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EARLY START

Donald Trump Jr. Faces House Intel Committee; Democratic Senators Call on Franken to Resign; Raging Wildfires in Southern California. Aired 4-4:30a ET

Aired December 7, 2017 - 04:00   ET

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


[04:00:14] DAVE BRIGGS, CNN ANCHOR: Donald Trump Jr. refusing to tell the House Intelligence Committee about conversations he had with his father over the now infamous Trump Tower meeting with the Russian lawyer.

ALISON KOSIK, CNN ANCHOR: Senator Al Franken expected to make a big announcement this morning. Dozens of his colleagues urging him to resign amid sexual misconduct allegations.

BRIGGS: Firefighters in southern California racing against time and intense wind, as all of Los Angeles County is under extreme fire danger warning. We'll go live to southern California shortly.

Good morning, everyone. Welcome to EARLY START. I'm Dave Briggs.

KOSIK: Good morning. I'm Alison Kosik. It's Thursday, December 7th. It's 4:00 a.m. in the East, 1:00 in California.

Up first, eight grueling hours of testimony from Donald Trump Jr., but it's what the president's son refusing to tell House members, that is what's getting all the attention. The main focus of Wednesday's close the door session, a June 2016 meeting at Trump Tower between Don Jr., Jared Kushner, Paul Manafort, and a Russian lawyer designed to get dirt on Hillary Clinton.

BRIGGS: House investigators pressed Trump Jr. about his father's knowledge of that meeting but he refused to tell them what he and his dad discussed, citing attorney/client privilege.

President Trump did participate in crafting of his son's initial response to reports of that meeting. That statement turned out to be misleading, suggesting it was about Russian adoptions while failing to mention the purpose was to gather information on Clinton.

Here's the ranking member of the House Intel Committee Adam Schiff.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. ADAM SCHIFF (D-CA), RANKING MEMBER, INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE: He acknowledged discussing that matter with his father, but refused to answer questions about that discussion on the basis of a claim of attorney-client privilege. In my view, there is no attorney-client privilege that protects a discussion between father and son. This particular discussion revolves around a pivotal meeting. (END VIDEO CLIP)

KOSIK: For more on Donald Trump Jr.'s testimony, we turn to CNN senior congressional correspondent, Manu Raju.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Alison and Dave.

Now, Donald Trump Jr. had a marathon session with the House Intelligence Committee, talking about his interaction with Russians during the campaign season. One thing that they focused on in particular was that June 2016 meeting in which Donald Trump Jr., we now know, was promised dirt on the Clinton campaign from Russians and was informed that the Russian government wanted to help his father's campaign.

Now, we are learning that Donald Trump Jr. did have a meeting with his father after the reports were published, but he did not tell the committee yesterday what he and his father were talking about. In fact, he cited attorney-client privilege saying that because attorneys were in the room, there was no reason for him to disclose his information because it was covered by attorney-client privilege. That's something that Democrats balked at.

Now, at the same time, he was asked about the response that initially was misleading about the Trump Tower meeting when the White House, when Donald Trump Jr. said it was mainly about Russian adoptions. Well, it turns out the White House was involved, at least to some extent. Donald Trump Jr. said he texted with Hope Hicks, who's now the communications director for the White House, did not talk to his father about that response, but talked to Hope Hicks about the response.

And given the fact we now know that was not a fully accurate picture about what happened, it is raising a lot of questions among investigators about whether or not the White House was trying to work to mislead the public and potentially even the investigation. We'll see what the White House has to say later today -- Alison and Dave.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BRIGGS: We will, indeed. Manu Raju, thanks.

An unidentified whistleblower claims former national security adviser Michael Flynn told a business colleague sanctions against Russia would be ripped up and he did it while President Trump was being inaugurated. The whistleblower telling his story to Congressman Elijah Cummings. He claims Flynn texted his associate that a plan to build nuclear reactors with Russia and the Middle East was, quote, good to go right after sanctions against the Kremlin were dropped.

