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THE SITUATION ROOM
Interview With NAACP President Cornell William Brooks; Trump Stumps in Louisiana; President Obama Orders Full Review of Election Hacking; Trump's General Forged Ties in Battle; Obama Orders Review of Russia's Election-Related Hacking; New Moves Toward Allowing Passenger Phone Calls in Flight; Giuliani Out of Running for Secretary of State. Aired 6-7p ET
Aired December 9, 2016 - 18:00 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, breaking news: Giuliani out, the former New York mayor no longer in the running to become secretary of state. Stand by for new intrigue in the race to lead the State Department. One contender's prospects are rising tonight.
Suggesting fraud, Donald Trump back on the stump talking again about his concerns that voting might have been rigged. I will ask the head of the NAACP for his take on that, as well as the president-elect's stunning reversal of his opinion of President Obama.
Punishing Putin? President Obama orders an urgent review of Russian hacking aimed at influencing the U.S. election. Now we're learning how his administration may respond to meddling by Moscow. How will it all play out with the president-elect?
And calls on a plane? New moves are under way toward allowing phone calls in flight. Tonight, the feds are buckling up for the possibility that passengers will behave badly.
We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world. I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.
BLITZER: Breaking news tonight: one of Donald Trump's most loyal supporters no longer a contender to be secretary of state. The Trump transition says Rudy Giuliani has removed his name from consideration.
But sources tell CNN the former New York mayor was told earlier that he would not be getting the State Department job. CNN has learned that the president-elect is looking more closely right now at ExxonMobil CEO Rex Tillerson to be America's top diplomat.
Also right now, Donald Trump is traveling to Michigan after campaigning for a Republican candidate in Louisiana's Senate runoff. We're standing by for his remarks at a rally tonight.
Also this hour, we have new information about President Obama's order for a full review of Russian hacking, amid allegations that Vladimir Putin may have tried to influence the U.S. election. CNN has learned the Obama administration is preparing possible sanctions and other options for punishing Moscow, depending on the results of the investigation.
And U.S. officials now are preparing for the day when airline passengers may be allowed to make phone calls in midair. But there are important conditions that regulators may impose to prevent talkative passengers from angering others on board. Stand by. We have details.
I will talk about the Trump transition and much more with the head of the NAACP, Cornell William Brooks. He is standing by live, along with our companies and analysts, as we cover all the day's top stories.
Up first, CNN political reporter Sara Murray.
Sara, what are you learning about Rudy Giuliani's exit from the race to be secretary of state?
SARA MURRAY, CNN NATIONAL POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, even though Giuliani, through Donald Trump's transition team, is saying he took his name out of the mix, sources are saying it went down a little bit differently, that Giuliani was essentially informed he would not be getting this coveted slot of secretary of state, and now what you're seeing is an effort to save face.
MURRAY (voice-over): Donald Trump's secretary of state options down one, with former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani withdrawing his name from contention for that or any other Cabinet position.
RUDY GIULIANI (R), FORMER MAYOR OF NEW YORK: My desire to be in the Cabinet was great, but it wasn't that great. And he had a lot of terrific candidates. And I thought I could play a better role being on the outside and continuing to be his close friend and adviser.
MURRAY: But sources say Giuliani didn't voluntarily withdraw his name from the mix; he was informed he wouldn't be getting the State Department position, this as CNN has learned ExxonMobil CEO Rex Tillerson's stock is rising for the State Department post. That's as Trump facing fresh questions about his business empire.
On the campaign trail, Donald Trump easily shrugged aside his business interests, insisting the allure of the White House was far more important.
DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENT-ELECT: I don't care. It doesn't matter to me. It's nice when you don't have to care, but I don't care. What I care about is making America great again. That's much more important. It's much more important.
MURRAY: But now the president-elect is showing little sign of stepping back from his corporate calling. In yet another potential conflict of interest, sources say Trump will remain an executive producer for NBC's "Celebrity Apprentice," even as he serves as president of the United States.
Trump hosted 14 seasons of "The Apprentice," but in 2015, NBC said it was cutting ties after his controversial remarks about undocumented Mexican immigrants.
TRUMP: I have a big chunk of that show. And I could have done it for another five years if I wanted to. But I don't know. There's a lot of pressure on Arnold, because Arnold is going to have a hard time. It was the number one show. And I did it for 14 seasons. I have a big stake in it.
