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Trump Nominates Tillerson; Pro-Government Forces Shoot Civilians in Aleppo; Kareem Abdul-Jabbar Gets Award; Kareem Abdul- Jabbar talks about Trump. Aired 8:30-9a ET

Aired December 13, 2016 - 08:30   ET



[08:32:23] CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR: All right, big news, the president-elect certainly made secretary of state the crown jewel in terms of what he was trying to figure out for the transition and he has selected Exxon Mobil CEO Rex Tillerson as his nominee for secretary of state. So, what does that pick and Trump's cabinet as a whole tell us about what we can expect from the administration and the confirmation process? Let's get "The Bottom Line" with CNN senior political commentator, former senior adviser to President Obama, David "The Axe" Axelrod.

What do you think of the team he's put together? What do you think of the prospects for confirmation?

DAVID AXELROD, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, he put together a very conservative team. We know that. In every single agency, you see people who are quite conservative on the issues that they were chosen to lead. I mean you've got an EPA director who doesn't believe in climate change. You have an education secretary who is a strong proponent of school vouchers. And -- and it goes on and on. But that will probably -- that -- that will not disturb a majority of Republicans in the United States Senate.

The Tillerson nomination may be a little more difficult for President- elect Trump because of the issues that you've been talking about all morning. One thing that I would say, Chris, though is, watching the campaign, Donald Trump spoke, what, millions of words it seems like. I can't really recall in all of those 18 months one unkind word about Vladimir Putin and Russia. So it's not terribly surprising that he would pick a secretary of state who shares his view on that issue and everybody's acting like, my God, how could this be?

The fact is that this is one area in which he's been very consistent. And I would point out that he's not sparing and being unkind when he's unhappy with people or with countries or with entities. So the fact that he hasn't taken on Russia is meaningful.

CUOMO: So what do you think about that, this clumsiness even that we saw this morning. You know, Jason Miller, Rudy Giuliani, whether it was just kind of defaulting to this, any questions about Russia means that you don't like that Trump won or this inability or lack of desire to separate the issues with Russia. Did they involve themselves with the hacking? Yes. Separating that from why they did it. Separating that from the RNC hacking. They really seem to be struggling to justify the position here.

AXELROD: Well, you know, I think in certain ways the release of this report or the reporting that was done that suggests that this was done on Trump's behalf, that the objective was to elect Donald Trump, has been kind of a gift to team Trump because it's created a shiny object that they can point to, to try and deflect the larger point, which the entire intelligence community and FBI agrees on, and that is that Russia hacked the DNC and was at the core of the release of this information. That alone should be pretty alarming because that was an incursion on our democratic processes. That was an incursion on our national sovereignty. And it is awkward to be in the position, if you're the president of the United States, to say, we're going to overlook that, whether it was done on his behalf or not. So I honestly think that has provided a distraction, a deflection for them. And you saw it in use this morning.

[08:35:52] POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: So, David, our Phil Mattingly is reporting that, you know, the Trump team knows it's going to be a tough confirmation process, but they have a -- what they call a game plan to get him through. I'm thinking there's a two-prong strategy that could work well here and I wonder what you think. First, on Tillerson's part, he gets up there and he speaks really to the world for the first time because he's given like very few media interviews, if ever. And he says, you're all wrong, the media, in your assessment that I'm friends with Vladimir Putin. That isn't the case. I just did what was needed to be done to keep these jobs at Exxon and to make a lot of money for my company and, therefore, for the American people. That's one part.

The other thing that seems like it could be very helpful is if Donald Trump, in the next few days, or leading up to a confirmation hearing, says -- tones down his rhetoric and says, we are going to -- I'm going to be very supportive of this bipartisan investigation into Russian hacking, et cetera, et cetera, and drops the back and forth about this as about delegitimizing my presidency. Would both of things go very far to help Tillerson get the confirmation he needs?

AXELROD: They might, Poppy, but in the first instance, he has to be careful because he has -- he has comments on the record about Vladimir Putin.

CUOMO: Right.

AXELROD: He did receive the order of friendship award from Vladimir Putin, formerly called the order of Lennon award. And so, you know, he can't -- he can't say what -- you know, he can't defy those facts. So he has to be careful. But he can say, look, I was representing Exxon Mobil. Now I'm representing the United States. I have a new client and I'm going to approach these issues differently. And that's what I expect that he will say.

And, yes, I think Trump can tone down his comments, though I think Trump feels personally affronted by the fact that he might have had help from Russia, that -- that somehow his win was illegitimate because of it. So I think this is emotional, not just a strategic issue for him.

