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Warren Grills Carson on Trump Business Ties; Chaffetz Asks Ethics Chief to Meet Lawmakers; Obama Ends Cuban Policy. Aired 9:30- 10a ET

Aired January 13, 2017 - 09:30   ET



[09:32:59] CAROL COSTELLO, CNN ANCHOR: And good morning. I'm Carol Costello. Thank you so much for joining me.

It was one of the most heated exchanges on Capitol Hill this week. On Thursday, Senator Elizabeth Warren grilled housing nominee Dr. Ben Carson about how he would prevent Trump from profiting from the very agency Carson is being tasked to lead, the Department of Housing of Urban Development.


SEN. ELIZABETH WARREN (D), MASSACHUSETTS: Can you assure me that not a single taxpayer dollar that you give out will financially benefit the president-elect or his family?

DR. BEN CARSON, HUD SECRETARY NOMINEE: I can assure you that the things that I do are driven by a sense of morals and values, and therefore I will absolutely not play favorites for anyone.

WARREN: Dr. Carson, let me stop right there. I'm actually trying to ask a more pointed question. And it's not about your good faith. That's not my concern. My concern is whether or not, among the billions of dollars that you will be responsible for handing out in grants and loans, can you just assure us that not one dollar will go to benefit either the president-elect or his family?

CARSON: It will not be my intention to do anything -


CARSON: To - to benefit any - any American.

WARREN: I understand that.

CARSON: (INAUDIBLE) it's for all Americans, everything that we do.

WARREN: But we - do I take that to mean that you may manage programs that will significantly benefit the president-elect?

CARSON: You can take it to mean that I will manage things in a way that benefits the American people. That is going to be the goal.

WARREN: To the best you understand that. You don't -

CARSON: If there happens to be an extraordinarily good program that's working for millions of people and it turns out that someone that you're targeting is going to gain, you know, $10 from it, am I going to say, no, the rest of you Americans can't have it? I think logic and common sense probably would be the best way.

[09:35:06] WARREN: Yes, although we do have a problem here - and I appreciate your good faith in this and I do, Dr. Carson. The problem is that you can't assure us that HUD money, not of $10 varieties, but of multimillion dollar varieties, will not end up in the president- elect's pockets. And the reason you can't assure us of that is because the president-elect is hiding his family's business interests from you, from me, from the rest of America. And this just highlights the absurdity and the danger of the president-elect's refusal to put his assets in a true blind trust.


COSTELLO: OK. So keep this in mind, the Housing and Urban Development Department grants loans to organizations, including real estate developers, to build low income housing. According to reports, Mr. Trump owns shares in an affordable housing development in Brooklyn overseen by, you guessed it, the Department of Housing and Urban Development.

With me now to talk about this is Tamara Keith and David Lauter.

Welcome back. Thanks for sticking around.

So, David, what do you make of that exchange?

DAVID LAUTER, WASHINGTON BUREAU CHIEF, "LOS ANGELES TIMES": Well, you know, it was political of course, and that's part of the point of confirmation hearings, they're a kind of political theater. But, you know, Donald Trump's father, Fred Trump, started out - he built the family fortune based on federal housing programs. So it's not actually that huge a stretch to ask if somehow federal housing programs over the next several years might in some way benefit the Trump family. It - there's not necessarily anything nefarious about it, but it is the kind of thing that the president-elect has left himself open to because he's decided that he's going to retain his ownership interests in his business, even though he will distance himself from the management of the business for the length of time that he's in office. And then he says he wants to resume control once he's finished being president. So that leaves him open to this kind of insinuation from political opponents that he's unfairly benefitting from federal programs.

COSTELLO: So, ultimately, I think this is what Ben Carson said. He said, you know what, if there's a program where maybe Trump would profit, and I would assume that he's talking about the sons, because the sons supposedly are going to take over all of Trump's businesses, right? So if there is a program that benefits Trump, it's OK as long - and it's for the greater good because if it benefits so many disadvantaged people, then shouldn't I take that into account? Isn't that OK? Tamara.

TAMARA KEITH, WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, NPR: We should point out that Donald Trump will remain the - remain an owner of his businesses. He will continue to have an ownership stake. And that's the thing that ethicists, bipartisan ethicists, those who have worked for George W. Bush and who've worked for President Obama and others, and those who are - including the head of the Office of Government Ethics, who's still in the government now, what all of them are saying is that by maintaining that ownership stake, there is essentially no way for Donald Trump to avoid questions about whether he is doing things in the interest of the American people or in the interest of himself. And that is a risk that I think Donald Trump has decided that he's willing to take. By not fully divesting, his lawyer argues, that he can't fully divest because it would require a fire sale, that it wouldn't be fair to him to have to fully sell his business. And as a result of that, there will be these types of questions from his opponents throughout his presidency.

