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THE SITUATION ROOM
Interview With Texas Congressman Joaquin Castro; Donald Trump Jr. Clams Up on President Trump; FBI Director Defends Agency; California Fires; Senator Al Franken Resigns; Two GOP Lawmakers Now Face House Ethics Committee Probes; Pew Poll: Trump Approval Hits New Low of 32 Percent. Aired 6-7p ET
Aired December 7, 2017 - 18:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: And Franken quits. The Democratic senator says he is resigning over groping allegations, delivering a parting shot at the Republicans, asking why President Trump and Roy Moore aren't paying a similar price for their alleged misconduct.
We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world. I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.
BLITZER: We're following breaking news.
The fire danger in Southern California is off the charts tonight, with officials creating a whole new warning level as multiple blazes rage across the region, forcing more than 100,000 people from their homes. New evacuations have been ordered in the Ojai Valley, a popular tourist area north of Los Angeles, now under siege from the biggest and most threatening fire.
That huge inferno is growing at an explosive rate, spreading at one point at nearly one acre a second.
Also breaking, the first evidence that there was follow-up after that 2016 meeting over at the Trump Tower when Donald Trump Jr. and others met with Russians expecting dirt on Hillary Clinton. CNN has now learned that the British publicist who arranged the meeting sent multiple e-mails after the meeting to one of the Russian participants and to a member of Mr. Trump's circle. Stand by for details.
And Senator Al Franken is promising to resign in the coming weeks over allegations of inappropriate sexual conduct, without offering any admission of wrongdoing or any apology. In a very emotional speech on the Senate floor, Franken noted that, with some anger and irony, that President Trump and GOP Senate candidate Roy Moore are accused of worse sexual misconduct and they have not stepped aside.
This hour, I will speak with Congressman Joaquin Castro. He's a Democrat on the Intelligence and Foreign Affairs Committees. And our correspondents and specialists are also standing by.
First, let's go to CNN's Sara Sidner. She's over in Ventura County in California with more on the wildfire crisis.
Sara, what is the latest?
SARA SIDNER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: We're right in between the Ojai Valley.
And I have got to tell you, you can see we're sort of flanked by two areas that are burning like crazy. We're at a farm or on someone's property and they let us take a look from their balcony. And you can see it's gotten extremely smoky, but there are flames just over my left shoulder there. You see them burning.
And the difficulty now is when they get so smoky and it's hard to see and so hard to get eyes on it, it's harder for, of course, the helicopters to come in and drop water to try to tamp out those flames. Now, the big fear is the winds. Right now, the winds have died down. That is good news for firefighters. We can hear another flight coming close to us.
We're hoping they're able to drop water on that particular fire, but behind me there is also another fire burning. And so this whole area here, very close to Ojai, near Carpinteria, is smoked out and you're seeing sort of the fires all around with a tiny bit of light that is still able to come through the smoke. A lot of fear here, 200,000 plus people have been evacuated from all of the fires.
And I should mention this now. We just got an update a minute ago from Cal Fire. There are now six, not four, six fires burning, including near San Diego -- Wolf.
BLITZER: We're showing our viewers live pictures, aerial shots of that one fire, the huge fire in Ventura, right now. Take a look at that picture that is so, so destructive.
Sara, thank you very much.
Let's go further up the California coast, another vantage point, another fire disaster.
CNN's Paul Vercammen is joining us now from Santa Barbara County.
What are you seeing, what are you hearing over there?
PAUL VERCAMMEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: I'm right at the Santa Barbara County-Ventura County line. This is the northwest and leading edge of the fire.
They have made a stand here right near these orchards. They cut fire lines. They hit it hard with water and they threw some hand crews at it, all of it to stop the blaze's advance right here.
This is a monster of a fire. You have heard, Wolf, that this Thomas Fire has burned 96,000 acres. That's twice the size of Washington, D.C., and it's been a menace. Right now, winds are calm. Yes, it's smoky, but what has happened night after night after night is later in the evening, sometime after -- well after the sun goes down, these devil winds, these Santa Ana winds come from inland, go towards the ocean and whip up flames and it just seems like it's Armageddon.
In all, they say 151 structures have burned, but they are being conservative. Firefighters again repeating they just have not had a chance to do the true damage assessment on this Harris Fire.
Now, if you look over my left shoulder, burned-out hillsides, looks promising, hoping to hold the line here. What they don't want is for it to go into Santa Barbara County. The first city in that path would be Carpinteria, a city on the ocean of about 15,000.
