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Michael Cohen’s Day of Reckoning; Flynn Argues Against Prison Time; Oval Office Showdown; May Told of Confidence Vote Last Night;

December 12, 2018

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<Date: December 12, 2018>

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<Head: Michael Cohen’s Day of Reckoning; Flynn Argues Against Prison

Time; Oval Office Showdown; May Told of Confidence Vote Last Night;

France Raises National Security Threat Level; Steph Curry Doubts

Humans Landed on the Moon. Aired 5-5:30a ET>

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CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: Former Trump attorney Michael Cohen set to be sentenced in just hours.

[05:00:03] How much jail time the president’s former right hand man could face?

DAVE BRIGGS, CNN ANCHOR: And what led former national security adviser Michael Flynn to lie the FBI? And why his legal team believes Flynn should not serve prison time?

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I am proud to shut down the government for border security, Chuck.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ROMANS: President Trump taking all the blame for a potential shutdown ahead of next week’s deadline. More from this heated Oval Office meeting with the Democratic leaders.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

THERESA MAY, BRITISH PRIME MINISTER: I will contest that vote with everything I’ve got.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BRIGGS: Breaking news on Brexit. Conservative members of parliament triggering a vote of no confidence in Theresa May. And May vowing to fight back. So, whose democracy do you want this morning?

We’ll go live to London where it is 10:00 a.m.

Good morning, everyone. Welcome to EARLY START. I’m Dave Briggs.

ROMANS: And I’m Christine Romans. It is Wednesday, December 12. It is 5:00 a.m. in the East.

BRIGGS: All right. We’re going show you this photo that we just showed on late night broadcasts of Mike Pence, what exactly happened here? Was it “Weekend at Bernie’s”? Was it Madame Tussauds rolled into a version of Mike Pence in this Oval Office spat? You compared it to watching grandparents argue --

ROMANS: Squabbling over maybe a bingo game.

But, look, you know, there were some really funny analogies on social media but a very serious situation.

BRIGGS: Yes.

ROMANS: You know? And you have Nancy Pelosi who’s trying to set the agenda about keeping the border -- keeping the government open, and the president who’s trying to see this is about border funding. This is a real clash.

BRIGGS: I think we all lost. I don’t know which party won, but American lost.

ROMANS: Well, the stock market went up 368 points. You could watch the stock market start to get rid of its gains.

So, all right, Michael Cohen today about to discover the price he must pay for his loyalty to Donald Trump. At 11:00 a.m. Eastern Time, the former lawyer and fixer will be sentenced in New York’s Southern District. He’s requesting no prison time in exchange for Cooperation after pleading guilty to campaign finance and business crimes and lying to Congress.

BRIGGS: But in a sentencing recommendation last week, Southern District prosecutors said Cohen’s description of the efforts is overstate in some respects and incomplete in others. For these reasons, the office respectfully requests that his court impose a substantial term of imprisonment.

Special counsel Robert Mueller’s team will appear in court today. They are expected to tell the judge Cohen has helped their investigation after meeting with them seven times. The president’s former lawyer is facing up to four years in prison.

ROMANS: All right. So, President Trump’s former national security adviser Michael Flynn is also asking a judge to spare him prison time because of his cooperation with the special counsel. In a memo last night, Flynn’s team described the meeting in January 2017 with FBI investigators.

Now, his lawyers in this memo say that Peter Strzok and one other FBI agent visited Flynn in the West Wing after he first made those false statements about his contacts with the Russians. Flynn did not have a lawyer with him. And according to his attorneys, he should have been warned he could be prosecuted for making false statements.

BRIGGS: They go on to claim the bureau decided the agents would not warn Flynn that it was a crime to lie during an FBI interview because they wanted him to be relaxed, and they were concerned that giving the warnings might adversely affect the report. Special counsel Mueller has told the court Flynn provided substantial assistance to the investigation and should be spared from going to prison. The judge overseeing his sentencing makes the final call on Tuesday.

ROMANS: All right. So, lawyers for former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort say they may not challenge claims that he violated his plea deal by lying to prosecutors. Last week, Robert Mueller’s team claimed Manafort lied about five major issues including his contact with administration officials.

In a court hearing Tuesday, a judge said the Mueller memo was too much of a summary and doesn’t provide sufficient information to make factual findings. A hearing on the disputes over the plea agreement scheduled for January 25th.

BRIGGS: President Trump claims he’s not concerned about being impeached. In an interview with “Reuters”, he defends the hush-money payments made to two women by Michael Cohen claiming they do not violate campaign finance laws. The president goes on to say it’s hard to impeach somebody who hasn’t done anything wrong and created the greatest economy in the history of our country. I’m not concerned, nope. I think that the people would revote if that happened.

