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THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER
"Sex Coach": Russian Agents Told Me Not To Talk About Oligarch. Aired 4-4:30p ET
Aired January 29, 2019 - 16:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: Did Robert Mueller's acting boss just suggest he should get it over with?
THE LEAD starts right now.
The circus comes to D.C. Longtime Trump ally and Nixon worshiper Roger Stone pleading not guilty in the Russia probe, with new fears that the president's acting attorney general might ultimately end up with his thumb on the scale.
A year away from the first votes cast, and President Trump's opponents are already going at each other. Is the president getting exactly what he wants here?
Plus, when caught on video no longer means it's true. The technology that allows hackers and trolls to make it look as though anyone said anything they want. How will you be able to tell what to believe?
Welcome to THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper.
We begin with the politics lead.
President Trump's longtime political adviser and confident Roger Stone pleading not guilty today, defiantly maintaining his innocence before a federal judge regarding seven charges brought by special counsel Robert Mueller, ranging from obstruction of justice to witness intimidation.
This all comes as the man overseeing Mueller's investigation is claiming it's almost over, acting Attorney General Matthew Whitaker taking the rather extraordinary step of commenting on the status and efficacy of an ongoing investigation. That's usually a subject attorneys general refrain from commenting on.
Whitaker telling reporters that Mueller is close to wrapping up and his decisions will be ultimately reviewed by the Justice Department, comments that sparked concern from Democratic lawmakers that Whitaker could water down or even censor Mueller's findings.
CNN's Jessica Schneider picks up the story.
(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) JESSICA SCHNEIDER, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Roger Stone uncharacteristically quiet on his way out of D.C. federal court, but still managing to flash his Nixon-esque victory sign.
He quickly called into Infowars to tell host Alex Jones, a man known for his conservative conspiracy theories, why he didn't talk.
ROGER STONE, FORMER TRUMP CAMPAIGN ADVISER: I wanted very much to go outside and make a statement. But I was shouted down by crazed leftists, who, of course, revere the First Amendment, and some members of the media shouting insulting questions before I could say a word.
SCHNEIDER: Inside court, Stone only uttered the words "Yes, Your Honor" and "I do," while answering the magistrate judge's questions.
Stone's defense attorney entered his not guilty plea. Stone's case has turned into a spectacle.
STONE: The only thing worse than being talked about is not being talked about.
SCHNEIDER: He spoke on the steps of the Florida courthouse Friday.
STONE: I never discussed these matters with the president.
SCHNEIDER: And went on a media blitz over the weekend. Stone faces seven counts of obstruction, false statements and witness tampering, all related to Robert Mueller's Russia probe.
He will be out on a $250,000 bond while his case moves through the court, but under strict conditions. He can't have contact with any witnesses in the case, can't have a passport, and can't travel outside D.C., Virginia, Florida or New York.
He will also have to check in with probation every week by phone. And in a possible sign Mueller's work might be winding down, a prosecutor for the U.S. attorney's office in D.C. handled the court appearance today, instead of someone from Mueller's team. That could signal Mueller's team might not see Stone's case through to any trial, leaving it to another part of the Justice Department instead.
MATTHEW WHITAKER, ACTING U.S. ATTORNEY GENERAL: Right now, you know, the investigation is, I think, close to being completed. And I hope that we can get the report from Director Mueller as soon as possible.
SCHNEIDER: The acting attorney general made this seemingly off-the- cuff comment at an unrelated press conference Monday, prompting a cascade of criticism on Capitol Hill.
REP. GERRY CONNOLLY (D), VIRGINIA: I think it's inappropriate for the acting attorney general will be commenting on an ongoing criminal investigation under his hospices.
SCHNEIDER: And speaking of the Mueller report, Democratic Senator Richard Blumenthal and Republican Senator Chuck Grassley have introduced a bipartisan bill that would require the Mueller report to be made public.
But, regardless, it is likely that Matthew Whitaker will be out and William Barr will be in as attorney general by the time the Mueller probe wraps. And, Jake, Barr has said that he is hoping to release as much of the report as possible. We will see if that happens -- Jake.
