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THE SITUATION ROOM
Interview with Adam Schiff; Break with Protocol Has Leaders Struggling to Reach Trump; Trump Denies Reports of Transition Turmoil; Trump Facing Backlash after Ditching Reporters; Trump Adviser's Handling of Classified Info Questioned. Aired 6-7p ET
Aired November 16, 2016 - 18:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
[18:00:00] WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Clearing the lobby. Vice president-elect Mike Pence, now in charge of the transition, is removing lobbyists from the team in keeping with Trump's pledge to -- quote -- "drain the swamp."
And Pence in Washington meeting with the man -- he will replace Joe Biden. Were they able to make peace after the bitter campaign?
Proto-call. Some world leaders are said to be struggling to reach Trump, forced to take extreme measures to arrange a simple phone call. The Trump team is breaking with protocol and so far snubbing the State Department, while insisting the president-elect will forge strong relations his own way. Is Trump alienating, though, some key West allies?
And breaking news, Clinton speaks. Hillary Clinton is about to make her first public remarks since her concession speech one week ago. She's scheduled to give a speech shortly at an event in Washington. What will her message be following her crushing loss?
We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world. I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.
BLITZER: There's breaking news tonight. We're standing by to hear from Hillary Clinton as she makes her first public remarks since her concession speech following her stunning loss to Donald Trump in the presidential election.
Clinton is giving a speech tonight at an event for the Children's Defense Fund, where she once worked many years ago right out of law school. We're learning details of what she's expected to say.
We're also following the Trump transition. Tonight, the president- elect and their top advisers, they are pushing back against reports of deep strife inside Trump Tower. Trump himself tweeted that things are going so smoothly, and he lashed out at "The New York Times" for reporting otherwise.
As Trump continues to break with convention, vice president-elect Mike Pence paid a very conventional call on the current vice president, Joe Biden, who was sharply critical of the Republican ticket. But over lunch today and touring the vice presidential residence with their wives, Biden offered an olive branch, saying Pence has his full support as he transitions to power.
We're covering all that, much more this hour, including Congressman Adam Schiff. He's the ranking member of the House Intelligence Committee.
Our correspondents and expert analysts are also standing by.
Let's begin with the Trump transition.
CNN political reporter Sara Murray has the very latest for us.
Sara, the president-elect and his team, they are denying reports of fierce infighting and turmoil.
SARA MURRAY, CNN NATIONAL POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: That's right.
Tonight, they're especially hitting back hard at the notion that Jared Kushner, Donald Trump's son-in-law, is exacting revenge against Chris Christie and his allies for Chris Christie putting Kushner's father in jail. They are saying that any hard feelings with Christie really have to do with Bridgegate and the reason we're seeing these shakeups at some of the lower levels in the transition is because people simply weren't doing their jobs or they were lobbyists, which is not something Donald Trump wanted in his transition team.
Either way, I think what you are seeing are Donald Trump's top staffers trying to reset the narrative just a week into the transition.
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...
JOSEPH BIDEN, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: 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.
The small cadre of reporters that changes regularly, known as the protective pool, documented George W. Bush's reaction upon learning about the September 11 terrorist attacks, witnessed John F. Kennedy's assassination in Dallas, and were right there when Ronald Reagan was shot outside of a hotel in Washington, D.C.
MURRAY: Now, a number of different organizations and journalists are already expressing their alarm at Donald Trump ditching his press yet again, even though he's now the president-elect. The White House Correspondents Association called it unacceptable -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Sara, thank you, Sara Murray reporting. While Trump is insisting he's not seeking top national security clearances for his children, a source tells CNN that his son-in-law Jared Kushner could likely receive clearances as a key adviser to the president-elect.
Our senior White House correspondent, Jim Acosta, is joining us now.
Jim, this is turning out to be a pretty sensitive issue. Give us the latest.
JIM ACOSTA, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Absolutely.
As you know, Wolf, Jared Kushner is a very important, close adviser to Donald Trump. He took that stroll with the White House chief of staff, Denis McDonough, when president-elect was visiting with President Obama last week at White House.
