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Trump Denies Infighting As He Builds Cabinet; Republicans Vote To Roll Back Local Government Funding Ban; Trump's Son in Law Kushner Fueling Fighting; Trump Team Turmoil. Aired 1-1:30p ET

Aired November 16, 2016 - 13:00   ET



WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Hello, I'm Wolf Blitzer. It'1:00 p.m. here in Washington, 8:00 p.m. in Aleppo, Syria, 11:30 p.m. in Kabul, Afghanistan. Wherever you're watching from around the world, thanks very much for joining us.

Up first, the Trump transition. We're waiting to hear the latest choices from president-elect Donald Trump for his administration. More announcements, we're told, are expected soon.

As the Trump administration begins to take shape, sources described some of the infighting within the transition team as very, very intense. But Donald Trump says the process is running smoothly.

Former congressman, Newt Gingrich, the former speaker of the House, a Trump insider, also downplayed any divisions.


NEWT GINGRICH (R), FORMER SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE, TRUMP ADVISOR: The beginning of any transition like this has turmoil because it's just the nature of the process.

And I think that Trump is very decisive. He's a very good CEO. And I think what you're seeing is -- will become clear, over the next two or three weeks, as they -- as they build out the cabinet --


BLITZER: Our Correspondent Sunlen Serfaty is outside Trump Tower in New York City on Fifth Avenue. Sunlen, update us on the comings and goings. What's happening today? What should we be expecting?

SUNLEN SERFATY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, again today, Trump Tower has really been a hotbed of activity. A lot of people coming in, Eric Trump, Don Junior, Senator Sessions, to name just a few

And Trump transition officials seem to be shifting into overdrive today to downplay these reports, not only the accounts of there being tension within the transition team and infighting within the transition team, but that they've been a little bit behind the eight ball and a little off to a slow start in their transition, given that it is now one week since election day.

And this is something that Kellyanne Conway, one of Trump's top advisers, addressed when she walked in this morning.


KELLYANNE CONWAY, CAMPAIGN MANAGER, TRUMP CAMPAIGN: Well, you don't form a federal government overnight. And these are very serious issues, very serious appointments, very serious consideration.

From his perspective, he's been presented with any number of choices within each of the agencies and departments. And he's making those tough decisions and, if anything, he has obviously more choices than one to fill in each position.

So, we have an embarrassment of riches when it comes to many of those different positions.


SERFATY: Across the board, transition officials really trying to protect this image that everything is calm, any -- everything is really steady inside, even though there are many sources, including from transition officials inside those closed doors, that are saying otherwise -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Sunlen, the New York City mayor, Bill de Blasio, he just left Trump Tower. He had a lengthy meeting. He called it candid, substantive, the meeting with the president-elect. What did they discuss?

SERFATY: Yes, they had about an hour meeting, according to the New York mayor. And he came out and talked to reporters afterwards and really provide a laundry list of things that he clearly came ready to talk to Donald Trump about today.

Of course, these guys have had a storied relationship, not only always gotten along. It's just last year that Donald Trump called Mayor De Blasio a maniac. The worst New York mayor ever.

But, today, clearly trying to turn over a new leaf. Bill de Blasio saying that they talked about immigration, regulation of Wallstreet, Donald Trump's proposal of stop and brisk policy. De Blasio saying that he expressed to Donald Trump that believes it drives a wedge between police and the community and vouched for him not to go forward with that.

But it was real interesting that he addressed, with Donald Trump today, the tone and rhetoric of his campaign and seemed to plead to him to address that going forward. Here's Bill de Blasio.


BILL DE BLASIO (D), MAYOR, NEW YORK: I also raised concerns about some of the messages and some of the rhetoric that, for so many people, have been hurtful. And I let him know that so many New Yorkers were fearful. And that more had to be done to show that this country can heal, that people be respected.


SERFATY: And another smaller topic, but a big local issue here, Wolf, that a lot of people on these New York streets care about is the traffic and how traffic has been really affected in the weeks since the security perimeter has been set up around Trump Tower. That's something that the mayor said that they will be addressing between NYPD and secret service going forward -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Sunlen, thank you. Sunlen Serfaty over at Trump Tower in New York. Let's discuss the conflicting reports we're getting now of what's happening inside Donald Trump's transition team. CNN National Security Commentator Mike Rogers is with us. He's the former chairman of the House Intelligence Committee.