But there's a larger point on all of this. You know, we're focused on the hacking, as we should be. But I was in eastern Europe six weeks before the election. The level of concern about Donald Trump's relationship with Russia was epic because they rely on the United States to be a counter weight against Russian aggression. The fact that Donald Trump, during the campaign, would not identify the incursion in Crimea, you know, as an act of aggression. The fact that he has been so neutral in his position. The fact that he cast out on NATO and our commitment to defend our NATO allies under article five of the NATO treaty was hugely frightening to those -- and I should say unsettling to people in that part of the world. And that's in the -- at the end of the day, that's as big an issue as the hacking in terms of geo politics. What is Donald Trump and Rex Tillerson going to do to allay the concerns, the very real concerns that some of our allies have about whether they're going to -- the United States will meet its commitments.


CUOMO: If you think about it, what other entity or person has Donald Trump given the slack that he's given Vladimir Putin?

HARLOW: It's an important point. No one.


HARLOW: Thank you, guys. Thank you, David.

All right, also this. Syrian pro-government forces accused of horrific atrocities. Reports of civilians executed as Syrian troops push further and further into Aleppo. We will bring you the latest in a live report.


[08:43:17] HARLOW: Breaking news. United Nations receiving reports that 82 civilians in Aleppo, including women and children, have been shot and killed by pro-government forces.

Let's get straight to our CNN senior international correspondent Fred Pleitgen, who is live for us in Beirut this morning.

You have the breaking details. What do we know as this, you know, push continues into Aleppo?

FREDERIK PLEITGEN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, absolutely, Poppy. And these are information that the U.N. says they got from sources on the ground that they say have been credible in the past. The U.N. also says they hope that this information isn't correct, but they do have grounds for grave concern that it could potentially be true, that there have been extra judicial killings as, of course, forces allied with Syrian President Bashar al Assad have been sweeping large parts of those areas of Aleppo that have been under rebel control in the past. Now, the Syrian government has not said anything about these reports

yet, but, again, there is huge concern there on the ground for the many civilians who now -- right now, of course, are very much in harm's way as those pro-government forces continue to make their push. And the biggest concern, of course, Poppy, is about the many children who are still trapped inside there. UNICEF put out an urgent statement earlier today saying they believe there's as many as 100 unaccompanied children trapped inside a building inside the besieged areas, of course, subjected right now to some very heavy fire power as the last of those rebels inside Aleppo continue to hold out. It's unclear how much longer they'll be able to do that, whether they'll surrender or whether they'll battle it out in the end. But certainly the government says it's very close to taking all of Aleppo.


CUOMO: All right, Fred, we will stay on this because once the warring is over, that's when the real challenge will begin. Thank you for being on the ground. Stay safe.

[08:45:00] All right, so we're going to take a break. When we come back, we have NBA legend Kareem Abdul-Jabbar is here. So much more than a ballplayer. Wait until you hear what awards Kareem just won and he's going to talk to us about an op-ed he has about the future of our country that has many an eyebrow raised.

Good to see you, big man.


CUOMO: A big honor for the big man. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar honored by "Sports Illustrated" for his athletic success and decades of leadership spent as a social activist, receiving the "Sports Illustrated" Muhammad Ali Legacy Award last night. Kareem has also been an outspoken critic on a lot of different issues, most recently of President-elect Donald Trump. He's joining us now to discuss all these happenings in his life. Of course, you know him from basketball as the all-time leading scorer, but so much more you've done in your life.


CUOMO: Congratulations, sir.

KAREEM ABDUL-JABBAR: Thank you so much. Good to see you.

CUOMO: Those who know you know that what you did on the court matters to you, but what you do as a citizen of the world matters just as much and more. To get the Muhammad Ali Legacy Award, what does it mean?

ABDUL-JABBAR: Well, for me, it was really special because he was a friend of mine and he was also a mentor to me, you know. And I learned a lot about how to deal with people and how to deal with different circumstances. And it's not always easy being in a position like we were in. And so, you know, we had that going -- that in common and a very important issue in common. And it was really helpful for me to see how he handled things and plot my own course.

[08:50:10] HARLOW: You've said that he -- and you've written about this, that he was more than just a friend. That he was like a brother to you. And we showed your new book, "Writings on the Wall," and in it you talk about how tough being a black role model is right now and you wrote, "being a black role model is a double-edged sword for inspiration and frustration."


HARLOW: This as you get also recently the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

ABDUL-JABBAR: Yes. Well, you know, when you're pointed out as someone who is an exception to the rule and sometimes people use that to say that everyone who doesn't make it is lazy and doesn't work hard, and that's not the case. It takes an extraordinary amount of good fortune to also, you know, make it this far. So you have to understand that and, you know, give people some slack based on that issue.

CUOMO: When you look at your life and you've got a lot left to do in your life, and I'm sure you feel that way, but what got you this far. One of your reps was talking to me before about a story she believes captures you. that you're at your 20th all-star game, all right, unheard of. And they're giving out the rings for the all-star. You are dribbling up and down the court. Dribbling up and down the court. And she said it's a metaphor for what makes you the person you are, not just the player. What was going on? Why were you still practicing so hard?

