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Interview With Indiana Congressman Andre Carson; Trump University Lawsuit Settled; Trump Fills Key National Security Positions; Trump Fills Key Posts with Controversial Hard-Liners; Trump Settles Lawsuits Against His Schools for $25 Million; New York Fortifying Fifth Avenue to Protect. Aired 6-7p ET
Aired November 18, 2016 - 18:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: The deal will keep Trump from having to testify in court as he assumes the presidency. Will it end the controversy over his embattled school?
Key picks. Trump moves to fill top positions in his upcoming administration with hard-line loyalists. His picks for attorney general, CIA director, national security adviser are causing some controversy. Will his nominees win confirmation?
And "It's like Christmas." White nationalists are cheering Trump's choices, calling them a dream team and exactly what they want. Now reports of harassment of racial and religious minorities are growing. Are extremists feeling emboldened by the Trump victory? I will talk about that and more with Congressman Andre Carson. He's one of only two Muslims serving in the U.S. House of Representatives.
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: We're following breaking news tonight, a surprise settlement in the three lawsuits against Trump University.
President-elect Donald Trump has agreed to pay $25 million to about 6,000 former students of the for-profit school who say they were duped by deceptive claims and high-pressure sales tactics.
Also breaking right now, rare remarks by controversial Trump chief strategist Steve Bannon. In an interview with "The Hollywood Reporter," he dismisses accusations of white nationalism, saying he's an economic nationalist. He also says global trade gutted the American middle class and he says that if Trump can deliver on his promises, Republicans will govern the U.S. for 50 years.
Tonight, Trump has moved to fill top positions, including attorney general, CIA director, and national security adviser. His picks are hard-line conservatives, mostly loyalists. All come with some controversy. We're covering all of that, much more this hour with our guests,
including Congressman Andre Carson, and our correspondents and expert analysts, they are also standing by.
Let's begin with our political reporter, Sara Murray. She's over at Trump Tower in New York City.
Sara, Trump said earlier this year, and I'm quoting him now, he said, "I don't settle cases very easily when I'm right." But he agreed to settle this one. Give us the latest.
SARA MURRAY, CNN NATIONAL POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Wolf. Donald Trump is singing a different tune now that he's the president-elect, and the Trump Organization put out a statement today essentially saying they still believe that they would have won if it had gone to court, but president-elect Trump wants to devote his full attention to the important issues facing our nation.
Now, as of this weekend, that means going to do some of these interviews with potential Cabinet picks. But we can tell you, Wolf, from his early picks, it doesn't appear that he's willing to back off from some of the hard-edged policies he proposed during his presidential campaign.
MURRAY (voice-over): Donald Trump unveiling the first layer of his national security team, a trio of picks signaling the president-elect has little interest in moderating the hard-line views he campaigned on.
DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENT-ELECT: We have to be tough and we have to be strong.
MURRAY: Trump announcing retired General Michael Flynn for national security adviser, Alabama Senator Jeff Sessions for attorney general, and Congressman Mike Pompeo for CIA director, each one of them known for their unyielding and at times controversial views.
LT. GEN. MICHAEL FLYNN (RET.), FORMER DIRECTOR, DEFENSE INTELLIGENCE AGENCY: Yes, that's right. Lock her up.
MURRAY: Flynn has been lauded as a talented battlefield intelligence officer. But he could fuel concerns that Trump White House is a haven of intolerance. He's made a habit of voicing concern about Islam, which he once called more of a political ideology than a religion.
Sessions is known for his staunch anti-immigration positions in his two decades in the Senate, but he's also echoed Trump's calls for Hillary Clinton to face a special prosecutor for her use of a private e-mail server, a threat Sessions could turn into a reality if he's confirmed.
SEN. JEFF SESSIONS (R), ALABAMA: The evidence indicates to me that this should be fully investigated. I cannot say Mr. Comey has not completed a full investigation, but it seems like he has not. MURRAY: As for Pompeo, the House Intelligence Committee member has
been a fierce critic of Clinton's handling of the 2012 attack in Benghazi.
REP. MIKE POMPEO (R), KANSAS: How come not a single person lost a single paycheck connected to the fact we had the first ambassador killed since 1979? How come no one has been held accountable to date?
MURRAY: The Kansas Republican arguing there was a cover-up surrounding Benghazi as the panel investigating the failed to find new evidence of wrongdoing on behalf of the Obama administration or Clinton.
Trump unveiling his picks with little pomp and circumstance, blasting out a press release with his selections this morning as he remained ensconced in Trump Tower. The president-elect now set to hunker down at his gulf club in Bedminster for a weekend of nonstop meetings.
Among those making the trek to see the president-elect, 2012 GOP nominee Mitt Romney, former chancellor of the Washington, D.C., public schools Michelle Rhee and General James Mattis.
