Return to Transcripts main page


U.S. Bombers Target ISIS Camps In Libya; Interview with Sen. Angus King; Is Trump Administration Ready To Take The Reins?; Soon: Treasury Nominee Steven Mnuchin Faces Hearing; Obama Gives Final White House News Conference. Aired 7:30-8a ET

Aired January 19, 2017 - 07:30   ET


[07:30:00] ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: We do have some breaking news for you right now. U.S. bombers have struck ISIS camps in southern Libya overnight. These airstrikes happening in the final hours of President Obama's time in office. This is a story you'll see first on CNN. We want to get to CNN Pentagon correspondent Barbara Starr. She has all of the breaking details. What have you learned, Barbara?

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Alisyn. In the final hours of the Obama presidency this may now well be the final military action personally authorized by President Obama. U.S. B-2 bombers striking in southern Libya overnight against some ISIS camps in the desert that the U.S. had been watching for several weeks.

Fighters fleeing from the coastal city of Sirte, where the U.S. had bombed previously, south into the desert. This is an area the U.S. had been watching. They went to the president, the U.S. military got his authorization to do this, and those airstrikes were conducted overnight.

What is so significant here is that it underscores President Obama's policy relying on bombers, aircraft, drones. And in places like Iraq and Syria, ground forces -- special operations on the ground in places like that to go after ISIS fighters and terror targets as they spread out around the world. This has been a presidency relying on Special Forces, relying on bomber aircraft and drones rather than large military units on the -- on the ground.

They do believe this time they got to the camps -- that they struck what they wanted to hit. And they will now be conducting that bomb damage assessment to see if they have to go back and restrike again -- Alisyn.

CAMEROTA: OK, Barbara. Thank you for bringing us all of your reporting. We'll check with you throughout the program.

Let's discuss this breaking news and much more with Sen. Angus King. He's an Independent from Maine. He's also a member of the Armed Services and the Senate Intelligence Committee. Senator, thanks so much for being here.

SEN. ANGUS KING (I), MAINE: Of course, Alisyn.

CAMEROTA: Why would President Obama launch a strike like this in the final hours of his presidency?

KING: Well, I think this points up the fact that the world doesn't stop and wait for us to have an inauguration and that it's so important to have continuity, particularly in the national security area. I can only assume that the president was informed of the availability of some important targets that could help decapitate the leadership of ISIS and they took that opportunity.

But I think that it's so important that we maintain continuity. That's why I believe on Friday afternoon, right after the inauguration, the Senate is going to take up the nominations for the Secretary of Defense, the Secretary of Homeland Security, and probably the head of the CIA.

CAMEROTA: From everything you've heard from President-elect Trump are you worried about continuity of a plan with his administration?

KING: Well, there's a -- there's a sort of sub-problem. There are 690 so-called executive level positions. So far, 29 have been appointed. That's a long way to go and often the people on the second and third levels are the ones where a lot of the decisions have to be made. So there's -- continuity is a problem.

One of the things I'm worried about is apparently the transition team is telling people you're done tomorrow without a replacement. And -- for example, in the nuclear so-called -- the nuclear system where we maintain weapons at Los Alamos and places like that, those people have told -- have been told they're going to leave. I think my, you know -- my opinion is hold them on there for a few months or six months until you can fill those positions.

CAMEROTA: That sounds worrisome. Is this unprecedented in that -- in the nuclear department -- to have people exit before somebody else is in place?

KING: It's unprecedented. This whole structure goes back to about the year 2000, so in the last several transitions they have been held over. And --

CAMEROTA: Why are -- why is Trump doing that?

KING: I don't know, and I don't know whether it's him -- whether he's made that decision or whether somebody in the transition team. But, for example, they've also told all of the political ambassadors you have to pack up and be gone tomorrow. Why, you know -- let's make this -- continuity is a big deal.

CAMEROTA: This worries you?

KING: It does.

