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Trump Makes Pitch for Besieged Secretary of State Pick; Ceasefire & Evacuation Plan Falling Apart in Aleppo. Aired 6-6:30a ET

Aired December 14, 2016 - 06:00   ET



DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENT-ELECT OF THE UNITED STATES: We're in the process of putting together one of the great cabinets.

[05:58:29] REP. PAUL RYAN (R-WI), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: I want to thank Donald Trump for helping Wisconsin put a Republican back in the White House.

TRUMP: Speaker Paul Ryan. Honestly, he's like a fine wine.

SEN. RAND PAUL (R), KENTUCKY: I have an open mind.

TRUMP: Rex is friendly with many of the leaders in the world that we don't get along with. And some people don't like that.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The secretary of state has to fight for things like a free press, human rights, democracy that frankly aren't always at the top of the list for an international oil and gas company.

TRUMP: People are looking at his resume. And honestly, they've never seen a resume like this before.


ANNOUNCER: This is NEW DAY with Chris Cuomo and Alisyn Camerota.

ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning, everyone. Welcome to your NEW DAY. It is Wednesday, December 14, 6 a.m. in the east. Up first, the Trump victory tour rolls on into Wisconsin. The president-elect praises his former adversary, Paul Ryan, comparing the House speaker to a fine wine.

CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR: Trump also defending his pick for the all- important State Department, in Rex Tillerson. A man whose biggest strengths to Trump are his biggest weaknesses to many in Congress.

And what happened to loyalty? Trump said it was his first consideration, but many loyalists have been frozen out. Why?

Just 37 days until the inauguration. Let's get going with Sunlen Serfaty in Washington -- Sunlen.

SUNLEN SERFATY: Good morning to you, Chris. Well, there really has been a firestorm of criticism from Democrats and those within Donald Trump's own party, slamming his pick for secretary of state. So the president-elect is now responding by using these campaign-style rallies to push publicly for his nominee, bracing for the battle ahead.


TRUMP: A great diplomat, a strong man, a tough man.

SERFATY (voice-over): In Wisconsin, Donald Trump defending his choice for secretary of state, Rex Tillerson.

TRUMP: Rex will be a fierce advocate for America's interests around the world.

SERFATY: Trump talking up the Exxon CEO after facing backlash from both sides of the aisle over Tillerson's ties to Russia, especially now in the wake of the CIA's finding that Moscow meddled in the election.

TRUMP: Rex is friendly with many of the leaders in the world that we don't get along with. And some people don't like that. They don't want him to be friendly.

SERFATY: The president-elect now filling most major positions for his administration.

TRUMP: I believe we're in the process of putting together one of the great cabinets. Certainly a cabinet with the highest I.Q..

SERFATY: Trump tapping freshman Republican Congressman Ryan Zinke as interior secretary and one-time rival former Texas governor Rick Perry for energy secretary. Perry now set to run the Energy Department after trying to suggest eliminating it altogether but forgetting to name the department during this 2011 presidential debate.

RICK PERRY (R), FORMER GOVERNOR OF TEXAS: The third agency of government I would do away with the Education -- the Commerce -- and let's see. I can't. The third one, I can't. Sorry. Oops.

SERFATY: If confirmed, the top four picks of Trump's administration will be led by white males, a first for any administration since 1989.

As sources say some Trump loyalists are expressing frustration over being shut out after supporting Trump's campaign from its early days. But the president-elect giving conditional praise to his one-time antagonist House Speaker Paul Ryan during their first joint appearance.

TRUMP: He's like a fine wine. Every day goes by, I get to appreciate his genius more and more. Now, if he ever goes against me, I'm not going to say that, OK?

SERFATY: The relationship warming up since Trump's victory.

RYAN: I want to thank Donald Trump. I want to thank Mike Pence for helping Wisconsin, Michigan, Pennsylvania, the Midwest finally see the light of day and put a Republican back in the White House.

SERFATY: Trump, though, continuing to attack the media.

TRUMP: You know, they're very dishonest people.

SERFATY: But happy to pose for cameras when meeting briefly with rapper Kanye West at Trump Tower in New York City.

KANYE WEST, HIP-HOP STAR: I just want to take a picture right now.


SERFATY: And today, there will be another interesting round of meetings at Trump Tower. The president-elect is convening a big meeting with executives from the tech industry like Tim Cook, Cheryl Sandburg, Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos, who Chris and Alisyn, you'll remember was very notably outspoken about Trump during the campaign.

