Return to Transcripts main page

AT THIS HOUR WITH BERMAN AND MICHAELA

Deadly Bombing Reported in Syria Despite Ceasefire; U.S. Officials: At Least 75 Percent of ISIS Fighters Killed; Trump Meets with Tech Executives; Trump's Children Involved in Transition. Aired 11:30-12p ET

Aired December 14, 2016 - 11:30   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[11:31:51] KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: Breaking news, families who are hopeful to finally escape Aleppo, Syria, are now trapped once again as the ceasefire, the very temporary ceasefire, appears to be collapsing right now. Up to 50,000 civilians cannot escape. They are trapped. And around them, above them, shots, bombs, as pro-government forces are pushing in and on to the city.

I want to show you the very latest tweet coming from the mother of the 7-year-old girl that everyone has been following. They've been tweeting out their final messages. She and her family are documenting their struggle to survive. Here's the latest from the mother. She writes, "Dear World, there's intense bombing right now. Why are you silent? Why, why, why? Fear is killing me and my kids."

Let's go to senior international correspondent, Nick Paton Walsh. He's in Beirut watching all this.

Nick, what is the latest update on the ceasefire in Aleppo? Is it completely gone?

NICK PATON WALSH, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: It appears shelling is continuing. There's no sign that this ceasefire -- it's a complicated way to describe it. It appears to be pausing to let those thousands of people trapped in an ever-shrinking area of rebel territory, to let them out and head towards rebel-held areas northwest of Aleppo. That never really got under way at all to some degree.

The biggest question here is how many people are still trapped in that area. An estimate from the U.N. special envoy for Syria suggested may be as many as 50,000, possibly 1500 fighters in their midst as well, a large part of those possibly related to al Qaeda, showing you the complicated mix of radicalism and innocent civilian civilians that are still trapped in that remaining part of Aleppo.

But as this roller coaster played out -- remember, hours ago, we were thinking that potentially this part of Aleppo had been seized by the Syrian government and Russian allies, but they were going to let the rebels and civilians with them out, along a clean road, safe passage to a safe area. That fell apart. It's unclear. It's common, frankly, in circumstances like this, people rethink terms of what's going on. But none of this has slowed the international rhetoric. It is just words, frankly. The West is not powerful at this stage or potent enough to intervene and stop this. Russia and Syria have the upper hand. But still, you heard some very harsh words, the U.N. Security Council last night, Samantha Power, for the United States.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SAMANTHA POWER, U.S. AMBASSADOR TO THE UNITED STATES: Are truly incapable of shame? Is there literally nothing that can shame you? Is there no act of barbarism against civilians, no execution of a child that gets under your skin, that just creeps you out a little bit? Is there nothing you will not lie about or justify?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

PATON WALASH: Obviously, the Russians have said they are tired of hearing the United States whine about the Syrian conflict.

I think many Syrians, frankly, are also tired of the rhetoric in their support with the absence of concrete action. The West has been unwilling to get involved, particularly, in this messy fight for Aleppo, such a complex mix amongst rebel ranks for them to try and arm. But we are seeing what many consider an unprecedented humanitarian catastrophe. Certainly, in a Syrian war, but also a turning point, frankly, territorially, for what five years ago, started as a revolution -- Kate?

[11:35:09] BOLDUAN: Nick, Turkey's president is planning to meet with Russian President Vladimir Putin today. Obviously, this is the topic. What can be accomplished, do you think?

PATON WALSH: Well, Turkey has made it clear they want to ensure this humanitarian corridor out of eastern Aleppo goes through, that people get out. That's partly because of Turkey's regional role of protecting the Sunni in the region, Sunni country itself. Many of the rebels fighting against the Assad regime are Sunni, too. Sort of a regional role President Erdogan has taken on. Remember, about a year ago, he was at loggerheads with Russia. A very aggressive relationship there. They've since healed the rift between them. Perhaps he's looking to President Putin to lay pressure on the Assad regime and ensure that that evacuation actually goes through. But we are down to the wire here, really, perhaps a sense of the geopolitical deals being done behind closed doors, not translating to the ground, to angry sectarian field militia, who are doing a lot of the fighting.

