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Bump Stocks Banned; Trump Foundation Dissolving; Judge Blasts Michael Flynn, Delays Sentencing. Aired 3-3:30p ET

Aired December 18, 2018 - 15:00   ET

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


[15:00:10]

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN ANCHOR: You are watching CNN. I'm Brooke Baldwin. Thank you for being here.

When Michael Flynn walked into a federal court in Washington this morning, he probably expected to answer a couple questions about his guilty plea for lying to the FBI and learn how much time, if any, he would spend behind bars.

What he got instead was a blistering rebuke from this judge and an order to come back in a few months, while onlookers chanted, kind of ironically "Lock him up" as they watched him leave.

Inside those courtroom walls, Judge Emmet Sullivan blasted Flynn repeatedly, saying -- quote -- "I am not hiding my disgust, my disdain for your criminal offense" and -- quote -- "The aggravating circumstances are not -- serious. Not only did you lie to the FBI. You lied to senior officials in the incoming administration."

Later, after a brief recess, the judge would walk back some of his harshest comments, including those about treason. The judge said he was merely asking questions, not making accusations. And prosecutors said there was no reason to consider charging Flynn with treason.

So let's go straight to CNN crime and justice reporter Shimon Prokupecz. He was in the courthouse.

And, Shimon, this was a -- this was a wow kind of day, where he probably expected he was going to sit in there, continue to be, as everyone refers to him as, you know, the golden boy, because he's cooperated so much, and go home without any jail time.

And, instead, what happened?

SHIMON PROKUPECZ, CNN CRIME AND JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Yes, I think surprise surprise, right? Everyone that walked into that courtroom today did not expect that, not the special counsel team, certainly none of us in the media, reporters, and, of course, obviously Michael Flynn.

What you saw was sort of the wild card here, right? We all expected that we would hear from this judge. This is a judge who's known to be outspoken, likes to talk from the bench, likes to offer his opinion. But no one, no one expected this. I think the words from the judge's mouth that you outline their tell you just how angry he was at what Michael Flynn did here.

And he was ready, the judge was ready -- and he said so -- as much -- to sentence Michael Flynn to prison, to give him who knows how much time. He was facing up to six months in prison. But the judge, it seemed, came to court today ready to offer him a prison sentence.

And Michael Flynn and his attorneys wisely chose to postpone the sentencing. The judge gave them several offers of telling them, hey, you may want to postpone this, you may want to postpone this. And then finally, after a brief recess, they came back and said, you know what, Judge? We are going to take you -- take you on your offer to postpone this case.

The issue here now is, how does Michael Flynn fix all this? How does he argue to the judge that his cooperation has been so extensive and so good that he should not go to jail? We will see. It's not really clear how this will happen. This is unprecedented in some ways. This doesn't happen all the time.

The one case that we know that Michael Flynn is still cooperating on is the case out of the Eastern District of Virginia. It was a case that came out yesterday about sanctions having to do with Turkey and lobbying work that associates of Michael Flynn were working on, and Michael Flynn was cooperating with the U.S. attorney's office on.

Perhaps, maybe we will learn more about that cooperation that in the end will save him. But right now, most important, Brooke, is that Michael Flynn is facing some jail time unless something drastically changes in the next few months, when he's due back in court.

BALDWIN: Maybe his cooperation, as you point out, will curry favor with this judge. He's got a date in March.

Shimon, thank you very much for covering it for us today.

President Trump has said that he fired Flynn for lying to both the FBI and the vice president. This morning, he tweeted good luck to his former top aide, while his press secretary, Sarah Sanders, said she too wished General Flynn well.

But when asked if the president was troubled by Flynn's guilty plea or his actions, Sarah said,it was a matter for the courts.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

QUESTION: Does that concern the president? I mean, he seems to be concerned that Michael Cohen is a liar. Is he concerned that one of this top aides lied to the FBI and was working for a foreign government?

SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: Not when it comes to things that have anything to do with the president. The activities that he has said to -- and, again, we will let the court make that determination -- to have engaged in don't have anything to do with the president.

Let's remember what the whole thing that this started is supposed to be about. It's whether or not Russia influenced the election and whether or not the president had anything to do with it. We know that the -- that Russia tried to create chaos within the election, but certainly not that they actually impacted it.

The only reason that the president is the president is because he was a better candidate and beat Hillary Clinton. We also know that the president never colluded with Russia.

[15:05:02]

So that's the whole reason that we have this and we know those things to be false.

(CROSSTALK)

QUESTION: Is the president concerned that Michael Flynn lied to representatives of his own government and was working for another government during the campaign? Does that -- does that concern him or not?

HUCKABEE SANDERS: Look, there's certainly concern, but that's something for the court to make that determination. And we will let them do that.

