Return to Transcripts main page


Obama Blames Putin for DNC, Podesta Hacks; Deteriorating Relations?; Obama: I've Had "Cordial" Conversation with Trump; How the Obama-Trump Relationship Evolved; Obama Downplays Tension Between WH, Trump; GOP Power Grab in NC?; NC Gov. Signs Bill Limiting Successor's Power; Michelle Obama's Final WH Interview; Michelle Obama: "We're Feeling What Not Having Hope Feels Like". Aired 9-10p ET

Aired December 16, 2016 - 21:00   ET



[21:00:22] JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Good evening again, topping the hour, President Obama's holiday message for Vladimir Putin, "We know you did it." The outgoing U.S. President all but directly blaming his Russian counterpart for waging a cyber war on the United States with the DNC campaign hack. That is one headline from the President's final scheduled press conference of the year. It is by no means the only headline. The President today offered what sounded like valedictory remarks party shots of the presidency. We begin with CNN's Michelle Kosinski at the White House.

Michelle, tell us more about what the President said about Russia, Vladimir Putin and the involvement in the DNC hacks.

MICHELLE KOSINSKI, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Hey, John. Right, yeah, that was clearly the headline, but, you know, President doesn't want to escalate things in that position in this setting today. He didn't want to be the one to name names without listing some evidence. And he was the one, remember, who has launched this new full review of the hack. He said today that there would be more detail coming on that when it's finished, before the inauguration. But he also didn't want to back away from what he clearly believes that Putin himself did play a direct role in this. Here's how he put it.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Based on uniform intelligence assessments, the Russians were responsible for hacking the DNC, I will confirm that this happened at the highest levels of the Russian government and I will let you make that determination as to whether there are high level Russian officials who go off rogue and decide to tamper with the U.S. election process without Vladimir Putin knowing about it.

In early September when I saw President Putin in China, I felt that the most effective way to ensure that didn't happen was to talk to him directly and tell him to cut it out, there were going to be serious consequences if he didn't. And in fact, we did not see further tampering of the election process.


KOSINSKI: So this is what we expect to be the President's last press conference facing all of these questions that lasted an hour and half, some of them touching on legacy. So this was his opportunity to get his points across in a thoughtful way. He didn't want to not take the time to give these thorough explanations. I mean he wanted to defend his administration's handling of the hack among other subjects. He wanted to defend the FBI which is at this point now been criticized also by Democrats.

But I thought it was interesting when he was asked pointblank was this a free and fair election, he would only go so far as to say that the voting process was not tampered with. He also didn't back away at one point from pretty strongly criticizing Republicans. But again, he's didn't want to make this about that, about relitigating the election as the administration often says.

In fact, his parting point was to say that he feels the biggest vulnerability is fierce partisanship. He said that when everything falls under suspicion, when everything is seen as corrupt, fake news propagates and that's how a foreign influence can make an inroad. He in fact ended this by calling on Americans to not demonize opponents, to look for ways to communicate and, as he put it, to channel common decency. John?

BERMAN: All right, Michelle Kosinski, thanks so much. Appreciate it.

Back now with our panel. Maggie Haberman, heck of a way to head off to Hawaii to tell the White House press corps, Vladimir Putin did it, in so many words, he didn't say it directly, but he said nothing happens in Russia without Vladimir Putin's approval. That is quite a message just said.

MAGGIE HABERMAN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: It's an extraordinary moment heading into a new presidency. He is at odds with the incoming President Donald Trump who has refused to accept the word of the Intelligence Community on this.

You know, he's also not quite saying exactly what the Clinton campaign is saying. We have seen some very forceful words from the Clinton campaign about rogue operators within the FBI. John Podesta, the campaign chairman whose e-mails were hacked, talked about this -- Hillary Clinton talked about this in a thank you event last night in New York.

The President did not go that far but did make sure this was all front and center. It is very unlikely that the Clinton team was not aware that he was planning on doing this. And it puts the ball pretty squarely into Donald Trump's court. He has again refused to accept that this is what happened despite the word of the Intelligence Community. Other Republicans are saying this is what happened, some such as Lindsey Graham are making a condition of a hearing for his Secretary of State nominee, Rex Tillerson, that there needs to be some acknowledgment of this.

[21:05:07] So, I'm not sure how long this can hold for Donald Trump. Keeping it this way, I think, it is going to be growing pressure. And for now, we are seeing him tweeting, he's about to disappear to his resort in Mar-a-Lago, Palm Beach for the next two weeks. At some point, he is going to presumably talk to reporters.

BERMAN: We shall see about that. He has not have a press conference for many, many months.

HABERMAN: No, but he has talked to reporters and ...

BERMAN: Yes, he has.