TAPPER: All right, Jessica Schneider, thanks so much.
Let's chat about this with my experts.
Jen Psaki, let me start with you.
Six people in and around President Trump, close associates or people on the campaign have been indicted or charged, all of them for lying. Now, supporters of the president say none of them have been indicted for conspiracy, but there is this question, why do they keep lying? Why the constant lies about contacts with WikiLeaks or contacts with the Russians?
JEN PSAKI, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, as the old saying goes, the fish rots at the head.
Donald Trump is the head of the fish. And I think he has sent the message that lying is OK, and that no one's going to be caught. That's how he operated in his businesses. And that's how a number of his associates and campaign workers and people close to him have operated.
Now, it's true that they have all been indicted for lying, but we also -- Mueller's playing his own game. We don't know what the endgame is here, regardless of what Matthew Whitaker says. And he's clearly building a case to a conclusion. What that conclusion is, we don't know yet.
TAPPER: Congresswoman Love, take a listen to Roger Stone describing the case against him.
(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)
STONE: This is a lynching. This is a legal lynching of me, because I appear on Infowars, because I'm friends with Alex Jones, because I support Donald Trump, and I supported him for president and I still support him.
(END AUDIO CLIP)
TAPPER: He's obviously trying to build a public case either for his pardon or against whatever comes against the president, I suppose.
MIA LOVE, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Right.
Well, I can imagine why he would feel that way. You have somebody just -- you have people running into your home searching things. I mean, it's a very scary situation.
My mom used to always say you know yourself by the friends you keep. And so anybody who's running for president out there, remember who your friends are.
But the problem that we have is, lying always -- the cover-up is always worse than the actual thing. Now, even though they haven't found collusions, we don't know what Mueller is going to do. The best thing that they could do is stop the lying and cooperate.
And so that way we can get to a conclusion as soon as possible.
TAPPER: For some reason, they're not taking your advice, though. It keeps happening.
Carrie, I want you to listen. The White House continues to insist that the indictments and convictions of all these individuals who worked on the campaign or in President Trump's orbit one way or another have nothing to do with the president.
Here is Sarah Sanders from the podium yesterday.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: The more that this goes on, the more and more we see that none of these things have anything to do with the president.
What I can tell you is that the president did nothing wrong throughout this process.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
TAPPER: What do you think?
CARRIE CORDERO, FORMER DEPARTMENT OF JUSTICE OFFICIAL: Well, first of all, she can't really tell us whether or not the president did anything wrong, because she's probably not in a position to know if he did do something wrong. Whether he would tell her not is a big question.
The fact the matter is that the Stone indictment moves us a little bit farther in terms of knowing that the things that Stone was involved in, communicating with WikiLeaks or surrogates of WikiLeaks or Julian Assange, who runs WikiLeaks, he was in communication with multiple individuals on the campaign.
So it wasn't just one person. It's not like the Paul Manafort situation, where the White House has been able to say, this was just Paul Manafort doing things before he was affiliated with the campaign. Roger Stone throughout the summer of 2016 was in communication with WikiLeaks and surrogates of it, and he was in communication with multiple senior people in the Trump campaign.
Whether or not that was the president specifically, we don't know yet. TAPPER: And defenders of the president, such as a former White House
communications director, Anthony Scaramucci, he was there for 11 days, but he was...
TAPPER: They're all dismissing what the charges are, as we have been discussing. Take a listen to Scaramucci.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ANTHONY SCARAMUCCI, FORMER WHITE HOUSE COMMUNICATIONS DIRECTOR: It seems again that these people are getting caught on process crimes, as opposed to direct criminality related to the campaign.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
TAPPER: What do you think?
PHILIP MUDD, CNN COUNTERTERRORISM ANALYST: Let me take a chill pill for a moment.
MUDD: A process crime?
