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Trump Proclaims Transition 'Organized' Despite Reports; President Obama Delivers Speech in Greece; GOP at Odds Over Trump Cabinet Candidates. Aired 7-7:30a ET

Aired November 16, 2016 - 07:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


SUNLEN SERFATY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Among those on his team that are now out, former Congressman and CNN contributor Mike Rogers, who had been a leading voice for months, a national security voice for months on his transition team, but who was closely aligned with former transition head Chris Christie.

[07:00:11] But amid all of this, top transition officials are continuing to push back, insisting that they're not in disarray.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

SERFATY (voice-over): President-elect Donald Trump's transition team continues to turn over, now purging key members of their staff.

MIKE ROGERS, FORMER CONGRESSMAN: Sometimes in politics there are people who are in and people who are out.

SERFATY: Multiple sources saying Trump's son-in-law and close adviser, Jared Kushner, is at the center of the in-fighting and trying to oust all Chris Christie associates from the team.

ROGERS: The people who have been asked to move on have some relationship with Chris Christie. In my case, I was hired by him. And so there's a whole series of about five of them that fit that criteria that were asked to leave in the last few days.

SERFATY: Kushner has a complicated history with Christie. His father, Charles, a real-estate developer, spending a year in jail after being prosecuted by Christie, then a U.S. attorney in 2004, for tax evasion, witness tampering and illegal campaign contributions.

But a high-ranking Trump insider is dismissing reports of infighting and says the purge of Christie loyalists is being mischaracterized.

Trump, too, is pushing back, defending the transition as "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."

Meanwhile, a source with close knowledge of the transition says that Kushner could likely end up with a top national security clearance as a key adviser to Trump, fueling concerns over nepotism and a potential conflict of interest as Kushner's wife, Ivanka, will manage Trump's empire. And as the waiting game continues over key cabinet slots, a potential

roadblock for one of Trump's top contenders for secretary of state, former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani. According to transition sources, Giuliani's lucrative consulting firm is being looked over by Trump's transition team, to whether his business ties with several foreign governments would complicate his confirmation.

REP. RAND PAUL (R), KENTUCKY: Well, I think it is worrisome some of the ties to foreign governments, because that was a big complaint about many of us with Hillary Clinton.

SERFATY: Meantime, Donald Trump breaking protocol, again, as president-elect, ditching his press pool of reporters, slipping out for a late-night steak dinner with his family Tuesday.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SERFATY: Now in the meantime, the president-elect himself is pushing back hard against reports that he was pursuing and looking into the potential of getting some of his adult children top-secret national security clearance. He's pushing back on a tweet this morning saying, quote, "I am not trying to get top-level security clearance for my children. This was a typically false news story."

And Chris and Poppy, we know, according to a transition source, that all of this seems to have stemmed from one transition staffer with close connections to the Department of Defense, who seem to have made this ask without having the proper authorization.

CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR: All right, Sunlen. Thank you very much. Appreciate it.

Let's bring in CNN senior political analyst and senior editor of "The Atlantic," Professor Ron Brownstein; national political reporter for Bloomberg Politics, Jennifer Jacobs; and CNN political analyst and "New York Times" political correspondent Patrick Healy.

Let's put out all of the freshest evidence of the reality inside the transition. Here is the latest Trump president-elect tweet on it. "Very organized process taking place as they decide on cabinet, many positions. I'm the one who knows who the finalists are." They got criticism for making it seem like a reality show adjunct. But he says everything is OK.

But, you have to contrast that with Eliot Cohen, well-known conservative national security expert. He goes there to meet with the transition team, and he says this: "After exchange with Trump transition team changed my recommendation. Stay away. They are angry, arrogant, screaming, 'You lost.' Will be ugly." That's also known as to the winner goes the spoils.

But Mike Rogers, CNN analyst, former congressman, very tight with Mike Pence and Chris Christie, just got dismissed from the transition team. He had this to say.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) ROGERS: They clearly wanted to make a change in this regard, and so it came down that it was time they wanted to go in a different direction. And I think there is some confusion going on about a chain of command coming out of New York. Hopefully, they'll get that settled pretty soon. I think they're going to need to do it, because as this clock ticks, all of these decisions become more important.

