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Donald Trump Jr. Testifies; Democratic Senators Call on Al Franken to Resign; Raging Wildfires in Southern California. Aired 4:30-5a ET

Aired December 7, 2017 - 04:30   ET


ALISON KOSIK, CNN ANCHOR: Donald Trump Jr. refusing to tell the House Intelligence Committee about conversations he had with his father over that now infamous Trump Tower meeting with a Russian lawyer.

DAVE BRIGGS, CNN ANCHOR: Democratic Senator Al Franken expected to make a big announce this morning. Dozens of his colleagues urging him to resign amid sexual misconduct allegations.

KOSIK: Firefighters in Southern California bracing against time and intense winds, as all of L.A. County is now under an extreme fire danger warning.

Welcome back to EARLY START. I'm Alison Kosik.

BRIGGS: I'm Dave Briggs. Those winds are a tremendous concern. We'll go live there shortly.

[04:30:00] Thirty minutes past the hour.

We start with Donald Trump Jr. facing eight grueling hours of testimony in the House Intel hot seat. But it's what the president's son did not say that's raising concern this morning. The main focus of Wednesday's closed door session, a June 2016 meeting at Trump Tower between Don Jr., Jared Kushner and Paul Manafort and a Russian lawyer designed to get dirt on Hillary Clinton.

House investigators pressed Trump Jr. about his father's knowledge of that meeting but he refused to tell them what he and his dad discussed, citing attorney/client privilege.

KOSIK: President Trump did participate in crafting of his son's initial response to reports of that meeting. That statement turned out to be misleading, suggesting it was about Russian adoptions while failing to mention the purpose was to actually gather information on Clinton.

Here's the ranking member of the House Intel Committee Adam Schiff.


REP. ADAM SCHIFF (D-CA), RANKING MEMBER, INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE: He acknowledged discussing that matter with his father, but refused to answer questions about that discussion on the basis of a claim of attorney-client privilege. In my view, there is no attorney-client privilege that protects a discussion between father and son. This particular discussion revolves around a pivotal meeting.


BRIGGS: For more on Donald Trump Jr.'s testimony, we turn to CNN senior congressional correspondent, Manu Raju.



Now, Donald Trump Jr. had a marathon session with the House Intelligence Committee, talking about his interaction with Russians during the campaign season. One thing that they focused on in particular was that June 2016 meeting in which Donald Trump Jr., we now know, was promised dirt on the Clinton campaign from Russians and was informed that the Russian government wanted to help his father's campaign.

Now, we are learning that Donald Trump Jr. did have a meeting with his father after the reports were published, but he did not tell the committee yesterday what he and his father were talking about. In fact, he cited attorney-client privilege saying that because attorneys were in the room, there was no reason for him to disclose his information because it was covered by attorney-client privilege. That's something that Democrats balked at.

Now, at the same time, he was asked about the response that initially was misleading about the Trump Tower meeting when the White House, when Donald Trump Jr. said it was mainly about Russian adoptions. Well, it turns out the White House was involved, at least to some extent. Donald Trump Jr. said he texted with Hope Hicks, who's now the communications director for the White House, did not talk to his father about that response, but talked to Hope Hicks about the response.

And given the fact we now know that was not a fully accurate picture about what happened, it is raising a lot of questions among investigators about whether or not the White House was trying to work to mislead the public and potentially even the investigation. We'll see what the White House has to say later today -- Alison and Dave.


KOSIK: OK. Manu Raju, thanks very much.

An unidentified whistleblower claims former national security adviser Michael Flynn told a business colleague sanctions against Russia would be, quote, ripped up, and he did it while President Trump was being inaugurated. The whistleblower telling his story to Congressman Elijah Cummings. He claims Flynn texted his associate that a plan to build nuclear reactors with Russia and the Mideast was, quote, good to go right after sanctions against the Kremlin were dropped.

BRIGGS: The whistleblower's account is the strongest claim to date, suggesting the administration was focused on unraveling the sanctions President Obama had just imposed, and that Flynn had a personal motivation to make it happen. Last week, Flynn pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI about his contacts with the Russian ambassador.

KOSIK: As calls for his resignation mount, embattled Minnesota Democratic Senator Al Franken is expected to make an announcement today presumably about his political future. Thirty-two of his Democratic colleagues in the Senate including party leader Chuck Schumer now say Franken should step down.

This comes as a sixth woman accuses Franken of inappropriate touching.

We get more from CNN's MJ Lee on Capitol Hill.



Boy, what a difference a day makes. Senator Al Franken is now under fire from his own colleagues in the Senate to resign from office. More than 30 senators saying that he needs to resign amid growing allegations of sexual harassment leveled against the senator. A group of female Senate Democrats were talking about this for over a week now, I'm told, and they were discussing ways to handle this matter and they grew increasingly frustrated as they saw these stories pile up.

