Return to Transcripts main page

THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER

New Revelations in Trump-Russia Investigation; Interview With Delaware Senator Chris Coons; Trump Recognizes Jerusalem as Israeli Capital. Aired 4:30-5p ET

Aired December 6, 2017 - 16:30   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


[16:30:22]

JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: We have breaking news in our politics lead and two breaking stories on the Russia investigation.

We will get to the new information Donald Trump Jr. revealed in his House Intelligence Committee meeting.

But, first, fired National Security Adviser Michael Flynn allegedly told his former business partner that ripping up U.S. sanctions against Russia was a priority for the Trump White House, this all coming from a whistle-blower close to the situation, according to top Democrats on the House Oversight Committee.

To get more on both of these latest developments in the Russia investigation, let's bring in CNN's Manu Raju on Capitol Hill.

Manu, tell us about this exchange that had to do with Flynn.

MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, this whistle- blower is coming forward, according to Elijah Cummings, the top Democrat on the House Oversight Committee.

This whistle-blower alleging that Michael Flynn on the day of President Trump's inauguration texted his own business partner and suggested they should move forward with a nuclear energy project in the Middle East working with Russia. He said that he told this business partner, according to the whistle-blower, that the Trump administration was prepared to rip up sanctions on Russia right away as part of this project.

Now, what was significant, this is the first time we know that the administration seeming to be interested in rolling back sanctions on Russia, according to this whistle-blower, and it also shows that perhaps Flynn was looking to enrich himself on this matter as well.

This is part of a business project he was involved with. Now, Jake, just now, we just got a response from an attorney for that business partner. They are firmly denying the account of the whistle-blower, but we have not yet heard from the Republican chairman of the Republican committee, Trey Gowdy, who -- Elijah Cummings wants to issue subpoenas to the White House to get more information, Jake.

TAPPER: That's right. Flynn was working with a businessman for a project to bring nuclear energy throughout the Middle East, including with some Russian business partners.

Another development, Donald Trump Jr. testified before the House Intelligence Committee behind closed doors and he told them some news about that whole explanation and everything having to do with that meeting that he had with Russian officials in Trump Tower in the summer of 2016.

RAJU: Yes, that's right.

He said that he actually communicated initially with Hope Hicks, who is now the White House communications director, about how to respond to the to those initial reports.

He said he did not communicate directly with his father, though his father was aware about this because he was communicating separately with Hope Hicks, deciding on whether or not to put out a longer or shorter statement initially. We know separately that President Trump was involved in some of those discussions about that initial response on Air Force One, Jake.

But this is another reason why investigators do want to speak with Hope Hicks about what we shows about this Trump Tower meeting and this initial response, Jake.

TAPPER: Manu Raju on Capitol Hill.

Let's bring back my panel right now.

Obviously, that initial statement that came from Donald Trump Jr. that was written apparently with the help of Hope Hicks and the president was not true. It was deceptive. It talked about how the meeting was about Russian adoptions and that sort of thing.

But that's actually not a crime to lie to the public or to lie to the press. How significant do you think this is?

M.J. LEE, CNN NATIONAL POLITICS CORRESPONDENT: Well, I mean, I think it at the very least shows that there were some, you know, back- curtain deliberations that took place, that once this meeting was known about, obviously, there was some scrambling behind the scenes.

And I would also note on Manu's note on the Flynn reporting, all of this sort of gets to motivation, right? I think as those stories have come out and as our reporters have been doing more reporting on what is the status of the investigation, the question has been, are some of these mistakes, were they sort of rookie mistakes or was there actual motivation?

And I think with Flynn what is really significant is that there was potential for personal gain, as Manu was getting at, that, you know, when there is a motivation there for you to personally enrich yourself, that is really different from someone acting on behalf of a candidate or on behalf of someone just because they felt like that was the right thing to do politically.

TAPPER: Interesting. All right, everyone, stick around. We're going to talk to a member of

the Senate Judiciary Committee, who is eager to also talk to Donald Trump Jr., Senator Chris Coons, next.

Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[16:38:43]

TAPPER: And we're back with the breaking news.

