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Michael Flynn Arrives in Federal Court for Sentencing Hearing; Aired 10-10:30a ET

Aired December 18, 2018 - 10:00   ET

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


[10:00:01] JIM SCIUTTO, CNN ANCHOR: Crime and justice reporter down at the courthouse, Shimon. He's facing the judge in about an hour. What do we expect?

SHIMON PROKUPECZ, CNN CRIME AND JUSTICE REPORTER: Right. So we expect that we are going to hear for the first time really, and this is going to be a significant moment here. We're going to hear from Michael Flynn, certainly, about what went on here, perhaps he'll show some remorse. Maybe an explanation as to why he chose to lie to FBI agents who interviewed him. That has been a big question in all of this is, why did Michael Flynn ultimately choose to lie when the FBI agent interviewed him, came to the White House to talk to him, and as you said, we now know more about the lies.

In terms of how Michael Flynn addressed some of the questions that were posed to him by FBI agents who were trying to understand why he was having these conversations with Russians, with the former Russian ambassador, Sergey Kislyak, and some of what he said essentially was that he was denying that he was having these conversations about whether or not the Russians were going to retaliate against the U.S. for throwing out Russians in response to the election hacking. He denied ever having those kinds of conversations to FBI agents, and obviously, that is what he pleaded guilty to and is expected to be sentenced to here.

The other thing to look forward to is how does the judge react to all of this? What is the judge going to say? We do expect to hear from him. Obviously Michael Flynn's attorneys have been arguing that he was tricked into lying, tricked by FBI agents, but really, those memos, those 302s, Jim, that you talk about that were released by the FBI, paint a different picture of exactly what went on in that room, and how does ultimately the judge respond to that.

POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: Yes. Shimon, thank you very much.

Again, these are images from moments ago, Michael Flynn stepping out with I believe his wife, his attorney there. And he will face his sentence.

CNN legal analyst Anne Milgram is with us and law enforcement analyst Josh Campbell.

So, look, this is going to be up, Anne, to Judge Emmet Sullivan, who is a high-profile judge, who's heard a lot of high-profile cases. He oversaw the corruption trial of the late Senator Ted Stevens. He's known for his colorful language.

What do you expect from this judge? If he agrees with Mueller's team that Flynn has done so much to cooperate over the last year with a delayed sentence four times?

ANNE MILGRAM, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Yes.

HARLOW: That he deserves no time. Is this a very colorfully worded slap on the wrist for Michael Flynn today?

MILGRAM: So I think the judge is going to do two things. One is he's going to decide what the sentence is. I do anticipate it will be no time. I think that's most likely. When the government ask --

HARLOW: All the others that lied to the FBI --

MILGRAM: Yes.

HARLOW: -- have gotten a short amount of time.

MILGRAM: Some time. Yes.

HARLOW: And Rick Gates is still cooperating.

MILGRAM: But if you look at the government sentencing memos, they're different. And here the government went out of their way to basically say he came in very early on, he provided incredible amount of information. Nineteen sits-down with the government is extraordinary. Even in cases where I have sat with cooperators a lot, 12 times, 14 times. I don't know that I've ever sat for 19 times.

HARLOW: Wow.

MILGRAM: We have two people who were charged yesterday who worked with Flynn, involving Turkey. So we know he's provided a lot of information. What I think would be most interesting today will be the judge talking about the FBI 302s and this allegation, this sort of 11th hour allegation that Flynn's lawyer made that he was somehow entrapped by the FBI, which I personally do not think has any merit. And so -- but I think the judge will spend a lot of time on that because it's been raised.

SCIUTTO: On that point, you make an interesting point that the lawyers pushed for this to be released. They floated a theory that the president has floated many times and repeated again today that he was somehow trapped into this. The evidence from those 302s, again records of those interviews indicate no, he was given multiple opportunities by those FBI agents to correct his story and did not, and lied about substantive issues.

This puts the judge, do you believe, in a difficult position to not sentence him?

