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Fire Spreads in L.A.; Democratic Senators Call for Franken Resignation; U.S. Recognizes Jerusalem as Capital; U.S. to Move Embassy; Whistleblower Talks about Flynn. Aired 2-2:30p ET

Aired December 6, 2017 - 14:00   ET


[14:00:00] BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN ANCHOR: And then what's more is that the fire broke out near the iconic Getty Center. Commuters have been impacted tenfold. Several schools have been closed for the day.

And our Sara Sidner is there in Bel Air Estates with the latest.

What are you seeing there? What's happening, Sara?

SARA SIDNER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Brianna, we had an incredible drive here from Ventura where we saw just an incredible amount of fire coming down the hills. And then as we made our way along the 101 and 405, which, by the way, those big arteries have been re-opened, we got into Bel Air.

Here's what we're seeing right now. There are houses that are on a ridge that are on fire. There are houses here and the firefighters have been battling all morning long.

I want to give you an idea of where we were compared to where the Getty is. If you look through those trees there, you will see the Getty up there on the hill. That is on the other side of the 405. It is perfectly safe right now. But you can see the haze of smoke just flowing over the top of it. And, at this point, the winds are low enough that the fire has not picked up in ferocious speed like the fire in Ventura overnight.

Let me give you another little view down here because that is, of course, is not the only fire burning. There are several other. There's one right next door. And they tried to save it. They tried really hard to save it, but could not. And it is burning through right now. You are seeing the remnants of the fire sort of -- it looks like it's just smoldering, but there is still flames inside of this home here in Bel Air.

And again, we are in a situation where it is a very, very, very difficult place to get out of. And, of course, evacuations have been called. Take a look. I mean, look around you. You see the fire trucks here. Very hard to get out if you did not listen to authorities telling you to go. Once they say evacuate, you've got to do it. Remember your prescription. They've got to remember their pets. Remember to get any little thing that you want to get out of there because they are still evacuating people. But the good news is, the 405 is open. The Getty, right now, safe,

just over the ridge there. But there are fires burning on the other side of us as well and all across Ventura. This is a very dangerous fire season because of the Santa Ana winds that usually come in October. And here they are in December, to everyone's surprise. It's causing a hell of a time for residents here and firefighters alike, Brianna.

KEILAR: All right, Sara Sidner there in Bel Air Estates, keeping an eye on things for us. Four fires now raging there. Sara, thanks for that report.

We have more breaking news to talk about. At least 20 Democrat senators are now calling on their colleague, Senator Al Franken, to resign as sexual harassment allegations are mounting against him. Franken says he's going to make an announcement tomorrow.

Senator Kirsten Gillibrand is leading the charge for Franken to step down.


SEN. KIRSTEN GILLIBRAND (D), NEW YORK: Senator Franken is entitled to the Senate Ethics investigation process, but I don't think Congress is equipped -- I don't think they have the tools to do the kind of accountability that the American people are searching for. I do not feel that he should continue to serve. Everyone will make their own judgment. I hope they do make their own judgments.


KEILAR: CNN national politics reporter MJ Lee is live on Capitol Hill.

And, MJ, you have been following this issue. Just in general, sexual harassment allegations settlements there on Capitol Hill, you've been doing some tremendous reporting on this. Tell us of this case, though. These accusations surfaced a while ago. So tell us why this is happening today? It's almost like a critical mass of Democrat senators.

MJ LEE, CNN NATIONAL POLITICS REPORTER: Yes, Brianna, I think the simplest answer is that we reached a tipping point today. As you know, over the last three weeks or so, we saw a number of women come out to say that they were sexually harassed by Senator Franken or that he had behaved inappropriately towards them. And two of those women actually spoke first with CNN to share their stories. Last week there was an Army veteran who said that she was groped by Senator Franken, that he had touched her breasts while she was deployed overseas in Kuwait. And today there was another allegation, an unnamed women telling "Politico" that there was an incident back in 2006.

And so if you look at just the progression of things, the number of women that have started to come out and make these allegations, these senators simply just decided it was time for them to speak out and make the call, make the decision and call on Senator Franken to resign.

Now, it is not a coincidence that we saw all of these senators come out as once, as you suggested Brianna, starting with Kirsten Gillibrand, but then a number -- a flood of female Democrats coming out and now some male senators joining in as well. And these female senators, I'm told, have actually been talking about this, discussing this issue over the last week or so. And as these stories began to mount against Senator Franken, they grew increasingly frustrated. And then, today, with the new allegations coming out, they decided that enough is simply enough.