And you have to make them sooner with a little more authority and a little more forward thinking to make sure that they don't bump into anything in the future.

CUOMO: Jen Jacobs, can you relay the anecdote that you heard about Rogers being told and who knew and who didn't know that reveal somewhat of what's going on within the team?

JEN JACOBS, BLOOMBERG POLITICS: Right. There is a lot of backstabbing and infighting, and it's hard to tell, you know, what the motivations are. And they're not necessarily always communicating with each other.

So I was told from someone within the transition team that they were told to call Mike Rogers and say, you know, "Thank you so much for your service, but you're dismissed."

And then an hour later, another top transition official called him for a scheduled meeting and didn't know that he had already been let go. So, it's just that kind of, you know, just not communicating with each other. I'm not so sure that Mike Pence even knew that Mike Rogers was going to be let go.

And you know, I got a lot of phone calls after I broke the story yesterday morning with people concerned, saying Mike Rogers is a guy who has -- commands real respect on Capitol Hill. He's this serious guy. He really knows national security. And this was the guy who was supposed to be setting up, you know, national security policies and setting up, you know, recommending staff, getting things, paving the way for Donald Trump's national security team.

And national security has kind of been a weak link for Donald Trump. And so they really needed someone who is going to be gunning hard at this, which Mike Rogers was. And to yank him out there all of a sudden, it puts the brakes on whatever they were doing now. New people have to come in. It's just -- and so, people were not happy about that. So there was just, like, mixed feelings within Trump world about yanking somebody who is such a key player, a smart guy, pulling him out of there.

PATRICK HEALY, "THE NEW YORK TIMES": You know, and reading Jen's great story, the thing you would come away from -- you know, feeling and then talking to people in Trump land is that so much of this is happening on the fly. And you've got someone, Jared Kushner, who's not, you know, someone who comes out of a political organization who is making...

CUOMO: He's never done anything like this before. HEALY: And he's making a lot of quarterbacking calls. And it's not

necessarily OK, we need to make sure that, you know, Reince Priebus and, you know, various sort of like -- people who technically should be in charge and are being empowered, you know, know about these things. So, the left hand essentially knows what the right hand is saying.

POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: Ron Brownstein, to you. I just wonder if we -- the media, the American public, are focused more on this now, and is it messy and how messy and to what extent, because it is Donald Trump in terms of being an unknown quantity, having never served in public office before.

How much do you think is that and how much do you think it is really messier than most transitions?

RON BROWNSTEIN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Look, transitions are often messy. I mean, it's not unusual for a transition to be messy.

But I think here, particularly in the foreign policy area, you do have a real issue, because the most conspicuous breach between Donald Trump and the Republican -- existing Republican leadership was over foreign policy. Whereas you talked about with Jim Fallows, you had these extraordinary letters from dozens of former top Republican national security officials and, ultimately, two former secretaries of state, Condoleezza Rice and Colin Powell, basically saying he did not believe he had the temperament or experience or judgment to serve as commander in chief. Someone like Mike Rogers, I think, was seen as a bridge between a Trump victory and that entire world of expertise and knowledge and experience.

Now that bridge is gone. You have Elliot Cohen in that op-ed piece in "The Washington Post" going beyond the tweet, saying, "This was not a normal campaign. It was not a normal transition. It will not be a normal administration. I advise you not to serve."

So I mean, this is a real issue in terms of kind of whether Trump is going to be -- the Trump administration is going to be completely divorced from the kind of existing Republican foreign policy, you know, kind of foundation that exists. And, so, I think there is a -- there is a real issue here. Understanding the transition is often, you know, kind of -- look a little chaotic.

CUOMO: A conclusion that I imagine President Obama would disagree with because even if you don't like what happened in the election and you don't like the complexion of Trump's early stages, do you abandon the country when, arguably, they may need you the most.

Pat Healy, to understand why this is going on, you keep hearing his supporters of Trump say, "Man, he knows how to build a great team. I would challenge anyone to show me a great management team that Trump has ever built." Not what he's known for.

HEALY: Right.