MURRAY: Now one of Trump's top advisers, Kellyanne Conway, is defending Trump's decision, saying he will remain involved in the show in his free time.
KELLYANNE CONWAY, TRUMP SENIOR ADVISER: Were we so concerned about the hours and hours and hours spent on the golf course of the current president? I mean, presidents have a right to do things in their spare time or their leisure time.
MURRAY: Of course, Trump and other Republicans were sharply critical of the time President Obama spent on the links.
TRUMP: And he gets on this plane, flies to Hawaii. He's there for a long time. Golf, golf, golf, golf, more, more. Learning how to chip. Learning how to hit the drive. Learning how to putt. Oh, I want more.
MURRAY: The latest news on Trump's business dealings comes days before he's slated to hold a press conference on who will run his company once he heads to the White House, although there is little indication Trump will divest from his business.
And Trump is using his thank you tour to defend the Cabinet picks he's already made, which indeed a number of business titans with little government experience.
TRUMP: By the way, some of the people I put on to negotiate, you have been noticing, are some of the most successful people in the world. One newspaper criticized me. Why can't they have people of modest means? Because I want people that made a fortune, because now they're negotiating with you. OK?
MURRAY: That road show continues today with an evening rally in Michigan, as well as a stop in Louisiana to campaign for a Republican Senate candidate. But before he left Trump Tower, he squeezed in a meeting with House Speaker Paul Ryan, who is putting aside his past criticism of Trump in favor of a show of unity instead.
REP. PAUL RYAN (R-WI), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: We're very excited about getting to work and hitting the ground running in 2017 to put this country back on track.
(END VIDEOTAPE) MURRAY: Now, we are expecting a little bit more news from Donald Trump tonight in Michigan. Sources tell us that he's expected to announce Ronna Romney McDaniel as his pick to be the next head of the Republican National Convention.
Now, of course, RNC members will have to vote on that decision, but the backing of the president-elect certainly means a lot in running for that slot -- Wolf.
BLITZER: All right, good point. Thanks very much, Sara Murray, for that report.
Now to President Obama's just ordered investigation of Russian hacking. President-elect Trump has insisted there's no evidence that Moscow actually tried to influence the U.S. election, but the Obama administration sees it very differently.
Our global affairs correspondent, Elise Labott, is here with me.
What are you learning, Elise?
ELISE LABOTT, CNN FOREIGN AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, you know that the intelligence community has officially accused Moscow of hacking the Democratic National Committee and other political organizations.
Officials have raised questions about Russia's wider meddling in the U.S. elections, such as probing U.S. voting systems. So the result of this investigation could be a pretext to punish Russia on the administration's way out the door. We hear administration officials have already prepared a wide range of options from sanctions to possible cyber-measures, if President Obama decides to order them.
It's also being referred to as a list of lessons learned, especially for the incoming administration. President-elect Donald Trump has dismissed the claims as recently this week, telling "TIME" magazine he doesn't believe Russia was involved. But Congress also wants answers. Democrats have asked President Obama to declassify more details about Russian involvement.
And leading Republicans like Lindsey Graham and John McCain are launching a probe into Russian meddling and potential cyber-threats. So, we don't know if the results of this investigation will be made public. Obviously, concerns about revealing U.S. sources and methods, but, Wolf, the White House says the investigation will be mindful of that.
BLITZER: So, what will the incoming Trump administration do if the president's report concludes there was meddling, and the U.S. before the president leaves office on January 20 decides to take some specific sanctions, other steps? What would the president, the new president do?
LABOTT: Well, that's a very open question, whether the incoming Trump administration will do that. President-elect Trump has made no secret that he wants better
relations in President Putin. Now, he could quickly overturn any measures that President Obama passed before leaving office. But he would face a lot of heat on Capitol Hill, not just from Democrats, but from Republicans who have been equally skeptical of Russia.
Now, if the administration presents compelling evidence in the form of an investigation which Congress accepts and Donald Trump ignores it and overturns measures against Russia, he opens himself up to charges of bowing to Moscow from his own supporters. And, Wolf, you know there's a political price to pay for that.
BLITZER: I'm sure there will be.
All right, thanks so much for that, Elise Labott reporting.
