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Secret Vote Underway to Decide Theresa May's Fate; Schumer: Trump Will Hold Government Hostage Over Petty Campaign Pledge; Trump's Ex-Lawyer Cohen Sentenced to 3 Years in Prison; N.Y. Prosecutors Reach Deal with Tabloid Involved in Hush Money Payments Involving Trump. Aired 1:30-2p ET

Aired December 12, 2018 - 13:30   ET



[13:30:08] BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN HOST: Right now, a vote is under way that has British Prime Minister Theresa May fighting for her political life. Members of May's own party triggered a no-confidence vote over her handling of Brexit. In the hours leading up to the vote, the leader of the opposition party took the opportunity to square off with the prime minister.


JEREMY CORBYN, LABOUR PARTY LEADER: The prime minister and the government have already been found to be in contempt of parliament. Her behavior today is just contemptuous of this parliament --


THERESA MAY, BRITISH PRIME MINISTER: He couldn't care less about Brexit. What he wants to do is bring down the government, create uncertainty, sow division, and crash our economy.


MAY: The biggest --


MAY: The biggest threat -- the biggest threat to people and to this country isn't leaving the E.U. It's a Corbyn government.


KEILAR: CNN international diplomatic editor, Nic Robertson, is outside of the prime minister's residence in London.

There's so much drama. We can see it there. Tell us what happens if Theresa May is ousted.

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN INTERNATIONAL DIPLOMATIC EDITOR: Yes, real rough and tumble in parliament there today. Theresa May, before the vote got under way today, was speaking with those M.P.s, conservative M.P.s, ahead of them casting the secret ballots. But she made a concession. She said she wouldn't lead them into the next expected general election in 2022. So what happens if she wins? Then she continues as she has been, trying to get this improved Brexit deal. But if she doesn't win, there's a leadership contest, and that could take a lot of time to fix and that was one of the things she talked about today, that if you try to select a new leader, that's going to take weeks and weeks out of the Brexit negotiating time, and you could end up crashing out of the end of the deadline, the 29th of March without a deal. Conservative M.P.s would have the opportunity to put their names forward, to be prime minister. There will be a selection period of votes twice a week. It will be whittled down to two conservative M.P.s and a postal ballot would be given to the broad Conservative Party membership, tens of thousands of people across the country. So it really could take weeks and weeks to get a new prime minister, if that happens. The expectation is she may win this vote. That's what people are thinking at the moment.

KEILAR: That is the expectation right now.

Nic Robertson, thank you so much.

Joining me now is Amanda Sloat, the senior fellow at the Brookings Institution.

You've written extensively about Brexit. Break it down for us, before we discuss Theresa May, about what this means for Britain, what this means for the world, and for allies like the U.S.

AMANDA SLOAT, SENIOR FELLOW, BROOKINGS INSTITUTION: Well, right now, we see Britain in a state of disarray. And all of Britain's bandwidth is focused on trying to resolve this domestic challenge.

KEILAR: So expectation, right now, do you share this, that Theresa May will prevail?

SLOAT: Yes. Currently the number of members of her party that have come out and said they'll support her in this confidence vote suggests she will remain party leader and prime minister.

KEILAR: If that lines up with the closed-door process --



KEILAR: OK, exactly. So if that is the expectation, then what happens? Then what is she still -- what traps does she still need to run going through any sort of negotiations?

SLOAT: A couple of weeks ago, Theresa May and leaders of the European Union agreed on the divorce deal for Brexit. This deal now needs to be ratified by the British parliament. Theresa May was supposed to bring this deal to her parliament yesterday, but when it became clear that she was unlikely to win the vote, she pulled the deal. That's part of what led some of the members of her party to call the no- confidence vote. Theresa May then spent yesterday flying around Europe, meeting with various leaders to renegotiate the deal, and she now has to face them tomorrow as at a summit in Brussels and explain what's happening in her country.

KEILAR: What are the sticking points in this negotiation?

SLOAT: The biggest sticking point and the one that has really roiled these negotiations over the last 18 months is disagreement over what's known as the backstop for Northern Ireland. So Northern Ireland is part of the U.K. It shares a border with the Republic of Ireland, which will remain in the European Union. Right now, there are no customs checks on that border. It's a completely open border. You wouldn't even know you crossed into a different country when you went into it, which is part of the legacy of a Good Friday Agreement to try to resolve the peace process in Northern Ireland. Once the U.K. leaves the E.U., that is going to become a customs border. And in order to protect the sanctity of the European trading system in the economic market, you would need to check goods on the border. Obviously, in a place that suffered from decades of conflict, reinstituting infrastructure and tracks is not going to be practically inconvenient, but it's also going to be psychologically damaging to the people there. And so if there's not a way of resolving that, the E.U. said, we want to have a backstop mechanism in place to be able to ensure that we don't need to have those checks on the border.

[13:35:13] KEILAR: And finally, if you were watching this, as an American, why should you be interested in this?

