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Transition to Power

Aired December 24, 2008 - 18:00   ET


SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN CORRESPONDENT: I'm Suzanne Malveaux, and this is a special report "Transition to Power." This hour Barack Obama's enormous challenge.
How the president-elect is preparing to lead in the worst of times. Plus grading the transition, and do Americans want to keep the Obama honeymoon going and going? And Hillary Clinton-style diplomacy and how she says she is planning to boot the cowboys from the state department.

President-elect Obama is enjoying down time with his family in Hawaii right now. The holidays offering some respite from the harsh realities that he'll face when he takes the oath of office in less than a month from now, but you can bet that the challenges ahead are never far from Obama's thoughts as many Americans experience a lean and difficult holiday season.

We begin in Hawaii with our senior White House correspondent Ed Henry. Ed is on the beach, but hard at work. What is the president up to?

ED HENRY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Suzanne, the president-elect has gone golfing yet again today; really his last chance to recharge the batteries before eventually heading back to Washington where the inbox in that Oval Office is just bursting with challenges.


HENRY: Call it the Hawaiian honeymoon, President-elect Barack Obama riding high with the American people. And it is easy to see why. He scored a historic American victory; moved swiftly to pick a high-powered White House staff that has basically run a mistake-free transfer to power so far. And assembled a relatively centrist cabinet that has won rave reviews from even leading conservatives.

STEPHEN HAYES, SENIOR WRITER, THE WEEKLY STANDARD: He has made some interesting, I think, wise cabinet choices, but the real proof will come when he has to make policy choices. And then I think that we will run into this question of how is he governing and how do people react to that.

HENRY: Indeed, the challenges ahead are enormous with president bush handing off a mountain of problems; starting with a deepening global financial crisis so the transition team is scrambling to craft an even bigger economic recovery package than expected. JOE BIDEN, VICE PRESIDENT-ELECT OF THE UNITED STATES: Over 10 million people are officially unemployed and millions more are unable to find enough work to keep their paychecks from slipping from what they have been. And this deterioration in the nation's unemployment situation has led the president-elect to instruct the economic team, some of which are assembled here today, to raise the goal of the stimulus plan from 2.5 million jobs to 3 million new jobs to be created over the next two years.

HENRY: In our on national security, Obama's team of rivals will be grappling with a long list of international hot spots.

DAN BENJAMIN, BROOKINGS INSTITUTION: The tasks ahead are quite daunting; if you look at Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Middle East peace process, financial crisis. We could continue for quite a while. This not a set of tasks for the, you know, for the faint of heart. So I am pleased to see that the president-elect is assembling a capable and dynamic team.


HENRY: Now three Democratic officials tell CNN that the president-elect is aiming to get his stimulus plan officially up to Congress the first week of January with the goal of getting it signed into law as soon as the inaugural week -- Suzanne.

MALVEAUX: Thanks Ed.

As Obama moves forward with a relatively smooth transition, many observers can't help but wonder when he might stumble.

Our senior political analyst Bill Schneider has some new poll numbers on the transition and what is ahead. And Bill, how is the Obama honeymoon going?

BILL SCHNEIDER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Very well, Suzanne, in fact, better than the country's previous honeymoons.


SCHNEIDER: When it comes to honeymoons with new presidents, Americans have -- shall we say -- been around the block a few times. But this new guy is really sweeping people off their feet; 82 percent of Americans are happy with the way President-elect Obama is handling his transition. Even 61 percent of Republicans like him and they're the in-laws in this marriage. He is not supposed to be good enough for them.

PAT ROBERTSON, THE CHRISTIAN BROADCASTING NETWORK: I am remarkably pleased with Obama. I had grave misgivings about him, but so help me, he has come in forcefully and intelligently.

SCHNEIDER: Previous honeymoons have been good, but not this good. The public is particularly impressed by Obama's cabinet appointments; 80 percent approve of Obama's so-called team of rivals. BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT-ELECT OF THE UNITED STATES: I assembled this team because I am a strong believer in strong personalities and strong opinions.

SCHNEIDER: Obama scoring more than 20 points better on his cabinet picks than President Bush did in 2001. A team of rivals is well and good, but will Obama be a strong leader? He insists he will.

OBAMA: To understand where the vision for change comes from first and foremost, it comes from me.

SCHNEIDER: Do people think that Obama will be tough enough? Apparently they do, nearly half the public expresses a lot of confidence that Obama will provide real leadership. That is more confidence than people felt in President-Elect Bush or Clinton. Obama even scores higher on leadership than President-elect Reagan did when he took office. That is saying something.


