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Trump Taps Another to Join Administrator; Trump and Obama Connection?; Actress Sofia Vergara Sued by Her Embryos; Aired 7:30-8a ET

Aired December 8, 2016 - 07:30   ET



[07:32:43] CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR: President-elect Donald Trump has chosen retired general, John Kelly, to head the Department of Homeland Security. A senior transition official says that to CNN. That's the basis of the reporting.

Trump now has three retired generals that could potentially serve on Trump's administration. So is he hiring too many generals?

Let's bring in CNN military analyst and retired commanding general of the U.S. Army Europe, and Seventh Army Lt. General Mart Hertling, and CNN counterterrorism analyst and former CIA counterterrorism official Phil Mudd.

General, let's first start with the irony here which is that during the campaign one of Trump's power lines was, I know more about ISIS than the generals, and it kind of met with some controversy but also some kind of pushback against what the establishment knows versus an insurgent like then Trump. Now he's putting them around him. Is there is a hypocrisy in that?

LT. GEN. MARK HERTLING, CNN MILITARY ANALYST: There is an irony, to be sure, Chris. And I think I'm probably the only general he was talking about that he knew more about. But I think he's hiring generals for a very good reason. I'm going to steal a page out of Phil Mudd's book, I hate to do that to you, but it's --

CUOMO: There are only like two pages so that's not going to be helpful.


HERTLING: There's four things. He knows these guys are smart in the ways of the world. He knows they have been educated, that they have gone around the world, they have dealt with other countries, they understand security and they understand the military. Number two, they are all patriots. They will perform their duty according to the Constitution. So they will be loyal to him. Number three, they're admired. You know, the military has a very high admiration rate by the general public. It's in the 80 percent. Congress is at about 13 percent. Congress is lower than how the Americans feel about President Putin. And number four, they get things done. There is a reason. You know,

I was hired by a hospital after I retired and it wasn't because I could do brain surgery. It's because they wanted me to do other things that provided action for an organization. And that's why he's hiring these guys.

CUOMO: And military leaders are often politically savvy and, just to be clear.

HERTLING: Absolutely.

CUOMO: All somebody has to do is Google your name, General, and they'll know well why you deserve respect.

Now, Phil, you have a different perspective on this that could be helpful. You worked in the government, you did a lot of military-type operations, but you were on the civilian side and there has been a feeling and even codified in law, yes, back in the 1940s, that it's good to keep separation of the military and civilian affairs and agencies.

[07:35:03] How do you feel about it? What's the plus-minus?

PHIL MUDD, CNN COUNTERTERRORISM ANALYST: I think so far we're doing OK here. I would agree with the general. I think we're talking about people who have terrific judgment with the exception of the National Security adviser, General Flynn, who I think is not regarded as someone who is capable for the position. If you're looking at the secretary of Defense and secretary of Homeland Security, both people who have superb credentials.

I think the overall question I would look at, Chris, especially if we get a general over the Department of State, which I would not expect but is that the president when he's in the National Security Council and in the situation room has a variety of levers of power he can use. Economic, diplomatic, intelligence, commercial, U.S. business overseas, USAID. You're getting potentially too many people around the table who do not have enough experience with the variety of levers the president has to use.

So that's the question I think we should ask. Not the credentials of the individuals potentially in Defense and Homeland Security. Their credentials are terrific.

CUOMO: How about that, General? The plus side is the strength, the organizational aptitude. The negative is, the relatively narrow toolbox that these gentlemen would have employed in service.

HERTLING: Yes. Yes. I'm not sure I agree with Phil on that because as I even went around in a relatively minor role in Europe dealing with other governments, I understood as I went into embassies and talked with other governments and militaries, I understood the trade and the commerce and the other issues of society as you get from that country team.

Guys like John Kelly who commanded SouthComm, I know him well. He -- you know, he was literally leading a lot of initiatives not only from a military perspective, but also a governmental and an economic perspective in South America when he was the SouthComm commander. So they do know a lot more than just the military tools.

But I take Phil's point that security should be subordinate to the larger purpose of the government. You know, I mean, Mr. Trump kind of came down hard on the play "Hamilton." Hamilton in the "Federalist Papers" and about four of them talked about civilian control of the military and where the military's proper place was. But I don't think we're talking about that. These are not uniformed service members any more. These are retired generals with a whole lot of savvy.

CUOMO: Well, what do you say to that, Phil? The baseline suspicion, which is, wow, is this militarization of our government?

MUDD: I don't agree with that overall in terms of concerns about where the government is headed over the course of years. I do think if you look at American foreign policy in the last 15 years, like it or not on the intelligence side the CIA has become more militarized and the military clearly has been deployed for longer than I can remember in my lifetime, certainly longer in some ways in the Vietnam campaign.