A whistle-blower alleging that President Trump's former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn pledged to rip up the Russian sanctions. He said this on Inauguration Day and a lot of people would get wealthy, this businessman says. The attorney for Michael Flynn says this story is not true.

I want to bring in Democratic Senator Chris Coons of Delaware, who sits on the Judiciary Committee.

Senator, first of all, let me note that you're on the Senate Ethics Committee, so you're not going to answer any questions I might have about Al Franken, so I'm not going to waste anybody's time.

SEN. CHRIS COONS (D), DELAWARE: That's correct.

TAPPER: What is your reaction to the news that Flynn supposedly on Inauguration Day texted a former colleague to say ending Russian sanctions was a priority for the White House, and this businessman allegedly said that a lot of people were going to get very wealthy?

COONS: Well, Jake, this is just another example of a whole series of inappropriate conversations and actions by former National Security Adviser General Mike Flynn and helps explain why he might be cooperating with Mueller's investigation.

I assume that Mueller was able to reveal a whole series of inappropriate actions and statements by General Flynn, and that would have put him in significant legal risk, and as a result he's cooperating.

But it's a reminder that other individuals with whom Flynn was communicating in the transition team, on Inauguration Day in the new Trump administration, were already taking really striking steps, given that the reason for the sanctions against Russia were because of Russia's illegal annexation of Crimea, and in part Russia's interference in our elections in 2016.

[16:40:10]

TAPPER: It does seem to be kind of contradictory, though, in a way, because if the theory that Democrats are operating with is that somehow ripping up these sanctions was somehow a reward for the Russians helping the Trump campaign during the election -- and, again, there is no evidence of any quid pro quo -- but that would be different from the theory of trying to rip up these sanctions so people could make a lot of money, you know?

COONS: Well, I mean, the two aren't mutually exclusively.

Sadly, what seemed to be a pattern with General Flynn was that he was both advancing a partisan political interest in his role in the Trump campaign and continuing to advance his own personal enrichment as someone who was representing Turkey or representing groups from Ukraine, groups allied with Russia's interests.

So the idea that he could have been advancing both, an enrichment goal and a narrow or partisan goal, it seems to me they're not in conflict.

TAPPER: I know you're on the Senate Judiciary Committee, not on the House Intelligence Committee. Donald Trump Jr. testified before the latter today. What do you think the key question from that committee should have been for Donald Trump Jr.?

COONS: Well, Donald Trump Jr. was a participant in a very important meeting at Trump Tower. It's important to get clarity on what was the foundation for that meeting, why was it taken, what were the questions asked, and what information was reported back up to President Trump, if any?

So those are just a few of the questions I would expect might have been asked today in front of the House Intelligence Committee.

TAPPER: I have to ask you. As a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, the ranking Democrat, Dianne Feinstein, talked about there now being a case for obstruction of justice based on some of the tweets and statements that we have heard from President Trump, not to mention, of course, his firing of James Comey.

Do you think President Trump obstructed justice?

COONS: Well that's a legal conclusion I don't think we have yet fully reached, but the evidence supporting an obstruction of justice claim just keeps building up.

I will remind you, Jake, it was recently that there was public reporting that in the past couple of months, President Trump personally reached out to Senator McConnell, to Senator Burr, to Senator Blunt, urging them to wrap up the Russia investigation early.

This just follows a pattern that goes back to his early days of meeting with FBI Director Jim Comey, seeking some commitment of personal loyalty and asking him to go easy on Mike Flynn, former National Security Adviser Flynn.

So I do think we are seeing more and more evidence that would lead to an obstruction charge. I also think there was a striking development this week, Jake, in that President Trump's own lawyers are now making the argument that the president can't commit obstruction of justice because he's in charge of all law enforcement.

That is not a tenable argument. We would no longer have rule of law in this country if the president were utterly unrestrained to interfere in any way he chose in an investigation.

TAPPER: All right, Democratic Senator Chris Coons of Delaware, thank you so much. And Happy Delaware Day. I appreciate your being here.

COONS: Thank you, Jake.

TAPPER: President Trump declaring Jerusalem the capital of Israel, but will the announcement hurt the chances for peace?

