Return to Transcripts main page


Trump to Dissolve Foundation; Obama Discusses Challenges for Democrats; Israel Upset With U.S. Over Settlement Slap. Aired 1-1:30p ET

Aired December 26, 2016 - 13:00   ET



[13:00:22] JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: Hello. I'm Jake Tapper in for Wolf Blitzer. It is 1:00 p.m. here in Washington, D.C., 6:00 p.m. in London, 8:00 p.m. in Jerusalem wherever you're watching from around the world. Thanks for joining us.

We're going to start with anger from Israel aimed that the United States more specifically at President Obama at issue is that United Nations Security Council Resolution condemning the construction of Israeli settlements in those disputed territories. Israel wanted the U.S. to block the resolution. The Obama administration decided to abstain which meant to the resolution could continue going forward in response. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu summoned the U.S. Ambassador to his office and the Israeli prime minister has gone so far as to accuse the United States of conspiring with Palestinians to harass Israel. Israeli Ambassador to the United States Ron Dermer tried to explain Israel's anger on CNN "New Day" today.


RON DERMER, ISRAELI AMBASSADOR TO THE UNITED STATES: It's an old story that the United Nations gangs up against Israel. What is new is that the United States did not stand up and oppose that gang up. And what is outrageous is that the United States was actually behind that gang up. To bring a resolution to the Security Council is not just something that Israel opposes. It's something that Barack Obama opposed.

In September 2011, he stood at the United Nations and he said, these issues should not be handled at the U.N. Security Council. They should be handled through negotiations. We agree on that. We have a disagreement with the administration over settlements but you don't take, as the prime minister just said, you don't take your friends to the Security Council.

As biased as the U.N. is., we are a member of the community of nations and will fight for our rights there but I hope that the new administration will have a comprehensive review of policies at the U.N. not just towards Israel but also towards the United States.

The U.N. is a cesspool of anti-Americanism and anti-Israel activity. I hope the new administration with bipartisan support in Congress will look at those programs and not simply give a blank check to all of this anti-American and anti-Israel hostility.


TAPPER: This is the first U.N. Security Council Resolution criticizing Israel that has passed during the Obama administration. One, that compares to the President George W. Bush years where six passed. Ronald Reagan, 21 passed. Obama's critics however said this resolution was different since it defined the settlements as illegal which could have ramifications.

Our Oren Liebermann is live for us in Jerusalem. Athena Jones is with the president in Honolulu Hawaii and here with me in Studio is CNN's Elise Labott.

Oren, let me start with you. Ambassador Dermer promised that this is just the beginning of their fight, where might it go from here?

OREN LIEBERMANN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu hasn't backed off any language he's used without question hardest criticism we've seen from the Netanyahu government directed right at President Obama. Netanyahu has made it very clear he thinks this action is lashing out that Obama was in his words measured, responsible and vigorous.

He also says that that this won't hurt Israel's standing in the long run that country will come to respect Israel for standing up to itself. What Netanyahu has made clear, however is that, he's done working with president Obama as Ron Dermer, the Israeli Ambassador to the U.S. just made clear Netanyahu and his entire government are looking for President-elect Trump who promises to be much friendlier to Israeli government of Netanyahu.

TAPPER: All right. Oren, Thank you so much. Elise, Israel says that they have evidence that U.S. was working with Palestinians and others on this resolution but they're going to or they have not yet revealed that evidence publicly publicly. What are you hearing?

ELISE LABOTT, CNN GLOBAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Well, I mean, look a Palestinian delegation was here a few weeks ago talking with Secretary of State John Kerry. I think it has something to do with information they have about that. They've been very kind of coy about what evidence they have. But, look, this administration has known about this resolution for some time. It's been in the works for about a year and Secretary Kerry was in New Zealand, he did talk to the foreign minister of New Zealand who voted for the resolution.

The administration has been coordinating on language because it needed to know whether it would be able to vote for something. But what the Israelis are charging, whether it would be able to vote for something. But what the Israelis are charging is that President Obama and Secretary Kerry orchestrated this, that they were involved in kind of drafting this and pushing this along.

