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THE SITUATION ROOM
Interview With U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley; Trump Recognizes Jerusalem as Israeli Capital; California on Fire; Democrats Call on Al Franken to Resign; What Trump Jr. Refused to Say. Aired 6-7p ET
Aired December 6, 2017 - 18:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Flynn's Russia text. A whistle-blower claims that the president's former national security adviser was talking about ripping up sanctions in Moscow as the Trump administration was taking power. What does it mean for the Russia investigation?
And Franken anger. A new outpouring tonight of Senate Democrats pressuring their embattled colleague to step down over allegations of sexual misconduct. Is Al Franken ready to resign tomorrow?
We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world. I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.
BLITZER: Breaking this hour: flames and fear in America's second largest city as a wildfire emergency spreads across Southern California, tearing through parts of Los Angeles.
A new blaze sweeping down foothills, shutting down one of the nation's busiest freeways, and threatening the famous Getty Museum. Residents of the posh Bel Air area now among tens of thousands ordered to evacuate as multiple blazes race across the region.
Tonight, also, fresh warnings of violence in the Middle East now that President Trump has officially reversed decades of U.S. policy by recognizing Jerusalem as Israel's capital. He's also ordering a plan to move the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem from Tel Aviv. Mr. Trump says he's still committed to Mideast peace talks, but Palestinian officials say his administration should no longer be involved.
Also breaking, we're learning that, even as the Trump administration was taking power, Michael Flynn allegedly suggested to a former business colleague that sanctions on Russia would soon be -- quote -- "ripped up."
According to a whistle-blower's account, Flynn had a personal motivation, texting that same colleague that a plan to join Russia in building nuclear reactors in the Middle East was "good to go" -- his words. And Senator Al Franken facing a new tidal wave of calls for his
resignation. He says he will make an announcement tomorrow. A majority of Democratic senators now demanding he step aside after six women accused him of inappropriate sexual conduct.
This hour, our guests include the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, Nikki Haley, and foreign affairs columnist and author Tom Friedman. And our correspondents and specialists are also standing by.
We will have a full report on the president's Jerusalem announcement in just a few moments.
But, first, let's go to CNN's Sara Sidner. She's in Los Angeles with more on this wildfire disaster that's unfolding.
Sara, what is the latest?
SARA SIDNER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Earlier, we showed you a vineyard. It turns out that is the vineyard of Rupert Murdoch. There was a structure burning there.
Now we're a few miles away on another road and you can see that there are houses that have been destroyed. This was a two-story beautiful home. It is now barely a one-story home. And still there are flames inside. This is the back part of the house. And you're looking there at the garage burning. It's not the only one on this street here in Bel Air.
And these are very fancy homes in a very fancy, upscale part of California. This is another home just next door. Firefighters worked really hard. We watched for hours as they tried to save this home. They just couldn't do it, the flames too strong. This is just two of dozens of homes across California, Southern California, that have been destroyed.
I want to give you some sense, because there's a lot of worry, too, about some of the other important buildings, like the Getty here. And I think you may be able to see this now, but the smoke is incredible, causing all kinds of breathing problems for people, especially who have respiratory problems.
Just look just over here. Let's see if we can give Wolf a shot there of, yes, the Getty Center is just on the top of that hill. And you see it's surrounded by smoke, but it is not in danger right now of fire. But you are seeing huge plumes of smoke across this area here in Bel Air. This is just one of four wildfires that are raging. There is no containment of this fire.
It has at least tripled or quadrupled in size since it began -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Awful situation, indeed. Sara, we're going to get back to you. Thanks very much.
Let's get another vantage point of these wildfires.
CNN's Paul Vercammen is also in the disaster area.
What are you seeing, Paul?
PAUL VERCAMMEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, I'm here in Ventura County, right next to the Pacific Ocean.
This is the fire that has burned the most acres, 65,000, and 150 structures so far. And if you look into these hillsides, this is what they are reckoning with. They fear that the Santa Ana winds may blow from onshore toward the ocean and that these spot fires will crop up.
We are right near the 101 Freeway, that important artery that goes through Ventura from Los Angeles on to Santa Barbara and points beyond. You may to yourself right now, we don't see any firefighters right here.
That's because they don't see any sense in having them chase fire up these canyons. They're hoping that this part of this blaze will just burn itself out, as it gets close to the freeway. They will respond if they think it has any chance of causing a major headache over here to the cars. The railroad is also over here.
And then out of sight, Wolf, you have these million -- multimillion- dollar homes. These are beachfront homes. So often, you will hear the homeowners here talk about their worries. It could be high tide and high surf and perhaps water cascading through a front window. Now, tonight, they're all watching these hillsides and hoping that they don't send up embers that could possibly land on their roof -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Yes, Eric Garcetti, the L.A. mayor, told me last hour, 150,000 folks in Los Angeles already have been evacuated. Paul Vercammen, thank you very much. We will get back to you.
