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President Obama Lands in Athens; Transition Team in Turmoil?; Trump Critics Outraged Over Some Cabinet Picks; Putin and Trump Speak by Telephone; Obama Urges Country to Give Trump a Chance; Aired 4:30- 5a ET

Aired November 15, 2016 - 04:30   ET


[04:30:09] JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: President Obama's first priority on his last trip to Europe calming any fears about President-elect Donald Trump.

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: Deep divisions in the Trump transition team. Fighting over key Cabinet decisions and questions about who is really in charge.

BERMAN: Security clearance for the kids? A source tells CNN that Donald Trump wants to let his adult children in on some of America's secrets.

Welcome back to EARLY START, everyone. I'm John Berman.

ROMANS: And I'm Christine Romans. It is 30 minutes past the hour this Tuesday morning.

Breaking news. President Obama lands in Greece on a mission unlike any other really during his presidency. He's in Athens right now. Then on to Germany and Peru. His priority, calming global concerns are President-elect Donald Trump. Something he talked about in a news conference just hours before he departed. Listen.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: In my conversation with the president-elect, he expressed a great interest in maintaining our core strategic relationships. And so one of the messages I will be able to deliver is his commitment to NATO.


ROMANS: All right. International diplomatic editor Nic Robertson live for us this morning in Athens with the very latest.

Good morning, Nic.

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN INTERNATIONAL DIPLOMATIC EDITOR: Yes. And good morning, Christine. Of course, that message, support for NATO, is one that will be thinly listened to here. Of course they'll be looking for nuance in that as well. President Obama on the ground here in Athens, meeting soon with the Greek president, then he'll meet with the prime minister. But perhaps when he gets to Berlin later this week, when he meets with the German Chancellor Angela Merkel, the British Prime Minister Theresa May will be there, the French president Francois Hollande, the Italian prime minister, the Spanish prime minister.

They sort of -- the sort of call NATO member countries, if you will, will be wanting to know precisely what President Obama has heard from President-elect Donald Trump about NATO. How much sort of support will there be? Will there be this expectation as President-elect Trump has talked about that all NATO countries will need to step up their defense spending to meet that 2 percent expectation?

And of course, a lot of NATO countries don't do that. Britain does, Poland does. So that message is going to be keenly listened to there. But while he's here in Greece, while President Obama is here in Greece, money will also be the key issue this country has a very heavy debt. The people of Greece will be listening to President Obama about debt relief. They hope that President-elect Donald Trump --

ROMANS: And there goes Nic's signal.

BERMAN: I would say we appeared to have lost the feed.

ROMANS: We appeared to have lost the feed but Nic is always such a pro. I'm sure he was wrapping up.


BERMAN: Always. But, no, look, I mean, the president's got a strange job to do. I mean, the president has got to sell President-elect Trump to the world right now. And it's clear this is not something that President Obama foresaw or wanted to do. But now this president -- this current president who is really doing back flips right now to smooth this transition and create confidence domestically and internationally goes overseas to tell America's allies, including NATO allies that President-elect Trump will be here for them.

ROMANS: Interesting.

BERMAN: It is.

ROMANS: All right. Nic Robertson, thank you for that.

BERMAN: All right. Later this morning, Vice President-elect Mike Pence heads to Trump Tower to talk Cabinet positions with President- elect Trump. Up for discussion today Departments of Education, Commerce, Treasury and State. These picks, they could come anytime including today. And the meeting comes amid what one insider called a knife fight over key appointments to the Cabinet, West Wing and National Security posts.

A transition source tells CNN the sharp splits pits traditional Republican operatives including party chair and Trump's new chief of staff Reince Priebus against outsiders like Steve Bannon who will be Trump's chief strategist. Remember, Trump created this sort of duopoly inside the White House where you have a chief strategist Bannon and a chief of staff Priebus. The division of power and also you add in Trump's son-in-law Jared

Kushner. It's so far unclear resulting in what another source calls buffoonery.

