Return to Transcripts main page


Trump's Press Conference Overview; Trump on Business Separation; Trump Not Releasing Tax Return; Trump on Russia; Tillerson Confirmation Hearing. Aired 2-2:30p ET

Aired January 11, 2017 - 14:00   ET



[14:00:28] WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Hello, I'm Wolf Blitzer in Washington. We're continuing our special coverage of this very, very busy and important day involving hearings up on Capitol Hill, but also involving a news - the first news conference by the president-elect, Donald Trump, in some six months. He finally said Russia was, in fact, behind the hacking during the 2016 presidential election. In this news conference, he was asked about new allegations. Allegations that Russian operatives claimed to have allegedly compromising some - compromising information about the president-elect. Here's what he had to say about that issue and the Russia hack.


QUESTION: Did the heads of the intelligence agencies provide you with a two-page summary of these unsubstantiated allegations? And secondly to that, on the broader picture, do you accept their opinion that Vladimir Putin forded (ph) the hack of the DNC and the attempted hack of the RNC? And if you do, how will that color your attempts to build a relationship with a leader who has been accused of committing an act of espionage?

DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENT-ELECT: OK. First of all, these meetings, as you know, are confidential, classified, so I'm not allowed to talk about what went on in a meeting. But we had many witnesses in that meeting. Many of them with us. And I will say, again, I think it's a disgrace that information would be let out.

I saw the information. I read the information outside of that meeting. It's all fake news. It's phony stuff. It didn't happen. And it was gotten by opponents of ours, as you know because you reported it and so did many of the other people. It was a group of opponents that got together. Sick people. And they put that crap together. So I will tell you that not within the meeting but outside of the meeting, somebody released it. It should never have been - number one, shouldn't have even entered paper, but it should never have been released. But I read what was released and I think it's a disgrace. I think it's an absolute disgrace.

As far as hacking, I think it was Russia, but I think we also get hacked by other countries and other people.

(END VIDEO CLIP) BLITZER: Meantime, Senator John McCain spoke to CNN's Manu Raju about the Russia report involving the president-elect.


SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: And after looking at that information, I took it to the FBI. And I've had no further involvement with the issue. By the way, according to some media reports, they had already had that information, but I didn't know that at the time.

I did what any citizen should do, I received sensitive information, and then I handed it over to the proper agency of government and had nothing else to do with the issue.

QUESTION: Why do you think they came to you?

MCCAIN: No idea.

QUESTION: Do you find the information credible?

MCCAIN: I don't know. That's why I gave it to the FBI. I don't know if it's credible or not. But the information, I thought, deserved to be delivered to the FBI, the appropriate agency of government.

QUESTION: Does it trouble you?

MCCAIN: I don't - it doesn't trouble me because I don't know if it's accurate or not.


QUESTION: Does it make you worried that he is subject to blackmail by the - either Russians or others?

MCCAIN: I - it doesn't bother me because I don't know if it's true or not true because I have no way of corroborating that. The individual gave me the - made sure I received the information. I then looked at it. I decide it's a matter for the FBI and gave it to the FBI.

And, again, I read in the media reports that this wasn't -

say it again, which was - which was in my statement, that I received information and after looking at that information I took it to the FBI and have had no further involvement with the issue.

By the way, according to some media reports, they had already had that information, but I didn't know that at the time. I did what any citizen should do, I received sensitive information and then I handed it over to the proper agency of government and had nothing else to do with the issue.

QUESTION: Why do you think they came to you? MCCAIN: No idea.

QUESTION: Do you find the information credible?

MCCAIN: I don't know. That's why I gave it to the FBI. I don't know if it's credible or not. But the information, I thought, deserved to be delivered to the FBI, the appropriate agency of government.

QUESTION: Does it trouble you?

[14:05:02] MCCAIN: I don't - it doesn't trouble me because I don't know if it's accurate or not.


QUESTION: Does it make you worried that he is -


BLITZER: All right, Senator John McCain speaking to our Manu Raju about these latest allegations.

I want to bring in our panel, our chief national correspondent, the anchor of "Inside Politics," John King is with us, our chief political correspondent Dana Bash, our CNN chief national security correspondent Jim Sciutto, April Ryan is here, she's of American Urban Radio Networks, our CNN political commentator, former spokeswoman for Senator Bernie Sanders' presidential campaign, Symone Sanders, and our CNN political commentator, the former communications director for the Republican National Committee, Doug Heye is with us as well.

