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Electoral College Expected to Formalize Trump Win; Chinese Tabloid Takes Shots at Donald Trump; McCain on Russia Hack: "May Destroy Democracy". Aired 10-10:30a ET

Aired December 19, 2016 - 10:00   ET



CAROL COSTELLO, CNN ANCHOR: Coy Wire, many thanks. The next hour of CNN NEWSROOM starts now.

And good morning, I'm Carol Costello, thank you so much for joining me. For 538 people it is voting day. Members of the Electoral College formally casting their ballots to make Donald Trump's win official. This hour, voting is expected to get under way in Indiana, in New Hampshire, Tennessee and West Virginia. Some electors being urged to break their party's pledge and vote their conscience. Recent revelations of Russian hacking only adding fuel to the fire but in order to block Trump from the White House, 37 Republican electors would need to switch their vote, something highly unlikely. In the meantime, the Trump team pushes ahead with another hiring pick, nominating Vincent Viola for Army Secretary. CNN's Jessica Schneider is live at the State Capitol though to talk about the Electoral College. She's in Lansing. Good morning.

JESSICA SCHNEIDER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Carol. Michigan has 16 electors. They will be right here at the State Capitol to cast their ballots, their votes, at 2:00 p.m. This is largely a ceremonial process. It will be overseen by the governor here in Michigan, a Republican Governor Rick Snyder. This whole vote is actually run by the Republican Party here in Michigan. The electors were chosen at the state party convention in April and it's fair to say they are all party loyalists so there's little chance they will not cast their ballot for Donald Trump. They will fall in line. But despite that, electors here and throughout the country, they have been coming under tremendous pressure, receiving thousands, hundreds of letters urging them to change their vote.

In fact, one elector right here in Michigan tells us he's even received death threats. And Michigan's own Michael Moore took to Facebook to post and say that he would cover the fines for any electors who decided to vote their conscience or change their vote. But of course, Michigan is just one of 28 states, does have a faithless elector law. That means that those electors are bound to their vote. They cannot change their vote. I have talked to the Republican Party officials here in Michigan. They tell me that they do not anticipate any problems, but if any of their 16 electors were to try to change their vote and not vote for Donald Trump, the party officials here tell me their solution is easy. They merely replace that elector with one who will cast their ballot for Donald Trump. Carol?

COSTELLO: All right, Jessica Schneider reporting live from Michigan. Let's head to Wisconsin now, shall we? Wisconsin will cast its ten electoral votes after a recent recount certified Donald Trump as the state's winner. CNN's Rosa Flores, live in Madison. Good morning.

ROSA FLORES, CNN CORRESPODENT: Good morning, Carol. You know, I talked to one elector who said that he received more than 80,000 e-mails and more than 2,300 pieces of snail mail, all from people trying to sway his vote. Now, he's not the only one. He of course knows some of the other electors because they are all part of the executive committee of the Republican Party here in Wisconsin. And he says that some of his fellow electors received 2,300, 2,400 pieces of snail mail, all trying to sway his vote and their vote against Donald Trump.

But the thing is, Michigan and Wisconsin, like Jessica Schneider was just mentioning, are states that have faithless elector laws. And all that means is that they have laws against electors going against the November 8th election results. And so what we are expecting here to happen today is, in the doors that you see behind me are for these ten electors to come in and vote for Donald Trump, because Donald Trump won the election here on November 8th. And that's what they are expected to do again today, officially, Carol.

Now, I should say that the wind chill here in Wisconsin is negative 23. We were expecting protesters outside. Right now, Carol, there is one brave woman outside. Again, the wind chills minus 23 degrees.

COSTELLO: Oh my gosh, that makes me feel cold in the studio, Rosa Flores, reporting live from Madison. So let's talk about this and more. Jeff Zeleny is a CNN senior Washington correspondent. He joins me and Norman Eisen. He's a former Special Counsel on Ethics for the Obama administration. Welcome to both of you.


COSTELLO: Good morning. Norman, I do want to start with you because you have been calling electors over the past month or so. What have you been telling them?

