Return to Transcripts main page


Trump Jr. Claims Talk With Dad Is "Privileged"; Trump Jr. Won't Reveal Details Of Call With His Father; Franken Will Make Announcement On His Future; Al Franken to Make an Announcement on the Senate Floor; FBI Chief Testifies After Trump Trashed Agency; Aired 9-9:30a ET

Aired December 7, 2017 - 09:00   ET


[09:00:24] JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: All right. Good morning, everyone. I am John Berman.

POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: And I'm Poppy Harlow. We are bracing for what will be a historic day on Capitol Hill. Very shortly we could see Democratic senator Al Franken of Minnesota take to the Senate floor and speak to announce whether he will resign.

It is hard to see how he survives another day. One Democratic senator after another -- look at all of them -- has called on Franken to step down. 30 in total. Though his office insisted overnight no final decision had been made.

It has been nearly a month since the first accusations of sexual misconduct against Franken, unwanted touching and kissing.

BERMAN: The latest came yesterday, but that one unlike others Franken categorically denies. Still this is a moment that has national implications not just for this moment of moral reckoning over the treatment of women but political implications as well.

Will Democrats force out one of their own even as the Republican Party jumps in to support a candidate accused of molesting a 14-year-old girl?

A lot of questions, a lot of implications. Let's start with MJ Lee on Capitol Hill with the very latest on what Senator Franken plans to do today -- MJ.

MJ LEE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, John and Poppy, what has become painfully clear over the last 24 hours is that Senator Franken does not have the support of his colleagues. The majority of Senate Democrats coming out yesterday to say that it is time for him to go and the allegations have simply become too much.

Now what we do know about today is that at least as of yesterday a source telling me that the indication was Al Franken would speak, would make his announcement from the Senate floor, but of course no final announcement has been made. And as of last night his office was saying he has not finally made a decision and we also know that he was speaking with his colleagues throughout the day, including Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, and Franken actually went to his apartment last night is what we are told as well.

Now if Franken does decide to make this announcement from the Senate floor and does decide to announce that he is resigning, you can imagine that this is going to be potentially a very emotional speech. This is a man who was elected to office first in 2008, he is beloved by many of his colleagues here, and talking to senators yesterday it was very clear that for a lot of them the decision to come out and say that it is time for him to resign was a very, very difficult one.

Now what we don't know, John and Poppy, is whether Franken will decide to address the women who have come out to say that he touched them inappropriately or behaved inappropriately. Franken in the past has said that women should be believed and that he was ashamed and embarrassed to see these stories come out about himself.

So as soon as we know what he will say and where he will speak, we will let you know.

John and Poppy, back to you.

BERMAN: All right. MJ Lee, stand by. Please keep us posted. These developments are coming in all morning long.

Joining us now to discuss, CNN political commentator Matt Lewis and also CNN political analyst Margaret Talev of Bloomberg.

Guys, first of all, does anyone think that Al Franken isn't resigning today?

MARGARET TALEV, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes, I mean, all signs certainly are pointing in that direction. And when you have the bulk of your own caucus calling for it and when you're in the Democratic Party, it's just hard -- it's hard to see any different outcome.

HARLOW: So, Matt Lewis, to you, I mean, what pressure does this then -- if he does resign and again we're waiting any moment he could take to the Senate floor. He will make these live remarks.

If he does resign, if Franken does resign, you have Conyers who resigned, right? And you have Roy Moore, defiant. The president obviously is still the president, of course. Can Democrats now say we cleaned house? Republicans, what about yours?

MATT LEWIS, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: That's definitely what they are going to do. And I think it makes perfect sense. It's ironic in a way because if you go back, you know, to Bill Clinton and that whole story, and Republicans positioning themselves as the family values party, but I think this is where Democrats want to be.

You know, while Conyers was doing his thing and while Al Franken was doing his thing, Democrats were still running against the so-called war on women. They were making fun of Mitt Romney for binders full of women. I think this is where they want to be. They pushed Conyers out. If they can get rid of Al Franken, and I think they're about to do that, then the contrast will be stark. They can say, look, there's one party that has Roy Moore and Donald

Trump, and then there's another party that is actually taking this seriously.

BERMAN: You know, there's a poll. A Quinnipiac poll, voters were asked whether a lawmaker facing multiple sexual harassment or solo allegation should resign, 77 percent of Democrats say yes, but just 51 percent of Republicans say yes, Margaret. I mean, there is a partisan divide here not just on the treatment from the elected officials but from the consequences from voters.

