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THE SITUATION ROOM
Mueller Refutes Flynn's Account of His Lie to FBI; Cohen Pushes Back Against Trump, Says He's Given Prosecutors Credible Information; Rep. Jackie Speier Interviewed; Mick Mulvaney Named Acting White House Chief of Staff; New Court Filing Reveals Details Of Maria Butina Cooperation. Aired 5-6p ET
Aired December 14, 2018 - 17:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: Thank you so much. Be sure to tune in this Sunday morning to STATE OF THE UNION. My guests will be Senator Susan Collins and Congressman Elijah Cummings. It all starts at 9 a.m. and noon Eastern. Our coverage on CNN continues right now. I will see you Sunday morning. Have a good weekend.
[17:00:19] BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now, breaking news. Not forced to lie. Special Counsel Robert Mueller sharply rebukes Michael Flynn for suggesting he lied to FBI agents because he was caught off-guard.
Cohen out on a limb. Michael Cohen speaks out, and he pushes back against President Trump's denial that he ordered his former fixer to make illegal hush-money payments.
Escape Hatch. Republican Senator Orrin Hatch now says he regrets saying, quote, "I don't care" when asked about President Trump being implicated in Michael Cohen's crimes.
And GOP power play. Outgoing Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker signs a controversial bill passed by the lame-duck legislature, stripping power from the incoming Democratic governor and blocking him from enacting campaign promises.
Wolf Blitzer is off today. I'm Brianna Keilar. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.
KEILAR: Breaking news this hour. Special Counsel Robert Mueller's team slamming a suggestion in Michael Flynn's sentencing filing that the former national security adviser lied to FBI agents, because he was caught off-guard. The new Mueller filing just released says Flynn was, quote, "committed to his false story" and had already spread the lie about his contact with the Russian ambassador to other top members of the Trump administration.
I'll talk about that and much more with Congresswoman Jackie Speier of the Intelligence Committee. And our correspondents, analysts and specialists with full coverage of the day's top stories.
First, let's get more on this breaking news with CNN political correspondent Sara Murray and CNN crime and justice reporter Shimon Prokupecz.
Sara, you first. Walk us through the special counsel's sharply-worded defense.
SARA MURRAY, CNN POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Brianna, they're basically hitting back, saying don't, "Look, don't let Michael Flynn minimize the seriousness of this offense of lying to federal investigators -- I'm going to read of this extraordinary amount of information they put out today regarding Flynn.
It says, "Nothing about the way the interview was arranged or conducted caused the defendant to make false statements to the FBI on January 24. The defendant chose to make false statements about his communications with the Russian ambassador weeks before the FBI interview when he lied about that topic to the media, the incoming vice president and other members of the presidential transition team. When faced with the FBI's questions on January 24 during an interview that was voluntary and cordial, the defendant repeated the same false statements."
And Brianna, it's really interesting how much detail we get about the sort of theatrics around this meeting that they had with Michael Flynn. They had it in the White House. They're saying Flynn was relaxed. He clearly saw these agents as his allies. He even wanted to give them a little tour of the area outside of his office, and while he was doing that, they ran into President Trump, who was showing movers where to place some artwork, and no one paid any mind to the agents that were around.
They said Flynn gave them a lot of his time, to the point where they wondered if he didn't have anything better to do. They chatted about hotels he stayed at during the campaign. They talked about what a great interior decorator President Trump was.
It seems like it was a very, very bizarre situation, where you had, you know, the national security adviser lying to these investigators, but seeming very comfortable while he was doing it.
KEILAR: Wide-ranging interview. So interesting.
So Shimon, Mueller also released these memos, as Sara was talking about. They're written by the FBI agents. They detail this interview. Is the special counsel sending a message about the evidence that he has with that?
SHIMON PROKUPECZ, CNN CRIME AND JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Right. We're getting a really good look into what the FBI was thinking, what the -- how the FBI was strategizing in terms of how they were going to confront Michael Flynn with the information that they have.
And this is not just low-level FBI personnel. This was the deputy director at the time, Andrew McCabe, who really took on this role of confronting Michael Flynn. And so, in one of the memos that they just released, details a phone call between Andrew McCabe and Michael Flynn in which they have a conversation about his contacts with Russians. And Michael Flynn essentially explains that he's just trying to build relationships.
And then one of the key things in this memo is that Michael Flynn essentially tells them that, you know, that he's aware they want to talk to him about these Russians -- conversations with Russians. And Flynn says that, basically, you probably know what was said. And how Andrew McCabe basically describes it is that he then stated that I probably know -- that they probably know what they want to talk to me about. In terms of that they had an idea of what these conversations were about.