You noticed in that tweet from Donald Trump when he said he is not seeking security clearances for his children, he did not talk about Jared Kushner, his son-in-law. Kellyanne Conway was here at Trump Tower earlier today, the former campaign manager, remains a top adviser to Donald Trump.
She was asked whether or not Jared Kushner is going to be receiving that security clearance. She said, I don't know and then the question was asked, would that be appropriate? Here is what she said. We can put the quote on screen.
She says: "It's appropriate for whoever is going to get the presidential daily briefing to have a security clearance. It's not just appropriate, it's necessary." That's from Kellyanne Conway.
Well, Elijah Cummings, a congressman from Maryland who is the ranking Democrat on the House Oversight Committee, he has fired off a letter to the vice president-elect, Mike Pence, who is chairing the transition, saying this is inappropriate, this is not the way presidential daily briefings are supposed to be handled.
And a quote from that letter to vice president-elect Mike Pence, it says: "Mr. Trump's action demonstrate a breathtaking lapse in judgment and an astonishingly cavalier attitude towards our nation's most sensitive secrets."
Congressman Cummings saying in that latter also, Wolf, it's just the president, the vice president and top intelligence officials who should be receiving that presidential daily briefing. So, Wolf, this matter of whether or not Jared Kushner is going to be a close adviser to Donald Trump in the Oval Office, that seems to be settled.
All of the Trump advisers we talk to say, yes, Jared Kushner will be serving that role. But will he be allowed into really one of the most sacred briefings that a president gets every day, the presidential daily briefing? That matter appears to be unresolved as of this hour, Wolf.
BLITZER: But is it already apparent that Kushner would actually be working in the White House, would leave New York and be near the president in the White House?
ACOSTA: You know, that is a question that has not been answered yet. I think the signal that was sent last week at the White House when Kushner was taking that walk with the White House chief of staff, Denis McDonough, made it pretty clear that Jared Kushner is going to continue to be involved with Donald Trump and be one of his closest advisers.
The question remains, can Kushner qualify for this kind of a security clearance? When talking to government sources and other experts in this area, Wolf, they say these clearances are not supposed to be attached to individual people. They're supposed to be attached to individual positions in the federal government.
And so the question is whether or not -- can the president of the United States go ahead and say, listen, my son-in-law needs to be in on the presidential daily briefing? This is a question that has not been dealt with as far as I know in recent memory. So it is something that will be talked about. It is something that at least one congressman, a very important congressman, Elijah Cummings, on the House Oversight Committee, is asking for answers for, Wolf.
BLITZER: It's clear he's emerged as a key adviser to the president- elect and Donald Trump clearly relies on his son-in-law for that kind of advice. We will see what happens.
Jim Acosta outside of Trump Tower in New York.
Let's get some more on all of this.
Democratic Congressman Adam Schiff of California, he's the ranking member of the House Intelligence Committee. He is joining us right now.
Congressman, thanks very much.
REP. ADAM SCHIFF (D), CALIFORNIA: Thanks. Good to be with you, Wolf.
BLITZER: Let me get your reaction to, first of all, Jared Kushner. Should he get that kind of top-secret security clearances and be part of that daily presidential brief?
SCHIFF: Well, I think there are three questions.
There's the question of whether he can be appointed a position, or whether that would violate the anti-nepotism laws. And then there's the question about whether he would qualify for a briefing if he doesn't meet one of those positions or can't by virtue of the nepotism provisions.
But the bigger issue for me, frankly, is we have a president coming in who has no experience in national security, foreign policy. Should he be relying on a son-in-law who also has no experience on national security and foreign policy? That's the primary worry I have. The president-elect recently spoke with Vladimir Putin. I don't know
what was said in that conversation. But we saw an intensification of the -- a renewal and intensification of the bombing in Syria. Does this president-elect know that what he says to Putin may be taken as a green light or a yellow light or red light, that these words that he speaks now have great consequences?
He needs people that have experience that can advise him on this. I'm not sure his son-in-law meets that kind of a qualification.
BLITZER: But he would have other aides with extensive experience in national security, retired Lieutenant General Michael Flynn, for example, who is widely thought to be potentially the national security adviser to the president, spent 30 years in the military, was the director of the Defense Intelligence Agency.
