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Thousands Flee Wildfire in Heart of Los Angeles; Fear of Violence as Trump Calls Jerusalem Israel's Capital; Majority of Democratic Senators Say Franken Should Resign. Aired 5-6p ET
Aired December 6, 2017 - 17:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
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[17:00:10] WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now. Breaking news. Los Angeles burning. California's fire emergency spreads right to the heart of L.A. with a fourth major wildfire now threatening hillside homes. Will powerful winds return tonight to fan the flames?
Controversial move. President Trump recognizes Jerusalem as Israel's capital and announces plans to move the U.S. embassy there. Will his decision inflame tension and fuel unrest in the region?
Ripped up for Russia. A whistle-blower claims that former national security adviser Michael Flynn boasted to a business partner that one of President Trump's first acts would be to rip up sanctions against Russia. Did Flynn text his colleague during the inauguration?
And forcing Franken out. In a coordinated move, a majority of Democratic senators calling for their colleague, Al Franken, to resign over allegations of sexual harassment. Will the Minnesota Democrat step down?
I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.
BLITZER: We're following multiple breaking stories this hour, including a new blaze that's erupted in the fire-ravaged Southern California. This one burning right in the heart of Los Angeles, destroying multiple hillside homes and forcing the closure of one of the busiest freeways in the country. And three other major fires continue to burn as crews brace for more powerful winds in the coming hours.
Also breaking, President Trump facing very sharp criticism from U.S. allies over his decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel's capital and ordering construction of a new U.S. embassy there. There is fear his move will stoke unrest and spark violent protests and concern that it has badly damaged peace prospects in the region.
And we're also learning that fired national security adviser Michael Flynn was allegedly texting a former business colleague during President Trump's inauguration, boasting that sanctions against Russia would be, quote, "ripped up" by the new administration. That according to a whistle-blower whose account was released by Congressman Elijah Cummings, but a lawyer for Flynn denies that claim.
There's also breaking n news about Senator Al Franken. A majority of Democratic senators are now calling for him to resign as new allegations of sexual harassment continue to surface. At least six women have accused Franken of inappropriately touching them.
We're covering all of that and much more this hour with our guests, including the top Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Senator Ben Cardin. And our correspondents and specialists are also standing by. We'll get to President Trump's stunning decision about Jerusalem in just a few moments.
But first, the wildfires raging out of control in Southern California. CNN's Sara Sidner is at the scene of the newest blaze burning right now in the heart of Los Angeles.
Sara, crews are working to try to get a handle on this fire before the winds pick up in the next few hours.
SARA SIDNER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, it is absolutely a difficult job, and right now we're about to have another drop from the sky to try to tame this area that is burning.
We're on a very exclusive part of Bel-Air. This is Moraga Vineyards. You're looking at the vineyard there. There is a structure there, not a home, but a structure that was billowing smoke. And we've been watching, and they're about to do -- it looks like do another drop from the air to try and tame that so that no other home catches fire because of it.
All along this ridge, beyond this, we are seeing house after house that is in danger. A couple of them are on fire and are smoldering out at this hour. But this has been a very difficult time for firefighters, because there are thousands of firefighters not only in this area but across Los Angeles and into Ventura County trying to battle blazes. And none of them, none of them have been contained. They are doing the best job they can.
One thing that has helped them for right now is the winds have died down, but we are expecting these winds to pick up very rapidly. And as they do, there will likely be more evacuations as these fires continue to burn all across dozens and dozens and dozens of miles.
BLITZER: Sara Sidner on the scene for us. Sara, thanks very much. Three other major fires are burning right now in Southern California. The largest has burned more than 65,000 acres in Ventura County just northwest of Los Angeles.
CNN's Paul Vercammen is on the scene for us. Paul, this blaze has burned now for -- almost all the way to the ocean.
PAUL VERCAMMEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It has. And in fact, I'm only about 20 feet from the ocean. If we look just right over here, you were talking about these firefighters. Well, there are 1,700 of them on this fire that's burned those 65,000 acres, but part of the strategy is because you have the Pacific Ocean here and a major artery -- that's the U.S. 101 Freeway -- right below those flames, they're letting it burn. They're letting it burn toward the ocean, because it's too risky to send firefighters up into those dangerous canyons. And so they let the fire basically come on down the hillside.
[17:05:23] We have not seen those vicious winds today. They may pick up, as you pointed out, later on in the afternoon, but so far so good. And they come from the inland, and then they burn toward the shore.
Now we've had injuries here for firefighters, and most of it, according to Ventura County Fire Department, has been to their eyes. We have not had any fatalities. That's good news. There was one firefighter injured the other day. He was actually a battalion chief who was struck by a vehicle, just bumps and bruises. He's OK. And they're holding at 150 the number of structures burned. That might be a bit of a tricky statistic. Fighters saying that they have not even been able to go in and survey all of the damage and do a proper damage assessment, Wolf.
