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National Intelligence Chief James Clapper Resigns; Trump to Hold First Meeting with International Leader; Former Trump Critic Considered for Cabinet; Pence Meeting with House Republicans. Aired 10-10:30a ET
Aired November 17, 2016 - 10:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
CAROL COSTELLO, CNN ANCHOR: And good morning. I'm Carol Costello. Thank you so much for joining me. Breaking news this morning, National Security director James Clapper has submitted his resignation letter. Let's get the latest now from Barbara Starr. Good morning.
BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Carol. James Clapper, the director of National Intelligence, who oversees the multi-billion dollar intelligence enterprise in this country, some 16 Intelligence agencies, billions of dollars in spending and operations, just told the House Select Committee on Intelligence at a hearing on Capitol Hill he has submitted his resignation, telling the committee, "I submitted my letter of resignation last night which felt pretty good."
So what does all of this mean? I think it's fair to say at this point you have to interpret this, Clapper part of the Obama administration, the first senior official to officially submit that letter of resignation. That is what happens when there is a transition, when there is a new president, all the top political appointees do submit their letters of resignation and move on. But there is much more here to be considered. Clapper is the top Intelligence official. He's leaving with some, what, 64 days until inauguration, until the new administration. This certainly is a signal even if not meant to be that the Trump operation has got to get moving on nominating key people, getting them confirmed by the Senate and getting them into office in these crucial positions, especially in Intelligence. There is a good deal of concern in the Intelligence community. I was talking to an official just yesterday morning, still, that during transition, the country can be vulnerable to the threats. You know, the last 60 days of the Obama administration, is there somebody there that wants to try something and embarrass the U.S. right now in the last 60 days, is there somebody out there plotting right now to try and embarrass the new Trump administration to threaten the United States in the first six months of the administration.
So it is absolutely key for President-elect Trump to move ahead, get some names out there, nominate people to fill these positions because the fact is, he has to be ready to go before he even takes office and absolutely full up ready to operate as president of the United States the minute he takes the oath of office. As soon as he takes that oath, that nuclear football will be next to him. He will have the full command and control of the U.S. military, the full command and control of the U.S. Intelligence community and he is going to need these confirmed people in place, his top officials to advise him. And right now, as of today, the top Intelligence official is making clear he's an Obama administration person, he's resigning, he's ready to move on. Carol?
COSTELLO: So when exactly will he leave, Barbara?
STARR: You know, we don't -- this is a little bit of a surprise that he just told Congress this, even though it was expected clearly. The question will be just that, will Clapper make the gesture and I suspect he might, that he will stay long enough for his successor to be confirmed. If the Trump operation, if the Trump transition team, if President-elect Trump wants him to stay in office until he can get somebody in there and confirmed by the Senate. Because the problem that is going to emerge is if all these key positions filled by Obama administration officials, if these top leaders in key positions go and resign and there's not a new person to take their place, what happens if there is a security threat in those opening days? You have the standard professional government civilian employee core, you have the U.S. military, there are people who certainly can take over, there will be flawless continuity of government, clearly, but the new president is going to want to get his own people in there and that's what this resignation really signals, the change is coming. Carol?
COSTELLO: All right, Barbara Starr reporting live from the Pentagon. Thank you so much. Now let's bring in CNN's military analyst, retired Lieutenant General Mark Hertling. Hi, General.
LT. GEN. MARK HERTLING, CNN MILITARY ANALYST AND RETIRED LT. GEN. (via telephone): Hello - how are you doing today, Carol?
COSTELLO: I'm fine. I'm just trying to figure out what James Clapper meant when he said it felt pretty good to submit his resignation letter. What do you discern from that?
HERTLING: Well, General Clapper, you know, as you know his background, he was also a three-star General just like Mike Flynn is for Mr. Trump, who had a long career in Intelligence, a variety of different services. So this is a guy who has been under stress for multi decades, not just the last few years under the Obama administration. So, I'm sure he's deserved that rest and he's looking forward to it. But I also think he's painting a picture, as Barbara also said. You know, when you are talking about the entire cabinet of the current administration resigning, that's what happens at the end of a presidency.