And in a devastating reality for Senator Franken, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer putting out a statement yesterday afternoon saying he also believes Franken should resign. Schumer said: I consider Senator Franken a dear friend and greatly respect his accomplishments, but he has a higher obligation to his constituents and the Senate and he should step down immediately.

[04:35:00] Now, I also spent the day yesterday talking to some of his colleagues in the Senate, asking for their reactions, and here's what two of them have to say.

SEN. KIRSTEN GILLIBRAND (D), NEW YORK: I do not feel that he should continue to serve. I think it would be better for the country for him to offer that clear message that he values women, that we value women, and that this kind of behavior is not acceptable.

SEN. KAMALA HARRIS (D), CALIFORNIA: The veracity of complaints and allegations against him I found to have weight.

LEE: Now, Alison and Dave, as you know, Senator Franken is set to make an announcement sometime today about his future. We don't know yet what that announcement will be. We will see if he actually gives in to the pressure that he is feeling from his colleagues.

Back to you.


BRIGGS: MJ Lee, thank you.

President Trump delivering on a campaign promise to formally recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. The move drawing widespread condemnation from world leaders. Two senior White House officials acknowledging the president's decision has temporarily derailed the Israeli Palestinian peace process. The status of Jerusalem has always been a sticking point in those negotiations, moving the U.S. embassy there could be seen as cementing Israel's sovereignty over the city.

We get more from CNN's Jim Acosta at the White House.


JIM ACOSTA, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Alison and Dave, President Trump is coming under heavy criticism from around the world after his decision to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. While Israeli leaders are praising the decision, Palestinians are insisting that the U.S. no longer be a part of any Middle East peace talks and warning that the president's move will aid extremist organizations seeking holy war.

Even one White House official acknowledged there will be some, quote, short term pain in the neither future. The president insisted he's still committed to peace in the Middle East. Here's what he had to say.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: This decision is not intended in any way to reflect a departure from our strong commitment to facilitate a lasting peace agreement. We want an agreement that is a great deal for the Israelis and a great deal for the Palestinians.

ACOSTA: Senior White House officials said the president signed the waiver keeping the U.S. embassy in Tel Aviv. So, while the U.S. policy is changing, the biggest symbolic example of this change won't really happen for years from now. White House officials said it's not as simple as switching the signs at the U.S. embassy in Tel Aviv and the U.S. consulate in Jerusalem -- Alison and Dave.


KOSIK: All right. Jim Acosta, thanks very much.

Republican leaders moving closer to ironing out key differences in the House and Senate tax reform bills as they look to gift-wrap the plan just in time for Christmas.

But, House Speaker Paul Ryan, he's already setting his sights on the next GOP project, entitlement reform.

During a radio interview, Ryan placed Medicare and welfare reform at the top of his list. Listen.


REP. PAUL RYAN (R-WI), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: Frankly, it's the health care entitlements that are the big drivers of our debt. And then welfare reform too. We think it's important to get people from welfare to work. We have a welfare system that's basically trapping people in poverty and effectively paying people not to work and we got to work on that.


BRIGGS: Senator Bernie Sanders responding to Ryan's comments on Twitter. He says, quote: There it is, Paul Ryan just admitted that after providing $1 trillion in tax breaks of the top 1 percent and large corporations, Republicans will try to cut Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, and help for the most vulnerable Americans.

It's worth noting then-candidate Donald Trump vowed not to cut these entitlements.


TRUMP: I'm not going to cut Social Security like every other Republican, and I'm not going to cut Medicare or Medicaid. Every other Republican is going to cut. And even if they wouldn't, they don't know what to do because they don't know where the money is. I do. I do.


BRIGGS: Speaker Ryan says the House GOP caucus plans to work on entitlement reform next year.

KOSIK: Congress could vote as early as today on a continuing resolution to fund the government for the next two weeks. Ooh, that's a really stretch, two weeks, to avoid a government shutdown. President Trump will meet with Democratic leaders Chuck Schumer and Nancy Pelosi at the White House, along with Speaker Ryan and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.

Now, they were supposed to get together last month, but Pelosi and Schumer canceled.

On Wednesday, President Trump told reporters a government shut down could happen, pointing the blame at Democrats.

You know, just shows how they kick that can down the road. A whopping two-week extension, whoo, that will really help --

BRIGGS: It doesn't matter who's in control, that's the situation.

KOSIK: We'll revisit this in two weeks.

BRIGGS: We'll be right back in the same cliff.

Ahead, a state of emergency in California, as firefighters are battling four wildfires, thousands of residents are fleeing. We'll go live to Southern California, next on EARLY START.


