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Interview with Representative Denny Heck; North Korea Says War Could Break Out Any Moment; Trump to Announce Major Changes to Utah Monuments; Aired 10:30-11a ET

Aired December 4, 2017 - 10:30   ET


[10:30:09] POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: This morning, the president's attorney says that Donald Trump cannot be guilty of obstructing justice because he's the president.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: All right. Joining us now to discuss this and much more, Congressman Denny Heck, a Democrat from Washington, member of the House Intelligence Committee.

Congressman, thanks so much for being with us. Let us just ask you, you know, make it crystal clear here, based on what you've seen and what you know now, did the president obstruct justice?

REP. DENNY HECK (D), WASHINGTON: So I think it's certainly enough evidence has been presented to be a topic worthy of investigation and following up. I noted that Senator Feinstein said on one of the talking shows over the weekend that she thought the Senate Judiciary Committee ought to take it up. I think the House Judiciary Committee ought to take it up as well.

But I think the more important -- the more essential point here is really what this pattern is. If you go back to January when the president completely discounted the unanimous assessment of the intelligence committee that Russia had interfered in our elections, he called it a hoax, and then over the weekend, he claimed that the reputation of the FBI was completely in tatters, this is a man, frankly, who just does not have much regard for the rule of law.


HECK: That's what's at work here.

HARLOW: Let me ask you about the rule of law and, you know, impeachment proceedings and Articles of Impeachment if they were to even be brought by the House, the president's lawyer, his outside attorney John Dowd this morning told Axios this, quote, "The president cannot obstruct justice because he's the chief law enforcement officer under the Constitution's Article 2 and has every right to express his view of any case."

Now history would tell us that that is not the case. How do you see it?

HECK: Well, I'm not sure that it should be a surprise to any of us that there's not a lot of regard for history in the current -- by the current occupant at the White House and I would remind you that one of the four Articles of Impeachment filed against President Nixon was in fact obstruction of justice. So whether or not he is above that, as he asserts and I disagree with, I know he's not above impeachment proceedings.

BERMAN: And you're not calling for those right now, though, just to be clear?

HECK: Thank you, John, for allowing me to clarify. That's true. I think at least insofar as our work on the House Intelligence Committee is concerned I think it's important that we get to a conclusion. There are other efforts under way and frankly most notably Bob Mueller's.

HARLOW: Right.

BERMAN: So you said this weekend on CNN, and you've been talking about this, that the plea deal by Michael Flynn could be the beginning of the end of the Trump administration. So explain that to us.

HECK: Well, I think that's exactly correct. There is now just one thin membrane separating the president of the United States from Bob Mueller's investigation. He is now indicted or reached plea bargain agreements with, count them, four members of the Trump administration or the campaign, two of whom held very high positions, Mr. Manafort after all chaired the campaign, and General Flynn was, of course, the national security adviser, inarguably the highest level security position in all of federal government.

We know as well according to open sources that Bob Mueller is in the White House, interviewing Hope Hicks, if reports are correct, and Jared Kushner, and others. So he's in the White House. We'll see where this goes.

HARLOW: But your words, I mean, potentially the beginning of the end for the Trump administration, a thin membrane, that's going pretty far. Isn't it? I mean, is it not just as plausible that Flynn, for example, the latest guilty plea in all of this, could have been operating independent of the knowledge of the president?

HECK: No. And, in fact, the plea bargain agreement makes specific reference to the fact that he was not. What's not plausible is if this does not go farther. Whether or not it reaches the president remains to be seen, but it's not at all plausible that this doesn't go farther.

Look, it just defies the straight face test that Bob Mueller would have entered into a plea bargain deal with General Flynn on this one felony count. And let's remind ourselves, this is a felony.

BERMAN: Oh, yes.

HECK: Which he has agreed to, subject up to five years in prison and in jail.

BERMAN: Right. HECK: It defies the straight face test to think that he did that in

and of itself for no other reason. We all know what this is about. This is about flipping General Flynn, period, full stop.

BERMAN: And General Flynn is now a cooperating witness and convicted felon, he has pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI.

You're going to have Donald Trump, Jr. coming to testify before your committee, you know, behind closed doors this week, unfortunately, we'd love to see it because we'd love to know what he has to say, what questions do you have for him, at least what questions that you can share with us do you have for him?

HECK: So, John, we've been pretty good about neither confirming nor denying the people that are coming before us. You know, of course, according to open sources that Donald Trump, Jr. Is supposed to be coming in this week.

If that were the case, John, I think the obvious questions that would be put to him are the same that are on all Americans' minds, namely, tell us more about that June meeting in Trump Tower last year at which the Russian national came, offering dirt on Hillary Clinton. Tell us more about that. Tell us more about all that you know.

