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THE SITUATION ROOM
Trump's Business Conflicts; Texas Police Officer Killed; Trump Meets With Potential Cabinet Picks; Trump Outlines Plan for First 100 Days; Sources: Marine General Top Candidate for Defense Secretary; Hundreds Killed in Relentless Bombardment. Aired 6-7p ET
Aired November 21, 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: Longtime loyalists, former rivals, sharp critics, and even a Democrat all sitting down with Trump. Is he about to announce some top appointments?
Constitutional conflict? Growing concerns about Trump's businesses and his role as America's chief executive. His team is already having to answer questions whether he's mingling them. Did he press one world leader for a business favor during a congratulatory call?
And targeting police. Departments across the United States, they are now on alert after ambushes on four police officers in three dates in just 24 hours. One officer killed while writing a ticket in his squad car. Is there any connection between the attacks?
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 the breaking news, Japan bracing for a tsunami of up to 10 feet after a powerful earthquake.
Japanese media are reporting a wave has been spotted off the coast of Fukushima, the same area that was hit by a tsunami in 2011 that killed more than 20,000 people.
Also tonight, with Donald Trump now just two months away from assuming the presidency, there are new questions tonight about his sprawling business empire and potential conflicts of interest. The president- elect's team is denying Trump discussed business in meetings with the Japanese prime minister, Indian businessmen and in a phone call with Argentina's president.
Trump has been venting his anger in a series of tweets after refraining from social media outbursts immediately before and after the election. Trump lashed out at the cast of the Broadway hit "Hamilton" for reading a message to vice president-elect Mike Pence who was in the audience. And Trump slams "Saturday Night Live" for its latest spoof of him, calling the show one-sided, biased, and not funny. We're also following a series of attacks on police officers, one of
them deadly. Four officers were attacked in three different states, putting police across the country on alert. Investigators are trying to figure out if the attacks are related.
We're covering all that and much more this hour with our guests, including the head of the NAACP, Cornell William Brooks. And our correspondents and expert analysts, they are also standing by.
Let's begin with the breaking news.
Let's go first to CNN's Will Ripley. He's monitoring the tsunami warning after the magnitude-6.9 earthquake off Japan.
What's the latest, Will?
WILL RIPLEY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: We know that a three-foot tsunami has been detected at Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant. This is the plant that melted down in March of 2011 causing a catastrophic situation that that coastal area and Fukushima prefecture is still struggling to recover from more than five years later.
So far, even though we see these pictures of pretty ominous looking waves, they have detected no abnormalities at the Fukushima plant. It does not appear that the size of the waves, at least at this point, is going to breach the protective seawall that is in place.
But if you look at these images, and they have been showing on Japan's national broadcaster, NHK, you can see these large waves and very close to those waves are these above-ground temporary water storage tanks where they're putting in all of the radioactive water that is being used to cool the crippled reactors.
It's a temporary storage system. Japanese engineers haven't figured out exactly what to do with this increasingly high volume of radioactive water that is sitting very close to the Japanese coast. So if these tsunami waves in the coming hour or so prove to be larger than what we're seeing right now, that could be one potentially dangerous situation.
But, again, no abnormalities at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant right now. However, at another separate nuclear in Fukushima prefecture, Fukushima Daini, this is a separate plant, we have just learned within the past few minutes that the cooling operation, one of the reactors, has stopped.
When the cooling pumps stop due to loss of power or whatnot, that is the type of scenario that led to the meltdown back in 2011. But TEPCO, the operator of that other nuclear plant, says that even though the cooling operation has stopped, they do not believe there's an immediate danger, because the storage tanks can keep the nuclear rods cool for up to seven days without power.
And they're hopeful confident they will be able to get the cooling pumps back into operation well within that time frame. But certainly for the people living in this area who are still trying to rebuild their lives after the disaster in 2011, the tsunami waves that killed 22,000 people and caused hundreds of billions of dollars in damage, this is a very ominous time, and a lot of concern.
And you can still see Japanese media telling coastal residents to get to higher ground immediately and evacuate just in case.
BLITZER: Yes, good advice, indeed.
All right, Will, thank you.
BLITZER: We're also following the Trump transition.
