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AT THIS HOUR WITH BERMAN AND MICHAELA
Trump Announces 3 National Security Appointments; Romney to Meet with Trump this Weekend. Aired 11-11:30a ET
Aired November 18, 2016 - 11:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
[11:00:00] ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.
JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Hello, everyone. I'm John Berman.
KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: Hello, everyone. I'm Kate Bolduan.
Breaking news this morning. President-elect Donald Trump making big announcements, key national security posts for his administration. Alabama Senator Jeff Sessions nominated for attorney general. He was the first sitting Senator to endorse Donald Trump, a long-time supporter and adviser throughout the campaign. Congressman Mike Pompeo nominated for CIA director. The Kansas lawmakers sit on the House Intelligence Committee. And for national security adviser, Donald Trump has chosen retired three-star general, Michael Flynn. Flynn has been advising Trump from early on in the campaign.
BERMAN: All three have accepted. At least two, Flynn and Sessions, bring with them some questions and controversies, which we will discuss.
Then there are the jobs still to fill. On that front, would there be a major surprise brewing? President-elect Trump plans to meet this weekend with Mitt Romney. The same Mitt Romney who called Trump a fraud and a phony. It's possible, we are told, the two will at least discuss, discuss the possibility of Romney serving as secretary of state.
A lot to cover this morning. Let's begin with CNN's Sunlen Serfaty outside Trump Tower - Sunlen?
SUNLEN SERFATY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, with Donald first big picks, it's safe to say the first contours of a Trump administration are really trying to take shape here. The formal announcement coming from the transition team in the last hour in which Donald Trump noted Senator Sessions' appointment to attorney general, said he is a world- class legal mind. But as you noted before, fair to say there are some concerns on Capitol Hill and, potentially, some concerns behind the scenes within the transition team whether he will face a tough Senate confirmation given the allegations of past remarks he made which were seen as racist 30 years ago.
We just got off a call with the transition team. And they were asked this question, the very first question on this conference call, and it was very clear they had their pushback ready and waiting. Jason Miller, communications director for the transition team, really came with a whole laundry list of items they think prove that Senator Sessions has allegations won't have lasting potential. He says, look, this is someone who voted for the extension of the Civil Rights Act. He also noted that Sessions voted to confirm Attorney General Eric Holder. He even talked about how Sessions voted for giving Rosa Parks the Congressional Medal of Honor.
The work here at Trump Tower continues. Donald Trump will be meeting for a two-hour meeting with his full transition team later today, including Vice President Mike pence, who we saw enter the short time ago.
We also know he's going to be meeting with Governor Mike Huckabee. His name under consideration, we know, according to sources, for potentially Commerce secretary, potentially, secretary of HHS, Health and Human Services.
And tomorrow, of course, John and Kate, that big meeting on the agenda for Donald Trump in Bedminster, New Jersey. He will sit down with Mitt Romney, a former rival, very big critic during the campaign. But transition officials saying this morning that he's open to all ideas about how to move forward. We know, according to sources, they will discuss the potential of Romney potentially serving in his cabinet. We know he's under consideration for secretary of state -- John and Kate?
BOLDUAN: Lot of names going on, lot going on in Trump Tower right now.
Sunlen, thank you so much.
One of those names, Congressman Mike Pompeo, well known on Capitol Hill, but maybe perhaps lesser known to the public, and Trump's new national security team at this moment.
Let's go to CNN political reporter, Manu Raju, for more on this.
Manu, Mike Pompeo, Manu just got a very high-profile promotion. What does he bring to this new job, if confirmed?
MANU RAJU, CNN SENOR POLTICAL REPORTER: Kate, he was elected in 2010 in the Republican wave and he is known for political combat, including winning a vicious GOP primary in 2014 to win back his seat. He also has staunchly conservative views that are in line with Donald Trump's, including rolling back the Iran deal, calling for stricter immigration controls, and far more domestic surveillance, similar to what Donald Trump has been calling for. Pompeo is a Harvard Law School grad who was actually first in his class at West Point University. After he was elected to the House, he quickly gained the trust of then-Speaker John Boehner, who helped him get key committee assignments usually reserved for more senior members, including on energy and commerce and the Intelligence Committee.
