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AT THIS HOUR WITH BERMAN AND MICHAELA

Evacuations Underway In Aleppo, Orphans Beg To Leave; Ambassador: Aleppo "Evil" Will "Stain Our Conscience"; Trump Loyalist In Moscow: He'll "Look" At Sanctions; Military: Trump National Secretary Adviser Shared Classified Info; Source: Ivanka Trump, Husband To Get West Wing Offices. Aired 11-11:30a ET

Aired December 15, 2016 - 11:00   ET

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


CAROL COSTELLO, CNN ANCHOR: -- thank you so much for joining me today. I'm Carol Costello. "AT THIS HOUR" with Berman and Bolduan starts now.

KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: Hello, everyone. I'm Kate Bolduan.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: I'm John Berman. We do have breaking news out of Syria where a lot of the images have been hard to watch. But frankly, the only thing much of the world has been doing is to watch. Watch as thousands suffer before our eyes.

This morning, we do believe that evacuations are finally under way in Eastern Aleppo just hours after a convoy carrying wounded civilians came under sniper fire, leaving one dead, four injured. That's according to activists on the ground there.

A new ceasefire was reached overnight after a previous agreement collapsed within 24 hours. Tens of thousands of civilians remain trapped inside that city. Several of them sending heartbreaking messages to the world pleading for help. Some people saying goodbye. One of the messages came from an orphanage. Watch this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED CHILD: (Inaudible).

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BOLDUAN: Oh, my God. Defense Secretary Ash Carter spoke out about all the developments, what's happening in Aleppo right now. He spoke out just a short time ago and he pointed the finger at the Assad regime and at Russia. Listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ASH CARTER, DEFENSE SECRETARY: This tragedy reflects an incredible brutality on the part of the regime and also their backers including Russia as Michael noted, and a willingness to suspend anything like the rules that we apply to ourselves when we conduct military operations.

(END VIDEO CLIP) BOLDUAN: CNN's senior international correspondent, Fred Pleitgen, was recently in Aleppo. He is joining us now from Beirut. Fred, activists are trying right now to evacuate the people who have been trapped in Aleppo. Those convoys have come under fire. What is the latest understanding of how these evacuations are going?

FREDERIK PLEITGEN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Kate, you know that incident where the convoy came under fire, that actually almost derailed everything before these evacuations even started. It was the first convoy that headed towards the main checkpoint between the rebel-controlled areas and the government controlled areas.

And we have to mention, it's very complicated route that these convoys take. They go from the rebel area of Aleppo to a checkpoint that then leads them through government controlled area and then they go back into other areas controlled by the opposition.

Now, the first convoy got shot at, at that check point. One person died. Several were wounded. At that point, everybody took a step back and said we are suspending this for a couple hours, but we won't allow this to get derailed.

It picked up again a couple hours later. Now we are seeing those convoys passing. It's interesting, if you look at the video, Kate, you will see that a lot of them are convoys of ambulances. The reason for that is that the first people who are being evacuated is those who need it most.

People who are sick, people who are wounded, people who need immediate medical attention. Then after that, you will have the civilians, the rebel fighters and their families evacuating as well.

Of course, all of them need to take a giant leap of faith, because they are all going to be on buses going through government held territory after that incident where one of the convoys was shot at. It's certainly a very fragile, volatile situation.

Also, there's a lot of people out there, we have to keep in mind, who have been fighting each other for a very long time, who are very trigger-happy. A lot of people who are very scared, but at the same time, the folks in Eastern Aleppo just want to escape with their lives -- Kate.

BERMAN: All right, Frederick Pleitgen for us, thanks so much for that update. Here now to discuss with us, State Department spokesman, John Kirby. John, thanks so much for being with us. You are with us, Mr. Kirby? There we go. Fantastic. Nice to see you, sir. Thank you so much for joining us. What can you tell us about what you know right now about these evacuations in Aleppo?

