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Franken to Speak on Senate Floor Next Hour; Soon: FBI Chief Testifies after Trump Trashed Agency; Trump Jr. Claims Talk with Dad is "Privileged". Aired 10-10:30a ET
Aired December 7, 2017 - 10:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning, everyone. Top of the hour, I'm Poppy Harlow.
JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: And I'm John Berman. We have major developments just within the last few minutes. We learned that Democratic Senator Al Franken will speak on the Senate floor in just a short while and announce his plans. Will he resign?
HARLOW: Some now asking how could he not resign after more than 30 Democratic senators have called on him to step down over multiple allegations that he groped or made unwanted advances on women.
Meantime, on the other side of Capitol Hill, the head of the FBI is appearing before lawmakers for the first time since the president said that the bureau's reputation that he leads is in tatters, much more on that in a moment. But we begin with the major decision and speech coming from the Senate floor from Senator Al Franken today.
Sunlen Serfaty is standing by. So this will happen very, very shortly and historic day either way this goes?
SUNLEN SERFATY, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: That's absolutely right, Poppy. And we know that Senator Al Franken will make his decision on the Senate floor in the next hour and what that decision actually is, we still at this point do not know. As of last night aides in his office say that he was huddled here with his family in Washington, D.C., deciding whether he would stay or leave the Senate. But certainly he faces an incredible amount of political pressure at his back after that coordinated effort yesterday, started by that group of his Democratic senator colleagues, women senator colleagues, who came out in that coordinated way, calling for his resignation.
That of course unleashed just an avalanche of other senators following suit at the end of the day, 32 senators -- Democratic senators, his colleagues, calling for him to go. So while you have still this big TBD of what Senator Al Franken does, certainly, politically speaking there's an incredible amount of pressure and it's really hard to imagine a scenario that he stays here in the Senate. That said, as of this hour we still simply do not know whether he will resign or not. John and Poppy?
HARLOW: All right. We're watching very closely, Sunlen. Thank you. We're also moments away from FBI Director Christopher Wray's hearing. This is before the House Judiciary Committee.
Our Laura Jarrett is there in Washington with more details. Look, I mean, this comes less than a week after the president said the agency he leads is in tatters?
LAURA JARRETT, CNN LAW AND JUSTICE REPORTER: Yes. That's right, Poppy. The FBI director gearing up for some tough questions from both sides of the aisle at this routine oversight hearing now driven largely by news that broke over the weekend, including first that tweet from the president saying the FBI's reputation is in, quote, "tatters." Top Democrats on this committee, I've heard -- I am being told rather, are going to press Wray on the bureau's independence in the wake of the president's tweets and the morale at the bureau given those harsh words from the commander in chief.
But we're also told that Wray is expected to face some pretty tough questions from conservatives on charges of political bias at the FBI in the wake of revelations over the weekend that a top counter intelligence official was dismissed from Special Counsel Robert Mueller's team after exchanging text messages with an FBI lawyer that were viewed as critical of the president. A top Republican on the committee, Trey Gowdy, saying this morning that the very first question he plans to ask Wray will focus squarely on what he plans to do to restore the people's confidence in the bureau and the trust that it's not influenced by politics.
And finally, we expect to see a number of questions surrounding obstruction of justice in light of the president's tweets over the weekend saying that he had to fire former national security adviser Michael Flynn because he lied to the vice president and the FBI raising new questions about how that jives with Trump later asking former FBI Director James Comey whether he could see a way to letting the Flynn investigation go. Poppy?
HARLOW: All right, Laura Jarrett thank you so much.
We're looking at live pictures on the Hill. We'll bring you more of the hearing when it begins. Meantime, the president's son Donald Trump, Jr. is claiming attorney-client privilege covers the conversations he had with his father.
BERMAN: You will note. You will note that neither Donald Trump, Jr. nor his father are actually lawyers. Though he is using this privilege to not reveal to House Intelligence investigators information about a Russia-related phone call he had with his father. What's going on?
Here's CNN Shimon Prokupecz has the details. Shimon?
SHIMON PROKUPECZ, CNN CRIME AND JUSTICE REPORTER: That's right. So that claim is coming. He says he doesn't have to answer this question because lawyers were present in the room, not that he was directly talking to a lawyer, but that that conversation between his father simply because lawyers were in the room. He does not have to answer those questions. [10:05:07] Now, it certainly wouldn't hold up before a grand jury or questioning by criminal investigators. And as we know the special counsel is looking into the meeting and the White House, ultimately the White House response, to that meeting when public reports surfaced of it. Don, Jr., answered questions of House investigators yesterday and his response is not being challenged by the Republicans on the Intelligence.
