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Senate Can Delay Trump's Nominations; Trump on Russian Hacking; ISIS Claims Responsibility for Two Attacks. Aired 12-12:30p ET

Aired January 2, 2017 - 12:00   ET



[12:00:12] PAMELA BROWN, CNN ANCHOR: Hello and welcome to the CNN NEWSROOM. Thanks so much for being here with us, and happy New Year. I'm Pamela Brown.

Well, 18 days and counting until President-elect Donald Trump becomes President Trump, but the process of turning his most urgent plans and priorities and talking points into action starts just 24 hours from now. That's day one of the 115th Congress. Republican majorities in both houses eager, in most cases, to confirm the cabinet of the president-elect and to begin unwinding Obamacare. The program's namesake is planning a lame duck visit to Capitol Hill on Wednesday to talk about ways to defend it. And, meantime, his successor is promising to share some alleged intelligence on the hacking, leaking and trolling that plagued the Democrats in this year's elections. Donald Trump still doesn't buy the Russians did it.


DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENT-ELECT: I know a lot about hacking, and hacking is a very hard thing to prove, so it could be somebody else. And I also know things that other people don't know, and so they cannot be sure of this situation.

QUESTION: (INAUDIBLE) what do you know that other people don't know?

TRUMP: You'll find out on Tuesday or Wednesday.


BROWN: Joining me now to discuss all of this, our CNN chief political reporter Dana Bash, correspondent Sunlen Serfaty and from New York national politics reporter MJ Lee.

Great to have you with us, ladies.

Dana, I'm going to start with you with the confirmations. As we know, Dems don't have the numbers to - to block, but they can drag this out, right?

DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: They can. And Senate Democrats are saying that they are going to focus in on eight nominees. As you said, not that they're threatening to outright block, mostly because they can't.

BROWN: Right.

BASH: They don't have the numbers to do so even if they wanted to. But that these are people that they say that they simply don't have enough information on yet to allow Republicans to fast track. So they're going to do the opposite of that. They're going to try to slow walk them a little bit.

And I just want to focus in on three of the ones who I think could pose the most problems for Donald Trump because of that. And they are Rex Tillerson, the CEO of Exxon. And I'm not saying he will be a problem ultimately in terms of the substance of who he is and what he will do, but Democrats say, look, they really do need to see all of his paperwork, his taxes. They need him to file with the Government of Ethics Office and so forth because he, just like the other two on this - on the screen here, Betsy Devos for education secretary and Steve Mnuchin for treasury secretary, they are business people with a lot of money and a lot of business interests. And just historically speaking, one Democrat this morning said to me, remember Penny Pritzker, who comes from a very wealthy family. He said that before she was nominated, before, she took six months to unravel herself, and that the good news is for the Trump campaign, and the Trump transition, they have been pretty fast in picking his cabinet. The bad news is, they put that cart before the horse of getting all of the information that they need to the Government of Ethics and also the FBI.

BROWN: So then do you expect people like Jeff Sessions who, as we know, has already been vetted -

BASH: Yes.

BROWN: For that to move along more quickly then in that case or -

BASH: Well, people like Jeff Sessions, who, of course, is one of their own, a Senate colleague, has different issues because he is somebody who - different issues for Democrats, not necessarily Republicans. He is somebody who has the baggage of being somebody that they know. But I think that because, as you said, he is sort of a public figure, you would think that he would have fewer potential problems. Having said that, remember, Tom Daschle was the Senate majority leader, and after, you know - when we finally got his information, it turned out that he had some tax issues and he had to withdraw his nomination. So you never know.

BROWN: You never know.

BASH: And that's why this information, this paperwork, is so critical for them to get.

BROWN: That's right.

Sunlen, I want to turn to you. We heard Donald Trump speaking there saying offhandedly that he has information that most people don't have and he's going to reveal more about that on Tuesday or Wednesday. Do we know what he's planning exactly and what that information might be? SUNLEN SERFATY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: No, we don't at all. We do know

that Trump is going to get an intel briefing at some point midweek, likely in New York City. But about this charge that he made on New Year's Eve night to reporters that he knows more things and that he would reveal them at some point, he - and he specifically said, I'll reveal them Tuesday or Wednesday, which is notable -

BROWN: Right.

