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Defending Breitbart's Steve Bannon; Trump Considering Top Secret Clearance For Kids; Who Is Steven Mnuchin; "Knife Fight" Over Administration Jobs; Obama: Give Trump A Chance; President Obama Lands In Athens. Aired 5-5:30a ET

Aired November 15, 2016 - 05:00   ET



[05:00:04] JIM ACOSTA, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT (voiceover): Meanwhile, top Trump officials are defending the selection of Steven Bannon as Chief Strategist and Senior Counselor to the president elect Trump. 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 CAMPAIGN MANAGER, TRUMP CAMPAIGN: I worked very closely with Mr. 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 don't know if you're aware of that. And he certainly was a Goldman Sachs managing partner.


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 --

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Jim Acosta, thanks so much. Questions about the lines between the nation's business and family business this morning. Word that Donald Trump is considering asking for top security clearance for his three grown children, Eric, Donald Junior, and Ivanka, and his son-in-law, Jared Kushner. Kushner was really the force behind the scenes for much of this campaign.

According to a source in Trump's transition team, the president elect has not formally made the request and none of Trump's children have filled out necessary paperwork. Critics say granting them the clearance raises questions about conflicts of interest since the Trump children -- well at least as of now, we are told they will run the Trump corporation.

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: All right. At the top of Donald Trump's short list for treasury secretary is Steve Mnuchin. He spent 17 years at Goldman Sachs. His father was a well known partner there as well. Then he was off to Hollywood where he became an investor and a movie producer. His recent hits include "Suicide Squad", "American Sniper", and "The Lego Movie".

In May, he joined the Trump campaign as finance chairman. Now sources tell CNN he made it known early that he wanted the treasury secretary post. He's already vetting and recruiting deputies. The treasury secretary, of course, oversees financial markets, banking, banking regulation, government debt, and the IRS.

Mnuchin also has a controversial past. He was sued by the trustee trying to recover money for victims of Bernie Madoff's ponzi scheme. A court eventually blocked that move. He also led the group that bought failed subprime lender IndyMac. Remember that, after the financial crisis, after paying millions in fines for the company's foreclosure practice, he sold it for $3.4 billion.

BERMAN: I want to talk about the Trump transition. Joining us now, political analyst and best selling author, Ellis Henican. Ellis, thanks so much for being with us.

The big question is, trying to match what we know already with what is going to happen. What we know already is you have this two-headed thing in the White House. The Chief of Staff, Reince Priebus, the insider's insider, and Steve Bannon as Chief Strategist. Steve Bannon is not an insider. Steve Bannon ran Breitbart which a lot of people see as spewing anti-Semitic and racist rhetoric and wants to tear up the system right now.

So you have this working in opposition already. So what does that mean as he fills the cabinet?

ELLIS HENICAN, POLITICAL ANALYST AND BEST-SELLING AUTHOR: Well, I think the knife fight word that you used a moment ago is probably pretty apt, right. People fundamentally pulling in the opposite directions.

And what's so interesting, it isn't the Mnuchin's of the world, right, who may be a little controversial. But Christine, that's kind of a typical appointment, right. A Goldman guy, raised a bunch of money for the person. Remember, that's the kind of person who becomes the treasury secretary. Laura Ingraham as Press Secretary? I mean, this is a person, I think a talented talk host, but someone whose entire act is being incendiary and hostile --

BERMAN: Being hostile to the people who will be sitting in that room in front of her.

HENICAN: Exactly. It's a hard place to begin a job as babysitter, which is kind of what the Press Secretary is in a way. Bannon certainly, at this point, the most awesome, I guess maybe would be a good word, a suggestion there. I mean, he's not the kind of guy that has ever in the history, at least in our lifetimes, been in a position as important as Chief Strategist to the president of the United States.

ROMANS: Isn't there always a push and pull at this time? So much of the reporting is, oh, there's 4,000 appointments to be made and there's all this indecision about which direction to go for some of these top cabinet level positions. Isn't it always like this? Isn't there always this moment of sort of frenetic jockeying for who is going to have the ear of the president elect?

HENICAN: On steroids, thought, right. Because usually, Christine, this stuff is -- it's kind of predictable. There's a huge set of allies that the incoming president has.

ROMANS: It's interesting you say that, because I look at some of these names on these lists. I think we've got some of them. You have got people who supported both candidates, or both parties. It's almost as if this is the third party candidate who ran as a Republican and this is what it would look like if you saw some of those picks. They are talking about Ben Bernanke, Jamie Dimon, other names being floated for treasury secretary. I think neither of those men are interested, but it's interesting.