Now the answer was in relation to questions about a Trump Tower meeting with a Russian lawyer. Now remember this, she was promising dirt on Hillary Clinton and that meeting took place in June of 2016 at Trump Tower. And also present at the meeting was Jared Kushner and Paul Manafort. It was during yesterday's meeting that Don Jr., told investigators that he had this talk, this chat with his father, and it came after a misleading statement was crafted aboard Air Force One as the president and his aides were coming back from an overseas trip.
And it was "The New York Times" that first approached the White House about this story and it was during that approach and in the crafting of the statement aboard Air Force One was somewhat misleading. They offered a misleading statement which claimed that the meeting was about adoption. Don Jr., also said -- told the committee investigators that he first spoke to Hope Hicks about a response to the story. Now all of this, the crafting of this misleading statement, which involved the president and White House aides, is all part of the special counsel investigation.
BERMAN: We're looking at the FBI Director Christopher Wray sitting down. He's about to testify before the House Judiciary Committee. Again, we will be giving in and out of these statements as he will be pressed on any number of things.
Shimon, we've also heard from a whistleblower overnight, claiming that Michael Flynn was sending out texts during the president's inaugural address about Russian sanctions. What's going on here?
PROKUPECZ: Right. So this comes from a whistleblower who went to the Hill, Representative Elijah Cummings. She claimed that she had a conversation with someone who claimed that they were receiving text messages about a plan to work with a Russian government-owned company to build nuclear reactors in the Middle East. Now she says Flynn told a former business colleague that the plan was, quote, "good to go," that they were going -- that this business deal was going to work out and according to this former colleague, Flynn suggested sanctions.
Now this is the big thing. Sanctions have been a big issue here, his conversations with Russian Kislyak, that the sanctions would be, quote, "ripped up," meaning that basically the White House and the president would do away with sanctions in the early days of the new administration.
BERMAN: All right, Shimon Prokupecz for us. Shimon thanks very much.
I want to bring in Susan Hennessey, CNN national security and legal analyst, former national security agency attorney, also with us, Mark Preston, CNN senior political analyst. Susan, I want to start with you, Donald Trump, Jr. claiming this attorney-client privilege protects a conversation that he had with his father over this Russian meeting because lawyers were also listening in. Does it work like that, attorney-client privilege?
SUSAN HENNESSEY, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY AND LEGAL ANALYST: Certainly not. Attorney-client privilege protects a limited amount of communications between an attorney and their client. So what Don Jr., appears to be saying is the mere presence of an attorney renders his conversations with him and his father somehow privileged. You know, this actually is similar to what current officials in the executive branch have asserted with regards to executive privilege. So sort of that they've claimed that there's a privilege, they claim -- prevents them from having to answer the question. The problem is those probably wouldn't hold up in court. But I think that they understand that that's a way to buy themselves some time and some wiggle room. You know the question now is whether or not the committee has any sort of stomach for wanting to actually to press that and get Don Jr. or others to actually force them to testify about those particular questions.
HARLOW: It's a really interesting comparison. I mean, you're obviously talking about Jeff Sessions and his, you know, his responses, multiple times when he testified in front of Congress.
Mark, to you though, to Susan's point about will they quickly press this, the head of the Intelligence Committee, Russia investigation, Republican Mike Conway seems to not have any issue with that answer. I mean, he said yesterday he answered all the questions. It's a ranking Democrat, Adam Schiff another Democrat who seems to have a problem with it. So where does this go?
MARK PRESTON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Well right now it goes nowhere because Republicans are in control of the committee and they decide the agenda and they decide how farther or how much longer to pursue something. Now you said Mike Conway said yesterday that a lot of questions were asked and they feel like they got all the answers. Democrats don't believe that's true.
And I do want to point out a tweet that John Dean, he's the former Nixon White House counsel, you see him as a CNN contributor and he was very much involved initially in the cover-up of Watergate.
[10:10:03] He said last night that Donald Trump, Jr. claimed attorney- client privilege today before the House Intelligence Committee regarding discussions with his father based on the fact an attorney was present. The problem is that Jr. has no such privilege and Congress does not recognize the privilege even when it exists, except yesterday. They recognized that privilege.