BLITZER: Paul Vercammen on the scene for us, as well. Paul, stand by.
Joining us on the phone right now, Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti.
Mayor, thanks for joining us. Sorry we have to speak under these circumstances, but what worries you the most in the coming hours and days?
MAYOR ERIC GARCETTI, LOS ANGELES (via phone): Well, thank, you Wolf, and first of all, these are days that break your heart but also warm your heart when you see the incredible courage of our first responders out there.
But we are most worried about the wind, which is the cause for these fires, the cause of the spread of these fires. As was mentioned, we've had a better day today to fight that fire that's in Bel-Air and in the north part of my city. But we expect right now as we speak, around 2 p.m. Pacific time, the wind to pick up, and by 10 p.m. tonight to be an extreme wind event again. And that's the kind of thing like we saw in Northern California that can push an ember a mile or two and start a fire up in a different part of the hills or even in residential neighborhoods.
So we are stretched out with everybody that we have in all the neighboring cities helping out to make sure we can knock down the second fire that blew up here in L.A. today and continue to maintain our progress on the first.
BLITZER: You mentioned Bel-Air, are those beautiful homes in Bel-Air burning right now, at least some of them? How much trouble do they have?
GARCETTI: We have four confirmed, maybe as many as six there. We had about probably 25 to 30 structures in the northern Los Angeles city out in the San Fernando valley, the fire they were calling the Creek Fire.
And the miracle has been no loss of life. We've had some injuries, as well, for firefighters. A bulldozer that literally was going up the hill to make a fire break and tumbled backwards and went all the way down, but that firefighter is doing OK.
A propane tank that blew up on another firefighter who experienced first-, second- and third-degree burns. But it just reminds you what saviors these folks are, what angels they are, and we're going to continue to put resources not just from the ground but from the air as long as the wind allows us to.
BLITZER: Do the authorities have any chance of actually controlling these fires under the current conditions? You say the wind is about to pick up. Are you simply counting on a shift in the weather to help -- to help them out?
GARCETTI: Well, when we say zero percent containment, that means zero percent is that we can walk away from, but that doesn't mean zero percent where we're able to protect property, protect lives.
So we're optimistic in the west side of Los Angeles, where we put strong resources that that won't explode into a huge fire, but anything could happen. We're keeping a careful eye and expect to be there for two or three days.
The earlier fire, the Creek Fire, we've expected to battle this all week long. But we've been keeping it away from where people are. We're evacuated somewhere between 100,000 to 150,000 people in the city of Los Angeles, who now are staying with friends, staying in hotels, staying with loved ones. Wand we appreciate the generosity of everybody, as well as the evacuation centers we've set up in our parks throughout the city.
BLITZER: Good luck over there, Mayor. We're -- we're really praying and hoping that things will work out.
Eric Garcetti is the mayor of Los Angeles. Says 150,000 people have already been evacuated.
There's other breaking news we're following right now, including President Trump's controversial decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel's capital.
Let's go to our senior White House correspondent Jim Acosta.
Jim, some of the country's closest allies in the region and elsewhere, they're very disturbed by the president's move.
JIM ACOSTA, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Wolf. 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 like Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu are praising the decision, Palestinian officials are insisting that the U.S. no longer be a part of the Middle East peace talks and warning that the president's move will aid extremist organizations who are seeking holy war.
ACOSTA (voice-over): Breaking with decades of U.S. foreign policy, President Trump recognized Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, making sure to note it was a campaign promise fulfilled.
[17:10:00] DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I have determined that it is time to officially recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. While previous presidents have made this a major campaign promise, they failed to deliver. Today I am delivering.
ACOSTA: The president's decision begins the process of relocating the U.S. embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, a move that administration officials say could take at least three to four years, so a waiver signed by the president will keep the embassy in Tel Aviv for now.
Palestinian officials, who want to see East Jerusalem as their own capital as part of any two-state solution that would serve as the foundation of a lasting peace with the Israelis, are outraged and demanding that the U.S. not participate in any negotiations for a deal in the future.
That would be a major departure for the U.S., which has attempted to broker Middle East peace in past administrations from Bill Clinton to Jimmy Carter.
HANAN ASHRAWI, PALESTINE LIBERATION ORGANIZATION: I'm telling you that President Trump is not only encouraging violence, he is provoking violence. He is also provoking a religious war.
ACOSTA: The president insisted he remains committed to the peace process.
TRUMP: We want an agreement that is a great deal for the Israelis and a great deal for the Palestinians. So today we call for calm, for moderation and for the voices of tolerance to prevail over the purveyors of hate.