(CROSSTALK)

QUESTION: ... positive comments about him when he's pleaded to this?

HUCKABEE SANDERS: Again, we're going to let the court play that out. And they will make a determination whether or not he engaged in something right or wrong.

QUESTION: But why is the president making positive comments about him, given these things that he's pled guilty to?

HUCKABEE SANDERS: It's perfectly acceptable for the president to make a positive comment about somebody while we wait to see what the court's determination is.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BALDWIN: Kaitlan Collins is our White House reporter.

And, Kaitlan, the question is a valid one. The president refers to Michael Cohen as a rat, and yet Michael Flynn meets with team Mueller 19 times, has lied to him, lied to the FBI, and yet he wishes him well?

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Right.

And, of course, it's because they say Michael Cohen is a rat because he's a liar. But Michael Flynn has also pleaded guilty to lying. So what's the difference? And, clearly, the White House thinks the difference is one of them, they believe, is lying about the president, and one of them has nothing to do with the president, even though his lies were told on White House grounds in an office here functioning as the national security adviser.

Now, Brooke, clearly, the White House is on the defense today, holding that first briefing that they have had in weeks now. They thought today was going to go very differently than it did, as most people did. But they were under this impression that the judge was going to come in there and be critical of the way that the FBI interviewed Mike Flynn, which the president and his allies have suggested in recent days was improper.

But after Michael Flynn and his defense team didn't even use that -- or his legal team didn't even use that defense today, saying that he was well aware it's a crime to lie to investigators and that he was not entrapped by the FBI, it really took that defense away from the White House. And that was evident in the briefing there.

And Sarah Sanders was asked, why is it acceptable or why is the president wishing this person well, if it's someone who lied to members of his own government, FBI agents of his own government, and worked unregistered on behalf of another government during the president's campaign?

Clearly, they do not feel that that is a cause of concern for them. Sarah said it's essentially up for the courts to make a determination about that. But she found it perfectly acceptable for the president to make positive comments about Michael Flynn in the meanwhile, before the court does make that determination, Brooke.

BALDWIN: Kaitlan, thank you.

Let's analyze all of this here.

Sara Azari is with us, a white-collar criminal defense attorney. John Avlon is a CNN senior political analyst. Renato Mariotti is a CNN legal analyst and former federal prosecutor appointed by President Obama.

So, welcome, welcome to everyone.

And, Sara, to you first.

This judge, Emmet Sullivan, I mean, stern warnings -- we have repeated the quotes -- and he's basically saying, are you sure, saying to Flynn, are you sure you want to be sentenced today? Are you sure? Are you sure?

I mean, it seems to me that he was about to be given jail time, and Flynn's lawyers kind of -- kind of got the hint. So my question to you is, what changed?

SARA AZARI, CRIMINAL DEFENSE ATTORNEY: Well, look, I think, in the context of federal sentencing, the biggest mistake you can make is to engage in a blame game, which Flynn's lawyers did in these papers, and essentially say that he was duped by the authorities.

That backfired on him today. It's about acceptance of responsibility. It's about contrition. It's about remorse, none of which was in his sentencing papers that he filed with the court. And so this judge has clearly sent a strong message that he's disgusted by Flynn, probably also because of the aggravating factors, because of who he is.

He's not Joe Schmoe. He is a three-star general. He was a national security adviser. He served this country for decades. He should have known better. He is somebody that should be held to a higher standard.

And so this judges basically said, you better come back with a hell of a record of cooperation for me to change my mind.

And if we think back to the people that we have seen sentenced so far for the same offense, they have gone to prison. I mean, Michael Cohen has not gone to prison, but he is sentenced to three years. George Papadopoulos, a low-level volunteer coffee boy, has gotten 14 days.

So why should Flynn, who is higher-ranked than these guys in terms of his proximity to the White House, get any less time? So I think this judge is ultimately going -- and I could be wrong, but I think he is going to sentence Flynn to some time, but I think he's allowing him to come back once his cooperation is completed to sort of balance that out against what he's thinking is a fair sentence.

BALDWIN: Renato, what did you think of all of it today?

RENATO MARIOTTI, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: I will tell you I agree with what Sara said.

It's really shocking that Mueller was willing to give Flynn the deal that he got. I mean, Michael Flynn should be thanking his attorneys that he got that amazing deal in the first place, because he committed very serious crimes. And the only crime me ended up having to plead guilty to was lying to the FBI.

[15:10:03]

BALDWIN: Right, the one count.

MARIOTTI: Even the Mueller team admitted in court today -- exactly right.

And the judge at one point asked, did he commit treason? You alluded to that earlier, Brooke. Treason is to find very narrowly under the Constitution. But he certainly engaged in conduct that was very egregious.

