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AT THIS HOUR WITH BERMAN AND MICHAELA
New Praise, Concern For Trump's Secretary Of State Pick; Confirmation Fight Brews For Trump's State Pick; Rubio's "Serious Concerns" Endangers Tillerson Pick; Giuliani: I Didn't Want To Be In Big Selection Panel; Tillerson's Exxon Assets: What's At Stake Now? Aired 11-11:30a ET
Aired December 13, 2016 - 11:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
CAROL COSTELLO, CNN ANCHOR: -- Costello. "AT THIS HOUR" with Berman and Bolduan starts now.
KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: Hello, everyone. I'm Kate Bolduan. John Berman is off today. The waiting game is over. The winner of Donald Trump's latest reality show who wants to be my secretary of state has been decided. It's ExxonMobil CEO Rex Tillerson.
Tillerson is a millionaire many times over with the wealth of global business experience but no formal political or diplomatic experience. His nomination drawing praise and concern at the same time due in large part to his long-standing business relationship with Russian President Vladimir Putin.
That may be a problem for some of Trump's own party like this guy, Republican Senator Marco Rubio. Rubio putting out a statement this morning saying in part that he has serious concerns about Tillerson, and he's not alone there.
But tillerson also picked up big endorsements from the likes of former secretaries of state, Condoleezza Rice and James Baker. This is the confirmation battle to watch, I can promise you, so stay tuned there.
Also new in transition this morning, the president-elect has tapped former Texas Governor Rick Perry to head up the Energy Department. Yes, the same Rick Perry, who has said that he wants to get rid of that very department, even though sometimes he forgets which department he's talking about. We'll get more on that in a second.
And then there is this -- Rapper Kanye West appeared in Trump Tower today with none other than the president-elect himself. The musician and husband of Kim Kardashian, of course, isn't up for a cabinet post as far as we know.
Let's go to CNN's Phil Mattingly live at Trump Tower in New York. Phil, keep a straight face. Quite a morning already. Rex Tillerson, Rick Perry, Kanye West, insert your favorite rap lyrics there, go.
PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, as far as we know, being the operative term there. But look, to start on the secretary of state pick because we've all been following this rather chaotic experience over the course of the last couple of weeks, the president-elect settling on Tillerson.
Rex Tillerson more than four decades inside of Exxon, obviously rising in 2006 to run the company extensive global business ties. I'm told from Trump transition sources what this really ended up becoming about was the two men were very comfortable with one another.
It's important to note, Kate, Donald Trump and Rex Tillerson did not know one another before this process. It was actually James Baker, Condoleezza Rice and Robert Gates, obviously three kind of pillars in the GOP foreign policy establishment community, who recommended that Trump sit down with Tillerson.
They sat down. They meshed very well. They became very comfortable with one another. The president-elect and Tillerson's world views largely aligned, I'm told. And he became the pick, not Mitt Romney, not David Petraeus, not any of the 15 or 20 people. It seemed like we were going to go through at one point.
It's worth noting, Condoleezza Rice and Robert Gates did do business with Exxon through their firm currently, but their recommendations and their endorsements were crucial to putting him in position to get this position.
Obviously, there's going to be a lot of deep looks into the more than 50 countries where Exxon did business, most notably Russia. But for the moment, it looks like people are generally accepting of this pick. I can tell you Trump transition officials very happy with this direction that this went for good reason.
This is the type of pick the president-elect said he was going to make, unorthodox, somebody with deep business ties, and somebody who can come in and try to make an immediate impact. But as you noted, Kate, Rex Tillerson not the only selection.
CNN also being told from transition officials that Rick Perry will be selected to run the Energy Department, 14-year governor of Texas, obviously extensive experience on job creation, working on energy issues while in that state.
Obviously has that oops moment of 2011 that we all remember it and of course, when he was running for president in 2012, talked about eliminating the Energy Department. He was one conservatives wanted in the cabinet.
He met with the president-elect a couple of times including at the Army/Navy game this weekend. This is a good relationship as well so keep an eye on that going forward.
And obviously, Kate, for the news that is the least important of the entire day, Kanye West was in Trump Tower. I have no idea how that applies to anything we are covering or care about. But hey, why not, right?
BOLDUAN: Why not? That's exactly what was running through my head. Great to see you, Phil. Thanks so much. Keep an eye on those elevators. All right. Here's a little bit more information about Rex Tillerson for you. He's 64 years old. He's a native of Wichita Falls, Texas, an Eagle Scout, and started working at Exxon as Phil said 41 years ago as a production engineer.