ACOSTA: But U.S. allies from across the globe from Europe to the Muslim world criticized the president's move. Pope Francis implored Mr. Trump to stay the course on Jerusalem.
POPE FRANCIS, LEADER OF ROMAN CATHOLIC CHURCH (via translator): I cannot keep quiet my profound concern for the situation that has arisen in the last few days and at the same time to address a heartfelt appeal to make everyone's commitment to respect the status quo of the city.
ACOSTA: While the president promised to recognize Jerusalem as the Israeli capital during the campaign, he told Mike Huckabee two months ago he wanted to work on a Middle East peace deal before moving the embassy.
TRUMP: I want to give that a shot before I even think about moving the embassy to Jerusalem. ACOSTA: But the president, who assigned his son-in-law, Jared
Kushner, the task of brokering a peace agreement, seemed to indicate the effort wasn't yielding any results.
TRUMP: After more than two decades of waivers, we are no closer to a lasting peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinians.
ACOSTA: Still, it's clear Mr. Trump's gamble on Israel is steeped in politics, as his former chief strategist, Steve Bannon, illustrated at a campaign event for Republican Senate candidate Roy Moore in Alabama.
STEVE BANNON, BREITBART NEWS/FORMER WHITE HOUSE CHIEF STRATEGIST: As everybody in Alabama already knows, the capital of Israel is Jerusalem.
ACOSTA: That was the same event where Bannon attacked Republican Mitt Romney, a Moore critic, for following his faith instead of fighting in Vietnam.
BANNON: And, by the way, Mitt, while we're on the subject of Vietnam and honor and integrity, you avoided service, brother. Right? OK, Mitt, Mitt, here's how it is, brother. Now, the college deferments, you know, we can debate that, but you hid behind your religion. You went to France to be a missionary while guys were dying in rice patties in Vietnam.
ACOSTA: Now on that attack from Steve Bannon, top Republicans from Utah Orrin Hatch and Mike Lee both defended Romney. And it should be noted, the president received draft deferments during Vietnam for bone spurs, and he never served in combat. Bannon never attacked Mr. Trump for that.
And White House counselor Kellyanne Conway made a point of telling CNN earlier today, Wolf, that the president spoke with Romney over the phone last night and that they had a, quote, "wonderful conversation" -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Jim, did the president sign the waiver to keep the U.S. embassy in Tel Aviv in the meantime, despite all of his language, all of his statements?
ACOSTA: Right, there was some question about that earlier today. And a senior administration did tell us the president signed that waiver, keeping the U.S. embassy in Tel Aviv earlier today before his speech.
And so while the U.S. policy is changing, we heard the president lay that out, the biggest symbolic example of this change won't really happen for years from now until that embassy moves to Jerusalem. White House officials told reporters over here, Wolf, it was not as simple as switching the signs at the U.S. embassy in Tel Aviv and the U.S. consulate in Jerusalem -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Jim Acosta at the White House, thanks very much. Let's get some more on all of this. Democratic Senator Ben Cardin of
Maryland is joining us. He's the ranking member, the top Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
Senator, thanks for joining us.
SEN. BEN CARDIN (D-MD), RANKING MEMBER, FOREIGN RELATIONS COMMITTEE: Wolf, it's good to be with you. Thank you.
BLITZER: What did you think of the president's announcement on Jerusalem this afternoon?
CARDIN: Well, the announcement that Jerusalem is the capital of Israel is consistent with legislation passed in 1995 by Congress, where we announced and acknowledged that the sovereign nation has the right to choose its capital; and Israel's capital is Jerusalem. So I don't think that was in itself a changing from where we are.
[17:15:01] The concern is how he handles this moving forward. Does he use diplomacy in order to make sure that the Palestinians and the Israelis are focused on the peace process? Does he do this in a way that protects the safety of American personnel and Israelis? Does he reaffirm our commitment to work with both the Palestinians and Israelis to have two states living side by side in peace, a Palestinian state, a Jewish state. He needs to use diplomacy in order to advance these causes.
BLITZER: Do you have confidence he knows what he's doing?
CARDIN: Well, look, if I look at some of his other episode s around the world, it doesn't give you a whole lot of confidence on his use of diplomacy, but I can tell you he has a lot of support in Congress to move forward on the peace process.
BLITZER: Why should the average American care about the location of Israel's capital, the location of the U.S. embassy?
CARDIN: Well, first of all, it's important -- a country to select their own capitals. The capital of Israel is Jerusalem.
But I think what the concern is that we know that it's in our interests, it's in the global security interests certainly in that region that there be credible discussions directly between the Palestinians and the Israelis on moving forward with the peace process. And that is in our interests and that's something we want to get going.