SLOAT: Well --

KEILAR: Why should you be concerned?

SLOAT: There's two reasons. The U.K. is our closest ally, and they are completely focused on this internal domestic challenge, which means they're not able to work with the United States on any of these other areas that we care about. And if they are not able to satisfactorily resolve the situation in Northern Ireland, in the worst-case scenario, you see an unraveling of the peace process in Ireland, which is something we've spent decades focusing on.


SLOAT: The final is, if they crash out with no deal, it could be very disadvantageous to American companies that are operating. We saw this have a hit on the stock market yesterday, so there would be economic challenges if they're not able to leave with a deal in place.

KEILAR: Big ones that people here will pay attention to.

Amanda Sloat, thank you so much.

SLOAT: Thank you.

KEILAR: We really appreciate it.

Protests right now erupting in Michigan as Republicans move to weaken the power of incoming Democrats. You're looking at live pictures and we'll have a report ahead.

Plus, questioning the president's manhood. Nancy Pelosi pulls no punches as a shutdown looms over Washington. Stay with us.



[13:40:59] SEN. CHUCK SCHUMER, (D-NY), SENATE MINORITY LEADER: President Trump made clear, he'll hold parts of the government hostage for a petty campaign pledge to fire up his base.


KEILAR: That is Senate minority leader, Chuck Schumer, one day after his fiery on-camera exchange with President Trump over border wall funding. With only 10 days until a partial government shutdown, what happens next with spending negotiations?

That's where CNN congressional correspondent, Phil Mattingly, comes in for us.

Phil, the holidays around the corner. Nothing like a holiday to motivate Congress. How many lawmakers there don't want to be in Washington next week? Enough?

PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Let's say, what, 435? I would say the vast majority of them don't want to be here for Christmas. And that's an important point. There are things here that make some type of off-ramp a possibility. Make no mistake about it. They're at an impasse right now. Yesterday's meeting was obviously a defining moment with the impasse. But as you know well, Brianna, when it comes to negotiations, often you need the blow-up meeting for people to sit back, reset and start to figure out the actual pathway forward.

What we're going to see is House Republicans may take up a bill to acquiesce to Trump's $5 billion for a border wall effort. If they pass that, they know it's dead in the Senate. Puts it aside and then perhaps real discussions can start.

Where will they end up? Here's the big problem right now. Both sides, the president with his base, Democrats with their base, feel comfortable in their positions where they are right now. That would seem to say that the shutdown is very possible. That said, Brianna, you've covered this institution long enough to know, particularly when holidays are in play, the off ramps that exist, the ability to punt this for a short-term amount of time is always on the table and always in play. Will they get to that point? People who are in the negotiations right now say they believe it's possible. They're not there right now. But keep an eye out. As you well know, 10 days when it comes to spending negotiations, that is a very, very long time. A lot of things can happen during that period. So as bad as things looked, it could be darkest before the dawn moment, or to quote John McCain, it could be darkest before it turns pitch black. We'll have to see. KEILAR: Oh, wow.

Phil Mattingly, thank you so much, on the Hill for us with very good quotes as well.

More on breaking news. A judge sentences the president's former lawyer, Michael Cohen, to three years in prison.

And we're just learning about a new agreement with prosecutors involving the parent company of the "National Enquirer."


[13:47:46] KEILAR: Well, we have some breaking news. As we now know how much time Trump's former fixer and attorney will spend in prison. A short time ago, a judge sentenced Michael Cohen to 36 months. Cohen pleaded guilty to campaign finance violations stemming from charges of hush money to two women. Court filings say the president directed Cohen to make the payments.

We're going to Kara Scannell outside of the courthouse there in New York.

We have some breaking news in this investigation, as if we had not had a busy day already. Because New York prosecutors have announced they've reached a deal with the tabloid -- with the tabloid -- that's the parent company really of the "National Enquirer" that helped pay off these women accusing Trump of having affairs with them. Tell us what's going on.

KARA SCANNELL, CNN REPORTER: That's right, Brianna. They just announced, the southern district, New York prosecutors, that they've reached a non-prosecution agreement, meaning they won't prosecute American Media for the $150,000 payment they made to Karen McDougal. That's one of the payments Michael Cohen has pleaded guilty to, and the U.S. attorney's office that Michael Cohen said he did in coordination with and at the direction of the president. So as part of this announcement today, which was made in September of this year, but only announced today, we're learning that American Media is receiving this agreement from the U.S. attorney's office that they won't prosecute them because of the substantial assistance that they gave them for making many of their executives available for interviews and providing information to the U.S. attorney's office. This is another sort of postscript on this investigation, where it stands so far today -- Brianna?

KEILAR: Kara, stand by, as I bring in our Laura Coates, our legal analyst, to discuss this.

