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THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER

Trump Dismisses Criticism of Business Conflicts; President Obama Awards Presidential Medals of Freedom.Trump Backs Away from Pledge to Prosecute Clinton; Interview with Congressman Sean Duffy of Wisconsin. Aired 4-4:15p ET

Aired November 22, 2016 - 16:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


[16:00:00]

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UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Maya Y. Lin.

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UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Boldly challenging our understanding of the world, Maya Lin's designs have brought people of all walks of life together in spirits of remembrance, introspection and humility.

The manipulation of natural terrain and topography within her works inspires us to bridge our differences and recognize the gravity of our collective existence.

Her pieces have changed the landscape of the country and influenced the dialogue of our society, never more profoundly than her tribute to the Americans who fell in Vietnam by cutting a wound into the earth to create a sacred place of healing in our nation's capital.

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UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Lorne Michaels.

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UNIDENTIFIED MALE: One of the most transformative entertainment figures of our time, Lorne Michaels followed his dreams to New York City, where he created a sketch show that brought satire, wit and modern comedy to homes around the world.

Under his meticulous command as executive producer, "Saturday Night Live" has entertained audiences across generations, reflecting and shaping critical elements of our culture, political and national life.

Lorne Michaels' creative legacy stretches into late-night television, sitcom and the big screen, making us laugh, challenging us to think and raising the bar for those who followed.

As one of the show's signature characters would say, well, isn't that special?

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UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Newton N. Minow.

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UNIDENTIFIED MALE: As a soldier, counsel to the governor of Illinois, chairman of the Federal Communications Commission and law clerk to the chief justice of the Supreme Court, Newton Minow's career has been defined by his devotion to others.

Deeply committed to his family, the law and the American people, his dedication to serving and empowering the public is reflected in his efforts to ensure that broadcast media educates and provides opportunity for all.

Challenging the media to better serve their viewers, his staunch commitment to the power of ideas and information has transformed telecommunications and its influential role in our society.

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UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Dr. Eduardo J. Padron.

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UNIDENTIFIED MALE: As a teenage refugee from Cuba, Eduardo Padron came to the United States to pursue the American dream and he has spent his life making that dream real for others.

As president of the community college he once attended, his thoughtful leadership and commitment to education have transformed Miami-Dade College into of the premier learning institutions in the country, earning him praise around the world.

His personally story and lasting professional influence prove that success need not be determined by our background, but by our dedication to others, our passion for creating America that is as inclusive as it is prosperous.

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UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Robert Redford.

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UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Robert Redford has captivated audiences from both sides of the camera through entertaining motion pictures that often explore vital social, political and historical themes.

His lifelong advocacy on behalf of preserving our environment will prove as enduring a legacy as his award-winning films, as will his pioneering support for independent filmmakers across America. His art and activism continue to shape our nation's cultural heritage,

inspiring millions to laugh, cry, think and change.

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UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Diana Ross.

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UNIDENTIFIED MALE: A daughter of...

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UNIDENTIFIED MALE: A daughter of Detroit, Diana Ross helped create the sound of Motown with her iconic voice. From her groundbreaking work with the Supremes to a solo career that has spanned decades, she's influenced generations of young artists and shaped our nation's musical landscape.

In addition to a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award and countless musical accolades, Diana Ross has distinguished herself as an actor, earning an Oscar nomination and a Golden Globe Award. With over 25 albums, unforgettable hit singles and live performances that continue to captivate audiences around the world, Diana Ross still reigns supreme.

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UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Next up, Vin Scully.

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UNIDENTIFIED MALE: With a voice that transcended a sport and transformed a profession, Vin Scully narrated America's pastime for generations of fans. Known to millions as the soundtrack of summer, he found the time -- he found time to teach us about life and love while chronicling routine plays and historic heroics.

In victory and in defeat, his colorful accounts reverberated through the bleachers, across the airwaves and into our homes and imaginations. He's an American treasure and a beloved storyteller. And our country's gratitude for Vin Scully is as profound as his love for the game.

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UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Bruce F. Springsteen.

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UNIDENTIFIED MALE: As a songwriter, a humanitarian, America's rock 'n' roll laureate and New Jersey's greatest ambassador, Bruce Springsteen is, quite simply, the Boss.

(LAUGHTER) UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Through stories about ordinary people, from Vietnam workers to steelworkers, his songs capture the pain and the promise of the American experience.

