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Trump Picks Health, Transportation Secretaries; Interview with Rep. Chris Collins; Gingrich: Somebody Should Check Trump's Tweets; Interview with Sean Spicer; Trump Falsely Claims Millions Voted Illegally; ISIS Claims Ohio State Attacker Was Its "Soldier"; Three Dead as Thousands Flee Tennessee Wildfires. Aired 5-6p ET

Aired November 29, 2016 - 17:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now, commander in tweet. Donald Trump takes to Twitter suggesting Americans who burn the U.S. flag should be jailed or lose their citizenship, but the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled twice that flag burning is protected by the First Amendment. Does Trump want to change the Constitution?

[17:00:24] Vital signs. The president-elect picks a top Obamacare critic and former surgeon for health and human services secretary. Will Congressman Tom Price be able to help Trump deliver on his promise to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act on his first day in office?

ISIS claim. The Islamic State says the Ohio State student who attacked pedestrians with a car and a butcher knife was an ISIS soldier. Sources tell CNN investigators now believe he was inspired by ISIS. Was he in direct communication with the terrorists, as well?

And out of control. Raging wildfires devastate a popular tourist area near a national park. At least three people are dead. Thousands are evacuated. Hundreds of homes and businesses are damaged or destroyed. Will rain arrive in time to stop the flames from spreading?

I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

BLITZER: We're following breaking news. Law enforcement sources are telling CNN that investigators now believe the man who carried out the attack at Ohio State University was inspired by ISIS. The Islamic State is now claiming that Abdul Razak Ali Artan was an ISIS soldier.

We're also following the Trump transition. President-elect Trump has named two more cabinet appointees. For health and human service secretary, he's tapped Congressman Tom Price, a doctor and a sharp critic of Obamacare. And Trump has asked former labor secretary Elaine Chao to lead the Transportation Department.

There's still no pick for secretary of state, but Trump is scheduled to have dinner with a top contender tonight. We're talking about Mitt Romney, who was sharply critical of Trump before the election. Trump has also been busy on Twitter, sparking new controversy with a

tweet suggesting Americans who burn the flag should be jailed or have their citizenship revoked. But flag burning has been upheld twice by the U.S. Supreme Court as free speech protected under the First Amendment.

We're covering that and much more this hour with our guests, including Republican National Committee chief strategist Sean Spicer and Congressman Chris Collins, the first member of Congress to endorse Donald Trump. And our correspondents and expert analysts are also standing by.

Let's begin with the Trump transition. CNN's Sunlen Serfaty is over at Trump Tower in New York.

Sunlen, the vice-president-elect, Mike Pence, just said there will be another announcement before dinner. Update our viewers.

SUNLEN SERFATY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Wolf. Mike Pence teasing that there will be another major announcement to come tonight. And there certainly was a lot of activity today. Donald Trump making some big staff announcements today already, including two key nominations for his cabinet.

But old habits do seem to die hard. Trump is back to his provocative tweeting again, threatening to get in his own way.


SERFATY: Tonight, Donald Trump is taking major steps to fill out his cabinet. The president-elect announcing Elaine Chao, a former labor secretary and wife of Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell, to lead the Transportation Department. And naming GOP Congressman Tom Price as his pick for secretary of health and human services.

REP. TOM PRICE (R), HEALTH AND HUMAN SERVICES NOMINEE: As a physician, I believe that the president's healthcare law violates every single principle we hold dear in health care.

SERFATY: Price, a physician, is a staunch conservative who has been leading the charge in Congress to repeal the Affordable Care Act, which transition officials say will become his priority in a Trump administration.

JASON MILLER, TRUMP TRANSITION SPOKESMAN: Dr. Tom Price, chairman of the House Budget Committee, also a member of Ways and Means every cycle for the last several cycles introduced very solid replacement healthcare option bills. And that's one of the things he's going to lead the charge on.

SERFATY: Price also favors overhauling Medicaid and Medicare. Under House Speaker Paul Ryan's plan, Medicare enrollees would receive subsidies from the federal government to cover or offset their medical costs. Democrats are already sounding the alarm.

SEN. CHUCK SCHUMER (D), NEW YORK: We say to our Republicans who want to privatize Medicare, go try it. Make our day.

SERFATY: Trump also selecting Seema Verma to serve as the administrator for the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid services. Verma has close ties to V.P.-elect Mike Pence, having designed Indiana's Medicaid expansion under Obamacare.


SERFATY: Meantime, the palace intrigue over who will be chosen as secretary of state continues to take center stage as Trump hosts more contenders in New York today. Trump welcoming Senate Foreign Relations Chairman Bob Corker to Trump Tower.

[17:05:10] SEN. BOB CORKER (R), FOREIGN RELATIONS CHAIRMAN: He needs to choose someone that he's very comfortable with, that he knows there's going to be no day light between him and them.

