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Senate Passes Bill Restricting U.S. Involvement in Yemen War; Trump Lashes Out at Cohen, Mueller; Melania Trump Poll Numbers Dropping; Alleged Russian Spy Pleads Guilty to Conspiring Against U.S. Aired 3-3:30p ET

Aired December 13, 2018 - 15:00   ET



SARA SIDNER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: He said, oh, it was hard to find a vein because they are black.

Now, when confronted with his own words, he said his persona as Dr. Narcan was all a work of fiction. And now he says he's the victim of a character assassination against him.

But, true or not -- and you know this, like anyone, Brooke -- these are the words of a man whose job it is to save or help people in their most vulnerable times, when they are sick or injured, or, God forbid, on their deathbed.

And he's talking or joking about black people and Jewish people as if they are not even human beings. How did this all come to fruition? An anonymous complaint was made against him just last month, and now he's under investigation by the state department of health and on unpaid leave from his part time position as an EMT at Jeb Stuart Volunteer Rescue Squad in Patrick County, Virginia -- Brooke.

BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN ANCHOR: On unpaid leave, so, quickly, has his employer said anything more than saying you're on unpaid leave?

SIDNER: Yes, the attorney has said this is not the kind of language that anyone in that position should be using. And they are investigating at this point right now, the county obviously using that particular private Jeb Stuart Volunteer Rescue Squad, they are looking into it as well.

We should also mention. A lot of people are wondering, are his stories true? Because he says they're a work of fiction. But also on the podcast, he insists a couple of times that the stories are true. So what is true and what is fiction? And does it matter when you have someone in this position, dealing with very vulnerable people?

Does it matter whether or not he's joking and thinking of people as subhuman or whether or not he's doing this, which could be a criminal offense, if he is literally terrorizing people on purpose? That is all being investigated at this point -- Brooke.

BALDWIN: Follow the investigation for us.

Sara Sidner, thank you.

You are watching CNN. I'm Brooke Baldwin, top of this hour here.

For the very first time since his former lawyer and loyalist was sentenced, President Trump is defending himself on camera. Moments ago, he denied ordering two hush money payments. That contradicts federal prosecutors, as well as Michael Cohen, who just received three years in federal prison, partially because he helped coordinate those payments.

But the president is calling Cohen a liar. A short time ago, he appeared on FOX News.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I never directed him to do anything wrong. Whatever he did, he did on his own. He's a lawyer. A lawyer who represents a client is supposed to do the right thing. That's why you pay them a lot of money, et cetera, et cetera.

He is a lawyer. He represents a client. I never directed him to do anything incorrect or wrong. And he understands that.


BALDWIN: That goes against what is in this prosecutor's filing. They say Cohen did indeed make the payments -- quote, unquote -- "at the direction of Donald Trump."

The president went on to say, even if he did, it doesn't matter.


TRUMP: Number one, they say it's not a campaign finance violation.

Number two -- or it's not even under campaign finance. Number two, if it was, it's not even a violation. Number three, it's a civil matter.


BALDWIN: Again, the facts, whether this is civil or criminal, is not a doubt. You cannot plead guilty in federal court to criminal charges that are not criminal.

And, finally, here is Trump's response when asked about the separate ideal prosecutors cut with the parent company of "The National Enquirer." In it, AMI admitted that it paid former Playboy model Karen McDougal to silence her about her alleged affair with Trump.


TRUMP: I don't think they even paid any money to that tabloid, OK? I don't think we made a payment to the tabloid. I was asking the question, let's -- I don't think we -- A, we made a payment.

(END VIDEO CLIP) BALDWIN: Again, that does not square with the court documents, where AMI states plainly that it paid $150,000, in concert with and at the request of the Trump campaign.

With me now, CNN chief political analysts Gloria Borger and former federal prosecutor Sarah Coyne.

Ladies, welcome.

Gloria, starting with you, not the most hard-hitting interview. Trump seems to be, though, digging himself deeper, as though he's always trying to confuse people. Do you think it will work?

GLORIA BORGER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, it hasn't worked with federal prosecutors.

And it doesn't alter the substance of what they have charged. So, I don't think it's going to confuse the courts. And don't forget where we have come on all of this.

Remember, on Air Force One, that famous moment...

BALDWIN: Of course.

BORGER: ... when Donald Trump said he knew nothing about the payments to Stormy Daniels.

So now we have moved from that to, well, it's a personal matter, it's a civil matter, and I don't even think they got the money. So he's moved a lot. And I think what he's trying to do -- you're right -- is obfuscate all of this, but it's just -- it's not going to work.


What did you think?

SARAH COYNE, FORMER FEDERAL PROSECUTOR: Brooke, I think a lot of people been trying to compare this to John Edwards' prosecution. And I think it's very different in a lot of ways, because...

