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Trump Facing Backlash After Ditching Reporters; Trump Denis Report of Transition Turmoil; Trump's Son-in-Law Takes Crucial Transition Role. Aired 5-6p ET

Aired November 16, 2016 - 17:00   ET

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


TAPPER: He is right next-door in THE SITUATION ROOM. Thanks for watching.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now, lost in transition. Donald Trump takes to Twitter and sends out his top surrogates to knock down reports of infighting, indecision and ignorance in his presidential transition team. But sources tell CNN things are not going as well as the president-elect suggests. So who's right? And is Donald Trump's son-in-law the cause of any of the drama behind the scenes?

Commander in tweet. The president-elect returns to Twitter, this time to attack the "New York Times," denying its reports of transition turmoil and that foreign leaders are having a hard time getting in touch with him. Will Trump be the first president to take his case and his complaints directly to the people via social media?

Steak out. The president-elect ditches the news media overnight and heads to a famous steak restaurant after his team told reporters he was staying home. Tonight, why it's in the public interest to have reporters with the president at all times and why it matters to you.

And Assad, as ally? The Syrian president calls Trump a natural ally who could help his government and Russia fight terrorists. But how does that square with new and horrifying images of the Syrian leader attacking his own school children and hospitals instead of ISIS fighters?

I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Tonight we're sorting through conflicting reports about whether Donald Trump's transition effort is mired in turmoil or, as the president- elect says, it's going so smoothly. Trump took to Twitter overnight to deny reports of disarray, insisting a very organized process is under way; and he's the only one who knows the, quote, "finalists" for his cabinet.

This as his son-in-law becomes a lightning rod. Amid the comings and goings at Trump Tower today, top members of the transition team tried to assure reporters that things are very structured and methodical and that Trump and the vice-president-elect, Mike Pence, aren't going to rush to put names forward. Pence was in Washington this afternoon, getting some advice from Vice President Joe Biden.

We're also following new concerns about the incoming administration's commitment to transparency after Trump skipped out on reporters, went to dinner with his family at the 21 Club last night in New York, keeping the American people in the dark.

We'll ask Republican Congressman Sean Duffy if he's worried about the transition. And our correspondents, analysts and guests, they are standing by with full coverage of the day's top stories.

Let's begin with our senior White House correspondent, Jim Acosta. Jim, are there any signs of imminent announcements over at Trump Tower?

JIM ACOSTA, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Not just yet, Wolf, but you never know, with Donald Trump as unpredictable as he is. You know, Wolf, Donald Trump's advisors were a lot more chatty with reporters today, reassuring the public that this presidential transition is not coming off the rails.

And the president-elect even got in on the act himself, pushing back on one of his favorite targets, the news media.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ACOSTA (voice-over): Still trying to master the art of the transition, Donald Trump and his team are going on offense, fighting back against reports that planning for his presidency is in a state of disarray. President-elect took to Twitter, proclaiming, "Very organized process taking place as I decide on cabinet and many other positions. I am the only one who knows who the finalists are."

DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENT-ELECT OF THE UNITED STATES: And all of the dishonest press, they're saying...

ACOSTA: Trump is back to blaming the media after complaints of infighting and score settling inside the transition. "The failing 'New York Times' is so totally wrong on transition," Trump tweeted. "It is going so smoothly."

Sources told CNN that Trump's son-in-law, Jared Kushner, was pushing out officials who work for ousted transition chair Chris Christie, who jailed Kushner's father more than a decade ago. Not so, say top Trump officials.

JASON MILLER, TRANSITION TEAM COMMUNICATIONS DIRECTOR: This whole description of the knife fight or the internal fighting, nothing could be further from the truth. Jared is helping to put this together.

ACOSTA: But CNN has learned Kushner, who is one of Trump's closest advisors, is likely to receive a top security clearance. Senior staffers argue there's nothing wrong with that.

MILLER: I would say no paperwork has been completed or sent in or submitted to this effect.

ACOSTA: As Mike Pence met with the man he's about to replace, Vice President Joe Biden, Trump advisors cautioned forming the new administration will take time. NEWT GINGRICH, FORMER SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: You'd be really dumb to

accelerate and start making mistakes in order to make the press happy.

ACOSTA: The transition is sorting through dozens of candidates, case in point: former Trump rival and Texas Senator Ted Cruz, who's said to be on a long short list for attorney general.

