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Michael Flynn in Federal Court for Sentencing; Trump Foundation Agrees to Dissolve; Flynn's Atty.: FBI Did Not Entrap His Client. Aired 11-11:30a ET

Aired December 18, 2018 - 11:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


[11:00:00] POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: Thanks for being with us today. I'm Poppy Harlow. We'll see you back here tomorrow morning.

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: And I'm Jim Sciutto. At This Hour starts right now.

PAMELA BROWN, CNN ANCHOR: Hello, I'm Pamela Brown in for Kate Bolduan, live outside a federal court in Washington, D.C. And right now, a big moment for Robert Mueller's special counsel and the Russia investigation is playing out in a courtroom right behind me.

Right now, we are waiting for a judge to give President Trump's former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn his sentence for lying to the FBI about conversations he had with the Russian Ambassador. Flynn arrived in court just a short time ago, accompanied by his wife. He faces up to six months in prison but the special counsel has recommended no prison time, citing his extensive and substantial cooperation with the Russia investigation and other federal probes.

And not surprisingly, President Trump seems to be watching closely, commenting on Twitter. Quote, good luck today in court, to General Michael Flynn. It will be interesting to see what he has to say despite tremendous pressure being put on him about Russian collusion and our great and obviously highly successful political campaign. And there was no collusion.

I want to bring in my colleague, CNN's Crime and Justice Reporter Shimon Prokupecz. Shimon, we've been all over this case from the very beginning. This is a keystone moment, the president's former National Security adviser being sentenced. What do we expect today?

SHIMON PROKUPECZ, CNN CRIME AND JUSTICE REPORTER: Yes, it certainly is. It's kind of a book end in some ways to this investigation. Michael Flynn, one of the first cooperators for the special counsel, played an immense role in this investigation. The special counsel has said as much themselves, saying how he was providing substantial assistance. Key words in this investigation.

And really, you know, I think what we should expect today is to hear from Michael Flynn. Remember, he's been silent throughout this entire year, since he's plead guilty and started cooperating. It certainly will be interesting to see how he addresses the lies. There's always been this mystery as to why Michael Flynn chose to lie. Does that get addressed in court today? What will the special counsel say about his cooperation? Do they go into more detail about the assistance he's provided? Obviously, they haven't said much. But any time they speak, it carries a certain weight.

So we'll see if they go into any further detail. And then finally, the judge. This judge is known for saying a lot of things. He's known for liking to -- he likes to speak his mind. So it will be interesting to see what he has to say about this.

The -- Michael Flynn's attorneys were arguing that he was tricked into lying. How does all that get addressed in light of the memos that were released last night? And then ultimately, I think it's fair to say that everyone expects, including the special counsel's office probably, for Michael Flynn to get probation or no jail sentence here and be free and be able to walk out of this courtroom. And then we'll see what happens.

But, certainly, this part of the investigation, the Michael Flynn, his cooperation, anything that he's been doing for the special counsel, comes to an end today and ends this part of the investigation. Significant for sure.

BROWN: Michael Flynn, 19 proffer sessions with Robert Mueller's office. That is a significant amount of time that he has met with the special counsel's office. And last night, we got more complete picture of his lies to the FBI on that interview, January 24th, where he basically lied on a couple of occasions. And also, he even lied about having knowledge of the sanctions. What did we learn?

PROKUPECZ: He ultimately, you know, for lack of really a better word, he played dumb with the FBI agents. It's almost as if he didn't know anything they were talking about. Claimed he was on vacation in Dominican Republic so he didn't remember a lot of things.

But what's really weird is that Flynn knew that the FBI was coming in there to talk to him about the Russians, about his conversations with Russians. Because in a phone call with the former Deputy FBI Director Andrew McCabe, he said yes, you want to come over here and talk to me about the Russians. And it's likely you know what I said.

So, again, we don't know what happened. Why was he sitting in that room at the White House when Peter Strzok was questioning him? Why was he lying?

And what we learned is when they started asking Michael Flynn questions, detailed questions about his conversation with Kislyak, whether or not they talked about sanctions, whether or not they talked about the retaliation by the Russians against the U.S. for expelling all those Russians. The Obama administration in 2016, whether or not there were conversations about that, and Kislyak denying that. Essentially saying, he didn't have those kinds of conversations with Kislyak, Flynn denying it.

