Return to Transcripts main page
AT THIS HOUR WITH BERMAN AND MICHAELA
Trump Team: Two Staff Announcements Coming Today; Michelle Obama Welcomes White House Christmas Tree; Trump Team Appears Split On Secretary Of State; "Brady Brunch" Star Florence Henderson Dies At 82. Aired 11-11:30a ET
Aired November 25, 2016 - 11:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Hello, everyone. I'm John Berman. Kate Bolduan is off today. It's 30 days before Christmas, 55, 12 hours, and 59 minutes until inauguration, President-elect Donald Trump's team expected to announce it has filled two staff positions today.
Donald Trump also shopping for a cabinet on this Black Friday. A big question is, is Mitt Romney a good deal to be secretary of state? It appears that prospect is creating something of a schism among the president-elect's advisers.
Governor Romney, of course, delivered that epic scathing takedown of Donald Trump earlier this year and the president-elect has called Romney a loser and a choker.
CNN's Jason Carroll is live outside Mar-a-Lago in Palm Beach, Florida. Jason, what are you learning?
JASON CARROLL, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, they've just wrapped up a 10:30 a.m. transition call meeting where we have more information about who Donald Trump and Mike Pence will be meeting with on Monday. These are cabinet level posts. They are going to be meeting with eight people.
Some of the names on that list, Paul Akens, former commissioner of the SEC, Scott Pruitt, the attorney general of Oklahoma. One of the names that really jumps out at me is Sheriff David Clark. That name may ring a bell to a number of people.
He's African-American, the Milwaukee County sheriff, and outspoken supporter of Donald Trump early on and an outspoken critic of the Black Lives Matter Movement. He's been rumored to be sort of one of those people up for perhaps secretary of Homeland Security but definitely a fiery figure, controversial figure.
He apparently will be meeting with Donald Trump, the president-elect, and the vice president-elect on Monday. Also on this 10:30 a.m. call, once again, John, which just ended, still no confirmation in terms of if we will hear something about Dr. Ben Carson possibly rumored to be up for HUD secretary, or Wilbur Ross for commerce secretary.
So no movement on that end. But we have learned that Donald Trump, the president-elect, and vice president-elect will be meeting with eight people on Monday. These will be cabinet level positions including Sheriff David Clark -- John.
BERMAN: All right, Jason Carroll for us in Palm Beach, a full schedule on tap for this Monday. It is full of intrigue right now over who Donald Trump might pick to be his secretary of state.
Want to talk more about this with Ari Fleischer, White House press secretary during the George W. Bush administration. Ari, happy Thanksgiving to you and your family. Thanks so much for coming in.
ARI FLEISCHER, FORMER WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY (2001-2003): Thank you, John.
BERMAN: So Ari, let me read you a few tweets from Kellyanne Conway, who we are both old enough to remember ran Donald Trump's presidential campaign and is playing a senior advisory role during the transition.
She tweets of the secretary of state pick, "Receiving deluge of social media and private coms re-Romney. Some Trump loyalists warned against Romney as secretary of state."
She also tweets "Kissinger and Schultz as secretary of state flew around the world, counseled POTUS close to home and were loyal. Good checklist," she says. Ari, why do you think she's doing this?
FLEISCHER: It's a problem. I was on Twitter and I saw her send that tweet and I thought to myself, when you're in the inner circle and you have to a message to go outside the circle to create an impact on the person at the top of the circle, there's something wrong.
It's not a good sign for the future if Trump's most loyal dedicated people, his inner team, feel the need to go on to Twitter or go external to get a message to the man at the top.
You know, I'm all for the staff clashing and giving unvarnished opinions to the president-elect in private but keep it in private. Don't take it out onto Twitter where people can see who is being lobbied and how. It's a bad sign of things to come.
BERMAN: Just to be clear, you think what's happening here is Kellyanne Conway did this to get a message to Donald Trump because he's on Twitter and he watches TV and he might see something like this and might see that there are people arguing against having Mitt Romney as secretary of state?
FLEISCHER: Not only to Donald Trump, but she's sending that message to those who don't like Mitt Romney, to send more messages in. In other words, she's saying I need help conveying this to the president- elect so I'm going to go public and tell you this and I want more people to weigh in against Mitt Romney.
Look, I think there are legitimate reasons for Kellyanne to have concerns about somebody who is not loyal to the president-elect become secretary of state, but it should all be done in private, John. That's the point here. The reason I say it's a bad sign of things to come, this won't be the first. This will be one of many instances where there are interesting debates on the inside. They need to stay on the inside. That is the only way to have a deliberative process where people can actually get things done without it breaking down to acrimony and leaks.
BERMAN: Give me the pro and con right on the idea because you brought up the loyalty issue. The pro and con about having someone like Mitt Romney who was so critical of you during the election process.