This is a turning point in the war in terms of rebel losses, but it may also be one of the more seismic massacres here. Just bear in mind, if the killing stops here, it doesn't mean this chapter is finished. We are already hearing the Taliban in Afghanistan condemning what they consider to be the massacre in Aleppo. This will go on in the minds of jihadists and disenfranchised angry Sunni Muslims across the world in the years to come, as a totem, frankly, of how brutal the Syrian war has been, how little the international community seem to care to actually intervene and stop it -- Kate?

BOLDUAN: Just standing by and watching.

Nick, great to see you. Thank you so very much.

As this is all happening inside Syria, a U.S. official says this: "At least 75 percent of ISIS fighters have been killed during the U.S.-led air strikes against the brutal terrorist group. Now ISIS has roughly 15,000 battle-ready fighters."

Joining me on this is Elise Labott, CNN's global affairs correspondent.

Elise, 75 percent, that seems a significant number.

ELISE LABOTT, CNN GLOBAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: It is, Kate. Listen, ISIS is at its lowest numbers in Iraq and Syria as it's ever been. You heard the envoy to the Coalition against ISIS, Brett McGurk, after meeting with the president and his national security cabinet yesterday, talking about the successes but also acknowledging there's a lot left to go. Take a listen to Brett McGurk.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BRETT MCGURK, U.S. SPECIAL ENJOY, GLOBAL COALITION TO COUNTER ISIS: We are having tremendous success against this enemy. It is accelerating. We are now putting pressure on its two so-called capitals of Mosul and Raqqa. But this remains an unprecedented threat. This fight is not over. This will remain a multi-year effort.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

LABOTT: Multi-year effort, because they still want to go after the ISIS's self-proclaimed capital of Raqqa, Syria. That's yet to come.

Also, when you look at the proliferation of ISIS cells and supporters and lone-wolf attacks across Europe, even here in the United States, that still is a very big problem. But Brett McGurk did talk about some success they have had to that end, that they did go after three leaders in Raqqa, Syria, that were involved in the attacks in Paris and planning attacks in Brussels. Those three leaders were killed.

So, they are making great gains against ISIS and its leaders on the battlefield in Iraq and Syria, but ISIS still remains a threat not only in the Middle East but also to Europe and the United States -- Kate?

BOLDUAN: And very soon, Donald Trump will be taking on and heading up the mission to battle ISIS.

Elise, great to see you. Thank you.

So, Donald Trump is also hosting today a who's who of tech executives at Trump Tower. One big name is missing. We'll talk to the Trump transition, joining us, next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

[11:42:11] DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT-ELECT OF THE UNITED STATES: Bill Gates -

(CHEERING)

TRUMP: -- Anna Winter, Kanye -- that's right.

(CHEERING)

TRUMP: Oh, they like Kanye -- Ray Lewis.

(CHEERING)

TRUMP: We have had so many people to come up and they want to be part of what we're doing.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BOLDUAN: That was Donald Trump continuing his, as he calls it, his Thank You tour last night in Wisconsin. Today, he's meeting with tech executives.

For more on the transition, let's bring in Sean Spicer, chief strategist, communications director for the RNC, working very, very closely with the transition.

Sean, the tech summit today, if you will, why was Twitter's Jack Dorsey not invited?

SEAN SPICER, CHIEF STRATEGIST & COMMUNICATONS DIRECTOR, REPUBLICAN NATIONAL COMMITTEE: It's a number of folks. You have Apple, Facebook, Uber. It's not a request of who's in. Look, there are people who are big companies, big names. You can go through the list of Silicon Valley and figure out who didn't make it. This is an initial list of people who got together who wanted to sit down with Mr. Trump, talk about his general agenda, his vision, and how what they are doing in Silicon Valley and in technology could fit into that.

BOLDUAN: Considering how much Donald Trump has an affinity for Twitter, does he not think that --

SPICER: I can go down the list.

(CROSSTALK)

BOLDUAN: -- be valuable?

