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Justice Department Drops Criminal Probe Of Andrew McCabe; Michael Flynn Case May Now Get A Fresh Look; A Verdict Has Been Reached In The Trial Of Michael Avenatti. Aired 2-2:30p ET

Aired February 14, 2020 - 14:00   ET


BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN HOST: You are watching CNN on this Friday afternoon. I'm Brooke Baldwin. Thank you for being here.

Case closed. That is the message from the Department of Justice to former F.B.I. Deputy Director Andrew McCabe. He had been under criminal investigation for allegedly misleading internal investigators at the Justice Department.

McCabe was fired from the F.B.I. just before his retirement nearly two years ago, after the Department's Inspector General found that he, "lacked candor," when discussing a leak to "The Wall Street" Journal regarding a Clinton Foundation probe.

Now during that time, McCabe became a favorite target of President Trump, and you can see here who tweeted about the former official dozens of times, and at one point accused McCabe without evidence of treason.

And moments ago, Andy McCabe, who is a current contributor here at CNN said this to my colleague, Brianna Keilar.


ANDREW MCCABE, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: As glad as I am that the Justice Department and the D.C. U.S. Attorney's Office finally decided to do the right thing today, it is an absolute disgrace that they took two years and put my family through this experience for two years before they finally drew the obvious conclusion and one they could have drawn a long, long time ago.


BALDWIN: CNN crime and justice reporter Shimon Prokupecz is in Washington and Shimon, were there any hints this was coming?

SHIMON PROKUPECZ, CNN CRIME AND JUSTICE REPORTER: No, there were absolutely no hints, Brooke. In fact, Andrew McCabe and his attorney had been asking for months, when this case was kind of lingering on. There was no notice, no word on what was happening.

There was -- at one point, there was speculation, actually, and a strong feeling that Andrew McCabe was going to be charged, that he was going to be indicted and his attorneys started asking the D.C. U.S. Attorney at the time, that office they were asking them, what's going on with this case? Where is this case? Have you decided not to pursue? Is there an indictment?

And it was complete silence for months. The U.S. Attorney's Office would not respond to their messages or not respond to e-mails, to their inquiries about what the status of the case was, and then all of a sudden, today they get this notice, a letter from the U.S. Attorney's Office and then also a phone call saying that they're not going to pursue any charges.

Specifically, the U.S. Attorney's office here in D.C. told them that based on the totality of the circumstances, and all of the information known to the government that they consider, as you said, this matter closed.

That's it. It's over for Andrew McCabe. But the big question is going to be, what changed in the last few months since the attorneys -- since Andrew McCabe's attorneys have been asking about what is going on with his case? All of a sudden, today, they dropped notice we're dropping the entire investigation.

Andrew McCabe, at this point has been cleared in this investigation.

BALDWIN: It's not the only news dropping this afternoon. Shimon, thank you. Shortly after we learned that the Andy McCabe investigation was over, it seems a case involving the President's former National Security adviser, Michael Flynn, may now be getting a fresh look.

Officials tell CNN that request is coming directly from Attorney General Bill Barr. So for that, let's go to CNN's senior justice correspondent, Evan Perez.

And so, Evan, we know Flynn, you know, has been waiting for sentencing after pleading guilty to charges that he lied to the F.B.I. about that conversation with the then, Ambassador to Russia.

And so my question to you is, they're just taking a look at this case all over again?

EVAN PEREZ, CNN SENIOR JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Right. It looks like a coincidence, right?

Look, I think one of the things that we have to keep in mind is that there has been this campaign by Michael Flynn, by certainly some of his supporters on the right and you know, people close to the President to argue that he was maliciously prosecuted, that he never actually lied to the F.B.I. even though he pleaded guilty.

He told the judge that he did lie to the F.B.I. in that investigation, and in the recent months, he's changed lawyers and has now sort of mounted a campaign to take that back.

And so that's what the atmospherics, Brooke, that sort of overhangs all of this. And so the question is, is this a result of the Attorney General simply buying into this theory or is this a genuine look at this investigation simply because they're going to have to fight in court to defend it. Now, it's not entirely clear what is happening here. I think one of

the things that's happening is that they brought in a U.S. attorney from St. Louis. His name is Jeffrey Jensen, who is going to be leading this review of this and some other sensitive cases.

So it goes beyond the Michael Flynn case, by the way. And Brooke, you know, obviously, the fact that this happened this week, we're learning about it this week, rather at a time when the President we know is weighing heavily on a lot of these cases of the Justice Department. He is very clear what he wants.

You know, that's one of the things that causes some of these decisions made by the Attorney General to be questioned in that way.