[11:05:03]FLEISCHER: Well, the pro is that he's going outside his circle. He is going to people who were harshly critical of him and he is going to somebody who is clearly a respectable leader, somebody who ran for president before and has a very level head about him.
The con about it is he's putting somebody in a position of tremendous responsibility and power, secretary of state is one of the most if not the most important cabinet selections, and putting in somebody who is not loyal.
And what I wonder about here John is it's only a matter of time before something bad happens. You govern in good times and in bad times. When something bad happens, will Mitt Romney stay at Donald Trump's side, will he criticize behind the scenes the president-elect or the president, which you can never have happen.
The secretary of state must always in public be loyal for the president. In private, clash all you want. That's I think the real question mark about Mitt Romney. Will he be true to the president? And presidents deserve to have people who are true to them.
BERMAN: Now put yourself in Mitt Romney's position right now. If you are sitting in La Jolla where we believe he enjoyed Thanksgiving with his family, walking on the beach, and you are seeing the tweets coming from Kellyanne Conway and the very public lobbying from the likes of Newt Gingrich and Mike Huckabee for Rudy Giuliani to be secretary of state, what are you thinking if you're Governor Romney?
FLEISCHER: Well, I think it's basic. Are you interested in the job and can you support the president? If you have any qualms about can you support the president, you should not put your name in the running for that job. You should withdraw. That's where he has to decide it.
Because again, the point now is it is fine now when things are going well, they are not responsible for any decisions. It's only a matter of time before there's an international crisis and the president says I want you to go in Direction A and Secretary of State Romney says no, I think Direction Z is the right way to go.
He's ordered to go in A. He has to do it with full faith and confidence and with his heart that he's doing the right thing because the president wants him to. If he has any doubts about it, he should withdraw from consideration.
BERMAN: All right, just quickly on a different subject, Donald Trump and the potential or perceived conflicts of interest that he has because of his business empire and what he will do and how he will serve as president. He told the "New York Times" he's not even sure there really are any conflicts of interest. He doesn't think he needs to do a blind trust right now. What would you advise him to do, though, in terms of creating lines between his personal and the professional?
FLEISCHER: Donald Trump might be right from a legal point of view. The president is carved out from those laws, but from an ethical point of view it's just the right thing to do for the president to say I want never to be questioned about whether I'm doing something because it's good for America or good for my profits.
You don't want to invite that controversy. It's much healthier for the president, president-elect, to create a system now where he is walled off from any decisions that are made by the Trump Organization, which can and should be still run by his children.
But at the same time, he should not put his children in governmental meetings if they are going to run the Trump Organization. But Donald Trump himself has to make sure he doesn't bring up business when he's talking to foreign leaders and that he's not in a position to make profits off of any decisions that are made because he's walled off from anything going through the Trump Organization.
Obviously, he will still know what the Trump Organization's finances are and what their interests are but still, I think the American people would accept it if they thought he didn't have any involvement in it and was walled off.
BERMAN: Yes, I think that's an open question here about how much he will do that or how much he will proceed along those lines. It will be very interesting to see. Ari Fleischer, again, happy Thanksgiving. Thanks for coming in.
FLEISCHER: Thank you, John. Same to you and your family.
BERMAN: Appreciate it. So we are 12 hours after Thanksgiving which means it's Christmas already. The holiday season at the White House. This happened just seconds ago. The White House Christmas tree, you can see it pulling in right now, where I believe we will see pictures of it being greeted by the first lady, Michelle Obama.
Now it's interesting, this tree is from a farm in Pennsylvania, but it is being delivered by the winners of the Christmas tree contest who are themselves from Wisconsin. It's being delivered by Dave and Mary Vandervelen. They won the contest.
But the National Christmas Tree Association tells us when they won in September, they had this tree and right now, weather didn't cooperate. So the tree that they were going to send wasn't as full and tall as they hoped so there's a stand-in. This is an understudy tree from Pennsylvania right now. A Douglas fir about 19 feet tall.
I think Michelle Obama, the first lady and I think those may be her nephews, the very same nephews who took part in the turkey pardoning, sort of as a fill-in Christmas tree, the Obama nephews have been filling in the ceremonial roles that Sasha and Malia Obama have done the last few years. There we go. Yes. You can see.
Such a nice scene at the White House. The dogs are there. They start to sniff the tree. Be careful. They are taking a good look at the tree right now as it arrives. Inspecting it carefully.
[11:10:06]That tree will go into the blue room. The tree has been in the blue room of the White House for decades and decades. It will be a key part of the White House Christmas parties the president and first lady invite all kinds of people over many, many days, including the press, by the way, to come in and celebrate at the White House. They all take pictures in front of that tree right there. You can hear Mrs. Obama speaking.
MICHELLE OBAMA, FIRST LADY: This is what we've got now. Good job, guys.