BLITZER: There's another breaking story we're following right now, new information emerging in the Russia investigation, including two key figures, Michael Flynn and Donald Trump Jr.
Let's bring in our chief national security correspondent, Jim Sciutto, who's working the story for us.
First, let's talk about Michael Flynn, and a stunning account of what he was texting about on Inauguration Day.
JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: That's right.
And the source of this, a whistle-blower who's spoken to the ranking Democrat on the House Oversight Committee, Elijah Cummings. This whistle-blower saying that, on the Inauguration Day, that Michael Flynn was texting with a business colleague, saying that a deal to join Russia in building nuclear reactors in the Middle East was -- quote -- "good to go." This whistle-blower also saying that, in another conversation, Michael Flynn sending the message that Russian sanctions -- or U.S. sanctions, rather, on Russia, were going to be ripped up as one of the Trump administration's first priorities.
Elijah Cummings going on in his letter he wrote to the Republican chairman of the Oversight Committee that Flynn attempted to -- quote -- "manipulate the course of international nuclear policy for the financial gain of his business partners."
Of course, this is also relevant, because we have been learning in recent days, including, Wolf, as you know, as part of his plea agreement, that Michael Flynn has said that he spoke to the Russian ambassador on the very same day that the Obama administration imposed sanctions on Russia for election interference, and that he kept several members, senior members of the Trump transition team aware of those conversations.
Of course, the question is, was Michael Flynn sending a message to Russia during those conversations that those sanctions might be relaxed by the Trump administration? Of course, a couple weeks later, at the inauguration, we have him here in his text messages celebrating the end of those sanctions.
BLITZER: Yes, significant developments on that front.
Donald Trump Jr., meanwhile, he was up on Capitol Hill for hours, testifying or speaking, answering questions from House investigators about some of the meetings that he had. You're getting new information.
SCIUTTO: I am.
Well, in fact, I spoke to a source who was inside the room there who said that the "I don't recall" phrase was repeated a number of times by Don Jr. But one thing that Don Jr. said he did recall with clarity was that he did not speak with his father about that now-infamous meeting in Trump Tower in June of 2016 with a Russian lawyer who was peddling damaging information on Hillary Clinton.
He says he did not communicate directly with his father regarding that meeting, but, rather, with Hope Hicks, director of communications during the campaign, now director of communications during the White House.
He did say -- he did say to those inside that room that his father was debating on Air Force One -- and, of course, we have talked about this conversation before, Wolf -- when the White House was presented with information about this Trump Tower meeting, that a statement was put together in response to that, and that Donald Trump Sr., the president to be, was on board Air Force One deciding -- or the president at the time, of course, on board Air Force One helping decide how they were going to respond to this.
[18:10:15] Of course, the first statement in response to the revelation of this Trump Tower meeting was one that we've since learned to be very much misleading, in fact, false, to say that this meeting was just about adoptions with Russia, when, in fact, we have learned that there were many other things discussed in that meeting, including damaging information on Hillary Clinton.
So, Don Jr. says he never spoke with his father about that meeting, only with Hope Hicks. He did say that his father was involved in the debate about how much to respond, how long the statement should be. But on that issue, when he was asked further questions, he said he could not recall key details about how that response...
BLITZER: And it's interesting. That meeting has now ended, the meeting that Donald Trump Jr. has had with members of the House Intelligence Committee. That meeting is over now.
And just moments ago, Adam Schiff, the top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, emerged and he said this about some deep concerns that he still has.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. ADAM SCHIFF (D), CALIFORNIA: He answered the overwhelming majority of our questions. There was one significant area, though, where he declined to answer.
He acknowledged having discussed the June 9 meeting and the e-mails that went into establishing that meeting after those e-mails became public. And 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. That is where representatives of the Russian government who were portrayed as providing dirt on Hillary Clinton as part of the Russian government effort to help Donald Trump to the campaign, and, therefore, is a central issue that we need to fully investigate.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: He's clearly upset about that. Why is this significant?
SCIUTTO: Well, listen, Donald Trump Jr. is making and -- I'm not a lawyer, but Adam Schiff is a lawyer, and others have commented on this, that he cannot comment at all on these conversations that he had because his lawyer was present there.
And, therefore, he's calling the conversations that he had with his father or others protected by attorney-client privilege because his lawyer was present. And that -- listen to the lawyers on that one, but it seems like something of a stretch. But the big picture here is, you just have to remember how many times
the Trump story has changed on this meeting at Trump Tower. First of all, of course, there was a denial that there were any meetings with Russians discussing this kind of thing. Now we know that there is e- mail traffic showing that the Russians offered to bring damaging information on Hillary Clinton, and that that offer was welcomed by Donald Trump Jr.