BALDWIN: He wanted to keep his wife -- he just didn't want his wife to know about it vs. the American people.

COYNE: Exactly.

And also the jury only acquitted on one charge, the weakest charge. On the other five charges, it hung. And that's very different than an acquittal. And reports said that jurors were concerned that they didn't have directing of the payment, real proof of that, by John Edwards.

Here, you have Cohen saying it, AMI saying it, Pecker saying it, Howard saying it. And you have a tape that reflects discussions about this payment. That's a lot of immunity being given and a lot of evidence that's very different than the Edwards case. BALDWIN: One of the questions -- I was talking to Solomon Wisenberg last hour, a lawyer, who was making this point that he -- I don't know -- Trump is talking about civil vs. criminal. And, yes, obviously with regard to Cohen, it's criminal, with regard to Trump, criminal.

But it goes to intent and whether he knowingly -- he knew he was committing this crime by paying these women off. And we have heard the audio of Michael Cohen and Donald Trump speaking together. Would that be enough?

COYNE: You have to prove that the president did something that he knew that the law forbid, right, that he acted willfully


COYNE: So, typically, unless you can get into somebody's mind, that's done through cooperators' testimony, other people that had conversations about what the purpose of the payment is.

The Edwards case, there were very few of those. Here, we seem to have a lot of people who are willing to say something. And I want to stress prosecutors hate to give out immunity. They hate it because they're getting -- letting people get away with something. And juries don't like it. Jurors do not like to see everyone in the criminal ring given a pass but one person.

They only do it if they have to, and they only do it if it's worth it. And here, they must feel it's worth it.

BORGER: Brooke, I have just one question here.


BORGER: If there's nothing wrong, why try and hide it?


BALDWIN: Took the words right out of my mouth. Exactly.


BORGER: Write a check. Consult with your counsel if there's any question. And don't forget, Don McGahn, who worked for him at the time during the campaign, was a federal election lawyer.


BORGER: Think of the timing of this. It was October before the election.

But if you're convinced there's nothing wrong here and you're having this conversation with Michael Cohen, why are you talking about cash and how you're going to manage this and how you're -- just say, OK, let's just write this check because we're paying a bill.

And, of course, that is not what occurred. So it's clear that both of them knew -- at least to me, it seems clear that both of them knew what they were doing was trying to hide something that they shouldn't have been doing.

BALDWIN: The other piece of this is how he's -- you think about how he speaks about a Michael Cohen, and then you think about how he spoke about his former national security adviser, Michael Flynn, right, who's this great guy and he was pressured to make up a story for investigators.

Here's that clip.


TRUMP: That's all it is. It's a terrible system we have. It's going on right now with General Flynn. The FBI said he didn't lie.

QUESTION: I saw your tweet on that about...

TRUMP: But Mueller said he did lie. So they took a man who's a general and a respected person and a nice man. And I don't even know what he said about me, because maybe they scared him enough that he will make up a story.

But I have a feeling that maybe he is a tougher kind of a guy than Cohen. But they took a general that they said didn't lie, and they convinced them he did lie, and he made some kind of a deal. And now they're recommending no time. You know why? Because they're embarrassed that they got caught.


BALDWIN: And he was making this point, Gloria, a moment ago when he was in the White House.

Need we remind the president why he fired Michael Flynn? Because he lied to Mike Pence.

BORGER: Maybe. Yes. I mean, that's the story we got. We will we will find out.

BALDWIN: Story we got.

BORGER: I can't even -- I can't even parse that, what the president was saying there.

I mean, Michael Flynn admitted he lied. The special counsel said he started cooperating almost immediately and that -- and that they recommended no sentence for him because he was so important to them in their investigation.

And the president, it seems to me, is spinning this story about, well, they pressured him, and they convinced him that maybe he had done something wrong or convinced him to lie.

That is not at all what the documents show. And, of course, Donald Trump does not know, as he pointed out, what Michael Flynn has said about him. And don't forget, he's the one who asked Comey -- or at least according to Comey -- to go easy on Flynn.

So this story still has unspool itself a little bit, but I think the president is kind of trying to make up a story here that fits his narrative, rather than the one that the special counsel outlined.



So, we have made the point about, if you have nothing to hide, why lie about it? What -- just next shoe to drop, what are you watching for?

COYNE: You know, I think you're going to see probably some interesting things happen at the Flynn sentencing. More will get said on his behalf by both sides. There's obviously a lot that's been developed on the Russia aspect. And I think that's all going to come out.


Sarah, thank you very much. Good to see you.

COYNE: Thank you, Brooke.

BALDWIN: Gloria, thank you, as always.