So far -- we don't mean to be alarmist in any way for Carpinteria -- they are doing a remarkable job of making a stand right here on the county line. That's the latest from Carpinteria -- back to you now, Wolf.
BLITZER: It's an awful, awful situation. Paul Vercammen, we are going to get back to you and get more on the breaking news.
But there's other major developments unfolding right now in the Russia investigation.
Previously undisclosed e-mails are raising serious new questions about that 2016 meeting over at Trump in New York, when members of Mr. Trump's inner circle were expecting to get what was described as dirt on Hillary Clinton. It's a CNN exclusive.
I want to bring in our chief security national correspondent, Jim Sciutto.
Jim, what are you learning?
JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, since this Trump Tower meeting in June of 2016 was revealed, the Trump position has essentially been, the Trump administration and campaign position has been that this meeting was a one-off and the discussion was either primarily or entirely focused on the issue of U.S. adoption of Russian children.
These e-mails create many hard questions about whether those two explanations stand up. One, people involved in these meetings did have follow-up. They discussed what was discussed in that meeting. There were ideas back and forth exchanged via e-mail, but it also raises questions about what topics actually came up between those Russians promising damaging information on Hillary Clinton and senior members of the Trump team.
I'm going to give you an example. June 14, 2016, this is five days after the Trump Tower meeting. The person who brokered this meeting, Rob Goldstone, a publicist, e-mails one of the Russians who took part, another Russian. And this is on the day that news breaks that Russia has hacked into DNC e-mails.
He copies -- forwards, rather, a CNN story on that breach, and at the top says, isn't this -- quote -- "eerily weird" in light of what we talked about in that Trump meeting"?
Now, Wolf, we reached out to people involved in these e-mails, people with knowledge. And one said it was an innocent explanation. Because we did not discuss the DNC breach in that meeting in Trump Tower, that's the reason that it was eerily weird that five days later the story broke that, in fact, Russia broke the DNC.
Whether you believe that explanation, that's up to people watching the story and also Senate and House investigators. But at a minimum, there was follow-up to this meeting and there are now hard questions about how expansive that conversation was between those senior members of the Trump camp and the Russians promising that dirt on Hillary.
BLITZER: And you're also learning about the reaction that was received after Donald Trump Jr. received -- or released those private e-mails in which he was expecting to get so-called dirt on Hillary Clinton?
SCIUTTO: That's right. Donald Trump Jr. of course forced to release this because a major publication was publishing them, and this followed Donald Trump Jr.'s initial explanation this was all about adoptions.
When he did release those e-mails, it showed in advance of this Trump Tower meeting in June 2016, in fact, his expectation was that the Russians were going to bring damaging information on Hillary Clinton. When he released those e-mails, one of the participants in this meeting, one of the Russian nationals who participated in this meeting received an e-mail from his son saying: It looks to me like Donald Trump Jr. is admitting to collusion here.
That is one Russian's observation about Donald Trump Jr.'s revelations there. He might have been joking, Wolf. But it does get to the fact that the people who took part, the Russians, the people who were representing Trump, were e-mailing back and forth, they were having contacts, they were suggesting ideas to each other, and some of them, at a minimum, raising questions for congressional investigators.
BLITZER: Lots of questions need to be answered.
Thanks so much, Jim Sciutto. Great reporting.
Another breaking story tonight, the Senate is voting on a stopgap spending bill to avoid a government shutdown for another two weeks. It's expected to pass after the House approved it just a little while ago.
Let's bring in our senior White House correspondent, Jim Acosta.
Jim, this happened after the president held bipartisan talks.
JIM ACOSTA, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Wolf. That crisis has been averted, but the White House is continuing to dodge the issue of sexual harassment. On the same day that Senator Al Franken announced he's stepping down, the president and his aides evaded answering about how the White House should lead on this subject.
ACOSTA (voice-over): In response to growing calls for his resignation from his Democratic colleagues, embattled Minnesota Senator Al Franken acknowledged the allegations of groping leveled against him, and while he didn't apologize, he did say he is stepping down.
SEN. AL FRANKEN (D), MINNESOTA: Today, I am announcing that in the coming weeks, I will be resigning as a member of the United States Senate.
ACOSTA: But there was a parting shot at the other end of Pennsylvania Avenue, where President Trump continues to face lingering accusations of sexual misconduct and still endorses alleged child molester Republican Roy Moore in the Alabama Senate race.