HABERMAN: ... and there have been other interactions, we really haven't had any of that other than him appearing with Kanye West in the lobby of his tower recently.

BERMAN: No president -- no transition press conferences which is notable ...

HABERMAN: That's right.

BERMAN: ... because we have seen that before on this ...

HABERMAN: Absolutely.

BERMAN: Angela Rye, give me your assessment of the President's message today in a way threading the needle, very critical of Vladimir Putin, very critical of Russia, not critical of the FBI the way that Hillary Clinton's team is right now.

ANGELA RYE, POLITICAL STRATEGIST: Well, and I think that's a tough stance for him to take given the fact that this is, of course, the end of his administration. I think FBI Director Comey caught a lot of flack and heat already. And I would say that it was warranted.

I think that we can't take this lightly. I think that the President made it very clear where he stood on Russia, that he believes that Vladimir Putin was involved. I know he said that he will leave it up to the press corps to determine whether or not they think so, if they think that these high level officials acted in a rogue manner.

I think it's notable, right, that Donald Trump, you said jokingly earlier, Maggie, but he said it nonetheless urged Russia to hack Hillary Clinton. I think it's notable that Reince Preibus was asked by the DNC Chair to sign a letter urging Russia to stay out of their elections. I think it's notable that at this point we are now in a situation where there are members on both sides of the aisle in the House and Senate calling for an independent bipartisan commission to look into the effect that Russia has had on this election. It's very important.

That to me, I know we talked about this earlier, it's something that calls into question if nothing else the legitimacy of Donald Trump's election as president-elect.

BERMAN: Congressman Kingston you just got back from Russia, we should know. You met with some American businesses, I believe, in Russia. And I'm sure you had a chance to talk to other people there as well. What does the President-elect's response need to be to this news that Russia, including senior Russian officials according to the President were involved in hacking into the campaign?

JACK KINGSTON, (R) FORMER GEORGIA CONGRESMAN: Well, I think number one saying to the Intelligence Community, cooperate as is your constitutional duty with members of the House who ask you to come down and explain it to them. By you not going down and talking to Devin Nunes in the Intelligence Community this week it's a signal of politics. This is above politics but you're playing politics.

The second I'll say is the President did something very, very political tonight, that we're not even discussing, he changed the subject from Aleppo. This week we saw the fall of Aleppo, one of the biggest foreign policy failures in U.S. history, 400,000 people dead, millions of refugees, women and children and now reports that the Assad regime is going door to door and executing children and not one question about it. It's all about Russian hackers.

BERMAN: He brought up Aleppo. He brought -- hang on, hang on.

KINGSTON: He brought it up in passing, John.

BERMAN: He brought up Aleppo. Sure ...

KINGSTON: But there's human tragedy.

BERMAN: I'm not in anyway defending what the administration has done there, but it done come up and what he said is he said he regrets what happened, he did not really admit any mistakes.

KINGSTON: Well ...

BERMAN: Hang on. And we can't get to Aleppo, but I do want to stay right now on the Russian hacking because if Russia hacked into our campaign it is a big story, right, and it will not go away in the next three weeks. And President-elect Trump when he becomes president either will or won't try to deal with that situation and I want to know -- I just want to know from you because you were close to the President-elect in the transition is this something he is going to address yes or no?

KINGSTON: I think he will address. And let me tell you one thing going forward, he would not pull Putin aside at a G-20 conference and say by the way, cut it out. He would say what the heck are you thinking -- I just heard the President of the United States say that. That's exactly what he said. You can't have it both ways. If it's a big, big problem you address it in a big way.


KINGSTON: He said I pulled him aside and I told him to cut it out, how ineffective.

VAN JONES, FORMER OBAMA ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: There's something bid at stake here. I mean, this is a couple things, first of all, the future is important. When you're the president-elect you can deal with something like this in three ways. Personally, I'm offended, they're trying to legitimate. You can do it in a partisan way, they're trying to hurt my party, you can deal with it in a patriotic way, they're trying to hurt my country.

And what you're watching here is this guy, the President-elect, he's going to be all of our president, in real-time he certainly knows how to respond when it's personal. He knows to respond when it's partisan. You have the first attack on our country acknowledged since he'd been elected. And he's not responded like a patriot yet.

[21:10:14] Now, that is very disturbing. You guys keep wanting to point out that Obama did this and he did that, when Trump gets there, he's going to do x, y, and z, the reality is, he talks all the time. He's speaking tonight. He tweets like my children do and he is not spoken like a patriot.

KINGSTON: Van, let me say, is this not an echo of what we heard a month ago, he's not addressing the protesters, the rioters, the 71 people who are arrested in Seattle. I mean, we keep hearing this in the left that his post-election behavior doesn't suit the standards of the left and that's just too bad.


