Return to Transcripts main page


Trump Offers National Security Post to Michael Flynn; Sen. Sessions Top Candidate for Attorney General; Ohio Congressman Challenging Pelosi for Minority Leader. Aired 7-7:30a ET

Aired November 18, 2016 - 07:00   ET



LT. GEN. MICHAEL FLYNN, NEWLY-APPOINTED NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISOR: We must regain our ability to truly crush our enemies.

SUNLEN SERFATY, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Trump's choice is already making waves. Flynn, the former director of the Defense Intelligence Agency, House a long history of controversial remarks, accused of stoking Islamophobia.

FLYNN: We cannot win this war unless we are free to call our enemies by name: radical Islamists and failed tyrants.

SERFATY: He was fired in 2014 by the White House. Flynn says it was payback for criticizing the administration. U.S. officials say it was House contentious management style.

REP. ADAM SCHIFF (R), MASSACHUSETTS: You've got to look for somebody that will Tim the impulsive nature of the president-elect, somebody who is more steady and more objective and more thorough in their analysis. I'm not sure that's what you get with General Flynn.

SERFATY: Flynn also accused of mishandling classified information, which the U.S. military House scrutinized twice. In both cases, he was never charged with wrongdoing and House defended House actions.

Flynn, a registered Democrat, House been by Trump's side for much of the campaign...


SERFATY: ... acting as top adviser and a high-profile surrogate.

FLYNN: The next president of the United States, right here.

SERFATY: Another Trump loyalist, Senator Jeff Sessions, emerging as the top candidate for attorney general, according to a transition official. If picked, he could face a tough Senate confirmation fight over accusations of alleged racist remarks 30 years ago. Those remarks causing the Alabama senator to be rejected for a federal judgeship in 1986. Sessions denied the allegations at the Tim.

KELLYANNE CONWAY, FORMER TRUMP CAMPAIGN ADVISOR: I think that if anybody had a problem with House record, they would have just run against him and made that very clear. But Senator Sessions would be qualified for any number of positions.

SERFATY: Meanwhile, Trump is also reaching out to a former adversary.

MITT ROMNEY (R), FORMER PRESIDENTIAL NOMINEE: Donald Trump is a phony, a fraud.

SERFATY: The president-elect meeting with 2012 Republican nominee Mitt Romney this weekend. The two planning to talk about how to govern moving forward amid speculation that they could discuss Romney serving as secretary of state.

JACK KINGSTON, TRUMP CAMPAIGN SENIOR ADVISOR: I think if the two of the can get together, Mitt Romney is an extremely smart guy. He brings a lot to the table; and so I think looking at him as a candidate is the right thing to do.


SERFATY: And the Trump landing teams are also starting to make some progress making contact now at some of the key agencies -- Defense, State and Justice Department, as well as the National Security Council -- really starting to coordinate now in terms of the transition and the hand over with Obama administration officials.

Meantime, Donald Trump, he is en route -- later this weekend, on Saturday and Sunday, he'll be spending the weekend at House golf resort in Bedminster, New Jersey, where he'll continue to work on staffing out House administration and, John, where notably this big meeting with Mitt Romney will happen -- John.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: All right. Excellent. Sunlen Serfaty outside Trump Tower.

Here to discuss Donald Trump's decision to offer General Flynn the role of national security adviser and give us some insight about what we might hear today, chief strategist and communications director for the RNC, Sean Spicer, who worked so closely with the Trump campaign and now is working closely with the transition, as well.

First of all, Sean, let me ask you this outright. Do we expect any announcements today? Would it be surprising to see announcements today?

SEAN SPICER, CHIEF STRATEGIST & COMMUNICATIONS DIRECTOR, RNC: It would not be surprising to see something come out today. But again, one of the things that you need to understand about President-elect Trump is that, until he says something, it's not -- it's not official.

He House met with a ton of quality caliber people, from General Flynn to General Keen, General Mattis, other people. Yesterday Secretary Kissinger. He continues to get advice from the best and the brightest. National security, foreign policy, military affairs. So I wouldn't be surprised to see a couple of things here and there, but he is going to put forth one of the strongest national security and defense-related teams that this country House ever seen, with people who have got the expertise and the vision to make sure that our country is protected and that our military House everything it needs.

