Return to Transcripts main page


Electoral College Voting in Florida; Wisconsin Electors Vote Amid Protests; Electoral College Voting Underway; Russia's Ambassador Assassinated; Trump Refuses to Accept Hack Findings. Aired 2-2:30p ET

Aired December 19, 2016 - 14:00   ET



[14:00:09] ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN ANCHOR: Here we go. Top of the hour. You're watching CNN. I'm Brooke Baldwin. Thank you for being with me.

Two breaking stories to tell you about today.

First, a significant killing overseas, this brazen assassination at a museum, this Russian ambassador to Turkey assassinated while giving a speech at an art exhibit. The killer was apparently speaking in Turkish, shouting in Turkish, saying, "do not forget Aleppo, do not forget Syria." We have much more on this, including the initial Russian response. That is coming up.

But first, for 538 people, it is voting day. And right now members of the Electoral College all across the country, they are meeting to formally cast their ballots to make Donald Trump's win as our next president official. And as these votes are coming in here, here's the tally so far, 176-93.

Listen, let's be clear, this happens every four years, OK? But make no mistake, today is no ordinary Electoral College vote because across the country you have protests as some people are still furious with the result of the election. Many of them are urging electors to break their party pledge, vote their conscience. Recent revelations of Russian hacking that some say helped deliver Trump the win only adding fuel to the fire.

But reality check, in order to block Trump from the White House, 37 electors would need to switch their votes. That is not going to happen.

Let's begin our coverage. Boris Sanchez live at the capitol building in Tallahassee, Florida, there, in the gallery for us. The voting has just begun.

Tell me what's happening around you?

BORIS SANCHEZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hey, Brooke. Yes, I'm going to keep my voice really low, I hope you can hear me, because as you can see, right behind me, the procession is underway. They're doing a roll call right now of the 29 electors here in Florida. There has been some drama here at the state capitol today, none of it

inside of senate chambers. We're expected all 29 electors will vote for Donald Trump. There's a slate of steadfast Republicans, many of them already an outspoken Donald Trump supporters. Among them, the attorney general, Pam Bondi. There's even a Trump campaign worker here, Susan Watts (ph), who worked to help Donald Trump win the state of Florida in the election. She's an elector here today.

The drama was mostly outside where we had 70 to 80 very passionate protesters that were not allowed inside the chamber. Many of them holding signs and giving speeches and chanting, trying to get these electors to, at the very least, postpone this vote until they could have a briefing from intelligence agencies. I spoke to one woman who said that she didn't want to be a colony of Russia. So, you know, it's a very passionate heated moment outside. Inside, things very calm. Again, all 29 electoral votes from Florida expected to go for Donald Trump.

We're going to keep an eye on this and let you know if somehow the unexpected happens. Though, again, we're not seeing any elector that might go against the trend.

BALDWIN: OK, the whispering Boris Sanchez, out of respect. I got you. Thank you so much. We'll stay in contact with you.

Let's head up to Madison, Wisconsin, where voters there will be casting 10 electoral votes after a recent recount certified Donald Trump as that state's winner. Rosa Flores is there.

So we're talking ten electoral votes. Are they all set to go to Trump?

ROSA FLORES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: They actually are, Brooke. The voting happened about 45 minutes ago. And let me just tell you something, emotions boiled over here in Madison, Wisconsin. This room was packed with people. A lot of them protesters who wanted to sway electors to change their votes. Some of them screaming "shame," others walking out in the middle of the process. One woman was actually escorted out by police. I've been text messaging with her. She says that she was not arrested, that she's fine, and that the police officers were actually very kind and gracious to her because they knew that she was very emotional.

