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Possible Conflicts of Interest for Trump; Gen. James Mattis Eyes as Trump's Defense Secretary; Trump's Twitter War over "Hamilton". Aired 11:30-12p ET

Aired November 21, 2016 - 11:30   ET



[11:00:24] JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: New questions this morning about possible conflict of interests as President-elect Donald Trump prepares for the White House or expands his business empire, or both. In the midst of picking his staff, Donald Trump also met with Indian business partners who are building Trump-branded luxury apartments in India. And then there are foreign diplomats staying at Trump's hotel in Washington because they think it gives them an inside track. And then there was Ivanka Trump's presence at a meeting between the president-elect and the prime minister of japan.

Let's discuss all of this with CNN political commentator, Errol Louis; and Drew Harwell, national business reporter for "The Washington Post."

Drew, I want to start with you because you had a terrific pretty in- depth article today about the of Donald Trump's interests overseas. In short, what are they and why does it matter?

DREW HARWELL, NATIONAL BUSINESS REPORTER, THE WASHINGTON POST: Well, Trump's empire is more than 100 companies across 18 countries and it ranges from these huge sorts of ultra-luxury real estate developments, that he's known for, to these holding companies and trademark deals. But what it all sort of adds up to is an incredible* amount of entanglements with foreign investors, business people all across the world, people who may want to curry favor with the Trump White House.

BERMAN: What does the law say about whether or not Donald Trump needs to divest from this? Because there are laws that exist for cabinet positions and other people in the government.

HARWELL: Yeah. There are pretty strict conflict of interest rules and they pertain to almost all elected government officials, except for the president and vice president. It's sort of this bizarre kind of tick in the law was designed to give presidents a little more leeway because their job is so wide-ranging. But that law was put together before we had a businessman-turn-president like Donald Trump. And Trump's empire is really unprecedented in its size and the number of companies he has established over the years, even in the companies he established during the campaign, including some tied to a potential hotel project in Saudi Arabia.

BERMAN: So, Errol Louis, Congress they have lots of questions about Hillary Clinton and her ties to the Clinton Foundation charity. Congress has held hearings on all kinds of things. Where is the congressional oversight going to be over Donald Trump's business interests?

ERROL LOUIS, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: There will be calls for congressional oversight, in part, because we did have to live through months of all of these sorts of unfounded accusations and insinuations about whether or not somebody from, say, the Gromni Bank (ph), which is an anti-poverty project, that has run for decades contributed to the foundation so they could get a meeting with Hillary Clinton. To do what? To do more charity. Some of that stuff was very much overblown. Right now, we have already got Elijah Cummings, the ranking member on the House Oversight Committee, saying he would like to sort of explore this a little bit further. There are some people from both sides of the aisle who pointed out that this is going -- this very much has the potential to engulf the new administration because, everywhere you look in every corner of the globe, you will find conflicts.

BERMAN: It would take a Republican Party chair in the House or Senate to do something about that.

LOUIS: Anybody can file a lawsuit. Remember, in part, because of these entanglements and conflicts, you don't necessarily have to sue the president of the United States. You can sue the investor in this private business deal and it will find its way to the White House all the same, which is exactly the point. He can't necessarily expect to have it both ways, to benefit from this stuff privately and not have any blowback.

BERMAN: But there are no laws.

Drew, in closing, he says he will put his businesses in a blind trust controlled by his kids. That's neither blind nor a trust.

HARWELL: No. It's really not. He's says he's going to create a wall between his sort of public ambitions and his private businesses but we are not seeing any wall yet. If anything, we are seeing Ivanka in meeting with a head of state from japan. And we are seeing these huge conflicts that are, if anything, flourishing now that he's a couple days from oval office. I don't think these things will go away unless he really makes a commitment to creating that distance between him and his empire.

BERMAN: We are waiting to see when that begins.

Drew Harwell, Errol Louis, thanks for being with us. Appreciate it.

Former prisoner of war, John McCain, sending a very stern warning to President-elect Donald Trump, saying, quote, "I don't give a damn, we will not waterboard." What does the Trump team have to say about that? That's coming up.

[11:34:43] Plus, "A Chorus Line" wasn't nearly this controversial. The volleys back and forth between a Broadway musical and the next president of the United States. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT-ELECT OF THE UNITED STATES: Can you imagine these people, these animals, over in the middle east that chop off heads sitting around talking and seeing that we're having a hard problem with waterboarding? We should go for waterboarding and we should go tougher than waterboarding.


