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Source: Trump Asks General John Kelly to Head Homeland Security; Lindsey Graham to Lead Investigation into Russian Influence on Election. Trump Picks Third Retired General for Top Post. Putin Puts Out New Russian Plan to Fight Cyberattacks. Aired 5-5:59p ET

Aired December 7, 2016 - 17:00   ET

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


[17:00:07] WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now, the Washington generals. Donald Trump recruits another military leader, asking general John Kelly to be homeland security secretary. Three generals are now slated for top positions in his administration, and General David Petraeus is still in the running for secretary of state. Is the president-elect leaning too heavily on the military?

ISIS hostage. A journalist held by terrorist forces appears in an ISIS video for the First time in five months and shows damage done by allied bombs in Mosul. Is ISIS sending a signal with this latest propaganda piece?

Targeting Moscow. A top Senate Republican vows to investigate Russian interference of the U.S. election as Donald Trump once again dismisses the allegation. Why is Trump refusing to believe U.S. intelligence?

And Saturday night whine. Trump brushes aside concern over his relentless use of Twitter to voice his grievances, including his rants about "Saturday Night Live," which he praised when he was host. Now "TIME" magazine names Trump Person of the Year. Will it change Trump's opinion of the magazine he previously criticized?

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

He spoke critically of American generals during the campaign, claiming to know more about ISIS than they do. But President-elect Donald Trump is now adding a third military commander to his inner circle, retired Marine Corps General John Kelly. A senior transition official tells CNN Trump has asked Kelly to be his homeland security secretary.

Meanwhile, former Trump rival Senator Lindsey Graham is vowing to investigate Russian interference in the U.S. election, saying he wants Vladimir Putin to, quote, "pay a price." Trump is once again dismissing the issue, saying he doesn't believe Moscow meddled with the election, despite assertions by top U.S. intelligence officials.

And a British journalist being held by ISIS has appeared for the First time since June. John Cantlie is seen in a newly-released terrorist propaganda video, showing bridges damaged in the offensive against terrorist forces in the Iraqi city of Mosul.

We're covering all of that and much more this hour with our guests, including Republican National Committee chief strategist Sean Spicer and Republican Senator James Risch, a member of the Intelligence and Foreign Relations Committees.

Our correspondents and our expert analysts, they are also standing by. Let's begin with the Trump transition. CNN political reporter Sara Murray is over at Trump Tower in New York City for us.

Sara, the president-elect now has assigned three generals, retired, to top positions in his administration. Update our viewers.

SARA MURRAY, CNN POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: That's right. He's relying awfully heavily on the military as he fills out some of these top slots. The latest, a source tells CNN, is retired General John Kelly to be the head of the Department of Homeland Security.

All of this leaves one big lingering gap, and that is who will be the secretary of state. From Trump, still no word on that as he works at quite a quick pace to fill out his White House.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

MURRAY (voice-over): Donald Trump may have held a dim view of the generals as a candidate.

DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENT-ELECT OF THE UNITED STATES: I know more about ISIS than the generals do, believe me.

MURRAY: But as president-elect, he's changing his tune. After selecting retired General Michael Flynn as national security advisor and retired Marine General James Mattis as defense secretary, a source tells CNN Trump has chosen retired General John Kelly to head the Department of Homeland Security. Trump also announcing he will tap Iowa Governor Terry Branstad to serve as the next U.S. ambassador to China.

GOV. TERRY BRANSTAD (R), IOWA: I am very proud to have supported Donald Trump for president. I think he's going to make America great again.

MURRAY: All of this as Trump puts yet another industry on notice today. After striking a deal with Carrier to keep jobs in the U.S. and warning Boeing about its prices, now Trump may be taking a closer look at pharmaceutical companies, telling "TIME" magazine, "I'm going to bring down drug prices. I don't like what's happened with drug prices."

Trump's dabbling in the private sector is all part of the job, he said, as he defended his threat to scrap a deal with Boeing to build new Air Force One jets.

TRUMP (via phone): But you know, that's what I'm here for. I'm going to negotiate prices. And it's the -- the planes are too expensive.

MURRAY: But even though Trump's words, whether on television or on Twitter, can now move markets, he brushed aside concern that he's using the social media platform to air grievances an everything from Boeing to Broadway shows to "Saturday Night Live." TRUMP: I think I am very restrained, and I talk about important

things.

MURRAY: As the often unpredictable billionaire maps out plans for his White House, he's relying on an unexpected source for guidance: President Obama.

TRUMP: I've asked him what he thinks are the biggest problems of the country, what are some of the greatest assets going forward, and we have a very good dialogue. I really -- I do like him. I love getting his ideas.

JOSH EARNEST, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: The president is responsive to requests and phone calls from the president-elect. So he's certainly pleased that he can offer advice and assistance that may be useful to the incoming administration.