I want to bring in CNN's Jim Acosta for the latest on the transition from Trump Tower here in New York -- Jim.

JIM ACOSTA, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: John and Christine, later on today, Vice President-elect Mike Pence will be here at Trump Tower to meet with transition officials to begin the process of narrowing down the names that will be filling some of the most important Cabinet positions in the new Trump administration.

Among the names being talked about, former New York mayor Rudy Giuliani for secretary of State and Alabama senator Jeff Sessions for attorney general. Meanwhile, top Trump officials are defending the selection of Steven Bannon as chief strategist and senior counselor to President-elect Trump.

[04:35:03] Kellyanne Conway, the former Trump campaign manager, says Bannon will make an excellent chief strategist. Here's more of what she had to say.


KELLYANNE CONWAY, FORMER TRUMP CAMPAIGN MANAGER: And I worked very closely with Steve Bannon through the general of this campaign and frankly, people should look at the full resume. He's got a Harvard business degree, he's a naval officer, he has success in entertainment. I'm not sure if you're aware of that. And he certainly was a Goldman Sachs managing partner. A brilliant tactician.


ACOSTA: But the opposition to Bannon is building. A number of House Democrats have begun circulating a letter using Trump's own words against him, noting that the president-elect has called for unifying the country and asking how Bannon fits into that picture -- John and Christine.

ROMANS: All right, Jim Acosta. Thanks, Jim.

The appointment of Steve Bannon as chief White House strategist and senior counselor to the president has Donald Trump's critics outraged. The uproar could grow louder in short order because sources say the president-elect is strongly considering media-bashing conservative talk show host Laura Ingraham to be his press secretary.

Our senior media correspondent Brian Stelter has more.

BRIAN STELTER, CNN SENIOR MEDIA CORRESPONDENT: Hey, good morning, Christine and John. Every incoming presidential administration makes controversial appointments. But Donald Trump going several steps further, picking downright incendiary people to fill some of these key positions. Of course Steve Bannon is the best example of this. Bannon, highly

criticized ever since he was appointed chief strategist on Sunday night. We've heard from people who believe his Web site Breitbart has white supremacist views. That it is a home for white nationalist. That is a view that Breitbart and Bannon reject.

In an interview with the "New York Times," Bannon says the movement that supported Trump and led him to victory is a populous movement made up of patriots who wants to see the country made great again. He says there might be fringe elements who hold racist views, but that is not what it's about.

So we know Bannon is on board and there might be another incendiary appointment on the way. Laura Ingraham, the conservative talk radio host, well known for her support of Trump in recent months, in talks with Trump for the White House press secretary job.

Now we've had talk radio hosts to have this job before. Tony Stone during the Bush administration was behind the podium for about a year. But Ingraham would be different. She has been a much more vocal critic of the mainstream media, a critic of the very press corps that she would then be working with at the White House. So if indeed she is chosen, and so far she hasn't confirmed or denied it, these sources seem to be suggesting it's happening. If it happens it's another example about this White House and this press corps are in unchartered territory together -- John, Christine.

ROMANS: All right, Brian. Thank you for that.

New questions cropping up this morning about the line between the Trump family business and America's business. Donald Trump is considering asking for top security clearance for his -- top secret security clearance for his three grown children, Eric, Donald Jr. and Ivanka, and his son-in-law Jared Kushner. According to a source in Trump's transition team, the president-elect has not formally made the request. None of the Trump children yet have filed the necessary paper work. Critics of course granting them the clearance raises questions about conflicts of interest since the Trump children will be running their father's corporation.

BERMAN: The Mexican government is working on a plan to deal with the possibility of mass deportations for the United States under a President Trump. A spokesman for the Mexican president, Enrique Pena Nieto, told reporters that any sharp increase in deportations will be part of future discussions between the two leaders. Trump said on "60 Minutes" Sunday that his priority was locking up or deporting up to three million illegal immigrants with criminal records.