SERFATY: And having a dinner tonight with Mitt Romney, with the two being joined by their wives. Sources say the sit-down is so Trump and Romney can get to know each other more.

But the president-elect is threatening to step on his staffing announcements with his latest Twitter rampage, including writing that people who burn the American flag should face consequences, such as loss of citizenship or year in jail. The Supreme Court has ruled that flag burning is protected under the First Amendment, a ruling Senate GOP leader McConnell says he supports.

SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY), MAJORITY LEADER: The Supreme Court has held that that activity is a protected First Amendment right, a form of unpleasant speech, and in this country, we have a long tradition of respecting unpleasant speech.

SERFATY: But transition officials are dismissing those views.

MILLER: The flag burning should be illegal.

The president-elect is a very strong supporter of the First Amendment. But I also think there's a big difference between that and burning the American flag.

SERFATY: All this as Trump takes aim at the media, retweeting seemingly random supporters criticizing CNN for its reporting on his baseless claims of widespread voter fraud in the election that he won.


SERFATY: And President-elect Donald Trump will hit the road this week, kicking off what his team is calling a thank you tour. Thursday night in Cincinnati, Ohio, this is the first of an anticipated few stops to get out and thank voters for their support. But very notably, President-elect Trump. he has still not had a press conference since winning election as is tradition, as you know, Wolf, and has now been a total of 125 days since he's had a formal press conference -- Wolf. BLITZER: All right, Sunlen, thank you. Sunlen Serfaty reporting.

Let's get some more on Donald Trump's latest Twitter storm. CNN senior Washington correspondent Jeff Zeleny is joining us.

Jeff, the president-elect used Twitter to go after your reporting, which was entirely accurate, that he's offered no evidence he actually won the popular vote, as he now claims. Now one of his allies is telling him to cool it. What's the latest?

JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, as you said, Donald Trump has been very active on Twitter in the last 24 hours. He's been retweeting messages from his supporters about how he's the victim of widespread voter fraud.

When he saw our report last night, he started sending out messages critical of CNN and me, and again, we asked him for evidence that millions, he said, may have voted illegally. But neither he nor his advisers have offered any.

This morning he was back at it, changing the subject, saying anyone who burns the American flag should be subject to a year in jail or lose their citizenship.

Now, many Republicans are cringing at this, including Newt Gingrich, an alarm about Trump's tweets. He told "USA Today" this: "The president of the United States can't randomly tweet without having somebody check it out. It makes you wonder about whatever else he's doing. It undermines much more than a single tweet."

Now, Gingrich also went on to say there was no evidence that millions of people voted fraudulently -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Jeff, the selection of Congressman Tom Price as the health and human services secretary sends a powerful message that Donald Trump is very serious about going hard and trying to repeal and replace Obamacare.

ZELENY: It does indeed, Wolf. Now, fewer House Republicans are more interested in dismantling the Affordable Care Act than Tom Price, a Georgia Republican congressman and a physician. He's long advocated a plan that would, as he said, take Washington out of the health care business. His plan has called for some tax credits among other things. It would not preserve a few things Trump has talked about in keeping Obamacare, like preexisting conditions and allowing children up to age 27 to stay on the plan.

But it's clear Obamacare will be on the chopping block. The replacement will be debated for its specifics, but Tom Price has his plan in mind, and Republicans on Capitol Hill say he will be quickly confirmed -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Jeff, thank you. Jeff Zeleny reporting.

Let's get some more on all of this. Republican Congressman Chris Collins of New York was the first member of Congress to endorse Donald Trump. He's a member of the Trump transition team.

Congressman, thanks very much for joining us.

REP. CHRIS COLLINS (R), NEW YORK: It's good to be with you, Wolf.

BLITZER: Let's talk a little bit about Obamacare. He wants to replace and repeal Obamacare. You know Tom Price. He's a colleague of yours. Would it be simultaneous so that the 20 million Americans who now have health insurance, who didn't have it before, would they still be covered during the period that you guys are trying to figure out what is next?

COLLINS: There's no question, Wolf, we will repeal this in the first 100 days. But in doing so, when you look at 2017, these plans are in place. There's no way we can impact 2017 health insurance plans. In fact, in many cases you'd have to have the 2018 insurance plans in place by April, like in four months.

[17:10:04] There will be definitely a transition period, a grandfathering period, for some aspects, to make sure, and certainly for next year, the health plans have already been decided. So we will repeal it with some type of time frame as to when the other changes...

BLITZER: So those 20 million people who now have health insurance, they will continue to have health insurance until you can figure out what goes on years from now? Is that what you're saying?

COLLINS: Well, don't worry about 2017 and where we transition it in 2018 or beyond. A lot of this will depend on getting the insurance companies to put forth some of these more affordable plans. They could be health savings accounts tied to high deductible plans. But that's a discussion over the next six months.