MURRAY: Today Trump is basking in his First accolade as president- elect, "TIME" magazine naming him 2016's Person of the Year. But Trump's already taking issue with their headline.

TRUMP: I think putting "divided" is snarky. But again, it's divided. I'm not president yet. So I didn't do anything to divide.

MURRAY: And while he may not want to take responsibility for rifts in the nation, he's already claiming credit for accomplishments preceding his tenure in the White House.

TRUMP: I hope I'm judged from the time of election as opposed to from January 20, because the stock market has had a tremendous bounce. And people are seeing very good things for business in this country.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

MURRAY: Now, there is yet another announcement from Donald Trump tonight. He's chosen Linda McMahon to head the Small Business Administration. She's the former CEO of the WWE. A source familiar with the decision tells me that Donald Trump respects her experience as a businesswoman. That's part of the reason he felt she was the right fit for the job.

Back to you, Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Sara. Thanks very much. Sara Murray in New York for us.

Donald Trump talked about Russian interference in the election in his interview with "TIME" magazine, saying once again he doesn't believe it actually happened. Our chief national security correspondent, Jim Sciutto, is joining us now with more.

Jim, tonight there are signs Congress will, in fact, investigate Russia's role in trying to influence the election. Is that right?

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Wolf. Despite this being the public assessment of U.S. intelligence agencies, that this is exactly what Russia did, to this point, public voices calling for more investigation have largely been from the Democratic Party. That changing today. Republican senator and former presidential candidate Lindsey Graham saying the following.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: I am going to lead the charge to investigate Russia's role, not only in the elections but throughout the world. I think they're one of the most destabilizing influences on the world stage, and I think they did interfere with our elections, and I want Putin personally to pay a price.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SCIUTTO: Senator Graham says he believes Putin and Russia should face sanctions, including economic sanctions, as a result of this. He also had pointed words for Donald Trump, saying that he should be more critical, as well, in light of Russia's interference with the election.

BLITZER: We know that Donald Trump also spoke out about this very sensitive issue in that interview he granted to "TIME" magazine. Tell our viewers what he said.

SCIUTTO: That's right. Spoke out but sticking to the line that he's maintained throughout the campaign and since the election, and that is that he doesn't believe, he doesn't buy, in effect, the intelligence community's assessment that Russia was behind this.

Here's what he said to "TIME" magazine today. If you look at the quote, "I don't believe they interfered. That became a laughing point not a talking point. A laughing point. Anytime I do something, they say, 'Oh, Russia interfered.' Why not get along with Russia?"

Now, Wolf, presumably -- well, not just presumably -- this has certainly come up in the intelligence briefings he's gotten, most likely, before the election but certainly after the election, that this is the judgment of U.S. intelligence agencies.

And I speak to a lot of intelligence officials, and the word "baffled" comes to mind. They are baffled that he continues to say, at least in his public comments, that he doesn't believe that Russia was involved.

BLITZER: All right. Thanks very much. Jim Sciutto reporting. I'll be speaking with the Trump transition team spokesman Sean Spicer in just a few moments. But First, let's bring in Republican Senator James Risch of Idaho. He's a member of the Foreign Relations Committee as well as the Intelligence Committee.

Senator, thanks so much for joining us.

SEN. JAMES RISCH (R), IDAHO: Sure.

BLITZER: Lots to discuss. Three generals, retired generals, serving in sensitive homeland security, national security positions. Are you OK with that? RISCH: I am. I think what you need to do is take them one at a time.

I know everybody is saying, well, there's too many generals. Certainly, you want to keep that to a minimum. But on the other hand, it's interesting. No one is saying, "Well, this person isn't qualified. This person wouldn't do a good job." These people -- some of these -- General Kelly, this is -- this is a guy who's widely admired around the world and by both political parties.

BLITZER: General Mattis is, as well.

RISCH: Same way.

BLITZER: General Flynn, he's got some problems. He does not need your confirmation -- Senate confirmation, but there have been some issues with him.

RISCH: Well, there have been. But everyone is going to have issues. We're all human beings. And I think the media particularly forgets that--

BLITZER: Are you OK with -- are you OK with General Flynn being the national security advisor to the president?

RISCH: I haven't heard all the facts on that yet, but I would say this. The president of the United States really needs to have his pick for a security advisor. So if he's comfortable with that, I'm going to be comfortable with that.

BLITZER: All right. What about the Russian interference in the U.S. election? You've been briefed. You're a member of the Intelligence Committee. First of all, do you believe that Russia has interfered by hacking into computers and other means?

[17:10:01] RISCH: You mixed a couple of things there, Wolf. Everybody here is talking past each other.

The question is, did they attempt to interfere and do some things? And then the separate question is, did what they do have any effect whatsoever on the election? Those are two very different questions, and they're always mixed when people are talking about this.

It is well-known. It is a fact that no one can deny that the Russians attempt to influence elections all over the world. In Austria. I was in Austria--

BLITZER: Including in the U.S. election.