Despite the president's strong rhetoric today, he once again did sign that waiver delaying any move of the American embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. Just as every other president, American president has done since the mid-1990s: Clinton, Bush, Obama, every six months like clockwork they would sign that waiver, avoiding any move of the U.S. embassy. So do you believe he will really go through with this?
CARDIN: Well, physically, we won't see any change for some time. That is correct. It takes time in order to be able to relocate an embassy the size that we have in Israel from one city to another. So it's going to take a considerable period of time.
What I think many of us hope is during that period of time we see tangible progress being made and direct negotiations between the parties, between the Israelis and the Palestinians. That's something that I believe our international partners support, and that's something we have to help accommodate.
BLITZER: The decision by the president is at odds with the advice he received from Secretary of State Rex Tillerson among several other key foreign policy and national security advisers. State Department is deeply concerned about violence against personnel in American embassies across the world right now. Do you share that concern?
CARDIN: I absolutely share that concern. And that's why I said this announcement and what he's doing currently and moving forward really needs to be wrapped in a diplomatic effort that minimizes those risks.
There's other deliverables that he can do in the Middle East, and that's what we are hoping that we will see in the days ahead.
So there are things that can be done to smooth the politics of this, and that requires the president to listen to his advisers at the State Department to move forward in areas that can be of comfort to all the players in the Middle East.
BLITZER: The Palestinian leadership and many American allies, they say that the decision by the president will make the peace process much more difficult. How do you respond?
CARDIN: Well, the peace process is only going to move forward if the Palestinians and Israelis will negotiate directly. It requires leadership on behalf of both the Palestinians and the Israelis. No third party is going to force that to happen.
So I believe the United States will continue to play a key role in bringing the parties together. I think the United States is a key player in the Middle East. So that's an important element, but you have to have the will among the leaders to move forward, because it's going to involve controversy and courage from both the Palestinians and the Israeli point of view.
BLITZER: On another key issue that's come up today, more than 30 of your Democratic colleagues in the U.S. Senate have now called on Minnesota Senator Al Franken to step down after more allegations of sexual harassment. Do you believe Senator Franken should resign?
CARDIN: Well, first, let me say this is a very serious issue. He's acknowledged that his conduct was very serious. There's been additional allegations made, some of which he has denied.
Senator Franken's going to speak to this within the next 24 hours. I think we should hear what we has to say; and then I will make our judgement and I think he'll make his judgement on how to proceed.
BLITZER: Chuck Schumer, the Senate Democratic leader, just came out and called on Franken to resign like so many other Democrats. But I -- what I'm hearing from you, Senator, you're reluctant to follow their lead.
CARDIN: Well, I think this issue is going to be resolved in the next 24 hours.
BLITZER: So you'll just wait and see what he says tomorrow. All right, Senator, thanks so much for joining us.
CARDIN: Thank you.
BLITZER: Ben Cardin joining us, the ranking member of the Foreign Relations Committee.
We have a lot more breaking news. Let's take a quick break. We'll be right back.
[17:24:21] BLITZER: More now in the breaking news. President Trump's decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel's capital and ordering construction of a new U.S. embassy in Israel is drawing sharp criticism from U.S. allies, raising fear that the move will stoke under unrest and damage peace prospects.
Let's get reaction from the chief Palestinian representative to the United States, Husam Zomlot. Doctor Zomlot, thanks so much for joining us.
HUSAM ZOMLOT, PALESTINIAN REPRESENTATIVE TO U.S.: Thank you, Wolf.
BLITZER: You told Reuters yesterday before the decision was announced this would have catastrophic consequences and, in your words, would be a kiss of death for a two-state solution, Israel and Palestine. Why?
ZOMLOT: Because Jerusalem is at the very heart of the two-state solution and it has been the U.S. long-held position all these years, it was in writing by Secretary Baker who invited us, the Palestinians, by a written letter that the U.S. would commit to international resolutions 24338. That's land for peace. That's the end of Israel's occupation. That began in 1967. That includes East Jerusalem, and the state will be reestablished in that state.
In that letter, Security Baker specified the status of Jerusalem and he did promise us, the Palestinians, that should you accept negotiations we will respect the status of Jerusalem. We will never recognize Israel's annexation of Jerusalem or control of Jerusalem.
BLITZER: So when the president said he would leave open the sovereign -- all the borders of Jerusalem, that's not good enough?
ZOMLOT: No therefore we entered into this peace process sincerely, based on these promises. And therefore, now there is a renege on these promises, a U-turn, if you may.
And, again, how can you talk about a two-state solution without Jerusalem, and how can you enter into a peace process that is heartless, that doesn't have the heart of it? We're not interested in an empty peace process, Wolf.
