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CNN NEWSROOM

Interview with Lawyer for Julian Assange; Mark Riddell to Plead Guilty in College Admissions Trial Today; Former Trump Aide Hired by Re-Election Super PAC. Aired 10:30-11a ET

Aired April 12, 2019 - 10:30   ET

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


JENNIFER ROBINSON, LAWYER, JULIAN ASSANGE: The allegations, as they read on the indictment, boil down to providing assistance to a source to protect their identity.

Now, broadly understood, journalists --

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN ANCHOR, NEWSROOM: But did he provide more help than that?

ROBINSON: -- ought to be doing that --

SCIUTTO: That's my question.

ROBINSON: Well, that's a factual matter that's left to be determined. And of course we'll have our arguments about that in time. But looking at this, this absolutely encapsulates what journalists do all the time in terms of their communication with their sources, and touches upon the news-gathering process.

This is a First Amendment question. And that's why free speech groups across the United States are concerned about the impact that this will have, and the chilling impact this may have on journalists everywhere, in the United States and elsewhere.

SCIUTTO: Let me ask you this. U.S. authorities have said that the Justice Department could bring additional charges, beyond this charge of hacking. Are you concerned that he'll face charges under the Espionage Act as well?

ROBINSON: Well, that was one of the provisions under which the grand jury investigation has -- had been opened up. We understood that that was part of the investigation, through the questioning that's been taking place over the past, since 2010, for a long time now.

We are concerned. And we're -- but we'll wait to see what happens from the United States. What we're pleased to see -- and we want to make sure that people understand -- that these, the indictment relates to publications back in 2010, and actions back in 2010.

This relates to the Iraq War Logs, the Afghan War Logs, U.S. diplomatic cables. Revelations of war crimes. Revelations of corruption in human rights abuse. That's what this indictment relates to. SCIUTTO: Let me ask you this. Because of course, the other subject

of great interest in the U.S. is Russia's interference in the 2016 election. Do you believe that U.S. prosecutors -- once he's in the States, if he does not successfully fight extradition -- will ask him about his alleged role in Russia's interference in the U.S. election?

ROBINSON: As is well known, the Mueller investigation is over. There are no indictments associated with anyone with WikiLeaks, and we don't expect there to be. This indictment, again, doesn't relate to anything to do with the 2016 election publications.

And indeed, we would say that WikiLeaks should not even be a matter of criminal investigation. If we look at -- there are other media organizations like WikiLeaks who published that material: "Politico," "The Intercept." Others did publish that information.

SCIUTTO: It's about how you get that material. Because -- I mean, this is the essential question here. Of course, I get information from sources --

ROBINSON: And all of them received it through an intermediary.

SCIUTTO: Well --

ROBINSON: All of them.

SCIUTTO: Possibly. I get information from sources, but I don't, in effect, give them the key to the filing cabinet to take those -- that information out against the law. That's the essential difference here.

ROBINSON: But that's not -- that's not the allegation against Assange with respect to that material.

SCIUTTO: It is with respect to Chelsea Manning's material because they're saying they gave -- he gave them electronic -- Manning, rather, gave her electronic help to hack into, those materials.

ROBINSON: Those are two -- you're aligning (ph) the two. The U.S. election publications and the earlier publications. Now, again, this relates to communications between a journalist and a publisher and their source. And it touches upon news-gathering. That is a First Amendment question.

SCIUTTO: No. To be clear, I was referring back to Manning. But let's get to Russia here. As you know, U.S. intelligence views WikiLeaks as a middle man in Russia's interference in the election, a cutout, as they call it. The secretary of state, Mike Pompeo, has called WikiLeaks a non-state hostile intelligence service.

I mean, this is based on the fact that U.S. intelligence believed that Guccifer 2.0, the Russian hackers who stole this information, apparently, from Democratic Party officials, et cetera, gave that information to WikiLeaks. Where did WikiLeaks get the information?

ROBINSON: WikiLeaks has made clear that they didn't get it from a state source. That it was received from another source.

SCIUTTO: But that's a non-state source. Those are Russian hackers with ties to the Kremlin, not -- they're not wearing uniforms of the Russian government.

ROBINSON: Well, in any event --

SCIUTTO: Does it leave it open, that he received it from Guccifer 2.0?

