Return to Transcripts main page
Trump's Anti-Muslim Retweets Spark Outrage in U.K.; Jared Kushner Interviewed by Special Counsel Team; Jeff Sessions Appears Before House Intelligence Committee; Senators to Resume Debate on GOP Tax Bill; Fifth Woman Accuses Franken Of Inappropriate Touching; Now. Aired 9-9:30a ET
Aired November 30, 2017 - 09:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
[09:00:10] ANNOUNCER: This is CNN Breaking News.
JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: The breaking news, bigotry batters the special relationship.
Good morning, everyone. John Berman here.
Moments ago we heard from British Prime Minister Theresa May speaking out against President Trump. This after other political leaders of Britain have called to keep the president out of their country and at least in one case thrown in jail.
This has to do with three anti-Muslim videos that the president sent to 43 million people on social media. These were videos first published by the deputy leader of an extremist group in Britain.
The British prime minister promptly said that was wrong of the president to which he responded, "Theresa May, don't focus on me, focus on the destructive radical Islamic terrorism that is taking place within the United Kingdom. We are doing just fine."
Today London's mayor and some members of parliament are calling on the government to cancel the president's still unscheduled state visit and at least one lawmaker is going further than that.
CNN's Nic Robertson outside Number 10 Downing Street.
Nic, first off, new comments from the British prime minister.
NIC ROBERTSON, CNN INTERNATIONAL DIPLOMATIC EDITOR: Yes. The sense here in Britain of course, that is President Trump has made this very personal after yesterday appearing to promote a British right-wing fascist, racist organization that overnight he's made this very personal.
We've been waiting for the prime minister to respond. She's been traveling in the Middle East and she is sort of putting the best face on this, because, of course, she has aligned herself very closely with President Trump, being the first world leader to go and see him after his inauguration in Washington. That she was there very quickly within days, she's taken political heat for that back home in the past. She's describing now this special relationship is something that is going to endure this current situation.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
THERESA MAY, BRITISH PRIME MINISTER: Look, I made my position clear on the tweets that I have seen from President Trump, but let me be clear about the relationship between the United Kingdom and the United States. This is a long-term, special relationship that we have. It's an enduring relationship that is there because it is in both our national interests for that relationship to be there.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
ROBERTSON: And there's a sense here as well that this isn't just an enduring relationship, that it's going to be something of an endurance test while President Trump is in the White House. That's sort of the sentiment that we've heard today from British PMs.
We've heard also from the London mayor Sadiq Khan who's described President Trump's tweets in that British -- Britain First organization as President Trump promoting the values, the vile values of that extremist organization. He's gone on as well to tweet on the subject, and I will read you that because it's very illuminating, of course, Sadiq Khan has had Twitter spats with President Trump, criticizing him during a terror attack in London last summer.
Sadiq Khan now says, "I've made my position clear on the tweets I have seen from Donald Trump, but let me be clear on the relationship between us in the UK, that it is a long-term special relationship." This is what Theresa May has been saying. Sadiq Khan has said, "President Khan has used Twitter to promote a vile, extremist group that exist solely to sow division and hatred in our country. It is increasingly clear that any official visit from President Trump to Britain would not be welcomed."
We've heard that from other MPs on the floor of the House of Commons today. We've heard that in heated exchanges. We've heard as well that some MPs are saying if President Trump comes then he should be arrested. Of course, earlier this year, 1.8 million people in Britain signed a petition pretty soon after Theresa May came back from that meeting with President Trump in January, signed a petition saying that President's Trump -- welcome President Trump's invitation for a state visit should be rescinded.
That was earlier this year. All this on top of it -- John.
BERMAN: All right. Nic Robertson for us outside Number 10 Downing Street. Much more on this developing story coming up.
Meanwhile, overnight, major players talking in the Russia investigation. Does this mean a major deal is in the works? CNN was the first to report that the president's son-in-law, Jared Kushner, has been speaking to the special counsel. There are signs that fired National Security adviser Michael Flynn might be cooperating with the special counsel. And that's not all. Just moments ago the attorney general of the
United States sat down before the House Intelligence Committee, you can see him arriving just a few minutes ago on Capitol Hill. Jeff Sessions has had to correct, amended, enhanced past testimony over his knowledge and participation in meetings that dealt with Russian interests. We will follow what comes out of today's hearings and let you know if it runs in line with what he has said before because that has been a problem.