BLITZER: Because earlier this year, Dr. Zomlot, you told Politico all indications are that President Trump is serious and keen regarding starting a political process and so are we.
BLITZER: You no longer believe that?
ZOMLOT: No, no, no, exactly. Only until the end of last week we were engaged with the White House. We had convened so many meetings, and we were discussing the ultimate deal. We were discussing the strategic, mega, macro picture of President Trump's commitment to establishing a lasting, comprehensive peace.
We have committed to this process. We have declared our willingness. We have invested in the meantime over the last nine months to make sure that we pave the way, including the Palestinian reconciliation and the return of the central authority to Gaza, because without Gaza we cannot have a two-state solution. We have been working day and night with President Trump, and you just quoted me being excited.
And all of a sudden this comes out of nowhere. And let's put, you know, the politics of identity narratives, history, religion aside, and let's be rational. What is the purpose of this move? It has just injected anxiety in the process. It has injected suspicion and anger.
BLITZER: So is the peace process over?
ZOMLOT: I believe today what is certain is that the U.S. has done a self-inflicted disqualification of being the sole arbitrator of this. And I believe there is a lethal blow to the heart of the peace process because, again, Jerusalem is the heart of it, and I believe today was a precious gift to the very extremists, the non-solutionists, the secular movement in the West Bank. It's not even to the Israelis, because the majority of the
Israelis, according to all polls, including recently, 85 percent are with a divorce, are with the two-state solution on the '67 borders, including East Jerusalem. And therefore, those opening champagne are the ones who want to see Armageddon, a religious war.
BLITZER: But despite the president's rhetoric today, very strong rhetoric, he once again signed that waiver and is avoiding immediately moving the U.S. Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. Do you believe he might still change his mind?
ZOMLOT: I hope so. We call upon him to change his mind. Our president said today very clearly that this decision is rejected and that a reversal of this decision must be done.
BLITZER: So if Jared Kushner, the president's son-in-law, one of the senior advisers who's in charge of the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, calls you tomorrow and says, "Come on over to the White House. Let's meet. Let's see what you can do," what would you say to him?
ZOMLOT: That would be a decision for President Abbas to make and the political leadership that come, not me.
BLITZER: That would be The Mahmoud Abbas? You would ask him should I go to the White House, should I not go to the White House? What do you think President Abbas will decide?
ZOMLOT: Well, President Abbas will convene the Palestinian leadership as he did today, he promised to convene it. And there will be strategic solutions. Because Wolf, we are upon a strategic moment. This is not just any other moment. We have to decide a new strategic direction.
And President Abbas did say at the U.N. assembly only in September that, should Netanyahu insist to kill and bury the two-state solution -- and I believe he is, and I believe those who do not want to see a two-state solution, which is the majority of his cabinet, the Israeli cabinet, are celebrating today. The alternative to that, from a Palestinian point of view, is full equal rights for all those who live in the historic land of Palestine, from the river to the sea: be it Jewish, be it Muslim, be it Christian, be it tall, be it short. Full constitutional arrangement.
And therefore, we will have to decide on this new strategic direction, and I believe the international community is fully behind the rights of the Palestinians.
BLITZER: Husam Zomlot is the chief Palestinian representative here in Washington. Thanks so much for joining us.
ZOMLOT: Thank you, Wolf.
BLITZER: We have more breaking news coming into THE SITUATION ROOM. Up next, a whistle-blower's new and very explosive claims about text messages Michael Flynn sent during President Trump's inauguration. Stay with us.
BLITZER: We're following a surprise development in the Russia investigation. According to Democratic lawmakers, a whistle-blower has now come forward with explosive new information about text messages former national security adviser Michael Flynn sent to a colleague during President Trump's inauguration.
[17:34:40] Let's go to our senior congressional correspondent, Manu Raju. He's got details. Manu, what are you learning?
MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, that's right. On the day of the inauguration, according to this whistle-blower, Michael Flynn exchanged text messages with a business partner about a nuclear energy project that they could move forward with in the Middle East, something that would be -- where Russia would be involved with this nuclear energy project.
And he texted this colleague saying it's, quote, "good to go." One reason why is he said because these sanctions on Russia would be ripped up initially in the Trump administration. He gave assurances to his business partners that that's exactly the way the Trump administration would go.
Now this is according to this whistle-blower, who Elijah Cummings, a top Democrat on the committee, says is willing to talk to the Republican chairman of the committee, Trey Gowdy. Now, this is significant, because it indicates that perhaps the Trump administration was willing to roll back these sanctions on Russia and also because Flynn himself may have been seeking to profit by pushing forward on this nuclear energy project at a time when he was the national security adviser for the White House.
