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Trump Jr before Intel Committee; FBI Director Rebuts Trump's Criticism; Al Franken's Resignation Speech; President Trump And Trump Junior Meeting. Aired 1-1:30p ET
Aired December 7, 2017 - 13:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: Hello, I'm Wolf Blitzer. It's 1:00 here in Washington, 8:00 p.m. in Jerusalem, 9:00 p.m. in Moscow. Wherever you're watching from around the world, thanks very much for joining us.
Franken out. The Minnesota Democrat resigning from the U.S. Senate but denying allegations of harassment and taking shots, at the same time, at the president.
Donald Trump Jr. refusing to answer questions about his conversations with the president involving Russia and his reason is being called bogus, by both lawmakers and legal experts.
And as the world condemns the president's decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel's capital, violent protests erupt and Arab leaders warn of more to come.
But let's start with Minnesota Senator Al Franken stepping down under a lot, a lot, of pressure. More than half of all of his Senate Democratic colleagues called on him to resign over allegations of sexual harassment. And today, he answered those calls from the Senate floor.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. AL FRANKEN (D), MINNESOTA: Serving in the United States Senate has been the great honor of my life. I know, in my heart, that nothing I have done as a Senator, nothing, has brought this honor on this institution. And I am confident that the Ethics Committee would agree.
Nevertheless, today, I am announcing that, in the coming weeks, I will be resigning as a member of the United States Senate. I, of all people, am aware that there is some irony in the fact that I am leaving, while a man who has bragged on tape about his history of sexual assault sits in the Oval Office, and a man who has repeatedly preyed on young girls campaigns for the Senate with the full support of his party.
(END VIDEO CLIP) BLITZER: CNN National Politics Reporter M.J. Lee is up on Capitol Hill for us. So, M.J., so far, what's been the reaction to Senator Franken's decision?
M.J. LEE, CNN NATIONAL POLITICS REPORTER: Well, Wolf, this was certainly a defiant speech from Senator Franken. Yes, he did say that he was resigning, but it was clear, and he made it clear, that he regrets having been put in this position and the fact that he now has to leave office.
One of the most remarkable moments from that speech, Wolf, was when he addressed the women who have made allegations of sexual harassment against him, he went as far as to say that he -- the -- some of the allegations were not actually true.
Take a listen to what he said about the women and the allegations that were levelled against him in the last couple of weeks.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
FRANKEN: Over the last few weeks, a number of women have come forward to talk about how they felt my actions had affected them. I was -- I was shocked. I was upset.
But in responding to their claims, I wanted to be respectful of that broader conversation, because all women deserve to be heard and their experiences taken seriously. I think that was the right thing to do. I also think it gave some people the false impression that I was admitting to doing things that, in fact, I haven't done.
Some of the allegations against me are simply not true. Others, I remember very differently.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
LEE: I should note, Wolf, that he did not apologize to either one of the women or any of the women who have made allegations against him in recent weeks. More than half a dozen women have come out to say that he behaved inappropriately over the years.
One of those women, Wolf, was Lindsay Menz. She told CNN a little while ago, some days ago, that Senator Franken touched her inappropriately in 2010 at the Minnesota State Fair.
I just got off the phone with her. And Menz tells me that she was a little disappointed having watched Franken's speech. That she felt like he was continuing to dismiss some of these allegations but that she also felt sad to see him resign from a job that she believes he is very passionate about.
And, finally, of course, this has been a very hard day for some of Franken's colleagues here in the Senate who did not want to see this happen. And who would not have guessed that this was a position that Franken would find himself in.
BLITZER: So, what's next for his Senate seat? Where do we go from here?
LEE: Well, now that the resignation is official, we are going to see a domino effect in the state of Minnesota. First, the governor, Mark Dayton, there, the Democratic governor in the state, will have to make an appointment to fill that vacancy.