FRANKEN: I, of all people, am aware that there is some irony in the fact that I am leaving, while a man who has bragged on tape about his history of sexual assault sits in the Oval Office and a man who has repeatedly preyed on young girls campaigns for the Senate with the full support of his party.
But this decision is not about me. It's about the people of Minnesota.
ACOSTA: Asked about that, the president had almost no response.
QUESTION: Mr. President, any comment on Senator Al Franken, who made some comments about you earlier today, sir?
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I didn't hear it. Sorry.
ACOSTA: While the White House pointed to the voters who elected Mr. Trump.
SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: The president addressed the comments back during the campaign. We feel strongly that the people of this country also addressed that when they elected Donald Trump to be president. And I have addressed it several times from here and don't have anything new to add.
ACOSTA: Press Secretary Sarah Sanders all but said there's no issue in the Oval Office.
HUCKABEE SANDERS: Certainly, as a woman myself, I have never felt anything but treated with the highest level of respect and been empowered to do my job. And I think that's what I have seen the president do day in and day out since we have been here and during the campaign. And so I think that's a pretty good start and a pretty good example on that front.
ACOSTA: That overlooks Mr. Trump's comments caught on tape by "Access Hollywood."
TRUMP: I just start kissing them. It's like a magnet. I just kiss. I don't even wait. And when you're a star they let you do it.
ACOSTA: Not to mention the candidate's response to women who had accused him of assault.
TRUMP: Take a look. You take a look. Look at her. Look at her words. You tell me what you think. I don't think so.
ACOSTA: The president appeared to be more focused on avoiding a government shutdown that could happen this month.
TRUMP: We're all here as a very friendly, well-unified group.
ACOSTA: Mr. Trump welcomed Democratic leaders Chuck Schumer and Nancy to the Oval Office after they passed on a meeting with the president to keep the government running a week ago.
SEN. CHUCK SCHUMER (D-NY), MINORITY LEADER: We hope we can come to an agreement.
ACOSTA: But Pelosi warned, Democrats are willing to hold their ground if Congress fails to find a solution for the young undocumented known as the dreamers.
REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA), HOUSE MINORITY LEADER: No. I stand by that statement. We will not leave here without a DACA fix.
ACOSTA: The White House did try to resolve one issue.
TRUMP: God bless the United States.
ACOSTA: Explaining the president was suffering from a case of dry mouth during a speech at the White House a day ago.
HUCKABEE SANDERS: Frankly, pretty ridiculous questions. The president's throat was dry. Nothing more than that.
ACOSTA: And, Wolf, I believe we can put this up on the screen. I think right now over at the Senate, they are voting on a measure to keep the government running. We expect this to only last for another couple of weeks, and then they are probably going to have to do this all over again.
But, for now, it appears a government shutdown has been averted with the Senate taking up what the House took care of earlier today.
But we should point out, Wolf, as for what White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders just talked about a few moments ago, labeling questions about Mr. Trump's health -- quote -- "ridiculous," it should be noted inquiries about a president's health have come with the territory of serving in the Oval Office, as you know, Wolf, for decades.
And don't forget, during the campaign, Mr. Trump repeatedly questioned Hillary Clinton's stamina to serve as president -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Yes, good point, indeed. All right, thanks very much, Jim Acosta, for that.
There's a lot of breaking news to discuss with Congressman Joaquin Castro. He's a key Democrat on the House Intelligence and Foreign Affairs Committees.
Congressman, thanks for joining us.
REP. JOAQUIN CASTRO (D), TEXAS: Thanks for having me, Wolf.
BLITZER: Were you aware of these follow-up efforts by Rod Goldstone, that British P.R. guy, after that June 2016 Trump Tower meeting with Donald Trump Jr. and others?
CASTRO: Well, as you know, I can't get into the specifics of the documents that have been produced to us or the interviews that we have had.
But I will say, if we assume that the e-mails are authenticated, then it's clear that there was an attempt to continue the conversation and perhaps to continue working together on a relationship between the Trump campaign and Russian agents in the 2016 elections.
So those e-mails are very disturbing. And I expect that in the coming weeks and months, we will see more things that are equally disturbing come to light.
BLITZER: Speaking of e-mails, five days after that Trump Tower meeting, Goldstone sent an e-mail to two Russians who also attended the meeting. He attached the CNN story, as you heard from Jim Sciutto, about the hacking of DNC e-mails, writing that it was -- quote -- "eerily weird," given what they had talked about during that earlier meeting at Trump Tower.