There's an e-mail that shows that. When the first -- when the meeting was first exposed, the first explanation said, well, we weren't talking about that. We were just talking about adoptions.
Now, as he's questioned under oath here, he's telling a different story, but still maintaining that he never spoke to his father directly about it. There were also, I'm told, a lot of "I don't recall"s in answering the questions specific to that meeting.
So we will see where Robert Mueller and where this investigation goes from here.
BLITZER: Questioning from the House Intelligence Committee. All right, Jim Sciutto, thanks very much.
Let's talk more about all of this Russia investigation, developing items, with CNN senior legal analyst, the former U.S. attorney Preet Bharara.
Preet, thanks so much for joining us.
PREET BHARARA, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: Sure.
BLITZER: So let me get your reaction from what we heard from Congressman Adam Schiff, the top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee.
Sounded pretty upset that Donald Trump Jr. wouldn't answer some sensitive specific questions.
BHARARA: Look, when people are involved in investigations, they don't like to answer questions that might incriminate them or might make them look bad.
So I think that Adam Schiff is right on point when he says that he's unhappy that some of these questions weren't answered. And the question about whether or not Donald Trump Jr. went beyond the scope of what people understand to be attorney-client privilege, I think, is a good question.
BLITZER: Donald Trump Jr. did answer some questions from the committee today, but some of the sensitive ones, as we pointed out, he didn't want to answer.
How do you respond to that first report of that June 2016 meeting over at Trump Tower, that, following it, he said he spoke to Hope Hicks, the communications director, but not directly with his father? What do you make of that? BHARARA: Well, you know, I think it makes sense that somebody who is
in a little bit of jeopardy, potentially, doesn't want to implicate his father, and the way he's deciding to sort of shield his father is to say that he didn't talk directly with his dad while he was on Air Force One and rather spoke to a press person, Hope Hicks.
To my mind, it doesn't make a whole lot of difference whether he spoke directly to the president or spoke to Hope Hicks, who was presumably on the president with the president in close proximity. They were having conversations as a group.
Messages were being sent back and forth between the president, I would expect, and the president. And just because there was an intermediary who was relaying the messages or talking about what the thinking was and the deliberations were, I don't think that makes a whole lot of difference to the ultimate conclusions in the case.
BLITZER: As you know, Donald Trump Jr., he denied talking to his father about that, directly talking with his father about that Trump Tower meeting in New York, but he did say he couldn't recall some key details about how the White House responded to those initial press reports.
What other questions does Donald Trump Jr. need to answer?
BHARARA: I think he needs to answer every question about what he was doing at the meeting, what was discussed at the meeting, who he spoke with, and why, for example, he didn't give the full, straight story out of the box.
And I think Bob Mueller has probably already asked a lot of those questions. And we will see the answers when they come forward.
BLITZER: Now, the new developments we're getting on Michael Flynn, do you think the special counsel, Robert Mueller, knew about the texts from Michael Flynn on Inauguration Day?
You heard our reporting that he was supposedly texting with a former business colleague about sanctions being quickly removed from Russia and that potentially there was a lot of money to be made.
BHARARA: I think we should assume throughout this investigation and going forward that any information that comes to light is something that Robert Mueller and his team already knew.
I think they're being very thorough. They have a lot of people on the job. The expense report just came out showing that they're spending a lot of time and energy and resources on the case, which I think is appropriate. So I think we should assume that he knew those details.
I think part of the significance of it is now we have some basis to think -- and, again, this all needs to be vetted. We don't know who the whistle-blower is. We don't know how accurate the information is, but in connection with the story of whether or not Michael Flynn was having a conversation with the Russians prior to the inauguration, saying, please, you know, hold back on sanctions, the question that has been in everyone's mind, I think, has been, you know, what, if anything, was promised to the Russians?
And this is the first bit of information that we see that there may have been something -- it's not proven yet, but there may have been something that was offered to the Russians in exchange. And that's, I think, very significant.
BLITZER: How concerned do you believe Robert Mueller is about some of the details in the plea deals and the charges tipping off other targets of his investigation?
BHARARA: All the evidence suggests that Robert Mueller and the team are very concerned about information from within their investigation and their proceedings getting out.
And I think they have taken a lot of care. I think we didn't know about the search on Paul Manafort's home, for example, for a long time. And that's, I think, because the team is being very careful about that.
That said, you know, in the world that we live in, they can't, you know, be hiding under the covers, worried about information getting out. They have to go about their business. They try to do it in as careful and secretive a way as possible.