I think somewhere in the middle is probably the truth. The administration says, "Oh, we didn't draft it. We didn't put it forward", but they certainly were involved making sure that it was a certain text in getting it to the Security Council.

TAPPER: All right, Elise, Thank you. Athena, is President Obama sending a message here to Benjamin Netanyahu after a very contentious eight years and no lost love between them?

[13:05:04] ATHENA JONES, CNN GENERAL ASSIGNMENT CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Jake. I think it's fair to say that he is sending a message and that message is that the White House, the Obama administration agrees with much of the international community that the continued building, the continued construction of these settlements on disputed lands is not helpful to the peace process and not helpful to any eventual two-state solution.

The White House would argue that their position on this has been clear for years. Now, this may be a new low in this contentious relationship between these two leaders, but another recent low, you'll remember, was just last year. March of 2015 when Congressional Republicans without consulting the White House invited the Prime Minister to address a Joint Session of Congress to express his opposition to the Iran nuclear deal, he said that deal not only wouldn't work, but it could lead to the destruction of the Jewish State of Israel.

So this has been a difficult relationship for some time. Netanyahu believes that President Obama is naive when it comes to issues with involving the Middle East. And, of course, president Obama has been talking since his campaign in 2008 about his willingness to engage with Iran. So there a lot of disagreement between these two men, this may be just the latest example of how difficult that relationship has been, and as you said, as we heard from Oren, Prime Minister Netanyahu, very much looking forward to the next administration. Jake?

TAPPER: All right. Athena Jones, Elise Labott, Oren Liebermann, thanks one and all.

Let's bring in Michael Oren, he's the phone in Jerusalem. He is the former Israeli Ambassador to the United States. He's now a member of the parliament in Israel, the Knesset, and he's Deputy Minister of Diplomacy.

Ambassador, thank you for joining us. We appreciate it.


TAPPER: So talk to me about the evidence your government claims to have that the U.S. actually drafted this resolution conspired to put it forward at the Security Council. What kind of evidence are we talking about?

OREN: Well, with that things that they have received from a -- they receive from other governments around the world who have been involved in this. And I think that we're not talking -- we're not disclosing those sources. I think that the Prime Minister's made it very clear that he believes that the -- that President Obama's administration has been instrumental in formulating this resolution and advancing it.

That it's a pretty serious charge. I think the overwhelming sense in the state of Israel and I'm talking to you from the streets of Jerusalem. This is a sense of hurt, a sense of abandonment, a sense of outrage where I'm talking to you here. It's about a two hour drive from where 400,000 Syrians have been massacred. About a for hour drive from where the massacres occurring in Iraq from a civil war in Sinai about three hours and the United States and the Security Council are beating up on the newly term with democracy. It's very, very outrageous for us.

TAPPER: I guess one of the questions that the Obama administration would put to you is, how much longer can Israel call itself a democracy if you control vast swathe of territory in which Palestinians don't have the right of travel, the right to vote, are you not putting yourself with all of these settlements and without any sort of peace process actually going on, on a course to no longer be a democracy?

OREN: We hear the question quite often, but here's one answer, first of all, Palestinians have a right to travel. A 100,000 Palestinians enter Israel everyday. They laid about five minutes across the border in most cases. Palestinians can vote. They can vote for their own leadership. Their leadership has decided for 10 years now not to hold an election, because they know that President Mahmoud Abbas will be defeated by Hamas. We haven't stopped their election.

So we have to deal with these untruths all the time, Jake, but the fact of the matter is we have been waiting for eight years at a negotiating table for the Palestinians to show up. Prime Minister Netanyahu has got to begin again that he's willing to negotiate directly with the Palestinian leadership without preconditions to reach a solution based and two states for two peoples and every time he has stuck on his hand in peace to President Abbas that has been swatted away, and now this resolution comes, which enables the Palestinians not only to overrun the peace process not to sit down at the table but to take Israel to court and brand Israel as an international criminal and the sanction and boycott us. And they're going to do that not to get a better two-state solution, but to take us down.

