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Trump Picks Nikki Haley as Ambassador to U.N.; Will Trump Incorporate Family into Administration?; Trump Changes Mind on Waterboarding; Report: Trump Gets Warning on North Korean Nuclear Threat; Lines and Delays as Tens of Millions Travel for Holiday. Aired 5-6p ET

Aired November 23, 2016 - 17:00   ET


BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now, breaking news. Team of rivals. Donald Trump has more cabinet picks, including the first two women. One of them, South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley, has been a sharp critic of the president-elect. Another harsh critic, Mitt Romney, is in the running for the inner circle. But can they all get along?

[17:00:18] General persuasion. Trump has said he knows more than the generals, but now that he's about to be commander in chief, what is he learning from them?

Road warriors. Tens of millions of Americans take to the highways and the skies for this Thanksgiving holiday. There are backups and breakdowns already, but is the busiest travel day yet to come?

And un-appreciated threat. Donald Trump gets a warning from the Obama administration about the top national security challenge he is likely to face as president: the nuclear armed North Korean regime of Kim Jong-un.

Wolf Blitzer is off. I'm Brianna Keilar. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

KEILAR: Our breaking news: Donald Trump may be off at his Florida estate, but he is busy putting his cabinet together. Today the president-elect picked two women for his administration, one of them a sharp critic. South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley. She is the daughter of Indian immigrants. She is Trump's choice for United Nations ambassador. Even though she backed two of his opponents and exchanged sharp jabs with Donald Trump during the campaign.

Haley has no foreign policy experience, but she is a rising star in the GOP and says she's accepting Trump's offer out of a sense of duty.

The president-elect also has picked Betsy Devos, a top Republican donor and school choice activist, to head the Education Department. Trump says she will help, quote, "break the bureaucracy that is holding our children back." And Dr. Ben Carson turned Trump supporter today tweeting that, quote,

"An announcement is forthcoming" about his role, which he said would involve making our inner cities great. Trump has said he's considering Carson for housing secretary.

Meantime, there is new information tonight about one of the biggest challenges the Trump administration may face: the aggressive nuclear armed regime of Kim Jong-un. The Obama administration has reportedly warned Trump's team that North Korea will be its top national security threat.

I will speak with Republican Congressman Peter King of the Intelligence and Homeland Security Committees. And our correspondents, analysts and guests have full coverage of the day's top stories.

We do begin, though, with our CNN senior White House correspondent, Jim Acosta. And Jim, the president-elect has shown that he doesn't really like criticism, but that certainly is not stopping him when it comes to building his cabinet.

JIM ACOSTA, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Brianna. Donald Trump has done what many of his critics thought he was incapable of doing, and that is bring in one of his harshest critics to serve in his administration. He's also making some moves that suggest some of his campaign promises might not make the trip to the White House.


ACOSTA (voice-over): As Donald Trump settles in for the Thanksgiving weekend, the president-elect is making room at the table for some surprising cabinet picks.

For starters, his choice for ambassador to the U.N., one of his toughest GOP critics, Nikki Haley, saying in a statement, "The South Carolina governor and daughter of Indian immigrants is a proven deal- maker. And we look to be making plenty of deals. She will be a great leader representing us on the world stage."

Explaining her decision to step down as governor, Haley said, "When the president believes you have a major contribution to make to the welfare of our nation and to our nation's standing in the world, that is a calling that is important to heed."

GOV. NIKKI HALEY (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: When a bully hits you, you hit that bully right back.

ACOSTA: Haley had a different calling in the primaries. When she was backing Marco Rubio, she attacked Trump as a race-baiting bully.

HALEY: I will not stop until we fight a man that chooses not to disavow the KKK. That is not a part of our party. That's not who we want as president. We will not allow that in our country.


very weak on illegal immigration. You can't have that.

ACOSTA: In addition to his selection of Haley, Trump also tapped billionaire school choice advocate Betsy Devos for education secretary and appears to be closing in on announcing Ben Carson to lead Housing And Urban Development. The Devos pick is already angering some conservatives who are outraged over her alliance with Jeb Bush's push for Common Core standardized testing in schools, though on her website Devos says she opposes Common Core, something Trump repeatedly vowed to end.

TRUMP: We're going to provide -- you're going to like this -- school choice, and put an end to Common Core, which is a disaster. We'll bring our education local.

ACOSTA: Trump's willingness to go outside his comfort zone may be a sign he could turn to one of his biggest Republican adversaries to become his secretary of state, Mitt Romney.