MILGRAM: Yes. Well, I think it puts the judge in a position he had to ask for this to come out. Because it's sort of out there and otherwise it will let it appear that there was something that went on that shouldn't have gone on. So the judge has released the documents or at least give them to me.

Now the next question is, does the judge hold it against Flynn? Because you either take responsibility or you don't. And the government is saying no time because he took responsibility. And then at the same time, his lawyer is sort of saying well, he wants to plead guilty, but, you know, he was tricked. And so he kind of wants it both ways. And the judge could sentence him because for that.

SCIUTTO: Facts don't seem to support that, frankly.

HARLOW: Also, Josh, just to the issue of, you know, the reasoning at first for firing Flynn, the president said, you know, he wasn't truthful with the vice president, et cetera, lied to his White House colleagues. The statement of offense filed with his guilty plea says that Flynn consulted, quote, "a senior official" of the presidential transition team before and after he asked Kislyak, the Russian ambassador, not to, quote, "escalate" the situation regarding U.S. sanctions. That is an important thing not to be overlooked.

JOSH CAMPBELL, CNN LAW ENFORCEMENT ANALYST: It is, and the timeline is important here, the calendar. We know that Michael Flynn sat down and lied to the FBI. But he didn't slip up. This was a lie that was being formulated two weeks in advance, Robert Mueller says in his memo that was filed with the court.

[10:05:01] And what we did, if you look at the timeline, you have the David Ignatius piece that dropped that talked about this intercepted communication.

HARLOW: Right.

CAMPBELL: The next day, Michael Flynn is directing people on the transition to lie to the press, and then you see these conversations, you see the lies that are going on and on to the vice president and to others. This is a pattern and it is important for us to look at this because we've seen this campaign of attack against law enforcement, against our institutions of justice.

SCIUTTO: Right.

CAMPBELL: Saying this person is a victim. He is not a victim. He didn't slip up. He lied and he -- this is a lie that he had planned and he, you know, perfected over time. The last thing I'll say on the campaign is, and this gets a little philosophical, but as I saw that video of him walking in to into federal court, I walked in that building in that side door many, many times, and the reason why I say it's a bit philosophical, because despite all the president's attacks, all the campaign to attack his own institutions of justice, this is judgment day and this is where it happens.

HARLOW: Right.

CAMPBELL: This is the judicial branch of government. This is a branch over which the president has no control. And so his former national security adviser, disgraced, who's now going to be a felon, walking in that building to meet his fate. It doesn't matter what the president says. It only matters what happens inside that courtroom.

SCIUTTO: And we should note personally as we show that picture again, Flynn, you saw the placard perhaps behind his head there, Putin's puppet, this is a difficult moment for a man who served his country for decades. He was the former -- he was General McChrystal's right- hand man in Afghanistan, fighting Black Ops to kill the bad guys there. He was director of the Defense Intelligence Agency, though pushed out after a couple of years.

He had an illustrious career with a lot of sacrifice and has now pleaded guilty to a federal crime. May or may not be sentenced for it, but regardless, a difficult moment for him, which we should acknowledge.

I want to ask you, Anne, because of your long experience, former New Jersey attorney general, law professor, so we know he lied twice. And we have a lot of detail about those lies, willful lies from the 302s. We also know that two of his colleagues were indicted yesterday for illegal foreign lobbying that Flynn took part in but has not been indicted. For a special counsel to recommend no time, what does that indicate to you about the quality and depth of his cooperation?

MILGRAM: It says to me that he gave them a lot of information. And they use the words provided substantial assistance, and the government does not say that someone has provided substantial assistance unless they have cooperated, and you cooperate against other people. And so I think yesterday was the first example. I suspect there are many other examples yet to come of information that Flynn has provided that can lead to charges.

HARLOW: And, Josh, remind everyone and take us sort of full circle as we step back that there is a chance, a good chance, that there may have been no special counsel had it not been that the president allegedly, according to former FBI director James Comey, said I hope you can see to letting this go, regarding Michael Flynn and his conversation and his lying.