Our political reporter Sara Murray is joining us with the latest.
Sara, Trump held another flurry of meetings today, certainly over the weekend as well. What are you hearing?
SARA MURRAY, CNN NATIONAL POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, that's right.
While we don't have any other major Cabinet announcements at this point, multiple sources are telling us that billionaire investor Wilbur Ross does appear to be a leading candidate for now for commerce secretary, although we're told no offers have been made.
And I'm also told by a source that Democratic Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard was very impressive in her meeting today and she is under active and serious consideration for a national security post, all of this happening in what has been a bizarrely public audition process to be part of Donald Trump's Cabinet.
MURRAY (voice-over): Donald Trump is bringing a taste of reality television to the staid Washington tradition of building a presidential Cabinet.
QUESTION: What are you looking forward to discussing with Rudy Giuliani later today?
DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENT-ELECT: Oh, wouldn't you like to know?
MURRAY: The president-elect convening another spree of sit-downs and job interviews at Trump Tower today, meeting with Democratic Congresswoman and combat veteran Tulsi Gabbard and former Texas Governor Rick Perry, both under consideration for Cabinet posts, as well Oklahoma Governor Mary Fallin and former Labor Secretary Elaine Chao.
That's after Trump beckoned some of his biggest backers and prior critics for meetings over weekend at his New Jersey golf club. TRUMP: Tremendous talent, we're seeing tremendous talent, people
that, as I say, who will make America great again. These are really great people. These are really, really talented people.
MURRAY: Aiming to build suspense about who might make up his Cabinet, and teasing major announcements that never quite materialized over the weekend.
Meanwhile, one of Trump's first White House hires, chief strategist Steve Bannon, is battling back critics' charges that he has helped elevate the views of white supremacists, the Breitbart News executive telling "The Wall Street Journal": "I'm an economic nationalist. I'm an America first guy," but insisting he rejects anti-Semitism and racist views.
It's clear, though, that the white nationalists aren't rejecting Trump. In fact, they lauded the president-elect and used a Nazi-era slur to bash the media this weekend at a meeting in Washington.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Those of us in the alt-right always took president-elect Donald Trump and his chances seriously. The mainstream media, or perhaps we should refer to them in the original German, luegenpresse.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The mainstream media never did.
MURRAY: And while the president-elect has said little about the white supremacists embracing his victory, aside from one rebuke in an interview, the former reality TV star served up plenty of criticism of the entertainment industry this weekend after "Saturday Night Live" brought back Alec Baldwin as Trump.
ALEC BALDWIN, ACTOR: Siri, how do I kill ISIS?
MURRAY: Trump hit back, calling "SNL" a "totally one-sided, biased show, nothing funny at all."
And he's continuing to hammer the Broadway musical "Hamilton," tweeting: "The cast and producers of 'Hamilton," which I hear is highly overrated, should immediately apologize to Mike Pence for their terrible behavior."
That's after the vice president-elect faced some boos when he attended last week and the cast addressed him from the stage with a plea for tolerance.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: To work on behalf of all of us.
MURRAY: An uncomfortable moment that at least Pence appears to be taking in stride. MIKE PENCE (R), VICE PRESIDENT-ELECT: What I can tell you is, I
wasn't offended by what was said.
MURRAY: Now, this evening, Donald Trump rolled out a video that runs through some of his top priorities, his first priorities when he takes office.
Among the list is expressing the U.S. intent to withdraw from the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a trade deal, as well a harder looking at the visa program, to look for any of those programs that might be undermining American workers.
Wolf, one common thread in these points of his new agenda, though, is that these are not legislative priorities. These are things that Donald Trump could do through executive action. Gives you an indication that he wants to show up in the White House and exhibit some signs of progress initially before he goes to Congress asking for help -- Wolf.
BLITZER: All right, Sara, thanks very much, Sara Murray reporting from New York.
Let's get some more on all of this.
Joining us now, the president and CEO of the NAACP, Cornell Brooks.
Cornell, thanks very much for joining us.
CORNELL WILLIAM BROOKS, PRESIDENT, NAACP: Good to be here, Wolf.
BLITZER: Since winning the election, has Donald Trump or any of his senior advisers reached out to you or to the NAACP?