BERMAN: Again, those are her nephews. I believe (inaudible) her brother, their two children right there, they took part in the turkey pardoning and there to greet the tree as well.
Want to bring in CNN political analyst, Alex Burns, who is also the national political reporter for "New York Times" and Julian Zelizer, historian, author, and Princeton professor. Professor, what do you make of the tree?
JULIAN ZELIZER, HISTORIAN AND PROFESSON, PRINCETON UNIVERSITY: Politics in Washington even when it comes down to the tree.
BERMAN: I know right, who knew it would be so difficult? I was talking to Ari Fleischer. Let's talk about what I was talking about with Ari Fleischer right now and this very public struggle over whether or not Mitt Romney should be brought in to be secretary of state. I haven't seen anything this public during a transition before.
ZELIZER: Well, it's partly because Romney's opposition was so strong, it was beyond I disagree with policy, it's beyond I like another candidate. He said in the middle of the campaign I fundamentally don't think this person should be president of the United States.
So obviously it's going to create a kind of tension that we haven't seen. We also have to remember, though, President-elect Trump likes this kind of drama. We keep seeing this at different points of the campaign. So I think the intrigue is part of what he wants in this transition.
BERMAN: You know, Alex, you covered this team and these people in varying degrees for a long time. It strikes me that the only reason this is still going on the way it is, is that at a certain level, Donald Trump is intrigued by the possibility of having Mitt Romney as secretary of state.
I mean, this would not still be going on unless Donald Trump didn't meet with Mitt Romney and think maybe this is a good idea. So part of it has to be coming from him. ALEX BURNS, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: That's absolutely right. I mean, if you look at just the immediate political pressures confronting Donald Trump, the easiest thing in the world would be to go with somebody like Rudy Giuliani or some other loyalist. The president- elect's political capital will probably never be higher again with his own party than it is right now.
If you just want to jam somebody who you know you can trust, you like on a personal level, through the Senate, now is the time to do it. The fact that he's entertaining the idea of Mitt Romney so publicly and over the obvious objections of some of his much closer loyalists.
It does sort of underscore this tug of war that Trump I think has felt for a long time in public life between wanting to sort of play to the gallery, play to his base and also this deep desire for mainstream respectability of a kind that Romney really would probably bring him as secretary of state.
BERMAN: In your paper, Maggie Haberman reporting there's one person who doesn't like what's going on right now, Rudy Giuliani, who very publicly was suggesting he wanted to be secretary of state and he's been left to twist in the wind right now.
BURNS: He really has and it does get to the -- you were mentioning before to Ari, the unusually public nature of the advocacy in this process on both sides. Kellyanne Conway's tweets definitely unusual in a presidential transition, but so is the spectacle of somebody like Rudy Giuliani out there publicly campaigning for the job.
It does speak to the way these people assess Donald Trump as a decision maker and the kind of information that he assimilates and just how important television is to him.
BERMAN: You know, Kellyanne Conway, I was shocked when I first read that because I hadn't seen anything like that before. On the other hand, you know, the alternative is the tried and true unnamed source or well-placed leak. It's stabbing someone from the front versus at the back. I suppose she can make the case I'm just being public about it.
ZELIZER: Well, I think this suggests a certain independence that's taking place right now in this whole transition. I don't think any of his inner advisers has total control over what he's doing or how he's doing it.
So it's unusual is you have leaks often in this process and vetting of people by releasing their names. But they are directly communicating to opponents, directly making statements like this to try to get to him. I don't think anyone, even the inner circle, knows what he's --
BERMAN: We are talking about Mitt Romney, saying it's the team of rival's model. I think this goes a little bit beyond that because, you know, this is not like Abraham Lincoln who brought these guys on. No one there said anything close to what Mitt Romney said about Donald Trump. Hillary Clinton didn't say anything close to what Mitt Romney said about Donald Trump about President Obama. Historically speaking, in recent memory, how does it work when you bring in someone who hasn't really been on your team?
ZELIZER: Well, people will, if they are accepting the job, usually understand they are working at the direction of the president. The most recent model is obviously Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama.
[11:15:01]There was tension between Colin Powell and a lot of what the Bush administration was doing but in public, you end up suppressing what you are doing.
The other thing that happens is often the national security adviser on these issues becomes the prominent voice. In this case, what you could see is decision making centralized in the White House with Flynn having the voice and the ear of Donald Trump and someone like Romney becomes more of a figurehead in these decisions.
BURNS: It's interesting, as far as historical parallels go, Hillary Clinton would obviously be probably the best case model for a team of rival's partnership like this, but Romney's father actually went into the administration of Richard Nixon, a president who essentially vanquished him, sidelined him politically.
It was not a successful relationship. They hated each other, really did not respect each other, and you just as easily imagine that course unfolding here in a much more important job.
