Return to Transcripts main page


California Wildfire Burning near Getty Center, 405 Freeway; Russia Probe Tests Pence's in-the-dark Defense; Bannon Stumps for Moore, Tears into Romney and Flake. Aired 10-10:30a ET

Aired December 6, 2017 - 10:00   ET


[10:00:15] ANNOUNCER: This is CNN Breaking News.

POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: Top of the hour. Good morning, everyone. I'm Poppy Harlow in New York.

And we do have breaking news out of California, this raging wildfire that continues to burn in the heart of Los Angeles, in the early morning hours. You're looking at new video of the 405 Freeway that is right near the Getty Center in Brentwood. It is surrounded by flames. This is Los Angeles proper, officials having to shut down part of the northbound side of the 405 Freeway in that area.

Our Stephanie Elam joins us now from Ventura County with more. And Stephanie, you're in a little bit different position, obviously, than what we're looking at. But these pictures are stunning. I mean, this vantage point is from traffic, you know, rush hour morning traffic in Los Angeles, looking at these flames, right there.

STEPHANIE ELAM, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, it's really the worst time, not that there's ever going to be a good time for a wildfire, Poppy, but it is the worst time. Because to have the 405 shut down between two other major arteries, the 101 and the 10 Freeway, is basically just going to bring L.A. to a standstill at this hour. It is a huge deal.

Now, it's a smaller fire, compared to the other fires that we have been monitoring this week, like where I'm standing in Ventura, which is about an hour and a half north of Los Angeles. This fire has burned some 50,000 acres and is still out of control at the last update we've had. You have got so many people here under mandatory evacuations. But what you're seeing there is the densely populated area being impacted, right there off the 405, between Brentwood and Bel Air.

And you're seeing people there who are waking up, early morning, and having to make a quick call on how to get the most important people, dogs, items out of their houses. And that is what's so scary about wildfires, because they develop so quickly and can turn on a dime so quickly. And the worst part about it, today, Poppy, is that the winds are expected to pick back up as the afternoon hours come into play here, just as they have been doing this week.

And so because of that, we may see more fires pop up and spread. And that's the hard part, because you just never know where that's going to be here in this area. And as you can see, if I'm staying an hour and a half north and there's still more fire north of me, that is the issue. It's a huge area that we're talking about, and it's really taxing resources.

HARLOW: Stephanie Elam reporting for us there in Ventura. Thank you very much. We'll keep everyone posted as we continue to monitor these live pictures out of Los Angeles.

Meantime, to Washington, where Donald Trump Jr., the president's son, is about to begin his testimony, before the House Intelligence Committee, he will be testifying under oath. You can bet many of those questions will focus on the Trump team's contacts with Russia, but there are no cameras in the room.

Our Manu Raju, though, is right outside the door, as we await Don Jr.'s arrival. What are you hearing from your sources about some of the key line of questioning for him this morning?

MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, lawmakers are going to try to press him on exactly what happened in that June 2016 meeting at Trump Tower in which Don Jr. was promised dirt on the Clinton campaign. And one thing they're going to try to figure out is whether or not his story is consistent. Well the other stories from witnesses at the committee has interviewed over the last several weeks. The Russians who were at that meeting, who have actually come from the classified hearings, they want to make sure it all lines up.

Now we have just learned that Donald Trump Jr. has, in fact, arrived on the Hill for this meeting. He avoided cameras and press, awaiting multiple entrances for him to arrive, taking the back corridors of the Capitol into this hearing, which has now just begun.

Now lawmakers are going to press him not just on the June 2016 meeting, Poppy, but also correspondence that he had with "WikiLeaks" in the course of the campaign season, something that he downplayed, as well. Moreover, Poppy, one thing that lawmakers are also trying to figure out is a meeting, a trip that he took overseas to Paris during the campaign season. Something in which he met with a group that is promoting Russian interests. They want to know if there was anything to that, as well. The question will be whether or not he satisfies concerns from members that he really -- that there was nothing to this meeting, to these meetings. There was no collusion, whatsoever, because when he met with his staff of the Senate Judiciary Committee in September, he said he did not recall some key details, and he said his father was not aware of the June 2016 meeting in Trump Tower. We'll see how lawmakers respond after, Poppy.

HARLOW: Indeed. Manu Raju, thank you very much for the reporting on the Hill.

Also this morning, what did Vice President Mike Pence know about Michael Flynn's lies to the FBI and when did he know it, considering he was leading the transition team? These are more questions being raised by Special Counsel Robert Mueller's investigation.

Our senior Washington correspondent, Joe Johns, joins us live from the White House. What has changed in what we've learned about Mike Pence's position on all of this now?