And then in another memo that they released, the FBI released, essentially, it says that -- talks about the strategy that they would use in confronting Michael Flynn. And they say that they would use the exact words Flynn used if he starts to say he doesn't remember and they talk about how they would confront Michael Flynn if he does not tell the truth, essentially. If he does not tell them about these conversations.
And really, Brianna, in the end what we still don't have an answer to, in all of this, is why did Michael Flynn all along choose not to be truthful? Why did he lie about these contacts? That's -- in all of this and everything that so far has been filed, has not been made clear.
KEILAR: So they walk in, essentially, with transcripts. Then if they're reading back what he might have said or if that's the plan.
PROKUPECZ: Right. That's exactly right. They had transcripts. They knew what these conversations were about. That is because they were listening to the Russians, right? They were listening to the former ambassador, and they captured this conversation.
And that is what alarmed the intelligence community. That is what alarmed the FBI. And then remember, it was the Department of Justice, as well, Sally Yates, the former acting attorney general, who was so alarmed by this conversation that the FBI, when they were made aware of it, there was a discussion between the intelligence community and the FBI. And the FBI chose to confront Michael Flynn about it.
KEILAR: And Sara, it's interesting, because clearly, this is a rebuke of what Michael Flynn's lawyer said, and yet, the Mueller team sticks to its recommendation of no jail time for Flynn for his cooperation.
MURRAY: That's right. They say, look, this is someone who has already acknowledged as part as part of this plea that he did, in fact, lie to investigators. He has cooperated extensively. He does have this long history of military service. We're taking this all into account.
But I think the other thing that this filing shows us is, you know, we've seen the president out there saying that the reason Flynn got such a low recommendation was because the FBI was embarrassed about its behavior. They were so out of line.
This is an extraordinary look into how they questioned Flynn and what we learned, not only about what he divulged but about sort of the way they approached this questioning, the theatrics around it. It is not an indication that the FBI or that Mueller's team are embarrassed about the way they conducted themselves. They're putting all of this out there and basically saying, "Here you go. You can see how it was done. You can see how this guy should have known better than lying to investigators."
KEILAR: And these documents are fascinating. It's Friday night, you have a little time. You might want to kick back and read them, because it's really an interesting look. Sara Murray, Shimon, thank you so much to both of you.
KEILAR: President Trump's former fixer and personal attorney, Michael Cohen, is speaking out one day after being sentenced to three years in prison. And what he's saying could be problematic for the president.
CNN chief White House correspondent, Jim Acosta, has all of the details. And Jim, Cohen is insisting that the president, then not the president, ordered him to make illegal hush-money payments.
JIM ACOSTA, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: He is saying that, Brianna, and then some. That's right. President Trump stayed behind closed doors, but he is well aware that his former attorney, Michael Cohen, is talking to the public with an unmistakable message earlier today. That the special counsel's office believes the information he gave to prosecutors is, quote, "credible."
ACOSTA (voice-over): It was fixating TV, as President Trump's former fixer, Michael Cohen, explained that federal prosecutors don't see his flip as a flop.
MICHAEL COHEN, FORMER LAWYER TO DONALD TRUMP: The special counsel stated emphatically that the information that I gave to them was credible and helpful. There's a substantial amount of information that they possess that corroborates the fact that I am telling the truth.
ACOSTA: In an interview with ABC, Cohen pushed back on the president's claim that he didn't issue an order to make hush-money payments to a porn star and "Playboy" model alleging affairs with Mr. Trump.
DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Let me tell you: I never directed him to do anything wrong. Whatever he did, he did on his own.
ACOSTA: Giving direction, Cohen insisted, is what the president always did as a businessman.
COHEN: Nothing at the Trump Organization was ever done unless it was run through Mr. Trump. He directed me.
ACOSTA: As for the president's claims he didn't commit any crimes, Cohen noted the critical timing of the payments: just before the 2016 election. COHEN: You have to remember at what point in time that this matter
came about. Two weeks or so before the election, post the Billy Bush comments. So, yes, he was very concerned about how this would affect the election.
ACOSTA: Despite all of the investigations now touching the Trump Organization, foundation, campaign, inauguration, transition and administration, the White House is brushing off Cohen's comments, saying they shouldn't be taken seriously.
HOGAN GIDLEY, WHITE HOUSE DEPUTY PRESS SECRETARY: He's a self- admitted liar. You guys all know that. And for him to say, "I'm going to start -- I'm going to stop lying now, starting now," is somewhat silly.
ACOSTA: But cracks may be starting to form under the president's feet. Consider those GOP lawmakers all but lining up to back the president earlier this week, as Senator Orrin Hatch did with CNN's Manu Raju.
SEN. ORRIN HATCH (R), OUTGOING UTAH SENATOR: The Democrats will do anything to hurt this Democrat.
MANU RAJU, CNN CHIEF CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: But this is not the Democrats. This is the Southern District of New York.
