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Putin: "Acute Political Struggle" to Undermine Trump Win; Trump Begins with Historic Low Approval Rating; Trump Three Days Away from Inauguration. Aired 10-10:30a ET

Aired January 17, 2017 - 10:00   ET



MATTHEW CHANCE, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: He also said that there was an internal political fight on the way in the United States even after the presidential election there is over. Vladimir Putin, the Russian president, rejected allegations that the Russian secret services have for years gathered compromising informational conformant (ph) on Donald Trump. This was something that the dossier alleged. "We did not know," he said, "about his political ambitions years ago. Just a rich businessman as security services don't chase after every American billionaire," he added.

On the allegations of the compromising sexual material on Trump, Putin said that "Trump was a man who spent his life with the most beautiful women in the world. Why would he need to socialize," he said, "with Russian prostitutes or girls of low social responsibility," as he put it, even though he added, "to some amusement in the crowd, they are clearly the best in the world."

So, it was, you know, quite a frank and quite astonishing series of remarks by Vladimir Putin, the Russian president. Putin said he doesn't know Trump. He's never met him. He's got no reason to attack him or to defend him. But he chose this moment obviously, just a few days before the inauguration of Donald Trump to speak out in this way.

CAROL COSTELLO, CNN ANCHOR: I just want to go back to, you know, you used the word astonishing. So, as you're listening to Vladimir Putin saying these things, you've covered Russia for a long time, what's going through your mind, Matthew?

CHANCE: It's just a really unprecedented situation. -- We've got very used to the idea of an American president and a Russian president at loggerheads over a whole range of issues in the modern context about NATO expansion, about the conflicts in Syria, about the situation in Ukraine. We're at the -- on the cusp of what could be a pivotal moment in that relationship. And we've spoken about this a lot. Donald Trump has repeatedly gone out during his campaign and spoken very positively about Vladimir Putin. He's spoken about the NATO, the military alliance being obsolete. He's spoken about working with Russia when it comes to combating international terrorism in Syria.

I mean, this is music to the Kremlin's ears. And you get a sense that they don't quite know what to make of it, even though Vladimir Putin made his remarks today. Others inside the Kremlin and then the foreign ministry saying look, we're going to wait and see what actually Donald Trump does when -- he gets inaugurated, when he becomes the President of the United States. And then we're going to evaluate our relationship.

COSTELLO: All right, Matthew, you stick around because we're going to discuss further in just a few minutes. Putin sharped elbowed entry into the debate comes in a curious time for Mr. Trump. He faces what may be an unprecedented split with the Intelligence Community that will soon report to him. The CIA's director is now pushing back against some of Trump's criticism. CNN's Jason Carroll, live outside of Trump Tower with more. Good morning.

JASON CARROLL, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: And good morning to you, Carol. He's not the only one pushing back at this point. You should know, -- Donald Trump has made repeated suggestions the Intel Community was behind the leaks on that intelligence briefing he got about Russia. And at one point, he compared the situation to that of Nazi Germany. That clearly raised a number of eyebrows. Senator John McCain weighing in on this issue, saying that that was not the type of language the president-elect should have used. And he really talked about how that type of language really hurts the rank and file within the Intel Community.


SEN. JOHN MCCAIN, (R) ARIZONA: It helps neither the Intelligence Community, which has not been infallible. We all know that. Although they are vital and of course, this kind of confrontation cannot be helpful and I also am worried about the morale of these men and women who labor out of the spotlight in the shadows defending our nation in the intelligence business.


CARROLL: And Carol, the outgoing CIA Director John Brennan weighing in on this issue as well, calling the president-elect's comments "repugnant." He also said the following. "Tell the families of those 117 CIA officers who are forever memorialized on our wall of honor that their loved ones who gave their lives were akin to Nazis." Brennan, again, who has served in the CIA for some 25 years under Presidents Clinton and Bush and Obama, basically saying that when these types of things come out, he really draws the line saying that when leaking -- when more is being made about leaking and "dishonesty," he says that's where he will draw the line. Carol?

COSTELLO: All right, Jason Carroll reporting live from Trump Tower. Thank you so much.

So, let's talk about all of this. With me now is Jesse Byrnes, associate editor for "The Hill," Brian Balogh, history professor at the University of Virginia and co-host of "BackStory with the American History Guys." Matthew Chance also joins me.

[10:05:00] Welcome to all of you. Matthew, you just heard what Jason Carroll reported. Are Russians abuzz about what seems to be a Battle Royale between Donald Trump and the U.S. intelligence agencies?

