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THE SITUATION ROOM

Interview With Congressman Adam Kinzinger; Bannon Ire; President Obama Speaks Out on Donald Trump; Sources: Sharp Disagreements Over Cabinet Picks; Trump's Transition Team Playing Catch Up?; Source: Trump Wants Top Secret Clearance for His Children; Retired General In Line for Top National Security Post; Journalist Gwen Ifill Dead at 61. Aired 6-7p ET

Aired November 14, 2016 - 18:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


[18:00:00] WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: President Obama offers a candid assessment of Donald Trump and urges Americans to give him a chance in the Oval Office.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The people have spoken. Donald Trump will be the next president, the 45th president of the United States.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: But President Obama says the job has a way of waking you up. And he says he advised Donald Trump that campaigning is different than governing. So, what did President Obama say about Donald Trump's temperament?

Bannon ire. Outrage at the selection of a leader of the so-called alt-right movement as president-elect Trump's chief strategist. Steve Bannon and the Breitbart Web site he ran are linked to anti-Semitic, white supremacist, misogynist views. Will Trump stand by Bannon despite the growing backlash?

Kremlin calling. Trump and Vladimir Putin speak by phone, with the Russian president congratulating the president-elect on his White House win, their discussion covering shared threats, economic issues, and the U.S.-Russia relationship. Are frosty ties between Washington and Moscow about to thaw?

Trump change. The president-elect is apparently shifting his views on some of his most controversial policy proposals, from immigration to abortion to same-sex marriage. What changes is he planning to push for?

And clearance controversy. CNN learned that president-elect Trump wants his adult children to have clearance for access to classified intelligence. He also wants his son-in-law to be able to see top- secret government information. So what role will the Trump children play in his administration?

We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world. I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

BLITZER: The breaking news tonight, President Obama speaking out about the man who will replace him in the Oval Office just over two months from now. In his first news conference since the election, the president gave some straightforward opinions about president-elect Donald Trump.

The president urged Americans to give him a chance to settle into the Oval Office, saying the transition to the presidency can be "a wakeup call." The president said he believes Trump is not an ideologue, but more of a pragmatist, and he said he absolutely has some concerns about Trump and that there are elements of Trump's temperament that will not serve him well.

The president dodged a question on Trump's controversial appointment of Steve Bannon as his chief strategist. Bannon has close ties to the conservative movement known as the alt-right, which is known for propagating racist, anti-Semitic, misogynist views.

Democrats and some Republicans call Bannon an unacceptable choice.

And, tonight, a transition official is telling CNN that Trump has asked for top security clearance for his adult children who are his advisers, as well as his son-in-law, Jared Kushner, husband of Trump's daughter, Ivanka.

We're covering all of that and much more this hour with our guests, including Congressman Adam Kinzinger. And our correspondents and expert analysts, they are also standing by.

Let's begin with President Obama's remarks about Donald Trump.

Our senior Washington correspondent, Jeff Zeleny, has details.

Jeff, the president offered a very blunt assessment.

JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, a blunt assessment indeed, but also a far measured assessment if you think back to his words only one week ago tonight on the eve of the election, when he called Donald Trump unqualified.

He, of course, did not repeat those words today, but he said he did urge Donald Trump to reach out to all of those who feel alienated by his presidency.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ZELENY (voice-over): President Obama tonight walking a tightrope, speaking out about the candidate he lambasted and the president-elect to whom he must now pass the baton.

OBAMA: The people have spoken. Donald Trump will be the next president, the 45th president of the United States. ZELENY: In his first news conference since the election, Mr. Obama

talked about his 90-minute meeting with Donald Trump, saying he spoke to the president-elect about the weight of the job.

OBAMA: Regardless of what experience or assumptions he brought to the office, this office has a way of waking you up. And those aspects of his positions or predispositions that don't match up with reality, he will find shaken up pretty quick, because reality has a way of asserting itself.

ZELENY: The president said he would work with Mr. Trump to make the handoff as smooth as possible, suggesting some of the biting language during the campaign was done for effect.

OBAMA: I don't think he is ideological. I think ultimately is, he is pragmatic in that way.

ZELENY: But the president was candid about some of the weaknesses he sees in Trump, including his temperament.

[18:05:00]

OBAMA: I think what will happen with the president-elect Trump is, there are going to be certain elements of his temperament that will not serve him well, unless he recognizes them and corrects them.

ZELENY: The president pointing out that the Mr. Trump often made false statements and relied on misleading headlines on the campaign trail.