ROBINSON: In any event, all the media organizations that published that material are then recipients of that material and published that material. Why are they not being subjected to the same allegations?

SCIUTTO: Because it's how (ph) you (ph) get the information. That's the point here. Are -- just to be clear here, are you leaving open the possibility that the material, the stolen e-mails, Hillary Clinton, John Podesta, et cetera, did come from Guccifer 2.0?

ROBINSON: I can't talk about sourcing. I'm not a representative of WikiLeaks, nor would WikiLeaks talk about their sourcing beyond having denied the fact that it came from the Russian state.

Let's not forget, the Mueller investigation has closed. There is no indictment associated with WikiLeaks. This indictment, the extradition request, relates to 2010 publications, which is an entirely separate matter.

SCIUTTO: To be clear, it's not entirely closed and the Congress, once they see the full Mueller report, can make their own judgments about it. But you are right that Mueller's part in that investigation is done for now.

How will you fight extradition to the U.S. as he faces these charges?

ROBINSON: Well, it remains --

SCIUTTO: What will the argument be?

ROBINSON: We're not going to disclose our arguments already. But we will of course be raising free speech concerns. We will of course be raising the politicization of this case. But, you know, you'll see when the extradition fight happens.

SCIUTTO: Do you believe that he will receive fair treatment in the U.S.?

ROBINSON: I think this case, as I mentioned, has been highly politicized. We've had key political figures, dating back to 2010 when these publications first came about and the criminal investigation was opened. High-level political figures in the U.S., calling for him to be killed by drone strike. This is a serious matter.

So we are concerned about the prospect of a fair trial. And we'll be raising some of the queries here. [10:35:03] SCIUTTO: Final question. As you know, President Donald

Trump as a candidate repeatedly praised WikiLeaks. Since then, more recently, he was asked about it this week. He says, "I don't know anything about them." But there were many public comments from President Trump, praising WikiLeaks' work during the election. Do you consider President Trump an advocate for WikiLeaks? A fan of WikiLeaks?

ROBINSON: Look, what we have seen since Trump came to power and the Trump administration has been in power, is of a more aggressive approach towards WikiLeaks, if anything. You mentioned Mike Pompeo, who's the head of the CIA, said "a hostile non-state intelligence agency." Jeff Sessions said it was a priority to prosecute WikiLeaks, which is exactly what we're seeing happen.

This is a far more open and aggressive stance than the Obama administration ever took. So to suggest that Trump or the Trump administration is somehow a friend to WikiLeaks, denies the facts of what is actually happening right now.

SCIUTTO: Let me ask you a final question. Because the other legal issue were allegations of sexual assault by Julian Assange. These came from Sweden. Those charges were let go, in effect, in legal terms although prosecutors in Sweden are now considering a request from one of the accusers here.

What is your response? What is Julian Assange's response to these allegations?

ROBINSON: We've always said that Julian was very happy to answer those allegations. We offered his testimony, back in 2010, before the extradition request first came. He continued to offer his testimony in that.

And we -- and his Swedish defense counsel say that he has -- he has a good defense. So if he was ever required to go back and answer that, he has a defense and he'd be happy to.

That case was dropped. That is not the case we're dealing with at the moment. This case is and has always been about the risk of extradition to the United States. That's why he sought asylum in the Ecuadorean embassy.

And he was right. That is exactly what has happened, the moment he stepped out of the embassy, is he was served with a U.S. extradition request.

SCIUTTO: Jennifer Robinson, thanks very much for taking the time.

ROBINSON: You're very welcome.

SCIUTTO: Good to have you on the show.

Poppy --

HARLOW: That was -- SCIUTTO: -- quite an interview there.

(CROSSTALK)

HARLOW: Yes it was a great interview.

SCIUTTO: Great to have the opportunity to answer those questions. It's certainly a story we're going to continue to follow.

HARLOW: Yes. I mean, she wouldn't answer what, you know, their defense is here. But it's a good question to try to get that answer, right? What's her argument. And also about the president. Like, how many times did he say, "I love WikiLeaks." Does he -- you know, is he a proponent when his own --

SCIUTTO: Yes.

HARLOW: -- Justice Department now has charges against him, right? Fascinating.