[14:05:01] Now, two members that we are watching closely right now, Brianna, one, of course, is Senator Chuck Schumer, the Senate minority leader. He told my colleague, Ted Barrett, that he was not commenting right now on Senator Franken and the calls for the resignation. And then Senator Franken himself. We are actually right outside of his office right now. We have not seen him all day. But as you said, tomorrow he is set to make an announcement. Of course, one possibility for that announcement is for him to accept the calls from his colleagues to resign and actually resign.

KEILAR: All right, MJ, stay with me. I want to bring in now CNN special correspondent Jamie Gangel to join this conversation here.

Jamie, it's difficult to see Senator Franken surviving this. What do you think?

JAMIE GANGEL, CNN SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, as MJ said, she said it's a flood. It's been an avalanche. And it really has happened very, very quickly.

We haven't been able to keep up with the numbers over the last two hours. And it started with women senators who are Democrats, but there are a lot of men now, Dick Durbin, Patrick Leahy, Republican Senator Susan Collins. So it's almost become, you look at the list, and you notice who hasn't. It's easier to see who hasn't come forward. So I think there's a lot of pressure.

Two other people we've noticed, Amy Klobuchar, his fellow senator, the senior senator from Minnesota. She has said only that she's going to wait until he makes his announcement tomorrow. And a lot of people have pointed to Senator Elizabeth Warren, who's been very outspoken about harassment in general. She has not said anything publicly, although there has been some reporting that privately she went to Senator Franken and said that he should resign.

But I think that there is so much pressure at this point. The fact that the ethics investigation, as Senator Gillibrand said she doesn't think that they can handle it, says a lot.

KEILAR: And let's listen to more of what Senator Gillibrand said today.


SEN. KIRSTIN GILLIBRAND (D), NEW YORK: Enough is enough. I mean this is a conversation we've been having for a very long time. And it's a conversation that this country needs to have. And I think when we start having to talk about the differences between sexual assault and sexual harassment and unwanted groping, you are having the wrong conversation. You need to draw a line in the sand and say, none of it is OK. None of it is acceptable. And we, as elected leaders, should absolutely be held to a higher standard, not a lower standard, and we should fundamentally be valuing women. And this is where this debate has to go.


KEILAR: MJ, I want to ask you about another thing that we heard Senator Gillibrand say that Jamie reference there, which was that she doesn't think the system there in Congress is equipped to deal with these kinds of situations. You and our other colleagues have done tremendous reporting that has uncovered just how, if I may, terrible this system is, how un-transparent it is. This is one of the things that we've realized through all of this, right?

LEE: Absolutely. I think if there was agreement on one thing on Capitol Hill right now, it is that the system is simply broken and doesn't work, doesn't protect victims. Senator Gillibrand is just one of many senators and members over on the House too who agree that this system has to be overhauled.

And I think actually a part of the ironic thing about some of these members who up until this point had pointed to the House Ethics Committee or the Senate Ethics Committee to look into these allegations against these various male lawmakers is the fact that these very members are in agreement that this system really doesn't work. The investigation was one way, I think, politically speaking for some of these lawmakers to punt on the question of what should be done about these allegations. But I think, you know, as we saw today, as these stories and allegations began to mount, that becomes an increasingly difficult thing to do, especially when there is widespread agreement that the system is really broken. And I think that's also why we're seeing a lot of calls for different legislations and resolutions being brought up on Capitol Hill to change the very system that has been in place really since the 1990s.

KEILAR: And, Jamie, real quick before we go, do you see this as a cultural shift that is also overtaking Congress on this issue?

GANGEL: Absolutely. It's a cultural shift. But there's also a political reality here. There were more and more allegations coming forward on Senator Franken. And what else are they waiting for? There is the potential political reality that Roy Moore is going to win that race and that he will be in the Senate and they have to deal with it. So I think it is both the cultural reality and the political reality.

KEILAR: Yes, and there are clearly Democrats who are trying to set themselves aside from Republicans --

GANGEL: Correct.

KEILAR: Who have back pedaled in their lack of -- initial lack of support for Roy Moore and now saying it's up to the voters of Alabama.

[14:10:10] Jamie Gangel, MJ Lee, thank you so much for both of you.

