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Iran Confirms Arrest of U.S. Citizen Michael White; New Manafort Revelations Hint at Collusion with Russians; Law Firm that Represented Russian Interests Part of Mystery Mueller Case; Rosenstein to Leave DOJ After New Attorney General Confirmed; High-Ranking TSA Official Warns Absences by Unpaid Officers "Adversely Impacting Security Operations". Aired 1:30-2p ET

Aired January 9, 2019 - 13:30   ET


[13:31:16] BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN HOST: Breaking news, Iran's foreign ministry spokesman has confirmed the arrest of a U.S. Navy veteran, Michael White.

CNN senior diplomatic correspondent, Michelle Kosinski, has details.

What else do we know, Michelle?

MICHELLE KOSINSKI, CNN SENIOR DIPLOMATIC CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Brianna. Most of what we know comes from his mother, who CNN spoke to just yesterday. The case really wasn't known until this circulated widely yesterday. She says Michael White, who is a Navy veteran, and a counselor on job training in southern California, is 46 years old. He has, for years, had a girlfriend that he communicated with online who lives in Iran. He's been there to visit her several times. She said this time he left in early July. About two weeks later, though, he seemed to disappear. He stopped answering messages from home. And it was only three weeks ago, his mother tells CNN, that she found out from the State Department that he had been in an Iranian prison. It has been now nearly six months that he's been in prison.

There's no word on why he was arrested, on what his charges are. Only today -- again this is one day after news of this hit the public -- is the foreign ministry in Iran saying, yes, we have him. And they're not saying anything about the case, only that he's not being mistreated and that details of his arrest will be made public in due time.

So Michael White is now one of at least four Americans we know of who are being held in Iran. One, who has been held the longest, has been held there three years. The other three have been sentenced to 10 years in prison in Iran.

The family is extremely worried, not only because of the circumstances here and because of his other cases, but also because they say Michael White had just finished cancer treatments right before he went on this trip. He also suffers from asthma, so they're extremely concerned about his health as well -- Brianna?

KEILAR: Michelle Kosinski, thank you so much. We'll monitor that story.

And we have just gotten the clearest public evidence yet of collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia. This is all in a court filing in which the Trump former campaign manager, Paul Manafort, is accused of sharing internal polling data -- this is sensitive stuff -- sharing that with an alleged Russian agent.

Amid that revelation, here's a reminder of how targeted Russia's interference was in the 2016 election. Reports cited by the Senate Intel Committee say Russians separated Americans into key interest groups. They focused on conservative messaging on gun rights and immigration. And when it came to left-leaning voters, Russians led a suppression campaign. They specifically spread false information to African-Americans in a clear effort to get them not to even vote. They even targeted key demographic groups in the critical swing states of Wisconsin and Michigan.

I want to bring in senior fellow on the Council of Foreign Relations and CNN global affairs analyst, Max Boot, and former federal prosecutor and CNN legal analyst, Laura Coates, with us.

One of the things we wondered, Max, as we've looked at how tailored the Russian approach here was, how did they know? How were they so savvy? We knew there had been a will and effort to do this, but the fact that they did it with such precision, could this be the answer?

MAX BOOT, CNN GLOBAL AFFAIRS ANALYST: It certainly seems like it. It's hard to figure out why the suspected intelligence agent, Konstantin Kilimnik, would need American polling data. And according to what the "New York Times" said, Paul Manafort asked him to pass the data on to Oleg Deripaska, who is a Russian oligarch close to the Kremlin. Why do they need polling data for an American election? The only thing that makes sense is they need the polling data in order to target this Kremlin social media campaign that they are running to elect Donald Trump. So this is another piece of the puzzle that suggests that, yes, there was collusion between the president's campaign and the Kremlin. This is quite possibly the biggest political scandal in American history, which is coming into focus right here.

[13:35:25] KEILAR: What does this say, this fact that Max just pointed out, that "The Times" said he wanted this passed on to the Russian oligarch to which he owed millions of dollars. What does that say when it speaks to the intent of Manafort's actions?

LAURA COATES, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: At the very least, it answers the question of why he would have offered his services for free to the campaign. He had this debt that he needed to pay and it would be a valuable quid-pro-quo sort of payment, data for the polling information that could be linked to your Russian troll farms, talking about the very issue of sowing division that we spoke of, Brianna. This is the clearest example we've had yet. And by the way, it's not speculation. His attorneys, by their failure to error to redact, has admitted to doing just this. We learned about it because they have admitted to doing this very thing. It's not speculative. So you have Manafort saying, listen, I was passing on information not just to someone like Kilimnik with the hopes of getting it right to the Kremlin. There's only one explanation and it's not a benign one. It's one that is far more sinister.

And the idea of the intent of Manafort, well, I fail to understand some benign explanation as to why you would want to pass on value campaign information to someone not related to an American campaign but rather to go right to the Russian Kremlin or at least the link to it. It's not valuable to the Russian oligarch, in and of itself. It's only valuable to the person he is beholden to, Vladimir Putin.

