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Trump Taps Rex Tillerson for Secretary of State; Obama Warns Trump About Missing Intel Briefings. Aired 6-6:30a ET
Aired December 13, 2016 - 06:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENT-ELECT OF THE UNITED STATES: He knows many players, and he knows them well.
[05:58:30] UNIDENTIFIED MALE: All signs pointing to Rex Tillerson as secretary of state.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I don't know if he'll get 50 votes.
SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: This guy is a thug and murderer. And I don't know how anybody could be a friend of this old-time KGB agent.
TRUMP: I think it's ridiculous. I think it's just another excuse.
JOSH EARNEST, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: He didn't need a security clearance to figure out who benefitted from malicious Russian cyber- activity.
KELLYANNE CONWAY, TRUMP SENIOR ADVISOR: This smells like politics, plain and simple.
TRUMP: I'm, like, a smart person. I don't have to be told the same thing in the same words every single day.
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Our intelligence agencies. If you are not getting their perspective, you are flying blind.
ANNOUNCER: This is NEW DAY with Chris Cuomo and Alisyn Camerota.
CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning. Welcome to your NEW DAY. It's Tuesday, December 13, 6 a.m. in the East. Alisyn is off. Poppy Harlow is here. Thank you for joining us this morning.
POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: Good to be here.
CUOMO: We've got big news coming our way. Donald Trump set to announce his pick for secretary of state in just a matter of hours. Who will it be? Sources tell CNN it will be ExxonMobil boss Rex Tillerson. Now, that choice is going to likely have many in the Senate seeing red, as in Russia, because of Tillerson's close ties to Vladimir Putin. HARLOW: No question about that. The president-elect also postponing
a news conference to discuss how he will resolve conflicts of interest but taking to Twitter and revealing plans to leave his business, he says, before he takes office. Also vowing no new deals for the Trump Organization at all during his presidency.
How will it all work? We have to wait and see.
Just 38 days until President-elect Trump is inaugurated. We have the transition covered from every angle this morning. Let's begin with Jason Carroll live from Trump Tower in Manhattan.
JASON CARROLL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: And good morning to you, Poppy.
Trump finally deciding that Rex Tillerson was the man for the job after the two had a meeting over the weekend on Saturday, a two-hour meeting where he decided he was a, quote, "good fit."
But his critics are already coming forward saying that he does not have the foreign policy experience and also that his ties to Russian President Vladimir Putin are just too close for comfort.
CARROLL (voice-over): President-elect Donald Trump set to pick ExxonMobil CEO Rex Tillerson for secretary of state. Sources say Tillerson was recommended by former Republican secretaries of state, including James Baker and Condoleezza Rice.
Tillerson chosen after Trump's very public vetting of a string of high-profile candidates, including an unlikely courtship with one-time rival Mitt Romney. Sources say Trump called the 2012 GOP nominee Mitt Romney personally last night to say it wasn't all a game.
Tillerson's nomination already generating controversy, with no formal foreign policy experience. The business titan instead forming many close relationships with many world leaders by closing massive oil deals, including Russian President Vladimir Putin, sparking criticism from both sides of the aisle.
MCCAIN: Anybody who's a friend of Vladimir Putin must disregard the fact that Vladimir Putin is a murderer, a thug, a KGB agent.
CARROLL: This as Trump and his top advisers continue to attack the CIA over their findings that Russia meddled in the election.
CONWAY: It smells like politics, plain and simple.
CARROLL: Trump's camp offering no proof of their claims, as a bipartisan group of senators calls for a congressional inquiry.
SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY), MAJORITY LEADER: I think we ought to approach all of these issues on the assumption that the Russians do not wish us well. CARROLL: President Obama reiterating calls for a review to prevent
Russia from impacting future elections.
OBAMA: This was not a secret running up to the election. The president-elect, in some of his political events, specifically said to the Russians, "Hack Hillary's e-mails."
CARROLL: Trump's team says he won't interfere with an investigation.
CONWAY: He's the president of the United States. The legislature can do what it wants.
CARROLL: For his part, Trump delays a news conference where he promised he'd address how he'll handle the conflicts of interest with his business. Trump tweeting late Monday he will be leaving his businesses before January 20, and two of his three children, Don and Eric, plus executives, will run the companies. Notably, no mention of his daughter Ivanka, who is likely to step away from the businesses and serve as an adviser to her father. Trump also promising, "No new deals will be done during my terms in office."