COSTELLO: Well, here's the thing. So the heads of these departments will have to take all of that into account, right, whether the president of the United States will profit? Won't that grind government to a screeching halt, David?

LAUTER: Well, it may not bring things to a halt, but it's going to be a concern and it's going to hand the president-elect's political opponents a weapon that they can use against him repeatedly over the next however long he's in office, four years, eight years, whatever it ends up being. And, of course, his nominees are held to a different standard because they are covered by the federal conflict of interest statute that excludes the president. So they have to divest. And they have to put their assets into blind trusts and there are all sorts of complicated rules that they have to follow. He doesn't.

So you can see a situation where some of the cabinet officials may, at some point, start thinking, well, wait a minute, I had to do this stuff, how come he doesn't? And it could be an issue that could cause some ill will as the presidency develops.

COSTELLO: So I'm kind of glad you brought up the House ethics office because what's far more interesting in all of this is House Republicans, namely Jason Chaffetz, he has asked the head of the independent ethics office to appear before a House committee because he's upset that the ethics chief is criticizing Donald Trump's potential conflicts of interest publicly. What do you make of that, Tamara?

[09:40:21] KEITH: Well, the Office of Government Ethics has long been sort of a sleepy office that doesn't get a lot of attention, except when there are these confirmations that come up. But Walter Shaub, the head of the Office of Government Ethics, has been far more public about ethics recently than in the past. He is - he authorized and called for a tweet storm, encouraging Donald Trump to fully divest. And then earlier this week, after the president-elect came out with his announcement about his plans for separating himself somewhat from his business, Shaub actually delivered about a 15-minute statement in what amounted to a press conference, saying that it was woefully inadequate and would not prevent conflicts of interest.

And congressional Republicans and other Republicans feel like Shaub is going too far. Other emphasis, bipartisan from both parties, view what Chaffetz and his committee are potentially doing as threatening this independent ethics office because they also do have budget control. Chaffetz wants a private interview with Shaub. What Democrats on that committee want is a public hearing. But then that would potentially turn into another platform for Shaub to talk about ethics concerns, to point out that people like Rex Tillerson had to divest and again to call for Donald Trump to fully divest. So congressional Republicans don't, I think, want a public hearing where this could get aired out even more.

COSTELLO: Oh, it will be interesting. Tamara Keith, David Lauter, thanks again. I do appreciate it.

All right, we have to talk about Joe Biden. You saw him, he choked - he choked back tears as he received that surprise gift from President Obama. The Presidential Medal of Freedom. That is the country's highest civilian honor.

White House correspondent Michelle Kosinski has more for you.


MICHELLE KOSINSKI, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): reporter: With humor and a crowd gathered in the state dining room -

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: This also gives the Internet one last chance to talk about our bromance.

KOSINSKI: This thank you and good-bye was a surprise in itself.

OBAMA: It is, as Joe once said, a big deal.

To know Joe Biden is to know that love without pretense, service without self-regard and to live life fully.

KOSINSKI: And then the real surprise. The vice president taken completely off guard as a member of the military was called forward.

OBAMA: For the final time as president, I am pleased to award our nation's highest civilian honor, the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

KOSINSKI: And taking it a step further, awarding it with distinction, only ever bestowed upon Pope John Paul II, Ronald Reagan, and Collin Powell. Now, to Joe Biden, for nearly a half century of public service, for fighting for the middle class, a fair judiciary and against crime, violence against women and cancer.

White House sources say President Obama planned this himself. He came up with the idea. He wanted it to be a surprise. And so he worked with a very small group of staffers to make it happen.

And Biden, true to character, made his acceptance all about those he says he has leaned on, those he loves most, his family and the president.

JOE BIDEN, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I just hope that the asterisk in history, that it was attached to my name when they talk about this presidency, is that I can say I was part of - part of the journey of a remarkable man who did remarkable things for this country.

KOSINSKI: Out of this candid emotion and all of the memories, one last Biden joke.

BIDEN: The president looked at me, you know, Joe, you know what surprised me? How we've become such good friends. And I said, surprised you?

And, Mr. President, you know as long as there's breath in me, I'll be there for you, my whole family will be, and I know - I know it is reciprocal. I - and I want to thank you all so very, very, very much, all of you. Thank you.

KOSINSKI: Michelle Kosinski, CNN, the White House.



[09:48:13] COSTELLO: Checking some top stories for you at 48 minutes past. Today in Arizona, a man is being hailed a hero after shooting a man who ambushed a state trooper in the middle of an interstate highway. The suspect shot the trooper and he was beating the trooper when a nearby motorist got out to help. The motorist then drew a gun and shot and killed the gunman. The 27-year-old veteran trooper is currently in stable condition.

Six children are killed in a massive Baltimore house fire. The victims ranging in age from nine months old to 11 years old. Their mom, who works for Congressman Elijah Cummings, is in critical condition. Three of her other children also in the hospital. A GoFundMe page set up to help the victims reached its $100,000 goal in less than 24 hours.