SERFATY: We don't know. It's very unclear of what he's talking about and he's not specified yet what he's talked about. It was very notable, though, that his incoming White House press secretary, Sean Spicer, this morning tried to clean this up a little bit. He said, you know, he's not going to be making this big reveal of big information. Rather, it's just going to be him talking broadly about the conclusion. So trying to down play the big, you know, thing that Trump said on Saturday night.

[12:05:05] BROWN: And so what we do know, Sunlen, is that he continues to cast doubt that Russia is, in fact, to blame. How are Republicans responding to this reluctance about Russia?

SERFATY: Yes, we've seen a lot of Republicans responding full force to this. McCain, Senator Graham, a lot of Republicans don't believe what Donald Trump believes. They believe that Russia indeed was behind these hacks, believes the intel community's conclusions as well, and being very vocal about it. You have senators pushing for hearings coming in the final days. But if you listen to Donald Trump during the campaign trail and the last few days, it's very clear he's doubling down on the doubts, really trying to, you know, not play into these conclusions. A lot of skepticism still coming from him on this.

BROWN: And before we wrap up, I want to go to MJ Lee in New York.

Walk us through, if you would, MJ, the Republicans legislative priorities that we know of, particularly when it comes to Obamacare, of course?

MJ LEE, CNN NATIONAL POLITICAL REPORTER: Yes, well, remember, that repeal and replace Obamacare, this has been the Republican Party's rallying cry ever since Obamacare became law in 2010. And essentially that moment has finally come and that is because the Republican Party is about to control the House and the Senate, as well as the White House.

But it is hard to sort of overstate how extremely complicated and messy this political battle is about to be. And to walk through just what we're going to see happen on Capitol Hill this week. Lawmakers return to Congress tomorrow and essentially Republicans are going to get started right away to put the wheels in motion, to repeal major parts of Obamacare. They are going to do this through a budget reconciliation process, which is essentially a fast track process to avoid a Senate filibuster.

Now, here's why repeal and replace is actually very misleading. Republicans are not actually going to propose a plan right away to replace Obamacare. They're actually just doing the repeal. If they do what we expect them to do and what has been, you know, discussed by Republican leader so far, they're going to do the repeal and essentially delay the repeal from going into effect for as many as two or three years. Again, these are plans that are currently being discussed by Republican leaders.

Now, what that means is that the replace would not actually happen for some time, and this is why this is such a politically tricky issue for Republicans because if you talk to health care experts, they say that even if the repeal does not actually go into effect for a while, this is something that could cause a lot of uncertainty and essentially chaos in the insurance market because insurance companies will feel like they don't have the incentive essentially to stay in the marketplace. This is why Republicans are sort of buying themselves some time by proposing sort of this replace - repeal, rather, and delay path, rather than actually doing repeal and replace right away.

BROWN: So just to put this in perspective, remind us, again, how many Americans have a stake in Obamacare's fate, and do we know anything at all about what Republicans plan to replace it with? Any clues? I know you said they're going to delay that, but do we know anything?

LEE: Right. I mean that's the - the big billion dollar question, I think, is, how exactly they're going to do this. And actually if you talk to some Senate Republicans right now and House Republicans as well, they're sort of getting this idea out there that the replace part might be a piecemeal effect. That this isn't going to be one big law. That we shouldn't necessarily expect there to be a big bill that actually does all of the replacing.

And to your question of just how many Americans are affected, I mean, this is a massive, massive law. It is a law that overhaul the country's health care system. My colleague, Tammy Lubi (ph), had some great reporting today on about how many people were affected, and that's virtually every American. I mean, first of all, there's the 20 million people who actually obtained coverage through Obamacare. Secondly, there's, you know, Obamacare making significant changes to Medicare. Also reform Medicaid.

And also if Obamacare is repealed, the employer mandate could go away. So we are talking about many, many people sort of across the spectrum who were indirectly or directly affected by Obamacare. And, again, this is why Republicans are trying to buy themselves time to really figure out how they're going to go through with the very complicated task of replacing what they want to repeal in the coming weeks.

BROWN: OK. MJ Lee, thank you for braking that down for us. Dana Bash, Sunlen Serfaty, thank you. Appreciate it.

BASH: Thank you.

BROWN: And I want to bring in two other very smart minds. Bob Cusack is editor-in-chief of "The Hill," Abby Phillip covers politics for "The Washington Post."

Bob, first to you. Just the why. Why is Donald Trump breaking from the intelligence community and his fellow Republicans by continuing to cast doubt on Russia's role in the election hacking? What's the end goal there?

