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THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER
School Bus Crash Investigation; Trump Dismisses Criticism of Business Conflicts; Trump Disavows Neo-Nazi Group; Trump Suggests Son- In-Law Jared Kushner Could Broker Middle East Peace; Five Children Killed, Youngest Was In Kindergarten. Aired 4:30-5p ET
Aired November 22, 2016 - 16:30 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
JIM SCIUTTO, CNN ANCHOR: CNN's Tom Foreman helps us answer this very crucial question.
So, Tom, is president-elect Trump right about this?
TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: He is right in the sense that there are no specific laws that say that he can't have a business.
There are plenty of laws he could afoul of here. In this meeting with "The New York Times," he was asked numerous times about these business relationships that could lay the groundwork for trouble for conflicts of interest. And yet he still appears to be straddling the fence between being a private businessman and a public servant.
FOREMAN (voice-over): When Donald Trump opened his billion-dollar Scottish resort in 2012, he had big ambitions.
DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENT-ELECT: We wanted to build what we determined could be easily the greatest golf course anywhere in the world.
FOREMAN: But soon he was tilting at windmills, embroiled in a legal fight with the Scottish government over a wind farm just offshore ruining the view, a fight that he lost less than a year ago.
But shortly after his election, he met with British politician Nigel Farage, who helped the lead the Brexit movement. And did they discuss wind farms again? Just today, Trump told "The New York Times," "I might have brought it up."
The story embodies everything political watchdogs are worried about.
ALEXANDRA WRAGE, PRESIDENT, TRACE INTERNATIONAL: Whether a position is abused or there's just the potential for that abuse, there's just the opportunity to abuse it, either way, it's undermining of confidence in government.
FOREMAN: The billionaire politician told "The Times": "In theory, I could run my business perfectly and then run the country perfectly," adding, however, he is phasing that out now, letting his children take over.
But a firewall has clearly not gone up yet. So, the president of Argentina says, when he called to offered congratulations, Trump's daughter Ivanka was on the line too. The transition team says no business was discussed, but the Trump Organization is working on a $100 million project in Buenos Aires.
When the Japanese prime minister came calling, there was Ivanka again. With the Trump Organization doing business with at least 150 companies in 25 countries, the potential for professional ties colliding with politics is huge.
Will the new president recognize the new envoy from the Philippines picked just before the election? Sure. It's his former business partner. Lawsuits are also a worry, such as the one over Trump University, which he just settled for $25 million.
So are reports of questionable behavior and bookkeeping at the Trump Foundation. And even that fancy new D.C. hotel he so proudly opened recently, some legal analysts think that too could run afoul of federal laws because it's on property leased from the very government he will now lead.
SCIUTTO: He's have had a lot of conversations with leaders of countries where he has current business operations. Is there any evidence that he has tried to do business deals since he was elected?
FOREMAN: We don't know. It's all sort of squishy territory.
We know this. That Argentine deal we mentioned earlier, this deal seemed like it was sort of stalled, not moving forward. Well, we know, on election night, that one of Donald Trump's sons was with one of the developers that.
And we also know, a few days after the call involving with Ivanka Trump, the company sent out a press release, the developer, saying construction will start next June. Does that prove anything? No, it does not prove anything. It's just one of those things that makes a lot of people raise the eyebrows and say, these are the kinds of questions that can arise when you have a businessperson with that many ties suddenly the president of the United States.
SCIUTTO: Running the free world, and certainly very crucial questions.
Thanks very much, Tom Foreman.
Coming up: Today, under direct and intense questioning from "The New York Times," president-elect Trump condemned neo-Nazis who saluted his victory, but does he need to do it again on camera to the American public to calm an anxious nation?
Plus, five children dead after their school bus goes into careening into a tree, police today trying to determine exactly what happened. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)
SCIUTTO: You're watching live pictures there of president-elect Donald Trump's plane taxiing on the tarmac the La Guardia Airport in New York just moments ago as he gets ready to jet off to Florida for the Thanksgiving holiday.
Earlier today, Donald Trump disavowed a neo-Nazi hate group in a way that he had until now failed to do, that is, directly and explicitly denouncing a white supremacist organization that spewed anti-Semitic, vile and racist vitriol at a gathering over the weekend in Washington, D.C., that gathering just a mile from the White House.
In a meeting with "The New York Times" today, Trump said -- quote -- "I condemn them. I disavow and I condemn" -- end quote.