[11:05:02] You know, he also lied about the U.N. resolution issue and whether or not he had conversations about that. All things that are very puzzling certainly to everybody. And I'm sure it was for FBI agents who, you know, while may have said they didn't believe he was lying at the time, it's clear based on what the special counsel has said, what the information has laid out, what the criminal charges all lay out, is that he was lying.

BROWN: And he pleaded guilty to lying, which is why he is here today, getting ready to be sentenced by a judge. And that is still the remaining question at this hour, why did he lie? As you pointed out, Shimon, he told the deputy FBI director that FBI probably knew what his conversation with Kislyak was all about before that interview.

So as we await more details from inside the courthouse and of course we will be bringing you update as soon as we get them, I want to bring in my panel. We have several people with us this hour. CNN Legal Analyst Michael Zeldin. He served as a special assistant to Robert Mueller at the Justice Department. Asha Rangappa, former FBI special agent and CNN legal and national security analyst, and CNN Legal Analyst Jack Quinn who served as White House counsel in the Clinton administration.

Jack, I want to go to you first, as we await more details from inside the courthouse. Give us some perspective here. The former National Security adviser is about to be sentenced for lying to the FBI about conversations with the Russian Ambassador. A three-star general who once ran the Defense Intelligence Agency, and he is the first former White House official to be sentenced in the Russia probe. Have we ever seen anything like this before?

JACK QUINN, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: No. I mean, this is baffling on so many different levels. I mean, as you point out, you know he was part of the intelligence community. He should have known, I'm sure he did know the conversations with the Russian Ambassador are up to be monitored by our intelligence community. How he might have thought that his conversation with the Russian ambassador would not be part of that monitoring is a great mystery.

Why despite that he chose to lie? Why despite all of that he chose to allow his counsel recently to go into court and say, well, he was tricked into lying, that this was some kind of perjury trap. You know, it's as if, you know, his defense to speeding in his car is that, you know, that he ran into a speed trap. And he shouldn't have been fined because the fact he was going 80 miles an hour is explained by the fact that the police put a trap up there for him. I mean, it's just baffling.

Now, there are a couple different explanations, and they might be wild, and I have no basis for putting them out there, but you know, it's entirely possible that like Paul Manafort, he's trying to have it both ways. He's still somehow trying to curry favor with the president in the event that he needs or wants or would benefit from a pardon down the road. I mean, that's plausible. I'm not saying it's likely, but you know, you never know what could be in the back of a mind who's come up with the conduct that Michael Flynn has recently.

So, you know, we'll see. I mean, I really think it was unwise of him, frankly, to allow his lawyers to lodge this defense that he was tricked into saying the things he did. I don't think that the judge will respond well to that, but we'll see.

BROWN: We shall see. And you mentioned the president, he clearly is watching things play out very closely. And he weighed in this morning on Twitter saying, "Good luck today in court to General Michael Flynn. It will be interesting to see what he has to say despite tremendous pressure being put on him about Russian collusion in our great and obviously highly successful political campaign. There was no collusion."

Asha, I want to bring you in. The president seems to be saying that this was a case of entrapment, that Michael Flynn was essentially pressured into lying. What is your response as a former FBI agent?

ASHA RANGAPPA, CNN LEGAL AND NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: I think that's hogwash. You know, I read that 302 that was released by Mueller's team last night. And Michael Flynn was anything but pressured into lying.

In fact, the FBI agents who interviewed him reminded him of conversations that he had, that they were asking him about that he initially would not disclose. So they were trying to prompt his memory, trying to get him to, you know, talk about things that they knew about that he was trying to conceal. They even used his own words that he had used in conversations.

And what is really telling is what Mueller said in the sentencing memo, that Flynn was committed to his story, and that he wasn't even sweating it.

[11:10:05] RANGAPPA: He wasn't showing any signs of deception. And from a counterintelligence perspective, this is really concerning because this means that there is already a cover story that has been decided upon that this guy is sticking to no matter what the FBI was going to help him out or give him prompts on.

So, this was a bed that he made, and now he has to lie in it.

BROWN: He was committed to the story that he had told other White House officials including the vice president, who then went out and told the American people this lie.