[04:44:02] BRIGGS: A critical day ahead for firefighters battling four raging wildfires in Southern California. Over 100,000 residents in the San Fernando Valley, and 50,000 more in Ventura County forced to evacuate. The Thomas Fire in Ventura burning 90,000 acres and the flames have now reached Los Angeles, America's second largest city.

The director of California's fire protection giving a dire forecast, saying the color coded system that forecasts wind strength has reached the top level of purple, adding we've never used purple before.

KOSIK: These pictures are just stunning.

Now, all of L.A. County under an extreme fire danger warning. Several homes in Bel-Air have been destroyed. The 405 Freeway, that's the nation's busiest highway, shut down for most of the day. Almost 300 Los Angeles schools also closed.

NASA astronaut Randy Bresnik, he tweeted these images that you're seeing here from the International Space Station just to give you an idea of what the smoke looked like from way, way above.

[04:45:01] All right. Let's get the latest from CNN's Dan Simon live for us from Bel-Air California.

Dan, so, I'm thinking that the winds are really going to be a big factor in how much -- how much containment can actually happen today.

DAN SIMON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Alison, that's exactly right. The winds always the critical factor when it comes to wildfires, and I have to tell you, it's just a smoky mess out here, but the winds at the moment relatively calm, but they're expected to pick up again. You could have hurricane force winds. As a matter of fact, we've already seen some strong gusts in Ventura County.

But here in Los Angeles, for the moment, things remaining steady and crews trying to lock down Bel-Air in particular, so that when the winds do pick up, you're not going to see flying embers spread the fire and create even more hazard. You can see behind me, this is one of the homes that's been destroyed, the roof just totally caving in. You got several homes in the subdivision, of course, that have been destroyed.

Let me show you what things look like on the street. You can see the fire trucks basically on stand by, trying to make sure that you don't see anymore flare-ups, and if you do see more actively flame, these firefighters who are operating on no sleep, they can quickly respond.

But the situation throughout southern California is just unbelievable. You've got near 200,000 people who have been evacuated. You have hundreds of schools that are closed down. You have massive traffic gridlock and, now, people just waiting to see what happens with the weather, if these winds do eventually die down, hopefully, folks can return back to their homes -- Alison.

KOSIK: Dan, those pictures are just surreal, incredible to look at.

All right. Thanks very much.

BRIGGS: Those Santa Ana winds key today in the effort to get control these wildfires.

Let's get to meteorologist Derek Van Dam.


DEREK VAN DAM, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Good morning, Dave and Alison.

Unfortunately, fire conditions in Southern California will get worse before they get better. In fact, the National Weather Service has issued its first ever extreme Santa Ana wildfire threat level today. Anywhere you see that shading of purple, including the city of Los Angeles. Wind gusts in some of the valleys could exceed 60 to 80 miles per hour. We've already had reports topping 70 miles per hour across some of the regions in Ventura County.

The wind will continue through Thursday evening before dying down temporarily and picking up back into the weekend. On top of that, we have very low relative humidity values, meaning it is extremely dry across this area, as a ridge of high pressure pushes any available moisture and storm systems away from the West Coast.

Back to you.


KOSIK: OK. Derek Van Dam, thanks very much.

The House of Representatives approving legislation that loosens gun regulations and allows those with permits to carry concealed weapons to legally travel with those firearms to other states. That's a top priority of the National Rifle Association. The bill passing Wednesday, mostly along party lines, with six Democrats supporting it. While Democratic critics calling it a handout to the powerful gun lobby.

BRIGGS: Outdoor retail giant Patagonia suing to block President Trump's move to shrink two national monuments in Utah. The company joining a lawsuit by a coalition of Native Americans, conservation and outdoor recreation groups. On Monday, the president signed two proclamations dramatically reducing the size of the Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante national monuments by nearly two million acres.

Three lawsuits have now been filed involving Utah's monuments. More are expected.

KOSIK: Global backlash after President Trump announced he's moving the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem. Even U.S. allies are condemning the move. We're going to go live for the latest reaction in Israel, next.


[04:53:20] BRIGGS: Fifty-three minutes after the hour.

The decision by President Trump to officially recognize Jerusalem as the Israeli capital sparking strong reaction across the Middle East. Saudi Arabia warning of serious consequences, while the Palestinian president is condemning the move, saying the president made, quote, the biggest mistake of his life.

Let's go live to CNN's Ian Lee in the West Bank where protests are underway.

Ian, how big are these protests?

IAN LEE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, the protesters are starts to gather right now. Let me just show you around a bit. You can see behind me -- first, I want to show you the stores. These stores are shut, schools are closed because there's a general strike here in the West Bank, and as well as in the East Jerusalem. Palestinians closing their shops, going out to these protests.

You also have people here, you can see, waving the flag of Palestine. You have people with these signs. One of these signs says that Trump cannot change the history, cannot change the status of Jerusalem.

