Return to Transcripts main page


Trump Jr Says He Communicated with Hope Hicks, Not President, About Trump Tower Meeting Response; Whistleblower Says Flynn's Business Colleague Said on Inauguration Day that Russia Sanctions Would be "Ripped Up"; U.S. Recognizes Jerusalem as Israel's Capital; Fires Spread in LA, Shut Down Freeway and Threaten Bel Air. Aired 3:30-4p ET

Aired December 6, 2017 - 15:30   ET


[15:30:00] MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: -- father about the response to those repose. Now you recall that, Briana, that the White House -- Donald Trump Jr., put out several almost conflicting statements about this meeting that happened in June of 2016 in which he was promised that we now know he was promised dirt on the Clinton campaign from the Russians. But what Donald Trump Jr. told House investigators today was that he did not talk to his father about the response to those initial reports. Instead he communicated with Hope Hicks, who is now the White House communications director. And Hope Hicks had communicated with Donald Trump Jr.'s father.

Now this crafting of some of this initial statement to the initial reports occurred on Air Force One in which we know now that president Trump was involved in that initial crafting of that statement. Now Bob Mueller, the special counsel, almost certainly is interested in the response to those reports as part of his looking into whether or not there was any effort to cover up exactly what happened here last year.

Now, at the same time, Donald Trump Jr., we are told, said that he did not tell his father about the June 2016 meeting after it happened. So, said he met with those Russians. Those Russian operatives as well as Jared Kushner, Paul Manafort. And after that meeting did not communicate this with his father. So today, Brianna, we are now learning that he did instead communicated with Hope Hicks earlier this year when those initial reports first came out about this meeting, but not any direct communication with his father. According to this testimony that's still ongoing right now, Brianna.

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN HOST: All right. Well let's find out if that really makes a legal difference. Manu, stand by for us. I want to analyze this and bring in Gloria Borger. We also have Jennifer Taub. She is a professor at Lamont Law School, and Michael Zeldin, he is a CNN legal analyst. He's also a former special assistant to Robert Mueller at the Justice Department, who of course is now the special counsel when it comes to looking into Russia and potential collusion with the Trump campaign. OK. Michael, does this matter if Donald Trump Jr. has now told House investigators he didn't speak directly to his father about crafting a response to Trump Tower meeting once that broke and became big news. And that instead he spoke to Hope Hicks. Does this matter? MICHAEL ZELDIN, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: No, not particularly. The issue

here is, you have to step back one step, June 2 Don Jr. starts the communications. June 7 the President says -- whether that President Trump says stay tuned there's going to be a big announcement about essentially dirt Hillary. June 9th is the meeting. Then no announcement because they didn't get -- I guess -- the dirt. The president says I didn't know anything about this. Now Don Jr. is saying, well I didn't directly talk to my dad, I indirectly talked to my dad. The indirectly talked to my dad versus directly talk to my dad I don't think it has substance.

KEILAR: Because to be clear, it's not as if he just worked out a response with Hope Hicks, the president knew about it. According to Manu's reporting, he said that his father -- according to multiple sources -- was debating between a longer and shorter statement while Hicks and President Trump were aboard Air Force One. So, she was essentially a conduit, but the president is fully looped in on all this.

ZELDIN: Yes, that's my belief. If he has actual knowledge from the mouth of his son or constructive knowledge through Hope Hicks, that's knowledge. And to the extent that he said I don't have knowledge, that contradicts this testimony.

GLORIA BORGER, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: We don't know if he had knowledge before the meeting. In other words, what we are hearing --

KEILAR: That president Trump had knowledge?

BORGER: That president Trump had knowledge before. We know he is saying after, but not before.

ZELDIN: But the implications are striking in that there is a notice on June 2. There is a stay tuned announcement. There is the meeting and there is no announcement. Those things have to be read together. Which means the President knew after June 2 and knew after June 9 that they didn't get the goods and therefore there was no big speech.

JENNIFER TAUB, PROFESSOR, LAMONT LAW SCHOOL: And looking though at the crafting of that statement this year on 2017, even if the President went through Hope Hicks, as you know, Michael, there is a federal criminal statute, section 2, which is aiding and abetting. So, to the extent what she was doing, if it were considered to be witness tampering, the President if he was involved in that could be liable as a principal under the obstruction statute because of this aiding and abetting statute. So, I'm not sure distancing the president in this way and admitting that Hope was in the middle really helps, can't help.

KEILAR: Because it's not -- you would expect that Hope would be relaying everything that Donald Trump Jr. was telling her to the President, right?