Michael, I want to bring you in on this. With the president's tweet this morning, do you believe he is sending a signal to Flynn or anyone else here? Of course, it raises the question about a potential pardon.

MICHAEL ZELDIN, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Well, it can be read that way, for sure. When you juxtapose what he said about Michael Cohen, calling his cooperation that of a rat, and Michael Flynn being that of sort of a brave soldier. But I think it's -- you know, the horse is out of the barn. Flynn has given his testimony, Mueller knows what Flynn has had to say about all of the aspects of the case that Flynn has knowledge with respect to.

So it's not as if he can influence Flynn's testimony any further. You know, Flynn will get a chance to talk perhaps in court today before he's sentenced, and I'm sure he'll just be repentant for what he did and hope for mercy from the court. So I'm not exactly sure what the president's, you know, sort of message to Flynn is at this point, given that it's too late in the day to prevent Mueller from learning what Flynn has to say.

BROWN: It will be interesting to hear what Michael Flynn has to say, if anything. He has stayed under the radar since he pleaded guilty to lying, although he has spoken quite frequently with Robert Mueller's team 19 proffer sessions. He has offered substantial assistance according to court documents in the Russia investigation and other federal probes.

Everyone, stick around. We'll have much more on Flynn's sentencing just ahead.

Plus, other news coming out. Is the White House bending on the border wall as we race towards a potential government shutdown? New comments from the White House may have just changed everything.

Stay with us. We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BROWN: Breaking news. The New York attorney general is now announcing that the Trump Foundation has agreed to dissolve under judicial supervision. But that move considered a small legal victory for the prosecutors. It will not end the state's lawsuit against the embattled charity.

CNN's Erica Order joins us now. This does appear to be a victory, nonetheless for the AG'S office in New York, Erica.

ERICA ORDEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It does. The Trump Foundation had previously said it wanted to dissolve, but this will mean that the charity dissolves in a manner that the AG's office was seeking under judicial supervision as you mentioned. And with the Attorney General's office able to review the recipients of the charity's assets. It currently has about $1.7 million in assets according to its most recent tax filing.

BROWN: And what is the significance of this as we look at the big picture here, Erica? What exactly does this mean as it pertains to the Russia investigation?

ORDEN: Well, it's not clear that it has a direct link to the Russia investigation, but it is one of the now numerous investigations that Trump and people in his orbit find themselves under. The lawsuit alleges among other things unlawful coordination between the charity and the president's political campaign or presidential campaign.

And the lawsuit, as you mentioned, will move forward in court because it also seeks two additional outcomes. One, about $2.8 million in restitution plus penalties. And it also seeks to ban the president and his three eldest children from serving on the boards of other New York nonprofits.

BROWN: OK. Erica Orden, thank you for brining us the latest there.

I want to bring in my colleague, Shimon Prokupecz. This news coming, Shimon as we are awaiting the sentencing of the president's former National Security adviser, Michael Flynn. Now we're learning the Trump Foundation has agreed to dissolve in this lawsuit.

The president is likely watching all of this play out. This is not good news for him.

PEREZ: No, certainly not. And let me just quickly read the statement that the attorney general there put out in response to this. She said, "Our petition detailed, these are the court records, detailed a shocking pattern of illegality involving the Trump Foundation, including unlawful coordination with the Trump presidential campaign, repeated and willful self-dealing, and much more. This amounted to the Trump Foundation functioning as little more than a checkbook to serve Mr. Trump's business and political interests."

I mean, that are some tough words from the attorney general. It's clear that the Trump Foundation and the president and his family wanted this to go away, they found a resolution. You know, you have to wonder, look, we've heard other issues obviously out of the southern district of New York, which has been investigating campaign finance. So, is this going to go away? Perhaps, but it may not end the other liabilities that could potentially affect the Trump Organization. That still seems to be in the cross hairs of investigators.

[11:20:02] So certainly, you're right, Pam. This is not good for Trump, for the president. There's a lot going on.

BROWN: And this is -- there are 17 investigations that have arisen from the Trump Russia investigation. This is one of them. This is according to an article written by Garrett Graff on Wired and so it just goes to show while the president is calling this probe a witch hunt, you're seeing outcomes like this, and now his foundation is dissolving.

