U.S. homeland from terrorism has not backed up.

HARLOW: Jim, not backed up by the facts. Even the president entitled to his opinions but not his own facts.


HARLOW: Thank you for that. Come back over here, we have our guests with us to talk about all of this. Sabrina Siddiqui, politics reporter for "The Guardian," David Drucker, CNN political analyst.

So, look, guys, David, Jim just laid out really important facts. You cannot dispute those. Here is another important fact in response to the president last night telling Reuters, quote, "I will take the blame" when he is talking about a government shutdown. He said, "Because we are closing it down for border security. I think we win on that every single time."

David Drucker, the facts don't back that up. There is a brand new poll out just yesterday from Marist, from NPR and PBS, it says almost 70 percent of Americans regardless of party do not see a border wall as a priority right now.

DAVID DRUCKER, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, I think there is a couple of things to unpack there. First of all every time Republicans in Congress have owned a shutdown it's come back to bite them. And they've had to go crawling back to the Democrats and sort of accede to most of what they were demanding in the first place.

So it will be interesting to see if the president as a Republican president owning the shutdown if one occurs can come out on the right side of this. He seems to think that he can. Conventional wisdom and history would suggest that it's not going to work out that well.

I think the other thing you mentioned that's really important is to understand the politics of immigration and the president's policies.


DRUCKER: I think coming out of the 2016 election, you know, there was a lot of thinking that Democrats had to rethink where they were on immigration. But I think the 2018 elections presents us new evidence. And when we look at the exit polling and after action reports on what happened on November 6th, what we found was that the president's rhetoric on the caravan, his rhetoric on the wall and all of that were a net negative for Republicans. [10:25:10] It's one of the reasons why they lost 40 seats even though

they held on to the Senate. And I think Republicans have to rethink now how they look at immigration policy. The wall in and of itself could be broadly accepted policy. But when conflated with Trump, it's a big loser and it reminds me of health care during the Obama years when people would poll on health care, a lot of the Obamacare policies would seem to be broadly accepted. When it was called Obamacare it was a loser. And so I think Republicans have to be very careful going forward.

HARLOW: Interesting. Huh.

SCIUTTO: Sabrina, the president clearly still convinced that this is a winning issue for him. And in fact it was a revealing moment in one of the interviews the last 24 hours where he called it an issue. He's going after this -- the border issue as a political issue here. But in light of the numbers David is talking about there, are Republicans on the Hill and elsewhere at least privately trying to send a message to the White House? Listen, you've got to pull this back and certainly not shutdown the government for this.

SABRINA SIDDIQUI, POLITICS REPORTER, THE GUARDIAN: Well, certainly Republicans were concerned particularly with the president taking blame openly in public for a shutdown if and when it occurs because it essentially robs Republicans from the ability to shift blame on Democrats which is typically how this game works whenever there is a shutdown, both parties of course blame one another.

The real question is going to be if the president insists that any spending bill to keep the government open include money that is specifically going to be allocated toward the construction of his wall that he wants along the U.S.-Mexico border or will it be sufficient for the White House if there is just funding allocated toward border security more broadly which is the compromise that we have seen in past appropriations bills and frankly is more in line with what Democrats would be open to.

There is certainly, according to my conversations. no appetite among lawmakers either on the Republican side or the Democratic side for a shutdown. And as we have seen time and again if there is anything that's going to motivate lawmakers when it comes to reaching a deal it's getting out of town and going home for the holidays.


HARLOW: Right. And McConnell says this morning he is hoping for a Christmas miracle. I think America is hoping for that at this point.

Let me ask you about something different but important and not getting as much attention this morning, David Drucker, and that is some interesting reporting out of the "Washington Post" that the president's pick for attorney general William Barr has made a lot of campaign contributions, $567,000 to be exact over the past few decades, almost solely to Republicans and Republican candidates.

Talk about the optics of that given how the president has so publicly and repeatedly decried the donations of some of the prosecutors on Mueller's team to Democrats.

DRUCKER: Well, look, I think it definitely puts the president in a pickle in terms of discussing Mueller's team when people can now point out to him his nominee for attorney general has also been on a team and has donated over the years. And whenever you've been out of government for a long time but politically active you end up having to explain these sorts of things.

I do think, however, that the president's choice for attorney general is going to be well received generally because he is looked at as a straight shooter. He comes from an administration in his past service that we all look at now as very above board, very much different than how President Trump would run a Justice Department. So I think there's just going to be a lot of relief that the president didn't pick somebody who, you know, we all might look at as a crony. And I think that is going to alleviate a lot of pressure on Barr, although I have no doubt that during confirmation Democrats are going to press him a lot on just how fair and neutral he would be given his support for Republicans.

SCIUTTO: Sabrina --

HARLOW: David Drucker --

SCIUTTO: Sorry. David.


SCIUTTO: We both like to thank both of you.

HARLOW: We thank you both.

SCIUTTO: Forgive us.


DRUCKER: Thanks, guys.

SIDDIQUI: Thank you.

HARLOW: We do have to hop to this major news overseas. Britain's prime minister vowing she will not go down without a fight. In just hours a secret ballot will determine Theresa May's fate and really what happens to Brexit overall. Stay with us.