Some of the names that are being thrown around include Democratic Congressman Keith Ellison, Tim Walls. Another name that has been thrown around a lot is the Lieutenant Governor Tina Smith, who once served as Dayton's chief of staff.
[13:05:11] And after that appointment is made, of course, in 2018, there will be another election to fill that seat that Franken has vacated and will be temporarily filled by somebody else.
This means that Republicans could try to make a play for that seat. Some of the names that are being thrown around on that front is former Governor Tim Pawlenty as well as former Congresswoman Michele Bachmann, who also ran for president.
For the time being, the governor is saying that he will make a decision in the next couple of days, but that he has not made that decision yet -- Wolf.
BLITZER: M.J. Lee up on Capitol Hill, thanks very much.
Senator Franken becomes just the second sitting senator to resign over ethics issues over the past two decades.
Let's bring in A.B. Stoddard, Associate Editor and Columnist for "Real Clear Politics," and CNN's Chief Political Analyst Gloria Borger. What did you think of his floor speech, Gloria?
GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: I think he was angry and trying to hide it in a -- in a funny way. The undercurrent to the speech to me was, I'm taking one for the team, because he didn't admit guilt in any way. He didn't apologize in any way.
He praised the United States Senate in a very gracious way and talked about how it had been an honor to serve. But he went out of his way also to talk about the irony in the fact that while he had to go, without mentioning names, Donald Trump was still in the Oval Office and Roy Moore could well -- was supported by the Republican Party, without mentioning their names.
So, there was, you know, this undercurrent of, you know, I'm the sacrificial lamb here for the Democratic Party which, in many ways, he is.
BLITZER: How did you see that, A.B.?
A.B. STODDARD, ASSOCIATE EDITOR AND COLUMNIST, "REAL CLEAR POLITICS": I agree with Gloria. He seemed to grieve and a bit defiant. He actually changed his -- changed course, I thought, a bit from what was more contrition and admission initially to these many, many stories that are similar of him grabbing women's buttocks at the State Fair. He says things like, I'm a warm person and I'm a hugger.
And the story yesterday, the anecdote was just absolutely awful and apparently was, sort of, the last straw, at least for the women senators who had contemplated what to do with this -- you know, this coming scandal.
You know, what -- they continued to be asked, what should happen to Senator Franken? He's a good senator. He's a prodigious fundraiser so this is very tough for the party to get rid of him.
But they've clearly made up their minds that this is conduct that cannot be defended. And where there's an ethics committee investigation, they're going to go back to the State Fair and start picking people. I mean, it's this very difficult process.
But he really -- he changed channels today and decided, I'm not going to -- I'm not going to drown in shame today. I'm going to leave and I'm going to let them have it a little bit on the way out.
BLITZER: Were you surprised how quickly it developed yesterday? All the -- almost all of the Democratic women senators saying, he must go. And then, a whole bunch of his male colleagues said he must go as well. And it really spiraled.
GLORIA: Yes. Our colleague, Ashley Killough, has done a great piece on this. And I think that there have been conversations going on, particularly among the women in the Senate. And then, I think as the stories kept coming, there was, sort of a point where they said, this can't go anymore.
I would argue that perhaps they should have done it sooner because if you want to occupy the moral high ground, perhaps it shouldn't take you three weeks to get there because obviously is this also a political decision. And it is about putting the Republicans on the defensive here about Roy Moore.
But what was stunning to me is somebody who covered Capitol Hill for a very long time and covered Capitol Hill when the big debate among women was, would you be able to wear pants on the Senate floor, was that the women had the power and the authority. And once they got together, there was, sort of, no stopping this thing as it -- as it unfolded.
BLITZER: The former Bush White House press secretary, Ari Fleischer, he had an interesting tweet that he just posted. Let me put it up on the screen. I'll read it. Franken should not have resigned. His fate should have been left to the people of Minnesota.
Moore, who had sexual contact with a 14-year-old, should dropout. Conyers, who hit on his employees, should have resigned. Franken is a creep who acted inappropriately but his facts are different.