CHANCE: Oh, yes. I mean, look, the Kremlin is making no bones about this. They are saying that this -- they believe there is this internal political dispute underway in the United States, even though the presidential election is over. And they have said, you know, the various measures that the outgoing Obama administration have taken was specifically designed -- had been specifically designed to undermine the ability of Donald Trump to deliver on his promises to, you know, forge this detente with Russia.

We're talking about this dossier, we're talking about the expulsion of Russian diplomats a few weeks ago over the holiday period and the sanctions on Russia, the deployment of NATO forces in eastern Europe, as well, from the United States in particular. These are all designed, according to the Kremlin to you know undermine the future prospects of the relationship under Donald Trump with Russia. And so, yes, they are very conscious of this.

COSTELLO: So Jesse, once Donald Trump becomes president, will he change his tune or will we hear more of the same?

JESSE BYRNES, ASSOCIATE EDITOR "THE HILL": Well, we haven't seen much indication that he's going to really kind of relent from this push for warmer relations with Russia. Obviously going back to even July in that press conference of inviting Russia to find Hillary Clinton's, you know, private deleted e-mails. You know, this has been going on for months and he's provided no indication that he wants to kind of step away from this push for a closer ties. That's you know, much to this chagrin of a lot of Republicans on Capitol Hill that are still going to have to grapple with that in the coming weeks and months because they regard Russia and they regard Putin as you know, thug, as they would call him. So, that's something that Trump is going to be -- continue to be a divisive topic on Capitol Hill and with lawmakers.

COSTELLO: And Brian, just from a historical perspective, you know, Donald Trump ran as a Republican. Some Republicans say he's not as a Republican but still, he ran as part of the Republican Party. Some Republicans are embracing him with this talk of Russia and Vladimir Putin in a new relationship. This is the party of Reagan. So, historically, is this just kind of strange at the moment?

BRIAN BALOGH, HISTORY PROFESSOR UNIVERSITY OF VIRGINIA AND CO-HOST "BACKSTORY WITH THE AMERICAN HISTORY GUYS": Well, it's one of the few things that actually do have a precedent. Viewers might remember. If they are old enough, that the Republican Party used to lean toward isolationism before World War II and it shifted dramatically to an internationalist stance after World War II. So, it's not as though this can't happen. It's the way it's happening that is unprecedented. We, in essence, have a president-elect who is acting like the president before he's even inaugurated, and he is signaling, at least, what his policy changes are on major issues that have been in place for decades via tweet. And that truly is unprecedented.

COSTELLO: That truly is. And you can believe that Vladimir Putin, among others, is reading Donald Trump's tweets. So, Matthew, back to you because I think many Americans wonder what would a warmer relationship between Russia and the United States mean? What would that look like?

CHANCE: Well, it's a good question, I mean, and because we're in such unchartered waters, it's difficult to give a clear picture of that. One of the things Donald Trump has spoken about specifically is the possibility of allying with Russia when it comes to the fight against international terrorism in Syria. They've obviously spoken about this in the past even under the Obama administration there were talks, military talks and political talks to see if Russia and the United States -- could combine forces in Syria to target militant groups like Islamic State. That could become -- they weren't able to reach an agreement but maybe they can with a Donald Trump who is much more amenable -- to joining forces, as it were, with the Russians. Donald Trump, also talking about new arms, nuclear arms limitation treaty. And he's spoken about the possibility of lifting sanctions if Russia cooperates in that regard.

And so, we could see a dramatic transformation of the very rocky relationship that we witnessed between Russia and the United States over the past several years, in particular. Of course, you got to remember that in Russia, there's also a consciousness that this could go the other way. I mean, Donald Trump is seen as somebody who speaks pro-Russian sentiments at the moment but he's also unpredictable. -- And that sentiment that he has at the moment which is positive towards Russia could change very dramatically and Russians are acutely aware of that.

COSTELLO: Which is really interesting because Vladimir Putin, too, is unpredictable, Jesse.

BYRNES: Yes, I know, absolutely. And even those comments coming out today, you know, seeing both of these leaders on this stage defending each other from respective criticism -- in their own countries and kind of going to bat for each other before Trump is even in office.

[10:10:09] This is a very kind of interesting, really remarkable thing to be witnessing. Of course, once Trump comes in and takes you know, the Oath of Office going forward. You know, he's emphasized the fight against ISIS and on the international stage. That's one area where a lot of American voters still are kind of deeply skeptical. There's some even going out this morning from CNN, showing that you know, majority are very skeptical about he will actually be effective in the fight against ISIS. And so, if he is going to push against that and try to make a stronger, more aggressive position on that, of course, he views Russia as a potential ally in that.

COSTELLO: So, Brian, can history tell us anything about two unpredictable leaders with a nuclear arsenal?

