Return to Transcripts main page


Trump Set to Nominate Rex Tillerson for Secretary of State; Interview with Trump Team's Jason Miller; Obama Warns Trump About Missing Intel Briefings. Aired 7-7:30a ET

Aired December 13, 2016 - 07:00   ET


JASON CARROLL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Trump finally deciding on Rex Tillerson after the two had a meeting over the weekend, a two-hour meeting on Saturday. Trump calling him a, quote, "good fit."

[07:00:10] All this despite critics who say he has no foreign policy experience, and he's just too close to the Russian president.


CARROLL (voice-over): This morning, 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 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 close relationships with many world leaders by closing massive oil deals, including Russian President Vladimir Putin, sparking criticism from both sides of the aisle.

SEN. 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.

CARROLL: This as Trump and his top advisers continue to attack the CIA over their findings that Russia meddled in the election.

KELLYANNE CONWAY, TRUMP SENIOR ADVISOR: 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 his terms in office.


CARROLL: And Trump will be continuing his thank-you tour, heading to Wisconsin tonight, then off to Pennsylvania on Thursday, Orlando on Friday, and Mobile, Alabama, on Saturday.

Also continuing to name names to his administration. We now have Gary Cohn, who will be the director of National Economic Council. We've got Romney McDaniel, who will be heading up the RNC. She's the niece of Mitt Romney and was instrumental in helping him secure the state of Michigan.

Also reports now that former Texas Governor Rick Perry is now the top choice for the Energy Department. You'll remember back in 2011, Poppy, he had that "oops" moment during the debate, where he was trying to remember which of the departments he would eliminate if he became president. That department, by the way, he remembered, was the Department of Energy -- Poppy.

POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: We'll be watching. Jason, thank you so much. We appreciate it.

Rex Tillerson's ties to Russia may make his confirmation as secretary of state a pretty tough sell. We already know that, even from how some Republican senators are reacting.

Let's bring in CNN's senior political reporter Manu Raju. He's live from Washington. Good morning, Manu.

MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Poppy. Yes, this could be Donald Trump's first big fight with his own party. With 52 Republican seats, just three defections could be enough to prevent Tillerson from getting the job. And we're already hearing pushback from Republicans about his ties to Russia, from at least four Republicans, including prominent voices like Arizona Senator John McCain, and conservative Oklahoma Senator James Langford, who wanted a tough approach on Russia. They want to hear more from Tillerson first. But if he doesn't win over those skeptical GOP senators, that means

Trump's pick may need support from Senate Democrats. And that's something Harry Reid, the outgoing Democratic leader, told me yesterday may not happen.


SEN. HARRY REID (R-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 Russia's role here?

REID: It's in keeping with Trump. He -- 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.


RAJU: Now, Tillerson first will have to win approval from the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, where Republicans have a one-seat advantage. So just one Republican defection could be enough to derail the nomination, if the Democrats stay united. And already Republican Senator Marco Rubio, who sits on that panel, has sharply criticized Tillerson's ties to Vladimir Putin.

[07:05:18] So Chris, a lot of work ahead before Tillerson gets the job.

CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR: Yes, other side to the coin. You know, criticizing somebody is very different than voting against them. And if the GOP holds ranks, they can get any nominee through. Very good to have the reporting. Thank you, my friend.

Joining us now is Jason Miller. He's the communications director for Trump's transition team. Good to see you, Jason.


CUOMO: All right, so let's deal with the big bear in the room. Obviously, an analogy to Russia. Rex Tillerson very well known in the business world, respected by the left and the right on different levels. But his relationship with Vladimir Putin specifically is going to be in the crosshairs during this period of scrutiny, especially with the timing of the selection, with all of this concern and hammering over Russia's involvement, and nefarious involvement, in our election.

So what is the word from the president-elect's team about why Tillerson's relationship with Vladimir Putin should not be a concern?

MILLER: Well, first, what we're going to see with Tillerson is someone who's been a business leader on the world stage, someone who's put together multilateral and bilateral direct one-on-one deals. I think we're really going to start seeing the world moving to, especially with this administration, how we negotiate countries. Not only has Mr. Tillerson put together deals with countries like Russia, with China, he's worked in the Middle East, talking about Africa -- there's basically every theater that you can imagine in the world, he has deep financial, institutional ties where he's actually worked with these different countries to go and develop deals. So his geo...