You know, one of the questions you asked a second ago, I think could be answered by the fact that Elijah Cummings, the congressman, has made it clear publicly that he has been in conversation with Bob Mueller's team, and didn't release the information about this whistle- blower until the Mueller team, I think, said it was OK to do so.
So, the Mueller team's is obviously being very careful about what information gets out, going so far as to consult with congressmen and tell them whether they should or should not release information. And for the most part, I think members of Congress are going along with that.
BLITZER: Preet, you recently said that John Dowd, the president's personal lawyer, has said, in your words, and I'm quoting you now, "said a lot of incorrect, mistaken and on occasion ludicrous things."
How do you explain the spin from President Trump's legal team in the past week or so on some of these very sensitive issues?
BHARARA: Well, I made that comment about John Dowd. We go way back on matters unrelated to the current issues we're talking about on the show during my time as U.S. attorney.
Look, I think it's unusual to have a team of lawyers in such a high- stakes situation -- I'm not casting aspersions on any lawyers in particular -- who one day say one thing, and the next day, some other lawyer on the team says something else.
I believe, over the weekend, John Dowd went out on television, publicly -- and defense lawyers don't have to speak. They don't have to say anything at all. But if you choose to speak, it's usually, you know, with the best interests of the client in mind, and having some game plan to be on the same page as everyone else.
And I think John Dowd came out and said, as a legal matter, there's no way that President Trump can be guilty of obstruction, because he's the president of the United States.
And I think the next day, Ty Cobb, another one of the president's lawyers, completely disputed that and said, you know, the Dershowitz and Dowd version of what the legal defense is going to be is actually false.
And so, you know, it makes people wonder a little bit, what is the defense? What's real? What's not? How much are they communicating with each other and with the president?
BLITZER: Yesterday, when Senator Blumenthal was here with me in THE SITUATION ROOM, he said, follow the money. And he actually put out a statement on Deutsche Bank.
You were investigating Deutsche Bank for possible ties to Russian money laundering when you were fired by President Trump. Is that relevant, do you believe, to the investigations going on right now?
BHARARA: I'm not going to comment on anything that my office may or may not have been working on. And that includes Deutsche Bank or any other case, Wolf, actually. Sorry.
BLITZER: All right. So we will move on to another subject right now.
Where do you see all of this going in the immediate days ahead?
BHARARA: You know, I think that the investigation is going forward. All the people on the team in Bob Mueller's office are working day after day after day.
The question really is, what are we going to find out about it? And some things we find out about because there's whistle-blower who decides to go to Congress or members of Congress like Adam Schiff and others make comments about things that are happening that they learn about.
So I don't know if we're going to learn of anything in the immediate future. I think on each occasion where something has happened, it's come as a little bit of a surprise. Not a surprise that there was in fact a charge against Paul Manafort or there was in fact a charge against Michael Flynn, but the timing of it is going to be dictated, I think, by the Mueller team and the Mueller team only.
BLITZER: Preet Bharara, thanks, as usual, for joining us.
BHARARA: Thank you.
BLITZER: Just ahead, the fallout and the fears of violence after President Trump recognized Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.
BLITZER: We're following multiple breaking stories this hour, including President Trump's risky move to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.
The diplomatic backlash is already beginning tonight, and there are also fears that violence could follow.
Let's go to our senior White House correspondent, Jim Acosta.
Jim, a lot of negative reaction to the president's decision.
JIM ACOSTA, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Plenty of it, Wolf. President Trump is coming under heavy criticism tonight from around the world, after his decision to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.
While Israeli leaders are praising the decision, Palestinian officials 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.
And get this, Wolf. Even one senior White House official acknowledged tonight there will be a short-term pain in the near future.
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.
DONALD TRUMP, 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, PLO: 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 President Trump to stay the course on Jerusalem.
POPE FRANCIS, LEADER OF CATHOLIC CHURCH (through translator): I can't 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 deal, seemed to indicate that 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 Israeli and the Palestinians.
ACOSTA: Still, it's clear Mr. Trump's gamble on Jerusalem 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, 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? You -- OK, mitt. Mitt, Mitt, here's how it is, brother. The college deferments, you know, that's -- we can debate that. But you hid behind your religion.
You went to France to be a missionary while guys were dying in rice paddies in Vietnam.
(END VIDEOTAPE) ACOSTA: Now, as for that attack on Romney on Vietnam, top Republicans from Utah Orrin Hatch and Mike Lee both defended the former Massachusetts governor and presidential candidate.
And it should be noted that the president received draft deferments during the Vietnam War for bone spurs and he never served in combat. Steve Bannon did not attack Mr. Trump for that.