So I think you're looking at the overall sort of character and American foreign policy over the past 15 years. That's the reason why these people might be put in place. We are engaged in Afghanistan. That's a military engagement. We're engaged in Iraq and Syria. All of these are military engagements where diplomacy and intelligence sometimes are secondary. So I think this is a broader issue about where America is headed overseas and how it deploys power.

CUOMO: General, there is an assumption being made that when it comes to someone like General Mattis that there will be a loyalty to Trump as kind of an extension of chain of command. But what happens with gentlemen like this in your knowledge if Trump wants something, hey, they just did something horrible to us overseas, that's it, we're going to do the same things that they do to us? Torture is back and bigger and better than ever. Doesn't General Mattis have the backbone to stand up to the commander-in-chief in that regard or would he just respect the word from above automatically?

HERTLING: No, I don't believe that's the case, Phil. I think a lot of Americans have a mispersonification of the military on that that we just obey orders robotically. And that's not true at all. You know, when they put their hands on the bible and swear their oath when they eventually become Cabinet members it will be first to the Constitution and then to the legal authorities of the president. They will stand up for the Constitution. And all of these gentlemen who have gone through a military training and education process will know that personal courage is paramount in these kind of conditions and they do need to stand up when they see something wrong or when they see something that's contrary to what they know is the best aspects of the American government.

CUOMO: General, thank you very much for your perspective. I hate that you called me Phil. Phil Mudd, always good to see you. I hope you're enjoying the talking

doll convention down there in Florida.


MUDD: I am not but thanks very much.

CUOMO: That's where Phil Mudd is right now. He's at a doll convention. Alisyn?

ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: It never ends with those two.

Donald Trump says that he's getting some guidance for some of his Cabinet picks from President Obama. What is President Obama telling Mr. Trump exactly? That's next.



[07:43:08] DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENT-ELECT: We have a really good chemistry together. We talk. I really like him as a person.


CAMEROTA: President-elect Donald Trump revealing that he has consulted with President Obama on some of the Cabinet picks. So what are these two talking about together exactly?

Joining us now is CNN political analyst and "USA Today" columnist Kirsten Powers and CNN presidential historian Douglas Brinkley.

Great to see both of you this morning. So president-elect went on a different morning show yesterday and talked about how he is relying on President Obama and looking for some of his input. So let's play a little bit more of that.


TRUMP: I have asked him what he would think of this one and that one. I've asked him what he thinks are the biggest problems of the country. What are some of the greatest assets going forward and we have a very good dialogue and I must tell you, you know, I never met him before this and I never spoke to him before this. I really -- I do like him. I love getting his ideas. I would say that, yes, I take his recommendations very seriously and there are some people that I will be appointing and in one case have appointed where he thought very highly of that person.


CAMEROTA: I wonder who that person is, Kirsten. I mean, is there any evidence of President Obama's preferences in Donald Trump's Cabinet picks?

KIRSTEN POWERS, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Not really. So, you know, I don't know -- the thing about Donald Trump is I think he is open to talking to a lot of different people. That's definitely true about him, and he's even open to talking to people who disagree with him, and I think we saw that even, you know, before the election.

The question is whether or not it's really going to influence him. And I think if you look at the fact that he met with Al Gore and then who he chose as his EPA pick, it would suggest that there probably wasn't a lot --

CAMEROTA: I mean, diametrically opposed. Al Gore is an environmentalist.

POWERS: And actually -- and now maybe Al Gore needs more time with him. But the point is, he couldn't have picked somebody I think that Al Gore would have disliked more than the person that he chose.

[07:45:03] So the question is, over the long term, could President Obama talking to him move him incrementally on certain issues? We don't really know.

CUOMO: What does history suggest, Professor? The interplay between former and successor presidents?

DOUGLAS BRINKLEY, CNN PRESIDENTIAL HISTORIAN: Well, you know, they -- it varies. So when Franklin Roosevelt won in 1932, he didn't even want to see the -- a mug shot of Herbert Hoover. He wanted nothing to do with Herbert Hoover. In fact FDR said you've got to strip the name Hoover dam off the dam and called call it Bolder Dam because I don't want any monument for Herbert Hoover, and that's after he just beat him. So, you know, sometimes it's mean like that. Other times, like when Jimmy Carter beat Gerald Ford, they became absolute best of friends and talked all the time.

When Gerald Ford died it was Jimmy Carter who gave the principal eulogy. So I think what's going on now is Donald Trump is the original birther, probably the darkest mark on his whole career is the fact that he said Barack Obama wasn't born in the United States, the fact that he can seem to get along with Barack Obama now takes some insights and policy wisdom ideas from him, probably helps Donald Trump settle in a little bit and Barack Obama has a legacy he needs to protect, and he might be able to talk Donald Trump down on a few things.