SCHNEIDER: It is a bad time. And the country has just gone through a failed marriage with the current president. Obama represents hope, and isn't that what honeymoons are supposed to be about? Suzanne.

MALVEAUX: Absolutely Bill. Thank you Bill.

A late-breaking story on Christmas Eve; President Bush orders one of the pardons he granted this week to be re-examined. Our CNN's Elaine Quijano is at the White House. And Elaine, can you tell us what this is all about?

ELAINE QUIJANO, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, it is a little bit complicated, Suzanne. But basically a senior administration official tonight tells CNN that it was new information that surfaced in news reports that caused President Bush to change his mind on one of the 19 presidential pardons that he granted earlier this week.

Now, back in 2003, a man by the name of Isaac Toussie was convicted of mail fraud and of making false statements to the department of housing and urban development. White House counsel Fred Fielding reviewed the application for the pardon but believed the application did have merit and therefore recommended that President Bush grant the pardon which he did on Tuesday.

But overnight, reports surfaced about the nature of the fraud that Toussie carried out and specifically, a report in the "New York Daily News" laying out Toussie he stands accused of scamming hundreds of poor minority home buyers into purchasing homes that they could not afford. And the report also described political contributions that Toussie's made to Republicans.

Based on the new information, President Bush decided to pull the pardon saying that the U.S. pardon attorney over at the justice department should have an opportunity to review this case before a decision on clemency is made.

Now, Toussie's attorney is Bradford Berenson, a well-connected Washington attorney who also happens to be a former lawyer in the Bush White House. He says that he is looking forward to an expeditious review of the application and is confident that the pardon will be granted.

Here is a little background for you. Normally, Suzanne, these pardon applications goes to the justice department before reaching the White House, and for some reason, this one did not. So this, again, something is very unusual, but a senior official saying that it is these news reports that really caused President Bush to change his mind -- Suzanne.

MALVEAUX: And Elaine, as far as we know it really is just 1 out of those 19 pardons that is being re-examined and no other pardons that we know of that are going through this process?

QUIJANO: Not at this moment. We don't know of any other pardons that are going through the process at this time.

MALVEAUX: Okay. Elaine thank you so much. Have a great holiday.

While many are praising Barack Obama's cabinet choices, some women's groups say his inner circle represents a step backward; the cabinet complains up ahead.

Plus, America's next spy chief faces daunting challenges. Is Obama's likely choice up to the job?

And George W. Bush says it was one of the most weird moments of his presidency. He talks to CNN's Candy Crowley about waiting for the other shoe to drop.


GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: First of all, I didn't have much time to reflect on anything. I was ducking and dodging.



MALVEAUX: Barack Obama's transition is being judged in large part by the biggest decisions that he has had to make today and that is his cabinet choices. And as the scrutiny continues, even some of his strongest supporters are not satisfied.

Here is our national political correspondent Jessica Yellin.


JESSICA YELLIN, CNN NATIONAL POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: What includes five women, four African-Americans and three Latinos, two Asians and a Nobel Prize winner? Barack Obama's cabinet. The president-elect is taking the big tent approach to governing, and he wanted a cabinet that stretches the tent wide.

OBAMA: I think people will feel that we followed through on our commitment to make sure that this is not only an administration that is diverse ethnically, but it is also diverse politically, and it is diverse in terms of people's life experience.

YELLIN: Well, it might be diverse, but not everyone is happy; some women's groups are disappointed. Among Obama's strongest backers in the election, now they say they don't have enough seats at the table, and that is because of Obama's 20 cabinet posts, just five went to women.

KIM GANDY, PRESIDENT, NATIONAL ORGANIZATION FOR WOMEN: When you're looking at a cabinet and you have such a small number of women in the room when the big decisions are being made, there need to be a lot more women's voices in this administration.

YELLIN: Bill Clinton and George Bush each had a comparable number of women in their first cabinets. Women's groups say they hoped they had made progress by now. In fact some are so angry that that new agenda accuses Obama of taking shocking steps backward and says, "this constituency does not matter to the president-elect."

Obama says he is picking people for their skills and not pandering to the special interests.

ANNE KORNBLUT, WASHINGTON POST: In this case, we've seen Obama emphasize credentials. I think they obviously knew they'd get a lot of bang for their buck, so to speak, in appointing Clinton. But at the end of the day, the numbers aren't really anymore impressive than any previous president.