CUOMO: The ties are the concern though, right?

MILLER: But...

CUOMO: Is that his relationships, other than a diplomatic background, his business background means that his pocket was tied to his participation, especially in Russia.

MILLER: But we -- we have to be able to go in and be able to talk to people and have a dialogue. And that's the thing that we're going to have with Tillerson, someone who can go in and understand what it's like to work with finance ministers, someone who can go in and understand what it's like to work with different leaders.

A country doesn't necessarily have to be our best ally. That doesn't mean they have to be our enemy from day one. And that's the type of relationships that Tillerson will bring.

CUOMO: So why didn't you pick Rudy Giuliani? He travels all over the world, not doing it just for a big Exxon. He does it consulting about security and things that are very germane to the diplomatic issues that are going to be relevant to the United States of America. Why not him?

MILLER: Someone like Rex Tillerson really has proven himself on the world stage. He's someone that, when he sat down with the president- elect, he impressed him right off the top. He was someone that the president-elect said, "This guy is a world-class businessman. He's a world-class absolute negotiator." And that's the thing: we have to get back to actually winning for Americans. Someone who can put together good, tough deals.

Rex Tillerson has actually stood up and said no to Vladimir Putin. He's also someone who has the respect of Putin, where he can put together -- find ways to work together on common fronts. So as we talk about ISIS and defeating radical Islamic terrorism. This is an issue, for example, where Tillerson has faced it in Iraq, talking about Kurdistan, talking about the different things that ExxonMobil was dealing with, the safety and security of people. He's seen what the destabilization can actually do to these countries.

CUOMO: So the concern is that the reason he's done deals with Putin is because he's close to him. He got awarded that Order of Friendship thing that he doesn't see...

MILLER: But Chris...

CUOMO: ... Vladimir Putin as the malefactor that American government officials see him as.

MILLER: But we've had everyone from a former NBA coach, the former prime minister of Canada to bishops, different people have won this award. I mean, this isn't anything big.

But we're talking about in Rex Tillerson someone who people know, that his word is his bond. When he goes in, he negotiates tough. He's known as one of the toughest negotiators in the entire planet. But when he goes in and he gets that deal, just the same way he's been fighting for shareholders, he then now will start fighting for the American citizen to make sure that we're getting good deals.

CUOMO: So...

MILLER: So he's someone who can actually put these deals together, who can sit down across the table, who can represent us -- not just the administration but our country on the world stage.

CUOMO: Can he be tough on Russia? He's fought against the sanctions. If these hearings go the way they may about Russia's involvement in this country -- the intel is pretty clear.


MILLER: Well, then let's...

CUOMO: If there are more sanctions that come, are we going to have a secretary of state who says, "Whoa, whoa, whoa, let's not put more sanctions on Russia" when that's what the government wants to do?

MILLER: Well, let's be clear what Mr. Tillerson said. What he said was these sanctions were ineffective, and they weren't being properly executed. That's one of the things that Mr. Tillerson said. And so let's...

CUOMO: He said, "Be careful who you hurt with your sanctions."

MILLER: He talked about how they're ineffective, and he talked about how he didn't think that those were going to work.

But let's also talk about the common goals that we have here. So we talk about defeating radical Islamic terrorism. We talk about standing up to ISIS. What we have in Rex Tillerson is someone who at this national -- international stag...

CUOMO: When has he stood up to ISIS? He's trying to protect his oil fields and his pipelines and his deals, not saving people's lives.

MILLER: But he understands what destabilization will do to these countries. He's seen what it will do to these -- to people and how it will hurt people. And he's seen the security risk. As the leader...

CUOMO: Can he shift from profits to people that -- that, you know, seamlessly?

MILLER: Oh, he's always... CUOMO: Because that's what he's worrying about now, is his deal.

MILLER: No, he's always been about people. You have to take care of your people. You have to account for the safety and security of your people.

[06:10:03] CUOMO: You're talking about your employees. I'm saying, this is not a man who...

MILLER: Chris...


CUOMO: He goes to places that have oil, not that have human crises. You know, he's not a humanitarian. He's a businessman. That's what he is.

MILLER: No, but Chris, these are -- people are people. You're going to stand up and look out for people wherever you are, talking about the safety and security and making sure people are OK.

CUOMO: Right, but I'm saying, his record -- what can you cite in his record where he went to a place to help the human condition and not Exxon's business position?