NORMAN EISEN, OBAMA'S FORMER SPECIAL COUNSEL ON ETHICS 2009-2011 AND FORMER U.S. AMBASSADOR TO THE CZECH REPUBLIC: Well, the electors have actually reached out to me, Carol. And they have questions about any number of issues. The top issue on electors' minds is Donald Trump's financial conflicts of interest and how those intersect with the Russian interference in our electoral process. And the question is simple. We don't have Donald Trump's taxes. What are his Russian business dealings that might be revealed by the taxes? What does it mean to have a president-elect who has foreign flows of money coming in to his businesses? That's against

[10:05:16] the Constitution. So electors are very worried about that. There's an explicit Constitutional prohibition on foreign government money for our president. --

COSTELLO: Right. And Jeff, I would suspect that most of the electors asking Norman's advice would be Democrats because most of the electors are part of the party machine so it's unlikely that many will actually vote their conscience.

ZELENY: It is indeed, Carol. And I think that is something important to keep in mind today as we watch this sort of rite of democracy unfolds for the next several hours. The outcome of this election is not going to change. Let's be honest about this. It would take 37 electors, Republican electors, to change their mind. But then even if that would happen, it would go to the House of Representatives controlled by Republicans. So who do we think the U.S. House would actually hand the election to, Donald Trump.

So I think that this is sort of an academic discussion, an academic exercise. Absolutely, some Democratic electors see this as one final opportunity here. But the reality is that Donald Trump later today in a few hours will officially become the 45th president-elect and will be sworn in next month. No other way to look at it.

COSTELLO: So Norman, some Republicans might be asking why don't you put your energies into something else like say figure out why Democrats lost and how you can -- how you can get more Democrats elected into governorships and state legislatures across the country.

EISEN: Well, Carol, first of all, the questions have come from both Democratic and Republican electors. Look, I and others are very realistic about this and I have not actually called on any electors to do any particular decision. Just to search their conscience, study the issues. But this is an important moment in American democracy when the Electoral College meets and it's a moment for conversation about Donald Trump's conflicts, about the looming Constitutional clash that we are headed for if he insists on receiving these foreign payments. And I completely agree -- with you that we need to look at these larger political issues. That must be done in the context of studying Donald Trump's failure to release his taxes, his possible foreign business ties and the Russian interference in our election. I mean, there are very serious questions here.

COSTELLO: And you know, our lawmakers, both Republican and Democratic, are looking into that right now. Both sides want to hold hearings on that. So that's maybe being taken care of very soon. Jeff, I did want to just focus on the Electoral College because I don't think most Americans realize that electors cast ballots after the election is over. So at the very least, isn't this a good -- I don't know, a good education for voters?

ZELENY: Sure. Sure. It's a reminder of you know how our democracy was established, how it was formed. I think -- I hope every school-age child is learning about this and maybe talking about this and already sort of knows about this. But this is part of the process, as our founding fathers intended it to be. Of course, the -- you know it is one of those moments where you know the modern day presidency which is not equipped for an entrepreneur, a businessman like Donald Trump, we have never seen this in the modern day, this is a moment I think where history sort of meets the difficult time of the moment here. --

COSTELLO: Well, you're talking about history. It's taking place right beside you because that's a shot of the Indianapolis State House.

ZELENY: In Indiana, right.

COSTELLO: In Indiana, right. And as you can see, lawmakers have gathered and the electors are casting their ballots in Indiana. And I would suppose that would be for Donald Trump because he won the state of Indiana.

ZELENY: He did indeed. And of course, Mike Pence, you know the vice president-elect from Indiana as well. -- One of the things that are going to be happening in 50 State Capitols across the country. And it's a pretty interesting process. I remember being in State Houses when I was a legislative reporter in Illinois, in Iowa and Nebraska, watching these electors, you know, really do the work of the voters here. And this is how our government is set up. So it is definitely a good moment to learn and maybe relearn how our democracy was formed, whether you like the outcome or not, these rules exist for history's sake.