YELLIN: In the election, women put Obama over the top. Add to this disappointed constituency, a number of others. Many of Obama's gay and lesbian supporters are irate over the Rick Warren controversy. And some progressives are disappointed he has tapped moderates for key positions.

So the question is, has Obama made the tent too big. Does he risk alienating his core supporters before he's even taken office? This supporter says no way.

DONNA BRAZILE, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: He has a team of heavyweights, a team of rivals who will help him set a new course and a new tone here in the nation's capitol.

YELLIN: Privately, Barack Obama's team says wait and see. They think it is too early to start criticizing Obama's picks before they'd even had a chance to be sworn in.

Jessica Yellin, CNN, Washington.

(END VIDEOTAPE) MALVEAUX: With just weeks until he becomes a former president, President Bush is talking about the economy, about the chance of seeing another Bush elected and even the man who threw shoes at him. He sat down with CNN's senior political correspondent Candy Crowley and he began talking about the pain that all Americans are feeling.


BUSH: I am -- obviously have made a decision to make sure the economy doesn't collapse. I have abandoned free market principles to save the free market system. I think when people review what has taken place in the last six months and put it all in one, in one, you know, one package, they will realize how significantly we have moved.

I am so sorry we are having to do it. I am not real happy about the fact that there have been excesses in the financial markets which are affecting hard-working people, and affecting their retirement accounts. And having said that, I am very confident that with time, the economy will come out and grow and the people's wealth will return.

CANDY CROWLEY, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Let me ask you about the shoe thing in a slightly different way. Simply because you are the symbol, really, overseas of the United States; was there ever a part of you in reflection said, wait a second, we have poured billions of dollars and not to mention U.S. blood and treasure into this country, how dare this guy even if he is a single guy?

BUSH: No, I didn't. I mean, first of all, I didn't have much time to reflect on anything. I was ducking and dodging.

And I -- I, first of all, it has to be one of the most weird moments of my presidency. Here I am getting ready to answer questions from a free press in a Democratic Iraq, and a guy stands up and throws a shoe. And it was bizarre. It was an interesting way for a person to express himself.

I was asked about it immediately after the incident and I said, here is a person that obviously was longing for notoriety, and he achieved it. But I -- you know, no, I don't view this as a -- I'm not angry with the system. I believe that a free society is emerging and a free society is necessary for our own security and peace.

CROWLEY: Do you think they ought to let him out of custody?

BUSH: I don't know what they are going to do. I'm not even sure of what his status is. They shouldn't overreact.

CROWLEY: The last time I interviewed you was the night before you were inaugurated.

As we were walking out, somebody congratulated you and you said, I won't let you down, I won't let you down.

Has there been in a time in the past eight years when you thought that I have let the American people down at this moment? BUSH: I have given it my all. I have poured my heart and soul into the job. I have -- I understand the institution of the president is more important than the individual. And by recognizing that, you work to strengthen the institution, and I'm sure people have disagreed with my decisions, but they have been made with a lot of deliberation. And they have been made with one thing in mind, what is best for the United States of America.

CROWLEY: Three yes or nos. Have you told Jeb to run for the U.S. Senate in Florida?

BUSH: Yes.

CROWLEY: Is he going to?

BUSH: I don't know.

CROWLEY: You really don't know?

BUSH: I really don't know. I wish he would. He would be a great senator.

CROWLEY: Kay Bailey Hutchinson versus Rick Perry, who's your pick?

BUSH: Neutral.

CROWLEY: That is no fun.

And any thought that you might commute the sentence of former Governor Ryan in Illinois?

BUSH: I won't be discussing pardons or commutations on this show. But thank you for trying to make the news.

CROWLEY: I'd like to add --

BUSH: Well, I did answer Jeb, because if I said, I had not talked to him, you would say, well, why don't you talk to your brother, so I decided to lay it all out there for you.

CROWLEY: Does your dad want him to run?

BUSH: I haven't talked to my dad about whether or not he wants Jeb to run. First of all, knowing my dad I bet he would say, I want Jeb to do that which is best for him. And then he would go on the say, but if he chose to run, he would be a great United States senator. And he would be.


MALVEAUX: President Bush says he was deeply moved on election night even though his presidential pick didn't win. He will explain why in part two of his interview with CNN coming up later in this hour. The latest on a highly unusual plane incident; some air passengers are about to take off for the holidays, but wind up with irritated eyes and dizziness and nausea. What caused such a huge emergency?

And if Hillary Clinton becomes the nation's top diplomat, what kind of secretary of state will she be? Listen to her past criticisms of the Bush administration and you decide.