A.B., your reaction.
STODDARD: You know, as a new landscape, in a way, he likely did take one for the team. But in other ways, his conduct before being in office is being judged as inappropriate and unacceptable.
By -- at the end of the day, he made the case that it was the people of Minnesota that he could no longer properly serve. He was actually saying, it is up to Minnesota and not the Democratic Party and my colleagues here in this chamber. And I see, as a public servant, that I can no longer, frankly, serve them.
[13:10:00] BLITZER: Both of you stand by. There is more to discuss.
But I want to get to the Russia investigation right now and Donald Trump Jr.'s refusal to discuss a key conversation with his father. The younger Trump would not reveal what he and the president discussed after reports surfaced after reports surfaced about the infamous Trump Tower meeting in New York City back in June of 2016.
Democratic Congressman Adam Schiff, he's the top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee. He says, Donald Trump Jr. cited attorney- client privilege. Listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. ADAM SCHIFF (D), CALIFORNIA, RANKING MEMBER, INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE: He invoked the privilege and we made it clear, at least on our side of the aisle, that we did not think this was a recognizable privilege.
He then, and his counsel, said they would go back and discuss it further with their lawyers, with the president's lawyers, and get back to us.
The question comes, if they get back to us and say, no, we're not going to answer those questions. Then, we'll be required to subpoena Donald Trump Jr. back before the committee.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: Let's bring in our Justice Correspondent Jessica Schneider who's been following this story for us. Jessica, so what's the reaction to Donald Trump Jr.'s claim of attorney-client privilege?
JESSICA SCHNEIDER, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Well, quite simply, Wolf, Democrats are saying it doesn't stand on firm legal footing. In particular, top Democrat Adam Schiff says you cannot shield communications merely because an attorney is present for those conversations. Instead, the privilege is designed to protect communications, exclusively between the attorney and the client.
But, nevertheless, that was the privilege that Donald Trump Jr. invoked in front of the committee Wednesday. He would not tell Congressional investigators what he and his father, President Trump, discussed past summer, after reports surfaced about that June 2016 meeting at Trump Tower with the Russian lawyer.
Now, Trump Jr. did say that he spoke with current White House communications Director Hope Hicks about how to respond to the reports. Trump Jr. also said that the president was debating whether to release a longer or shorter statement while on board Air Force One with Hope Hicks.
And, as you'll recall, that initial statement, it gave a misleading impression of the meeting, saying it was just about adoptions. But, of course, a later statement acknowledged that Trump Jr. was promised dirt on Hillary Clinton.
And when the reports first came out, though, the president's lawyers denied that he was involved in any way in drafting that initial statement.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JAY SEKULOW, ATTORNEY, PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: Let me say this. The president -- but I do want to be clear that the president was not involved in the drafting of the statement and did not issue the statement.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SCHNEIDER: Now, after that statement, the White House did eventually acknowledge that the president did weigh in on the statement. He offered suggestions. And Sarah Sanders, at the time, described it as something, quote, "any father would do."
Wolf, that June 2016 meeting, it has become a big investigative focal point, Wolf, for Congress and the special counsel -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Jessica Schneider reporting for us. Jessica, thanks very much.
Let's get some more perspective on Donald Trump Jr.'s testimony before the House Intelligence Committee and his claim of attorney-client privilege. Democratic Congresswoman Jackie Speier of California is a key member of the Intelligence Committee. She is joining us now from Capitol Hill.
I assume you were there for those seven or hours of his questioning yesterday, right, Congresswoman?
REP. JACKIE SPEIER (D), CALIFORNIA, INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE: I sure was, yes.
BLITZER: So, what's your reaction to Donald Trump Jr. invoking what's called attorney-client privilege to avoid answering anything about his conversation with his father?
SPEIER: I think that it was a hail Mary pass. I think they have succeed for the moment. I don't think it holds any water. And, as you have pointed out, it is, in fact, a privilege that exists between the client and the attorney, not between the father and the son.