RISCH: Including in the U.S.

BLITZER: So why does Donald Trump deny that?

RISCH: I'm not sure he is denying that. I think, in listening to what he's saying, he's saying that, whatever the Russians did had no effect whatsoever on the election. And no one, including the intelligence community, has offered -- proffered anything that the Russians -- whatever they did, whether it was hacking or whether it was releasing things, had any effect whatsoever on the election.

BLITZER: There was a "TIME" magazine interview, and "TIME" magazine released it. He was asked about Russia in the U.S. election, and he said, "I don't believe they interfered." Those are his words.

RISCH: I would agree with him. I don't think they interfered. I think they attempted.

BLITZER: But by hacking into the Democratic National Committee campaign, John Podesta's, the chairman of the Hillary Clinton campaign, leaking all that information through WikiLeaks and other sources, didn't they try to interfere, get involved in the U.S. election, in order to help Donald Trump win?

RISCH: I agree with you. They tried to interfere.

BLITZER: Would you -- they didn't just try. But they did interfere. Don't you think they did?

RISCH: I don't think they interfered. I think they tried to interfere.

BLITZER: Here's what the director of national intelligence, a man who briefs you all the time, James Clapper.

RISCH: I was with him an hour ago.

BLITZER: He said this on October 7: "The U.S. intelligence community is confident that the Russian government directed the recent compromises of e-mails from persons and institutions including from U.S. political organizations." He's referring to the DNC.

RISCH: Right.

BLITZER: "We believe, based on the scope and sensitivity of these efforts, that only Russia's senior-most officials could have authorized these activities."

RISCH: I don't disagree with that.

BLITZER: Well, then they did interfere. You believe that?

RISCH: They attempted to interfere. Did they affect the outcome--

BLITZER: But he didn't say they attempted. He said they did interfere.

RISCH: We're talking about interfere. In my judgment interfere means did they affect the outcome of the election? In my judgment they had no effect whatsoever on the outcome of the election. Indeed, one could argue that, if anything, it went the other way.

BLITZER: But don't you think--

RISCH: If indeed the Russians were involved in trying to help Donald Trump and, as was reported before the election, that became a news item, I would think that the American people would go, "Whoa, I don't want anything to do with the Russians."

BLITZER: But don't you think that all those embarrassing e-mails, thousands and thousands of e-mails from John Podesta's Gmail account, from the DNC. Some of them were so embarrassing to the Democrats. You don't think that had any impact on how people decided to vote?

RISCH: If you want to put up a scale and say how many embarrassing things came out about Hillary Clinton and how many embarrassing things came out about Donald Trump, I think the scale would be about even. I do not believe -- and believe me, I've sat through hours of this at different levels, and I -- and I am firmly convinced that the Russians, as they did in France, as they did in Austria, as they did in all other kinds of elections, attempted to interfere. They've been notoriously unsuccessful in influencing elections.

BLITZER: Do you support senator Lindsey Graham's proposal for a full- scale Senate investigation of Russian interference in the U.S. election?

RISCH: If Lindsey believes he needs more, I support that. I've sat through hours of this, and I can't go into details on it for obvious reasons. But if Lindsey feels he needs more, I support Lindsey in chasing that down.

BLITZER: All of a sudden, after months of no word, no pictures, John Cantlie, the British journalist, appears in a new ISIS propaganda video, recently recorded in Mosul and Iraq where there's a war under way right now. What can you tell us about this British journalist, John Cantlie?

RISCH: Well, what I can tell you, of course, is he has been held for some time. What I can also tell you is they have used him previously in videos like this, attempting to influence national thought or what have you.

I wish they'd start showing these in Russia, as opposed to the United States, because Russia can put an end to this in a heartbeat if they want you.

BLITZER: All right, Senator. Thanks so much for joining us. Senator Risch, always good to have you here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Let's bring in Sean Spicer, the chief strategist and communications director for the Republican National Committee.

Sean, thanks very much for joining us.

SEAN SPICER, CHIEF STRATEGIST/COMMUNICATIONS DIRECTOR, REPUBLICAN NATIONAL COMMITTEE: Good evening, Wolf. Thanks for having me.

BLITZER: All right. So let's talk a little about some of the names coming out today. Sources are telling CNN that the president-elect will name retired U.S. Marine Corps General Kelly to become the head of the secretary of homeland security. Is that true?

SPICER: I cannot confirm that at this time. The two announcements that have been official today are Iowa Governor Terry Branstad as the next ambassador to China, and that Donald Trump intends to nominate Linda McMahon, who founded the World Wrestling Federation, and grew it from 13 employees to 800 members as the next head of the Small Business Administration. Those are the two announcements that have officially been made by the transition. And I think, you know, obviously others are going to come.

We've seen a lot of great names. General Kelly would be a phenomenal pick if the president-elect so chooses him. But that name has not been formalized yet.