BALDWIN: Evan, thank you for that. Let's have a legal discussion. I have with me Gloria Borger. She is CNN's chief political analyst. And with us, David Laufman. He is a former Justice Department official, and a former U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia. So welcome to both of you.

And Gloria, just beginning with you, you know the news that Barr wants this one case re-examined, it comes right after Bill Barr said this to ABC News.


QUESTION: So you're saying you have a problem with tweets?

WILLIAM BARR, U.S. ATTORNEY GENERAL: Yes. Well, I have -- I have a problem with some -- some of the tweets.

I am not going to be bullied or influenced by anybody, and I said at the time, whether it's Congress, newspaper, editorial boards are the President. I'm going to do what I think is right.

And you know, the -- I think the -- I cannot do my job here at the Department with a constant background commentary that undercuts me.


BALDWIN: So Bill Barr goes on ABC and it shouldn't be lost on us, he picks ABC, not Fox, right? So there's that then you have this Flynn move, along with the interference of Roger Stone, seemed to be exactly what Trump wants. What is going on here, Gloria?

GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, what's going on is we're seeing piece by piece, Bill Barr and the President trying to undo a lot of Bob Mueller's work and what Bob Mueller was doing because of course, Mueller is the big enemy of Donald Trump.

And what we saw yesterday was an Attorney General effectively saying, giving advance notice to the White House, White House, Donald Trump, stop tweeting and shut up so I can do what I need to do, which is what you want me to do anyway.

So I think what we see is an Attorney General asserting his independence even though he knows and Trump knows wink-wink that they're in sync with each other on most things.

Now today, the charges against or any -- the Department declined to charge Andrew McCabe of the F.B.I. with anything so that might upset the President. But in the case of Flynn and Stone, you have effectively Barr doing the President's bidding.

BALDWIN: David, I know you're fired up about this. What are you thinking?

DAVID LAUFMAN FORMER U.S. ATTORNEY FOR THE EASTERN DISTRICT OF VIRGINIA: Well look with respect to the declination of Mr. McCabe with whom I had the privilege of working, the Department applies law and policy to facts on the merits, and if he deserved the declination, that's exactly what they should have done.

BORGER: That's right.

LAUFMAN: The Department of Justice doesn't get a merit badge for doing the right thing.

With respect to the Flynn matter, you know, it's Valentine's Day, I suppose and nothing says I love you from the Attorney General to the President of the United States than commissioning investigations of investigations carried out by career prosecutors to satiate the President's political grievances.

This is absolutely something that should shock the conscience of every American regardless of political persuasion, who cares about the independence and integrity of the Department of Justice.

BALDWIN: I want to stay with because one day, it is Roger Stone, right? Today, it's Michael Flynn. It would appear, to Gloria's point that they are slowly undoing the Mueller investigation, but play this forward with me.

What would your biggest fear be if this is how the top law enforcement officer in the country is running the D.O.J.?

LAUFMAN: I mean, it appears as though the Department of Justice is now being run by people who are enthrall to gratifying the White House.

It is unheard of to be conducting not just one, but multiple investigations of prior investigations without any substantive basis.

Keep in mind that in the Flynn case, there is a pending criminal case before a District Court Judge. And here, the Department has just commissioned new investigations of the people carrying out a pending criminal investigation.

It's unprecedented. It's deeply disturbing, and it requires the attention of both of the Inspector General of the Department of Justice and Congress.

BALDWIN: We also know David, and then Gloria, I want to come to you on the White House response to Barr's comments. But David, you know, as we mentioned, so Barr goes on TV, talks to ABC

News, and we know that he was potentially facing exits from other D.O.J. officials. So he goes in front of the camera, you know, talks about Trump's tweets.

What kind of messages is he sending those -- to the folks of the D.O.J. right now, who may have already been thinking, see you?

LAUFMAN: Yes, well, look, whatever chilling effect the reversal of the government sentencing position in Stone had, imagine that reaction on steroids now, at least in the U.S. Attorney's Office for D.C. and I'm sure it's spreading throughout the Department of Justice now.

Who would want to undertake a politically sensitive investigation within the Department or at the F.B.I. that could bump up against the President's personal interests or grievance? They can now see what lies before them if they get involved in those kinds of sensitive matters. It's horrifying.

BALDWIN: And Gloria --

BORGER: Wasn't that the whole point? I think that's the whole point of it. Nobody would want to take these cases. The President doesn't want them to be taken anyway. He doesn't want them to be prosecuted anyway and after impeachment, he is not afraid of anyone.