BALOGH: Well, the first thing that comes to mind is Nixon and Khrushchev meeting in a kitchen in Moscow in the late '50s and debating really who had the best economy and who could serve consumers the best. It sounds like we're heading for a debate about who has the best prostitutes if we're listening to Vladimir Putin. But, yes, I think history can tell us that once individuals, once President-elect Trump is president, he is going to be far more subject to the bureaucracies that serve him and the laws that somewhat limit his discretion, although not so much in foreign policy.

COSTELLO: All right. I have to leave it there. Matthew, Brian, Jesse, thank you so much.

Still to come in the NEWSROOM, Donald Trump heads to Washington today, and he's lugging some extra baggage, dismal new poll numbers and a growing number of Democrats snubbing his big day.


[10:15:33] COSTELLO: President-elect Trump heading to Washington just three days before he's sworn in facing historic low approval ratings and a growing number of Democrats boycotting his inauguration. According to a new CNN/ORC Poll, more than half of Americans disapprove of the way Mr. Trump handling the presidential transition. Only 40 percent approve. Mr. Trump fails far behind his most immediate predecessors. Presidents Clinton, Bush and Obama, all had support above 60 percent. Trump also facing a growing boycott among lawmakers. Nearly one in five House Democrats say they will not attend Trump's inauguration on Friday. CNN political director David Chalian -- joins us now from Washington with more on the numbers. Hi, David.

DAVID CHALIAN, CNN POLITICAL DIRECTOR: Hi, Carol. That boycott number growing 40, as you said, nearly 1-5 of the Democratic Caucus. And it's not so much just that they're not showing up at the inauguration. It's that these members are coming out publicly and saying they're not showing up in boycott, in vocal opposition to Donald Trump taking the Oath of Office and becoming the 45th president. We'll continue to watch to see if that number grows as the week goes on.

COSTELLO: You know, I think that -- is it really a good idea for so many Democrats to boycott this inauguration? Because the CNN/ORC Poll shows this wide partisan divide between Republicans and Democrats and it just seems to be getting larger and larger. Doesn't this add to that?

CHALIAN: It does somewhat. In fact, there's that poll number that just asks the straight up question. Do you think Donald Trump is going to do a good job as president or a bad job as president? And you could see how evenly divided the country is. It's 48 percent to 48 percent in our new CNN/ORC Poll. But I think what you are seeing in this boycott is sort of the end of the notion of a coming together, giving the new president this sort of honeymoon. The historic lows that you mentioned at the top, Carol, at 40 percent approval and you put up that historical comparison.

I mean, he is more than double -- Barack Obama had approval at 84 percent, eight years ago. So, you see, Donald Trump, not even George W. Bush's 61 percent approval and that came after a hotly contested tied presidential election and a 36-day recount. This is a historic low and this gets at Donald Trump's handling of the transition which just seems to be, if you believe these numbers as we're looking at them, a squandered opportunity. He talked on election night about bringing the country together. They have made unity the theme of the inaugural but that is not bearing out in how Americans are seeing these last couple of months of this transition period. Donald Trump is not only not able to pull over Democrats, but he's even losing a little bit of support since November from some of the core groups that helped get him elected.

So, he does have this work cut out for him and unlike other starts to presidencies that we've seen, Carol, I think this is really important to note. The wind is not at his back. He now enters without running room to sort of get that first 100 days agenda going. He now enters facing some political headwind needing to prove his meddle on the job right away rather than sort of a little bit of running room to get out the door and get that agenda going.

COSTELLO: OK. David, I want you to stay right there. I want to bring in other voices to this conversation because this poll is so very interesting. Jesse Byrnes is back. So is Brian Balogh. So, you know, I talked about the partisan divide and I have some numbers to demonstrate that. And I'll throw that question to you, Jesse. So 80 percent of Republicans approve of Trump's handling of the transition. 8 percent of Democrats feel the same. It's just like a huge chasm. When asked if Donald Trump will do a good job as president, 93 percent of Republicans say yes. But only 14 percent of Democrats think he will. I mean, what can Donald Trump do to overcome these numbers, Jesse?

BYRNES: Well, yes, they definitely do look daunting initially. And this is, obviously, coming off a bitter presidential election and traditionally after a few weeks, a couple of months, you can kind of move on. But that's not the case now. We're even seeing that with the inauguration and all the surrounding protests. It seems that, you know, there's even some enthusiasm for that compared to some of the events surrounding the actual inauguration. And so, yes, I think this will be something where he's going to have to

[10:20:02] you know, coming into office realize he's got these different constituencies of you know trying to be the president for everyone. But he does have a very tough road ahead in terms of having to work with members of Congress on both sides of the aisle, realizing that, you know, he doesn't have a lot of support on one side and he's going to have to kind of win that over.

