Return to Transcripts main page

WOLF

Trump: U.S. Recognizes Jerusalem as Israel's Capital; Israel & Palestinian Reaction to Trump Announcement; Regional & World Leaders Criticize Trump Decision on Jerusalem; Calls Grow from Lawmakers for Sen. Franken to Step Down; Elijah Cummings Says Whistleblower to Testify on Flynn; Wildfires Spread in Southern California. Aired 1:30- 2p ET

Aired December 6, 2017 - 13:30   ET

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


[13:30:00] AARON DAVID MILLER, CNN GLOBAL AFFAIRS ANALYST: -- just because the president acknowledged and obviously, someone who had some measure of experience decided to put that tiny hook in there and to create the notion that now, for the first time, the administration has endorsed a two-state solution, assuming both sides accepted. But I think it's going to make a long shot even longer.

GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: You can tell that this speech was kind of pieced together around the Trump decision, I want to do this, and there was disagreement. And Elise has reported on this, there was disagreement inside the administration. So that the statement that Christiane and you were talking about before, we're not taking a position on any of the final status issues had to be sewn into this in order to soften what was a very clear statement by the president.

(CROSSTALK)

WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: Hold on one minute.

We have -- Ambassador Dennis Ross is with us, as well. He worked to try to bring an Israeli/Palestinian agreement over many years when he served in the U.S. government.

Dennis, let me get your reaction to what the president just said. I understand you believe that there could be some potential, some strategic vision that the president has to advance the peace process with what he just said.

DENNIS ROSS, FORMER U.S. AMBASSADOR & FORMER MIDDLE EAST ENVOY: Well, I agree that we haven't heard what that strategic vision is. We didn't hear new ideas from that standpoint. But I wouldn't undersell the significance of saying that nothing has been prejudged. There is not, in fact, any effort here to say this is what Jerusalem is now going to look like. In effect, what he's saying is I'm recognizing what is a fact. Now, I also recognize that if we are going to have peace, we're going to have to deal with the needs of other sides as well. Aaron is right that he didn't spell out what the needs or the claims of the other side were. But by the same token, he's empathizing he's not recognizing a particular part of Jerusalem as Israel's capital. He's in effect saying the boundaries of Jerusalem, what the sovereignty will be, where it will be, Palestinian claims, all that has to be negotiated. So I wouldn't understate that.

I would note that it does put him in a kind of interesting position vis-a-vis the Israelis. He's now done something that every Israeli prime minister would have liked to have seen. It puts him in a position where with the Israeli public, he's crossed a threshold. He does have the capacity, with the plan that at some point is going to be presented, he does have the capacity to be asking something of Israel that will won't be so easy for Israel. He's created a political context in Israel that will obviously give him some leverage.

The key question is going to be, can he repeat and can those in his administration repeat in the coming days and in the coming weeks the point that the Palestinians and the Arab needs will have to be addressed in there's going to be an agreement. That will be critical if he's going to manage their response.

BLITZER: So we may be giving -- you may be giving the president too much credit. But what I hear you saying is that if there is going to be a new two-state solution between Israel and the Palestinians, a new state of Palestine living alongside Israel, Israel is going to have make some very painful concessions. By what the president has just done, he's gone above the head perhaps of the Israeli prime minister, of the Israeli government, and told the Israeli public I'm with you, I support you. And go ahead, and make those kinds of painful concessions, territorial concessions to the Palestinians. Is that what I'm hearing you suggest that that may be may have been one of the president's goals right now?

ROSS: Whether it was by design or not, ha is the result. Every American president has increasing capacity to ask Israelis to do something that's difficult for them when the Israeli public believes that that American president gets Israel's predicament and basically is on Israel's side. Well, this president has just done something that creates that reality.

BLITZER: Aaron Miller, what do you think?

MILLER: Dennis makes a fair point.

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: You worked closely with Aaron Miller over many years at the State Department.

