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Obama Orders Review of Russian Election Interference; Giuliani Out Of Running For Secretary Of State; Trump To Remain Executive Producer Of "Celebrity Apprentice"; U.S. Came "Tantalizingly Close" To Catching ISIS Leader. Aired 5-6p ET

Aired December 9, 2016 - 17:00   ET

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


[17:00:01]JAKE TAPPER, CNN: That's it for "THE LEAD." I'm Jake Tapper. Have a great weekend. I turn you now over to Wolf Blitzer and THE SITUATION ROOM.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now, breaking news. Out of the running. Rudy Giuliani no longer being considered for secretary of state. Trump says the former New York mayor withdrew from consideration. Did he really just tell Giuliani he wasn't getting the job?

Russian investigation. After months of complaints, President Obama orders a full review of meddling by Moscow in the U.S. election. I'll talk about it with a key member of the Senate Intelligence Committee.

Terror arrest. A man suspected of plotting an attack is taken into custody in a major western port city. A raid uncovering an assault rifle, ammunition and ISIS paraphernalia. Where was he planning to strike?

And hunt for Baghdadi. CNN has learned that U.S. Special Operations forces were on the verge of capturing or killing the leader of ISIS last year. A source says Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi was within U.S. reach in the self-proclaimed ISIS capital in Syria. So what went wrong?

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

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

BLITZER: We're following breaking news. Rudy Giuliani now out of the running for secretary of state and other posts. Sources say the former New York City mayor was told he was not being considered earlier this week, but tonight Giuliani says it was his decision.

We're also following an investigation into Russian interference in the U.S. election. President Obama has ordered a full review of a series of cyberattacks and leaked e-mails to be completed before Donald Trump takes office. Trump denies any meddling by Russia, stunning former CIA director General Michael Hayden. He says Trump is rejecting facts from U.S. intelligence, because they conflict with his assumption.

And in an unprecedented move, Trump says he has decided to stay in his role as executive producer of "Celebrity Apprentice" while he's in the White House. His involvement in the show is a major conflict of interest, potentially, for NBC as it reports on Trump's presidency. It's unclear how much Trump will paid per episode.

We're covering all of that and much more this hour with our guests, including Senator Angus King. He's a key member of the Senate Intelligence Committee.

Our correspondents and expert analysts are also standing by. But let's begin with the breaking news about Rudy Giuliani. Our national correspondent Jason Carroll is joining us from Grand Rapids, Michigan.

Jason, what's the latest. What are you hearing? Giuliani now out?

JASON CARROLL, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, apparently, Rudy Giuliani took his name out during a meeting with the Trump transition team on November 29. Some have likened it to a case of musical chairs for the position of secretary of state. Exxon CEO Rex Tillerson still has a chair. Perhaps Mitt Romney still has a chair. But the chair not being pulled out for Rudy Giuliani.

As for tonight here, though, the focus is going to be on trade and education, and Donald Trump thanking a state that hasn't gone red in a presidential election since 1988.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

CARROLL (voice-over): President of the United States won't be Donald Trump's only title come January. He will also remain an executive producer on NBC's "Celebrity Apprentice".

ARNOLD SCHWARZENEGGER, ACTOR: So join your new boss as you ride to success.

CARROLL: Which will air starting January 2.

KELLYANNE CONWAY, TRUMP SENIOR ADVISOR: The idea that these men are going to be all work and nothing else all the time is just unrealistic, because it's never -- it's never happened in our lifetimes. But I know Donald Trump very well, and I can tell you that work is his work and work is his hobby.

CARROLL: A spokesperson says Trump has a big stake in the show he hosted for 14 seasons.

TRUMP: You're fired.

CARROLL: But the agreement draws attention to potential conflicts of interest involving Trump's business operation, a subject he's planning to address at a press conference next week.

During the campaign, Trump repeatedly said his business interests would take a backseat to running the country.