First, though, let's go to CNN's Evan Perez. He's part of the team that broke the Kushner story. He has the new details for us -- Evan.
EVAN PEREZ, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Well, John, yes, this was one of the most anticipated interviews in the Russia investigation.
[09:05:03] And sources tell us that in early November Jared Kushner sat down for an interview with investigators from Special Counsel Robert Mueller's office.
Now we're told by one source that the questions Kushner's answered were largely focused on whether -- on former National Security adviser, Michael Flynn, who is under investigation by the special counsel. Other witnesses of course have also been asked about Kushner's role in the firing of the former FBI director James Comey.
Abbe Lowe, Kushner's attorney told us, quote, "Mr. Kushner has voluntarily cooperated with all relevant inquiries and will continue to do so."
The Kushner interview, we're told, John, lasted about 90 minutes, according to one person who was familiar with the meeting. Investigators appeared to be trying to see if Kushner had any information that exonerates Michael Flynn. Kushner of course worked very closely with Flynn during the transition and in the early days of the administration -- John.
BERMAN: All right. Very interesting. Evan Perez, we'll talk much more about what this, what this means in just a moment. Thanks, Evan.
So that's Jared Kushner and Michael Flynn. Let's talk now about Jeff Sessions. Manu Raju on Capitol Hill where the attorney general is now facing the House Intelligence Committee.
Manu, what's the latest?
MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Jeff Sessions has just arrived moments ago for this closed-door classified hearing before the House Intelligence Committee. He's declined to answer any questions going in. I tried to ask him if he was going to vote for Roy Moore in that Senate special election to actually fill his seat in Alabama. He said hello and continued to walk. Now surprisingly didn't answer that question.
But at this hearing, he's going to face some sharp questions on both sides of the aisle. Republicans are not happy with the Justice Department's refusal to comply with several subpoenas that were issued earlier this year, including they're looking into any sort of FBI relationship that may have existed with that British agent, Christopher Steele, who put together that now infamous dossier including Trump-Russia connections.
Yesterday -- last night President Trump himself tweeted that perhaps the House should hold the Justice Department in contempt over this matter. Expect that to be a line of questioning. But also of course Democrats are going to continue to press Sessions over his contacts with Russians during the campaign season. Some of those he did not disclose initially and other -- before other congressional committees.
And of course, John, he has said repeatedly when asked about those contacts that he did not recall some of those meetings, some of those were innocuous, like his interaction with Carter Page, that former Trump adviser. Expect a lot of those same answers today but doesn't mean Democrats won't try to press him for more detail about those interaction as well -- John.
BERMAN: And quickly, Manu, there is more testimony later today, Erik Prince, you know, sort of one-time mercenary, will testify. What's that about?
RAJU: Yes, he's a former -- he's a Blackwater founder and he's also somebody who's been close to the Trump administration, Trump himself. He went to the (INAUDIBLE) back in January 2017, in what was believed to be an effort to create a backdoor channel discussion between Russia and the incoming Trump administration.
Now he has said publicly that this effort to create a backchannel, that was just not the case. He said he was not sent by the Trump administration to do that. But this will be the first time he's actually testified under oath about that meeting and expect a lot of questions about that, and as well as any major players within Trump's universe, like Jared Kushner, had any knowledge this the meeting and whether they put him up to it.
There are going to be a lot more details because people have a lot of questions about that particular meeting from earlier this year -- John.
BERMAN: All right, Manu Raju, in Washington, assessing Sessions' testimony on Capitol Hill. Keep us posted, Manu.
Joining me now, CNN national security and legal analyst, former attorney for the NSA, Susan Hennessey.
And Susan, I want to talk about the Jared Kushner developments because that seems like a big deal and we just learned them overnight. Jared Kushner has been speaking with the special counsel. I've heard analysts say this might be good for Jared Kushner, bad for Michael Flynn. The theory there is Jared Kushner is there as a witness, not a target.
First off explain that reasoning and tell me if you think it holds water. SUSAN HENNESSEY, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY AND LEGAL ANALYST: Right. So
sort of the story from sources that appears to be connected to Kushner thus far really have been that this is about whether or not Kushner has information sort of relevant to the Flynn investigation, anything that might exonerate Michael Flynn. So that's sort of an indication that maybe Special Counsel Mueller is not focused on Kushner himself.