SPICER: I'm sure they would. I'm sure we will have follow-up meetings and Jack Dorsey could join us. But at some point, you look at the list of people, it's pretty amazing. If you want to figure out who didn't get invited, we can quibble about the other tech executives. I choose to focus on the number of people who are there, Oracle, Facebook, Uber, Google, you name it, Facebook. These are people as you know who weren't exactly friendly towards Mr. Trump during the campaign. As we have seen, not just yesterday, but today, in the last couple weeks, he's bringing in people from industry, from government, enemies, foes, Democrats, Republicans, Independents to bring the best ideas and best thoughts forward to make this country better.

BOLDUAN: That's why I asked. If that's the mix, why not?

(CROSSTALK)

SPICER: Because we are a country of 320 million people. At some point, you can't fit everybody in. But he's doing his best. He's held over 90 meetings with people that could potentially fill it, 70 world leaders.

BOLDUAN: Here's a few things we know. We know that Don Jr interviewed candidates for secretary of the interior. We know that Eric Trump sat in on meetings or at least a meeting with Mitt Romney. We know Ivanka Trump sat in on a meeting with the Japanese prime minister. We know Jared Kushner handled invitations for this tech summit. Is this the level of family involvement that the country should expect going forward?

SPICER: Let's keep going with what else you know, which is every one of those people was listed on the transition team website. They have all been named and seen as part of it. This is a totally transparent process, the people he's trusted. He's made it very clear how much he values the input of his family. He put their names on the transition committee. He's been very --

BOLDUAN: Is that -- so --

(CROSSTALK)

SPICER: There's a big difference. I think as he continues into government, there will be some discussions about what roles everyone will play, whether with the business, as he talked about with Don and Eric or Ivanka and Jared, but the bottom line, he's been clear from day one with the role his family plays and the trust he has in them in terms of guiding decisions. So --

(CROSSTALK)

[11:45:13] BOLDUAN: If his sons are going to run the company, which he at least has said in a tweet, why are they involved with deciding cabinet positions?

SPICER: They are not involved in deciding. Every decision --

(CROSSTALK)

BOLDUAN: Why are they involved --

(CROSSTALK)

SPICER: Let me answer the question. Every decision is ultimately made by Donald Trump. But there are a lot of people. Look at the folks today. You could argue the tech titans are coming in and giving him advice and opinions. Ultimately, he will make every decision.

BOLDUAN: They are not family members.

SPICER: They have an interest in what happens in the government.

(CROSSTALK)

BOLDUAN: They are not family members of his.

SPICER: Sure, but I get they are not family members, but he's been unbelievably transparent in the role his family will play in this. I think from day one, not just recently, since going back to that debate in august of last year, he was very clear of the role the family was going to play in the campaign and the government and in his business.

(CROSSTALK)

BOLDUAN: He did not say what role they were going to play in government.

(CROSSTALK)

BOLDUAN: He said, in the debate --

(CROSSTALK)

BOLDUAN: He said in the debate -- he said, I'm going to run the government, you guys have fun with it and run the business. That's what he said.

SPICER: And he put every one of them on the transition team, made it clear they would be part of this process.

BOLDUAN: Do you understand how people could see real problems with conflict of interest with his family members?

SPICER: Conflicts of interest --

(CROSSTALK)

BOLDUAN: Between ties between a Trump White House and the business?

SPICER: Conflicts of interest arise when you are sneaky about it, shady about it, when you're not transparent about it.

BOLDUAN: This exists.

SPICER: No, no. If you tell everyone here's what's going on, here's the process, here are the people playing a role, that's being transparent. What we have seen in government for so often is that people have been shady about their roles, hidden things, not released things. Every one of these things -- we have a camera, for goodness' sake. Every single person who enters Trump Tower, you see them go up, come down, they talk to the press. (CROSSTALK)

BOLDUAN: Having a camera in the elevator bank of Trump Tower does not negate conflict of interest.

SPICER: No, but, again, when is it enough? At some point, the level of transparency exceeded any modern president in terms of who's involved --

(CROSSTALK)

BOLDUAN: No, that's not true.