Will you be asking Goldstone about this when he comes before your committee in the coming days?
CASTRO: We absolutely will ask him about it.
And in that e-mail, there seems to be a kind of self-consciousness about whatever they discussed, whatever they talked about and whatever plans they may have made.
So, we certainly want to meet with Mr. Goldstone, and we are going to have that question for him and many others, too.
BLITZER: Why do you think Goldstone wanted President Trump to create a page on a Russian social media networking Web site?
CASTRO: That's a great question. And we are going to be sure to ask him that. But this president and his campaign have had an inordinate number of people with deep ties to Russia, not just folks who happen to be Russian, but Russian oligarchs who are closely linked to Vladimir Putin, and some of them to Russian intelligence services. So we need to see how he can help us get to the bottom of those relationships.
BLITZER: Congressman, you just said we're going to be seeing things equally disturbing in the coming days. What are you suggesting?
CASTRO: Well, as you know, I can't discuss most of that stuff now.
But I told you months ago -- and when I said it back then, I think it was considered a little bit brash -- but I said I think in April that I thought that there would be people who would end up in jail.
And as I stand here now, I think that there are going to be some things that come out that will be very surprising and disturbing to the American people.
BLITZER: Can you us just a hint when you think this will happen? Will it be days from now, weeks, months?
CASTRO: Well, we're on an accelerated schedule now, at least in the House investigation. And Robert Mueller I think is moving even faster than the House and the Senate, so I would expect that it's safe to say in the next few months.
BLITZER: More arrests?
CASTRO: Quite possibly, yes.
BLITZER: But is that what you anticipate?
CASTRO: It wouldn't surprise me.
BLITZER: After Donald Trump Jr., as you know, Congressman, released those e-mails setting up that Trump Tower meeting, the son of one of the meeting attendees asked why Trump Jr. was admitting "collusion."
He used the word collusion. What does that tell you, if anything?
CASTRO: It tells me that there are folks with guilty minds, people who feel like they may have done something wrong.
And that's very disturbing. And when Mr. Goldstone comes in, we have got to get to the bottom of that and we probably will have follow-up questions for the witnesses that we have already talked to.
BLITZER: Do you believe there already is evidence of collusion between the Trump campaign and the Russians?
CASTRO: Yes. I have said before that I think what you have seen is collusion.
Even based on public reports, we have seen evidence of e-mails, of meetings, of conversations. I think the only real question is how effective was that collusion, did it really influence the 2016 election?
BLITZER: You heard from Donald Trump Jr. yesterday -- he appeared, what, for seven or eight hours before the House Intelligence Committee, your committee.
Do you think he has a legitimate claim to attorney-client privilege in the conversation he had with his father, because he didn't want to answer a question. He cited attorney-client privilege.
CASTRO: You're right.
Adam Schiff, the ranking member of our committee, Democrat from California, made the point that he wouldn't answer, that Donald Trump Jr. would not answer the question about what he discussed with his father.
And under the legal rules, simply having attorneys there doesn't mean that anything you say can't be asked about or doesn't have to be disclosed. In other words, you can't just have an attorney there to have cover to talk to whomever you want. That's just not how it works.
So we believe that he could be compelled, if the majority is willing, he could be compelled to tell us those things.
BLITZER: And if he doesn't, could he be held in contempt?
CASTRO: It would take a court to do that. I suspect that, just as the House is looking into it, probably the Senate, but also I suspect that Robert Mueller is probably dealing with the same issue. He would be the one to go to court and probably compel that.
BLITZER: Is it plausible to you, Congressman, that President Trump first learned about his son's June 2016 Trump Tower meeting with Russians when the news reports came out earlier in the year?
CASTRO: I don't believe that at all. I just don't buy it.
BLITZER: What do you buy?
CASTRO: Well, this is a family that, remember, is very close. For Donald Trump -- obviously had his kids with him on the campaign. They were helping him at rallies and all these things, with campaign work, but also this is a family that helped build a business together.
So it's obviously a close group of people. I just don't believe that they didn't talk about these things.
BLITZER: Congressman, stand by. There are new developments emerging right now. We will take a quick break. We will resume the interview right after this.
BLITZER: We're back with Congressman Joaquin Castro.
Breaking news, the Senate just gave final approval to a stopgap measure to avoid a government shutdown through December 22. The vote was 81-14. It now heads to the president's desk for his signature.
Congressman, I want you to stand by.
