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ANDERSON COOPER 360 DEGREES
Trump "University" Lawsuits Settled for $25 Million; Trump Meets with Romney This Weekend; Sessions Pick Stirs Civil Rights Concerns; Trump Choices Spark Criticism; Trump Taps Hardliners for 3 Key Posts. Aired 8-9p ET
Aired November 18, 2016 - 20:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
[20:00:05] JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Good evening. John Berman here in for Anderson.
Tonight, Donald Trump's controversial and consequential cabinet picks, including a choice for attorney general that civil rights groups say is a throwback to a dark time in U.S. history. We'll look at that and who he'll pick next.
We begin with another choice, one that flies in the face he said something proudly and loudly and repeatedly throughout the campaign, namely that he doesn't like settling lawsuits, especially the cases against the non-university formally known as Trump University. Trump said he expected to be vindicated in court so why settle?
Today, he settled two cases in California and one in New York, big league.
CNN's Paul Vercammen joins us now with the $25 million details.
Paul, what was the reaction from Donald Trump and his legal team in the wake of this settlement? I mean, why did they settle?
PAUL VERCAMMEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, they were all smiles in both in court and outside court. Dan Petrocelli, Trump's lawyer, said, quote, "Donald Trump and Trump University do not acknowledge any fault or liability in this case." And all along in these proceedings, John, over the past couple of weeks, they have been suggesting that Donald Trump needs to get to the matter at hand, which is running the country and picking his cabinet.
So, as I said, they were jovial. They were happy. They seemed very, very content to have this put behind them. And they used those terms as well, John.
BERMAN: Paul, this is exactly what Donald Trump has been saying for months that he doesn't do.
VERCAMMEN: Exactly, John. Not only saying but going out on social media and saying such things as, "My university had a 98 percent approval rating. And perhaps I should settle this. But I won't in terms of principle."
And let's listen to some of the other times that Donald Trump came out and said that he would not settle this case.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIPS)
DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENT-ELECT: I will win the Trump University case. I already am as far as I'm concerned. I will win the case in the end. I just didn't want to be forced to settle.
This is a case I could have settled very easily, but I don't settle cases very easily when I'm right.
I will win the Trump University case.
I could settle the case now if I wanted to settle the case. I don't settle cases.
We have a situation where we will in court.
And I'll win the Trump University case. I would settle that case.
(END VIDEO CLIPS)
VERCAMMEN: As for the settlement -- some million dollars, the plaintiff's attorney saying that each one of the people who were involved in this lawsuit will get at least half of their money back and in no instance was that more than $35,000, John.
BERMAN: All right. Paul Vercammen for us, thanks a lot, Paul.
Now to the cabinet picks, the fallout from the cabinet picks and what we know about the next big cabinet pick.
CNN's Sara Murray is at Trump Tower with more.
Sara, first of all, explain the president-elect's whereabouts tonight, what we know, what we don't know, because he's still operating without the traditional press pool, correct?
SARA MURRAY, CNN POLITICS REPORTER: That's right. And so, even though I'm in front of Trump Tower tonight, Donald Trump is not inside Trump Tower. He's already relocated. He's going to be spending the weekend at his golf course in Bedminster, New Jersey. So, he took for there earlier. After his departure, they alerted the pool and the small group of reporters that followed him had the pleasure of sitting in traffic for three hours to follow him out to New Jersey. Of course, Donald Trump gets a motorcade when he makes his trek.
BERMAN: So, Sara, what's the latest on who exactly is expected to meet with this weekend and what will come out at these meetings?
MURRAY: Right. Well, it's not a leisure weekend at his golf club, John. We're told he's going to be in nonstop meetings. He's going to be meeting with, of course, Mitt Romney who's been very critical of him throughout his campaign. He's also meeting with a former D.C. public schools chancellor, Michelle Rhee, as well as General James Mattis, among many others. Now, some of the meetings are just to sort of inform Donald Trump
about the issues he's going to face as president. Maybe give him advice about how he's going to build his team. But others are essentially job interviews. He's looking to talk to a number of these people about top cabinet posts from education secretary to treasury secretary, to defense secretary throughout the weekend.
And so far, we have a full schedule on Saturday. We haven't heard all the folks he's going to be meeting with on Sunday. We're expecting another full day for him out there on Sunday, John.
BERMAN: A lot of these decisions still to be made, but there were three big announcements today. The president-elect's choices for attorney general, CIA director, and national security advisor. What's the latest on how those are being received?
MURRAY: Well, things are moving forward, John, and Democrats have had sharp criticism for these picks, because they feel like they are in line with Donald Trump's sort of hard-line campaign promises on the campaign trail. A number of these picks have sparked controversies of their own accord.
But when it comes to Republicans who, of course, are going to have the majority in the House and in the Senate come January, it's mostly positive and in part because they know some of these folks. Jeff Sessions, of course, serves in the Senate with a number of them who will have to vote on his confirmation, but also, you are hearing from a lot of Republicans that they really feel like the incoming president should have the opportunity to pick his own team.