MILLER: Dennis and I have spent most of the last 10 years arguing about this issue or that, with respect to Israeli peace. Dennis makes a fair point. If this is the honey as a prelude to the vinegar during an actual negotiation, in other words, if the president, the ultimate transactional man, really thinks that this is the way to create a situation where no one will now be able to say about Donald Trump that he is the most pro-Israeli president since Harry Truman, well then, he is in a position to apply ample amounts of vinegar along with the honey during the course of an actual negotiation.

But I'm telling you, Wolf, that's straining the bounds of credulity to the breaking point because that would require a degree of pressure and awkwardness and tension with the government of Israel and all of the president's constituencies for whom he did this.

(CROSSTALK)

MILLER: I'm not entirely persuaded that you're going to see that kind of follow through.

(CROSSTALK)

[13:35:07] JIM SCIUTTO, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: One of the other conversations during the transition between Trump administration officials and allies, including Russia, was regarding the Obama administration's U.N. Security Council vote criticizing Israel for settlement building that the U.S. abstained from, in a remarkable move, making that a unanimous decision. So at that time, you know, even before Trump took office, right, there was an effort there to say that we're going to have a different approach to this issue. So the question is, if the vinegar was going to be -- I mean, the obvious vinegar would be pressure on settlements. Would it not be?

MILLER: Or on borders.

(CROSSTALK)

SCIUTTO: Yes, or on borders. But since then, the settlement building has continued and there was pushback against that resolution.

(CROSSTALK)

SCIUTTO: Where is the vinegar, is the question.

ELISE LABOTT, CNN GLOBAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: He needs to make clear to the Israelis that don't create a so-called reality on the ground as we like to say in the Middle East. He made that distinction not in name but in suggestion that possibly part of east Jerusalem or part of Jerusalem would belong to a future Palestinian state as their capital. But you know, we've seen that when you give the Israelis the kind of hand to do what they want, they feel as if they have a green light. Are they going to continue to build in East Jerusalem? You know, these kinds of things were not spelled out.

You also need to look at how this affects U.S. relationships in the region. President Trump had five calls with Arab leaders yesterday. They all told him this was a bad idea. The president of France didn't agree. And half of his cabinet, his national security team, Director Pompeo, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, Defense Secretary Mattis said we have to think of the wider security in the region for the U.S., how this is going to affect our partners on ISIS, on Syria. I think that what is really missing here, as we've been saying, is this kind of regional strategy. Jared Kushner is trying to get this kind of jigsaw puzzle where the Saudis are working together with Israel on Iran. That part of it seems to be working pretty well, I think. There have been some quiet conversations between Saudi Arabia and Israel. But what about the gulf? They're not going to be happy about this. BLITZER: I want to get reaction from the Israelis and from the

Palestinians. We have reporters in Jerusalem and Ramallah on the West Bank.

Let's go to Nic Robertson in Jerusalem first.

Nic, I understand the Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is reacting to what the president just said?

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN INTERNATIONAL DIPLOMATIC EDITOR: Yes, he's thanked President Trump for a courageous statement. He goes on to say, you know, the president's decision is an important step towards peace for there is no peace that doesn't include Jerusalem as the capital of the state of Israel. But in one area, he echoes very clearly on a very important issue for everyone concerned here what President Trump said about the -- about Jerusalem being a holy place for three faiths. He said, I want to make clear -- this is what prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu said, "I want to make clear there will be no change whatsoever to the status quo of the holy sites." Exactly what President Trump said. "The Jewish people and the Jewish state will be forever grateful. This has been our goal from veil's first day. Israel will ensure the freedom of worship for Jews, Christians and Muslims alike. President Trump, thank you for today's historic decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel's capital."

Very clear the sentiment from the Israeli prime minister there. But echoing what is a major international concern that the announcement by President Trump could alter the dynamic in Jerusalem and, therefore, cause the potential for violence and for trouble. By no means have we seen the full panoply of reaction. This is the reaction of the prime minister of Israel at this time -- Wolf?