A source tells CNN Romney has long wanted to serve as secretary of state, but a Cabinet post in a Trump White House would surprise many, given the tone between the two men during the campaign.
MITT ROMNEY (R), FORMER PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Donald Trump is a phony, a fraud.
TRUMP: He's a sad case. He choked. You know what a choke artist is?
MURRAY: Now, one of the lingering questions is whether Donald Trump will really consider more moderate Republicans, past political rivals, and even Democrats for some of these top Cabinet positions or whether meetings like the marathon meeting schedule set for this weekend are really just designed for optics -- Wolf.
BLITZER: All right, Sara, thank you, Sara Murray over at Trump Tower in New York.
Let's a closer look now at the general Donald Trump has picked to be his top national security adviser in the White House.
Our chief security national correspondent, Jim Sciutto, has more on retired Lieutenant General Michael Flynn.
Jim, he said and he's done some controversial things.
JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Controversial, at times really offensive, Wolf, the entire -- dismissing the entire religion of Islam, not just Islamic extremists, as a threat, and expressing opinions on Russia and Turkey that contradict U.S. policy, as well as the views of a broad range of intelligence and defense officials.
LT. GEN. MICHAEL FLYNN (RET.), NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISER-DESIGNEE: The next president of the United States right here!
(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)
SCIUTTO (voice-over): Retired Lieutenant General Michael Flynn, once a registered Democrat, will now be the president-elect's closest adviser on the greatest threats to U.S. national security, but with views that are a marked departure from long-held U.S. policy of both parties.
He has called Islam itself, not radical versions of it, a threat. In tweets such as this one during the campaign, "Fear of Muslims is rational," he wrote, and in public speeches even calling Islam a cancer.
FLYNN: Islam is a political ideology. It is a political ideology. It definitely hides behind this notion of it being a religion.
SCIUTTO: More broadly, he supports a significant reversal of which states the U.S. views as threats. He has identified longtime ally Saudi Arabia as a danger, while growing U.S. adversary Russia, who the U.S. blames for invading Ukraine, atrocities in Syria and meddling in the U.S. election, as, at worst, an exaggerated threat, at best, a potential friend.
This is a view that contradicts the U.S. intelligence community and senior defense officials from both parties. He has also unsettled U.S. allies by arguing that military commitments to NATO and other treaty allies should be conditional.
FLYNN: I have been called an angry general. I will tell you what. You know what? I'm not angry. What I am, what I am is I'm very determined to make sure that this country is ready for my children and my grandchildren.
SCIUTTO: Flynn's military record is impressive. As an intelligence officer, he is credited with helping turn the tide against al Qaeda in Afghanistan and ISIS' predecessor in Iraq.
And yet, when he was chief of the Defense Intelligence Agency, his management style antagonized many in the intel community, leading to his being forced out. Since then, he was Vladimir Putin's dinner guest in December last year, accepting an undisclosed speaking fee.
And Flynn's for-profit consultancy was still working with a foreign client while he was also attending classified security briefings with Donald Trump during the campaign.
The ranking Democrat on the House Committee on Government Oversight is now questioning Flynn's ties to lobbyists, requesting more information on his foreign connections as well. PETER BERGEN, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: He has a reputation as
an iconoclast and an independent thinker. And some of that is good and necessary. I think the deeper problem potential is that he has publicly said that he thinks this war can go on for several generations. He has publicly called for expanding the war to basically any Islamist militant around the world. Many of that comes with some potential downsides.
SCIUTTO: I have spoken to a number of initials, lawmakers and military who know General Flynn. They are also unanimous in their praise of his military record, his ability as a tactical commander.
It is, though, his management skills and his public views expressed since he left the military that truly concern them -- Wolf.
BLITZER: All right, thanks very much, our chief security national correspondent, Jim Sciutto, reporting.
Let's get some more on all this.
Democratic Congressman Andre Carson of Indiana is joining us. He's a member of the House Intelligence Committee.
Congressman, thanks very much for joining us.
REP. ANDRE CARSON (D), INDIANA: Thank you for having me.
BLITZER: Let's talk a little bit about General Flynn.
You're a member of the intelligence community -- committee for the House of Representatives. Do you think you will be able to work with him as the incoming president's chief national security adviser?
CARSON: I have had interactions with the general during my time on Armed Services Committee.
And while I respect his service to our country and his candor, quite frankly, I disagree with his outright condemnation of the entire religion of Islam. And I think we cannot aspersions on an entire religion.
And having the world lens that he should have as a general, he should know better. So, I hope that he steps back a bit, especially on his tone, and he doesn't politicize this process going forward.
BLITZER: Because he did tweet this earlier in the year. He tweeted: "Fear of Muslims is rational." And then you see rational all caps. "Please forward this to others. The truth fears no questions."
You're one of two Muslims in the U.S. House of Representatives. So when you hear the incoming national security adviser to the president say that tweet in February of this year, and he hasn't deleted that tweet, your reaction?