BERMAN: Van, go ahead. Van then Kayleigh.

JONES: Look, I don't -- listen, I am on the left side of Pluto and I'm proud of it. I don't think anybody here can blame me for being conservative ...

KINGSTON: Well, I'm on the right side, I keep bumping into you.

JONES: Exactly. So -- but this is not about left versus right, it is about right versus wrong. There is a right way and a wrong way to deal with an attack in our country and right now, so far, we have not seen the right way from this president.

BERMAN: Kayleigh?

KAYLEIGH MCENANY, TRUMP SUPPORTER: OK. He's not president of the United States yet. I think we do need to give him time to the point where he has the resources to respond to a Russian attack. I think we should give him benefit of the doubt.

One thing I like that President Obama said today was at the very end of this press conference, he said it was a spinal (inaudible) and he said I hope we can get to a point in this country where we can disagree civilly based on the same set of facts. And to me what that means is Republicans, the onus is on us to say, hey, this happened, it's an excusable, Russian cannot commit a cyber attack on the United States but the onus is also on Democrats to say, look, Obama or excuse me, Trump won this fair and squarely. I think it was uncalled for, for Podesta to put out a requesting the elector should be briefed when we know Russia was not meddling in the voting on the day of the election, every American had their say. I think there's two sets of facts that mean to be acknowledge here and I think President-elect Trump is caught in the cross hairs of trying -- those who are trying to delegitimize his election nevertheless he should acknowledge the first point that's inexcusable for us.

BERMAN: Eliana, is there a space between the White House and Hillary Clinton supporters on this right now?

ELIANA JOHNSON, NATIONAL POLITICAL REPORTER, POLITICO: Yeah. There's -- I think there's a huge gap and it's -- it was evident on President Obama's remarks. Hillary Clinton said just yesterday to a group of donors that the reason she lost the election is in part because of Russian hacking, because of e-mail scandal. President Obama notably would not say that. He acknowledged Russian responsibility but did not tie it at all to the result of the election. I think he was -- he purposely did that.

But I think we have senior Republicans now speaking out about this, John McCain, Lindsey Graham, Marco Rubio. And Donald Trump stand towards Russia. Russia was perhaps the matter of concern for Republicans and Democrats alike during this election and to portray him as a passive actor who can't speak out on this because he is not the president yet, I don't think is quite right but going forward this is going to be perhaps the major story line in terms of foreign policy in the administration. And it's not rocket science for him to say that, you know, I was elected fairly and squarely and as president I will not tolerate Russian hacking into or meddling in American campaigns when I assume office on January 20th. It's not that hard.

BERMAN: No, when he can say it any time. Guys stick around. A lot more to discuss right now. We're going to look closer at the relationship between the President and the President-elect, the relationship they forge since November after ranker in the campaign trail in Donald Trump's year long comments about birtherism.

And next, what we know about Moscow's response to all the U.S. intelligence reports on the hacking.


[21:17:10] BERMAN: Today President Obama said he spoke with Russian President Vladimir Putin about Russian hacking the DNC and John Podersa and warned the Russian's consequences if it didn't cut it out. The President said in his press conference that there will be consequences for Russia, some may be publicly to divulge others may be covert. So how's all this playing in Moscow? Joining me now, CNN senior international correspondent Clarissa Ward.

Clarissa, the idea of something this magnitude like this hacking would not have been carried out without a green light from Vladimir Putin himself was essentially what the President said today, is there any reason to believe that Putin will respond to this charge?

CLARISSA WARD, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: I wouldn't expect, John, to see any direct response from Vladimir Putin. You might perhaps get some kind of caustic or biting remark or a joke here or there or perhaps something from the Russian foreign ministry. But generally speaking, the official Kremlin party-line is that the Russians had nothing to do with this hacking, they have been saying that repeatedly since these allegations first read their head back in October. And increasingly, the rhetoric has become a little more (inaudible). They've said that it's indecent to continue making these accusations without proving it, without providing substantial, tangible, physical evidence of this hack. They've said it's ludicrous nonsense.

I think that President Vladimir Putin feels right now like he is in a position of power, he has had a great year by his own estimations, while President Obama warned him that going into Syria would be a quagmire, he now finds himself a pivotal player in a region where he hasn't had much of a presence in decades. I doubt that you're going to see much reaction to any of the insinuations that President Obama made nor to any of the barbs that he made about Russian's economy or the fact that Russia lacks innovation or the fact that he says that he threatened President Putin and challenged him about the hacks when he saw him back in September, John.