With his legendary E Street Band, Bruce Springsteen leaves everything on stage in epic, communal live performances that have rocked audiences for decades.

With empathy and honesty, he holds up a mirror to who we are, as Americans chasing our dreams and as human beings trying to do the right thing. There's a place for everyone in Bruce Springsteen's America.

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UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Bruce! Bruce!

[16:10:05]

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UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Cicely Tyson.

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UNIDENTIFIED MALE: For 60 years, Cicely Tyson has graced the screen and the stage, enlightening us with her groundbreaking characters and calls to conscience, humility and hope.

Her achievements as an actor, her devotion to her faith and her commitment to advancing equality for all Americans, especially women of color, have touched audiences of multiple generations.

From "The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman," to "Sounder" to "The Trip to Bountiful," Cicely Tyson's performances illuminate the character of our people and the extraordinary possibilities of America.

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BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: So, just on a personal note, part of the reason that these events are so special to me is because everybody on this stage has touched me in a very powerful, personal way, in ways that they probably couldn't imagine, whether it was having been inspired by song or a game or a story or a film or a monument, or, in the case of Newt Minow, introducing me to Michelle.

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OBAMA: You know, these are folks who have helped make me who I am and think about my presidency.

And what also makes it special is, this is America. And it's useful, when you think about this incredible collection of people, to realize that this is what makes us the greatest nation on Earth, not because of what we...

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OBAMA: Not because -- not because of our differences, but because, in our difference, we find something common to share.

And what a glorious thing that is. What a great gift that is to America.

So, I want all of you to enjoy the wonderful reception that will be taking place afterwards.

Michelle and I have to get back to work, unfortunately.

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OBAMA: But I hear the food is pretty good.

And I would like all of you to give one big rousing round of applause to our 2016 honorees for the Presidential Medal of Freedom. Give it up.

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JIM SCIUTTO, CNN ANCHOR: This is Jim Sciutto in Washington.

You have been watching the president there giving out the Medal of Freedom. It's the highest civilian honor, and as he did it at the end there, saying that, in this diverse group in terms of their backgrounds and what they do, that this, in his words, is America, perhaps a message for our time.

And it was a variety, from entertainment, Tom Hanks, Diana Ross, Bruce Springsteen, from athletics, Michael Jordan, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, others, Bill and Melinda Gates, their foundation work, 21 Americans there receiving the nation's highest civilian honor.

We're going to move on to our politics lead now.

Donald Trump is headed to Florida this hour for the Thanksgiving holiday. But, just before leaving, the president-elect rejected questions about business conflicts of interest, telling "The New York Times" that his presidency is much more important to him than his business empire.

And yet, he said -- quote -- "In theory, I could run my business perfectly and then run the country perfectly.

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN ANCHOR: But just before leaving, the president-elect rejected questions about business conflicts of interest, telling "The New York Times" that his presidency is much more important to him that his business empire.

[16:15:09] And yet, he said, quote, "In theory, I could run my business perfectly and then run the country perfectly. There's never been a case like this," end quote. After mounting criticism, the president-elect also disavowed the white

supremacists who celebrated his victory during a weekend gathering here in Washington. He said, "I don't want to energize the group and I disavow the group." This is what Trump told "The New York Times."

And in a major reversal of a campaign promise, Donald Trump signaled that he will not try to prosecute Hillary Clinton over her e-mail use.

CNN political reporter Sara Murray, she is live outside Trump Tower in New York.

Sara, that final pledge there will surprise a lot of Trump supporters who heard him speak often, repeatedly during the campaign about Hillary Clinton and promising, you remember those chants, you were there many times, to lock her up.

SARA MURRAY, CNN POLITICS REPORTER: Well, that's right, Jim. Donald Trump went all over the country, calling her crooked Hillary, ginning people up with chants with "lock her up" and saying that he would call on a special prosecutor to investigate Hillary Clinton. But now, it seems that's not high on his list of things to get done when he goes to the White House.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENT-ELECT: Hillary Clinton will be under investigation for a long, long time.

MURRAY (voice-over): That pledge to put Hillary Clinton behind bars is no longer a top priority.

CROWD: Lock her up! Lock her up!

MURRAY: Donald Trump telling "The New York Times" today that he is not taking a potential investigation entirely off the table, but saying, "It's just not something that I feel very strongly about," adding that such a move would be very, very divisive for the country.

