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THE SITUATION ROOM
Trump Picks Hardliners to Lead Labor, EPA; New Details of Trump's Transition Plans; U.S., Russia on Collision Course in Syria; Clinton Slams "Epidemic Of Malicious Fake News"; Union Boss Receives Death Threats After Trump Tweet; Trump Meets With Victims Of Isis- Inspired Attack; Warning Predicts Change In Isis Terror Tactics; Lawsuit: Let Electoral College Choose Anyone. Aired 5-6p ET
Aired December 8, 2016 - 17:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now, faux cabinet? President- elect Donald Trump names hard-liners to key cabinet-level positions, men who oppose actions and regulations of the agencies they will lead. Is Trump looking to dismantle parts of the federal government as we know it?
Burger boss. Trump taps the man behind this ad to head the Labor Department, a fast food CEO known for promoting his brands with racy commercials. Why is he opposed to increasing the minimum wage?
Putin up a fight. Democrats and Republicans are now divided over whether Russian President Vladimir Putin was involved in cyberattacks and leaked e-mails in an effort to influence the U.S. election. Why is Putin now a fault line in U.S. politics?
And new terror tactics. A chilling report warns of new ISIS methods to attack the west, including car bombs and possibly chemical weapons. Are ISIS operatives standing by to strike?
I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
President-elect Donald Trump is on the road this hour. He'll be heading to Des Moines, Iowa, where he'll hold his latest so-called thank-you rally later tonight. First a visit to Ohio State University, where the president-elect has asked to meet with victims of that ISIS-inspired terror attack as well as first responders.
And we're learning more right now about new additions to his administration. Trump has picked fast-food CEO Andrew Puzder to be labor secretary. Puzder opposes a higher minimum wage and broader overtime pay. And Trump has named Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt to head the Environmental Protection Agency. Pruitt does not believe in climate change, and he's sued the EPA multiple times over power plant regulations.
And new tonight, a disturbing warning about new terror tactics being adopted by ISIS. A European report says as terrorist forces lose ground in Syria and Iraq, they're become being experts at using car bombs which they could soon bring to the west.
We're covering that and much more this hour with our guests, including Congressman Adam Schiff, the ranking member of the House Intelligence Committee. And our correspondents and expert analysts are also standing by.
Let's begin with Donald Trump's latest appointments to his administration. Our senior Washington correspondent, Jeff Zeleny, he's in Des Moines, Iowa, for us.
Jeff, the president-elect will be holding his next thank-you rally where you are later tonight. Update our viewers.
JEFF ZELENY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, of course, he won the state of Iowa just one month ago.
Now Donald Trump is moving ever increasingly to fill up his cabinet, naming his pick for labor secretary and his pick to lead the EPA. As he moves closer to the Oval Office, some of his actions are more presidential, but his skin seems as thin as ever.
ZELENY (voice-over): As Donald Trump adds new names to his cabinet, it's clear how much his world has changed since winning the presidency one month ago tonight. As he takes to Twitter, it's clear how much still hasn't. He's still blasting his critics personally. An Indiana union leader is his latest target.
CHUCK JONES, PRESIDENT, UNITED STEELWORKERS LOCAL 1999: He didn't tell the truth. He inflated the numbers, and I called him out on it.
ZELENY: Chuck Jones, president of the steelworkers' union at the Carrier factory Trump visited last week, appearing on CNN's NEW DAY the morning after being attacked by Trump. It started last night, when Jones told CNN's Erin Burnett that Trump exaggerated by saying 1,100 jobs would be saved from going to Mexico.
JONES: They're counting in 350-some-odd more than were never leaving this country at all. We had a lot of our members, when the word was coming out of 1,100, they thought that they would have a job.
ZELENY: Trump, it seems, was watching and fired back on Twitter 20 minutes later, saying Jones "has done a terrible job representing workers. No wonder companies flee country." An hour later another shot. "If United Steelworkers 1999 was any good, they would have kept those jobs in Indiana," Trump tweeted. "Spend more time working, less time talking."
Tonight Trump keeps adding to his cabinet. CNN has learned he has selected fast-food restaurant executive Andrew Puzder as labor secretary. He's the CEO of Hardee's and Carl's Jr. and opposes raising the minimum wage. He has supported some immigration reforms but drawn criticism for racy ads promoting his burgers.