ZAIN VERJEE, CNN STATE CORRESPONDENT: I'm Zain Verjee. We will get back to the special report "Transition to Power" in just a moment, but first the headlines.

More than two dozen people are recovering after a mishap at the Seattle Seatac airport. Fumes from de-ice has seeped into an Alaskan Airlines plane today. The plane was getting ready for take off to Burbank, California when passengers began complaining that their eyes were irritated from the strong fumes.

Seven crew members were taken to a hospital with minor problems including dizziness and nausea; 18 passengers were treated at the scene.

We are learning more about the former Utah state trooper suspected in Monday's rush hour shootings near Dallas. Authorities say Brian Smith had an addiction to painkillers and was wanted in connection with a recent robbery. Smith is on life support at a Dallas hospital. Police say he shot himself in the head after a brief standoff several hours after the shooting spree stopped. The shootings along or near a Dallas highway left two people dead.

Some Iranian citizens are rallying in support of the Iraq journalist who threw his shoes at President Bush. About 200 demonstrators gathered in Tehran today and they waved their shoes in the air and then they hold them at a man who was dressed in a President Bush costume.

The journalist has been in custody since the shoe-throwing incident in Baghdad on the 14th of December. Both shoes missed their intended target.

And we want to correct a story we brought to you yesterday. We reported that King Abdullah of Jordan had given secretary rice jewelry worth nearly $150,000. The state department now says that it made a mistake and that the jewelry was in fact a gift from the King of Saudi Arabia. The state department spokesman tells CNN that it regrets the error and will correct the federal register; the state department confusing the two King Abdullahs.

And we want to show you some live pictures now bringing them to you from the Vatican. This is a scene that is going on right now, midnight mass there, as they bring in Christmas 2008 at St. Peter's Basilica -- Suzanne?

MALVEAUX: Thanks Zain.

She says cowboy diplomacy is over, but with America fighting wars on two fronts and facing threats on others, what changes would Hillary Clinton make as secretary of state?

Big challenges for the likely next spy chief; should the director of national intelligence focus more on fixing America's image than on the latest threats from Al Qaeda?

And more on Candy Crowley's interview with President Bush. He talks about one of his predecessors and about the man who will follow him into the office.


MALVEAUX: This is "Transition to Power."

Straight ahead, Hillary Clinton preparing to be the new boss at the state department. What will she do differently than her predecessors?

President Bush says he cares about Barack Obama, so he is working hard at something to help his presidential transition. You will hear that as the president goes one-on-one with CNN.

A prominent Republican pastor suggests Obama could possibly become a great American president. Is Obama becoming a darling of conservatives?

America is fighting two wars, faces nuclear challenges from unpredictable regimes and must keep a constant eye on powerful rivals. That is what awaits Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama's pick for secretary of state.

CNN's Zain Verjee joins us now. And Zain, do they see eye to eye on things now, these approaches?

VERJEE: Well, Suzanne on foreign policy at least it looks that way. The sharp disagreements of the campaign have gone and all seems to forgiven.



VERJEE: Hillary Clinton made it clear, look for a change in how the U.S. walks on the world stage.

CLINTON: We must pursue vigorous diplomacy using all the tools we can muster to build a future with more partners and fewer adversaries.

VERJEE: The former first lady who visited 82 countries, the member of the Senate Armed Services committee now is poised to ramp up diplomacy or, as she put it back in the campaign. CLINTON: The era of cowboy diplomacy is over.

ZAIN: In "Foreign Affairs" magazine she wrote in statesman magazine, "True statesmanship requires that we engage with our adversaries, not for the sake of talking, but because robust diplomacy is a prerequisite to achieving our aims."

In fact during the primary campaign, Clinton called Obama naive to suggest talking to Iranian leaders and, herself, taking a more hawkish view.

As Clinton spoke in Chicago, the current secretary of state headed to India after the Mumbai terror attacks.

CONDOLEEZZA RICE, SECRETARY OF STATE: I know that she will bring enormous energy and intellect and skill to the position.

VERJEE: Both Secretary Rice and defense secretary Robert Gates want more soft power like building schools and roads and jobs versus military power. Both also want major expansion of the number of U.S. diplomats and support staff overseas that Hillary Clinton will need.

Clinton will face enormous challenges: two wars, nuclear tensions with Iran, North Korea, a rising China, resurgent Russia; all amid a world recession.

SEN. BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT-ELECT OF THE UNITED STATES: Hillary's appointment is a sign to friend and foe of the seriousness of my commitment to renew American diplomacy and restore our alliances.