Congressman, thanks very much for joining us.


BLITZER: All right. So, let's talk about you right now. What's the latest? They basically cut you off. You were on the transition team leading up to the election.

[13:05:02] Then, anybody who had been named by Chris Christie, who had been chairman of that transition team, all of those people, you and several others, were dumped. What happened?

ROGERS: Well, you know, it's -- there is a natural place in the transition. So, just if I can explain quickly. We got there about five months ago. Chris Christie was named as transition leader. He put some people together that he thought can handle different portfolios, the economic side, domestic policy, national security.

BLITZER: You were in charge of national security?

ROGERS: I was asked to head up the national security portfolio. So, we assembled some really good talented people to take the kinds of things the candidate would say about, say, paying for the wall, making Mexico pay for the wall. And sit down and say, if you were going to do that, what would it look like? If you were going to build the wall that protects the southern border and re-engages in the notion of controlling your southern border, what would it look like? How would you do it?

And so, all of those policies, they were done in line with where the president was and that is -- that was ready and complete the day of the election. So, that part is ready. I think the transition, in that regard, is much farther along.

BLITZER: So, why did --

ROGERS: This is the human resources part --

BLITZER: -- so, why did they --

ROGERS: -- of the fight that is going on.

BLITZER: Why did they say, you know what, Congressman, it's over for you?

ROGERS: Again, there is -- obviously, they wanted to go a little bit of a different direction. And that's what they told me.

BLITZER: Is it over for Chris Christie, too?

ROGERS: I don't -- I don't know if it's over or not. I mean, he still holds a position.

BLITZER: He has a title. But he's not seen. There's no visibility. Is he -- Mike Pence, the vice president-elect, he's now in charge of the transition. Chris Christie has sort of disappeared. Did they say to him, it's over?

ROGERS: Well, I don't know what they said to Chris Christie. I do know that this is not an unusual thing. And I will tell you, I had a great conversation with the vice president-elect today. They're still looking for that input. They're still looking for people to contribute in a -- in a positive way to try to get this piece right. And I'm clearly going to participate in that.

BLITZER: So, what did Mike Pence, the vice president-elect, say to you? Did he call you or did you call him?

ROGERS: The vice president -- or excuse me, the vice president-elect reached out to me today. And I had called him earlier and just the -- you know, through phone tag, this tends to happen today.

But let me step back. I do think this is hard. The first eight days is the most tumultuous in any of these transitions. This is probably the most public affair of the transition I've certainly seen in my lifetime. I'm not sure that's healthy.

I think the change -- some of the changes are good. Some of the changes I would -- maybe I would have done a little differently.

But what I do think is happening is the substance of the transition is ongoing. Those people are still working. They're showing up every day, like they have for five months, to put this together so that the vice president -- or excuse me, the president- elect can have policies ready to go.

Here -- this is the H.R. problem. And so, there is some pushing and shoving and pulling. But this is a normal course of action. Now that the vice president-elect has signed the papers and is now firmly in charge of the transition, I think you're going to see some of that start to -- those wrinkles will get ironed out.

BLITZER: Once they demoted Chris Christie, he had signed earlier papers, they had to sign a new bunch of papers, all bureaucratic, so that the outgoing administration, the White House, State Department, Defense Department, would cooperate, would work with the team. Are you -- did the vice president-elect asked to you rejoin that team today when he spoke with you?

ROGERS: No, he didn't. And, candidly, I don't think that would be a good idea.

BLITZER: Why? Why wouldn't that be a good idea?

ROGERS: Well, because I --

BLITZER: You worked six months helping them prepare, you know, various individuals for possible portfolios?

ROGERS: Well, my work was done, honestly. It was -- we did all of the policy review, they call them agency action teams. We put those teams together. Now, there's a phase called landing teams where these people will go into the agencies. So -- on direction now of the vice president-elect, and the president-elect of the United States will go into these agencies and prepare for the (INAUDIBLE.)

BLITZER: But don't you think it would have been useful, since you did all this work, for you to be there and help them, guide them --

ROGERS: Well, yes.