BLITZER: But CNN and various other news organizations have confirmed he will be named. You are not trying to push us away from that, are you?

SPICER: Here's what I know. That until Donald Trump says something, it's not official. So I'm going to wait until Donald Trump gives his official blessing to this, because the president-elect makes the ultimate decisions around here.

BLITZER: He'll be the third general in a key slot. Secretary of defense, national security advisor, secretary of homeland security. A lot of us remember during the campaign Donald Trump caused a big uproar when he said this about American generals. Listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: I know more about ISIS than the generals do, believe me. I would bomb the (EXPLETIVE DELETED) out of them. I would just bomb those suckers. And, that's right, I would blow up the pipes. I would blow up the re -- I would blow up every single inch. There would be nothing left.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: All right. So of a sudden he's picking all these generals. Clearly, he admires these generals. These are the most sensitive national security slots. Does he still believe he knows more about ISIS, let's say, than the generals?

SPICER: Again, you look at someone like Jim Mattis, who's world- renowned as a tough guy. He takes no prisoners. He's going to get the job done. Mike Flynn, who headed up DIA. General Kelly if he were announced. But if he were to be part of a Trump administration. Again, these are tough individuals to get the job done.

But Wolf, I think that the focus is not necessarily on what job they've had. It's the success they've had. Now, in this case they're generals. But in other cases, Linda McMahon. Wildly successful in business.

Took a small business of 13 people, grew it to 800.

Terry Branstad, the longest serving governor in our country right now.

These are quality individuals, not just today. But you go back over the last month of people that he's announced, the people that he's brought in and talked to. It is in every case a top quality, top tier person regardless of whether it's in academia, business, government. These are all the best of the best that are going to implement a Trump agenda and get things done. And end the business as usual in Washington.

BLITZER: Is General David Petraeus still in the running to become secretary of state?

RISCH: Well, the only people who know who's in the running is the president-elect himself. Ultimately, all of these decisions are President-elect Trump's. He makes those decisions.

So I don't know who's in and who's out. That's for him. He keeps bringing in these quality people. You see it day in and day out. They come in. And it's within his purview who's in the short list for whatever particular job.

BLITZER: There are some who've suggested, and you can respond, that he likes these generals now for these really sensitive national security picks, because his experience in national security is limited. Is that true?

SPICER: In what sense? I mean -- I guess the point is, is that -- in a lot of areas his, you know, experience might be limited, but he goes out and he finds the best people.

And that's frankly what he's done in business. He goes out, finds the best people to fill the best slots to make sure that the business succeeds.

In this case he's hiring and choosing people to fill he figures out who the best person is, who the most qualified, who the most successful person is, to advance the agenda and vision that he's put forward.

But I mean, when you look at the totality of government, whether it's the IRS, the Post Office, Homeland Security, The Department of Defense, Department of Labor, and there's a lot of areas. This is a massive government for a huge country. The idea is to go out and find the best and brightest, that will bring the

"Best Ideas." And can implement the agenda and the vision that he's put forward.

BLITZER: There're perhaps some nuances here. You just heard my conversation with Senator Risch on Russia interfering in the U.S. Election. Does the president-elect still doubt that Russia actually interfered?

SPICER: Well, you read his comments earlier. Of course he does. But again, I'm sort of perplexed why we're spending another segment talking about something. You understand where he says -- you heard Senator Risch articulate this very well -- that there is a question of whether they tried and whether they did.

And Mr. Trump has been very clear that his position is that he doesn't think they did. Senator Risch echoed that similarly. I think that the position has been stated over and over again, and I think we know where everyone stands.

BLITZER: So just to be precise, Sean, he believes they tried, like Senator Risch, they tried to interfere with all the hacking of the DNC, of John Podesta's e-mails, but it's unclear whether they actually succeeded in interfering. Is that what I'm hearing you say?

SPICER: Well, the question that he was asked is did they interfere. And I think he answered that unequivocally that they didn't.

BLITZER: Because he did say -- and I'll just repeat what he told "TIME" magazine: "I don't believe they interfered." Then later he said, "I believe that it could have been Russia. It could have been any one of many other people, sources or even individuals who actually hacked into the DNC computers, into John Podesta's computers. I assume that's what he's talking about. Is that your assumption, as well?

SPICER: That seems to be the case.

BLITZER: All right. So let's talk about Mitt Romney for a moment.

Earlier today in the interview he granted to "The Today Show," he said he's still talking to Mitt Romney, still considering him for secretary of state. Walk us through where this process for secretary of state stands right now, because there's word that the president-elect might be meeting again, maybe as early as tomorrow, with Mitt Romney. Is that right?

SPICER: Well, let's walk back just one second, because I think a lot of us who have worked with Donald Trump are really proud on why he was on "The Today Show." And it was to accept "TIME" magazine's Person of the Year award, which is a huge honor for anyone. And I think it's especially humbling for Mr. Trump, who grew up reading "TIME" magazine, to have this honor bestowed upon him.