For the first time in American history, the U.S. Mint coin will feature an African-American woman as Lady Liberty. The new 24 karat gold currency will be released this April in celebration of the U.S. Mint and the Treasury's 225th anniversary. From the profile, Lady Liberty wears a crown of stars holding back her hair. And according to the Mint, future depictions will portray Asian, Hispanic and Indian- Americans as well. >

President Obama makes one more policy change on Cuba before leaving office, announcing an end to the so-called wet foot/dry foot immigration policy. That means Cubans who make it onto U.S. soil will no longer be granted automatic residency.

Joining us live from the White House to talk more about this is CNN correspondent Athena Jones.

Good morning. ATHENA JONES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Carol.

This is just the latest step and possibly the last step in the president's historic move to rebuild relations with Cuba. And it's another example of him doing what we've been talking about a lot lately, which is run through the tape, to work up until - close to the very end to try to get things done.

This is a policy the Cuban government has long argued encouraged people to make the dangerous journey to the U.S., whether by sea, on these makeshift rafts, or over land through Central America.

[09:50:08] And it's a policy that was also controversial in other quarters because it treated Cuban immigrants differently than immigrants from every other country in the world trying to get into the U.S. This new policy - or removing that policy, reversing it, will now put Cuban immigrants on the same footing as all of those other immigrants.

But it isn't being applauded in all quarters. It does have some critics, including in the president's own party. Democratic New Jersey Senator Bob Menendez says that it will tighten the noose of the Castro regime around the neck of the Cuban people. So not everyone is happy about this move.

And in other news, the president and his wife have been giving a lot of exit interviews as their final days in this house behind me wind down. And in an interview with "60 Minutes" set to air on Sunday, the president was reflecting on his time in office and talking about some of the things that his team has not been so good at. He said he and his team have not always been good at communicating the good things about his policy proposals. Let's play some of that.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Part of the job description is also shaping public opinion. And we were very effective, and I was very effective, in shaping public opinion around my campaigns. But there were big stretches while governing where even though we were doing the right thing, we weren't able to mobilize public opinion firmly enough behind us to weaken the resolve of the Republicans to stop opposing us or to cooperate with us.


JONES: So the president highlighting always something that is always a big challenge for any White House, which is communicating to the American people. It highlights this idea that its - you governor - or you campaign in poetry but you govern in prose. So it will be interesting for the next White House to take some of that information under consideration.


COSTELLO: All right, Athena Jones reporting live for us this morning, thank you. Still to come in the NEWSROOM, the president-elect goes after Hillary Clinton, yes, Hillary Clinton, just days before he takes office. I'll talk to Clinton's former campaign manager about that and more in the next hour of NEWSROOM.

Also, my one on one with Gretchen Carlson on life after Fox News. How she's using her fight against sexual harassment to empower girls around the world.


[09:55:37] COSTELLO: The Chargers made it all official, right? Yes, they're moving to Los Angeles too. How many sports teams are in that city, Coy Wire?

COY WIRE, CNN SPORTS CORRESPONDENT: There are a lot, Carol. There are actually now two teams in every major sport in L.A. So, look, the Chargers, they spent 56 years in San Diego, but over the last 15 years, the team and the city, they couldn't come to an agreement on a new stadium funded by taxpayers' money. So fans of San Diego are upset that their team's in L.A. now. Some are lashing out by piling up their team gear and setting it ablaze in Chargers Park. San Diego's Mayor Kevin Faulconer puts the blame squarely on Chargers' owner Dean Spanos.


KEVIN FAULCONER, SAN DIEGO MAYOR: Dean Spanos was truly never willing to work with us on a stadium solution and demanded a lot more money than we could have ever agreed to. We live in a great city and we will move forward. San Diego didn't lose the Chargers. The Chargers just lost San Diego.


WIRE: Now the Chargers wasted no time unveiling their new logo on Twitter. They did so just moments after owner Dean Spanos press conference yesterday. But it quickly became the top trending sports topic because many are saying this looks just like the L.A. Dodgers logo. Then some realized, well, it kind of looks like a Tampa Bay Lightning logo and the Dodgers logo had a love child. Well, the Lightning wanted everyone to know that they were not the logo's father. They posted on Twitter clearing their throats saying, for the record, us and the Dodgers are just friends. Carol, the Dodgers followed up by tweeting, "you said you'd call."

COSTELLO: Awe, I can understand how San Diego feels because I still haven't recovered from the Cleveland Browns moving out of Cleveland for Baltimore. And that's why I don't root for the Cleveland Browns. There you have it.

Coy Wire, thanks so much.

WIRE: You're welcome.

COSTELLO: The next hour of CNN NEWSROOM after a break. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)