[20:05:02] That certainly does not mean that Democrats are just going to sit back and not exact their pound of flesh in the confirmation hearings, though.
BERMAN: But it does mean they can't do a whole heck a lot besides trying to exact their pound of flesh.
Sara Murray, thanks so much.
Plenty to talk about tonight. Joining us is Matt Lewis, senior contributor at "The Daily Caller", Karine Jean-Pierre, national spokesperson for MoveOn.org, journalist, author and CNN political analyst Carl Bernstein, who it must be said, has aged a whole lot better than Dustin Hoffman. Also, Trump supporter Kayleigh McEnany, Democratic strategist Jonathan Tasini and "The Washington Post's" Philip Bump.
Phil, we're going to start with you. The three picks today, when you have, you know, you have Michael Flynn, you have Jeff Sessions. What does this say about Donald Trump's world view?
PHILIP BUMP, THE WASHINGTON POST: Well, I think it says that Donald Trump's worldview as expressed on the campaign trail is the world view he wants to bring into the White House. I mean, I think the point that Sara Murray made about how people are responding to it I think is valid, that there are a lot of folks who has hoped to see a different sort of Donald Trump in the White House. But these first three picks at least suggest that he's going to implement the sorts of policies he articulated.
He is going to be taking a strong stand on immigration. He's going to embrace the sort of international policies that he talked about on the campaign trail. It is very true to form and it is very true to him sticking with the loyal folks that have been there from the beginning. But it's also understandable why his opponents would be disconcerted.
BERMAN: But, Jonathan, you are one of these opponents. Is Donald Trump doing what he said he was going to do, appointing people who agreed with what he said during the campaign? Democrats shouldn't be surprised here, should they?
JONATHAN TASINI, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: If you are saying Donald Trump is a bigot and racist and con man and fraud is appointing people who are like him, that is correct. You've got Bannon, his choice as chief strategist, who's basically promoted racist, anti-gay, anti- women views via Breitbart. You've got Michael Flynn who said of Muslims that it is rational to fear them and spread a falsehood about Sharia law being spread in the United States.
And you've got Jeff Sessions who set up civil rights groups. They were un-American and communist inspired and then he praised the Confederate flag to talk about it being a fabulous accomplishment of our country. These are racists and bigots and people who are intolerant and that is Donald Trump's world view.
KAYLEIGH MCENANY, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: That is really sad.
TASINI: No, it's actually fact. I know you are going to try to spin this as not true, Kayleigh, because you have done that for a year, but this is the man who's a bigot.
BERMAN: Let's let Kayleigh talk.
MCENANY: This is what the left does. They tried --
TASINI: No, we try to talk truth.
MCENANY: Let me speak, Jonathan.
TASINI: Go ahead.
MCENANY: They did this to Ronald Reagan. You had the media calling him --
TASINI: No, that's --
MCENANY: Yes, yes, you did. It is historical. It is factual.
TASINI: Nobody called Ronald Reagan a bigot. BERMAN: Let's Kayleigh talk and then I'll let you respond.
MCENANY: The left tries to do this to Ronald Reagan. Voters were told, this is "Esquire Magazine", if you are voting for Ronald Reagan," you are like a good German in Hitler's Germany. They tried to do it to Donald Trump.
Guess what? Ronald Reagan won the elections. Donald Trump just won one. So, now, the effort is to call Steve Bannon a racist, to call Jeff Sessions a racist, to call Mike Flynn Islamophobic. The American people don't buy it, they saw right through your attempt to do it in the election and they voted Donald Trump to the White House.
BERMAN: On Mike Flynn, he did say that Islam is a political ideology hiding as a religion. He did say that?
TASINI: Kayleigh doesn't want to deal with fact.
MCENANY: Islam, much of Islam actually --
BERMAN: He didn't say much. He just said Islam is a political ideology --
MCENANY: I listen to Mike Flynn's RNC speech and Mike Flynn said repeatedly the enemy is radical Islam. He believes radical Islam --
TASINI: No, he did not.
MCENANY: Yes, go back and watch the RNC --
TASINI: Look at his tweet. It says fear of Muslims is rational. He did what Donald Trump did, which he's painted a whole group of people as enemies.
BERMAN: Let me say this though, Carl, because the one thing that is apparent from this discussion and I'll euphemistically call it a discussion right here, is that these picks show that Donald Trump in a way doesn't care about appearances. He doesn't care that this is not being seen as reaching across the aisle here.
CARL BERNSTEIN, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Oh I think he does care about appearances and I think this is exactly the appearance that he wants created. This is -- these four appointments, including Bannon plus the three national security picks and Sessions represent a hugely divisive statement for the beginning of a presidency. And set up the fact that we are not going to move towards unity in this country after this election.