[09:05:01] TALEV: That's right. And I think we see a couple of sort of factors going on here. One is the makeup of the Democrats in the Senate. Of course a lot of women in that group and a lot of women in leadership and a lot of women seeking to rise up to leadership positions maybe in the Senate, maybe in 2020, but also it's the makeup of the Democratic Party, women voters inside the Democratic Party or male voters who are a lot more sensitized to some of these social issues. And there's also of course the reality that at least in Minnesota the ability to have another Democrat serve out that term and get momentum for the next election.

HARLOW: Sure. Right, sure, I mean, that's sort of a shoo-in.

Matt, you know, you have these 30 -- it's pretty funny. Thirty Democratic senators saying that Al Franken should go. The next obvious question becomes on the Republican side, what about the president? Because again the allegations against the president are from women from before he was in politics and the allegations from Senator Al Franken mainly are from women before he was in politics. So where does that leave the pressure on the Republicans?

LEWIS: Well, look, I'll say this. I think that, obviously, as we just noted, I think Democrats are very clearly -- they're trying to clear the deck and make a stark contrast that Republicans are the party that will tolerate this stuff and Democrats have gotten rid of their predators.

Having said that, I think there's another ironic problem which is that if you, as a party, if the Republican Party sends the message that they are going to circle the wagons, that they are not going to throw people under the bus, even for serious indiscretions, in a way that disincentivizes people coming forward, whereas if the Democrats are now sending the message.

BERMAN: Right.

LEWIS: Hey, if there's proof we're going to get rid of somebody, in a way that opens up the floodgates. So, you know, look, I mean, you could argue that Machiavellian pure political standpoint by doubling down and refusing to give an inch, Republicans actually -- it may not be good morally or ethically, but politically speaking there's an argument for this.

BERMAN: You know, the way to survive it is to deny it. I mean, the way -- you know, the people who have admitted it -- HARLOW: They're now out.

BERMAN: Are out and the people who have denied it have survived politically.


BERMAN: That said, Margaret, again, I'm struck by this. I mean, Al Franken will speak on the Senate floor we believe at some point. It could happen very, very soon. A U.S. senator speaking on the Senate floor, potentially resigning, this is very big deal. I mean, it doesn't happen once except, you know, every few decades. I think Bob Packwood was the last one.


BERMAN: Who did it like this, in the '90s for very similar types of things. You know, talk to me about where this fits in this moment that we are in?

TALEV: It is -- this is obviously a galvanizing moment from Hollywood to politics through journalism and perhaps ultimately to Wall Street. Part of the Democrats' calculation on this idea of having zero tolerance policy towards sexual behavior that makes anyone uncomfortable is the idea that they want to be able to pommel Republicans with impunity and to avoid any criticism that they are being hypocrites, that they're protecting their own.

And Al Franken at this moment in time finds himself firmly caught in the crosshairs of that calculation, which does carry political risks for the Democratic Party. But given again the makeup of the voters in the Democratic Party and given the makeup of the members in Congress and what they see as their calculus, this is of course the leadership and many of the Democratic members have chosen.

HARLOW: Matt Lewis, very quickly. People are already talking about Senator Kirsten Gillibrand potentially for 2020 before this but now she called out Bill Clinton, saying Bill Clinton should have resigned after the Monica Lewinsky scandal, and then she becomes the first Democrat to come out yesterday and say Al Franken should resign, Democratic senator. What does that make you think?

LEWIS: I think she's the most devious and cunning politician in America today. She is the Hope Hicks of the Democratic Party. This is a woman who used to sleep with a gun under her bed, who became a big time anti-gun advocate. It's a woman who took Hillary Clinton's seat, who sucked up to the Clintons for decades, and then totally turned on Bill Clinton and Hillary, by the way, when the opportunity presented itself.

I have no doubt that she actually does care about this issue, but I think Al Franken was pretty good friends with her at one point. Now she's turned on him. She is stepping on a lot of people and maybe she might make it all the way to Pennsylvania Avenue in the process.

BERMAN: That's a pretty stark analysis right there. Matt Lewis, Margaret, great to have you with us. Thanks so much.

HARLOW: Thank you.

LEWIS: Thank you. HARLOW: In less than hour, the head of the FBI, Christopher Wray,

will testify before the House Judiciary Committee. It'll be the first time since President Trump blasted his agency saying the reputation was the worst in history, calling the FBI in tatters. Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle set to grill Wray.

BERMAN: Yes. He could face serious questions today. This is a very important moment for the new FBI director.

[09:10:02] Our Laura Jarrett has the details on what he's facing -- Laura.