President Obama and his successor may be at odds over Russia, but president-elect Trump only has nice things these days to say about the commander in chief he once criticized.
In Louisiana earlier, for example, earlier today, Mr. Trump tried to stop supporters from even booing the president, even as he renewed questions about election fraud.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: They're voting like really early, and we have to discuss that early thing.
That's sort of -- so many things are going on, so many things. I wonder what happens during the evenings when those places are locked, right?
TRUMP: But the Democrats were the people who would say, Donald Trump is criticizing the foundations of our country.
Give me a break. Give me a break. Give me a break.
President Obama, who, by the way, I have gotten along with so well...
TRUMP: No, no, no, he's really doing great. He's been so nice.
TRUMP: But eight years ago, eight years ago, he talked about in Chicago what goes on, OK? They don't talk about it anymore. And believe me, it's only gotten worse, folks.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: All right, joining us now, the president and CEO of the NAACP, Cornell William Brooks.
Cornell, thanks for joining us.
CORNELL WILLIAM BROOKS, PRESIDENT, NAACP: Hi, Wolf.
BLITZER: All right, respond to the president-elect suggesting that early voting isn't necessarily safe. Do you believe that does a disservice to American voters to suggest this at this point?
BROOKS: Most Americans regard the right to vote as the civic sacrament of our democracy.
And so for the president-elect to mock early voting is quite disturbing. The fact of the matter is, there are people in this country who have sacrificed greatly, heroes and heroines of American history who have literally given their life for the right to vote. So to suggest that early voting, anything that makes voting easier and more likely to be used, is something to be knocked, mocked, something to be derided, is frankly shocking, particularly for someone who is about to ascend to the highest office in the land via what? The vote.
The fact of the matter is, the NAACP, literally, we have shed blood, sweat, and tears for the right to vote. And so where we are in a moment in American history where the person who is about to put their hand on the Bible and to take the oath of office to become the president of the United States did not win the popular vote.
So, I find it ironic in the extreme that he would suggest that anything that makes it easier to vote, to make it more likely that young people and people from all walks of life participate in the franchise, is -- shocking, absolutely shocking.
On the other hand, he should be talking about voter suppression, as opposed to voter fraud or early voting -- or curtailing early voting.
BLITZER: Yes, Cornell, you also heard the president-elect in these remarks, other remarks trying to tamp down boos coming from the crowd when he mentioned the president of the United States, President Obama.
Do you think personally meeting with the president in the Oval Office just after he won the election changed Donald Trump's thinking as far as the president is concerned? As we know, for years, he even questioned his birthplace.
BROOKS: Well, I'm glad that he's come to the conclusion I think a great many of Americans have with respect to President Obama, namely, that he's an honorable, a decent man, and someone who has demonstrated a great deal of grace.
That being said, I would like for the president-elect to meet a great number of Americans who come from diverse walks of life, races and ethnicities. And I would like for him to extend that same kind of grace and understanding with respect to those he's nominating to serve in government, so that they might reflect the diversity, the richness of diversity of this country in terms of public policy.
And that means starting first with the chief strategist, that is to say, Steve Bannon, not nominating someone who has given support to the so-called alt-right or white nationalists or white supremacists.
So, yes, I'm glad to hear that he's saying nice things about President Obama, because he's certainly gone out of his way to do what has been done by presidents before, that is to say, to ensure the peaceful transition of power.
BLITZER: Since winning the election, has the president-elect reached out to you, Cornell, or to the NAACP?
BROOKS: Certainly, we have heard from the transition office. They have reached out to the NAACP. I have not heard from the president- elect as of yet. I suspect we will.
The NAACP, as you well know, is the nation's largest -- oldest and largest civil rights organization. And we, like the president-elect, are charged with the responsibility of serving all of the American people. And we have done so for the last 107 years.
BLITZER: Cornell, I'm sorry for interrupting.
But when they reached out to you, what did they say, what did they suggest? Can you share with us the conversation?
BROOKS: Wolf, we just heard from the transition office. They just reached out in terms of getting contact information and that kind of thing. So, it wasn't necessarily a message or missive from the president-elect. Perhaps that is to come.
BLITZER: Do you want to speak directly with the president-elect? Do you think you can work with him over the next four years?
BROOKS: Well, the president-elect is charged with the responsibility of working with a great variety of organizations. And I would certainly expect the NAACP to be high on that list.