These choices reflect what he said in the campaign at his most extreme. In terms of how we look at Muslims and how we take on ISIS, which is a strategy that he is enunciated that might lose us rather than have us win in this terrible struggle against radical Islamic terrorism. And I'll use that phrase. But it is a very, very dangerous strategy he's embarked on. Hillary Clinton did win the popular vote. Now the reason I bring that up --
BERMAN: That is a participation medal at this point.
BERNSTEIN: It is not. It is an indication of how divided the country is and what President Obama tried do and it is clear he did not succeed, this that meeting with Donald Trump was to try and move Trump towards unifying the country.
[20:10:09] We're not going there. That is what these picks mean. We are in for a terrible kind of conflict between two different visions of America such as we saw in the campaign. And there is no attempt in these picks to bridge that reality.
MATT LEWIS, THE DAILY CALLER: You are forgetting about the best, the most important pick is Mike Pence who I think is a mainstream serious conservative who is going to be a heart beat away from the presidency. Reince Priebus, who's actually the chief of staff who I think you may not agree with him, but he's a mainstream sort of establishment Republican.
We don't know what other picks are going to happen, but of these three I would say, if nothing else, they are highly qualified. We've got one U.S. senator. We've got a guy, Mike Pompeo, who's going to be head of the CIA who finished first in his class at West Point. You've got Flynn who served his country for 30 years, who was Barack Obama's head of the DIA.
So, these are not ridiculous picks that Donald Trump has made. And what if he picks Mitt Romney for secretary of state.
BERNSTEIN: I didn't use the word ridiculous.
Let's take a look at Flynn. Flynn had a somewhat distinguished military record and even the closest of his colleagues now say he has flipped out since he left the service. That he's intemperate and that he states very dangerous views. That he is not factual. That he's off the reservation of sensible discourse. That is the rap.
LEWIS: I object to the off the reservation line.
BERNSTEIN: That is the rap on him from those who know him best.
BERMAN: Karine, Jeff Sessions as attorney general. Jeff Sessions?
BERNSTEIN: Jeff Sessions is an interesting case. Let's see --
BERMAN: Is your name Karine?
BERNSTEIN: Oh, I'm sorry.
BERMAN: No, I was just saying Karine.
KARINE JEAN-PIERRE, MOVEON.ORG: You are vibing --
BERMAN: Jeff Sessions, you know, Carl is making the point here that these picks are hard line and extreme. Jeff Sessions is a sitting U.S. senator, been a senator for 20 years. And a lot of Democrats and I'm sure you probably do not agree with him on many points. It's a pit with consequences, right? The Justice Department is a place where you can make big changes and someone with Jeff Session's views can change a lot.
JEAN-PIERRE: Yes, that's exactly right. Look, this is somebody who was too racist, right, to be given a federal judgeship back in the 1980s. That's who Jeff Session is.
And it's not just the racism which is disturbing within itself, but when the tape came out, right? When the "Access Hollywood" tape came out, he said that grabbing women by the genitalia is not sexual assault. So, he has no business, you know, fighting or ensuring that our civil rights laws are being put forth or even running the office of violence against women, right? He has no business doing that.
But I do want to get on another point here to Steve Bannon -- I really want people to understand how dangerous that is. And the thing about Steve Bannon is he's the whisperer. He's going to be the person that is going to be in closest proximity to Donald Trump and who Donald Trump is going to listen to.
And we have to understand that when we call him a white supremacist, because when he took over Breitbart, it became a white -- a hot bed for white nationalism. That is what it did. And also it gave rebirth to the KKK.
Let's talk about the KKK for just one second here. The KKK, Ku Klux Klan, terrorized African-Americans by either it was lynching, bombing or raping. There was a study that came out in 2015 by the Equal Justice Initiative that said from 1877 to 1950, nearly 4,000 black women, black men, black children were lynched in 12 southern states. So this is the reality that we're dealing with.
LEWIS: Did you know that Jeff Sessions as the U.S. attorney prosecuted 10 Klansmen?
JEAN-PIERRE: Let me finish here more a second --
LEWIS: Well, I don't know how --
JEAN-PIERRE: When we say -- come on, don't be rude. Let me just finish my statement.
LEWIS: I mean, just let me know --
JEAN-PIERRE: When we're talking about the Steve Bannon, right? So, that is the fear that we all have.
Thank you, is that OK for you? All right.
LEWIS: I was just going to say that as a U.S. attorney Jeff Sessions prosecuted Klansmen who murdered an African American boy. And I don't think a lot of people are talking about that. And by the way, the so- called racist things he said, I don't know if he said them or not. He might have said them. It is hearsay. That is what other people have --
BERMAN: Hang on.
BERMAN: Guys, we're going talk a lot more about Jeff Sessions right after the quick break here.
Stick around. A closer look at the background of Senator Sessions for clues about his feelings on all the subjects we're talking about. And the direction he may lead the Justice Department in over the next several years.