KOSIK: The whistleblower's account is the strongest claim to date, suggesting the administration was focused on unraveling the sanctions President Obama had just imposed, and that Flynn had a personal motivation to make it happen. Last week, Flynn pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI about his contacts with the Russian ambassador.

BRIGGS: Meanwhile, as calls for his resignation mount, embattled Minnesota Democratic Senator Al Franken is expected to make an announcement today presumably about his political future. Thirty-two of his Democratic colleagues in the now say Franken should step down.

[04:05:02] It comes as a sixth woman accuses Franken of inappropriate touching.

We get more now from CNN's MJ Lee on Capitol Hill.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

MJ LEE, CNN NATIONAL POLITICAL REPORTER: Hey, Alison and David.

Boy, what a difference a day makes. Senator Al Franken is now under fire from his own colleagues in the Senate to resign from office. More than 30 senators saying that he needs to resign amid growing allegations of sexual harassment leveled against the senator. A group of female Senate Democrats were talking about this for over a week now, I'm told, and they were discussing ways to handle this matter and they grew increasingly frustrated as they saw these stories pile up.

And in a devastating reality for Senator Franken, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer putting out a statement yesterday afternoon saying he also believes Franken should resign. Schumer said: I consider Senator Franken a dear friend and greatly respect his accomplishments, but he has a higher obligation to his constituents and the Senate and he should step down immediately.

Now, I also spent the day yesterday talking to some of his colleagues in the Senate, asking for their reactions, and here's what two of them have to say.

SEN. KIRSTEN GILLIBRAND (D), NEW YORK: I do not feel that he should continue to serve. I think it would be better for the country for him to offer that clear message that he values women, that we value women, and that this kind of behavior is not acceptable.

SEN. KAMALA HARRIS (D), CALIFORNIA: The veracity of complaints and allegations against him I found to have weight.

LEE: Now, Alison and Dave, as you know, Senator Franken is set to make an announcement sometime today about his future. We don't know yet what that announcement will be. We will see if he actually gives in to the pressure that he is feeling from his colleagues.

Back to you.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

KOSIK: OK, MJ, thanks very much.

President Trump delivering on a campaign promise to formally recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. The move drawing widespread condemnation from world leaders. Two senior White House officials acknowledging the president's decision has temporarily derailed the Israeli-Palestinian peace process. The status of Jerusalem has always been a sticking point in those negotiations. Moving the U.S. embassy there could be seen as cementing Israel's sovereignty over the city.

We get more now from CNN's Jim Acosta at the White House.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JIM ACOSTA, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Alison and Dave, President Trump is coming under heavy criticism from around the world after his decision to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. While Israeli leaders are praising the decision, Palestinians are insisting that the U.S. no longer be a part of any Middle East peace talks and warning that the president's move will aid extremist organizations seeking holy war.

Even one White House official acknowledged there will be some, quote, short term pain in the neither future. The president insisted he's still committed to peace in the Middle East. Here's what he had to say.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: This decision is not intended in any way to reflect a departure from our strong commitment to facilitate a lasting peace agreement. We want an agreement that is a great deal for the Israelis and a great deal for the Palestinians.

ACOSTA: Senior White House officials said the president signed the waiver keeping the U.S. embassy in Tel Aviv. So, while the U.S. policy is changing, the biggest symbolic example of this change won't really happen for years from now. White House officials said it's not as simple as switching the signs at the U.S. embassy in Tel Aviv, and the U.S. consulate in Jerusalem -- Alison and Dave.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BRIGGS: Jim Acosta there at the White House -- thank you.

Republican leaders moving closer to ironing out key differences in the House and Senate tax reform bills as they look to gift wrap the plan just in time for Christmas.

But House Speaker Paul Ryan already setting his sights on the next GOP project: entitlement reform. During a radio interview, Ryan placed Medicare and welfare reform at the top of his list.

