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Trump's Top Nominees Talk Russia Threat; Confirmation Hearings Underway for Trump's Top Picks; Left Out in the Cold. Sired 2-2:30p ET

Aired January 12, 2017 - 14:00:00   ET



[14:00:00] CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN ANCHOR: Tonight, Trump's top national security nominees show their willingness to stand up to the boss and his

puzzling bromance with Russia's Vladimir Putin.


MIKE POMPEO, CIA NOMINEE: Russia has reasserted itself aggressively, invading and occupying Ukraine, threatening Europe and doing nothing to aid

in the destruction and defeat of ISIS.

JAMES MATTIS, DEFENSE NOMINEE: I'm all for engagement, but we also have to recognize reality and what Russia is up to.


AMANPOUR: The words of the defense and CIA nominees. My exclusive interview with the former CIA director and military commander General David


Plus, our man Jeffrey Toobin on the ethics conundrum of a Trump White House.

Good evening, everyone, and welcome to the program. I'm Christiane Amanpour in New York.

America's next top national security officials are being grilled on Capitol Hill. Today, in the hot seat nominees for defense and CIA. What's become

clear is that Trump's picks are taking a harder line against Russia than their boss does as they confront mounting concern around the world and here

at home that the next president is just too cozy with President Putin.

Here is General Jim Mattis.


MATTIS: Right now, the most important thing is that we recognize the reality of what we deal with with Mr. Putin and we recognize that he is

trying to break the North Atlantic Alliance and that we take the steps, the integrated steps, diplomatic, economic military and the alliance steps

working with our allies to defend ourselves where we must.


AMANPOUR: Both Mattis and CIA nominee Mike Pompeo defended the intelligence community as well, which Trump keeps disparaging.

Retired General David Petraeus knows as much about the importance of this as just about anyone, having been a military commander and CIA director and

also for a moment a serious candidate to be Trump's secretary of state.

We sat down for an exclusive interview here in New York as the sun was setting on the first set of hearings.


AMANPOUR: General Petraeus, welcome to the program.


AMANPOUR: You met with Donald Trump and all eyes were on Trump Tower as you went in there during the whole sort of vetting and meeting and greeting

phase. And afterwards tweeted, "Just met with General Petraeus, was very impressed."

And you said he basically walked us around the world, showed us a great deal of various challenges out there and so many opportunities. What were

you thinking when you had that meeting with him?

PETRAEUS: Well, frankly, both of us were feeling out the other. He was trying to see is this an individual who can contribute to what naturally is

a process now where you're taking campaign slogans, how you run for office and now put policies around them that are quite comprehensive, and on my

side -- we both had lists, actually, almost taking turns.

I wanted to be sure that his views -- you know, I've asked him, for example, you're not anti-trade with president-elect, you're anti-unfair

trade, right? He said yes. And, you know, that kind of process back and forth. And it was quite a stimulating engagement, actually.

AMANPOUR: Are you troubled by this really tense situation between the incoming administration, Russia and Putin and the criticism that Donald

Trump is favoring Vladimir Putin and even Julian Assange over the United States own intelligence agencies?

And do you believe with all of your experience as CIA and previous military command that the intelligence agencies have got it right on this hacking


PETRAEUS: When the intelligence community comes together as it has, when the DNI, the CIA director, the NSA and say that they have high confidence

in assessments that they have cleared a very high bar, and this is a very significant finding and so we obviously -- not that we needed reminding, I

think, but if we did, this is a very stark reminder that Vladimir Putin is not a friend. He does not have our best interests at heart and indeed he

is a very significant competitor in a number of areas.

Having said that, that doesn't rule out the possibility of a relationship of some type and it also doesn't mean that there cannot be some converging


But, again, this is a very, very significant finding. And, you know, it's unfortunate that individuals are calling into question the fact that

there's not enough evidence here. That, you know, we haven't included, I guess, the Internet address or --


AMANPOUR: So people shouldn't expect to get the nuts and bolts of it, right?

PETRAEUS: If you declassify that very, very highly compartmented information, you obviously are not going to have that source around in the


Not only that, you will have a very hard time finding sources in the future. And, of course, some of those, you know, it is a fact. It's

publicly been publicly stated by the intelligence community that when Snowden's revelations identified sources and methods that were being used,

that terrorist groups changed the way they communicated, the way they conducted command and control and the way they coordinated their


AMANPOUR: Are you concerned a tiny bit by Donald Trump's consistent warmth towards Vladimir Putin? There are a lot of people who are completely

befuddled and bemused and they can't figure it out. Why is Donald Trump constantly, publicly at least, siding with Putin calling him smart,

whatever it is and Julian Assange over this denial of the intelligence report.