VERJEE: And Suzanne, Hillary Clinton has taken the unusual step of appointing not just one but two deputy secretaries of state and second will play more of our own in dealing with global economic issues and helping the state department to beef up the use of America's soft power -- Suzanne.

MALVEAUX: Ok, thank you, Zain.

As the new team readies to enter President Bush readies to leave office. Moments ago you've heard him to talking to CNN senior political correspondent Candy Crowley about the economy, even the man who threw those shoes at him. Well next, Mr. Bush talked about one president who came before him and the man who'll come after.


CANDY CROWLEY, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Do you still come into this room and think of like the decisions that have been made here by predecessors?

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Not so much -- yes, occasionally. Now look at Abraham Lincoln here.

CROWLEY: Your favorite President? I remember that --

BUSH: Yes. He is my favorite President and made a lot of tough decisions. And since you and I have visited in here, I have read a lot about him.

CROWLEY: You and the incoming President by the way, have that in common.

BUSH: I've read a lot about Lincoln.

Yes. He will find it very interesting to be reading history and making history.

And so, I do think about a lot of the decisions that Abraham Lincoln made. And I primarily think about two things with Abraham Lincoln. One that, I think he has taught Presidents the importance of speaking with moral clarity on certain truths. And secondly, when you start to feel sorry for yourself, just look at Lincoln.

CROWLEY: Do you do that every once in a while?

BUSH: Rarely, believe it or not. I think self-pity is a pathetic trait and I think you ill serve the American people when you complain about the burdens of the office.

CROWLEY: What is the most important decision you have made in here? Sitting there.

BUSH: Well, sending troops into harm's way. The reason it is the most important is because it is the most consequential. And it is a decision that no President should ever take lightly, and every President should take a lot of time thinking about it because lives will be lost.

And in my case, obviously I came to the conclusion twice that we ought to send troops in order to protect the United States because that's the most important job of a President.

CROWLEY: If you made that decision with clarity, which you say you did, and did you ever come back in here on a dark night or after seeing relatives or after watching something happen in Iraq, did you ever come back and think, wow, and revisit that decision?

BUSH: I thought about it of course, but I usually came back and, you know, with a concern about whether or not we would succeed.

CROWLEY: Are you worried about that sometimes?

BUSH: I have worried about it in the past. In 2006 and particularly in Iraq I was deeply concerned about whether or not we would succeed. And I felt that the political people beginning to fall away, where people were saying, you are, you know, you must withdraw.

It wasn't just the political people, a lot of people in Washington were saying, "Let's get out now." And I obviously chose not to do that, but that was a very difficult period. CROWLEY: Did you consider it ever?

BUSH: Of course, I considered all options, but absolutely. You know, ultimately, I had great faith in the universality of liberty. I had great faith in our military. I had faith in the Iraqis who had suffered so much. And I could not live with myself if I had chosen to just leave and leave behind the valor and the sacrifice of a lot of our young men and women. I would never have been able to face their loved ones.

You know, the military looks at the President, and wonders whether or not the President is going to make decisions based upon victory or whether or not the President will be making decisions based upon his political skin. And if you ever make decisions based upon your political skin with troops in harm's way, you as a commander-in- chief will have a lot of problem keeping the respect of the military.

So there is a lot of lasts. Really.


BUSH: And I guess it helps with the nostalgia.


BUSH: But it is --

CROWLEY: You have nostalgia already?

BUSH: No, I have had a lot of lasts. This is your last meeting with your advanced teams. The last flight overseas on Air Force One.


BUSH: And so, you get used to the final lasts.


BUSH: Which will be --

CROWLEY: But there're still a lot of things going on.

BUSH: Yes.

CROWLEY: You are still President and there's an economy, there is still in overseas and the intelligence coming in, I'm sure.

BUSH: Believe me I am not sitting around doing nothing.


BUSH: There is a lot to do. And there's also a transition to oversee, and Josh Bolten, the Chief of Staff, has done a really good job of, you know, making sure this transition is, you know, works, and that it is robust, and successful.

CROWLEY: So far so good from your point of view?

BUSH: Yes, but most importantly, I would ask President-elect Obama's point of view. We care about it. We want him to be successful and we want the transition to work.

CROWLEY: Do you ever sit in that Oval office recently and think, wow, an African-American is going to be sitting here. Do you have that sense of history in there?

BUSH: I did, absolutely. I will have a front row seat and an unbelievable moment in American history. And I was deeply touched by a lot of the people that I saw on election night with tears streaming down their face and saying, "I never, ever thought I would see this day coming."