CARSON: Absolutely unacceptable.
As a general, he should know better. As a general who has traveled the world, he knows, having been briefed, top-secret documents, he knows that, were it not for Muslims in many of these countries and nationally, our government and our intelligence services would not be able to identify and capture the terrorists we needed to get without the information coming from Muslims who also want to make the world a safer place.
BLITZER: What would you like to see him say or do to clarify, to reverse that position when he says that fear of Muslims is rational? He didn't say fear of radical Muslims or extremist Muslims or fear of Muslim terrorists. He said fear of Muslims is rational.
CARSON: I think any national security adviser who doesn't make distinctions between those who are of goodwill of any religion, be it Christianity, Judaism, Hinduism and other religions, but singles out an entire faith and makes broad accusations, to me, that person should not be serving in that capacity.
So, my appeal to the general is that he tamps back on his language. I would rather see his actions going forward than what he has to say.
BLITZER: So you're willing to at least sit down and hear what he has to say and talk to him?
CARSON: In the interim. But if he continues with that language, I certainly will condemn him.
BLITZER: Because he's been very active over the past year or two. On Twitter, he was interacting far-right, even anti-Semitic figures. He maligned, as we just saw, the Muslim faith, shared unfounded news stories. They weren't even news stories on Twitter.
For a retired three-star general, I was surprised to see that.
CARSON: Well, it's not shocking, Wolf, given his language of the past.
But my hope is that it was political posturing, things that go along with campaigning. By my instincts tell me that it's going to be tough for him to show his mettle as someone who has served decades in our military and who has worked with Muslims in the counterintelligence space for him to maintain that position.
BLITZER: I was surprised because he's a distinguished retired military officer. He worked his way up. He served in Iraq and Afghanistan, was a key adviser on terrorism to General McChrystal in Afghanistan. Then he became the director of the Defense Intelligence Agency. So, he's obviously a very qualified, smart guy.
CARSON: I think the DIA has done a phenomenal job. I have had disagreements with some of their strategies in the past, but I support them wholeheartedly. But any leader who knows his work knows that we cannot win the war
against terrorism, if you will, without Muslim support and help.
BLITZER: But you know Congressman Mike Pompeo, who has now been tapped by Donald Trump to become the next CIA director.
CARSON: Mike is a hardworking guy. I have traveled with Mike. He and I sit on the Intelligence Committee together.
I disagreed with his political way that he took in terms of the Benghazi hearings. My hope -- I will have some tough questions for him, being a member of the CIA Subcommittee, going forward. But I have found him to be very hardworking.
But I will be watching his work as well. But we have traveled together. We have done together. I think he's a smart man. I think he has good intentions, but I will have some tough questions for him going forward.
BLITZER: Do you think he's qualified to be CIA director?
CARSON: Well, you know, I think that Mr. Trump made his appointment, and we will see what happens from there.
BLITZER: Because he's got to win Senate confirmation.
BLITZER: The House of Representatives doesn't get involved in the confirmation process. And presumably he will win Senate confirmation. I assume he will.
CARSON: I think so. I think so.
BLITZER: I heard Adam Schiff, the ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee. I interviewed him earlier today. He was very praiseworthy of Mike Pompeo and was saying he believes he is qualified to be CIA director.
CARSON: Well, he's very respected by myself along with ranking membership and those of us on the committee.
I have traveled with him. I have worked with him. I have found him to be smart, hardworking. He's a proud dad like myself. So we will see what happens. But I will be ever critical. I will be pushing the mark. I will be raising Socratic questions, as I'm sent there to do. And I hope that he does a good job.
BLITZER: Because we did hear from some of these white supremacist groups out there. They thought it was like white Christmas already. They were pretty happy with these picks.
When you hear that, that's disturbing.
CARSON: Well, I'm not dreaming of that kind of Christmas. I'm dreaming of the kind of Christmas that will bring joy to the world. And I think those white supremacist, many of whom who have threatened
members of Congress, including myself, I hope that Mr. Trump is well aware -- I commend him for his condemnations, but the folks he's surrounding himself with has caused me to grow even more suspicious of his actions as a president.
He's dog whistling to these groups in a way that is disturbing. And it's causing unrest across the country. And so my instincts tell me that 2018 could in fact be a referendum year on Congress.
BLITZER: When you say you have been threatened by some of these groups, what does that mean?
I have received numerous death threats because of my faith. Some have called me a Trojan horse and those kinds of things because of my work on the Intel Committee. I'm a former police officer. I worked in the Indiana Department of Homeland Security in counterterrorism and counterintelligence.
I'm the only member of Congress who has worked in an intelligence fusion center. And so I'm very proud of that work. But at the same time, I have been critical of Mr. Trump. I have been critical of his appointments so far.