TRUMP: I think the brand is hotter than it's ever been. But it doesn't matter to me. I don't care. Doesn't matter. I don't care about the brand. I care about the country.

You two know I built a very great company, but if l become president, I couldn't care less about my company. It's peanuts.

CARROLL: Top Trump advisor Kellyanne Conway says he'd work on the show in his spare time.

CONWAY: Were we so concerned about the hours and hours and hours spent on the golf course of the current president? I mean, presidents have a right to do things in their -- in their spare time or their leisure time.

CARROLL: Amid the focus on Trump's business dealings, he's also defending his decision to fill several cabinet posts with wealthy business people, including billionaire investor Wilbur Ross as commerce secretary, billionaire activist Betsy Devos at the Education Department and multimillionaire Steven Mnuchin as treasury secretary.

TRUMP: Some of the people I put on to negotiate, you've been noticing, are some of the most successful people in the world. The one newspaper criticized me. "Why can't they have people of modest means?" Because I want people that made a fortune. Because now they're negotiating with you.

CARROLL: Trump also saying he will keep up the pressure on U.S. companies to personally stop them from shipping jobs overseas.

TRUMP: I said, "Give me a list of ten companies that are leaving." And I actually loved calling these companies and saying, "Hi. While we're on the phone, don't leave, please don't leave. Please." And we've had great success. You'll be seeing a lot more success.

CARROLL: That as Trump moves forward with setting his governing agenda, meeting today with one-time critic House Speaker Paul Ryan.

REP. PAUL RYAN (R-WI), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: Very exciting meeting. Really enjoyed coming up and meeting with the president-elect. We had a great meeting to talk about our transition. We're very excited about getting to work, hitting the ground running in 2017 to put this country back on track.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

CARROLL: And Wolf, there's already talk about who might be joining the president-elect on the stage here tonight in Grand Rapids. His choice for education secretary expected to join him here on the stage, as is Ronna Romney McDaniels. She is the state party chairwoman. She's also the niece of Mitt Romney, and she's widely seen as the favorite to take over the RNC chair -- Wolf.

BLITZER: We're watching it together with you. Thanks so much. Jason Carroll reporting.

Let's bring in our political reporter, Sara Murray. It's a pretty stunning development when you think of how close Rudy Giuliani was throughout this campaign, basically, to Donald Trump. All of a sudden word comes out he's announcing he's no longer in the running to become secretary of state. SARA MURRAY, CNN POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, right. At one point,

Rudy Giuliani was a front-runner for this position, and a lot of that was based on the fact that he made no secret of wanting this job but also that he was very loyal to Donald Trump very early on.

Now, he was just on television sort of explaining why he says he pulled his name out of the running. Let's take a listen to that.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RUDY GIULIANI, FORMER MAYOR OF NEW YORK CITY (via phone): My desire to be in the cabinet was great, but it wasn't that great. And he had a lot of terrific candidates. And I thought I could play a better role being on the outside and continuing to be his close friend and advisor.

That's sort of the role I played during the campaign. I never worked for the campaign. I was never part of it. Gave me a certain degree of independents and being able to give advice. And I saw that he had so many good candidates available. I mean, there was no reason to complicate his life any longer. So I withdrew back on the 29th.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MURRAY: Now, he says he withdrew his name. That's not what we're hearing from sources. Sources say that he was informed he would not be getting the secretary of state position. And behind the scenes, they had sort of been trying to urge him to accept maybe one of these other slots in the national security and defense arena, and Giuliani had made it very clear it was secretary of state, that that's what he wanted.

BLITZER: So they came up with sort of the face-saving way for him to simply go away? Is that what you're hearing?

MURRAY: Right, absolutely. Which is incredible when you think about sort of how early he threw his support behind Donald Trump and how Trump has made a big deal of being sort of a candidate who rewards loyalty.

BLITZER: He was also asked in that interview, Rudy Giuliani, about Mitt Romney, who apparently is still in the running. And Giuliani did not hold back at all, did he?

