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Trump Picks Nikki Haley To Be Ambassador To United Nations; Trump Steps Back From Campaign Pledges: Will It Matter?; Tennessee Governor Visits Accident Victims' School; Three Fourth Graders, First Grader, Kindergartner Killed; West Wing Versus Left Wing In Fight Over Head Of DNC. Aired 11-11:30a ET

Aired November 23, 2016 - 11:00   ET


[11:00:00] CAROL COSTELLO, CNN ANCHOR: I'm Carol Costello. "AT THIS HOUR" with Berman and Bolduan starts now.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: I'm John Berman. Kate Bolduan is off this morning. Breaking news, a morning of firsts and lasts for the president-elect. The first time he taps someone other than a white male to be part of his administration.

We have learned that South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley is the choice to be the next ambassador to the United Nations. She is a respected up and coming leader in the Republican Party. On the subject of firsts, this is her first foray into international relations.

Other names floating this morning, reports that Ben Carson has been offered HUD secretary. Mitt Romney is still a leading contender at state. Former CIA Chief David Petraeus would take a job if offered. We are waiting for word on those picks.

However, their days end up, none will have a better day than tater or tot. They are the turkeys now in the running for presidential pardon. This will be the final turkey commutation for President Obama, coming in just under four hours. I tried and failed to get a CNN countdown clock for that.

Let's start with the Trump transition. The president-elect is in Palm Beach on a working break so CNN political reporter, Sara Murray, is here with all the new details. Sara Murray, the word this morning is Nikki Haley. This is a significant pick.

SARA MURRAY, CNN POLITICAL REPORTER: It is significant. Him picking Nikki Haley as the ambassador to the United Nations is an indication it wasn't just a head fake when Donald Trump said he would be willing to look to some of his past political rivals to serve in his cabinet. The two of them have exchanged words and they are not very pleasant. Listen.


GOVERNOR NIKKI HALEY (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: Donald Trump is everything we hear and teach our kids not to do in kindergarten.

I will not stop until we fight a man that chooses not to disavow the KKK.

DONALD TRUMP, U.S. PRESIDENT-ELECT: She's very, very weak on illegal immigration. You can't have that.

HALEY: We don't want a president that's going to come in and just bash and sit there and tell us what we are not doing right.

When a bully hits you, you hit that bully right back.


MURRAY: Now it appears both of them are prepared to just let bygones be bygones as she prepares to join a Trump administration. One other past critic still in the mix is the potential of Mitt Romney as Donald Trump's secretary of state.

Now this is not set in stone. We know that Mitt Romney is seriously considering it. He's talking to his advisers. He is talking to his family about it. We know that Donald Trump is seriously considering it.

But there are still other names in this mix. Rudy Giuliani, who has been a Trump loyalist and a close adviser really since early in Donald Trump's presidential bid, has made it clear that he's interested in secretary of state. So he's still in the running for that position as well.

Yet another name that we may see emerging in the mix is former CIA Chief David Petraeus. He has indicated now that he would be willing to serve in a Trump administration if he's asked. He said it's sort of a sense of duty and he'll have to say yes.

Now Trump has said plenty of complimentary things about Petraeus on the campaign trail, but this could be a sticky situation. Trump also hit Hillary Clinton hard, saying she mishandled classified information and Petraeus was in similar hot water of his own.

He resigned from his station as CIA chief amid an extramarital affair and really amid scandal and pled guilty to mishandling some confidential information of his own. We will see if that subplot goes anywhere -- John.

BERMAN: All right, Sara Murray, thanks so much. Joining us now in this discussion, Kirsten Powers, a CNN political analyst, "USA Today" columnist, Mary Katherine Ham, CNN political commentator and senior writer for "The Federalist," Basil Smikle, executive director for the New York State Democratic Party, and Steve Cortes, a former Donald Trump campaign adviser. Sara Murray will scoot up to the table here as well.