BROOKS: They have not.
We have not heard from them at this point during the transition process. We did not hear from them during the campaign itself in terms of that serial declining of our invitation to speak to the NAACP.
But given the number of civil rights issues before the president- elect, namely the voter suppression that was a part of this campaign, given the police misconduct, the issues that have divided the Republicans due to distrust, all of the hate crimes that we have seen since Election Day -- let me note that at least 701 hate crimes since Election Day -- I hope and look forward to hearing from the White House and certainly them engaging substantively the issue that the NAACP and so many others represent, particularly at this point in our country's history.
BLITZER: We're showing our viewers live pictures of Newt Gingrich, the former speaker of the House, his wife, Callista. They just are leaving Trump Tower right now. We will check in and see what they have to say. Cornell, would you like to talk to Donald Trump? Do you think you can work with him and his incoming administration?
BROOKS: Certainly, what we're most interested in is having the president-elect speak to the issues before the country.
And so this is not a matter of certainly a personal conversation, but rather a conversation with the country about the issues that we're concerned about. So, where we saw in this campaign voter suppression from one end of the country to the other, where we saw 950 people lose their lives at the hands of the police last year, that rate being 50 percent up this year, hundreds and hundreds of thousands of young people in the streets are protesting against racial injustice, and since the president-elect was elected, people out in the streets are questioning his commitment to civil rights.
And where we have seen appointees and nominees that do not speak to the best values, the highest values of the country, the president- elect should engage on those issues. It's that time.
BLITZER: Cornell, would it be appropriate for you to reach out to Donald Trump, his senior advisers, and say, you know what, there's a lot we have got to talk about, let's get together?
BROOKS: There's a lot we have to talk about.
Certainly, we want to engage this administration. We are open to -- certainly open and willing and desirous of talking to anyone anywhere. But let us know this. Where you have elevated the architect of the alt-right onto their digital strategist as your chief strategist, where you have nominated for the highest law enforcement position in the country a senator with a bad record as a prosecutor with respect to civil rights, and a worse record as a legislator in terms of civil rights, certainly there's much to talk about, but there's much to do.
And there's much that the president-elect can do in this transition period, because this is a very, very rocky start. Note, as we said, the country is divided in terms of race and ethnicity. Hate crimes are way up. And the president-elect has not really spoken to the these issues and may well have exacerbated them with these appointees and nominees.
BLITZER: Do you think you will be able to work with Senator Sessions if he's confirmed as attorney of the United States?
BROOKS: We're quite willing to work with anyone in that position.
But the issue is being -- the attorney general being accountable. The attorney general, first of all, becoming the attorney general, that is not a given.
The fact of the matter is, his record has to be scrutinized. Senator Sessions' record has to be scrutinized. He has to go before the Senate and make the case. But we note this. Where you have seen literally 701 hate crimes since
Election Day, hate crimes are up by 7 percent, nearly 7 percent last year, where we have seen a 67 -- increase in hate crimes against Muslims, 9 percent against Jewish Americans. The rate is up for African-Americans.
And where this country is so divided, the attorney general has to have a demonstrated commitment to civil rights. So we're not taking it as a given that Senator Sessions is owed that office, is owed that set of responsibilities, because the work is more important than any individual.
So, we look forward to hearing from him. We look forward to scrutinizing his record and holding him accountable, whether it be as a nominee or as attorney general.
BLITZER: As you know, Cornell, some white nationalists groups are cheering this incoming Trump administration, calling it a victory from their perspective. Should more be said publicly by the president- elect to denounce these specific groups?
Where we have people using Nazi rhetoric, where we have white nationalists convening in a conference well-suited, well-heeled, and well-fed as the country is divided by bigotry and white nationalism, this is absolutely shameful.
And the president-elect can take this opportunity, this occasion to not only call them out, but also cast out his new chief strategist, Mr. Bannon. The fact of the matter is, one of the best ways to denormalize these white nationalists is by setting a standard in the White House in terms of who you have representing you, who you have representing America's values from the White House.
And Mr. Bannon, as far as we can see, as much as we have heard, does not represent those values at all.
BLITZER: As you know, some white nationalists, they have called Steve Bannon's appointment, chief strategist in the new White House, they have said it was an excellent appointment.