BORGER: Right. And this is what of course in terms of the crafting of the statement, this was what was occurring aboard Air Force One. And Hope Hicks was sort of a conduit between the president, the lawyers on the ground. And you have to question yourself about why the President was involved in this at all. I mean, this could turn out to be a bit of a problem for him. The White House has said the President weighed in on the statement because as any father would, he cared about what was happening to his son. But why would you have the President of the United States getting involved in this, in the first place?

ZELDIN: Because he already was involved in it.

BORGER: Well, that's the point.

KEILAR: And Trump Jr. has firmly denied that he had communicated with his father about the June 2016 Trump Tower meeting, which is what we were saying. Do you find that believable?

[15:35:06] TAUB: Taking it face value, I don't find it believable, given the timeline that Michael is discussing. It seems like that's a question that we need to know the answer to. When did he tell his father and what did he tell his father. And not just after the meeting, but before. This is really critical in terms of potential criminal charges that arise out of that meeting.

KEILAR: And what about the fact that sources, Jennifer, have said that they said that he has not recalled some key details about the White House response. He has not recalled? Which is not unusual, right? You hear the I do not recall as a way for people to shield themselves in deposition or this. But what do you think?

TAUB: That the president says he does not recall?

KEILAR: No, it says Donald Jr. talking to these House investigators, that there is a lot key details about the White House response and he just doesn't recall them.

TAUB: You know, people may think that's a helpful thing to deny your recollection. But depending upon on how much you claim not to remember, that can be obstruction in and of itself. If you are not being truthful when you communicate with Congress about your memory of things.

ZELDIN: Yes. Just ask Flynn. Because if you look at the information that Flynn pled guilty too, one of the affirmative lies was I don't remember. And that's what got lots of people in the Watergate case in trouble. And if Don Jr. says that before Mueller and if the president says what he says before Mueller, one of the two of them is going to find themselves in a false statements pickle.

BORGER: And Mueller will get to the bottom of this, if the Congressional committees don't. Because they will know what Don Jr.'s testimony is. They will know what Hope Hicks's testimony is. They will piece this together. And then they will figure out who said what when. And Mueller and the congressional committees are taking people under oath, so don't forget that.

ZELDIN: That's right. And the one thing absolutely correct, and the one thing that we know is that Mueller knows how to ask questions, which is not the strength of Congress.

KEILAR: All right. Stand by for me you guys. Really appreciate it. Speaking of Michael Flynn, another major development in the Russian investigation. First, new revelations from whistleblower who says fired national security adviser, Michael Flynn told a former business colleague that sanctions against Russia would be, quote, ripped up as soon as the Trump administration was in power. OK, Michael, he's communicating this, and then where you have a lot of people saying is he's saying this to a former business colleague, this idea that there could be perhaps some financial enrichment for Michael Flynn. What do you think about this revelation?

ZELDIN: So, this is important in a lot of areas that implicate criminal laws. First, is remember Flynn has pleaded guilty to lying about sanctions themselves. He said that he didn't speak to Kislyak about sanctions when he did speak to Kislyak about sanctions. The Don Jr. meeting in Trump Tower that we've just been talking about -- which they said was about adoptions -- was about sanctions. Here's another example where they are talking about sanctions. Now, there may be financial benefit to Flynn and the Flynn Intel Group, his son, which would be problematic. Then you have to wonder whether all this sanction stuff is the sort of quid pro quo part of an earlier collusion agreement. That has to be inquired by Mueller.

BORGER: You have to ask, why the preoccupation early on, and before early on in the administration, why the preoccupation with Russia, with sanctions, with getting that reversed? I mean, that goes to the core of what this is about, as Michael was saying, about conspiracy, questions about that. Why? We still don't have the answer to that question.

KEILAR: Jennifer, what do you think?

TAUB: I think this is really important. Because it also goes to some of the questions we were asking about with the president with obstruction. Looking for the question, we are asking why did he fire James Comey. And in order to be guilty of obstruction you need to have corrupt intent. So, understanding if behind all of this, there is some quid pro quo would help eliminate some of those questions. So, we do need to know that.

KEILAR: Yes, the motive is important. All right, Jennifer Taub, Michael Zeldin, Gloria Borger, thank you so much.

And we have more breaking news, new reaction to president Trump major announcement planning to move the U.S. embassy in Israel to Jerusalem from Tel Aviv and to recognize Jerusalem as the Israeli capital. Fareed Zakaria is going to join me next to talk about that.