BERMAN: Well, that's the exact point here. We're seeing it. I mean there is the special counsel's investigation which is by and large a legal operation right now, but then there are political investigations happening on Capitol Hill and it seems now that there are limits to these investigations, limits, Susan, so far as Republicans are only willing to go so far? HENNESSEY: Right. It's also important to note that there are multiple investigations in Congress and so we've seen quite a bit of evidence of, you know, a lot of partisanship and frankly dysfunction on the side, a lot of clashes between Adam Schiff and Devin Nunes who is recused from the investigation and now Mike Conway, we are seeing a little bit more cohesion and agreement on the Senate side, the SCCI Intelligence Committee investigation. So I do think that if we're going to be looking for who is going to be getting substantive answers sort of in the face of some pushback from the executive branch it's far more likely to come in that SCCI investigation at this point than from --
HARLOW: Well and it goes further, Mark, because to John's point, I mean on the Oversight Committee, you have Elijah Cummings bringing these whistleblower allegations that Mike Flynn was texting -- a former business colleague, hey, we're going to drop the Russia sanctions right when President Trump becomes president during the inauguration. Here's our whistleblower claims. You have Trey Gowdy, the Republican who chairs the committee saying you know we're not going to look into that right now.
PRESTON: That's why it's so important that the special counsel was named because what happens is now we've politicized potentially wrong doing, right, certainly when it comes to the integrity of our election system. So when you hear people talk about special counsels and how they run amok, I mean, the bottom line is they're supposed to be immune to the politicization of what the investigation is.
We're also hearing concerns and frustration from the Senate side as well from Dianne Feinstein who doesn't think that Charles Grassley, who is the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, is really going at this hard enough. In fact he's kind of backing off. So while we saw a lot of functioning investigations happening on the Senate side, we're now starting to see that deteriorate a little bit, specifically the Judiciary Committee.
BERMAN: You're also seeing criticism that some of the investigators even within Special Counsel Bob Mueller's team are political. That is starting to come out. We will see that, by the way, when FBI Director Christopher Wray testifies in just a few minutes. I think that will be sort of front and center at this hearing.
Susan, on the whistleblower issue that Michael Flynn was allegedly texting someone saying that Russia sanctions will be dropped immediately during the president's inauguration, is this political issue that look here is evidence that the Trump administration was going to be soft on Russia? Political in that sense or is there a legal issue here to -- that puts Michael Flynn back in some kind of jeopardy?
HENNESSEY: Potentially there is a legal issue. So the good news for Michael Flynn is that it does seem like Robert Mueller was already aware of these allegations before the plea deal, but if you actually read the plea deal it saud that it only covers an agreement not to prosecute for the matters the conduct actually described in the information. That is only lying to the FBI about phone calls with Sergey Kislyak and failing to file completely candid, fair disclosures for an agent's registration disclosure. So theoretically, any other kind of criminal -- potential criminal conduct could be the basis for subsequent charges and this is -- it's a mere allegation at this point but if was substantiated, it certainly could be the basis for different form of charges.
HARLOW: It certainly gives the Mueller team more to look at if they weren't already looking at this. Susan Hennessey, Mark Preston, thank you both very much.
So as we said FBI Director Christopher Wray appearing right now before lawmakers, this is within the same week as the president said the agency he runs is in tatters. Expect a lot of tough questions. We're watching it and we'll bring it to you live.
BERMAN: Plus, all eyes on the Senate floor, live pictures right now. In just a short while Senator Al Franken of Minnesota, he will address his future. Will he resign after so many of his colleagues have come forward saying he should leave office after new accusations of sexual misconduct?
Plus, these fires raging out of control in California, conditions getting worse this morning, we'll have a live update from the ground.
[10:18:52] HARLOW: As we reported at the top of the hour, Senator Al Franken will appear on the Senate floor in just about 90 minutes, 11:45 a.m. Eastern Time. He will announce his future. What will he do? Will he resign in the face of 30 of his Democratic colleagues in the Senate calling on him to do just that?
BERMAN: Joining us now, Republican strategist, CNN political commentator Alice Stewart, a former senior adviser Hillary Clinton's 2016 presidential bid, Karen Finney. You know, Karen, what happened here? What happened inside the Democratic caucus on the Senate side? What caused the dam to break?
KAREN FINNEY, FORMER SENIOR ADVISER, HILLARY FOR AMERICA: Well, clearly a number of Democratic women decided to come forward -- from what I understand there wasn't one specific thing, it was sort of the culmination of things. But I have to say, one of the things I agree with these women that this kind of behavior can't be tolerated but I actually think we should be holding every single member of Congress to the same standard and that there should be one process by which that standard is enforced. And so, I am a little bit concerned here that these Democratic women sort of went forward and decided we're going to say this person should go, rather than also saying and let's have one standard of conduct.
[10:20:07] You have, you know, Blake Farenthold, a Republican member of the House. Why isn't he stepping down? And I don't want to get into a tit for tat but that's why I say there should be one standard of conduct that everyone is held to.
HARLOW: Just to be clear, Kirsten Gillibrand, the first Democratic senator to call for Franken's resignation, did say just that, Karen, in her remarks yesterday, said it shouldn't be - well, this is too far but this isn't, we need one standard. But I hear you. And also it's been a lot of male -- a lot of male senators who called for him to step down as well.