LAURA JARRETT, CNN JUSTICE REPORTER: Hey, good morning, John. This is the first time we will get a chance to see the FBI director since the president's tweets over the weekend. And while his prepared statement shows that he's ready to field questions on everything from bureau's counterterrorism work to hate crimes we expect the questions will largely focus on all the news that broke over the weekend, including first and foremost that tweet from the president saying the FBI's reputation is in, quote, "tatters."

And the Democrats on the committee are going to press very hard on the bureau's independence and morale in the wake of that criticism from the president. But Wray is also going to face really tough questions from conservatives on charges of political bias at the FBI in the wake of revelations that a top counter intelligence expert was dismissed from Special Counsel Robert Mueller's team after exchanging text messages with an FBI lawyer that were apparently critical of the president. So lots of questions there on Peter Strzok.

And finally, we expect to see a number of questions on obstruction of justice in light of the president's tweets again over the weekend about former national security adviser Michael Flynn lying to the FBI, combined with a top Democrat, Dianne Feinstein saying she sees the building blocks of an obstruction case coming together -- John, Poppy.

HARLOW: All right. Laura Jarrett, thank you so much. Of course we'll be monitoring that testimony and bring it to you live as well as it begins.

So a father-son talk protected by attorney-client privilege?

BERMAN: When you're his lawyer by the way.

HARLOW: Yes. By the way. An important by the way. That is what Donald Trump, Jr. says is the reason that he cannot talk about what he told his father about that meeting at Trump Tower with the Russian lawyer. Are congressional investigators, though, buying it?

BERMAN: All right. And then a day of rage, protesters flooding the streets, rallying against President Trump's decision to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.

Plus a hellish inferno in southern California. Firefighters not just battling flames, battling 80-mile-per-hour wind gusts.

Our Stephanie Elam is there.

STEPHANIE ELAM, CNN CORRESPONDENT: John and Poppy, you are talking about tens of thousands of people being evacuated and also more acreage burning overnight.

I'll have an update for you on the California wildfire situation coming up.



HARLOW: Question this morning about whether Donald Trump, Jr., is trying to redefine attorney/client privilege refusing to share details of a Russia-related conversation with his father to lawmakers because, well, lawyers were listening in.

BERMAN: Is that how attorney/client privilege works? CNN's Evan Perez following every aspect of the story for us. Evan, what do you have?

EVAN PEREZ, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Well, you might want to call it as the father/son privilege. Donald Jr. says that the attorney/client privilege is why he doesn't have to tell lawmakers what he and his dad talked about this summer after news reports emerged on his June 2016 meeting with Russians.

Now, you'll remember that was a meeting at Trump Tower, in which the Russians promised to provide Jr. with information to undermine Hillary Clinton's campaign. The president's son met with House investigators yesterday to answer questions for several hours.

He told lawmakers that the father/son chat happened after Trump Jr. issued a misleading statement about the Trump Tower meeting and ultimately released e-mails showing what the meeting was really about.

Trump also told investigators that he spoke to Hope Hicks, one of the president's closest aides as they scrambled to prepare that statement for the media. And that conversation occurred while the president was actually traveling overseas.

And as we've reported previously, White House aides and the president himself worked on Air Force One to prepare that initial misleading statement, which initially said the 2016 Trump Tower meeting was about adoptions.

Now neither Trump Jr. or the president, lawyers, but Trump Jr. said that lawyers were present for the conversations so it's covered by attorney/client privilege. That's an answer that seems to be OK with Republicans, who control that House committee.

And we know that Trump Tower meeting and the White House response are now under scrutiny by Special Counsel Robert Mueller.

BERMAN: Evan, there are other developments overnight. We are learning about a whistle blower's claims about, you know, fired National Security Adviser Michael Flynn saying that during the president's inaugural address, he was texting someone about Russian sanctions? What's going on here?

PEREZ: Right. These are allegations, as you said, were coming from someone who is claiming to be a whistle blower, who told a congressional committee that Mike Flynn was sending these text messages near minutes into the new Trump administration about a business proposal that he had been working on before the election.

Now Flynn, as you know, has pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI, and the text message we are talking about was a plan to work with the Russian government-owned company to build nuclear reactors in the Middle East.

Flynn told a former business colleague that the plan was, quote, "Good to go." According to the former colleague, Flynn suggested that the sanctions against the Russians would be, quote, "ripped up" in the early days of the new administration.

Congressman Elijah Cummings is the one who released this information and he wants more investigation. Trey Gowdy, the chairman of the House Oversight Committee says that there are plenty of investigations being done by the Intelligence Committee -- John and Poppy.