So just for example, I mean, someone talked about the landing teams. The landing teams for national security are hitting agencies today. That's Department of State, Department of Defense, Department of Justice, and the National Security Council. Those are people designated by President-elect Trump to liaise with people designated by the White House, to go into these departments a begin that transition process so that on January 20, after he takes House hand off that Bible, that he is ready on day one to implement real change throughout the entire government.

And then on Monday we'll talk about the economic Tim and then the domestic policy Tim. But these agencies and these landing teams will go all throughout government -- departments, agencies -- and make sure that we have a plan in place to enact real change starting on day one.

BERMAN: Just while you were talking right there, a little voice in my ear said CBS News is reporting that Jeff Sessions, senator from Alabama, House been offered the job as attorney general. Can you confirm that?

SPICER: No, I can't. I mean, as I said earlier, until Donald Trump says it, it's not official. And that's how it works, and it will work. House the ultimate decider. He will be the president of the United States on January 20. But the way he House run House business and House campaign is that, until he says something, it's not official.

[07:05:14] BERMAN: It's not official, but maybe we'll hear about something like that later today.

Let me ask you, General Michael Flynn. Again, Donald Trump hasn't said it out loud, which is the Sean Spicer standard. But he and others reporting that General Flynn House been offered the role as national security adviser.

Let me play you something what General Flynn House said about the religion of Islam.


FLYNN: Islam is a political ideology. It is a political ideology. It definitely hides behind this notion of it being a religion. I don't see a lot of people screaming "Jesus Christ" with hatchets -- hatchets or machetes or rifles, shooting up clubs or hatcheting -- you know, literally axing families on a train. And so it's like cancer, and it's like a malignant cancer, though, in this case. And it House metastasized.


BERMAN: All right. He says that Islam is a political ideology that hides behind this notion of it being a religion. He will now be, we believe, the national security adviser to Donald Trump. Does President-elect Donald Trump believe that Islam is a political ideology that hides behind the notion of being a religion?

SPICER: You heard on the campaign trail several times Donald Trump talk about the threat that radical Islamic terrorist poses. We've got to be very, very honest about the threats that our country...

BERMAN: General Flynn says it's not a religion.

SPICER: I understand that, but at the end of the day, Donald Trump is the president of the United States. It's what House vision, what House beliefs that matter. He understands the threats that this country faces. He is compromising the best national security, foreign policy and military Tim that this country House ever seen, because he understands the threats that this country needs -- is facing and how to -- how to address them.

So you look at not just General Flynn but the entire Tim, the landing Tim that's going over to those agencies that I mentioned. The departments. You look at the other people that he is considering for some of these top posts. It is going to be an entire Tim.

BERMAN: We're not talking about the other Tim. We're talking about the guy who is going to be the national security adviser, which is the point person on international affairs, national security, military inside the White House. And that person said that Islam is a political ideology that hides behind being a religion. There are 1 billion Muslims in the world. I think that Muslims in the United States and all around the world want to know if the president-elect believes that Islam is not a religion.

SPICER: No, no. The president of the United States believes that radical Islamic terrorism needs to be addressed, and we need to be honest about that. That there are people within that religion whose entire goal is to come after the United States, and we've got to be honest about the threat.

BERMAN: It's not the religion. Michael Flynn said it's not a religion.

SPICER: I understand that. What I'm telling you is the president- elect of the United States, who is the man that matters in this equation, and he will tell every single person in the administration, from national security adviser to the chief of staff to the secretary of defense, what House vision is, what he believes, and he will make the ultimate decision. So it's what he believes that matters.

BERMAN: All right. Let's move on to Mitt Romney. What he believes or believed during the campaign, he called Donald Trump a fraud. What does it say to you that the two men will sit down together in New Jersey this weekend?

SPICER: I think it shows you how magnanimous Donald Trump is. Right? What he wants is the best and the brightest, and he understands that Governor Romney may not have endorsed him, may not have supported him. Neither did...

BERMAN: May not have endorsed him is the biggest euphemism. SPICER: Senator Cruz, you know, initially had some reservations about him. Donald Trump House let all of that go. What he cares about now is not what your partisanship is, not whether you support him or not; whether or not you can help him enact real change. That's it. Full stop.

And you look at it, the actions that he speaks since the day he took that stage at 2 a.m. on Wednesday morning and accepted the presidency from Hillary Clinton and thanked the American people for their support. He House done everything to show what a great president House going to be and what a great Tim House going to -- House meeting with Democrats, Republicans, people who supported him, people who didn't. The criteria is this: Do you have good ideas about making this country great? Full stop.