MILLER: Well, a growing economy and a stabilized geopolitical structure within a country is something that's ultimately going to help people.

CUOMO: True.

MILLER: I mean, that's something where we're going to see everybody lifted up. As we talk about -- let's talk about just the breadth of experience that Rex Tillerson has. As we talk about putting multi- country deals together in Africa, for example. Or we talk about how we get a pipeline through multiple countries.

We talk about his leader with -- being a leader with ExxonMobil of directing Southeastern Asian sales, someone who's actually worked on pipelines going into places like China and Malaysia and Thailand and different places. Talk about his extensive experience in places like Kurdistan. He has worked all over the entire world.

And the other thing, too, is let's talk about how good of a person he is. Not only is he figuratively a Boy Scout; the guy is literally a Boy Scout. He led the Boy Scouts to the National Boy Scouts of America for ten years, won rave reviews and plaudits for that. He's someone who we can count on and we can depend on who will go fight for us on the international stage.

CUOMO: And yet, the main focus is going to be, "OK, let's see how all that performance and that background came to bear in Russia." Because, right now, you know, to take a line that you guys love, you've got to call the enemy what it is, right? Radical Islam, radical Islam, radical Islam. You don't seem to be talking that talk about Russia. You've got the president-elect who's denying, without any basis of

proof, the intelligence community's assessment that Russia...

MILLER: Well, let's...

CUOMO: Hold on a second. That Russia...

MILLER: Chris...

CUOMO: ... that Russia was involved with the hacking of our -- that took place during our elections.

MILLER: Chris...

CUOMO: He says it's ridiculous. Now you have a man who's going to be secretary of state who gets the Order of Friendship medal from Vladimir Putin, a man who was seen -- and called a murderer and a bully by a major U.S. senator.

MILLER: So, Chris, I've got to go and push back. You kind of loaded that one up with about four or five different things there. Let's talk about just...

CUOMO: Call it what it is. Radical Islamic terror is the enemy. Do you see Vladimir Putin as the enemy?

MILLER: Chris, you threw out like four or five things.

CUOMO: One question.


CUOMO: Do you see Vladimir Putin as the enemy, as many members of the U.S. government does?

MILLER: I don't think we have to view at him as the enemy immediately. I think we can look at where there are different areas where we can work together. And I -- quite frankly, I think that's somewhere...

CUOMO: Immediately? He just helped hack U.S. elections.

MILLER: Chris, Chris -- it would be absolutely insane to come in on day one, before we've even started sitting down, negotiating with people, looking for a place where we can work together, and start taking people off the table and saying there's no way that we can work with these people.

CUOMO: But what about on the basis of what he's done? He's not an unknown. He is a very well-known.

MILLER: Chris, this is where we talk about President-elect Trump's America first foreign policy, we're going to look out for Americans. We're going to look out for where we can actually work together...

CUOMO: He just tried to hack into and affect the U.S. elections. MILLER: Chris, Chris, time out. Chris, time out. Chris, Chris,


CUOMO: Do you deny that?

MILLER: What I'm going to say -- let's talk about the Reuters report this morning where even DNI, the parent intelligence -- intelligence agency...

CUOMO: Sure.

MILLER: ... hasn't even embraced the CIA report. CIA, FBI, they came out weeks ago...

CUOMO: Clapper came out on October 7 and said...

MILLER: Chris. Chris.

CUOMO: ... "This is what Russia does." Why would you deny this, Jason?

MILLER: Chris, the attempts to delegitimize President-elect Trump's win is just silly.

CUOMO: What have I ever -- what have I just said? Listen, let me say it to you nice and straight, man to man. Donald Trump won the Electoral College. He is the next President of the United States.

MILLER: Huge, huge. Biggest Republican win since 1988.

CUOMO: This has nothing to do with that. Don't worry about your political cover. Why won't you call this what it is?

Russia -- October 7, Clapper comes out, the head of the DNI, and says "This is what Russia does. It has all the signatures of it. They're trying to increase some types of influence in our election." You say it's ridiculous. Why?

MILLER: The reason why Donald Trump won this election is because he had a fantastic...

CUOMO: Who's talking about why he won it?

MILLER: Because Chris, you're trying to delegitimize the election. That's what this comes back to.

CUOMO: No, I'm not. I'm trying to get you to see Russia for what it is. You have real blinders on about this.