SCIUTTO: Exactly.

HARLOW: Great access, Jim. Thanks so much.

So ahead for us, a key player in the huge college admissions scandal is set to plead guilty today. This as sources say Lori Loughlin and her husband, Mossimo Giannulli, aren't ready -- not ready yet -- to strike any sort of plea deal with prosecutors.

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[10:43:04] HARLOW: All right. Today, a key player in the college admissions scandal will be in court. Mark Riddell, the director of a college entrance exam prep academy, is expected to plead guilty to conspiracy to commit mail fraud and money laundering.

In the meantime, CNN is learning more about why actress Lori Loughlin and her husband, fashion designer Mossimo Giannulli, have yet to enter a plea. Our Brynn Gingras has been on this story from the beginning.

I remember that moment of you a few weeks ago, outside the courthouse in Boston. Our jaws dropped. Like, this story has just exploded since.

BRYNN GINGRAS, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: It is. It just keeps going and going.

HARLOW: Yes.

GINGRAS: And what we're hearing is, maybe they shouldn't enter a plea. But right now, they're not going to. They're hoping -- Mossimo Giannulli and his wife, Lori Loughlin, are going to let it play out in the justice system. And they're not ready to cut any deal, a source close to the couple is telling CNN's Chloe Melas. This after federal attorneys slapped that extra charge against them earlier this week in the giant college admissions case. Now, their daughter Olivia Jade, she's said to be devastated over all

this. And she reportedly feels like she's lost friends. The social media influencer did lose partnerships with major companies like Sephora, after her parents were accused of paying half a million dollars in bribe money to get her and her sister into USC. A source also tells CNN she's embarrassed and barely speaking to her parents right now.

Meanwhile, big day in court. We may learn more about the inner workings of this scheme when Mark Riddell pleads guilty today. According to the government, he's the test wiz. Interesting guy. He'd either oversee students as they took the college admissions exams, helping them circle in the right answers, or correct the student's answers after they were finished or even -- in at least one case -- take the test altogether for the student using a fake ID.

Riddell, he's a Harvard graduate. He was so good at this that he was able to get a score high enough to greatly improve students' test scores for admission, but not too high that it would raise red flags.

Riddell served also as a key cooperating witness in the government's investigation, and played a major role in taking down many of these parents connected to the scheme. And in exchange for taking responsibility, prosecutors are going to ask for less time.

[10:45:07] And he was facing 20 years, Poppy. Yes. So Felicity Huffman's daughter was one of these people who took the test under Riddell, although Felicity Huffman, in her apology this week, said that her daughter had no idea that this was part of the scam.

HARLOW: He's a Harvard grad?

GINGRAS: Yes. Fascinating.

HARLOW: Smart guy. You've got to think there's better stuff you could do with that intelligence, right?

GINGRAS: You know, everybody has their niche, I guess. But the thing about him --

HARLOW: Jeez (ph).

GINGRAS: -- you know, Singer, the mastermind --

HARLOW: Yes.

GINGRAS: -- would tell parents, "What score do you need me to get for your daughter?"

HARLOW: And he could do that.

GINGRAS: And he could do it. Doesn't matter what score it was. It's just crazy.

HARLOW: Remarkable. OK. We'll see what he says today in court.

GINGRAS: All right.

HARLOW: Thanks for the reporting.

Some new news just in to CNN. This is about Kelly Sadler, former White House staffer, of course, who was let go after she made those comments about the late Senator John McCain. Where she's working next? Raising some questions. We've got some answers, ahead.

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[10:50:20] HARLOW: This just in to CNN. We're learning that Kelly Sadler, the onetime White House communications aide who left the administration after making light of the late Senator John McCain's battle with cancer, has a new job and it has ties to the Trump campaign. Our Kaitlan Collins joins me now with more.

I mean, not totally surprising, given the president has not hesitated to criticize John McCain, even after he's passed. But what do you know?

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Yes. Poppy, you'll remember that Sadler left the administration about a month after those remarks became public, and now we are learning that she has found a new job. She's going to be joining America First Action. It's this political super PAC that's helping with the president's re-election efforts, and she's joining as its communications director.