He was named chairman and CEO in 2006. He himself has said that he has a very close relationship with Russian President Vladimir Putin. Three years ago, Putin awarded him the Order of Friendship.
With all of that background, Tillerson could be facing something of a tough road ahead to confirmation. For that, all the focus goes very quickly to Capitol Hill.
That's where we find senior political reporter, Manu Raju, who is in Washington for us. Manu, what is the temperature at this moment on Capitol Hill. What are you hearing right now for the likes of Tillerson?
MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL REPORTER: Kate, the Republican leadership in the Senate is actually closing ranks behind Tillerson with Mitch McConnell, the majority leader, as well as his number two, John Cornyn issuing statement saying they would back Tillerson's nomination to state.
[11:05:10]But that does not mean all Republicans are falling in line, including on that all-important Senate Foreign Relations Committee, which is the panel that will consider his nomination.
Now in a concerning sign for the nomination, Florida Senator Marco Rubio who sits on that panel, said he has, quote, "serious concerns about Tillerson," though, he respects him as a business man.
That's a problem, Kate, because the GOP only has a one-seat advantage on that committee. If Rubio were to vote no with the Democrats on that committee, the nomination could be stalled.
Of course, this all stems from Tillerson's close ties with Russia at a time where Republican senators want to take a hard line including Republican Senator John McCain, who yesterday on "THE LEAD" raised some serious con about Tillerson's ties to Vladimir Putin.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SENATOR JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: Anybody who's a friend of Vladimir Putin must disregard the fact that Vladimir Putin is a murderer, a thug, a KGB agent, whose airplanes, as we speak, have been targeting with precision weapons hospitals in Aleppo.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
RAJU: Now, Tillerson cannot lose more than three Republican votes if the Democrats do stay united. That's on the full Senate floor. Already, those four Republicans have expressed reservations. That's led actually to outgoing Senate minority leader, Harry Reid, to say that Tillerson may not get approval from the chamber.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SENATOR HARRY REID (D), OUTGOING MINORITY LEADER: Well, I don't know if we can get 50 votes or not. I think it may be hard for him to do that.
RAJU: Do the reports that you're seeing about his Russian connections concern you in anyway given --
REID: It's in keeping with Trump. He's already stated he likes Putin better than he likes Obama. So it's obvious he likes Russia and that's fairly concerning to the world. Certainly concerning to America and concerning to me.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
RAJU: Now, there is time for Tillerson to allay a lot of those concerns. Already, a statement from foreign policy heavyweights like Condoleezza Rice and Robert Gates coming out in support of Tillerson has actually gone over well with a lot of Republicans, including Trump critic Arizona Senator Jeff Flake, who does sit on that Foreign Relations Committee. And he said, Kate, he was pleased to hear those officials come out in support and perhaps potentially could vote for Tillerson.
BOLDUAN: Yes, maybe a hopeful sign, especially coming from Jeff Flake, no fan of Trump all along in the election. Manu, great to see you. One quick question for you, though, Rick Perry picked for the Energy Department. So he announces that. Donald Trump announces -- sources in the transition announce that.
We're also then very quick get a statement from Democratic Senator Joe Manchin that he is now happy to stay in the Senate. This was something that everyone was watching closely in terms of the balance of power in the Senate. What are you hearing over there? What does this all mean?
RAJU: Yes, that's right. He was actually being considered for that Energy Department job. Manchin had met with Trump yesterday. The fact he's saying he's not going to take any job in the administration not now. Is going to stay in the Senate. Ensures that Democrats will keep that seat in a very red state. It's heartening for Chuck Schumer and Democrats who want to keep 48 seats in the Senate -- Kate.
BOLDUAN: All right, keeping an eye there right now. Manu, great to see you. Thank you.
Let me bring in right now, CNN political commentator, Bill Press. He supported Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton during the election. Former communications director for the Rubio presidential campaign and now with Firehouse Strategies, Alex Conant is here. CNN political analyst and "Washington Post" reporter, Abby Phillip and Washington bureau chief for "The Dallas Morning News," Todd Gillman.
Guys, great to see you. Thanks for being here. So Abby, Manu's kind of laying out, he said very importantly, that amongst the leadership ranks, they seemed -- leadership is closing ranks around to support Rex Tillerson. Do you see a confirmation battle coming for him?
