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AT THIS HOUR WITH BERMAN AND MICHAELA

Bahrain Celebration Sparks Trump Conflict of Interest Concerns; Trump Takes Cabinet Advice from Obama; Calls for Ceasefire Unheeded in Aleppo. Aired 11:30-12p ET

Aired December 7, 2016 - 11:30   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


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[11:34:11] KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: Want to take you right now live to Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. Look at these images. Right now, the sun is rising over the U.S. naval base this morning as today we mark 75 years since the attacks there that sparked America's entry in the Second World War. CNN has been granted these exclusive aerial images, access to these exclusive aerial images from a drone. You can see the "USS Arizona." The surprise air and sea assault by Japanese forces crippled the base, killed more than 2,000 American servicemen and civilians. More than 100 survivors are expected to attend a special ceremony later today in Honolulu. That is an amazing view on a very important day.

From there, we want to get back to Washington, D.C. Minutes from now, a national day of celebration event will kick off at Donald Trump's new Washington, D.C., hotel. The country celebrating, not the United States. It's the Middle Eastern country of Bahrain. That means the foreign government is making payments to the president-elect's personal business, further sparking, and further not dampening down concerns about potential conflicts of interest that have followed him throughout the campaign and still today.

Global affairs correspondent, Elise Labott, is joining me with more.

Elise, what do we know about this event? What are you hearing?

[11:35:33] ELISE LABOTT, CNN GLOBAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Well, Brooke (sic), this is one of many events that are being held at the Trump International Hotel. If this is an historic hotel, there has been a massive renovation and a lot of interest in the hotel since Donald Trump was elected. The sales were dim when it first opened in September. You saw Trump go to the open, the ribbon cutting, but everything changed after election day. Diplomats kind of packed in to drink Trump champagne and hear sales pitches, and now there's a lot of interest. Nobody is going to say outright we booked this to curry favor with the president, but I have talked to a lot of diplomats that say, listen, this is a real scene now, it's fascinating, it's a novelty and easy, friendly gesture to be able to say to the president or the administration, yes, I went to this hotel. There's a lot of concern that countries would be trying to curry favor with the president. I don't think diplomats really expect that it's going to dramatically affect U.S. relations but it's not without controversy. Next week, the embassy of Azerbaijan is holding a Hanukah party with a

collection of Jewish groups. Some of those groups are complaining this is inappropriate, not just because of the conflict of interest it suggests, but also because of some of the rhetoric, some of what they think is anti-Semitic or racism that came out of this election, and they point to this being created by Donald Trump. So, it is not without controversy. But there's a lot of excitement in this hotel and lot of diplomats point to good service, good rates, and a real novelty they want to check out.

BOLDUAN: There is also that. You get a good rate, you get a good rate.

Elise, thank you very much.

Let's discuss this. Kirsten Powers is here, a CNN political analyst and "USA Today" columnist; Joseph Borelli is here as well, a New York City councilman, a Donald Trump supporter; Julian Zelizer, is here, a historian, author and Princeton professor; and Symone Sanders, CNN political commentator, a former press secretary for Bernie Sanders' campaign.

Great to see you.

Joseph, Bahrain, D.C., Trump hotel. What do we know, how do we know this isn't a conflict of interest? Give me -- make the sales pitch.

JOSEPH BORELLI, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: I don't think it's fair to presuppose it is a conflict of interest. This is a hotel that Donald Trump has not exactly hid from. There was criticism when he left the campaign trail to show up at his ribbon cutting for the hotel. The hotel -- I was there last week -- it's a spectacular venue. Why are we surprised that suddenly people who regularly host parties every year in Washington, D.C. -- the government of Bahrain hosted their part last year at the Ritz-Carlton, so this is something they do. We shouldn't be surprised they are hosting events at wonderful venues.

The other thing is Donald Trump has also said he will come up with or release the plan of how he's going to divest himself of some of the businesses. Why not at least give him the benefit of the doubt by saying let's wait to see what he has to say. Not to mention the Office of Government Ethics already said they have been working with the transition team to make sure he's following law.

BOLDUAN: He is still president-elect, not president yet. As Joseph points out, he's scheduled the news conference next week to announce what he will do with his business. Is there still time to iron all of this out?