But, in an interview, Bannon told "The Wall Street Journal" he has never been a supporter of what he called ethno-nationalism. He said the black working and middle class and the Hispanic working and middle class, just like whites, have been severely hurt by policies of globalism.
Do you agree that the middle class has been hurt by this globalism policy?
BROOKS: Well, here's what we would note, and any number of economists will talk about the fact that there are many Americans, African- Americans, Latino, Asian-American people, Native American people from a variety of backgrounds have experienced real economic anxiety in terms of lost wages, in terms of lower economic trajectory, in terms of decreased likelihood that their children are going to do as well as they have done.
So, certainly, these are serious concerns to be addressed with serious policy, not by dividing or pitting us one against another based upon race or ethnicity. The fact that Mr. Bannon seems to be distancing himself from the very folks who supported his platform, namely Breitbart News, is interesting.
But it doesn't erase the record. It does erase the fact that he made money, that he profited from the very people that seem to be a source of embarrassment for him now and should be an embarrassment for the president-elect. And so we draw no comfort from that.
The fact of the matter is, his digital platform served as a stage for the alt-right, or more properly translated -- translated, white nationalism.
Make no mistake, we should not treat white nationalism and this anti- Semitism as a kind of impolite idiosyncrasy for us to politely ignore. It is ugly, it is racist, it is bigoted, and it is in fact dangerous to our country.
All we need do is read the history of our nation. And we know that when we have responded with weakness or with indifference in terms of racism and anti-Semitism and bigotry, we as a country have suffered for it. And we as a nation at this point, at this stage of our moral maturity, have no intention of doing so, and certainly not the NAACP. So we're calling it out. And we're calling it for what it is.
BLITZER: All right, Cornell, stay with us.
There's more to discuss.
Four police officers have been shot over the past 24 hours alone. We will discuss that and other developments right after a quick break.
BLITZER: We're back with the president and CEO of the NAACP, Cornell William Brooks.
We want to talk to him about a series of attacks on police officers that have left one dead, three injured in just the past 24 hours.
First, let's get the latest from CNN's Polo Sandoval.
POLO SANDOVAL, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Police are on high alert.
WILLIAM MCMANUS, SAN ANTONIO POLICE CHIEF: We have pulled out all the stops.
SANDOVAL: The search now under way for the one who police say ambushed 50-year-old Detective Benjamin Marconi who was writing a traffic ticket in his squad car.
MCMANUS: We consider this subject to be extremely dangerous both to the police and to the public.
SANDOVAL: It started Sunday around 11:45 a.m. in San Antonio, Texas. Officers say this man walked into police headquarters shortly before the shooting and asked a question of the desk clerk.
The man later pulled up to Marconi's car, shot him in the head from outside of the car, and then reached through the window and shot the 20-year veteran again. Police believe Marconi was targeted not as an individual, but as a symbol.
MCMANUS: I think that the uniform was the target. And anyone who happened -- the first person who happened along was the person that he targeted.
SANDOVAL: Several hours later in Saint Louis, Missouri, a 46-year-old police sergeant was waiting in traffic around 7:30 p.m. The suspect pulled up to the driver's side of his patrol car and opened fire, shooting him twice in the face. The injured sergeant with 20 years of service is in critical condition.
FRANCIS SLAY, MAYOR OF SAINT LOUIS, MISSOURI: It looks like he's going to survive, he's going to be OK, but this is traumatic.
SANDOVAL: Police believe the suspect was a wanted criminal.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: When he saw the officer, he became concerned that he would be recognized and we believe he fired at the officer for that reason.
SANDOVAL: The suspect was killed following a late-night manhunt and shoot-out with police.
In Sanibel, Florida a quiet beach community which has never had one of its officers shot, a suspect is in custody for shooting officer Jared Ciccone. He was also conducting a routine traffic stop. According to police, Ciccone was on the side of the road when the suspect drove by and started shooting. The officer was injured, but has since been released from the hospital.
Finally, around 10:30 p.m. in Gladstone, Missouri, nine miles north of Kansas City, an officer and a suspect were both shot at a traffic stop. It's unclear if the officer was targeted in this attack. There's no known connection between any of these four attacks.