That was a strong rebuke from the attorney general's office, Michael Zeldin. I want to bring you in on this, saying that this was a case of self-dealing as it pertained to the foundation, making the claim that they were using the foundation as a personal checkbook. What do you make of this? What is the significance?

ZELDIN: So the language that this was a pattern of illegal self- dealing is the same pattern that we're seeing in the charges with respect to the Inaugural Committee for domestic donors, for the inaugural committee, for foreign donors, for the emoluments lawsuit of self-dealing. So we have a lot of cases against Trump and his organization and his family that alleged self-dealing. And so I think the story here is that this is the first time that a government agency has essentially obtained the admission of the Trump Organization that it was indeed self-dealing.

Now we're going to have to see how these self-dealing allegations play out in the other lawsuits because it's the exact same pattern, Pamela that we're seeing. And that's what's so troubling to so many people.

BROWN: And again, for our viewers just now joining us, we're learning the Trump Foundation has agreed to dissolve in this lawsuit with the attorney general in New York. This as we await more details from inside the courtroom behind me, as Michael Flynn, the president's former National Security adviser is at his sentencing. He is facing a judge. We'll bring you details as soon as we receive them.

And breaking this hour, the White House may be bending on its $5 billion demand for a border wall. The new comments from the White House, up next.

A lot of news on this Tuesday. We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[11:26:39] BROWN: And we are coming to you live right outside the federal courthouse in Washington, D.C., as we await more details on the sentencing of the president's former National Security adviser Michael Flynn. Michael Flynn has just spoken in court we are learning.

I want to bring in my colleague Shimon Prokupecz to learn what has happened. The judge in this case spoke, Emmet Sullivan, saying that he was concerned that Michael Flynn was not warned about the repercussions of lying to the FBI and that he didn't have counsel present.

PEREZ: So the thing here that's important is that the judge is basically telling Michael Flynn, do you want to withdraw your guilty plea? Are you now saying that you aren't guilty of this? And so they're going through this entire exercise now of questioning him about whether or not he really is guilty. And because he's take -- the judge clearly is taking an issue with what Flynn's lawyers have been arguing, that he was somehow tricked into lying, so the judge plainly asked Flynn's lawyer, was your client entrapped, do you feel there was entrapment here?

He says no, that there was no entrapment. And so now that's exactly what they're going through. There is an issue now, the judge is concerned that perhaps Michael Flynn feels he somehow was entrapped, somehow was forced to lie by the FBI. And the judge just going through that now, making sure that Michael Flynn is willing to accept responsibility for the crimes that he committed here. And so that's exactly what's going on.

BROWN: Seems like the judge was almost trying to -- in a sense giving him the opportunity to withdraw his guilty plea, but Michael Flynn saying that no, in fact, he was aware he was lying to the FBI during that January 24th interview.

PROKUPECZ: The judge even asking Flynn, do you want to postpone the sentencing and Flynn says no. He is standing firm on his decision to plead guilty to the crime. But nonetheless, a lot of people suspect that this memo, this last sentencing memo that Flynn's attorney filed, could potentially create some problems for him. And it seems as though that is true. That we are now having to go through -- the judge going through this entire exercise, making sure that Flynn is satisfied with his representation and that he is in fact guilty of what he says he did here.

BROWN: And I want to bring in former FBI agent Asha, just for context for our viewers, this is stemming from a filing from Michael Flynn's lawyers where they said that Michael Flynn was not warned about the repercussions of lying to the FBI before the interview, and the FBI did not recommend that he has counsel. And basically, they made the argument that he was given a false sense of security.

And Asha, the judge, Emmet Sullivan in court just moments ago, expressing concern about that and asking Michael Flynn if he still sticks by his guilty plea to lying to the FBI. What do you make of that?

RANGAPPA: Well, I think that the judge is taking these claims seriously. Look, I mean, Flynn is trying to make some serious legal and constitutional claims that are inconsistent with a full and unconditional acceptance of responsibility for his crime which is what a plea of guilty is. So what the judge is saying is, if you're really serious about this, then I may not be able to accept this guilty plea. And that would be a big problem for Flynn, because then he may be in jeopardy of being charged with other things that he presumably plead guilty to (INAUDIBLE).