JOHN KIRBY, STATE DEPARTMENT SPOKESMAN: Well, we know they have begun, that they are under way. We saw that early, early this morning when we knew that buses were showing up at these evacuation centers. So that's a good step. That's obviously what we all want to see is these people be able to get out, particularly the ones that are injured and sick and need medical attention. We also saw with great alarm reports that one of these convoys was of course fired on. Now, again, our indications match what your correspondent is getting, which is that the situation seems to be back to normal now and the evacuation is continuing which is a healthy thing.

But we really have to watch this very closely. We have seen promises from the regime before that have not been kept. So we will all be watching this very, very closely.

[11:05:04]BOLDUAN: John, do you consider Aleppo a lost cause?

KIRBY: Well, it's clear that the regime has now for all intents and purposes taken Aleppo back. I don't think you can look at what's going on and come to any other conclusion. As part of this evacuation, there should be members of the opposition who will take advantage of this as well.

But what is certainly equally as clear is that even the end of the siege of Aleppo will not be the end of the war in Syria. That the opposition will keep fighting. That more extremists will be attracted, more refugees will be flowing outside the country and certainly more internally displaced people.

So the war goes on which is why Secretary Kerry has been working so hard particularly in the last 24 to 36 hours to try to create the circumstances where the opposition and the regime can sit down and have meaningful political discussions about a way forward here.

BERMAN: So you want to get back to the table --

KIRBY: Yes.

BERMAN: And talk?

KIRBY: Yes.

BERMAN: But there are a lot of people have looked at this, John, and said that the talk is really yielded very little, if not nothing. "The Washington Post" did an op-ed today and it said diplomacy yielding nothing more than a humiliating display of American weakness. Why is that wrong?

KIRBY: Well, Look, we would certainly take issue with the fact that there's been no progress made in the diplomacy. Look, I'm also going to be honest.

BERMAN: Where is the progress? Sorry, John, where is the progress? Where is the progress? Hundreds of thousands of people are on the run, convoys are being attacked, where's the progress?

KIRBY: We are obviously not happy with where things are with Aleppo. I'm not trying to overstate that one way or another. It's clear that diplomatic efforts have not achieved the results that we wanted to achieve. That doesn't mean it's the wrong approach. It doesn't moon that through diplomacy we were able to get at times meaningful cessations of hostilities where people can start to live normal lives and things could at least get back to some sense of normalcy.

The failure here is not on the leadership of the United States or even on members of the international community. The failure here is on Russia and the regime and on Iran that have, despite coming to the table and saying they want a peaceful solution in Syria and a diplomatic way forward have fact bolstered Assad's brutality.

And have in fact reinforced his military, helped him with targeting, with intelligence, put advisers on the ground that have done nothing but try to prove what they really want is a military solution. The blood is on their hands.

The United States, look, again, we are not content with where things are, but we still believe a diplomatic solution is the way forward. We still think that a political transition that gives the Syrian people voice is the real way forward for a sustainable peace.

BOLDUAN: But John, if the talking and working towards a diplomatic political solution has led us to where it is today, which you have acknowledged is a horrible situation, in Aleppo and in no way acceptable to you and Secretary Kerry and the administration, what is talking going to change at this point? Where is the motivation to have anything be different as we have been looking at this for five plus years now?

KIRBY: Because if you don't come to some sort of political transition, a peaceful --

BOLDUAN: But what's going to motivate the change --

KIRBY: Nothing.

BOLDUAN: -- in behavior?

KIRBY: Kate, nothing will change if you can't get to diplomacy. Nothing is going to change. As I said, the fall of Aleppo is not the end of the war and so the violence will continue. If there are people that think there's a military solution to this civil war, it will continue.

The only way forward is through some sort of political transition. I get the implication in the question that maybe more active, kinetic military options should be pursued. It's not like we haven't looked at that and studied that or talked to our own military about the risks and challenges involved in that.