But I think Mr. Clapper is basically saying hey, transition is more than just naming names. It's getting people to understand what they're going to be responsible for, it's learning the job, it is getting another
[10:05:16] team in place and it's finding out a propensity for decision making and speaking truth to power. And the director of National Intelligence, the CIA, the DIA and all the other Intelligence agencies, has to start working together. So just naming the names doesn't mean forming the teams and I think Mr. Clapper is sending the message of hey, we have got 60 days to get this new government in place. I'm submitting my resignation just like everybody else is doing, and this is a signal to the Trump administration that there's not much time.
COSTELLO: Well, there are operations ongoing and you know you need Intelligence resources to carry them out effectively. I'm specifically talking about what's happening in Iraq right now with Mosul, also in Afghanistan, also Syria. So I think it is a little nerve-racking when people hear that somebody like James Clapper - has submitted his resignation letter.
HERTLING: Well, and it should be. But there's also -- you have to have the understanding too, that all of the Intelligence communities are manned and fielded with a great deal of professionals across the board, people who won't be doing their job or I'm sorry, won't be leaving their job but they will continue to do their job. So there are quite a few experts in these various agencies that will continue to process Intelligence, conduct the analysis and provide details to the decision makers like the president. But when you have a shakeup in leadership, it does affect the organization. And that's what Mr. Clapper is saying. Hey, this is serious business. My team will continue to do the things that they need to do but we have to really consider who the leaders of these teams are and how they contribute to the security of the nation, not just answering the mail for some political appointment.
COSTELLO: All right. Lieutenant General Mark Hertling thanks for your insight as usual. Just minutes from now, the Trump transition team pulls back the curtain a bit and launches a daily briefing for the news media. The same news media the president-elect loves to bash. We are told that reporters will be allowed to ask questions later this morning.
Also at any moment, Japan's Prime Minister due to arrive in New York for the president-elect's first meeting with a foreign leader. Japan and other Asian leaders rattled by candidate Trump's suggestion that the U.S. military might withdraw from the region.
Also today, a parade of experts and candidates file into the transition headquarters at Trump Tower, among them, South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley, a Trump critic in the past who is now reportedly being considered for Secretary of State. So, as you can see, we have a lot to cover this morning. Let's begin though, at the Trump Tower. That's where CNN's Sunlen Serfaty is. Good morning.
SUNLEN SERFATY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good morning to you, Carol. Yes, Donald Trump really has a flurry of meetings here today at Trump Tower. No only holding his first meeting as president-elect face-to- face with a world leader, the Japanese Prime Minister Abe, but he is also really meeting with some real national security heavyweights. Henry Kissinger, Admiral Mike Rogers and also notably, the South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley, who transition sources confirmed is on the short list and is potentially being considered for Secretary of State.
So as Donald Trump hunkers down with his team and is inching towards making some of these final decisions, it does seem that there is a concerted effort on the part of the transition team to really reclaim the narrative of what's going on behind the scenes in the midst of frankly a week that has been plagued by reports of in- fighting and disorganization. Donald Trump earlier this morning tweeting, "My transition team, which is working long hours and doing a fantastic job, will be seeing many great candidates today." Trump also taking meetings here at Trump Tower. People like the New York Mayor Bill de Blasio, met for over an hour here in Trump Tower yesterday. And de Blasio, earlier this morning on "New Day," giving a little report, some insight about what that meeting was all about.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MAYOR BILL DE BLASIO, (D) NEW YORK: There was a real back and forth and it was again, a candid, open conversation. And part of what I'm appealing too here, I'm trying to help Donald Trump understand the voices of the people in his own city. He's a true New Yorker. I will give him that. We have our differences but he loves New York City.
I want him to understand 8.5 million people I represent, what their lives are like and what their fears are in this situation, and that he understands not - like I say, he has to get out of the transition bubble at this point. I can only imagine all that he's dealing with. But remember, the people in the city he comes from and what they are going through and think about that before he pronounces policies going forward.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SERFATY: Now, Vice President-elect Mike Pence is heading to meetings down in Washington today. He just arrived on Capitol Hill a short time ago. He has also a slew of meetings. He's meeting with Speaker Ryan, Leader McConnell, also notably, Carol, reaching across the aisle. He is set to meet with House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi. Carol?
COSTELLO: Yes, we understand. We are taking live pictures on Capitol Hill right now. Sunlen, you mentioned that Vice President- elect Mike Pence, we believe he's just wrapping up that meeting with
[10:10:16] the House leadership and Senate leadership. And I think, later this afternoon at 1:00 p.m. Eastern Time, he will meet with the Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi. So, we're going to keep all our viewers posted.