The president was asked about all of his staffers who took meetings with Russians before and during the 2016 campaign and replied, the stuff you’re talking about is, quote, peanut stuff.

ROMANS: A government shutdown is looming just in time for Christmas. President Trump making the threat over funding for his border wall during an extraordinary televised clash with the top House and Senate Democrats.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. CHUCK SCHUMER (D-NY), MINORITY LEADER: One thing I think we can agree on is we shouldn’t shut down the government over a dispute.

[05:05:01] And you want to shut it down. You keep talking about it.

TRUMP: No, no. The last time, Chuck, you shut it down --

SCHUMER: No, no, no.

TRUMP: You know what I’ll say -- yes. If we don’t get what we want, one way or the other, through you, through military, through anything you want to call, I will shut down the government.

SCHUMER: OK. Fair enough. We disagree.

TRUMP: I am proud --

SCHUMER: We disagree.

TRUMP: I am proud to shut down the government for border security, Chuck, because the people of this country don’t want criminals and people that have lots of problems and drugs pouring into our country. So I will take the mantle.

I will be the one to shut it down. I’m not going to blame you for it. (END VIDEO CLIP)

ROMANS: If you watched Tuesday’s spectacle in the Oval Office, you got a preview of what to expect in 2019 when the Democrats take over the House. Listen to the president exchanging taunts and threats with Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: I also know that Nancy’s in a situation where it’s not easy for her to talk right now. And I understand that. And I fully understand that. We’re going to have a good discussion, and we’re going to see what happens.

REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA), MINORITY LEADER: Mr. President --

TRUMP: We have to have border security.

PELOSI: Mr. President, please don’t characterize the strength that I bring to this meeting as a leader of the House Democrats who just won a big victory.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BRIGGS: Schumer is urging the president to accept the Senate’s bipartisan agreement to spend $1.6 billion on border security. As he left the White House, the Senate minority leader told reporters if the president sticks to his position of a $5 billion wall, he will get no wall and he will get a shutdown.

More now from Jeff Zeleny.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Christine and David, the echoes from that meeting inside the Oval Office here on Tuesday still reverberating across Washington. It was the first time in more than a year that President Trump met with the Democratic leaders. But of course so much has changed in that time, particularly the fact that Democrats won the House of Representatives.

But it was an extraordinary exchange in the Oval Office. The president decided to bring the cameras in to try and if not put Democrats on the spot, to try and frame the debate. Well, they did not blink at all, at least in that session.

There is a sense that Washington is moving closer to a shutdown than people thought earlier in the week.

Now, of course, we have seen this movie before. Of course, it’s been averted before. But no question that the president doubling down on the border wall and saying that he would, in fact, own a shutdown.

Now, many Republicans aren’t nearly as confident in owning that like he is. So, again, there is a week to go in this debate. We got a sense here at the White House and, indeed, across town here of what divided government will look like in Washington.

We saw the president challenged for the first time on his facts and his substance and his ideas inside that Oval Office. Something he has rarely experienced from Republicans and certainly members of his staff. So, perhaps a window, an ugly one, perhaps, of a civic lesson that was short of civility -- Dave and Christine.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ROMANS: Jeff Zeleny, thanks. By the way, the Dow was up 300 points before that, before that public exchange, and then closed down.

After the tense public exchange with the president in the Oval Office, Nancy Pelosi met privately with House Democrats and mocked the president’s desire for border wall funding saying: It’s like a manhood thing for him, as if manhood could ever be associated with him.

Policy also revealing in their private session, the president returned to a familiar campaign promise that Mexico is going to pay for the wall and the House Democratic leaders suggested they gained the political upper hand with President Trump taking personal responsibility for a potential government shutdown.

BRIGGS: A federal judge in California ordering porn star Stormy Daniels to pay nearly $300,000 in legal fees to President Trump’s lawyers in connection with her failed defamation suit. They had asked for more than twice that amount. Nonetheless, Trump attorney Charles Harder calls it a total victory for the president. The defamation suit was separate from the original lawsuit concerning the nondisclosure agreement Daniels signed with former Trump attorney and fixer Michael Cohen.

The suit was brought after Trump accused Daniels of fabricating a story that a man threatened her in a parking lot if she didn’t leave the president alone.