MCMANUS: It is certainly a coincidence, but we're not going to venture to say that it's connected.
SANDOVAL: Polo Sandoval, CNN, San Antonio, Texas.
BLITZER: And we're back with Cornell William Brooks, president and CEO of the NAACP.
Cornell, react to these string of police ambushes. San Antonio police said the attacker who ambushed that one police officer was -- what attracted him was the uniform. Has enough been done to bridge this divide? Because it looks really awful when these police officers are simply targeted, shot, and one police officer killed.
BROOKS: Well, Wolf, let's just start with what is fundamentally true.
A gold badge should never be a bullseye. Police officers who are charged with the responsibility of safeguarding our lives, our communities, and property are to be honored for the work that they do. So the fact that they would be targeted is unconscionable. It is morally reprehensible. And certainly we have to condemn it in the strongest possible terms.
The chasm of distrust between police officers, many police officers, and the communities in which they serve is not a license to kill. It does in no way, shape, fashion or form endorse this kind of behavior.
What I would note here is the people in the streets who are often protesting and demonstrating against police misconduct are also demonstrating and protesting for reforms that ensure that police officers are safer and the communities in which they serve are, in fact, safer.
This violence is in a moral category unto itself. That is to say, it is morally reprehensible. It is a stand-alone. It has nothing to do with protesting, demonstrating against police misconduct. It has everything to do with the very violence that we're standing against.
BLITZER: As you know, the Justice Department has been looking into local police departments believed to have some institutional racism, bias.
What direction do you think Senator Sessions, if confirmed as the new attorney general of the United States, could take the Department of Justice in?
BROOKS: Well, I would hope -- if Senator Sessions is confirmed as attorney general, I would hope that he would follow the lead of the International Chiefs of Police, that he would follow the lead of leading police departments.
I hope he would follow the lead of the data, the research, and the case that is being made by young demonstrators and older demonstrators across the country that suggests that examining and ferreting out and working to eliminate implicit bias is key.
The use of technology, in terms of body cameras, gun cameras and dash cams, is key, changing the model, the modality of policing such that police officers are, in fact, guardians and not warriors, working to use the most thoughtful techniques to bridge and bring together the community and the police again, makes police officers in the communities in which they serve safer. So we would hope that he would continue a tradition, certainly
embodied by Attorney General Lynch and Attorney General Eric Holder, and certainly what police officers and the NAACP have called for around the country.
There's a great body of work, body of evidence and, more importantly, literally bodies, minds, and hearts, that have been put on the line to advance policing in a way that ensures that people are, in fact, safe and that they trust the police, because the trust -- the police have, in fact, earned their trust.
So, we would hope that he would exemplify that level of law enforcement and that standard of law enforcement.
[18:30:05] BLITZER: All right, Cornell, thank you very much. Cornell William Brooks of the NAACP joining us. Appreciate it very much.
We have some breaking news coming into THE SITUATION ROOM from Chattanooga. Officials now say there are multiple fatalities after a school bus crash. We're going to have the details right after this.
[18:35:03] BLITZER: There's breaking news out of Chattanooga, Tennessee. A police spokesperson says there are multiple fatalities after a school bus crashed. At least 35 elementary schoolchildren were on the bus, kindergartners through fifth trade. At least 23 victims have been transported to the hospital.
A reporter on the CNN cells CNN a local blood bank in Chattanooga is staying open late tonight, and the line of donors already stretches around the block.
We'll stay on top of that story for you.
There's more breaking news. President-elect Donald Trump has just released a video outlining his policy plan for his first 100 days in office, including jobs, trade, and energy.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: My agenda will be based on a simple core principle: putting America first. Whether it's producing steel, building cars, or curing disease, I want the next generation of production and innovation to happen right here on our great homeland, America, creating wealth and jobs for American workers.
As part of this plan, I've asked my transition team to develop a list of executive actions we can take on day one to restore our laws and bring back our jobs. About time.
These include the following: On trade, I am going to issue a notification of intent to withdraw from the Transpacific Partnership, a potential disaster for our country. Instead, we will negotiate fair bilateral trade deals that bring jobs and industry back onto American shores. On energy, I will cancel job-killing restrictions on the production of
American energy, including shale energy and clean coal, creating millions of high-paying jobs. That's what we want. That's what we've been waiting for.
