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Interview With Tennessee Senator Bob Corker; Who Will Run EPA?; Trump Transition. Aired 4-4:15p ET

Aired November 16, 2016 - 16:00   ET



JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: I wonder if team Trump is thinking about recruiting off

THE LEAD starts right now.

Vengeance is mine, sayeth Ivanka's husband. The president-elect's tries to beat back reports of infighting plaguing the transition, with Trump's son-in-law purging anyone affiliated with Governor Christie, who, as U.S. attorney, sent his father to jail. But what on earth does any of that have to do with running the U.S. government?

As a candidate, Donald Trump pledged to scrap the EPA. Step one, this climate change skeptic running environmental policy in the transition. Who is Myron Ebell, and what impact might he have on your air and your water?

The hot line blinking. Russian President Vladimir Putin had no problem getting through to president-elect Trump, but one close ally apparently had a little bit of trouble getting past the Trump Tower switchboard for more than a day.

Hello, everyone. I'm Jake Tapper.

We begin with our politics lead today and an attempt from a surprising source to reassure the public about what seems to be a rocky transition so far. Just minutes ago, Vice President Biden emerging from a meeting with his soon to be successor, Governor Mike Pence, and saying the following.


QUESTION: You think this administration can be ready on day one?

JOSEPH BIDEN, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: No administration is ready on day one. We weren't ready on day one. I have never met one that's ever been ready on day one. But I'm confident on day one everything will be in good hands.


TAPPER: Remain calm. That seemed a direct reference to the myriad questions about just how smoothly, or not, the Trump transition is going. As has been widely reported, the president-elect was not particularly focused on preparing to staff up the White House and his Cabinet agencies until about a week ago, because he and his team did not think they would necessarily have to.

In the last week, we have seen many reports on infighting and backstabbing as the team reshuffled its transition leadership. Mr. Trump's son-in-law, Jared Kushner, is said to be purging anyone directly affiliated with Governor Chris Christie, who used to head the transition team.

Now, this stems from the fact that in 2005 when Mr. Christie was a U.S. attorney in New Jersey, Mr. Kushner's father, Charles, pleaded guilty to 18 counts of tax evasion, witness tampering and making illegal campaign donations. Jared Kushner is now rising in Mr. Trump's orbit, and this purge has begun of anyone affiliated Christie helping to staff up the government seen as being on Christie's team, regardless of qualifications.

President-elect Trump, however, while continuing to not give a post- election news conference, opted for Twitter instead to reassure us huddled masses, saying -- quote -- "Very organized process taking place as I decide on Cabinet and many other positions. I am the only one who knows who the finalists are." Finalists.

CNN political reporter Sara Murray is with me now.

Sara, things are going so smoothly inside Trump Tower, says the next president of the United States.

SARA MURRAY, CNN NATIONAL POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Donald Trump says everything is going according to plan.

Look, I think what you're seeing is, while they may not have lost total control over their transition process, they're going through some growing pains. It's certainly true that they have lost control of at least the narrative surrounding that.

So today we're seeing folks in some of the top-ranking positions in this transition trying to hit back against that narrative.


MURRAY (voice-over): Just a week into Donald Trump's transition effort, his team is already beating back reports of infighting and disorganization.

KELLYANNE CONWAY, TRUMP CAMPAIGN MANAGER: We feel really good about the transition. I actually would just say it's false to say it's not going well. Everything up there is very smooth.

JASON MILLER, TRUMP CAMPAIGN SENIOR COMMUNICATIONS ADVISER: Anyone saying anything else is either, A, bitter because they're not on the inside and not being considered, or they're someone who is just bitter because the election was last week and they didn't get the result that they wanted. MURRAY: Trump taking to Twitter to insist: "Everything is going fine.

Very organized process taking place as I decide on Cabinet and many other positions. I am the only one who knows who the finalists are."

A steady stream of top aides, family advisers and potential appointees coming in and out of Trump Tower all morning. As one of his allies, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich urges Trump to take his time.

NEWT GINGRICH (R), FORMER SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: If you are a new president-elect, everything is possible. The minute you have picked somebody, you begin to shrink the possibilities. And so I think he is being correct in being very cautious in how he is approaching this.

MURRAY: Meanwhile, the president-elect also knocking down reports that he was interested in top-secret security clearance for his children, tweeting: "I am not trying to get top-level security clearance for my children. This was a typically false news story."

But a source familiar with the transition tells CNN that Jared Kushner, Trump's son-in-law, could eventually end up with a top national security clearance, although it has not happened yet.


As vice president-elect Mike Pence, who is now heading the transition effort, traveled to Washington to meet with Vice President Joe Biden...

BIDEN: I'm available to him 24/7.