And Sara's right that Flynn's attorneys did him no favors by trying to minimize his conduct. And we have seen a sort of disinformation campaign over the last several days for some -- for reasons I don't completely understand, trying to glorify Flynn and suggesting he was duped. There's nothing that was done that was unlawful. He was not mistreated in any way. And the judge knew that. Everyone in that courtroom knew that. And I think the judge was not happy he was trying to minimize his conduct. And he was forcing Flynn on the record to say, are you really behind -- standing behind these attempts to minimize your misconduct or not?

BALDWIN: So, Sarah Sanders is asked about all this today, John Avlon, and essentially she's saying, listen, we will leave it up to the courts, but she said roughly the activities Flynn is said to have engaged in -- quote -- "don't have anything to do with the president."

Doesn't have anything to do with except us, for the fact that he didn't register as a foreign agent, national security issues.

JOHN AVLON, CNN POLITICAL CONTRIBUTOR: Yes, spoke to Kislyak while -- during the transition about possibly removing sanctions.

Look, this is where you get to have a Baghdad Bob problem if you're the press secretary, because you can't credibly say this has nothing to do with the president. This whole investigation begins with Flynn, the president asking Comey to back off questions of obstruction.

And you saw Sarah Sanders tried to move the conversation quickly, also characterizing some of the information that's come out now, saying, we know there's no evidence of collusion. We don't know that. We know that Russia simply tried to sow seeds of confusion, not to benefit one candidate.

Actually, that's the opposite of the conclusions come out by the two reports yesterday on Russian disinformation campaigns. So she's got to answer it directly. But the problem she's got is that the president himself is applying a double standard, praising Flynn after hours of cooperation, while condemning Michael Cohen as a rat.

And the press secretary in that position, you can either tell the truth or you can try and spin, distract and deflect, like your boss, and end up with an incoherent position.

BALDWIN: Sara, to you, you mentioned the word remorse a second ago. And I know that you have said federal sentencing is about remorse.

Is that why you think team Flynn did this 180 from their claims that originally he was duped or entrapped into lying to the FBI? Why would they even float that theory in the first place?

AZARI: I think -- Renato kind of touched upon this, but in the context of federal sentencing, judges look at aggravating factors and mitigating factors.

I think his lawyers were trying to lay out mitigating factors in their attempt to say, well, look, these were the circumstances around these lies. He wasn't really comfortable -- he felt comfortable, and the FBI agents led him to feel comfortable, and that's why he said these lies. And, of course, from the 302s yesterday that Mueller released, we saw that the lies were repeated and deliberate and they were material. And so Mueller cleared the record in terms of what the Flynn team was alleging in their papers.

And so what happened is, they were trying to come up with mitigating factors towards a lenient sentence, towards no time. But they screwed up, because the last thing you want to do in your papers on behalf of your client -- I speak as a defense attorney -- is to say anything that can remotely be constructed as a blame game, as contesting the facts to which you have pled, and the responsibility that you have accepted.

It is sort of antithetical to the acceptance of responsibility in a guilty plea. So I think his lawyers made a huge mistake. And they probably realized it in court, if they didn't realize it before.

BALDWIN: Got it.

Sara and Renato and John, thank you all so much.

And, again, Flynn back in court in March.

A lot of other stores we're following today, including the Trump administration officially putting a ban on bump stocks. We will talk live to a man who survived the mass shooting in Las Vegas and actually saved the lives of so many others. We will get his reaction.

And the Trump Foundation agrees to dissolve, but it could still face millions in penalties. And the president's three oldest children still off -- aren't off the hook. Hear how the foundation is responding.

And just in, we're learning about this plan by House Democrats who are carefully laying the groundwork to obtain President Donald Trump's personal tax returns. We will have that for you coming up.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[15:18:57]

BALDWIN: We're back. You're watching CNN. I'm Brooke Baldwin.

President Trump has agreed to shut down his personal charity, in claims he and his family used the Trump Foundation for personal and political gain. The Trump Foundation is dissolving under judicial supervision and the remaining money will be given to approved charities, while an ongoing lawsuit into the foundation finances continues.

The New York attorney general alleges that the Trumps violated state and federal charities law by using the foundation as -- quote -- "little more than a checkbook" -- end quote.

The lawsuit also claims the president used tax-deductible donations for his own benefit and also alleges the foundation unlawfully coordinated with the Trump campaign.

So let's go to Kara Scannell. She's been working this one for us today.

And, so, Kara, what happens now?

KARA SCANNELL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Brooke, this lawsuit is going to continue, despite the fact that the Trump Foundation has agreed to shut down.

And the New York attorney general has sued the foundation, alleging that it engaged in a pattern of illegal activity, essentially using the foundation as a checkbook to advance President Trump's business and his campaign.