BRINKLEY: So it's a useful friendship.

CAMEROTA: Well, let's talk about that because obviously President Obama is trying to help Donald Trump despite that terrible bad blood for the years before the election about the birther stuff. But he's also trying to protect his legacy. But is there any evidence that President Obama will be able to protect his legacy because everything that we've seen is completely opposed to that legacy?

POWERS: Yes. At this point, like I said, I think maybe over the long term of that relationship perhaps at another point, but I think and Donald Trump is sticking with the people who brought him to the dance. I mean, he is not going to suddenly shift to people who were calling him a fodder and a phony and these kinds of things, although we'll see what he does with the secretary of State pick.

We don't know what he is going to do. He is meeting with these people. Is he going to actually put them in his Cabinet? We don't know. So I still think it's good for Obama to be having these conversations. But look, he's going to have to repeal Obamacare. There's just no getting around that.

CAMEROTA: Well, there goes that legacy.

POWERS: Yes. So I mean --

CAMEROTA: I mean, that's going to be his hallmark.


CUOMO: Repeal is easy.

POWERS: Right. Replace.

CUOMO: Repeal is optics, right?

POWERS: Right.

CUOMO: Because you can just write that's a new law. It's the replacing part that by all indications or growing indications, which you said, Kirsten.


CUOMO: That there's going to be less and less dramatic change than that which was talked about during the election.

POWERS: Right. Yes. And maybe he's been able to move him on some of the key components that are popular among the American people and the Republicans are basically -- there is a fight going on with him right now. Some people say let's get rid of it right away but a lot more people are saying, no. We need to do this slowly. We need to have a replacement. Maybe three years to transition. So, you know, maybe on that. But he is still going to repeal it. There's just no getting around it. It's one of his core promises.

CAMEROTA: And Doug, what does history teach us about whether presidents protect their predecessor's legacy or destroy it?

BRINKLEY: Well, I think President Obama was looking forward to writing his memoir and spending time in Rancho Mirage in Hawaii.


BRINKLEY: Getting his daughters raised and now suddenly he might be in spring fights. Look, nobody has put more into fighting the climate change issue than Barack Obama. He invoked in both inaugurals. It means a lot to him. I know for a fact in his post-presidency he wants to be a climate leader along with Pope Francis. And here you get, you know, Scott "Toxic Air" Pruitt picked as head of the EPA. That is somebody who thinks climate change is essentially a hoax.

There's no way President Obama is going to be able to fall into a comfort zone with that pick. And I think you'll see the president telling Chuck Schumer and others that's the position we've got to fight and stop. There is going to be a battle over the EPA.

CAMEROTA: Look, he hasn't said that climate change is a hoax. We just talked to Chris Collins who said, yes, basically what they're saying is yes, sure, the science is out there. But we think that fossil fuel industry is more important. I mean, that's basically what they're saying. That they're prioritizing the fossil fuel industry.

POWERS: The real problem is that he is really a lackey for the fossil fuel industry. I mean, the "New York Times" reported on how his office basically took a letter from an oil company.

CUOMO: Right.

POWERS: And just put it on letterhead of the state. And then sent it off --

CUOMO: Here's the real concern. Alisyn and I, we were having fun with it earlier.


CUOMO: Debating, you know, what is a denier versus someone who is just an outright opponent to it.

POWERS: Right.

CUOMO: But at the end of the day, it's really not about the science for Pruitt. It's been about protecting the industry or doing what he thinks is most important which is what people are going to have to debate.

CAMEROTA: Kirsten, Douglas, thank you.

POWERS: Thank you.

BRINKLEY: Thank you.

CAMEROTA: Very much.

CUOMO: So here's another controversy for you. Actress Sofia Vergara, you may remember this story we told you about. And now she's in the middle of a bizarre court battle potentially. She is being sued by her embryos. Remember this story about her and a man Nick Loeb? We're going to break down an unprecedented lawsuit. Next.


[07:53:50] CAMEROTA: "Modern Family" star Sofia Vergara is facing an unusual twist in the battle over her frozen embryos. A right-to-live lawsuit has been filed against her by those two embryos. Vergara's former fiance Nick Loeb dropped his original lawsuit against her this week in which he tried to get custody of the embryos that the two of them had created when they were a couple. Lobe says he has nothing to do with this new lawsuit.

Let's discuss this with CNN senior legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin and CNN legal analyst Laura Coates.

Great to see both of you.



CAMEROTA: Jeffrey, how do two embryos file a lawsuit?

TOOBIN: They don't. I mean, I think this lawsuit is going to be thrown out because they -- I don't think there is any way that a court would find embryos to have standing. Under the law, at the moment, embryos are property. They are not people. This is all tied up with abortion politics and this is an attempt to try to elevate embryos into something they are not under the law. But at the moment at least this lawsuit is going to be thrown out.