BLITZER: And just to be precise, Donald Trump says he wants to keep part of Obamacare, for example, letting children stay on their parents' insurance plans until they hit the age of 27.

COLLINS: Twenty-six. But...

BLITZER: Twenty-six or 27. But he also wants to make sure that, if you have a preexisting condition, you would still be able to get health insurance. Are you with him on that?

COLLINS: I am. And let's clarify. In some cases what we're talking about on preexisting conditions is, if you are insured in a plan and are changing plans, coming off of Medicaid, going in whatever, that would be a continuum of coverage. And of course, we want to make sure you have that continuum of coverage, along with taking away any caps on lifetime care.

BLITZER: But let's say you don't have a plan, you're not on any health insurance, but you do have cancer. Could you still get health insurance under your plan?

COLLINS: We would. It could be a high-risk pool. That's what we're going to be discussing. There's two different issues. One would be you have no insurance. You aren't even on Medicaid, you've contracted some kind of disease. We're going to make sure you can coverage, but it may be something along the lines of a high risk pool.

BLITZER: As you know, Congressman, Tom Price, he's been specific in his ideas. He wants to privatize at least some of Medicare. The speaker also wants to do that. Donald Trump doesn't want to do that. At least during the campaign said he wasn't privatize, change Medicare or Social Security, for that matter.

Is there a split between what Congressman Price wants to do on Medicare and what the president-elect wants to do?

COLLINS: I think there absolutely is. What the president-elect has said, he's going to make sure we don't take away benefits. He's very concerned that we don't take away benefits.

But how we move forward over the next 20 or 30 years with an aging population and fewer people in the workforce is what we have to discuss, because if we do nothing, the trust funds in both cases are out of money in the next 12 or 14 years.

BLITZER: Because Congressman Price has spoken about a voucher program for Medicare. Donald Trump totally opposes that. Is that right?

COLLINS: I don't know exactly where President-elect Trump stands on that. And even these voucher programs, if we have them, would be eased in depending on your age.

And the one thing I'd say we're all unanimous about: we are not going to impact folks on Social Security or Medicare who are 55 or older and...

BLITZER: What about younger ones...

COLLINS: Well...

BLITZER: ... who have paid into the system for years and years and years, and they're expecting to be eligible for Medicare when they retire, to be eligible for Social Security when they retire? Let's say they're 45 years old? Will they still get exactly what has been promised them?

COLLINS: Well, and that's a discussion we'll have. And there's a distinct possibility they may not, but they would be able to have other benefits and participate in those, not unlike a 401(k) plan.

BLITZER: So you want to privatize part of that Social Security? Is that what you're saying?

Because let me read what Donald Trump said during the campaign last year. He said, "People have been paying in for years. They're going to cut Social Security." He's referring to his critics. "They're going to cut Medicare; they're going to cut Medicaid. I'm the one saying that -- that's saying I'm not going to do that." He was very, very specific.

What I hear you saying is there may be some changes; there may be some cuts.

COLLINS: Well, there's not going to be cuts for people above a certain age. And a lot of this...

BLITZER: He didn't say age. He didn't say age.

COLLINS: All right. Some of this would be a personal opinion. You would say, "I want to stay in the Medicaid or the Medicare or Social Security plan that we have today, and I want to ride that into the sunset."

Someone else may say, "You know what? I will sign up for a piece of that, but then I would like to self-direct a piece myself," and they would like to go down a different path.

We've always talked about someone who wants what we have today, they could keep what they have today. Someone else may want some options, personal choice. That's a discussion we're going to have. I mean, it is obviously very controversial. It's a discussion for later in the year, even next year.

Today the focus is repealing Obamacare, replacing it with a plan that makes sense, fundamental tax reform, and hopefully, some immigration reform.

BLITZER: As you know, the president-elect is going to have dinner tonight with Mitt Romney, a second meeting in, what, ten days or so. How angry, upset will you be if Mitt Romney is selected to be secretary of state?

COLLINS: Well, if President-elect Trump chooses Mitt Romney to be our secretary of state, I will fully, 100 percent support it. I'm confident that the president will be picking people in his cabinet that will serve America. And I've said I may have said what I said about Mitt Romney -- I don't take any of that back -- but I've also said I fully 100 percent support Donald Trump in his cabinet selections and will 100 percent...

[17:15:15] BLITZER: I know you don't like Mitt Romney. Who do you want to be the secretary of state?

COLLINS: Well, I think, you know, we've got Rudy Giuliani being kicked around. We've got the dark horse, Tom Cotton, that's been kicked around. We've got ambassador Bolton. There are some good names out there. But this is Donald J. Trump's decision, our president-elect.

BLITZER: General David Petraeus.

COLLINS: And Petraeus. Absolutely.

BLITZER: Would you like General -- even though he was convicted of a mishandling classified information?