Plus, we continue to Washington Southern California where part of Bel Air Estates are now under mandatory evacuation. We're going to take you there.


KEILAR: We have some new pictures coming in from Gaza where Palestinians are protesting President Trump's announcement that the U.S. is going to move its embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. There are protests as well in Istanbul, and we have pictures of those there. Against President Trump's sharp historical shift in U.S. policy. Here's what the president said.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Through all of these years presidents representing the United States have declined to officially recognize Jerusalem as Israel's capital. In fact, we have declined to acknowledge any Israeli capital at all.

[15:45:00] But today we finally acknowledge the obvious. That Jerusalem is Israel's capital. This is nothing more or less than a recognition of reality. It is also the right thing to do.


KEILAR: I want to talk more about this with Fareed Zakaria, the host of CNN's "FAREED ZAKARIA GPS." So, Fareed, as you have watched all of this unfold as you listened to the President's statement. And he certainly did make an attempt with some language to tried to soften this. But this is a decision that has key points of recognizing the capital moving, making the plan to move the embassy. What do you think of this decision?

FAREED ZAKARIA, CNN HOST, FAREED ZAKARIA GPS: It seems a remarkably un-strategic decision, by which I mean if this were a decision taken in collaboration with a series of moves towards peace where you were doing somethings to assist the Palestine side, somethings to assist the Israel side, it might make sense. But this feels on its own and untethered. Just kind of political pandering. Because really it is mostly a symbolic slap in the face to millions of Palestinians and millions of Arabs. It doesn't actually even foreclose the possibility there may be a shared capital.

As you say, there was a softening of the language. I think put in the last minute. Which says we the United States are not saying that this means that there can be no Arab capital in East Jerusalem. He uses vaguer language than that. But that's the intent. So then why do it? In other words, you are not actually changing policy, or you are not saying that the Arabs and Palestinians can't have some kind of shared sovereignty, or can't have some neighborhoods of East Jerusalem that they call their capital. You are simply doing this as a giveaway to Israel hardliners, hard line groups in the United States, Evangelical Christians, it feels very un-strategic. Entirely symbolic and likely to simply offend lots of people for no good reason.

KEILAR: The President does not have a background for sure in diplomacy. But this is a promise that he made. And there seems to be, from our reporting at CNN, this desire for him to have made good on something that he promised, which was not to -- which was to go ahead and move the embassy, not to prolong that decision seems to be his will here. Is there is there a way where could he be asking Israel to do something maybe difficult ahead? Or is that just silliness is this because in the game of diplomacy you wait until you need them to do something difficult before you giveaway a carrot?

ZAKARIA: You put it exactly, right, Brianna. What negotiator gives away the prize first and then asks for something reciprocal later? Why would the Israelis do it? They already have what they asked for. And it doesn't seem tied to any particular strategic plan. As for delivering on his promise, you know, let's remember the president has essentially reneged on his promise that he would label China a currency manipulator on day one, repeal Obamacare, build a wall, and have the Mexico pay for it. So, it's odd that this would be the one campaign promise that he adheres to. And as I say, one that comes out of nowhere, does not seem to be tied to a series of negotiations or concessions. Does not have substantive changes in policy. And as a result, is just a symbolic slap in the face to millions of people, and getting very little in return for that.

KEILAR: The head of the Palestinian Authority says that the move is going to lead the region into wars that will never end. This is one of the main fears from a lot of not just the Palestinians, but for many different countries that this is going to lead to violence. What do you think?

ZAKARIA: I think not. I think it's an exaggeration. Who knows, it's very dangerous to predict in the Middle East, and the whole place in some ways is a powder keg. But the Palestinians are so powerless and are so weak. They are divided. The Israelis have so much more power. They have a wall that effectively insulates them from terrorism. They have really a kind of regional super power. So, I don't see how you could have large scale violence. Could you have a demonstration of the kind you showed. You maybe have a loan or a couple of terrorist incidents, but not ones that will kill lots of people. And they don't have the effective capacity to do that between Israel Security Services and the wall. So, no, I think that it's just -- it tragically will add to the despair of Palestinians.

[15:50:00] It will harden the most hardline elements in Israel. Which means that this problem will just more intractable, more insoluble. The tragedy for Palestinians will be they will continue to live without a state, without citizenship and the tragedy for Israelis will be that they will continue to live in this very awkward position of ruling over millions of people, you know, in a situation when they don't want to be in. Israel wants to be a real genuine liberal democracy of a kind that it has so many elements of, but it has this one albatross, the Palestinian problem. And this doesn't seem to me to get us any closer to solving it, it seems to harden that divide, harden those conditions and, you know, kick the can down the road for a possible explosion at some later date.