CAMEROTA: Another point. A National Security Council has said that they, I guess, are disappointed by Mr. Trump's team not engaging with them more. They've even gone on to say that they've prepared a whole bunch -- a series of briefing materials to bring the Trump team up to speed but they don't have any clarity on whether the Trump team has read them or is interested in them. What's that about?

KING: Well, I think it is a concern and the beginning of wisdom, for me, is to know what you don't know and to try to find out. And again, this strike in Libya points up the fact -- I mean, we don't -- anything can happen. There are rumors of North Korea testing missiles and that's why this transition is so important. And I think the president-elect has to really understand that this isn't business as usual. These decisions -- a mistake in the first few months could really have serious ramifications.

[07:35:19] CAMEROTA: Look, Mr. Trump doesn't want business as usual. He ran on sort of blowing up the model --

KING: Yes.

CAMEROTA: -- the business model. But what I hear you saying is that if continuity is most important, you're not sure --

KING: Particularly in the national security field.

CAMEROTA: Sure, particularly in the national security field, but you're not sure all those boxes are being checked.

KING: Well, I'm not and that's a concern that I have. I mean, when I first ran for governor I was a business guy. I'd never been in office before. I used to say the good news is I don't know what I'm doing. The bad news is I don't know what I'm doing. But governors don't have bombers and destroyers and people that are likely to come in and make trouble.

CAMEROTA: Fifty-four Democrats, I think at last count, have decided to sit out the inauguration tomorrow. They are doing it for a variety of reasons. They haven't liked what Mr. Trump has said about John Lewis, for one, and other reasons. How are Democrats going to work with this new administration? Are they going to compromise or are they going to obstruct?

KING: I think that's an open question. My sense is that they're going to agree when they can and disagree when they don't. For example, my personal feeling as an Independent, I was very fired up when I heard Donald Trump talk about negotiating for lower drug prices. That's something I've been advocating for three years. A lot of people have been talking about that. I'll be very interested to see how that idea goes over with his colleagues in the House and the Senate because they've always resisted that.

So, to me, it's going to -- for me -- I can't speak for the Democrats. I'm going to go issue by issue. Where I agree, I'll agree and where I don't, Iwon't.

CAMEROTA: But, I mean, on big issues such as, say, health care or the Affordable Care Act, if the Republicans start to repeal it we've heard some Democrats say game over, all bets are off. That we're not going to try to compromise after that.

KING: Well, I think one of the problems is on the Affordable Care Act, they've got the -- literally, the cart before the horse. Repeal before replace. It's like you have a big apartment building and you say to everyone we're going to move you out, but the first thing we're going to do is tear the building down. Then we'll tell you about where it's going to go and how big it's going to be and what the rooms are going to look like. That doesn't make sense to me.

Let's see what the replacement looks like. And I've been saying and all -- many of us have been saying for years there are plenty of flaws in the Affordable Care Act that can be fixed. Let's fix them. Call it Trumpcare. I don't care what you call it but let's provide health insurance to people, but don't start with repeal.

CAMEROTA: How about Kingcare? That has a nice ring to it.

KING: It does.

CAMEROTA: Senator, thanks so much. Great to see you.

KING: Thank you, Alisyn.

CAMEROTA: Thanks for being here on NEW DAY. It's another contentious confirmation hearing on tap here in Washington as Mr. Trump's nominee for Treasury Secretary will take the hot seat. Who is Steve Mnuchin? We have a profile, next.


[07:42:05] CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR: It's time for CNN Money Now. Chief business correspondent Christine Romans is here. She sat down with the outgoing Commerce Secretary for an exclusive interview. What did you find out, my friend?

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN CHIEF BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: Good morning. Interesting, right? The last day on the job. Well, billionaire investor Wilbur Ross, if he is confirmed, will become the next Commerce Secretary, but another billionaire had that job first, Penny Pritzker. We spoke last night and I asked her if the president-elect, Donald Trump, should get credit for these companies recently making announcements about bringing jobs back to the U.S.