MITT ROMNEY (R), FORMER PRESIDENTIAL NOMINEE; His domestic policies would lead to recession. His foreign policies would make America and the world less safe. He has neither the temperament nor the judgment to be president.

ACOSTA: The potential move is enraging some of his core supporters.

[17:05:07] MIKE HUCKABEE (R), FORMER GOVERNOR OF ARKANSAS: There's only one way that I think Mitt Romney could even be considered for a post like that. And that is that he goes to a microphone in a very public place and repudiates everything he said in that famous Salt Lake City speech.

NEWT GINGRICH (R), FORMER SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: I could think of 20 other people who would be more naturally compatible with the Trump vision of foreign policy.


ACOSTA: As Trump indicated to "The New York Times," he's willing to listen to opposing views, as in the case of retired General James Mattis, a leading contender for defense secretary, who told president- elect waterboarding doesn't work.

TRUMP: He said, "I've always found give me a pack of cigarettes and a couple of beers and I do better with that than I do with torture."

ACOSTA: Contrast that with Trump's enthusiastic support for torture during the campaign.

TRUMP: Torture works. OK, folks? Torture -- but you know, I have these guys, torture doesn't work. Believe me, it works. OK? And waterboarding is your minor form. Some people say it's not actually torture.

(END VIDEOTAPE) ACOSTA: And the selection of Nikki Haley for United Nations comes at a critical time for the Trump transition team. With so many Americans uneasy about Donald Trump becoming president, one Trump advisor told me that they hope the Haley selection serves as sort of a pressure reliever for this holiday weekend -- Brianna.

KEILAR: All right. Jim Acosta in New York. Thank you so much.

And before Donald Trump headed to Florida for Thanksgiving, the president-elect met with "The New York Times." He dropped his pledge to prosecute Hillary Clinton and denied that his business interests are a conflict of interest.

Let's turn now to CNN national correspondent Jason Carroll. We're learning a lot, Jason, about this meeting. Tell us about it.

JASON CARROLL, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, more about that meeting, specifically when it comes to his son-in-law, Jared Kushner. As you know, Brianna, he was instrumental, many say, in getting Donald Trump to where he is right now. One of his closest advisors. And Donald Trump seemed to suggest that perhaps Jared Kushner could be instrumental with helping with the Middle East peace process.


TRUMP: Maybe nothing, because I don't want to have people saying conflict. Even though the president of the United States is -- I hope whoever is writing this story, it's written fairly. The president of the United States is allowed to have whatever conflicts he wants, he or she wants. But I don't want to -- I don't want to go by that.

Jared is a very smart guy. He's a very good guy. People that know him, he's a quality person. And I think he could be very helpful. I would love to be able to be the one that made peace with Israel and the Palestinians. I would love it. That would be such a great achievement. Because nobody has been able to do it successfully.

MAGGIE HABERMAN, REPORTER, "THE NEW YORK TIMES": Do you think he can be part of that?

TRUMP: I would -- I think he'd be very good at it. I mean, he knows it so well. He knows the region, knows the people, knows the players. I would love to be -- you can put that down in a list of many things that I'd like to be able to do.


CARROLL: Clearly, that would be a tall order.

But there's also a question. His critics point to the fact that this could be a violation of anti-nepotism laws. You look at the law that's on the books from 1967 that was enacted after John F. Kennedy basically installed his brother Robert to be attorney general.

But you heard there from Donald Trump, president-elect himself, if there could be possibly some way of getting around that, it seems as if he might be OK with that -- Brianna.

KEILAR: Jason Carroll in Florida, thank you.

And joining me now is Republican Congressman Peter King of New York. He's a key member of the Intelligence and Homeland Security Committees. Sir, thank you so much for being with us today.

REP. PETER KING (R), NEW YORK: Thank you, Brianna.

KEILAR: I want to ask you about something that Kellyanne Conway said. She confirmed to the "Wall Street Journal" that Donald Trump Jr. met last month in Paris with diplomats to discuss working with Russia on the issue of Syria. And then Ivanka Trump joined Donald Trump in meeting with the Japanese prime minister, also on a phone call with the Argentinian president.

Is that -- is that appropriate for his children to have that level of involvement in presidential affairs?

KING: Well, you know, the president-elect trusts them. He has faith in them. And unless there's something shown that they did something untoward or that there was something, I'd say, corrupt going on, I -- I think it's appropriate. Listen, I realize the issue. They're using someone who is not actually an official part of the government.