[10:05:04] JOE JOHNS, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: Well, Poppy, probably, the most important thing is my colleague, Jeff Zeleny, reported this morning that Pence world is preparing for the possibility that the vice president might be called in for an interview to talk about what he knew and what he didn't know. Of course, it's the timeline that causes so many questions. And you pointed out right there one of the biggest problems is that the vice president has said repeatedly that he did not know about Mike Flynn and his contacts with the Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak.

What is also clear is that while he ran the transition, there were a number of people around him, Trump advisers, who had had conversations regarding Mike Flynn's conversations with Kislyak. In fact, it's referred to in court documents that were unsealed just last week. And for the vice president, it's a difficult position whether he knew or didn't know, because running the transition, presumably, a person in power like that would have to go what was going on around him. And if he didn't know, it creates another real problem, so a lot of questions for him. Back to you, Poppy.

HARLOW: Certainly. You know, one more legal problem, one more politically a problem for the vice president. But let me ask you about this. The attorney representing Rick Gates, who was a deputy of Paul Manafort, who worked in the transition team, and worked with -- worked, you know, the president as he was coming into the White House, who was indicted just a few weeks ago, his attorney says more charges could be on the way for his client. Why?

JOHNS: Well, anybody's guess, because we don't know what is in the mind, of course, of the special counsel and the people who work for him. But the possibility of superseding indictment hangs over anyone who has not pleaded guilty, of course. And in this case, it's particularly interesting, because what we do know is that federal prosecutors commonly practice the notion of leverage. That would mean less charges if you cooperate, more charges if you're not cooperating with the investigation, with the prosecution, so a potential problem for Gates there. The question, of course, is what's going on in the background, Poppy.

HARLOW: Indeed, Joe Johns at the White House. Thank you.

Joining me now, CNN legal analyst, former special assistant to Bob Mueller, when he was at the Justice Department, is Michael Zeldin. Michael, nice to have you here, a bunch to take through. Let's begin with the Don Jr. meeting. We're waiting for him to arrive on Capitol Hill. He's going to give this testimony to the House Intelligence Committee, behind closed doors. If you were in the room, asking him questions, what would be the first question that you have for him this morning?

MICHAEL ZELDIN, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: How are you doing, I guess, would be my first question.

HARLOW: You're so polite. ZELDIN: Yes. After that, however, I think there are four broad areas that I would focus in on, if I were a questioner. One, of course, would be the June 9th Trump Tower meeting with the Russians, and that which flowed from it, meaning the communications about that meeting, between him and the Trump communications team, including his father. And that particularly references the statement that was drafted on Air Force One, about that June 9th meeting.

Second would be the communications with "WikiLeaks." There are all those e-mails where Jr. and "WikiLeaks" seem to be conspiring, not necessarily in a criminal, legal sense, but agreeing with one another. That would be good to have these "WikiLeaks" communications out there. And again, the communications about that with his father, because, after those communications, his father says "WikiLeaks" I love you. And it's a shame that people aren't looking at "WikiLeaks." Because those are potentially criminal acts, Poppy. That's why -

HARLOW: I would explain that -- explain that to us. Because I mean that may leave a bad taste in people's mouths, right, because we all know, you know who leads "WikiLeaks" and what it's from, et cetera. But legally, why would that trip up this team?

ZELDIN: So it's illegal to hack someone's computer. And it's illegal to be an accessory to the distribution of that hacked material. So it's sort of like -

HARLOW: Accepting it, you're saying.

ZELDIN: Accepting and distributing. Remember, Don Jr. received from "WikiLeaks" a script which he then posted on his Twitter feed, which allowed people to search the "WikiLeaks" stolen e-mails database more easily. So if you think about it in, you know, sort of street terms, if I steal something, and you buy, knowingly, stolen property, you commit the crime of receiving stolen property. I commit the crime of theft. You commit the crime of stolen property receipt. That's the same thing that occurs here with respect to hacked e-mails.

[10:10:02] That's why he's got liability around this. And if I were a Congressman, that's one of the two areas, for sure, that I would focus on. And, Poppy, just to finish the thought and you can follow up with me, if you would like.

The third area that I think is really important, which is sort of new reporting that's coming out, which I don't know if it's been verified yet, which is that Mueller is subpoenaing Deutsche Bank and its records as -

HARLOW: So the White House -- just let me stop you there --

ZELDIN: Because the White House is denying that.

HARLOW: Because the White House is denying that.

ZELDIN: White House has denied it. And we'll see whether it's true, but if it's true, and remember, the -- these committees have already subpoenaed the Treasury Department for records of suspicious financial transactions from what's called fin-syn, the Financial Intelligence hub of treasury. So I think they're marrying up Deutsche Bank data and Treasury Department data, which I think portends bad news if there's anything there, ala the Manafort indictment for the Trump businesses, as well. So those are the three big areas, if there was time was left, I would ask him, how does he shoot elephants and sleep at night.