ANDREW PUZDER, LABOR SECRETARY NOMINEE: I don't think there's anything wrong with a beautiful woman in a bikini eating a burger and washing a Bentley or a pickup truck or being in a hot tub. I think there's probably nothing more American. ZELENY: Trump also has selected Oklahoma Attorney General Scott
Pruitt to lead the EPA. Pruitt, who has deep ties to the fossil fuel industry, has denied the existence of climate change.
The choices alarm Democrats, including Senator Tim Kaine, who spoke to CNN's Manu Raju.
17:05:04] SEN. TIM KAINE (D), VIRGINIA: If someone does not accept basic climate science, what other science don't they accept? So I'm very, very troubled about that.
ZELENY: Trump's team is now more than half complete. The most anticipated position of secretary of state is still open. Some choices and some of his policy proposals signal an unconventional presidency.
DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENT-ELECT: The script to what we're doing is not yet written.
ZELENY: His victory tour rolls on tonight with a stop in Iowa, following an afternoon visit to Ohio to meet first responders and victims of the stabbing attack last week at Ohio State University.
ZELENY: Now, Donald Trump will be joined here tonight by the vice president-elect, Mike Pence, and they will make the introduction of Terry Branstad, the longest serving governor in the country, of course, the governor of Iowa, who is the new choice to be the ambassador to China.
So Wolf, this victory tour rolls on. Tomorrow the stops are in Michigan and Louisiana -- Wolf.
BLITZER: All right. Thanks very much. Jeff Zeleny reporting for us.
We're also learning new details right now about Donald Trump's transition plans, including potential conflicts of interest and the role of his adult children.
CNN political reporter Sara Murray is joining us now. Sara, you're learning new information from your sources. Update our viewers on that.
SARA MURRAY, CNN POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, that's right, Wolf. We know Donald Trump has been having meetings about how to better separate himself from his business now that he's the president-elect. And of course, he's teased a big press conference to announce his plans next week.
But what we are learning is, as of now there's really no indication that Donald Trump is going to fully divest from his company, which means there are still going to be questions about whether there are conflicts of interest that could potentially follow him throughout his four- or eight-year tenure in the White House. Now, the other thing we have learned is that, when he does hand over
control of his businesses, at least to his two sons, potentially his daughter, as well, he may install another independent person as part of that organizational structure, someone who is not a member of his family. This could be a move that he could do this to further insulate himself from claims of conflicts of interest.
But it was interesting. When I spoke to a source about this, they said it's not because Donald Trump himself is worried about the criticism, is worried about the backlash, no. It's that he wants to protect and shield his children from any of that, Wolf.
BLITZER: And the word, at least in the "New York Times," Sara, that his daughter Ivanka and son-in-law Jared Kushner, they will move to Washington. She will take a leave of absence from -- from the big business? What are you hearing about that?
MURRAY: That's right. The "New York Times" is reporting she will take a leave of absence. Others have been a little bit less certain about what exactly her role will be in the business.
But they are certain of one thing. She and Jared Kushner are both going to be playing roles in Washington, whether they're formal or informal. A source told me you can really think of Ivanka Trump as sort of a stand-in first lady. She is going to be a Washington hostess, but beyond that, she's also going to be a policy adviser to her father on some less conservative issues. Obviously, we saw her weigh in throughout the presidential campaign on paid family leave. That's something she wants to continue working on when her father is in the White House.
But also on climate change issues. Now, that could put her in an interesting position, at odds with the man Donald Trump just chose to lead the EPA. But gives you an indication of the different perspectives he wants to take along with him to the White House, Wolf.
BLITZER: And the incoming first lady, Melania Trump, she's going to stay in New York for the rest of the school year so their son, Barron, can finish school in New York City.
All right, Sara. Thanks very much for that.
Let's get some more on all of this. A Democratic congressman Adam Schiff of California is joining us. He's the ranking member of the Intelligence Committee.
Congressman, thanks very much for joining us.
REP. ADAM SCHIFF (D), CALIFORNIA: Great to be with you.
BLITZER: First of all, on this whole issue of a potential conflict of interest, do you see a problem there? What is he -- what is he supposed to do? He can't sell that entire business, right?
SCHIFF: Well, I think it's an enormous problem. And I think he has to divest himself and his family of the business. There's no way that he can divorce himself of the knowledge that he has of where the assets are located and how his decisions as president affect his business interests.