MILLER: Chris, no, I don't. I'm talking about, very simply, Donald Trump won this election...

CUOMO: Absolutely.

MILLER: Now we're moving on. And what we're here talking about today is how we're going to re-establish America's place in the world on the international stage. And that's what Rex Tillerson is going to do.

CUOMO: Why are you running away from a simple proposition? Vladimir Putin directs the actions of Russian intelligence. You just had the U.S. intelligence say that Russia tried to negatively influence our elections. And you say, "We won, we won, we won."

MILLER: Chris, because we're talking about...

CUOMO: Why are you defending Russia's actions? That's what makes all this so suspicious.

MILLER: ... these nameless -- nameless, anonymous sources where American intelligence agencies can't even agree on things.

CUOMO: They don't have nameless, anonymous sources. They did tons of on-the-ground intel.

MILLER: You're trying to distract attention from the fact that Donald Trump won in a big way. Hillary...

CUOMO: Nobody is questioning why he won.

MILLER: Chris, Hillary lost. Chris...

CUOMO: Nobody is questioning that. I'm telling you, this is going to the level of bizarre. He won. I just said it to you. Nobody is questioning that. I'm saying why defend what Russia did in our election?

MILLER: What I'm defending is the fact that President-elect Trump is putting in a secretary of state who's going to stand up and represent us well on the international stage.

Rex Tillerson is someone who's stood up and told Vladimir Putin no. He's also someone who has stood up and been able to find ways where he can work together on things. He's going to find where we can work with other countries to defeat radical Islamic terrorism and ISIS. He's someone who understands the importance of a stable geopolitical climate where we can go and help grow economies and look out for human safety.

[07:15:14] And the other thing, too, the way that he understands and has these relationships with finance ministers, as we talk about all these different leaders.

And here's one of the other things, too. And we talk about something that's almost even better than knowing government officials around the -- around the world. In a lot of places, you've had administrations or regimes who've gone and changed over the years. But in many cases, the business leaders, the people who Rex Tillerson has been dealing with, have been the same. He has these relationships where he goes in and sits down, the trust has already been built there. So when he stands up and fights for Americans, we're going to go and actually have someone who is proven on the national and international stage.

CUOMO: Jason Miller, appreciate you making the case for the president-elect's nominee for secretary of state, Rex Tillerson. Always good to have the conversation with you on NEW DAY.

MILLER: Thanks, Chris.

CUOMO: Always.


HARLOW: Good conversation, guys. Thank you.

President-elect Donald Trump says he doesn't need to have the daily intelligence briefings every day. We want to know what is said on those calls. What are they like? Why are they daily? Joining us, someone who used to give that briefing, next.


[07:20:10] CUOMO: President-elect Donald Trump has been getting the daily intelligence briefing only about once a week. So President Obama's offering advice to the president-elect. Here it is.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: 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.


CUOMO: All right. Let's bring in CNN counterterrorism analyst and former CIA counterterrorism official Philip Mudd, and former intelligence officer and daily briefer at the CIA, David Priess.

So let's talk about this. Let me start with you, Mr. Priess. You used to help prepare people to give those briefings to the president. Are these just kind of "Here's the obvious headlines"? How intense are these? How important are these briefings?

DAVID PRIESS, FORMER INTELLIGENCE OFFICER AND DAILY CIA BRIEFER: The briefings can't be taken in isolation. It's a steady stream of intelligence information that's constantly updating stories around the world. So getting a briefing now and then or reading the daily book of secrets now and then doesn't give the president-elect a full picture of what intelligence can do for him. It's a steady stream that updates him on situations with new and different information. Not about how smart he is. It's about getting the information he needs to make those decisions.

HARLOW: So beyond the information that is critical for the president to get and the president-elect to get, regardless of how many -- how often he wants to get it, what about what this does to the morale of these intelligence officers and just the intelligence community in general? In the same week saying, basically, "I don't need it as often as you deem that a president needs it, and by the way, I don't believe, CIA, your intelligence on Russia hacking into the U.S. election." The two things coupled together, worrisome to you?

PHILIP MUDD, CNN COUNTERTERRORISM ANALYST: They are. Not looking backward but looking forward. Look at the situations the president- elect is going to have to deal with in coming months and years. Intelligence about whether Iran is complying with the nuclear agreement that president-elect has been so critical of. Determining Russian complicity in attacks on civilians in Syria. That's an issue that would be briefed this morning, I would say, if the president- elect were taking a briefing. There's an offensive in Aleppo. What are the Russians doing in that offensive?