M.K., I want to start with you and talk about what Nikki Haley, the governor of South Carolina is first. Yes, she's the first woman, the first minority brought into the Donald Trump inner circle. She's also, I can't tell you how many years, I guess about six right now. We have heard that Nikki Haley is the future of the Republican Party. MARY KATHERINE HAM, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Yes. I'm not sure what's on Donald p's mind when he's bringing her on. I think he's probably hiring people based on a gut feeling, which is how he ran his campaign. Words of advice from close friends and colleagues which is how he ran his campaign.

I think she's a smart person. She's a rival of his from the past or at least a critic, and I think it's sort of encouraging from my point of view to see him want to have someone who was a strong critic and a strong person and strong intellect come on board.

Her job at that position will largely be based on what the secretary of state says and that policy, that relationship, we will wait to see who he puts there, but it's nice to see him naming somebody who could have a spine.

BERMAN: Kirsten Powers, now what she is not, at least not yet. That's a foreign policy expert. She is not seen as someone who has had vast experience in that field. Yes, she's been an elected governor of South Carolina. No doubt she's worked with business interests and foreign interests there, but not an expert here.

[11:05:10]KIRSTEN POWERS, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Right. I mean, that is the first thing that jumps out, that she doesn't have any real experience that would really have prepared her for this position in terms of foreign policy experience.

But I think it speaks to Donald Trump's style which is he doesn't really value policy experience for himself as well. He tends to think -- I think he's on sort of the interpersonal ski1ls, somebody who can communicate well, and those kind of things.

I think he probably thinks that she's smart and can get up to speed. I'm not sure if that's right. I think that tends to be the way he approaches things.

BERMAN: You know, Smikle, this shows an openness to diversity, right? Yes, there have been five white male picks, but now you have Nikki Haley. Ben Carson has been offered the HUD job. There are reports of that.

This shows a willingness to be open not just to diversity but also diversity of thought, diversity of opinion, diversity of experience. Nikki Haley is someone who has been very vocal against Donald Trump in the past.

Nikki Haley is someone who comes from South Carolina and might not have the same views on foreign policy as someone who has been working in think tanks for many years.

BASIL SMIKLE, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, NEW YORK STATE DEMOCRATIC PARTY: With Nikki Haley specifically, her star had been on the rise for a while and there was a lot of conversation about her around her decision to take down the confederate flag, if you remember. So there was --

BERMAN: A lot of praise.

SMIKLE: -- a lot of praise, absolutely. So she was seen as a star. She was a star in the Republican Party, but I think going to your question more specifically, what's interesting to me is two things.

One, that Donald Trump, to me, it is about personality. It's not so much about policy, but it's about his willingness to -- for folks to actually get along with him, first and foremost.

Number two, I think just the fact that you have a candidate or president-elect who through his candidacy talked about draining the swamp but these are some very familiar names to us.

So I don't know if it actually follows with the things that he talked about during the campaign but certainly, these choices are all about individuals who despite their former disagreements, are willing to sort of toe the line.

BERMAN: If someone had said I represented everything that you teach your kids in kindergarten not to be, I might not bring them into my inner circle or even outer circle, for that. Along those lines, there is another name still being discussed, Sara Murray just reported, as a potential secretary of state.

That is Mitt Romney, the former Massachusetts governor who was highly and personally critical of Donald Trump over the last 12 years. Apparently still very much in the running. Mitt Romney talking to his family about it. Donald Trump talking to his family about it.

Now you have a lot of other people talking about it as well. Namely, Donald Trump's supporters who say it would be a very, very bad idea. Mike Huckabee says it would be an insult to Trump's supporters and Newt Gingrich really is on this campaign right now to have the pick be Rudy Giuliani and not Mitt Romney. Listen to this.


NEWT GINGRICH (R), FORMER HOUSE SPEAKER: I would be concerned, one, I think the vast majority of Trump's supporters will initially be very unhappy and will be reminded of all the things that Romney said over the year and two, because Romney does represent a very different viewpoint. I can think of 20 other people who would be more naturally compatible with the Trump vision of foreign policy.