But, let me tell you something, from talking to these electors, they have received tens and thousands of e-mails trying - from people from around the country trying to sway their votes. One elector receiving 2,300 pieces of mail, pieces of snail mail -


FLORES: Also trying to sway him. Brooke, it's been overwhelming for them, they say. But they do say that a lot of these letters were coming from outside of their state. Probably about 5 percent of the e- mails and letters were coming from citizens from Wisconsin. And so they were saying, you know, we're not swayed by the fact that these people are from outside of our state. If they had received more letters perhaps from Wisconsin, it might have swayed their vote a little bit, but not at all. All ten electoral votes from Wisconsin went to Donald Trump.


BALDWIN: OK, Rosa, thank you. Rosa Flores, Madison, Wisconsin.

[14:05:02] Let's have a big conversation about all of this, bringing in now Jeff Zeleny, our CNN senior Washington correspondent, Maeve Reston, CNN national political reporter, Tim Naftali, CNN presidential historian, Karen Tumulty, national political correspondent with "The Washington Post."

Great to be talking to all of you.

And, Jeff Zeleny, you know, despite whatever hundreds, thousands of pieces of snail mail or e-mail or what have you, can we just like rip the Band-Aid off and say, there will be no surprise, we know how this is going?

JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: We do indeed, Brooke, and it could happen actually in this hour or early this afternoon because, as you said a few moments ago, Donald Trump is at 176 or so and more states are meeting right now at this hour. We saw Boris there in Florida, but Michigan as well. So the reality here is that this is the moment where any hope - fading hope for a Democrat or a liberal that something might happen through our various sort of check and balances of government, it's not going to happen.

Donald Trump is today going to officially become the president-elect based on the Electoral College and then all of this information, all of these individual packages from all 50 states and the District of Columbia will come here to Washington and on January 6th at 1:00 p.m. will be opened on the House of Representatives floor. Joe Biden will preside over this. There will be a roll call. And Donald Trump will indeed become the 45th president-elect. Then, of course, he'll be sworn in a couple weeks later. So this is just a pro forma matter of our government. It's interesting to look at without question, to watch all this -


ZELENY: But the reality here is that nothing will change today, Brooke.

BALDWIN: You know what's interesting, I was talking to - Tim Naftali, let me just turn to you - I think in kind of conversations with people out and about, I don't think a lot of people realize that, hang on a second, if I voted on November 8th, that doesn't mean that this guy becomes president? I man there has always been this formal vote every four years.

TIMOTHY NAFTALI, CNN PRESIDENTIAL HISTORIAN: Well, the founders of our Constitution -

BALDWIN: Take me back, Tim.

NAFTALI: Well, I'm as far back as we can go here. The founders of the Constitution came up with this way of compromising between a direct election for the president, which they didn't want, although some did but most did not, and having the states select the president. So what they came up with was a system where the state legislators decide how to select electors who will then go and select the president.

Since the 1830s, the states have primarily had this winner take all system. So they count up the votes, of the people who are allowed to vote, and then determine where their electors - how their electors will vote. In the 20th century, Maine and Nebraska decided to change it up a bit. But for the most part, since the 1830s, we've had a system where people vote in their state and it's like having 50 - well, not then, but it's having like individual elections in the states and those elections determine where the electors go. And the electors are selected by the candidates. So that's why faithless (ph) electors have been very rare in American history.

BALDWIN: Some of them are state officials, elected officials, party leaders, even if they have a relationship with a candidate, Bill Clinton is an elector here in the state of New York.

But all of that said, and I understand that this goes way, way, way back.

NAFTALI: Way back.

BALDWIN: But, Karen, let me bring you in, because "The Washington Post," listen, we've all been talking about what's new here is the historic nature of this presidency and the popular vote went one way, the electoral vote went another, and essentially now you have also this threat of Russia hacking. So it's thrust the Electoral College into the spotlight. And talk to me about these efforts on behalf of several groups to try to change electors, change - well, how do they say it, to vote their conscience?