BALDWIN: Coming up next: an alleged Russian spy pleading guilty today to conspiring against the U.S. -- what Maria Butina's case tells us about the widespread Russian efforts to infiltrate U.S. politics.

Plus, the first lady. Melania Trump's poll numbers are taking a huge hit, according to this new CNN poll. Why is that? Let's discuss.



BALDWIN: Conspiracy against United States, that is the charge that alleged Russian spy Maria Butina pleaded guilty to today in a Washington federal court.

Butina, who was accused of trying to infiltrate Republican political circles back in 2015, starting then, says that she acted, in her words, under the direction of a retired Russian bank official named Aleksandr Torshin. She now faces a maximum of five years in prison and is willing to hand over evidence of any crime she is aware of, as well as testify to grand juries, in exchange for a lighter sentence.

So, with me now, CNN, senior national security analyst Lisa Monaco. She was the assistant to President Obama for homeland security and counterterrorism.

So, thank you for coming straight to us from the train. We appreciate it. LISA MONACO, CNN SENIOR NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: My pleasure.

BALDWIN: I know that you worked as a U.S. attorney in the office that prosecuted this case and that you were head of the Justice Department division that approved it. So explain to us how your former colleagues would have arrived at this Butina deal.

MONACO: So, I think if you look at the plea documents that were filed today into which Ms. Butina pled guilty, what's clear is, this was part of a long-running investigation. So this began back in 2015.

BALDWIN: Yes, before anything with the election.

MONACO: Correct, and before special counsel Mueller and his team were appointed. So this goes back a ways and it's part of a long-running investigation.


MONACO: And it's part of, frankly, a long-running effort by the Russians to try and influence us, to try and seed operatives in here.

So this is separate from the Mueller investigation. But I think it's very consistent with what counter -- and counterintelligence investigations focusing on Russian operatives here have been focusing on for a long time.


BALDWIN: Sure, sure.

The fact that how much contact she would have had with intel services, certainly something prosecutors would want to know, yes?

MONACO: Absolutely, absolutely.

So she signed up to be a cooperator, right? She's pled guilty and she's looking for some consideration from the government by cooperating with them. And she's going to be interviewed and debriefed. She has already, as evidenced by the fact that now she's pleading guilty.

But she's signing up to be very forthcoming and clear about everything she's been involved in. So, she signed up to and pled guilty to acting as an agent of the Russian Federation, and at the direction of -- and this was interesting in the plea documents, if you look at them -- at the direction of at least one Russian government official. I think that is Torshin.

But -- so query, query...

BALDWIN: What does tell you?

MONACO: What comes -- what comes next, right?

So, it says that she conspired with another U.S. person, and acting at the direction of at least one Russian government official. So it looks like there may be more to give here. And so the plea documents were -- and the factual proffer that she gave, which is what they call it, when she signed up to plead guilty, was relatively spare, certainly sufficient to make out the facts for the offense to which she pled guilty.

But there may be more to learn here.

BALDWIN: What is your bigger takeaway, just as far as how multifaceted these attacks from Russia are?

MONACO: I think one of the most significant things here is, well, first, she's the first Russian national to have been convicted and plead guilty to trying to influence the U.S. government through this kind of unofficial channels that she was trying to establish.


MONACO: But what this shows is just how multifaceted and, frankly, aggressive the Russians have been.

What do we know? We know the Russians conducted cyber-operations against state election systems, right? We also know from special counsel Mueller that they developed troll farms to conduct influence operations on social media, Facebook and others here.

And now we're looking at this human vector, if you will, by using an operative like Ms. Butina.

BALDWIN: OK. I want to turn your attention to Russia, to China, which you have written about, the Chinese tech executive who was arrested in Canada, threatened with extradition to the U.S. for violating the Iran sanctions.

President Trump says he may intervene in her case, if it helps with trade talks with China.


BALDWIN: What are your thoughts on that?

MONACO: I think that would set a very, very dangerous precedent.

Look, as a legal matter, he could direct the Justice Department to drop the prosecution that is the basis for the extradition request to Canada. We have a treaty with Canada where we can make these types of extradition requests. Law enforcement officers here and prosecutors here clearly made the request for them to detain her in relation to that prosecution.

The president could direct the Justice Department to back down from that prosecution. I think it would be very, very dangerous. It would be outside any acceptable norm in terms of the kind of getting politics into this criminal investigation.

And the reason it would be dangerous is because it frankly would be open season on our executives who travel over to China.



BALDWIN: Wouldn't you be nervous if you were a U.S. diplomat right now or just some tech company exec going over there?

MONACO: And as we have seen, the Chinese have now detained at least two Canadians, right?

BALDWIN: Two, yes.