BERMAN: All right, Steve Cortes, longtime Donald Trump supporter, are you on Team Romney or Team Newt, Huckabee, Rudy here?

STEVE CORTES, FORMER TRUMP CAMPAIGN ADVISER: I'm on Team Trump. I believe, listen, I ardently trust his judgment. I thought from within the campaign. I saw firsthand what he cared first about was talent, regardless of skin color or orientation or background and so I think he will select the most talented people. I guess I would say to my fellow Trump supporters please have faith in our man. My guess is he's not going to pick Romney, but I'm not privy to those discussions so we will see.

BERMAN: Do you think it would be an insult to his supporters as Mike Huckabee said today?

CORTES: It wouldn't be an insult. I disagree, respectfully to Governor Huckabee. I think that like Nikki Haley, what he's showing is leadership. I think the core of his team is going to be comprised of loyalists like General Flynn, Mike Pompeo. I think he will always have a core group of loyalists at the helm.

But what I think he's showing is strength in leadership, that he wants his cabinet to both look like America and I think it's wonderful that he just appointed the daughter of an immigrant.

By the way, the Republican Party, we often get castigated as being this white male party. Two of our top three presidential candidates were minorities and were the children of immigrants. I think that say a lot about us a party.

But getting back to Trump, we can't argue about that. He also appointed the daughter of an immigrant, also a woman in color and someone who was quite caustic really in her criticism of him.

I think what we are seeing is that President-elect Trump is very different from Candidate Trump in that once we're done, this is what democracy has to do, once we are done with a rigorous campaign, at times a bruising campaign, now we have to move on to governing this country for growth and security.

[11:10:04]BERMAN: Let's see what else he does with the rest of the picks. Still a lot more to come. Sara Murray, I have to tell you in the intrigue category here, as soon as I heard Nikki Haley this morning, I thought, well, maybe that means Mitt Romney is getting less likely.

Because then if you pick Mitt Romney as secretary of state, then you have two critics of Donald Trump as really a big chunk of the foreign policy team right here. You also have two people who are part of, seen as the Republican establishment? I mean, that would be a lot.

MURRAY: Right. It would be a lot, but I also do think he was genuinely pleased by this meeting that he had with Mitt Romney. We are still told that Governor Romney is under serious consideration.

I think more so than that calculation, it's almost a calculation between Governor Romney and Rudy Giuliani. Donald Trump really does prize loyalism in the people that are close to him and Rudy Giuliani gave him that throughout the campaign.

They do feel like he has the experience necessary to do the job, but they think it could be a bloody confirmation hearing. So it's a question of do you want to spend your political capital on something like that, on such a high profile position.

And he also likes, this is a very Donald Trump thing, that Mitt Romney looks the part. That he looks like a statesman and just from a visual perspective, would represent him well. I think there are certainly clashes in their ideology.

Russia is a big example of that. But I also think folks who are coming in know that they are signing on to serve under a Donald Trump White House, under a Donald Trump ticket, and they know that in a battle, ultimately Donald Trump's decision is the decision.

SMIKLE: But one thing that I would raise, though, to that point is efficacy. How effective would a Mitt Romney be around the world? What I think about is the secretary of state is not just about the position not just about keeping the peace but also about promoting American values across the globe.

So if you are Mitt Romney and you have called your boss, if you are secretary of state, you called your boss a misogynist, how do you go across the globe and talk about women's rights? How do you do that effectively?

BERMAN: I think if we learned one thing in this "New York Times" sit- down yesterday, it's that Donald Trump may not be rigid on a lot of things, right? He said on climate change he may listen to all views. All of a sudden on waterboarding, you know, General Mattis changed his mind there. On infrastructure, maybe, maybe not. It may be that there's not much actually written, you know, in stone here.