MILLER: Whether Senator Cruz is and whether there's something within the administration or whether it's -- is an ally on Capitol Hill, I think Senator Cruz is happy that we're going to have a president who can push for conservative reforms.

ACOSTA: And the incoming administration is still learning how to handle a presidential press corps, falsely telling reporters Trump was staying in last night, when he actually bolted Trump Tower for dinner at a famous New York steakhouse.

[17:05:06] The White House Correspondents' Association blasted the move, saying, "It is unacceptable for the next president of the United States to travel without a regular pool to record his movements and inform the public about his whereabouts."

The press presence has been a staple for decades through unexpected events like President Bush learning about the 9/11 attacks and President Reagan being shot outside a Washington hotel.

MILLER: Last night probably was an example of where there could have been a little bit better communication.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ACOSTA: And Wolf, we should point out earlier today Kellyanne Conway, a top official for Donald Trump, suggested to reporters that Jared Kushner, Donald Trump's son-in-law, may get the kind of security clearance that would allow him to attend those presidential daily briefings, the one that Donald Trump got for the first time earlier today.

Elijah Cummings, a top Democrat on the House Oversight Committee, fired off a letter to Mike Pence, who chairs the transition team, earlier today saying that that would be outrageous, that the presidential daily briefing, Wolf, should only be limited to the president, the vice president and top intelligence officials. So a sign that this is a fight that's not over yet, Wolf.

BLITZER: Clearly not over yet. Jim Acosta, thanks very much.

One of the most mentioned names on the Trump transition team is someone who has no official role in the administration, at least not yet. That would be the president-elect's son-in-law, Jared Kushner, the husband of Trump's daughter Ivanka.

CNN's Brian Todd is here with a close-up look. Kushner has been involved, deeply involved in the campaign and now in the transition.

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: By all accounts he has, Wolf. But right now only about eight days into this transition, Jared Kushner is already caught up in some heavy palace intrigue. Trump sources tonight pushing back on reports that Kushner is in the middle of a chaotic knife fight for influence and power in the new administration.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Can you tell us how the transition is going?

TODD (voice-over): At the center of what sources have called infighting and confusion in the Trump transition team is a 35-year-old with a rich and tortured blood line and no government experience. Jared Kushner, Donald Trump's son-in-law, is said by sources to be rubbing Trump allies the wrong way, with a hand in purging the transition team of people connected to New Jersey Governor Chris Christie.

One of those is former Congressman Mike Rogers, who advised the transition team on national security. Tonight, Rogers is out.

MIKE ROGERS, FORMER CONGRESSMAN: I think they just weren't comfortable with those folks that had been brought on by Mr. Christie and wanted to go in a different direction. So they did.

TODD: Tonight the Trump team is pushing back hard on the reporting that Kushner is in the middle of a so-called knife fight inside the transition. Campaign officials telling CNN Kushner is well-liked, an asset to the team, that he's helping to put the administration together, but ultimately Donald Trump has the final say.

ROGERS: I think we're going to be OK. This is just the choppy waters getting into the -- getting into the bay.

TODD: One source familiar with the transition tells CNN the idea that Kushner single-handedly pushed all the Christie people out is overblown. But the source admits the fact that the Christie people are gone pleases Kushner.

Back in 2004 Christie, then a U.S. attorney in New Jersey, prosecuted Kushner's father Charles, a billionaire real-estate developer.

GOV. CHRIS CHRISTIE (R), NEW JERSEY: Federal criminal tax violations.

TODD: Charles Kushner was accused of illegal campaign contributions, tax evasion, and other violations. It became a Shakespearean drama, with Charles Kushner's own relatives, including a sister, turning against him.

In a sordid revenge plot, Charles Kushner hired a prostitute to lure his sister's husband into having sex in a motel room. The encounter was taped, and Charles Kushner sent the tape to his sister. It didn't work. Charles Kushner pleaded guilty to multiple counts and was sentenced to two years in prison.

Now, there's speculation that Trump, as president, might help out the elder Kushner. GABRIEL SHERMAN, NATIONAL AFFAIRS EDITOR, "NEW YORK MAGAZINE":

Perhaps he might pardon Jared Kushner's father Charles, who is -- has a felony record, and that prevents him from doing some sorts of business deals that he wants to be doing.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

TODD: A Trump spokesman tells us that has never been discussed. One source close to the transition team tells CNN Jared Kushner had nothing to do with pushing out Chris Christie's allies. Kushner himself did not comment for our story -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Brian Todd reporting. Thank you.