Now, Flynn's attorney has declined to comment on this whistle-blower's account, but an attorney for the business partner of Michael Flynn flatly denied it. Said that this is not wrong. There was no exchanges of messages here.
But nevertheless, Elijah Cummings does want Trey Gowdy, the chairman of the committee, to issue subpoenas to the White House to get more information about Michael Flynn, to understand exactly what happened here. No word yet, Wolf, about whether or not that will happen.
BLITZER: Yes. Potentially a very significant moment.
Donald Trump Jr., as you know, Manu, he spoke to House investigators today. What did he say?
RAJU: Well, he is behind closed doors still as we speak. He started at 10 a.m. We do expect this to end relatively soon.
But we're learning some new details about what -- about that Trump Tower meeting in June 2016 and how the -- he responded when first confronted by news reports by the "New York Times" earlier this year about this meeting in which he was -- we now know he was promised dirt from the Russians on the Clinton campaign.
Now we are told by multiple sources that he said that he communicated with Hope Hicks, the White House communications director, about responding to that "New York Times" report, and he -- but he would also -- he would not reveal how -- what he and his father discussed around the same time. There was a communication that occurred with his father around the time of that initial response to "The New York Times" report. But he would not -- he refused to disclose to the committee what exactly the contents of that conversation was with his father.
Now, the -- this is significant also, Wolf, because that initial statement, as you recall, was rather misleading. It did not give the true indication about why Donald Trump Jr. took this meeting with the Russians, and it was occurring at the same time as a criminal investigation looking into Russian meddling and any potential collusion with Trump associates.
So Donald Trump Jr. behind closed doors acknowledging that he did have a communication with Hope Hicks but not saying what he talked to his father about. And that's a big question going forward, Wolf.
But he did say he did not tell his father about that Trump Tower -- initial Trump Tower meeting on June 2016. He said he did not have any conversations with his dad after that initial meeting back in June 2016, Wolf.
BLITZER: Interesting; he refused to even discuss that. Potentially very, very significant.
Manu Raju, thanks very much.
Let's get some insight from our specialists. Susan Hennessey, you're with us. Let's get to Michael Flynn first. The former national security adviser was fired, now a convicted felon. He stood to gain financially from this decision that he supposedly was texting about on the inauguration day. Does that open him up to further legal jeopardy?
SUSAN HENNESSEY, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY AND LEGAL ANALYST: Yes. Certainly, this would implicate other federal crimes. The good news for Flynn is that it does appear that Robert Mueller knew about this sort of allegation at the time that they made the plea deal.
Now, what's really interesting about that plea agreement is it only says that it covers conduct covered in the statement of facts. Now, that was the conduct related to lying to the FBI and to FARA registration. So that does leave open sort of hypothetical, theoretical possibility that other charges could be coming. And the conduct that's described here, you know, if as alleged, it is actually true, certainly, that could be basis -- the basis for a totally separate set of charges.
DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: And if I may, if everybody in the White House is telling the truth that Michael Flynn lied repeatedly to them -- and that is what they say, that he lied over and over when asked many times about whether or not he did talk to the Russian ambassador about sanctions -- perhaps this is why. Because the conversation about sanctions could have been, if this whistle-blower is correct, directly related to a business deal that served to make money for him or maybe his partner, but he didn't want people in the White House to know. That could -- that's one hypothesis here.
BLITZER: It would explain why he would lie about that...
BASH: It would.
BLITZER: ... and he's convicted...
BASH: That's the big question, why lie?
BLITZER: And he -- he's guilty for lying to the FBI.
You know, it's a striking visual, Phil. Think about this. On the inauguration, the platform up there, Michael Flynn supposedly is texting with a business partner about easing sanctions so a lot of money can be made.
[17:40:07] PHIL MUDD, CNN COUNTERTERRORISM ANALYST: Striking? I mean, Wolf, in my world, in the government ethics world, this is like walking down the wedding aisle with your new wife and texting your mistress at the same time. You can't do this. Let me explain why.
You're talking about someone who in minutes is going to become the national security adviser. Do you mean to tell me he's going in to discuss U.S. policy on issues like nuclear energy at the same time he has a financial interest in those issues? You cannot do that in government.
I have one question that might help us get to the heart of this, and that is, if this is true -- and, remember, Michael Flynn at this point retains a top secret in January 20 of this year, a top-secret security clearance -- did he declare this relationship, this business relationship with his energy company on his federal forms when he maintained his security clearance? And if he did, can you tell me how he sits in a room, in a government room and discusses these issues when he's already declared that he has a financial relationship, a financial link to these issues? You can't do that in government, Wolf. I can't tell you how profound this.