CAMEROTA: OK, Sunlen. Thanks so much for all that.

We want to bring in our panel now. We have CNN political analyst and Washington bureau chief for "The Daily Beast," Jackie Kucinich; CNN contributor and "Washington Examiner" reporter Salena Zito; and CNN senior political analyst and senior editor for "The Atlantic," Ron Brownstein. Great to have all of you here this morning.

So Jackie, let's talk a little bit more about Rex Tillerson, since there are, you know, obviously, conflicting impressions and opinions of him. Donald Trump supporters, I think, and he, feel isn't it better to have someone who has dealt with Vladimir Putin, who knows Vladimir Putin rather than a novelist who doesn't know how to approach this guy? I mean, they have a point about that.

JACKIE KUCINICH, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: So yes, and that's what you're going to be -- that's what he's going to be saying during his confirmation hearing. That's what you're going to hear echoed throughout the campaign and people who do like Rex Tillerson. But this is bigger than him. This is about Russia.

This is about the signal that a pick like Rex Tillerson, someone who has a friendly relationship with Vladimir Putin, sends to the world, sends to the United States' allies. So that's what he's going to be struggling against, during these confirmation hearings that there is no indication will not be both contentious and probably excellent television.

CUOMO: Well, Salena, Trump is putting Tillerson in a box because of his reluctance to accept what everyone in the intelligence community knows is fact, which is that Russia was involved with the hacking during the election. He's ignoring that, because it offends his sense of legitimacy in his victory. That's what seems clear from the response of him and his team.

But that's putting Tillerson in a box, because now it's making his Russian connection -- has big, bright lights around it. Right? Because on the face of it, as Alisyn says, being someone who has succeeded, working with a man that the United States has been frustrated by, objectively, good thing. But now in this new context, of the suspicion about Russia and the protection of it by Trump and the people around him, puts Tillerson in a box.

SALENA ZITO, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Right. And I think that's reinforced by people that are opposed to Trump or haven't quite accepted the election yet. They keep doubling down on the Russian connection.

And so, I mean, I think that is what these hearings are for. This is where you'll see more things come out, and he'll be able to define the relationship that he has with Russia. You know, he hasn't spoken about it at all. And so there's all this...

CUOMO: Rex Tillerson you're talking about.

ZITO: Right. Rex Tillerson has not spoken about it at all.

CUOMO: He did say, "I would never have accepted a friendship award from Putin directly." Right? They put out that comment.

ZITO: Right. Right.

CUOMO: Trying to play a little separation.

CAMEROTA: Didn't he accept it?

CUOMO: He's saying it isn't from Putin directly. "I didn't take a friend award from Putin. I took it from the country." And a lot of other Americans had. It's not a signal of distinction.

KUCINICH: A friendship with Russia?

CUOMO: It's not half a heart on Rex and the other half on Vladimir's hairy chest.

ZITO: But I think a lot of people want to see something happen with Russia. They don't want to see us form this friendly alliance but maybe part of Obama's foreign relations. They felt there has been this unease and this inability to communicate. And maybe this is something better because people look at it and say right now it's not really great.

CAMEROTA: Ron, let me read for you what Senator Marco Rubio has said about this, which may portend a difficult confirmation: "While Rex Tillerson is a respected businessman, I have serious concerns abo his nomination. The next secretary of state much be someone who views the world with moral clarity, is free of potential conflicts of interest and has a clear sense of America's interests and will be a forceful advocate for America's foreign policy goals to the president, within the administration, and on the world stage."

How do you think this is going to go, Ron?

RON BROWNSTEIN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: No, I think this is a very revealing and consequential choice in a couple of different respects. You know, a lot of the domestic policy appointments that President-elect Trump has made could have been made by any Republican. Many of the cabinet officers are people that other Republicans might have picked.

Rex Tillerson is someone that is unimaginable, I think, that any of the other Republican presidential candidates would have picked. And it reflects, I think, the reality that Donald Trump's foreign views of America's interaction with the world, apart for traditional Republican thinking, much more than his domestic agenda where he is going to be, kind of pursuing small government, less taxes, less regulation. All the things that made Paul Ryan reconsider his views of him.