[12:10:11] BOB CUSACK, EDITOR-IN-CHIEF, "THE HILL": Well, I think, Pamela, part of it is that it's been pointed as a reason of why he won, and he rejects that and anything that takes away from his election's stunning victory on November 8th, he has been very reflexive and say, listen, it's not because of that.

I do think that - obviously he knows stuff that we all don't know because he is getting intelligence briefings. But as he gets his team in there, his CIA boss, his people at the head of the other intelligence agencies, I think he might - he might pivot a little bit and have a different tone on this. But it is striking. I mean you have John McCain, Lindsey Graham all believing that Russia was at fault here and Donald Trump saying, no, it's very difficult to prove. So I think the American people have to see the proof.

BROWN: And, Abby, I want to play the latest pushback from team Trump on the hacking controversy. Here's what Sean Spicer said on CNN this morning, talking about what Trump and the U.S. intelligence community claim to know.


SEAN SPICER, INCOMING WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: As president-elect, he is privy to information that most people aren't, and he is able to understand what the intelligence is and draw conclusions from that. But one thing I think is missing from this discussion, Alisyn, is, this report that everyone keeps talking about is not final. The president - the current president of the United States hasn't seen a final report. The intelligence community has talked about wrapping it up later this week. So for anybody to be going out and talking about what's in the report, it's not final yet. And I think that the idea that we're jumping to conclusions before we have the final report is, frankly, irresponsible.


BROWN: So it is true, Abby, as we know, that we're waiting for that comprehensive review that President Obama had ordered about the Russia hacking. But when you look at what has been released, there was that statement in October from the intelligence community. And then just last week, the FBI and DHS put out this report that not only spells out what happened in great detail, it gives it a name, "Grizzly Step" (ph). Let me read just two sentences in this report.

It says, "the U.S. government confirms that two different Russian intelligence service actors participated in the intrusion into a U.S. political party. Both groups have historically targeted government organizations, think tanks, universities, and corporations around the world." Sounds pretty definitive to me, Abby.

ABBY PHILLIP, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Right. I mean Sean is right on some level that the president-elect has access to information that not everybody has. But there are other people who would have the same information that the president-elect does have, and you don't see very many people coming out and denying the very involvement of the Russian government in cyberattacks throughout the election. I mean I think that's the sort of basic premise of the conversation here that the president-elect has repeatedly denied is even a part of the conversation.

And, you know, I mean, this whole talk about Trump and Russia and Putin is part of a - the process, I think, of this incoming administration wanting to change the nature of the relationship between these two countries that has been growing colder over the last, you know, year or year - several years, in fact. And so I think Trump is very hesitant to come out and be critical of Putin when he wants to come in and reset that relationship. But he has to be very careful that he's not doing that in defiance of the facts and in defiance of his own party and the political support that he needs to have in order to pursue foreign policy goals.

You know, the Republican Party is full of a lot of very influential lawmakers who are pretty certain that what we saw in this last election was Russia delving into our election. And for Trump to sort of go against that would require a lot of political capital, in addition to the many other things that he wants to do in his first, you know, 100 or so days in office.

BROWN: And, Bob, what does all of this mean in your view for Rex Tillerson's nomination for secretary of state?

CUSACK: Well, I think Democrats, as you guys were talking about earlier, it's going to be very difficult to torpedo any one of his cabinet because he just needs Republicans to stick together to get a majority of senators. So I don't think they're going to be able to derail nominations.

But I think they're going to be asking a lot of questions about Russia. Tillerson, obviously, has a relationship with Putin, business relationship. And I also think they're going to be pressing these cabinet choices on policy because on some policies we don't know where Donald Trump stands. He's changed his positions. He's pivoted since the primary. So I think they're going to be trying to get - where do you stand on immigration? Where do you stand on deportation? Where do you stand on regulations? What are you going to do about Medicare and Social Security? Those are the policy questions that I think Democrats are going to go after.

BROWN: All right, so, Abby, before we wrap up, I want to talk about Obamacare. What can Democrats and Obama's visit to The Hill do to impact the outcome? As we know, Republicans had made it a legislative priority to repeal and replace it.

[12:15:09] PHILLIP: Well, you know, I think Republicans are pretty set on this and as MJ pointed out, there have been plans in, you know, in - on the back burner just waiting for a Republican administration to go about this process.