KEILAR: Should Paul Manafort have known that, or do you think he would have known that, Max?

BOOT: Of course, Paul Manafort knew exactly what was going on here. He's spent decades in politics. He knows exactly how valuable internal polling data is. He knows how this works. And Paul Manafort has a long history of representing Russian interests. He was a de facto operative on behalf of the Russian state with very close links to a Russian intelligence operative. This is not a normal situation. We need to stop talking about was there evidence of collusion, was there proof of collusion. This is the collusion right here. The only question now is, what did the president know and when did he know it? Can we link Donald Trump personally to the actions of Paul Manafort? And that's something we can't do yet. But clearly Donald Trump's campaign was, in fact, colluding with the Russians and that's a massive, massive scandal.

KEILAR: That's a question from the Watergate era, right, from the hearings of the Watergate era: What did the president know and when did he know it? This is what the Mueller investigation will want to know.

Do you think that there's evidence that will tell them the answer do to that question?

COATES: I think they already have the information. The idea of being able to call Manafort a liar means that they already knew the truth. The reason this is even in the light right now is because they had to respond to Mueller's team, saying this person has briefed a plea bargain by giving us false information in five separate categories. If you're going to call someone a liar, you already know the truth, you already have evidentiary evidence about it. Also, circumstantially, remember, and this is the idea of polling data. He also had a discussion about a Ukrainian peace plan. And lo and behold, at the time that he was the head of the campaign and the main surrogate leading to getting delegates for the RNC. There's a --

KEILAR: The convention.

COATES: The convention. Does it change the tide about the Ukrainian mission and the Ukrainian viewpoint?

KEILAR: Key information left out, Max. Would you -- I mean, is it possible to -- this just raises the question, you can't necessarily draw the connection, but it is very curious. BOOT: Well, it's clear that there was an attempt for a quid pro quo

here because we know that, previously, Michael Cohen, Donald Trump's attorney, along with Felix Sater, Donald Trump's business associate, they were floating a peace plan for Ukraine that was very pro-Russian, that would recognize Russian sovereignty over Crimea, that would lift sanctions. They were trying to sell this to Michael Flynn when he was national security adviser. And it seems, from what we're learning here, Paul Manafort was involved in doing something very similar. So this was the quid pro quo that I believe Vladimir Putin was looking for in return for helping to elect Donald Trump. He wanted those sanctions lifted, he wanted Russian aggression in Ukraine recognized, and clearly Manafort was a key part of that because he is someone who has been close to the Russian state for a long time.

KEILAR: Max Boot, Laura Coates, thank you to both of you.

BOOT: Thank you.

KEILAR: This just in to CNN. We are getting new details about a law firm involved in that mysterious grand jury subpoena related to the Mueller investigation. It's a case that's progressed all of the way to the Supreme Court under extreme secrecy.

[13:39:48] Stay right here.


KEILAR: Just in to CNN, we are learning more information about one of the law firms involved in a foreign government-owned company's challenge of the mysterious grand jury subpoena related to the Robert Mueller investigation.

We have CNN senior justice correspondent, Evan Perez, joining us now.

There were certain clues to what the company was, but now we have more.

[13:44:46] EVAN PEREZ, CNN SENIOR JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Yes. Look, the precious little details that we've gotten on this mystery case, this mystery company, we know that it is foreign-owned and we know the name of a law firm that has at least been involved in some of the litigation in this case. It's the firm of Alston & Bird, and in particular, two lawyers. And we have a picture of a couple of them. Ted Kang and Brian Boone are the two lawyers that have been involved in some of the behind-the-scenes litigation in behind-closed-doors sessions in a federal court here in Washington. At one point, they sealed off the entire fifth floor of the courthouse in order to be able to allow --


KEILAR: So that those guys can come through and --


PEREZ: And their clients can come into the courthouse so they can keep them away from our prying eyes. Back in September, there was another hearing, which they didn't expect us to be at, and I sat outside the door. And I chased them down the block trying to get comments from them, and they declined to comment at the time.

What we know about them is that this is a firm that has represented Russians before. They, in particular, had Oleg Deripaska, oligarch who --

KEILAR: We've been hearing his name a lot today, Evan.

PEREZ: Exactly. Right, exactly. Who worked with Paul Manafort for many, many years. They represented him, that firm did. They've also represented other contractors who do work with Russians. And one of the lawyers, Ted Kang, is based in D.C. and he worked with the RNC, the Republican National Committee.

There are a lot of little clues here. It still doesn't tell us exactly who this company is and why are they fighting so hard, spending probably millions of dollars trying to fight the request to provide this information. They're fighting a subpoena to provide this information to the Mueller investigation.

Again, a big mystery that continues, but we have a little bit more to tell us what's going on behind the scenes.

KEILAR: All right. A little crumb there.

Evan, thank you so much. Evan Perez.