CNN's Sara Ganim joins me now.
So, Sara, this is a group that went so far in that meeting as to use Nazi salutes to celebrate the president-elect.
SARA GANIM, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Jim, that's right. They did.
And critics say that Donald Trump should have disavowed them sooner, given how hateful that speech was and how Donald Trump has never been one to shy away from speaking, or more accurately, tweeting his mind.
That said, he told "The New York Times" today that he disavows it and he plans to look into the reason why the group was so energized by his win.
RICHARD SPENCER, NATIONAL POLICY INSTITUTE: Hail Trump. Hail our people. Hail victory.
GANIM (voice-over): This rally happened just down the street from the White House.
SPENCER: Or perhaps we should refer to them in the original German, luegenpresse.
GANIM: Celebrating Donald Trump's victory, the rhetoric an unmistakable marriage of neo-Nazi hate and Donald Trump's campaign slogan.
SPENCER: For us as Europeans, it's only normal again when we are great again.
GANIM: At the podium is Richard Spencer, a founder of the movement that calls itself the alt-right, but their message is white supremacism, anti-Semitism, anti-immigration, neo-Nazi.
SPENCER: America was, until this past generation, a white country designed for ourselves and the posterity. It is our creation. It's our inheritance, and it belongs to us.
GANIM: The crowd gathered this past weekend for the annual conference for Spencer's think tank, the National Policy Institute, many in the crowd cheering on Spencer's speech with the Nazi salute.
The video is so alarming, the National Holocaust Museum in Washington wrote a letter in response, warning that -- quote -- "The Holocaust did not begin with killing. It began with words," comparing Spencer's words to Hitler's.
Today, in a meeting with "The New York Times," Trump said, "Of course I disavow and condemn them."
But what used to be a small, obscure extremist group operating on the Internet now feels emboldened by Trump's campaign rhetoric, according to Oren Segal.
OREN SEGAL, DIRECTOR, CENTER ON EXTREMISM: They identify with Trump for whatever reason. And they view him as a champion for their cause.
GANIM: And the hiring of Steve Bannon as chief strategist in the Trump White House has only intensified the criticism.
While Bannon once reportedly bragged his Web site, Breitbart.com, was -- quote -- "the platform for the alt-right," he later told "The Wall Street Journal" that he has zero tolerance for those anti-Semitic tones, though Trump said today -- quote -- "If I thought Bannon was a racist or alt-right or any of things, the terms we could use, I would not even think about hiring him."
Former Breitbart spokesman Kurt Bardella told CNN this will continue to cause problems for Trump.
KURT BARDELLA, FORMER BREITBART SPOKESMAN: He has said Breitbart is the alt-right platform. These are the people that they have played to, that they have tried to motivate to be the base of Donald Trump's election. And it's just going to be more of this.
GANIM: Jim, it's important to remember these racists factions are small groups, but many of them do feel emboldened now.
In fact, Richard Spencer told "The Washington Post" that he is planning to start touring and speaking on college campuses. He believes that he will find supporters of his movement there -- Jim.
SCIUTTO: It's just incredible to see those pictures of the Hitler- like salute in the year 2016.
Sara Ganim, thanks very much. Our national lead now: five children dead after really just a
horrifying school bus crash, the youngest just a kindergartner. The bus driver now charged in their deaths because of what may have happened just moments before that crash.
SCIUTTO: Welcome back to THE LEAD, and sticking with politics now, I'm joined by my panel: USA Today columnist Kirsten Powers; Bill Kristol is an editor of the conservative publication, The Weekly Standard; and Carol Lee, she's the White House correspondent for The Wall Street Journal. Thanks all of you for joining me in Thanksgiving week.
So, we -- it took a few days for Donald Trump to definitely disavow these -- I mean, I don't even want to say Alt-Right, because we're talking about white supremacists, neo-Nazi positions here. His very quick to disavow at Saturday Night Live to come a few days to do this.
Kristen Powers, why did it take so long?
KRISTEN POWERS, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST AND COLUMNIST FOR USA TODAY: Well, that -- I mean, I think that's the ultimate question, is why when he gets upset at the cast of Hamilton does he go on Twitter to blast them, but he doesn't when he sees people in his own name, you know, basically invoking Hitler? Why does he only say it to the New York Times? Give him credit for saying to The New York Times, no questions.
SCIUTTO: Sure. And it was definitive with yours.