CAMPBELL: This is incredible. And it really s this Greek tragedy when you see this kind of downfall and now the justice system obviously taking hits. But the way this all started is as you mentioned, you had the FBI director leading an investigation into the president of the United States, and into the president's national security adviser for lying to investigators about conversations with Russia, and then because his FBI director would not make this whole thing go away, he fired the person leading the investigation. That triggered a series of events where now we have special counsel Robert Mueller.

One thing that's interesting, I've talked to people inside the FBI. I've always had this question. Would we be here today if Robert Mueller had not been appointed as special counsel? Obviously there was the FBI investigation into Russian collusion, and the theme seems to be that no, we wouldn't because what Robert Mueller did was bring this team of all-stars together, not that the FBI didn't have people already on the case, but he brought people with this passion that they knew that, look, this is an issue for our country. There's a national security threat. It's all hands on deck. They

have been spending all of their time since this thing kicked off trying to dig into these multiple threads and this is where it's brought us. So but for the firing of the FBI director, we wouldn't be sitting here today with so many people facing legal consequences.

SCIUTTO: It's a good point. The president for two years has attacked the FBI, the Department of Justice. He's attacked congressional committees investigating him. He's seemingly sent messages to people under investigation, et cetera, and yet those investigations continue. People have gone to prison. Dozens of people have been indicted. Russian nationals, U.S. nationals, very powerful people, Anne Milgram.

For folks at home who might be a little exhausted by this and a little worried at times about threats to these institutions, you see there, do you not, evidence that those institutions have stood up?

MILGRAM: I think so. I mean, I'm always troubled when I see something like Flynn's memo saying, you know, I didn't know it was a crime, when we all know ignorance of the law is no defense. Right? And so I do think that there is this undermining of our law and our institutions. And I think we have to be vigilant, but what's happened in the past two years I think is extraordinary. Mueller, there are more than 36 people who've been charged, there are companies who've been charged, Russian agents have been charged.

And what I think you see, and it's just really thoughtful, thorough work into how Russia was influencing our election, which we continue to see. And so I think it's actually a testament to the institutions and their strength.

[10:10:01] SCIUTTO: All right. Take that positive message, run with it for the holidays.

(LAUGHTER)

SCIUTTO: Celebrate with your families, Josh, Anne, thanks very much.

We're going to bring you all the news on this because it's happening right now in that courthouse. President Trump as well wishing his former national security adviser Michael Flynn good luck this morning as he faces the judge. The general now less than an hour away from learning whether he will go to prison for lying repeatedly to the FBI.

HARLOW: Let's go to the White House. Our colleague Abby Phillip is there.

Good morning, Abby. What's the sense you're getting from inside?

ABBY PHILLIP, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, good morning, Poppy. President Trump this morning woke up with clearly this issue on his mind, and sending a clear message to his former national security adviser Michael Flynn, saying good luck. And also saying that he would apparently be listening for what Flynn had to say this morning. He says, "Will be interesting to see what he has to say, despite tremendous pressure being put on him, and Russian collusion in our great and obviously highly successful political campaign. There was no collusion."

It has been interesting to see President Trump really continuing to defend Michael Flynn in the face of these charges of lying to the FBI in that interview, but interestingly, President Trump actually was the one to fire Michael Flynn for lying to the vice president. But shortly after that, the president has continued to defend Flynn, continued to imply that the FBI treated him unfairly, implying also that the FBI entrapped him into lying in the context of that interview without a lawyer present.

And President Trump has been tweeting several times this morning in anticipation of this hearing this morning about what he has continued to call the Russia witch hunt. So as this -- over the last several weeks as all these cases have been unfolding in the courts, we've been hearing more and more from the president, but it has been striking to see a defense of Michael Flynn who cooperated extensively with the special counsel, and on the other hand, Michael Cohen, his former personal lawyer, who has been called a rat for doing virtually the same thing, cooperating with investigators on investigations.

It's not clear why there's such a discrepancy there, but it's notable as we go into this hearing in just a few minutes -- Poppy and Jim.

HARLOW: It is. All right. Abby, thank you.

SCIUTTO: Yes. So the entrance of mob terminology, right, into the discourse there.

HARLOW: Yes.