KAREN TUMULTY, NATIONAL POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT, WASHINGTON POST: Well, you mentioned the historical context, the fact that the popular vote went one way and the electoral vote went the other. And in this case, the popular - the margin in the popular vote is larger than it has been in the past when we've had these circumstances. We've had this happen five times in our history. Interestingly, we've had it happen twice within the last 16 years. And I do think it speaks to a sort of fundamental kind of reshifting, realignment of our electoral politics that this could happen twice in 16 years.

The added element of a foreign government trying to put its finger on the scale has certainly increased - I think it has decreased the country's ability to sort of move past this, to accept the results. Most evidence is that it - that whatever Russia's intent was here, that it didn't actually change the result. But I do think all of this is really making it a lot harder for the country to move past this and also, you know, Donald Trump's strategy in the wake of the election has also made it harder in that he's sort of playing to his own supporters but really not doing all that much to reach out to the plurality of voters who voted for Hillary Clinton.

BALDWIN: Maeve, what do you think? MAEVE RESTON, CNN NATIONAL POLITICAL REPORTER: Well, I think it's just

so interesting because it's exactly right what Karen just said, that, you know, he - and Donald Trump initially was not a fan of the Electoral College and has changed his mind on that going forward. But it just does show how this election just seems to almost continue every day, these protests that we've had in states all over the country and we know the inauguration is coming up. They're expecting all kinds of protests around that big event. And it just - it just shows that he has not, you know, been able to reach out to the people who are still very upset about this election and not able to bring the country together at all.

[14:10:39] BALDWIN: But is the full onus - and I'm mean to you and, listen, we talk to a lot of people along the political spectrum. Is the onus fully on the president, or is it also on Democrats to say, we lost, here's how we lost. Yes, you know, maybe James Comey was a huge piece of that, but it's more than that.

RESTON: The popular vote, though, makes it a little bit harder because it gives the Democrats the argument that this is a system that should potentially be changed. You've heard John Podesta and others talking about that. Republicans, on the other side, say, hey, you weren't talking about this when, you know, when you all won the popular vote.

So I think it will be a conversation that we're going to be having for a long time. It certainly is a big, political issue right now. And the closeness of this race, you know, really stunned people and I think a lot of people are looking at different reforms of the system.

BALDWIN: Last thought from you.

NAFTALI: I believe that we are missing the main challenge, which is that we have had a threat to our national security that folks are wrapping up and spinning about whether it deligitimates (ph) this election. Today there will be a vote and Donald Trump will be elected president and then we have to deal with the fact that Russia hacked and we should stop saying that - we should stop trying to argue that the Russia hacking is an - that you - that you don't believe the hacking occurred because you want the election to be legitimate. The election has happened. It is legitimate. Now let's deal with the fact that Russia is hacking and try to upset our democracy. That's the thing we should be focused on right now.

BALDWIN: Tim, thank you so much. Tim, Jeff Maeve and Karen, I appreciate you.

President Obama was asked about that on NPR. We'll get into his response to all of that coming up.

Also ahead, though, breaking news overseas. This assassination at this Turkish museum. The Russian ambassador to Turkey was shot and killed while standing there at a podium. What the gunman yelled as he opened fire and how will Russia retaliate? We have a live report coming up next.

Also ahead, this manhunt is underway after an apparent case of road rage left a three-year-old little boy, three, dead. Why police say another driver killed this - opened fire on the boy's grandmother at an intersection.

Also ahead, First Lady Michelle Obama opens up in this interview with Oprah. Her advice to the incoming first lady, Melania Trump, and her reaction to those who labeled her, quote/unquote, "an angry black woman."

Back in a moment.


[14:16:36] BALDWIN: Breaking news here on CNN. Russia is calling today's assassination of its ambassador to Turkey, quote/unquote, "a terror attack." I'm about to show you some video. I have to warn you, though, it is very, very graphic because it shows the few moments here where you'll see him, Ambassador Andrei Karlov, who was speaking at this art gallery here in the Turkish capital of Ankara, when a gunman barged in, opened fire, started shouting, the whole thing was caught on camera. Again, the video is graphic.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (speaking foreign language).