MURRAY: ... one of Trump's visitors today, New York Mayor Bill de Blasio, the liberal Democrat, told reporters he wanted to express the fears of many New Yorkers, particularly minorities, about a Trump presidency.

BILL DE BLASIO (D), MAYOR OF NEW YORK: I told him that we were very concerned, that we had to show all New Yorkers, including Muslim New Yorkers, that they were welcome. And I let him know that so many New Yorkers were fearful and that more had to be done to show that this country can heal.

MURRAY: Trump spending much of the week inside his midtown tower. But even he couldn't resist an evening out with his family on Tuesday. The only problem? Trump departed for dinner after his aides assured reporters he was in for the night, the move sparking a new wave of concerns about the Trump team's transparency.

Journalists swiftly noted the small group of reporters assigned to track a president or president-elect's movements each day must be present in case of historic or horrific developments.


MURRAY: Now, the White House Correspondents Association has already called it unacceptable that Donald Trump ditched his press pool. And there are plenty of people who will be critical of this, saying

it's just navel-gazing by the press, that they just essentially want to be there to watch a president-elect eat dinner. That's not what the press pool does.

The reason that they're there is to document moments in history. Remember, a small pool of reports were with George W. Bush when he learned about 9/11. Pool reporters covered John F. Kennedy's assassination and they were right there when Ronald Reagan was shot outside a hotel right here in Washington, D.C. -- Jake.

TAPPER: Sara Murray, thanks so much. Appreciate it.

Joining me now to talk about this and more, Senator Bob Corker, chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee. Senator, thanks so much for joining us.

SEN. BOB CORKER (R), TENNESSEE: Jake, good to be with you. Thank you.

TAPPER: Let me start with the question that you probably won't answer. What conversations have you had with the Trump transition team about becoming secretary of state or any other possible position in the Trump administration?

CORKER: You're right. I probably won't answer that.

But, look, just generally speaking, I understand I am in the mix. I also understand that there are people who have been very close to the campaign, have had long-term friendships, that are also in the mix. So, my sense is that those people probably are being looked at very closely right now, and we will see how it turns out.

But it's been an honor to be in the mix, and we will see what happens.

TAPPER: Your colleague Senator Rand Paul said that if Mr. Trump, president-elect Trump, were to pick former U.N. Ambassador John Bolton for secretary of state, that would be in his view a betrayal of the voters. He called Bolton a menace.

Do you think that Bolton would have problems getting confirmed if he were nominated as secretary of state?

CORKER: Well, Jake, since the likely role I'm going to play in all of this is chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee and I will be conducting the hearings and confirmations and going through the due diligence, I just don't really want to weigh in on anyone, especially until someone is actually nominated.

So I hope you will respect that. It's just not something that would even be appropriate for me to do.

TAPPER: Can you give us any sense of what's going on inside Trump Tower right now in terms of being prepared for this transition? So far, it appears that the transition team has let go of more people than they have brought in. How much turmoil is there? Is it extraordinary at all?

CORKER: You know, I had two calls back just a moment ago in the office. I was talking with someone there.

And I do get the sense that the turmoil is being blown out of proportion. And I do remember that, look, it's just been seven days, and if you think about it, the Trump effort was -- I mean, he almost did it by himself. He did have some people around him, let's face it, but it was very small.

And so they have had to go from last Wednesday, a week ago, giving a speech about winning the race to now being where they are in the transition. So, we look back, and when President Obama's transition took place, he didn't even announce his national security team, Secretary Clinton and others, until December the 1st.

So, look, you would expect the beginning of this, when you're lifting off at such speed, there is going to be a lot of moving parts. I know that, you know, our office is assisting with some of the -- they go in, they do what's called landing teams in offices.

I mean, just a lot to this, 4,000 positions. So my sense is all of us probably ought to just understand that this is -- how massive it is and should chill a little bit and, you know, give them a little time to get their bearings.

TAPPER: Donald Trump has promised to tear up the nuclear deal with Iran.

Some conservative critics point out to a rule that you helped to pass in the Senate which allowed the Iran deal to be voted on in the Senate by whether members disapproved, which meant that the president needed only 34 votes to sustain a veto, instead of 67.



TAPPER: It gets a little complicated there.

CORKER: Yes. Yes.

TAPPER: But do you think Mr. Trump, do you think president-elect Trump should ditch the Iran deal altogether?

CORKER: Well, let me make sure first, you know, they went straight to the U.N. Security Council and had this approved at the Security Council level, before we ever voted.

So we had nothing to do with helping make this happen. We created a process -- we were able to pass a process that actually gave us the ability to keep it from happening. We had a 90-day stay passed to keep this from happening before it came to us.