MURRAY: Absolutely not. And this is the coveted position, Wolf. This is what the battle is about, secretary of state; and Rudy Giuliani is no fan of Mitt Romney for that job. Listen to what he said.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GIULIANI (via phone): I thought Mitt went over the line in the things that he said about Donald Trump, and I mean, the president-elect is going to make his decision. I will support that decision. But you know, my advice would be Mitt went just a little too far to -- you can make friends and make up, but I don't -- I would not see him as a candidate for the cabinet.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MURRAY: Now of course, we know there are a couple of different candidates still in the mix for secretary of state; but it is abnormal, to say the least, to see people who are allies, advisers to the president-elect out there trashing someone's whose name is still in the mix for this job.

BLITZER: And you're hearing this frustration among some of the earliest, most loyal supporters of Donald Trump, that they're not necessarily being cultivated any longer?

MURRAY: There is frustration. There is frustration from some people who expected maybe they would get staff positions in the White House or in an agency that just say they really haven't heard anything about their fate.

And there's frustration to look at people who are under consideration for these top slots and see Rudy Giuliani pushed aside, while Donald Trump talks to someone like Mitt Romney; and to see Ronna Romney McDaniel as Donald Trump's likely pick to be the next RNC chairperson, in favor of -- over someone like Governor Chris Christie, who at one point sounded like he was interested in the job and now seems like he will essentially be left out in the cold as Donald Trump builds his team, not only for the White House but for the Republican National Committee that will support him in his four years in office.

[17:10:13] BLITZER: Yes, Rudy Giuliani joins a list of very high- profile supporters like Chris Christie or Mike Huckabee or Newt Gingrich who were very high-profile but apparently not going to be serving directly in this incoming administration.

Sara, thanks for that report. We'll have more on that coming up.

But now to another huge story we're following. A full review today ordered by President Obama, Russian interference in the U.S. election. Our chief national security correspondent, Jim Sciutto, is working this story for us.

Jim, what's behind the White House move?

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, behind is his new intelligence, further corroborating the intelligence community's view that Russia hacked the U.S. election.

The administration also under enormous pressure from Democrats to make public more intelligence about the hacking. And today the White House said such a release of information could come after this new investigation and review is complete.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

SCIUTTO (voice-over): It was an unprecedented cyberattack ordered by senior Russian leadership on the U.S. election. Hacking the e-mails of Democratic officials, then released to the public virtually daily by WikiLeaks.

Now President Obama is ordering the intelligence community to conduct a full review of Putin's meddling and all cyberattacks connected to U.S. elections going back to 2008.

ERIC SCHULTZ, WHITE HOUSE PRINCIPAL DEPUTY PRESS SECRETARY: This is a major priority for the president of the United States. He directed his intelligence community and national security officials to take this on. He expects that report to be issued to him before he leaves office.

SCIUTTO: The question is, how will his successor react?

TRUMP: Wouldn't it be nice if we actually did get along with Russia?

SCIUTTO: Trump repeatedly praised Russia during his campaign and denied that the Kremlin interfered in the election, despite the public assessment of the U.S. intelligence community.

TRUMP: I think it could be Russia, but it could also China. It could also be lots of other people. It also could be somebody sitting on their bed that weighs 400 pounds, OK?

SCIUTTO: And he's continued to express doubts even now that he has access to top U.S. intelligence as the president-elect, telling "TIME" magazine this week, "I don't believe they interfered. That became a laughing point, not a talking point. A laughing point. Any time I do something they say, 'Oh, Russia interfered'."

TRUMP: We had a meeting.

SCIUTTO: Trump's skepticism of the intelligence community comes despite his own limited appetite for intelligence briefings. So far, Trump has only had four presidential daily briefings. On average, one per week. CNN has learned he has requested a more focused briefing on the threat from North Korea. Former CIA director Leon Panetta telling CBS News that is not nearly often enough.