CAMEROTA: Hey, Laura, Nick Loeb has told CNN that this is not his lawsuit so how do these two embryos -- how did this even happen? Who's acting on their behalf?

[07:55:09] COATES: Well, the thing is in Louisiana, it has the only state in the union that actually has some laws that give some rights to embryos, pre-implanted embryos. And so it's actually a trustee who is acting on behalf of these two embryos saying that, listen, Sofia Vergara is denying them the right to have access to an inheritance in the form of a trust. And so there's an economic harm that they're going to say if they are not implanted and get to see life as we find it in the law.

And so it's a strategic decision to go to Louisiana and hope that because of their very, very pro-embryo right legislation that they will have some leg to stand on. But ultimately as Jeff says I think this is not a case that will see much light but for the fact that you've got competing interests in the viability argument when it comes to pro-life and pro-choice arguments.

CAMEROTA: We know actually a little bit more about these embryos. They are apparently both female embryos. They have names in this lawsuit, Emma and Isabella. They have requested that Nick Loeb, their biological father, get custody of them and let them live.

TOOBIN: Right.

CAMEROTA: He would very much like custody of them. He had been fighting for a couple of years to get custody of them. Something that Sofia Vergara did not want. She did not want them to be born. He does want them to be born. So forget this nutty case for a moment, who does -- when embryos exist, who does have custody? TOOBIN: Well, this is one of the areas where the law is trying to

catch up with technology. And frankly the rules are influx at the moment. But I mean I think the lesson to people who may be listening is that when an embryo is created, it is important for the mother and father, the people who created the embryo, to agree in advance and in writing how the embryos are going to be handled. Because once --

CAMEROTA: If they break up.

TOOBIN: If they break up. If something happens --

CAMEROTA: Somebody dies. Yes.

TOOBIN: Somebody dies that it's very important to designate how these are going to be handled because once -- if you don't designate it, it can wind up in the courts and frankly, this is an area in terms of ownership of embryos that is very unsettled under the law.

CAMEROTA: Laura, there's another wrinkle to this case. And that is a couple of weeks ago, Sofia Vergara and the judge in this custody case wanted Nick Loeb to produce the names and contact information of two others, I believe, of his exes, ex-girlfriends, who have had abortions. They were trying to prove that he wasn't always right-to- life and that this was some sort of publicity maneuver.

But that is -- I mean what does that mean that? That publicly to produce these names of anonymous women where they would have been sort of shamed in public or had to reveal to their -- their now spouses or employers, I mean, that's a whole other wrinkle in terms of right to privacy. Where's the law on that?

COATES: Well, absolutely. Someone's not having to be outed in terms of having received an abortion in the past even if it's for a civil lawsuit. But what's happening in that case essentially was this, the judge was trying to figure out and grapple with how do I decide the property interest? How do I decide the balance of interests here? And you've got a contract that doesn't say anything about what happens if they break up, only if they die. So the court in California said, listen, I'm going to do a balancing act here and figure out is there any alternative reason or any reasonable way to actually how (INAUDIBLE) for this man and if there's not I'm going to have to figure that out if it's publicity or not.

And so when you have Sofia Vergara's attorneys requesting that information, is it with the intent of deposing them to figure out two things. One whether in fact he always has had this right-to-live feelings and standpoint. But also to figure out, is this somebody who has an alternative means of getting a biological child and has thwarted those attempts in the past, and how should that guide the court now?

This is a very, very unsettled thing and really, Alisyn, it comes down to an argument over whether or not an embryo as Jeffrey says is a property, or it's a human that has vested interests. And I think the courts are still grappling with it.


TOOBIN: These are just two people who can't stand each other anymore. I mean, that --

CAMEROTA: That's the bottom line.

TOOBIN: Keep that in mind.


TOOBIN: They're trying to use the courts to work out their very, very angry feelings.

CAMEROTA: Jeffrey Toobin, Laura Coates, thank you very much.

COATES: Thank you.

CAMEROTA: We're following a lot of news this morning. Let's get right to it.


DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Scott Pruitt. He's actually been involved in lawsuits against the EPA. The very agency that he has nominated to head.

KELLYANNE CONWAY, TRUMP SENIOR ADVISER: Mr. Pruitt has great qualifications.

CAMEROTA: Donald Trump adding another general to his Cabinet.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I know what everybody is saying, well, these generals, no one is saying well, this person isn't qualified.

TRUMP: We're saving the jobs at the Carrier plant.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He misled the people on the actual numbers of jobs he's planning to save.

RICHARD QUEST, CNN BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: There is no merit and value to attack a union leader.