Also, what some Trump supporters think of the makeup of Trump's picks so far.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
[20:15:01] REPORTER: As of now, it's been all white men into the cabinet. Is that okay with you?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It is, yes.
REPORTER: But would you like to see a woman?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I would. Yes I would.
REPORTER: But not necessarily. If everyone's qualified, they are all white men, that's okay with you?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It is.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BERMAN: We've been talking, in some cases shouting, about the controversies surrounding Donald Trump's choice for attorney general.
Late today, Senator Jeff Sessions got the thumbs up from Democratic Senator Joe Manchin of West Virginia who called Sessions a friend with whom he can work. He's not, as you saw, before the break, getting rave reviews from everybody, especially in civil rights community, especially over where he might take civil rights and voting rights enforcement.
CNN justice correspondent Pamela Brown has been looking into the senator's background, his record and where he stands. She joins us now.
Pamela, first, what can you -- tell us more about the allegations against Senator Sessions when he was nominated to be a federal judge in the 1980s.
PAMELA BROWN, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Right. He was nominated by President Reagan in the 1980s. And several of his colleagues came forward at that time to testify against Jeff Sessions, saying that he made racist comments in the workplace. One of his former colleagues said that he called the NAACP "un-American and communist-inspired. Another African-American attorney who worked with him said that he called him boy, and that he joked about the Ku Klux Klan, saying that he liked them until he found out that they smoked marijuana.
[20:20:06] And so, with these people coming forward to make these allegations against him, basically claiming that he was racist, that derailed his nomination at the time, John.
BERMAN: And, Pamela, how unusual was it for him at the time to be denied a seat on the bench?
BROWN: It was highly unusual. It was a big deal because there was a Republican majority in the committee that made the decision. And it was a 10-8 vote, voting against recommending to the Senate for him to be nominated and confirmed.
And two of the Republicans on this committee sided with the Democrats because of these allegations. And to put it in perspective at the time, he was only the second person denied to the federal judiciary in 48 years, John.
BERMAN: It was very big news at the time.
Pamela, what was the response from Jeff Sessions at that time.
BROWN: At the time, he angrily denied these accusations that he was racist. He did say he could be loose with his tongue at times and that he was just joking about KKK. He said he despise the KKK and he pointed to his own record that when he was a U.S. attorney in Alabama, he prosecuted the head of the KKK in Alabama who was charged with murdering an African American teenager and he also talked about how he was advocating for desegregation.
So, up until today, John, he continues to deny that he is a racist and denies those allegations, John.
BERMAN: All right. Pamela Brown for us in Washington -- thanks so much.
Back now with the panel which now include CNN legal analyst Laura Coates.
And, Laura, I want to start you. You heard Pamela's reporting there. Jeff Sessions denies a lot of the things that came up in this confirmation hearing in 1986. Nevertheless, the NAACP today came out and spoke against the nomination. A lot of Democrats on the Hill speaking against the nomination. What does it say to you that Donald Trump has selected Jeff Sessions to be his attorney general?
LAURA COATES, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Well, we seem to be reverting back to a period of time where apparently American was greater, and justice system sounded more like a condemnation of different races who were not a part of the majority.
And as a proud member and alum of the civil rights division of the Department of Justice, one thing I look at this and I say, the DOJ has had a very difficult time even with two successive African-Americans attorney general. Dealing with the backlash of the community who believe that the Justice Department is not serving their interests with respect to police shootings, excessive force, voting rights interests, et cetera.
And this seems to be kind of a piling on indication that this Justice Department may not be able to be responsive. If they were unable to be as responsive under either Holder or Lynch according to some members of the community, then most assuredly a man who's been charged with calling people boy who's a grown man and his colleague and having referenced the Klan as a punch line is not someone who's going to really elicit the type of faith you need to have the Justice Department would be successful as the backstop it's intended to be.
MCENANY: Well, as we know in the legal community, you can't take what one person said and treat it as absolute proof that he said those things. He's denied several of the things that were brought up in those 1986 hearings and, in fact, went on to gain the respect of some of the people who voted against him.
Arlen Specter, a Democratic senator, came out and said he wishes he could take his vote back --
BERMAN: He was a Republican at the time.
MCENANY: But he became a Democrat and said he finds Jeff Sessions to be very egalitarian. We ignored the fact that Jeff Sessions brought forth the Fair Sentencing Act of 2010 to remedy mandatory minimum sentencing, that sort of plagued largely the black community. He voted for an extension of the Civil Rights Act for 30 years. He voted to confirm Eric Holder.
We tend to forget the really nice and good things on someone's resume, and instead revert to the one or two things back in 1986 that may or may not be true.
COATES: Well, that's not what my focus is on. The racist rhetoric is what a part. And we know that with the majority of Republicans in the Senate, it is going to be a formality to have this hearing in general.
But what I focus is really about the Justice Department is intended to be a backstop when the community feels that they cannot have neutrality or objectivity between local prosecutors and people who they may have personal or perhaps prejudice with the officers.