OBAMA: When you're a candidate and you say something that is inaccurate or controversial, it has less impact than it does when you're president of the United States.

ZELENY: The president has seen defeat before, after the 2010 and 2014 midterm elections.

OBAMA: I'm not recommending for every future president that they take a shellacking like I did last night. I'm sure there are easier ways to learn these lessons.

ZELENY: But no laughter today as the cornerstones of his legacy, from Obamacare to climate change policy, are at risk in a Trump administration. Asked about those questioning Trump's right to rule, the president said simply, Trump won.

OBAMA: Hopefully, it's a reminder that elections matter and voting counts. And so, you know, I don't know how many times we have to relearn this lesson because we ended up having 43 percent of the country not voting who were eligible to vote. But it makes a difference.

ZELENY: After intense criticisms, President Obama sounded almost impressed by Trump's victory.

OBAMA: What's clear is that he was able to tap into, yes, the anxieties but also the enthusiasm of his voters in a way that was impressive.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ZELENY: The president clearly trying to put a good face on this, a positive face on.

As for the Democratic Party, Wolf, he said it's a healthy thing the party is going through a time of reflection. That may be an understatement. But as the president begins to leave for his final foreign trip tonight, it is clear he wanted to get ahead of that trip so he can send the message to world leaders that Donald Trump will be the next president, and he may not be as unqualified as President Obama once declared -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Jeff, thank you, Jeff Zeleny in New York City for us.

President Obama declined to comment on Donald Trump's most controversial appointment so far. The president-elect Trump has named Stephen Bannon, formerly of Breitbart News, as chief White House strategist.

Let's go to our senior White House correspondent, Jim Acosta. He is working this part of the story for us.

Jim, a lot of outrage right now over Bannon's appointment. What's the latest?

JIM ACOSTA, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Wolf.

First of all, we should point out what we're hearing from a transition source, that Donald Trump has requested top-secret security clearances for his adult children and his son-in-law, Jared Kushner, who, as you know, is an important adviser.

As for Steve Bannon, top Trump advisers are rushing to his defense, but the Bannon backlash is growing.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ACOSTA (voice-over): In selecting Stephen Bannon as chief strategist, Donald Trump has invited into the Oval Office one of the leaders of the so-called alt-right movement, a combination of conservatives, populists, white supremacists, and anti-Semites.

Trump's campaign says Bannon will act as -- quote -- "equal partners" with RNC Chair Reince Priebus, who will serve as White House chief of staff.

Meantime, top Trump advisers are praising the Bannon pick.

KELLYANNE CONWAY, TRUMP CAMPAIGN MANAGER: It was great, because Steve Bannon has been the general of this campaign.

ACOSTA: Bannon is already coming under fire over his time as chairman of Breitbart News, which at times has featured anti-Semitic and white supremacist material, with headlines that call conservative columnist Bill Kristol a renegade Jew, advised women subjected to online harassment to simply log on, and alleged that political correctness protects a -- quote -- "Muslim rape culture."

For years, he's called for a takeover of the Republican Party.

STEVE BANNON, DONALD TRUMP CAMPAIGN CEO: What we need to do is bitch- slap the Republican Party and get those guys heeding to. And if we have to, we will take it over.

ACOSTA: A spokesman for retiring Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid said in a statement: "President-elect Trump's choice of Steve Bannon as his top aide signals that white supremacists will be represented at the highest levels in Trump's White House."

REINCE PRIEBUS, REPUBLICAN NATIONAL COMMITTEE CHAIRMAN: The guy I know is a guy that isn't any of those things. He is a guy who is pretty -- he's very, very smart, very temperate.

ACOSTA: The Bannon pick could inflame anti-Trump protesters and rattle a nation that is witnessing a rise in hateful rhetoric, like the reports of churches vandalized with neo-Nazi messaging and attacks on minorities, which Trump told "60 Minutes" must come to an end.

DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENT-ELECT: I am so saddened to hear that. And I say stop it. If it -- if it helps, I will say this, and I will say it right to the camera: Stop it.

ACOSTA: On the issues, Trump so far signaling a potential softening on sensitive topics, suggesting he won't work to outlaw same-sex marriage.

TRUMP: These cases have gone to the Supreme Court. They have been settled. And I think -- and I'm fine with that.

ACOSTA: But on another front, Roe vs. Wade Trump said he would appoint anti-abortion judges and, if it's overturned, it would be up to the states to decide.