A new phase in the relationship between President-elect Donald Trump and Russian leader Vladimir Putin. This had been sort of a mutual admiration society from afar until now. The Kremlin says the Russian leader congratulated Donald Trump by telephone and assured the president-elect that he is ready for a partnership based on mutual respect.

CNN's Matthew Chance is tracking the latest developments for us live from Moscow. These men finally talked on the phone, Matthew, and talked about what could be a very different future for these two nations.

MATTHEW CHANCE, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, you know, Trump, John, he ran on a platform of detente with Russia. He said he was going to -- you know, wouldn't it be great if we get on or something like that. And that's exactly the tone according to the Kremlin the conversation they had, the first telephone conversation, since he became President-elect Trump. That's exactly what, you know, we're going to get.

He talked about that -- of relationship of equality, building up bridges in a situation that was very poor. Of course we've been talking about a new Cold War between Russia and the United States. That's something that potentially could be addressed now.

The Kremlin also said they talked about increasing economic ties. Of course the United States has economic sanctions on Russia at the time when it's -- it is undergoing great economic hardship, that sanctions over its role in Ukraine back in 2014. Those could now be alleviated. At least that's the hope and the expectation here in Moscow.

Also they spoke about Syria and spoke of what the Kremlin called common enemy number one, which is international terrorism. Again in his campaign, Trump made it clear that he was, you know, keen to join forces with Russia to tackle Islamists like the Islamic State in Syria.

[04:40:06] It's something the Obama administration had also been talking to Russia about but under President Trump, who is much more predisposed, it seems, to seeing the world from a more Kremlin orientated point of view or at least they've got shared views of the world and that could become a real possibility. And so it's going to be a very exciting period.

BERMAN: Exciting is one way to say it. Interesting is another way to say it. And just flat-out different.

CHANCE: I think that wasn't the right word.


BERMAN: Yes. Different -- I think different is probably for certain. Matthew Chance, terrific reporting this morning. Thanks so much, Matthew.

ROMANS: All right. The chair of the Securities and Exchange Commission is stepping down before Donald Trump takes office. Mary Jo White says she will leave around the time President Obama exits the White House. Her term was not slated to end until June of 2019. Now she did not give an official reason for stepping down, but says it's been a tremendous honor to lead the SEC and she is very proud of the agency's enforcement actions. White's exit also means that the SEC will become even more shorthanded.

Do you know that just two of its five commissioners are seated? There's only two of those seats are filled. Gridlock in Washington is preventing Senate from confirming Obama's two nominees. But White also has faced criticism recently. Last month Senator Elizabeth Warren wrote a letter to President Obama asking him to remove her because she wasn't doing enough to prevent businesses from pouring cash into politics.

So that's just another appointment that Donald Trump will have to deal with, filling up those jobs when he comes to tow.

BERMAN: And President Obama has a few things to say about his successor, President-elect Donald Trump. That's next.


[04:45:45] BERMAN: President Obama just arrived in Greece. He holds a news conference there in just a bit. We will bring that to you live when it happens. If this session holds to form, the current president will face pointed questions about the next president. And President Obama has been notably careful not to criticize President-elect Donald Trump. In fact at the White House before he left on this trip, President Obama said he considers the next president to be pragmatic.

CNN's Athena Jones was there and has the latest.

ATHENA JONES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Christine and John. President Obama spent much of his press conference here touting his administration's achievements on everything from the economy, to the Iran nuclear deal, to health care and climate change. And after months spent slamming President-elect Trump as unfit to be commander- in-chief, the president declined to continue to question his qualifications. I asked him if he still thought that Trump was unfit to lead. Here's part of what he had to say.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The people have spoken. Donald Trump will be the next president, the 45th President of the United States. And it will be up to him to set up a team that he thinks will serve him well and reflect his policies. And those who didn't vote for him have to recognize that that's how democracy works.