HENICAN: Hold on a second. Don't forget that just being floated, just being named -- that doesn't mean that person is likely to get the job. There are a lot of reasons to put someone's name out there. Flattery is one of them, right. It's always nice to be mentioned. Maybe you want to show that, oh, I'm casting a wide net here.

[05:05:10] BERMAN: And the other thing to keep in mind here is really, it was a small universe of people supporting Donald Trump from the very beginning, largely. And these people who showed fierce loyalty, and they, many of them think that they should be rewarded. It's not a quid pro quo. They stood up for Donald Trump. Look, they weren't looking for jobs when they supported Donald Trump because that wasn't --

HENICAN: That would have been a bad bet.

BERMAN: It would have been a bad bet. So these people were fiercely loyal to Trump and Trump values loyalty. So there's the cabinet. And then there's also this phenomenon going on right now that we've been watching, it's been surprising. President Obama out there. There has been no greater ambassador to the world for the future Trump administration than current President Obama lately. Listen to what the President just said yesterday.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I also think that he is coming to this office with fewer set hard and fast policy prescriptions. I don't think he is ideological. I think ultimately is he's pragmatic in that way. And that can serve him well, as long as he's got good people around him and he has a clear sense of direction.


BERMAN: Now President Obama has always said he respected how George W. Bush left office. This is that on steroids, to quote Ellis Henican a moment ago. President Obama won't even take the bait on Steve Bannon yesterday. He wouldn't criticize the Bannon appointment. HENICAN: I'll give you two theories. One is that he's maybe giving the incoming president a name to live up to. Thinking that Donald Trump doesn't really know how to be president. And if Barack Obama can be a little bit of a mentor and show him how to behave, maybe he can influence him.

The other possible explanation is that maybe Barack Obama is saying, listen, this guy is so different from me. I want to show this difference and emphasize how it is that a grown up and mature individual acts in a situation.

ROMANS: So let me ask about state. I was hearing a lot of people talk about Jeff Sessions. He's one of the senators. He's, from the very beginning he's been a loyalist, and even when --

HENICAN: Yes, one of the few.

ROMANS: Many in the Senate in his party were just bailing like crazy. Do we think he's going to have a big role in this administration?

HENICAN: I think he's going to have a big role. I don't know whether it's going to be secretary of state, because as you know, there are others who have expressed an interest. Rudy Giuliani is someone whose name keeps coming up in that way. I don't know whether that's going to happen. But I don't think that's settled yet as far as we can tell. But clearly, if he wants a big job, he's got a big job.

BERMAN: That's sort of an absurd list right there. I do not think it will be Richard Armitage or Henry Paulson.

HENICAN: Well those would be normal appointments (ph).

ROMANS: Well, he's been working on environmental and climate change issues, and Donald Trump has said that climate change is a hoax from the Chinese.

BERMAN: Jeff Sessions will get a job if he wants it, whether it be state or defense. The guy was armed services, attorney general, he's a lawyer, although he had trouble getting a federal bench job in the 90s because people said he was -- actually it was the 80s, because people said he had a racist past. But it'll be interesting to see for sure.

ROMANS: There's a lot of work to do. You look at the SEC, it's not even full now. You only have two commissioners. Now the chairwoman just left. There's a lot of work to do.

BERMAN: All right. President Obama, in Athens right now. This is the first leg of his final trip as president. Coming up, how he is trying to soothe tensions around the world, nervous leaders, about president elect Donald Trump.


BERMAN: Just a few minutes ago, Air Force One landed in Athens. President Obama on the final foreign trip of his presidency. This is part of a three nation tour that will also take him to Germany and Peru. Whatever the initial purpose of this trip was supposed to be, the goal now is far, far different. Ease global concerns about president elect Donald Trump. The current President sort of is hinting he is serving as a somewhat unlikely ambassador for the next president. He's going to deliver the message that the United States will honor its commitments, including to NATO.


OBAMA: 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.


BERMAN: International Diplomatic Editor Nic Robertson live for us this morning in Athens with the latest. What do these world leaders want to hear about president elect Trump?

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN INTERNATIONAL DIPLOMATIC EDITOR: They'd like to hear that there's going to be stability, that there's going to be continuity, that they can rely on the United States as a strong partner, a partner as we heard President Obama talking about there, in NATO.

President Obama will get to deliver that message in a couple hours. He will meet with the Greek President, the Greek Prime Minister. Perhaps when he gets to Germany, though, later in the week and his meeting with the German Chancellor, he'll see there the British Prime Minister, the French President, the Italian Prime Minister, the Spanish Prime Minister as well. Key core members of NATO. And that message of reassurance that he's talking about that the president elect Donald Trump will continue with the understanding that NATO and this trans-Atlantic alliance is important, as important to Europe as it is the United States.