PENNY PRITZKER, COMMERCE SECRETARY: As a CEO, you do not wake up in the morning and say you know what, I'm going to create 1,000 jobs. These are opportunities that are created over time so I think what's important is not one announcement that's timed related to a tweet.

What I think is more important is systemic change and systemically creating greater opportunity for American businesses to create jobs and opportunity here in the United States, which is something we've worked really hard on in this administration. And, obviously, it's going to be a priority for the next administration. We may have different ways of going about it, though.

(END VIDEO CLIP) ROMANS: She says she's proud of the economy -- the strength in the economy right now and business conditions that they're handing to the next administration. She said she has met with Wilbur Ross and she talked to him about being an outsider coming in and trying to be a game changer in Washington, like she was, you know. She was in the private sector before she came to Washington and not a lot of political experience, and how he's going to need to surround himself with people who know how Washington works.

I asked her what she thinks about Wilbur Ross saying that he wants to renegotiate NAFTA, you know, right away. And she thinks that, you know, trade -- she's been a proponent of doing more trade deals and doing trade deals smartly. So she thinks, you know, gutting NAFTA is not the way to go, obviously. Two different worldviews here, you know. This is what the handing over of the reins is all about.

CAMEROTA: Fantastic. Thank you --

ROMANS: You're welcome.

CAMEROTA: -- for sharing all that with us, Christine. Well, Donald Trump's pick for Treasury Secretary, Steve Mnuchin, set to be grilled by lawmakers less than two hours from now. Who is the former Goldman Sachs banker? CNN's Cristina Alesci has more.


CRISTINA ALESCI, CNN MONEY CORRESPONDENT: Steve Mnuchin was relatively unknown, one of L.A.'s many billionaires. That is, until Donald Trump tapped him to be his campaign finance chief.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He is Steve Munchin.


CUOMO: Steve Mnuchin.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Steven Mnuchin, former Goldman Sachs partner who headed up fundraising for Donald Trump during the campaign, will be his pick for Treasury Secretary.

ALESCI: Now, President-elect Trump wants to give the former hedge fund manager an even bigger job, managing the country's money.

STEVEN MNUCHIN, TREASURY SECRETARY NOMINEE: Our most important priority is sustained economic growth.

ALESCI: And Mnuchin has done exactly that for himself, very successfully. He came from money, drove a Porsche in college, and then followed his father to Goldman Sachs, but eventually, he made his own fortune.

TOM BARRACK, CHAIR, PRESIDENTIAL INAUGURAL COMMITTEE: I think he worked his ever-loving butt off at every level that he was and he deserves every accolade.

[07:45:00] ALESCI: More recently, he's produced movies, backing films like "Suicide Squad", "American Sniper", and the "Lego" movie.

SCENE FROM "LEGO": That's you, right?

ALESCI: But it was his time at Goldman where he ran the mortgage trading desk that helped him spot the deal of a lifetime during the financial crisis. Mnuchin led a group of investors that bought failed subprime lender IndyMac for a steal in 2009, renaming it OneWest. As part of the deal, the government agreed to cover most of the bank's losses.

BARRACK: OneWest is one of the greatest examples of governmental partnerships and involvement in bailing out banks in history.

ALESCI: That's your perspective. Some people would say he --

BARRACK: No, that's not my perspective.

ALESCI: -- profited while other people suffered.

BARRACK: Ask the government. That's not my perspective. Ask the government. The government is not griping about what happened in OneWest.

ALESCI: Maybe, but some of the bank's customers don't feel the same. Angry protestors descended on Mnuchin's home in L.A. accusing the bank of kicking them out of their homes without proper documentation. Regulators eventually questioned the company's foreclosure practices but Mnuchin defended his record.

MNUCHIN: Let me tell you, one of the most hard aspects of my career was buying IndyMac during the financial crisis.

