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Questions Surface About VP Pence; Trump Jr. in Front of House Panel; Tech Giants Battle; GOP Tax Plan Approval; Jerusalem Mayor on Embassy Move. Aired 8:30-9a ET

Aired December 6, 2017 - 08:30   ET



[08:30:56] CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR: New question this morning about what the vice president knew. What did Mike Pence know about what Michael Flynn was discussing with the Russian ambassador and when did he know it? The Russia investigation testing the vice president's in the dark defense.

Joining us now is CNN legal and national security analyst Asha Rangappa. She's a former FBI agent. She lectures on this stuff at Yale University.

So this is going to be a good testing session.

The word from the White House, from the vice president's team is, I didn't know, and I asked Flynn and he lied to me, so I went on TV and I repeated lies and he wound up being dismissed as a result. Good enough?

ASHA RANGAPPA, CNN LEGAL AND NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: It's sounding very suspicious. So, Chris, I would say, if you look at the timeline where these things are happening, and you have the sanctions conversation at the end of December. The FBI interviews Flynn close to the end of January. And very soon after that, Sally Yates, the acting attorney general at the time, comes and talks to McGhan and basically tells him that this is a problematic situation. So the question is, did Pence know, prior to even that conversation, and when he was talking about this, that Flynn had had these conversations?

And here's why it's problematic either way. The administration has said that these sanctions conversations were a matter of normal incoming transition policy, OK. If that's true, Vice President Pence was the head of the transition team and he's the incoming vice president, so you would think he would know about policy discussions taking place. So if he didn't know, then something about those conversations -- if he was kept in the dark, something about those conversations was just not right.

CUOMO: OK. And the cause, the basis for suspicion seems to be -- you know, correct the assertion but then evaluate it as well, please, which is, it seems that Flynn was talking about what he was doing in terms of discussing sanctions, et cetera, with other members of the team. There are e-mails to this affect.

So, at a minimum, that moves away the speculation that he was someone who went rogue, who was an outlier.


CUOMO: And it also adds to the suspicion that, well, if all these people knew and this was going on during the transition, how did the head of the transition not know?

RANGAPPA: Exactly. So we know that in the pleading documents that -- the statement of offense that Flynn pleaded guilty to, which means that these are facts that Mueller can actually prove, that he was in communication with senior transition officials. And exactly like you said, Chris, if he's in contact with senior transition officials about, you know, thing -- policy decisions, how can the head of the transition team not know?

CUOMO: All right.

RANGAPPA: And if they -- if they were keeping him in the dark, why?

CUOMO: Right.

And then my favorite question, so what? What if he -- you know, so what, he should have known. He didn't know. Maybe it goes to incompetence. Maybe it goes to poor communication. Maybe it goes to dislocation. They were doing a lot of this out of New York and he was in Washington, D.C. Trump's people didn't want to talk to Pence's people. Whatever it is, I don't know if any of that's true, but no matter what the reason is, so what. How does this become something that's a matter for Mueller?

RANGAPPA: It becomes a matter for Mueller because, again, if this is true that Vice President Pence didn't know, and this is all happening in some cabal of people underneath him, you know, this is starting to form -- that makes it less ordinary. And we don't know yet exactly what that conduct was, but we do know that Sally Yates described it to McGhan as being incredibly problematic and something that Flynn could be blackmailed about.

CUOMO: Right.

RANGAPPA: And that she actually took the step of going to the White House.

So I think that there's clearly something there that was alarming enough for Sally Yates to go -- and I think that is what Mueller's going to focus on and how many people were involved in that activity.

[08:35:11] CUOMO: Don Jr. going in to talk today. Supposedly the focus will be what happened at that meeting with the lawyer who said she had dirt on Hillary Clinton. What's the plus/minus there? What are the pitfalls? What are the potential advantages?

RANGAPPA: Well, he's going to have to explain himself once again. You know, we're seeing this pattern where Don Jr. is kind of consistently very eager to receive dirt on Hillary Clinton. And so it's getting more and more implausible that these are just accidental things that were not being solicited or that, you know, didn't go anywhere potentially. So --

CUOMO: So how about the so what on that? Let's say it is what people want it to be who are concerned about it. So it was -- he wanted dirt on Clinton. She promised it and then she ran some game on him in the meeting and wound up using it as a bait and switch to talk about some other agenda. So what? Where's the crime in that?