COLLINS: I could easily support general Petraeus. He is one of the most brilliant generals we've ever had. BLITZER: Senator Bob Corker, the chairman of the Foreign Relations


COLLINS: Again, yes.

BLITZER: You'd like any of them more than you would like Mitt Romney?

COLLINS: I am going to support whoever Donald J...

BLITZER: You're being very diplomatic.

COLLINS: I am. The president-select -- elect will make his selection, and I will fully support it.

BLITZER: As usual, Congressman Collins, thanks very much for joining us.


BLITZER: I like the Buffalo tie, as well.

COLLINS: Good to see you. There we go.

BLITZER: Appreciate it. Up next, we're going to get more on the transition from Republican National Committee chief strategist Sean Spicer. There you see him. He's standing by live. We'll discuss when we come back.


[17:20:34] BLITZER: All right. We're standing by for a Trump transition announcement. Vice-President-elect Mike Pence said just a little while ago we could expect that one shortly. Stand by for that.

In the meantime, let's get some more on the controversy the president- elect has ignited with his latest Twitter storm. Sean Spicer is the chief strategist, the communications director for the Republican National Committee, a top adviser to the president-elect. He's joining us now from the Trump transition headquarters in New York.

Sean, thanks very much for joining us.


BLITZER: All right, so let's talk about the president-elect. He clearly has not given up his Twitter account since being elected. He tweeted this earlier today. It's generated a lot of commotion.

Quote, "Nobody should be allowed to burn the American flag. If they do, there must be consequences. Perhaps loss of citizenship or a year in jail!" Exclamation point.

As you know, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled back in 1989 that flag burning is protected speech, as ugly as it might be, under the First Amendment. Here's what the conservative late Justice Antonin Scalia told CNN about this in 2012.


ANTONIN SCALIA, FORMER SUPREME COURT JUSTICE: If I were king, I would not allow people to go about burning the American flag. However, we have a First Amendment, which says that the right of free speech shall not be abridged, and it is addressed in particular to speech critical of the government.


BLITZER: So here's the question, Sean. Does the president-elect know that it's unconstitutional, what he tweeted this morning, to suggest this?

SPICER: Sure. Of course he did. But I think the vast majority of Americans agree with him, that burning the flag should be outlawed. And that 5-4 decision that the justice was speaking of was something that clearly four justices also believed should be illegal.

Look, this is something that's bipartisan. In 2005 Hillary Clinton introduced a Flag Protection Act that had a one-year imprisonment or $100,000 fine for burning the flag. So let's -- this is something that the vast majority of Americans believe in.

I think that Donald Trump continues to really be at the forefront of what the American people are thinking. And that's why he won the election, and that's why people continue to grow and support him, because he's willing to take on issues like that, speak his voice and really understand where the American people want this country to go.

BLITZER: So you think -- he'll be president on January 20, he will take steps to revoke someone of their citizenship or send them to jail for a year if they burn the flag?

SPICER: Well, I think clearly he stated his position on Twitter. He's going to look into it. And we'll figure out the legislative strategy going forward.

But it's good to know that we have bipartisan support by people like Hillary Clinton, who as I mentioned introduced the Flag Protection Act that had a fine, had up to a year in prison for that act. And I think the majority of Americans will probably agree with him and most members of the House and the Senate.

But as you know, there are times when, you know, we can override, we can have a Constitutional amendment. There are ways to address this in other ways where the legal teams can look at ways to craft something.

So I think he's going to have a lot to do, but he's going to continue to pursue issues that he thinks the American people really care about.

BLITZER: She did introduce, Hillary Clinton, as a senator, that kind of legislation back in 2005. But she didn't say someone who burns a flag should have their citizenship revoked. That's a pretty serious step.

SPICER: I think it just shows you how passionate Donald Trump believes in that. And again, I -- so I think, if you asked most Americans, they'd probably -- they probably would agree with him.

And it's something that, look, I know sometimes it confounds people, but Donald Trump really has his pulse on where the American people are. And he wants to fight for issues that they care about. I know it confounds some people sometimes, because it's not politically correct sometimes the way he takes to Twitter. But that's what makes him unique, different and the voice of the American people right now. That he's not business as usual; he's going to change things up. He's going to bring people in. You saw that again today. More and more announcements. More people meeting with him that are committed to that vision of change in Washington. No more excuses, getting things done.

BLITZER: Do you know why he tweeted that this morning?

SPICER: Because he believes in it.

BLITZER: I know, but why all of a sudden -- why all of a sudden is he raising this issue of sending someone to jail or revoking citizenship if they burn the American flag? Why now? Why has he decided to go forward with this initiative right now?

SPICER: Because he cares about it. I mean, I don't think he's on some scripted timetable. When he believes that he wants to inform the American people, he's got, you know, between Twitter, Facebook and other social media accounts, over 30 million folks. He has a direct microphone to the America people to talk to them about what he cares about, to make sure they understand that he knows what the issues are, that he wants to fight for, and the vision that he has for this country.