[10:40:05] As a matter of fact, we are -- it's back to the future. We're back to the Watergate era and Senator Howard Baker's famous question, what did you know and when did you know it?

HARLOW: Key question. Congressman, thank you.

HECK: You're welcome.

BERMAN: All right. The United States is conducting huge drills in South Korea right now. As North Korea says war could break out any moment. Now a top U.S. official says that the chance for war is increasing every day.


HARLOW: This morning, some pretty explosive new rhetoric coming from North Korea. This as the U.S. and South Korea kick off more joint military drills.

[10:40:04] BERMAN: Yes. The North Korean regime now says, quote, "nuclear war could break out at any moment," and North Korea calls these drills large-scale war games.

Barbara Starr at the Pentagon for us with the very latest.

Barbara, talk to us about these joint drills?

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, good morning to you. The Pentagon is saying that these were long scheduled. These things don't just happen, they have to plan for them, but this exercise is huge, about 230 aircraft, U.S., South Korean exercising at eight installations, using some of the most advanced U.S. military aircraft, the F-22, the F-35, practicing on how they would operate in a real- world scenario if it came to that vis-a-vis North Korea.

So this is a bit scheduled, yes, but make no mistake, sending a message to Kim Jong-un's regime and, in fact, the national security adviser, H.R. McMaster, asked over the weekend about his view on where we stand with North Korea and the possibility of conflict.

And I want to read to you very quickly what McMaster had to say about it. And he said, quote, "I think it's increasing every day, which means that we are in a race really, we are in a race to be able to solve this problem. There are ways to address this problem short of armed conflict, but it's a race because Kim Jong-un's getting closer and closer and there's not much time left."

And of course, what he's talking about is that long-range missile that the North Koreans tested last week, not completely successful, perhaps, but very unsettling because it would be a missile that, in fact, would have the capability to strike the United States.

HARLOW: And Barbara, on that point, I mean, one of the questions about how successful they have become in this missile program, is the ability for re-entry to the earth's atmosphere, right, after these test shots are fired and we've now learned that a crew on board this commercial airline believed that they saw the ballistic missile re- entering, is that correct?

STARR: Yes. A crew from a Cathay Pacific aircraft flying in the region reported and reported to aviation authorities in the region, that they believe they saw portions of this missile coming down. It did not affect their flight and we know that other aircraft from time to time, civilian aircraft, passenger aircraft, see activity in the region, but, of course, if they did see this missile in particular, it's very interesting because, again, it was a missile test by the North Koreans which flew longer and higher than any missile in the past.

U.S. officials are telling us they don't believe at this point that there was successful re-entry. Look, debris fell to the earth and we believe that probably the crew saw some of that. But could the missile really survive the pressure and heat of re-entry? The initial indications are it did not. Now they will be looking at that very closely because it's so important. Re-entry means you can get a missile to a target. That's the big worry when it comes to North Korea, of course.

HARLOW: Barbara Starr at the Pentagon, thank you for that reporting this morning.

Ahead for us, President Trump is on his way right now to Utah. He's planning a major change to two national monuments there. Why is this so controversial? A live report ahead. But first this.


ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: Now that we've announced the "Top Ten CNN Heroes of 2017" it's time to show you how you can help decide who should be "CNN Hero of the Year" and receive $100,000 to help them continue their work.

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My friend and co-host Kelly Rippa joins me to reveal the "2017 Hero of the Year" live during our 11th annual "CNN Heroes: An All-Star Tribute," Sunday, December 17th.



[10:48:46] BERMAN: All right. New this morning President Trump on his way to Utah for what he is calling one of the really great events in this country in a long time. Those words. Expected to announce the reduction in size of two national monuments.

HARLOW: Thousands of people have protested this decision. They're concerned about the environment and the protection of sacred lands. You see some of those protesters over the weekend there in Salt Lake. Others, though, argue this is a good thing because it will open up vast energy resources.

Our Bill Weir is there in Utah. He has been speaking with people on all sides of it.

So what are they saying?

BILL WEIR, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Poppy, John, just for context, you've got to understand, you know, the Catholics have the Vatican and people in Jewish faith have the Wailing Wall in Jerusalem. And for the five tribes down in the Four Corners area they have the Canyons and these beautiful buttes and the ruins. 100,000 ruins that are so sacred to Native Americans, so this will be seen as an incredible slap in the face to those efforts and, of course, the environmentalists who supported them.

But on the other side, plenty of Trump supporters down there say this is a huge victory against intrusive big government. They love those sites, too. They know how to take care of them. So I spent the weekend sort of hiking this land. It is your land, after all, so let me show you around.