But to Mitt Romney, I think, look -- you've seen the number of quality candidates that he's talked about, whether it's Rudy Giuliani, Mitt Romney and others. He understands the importance of this. He wants to restore America's place in the world, and he knows that the secretary of state position is vital to implementing his foreign policy.

So he's taking his time. He's meeting with these individuals, in some cases multiple times, having conversations with them beyond just the face-to-face to get to know who they are, are they capable of instituting his vision and his foreign policy and restoring America's place abroad. It's not something that will be rushed. He'll do it on his timetable and make sure that he chooses the best person to represent this country and his administration.

BLITZER: Are they going to meet tomorrow? Can you confirm that? There's word that that might happen.

SPICER: I cannot. We will give a readout tomorrow on the schedule for the day.

BLITZER: We'll be anxious to see that.

Let's talk about this "New York Times" report that former Senator Bob Dole, who endorsed Donald Trump, worked for six months, supposedly, on planning the president-elect's phone conversation with the president of Taiwan. The paper reports that Dole's lobbying firm set up meetings between Donald Trump's national security advisors and Taiwanese officials and has forms showing that Dole's firm was paid upwards of $140,000 for the work that they did.

First of all, is that true? Did Bob Dole help orchestrate that very controversial phone call?

SPICER: I don't know to be honest with you. What I do know is that almost 50 foreign leaders have called President-elect Trump to offer their congratulations. He has taken those calls, accepted the congratulations and begun a working relationship with those countries throughout the world who want to foster a better relationship with the United States, who want to rebuild that relationship that they have had in previous -- with previous administrations. It maybe hasn't been as strong recently.

So he has taken those calls. He's begun those relationships. And again, this was one of -- one of 50 calls that he and Vice-President- elect Pence have received.

BLITZER: And no second thoughts as far as the president-elect is concerned, because you know the controversy that that phone conversation has had and the angry reaction from the government of China, as well.

SPICER: Well, I think Mr. Trump's tweets were very clear about this. He understands the "one China" policy, understands Taiwan's relationship to mainland China.

But at the same time, China doesn't ask permission from the U.S. to do certain things. Donald Trump's never going to ask for permission. He's going to do what's in this country's best interests. In this particular case, they were calling to congratulate him on a huge win. He took that call and wants to maintain a great relationship with all of these world leaders throughout this -- throughout the earth.

BLITZER: And the allegation that's out there, and you saw it in that "New York Times" report, that there was a quid pro quo. Senator Dole, the only former Republican presidential nominee who endorsed Mr. Trump for president. He worked hard to get that phone conversation going. That may have been a thank you note, if you will, from the president- elect to Bob Dole. Your reaction?

SPICER: Again, I'm unaware of any of that. I have a hard time -- again, when you look at the number of world leaders that have called to offer their congratulations to the president-elect and the vice president-elect, it seems to me -- and again, from the readouts that we give daily to the press -- that he's been making a steady stream of those calls with countries throughout the world. This was pretty routine. And again, I'm not really even sure what happened behind the scenes, but this is just one of 50, so it doesn't seem to really add up, if that's the case.

BLITZER: He's not backing away at all. He's defending that decision.

Sean Spicer, as usual, thanks for joining us.

SPICER: Thank you, Wolf.

BLITZER: Coming up, Donald Trump called President Obama the worst president. So why is he now taking some serious advice from the president? Mr. Trump reveals details of their multiple conversations. We'll share them with you when we come back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[17:29:10] BLITZER: Donald Trump is "TIME" magazine's Person of the Year. A transition source also says the president-elect has selected another retired general for his administration, John Kelly will be in charge of the Department of Homeland Security.

We have a lot to discuss with our political experts. Let's bring in Dana Bash First.

John Kelly nominated -- he will be nominated to be the secretary of homeland security. During the campaign -- we just heard the sound bite -- Trump said he knows more about ISIS than the generals do. It's fascinating now that he's bringing in all of these retired generals for sensitive national security and homeland security positions.

DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: It really is. You know, as we've learned every single day of this transition, campaigning is one thing, and governing is another, especially when you are somebody who has no government or military experience.

And the fact that he has, it appears, we were told, that he has chosen this retired general, really does speak to the fact that, now that it's real, now that he has more of an understanding, now that he has met with the current commander in chief and perhaps has gotten a lot of advice, both at that initial Oval Office meeting and in subsequent phone calls, his approach seems to be changing.

Now, the retired general who is his national security advisor, Michael Kelly, is somebody who was at his side throughout the whole campaign--

BLITZER: Michael Flynn.

PERINO: Michael Flynn. But these others are new. And I think it is -- it is quite telling.

BLITZER: You know, Mark Preston, he did also say today, the president-elect, that Mitt Romney still very much in the running to possibly becoming secretary of state. And he dismissed any suggestion from the interviewer that the -- this decision is a form of revenge, if you will, dragging out this decision, a form of revenge against Mitt Romney.