KRISTEN POWERS, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: There is, but it's not like this is the only venue in D.C. There are plenty of places. He did a great job I think probably --

(CROSSTALK)

BOLDUAN: I asked for the sales pitch. POWERS: That was the best sales pitch you could give. But there are

obviously lots of other places in D.C. that you could hold this. I think it's more likely that people are doing this in a way to curry favor. That is a problem. That's why I think if we look at the criticisms that Donald Trump made against the Clinton Foundation, it was basically that, are people giving money to the Clinton Foundation to curry favor with the secretary of state. This is basically the same situation.

So, he should be able to understand why this is a conflict of interest and why he should really be divesting from all of this. And it's not enough to have the kids running it, because the kids are involved in the transition team, and they will be involved in his administration. I think there's just too much of a conflict of interest there.

BOLDUAN: Exactly along this line, Symone, Trump talked just this morning about selling off all of his stocks. Something his transition announced yesterday and he was asked about it this morning. Listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT-ELECT OF THE UNITED STATES (voice-over): I don't think it's appropriate for me to be owning stocks when I'm making deals for this country that maybe will affect one company positively and one company negatively.

UNIDENTIFIED CORRESPONDENT: Speaking of --

TRUMP: I just felt it was a conflict.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

[11:40:00] BOLDUAN: So he thinks there's -- he admits to conflict of interest there when it comes to part of his business empire, but he has been -- he does bristle -- maybe is the right way to put it -- when people talk about conflict of interest with the rest of his business empire.

SYMONE SANDERS, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: You know, I really think Donald Trump is a businessman, OK, and he is going to try and cut a deal. This is Donald Trump trying to cut a deal with the American people, look, I will give away my stocks but give my company to my kids so I can have it both ways, but make everyone feel like they're OK. I definitely think this should raise red flags. We still haven't seen Donald Trump's tax returns. I know Democrats in Congress have called for his entire financial history and his entanglings so we can really know what we are dealing with. And --

(CROSSTALK)

BOLDUAN: I can guarantee you are never going to get it.

SANDERS: I don't think we are going to get it either. That shouldn't be a surprise to anyone. This is now the world we live in. The world where we don't know what the president-elect is going to do and where his holdings really are and how that affects us as the American people.

BOLDUAN: But, Julian, the American people knew very well they weren't going to be getting his tax returns and they elected him. With the comments this morning about his stocks and how he saw a conflict of interest, do you see at all he may have boxed himself in, at all, when it comes to conflict of interest with stocks, but I'm all good with the rest of my business empire?

JULIAN ZELIZER, HISTORY PROFESSOR, PRINCE UNIVERSITY & AUTHOR: He doesn't tend to box himself in. There has been many times he says something --

(CROSSTALK)

BOLDUAN: You can't put Trump in a box, like you can't put baby in a corner?

(LAUGHTER)

ZELIZER: I think there's no way to package this in a way that it's not a problem. The reason we have had income tax returns disclosed since the 1970s was the aftermath of Watergate. We want to know what are the interests of our president. Here, he might have just admitted why it is a problem, but we have to see if he takes action and truly eliminates any conflict of interest so Americans are confident that a decision he makes isn't in the interest of his hotel, it's in the interest of the nation.

BOLDUAN: Big news conference coming just one week from today. He does love to build the suspense. I will be watching that press conference.

OK. Something that's fascinating me also this morning is that Donald Trump has been taking cabinet advice from President Obama, even saying, at one point, that one of his picks, Obama spoke very highly of. Would you like to guess who that is? I don't know. Please take a guess.

ZELIZER: Wow. Good question. I have no idea.

(CROSSTALK)

(LAUGHTER)

BOLDUAN: Do you like that he's taking cabinet advice from President Obama, someone you do not like, someone who Donald Trump himself said was the founder of ISIS?