[18:10:08]

TRUMP: Well, they will perhaps have to go to another -- they will have go to another state.

ACOSTA: As for Trump's signature campaign issue:

TRUMP: Don't worry about it. We're going to build the wall, folks. Don't worry.

ACOSTA: The president-elect sounds open to something less than a wall along the Mexican border.

(CROSSTALK)

TRUMP: Yes, it could be some fencing.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ACOSTA: Now, the Trump team is far from unanimous on the selection of Steve Bannon as chief strategist in the White House.

I talked to one transition official who said Bannon is simply being given too much power, Wolf. And Donald Trump is making progress, his transition team is making progress on a selection for secretary of state.

John Bolton, the former U.N. ambassador, and Rudy Giuliani are said to be two top contenders for secretary of state -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Jim, thanks. Good reporting for us as well, Jim Acosta reporting from outside Trump Tower in New York City.

Let's get some more on all of this right now.

Republican Congressman Adam Kinzinger of Illinois is joining us.

Congressman, thanks for joining us.

REP. ADAM KINZINGER (R), ILLINOIS: You bet, Wolf. Thanks.

BLITZER: All right, so CNN has just learned that Trump has asked -- is seeking top-secret security clearances for his adult children, including -- who are his advisers, including his son-in-law Jared Kushner.

What is your reaction to that? Do you think they should have this kind of clearance?

KINZINGER: It's hard for me to tell. It depends on what level of top-secret.

There's a lot of people, by the way, in the country that have top- secret security clearance. Basically, anybody that does what I do in the military gets it. So it's a level where you have to go through some pretty intense background, but that's different than what would be considered basically presidential level security, and I'm not sure what that's called or that classification.

But basically you're exposed to anything the president has, vs. you're exposed to just top-secret. So I have got to get more details. And, frankly, I think it's at the request of the president to make a decision of who his advisers are and who gets that clearance. And so I'm not going to question it until I know anymore.

BLITZER: But during the campaign, he said his children, his three adult children, would run the business, and there would be a wall between him and them as far as the business is concerned. They will take over the business. He will work 100 percent exclusively as president of the United States.

So, if they're going to run the business, why would they need top- secret security clearances? KINZINGER: Well, I think a lot of this stuff is going to shake itself

out. We're on day six of the transition right now. And we have another two months to go.

Obviously, there's a lot of hyper-attention to what's going on, as there should be. You have a new president-elect, and he's very unique, obviously, no political experience, has a business and has kids that are very involved in all levels of that.

I think, as we go on, I think you will see the president-elect build whatever that wall is that's going to separate his business from his duties, his presidency. And I think, again, giving your children top- secret security clearance, having them in presidential level briefings, while they're also doing the business side of things, this is going to change itself out properly.

Again, we're on day five or six right now. There's a lot of real estate in front of us before it becomes President Trump.

BLITZER: President Obama said certain aspects of Donald Trump's temperament will -- this quote -- will not serve him well and that it could impact markets, national security.

Do you think Donald Trump understands the gravity of being president and that it's different from campaigning?

KINZINGER: I think he does.

The day here's -- what struck me in a big way. So not only just the day after the election and the night when he came out and gave his victory speech, which was very humble -- and Hillary Clinton's was very good too, by the way. And then when he met with President Obama in the Oval Office, it seems like somebody that's really kind of taking the weight of the presidency on.

It's one thing to campaign. As a congressional candidate, of course, it's not even a fraction of what running for president is. But when you run and you win, all of a sudden you wake up the next day and you realize I have got to go be a congressman now. And I think you're seeing that with Donald Trump, is this realization that campaigning is fun, it's one thing, but now he's going to be president of the United States, and he's got a big country to lead.

So, again, let's see how this all shakes itself out. As President Obama eloquently said today, and I think he understands firsthand, there is a learning curve associated, and give President Trump a chance.

BLITZER: The president indicated that the presidency, in his words, has a way of waking you up.

Do you think Donald Trump is becoming more moderate already since the election, more realistic now that he's been elected president?

KINZINGER: I don't know about moderate or whatever. I think he's coming to understand that, OK, again, again, not a lot of people expected Donald Trump to win. I think there were probably even a lot in the Trump organization that were surprised by his victory.

So, all of a sudden the next day you wake up and say, OK, not only do I have national defense issues to deal with, which is going to be very important, people's lives at stake, but I also have to start thinking about building a legacy and how do I do that? What is actually achievable in a political environment?