CUOMO: But he is known for loyalty. And you heard Mike Rogers say a New York power structure. Right. Rogers is a D.C. guy. These guys, they're talking about Kushner and the family.

But loyalty is the most important thing in politics, because perception is reality. And those who care about you most will help control the perception. So, can you fault Trump for defaulting into those he trusts the most?

HEALY: No, and I think in a way you want -- you want a president who, you know, the country elected him, who sort of follows his instincts and who delivers on what he, you know, what he promised. That's what his voters are very much going to be looking for.

Trump is a loyalty guy, the Trump Organization. People like Mike Cohen have been there for a long time. These are the people that he listened to.

CUOMO: He's a guy's name whose name I'm surprised you're not hearing more of, by the way.

HEALY: Hear more of. But I think he's along the lines of Steve Bannon. He's very much involved sort of behind-the-scenes and doesn't want to become, you know, let's say, a lightning rod.

CUOMO: But he needs his best people around him. Where's Cohen?

JACOBS: Do you think right now his son is trying out for the White Sox in Chicago.

[07:10:06] CUOMO: That is true. That is true. He does have a pro- baseball try-out and the tension with Cohen is they need him so much at the business, that do you risk stability of the business to bring it into the White House?

HARLOW: And the conflict of interest argument. Speaking of loyalty, there is also obviously a more than complicated relationship between Jared Kushner and Chris Christie, who is, you know, pretty much out, as well.

But remember when Donald Trump months ago was accused of saying something anti-Semitic, and Jared Kushner came out and wrote this big thing supporting his father-in-law. And he's Jewish, and saying, you know, "He is not that for X, Y and Z. He has stood by his side through thick and thin through it all, and look, Christie put his dad in jail.

JACOBS: So Jared Kushner's father was the biggest donor to the Democratic governor at the time, had some things that he did and people have said that -- Chris Christie pretty much had no choice but to prosecute these. These were pretty egregious crimes.

HARLOW: There was a sex tape involved.

JACOBS: Was there? I didn't know that part.

CUOMO: Poppy always knows that stuff.

HARLOW: It's 7 in the morning, Chris. CUOMO: You brought it up at 7 a.m. in the morning. Always blaming the media.

Ron Brownstein, what do you think about one other quick take here? He went to dinner at the 21 Club, strong decision. Didn't bring the press pool, controversial. Why?

BROWNSTEIN: Well, you know, because you know, when the leader -- he is going to be the leader of the free world. And the long-standing norm is that the press, you know, has a protective pool following the leader of the free world, because you never know what is going to happen at any moment.

And look, this is the not the first norm that we have seen broken here. You know, the failure to release the tax returns, the possibility of having his children run his business rather than a true blind trust. I mean, there are lots of things.

And just one last point about what we've been talking about. You know, they've already -- if you think about the structure of government with Reince Priebus and Steve Bannon, you already have, in essence, two power centers. You have kind of one that is tied into the existing kind of Republican leadership and one that reflects much more the influence of the alt-right.

Now, I think, from the transition, you get the -- you get the sense that there could be a third kind of structure, kind of a -- kind of an off the chart family kind of line of influence and decision making. And that is, you know, you're talking about a lot of balls in the air in terms of who's going to have the ear of the president and what is going to set the direction.

HARLOW: We certainly do, guys. Thank you very much, Ron Brownstein, Patrick Healy, Jen Jacobs. By the way, Jen, Christine Romans said you two were newspaper nerds together in college.

JACOBS: We were.

HARLOW: I love that.

JACOBS: We grew up together, yes. She's a great girl.

HARLOW: All right, guys. Thank you very much.

Coming up right now, President Obama wrapping up his two-day visit to Greece with a speech in the shadows of the Acropolis. From there he heads to Germany, the second stop on his final trip abroad in office.

Our Michelle Kosinski, he joins us live from Athens -- Michelle.

MICHELLE KOSINSKI, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Poppy.

Right, President Obama spent his last day in Greece touring the Acropolis here behind me. Now he's giving a speech to the Greek people. He may have lines yesterday during this press conference he gave. He

was asked questions directly about the outcome of the American election. Something that has been largely on the minds of people and leaders around the world.