When you look at what Kara just reported, part of the agreement, the company admitted they made this $150,000 payment in concert with the candidate's presidential campaign and they did it to ensure the women did not publish damaging allegations against the candidate before the election. Presumably, AMI has thrown the campaign and the president under the bus for this arrangement. [13:49:49] LAURA COATES, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Of course, remember,

David Pecker, the head of AMI, got immunity to testify around the time that Michael Cohen pled guilty to these charges about campaign finance contributions and about these sorts of catch-and-kill stories. It was David Pecker, at AMI, that was mentioned in that now infamous secret recording by Michael Cohen that said all of the stories we wanted to cover, all of them with David Pecker and our friend -- he mentioned Alan Weisselberg, who also got immunity as part of the deal with special counsel, the SDNY as well. You have the idea about what SDNY -- you had this idea of, what would they have said, what would have been the incentive for a prosecutor to have given them immunity if what they're telling you Michael Cohen has done is a violation of the law, well, if he acted in concert with them, what valuable information could they have provided that would have incentivized a plea deal? Now we know at least on one occasion, back in September, they had had this agreement that they were so forth coming, allowed people from the executive offices of AMI to give information in concert with that immunity deal.

This should probably be very troubling to Donald Trump, knowing that David Pecker has been a close friend all of these years, particularly, a guest on his planes to and from Mar-a-Lago, the person who he has routinely, according to Cohen and others, has said this person has helped over the years on these catch-and-kill cases and stories.

KEILAR: So this is something that we just saw Michael Cohen sentenced for, his part in this. The president has been implicated in this. These are campaign finance violations.

When you listen to -- I hear the legal side of this. You listen to Democrats on the Hill, and they are not jumping at the idea of, even if this is a crime and you could prove that the president had his part in it, they're not jumping at the idea that this is something that would rise to the level of Congress taking action with impeachment. How significant is this, then, if we hear the Democrats aren't jumping on it?

COATES: Well, we can't just judge what's significant by whether or not Congress is motivated to do something. The idea that this is a criminal violation is true. The idea there's a high-crime misdemeanor political standard is quite different. These, of course, that Michael Cohen pled guilty to are felony offenses. The prosecutorial agreement likely avoided felony charges for AMI and others involved with it. So if you judge it on the criminal side, it's quite serious to have the felony assignment to it. On the flip side, part of reason why this is not the sexiest of incentives for Democrats on the Hill to talk about impeachment is because you still have the battle between having a Democratic-run house that brings the actual articles of impeachment, contrasted with a Republican-led Senate, who would have to convict in some way. Because of the dynamic and because you still have the majority in one, you probably don't have the overall unanimity you need to have an impeachment. If there was something more serious that went to the core of what Mueller's mandate was, perhaps they would. This case was farmed away from Mueller to the SDNY. As we saw in court today when Cohen was sentenced, there's a divide between how both of those parties want to treat people involved in their investigation. So it's no oddity that perhaps Congress equally divided.

KEILAR: Yes. Very good point.

Stay with me, Laura, as I bring in Brian Stelter on the phone. He's our chief media correspondent.

Brain, what's your reaction to the news that the parent company of the "National Enquirer" has reached a non-prosecution agreement with the U.S. attorneys of the southern district of New York?

BRIAN STELTER, CNN CHIEF MEDIA CORRESPONDENT & CNN HOST, "RELIABLE SOURCES" (via telephone): This is a concession to the catch-and-kill idea. We all learned about catch-and-kill a little while ago. It's the tabloid magazine practice of catching a story, in this case a story that would have hurt Donald Trump, and then killing the story, in this case by paying money to the woman making the accusation. Catch-and-kill, it has a sleazy name, it's a sleazy practice.

The "Enquirer's" parent company is now admitting to it in this disclosure by the southern district of New York. So it's another piece of the puzzle now finally being filled in, this allegation about catching and killing stories have been out there for a while. American media has kind of denied it, but now we know they really did engage in it, and they're admit to it. And I think it's another piece of the puzzle -- Brianna?

KEILAR: They idea being they catch the story, pay for the story, pay for the exclusivity of the story, and they don't publish but it can't go somewhere else, whether it's the person telling them the story understands it won't be published or maybe they think it does need to be published and it isn't, right, Brian?

STELTER: That's right. And by doing so, you're burying that news, in this case, burying bad news about Donald Trump for the purpose of helping him be elected president. It is an incredible scheme to be uncovered now, and two years later, we're now finally seeing the proof of this scheme. And, Brianna, this document from the prosecutors says the company, American Media, which owns the "National Enquirer" and a bunch of other magazines, will continue to provide cooperation in the future. Remember, the company is owned by one of Donald Trump's long- time friends, David Pecker, but Pecker apparently no longer a friend of Donald Trump's.

[13:55:07] KEILAR: He knows a lot for sure.

All right, Brian Stelter, thank you very much.

We are following two big breaking stories. Michael Cohen, the president's former lawyer and fixer, sentenced to three years in jail.

Meanwhile, in London -- and we have some live pictures here -- a secret vote that is under way that will not only decide Theresa May's fate but will have global implications.

Stay with us.