BLITZER: I'm sure we'll get a lot more reaction. We'll get reaction from the Palestinian Authority in Ramallah as well.

I want to go -- Ian Lee is on the scene there. I want to go to him shortly.

But listen to what the president said right at the end of his 11- minute address.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Let us rethink old assumptions and open our hearts and minds to possible and possibilities. And finally, I ask the leaders of the region, political and religious, Israeli and Palestinian, Jewish and Christian and Muslim, to join us in the noble quest for lasting peace.

Thank you. God bless you. God bless Israel. God bless the Palestinians. And God bless the United States.

Thank you very much. Thank you.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Jim Sciutto, I know you wanted to react to what we just heard.

SCIUTTO: The words, there was something noticeable -- I don't know if others did -- about the way he was speaking there. It was a long statement. Possibility that he needed water. But there was something strange about the way the words were coming out of his mouth towards the end of those comments.

[13:40:07] MILLER: He was very distinctive, I thought, towards the end. Slurring almost.

LABOTT: A little out of breath. A little out of breath. I wouldn't ascribe anything in particular to it. Maybe he isn't feeling well today.

BLITZER: We're standing by for Palestinian reaction. We'll go to Ian Lee, our correspondent in Ramallah on the West Bank. There's a lot of reaction pouring in right now. Allies are warning they fear there could be violence after this presidential announcement. Stand by.

There's also other news we're following here in Washington, breaking news from Capitol Hill. Several female Democratic Senators are now calling on their Democratic colleague, Al Franken, to resign over the sexual harassment allegations against him. And the calls are growing.

Also breaking, the wildfires right in the heart of Los Angeles spreading and forcing -- you're looking at live pictures right now. More and more evacuations, including parts of Bel Air. CNN has special live coverage of that. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[13:45:21] BLITZER: More on the breaking news we're following right now. Just heard President Trump announce that the United States will recognize Jerusalem as Israel's capital. He also announced plans to eventually move the U.S. embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. He wants to build a new U.S. embassy in Jerusalem.

Many regional and world leaders already criticizing President Trump's decision. They say it will actually undermine efforts towards Middle East peace and risk destabilizing the region. The White House says the move is a recognition of reality that Jerusalem has long been the seat of power in Israel.

We earlier received Israeli reaction from Nic Robertson in Jerusalem, a statement from the Prime Minister Netanyahu.

Ian Lee is joining us from Ramallah on the West Bank.

I assume, Ian, the Palestinians are pretty angry about all of this.

IAN LEE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: You know, Wolf, that's something we've heard in the leadup to this. Right now, we're waiting for Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas to give his statement. And what we're seeing right now is that he's actually having a phone conversation, according to Palestinian TV, with the Egyptian President Abdul Fatah el Sisi. And then it's presumed he's going to make a statement. Palestinians have been very angry about any sort of declaration of

Jerusalem as Israel's capital. And said that this would essentially torpedo the peace process. But really everyone was wait forth words that came in this the statement by the president. What is he actually going to say.

There was one part which you and Christiane spoke about earlier about the fact that Jerusalem's borders as well as Israel's borders will be determined in a final peace negotiated settlement, that he's not saying unequivocally that all of Jerusalem thus belongs to Israel, that he left that open for future peace negotiations. We'll see how the Palestinians react to that.

We do know though that right now in Gaza, Hamas has had protests against Trump's speech. Tomorrow, right behind me here in this square in Ramallah, there's a planned protest. This is going to kick off three days of rage that we're planning to see in Jerusalem, the West Bank and Gaza.

I just got a message on my phone from the consulate in Jerusalem warning U.S. citizens from going into any area where there's large gatherings, also diplomats to stay away from the old city and the West Bank. They're taking precautions because of the potential for things to turn violent -- Wolf?

BLITZER: As soon as you get that reaction from the Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas let us know.

I'll be speaking later today in "THE SITUATION ROOM" with the Palestinian representative here in Washington, as well.

Thanks very much for that. Ian Lee on the scene for us in Ramallah.