Why? And is it worrying?

PETRAEUS: I think there's been a bit of a meandering and I actually think it's starting to come out in a place that will ultimately lead us I would

certainly hope to again a secretary of defense who is very, very solidly grounded on this issue.

A secretary of state who has indeed had close relations with Vladimir Putin, but is also very conscious of who his stockholders are. When he was

the head of Exxon, which he built into the greatest firm and largest firm in the world at the least, he sought to do what he could for the bottom

line and for his shareholders and if that meant dealing with people like Vladimir Putin from time to time, well, within the scope of the law, then

he pursued that.

He's got a different set of shareholders if confirmed now, as I assume he will be, in the next day or so.

AMANPOUR: You mean, the American people.

PETRAEUS: The American people. And he will have the best interest of the American people at heart. I'm absolutely confident. And he's going to

have a department that is full of very impressive professionals, diplomats that have long experience in this arena. And who have been studying this

issue, living it in many cases.

AMANPOUR: Another thing that Donald Trump has said over and again during the campaign is that he wanted to basically tear up the Iran nuclear deal.

Is that smart?

PETRAEUS: Well, the way I came at that in fact in our conversation and what I've discussed with you is that, I think, let's back up before you go

to the deal, let's just ask what is it that we want with respect to Iran. And I think our overriding objective is to ensure Iran never gets nuclear

weapons, number one, and number two, we want to see the malign activities of Iran in the Middle East or at large curtailed to a very considerable


So how can you achieve that? And in this case, I think the way you achieve the first is by actually having Republicans who control the White House and

the Congress and ideally bipartisan forum all get together and say a statement of U.S. national policy that we'll never allow Iran to enrich to

weapons grade uranium.

AMANPOUR: But isn't that the case under this deal?

PETRAEUS: For ten years. And then as you know, there are different elements and all of the deal is over within 15 years. The bottom line is

there is a deal. It's the P5+1, six countries, plus Iran that have reached it. It's multilateral. It's not just bilateral. The consequences, I

think, for tearing it up on day one could be quite considerable if you don't think -- and I tend to think it would be difficult to re-impose all

of these sanctions, at the very least that would be a pretty high risk maneuver.

Let's recognize that at the very least for ten years, this has dramatically lengthen the amount of time it would take, you know, all the way up to a

year or so for Iran to enrich to weapons grade.

So, again, there are a number of positive elements to this, while there are also some negative elements. Again, it doesn't include missiles, it

doesn't include the malign activities that Iran is pursuing.

AMANPOUR: So you would just build on it rather than tear it up?

PETRAEUS: I think so. I think so.

AMANPOUR: You know, Donald Trump talked about torture and that if needs be, that is the way that's, you know, his administration would go. And he

expressed real surprise when he met with General Jim Mattis, who is his nominee for the defense secretary, that Jim Mattis said to me, it doesn't

work, give me a beer and pack of cigarettes and I'll get you more information than any kind of rough handling and torture.

[14:10:05] Do you think Donald Trump has given up the notion that torture would be reintroduced under his administration?

PETRAEUS: Yes. And for what it's worth, I have publicly, as you know, for a number of years stated that enhanced interrogation techniques, whatever

you want to call this --

AMANPOUR: Torture.

PETRAEUS: A, doesn't work -- is certainly doesn't work sufficiently to justify the enormous penalties that you will end up incurring as a result

of doing that.

First of all, I think it is actually wrong, number one. If you don't buy that in a normative sense, then recognize that the price of doing it is

going to far outweigh the value that you get from individuals. There's no one -- no commander has been responsible for more detainees than I was at

the height of Iraq and the height of Afghanistan, indeed in central command in between and our experience, General McChrystal and others, our

experience is that if you want something from a detainee and you want the truth, the general, you want to get the valid information to try to piece

together various puzzles, you try to become the detainee's best friend.

This takes very skilled interrogators. They have to not only know the language, but the dialect. They have to understand the network that this

individual has been part of and led in many cases. It's a painstaking long, frustrating, difficult process, but that's the way you get at that.


AMANPOUR: And you think Trump has been --


PETRAEUS: Now to be fair, there is an issue which I raised in my confirmation hearing and no one wants to touch it. It is radioactive, and

that is the issue of the ticking time bomb scenario.

I personally believe that policy makers at the highest level of government do need to come to grips with what do we do in a no kidding bona fide

ticking time bomb scenario, where you have the guy who put the bomb under the nuclear device, under the Empire State Building, has the code to -- you

know, this is the typical sort of TV scenario that you get quite often.