I have met Mr. Trump. But, going forward, I think that, if we really want to make this country great and keep it great, we have to get away from this mythology of some Camelot that never existed, where America was all white, minorities didn't exist, religious minorities weren't present. That is a destructive mythology that has had huge and terrible implications.
BLITZER: Congressman, we have more to talk about. I want you to stick around.
We will take a quick break. We will resume this conversation, take a look at some of the other Donald Trump nominations that have emerged today. We will be right back.
BLITZER: We're back with Democratic Congressman Andre Carson of Indiana.
We're following president-elect Donald Trump. He's filling three top positions in his upcoming administration with some controversial hard- liners. They include Senator Jeff Sessions of Alabama, who Trump is nominating to be the attorney general.
Our justice correspondent, Pamela Brown, is joining us now. Pamela, Jeff Sessions well-regarded in the Senate, certainly among conservatives. But he has his critics who question his commitment to civil rights.
PAMELA BROWN, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Right.
And despite that criticism, Wolf, we're learning tonight that senators on both sides of the aisle are throwing their support behind Jeff Sessions for this job. We know Jeff Sessions was the first U.S. senator to champion Donald Trump during the campaign, and it looks like that loyalty is now being rewarded with Trump's job offer today as attorney general.
SESSIONS: How is everybody? Here we go.
BROWN (voice-over): Alabama Republican Senator Jeff Sessions stands in stark contrast to the two prior Democratic-appointed attorney generals, Eric Holder and Loretta Lynch.
His nomination for chief law enforcement officer comes at a time when tensions are running high between communities of color and police following the shootings of unarmed African-Americans in Ferguson, Charlotte and other cities.
BROWN: Just today, the current attorney general released a video statement saying hate crimes spiked 6 percent last year, with the largest group of victims targeted because of their race or ethnicity.
LORETTA LYNCH, U.S. ATTORNEY GENERAL: We will continue to enforce our nation's hate crimes laws to the fullest extent possible.
BROWN: Sessions argued on the Senate floor in 2009 against expanding the hate crimes law to cover gay and lesbians. Incoming Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer released this statement, saying in part he's very concerned about what he would do with the Civil Rights Division at the Department of Justice.
TODD A. COX, NAACP LEGAL DEFENSE AND EDUCATIONAL FUND: On balance, his record should give everyone pause that he will be placed in a position to be the chief law enforcer of our civil rights. His record reflects a real hostility towards those rights and the very statutes that he will have to enforce.
BROWN: President-elect Trump calls Sessions, a former attorney general and U.S. attorney in Alabama, a -- quote -- "world-class legal mind" and some of Sessions' colleagues are applauding the appointment, with Senate Leader Mitch McConnell saying -- quote -- "He cares deeply about his country and the department he will be nominated to lead."
It's likely Sessions' alleged racist comments in the past that cost him a federal judgeship will resurface during the confirmation hearing. During his 1986 confirmation hearings, colleagues testified he called the NAACP -- quote -- "un-American and communist-inspired." An African-American who had worked under Sessions testified that Sessions called him boy and joked about the KKK, saying he was OK with them until he learned that they smoked marijuana.
SESSIONS: This assertion is ludicrous. I detest the Klan. The rule of law is an important thing.
BROWN: As U.S. attorney in Alabama, Jeff Sessions prosecuted the head of the state KKK for abducting and killing an African-American teenager, and he's said he sought to end segregation in Alabama schools. Sessions told CNN in 2009 he's never been a racist.
SESSIONS: Those were false charges and distortions of anything that I did. And it really was not. I never had those kind of views and I was caricatured in a way that was not me.
BROWN: Sessions was later elected Alabama's U.S. senator, and became a ranking member of the same committee that denied him the job as a federal judge. Over the last 20 years in the Senate, Sessions earned respect from colleagues on both sides of the aisle, and developed a reputation as a staunch conservative with a strong stance against illegal immigration.
BROWN: And Sessions has suggested to CNN he wants the Justice Department to fully investigate Hillary Clinton and whether she improperly used the Clinton Foundation while secretary of state.
That was over the summer, and as attorney general, if he's confirmed, he will be able to do just that by allowing FBI agents working on the case to get the tools they need to make it a full-fledged investigation. We will have to see what happens -- Wolf.
BLITZER: We will have see if the then -- the new president agrees to that as well, because he was sort of moving away from that position in that "60 Minutes" interview.
Pamela Brown, thank you very much for that report.
Let's bring back Congressman Andre Carson. He's member of the House Intelligence Committee.
What's your reaction to the nomination of Senator Sessions to be the attorney general of the United States?
CARSON: Well, he's a ranking member on the Senate Judiciary Committee. As a former U.S. attorney, he knows the job.