He has got enormous experience in intelligence. Is he acceptable to you?
SCHIFF: Well, I think there are a lot of people that would be superb national security advisers, a lot of people with very strong credentials.
The question in terms of the son-in-law, frankly, though, is, is there a need for the son-in-law to have that information and have that access to the nation's top secrets? Is he going to be, in effect, the national security adviser even without the title?
And if he is not, then what need does he have to have access to these kind of secrets? In terms of General Flynn, the concern I have about General Flynn, quite frankly, is, he seems to have much the same temperament as Donald Trump. Now, that may be attractive to Donald Trump, but frankly I think he ought to look for somebody that will tame the impulsive nature of the president-elect, someone who has more steady and more objective and more thorough in their analysis.
I'm not sure that is what you get with General Flynn, and I would be worried about an impulsive president with an impulsive national security adviser.
BLITZER: What about Rudy Giuliani as secretary of state?
SCHIFF: Well, look, I don't want to go through the whole catalogue.
I have to say, as a mayor, I think he did a good job as a mayor and distinguished himself there. But the last year on the campaign trail, I think we saw a lot of meltdowns by Mr. Giuliani. So I don't know what kind of Giuliani we are getting. Are we getting the kind that we saw as mayor or are we getting the kind that we saw during the last year?
If it's the latter, it would give me a lot of concern as well.
BLITZER: You're the ranking member, the top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee. You get access to a lot of intelligence. The chairman of e committee, Devin Nunes, is part of Donald Trump's
transition team right now. Do you have confidence in the Trump transition team to appoint qualified men and women to these top intelligence positions?
SCHIFF: Well, I have a lot of confidence in Devin Nunes.
He and I work together extremely well. I think he's a very thoughtful, pragmatic, non-ideological intelligence leader. And I think he wants to see an intelligence core that is very professional. So I have a lot of confidence in him and the advise that he must be giving the president-elect.
Do I have confidence that the president-elect will listen to that advice? I don't know. I'm very concerned with some of the picks, Steve Bannon chief among them. If he's going to put someone in as his top adviser that has that kind of history of bigotry and misogyny, then all bets are off how about he will fill other positions.
But there is certainly a very big stable of qualified, capable Republican members of the national security establishment of prior Republican presidents for this president to go to or those that haven't served with a president, but nonetheless are very responsible, may be conservative, but very responsible individuals.
They don't seem to be among the ones that he's culling right now, and that has a lot of us very concerned.
BLITZER: What was your reaction to the removal of Mike Rogers, the former congressman, former chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, from the Trump transition team, because he was named to that transition team by the New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, who is no longer in charge of the transition?
SCHIFF: You know, it certainly looks to an outsider like me on this process that somebody was cleaning house of all the Christie people. And Mike fell into that category.
And the question is, OK, where do they go from here? And who do they get to fill these key positions within the intelligence community, within the national security framework, at secretary of defense? Who will be the new director of the CIA?
Obviously, these are key positions. We want them to be apolitical, nonpartisan positions, particularly in the intelligence community. You know, the paramount virtue you look for is someone who is going to give the president the unvarnished truth, the best intelligence, the best information.
They're not the policy-makers. And you don't want to put people those who view those perches at places to make policy. They're to give the president the best information and the president makes the decisions.
So I hope he will choose wisely, because this is an area where he really brings no experience to the table. And I can tell you, and this has been true of every member who has joined the Intelligence Committee, it is a steep learning curve. And he really needs some of the best people around him.
BLITZER: Congressman, I want you to stick around. We have more to discuss.
We're following the breaking news. We're getting ready to hear from Hillary Clinton, her first public remarks since her concession speech last week.
Much more with Adam Schiff right after this.
BLITZER: We're back with Democratic Congressman Adam Schiff of California, the ranking member of the House Intelligence Committee.
We want to talk to him about the incoming Senate minority leader, Chuck Schumer, elected today to replace the retiring Harry Reid.
But first let's get some details from our senior Washington correspondent, Jeff Zeleny.