BERMAN: And with that caveat that you gave that most of the media that Russians received, the state media, you know, at least state- controlled media, is there any sense among the Russian people, any concern about what the U.S. retaliation might be to these hacks?

WARD: I don't think there's a lot of fear here about what President Obama may do in his remaining time as president. Essentially, Obama refusing to be drawn on what -- if any specific retaliatory measures were being taken but certainly nobody here is talking about those and they are looking forward essentially to a warmer relationship with President-elect Trump, President-elect Trump's reaction to all of this hacking allegations and accusations has been quite similar to the Russians which has been there's absolutely no proof.

[21:20:01] I think most people here see these hacking allegations, and what we've heard from the CIA, and the FBI, and today of course from President Obama, they see it as an attempt to poison the well, to poison the thawing of relations that they hope to see take place under President-elect Trump. John?

BERMAN: All right, Clarissa Ward, thanks so much.

Joining us now, former executive director of the FBI's Criminal and Cyber Division Robert Anderson, also with us again, CNN counterterrorism analyst and former FBI and CIA senior official, Philip Mudd.

Bob, so you retired in 2015 and the entire International Cyber Crime Division was under you, you were the existent director at the FBI, so explain to us how U.S. intelligence agencies reached the conclusion that this hack was done by Russia when they say the hack had Russian fingerprints all over it, what are these fingerprints?

ROBERT ANDERSON, FORMER EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, FBI'S CRIMINAL AND CYBER DIVISION: So, that's a great question, John. So nowadays it's so technical when it comes to cyber hacking and the different type of trade crafts that not only nation states, but activists and criminal organization use around the world, it's almost like a cyber footprint or fingerprint if you will. And so when the people look at the forensics data from how those systems were attacked, in a lot of cases you can tell pretty close to exactly what organization, from what country that might have launch the at tack. It's much harder, though, to actually put somebody directly behind the keyboards.

BERMAN: So, Phil, President Obama has suggested that there will be retaliation against Russia for this. What's the menu of options here for the President?

PHILIP MUDD, FORMER SENIOR OFFICIAL, FBI AND CIA: Well, I think the menu of options is limited, especially for a president that has 30 days left in office. That's why the fighting between the White House and Trump camp is so painful. What should be happening is the White House has to talk to the Trump camp and say, how do we coordinate so we can put the ball on the tea for you when you come into office. This about a few options you can respond in kind. I would recommend against that, you don't want to fight with pigs, you're going to get dirty, you can talk about things like limiting travel on the Russian's economic sanctions, you can talk about retaliation and other arenas, diplomatic arenas.

But I think one of the challenges in this case is when you actually walk in the Oval Office or when you walk in the Situation Room. There aren't as many options as you might expect.

One more point, John, as soon as you talk about options on cyber you start to say does that limit our opportunities to work together with Russia on Iran or Syria. This is more complicated than it looks.

BERMAN: There's -- we have more than one thing going on right now.

MUDD: Yeah.

BERMAN: Bob, I seem to remember the President suggesting within the last year that the United States has some of the strongest defensive and offensive capabilities when it comes to cyber warfare. Is that in fact true at this point? I mean, if the U.S. keeps on getting hacks like this, are our defenses as strong as we think?

ANDERSON: Yeah, I think the United States is in great shape and I got to tell you the American people just need to understand that the United States Intelligence Community is stronger than I have ever seen it, the coalitions and bonds between the FBI, and CIA, and NSA, and all the other members are very, very strong and getting stronger every day.

One other thing I will tell you, though, that I think is important, it's not just the United States Intelligence Community, I think there's a need and there's lot of organizations like the FBI and CIA that are leading this, the academia and private enterprise needs to be a part of this equation. Whether it's hacking governmental agency or the DNC or some type of private enterprise, the intelligence that comes from all these different types of hacking, whether nation state or criminal organizations is very, very important to keep our defenses cutting edge.

The bad guys don't have laws, the bad guys don't have a constitution, they don't have to go back and ask anybody how to formulate an attack. So that coordinated intelligence nowadays is a must between private sector and the government.

BERMAN: And it is important to note here when we're talking about DNC, we're talking about John Podesta, we are talking about private organizations and individuals, its not the U.S. government being hack per se, but it is U.S. campaign. Along those lines, Phil Mudd, you know, we get notices about hacking here at CNN constantly, you know. I know it happens to everyone else and every other company right now. Is this just a fact of life at this point that people are going to be hacked and it's not just by, you know, people in basements but it is by countries essentially?

MUDD: Time out, John. There's a difference -- I've been hacked, there's a difference between us being hacked personally and what we've seen in recent years not only in the United States but in Eastern Europe, the Baltic States about the Russians interfering in a Democratic process. I don't think we can accept that as a fact of life. The President-elect should be saying not what happened in November, but how do I protect not myself, not Republicans, not Democrats, but the American people so that they can have a free election in two years and in four years. I think this is a problem moving forward.