BLITZER: -- in a specific way?

ROGERS: You know, I -- could I have had something to offer? Sure. But I understand, too, that they have the right and responsibility to get the team that they feel comfortable with.

BLITZER: Who replaced you?

ROGERS: I'm not sure I know that. I think this -- I think it went to New York. I think Keith Kellogg and Mike Flynn will taking over those responsibilities, at least that's the way it was led me to believe. And that's great. And they are very capable.

I do think that the vice president, as you said, elect, would reach out. And he still wants my participation in advice and counsel. And I'm happy to give it.

BLITZER: Did he ask if you'd like a position in the new administration?

ROGERS: He didn't ask me if I'd like a position in the administration. But he said that, you know, don't count it out. Now, that was not the nature of the conversation. It was -- this was just two old friends talking.

BLITZER: Because you -- speculation you could be CIA director, something -- you know, you have a lot of experience in intelligence.

ROGERS: Yes, I wouldn't go that far nor would I say that's even under consideration. I have no idea. This -- the purpose of this conversation was to say, hey, we still want your advice and counsel. We'd like you to participate at that level. Listen, this is about the country. And what happens, I think,

sometimes in these early days is everybody starts thinking about themselves and not what is at stake. And that national security portfolio, to me, is incredibly important, same with the economic portfolio.

[13:10:05] Once these H.R. decisions get worked through, I think you will see the wrinkles ironed out and a machine up and running. And, you know, think about it. You don't ask an excavator, you know, to put in the windows of the building.

And they're going through some of these choices, right? They want to make sure the right person is doing the right job in a way that they feel comfortable with. I completely understand that. That's -- that is the nature of politics. And it's just in this time, it's really highly public.

So, that's what you're seeing. In a normal -- and I think in a normal transition, you wouldn't see it this public. These things have happened. Happened under Obama. Happened under George W. Bush. And so -- and I watched those things happen.

So, this is not completely unusual. I think it's just because you have a guy that has no experience with government at all. People got a little nervous.

BLITZER: The president-elect.

ROGERS: The president-elect.

But I would say, give him some time here. He is going to -- he's approaching this like a businessman who is walking in and going to put this -- right his ship so it is performing that helps him help the country. I think that's where we're going. I got that feeling from the vice president as well.

BLITZER: You and the vice president-elect, you go way back. Both of you were incoming freshman congressmen the same year. That's a while ago. But you've had a longstanding relationship with him.

ROGERS: I have and he is an honorable, decent, good man who's very, very capable. I have a lot of confidence that he'll do a great job on the transition.

And, by the way, all of those vice chairman roles, they will play a role. They'll be advice and counsel. And they'll have input --

BLITZER: But I don't see Chris Christie playing any role?

ROGERS: Well, you know, I haven't talked to Governor Christie quite yet.

BLITZER: He's the one who named you right? He brought you in.

ROGERS: He did. BLITZER: That's pretty extraordinary that he brought you in.

Somebody else called you and said, you're out. And you haven't had a chance to discuss this with Chris Christie?

ROGERS: Yes, Christie is traveling a little bit.

BLITZER: Technically he's still listed as the vice chairman of the transition?

ROGERS: Yes, and I think he'll perform that role. Now, to what degree? I'm not sure. We're playing some phone tag. But, listen, I want them all to succeed. It's too important.

At the end of the day, again, there are a lot of people that will pop up in these things and thump their chest. They were either wronged or righted or they want this and they didn't get that. That, candidly, should be irrelevant as we go into what is, you know, the largest organization in the world, candidly.

And as someone joked, that you get a very low paid CEO, probably the poorest paid you'll ever get to run a very important, large organization. We're going to need all hands on deck. I think we're working through this process of saying, hey, this is too important, people. Everybody calm down. We are going to need all hands on deck to get the job done.

BLITZER: One final -- one final question before I let you go. This whole notion of security clearance, his top secret security clearances for the adult children, Jared Kushner, the son-in-law of Donald Trump, is that happening? Not happening? Is it important? You've got unique perspective as a former chairman of the House Intelligence Committee.