BLITZER: Let me get your reaction also, Phil, to Donald Trump Jr. He's been answering questions from House investigators behind closed doors today, but when asked about what he told his father about that very controversial June 2016 Trump Tower meeting with Russians, he wouldn't discuss that. Instead he said he communicated with Hope Hicks, the communications director at the White House. Do you buy that version of events?
MUDD: I sort of do. If you look at one of the more fascinating things in the past week in Washington, it's excerpts from the book that's just published from the former campaign manager, Corey Lewandowski.
Let me cut to the chase. When you read those excerpts, it's clear that Lewandowski is describing himself as a tool for Donald Trump. Just as I think Trump's daughter is a tool on issues on women's relationship. He trots people out when he needs them. He discards them when he doesn't need them.
What I'm saying in the case of Donald Jr. is he's a tool during the campaign to represent his dad's interests. I think what he -- I think he understands his role here, just like the role of the campaign manager who was discarded. He said, "My role isn't really father/son. My role is a tool on the campaign, and when I deal with those issues, I'm going to deal with Hope Hicks, not my dad."
BLITZER: Interesting. Let's get to another political issue that's developing. I want your reaction. And Mark, I want you to react to this, as well. This groundswell that all of a sudden developed. Democratic senators all of a sudden coming out and saying Senator Al Franken must resign.
BASH: That's right. And it's beyond a groundswell. I mean, it's the majority of the Democratic Caucus at this point. I was told just before coming on tonight, after we saw the first public statement from the Democratic leader in the Senate, Chuck Schumer, finally calling for Al Franken to resign, that Schumer actually in private has been doing this all day, and in fact, started doing it after a report came out this morning in Politico of yet another allegation, that Schumer called Franken and said, "OK, it's time to go." Did so repeatedly during the day. Obviously, Franken has not done that. And then Chuck Schumer put out his statement.
Franken has some kind of announcement tomorrow. We don't know where; we don't know when; we don't know what, but given what we've seen today, we can assume.
BLITZER: Is there any way he survives this?
MARK PRESTON, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: You know, Wolf, I think when the clock struck noon today, it was all over for him. At that point you saw six Democratic women come out, colleagues of his, come out and say that he needed to step down. Of the six, one of those is the third ranking Democrat in leadership.
As Dana's talking about right now, Chuck Schumer trying to get him to get out. At this point it's just a matter of time for him to get out of the race.
But really they will have -- the ramifications of this really go deeper, though, because the question is who's next, right? Who's next? And also with the Roy Moore election down in Alabama, Republicans don't really have that as a tool now that Al Franken's still in the Senate, assuming he gets out tomorrow. So things are -- although he says now he's staying in, things are going to only get worse, I think.
BLITZER: Contrast all the Democratic reaction that we've now seen involving John Conyers in the House and Al Franken now in the Senate to what we're seeing with Republicans.
BLITZER: Many of them jumping on board with Roy Moore in Alabama.
BASH: Well, let's be clear. It was a very long time coming for Democrats. It's not like they jumped on this. In fact, it was the pressure, because there was so much silence using in the Senate, for example, the Ethics Committee, many Democrats I talked to, as a copout for not, you know, maintaining what they thought was important, which is the moral high ground, whereas at the beginning of the Roy Moore controversy, the Republican leader in the Senate came out and said, "I believe the women." And now, because he didn't drop out in Alabama, the roles are reversed.
And I think you're right. I think that the Republicans are going to have a world of hurt and issues, delicate issues to deal with, if and when Roy Moore is elected.
BLITZER: Because we don't know what his announcement tomorrow is going to be. But you don't think there's any way he's going to come out and say, "I'm not -- I'm not quitting?" PRESTON: He's going to come back with no allies. To the point where,
let's assume he says he's going to stay in. He could come back to the United States Senate, and the Democratic leader could strip him of all of his committee assignments. I mean, at that point, I mean, he's -- he is useless at that point.
There is just no way. He's got to, in his own way, get out gracefully. I assume he does that in Minnesota tomorrow. Doesn't that --
WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Because he said he -- you know, Franken has said -- Susan, I want you to weigh in as well -- that he welcomes the Senate Ethics Committee investigation.
SUSAN HENNESSEY, FORMER ATTORNEY FOR THE OFFICE OF GENERAL COUNSEL, NATIONAL SECURITY AGENCY: Right. So I think that Dana's right there, right? This was sort of viewed as a little bit of a copout, a stall technique, at this point because there are so many overwhelming, you know, allegations at this point. It really is difficult to imagine Franken doing anything else.
Also, you know, Al Franken appears to possess something that both Roy Moore and President Donald Trump don't, which is a sense of shame and self-restraint. And so sort of the notion that his instinct is going to want, you know, to barrel through it considering the allegations that are stacking up, it just seems really unlikely.