And the country will always wonder, as long as he has those business interests, is he doing this because he wants to continue doing business in Turkey? Is he doing it because he wants to grow his business in Russia? Is it because he has loans from China? Those are not questions we want the nation to be asking. He has a country to run. It's a big enough job without the conflict presented by his businesses.
BLITZER: When you say divest his business, what does that mean?
SCHIFF: Well, that means I think he does need to sell off the businesses.
BLITZER: Sell the entire Trump Organization?
SCHIFF: I think that he needs to make sure that his family, including his children, are not owning that business, running that business, and presenting him with a supreme conflict of interest. I think it may raise a constitutional question on the emoluments clause. But more than that, it raises tremendous and a tremendous appearance of impropriety, if not a risk of actual impropriety.
BLITZER: You see a problem with some of these foreign embassies here in Washington -- Bahrain, Azerbaijan -- hosting events at the new Trump hotel down the street from the White House?
[17:10:02] SCHIFF: Absolutely. And remember, this is a president- elect who, even ten days before the election, was pumping his hotels, doing events at his hotels, marketing his hotels, right in the midst of a presidential campaign. If he's going to do that during the campaign, why on earth would we think he's going to stop promoting the businesses after the campaign?
BLITZER: But people knew all that about Donald Trump. They knew he had a huge business in real estate, in casinos, in country clubs. But he was elected president of the United States. They knew all about him.
SCHIFF: They knew that he had these business interests. They may have hoped that, if he became president, that he would deal with the conflicts of interest, as other presidents have. We've seen a lot of those hopes prove illusory on other issues. And I hope this one is not another disappointment.
BLITZER: We'll see specifically the legal impact of what he decides to do. He's going to have a news conference December 15 spelling out what he and his lawyers have come up. We'll, of course, have extensive -- extensive coverage of that.
BLITZER: Let's move on to some other news that we're following right now. Scott Pruitt, the Oklahoma attorney general, climate change denier. What's your reaction to that? SCHIFF: My reaction is this is the kind of appointment you make when
you not only want to radically change policy but you want to poke people in the eye while you do it.
This was, I think, a terrible choice, to put a climate denier in this position. It basically tells not only the country but the rest of the world, "We are giving up our leadership on this issue. We're giving up our leadership. We're diminishing our standing in the world when it comes to advocating for the planet and combatting climate change." It's another peg down, I think, in our global standing. And it -- and it worries me terribly. This person could end up presiding over the dismantlement of one of our key agencies and a protector of the environment.
BLITZER: During the campaign Donald Trump made no secret about his disdain for the Environmental Protection Agency, which he is going to be heading, if he's confirmed by the Senate. And the Republicans have the majority in the Senate. Realistically, do you see any possibility he might not be confirmed?
SCHIFF: Well, he's about as toxic a nominee as you can get. And, you know, I think that, given they have the votes, it depends on which battles Democrats in the Senate choose to fight. I think they will fight this one. I think they'll fight the attorney general. Whether they'll succeed or not may depend on how much public opinion can be moved. But they've got to try, regardless of the outcome.
BLITZER: So what do you think about Andrew Puzder, who's going to be nominated by the president-elect to become the labor secretary? He's someone who's on the record saying he opposes an increase, for example, in the minimum wage.
SCHIFF: You know, yet another appointment that would be more apropos if it were the anti-Labor Department or the anti-Environmental Protection Agency. These are folks who are, I think, very disparaging of the responsibilities that they're going to take on.
This is someone who doesn't represent workers at all, who's against the minimum wage, who's against overtime rules that would reward those who are working longer hours. So I think -- I think another sop to the base, the hard-core base of the GOP, does nothing to bridge the divide that the president-elect talked about in the context of the "TIME" magazine story. These are steps that will only aggravate the divide between Americans.
BLITZER: Puzder may be opposed to increasing the minimum wage. But during the campaign, when I interviewed Donald Trump, he said he was open to raising the minimum wage to about $10 an hour. Presumably the president of the United States can tell the labor secretary, if he's confirmed by the Senate, to go ahead and support an increase in the minimum wage, right?
SCHIFF: Presumably. We'll see how--
BLITZER: Why do you say presumably? SCHIFF: Well, I don't think anyone knows who's really going to be
running this government, how much he's going to delegate decisions like this. You know, this president-elect, I think, is someone who is content in many respects to say, "I don't want to be bothered with the small decisions. Just -- I want to be the chief decider."
Whether he will actively engage himself on minimum wage issues, whether he'll use the muscle necessary as president to work with the Congress, where many in the GOP don't want to increase the minimum wage, I have to say appointments like this don't give me much confidence that he will fight to fulfill those promises.