So, very busy, busy day ahead for the Trump transition team, so let's talk about that and much more, Zeke Miller is here. He's a political reporter for "Time" magazine and Domenico Montanaro is a lead political - editor for "NPR." Welcome to both of you.
DOMENICO MONTANARO, LEAD POLITICAL EDITOR "NPR": Thank you.
COSTELLO: Welcome. Welcome. So Zeke, in just about a half hour, team Trump begins daily press briefings. We all know about Donald's relationship with the press. It's been strained, to put it mildly. So, what do you think we should expect from these briefings?
ZEKE MILLER, POLITICAL REPORTER "TIME" MAGAZINE: You know, right now they are saying these are going to be telephone briefings for now. We are not going to see a spokesperson in front of a podium, like we are used to seeing whether it be in the White House or transitions past. This will be the first opportunity for the Trump campaign, for the Trump transition really, to provide their own side of the story.
You know, we saw just a few minutes ago - you know, New York City Mayor de Blasio, giving readout of his own meeting. We've seen foreign leaders' readout meetings with the president-elect. We haven't heard from, you know, the folks who are in Trump Tower working with him from the president-elect himself about their side of the story, who they are appointing, who they are considering, what they are looking for, what their processes are. And face a pivotal moment because you know, the first time that they are saying some of those landing teams are going to hit some of those national security departments and agencies here in Washington. So there's a lot to you know, catch up on both -- and also inform the public on.
COSTELLO: Yes, we just saw Rudy Giuliani entering Trump Tower, to go up - I would expect to talk with Mr. Trump. And now that picture is back on Capitol Hill. We are waiting for Mike Pence to leave that meeting with GOP leadership. Let me ask about that, Domenico. That meeting with GOP leadership, how important is that at this time?
MONTANARO: I think it's a key part of why you see someone like Mike Pence really take up the leadership mantle of the transition. It's why Reince Priebus is such an important indicator, him becoming chief of staff, of the kind of governing that Donald Trump wants to do. You know, Reince Priebus, very close to Paul Ryan, who is Speaker of the House. And having Ryan, Priebus, Mike Pence, all people who are Washington insiders, who understand the system and you've got Ryan with his agenda where he's going to want to try to get it through. You heard him speak yesterday about how great it was that there was a Republican Majority in all three places. He is somebody who believes that you can't get a lot done in divided government so he's very excited to be able to have Pence, Priebus, Trump, Mitch McConnell, in the Senate, all together to be able to try to get a conservative agenda through.
COSTELLO: So Zeke, Mike Pence is also going to meet with Nancy Pelosi, Democrat. How do you think that conversation will go?
MILLER: -- That's going to be sort of the big wild card, obviously. Democrats in Congress have not been shy about their -- you know, expressing their criticism of you know, Mr. Trump, President- elect Trump. Some of the people he's hired, Steve Bannon in particular, certainly that's going to come up. At the same time Mike Pence is a known quality -- known quantity around Washington. People know who he is. Nancy Pelosi knows who he is. You know, he's going to be -- if he's going to be -- served as the administration sort of -- lead negotiator on Capitol Hill. That's going to be a very important relationship for the Trump administration going forward. And also for Democrats to have that sort of back channel in to the Trump White House. At the same time, there are certainly a lot of differences on both policies, tone and some of those may or may not get hashed out but it is an opportunity for them to try to reach across the aisle, to start to create a baseline of trust to begin governing once the new administration takes office.
COSTELLO: Well, Domenico, it is interesting that the Democrats say they are going to push some Trump ideas like spending on infrastructure in the country and the renegotiating of trade deals. So the Democrats have already kind of reached out to Donald Trump to sort of pressure him into keeping these promises that some Republicans in Congress may not like.
MONTANARO: Well, infrastructure is one of these like unicorn ideas, that comes up all the time. You know, John Boehner was in favor of infrastructure. Every time I would talk to his aides, they would say, well it is how you pay for it. I don't think that those discussions are going to change very much or those priorities are going to change very much. There are certain things that could you know, get -- wind up getting worked on across the aisle, infrastructure obviously a big one. You know the Affordable Care Act. I think Democrats would want to be able to pass some fixes. If you had a Democrat in the White House, you probably wouldn't get those fixes done. You know that Republicans are practical about this. They know that if you repeal all of Obamacare and you lose some of those things that are popular in the bill, when it comes to leaving people on parents' health insurance until they're 26 or eliminating pre- existing conditions, you are probably going to have Republicans feel like they need to be able to fix it on their own when they probably wouldn't have if you had a Democrat in the White House.