Republican Senator James Lankford, of Oklahoma, joins us right now from Capitol Hill, a member of the Intelligence Committee.

Senator, thanks for joining us.

SEN. JAMES LANKFORD, (R), OKLAHOMA: Glad to be with you, Wolf.

BLITZER: I know you traveled to Israel twice this year. What's your reaction to the decision announced by President Trump?

LANKFORD: In many ways, my reaction is, it's about time. It's obvious when you go visit Israel and you sit down with the prime minister, you meet with him in his office in Jerusalem. If you're going to visit with members of the Knesset, you meet in their office in the Knesset in Jerusalem. It's obvious to the world. If you're going to meet with the Israeli government, it is located in Jerusalem. It's always been an odd thing. And 1995 was the year Congress passed wide bipartisan support to be able to move the embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem and declare the capital. That was reaffirmed by the Senate as recently as this year with a unanimous vote in the Senate to be able to relocate the embassy back to Jerusalem where it should be, and where the entire world should recognize the obvious thing there, the capital of Israel is Jerusalem. BLITZER: What do you say to allies, U.S. friends in the region?

Let's say, like Jordan and Egypt, the Saudi Arabia who are very upset. The Palestinians obviously very upset. They're warning this will fuel instability and effectively kill any hopes of a future Israeli/Palestinian peace deal.

LANKFORD: I would disagree with that. If we continue to work towards a peace deal, that is an ongoing part of the process that's happened for decades now. It didn't happen for decades when the United States didn't recognize Jerusalem as a capital. We would assume there's no change on that when we do recognize it. If we couldn't resolve for decades before it, let's go ahead and recognize the obvious, what everyone sees. Again, if you're in another country and looking at the United States, you're going to see our capital is in Washington, D.C., and recognize the capital of the United States is in Washington, D.C. You should be able to do the same thing in Israel as well.

[13:50:08] BLITZER: Senator Lankford, I want to get your reaction to some other breaking news we're following in Washington. Very different subject. More than a dozen Democratic Senators calling on Al Franken to resign over groping allegations. Senator Franken says he'll be making some sort of announcement tomorrow. Do you believe he should step down?

LANKFORD: I think we should see the ethics process. I'd like to see that ethics process work through. He's going to make his own decisions. Some of his colleagues has stepped in and looked at the other information and they're going to make recommendations to him. This is something the conferences will decide. But I don't think the Senate decides until we get through an ethics investigation. But obviously, there's been a lot of building momentum towards him making his own decision on that, determining his own destiny rather than the Ethics Commission determining it for him.

BLITZER: I know you are investigating the Russian involvement in the U.S. presidential election. I want you to stand by for a moment, Senator, because we have more breaking news in the Russian investigation.

CNN's Manu Raju is standing by.

Manu, what are you learning?

MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Elijah Cummings, the top Democrat on the House Oversight Committee, says he has a whistleblower prepared to make some statements to the Republican chairman of the House Oversight Committee about Michael Flynn, the fired former national security adviser.

Now, according to the whistleblower's account, on the day of President Trump's inauguration, Flynn had texted a business associate about applying to join Russia in building some nuclear reactors in the Middle East, and he said the project was, quote, "good to go." And one reason why, according to the whistleblower's account, was because the administration was going prepared to rip up sanctions with Russia. Now this is the strongest indication we have to date that Michael Flynn and the administration perhaps was moving towards easing sanctions on Russia. And also that Flynn had a personal motivation himself to move forward with such a project because, presumably, it could help him financially.

Now of course, Flynn on Friday pleaded guilty to Special Counsel Robert Mueller's charges that he had lied to the FBI on several occasions about his conversations with Russians. We don't know the motivation why he lied or if this has any connection to this case. But we do know that Elijah Cummings told the special counsel's office about this whistleblower, and the special counsel's office told him to hold back and not say anything publicly about the whistleblower until Friday when Michael Flynn pleaded guilty.