However, I'm deeply concerned about his staunch opposition to immigration reforms, including for legal immigrants. And so with that kind of animosity that he has had for progressive policies, it gives me a lot of concern in terms of Mr. Trump making him the top cop in our nation. BLITZER: Some of the statements he was reputed to have made back in
the '80s that prevented him from getting Senate confirmation at that time, do they still bother you, because that was what, 30 years ago?
CARSON: Well, it's 30 years ago. I think any time you have an adult, a white male calling an adult black man a boy...
BLITZER: He denied he said it.
CARSON: He denied he said it. So, it can't be proven, but I'm still concerned about the accusation.
Going forward, we have already seen at least two, between General Flynn and Mr. Sessions, people who have held hostile views toward minorities, immigrants, LGBT community, and so on and so forth. Gives me great concern as an American.
BLITZER: The whole notion of his, if he became the attorney general, getting a special prosecutor or starting to investigate Hillary Clinton, who was defeated in this contest, obviously, not on the e- mail server, apparently, that's all over, but on the improper connections between the Clinton Foundation and the -- when she was secretary of state, pay for play, as they call it, does that worry you?
CARSON: We have to move forward. We have to move forward. Donald Trump is the president-elect.
He is making his picks. He says that he wants to make America great again. If he really wants to do that, let's move forward and get beyond petty political battles and do what's right for our country.
BLITZER: Yes, he seemed to have suggested that's what he wants to do in that "60 Minutes" interview as well as far as Hillary Clinton is concerned.
BLITZER: Very quickly on Nancy Pelosi, the Democratic leader in the House of Representatives, she's now facing some pressure from other Democrats. Tim Ryan of Ohio, he wants to run against her. There's going to be a vote in a couple weeks.
Where do you stand? Should she stay as the Democratic leader or is it time for someone new to come in?
CARSON: Well, I think Leader Pelosi is a dynamic leader. She's a strong leader. She's a very powerful and decisive and intelligent leader. She gets the job done.
I have had the chance to work with her. I have traveled with her recently to Afghanistan. She's deeply concerned about our troops. She took a chance in putting me on the House Intelligence Committee in the midst of great criticism.
Tim Ryan is a fellow Midwesterner. He's my dear buddy and personal friend, and not in the political sense. He's my friend friend. But I think that in any kind of setup or organization, competition is good. Competition is good for the marketplace, right?
Competition is good for in this manner, so it forces us to raise important questions, to analyze our critiques and criticisms of one another, to make us stronger and better. But I think Leader Pelosi will remain our leader.
BLITZER: Because it's a secret vote, when all you guys get together, all the Democrats in the House of Representatives. Nobody has to know. Are you willing to tell us now who you're going to vote for?
CARSON: I'm with Nancy Pelosi. And Tim is my buddy. That's right.
BLITZER: All right.
OK, Congressman, thanks very much for joining us.
CARSON: What a pleasure.
BLITZER: Andre Carson of Indiana, appreciate it very much.
CARSON: Thank you.
BLITZER: Just ahead, we will have more on Donald Trump's picks for top positions in his administration. Should any of them be disqualified for conflicts of interest?
We will be right back.
[18:33:05] WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: More now on Donald Trump's newly announced picks for key posts in his upcoming administration including retired Army Lieutenant General Michael Flynn. Trump has tapped him to be his national security adviser in the White House. So let's get some analysis.
First, to you, Phil Mudd, do you believe General Flynn's ties to the Turkish government of Vladimir Putin represent a potential conflict of interest?
PHIL MUDD, CNN COUNTERTERRORISM ANALYST: A potential, but I don't think he should be ruled out. The questions about General Flynn should relate to temperament and judgment.
But when you leave government at a senior level, Wolf, as I left in 2010, people come running to you to say, we want your understanding of government and we want your access to government. Those are software companies, those are defense contractors, and those are foreign governments. First thing I did when I left government, Wolf, I went to work for a foreign government.
So I think it's fair for the oversight committees to ask what the nature of his relationships were with countries and individuals in countries like Turkey and Russia. But I don't think those should be a bar to duty.
BLITZER: So they shouldn't necessarily be disqualifying?
MUDD: I don't think they should.
BLITZER: General Hertling, General Flynn has also come under some fire for retweeting unfounded conspiracy theories, linking some of those tweets to fake news sites, if you will. This is a man who's going to be responsible for advising the President of the United States in the most sensitive national security issues. Are you confident that he'll be providing the new President with accurate information?
LT. GEN. MARK HERTLING (Ret), FORMER COMMANDING GENERAL OF U.S. ARMY EUROPE AND THE SEVENTH ARMY: You know, Wolf, he's a retired general officer. I'm going to go into this presuming that he has maintained some of the values he was taught as an Army officer, and those are things like integrity and personal courage to do the right thing and respect for all Americans. But, truthfully, these tweets and some of his demeanor during the campaign have given me pause.
Let's start the slate clean, and see how he acts as a national security adviser. Maybe he'll see the unbelievable requirements of this job and go back to doing the kind of things that he was taught as an Army officer.