Joining us now, Republican congressman Sean Duffy of Wisconsin. Congressman, thanks very much for joining us.

REP. SEAN DUFFY (R), WISCONSIN: It's good to be with you, Wolf. Thanks for having me on.

BLITZER: Do these reports of infighting within the Trump campaign, the transition process right now, concern you?

DUFFY: No. Listen, Donald Trump is an outsider. He isn't a D.C. guy who knows how D.C. works. And what's why America elected him. We're eight days on, Wolf. It takes a little bit of time for Donald Trump to get his sea legs under him. You have people jockeying for positions. And Donald Trump, as a business guy, has hired a great team that's helped him be very successful.

He's going to go through a step-by-step process to get the best people in the top positions that are going to help him be effective as the next president.

And all transitions go through choppy waters. This is no different. But it's the process that presidential elects have to go through, especially those who are outsiders like Donald Trump.

BLITZER: This is a little bit different, because all of a sudden -- and you're right, all transitions go through a bumpy process. I've covered several of them over the years. But we're seeing so much of this in public, the public fighting out there. And it's being leaked by various factions within the Trump transition team. Isn't that a source of concern?

[17:15:20] DUFFY: Well, I don't think so. So I -- I would tell you that, you know, Paul Ryan was one of the leaders on the transition team, had Romney and Ryan won four years ago. Vice President Biden was in charge of the transition team for Obama.

And with -- with Donald Trump, he and Pence were out there doing three, four, five rallies a day. Neither of them took the time to work on the transition team.

So now that he's won, you transition your most trusted people into the position to start building the team out. And so it would make sense that Chris Christie would slide out of that position, Donald Trump and Mike Pence step into it, and they start methodically working through what Chris Christie had done and what they're going to do to build out their team the way they see fit.

But again, I don't see this as troubling at all. I think this is really good. This kind of tension, this kind of friction to get the right people in place to look out for American families, to start growing our economy, that's what Americans want. And that kind of friction would be expected from an outsider who has to build a team from the ground up.

I mean, listen, if Hillary Clinton won there wouldn't be these problems, because she would plug into Barack Obama and her husband's team. And you have the same D.C. players doing the same D.C. thing that Americans are sick of. When you bring in the outsider, you get that friction, you get that tension, but in the end, you get a better product.

BLITZER: Yes, I just remember eight years ago John Podesta was in charge of the Obama transition team. He played the lead role. Although you're absolutely right, the vice president-elect at that time, Joe Biden, he was very much involved at the same time.

As you know, Rudy Giuliani is now reportedly being considered for secretary of state. There are some concerns that his law firm, his security firm had ties to foreign governments, including Venezuela, Qatar, among several others. Does that give you any concern?

DUFFY: It doesn't, because Rudy Giuliani is a private citizen, grew a business. And in that business he had contacts with other people in other countries and other governments. That could be and would be expected.

The difference between a Rudy Giuliani and a Hillary Clinton is Giuliani wasn't in power. Giuliani wasn't in the state Department. Giuliani hasn't used a position of power in government to benefit himself in relationships with -- with other foreign governments, unlike Hillary Clinton, or the allegation goes that she used the State Department to help the Clinton Foundation.

Now, I think it's important, Wolf, that if Rudy Giuliani takes one of these positions, he has to sever his ties from the private sector as he now goes into -- I'm sorry, from the public [SIC] sector as he now goes into the private [SIC] sector, because you can't have any lines that are blurred. We saw the American people really disliked when you blur lines between whether it's a private foundation or a private business and the work that you're supposed to do for the American people. So I would expect him to cut those ties.

And I'm completely confident that Rudy Giuliani, however he serves, would serve well on behalf of the American people and only for their best interests.

BLITZER: You think he should be nominated as secretary of state?

DUFFY: I don't know what he -- that's up to Donald Trump. I think a position that Mr. Trump would trust him in, working for the American people, he's America's mayor. He served New York City well. I think he would serve the country really well, no matter where Donald Trump puts him.

BLITZER: Donald Trump, he took to Twitter this morning. He issued a series of tweets saying there was no infighting within the transition team. He blamed the "New York Times" for bad reporting.

Do you believe the president-elect of the United States should be tweeting his reactions to these kinds of reports, reports that he doesn't agree with? Or should the president-elect let others, some of his aides, do that kind of tweeting?