One thing I'd be thinking about is how do you think early on about giving assurances and assistance from the federal government to candidates before they become candidates for either party, maybe two years before the campaign to ensure that their servers are protected. I think this is a big issue that has to do with 2020, it's not something that's restricted to what happens in your basement or mine, John, it's about the American electoral process.

[21:25:08] BERMAN: You know, it's an interesting point. I mean, candidates can seek its server's protection after a certain point ...

MUDD: Yes.

BERMAN: ... should they not be getting cyber protection as well.

MUDD: Yes.

BERMAN: ... provided by U.S. Intelligence Community systems. Bob, you know, you've been recently in the Intelligence Community up until last year, how critical is it that President-elect Trump, who will be President Trump very, very soon, has the full faith that he fully trusts what intelligence officials are telling him and that the intelligence officials trust that he believes in them?

ANDERSON: Yeah, no, it's extremely important. Look, I know Phil knows this too, but I mean, I know Jim Comey, I know John Brennan and James Clapper, they're all great men, they're experts at their craft. I think the President-elect needs to sit down and talk to all these gentlemen and see the capabilities that all those organizations bring. But it's crucial to the presidency that he trusts all of those men and women and those organizations working hard to keep it safe.

BERMAN: And that they believe that he has their back as well. Bob Anderson, Phil Mudd, thanks so much for being with us.

ANDERSON: Thank you.

MUDD: Thank you.

BERMAN: Next is President-elect Trump's reaction of the cyber attack putting a crink on his relationship with President Obama and putting a chill on this transition. We're going to dig deeper into that when "360" continues.


BERMAN: President Obama stepped up to the microphone today facing a number of reports that relations are growing strained between the incoming Trump team and Obama staffers. Some of the accounts calling that President-elect's reaction or non-reaction to the cyber attack the last straw. At his news conference today, the President was asked how he and the President-elect are getting along.


[21:29:59] B. OBAMA: When Donald Trump takes the oath of office, and is sworn as the 45th president of the United States, then he's got a different set of responsibilities and considerations.

And I've said this before. I think there's a sobering process when you walk into the Oval Office.

And, you know, I haven't shared previously private conversations I've had with the President-elect, I will say that they have been cordial and in some cases have involved me making some pretty specific suggestions about how to ensure that regardless of our obvious deep disagreements about policy maybe I can transmit some thoughts about maintaining the effectiveness, integrity, cohesion of the office of various Democratic institutions and he has listened. I can't say that he will end up implementing, but the conversations themselves have been cordial as supposed to defensive in anyway.


BERMAN: So that is the President's assessment, a fairly delicate one by the sound, a bit of (inaudible). More now on how we got here from CNN's Tom Foreman.


TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: For months it was all bear-knuckle brawling.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT-ELECT OF THE UNITED STATES: Barack Obama has been the worst president ever.

B. OBAMA: I think the Republican nominee is unfit to serve as president.

FOREMAN: But look at them now, ever since the election and their first meeting afterward, the sitting President and next one have seemed decidedly warmer.

TRUMP: I really like him. We have a really good chemistry together. We talk. He loves the country. He wants to do right by the country and for the country.

B. OBAMA: I think ultimately is he's pragmatic in that way. And that can serve him well. As long as he's got good people around him and he has a clear sense of direction.

FOREMAN: How much are they speaking? It's not precisely clear.

KELLYANNE CONWAY, TRUMP CAMPAIGN MANAGER: They've been talking regularly on a number of issues. They talked just yesterday.

FOREMAN: Neither the President-elect's team nor the White House will confirm which subjects have been brought up.

JOSH EARNEST, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: In the same way that I protected the ability of President Obama to consult confidentially with other senior officials including some former presidents, I'm not going to read out or confirm, you know, every reported meeting or phone call or conversation.

FOREMAN: Certainly, both men have vested interest in health care reform, immigration law, national security and the economy. And the President-elect has vowed to dramatically change directions on many of those fronts.

B. OBAMA: Do I have concerns? Absolutely. Of course, I've got concerns, you know, he and I differ on a whole bunch of issues.

CONWAY: They disagree on many things. That's not going to change.

FOREMAN: But both hint in a broader sense they have found common ground in recognizing just how divided the country is and how hard uniting it may be.

B. OBAMA: And I will always make myself available to him just as previous presidents have made themselves available to me.


FOREMAN: It may not sound like much but considering the ferocity of the campaign and the lingering bitterness, the tone between Mr. Trump and Mr. Obama appears remarkably good, and for those who are looking for a truce in the Washington wars perhaps that's not a bad start. John?