CROWLEY: Did you ever, ever think it?

BUSH: Yes, I did. I've got great faith in democracy and I believe there will be a woman President, and obviously --

CROWLEY: You're maybe looking for a Republican woman?

BUSH: Actually I am always pulling for them, but, anyways. But I am amazed to have watched, you know, Barack Obama come from basic relative obscurity to now be soon to be the President of the United States. And he gives a lot of people hope, and that is good for the country.


MALVEAUX: Does Barack Obama have what it takes to handle America's foreign affairs? We'll tell you what our latest poll says, and what it might take to inspire more confidence in the public.

And could one of the President-elect's random pencil scratchings really be worth $100,000?

Jeanne Moos looks at Barack Obama's doodles, and Sarah Palin's scribbles.


MALVEAUX: Should the nation's next spy chief focus more on repairing America's image abroad or the latest terror threat? President-elect Obama is widely expected to name retired Admiral Dennis Blair as his director of National Intelligence. It is a tough job at a tough time.

Here is CNN Pentagon correspondent Barbara Starr.


BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Suzanne, the man now likely to be named the Director of National Intelligence is very well known in national security circles. He is the retired four-star head of the U.S. Pacific command. He knows China and North Korea. He has run counterterrorism operations in the Philippines. But how will Admiral Dennis Blair face the challenges of Washington, D.C.?

MICHAEL O'HANLON, BROOKINGS INSTITUTION: If Admiral Blair becomes the Director of the National Intelligence he will be assuming a job that many of us still question in terms of the basic logic behind the position.

STARR: The relatively new DNI job overseas an empire of 16 intelligence agencies and the nearly $50 billion a year they spend on everything from satellites to spies. Blair, himself, knows it's going to be a tough job.

ADM. DENNIS BLAIR, U.S. NAVY (RET.): And yet the most vital national security missions of the future can only be done by integrated, agile, collaborative interagency teams.

STARR: Robert Grenier, a 27-year CIA veteran has some advice; don't fall into the Washington trap.

ROBERT GRENIER, MANAGING DIRECTOR, KROIL INC.: There has been the tendency on the part on the past DNI's to do what one nearly always does in Washington and that is to try to establish the hey, look, I'm in charge.

STARR: Grenier says Blair shouldn't worry too much about briefing the President Obama every morning.

GRENIER: I believe that that's exactly what the DNI should not be focused on.

STARR: Threats like Al Qaeda, Iran and North Korea might not be the first order of business. There will be pressure on Blair to first deal with the aftermath of the Bush administration's controversial interrogation techniques including water boarding.

Grenier said Blair might need President Obama to weigh in.

GRENIER: I think he needs to reassure the intelligence community and particular CIA that he is not going to engage in politically- driven witch hunts.


STARR: Early in his career, Admiral Blair did a tour of duty at the CIA. He knows the intelligence business, and he knows how to run large organizations, but intelligence services around the world will be watching closely to see if he can take the U.S. intelligence community beyond the Bush years -- Suzanne?

MALVEAUX: Thanks, Barbara.

It's no surprise that Democrats are giving high marks to the President-elect, but now conservatives are praising Barack Obama, too. What a new CNN poll reveals about his popularity.

Plus, public figures and their scandals, we've had quite a few this year. See who tops the list of the naughtiest politicians.

And, here is a live look at Christmas at the Vatican.



PAT ROBERTSON, THE CHRISTIAN BROADCASTING NETWORK: I am remarkably pleased with Obama. I had grave misgivings about him, but so help me, he has come in forcefully and intelligently. He's picked the middle of the road cabinet. And so far, if he continues down this course, he has the makings of a great President.


MALVEAUX: Well, that was my guest Pat Robertson from yesterday. And a new CNN opinion research corporation poll bears out his point; 33 percent of Americans say their opinion of Obama during his transition has gotten better. 59 percent say their opinion has stayed the same and eight percent say, well, it's gotten worse.

Joining us now for a strategy session are DNC communications Director Karen Finney and Republican strategist Karen Hanretty.

This is the Karen hour, the hour of power here. What do you make of this, I'll start with you first, Karen, but Barack Obama seems to be winning praise from people like Pat Robertson. And there are not a lot of Republicans who are criticizing this guy now. I mean how long does the honeymoon last?

KAREN HANRETTY, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: There are not I have to tell you, everything that here on the last perhaps an endorsement from Pat Robertson, it is like a lump of coal in your stocking. And I'm not sure that that's something they are embracing, however, you know I think the fact that the President-elect has done such a great job of picking people who I think are really able to unite this country, who aren't terribly partisan themselves or at least willing to put that aside for the greater good right now is just really helpful, and I think very encouraging and comforting even to the Republicans.