The NAACP is nonpartisan. We work on both sides of the aisle. We work with anyone who is willing to work with us for the betterment and the advancement of civil rights in this country.
That being said, we are willing to engage, but we are also willing to be truth-tellers. And we cannot ignore, for example, the nomination of Senator Sessions. We certainly can't ignore the naming of Steve Bannon. We can't ignore the naming of someone who is a great advocate for the privatization of public education as secretary of education.
So, we're going to be honest, we're going to be forthright, we're going to be critical where need be. But we're certainly willing to engage anyone, certainly the president-elect, in terms of advancing civil rights. But we have to do so in the context of an honest, forthright conversation about how to advance the nation's interests. We are not going to soft-pedal our criticism and we certainly won't soft-pedal what is necessary to move the nation forward.
BLITZER: As you know, Cornell, the president-elect selected Donald -- excuse me -- selected Dr. Ben Carson to be the secretary of the Department of Housing and Urban Affairs -- Urban Development, I should say.
Nancy Pelosi said Dr. Carson, in her words, is a disconcerting and disturbingly unqualified choice, the Democratic leader in the House.
Kellyanne Conway, who was the campaign manager for Donald Trump, now senior adviser, just commented, just spoke to "The New York Times," saying this to Maggie Haberman.
I will put it up on the screen. "I think that Nancy Pelosi's criticism of Dr. Ben Carson was seen as out of line, and dare I say, if someone was saying it about President Obama when he first started, they would have called it racist. I think it's unfortunate, very unfortunate to denounce him as unqualified, an African-American man who came from very humble beginnings."
Is Kellyanne Conway's criticism fair?
BROOKS: It's not racist to call into question the qualifications of Dr. Carson with respect to HUD.
Dr. Carson is -- was a brilliant neurosurgeon. He certainly has an extraordinary mind, extraordinary heart for humanity. He demonstrated that in the course of his career at Johns Hopkins.
But whether he is qualified to serve as secretary of HUD is altogether another matter. HUD is responsible for the enforcement of the nation's, in part, fair housing laws. It is responsible for ensuring affordable housing, for advancing urban development.
These are complex public policy issues. HUD is a very, very important government agency, and we need someone at the helm who has expertise, experience in these issues.
And so Dr. Carson is well-qualified for a great many positions, and certainly in the health care field. But leading HUD, that is altogether another matter. And so it's not racist to simply suggest that he is the wrong person for this job.
BLITZER: All right. Stand by, Cornell. There's more to discuss. We're going to pick it up right after a quick break.
BLITZER: A dramatic end to an emotional week in the trial of Charleston gunman Dylann Roof, who shot and killed nine people at an historic African-American church. Our justice correspondent, Evan Perez, is getting details.
Evan, the jury saw video of Roof's confession to police.
EVAN PEREZ, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Wolf.
It was a chilling day really in this courtroom in Charleston, where jurors got to hear Dylann Roof laugh coldly as he readily confessed to carrying out a massacre in a historic black church last year.
Now, this chilling admission came in a video interview with the FBI. The video was played on the third day of his federal death penalty trial. He laughed as he said, "I went to that church in Charleston and I did it."
In the FBI video, he's mostly seen answering in a monotone, showing hardly any emotion. And he says white people are superior to black people. It's just a fact, he says.
He says -- quote -- "Somebody had to do it," before adding, "Black people are killing white people every day. What I did was so minuscule compared to what they do to white people every day."
Jurors yesterday saw surveillance video of Roof entering and leaving the church. The victims are seen entering, and then stretchers carrying their bodies later on. Roof told the FBI he sat for 15 minutes alongside these victims in their Bible study, and then he opened fire, killing nine people -- Wolf.
BLITZER: What a horrific, horrific event. That was awful.
All right, Evan, thanks very much.
I want to get back to Cornell William Brooks, the head of the NAACP.
Cornell, I wonder if you want to react hearing these awful words from this Dylann Roof, hearing his intentions as clearly as we just heard.
BROOKS: It's very disturbing, Wolf.
As you know, I'm a member of the African Methodist Episcopal Church. And to hear a young man talk about the killing of black people vs. white people, his moral map reduces African-Americans and white Americans to zero.