RANGAPPA: Well, we don't know what the crime is yet, if there is one. There may not be one, Chris. So here is -- here is the actual truth. Like, let's get -- get down and dirty on this.

Collusion is a descriptive term to describe a criminal act called conspiracy, OK? A conspiracy is an agreement to commit a crime. So you can start to see the elements of maybe an agreement, but you still need a crime underneath it. And I think that is going to be the problematic piece in terms of, you know, what is Mueller going to find there? So, you know, this may not be a chargeable thing, but it's whether or not there was some kind of quid pro quo going on.

CUOMO: It may not be something for Mueller, but it could be something that politicians could go to town on if they have the votes.

RANGAPPA: That's right.

CUOMO: Asha Rangappa, thank you very much, as always.

RANGAPPA: Thank you.

CUOMO: All right, it is time for "CNN Money Now."

The House and Senate are still ironing out the differences between the two different bills for taxes.

ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: Though this is quite different.

CUOMO: But we're looking at a fire.

CAMEROTA: These are the raging wildfires in California. This is all of the breaking news. We have live pictures for you coming up.


[08:41:22] ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

CUOMO: There are now a series of fast-moving wildfires. Just take a look at your screen. They're just out of control. There's so much wind. There's so much dry land. This is what's going on in California out near Brentwood. That's just west of Los Angeles. The flames burning dangerously close to the Getty Museum. They've had to shut down the 405. You know how busy that freeway gets. Firefighters need to get to the flames. They need access.

Take a look at this. This was taking by "Vanity Fair" correspondent Rebecca Kegan (ph). The inferno blanketing a hillside. So much heat, so much fire, it is glowing. She took the photo as the fire jumped the 405 on her way to L.A.X. Meantime, in Ventura County, tens of thousands have been forced to

evacuate. Hundreds of homes could be lost as a result. There are several different fires burning through tens of thousands of acres. You've got more than 1,000 firefighters battling the flames and it just ain't enough. We're going to keep a close eye on all of this, especially as it gets closer as people, where they live. There's going to be danger, and we'll be on it.

CAMEROTA: Just really scary video there.

Now we turn to the weaponization of the Internet. Tech giants like Twitter and FaceBook witnessing their platforms becoming tools for bad actors pushing misinformation. So now they'll have to decide what content stays and what goes. Laurie Segall is here with part three of her series "Divided We Code."

Tell us about it, Laurie.

LAURIE SEGALL, CNN SENIOR TECHNOLOGY CORRESPONDENT: You know, I think there's no question, tech companies have more power than ever. Companies like FaceBook and Twitter. And for so long you talk to the CEOs, they'll say, oh, we're just the pipes. We are not responsible for the content going through us.

I think that last year has been a rude awakening. And so many of these CEOs are struggling with that newfound power. Take a look.


ANDREW MCLAUGHLIN, FORMER DEPUTY CHIEF TECHNOLOGY OFFICER, UNITED STATES: It's -- the Internet, we built this incredible common space. Platforms like FaceBook and Twitter were created, blogging platforms where anybody could show up and speak.

SEGALL (voice-over): A virtual town square.

MCLAUGHLIN: Economists for a hundred years have had this principle, which is called the tragedy of the commons, that says, if you have a common space, a park, and anybody can go and use it without controls, the tragedy will be that that space gets trashed.

SEGALL: Fast forward to the Internet today. Social networks promise to democratize information. But in the last year, Russians have bought ads on FaceBook to target voters, aiming to sway an election, an army of bots is spreading propaganda through Twitter, and hate speech is going virtual, turning offline. The virtual town square is getting overrun.

As a result, these platforms are fall into an uncomfortable role as the gatekeepers of content. Matthew Prince is the founder of Cloudflare. It's a company that helps protect websites from attacks.

SEGALL (on camera): You said, I woke up in a bad mood and decided someone shouldn't be allowed on the Internet. No one should have that power. What a strong statement. MATTHEW PRINCE, CO-FOUNDER AND CEO, CLOUDFLARE: We kicked them off at

some level because they were jerks, and I think we have the right to pick and choose who we do business with.