What do you think? Why do you think all of this is taking relatively long, compared to other sensitive positions in this cabinet?

MARK PRESTON, CNN POLITICS EXECUTIVE EDITOR: Wolf, I think we would be naive to rule anything out with Donald Trump, just because he's been so unpredictable in the campaign and certainly has been very unpredictable in the first few weeks here of becoming president-elect.

But I do think it does say something that he does understand how important this job is as secretary of state, given the time, given the unrest around the globe. And quite frankly, given his own personal views on some issues.

For instance, he has General Mattis, he's chosen him as his defense secretary. Well, General Mattis doesn't necessarily agree with him when it comes to the issue of Russia. He has taken a separate stand.

But with Mitt Romney, there might be something to be said that he is playing this out, not only because he doesn't necessarily feel as close as he feels he should be to Mitt Romney, but maybe it's also a test about Mitt Romney. Maybe he's testing to see if Romney will get out before actually offering it.

But we should note, he also had Bob Gates in, the former defense secretary Barack Obama as well as George W. Bush, who was also a CIA director and somebody who also said some pretty nasty things about Donald Trump. So let's give him the benefit of the doubt. But I think we're probably getting close to him actually naming a secretary of state.

BLITZER: Ron Brownstein, "TIME" magazine, the Person of the Year, not a huge surprise, Donald Trump. He was elected president of the United States. Clearly, the president-elect very pleased about this.

But the sort of sub-headline on the cover of "TIME" magazine said "The Divided States Of America." Not the United States of America, the divided states of America. You've been looking closely at the division that currently exists in the United States. Do you -- do Americans believe that this new incoming president will be able to unify the country?

RON BROWNSTEIN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: I think that headline, that sub-head was actually pretty accurate. You know, in the election, 60 percent of us now live in counties that were decided by a landslide one way or another. Just an extraordinary number that underscores the separation.

And we have a new poll out today, our Heartland Monitor poll, and we asked two questions: "Do you think Donald Trump will be able to unify the country or do you think we'll remain divided?" And we also asked, "Do you think he will try to govern -- try to govern as the president of all Americans or will he govern in a way that reflects bias against certain groups in society?" And on each of those questions, the country divided almost exactly in half. About 80 percent of Clinton voters said that Trump would continue to be a divider. About 90 percent of Trump voters said that he would be a uniter. That pretty much tells you all you need to know.

If the country is divided about half and half on whether the incoming president can unite us, I think it kind of suggests it's going to be some very deep grooves cut by this election that are not going to be easily bridged.

BLITZER: Rebecca -- Rebecca Berg, the president-elect, he phoned in to "The Today Show" this morning after "The Today Show" announced who was going to be the Person of the Year. And he had some really nice things to say about President Obama. Listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: I have asked him what he would think of this one and that one. I've asked him what he thinks are the biggest problems of the country; what are some of the greatest great assets going forward. And we have a very good dialogue.

And I must tell you, you know, I never met him before this, and I never spoke to him before this. I really -- I do like him. I loved getting his ideas. I would say that, yes, I take his recommendations very seriously; and there are some people that I will be appointing and, in one case have appointed, where he thought very highly of that person.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Very interesting, because we all remember what he used to say during the campaign, that President Obama was the worst president in American history, created, founded ISIS, if you will. How times have changed.

REBECCA BERG, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Right. It is actually somewhat refreshing in light of the fact that the country is still so divided from this campaign and sort of the bad taste that it left in the mouths of many Americans. It's kind of refreshing to hear that civil tone from Donald Trump, very different from what we heard from him on the campaign trail.

But I think it is, in part, a recognition by Donald Trump of what this office is and the task ahead for him to actually learn what being president is. I mean, he can still believe that President Obama was not a great president, but also acknowledge that he has a lot to learn from him, because President Obama has held this job for the past eight years. Donald Trump has never held any elected office. So this is a new challenge for him. He doesn't know how the day-to-day works in the presidency.

[17:35:31] BLITZER: Clearly, Dana, that 90-minute meeting that these two men had in the Oval Office. And who knows what actually went on? But Donald Trump emerged from that meeting with glowing praise for the outgoing president.

BASH: No question. And that was just two days after he was elected. You see the pictures there. You could see it at the time on his face and the fact that he's continued this open line of communication that President Obama made clear in private and in public that he would encourage and welcome.

Tells you a lot about, as you said, Rebecca, how much Donald Trump realizes how sobering it is to be the leader of the free world. And the idea that he has his predecessor there to, you know, actually bounce ideas off of and get advice, and he's using it, should be something that we should--

BLITZER: He clearly had at least one--

BASH: -- be happy about.

BLITZER: -- maybe two, three, who knows how many phone conversations--

BASH: Exactly.

BLITZER: -- since then, as well. And Donald Trump has been impressed. He made that clear in "The Today Show" interview earlier this morning.