We should point out, Wolf, White House counselor Kellyanne Conway made a point of telling CNN earlier today that the president spoke with Romney over the phone last night and they had a, quote, "wonderful conversation" -- Wolf.
BLITZER: [17:30:33] Jim, thank you. Jim Acosta over at the White House.
Lots to discuss with Thomas Friedman, the veteran columnist, author and foreign affairs columnist for "The New York Times" and the author of the best-selling book "Thank You for Being Late," now out in paperback.
Thanks, Tom, very much for joining us. In your new column, just pointed at "The New York Times," you write this: "In nearly 30 years of covering United States foreign policy, I've never seen a president give up so much to so many for so little." Explain what you mean.
THOMAS FRIEDMAN, COLUMNIST, "THE NEW YORK TIMES": Well, it's very simple, Wolf. The question of the U.S. embassy's location in Israel, whether we should move it to Tel Aviv, to Jerusalem, has been the most sensitive real-estate issue, basically, in American foreign policy for, lo, almost 70 years.
Now, for us to give that away, to basically move the embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem and recognize that as Israel's capital, personally, I'm not against that in the right context. I'm not even against it now, Wolf, if we got something in return for it.
What could we have gotten in return? Bibi Netanyahu wanted this desperately. He's in trouble politically at home. Trump could have come to him and said, "Bibi, you want the embassy moved, that's really important for you. Here's what I want. I want you to announce a ban on any more settlements beyond the settlement blocks in the West Bank for two reasons, one that will preserve the possibility of a two-state solution at maximum. And at a minimum, it will preserve the possibility of separation between Israelis and Palestinians so we won't have Israeli settlers living in densely populated Arab areas."
If Trump had done that, had he done a deal -- the art of the deal, not the art of the giveaway -- here's what -- we would be in so much better situation.
By the way, Palestinians then would have said, "That's a fair trade- off." Arabs would have said, "That's a fair trade-off." And Bibi even could have gone to his cabinet and said, "Look, I had to do this, but look what I got in return." Instead, Trump gave away one of the crown jewels of American foreign
policy for free. Probably for a sugar high, to get this guy in Alabama elected. And to pay off, you know, campaign donors and promises. That is pathetic, Wolf.
BLITZER: So you think he did it for political reasons?
FRIEDMAN: Oh, my gosh, yes!
BLITZER: This could have been a bargaining chip?
FRIEDMAN: He could have used this as a strategic bargaining chip. This is a guy who came into office saying, "Everybody made bad deals." This -- Wolf, this isn't a bad deal, this was no deal! He just gave this property away. When he could have traded it for something that would have advanced the peace process and advanced the U.S. national interests, not the interests of his base, not the interests of his donors, not the interests of a senator in an evangelical state who wants to get elected. I'm talking about the U.S. national interest was completely abandoned here.
BLITZER: So does it end the possibility of what we call a two-state solution, Israel and a new state of Palestine next door?
FRIEDMAN: I would never say it ends it. Who knows, you know, what will come. Trump won't be president forever and, ultimately, it matters what Israelis and Palestinians decide.
But we had a grand opportunity to actually advance the peace process, to do something that would have been good for Israel, good for our Arab allies, and most of all, good for the American national interests. And Donald Trump gave it away for free.
BLITZER: Does it encourage the Israeli government to go ahead and build more settlements in controversial areas, including in East Jerusalem?
FRIEDMAN: They're going to build in East Jerusalem. That's not going to stop.
To me, Wolf, the issue is this. And you and I have covered this for so long. The chances of a two-state solution are shrinking all the time. We've already -- the Palestinians already understand that about 5 percent of the West Bank is already going to go to Israel. That's where the vast majority of settlements are.
What's at issue is, Israel keeps going beyond that 5 percent and settling in more and more densely-populated Palestinian areas. Once that gets far enough, the possibility of a two-state solution will be impossible.
What's even worse, Wolf, if you care about Israel and the future of the Jewish state, any separation between Israelis and Palestinians will be possible.
The president had a chance to use this issue of Jerusalem to leverage something really important. By the way, had he done it, Wolf, he could say, "Barack Obama tried to do that for eight years. He didn't get it, and I got it. Look, I satisfied the promise to move the embassy to Jerusalem, and I got a promise from Israelis to stop settling beyond the blocks." That would have been a political achievement, and it would have been a great achievement for the American national interests.
BLITZER: We were told that he was advised against this move by his top foreign policy and national security advisers, including the secretary of state, Tillerson, the secretary of defense, Mattis, the CIA director, Mike Pompeo, but he still went ahead and did this.