BERMAN: Let me ask you also about Donald Trump taking credit for keeping a Ford plant in the United States. One of the tweets he put out last night, he said, "I worked hard with Bill Ford to keep the Lincoln plant in Kentucky. I owed it to the great state of Kentucky for their confidence in me."

The thing is, Ford says this plant wasn't going anywhere. Ford said they were just going to make a different kind of car here. They were going make Ford Escapes in this plant rather than the Lincoln MKC. So what's Donald Trump taking credit for?

SPICER: I think he House been very clear about the need to keep jobs in America, whether it's Ford or other companies and that we've got to stop outsourcing our jobs and creating regulations and policies that encourage companies to move. And I know House been very vocal, especially with the car manufacturing sector.

BERMAN: But he said -- but he didn't keep jobs in America; he kept the model in America. I'm not sure keeping the Lincoln MKC...

SPICER: He is -- the discussions he House had with various people, business leaders and company executives is not something that I'm going to share, but I mean, I can tell you that House been very committed to this. Not just publicly but privately with the meetings the House had with CEOs and other executives.

[07:10:09] BERMAN: You going to work in the administration, Sean?

SPICER: I will do whatever I'm asked to do.

BERMAN: Have you been offered a job or not?

SPICER: No. I would be honor -- look, you can't say no to the president of the United States but it House been, just frankly, an honor to be part of this process. It is unbelievably historic what House happened, and I'm just honored to have had a small role and a small scene in this.

BERMAN: Pretty big role. Sean Spicer, thanks so much for being with us. Appreciate it -- Alisyn. CAMEROTA: OK, John. Nancy Pelosi facing a rare challenge to her leadership of Democrats in the House. Ohio Congressman Tim Ryan says it is time for a new direction and new leadership. Himself. Congressman Ryan with us to talk about it next.


ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: Nancy Pelosi has been the top Democrat in the House since 2003. But now a challenge for that spot. The Democrats had hoped to gain 20 or more seats in the House, but they only got six. A few races are still being decided.

So is it time for new Democratic leadership? Our next guest thinks so. Let's bring in Ohio Congressman Tim Ryan. He is challenging Nancy Pelosi.

Congressman, thanks so much for being here in studio. How did you make a decision like this? How did you decide to throw your hat in the ring?

[07:15:06] REP. TIM RYAN (D), OHIO: Well, I never had any ambitions to run for House leadership. But I think after Tuesday and what happened on Tuesday and what happened in 2014 and going back to 2010, since I've been in the House -- I've been in the House since 2003 -- we keep losing, you know? And we need to start winning races so that we can get in a position to implement our agenda.

You know, winners win, and we're not winning right now and we've got to start winning races. And I was -- I'm very frustrated with where we are. And I believe where I come from and who I am allows me -- would allow to connect with voters all around the country to pull them back into the Democratic fold. A lot of the Trump voters.

CAMEROTA: Because you're from Youngstown, Ohio. So you have your finger on the pulse, you think, of working-class voters more than other Democrats?

RYAN: I believe so. I mean, there are a lot of Democrats that have their finger on the pulse. I believe I'm one of them. You know, I grew up just outside of Youngstown. My grandfather was a steel worker. My wife comes from a small little steel town not far from where I grew up. Her dad worked in a steel mill. My buddies work in construction, and they work in factories. My whole family. So this is, like, in our bones. And so we kind of knew what was happening over the last few years.

CAMEROTA: You did? I mean, did you see this happening? Were you somebody who saw Donald Trump winning?

RYAN: Well, you know, you get in a campaign, and you get hopeful and you're pushing out a certain message. But there was a disconnect. And we were feeling it on the ground. And, you know, we need to do something about it, because at the end of the day, I think the American people are going to be the ones to suffer.

What I tell Democrats is, look, we just elected Donald Trump president of the United States. We're doing something terribly wrong. And I think we need to move in another direction, and I'm offering myself up to our caucus to say, "Hey, let's try to do something different."

CAMEROTA: So what did Nancy Pelosi do wrong?

RYAN: Well, you know, I don't want to get into all that.

CAMEROTA: I know you don't want to engage in finger pointing. But clearly, you've thought about this. You think something went wrong. What has the leadership -- you don't want to say Nancy Pelosi -- done wrong?