BERMAN: This morning, the first giant crack in the Republican coalition swept into power two weeks ago, and it comes on that issue, waterboarding. Republican Senator John McCain promising to fight and win when it comes to waterboarding. Waterboarding is the now banned interrogation technique that simulates drowning. It's considered to be torture by many. The president-elect says the United States should be free to use it in the battle against terror. Senator John McCain, a former prisoner of war, says absolutely not. Listen.


[11:39:44] SEN. JOHN MCCAIN, (R), ARIZONA: I don't give a damn what the president of the United States wants to do or anybody else wants to do. We will not waterboard! We will not torture!


MCCAIN: My god, what does it say about America if we are going to inflict torture on people?

MIKE PENCE, VICE PRESIDENT-ELECT OF THE UNITED STATES: Well, I have great respect for Senator McCain. And what I can tell you is that, going forward, as he outlined in that famous speech in Ohio, that a President Donald Trump is going to focus on confronting and defeating radical Islamic terrorism as a threat to this country. And we are going to have a president again who will never say what we will never do.


BERMAN: All right. With us to discuss this and also the issues of who may be the next secretary of defense, retired Army Colonel Peter Mansoor, former aide to General David Petraeus; and Shawn Brimley, former director of strategic planning at the National Security Council.

Colonel Mansoor, I want to start with the issue of secretary of defense. Donald Trump has been saying very nice things about retired Marine General James Mattis, who ran Central Command. Trump called him a general's general. In fact, he's true. He garners wide respect from within the military. In particular, Marines who I worked with over the years, say James Mattis is the real deal. Your take?

COL. PETER MANSOOR: Well, he is the real deal. He's a Marine's Marine. He's an accomplished combat commander with combat tours as a general officer in both Afghanistan and Iraq. He has experience at the highest levels of the military, as commander of U.S. Central Command. But beyond this, all of his practical experience at the highest levels of the military, he's an intellectual. He has a library, a personal library of about 10,000 books and has read most of them. I have met him on a number of occasions. I had him to speak at Ohio State. He's truly impressive. This is why I think he's garnered a lot of bipartisan support should he be nominated as secretary of defense.

BERMAN: He will likely get bipartisan support. He will need a waiver to end up as defense secretary, because you have to be out of the military for five years to ascend to that position. But you would think this Congress would give it to him.

Shawn Brimley, there is an area, again, which does indicate where the Trump administration is heading. General Mattis is a fierce critic of the Iran nuclear deal. Actually, very hawkish towards Iran in particular. That would mean the guy leading the Pentagon, Mattis, National Security Adviser Flynn, and CIA Director Mike Pompeo, these are people all fiercely critical of the Iran nuclear deal. You would think that deal's in jeopardy.

SHAWN BRIMLEY FORMER DIRECTOR OF STRATEGIC PLANNING, NATIONAL SECURITY COUNCIL: It's possible, although is going to be very hard to walk back the deal. This deal isn't just a U.S./Iran deal. It's an international deal. If we walk away, all the sanctions crumble. Iran already has a lot of the money and benefits from the deal.

The good news about the deal, inspectors are on the ground right now, and Iran has given up a substantial percentage of fissile material. If the deal crumbles, Iran has all the incentives to restart its program and we are back to where we were two or three years ago. Iran was six months away from having a nuclear weapon. Now they are much farther away than that. I think you need to answer the question of what comes next. It's easy to talk tough but walking back the deal I think will be equally tough.

BERMAN: I want to talk about the issue of waterboarding, because it's very interesting. Senator John McCain, who has been a fierce critic for some time, says I'm going to fight on this issue. This is a fight where he's got some sway. He's going to be chairman of Armed Services -- he is chairman of Armed Services right now, and if he wants to stand up to the administration, he can.

BRIMLEY: Well, sure. He's a great ally in the fight against the United States never torturing. There's three additional reasons. One, it doesn't work. The House and the Senate Intelligence and Oversight Committees did a number of reviews on this. There was no evidence that it actually worked. Number two, it is illegal. It's against the law. So, Senator McCain said anyone who does this would end up in jail, end up in court in a New York minute, I think he said. Number three, inside the bureaucracy itself, both on the military side and the intel side, there's no appetite to start this again. I think you have a career of civil servants' culture that is very against this policy and would resist it every single step of the way. BERMAN: Colonel, what about that? What do you think the response

within the military would be? Let's even say the effort, if the Trump administration even tries to reinstitute waterboarding, what would be the response within the military establishment?