[18:35:06] Why do you think he did this? I mean, if your national security advisers are telling you, "You know what? Do this down the road. I know you made a campaign commitment to do this. Don't do it now. It's only going to cause aggravation and potentially endanger Americans at various embassies."
FRIEDMAN: I can't explain it other than raw, naked politics or sheer, abject ignorance.
BLITZER: That's it? Tom Friedman from "The New York Times," thanks very much for joining us.
There's more breaking news. We're about to talk about President Trump's very controversial decision to move the U.S. embassy in Israel to Jerusalem. The U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, Nikki Haley, she's standing by live. We'll discuss with her.
And will Senator Al Franken bow to pressure from his fellow Democratic lawmakers and resign? Tonight, a majority of them say he needs to go.
[18:40:38] BLITZER: Breaking tonight, some members of the United Nations Security Council are now calling for an urgent meeting to address President Trump's decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel's capital.
Joining us now, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, Nikki Haley. Ambassador, thanks for joining us.
NIKKI HALEY, U.S. AMBASSADOR TO U.N.: Thank you for having me, Wolf.
So why make this announcement today?
HALEY: Well, this has been 22 years in the making. If you go back and see that Congress actually passed the Jerusalem Embassy Act back in 1995. Both parties, both sides of the aisle, have come together. This is something that unites our country. And the fact that Jerusalem is the capital of Israel, no one doubts that. Their parliament's there. Their supreme court's there. Their prime minister is there. And the United States has always put embassies in the capital. And so if you look at that, this is just common sense. This is just reality. What has happened in the past is, every time presidents wanted to do
this move, because every single leading presidential candidate has always said they're for moving the embassy, but every time that was presented to them, you had a lot of naysayers saying why it shouldn't happen. And they all said that it was going to hurt the peace process.
Well, in 22 years, we haven't seen a peace process. Maybe if we do something different, we will now start to see something move forward. And so I think that's what the president did, is he showed courage...
BLITZER: All right.
HALEY: ... but more than that, he showed a commitment towards a peace process to go forward.
BLITZER: Does the Trump administration now consider, Ambassador, East Jerusalem as part of Israel?
HALEY: If you notice, we didn't say anything about any part of Jerusalem. That's for the two sides to decide. That's not for the United States to decide. All we said was Jerusalem, as a whole.
In the peace process, however they decide to break it up or not break it up or decide east and west, that's between the two parties. And we're going to let them do that, and we're going to support them in that process.
BLITZER: Well, specifically, does the Trump administration now consider the old city of Jerusalem part of Israel?
HALEY: You know what they've said is Jerusalem is the capital. We are not going to weigh in anymore on that out of our commitment for the peace process. We don't want to pick a side on this.
What we want to say is, it is time, for the sake of Israeli children and Palestinian children, it is time for those two sides to come together. It's time for them to negotiate. And the United States is pushing that process. They get to decide the details. It's not for us to decide.
BLITZER: Well, if the U.S. moves the embassy to Jerusalem, I assume it will be West Jerusalem, does the U.S. government now differentiate between West and East Jerusalem?
HALEY: You know, you're making an assumption on where it's going to go, 2and we just started that relocation process, so that's not something that we need to talk about.
What we are talking about is the fact that this is a great way of moving things forward. For 22 years, we've seen everything be stale. The president finally said, "Let's get it done." And it's one more promise to the American public that he said he was going to do.
Six months ago, the Senate overwhelmingly on both sides said they wanted him to do it, and he's following through on the will of the American people.
And I think that everyone will respect that. They understand that the United States is going to put their embassy in a capital. Why should Israel be any different than any other country in the world? And so that's what we did today.
This is just a reality check. This is nothing that anybody didn't already know.
BLITZER: But it is significant, Ambassador, that you're not willing to say, the old city of Jerusalem or East Jerusalem is part of Israel. You say, that's still open to negotiation. Is that what I'm hearing?
HALEY: Wolf, why would the United States say that? When we're pushing a peace process, that's really for the Palestinians and the Israelis to decide. If we decided that, we would be picking a side.
There has been a lot of time and effort that's been put in by the administration to talk to both sides to bring them to the table. The last thing we're going to do is pick what we think should happen, because at the end of the day, Palestinians and Israelis need to live together and live in a situation that they settle together.
This is not something the United States wants to do. We are fulfilling to the American public what we said we would do. And we're moving something forward that hasn't been done in 22 years. And this is about results, and this is about courage.
And I'll remind you that, when President Reagan made that famous speech that said, "Mr. Gorbachev, bring down this wall," all of the people around him told him it was a bad idea. Sometimes you have to take risks. Courage leads to leadership.
BLITZER: All right.
HALEY: Leadership leads to peace. And we have to go with the truth on this.