WEIR (on camera): Let me show you the epicenter of what is the biggest environmental fight of the day.

(LAUGHTER) [10:50:07] WEIR: Yes, there they are. See those two buttes? Those are the Bears Ears. But they are just a tiny piece of this huge fight because Bears Ears National Monument is 1.35 million acres.

(Voice-over): That is over 2,000 square miles of wild western vistas holding a potential fortune in oil, gas and uranium underneath tens of thousands of Native American ruins.

For folks like Mark Maryboy (ph), these sites are worth more than any mineral. To the Navaho and Hopi, Zuni, and Utes, these canyons hold the spirits of loved ones.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They live among us just like you and I. We're communicating.

WEIR (on camera): These are your neighbors living.


WEIR (voice-over): The person who carved this art 1200 years ago signed all their work with a wolf paw. But equally striking are the modern bullet holes. Just one sign of the tension that goes back to the first Mormon wagon trains.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They didn't want to work with us. In fact, one of the (INAUDIBLE) says, you guys lost a war, you have no business talking about land claiming process.

WEIR: For generations Natives sought protection for this land but it wasn't until the five tribes put aside their differences, rallied the support of rich outdoorsmen like the Patagonia founder Yvon Chouinard, and lobbied the feds that they got their wish.

Weeks before leaving office Barack Obama declared Bears Ears off limits to any new drilling or mining and while some cheered the prospect of a new tourist economy others saw it as pure tyranny.

PHIL LYMAN, SAN JUAN COUNTY COMMISSIONER: Like kind of a sucker punch. Didn't feel right. And it hasn't felt right for a year.

WEIR: Phil Lyman is among the Trump supporters who spent the weekend cheering the president's decision to shrink Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument significantly. They point out that the biggest poorest county in Utah already has four other parks and monuments. They don't want elites using their backyard as a playground and just want to control their own destiny.

LYMAN: By designating a monument what you're doing is you're using a tool that will bring hoards of people to a place that is very sensitive. There is nothing that we want to unprotect. There is 13 layers of protection on artifacts and species and wildlife and vegetation.

JOSH EWING, FRIENDS OF CEDAR MESA: There are loop holes in those rules that you can drive an oil rig through.

WEIR: Josh Ewing came from Nebraska to climb rocks.

EWING: That's a rim of a bull.

WEIR: And felt so hard for the landscapes and history he formed an advocacy group and is building as visitor center with whatever donations he can raise online.

EWING: If this place was anywhere else but southern Utah, I don't care if it was Mongolia or Zimbabwe, it would have been protected as a national park a long time. But because of the politics of Utah this place is still a debate.

YVON CHOUINARD, PATAGONIA CEO: Well, I think the only thing this administration understand is lawsuits.

WEIR: And the head of Patagonia says he's ready for a long, legal fight.

CHOUINARD: We're losing this planet. And we have an evil government. And, you know, not just the federal government, the wacko politicians out of Utah and places, I mean, it's evil. And I'm not going to stand back and just let evil win.

LYMAN: What's his net worth? Billion dollars? $2 billion? So you've got Patagonia here, you know, waving the flag of environmentalism while he's just completely exploiting the outdoors for industrialized tourism.

WEIR: If these rocks could talk they'd tell of centuries of bloody human conflict before the United States decided to set aside the special corners for we, the people.

This is your land, but Bears Ears, is a reminder, that how it is used, all comes down to how you vote.


WEIR: So many people in this state and around the country came to see how much will be reduced from these two monuments. They had a public comment section and a vast majority of people said keep the monuments as they are, but much the way the coal miners in Appalachia were favored by this president against modern forces this is a win for them.

But the legal fight as we mentioned just beginning. Patagonia and REI among many outdoors big outfitters, they pulled a major trade show out of Salt Lake, moved it to Denver in protest, some down south around Moab worry that that kind of boycott could hurt -- tap into their tourism business, so, you know, they've been fighting over that land, John and Poppy, since those first wagon trains rolled in so long ago.

[10:55:06] And at least now they fight with lawyers and subpoenas and lawsuits, you know, instead of weapons, but this is just the beginning.

HARLOW: Yes. WEIR: Of another fight.

BERMAN: All right. Bill Weir for us in Utah. A beautiful look at a beautiful part of the country.

HARLOW: Yes. For sure.

BERMAN: Bill, thanks so much for being with us. Really appreciate it.

HARLOW: Thank you.

BERMAN: All right. We are following some major stories this morning, major stories that have had developments all morning long.

The president says he feels very badly for General Flynn, now a convicted felon who has admitted that he lied to the FBI and now the president has officially and explicitly endorsed an accused child molester. Stick around.