TAPPER: Do you think that -- is that why Israel seems to be making a much bigger deal out of this abstention by the United States and the U.N. Security Council? The one resolution, critical of Israel that Obama has permitted to happen as opposed to the six that happened during George W. Bush's administration or the three during Clinton or the 21 during Reagan? Is that the distinction, the idea that because of this resolution, now Israeli soldiers will be able to be taken to criminal -- the International Criminal Court?

[13:10:09] OREN: It's not only these real soldiers, it's 600,000 citizens of State of Israel who live in areas which more than 50 years ago, were part of Jordan, which nobody remembers what these lines are in the City of Jerusalem anymore. My own kids wouldn't know what those lines are in the City of Jerusalem. It is taking the western wall, the coattail, the holiest site in Jerusalem and categorizing it as a legally occupied land. Any Jew who prays in the holiest place in Judaism is going to be branded an international criminal.

Now, think about that. That does not -- the Reagan Administration denouncing us for blowing up the Iraqi nuclear reactor in 1981, by the way, they thanked this court later. But it is a resolution which you can have profoundly, profoundly harmful effects to this state.

And what can we say after eight years? I mean, we've had now two major blows to our security. The first was Iran nuclear deal, the second is this resolution.

We've dealt with many, many blows by securing the past, but never have we dealt with blows that have been dealt by our number one ally in the world, by the United States of America. And that is why this state has been reacting in the way it has and why it feels a sense of outrage and hurt.

TAPPER: Former Israeli Ambassador to the United States, Michael Oren, thank you so much. Happy Hanukkah. Coming up --

OREN: Thank you.

TAPPER: -- President-Elect Trump says he will shut down his charitable foundation to cut down on potential conflicts of interest. But it's not as easy as just shutting off the lights. We'll explain. And fans come to say goodbye to pop icon, George Michael. Stay with us.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It's like losing our brother.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yeah. It's like loosing a family member.




[13:15:07] TAPPER: The presidential inauguration is a mere 25 days away and President-elect Donald Trump says he's pulling the plug on his controversial Trump Foundation. Critics say it's a token gesture that does little to resolve larger concerns about potential conflicts of interests, to say nothing about questions about the foundation raised by the New York attorney general and others.

The president-elect is in Florida for the holidays. Correspondent Jessica Schneider joins us now from Palm Beach with the latest on the Trump transition.

And, Jessica, tell us about the complications that might affect the president-elect's decision to try to dissolve the Trump Foundation. JESSICA SCHNEIDER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Jake, New York's attorney general is saying quite simply it won't be that easy. They're saying that the president-elect cannot simply end the Trump Foundation, in particular because of the legal entanglements it's in. The spokeswoman for New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman putting it quite succinctly in a statement saying this, saying, "the Trump Foundation is still under investigation by this office and cannot legally dissolve until that investigation is complete."

Now, Attorney General Schneiderman, who was a Hillary Clinton supporter during the campaign, actually launched this investigation in the midst of the campaign, amid allegations that Donald Trump had used the foundation funds to settle some of his personal business dealings. Donald Trump did release a statement, not referring at all to the investigation, but saying that he would dissolve the foundation and saying that he looked to continue his philanthropy in other ways. That despite the fact that Donald Trump has actually not contributed to the foundation since 2008 and the foundation itself, Jake, doesn't have any employees currently.

TAPPER: The Trump transition team delayed an announcement about this much larger issue about how he might try to separate himself from his larger global business empire. When do we expect to learn more about that and what steps the president-elect is likely to take?

SCHNEIDER: Yes, Jake, we're expecting an announcement, possible press conference at some point in the next few weeks. They tell us that it will happen in January. That's after a postponed December 15th press conference.

But, of course, this is all quite a cumbersome process. The general counsel for the Trump Organization telling CNN this weekend that they're looking at ways to actually re-evaluate some of their various transactions around the world. They're also looking at ways to comply with various conflicts laws.

Now, of course, Donald Trump has said it. He is immune from those conflicts laws and he is, in fact, right. But, of course, that is - there is that emoluments clause in the Constitution. It has not been tested. But it does bar public officials from accepting money from foreign governments. Donald Trump, of course, with business dealings all over the world, and it still is to be determined how exactly he will deal with dissolving perhaps parts of his vast empire across the world, but we are expecting more information in the next few weeks in a January press conference.