BERMAN: There is no person ever that Mitt Romney respects and reveres more than his father. So you can bet that's something he's thinking very carefully about. Alex Burns, Julian Zelizer, great to have you with us. Happy Thanksgiving to both of you.
All right, President-elect Donald Trump picks his cabinet and meets with advisers, but there is one very important thing that he is not doing every day. New details about the intelligence briefings he's not getting regularly. We'll have that coming up.
And remembering someone often thought of as America's mother, tor those of us who did nothing other than watch TV from like 1979 to 1983, Florence Henderson was just a huge part of our afternoons. She was on TV always so reassuring and this morning we all woke up just saddened and surprised to find out that she had passed away. Stay with us.
BERMAN: All right, Florence Henderson is so much more than a TV star. She was more like a surrogate mother for millions of Americans who grew up in the late '60s, '70s, '80s, '90s and the reruns that will probably air until the end of time.
Florence Henderson passed away overnight at the age of 82. Of course, so many people know her as Carol Brady from "The Brady Bunch." Tributes have been pouring in.
Want to go to CNN's Stephanie Elam in Los Angeles. Stephanie, I did "NEW DAY" this morning and the bookers had to call people to try to get guests and so many people were so sad to learn this news.
STEPHANIE ELAM, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It's just shocking when you think about it. You are talking about someone who was in the audience on Monday for "Dancing with the Stars" supporting her Brady daughter. It's shocking that three days later, she's gone. So many people are devastated with this news.
ELAM (voice-over): Florence Henderson captured hearts across the country as one of television's most iconic mothers, Carol Brady.
ELAM: Starring as the matriarch of a blended family, her career would forever be defined by her character on the 1970s family comedy "The Brady Bunch."
FLORENCE HENDERSON: I created the kind of mother that I wished I had and I think that everyone longs for.
ELAM: Taking on the role was something Henderson embraced.
HENDERSON: I get so much fan mail from all over the world and everybody wants a hug from me and I hug everybody.
ELAM: In the decades following the show, Henderson never shied away from the limelight, returning to her beloved Carol Brady for multiple spin-offs of the Brady show. But before she became a Brady, Henderson seemed destined for show business.
HENDERSON: I don't ever remember not singing and I would sing and pass the hat and I would sing for groceries.
ELAM: Henderson's career took off at the age of 19 when she landed a leading role in Rogers and Hemerstein's "Oklahoma" in 1951. Becoming a bonafide Broadway star, her TV career progressed as she became NBC's "Today" girl in 1959. She broke barriers as the first woman to guest host the "Tonight" show in 1962.
Henderson earned her star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 1996 and danced her way to a new generation of fans on "Dancing with the Stars" in 2010. Today, America mourns the loss of everyone's favorite mom.
ELAM: Florence Henderson remembered by so many including her Brady kids, Maureen McCormick, who she was in the audience there supporting, John, tweeting out a picture of them together saying "You are in my heart forever, Florence" -- John.
BERMAN: Stephanie Elam, thanks so much. Appreciate it. A public battle brewing over who or whom Trump should pick to be secretary of state. Ahead, new details about how frustrated Rudy Giuliani is this morning and how this is all playing out for the world to see.
Plus, no food, water or medicine, people are in for a nightmare as Iraqi forces battle ISIS. We are going to take you inside Mosul, that's coming up.
BERMAN: As President-elect Donald Trump is privy to classified daily intelligence briefings. The thing is, he may not be taking advantage of them. "The Washington Post" reported the other day he's only had two since he was elected president. So how big of a deal is this?
I want to bring in CNN counterterrorism analyst, Phil Mudd, a former CIA counterterror official. Phil, is it a big deal that he's not taking these briefings?
PHIL MUDD, CNN COUNTERTERRORISM ANALYST: I don't think it's not a big deal yet, but you are only talking about half of the story, John. Think of this, in New York, the grease for New York City is American dollars. The grease in Washington, D.C. is power.
This is about intelligence officials who measure power in part by their access to the oval office. They are starting to get nervous. I will bet you, that the president-elect is looking at the intelligence saying I'm not sure I'm that interested in this.
So I think there are questions about how the president receives or the president-elect receives intelligence over time. Different presidents have been radically different, but I think this is also the intel guys getting a little nervous that they might lose access to the oval office. That's a big deal in Washington, D.C.
BERMAN: That's interesting. So what is he not hearing or what types of things, you don't want to tell us anything classified, what types of things is he not hearing by foregoing these briefings?
MUDD: You got to separate out what's called the PDB, president's daily brief, the first is strategic, what's going on, for example, with military modernization in places like China and Iran. Then the tactical, what's going on, for example, in the hunt for ISIS leaders in a place like Syria or Iraq.
I think the story gets more interesting when you move after inauguration in January because guaranteed sometime in the first months of his administration, there will be some kind of problem. For example, a firefight --