BALDWIN: You saw the shooter there. What he was shouting in Turkish is "God is great. Do not forget Aleppo. Do not forget Syria."

Let's go straight to CNN's senior international correspondent Clarissa Ward, who is live in Moscow. Also with us, CNN international correspondent Muhammad Lila, joining us from the Turkish/Syrian border.

Muhammad, just first to you. It is chilling to watch the video here. Tell me what you've learned about the shooter.

MUHAMMAD LILA, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, it's a good question, Brooke, and we have some new details that we can now report. His name was Mevlut Mert Altintas. Of course, his name isn't as important as this next information. He was 22 years old from one of the coastal regions, but this is key, Brooke, he was a 22-year-old police officer who served in the riot squad.

Now, the Turkish interior ministry tells us that he was not on active duty tonight, you know, guarding the ambassador, but this does explain how someone with that background in firearms training could have infiltrated that event happening at this art gallery where the ambassador was gunned down, shoot the ambassador. When you look at that footage, clearly he knows how to handle a firearm. I mean it wasn't a point blank shooting. He was several yards away. So his aim was clearly very good.

And he actually was able to say a number of religious slogans. As you said, he was able to say, "don't forget Aleppo. Don't forget Syria." And towards the end he said that "everyone who has been part of this oppression will have what's coming to them." And he also said that "death was the only thing that was going to remove him from that building." So clearly he had an indication that he was not coming out of that building alive.

BALDWIN: Wow. Clarissa, I want to get your response, but let me just fold in, I know you are in Moscow. We know the timing could be significant. This is one day before the leaders of - the foreign ministers of Iran, Russia and Turkey are getting together to discuss what's happening in Aleppo. We also have Vladimir Putin's statement. He's just spoken by phone with the Turkish president. So your response to this?

CLARISSA WARD, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: So basically what we know is that President Putin spoke with President Erdogan. Essentially President Erdogan was briefing Putin about the context of the attack and giving him a better idea of what exactly went down and how it went down. Though, obviously, a major investigation will now need to take place. We know that President Putin is meeting tonight with members of his staff from the foreign ministry and also with members of his security council.

[14:20:20] The Russians have called this an act of terrorism. I just wanted to read to you quickly from the official statement that the foreign ministry put out. They said, "murders will be punished. Terrorism won't sustain. We will fight it." And they also said that, "the Turkish authorities have assured us that a thorough, comprehensive investigation will be conducted."

Clearly the Russians saying essentially here that the onus is now really on the Turks to try to find more information, provide more context for how this attack was able to happen, who, if anyone, was behind it. We heard there from Muhammad that it was a young police officer who was the perpetrator. But, of course, the larger question will be, was there some kind of a militant group behind it? Did he have a larger network? Are there more attacks of this nature planned? Did Turkish intelligence have any inclination that such an attack may be in the planning stages? So there are a lot of questions that the Russians will want to have answers for.

And as you mentioned, Brooke, of course this comes at a crucial time. Russia and Turkey, in addition to sort of repairing their own relationship, they have been working together very closely to broker this temporary truce, to allow those evacuations that we've seen starting again from eastern Aleppo, where, of course, the humanitarian situation is so dire. So anything that threatens that relationship, that threatens that cooperation, could have ripple effects into Syria as well.

But as of now, it appears that the Russians are staying fairly calm in - despite this attack and are just calling it an act of terrorism and calling for a thorough investigation from Turkish authorities.


BALDWIN: On those ripple effects, Muhammad, here - this is my question for you. I've been watching you all day. You know, we saw all those green buses and all these, you know, what is it, 20 or so thousand men women and children getting out of Aleppo. How might, given Clarissa's point about Russia and Turkey and brokering this tenuous ceasefire, how might that effect additional evacuees?

LILA: Well, this is a very good question because tomorrow the foreign ministers of Russia, Turkey and Iran are all scheduled to meet. In fact, that meeting was scheduled a week from now, but because of what's been happening in Aleppo, they moved it up so that the meeting will take place tomorrow.