JONES: I also asked the president what sort of message he thinks that President-elect Trump is sending by tapping Steve Bannon, the former Breitbart News head, to be a chief strategist and senior adviser in the White House. Breitbart News has championed white nationalist themes. Here's part of what the president had to say in response.


OBAMA: Campaigning is different from governing. I think he recognizes that. I think he's sincere in wanting to be a successful president and moving this country forward. And I don't think any president ever comes in saying to himself, I want to figure out how to make people angry or alienate half the country. I think he's going to try as best he can to make sure that he delivers, not only for the people who voted for him but for the people at large.


JONES: The president also offered Trump some advice, saying that because of the nature of campaigns and the bitterness and ferocity surrounding the campaign, it's important for Trump to send some signals of unity and to reach out to minority groups or women or any other voters who may not have been Trump supporters and may be concerned about the direction the country is going.

I should say he also sounded a hopeful note, saying that he found Trump, during his 90-minute discussion with him in the Oval Office last week, to be non-ideologue, to be pragmatic. Something that he thinks could serve Trump well. Back to you guys.

ROMANS: All right, Athena. Thank you for that.

We're hearing from Michelle Obama for the first time since the presidential election. The outgoing first lady spoke Monday at a Veterans Homelessness Conference. She touted her advocacy group Joining Forces for providing shelter to at-risk veterans and encouraging corporations to hire former service members. And she offered up a message of bipartisanship in the wake of Donald Trump victory.


MICHELLE OBAMA, FIRST LADY OF THE UNITED STATES: I just want to take a moment to echo what my husband said last week about the results of our election. He said that we are all on one team. Not Democrats first or Republicans first. But we are Americans first. We're patriots first.


ROMANS: The first lady plans to spend her final days in office attending several events designed to cement her legacy.

BERMAN: Violence at an anti-Trump protest in Ohio State University. Look at that. That's a student rushing down the steps yelling, "You're an idiot," before forcefully tackling the demonstrator. Ohio State Police intervened, taking the student into custody. The crowd began chanting "shame" as he was ushered out of the campus building.

ROMANS: In Connecticut, two men were arrested for hopping out of their car and punching and kicking a Trump supporter. Police say Wilson Eschevarria and Anthony Hobdy attacked the unidentified victim as he was waving an American flag and holding a Trump election sign.

[04:50:09] The victim told police he exchanged words with his attackers before they pummeled him to the ground.

BERMAN: All right. A big reversal for Warren Buffett. The billionaire investor buying hundreds of millions of dollars worth of stock. We'll tell you what he's doing. That's next.


BERMAN: All right. Journalism had lost a giant and a really decent person. Gwen Ifill, one of the nation's most prominent and respected political journalists died of cancer at the age of 61 surrounded by family and friends. President Obama called her a powerful role model who did her country a great service.

Want to get the latest from CNN's senior media correspondent Brian Stelter.

STELTER: Good morning, John and Christine. Today Gwen Ifill being remembered as one of the true leading lights of journalism. A trailblazer in this profession.

[04:55:03] Someone who is a role model for multiple generations of reporters. First in print then on television, Ifill broke racial and gender barriers. She was a moderator of two presidential debates and most recently a co-anchor of PBS' "NewsHour."

On Monday evening, her colleague on the "NewsHour" Judy Woodruff paid tribute to her beloved colleague and friend.


JUDY WOODRUFF, NEWSHOUR ANCHOR: She was a super nova in a profession loaded with smart and talented people. So it is no surprise that messages of condolence have flooded in all afternoon from across the journalism and political spectrum.


STELTER: Now unbeknownst to most viewers, Ifill received a cancer diagnosis about one year ago. While she was undergoing treatment, she took one brief leave of absence from the "NewsHour" but she got right back to work in May, interviewing President Obama in June, covering the political conventions over the summer and continuing to cover the wild presidential election almost all the way up until Election Day.

In her final days, she was in hospice care surrounded by friends and family. That's where she passed away on Monday. Her family says there will be a memorial service in the future. But for now, journalists and viewers across the country mourning the death of one of the nation's best known journalists. A loss for reporting and for America -- John and Christine.