POWERS: Yeah, it was quite definitive, and I -- and I think it's interesting that he also said he'd like to look into why the Alt-Right seems to be so attracted to him. That's good. It would be good for him to also maybe go out on Twitter and show some of this outrage --
SCIUTTO: Well, that's the thing, though (INAUDIBLE) Bill, because this is -- you know, that's quite a small group. Credit to The New York Times as they're following, but do you need a public statement? Do you need an address to the American people? I mean, this is -- this is a nation divided right now. Does there have to be more of using the presidential bully (INAUDIBLE) to knock this kind of stuff down?
BILL KRISTOL, EDITOR AT THE WEEKLY STANDARD: Yeah, maybe I am amused thathe went to The New York Times today. How do feel if you're at Breitbart, his main supporter? What happened to Breitbart News? You know, why didn't he go there first?
This is the thing about Trump, he's going to actually throw us -- these people under the bus, because he wants the establishment to like him, he wants to govern successfully, he knows where the power is, and it's not an accident -- it's revealing, isn't it, that he went to New York Times? It's revealing that most of his major cabinet appointments are going to be. Yes, he should give out an address, not focus on a bunch of (INAUDIBLE) neo-Nazis, not even focused on the Alt-Right, but a kind of healing address for the nation, you could do it around before Christmas or something. I don't know that. I would say to his credit, compared to two weeks ago, what I would have expected, he's been a pretty responsible president-elect.
SCIUTTO: And Carol, because it's in statements like this, but it's also in some of the moves at least he's considering, that we're hearing he's considering, we would have to wait for these positions to be filed, but you hear fairly mainstream candidates in, say, a General Mattis for the Department of Defense or the possibility of a Mitt Romney up state, how significant -- and I suppose, how surprising are those moves for you?
CAROL LEE, WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT FOR THE WALL STREET JOURNAL: I think they're really surprising to people. You know, it's not what you would have expected. I think the first few White House officials and Cabinet folks said the President-elect Trump rolled out. We're expected. But you wouldn't have expected him to in any way, thinking about Mitt Romney for his Secretary of State given what he said about him and vice versa during the campaign.
[16:49:59] And then, if you look at some of the others, they are much more moderate. And so, I think for people who are looking to how he will govern, it's kind of you're -- it's still -- there's still more that needs to be seen because you have a little bit of both, if he does indeed go with Mitt Romney.
SCIUTTO: And the personal decisions are one thing. Obviously, the policy decisions and reactions for crisis are another. I spent a lot of times in the Middle East, so my ears perked up as Donald Trump told the New York Times today that he thought that his son, Jared Kushner, might be able to solve Middle East peace, that he might be a good envoy. Your reactions to that?
KRISTOL: I'm a little dubious about that. Good luck, if he wants to try, but I do think on Carol's point, I mean, I think he'll be a Trump -- he'll be Trump -- will be Trump. There'll be a Trump White House, which I think will be chaotic and sort of confusing and a mess. There'll be a Trump administration, with any luck, that could be a pretty competent cabinet secretaries, being given a lot of authority to lead their departments, because I'm not sure Trump wants to get involved in the 2,000 policies. We could end up with more that we're used to. We're so used to a White House centric administrations under Obama and Bush.
SCIUTTO: And we saw that particularly late in the Obama administration. You know, the power centralizing to the White House. I've been hearing you have at least the possibility decentralization. I mean, these could be very powerful positions we're talking about. It's state, DOD, et cetera.
LEE: Well, particularly because if you look at President Obama, he had a very clear doctrine, he had very clear positions on how he thought he sees the world; what he thinks the United States' role is in the world. And so, you know, he would gather advice from people in his cabinet, but ultimately, the decision was with him and it was -- it reflects if you look at all his policies, it reflects everything that he actually believed, and he went against them often times, that it's not clear what Trump's doctrine is. And so, those folks who are advising him may have much more influence.
SCIUTTO: A quick stop before we go, a team of rivals, is that what we're looking at here?
POWERS: Yeah. Well, I mean -- yeah, but I also think the decentralize thing is important. He had told The New York Times during the -- or actually someone from the Kasich campaign told The New York Times that when Kasich was offered the vice presidential spot, and he basically was told, "You'll basically be doing everything." and the (INAUDIBLE) he said, "What will be Trump be doing?" They said, "He'll be making America great again." So, that is kind of Trump's attitude, which is you won't be in the detail until they're out doing the big picture stuff.