DUFFY: You know, Wolf, I -- I don't think that it's very presidential to be up at night tweeting out. But I think Donald Trump, if he -- if he really restructures how he uses Twitter, it can be beneficial for him.

If he wants to go over the media, if he wants to go over Wolf Blitzer and talk directly to the people that you talk to, he can do that by way of Twitter and push back on some stories that he thinks is false.

But I do think you have to -- you have to have some restrictions and guiderails on how you use it. But to talk about stories that are false on what's actually happening inside the transition team and he wants to talk the American people without having a press conference, I think that's OK.

And we're -- I mean, America is changing. Technology is changing. And the way that politicians -- and Barack Obama was brilliant at this, using these other sources of media to talk to a wide array of folks all across America I think is really powerful, in addition to coming on CNN and talking to you, too. But you have to use all those mediums. And I think Donald Trump has shown how effective he is in using Twitter to push back stories or drive stories or drive the truth through his Twitter feed.

BLITZER: Yes. And you're right. President Obama has been very active on Twitter, too; @potus has millions of followers. The only distinction, though, is he lets his aides sort of scream, if you will, at the news media, at his critics. He tries to stay above that as president of the United States. I assume that will happen once Donald Trump is -- maybe I'm wrong -- once he's actually sworn in and inaugurated.

[17:15:20] DUFFY: I think you want to have some people participate in what you do on Twitter. I think you're right. And Mr. Obama has been pretty effective in using social media. And Donald could learn a little bit from the current president as he goes into his presidency.

BLITZER: And the president-elect, it goes without saying, has an open invitation to join us here in THE SITUATION ROOM whenever he wants, address the American people and present his views. We'd welcome that, as you totally understand.

Quick question. Last night the -- there's a small pool of reporters and camera crews that are always with a president-elect of the United States, certainly with a president of the United States, in case something, God forbid happens, bad happens. You saw that in our report.

At around 6:30 last night, those reporters and camera crews, they were given a lid. A lid meaning the president-elect was going to stay in, he wasn't going out. You guys can go home; don't worry about it.

But then he went out to dinner at the 21 Club steakhouse in New York. It's not the first time he has -- he has kept that travel pool, that small pool, away from him. And you saw the condemnation, the concern that a lot of journalists are releasing today, including the White House Correspondents' Association. Not that they're -- you know, that this is a petty thing. They are the representatives of the American people. And the American people have a right to know what the president-elect and the president of the United States are doing.

DUFFY: Yes. And I think this is something that Mr. Trump will grow into. Maybe has he told them that he was staying in for the night and then went out; didn't really understand the backlash he would get from the media. Because the media has a role in making sure they tell the story of the president-elect.

And I think this is just one of those growing pains that he will go through as he figures out "How do I go through this phase as president-elect to president, and what's the role and the relationship that I have with the media?" And I think it's important that presidents be frank and honest and forthright with their schedule with the media so they can be followed and you can tell the story to the American people of what's happening inside.

And so I think he'll grow into this, Wolf. I think this might have been an internal mistake. But they'll figure that out as they move through the next, you know, several months as they go into the presidency.

BLITZER: Yes, I certainly hope so. The media, by the way, that travel pool, they would not have gone inside the restaurant. There are a lot of others having dinner over there. Certainly, everybody would have noticed the president-elect of the United States is there. And there was a lot of security that was arranged within the 24 hours before then.

I hope you're right. I hope he does do what all the other presidents- elect have done and what all the other presidents since the assassination of John F. Kennedy back in 1963. This has gone on without interruption.

DUFFY: And Wolf, he's been kind of held up in Trump Tower since the election. And one of the first times he goes out, it's an interesting story. You want to follow it.

BLITZER: I applaud his decision to take his family out to dinner. Everybody is happy about that. The only thing is, he should have told the small group of reporters there, "You know what? Join us in the motorcade. We're going to go a few blocks away. You can hang out. And then when we leave a couple of hours later, we'll see you then." That's the only thing I'm saying.

DUFFY: How great is that for us, the American people, to see him go out for one of the first times and go have dinner with his family?

BLITZER: Yes. I hope he enjoyed it.

DUFFY: And Wolf, those images are great images for the American people to see that only you can tell. And again, I think he'll grow into this and understand, "I have a different responsibility now as the president-elect than I did as a businessman in New York."

BLITZER: Yes. I totally agree with you. Congressman, stay with us. There's more coming up. We'll take a quick break, and we'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK

[17:23:09] BLITZER: We're back with Republican Congressman Sean Duffy of Wisconsin.