ROMANS: Brian, thanks for that.

Let's get a check on CNN Money Stream. Dow futures higher again. The Dow hit an all-time high on Monday. The NASDAQ and the S&P 500 dropped a little bit. Stock markets in Europe are rising. Shares in Asia closing mixed overnight.

Billionaire investor Warren Buffett is betting big on U.S. airlines. An industry he called a bottomless pit back in 2007. During the third quarter, Buffett's Berkshire Hathaway took stakes in American Airlines, United Continental and Delta Air. That's according to a regulatory filing disclosed Monday. Reports also claim he bought a stakes in Southwest more recently. All of these stocks enjoying a Buffett bounce. They're up as much as 7 percent in pre-market trading.

Buffett didn't say what caused his change of heart in the airline industry but there's been significant consolidations since he made those comments in 2007 and of course, a big drop in jet fuel prices.

Stocks are climbing, but bonds are getting crushed. The yield on a 10-year treasury hit 2.3 percent on Monday. That's an incredible jump from the 1.7 percent before the election. And as low as 1.36 this summer. One analysts described the move as a violent reaction to Trump's economic plans. That spike is so big it's only happened three times in the past decade. The move shows that investors think Trump's economic plans will add to America's already huge debt load and cause inflation to rise.

It also means borrowing will get more expensive for both the government and the public. Think mortgages. These a lot of loan rates are tied to government bonds. You'll see mortgage rates start to tick higher.

Check out the new CNN Money Stream app. It's business news personalized. The stories, videos, tweets and topics you want all in one feed. Download it now on the App Store or Google Play.

BERMAN: That will be truly one of the fascinating things to see in Washington. If the deficit hawks and the Republican Party all of a sudden have a different view with the Republican or President Trump in the White House in some spending that isn't, you know, paid for.

ROMANS: Spending near term that gooses the economy that will have them more breathing room to pay for it later. We'll have to see how Trump sells that.

BERMAN: Interesting to see.

ROMANS: To those deficit hawks.

BERMAN: All right. EARLY START continues right now.

Power struggle at Trump Tower. Top aides at odds over key Cabinet decisions and confusion we are told about who is in charge.

ROMANS: Top secret controversy. If Trump gets his way, his children will get top level security clearance.

BERMAN: President Obama lands in Europe with a new mission. Not the mission I think he planned on when he scheduled this trip. Trying to reassure U.S. allies about President-elect Donald Trump.

Good morning, everyone. Welcome to EARLY START. I'm John Berman.

ROMANS: And I'm Christine Romans. It is Tuesday, November 15th. It is 5:00 a.m. in the East. In just a few hours Vice President-elect Mike Pence heads to Trump Tower to go over the list of top contenders for Cabinet positions with the boss, Donald Trump. They'll be looking at possible picks for the Departments of Education, Commerce, Treasury, State. Some of whom could be named as soon as today.

The meeting comes amid what one insider called a knife fight over key appointments to Cabinet, West Wing and National Security posts. A transition source tells CNN the sharp split pits traditional Republican operatives like party chairman and Trump's new chief of staff Reince Priebus against maverick outsiders like Steve Bannon who will be Trump's chief strategist. The division of power among Priebus, Bannon and Trump's son-in-law Jared Kushner so far unclear. Resulting in what another source calls buffoonery.

Let's bring in CNN's Jim Acosta for the very latest on the transition. He's at the Trump Tower in New York City.

JIM ACOSTA, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: John and Christine, later on today, Vice President-elect Mike Pence will be here at Trump Tower to meet with transition officials to begin the process of narrowing down the names that will be filling some of the most important Cabinet positions in the new Trump administration. Among the names being talked about former New York mayor Rudy Giuliani for secretary of state and Alabama senator Jeff Sessions for attorney general. Meanwhile top Trump officials are defending the selection of Stephen Bannon as chief strategist and chief counselor --