TAPPER: All right, Jessica Schneider, live for us from Palm Beach, thank you so much.

Democrats are dismissing President-elect Trump's decision to shut down his foundation. The DNC issuing a statement today saying, quote, "shuttering a charity is no substitute for divesting from his for- profit business and putting the assets in a blind trust - the only way to guarantee separation between the Trump administration and the Trump business," unquote.

Let's bring in our panel to talk about all of this. Mollie Hemingway, senior editor for "The Federalist," CNN political commentator Ryan Lizza, and Washington - who's also Washington correspondent for "The New Yorker," and CNN chief political correspondent Dana Bash.

Dana, let me just start with you. What is your take on this news that he's going to try to dissolve the Trump Foundation?

DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Look, I mean the fact that they - you don't release something that you really think is going to be very good news without a lot of repercussions on Christmas Eve if you don't think there's going to be repercussions. And that's what it is. I mean, look, it's a good first step, if, in fact, this is the beginning of, as Jessica was talking about, trying to separate himself from his vast for-profit holdings. But, you know, it - he knew and knows that he's under investigation, and it's not so easy.

You know, the other thing that he's said is that they're going to stop operations. Jessica also did point out that he personally hasn't donated in - one was 2008.

TAPPER: It was 2008 and they don't have any employees right now at the Trump Foundation.

BASH: Eight years ago.

TAPPER: The bigger issue, obviously, Ryan -

BASH: Yes.

TAPPER: Is the Trump global business empire. We still don't know what he's going to do with that. The suggestion so far has seemed to be that Eric and Don Jr., his sons, his adult sons, are going to run the family business, and he will, like, wall himself off in some sort of way.


TAPPER: That's probably not going to be enough to satisfy his critics, including conservatives.

LIZZA: Well - yes. Yes, I mean you know the two leading ethical former government officials, Painter from the Bush administration and Izeman (ph) from the Obama administration, have laid out very clear boundaries about what is normal in this case if you're not the president. But most government officials, you have to divest and you have to put it in a true blind trust. We have no idea where the assets are. Anything short of that will - there will be potential for conflicts of interest.

[13:20:06] What I think maybe he's learning with this announcement on the foundation and as he sort of gropes towards figuring out what the - what the final disposition of the for-profit enterprises will be, is that why does he want to deal with the political ramifications -

BASH: Exactly.

LIZZA: Of this that will just - I think it could overwhelm his administration. Every time there is a relationship, a policy statement with respect to a foreign country where he has any business, their - the headline is going to be, what's the angle here for his business? How are his sons benefitting from this? And just whether - even if it's not actually that way, but the appearance. So I think that - what he may realize is just politically, if he wants to be a successful president, he should just put this behind him.

TAPPER: And, Mollie, we've talked about this a great deal on "The Lead" with you on, and it's actually in his best interest to try to wall off as much of this as possible for his own, for the sake of his own presidency.

MOLLIE HEMINGWAY, SENIOR EDITOR, "THE FEDERALIST": It's true. But it's also true that he gets a lot of his self-esteem from his business dealings. He enjoys running his business. It's the thing he enjoying more than anything else. So I think it's been hard for him to get to this step of realizing all the trouble that will be involved in running these.

This is a good first step with the foundation. Fairly inconsequential, but a good first step. And, yes, there needs to be much more done with the larger businesses. I think that people should again try and help him with his, encourage transparency, encourage accountability and really try and come up with some good solutions because it is a very complicated process.

BASH: Can I just say, I mean you're - you're totally right about Donald Trump and that this is his whole persona, it's his whole ego, it's who he is, his businesses, but it doesn't get much better than being president of the United States.

LIZZA: Yes, he's got a new one now.

BASH: So, you know, he can adopt that and, you know, put these others aside for four or eight years.

TAPPER: But I think her diagnosis is correct.