ALESCI: Mnuchin and his partners sold OneWest for a hefty profit. His share, $200 million according to Bloomberg. But critics say that record disqualifies him for the Treasury job.

SEN. ELIZABETH WARREN (D), MASSACHUSETTS: He's the one who said I'm not working to make profits out of this and, boy, did he make profits for himself and his investors. His let's squeeze all those folks who will lose their homes.

ALESCI: Incoming Press Secretary Sean Spicer says Warren is misinformed. He says Mnuchin saved jobs and helped some people stay in their homes. Democrats also oppose Mnuchin because they say his relationship with hedge funds and bankers will lead him to go easy on the industry. Mnuchin has already talked about relaxing some rules.

MNUCHIN: We want to strip back parts of Dodd-Frank that prevent banks from lending and that will be the number one priority on the regulatory side.

ALESCI: For Democrats, those regulations are critical protections for most Americans --

WARREN: What does Steve Mnuchin say as soon as he's nominated to be the Secretary of the Treasury? He says he wants to roll back those reforms. He says hey, let's go back to the good old days when Steve Mnuchin was the foreclosure king.

ALESCI: -- but supporters are urging Americans to give Mnuchin a chance. What do you think his first mission is going to be as Treasury Secretary?

BARRACK: Don't screw up.

ALESCI: Cristina Alesci, CNN, New York.


CUOMO: All right. I just want to say for the record when I said Mnuchin's name, I said it right. I don't know why I was in a CNN piece --

CAMEROTA: A Mnuchin montage?

CUOMO: Yes, having that taken at me --

CAMEROTA: And you don't like it?

CUOMO: -- on my own network. If that doesn't show how fair this place is I don't know what does. They even attack their own.

CAMEROTA: Well, I'm glad you've said your peace out loud.

CUOMO: Boy, oh boy. President Obama sent a public warning to his successor at his last news conference. Will Obama's words resonate with Mr. Trump and what were those words? We're going to discuss with our panel, next.


[07:52:10] (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I hope that people pay a lot of attention to making sure that everybody has a chance to vote. Make it easier, not harder. This whole notion of election -- of voting fraud, this is something that has constantly been disproved. This is fake news.


CUOMO: That was President Obama at his final press conference, seemingly sending a message to President-elect Trump about the false claims of voter fraud. How is Obama's parting message being received? Let us discuss. J.D. Vance, CNN contributor, author of the book "Hillbilly Elegy." Paul Begala, CNN political commentator. Former senator Rick Santorum, CNN senior political commentator. And you know that UFC thing that I watch and you always ask me why?


CUOMO: Its signature move at the beginning of the fight is let's get it on, and that's going to happen right now. Rick Santorum, your head was nodding in the negative direction when you were listening to that sound bite. You don't like it. Why?

RICK SANTORUM, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, I'll tell you, it's the same old thing. President Obama sets up these false narratives and you sort of accept them because he says it's true.

CAMEROTA: But what was false? There were false claims of voter fraud.

SANTORUM: But there are all sorts of legitimate claims of voter fraud. I mean, there's lots of claims of voter fraud. The idea that there is no voter fraud is ridiculous.

CAMEROTA: And the idea that there were millions of people who voted illegally is also ridiculous.

SANTORUM: There are -- we don't know because we haven't had a Justice Department that's actually interested in this and actually wants to find out about it. I mean, that -- let's be honest about that. And what we do know is that attempts by Republicans to put in legitimate identification in order to vote have been hailed as bigoted, racist -- all these, you know, trying to prevent people from voting where you have to have a similar I.D. to get on an airline, to buy cough syrup. And yet, for some reason, if you have that -- require that I.D. for the most important thing a citizen does, which is to elect the president --

CUOMO: Two things to address here --

SANTORUM: -- you're a bigot.

CUOMO: -- then let's open it to the panel. The first is, as you well know, many studies have been done. There is no extensive voter fraud that's ever been documented in any way. There's a paucity of cases that they've even been able to prosecute about it. That doesn't mean that you couldn't have more transparency, but the proof isn't there.