And the steady consensus is that it would only lead to more bloodshed, violence and war. That the real way forward here has got to be a diplomatic one. None of the other options, although there are some, none of them are preferable to that.

Again, we are not happy about where things are. Nobody is more frustrated than Secretary Kerry is about our efforts to try to get a cessation of hostilities that can be sustainable, but we are going to keep trying.

BERMAN: So the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, Samantha Power, she gave a speech where she condemned again what Russia has done, what Iran is doing, and Syrian regime is doing, but then she also said this. Listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SAMANTHA POWER, U.S. AMBASSADOR TO THE UNITED NATIONS: Aleppo will join the ranks of those events in world history that define modern evil, that stain our conscience decades later.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BERMAN: You know, that stain our conscience. That's searing language. Honestly, as I sit here as I journalist, I can say I regret not doing more over the last few years. I regret not reporting more on what's going on in Aleppo and Syria. I regret that all of us haven't done more.

[11:10:01] As you sit here at the end of your tenure at the State Department, do you look back, John, and do you feel like you have done everything you can? Does Secretary Kerry feel like he's done everything he can to prevent this tragedy from happening in Aleppo?

KIRBY: I think clearly, as the secretary wraps up his tenure that he would like us to be in a better position than we are in Syria. There's no question about that. I'm sure he's certainly not happy where we are. That's why he will keep working at this.

I think we all would like to see everybody, the American people would like to see a better outcome there for the Syrian people. That's what we all have to keep working towards. That's why we continue to believe a diplomatic solution is still the right approach here.

You know, I associate myself with what Ambassador Power had to say. I'm a father, too. It's hard to look at these images and see these young children and innocent people being brutalized by their own government.

But we have to keep that in mind, John, that that's the real fault here lies with the regime and the way they have tried to react to what started out as peaceful protests, and then became literally atrocities on their own citizens. That's where the responsibility lies.

BOLDUAN: You talk about seeing images as a father. You and I have talked about the enduring, defining image of the Syrian war, Omran, the little boy. You and I talked about that image. At this point, do you have any confidence he is the defining image of Aleppo and the Syrian war? Do you have any confidence that's ever going to change?

KIRBY: I don't know. I hope so. I think we all hope so. Again, while our tenure may be coming to a close, I can tell you that, we will stay focused on this 110 percent. We are not going to stop trying to see a peaceful solution in Syria and I hope, Kate, that that is not the defining image of Syria. I can't say that it won't be, but I certainly don't want it to be.

BOLDUAN: John Kirby, always great to have you. John, thank you.

KIRBY: Thank you, guys.

BOLDUAN: Thanks so much. All right, So John Kirby was talking a lot about the role of Russia in the war on Syria. Let's talk more about Russia in a very different regard. At least two of Donald Trump's loyal surrogates suddenly showing up in Moscow. The message they are sending while there?

At least one of them says that the president-elect is willing to take another look at the sanctions of the United States and other western countries have imposed against Russia over its invasion and aggression in Ukraine.

BERMAN: This is in fact a really big deal, if it comes to pass. This comes as Donald Trump's pick for secretary of state faces concerns about his relationship with Vladimir Putin. Want to bring in senior international correspondent, Matthew Chance from Moscow right now. Matthew, what are you hearing?

MATTHEW CHANCE, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, it's really interesting, isn't it, because even though Donald Trump hasn't assumed office yet in the United States, lots of people, at least two people that have been associated with his campaign in the past, have made the trip to Moscow, they have been doing the ranks speaking to mainly business people, to be honest.

One of them is called Jack Kingston, he's a congressman, former congressman from Georgia. He's also part of the Trump election campaign. He's the one who has been speaking to business people here about the possibility of Trump looking again at sanctions, that they haven't been effective.

He said they have been in place a long time and haven't achieved the results that was hoped in terms of changing U.S. policy. The other individual that's been here is named Carter Page.