BLITZER: Well, do you think the vice president, Mike Pence, will effectively be running the government, and he'll sort of stay above all of that? Is that what I'm hearing you say?
SCHIFF: I don't know that the vice president will. I think, as we saw in the campaign, the president-elect bridled whenever it was suggested that Mike Pence ought to be at the top of the ticket or that he was going to do or say anything that contradicted the president. In fact, you remember quite well when the president-elect slapped down the vice president for disagreeing with him over Syria.
So I don't think that's going to happen, but I can see the president- elect delegating tremendous discretion to agency heads and simply not being interested in the day-to-day working of the government. He's not taking regular intelligence briefings. He's spending more time at celebratory rallies than he is preparing himself for the job.
BLITZER: So you don't like these two potential nominees, for EPA, for labor secretary. But you do like some of the others. Who do you like?
SCHIFF: I do. Well, I like General Mattis a great deal. I think he's just--
BLITZER: He's going to be -- he's going to be nominated for defense secretary.
[17:15:03] SCHIFF: I think he's a superb choice.
BLITZER: And you think there should be a waiver allowing him to be the defense secretary?
SCHIFF: You know, I -- I think he should be judged on the merits, and I've been strongly inclined to support a waiver.
I have to say, though, I'm getting a lot of heartburn, Wolf, over the fact that he is populating other positions, key positions in the cabinet with other generals. That raises further question about whether there's really going to be civilian leadership. And that does concern me. One of the yet-to-be-filled positions of secretary of state, if he puts another general there, that is only going to magnify those concerns.
But I like what Mattis has to say about torture. He's against it. I like what he has to say about Russia. He'll talk some sense, I hope, into the president-elect that Putin is not our friend. I like his strong support of NATO. I like his strong pushback against Iran's conventional malevolence. There's a lot to like about Mattis. There's a lot to like about General Kelly, another good choice, although we don't know that much--
BLITZER: For homeland security secretary.
SCHIFF: For homeland security. We don't know that much about his views on immigration, so the senators need to do some thorough vetting. But these are solid people. And with General Kelly, you have someone who knows, in the most painful and intimate of terms, what it's like to commit our service members to battle and to lose a family member.
BLITZER: He's a Gold Star father. His son, Second Lieutenant Robert Kelly, was killed in action in Afghanistan. And General Kelly has spoken about that very movingly indeed.
We have more to discuss, Congressman. I'm going to take a quick break. We'll resume our conversation right after this.
[17:20:50] BLITZER: President-elect Trump has been meeting with the victims of the Ohio State University terror attack, also with first responders. We're standing by to hear what he has to say. We'll have coverage of that. Stick around with us for that.
We're back with Democratic Congressman Adam Schiff of California. He's the ranking member of the Intelligence Committee. We're going to get -- talk to him about the threat posed by Russia both to U.S. cyber security, U.S.-backed forces. That's coming up.
But we want to get the latest from our chief national security correspondent, Jim Sciutto, right now.
Jim, you had a chance to speak to a senior U.S. military official about all of this. What's the latest you're hearing about the Russian threat?
JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, at a time when you have the president-elect, other members of his incoming administration questioning the threat from Russia, talking about a friendlier relationship, like U.S. intelligence agencies. the view of the U.S. military is that Russia is very much a threat.
This senior U.S. military official putting it at least on a par with violent extremism and spoke specifically about the context of Syria, describing an upcoming moment when you'll have U.S.-backed Syrian rebels coming face to face with Russian-backed regime forces there, just one of many places along with Ukraine and elsewhere where the U.S. Are coming into direct conflict with the potential of military escalation as well.
BLITZER: Just this week, as you know, Donald Trump told "TIME" magazine -- And let me quote now from what he said. He said, "Why not get along with Russia? And they can help us fight ISIS, which is both costly in lives and costly in money; and they're effective and smart."
And he still says Russia didn't necessarily hack the U.S., didn't interfere with the U.S. election. What are you hearing about that?
SCHIFF: Well, it remains the public assessment of the U.S. intelligence agencies that Russia did, in fact, hack the election. It's our own reporting that there is the possibility of new information that firms up the idea that it was done not just to interfere in the election but also to help Donald Trump win the election. That's purely on the election, though. But in terms of the broader threat, as we were saying earlier, there are other areas where you are coming into conflict. This senior U.S. military official certainly identifying it high on the list.