He saw -- he did not see the humanity of African-Americans. He did not see the humanity of students of Scripture in a historic church. And he laid them to rest. It is unconscionable. It is immoral.
But it speaks to a hatred and an animus that I'm afraid is not a matter of one lone gunman, but when we think about the fact that there have been hundreds and hundreds of hate crimes over the course of the last few weeks in this country, most of which have taken place in schools, it means we have to be concerned about the unconscionable behavior of Dylann Roof, but we also have to be concerned about the racial animus and ethnic hatred in our country as we speak.
So we condemn his actions, and we have to be concerned about our own as a country.
BLITZER: Also this week, Cornell, as you know, there was a mistrial in the murder trial of Michael Slager, the former North Charleston police officer who shot and killed Walter Scott after that April 2015 traffic stop.
The shooting was all captured on camera. Are you surprised that this resulted in a mistrial? There will be a new trial and there will be a federal trial as well.
BROOKS: Yes, I confess I am surprised.
To see a man running away from a police officer, from nearly 20 feet away, to being shot in the back like an animal, I was shocked at a mistrial. How many of us have found ourselves on the side of the road in a routine traffic stop? None of us would imagine losing our lives as a consequence of a routine traffic stop.
So, to have someone who is loved and cared for and someone who had a family, to lose his life in this way, shot in the back in cold blood, for that to result in a mistrial is shocking.
I'm encouraged and hopeful about a new trial. But this says something about the value of black lives in this country. And it says something about the diminished and devalued humanity of African-Americans. And I don't think we can ignore that.
So, we're hopeful about a new trial, but am I saddened by this mistrial? I think I am, but so are many Americans all across this country.
BLITZER: Cornell, you mentioned hate crimes. The New York City Police Department said that, since the election, about four-and-a-half weeks ago, hate crimes are actually up more than 30 percent compared to the same time last year.
The Southern Poverty Law Center cited more than 700 hate crimes around the country in the weeks following the election. Why do you think that is?
BROOKS: Well, what I would also note here is most of those crimes have taken place in schools, that is to say, our children watching the conduct of adults modeling our bad behavior as a nation.
I believe the cause of these hate crimes is, in part, the racial dog whistles that were blown during the course of this campaign, the racist and ethnocentric and xenophobic appeals that were lifted up for electoral advantage.
This has pitted our country one against one another, neighbor against a neighbor. This is a very serious matter, because, when you have kids -- think about this, Wolf -- when you have children modeling the bad behavior of those folks who are older than they are charged with their care and responsibility, this is a moment of serious concern for the country.
And when we have people spray-painting swastikas on sidewalks, lifting up anti-Semitic arguments as though this is the normal course of civic discourse in this country, calling people the N-word, this is not funny. This is not a laughing matter. It's not a lighthearted matter. It is a serious matter.
If, in fact, we take seriously the peaceful transition of power, we have to take very seriously the peaceful transition of power with respect to our democracy, the state of our citizenry.
[18:30:10] And so we, as a country, need to collect ourselves, come together as a nation, and realize that we, as a citizenry, are far more important than the racial dog whistles that have been blown loud and long, if you will, over the course of these many months of this campaign.
BLITZER: Cornell, thanks very much for joining us. Cornell William Brooks is the president and CEO of the NAACP. Thanks for joining us.
BROOKS: Thank you, Wolf.
BLITZER: Just ahead, we'll have more on why Rudy Giuliani won't -- won't be in the Trump administration after all. Is the president- elect turning his back on a loyal soldier?
And imagine what it will be like if passengers are allowed to make phone calls on planes. Tonight, the feds are laying the groundwork to make sure it wouldn't turn ugly.
[18:35:38] BLITZER: We're following the breaking news tonight. The Trump transition team says Rudy Giuliani has taken his name out of consideration to become the next secretary of state. But sources tell CNN the former New York mayor had been informed he wouldn't be getting the job.
Let's bring in our political seem. Sara Murray, I want to get your information, because you're learning new information. He was extremely, extremely supportive, very loyal to the president-elect. But now he's not going to get anything. He said he wanted to be secretary of state. That's not happening.
SARA MURRAY, CNN POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT; He was very loyal, and at one point, he was a front-runner for the secretary of state job. He made it pretty clear that that was the position he wanted in a Trump administration.