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)

REP. PAUL RYAN (R-WI), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: Frankly, it's the health care entitlements that are the big drivers of our debt. And then welfare reform too. We think it's important to get people from welfare to work. We have a welfare system that's basically trapping people in poverty and effectively paying people not to work and we got to work on that.

(END AUDIO CLIP)

KOSIK: OK. After hearing that, Senator Bernie Sanders responded to Ryan's comments on Twitter, saying this: There this is. Paul Ryan just admitted that after providing $1 trillion in tax breaks to the top 1 percent and large corporations, Republicans will try to cut Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, and help for the most vulnerable Americans.

It is worth noting then-candidate Donald Trump vowed not to cut these entitlements. Listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: I'm not going to cut social security like every other Republican, and I'm not going to cut Medicare or Medicaid. Every other Republican is going to cut. And even if they wouldn't, they don't know what to do because they don't know where the money is. I do. I do.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KOSIK: Speaker Ryan says the House GOP caucus plans to work on entitlement reform next year.

BRIGGS: Congress could vote as early as today on a continuing resolution to fund the government for the next two weeks to avoid a government shutdown. President Trump will meet with Democratic Leaders Chuck Schumer and Nancy Pelosi at the White House today, along with Speaker Ryan and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.

[04:10:02] Now, they were supposed to get together last month but Pelosi and Schumer canceled. On Wednesday, President Trump told reporters a government shutdown could still happen, pointing the blame solely at Democrats.

KOSIK: Oh, he has a threat hanging over.

BRIGGS: Always. It seems it never goes away.

KOSIK: I think you're right about that.

A state of emergency in California as firefighters are battling four wildfires and thousands of residents are fleeing. We're going to be live in southern California, next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KOSIK: Four raging wildfires scorching southern California. Over 100,000 residents in the San Fernando Valley and 50,000 more in Ventura County forced to evacuate. The Thomas Fire in Ventura burning 90,000 acres, and the flames have now reached Los Angeles, America's second biggest city.

BRIGGS: All of L.A. County now under an extreme fire danger warning. Several homes in Bel-Air destroyed. The 405 Freeway, the nation's busiest highway, shut down for most of the day. [04:15:04] Nearly 300 Los Angeles schools also closed. UCLA classes

canceled today.

NASA astronaut Randy Bresnik tweeting these images from the International Space Station, just to give you a grasp of the sheer size and magnitude of these fires.

Let's get the latest now from CNN's Dan Simon. He's live with us from Bel-Air, California.

Dan, good morning to you. What's the latest?

DAN SIMON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, hey, Dave. It's been a very long night for these firefighters, as you can imagine, who are really operating no sleep, and it could be even longer with these winds expected to pick up.

Right now, it's relatively calm, but we are expecting hurricane-force winds. And if that happens, it could pick up some flying embers and push the fire to even more places, and you could have even more catastrophic situation.

As you said I'm in Bel-Air. You can see this is one of the houses destroyed. You can see a little bit of flame inside the garage. You can see the roof just totally caved in and destroyed this house.

You've got about six homes in this subdivision that have been destroyed. Eleven more that have been damaged. And now, you can see the firefighters just basically on standby, waiting to see if things get even more dangerous. They can respond if needed, right now, basically, doing mop-up.

But this has really paralyzed this entire region, the series of wildfires that we've seen here. Most people have heeded the evacuation orders but you have all the schools closed. You've had traffic gridlocked. And now, obviously, people are just waiting to see what happens. They're hoping that these winds will eventually calm down and they can sort of get on with their lives -- Dave and Christine.

BRIGGS: Yes, bad forecast on the way.

All right. Dan Simon, thanks so much.