SEGALL (voice-over): The customer he's talking about, a neo-Nazi site, The Daily Stormer.

PRINCE: But I do think it's important for us to have a conversation about what the responsibility is of the plumbers are on the Internet.

SEGALL: The decision was a trigger. And the requests started pouring in.

PRINCE: Since that time have been calls from over 3,500 different Cloudflare customers to be terminated. And I worry that having made this one decision that is going to be harder for us to push back against those others.

SEGALL: Being the referee of free speech is complicated, just ask Twitter co-founder and Medium CEO Ev Williams.

EV WILLIAMS, CEO, MEDIUM: Some people are calling for, there needs to be editorial guidelines and you get into an area where most tech companies would be like, ah, that's not something that really fits in our model or that we would even be good at.

[08:45:12] SEGALL (on camera): Increasingly, you guys, whether or not you like it, have to make some decisions that are kind of editorial, wouldn't you say?

WILLIAMS: There are judgments being made all the way down the line. There's judgements about how the algorithm works, what the system values, what the feedback loops are.

SEGALL (voice-over): While tech companies have the right to make these decisions, there's the question of transparency.

PRINCE: And we could have done it differently. We could have just said, they violated section 13-G of our terms of service and (INAUDIBLE).

SEGALL (on camera): But that's kind of BS, right?

PRINCE: It would be BS if we did it. And it's BS when any other technology company does it. And that's the point which is important. There are arbitrary decisions that get made in this and there are editorial decisions that get made in this. And we should own those editorial decisions.


SEGALL: You don't normally see tech founders be that open about some of these things that happen.

And one quick example, you look at Donald Trump, who put out these anti-Muslim tweets last weekend. A lot of people were saying, hey, this is against Twitter's hateful conduct policies. Take it down. Twitter gave one excuse and said, you know, this is why we're going to keep it up. There's real value. And then they went back on it and said, well actually it's not because of this we're keeping it up, it's because of another thing. So it's all about that transparency.

CAMEROTA: Right. But, I mean, they also just need to get their stories straight. I mean I was interested -- one of them said, it's high time for a conversation. It's past time for a conversation.

SEGALL: Absolutely.

CAMEROTA: Thank you. So interesting to watch these, Laurie. Thanks so much for being here.

CUOMO: All right, it is time for "CNN Money Now." The House and Senate are still ironing out differences in their tax bills, but President Trump says the final one is going to be better than either version.

Chief business correspondent Christine Romans has more

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN CHIEF BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: President Trump promises the tax bill will be tremendous.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: It's a tremendous bill for jobs and for the middle class. And I think people see that. And they're seeing it more and more. And the more they learn about it, the more popular it becomes.


ROMANS: Perhaps, but it's not very popular at the moment. Fresh polling shows less than one-third of Americans approve of the GOP tax plan. Now, both bills promise big corporate tax cuts that add to the deficit with no guarantee it will add jobs or raise wages. In fact, few Americans believe they will benefit. The majority polled thinks the rich will fair best while 41 percent believe their taxes will go up.

A score from Congress itself finds winners and losers in every tax bracket and the losers grow over time. For example, under the Senate plan, 81 percent of Americans earning the median income get a tax cut in 2019, but by 2027 only 14 percent still get a cut and a fourth -- a fourth of those middle income taxpayers actually pay more. The benefits -- the biggest benefits still go to the top earners.

You guys.

CAMEROTA: OK, thank you very much, Christine.

So, President Trump set to make an historic and controversial announcement that the U.S. will recognize Jerusalem as Israel's capital. What does this mean for Middle East peace? We speak with Jerusalem' mayor, next.


[08:51:16] CAMEROTA: Increased security at U.S. embassies across the Middle East as President Trump is expected to declare this afternoon that the U.S. will recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and move the U.S. embassy there. The decision being met with condemnation from Arab leaders and U.S. allies.

Joining us now is Jerusalem mayor Nir Barkat.

Mr. Mayor, thank you very much for being here.

I know that you're delighted by this decision of President Trump's. Tell us what this will mean for Jerusalem.