ABBY PHILLIP, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: I see one regardless. Step one is leadership surrounding him and supporting his nomination. I do think there are a lot of Republicans out there, who want to have a lot of conversations with the Trump administration publicly about their positions toward Russia, about the sort of broader questions of the direction of Trump's foreign policy.
Tillerson's nomination is going to be a proxy for that. That being said, there's never been a secretary of state nomination the Senate has blocked or the president has revoked. So it would be extraordinary for this very important and very high-profile position to be blocked. I think that in and of itself --
BOLDUAN: Especially by his own party.
PHILLIP: I think it would be tough.
BOLDUAN: Alex, Marco Rubio, he's got concerned. He's been, you know, no fan of Trump for a long time. He's got some concerns. Jeff Flake, he, though, says these endorsements that Trump has -- that Tillerson has picked up is a really good thing. That they've kind of won him over. The fact that Condi Rice, James Baker, Bob Gates, they're recommending Tillerson, carries considerable weight. I look forward to the hearings. Why do they think they don't carry a considerable weight with Rubio?
[11:10:07]ALEX CONANT, FORMER RNC AND WHITE HOUSE SPOKESMAN: Well, they may. Marco said over the weekend that he had concerns about this potential nomination because he's a friend of Vladimir Putin. Marco thinks we need a stronger position as a country towards Vladimir Putin. Look, every nomination is fundamentally a campaign.
It's a campaign for 51 votes in the Senate. Today was the start of that campaign. I think he got off to a good start with having those establishment very well-respected Republicans like Condi Rice supporting him.
And then obviously leaders in the Senate, as Manu just reported, including Leader McConnell saying that they would support him. So he's off to a good start. But there were serious questions raised like Marco Rubio said this morning in the committee hearing, it's going to be fun to watch.
BOLDUAN: Do you think in the end, Alex, knowing Senator Rubio that he would vote against --
CONANT: I'm sure he has a very open mind right now. At the end of the day, he's going to do what he thinks is best for the Senate and for his constituents in Florida. It will not be a political decision for Rubio, be an absolutely a principled one.
BOLDUAN: What do you think, Bill?
BILL PRESS, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: I think he'll probably get confirmed. I think they'll rally behind him. You know, they always do. But I think it's a troubling nomination for a couple of reasons. One is because, you know, he's made a lot of deals but making deals for the bottom line is different from doing what's best for the American people.
I would have to say what's best for ExxonMobil is not necessarily what's best for the United States of America, number one. Number two, I think it's troubling at a time when we know, we know that Russia was trying somehow to influence this election, that he would appoint a secretary of state one of Vladimir Putin's best at least business associates if not best friends.
And thirdly, I think Tillerson will need somebody to direct him when it comes to diplomacy. They're talking about John Bolton for number two, which would be insane. I mean, Bolton is, you know, crazy. He's a superhawk. He wants us to bomb Syria, bomb Iran, and bomb everybody. Those questions are going to be raised.
BOLDUAN: I want to talk about Bolton in just one second actually, Bill. But Todd, I want to get your take. I mean, Exxon, Tillerson, big in Texas. People you've been covering him for a very long time. Do you think what Bill said, that Tillerson needs help navigating these waters? From all the statements coming out, kind of the way Donald Trump is describing him is he's ready for it.
TODD GILLMAN, WASHINGTON BUREAU CHIEF, "THE DALLAS MORNING NEWS": Sure he's going to need help. I mean, nobody steps into the job of being the nation's chief diplomat, who hasn't already then on the international stage without needing some help. He's been on the international stage in his lane making deals.
Look, no major oil company let alone one of the biggest corporations in the world is able to thrive in the world without doing deals without desperates, doing business in some very rough parts of the world.
And I'm not sure you can hold that against Rex Tillerson in terms of stepping into secretary of state. It does give him some connections with people like Vladimir Putin. You can look back at Nixon and China. You don't make deals with your friends so much as with adversaries.
Rex knows how to work with Putin in certain arenas. Now whether he can step up and stare him down in a cold war type of way if it comes to that. Whether he'd be soft on issues like Ukraine incursions.
That remains to be seen and you know, Trump is the guy calling the shots. So presumably, Tillerson is going to be following Trump's lead on this issue.
BOLDUAN: With this announcement, I've seen a lot written already about the biggest loser here is Mitt Romney, Alex. Some even saying he's been humiliated because of the interviews, the very public dinner, everything that went down with this. Do you see it that way?