We're getting some new information. I want to get a full report on the FBI director's public pushback against the president's claim that the bureau right now is in tatters.
Our justice correspondent, Jessica Schneider, is joining us right now.
Jessica, the first time we heard from Christopher Wray, the new FBI director, since the president's very, very bitter accusations against the FBI.
JESSICA SCHNEIDER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Right, the first time Christopher Wray speaking in public, and he was steadfast in defending the FBI amid all of that fierce criticism coming directly from the president and also today coming from Republican lawmakers.
Director Wray pushed back against calls of bias and botched investigations.
CHRISTOPHER WRAY, FBI DIRECTOR: The FBI that I see is people, decent people, committed to the highest principles of integrity and professionalism and respect.
SCHNEIDER (voice-over): Tonight, Christopher Wray is defending his agency in public for the first time since the president slammed the bureau, claiming its reputation is in -- quote -- "tatters, the worst in history."
When Wray was asked to respond, he deflected, choosing instead to praise the people who work at the FBI.
WRAY: Congressman, there's no shortage of opinions out there.
What I can tell you is that the FBI that I see is tens of thousands of agents and analysts and staff working their tails off to keep Americans safe.
SCHNEIDER: Wray sent an e-mail of support to staff the day after the president's tweet, but New York Congressman Jerrold Nadler said Wray should do more.
REP. JERROLD NADLER (D), NEW YORK: Your responsibility is not only to defend the bureau, but to push back against the president when he is clearly wrong.
SCHNEIDER: Several Republicans defended the president's attack, pointing to top FBI agent Peter Strzok, who was recently removed from special counsel Robert Mueller's team after sending thousands of text messages to a colleague, some of which were critical of President Trump.
REP. BOB GOODLATTE (R), VIRGINIA: It is absolutely unacceptable for FBI employees to permit their own political predilections to contaminate any investigation.
REP. STEVE CHABOT (R), OHIO: The depths of this anti-Trump bias on the Mueller team, it just goes on and on. It's absolutely shocking.
SCHNEIDER: The inspector general is looking at the very important question of whether or not improper political considerations factored into the decision-making. If he were to conclude that that's what happened, then I think at that point we're in a situation where we have to assess what else might need to be done to unring that bell, if you will.
SCHNEIDER: Wray referencing the inspector general's investigation, which is also looking into the FBI's handling of the Hillary Clinton private e-mail probe.
And while Wray wouldn't give his opinion when Democrats pressed him to answer if the president could face charges of obstruction of justice, Wray pledged politics would not influence the FBI.
WRAY: And there isn't a person on this planet that can get me to drop a properly predicated investigation or start an investigation that is not properly predicated.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Do you believe that President Trump is above the law?
WRAY: I don't believe anybody's above the law.
SCHNEIDER: And Democrats also asked Director Wray if the president has ever directly questioned him on former Director James Comey or special counsel Robert Mueller. Wray said no and then added he's only spoken directly with the president once in what was a congratulatory phone call after he became director in late September.
Wray also said that the president has never asked him for any pledge of loyalty, reiterating instead that his only loyalty is to the Constitution and to the American people, Wolf.
BLITZER: Good report. Thanks very much, Jessica Schneider, reporting for us.
Let's go back to Congressman Joaquin Castro.
Are you encouraged, Congressman, by the FBI director's testimony today?
CASTRO: Yes, I am, Wolf. I'm glad that he took a strong stand in standing up for the folks that
work over at the FBI. The president has attacked members of the intelligence community, not just the FBI, but the CIA also, since he was a candidate.
And I think that it's hurt the morale at both of those places. These are people who, in their roles, risk their lives for the safety of Americans. And so I'm glad that the FBI director is standing up to the president.
And I think, as all Americans, I wish that the president would choose his words more wisely and would stop this.
BLITZER: The White House press secretary, Sarah Sanders, today said President Trump is criticizing what she described as the political leaders of the FBI, not the agents, not the law enforcement officers themselves. Does the FBI see it that way? How do you see it?
I mean, you think about it, Wolf, he's talking about the political leadership. The political leadership is appointed by the president, nominated by the president and then appointed. So that was his hand- picked FBI director who is leading the agency. So that makes no sense at all.
BLITZER: Is this his way of attacking Robert Mueller, the special counsel? Because we know he keeps attacking the former FBI Director James Comey.
CASTRO: Yes. I think, generally, this president is trying to undermine the credibility of the intelligence agencies and if, at some point down the road, Robert Mueller brings forth charges against either close Trump associates or someone in his family or himself, he's going to do everything to lay the groundwork to undermine the credibility of that effort.