[17:25:21] So when he believes in something, when he cares about something, he wants to share that.

BLITZER: And he's figuring out how to do that. And so he's not necessarily ruling out a constitutional amendment? Is that what I'm hearing from you, Sean?

SPICER: I don't think he's ruling anything out. I think what he wants to do is come up with a strategy to implement that.

But again, I think that what makes this unique is his ability to speak straight to the American people, telling them what -- look at the feedback that he gets. And I think that makes him unbelievably unique. There's nobody else that can do this. He's the only one that you -- anyone has ever seen in their modern lifetime with this ability to connect directly with the American people, to share with them his thoughts and his visions on a very, very intimate way.

BLITZER: He also caused quite a stir yesterday when he tweeted about the election that he clearly won, fair and square, free election. He tweeted this: "In addition to winning the Electoral College in a landslide, I won the popular vote if you deduct the millions of people who voted illegally."

Where is he getting that suggestion that millions of people voted illegally?

SPICER: Let's just dial this back for a second and recognize that yesterday, last night, the Michigan secretary of state certified that Michigan was clearly in Donald Trump's column. That brings his electoral victory to 306 electoral votes.

There is nobody that, you know, that came forward that thought that's where he was going to end up, except for him, on election day. So I think if we actually stop and realize the magnitude of his Electoral College win, the number of counties that flipped from Obama to Trump, the number -- the breadth and depth of the win that he had, it is pretty amazing.

BLITZER: He did have -- let me agree with you. I'll agree with you, Sean. He had an impressive Electoral College win, even though the popular vote shows that, what, Hillary Clinton has won more than 2 million or 2 and a half million more votes.

But he is going to be the president of the United States, but why is he suggesting that there were millions of people who voted illegally?

SPICER: Well, because I think there's been a lot of studies that show that a vast majority of individuals who are not eligible...

BLITZER: There have been studies that have shown -- there have been studies that show that there are irregularities but not millions of voters. Not millions.

SPICER: Sure. If you look at the percentage. Yes, if you look at the percentage, there was a "Washington Post" story not too long ago that showed the number could be as high as 14 percent. If you extrapolate that out, it's clearly millions.

BLITZER: Are you saying he won the popular vote? Is that what you're saying?

SPICER: No. I'm saying that the game that -- the way the electoral process is set up it was focused on electoral votes, getting to 270. He far exceeded that. He won more counties than any Republican has won in decades.

And I think but when people are now on the left, starting to talk about Electoral College irregularities and asking people to be unfaithful, he wants to point out that, "Wait a second. There was -- I played the game according to the rules that were there. If you guys want to talk about, you know, popular vote, then we should have looked at the integrity of the -- of a lot of these systems where there's clearly been people who wouldn't vote have been voting. The studies prove that, if your extrapolate those percentages out, that that's what it comes to.

So his focus is to make sure that people don't -- on the left and the folks in the media -- start talking about the popular vote, that it's within the context of what really is going on here and that there were millions of people that were ineligible to vote that probably voted.

BLITZER: You believe that, as well? You say that there are millions of people who voted in this most recent presidential election who voted illegally? Is that what I hear Sean Spicer saying, as well?

SPICER: No. No, no. What you're hearing me say is that the studies that have been presented through "The Washington Post" and Pew and other places.

BLITZER: The "Washington Post" gave him four Pinocchios for saying that. Said it was totally, totally false.

SPICER: Well, I think it's interesting that the "Washington Post" gave Pinocchios to someone citing a "Washington Post" study that they wrote about. So maybe they'll give themselves four Pinocchios. But the reality is that...

BLITZER: Listen to -- listen to the criticism from supporters, long- time supporters of his that he's getting. From Newt Gingrich, the former speaker. He said this.

"The president of the United States can't randomly tweet without having somebody check it out. It makes you wonder about whatever else he's doing. It undermines much more than a single tweet."

Mitch McConnell, listen to what the Republican leader, the majority leader in the Senate said. Listening -- listen to this. He was asked to react to Trump's suggestion that there were millions of people voting illegally.


MCCONNELL: Well, Secretary Clinton conceded the election. And it appears to me she thinks the election is over. The American people think the is over. And I think the election is over. So it's an interesting discussion, but it strikes me as totally irrelevant. Time to move on.

BLITZER: Is the president-elect going to move on or is he going to continue to talk about millions of illegal voters?

SPICER: Well, he's going to make sure that the record is set straight and the people understand that, when folks on the left, Jill Stein and others, start talking about these made-up, faux recounts.