Let me take you to a drug case, a terror case, a financial fraud case -- 330 million Americans, if you lie to a federal officer, or more significantly, if you try to suborn a witness, a judge and a jury are going to say, that's a federal crime, regardless of whether it's drugs, money, et cetera.
Why is it that, in a political investigation, Americans say, something I would judge as abhorrent, as horrible during a drug investigation is OK during a political investigation?
The clue is the federal law says, don't lie to the feds. That's a crime. Don't try to tell a witness what his testimony should be. That's a crime.
I cannot understand why Americans who send their kids to Boy Scouts look at this and say not OK for a drug case, but if you're a Trump supporter, oh, maybe that's fine.
It's not a process crime. It's a federal crime, and the dude ought to go to jail. It's not very complicated.
TAPPER: As a prosecutor, do you think that when you look at everything that Mueller has laid out, do you think that this is ultimately going towards a conspiracy case? Because we have not seen that.
CORDERO: Well, I come at it from having worked in the National Security Division at the Justice Department. This was a major counterintelligence investigation that then has discovered many crimes, from the financial crimes, to obstruction, to witness tampering, as it's expanded.
And so his overall theory of the case, that he started with the Russian indictments of the Russian -- and the Internet Research Agency, which is actually involved in the hacking, in the intelligence operation by Russian intelligence, the overall theory is conspiracy to defraud the United States.
Who was involved in the conspiracy, assisting Russian intelligence, conspiring with them, to defraud the United States in terms of trying to affect the 2016 election?
And so we are continuing to see -- we haven't yet seen Americans or individuals affiliated directly with the Trump campaign charged in that conspiracy. But the investigation is not yet over.
CORDERO: And the Stone indictment takes us closer to understanding the facts of people closer to the campaign being knowledgeable at least about what was going on pre or post some of these releases.
TAPPER: And, Phil, reading the tea leaves, do you think this is ultimately leading to a place where somebody will -- some American will be charged with conspiracy? Or do you think it's possible that it will just be, as Anthony Scaramucci referred to them, process crimes?
MUDD: I think neither.
There's two pieces we're not considering. One, we keep looking at the legal case. There's a case that the special counsel will put together, a narrative, that the attorney general will get and determine whether he sends it to the Congress. That's going to give us the full story.
We keep looking at bits and pieces. That won't be a legal case. It's the case that Congress is going to judge. I think that will be a compelling story, not only about Russia, I think the less interesting story -- more about whether there's a conspiracy to lie.
There's one second and final piece, Jake, and that is, we never talk about the Southern District of New York. How much information is the Southern District getting on financial crimes that Michael Cohen is talking about that involve the family?
That doesn't involve Russia, but I suspect that's a shoe that will drop after Mueller, and we never talk about it.
TAPPER: All right, thanks, everyone. Stick around. We're going to keep talking about this and more -- other stories.
She's a sex coach, self-described, who claims she can directly tie the Trump campaign to Russia. Now she's talking exclusively to CNN, but did the Russians get to her first?
Plus, he's not just a coffee boy. The former Starbucks CEO puts 2020 Democrats in battle mode already. Stay with us.
[16:15:53] TAPPER: A CNN exclusive in our world lead -- remember about a year ago when that self-described sex coach claimed from the confines of a Thai prison to have insider information on the Trump campaign and Russia working together? Remember?
Well, she's out of prison and in Moscow. And CNN's Matthew Chance caught up with her and it seems Vladimir Putin's agents might have also caught up with her.
MATTHEW CHANCE, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): It is remarkable this self-styled sex coach is still willing to talk. But 11 months in a Thai jail that she describes as hell has made Nastya Rybka even more convinced of the value of publicity.
(on camera): Do you regret making those claims that you made about the evidence you said you had of Russia and the Trump campaign colluding? Do you regret that?
NASTYA RYBKA, SEX COACH: I think it saved my life. How can I regret about that? Because if journalists not come at the time and that story not come to newspapers, maybe I will I will die now.