And up next we have some breaking news. We have new reaction to President Trump's major announcement just moments ago that he is planning to move the U.S. embassy in Israel to Jerusalem from Tel Aviv, to recognize Jerusalem as the Israeli capital. So how is this move being received? Is this going to spark violence there in the region? And could this effectively kill any chance at Mideast peace?

We also have more breaking news, what a whistleblower is revealing about General Michael Flynn, the former national security adviser to President Trump, and what he allegedly said about ripping up Russian sanctions. This as lawmakers question the president's eldest son, Donald Jr., about his contacts with Russians during the campaign.


[14:15:16] KEILAR: Moments ago President Trump doubled down on a campaign promise that should have serious ramifications. He just declared that Jerusalem is the capital of Israel and that the U.S. will be moving its U.S. embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. The city is also claimed by the Palestinians as its capital.

And the president's decision is roiling some U.S. allies. This includes the European Union, Arab nations there in the region. They're fearing violent unrest. They say the declaration will undermine any negotiations toward peace between Israelis and Palestinians. Even the pope voiced his profound concern, as he put it, about the president's decision. This image, of course, of the pope at the city's western wall.

But as President Trump announced Jerusalem is Israel capital, he did not exclude Palestinians from their claim to the city. Listen to this.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: It is time to officially recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. While previous presidents have made this a major campaign promise, they failed to deliver. Today I am delivering.

I've judged this course of action to be in the best interests of the United States of America and the pursuit of peace between Israel and the Palestinians. This is nothing more, or less, than a recognition of reality. It is also the right thing to do.

We want an agreement that is a great deal for the Israelis and a great deal for the Palestinians. We are not taking a position of any final status issues, including the specific boundaries of the Israel sovereignty in Jerusalem or the resolution of contested borders. Those questions are up to the parties involved.


KEILAR: I want to go now to CNN's senior international correspondent Arwa Damon. She is in Amman, Jordan, which is one of the major U.S. allies in the Middle East. It tried to stop the president from making this announcement.

Arwa, tell us what we are expecting here. Some Palestinian advocates are calling for three days of rage. What do we think is going to happen?

ARWA DAMON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: The thing is, it's not just Palestinian advocates. It's pretty much anyone who you talk to, whether it's here in Jordan or across the Middle East who is quite enraged at this move by the United States. The Jordanian government itself is quite livid. We also just got off the phone with a Jordanian member of parliament, Dima Tahbu (ph), who said that despite the nuances within President Trump's speech, any unilateral move toward the status of Israel, whether it is a small step or a large step, is considered by parties involved, parties who have an interest, a stake in the fate of Jerusalem, to be something that is entirely unacceptable.

Furthermore, this move seeks to undermine not just the peace process, but also the broader relationship between the American administration, the Trump administration, and the Middle East, and a key country like Jordan. Jordan is meant to be one of America's top allies in the region. And to merely brush side -- and this is exactly what this is being viewed as -- brushed aside Jordan's concerns over this declaration, it seemed to be insulting.

And this just aggravates sentiment towards the United States. It has always really been viewed as being biased towards Israel. But now with this move, that bias, it seems to be in the eyes of many to be utterly confirmed. And even though for Israel, yes, it is an historic move when it comes to the perspective of the Palestinians and, in fact, many Arabs and Muslims, this is just driving a knife deeper into an already gaping wound.

KEILAR: And, Arwa, you make such a good point that this has to do with the broader picture of how this affects U.S. allies there in the region. It isn't just about peace between the Palestinians and the Israelis. One of the big foreign policy goals of the United States is to defeat, diminish ISIS. And this is something that requires a lot of cooperation in the region. What about -- what about that and the other joint efforts that the U.S. has with allies there?

DAMON: Yes, it requires a lot of cooperation, yes. And every single country that is dealing with its own extremist problem is most certainly going to continue to pursue those efforts.

Of course the overriding concern in this is that this declaration really just gives the golden bullet of ammunition to any extremist organization that right now wants to go out there and recruit. It kills any legitimacy that the United States may have still continued to maintain throughout the region.

[14:20:19] And it really goes to the very core of perspective towards America and towards the west that is already being viewed as being bias towards Israel. Many extremist organizations do falsely -- or to a certain degree exploit the Palestine cause as a recruitment tool. So that is, of course, another concern that exists out there as well.

KEILAR: All right, Arwa Damon in Amman, thank you so much.