What are you willing to do that as individual, knowing that the bomb is going to go off in an hour? And then I think you actually have to have a

different conversation. You have to have a different approach. You're clearly not going to become that guy's best friend in the course of 60


AMANPOUR: And, finally, Jim Mattis -- he served around you, under you --

PETRAEUS: We are -- we are shipmates as they say. You know, we end every note to each other, Semper Fi. He is a very skilled and very strategic

guy. I mean, there is this persona of mad dog in the radio call sign chaos and all this, almost mythology and yet some of it is founded on very, very,

you know, solid reality, the fight to Baghdad. We are both division commanders at that time.

He is -- he's an extraordinary American and we will be very, very well served if he's confirmed as I fully expect he will be to be the next

secretary of defense.

AMANPOUR: General Petraeus, thanks for that tour around the world.

PETRAEUS: Thanks, Christiane.


AMANPOUR: A timely tribute to Jim Mattis who is undergoing his confirmation hearings even as we speak.

And when we come back, we analyze the legal and ethical questions raised by President-elect Trump's business entanglements and how one major Trump

nominee already faces major hurdles to his confirmation. And later, how to deal with refugees at the mercy of ISIS, Russia and the Syrian regime and

now at the mercy of that cold snap in Europe, where a deep freeze threatens their very survival outside. We imagine their world later.


[14:15:25] AMANPOUR: Welcome back to the program live from New York as you can see. From Iran to the Far East, allies and adversaries around the

world are watching closely for signals coming from Donald Trump's top cabinet picks.

Having awarded Exxon CEO Rex Tillerson the order of friendship, the Kremlin might have been surprised to hear him take this hard line on Russia's

annexation of Crimea.


REX TILLERSON, U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE NOMINEE: If Russia acts with force taking of Crimea was an act of force. They didn't just volunteer

themselves. So they required a proportional act -- a proportional show of force to indicate to Russia that there will be no more taking of territory.


AMANPOUR: But there are also questions surrounding Donald Trump's global business interests and ethics. The director of the U.S. government's

ethics agency has slammed Trump's plan to maintain his business empire by handing it over to his sons. He called it meaningless and wholly


So joining me now to discuss the confirmation process and the possible legal quagmire ahead for Donald Trump is CNN's senior legal analyst Jeffrey



AMANPOUR: Jeffrey, welcome.


AMANPOUR: A huge amount on the docket, if you like, for Donald Trump literally. Let's go first to this issue of the ethics, what the government

ethics chief said and how do you perceive, you know, a president who simply handed over businesses to his sons?

TOOBIN: Well, this is really a very extraordinary and truly unprecedented moment in American history because we've never had a president with such

extensive business interests.

And for starters, it's important to point out that under American law, there is no formal requirement that Donald Trump divorce himself from his

business dealings.

The laws about conflict of interest do not apply to the president of the United States. However, there is a long tradition, certainly going back

well into the 20th century that presidents put all of their assets in what's called a blind trust so that all of their economic -- personal

economic decisions are made by other people. They don't know what stock they own. They don't know where their money is invested. That is

something that Donald Trump has completely ignored and created this other formula for managing the Trump empire, which is sort of divesting him but

sort of not.

AMANPOUR: And what do you foresee ahead, because people pointed out, well, these are his sons. I mean, what, they are never going to talk about

business to their father? People aren't going to try to influence the father through the sons? What do you see as a pitfall ahead?

TOOBIN: Well, I think this is properly seen through a political prism rather than a legal prism. I don't think anything is going to happen to

Donald Trump legally. No one is going to be able to sue him. He's not going to be impeached.

This -- the question here is really political. And that is, will the American public, will Congress view Trump as someone who is manipulating

his role as president to gain money for his family and for himself or will they regard him as someone who is just trying to do the work of the

American people.

I think given this structure, it is very likely that questions will persist about in whose interest is he acting? He's decided that that's worth it.

That's he's willing to take those questions and we're going to see how it unfolds.

AMANPOUR: Well, he does continue to brazen it out, even yesterday at this press conference, the first in six months, he simply point blank refused on

the persistent calls as tradition has it of every presidential candidate and president in modern times to hand over his tax returns, which he's

failed to do.

Listen to what he said and then we'll talk about it.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT-ELECT OF THE UNITED STATES: Well, I'm not releasing tax returns because as you know they are under audit.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE REPORTER: But every president since the '70s has had - -


TRUMP: I object. I've never heard of that. Never heard that. I've never heard that before. You know, the only one that cares about my tax returns

are the reporters.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE REPORTER: You don't think the American public is concerned about that?

TRUMP: No, I don't think so. I won. I became president. I don't think they care at all. I don't think they care at all. I think you care.



AMANPOUR: So, I mean, it really does beg the question, Jeffrey, do people care and does Trump, should he be perfectly open and like every other

predecessor put those tax returns into the public?