KAREN FINNEY, COMMUNICATIONS DIRECTOR, DNC: I think that's right and I think also what we're seeing in the cabinet that he is putting together is consistent with what he promised during the campaign which was to put together a cabinet that was not about ideology, but that was about how do we come together and solve the problems that we're facing.

And I think he's made good on that promise, that's an important first step. I think these numbers are consistent with the numbers that we saw on Election Day, where he won just a broad coalition of voters from across the country; men and women and young and old, and so it's good to see those numbers staying strong. MALVEAUX: Does he run the risk of disappointing? Obviously, you can't please everybody, and there's going to come a time and point and he's already disappointed some with the selection of Rick Warren?

FINNEY: Sure. Look, it doesn't mean that everybody is going to be happy with every choice that he makes, but again, it's consistent with what he said he would do during the election. And I think that has given him -- bought him some time, and people are saying ok, I might be disappointed, but I'm going to take a step back and let's see what happens when he gets in office.

HANRETTY: Well, and also Presidents gets a honeymoon period, every Presidents does and also you know, you want the nation to succeed and you want the President to succeed even if you didn't elect him.

And I think that you're seeing a lot of goodwill in a time of economic crisis right now, and everyone has a lot of self-interests at stake right now. They want this President to succeed, because they themselves want their own financial interests to succeed.

MALVEAUX: Let's take a look at another poll here. This is showing the confidence in Obama's ability to handle foreign affairs and this is confidence. A lot, about 33 percent say they have a lot of confidence in him, and 42 percent say they have some confidence and 25 percent say that they don't have any confidence in his ability to handle foreign affairs.

Now, he's got a very strong foreign affairs team when you look at it, Hillary Clinton, Bob Gates. What does he need to do to really get more people onboard here, and to feel like this guy knows what he's doing because he does have a strong team in place? Let me start with you Karen.

HANRETTY: Well, look, I think this is simply a matter of time. You're seeing good poll numbers right now that deal with the economy and leadership, because that is what Barack Obama is out there talking about.

You know, that is the crisis that is front and center right now. And I think that, in fact, over time, as you see him in his first state of the union address, I think that is where we'll really see -- you know, where he intends to take the country as far as foreign policy. And I think that's probably where you'll see those numbers increase.

FINNEY: I think that's right and actually if you look at them -- I read those numbers as a little different, it's about 75 percent of the people are saying they feel pretty good about where he is. But again, I agree that what they've seen so far is really a focus on the economy. They haven't really seen this foreign policy team in action so to speak. And so I think when we see that I think we'll get a sense of how they're going to handle these challenges. What do you think?

MALVEAUX: Do you think he needs to have a crisis -- a national crisis for really people to be tested, before people are more confident in his abilities?

FINNEY: I don't think we need to have a crisis. Again, I think it's a matter of seeing this team come together, seeing how they work together and seeing sort of let's see them in action in terms of -- because we've got plenty of issues on the table as it is without having another crisis. So let's see how this team comes together.

HANRETTY: We have an active war, we don't need a crisis. It will be about Afghanistan.

MALVEAUX: Let's talk a little bit about the leadership question here. Another poll showing leadership, how do you define -- whether or not they have a lot of confidence in his providing leadership; Obama now 49 percent; Bush, it was 36 percent' Reagan it was 34 percent; Clinton, 26 percent.

How do you define leadership here? Is there a way that -- why do you think he scored higher than some of his predecessors?

HANRETTY: Well, I think there's a very unique position that Barack Obama is in right now, and that is, he's out there, not on a daily basis for a while he was holding regular press conferences and briefings. Where past President-elects it wouldn't appropriate. And I think you're seeing him play a much more hands-on active role which I think is why he conveys that leadership.

MALVEAUX: And I share really quickly, can you give President Bush a little bit of credit for this? Because, obviously he's making this transition pretty smooth; he's laying out the path for Barack Obama. Does that allow Barack Obama to look more like a leader, present himself more like a leader before he steps into office?

FINNEY: Well, certainly this is the first post-9/11 transition that we've been through. And with the economic crisis that we're facing, I think those create unique conditions. But what I would say is that Barack Obama has stepped up to the challenge. And I think that's that we're seeing. I agree that it's appropriate given what we've seen, but I think it's good that he's been stepping up to that challenge.