COSTELLO: So, Brian, the divisions aren't just by party. We're split in nearly every way. Geographically, gender wise, racially, education wise. Trump's transition approval numbers are 30 points higher among rural voters, 20 points higher among men and 20 points higher among whites. So, what does that mean in terms of governing, Brian?

BALOGH: Well, I think, it means that Trump has to be more proactive in reaching out to some of the constituencies that probably did not vote for him. And I think it explains why his numbers, approval ratings, are at an all-time low during this transition period as your other guests have suggested. This is traditionally a honeymoon period but you know it takes two to honeymoon. And what Donald Trump has failed to do is actively reach out to some of the very people who are at least skeptical, if not, the people who have clearly opposed him.

CHALIAN: Carol, we should note -- sorry.

COSTELLO: Go ahead.

CHALIAN: John McCain was on "NEW DAY" this morning and I thought his analysis was kind of spot on, when asked of what's behind these numbers, these historic lows approval. John McCain said, well you know, basically, Donald Trump has been tilting a window, chasing everything, starting a fight here or there, getting on Twitter. And whether it is Meryl Streep or the Intel Community, it has been a transition period that has been contentious in nature. And Donald Trump, according to John McCain, has been sort of distracted by all of these things he's chasing. I think that does have some bearing here to look at why since we immediately asked these questions after the election in November. Why even since then we've seen this slide. It is because in large part of the way Donald Trump has been conducting this period of time, this transition period.

COSTELLO: Well, David, the question, - and I am glad you said that because I want to ask you this question as well. So, it seems that Donald Trump really isn't interested in uniting the country. For example, he's tweeting again about John Lewis. Like why not just let it go but he's slamming him again on Twitter. That doesn't do anything to unify the country.

CHALIAN: Well, right. I don't know, he -- says he is interested in unifying the country. The reports out there about some of the themes of his inaugural address seem to suggest that he may hit that theme and we heard him say it on election night, as well. But you're right. I think that runs in conflict with not letting anything go. We've seen a total inability of Donald Trump, or lack -- complete lack of desire to just let certain pictures go by on the eve of you becoming the 45th President of the United States. You can let some of these go by but that is not in Donald Trump's nature which adds to this notion of chaos or contentious period during this transition.

COSTELLO: David Chalian, Jesse Byrnes, Brian Balogh, thanks to all of you.

Still to come in the NEWSROOM, as Inauguration Day is near, new polling as we just showed you shows a divide in America. It's growing deeper. Can Donald Trump bring the U.S. together as one, despite our conversation? A longtime friend of the president-elect joins us next to talk about that.


[10:28:07] COSTELLO: And good morning. I'm Carol Costello. Thank you so much for joining me. The partisan divide in this country is at epic proportions, a growing number of Democrats boycotting the inauguration. Major protests planned. But one man is trying to bridge the gap. His name is Tom Barrack. He's Donald Trump's longtime friend. He's arranged a meeting between Trump and Leonardo DiCaprio to talk climate change, to try to find a middle ground. He encouraged Mr. Trump to go to Mexico to talk about that wall. And he fields calls for Trump with worried ambassadors and investors. He's done that all along. I'm joined now by Tom Barrack, President-elect Donald Trump's longtime friend and the chair of his Presidential Inaugural Committee. Welcome, Tom. TOM BARRACK JR., CHAIRMAN PRESIDENTIAL INAUGURAL COMMITTEE: Thanks Carol, great to be here.

COSTELLO: Nice to have you here. You've known Mr. Trump since 1994. What would he make of these poll numbers?

BARRACK: Well, I think he's pretty much disregarded polls. And I think what you see happen in the campaign as the polls were, at best, inaccurate and pretty useless. So, I think he's just concentrating on saying, look, let me get back to work. Approval ratings, people can vote with their feet once I'm in office. I'm the president-elect so the approval of what I'm doing now in transition is pretty irrelevant because actually the facts are not very evident.

COSTELLO: Well, I ask you this because these poll numbers seem to bear out in light of what's happening as Mr. Trump's inauguration approaches. And I'll just say, you know, close to 40 Democrats will stay at home. A slew of performers have backed out of performances. I'm talking about Jennifer Holliday because of the reaction from her fans. The Bruce Springsteen Cover Band, the B-Street Band. They said they had to back out because they wanted to be respectful of Mr. Springsteen's politics. Rebecca Ferguson backed out over a dispute over what to sing at the inauguration. We saw a member of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir singer quit because she didn't want to perform for Mr. Trump. That doesn't really speak to unity, does it?

BARRACK: Well, look, first of all, -- most of those facts are wrong, right? - The good thing is I'm not an agent.

COSTELLO: Tom, they're not.

BARRACK: Yes, they are. Bruce Springsteen was never offered a position.