CONNANT: I don't see it that way at all. I think Mitt Romney offered to serve in the administration. Donald Trump made another decision. Mitt Romney's going to be fine. He was fine before this campaign started. He was fine before this latest transition episode. He'll be fine now.
He remains a very well respected Republican on the national stage and having a voice outside of the administration that means that he can comment on Trump in an independent way that he otherwise could not if he had --
PRESS: I think the big loser is Rudy Giuliani. I think Mitt Romney handled himself with dignity. But Rudy Giuliani was going out there, all over the media, and --
BOLDUAN: Rudy Giuliani would take exception with that description.
PRESS: Campaigning for the job and he turned people off.
BOLDUAN: He actually spoke out this morning, Abby, he spoke on "NEW DAY" with Chris Cuomo and here's what Giuliani said this morning about this election and the fact that he didn't get it.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
RUDY GIULIANI, FORMER NEW YORK MAYOR: I'm totally comfortable being out of it. I have an awful lot to do. It would have been a big sacrifice to do it. I didn't want to be in the big sort of selection panel.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BOLDUAN: So that's what Giuliani says this morning. It also makes me think so now you've got folks, if you put them all together, Giuliani, Chris Christie, Newt Gingrich.
[11:15:06]Some of Trump's biggest supporters who really stuck their neck out for Trump throughout the campaign walking away with what seems like nothing.
PHILLIP: Right. What Giuliani mentioned in that interview was that he turned down other jobs that were offered to him because the one he wanted was secretary of state and that's not the one he got, and if you're not going to reward your best and most loyal allies with the job they want, that kind of says a lot in and of itself, regardless of what Giuliani said. I think that it's a sign, though, to some Republicans, that Trump isn't just going to reward --
BOLDUAN: Right, it might be reassuring to Republicans.
PHILLIP: He's going to find the people that he thinks are best capable of doing the job. So some Republicans are looking at the situation and they're saying that's OK. That's probably a good sign.
CONANT: Somebody who works for Rubio, I'm glad he's not stocking the Trump administration with Trump loyalists from day one. That he's bringing in fresh voices. That he's bringing in people who don't have a lot of political experience. I think that's very encouraging. BOLDUAN: Guys, I want to show -- let's just have a discussion about this. We had a graphic we can put up. This is kind of as the cabinet is filling out. It really is filling out quickly. If you look at some of the most highest ranking, important cabinet jobs, you see a lot of older white men. There's really no other way to put it.
You do see some folks, you know, like with DeVos and Ben Carson. You do see some diversity in there. But largely in some of the highest echelon of the cabinet, a lot of older white men. Does Donald Trump do you think care about diversity in his cabinet and do his supporters put him in office?
PRESS: I must say, I was offered a job and I said no --
BOLDUAN: As an older white male?
PRESS: You don't need another older white male. I think it is a problem, but what bothers me more is when I look at that chart, I see too many generals. I see too many Goldman Sachs people and too many gazillionaires and not enough diversity.
CONANT: I see a lot of diversity, some very different types of backgrounds. It's not just a bunch of politicians. It's businessmen. It's people with military experience. It's governors. I think it's a very -- an exciting type of diversity.
BOLDUAN: Todd, I want to get your final thought just because this is obviously an area you know very well. Rick Perry, Energy Department, don't have time to play the sound bite, but we all know the "oops" moment that will never leave him no matter if he's heading the department or not. How did this come about for Rick Perry do you think?
GILLMAN: Well, first of all, I feel compelled to point out that Texas is the most Republican state in the country. So to skip over Texas being we have the secretary of state now. So we're getting a representation in the cabinet.
But Rick Perry is a guy with a tremendous record of job creation. Texas economy is not entirely dependent but is very intertwined with the energy sector. He's familiar with that.
It is pretty amazing to pick somebody who wants to get rid of that department who did want to, the Trump people say now we're not sure if that's really the agenda but streamlining government is part of the agenda and we'll talk about that going forward.
There seems to be a chemistry between the two men. Perry, in addition to the "oops" moment, you may recall, he's the one who called Trump a cancer on conservativism. So this is really a huge 180. Eventually Perry came around. He supported Ted Cruz later in the primaries after he dropped out.
He was kind of late to the Trump party, but very enthusiastic once he got there as a surrogate through the campaign. That did apparently pay off. They hit it off. Look, long-serving governor, popular, charismatic, a good salesman for whatever it is you ask him to sell and that's an asset in the cabinet.