We're getting new information. Everybody stand by. We'll continue all of this when we come back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[18:41:01] BLITZER: We're back with our political experts. Lots to discuss.

Dana, let's talk a little bit about what else Donald Trump said today. He says he wants to be judged on how he's doing, not necessarily just from after the inauguration on January 20, his first 100 days. He wants to be judged starting from the time he was elected president of the United States. Isn't that a little unusual?

BASH: Yes, but I think it's pretty clear why. It's because he feels that he is -- he's getting things done kind of bite-sized victories that are, you know, good for his brand, good for the idea that he promised he was going to get things done like jobs. The Carrier deal. I know that there's controversy about that, but it's something that he certainly feels was a victory. And then, you know, other issues like that.

But at the same time, that's the kind of thing that he can still do kind of as a businessman/president-elect. Once he becomes president, he certainly has tools to undo some of President Obama's executive orders, maybe do some of his own. But then he's got, you know, reality that's going to smack him in the face, and that's Congress. And not just Democrats but fellow Republicans, because his policies are not in line cleanly with either of the parties up there.

And so the first hundred days is what most presidents are judged on. And his legislative accomplishments are really going to be it. And that's not just something that he can manage. He's got to manage that along with the partnership of Congress.

BLITZER: Yes, he's going to realize it's not easy being president-- BASH: No.

BLITZER: -- of the United States, as we know.

Mark Preston, let's talk a little bit about it. He also said today -- he said, you know, he likes Twitter, because it allows him to get his message out, quote, "more honestly than dealing with dishonest reporters." He's got on Twitter -- I just checked -- 16.9 million followers, almost 17 million followers on Twitter. He's got millions more on Facebook, about -- about 16 million on Facebook.

What, if anything, is wrong, if he wants to send a message to the American public, to do it on Facebook, to do it on Twitter?

PRESTON: Well, Wolf, it was an understatement to say that he likes Twitter. He loves Twitter, right? I mean, that has been his whole campaign messaging operation and had worked very well.

The problem with it now, though, is that he's the president of the United States. You know, two, three, four, five words can change markets. They can start wars, you know. They can create diplomatic problems. He can -- he can do a lot of things wrong with just spouting off on Twitter. And right now it doesn't seem as he's being regulated by his aides on it.

We know that Donald Trump is thin-skinned. Look, we're all thin- skinned, right? We're human. But he's the president of the United States. There's a difference to it.

Having said that, though, if used accurately and smartly, he can bypass us. He can break his own news. He can do things to try to get away from the media.

Look, this has been going on now for about four, five, six years. Politicians have been trying to use social media in a way that can get around the mainstream media, so to speak. He's just done it the most effectively to this point.

BLITZER: President Obama, Ron Brownstein, he does it, as well. He's on Twitter, @POTUS.

PRESTON: He is.

BROWNSTEIN: Yes.

BLITZER: And he's got, what -- I just checked -- 12.4 million followers. He makes statements on Facebook, on YouTube.

BROWNSTEIN: Right.

BLITZER: Ron Brownstein, this is not something necessarily all that new that Donald Trump is doing, although his tweets sometimes are a lot more controversial.

BROWNSTEIN: Hey, if the two of them get together, President Obama and President-elect Trump, maybe they'll approach Beyonce's level of Twitter following, which kind of gives you a -- kind of gives you a sense of where we are here.

Look, the ability of politicians to, in effect, have mass communication without the mass media is a game changer in the way that our leaders interact with the public. And it has been under way, really, throughout the century, but certainly starting in the 2008 election. The ability of campaigns to talk to millions of people directly through e-mail, through Facebook, through the techniques of allowing -- people allowing them to get at your own friend networks on social media, that is an important mechanism.

But it tends to have the effect, though, Wolf, of encouraging you to govern more toward your base than toward the middle. I mean, there's no question about it. I mean, the shift in politics since 2004 on each side has been more about mobilizing the base than on converting undecided and kind of swing voters. And to the extent that politicians are mostly about speaking to their own people, it kind of pushes them marginally further in that direction.

BLITZER: Yes. President Obama, clearly, has done that through social media. Donald Trump loves to do it. Rebecca Berg, I don't see anything wrong with that. If they want to get a message out to their followers whether on Twitter or Facebook or through a YouTube video, fine. I also believe that they have to respect the traditional news media that's trying to cover them for the American people.

BERG: I firmly agree with that, Wolf. Obviously, I'm a biased party in this case. I am a reporter. We all are. But the press does serve a very important purpose here. We're supposed to be sort of an adversary to the government, to the President and Congress, giving the public a different point of view. Because certainly, Donald Trump is going to want to spin whatever he does in the best possible light, and someone needs to be there to tell the other side of the story, the other sides of the story, to present all of the information.

And we know that Donald Trump, on the campaign trail and during this transition, has been given to hyperbole, taking credit for things that maybe weren't necessarily his doing as with this SoftBank investment this week, and so it's important that the public get the full view of what is going on.