BLITZER: You say, you say, Ambassador, you want the peace process to move forward.
[18:45:02] Now, the Palestinian chief negotiator, Saeb Erakat, says the U.S. can no longer pay any process in the peace process. And I'm quoting him now, he said, Mr. Trump just destroyed any policy of a two-state solution.
NIKKI HALEY, U.S. AMBASSADOR TO THE UNITED NATIONS: Anytime we make a decision, we get positive and negative reaction. That's going to happen. At the end of the day, the Palestinians, they need to make sure that we stop violence. We stop any sort of issues on both sides, Israelis and Palestinians.
And think about Palestinian children who want to know where their home is. Think about Israeli children who want to know where their home is. The peace process is not going to stop its negotiations. They are too far down the road to just break the process there.
Palestinians want peace, just as much as Israelis want peace. They are going to do this. Because tensions run high, that was expected, but it will pass. And when it passes, I hope that we can find peace and stability in that region of the world.
BLITZER: Does the announcement today by the president give tacit permission to the Israeli government to continue building in East Jerusalem? Some call it settlements in East Jerusalem. Where do you stand on that?
HALEY: The U.S. was not talking about in any way, settlements or anything else. This is just talking about the embassy being in the capital of Israel. That's all that this was talking about.
We have long said that settlements are not a good idea. The Israelis are very -- they're very familiar with us telling them that we don't think it's a good idea, especially when we're moving through this peace process. We're going to continue to say that.
BLITZER: The president also signed that waiver today, that keeps the U.S. embassy in Tel Aviv, every six months, every president going back to 1995, they've signed that waiver, not to move the embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, citing national security concerns. When the next deadline comes up in six months, will the president sign it again?
HALEY: If the embassy is built, the president won't need to sign it. If the embassy is not built, he will need to sign the waiver. The waiver says that when you declare that site, it has to be up and running at that time. So, we have to -- obviously, a lot has to go into the plans, the architecture, the building, the construction side of it.
When that happens, the president will gladly not sign the waiver anymore.
BLITZER: The Secretary of State, Rex Tillerson, who we're told opposed this decision, Secretary Mattis at the Defense Department, apparently opposed it as well, Mike Pompeo at the CIA. That's what we're hearing. He didn't play much of a role in this critically important -- very important historic announcement today. Why?
HALEY: Who didn't play a role?
BLITZER: Rex Tillerson.
HALEY: Well, he's in Europe, from what I understand. So, that would be the case.
But look, when the National Security Council comes together, everyone puts their opinion on the table. Everyone puts their views, the president's great at listening to everyone. And at the end of the day, he makes a decision.
All of those advisers told President Reagan the same thing, that he shouldn't do it. At the end of the day, President Reagan made a decision. Today, President Trump made a decision.
Now we need to move forward on that decision and hope that we can finally bring peace to that region of the world.
BLITZER: But in rejecting the recommendation, the advice of the secretary of state, you have heard all of those reports, ambassador, is this another sign that he may be on his way out?
HALEY: No, I think what you're looking at is that this is a president that doesn't want status quo. He looks at history, and if nothing has changed, he's not going to repeat the same decisions that other presidents have made when you don't get a good solution out of it.
So, I think this is about a president who had the courage to say, you know what, we're going to try something different. He had the courage to say, I'm going to listen to the will of the American people. And he's moving the ball on that.
And we're seeing the Palestinians and the Israelis come together to finally talk about a peace process. Let's hope that that happens.
BLITZER: Let me ask you one final question, because I know you've got to run. The 1995 Jerusalem Embassy Act passed the Senate 93-5. It passed the House of Representatives, 374-37, overwhelmingly, calling on the U.S. to recognize Jerusalem as Israel's capital and move the embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, with that six-month waiver provision included.
The Russia sanctions bill that the president, President Trump signed into law in August passed the Senate, 98-2, passed the House of Representatives, 419-3.
Why haven't those sanctions been implemented?
HALEY: I know that the State Department was moving forward on those sanctions, and from what I've heard, it is supposed to be in the process. So I haven't heard that those sanctions haven't moved forward. I know that there was a delay initially, but as far as I know, those sanctions are going to be in place and they were warranted.
BLITZER: They were passed overwhelmingly. We're told they have not yet been implemented. The delay keeps going on and on.
We know the president strongly opposed that legislation. He reluctantly signed it into law, because he knew we would not be able to override a veto, if he vetoed it, it wouldn't be overridden.
Do you not know, Ambassador, whether or not those sanctions have actually been implemented?
HALEY: You know, when I talked to -- the last I heard from Secretary Tillerson, he said that they have finished what they needed to and they were going to be implemented.