And gone was his optimistic tone. I mean, he criticized Republicans for what he called troubling rhetoric during the campaign, saying that it played people's fears and frustrations. And he warned against letting that kind of sentiment further divide society along certain lines, calling it dangerous.

Well, his speech here today is expected to focus more on shared democratic values here where democracy was born. He'll probably make the case that austerity measures are not a path to prosperity. He's also made a case for further debt relief for Greece.

And from here he then goes to Germany, where he'll be talking to European leaders about that, among other weighty topics. And you know, on debt relief and helping Greece, that's something that the Greek people are worried that President-elect Trump will not help them with -- Chris.

CUOMO: Michelle Kosinski covering the president, difficult. Hanging out in Greece, not so difficult. It's good to have you on this morning. Thank you for joining us.

All right. There's a developing story overnight right now from Afghanistan. Four people killed, nearly a dozen injured in a suicide bombing near the defense ministry in Kabul. That's supposed to be a secure zone. There's been no claim of responsibility yet. The attack coming just days after a weekend suicide bombing left four Americans dead at the Bagram Air Base. That's supposed to be a very secure zone, the largest U.S.

military facility in the country.

HARLOW: And a possible break through this morning for people suffering from heart disease. A new injectable drug called Repatha reduces the risk of heart attack by shrinking plaque as it's clogging arteries. Researchers say it works best when paired with a statin therapy. A clinical trial found 64 percent of people saw plaque melt away. The results are published in "The Journal of the American Medical Association."

CUOMO: Very interesting. Always good to find some way to keep people alive. Heart disease, big killer.

HARLOW: Huge.

CUOMO: The president-elect dismissing reports of infighting, saying there is no disarray during his transition. But what does the GOP think of Trump's potential cabinet picks? There is infighting. It is real, and we take a closer look.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) PAUL: You want to have a diplomat in charge of diplomacy. You don't want a bomb thrower. And so, no, John Bolton is totally unfit to be secretary of state, and I hope that the Trump administration will say, "You know what? He does not represent what Donald Trump represents."

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HARLOW: Senator Rand Paul at odds over Donald Trump's potential cabinet picks. Some have blasted. Republicans blasting Trump's rumored picks so far, especially with regard to foreign policy and national security.

[07:20:05] Is the GOP gearing up for new battles over policy and appointments?

Joining us now, David Frum, former speech writer for George W. Bush and senior editor of "The Atlantic." And Jackie Kucinich is with us, CNN political analyst, the Washington bureau chief for "The Daily Beast." And thank you so much for being here.

Just your read on what Rand Paul said there, Jackie, just in terms of where you think all the leads are going to fall here.

JACKIE KUCINICH, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, I mean, you did have, this is classic Rand Paul. I mean, John Bolton is kind of the opposite of Rand Paul's libertarian sort of non-interventionalist ideology.

So on the other side of the coin, you had Lindsey Graham tell reporters yesterday that the fact that Rand Paul opposes John Bolton is actually an asset.

But it shows that Trump -- this isn't a clear shot for some of the people that Trump is talking about for secretary of state, some of the other positions. There will be dissent in the ranks, and it will be up to him and his transition team to figure out how to navigate this. Because that, that process of confirming these folks can be messy, and it looks like it might be.

CUOMO: Now, one of the good things about covering this new administration will be we don't have to wait to know what the president will be thinking about things. He watches these shows in real time. He's been tweeting all morning his pushback to different headlines and different areas of reporting.

He just tweeted, "The failing 'New York Times' story" -- and remember, that president-elect had suggested they were losing subscriptions. "The Times" came out and said, actually, "No, subscriptions are on the rise." But let's put the fact to the aside; it's just wrong. But he says their story is totally wrong on transition. "It is going so smoothly. Also, I have spoken to many foreign leaders," which David Frum probably characterizes as his "have to" response to their "have not."

The idea of chaos inside of a transition is not new. You are seeing deeper concerns about what kind of alliances are being set up, what kind of connection to the party and the power structure there is; and that worries you going forward, why?

DAVID FRUM, SENIOR EDITOR, "THE ATLANTIC": Look, there's chaos and there's chaos. That -- there seems to have been no plan in advance to check people, look for conflicts of interest to weed out people.

