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What Did President Trump Know About 2016 Meeting?; Democratic Senators Call on Franken to Resign; Raging Wildfires in Southern California; Vonn: I Won't Represent Trump at Olympics. Aired 5-5:30a ET

Aired December 7, 2017 - 05:00   ET


[05:00:00] ALISON KOSIK, CNN ANCHOR: 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".

She argues that a shutdown could hurt consumer spending heading into the holidays. The S&P Global team estimates a $6.5 billion loss from real GDP growth for each week of a shutdown. And that would knock 0.2 percent off of GDP.

Now, growth has strengthened over the past three quarters, despite hurricanes in the Gulf of Mexico, and a tight labor market. But you can't fool around with that government shutdown.


KOSIK: It really eats into confidence, especially this important time of the year.

BRIGGS: Not the momentum we have.

All right. EARLY START continues right now with the latest on those L.A. wildfires.


KOSIK: 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 the Russian lawyer.

BRIGGS: Democrat Senator Al Franken expected to make a big announcement this morning. Dozens of colleagues urging him to resign amid sexual misconduct allegations.

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

Good morning and welcome to EARLY START. I'm Alison Kosik.

BRIGGS: Some say the worst wind danger they've ever seen in terms of wildfires there in California. We'll get there shortly. I'm Dave Briggs. It is Thursday, December 7th, 5:00 a.m. in the East,

2:00 a.m. in California, live there in just a few minutes.

KOSIK: All right. Up first, eight grueling hours of testimony from Donald Trump Jr. But it's what the president's son refused to tell House members, that is what's getting all the attention.

The main focus of Wednesday's close the door session, a June 2016 meeting at Trump Tower between Don Jr., Jared Kushner, Paul Manafort, and a Russian lawyer designed to get dirt on Hillary Clinton.

BRIGGS: 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.

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 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.


KOSIK: OK. For more on Donald Trump's -- Donald Trump Jr.'s testimony, let's 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.


BRIGGS: Manu Raju, thanks.

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

KOSIK: 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.

[05:05:11] Last week, Flynn pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI about his contacts with the Russian ambassador.

BRIGGS: 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 including Party Leader Chuck Schumer now say Franken should step down. It comes as a sixth woman accuses Franken of inappropriate touching.

Let's go live to Washington and bring in CNN politics reporter, Tal Kopan.

Good morning to you, Tal.

KOSIK: Good morning, Tal.


BRIGG: Look, people are skeptical in this political environment by nature. They say why are things different? It appears Roy Moore is on his way to the Senate despite several allegations of touching children inappropriately, and also Blake Farenthold, a Republican congressman from Texas settled an $84,000 sexual harassment lawsuit with his comms director and yet Al Franken appears on his way out.

Why are things different? How could this impact politics down the line?

KOPAN: Well, you know, first of all, it took Democrats a while to get her and they actually faced a lot of fire for that, especially as they called on their Republican colleagues to take a harder line.

So, you know, in some ways you see Democrats sort of closing ranks and saying, no, we're actually going to call for our members to resign when they face these kinds of allegations as a way of putting pressure on some of their colleagues across the aisle to take a similar tactic. So, we'll see if that, you know, bakes in.

Keep in mind, with Roy Moore, the really complicating factor in all this is that he's currently running for election, and so when you talk about the difference between the board room and politics, you know, in a private company, there's someone who can fire a member of the company for inappropriate behavior. In politics, it's up to the voters.

And while Al Franken was in the Senate and a long way off until the next time he has to face voters, Roy Moore is facing voters right now and they know these allegations and they're going to weigh those as they go to the polls and it's very difficult for his colleagues to say, you know, we know what the voters said but we're going to override them. It's just a very difficult thing for them to do.

KOSIK: All right. Let's switch gears and talk about Donald Trump Jr. in the hot seat for eight hours in front of the House Intel Committee. We're learning he's not talking a lot about that meeting that happened over the summer at Trump Tower. He's using attorney-client privilege, which is an interesting defense here --


KOSIK: -- when you think about if he has nothing to hide, then why would he even be trying to use it. And some are questioning if he can use that sort of privilege at this point.

Our own Jeffrey Toobin kind of wax poetic on whether or not this is a possibility. Listen to what he said and we'll talk after.


JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN CHIEF LEGAL ANALYST: The basic rule of attorney- client privilege, it only covers conversation between a client and an attorney. If any third party is present, there is no privilege attached to the conversation. So, what Donald Trump Jr. is counting on, a compliant Republican-dominated committee that won't hold him in contempt, but his legal position is just absurd.


KOSIK: OK. So, let's put the legal question aside because I'm not an attorney. I don't think you are.

BRIGGS: We'll leave that to Toobin.

KOSIK: But that's cool. Let's just talk about if there's no impropriety here, what's the perception of what would happen behind closed doors if he's not talking?

KOPAN: Well, you have to imagine that his supporters -- you know, feel that this is -- continues to be a witch hunt, as they call it, I don't know that that's going to shake any of their faith. But certainly for those who are concerned about the smoke that's building up in the ongoing drip, drip, drip, misstatements and inaccuracies and questionable decisions and meetings, it has to concern them that there isn't a forthright explanation for a lot of these things and in fact there's a with holding of information.

You know, this administration has used privilege in creative ways in a number of different fronts to try to conceal deliberations or back room conversations from getting out to the public, whether in court litigation, you know, or in regards to the Russian investigation. Remember, Jeff Sessions has irritated lawmakers on both sides of the capital by claiming that his conversations with the president are under a form of privilege. So, perhaps it's not surprising that Don Jr. also tried to make a similar argument.

BRIGGS: Yes, it's getting tough when they say nothing improper was done and yet at every turn, there's an attempt to cover up or be dishonest about this, against the backdrop of Russian sanctions that were due to be implemented on October 1st, still not been. It certainly makes one suspicious.

But let's turn to what's happening in Washington with Paul Ryan after this tax debate is done and it looks like that will get through.

[05:10:02] They want to turn their attention to welfare reform and entitlement reform.

Here's what the speaker said on the radio yesterday.


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: OK, Paul Ryan has long been known as a fiscal conservative. But how much more difficult did that tax plan make it to then return to these concerns about the debt and the deficit?

KOPAN: Well, everything, so far has been so easy for Republicans to get through. So, why not turn to, you know, another controversial rail of politics? I mean, this one is going to be particularly tough for them given President Trump's sort of unequivocal statements on the campaign trail about not touching Medicare and entitlements. And, you know, this was a major topic when Mick Mulvaney, the director of the Office of the Management and Budget was concerned.

He was asked about this because he has long been a hawk and wanted to cut those things and he said he discussed it with Trump many times. The president stuck to his guns. So, we'll see if it comes up again where the president falls on this.

BRIGGS: Also tough politically given a tax bill that adds a trillion and a half at minimum to the deficit. That's what might make the politics in 2018 tough for Republicans.

Tal, we'll check in with you in about 30 minutes.

KOSIK: Tal, we'll see you in a bit.

OK. State of emergency in California as firefighters are battling four wildfires and thousands of residents are fleeing. We're going to go live to southern California, next.


[05:15:41] BRIGGS: Two thousand firefighters on the line fighting for 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 that is, burning 90,000 acres and 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: Every time I see these pictures, it's just amazing.

All of L.A. County under an extreme fire danger warning at this point. Several homes in Bel-Air had been destroyed. The 405 Freeway, that's the nation's busiest highway, that's been shut down yesterday. It was should down for most of the day. And nearly 300 Los Angeles schools also closed.

NASA astronaut Randy Bresnik, he tweeted these images that you see here from the International Space Station showing what the smoke looks like from above.

All right. Let's get the latest from CNN's Dan Simon. He is live from Bel-Air.

So, I'm imagining, Dan, that the threat of these stronger winds later in the day, that's really going to determine how much of these fires that firefighters can actually contain.

DAN SIMON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Alison. And, hopefully, the winds remain calm like they are now, but unfortunately, the forecast is calling for the winds to really pick up, maybe even hurricane-force winds, 60, 70, maybe even 80 miles per hour gusts. And if that happens it could be catastrophic, even more for the region because you could have flying embers really push this fire into different areas.

Let me show you where I am in the section of Bel-Air. You can see this home right here totally destroyed. The fire came in so quickly, so hot that it just destroyed this house. You can see the car in the garage.

You can see the hint of a flame there still smoldering. Firefighters basically on standby on this street in Bel-Air, just making sure we don't see any more flare-ups, any more homes go up in flames.