HATCH: I don't care. All I can say is he's doing a good job as president.
ACOSTA: Hatch released a statement saying he regretted those remarks, adding, "I made comments about allegations against the president that were irresponsible and a poor reflection on my lengthy record of dedication to the rule of law."
[17:10:08] As for the other reality show unfolding at the White House, the drama over who will be the next chief of staff, one top contender has taken himself out of the running. New Jersey Governor Chris Christie said in a statement, "It's an honor to have the president consider me as he looks to choose a new White House chief of staff. However, I've told the president that now is not the right time for me or my family to undertake this serious assignment."
It was always a stretch to see Christie in that role, given his criticism of the president for hiring family members for key posts.
CHRIS CHRISTIE (R), FORMER NEW JERSEY GOVERNOR: The situation is made much worse by the fact that, when you have family members in the White House, it makes it much more difficult. And there were many of us who counseled the president, not just about Jared, but about any other members of his family having official positions.
ACOSTA: One thing is clear in this photo tweeted this week showing former chief of staff Reince Priebus and the outgoing John Kelly: they both look much happier.
(END VIDEOTAPE) ACOSTA: And a White House official told us earlier this afternoon that -- that President Trump does have a frontrunner at this point in mind for his new chief of staff. If that's true, the president may be tempted to reveal that pick to shake up this news cycle that seems to be all about Michael Cohen. It's a tactic he has used before, as you know, Brianna, again, to change the narrative in the past.
But obviously, a new chief of staff coming on board at this point is going to inherit not just the Russia investigation, which the president has to grapple with, as well as his outside legal team, but now this Michael Cohen mess, which appears to be mushrooming almost every day now, Brianna.
KEILAR: Sure does. Jim Acosta at the White House, thank you.
Now, let's get some more on all of this with Democratic Congresswoman Jackie Speier of California. She is a member of the Intelligence and the Armed Services Committees.
Congresswoman, thank you so much for being with us in this evening.
This document -- I know you've had a chance to see this from the special counsel -- it lays out how Flynn lied repeatedly. He did this over and over, about his conversations with the Russians.
Why do you think that he would do that when he should have been aware, with his past experience, that the FBI likely had transcripts and he essentially said as much?
REP. JACKIE SPEIER (D), CALIFORNIA: You know, it really causes me to wonder how he ever got to be the Defense Intelligence Agency director. And then he was fired from that post under the Obama administration.
This is someone who had to know that we would be eavesdropping on foreign adversaries in the United States. And for him to be so naive is really quite stunning.
And I think that we shouldn't give him a pass at all. He was a highly-ranked general. He was the head of DIA. And he violated the foreign requirement to post and to register if you are doing any business with a foreign entity. He was in Russia, sat next to Vladimir Putin. He was working on behalf of Turkey and wrote an op-ed piece. This is someone who just decided that "I am bigger than any of this, and I can violate the law."
KEILAR: Do you think that he may have had additional contacts with Russia, with Russians, that he was trying to cover up?
SPEIER: Oh, I don't think there's any question that he was trying to cover up. That's why he lied. And if there are additional conversations he had, I'm sure that will come out.
I mean, remember, Jared Kushner and he were interested in getting a back channel to work with the Russians before the actual swearing in of the president.
KEILAR: Are you aware of specific ones with Flynn, or is that just your expectation?
SPEIER: That's just my expectation. It's not anything that I know of.
KEILAR: OK. And it does seem -- I mean, this is -- yes, you said he was fired during the Obama administration. But he was known as a very talented intel officer and as a poor manager, which is part of the reason that he was fired. But it is hard to believe that he wouldn't have known the process here, right? This wasn't an incompetence as an intel official.
The special counsel is coming down really hard on Flynn for misrepresenting that interview with the FBI. I know you want to see this -- this investigation take its course. What message do you hope that sends to Flynn, and also to other people who may be under investigation or even cooperating?
SPEIER: Well, I think the message that the special counsel is trying to convey is, you know, "Don't mess with us. We have the goods." And I think there was an effort by Michael Flynn to somehow rewrite history a little bit in the statement that he put out. And obviously, he has failed in making a convincing argument.
KEILAR: Yesterday President Trump told FOX News that Michael Flynn was scared into making up stories. You look at this document from the special counsel. Do you think this is a rebuke in some way of that?
SPEIER: Without a doubt. You know, the president has continued to weave these stories, one after the other, to try and exonerate himself. And I think this is yet another case.
[17:15:10] He does not tell the truth. And the American people have to finally recognize this. And if we need tapes, as we have relative to the Stormy Daniels, or now the testimony from David Pecker about Donald Trump being in the room when they were discussing how to pay off McDougal, I mean, he has been a central part of every one of these decisions.