He was added to the House Committee investigating the 2012 Benghazi attacks. On that committee, Pompeo was just not satisfied with the Republican-led investigations' findings, so he issued a separate report with Congressman Jim Jordan that squarely laid the blame of the Benghazi attacks at the feet of Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama.
Pompeo also not afraid to ruffle some feathers. He was considering a primary challenge against Republican Senator Jerry Moran this election cycle. Republican Senators were so concerned that the National Republican Senatorial Committee even hired a retired FBI agent to dig up dirt against Pompeo. He got pressured to stay out, according from Paul Ryan, and ultimately Pompeo did. Perhaps that was the right decision because now he may be CIA director, assuming he wins Senate confirmation - Kate and John?
[11:05:32] BOLDUAN: Mike Pompeo saying thank you for putting that investigator on me.
BOLDUAN: Manu, great to see you. Thanks.
Joining us now for much more on all this breaking news is CNN political director, David Chalian; Mary Katharine Ham, CNN political commentator and senior writer for "The Federalist"; Jim Sciutto, CNN chief national security correspondent; and Phil Mudd, CNN counterterrorism analyst and former CIA counterterrorism official.
Guys, great to have you.
Mary Katharine, let's go through the big announcements today that we know. First, let's talk about the attorney general, Jeff Sessions. The nominated attorney general Jeff Sessions. Your thoughts?
MARY KATHARINE HAM, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: The thing that strikes me about all of these is they are on brand. They are not guys who are pushing back a bunch on Donald Trump. They are people who will be in his wheelhouse. But they are serious folks and people who are known on Capitol Hill.
Sessions, for his part, is going to get some complaints about the racial remarks that were alleged that derailed a judge position for him in the past. But the collegial nature of the Senate means he's going up against folks he knows and they have a tendency to want to confirm their own.
The other issue for him, he was instrumental in passing the Fair Sentencing Act, which is a mandatory minimums law that was designed to fix disproportionate problems for African-Americans in sentencing for drug crimes. There are different parts of his resume to look at on that point.
BERMAN: It's fascinating, all three jobs are hugely important. That, in and of itself, is big news. It also tells us, David Chalian, a lot about what the Trump administration will be like. And it also tells us I think what the Trump transition thinks about the confirmation process, to which I say, I don't think they are terribly concerned about the confirmation process.
Jeff Sessions brings with him this baggage as a federal judge, nominated federal judge in 1986. He was rejected in committee, one of, I think, only two federal judge nominees ever to be rejected, a U.S. attorney, assistant U.S. attorney said he called him boy. There were other folks who said he said disparaging things about the NAACP. But the Trump transition doesn't seem concerned.
How much do you think Democrats will fight this in the Senate?
DAVID CHALIAN, CNN POLITICS DIRECTOR: There will be some of it. There's no doubt about it. Remember, of course, I don't think Democrats are going to sort of filibuster this nomination, as Mary Katharine was just saying. It is the Senate club, and this is one of their own. And those are comments from decades ago. And so, he clearly will be challenged on them. He will have to explain them. You heard the Trump transition is already getting their talking points out there about his evolution on issues related to race, pointing to different pieces of his record. But he's going to face this and he's going to have to deal with these comments. We have to remember the context in which he's going to deal with it, guys. This is after -- remember, half the country, the half that voted for Hillary Clinton, predominantly non-white supporters of Hillary Clinton in that half -- this is the concern that they have been expressing since the election loss on their side. And so, I do think Sessions' nomination sort of will exacerbate that concern from some Democrats and Clinton supporters, minority populations. I do think the burden will be on Sessions to assuage those concerns. I don't see anything yet from any comment from any Senator that somehow the nomination will be derailed because of it.
BOLDUAN: I agree on that one.
Let's talk about the president-elect's nominee now for CIA director, Mike Pompeo.
Jim, I know Pompeo from Capitol Hill from covering him, of course. He's on the House Intel Committee. But within the Intel community, what's the view of him?
JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF NATIONIAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: He's getting some bipartisan praise today. It's interesting, you saw very quickly the ranking member on the House Intelligence Committee, Adam Schiff, praising him as a choice. You saw Evan McMullin, who ran against Donald Trump, with a CIA past himself, praising Pompeo. You are getting that kind of praise. He's respected in that field. Michael Hayden, former CIA director, said he was heartened by this choice.
But I will say this, he's got the background and the intelligence. Top of his class at West Point. He's a military veteran. But on issues, there are some real differences with current policy. Ad this gives you a sense of the direction that Donald Trump may be pushing things. One, John, you mentioned this earlier, or Manu mentioned this earlier, support for greater domestic surveillance. He opposes the closure of Guantanamo Bay. He opposes the ban of torture for use with interrogation of terror suspects. It's actually interesting, we should be asking the Democratic
supporters who are saying they are happy with this choice, those are fundamental differences not just from Democrats but even from some Republicans on an issue like torture.
[11:10:13] SCIUTTO: So he represents, despite a background that will likely get him through confirmation, big change on major intelligence issues.
BERMAN: It tells you something when we have seen the most conventional pick so far. And Mike Pompeo was seen as the most conventional pick so far. It does come with these issues which are drastically different than the current situation.
Phil Mudd, you worked in the CIA. I'm very curious what you think the opinion will be among CIA employees, agents, officials around the world, of this change. What do they think when someone new comes in, someone like Congressman Pompeo, who was an elected official?
PHIL MUDD, CNN COUNTERTERRORISM ANALYST: Boy, that is an insular skeptical organization. I think he will have a chance there. I think they will give him a chance. But you should think of this, John, as two dogs sniffing each other on the street when they meet.
When he walks into the office, they will have a couple of key questions.
BOLDUAN: I love that imagery.
MUDD: You like that?
I'm telling you, that's a tough place to get into.
Let me give you the key question that will come up, and let me use an example, the Iran nuclear deal. Pompeo was known as a Republican hammer on the Hill. He's got a brilliant reputation in terms of his resume. But he was highly partisan. When you shift over to the CIA, your responsibility is not to have a partisan view on the Iranian nuclear deal. It's to represent the facts that CIA spies uncover.
So, I think the question will be, can he make that transition from politician to somebody who represents the CIA work force. And believe me, they will be trying to figure that out from day one at the agency.
BOLDUAN: Mary Katharine, do you think that follows, especially on these big issues Jim laid out on Gitmo, on torture, on surveillance, and with the imagery as Phil Mudd paints, of what it's like to enter into the CIA?
BERMAN: I didn't know sniffing was part of the confirmation process. But it is 2016.
BOLDUAN: You will get to know that.
BOLDUAN: Exactly. It is 2016.
HAM: He was a West Point grad, right? So, he's been --
BERMAN: Number one in his class.
HAM: He's been in a situation where he has to listen to superiors and be an honest broker and not bring politics into the situation. That may do him some good.
He's also in favor of collection of metadata which had stop under the patriot act and just recently recalled, which might be something the CIA, certain operatives are into. I'm personally not.
But I think we are sort of seeing the "crazy like a fox" of Trump here, where each one of these guys, you will pick out -- people will pick out these issues and say, I have issues with this and this and this, but how often will -- like with General Flynn, it might be the Twitter thing -- like with Sessions, the comments with him, more policy -- but all of it will get through people will go, we didn't know who Trump was going to pick, but we feel OK about these guys..
BOLDUAN: That coming from you. "Crazy like a fox" was not how you were describing Donald Trump during the campaign.
HAM: No. I'm not turning around on Donald Trump's character. But I'm turning around on underestimating what he can do about it.
BERMAN: Mary Katharine mentioned the Twitter thing with General Flynn. I think there are people who will look at him and say it's more than just a Twitter thing. It's an Islam thing. General Flynn is on the record over the nation of Islam, with more than a billion adherents worldwide, saying it's basically not a religion. Let's listen to a little sound from him.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
LT. GEN. MICHAEL FLYNN, TRUMP APPOINTED NATIOINAL SECUITY ADVISOR: Islam is a political ideology. It is a political ideology. It definitely hides behind this notion of it being a religion.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BERMAN: Again, David Chalian, not a surprise to people who watched the campaign about General Flynn but what does this tell us about President-elect Trump and how he intends to govern going forward?