SPICER: Really? Who else? Have you ever seen --

(CROSSTALK)

BOLDUAN: There's a level of transparency that relates to his businesses.

(CROSSTALK)

BOLDUAN: There are so many questions because we have not seen his tax returns. And I know we never will. I know we never will. Don't claim he's the most transparent president-elect of all time.

SPICER: I didn't say that. I did not say that. I said this process. Again, you keep trying to -- I said the process. Every person, we have a call every morning, talk about who he's meeting with, they come down, we can see them go in and out. He talked to everyone that's been involved in transition process. He listed everyone on his family. He talked about the role they would have.

BOLDUAN: Do you think -- so this is the level, just to be clear, this is the level of involvement, two people who are going to run his business are also going to be advising the president.

SPICER: Of course, at this phase right now, his sons and his son-in- law have played a very important role. They will continue to provide counsel to him. Ultimately, he's always the decider.

And to the fact, look at what his approval --

(CROSSTALK)

BOLDUAN: You have no fear of the anti-nepotism law?

SPICER: Since his election, his approval rating has risen 20 points. His negative has gone down.

BOLDUAN: Approval ratings?

SPICER: No, no. You asked is this what the American people want. Obviously, they have been very clear about the process and they actually like it. They like the choices he's making, the quality and caliber of the people he's brought into for his cabinet. They like the diversity, the thought. I get it will never be enough with Donald Trump. At what point is it going to be enough?

BOLDUAN: That's taking a step too far. There's a very basic question of the level of involvement Donald Trump's children are going to have in the White House.

SPICER: I think for some, yes --

(CROSSTALK)

BOLDUAN: There are laws in the books against this.

SPICER: He will follow every one of them.

BOLDUAN: So Don Jr and Eric Trump are not going to have any --

(CROSSTALK)

BOLDUAN: -- not going to advise the president?

SPICER: He will lay out the process by which he will focus on this country and leave his business to his family and others to run.

(CROSSTALK)

BOLDUAN: Here's - and I think you can appreciate this. The reason why there are so many questions is because he has not -- he promised to make an announcement and that's been pushed back. When will he announce how he will clearly split between his business --

(CROSSTALK)

SPICER: In January.

BOLDUAN: January?

SPICER: Before the inauguration.

Part of this is, look, no president I don't think in history has ever owned so many iconic properties.

(CROSSTALK)

BOLDUAN: Hence, why there are so many questions and so many potential conflicts of interest.

SPICER: Right. And that's why we are sitting down with lawyers and accountants and making sure it's crystal clear. He doesn't have to do this. The law is clear he doesn't have a conflict of interest. But he is sitting down --

(CROSSTALK)

SPICER: Hold on.

(CROSSTALK) BOLDUAN: Donald Trump doesn't have -- but conflict of interests that would exist, the involvement of his children, there are laws on the books against this.

SPICER: He will have all of this laid out before he takes the oath of office. What has happened is that he has chosen to focus on getting a cabinet and personnel up and running so that, on day one, real change comes to Washington. That's been his priority. He's outpacing every president in modern history, not just with the number but you look at the quality of people that have come through those doors, and he has announced from business, from government, from the military, from academic, top of their class in every single pick. So, he's focused on that. What he will have time for in January, once the lawyers and accountants sit down, they will present a plan to him that --

(CROSSTALK)

[11:50:10] BOLDUAN: Has it been decided or has it been worked out?

SPICER: It's still being worked out.

(CROSSTALK)

SPICER: Because I think when you have such an extensive business that has been successful throughout the world with various properties, it takes time.

BOLDUAN: Trump's new hotel in Washington, House Democrats say GSA is going to be in breach of the lease the moment he takes the oath of office because --

SPICER: Sure.

BOLDUAN: -- well, because of the terms of the lease. The terms of lease say no elected officials can be part of the deal, and he will clearly be an elected official. What is the president-elect going to do about that?