COSTELLO: All right. I have to leave it there. Thanks to both of you, Jeff Zeleny, Norman Eisen.

Coming up in the NEWSROOM, growing tensions between Trump and China, now a Chinese tabloid is firing back at the president-elect.


[10:13:16] COSTELLO: Tensions growing higher between the United States and China over the -- seizure of a U.S. drone in international waters, a communist controlled, Chinese tabloid, now hitting back hard at Donald Trump. This after a series of tweets from the president-elect, the first tweet said, China had stolen the drone. There you see the tweet. Then the second tweet by Donald Trump said China should just keep it. The Chinese editorials title, actually that tabloid, hit Trump for his earlier misspelling of the word unprecedented and -- in one of those tweets and that read in part Trump is not behaving as a president who will become master of the White House in a month. He bears no sense of how to lead a super power. Even the U.S. military did not use the term steal to describe the move by the Chinese navy. Trump's second tweet makes people worry that he will treat China/U.S. relations as child play. That's all in that tabloid. Let's go to Matt Rivers. He's live in Beijing. Hi, Matt.


MATT RIVERS, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: The USNS Bowditch, an unarmed military research ship, was about 50 miles off the Filipino coaster's day, where the navy says it was conducting research using two underwater drones called ocean gliders. Officials said the research was legal under international law. It was set to bring them back on board when officials say a Chinese naval ship trailing the Bowditch launched a small boat which swooped in and stole one of the ocean gliders. The Defense Department says the Bowditch immediately made contact to ask for it back but the Chinese ship simply sailed away. Friday, Pentagon officials asked again. Spokesman Capt. Jeff Davis told reporters, "It is ours and we would like it back. And we would like this not to happen again." The Chinese Defense Ministry responded late Saturday, saying that the ship initially didn't know what the drone was and seized it for navigational safety reasons.

[10:15:16] They went on to say, "Upon confirming that the device was a U.S. underwater drone, the Chinese side decided to transfer it to the U.S. side in an appropriate manner. China and the United States have been communicating about this process. It is inappropriate and unhelpful for a resolution that the U.S. has unilaterally hyped the issue. We express our regret over that."

The seizure comes at a time of heightened U.S./Chinese military tensions in the South China Sea. China has built and militarized artificial islands in disputed territory, action the U.S. calls illegal. And President-elect Trump has made Beijing angry twice in the last two weeks. First taking a call from Taiwan's president and then questioning the legitimacy of the One-China policy, a decades-old diplomatic staple of U.S./China relations. Matt Rivers, CNN, Beijing.


COSTELLO: All right. So the Trump team appears to be vacillating somewhat on China policy, Trump talking tough in 140 characters on Twitter. But the RNC Chair Reince Priebus now seems to be backing away from that call that Trump took from Taiwan. This is what he told Fox News.


REINCE PRIEBUS, INCOMING CHIEF OF STAFF: We're not suggesting that we're revisiting One-China policy right now. And he's not president right now and he's respectful to the current president.


COSTELLO: But Mr. Trump is acting as if he is President of the United States. He tweeted out that China should return that American drone. We just told you about that. And he saved those jobs for Carrier in Indiana. So how is this affecting policy? Joining me now live from Washington is Greg Poling. He's the director of the Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. Welcome, sir.


COSTELLO: Mr. Trump's tweets on China and you know in regards to that drone led to this editorial in a communist-controlled Chinese magazine. And I'll just read an excerpt for you, "He bears no sense of how to lead a superpower." And the magazine goes on to say, "Trump appears to be emotionally upset." What do you make of that?

POLING: Well, I think it's ironic to have the global times or any of the Chinese state-owned papers here, trying to shift blame for this -- stand off on to the U.S. side, whether President-elect Trump or anybody else. Whether or not it was kind of over the top rhetoric, Trump is right. China did steal this drone in international waters with absolutely no rationale behind it. And what we are seeing now is Beijing scrambling to find some way to explain this away.