Look, here's the reality in a state like Wisconsin: 2.9 million people voted. Donald Trump got 1.4 million votes in a state that no one had given a chance to get. Jill Stein got 33,000 votes. So I know I'm not strong in math, but at the end of the day, unless she can find 1.37 million missing votes, there's no way that she could ever do this. It's a pure political stunt.

And when he sees people in the media taking it seriously and talking about this valiant recount effort that we all know is a stunt to raise money for the Green Party, he wants to make sure that people understand that, if you're going to have a content -- a discussion about this, let's have it in complete context and talk about our voter registration system, whether or not there's integrity at certain places, how many people are voting illegally, some of the things that we can do to make sure there's higher degrees of integrity in the voting system.

But if we're going to have a discussion about being honest about what's happening, then let's have it in totality. That what's happening in the Green Party, backed by the Hillary Clinton campaign, is purely and 100 percent a stunt. And the idea that people are taking it seriously shows what -- that it's a joke. And so I think we have to have a full -- the whole story in context.

BLITZER: I understand completely what you're saying, and I want to move on. But very, very quickly, who does Donald Trump believe -- and he crushed her in the Electoral College. There's no doubt about that. The numbers you put forward are absolutely true. But who does he believe actually won the popular vote? And who do you believe won the popular vote, which is not necessarily all that significant. What is significant is the Electoral College count.

SPICER: I think his tweet speaks for himself what he thinks. That's the point.

And I think that, as you point out, it's not just -- when you look at the map and you see how far the red goes, the counties that got flipped, the things that got -- the number of states, nine out of 13 battleground states, then there is no question the overwhelming support, where this election was played, he won overwhelmingly. And I think that the idea that people are talking about these recounts is a joke. And it needs to be treated like a joke.

BLITZER: One final question. I know you've got to run, Sean. He had another national security intelligence briefing today. I understand this is the third time he's done it. They offer it to him every day, the U.S. intelligence community, these briefings. Mike Pence, the vice-president-elect, he takes these briefings. Why is he turning down these national security briefings?

SPICER: He's not turning them down. He gets briefed when he's got a team around him. General Flynn and others, who are continually briefing him. He's got a landing team at NSA and the National Security -- excuse me, the National Security Council as well as throughout the rest of government. The Department of Defense, the Department of Justice, the Department of State that's constantly providing feedback to him. So he is 100 percent briefed. His staff is briefed. He gets regular updates from them, as well.

So I mean, he has -- again, if you look at the number of people and where he is in this transition, he has now met with close to 70 individuals to fill high-ranking positions in a Trump/Pence administration, which is far ahead of where the normal -- where anyone expected him to be. The quality and caliber of the people that are going to be ready on day one to bring change to Washington is something the people have never seen before. And the way that he is going to deliver on the vision that he articulated during this campaign is going to be something to witness to, and it's going to be a piece of history.

BLITZER: Sean Spicer, the chief strategist, communications director for the Republican National Committee, a senior adviser to the president-elect of the United States. And maybe we'll see what happens after January 20, as well. I'm not going to press you on that one. Sean, thanks so much for joining us.

SPICER: Thanks, Wolf.

BLITZER: Breaking news coming up. We're getting new information about the man behind the Ohio State University attack. Why investigators now believe he was inspired by ISIS.

Plus, the first deaths are now being reported in those devastating fires ravishing parts of Tennessee.


[17:38:15] BLITZER: We're waiting word on President-elect Donald Trump's meeting with Mitt Romney. We're told both men will be accompanied by their wives when they go out to dinner later tonight in New York City.

Let's bring in our political panel to discuss this and a whole lot more. Jeffrey Toobin, let me go to you first. He tweeted this this morning. "Nobody should be allowed to burn the American flag. If they do, there must be consequences. Perhaps loss of citizenship or a year in jail."

What's your reaction to the notion of sending someone to jail or revoking their citizenship if they burn the American flag?

JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: Well, it's kind of doubly unconstitutional. First of all, it's unconstitutional because, as you've mentioned, it is clearly protected speech under the Constitution and according to two relatively recent Supreme Court opinions, 1980 and 1990.

The other way it's unconstitutional is the court has said you cannot, as a penalty, take away someone's citizenship. You can put people in prison. You can execute them. You can take away their right to vote. But forcing people against their will to surrender their citizenship is not something that's available to the government.

I think Donald Trump is reflecting the views of a lot of people, as he often does. A lot of people don't like the idea that it's legal to burn the flag, but that's been the law of the land for a long time in this country, and it still is.

BLITZER: He was reacting, S.E., to an incident in Hampshire College, a liberal arts college up in New England, protesting his victory. There was some sort of flag burning there. Is he actually that emotional about this? Is he just trying to distract from other sensitive issues that have come up? Because clearly, we're all talking about it. S.E. CUPP, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Yes. Either way, I don't think what, you know, sensitive college students are doing should be the concern and purview of the president at 6:55 in the morning. Nor should he take those concerns to Twitter.