[14:20:05] TOOBIN: Well, you know, since Trump won in November, he has basically said in terms of every controversy that dogged him during the

presidential campaign, he said, look, it shows the public they doesn't care. I won, even though you raise fuss about my tax returns.

You know, if you look at opinion polls, they show overwhelmingly that the public wants him to release his tax returns. At the same time, Trump is

right, of course, that he did win the election, notwithstanding this controversy.

I think it's quite clear he's going to brazen out the tax returns as well as the conflict of interest, and I think, you know, it will be one factor

that people weigh in evaluating the Trump presidency. Again, I think it is a political issue more than a legal issue.

AMANPOUR: And also betting as you said saying that the American people don't care when actually as you pointed out polls show the vast majority do

actually want him to release those tax returns.

Let me ask you, what has struck you, not the national security ones, but like Jeffrey Sessions, the senator up for Trump's attorney general. What

struck you about the process of confirmation and particularly this afternoon a whole raft of Democratic senators coming out to say they would

not vote to confirm him?

TOOBIN: Well, I think what you have seen in these confirmation hearings is that the incredibly bitter partisan divisions that were reflected in how

the presidential campaign were run -- was run continue today.

I mean, what's going to happen? I think it's quite clear is that probably every single one of his cabinet members will be nominees, will be approved,

but there will be a lot of negative votes by Democrats, perhaps not every Democrat but certainly many, many Democrats will vote against many of his

cabinet members.

That's different than what's customary. It's usually true that -- that cabinet members are approved as a matter of course. I think what's

happening here is that there's a Republican majority in the Senate. That means they will be able to be approved, but we're going to see a lot of

partisan division.

AMANPOUR: Well, I wonder if that was Jeff Sessions on your phone there?


TOOBIN: I apologize for that.


AMANPOUR: No, it's fine.



He's obviously recuse himself and he said it again on Capitol Hill from any further investigation into Hillary Clinton, if there was ever to be such.

But now, the Justice Department's own internal ethics body has said that it's investigating its own investigation into the FBI and the e-mails.

What's that about? What will it produce?

TOOBIN: Well, I'm sure viewers around the world and certainly viewers in America remember that on the eve of the presidential election, just a few

days before, James Comey, the director of the FBI sent a letter to Congress publicly saying the investigation of Hillary Clinton's e-mails has been


This caused a sensation. A few days later, Comey said, well, never mind. There was nothing new in these e-mails. But the decision of Comey to

inject himself into the presidential campaign on the eve of the election, on such a contentious issue is something that enrage and enrages Democrats

to this day.

Comey is a loathed, loathed figure in the Democratic Party at this point. Now what's happening is the Justice Department's internal investigator,

which is called an inspector general is basically looking into the propriety of what Comey did.

It doesn't have any particular legal significance. Comey is not going to be prosecuted, but this could be a public report which will again

potentially raise questions about how this election was run, just as the hacking of the Democratic Party's e-mails were.

So it's -- it's not legally significant, but politically I think it's highly significant.

AMANPOUR: Yes, an unfinished business. Jeffrey Toobin, thank you so much indeed.


AMANPOUR: And we also just want to say congratulations to Jeffrey for the Golden Globe awarded to the series on O.J. Simpson. The American crime

story "The People Versus O.J." and that was based on Jeff's book.

So coming up next, policy often full foul of politics and the most vulnerable pay the highest price. We imagine a world frozen solid. The

humanitarian crisis unfolding as Europe's refugees suffer a winter of discontent. That's next.


[14:27:00] AMANPOUR: And finally tonight, as U.S. cabinet hearings and bombastic presidential press conferences suck up all the oxygen, we imagine

the refugees left wheezing and shivering out in the cold.

Across Europe those refugees are desperately trying to survive the winter. Look at that snow.

Thousands trapped in the Serbian capital of Belgrade are blanketed with the white stuff and in sub-zero temperatures. As many as 2,000 refugees live

in this direct warehouse just behind the main coast station. They are desperately lighting fires and sleeping crammed together on filthy

mattresses to keep warm.

The youngest migrant that CNN encountered there was 12 and alone with no gloves or scarf to ward off the constant cold. And on the island of

Lesbos, Greece, an overcrowded and icy Moria refugee camp forced the Greek government to step in, sending a ship to serve as temporary accommodation

for about 500 of them. But thousands of the others will remain stranded in the cold and the wet. Many, of course, are getting sick. And in Bulgaria,

border police reported three deaths from the cold so far.

It is a timely reminder of the human consequences of any government and anyone at the highest place of office.

That's it for our program tonight. Remember, you can listen to our podcast, see us online any time at and follow me on Facebook

and Twitter. Thanks for watching and good-bye from New York.