But on the other hand, again, to me, I believe the president should have the power to get things done. I don't see anything untoward going on here. And if that's how the president wants to function and to get the information he needs and to send signals, yes, I think it is appropriate. Obviously he has to be careful about it. But I think he realizes that.

Obviously, he doesn't want his family to be getting in any kind of trouble, but he does have absolute faith in them. And I think by doing that, it sends a signal to people on the other end that the president-elect is really sincere about what he wants.

KEILAR: But at at the same time, they are going to be basically in his stead at the Trump Organization, representing his financial interests.

KING: Right. Yes.

KEILAR: So why -- square that for me. Why is that OK?

[17:10:02] KING: Yes. This is the first time this has ever happened, that you had a president who had such a vast amount of interests, none of which is secret as far as I know. They're out there. I think Donald Trump himself has said that legally he can probably do all this, but he wants to find a way to put enough measures in place to assure people that everything is being done honestly and appropriately.

And, again, this is the first impression. First time we've had as far as I know anything like this. Maybe if Rockefeller had been elected. KEILAR: You say none of his interests are secret. But I mean, he hasn't released his tax returns. So there's actually a significant amount of his interests that are indeed secret, the definition of secret.

KING: Yes. Well, again, as I said, Donald Trump isn't hiding the fact that he realizes there's an issue there, and I'm sure that he and his lawyers and others will be working between now and January 20 to come up with a formula and put it in place to address this.

Again, this is first impression. And I don't see anything that Donald Trump is doing which is an attempt to get around the law. In fact, he wants to comply with the law, which he may not even have to comply with. I mean, it's out there. This is -- what I'm saying is no secret. There's no secret that he has vast holdings all over the country and to some extent around the world. And we've never had this before in a president.

There's nothing wrong with him having it. But now we're putting the two together. And I think he realizes the necessity to try and find a way to work through this and to do it in a way that assures the American people.

KEILAR: I want to ask you about something that you said, actually, right here on THE SITUATION ROOM in August. Because this was when you talked about Hillary Clinton and even just the appearance of there being perhaps conflicts. Let's listen to that.


KING: She should have known as secretary of state the conflicts or the appearance of conflict that was being raised by accepting all this money from foreign donors, foreign companies, people who had involvement with overseas interests. And really, so it does raise questions about her judgment.


KEILAR: Why does the appearance of conflicts with Hillary Clinton raise questions about her judgment; and yet the appearance of conflicts -- I mean, you had Donald Trump, who met with Indian business partners who built the first Trump property in that country. He took a photo with them. This photo went up. It was put public, and then it was later deleted, obviously, because it wasn't great news for Donald Trump. Why is there that double standard?

KING: I would say the difference here is that there was no reason why she had to be going out, again, dealing with countries that were also dealing with the Clinton Foundation, and, again, she was secretary of state. And when she was going out affirmatively and, in effect, you know, breaking new territory, going out seeking funding. Her husband was going out seeking funding.

And the fact is that now we have Donald Trump who had all this coming in. Before the campaign started, he had all this wealth. He had all these interests. And now he's trying to find a way to square the two of them. And again, he's not denying any of this. He wants to find a way to make it work.

KEILAR: Without defending the foundation, because I think that there have been some good points raised certainly about that, and I think the firewall wasn't exactly what she said it would be.

We're talking about a charitable foundation. And when you're talking about Donald Trump, this is not a foundation. This is his business empire. This is solely for profit. This is something that should be treated even more seriously than a charitable foundation. Shouldn't it be?

KING: I think he's treating it seriously. And again, the charitable foundation...

KEILAR: How is he treating it seriously if he's meeting as president- elect with Indian business partners? And taking photos with them?

KING: Because he's going before the American public. He even went with the "New York Times." Why he met with them, I'll never know, but he met with "The New York Times." And he's acknowledging these issues are there, and he wants to find a way to address them.

He's not denying that he has the interests. He's not denying the fact that he realizes as president there could be issues and he's going to find a way to work around it. There's no -- there's no secret hear, in fact, that he has these holdings.

Now as far as the foundation, yes, it did charitable work. But also, it was a good life line for the Clintons also. I not into bashing the Clintons. I'm just saying that there is a distinction in that Donald Trump had the wealth first. He had the holdings first, and then he ran for president. He wasn't using one to benefit the other. And he's acknowledging the issue is there.