NIR BARKAT, MAYOR OF JERUSALEM: Well, Jerusalem is the capital of the Jewish people and of Israel 3,000 years. Behind me, in the ancient city of Jerusalem, where kings and prophets walked 3,000 years ago, everywhere you put a shovel on the ground, you find Jewish roots.

And from my perspective and our perspective here in Israel, that recognition should have been 70 years ago when the state was -- when Israel started, 50 years ago when Jerusalem was reunited, in 1995 when Congress made that decision. And now I want to applaud President Trump for fulfilling his promise and making that right move.

It's the right thing to do. And here in Jerusalem and in Israel, we applaud the president.

CAMEROTA: As you know, there are all sorts of world leaders who disagree and who have a different perspective. Here's a list of some who have come out against this move. We have Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Jordan, Turkey, Qatar, France, Germany, the United Kingdom, Iran, Syria. We just had the executive director of the PLO, Hanan Ashrawi, on who talked about how this move, she believes, will destroy the peace process. So let me play this for you.


HANAN ASHRAWI, PALESTINE LIBERATION ORGANIZATION, EXECUTIVE COMMITTEE MEMBER: This isn't going to change the legal status of Jerusalem, by the way. This will only undermine American standing into the (INAUDIBLE) throughout the world. And it will disqualify, as I said, the U.S. from playing any role in peace making. This is serious and irresponsible.


CAMEROTA: She says it's serious, irresponsible, it doesn't change the legal status of Jerusalem. What's your response?

BARKAT: Well, the response is, the president is following his heart and history and saying and doing the right thing. There's no peace agreement without Jerusalem being the capital of the Jewish people in the state of Israel. So, from our perspective, it's a very, very simple decision to make. And whoever thinks there could be peace without recognizing Jerusalem as the capital of the Jewish people does not understand our region. That clarity that the president brought to the process will only promote peace.

It will not differ peace. And anybody that's trying to make points or God forbid trying to deter us by violence will not succeed. We will not be deterred by violence. We will continue our path and do the right thing.

And, again, thank God the Americans and the president of the United States made that decision.

CAMEROTA: Do you worry about violence? Do you think that this will cause violence?

BARKAT: Well, you know, the state of Israel would never be what it is today if we would be detoured by violence. Unfortunately, our neighbors sometimes challenge us. Sometimes they do it for no reason. Just two years ago it was just incitements for no reason. Meaning that we must make the right decisions and stick to them and make sure that people around us understand that if they become violent, we will defend ourselves and they will pay a heavy price. So we will not be moved. In a word, definitely are not detoured by threats of any kind.

CAMEROTA: What about the Palestinian position that this will impede the peace process? I know that you say there can be no peace without this move. But, I mean, obviously, you've been at loggerheads about this very thing because the Palestinians feel that there can be no peace with this move. So, now what?

[08:55:08] BARKAT: Well, Jerusalem is the capital of Israel and the Jewish people is a condition that if not met there will never be any peace. So I think that the clarity that is now brought to the table by President Trump says to the Palestinians, let's do a deal with this framework of Jerusalem being the capital of the Jewish people. Otherwise, any other deal would be a bad deal. And from our experience in the region, we prefer no deal than a bad deal. So any deal has to include this element of Jerusalem being the capital of Jerusalem. Therefore what we are saying to our Palestinian friends (ph), and there's no doubt in my mind that Prime Minister Netanyahu will navigate through this process in a smart way with the help of the president of the United States. I trust them. They will know how to navigate the negotiations with the Palestinians.

CAMEROTA: The mayor of Jerusalem, Nir Barkat, we appreciate you coming on with your perspective. We'll see what unfolds over the next days and weeks. Thank you.

And CNN "NEWSROOM" with Poppy Harlow will pick up after this very quick break. We'll see you tomorrow.


ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: All right, top of the hour. 9:00 a.m. Eastern. 6:00 a.m. on the West Coast.

[08:59:56] And we do have breaking news out of California where fast- moving wildfires across southern California are intensifying this morning. A new fire hitting the heart of Los Angeles, right near the Getty Center. That's in Brentwood. Forcing the closure of part of the very busy 405 freeway.