Jeff, Schumer has a long history with fellow his New Yorker Donald Trump. Tell us about that.
JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, their relationship goes all the way back to when Donald Trump was a Democrat not so long ago, but it just underscores that Donald Trump has a longer relationship with Chuck Schumer than any Republican leaders here on Capitol Hill.
Now, Senator Schumer said today that he intends to attack issues on a case-by-case basis, but he said Democrats will not reflexively oppose Donald Trump.
ZELENY (voice-over): He's the last Democrat standing in the way of Donald Trump, fellow New Yorker Chuck Schumer.
SEN. CHARLES SCHUMER (D), NEW YORK: We're ready to stand shoulder to 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 have 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 will 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 close 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. 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.
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 isn't 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 have 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 going to be just, 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 have also said to the president-elect, on issues where we disagree, you can expect a strong and tough fight.
ZELENY: I am told that Senator Schumer has spoken with Donald Trump a few times since last week, including once this week, talking about issues they can work on. But, Wolf, one person not involved in this fight is Hillary Clinton.
A week after conceding her election, she will be speaking tonight here in Washington at a dinner for the Children's Defense Fund. That, of course, was one of her first jobs out of school so many years ago.
I am told by a top adviser, she's going to urge progressives to remain engaged in this fight, even as she takes her leave from public life -- Wolf.
BLITZER: We will listen carefully and hear what she has to say tonight.
Thanks so much for that, Jeff Zeleny.
Let's bring back Adam Schiff, the congressman, the ranking member of the Intelligence Committee.
Congressman, what about on the House side? As you know, the leadership elections for the new House Democratic leader, the minority leader, they have been delayed for a couple of weeks following a meeting yesterday. Here's the question. Is the minority leader Nancy Pelosi's leadership right now in trouble?
SCHIFF: No, not at all. And I don't think the delay in the elections really cast any doubt on that.
I think our caucus understands she is going to be our leader going forward, and that's a very good thing. We have been in the minority before, where both houses were controlled by Republicans and there was a Republican in the White House.
And I'll tell you, you want someone who is as smart and strategic and as tough as Nancy Pelosi in that kind of environment. So,she's the best tactician we have, and I think we're lucky to have her in that role.
BLITZER: But, in fairness, and this is what the critics of Nancy Pelosi are saying privately behind the scenes, and there are plenty of them, the Democrats made very few gains in the House of Representatives, in the Senate this cycle. The Democrats lost the presidency.
Here's what they're saying. Is it time for Democrats to find new leadership that can actually deliver the goods?
SCHIFF: You know, I think while there are critics, I wouldn't say there are plenty of them. There are a small number of critics of Leader Pelosi.
Most people are upset with the election, as indeed I am, and we do have to, as Chuck Schumer was just saying in that clip, look at this defeat in the eye and figure out what we need to do differently, how we need to respond to the economic concerns in a big part of the country. That is something we have to take on. But I think there's broad recognition within our caucus, and when this comes to a vote in a couple weeks, you will see how just broad it is, that she's the best leader of this caucus. She keeps a very disparate caucus together, and it's been our unity, frankly, that's given us a meaningful role, even in the minority.
But we do have challenges unquestionably. But those challenges, I think, we can't lose sight of fact that in a presidential race, much as we in the House among our caucus like to think we are in control of our own destiny, we sink or swim depending on how a presidential candidate does.
And what we need of our leadership and what Nancy Pelosi delivered to us is you need to have the resources, you need to have the candidates. To the degree that we can contribute to the message, we need to do that. But then you just have to hope the wave is with you, not against you. And, unfortunately, this cycle, it was against us.
BLITZER: But, Congressman, Hillary Clinton got more than a million more votes, popular votes nationwide than Donald Trump did. She did better in the popular vote. So you could argue she delivered, but the House Democrats didn't.
SCHIFF: Well, you could also argue, Wolf, that the reason that she was successful to that degree, and we did not -- even though we improved our numbers, frankly, and, by that measurement, we did better, we have to confront a gerrymandered map around the country that has frozen in place a lot of GOP members that are not representative of the states they come from and where a more proportional redirecting would have had a very different result.