And now I think we're seeing the game of trying to save face. Sources are telling us that Rudy Giuliani was informed he would not be getting that position. Behind the scenes he had made it clear he wasn't interested in any others. And so now we're getting this statement from the transition team, a statement from Rudy Giuliani saying essentially, "I took my name out of the mix. I don't want to serve in a Donald Trump administration, but I'm still going to remain a close adviser and a close friend to Donald Trump."
BLITZER: It's interesting, because not just Rudy Giuliani, a very high-profile, very loyal supporter, but others like Chris Christie, very high-profile, very loyal. He's out of the mix. Newt Gingrich, Mike Huckabee, apparently, they're not going to get anything either. Unclear if they wanted anything. But what does that say to you, Mark?
MARK PRESTON, CNN POLITICS EXECUTIVE EDITOR: Well, a couple things. They're all kind of related in the sense that, if you remember, you go back to Rudy Giuliani. He was asked about it, literally, right after the election. And he said, "I'm going to be secretary of state," almost like it was a given.
Newt Gingrich was very vocal about his talents going into the White House. And then, of course, you had Chris Christie, who many of us thought was positioning himself, should Donald Trump win, that he would get in, as well.
You know, I do think we have to give Trump some credit for not just rewarding his allies and those who went out and were very supportive of him and, in fact, are looking at other people, as well. And look, he's always going to get Rudy Giuliani's advice anyway, but he would have been a very difficult confirmation pick. We know that, if Newt Gingrich was in there as the chief of staff, as many people thought, that Newt Gingrich in many ways would have thought he was the president. And Rudy Giuliani, you know, quite frankly, was more qualified to be the head of the Department of Homeland Security. It's a job he did not want.
BLITZER: Obviously, he's out of the mix right now for secretary of state.
Lanhee Chen, let's talk a little bit about your former boss, Mitt Romney. He apparently is still in the running to become the secretary of state. Rudy Giuliani in this interview today, he made it clear where he stands on that. Listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
RUDY GIULIANI, FORMER MAYOR OF NEW YORK CITY (via phone): I thought Mitt went over the line in the things that he said about Donald Trump, and the president-elect is going to make his decision. I will support that decision. But my advice would be Mitt went just a little too far to -- you can make friends and make up, but I would not see him as a candidate for the cabinet.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: Do you think, Lanhee, that Mitt Romney, a man you know well, and the president-elect, can have a very cooperative, constructive relationship and that he might emerge still as secretary of state?
LANHEE CHEN, THE HOOVER INSTITUTION: I do think they can have a productive relationship, Wolf. I think there's a couple of things.
First of all, Governor Romney made it very clear after the election that his priority was to help the president-elect be successful in governing and actually moving forward, particularly in the conduct of U.S. foreign policy.
And the other issue is just a little bit about who Mitt Romney is as a man. Anybody who's covered him, who's spent time with him -- certainly Sara and Mark know this, that he's a man who is driven by a desire to serve the country. At the end of the day, that desire to serve, that desire to do well for the people of this country is something that motivates Mitt Romney and ultimately I think would be key in the relationship with Donald Trump going forward if he were to be selected.
BLITZER: Ron Brownstein, Donald Trump, the president-elect of the United States, has now made it clear he will remain executive producer of "The Celebrity Apprentice" program on NBC, even as he's president of the United States. What does that say to you?
RON BROWNSTEIN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, look, I mean, yesterday we were talking about the extraordinary spectacle of the president-elect tweeting criticism of an individual American citizen who had criticized him. Today we are talking about the extraordinary circumstance of a president-elect maintaining an economic interest in a television program that is produced by one entertainment conglomerate and aired by another.
What that tells you is that Donald Trump is going to be pushing against norms that have been accepted in both parties for many years on many fronts, pretty much every day.
And on the ethics side, I mean, it really is the tip of the iceberg. There there's an extraordinary letter out today, Wolf, as you probably know, from the former ethics council not only for Barack Obama, but for George W. Bush, and the author, the conservative author, Lanhee's neighbor up there at the Hoover Institution, of the book "Clinton Cash," all raising big red flags about the potential conflicts of interest at home and abroad that the way Donald Trump seems to be heading toward, if he unwinds his businesses in the way that he's talking about.
So this is something that is going to be, I think, an ongoing issue, not only for the news media but ultimately for the Republicans in Congress who have the oversight authority to see whether they will, in fact, raise some of the questions that are being kind of -- echo some of the questions that are being raised by outside experts.