Now, what's going to take place in that meeting when you have the Russian foreign minister face to face with the Turkish foreign minister, when the ambassador to Turkey - the Russian ambassador to Turkey has just been killed, that certainly changes the dynamics. And we understand that the defense ministers are all going to be meeting as well. So there are going to be political dialogues going on, there are going to be - there's going to be a military dialogue going on.

But the big wildcard in this is, how will Russia respond when one of its senior most diplomats in Turkey has just been gunned down? And, of course, the ripple effect in Syria is, well, President Bashar al Assad wouldn't be in power right now if he hadn't been proved up by Russia. So there are any number of groups in Syria that have a gripe against Russia, that have a gripe against Russian diplomats in Turkey.

And some of these militant groups have proven that they've been able to strike inside Turkey. For example, ISIS attacked the airport earlier this year. It was a very big attack, coordinated attack. There are Kurdish separatists who have attacked in Turkey as well. And, of course, Turkey just went through a failed military coup earlier this year. So there are any number of groups that may be interested in striking Russian targets, but the big variable now is, will innocent civilians in Syria pay the price for this attack on the Russian ambassador.

BALDWIN: That is precisely what I was getting at. Muhammad, thank you. Clarissa Ward, as always, thank you.

Next, the battle over Russia's hacking now sits on Capitol Hill. Bipartisan group of senators is calling for a special committee to investigate this interference, but the president-elect is not supportive. We'll have a live report on that coming up next.

Also ahead, Coky Roberts will join us live. We'll get her take on politics here in 2016, the president-elect and this latest interview between the first lady and Oprah. Stay here.


[14:27:53] BALDWIN: While the Electoral College today makes Donald Trump's victory official, this squabble over what role Russia played in the outcome continues. The president-elect's incoming chief of staff, Reince Priebus, told Fox News that Mr. Trump needs to see some evidence before he will believe Russia tampered with the election. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REINCE PRIEBUS, INCOMING WHITE HOUSE CHIEF OF STAFF: I think he would accept the conclusion if these intelligence professionals would get together, put out a report, show the American people that they're actually on the same page if there is this conclusive opinion among all of these intelligence agencies, then they should issue a report or they should stand in front of a camera and make the case.


BALDWIN: Meantime, Hillary Clinton's campaign chairman, John Podesta, stopped short of calling the election fair.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You believe this was a free and fair election?

JOHN PODESTA, CLINTON'S CAMPAIGN CHAIRMAN: Well, I think it was - I think it was distorted by the Russian intervention, let's put it that way.


BALDWIN: Let's bring in senior political reporter Manu Raju for us in Washington.

So, as far as what's happening, Capitol Hill, you have Senators Chuck Schumer and John McCain calling on a congressional probe into Russian hacking, but specifically what are they asking for?

MANU RAJU, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, that's right, Brooke.

Actually McCain and Schumer had seemed content that the existing committees in Congress could handle the investigations into the Russian hacks, but not anymore. Now those two senators, along with Republican Lindsey Graham and Democrat Jack Reed, say there should be a standalone, select committee to would have broader authority to investigate all of the intelligence around the Russia issue. Now that's something that other committees in Congress would not have access to, but they're thinking of a committee along the lines of something similar to the Nixon era Watergate committee or the House committee that investigated the 2012 Benghazi attacks.

But to create that special committee on Russia, Brooke, senators would have to actually vote to approve it. And right now there is one powerful senator who is resistant to that idea, and that's Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. When I asked him last week whether he supports a select committee, this is what he had to say.

[14:30:00] (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RAJU: And you said - you talked about an investigation. Do you support a separate bipartisan investigation, a commission in any way, or do you want to do this through the Intelligence Committee. Would you oppose a bipartisan commission? SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY), MAJORITY LEADER: We have - we're going to follow the regular order. It's an important subject.