Let me bring John King into this conversation first.

John, pretty extraordinary news conference overall. Big picture from the president-elect of the United States.

JOHN KING, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Right, and as someone who, as you covered the White House for a long time, several of us here have, a little advice for our colleagues, if you want to get Donald Trump to give you more than a clause, ask him one careful, specific, focused question. When you ask him three questions, he's going to talk about what he wants to talk about and he's going to ignore what he wants to ignore. You have to be - every politician's a little different. With Donald Trump, if you want to talk to him about it, especially these sensitive issues, you have to ask a very tight, focused question.

DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: And it's understandable that they've been waiting for six months.

KING: I understand. I understand. It's not so much a criticism as an observation. It's hard. I'm not saying it's not hard. I've been through this with different presidents.

Number two, we can get into the specifics of what was said. He believes Russia's responsible for the hack, but other people do it too. So, again, he kind of downplays it. Yes, for the first time he says, I believe the response will - but then he immediately tried to downplay it.

Now, we can get into some media organizations have been quite responsible. Jim, part of our team that broke this story the other day, I think we have been very responsible, even though Donald Trump smeared us a bit at that press conference. Others have done things that are sort of outside the way we were taught journalism.

But I think it's important to note the overall climate here. He will be sworn in behind us in just a few days. He clearly has a contentious, if not dysfunctional relationship with the intelligence community. Very important for a new president. He clearly wants to have a contentious relationship with us. That's his right and his business. We have to deal with that going forward.

There will be a number of questions, and it's not just Democrats, to the part about Senator McCain. Yes, he said he got information. He didn't know what it was. He handed it over to the responsible authorities. Underneath that, though, are serious concerns among Republican foreign policy hawks. Who is Donald Trump? What is his history with Russia. And, more importantly, what is his plan going forward? So I think the climate - you know, normally in a celebratory mood or at least the country's in an anticipatory mood. I think there's still a lot of questions about the early days of this administration.

BLITZER: The news conference obsessively, Dana, was set up for him to explain how he's going to wall off his huge business, the Trump companies off, and there are hundreds of them -

BASH: Sure.

BLITZER: From his being president of the United States and he did have an attorney representing a major firm who had been brought in to seal off as much as possible, although by no means complete. He was also asked this question about whether he's finally going to release his tax returns. Listen to this.


DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENT-ELECT: No, I don't think they care at all. They - I don't think they care at all. I think you care. I think you care.

First of all, you learn very little from a tax return. What you should do is go down to Federal Elections and take a look at the numbers. And, actually, people have learned a lot about my company and now they realize, my company is much bigger, much more powerful than they ever thought. We're in many, many countries and I'm very proud of it.

And what I'm going to be doing is my two sons, who are right here, Don and Eric, are going to be running the company. They are going to be running it in a very professional manner. They're not going to discuss it with me. Again, I don't have to do this.


BLITZER: Legally, he doesn't have to do it.

BASH: Right.

BLITZER: But he is taking some steps. Certainly not going as far as a lot of ethics specialists would like him to do.

BASH: Absolutely. He's taking more steps than he has to legally, but perhaps not enough steps that he won't have minefield after minefield with potential conflicts of interest despite the steps that he's taking that he announced today.

Look, the fundamental argument, and we heard from the lawyer here at the press conference but also did a call earlier today with reporters, is, this is his brand. This is who he is. Why should he have to just sell it all off at a fire sale? And if not that, then why should he have to put it in a blind trust and keep his children from running the company? And even if he did that, it wouldn't prevent the people who want to influence him for doing that for various reasons.

Putting all that aside, look, it's a new world, and the fact that he didn't release his tax returns in the campaign and he wasn't punished for it, I'm not sure it's going to change anything. It's just not. We should keep asking. I don't know who asked the question. I applaud them for asking. We should keep pressing because it is a kind of - the kind of transparency and the draining of the swamp that he says that should happen in this town, but I don't see it happening any time soon.

[14:10:13] KING: And, Wolf, sorry, I hate to jump in, but one of the things he says there is just simply not true and I think it's - he's, again, he's going to be in a combative relationship with us. When he says, you don't learn much from a tax report, look at the financial disclosure forms I filed as a candidate, it is simply not true that you learn more from the financial disclosure forms than from a tax form. And to the people out there watching who Mr. Trump has said, don't believe us, reporters are lying to you, we're all fake news, do this yourself. Go on the Internet, download President Obama's tax forms, they're availably publicly, download Mitt Romney's tax forms, they're available publicly, and then look at the forms they file with the government. You learn much more, especially in a business - from a businessman, you learn much more from the tax forms. That's just a fact.