It has been President Trump's constant refrain during the Russian investigation. He says it over and over, no collusion. And when his former campaign chairman, Paul Manafort, was convicted in a financial fraud trial last August, the president had this response.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: It doesn't involve me, but I still feel -- it's a very sad thing that happened. This has nothing to do with Russian collusion. This started as Russian collusion. This has absolutely nothing to do. This is a witch hunt and it is a disgrace. This has nothing to do with what they started out, looking for Russians involved in our campaign. There were none. I feel very badly for Paul Manafort.


KEILAR: All right. Now court papers have revealed that Manafort shared sensitive internal polling data from the Trump campaign about the 2016 election with a Russian-linked operative, and his name is Konstantin Kilimnik.

Joining us now from Capitol Hill is Democratic Congressman Ted Deutch. He's a member of the House Judiciary Committee.

Sir, you have been through many election cycles. You know the sensitivity of internal polling data like this, especially at the presidential level. What's your reaction to learning that Paul Manafort shared that with Russians?

REP. TED DEUTCH, (D), FLORIDA: This is an extraordinary revelation, Brianna, in this investigation that's been full of extraordinary pieces of information. But this is the president's campaign manager sharing the most sensitive campaign data with Russian officials with the aim of getting them to Russian intelligence officials. And this puts to why this notion that there has been no collusion. There's clearly collusion. That's what we learned in these documents. The question is, is anyone really expected to believe that the president didn't know that this collusion was taking place. And the better question is, what did he know, how much did he know about it, and what role did he play in it.

KEILAR: Does this affect Democrats with their new oversight ability? Does this affect their efforts on that front?

DEUTCH: Well, what it does is provide further incentive for us to immediately move forward to protect the Mueller investigation. We've got to not get in the way of this investigation, let it play out. Also to make sure that that report, the Mueller report, when it was finalized, is available to the American people. Brianna, we shouldn't have to rely on bad formatting and court documents to learn the truth about what happened in the last campaign, and the effort that the Russians undertook working with the Trump campaign to influence that election.

KEILAR: Because, to be clear, this was Paul Manafort's attorneys who failed to redact this information saying that he did this. We have to be clear. And that's why this is something that you can take to the bank.

So, Rod Rosenstein, separately here, the deputy A.G., who is the man appointed -- who he appointed Mueller as special counsel. He has been largely protecting Mueller throughout his investigation. He's expected to leave soon. Do you have concerns about that?

DEUTCH: I do. First of all, I think we have to give credit to Rod Rosenstein for behaving through a really difficult time with the president going out of his way to try to interfere with the investigation. Rod Rosenstein behaved like a professional who was committed to the pursuit of justice, which is what the goal here ought to be. I have concerns about both Whitaker and Barr. I think, at the Senate confirmation hearings, we'll have to hear from Barr and he'll have to be accountable for the statements he's made, just as Whitaker has made, critical of this Mueller probe. We have to make sure, especially today when there's such clear evidence of collusion between the highest level of the Trump campaign and Russian intelligence, we have to be sure that the Mueller probe continue until its end so we can get the absolute truth. We know a traction of what Mueller knows. We have to get all of the information and the American people have to see it, then we have to decide how to proceed from there.

[13:50:49] KEILAR: I do just want to note, as I say good-bye to you, that Barr did say today he pledged not to interfere with Mueller, something very important to take note of it.

Congressman Ted Deutch, thank you for being with us.

DEUTCH: Thanks for having me.

KEILAR: Coming up, TSA workers calling out sick or some of them even quitting instead of working without a paycheck. And now, in a CNN exclusive, one high-ranking official is warning that the government shutdown is impacting security at, at least, one airport.


KEILAR: For the first time, an acknowledgement from a high-ranking TSA official that this partial government shutdown, day 19 of it, that its effecting security at a California airport.

We have CNN's Rene Marsh here with me now.

Where are we talking about?

RENE MARSH, CNN AVIATION & GOVERNMENT REGULATION CORRESPONDENT: So this is a southern California airport, Palm Springs International Airport. And this is a high-ranking official. We got a hold of this internal email and he lays it all out where he essentially says that the excessive callouts are impacting airport security operations. And it's a significant email because it's the first time you're getting an acknowledgement from a high-ranking TSA official saying, hey, this partial government shutdown is actually having an impact on some operations at this particular airport.

This high-ranking official is in charge of security at the airport. We did reach out to TSA about this because not only did he say that operations were being impacted, he warned the employees that if they call out sick they would possibly face disciplinary action. So TSA is saying, look -- they're down playing this internal email we got a hold of. They're saying this is a small airport. Everyone needs to show up in order for things to run smoothly, especially during the shutdown, and that's all there's to it. On top of all of this, people are quitting, as you said at the top of the show, so.

[13:55:04] KEILAR: There's a lot of smaller airports like Palm Springs.

Great story, Rene Marsh.

MARSH: Thank you.

KEILAR: Keep it up this great reporting you've been doing on this.

Under way right now, the president in a meeting with Republicans on Capitol Hill. These are live pictures coming to us. This meeting under way. The shutdown days away from being the longest in history. He said, moments ago, that he would be foolish to give in to Democrats on the wall.

Stand by.