CARROLL: And Poppy, Trump will be continuing his thank-you tour. He'll be heading to Wisconsin tonight, then Pennsylvania Thursday, Orlando Friday, and Mobile, Alabama, on Saturday.
Also continuing to make some announcements to his administration. Gary Cohn will be taking over for director of National Economic Council. Also, Ronna Romney McDaniel -- she is the niece of Mitt Romney -- will be heading up the RNC. She was instrumental in helping him secure the state of Michigan.
And also, Rick Perry now the front runner to head up the Department of Energy. You'll remember back in 2011 he had that "oops" moment during a debate when he was asked which one of the departments he would eliminate if he were to become president. He couldn't remember it at the time and then finally remembered the department that he would eliminate, the Department of Energy -- Poppy.
HARLOW: Yes. Jason Carroll live outside of Trump Tower this brisk Tuesday morning. Thank you so much, Jason.
Also this just into us at CNN. Trump's transition team officially announcing indeed Exxon CEO Rex Tillerson will be nominated the next secretary of state. Now comes the confirmation process. And his ties to Russia, it's going to be a tough one for him, an uphill battle likely in the Senate.
Let's bring in CNN senior political reporter Manu Raju, live from Washington.
So it's official now, Manu. What's it going to be like, though, when he has to face senators?
MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: You know, he'll need 51 votes to get confirmed. And with 52 Republican seats, that means there's not much room for error. And already we're seeing some pushback because of Tillerson's relationship with Russia. Republicans like John McCain, Lindsey Graham and James Lanford (ph) want to take a tough approach on Russia, say they want answers, and they're withholding their support until they hear more from the nominee.
And if he does not win over those skeptical GOP senators, that means he may need support from Senate Democrats. And that's something outgoing Democratic leader Harry Reid told me yesterday may not happen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. HARRY REID (D-NV), OUTGOING MINORITY LEADER: I don't know if he can get 50 votes or not. I think it might be a little hard for him to do that.
RAJU: Did the reports that you're seeing about his Russian connections concern you in any way, given his Russian...?
[06:05:05] REID: It's in keeping with Trump. He's -- 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 and certainly concerning to Americans. It's concerning to me.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
RAJU: Now, the first challenge for Tillerson is to clear the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, where the GOP will have a one-seat advantage. And that means one Republican defection could thwart the nomination if Democrats stay united. And already Marco Rubio of Florida, who sits on that panel, is warning he may not be on board because of Tillerson's connections to Vladimir Putin -- Chris and Poppy.
CUOMO: All right, Manu, appreciate it. Thank you for that interview.
Let's discuss more on this long-awaited secretary of state nomination with our panel. We've got CNN political analyst and Washington bureau chief for "The Daily Beast," Jackie Kucinich; CNN political analyst David Gregory; and CNN counterterrorism analyst and former CIA counterterrorism official, Philip Mudd.
So here it is right from the transition office, the announcement that the nominee will be Rex Tillerson. They highlight, in big ways, his business experience.
HARLOW: Job creation.
CUOMO: That he spent most of his career, they say, protecting the jobs of his some 70,000 employees, that he knows how to manage a major organization, which is critical to running the secretary of state. His tenacity, broad experience and deep understanding of geopolitics will be making him an excellent choice. And his contacts with leaders around the world are second to none. Now, David Gregory, his business acumen is going to be a big second to
his business contacts, specifically his relationships with Russia and Vladimir Putin. The timing here alone suggests Trump says, "I don't care about the Russia meddling with the U.S. election. This is my guy."
DAVID GREGORY, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: It's clear that he likes him because what does Donald Trump want in a secretary of state? He wants a good negotiator, someone who's going to negotiate on behalf of America. He wants somebody more like himself. So they apparently hit it off in that respect.
Rex Tillerson has business contacts because of his job at ExxonMobil around the world, namely with Vladimir Putin. He has told people, "Look, the key to dealing with Putin is you've got to be tough. He felt the Obama team was weak."
But this compromise, the fact that he's called for sanctions to be listed -- lifted against Russia, which would greatly enrich ExxonMobil, also goes to real fears, bipartisan fears, that this administration is not going to be tough enough on Vladimir Putin, who is an enemy of the United States and who our intelligence community says interfered in our political process.
GREGORY: To what end, I think it's difficult to reach a conclusion, but interfered. There's going to be bipartisan opposition around this. And don't forget: Democrats are also going to come at him on climate change, because he's head of ExxonMobil, though he's been a little bit more involved on climate change than some others.