ROMANS: All right. Things just got a lot worse for British Prime Minister Theresa May. Parliament triggering a no-confidence vote this morning. We’re going to go live to London, next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[05:13:20] ROMANS: Breaking news overnight, the Brexit process in the U.K. plunged into chaos. Conservative parliament members triggering a vote of no confidence in Theresa May. The British prime minister vowing she will not go down without a fight.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

THERESA MAY, UK PRIME MINISTER: The agenda I set out in my first speech outside this front door delivering the Brexit people voted for, building a country that works for everyone, I have devoted myself unsparingly to these tasks ever since I became prime minister, and I stand ready to finish the job.

(END VIDEO CLIP) ROMANS: Let’s go live to London and bring in CNN’s Nic Robertson.

A new complication in what has been a very painful and complicated divorce from the European Union.

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN INTERNATIONAL DIPLOMATIC EDITOR: And a very long process, as well, Christine, 2.5 years Theresa May has been prime minister. And that’s been the number-one job on her plate day in, day out. She’s been lambasted, criticized verbally, cut down in parliament for hours on end some days, criticizing her handling of the Brexit deal.

She’s said all along that she is delivering the best Brexit deal that she can get from the European Union for the people on the issues that they voted on, border control being one of those big issues. And the biggest stumbling block in all of this has been the new land border between the European Union and Britain, and that is along the border of Northern Ireland and Ireland and a so-called backstop arrangement had been entered into with the European Union.

And that’s what Theresa May has had the most pushback on. The fact that this is something that the British government can’t get out of unilaterally could last a long time. Potentially sort of separates in some ways Northern Ireland from the rest of Great Britain.

[05:15:04] That’s not palatable to many members of her party, and this is why the criticism has been so strong.

The vote on the motion of no confidence in her will take place this evening. It will be a secret ballot. All the conservative members of parliament will take part. All Theresa May needs to win is a simple majority, 158 votes. Of course, she needs a lot more than that if she wants to seem like she got a resounding victory.

ROMANS: All right. Nic Robertson in London for us -- thanks, Nic.

BRIGGS: France, meanwhile, has raised its national security threat level after a suspect opened fire near a Christmas market in the center of Strasbourg killing two people and injuring 14 others. The motive for the attack is still unclear at this hour.

CNN’s Melissa Bell live in Strasbourg where a manhunt is now underway.

Melissa, good morning.

MELISSA BELL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Dave.

Several hundred security men and women involved in that manhunt, a couple of helicopters as well. It doesn’t appear to be focused on this, the central part of Strasbourg, where that rampage took place last night, just after 8:00 p.m. local time. You can see the police are taking up the police cordons that have cordoned off the parts of the city. There were several of them where the victims fell.

The death toll which has been changing over the course of the morning from police, and now confirmed at three people known to have lost their lives. This is a gunman who attacked this Christmas market, one of Europe’s biggest, Dave, one of its oldest, as well, and one that had already been the subject of terror threats including a foiled attack in 2000. This Christmas market was the focus of the attack.

But as you say, we don’t know much about the man’s motives. We do know that he was known to authorities. We know that he spent time in prison, in particularly in Germany, before being deported to France in 2017. And according to French authorities, it was during his time in prison that he became radicalized, and that that radicalization became known to French authorities which is why he was on this watch list for those believed to pose a threat to the French state.

At this hour, the manhunt continues. It is unclear whether he is still in France or may have crossed the border into Germany nearby.

BRIGGS: OK. Melissa Bell, three dead there in Strasbourg. Thank you.

ROMANS: All right. President Trump says he’s open to using the arrest of Huawei’s CFO Meng Wanzhou as a bargaining chip in trade negotiations with China. When asked by “Reuters” if he would intervene he said, quote, whatever’s good for the country I will do.

Quote, if I think it’s good for what will be certainly the largest trade deal ever made, which is a very important thing, what’s good for national security, I would certainly intervene if I thought it was necessary.

A judge granted Meng bail Tuesday after three days of court hearings in Vancouver. The U.S. government alleges mention Meng helped Huawei dodged sanctions on Iran. In a statement following her release, Huawei said it has every confidence that the Canadian and U.S. legal systems will reach a judge conclusion in the case and reiterated it follows the laws and regulation where it operates.

The extradition process could take months. Meng is due back in court February 6th. And there have been signs that China is moving to kind of ease some of these trade tensions, suggestion that it would back off on some auto tariffs that were 15 percent, jacked up to 25 percent, then to 40 percent, and now back down to the original level again.

So, some sign that they might be moving there --

BRIGGS: They don’t want to buy U.S. cars, that’s not as consequential a number.

ROMANS: I’ve heard this from U.S. auto dealers.

BRIGGS: Yes.