BLITZER: Right. Everybody stand by. There is more breaking news we're following, including details of a new U.S. weapon intended to counter Kim Jong-un's increasingly dangerous arsenal of missiles.
[17:50:40] BLITZER: We're following breaking news as dangerous wildfires burn in the neighborhoods around Los Angeles.
Mayor Eric Garcetti told us here in THE SITUATION ROOM, just a little while ago, the fires have forced 150,000 people in Los Angeles to evacuate. Winds are expected to pick up this -- later this afternoon as it goes on, risking spreading the fires even more.
Another breaking story we're following, new developments involving North Korea. Before today's cabinet meeting, President Trump repeated his reassurance that North Korea, in the President's words, will be handled properly.
He didn't get into any specifics, but CNN's Brian Todd has been working his sources about one possible defense against Kim Jong-un's missiles.
Brian, I understand it involves microwaves.
BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It does, Wolf, and it has the capability to potentially take out North Korean missiles before they launch. We've been speaking with Air Force officials and former Air Force
intelligence officers who know about this new weapon. They say it has the potential to change the dynamic of this standoff with Kim's regime.
TODD (voice-over): CNN has learned tonight of a new American weapon which 2could counter Kim Jong-un's menacing and accelerating missile program.
A U.S. Air Force official tells us it's called CHAMP, a high-powered microwave system that can be delivered on an air-launched cruise missile deployed from an American bomber.
Experts say it can jam missiles before they launch or while they're in flight. And in the standoff with North Korea, it's a game changer.
COL. CEDRIC LEIGHTON (RET.), CNN MILITARY ANALYST: It would be very useful in the Korean theater because it wouldn't require the presence of significant numbers of ground forces. It wouldn't require special operations forces. And it wouldn't require kinetic bombing attacks.
So in essence, what could happen is an attack can occur, and not a single person on the enemy's side would lose a life.
TODD (voice-over): This declassified animation from the U.S. military shows how the CHAMP system would work. A bomber deploys a cruise missile. It would fly into enemy airspace at low altitude and send out strong pulses of electromagnetic energy.
Officials say the enemy's electronic command and control systems would be jammed. Then, analysts say, the missile it's deployed on could be splashed down at sea.
In one test of the CHAMP season, this was the result. A bank of computers being disabled simultaneously.
LEIGHTON: This is kind of like putting a piece of metal into either a microwave or some other high-frequency area, where you're blasting it with a lot of radiation and you watch what happens to it. It's like, in essence, magnesium being set on fire.
TODD (voice-over): Officials caution, CHAMP is still in the research phase and not yet operational. While it could be effective in preempting North Korean missile launches, skeptics say it has potentially dangerous drawbacks.
DR. JEFFREY LEWIS, DIRECTOR OF THE EAST ASIA NONPROLIFERATION PROGRAM, MIDDLEBURY INSTITUTE OF INTERNATIONAL STUDIES AT MONTEREY: The North Koreans would see many of these missiles flying in. They would try to shoot them down. They're not actually going to know that they're armed with high-powered microwaves instead of, say, conventional explosives or even nuclear weapons.
(END VIDEOTAPE) TODD: Another potential drawback, experts say, is that the North Koreans could possibly detect the launch of a CHAMP missile beforehand and could launch their own electronic countermeasures to jam that system.
One expert points out the Iranians once crashed an American drone by spoofing the drone's GPS system. Wolf, that could happen with this weapon, as well.
BLITZER: Interesting. Brian, how long before the system could be operational?
TODD: Well, the Air Force, Wolf, is not giving us that information. But one former Air Force intelligence officer who knows about this weapon says if there's a crisis, this system could be pushed into operation in a matter of days.
A couple of other benefits, according to one intelligence officer we spoke with, these microwave weapons could be deployed in any kind of weather. And these pulses travel at the speed of light. The results would be instantaneous.
BLITZER: It could be very, very powerful indeed. Brian, thanks very much for that report.
There's breaking news we're following. California's wildfire emergency spreads to Los Angeles. Crews are now battling four major blazes across the region, and powerful winds are threatening to fan the flames in the coming hours. We'll be right back.
[17:54:37] (COMMERCIAL BREAK)
BLITZER: Happening now, breaking news. Thousands flee flames. A ferocious wildfire rips into the heart of Los Angeles, threatening lives, homes, and landmarks.
This hour, we're tracking multiple blazes across the region with an area about the size of the city of Atlanta now scorched.
Diplomatic gamble. President Trump, rejecting warnings of U.S. allies, formally recognizing Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. Will he make good on a campaign promise that could potentially trigger violence in the hours ahead?