HARLOW: All right. Evan, thank you for the reporting on both of those fronts. Joining us now CNN legal and national analyst, former FBI special agent, Asha Rangappa. Asha, it's nice to have you here.

You are so useful on so many fronts this morning, the FBI and Wray's testimony ahead, but also as an attorney first. Is that how attorney/client privilege works? That if you're talking to your dad about something and a lawyer is there then you can claim attorney/client privilege?

ASHA RANGAPPA, CNN LEGAL AND NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: Not necessarily. The attorney/client privilege is more limited than people think. It's between the attorney and the client.

HARLOW: Right.

[09:20:07] RANGAPPA: So for the attorney/client privilege to apply in a conversation where Don Jr. and his father were there, that attorney would need to be representing both of them for there to be a privilege and then that privilege can be waived or there are exceptions in certain circumstances.

So, for example, even if there were a lawyer there who represented both of them, they have to keep those communications confidential. If they went and told a third party about that conversation, they've effectively waived any privilege that applied.

Lastly, there's something called the crime fraud exception to the attorney/client privilege. This means that you can tell your attorney or you can seek advice about something that has happened, but your attorney can't advise you on how to commit a crime or conceal it or facilitate the commission of anything.

There's an exception to that and in that case that veil can be pierced. Just having an attorney there, sorry to say, it does not make that a privileged conversation necessarily.

BERMAN: Remind us why this conversation is so potentially important not just for the congressional investigations, but also for the special counsel. It dealt with that Trump Tower meeting between Donald Trump Jr. and Russian operatives promising dirt on Hillary Clinton.

RANGAPPA: Right. So, you know, every piece that comes up, the big question is knowledge. Who knew what was happening because there's a lot of moving pieces. We know that Don Jr. got this e-mail that was offering dirt on Hillary Clinton, and he, Jared Kushner and Paul Manafort went to this meeting and claim nothing came of it.

The question is what happened after that? Who did they go tell? Did the president himself know that this solicitation had come about the Clinton e-mails? So, that's why that conversation, whatever he said to President Trump, his father, is going to be relevant.

Because also subsequently, if you will remember they drafted a statement about that meeting on Air Force One where President Trump was alleged to have had a hand in that and it was a misleading statement. So, it goes to what the president knew about exactly what transpired at that Trump Tower meeting.

HARLOW: All right. Asha, let's move on to this new reporting that a whistle-blower said that a business associate of Michael Flynn, the former national security adviser, got a text from Flynn during the inauguration of President Trump saying, you know, item number one essentially on Trump's agenda is to drop all of these sanctions against Russia.

And by the way that will help your business and these deals to build nuclear plants in the Middle East and make people rich, et cetera. OK, this is the account of a whistle-blower. The company the guy works for denies it. My question is, what is important here? Legally is this an issue?

RANGAPPA: It may very well be. We need more facts on exactly how this connection between the sanctions and this deal took place, is this some kind of quid pro quo that was arranged?

We know that Michael Flynn was in contact with Russia about the sanctions during the transition, that December 29th conversation that he lied about to the FBI and was the source of his false statement count.

So, we need to know exactly what the connection is, and that arrangement was, and did he stand to gain personally from this? Was he trying to influence the ripping up of the sanctions? What that could implicate are certain public corruption statutes. Generally speaking we don't want people in positions of trust to use that for gain or to enrich their friends and family.

There could criminal liability that could have been something that was known to Mueller and may have also been a part of the leverage that he had on Michael Flynn to entice him to plead guilty.

BERMAN: Asha Rangappa, always great to have you with us. Thank you very, very much.

We do have breaking news. You can see it now on your screen, or you could moments ago. We just learned that Senator Al Franken will speak in the Senate floor at 11:45 a.m. Eastern Time, a little more than two hours.

Al Franken speaking to the Senate, announcing his plans for his future. Will he resign after 30 Democrats came forward and called on him to after another person came forward and accused him of sexual misconduct? We, of course, will bring that to you live.

HARLOW: A historic day on Capitol Hill no matter which way this thing goes.

All right. We are moments away from the opening bell. Stocks are set for a mixed open this morning. Investors weighing tension around the president's decision to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.

[09:25:01] Also, jobs report out tomorrow, early estimate points to a decent month of job growth. We'll keep an eye on the markets. We'll be right back.


BERMAN: All right. The breaking news, we just learned that Minnesota Democrat Al Franken will speak on the Senate floor at 11:45 a.m. Eastern Time. That is when we expect he will announce his plans for his future. Will he resign from the Senate after another woman came forward accusing him of sexual misconduct? We will, of course, bring that to you live.