As we await announcements of Donald Trump's cabinet picks, Congress is finishing up its business for this year, making preparations to work with the new Trump administration.

Congressman, the speaker, Paul Ryan, he told our Jake Tapper over the weekend there really isn't a full-scale bill yet in place to replace Obamacare. Why isn't there a bill ready to go? I know you guys have passed legislation repealing it, but you still don't have legislation, specific legislation, to figure out what would replace -- what would replace Obamacare with. You've had six years to figure it out. Why no specific legislation?

DUFFY: Good question. But to supplement what Speaker Ryan said, is we have a number of different bills, and what we have to do is figure out what option we're going to take forward to repeal and replace.

And Donald Trump has to be part of that conversation. He has to indicate what parts of Obamacare he likes, what parts he doesn't. And then we have to talk about what those fixes actually look like.

But make no mistake: We're going to -- we're going to fix health care for American families. That was -- that was a resounding message that we got last Tuesday, was that the premiums are going up; deductibles are going up. I can't afford it; it doesn't work for me, and you guys are going to help us out. And we're going to do that.

BLITZER: But it's still confusing to me, because 60 times or so you voted to repeal the Affordable Care Act, Obamacare, but you still don't have specific legislation in mind to replace it.

DUFFY: But that's not true, Wolf. Again, we have over ten bills from different members in the House. It's just a matter of what piece of legislation do we want to pick or what combination of those bills do we want to pick?

But I don't want your viewers to think there's a blank sheet of paper over here. That's not the case at all. We have a bunch of different ideas that we'll pick from to decide how we move forward.

And frankly, part of the repeal -- if you -- if you repeal just parts of Obamacare, like the individual mandates, you do a lot to help American families get different coverage at a better price. But that's not the plan. The plan is to have a replacement that works for families.

[17:25:12] BLITZER: The argument is, if you repeal one part, like the individual mandates, you're not going to have the money that you need to make sure that people who have preexisting conditions will be able to afford health insurance.

DUFFY: No, but we're going to make sure that those with preexisting conditions actually continue to have the ability to afford coverage. We want to help those young kids in America who want to stay on their parents' healthcare coverage. I don't know if it stays to 26. Maybe it goes to 22 or 23. But those are common principles that we agree on.

But again, it's a matter of we've got to bring in Mr. Trump. And right now, as we talked about before, he's working on building out his cabinet, building out a team that is 4,000 people. When he has space of mind to talk to us about what that replacement looks like, we'll decide what piece of legislation or what combination of legislation we choose to move forward with.

BLITZER: Sean Duffy, the congressman from Wisconsin. Thanks, as usual, for joining us.

DUFFY: Thanks, Wolf.

BLITZER: Coming up, we're going to ask our political correspondents and experts what their sources are saying right now about Donald Trump's transition team. Is the process off the rails or is it moving along smoothly?

And will Trump usher in a new era of the presidency using social media to go over the heads of the news media, take his case directly to the American people?

BLITZER: As infighting, indecision plague Donald Trump's transition team, the president-elect is taking his case directly to the American people, denying reports of any dysfunction, with a tweet claiming things are going, quote, "so smoothly."

Let's discuss all of this, a lot, more with our political experts. Gloria Borger is with us. So is there some turmoil, dissent, resulting from Jared Kushner, the son-in-law's involvement in these key decisions? What are you hearing?

GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: I think it's complicated. I have talked to people on both sides of this, and I would say that Jared is incredibly involved in this transition. And if you look at Jared Kushner's past relationship with Chris Christie, you would have to say it is not good and has never been good, since Chris Christie put his father in jail. We all -- we all understand that.

So when Christie gets pushed out and half a dozen of his top lieutenants get pushed out in the transition, all fingers point to Jared Kushner, I think with really good reason.

But the truth of the matter, like a lot of things we report, is that it's more complicated than that, that this would have not have happened to Christie and his people if, say, Donald Trump and his other top lieutenants didn't agree, because they believe that Chris Christie has been disloyal to a degree, that after the "Access Hollywood" tape, he was not out front and center for them.

So there are lots of reasons within Trump world for Chris Christie not to be their favorite person. So there are reasons it is disorganized and in turmoil because, as one source said to me, who's involved in the transition, no one put a check into this whole thing, because they didn't expect to win.