[17:40:04] But I think, in addition to what Jeffrey was saying, this is particularly disturbing, because Donald Trump has a penchant, an impulse, to immediately punish someone who disagrees with him. We've seen that in his discussions of opening up libel laws to sue journalists, banning media outlets that don't cover him effectively, now jailing flag burners.

There is such a disconnect between Donald Trump and the underpinning philosophies that make us a pluralistic and democratic society and make us better than the countries he routinely lambastes, Cuba, Iran and China, where flag burning is illegal.

BLITZER: You know, it's interesting. You got the personal impact of this, Jeff, last night. You had an excellent report on CNN talking about the accusation from Donald Trump that millions of people voted illegally in the most recent presidential election. Then he went after CNN, went after you with a retweet of sorts. And some are suggesting he simply overreacts and goes -- maybe is even undermining some democracy, if you will.

ZELENY: I think that could be the direction he's heading. And I'm not sure these are completely unrelated things. I mean, this all goes after the First Amendment. And he is, A, trying to de-legitimize people's trust in a lot of things -- institutions, the media, other things -- with some good reason. There are questions about the media that can be raised by people. No question about it. People don't view the media in high esteem. But trusting it is another thing.

So eroding all of these principles, I think he is -- he knows exactly what he's doing here. Because obviously down the line, if he de- legitimizes things, you know, then it makes it easier for him.

But I'm sort of struck here by how he, you know, has so much else to do. Boy, he's filling a cabinet at a pretty good clip here. He spends time going after people on Twitter.

And I'm struck by it's been 21 days since he's had a rally. During the campaign we saw him sort of re-energize when he saw the applause from a campaign rally. It's been a long time. So I think he is turning to his supporters online and sending out messages.

And imagine being a 16-year-old who, apparently, one of the persons was, to suddenly be picked out and sent out by Donald Trump. It must be exhilarating for this person. And I think that Donald Trump is sort of gaining some -- you know, it's how he can be in a rally in Trump Tower. But he's the president-elect.

BLITZER: You know, Mark, Mark Preston, it's interesting. He starts on Thursday in Cincinnati a thank you tour of sorts. He's going to have another rally, probably a lot of rallies between now and January 20, when he's inaugurated as the 45th president of the United States. He's got a lot to do right now, filling up his 4,000 jobs he's got to

find for political appointees. But he's going to go back out there and speak at these rallies. What's your analysis?

MARK PRESTON, CNN POLITICS EXECUTIVE EDITOR: You know, he's almost tripping over his own message. You know, just today, you know, for all the criticism and consternation about his cabinet, he has named three women of color to serve in very key roles in his administration. Yet, that's not getting any attention. He's not talking about it.

Instead, he's going out and talking about something that's not going to happen. There is no way that there's going to be a constitutional amendment that passes that is going to ban flag burning. It's just not going to happen.

At the same time, he's out there talking about voter fraud. He won the election, Wolf. The fact is, he has world leaders calling him every day, multiple times throughout the day, congratulating him and talking to him about some very weighty issues. At the same time, though, he is focused on, really, these trivial things.

And to your point, he goes out and does this rally. I think Jeff is absolutely right. He needs to plug back into that base that gave him all that energy through the campaign.

BLITZER: Yes. He was certainly energized by those rallies. Thousands and thousands of people show up.

S.E., he's going to have dinner tonight with the wives. Mitt Romney. You think it's really realistic, given all the angry words that were exchanged, all the angry words that some of his key base supporters were suggesting? Do you really think it's realistic he could ask Mitt Romney to be his secretary of state?

CUPP: This palace intrigue is particularly interesting. One of two possibilities here. It can either -- it can only go one of two ways.

He is truly interested in Mitt Romney, and to that I would say, kudos for having this open mind and appointing someone who had been your political foe.

Or I guess the Machiavellian sort of approach would be to assume he is trying to embarrass Mitt Romney yet again as pay-back for trashing him for a year and a half. And that's why he's parading him around, taking him out to dinner, very publicly showing him off, sending out Kellyanne Conway to sort of discredit that effort, ultimately to drop him in favor of someone else like Rudy Giuliani.

I tend to be less cynical on this, and I think he genuinely is interested in Romney, but I'm open to this other possibility, too.

BLITZER: It's anyone's guess right now what's going to emerge.

[17:45:00] Everybody stand by. There is more coming up.

Also, we've got some breaking news. ISIS now claims the Ohio State University attacker was one of its soldiers as investigators reveal who may have inspired him.


BLITZER: Breaking news. ISIS now says the attacker who injured 11 people in the campus of Ohio State University was a soldier of the Islamic state. He was shot and killed by a police officer. Our justice correspondent Pamela Brown is in Columbus, Ohio, for us.

[17:50:01] Pamela, what exactly is ISIS claiming about this attack?