Yes, the Republicans have all levers of government for at least the next two years, but we don't have 60 votes in the U.S. Senate. So how do you begin to build this? He's always claimed on the campaign trail that he's a deal-maker, he can accomplish things.

[18:15:03]

It looks like he's actually thinking that way now. So give him an opportunity.

BLITZER: The president, President Obama, said he thinks Donald Trump is pragmatic, not ideological.

You didn't support Donald Trump during the campaign. Do you think he is pragmatic, as opposed to being ideological?

KINZINGER: Well, I hope he is pragmatically ideological. I hope he comes with an ideology, which I think he does, but a pragmatism to say, look, there's a lesson to learn in the Republicans in 2004 that turned around and lost in '06 and then President Obama that won in '08 to turn around and lose it in 2010, which is you have to accomplish your priorities.

Obamacare will be a big issue and everything else. But there's also space to reach out to the other side of the aisle and say, let's try to find areas we can work together. That's the pragmatism part of the ideology.

So, an infrastructure bill with tax reform or whatever that ends up looking like, an opportunity to give Democrats too a buy-in, because just because they lost power out here doesn't mean that they have to lose all influence. And so it's an opportunity for everybody to come together, I hope.

BLITZER: Donald Trump appointed, named his campaign CEO, Steve Bannon, as a top adviser in the White House. Some white supremacists today calling the move excellent. Some conservatives very critical, saying he represents an extreme right, almost racist, fascist position. Those are harsh words indeed.

Where do you see it?

KINZINGER: Well, just like President Obama, who basically decided he wasn't going to comment on it, I think right now it's let's let this all shake out.

There's obviously been some things that have been on the Web site that I condemn wholeheartedly. But I don't know Steve Bannon, though. I don't know who he is. I don't know anything about him, except that he's been associated with Breitbart.

And so let's play it by ear. If we start see obviously things that reflect what some people accuse Steve Bannon of doing coming out of the Trump White House or whatever else, then, of course, every member of course, every senator, party leader I think will be up in arms in saying this is inappropriate.

But, right now, president-elect Trump is putting together his inner circle and I'm giving him space for that, just like I did in 2012 when President Obama was setting his inner circle for his reelection.

BLITZER: Congressman, I need you to stand by.

We're getting new information. President Putin today called president-elect Trump. They had a serious phone conversation. We're getting some information about that conversation and the future of U.S.-Russia relations. We will be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[18:21:50]

BLITZER: Vladimir Putin is among the latest world leaders to congratulate Donald Trump on his election victory.

Tonight, we're learning new details of their telephone conversation just a little while ago.

We're back with Republican Congressman Adam Kinzinger of Illinois.

So, they spoke on the phone. The Kremlin said they spoke about normalizing relations between the U.S. and Russia. This is the leader, as you know, who annexed Crimea, who works to prop up Bashar al-Assad in Syria and jails journalists.

Do you think the president, the new president, President Trump, once he takes office could overlook that reality and forge a new relationship with Russia?

KINZINGER: You know, it's possible.

I mean, look, every new administration has always tried to create a new relationship with Russia. You think about George W. Bush. You think about the Russian reset under Barack Obama. So it's natural for every new president to say, you know, I think I can do this different and have a great relationship.

And then, over time, reality smacks you in the face, which is the fact that Vladimir Putin is actually interested in rebuilding the old Russian empire. He occupies illegally part of Georgia, Ukraine, and he's killing a lot of innocents in Syria.

So while the conversation is just fine, and, again, the security team that I'm seeing that are being named and names that are being thrown around to be around a President Trump are actually very impressive folks that understand the threat that Russia poses. And so I trust that, as time goes on, it's one thing to have a new relationship, but it's another thing to say we are going to push back, though, against your encroachments in Europe and what you're doing in Syria.

BLITZER: In the "60 Minutes" interview, Donald Trump was asked about his plans to destroy ISIS.

Listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: We have great generals. We have great generals.

(CROSSTALK)

QUESTION: You said you knew more than the generals about ISIS.

TRUMP: Well, I will be honest with you. I probably do, because look at the job they have done. OK? Look at the job they have done. They haven't done the job.

Now, maybe it's leadership, maybe it's something else. Who knows? All I can tell you is, we're going to get rid of ISIS.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: All right, so he's still -- he's sort of doubling down that he knows more than the generals know about defeating ISIS.

Do you think that Trump actually has an anti-ISIS plan?

KINZINGER: I don't know. It's hard to tell.