BLITZER: What does it say about a Trump administration, Nia, that we're getting all these leaks? Reporters are hearing these -- these various turmoil reports, not just from anonymous -- from people who are right there.

NIA-MALIKA HENDERSON, CNN POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: And this has, in some ways been the story of the Trump campaign. I mean, you know, turmoil, a lot of turnover, of course, and with people leaving the campaign and then getting pushed out by various factions. I mean, it sounds very Shakespearean, right, I mean, all of the different rivalries, and the son-in-law being really at the center of a lot of this stuff.

I think we can expect some of this in the campaign [SIC]. It's very much the opposite of what we saw in 2008 from Obama, who is famously no-drama Obama, had press conferences to announce who he was appointing.

I mean, it's also interesting about the list of people that we're sort of getting who are being considered. It still seems very insular. Right? I mean, you imagine, for instance, there's 31 GOP governors across the country. Not a lot of those folks are making the list. And it speaks to the division and the sort of upset that people had around Donald Trump.

And also, I think, the sense that they value loyalty, and a lot of these folks had been outsiders and critical of Donald Trump. So you wonder what that's going to mean in terms of the kind of...

BLITZER: You know, Rebecca, this must upset Donald Trump a great deal. He reads the "New York Times," obviously. He responded to the "New York Times" this morning. He reads that lengthy lead story about the turmoil within the transition team, sees quotes from various sources, and he's wondering, who's leaking this stuff?

REBECCA BERG, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: And it's remarkable, right, that the president-elect of the United States is tweeting his reaction to these stories in the "New York Times." I mean, that -- it goes without saying that that's unprecedented, obviously. Twitter hasn't been around for all that many years where presidents had access to it.

But it is amazing that Donald Trump is pushing back on his own, not only pushing back on these articles but really attacking the "New York Times," attacking one of the prominent news sources in this country, taking on the media as a powerful government official. I think that's worrisome for a lot of people as well, the way he's using Twitter in this case.

BLITZER: Well, Jeffrey Toobin, let me defend Donald Trump for a moment. It got him elected. It got him the Republican nomination, these tweets in part. It got him -- he beat Hillary Clinton for the presidency. Why not continue that successful strategy?

JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: Well, I'm with you on this. I mean, and I mean no disrespect to our colleagues here. I think all this transition chaos stories are much ado about very little.

[17:35:06] We know what Donald Trump's administration is going to be. It's going to be very conservative. He is going to try to deliver on his campaign promises. And whether the attorney general is one person or another or the secretary of state is one person or another, Donald Trump is president. Donald Trump wants to end Obamacare. He wants to deport two or three million people. He wants to appoint conservatives to the Supreme Court. That's going to happen, regardless of who is named here.

I don't think people care very much who the secretary of commerce is going to be. And that's a lot of what this is about. Donald Trump won. That's what's important.

BLITZER: But does it show something, Jeffrey, about his management ability when all of these disparate leaks are coming forward?

TOOBIN: You know, he won this election eight days ago. That's still early in the process. I don't think you can make any real judgments yet, except that he is not considering moderation. The often- discussed but never-seen pivot by Donald Trump to the center is not happening, and that's the real message of this whole process to me.

BORGER: You know, one thing we know is that Donald Trump, as Jeffrey points out, is not going to change. And the political class in Washington, particularly Republicans, who have been out of power for eight years, some of whom were -- are desperate to go inside an administration, if they weren't loyal to Donald Trump, sorry, not happening.

And the donor class, as well. I was talking to a source today. They've heard from donors who kind of want to be involved in positions and appointments. And that's not happening either, because those people didn't show up, by and large, for Donald Trump. And this is about loyalty. And the man at the top remembers.

BLITZER: All right. Everybody stick around. There's more to discuss. We're getting more information coming into THE SITUATION ROOM right now. We'll take a quick break. We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[18:41:44] BLITZER: Donald Trump is facing some backlash right now after ditching reporters a second time since winning the presidency while attending dinner at a New York City steakhouse. The move is a break from long-standing decades of protocol, and it raises serious questions about the incoming administration's commitment to the news media, transparency.

We're back with our political experts.

A lot of folks, Gloria, think, you know, the press, they're whining; we're whining about this. But really, we're representing the American people, who have a right to know if something happens of critical importance to a president-elect or to a president. The news media needs to be there.

BORGER: Well, and these so-called tight pools, and Wolf, you covered the White House for a long time. You were in those pools. You know, the topic that comes to mind, the day that comes to mind, is 9/11 to me, when George W. Bush was slipped a note by his chief of staff while he was talking to elementary school students in a school, I believe, in Florida, was it?