LEON PANETTA, FORMER CIA DIRECTOR: If you're president of the United States, you better be in touch on a daily basis with your intelligence briefers so that you have an understanding as to what -- what's happening in the world. What are the crises you have to pay attention to, and what steps do you have to take in order to deal with those crises?

LT. GEN. MICHAEL FLYNN, TRUMP NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISOR: The next president of the United States.

SCIUTTO: One source for such crucial guidance will be his national security adviser, retired General Michael Flynn. But Democratic and Republican critics are questioning Flynn's judgment based in part of his affinity for fake news and conspiracy theories.

FLYNN: I've had people in the media, mainstream media saying that's a lie. SCIUTTO: In an August radio interview with Breitbart News, Flynn

claimed that Arabic signs were present along the U.S. border with Mexico to guide potential terrorists into the U.S.

FLYNN (voice-over): I have personally seen the photos of the signage. They're like way points along that path as you come in. Signs that say, you know, in Arabic, "This way. Move to this point." I mean, it's unbelievable.

SCIUTTO: A CNN "K File" review of available information, however, could not corroborate Flynn's claim.

Flynn, the Trump campaign and the Border Patrol all declined to comment to CNN.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

TODD: On President-elect Trump's intelligence briefings, he is getting them less frequently than previous presidents-elect. However, his chief of staff, Reince Priebus, told CBS today that the number of those briefings will increase as we gets closer to his inauguration -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Jim. Jim Sciutto reporting for us. Thanks very much.

Let's get some more on all of this. The independent, Angus, a King of Maine, is joining us. He's a member of the Intelligence and Armed Services Committee.

Senator King, thanks very much for joining us.

SEN. Absolutely.

BLITZER: The decision by the president to order this review now of Russian interference in this election. Why has it taken so long?

KING: Well, I think it's important that he's made that decision. I think they were gathering intelligence, and now he's basically ordered the intelligence community to pull it all together. And he hadn't said make it public, but at least to have it all together before he leaves office.

I think there's a very important reason to make it public, and that is this is the Russians' standard operating procedure around the world. The American people need to understand and know what they're up to so they can assess this as it happens in future elections. This is -- this is not about this past election. It's really about future...

BLITZER: Well, based on what you know, what do you know specifically about Russian interference in the U.S. election system?

KING: Well, I can't tell you what I know on a classified basis, but I can tell you there's an absolutely incredible, powerful memo that was released on October 7 by Jim Clapper, the head of the national -- director of national intelligence, who's, by the way, a 50-year nonpartisan professional.

And it said, essentially, three things. It said the Russians are behind this. No. 2, the Russians are leaking it. No. 3, it is intended to influence or interfere with our elections. And No. 4, it was approved at the highest level of the Russian government. That is, I find, pretty astounding.

BLITZER: He did issue a public statement, General Clapper, with Jeh Johnson...

KING: That's right.

BLITZER: ... secretary of homeland security in early October, making -- making those points. But the argument was that they interfered with the Democratic National Committee. They hacked the DNC e-mails. They hacked, apparently -- and you can confirm this through WikiLeaks. They also hacked the -- some of the top officials from the Hillary Clinton campaign, John Podesta, the campaign chairman.

But they never concluded, based on what we're hearing, that there was actual Russian involvement in trying to interfere with election systems, voting booths, stuff like that. You haven't come up with any evidence of that, right?

KING: Well, in that same memo, they do talk about the attempt to hack into some of our state's electoral systems.

BLITZER: Did they conclude that was Russia that was doing that?

KING: They said it was likely Russia. I mean, they're always -- the intelligence community, that was what was so remarkable to me about that memo, is the intelligence community -- I read a lot of intelligence data -- is always qualified, and they always are very careful. And the level of confidence in their conclusions was -- was very high. And that's why I think that what the president has done today is extremely important.