KEILAR: And the president has called Cohen a liar. In this new interview, Michael Cohen on ABC says the special counsel has substantial evidence to back him up. He's saying that the special counsel is not taking his word. Have you seen any evidence to corroborate Cohen's claims?
SPEIER: Well, I have not. Because you must remember that the Republicans on the House Intelligence Committee prevented us from subpoenaing documents from Michael Cohen, Jared Kushner, Donald Trump Jr. And until we have those documents --
KEILAR: So will you -- will you subpoena those now? Is that your expectation?
SPEIER: Without a doubt. Without a doubt. I'm certain that we will.
KEILAR: And so what is your expectation that, when you can have those in your hands, what is your expectation about what those may show you? SPEIER: Well, I think the documentation is going to probably show us
that, in many cases, they weren't telling the truth. I mean, it's astonishing to me that you would take the oath and say that you're going to tell the truth and then sit down and proceed to lie to Congress. But that's what's been happening in a number of cases.
KEILAR: When Cohen is talking about the timing here of the payments to McDougal and to Stormy Daniels, he says the president basically feared. He said, if you think of the timing of this, this was after the "Access Hollywood" tape.
What is the implication to you of that timing that the president would have -- if Cohen is right and there is corroborating evidence -- that he was concerned about the outcome of the election?
SPEIER: I think he was concerned. I mean, you know, remember, all during that campaign, he talked about this rigged election. And the more we see, the more we now know that it was rigged, but it was rigged on behalf of Donald Trump.
After the "Access Hollywood" tape came out, literally, within hours, there was the dump of the Podesta e-mails by WikiLeaks. So then you had the additional payments to silence two of his former lovers, and it's very apparent what he was trying to do. He was trying to defraud the American people right before an election. That is a grievous, grievous crime.
KEILAR: The president implicated in those -- in the plea deal that Michael Cohen had, and we saw Senator Orrin Hatch basically saying he didn't care. He's now walked that back. What's your reaction to that?
SPEIER: Well, Orrin Hatch has said many things in the last few months that make us scratch our heads. I'm glad that he recanted that. I mean, you have a special counsel that is using the law to determine whether or not someone has violated the law. And you can't dismiss it out of hand as someone who has sworn under oath that they would uphold the Constitution.
KEILAR: All right. Congresswoman Jackie spears, thank you so much for joining us here in THE SITUATION ROOM.
SPEIER: Thank you, Brianna.
KEILAR: Up next, Special Counsel Robert Mueller slams Michael Flynn's criticism of the FBI interview in which he lied to agents. Why did he do it?
And Michael Cohen says he's given substantial evidence to the Mueller team. How much harm could it do to President Trump?
[17:23:02] ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.
KEILAR: We have breaking news here in THE SITUATION ROOM. President Trump has just tweeted that budget director Mick Mulvaney will be named his acting chief of staff.
Let's go straight now to the White House and our chief White House correspondent Jim Acosta.
Give us the details. Tell us what you know.
ACOSTA: Well, we were just saying a few moments ago, the president may be tempted to change up this news cycle, and he did. I guess temporarily speaking.
He just tweeted a few moments ago that he's named Mick Mulvaney, the budget director over here, as the acting White House chief of staff. Notice that it says, "I am pleased to announce that Mick Mulvaney, director of the Office of Management and Budget, will be named acting White House chief of staff, replacing General John Kelly, who has served our country with distinction. Mick has done an outstanding job while in the administration. I look forward to working with him in this new capacity as we continue to MAKE AMERICA GREAT AGAIN! John will be staying until the end of the year. He is a GREAT PATRIOT, and I want to personally thank him for his service."
A couple of things on that, Brianna. Just wanted to note that we were hearing from sources that Mick Mulvaney was not interested in this job, that he was interested in perhaps being treasury secretary or commerce secretary or serving in another function in the government.
But I know, you know, having dealt with Mick Mulvaney over here at the White House and talking to various officials who work with Mick Mulvaney, he is seen as one of the people over here who kind of keeps the trains running on time.
And so it's not really a surprise Mick Mulvaney's name has come up before. When Reince Priebus left the White House, Mick Mulvaney's name came up. And through all of these news cycles where we thought General Kelly might not make it, Mick Mulvaney's name would pop up again. So it's not surprising that the president would make this selection.
I do think it's interesting and maybe a little odd that he is being named on a temporary or acting basis, Brianna. I think it goes back to this notion that the White House just did not have a Plan B when Nick Ayers, the vice president's chief of staff, bailed on the president over the weekend and decided not to take on this job as chief of staff.
And so it sounds as though, unless the president and Mick Mulvaney come to some kind of agreement and decide that he'll stay on on a permanent basis, that this is sort of a Band-Aid that has been decided on by the president here earlier today -- Brianna.