KEILAR: But he met, for instance, with Nigel Farage, Mr. Brexit himself, who -- they had a meeting. And he implored, certainly, people in, as we understand, Farage's entourage not to build a wind farm near his properties in Britain.

So, I mean, that -- that seems, as president-elect, to be asking someone to do something to benefit his business, isn't that the definition of what you just said?

KING: No. Because it's said publicly. He's known Farage. They have a common interest on Brexit. Donald Trump can answer all this for himself.

If you're trying to do something, you don't do it -- if you're trying to do something surreptitiously, you don't do it in the public. This was all out in the open. People know about it. That's Donald Trump. He is different from other people in that.

[17:15:03] There's no secrets here. He says what's on his mind. He talks to allies. And, again, I think between now and January 20th this will be resolved. This will be another one of those issues that's used against Donald Trump and the American people -- obviously, they elected him. His numbers have gone up in the last 10 days. The more he's attacked in the media, the more his numbers go up. He is out there; he's open. He says he realizes the issues are there. And he wants to have them resolved.

KEILAR: So you're confident that, by the time he is no longer President-elect Trump, he's President Trump, that there are not going to be any concerns about whether he would use the presidency to benefit his business interests?

KING: Well, I'm sure that people in the media and some enemies will always try to attack him. I'm confident he will do all he can between now and January 20, or as soon thereafter as possible, to have these issues resolved, to have a formula in place which will assure reasonable people that he's doing the right thing.

KEILAR: All right. Congressman King, many more questions ahead. Stay with me.

KING: Sure.

KEILAR: We'll be back with Congressman King in just a moment.


[17:20:21] KEILAR: Our breaking news. Donald Trump picks more members of his cabinet, one of them a sharp critic just a day after seeming to drop some of his campaign pledges.

We're back now with Republican Congressman Peter King of New York. He is a key member of the Intelligence and Homeland Security Committees.

Congressman, I really want to get your reaction to this...

KING: Sure.

KEILAR: ... pick of Nikki Haley as U.N. ambassador -- as U.S. ambassador to the U.N. Some people are saying -- you know, people who back her up are saying, "Look, she's clearly someone who's very skilled in just the natural art of diplomacy." But then you have other folks who are saying she doesn't really have foreign policy experience. As someone with a lot of foreign policy experience, is that something that worries you?

KING: No, it doesn't. Again, Donald Trump interviewed her. I mean, I don't know Governor Haley personally. I may have met her once. But she obviously has ability. People who work with her say she's extremely intelligent. And she's obviously familiar with world affairs. And I think -- I have no doubt that she will do a very good job at the U.N.

And I think it's important for a president to be able to put his team together, if he believes that they're competent and have the ability. And certainly people who have worked with Nikki Haley, whether or not she's an expert on foreign policy, she is smart, she is intelligent. She handles herself very well in public. And all that is important as U.N. ambassador. And I'm confident that she will, you know -- is going to be able to get the job done and get it done very effectively.

KEILAR: She -- I think there's also another reason why many observers are so critical, and that's just because of how critical -- or not critical, but they're sort of surprised. Because she was so critical of Donald Trump during the election. It's sort of stunning that he's brought in someone who he exchanged such harsh words with. Mitt Romney is someone he's considering. What does that tell you?

KING: Right. I think it shows that he's an open-minded guy. That people who say that he's sensitive and he's thin-skinned. I mean, he's bringing in two of the people who were the most critical of him. I give him credit for that.

I guess you could go back to when John Kennedy picked LBJ to be his vice-presidential partner. Again, Donald Trump, I mean again to the extent I met with him during the campaign. I saw him on election night. He wants to get the job done. And I don't think he cares who's in there, as far as their feelings toward him. So long as they can work with him, and he can work with them, and they are willing to carry out his agenda, and they have the ability and are able to communicate that to the American people, he's willing to take them on. Not willing to take them on; he wants to take them on, because he wants to get the job done. He's not going to stand on ideology; he's not going to stand on ceremony; and he's certainly not going to stand or worry about hurt feelings.

KEILAR: And I have to ask you this, because you are on the Homeland Security Committee, and we are approaching this holiday, a big travel holiday tomorrow.

KING: Yes.

KEILAR: As someone -- as a member of the committee, what can you tell us about the threat level, any concerns that you have for this?

KING: I'm not unduly concerned. I mean, the fact is, we do know that ISIS, you know, put out the notice saying that they want someone to use a large truck or a vehicle to crash into crowds. NYPD is responding to that in New York.