MANSOOR: I think you'd get a lot of officers resigning out of moral consciousness.

You know, I would add a couple other things to what Shawn said. It's morally reprehensible and it would reduce our international standing in the world. We fought World War II without torturing prisoners of war, even with our own prisoners tortured by, say, the Japanese when they were taken prisoner there. Senator McCain was tortured by the North Vietnamese. We did not torture prisoners in response. This is, hopefully, campaign rhetoric that will be quickly jettisoned now. But in any case, I don't see it becoming policy of the United States government. There's going to be too much pushback both within the military and in Congress.

[11:45:09] BERMAN: It will be interesting to hear what Senator McCain has to say going forward. Senator McCain did not endorse Donald Trump at the end of the election so, in theory, it was nothing to Donald Trump. This could be the Republican break that many people thought might happen at least somewhere during this administration.

Shawn Brimley, Colonel Peter Mansoor, thank you both so much for being with us. Appreciate it.

BRIMLEY: Thank you.

MANSOOR: Thank you.

BERMAN: The Vice President-elect Mike Pence went to a play and said he had a great time. Now his Friday night is at the center of one of the most bizarre, yet perfectly representative battles of 2016.


BERMAN: New this morning, it's safe to say Broadway has never been this big of a deal during a presidential transition. In case you missed it, the cast of "Hamilton" had a message for the vice president-elect over the weekend.


BRANDON VICTOR DIXON, ACTOR: We, sir, we are the diverse America who are alarmed and anxious that your new administration will not protect us, our planet --


DIXON: -- our children, our parents, or defend us and uphold our inalienable rights, sir. But we truly hope this show has inspired you to uphold our American values and to work on behalf of all of us. All of us.




BERMAN: All right. The vice president-elect said he was not offended. President-elect Trump feels otherwise. This is just the latest tweet from a string of tweets against the Broadway show. He said, "The cast and producers of "Hamilton," which I hear is highly overrated, should apologize to Mike Pence for their behavior."

Let's bring in our panel to discuss this and a few other issues. Jonathan Tasini is a Democratic strategist. He was supportive of Bernie Sanders in the primaries, and also of Hillary Clinton. CNN political commentator, Errol Louis, is back with us. And Scottie Nell Hughes, a CNN political commentator, who supported Donald Trump. She is also the political editor for

Jonathan Tasini, before we get to pressing news, I want to ask you about Trump Tower news today and the word that Tulsi Gabbard, congresswoman from Hawaii, who was a Bernie Sanders supporter during the primaries, is in there meeting with him and could be up for some jobs. What do you make of her being there?

JONATHAN TASINI, DEMOCARTIC STRATEGIST: Frankly, I just learned about this recently so I can't comment or go deeply into it. I will say Tulsi Gabbard has had what I consider to be more conservative -- if you want to use the term -- positions on things like gun control and on immigration. In my view -- and I'm just speaking personally. I don't want to necessarily reflect Bernie Sanders himself. In my view, she wouldn't be seen as a Nina Turner and someone like that that's very progressive across the board.

[11:50:13] BERMAN: What would you say to other Bernie Sanders supporters right now looking at the next four years, thinking maybe we should work with Donald Trump. Do you think that is good strategy, Jonathan?

TASINI: No. I've said this before. Actually, the other night with you, on the other -- one evening, I guess, on "A.C. 360." I don't think we should normalize Trump. I think the man running as a racist, demagogue, a very dangerous person, attacking Muslims, Mexicans. It's the same man, unfortunately, about to take hold of office and we have one goal, make him a one-term president and delegitimize him at every turn possible.

BERMAN: Interesting to see Tulsi Gabbard there today. We'll to wait to see what comes out of that meeting.