KEILAR: All right. Jim, thank you so much.
Let's bring in our panel to discuss more about this.
Dana Bash, you heard Jim. He's reported before Mick Mulvaney did not want this job. Now, this is acting, but what do you make of this? Interim -- interim, right, is what you'd expect?
DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, exactly. That look, the president has made clear, and people who are close to him have told him, the best thing you can do right now is somebody who has Hill experience. Or at least relationships on Capitol Hill.
Now, Mick Mulvaney was a conservative firebrand. Is a conservative firebrand. But when you're a conservative firebrand on Capitol Hill, it means your relationships are mostly -- not entirely, but mostly with fellow Republicans. I'm not sure how this helps with the new House Democratic majority.
But it is temporary. There is no question, because he is happy in what he is doing. Mick Mulvaney is a policy wonk. He likes to be the budget director. And the chief of staff job, as we have seen from the turmoil and drama and chaos around not just the first and second chiefs of staff, but trying to find somebody to fill it in, is just a thankless, thankless job, despite President Trump saying he has all these people who want it. It's just not the case.
KEILAR: It is a job for someone, Gloria, who can make the -- the trains run on time. Then the request he is, only until they're discarded.
GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: Right.
KEILAR: Which is what we've seen with other chiefs of staff.
BORGER: Right. First of all, you know, nobody can make the trains run on time at this White House because there's President Trump; and he drives the train off the track half the time. Not to overuse that metaphor. But he does.
Secondly, Mulvaney runs a department. He's a conservative, as Dana was saying, awash in red ink. OK? Because the budget deficit has ballooned under him. It has not shrunken under him.
I think they're hoping that they can talk him into doing this, and maybe they can. And maybe they can't.
And also, it's been a very bad week for the president, a really, really bad week. And they're changing the subject right now, also, as Jim was saying.
So, you know, I think I'll put all of those things together. They're keeping their fingers crossed. Maybe he'll do it, maybe he won't. But, you know, at this point, what are their better choices?
ABBY PHILLIP, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: It's also clear that this is not going the way that the president wants it to go. First of all, we started this week by talking about Nick Ayers, the vice president's chief of staff, who was the president's top pick for this job. And who basically turned it down, according to our sources, because he wanted to take it on a short-term basis.
And that the president didn't want to accept a person who wouldn't commit to two full years. So now President Trump is saying, "Actually, I will take someone who will take the job --"
BORGER: For two weeks?
PHILLIP: "-- for a short-term basis." We don't even know how long the period of time is.
And he's had two other people who were named as possible contenders. Mark Meadows, Republican congressman, and Chris Christie, say they don't want the job.
I mean, it is so unusual for people to be taking themselves out of the running as they are being named as top contenders. And it shows you, the president is having trouble filling this position. He's having a really bad week on the legal fronts. And this is an effort to try to change the subject, make it seem like he's back in control of the situation.
But I think what it reveals is that this is a huge problem. He's having a hard time finding a candidate who he wants and who also wants to be in this White House at this particular time.
KEILAR: And we have seen the president try to change the subject before, and we know he is very unhappy with where the news cycle has been this week.
BASH: Oh, yes. I mean, there is -- I don't think any president -- maybe any individual on the planet, who has watched as much cable news and consumed as much news as this president does. He's well aware of how bad it has been, even if he doesn't have to hear it from a lawyer. You know, he sees it. And he likes to play with the news cycle, and he has the ability to do that, as any president does.
In this case, it just so happens that he does need a chief of staff. He was telling the candidates he was talking to that he hopes to come up with a final decision by next week. Maybe that didn't happen, and he just had to convince Mick Mulvaney, obviously, to at least take it temporarily, since he's the closest thing to it already in a White House job.
KEILAR: But I wonder -- I wonder, Gloria, how much this can distract from some serious headlines this week, legally for the president, implicated by Michael Cohen's felony plea. He pled guilty to two felony counts, among others. But two that implicated the president.
This is just a temporary staffing assignment. It's an important position. But this does not really eclipse what happened this week.
BORGER: No. Chiefs of staff come and go, as we learned. And it's not going to distract Bob Mueller.
[17:30:00] You know, Bob Mueller is doing his job. We saw that today in the filing on General Flynn, where he was very tough on General Flynn for lying to them. We see how -- how he has gotten Michael Cohen's cooperation, and it's very clear to us, who are reporting all of this, that Michael Cohen will continue to cooperate with Bob Mueller. And the president has been caught in lies by prosecutors, saying he didn't know about the payments and then, of course, now we know that he did, because his friend David Pecker told on him.
BORGER: And they were all in the room together.
KEILAR: A number of his friends --
BORGER: A number of his friends have turned their backs on him. So, it's been a difficult week for him.