[10:15:16] COSTELLO: We are headed for an interesting time. No doubt about that. Zeke Miller, Domenico Montanaro, thanks to both of you.
Still to come in the "Newsroom," so what does it take to go from the campaign trail to the White House? I'll talk with two men who helped George H.W. Bush and President Obama make that transition and what they think about Donald Trump's transition team. I'll be right back.
COSTELLO: All right. Let me take you back to that exciting hallway on Capitol Hill. The VP-elect Mike Pence met with the GOP leadership and we understand that they were very happy with that meeting with Mike Pence. Let's head to Manu Raju now. He has some inside information. What can you tell us?
MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL REPORTER: Hey, Carol. Yes, this was really a pep rally and sorts, multiple standing ovations for Mike Pence, who really discussed how busy the beginning of the new Congress is going to be. They discussed what their priorities were. We are told by members who were in the room, they said that one of the first things they want to do in the first hundred days or 200 days is do tax reform. That seems to be the big priority for the new administration coming in. They discussed repealing and replacing Obamacare but did not discuss exactly when that would happen. There were no discussions about some of the more divisive items such as building that
[10:20:16] border wall along the Mexican border and they really warned that this is going to be a busy, busy first part of the year. In fact, the House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy warned his colleagues that they may not see much of their families in January. That's how busy that it is going to be. And one thing that the House Republican leaders did decide was that they want to move on a spending bill that would expire in the beginning of March. That means that one of the first things the new administration will have coming in is to figure out how to fund the government. We know that's always a tricky thing up here Capitol Hill.
But largely, themes of unity which is much different than on the Democratic side, where I'm outside a meeting right now where they are discussing possibly replacing Nancy Pelosi as the leader. Tim Ryan, the Ohio Democrat, is saying that he may announce as early as today, whether to challenge Nancy Pelosi on the Democratic side. And also Joe Crowley, New York Democrat, getting pushed to challenge Pelosi as well. Right now, Pelosi has enough support probably to stay on as leader but -- serious concerns internally, a difference in the two sides right now, Republicans showcasing some unity and the Democrats struggling to figure out a way forward here, Carol.
COSTELLO: OK. We will check back when Mike Pence comes out of that room, Manu Raju reporting live from Capitol Hill.
Minutes from now Donald Trump's transition team holds its first daily media briefing. One of the big questions of course is when the team will announce its first key cabinet position. So far, more people have been fired than hired. So is Trump's team off to a slow start? Well, that depends on who you ask. In 2008 after President Obama won he tasked Tim Geithner for Treasury Secretary in late November. In 1992, Bill Clinton's first cabinet pick did not happen until December. So will Trump's team be ready when they get the keys to the White House?
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JOE BIDEN, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: No administration is ready on day one. We weren't ready on day one. I've never met one that's ever been ready on day one but I'm confident on day one everything will be in good hands.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
COSTELLO: With me now, Craig Fuller, former co-chair for President Bush's transition team, President George H.W. Bush and Ivo Daalder, former U.S. Ambassador to NATO, and you're also in charge, I believe, of Obama's transition team? Am I right, Ivo?
IVO DAALDER, FORMER U.S. AMBASSADOR TO NATO: No. I was in charge of the National Security Council transition team. COSTELLO: Oh, OK. Well, that takes me nicely to my first
question, because we just learned moments ago that the director of National Intelligence, James Clapper, submitting his resignation letter last night, normal procedure?
DAALDER: Yes. All the political appointees in the administration are expected to resign at the end of an administration so effective presumably January 20, 2017 when the new team comes in. And that's what the transition is about. It's about preparing the incoming team to have the right people in place and to understand what the state of play is on the whole wide-ranging issues, National security, domestic policy, economic policy. That's what a transition team does in about ten weeks' time. It's a mammoth task that needs to get started as soon as possible in order to prepare the president when he is president on January 20th to take over and run the government.
COSTELLO: It is a mammoth task. We hear so many different things about what's happening inside the Trump transition team, right? Some say it's a blood bath. There have been more firings than hiring. The Trump team says it's going smoothly. We are proceeding at a normal pace. So what do you think, Craig? Is the truth somewhere in the middle?