ROGERS: Yes, and I -- and I don't know exactly how they're going to make that arrangement. If Jared Kushner is going to play a role, even a senior strategy advisory role for the president-elect, he -- I would argue he should get a clearance. Only because otherwise you're up and out of the room every two minutes, because lots of those conversations will center around national security, foreign policy, other things. He will probably need that to make -- if he's going to play that strategic role.

If the other children of the family aren't playing that kind of a role, probably not necessary for them and I would argue probably shouldn't get them. You know, it's all about need to know.

Again, if he is playing that role, he should probably have a clearance. If they're not playing that role, he shouldn't have a clearance.

BLITZER: I've heard some argue that the family members, the wife, the adult children, the son-in-law, they should get some security clearance. Because if they want to talk with Donald Trump, for example, about his schedule, upcoming events, that's classified information. Until it's released publicly, you don't want to tip off the bad guys about where the president might be traveling, stuff like that. And that's an argument that I've heard made that, yes, they should have some sort of classified status.

ROGERS: You can do that. But the president can function in those roles without a high level -- the people he's talking to, without a high-level security clearance. And in the intelligence business, they'll always say, remember one thing, the president of the United States can instantly and immediately declassify anything they want.

BLITZER: So, if he wants to say to his wife, I'm going to Chicago next week. That's declassified?

ROGERS: Yes, it is then.

BLITZER: It had been confidential but it's not --

ROGERS: Yes, at least to her, right?

BLITZER: -- declassified.


BLITZER: All right. Mike Rogers, thanks so much for joining us.

ROGERS: Thanks.

BLITZER: Good luck.

ROGERS: Thank you.

BLITZER: Up next, we'll have more on Jared Kushner, his tangled web of business ties ,his evolving role under his father-in-law, the president-elect of the United States, Donald Trump.

And right now up on Capitol Hill, House Republicans are deciding whether to keep a spending ban in rules put in place by the former speaker of the House, John Boehner.

We'll be right back.




[13:18:30] BLITZER: President-elect Donald Trump denies that his transition team is in turmoil. So what is happening within the Trump inner circle? There's a lot going on. We just heard from Mike Rogers, who was in that transition team, but in recent days, as a result of his originally being brought in by Chris Christie, who is no longer in charge of the transition, Mike Rogers has been removed. But we did just learn from him that he did have a conversation with the new man in charge of the transition, the vice president-elect of the United States, Mike Pence. He said it was a good conversation. They spoke about possibilities down the road. We're going to hear what that means. We're going to try to get some more information precisely on what role, if any, the New Jersey governor, Chris Christie, has right now, because he has been sort of invisible, even though he's officially listed as a vice chairman of the transition team.

Let's bring in our panel to discuss all of this, and the role of Donald Trump's son-in-law, Jared Kushner, as well. Joining us now, our chief political analyst Gloria Borger, Martha Kumar, director of the White House Transition Project, a professor at Towson University, our political analyst David Gregory and CNN political commentator Ryan Lizza, the Washington correspondent for "The New Yorker" magazine.

What exactly is Jared Kushner's role right now, because it's caused some conflicting reports?

GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: That's good (ph). Well, and that seems to be the question of the day. Look, he's very close to the president-elect. He is no fan of Chris Christie. Chris Christie prosecuted his father and sent him to jail. So we all know that story.

[13:20:03] I don't think it's a coincidence that everybody who was appointed by Chris Christie, a group of them, are now gone, one of them being Mike Rogers, with whom you just spoke. So I spoke with a source familiar with the transition who pushed back on that and said that Jared did not organize this, but he certainly wasn't unhappy that the Christie people were gone. I think you can play this out for yourselves.

BLITZER: Is Chris Christie himself gone?

BORGER: No, I don't think so. I think Chris Christie is still in touch. I don't think he's running the transition.

BLITZER: Because we don't see him walking in and out over these past eight days over at Trump Tower.

BORGER: We don't -- we don't -- we don't --

BLITZER: Everyone else in the transition is walking in and out. He's not.

BORGER: Look, I would not say that it is beyond a possibility that Christie could be offered something, but I'm not so sure, even if he were offered something at this point, that he would take it. This is -- this is bad relations at this point, and there's been this purge, whoever did it. There aren't a lot of people with the authority to kind of order that kind of thing. So --

BLITZER: Yes, whoever was involved with Christie

BORGER: So all arrows point to Jared, although there is pushback on it.