On regulation, I will formulate a rule which says that, for every one new regulation, two old regulations must be eliminated. So important.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: All right. So let's get some reaction from our political experts and our correspondents.
Sara Murray, you didn't hear Donald Trump mention deportations. Didn't mention the border wall with Mexico, didn't mention at least, in this particular statement, Obamacare, the Affordable Care Act. Were you surprised by that?
MURRAY: Not particularly, Wolf, because I think what Donald Trump wanted to lay out in this video was essentially what you would call low-hanging fruit: the things he can do of his own accord to show that he wants to be productive, that he feels like he can make inroads on some of these policy priorities before he has to go to Congress and work on some of these bigger things.
A lot of the things you heard in that video are things Donald Trump can do by executive order. So he can sort of show up in office and, in his first few weeks, his first 100 days, basically look at all the things I've already gotten done, before he has to go to Congress and deal with thornier issues like the border wall.
BLITZER: Because Rebecca Berg, on immigration, the only thing he said -- and I'll read it to you -- he said, "On immigration, I will direct the Department of Labor to investigate all abuses of visa programs that undercut the American worker." A very limited statement, at least as far as immigration, illegal immigration, is concerned.
REBECCA BERG, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Very limited. And so it's sort of as Sara was suggesting, laying out something that Donald Trump can do on his own without having to go through Congress; so something he could feasibly accomplish in the first 100 days of his presidency. But also sort of acknowledging the reality of how difficult immigration reform is going to be when you're looking at a more comprehensive package, and the fact that this is not necessarily going to be a quick and easy process to accomplish this campaign promise that was obviously a cornerstone of his presidential campaign.
So that, I think, is actually very interesting, a sense of some -- acknowledging some reality from Donald Trump as he transitions to the presidency.
BLITZER: Phil Mudd, it's interesting: on national security, the only thing he said in this statement, what he's going to do in his first 100 days, "I will ask the Department of Defense and the chairman of the join chiefs of staff to develop a comprehensive plan to protect America's vital infrastructure from cyber-attacks and all other forms of attacks."
That was a limited statement on national security. Your reaction to that?
PHIL MUDD, CNN COUNTERTERRORISM ANALYST: I think when you look at the conversation on the campaign trail, Wolf, and contrast it to what we just heard, in my world, there's a simple reason you're hearing so little. And that is, when you look at the hot spots around the world, that is if you look at Syria, if you look at Iraq, if you look at Mr. Trump's engagement with Russia and the allegations about what Russia was doing on hacking e-mails during the campaign, when you look at the difficulty of engaging China, not only in trade but in terms of their military adventures in the South China Sea, there are no easy answers; and every time you try to get to an answer, you realize how complex the foreign policy environment is.
So I think this is partly a reflection that, in some cases, the American people don't care that much. And in other cases, the answers are just too tough to capture in a quick TV segment.
BLITZER; And David Swerdlick, on ethics in government, he said this: "On ethics reform, as part of our plan to drain the swamp, we will impose a five-year ban on executive officials becoming lobbyists after they leave the administration and a lifetime ban on executive officials lobbying on behalf of a foreign government."
[18:40:19] Those are specific examples of what he's going the do to, quote, "drain the swamp."
DAVID SWERDLICK, CNN POLITIAL COMMENTATOR: Yes, and I think it reflects on what Trump campaigned on, the 2016 campaign, this idea that he was coming in, he knew the system was corrupt, he knew where the cracks were and how to work it, and he was the best one to root out corruption -- what he described as corruption, in any way -- in the form of lobbyists, in the form of pay-to-play.
The problem, and to echo what everybody else is saying, is that reality has set in. And I think the incoming administration has realized, Wolf, that some of the stuff that they promised is easier said than done. If they're able to be more successful than the Obama administration, which also promised to keep lobbyists at arm's length, they will find that they're not going to have the same level of expertise to deal with people on issues of policy, to staff their administration.
But we'll see if this winds up being, you know, a successful policy for them, and if they're able to make it stick.