So, I think -- I think Tillerson is the embodiment of the way Trump is a challenge and a rejection of many of the things that more traditional foreign policy thinkers in the Senate believe. And you know, Donald Trump has very little margin for error. The Republicans only have 52 seats. Marco Rubio, Lindsey Graham and John McCain have all expressed serious reservations about the nomination. They all hold true to that. That's it. Rex Tillerson is not the secretary of state.

And in that way, the fact that Trump went ahead with the nomination after those expressions and reservation I think is the second way in which this is very significant. Because it is really a gauntlet that he's thrown down, and I think the results of this kind of collision will reverberate far beyond this one nomination.

CUOMO: Then how do you explain Rick Perry? If it's that Donald Trump is trying to show that he'll pick people, you know, this is real great distinction and all Republicans would really respect these people. Why Rick Perry? Not only did he have that gaffe that was really more than a gaffe. OK, the reason he couldn't remember the Department of Energy is because he was just throwing it out there. You know, when you have conviction about something, you don't forget the name of what you're talking about.


CUOMO: So to put a guy who said he'd get rid of the department in there, assuming he could have remembered, and he ran down Donald Trump. Donald Trump dismissed him as a fool, and now he puts him in charge of an agency.

ZITO: Well, I mean, it's part of what people like about Trump in that he's willing to step out, you know, he changes his mind. If anybody has ever read his book, "Art of the Deal" -- I know everybody read Obama's books when he ran -- I mean, it's right in there. He says, you know, "I'll change my mind. If there's something in there that convinces me that someone is different or better."

CUOMO: What about Rick Perry do we not know?

ZITO: Well, I mean, Rick Perry is incredibly popular. He was a very popular governor, despite his gaffe. He's a very smart, nimble politician. He has great relationships not only in Texas, but also within Washington. And he's conservative.

And you know, Trump is putting together a cabinet that conservatives like. Alongside with the change that people have been looking for.

So, you know, I think he's actually doing an interesting mix, and it's very reflective of what people want from him. Something different and something non-predictable.

CAMEROTA: OK, panel, stick around. We'll talk much more.

But we do want to follow some breaking news right now from Syria where new shelling is quickly erasing a supposed cease-fire and evacuation plan in Aleppo. Regime forces are lodging fresh assaults and causing many civilian injuries.

So let's bring in CNN senior international correspondent Frederik. He's live from Beirut. Fred, what's the latest?


Yes, what was supposed to happen this morning was that the rebel forces there were supposed to evacuate the area, and then the government forces were going to move in and take over all of Aleppo. Instead, what we're seeing there appears to be full-on war once again, with activists saying that they've been hit by many artillery shells. Also, the Syrian government saying that mortars were being lobbed the other way.

[06:10:09] But again, this cease-fire was supposed to end all of the fighting in Aleppo. Here's how it came about.


PLEITGEN (voice-over): After years of holding out against Syrian government forces and months trying to fight off a massive final assault, the last remaining rebels and civilians are set to leave Aleppo, allegedly guaranteed safe passage in return for full government control of this ancient city.

The past weeks have been among the most brutal in the five-year civil war as pro-Assad forces kept taking chunks of territory away from the opposition, tens of thousands of civilians fled. A mass exodus under fire that I witnessed firsthand.

(on camera) There is a massive, almost avalanche of people trying to make it to safety. As you can see, there's people who are carrying their children but also a lot of children left to make the trek themselves. It's so difficult for many of them. And of course, they've been under siege for such a very long time.

Aleppo is among the oldest cities in the world. Syria's cultural center and was the country's economic powerhouse. A melting pot of cultures with a pre-war population of more than 2 million people. The thriving cosmopolitan city was a source of pride for Syria.

It was also one of the first places where the rebels managed to hold any territory in the face of a government crackdown. After years of fighting, what is left in many places is complete destruction. Whole neighborhoods flattened, including most of the ancient old city. The rebels retreat from Aleppo won't end Syria's civil war.

Opposition fighters still hold large parts of the country, and ISIS is advancing in others. But the opposition's defeat would mark a major victory for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and his Russian backers, cementing their grip on what's left on this war-torn nation.


PLEITGEN: And, Alisyn, this recent cease-fire agreement that was supposed to take place was actually brokered by the Turks and the Russians. And officials from those two countries are saying they're trying to get it back on track.

But, of course, as the fighting there continues, it's going to become more difficult by the minute to try and silence those guns that have become active there, again.

CAMEROTA: But Fred, help us understand this. Who is not abiding by the cease-fire?