[18:50:04] So, obviously, that's a question for Secretary Tillerson. I can tell you, the president knows those have gone into effect, he
supports it, he signed it. And so, now, we're moving forward. But -- and we all know why those sanctions went into effect. It was clear that Russia needed to feel the impact of those and I think that's going forward.
BLITZER: Do you support implementing those sanctions against Russia because of what it has done?
HALEY: Absolutely. Absolutely.
BLITZER: All right. I'll leave it on that note. Ambassador Nikki Haley, it was kind of you to join us. Thanks very much on this very important day.
HALEY: OK. Thank you, Wolf.
So, just ahead, what did Donald Trump Jr. know when he refused to reveal to House investigators about his meeting over at Trump Towers and his conversations with the president. Does he have any basis to claim attorney-client privilege?
[18:55:46] BLITZER: We're following breaking news in the Russia investigation. Donald Trump Jr.'s closed door testimony before the House Intelligence Committee.
Let's bring in our analysts and our specialists.
And, Jeffrey Toobin, top Democrat on that committee, Adam Schiff, says Donald Trump Jr. claimed attorney-client privilege in not discussing conversation he may have had with his father about that conversational meeting over in Trump Tower in June of 2016.
Does that have any basis?
JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN CHIEF LEGAL ANALYST: None at all. The basic rule is the only covers conversations between a client and an attorney. If any third party is present, there is no privilege attached. So, what Donald Trump Jr. is counting on, a compliant Republican-dominated committee that won't hold him in contempt, but his legal position is just absurd.
BLITZER: Donald Trump Jr., Gloria, says he spoke to Hope Hicks, the communications director at the White House, and not his father about the Trump Tower meeting. But wouldn't his father have heard from Hope Hicks what Donald Trump Jr. told her?
BORGER: Right. This makes Hope Hicks much more central witness here. And she was clearly the conduit between Donald Trump Jr. and the president, particularly upon Air Force One when they were trying to conduct a statement that proved to be untrue.
But you know, the question is if the president were to say, gee, I want to claim executive privilege, since it was through this chain, he would not be able to do that because Don Jr. is not in the White House. And so, you know, I think this makes her more central, more important, and I think the details of these conversations are going to come out either in a grand jury or with Mueller.
BLITZER: Rebecca, go ahead and make your point.
REBECCA BERG, CNN POLITICS REPORTER: I was just going to say the idea that Donald Trump was not engaged in this messaging strategy is just ridiculous on its face because Donald Trump is someone who has a candidate and as president, has been incredibly engaged in crafting his own message, engaged in what comes out of this White House. I mean, just look at his Twitter feed.
He's constantly setting his own message. You can make the argument for former presidents that they wouldn't have been engaged in their communications operation. You can not make that argument possibly with Donald Trump.
BLITZER: There are also these reports, John Kirby, about Michael Flynn, president's former national security adviser, was fired and now is a convicted felon on inauguration day, texting a former business associate at the Russian sanctions are quickly going to be ripped up and has lot of money to be made.
JOHN KIRBY, CNN DIPLOMATIC AND MILITARY ANALYST: Yes, deeply concerning, Wolf. I mean, for one thing, it suggests that he was willing to enrich himself or his friends based on foreign policy decisions that the administration was about to make. Number two, it suggests there were, in fact, conducting foreign policy during the transition. There's no way he would have known sanctions were going to be lifted on inauguration day if they hadn't worked it prior to that, which violates the notion of one president at a time.
TOOBIN: And three, it's yet another sign of how the Trump campaign and administration have tried to ingratiate themselves with Russia and that is the question that at the heart of this investigation. Why? Why does Trump campaign and presidency so in debt to Putin's Russia?
BLITZER: And why is the president all the time so reluctant to say anything negative about?
BORGER: About Russia. And, by the way, why is Donald Trump Jr. citing attorney-client privilege in conversation with the president if it was benign? If it was a completely benign conversation, why couldn't he have just said what he and the president talked about after the Trump Tower e-mails came out? I mean, I think that it raises more questions for Donald Trump Jr. than I think he would want.
BLITZER: You think we're going to hear from Donald Trump Jr. before open committee? This was all behind closed doors.
BERG: Well, Republicans have suggested that they do want these witnesses to testify in an open setting, especially you know, the Senate Intelligence Committee, which has worked in such a bipartisan manner while some of these other committees, they have said that they would like to see these witnesses in open testimony. But we'll see if that happens.
BLITZER: We know the Senate Judiciary Committee, at least Blumenthal and Dianne Feinstein would like him to appear in an open session.
BORGER: They're called Democrats.
BLITZER: That's correct.
All right. Guys, thanks very much. That's it for me. Thanks for watching.
"ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.