HAM: Right. He's not an ideological creature. He made promises on the campaign trail and to some extent he will answer for those. But to some extent I think his supporters say he's the guy at the table, the guy I want at the table and the guy I want making the decisions.

When it comes to Romney going around the world, I think actually, he would be pretty effective because in that position you are supposed to be the diplomatic guy. Yes, he went after Trump but he's far closer to a diplomat than the average sort of true loyalist style would be when it comes to that kind of thing.

So I think perhaps that's what he's thinking, but he's a guy who is unpredictable, who is not ideological, who doesn't have a record in government, and he makes these decisions I think a bit on the fly as he's having to throughout transition, and can be swayed often by a close associate who has a different opinion, as you saw with Mattis on the waterboarding issue.

BERMAN: Kirsten Powers, you know, based on what we have seen with these picks and based on what you saw with that hour-long sit down with the "New York Times," what do you make of that? What do you make of Donald Trump's convictions now, weeks after the election?

POWERS: Well, I don't think -- what Mary Katherine just said, but I'm not that surprised because I always thought this about him and the few times I interviewed him, it came through very clearly that he's not -- he's just not an ideologue. He really likes to make deals, which is not a surprise to anybody.

He's somebody who is a deal maker and is more sort of practical, I think, and really doesn't seem to hold grudges. When I had interviewed him it was towards the end of the primary and I asked him would he consider any of his opponents as potential vice president picks and even at that point he said yes. He had kind of moved on.

It wasn't -- people who he had been attacking so vigorously, now that he had defeated them or it looked like he had defeated them, he was a lot more gracious. So I'm not surprised at this. I think the one thing that's concerning is we do have to wonder, I don't know which is his actual position, right.

He can be so flexible on things like climate change, for example, how do we -- I don't really know what his actual position is. I think on a lot of issues, I think we have to wait and see.

BERMAN: It's possible he don't have one or it moves, one thing one day, the other the next. Do any of you have a position on tater or tot? As the turkey who will be pardoned? Anyone want to weigh in? Everyone is for all the turkeys. Thanks to you all so much for being with us. Have a happy thanksgiving.

All right, computer scientists pleading with Hillary Clinton to challenge the election results in three key states. Find out why and find out if the Clinton campaign is listening.

Plus, he's one of the people credited with winning the Trump or winning the election for Trump. So how is his son-in-law explaining all of this and why is he all of a sudden talking after bragging about not talking for so long?

[11:15:13]And heartbreaking new details on the bus crash that killed at least five children. Parents, friends, families, speaking out about their loss.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's so close to the holidays. It won't be the same for a lot of parents and families and stuff. This is very, very hard and it hurts, because these are innocent babies.



BERMAN: This morning, Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam visited Woodmore Elementary School in Chattanooga to offer condolences to the community mourning the horrific bus crash there. Of the five children confirmed dead, three were fourth graders, one a first grader and one was in kindergarten. Twelve children still in critical care right now. Nick Valencia is following that story. Nick, what are you learning?

NICK VALENCIA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: John, it goes without saying it's not what these families expected this holiday week. It's not how they expected to spend thanksgiving holiday. Numerous amount of family members here in Chattanooga are going to be mourning the loss of their young children, ages, kindergarten to fifth grade.

[11:20:04]This accident on Monday really striking a chord emotionally here in this city, obviously. Twelve of them remain hospitalized, six of them in stable condition, six in critical condition. Earlier I spoke with Bishop Kevin Adams, who the community really has turned to for encouragement, for compassion and support in this time of grief. He said, he described to me the situation inside the hospital as some of these parents learned that their children had died.


PASTOR KEVIN L. ADAMS, BISHOP, OLIVET BAPTIST CHURCH: Something I have never, never experienced before as the doctors were coming in and you know, just announced to a family that your child is deceased. I saw mothers literally passing out, people all on the floor, the screams, I can still hear them.