SPICER: That spills into what I just said. He's going to go through, sit down with accountants and lawyers, making sure there's a clear split between his business and his ability to focus on this country. But that is a process laid out --

(CROSSTALK)

SPICER: It's not for me to lay out. I'm not a lawyer and accountant. They have to sit down -- because the hotel is just one --

(CROSSTALK)

BOLDUAN: How to explain it to people who aren't lawyer and accountants.

SPICER: Understood. But right now, the hotel is just the shiny object that Democrats are going after today. There are several of these highly iconic properties around the world that he has to sit down, go through the same process, not necessarily the same contract, but in a similar way, look through them all and figure out what it will take. Not So it's not as easy as waving a magic wand and saying, let's get rid of this, let's sell it, do this is. He's got to do it in a way that --

(CROSSTALK)

BOLDUAN: Did this catch him off guard?

SPICER: Of course not. When you own this much. But what his focus is making sure his cabinet is ready, not just people at the top levels, but the departments, the sub-agencies, the other key players, like at the CIA, DNI, all of those things to make sure he's ready on day one.

You mentioned the CIA. Does he trust the CIA?

SPICER: Yes.

BOLDUAN: Then why does he not trust their assessment and say he doesn't believe --

SPICER: That's not what he said.

What he said was, there was a report coming out of "True Papers" making a conclusion that said the following, it said that, in part, the conclusion of the intelligence collective agencies was that --

(CROSSTALK)

BOLDUAN: Kellyanne Conway then followed up and said there are politics in the --

(CROSSTALK)

SPICER: Wait. The conclusion of the intelligence agency was based on the fact the RNC was hacked. The FBI backed this us, according to CNN's own reporting, that the RNC wasn't hacked. Therefore, logically, if that was part of what was used to get to the conclusion, the conclusion must be flawed. A simple logic.

It's amazing to me, for all the talk about this, that -- that this is people trying to delegitimize an election, which he won overwhelmingly, but it's also interesting that the conversation that occurred before November 8th was, the government never went out, talked about integrity of the system, there's no one to involve themselves in the election. The second Donald Trump wins, and coronated person in Hillary Clinton didn't win, suddenly, now everything's called into question? Where was the government, where were all of these folks on the left calling the question prior to November 8th?

BOLDUAN: Is the president going to get more than three daily briefings, presidential daily briefings?

SPICER: He gets one every day. BOLDUAN: But from Michael Flynn.

SPICER: OK, who's his national security adviser.

BOLDUAN: Why wouldn't he want to get it from the source?

SPICER: Because it's not -- he does get it from the source.

BOLDUAN: From Michael Flynn.

SPICER: His national security advisor.

BOLDUAN: Michael Flynn gets the presidential daily briefing from briefing --

(CROSSTALK)

BOLDUAN: And Michael Flynn relays it to Donald Trump.

(CROSSTALK)

BOLDUAN: Why wouldn't Donald Trump want to get it from the source?

SPICER: Sometimes gets two, sometimes one. At minimum, he's getting an intelligence briefing every single day.

BOLDUAN: Why not from the source?

SPICER: He is getting -- I mean, the national security adviser is the source.

BOLDUAN: Relaying -- no. Relaying the information --

SPICER: But three days a week, he gets the PBD. Every day, he gets the intel brief from this national security adviser. I think this is a semantics thing.

BOLDUAN: Sean, great to see you.

SPICER: Good to see you.

BOLDUAN: Thanks so much.

Coming up, he was one of America's most famous dads. Alan Thicke, passing away suddenly. We'll talk more on this life, next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[11:56:5] BOLDUAN: TV Actor Alan Thicke died, just 69 years old. Thicke became popular as the beloved dad of the '80s sitcom, "Growing Pains." Thicke's career spans five decades, actor, writer, composer and author.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ALAN THICKE, ACOTR: Ben, what are you doing? UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: Watching Carol flirt with some guy. And he's not

Bobby.

(LAUGHTER)

THICKE: That's none of your -- what guy?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BOLDUAN: Alan Thicke is survived by his wife, Tonya (ph), and his children, Brennan, Carter, and well-known singer/performer, Robin Thicke.

We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[12:00:12] BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN ANCHOR: You are live in the CNN NEWSROOM. I'm Brianna --