BLITZER: One thing you also learn is how much charitable contributions you've deducted, how much money you've given to charities, because that's usually deductible.

KING: That too.

BASH: Or how much you've deducted overall, which is another matter (ph).

BLITZER: Jim Sciutto, there was a fascinating comment that he made about his relationship with Putin. He said flatly for the first time, Russia did the hacking, the cyber-attack -

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: He said, I think Russia did it. So as far as he might know.

BLITZER: That was more than - that's further than he's gone before.


BLITZER: But I want you to listen to this little clip where he suggested that, what's wrong with Putin liking me?


DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENT-ELECT: Likes Donald Trump? I consider that an asset, not a liability, because we have a horrible relationship with Russia. Russia can help us fight ISIS, which, by the way, is, number one, tricky. I mean, if you look, this administration created ISIS by leaving at the wrong time. The void was created. ISIS was formed. If Putin likes Donald Trump, guess what, folks, that's called an asset not a liability.

Now, I don't know that I'm going to get along with Vladimir Putin. I hope I do. But there's a good chance I won't. And if I don't, do you honestly believe that Hillary would be tougher on Putin than me? Does anybody in this room really believe that? Give me a break.


BLITZER: He loves that expression, give me a break.

SCIUTTO: He does.

BLITZER: So your reaction as somebody who has studied Russia closely, studied Putin closely, and this whole connection with the Trump Organization.

SCIUTTO: Well, let's give Donald Trump points for consistency here because before and after the election, he's been talking consistently about a friendlier relationship with Russia. And to be fair, he's not alone in considering that as a possibility for the way forward.

Now, you heard from Rex Tillerson, his secretary of state nominee today, you know, perhaps a more nuanced expression of this possible policy turn. Tillerson's comment was, listen, they don't share our values, which is obvious on a number of fronts, but there maybe be ways to lower the temperature. This is something you hear from the Republicans and Democrats who have that view. Of course there are others who think we are headed towards, you know, thicker and more dangerous conflicts, but you hear that view. This is Donald Trump telegraphing what may be an adjustment in U.S. policy with Russia.

What he doesn't do with any of his comments before or after the election, so he'll bring up, yes, we can fight ISIS together. He does not address the many issues where our U.S. and Russian views are diametrically opposed, OK. Ukraine. Russian military activity in Ukraine. Russia's illegal annexation of Crimea. BASH: Syria.

SCIUTTO: The bombing - intentional bombing - that's what the U.S. view is and many outsiders and many people on the ground - the intentional bombing of civilians in Syria. So how does he rectify that? Is he going to challenge Russia on that? Does he see it as transactional that perhaps if we get some ground here, we will give them some ground literally there? I don't know, let the Crimea annexation stand. You know, that - that's the part he hasn't addressed. And this is where, you know, as he's been challenged on this, he hasn't really given those details there. and those details are important because this is arguably the - one of - at least long with China - the quintessential super power relationship of our time.

BLITZER: You were one of the members of our team that had some very precise, detailed reporting on what the U.S. intelligence community shared with Donald Trump and with President Obama for that matter as well, as far as these alleged allegations, unproven allegations, that potentially could be used by the Russians against the president-elect. And he's very, very - he's very, very angrily responding.

SCIUTTO: Yes. Well, listen, he called CNN fake news and he called our colleague Jim Acosta, shouted him down for asking a question about it. What Donald Trump did and what his team has chosen to do here, clearly, is to equate our reporting, which was focused on the process, the fact that the IC - the intelligence community, presented this information that these briefings, that the FBI is investigating, that the Republican and Democratic senators that are pursuing - we just heard John McCain on our air there saying that he felt it was deserved to pass this information to the FBI. He's equating that reporting with other news organizations who have put out there - the details, which we did not. I will remind our viewers again, the details of - and many of them salacious - of unproven allegations. And our story noted from the very beginning, we are not putting that out there because we have not been able to independently confirm them.

[14:15:00] But, Donald Trump equating the two and saying they're all the same. Frankly, from our perspective, it's not the same. We're looking at how the U.S. government and the many agencies of the U.S. government, law enforcement intelligence, are handling this information.