JACKIE KUCINICH, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Not to mention trade deals. I mean, he's pro-TPP. So this is someone that actually diverges quite a bit with things that Donald Trump has said.
But I think a lot of that is going to take a backseat to David's point, to his Russian connections. Because obviously, there's bipartisan concern about that. And he has -- has to have something -- say something to absolve it.
KUCINICH: Because this is a huge shift, either way, in how the United States has dealt with Russia...
KUCINICH: ... in recent memory.
HARLOW: I mean, let's think about some of the facts that no one can argument with. The fact that -- that he's the one who led this half- a-trillion-dollar deal, for this big oil deal, just a few years ago in 2011 in Russia.
When these sanctions came down, we know from regulatory filings it cost a billion dollars, just Exxon alone. And he said in 2014, "You know what? We should be really careful when we think about who our sanctions really hit and who they hurt, saying we're anxious to get back to work there.
How does he totally take that hat off as the Exxon boss in the industry he has literally spent his life in, four decades there, and convince the Senate, "No way will that impact at all my decision making when it comes to Russia."
MUDD: Look, I understand that the Congress has to have questions. In this case, I expect the confirmation hearing to be difficult. But let's flip this coin for a moment.
We have the head of one of the world's largest oil firms going to one of the world's largest oil producers, cutting deals and then saying, "I'd like to benefit my company as much as I can." And in a capitalist society, we're saying, "I don't think that's a good idea." I'd like to see more evidence that suggests that he will not be a loyal American when he transitions from business to a government position. I'm not sure that's true.
I would add one element here that we haven't talked about. We talked for weeks about too many generals around. Generals who, in many cases, will have confronted Russia for a long time, confronted Russia in Ukraine, confronted Russia in Syria.
Now we have a cabinet dynamic that I think is different and important for a president. We have somebody who's not only dealt with Russia but who has had a business advantage in developing a close relationship personally to Vladimir Putin. Interesting dynamic around the cabinet table.
[06:10:05] CUOMO: From an intel perspective, when does a relationship with somebody who is seen as a malefactor, like a Putin, become a concern? When is it a good thing to be close to somebody? When is it not a good thing to be close to somebody?
MUDD: Chris, let me not confuse this. You are not an intelligence officer.
CUOMO: I said -- I just asked you as an intelligence officer. I'm asking you. People assume his close ties to Putin have to be a negative. When are they a negative; when are they a positive?
MUDD: I was joking, but my point is...
MUDD: Your question -- your question is 180 degrees wrong. That's an opportunity.
CUOMO: You see it as an opportunity?
MUDD: Intelligence is about access to information and people. Access to the Kremlin, obviously, is incredibly difficult. As soon as I see someone with access like that, my question is, how do I take advantage of the kind of access that I can't acquire as a government official? Not necessarily...
KUCINICH: But isn't he kind of picking and choosing what intelligence he wants at this point? Because he's rejecting the intelligence community's assessment right now on Russian hacking.
MUDD: Time-out, though. Two different questions. One is do you see him as an opportunity when he's at Exxon? I'm saying yes, I want to know what he knows.
HARLOW: David Gregory, our Phil Mattingly is reporting, sources within the transition have told him they know it's going to be tough, you know the Senate confirmation process, but they have a, quote, "game plan" to get him through. What do you think that game plan is? How do you do that most effectively?
GREGORY: Well, I'm not sure what their game plan is. But I think, look, Rex Tillerson is a very smart guy who, I think, has good relationships and I think is going to have to answer tough questions about how he and how the administration will deal with Russia.
I think to Phil's point, there's an opportunity here to deal differently with Putin. We have to remember, two administrations -- the Bush administration and the Obama administration -- tried their own kinds of resets; and they didn't work with Putin, because Putin manipulated both administrations. So the Trump administration has got to show that it has some ability to try something different. Rex Tillerson is a guy who has a real relationship there.
Now at the same time, they've got to demonstrate -- because I thought I heard them on the issue of Islamic terrorism, that they had -- you had to call the enemy what it is. Yet, they do not call Russia what it is, which is an enemy...
HARLOW: It's a fascinating point.
GREGORY: ... a thuggish regime, and people who kill their critics, democratic critics in the country.
HARLOW: So the question becomes what language...
HARLOW: ... will he use when he's being pressed on those questions. And he's going to be making some calls himself to these senators.
CUOMO: Yes. But also remember, bottom line, the chance of squashing a nominee for a Republican president when the Republicans have control of the Senate, very small. So it may be controversial...