CRAIG FULLER, FORMER CO-CHAIR PRESIDENT BUSH TRANSITION TEAM: It probably is. I would urge, though, a point of view that suggests that these decisions are extremely important. What President-elect Trump decides over the next 60 days will have a lot to do with his success in the first four years of his administration. So while the story line tends to be they are not moving fast enough, I think they should take the time and take care in the judgments they're making. Now, the goalpost is sitting on January 20th. What he needs is a cabinet mostly confirmed, ready to go office when he takes the oath of office. And if they are there at that point, then this transition will have been a success with respect to the people he's naming to these positions.
COSTELLO: Ivo, critics say that Trump isn't attracting many different types of people to take part in his cabinet and his staff positions. Do you see any evidence of that really?
DAALDER: Well, I think it's just too early to know who he's going to be able to attract to his administration. This was a different kind of election. There were a number of people particularly on the national security side in the Republican Party who indicated that they couldn't support the candidate. And now we will have to sort out, in fact, the president-elect and his team will have to sort out whether they want to bring in -- an experienced group of people to help them govern. The world is not getting any easier or less complicated and frankly,
[10:25:16] when you have a president-elect who doesn't have the kind of government experience that other presidents have had, he would be well served by having as broad a group of people to help him, whether they opposed him or not during the campaign, really is less important than the experience they would bring on day one to help him succeed. And that's what all of us want. We want the president when he takes office to succeed.
COSTELLO: But Craig, I think a large part of the electorate, they don't want, you know, people to serve in many positions who have long experience in governing. So is that something that President- elect Trump also has to weigh?
FULLER: I think one of the number one things coming out of this election was that people want Washington to work they are tired of the grid lock and the failure to take action. It's certainly the case that President-elect Trump is looking to balance the appointees that he brings to office. He's going to have some who have no government experience, who have business experience. He's going to clearly pick, he already picked a chief of staff who is eminently qualified and knows the ways of Washington. He has a vice president as you just reported who is building a lot of enthusiasm among the leadership on Capitol Hill because he served on Capitol Hill. So, you need this balance in order to move an agenda forward. But certainly -- you need fresh ideas and new ideas and it looks like, I would say, that there's a lot of very capable people who are lining up outside of Trump Tower to go in and meet with him and look at where they can make a contribution.
COSTELLO: And Ivo, of course one controversial pick is Steve Bannon, who is to serve as Trump's chief strategist. Democrats, some Democrats are saying you know rescind the offer now because they believe that Steve Bannon is a racist. Is it unusual for one of the early picks to be this controversial?
DAALDER: Yes, it's probably as unusual but you know, presidents get to pick their own advisors. And it's not that unusual for a president to have a chief of staff but then also to bring in people who he feels comfortable with and is very close with. Remember, Ronald Reagan brought in not just Jim Baker, who had run two election campaigns against Ronald Reagan as well as the winning campaign in 1980, but also brought in Ed Meese and Michael Deaver, who were very close to the president to form a troika in the White House. President Obama brought in Rahm Emanuel but he also brought in David Axelrod and Valerie Jarrett. So it's not unusual at all for presidents to bring in people who they are close to, who they want to align with. And you know they are the ones who got to run the government. And they need to have people around them that they are comfortable with.
COSTELLO: OK. And of course, one of those people is the VP- elect Mike Pence. You see him coming out of that GOP leadership meeting where he held the meeting and got a standing ovation. I would like to thank you Craig Fuller and Ivo Daalder for being with me this morning. Let's pause and see if Mike Pence is going to say something to reporters.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MIKE PENCE, (R) VICE PRESIDENT-ELECT: I'm just so grateful, grateful for the warm hospitality and all of their determination to work with our incoming administration to make America great again.
UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: What has it meant to you, what's it going to mean for the incoming Trump administration?
PENCE: It's very humbling to me to be back in the room. I spent 12 years as a member of Congress. To be there with members I served with, with many men and women who have been elected for Congress and Senate, and to see the enthusiasm for the president-elect's agenda for this country.
UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: What is item one on that agenda?
PENCE: Very confident as we move toward inauguration we will bring together a great team, work in concert with leaders in the House and the Senate. We're going to move an agenda that's going to rebuild our military, revive our economy and in a word make America great again.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
COSTELLO: All right. You see Vice President-elect Mike Pence talking with reporters about his meeting with the GOP leadership saying it went very well and he can't wait to get down to brass tacks and make America great again. I'll be right back.