BLITZER: Yes, you make the point. "Celebrity Apprentice," produced by MGM, airs on NBC.
All right. There's more to discuss. Just ahead, an intriguing snapshot -- snapshot of the generals being drafted to serve the next commander in chief.
[18:45:57] WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Tonight, we're getting a unique look at generals being drafted by President-elect Donald Trump to serve at the highest levels of his national security team.
I want to bring in our Pentagon correspondent Barbara Starr.
Barbara, what do we know about the relationship these generals have?
BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, this is a group of generals who have unshakeable ties. Already, they come to these jobs having worked together for years.
STARR (voice-over): It's a telling 2013 photo of the most senior Marine Corps generals at the time. Three of them who fought in Iraq now set to become Donald Trump's inner circle on national security.
Now, retired General James Mattis nominated to be secretary of defense. Retired General John Kelly nominated for homeland security secretary. And General Joseph Dunford, the current chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. All three achieved the rare rank of four-star general, the first time there have ever been that many in the corps.
Dunford is making clear he's not worried about Mattis taking the top civilian job so soon after retirement.
GEN. JOSEPH DUNFORD, JOINT CHIEFS CHAIRMAN: Do I have any concerns? No.
STARR: Nobody can yet say how these four-stars will deal with the controversial national security adviser, retired three-star Army Lieutenant General Mike Flynn, who was junior to them.
These marines have personal bonds that are as deep as can be. On November 9, 2010, Dunford broke the news to Kelly his son, Robert Kelly, had been killed in Afghanistan. A brotherhood of battle hardened senior marines, forged back in 2003, when Mattis commanded the First Marine Division and Dunford and Kelly served under him. It was a war their new commander-in-chief Donald Trump opposed.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Watch out behind you, behind you!
STARR: CNN's Martin Savidge was embedded with the marines at the time.
MARTIN SAVIDGE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: What I remember most is how hard it was, hard in many, many ways, the leadership that this unit had expected great things. Mattis expected great things. Kelly expected great things. And it wasn't just that they were projecting great plans. They projected that feeling all the way down to the average marine.
STARR: Mattis' division fought in the initial high-speed attack, from Kuwait to Baghdad and beyond, it would become the longest ground march in corps history. But it was a war that saw marines struggle in western Iraq. Spending months fighting an insurgency in Fallujah, eventually more than 4,000 U.S. troops killed, more than 30,000 wounded.
STARR: Iraq was a troubled war by many accounts. But I spoke today to one senior officer who worked directly for Mattis for two years, and he said simply, I would do anything for him -- Wolf.
BLITZER: You hear that from a lot of people out there.
All right. Thanks, Barbara. Thanks very much for that report.
With just six weeks to go before Donald Trump's inauguration, President Obama is racing to investigate Russian hacking and whether it actually influenced the U.S. presidential election.
Let's go back to our political team.
Sara, as you know, the president today ordered a full review of these allegations that the Russians hacked computers, e-mails of Democrats, supposedly with the intention of trying to help Donald Trump win the election.
Let's say the review is completed by January 20th. President Obama imposes new sanctions or whatever. What is Donald Trump likely to do as president of the United States?
SARA MURRAY, CNN POLITICS REPORTER: Well, I think that's an interesting question, Wolf. What we do know is that Donald Trump has certainly had a number of national security, national intelligence briefings. He does get the presidential daily brief when he decides to participate in it.
So, there's no doubt that as part of this concerns of Russia have been brought up, at some point or another, that has not changed Donald Trump's tone publicly and we've seen him meeting with a number of people.
[18:50:02] Rex Tillerson is a good example, as a potential secretary of state who do have close ties to Russia, close ties to Vladimir Putin.
Donald Trump is on a different playing field when it comes to Russia than many members of his own party. So, I think the interesting thing to watch here would be, how do Republicans on the Hill, people like John McCain, people like Lindsey Graham, react to this investigation is ongoing and whether we see more Republicans falling in line with their view of the world or with Donald Trump.
BLITZER: You know, it's interesting. Rex Tillerson is the CEO of ExxonMobil who's now apparently on the short list to become secretary of state.