CHALIAN: We should remember that General Flynn is being appointed to a position that does not require Senate confirmation. BERMAN: Exactly.
CHALIAN: This is just the pick of Donald Trump. But it does, it indicates to us that the sort of hardline conservative rhetoric that we have heard for the last many years is going to be having a center seat in the oval office, in Donald Trump's West Wing, in Donald Trump's ear. Remember what the national security adviser does. He coordinates all that foreign policy. You have the secretary of state, secretary of defense coming into the national security adviser to then be the person that serves this up to the president for decision- making. So, when you hear a comment like that, that Islam is not a religion, you know, that is just a fundamentally flawed position from the outset, and one that, if that is the voice in Donald Trump's ear, is going to raise flags and concerns.
BOLDUAN: Phil, what's your take?
Jim, I hope I can get you both in.
Phil, what's your take on that when you hear a sound bite from a guy who I the national security adviser?
MUDD: Boy, this makes me uncomfortable. When you grow up in the government business, you are trained, it's in your DNA to say, when you advise the president of the United States, you need an even temperament. And getting out on the campaign trail and saying "lock her up" about Hillary Clinton, whether Democrat or Republican, suggests to me you have somebody in a national security position, somebody who was terminated as director of the Defense Intelligence Agency, who does not have a temperament for leadership.
Let me be clear. In my world, I don't know General Flynn. He's not taken as a serious player and thoughtful player on national security. So, in contrast to the CIA nomination, I think people in my world would really question this one.
[11:15:29] BERMAN: Jim, quick thought?
SCIUTTO: Just quickly, for Muslims, it's just not a fair thing to say about an entire faith. I spent a lot of time in the Middle East. I know Muslims who love their faith as much as any of us do, regardless of religion. To dismiss it entirely, is just a remarkable point of view to have whispering in the president's ear. I don't think we can underestimate that.
BERMAN: No. Again, literally, the people he's picked now, these are the people first in line in the Trump administration. And whether you agree with it or not, it does tell you something about the future Trump administration.
Guys, thanks so much. Great discussion.
BOLDUAN: Thanks, guys. BERMAN: So, Donald Trump, among other things, does appear to be rewarding loyalty. But there's a little bit of the reverse going on this weekend. Mitt Romney coming to town. Mitt Romney, who called Donald Trump a fraud and a phony and I think a flim-flam also. Can Mitt Romney and Donald Trump get along when they sit down together?
BOLDUAN: And his first face-to-face with a foreign leader. Who does the president-elect bring along? His son-in-law and his daughter. Up next, the blurred lines between family, business, and politics of the Trump transition so far.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
[11:20:29] MITT ROMNEY, (R), FORMER MASSACHUSETTS GOVERNOR & FORMER PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Donald Trump is a phony, a fraud.
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT-ELECT OF THE UNITED STATES: Mitt was a disaster as a candidate.
ROMNEY: He's playing the members of the American public for suckers.
TRUMP: Romney let us all down. He was a very poor campaigner.
ROMNEY: He gets a free ride to the White House and all we get is a lousy hat.
TRUMP: Romney choked like a dog. He choked. He went --
ROMNEY: His promises are as worthless as a degree from Trump University.
TRUMP: He was begging for my endorsement. I could have said, Mitt, drop to your knees. He would have dropped to his knees.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BOLDUAN: Wow. Look at that. Donald Trump and Mitt Romney, not exactly two men you would call friends or confidants. So why then are they set to sit down together this weekend? The word from sources is they are going to be discussing governing moving forward. Beyond the obvious question of what exactly does that really mean, could their chat also include talk of a Romney role in the Trump cabinet? Romney has told friends he wants to serve in government again and is interested in the role of secretary of state.
BERMAN: I want to bring in Lanhee Chen, a former adviser to Mitt Romney in both of his presidential campaigns.