Here in Greece, however, people are hoping to hear something about debt relief from President Obama, and they'll hope that president elect Donald Trump listens to that as well. This country is mired in debt, and that's what the people here feel. And of course, Greece has had to deal with huge waves of refugees coming out of the Middle East, hundreds of thousands over the past couple of years. President Obama likely to reiterate the message we've heard from him before when he was speaking with the Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi last month, that Greece, Italy, and Germany alone in Europe cannot be expected to share this burden.

[05:15:06] And why would that be important to the incoming president, president elect Donald Trump? Why? Because we remember that a year ago, those attacks in Paris, those ISIS attacks, some of those attackers posed as refugees, came through Greece, helping Greece, helps Europe, helps the United States. John --

BERMAN: Beautiful shot with Nic Robertson for us in Athens. A big meeting today for President Obama there. All right, Nic, thanks so much.

ROMANS: All right. After months of blasting candidate Donald Trump as unfit for office, President Obama is now urging Americans to give president elect Trump a chance. In his first news conference since the election, the President spent most of the hour fielding questions about his successor. And he answered for the most part in complimentary terms. CNN's Athena Jones was there. She's got the latest for us.

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 healthcare 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 Trump was unfit to lead. Here's part of what he had to say.


OBAMA: -- 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 advisor 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 is 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 bitterness and ferocity surrounding the campaigns, 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 not saying he found Trump during his 90 minute discussion with him in the oval office last week to be a non- ideologue, to be pragmatic, something that he thinks could serve Trump well. Back to you guys. ROMANS: All right, Athena Jones. Thanks, Athena.

BERMAN: All right. Monday night football. The New York Giants trying to accomplish something they have not done in three years, but they would have to get past the Cincinnati Bengals first. Coy Wire with this morning's "BLEACHER REPORT". That's next.


[05:22:57] BERMAN: All right. The New York Giants. They won a nail biter on Monday night football over the Bengals. This was their fourth win in a row.

ROMANS: Coy Wire has more in this morning's "BLEACHER REPORT". Hey, Coy.

COY WIRE, CNN SPORTS ANCHOR: Good morning, Christine and John. The Giants are on fire right now. Been three years since they won four games in a row, and their six wins already matches their win total in each of the past two seasons. They haven't looked this good since their Super Bowl run back in 2011. Big part of the reason why, Odell Beckham Jr. Check out this double move. Freezes the defender like he's doing the mannequin challenge. Oh, this is sweet. Catches the touchdown pass from Eli Manning and then channels his inner Michael Jackson. Got to love the Thriller dance.

But this was the moment right here. Giants gamble on fourth down early in the fourth quarter. Look at it. Touchdown. Rookie Sterling Shepard, go ahead, touchdown. Eli Manning had three touchdowns on the night in the Giants' 21-20 win over the Bengals.

Patriots' tight end Rob Gronkowski is injured, but conflicting reports on how badly. NFL Network's Ian Rapoport first reported that Rob punctured his lung on this big hit from Earl Thomas of the Seahawks Sunday night. But now the report is suggesting that maybe it's not that severe. Gronk's going to undergo more testing, and he said this is probably one of the hardest hits of his career. Knowing Gronk, he's probably like, I'll be all right, coach. I have two lungs. The status with his son (ph) is unclear. Good news for Berman, they do play the 1 and 8 49ers.

The L.A. Clippers absolutely dominating the Brooklyn Nets last night. No surprise. Clippers are winners of seven straight, and they've been putting an absolute beat down on almost everybody this year, including themselves. (inaudible) Chris Paul loses the ball out of bounds. DeAndre Jordan goes in for consoling hug. But dang, man. That was a little too hard. That was the only headache on the night for the Clippers as they cruise easily to the 127-95 victory.

If you're tired of the mannequin challenge, too bad. Because Gonzaga student section pulled one off before their game against San Diego State last night that we just had to show you. Reporters, cheerleaders, all the students just frozen in time.

[05:25:02] And if you like that one, how about this under water mannequin challenge. The University of Pacific women's water polo team taking it to a whole new level entirely. New depths. Christine, you love that one. No bubbles or anything, right.

ROMANS: I love that one. How many times do they have to take to do that? That's what I want to know.

WIRE: Good stuff for you guys.

BERMAN: I want to know is how many fads can I miss? How many fads can I completely miss altogether? The mannequin challenge is the last one.

WIRE: It's not too late. Get your coworker there, your partner in crime Christine. You can bust one out and put it on social media for us today, John.

BERMAN: Wow, that's big. Strong. All right, Coy, thanks so much.

All right. Four key cabinet posts the Trump administration could be named as early as today. But, it's not easy. One insider describes the process as a knife fight. That's coming up.