Second, why doesn't the logic about voter I.D. extend to voting online and making it easier to register and easier to vote in this country when we do everything online right now? Republicans, especially for the right, will not contemplate pushing any type of legislation or any type of motivation to the states to let people vote more easily, same day, online.

SANTORUM: Yes, two things. Number one, I think part of the experience of voting is to bring community together to actually go to a place and to vote, and to interact and to do the kinds of things that a community does.

CUOMO: You don't think that it's fair now --

SANTORUM: That's number one.

CUOMO: -- especially among some of the poorer populations?

SANTORUM: And number two, I'm against early voting. Have always been against early voting because I think an election is about a particular point in time and things happen in the last week, as we saw in this race. Revelations come out and I think it's important for voters to have all of the information before they cast their vote. And early voting, I can tell you and Paul may back this up, back in 2012 --


SANTORUM: -- I think I could have been -- I would've been the nominee of this -- of the Republican Party had Michigan not had early voting. I crushed Mitt Romney on Election Day. In fact, the last two weeks. But they had opened up early voting and I wasn't really in the race and that happened. That happens over and over again where things happen late in the race --


SANTORUM: -- and it's not -- it's not reflected at the ballot.

CAMEROTA: Paul, do you have any issues with anything that's just been said?

PAUL BEGALA, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Every single word the senator said. I'm glad he's here.

SANTORUM: Thank you, Paul.

BEGALA: No, I do two things every day. I read the Holy Bible and I listen to Rick Santorum so I know what both sides are thinking.


BEGALA: I'm kidding.


CUOMO: Bold move.

[07:55:] BEGALA: Another Catholic is here. Senator, there was a Justice Department obsessed with this. When George W. Bush was president -- you remember that long national nightmare -- his Justice Department had a task force on voter fraud to try to prove this. I think they charged 78 cases. They didn't convict, even, all those 78 out of hundreds of millions. Probably a billion votes case. It's a myth.

What I'm astonished by is that the party that right now controls the polling -- behind us -- control of the House, control of the Senate. This time -- well, no, about 28 hours from now they'll control the White House as well. And yet, they continue to undermine the free exercise of the vote. I find it astonishing. I mean, you -- I guess it's because more people voted for Democrats in the House, generally, and the Senate, generally, and for the White House.

So the system is rigged -- Trump was right about that -- but it's rigged in a way that's transparent, right? We had this Electoral College that sort of rigs it to favor smaller states.


BEGALA: But the notion that we want to cut down on democracy when we're here to celebrate it, I think it's really a shame.

CAMEROTA: I didn't know we were going to go so far down this rabbit hole but it has been really interesting to hear both of you. J.D., what did you hear in President Obama's final press conference yesterday?

J.D. VANCE, CNN CONTRIBUTOR, AUTHOR, "HILLBILLY ELEGY": Well, I mean, one, it was obviously a criticism of the idea that voter fraud affected the election in any significant way, and I think that's right. I think Sen. Santorum is right that there are occasional cases of voter fraud but the idea that it really affects the outcomes in our election, I just don't see the evidence. But --

CAMEROTA: But did you hear that as a parting shot and a shot towards Donald Trump? Was he -- was he -- was there a subtext there yesterday?

VANCE: Yes, there may have been some subtext. But the subtext that I actually heard more than that was President Obama, as he's done in the last month or so, actually criticizing his own party or encouraging his party to stay upbeat in the face of opposition. He kept on saying don't get dejected, don't get cynical. That's been his message for the past month.

And I think that should continue to be the message that Democrats take because one of the things I disliked as a Republican in 2008 is how we became so frustrated and so cynical in the face of President Obama. I think it would be a huge mistake for Democrats to do the exact same thing that Republicans did.

CUOMO: How come you were not equally upset by our incoming president sheltering Russia from responsibility for the hacks?