BOLDUAN: Yes, quite an evolution. We've seen that with many as this election has continued. Now we see it in the transition. Guys, thanks very much. Really appreciate it.
Coming up, for weeks we've seen candidates for Trump's cabinet walk into Trump Tower and out once again. Today, a new one for you. Kanye West walked in for a meeting, walked out for a photo op. Why? That's ahead.
Plus, President Obama warning Donald Trump what would happen if he continued to avoid intelligence briefings. His message to the president-elect next.
And we have breaking news, a quote, "complete meltdown" of humanity inside Aleppo. Government forces reportedly walking into home, and shooting civilians on the spot. Now families are sending out their heartbreaking final messages. That ahead.
BOLDUAN: Donald Trump has announced his choice for the highest ranking cabinet position in his new administration. Rex Tillerson, the CEO of ExxonMobil, has been tapped as Trump's nominee for secretary of state.
Trump in a statement saying this, "Rex knows how to manage a global enterprise which is crucial to running a successful State Department and his relationship with leaders all over the world are second to none."
So what exactly do those global relationships look like as we stand right now? Joining me is now Rana Foroohar, CNN global economic analyst and author of "Makers and Takers." So Rana, a lot to go through on this. ExxonMobil, first and foremost, is a huge company.
RANA FOROOHAR, CNN GLOBAL ECONOMIC ANALYST: Absolutely.
BOLDUAN: One of the biggest in the world. You say when it comes to the relationship that an oil company executive or an energy company executive has with foreign governments, it's different and unique in business. This is an Exxon map that they actually hand out of where all their production is coming from. That gives you a small idea of just how huge this company is. Why is that relationship different with these governments?
FOROOHAR: OK, well, first of all, just look at how incredibly global this company is. Many companies are global, but look at all the areas of conflict they're in, West Africa, parts of Russia, (inaudible) Kazakhstan, East Asia, many of the hot spots diplomatically are also part of the hot spots in the energy sector.
Oil companies also tend to be the longest time line horizon-type businesses. They're looking at 20-year projection so this is different kind of business. Much more global. CEOs spend most of their time liaising with foreign leaders.
BOLDUAN: So much of the concern obviously when it comes with Tillerson is Russia and this is kind of some of the ties we know about that Tillerson has with Russia. Is Tillerson's relationship with Putin different than an energy company's CEO would have with the head of a government? Is it a special relationship --
FOROOHAR: Special as it were. Special friend. I would have to say there's nothing I've seen so far that tells me he is in deeper with Putin than any other oil CEO that would be doing business in Russia. I have actually interviewed a lot of these folks. They all walk a very fine line.
I remember interviewing John Brown, the former chair of BP, back when he was in charge there. I know he had these issues. I think it's very interesting to see confirmation hearings what the nature of that relationship is.
[11:25:10]I'm sure he's going to be pressed on it, but so far, it seemed like business as usual in an autocratic government.
BOLDUAN: This is an area that I'm actually fascinated. One of the first things that could land on Tillerson's lap is the question of sanctions against Russia. Obviously, this coming -- having to do with Russia aggression in Ukraine and the annexation of Crimea. This could land on Tillerson's lap. Tillerson is actually -- Exxon has been impacted by the sanctions.
FOROOHAR: It definitely has. I think we have to go back to an historical point which companies like Exxon were actually encouraged to go into the Russian market as part of an economic diplomacy that the U.S. has encouraged both on the right and the left.
FOROOHAR: Administrations of all kinds have encouraged companies to go into these areas. After the invasion of Crimea, there was a whole shift in that mindset. Sanctions put in. Exxon's been hurt. Absolutely it's going to be difficult to separate that personal relationship. Tillerson's relationship with the company and what he's going to do at the State Department.
I think he's going to have to be very careful to walk that line. I think we'll see talk about putting business interests in a blind trust. Beyond that, how much transparency is it going to offer us in that relationship with Putin in particular?
BOLDUAN: It is fascinating. A lot to be learned. Thank you so much. Great to see you.
Coming up for us, then to Kanye West who said he will run for president in 2020. He just walked into Trump Tower for a meeting with the guy that I guess he could actually maybe be challenging then. No, I am not joking in terms of at least him going to Trump Tower. What gives here? We'll talk about it. Plus, as President Obama issues a warning to Donald Trump over intelligence briefings, the president also says Americans should have cared more about the Russian hacks. We'll speak live with the former CIA officer who ran for president as an independent candidate. Evan McMullen is joining us next.