Now that's a little bit at tension with what some other individuals who's been interviewed by the special counsel have reported, which is that at the same time that he was holding these meeting with Kushner, Mueller's team was also asking associates of Kushner's a lot of really detailed questions about Kushner's relationship with Flynn and his role in the -- in the firing of James Comey. That obstruction of justice investigation is of course related to Michael Flynn.
So sort of it's unclear what's going on. There's certainly a way to tell a good news story about what's going on with Kushner. He's clearly voluntarily cooperating. That's a sign that he's not overly nervous at this point but there's also a more troubling story as well.
[09:10:08] BERMAN: I want to get to Michael Flynn in a moment but let's stick with Kushner here.
Would his lawyers try to set conditions for this sit-down and say look, we'll sit down with you, we'll cooperate with you on this as long as the questions are only about Michael Flynn?
HENNESSEY: Right. So certainly his lawyers are going to be trying to control these interactions and set the parameters. You know, one of the challenges that we've seen the Trump campaign -- the Trump team sort of run into again and again is there are two different investigations going on here. There's a number of investigations coming out of Congress and then there is the special counsel investigation.
And so what we're seeing as different information about what those two parallel investigations are learning come out into the public, those different groups that aren't necessarily communicating with each other are trying to make their stories match. So that puts the individuals who are sort of the subject or focus of this investigation in a very, very difficult position, you know, really raises the importance of kind of keeping their story straight as they talk to lots and lots of different people, and oftentimes under oath.
BERMAN: All right. This seems to be the season of Michael Flynn now. We know that his lawyers cut off cooperation with the president's team. We learned that a grand jury postponed testimony that had to do with Michael Flynn and now we learned that Jared Kushner is testifying about Michael Flynn.
What does this tell you about where the special counsel is and what the special counsel might want or might accept from Michael Flynn?
HENNESSEY: Right. So again, we don't know for sure that Michael Flynn is actually cooperating, although sort of all signs are starting to point to that, right, that he's either attempting to have a cooperation agreement or attempting to work something out with Special Counsel Mueller. That certainly raises the stakes for the other individuals in Trump world.
You know, notably what we're seeing right now is not dissimilar from what we saw sort of in the weeks leading up to Paul Manafort's indictment. Right? So lots of sort of focus and scrutiny, you know, potentially cooperation and then the indictment came.
One thing we heard with Paul Manafort is that he had been informed that he was going to be indicted sort of ahead of time. We haven't heard anything like that from the Flynn camp yet, so sort of all signs pouring out point to this idea that, you know, maybe he's still seeking a deal, you know, maybe he's already gotten one.
BERMAN: And we just don't know what that deal would be for, what he would give in return. That is the big unknown now.
Susan Hennessey, always great to have you. Thanks so much.
BERMAN: All right. So behind door number three this morning, a debate that will affect every American. The Senate and the final countdown over the tax bill that will cut taxes for corporations, cut taxes for many Americans particularly the wealthy but raise taxes for some as well.
Suzanne Malveaux on Capitol Hill tracking the very latest developments there -- Suzanne.
SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, John.
The debate clock begins ticking again at 10:30, and that is when they resume -- started in earnest on the Senate side of course late yesterday. They got 20 hours. Well, 16 1/2 hours left to go after that debate process because that's when it goes to the full floor for a vote.
Now Republicans need 52 yes votes on the Senate side. There are six Republicans who still have concerns over this tax plan. What are they? What are the obstacles here?
Let's take a look at the fiscal trigger. That is the idea that Republicans are promising huge economic growth going to pay for this $1.5 trillion big tax plan. If it doesn't happen then, what happens next? This automatic trigger kicks in, snaps back those cut tax rates, puts them back to where they were before so it kind of puts a hold on the whole thing.
Is that going to happen? That's something that Senators Bob Corker and Jeff Flake are looking at and promoting.
Secondly, the pass-through rate. This is the idea that business entities, partnerships that file on the individual side, what are the pass-through rates here? Initially it was 17.4 percent. It's been up now increased to 20 percent. There are still some senators who say look, let's raise that even higher, that tax credit to 27 percent for some of those smaller business entities. The other issue, the child tax credit. This has doubled since this
process began, it was $1,000, now it's $2,000. Senator Marco Rubio wants it fully refundable, will that happen? That will cost money. And then finally, you're going to take a look at many other amendments as well as promises of additional legislation to deal with things like repealing the Obamacare individual mandate.