BERMAN: All right, Tom Foreman, thanks so much. Everyone was looking to see today if that truce was strained at all by these reports, these allegations or facts depending on how you look at it, of Russian hacking. Back now with our panel. Maggie Haberman, I think in this year of remarkable events and milestones, I think one of the most remarkable surprising things has been how cordial this transition has been between President and President-elect and how both have been doing back flips and all sorts contortions to be somewhat affable and cordial to each other? We thought the President might crack today based on what some of his staffers saying, he didn't.

HABERMAN: No, I mean, I think for a couple reasons, you're saying this number one, I don't know that's in President Obama's interest to go guns blazing at the incoming President no matter what he thinks of this. You have to go back to that meeting that they held in the Oval Office, that first one, I think, it was 90 minutes or something like that.

President-elect Trump has made very clear in conversations with people that he was sort of overwhelmed by what he learned that the job was, he put it bigger than he had anticipated, you know, it's a pretty big job and most people running for it realize that ahead of time but Trump has run a very different type of candidacy and a lot of this, which I think, generally new to him. President Obama walked away, according to several of my sources, stunned at how little President- elect Trump appeared to know about certain aspects of the job. And I think that President Obama has come to realize that Donald Trump is very easily influenced by the last person he spoke with. I think that he believes that he can try to preserve portions of his, if not his legacy but portions of programs he cares about by not having a contentious relationship with President-elect. Whether that will be sustainable, I don't know but you are correct that it is a massive 180 from what was on the campaign.

[21:35:17] And frankly what we've seen between these two for five years, and it all goes back to that White House Correspondents Association dinner in 2011.

BERMAN: Eliana, it was interesting, Steven Inskeep of NPR, who sat down with President Obama yesterday, and he's talk to the President a whole bunch of times and he said what struck him as different about this interview was that President Obama seemed to be playing the long game with Donald Trump here, particularly on the issue of the Russian hacking, playing the long game, and that's striking because he's got like four weeks left in office. The time is running and -- you don't play the long game when time is running out on the clock.

JOHNSON: I think that's absolutely true. And, you know, we've talked about this campaign in terms of Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton and what did Hillary Clinton do wrong and how did she miscalculate. But I think President Obama was the third player in this campaign, because he's relationship with Donald Trump as Maggie said goes back a long time. And in many ways, Trump's election was I think a reaction to the Obama presidency and to the relationship between the two of them.

And Obama is playing the long games in terms of the programs he's implemented, the proposals he cares about. And I think he's a smart guy, he knows that he can shape Trump's thinking in many ways and influence his decisions he did on Obamacare after their discussion in the Oval Office. Trump came away saying the provisions I'm certainly going to keep are the provisions that allow kids to stay on their parent's health care until they're 26. And so, Obama was key and -- certainly on that one aspect in terms of Obamacare.

And I think though they may not be talking about it publicly, he's playing a huge role in preserving other aspects of his legacy merely by, you know, weighing in on Trump.

And the second factor I think is, it was in Obama's interest and incumbent upon him almost to calm, to play a soothing role in Democratic ranks when people were so shocked and panicked at Trump's victory and I think he's done that very effectively.


JONES: Yeah, well, I think it's not quite right to say that he can't play the long game. One thing that is true about Democratic post presidencies, they tend to be very robust and extraordinary. Jimmy Carter is still a force on the world stage, (inaudible) people in America understand that, he is still out there building houses, and brokering peace deals, and talking -- trying to rescue hostages, 30, 40 years later. The Clintons were punished for being robust players on the world stage. However you might think of it. They handle some of the ethical issues. They were out there. They were raising money, they were influencing stuff.

If you think that the Barack and Michelle Obama are going to somehow disappear from the world stage, disappear from the conversation, you're not paying attention. This is going to be like a Nelson Mandela figure. After he left he was more powerful out of office, if this guy's got another 20 or 30 years.

The Obamas have a longer game to play and I think that what you're going to see is he is going to be very smart in the short-term, he has no reason to antagonize Trump, he'd laid down some clear markets and said listen if you go after American-Muslims, I'm going to speak out. He said if you go after dreamers and start dragging dreamers out of college campuses because, you know, they don't have their papers, I'm going to speak out. If you're laying out a case when he will be of force and when he won't be but Obama is not done by a long shot.

MCENANY: I was surprised that just how self critical and accurate President Obama was. You know, when he was asked about why Hillary lost the election, I totally disagree with his accusation of media bias. I totally agreed with his conversations about not going to voters who feel like they're not being heard. When he talked about how he won in Illinois, how I went to fish fries, how I listened to the local people, how I heard their hurt and I expressed their hurt and I spoke to those pains. When I heard that kind of autocratic of what went wrong in the election, I thought to myself that is exactly right and if President Obama takes that and tries to reform the Democratic Party in that way, that is a formidable opponent in 2020.