SANTORUM: Well, first off, the idea that Russia had an impact on the election because --

CUOMO: No, I'm just saying just the hacks --

SANTORUM: I understand, I understand.

CUOMO: -- because you guys conflate those issues and I understand why it works for you, but it's a little intellectually --

SANTORUM: No, but first -- well, first off, I take issue and I've done this publicly and I'll continue to do it, that "Russia was responsible for hacks." First off, it wasn't a hack. It was a fishing expedition that landed --

CUOMO: That was just Podesta.

SANTORUM: -- Podesta's, but it gave access -- but it gave access to the DNC because he was emailing people -- CUOMO: Right, but there were other different hacks the Intelligence Community has consensus on. There's no diversions of opinion about who was motivating those hacks, who was channeling the information --

SANTORUM: Yes. So let me say this. I work for a cybersecurity -- I do some work in a cybersecurity area and I've talked to a lot of people who have actually looked at this information and here's what they've told me from inside and outside the government. If there's a -- if there's a -- if there's a trail of breadcrumbs that says this is the Russians, it's probably not the Russians because the Russians are so good that they actually -- I think it's --

CUOMO: So they all said it's Russia. Why would they come to the consensus that it's Russia? Why would they all lie about this?

SANTORUM: Unfortunately, I think this is what Trump is worried about, is the politicization of intelligence.

CUOMO: So you don't believe the Intel Community about Russia being behind it?

SANTORUM: I think -- I think -- no. I think the leaders of the Intel Community -- the folks who are political appointees of this president have -- yes, I think they have -- they have taken the study that was done, which was not done by the government. It was hired -- the DNC hired an outside contractor to go in and look at this and they are not --

CUOMO: It had nothing to do with the Russian hacks --

SANTORUM: Yes, it is.

CUOMO: -- of the election.

SANTORUM: Yes, because they are the ones who did -- who looked --

CUOMO: You're talking about the dossier which was something totally different.

SANTORUM: The DNC didn't turn their evidence over to the government. The DNC had a private contractor look at this information and say this is what they've concluded and then they -- we base our intelligence estimates on that. This is -- to me, it's wrong.

CUOMO: Well, hold on a second, Rick. Rick, hold on. Rick, that doesn't make any sense. I'm talking about the Intel Community's consensus that Russia motivated --

SANTORUM: That's correct.

CUOMO: -- the hacks that wound up benefitting WikiLeaks and Donald Trump because he kept asking for people to read them. That has nothing to do with the DNC having lousy defense. It has nothing to do with the dossier that the Intel Community decided to show the president and the president-elect.

SANTORUM: As you know --

CUOMO: That's a totally different issue.

SANTORUM: The leaks -- the leaks were DNC email leaks.

CUOMO: Right.

SANTORUM: That's what we're talking about, right? So the DNC has complicity, number one. They had -- they had -- they had -- they had complicity because they didn't protect their networks, right?

CUOMO: That's fine. I'm saying do you accept the Intel Community's conclusion that Russia was behind it? I'm not saying the DNC did a good job.

SANTORUM: They didn't. They did a lousy job.

CUOMO: I'm saying they should own the responsibility for who was motivating those hacks and I don't get why you shelter Russia.


CUOMO: I don't get it.

SANTORUM: I'm not sheltering Russia. I just think as -- and one of the reasons I'm excited that the Congress is going to pursue this and actually look into this is because I think they'll get to the truth. I think the truth is that if it's very clear to everybody and for -- in this briefing that was done. They point out obvious things that the -- that make it clear that this was the Russians. If it was obvious, I guarantee you the Russians are so good they are not going to be obvious, but they're going to be pointed out.

CAMEROTA: Yes. Hey, Paul, was this the easiest segment you've ever been in?

BEGALA: Yes. Well, if my fingers are on the -- fingerprints are on the murder weapon it's obvious I didn't do it. That's, I think --