But anytime during the holiday season, everyone is on full alert. So I am confident. I want to reassure Americans that homeland security, the FBI, local and state police, are doing all they possibly can. And if anybody wants to travel, go out and do it. I would certainly urge my family to do it. I'm not concerned, other than the fact I know that anything can happen in the dangerous world in which we live. But the reality is that the worst thing we can do is run and hide. Go out, enjoy yourself. And appreciate the fact we live in the freest country, and we have the best police and the best intelligence people in the world.

KEILAR: Enjoy ourselves. Maybe just a little bit vigilant, but don't let it stop us.

KING: Right. Absolutely.

KEILAR: All right, Congressman Peter King. Thank you so much and have a happy Thanksgiving.

KING: You too, Brianna. Happy Thanksgiving.

KEILAR: Now coming up, why the president-elect's biggest international problem may be North Korea's young, unpredictable leader.

Also ahead, breaking news: travel delays as Amtrak has problems in one of its busiest travel corridors.


[07:28:51] KEILAR: Our breaking news; Donald Trump picks a one-time very sharp critic for his U.N. ambassador just a day after seeming to drop some of his campaign pledges. Let's bring in our national security experts.

Phil Mudd, to you first. So Nikki Haley...


KEILAR: ... governor of South Carolina, looks like she's now going to be the U.S. ambassador to the U.N. What do you think about someone who really has very little -- I mean, basically none on this stage, foreign policy experience?

MUDD: Yes, let's skip back "very little," by "very little," let's stick with "none." I think I would step back. No experience. I think I would step back and say, look, when you sit in the situation room, I think temperament and judgment are more important in some cases than experience. There have been questions about temperament on this team. General Flynn, the national security advisor, in my view, is not somebody who has the temperament for the position. So I think she brings balance in terms of experience and judgment.

The second thing, though, is this is rounding out; this is diversification. Not only in terms of personal attributes. A female daughter of immigrants. But also somebody who's been a sharp critic of the president. I think we ought to sit back, with one of the most thin-skinned politicians I've ever seen, and say, not a bad thing to have somebody in the cabinet who will say, "Mr. President, I don't agree with you."

KEILAR: That's right. It sort of goes against this caricature of Donald Trump.

MUDD: That's right.

KEILAR: So General, one of the things that we heard Donald Trump say throughout the campaign was that he would bring back water boarding. Recently, we heard the vice-president-elect not rule it out.

[17:30:11] But then listen to what Donald Trump told the "New York Times" about a conversation that he had with General James Mattis.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) TRUMP: General Mattis is a strong, highly-dignified man. I met with him at length, and I asked him that question. I said, "What do you think of waterboarding?"

He said, "I was surprised," he said. "I've never found it to be useful." He said, "I've always found, give me a pack of cigarettes and a couple of beers, and I do better with that than I do with torture."


KEILAR: OK, so Mattis, of course, the leading candidate for defense secretary. That has not been announced, but clearly Donald Trump is doing a lot of talking to him these days. What do you make of that? I mean, that's a reversal.

GEN. MARK HERTLING (RET.), CNN MILITARY ANALYST: It is, Brianna. And on this day before Thanksgiving, I'm going to be thankful that Donald Trump is beginning to realize that he isn't smarter than some of the generals. And he needs to ask some of the operators about not only the effectiveness of waterboarding but also the legalities of it. And it seems that's what he's done this time.

So it was a red meat issue during the campaign. Now, unfortunately, he has to do things, and he's seeing that, yes, this isn't such a good move. Waterboarding is not good. And torture is not good.

KEILAR: Do you take that, Peter, as him ruling it out? As him basically saying, "Yes, this was a campaign issue..."

PETER BERGEN, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: Actually, if you read the transcript of what he said to the "New York Times," "The New York Times" story, in its initial incarnation, got the story slightly wrong. Because he then says after this comment, "But I haven't necessarily changed my mind on this issue. I certainly found what General Mattis said" -- he certainly admires Mattis. This was new information, in a sense, that you know, a general was saying this was not effective. But he didn't completely walk back the idea that he might bring it back.

KEILAR: That's really the thing, though, is he always kind of has it, like, both ways or three different ways, you know? He will do what sounds like a reversal, and then he says that's not a reversal. He's done this on many topics.

So when you're a foreign country and you're looking at Donald Trump, and you're thinking that, when it comes to policy that matters to you, how -- there's so much uncertainty. How does that affect the potential relationship?