BALDWIN: And therefore that's a win. That would be a win for the President. And then you have the White House in there, the muted response to Bill Barr's comments. They included the phrase, "The President wasn't bothered by the comments at all."

I mean, Bill Barr may be the only current or former Trump staffer, right, to make such a public response to the President and not get torn to shreds ...

BORGER: Right.

BALDWIN: ... in return. Why do you think that is?

BORGER: Well, I think it's because the White House had a heads up generally, are reporting it. The White House generally knew what Barr was going to say. They may not have known that he would have said the President is making it impossible to do my job.

But Barr may have told them, look, I'm facing a mutiny over here, and I've got to get it under control at the Justice Department.

The question is, if Barr believes the President is making it impossible to do his job, and the President continues to tweet, as he tweeted today, what will Barr do the next time and I predict there will be a next time, I'm going to go out on a limb -- let me say, what will the Attorney General do the next time the President tweets?

BALDWIN: Well, that's the question of Andy McCabe. I mean, we've seen all the tweets on any McCabe, how he's had a target on his back from the President. BORGER: Right.

BALDWIN: What if, despite what Bill Barr said --

BORGER: Exactly.

BALDWIN: President Trump tweets on Andy McCabe, like, how dangerous is that?

BORGER: A test. A test. Let us see if the Attorney General then says publicly what he said yesterday and says, as I said, the President needs to stop tweeting and making my job impossible or does he in fact decide, it becomes too impossible, and that he has to leave.

I don't know -- you know, I just don't know the answer to it. It's very difficult to figure out because he's facing an exodus over there.

BALDWIN: David, close this out. Like how dangerous would that be just for people who are watching who aren't in, you know, in the know, internal machinations of justice, like help everyone understand how this is a massively huge deal.

LAUFMAN: Like I mean, I'm on the defense side of the bar, but I care deeply about the institution of the Department of Justice, where I spent a long time.

I used the term the other day, this is a break glass in case of fire moment for the Department of Justice. I think the fire is consuming the building now and the question is, which responsible parties -- whether it's the Inspector General of the Department of Justice, or Congress is going to respond to a situation that is engulfing a Department.

BORGER: But the question is, what can Congress do and this is -- you know, we're living in a post impeachment world. The Democrats can hold hearings. The Democrats can have Barr up to the Hill, which they are on March 31st.

But in the end, what can the Democrats do? They've already -- you know, they've already impeached the President in the House, and they have vindicated him in the Senate, they found him not guilty.

So the President is to me, unbound and newly emboldened on all of this and there just seems to be not much any one can do about it.

BALDWIN: As a former spokesperson of the D.O.J. under Clinton, Michael Gordon, who is sitting next to me at the top of the show yesterday said Brooke, you know, he was like, as a Democrat, I'm talking to all the Democrats, especially those running for office, you've got to stop talking about this pivot to policy and take the White House back. That's it.


BALDWIN: We're going to leave it, David and Gloria, thank you both so much. LAUFMAN: Thank you, Brooke.

BALDWIN: We have some breaking news now. A verdict has been reached in the trial of former Stormy Daniels' attorney, Michael Avenatti. That is next.



ANNOUNCER: This is CNN Breaking News.

BALDWIN: We are getting some breaking news now on the Michael Avenatti trial, the Stormy Daniels' former attorney has now been found guilty on all counts.

Let's start with Polo Sandoval here with me in New York.

So remind us of the case.

POLO SANDOVAL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Just after 13 hours of deliberations here, Brooke, and the jury in the Southern Manhattan courtroom coming back with a verdict, our editorial presence there in the in the courtroom saying that Avenatti, basically made the sign son of the cross and then that verdict was read aloud that he is guilty on all three counts in this extortion case.

Remember, the background of this case has really been focused on betrayal and on extortion. According to the Federal prosecutors, Avenatti was, we now know guilty of threat really.

The government said that Avenatti had betrayed his client, which was a youth basketball coach who made the allegations by advocating for money for himself instead of the client.

So after this lengthy trial, and really after three days of deliberations we now have that guilty verdict.


SANDOVAL: Now, the big question, what will happen next, of course, he still does have those ongoing charges in Federal Court in California; in fact, he had been placed back into custody in December after he, according to a judge, violated the terms of his release.

And so he had been in custody, flown across the country here to New York for the proceedings here in New York that are now ending with guilty verdicts on all three of the counts listed in the indictment against Michael Avenatti.

BALDWIN: Polo, thank you. Elie Honig is on the phone with me now. He is a former Federal prosecutor, CNN legal analyst, and you heard the color from Polo about how he made the sign of the cross before the verdict was read.