KEILAR: Joey Jackson, our legal mind here, in this new filing, the special counsel really fired back on Michael Flynn's lawyers, who said that, you know -- seemed to indicate that one of the reasons he lied to the FBI was because he was caught off guard. And this filing makes clear, no, you lied. You were committed to your lies. You said these lies over and over. What stood out to you in this filing that also came with some attachments that were so interesting?
JOEY JACKSON, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Well, here's the bottom line and I think everyone is addressing it. Everyone, right, is addressing the issue of this president who is a master brander. Yes, other presidents have the ability to push the news cycle, but now we have Twitter. And as a result of that, when you say something, immediately as the president, it becomes news. And so, this is an interim appointment before addressing your core issue, Brianna, right?
It's not even -- this is the guy who is taking over for good and so, therefore, it takes us away from what happened earlier. What we were listening to? We were listening to clips of Michael Cohen talking about he's not going to lie for this president any more. He lied and he's covering up his dirty secrets. And then, we switched to the actual Flynn issue and what at its core was really of issue to me, when you look at that, is that the special counsel is addressing the issue of process.
What they're saying is, this isn't a witch hunt. We're not acting outside the bounds of our core responsibility. We're acting properly, we're acting thoroughly, and we're acting appropriately. We went to the White House, he knew we were coming, it was a cordial interview, he was given the opportunity if he wanted to have White House counsel sit or address the issue with him. It was a jovial conversation. There's nothing untoward, there's nothing irresponsible, what we're doing. And if you look at the filing in total, I think that's what he's pushing back on.
And the proof of that, Brianna, is at the end of the day they're not saying in light of this, in light of you trying to say that you lied because of us, we're going to up what we're looking for. They're still saying, hey, look, we recognize you're a respected general. You served with distinction, you were the first to cooperate, your cooperation allowed others to cooperate, as well. They're sticking with that. And so, in essence, they're saying we still want you to get the low end if any jail time. They are, the special counsel, concerned with process and to know that they are an office of integrity. So, that's what stands out in the filing in general. KEILAR: You're useful to us, but we're not going to let you get away
with this. And Abby, the president telling Fox yesterday, this was so interesting that this happened yesterday when this filing came out today -- maybe they scared Flynn enough that he'll make up a story. What message? Then you have this filing today where they're saying, no, that was -- essentially, you read between the lines. It rebukes what the president said. What message is a special counsel sending to other people involved in the investigation who the investigation might be looking at?
ABBY PHILLIPS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: It's clear that the special counsel understands what President Trump is trying to do, which is undermine confidence in their process. Trying to imply that they're putting the squeeze on people, forcing them to lie, forcing them to flip in order to get a lighter sentence. So, this filing is kind of them showing their work about what they did to get to this point. And rebutting not only what the president said yesterday, but what he's been saying for quite some time now.
He's been saying this about Flynn, he's been saying this about Manafort. And I think you will see him say this more and more. Any time that someone is in a position where they can say something that puts the president in jeopardy, he's going to try to imply that they were forced to lie. And I think the special counsel is laying out in documents that that's not how any of this works. And that there are facts at play here. And when you lie, it is -- it's clear. It's on paper. It's in black and white.
DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: And that's -- I totally agree with you about the process, about what Robert Mueller and his team are trying to do to send signals, not just to us, but to Donald Trump and the people who are involved in this investigation. But if you look big-picture, one of the unanswered -- I think the most unanswered question in this Flynn filing today is why did Michael Cohen lie? Why did he lie?
KEILAR: Because he should have known! This is --
KEILAR: This is an accomplished former intel officer.
BASH: OK. But in terms of what he did. What did he do? What did he lie about? He lied about having a conversation with the Russian ambassador about sanctions. Why did he have that initial conversation, which he should have known about, and therefore lied about? What was the reason for that? What drove him to do something that was inappropriate to the point that he knew he had to lie about it? And that could go to a core question about collusion, more broadly, or maybe it's just about Michael Flynn.
[17:35:21] BORGER: I think the question that you're getting at is, did someone direct him to lie?
KEILAR: Precisely. BORGER: Did someone direct him to lie or did someone direct him to do
what he did? And he didn't want to talk about it? In other words, so he lied say he didn't do it. Is that clear?
BORGER: That he didn't want to -- you know, he didn't want to tell the truth, because maybe he talked to Kislyak, the former Russian ambassador, about sanctions at the direction of -- fill in the blank.
KEILAR: And that's the question, Joey, was he acting as an island unto himself, or as Gloria says, and this is what the special counsel wants to know, was there -- was he doing this with the blessing or encouragement of somebody? And who would that be?