BLITZER: And I want to read the statements that CNN put out after this news conference. The statements that were - that were leveled led the president-elect and Sean Spicer, the incoming White House press secretary. There you see it up on the screen.

"CNN's decision to publish carefully sourced reporting about the operations of our government is vastly different than BuzzFeed's decision to publish substantiated memos. The Trump team knows this. They are using BuzzFeed's decision to deflect from CNN's reporting, which has been matched by the other major news organizations. We are fully confident in our reporting. It represents the core of what the First Amendment protects, informing the people of the inner workings of their government, in this case, briefing materials prepared for President Obama and President-elect Trump last week. We made it clear that we were not publishing any of the details of the 35 page document because we have not corroborated the report's allegations. Given that members of the Trump transition team have so vocally criticized our reporting, we encourage them to identify specifically what they believe to be inaccurate."

A very important statement from CNN. Just wanted to get that on the record. It's an important issue. Anything else you want to add before I move on?

SCIUTTO: Well, listen, I think, you know, this is something we take very seriously, of course. And we saw there, and my colleagues here who know it just as well - better than me have noted that, that this is an environment where the journalists will become the target on issue that this administration either doesn't like or isn't comfortable with and that's something, listen, as journalists we're prepared to handle, but it's something that we - that we have to be prepared for.

BLITZER: April Ryan is with us as well.

April, and you've covered the White House for a long time. And I assume you're going to stick around and cover the incoming White House, right?

APRIL RYAN, WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, AMERICAN URBAN RADIO NETWORKS: Yes, we were - several of us were there at the same time.

BLITZER: When I was there, you were there too.

RYAN: Yes, 20 years. Actually, this weekend (ph).

BASH: When I was there, you were there.

RYAN: Yes. Yes.

BASH: When I was there, you were there.

RYAN: I've been around for a long time.

BLITZER: So how are you guys who are current White House correspondents gearing up for the next president?

RYAN: There is anxiety. There's a lot of anxiety. The - I was a member of the White House Correspondents Association Board and I talked to the current board members now. They're working diligently with the incoming administration. They are trying to figure out how we are going to cover this president, this incoming president. Will we have daily briefings? If not, will we have a gaggle? Will we have anything? Will we have seats? Will we have our work space? So we don't know exactly what's what.

And just my understanding of the White House and covering presidents, and all of us have as well, I'm just wondering right now if we are in this murky period because they don't actually know everything themselves and how can they give us information when they're still learning. There's a learning curve there. There's typically a learning curve, but there is a huge gap for this incoming administration, particularly this president. And I'm wondering if that is some of the reason. But with everything happening, there are stakes that are very high out there, things moving at a moment's notice. Just going on Twitter is not going to suffice.

BLITZER: Everybody stand by. There's much more coming up. Our special coverage will continue. Senators up on Capitol Hill about to get back into questioning of the secretary of state nomination Rex Tillerson. We're going to have live coverage of that when we come back.


[14:22:24] BLITZER: The Senate Foreign Relations Committee has just resumed. Testimony by Rex Tillerson, the man Donald Trump wants to be the next secretary of state. Cory Booker, the senator from New Jersey, is questioning Tillerson.

that we did not show.

TILLERSON: Well, I don't -- I don't think that's exactly the way I stated it. I think what I indicated in terms of the next step, was my view of its back to my predictability comment, that Russia's not unpredictable.

That when the response to the taking of Crimea was met with, in my estimation, a response that was less than I suspect, the leadership of Russia thought they would encounter. Then the next move, was logical to come across the eastern border of Ukraine because it was pretty well-known that there were elements in eastern Ukraine that already were sympathetic to Russian interest.

BOOKER: And -- and so that might be a case then, when they annexed Crimea, entered into eastern Ukraine, this is a sign of weakness because we didn't respond in a way that would defer he further actions.

TILLERSON: Working with allies in the region and obviously, working with the government in Kiev (ph), both.

BOOKER: And so what we did do in those cases, was to put together with the Europeans a way of sanctioning them economically. But that was not sufficient in your mind to stop them from their aggressions.

TILLERSON: Well, I think and I think you're on to a really important point around sanctions. And obviously, there's been a lot of questions about sanctions and so I think it is -- its good to try to clarify my view on those.

As I've said, sanctions are a very powerful tool, they're an important tool. And they can be used in two circumstances. One is to punish someone or a country for what they've already done. The other is to intervene and cause them not to do certain things.