GREGORY: You've got McCain. You've got...
GREGORY: ... Rubio. You've got some people right now. I think that's separate from saying they won't -- they won't vote for him.
GREGORY: But they're going to make it tough, and Democrats will join in.
CUOMO: All right. We're going to have more on Trump's pick for secretary of state.
And Donald Trump postponed a big press conference that was planned for Thursday about separating from his businesses. Remember he said there's going to be lots of legal documents. It's going to be done the right way. Now he started tweeting some of his plans. What are his plans? Why did he delay it? Next.
[06:17:05] HARLOW: Welcome back. There's breaking news on the transition of power. So far, President-elect Trump making it official, naming ExxonMobil CEO Rex Tillerson his nominee for secretary of state. Tillerson has no foreign policy experience. He has built business relationships, though, with many, many world leaders, including a very close one with Russian President Vladimir Putin while he has spent 40 years at Exxon. That relationship with Putin could make his confirmation hearings more difficult, with several senators on both sides of the aisle expressing concern.
Sources tell CNN formers secretaries of state Condoleezza Rice and James Baker, along with Bob Gates recommended Tillerson to Trump. That's what got him in the running at all.
We are continuing, of course, to follow this breaking story.
Also, the president-elect tweeting that he will be delaying his first post-election news conference, where he'd been expected on Thursday to address potential conflicts of interest with his businesses and the presidency. He did give us some idea of his plans, though.
Here's what he tweeted: "Even though I'm not mandated to do so by law, I will be leaving my businesses before January 20 so that I can focus full time on the presidency. Two of my children, Don and Eric, plus executives, will manage them. No new deals will be done during my term or terms in office."
Let's discuss with our panel again: Jackie Kucinich, David Gregory, Philip Mudd.
David, Ivanka's name not in there to run the businesses. I mean, we know how highly he thinks of her as a business executive. So how do you read that? Does that mean she'll be in the White House with him?
GREGORY: Well, or close by and close enough, even on the outside, to be able to advise. Her husband, Jared Kushner, is someone that the president-elect has said he wants to be close, close as an advisor in the White House, or just outside the White House.
I think there's no question both Ivanka and Jared have played a big role and have real sway over the president-elect. So it sounds like that's where their area will be.
It's just not clear to me the extent to which he's going to separate himself...
GREGORY: ... from his businesses. Operational control is one thing. I don't know how he avoids other conflicts.
CUOMO: It has to be unclear to you, because it is by definition...
CUOMO: ... unclear. The lack of transparency is raising its head once again. How will we know whether he's part of this essential brand licensing business? That's what it is, right? I mean, everybody's trying to report now -- "Mother Jones" came out with a deep dive on which banks he owes money to and how much. But you don't know. You don't know if there are going to be deals done or not. How would you know? It's not a public company.
Until Trump starts to become transparent with his holdings and his finances, no matter what he says, it's completely unverifiable.
KUCINICH: It would also be really helpful if he had a press conference once in a while. We're not -- this one is supposed to be rescheduled. Who knows if it will be rescheduled? We weren't told...
CUOMO: Last press conference he had was the one where he encouraged Russia to hack Hillary's e-mails.
KUCINICH: Hillary's e-mails, right. So maybe it's actually smart that they haven't had one yet.
[06:25:00] But -- but seriously, I mean, he was supposed to have a press conference on Thursday. It would be the first one he's had in ages, to your point. And he didn't, because he has preferred these more structured sit-downs with, right now, FOX News. I'm not imputing Chris Wallace. He's very, very talented. But it -- the -- it's very different in sort of a rapid-fire press conference situation. And he just hasn't gone there.
CUOMO: Also, he can say what he wants, Poppy. If he doesn't put out his tax returns...
HARLOW: Which he's not going to.
CUOMO: If he doesn't give you a business filing of "Here are my -- here are my business interests..."
HARLOW: Of course.
CUOMO: "Here's what I'm separating from. Here's how you'll know there will be no more deals."
HARLOW: Don't you think it's interesting that, in the tweet he mentions, "By the way, because of the way the law was written in the land, I as the president -- and by the way, it applies to the vice president -- don't actually have to abstain from any financial gains from being president."
CUOMO: He's playing on the absence of law to mean that there's an absence of responsibility, and the two things don't go together.
HARLOW: Completely different.
So let's turn over to something else. Because he said in that Chris Wallace interview, as you well know, basically, "I don't need these daily briefings, these presidential briefings every day. I'm a smart guy. If something changes, call me up. I'm available at a minute's notice."