SCIUTTO: We are waiting for those headlines to drop on the Flynn sentencing. Please stay with us. We're going to cover it close. We got people inside the courtroom. Plus right now a group of lawmakers heading to the border where a 7-year-old migrant girl, there's her picture there, came into the country. She died two days later in the custody of U.S. Border Patrol. We're going to speak with one of the congressmen looking for answers now.

HARLOW: Yes. Who's actually going there for answers. In a moment.

Also, four days, no deal to keep the government fully up and running. And here's another problem. Republicans don't know what the president would even sign. How we fix this. Ahead.

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[10:17:08] SCIUTTO: We are less than an hour away from the sentencing of that man there who you saw arriving at the courthouse just a few moments ago, general -- retired General Michael Flynn, former director of National Intelligence, former National Security adviser. Actually director of the DIA, former National Security adviser for Trump. Facing a judge today. Even though Robert Mueller recommended he get no prison time, Flynn still faces the possibility at least of time behind bars. All up to the judge now.

HARLOW: Let's get straight to Dana Bash, our chief political correspondent, Jackie Kucinich, our CNN political analyst.

Good morning, ladies. Dana, let me begin with you.

DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Good morning.

HARLOW: Walk me through the president's thinking and the administration's thinking this morning. The president is eager, he said, publicly to hear what Michael Flynn has to say. Repeating that often repeated line, no collusion. I mean, you're tapped into the administration on this one. What are your thoughts in terms of what's in their head and what do they mean to the White House?

BASH: They're holding their breath. Particularly the man in the Oval Office, or maybe in the residence, depending on where he is right now. There's no question. And I know you two have been reminding everybody, rightly so, how unprecedented it is for a president to be as active in his --

HARLOW: Yes.

BASH: In his commentary about people who are going through the legal system, who are close to him. And it's been quite obvious through that inappropriate commentary what he wants Michael Flynn to do, calling Michael Cohen a rat and Michael Flynn a good man. So it will be very interesting to see if Michael Flynn takes the not-so-subtle hint or not.

And just real quick. On the notion that you guys have been talking about, about this being unprecedented. We should take a step back and, you know, emphasize what you said, Jim. This is the president's first National Security adviser.

SCIUTTO: Yes.

BASH: Going into federal court.

HARLOW: Right.

BASH: Waiting to be sentenced for crimes dealing with a really basic thing that anybody should know about, never mind somebody who dealt with law enforcement and the intelligence agencies, which is you don't lie to the FBI.

HARLOW: Yes.

SCIUTTO: Yes. And by the way, he pleaded guilty to a federal crime.

BASH: Precisely.

SCIUTTO: And Michael Cohen, the president's longtime lawyer and fixer, pleaded guilty to campaign finance crimes in which he implicated the president. So the line you frequently heard from this administration, they were low-level, they were forced in, they were tricked into it, just doesn't stand up to the facts.

Jackie Kucinich, I want to ask you, because Dana mentioned, smartly, a possibility of communication from the president to Michael Flynn, saying hey, here's a little signal here. Don't be a rat. You know, back me up. The president also seemed to have some confidence in his tweet this morning that Flynn has not given information on possible collusion with Russia. We know he has an acting attorney general who gets updates from the special counsel.

[10:20:04] Should we read that as evidence that the president is getting updates on what and how these witnesses are testifying to?

JACKIE KUCINICH, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: I think you'd be forgiven for reading that into that because we do know that there is some communication there, but we also know this is a promise or a threat. There's been some talk this morning about the kind of Mafioso language that the president has used. And you know, is that -- if you read between the lines, is he saying that Flynn is going to be OK either way? Is he trying to assure that he doesn't, you know, do anything else to further imperil the president?

We just don't know the answer to that question. We also don't know, and Abby Phillip mentioned this in the last segment, why the president has consistently, not just in this case, really held back with Michael Flynn, really built him up. Whereas he has disparaged, gone after in every way he possibly could, on Michael Cohen, his former attorney. Is it because Cohen knows about everything with the Trump administration? We just don't -- that is a question I don't think we know the answer to yet.