Errol, after the pressing "Hamilton" news, which is perfectly representative, right? I mean, the liberals suggest they're scared of Donald Trump for one reason: Donald Trump lashes back. Then coastal liberals are sort of pointing to this as an example of how ridiculous Trump is, and then Trump wins -- or not. But this is a representative pattern? LOUIS: I think so. It's interesting just because of the diversity of

the cast and, frankly, the manners. The earnest and passionate and polite way they put forward this values statement enraged certainly people on the other side. I guess Donald Trump is the leader of those people and was, in fact, enraged by it. It's a little curious, as a New Yorker, to see that kind of reaction. Mike Pence says it's what freedom sounds like. That's what he told his kids and he wasn't offended. Donald Trump, for some reason, wants to pick this fight. There's a popular theory going around, a credible one, in my opinion, that this is what he's going to do, partly because it's something he likes to do, and partly because it distracts us from talking about a lot of the other issues, including a lot of these business conflicts of interest.

BERMAN: Business conflicts of interest. And people immediately said Friday, when this all began, that he distracting from the $25 million settlement that he made over Trump University. I think he likes to use Twitter. It's unclear whether he does it to distract or not. He just likes it.

Scottie Nell Hughes, Vice President-elect Mike Pence didn't have a problem with it. The cast of "Hamilton" this morning said they're not going to apologize. What does Donald Trump get out of it at this point?

SCOTTIE NELL HUGHES, CNN POLTICAL COMMENTATOR: I think it's interesting to be honest with you, John, since the election, this idea between some members of the arts, entertainment, as well as media, to basically vote-shame those supporters of Donald Trump, those 61 million people that actually supported Mr. Trump.

And I think Mr. Trump had had enough. After watching two weeks of this happen, and then you had this attack on Vice President Pence, when out with his family. I think Mr. Trump decided, once again, he would stick up for those bullied and say enough is enough.

So, what he gets out of it, is once again, just like in the primaries, saw it every time, when those in entertainment, within Hollywood, attack Trump or his supporters, and it's always backlashed. The results are clear. In November election, Democrats suffered a horrible loss of, what, a 94-year record? I don't think this is the course of action to explore going forward.

BERMAN: Jonathan, I note Democrats, at least Hillary Clinton, is enjoying a lead in the popular vote, getting her not very much. In fact, nothing.

But, Jonathan Tasini, is this not a case, then, if what Scottie is saying is true of, you know, these coastal elites, for lack of a better word, speaking past Trump supporters?

TASINI: No, I don't think so. Lots of people between the two coasts voted for Democrats, both in the presidential election, Senate races, and as you point out, Hillary Clinton has a popular vote lead.

I want to hammer both points that you make and that Errol made very specifically. I think that part of this might be a genius to cover up the settlement with Trump University, $25 million, which underscored Donald Trump is a con man and fraud. He's been sued more than any businessman in history, certainly any political candidate. I think he did that perhaps intentionally.

Look, it's fine to have is a debate in the country, it's fine for a politician or president-elect to contest someone, but not to act like a 15-year-old and an adolescent and someone who's unhinged and deranged. This is not the way to conduct a debate. And the fear I have and American should have, you have somebody going into the Oval Office conducting foreign policy, domestic policy, through insults on Twitter. That is not the way to run a country.

BERMAN: I will note, trying to cover up the Trump University thing by tweeting, he actually did tweet about the Trump University settlement. So, that sort of, you know, flies in the face of --


TASINI: But in terms of continuing to tweet about this, we're focused now on this when we should be talking about your point, about the conflicts of interest facing around the globe, but also on the notion of what this settlement did. It underscored that we now have somebody going to the oval office who's a fraud and a con man. And that goes to the kind of policies we'll see and the kind of behavior we're seal out of the oval office and that is staggering to me.

[11:55:21] BERMAN: Scottie, 20 seconds to respond.

HUGHES: It's real simple. Listen to what Jonathan just said, the accusations and divisive words he used, the hateful words used to describe Mr. Trump. He's also describing the 61 million people that supported him.


TASINI: That's not true, Scottie. I'm not talking about --


TASINI: I'm not talking about the voters.


HUGHES: Exactly. People have to decide whether to values these supporters or not. Do they want to lose the dollars and viewership? That's up to the management to decide.

BERMAN: All right, Errol Lewis, to you --


BERMAN: -- can you get me "Hamilton" tickets?


LOUIS: One of those boycotters might want to slide some by here. I could use a pair myself.

BERMAN: That's completely apolitical. I just want to get into the show.


BERMAN: I haven't been able to see the show.

Thank you all very, very much.

The search is on this morning for a man who shot and killed a police officer in San Antonio. The police say the suspect is armed and dangerous. There is a manhunt under way for this man who is believed to have gone into this police station just to target a policeman.

Stay with us.