Dan Shapiro served as U.S. ambassador to Israel under President Obama. He will join our discussion next.

Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[16:45:00] JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: Earlier today from the diplomatic reception room at White House, President Trump fulfilled a major campaign promise, though it was one that top national security and diplomatic officials in his administration advised him not to keep. He formally recognized Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and vowed to move the U.S. Embassy there.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I've judged this course of action to be in the best interests of the United States of America and the pursuit of peace between Israel and the Palestinians.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: Many world leaders warned against today's announcement. Some fear it would ignite a tinderbox of conflict in the region. In 1967, Israel seized East Jerusalem from Jordan during the war, leaving the status of Jerusalem and any potential peace deal as a major point of contention. Now the U.S. consulate in Jerusalem is prohibiting U.S. government and employees and their families from traveling to Jerusalem's old city or the west bank until further notice fearing acts of violence. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu today issued a video thank you for President Trump for making a "courageous and just decision," adding that Jerusalem has been the focus of the hopes, dreams, and prayers of the Jewish people for three millennia.

Dan Shapiro joins our panel now. He served as U.S. Ambassador to Israel under President Obama. Dan, I assume you don't think this was a smart move. Why not? I mean, this is a promise that every presidential candidate makes. We're going to recognize Israel as the capital -- I mean, Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. Jerusalem is the capital of Israel. What's the big deal?

DAN SHAPIRO, FORMER UNITED STATES AMBASSADOR TO ISRAEL: In fact, I don't think it's that big of a deal.

TAPPER: Oh, you know.

SHAPIRO: I think there are a lot of heavy breathing about it but it's neither the end of all efforts to achieve Middle East peace nor is the second coming of Harry Truman recognizing the states of Israel when it was established in 1948. Essentially the President did recognize a reality. Jerusalem is the capital of Israel, as the Ambassador based in Tel Aviv, I got in my car every day and we drove to Jerusalem so that I could do business of state with the Israeli officials in their offices in Jerusalem. And so it's even appropriate to have our embassy there. But what there was, was a missed opportunity here.

Number one, he made the announcement that is to recognize Jerusalem as Israel's capital but did sign the waiver preventing the establishment of the embassy there. That's a mistake. He could go ahead and do that now. But the bigger missed opportunity is to frame this decision within the context of our broader efforts to advance our strategic objective and that's a two-state solution. That's an end to this conflict. And in that, Palestinians have claims on Jerusalem. There will be a need to negotiate a presence for Palestinians in East Jerusalem as well as part of the two states solution. So we should have been clear, we should have timed this to coincide with the peace plan that Jared Kushner and Jason Greenblatt is onwards are putting together and he should have engaged in some better consultation with Arab states who could have absorbed it more easily had he done so.

[16:50:15] TAPPER: Jen, you worked for Obama not just in the White House but also at the State Department. This is a move --

JEN PSAKI, FORMER SPOKESWOMAN, STATE DEPARTMENT: With Ambassador Shapiro.

TAPPER: With Ambassador Shapiro. This is a move that a lot of Democrats have been heavy breathing today to use your term about how big a deal it is. A lot of people, obviously the U.S. Consulate in Jerusalem worried about violence. People talking about Arab leaders, King Abdullah, Sisi, others talking about this is going to be really bad for peace in the region. What do you think?

PSAKI: Well, here's why that is. The Israelis consider Jerusalem the capital but so do the Palestinians. So it's not just about what people in Israel think. Of course, as Dan referenced, it's much broader than that. 70 percent of the population in Jordan is Palestinian. In Saudi Arabia, Donald Trump is putting his new best friends in a difficult position. So this has a much larger implication or potential impact in all of the Middle East. We don't know what that looks like but I think concerns among Democrats are violence, targeting U.S. citizens, targeting U.S. -- you know, embassies and we've seen unrest already. So that's what people are looking at.