So a significant development in the sense that Flynn is making clear the administration, in his view, was willing to roll back sanctions, according to this whistleblower. What Elijah Cummings wants Trey Gowdy to do, Wolf, is issue subpoenas to the White House and other associates of the president in order to get more information about Michael Flynn. No word yet from Trey Gowdy's office on whether he'll go forward with this. But this is a new line of pressure that Democrats are trying to push in trying to get the Republicans on that committee to sign on -- Wolf?

BLITZER: Yes, another twist in this entire investigation.

Thanks very much, Manu Raju, for that news.

Let's go back to Senator Lankford.

You want to react to what Manu just reported, Senator.

LANKFORD: Yes. I would only say the special council will continue to do what the special council can do, and that's be able to walk in and look at every aspect of an investigation, ask every question, he has access to every piece of document and history. The push currently happening with Michael Flynn is over actions he did while he was in a transition time period, when he actually started reaching out to multiple countries. I know it's being identified saying, he talked to the Russians. He talked to a lot of different countries. He was planning to be the national security adviser. That's entirely reasonable to do. There are logical questions that need to be asked of why he lied to the FBI. That's obviously why the vice president lost trust in him and the president lost trust in him after they found out he lied to the FBI. So they're going to push that back out. That makes total sense. And I would encourage the special council to do what he can to be able to follow through on that.

BLITZER: A lot of us are wondering why, A, he lied to the FBI, but, B, why did he lie to the vice president, Mike Pence?

LANKFORD: I would say that makes no sense to me either. When someone confronts you and asks you a specific question, and what you've done is directly contradictory to that, you should be confronted. You have to have the trust of the president and the vice president that when you say something, you are saying the truth. If you don't do that, you can't work in the administration, you shouldn't work in the administration.

BLITZER: Because the White House, as you know, Senator, says the vice president didn't know that the fired national security adviser, we are talking about Michael Flynn, discussed sanctions with the Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak. But new details about Flynn's lies to FBI, they're raising questions about what precisely the vice president knew when he went on the Sunday talk shows and said no sanctions were discussed between Flynn and Kislyak. Could he have been that much in the dark? He was the head of the Trump transition team, as you know, and so many others in the Trump transition knew precisely what Flynn was up to.

[13:55:10] LANKFORD: I don't know if they knew precisely what he was up to. Obviously, some there were some updates that there some phone calls happening. Some people are going to know the contents, some are not. Obviously, in the transition time, that's a hectic time. Everybody has different assignments. No everybody is kept in the loop. It's not the same structure you have when you're actually in the White House. You're in that gap in between. So I think the same thing we've done for previous presidents, give them some opportunity to have some flex while they are in that kind of transition time, but that's what I assume has happened. I haven't seen anything nefarious, and certainly nothing that would say that the vice president as not being consistent and factual in that.

BLITZER: Good to get your thoughts.

Senator Lankford, thanks so much for joining us.

LANKFORD: You bet. Thank you.

BLITZER: There's more breaking news. The wildfires in the heart of Los Angeles, they're spreading, they're forcing more and more evacuations, including parts of Bel Air.

This is CNN special live coverage.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

[13:59:17] BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN ANCHOR: Hi there. And thank you so much for joining me. I'm Brianna Keilar, in for Brooke Baldwin.

We are beginning with breaking news out of southern California where the winds are ferocious and the weather in unfortunately just perfect for raging wildfires. Three major wildfires are blanketing the greater Los Angeles era. And early this morning, a fourth flyer broke out right along L.A.'s well-known 405 freeway. And officials had to shut down a key stretch of the interstate. Parts of tony Bel Air estates are under evacuation at this point.

Just take a look at some of the pictures that are coming in. This is a fire that erupted during the morning rush-hour along the busiest interstate there in the center. The 405, of course, is a major traffic artery. And then what's more is the fire broke out near the iconic Getty Center. Commuters had been impacted tenfold. Several schools have been closed for the day.

Our Sara Sidner is there in Bel Air --