JACKSON: You know, that obviously is the question, right, the million-dollar question. But I think what the special counsel is saying is that, look, don't blame us, for you lying to us. You already stuck in the narrative. And you were stuck in the narrative, because before you even met with us, you had already sold your statement to the vice president; it was already out there in public. And so, you were already on the hook for this narrative that there was no discussion or issues about sanctions or anything else. So, by the time we came, says the special counsel and McCabe and the FBI to interview you, you couldn't change the story. You were looked in a box. That was the basis for your lie. Nothing we did inappropriate to you or forcing you would have told you or shifted the story.
KEILAR: I'm going to have to have you guys stand by. We have much more on our breaking news. We'll be back in just a moment. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
[17:41:27] KEILAR: President Trump's former attorney and long-time fixer, Michael Cohen is breaking his silence. Let's bring our experts back in to talk about this. I want you all to listen to part of this interview that Michael Cohen did with ABC News. He is doubling down against the president.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MICHALE COHEN, FORMER ATTORNEY TO PRESIDENT TRUMP: Nothing at the Trump organization was ever done unless it was run through Mr. Trump. He directed me, as I said in my allocution, and I said as well in the plea, he directed me to make the payments. He directed me to become involved in these matters.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And he knew it was wrong?
COHEN: Of course.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KEILAR: I mean, President Trump is not known as a delegator, right?
KEILAR: He's his own, like, press secretary. Everyone else sort of is -- everyone else is sort of like the deputy, whatever role it is. That's sort of the culture, right?
BORGER: Yes. This way he ran the campaign, it's the way he ran the Trump organization. I mean, don't forget, the Trump organization is small. It's the family. It was Michael Cohen. It was the CFO, Allen Weisselberg and maybe one or two other people -- the counsel. And Donald -- it's a family business. A small family business. And so that's how he ran it. And that's how he worked with David Pecker, his friend, and Michael Cohen. And he told Michael Cohen what to do, according to Michael Cohen, even though the president says I didn't direct him.
KEILAR: What do you make, Abby, of the president being somewhat silent about his former fixer?
PHILIP: Silent today. Not so much yesterday or --
KEILAR: But after this interview? After this interview came out. This interview is sort of -- I mean, it's really --
KEILAR: It's believable, when you listen to him. He's sort of a different kind of person than the somewhat blowhard kind of guy that we knew him to be.
PHILIP: Yes. And I think that there is -- a degree to which yesterday when the president was tweeting, I didn't direct him to break the law -- he is always talking about a case that he probably should not be talking about. And it is -- it would be surprising if people did not whisper in his ear, hey, this is serious this time. Maybe you shouldn't talk about it. I think President Trump, you can't count on him not talking about Michael Cohen, because he does often but he says the same things over and over again, that Cohen is a liar. The problem, though, is that the more we go down this line, the more we're seeing why it's not just Cohen's word against Trump's. It's Cohen -- it's Trump's word against things that Cohen actually might have that are permanent --
KEILAR: And that was the other thing.
PHILIP: And so, that's why this is different. I mean, I think as we get along down the road, he can't just keep saying he's a liar any more.
BASH: (INAUDIBLE) to the interview today where he said the special counsel has a lot of the evidence to back-up what I'm saying.
KEILAR: That is. They're not taking his word for it. Such an important point. All right, if you guys stand by for me, for just a moment, we have much more breaking news. We're back in just a moment.
(COMMERCIAL BREAK) [17:48:46] KEILAR: We're following some breaking news in the case of accused Russian spy, Maria Butina. I want to get right to our Political Correspondent Sara Murray for details. This is -- I don't know that I've heard of this before. What is going on?
SARA MURRAY, CNN POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: So, this is a filing that we clearly were not supposed to see. It seems like something the prosecutors are trying to file under seal, because it disappeared pretty quickly after it was blasted through the court system. But what it is its prosecutors essentially saying, look, we want to be able to move Maria Butina around, we want her to be available for interviews with attorneys in Northern Virginia and in Washington, D.C., between, sort of, December into January.
And says, she also might be requested to appear before a grand jury in D.C. into those dates. So, it's short of when and where they want her to cooperate into an ongoing federal investigation. And, of course, we know that one of the people that they're looking into in connection to Maria Butina is her boyfriend, Paul Erickson, a South Dakota Republican political operative, who has visited her a number of times in jail, and who she is cooperating against. But, again, this is sort of an interesting look into her cooperation when we weren't supposed to see.
They had unsealed some of this from before, which gave us a look into how long she's been cooperating. She actually started cooperating in September before she struck this plea deal. But, of course, we're not supposed to necessarily know when this is ongoing or when she's supposed to be potentially appearing before a grand jury. So, you know, this was a mistake either by prosecutors or by whoever filed it in the prosecutors, and our court reporter, Kaitlan Collins, snapped it up before prosecutors grabbed it back and pulled it back.
KEILAR: So, just for moments, this was public.