Trump mentioned him at the beginning of his campaign as being a foreign policy adviser, even though nobody in foreign policy circles was familiar with what he had to say.

I sat down with Carter Page when he was lauded in Moscow, greeted by the state television as if he was part of the Trump administration and he was asked lots of questions on state television about this.

I sat down with him and I asked him what a Trump administration is likely to do about Russia. Take a listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CARTER PAGE, FORMER DONALD TRUMP ADVISER: He has huge interests in tackling the biggest challenges that the United States has, dealing with radical Islamic terror and another diverse range of security threats and also, building up the economy. To waste so much time, effort and resources towards an old battle that was from the -- before the 1990s makes no sense whatsoever.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CHANCE: Carter Page also speaking very positively about the choice of Rex Tillerson as secretary of state. This is a man he said who was able to do deals with Russia, has a proven track record about that. He's also somebody who has spoken out against sanctions, calling them ineffective as a tool of U.S. foreign policy.

So the expectation amongst Carter Page and the other surrogates of Donald Trump as well as in Russia generally is that things are really going to change once Trump takes office in the White House.

[11:15:03] BOLDUAN: Everything points that direction.

BERMAN: Yes, this is a major policy shift. They are telegraphing to the world that it will happen right now. I think it's time to take them at their word that it will. Matthew Chance in Moscow, thanks so much.

Donald Trump's national security adviser wanted to lock Hillary Clinton up, but it turns out that Michael Flynn passed on classified secrets of his own. Details next.

BOLDUAN: Plus this -- Ivanka Trump is not the only person getting an office inside the White House. The loophole that team Trump may have found to get Trump's son-in-law even closer to the oval office.

And closing arguments under way right now in the trial of the man accused in the church massacre in Charleston. Hear the 911 call the jury just heard as it prepares to decide his fate.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BERMAN: Michael Flynn is President-elect Donald Trump's pick to be national security adviser, but there is new information this morning that he shared classified intelligence with foreign military personnel when he was in Afghanistan.

BOLDUAN: According to a newly surfaced military report, I will read from part of it, "Flynn inappropriately shared United States classified information with various foreign military officers and -- military officers and/or officials in Afghanistan.

Let's bring in CNN's chief national security correspondent, Jim Sciutto, with much more on this. Jim, what more do we know, what more are you learning about this report?

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Well, first let's start by saying this. You have to say this now since many are accusing us of fake news, even people in the administration. This is not a new story. This is an internal military report, the result of a military investigation of General Flynn's handling of classified information while he was commanding forces in Afghanistan.

[11:20:00] So what he's accused of is having shared information on how the Haqqani network -- this is really arguably the most dangerous terror network in Afghanistan, guilty of kidnappings of foreigners, some of the worst suicide attacks, how the Haqqani network is tracked by western intelligence.

And he shared that information apparently with U.S. allies such as the U.K., not shocking there, the U.S. and the U.K. have a great intelligence sharing relationship, part of the five eyes program. They basically see the same intel.

But also with the Pakistanis, that's a problem because successive administrations, successive military commanders there have often not trusted the Pakistanis with the most sensitive intelligence. I will give you an example.

Of course, no advance warning of the Bin Laden raid to the Pakistanis. So that would be unusual and arguably risky. He was not punished for it, but the report did find this enough so that he was told in effect don't do this again.

BERMAN: Jim, spanning the globe if we can, there is new reporting coming out from the South China Sea. This is an area where you are one of the few reporters to go and actually look at it with your own eyes. This is a contested island, China said to be basically building out islands as military installations. Now there are new satellite images that appear to show weapons systems there. What's the significance, what's the U.S. response?

CHANCE: These are -- this basically makes them what had been the fear, makes them, quote/unquote, "unsinkable aircraft carriers." China has manufactured territory, 600 miles off its coast in waters claimed by multiple nations, and it is now weaponizing them.