[18:35:08] BLITZER: General Hertling, you know that he was pushed out of his job at the Defense Intelligence Agency because of his demeanor, his behavior, some of his decisions, if you will. What does that say to you?
HERTLING: Well, he was replaced earlier than he anticipated, Wolf. It tells me that the command, the Defense Intelligence Agency, wanted some new bosses. And they saw some things that they thought Mike couldn't fix, so they replaced him. And that, certainly, any commander has the authority to do that with subordinates. And the chairman of the Joint Chiefs and the national or the intelligence advisers asked Mike to leave, and he did.
BLITZER: And that's that. Peter Bergen, as you know, he's also tweeted some anti-Muslim comments. I'll put one of them up on the screen, "Fear of Muslims is rational. Please forward this to others. The truth fears no questions."
You've studied terrorism a long time, Islamophobia. The fear among U.S. counterterrorism experts is that this kind of anti-Muslim statement, it provides fodder, if you will, for more terrorists to emerge.
PETER BERGEN, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALSYT: Well, fear of Muslims, that's 1.5 billion people. So that's a lot of people to be fearful of. And, of course, fear isn't rational by its very nature. What we need to be fearful of are armed jihadist terrorists. So, you know, I don't really know his state of mind when he wrote this tweet. Was he retweeting something? But certainly it's not a particularly smart thing to have written or passed on. BLITZER: Yes. It was not a retweet. Phil Mudd, you were a
counterterrorism analyst over at the CIA. This was a tweet that he had, "fear of Muslims." He said Muslims. He didn't say radical Muslims, extremist Muslims, Muslim terrorists. He said, "Fear of Muslims is rational." What does that say to you?
MUDD: Let me tell you something. I think General Hertling has taken a polite pill today. Let's be clear here. We have a gold standard for advisers in Republican administrations, Colin Powell, Condoleezza Rice, served with great distinction, whether you liked their politics or not.
In this case, we have a former officer in the U.S. military referring to an opposing candidate by saying "Lock her up," and making disparaging comments about minorities. Calm, cool, collected. The dude is oh for three. He does not deserve to be in the White House in my judgment, Wolf.
BLITZER: Go ahead, General Hertling, and respond to that.
HERTLING: Well, I'd tell you, Phil's got a great point. And I personally believe the same thing, that we've been asked by our President to give this new administration a chance. I'm willing to do it. What happened on the campaign trail was certainly counter to what I see is the right way to do business. And Phil is exactly right, Mike Flynn is oh for thee in those three areas. But I'm hoping he takes a new approach when he's talking about taking care of the American people from the Oval Office and helping the President do the right thing.
BLITZER: Because I remember, Phil, when Brent Scowcroft, he was a U.S. Air Force general, he was made national security adviser to the first President Bush. Colin Powell, he was, at one point, as you know, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staffs. He was a national security adviser. They both left the military temporarily to go and serve the President of the United States. Do you see a similarity between those two generals and this general serving as the national security adviser?
MUDD: I do not. They had long and storied histories in U.S. government that were never questioned by anything they did in the national security sphere or the political sphere. You go back to the beginnings of the Bush administration 15 years ago, Wolf. You remember, almost very quickly, we had that incident with the Chinese, where they took down an American military aircraft and a new White House was charged with dealing with a highly sensitive situation in a major adversary, that is China.
This man's going to be dealing with very difficult situations. And my sense of him, watching him on the campaign trail, is he doesn't have the temperament to deal with them.
BLITZER: Peter Bergen, as you know, Donald Trump says he would bring back waterboarding to get information from suspected terrorists to protect the American people. Mike Pompeo, the Congressman who has now been tapped by Donald Trump to be the next CIA director, he supported that in the past, these enhanced interrogation techniques. Do they really work? Does the United States get important, sensitive information from terrorists as a result of these enhanced interrogation techniques?
BERGEN: There's been a lot of research on this issue, and the Senate Intelligence Committee report concluded that there wasn't useful information. Of course, it's also illegal. It's illegal under both American law and international law.
But that said, creative lawyers could come in and say, you know, we're going to look at this enhanced interrogation techniques again. Some things that we might consider to be torture, they might sort of say, well, actually they're not. There is some statutes that would prevent some aspects of torture coming back but there's also -- you know, President Obama reversed some of these with an executive order. Executive orders can be reversed by others.
[18:40:11] BLITZER: Right. A new president can easily sign an executive order reversing the executive order of the previous president.
BERGEN: Agreed. And so, I think, you know, we will see what happens.
HERTLING: And --
BERGEN: But it is not impossible that the new president could institute a slightly different regime for prisoners, not only about enhanced interrogation but also sending them to Guantanamo.
BLITZER: Go ahead. Was that General Hertling?