MUDD: Well, first, I worry about time of crisis. That is, we're talking about waterboarding here. If you're watching overseas, you're watching a variety of comments which are in conflict. I worry, as someone who watched this stuff for 25 years, that when you get to a crisis situation, if you have an unfortunate, catastrophic tragedy in this country at the hands of ISIS, that people who are waffling on this issue now in the heat of the moment don't have the perspective to step back and say, "Where do we want to be in five or ten years?"

When I watch this, I worry about temperament; I worry about continuity. Because I see this waffling, and I don't know where these guys stand, but I'm not sure.

KEILAR: Peter, I want to ask you -- I want to -- sorry. Go ahead, General.

HERTLING: Yes. It goes back to his Thanksgiving message, as well, Brianna. I mean, he's talking about establishing trust with the American people. In order to establish trust, it's an element of character and what you believe in and what your values are. It's very difficult to establish trust with someone when you don't know which way they're going.

And he has already changed in the last two weeks his position on many things. So I'm sure many of his supporters are beginning to lose a little bit of trust in that. But it doesn't appear to be happening just yet.

KEILAR: I want to ask you just real quick before we go, since we are approaching this holiday. There's going to be gatherings. I think of the Macy's Thanksgiving Day parade. Talking about soft targets, is there any concern about something like a soft target attack really happening? For instance, the truck attack in Nice.

BERGEN: I mean, the New York Police Department is taking every precaution, that people should enjoy their Thanksgiving, because the likelihood of an attack is pretty low.

KEILAR: OK. Well, that's very good news. And Happy Thanksgiving news to all of you. Thank you so much. Phil, Peter, General Hertling.


TRUMP: It's my prayer that on this Thanksgiving we begin to heal our divisions and move forward as one country, strengthened by shared purpose and very, very common resolve.

In declaring this national holiday, President Lincoln called upon Americans to speak with one voice and one heart. That's just what we have to do. We've just finished a long and bruising political campaign. Emotions are raw and tensions just don't heal overnight. It doesn't go quickly, unfortunately.

But we have before us the chance now to make history together, to bring real change to Washington, real safety to our cities, and real prosperity to our communities, including our inner cities, so important to me and so important to our country. But to succeed we must enlist the effort of our entire nation.

This historic political campaign is now over. But now begins a great national campaign to rebuild our country and to restore the full promise of America for all of our people. I'm asking you to join me in this effort. It's time to restore the bonds of trust between citizens. Because when America is unified, there is nothing beyond our reach. And I mean absolutely nothing.

Let us...


[17:35:20] KEILAR: That is the president-elect with his Thanksgiving Day message, stressing unity. And coming up, a challenge that Donald Trump has said very little about. We will get details of a warning that the threat from North Korea is a top national security priority.


[17:40:09] KEILAR: One of the biggest threats that President-elect Donald Trump will encounter as president is the aggressive nuclear armed regime of Kim Jong-un. And our Brian Todd has been looking into this.

Brian, tell us: what are you learning about the challenge that this poses to the president-elect?

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Brianna, tonight we're told that the North Koreans could have nuclear-tipped ballistic missiles capable of hitting the U.S. sometime during the Trump administration. And there's a report tonight that the Trump transition team got a very serious warning from the Obama White House about the threat from Kim Jong-un.


TODD (voice-over): New information tonight that Donald Trump got a dire warning about a major national security threat he'll face when he enters the Oval Office. A threat that comes from a young, impetuous dictator who executed his own uncle.

U.S. intelligence officials tell CNN the White House is conveying that North Korea is a grave near-term threat to America. The "Wall Street Journal" says the Obama team viewed North Korea as Trump's top national security priority and warned the Trump transition team about the threat.

MICHAEL GREEN, CENTER FOR STRATEGIC & INTERNATIONAL STUDIES: Once the president-elect got the detailed briefings on the state of North Korean nuclear and missile programs, I imagine it was new information and rather jarring.

TODD: U.S. officials and weapons experts say Kim Jong-un's regime probably has the ability already to put nuclear weapons on medium- range missiles which could hit Japan and South Korea. And they're improving their longer-range intercontinental ballistic missiles. One is called the KN-14.

RICHARD FISHER, INTERNATIONAL ASSESSMENT & STRATEGY CENTER: They've tested the ICBM engine. It may have new fuels that give it far greater energy and range, and with that range, the KN-14 can possibly reach Washington, D.C. TODD: Those missiles haven't yet been tested to be able to reenter

the atmosphere, but experts say the North Koreans could be able to fire those missiles at the U.S. during Trump's administration.