Here's how President Obama reacted to that.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
OBAMA: It doesn't matter how smart you are. You have to have the best information possible to make the best decisions possible. And my experience with our intelligence agencies is that they are not perfect. They'd be the first to acknowledge that, but they are full of extraordinarily hard-working, patriotic, and knowledgeable experts. And if you're not getting their perspective, their detailed perspective, then you are flying blind.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARLOW: Who's right? Does he need them daily? Does he not?
MUDD: I don't know about daily. This is about access to information. The presidents do this in different ways over the past 50 years. Is Mike Pence talking to him?
I think there's one key issue, though, that the president raises that he's exactly right on, and that's a poor choice of words by the president-elect. This is not about being smart. Of course he's smart. This is about being informed.
You look at what's happened just over the past three or four days. Military activity by the Chinese in the South China Sea; bombings across the Middle East. You look at the Syrian offensive that's resulting in the humanitarian crisis in Aleppo. And you want to tell me the president says, "It's like watching paint dry. There's not a lot going on in the world"?
One more reality check about Washington, D.C. Suggesting that the CIA director is going to say, "Hey, Donnie, it's time for a briefing." That don't happen in Washington, D.C. To suggest there's that level of informality, to create a briefing on the fly, is simply not correct. That's not Washington.
CUOMO: And also, look at what just happened with the Russian hacking. There's no way, from my sources on the intel side and on the ground side, people who are working that case, to prove that Russia was behind these hacks that took place during the election. There's no way that Donald Trump, if he were taking his briefings seriously and listening to them, could say this is a ridiculous notion that Russia hacked and was behind the hacks here. There's no way he could say it.
MUDD: Time out, I disagree with you. I think he absolutely would say that. We just went through an entire campaign that was based initially, partly, on the claim that the president of the United States was not an American citizen. We call that fake news.
CUOMO: No, no, no. You're saying something different. You and I seem to cross signals a lot. Let me say it again.
If he's listening to the people like you...
CUOMO: ... who are charged with briefing the president about what matters, there's no way that he could say the suggestion that Russia hacked or had something to do with the hacking of the e-mails during the election is ridiculous.
HARLOW: What Phil is saying is even knowing that -- what Phil's saying is even knowing that, he could -- he would still say it, and ignore it.
CUOMO: Well, he could ignore it. I'm saying it shows more need for these briefings and more need for him to get with believing the information that's told to him.
GREGORY: You know, when he, the president-elect met with President Obama, he had a look on his face and in his general comportment like someone who was appropriately awed and humbled by the presidency. I don't think he ought to lose that when it comes to developing information about what's going on in the rest of the world.
And I think he also understands the importance of the institution of the presidency.
The fact that he responds to this assessment about Russia and says, "I don't think there was interference" is so dangerous. No one needs to make a conclusion about how it might have swayed the election. That's not the point. The real point is, is there was an effort to interfere with our election.
HARLOW: With next election.
GREGORY: There was an effort by an outside power to disrupt our core institutions of democracy. If you're the president of the United States, it's bigger than you. You have an obligation to say, "This is wrong; we won't let it stand." You can't just freelance and pop off about this stuff, because you may come to rue the day that you do that, if it does -- it becomes more materially significant to the administration.
That's where I think he's being incredibly shortsighted. He doesn't know what he doesn't know at this stage. CUOMO: Quick button?
[06:25:06] MUDD: Yes, this is not about fake news. I'm concerned that we're transitioning to fake intelligence. You make it up as you want to see it.
CUOMO: Philip Mudd, thank you very much.
MUDD: Thank you.
CUOMO: Jackie Kucinich. David, as always.
Exxon's Rex Tillerson, he's the man of the moment, nominated by Donald Trump to become the next secretary of state. The president-elect calls him a, quote, "world-class player." He told people around him, "This guy is a level above anybody else I'm considering." Does his business background automatically translate into good diplomacy? Next.
CUOMO: The situation in Aleppo is getting worse. The U.N. says there are reports of pro-government forces have killed 82 civilians, including 11 women and 13 children.
A spokesperson for the United Nations humanitarian office is calling the situation, quote, "a complete meltdown of humanity."
This comes as much of eastern Aleppo has been taken over by advancing Syrian troops. The Syrian government has not commented on the report, and a cease-fire has been denied.
HARLOW: Meantime, a blast of arctic air invading much of the country this week. Probably feeling it at home. Also, more snow and ice going to be on the way.