Let me just preface all of this by saying I have seen that mash-up of sound a few times. We have all been involved with a lot of elections where people say mean things about each other, but then get together. This is more than that. The things these two guys said about each other is more than the normal saying mean things about each other during elections. Let's preface the whole thing by that.
Along those lines, Lanhee, level with us, how surprised were you to learn that governor Romney was going to meet with Donald Trump this weekend?
LAHNEE CHEN, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, obviously, the meeting itself came as news to me. What I will say is I think it's consistent with how Governor Romney has approached Donald Trump since the election, with the tweet and the congratulatory phone call. Governor Romney wants to help Donald Trump be successful now that he's the president-elect. Did I expect them to be meeting this weekend? No. No.
BOLDUAN: I love your honesty.
When you look at this meeting and you look at the talk of Romney love to serve in government again, he has been interested in the role of secretary of state, can you honestly see as we sit here right now, Lanhee, can you honestly see Romney serving in a Trump administration?
CHEN: Well, look, I think we have to approach all of this with a healthy dose of skepticism, because this is a period in the transition not just about specifically the situation between Governor Romney and Mr. Trump, just generally we are in a phase of the transition where you will just hear a lot of rumors.
That having been said, I think Governor Romney would be great in any role of public service. I voted for the guy for president again this year. That tells you how I believe -- what I think about his ability to serve and ability to be part of this. Obviously, there's a lot of water under that bridge so we have to see if they can cross that. But I think governor Romney would be great in any role.
BERMAN: I'm just wondering, Lanhee, for supporters like you and the millions of people who supported Mitt Romney, particularly the inner circle of folks who listened to him very, very carefully and listened to him going after Donald in direct terms during this election, is he now saying those words don't matter?
CHEN: No. I don't think so, John. I think, look, all the criticisms Governor Romney had during the campaign, those criticisms remain. In a lot of ways, I do think they color where we are now. But I think what Governor Romney is saying -- it's what President Obama said, what secretary Clinton said -- is now that we have a duly elected president-elect, we have to figure out how to come together to move the country forward. In particular, I think what Governor Romney is saying is there are policy areas where I actually may agree with Donald Trump, and in those areas, I would like to be helpful to him as he tries to govern come January.
BOLDUAN: But there are also areas where they can agree and he can help, but there are also real policy areas where they fundamentally disagree. Just on the approach and view of Russia. You remember very well what happened in 2012 and when, Mitt Romney said that Russia was the country's number-one geopolitical foe. You guys were ridiculed, then, by many, seems vindicated, where we are now. Would Mitt Romney need to throw that out if he worked for Donald Trump?
CHEN: I don't think so. Here's what I would say. First, you're right, there's a lot of areas of foreign policy where Governor Romney was prescient, whether you talk about Russia, the role of ISIS growing in Iraq, some of the challenges we face in the world the last several years. I think the question going forward is going to be, how would you reconcile that with potentially serving in a Trump administration, and the baseline is this, I think both Mitt Romney and Donald Trump believe that American foreign policy has to return to a focus on American interests. That's something Mitt's always said. That's something I believe Donald Trump said on the campaign trail. If they begin from that moment of similarity, then you can begin to see how some of this stuff might come together. But you can't paper over these differences. They have to be discussed and dealt with.
[11:25:29] BERMAN: Also, I think we can all agree that meeting with people from all sides, with all points of view, is nothing but a positive in a situation like this during a presidential transition. This is what you want. You want people to listen to many different points of view.
BOLDUAN: Where is the fault in taking a meeting, right?
BERMAN: Zero. No fault.
BOLDUAN: Great to see you, Lanhee.
CHEN: Good to see you guys.
The breaking news from Trump Tower, the president-elect announces his first cabinet selections. Up next, we'll talk to someone who knows quite a lot about the national security roles that Donald Trump announced and the influence that these positions have over the president.
BERMAN: Plus, Donald Trump had his first meeting as president-elect with a foreign leader. Also in the room, his daughter, Ivanka. The very same daughter we believe that will end up running his business empire. So, what was she doing there?