I think, first off, absolutely the generals know quite a bit about this. And, in fact, he will be putting the team around him to advise him. But, look, we have made some gains against ISIS, but it's been very slow. There's a lot of work left to do.

And I think as president-elect Trump puts his team around him, begins to talk about the real difficulties, and then look at the broader picture of 500,000 dead civilians, 50,000 dead children, frankly, a dictator that's creating this environment for ISIS to thrive and flourish, hopefully we get to a point where we are going to see that there has to be some transition in Syria to solve this problem.

But, as a member of Congress, look, I'm going to be very supportive of the new president, and also, as always, no matter who is president, I'm going to continue to fight for strong American foreign policies around the globe.

BLITZER: One of his top national security advisers, retired Lieutenant General Michael Flynn, who was head of the Defense Intelligence Agency, would you support him as a potential national security adviser in the White House?

KINZINGER: It's hard to tell. I think he knows a lot about things.

[18:25:00]

I know there's concerns on other areas. But I don't know enough about Michael Flynn. I have seen him speak. He speaks very eloquently when it comes to destroying terrorism. This is a decision that is up to president-elect Trump.

Again, you're going to have a lot of people that I have heard names kind of thrown around that I think will end up in some capacity, that in essence will be a team of rivals that will able to go back and forth with each other and give president-elect Trump the ability to make a decision with all the information.

That's the right way to do it, instead of just surrounding yourself with people that are going to tell you how great you are the whole time.

BLITZER: You didn't support Donald Trump during the campaign. Have you heard from his team? Has anyone reached out to you?

KINZINGER: No, I haven't. I haven't heard.

Obviously, there's a lot of people out here in D.C. that support him that I have talked to. But, look, I'm here to be a good partner with the next president. I'm excited for opportunities that we have in Washington, D.C., to make a difference. And so it's going to be a fun couple of years, I think.

BLITZER: Congressman, thanks for joining us.

KINZINGER: You bet, Wolf. Take care.

BLITZER: Just ahead: President Obama's advice to Donald Trump: Pick the right team for the White House.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA: As a consequence of that team, I have been able to make good decisions. And if you don't have that around you, then you will get swamped.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Live pictures coming in from Joint Base Andrews outside Washington, D.C. You see the president boarding Air Force One, waving to the crowd there, saying goodbye. He's about to head off on his final trip overseas as president of the United States. First stop, Greece. They'll be taking off momentarily.

[18:31:08] The breaking news tonight, President Obama speaking out about Donald Trump in his first White House news conference since Trump's surprise election victory.

CNN's Athena Jones questioned the president about his remarks during the campaign in which he called Donald Trump unfit to be president, and she asked what the president would say to those upset by Trump's victory.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ATHENA JONES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: You said more than once that you did not believe that Donald Trump would ever be elected president and that you thought he was unfit for the office. Now that you've spent time with him, sitting down and talking to him for an hour and a half in the Oval Office, do you now think that President-elect Trump is qualified to be president?

And I'd like to do a compound question. The other one is you mentioned staffing and tone. What do you say to those Americans who may not doubt that there will be a peaceful transition but that are concerned about some of the policies and sentiments either expressed by President-elect Trump himself or his supporters that may seem hostile to minorities and others. Specifically, I'm talking about the announcement of Steve Bannon, who is a proponent of the so-called alt- right movement, what many call the white nationalist movement, is going to have a prominent role in the White House under President Trump, as his chief strategist and senior advisor? What message does that send to the country and the world?

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The people have spoken. Donald Trump will be the next president, the 45th president of the United States. And it will be up to him to set up a team that he thinks will serve him well and reflect his policies. And those who didn't vote for him have to recognize that that's how democracy works.

Campaigning is different from governing. I think he recognizes that. I think he's sincere in wanting to be a successful president. And moving this country forward. And I don't think any president ever comes in saying to themself [SIC], "I want to figure out how to make people angry or alienate half the country." I think he's going to try, as best he can, to make sure that he delivers. Not only for the people who voted for him, but for the people at large.

And the good thing is, is that there are going to be elections coming up, so there's a built-in incentive for him to try to do that. But you know, it's only been six days, and I think it will be important for him to have the room to staff up, to figure out what his priorities are, to be able to distinguish between what he was campaigning on and what is practical, what he can actually achieve.

He successfully mobilized a big chunk of the country to vote for him, and he's going to win -- he has won. He's going to be the next president. And regardless of what experience or assumptions he brought to the office, this office has a way of waking you up. And those aspects of his positions or predispositions that don't match up with reality, he will find shaken up pretty quick, because reality has a way of asserting itself.