But the real issue is, what happens when you start to roll back a law that is in - that is weaved into the fabric of the American insurance industry. And the problem with delaying implementing a replacement of Obamacare is that you basically destabilize the entire system. Republicans are going to have to reassure insurance companies. And those reassurances might have to take a financial form, which causes a whole set of other problems, including how you pay for that.

So I think that Democrats, President Obama, are probably going to be spending a lot of time talking about those unintended consequences and pointing out the degree to which a repeal and delay plan is simply untenable and could cause more problems, could end up being more expensive for the country in the long-term.

BROWN: Abby Phillip, Bob Cusack, thank you very much. Happy New Year to you both.

PHILLIP: Happy New Year.

CUSACK: Thanks.

BROWN: And up next, breaking news in that massive - mass nightclub shooting in Turkey. Eight people detained, and a picture of the gunman still on the run. Coming up, what ISIS is saying about the New Year's Eve mass shooting. Stay with us. We'll be right back.


BROWN: Breaking news this hour in the mass nightclub shooting in Turkey. A new photo showing the man Turkish police are looking for in the wake of Sunday's attack that killed 39 people celebrating the New Year in Istanbul. Now, we cannot independently verify the authenticity of this image you see right here, but its release follows a reported claim of responsibility from ISIS. A statement said to be from the terror group suggested the attack was aimed at Christians celebrating the holiday. At last check, 46 people were still being treated for injuries, including one American. He has been identified as William Jacob Rock (ph).

[12:20:22] CNN's Ian Lee is with us now from Istanbul.

So, Ian, any progress on finding the gunman?

IAN LEE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: well, so far we haven't heard any updates about actually finding the gunman himself. But we have heard that they've detained eight people in connection with this. They're interrogating them to find out what part, if any, they played in this attack.

Also we're hearing from the deputy prime minister that they have an image of him. They also has - they have his fingerprint. And they're hoping that this not only helps find where he's hiding right now in Turkey, but also if he had any help and what the power structure is behind it.

Now, we know ISIS claimed responsibility for this attack, saying that they were targeting this club specifically because, as you pointed out earlier, they're targeting Christians celebrating the New Year. When, in fact, most of the people who were killed and injured were actually Muslims celebrating the New Year.

Turkey has also come - came under - has come under criticism for not having enough security, even though the night of New Year's Eve there was a lot of security around Istanbul. It was noticeably higher. But the Turkish authorities did say that they - they stopped 248 attacks before they happen. So they're defending their security services. But, again, this man was able to go into that nightclub, kill 39 people, and escape and still hasn't been caught.

BROWN: Ian Lee, thank you very much, reporting there from Istanbul.

And let's dive a little bit deeper into the latest attack in Turkey. Two of our experts are with us now. CNN's senior law enforcement analyst Tom Fuentes joins us. He is a former assistant FBI director. And we are also joined by CNN intelligence and security analyst Bob Baer. He's a former CIA operative.

Bob, I want to start with you. We are just two days into 2017. We've seen another attack claimed by ISIS besides the one in Istanbul. It says it's also responsible for a bombing in Baghdad that killed at least 35 people today. What kind of a statement do you think ISIS is trying to make here?

BOB BAER, CNN INTELLIGENCE AND SECURITY ANALYST: I think with Istanbul it's a declaration of war on Turkey. In the past, they've been reluctant to claim attack. They've been reluctant to make attacks in Turkey, although it was very easy for them. They had hoped that Turkey would, in a sense, ally with t hem. And now that Turkey has concluded an agreement with Iran and Russia, it's joined the enemy ranks. And, frankly, the Turks were not surprised by this attack. They have been anticipating it. They've been trying to close these networks down, but that border is so porous. Weapons, explosives, people coming across it and keeping track of all the Syrian-Iraqi refugees is virtually impossible for the Turkish police.

BROWN: And, Tom, as we know, we heard in Ian's report there that the Turks have detained a number of people in the wake of this attack. In your view, are they likely to find their man in this case?

TOM FUENTES, CNN SENIOR LAW ENFORCEMENT ANALYST: I think, Pam, there's a good chance that they won't find their man. You know, you're talking about a city of 14 million people and on the border with Syria. So even though they have fingerprints and they have a photo of the face of the shooter, that still may be difficult for them to actually find the right person.