TAPPER: And of course Palestinians are saying this is all very unfair and reveals that the United States is not an honest broker. Take a listen to a senior Palestinian official earlier today.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SAEB EREKAT, SECRETARY-GENERAL AND CHIEF NEGOTIATOR, PALESTINE LIBERATION ORGANIZATION: I think tonight he is strengthening the forces of extremists in this region as no one has done before. This is an act, a statement that's totally uncalled for, totally unacceptable, is in total violation of international law, human rights and he's stirring the conflict between Palestinians and Israelis from a political one and for religious one. That's a very dangerous situation.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: So, the appeal of the Secretary-General there is all about Erekat seems worried, Mary Katherine, that this is going to embolden the Hamas wing and others who are going to be able to foment even more discord among the Palestinians.

MARY KATHARINE HAM, SENIOR WRITER, THE FEDERALIST: Yes, I understand that concern, but also it is not an extreme move to acknowledge that the capital of Israel is the capital of Israel. We get into a lot of diplomatic doublespeak is in sort of maintaining the peace process above all else, but I think there's merit in calling an apple an apple. It is the capital. There's no dispute that West Jerusalem and those facilities would remain the capital in a two-state solution.

I think the President did point out that this would be part of the final status discussion. And then despite concerns about security, which I think we all share, we should not let the sort of rioters veto or violence veto govern our foreign policy. And we've been doing this for many, many decades without a ton of success. And so much like with North Korea, where there are risks involved in a different way of doing things, there's also -- it's hard to make the argument that this has been working perfectly thus far. And this really could change some dynamics.

TAPPER: Well, so let me -- let me take an argument on the side of the Palestinians. This is a move that Israel wanted and the Palestinians didn't. And if the United States is making it devoid of any sort of peace deal, why give up this chip? Why not use it to try to encourage the Israelis to withdraw from some of the illegal settlements they've built in the west bank? I mean, why just do this without seeing the larger picture?

SHAPIRO: Well, again, there's a reality that is worth recognizing, Israel -- Jerusalem has always been Israel's capital. There are thousands of year old historic ties between the Jewish people --

TAPPER: Right, but East Jerusalem obviously is what the Palestinians consider their capital.

SHAPIRO: Correct. But there are two myths and he should have busted them at the same time. One myth, which is two frequently trafficked by Palestinians and we see it in the UNESCO resolutions and the like is that there are no historic and legitimate Jewish and Israeli ties to Israel. That they deny that there was ever a Jewish temple in Jerusalem, for example. That -- he busted that myth very effectively today.

But the other myth that sometimes Israelis deceive themselves with is that there's such a thing as the two-state solution that ends this conflict without the Palestinians having a capital for their state in at least some portion of East Jerusalem. It would have been better to frame the decision it in the context efforts to advance the entire goal of two states, being more explicit about what both sides can expect to see in that outcome. Moving our embassy to West Jerusalem, again, I would have gone ahead and done that rather than sign a waiver today as part of this, but I would have framed it so that Palestinians have some understanding of what they're going to get if a negotiation commences and proceeds.

TAPPER: So, you would have said that we're moving the embassy but we do hope that East Jerusalem will someday be the capital of the Palestinian state.

SHAPIRO: That the Palestinians will have their capital East Jerusalem, the precise dimensions would have to be negotiated of course, that Israel is going to need to be connected the holy sites. Now, we don't need that much detail, the Palestinians are either going to have a Palestinian state and their capital. That state will be somewhere in East Jerusalem or there won't be a two-state solution and then this conflict will fester in definitely in a sort of bi-national state which doesn't serve anybody's interests.

TAPPER: All right, everyone stay right there. Coming up, a multi- million dollar mix up. Why the pilot program will cost American Airlines more than potential passengers. Stay with pups

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[16:55:00] TAPPER: We're back with our "MONEY LEAD." $10 million. That's how much a scheduling glitch could cost American Airlines. The error gave too many employees time off during the holidays, leaving thousands of flights without pilots. Instead of canceling flights, the airline and the Pilots Union negotiated a deal, doubling pay for people who fly the unassigned flights. The end result, no cancellations, and pilots making 200 percent their normal rates. Be sure to follow me on Facebook and Twitter @JAKETAPPER or tweet the show @THELEADCNN. That's it for THE LEAD today, I'm Jake Tapper, I turn you over now to Wolf Blitzer in "THE SITUATION ROOM." Thanks for watching.