And it's a critical question that needs to be answered about what that conversation was about, almost a year after the actual meeting took place.
And I do believe that the president has been not forth coming. He first said one thing, then says another. He clearly waited, in a very significant way, in what that statement was going to say and how it was framed.
BLITZER: What if he would have excited executive privilege, a private conversation with the president of the United States, instead of attorney-client privilege. Would he -- would he have been on better ground?
SPEIER: So, the executive privilege can only be invoked by the executive. It can't be invoked by the executive's son, in this case.
This is also about, you know, a conduct that took place before he was president. Certainly, the meeting or the conversation that took place after he was president is one that, you know, arguably he might be able to assert executive privilege. But the president did not.
And so, I don't believe that Donald Jr. can invoke it.
BLITZER: Donald Trump Jr. also says he spoke with the senior White House aide, Hope Hicks, about responding to the reports on the Trump Tower meeting. Hicks is now the White House communications director, as you know. Does this put her in a vulnerable position?
[13:15:00] SPEIER: Well, I do believe that she has been called by the special counsel and says in the public reports that we've heard and she has a very privileged position working with the president, probably privy to many meetings and conversations that most people are not. So it will be interesting to find out to what extend her testimony would suggest that there's obstruction of justice.
BLITZER: What questions do you want Donald Trump Jr. to respond to that he didn't answer during those seven or eight hours of questioning yesterday? Are there other examples that you want him to answer?
SPEIER: Well, there certainly is a lack of clarity on many issues because he either didn't recall or did not know. And it was surprising to me that as an executive vice president or senior vice president in the Trump Organization, he was unaware of the relationships that the Trump Organization had as a company with many Russians in business activities.
And, you know, part of what we're looking here is, how did Russia infiltrate so much of what is going on in this country? Whether it was the election system. Whether it was the actual campaign process. Or whether it was creating a relationship with a potential president that would allow them to have undue influence in terms of many international issues.
BLITZER: The ranking member of your committee, the Intelligence Committee, Democratic Congressman Adam Schiff, also says he's beginning to see pieces of the puzzle fall into place in terms of what's described as possible collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia, or obstruction of justice. Do you see the dots being connected right now?
SPEIER: I do think that the obstruction of justice case is one that will be made by the special counsel, Bob Mueller. But, beyond that, in terms of whether there was coordination, it certainly looks like there was conversations, whether they were direct messaging or other formers of communication that took place, particularly between WikiLeaks and the campaign. And WikiLeaks became the vehicle through which the Russians were trying to influence the campaign, I believe.
BLITZER: Yes, releasing all those e-mails that had been hacked.
Let's switch gears for a moment, while I have you, congresswoman, and talk about the dramatic announcement today by Senator Al Franken, that he's resigning over these sexual harassment accusations. What's your reaction?
SPEIER: Well, it's a very sad day. It's a sad day because I think Senator Franken was doing an outstanding job as a Senator. Unfortunately, his conduct before becoming a member of the Senate was really inappropriate on a number of levels. And we say zero tolerance for sexual harassment in the halls of Congress and we have got to stand up for that principal for all the women that work here.
BLITZER: In his speech he took a couple swipes right at President Trump, as well as Roy Moore, the Republican candidate for Senate in Alabama. Let me play you the clip. Listen to this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. AL FRANKEN (D), MINNESOTA: I, of all people, am aware that there is some irony in the fact that I am leaving while a man who has bragged on tape about his history of sexual assault sits in the Oval Office, and a man who has repeatedly prayed on young girls campaigns for the Senate with the full support of his party.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: So are Democrats now trying to seize the moral high ground with this late development?
SPEIER: Well, the statement by the Senator is very accurate. We do have a president who, if he were running for office this year would not get elected because the sexual harassment issue has hit a peak in terms of recognition that this is our moment as women throughout the country (INAUDIBLE) protect women in the workplace. And we are not going to let this moment pass.