And I do want to get some further perspective on this now from Elliot Abrams. He served as deputy national security adviser for President George W. Bush, supervising U.S. policy in the Middle East. And he's also senior fellow for Middle Eastern Studies at the Council on Foreign Relations.

OK, Elliott, I just want to get your reaction. I know it is different as we hear so --


KEILAR: It is very different because we hear so many countries who are very upset about this. They say this is going to impede Mideast peace. This is going to impede U.S. alliances in the region. You think it's over blown.

ABRAMS: Much over blown. Look, there are plenty of countries who don't like this. Once upon a time the U.N. voted for the Zionism is Racism Resolution. So this tremendous maltreatment of Israel around the world.

It is the only country in the world that isn't allowed to choose its own capital. So today the president said, that's not right. Israel has a capital. It is Jerusalem. Presidents go and visit it. Where do they think they are on the moon? They're in the capital city of Israel. All of these countries that we were just hearing about have interest in fighting terrorism, in alliances, in friendship with the United States, they're going to pursue those interests. They're not going to break relations. They're not going to say, oh, we don't want to talk to you anymore. This is really completely overblown.

KEILAR: Some have concerns that this could be the third intifada. And we just heard Abbas saying that this decision -- and we just learned this -- will cause wars that will never enter.

ABRAMS: Yes, yes, yes. You know, there is -- there are intifadas among the Palestinians when the Palestinian Authority allows it and foments it. Six months ago Israel put some metal detectors on Temple Mound. The Palestinian leadership could have said, well, there are metal detectors in Mecca and Medina, what's the big deal. Instead, they fomented violence. So maybe they will foment violence. A president cannot permit rioters to have veto power over American foreign policy.

KEILAR: Perhaps it's not a surprise that there would be a response from this magnitude, of this intensity from Palestinians. I mean you are obviously so well acquainted with the issues. Why is President Trump choosing to do this now? I mean it's not as if --


KEILAR: I understand what you're saying. You're sort of -- you're pointing this on the Palestinians. You're saying, look, if they want to foment violence, it's fine. Well, we know they're not going to stand by and say, oh, yes, that's fine. That's perfectly OK.

ABRAMS: I would distinguish between demonstrations and violence.


ABRAMS: And I am afraid they will be fomenting some violence.

Well, the timing is partly that he had to sign this waiver or not sign it. And last time, you know, he was prevailed upon by people who said, you have to sign it. Every president signs it.

I think he looked up and said, what are we doing here? Israel has a capital. It's Jerusalem. It's been the capital for 70 years. Why can't we just say, this is the capital? We foreclose nothing. We close no doors. He said that in the speech. Might it someday also be a capital of a Palestine state? It might. We're not closing that off. But we're telling the truth. Why does every country get to say, this is our capital, this is where our government is, except one.

KEILAR: Elliott, thank you so much.

ABRAMS: Thank you.

KEILAR: Really appreciate you being with us. Elliott Abrams.

And here's what we have coming up next. We have some breaking news. What a whistleblower is revealing about General Michael Flynn and the discussion that took place about ripping up Russia sanctions. That report live from Capitol Hill, next.

And we continue to monitor the situation in southern California. There are parts of Bel Air Estates that are now under evacuation. We have seen houses there on our screen here up in flames. CNN has reporters there live on the scene and we're going to get you the latest.


[14:28:50] KEILAR: We have more breaking news this hour in the Russia investigation.

A new report says fired national security adviser Michael Flynn promised that sanctions against Russia would be, quote, ripped up as soon as the Trump administration was in power. This is according to new information from a whistleblower. And I want to get more now from senior congressional correspondent Manu Raju on this.

Manu, this suggests what type of incentive for Michael Flynn?

MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, some of it actually could potentially enrich him. Now we -- we're now learning, according to this whistleblower, that on the day that President Trump was inaugurated in January, that he had actually texted his business partner and actually suggested that they could work on a nuclear energy project in the Middle East with the Russians. And the one reason why he suggested that this project could be successful, according to this whistleblower, that Michael Flynn had told his business partner that sanctions on Russia would be ripped up, according to this whistleblower.

[14:29:47] Now, the whistleblower coming from Congressman Elijah Cummings, who's the top Democrat on the House Oversight Committee, and he's telling the Republican chairman of that committee, Trey Gowdy, that this whistleblower is prepared to talk to him about exactly what he appears to have known about conversations that Michael Flynn had with his business associate about this project involving nuclear -- the energy that involved Russia and the potential of easing Russian sanctions.