I woke up this morning with some chilling sounds, you could just hear the screams. They didn't know what to do. There was grabbing, holding on to myself and other chaplains and ministers, asking is my child really gone, are they coming back.

You don't know what to do with that. But just lay on the floor with them, cry, hold on to them and you know, it makes you reflect on what's important in life and how much we take for granted.


VALENCIA: You could hear just how difficult it was for Bishop Adams to talk about this. It's hard to imagine what it was like to witness. The suspect in this accident, 24-year-old Johnthony Walker, remains in custody charged with five counts of vehicular homicide.

We have also looked into his driving history. We know he's been a bus driver with the school district since April. It was just in September that he was involved in another accident, single car accident, sideswiping a vehicle. No injuries in that accident.

But investigators are no doubt going to be looking into history. We are waiting hopefully some toxicology tests. We're not sure if those have been done. We are hoping to get some more information about this suspect, an individual, all of this will be part of the investigation -- John.

BERMAN: Such a difficult time in Chattanooga. Nick Valencia, thanks so much.

So conflicts of interest, no way suggests Donald Trump. He's going to be the president and the law protects him, he says. We will discuss that coming up.

Plus, a group of scientists is asking Hillary Clinton to challenge the election result in three states. We will tell you how the Clinton campaign responded.


[11:26:56] BERMAN: New developments this morning in the shaping of the new Democratic Party, including the debate over whether it should really be new at all. Jostling behind the scenes to determine who will be the next party chair, a battle that as of this morning pits the west wing against the left wing.

That description from the pen of my next guest, Jonathan Martin, national political correspondent for the "New York Times." Jonathan, thank you for being with us.

The left wing as you say wants Keith Ellison, a congressman from Minnesota, to be the next party chair. Bernie Sanders supports him. Elizabeth Warren supports him. Jack Schumer even supports him. But the west wing and the people who work for President Obama, they are not so sure. Why?

JONATHAN MARTIN, NATIONAL POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT, "NEW YORK TIMES": Well, because a couple reasons. The first one is there is a consensus in the White House but also even beyond that among most Democrats that this should be a full-time job. There is a sort of a sense of regret after Debbie Wasserman Schultz's tenure who was simultaneously serving in Congress and chairing the DNC.

That it just didn't work, that you have to have somebody doing the job in a full-time capacity, especially when you don't control the White House. That chairman of the party is really the face or a key face at least of the opposition. So that's the overriding issue. This should be a full-time post.

Beyond that, there are concerns about Ellison's politics. He's definitely on the sort of far liberal side in the House. I think there are some concerns over some of his past comments about the nation of Islam, Leader Louis Farrakhan. He has recanted the comments, but those kind of things have raised eyebrows in Democratic circles.

This is a really important debate, though, John because given the Democrats are out of power in the House, the Senate, most governorships, the chairmanship of the DNC is really going to be an important voice in rebuilding the Democratic Party and in really fighting back against President-elect Trump.

BERMAN: You have a sense of how much sway that the president's team will have in this?

MARTIN: Yes, look, President Obama is extraordinarily popular in the Democratic grassroots. I think the folks who are voting on this, John, are largely people in the states. It is state Democratic chairmen and vice chairmen and people on the committees who come from those states.

They very much like President Obama. But this is kind of a heart versus a head issue. Any time a president is leaving office, there is even in the minds of a lot of activists, a desire for kind of new blood and also to sort of take the reins of the party. Any time also a party doesn't control the White House, John, the people on the party committee like to make the choice for themselves. They don't so much like having this imposed on them from folks in Washington. I think it's going to be a really fascinating question.

You will see Democratic activists wrestling with President Obama's preference, somebody they like and really in some ways love, but at the same time, looking for a new face, looking for fresh blood and recognizing that the last eight years haven't been great for their party writ large.

BERMAN: Let me ask you for your take on a couple developments quickly. Number one, overnight people who are doing the counting, our friends who are watching this very closely say that Hillary Clinton's lead in the popular vote is now over 2 million.