BLITZER: Yes.

BORGER: And a tight pool was there covering him. So you want to -- the reason you have to be there is, God forbid something happens. And that's -- I mean, Wolf, you -- you can talk about that better than I can. You -- you covered the presidency, and you were in those pools.

BLITZER: I did a lot of those pools. For seven years, I was in those tight pools.

Jeffrey, are we, the news media, making too big of a deal of this, or is it really a legitimate concern?

TOOBIN: Well, as a reporter, I think it's a legitimate concern. But I mean, let's be honest here. Donald Trump hates the press. He hates reporters. Did you ever go to one of his rallies? I mean, you know, where he would point to the reporters assembled in -- in, you know, like in their enclosure, and he would say they're horrible people. And everybody would boo.

I mean, that -- he didn't stop being that way once he won the election. And that's why he's -- he's not honoring the tradition, because he hates the press.

BLITZER: And remember, on 9/11, when George W. Bush was informed about what's going on in New York City and the Pentagon, and then he flew off to Nebraska.

HENDERSON: Yes, that's right.

BLITZER: We had a pool with him on Air Force One. There's always a small pool of TV reporters, representing the five major television networks. There's always an A.P. reporter. There's always a representative of the major newspapers, to make sure the American people know what's going on.

HENDERSON: Yes, and that's right. I mean, we're representing the people. And it's also important, just for history, right? I mean, for folks to have a front-row seat in terms of what's going on. And you saw all those retrospectives by reporters who were there on -- on the plane and in that classroom. And that's a really important thing, I think, for democracy's sake.

And we'll see as they, you know -- it's unclear whether or not this was sort of an intentional ditching of the press. Maybe they didn't know that this is the protocol, that once a lid is called, you still have to have the press go along. And listen, I mean, we've all done these kind of...

BLITZER: His security -- his security detail knew 24 hours earlier that he was planning on going to the 21 Club, and certainly, the maitre d' at the 21 Club knew that the president-elect of the United States was coming over.

BORGER: To get to the point, I don't know a lot of presidents who loved having the press follow them around. And I don't know a lot of presidents who love the press. So Donald Trump is no different in many ways from president...

TOOBIN: Oh -- oh...

BORGER: ... because it's an invasion. He's -- Jeffrey, I know what you're going to say. But he's -- he's expressed his disdain, shall we say, more publicly.

BLITZER: Yes.

BORGER: But it is an inconvenience for any President to have the press trailing.

BLITZER: All right. Go ahead, Jeffrey.

TOOBIN: But, I mean, I think the degree of his disdain for the press is so much greater and it's so much more public and it was so much a part of his campaign.

HENDERSON: Right.

BORGER: Right.

TOOBIN: I mean, one of the reasons he won is because he was against elitists like us. And so --

HENDERSON: It's sort of a political strategy.

BLITZER: Yes.

TOOBIN: Right. It's a political strategy which continues. And I would have to say, it worked out pretty well for him.

BLITZER: You know, Rebecca, I am convinced, and maybe I'm an optimist, that once there is a White House press secretary named, once there's a White House communications director named, this will be resolved. He will do what all of his predecessors, Democrats and Republicans, have done, going back to 1963 when President John F. Kennedy was assassinated, and honor that tradition which is so important in making sure the American people are fully informed.

REBECCA BERG, NATIONAL POLITICAL REPORTER, REALCLEARPOLITICS.COM: That's right. And Hope Hicks and others on Trump's team has continued to assure us in the press that they will be implementing this protective, even though they haven't yet. They've explained that they're just trying to get up to speed.

TOOBIN: Yes.

HENDERSON: Yes.

BERG: That they, you know, weren't in a place where they were totally organized with this transition to be able to implement it immediately. I hope that they are telling the truth. I will take them at their word for right now. But the problem is, there doesn't seem to be any urgency with them and this is a critical period.

BLITZER: Right.

BERG: As he is transitioning to the presidency, this is history and we're missing it. And we are representatives for the American people.

BLITZER: Yes. I remember when he was D.C. and he met with the President of the United States, he sort of disappeared. He went back to New York, never bothered to let the pool know he was flying back to New York. So it happens.

You're right. It's early. Let's hope they figure this out and do the right thing. As I said, I believe they will. Let's see.