HARLOW: All right. Michael Zeldin, appreciate it. And just clarity, again for our viewers, that Deutsche Bank reporting that you mentioned, not confirmed by CNN and denied by the White House.

ZELDIN: Correct.

HARLOW: We'll see where it goes. Thank you, Michael.


HARLOW: Coming up, Steve Bannon campaigning for Roy Moore, ripping into Mitch McConnell, Jeff Flake, Mitt Romney. That's ahead. And also, key U.S. allies criticizing the president's decision to make Jerusalem the capital of Israel as seen by the United States. What does that mean? The potential fallout, ahead.


[10:16:04] HARLOW: Hours from now, President Trump is set to make a highly controversial move, officially recognizing Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. We are seeing protests across the Middle East in response. Dozens of people, for example, here gathered this morning to burn American flags and pictures of President Trump.

Our Elise Labott is tracking all of this, as well as our Ian Lee, who is live for us in the West Bank. So, Ian, let me go to you first. I mean, we know that embassies have been preparing, American embassies across the region, for violent protests. We know what many of the Palestinians have called for in response. What are you seeing on the ground?

IAN LEE, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well really, Poppy, right now, it's one of anticipation. You know, we're here in Ramallah. And people on the street, they're just waiting to hear this announcement. They want to hear the words themselves from President Trump about what he intend to do with the U.S. Embassy and Jerusalem. Is he going to declare it the capital of Israel?

And from there, we will likely see protests. There has been a call for three days of rage, where protesters are expecting to go out into the street. And we saw this over the summer, similar protests over Jerusalem. And that brought out thousands of people into the streets of Jerusalem. And we're hearing from different factions, Hamas, the militant organization, also, calling for people to go out and protest against this.

So you could see a large street movement, which is going to, and other countries, could take place outside the U.S. embassies. And so that's why there is this increase in security. But the Israeli officials have said that they are going to provide security, at least around U.S. missions here, as well on the streets, to make sure any protests don't get out of hand. But, really, everyone's waiting to hear what is going to happen. And what this will mean for the peace process going forward, Poppy.

HARLOW: Right, the ultimate deal, as the Trump team has called it. Ian, thank you.

Elise, to you, this does, of course, break with decades of U.S. Policy. This breaks with how France feels the U.S. should approach this, Britain feels the U.S. should approach this, so many of our allies across Europe. What's the benefit? What's the net benefit to the American people?

ELISE LABOTT, CNN GLOBAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Well, Poppy, I want to point out that this -- that actually kind of recognizing it by a U.S. president breaks with decades of U.S. policy. But it's actually been in U.S. law since 1995 that the U.S. recognizes Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. The presidents have always kind of waived moving the embassy there. I think in the view of the peace team, of President Trump and his advisers, that by doing this, this could actually coalesce everybody into trying to push for a peace deal. Get the Arabs behind the Palestinians.

There is no benefit to the U.S. I think the real benefit is to President Trump. You know, the U.S. officials, yesterday, made it very clear, this is President Trump making good on his promise to his supporters. But at the same time, you know, you said the Palestinians are saying, listen, you're no longer -- the U.S. is no longer an honest broker, a fair mediator of the peace process.

And so it's really hard to see, even though Jared Kushner, Jason Greenblatt, this peace team has made a lot of inroads with the Israelis, Palestinians, Arabs in terms of trying to move this along and get everybody's ideas. I think they've really garnered the trust of the region. I think this move is going to really set back the progress that they've made. And I think it does damage the U.S. credibility as an honest broker in that peace process.

HARLOW: Elise Labott, important analysis. Thank you. And Ian in Ramallah, we appreciate it very much.

Here to discuss, Natan Sachs, director of the Center for Middle East Policy Brookings and John Alderman, senior vice president for -- at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. Gentlemen, nice to have you here both on a very important day as we await the president's remarks at 1:00 p.m. Eastern Time, you'll see them live right here.

[10:20:04] John, to you, first, I mean, so many are saying as a least just pointed out, this is a political earthquake, one that could certainly make the peace process more protracted, if not, you know, impossible at this point, to have the ultimate deal, as the president calls it. Is there a benefit to the United States on the international stage, in your view?

JOHN ALDERMAN, SENIOR VICE PRESIDENT, CENTER FOR STRATEGIC AND INTERNATIONAL STUDIES: There's not a visible benefit. It's certainly possible that in thinking about this deal, that President Trump was able to extract a major concession from Benjamin Netanyahu that would lead toward peace talks. I don't think we should totally set that possibility aside. But if the idea is we should just do something nice for the Israelis, we should reward our friends.