One of his top advisers, Kellyanne Conway, is hoping other Republicans follow Trump's cue.

KELLYANNE CONWAY, SENIOR TRUMP ADVISER: I think when the president- elect, he's also the head of your party now, Joe, tells you before he's even inaugurated, he doesn't wish to pursue these charges, it sends a very strong message, tone and content to the members.

MURRAY: While Trump appears to forgive some grudges, that doesn't appear to extend to the press. After airing meeting with television executives Monday, Trump spiraled into a Twitter tantrum against "The New York Times" today, saying, "I cancelled today's meeting with the failing 'New York Times' when the terms and conditions of the meeting were changed at the last moment. Not nice."

Then he ventured out with the newspaper anyway, telling "New York Times" reporters he is focused on how much climate change regulations will cost American businesses, and admitting there's some link between humans and climate change, saying, "I think there's some connectivity, some something. It depends on how much."

The billionaire businessman also suggesting that he wants to be the one to strike a peace agreement with the Israelis and the Palestinians, with the help of his Jewish son-in-law Jared Kushner.

And yet again, Trump left to the defense of his chief strategist Steve Bannon, under fire for his ties to the alt-right movement, which has embraced elements of white supremacy and anti-Semitism. Trump saying of Bannon, "If I thought he was racist or alt-right, I would not think of hiring him."

That as another one of Trump's White House picks, incoming national security adviser Michael Flynn, is facing a scrutiny for these comments in an August speech.

LT. GEN. MICHAEL FLYNN (RET), INCOMING NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISER: We are facing another ism, just like we face Nazism, and fascism, and imperialism, and communism. This is Islamism. And it is a vicious cancer inside of the body of 1.7 billion people on this planet. And it has to be excised.

MURRAY: All of this as Trump continues to stoke the palace intrigue around those cabinet positions that have yet to be filled. The president-elect confirming to "The New York Times" that General James Mattis is under serious consideration for Department of Defense, and after meeting with Dr. Ben Carson today, Trump announced that he is still in the running for a top slot and could be tapped to lead the Department of Housing and Urban Development.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

MURRAY: Now, Donald Trump is going to be taken a little bit of down time for his back to back meetings with potential cabinet appointees. He is about to head out to Florida to spend the Thanksgiving holiday at Mar-A-Lago with his family.

Back to you, Jim.

SCIUTTO: Sara Murray, sounds like a nice vacation. Thanks very much.

Donald Trump and his team are still on a hiring spree as he prepares to take his oath of office on January 20th. For more, we have long time Trump supporter and Wisconsin Congressman Sean Duffy. He joins me now.

Thanks very much for taking time-out of the holiday week.

REP. SEAN DUFFY (R), WISCONSIN: It's good to be with you, Jim. Thanks for having me on.

SCIUTTO: So, Congressman Duffy, you might have heard Donald Trump told "The New York Times", quote, "I disavow and condemn the group of white supremacist, neo-Nazis who gathered here in Washington this weekend, celebrating Trump's victory. As you know, he is a very outspoken guy, Donald Trump, over the past few days. He's been very quick to criticize normally via Twitter, the cast of "Hamilton", "Saturday Night Live".

[16:20:01] Why did it take him so long to condemn this really disgusting hate group?

DUFFY: Well, listen, I think he did condemn them. He did condemn them and that's a good thing. And someone who says that they may have endorsed me, but I don't endorse the viewpoints of the world.

Again, I think it's important that a leader step forward and make the right move and that's what he did. My concern is that Barack Obama when he had the chance to condemn the riots across American that were in protest of Donald Trump's victory in the election, or didn't condemn Black Lives Matter. It might have taken him time in your view point or another viewers' points, but he did the right thing.

SCIUTTO: Wait, wait. You're equating Americans protesting a politician with outright hate and bigotry from a group that was using the Hitler salute to celebrate Donald Trump's victory and are nothing more than white supremacists. That's not a fair comparison.

DUFFY: No, what I'm saying is that both are disgusting and for different ways.

(CROSSTALK)

SCIUTTO: You're putting political protests and white supremacists.

DUFFY: Let me explain to you. Jim, let me explain.

So I think -- I think this is a horrible group and don't share the values or the view point. But you have people taking to the streets and damaging property, pulling people out of cars and beating them up and little girls getting beaten up in school for supporting Donald Trump. This was violence on American streets.