I asked him if he's communicated that to the president in light of those differences of opinion. He said that there is -- we serve only one president at once. Presumably, that will happen after he takes office.
But it's interesting. This happens as a bipartisan group of U.S. senators -- 15 Democrats but also 12 Republicans wrote a letter to the incoming president specifically on the issue of Russia and Ukraine. And I'm going to read one excerpt from that letter.
They said, "In light of Russia's continued aggression and repeated refusal to respect Ukraine's territorial integrity and sovereign right to choose its own destiny, we also renew our call for the U.S. to increase political, economic and military support for Ukraine."
So you're seeing a clear signal there, Wolf, that even Republican lawmakers will not sit back, at least on the threat like Ukraine, Syria and hacking of the U.S. election.
BLITZER: Jim Sciutto reporting for us. Jim Sciutto is our chief national security correspondent.
We're back with Congressman Adam Schiff of California, the ranking Democrat on the Intelligence Committee.
You've also written a letter on this very sensitive issue to the president, requesting a classified briefing to provide details, specifically details on Russian hacking of various American political organizations. Has that request from you to the president -- has that request been granted?
SCHIFF: It hasn't been granted yet. And I think that all the members of the House ought to receive the same briefing those of us on the Intelligence Committee have about Russia meddling in our election. This is something, frankly, I think the president ought to speak to the country about and share as much as he can in declassified form with the country.
These events, these attacks by Russia, cyberattacks, were really unprecedented in their scale and their impact, and we haven't seen the last of them. And one of my concerns is that there hasn't been an adequate deterrent. There really hasn't been any cost the Russians have paid. And that has got to change.
It may have been to the benefit -- I think it certainly was -- of Donald Trump during the campaign. But the minute he crosses Putin, as inevitably he will have to, because Putin is not our friend, he may be the subject of damaging dumping of documents, and he may find that he has a different view of it when he's on the receiving end of that kind of punishment.
[17:25:06] BLITZER: Because the director of national intelligence, General Clapper, Secretary of Homeland Security Jeh Johnson, they wrote a letter, a public statement in early October, saying this went to the highest levels of the Russian government, the hacking of the Democratic National Committee, the release of these e-mails that -- from John Podesta, who's -- who was the chairman of the Hillary Clinton campaign.
When they say the highest levels of the republic -- of the Russian republic, does that mean Putin himself ordered this, knew about it, was involved in it?
SCHIFF: You know, unfortunately, Wolf, I can't go beyond what the director has agreed to declassify. But I think you can tell Putin has a very small circle around him. He runs that Kremlin. There's not a lot of dissent. And something of this significance, getting involved in the hacking of a U.S. election, leaving fingerprints all over your work, that's not something I think that can't take place, as the director said, without agreement at the highest levels.
I also want to say, in terms of the Senate letter that you and Jim referred to about Ukraine, I fully agree with the contents of that letter. I think we should provide stronger support to Ukraine. Frankly, a year or two years ago, I was advocating that we ought to provide stronger defensive weapons to Ukraine.
And these things are not unrelated. When you don't deter the Russians, when you don't push back hard, they view it as an open door, whether that's in Ukraine or that's in the cyber world. We have to meet this newly aggressive, belligerent Russia with a strong pushback.
BLITZER: Let us know if you get that request granted from the president of the United States. We'll be anxious to hear.
SCHIFF: Thank you.
BLITZER: Adam Schiff is the ranking Democrat on the Intelligence Committee.
Coming up, the Electoral College meets in just 11 days to formalize the election of Donald Trump. Could a new lawsuit, though, complicate things?
Plus, details of the tactics now being adopted by ISIS. Are terrorist forces preparing to bring them to the west?
[17:30:00] BLITZER: Just now up on Capitol Hill, Hillary Clinton used a tribute to the outgoing Democratic Senator Harry Reid, to get sort of political as she praised Reid for his work on Obamacare, Comprehensive Immigration Reform and demanded action to stop what she calls the "Epidemic of fake news on social media."
Let's discuss this and a whole lot more with our political experts. And let me start with you, Jeffrey Toobin. Donald Trump using Twitter once again last night, very assertively, going after a union leader who said, you know, he misled the public when he suggested 1100 jobs at Carrier would be staying in the United States, it's really closer to 800 jobs, and Donald Trump reacted. That union leader, by the way, getting some threats out there in social media. He's being harassed. Former Labor Secretary Robert Reisch warned that this intimidation is dangerous to democracy. What's your take?
JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST AND FORMER FEDERAL PROSECUTOR: Well, you know, we're in a new world here, where the President-elect is extremely aggressive. Whether it's the cast of Hamilton, the flag burners, The New York Times, our colleague, Jeff Zeleny, I mean, he attacks people on Twitter. He has every right to do it under the first amendment, but it is a different way of being president, and if things start to go south for him, I think people will start to be upset about it. If his presidency is a success, I think his tweets will be seen as a success.
BLITZER: This is just a union leader of a local union. It's not, you know, somebody who is really famous or anything like that.
NIA-MALIKA HENDERSON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL REPORTER: Now, he is.
S.E. CUPP, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Right, now he is. And we've seen -- Trump does not discriminate when it comes to stature. Everyone from little old me to Alicia Machado, I mean, anyone can be a target. You know, I'm reminded of -- nd I know guys you remember this. A couple months after Obama was inaugurated, we had the Skip Gates incident. And he came out and give -- had a press conference, and he called the Cambridge Police. He said they acted stupidly. And there was a big, you know, backlash that the president would, A, address this in a press conference, and B, so kind of casually. And I think he realized in that moment, OK, what you say when you're president is different. I don't know if Trump will have that same kind of lesson early on. It's what he tweets when he's president or from an official @potus account, will sound differently and he'll learn to sort of measure himself. I doubt it.
BLITZER: How do you see it?
MARK PRESTON, CNN POLITICS EXECUTIVE EDITOR: Listen, he's got to stop, I mean, incidences like what happened last night is clearly distracting away from the hard work that he really needs to be putting in. And clearly, he is putting in very long hours and hard work in trying to pick a cabinet, but he side-tracks himself. If you can just imagine if we're able to extract every misstep, every stupid thing that he did, every tweet that he did and pulled it out of the conversation, what would our discussion be? You know, it would be so much more positive about his presidency.
TOOBIN: But why? No, I mean, I think that this is --
TOOBIN: So, why, we don't , I mean, I think that --
HENDERSON: Yeah, but I think --
BLITZER: Hold on for a sec. Go ahead, Jeffrey.
TOOBIN: I mean, this is his brand. I mean, I think his supporters love this stuff. They hate the New York Times. They hate CNN. And they hate unions. I mean, why should -- I mean, I think he, you know, thrives on picking fights with people that his base doesn't like.
PRESTON: Yeah, but to that point and just very quickly, while his base might be on board with it, you know, there's still the other half of America that's not on board with it. World leaders are not on board with it and opinion makers are not on board with it.
[17:34:50] BLITZER: You know, Nia, the President-elect is in Columbus, Ohio right now. He's been meeting with family members, victims of the Ohio State University terror attack. Fortunately, nobody was killed, but people were injured. He's also been meeting with first responders. This is a different side, presumably, of the President-elect, we're going to see, and he just spoke and explained why he was doing this. We're going to have that tape in a few seconds, but this is an important moment for the incoming president.
HENDERSON: It is and it's an important role for any president to have, this kind of comforter in chief, we haven't seen him do that, or when there are different tragedies around the country as he was running that wasn't really his role. He was mainly, sort of, someone who was the tough and strong leader. But again, he's going to have to learn to do that, and it is about how is he growing into this role as president. Is he changing in some ways we haven't seen him changed. He's still tweeting, he's still sort of punching down at folks. But this is a different side and I think a welcome side for a lot of people. And again, as the sense that he's growing into this role, he's changing and something he needs to do.
BLITZER: We have the tape. We're going to play the tape. He just spoke moments ago with journalists. Let's listen in.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: Well, this is a great honor for me today. We're in a fantastic state that I love, Ohio, and we just saw the victims and the families, and we were really -- I mean, these were really brave people, amazing people. The police and first responders were incredible, the job done in particular by one young gentleman, was incredible, and I got to meet him, and he's very brave. The families have done so well to come through this so well, and so, a lot of respect. And of course, Senator John Glenn today, the passing of -- he was
really, to me, he was a great American hero, a truly great American hero. I met him on two separate occasions. Liked him, always liked him. But he was indeed an American hero. So, nice that you're here, and this was an honor for me to be here today. Thank you all very much. Thank you.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: Very brief comments you heard from the President-elect. Nia, Senator Glenn did passed away today at the age of 95, a great American indeed. We're going to have more on that later in "THE SITUATION ROOM". But you see that he was apparently very moved by his exchange with the families, the survivors, the first responders, who had to deal with this ISIS-inspired terror attack at Ohio State University.