And in this case, clearly the sanctions that were put in place in response to Crimea did not deter them from entering... (CROSSTALK)

BOOKER: And so was it your opinion then -- is it your opinion then that our sanctions should've been much more severe or do you think, in that case, they should've been a match (ph) of equal force, in other words, military action?

TILLERSON: That, the latter, is -- was my response in that -- in that situation, given the dramatic, the dramatic taking of Crimea, that was a dramatic action, sanctions were going to be insufficient to deter the Russian leadership from taking the next step.


BOOKER: And your opinion thinks it should've been military force, then?

TILLERSON: I'm sorry?

BOOKER: Your opinion then, is that it should have been military force?

TILLERSON: My opinion is there should have been a show of force, a military response, in defensive posture. Not in offensive posture but in defensive posture, to send the message that it stops here. It stops here.

And sanctions, in my view, taken after the fact, were not going to be adequate to deter that. Now, that's my opinion. We'll never know...

BOOKER: Right.

TILLERSON: How that would've played out.

BOOKER: But you understand -- you understand that if you put yourself in a defensive posture, there's an old saying that if you pull a gun, you should be prepared to use it, that that could've quickly escalate into a conflict. And -- and you're gonna be making decisions about whether we should have commit American troops, commit European troops.

If there's a military response, obviously they weren't putting forth in Crimea, it would have to come from some place else. And do you understand that that -- it seems to me that you're advocating for a greater U.S. -- use of U.S. military power, greater U.S. military engagement, in conflicts like the one we saw in Ukraine.

TILLERSON: Senator, I'm advocating for -- for responses that will -- that will deter and prevent a further expansion of a bad actor's behavior. I would not, in any way, wanted (ph) anyone to take way the thought that-- that I'd recommend that is the first action.

And again, in any decision to respond with a show of force, that will be taken within the National Security Council and be fully informed by others, including the Department of Defense and intelligence agencies, as to whether that would in fact, first, can it be executed upon, can it be effective.

But looking at your options as well and again, I'm not dismissive of the sanctions.

BOOKER: But you did characterize the Obama administration's as weakness, even though you're saying that you wouldn't necessarily do something different.

TILLERSON: In that instance, I would've done something different.

BOOKER: Military force?

TILLERSON: A show of force at the border of the country that had been already had territory taken from them.

BOOKER: American military force, in this case?

TILLERSON: No I indicated Ukrainian military force, supported by the U.S. providing them with capable defensive weapons. If that's not seen across the border, then it's a -- it's not a show of force.

BOOKER: Switching gears now, it is an American value, this value of transparency in government, correct?


BOOKER: And accountability in government?


BOOKER: I have a concern, it's not a great one, you could allay (ph) it right now, that as a leader of a private company, you made it clear in many ways that you were first and foremost accountable to shareholders, employees and customers.

But as the secretary of state, you're accountable to the American public. And would be expected to keep the media, the public, constantly informed of general activities. And I just know that when my staff did a rough calculation of past secretaries interactions with the press, Clinton had over 3,200 in her four years, I think Kerry had about 3,000.

When you were at ExxonMobil, it was a far, far smaller number. But I imagine, as secretary of state you believe in the importance of transparency of engaging with the public of answering to the questions that often come from the media?

TILLERSON: Yes and I indicated in my opening statement, that that's part of earning the public trust is also to engage with this committee. And that's a way to communicate with the public, as well.

BOOKER: And so you will press corps with you if you travel overseas and you will commit to having those regular interactions with the press?

TILLERSON: If confirmed, I will look into what would be appropriate to take. I have not -- I've not gotten that far in my thinking.

BOOKER: OK. And so you haven't thought through about -- about issues of accountability and transparency?

TILLERSON: I have thought through issues of accountability and transparency. Your question was about the size of my press corps, I think.

BOOKER: No sir, it was not. My question was, access of the media and the public to the work of the secretary of state.

TILLERSON: We want to insure at all times, to confirm the secretary of state and the State Department is fully transparent with the public. That's part of my comment of being truthful and being you know, and holding ourselves accountable, as well as others accountable.

BOOKER: OK. Switching gears and I'll get back to this -- to this in the next round of questioning.

In fact, I'm gonna yield back, because it's a new line of questioning that I have.

CORKER: OK. I will, just as a matter of sharing some information, the supplying of defense, lethal defensive support to Ukraine at a time when we were only sending used night vision goggles and MREs, was something that was strongly supported in a bipartisan way

on this committee -