KEILAR: Fareed Zakaria, always great insight. Thank you so much. And make sure to catch Fareed on Sunday. "FAREED ZAKARIA GPS," 10:00 a.m. eastern on Sunday. We'll be checking it out. Thank you.

And straight ahead, schools are closed, highways are closed, mandatory evacuations are in place. You have fast-moving flames that are just inching closer now to Southern California neighborhoods. Very densely populated neighborhoods. We're going to go live to the fire zone next. [15:55:00] (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KEILAR: We are following breaking news in Southern California. There are four major wildfires that are burning right now in very populated areas. There is one of these that is in L.A. and it has shut down the city's busiest freeway, the 405. I know you've heard of that route there. This has also forced evacuations for one of the area's most exclusive enclaves, Bel-Air Estates and the fire is threatening L.A.'s famed Getty Center. A beautiful masterpiece of an art museum high above Los Angeles. And then in Ventura, north of Los Angeles, this is what folks there are dealing with today. A fire has burned 50,000 acres there and forced thousands to flee in Armageddon like landscape. I want to bring in CNN's Paul Vercammen who's in Ventura. Paul, first, there are thousands that are now without power, right?

PAUL VERCAMMEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Absolutely. This fire has knocked out power throughout the area. Brianna, if you don't mind, just to characterize it, it's now 65,000 acres. I'm only about 20 feet from the shoreline here. What has happened is this fire made a big advance and this Thomas fire as it is called burned towards the Pacific Ocean. Now that's good news and bad news. Good news because clearly the Pacific Ocean, you know, is a barrier and one that will stop the flames' advance. And then you mentioned the 405 freeway. Well just in front of us, you can't quite see it, is the 101, that major artery that connects Los Angeles, Ventura, Santa Barbara, all the way up to San Francisco. It is still moving right now. They haven't shut it down. This terrain is so rugged and it's so steep that they're not going to send firefighters up there. Too dangerous, and, frankly, they don't want to waste their time doing it. They're going to go ahead and let this burn down towards the freeway and toward the ocean. This is one of the active flanks of flame right now in Ventura County and I can tell you that it's burning like this for four or five miles -- Brianna.

KEILAR: All right. Paul, stand by for us. I want to jump on over to Kyung Lah. She is a south of you there in Bel-Air. Kyung, we spoke last hour, I was heartened by what looked like visible progress going on behind you as helicopters were dropping water. What's going on there now?

KYUNG LAH, CNN SENIOR NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: They've been hitting this hillside ever since I last spoke with you, Brianna. What you can see over here, over my left shoulder, is white smoke. They are continuing to see some of this brush catch on fire. Firefighters have been hitting this area with their hoses. The air drops have also continued, but it's mainly structure protection that we're seeing now. They've seen a lot of this heavier brush burn itself out.

Something else I want to point out, you can see part of the hillside looks like it's pink, part of the hillside looks like it's burned off. That pink is fire retardant. And there is so much brush here it is so dry and the winds, even though they have been better today, they are still a bit of a factor that has simply been something that hasn't been completely effective here, or at least just here on this hillside, Brianna. So they're trying to protect these homes, watching all of this, but at the same time really thanking mother nature, Brianna, that the winds haven't been as bad here in Bel-Air as they anticipated -- Brianna.

KEILAR: Kyung, I know the evacuations are mandatory, but are you getting the sense that people are actually heeding that and are getting out?

LAH: Some people. That's the best way to put it. Some houses we are still seeing some people as we drove up here, but some of the houses look like they've been completely evacuated. We've seen many more firefighters. The good news, many more firefighters than residents who have decided to stay here.

KEILAR: All right. I want to bring Paul Vercammen back in real quick in Ventura. So, Paul, at this point in time, as you see this fire moving towards the ocean, a little farther inland, how are things going near the areas where we're seeing so many houses that have gone up?

VERCAMMEN: Well, there is a pitch battle going on there. We know there is a lot of effort being put into surrounding Ojai, California, and making sure that's fully protected. So, they're battling this on many fronts, 1,776 firefighters in all on just this blaze alone -- Brianna.

KEILAR: All right. Paul Vercammen, Kyung Lah, thank you so much to both of you as you continue to report out this story. "THE LEAD" with Jake tapper starts right now.