BLITZER: Martha, you've studied these transitions over the years, done a lot of history on it. we just heard Mike Rogers say, this is all normal stuff. We're eight days into the transition. Is this all normal?

MARTHA KUMAR, DIRECTOR, WHITE HOUSE TRANSITION PROJECT: Well, what you -- you have a different situation here because you have a person who has not served in elected office before, and making that transition from being a private person to a public person and trying to put the government together is -- is a challenge in way it isn't for people who are elected as president after having served in the Senate or having served as governor. They already have a codary (ph) of people who have served in office before that they can bring in with them who are experts.

BLITZER: Because during the -- after you get nominated in July, until the election in November, that's where you're supposed to organize, you're supposed to assume you're going to win the presidency, you're in touch with administration officials and various cabinet post agencies, and you're getting everything ready so that if you win on day one, you've got a transition team in place. You've got people who have been vetted. You've got an organization. That doesn't seem like it's happened this time.

KUMAR: Well, this time, the end of the 2015 law calls for, on August 1st, the General Services Administration, to provide space for both candidates for their transition teams up to around 100 people. And both the Clinton and Trump operations did that. So with Chris Christie was leading that transition, but they gathered a lot of information.

BLITZER: But it's extraordinary that someone who was leading that transition is then dumped and all of the people he brought in are dumped as well.

KUMAR: That is -- certainly was not the case in 2008, for example. John Podesta began in July and went through the transition and in -- to the inauguration. In the Bush administration, you had the early work done by Clay Johnson, and then Dick Cheney came in as the head. But there is a lot of information that's gathered early this time because the government had to begin its operations in May, May 8th. Six months before the election. So the information is there. Even if the people are gone, there's a lot of information that they have gathered.

BLITZER: I've covered several of these transitions, David, over the years and it is pretty extraordinary what's going on right now. And there's one school of thought that says, you know what, they didn't think they were going to win --


BLITZER: So they didn't spend a lot of time worrying about a transition.

GREGORY: It's transparently messy. And I think that's really it. I mean they weren't prepared. I mean we're talking about the Donald Trump campaign here. I don't think any of us should be surprised that it's not orderly. It was a populist campaign, an anti-establishment campaign, and now it's running smack head into, oh, geez, we need people in the establishment to actually run things because they know what they're doing. And there's a danger of too many personality clashes getting in the way of getting competent people in.

I think clearly being too disorganized is a danger. I also think there's a real potential problem that Donald Trump does not want a government, especially key figures, who are lower tier people in terms of their history, qualifications, their talent level. That should be of a concern to all Americans if that comes to pass. All the rest of these things that are going on I think speaks to, you know, splits politically, splits within the family and his cohort of advisers, which I think we can overstate the importance of at this juncture. He should be given time to form his government. And when you're watching it every step of the way it can look messy.

BLITZER: And so far Donald Trump has named Mike Pence, going back to the -- the convention, as his vice presidential running mate. That sent a message of who he likes, who he doesn't like, why he picked Mike Pence. Reince Priebus is going to be his White House chief of staff. Steve Bannon's going to be his senior counselor, senior advisor in the White House. Three appointments. So what does that say to you, Ryan, looking forward?

[13:25:14] RYAN LIZZA, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: well, I think what happens here, I think what we're witnessing is a family grudge match is preventing Donald Trump from forming a government. What happened With Chris Christie is that he was someone, it's been reported, that Donald Trump really wanted to be his running mate. There's a conversation that was reported that Trump called Christie and said, look, it would tear my family apart if I made you the running mate, and that was in the final decision-making hour when he went with Pence. And so Christie was basically exiled from the campaign and hey put him in place of a transition with nobody in the campaign was -- cared about --

BORGER: Right.

LIZZA: Because they were in an absolute war trying to win this race that nobody thought they would win. Trump has said he's superstitious, so he doesn't like -- he didn't want to do transition planning. So you've got Christie who, to his credit, was very responsible, as Martha has pointed out, put together a team. Now, what did he do? It was filled with New Jersey political people and a lot of Washington lobbyists and a lot of people, Republicans who were alienated, or just not part of the Trump campaign.