CHANCE (voice-over): These were the images that got her into trouble -- her and a Russian billionaire Oleg Deripaska who is close to Russian President Vladimir Putin and the Kremlin on his yacht in 2016. There was another figure photographed too, a Russian deputy prime minister sparking allegations this was a secret meeting to pass on Trump campaign briefing.
(on camera): Is it true Mr. Manafort owed you millions of dollars when he was the head of the Trump campaign?
(voice-over): The oligarch had already been offered private briefings by his former business associates and Trump campaign chair Paul Manafort. Manafort now behind bars, convicted of financial crimes in the special counsel's Russian investigation.
Meanwhile in Thailand, the sex coach promised even more details.
(on camera): You said I'm ready to give you all the missing puzzle pieces, videos and audio, regarding the connections of our respected lawmakers with Trump, Manafort and the rest. Why did you say that?
RYBKA: After that, I was almost one year in the prison for me really enough. I understand mostly of your question is about Oleg Deripaska, about connection of America and something like that, but I can not answer. You should understand me. CHANCE (voice-over): This was the welcome waiting for the 28-year-old when she finally returned to Moscow earlier this month, forced into a wheelchair and dragged away, terrified all the evidence she once had she told me was confiscated. And once behind Russian bars, he was given a stark warning before being unexpectedly released.
RYBKA: I have some talk when I was in jail, in Russian jail.
CHANCE (on camera): Yes.
RYBKA: And they explained me very, very clear what should I do, what should I say and what should I -- shouldn't I say, something like that.
CHANCE: Who explain that to you?
RYBKA: Russian agents.
CHANCE: What did I say to you?
RYBKA: They said to me, don't touch Oleg Deripaska anymore.
CHANCE (voice-over): Don't touch him, she added, or risk replacing that Thai prison with a cell in Russia.
CHANCE: All right. Well, this Nastya Rybka is still, Jake, very much under the threat of prosecution. She's a suspect in a prostitution case in this country so she could be yanked back into prison at any moment. She's also, you know, very realistic when she talks about the physical threat against her. This is a country, remember, that has a checkered record or a strong record rather of silencing thorns in the side of critics like her.
At the same time, she's also somebody who was a self publicist and who says what she thinks people want to hear, and she admits as much it's got her into a lot of trouble, Jake.
TAPPER: It's a perplexing story. Matthew Chance, thank you so much. Really appreciate it. Let's take this story broader and talk about the U.S.-Russia relationship in more geographically -- political geographic.
[16:20:04] Take a listen to CIA Director Gina Haspel earlier today testifying.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GINA HASPEL, CIA DIRECTOR: Our job is to make sure that everybody understands Putin's efforts to influence globally and to enhance Russia's power status in the world.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
TAPPER: She says her job is to make sure everybody understands what Putin is doing. Do you think President Trump fully understands it, that he fully gets it?
DAVID URBAN, TRUMP FOR PRESIDENT 2020 ADVISORY BOARD MEMBER: Yes, I think the president gets it. I think the president's also -- his job is also to try to, you know, walk that fine line between understanding this guy's our enemy, but at the same time trying to increase, you know, and better our relations with the Russians. It's in everybody's best interest, as the president says, not to go to war on the -- you know, on the planes of Europe with the Russians.
And so, I think the president's smart to understand, but he also -- you know, just like he does with President Xi, he tried to straddle that line, carrot and a stick. And I think, you know, the Russians if you look and all the other adversaries the United States has across the world, they look at this past election 2016, what they were able to do with very limited resources, if you look at it. Sow so much discord, they'll be back just like they said this here and go we do act for every election moving forward.
So, we're going to be on guard.
TAPPER: I want to give you an opportunity to respond because I'm guessing you don't think President Trump sees the Russia threat.
PSAKI: Look, I think one of the things we've seen over the last two years on the world scene is that President Trump is vulnerable to being taken advantage of by a President Putin, by President Kim Jong- un, by all of the strong men out there who look at President Trump and see that he is susceptible to flattery and that he's willing to go their way. That's very dangerous for the United States.