Sadler starts on Monday and you'll recall she left the White House, not necessarily because of the remarks she made. Because the White House never apologized for those remarks. And Sadler never publicly commented on them either, though she did privately apologize to John McCain's daughter Meghan.

Now the White House, after that, essentially went on this pretty intense hunt, Poppy, for leakers. The president personally vowed to pursue it. And during one meeting in the Oval Office with Sadler, President Trump and Mercedes Schlapp, another communications aide. Sadler told the president she believed it was Mercedes Schlapp who was the one doing some of the leaking that was coming out of the West Wing.

Now, she quietly left about a month later and now she's joining this pro-Trump group. And she told CNN in a statement that she's "really excited" -- in quotes -- "to do everything she can to help re-elect the president" because she said she wants to see him for another four years in office.

Poppy, she's not the first former administration official to go and join this group. Linda McMahon, the Small Business administrator, actually recently left. And she's joining it as well, and she's expected to help with its fundraising.

But, Poppy, really what this shows is that even though there are people who sometimes leave the White House under unfavorable terms, they still usually typically remain in the president's orbit, as Sadler is doing by joining this group. HARLOW: OK. Kaitlan, thanks for the reporting. Have a nice weekend.

A political consultant from Washington, accused of helping steer foreign money to the president's inaugural campaign and who letter helped in the Mueller probe, sentenced just now by a judge. We'll give you the latest, ahead.

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[10:56:58] HARLOW: All right. This just in to CNN. A judge has just sentenced Samuel Patten, the Washington political consultant who helped steer foreign money to President Trump's inaugural campaign in that investigation of that, sentence of probation without jail time this morning. Kara Scannell joins me now.

I think this is a name, Kara, that's not familiar to a lot of people. So explain to us who he is, what these allegations were and -- and this sentence.

KARA SCANNELL, CNN REPORTER: Yes, Poppy. So Sam Patten was a political consultant here in D.C. He was working for a Ukrainian oligarch. And he pleaded guilty last August for not registering as a foreign agent. But also as part of that plea, he admitted that he had used an American as a straw donor to steer this Ukrainian's money into the inauguration.

Now, Patten pleaded guilty. He immediately agreed to cooperate. And he has gotten only the second letter from the special counsel's office, saying that he had provided substantial cooperation. The only other person to get that was Michael Flynn, and he has not been sentenced yet.

So Sam Patten agreed to cooperate with the special counsel's office, met with them and other prosecutors at least nine times and was prepared to testify against Paul Manafort, because they operated in the same circles, in these Ukrainian circles.

And now that case was then eventually referred to the U.S. Attorney's Office in Washington, D.C. They've been leading this now. And so Patten gets the benefit of his cooperation. But all of that cooperation still remains under seal because it relates to several ongoing investigations. That's what prosecutors have said.

So we don't know the full nature and scope of his cooperation, but we do know it's something that prosecutors valued very much in order to write this letter.

Now, Patten did speak at his sentencing today, saying that "I behaved as though the law didn't apply to me. And that was wrong." He was sentenced by Judge Amy Berman Jackson. We're familiar with her from sentencing Paul Manafort.

She brought up Manafort today, in today's sentencing, you know, saying that Patten was distinct from him because Manafort, while also being sentenced before her for not registering as a lobbyist, had committed, she said, "a number of other crimes." And she also gave Patten credit for accepting responsibility,

something she said "doesn't happen every day in this courtroom," a slight nod to Paul Manafort who, during his sentencing, she had really questioned whether he was sincere about that.

So this is, you know, only the first person in the Mueller investigation, the whole orbit, to not face any jail time. And so Sam Patten gets to leave today with the obligation of being under probation, providing community service and paying fines -- Poppy.

HARLOW: Really interesting. OK. Thank you for the update, Kara. We appreciate the reporting.

Meantime, update on the case with Jussie Smollett. The city of Chicago is now suing him, the actor, after he refused to pay for the cost of investigating his reported hate crime. Of course, officials said that was all a hoax. The lawsuit calls on Smollett to reimburse the city $130,000.

[10:59:55] In January, he told police that two men attacked him, yelled racist and homophobic slurs at him during the assault. Police ultimately say that he staged the attack to help his career. He was charged with felony disorderly conduct, but all 16 of those charges were dropped last month with no explanation as to why.