That's a hurdle we have in the House that you don't have running at the top of the ticket. But, nonetheless, our fate is tied to the top of the ticket. And had we done better nationally, we would have taken a lot of those seats back. Indeed, we saw quite an abrupt change in momentum just a couple weeks out that was well beyond our control to affect here in the House.
BLITZER: Congressman Schiff, thanks for joining us.
SCHIFF: Thanks, Wolf.
BLITZER: Just ahead, we will have more on the Trump transition. Is it going smoothly as the president-elect maintains or is it in turmoil?
Plus, Trump's break with protocol leaves some world leaders hanging on the line. Why are some having such a hard time getting through to the president-elect?
BLITZER: The president-elect, Donald Trump, back on Twitter, denying reports of turmoil inside his transition. Trump says things are going smoothly. Sources have described some serious, intense jockeying inside the Trump team, comparing it, at least one source, to a knife fight, and a game of thrones.
[18:32:57] Let's bring in our political panel. Sara Murray, you've covered this campaign and now the president-elect from the very beginning of his quest for the presidency. A lot of folks are saying that, you know, they really didn't think they were going to win, and as a result, there's a little turmoil going on right now.
MURRAY: I certainly think that's part of it. I also think that a lot of the folks who are in meetings in New York with Donald Trump and Mike Pence, and they sat there for hours and they went over names. And it all seemed very orderly and very normal.
But they're not really seeing the other side of the transition, which is what's happening in D.C. And that's where we have seen a lot of these staff shakeups and some ousters the agency level. You know, all of these departments are saying we haven't seen landing teams, which we would have normally seen by now.
So there really are parallel tracks. The one thing I think is interesting is the pushback we're hearing from some sources within the administration about this sort of Jared Kushner notion that he's coming in and cleaning house as part of a vendetta against Chris Christie for Chris Christie throwing his father in jail. They are trying to say that is not what's going on here. Some people were not acting appropriately in the transition. Some people were not doing their jobs, and that's why we're seeing some of this housecleaning.
BLITZER: David Axelrod, you were one of the transition leaders eight years ago, when President Obama won the presidency. You're looking at what's going on now. You remember some of the turmoil that was going on eight years ago. Your reaction?
DAVID AXELROD, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, look, I think in some ways, the criticism is unfair, the notion that he should have made major announcements by now. We didn't, and so, you know, I don't think that's fair critique.
But look, they replaced their transition leadership days after the election. They're clearly behind the eight ball on some of this, as Sara mentioned. And here's why it's concerning. You know, I heard, because I'm always watching THE SITUATION ROOM. I heard Jeff Toobin in the last hour say that it really doesn't matter, because we know what Trump's going to do.
It really does matter, because you have to run the government, A, and the people who are in those jobs matter. But B, you have the least experienced president maybe in history taking office. And so the people around him are going to have to backstop him in ways that other presidents wouldn't have needed. And so it really is important who they are. And therefore, the transition process has taken on an even greater importance than we've seen before.
[18:35:20] BLITZER: Yes, I think you're right. David Swerdlick, he won the Republican primaries. He won the presidency doing it his way. Why not allow him to continue doing things his way? DAVID SWERDLICK, ASSISTANT EDITOR, "THE WASHINGTON POST": Yes. I
think that President-elect Trump will continue to do things his way, and his inner circle will continue to do things their way as long as it works for them, just like on the campaign. When things start -- when they started losing ground in the polls, they did make some adjustments. But if they don't feel pressure from members of Congress, Republican members of Congress, if they don't feel members -- pressure, excuse me, from the press or the public, they will continue to just sort of push the envelope and see what they can do on their own terms.
BLITZER: Phil Mudd, you served in the CIA. You were a counterterrorism official. You understand the intelligence community very well. When you see someone like Mike Rogers, the foreman chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, a CNN contributor, forced out because he was named to that transition team by Governor Chris Christie, who himself has been sort of pushed aside for now, what does that say to you? What kind of message does that send? Because Mike Rogers, as all of us know, and we know him, he's highly qualified.