I think if you're thinking about the U.S. role trying to move this towards resolution, I don't see where the deal on the other side is. I don't see where the reassurance to the Arab side is. Maybe the president has one, but there's certainly not one visible. It seems like he's just doing something for the Israelis and not doing something for the other side.

HARLOW: To that point, Natan, the president had these five calls with leaders in the Middle East yesterday. The only one supportive of this, at all, of course, was Netanyahu. The other four leaders of Arab countries very opposed to this, Emmanuel Macron of France opposed to it, the UK opposed to it. You say that the president is, quote, "right in one sense and deeply unwise and misguided in the other." Explain.

NATAN SACHS, DIRECTOR, CENTER FOR MIDDLE EAST POLICY, THE BROOKING INSTITUTION: Well, Jerusalem is, in fact, the capital of Israel. That's where the government operates. And right now the U.S. ambassador wants to talk to anyone in the Israeli government, he goes up the hill to Jerusalem and that's where he does it. But it's incredibly unwise. This is just an unforced error that the president is inviting on himself. And it seems like the timing is just a matter of the waiver expiring. Why is it unwise? Because it's the powder keg you don't want to touch. This is the issue that's derailed the peace process in the past. It's one that doesn't give you actual tangible benefits with the Israelis. They know their embassy is in Jerusalem. It's in Jerusalem right now, before the president's speech, and it will be in Jerusalem this afternoon after the president's speech. They don't actually need it besides the symbolism.

HARLOW: Not physically, but I hear your argument. John, the White House's argument is, look, the embassy has been in Tel Aviv and for more than two decades now, you know, keeping it away from Jerusalem has done nothing to further the peace process, fair point?

ALDERMAN: Not really. I think it's -- I don't think it's inconsequential. As Natan pointed out, it certainly alienates a lot of people, it alienates potential Arab partners, it alienates Palestinians, it alienates Europeans, for God's sake, it alienated the Pope and if you're trying to move this towards resolution, I think my instinct is, unless you have a deal moving forward, you don't want to start tipping your hand to one side or the other. Maybe the president really does feel that this gives him huge credibility with the Israelis he can use, but I haven't seen what the next step is. It feels like it's a one-off, because he said, you know, it's all -- everybody really understands that that's where the capital is, anyway, except there are consequences. And maybe he's just been poorly advised that he doesn't appreciate what the consequences could well be.

HARLOW: Natan, very quickly, because I have to get to some more news on these wildfires, but yes or no, this helps in any way Jared Kushner's ability to negotiate the grand bargain? SACHS: There could be some grand scheme, as John points out. There could be some smarter-by-half issue, but the dangers are human. This is a powder keg. I grew up there. I love Jerusalem, but rationality does not apply to my city.

HARLOW: Natan, appreciate it. John Alderman, thank you both very much.

All right, we're going to get more to those wildfires in Los Angeles, some of that breaking news, straight ahead.

Also, politically, Steve Bannon rallying for Roy Moore, going after the Republican Party. Wait until you hear what he said about Mitt Romney, Mitch McConnell, Jeff Flake, next.


[10:28:28] HARLOW: Steve Bannon is going after top Republicans. He was in Alabama last night, rallying support for Senate candidate Roy Moore there. Of course, Roy Moore facing multiple allegations of sexual misconduct, assault, and abuse. But Bannon ended up picking fights with Mitt Romney, Jeff Flake, Mitch McConnell, to name a few.

Our Kaitlan Collins is in mobile this morning. And when you talk about, you know, a man very close to the president, formerly the chief strategist inside the White House, he laid into Mitt Romney, attacking his kids and his faith.

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE REPORTER: Yes, Poppy. Steve Bannon certainly did not hold back when it came to Mitt Romney here in Alabama last night. Though he was here to rally to get some support for Roy Moore in these last few days before that high-stakes Senate race, he spent a lot of his time focusing on Republicans, and specifically, Mitt Romney. Now, this comes after Mitt Romney has called on Roy Moore to step aside out of this race, after those sexual assault allegations first surfaced and more recently he said that if Roy Moore won, it would be a stain not only on the GOP, but on the nation. And that he didn't think keeping this seat in Republican hands was worth losing the honor or integrity. Well, Steve Bannon didn't take too kindly to that criticism from Mitt Romney, and he claimed that he used his religion to hide behind, to avoid serving in Vietnam.



You hid behind your religion. You went to France to be a missionary while guys were dying in rice paddies in Vietnam.

You had five sons, not one day of service in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Judge Roy Moore has more honor and integrity in a pinkie finger than your entire family has in its whole DNA.