And that's, I think, what you see him doing.
BLITZER: Congressman Joaquin Castro, thanks so much for joining us.
CASTRO: Thank you.
BLITZER: There's breaking news coming up, more on the undisclosed e- mails raising serious new questions about Donald Trump Jr.'s controversial meeting with a group of Russians at Trump Tower in New York.
Plus, Senator Al Franken resigns amid sexual harassment allegations. How will it impact the political landscape in next year's midterm elections?
BLITZER: Breaking tonight, a CNN exclusive, the first indication of any follow-up to the 2016 Trump Tower meeting in New York when Donald Trump Jr. and others expected to get what was described as dirt on Hillary Clinton from the Russians.
Let's bring in our analysts and specialists. And Gloria, five days after that controversial meeting, Rob Goldstone, the British publicist who organized the meeting, sent an e-mail to two Russians who also attended the meeting. And he attached a CNN story about the hacking of DNC e-mails writing that it was, in his words, "eerily weird" given what they had talked about in that meeting five days earlier.
[18:35:24] GLORIA BORGER, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: It sounds pretty suspicious. You know, the benign interpretation which I think was offered to Jim and Manu is that -- that given the run-up to the meeting, where dirt was promised by the Russians to Donald Trump Jr., that this was -- that this was eerily weird.
The other interpretation of it is not so benign, which is you can interpret it to say, given that what was discussed at the meeting, that the news of this DNC hack was eerily weird. So you know, there are two ways of looking at it. Obviously, the congressional committees and Bob Mueller are going to want to know more about this interpretation from Goldstone.
BLITZER: Yes, this latest twist is eerily weird, I should say.
BORGER: Eerily weird.
BLITZER: Yes. You know, Bianna, you know the Russians well. What do you think that Goldstone wanted when he recommended that President Trump create a page on this Russian social networking website?
BIANNA GOLODRYGA, YAHOO! NEWS: Well, the website, VK, is the most popular social networking site in Russia. It has about 460 million users worldwide, so it's not trivial. But why would a U.S. president want to familiarize himself with Russian citizens? I mean, it's not as if we're hearing about the president setting up similar pages and going onto similar sites in other countries.
With regards to Russian-Americans, proportionately, I would say that more Russian-Americans supported Donald Trump than maybe other immigrant groups in this country collectively, but maybe we're talking about 800,000 Russian-American voters. I mean, it is a bit trivial. So I don't want to overread too much into all of these details, but that's a strange e-mail to send.
And also, don't forget: we're hearing different stories, more and more information about what happened in that, quote, "nothing burger" meeting. Remember, Reince Priebus, that was his explanation for it last year. Remember who else was in that meeting? Jared Kushner, Paul Manafort. Who have they talked to? They've talked to investigators.
We know, obviously, Mueller knows a lot more than we do. But for Donald Trump Jr. not to assume that they may have revealed already what was discussed in that meeting, even though we're hearing different stories from him, I don't know how that hasn't crossed his mind. So keep that in mind, as well. BLITZER: Yes, you're absolutely right. Robert Mueller, the special
prosecutor, he knows a lot more than all of us. He's got a lot of information.
Rebecca, Donald Trump Jr., after he released those e-mails about the origin of the Trump Tower meeting, the son of one of the meeting attendees e-mailed his father, asked why Trump Jr. was admitting what he called collusion. He used the word "collusion." What does that tell you?
REBECCA BERG, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, it could tell us a lot. It could tell us nothing, depending on what was the intent of the e- mail, what was the tone. We don't know if this e-mail was sent being sarcastic, joking, sort of making an allusion to some of the coverage that has been out there about this meeting; or if they were being serious, if they were actually concerned that Donald Trump Jr. had put himself in some legal jeopardy because of what they knew about what was discussed at this meeting that followed those e-mail communications.
So we really don't know, but it's an interesting detail and certainly something that investigators are going to want to know more about.
BLITZER: I'm sure they will. Mark Preston, Donald Trump Jr. has said that nothing really came out of that meeting at Trump Tower. There was no follow-up, he said. He wasn't on any of the e-mails, though, that were following up on that meeting. So is it possible he didn't really know about any follow-up?
MARK PRESTON, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes. Look, that's possible, plausible. But I think before we get too far ahead and get into the weeds about whether there was follow up or not, including him, let's just start with the basic premise.