There are also new concerns tonight about Kim's violent tendencies, and how president Trump will deal with him personally.

(on camera): What should Donald Trump know about Kim Jong-un as an adversary?

GREEN: Kim Jong-un is a dangerous man. He has grown up around violence. He seems to even enjoy violence. He has brutally killed dozens of his generals. And he is a leader without legitimacy. He needs to prove to the Korean People's Army that he is a tough guy.

TODD (voice-over): On the campaign trail, Trump alternated between saying it's possible he could meet with Kim and saying he wanted to push him out of power.

TRUMP: He's like a maniac, OK. And you've got to give him credit. How many young guys -- he was, like, 26 or 25 when his father died -- take over these tough generals.

TODD: Tonight, analysts have a serious question. Are these two leaders who will act rationally toward each other or impulsively?

BRUCE KLINGNER, THE HERITAGE FOUNDATION: Kim takes any insult very personally. We've seen threats of 9/11-style attacks after the movie "The Interview" was released. And perhaps Mr. Trump is very amenable to responding strongly to any kind of criticism.


TODD: We've pressed the Trump transition team for a response to that and on how they're going to handle Kim Jong-un. We haven't gotten a response -- Brianna.

KEILAR: Brian Todd, thank you for that report. Let's bring in two experts on this region. Gordon Chang, he's a columnist for "The Daily Beast" and author of "Nuclear Showdown: North Korea Takes on the World." And we have Stephen Yates with us, as well. He's a distinguished fellow at the Hamilton Institute. He was deputy assistant for national security to Vice President Dick Cheney.

So I wonder what you think, Gordon? On the campaign we heard Donald Trump suggesting that a nuclear Japan or maybe South Korea might rein in North Korean aggression. How does that stand now? What is your interpretation of where the president-elect is on that now that it's -- the campaign's gone?

GORDON CHANG, COLUMNIST, "THE DAILY BEAST": One of the first things that President-elect Trump did was walk back those comments. He had a meeting -- he had a telephone call with the South Korean president, Park Geun Hye and, of course, he met with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in New York. And it's clear now that the United States is going to stand behind

those two treaties, but the Chinese are going to test him, because the Chinese would like the U.S. out of Asia. They think if we walk away from those treaties, that that would really start that process. And so therefore, they're sort of rubbing their hands right now and thinking that they might be able to do that.

KEILAR: And because, Stephen, when you -- when you see the TPP, this key trade pact that President Obama was overseeing and that he did so much travel to try to secure with countries, not China but other countries in the Asia-Pacific region, it wasn't just about trade, right? It was about something bigger than that. It was about having a toe-hold in the region to challenge China, and now China sees that and probably thinks that they're really the only show in town.

STEPHEN YATES, HAMILTON INSTITUTE: Well, I think the Obama administration tried a number of different ways to engage Asia.

[17:45:00] I don't really think they moved the needle very much. And frankly, when you're looking at North Korea, we now have three two- term presidencies of both major parties that have failed to really fundamentally change the direction this dangerous country has been going. And their capabilities have steadily progressed towards WMD and the delivery systems capable of delivering them at distance.

So we've got a long list of failed policy of Republican and Democratic administrations, excellent experts on diagnosis and really short on prescription.

KEILAR: What can he rely, Gordon, on China to do here?

CHANG: Well, China's not going to do anything because Xi Jinping, the Chinese ruler, views the United States as his main strategic adversary. So anything we want, he's not going to support. What we need to do is look at China, not as on our side but on North Korea's because when we do that, when we see them as part of the problem, we can then craft solutions that will work, like secondary sanctions.

The Obama administration imposed a secondary sanction on a small fry Chinese company in September, but we need to go after Chinese banks that have been involved in the illicit activities of North Korea. When we cut one of those banks off from the global financial system, Beijing will take notice and we might start to push the Chinese in the right direction.

KEILAR: What, Stephen, are allies in Asia who either are willing or very willing to sort of join with the U.S., in partnership, as sort of a counter to China, what are they expecting now with this President- elect?

YATES: Well, I think many of them don't know what to expect just because we've gone through a domestic slug fest that was focused mostly on domestic policy and what's happening in politics in the United States, not on the specifics around the world.

But I think our allies in Asia, like our allies in the Middle East, when they get a clear sense of a serious action with strategic follow- up from the United States, they're on our side. But, fundamentally, history is on Gordon's side on this.