Meanwhile, the son of former Congressman John Conyers says he is not decided whether to run for his father's empty seat after confirming reports of his involvement earlier this year in a violent incident with his girlfriend. According to the Los Angeles County DA, John Conyers III got into a fight with his girlfriend in February and she suffered a stab wound that required stitches. Conyers' father resigned on Tuesday amid claims accusations of sexual harassment and endorsed his son to replace him.

KOSIK: Global backlash after President Trump announced he's moving the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem. Even U.S. allies are condemning the move. We'll go live for the latest reaction in Israel, next. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[04:21:49] KOSIK: Welcome back.

The decision by President Trump to officially recognize Jerusalem as the Israeli capital sparking strong reaction across the Mideast. Saudi Arabia warning of serious consequences while the Palestinian president is condemning the move, saying the president made, quote, the biggest mistake of his life.

Let's go live to CNN's Ian Lee. He is in the West Bank where protests are under way.

Ian, what exactly are you seeing there?

IAN LEE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Alison.

Behind me, you can see there's about a couple of hundred of Palestinians gathering in Al-Manara Square. This is the central square here in Ramallah. There's been a call for massive demonstrations here and across the West Bank and Jerusalem on these three days of rage.

And when we were driving from Jerusalem here to Ramallah this morning, we could see shops were closed. Schools were closed. There's a general strike called for in Jerusalem and the West Bank of people not going to work. They're coming to those protests. They're waving Palestinian flags.

There's a real anger here in this crowds. We're hearing music, patriotic music, nationalistic music. Earlier this morning, Ismail Haniyeh in Gaza had called for a third Palestinian Intifada, or uprising.

And that's really a theme we're hearing behind us as well. People calling for an uprising, and that's the anger that we're seeing after President Trump's speech.

You know, going forward, there's really two avenues that we're going to be watching closely. One is the political.

You have the Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, he's in Jordan. He's talking to King Abdullah about what the best way to move forward is. We know that Palestinian officials are also going to Gaza. Maybe an unintended consequence of all this is it's bringing the factions together, factions that had been dictated.

And then on the other side, you have the Palestinian street. And we've seen this as a strong current in recent protests, one that is actually in front of politicians driving the narrative. And that's what we're going to be watching closely these next three days, Alison.

KOSIK: OK. And we will be watching with you. CNN's Ian Lee, live from Ramallah, thanks very much.

BRIGGS: "TIME" magazine naming the "Silence Breakers" as its Person of the Year. On the cover, Taylor Swift, Ashley Judd, and lobbyist Adama Iwu to name a few. Also, honored, social activist Tarana Burke. She pioneered the #metoo movement, which sparked global discussion about sexual harassment and assault.

The runner up? President Trump accused by more than 10 women during his presidential campaign of sexual misconduct.

KOSIK: Many asking, where was Gretchen Carlson in all this?

BRIGGS: I thought it was an interesting omission. She certainly -- we would not be here without her stand against Roger Ailes. I think, certainly, she should be mentioned, if not on the cover there. Yes.

KOSIK: Yes.

All right. Donald Trump Jr. refusing to tell the House Intelligence Committee about a conversation he had with his father, President Trump, about that meeting with Russians in Trump Tower, citing attorney-client privilege. We'll have the latest, next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[04:29:23] KOSIK: Donald Trump Jr. refusing to tell the House Intelligence Committee about conversations he had with his father over that now infamous Trump Tower meeting with a Russian lawyer.

BRIGGS: Democratic Senator Al Franken expected to make a big announce this morning. Dozens of his colleagues urging him to resign amid sexual misconduct allegations.

KOSIK: Firefighters in Southern California bracing against time and intense winds, as all of L.A. County is now under an extreme fire danger warning.

Welcome back to EARLY START. I'm Alison Kosik.

BRIGGS: I'm Dave Briggs. Those winds are a tremendous concern. We'll go live there shortly.

Thirty minutes past the hour. We start with Donald Trump Jr. facing eight grueling hours of testimony in the House Intel hot seat. But it's what the president's son did not say that's raising concern this morning.