It's interesting too because though they interceded on behalf of President Trump and the Republicans in 2016, President Putin is not a registered Republican. He doesn't care. He can intercede on behalf of the Democrats at some point.
I mean, what his objective is, is to create chaos and disorder. He has succeeded in that. We don't have a way out of that under current leadership.
URBAN: But just look -- I mean, let's look at the facts, right? Under President Trump, we armed Ukrainians. We -- they're the biggest NATO exercises taking place, Operation Trident Juncture. And in Norway, we put 700 Marines in Norway on the Russian border for the first time since World War II. We put increased forces in Europe, in Poland and other places along the NATO -- NATO allies.
So, the president is really -- you may say he's doing one thing, but the facts states something else. The facts say the Russians are very unhappy with the United States and Europe at this point.
TAPPER: There does seem sometimes, Paul, to be a discord between what President Trump says publicly right and what his administration does.
PAUL BEGALA, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: What General Mattis did, who's an American patriot, unlike Donald Trump --
TAPPER: Still the Trump administration.
BEGALA: Unlike Donald Trump. No, Donald Trump attacks the pope but he won't speak ill of Vladimir Putin. Why is that? Why is that? Is Putin just so wonderful in such a saintly holy man, or does he have something on our president as Speaker Pelosi is asking?
You know, it is really, really remarkable that Donald Trump has gone to a verbal war with almost all of our allies, all of our best friends -- Canada, Mexico, Europe. Never a bad word about Vladimir Putin.
BEGALA: I wonder why. CNN.
TAPPER: How did you rectify, when you're a lawmaker and President Trump would do something strong against Russia, while praising Vladimir Putin or seeming to take his side of the story on election interference or whatever, how do you rectify that?
MIA LOVE (R), FORMER U.S. CONGRESSWOMAN: I think that that's the story of our lives every time you get whiplash. I mean, we dealt with it and immigration reform -- we've dealt with it on so many different levels, or is the president with us, is the president not with us? I think we have to remember when it comes to Russia though, think way back to when we had this debate between President Barack Obama and Mitt Romney, and he kept saying, hey, Russia is a problem here, Russia is a problem, and everyone ignored that.
And now, we've got -- there's no doubt Russia is a problem for the United States, you would think that it would be something that would bind us together and say, OK, we know who the common enemy is and I wish that people would just really focus on that. I mean, we're going -- Mueller is doing his job, he's going to see if there's any collusion.
But at some point, we all have to say stop the blame game and know that we actually have a common enemy out there here and that's Russia.
PSAKI: You're totally right, I think that the problem is that in 2016, when all of the intelligence agencies came out with a unified view, when Democrats and Republicans in Congress came out with a unified view on the Russia intervening in the election, the president of the United States has the biggest megaphone, he has the most power to actually do something in the administration and he didn't do it.
URBAN: But, Jen, 2016, Barack Obama was the president. Democrats were in charge. They could have stepped up and stopped it.
BEGALA: And should have.
URBAN: They should have. So, don't point --
BEGALA: So he lets me off the hook too easily.
LOVE: Here we are again, right?
BEGALA: I was one of the people who joined President Obama in mocking Mitt Romney what he said Russia was our greatest geostrategic threat. I was wrong. I've said that publicly. I say it again.
Now, we knew do need to come together and act on that because they attacked us.
BEGALA: John McCain did an act of war and it was, when they attacked us in 2016.
BEGALA: Our president is Donald Trump, he is somehow unable to defend America and that's pretty --
TAPPER: Everyone, stick around. Everyone, stick around. I want to keep talking.
The 2020 race starting off with fireworks. The political jabs taken today that may have President Trump pleased perhaps.
[16:25:02] Stay with us.
TAPPER: We're back with our politics lead.
This morning, two potential 2020 presidential candidate suggested that Senator Kamala Harris has run too far to the left. In her CNN town- hall meeting with Iowa Democrats last night, Senator Harris called for Medicare-for-All legislation that would end private health insurance companies and put the government in charge of a universal health care system.