RYAN: Well, we're losing. I mean, that's the big story. And I think part of it is our message isn't connecting with working-class folks. Black folks, brown folks, white folks, gay, straight, rich, poor, black. You know, we've got to connect. We've got to have a message that connects with everybody. And sometimes as Democrats we kind of slice that pie up like this interest group, that interest group. Look, we're Americans. We can come together around an economic message that provides opportunity for everybody, and that message resonates with people.

CAMEROTA: But why weren't you speaking to working-class voters as a party?

RYAN: That's a good question. I mean, there are a lot of us really focused on that. We were talking about a lot of other issues that don't resonate with people, and at the end of the day, Donald Trump came in with that economic message, and that's why he's president right now.

CAMEROTA: So you think Nancy Pelosi was focused on issues that don't resonate with people?

RYAN: Well, I think yes. We were not focused on economics. We were focused on other issues. And that message clearly wasn't penetrating. And you could you say, "Well, it was a presidential election." So I don't want to hang this around Nancy Pelosi's neck. I love her. She's great. She's a mentor. She was an amazing speaker when she was in.

But we've got to ask ourselves who can get us back into the majority? And right now, we need to win 30 or 40 seats in different parts of the country -- Michigan, Wisconsin but down south. When I first got in we had two or three more seats in Indiana. We had seats in -- more seats in Louisiana, Tennessee. Those seats are all gone.

We've got to go back -- look, Donald Trump is going to cut taxes for the wealthy -- and Paul Ryan. Cut taxes for the wealthiest people. They're going to privatize Medicare. And they're going to throw people off their health insurance. We need a leader that can go into these districts in the southern part of our country out west and say, "Hey, we're here for you. What he's doing is what we told you he would do. Let's go. Vote Democrat. Let's win this thing and get the country back to where it should be."

CAMEROTA: Are you a long shot?

RYAN: Yes. I mean, I think from now I am today. But we've got two weeks. And I'm telling you right now that -- that there are a lot of people in our caucus that want change. And they want to move the caucus in another direction.

What I -- why I think I'm going to win this thing and get very, very close to winning is because our caucus knows we need to go in another direction. And it's not just about us in the House of Representatives. There's no one at the DNC. The Obamas are leaving. The Clintons are gone. The Bidens are gone. Harry Reid's gone. Two hundred people in the House of Representatives are going to decide what direction we go in as Democrats.

CAMEROTA: I mean, you raise a good point. Tim Kaine said yesterday that he has no interests in running for president or vice president in 2020 next time around. Who is the new Democratic leader?

RYAN: Don't make me -- I have no idea. I mean...

CAMEROTA: Who do you think the leaders are, if you can't narrow it down to one? Who are you looking at?

RYAN: I think of guys like Cory Booker, who I love. Sherrod Brown, who's a good friend of mine in Ohio, is an amazing senator. And clearly Elizabeth Warren, you know, is a great senator.

So I think those are kind of the, you know, the party people. But we've got to get new people into the Democratic Party. People talk about us not having a bench. And part of the problem is there's a concentration in the House of Representatives.

[07:20:15] You should see the talent we have in the House of representatives. Young people. I think guys like Hakim Jeffries and Kathleen Rice and there are so many talented people just here in New York but across the country that really, quite frankly, if they don't start moving up, they're going to go do something else.

CAMEROTA: So last, what is your message today to Democrats? I mean, what is your vision for the future for the Democratic Party?

RYAN: What is America 2.0. What's it took like? You know, I believe it's multi-cultural. It's progressive and innovative. And what is the Democratic Party 2.0 that can help us get to America 2.0? We've lost aspiration, I think, in the country. You know, it's so negative. It's about, you know, I'm not like this, and I'm not like that.

Where are the hopes and dreams? Where's the juice of politics, you know? What are campaigns all about? It's not about hate and fear. It's about how are we going to, with this beautiful tapestry of America, how are we going to recreate ourselves.

And the Democrats should be front and center in leading that, because as much as there was a lot of tragedy for a lot of us on Tuesday, within those tragedies there's always opportunity. I think great leaders and great institutions take advantage of those bad things that happen and, you know, make lemonade out of lemons.

CAMEROTA: There you go. Congressman Ryan, thank you so much for coming in.

RYAN: Thanks for having me.

CAMEROTA: Great talking to you.

Let's get -- I'll tell you what's coming up next. I'm not going to go over to John. Donald Trump and Mitt Romney not exactly -- there you are, John.