All of these things, John, are going to have to be paid for and that is something that we also want to take a close look at, is in order for this to pass on the Senate side with a simple majority it has got to come under that $1.5 trillion costs. Otherwise they're not going to be able to get it to pass through that simple majority process.
BERMAN: All right. Suzanne Malveaux on Capitol Hill, keep us posted from your perch there. Thank you.
We have more breaking news this morning. It concerns Senator Al Franken and a new accuser. Will the calls for him to resign grow louder today? We have all the new details ahead.
Plus a startling newspaper headline. The president is a mad man. What his recent actions say about his mindset?
And one day after NBC fires Matt Lauer, we are hearing from him for the first time.
BERMAN: We have breaking news on Democratic Senator Al Franken, a new woman, number five now, is coming forward with accusations of inappropriate touching. CNN's M.J. Lee live on Capitol Hill. M.J., you broke this story. Explain.
M.J. LEE, CNN NATIONAL POLITICS REPORTER: Well, John, her name is Stephanie Kemplin (ph). She is a 41-year-old Army veteran. She was deployed in Kuwait in 2003 and this is where she says she met Senator Franken for the first time.
[09:20:02] It was while he was there on a USO tour to visit American troops, and she took a photo with him. Now, this is how Stephanie described that interaction. She said, "When he put his arm around me, he groped my right breast. He kept his hands all the way over on my breast, and I remember thinking is he going to move his hand? Was it an accident? Was he going to move his hand?"
Now the touching Stephanie tells CNN lasted at least in five seconds, and sometime before the photo was taken, she managed to shift her body so that his hand was no longer on her breast.
Now as you can see in the photo, you could see that Senator Franken's hand is on her right side. Now she tells me that she was ashamed and feeling embarrassed and she was in shock and that at the time, she did not say anything to the senator. And I will also note that part of the reason her story is compelling is because weeks before she had met Franken and had this interaction, she was also the victim of a sexual assault by a fellow soldier abroad with her.
Now we did reach out to Senator Franken's office last night, and this is what a spokesperson told CNN, "Senator Franken made clear this week, he takes thousands of photos and has met tens of thousands of people and he has never intentionally engaged in this kind of conduct. He remains fully committed to cooperating with the ethics investigation."
And as you noted, John, the bigger context here, of course, is that Stephanie is the fifth woman now to come out with allegations of inappropriate touching and also the second woman to say that this kind of behavior while Franken was on tour with the USO.
The first woman, of course, was Leeann Tweeden (ph), the California local news anchor, and Stephanie tells me that she is part of the reason that she decided to speak out herself -- John.
BERMAN: All right. M.J. Lee for us on Capitol Hill. M.J., thanks so much.
Joining me now is Republican Congressman Chris Stewart of Utah, a member who just proposed yesterday new legislation dealing with sexual harassment claims in the House, which we will talk about in just a moment. Congressman, first, if I can, can I get your reaction to the latest news on Senator Franken?
REPRESENTATIVE CHRIS STEWART (R-UT), APPROPRIATIONS COMMITTEE: You know what, it's just wrong. I don't care who you are, senator, congressman, whatever, being in a position of power doesn't excuse this type of behavior, and it's very clear that it has become very pervasive in certain parts of our society.
The media, entertainment, and currently legislative world, and I think the reason is because we have intimidated and shamed these women into silence. I can tell you if someone touched one of my daughters like this, I would reign hell down on them.
I would not poopoo it away and I think we need to be honest about it and condemn this behavior regardless of who it is that -- and what kind of position that they are sitting in. It's just wrong.
BERMAN: Should Senator Franken step down?
STEWART: Well, I think anyone who has credible accusations against them and has admitted to those accusations, I don't think they should be serving in a position of responsibility such as the House of Representatives or the U.S. Senate.
BERMAN: Congressman, you did propose legislation today that deals with accusations inside the House of Representatives, and essentially what it would do is it would prohibit nondisclosure agreements as a condition for legal settlements. Explain.
STEWART: Yes, it's just silly. I mean, right now, if someone has a complaint such as this, the very first thing they have to do is sign a nondisclosure agreement. I think that's nuts. Why would we force them into silence?