And some of his gifts that obviously allowed him to execute one of the biggest political upsets in history, those are ones that hopefully, he will put to good use on behalf of all the American people.

(END VIDEOTAPE) [18:35:03] BLITZER: All right. Let's get some more from our political experts. Gloria Borger, what was your main takeaway from what the president had to say about the president-elect?

GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, it was a very prudent press conference. Very diplomatic. Very respectful of the office of the presidency and the incoming president with whom he disagrees on with almost everything.

One thing that struck me was that he made it clear that he doesn't believe that Donald Trump is an ideologue, that he's pragmatic. He was kind of saying, "Give him a chance," because he's not quite sure which way he's going to go.

The other thing that was interesting to me was that he was very blunt about Donald Trump's temperament, and he said certain elements of his temperament -- there are certain elements of his temperament that will not serve him well unless he recognizes them and fixes them. Period, end of paragraph. And so that was kind of striking to me.

Also, he announced that the president shares his -- the president- elect shares his commitment to NATO, which was news to me. So I think we learned a lot from this -- from this press conference.

And I also think that President Obama will continue to be a tutor, if you will, in what you need to do to get your staff ready in that West Wing, because it's so immense and complex. And I think there is a sense from the president that maybe Donald Trump wasn't ready for all of that at this point.

BLITZER: Donald Trump, because I've interviewed him on the issue of NATO, he's always said he supports NATO, but he wants to make sure that the NATO allies pay their fair share, so the U.S. doesn't have to pay that financial burden.

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Right. And he himself and his advisers have said -- they've taken credit for saying that now those NATO partners, "Oh, they're talking about paying their fair share. And that wouldn't happen, had he not said that."

But the fact is, if you take his statements during the campaign at face value, he has said other things about the NATO alliance beyond people paying their fair share, raising questions about how useful it is today. And let me -- and I know you've heard this, as well.

Wolf, those statements caused real nerves, particularly in Eastern Europe, the eastern ends of the NATO alliance, which is very worried today about the threat from Russia. So those words had import. But listen, you know, presidents sometimes come back from statements made during the campaign, and we might be seeing that here.

BLITZER: What's really clear, David, is that it's one thing to campaign.

DAVID SWERDLICK, ASSISTANT EDITOR, "THE WASHINGTON POST": Yes.

BLITZER: It's another thing to all of a sudden realize the enormity of being president of the United States and actually governing.

SWERDLICK: Indeed. And to the point about NATO, this is something that President Obama has also brought up. He brought it up this year in Germany, brought it up in 2014 in Estonia, this idea that NATO allies are not paying their fair share.

But it's different to campaign on it and different to actually be the president working with the allies.

When I heard President Obama in that press conferee say the people have spoken, what I hear is him saying, "Look, my role here is as a custodian of this system," and that -- he did defend his own record. Right? He said, look, the stock market is up, unemployment is down, 20 million people are covered.

JACKIE KUCINICH, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Leaving us in good shape.

SWERDLICK: Exactly. But that he has to work with the president- elect.

KUCINICH: And what Obama is doing is sort of continuing a tradition that has been set by presidents well before him. They usually don't talk badly about each other, with I think the exception of Carter, who has been critical. But between bush, H.W., Bill Clinton, Nixon when he was still alive, there's this great book called "The Presidents' Club," where it kind of outlines these different relationships. But one of the things that has been a hallmark is they don't -- they don't criticize each other once they are in office and the other is out. So it seems President Obama is continuing that.

BLITZER: Jeffrey Toobin, there's no doubt -- there's no -- I should look at this camera over here. Jeffrey Toobin, there's no doubt that Trump has a lot of big goals for his first 100 days in office, that if he and his staff are unprepared, as there's a report in "The Wall Street Journal" suggesting they were very, very surprised by the enormity of the 4,000 positions they have to fill over the next few weeks, those 100 days, those initial goals could seriously be hampered by chaos within the administration.

JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: Boy, I see the opposite of chaos at the moment. I see an administration that is very focused on delivering its campaign promises. You know, they are going to eliminate Obamacare. They are going to cut taxes. They are going to deport several million people, as Donald Trump said on "60 Minutes."

You know, I think this idea that some other Donald Trump is going to arrive one of these days is -- just has always been wrong. And he has a unified Congress behind him. Paul Ryan is exultant. Mitch McConnell is feeling great. I think they are looking to deliver on their campaign promises, and I've seen nothing that indicates any -- any barriers to success on virtually all of those goals.