Alice Stewart, to you, so the predicament that this -- does this put Republicans in a predicament where Democrats can say, all right, we cleaned House, now you?
ALICE STEWART, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: I think it does. I think as Karen said, you know, sexual harassment is nonpartisan and it is a non-gender specific and I think it's important if we're going to have a standard it needs to be as cross the board. And I do believe that those who are elected to serve here in Washington should hold themselves to a higher standard and that is across the board.
I applaud the Democrats who have come forward, even after supporting Clintons for all these years. I applaud them now for stepping forward and taking this bold move and calling for him to step down. I do think enough is enough. The Minnesota newspaper has put in a great piece today talking about this is truly going to be a watershed moment, if this is truly going to be a time where we're going to make a difference, there needs to be consequences for these kinds of actions. I expect him to step down but I also think Republicans need to step in and hold Republicans' feet to the fire on facing similar allegations.
BERMAN: And Alice, I heard you talk about what that means in the Alabama Senate race. I know you think the Republicans should continue to hold Roy Moore accountable for the accusations against him. But do Republican office holders, Alice, need to come forward and say, you know I believe the women accusing the president of various forms of sexual misconduct? These women need to be heard, Alice, or at a minimum, the president needs to speak more about it rather than just the blanket denials he's given?
STEWART: Well, John, many of them have said they do believe these women and their accusations are credible and even from the White House we're hearing that these are troubling accusations. That being said, if that's the case, then we need to hold the person accused -
BERMAN: I'm talking about the accusations against the president himself. I'm talking about the 13 women who have come out speaking against the president, Alice and the White House doesn't say that they're credible.
STEWART: Right. And that's troublesome. Look, I think all -- I believe these women. I believe these women if they're going to put themselves out there, it's nothing fun, I would imagine, about putting yourself in that position. I believe them. And I do think it is troubling that we're picking and choosing which women that we want to believe. And I think that goes for the women who are accusing Donald Trump of these accusations.
HARLOW: So this tidal wave really began - I mean it began with Gretchen Carlson who you'll hear from in just a few moments, you know suing Fox News and Roger Ailes, but then it really accelerated two months ago with the reporting on Harvey Weinstein and all of those -- all of those horrific actions that have taken place. So in a new "New York Times" report, a very important report just yesterday, Karen, they report that two high-profile women, Tina Brown and Lena Dunham came to the Clinton campaign which you were a part of and warned the Clinton campaign in 2008. And then 2016 about Harvey Weinstein, actress Lena Dunham said she told your team that she was worried that Harvey Weinstein's visible presence in Hillary Clinton's run would hurt her. She told your colleague, Kristina Shacke, quote, "I just want to let you know that Harvey's a rapist and this is going to come out at some point." Were you aware of any of those warnings?
FINNEY: I was not aware of those warnings and it would certainly be troubling if it is the case that those concerns weren't listened to and, you know, the regard within the upper ranks of the campaign. So as I say, I was not a part of that conversation. And, you know, here's the thing also, though, about Harvey and about this whole situation.
I think, you know, one of the things that this reminds us is that powerful women like Gretchen Carlson, like the women who came forward regarding Harvey and a number of the other accusations have come from powerful women and I think that's part of what created this watershed moment and I just want to go back to something that Alice said, because I think we can't go into picking and choosing who we believe and who we don't believe. And it shouldn't just have to be powerful women who come forward for there -- for us to come together and say there ought to be one standard of conduct.
Obviously, if you're elected office you should be held to a much higher standard. Obviously, if concerns about Harvey were raised with senior members of the campaign, I certainly hope that that was heeded and taken seriously. But I think if this is going to be the watershed moment and the cultural moment that "Time" magazine certainly seems to believe it is, then we've all got to come together and again this has to be a nonpartisan issue. This can't be about, you know, again, picking women that we believe and those we don't and men who should stay and men who don't. It means we have got to be prepared to really investigate all of these allegations and make sure that justice is served.
[10:25:14] BERMAN: Karen Finney and Alice Stewart -- Alice quickly?
STEWART: Yes, just one more thing. I think the next step also is the act that would shed light on this. No more sex slush funds using taxpayer money to pay off these and let these women if they want to tell their stories don't make them sign confidentiality agreements. Let them be able to tell their stories so it doesn't happen again.
BERMAN: We have a lot more about that coming forward because it is an important discussion right now. Alice, Karen, thanks so much for being with us. I really appreciate it.
STEWART: Thank you.
HARLOW: Some very dangerous conditions right now in southern California. We'll get to that. You're looking at live pictures of the FBI director testifying. But this is California, fierce winds making these flames even stronger as they are getting closer and closer to Central Los Angeles. A live report next.