As for Roy Moore, I think there's a huge issue that the Senate's going to have to take up if he is election. And I'm not certain he will be elected. But if he's elected, because expulsion has to be considered. That person has lied over and over again. He clearly has indicated that he engaged with young women when he was much older and they were underage. And I would suggest that that is something that needs to be investigated.
BLITZER: But you think Senator Franken did the right thing by resigning today?
SPEIER: I think it was a very hard decision for him, but I think he did it really, I think, on behalf of the institution. And he recognized that it was going to be very difficult for him to continue to serve. So he did do the right thing.
[13:20:01] BLITZER: All right, Congresswoman Jackie Speier, thanks so much for joining us.
SPEIER: Thank you.
BLITZER: Just moments from now, the White House answering questions on all of this and a whole lot more. We're standing by for the White House press briefing with Sarah Sanders. We'll have live coverage of that.
Also, protests erupt after the president declares Jerusalem the capital of Israel. And now the leader of Hezbollah says Christian and Muslim holy sites are in danger. We'll go there live.
And breaking now, the FBI director rebuking President Trump's harsh attacks on the agency and commenting on concerns of interference in the Robert Mueller special counsel investigation.
BLITZER: Now in its fourth hour up on Capitol Hill, you're looking at live pictures, the new head of the FBI, Christopher Wray, is defending his agency in front of the House Judiciary Committee. Wray was questioned about an insulting tweet from the president saying the FBI's reputation was now in, quote, tatters, and the worst in history. The president was referring to reports about a possible bias from a former top bureau official.
[13:25:21] Wray responded completely unfazed.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
CHRISTOPHER WRAY, FBI DIRECTOR: There is no shortage of opinions out there. What I can tell you is that the FBI that I see is tens of thousands of agents and analysts and staff working their tails off to keep American safe from the next terrorist attack. The FBI that I see is respected and appreciated by our partners in federal, state, and local law enforcement, in the intelligence community, by our foreign counterparts, both law enforcement and national security, in something like 200 countries around the globe.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: Let's bring back our panel, AB Stoddard and Gloria Borger.
He's been on the job now for four months, Christopher Wray. How do you think he did today in responding to that -- the presidential tweet?
GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: I think he did very well and I think he defended the FBI, as he should. And I think he made it -- he made it very clear that while there are lots of opinions out there, what he sees from his vantage point are people who are dedicated to keeping this country safe. And I think that he spoke very clearly and very strongly without mentioning the president, as you would expect.
BLITZER: Why does the president, you know, since taking office, President Trump, he's slamming the FBI, as we just heard in that tweet, but earlier he slammed the intelligence community as well. Why do you think he does that?
AB STODDARD, ASSOCIATE EDITOR AND COLUMNIST, REALCLEARPOLITICS: He did that in December, before he was even president. He -- he, I think in his mind, this is all connected to Russia. So he likes to say they were wrong on WMD in Iraq and go back to, you know, some criticisms that predate his service.
But I think that all roads usually lead back in his criticism on these institutions to intelligence investigation into what Russia did in our election in 2016 in the campaign and he takes it personally. It makes him defensive. And he attacks.
And I think this -- you know, we knew what Christopher Wray would say today, but I think it's remarkable that senator -- sorry, Attorney General Sessions has stood silent as the director of that department, the top cop in the country --
BLITZER: The attorney general.
STODDARD: While the president attacks the FBI. It's pretty amazing.
BLITZER: Yes, it certainly is.
All right, guys, thanks so much. There's a lot going on, Gloria, and AB.
So how will the White House react to Senator Al Franken calling out President Trump during his resignation speech on the Senate floor. We'll go there live. The White House briefing is getting ready to begin.
Plus, an ominous warning from Hezbollah, saying Christian and Muslim holy sites are now in danger after President Trump's decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel's capital and to move the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem from Tel Aviv.
Stay with us.