BLITZER: Here's what Donald Trump said in this "TIME" magazine interview this week asked about Russian interference: "I don't believe they interfered. That became a laughing point, not a talking point. A laughing point. Any time I do something, they say oh, Russia interfered, why not get along with Russia? That's the president-elect of the United States. Your reaction?

KING: Well, I think there are places where we can get along with Russia; and for example, we both are opposed to ISIS.

But there are also places where we clearly are adversarial with Russia. His support of Assad and what they're doing in Aleppo right now -- or I should say Russia's support of Assad and what they're doing in Aleppo right now is terrible and clearly contrary to American policy. The Ukraine, Crimea, there are lots of differences.

So you know, you've got to look at -- at the facts. But the statement by the national security director and the director of homeland security was pretty unequivocal. And to say that that -- it's speculative, I just don't think is accurate, based upon what I saw in that statement and the fact that Jim Clapper is a 50-year veteran of intelligence. All administrations, you know, he's going back to the Grant administration.

I mean, he's -- he's been working on this. He's a pro. To say that he did this for some kind of political reason it -- doesn't pass a straight face.

BLITZER: He certainly is a pro, and the hacks involve Democratic institutions like the DNC or the Hillary Clinton campaign, not Republican institutions or the Trump campaign, which suggests that the Russians were actually trying to interfere to get Donald Trump elected. Do you believe that?

KING: That's what we're going to see in this review that the president has ordered. I can't comment any further.

BLITZER: All right. We'll see what the president's order results in. Stand by, Senator. We have a lot more to discuss. Other information is coming in. We'll take a quick break. We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[17:23:27] Breaking news this hour. The former New York City mayor, longtime Donald Trump loyalist, Rudy Giuliani, is now out. He's out of the running for secretary of state and other posts. He had made it clear he wanted to be the secretary of state. Now he is no longer under consideration.

Sources are telling CNN that Giuliani was told he was not being considered earlier this week. Tonight Giuliani is saying this was his decision; he informed Donald Trump to take him out of the running.

We're back with independent Senator Angus King of Maine. He's a key member of the Senate Intelligence and Armed Services Committees. Let me get your reaction to this Rudy Giuliani development. Because you've been watching this. You're a senator. You're going to have to confirm anyone who is nominated to be secretary of state.

When you hear that Giuliani is now out, what goes through your mind?

KING: Well, I think it's just -- I have no idea what -- what the motivation here was, whether he, in fact, took himself out as he says or whether the -- whether the Trump transition team decided he wasn't the right guy or maybe there would have been difficulties in confirmation. I just don't know. There -- that -- we'll wait and see what the nominees are and assess them one at a time and listen to the hearings.

You want to confirm a secretary of state nominee. Who would be your first choice? You've seen the list. This is all very, very transparent. No secret who Donald Trump is considering.

KING: Well, I have to tell you that I have a great deal respect for Bob Corker, the chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee. He's very thoughtful. He's been all over the world. I've seen him. He's a very solid guy that does his homework. So you know, again, I have no role whatsoever in this process.

BLITZER: But you do have to confirm someone?

KING: But we will, and that will be after a series of hearings and listening to them. But Corker certainly has the breadth of experience, I would say.

BLITZER: Mitt Romney, I assume you would welcome that announcement, if that were to happen?

[17:20:20] KING: I'm afraid if I say yes to anybody it will be the kiss of death.

BLITZER: Say yes or no. What do you think about Mitt Romney?

KING: Well, he certainly has a great deal of experience and broad across the country but I think Bob Corker has greater experience in foreign policy.

BLITZER: A new name that has emerged over the past 24 hours, Rex Tillerson, the head of ExxonMobil, who once represented ExxonMobil inside Russia, apparently has a relationship with Putin. Do you know anything about him at all? How would you deal with him?

KING: I don't. That would be one -- I plan -- Here's what I plan to do. I'm not on -- I'm only on the committees that you mentioned.

BLITZER: But in the end you have to vote on the Senate floor.