And please be sure to check out the first-ever book from CNN Politics. It's called "Unprecedented: The Election That Changed Everything." It's in stores December 6th. You could pre-order right now. Pre- order your copy at cnn.com/book.

Coming up. The Syrian President Bashar al-Assad is calling Donald Trump a natural ally in the fight against terrorism. But Senator John McCain is warning the President-elect against what he calls complicity in the butchery of the Syrian people. So what will Trump's election mean for the bloody and destructive civil war?

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[17:51:51] BLITZER: The election of Donald Trump to the presidency could have enormous consequences on the civil war that's raging in Syria. It all comes down to the very complicated relationship involving Russia, the United States, and the brutal regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. Our Global Affairs Correspondent Elise Labott has details. Elise, what is the latest?

ELISE LABOTT, CNN GLOBAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, just less than 24 hours after Russian President Vladimir Putin spoke with the President-elect about closer cooperation in Syria, Moscow started what it called a massive offensive against terrorism in rebel held areas of Syria. President Assad said Donald Trump could be an ally in that fight.

But with 87 civilians killed in Aleppo today alone, many of them children, in air strikes against schools and hospitals, the Syrian people are afraid a Trump means only more suffering.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

LABOTT (voice-over): Syrian jets pounding hospitals, schools, and blood banks in Aleppo. Terrified schoolchildren flee for safety as rescue workers scramble to save children still trapped in the rubble. Huddled with his young patients in the basement of the children's hospital, a plea from one of Aleppo's last pediatricians. Pray for us, please.

TEXT: "Pray for us please" - Pediatrician Dr. Hatem

JOHN KIRBY, STATE DEPARTMENT SPOKESMAN: The regime and Russia have now let Aleppo's residents starve, all while seeking praise from the international community for halting indiscriminate strikes for three weeks.

LABOTT (voice-over): After a three-week reprieve, Russia launched the fresh offensive just hours after Vladimir Putin spoke by phone congratulating President-elect Donald Trump where they agreed to team up in the fight against what the Kremlin called enemy number one, international terrorism and extremism. The first sign Trump plans to make good on his campaign pledge.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT-ELECT OF THE UNITED STATES: If Russia and the United States got along well and went after ISIS, that would be good.

LABOTT (voice-over): Just days after his election, Trump told "The Wall Street Journal" he could abandon efforts to work with the Syrian opposition to oust President Assad and sharpen the focus on the fight against ISIS. That's exactly what Assad said makes him hopeful about Donald Trump.

BASHAR AL-ASSAD, PRESIDENT OF SYRIA: If he's going to fight the terrorist, of course, we're going to be an ally, a natural ally, in that takeout, with the Russians, with the Iranian, with many other countries to defeat the terrorists.

LABOTT (voice-over): Senator John McCain, one of Moscow's toughest critics, warned the President-elect against rebooting U.S.-Russia relations at Syria's experience, writing, quote, "At the very least, the price of another reset would be complicity in Putin and Assad's butchery of the Syrian people. That is an unacceptable price for a great nation."

But Senator Tom Cotton, reportedly on Trump's short list for Secretary of Defense, predicted the President-elect will be able to curve Putin's aggression where President Obama failed. SEN. TOM COTTON (R), ARKANSAS: So what we need to do, more than

anything, with Vladimir Putin and many other adversaries around the world, is impose that sense of limits and boundaries when it comes to the United States' interests and our allies.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

LABOTT: And Trump has not outlined how he would work with Russia or how that cooperation would square with his promises to get tough on Assad regime's other main ally and backer, Iran. Trump has promised to pull out the Iran deal and crack down on Iran's aggressive behavior in the region, but working with Russia could leave Assad in power and that would only, as you know, Wolf, strengthen Iran's position in the region.

[17:55:11] BLITZER: A very dangerous situation unfolding right now.

LABOTT: Very much.

BLITZER: Thanks very much, Elise, for that report.

Coming up. We'll have the latest from our sources inside Donald Trump's transition team. Are things going as smoothly as the President-elect insists?

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[17:59:48] BLITZER: Happening now. Going so smoothly. Donald Trump takes to Twitter to beat back reports of infighting and turmoil inside his transition team. But his latest move to ditch reporters is raising new concerns. How transparent will Trump be as President?

Clearing the lobby. Vice President-elect Mike Pence, now in charge of the transition, is removing lobbyists from the team in keeping with Trump's pledge to, quote, "drain the swamp."

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