MONACO: So, I think there's two things.

One, it's open season on U.S. citizens and U.S. tech executives, potentially, for retaliatory actions from the Chinese. Two, it sends a very bad message to our allies and friends who act on our extradition requests, like the Canadians.

It politicizes a law enforcement matter, which is what this is. So I think it would be very dangerous all around.

BALDWIN: Crossing this red line, which is what you hear everyone talking about today, and setting this dangerous precedent.

The pushback is, what is the difference between this and Obama and his administration swapping prisoners for the Iran deal?

MONACO: So I understand why people are making this comparison. But I think it's very different in several respects.


MONACO: First, in the Iran context, the cases where the Justice Department decided to drop the extradition requests in relation to the agreement around the Iran deal, that -- those were in instances where the prosecutors and the Justice Department determined they were very unlikely to get ahold of those defendants anyway.

They weren't people who are likely to travel. They were not a prominent tech executive, like we have here in the Huawei case. And, as we can see, she clearly is able to come into U.S. grasp because she's traveled and has been now detained at our request.

Second, the Iran issue and the foreign policy issue around that was quite unique. It was a multilateral international agreement designed to get around to stop its nuclear program. And so it was very distinct from a bilateral trade dispute, of which there are many and frequent, in this context, in the Huawei context.

So I think they're very different. And the likelihood of getting into a tit for tat repeatedly is...

BALDWIN: Is a different scenario.

MONACO: Is very different, yes.

BALDWIN: Lisa Monica, thank you very much.


BALDWIN: Pleasure to see you and your expertise. Much appreciated.

MONACO: My pleasure.

BALDWIN: Ahead here on CNN, the first lady's approval rating dropping dramatically in this new CNN poll out this afternoon, the favorability numbers. This is happening as Melania Trump says the hardest part of her role is the -- -- quote, unquote -- "opportunists" using her name to get ahead.

We will talk about what she might have meant by that and why her numbers are down.

Stay here.



BALDWIN: Just into CNN, e-mail threats have been received at dozens of locations around the U.S. and Canada just this afternoon.

Polo Sandoval is with me now.

What kinds of institutions, what kinds of threats?

POLO SANDOVAL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, a long list here, Brooke.

And we're talking about institutions from coast to coast. You're looking at schools, government facilities, in some cases even some businesses as well.

And for the most part, according to some of the verified Twitter accounts that we have been able to take a closer look at, some of these e-mails threaten basically here, Brooke, explosions if currency isn't paid through Bitcoin.

Now, important to point out to you that the FBI has come forward here saying that they are aware of all of these threats that have come in all over the country. And so far, there's no evidence that leads them to believe that it is credible. They're using words like -- or at least other law enforcement agencies at the state, federal and local level are using words like hoax, no credible threat to describe the situation right now.

An interesting question, though, that we're trying to answer here is, what is the source of these? Is it perhaps one source where all of these e-mails were sent out of? But at this point, again, what we should stress here is that there are dozens of threats here across the country that have been received via e-mail. However, authorities say that none of those threats are credible. However, it certainly has led to some tense moments in some of these facilities, because that has allowed -- or at least it's forced authorities to sweep buildings, evacuate buildings.


SANDOVAL: Of course, a lot of that is standard procedure with these.

BALDWIN: Well, it's noteworthy if all these people are getting threatened, but follow up and let us know if this is in fact a hoax.

SANDOVAL: You got it.

BALDWIN: Polo, thank you very much on that.

SANDOVAL: Thanks, Brooke.

BALDWIN: Meantime, right now, on the Senate floor, senators have just voted to restrict U.S. military support for the Saudi-led war in Yemen.

It's a move aimed both at ending that war and expressing anger at the Trump administration's handling of relations with Saudi Arabia.

Here is Senator Bernie Sanders moments ago.


SEN. BERNIE SANDERS (I), VERMONT: I want to thank all of the senators who, in a very bipartisan way, have come together to say that the United States will no longer participate in the Saudi-led -- in the Saudi-led intervention in Yemen, which has caused the worst humanitarian crisis on Earth, with 85,000 children already starving to death.

And, today, we tell the despotic regime in Saudi Arabia that we will not be part of their military adventurism.


BALDWIN: CNN senior congressional correspondent Manu Raju is up on the Hill.

And it's significant, I imagine, Manu, just because this is such a rebuke from the Senate on how the White House feels about Saudi Arabia.

MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, no question about it, a double whammy of sorts towards the White House's handling of the Saudi Arabia issue, the fallout of the Jamal Khashoggi murder, and the president's decision to side with the crown prince, all leading to this major rebuke of the Trump administration's handling of that fallout and relations with Saudi Arabia, by a 56-41 vote.