COSTELLO: So you have one part of America that says go, Donald Trump, because you're getting tough on China, right? And then you have the other side, who is kind of like apprehensive about how this will affect relations with China.

POLING: Yes, I mean look, we should be concerned about being overly confrontational with China. This is the most important bilateral relationship in the world and will be for decades. But on this one specific issue, the South China Sea, there are enormous stakes. And for the U.S., this is not about the U.S. and China. This is about the entire international order. What China wants to do is return to a way of making international rules that existed pre-World War II. It's undermining 75 years of the way the global system runs.

COSTELLO: So Henry Kissinger might be right because he said over the weekend that Trump is a phenomenon that foreign countries haven't seen and that his style could be an extraordinary opportunity. So what do you suppose he means by that?

POLING: Well, opportunity in that this is certainly something different. I think it is frankly far too early to speculate on what a Donald Trump presidency is going to mean for U.S. policy in Asia or China. The inconsistencies we have heard not just from the president- elect, from his team, and their own internally the differing perspectives that many members that have been appointed to the cabinet or are going to be appointed to the cabinet have suggests it will be months and months before we have any idea what a Trump policy toward China or South China Sea or anything else is going to be.

COSTELLO: So I guess I'm still like struggling to understand extraordinary opportunity. So we know that Russia and China are allies, right? And we know that Donald Trump wants to improve relations with Russia but he said nothing like that about China. So is there a plan in there somewhere?

POLING: We don't know. I mean, Donald Trump has clearly taken a more strident approach toward China. Certainly in his rhetoric, than he has toward Russia. Part of that might be a reflection of his domestic priorities, vis-a-vis trade, the perception that China is somehow unfair to the U.S. economically in a way that Russia is not, at least in his mind but how that's going to translate into foreign policy remains complete mystery to me and I think to most people.

COSTELLO: All right. I have to leave it there. Greg Poling thanks so much for being with me this morning.

Still to come in the NEWSROOM, Trump's team has a message for Intelligence Agencies. If you got proof of a Russian hacking, pop the leak and make it public. That story is next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) [10:23:36] COSTELLO: Senator John McCain issued a stark warning over Russian hacking and meddling in the presidential election calling it a threat that could, "Destroy American democracy." This is what he told Jake Tapper on "State of the Union."


SEN. JOHN MCCAIN, (R) ARIZONA: There's no doubt they were interfering and no doubt that it was cyberattacks. The question now is how much and what damage and what should the United States of America do? And so far, we have been totally paralyzed.

This is serious business. If they are able to harm the electoral process, then they destroy democracy, which is based on free and fair elections.


COSTELLO: In the meantime, Russia continues to deny that it messed with American elections. Donald Trump and his team continue to deny Intelligence reports indicating that Russia did in fact meddle. Trump's chief of staff telling Fox News that they will believe it when the CIA and the FBI come forward with public reports.


PRIEBUS: I think he would accept the conclusion if these Intelligence, professionals would get together, put out a report, show the American people that they are actually on the same page, if there is this conclusive opinion among all of these Intelligence Agencies, then they should issue a report or stand in front of a camera and make the case.


COSTELLO: So let's talk about that now. I'm joined by Congressman Dennis Ross. He's a Republican from Florida, and member of Donald Trump's transition team. Welcome, sir.


COSTELLO: Nice to have you here. Do you agree with Mr. Priebus?

[10:25:16] ROSS: Well, yes, I think we've got to be careful about how we start politicizing our Intelligence Community. You know, this is something very, very serious. And I agree with Senator McCain, that this is something very serious and I also agree with Reince Priebus on this. When the Intelligence Communities come together and are sure of what Intelligence they have and the conclusion that can be drawn, we need to go forward with this. We need to make sure that we are not going to allow the sanctity of our electoral process be undermined by anybody. And so I think, this is something very serious. I think that --

COSTELLO: There's no disagreement that the FBI and the CIA believe that Russia was meddling in the election. Motive may be still out there. But of course, the FBI --

ROSS: -- to what degree?