PHIL MUDD, CNN COUNTERTERRORISM ANALYST: Yes, I testified in front of him. That is one tough dude. It tells me one thing: it makes me nervous, Wolf. And let me tell you why.
Whether you're running a business or running government, you need two things in your lead people. You need loyalty, in this case, access to the president and knowledge of things like the political process in Congress. But in the complex world of international relations and intelligence, you need another thing, and that is experience and knowledge.
When I see this knife fight that leaves somebody on the floor like Mike Rogers, who not only was a congressman but head of the Intelligence Committee with great capability, and also remember served as a field FBI agent, it looks to me like one of two things has fallen by the wayside. Loyalty is item one, and experience has fallen down. That makes me nervous, Wolf.
BLITZER: What about the Jared Kushner getting security clearances so he can listen to a daily presidential brief? You had top-secret security clearances. What's your reaction when you hear these reports that the president's son-in-law might get that kind of access?
MUDD: I think we need to separate this out into two simple questions. Question one: people are too quick to tell the president-elect of the United States who she -- he should depend on for advice. I think that's the president's responsibility. He's chosen his son-in-law.
There is a second question, though, Wolf, that's critical, including to the question of whether that individual gets a security clearance, and that's conflict of interest. You cannot sit in the Oval Office for the president's daily brief if you also have ongoing major political -- business interests that will be given an advantage by the information you acquire in the Oval Office.
BLITZER: David Axelrod, go ahead. Your reaction?
AXELROD: No, I agree with that. I -- there hasn't been clarity as to what the role of Jared Kushner will be and the -- the other -- the other children. Look, this thing is rife with conflict of interest. The thing that needs to be sorted out here is exactly what separation is there going to be between him and his business, between the kids and the government. It's just one of the questions that needs to be untangled.
BLITZER: All right, guys, everybody stay with us. Stand by. We have much more coming up. World leaders and top allies, they are struggling to get Donald Trump on the phone, as his team makes a sharp break with protocol. We have new information right after this.
[18:43:25] BLITZER: He promised to be a different kind of president, but Donald Trump's break with diplomatic protocol has left some world leaders, including some important allies, struggling to reach the president-elect.
Our chief national security correspondent, Jim Sciutto, is joining us. Jim, the Trump team hasn't even reached out to the State Department yet, I understand.
JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, that is right. Without any preparation or help from the arm of the U.S. government built specifically for relations with foreign powers.
But I'm also told those powers, including close U.S. allies, many of them have had to scramble to speak to the president-elect, causing at best some diplomatic pique, at worst, real confusion.
SCIUTTO (voice-over): Donald Trump's first contacts with foreign leaders are breaking long-established practices for an important early ritual for newly-elected presidents. One close U.S. ally had to reach out to multiple contacts before successfully arranging a phone call with President-elect Trump, a diplomatic source tells CNN. This a full day after his victory. And the State Department, normally an intermediary for such key conversations, has yet to be contacted by the Trump team.
JOHN KIRBY, STATE DEPARTMENT SPOKESMAN: We stand ready to support him and his team with any information that they might require, either in advance of or on the back end.
SCIUTTO (voice-over): Today, President-elect Trump himself touted his first foreign contacts on Twitter, quote, "I have received and taken many calls from foreign leaders despite what the failing 'New York Times' said. Russia, U.K., China, Saudi Arabia, Japan."
[18:45:01] And his spokesman, Jason Miller, told CNN that Mr. Trump has always intended to follow a different playbook. JASON MILLER, TRUMP COMMUNICATIONS DIRECTOR: He's going to have
strong relations and he's going to be able to work with other foreign leaders and to show he is able to reach out and step outside of the political norms to do different things.
SCIUTTO: But different also means uncertain for foreign leaders eager to see where Donald Trump stands on foreign policy.
PHILLIP CROWLEY FORMER STATE DEPARTMENT SPOKESMAN: I think it takes on greater urgency in this circumstance, since so little is known about Mr. Trump, how he will govern actually and even who will advise him.
SCIUTTO: Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe will be the first world to meet with Trump on Thursday. And, again, the transition team has not sought guidance or a briefing from the State Department in advance.