Going forward, what CIA professionals are saying is, in a city where information is power, just as money is power in New York, information is power, we do not have access to the individual who makes decisions for the executive branch. This is huge, especially after 15 years of President Obama and formerly President Bush, who gave great access to the CIA.

CUOMO: So look, you've been in the room.

MUDD: Yes.

CUOMO: You've seen what happens when a president is receiving information and has to make a decision. You know, this isn't something that's extra. This is something that can be fundamental. How so?

MUDD: This is not just about intelligence. And by the way, President-elect Trump talked about being a smart guy. He is a smart guy. This is about being an informed guy. Different question.

You walk in -- I remember a circumstance going back after 9/11, when we had specific threat information from an informant that is a penetration into the al Qaeda organization. He comes out, talks to a CIA officer about what al Qaeda is saying about it attacking the United States. George Tenet, the CIA director, calls me on a Sunday night: "Let's talk to President Bush tomorrow morning in the Oval Office."

We go in, I describe the threat. Interesting: it wasn't just about the intelligence briefing. We have, what, six advisers around the table --national security adviser, vice president, CIA director. And the president says, "Should I make a statement to the American people about what we're seeing in terms of this threat?" It's a discussion about national security, not just an intelligence briefing.

HARLOW: David, you've said that you think the president-elect is mistaken, frankly, by not getting these daily. We'll see if that changes when he does become the sitting president.

But one of the points you make is that you think that he perhaps thinks that information is repetitive, perhaps, if it's about the same country, Iraq for example, but that it's not repetitive. It's incredibly nuanced.

PRIESS: Yes. The two remarks he made were both really interesting. One that he's smart so he doesn't need the daily briefings.

I've worked with some of the smartest people I've ever met at CIA. Some, no kidding, smart people are the ones who know what they don't know. And they know they need information to make better decisions.

Donald Trump has had to make important decisions in his previous career. He knows the value of information.

The other side, on the repetition, maybe the briefers haven't teed up for him enough the differences between the pieces they're giving him. If he sees a piece once a week and it's on Iraq, he may think that it's just the same old thing about Iraq. They need to highlight what's new and different to show him the value of that information.

[07:25:13] Eventually, perhaps when he's in office, he will come to the same position that all the former presidents and vice presidents that I spoke with for my book told me. They get the value of intelligence. They see that it helps inform them on these major decisions they have to make. And they wouldn't want to have made those decisions without the value of the intelligence analysis.

CUOMO: Can a little bit of this also be about, you know, what you don't know, you can ignore? So let's look at what's happening with Russia meddling in the U.S. elections. And meddling is putting it nicely.

The president-elect says, "That's a ridiculous notion. And it's just coming out now because I won." But we know that's not true. We know Clapper came out on October 7. We know that this is intel that's been out there for a long time. And we know they believe to a certainty that it was Russia. Why is a separate thing. But you're seeing it play out in real time where, by not getting the intelligence briefings, maybe he creates an opportunity for himself to say something that doesn't square with what he's been told.

MUDD: Look, I see this a couple of ways. First, if you look at what happened during the election, what we term as fake news, the concern here, looking at the statements about Russian involvement before the election is we're going to start getting fake intelligence. Whatever the facts are, regardless of whether there's a briefing, do you take the world as it is and simply say, "I'm going to re-create that and say whatever I want?" I would be concerned going forward in terms of what David is saying about repetition and about making facts up and about the importance of being informed.

You're telling me the world isn't changing enough to get a briefing? Just over the weekend, in the past few days, military flights over the South China Sea. I want to see if the transition in Cuba is having any effect a few weeks in. If I'm a self-interested president, I want to see in social media in China and Taiwan how people are responding publicly to my statements.

We had bombings over the weekend against our allies in Egypt and Turkey. What does that mean? We have an offensive in Syria that's suggesting to me that at some point that civil war is going to come to a close.

And there's not enough for a briefing? Are you kidding me? I don't get it.

HARLOW: All right. Thank you, gentlemen, both: David and Phil. We appreciate it.

President-elect Trump adding another name to the cabinet he's hoping to form. What can we expect from his administration, based on these picks so far? We'll dive into that next.