And keep in mind, this is something that the Chinese president promised Barack Obama he would not do, and the other -- so that's a concern. You have U.S. planes like the one I flew on, U.S. warships purposely flying and sailing by those islands to demonstrate that these are international waters.

You put weapons on those islands that puts those U.S. military assets in addition to demonstrating power, puts them at greater risk. The only other point I would make, Kate and John, is this, since Donald Trump took that phone call from the Taiwanese president, you have had some shows of power from China.

You have had them fly a nuclear-capable bomber along the South China Sea. They hadn't done that before. You had votes in the U.N. Security Council that went the other way for the U.S. where China voted along with the Russians.

Now you have this, which is the continuation of a trend but it's a reminder that there are big, significant disagreements between the U.S. and China that these latest signs show to be escalating. BOLDUAN: Sure do. Jim, great to see you. Thank you so much. Jim was talking about that military force coming from Trump's national security adviser, Michael Flynn.

There is also news about just who else will be working alongside Trump in the White House. Sources telling CNN that Trump's son-in-law, Jared Kushner, will be likely moving into an office in the west wing in order to closely advise the president-elect as he has done of course throughout the campaign and the transition.

BERMAN: We are also learning that Ivanka Trump will play an active role as well, performing duties usually reserved for first ladies. More on that in a moment.

But first, Phil Mattingly joins us. Phil, you have been getting the goods on Jared Kushner, where he might work, and how or whether this will be within the law.

PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes. John, it's the latter point that's been the big issue here. There's no secret Jared Kushner is one of president-elect Trump's closest advisers, kind of the last person in the room as he makes a lot of decisions. Somebody he absolutely wanted by his side in Washington.

The question was how. There's kind of a little bit of a legal thicket there, both anti-nepotism laws and obviously Jared Kushner has his own business interests. What sources are saying is basically the lawyers are starting to get comfortable that they figured out a path forward.

When it comes to those anti-Nepotism laws, they believe they are on solid standing by saying the president-elect is allowed to choose his team in the executive office. That would clear the pathway for Jared Kushner to have an official role inside the White House and even an office.

What that role would be, that's still to be determined. The full portfolio that would be as well. What you can say, what we do know is he will maintain his very close ties to the president-elect.

You can see it yesterday in the meeting with tech CEOs, Jared Kushner sitting right there next to Steve Bannon, next to Reince Priebus. That's how he's viewed on this team.

Now one of the big issues, he will still have to deal with how he gets rid of his business assets. Obviously, he has plenty to take care of. Their lawyers are working on that, sources tell me.

But it's not nearly as big a problem as his father-in-law. The president-elect decided to tweet about that again today and lest we forget, today was the day he was supposed to address this issue specifically with details and with a news conference. That's not happening.

He did tweet, "The media makes his move to the White House as it pertains to his business sound like it's so complicated when it's not." It is. And how do I know that? How did we all know that? His advisers have been saying that repeatedly. They have been giving that as the reason why they delayed the press conference today and delayed the announcement of those details.

[11:25:04]Now there is an easy bright line way to do this. Divest his business holdings entirely. Don't involve his children at all. The president-elect has already said he's not going to do that. So until they figure out the path forward, it is complicated and when you talk to sources inside the Trump operation, they say two things.

One, they recognize this is a potential problem for them and they would like more of a clear line option. Two, their lawyers are very hard at work at this, trying to figure out a path forward. They hope they can meet that January deadline they've set -- guys.

BERMAN: The lawyers may not think it's quite as simple as he apparently does. Phil Mattingly, thanks so much.

BOLDUAN: It's complicated trying to figure out which it is. Joining us now, Alex Burns, CNN political analyst and "New York Times" Reporter, of course, CNN political reporter, Sara Murray is here. Carl Higbie is here as well, former Navy SEAL and Donald Trump supporter, and Philip Levine, the Democratic mayor of Miami Beach, and Kate Anderson-Brower, author of "First Women And Residents, Inside The Private World Of The White House."