HERTLING: Yes. And while the lawyers are debating all those things -- and, Wolf, I was on the other end of that early on in the stages of the Iraq war. While the lawyers are debating all those things, someone is conducting those kind of operations. And in the past, soldiers were initially asked to do it and they refused. The chain of command would not allow military forces to do it, so the CIA got contractors to do it. And as Peter has just said, it doesn't prove to be correct.
So, again, one more time, it's a lot of tough talk from people who really don't understand what goes on when you have that individual engagement between an individual waterboarding another. And it's not the right way to get information. There are better ways to do it.
BLITZER: Phil Mudd, your thought?
MUDD: I think there are two questions here. Number one, I disagree. I thought the information that we got from prisoners under duress was highly useful. That's a different question from whether America should go in that direction. If I were at the CIA, I would refuse too.
As soon as Mr. Trump is out of office, if you get a Democratic candidate, the way that town works is they will turn on you, investigate you, and ask that the Department of Justice to prosecute you. To protect the workforce, if Mr. Trump or the Attorney General were to go that way, I'd say no, Wolf, don't do it.
BLITZER: Good conversation, guys. Thanks very, very much. There's breaking news we're following. Donald Trump's controversial chief strategist now firing back at critics who are accusing him of White nationalism.
[18:46:42] WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: The breaking news this hour. Donald Trump has agreed to settle three lawsuits against his Trump University for $25 million.
Let's bring in our political panel.
Mark Preston, first to you. Back in February, he tweeted this. He said, "Trump University has a 98 percent approval rating. I could have settled but won't out of principle." Today, he settled. His attorneys saying, "While we have no doubt Trump University would have prevailed at trial based on the merits of this case, resolution of these matters allows President-elect Donald Trump to devout his full attention to the important issues facing our great nation."
But there are other issues that were at stake.
MARK PRESTON, CNN POLITICS EXECUTIVE EDITOR: Yes, no doubt. I mean, this was a very embarrassing story for Donald Trump and I think $25 million is actually a small price to pay to get it behind him, certainly for somebody of his wealth. You know, we look at this case as a whole that, you know, put a lot of doubt on Donald Trump as somebody who was a huckster, that was trying to make a dime off the little guy.
But also as you and I have previously discussed, it was the side story of him going after one of the judges who was actually investigating the case in California and calling into question his rulings because he was of Mexican heritage.
BLITZER: Judge Curiel.
PRESTON: Judge Curiel out in San Diego.
So, for Donald Trump to get this behind him I think was critical, because he does have a lot on his plate. Can you imagine him, imagine Donald Trump, the president-elect, or the president of the United States, being deposed in a civil case?
BLITZER: Yes, that would have happened in front of Judge Curiel, Ron Brownstein. That would have been pretty awkward, a president or president-elect having to do that.
RON BROWNSTEIN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Yeah. No, I think, it was -- as Mark said, this was a small price to pay toward getting it behind him. Of course, there are a number of other lawsuits relating to different aspects of Trump's business empire that are also, you know, kind of proceeding. So this is going to be one of many areas where we are heading into uncharted waters, the role of his family in running his business and also participating in meetings, for example, with the head of state with Japan yesterday.
There are so many things that are unfolding here outside of the forms in the same way he's not released his returns. I mean, this is going to be a very challenging period for the ethics community, for the media, for Republicans in Congress about how farther willing to go in allowing some of the, kind of, the strictures and the approaches that have governed ethics over the years to be bent.
BLITZER: Yes, given his wealth, given his business ties, it is unprecedented. I don't think it's ever happened in our history.
Let me bring Rebecca Berg into this. Senate Democrats, at least some of them, are threatening to challenge Jeff Sessions, who has been nominated by Donald Trump to be the next attorney general of the United States.
Listen to Elizabeth Warren, the senator from Massachusetts. "Thirty years ago, a different Republican Senate rejected Senator Sessions' nomination to a federal judgeship. In doing so, that Senate affirmed there could be no compromise with racism. No negotiation with hate. Today, a new Republican Senate must decide whether self-interest and political cowardice will prevent them from once again doing what is right."
How ugly could this confirmation process for Senator Sessions become?
REBECCA BERG, NATIONAL POLITICAL REPORTER, REAL CLEAR POLITICS: Well, I think you can see from that statement right there that Democrats at least think that making this an ugly confirmation process will be politically advantageous for them. This is a really useful wedge issue to craft this narrative that Donald Trump and his administration are racists, are racially insensitive and focused sort of on picking the wrong people in this administration.
[18:50:08] So, for Democrats, there's a huge upside to making issues of this. But when you look at the math in terms of Republicans who are already coming out and supporting this on the Senate side, the Republican majority in the House, there isn't really a chance that Democrats can block this nomination. And frankly there is very little precedent for that. Very few nominations have been withdrawn or blocked over the years especially when you have Republicans in control of Congress.