HENDERSON: Yeah, and if you look back at President Obama and the moments he had to make similar comments and meet with families in similar ways and maybe even make a public statement on national tragedies, those were moments that changed him. And in some ways, also changed his policy and his approach to policy, so we'll see how these types of incidents change Donald Trump. Not only just personally, but also if they end up changing his approach to some policies.
BLITZER: Yeah, he obviously was moved, Mark, by the -- we don't know what happened, there were no cameras inside. But clearly, the exchange he had with these families was important to him.
PRESTON: Presidential. What he just did for Donald Trump was very presidential. What he did last night, for Donald Trump, was not very presidential.
BLITZER: When he was tweeting about that, what do you mean with --
PRESTON: When he was tweeting, going after a local labor official.
BLITZER: Union leader. What did you think?
CUPP: Well, we saw, over the course of the campaign, Donald Trump responding to a number of tragedies on Twitter. He didn't really go out and talk much about them. Probably, because he didn't know what to say. These are the kind of moments that are really going to test him. He didn't have anything prepared. He spoke really off the cuff, and I thought it was a very well-connected, from the heart kind of moment.
BLITZER: This is, unfortunately, Jeffrey, something a president needs to do, become what we call the "comforter in chief", after a tragedy like this terror attack at Ohio State University.
TOOBIN: It's true, but I mean, I'm sorry. I don't mean to be the skunk here. That was a 30-second comment. You know, very perfunctory, and, I mean, it was fine, but I mean, are we really giving him like an enormous amount of praise for saying it was good to meet these first responders and saying a nice thing about John Glenn? I mean, you know, isn't this the soft bigotry of low expectations as George W. Bush liked to say? I mean, I thought it was fine but, I mean, I think it was a pretty minor statement.
PRESTON: Right, it was. But the bar is low, Jeffrey, for him, and -- I mean, let's tell the truth. It is what it is. The bar is low.
CUPP: Well, and let's also -- let's point out, this was an opportunity and Trump generally likes to use these moments to talk about himself, and he didn't. And I don't think -- I don't think that's the soft bigotry of low expectations. It's just giving him credit when he deserves it.
TOOBIN: Right. I agree.
BLITZER: All right. Everybody stand by. There's more -- there's more to discuss, including a court fight that according to one official, could undo the will of the voters. Could members of the Electoral College be allowed to vote for whomever they want?
[17:40:00] Also ahead, a grim new warning about an upcoming change in ISIS terror tactics.
BLITZER: We're following a move that has the potential to disrupt this month's Electoral College vote on the next President of the United States. Let's bring in our Justice Correspondent Evan Perez, bring back our Senior Legal Analyst Jeffrey Toobin. Evan, what exactly is at stake here? What are some electors challenging?
[17:45:01] EVAN PEREZ, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Well, you have a couple of electorates in Colorado who call themselves moral electors, Wolf, and they're trying to overturn the state law that requires the electors to vote for the winner of the state's popular vote. In this case, Colorado was won by Hillary Clinton. But the goal here is really to open up the possibility for these laws that govern 29 states, actually, that would free up these electors to be able to vote their conscience, so to speak. So, in this case, they're trying to -- they're trying to coordinate with other electors to possibly avoid voting for Donald Trump and Mike Pence, who they say are unfit for office.
We have a response from the Secretary of State, Wayne Williams in Colorado. And he says, quote, "Make no mistake, this is not some noble effort to fight some unjust or unconstitutional law; rather, this is an arrogant attempt by two faithless electors to elevate their personal desires over the entire will of the people of Colorado." Wolf, and obviously, the issue here is one, it is going to be a longshot, right? Because we have December 19th that's coming up, when the electors are going to get together to decide the election. And we expect that even if these lawsuits succeeds, the decision falls to the House of Representatives, which is sure to elect Donald Trump.
BLITZER: So, do they have a sound legal case, Jeffrey, here? TOOBIN: I don't. But I think the lawsuit does illustrate, just how murky the rules are about the Electoral College. I think most people think of it as sort of an automatic process, but in fact, the states vary a lot. Some states require the electors, like Colorado, to vote for the winner of the popular vote in the state. Others leave it up to the electors. Nebraska and Maine, allow individual congressional districts to vote differently. I think these electors would be far better off arguing for a national popular vote, which could be done by the state legislatures if enough of them agreed, rather than this undertaking, which, I think, ultimately will fail, but it does illustrate just how mysterious these roles are, and the Supreme Court has never definitively settled how an Electoral College is really supposed to work.