PAMELA BROWN, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Well, ISIS posted a statement on its propaganda Web site saying that the suspect, Abdul Artan, launched this attach here on campus at the Ohio State University on behalf of the Islamic State. So ISIS is taking responsibility.

Important to note here, though, there is no evidence that the terrorist group knew about this attack in advance or that the terrorist group played any role beyond the fact that investigators are now saying the suspect did look at terrorist propaganda including ISIS propaganda online as well as al Qaeda propaganda. So investigators do believe he was inspired to act out as a direct result of that.

And they're still trying to figure out, if perhaps, there are other influences at play. Investigators have been combing through his cellphone as well as his laptop. And at this point, in this early stage in the investigation, there's no indication, Wolf, that the suspect was in touch with terrorist groups overseas. Wolf.

BLITZER: We're also learning, Pamela, the connection to the Yemeni- American cleric Anwar al-Awlaki. What do we know about that?

BROWN: That's right. Just before he launched this attack on campus, the attacker posted on his Facebook page a reference to Anwar al- Awlaki, the Yemeni American cleric who is a leader of al Qaeda in Yemen. Referenced him along with other references to Muslims being attacked around the world. This was an anti-American rant he went on this Facebook post. And so this is partly why investigators believe he was influenced and inspired to act out based on this terrorist propaganda.

And so far, this really fits a pattern of other attacks we've seen here in the United States, Wolf, where you have someone that's consuming terrorist propaganda online, that's operating under law enforcement's radar, and then launches an attack with very little warning -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right. Pamela, thanks very much. And we'll stay on top of this story. We're also following breaking news in Tennessee right now. Wildfires driven by 80-mile-an-hour winds have forced thousands of people to flee and burned significant parts of the popular tourist resort town, Gatlinburg. CNN's Brian Todd is on the scene for us.

Brian, tell our viewers what you're seeing.

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, we can confirm some breaking news right now. We learned a short time ago from local officials that three people have died as a result of these wildfires, and the local fire chief says they're not sure whether more people might have perished because they still cannot get into certain areas.

Right now, what we can show you is fire crews behind me getting ready to stage, getting ready to go into Gatlinburg. We're just a few miles outside of the town. There's another crew over here getting ready to stage a couple of them, just deployed a few minutes ago. There is smoke and haze all over this mountain range behind me.

These were fires that spread incredibly quickly and caught many people by surprise, fires that were fanned by hurricane-force winds.


TODD (voice-over): An orange glow fills the night sky as one of the many fires burns in and around the Tennessee resort towns of Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge.

Officials say severe drought and hurricane-force wind gusts combined to fuel a, quote, "perfect storm."

GREG MILLER, CHIEF, GATLINBURG FIRE DEPARTMENT: Those winds of that nature, it is common to pick up embers of fire and take them greater than a mile away. At the same time we were facing that challenge, those high winds were knocking down trees. Those trees were hitting power lines, and they were falling on this very dry, extreme drought- like condition and everything was catching on fire.

TODD (voice-over): The fire is forcing mass evacuations sending residents and tourists into nearby Red Cross shelters. Popular area attractions were under threat, including Ripley's Aquarium of the Smoky, which houses 1,500 animals and marine life, and the Dollywood theme park.

At least 150 homes and businesses damaged or destroyed, including this 16-storey hotel complex in Gatlinburg. A guest shot this video before of escaping.

CASSIUS M. CASH, SUPERINTENDENT, GREAT SMOKY MOUNTAINS NATIONAL PART: Out of all the previous fires I've been parts of could not have prepared me for what we have experienced over the past 24 hours.


TODD: And again, to report our breaking news, officials telling us three people have died as a result of these wildfires and there may be more because there are certain areas that officials still cannot get into.

I just spoke a short time ago with a National Park service official who said these fires were human-caused. The same official said about 15,000 acres have now been burned, Wolf.

BLITZER: Brian, there's a weather system approaching that potentially could help firefighters but also could hurt them. What's the latest? TODD: That's right, Wolf. They're expecting a significant amount of

rain starting in about midnight tonight overnight into tomorrow morning. They could get up to two inches of rain which will really help firefighters.

[17:54:59] We're told by our weather people at CNN's Weather Center that two inches of rain might put out the vast majority of these fires. But at the same time, Wolf, they're going to get a wind event here, winds up to 60 miles an hour, which might hurt firefighters in their efforts to contain all of these.

BLITZER: Brian Todd on the scene in Tennessee for us. Let's hope for the best. Brian, thank you. Coming up, new appointments and new controversy in the Trump transition. We're awaiting a new announcement tonight.


[17:59:51] BLITZER: Happening now, transition drama. The President- elect is giving some of his allies heartburn tonight by having dinner with Mitt Romney. Will Donald Trump offer the Secretary of State job to one of his harshest critics? We'll learning more about his Cabinet choices right now.