MURRAY: And then they took it down.
KEILAR: This is amazing. I mean, this seems -- but this seems like very basic court filings.
MURRAY: Yes. I mean, things are filed under seal all the time. So presumably, if you put something in and you say this is supposed to be under seal, then it is. And that's when you sort of look through a case, you'll see like, you know, numbers don't go in order, there are numbers missing. And you can see, OK, like, this is a sealed document, and it's clearly not how this went in this case. They meant to file it, someone screwed it up along the way and so now we get a little bit more insight in the fact that she's still going to be and going to be cooperating over the holidays, possibly, you know, against her boyfriend.
KEILAR: Is it surprising that she would be part of this grand jury process?
MURRAY: Not necessarily. I mean, her cooperation agreement is pretty robust, which is to say also like pretty standard. It says she has to sit for these interviews, she has to be willing to testify before the grand jury, if they want her to stay and testify in a trial, she needs to be willing to testify in a trial, and she needs to commit to any crimes, she needs to let them go over her finances. So, you know, they pretty much get to dig into her life and sort of make her do whatever they want and she wants to cooperate at this point because she wants her jail time knocked down. Remember, she faces up to five years in prison. The estimated, sort of, guidelines they put out are zero to six months. So, if she is helpful to the government, the next time she goes before the judge and when they move the sentencing, she could say, you know, I want to get time served and the judge could agree.
KEILAR: Very interesting, Sara Murray. This is so unusual. Thank you so much for bringing this to us. I want to get to our CNN Senior International Correspondent, Frederick Pleitgen, joining us from Moscow. In the meantime, Fred, Russia is continuing to claim without evidence that Butina was tortured by the U.S. to get her to cooperate. Tell us about that.
PLEITGEN: Yes, you're absolutely right, Brianna, and one of the other things is they'll obviously, also very interestingly be looking at some of the things that were accidentally made public tonight. I just went over a transcript actually that we had earlier today from a call with a kremlin spokesman and he was specifically asked: "are you concerned about some of the things that Maria Butina might say to American investigators?" And he said, I just found this quote now, "let's wait for the testimony, such hypothesizing is unacceptable." So, clearly, there was a bit of concern as to the level of cooperation that she might have. However, you're absolutely right, in the meantime, a massive campaign by Russian media, and by Russian politicians absolutely ripping into the United States with some big allegations. Here's what we heard today.
PLEITGEN: Tonight, Moscow unleashing its anger at Maria Butina's plea agreement after the alleged Russian agent pled guilty to a conspiracy charge and is cooperating with investigator, the foreign minister accusing America of torturing Butina into submission.
[17:53:04] SERGEY LAVROV, RUSSIAN FOREIGN MINISTER (through translator): She's staying in the most conditions and faced with specific kinds of torture for months. They either forcibly wake her up and let her walk in the night or place her in a solitary confinement cell and so on. I have reasons to assume that the goal of those conditions was to break her will and make her admit to something that she most probably did not commit.
PLEITGEN: Lavrov's words contradicting statements in court both buy Butina and her lawyer, saying her mind was clear and that her overall state had improved since she's been let out of her cell at night and was able to visit a Russian orthodox minister. Still, state- controlled T.V., in a frenzy. On one of the main political talk shows, an official claiming without evidence the U.S. may have drugged Butina. UNIDENTIFIED MALE: All of this shows that the person is being put
under psychological pressure, and we also can't be sure that she wasn't given any psychotropic agents with her food or water, but this immense pressure towards her is 100 percent there.
PLEITGEN: Despite Butina's plea agreement, the Kremlin calls the charges against her baseless and void. In an interview with state media, her dad claiming she never wanted to harm America.
VALERY BUTINA, FATHER OF MARIA BUTINA (through translator): What harm? And how could good relations between citizens of two countries be called harm? I do not understand, but the court interpreted her actions this way.
PLEITGEN: Maria Butina's case has become a rallying cry for Russian officials and commentators, denouncing her imprisonment, waiting to see what her cooperation with U.S. authorities will reveal.
PLEITGEN: So, you see, some pretty extreme words here coming out of Moscow from some officials and from some commentaries about the same time, of course, also looking with some concern at what she might say to American authorities. Brianna.
KEILAR: Indeed. All right. Fred Pleitgen in Moscow, thank you so much. We have breaking news next. President Donald Trump has just tweeted that the office of Management and Budget director Mick Mulvaney will take over as acting White House Chief of Staff. Plus, Robert Mueller slams Michael Flynn for blaming the lie that led to his conviction on the FBI.
[17:59:59] KEILAR: Happening now, breaking news. Acting out? President Trump caps a dramatic week in the Russia investigation by announcing that his Budget Director Mick Mulvaney will become acting Chief of Staff.