Now, if the victim wants this to be private and don't want their name released, we should honor that, protect their integrity and privacy in that case. But on the other hand, if they want this to be public and hold someone accountable like many of them do, why do we force them into signing a nondisclosure.
It just doesn't make sense to me. So, let's allow them the choice. If they want this to be public and to have the court of public opinion, I think they should have this option and that's what this legislation does.
By the way, one other thing, I don't think it's good for the perpetrator to be able to hide behind that cloak of secrecy. I don't think it's good for them to have that option.
And if the accusations against them are unfounded, this gives them a way to publicly defend themselves. I really think it's better for both parties in this case.
BERMAN: I do like the fact that you are pointing out the issue of choice here because some people who are victims would like it to remain private and your argument is it should be left up to them.
I want to shift gears right now. Your committee hearing from the attorney general of the United States, Jeff Sessions, right now behind closed doors. I appreciate you coming to talk to us while that's going on. I know staffers are in there talking to him.
Look, you know, we have spoken before about the independent special counsel investigation and the various congressional investigations. You made the case that at this point you see no evidence of collusion and you think this whole thing should wrap up.
My question to you, given that we have indictments on Paul Manafort and Rick Gates, given that Michael Flynn, the special counsel seems to be moving in on something having to do with Michael Flynn. Doesn't that at a minimum justify the interests and focus here?
STEWART: Look, I don't think we should wrap up the investigation prematurely. It's kind of a fine line we want to walk. We want to answer every question and go down every pathway and conclude the investigation.
[09:25:12] On the other hand, it shouldn't take two or three years. I think we owe the American people an answer in a reasonable amount of time. I think that's true of the individuals who are under investigation.
It's unfair to them to have a cloud hanging over them for a very, very long time when we know that most of them were not colluding with the Russians and some of the accusations or things said about them just simply are not true.
So, again, on one hand, let's answer every question and on the other hand, let's do it in a timely manner. That's the thing that I've been calling for, but it's very clear some people would like to delay this. I don't think it's fair to the individuals or the American people.
BERMAN: Well, it does seem like the special counsel is moving expeditiously. I'm not sure whether he is rushing or delaying. He just seems to be working here. We've also had conversations -- go ahead.
STEWART: If I could just quickly, there's a distinction between the special counsel and the House investigation. I am only speaking of our House investigation. We will let the special counsel work on his own timetable and let him do his work as he sees fit, I am just talking about the things that I can control.
BERMAN: Understood. Jeff Sessions has had to testify multiple times because his story has changed, but again, he is there today. You will wrap it up with him. I want to ask about something else we've talked about, probably more than each of us would prefer, which is things that the president writes on Twitter.
You say you've stopped reading his Twitter because you just don't think it's necessarily important, but today we are faced with the leader of Great Britain, Theresa May speaking out against things that the president has wrote.
He sent around three anti-Muslim videos, one of which appears to not be authentic or at least appears to be misguided to say the least. This is having international consequences now.
BERMAN: Does that concern you?
STEWART: Well, it doesn't help. Look, instead of talking about tax reform today, which is hopefully going to pass in the Senate (inaudible). We're talking about the president's Twitter. As I said to you and others, there are times when I am frustrated by it, when I think it just doesn't help. Look, there are some people that oppose this president, and frankly, in some cases, actually hate him and want him to fail, but --
BERMAN: But Theresa May is not one of those. You acknowledge, the things he's writing on social media, they have consequences.
STEWART: Well, as I said, they certainly don't help, and it frustrates me, and I know it frustrates others. But the president is going to do what the president is going to do, and I don't think he will change on that.
What I'm trying to do is focus on the policies, focus on the things that we can affect, try to talk about those things and realize that some of these other things are a distraction, and I wish they were not happening the way they do sometimes, but I can't change that. BERMAN: Congressman Chris Stewart, thanks so much for being with us. Appreciate your time.
STEWART: Good to be with you. Thank you.
BERMAN: All right. We are talking about the president's statements on Twitter creating a firestorm in the U.S. and abroad. A scathing editorial out this morning calling the president a mad man.
Plus, we are moments away from the opening bell. Stocks set to open higher and the Dow only 60 points away from 24,000. This as investors continue to celebrate what they see as legislative progress on the issue of tax cuts. Stay with us.