And so, when you have a loss of faith and the ability of the Justice Department to actually enforce civil rights laws or actually serve those areas or promote them, you will have a deleterious impact in the community you are trying to serve. The focus on the rhetoric is but a mere part of it. The bigger focus is on the change that will come in the prosecutorial priorities of this new administration and that is going to change drastically.
BERMAN: One second, Carl.
Just on one point that Laura was making right there -- he's going to be confirmed. I mean, there is no absolutely no sense that he will not be confirmed. Republicans are unanimous as far as I can tell in the support. Democrats, Joe Manchin, albeit, you know, a conservative Democrat stood up in support of Jeff sessions today.
Is there any sign this won't be smooth sailing for him in the Senate?
[20:25:02] BUMP: I mean, smooth sailing and getting confirmed are two different things. I mean, I think the point that was just being made is about how the community is responding. How a community that is already nervous about the concept of President Trump, how that nervousness will translate into Democratic leaders, which I think were very much to be the case. We're going to hear a lot of this stuff over the course of the coming weeks.
You're absolutely right. He's almost certainly going to be confirmed, unless something else egregious, you know, fairly remarkable comes out. But, I mean, it's worth noting that the Donald Trump is going to be the president of the United States. He has an opportunity with these picks to send a message to the people who didn't support him about how he's going to lead the country. And that is I think the concern.
And it doesn't detract from this things he's done as senator, but it doesn't help make Donald Trump seem more palatable to the people who didn't support him.
BERNSTEIN: That is the sad news here. The Department of Justice, great attorney generals like Robert Kennedy. The reason we have civil rights in this country and they have been enforced is because of great attorneys general.
Jeff Sessions is not someone who has made his mark by becoming a great advocate for civil rights in this country. That's the sadness of this.
Look, there have been people who were in the Ku Klux Klan and senators from Alabama. Namely Hugo Black who became a great liberal Supreme Court justice and was confirmed by the Senate after he had been a member of the Ku Klux Klan. I don't think we're going to see -- I would love it, if Jeff Sessions becomes a great advocate for civil rights for all Americans. But he's going to win in the confirmation hearing. But you can't look at this appointment separate from the other four
names we've been talking about and what that signal is to all Americans of where Donald Trump is going. And they are quite frankly poking in the eye.
BERMAN: What about the signal? He's five for five on white men here, first of all. I mean, you have five names. They are all white men.
What signal does that send?
LEWIS: Well, look, first of all, I would say I don't think anybody says you know what? I really wish we had a different attorney general or a different chief of staff. I think that at the end of the day, if Donald Trump can turn the economy around, can make people feel better about America, more optimistic, then he'll be a success.
LEWIS: If he gets Michelle Rhee in the Department of Education and does the whole waiting for superman thing, school choice, which could I think you have African-American children better options with education, I mean, it's not over. We're still be getting part of this.
But, would I like to see more diversity early on in these picks? Absolutely.
JEAN-PIERRE: Look, he's sending a strong signal, right?
He had the opportunity to bring this country together. There's always been this myth about two Donald Trumps. Well, you know what, we can finally dispel this myth. There is one Donald Trump. It's the same Donald Trump we saw in the campaign and we have to believe his actions, right?
His words are not what we should be listening to. It is actually his actions and what he's done is, instead of like I said, trying to bring the country together, he's rewarding and put a high premium on loyalty.
LEWIS: I thought there was like a pause.
JEAN-PIERRE: Geez. Just stop. Just stop. Thank you.
And secondly, the other thing is he is creating this credo where his administration is going to be basically a white nationalism. That is what he's creating by picking these majority of his picks having this racial insensitive background.
BERMAN: Matt --
LEWIS: Is there a break where -- BERMAN: Go ahead, Matt.
LEWIS: I don't understand how the guy who's picked to be the head of the defense intelligence agency somehow is not bringing America together or even impacts in any way.
BERMAN: Matt, we're talking about Michael Flynn. Michael Flynn says Islam is a political ideology that --
LEWIS: Do you8 think that anybody in America care whose Michael Flynn is and that sends a --
LEWIS: Little kids are quivering today about Mike Flynn.
COATES: The ones who turn 18 in times of service would quiver if there is a notion that the head or former head of the DIA has this very --
LEWIS: If he can stop a terrorist attack, then I'll be happy.
MCENANY: Some of my colleagues on the left would stop and take a breath and listen to the president of the United States and the Democratic nominee who said, give this guy a chance. Let's unify.
To call someone racist, that's an egregious term to. To say this is an administration of white supremacists, that's deeply irresponsible.
Let's follow the lead of our president. Let's follow the lead of our president-elect and let's unite as a country and give this guy a chance because if Donald Trump succeeds, America succeeds. That's what Obama said and he couldn't be more correct.
BERMAN: All right. Let's do this, let's take a break right now. We're going to continue the conversation throughout the evening.