TOMOHIKO TANIGUCHI, SPECIAL ADVISOR, JAPANESE PRIME MINISTER'S CABINET: There's a genuine interest, even curiosity, for him to get to know more of who Mr. Trump is about. And I think it's going to be vice versa. Mr. Trump may be equally interested, even curious, to know who Shinzo Abe is. So, this is going to be very much a classic ice breaking opportunity for both of these people.
SCIUTTO: Now, Japan is a country with arguably one of the most pressing questions for Mr. Trump, and that is what his position on nuclearizing Asia. He said during the campaign, more than once, that he might support allowing U.S. allies in Asia, including Japan, to acquire nuclear weapons. Wolf, is that a position he softens now that he's president? A question we don't know the answer to.
BLITZER: Good question, though.
Jim Sciutto, thanks very much for that.
Let me get back to our panel.
David Axelrod, you served in the White House. You understand diplomatic protocol. Is this a problem he's doing it without consulting with the State Department eight days into his administration -- his transition?
AXELROD: Yes, I sure think so. You know, you're called the leader of the free world for a reason. The United States is the indispensable power, and the president of the United States the most powerful figure on the planet.
And other countries, particularly our allies, are reliant on us and that relationship, and to some extent, we with them. The fact that he would go into meetings without being briefed is disturbing.
I'll say something else. You know, I did a podcast today with a guy named Douglas Alexander, who was the shadow foreign minister of the last labor regime during the period of 2011 through 2015. And he said that Europe generally, an Eastern Europe particularly, are very unsettled because of Mr. Trump's comments about NATO and how -- what he would and wouldn't do to fulfill our obligations under NATO, and particularly about his flirtation with Vladimir Putin.
So there was a lot of attention paid to his initial friendly conversation with Vladimir Putin. And yet our allies apparently are having trouble getting through to him. This sends a terrible signal, and will only increase anxiety over the ocean there.
BLITZER: From a national security perspective, Phil, is this potentially damaging or is this routine? What's your analysis?
MUDD: I would say it's nervous so far for allies overseas, not damaging yet. This is like going into a movie where you're watching the previews, and just waiting for the curtain to come up on the main event, which is the inauguration.
Look, over the past 15 years, Wolf, our allies have been through 9/11, though the invasion of Afghanistan, through soon-to-be three presidents, through ISIS, through Iraq WMD. A lot of turbulence in those relationships with allies in Europe, Asia, Middle East. They've seen a lot. The relationships behind the scenes are very tight.
So, I think they're on the edge of their seats waiting for the main event, but until this president-elect starts to transition from talking to moving, I think they'll stick with us.
BLITZER: Sara, what about the new relationship that will have to emerge between the Democratic leader in the Senate, Chuck Schumer of New York, and the president-elect? They have a long-standing personal connection.
MURRAY: That's right, they do. And it was interesting throughout this campaign, because Chuck Schumer was really not as, you know, adamant or vocal of his criticism of Donald Trump, as we saw from many other Democrats. And I think we're potentially setting ourselves up for four years of very interesting bedfellows on Capitol Hill, because Donald Trump is not an ideological Republican in so many different ways, it's possible he does a couple of things that the outset with Republicans.
But then he turns to Democrats to get some of his priorities done, particularly when you look at some of the things he wants to do on trade. That could be an area of commonality for Democrats. And I think there are a couple of other openings where we could see him reaching out to the other side of the aisle, particularly Chuck Schumer, to help get some of these things accomplished.
BLITZER: Do the Democrats, David Swerdlick, have their act together in the House and the Senate right now? Because they're going to be in the minority. There's a Republican president and Republican majorities in the House and Senate.
SWERDLICK: I don't know about act together. To the extent, to Sara's point, to the extent that they're able to work with Donald Trump, not an ideological guy, not a movement conservative guy, to some legislation passed on issues where they have commonalities, maybe.
[18:50:04] But I think a lot of their power is both rhetorical, number one, on things like immigration and healthcare, and also the idea that President Trump ultimately wants to look like he can succeed. But only mechanical power is really the filibuster, as long as the filibuster is in place.