Elie, tell me your read on this. ELIE HONIG, CNN LEGAL ANALYST (via phone): So this is obviously really

bad news for Michael Avenatti.

On this conviction alone, I'm just sort of roughing it out, he is looking at something in the range of at least three to five years in prison.

But the thing is, this was the better case for Avenatti to beat. He had a better defense on this case, the extortion of Nike than he does on the remaining case out in California which alleges that he stole hundreds of thousands of dollars from his own client.

So he's only at half time here and he is already looking at several years behind bars.

BALDWIN: That's right, as Polo mentioned, still faces those charges in Federal court in California and that could be an even bigger uphill for him to climb. Elie, thank you so much for the hustle and jumping on the phone.

And again, Polo, thank you for that. Again, guilty on all counts for Michael Avenatti today in New York.

2020 now, the candidates hitting the trail ahead of the next big contest in Nevada and South Carolina. We will take you live to Nevada where 36 delegates are up for grabs.

Plus, the former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg and his many billions of dollars looms large over this Democratic field and my next guest says he is hacking everyone's attention. And you know what? It's having a big impact.

And President Trump is now considering keeping everyone off of his phone calls with foreign leaders. Is that even legal? You're watching CNN. I'm Brooke Baldwin.



BALDWIN: Eight days until Democrats' next contest in Nevada where Joe Biden and Amy Klobuchar are courting voters today, while some of their rivals are hitting California and the Carolinas.

Thirty six delegates -- easy for me to say -- up for grabs in Nevada next Saturday, and then the following Saturday, attention turns to South Carolina and it's 54 delegates.

CNN national political reporter, Maeve Reston is in Las Vegas and Maeve, I know you have been zigging and zagging, canvassing, you know, with a lot of these getting more LatinX, you know districts. What are you hearing from voters?

MAEVE RESTON, CNN NATIONAL POLITICAL REPORTER: Well, it's just such a fascinating reality check to come to Nevada after Iowa and New Hampshire, Brooke, because the candidates have not been parked here and I have been out in some Latino precincts and what was really striking to me yesterday, the first six people that I talked to didn't even know that the caucuses are coming up in a week.

So that just shows you what a huge job the campaigns have here over the next week in trying to get those voters out, get them engaged, and get them even sort of tuned into which candidate they would want to caucus for here in Nevada, which is very different than the previous primary states.

One in five voters who is eligible to vote is they're Latino. And so some of these campaigns like Bernie Sanders and Tom Steyer have really been making big efforts to register those voters and get them out there, so it'll be the first big test of that strength for those campaigns.

BALDWIN: Also, I wanted to ask you just about the news today from this non-endorsement from the culinary union.


BALDWIN: This is the largest labor union, political organizing force, and so the culinary union says that they will not endorse a candidate ahead of next week's Democratic caucuses and it comes after it criticized Senator Bernie Sanders over his health care plan.

You tell me, how big of a deal is this non-endorsement and will it impact the race?

RESTON: It's a big deal. It's a big deal. If the culinary union, they had been rumored because Joe Biden has such close ties within that union. They had been rumored -- it was rumored that they were going to endorse Joe Biden.

They decided to do this non-endorsement after we saw his collapse in Iowa and New Hampshire. That would have given him huge organizing muscle here if he had had their energy behind him.

So it does potentially help Bernie Sanders that he doesn't have someone working against him. But a lot of those workers have excellent healthcare. They have pushed for those benefits, they've negotiated for them.

And so those workers are really having an issue with Bernie's Medicare-for-All position. So it's going to be interesting to see how that plays out, Brooke, but talking to younger Latino voters in this state who are not part of unions, the first name you hear all the time is Bernie Sanders.

They're engaged on social media. They've watched the live streaming of his events, and so if he can get those younger voters out, then that really could make a difference, but it's going to be a big fight.

We're going to see the candidates all at the casinos next week talking to these workers and really hustling because it's kind of another wild card in this state.

BALDWIN: Yes, I mean, maybe you're talking now as you said, you know, to people who have no idea this is coming up and they're about to.

RESTON: Right.

BALDWIN: Maeve Reston, thank you. Thank you in Nevada.

You know, one candidate who is sitting out Nevada and South Carolina is billionaire, Michael Bloomberg.

He has been in the headlines, you know, plenty this week, including for what my next guest describes as the "shameless amount of his own money" that he is putting into TV and social media ads.

In fact, in Texas alone -- listen to this -- Bloomberg has spent more than $32 million. That is rivalled only by California where he dropped a whopping $39 million.