SCIUTTO: Listen, thanks for all of you. I wish you all a very happy Thanksgiving.
KRISTOL: You, too.
POWERS: Thank you.
SCIUTTO: Bill, Kristen, thanks so much for joining.
Coming up next, the school bus driver under arrest after a horrific crash that left five children dead. Now, new details on what happened just moments before the accident.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
[16:55:00] SCIUTTO: We're back with the "NATIONAL LEAD". Now, two video cameras on board a school bus in Chattanooga, Tennessee could reveal what went wrong just before the bus crashed, killing those five children. Three students were fourth graders, one in first grade, the youngest victim, just in kindergarten. The driver of the school bus, Johnthony Walker is charged now in their deaths. His mother said, Walker called her moments after the crash terrified. CNN's Martin Savidge, he's live in Chattanooga. Martin, the NTSB, I know, just wrapping up a news conference there, what have they learned so far?
MARTIN SAVIDGE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, the NTSB says, first of all, they've just arrived on scene, the bus had already been moved by the time they got there. However, they did find a number of significant things. One, the driver of that bus only got his commercial license back in April, and he's been involved in another incident previous. The cameras on board that bus are going to be crucial, audio could be crucial as is the, kind of, black box. It's all going to be key.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: A school bus flipped off the roadway. It is occupied with children. They believe there's ejections.
SAVIDGE: A drastic accident. According to his mother, that's how the driver of this mangled school bus described the crash that killed at least five children Monday afternoon in Tennessee.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: In the back, I can see an arm moving.
SAVIDGE: The driver, 24-year-old Johnthony Walker has now been arrested and charged with vehicular homicide, reckless endangerment and reckless driving. Authorities' key focus now is speed.
CHRISTOPHER HART, NTSB CHAIRMAN: The police are aware of a following car, so that witness we have, but we are looking for other witnesses who may know not only about this event, but also we've talked about previous behavior of that driver.
SAVIDGE: According to a newly obtained arrest affidavit, Walker was traveling on a narrow, winding road, driving the bus at a high rate of speed, well above the posted speed limit of 30 miles per hour.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE, BUS CRASH SURVIVOR: He wasn't paying attention. He was going really fast, and he had hit a garbage -- a garbage bag, and we hit a mailbox and then we flipped over and hit a tree real hard.
SAVIDGE: Witness statements and evidence indicate the bus swerved off the road. He hit an elevated driveway and the mailbox, then swerved again, hitting a telephone pole and a tree as it overturned.
DWIGHT WILSON, VOLUNTEER HOSPICE CHAPLAIN: Broken ribs, broken legs, broken arms, bleeding kidneys. Our hearts -- our hearts have been going out to these families.
SAVIDGE: 37 school children ranging from kindergarteners to fifth graders were riding that bus with Walker when it crashed. A dozen remained hospitalize, some being treated in intensive care.
ANDY BERKE, MAYOR OF CHATTANOOGA: There are no words that can bring comfort to a mother or a father, and so today, the city is praying for these families.
SAVIDGE: One father told ABC News he'd had concerns about the bus driver before.
CRAIG HARRIS, FATHER OF CHILD ABOARD BUS: There has been times where I've seen him going a little faster than he probably should be going. That's the reason why I try to be there in the mornings when he's -- when he's pulling up, so I can -- so I can -- so I can try to get a read for what he was doing. The driver's mother told CNN her son was, quote, "terrified" when he called her shortly after the crash, telling her he tried to pull children from the wreckage. She says, he is the father of a three-year-old son who worked two jobs and has never been in trouble before. The National Transportation Safety Board is now investigating the incident, hoping to use video and informational boxes on board to find out just what happened on this bus, whether it could have been prevented.
SAVIDGE: There are now 12 children that still remain hospitalized, six of them are in intensive care. There should be an update on their conditions coming shortly. Jim?
SCIUTTO: Those poor parents, those poor children. Martin Savidge, thank you. That is it for THE LEAD. I'm Jim Sciutto, in again today for Jake Tapper. I turn you over now to Wolf Blitzer. He's right next door in "THE SITUATION ROOM".
WOLF BLITZER, CNN THE SITUATION ROOM HOST: Happening now, "BREAKING NEWS". Reverse course, Donald Trump drops his pledge to prosecute Hillary Clinton, saying it would be very divisive for the country.