HARLOW: Yes.

SCIUTTO: OK.

HARLOW: Dana, let's take a moment. Let's listen to strong words. We hear from FBI director James Comey a lot on Twitter. Not as often on camera. And this was striking.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JAMES COMEY, FORMER FBI DIRECTOR: Republicans used to understand that the actions of a president matter. That words of a president matter. The rule of law matters, and the truth matters. Where are those Republicans today? At some point, someone has to stand up and in the face of fear of FOX News, fear of their base, fear of mean tweets, stand up for the values of this country and not slink away into retirement, but stand up and speak the truth.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HARLOW: So Dana, Flake, Sasse, Kasich aside, where are those Republicans?

BASH: You know, a lot of them lost. A lot of them retired. And some, not very many, James Comey is right, have come out and especially those who have retired in the House and said, you know, spoken the truth. But he's -- look, he's right. He's absolutely right. But we have to also remember that a lot of these members, particularly those left in the House, and some in the Senate, are representing Trump voters, are representing people who support the president.

SCIUTTO: Yes.

BASH: Who think James Comey is being political and not fair to the president. And so, you know, some of it is that political reality. Having said that, again, to see and hear the former FBI director, despite the fact that he's been very critical of the president since he's been selling his book and otherwise.

HARLOW: Right.

BASH: To see and hear him doing that in the halls of Congress after coming out of a lengthy meeting, Q and A session that he said he was happy to do, but he still thought was not that relevant and politically motivated and he was backed up by Democrats on that, is really stunning.

SCIUTTO: Yes, and you could dismiss it, I mean, because you've heard similar messages from the former director of the CIA, John Brennan, former director of National Intelligence, Jim Clapper. You can dismiss them as all crazy partisans, despite their long record of public service serving both Republicans and Democrats.

HARLOW: Except they're not, right? Yes.

SCIUTTO: Right? Bob Mueller as well. You know, you can dismiss it or take it as a message of their genuine concern.

Final question to you, Jackie Kucinich. Through this all, Poppy and I have, you know, noted this together this morning, in the latest "Wall Street Journal"-NBC poll, the president's approval rating stays at 43 percent. That after a couple pretty darn bad weeks for the president. What does that tell you?

KUCINICH: You know, the president has his base. They are strong, and they have already -- he has eroded this Mueller investigation from the get-go. And they believe everything that he says about this. So which is why it goes into what you asked Dana, which is why you don't see a lot of Republicans coming forward and speaking truth to power to the president, because they really don't have political incentives.

HARLOW: I don't know if they believe it all, Jackie.

KUCINICH: Yes, but --

HARLOW: But they look at a really strong economy right now and they think about their priorities at home. And I just -- I wonder, I know we have to let it go but --

BASH: Can I add just 10 seconds?

KUCINICH: No, no, but I just want to say, Poppy. I think they believe the president.

HARLOW: Yes.

KUCINICH: I think they believe in all of it.

HARLOW: On the president.

KUCINICH: Not -- I mean --

HARLOW: Good point. Yes.

KUCINICH: That is something -- I think they believe in him, and they believe --

HARLOW: Yes -- no.

KUCINICH: Yes, so that -- I probably should have said that a little bit better.

HARLOW: It's a really good point. Dana.

BASH: And real quick, a data specialist who is a Republican who does these numbers all the time told me yesterday that the more Russia is in the news, the more it helps the president.

SCIUTTO: Yes.

BASH: They've been seeing these numbers all along that those independents who rushed away from him and from Republicans, I should say, in the midterms, see and hear Russia, some of them, and say that they come to the president's defense.

[10:25:08] I know it's hard to wrap your mind around. That's what some Republicans are seeing in their data.

HARLOW: Yes.

SCIUTTO: He appears to know it. Dana Bash, Jackie Kucinich, thanks very much.

HARLOW: Very interesting. Thank you, ladies.

All right. We're one day closer, unfortunately, to a potential partial government shutdown. But top Republican senators this morning are saying they want to know what the White House wants and what the White House would sign and what the White House's plan. They're not even sure.

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