For now, they have the neighborhood mostly locked down. The containment number right now is -- officially is 5 percent, but they haven't seen any fire activity for the last several hours. So, they are optimistic that at least here in Bel-Air, that things are looking better, Alison.

KOSIK: OK. CNN's Dan Simon, reporting live from Bel-Air, be safe out there, OK?

BRIGGS: Just an awful scene.

All right. Ahead, Olympic skier Lindsey Vonn, arguably the greatest in American history, says she is hoping to represent the United States well at the upcoming games but she insists she will not be representing President Trump.

Andy Scholes has more in this morning's "Bleacher Report", next.


[05:22:57] BRIGGS: With the Winter Olympics two months away, skiing superstar Lindsey Vonn says she will be representing the United States in Pyeongchang, but not representing President Trump.

ROMANS: Andy Scholes has more in this morning's "Bleacher Report".

Good morning.


You know, Lindsey Vonn, one of the greatest skiers in history, in an interview with CNN, Vonn said if she wins gold at the Olympics, she would not accept an invitation to celebrate the accomplishment at the White House.


LINDSEY VONN, OLYMPIC GOLD MEDALIST: I hope to represent the people of the United States, not the president. I want to represent our country well. And I don't think there are a lot of people currently in our government that do that.

INTERVIEWER: Would you acceptance invitation to the White House if you were to win an Olympic gold in Pyeongchang?

VONN: Absolutely not. But have to win to be invited so. I think every U.S. team member is invited. So, no, I won't go.


SCHOLES: Ambassador to the United Nations, Nikki Haley, meanwhile, saying last night that it's a, quote, open question whether U.S. athletes will attend the upcoming Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang due to safety concern. But Haley also added as Americans, we don't fear anything. We live our lives.

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell has received a contract extension, despite opposition from Cowboys owner Jerry Jones. The deal, according to ESPN, is for five years and could be worth as much as $200 million after incentives. Goodell has already earned more than $212 million since he was elected NFL commissioner in 2006.

In a letter to league owners obtained by CNN, the compensation committee said: We are pleased to report that there is a nearly unanimous consensus among the ownership in favor the signing the contract extension now.

On Saturday, we will find out who will be this year's Heisman Trophy winner. The favorite to win the award, Oklahoma quarterback Baker Mayfield. Baker has had an incredible journey in his career. He walked on at Texas Tech and became the starter and then transferred to Oklahoma without a scholarship promised to him, won the quarterback job, and, of course then, ended up becoming one of the greatest college QBs ever.

[05:25:03] Last night, I caught up with Baker and asked him what advice would he give the kids around the country trying to make a team.


BAKER MAYFIELD, OKLAHOMA QUARTERBACK: If you believe in yourself, never give up, you know, no matter what people say. I even had my high school friends and teammates, coaches that looked at me when realized I was transferring to Oklahoma, they're like, they just want to Sugar Bowl a freshman quarterback. Are you sure you want to do that?

You know, for me, it didn't matter what people said. I was going to chase my dreams and believe in myself and never give up.


SCHOLES: And Baker and the Oklahoma Sooners are going to be taking on Georgia in a Rose Bowl in this year's college football playoff, guys. And I'll tell you what, I would never bet against Baker Mayfield.

BRIGGS: I would not. He's a runaway favorite for the Heisman Trophy. But maybe some advice to kids about toning down the brash nature a little bit? Did he say anything about that? SCHOLES: You know, I asked -- I asked him what is it about hostile

atmospheres that kind of bring out that -- not what you should say, but just that attitude that he has out there on the field. He said, you know what? He just kind of thrives in those situations.

BRIGGS: He does.

SCHOLES: I know what you're talking about planting the flag in Ohio State.


BRIGGS: -- grabbing a certain portion of his anatomy.

SCHOLES: Yes, you know, it's something he said he definitely regrets and he's apologized for and he hopes to not make those kind of mistakes.

BRIGGS: He's an awesome player, a pleasure to watch on the field, indeed. But off the field, tone it down.

All right. Andy Scholes, thank you.

KOSIK: Thanks very much, Andy.

SCHOLES: All right, guys.

KOSIK: OK. Donald Trump Jr. refusing to tell the House Intelligence Committee about a conversation that he had with his father, citing attorney-client privilege. We're going to have the latest, next.