BORELLI: Even as a Republican, I do think it's very prudent for Donald Trump to be taking the advice of not only people like Barack Obama, because there's one of only four people alive who had the job before him, but even you saw today with Rahm Emanuel, former chief of staff in the White House, offering advice, probably speaking both about the urban issues that will sort of be shaped in the next administration, but also about probably running the White House efficiently. I'm comfortable with Donald Trump taking that advice. (CROSSTALK)

POWERS: I have always said I don't think he's an ideologue. He doesn't stick to rigid dogma and world view. I'm not that surprised he's open to talking to other people. With Barack Obama, maybe it's shocking to some people because of the rhetoric that was used about Obama, but we have seen a lot of people on both sides who used a lot of rhetoric, they sort of set to the side now that the election's over.

BOLDUAN: That's exactly right. Look no further than Barack Obama himself towards Donald Trump.

Got to leave it there.

Thank you so much.

Ahead for us, right now, living in hell and losing hope. Residents in war-torn Aleppo, Syria, now begging for help as the Syrian regime takes more territory. We'll go live to the center of this humanitarian disaster.

We'll be right back.

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[11:48:03] BOLDUAN: In Aleppo, Syria, the sounds of shelling gunfire can be heard 24/7 as the Syrian government pounds rebel-held parts of the city. Syrian government troops now control most of the old city with only four square miles remaining in rebel hands. This morning, six countries, including the U.S., U.K. and France, put out a joint statement calling for a ceasefire and condemning the unfolding humanitarian disaster.

CNN's senior international correspondent, Fred Pleitgen, is the first Western TV reporter inside the old city of Aleppo and joins me right now by phone.

Fred, we have seen the images coming out but being there first-hand, what are you seeing there?

FRED PLEITGEN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Well, it's catastrophic for the civilians here. We have seen many of them leaving those areas the rebels are holding which are besieged and many of those are falling into the hands of the Syrian government military. There's a lot of folks who are coming out now and it really is devastating to see how malnourished a lot of these people are, how weak a lot of these people are, and how tired a lot of these people are. We were at one of these crossings where many of them were coming out, many clinging to a plastic bag of belongings they were able to take as they tried to get out of there under fire.

What's really remarkable is how many children are among those who are trying to get out. You have the youngest baby, that I personally saw coming out of there, was only seven days old. It was a girl and she was born during the height of the clashes, as the bombardments were going on. And her family said as we were trying to get out, there was fire coming from the government side and there were planes going overhead. They just made a run for it. Absolutely devastating to see.

But at the same time, Syrian government forces moving into a lot of these areas clearing them out. They, of course, now feel they will be able to take most of most of Aleppo, if not all of Aleppo, very soon -- Kate?

[11:50:05] BOLDUAN: Unbelievable, catastrophic, just horrific, but so important you're there to be the eyes and ears on the ground to have their stories told to the world.

Fred, thank you so much.

Coming up for us, Mitt Romney is still in contention for the key post at Donald Trump's secretary of state. Donald Trump himself confirming that this morning, that his former rival is still in the running. Now Paul Ryan, House speaker, says he would love Mitt Romney to get the nod. Details on the race for the coveted cabinet post, ahead.

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BOLDUAN: As President Obama prepares to leave office, the focus now turns to his legacy. CNN's Fareed Zakaria sat down with the president. This portion focuses on race. Watch.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

[11:54:49] FAREED ZAKARIA, CNN HOST, FAREED ZAKARIZ, GPS: The first line of your biography will almost certainly be not something you did, who you are, right? You're the first African-American president, and yet, you're half white. You were raised by three white people, your mother and your two grandparents. And --

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: And an Indonesian.

ZAKARIA: And an Indonesian.

(LAUGHTER)

Are you comfortable with this characterization?

OBAMA: I am, actually. And the concept of race in America is not just genetic. Otherwise, the One Drop Rule wouldn't have made sense. It's cultural. It's cultural. It's this notion of a people, who look different than the mainstream, suffering terrible oppression, but somehow being able to make out of that a music and a language and a faith and a patriotism.

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BOLDUAN: You can see much more of this, CNN's special report "The Legacy of Barack Obama: The President's Conversation" with Fareed Zakaria, airing tonight, 9:00 eastern, only here on CNN. So, a big party set to start any moment in Donald Trump's hotel in

Washington, D.C. Not everyone is celebrating though. Why ethics experts say this shindig could be a big conflict of interest and so a big problem for the president-elect.

Be right back.

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