Just ahead, more on what Carl Bernstein was just talking about. The complexion, if you will, of Donald Trump's picks so far, culturally and politically. I want to speak with CNN political commentator David Axelrod who has been pretty candid in his criticism on Twitter so far.
BERMAN: We're talking about the signal that president-elect Trump appeared to send today. Three picks to fill National Security positions, three white men who each come with some degree of controversy, whether for pass statements, actions or positions. Three men that seem to reinforce positions or views held by Donald Trump that are seen by critics to be either hard line or according to critics offensive.
Lots to talk about with CNN senior political commentator and former Obama senior advisor David Axelrod.
David, you've been pretty vocal on Trump's transition choices so far at least on Twitter. Today you wrote Donald Trump sticking with those who brought him to the dance but to many Americans it will seem a monsters ball. What do you mean?
DAVID AXELROD, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Yeah. Well look, he -- I mean if you want to give him credit, give him credit for sticking to the pledges that he's made in terms of the tone of his administration through the appointments that he's made.
[20:35:01] But if you are -- if you are an immigrant, if you are a minority in the country, Jeff Sessions as attorney general is going to be unsettling, because he's been one of the leading proponents against or a proponents for crack downs on immigration against immigration reform in the U.S. Senate. He had a history in the past of a statements and actions that called into question his racial attitudes.
In the Department of Justice those are big concerns. General Flynn, fine intelligence officer but he's shown himself in this campaign to be a kind of incendiary figure not just because of this attitudes on Islam, which he refuses to acknowledge is a faith or religion. But also leading the chant of lock her up at the Republican convention.
Now he's the National Security advisor coordinating America's foreign policy for the president and being the most important foreign policy advisor to the president. I think Congressman Pompeo and CIA post taking a very conservative Republican member of Congress who was in the middle of the Benghazi hearings and putting him in charge of the intelligence community and the intelligence network.
Now, I bet you intelligence professionals and civil libertarians are going to have some concerns about that. But these are all people consistent with the kind of positioning that Donald Trump took in the campaign. And I think at some point you have to say he meant what he said and he said what he meant. And he's going to try to govern the way he campaigned.
BERMAN: These are the people who are with him. These are people with spousal abuse that he supposed during the campaign, but if you are looking for signs of outreach David across the aisle or ideologies, I mean this is the opposite of that.
AXELROD: Without question. You know, the appointment -- I found the appointment of Reince Priebus' as the chief of staff somewhat reassuring because so -- well I disagree with Reince on a lot of things, he is someone who has an appreciation for the institutions of government and politics.
Steve Bannon obviously is a different case and has created a lot of concern. But these appointments were not reaching out appointments. These were retrenching appointments. These were a statement to the base and the world that the statements I made in the campaign are now going to be carried forward into an administration.
BERMAN: Now, on the subject of what's been happening within the transition, the structure, and the speed, the efficiency in which it's been working, you are perhaps unlikely defender here. I mean you've pointed out that basically ... AXELROD: Yeah.
BERMAN: ... they're not doing this anymore slowly than any transition really has in the past.
AXELROD: No. In fact I think these appointments came earlier than the ones that Barack Obama made when I was working for him in 2008. This is -- this was a bum rap that they had discouraged appointments fasten. Now, frankly looking at some of these appointments, I wish he had taken a little more time. But, you know, it is not right to say he hasn't moved fast enough. This is a difficult process. You have to interview people and you meet with your advisors and go through the pluses and minuses. And it should take some time. And so people should not jump on him about that. They can be critical of the appointments. But I don't think at the pace of them.
BERMAN: David Axelrod, great to see you. Thanks so much.
AXELROD: All right John. Good to be with you.
BERMAN: Up next, more on tonights breaking news. Donald Trump reversing course and agreeing to settle three Trump University lawsuits for $25 million. So why did he change his mind? And what does the reversal mean for his carefully constructed reputation as a fighter?
[20:42:46] BERMAN: Back to the breaking news. President-elect Trump has agreed to pay $25 million to settle three lawsuits against Trump University. The deal will keep him from having to testify in a trial in San Diego that was set to begin in November 28th in this also a 180 on his earlier position on settling suits.
Joining me now, Trump biographer Michael D'Antonio, he is the author of "The Truth about Trump." Also back with us, CNN analyst and former federal prosecutor Laura Coates.
And Laura, you know, the fact that Donald Trump decided to settle now, is it a big concession, it's a $25 million concession especially given that he's always denied any wrong doing and continues denying wrong doing.
LAURA COATES, CNN ANALYST: It is a concession, but it's less than the original suit they was actually issue against him. He was sued over $40 million. So it's a little bit of a bargain for him. But the rerouting (ph) here for him is that, look this would have dragged out in court, it would have drag to depositions. There is not just the financial struggle it's a lose word for what Donald Trump has to pay have to deal, but also if they having to be deposed. No sitting president has ever been deposed and his trial would start out next Monday.