Over here, this is the main stage we're hearing nationalist songs, people chanting, people singing, calls for a third Intifada. Now, that's a Palestinian uprising. We hear, though, these calls a lot of times during protests, but earlier this morning, Ismail Haniyeh in Gaza, one of the leaders of Hamas, he also called for a Palestinian uprising in the aftermath of President Trump's speech.

And there's a lot of anger here. There's a lot of fury. And, really, when you look at where the Palestinians can take this next, there's two approaches we're watching closely.

[04:55:01] One is the political. We know Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas is in Jordan. He's meeting with King Abdullah to discuss the way forward there.

We also know that the Palestinian Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah, he is in Gaza to help work with the reconciliation efforts between Fatah and Hamas. And that's probably one of the unattended consequences of this is it's bringing Palestinian factions together.

Then, you also have the street. That's the other side. What we're seeing right now and that's the most unpredictable because this summer we saw Palestinian as going out protesting over an incident in Jerusalem and they really led the narrative, politicians were one step behind. So, that's what we'll be watching too to see what the street does in these three days of rage.

BRIGGS: Indeed. Good to see at least peaceful protest at this point. Ian Lee live for us, thank you.

KOSIK: President Trump blowing up on social media during his Jerusalem speech. It wasn't the history behind the decision, but the sniffling, and the slurred speech. That's what had Internet asking: what was that?

Here's Jeanne Moos.


JEANNE MOOS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It didn't take a nose for news -- to sniff out this story.

TRUMP: The status quo, both sides, acceptable, a lasting peace agreement.

MOOS: We're all in agreement this was a case of deja vu sniffing.

TRUMP: Does that work?

MOOS: President Trump has done it before, most notably during a debate with Hillary that inspired compilations.

It was dubbed the sniffening, complete with a mock-up make sniffs great again hat that "SNL" mockery.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I was picking up somebody sniffing here.

MOOS: Back then, theories ranged from allergies to chronic sinusitis, to medications that cause sniffling. He has anxiety suggested a psychologist.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Now, we have snifflegate.

MOOS: But now, snifflegate has given way to slurgate --

TURMP: Political and religious --

MOOS: Because about 11 minutes into his Jerusalem speech, the president blew a blessing.

TRUMP: And God bless the United States.

MOOS: Twitter chattered, Trump's dentures are trying to escape his mouth. But he's not known to wear dentures. It sure reminded us of the dry mouth he experienced also 11 minutes into another speech.

TRUMP: The core principles of fairness --

MOOS: That time, he had to reach for a bottle of water. A White House official would say only the president is perfectly healthy.

The slurring gave the "Daily Show" a memorable ending for its Trump's best words of 2017 video.

TRUMP: And God bless the United States. I have the best words, but there's no better word than stupid.

MOOS: A little dry humor, make that dry mouth, is nothing to stiff at.

TRUMP: And strong.

MOOS: Jeanne Moos, CNN.

TRUMP: Human soul.


KOSIK: OK. So she got the sniffling, slurring. She forgot the hand motion.

BRIGGS: Well, the slurring was really what got the attention of Twitter. I watched it and then had to go back and watch it again. Right now, if you check Twitter, the #DentureDonald is trending nationwide. It's tough to explain.

KOSIK: did a story and our own Dr. Sanjay Gupta talked about what he saw -- and he said, although you can't diagnose somebody on video --


KOSIK: -- thinks perhaps the problems may stem from mouth issues.

BRIGGS: Mouth issues.

KOSIK: If there was anything deeper you wouldn't see him sit down and sign the waiver --

BRIGGS: Got it. Sanjay, thank you.

KOSIK: All right. Let's move on. Let's get a check on CNN "Money Stream".

The stock market off to a rocky start in December. The major averages finishing mixed on Wednesday.

I want you to check out the last five days for the Dow. November ended with a big gain and the Dow has swung each day since with a triple digit loss on Tuesday. Now, investors are kind of cautiously proceeding as the tax reform bill makes its way through the House and Senate. And if that passes by year's end, we could see a classic Santa Claus rally where stocks really have a pop. December is historically a pretty strong month for the stock market.

The wildfires in Southern California are causing major losses for one stock. Shares of Edison International have plunged more than 15 percent this week, that's $3.3 billion in value gone. It's the parent company of Southern California Edison which serves 15 million residents in the area. Investors are worried that the utility company's power lines may have sparked the wildfires. But there is no evidence that this is the source of the blaze.

Southern California Edison says it does have crews on the ground assessing the damage, but they're having a tough time navigating around the past moving fires.

If lawmakers don't pass a government spending bill by Friday, the government will shut down and that could put a dent in the economy. The chief economists at S&P Global publishing a report Thursday titled, "With a U.S. Government Shutdown, Ho Ho Ho Would Become Boo- Hoo".