ABDUL-JABBAR: Well, I wanted to be at my best, you know, and my last all-star game, I played in 19 all-star games, so, you know, I didn't want to go out there and embarrass myself. I just worked on a few things. But everybody else was all hung up with the ring stuff and being in front of the cameras and, you know, that -- you need to do the work that I was doing before you go in front of the cameras. It really helps to have something to -- a reason to be there, you know?

HARLOW: Well, let's talk about how your voice has been used most recently in the writing of your books, in your columns for "Time." Obviously, you're very vocal in your opposition to President-elect Trump. You were during the campaign. You are even more so now. You call in this latest "Washington Post" op-ed for a new civil disobedience. You say along the lines of Thomas Payne or Thoreau or Dr. King. What does that disobedience look like? And how do you think it's executed most effectively in an America that you know needs to be united in some way?

ABDUL-JABBAR: Well, I think that the values that have been promoted as American for over 200 years, I think that's what we should focus on. Diversity, inclusion, looking out for the little guy, I mean that's what we should be about. And some of the choices that he's making, you know, very wealthy people who really have no history of having any contact with common people that they're supposed to be representing and acting in their best interests. It makes me curious. HARLOW: Well, if you look at like the nomination of Gary Cohen (ph),

the latest nomination of this Goldman Sachs guy, he came from very, very humble, humble, humble beginnings.


HARLOW: Self-made.

ABDUL-JABBAR: That's one guy.




CUOMO: Well, everybody gets --

HARLOW: It's not enough for you?

CUOMO: Everybody gets there somehow. I mean you just said, you know, you've got to look at how somebody gets their own success. But what is the root of your concern? Because part of it is the proposition in your op-ed that you deal with about the notion of whether or not the president-elect deserves a chance. I mean the process would suggest he does. He won. He's going to be our president for four years. Do you believe he deserves that chance that he won?

ABDUL-JABBAR: Well, they earned the opportunity.

CUOMO: Right.

ABDUL-JABBAR: And we have to give it to them. It's just that some of the things I've seen so far make me wonder how effective they can be at taking care of the little guys because all of the people seem to be very successful people who really haven't had any recent contact with life as just an average guy.

HARLOW: It's an interesting point because that's who got him elected, the little guy whose jobs are disappearing --


HARLOW: Is a big portion of what got him elected. He's been calling in Democrats also to meet with him at Trump Tower. If he called you, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, said, I want your advice, come on down, would you meet with him?

ABDUL-JABBAR: I'd have to get the call before I'd, you know, know I could answer that question. I -- I'm -- I consider myself a patriotic American. I want to see everybody do well. Everybody, you know. So I would have to just take that as it was presented and see if it made any sense to me.


CUOMO: What's the next big challenge for you?

ABDUL-JABBAR: The next big challenge for me? I'm moving.

CUOMO: I'll -- I'll take it.

HARLOW: Chris is -- Chris is going to help. Chris is going to help.

ABDUL-JABBAR: It's a big challenge. Chris, I've got some boxes, you can come and help me.

CUOMO: I'll do it. I'll do anything I can for you.

Thanks for being with us.

HARLOW: Thank you. Congratulations.

[08:55:00] ABDUL-JABBAR: My pleasure.

CUOMO: All right, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. Please send any comments you have for us to FaceBook or Twitter and we'll deal with it.

We've got some more "Good Stuff" for you, next.


CUOMO: Boy, do we need "The Good Stuff."

So, a bunch of people had their Christmas gifts on layaway at this Pennsylvania Walmart, right.

HARLOW: I love this.

CUOMO: Guess what, they left in shock.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Thankful that they can do that and, in their heart, they want to do that, you know, because some people can take that money and just spend it on theirself.


CUOMO: Who's they? A "Secret Santa" shelled out close to 46 grand to help pay off customers' layaway items. It's a he. And he apparently refused to give his name when he called the store.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: They have cried. They have thanked us. They have thanked the mysterious person. They've tried to find out who it is just so that they could thank them personally and pay it forward.


HARLOW: Love that.

CUOMO: What a beautiful thing, the gift of giving.

HARLOW: The best thing you can do. I told you, tell your kids, no gifts.

CUOMO: Yes, you tell them.

HARLOW: Yes, I'll tell them. All right, kids --

CUOMO: Please. Cover your face after you say it.

HARLOW: No gifts. Just go to church with dad.

Good to be with you.

CUOMO: Time for the "Newsroom" with Carol Costello.

And Carol's going to give them gifts. She's a softy.

[09:00:00] HARLOW: Good morning, Carol.

CAROL COSTELLO, CNN ANCHOR: I am. I've already bought them. They're in my office.

CUOMO: See. She got me one, too. It's a muzzle.

COSTELLO: Yes. Sorry, Poppy. Exactly. It's in a big, big box with a big red bow.

HARLOW: Good-bye. Have a great show.

COSTELLO: Thanks so much, guys. Have a great day.

NEWSROOM starts now.