Trump all of a sudden wins against everyone's expectations and all the folks in Trump Tower in New York realized that they had nothing to do with this transition process. Jared Kushner realizes that his archenemy, Christie, who sent his dad to jail for two years for witness tampering and tax evasion is now running -- now has the most important job. And I think that is what all of the last week has been about, is the New York takeover of Chris Christie's Washington transition.


GREGORY: But in 2000, when you had Cheney come in, it's not unusual that you would have a big Washington insider in Pence. You have more of a Washington insider than Chris Christie was.

LIZZA: I think the problem here was there was no coordination between Washington, run by Chris -- the Washington operation, run by Christie --


LIZZA: And the New York operation --

BORGER: Right. And I --

LIZZA: Run by that core Trump staff and they are clashing this week.

BORGER: I was told -- so I was told with a source -- from a source that -- and the way it was put to me was, no one put a check on this whole thing.


BORGER: So they -- they had no idea. What's striking to me is the insularity of this because it's a family grudge match on the one hand, which you really can't believe because you're trying to form a government that works.


BORGER: But it's so insular that even donors are complaining. You know, big Republican money types who did not -- were not onboard on day one, that they are not having any input, and the political class, of course, the Republicans who say, you know, maybe you ought to consult me because I was in the Bush administration and I know how to do x, y and z. They're not being consulted. And the Trump people are saying, well, sorry, your noses is out of joint here. But, by the way, you didn't support us. So it's a matter of loyalty.

GREGORY: Right, and of course it's insular. I mean that was the whole campaign was --

BORGER: Right, so it's -- there's a loyalty --

BLITZER: Now there's these indications that -- maybe you can help us, David, that Mike Pence, the vice president-elect, has decided to get rid of all the lobbyists who were brought in?


BORGER: Well --

BLITZER: We remember the exchange that Donald Trump had on "60 Minutes" over the weekend --

GREGORY: Yes, that's what I'm talking about.

BORGER: Right. Right.

BLITZER: In which he said, look, these are the people who know what's going on.


BLITZER: I got no choice. I don't want these lobbyists because --

GREGORY: What you have to do is --

BLITZER: His message is drain the swamp.


BLITZER: And the swamp from his point of view are these Washington lobbyists.

GREGORY: He's got to do it gradually. And I'm sure, you know, some people around Trump, or maybe Trump himself said, you know what, this really does look bad. Hey, Mike, can you do something about this as we really kind of lean into this transition process and you see this.

There's going to be a lot of people in the political class who get their nose out of joint about how all of this comes together because they now want to be included. They want to be closer to power. That's very much the message of what Trump ran against. That whole mentality is what he ran against and it's going to make it messy. And the same -- but, again, I think we all have to have a certain level of acceptance at how unconventional this is going to continue to be.

BORGER: Right.

GREGORY: It's never going to snap back into form that we recognize.


BORGER: But the -- the whole lobbyist thing, if you'll recall, Barack Obama tried to do that as well.


BORGER: And, by the way, lot of people surrounding Donald Trump lobbied and worked on behalf of either foreign governments, or defense contractors, or -- so he's got his own internal issues with lobbying. Nothing is ever as black and white as it seems during a campaign when you make your list of, you know, promises and say, I'm going to drain the swamp, and there you go.

BLITZER: President Obama did say he was not going to let any lobbyists, registered lobbyists, come in and serve in his administration. Some of them did. There were a few exceptions, right?

KUMAR: He had waivers. He had waivers.

BLITZER: They had a waiver. But by and large, they were boycotted.

KUMAR: They were.

BLITZER: They were told, including very loyal Democrats who worked their whole life for Democrats, worked for the president, because they had been a registered lobbyist, they were not allowed to come in.

KUMAR: Right. And he had had that rule earlier in his transition and he had talked about it on the campaign trail. So that was something that they were -- that they were ready for.

But in some ways, it harmed them because it was difficult for them to bring in people from -- from non-profits who had worked on particular issues like Laraza (ph), (INAUDIBLE) Laraza. So they required wavers.