So the idea that he has this burden off his shoulders actually clears the path to say listen, I always told you that my conflict of interest. I would never subordinate the country under my actual business dealings and this actually demonstrates just that.
BERMAN: It is $25 million just for those us who don't deal in sums this large and ...
COATES: Oh you don't?
BERMAN: ... like this. God know, I hope not. Is it a lot of money?
COATES: You know, for this settlement, no. We're talk about 6,000 actual lawsuits. 20,000 or $20 million and they go towards California people, $3 million to the New York people and $1 million in fines. And that's where the issue here. It's actual punitive damage that given to Donald Trump. Saying listen, we know there was a hustle that went on here and you're admitting that you were not really a university. And sense you that took notice (ph) for us. And so in that respect it's not a lot of money, but it's very, very telling.
BERMAN: So Michael, no one Trump the way you do, how difficult do you think it was for him to come to these terms, especially since he claimed. He claimed that he doesn't settle lawsuits.
MICAHEL D'ANTONIO, TRUMP BIOGRPAHER: Well tears (ph) are Donald words, it was huge. You know, this is really an admission that he did something wrong and he wasn't willing to fight over it. Donald has insisted his whole life he doesn't settle, especially if things got a case that he thinks he can win.
[20:45:11] But he's hurt so many people in this case. I've met many of them. And it's a profound loss for a lot of them. It was their life savings.
BERMAN: And just to be clear again he has admitted no wrong doing here ...
D'ANTONIO: Well the money implies that he did.
BERMAN: Yeah, I mean but there are plenty of people who settle lawsuits who ...
D'ANTONIO: Not this guy.
BERMAN: He never settles he lawsuits, you don't think?
D'ANTONIO: Almost the first thing he said to me was don't slip and fall on the floor downstairs because if you sue me I'll fight you.
BERMAN: What about the civil rights case, the housing case in the '70s?
D'ANTONIO: Well he didn't admit that was settled until he was forced to admit it. He used to say, well we didn't settle anything. We won. Well, he didn't win. He was ordered to change the practices of the company and he did. So, you know, there are signs in all of these things. In our system money talks. And Donald understands that money talks. And it's a big amount to him. He bragged to me about the first check he got for "The Apprentice". It was $11 million. This is bigger than that.
BERMAN: And Laura the whole reason you think so he didn't have to sit there and answer questions being deposed?
COATES: Absolutely. I mean this is a trend his now doing and also happened in Florida where he was suing for air traffic control going over one of his resorts. He's dismissed that lawsuit as well. I mean there may be a growing trend where he is deciding to prioritize his role as the president-elect which would be a good thing over these lawsuits, but reality let's just be clear. He has not admitted to any kind of fault. That is the beauty of a civil lawsuit. And in fact, I think probably in his mind the idea that he was saying hyperbole about never settling, can still reconcile with his current state.
BERMAN: So Michael, you know, we're talk about the Donald Trump as settling matters with his business empire here. Last night he met with the prime minister of japan, Prime Minister Abe and in the room for at least part, maybe all of it we don't know was his daughter Ivanka Trump. You know, and a lot of people have been wondering will he separate himself from the family business interests. Will his kids be involved in the governing and there she was in that room. What does that tell you?
D'ANTONIO: I think is very difficult for him to pull back from these family advisors. He's written that he is a somewhat paranoid guy. And he believes in the closest circle enjoying the most trust. And I think it is going to be very hard for him. I think it is hard for Ivanka too. If she asks for her help she's going to be inclined to give it. But in the context of diplomacy and international relations they may be making different decisions.
BERMAN: And so the "Wall Street Journal" and other people have suggested this as well now. Suggesting that Donald Trump potentially liquidate his holdings. Basically cash in on everything to eliminate the appearance of impropriety any appearance of conflict of interest, would Trump ever do that?
D'ANTONIO: No. No, that's not his style and I think that's a pretty extreme proposal. I think to deprive all of his heirs of these business enterprises wouldn't be fair. But I suspect there's more that could be done to eliminate the gross appearance of conflict which will arise almost daily if ...
BERMAN: It already has. It already has.
BERMAN: If the illegal and to Laura, to disentangling, you know, something, an empire of his size. It's got to be next to impossible.
COATES: It would take Herculean efforts and that is the very reason why although congressional members have to have these conflicts checked out and cannot have these things, the president and vice president have always been exempt from that for the very reason you just stated. And for someone like Donald Trump where the presumption is not a that businessman would actually be holding office, and sort the presidency that is the issue.
But you're correct. There is more than a hint of impropriety. The tanglements he has are with countries that certainly have a stake in our global position in this world. I think it would be very prudent for him to try to at least operate in akin to a blind trust.
BERMAN: Well, so far the things that suggested are neither blind nor trust but we talk about that a different time. Michael, Laura, thanks so much ...
BERMAN: ... appreciated.