I don't put a lot of stock in the eight people that they're detaining. They could detain anybody they want trying to - you know, if they had somebody in detention whose fingerprints matched that gun, they'd be able to go ahead and charge them and identify them. So it's a good chance those eight people were not involved in the shooting, may know the shooter, but they may not give cooperation anyway.

BROWN: And, Bob, in your view, what are the challenges facing intelligence services right now when it comes to finding this one person who could be anywhere at this point? BAER: Well, Pamela, the big question is, did he get help? We don't

know that yet. Did he have an exit route that he had planned? Did somebody on the other side meet him, pick him up in a car? Because, remember, this occurred next to a police station. The Turks were deployed all over the city. It seems to me he had an escape route. And if he did, they, as Tom said, they may get him out of the country. But the longer this goes on, the more worrisome the problems are in Turkey. I mean they're fighting a two-front war against the Kurdish workers party and against the Islamic state, and you just had a coup. Let's put it this way, Turkey is on the edge.

BROWN: It certainly is.

And, Tom, when you look at what ISIS has been capable of accomplishing, if you will, it has shown it does not need sophisticated methods to cause serious damage. The gunman in Sunday's nightclub apparently got past some tight security in Istanbul before killing dozens. What can law enforcement do?

[12:25:04] FUENTES: Not much. You know, apparently he encountered a security guard outside the night nightclub and shot him dead and then went about his business of shooting other people. So that's pretty difficult.

And also, you don't have explosives apparently involved in this, so one guy with handguns or semiautomatic rifles doesn't need a safe house to manufacture explosive devices where they could identify that through neighbors or assistance in the community.

And also don't forget, ISIS has had a huge transportation network in Turkey now since 2014 so that Europeans, Americans, Asians wanting to join the caliphate would transit through Turkey, and Turkey was very tolerant until recently. Now Turkey clamps down, but it's a little bit too late. You already have this large network of ISIS and ISIS supporters in Turkey assisting people still. And so it would be very easy to get this person out into Syria where he may have been from Syria in the first place. So this could go unsolved.

BROWN: And, Bob, earlier you touched on the politics in the region. Why should people in the United States be paying attention, close attention, and care about what's playing out in Turkey?

BAER: Exactly. Our first reaction, Pamela, is say, well, it's a foreign country, it happens far away, there conflicts we don't understand. But, remember, you have to look at the sheer number of refugees that Turkey has taken in. Turkey will take in, as the conflicts in the Middle East go on, and if they should lose control of their borders, or they should be forced to push these people north into Europe, that will threaten Europe's stability. Turkey is the soft underbelly of Europe. It's a member of NATO. If it goes down, I'm not saying it is, it would be an enormous catastrophe for the entire world, including the United States.

BROWN: So you see this as a direct national security issue for the United States.

Tom, how do you view it?

FUENTES: Well, I agree. And you have the issue of a copycat. So here in the United States, we have over 300 million guns at large in our population, so we're talking about one person getting ahold of one of those guns and launching an attack and could do it on his own without telling any of his friends or neighbors and we could have another shooting like the Orlando nightclub shooting. So it's almost impossible to stop if that's what we end up with, a lone wolf who wants to get a gun and guns are a dime a dozen here for anybody to get ahold of.

BROWN: I mean, and I know you - I asked you this earlier, what can law enforcement do when we were talking about Turkey, but in the United States, the challenge that the FBI faces, what can the FBI do to prevent further attack like you just talked about?

FUENTES: Well, the FBI is very good. But, unfortunately, their training has not enabled them to read people's minds. So if you have an individual who becomes radicalized somehow, becomes sympathetic to the cause of ISIS or any other terror group, and they don't tell anybody else, they don't share it, they don't ask for help, you know, they just get the weapon and go to work and start shooting people, there's not much law enforcement can do if someone doesn't get into one of the social media systems, tell friends or neighbors, issue some kind of a warning. There - there has to be something that comes into public information and then that gets relayed to law enforcement. And if we don't have that, you know, in the Orlando shooting, there's a question of whether the wife knew he was going to go to the club and shoot people in the club, but nobody else really knew. So that's the problem is, they cannot read people's minds and you don't want a law enforcement system where they could.

BROWN: All right, Tom Fuentes, Bob Baer, thank you.

FUENTES: You're welcome.

BROWN: Up next, Donald Trump says he knows a lot about hacking, so what does he know that others in Washington don't?