BLITZER: As we all love freedom of the press. Very, very important.

BERG: Me too.

BLITZER: Everybody, stick around. Don't go too far away. Coming up, Vladimir Putin orders extra moves to prevent cyberattacks even though his country is suspected of being one of the world's biggest aggressors in cyberspace.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[17:51:22] BLITZER: As we reported, Republican Senator Lindsey Graham tells CNN he plans to lead an inquiry into Russian hacking next year. But tonight, Russia's Vladimir Putin appears to be worried that his country is the target of cyberattacks. CNN's Brian Todd is joining us with details. So what is the Russian President up to right now? What are you

learning?

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, tonight, Vladimir Putin has a new plan to guard Russia against what the Kremlin calls stepped up cyberattacks against them. Now, it's not clear if any U.S.-led hacks against Russia are under way, but after his meddling in America's election, the former KGB office seems to be feeling the heat tonight.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

TODD (voice-over): The man whose hacking teams are accused of cyberattacks on the Democratic Party in the midst of a U.S. election, tonight, is bracing for a similar attack on him. Russian President Vladimir Putin has put out a new plan against what the Kremlin calls stepped up cyberattacks and, quote, "information and psychological aggression." Putin's plan calls for better forecasting, detection, and evaluation of cyber threats, quote, "including threats to the armed forces of the Russian Federation in the field of information."

JASON HEALEY, SENIOR RESEARCH SCHOLAR, COLUMBIA UNIVERSITY'S SCHOOL FOR INTERNATIONAL AND PUBLIC AFFAIRS: He's very worried. He sees conspiracies everywhere. He's an ex-KBG officer. He sees that United States and our allies and our news services are trying to poison the minds of the Russian people against him, that we're trying to undermine Russian democracy.

TODD (voice-over): But America's leaders claim they're the victims of those kinds of attacks from Putin. The Obama administration has publicly named Putin's government for the Democratic Party hacks and the theft of Clinton campaign e-mails posted on WikiLeaks. The White House has also accused Putin and his hackers of trying to destabilize America's political system. Putin's denied all of it and in recent days, he's issued a not-so veiled warning.

VLADIMIR PUTIN, PRESIDENT OF THE RUSSIAN FEDERATION (through translator): Unlike some of our foreign colleagues, which view Russia as an opponent, we are not seeking and have never sought enemies. We need friends, but we will not allow anyone to infringe upon or ignore our interests.

TODD (voice-over): U.S. officials have told CNN they're looking at all options to respond to the election hacks. Retaliatory cyberattacks, they tell us, are among those options. How specifically could America retaliate?

HEALEY: The U.S. cyber command at Fort Meade has a team that's looking at what the Russians are doing, not to collect intelligence on it but to be ready to disrupt it in case the President ever gave the order.

TODD (voice-over): Putin's new plan doesn't mention any specific cyber strikes that could already be under way from the U.S. Tonight, analysts have a warning for America's allies.

JAMES GOLDGEIER, DEAN, AMERICAN UNIVERSITY SCHOOL OF INTERNATIONAL SERVICE: So we've got elections coming up in France and in Germany. We know that Putin has preferred outcomes there, just the way he did in the United States and in the Brexit vote.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

TODD: The experts say we can expect Putin to escalate his cyberattacks on those allies, especially against German Chancellor Angela Merkel who is up for re-election next year. Will the cyber Cold War between Putin and America escalate? One analyst says, given what he calls the bromance between Putin and President-elect Trump, Putin may actually diminish his cyberattacks on the U.S., at least until that relationship goes south as it may will, Wolf, given his relationships with the other U.S. presidents.

BLITZER: Brian, you're also picking up new information on just how much more aggressive Putin's hackers have become over the past two years, right?

TODD: That's right. Cyber security expert Jason Healey of Columbia University says before Russia's invasion of Crimea in 2014, hackers from Russian intelligence were very disciplined. They were under the radar. They didn't want to be noticed. But since that invasion, he says the Russians have been much more blatant. They have hacked the White House, the Joint Chiefs of Staff e-mail systems.

They don't care if the Americans know they're there. And in some cases, he says, instead of backing down, they actually have fought in cyberspace against the American defenders of our computer systems. They are very, very aggressive right now, Wolf.

[17:55:11] BLITZER: Brian Todd reporting. Thank you.

Coming up, Donald Trump fills some key positions in his incoming administration. We're learning new information right now. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[17:59:45] BLITZER: Happening now. General advice. President-elect taps another retired military leader for his national security team as he acknowledges that he's seeking feedback on his appointments from a surprising source, the current Commander-in-Chief.

Cabinet mania. Trump reaches into the world of pro-wrestling to fill a key post aimed at helping small businesses in the United States thrive. Tonight, he's offering a timetable for another nomination that could be the most important one yet.