ROMANS: It’s a very different kind of market.

BRIGGS: Ahead, Steph Curry could probably hit threes from the moon, but he doesn’t believe man ever landed there. What does NASA think of all this? Andy Scholes has more in the “Bleacher Report”.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[05:23:13] BRIGGS: The city of Oakland is suing the Raiders and the NFL over the team’s move to Las Vegas. And right now, the Raiders have no home for next season.

Andy Scholes here with the details in the “Bleacher Report.” Hey, buddy.

ANDY SCHOLES, CNN SPORTS CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Dave.

The city of Oakland isn’t suing in federal court to try to get the Raiders to stay. It just wants damages for what the team leaving is going to do to the community. In a news release, Oakland’s city attorney referred to the NFL as a cartel and said it violated antitrust laws in moving the Raiders to Las Vegas.

Now, the city is looking to recoup lost revenue, money that Oakland taxpayers invested in the Raiders, and other costs in this suit. Raiders’ owner Mark Davis told ESPN the lawsuit is meritless and malicious. Oakland’s mayor, though, says the NFL needs to pay for what they’re doing.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

LIBBY SCHAAF, OAKLAND MAYOR: The NFL shakedown has got to stop. The city of Oakland and particularly the Raider nation are filing a much- deserved lawsuit to demonstrate that the NFL has not only violated antitrust laws but also its contracts, its promises, its covenants with its fans and the good cities that create the brand that the Raiders are today.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SCHOLES: Davis has said he wants to play in Oakland one more season. The team and the city have not agreed on the lease. If the Raiders don’t stay in Oakland, San Diego, Santa Clara, Reno, and Las Vegas are potentials for the 2019 season.

All right. Check out this incredible goal that didn’t count in last night’s Blues-Panthers game. Robert Bartuzzo was dumping the puck into the zone, but it goes off the ref, then off the goalie, right into the net.

[05:25:00] The goal was waived, that doesn’t count.

That probably hurt. The ref was down for a while, left the ice briefly before returning. Bartuzzo apologized and he said he’s going to try and buy the ref dinner sometime.

All right. Finally, earlier this week, Steph Curry said in a podcast he doesn’t think we ever landed on the moon. Yesterday, NASA invited Curry to come tour Johnson Space Center in Houston to view all the evidence that we have in fact landed on the moon, and Curry actually re-tweeted the CNN tweet of that story.

The Rockets’ general manager Daryl Morey also having fun with this, Dave. He tweeted this meme saying, today, we salute the 400,000 involved in faking six moon landings for keeping their mouth shut for 49 years.

You know, I grew up in Houston, I’ve been to Johnson Space Center many times. I can vouch that there is plenty of evidence, Dave, that we have, in fact, landed on the moon. Yes.

BRIGGS: We could verify.

SCHOLES: Yes.

BRIGGS: And we can tell Kyrie Irving that the earth, indeed, is not flat. Those two should team up.

SCHOLES: Take a tandem trip to Johnson Space Center and they can find out about both of these things.

BRIGGS: That would be a good reality show. Andy Scholes, good stuff. Thank you. Romans, over to you.

ROMANS: All right. Thanks, guys.

In a few hours, former Trump Attorney Michael Cohen will learn his fate in a New York City courtroom.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: I will take the mantle, I will be the one to shut it down.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ROMANS: Plus, a government shutdown after this incredible meeting between the president and Democratic leaders.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(Byline: Dave Briggs, Christine Romans, Jeff Zeleny, Nic Robertson, Melissa Bell, Andy Scholes)

(High: Former Trump attorney Michael Cohen set to be sentenced in just hours. What the president’s former right-hand man faces today? Former national security adviser Michael Flynn’s attorneys revealing new details on what led Flynn to lie to FBI agents. Why they believe he shouldn’t spend a day in prison? A government shutdown is looming just in time for Christmas; President Trump making the threat over funding for his border wall during an extraordinary televised clash with the top House and Senate Democrats. Conservative members of parliament triggering a vote of no confidence in British Prime Minister Theresa May, and now, she’s vowing to fight back. France has raised its national security threat level after a suspect opened fire near a Christmas market in the center of Strasbourg, killing three people, injuring 12 others. Steph Curry could probably hit threes from the moon, but he doesn’t believe man ever landed there. What does NASA think of all this?)

(Spec: Michael Cohen; Crime; Trials; Michael Flynn; Justice; Prisons; Donald Trump; Congress; Government; Politics; Theresa May; Brexit; Great Britain; Europe; World Affairs; France; Safety; Violence; Steph Curry; Sports)

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