Speaking of diagnoses, in an interview with his former senior advisor, David Axelrod, President Obama talked about the challenges Democrats face moving forward. This is from "The Axe Files." Take a listen.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: If we can't find some way to break through what is a complicated history in the south and start winning races there and winning back the southern white voters without betraying our commitment to civil rights and diversity, if we can't do those things, then we can win elections, but we will see the same kinds of patterns that we saw during my presidency, a progressive president, but a gridlocked Congress that can't move an agenda for us.

(END VIDEO CLIP) TAPPER: I'm not sure what progressive president he's talking about, but he's talking about the need for Congress to become more politically diverse than it is now.

BASH: OK. So the - the black Republican in the Senate is from South Carolina and Hillary Clinton lost Midwest states, northern states, that had been historically the place for the most - or the most open to diversity. So I'm not exactly sure where he was going with that. If he was really trying to kind of paint the kind of diagnosis that he wanted to paint about the election, and about his presidency, as opposed to the reality of what it looks like.

HEMINGWAY: It's a fascinating interview, but it really dos confirm a lot of critics worst fears about Obama, that he lives in a bubble, that he's unable to take responsibility for his actions and that he doesn't see criticism of himself as legitimate. Like in 2008, when he was elected president, Democrats controlled all three branches of government. During his time, Democrats have lost more than 1,000 seats. They lost control of Congress. And in large part because his agenda was unpopular, not communicated well also, and it's just fascinating to read this review and see him not coming to terms with the unpopularity of his own plans, such as Obamacare, which he thinks was just nothing more than Republican obstinacy and a messaging problem. No, it was unpopular. Massachusetts voters elected Scott Brown to replace Ted Kennedy because of how much they didn't like Obamacare. It only got more unpopular the more people lost their health insurance after promises that they wouldn't. It would be nice to see a little bit of accountability from the president who oversaw this much loss for the Democratic Party.

TAPPER: All right, and we're going to come back to you. We're going to take a very quick break. Stick around. We'll be back to you in just a few minutes.

In what has become the first family's Christmas tradition, President Obama and the first lady spent part of the day with troops and their families at Marine Corps Base Hawaii. The president talked about it being his last Christmas there as president, but he promised to be back. He thanked the Marines and their families for their service.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: It's impossible for us to fully repay what you've done and the sacrifices that you make, but at least it's important to hear from us that what you do matters, and that we know about it, and that we're grateful, and that we'll stay grateful even when many of you end up being out of uniform.


[13:25:07] TAPPER: Up next, our panel breaks down their top political stories of 2016, and, no, they're not all ten about Donald Trump. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) TAPPER: Stunning, astonishing, unprecedented, un-presidented, those are just some of the words used to describe this year in politics as one administration ends and another is about to begin. Here is a CNN look at the top ten political stories of 2016.


TAPPER (voice-over): Number ten, conservative Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia died suddenly in February.

REP. PAUL RYAN (R), HOUSE SPEAKER: Everything is on the line.

TAPPER: And in an unprecedented move, Republicans vowed to block any high court appointments until after the presidential election.

JOE BIDEN, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Simply to turn your back before the president even names a nominee is not an option the Constitution leaves open.

TAPPER: Judge Merrick Garland was nominated in March but never even had a hearing. Number nine.

Number nine -

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: You want to give me a good sendoff? Go vote.

TAPPER: In their final presidential year, the Obamas hit the campaign trail.

MICHELLE OBAMA, FIRST LADY: When they go low, we go high.

TAPPER: With more catch phrases -

B. OBAMA: Come on, man.

TAPPER: And less restraints -

B. OBAMA: Donald Trump is uniquely unqualified to be president.

TAPPER: But a different tone after the Democratic defeat.

B. OBAMA: If you succeed, then the country succeeds.

TAPPER: Number eight -

DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENT-ELECT: I beat everybody. I beat the hell out of them.

TAPPER: Donald Trump won the Republican nomination but struggled to win over the party. Republican leaders distanced themselves.

[13:30:05] TAPPER (on camera): Will you support him?

RYAN: I'm just not ready to do that.

TAPPER (voice-over): But will the party now unify around President Trump?

RYAN: We're going to hit the ground running.