They said there was no collusion with the Russians. Now, perhaps there was no collusion with the Russians, but there certainly was an effort to collude with the Russians by -- by soliciting or at least being open to getting information, dirt on Hillary Clinton. And that's why they held the meeting.
So I don't think we should lose, you know, that point, because that is an extremely important point.
GOLODRYGA: And look...
BLITZER: Go ahead, Bianna.
GOLODRYGA: I would just say, at best, for Donald Trump Jr.'s defense, naivete comes to mind. Because remember, what was his first explanation? It was adoptions. Well, not allowing Americans to adopt Russian children, that was not an enforcement made by the U.S. That came from the Russians. So the real issue at hand was the sanctions.
Now whether Donald Trump Jr. put the two together, that's a different question. But this was never a trivial meeting from the get-go, at least from the Russians' perspective. [18:40:06] And why you need three Russian interpreters to come from
various parts of the country also doesn't make sense. You can find plenty of Russian English speakers here in New York City, as well. I've always been confused about that aspect of it.
BLITZER: Good point.
BORGER: I mean, it would be a trivial meeting, of course. You're meeting with the candidate's son...
BORGER: ... the chairman of the campaign, the candidate's son-in-law. You know, this is, to them, this was a huge get. They -- they got in.
BORGER: And they got to say whatever they wanted to say.
BLITZER: All right. Everybody stand by. There's more breaking news we're following. Two Republican members of Congress under investigation for alleged sexual harassment. We're going to tell you what we're learning right after the break.
[18:45:39] WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: Breaking right now: the House Ethics Committee confirming that it's investigating two Republican members of Congress.
Let's bring in CNN's MJ Lee. She's joining us from Capitol Hill.
MJ, what are you learning?
MJ LEE, CNN NATIONAL POLITICS REPORTER: Well, Wolf, a lot of information coming in very quickly, but you're right. The House Ethics Committee announcing that it has opened an investigation into Congressman Trent Franks and Trent Franks sent out a statement, a lengthy statement saying that he's going to resign effective January 31st.
And as a part of this lengthy statement, he sort of got into the backstory of what had happened and basically says that he and his wife had struggled with fertility issues, they wanted to have more children and, as a result, it sounds like according to a statement, he has had conversations with members of the staff about this issue and he said that he regrets if those conversations were uncomfortable for them.
Now, the Ethics Committee did say that they are looking into the issue of sexual harassment and whether he engaged in acts of sexual harassment. But, as you know, Wolf, if a member resigns from office, then the House Ethics Committee no longer has jurisdiction over that member. So this might explain why Congressman Franks decided to resign so abruptly, that he found out he was under investigation and didn't want to go through this entire process.
Now, I was by the House floor when this news was percolating that he may be resigning and he avoided reporters. But it was clear that members were finding out that this news might be coming and that some of them were surprised.
I talked to one of Congressman Franks' colleagues, Jim Jordan, who had been huddling with him at that time, and when I called him actually afterwards, he said I didn't even realize that he was resigning. So, a lot of incoming all at once and we're still trying to digest exactly what happened here that made Congressman Franks.
The other thing I will note is that Congressman Blake Farenthold, that he is also under investigation by the House Ethics Committee. This was also just announced by the committee a little while ago. All of this, of course, coming as we have now seen another members say that they are going to resign because they have faced allegations of sexual harassment.
Senator Al Franken, of course, making the dramatic announcement this morning that he's going to resign. Congressman John Conyers resigned earlier this week.
Wolf, back to you.
BLITZER: We can hear the carolers behind you as well over there on Capitol Hill.
All right. MJ, thank you very much.
Gloria, two Republicans now, one just announcing his resignation, the other one under the House Ethics Committee investigation.
GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes, I think they are dropping like flies, to be honest. And I think that what Trent Franks did was, obviously, rather than face an Ethics Committee investigation, that would be long and drawn out, and there's a long statement that he issued, he decided to quit because, as MJ Lee says and the ethics committee no longer has jurisdiction over him.
And Farenthold will have -- maybe he'll reconsider. I mean, who knows? He's still hanging in there.
I mean, Trent Franks put out a statement, said that he's never physically intimidated, coerced or attempted to have any sexual contact with any member of his congressional staff but then went into a long story about his remarks may have been misinterpreted, and I think that clearly, there were some complaints and he said in the cultural and media climate, I'm convinced that I would be unable to complete a fair House Ethics investigation before distorted and sensationalized versions of this story were to come to light. So, rather than do that, he left.