So, he didn't go the treaty process, which is a shame. Now, as you mentioned, President Trump coming in, he can do away with it in five minutes, if he wishes, with the flick of a pen. So our process was to stop it, to give Congress a chance to weigh in and to possibly override it.

I voted to disapprove the Iran deal. But getting back to it, what I have heard him say is several things. I mean, he said -- he has said on some occasions, yes, I think, at AIPAC, that he would tear it up. He also said in one of the debates that he would wait until he got in office to see where it is and then decide.

Look, I think -- I think there's going to be strong bipartisan support for really pushing back against the violations that Iran is committing right now, both on the ballistic missile testing, but also on the purchase of conventional arms.

And I think you're going to see Congress really joining in with him to push back and to hold their feet to the fire. So he's going to have to ascertain the best route for it. I think you know, unfortunately, all the leverage was given up on the front end, which was why so many of us so strongly opposed this deal.

So, Iran has those resources they are wanting. And the way to really make this happen in an appropriate way, we have got to bring Germany, and France and the U.K. and other countries along with us. So, I know that president-elect Trump understands that.

My guess is, he will be looking at the best path forward to ensure that Iran does not get a nuclear weapon.

TAPPER: But it sounds to me, sir -- and forgive my affrontry -- but it sounds to me like what you're saying is he shouldn't tear it up, he should enforce it and make sure the Iranians stick to what they agreed to and use the international community to go along with it.

CORKER: That's right.

TAPPER: But he should not tear it up.

CORKER: I don't think he will tear it up.

And I don't think that's the way to start. I think what he should do is build consensus with these other countries that they're definitely violating the agreement.

And he's going to have Congress with him on that. I think that's a much better approach. Iran, over time, likely will hang themselves, OK, because, again, they have already shown that they're pushing the envelope, going outside the agreement.

And the other thing we should be doing is pushing back strongly against the terrorism that they're conducting in the region, the efforts they have under way in Yemen, the efforts they have under way in Syria.

So, there's multiple pressure points that we can push back on Iran on and with. And my guess is that president-elect Trump will pursue those and, over time, really make a final decision as to how he wants to deal with this issue.

I don't think he's going to come in on January 20 and just rip the agreement up, which, by the way, because of the way it was done, he can easily do. I mean, it's -- it's a nonbinding political commitment. If President Trump wants to step away from it the day he gets in office, he can, which is why it shouldn't have been done in the manner that it was done.


TAPPER: Thank you so much, Senator Corker. Thank you so much, Senator. Appreciate it.

CORKER: Thank you.

TAPPER: He defended Trump on having New York values, and now he is going to be the last line of defense for Democrats, the brewing showdown between president-elect Donald Trump and the new top Democrat in the U.S. Senate, Chuck Schumer -- that story next.


[16:17:56] JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome back to THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper.

The Democratic Party currently in one of its weakest positions in Washington, D.C., and nationally in the last century, is trying to figure out how to rebuild. The first order of business, electing Senator Chuck Schumer as the new Senate minority leader. The Brooklyn born three-term senator from New York is already foreshadowing a New York-style showdown, telling his fellow New Yorker, President-elect Trump, to expect a, quote, "strong and tough fight."

Let's bring in CNN senior Washington correspondent Jeff Zeleny.

Jeff, Senator Schumer and President-elect Trump, they go back. Trump, in fact, used to be a campaign contributor to Mr. Schumer.

JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: Jake, he did. That's when Donald Trump was a Democrat not so long ago. But, oddly, Senator Schumer and Donald Trump have one of the longest relationships of any of the leaders here in Washington, certainly more than the Republican leaders do. Senator Schumer says he is going to fight with Donald Trump but not reflexively oppose things he says simply because they're Donald Trump's ideas.


ZELENY (voice-over): He is the last Democrat standing in the way of Donald Trump, fellow New Yorker, Senator Chuck Schumer.

SEN. CHUCK SCHUMER (D), NEW YORK: We're ready to stand shoulder and shoulder with Republicans, working with soon-to-be President Trump on issues where we agree. But we will go toe-to-toe against the president-elect whenever our values or the progress we've made is under assault. ZELENY: It's a delicate dance for Schumer, elected today by Senate

Democrats to lead them beyond their stinging defeat into the new era of Trump. He faces a balancing act of confrontation and cooperation. He said he'll do both.

SCHUMER: Indeed, a silver lining in the deep clouds of this election is that, on many economic issues, President-elect Trump and his campaign was closer to us than to Republican leadership, which always seems to wind up in the corner of the special interests.

ZELENY: Of all the new dynamics that lie ahead in Trump's Washington, the relationship between the incoming president and the new Democratic leader could be the one to watch. The two have a far deeper history than most anyone in the capitol.

[16:20:01] That much was clear last month at the Al Smith charity dinner in New York.

DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENT-ELECT: He used to love me when I was a Democrat, you know?

ZELENY: Trump, who gave money to many Democrats over the years, also contributed to a handful of Schumer's campaigns.

SCHUMER: Thank you, sir.

ZELENY: And the Schumer household is not a stranger to working across the aisle. His wife, Iris Weinshall, was transportation commissioner under Republican New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani. And even though their differences are wide, spanning a divide from Schumer's Brooklyn to Trump's Fifth Avenue, they've often bonded over their love of New York and their quest to make a deal.

When Trump and Ted Cruz were sparring over New York values in the GOP primary, Schumer sided with Trump.

SCHUMER: He stood up for New York 100 percent.

ZELENY: As Democrats pick up the pieces from Hillary Clinton's stunning defeat, the party is in the wilderness and on Capitol Hill, in the minority.

SCHUMER: When you lose an election like this, you can't flinch, you can't ignore it. You need to look it right in the eye and ask why. Analyze it. And learn from it.

ZELENY: To rebuild the party, Schumer added independent Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders to the ranks of Senate Democratic leadership. But it's Schumer who will be cutting deals or sparring with Trump.

SCHUMER: We're not just going to, as some have done here in the past, said, just because it's President Trump's idea or thought, we're going to oppose it per se. Where we can work together, we will. But I've also said to the president-elect, on issues where we disagree, you can expect a strong and tough fight.


ZELENY: One person not in that fight, Jake, is Hillary Clinton. But she will be making her first appearance since conceding one week ago tonight during a speech at the children's defense fund in Washington. I am told by an aide that she will urge her supporters to remain committed to progressive politics at every level -- Jake.

TAPPER: Jeff Zeleny, thank you so much.

The wall? Ending NAFTA? Repealing Obamacare? We'll take a look at what President-elect Trump can actually get done on his first day in office, next.

Then, he's been called enemy number one by climate change experts, and now, he's on Trump's short list to oversee the agency that's supposed to make sure companies are not dumping toxic chemicals into our water and air.

Stay with us.


[16:26:42] TAPPER: Welcome back to THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper.

President-elect Trump gave himself quite the to-do list if he decides to act upon all the promises he made before Election Day. How realistic is his wish list?

CNN's Tom Foreman joins me now at the magic wall.

And, Tom, President-elect Trump said he wanted to do a lot of things on day one. What can he actually do without Congress?

TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, that's the tricky part, right? They all do this on the campaign. They lay out all these things.

Let's take look at his desktop and see what he might be considering on his presidential punch list.

Item one: the wall. He has talked so much about this idea of building a wall on the border down with Mexico. The question is, can he actually do such a thing? He could continue to work on sections of such a wall which have already been going on for years. But expanding further for a complete wall would require more money, and that means congressional approval. So he can't do that alone.

Item two: deportations for people who have come into the country illegally. In recent months, he's suggested he's not going to deport all 11 million undocumented immigrants but maybe only about two million of them whom he says have committed serious crimes. And, yes, he can send them home without getting Congress involved if he can find them.

Item three: says he wants to dramatically rewrite trade deals. He thinks they're bad for American workers. His election and the Republican sweep of the Congress have killed hopes for the Trans Pacific Partnership, which President Obama wanted and the Mr. Trump can pull the U.S. out of NAFTA, although it's not clear what the economic impact would be and legal challenges are almost sure to follow.

Item four: repealing and replacing Obamacare. This will be tricky. Yes, Republicans hold 51 seats in the Senate, but the rule stands now, they're well short of the 60 they would need to overcome a Democratic filibuster, so he can chew away at portions of the program by cutting funding. But he said he'd also replace parts of Obamacare, although it's not clear right now fully what that would be.

And, item five: a hiring freeze for all federal workers. Again, the complete repercussions are unclear, but he does have the power. It's just not clear if he'll follow through -- Jake.

TAPPER: As a candidate, he also said he would appoint a special prosecutor to go after and try to jail his former Democratic opponent, Hillary Clinton.

FOREMAN: Yes. And this was like hugely explosive that he said he would do such a thing, despite the FBI saying twice now, they found nothing illegal with her actions with that private e-mail server. As president, Mr. Trump can certainly appoint a special prosecutor to investigate again but now that he's won, it's not clear if he will.

The simple equation, Jake, is whatever Barack Obama did on his own without Congress, President Trump could probably undo on his own without Congress.

TAPPER: Tom Foreman, thank you so much.

A hoax cooked up by the Chinese, that's how Donald Trump has described climate change. Check out his Twitter feed if you don't believe me. And now, one of Trump's potential picks to lead the EPA is causing serious concern about the future of combating climate change, the future of the land on which we live, the air we breathe, the water we drink.

Stay with us.