[15:20:01]

Specifically, the lawsuit alleges that Trump used the foundation to pay off legal debts via lawsuits related tomorrow Mar-a-Lago, and as well as one of his golf courses. They also allege that Trump had used some of the foundation money to buy a personal painting of himself.

And so this lawsuit will continue. The New York A.G. is seeking $2.8 million in fines, forfeitures, and penalties, as well as a ban from Donald Trump, his three eldest children, Don Jr., Ivanka and Eric Trump, from ever serving on a board of a New York charity.

Now, the Trump Foundation has come back swinging. They're saying in fact that the A.G.'s statement isn't quite right. They're saying, to the "contrary to the New York A.G.'s misleading statement issued earlier today, the foundation has been seeking to dissolve and distribute its remaining assets to worthwhile charitable causes since Donald J. Trump's victory in the 2016 presidential election."

So, Brooke, the foundation is saying they're taking issue with why they're shutting this down, suggesting it's not really a concession. But this is going to continue on in the courtroom, as we might learn even more information if this proceeds to the discovery phase -- Brooke.

BALDWIN: Keep us posted.

Kara Scannell, thank you very much in Washington for us.

More than a year now after the deadliest mass shooting in modern U.S. history, the Trump administration has now banned bump stocks. That's the device that was used in that Las Vegas massacre. A veteran who helped rescue so many of those survivors from that shooting will join me with his reaction to this news out of the White House today.

Also ahead, an update on that mother and her children who were hit with tear gas at the U.S.-Mexico border. We have news now on what happened when they tried to cross again.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[15:26:26]

BALDWIN: Today, President Trump make good on his promise to ban bump stocks on guns. Anyone who has a bump stock now has 90 days to turn them in or destroy them.

These are the devices that make it easier to fire rounds from a semiautomatic weapon by harnessing the gun's recoil to bump the trigger faster.

And the Las Vegas concert shooter used bumps stocks. And the carnage of the mass shooting elevated them in the national gun conversation.

And Marine and Iraq War veteran Taylor Winston, he was at that show. I actually talked him right afterwards. And this is what he told me at the time.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TAYLOR WINSTON, LAS VEGAS SHOOTING SURVIVOR: I was just scared as anyone. And I was telling people to keep their heads down and just to try to get away from the sound of the gunfire, and people getting hit a couple feet away from me.

And looking over my shoulders, we're trying to get out of there. People are just dropping. And it was -- it was quite terrifying, because you can defend yourself at all. You don't even know where it's coming from.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BALDWIN: Taylor Winston is with me now.

And I'm sure, Taylor, you were frightened. But your story is, instead of running for safety, you spotted a truck with keys in the ignition, used it to drive back in as bullets were flying to help get the wounded to the hospital.

And it's just so stunning and, again, it's extraordinary what you did. And welcome back to the show. Good to see you.

WINSTON: Thanks for having me, Brooke.

BALDWIN: So, here you have the White House making good on this promise, banning these bumps stocks. And how do you feel about that?

WINSTON: I feel it's a very positive step in a little bit more gun control.

We have a lot of amazing laws already. And the infrastructure needs to be reinforced to enforce those laws. But as a gun user myself and owner, bump stocks really don't help. They take off your aim. And I don't really see any use of them, except for some fun.

So if protecting lives and getting rid of bumps stocks is a priority, then I'm on board with it.

BALDWIN: All right, so on board with that.

And I know -- I hear you, pro-Second Amendment. But I also read that you're pro-gun control. And so if you were to write a list, and you have an item at the top of your list, if the White House were watching right now, what would you -- what's the next thing you would like to see them tackle when it comes to reform?

WINSTON: Long-term goals would be better mental health reform. That's definitely the number one priority in this country.

People have lost compassion over decades. And we're at the point where people don't care as much for one another. And we need to bring that back. So I think starting early in schools and stuff, providing better mental health support, is number one priority.

Number two would be, we could do short-term goals, such as banning bump stocks, maybe cracking down just better on the already existing laws that we have. There's a lot of cracks in the whole system. And I think that's where a lot of these problems are coming from.

And if we just focus more attention and more time and resources into the laws we already have, we'd have a much safer country.

BALDWIN: You know, when you hear folks more on the left saying that they want this commonsense gun reform, and you have been a survivor and you have helped save lives from just a mass shooting, such as the one in Las Vegas, when you hear commonsense gun reform, do you recoil, or is that something you could get behind?

WINSTON: I think it's something I can get behind, if it makes sense.

The Las Vegas shooting, per the facts, the shooter was a lone gunman, and he used a bump stock, which accelerated the rate of fire. And he was able to project more rounds into a mass of people. And, unfortunately