BLITZER: He said, it would put me, my family, my staff, my noble colleagues in the House of Representatives through hyperbolized public excoriation. What do you think of the statement, Rebecca?
REBECCA BERG, CNN POLITICS REPORTER: Well, it's remarkably detailed statement, first of all. To come out before there was a news story reported on this, before leadership had commented on this, before any of his colleagues had really commented on this, to -- on the front end to offer his side of the story is very different than what we have been seeing and I think speaks to just the monumental shift that you are seeing now on Capitol Hill and the way both parties are beginning to address these allegations.
[18:50:04] You -- at the beginning, we are seeing people dragging their feet, seen college piling on, telling them to resign. Now, you're seeing a situation where we don't know what conversations potentially were happening behind the scenes leading up to Trent Franks and his decision to resign, perhaps there were colleagues who knew and were urging him to resign, we still need to figure out exactly what happened there.
But, clearly, members, at least in this case, deciding it's not worth the public display.
BLITZER: Let me get Bianna into this.
You think we need to hear from the accusers in these two particular cases? We are talking about Trent Franks of Arizona, a Republican congressman, and Blake Farenthold of Texas.
BIANNA GOLODRYGA, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Well, look, I'm not an HR specialist. But I think it's clear that what's lacking in Congress is an HR department. I mean, you have funds put aside for settlement, for sexual harassment settlement. Maybe these taxpayer funds could be better used for HR classes or just an HR management type overseeing all of this.
You are seeing a real disconnect between how corporate America is responding to allegations where people are being let go and as soon as a headline comes out and a credible allegation is being made and investigation begins and people are fired. And you don't see that accountability in Congress.
And I think that you are hearing from constituents. I think you are hearing from lawmakers themselves, that they are sick and tired of hearing more and more revelations. Many people said, this could be a watershed moment, but it also is a moment where we are going to be hearing a lot more of these type of allegations, and it doesn't hold well for Congress' approval rating overall.
I mean, there's a reason why so many Americans don't have that much faith in their elected officials. And I think accountability and holding them accountable is one of them.
BLITZER: Everybody, stand by. There are more developments unfolding, very intriguing developments. We'll take a quick break and we'll be right back.
[18:57:02] BLITZER: Tonight, the president's approval rating sunk to a new low of 32 percent in the brand-new Pew Research Center poll.
Thirty-two percent approve, Mark, 63 percent disapprove of the job he is doing as president.
MARK PRESTON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Fake news poll.
Not fake. I mean, clearly real news. The reason why is, you know, President Trump is losing support amongst those people who supported him back in February, specifically voters over the age of 50. He lost nine points since February. When it comes to white voters, he lost eight points since February.
Now, here is the really big number tied to yesterday with the naming of Jerusalem, you know, as the new U.S. embassy. White, Evangelical Protestant voters, he dropped 17 points with that voting group who supported him since February.
So, there's a lot of talk about why did Trump name Jerusalem as the new home for the U.S. embassy? The white Evangelical Protestants want to see that just as much as those who live in Israel.
BLITZER: Polls show that tax bill is pretty unpopular right now as well.
BORGER: Unpopular. I think they haven't had a great messaging on it. I think the Democrats have kind of beaten them on that. I think the president is also losing support from those independent voters who supported him during the presidential campaign. And this all contributes to his low approval rating.
BLITZER: Yes, and --
GOLODRYGA: And, Wolf, another --
BLITZER: Go ahead, Bianna.
GOLODRYGA: Another reason this would be worrisome for the administration is this poll number comes out when the economy, as the president touts, is booming. The stock market continues to hit new highs. We haven't had a major catastrophe here or terror attack on U.S. soil.
So, it's usually when, God forbid, something like that happens or a drastic correction in the market where you see the unpopularity really kick in for a president. You are not seeing the response the president wants, so the stock market boom and economic boom that he talks about and tweets about on a daily basis.
BLITZER: You know, guys, before we go, it's the 76th anniversary of the bombing of Pearl Harbor. The president shared a special moment today with some of the veterans who survived that day. Listen to this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Throughout the war, one great battle cry could be herd by American friends and foes alike. Remember Pearl Harbor. Have you heard that before a couple times? Remember Pearl Harbor.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: We remember -- of course, we remember Pearl Harbor. We thank all the men and women and the veterans from that critically important day and for all of them who saved the world during World War II.
That's it for me. Thanks very much for watching.
"ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.