Lanhee, you used to work for Mitt Romney four years ago I interviewed him when he was running for president. He then said Russia was America's number one geopolitical foe. I'm quoting directly. He was attacked at the same for saying that. But clearly, right now, it doesn't appear that the president-elect necessarily agrees with him.
LANHEE CHEN, THE HOOVER INSTITUTION: Yes. I mean, this is an area of policy where obviously the two of them have had a very different tone and I certainly think that Governor Romney and his concern about Russia, the need to be clear-eyed as one approaches what Russia has been doing is very important. I do think though, Wolf, it's important to think about the differences in tone versus actual differences in policy.
And it's not clear to me that the president-elect beyond sort of intimating the U.S. might work together with Russia on the Syria crisis really has policy that's substantially essentially different from what most Republicans would certainly espouse. Certainly, the tone is different, but on the policy, we're going to have to see once he takes office how big those differences might be.
BLITZER: Ron Brownstein, how do you see it?
RON BROWNSTEIN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: I think I see more daylight in the policy. I mean, obviously, you know, that has always been I think the biggest space between Mitt Romney and Donald Trump in terms of them trying to get over for secretary of state.
But, look, I mean, Donald Trump has taken, as Sara said, a very different tone on this, continuing to downplay and dismiss the idea that there was Russian intervention in the election. And I think it's going to be very striking to see how he reacts as this -- you know, if the Obama administration which has not committed to making public what it finds, if in fact they go public, if in fact they move to impose any sanctions.
You have Republicans in Congress who have indicated, whether it's John McCain or Lindsey Graham, but also Rob Portman has introduced legislation on Russian disinformation in Europe.
So, you do have I think a divergence here that is going to be one of the flash points in foreign policy once the president elect takes office.
BLITZER: All right. Everybody, stick around. Don't go to far away.
An important note to all of our viewers. Don't miss Jake Tapper's exclusive interview with the Vice President Joe Biden on "STATE OF THE UNION". That airs this Sunday morning, 9:00 a.m. Eastern, and again at noon Eastern, right here on CNN.
Just ahead, will passengers soon be able to make phone calls on planes using their cell phones? And would that be a good thing? Would it be a nightmare?
[18:57:18] BLITZER: Tonight, we're following moves that could lead to a big change on airlines, allowing passengers to make phone calls in flights. That would be a huge convenience, or a huge annoyance, especially if you are stuck next to someone who refuses to hang up. Regulators are now taking all of that into consideration.
Our aviation correspondent Rene Marsh is joining us now.
Rene, these would be Wi-Fi calls, not necessarily cellular calls. We know there is already technology for all of this. The real concern is about passengers potentially behaving badly. Is that right?
RENE MARSH, CNN AVIATION CORRESPONDENT: That's absolutely right. And the Transportation Department envisions one day in-flight calls will be an option, while airlines like United currently prohibits in-flight calls, the airline has left the door open to the possibility of allowing calls one day.
So, the Transportation Department (AUDIO GAP) air incidents. So, the agency just proposed a new role, requiring airlines to let passengers know if calls will be allowed on that flight long before they even purchased to take it. Regulators are also considering, Wolf, whether they should altogether ban calls on board.
Most other airlines like American and Delta, they show no indications they will low in-flight calls. We do know that flight crews. They are against the idea and Delta Airlines said they did a survey of passengers and the majority of them think it would be too disruptive.
Still though, the Department of Transportation preparing for that day, trying to make sure they protect passengers from those who may be a little bit chatty 30,000 feet up in the air.
BLITZER: How soon could this change potentially, if it were allowed, it if it happens?
MARSH: Well, it really is hard to tell, because right now, this proposal is open for public comment, so that will take some time, 30 to 60 days and they will review all of those comments. But one thing we do know, Wolf, is that this won't be something that the current administration will handle. This will fall in the hands of the Trump administration.
BLITZER: No one will Amtrak on the Acela from New York to Washington or Washington back to New York. They got a quiet car.
MARSH: That's right.
BLITZER: People -- you can talk in your cell phone on the other cars. But there is a quite -- maybe there will be a quiet plane down the road at some point as well.
All right. Rene, thanks very much.
We're also standing by. Donald Trump, the president elect, getting ready to speak in Michigan. You're looking at live picture now. A huge crowd already developing for that. We'll have coverage.
Until then, thanks very much for watching. I'm Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM.
"ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.