The one time we got China's support in trying to pressure North Korea during the Bush administration is when their banks were on notice for financial sanctions. The Bush administration used it to resume talks. That didn't accomplish enough. But that's the only example. We don't get China's support with inducements. They're not going to do it because they like us or agree with us.

KEILAR: That's right. It has to be maybe a stick and not a carrot. All right. Stephen Yates and Gordon Chang, thank you so much to both of you and have a happy Thanksgiving.

CHANG: Happy Thanksgiving.

YATES: Thank you.

KEILAR: All right. Take care, you guys. And coming up, breaking news. Snarled Thanksgiving travel as Amtrak suspends service in its crucial northeast corridor. We're going to have the latest in just a moment.


[17:51:59] KEILAR: We are following breaking news and major delays for some Thanksgiving travelers. Our meteorologist, Jennifer Gray is standing by for us. Let's begin real quickly, though, with Rene Marsh. She is keeping track of this hour's travel problems on the rails, the highways, and at airports, one of which you are at.

Rene, tell us about the delays that we're seeing. Certainly, it's busy where you are, but really on Amtrak, that's the issue.

RENE MARSH, CNN AVIATION AND GOVERNMENT REGULATION CORRESPONDENT: That's right. We are expecting some delays along portions of the northeast corridor, between Delaware as well as New Jersey, because an Amtrak train unfortunately struck a trespasser. So that's leading to some delays, of course, on obviously a very busy travel day. Here at Reagan National Airport, I can tell you, American Airlines is the largest carrier operating out of here, and their flights are pretty full.

Brianna, as you know, millions of people across the country, they are on the move during one of the busiest travel periods of the year. I want you to take a look at this video. This is out of Los Angeles. This is the 405. I mean, look at this traffic jam. We're talking about miles and miles here. This was just last night, gridlock. Many people expecting to try and beat the rush. Obviously, they were not able to.

Most people are going to be driving this Thanksgiving. AAA is estimating some 43 million people. And in the meantime, at the airports and the airlines, well, they are seeing record numbers of flyers as well. We're talking about some 27 million passengers. Of course, all eyes will be on the TSA and the security checkpoint lines. The agency says they are ready for the volume.


PETER NEFFENGER, ADMINISTRATOR, TRANSPORTATION SECURITY ADMINISTRATION: So we brought on about just shy of 1,400 new transportation security officers this summer, and we converted about 2,000 from part-time to full-time. We've added about another 50 or 60 canines.


MARSH: All right. And those canines, just one of the many measures they are using to really cut down those wait times. Remember, if you're in a line where they are using those canines, you don't have to take off your shoes, you don't have to take off your coats, and you leave the liquids in your bag. So the real test, though, comes on Sunday. That's when we are expecting the most number of people to be flying back home. Back to you, Brianna.

KEILAR: I love that the solution has been adding dogs to the mix. Rene Marsh there at Reagan Airport for us. Thank you so much. Let's get the latest now on where the weather is adding to travel delays, both at airports and also on highways. CNN's Jennifer Gray is at the CNN center in Atlanta. And what are you seeing from there?

JENNIFER GRAY, AMS METEOROLOGIST: We're seeing the biggest delays really in the Midwest. We've seen the highest delays in Chicago. We've also seen a couple in Minneapolis, Detroit. We've had wind delays in LaGuardia throughout the day today, as well as delays in Seattle, Brianna.

KEILAR: And what about tomorrow's outlook because there are a lot of people who are going to be on the road? And they'll be getting on the road really early, but it's going to go on, certainly, into the afternoon.

[17:55:01] GRAY: Right. Tomorrow, a lot of people will be hitting the roads early. If you look at the northeast, we could see some trouble there, especially upstate New York. That's where we'll see some slick spots also mixed with a little bit of rain to the south. The other trouble spot tomorrow will be in the Pacific Northwest. You may have some trouble getting through some of the passes as well as the rain around Seattle. Brianna.

KEILAR: All right. Jennifer Gray with a little help there from your poultry friend. We do appreciate it. Thank you so much.

GRAY: Thanks.

KEILAR: Happy Thanksgiving. And coming up, Donald Trump adds more cabinet picks including South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley who has been a sharp critic of him. Another harsh critic, Mitt Romney, he's in the running for the inner circle. Will Donald Trump tolerate dissenting views?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) [18:00:07] KEILAR: Happening now. Breaking news. Cabinet of critics.