BLITZER: Yes, he outlined his initial plans for his first 100 days in this video statement.
Phil Mudd, last week when the Kansas state secretary of state, Kris Kobach, suggested a Muslim registry of sorts, the Trump team denied he was part of the transition. But in a photo of his meeting with Donald Trump, Kobach was carrying a proposal to track what he called "aliens from high-risk areas and to vet people on aspects of Islam." We saw a similar approach in that so-called NSEERS program was in
effect years ago. It's since gone away. And we saw those pictures. Kobach was carrying some files, which showed his papers and the headlines there. There you see it right there. Was your reaction to all of this?
MUDD: Not very positive. The reason is simple. I'm not talking about this from the perspective of human rights, which is typically the conversation about this in America. I'm talking about this from a practical perspective.
The counterterrorism business is -- is difficult to think about, difficult to execute. But let me give you a simple concept.
You chase the guys at the center, the core of ISIS, for example, in Syria, and determine how they're trying to communicate with recruits in the United States. You look at things like social media in the United States, things like Facebook, Twitter, and determine which American kid is self-recruiting himself into ISIS.
My one question, Wolf, to close: if you gave me, when I was a practitioner, a list of Muslims in the United States, whether they're born here or whether they immigrate here, my question is what the heck do you want me to do with it, aside from trash it? It doesn't help me as a practitioner. I don't understand the political debate.
BLITZER: David Swerdlick, what about the constitutionality of that type of that type of plan? I assume it would encounter some fierce resistance from Congress.
SWERDLICK: Well, it does put you on a slippery slope toward profiling particular groups. The NSEERS program was one where you had tracking by immigration enforcement of people legally admitted to the United States or legally living in the United States, from 25 countries. All but one of them were Muslim majority countries.
And so, you know, it's hard to describe this as a program that targets everybody versus targeting -- you know, a program that targets specifically people from Muslim majority countries.
But in terms of whether Congress will challenge it, I see no indication yet that the Republican-led Congress right now, the new Congress coming in, is going to challenge President-elect Trump vigorously on something like this. Maybe they will, but there's no suggestion of that yet.
BLITZER: Yes. A bunch of Democrats certainly would.
Everybody, stand by. We've got some new information on the man emerging as the leading contender to be the next secretary of defense. Stay with us.
[18:48:44] BLITZER: We're learning new information tonight about Donald Trump's possible pick for defense secretary, a retired U.S. marine whose past remarks have caused some controversy.
Our chief national security correspondent Jim Sciutto is joining us.
Jim, General James Mattis appears to be the top contender right now to lead the Pentagon. What are you learning?
JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: That's right. He's very popular inside the military, both soldiers and commanders. He's been described to me as a soldier's soldier. He's also popular on the Hill among both Republicans and Democrats. But oddly enough, it may not be politics that stands in the way but the law.
DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENT-ELECT: All I can say is he is the real deal.
SCIUTTO (voice-over): President-elect Donald Trump is, quote, "extremely impressed" with retired Marine General James Mattis following their meeting this weekend. Sources tell CNN that Mattis is now the leading candidate for secretary of defense.
RET. GEN. JAMES MATTIS (RET), U.S. MARINES: The U.S. military is quite capable of giving our enemies their longest day and their worst day if ordered to do so.
SCIUTTO: Mattis is a seasoned commander with 44 years of service in the Marine Corps and key demands in both Afghanistan and Iran. He won praise for his role in the deadly 2004 battle of Fallujah. His ferocity earning him the nickname "Mad Dog".
Reaction to his possible nomination so far has been positive.
[18:50:03] GEN. JAMES "SPIDER" MARKS (RET.), CNN MILITARY ANALYST: Jim Mattis understands how the military can influence and is influenced by those other elements of power. He's very much a strategic thinker.
SCIUTTO: But his career has not been without controversy. In 2005, he came under fire for remarks he made in a panel discussion which seemed to make light of killing in combat.
MATTIS: It's fun to shoot some people. I'll be right up front with you. I like brawling.
SCIUTTO: In 2013, Mattis compared Israeli settlement expansion to apartheid.