BLITZER: All right, very interesting. Guys, thanks very much.
Coming up, a chilling new warning predicts would-be ISIS terrorists are about to change their tactics. Their new and deadlier tactics on the way?
[17:50:00] BLITZER: There's an alarming new warning that potential ISIS terrorists may be changing their tactics for attacks on the west. CNN's Brian Todd who's joining us has details. What are you learning, Brian?
BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, tonight, one of Europe's top law enforcement agencies is warning that terror attacks by ISIS could be carried out across Europe in the near future. Europe poll says ISIS may employ tactics and weapons that it's used on the battle field like car bombs, even chemical weapons. And that the terror group already has dozens of operatives already in place in Europe.
TODD: This expert say is the type of damage ISIS wants to inflict, mass casualties following the attack in Paris. Carnage in the streets as an ISIS-inspired attacker plowed through innocent civilians in Nice. Now, one of Europe's top law enforcement agencies is warning more of this is coming from ISIS, and soon, a new report from Europol, warning, "Further attacks in the E.U., both by lone actors and groups, are likely to take place in the near future." But tonight, the concern isn't just more attacks, it's the new tactics and tools the terror group may use to create mayhem. ISIS has become expert of using vehicle IEV's in Iraq and Syria, which the report says they could soon bring to Europe.
MATTHEW LEVITT, WASHINGTON INSTITUTE FOR NEAR EAST POLICY: They even worry about the use of chemical weapons. The types of things you don't learn by being an inspired terrorist on the streets of Paris or Belgium, but you could learn out of a training camp or fighting experience in Syria, in Iraq or Libya.
TODD: Even scarier, the report outlines that the ISIS threat could already be in place, quote, "Several dozen people directed by IS may be currently present in Europe with the capability to commit terrorist attacks."
PETER BERGEN, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: Thousands of Europeans have gone to be trained by ISIS. Quite a number of them have come back.
TODD: Tonight, one U.S. counter-terror official tells CNN, ISIS is trying to deflect attention from its dwindling territory by calling on its followers to carry out attacks abroad. CNN has learned those battlefield defeats may have also hurt its wanted propaganda operation. The slick, heart-pounding videos, experts say, have slowed to a trickle, from a group that used to feature dramatic fighting and beheadings by a killer, the press nicknamed Jihadi John.
JIHADI JOHN: This knife will become your nightmare.
TODD: Unlike those films, ISIS' latest propaganda video from Mosul features British hostage John Cantlie, presumably under duress, showing levelled bridges and other damage, pointing out the impact of fighting on civilians.
JOHN CANTLIE, ISIS HOSTAGE: We have very little electricity and very little water, and that's making life extremely tough.
TODD: The hostage journalist's location in the video corresponds to satellite maps reviewed by CNN, and he points out bomb damage which matches airstrikes that occurred two weeks ago.
The United States government has killed a lot of ISIS propagandists, so as, you know, the amount of propaganda of ISIS are put out, has gone down pretty dramatically, and we're seeing a great, kind of, collapse of their P.R. effort.
[17:54:46] TODD: ISIS is trying to claw its way back into our consciousness. A U.S. counterterrorism official telling CNN tonight, the group now claims credit for attacks it doesn't even have a direct role in planning. Now, as for the threat to America right now, analysts say it isn't so much an ISIS trained cell, carrying out a mass casualty attack, but more likely, a lone wolf, inspired by ISIS, using a vehicle or conventional weapons to attack gatherings of Americans like what we saw at Ohio State last week and in Orlando and San Bernardino. Wolf?
BLITZER: Very disturbing, indeed. Brian, thank you very much.
Coming up, Donald Trump picks a fast food CEO to lead the Labor Department. What we'll need for efforts to increase the nation's minimum wage.
BLITZER: Happening now, cabinet of critics, as we learn more about the President-elect's nominees. There's new reason to question the future of some government agencies. Will Donald Trump's choice to head the Environmental Protection Agency improve the organization or trying to dismantle it? Death threats, a union boss says he's been targeted by Trump's supporters after the President-elect bashed him on Twitter for criticizing --