BORGER: But Jeffrey, they don't want to build a wall. Donald Trump wants to build a wall, or maybe erect a fence and parts of the wall, you know, as he said on "60 Minutes" last night. They don't want to build a wall. They don't believe that Mexico is going to pay for it. [18:40:13] And they don't believe in a Muslim ban. Paul Ryan has

already said that he thought it was unconstitutional. So there are going to be areas where they disagree.

TOOBIN: There will be certain areas. But you want to bet that the wall is bigger a year from now than it is now? And it's bigger two years from now? I don't know if the wall will be the entire thousands of miles of the border. But you can be sure there will be a bigger wall.

And you can be sure that some immigrants are going to be rounded up in this country and thrown out, because that's what Donald Trump promised, and that's what he's going to deliver on.

BLITZER: Everybody, stand by. More breaking news coming up. Donald Trump said to be seeking top-secret security clearances for his adult children. Will they have access to classified intelligence?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[18:45:37] BLITZER: There's more breaking news. New questions tonight about what role Donald Trump's adult children will play in his White House. We're also digging into reports of some infighting within the Trump transition team.

Jim Sciutto, what are you hearing about the infighting when it comes to the incoming national security team?

SCIUTTO: We're speaking to multiple sources involved in or with knowledge of the transition and we're hearing of sharp internal disagreements both over key appointments but also general direction of the administration. It's been described by one person connected to the transition as a knife fight. I've heard more colorful language used to describe those disagreements.

In general, the division being between more traditional conservatives, party operatives such as Reince Priebus, who's expected to be the chief of staff, and less traditional folks like a Steve Bannon. But in addition to that, it's the overall structure that's causing confusing in that you have three chiefs in effect in there with Reince Priebus, Steve Bannon, and the role of Jared Kushner, who's expected to be an adviser. And that confusion has been described to me by someone very connected to the transition as buffoonery, strong language, because it's making these decisions very difficult. And also you have two very different points of view that are clashing over things.

And one example I give you is over the secretary of state, because you have many mainstream conservatives who are pushing for John Bolton, of course, you remember him.

BLITZER: Former U.N. ambassador.

SCIUTTO: Former U.N. ambassador, very controversial at the time, pushing for him. And then you have others more Trump loyalists pushing for say Rudy Giuliani for that key post. On other key national security posts, we're hearing of greater

agreement, for instance, Jeff Sessions, as a leading contender for secretary of defense. Michael Flynn, leading contender for national security adviser. But on several other key positions, as well as direction, sharp disagreement there.

BLITZER: I've also heard Jeff Sessions' name being mentioned for attorney general of the United States, as well.

Gloria, Jim Acosta is reporting that the president-elect would like to see his adult children and his son-in-law Jared Kushner get top secret security clearances. What are you hearing about that?

BORGER: I -- people are incredulous. Usually, top secret clearance is determined by virtue of the job you are in. And so as far as I can tell, no member of the family, his children or son-in-law, can have jobs inside the White House because of very strong nepotism rules. They don't have to get paid, so Jared Kushner, for example, could be an informal outside adviser. But I don't know how an informal outside adviser gets top secret clearance.

We were just talking before, a spouse may get that by virtue of being the spouse, because documents are in the White House and you cohabit with the president of the United States. But this question of whether your family, and by the way, your family who is also running your ex- business, can get that kind of clearance raises all kinds of questions.

SCIUTTO: It's also a thorough process. They look at every foreign travel and foreign contact, whether you have relatives overseas. This can take months.

BLITZER: Let me bring Jeffrey Toobin in, because of all a sudden, Jeffrey, Donald Trump said in that "60 Minutes" interview, gay marriage, settled law, forget about it. It's going to stay the law of the land. But on abortion rights for women, Roe v. Wade, he says, you know what, he wants to appoint what he calls pro-life justices so that the states will make those decisions instead of nationally.

So, why is one settled law, Roe v. Wade has been the law of the land since 1973.

JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: And it just reaffirmed by the Supreme Court in June, in a very ringing decision, striking down part of Texas' abortion restrictions. I think the difference is political. I think even the conservative movement has very quickly come to terms with the existence of same-sex marriage. People are not very exorcised about it anymore.

But abortion remains the most important issue to the conservative movement in this country. And Donald Trump, though not too long ago described himself as very pro-choice, has very clearly said he's going to appoint justices who will -- who will be anti-abortion, who will be opposed to Roe v. Wade. He said it during the campaign.