BLITZER: Well, what do you think, David Axelrod? Will we all be pleasantly surprised that despite all the rhetoric that occurred during the campaign, there is going to be some serious cooperation between the Democrats and the president-elect right now, and serious important legislation will be enacted?
AXELROD: I think the element of surprise has gone out of politics now, surprise is common place. So, maybe so.
We don't know. That's another reason around who surrounds this president will be important and that will be give us some clues. If Mike Pence tightens a sort of traditional Republican conservative group around him, maybe less so. But he may, on issue like infrastructure, for example, Democrats are hungry to cooperate under the right terms and there is an area where you might see a real breakthrough.
BLITZER: All right, guys. Everybody stick around. Stay with us.
And please be sure, this is to our viewers, to check out the first ever book from CNN Politics. It's called, "Unprecedented: The Election That Changed Everything." It's in stores December 6. But guess what? You can preorder your copy right now at CNN.com/book.
Just ahead, questions about whether a top Trump adviser and possible number of his national security team actually mishandled classified information.
[18:56:14] BLITZER: It was the issue that dogged and may have helped derail Hillary Clinton's White House bid. But a Trump team insider who's in line for a top administration has also faced questions about whether he mishandled classified information.
CNN Pentagon correspondent Barbara Starr is working a story for us.
Barbara, we're talking about Retired Lieutenant General Michael Flynn. Tell us what you've learned.
BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, Mike Flynn, may be about to get one of the most important jobs in the Trump administration. But as we talked to half a dozen people who know him well, who have known for him years and they say his personality could be a deciding factor for some of those trying to go to work for him.
LT. GEN. MICHAEL FLYNN (RET.), U.S. ARMY: I have called on Hillary Clinton to drop out of the race, because she -- she -- put our nation's security at extremely high risk.
STARR (voice-over): Retired Lieutenant General Michael Flynn now considered a leading candidate to become Donald Trump's national security advisor. Flynn harshly criticized Hillary Clinton's handling of sensitive information during the campaign.
FLYNN: This over-classification excuse is not an excuse. If it's classified, it's classified.
STARR: But Flynn's own record with classified information has been called into question during his military career. On at least two occasions, he's handling of classified information came under scrutiny by the U.S. military.
Two former government officials with direct knowledge of the issue tells CNN during the time Flynn oversaw intelligence in Afghanistan, he shared classified information with Pakistan on terror networks for killing American troops. Intelligence, the sources say, came from another agency. Flynn wasn't supposed to share it. They say he was trying to convince Pakistan to stop sheltering terrorists.
Asked by email about the allegation, Flynn told it is not true. Not even close. Flynn declined to comment further for this story.
In a separate incident, the two officials CNN spoke with said Flynn did not follow established security procedures when he shared classified intelligence with allies. Flynn has acknowledged that one, telling "The Washington Post", "The investigation on me was for sharing intelligence with the Brits and Australians in combat and I'm proud of that one. That was substantiated because I actually did it."
Flynn said he had permission to share the classified information. In both cases sources say the retired general was informally reprimand at the time but never charged with wrongdoing.
And new 2010, while still serving as a senior officer, he published an article criticizing the state of U.S. intelligence operations in Afghanistan. CNN has learned the CIA was so furious at Flynn for publicly disclosing shortfalls, it complained to the Pentagon which had signed off on the article.
Flynn joins tremendous access and credibility with Donald Trump.
PETER BERGEN, CNN NATIONAL SECURTY ANALYST: What makes General Flynn different from so many others we've heard about on Donald Trump's transition team is he's the one with the real experience fighting on the ground in Afghanistan and Iraq.
STARR: Now, in 2014, Michael Flynn was pushed out as director of Pentagon's Defense Intelligence Agency. He has publicly suggest it was because the administration didn't want to hear his views on radical Islamic terrorism, but several officials I spoke with who are there at the time said it was because of his contentious personality -- Wolf. BLITZER: We'll see what position if any he winds up getting in the
Trump administration. Barbara, thanks for that report. Barbara Starr at the Pentagon.
That's it for me. Thanks very much for watching.
"ERIN BURNETT OUFRONT" starts right now.