PLEITGEN: Well, it seems like it's various factions on both sides. You know, we keep talking about this Syrian civil war as being a Syrian government against rebels, but there's many different factions fighting on each side.

On the side of the government, you have Shiite militias from Lebanon, from Iraq. You also, of course, have the Russians themselves. You have Iranians fighting there, getting all of those to latch onto this is very, very difficult. And then, of course, there's various rebel factions, as well. All of them need to be onboard, and it just takes one group to try and destroy this process, and then you have full-on fighting, again. And that appears to be what's going on right now.

We certainly are hearing from diplomatic circles that they say they believe it's certain groups within this very volatile mix that don't want the cease-fire to work out, Alisyn.

CAMEROTA: OK, Fred, thanks so much for all OF the reporting. We'll check back with you.

All right. So as the cabinet comes together we just started talking a little bit about former Texas governor Rick Perry. He's been tapped to head up the Energy Department, an agency he once infamously tried to promise to abolish. He couldn't remember it during the debate. But he said, "Yes, I want to get rid of it." Why is Trump picking a big oil ally who once referred to him as a cancer on conservativism? We're going to get answers next on NEW DAY.



PERRY: The third agency of government I would -- I would do away with. The education -- the commerce -- let's see. I can't. The third one. I can't. Sorry. Oops.


CUOMO: He was trying to think of the Department of Energy and now he has been added to the cabinet of President-elect Donald Trump that Trump says is the highest I.Q. cabinet ever as the secretary for the Department of Energy. That is one-time Republican presidential candidate Rick Perry.

So, what does this mean that he has been the choice?

Let's bring back our panel, Jackie Kucinich, Salena Zito and Ron Brownstein. Salena, you're making the case that some people will like this, because it will show that Trump can look at -- give somebody a second look. So you're giving Rick Perry a second look. You say, oh, he's a very popular governor from Texas, and he's known as an intelligent guy. I don't know that that is a widespread impression of Rick Perry. I think that -- in fact, I don't think I've ever heard anybody say that.

Nobody has come out and trumpeted any plaudits about him since he's been nominated. So what do you think the play is?

ZITO: Well, I covered Texas politics a lot. He's the longest serving governor from Texas. He is well thought of, not only in Texas, but in the conservative community.

You know, I think that Trump is trying to, you know, put deep conservatives, you know, ones that, you know, stick to conservative orthodoxies and sprinkle them into his cabinet. You see Ben Carson. You see Nikki Haley. You see -- you see Perry, and those are very important picks to him. You see Jeff Sessions and, you know, he -- he's promised to put the smartest people in there, but, you know, also a lot of change. And I think that that's what Perry brings to it. He's got the conservative part going.

KUCINICH: but he's also -- Donald Trump has also put people in there that want to kind of break the system. The EPA...

CAMEROTA: Scott Pruitt.

KUCINICH: Thank you.

CAMEROTA: If they express disdain for an agency, they become the head of that agency at this point.

KUCINICH: And the other thing is, the Department of Energy isn't just about fossil fuels. It's about nuclear weapons. It's about, you know, manufacturing them, about keeping them in check.

So, that is the open question about who Rick Perry is going to surround him and the vast amount of science that is there. So, that is an open question as to how he will handle that part of the job. Because let's not forget the current energy secretary is -- he's a nuclear physicist, correct?

CUOMO: Right. [06:20:08] But part of it, Ron -- part of it -- Jackie just used the word "science." Good segue for us. There is word that there's been a request to have all the Energy Department employees who worked on global warming, to have their names put on a list. The energy is -- the department is refusing to comply with that list. Rick Perry has already said,, "We're going to put jobs and commerce first before regulations that may make some marginal impact on the environment."

How do you see this?

BROWNSTEIN: Well, look, I think you look across the board on the domestic side, that President-elect Trump is selecting a very conventionally and even confrontationally conservative cabinet that he is -- that is filled with people who are going to very aggressively try to undo the across a wide range of issues.

I mean, putting Rick Perry at Energy kind of, you know, fits, I think, a couple of different things. One is that. That you have people who are essentially dedicated to moving these agencies very quickly to the right.

But also as another point, which is that he values -- Donald Trump values experience over policy expertise. I mean, you kind of look across this cabinet at the generals, the former governors and the CEOs like Rex Tillerson, as opposed to, you know, as Jackie noted, the nuclear physicist that President Obama put in energy.