BERMAN: Angela?

RYE: I agree with Kayleigh. BERMAN: All right, we should just wrap up.

RYE: No, but I think -- so you'll see -- I mean I think the President has always been good at self-critiquing. That's not his -- that's not a weakness for him.

BERMAN: It's just a little bit more of a critic of Hillary Clinton that is about, so in fact if (inaudible) self critique because he's saying I actually did it, she should have.

RYE: No, no, but -- I -- either way I think the point is he's never shied away from controversial positions, he's never shied away from, I think, the position of him sitting with Donald Trump in the Oval Office when Donald Trump won the election, is one that many Democrats and many people who are not partisan at all had major issues with it. I had major issues with it. This is someone who sat opposite of him. You talked Eliana about their relationship. They didn't have a relationship.

[21:40:03] He said in that meeting that that was the first time he ever met President Obama, but yet he had the right to criticize or to question his Harvard transcripts, he had the right to criticize whether or not he was born here, he never apologized for that. On the campaign, he stood in front of an audience at a press conference and said the President was born here period. Never apologized for it but took everyone on a tour of triple toe.

HABERMAN: Yeah, I mean -- I just -- I don't -- in terms of the long game that I think it's really important to remember, people -- a lot of people that I'm talking to who are trying to figure out the Trump presidency, both on the Republican side and the Democratic side are asking what can effectuate motion with him, what can him get him to respond to something.

One of the main things that he is going to be responsive to is his poll numbers. And I was thinking about something that Van is saying about, you know, Obama being a voice out there, if there are controversial things Obama will be able, he's very popular right now to speak out and that could impact Trump's poll numbers, that's a serious point.

BERMAN: All right, guys, stick around. We do want to shift gears a little bit and talk about a protest wrapping in North Carolina over an alleged power -- lawmakers are taking, essentially taking power away from the next governor of that state.


[21:44:58] BERMAN: The Trump transition has obviously been dominating this news cycle but tonight we want to bring you up to speed on a political drama in North Carolina. Today, the Republican governor, Pat McCrory, signed a new law stripping executive powers from his successor Democrat Roy Cooper, among other things a law removes state and county election boards from Democratic control. It's just one of a number of bills that Republican lawmakers have turned out in recent days. They maintain their simply and acting constitutional checks and balances to Democrats, though, it is a braise in power gram. Polo Sandoval on force.


POLO SANDOVAL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: The latest legislative session closing with growing outrage and crowds in North Carolina's capitol.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's very difficult to hear because of the disruptive noise outside the chamber.

SANDOVAL: Demonstrators are angry over a series of bills rolled out during a hastily called special legislative session this week, where lawmakers in the Republican controlled legislature want to limit incoming Democratic Governor Roy Cooper's powers.

ROY COOPER, (D) NORTH CAROLINA GOVERNOR-ELECT: What is happening now is unprecedented. What's happening now is going to affect the issues that make a difference to everyday working families.

SANDOVAL: Among the restrictions requiring the Republican controlled Senate to approve all of Governor-elect Cooper's Cabinet appointees, also significantly decreasing the number of appointments allowed by the new administration from 1,500 to 300.

Additionally, Cooper would be blocked from appointing some members of the State Board of Education and all members of the Board of Trustees for the University of North Carolina system. Cooper beat out conservative Republican incumbent Pat McCrory by only about 10,000 votes. McCrory claimed fraud, it challenge the outcome before conceding about four weeks later.

PAT MCCRORY, (R) NORTH CAROLINA GOVERNOR: This is majority rule, we have elections.

SANDOVAL: Despite large Republican majorities leader says they are going to continue to be relevant in the state, but Democrats call it a power grab. Makes for what will be an even more turbulent transition to McCrory's successor.


SANDOVAL: And we did check it in just a few moments ago and that remaining piece of legislation still has not been signed by Governor Pat McCrory. Meanwhile, there is another piece that was signed and that will require both the Governor and also lawmakers to be able to share the appointments of members of the election board, John. So again, that one already a law and at this point, the question is what Roy Cooper do? Well, he's suggesting that he will likely have to take some of these lawmakers to court.

BERMAN: All right, Polo, thanks so much. Appreciate it.

Back now with our panel. Former Republican Congressman Jack Kingston, you also served in the legislature I believe in the state of Georgia. Republicans are saying that Democrats were all sour grapes over the presidential election, that Hillary Clinton supporters are sour grapes over the presidential election, how is this not sour grapes in North Carolina? The Democrats won the election there and now Republicans are trying to change the rules after the fact.