COSTELLO: Well, exactly. And everybody wants to know that.


ROSS: Carol, I agree with you. -- As of November 17th, Jim Clapper testified before the House Intelligence Committee under chairman Nunes and could not conclusively state what the evidence was. You know, this is something that's being investigated. I think it should be investigated. But I think we can't lose sight of the fact that out of 3,141 counties in this country, Hillary Clinton only won 57. And in order to hack --

COSTELLO: Congressman, nobody is disputing the election results. Nobody is disputing it. I think Senator John McCain --

ROSS: Well, I'm not either.

COSTELLO: -- is concerned because there is evidence that Russia meddled in the American election and that is a threat to democracy, isn't it?

ROSS: No question about it, Carol. And I agree with you. I think we are all on the same page here.

COSTELLO: So why doesn't the president-elect then reach out to the CIA and -- pick up the phone and call, he's good at that, right, pick up the phone and call them and say look, guys, come out and issue a public statement because we need to know the answer to this.

ROSS: In addition to the sanctity of our electoral process, we also have one commander-in-chief. And that right now is President Obama who is in charge of this.

COSTELLO: But you have Mr. Trump tweeting out messages to China and then calling Carrier to keep those jobs in Indiana.

ROSS: He's doing all he can to make sure domestically we maintain some sense of economic strength here, in doing that. --

COSTELLO: Well, China, he reached out to a foreign entity in China. So why can't he call the FBI director and CIA director and say hey, guys, are you on the same page, because I want to know because I care about democracy.

ROSS: They may not be in liberty to talk with him. The president-elect does have presidential daily briefings and I'm sure he's doing with those what is necessary. Remember, this is -- very classified Intelligence and it's something that really is not going to do us any good to try it in the court of public opinion which what is we are doing right now. I think we all have to agree and I think Senator McCain agrees with this. I think Reince Priebus agrees with this. That we have to take this very seriously and we have to make sure that we stop whatever hacking is going on. You know when we talk national security we are also talking about cybersecurity. --

COSTELLO: Exactly.

ROSS: -- And it's more forefront now than it's ever been.

COSTELLO: Oh, exactly. -- That's why some wonder why Mr. Trump doesn't more strongly come out and say you know what, if the Russians interfered with our elections, that was wrong and I'm here to publicly state that, instead of saying that you know what, I won the election fair and square and it's just a bunch of sore losers complaining about this and our Intelligence services have become politicized.

ROSS: Well, I think our Intelligence services are becoming politicized and I think that's a caveat we have to be careful of. These are -- there are some very good sources out there that we can't lose, because if we do, then we lose the sanctity of even our Intelligence. The president-elect is doing what he can and what he should be doing. He's surrounding himself with very, very good people. You take a look at General Kelly, you take a look at "Mad Dog" Mattis, these are people that are going to make sure that they secure not only our borders but at least give us some sense of strength in the international community.

You know, Donald Trump is one heck of a salesman who has done an incredibly good job of being successful and wanting to make people feel like they are going to be winners again. But now, he will delegate to those people who have the expertise and the know-how. And that's the position that I'm taking on with the transition team. I think that you will see he will rely on his advisers to take him down the path necessary, especially with regard to the allegations of Russian hacking.

COSTELLO: I hear you Congressman but Donald Trump also says, he's a very strong leader who will make America strong again, great again, you know on the global stage, and I want to bring in Clarissa Ward. She is our correspondent. She's in Moscow. And I just want to ask you, Clarissa. How the Russians are responding to all of this talk about meddling in the American elections in Moscow.

CLARISSA WARD, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well Carol, officially, the Russians are not responding at all. They are just watching it all play out and I'm sure there's a certain degree of schadenfreude taking place from the Russian perspective here. What did they see? Will they see a deeply bitter political battle brewing? They see squabbling between U.S. Intelligence Agencies. They see Democratic institutions in the U.S. seriously rattled after this hacking, and that all is frankly, music to their ears.