So, there are different kind of activities by each group, but both groups need to be condemned. It's one thing if you stand on the sidewalk and hold a sign in protests, that's the American First Amendment right to protest, but when you get violent and you damage property and you hurt people, that's something completely different.

I think both groups deserve to be called out. But again, I don't equate one or the other. I'm just giving you an example of two groups that should be condemned, and President Obama did not condemn the ones that were taken to the street and were hurting people and property.

SCIUTTO: As a matter of fact --

DUFFY: I applaud Donald Trump for condemning this white supremacy group.

SCIUTTO: As a matter of fact, it was a small number of protestors in the political process who perpetrated acts of violence.

But moving on to another topic. Talking with "The New York Times" as well today. Mr. Trump gave strong indications that he will not be pursuing charges against Hillary Clinton. He is quoted as saying in those conversations, |I think it would be very, very divisive for the country."

I just want to share with you a statement from Senator Lindsey Graham reacting to this and certainly hardly a Trump supporter, he responded by saying, to Trump saying he won't pursue charges against Hillary Clinton by saying the following.

Have a listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: I can understand wanting to put the election behind us and heal the nation, but I do hope that all of the things that Donald Trump said about how crooked that she was, that we just don't let it go without a serious effort to see if the law was truly violated. I think that would be a mistake.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SCIUTTO: Do you agree with Lindsey Graham that that's a mistake?

DUFFY: I (INAUDIBLE) Lindsey Graham. I think that it's important that everyone be treated equally and fairly under the law. And just because you're a Clinton or a Trump, you shouldn't be treated differently under the law.

My concern with an advancement of a prosecution of Hillary Clinton is that there's an appearance that those that win the elections go after their political adversaries who lose elections. And this is a third world mentality and I think it's very dangerous.

I don't want to see, you know, the winner go after the loser. We have a great tradition in America of our parties unifying, an effort of our country unifying and moving forward after a tough and rumble elections. And so, I don't -- I side with Donald Trump on this.

Now, again don't go after Hillary Clinton. If there's wrongdoing at the Clinton Foundation, I think that's fair game now and that's still a new investigation that's under way. If they find evidence there, they should send it to a special prosecutor to get an independent view outside of Donald Trump. But if Huma and others within the Clinton apparatus, I think they're fair game.

SCIUTTO: Let me ask you.

DUFFY: Leave Hillary Clinton alone.

SCIUTTO: Let me ask you about this, because you bring up the Clinton Foundation. As you know during the campaign, Donald Trump repeatedly talked about conflicts of interest there, pay for play, dealings with foreign leaders who were making donations to the Clinton Foundation. As you know, Donald Trump has expansive global industries, he met with some Indian business partners this weekend and he said today with the "New York Times" that in his view, the president does not have conflicts of interest. Do you think that's fair for Donald Trump to say that he can have these businesses and he really won't be and have to abide by conflict of interests laws or norms?

DUFFY: Well, I -- whatever the law says or his interpretation of it is one thing. The reality is that the American people do not want to see the appearance of a conflict of interest. So, I do think he has to make every effort to separate himself from his business interests and whether that's putting his assets in a blind trust or liquidating his assets, which might take some time, he has to do that I think to be a successful president.

[16:25:05] But I want to be clear, Hillary Clinton and the allegations were when she was running the State Department and raising money for the Clinton Foundation, the pay for play when you have a role in government, Donald Trump has not been sworn in as the next president yet and doesn't have the same conflict but would on January 20th and thereafter, and that's why I think that he has to do everything that he can to separate himself from his business and Trump enterprises.

SCIUTTO: Congressman Sean Duffy, thanks very much and happy Thanksgiving to you and your family.

DUFFY: Hey. You, too, Jim. Thanks.

SCIUTTO: Well, Donald Trump brushing off concerns that his businesses, as we were saying there, posed any conflicts for him as president, saying the law is on his side. But is it? We're going try to answer that question after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SCIUTTO: Welcome back to THE LEAD.

And sticking with the politics now. President-elect Donald Trump says that the law is, quote, "totally on my side," the president can't have a conflict of interest. Is there really nothing in U.S. law or ethics that would prevent Trump from running his international businesses while also running the United States of America?

CNN's Tom Foreman helps us answer this very crucial question.

So, Tom, is President-elect Trump right about this?