MATTIS: If I'm Jerusalem, and I put 500 Jewish settlers out here somewhere to the east and there's 10,000 Arab settlers in here, if we draw the border to include them, either it ceases to be a Jewish state or you say the Arabs don't get to vote, apartheid.
SCIUTTO: Mattis' nomination would, however, face immediate and significant legislative hurdle. Federal law requires that the Pentagon be led by a civilian or a military veteran who has been out of uniform for at least seven years. Mattis has only been retired for three years, so Congress would have to vote to give them a waiver.
Congress has only used the waiver once in history, in 1950, allowing President Harry Truman to appoint General George Marshall to the position of defense secretary. The law is rooted in a long standing American principle of civilian command of the military.
WILLIAM COHEN, FORMER DEFENSE SECRETARY: There's nothing magical in the seven years. They want enough time to say, are you separated enough from the military ethic and culture and part of the community as such to be a civilian boss?
SCIUTTO: Donald Trump, of course, has the advantage of Republican majorities in both houses of Congress, the Senate, and the House, but also this, Wolf, I've spoken to Democratic lawmakers, they have enormous respect for General Mattis and say this is not one they would necessarily fight if the president were to choose him as his defense secretary.
BLITZER: Presumably, if he were to select him, the Congress would go ahead and pass that waiver, right?
SCIUTTO: That's what I hear. Of course, you have the advantage of the Republican majorities, but also is this one that the Democrats would dig their heels in and fight? At least from folks I've spoken with, it's not likely to be, Wolf.
BLITZER: All right, Jim Sciutto reporting for us. Thanks very much.
There's breaking news ahead. President-elect Trump outlines his policy plans for his first 100 days in office and he does it in a video.
[18:57:03] BLITZER: Hundreds of people have been killed in days of intense bombing of Syria's second largest city by government forces.
CNN's Will Ripley is monitoring developments for us.
Will, you've spoken to people inside Aleppo. The situation sounds very, very grim. What are you hearing?
RIPLEY: And it' only getting worse, Wolf. People who have lived through more than four years of bombing in East Aleppo say this is unprecedented. The worst they have ever experienced. And they're afraid it will only get worse.
RIPLEY (voice-over): The explosions are like clockwork in rebel-held east Aleppo --
RIPLEY: -- all day, every day.
ISMAIL ALABDULLAH, EAST ALEPPO RESIDENT: They don't know how to wake up normally without the sound of bombing, without anything.
RIPLEY: Ismail Alabdullah takes cover in his basement. During our 14-minute conversation, I count at least 17 blasts.
RIPLEY (on camera): And there is another one.
(voice-over): Each getting louder and closer.
(on camera): I am listening to these explosions here and it does not faze you. You are used to it.
ALABDULLAH: It's normal for us. We are not a human being anymore because of this.
RIPLEY (voice-over): This is a normal day in east Aleppo. First responders racing from one site to the next.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (SPEAKING FOREING LANGUAGE)
RIPLEY: "This is our country, our country," says this man, refusing to let destruction like this to force him move.
(on camera): Why did you stay?
ALABDULLAH: What do we stay? We stay because it's our city. It's because they -- they stay because they have no place to go.
RIPLEY (voice-over): Alabdullah says the more than a quarter million people who remain in east Aleppo don't trust the so called humanitarian corridors. He says snipers on both sides shoots and kill people who try to leave.
ALABDULLAH: We aren't going to leave. We are going to die.
RIPLEY: He lost three friends in three days. He says many feel tired, hopeless, abandoned by the world.
(on camera): That was close. That one was close.
ALABDULLAH: OK, I am going to go.
RIPLEY: OK. Be safe. Be safe.
(voice-over): Despite nearly five years of pleading for help, the relentless bombing of east Aleppo continues.
(EXPLOSION) (END VIDEOTAPE)
RIPLEY: In the last week, more than 300 people have died. We have see all of the major hospitals in east Aleppo knocked out of service. School and homes have been targeted. Children have been among the casualties, Wolf.
And the Syrian regime and Russia have not stopped this bombing campaign despite mounting international pressure. And a warning from the United Nations, that there will be mass starvation in this city if food, water supplies and water are not allowed in very soon.
BLITZER: All right. Will Ripley reporting for us. Thanks very much.
That's it for me.
"ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.