[18:50:01] He said it to Lesley Stahl in the interview on "60 Minutes." And I think it's important to take him at his word. You know, there are five justices on the court now who support Roe v. Wade. The current vacancy will not turn corner but, you know, three of the five justices will soon be over 80, so Donald Trump may really have the chance to deliver on the end of Roe v. Wade.

BLITZER: All right. Everybody, stand by.

Now that this unprecedented election has been decided, you're going to see how well we got to this historic moment in the first ever book from CNN Politics, "Unprecedented: The Election That Changed Everything." You see the book cover right there. It's filled with behind the scenes secrets, beautiful photography, firsthand reporting from the campaign trail. The book will be in stores December 6th. You can preorder your copy today, CNN.com/book.

Just ahead, the retired general in line for top national security post under President-elect Trump. So why is he so controversial in military circles?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[18:55:49] BLITZER: Once again, our breaking news. A transition official tells CNN Donald Trump has asked for top secret security clearances for his adult children who are his advisers as well as his son-in-law, Jared Kushner. We expect the top national security official in the Trump administration to be retired U.S. Army Lieutenant General Michael Flynn who often was at Trump's side during the campaign.

Our Pentagon correspondent Barbara Starr is working the story for us.

Barbara, tell us more about General Flynn.

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Good evening, Wolf.

Well, Mike Flynn has more than 30 years' experience in military intelligence, but the question is, is that the experience that President-elect Trump really needs?

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

LT. GEN. MIKE FLYNN (RET.), U.S. ARMY: This was not an election, this was a revolution.

STARR (voice-over): This is retired Lieutenant General Mike Flynn, a one-time Army intelligence officer whose loyalty to Donald Trump likely will catapult him to one of the most important jobs in Trump presidency. He's now the top contender to be national security adviser.

FLYNN: This is probably the biggest election in our nation's history since bringing on George Washington when he decided not to be a king.

STARR: Flynn is controversial in military circles, after several jobs dealing with Middle East terrorism. In 2014, he was pushed out as head of the Pentagon's Defense Intelligence Agency. One official who served with Flynn at the time tells CNN there were ongoing tensions. Flynn wanted more authority.

FLYNN: Wow.

STARR: After forced retirement, Flynn appeared to change. Two senior military officers who served with him tell CNN. They describe a somewhat bitter officer who adamantly believes President Obama isn't paying enough attention to the ISIS threat.

FLYNN: We must regain our ability to truly crush our enemies.

STARR: The question now, can he operate on a global scale?

LT. GEN. MARK HERTLING (RET.), CNN MILITARY ANALYST: He's going to have to expand his skill set after a 30-plus-year career dealing primarily in the military element of national security.

STARR: Flynn will have to work well with the rest of the Trump team.

HERTLING: There's a whole lot of pieces of input that come into decision making rather than just the one you're providing.

STARR: But ultimately, the new commander-in-chief will still set the tone in national security. But just what is Trump still trying to tell the Pentagon?

DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENT-ELECT: We have great generals.

LESLEY STAHL, CBS NEWS: You staid you knew more than the generals about ISIS.

TRUMP: Well, I'll be honest with you, I probably do because look at the job they've done. OK, look at the job they've done. They haven't done the job.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

STARR: And one other thing, not insignificant, President-elect Trump has vowed to increase the size and spending of the U.S. military, something that could come with a price tag of $500 billion over 10 years, all a very tall order tonight, Wolf.

BLITZER: Barbara Starr at the Pentagon, thanks very much.

Finally, tonight, Gwen Ifill, a great journalist and a good friend has died after a valiant, very quiet battle with cancer, far too soon. Gwen broke a racial and gender barriers in a career that took her to the "Washington Post," "The New York Times," and NBC News and since 1999, PBS where she was the co-anchor of the "NewsHour" and moderator of "Washington Week."

Gwen was about her best chronicling politicians and campaigns which is where we met out on the campaign trail back in 1992 covering Bill Clinton. We became fast friends. She moderated two vice presidential debates and was a master in asking tough but fair questions.

Gwen was a trailblazer for young women, a mentor to young reporters, and a friend to everyone she met. Her voice will be missed as we cover the next administration, but we will do our best to live up to her example. Our deepest condolences to her family. May she rest in peace. Gwen was only 61 years old.

That's it for me. Thanks very much for watching. I'm Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM.

"ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.