I am most concerned -- when you hear a debate between Rand Paul and John Bolton, that is very near the realm of the normal. John Bolton has worked in a government office before. He has known foreign policy views. You may approve of them. You may disapprove of them. Maybe in a different administration, he would be an undersecretary, not a secretary of state. But, still, reasonably normal.

What's happening in the White House is what is not normal. That at the central switching point of American government, you have people who know nothing about how government works; who have only bitter relationships with the -- with the congressional majorities needed to pass the president's agenda. And you have a president who has, obviously, lost control of his emotions, who is not able to hide his -- hide his feelings from the world, and who tells us that he is running a process where nobody knows who the finalists are for these posts, which means no one is vetting them, no one is checking them, no one is running them past congressional leaders.

HARLOW: Jackie, when you look at secretary of state, such a critical appointment. Right? So the names being floated, two of the top names, John Bolton and Rudy Giuliani.

Here's the problem with Bolton, one of the architects, a big supporter of the Iraq War, which was Trump was at the outset, then changed his mind and has maintained that he was never in support of.

And then with Giuliani, all of his business times after he served in elected office, you know, who his law firm represented. You know, business done with the government of Qatar. It's all of these complications. Which one makes it more difficult for which man, and are there other names out there you're hearing?

KUCINICH: Well, I mean, it's hard to say which makes it more difficult. With Giuliani we kind of have a replay of what Hillary Clinton was -- was criticized for.

HARLOW: Which he bashed her on so much.

KUCINICH: Well, never stopped him. But, still, I mean, you're going to see a replay of that. And if they are not vetted internally, they're going to be vetted externally. And that could be a heck of a mess for an incoming Trump administration. And not, you know, altogether unreminiscent of the first -- the Bill Clinton administration, where you had people that may not have been vetted put up and then, you know, when you actually start looking at that record, there are some problems there.

So, it does -- it would make sense. And then you see all these trial balloons going out. These random names being thrown out. So, you know, we are trying to follow -- I feel like there's a new name every day. Trying to keep up with all of the things that the transition team or people around it are putting out.

CUOMO: And there is -- there is some reporting from inside that team that Bolton may be a trial balloon, because they believe that Rudy sets up very favorably to him.

And just to be clear and save us a couple of angry phone calls later today, you can't say that Rudy has the kinds of issues right now that he accused Hillary Clinton of having, because those were about showing favoritism to people as secretary of state that had dealings, financial dealings with the foundation.

HARLOW: Sure.

[07:25:11] CUOMO: Nobody can say that Rudy has done anything wrong abroad. He would argue...

HARLOW: The question is will there be conflicts of interest if he gets it?

CUOMO: The difference between -- a conflict of interest to one person may be...

HARLOW: Pay for play.

CUOMO: ... or an opportunity for...

KUCINICH: But it's also taking money...

CUOMO: ... Rudy to know people abroad and have good, pre-existing relationships.

FRUM: I think we all have to be a lot less fussy with this administration. If you have -- if you have simply -- if you have run a complex organization before, I mean, you are already so many hundreds of miles ahead of some of the other people who are being put forward. So, be grateful.

Rudy Giuliani, he was mayor of New York. He ran a complex organization. He can certainly run the State Department.

And when we get to the defense picks, again, have they run complex organizations before? The people who are running the White House have not run complex organizations before. And even Donald Trump, who ran this big company, he didn't -- he wasn't running General Motors. I mean, he was running something that had, what, a dozenemployees in his headquarters. He managed -- cash management was a notorious chaos.

The U.S. government is an extremely complex organization. It will run -- it can run itself to a certain degree, but in a crisis, it needs direction. And that has to come from the center and the top.

CUOMO: David Frum, appreciate you.

Jackie Kucinich, appreciate it, as always.

There will be much more discussion on this. And I like Frum's line: We have to stop being so fussy about what's going on inside the transition.

All right. So that's -- leads you to this fundamental question: Is what's going on with this transition really unusual and to a very extreme degree? What does it mean? We're going to get the perspective of a loyalist now to Donald Trump, someone who's on his team, Ohio Congressman Steve King. What does he think about it? What does he want to see out of cabinet picks? Next.

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