Democrats put, I think, kind of -- orient more towards policy expertise. Republicans in general prefer executive experience, and Donald Trump has really pushed that to kind of a new height.

CAMEROTA: Salena, this is the first time since 1989 that four white men will have these top cabinet positions: secretary of state, treasury, defense, attorney general. I mean, assuming that everybody is confirmed. I mean, did this election teach us diversity, dishmersity?

I mean, you know, just to put a finer point on it, I mean, that's not -- look, as we've always talked about, you have your finger on the pulse of his supporters. Diversity was not one of their top...

ZITO: No. I mean, people wanted change. You know, that is the bottom line. And more than anything else, they wanted something different. In their eyes, they did not like the direction that the country was going under Obama.

And, so, they wanted people that were examples and leaders in -- in mixing things up and changing things up. And that's what you get, whether you like it or not. Elections have consequences, and that's what you get with a Trump cabinet.

CUOMO: Well, the populism here is not identified, Ron, as you said, by economics. It's more cultural. Right. You saw it swing one way with Obama, and now you're seeing it back. Political correctness, diversity. These were virtues that he ran on and tried to exercise and amplify and now they're being muted. BROWNSTEIN: A note of reservation about all the Trump political

movement. Both culturally and economically and politically. If you kind of think of it culturally, obviously, you're reverting towards a coalition that is more centered on white voters, and that is reflected in the cabinet.

Economically, the meeting today with tech leaders I think is very revealing. Donald Trump's vision of when the American economy was great is kind of mid-century America, when it was nominated by manufacturing and fossil fuels, less dependent on immigrants and imports than it is today. And in all of those ways in direct conflict with the vision of the tech community about what the 21st Century is going to look like.

And so, I mean, I think there is -- there is this sense within the Trump coalition of anxiety, both about cultural and economic change. And in many ways, Donald Trump has been raised to reverse, I think, in some cases, unrealistically generations of change on both fronts that voters in his coalition feel have marginalized.

Jackie, as you know, Donald Trump rejects any notion that Russia meddled in this election. He doesn't like the suggestion that it led the -- changed the outcome for a win for him. And there is no -- I mean, I haven't seen any convincing outcome that it changed the outcome. But there's a lot of evidence that they meddled, according to all the intelligence agencies.

Gary Tuchman, one of our correspondents, talked to -- online to some of Trump's supporters. They, like he, are now rejecting any conclusion from the CIA or the FBI or the intelligence agencies. So, watch this moment.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: CIA says it believes that Russians did this hacking in order to help Donald Trump.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You don't believe the CIA?

BERRY: No, the CIA has been politicized. Obama has politicized just about every agency. Department of Justice, FBI, now CIA.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: So you think they're out there to help Democrats?

BERRY: Absolutely.


CUOMO: We don't have one speak for all. But this somewhat of a popular sentiment. However, once again, we keep saying this. You have to be very careful about what the question is.

The CIA says that the Russians hacked. You need to stop right there. That is the fundamental proposition. One that Donald Trump rejects because of this second condition that's put on it, which is the motive. And there's certainly no consensus there yet. You have the FBI on one side and the CIA on the others.

[06:25:10] CAMEROTA: I don't know that that person would have changed their feeling, because they think it has been politicized.

KUCINICH: They're not trying to -- no one is trying to change the mind of Donald Trump supporters here, because they're seeing it through the prism of how he is describing it.

That said, that's why you see so many -- you see these members of Congress who are coming together. They are stressing this is a bipartisan effort, because the minute this becomes nakedly partisan, the minute that the American public is going to tune it out and they're going to -- they're going to think this is politically motivated by the Democrats, exactly what Donald Trump is saying.

But what you've heard from some of these senators, that this isn't even about this election. This is about democracy. It's about elections going forward that the Russians aren't able to do this again.

CUOMO: You can't -- you know, the politics part of it is going to be shed in light of the principle that Russia was behind this, and it's a problem for cybersecurity going forward. And that president-elect then as president when this comes in these hearings. He's going to have to double back. It's going to be a problem.

CAMEROTA: Panel, thank you very much. Great to talk to all of you.

Well, Americans knew him as Jason Seaver. The lovable, level-headed dad on the hit sitcom "Growing Pains." Hollywood and the country are mourning the death of Alan Thicke this morning. We have more next on NEW DAY.


ALAN THICKE, ACTOR: Buddy, stay away from that window. Besides, your sister is...