Guys, all great to see you. Sara, Phil was talking about the reporting on Jared Kushner and where the loop hole is there. You are reporting on ivanka Trump and her role in the White House and her real estate in the White House.

SARA MURRAY, CNN POLITICAL REPORTER: Right. At one point, she did this interview and said she would not be heading to the White House. That appears to be changing. They are prepared to relocate to Washington, D.C. and Ivanka Trump is expected to have an office in the east wing.

Normally this would be the first lady's office. Under a Donald Trump White House, this will become the first family office. It will be an opportunity for her not to just do the Washington hostess thing that we might from first ladies, but we have already seen her advice her father on issues like climate change, on issues like paid family leave.

She brings a more liberal perspective than some of the other folks he might be talking to. She's planning on doing that in the White House as well. It will certainly be at least somewhat of a family affair even if Eric Trump and Donald Trump Jr. don't make the move to Washington.

BERMAN: Kate, you write books or have written a book on exactly this type of thing. It's unusual but not necessarily unprecedented to have a first daughter assume some of the roles that traditionally a first lady does.

KATE ANDERSON BROWER, AUTHOR, "FIRST WOMEN": It's true. It is remarkable that the former vice president of the United States came for a meeting thinking he was just meeting with the daughter of the president-elect and being surprised that he actually got a meeting with Trump also. That's unprecedented.

But we have had four presidents have been widowers in history and we have had daughters and nieces fill this role, daughters in law. The first lady ever to be referred to as first lady was Harriet Lane, President Buchanan's niece.

It's not unheard of, but in the 20th Century, now the 21st Century, it's something we haven't seen in a 100 years so it's unprecedented, her role as first lady and also kind of confidant to her father.

She and her husband are the most important people in his circle, among the most important people in his circle. That's very unusual to have a woman, a daughter, be that involved. You don't see that with Jenna and Barbara Bush, who were much younger. In a way, Ivanka is uniquely prepared to be first lady because she's been in the press, is used to media attention.

BOLDUAN: Also the unique nature, most first daughters who assume these roles, the presidents are widowers. Melania Trump is still expected to have a role in the White House, which is why you do wonder what is the division of labor? I don't know if there's a better way of saying that, Alex?

ALEX BURNS, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, and look, there are first daughters who have performed ceremonial roles in the White House but that's emphatically not what we are talking about here.

BOLDUAN: We are talking about more than that.

BURNS: An enhanced role beyond that. I don't think, Kate can correct me if I'm wrong but I don't think James Buchanan's niece was advising him on negotiations about extension of slavery into the territories or something like that. That's not sort of the historical precedent we have.

So the notion you are going to have and you have it on so many fronts with the Trump family, this blurring of the line between family and advisers is what we saw during the campaign. I don't think there's any reason we should expect that to change in any way.

BERMAN: By the way, she has her on business, too, her own businesses she may have to disentangle herself from or maybe not, depending what Donald Trump wants to do. Maybe it's simple.

Carl Higbie, again, you know, we just heard from Phil Mattingly and he read that tweet from Donald Trump, that statement saying that the media is trying to make this business angle so complicated when he says it's so simple.

If it's so simple, Carl, why aren't we covering the news conference that was scheduled for today when he was going to explain how he was separating himself from his business?

CARL HIGBIE, DONALD TRUMP SUPPORTER: Look, I think there's a lot of technicalities --

BERMAN: That's not simple, a lot of technicalities.

HIGBIE: I think what it is, Donald Trump is looking at the end result. He is going to do -- going to separate himself, going to have his kids in charge, Donald Jr. and Eric, and he is going to draw a very simple line. The lawyers right now are figuring out how to do it.

That's not Donald Trump's job to figure out how. It's the lawyers' job. It's simple for him to say this is what's going to happen. But there are some technicalities the lawyers have to work out that are somewhat complicated.

BOLDUAN: Those crossing the t, dotting the "I" that lawyers need to obsess over. Not simple.