Up next, we're going to take you to Alabama, a state that went heavily for Donald Trump in last this election to see what people there think about what others call the controversies surrounding Donald Trump's staff picks.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GARY TUCHMAN, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPODENT: Jeff Sessions in 1986 wanted to be a federal judge. He was rejected by a Republican committee because of racially charged comments he made, he called the NAACP, the ACLU communist inspired, un-American. Do you think that should disqualify?
PATRICK GRIZZA, ALABAMA VOTER: No, because 30 years ago that's was some common.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
[20:53:05] BERMAN: You heard at the top of the program, the reporting about Donald Trump's picks for National Security adviser, head of the CIA, and his attorney general. You also heard at the top of the program a lot of noise of people being made about some things that these men have said in the past about certain minority groups. But what about people in states that voted for Donald Trump, far away from Washington, D.C. and New York. What do they think about these picks?
We asked Gary Tuchman to go find out.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TUCHMAN: In tiny Heflin, Alabama, the cabinet nomination of Alabama's own Jeff Sessions is the talk of the town.
RICK KISGORE, ALABMA VOTER: I was surprised by glorified. I'm just overjoyed with it. I think he's doing to do us a great job.
TUCHMAN: Heflin, the county seated of Cleburne County is where we came to talk about Sessions and other Trump cabinet nominees.
As of now, it's been all white men into the cabinet. Is that OK with you?
NANCY BINION, ALABMA VOTER: It is, yes.
TUCHMAN: But would you like to see a woman?
BINION: I would. Yes I would.
TUCHMAN: But not necessarily is qualified they're all white me, that's OK with you?
BINION: It is.
WANDA SMITH, ALABAMA VOTER: I'm not a feminist, so -- it doesn't matter with me one way or another, as long as they know how to do their job.
TUCHMAN: 88percent of Cleburne County voters cast their ballots for Donald Trump, so they are loyal to him as well as Sessions. But we had questions.
Jeff Sessions in 1986 wanted to be a federal judge. He was rejected by a Republican committee because of racially charged comments he made, he called the NAACP, the ACLU communist inspired, un-American. Do you think that should disqualify?
GRIZZA: No, because 30 years ago that's was some common for someone to say.
TUCHMAN: If he said something like more recently, few years ago or last year, would you think that would be enough to disqualify him?
BINION: 30 years ago, I went to an all-white school, or maybe longer than 30 years, but when I was in high school, I went to an all-white school and they had an black all school. I was all for deck, because I didn't know any better.
TUCHMAN: So you feel he didn't know my better back then?
BINION: Well, there's a chance he didn't.
TUCHMAN: If he made those comments today ...
[20:55:03] BINION: Well, it would bother me, yes, it would.
TUCHMAN: And what about the nominee for National Security adviser, Lieutenant General Michael Flynn ...
LT. GEN. MICHAEL FLYNN, U.S. ARMY RETIRED: Lock her up, that's right.
TUCHMAN: ... who was a fiery and controversial advocate for Trump on the campaign trail.
He in the past has talked about Islam and he said that Islam definitely hides behind being a religion as a political ideology. Did that trouble you?
AMANDA JOHNSON, ALABAMA VOTER: I don't think that's true. That may be his opinion, but I don't think it's true.
TUCHMAN: So does it bother you? Should that disqualify him from being the National Security adviser, if he's acknowledged making those comments?
JOHNSON: Well, maybe he knows a heck of a lot more than about it than I do.
TUCHMAN: And then there's the other nominee of the day, Congressman Mike Pompeo for CIA chief. Few we talked to knows much about him, but this woman believes the congressman may not have the proper experience to run the CIA.
Does that trouble you?
CAROLYN LIMON, ALABAM VOTER: A little, yes, sir. If he don't have the experience, yes.
TUCHMAN: I mean but Donald Trump picked him.
LIMON: Yeah, well, we can't agree with everything he does.
TUCHMAN: But in this small town, there seems to be a general agreement that the presidential transition is going just fine.
Do you think there are some people in this country, the po1itical establishment, the news media, who just don't get it?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They never had it. I'm serious.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BERMAN: All right, Gary Tuchman joins us right now from Atlanta. So Gary, curious, did you run into any Hillary Clinton voters out there today?
TUCHMAN: John, it's not easy to find a Hillary Clinton voter in a tiny county where 88 percent of the people voted for Donald Trump. But there was one woman I talked to who hadn't told her family and friends yet that she may never do so that she voted for Hillary Clinton, so she didn't want to go on camera, but she told me that she felt that her Senator Sessions and General Flynn, neither of them qualify for these spots, because she feels they both have skeletons in their closets. John?
BERMAN: All right Gary Tuchman, thanks so much.
In the next hour of "360," president-elect Trump's weekend plans, maybe some golf, but he's also going to meet face to face with Mitt Romney, who called him a phony and a fraud during the campaign. And Trump didn't have nice words for Romney, either. Will that all be history and could Mitt Romney join the Trump cabinet?
Some thoughts on that, ahead.