So, they will make a fuss. They have reason to make a fuss politically. But ultimately, he'll probably be confirmed.
BLITZER: Yes, you need a simple majority, too. You don't need that 60-vote to break a filibuster under the rules that the Democrats put forward. Harry Reid put forward a few years ago.
Ron Brownstein, let's talk a little bit about Steve Bannon, the new chief strategist, who was going to be the chief strategist for Donald Trump in the White House. There's -- all these accusations against him of stoking white nationalism.
He's now given an interview to the "Hollywood Reporter" and among other things he said this, quote, "I'm not a white nationalist, I'm a nationalist. I'm an economic nationalist. The globalists gutted the American working class and created the middle class in Asia. The issue now is about Americans looking to not get f'ed over. If we deliver we'll get 60 percent of the white vote, 40 percent of the black and Hispanic vote and we'll govern for 50 years.
That's what the Democrats missed. They were talking to these people with companies with a $9 billion market cap employing nine people. It's not reality. They lost sight act what the world is about."
What's your reaction to that analysis from the new chief strategist, will be the chief strategist in the White House?
BROWNSTEIN: First, it's very important. It's a very revealing quote. Similar to when Donald Trump said to "Businessweek" several months ago that he wants to create a workers party. I mean, Steve Bannon does envision a reorientation of the political alignment in the U.S. in a way that will make many of the existing Republican constituencies in the business community uneasy at points. Parts of that agenda does overlap -- less regulation, less taxes. But there are other elements in terms of the protectionism and some of the confrontations with business that don't.
The problem with what he's saying, though, is that only half the agenda. And if you look at Breitbart, if you look at his own comments over the years, if you look at the alliances that he wants to build with international parties like UKIP in Great Britain and the National Front in France, it's clear that his populism really has two enemies. It does aim at kind of global elites above, but there is a heavy element of ethnic nationalism that targets Muslims, immigrants and other minorities at home as well.
And I think for him to kind of put that under the table, you know, kind of obscures what's really going on here.
BLITZER: Mark Preston, your analysis?
PRESTON: Yes, you know, I agree. I mean, I think he's right that the Democrats did -- were unable to speak, or just did not speak to Middle America. We've heard that from Joe Biden, we've heard from Bernie Sanders.
But, you know, to Ron's point, he is glossing over the fact he has made some very controversial statements and aligned himself with very controversial folks. And that's why there is so much opposition to Steve Bannon in such a high position in the White House.
BERG: And challenge for the Trump team at this point is that this narrative is really taking hold. That Steve Bannon is a white nationalist, that the Trump campaign -- the Trump team believes these things. They need to push back and maybe show symbolically, appoint someone to the cabinet, do something to change the narrative here because I'm not seeing a lot of that from them right now.
BLITZER: All right. BROWNSTEIN: And it's not just narrative, right? I mean, there are
some very significant personnel choices as we've been talking about for the last couple hours with people who have a track record and who has said things that give people reason to be concerned about the direction it's heading.
BLITZER: All righty, guys. Stick around. Don't go too far away.
Just ahead, the large security operation surrounding Trump Tower in New York City tonight. Tonight, we're learning new details of the plan underway.
[18:58:18] BLITZER: Checkpoints, heavy weapons and counterterrorism teams are not what you would expect to see on New York's Fifth Avenue. But with President-elect Donald Trump ensconced in Trump Tower, parts of the famous thoroughfare now a heavily fortified security zone.
CNN's Jessica Schneider is on the scene for us.
Jessica, New York's mayor is urging people to what, avoid the area? Is that right?
JESSICA SCHNEIDER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, that is right, Wolf, you know? But, of course, this is the epicenter of holiday activities here in New York, so that in itself is quite a tall order.
So, now, the NYPD is working with the Secret Service to maintain that balance between security and keeping the traffic flowing out here on Fifth Avenue. It's quite an undertaking. In fact, it's an unprecedented challenge out here.
The goal is to actually secure all 58 stories of Trump Tower, as well as the area surrounding it. So, to do that, the FAA has instituted a no fly zone. In addition, there's 24-hour coverage of heavy weapons teams, critical response teams, as well as counterterrorism teams. And all of that are being down around the clock out here.
Now, in addition, if people want to go inside Trump Tower, because, after all, it is still a public space, they do have to be screened. Officers are also on elevated perches out here, on rooftops, keeping an eye on this area to keep it safe.
Mr. Bill de Blasio talks about the difficulty in securing this area but he also talked about the city's commitment to maintaining the security around this area. He said it will remain safe. Parts of Fifth Avenue, several lanes are close out here. But Mayor De Blasio also said that they will be talking with the federal government to actually see if they can get partial reimbursement for some of the overtime out here because it is a huge undertaking -- Wolf.
BLITZER: All right. Jessica, thanks very much.
And this Christmas season is just getting ready.
That's it for me. Thanks for watching.
"ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.