MALVEAUX: Karen and Karen, thank you so much.

FINNEY: Thank you.

MALVEAUX: A top Clinton campaign strategist says he's going to work for New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg. Can he help Bloomberg get a third historic term?

Plus, a bumper crop of political scandals this year. In our new poll, Americans pick the naughtiest politicians of 2008.

Also, Sarah Palin's scribbles, and Barack Obama's doodles. Could one of the President-elect's random pencil scratchings really be worth six figures? Jeanne Moos finds out.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) MALVEAUX: On our political ticker, a top strategist for Hillary Clinton's presidential bid has a new job. Howard Wolfson says that he's been tapped to be a senior communications adviser for New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg's re-election campaign.

Wolfson tells New York One that he's been supportive of the Republican turned Independent Mayor who is seeking a third term after the city council voted to extend term limits.

Americans apparently think that the Illinois governor should get a lump of coal in his stocking this Christmas. The governor of Illinois was named the naughtiest politician of 2008 in our new CNN research corporation poll.

The man accused of trying to sell Barack Obama's former senate seat trumped other public figures at the center of scandal. Former New York Governor Eliot Spitzer was ranked as a distant second after revelations that he was a client of a high-end prostitution ring which forced him to resign. And former presidential candidate, John Edwards was a close third in the naughtiest politicians' poll for his admission that he had an extramarital affair with a former campaign staffer.

President-elect Obama is urging Americans to remember George Washington as inspiration to get through the current tough times. In a holiday message, Obama cites Washington's improbable crossing of the Delaware River on Christmas in 1776. He says Washington's army overcame impossible odds to give new hope and momentum to fight for American Independence.

President and Mrs. Bush are spending their 12th and presumably last Christmas at Camp David. They've spent the holiday at the presidential retreat all eight years of Mr. Bush's term and during his father's four years as President.

The Bushes and their extended family will feast on a traditional Texas Christmas Eve dinner of enchiladas and tamales. And tomorrow they'll serve turkey with all the trimmings along with pumpkin and pecan pie.

And now, to the incoming President and his scribbles. And we're not talking about Barack Obama's notes. We're actually talking about doodles. One man says he's been offered six figures to sell one. Why such interest?

Here's CNN's Jeanne Moos.


JEANNE MOOS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: A lot of people can say --

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I got his autograph.

MOOS: But this guy can say, I've got Obama's doodles. And he's not selling.

WAYNE BERZON, OWNS OBAMA DOODLE: He said, "what if the offer was six figures?"

MOOS: No. Financial consultant, Wayne Berzon is not selling the doodles he bought for about 2,000 bucks at a charity auction a year and a half ago.

There's Senator Feinstein, Senator Kennedy, Senator Harry Reid, and this is Senator Chuck Schumer only it doesn't look like him.

Compare this to another famous doodle that made rounds recently. Here's Sarah Palin's. The new republic uncovered it in a box of odds and ends kept by the woman who ran the Palin's campaign for Mayor of Wasilla, Alaska.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: She's fantasizing about her win, it's me check this box.

MOOS: Palin jotted down possible slogans like, time for a change, telling citizens, you would be my boss.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It looks confused and talky.

MOOS: Talky? What's talky?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Like she's talking too much.

MOOS: As for opinion on President-elect Obama's doodle.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The guy is intelligent, this actually looks done well, except for the hair, I don't like the hair.

MOOS: What's wrong? Not yellow enough? We had graphologist Sheila Kurtz put the two sets of doodles under her magnifying glass.

SHEILA KURTZ, GRAPHOLOGIST: He is economical and clear and to the point.

MOOS: Ronald Reagan used to like to doodle faces. The book "Presidential Doodles" features LBJ's devil cat, FDR's fish, and JFK's sail boats. As for Sarah Palin's doodles from back before she was famous, our graphologist notes the circle dot over the i, the hook on the p, and the words scrawled over words.

KURTZ: She's smart. But she's very scattered and all over the place and wants everyone to recognize her and to know who she is. It's almost like a teenager's writing.

MOOS: Yes, well, tell that to the guy who wanted his cell phone signed. The collector who bought the Obama doodle is putting it in a safe deposit box for now.

BERZON: It's kind of a neat idea that to own something that could end up in a presidential museum.

MOOS: In a museum? Or on some blog? Makes you want to hide your doodles lest they be criticized.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It looks like somebody who is in prison would write on their wall.

MOOS: Or someone posted after eying Sarah Palin's doodles, I think the o in Mayor just winked at me.

Jeanne Moos, CNN, New York.