BERMAN: You going to me? I'm right here.

CAMEROTA: Take it away.

BERMAN: All right. Donald Trump and Mitt Romney not exactly the best of friends, like Alisyn and me, as I thought we were, but Donald Trump and Mitt Romney, they will sit down and talk maybe about the future, maybe about a possible job for Mitt Romney. We're going to speak to some people who have worked very closely with the former Massachusetts governor and hear what they have to say. Stick around.


[07:26:01] BERMAN: First responders not just dodging air strikes in Syria. The civilian volunteers known as white helmets are working to rescue people trapped in the rubble of a crumbling Aleppo. It took two workers nearly four hours to pull this 6-year-old boy to safety this week. My word.

All right. It's believe more than 100 people were killed. Hundreds others were injured in the latest bombing offensive, which began Tuesday and is showing no signs -- no signs of winding down.


Volkswagen announcing today it will shed 30,000 jobs, most of them in Europe, over the next three years in a move to return to profitability by 2020. Volkswagen is facing tens of millions of fines and compensation payments after it was found to be cheating on emissions tests.

BERMAN: A federal appeals court blocking the release of Brendan Dassey, one of the subjects of the Netflix documentary series "Making a Murderer." It comes just days after a lower court overturned his murder conviction. Dassey and his uncle, Steve Avery, have been in prison since 2007. Both were found guilty of killing a photographer in separate trials.

CAMEROTA: Well, President-elect Donald Trump set to meet with former Republican nominee for president and rival Mitt Romney. This weekend they will discuss, we hear, a potential role, maybe secretary of state. It is surprising after all of their words for each other during the campaign.


MITT ROMNEY (R), FORMER PRESIDENTIAL NOMINEE: Donald Trump is a phony, a fraud.

TRUMP: Mitt was a disaster as a candidate.

ROMNEY: He's playing the members of the American public for suckers.

TRUMP: Romney let us all down. It was a very poor campaign.

ROMNEY: He gets a free ride to the white House, and all we get is a lousy hat.

TRUMP: Romney choked like a dog. He choked. He went...

ROMNEY: His promises are as worthless as a degree from Trump University.

TRUMP: I have a lot of friends. No, I have a lot of friends. By the way, Mitt Romney is not one of them.


CAMEROTA: Let's bring in our panel to discuss this. We have CNN political commentators Mary Catherine Ham, Kevin Madden and Lonnie Chad (ph). Mary Catherine is a senior writer for "The Federalist." Kevin served as senior advisor and spokesman for Mitt Romney's 2008 and 2012 presidential campaigns. And Lonnie is a former Romney public policy advisor. So you guys know Mitt Romney well.

Kevin, let me start with you. What is he thinking today as he prepares to meet with Donald Trump?

KEVIN MADDEN, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, look, I think that one of the things that drives Governor Romney is a sense of duty. And I think that sense of duty is what's trying him to help President-elect Trump in any way that he can as he puts together -- as he puts together a government.

And he starts thinking about some of the challenges that he will face as -- as a new president. And it is something that I think Governor Romney thought about during his presidential race, which is that why he understood that you had to campaign in poetry, that you had to govern in prose and that there are very serious issues. There are very serious decisions to make.

And quite frankly, leaning on people outside of your comfort zone is an important thing to do, to get perspective. That was something that not only did he do as a presidential candidate; he also did as a -- when he was governor of Massachusetts.

So I think he recognizes that there is that, that type of outreach potentially going on with President-elect Trump's transition team.

BERMAN: Lonnie, to be clear, you know, Mitt Romney met with President Obama at the White House after he lost the race. So Mitt Romney has shown his willingness to do this, to talk about the country and talk about the important issues going forward.

But in addition to not seeming to like each other too much, as that last video, you know, montage just showed, they have substantive policy differences on big important issues that the secretary of state, which is the job that's been sort of floated in the air over the last 20 hours or so, would have to deal with. What are those major differences, Lonnie?

LONNIE CHAD (PH), CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Yes, I think there are differences. I think clearly, there have been expressed differences on Russia and the posture that the United States takes towards Russia and, in particularly, Vladimir Putin. I think there are questions also, regarding differences, potentially, on trade, although I do remind people that, in 2012, Governor Romney was pretty forward leaning in talking about our need to be more aggressive in our trading relationship with China.