KINGSTON: You know, I think this is what majorities do. I served in the state legislature, I was one of 26 Republicans out of 180 members. The Democratic Party at that time changed the rules of the run off, so that it favored Democrats. They actually put -- dropped the word Republican or Democrat by your name to insert incumbents because that helps them. They have passed legislations ...

BERMAN: Is it right?

KINGSTON: This is what majorities ...

BERMAN: Is it right?

KINGSTON: I would say, just because he disagree with, it doesn't make it unconstitutional, it doesn't necessarily make it right or wrong. This is what majorities do. And I would say what they did was right when they change the election board and combine it with the Ethics Board and say we're going to have half Republicans and half Democrats. How is that wrong?

When they -- one of these laws said that judges would be partisan. I think it's important for electors to know if somebody's Democrat or Republican, conservative. I mean, that's they called it. There's nothing wrong with that. Reducing the number of political appointees and incumbent governor has from 1,500 to 400 nothing wrong with that, it might be a disagreement.

JONES: Well, when you said there's nothing wrong with it, I think there are a couple of things that are wrong. First of all, this session wasn't called for all that. This special session call from relatively narrow purpose and they have expanded way beyond that to draw in the kitchen sink. And you're pointing to all the good stuff in there, which you have -- even you won't defend the best staff in there, stripping your successor of powers that you enjoy at the last hour, abuse -- that's called abuse of power in both political parties in our country. You're not going -- you're smiling, you know, I'm right. Both political parties hate this stuff, the country was born hating the stuff, you hate the stuff. Go ahead say it.

KINGSTON: In the late 1980s North Carolina got its first lieutenant governor who was Republican and the Democrats immediately stripped his powers.

JONES: And you hate it.

KINGSTON: This is unfortunately bare knuckle politics and it's practice in 50 states ...


BERMAN: All right, guys, all right, thanks, everyone. What we're going to do is just we're going to take a break right now.

[21:49:56] Michelle Obama, she gets candid about the election and her -- in her last White House interview with Oprah Winfrey. Stay with us.


BERMAN: We have been talking a lot about President Obama's final news conference of the year, the weeks between now and inauguration day will be full of final moments for the first family. First lady Michelle Obama has given her final one-on-one interview inside the White House. She sat down with Oprah Winfrey and spoke frankly about the outcome of the election. Joe Johns reports.


JOE JOHNS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: First lady Michelle Obama candid in an interview with Oprah Winfrey, giving voice to what many Democrats may be feeling after the election.

MICHELLE OBAMA, FIRST LADY OF THE UNITED STATES: Now we're feeling what not having hope feels like.

JOHNS: Reflecting on the catch word that helped propel her husband into office and whether his administration gave the country the hope he promised.

M. OBAMA: He and I and so many believe that if you -- what else do you have if you don't have hope?


M. OBAMA: What do you give your kids if you can't give them hope? I feel that Barack has been that for the nation in ways that people will come to appreciate.

Having a grown-up in the White House who can say to you in times of crisis and turmoil, "Hey, it's going to be OK." Let's remember the good things that we have. Let's look at the future. Let's look at all the things we're building.

[21:55:04] JOHNS: Once a reluctant campaigner, what she's saying today a far cry from 2008.

M. OBAMA: Hope is making a comeback. It is making a comeback. And let me tell you something, for the first time in my adult lifetime, I'm really proud of my country and not just because Barack has done well, but because I think people are hungry for change.

JOHNS: Eight years later, she was perhaps the most popular surrogate for Hillary Clinton.

OBAMA: Our motto is when they go low, we go high.

JOHNS: Powerful speeches, but not enough to put the Democrat over the top.

OBAMA: But here's where I want to get real. If Hillary doesn't win this election, that will be on us.

JOHNS: The first lady's interview ...

M. OBAMA: What do we do if we don't have hope?

JOHNS: ... coming at a time she's been out of the spotlight, making few public comments since the election.

M. OBAMA: We are ready to work with the next administration and make sure that they are as successful as they can be because that's what's best for this country.

JOHNS: And with just over a month left in the White House, the first lady has mixed emotions about leaving, telling Vogue, "I'm going to miss waking up to this, having access to this any time I want. But on the flip side, it's time."

Joe Johns, CNN, Washington.


BERMAN: And we'll be right back.


[22:00:03] BERMAN: That does it for us. CNN TONIGHT with Don Lemon starts now.

DON LEMON, CNN ANCHOR: Breaking news, a warning from President Obama and a thank you from the President-elect.

This is CNN TONIGHT. I'm Don Lemon.