KING: I do. But I'm going to go to the hearings for these people, even though I'm not on the committees just to listen. I'll sit in the audience like everybody else and listen, because I want to hear the answer to the question. That's how I'm going to make my call on these nominations.

BLITZER: In general, Senator, what do you think of the picks so far?

KING: Well, you know, I think you start -- again, I want to qualify. I want to wait and listen to the hearings, listen to the questions. I will have an opportunity to talk to many of them one on one.

General Mattis and General Kelly I know from appearances before the Armed Services Committee. Well-respected in the field. Everything I hear about them is positive. And my own personal experience is positive. So I think those are -- those are strong appointments.

Now, with Mattis, we've got to get through the issue of how long do you have to be out of the military, and civilian control of the military is an important principle.

It's kind of interesting, though. People are talking about Donald Trump appointing generals. At this time eight years ago, Barack Obama had appointed three generals. So...

BLITZER: Yes. Including General Jim Jones, a former NATO supreme allied commander as his national security advisor. KING: National security advisor, exactly. So I think we've got to

listen to those, but I think Mattis and Kelly, just to pick two, look like very strong candidates.

BLITZER: What about -- you didn't General Flynn, Michael Flynn, who's going to be the national security advisor. No confirmation needed for White House political appointees.

KING: No, there's no confirmation hearings.

BLITZER: What do you think of him?

KING: Well, I don't -- I don't really know much about him, to tell you the truth. He was head of the Defense Intelligence Agency.

BLITZER: As the head of the DIA, didn't he brief the Armed Services Committee?

KING: He would have occasionally, but I don't have any specific memory of dealing with him. I'm sure he was at the committee from time to time, but I don't -- I don't remember him versus Mattis and Kelly, because we had multiple hearings with them.

BLITZER: Very diplomatic response. Senator King, thanks very much for joining us.

KING: Thank you, Wolf.

BLITZER: Angus King of Maine. Independent senator who caucuses with the Democrats.

Coming up, a possible ISIS terror attack thwarted in a major western port city. We're learning new details about the raid and the suspect arrested by police.

Also, how the U.S. came so close to capturing the ISIS leader and how he got away.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[17:30:00] BLITZER: We're following the "BREAKING NEWS". Just a little while ago, the Trump transition team put out a written statement saying Rudy Giuliani has withdrawn his name from consideration for any job in the incoming Trump administration.

CNN has learned Giuliani was actually told this week he was out of the running to become the Secretary of State. That's the only job he wanted. Right now, the president-elect is heading to a rally in Michigan, after wrapping up a stop in Louisiana.

Let's bring in our political and business experts, starting with you, Gloria Borger, the Giuliani decision today, you know, he made the announcement, he said, "I don't want it anymore, move on, somebody else will do it." But that seems like a face-saving announcement after being told, "Guess what, you're not going to be Secretary of State." GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: Right. And, you know, this has been going on for quite some time, Wolf. Giuliani has been up there, told people in the transition that that was the one job he wanted was Secretary of State. I think they were ready, according to my sources, to offer him, for example, Department of Homeland Security. This was the one job he wanted.

Today, we reported this and then the President-elect Trump's transition sent out a statement saying that they - he had -- Giuliani had removed himself from consideration on November 29th, and they also said look, he passed every vet with flying colors, and Giuliani made the point I would rather stay where I am in the private sector. So, kind of a face-saving way to handle this.

BLITZER: What about Chris Christie? Another very high profile, very loyal Donald Trump supporter.

BORGER: Right.

BLITZER: He wanted something. Apparently, he's going to get what?

BORGER: Nothing. Absolutely nothing. And again, there was the meeting between the president-elect and Chris Christie during which I was told it was a short and sweet meeting, and during that short and sweet meeting, Christie said he just doesn't want to be part of the public speculation show anymore, and that he was happy to remain Donald Trump's friend and an informal adviser, and that he wants to remain as governor.

I think the translation of that is also that Christie didn't get anything close to what he wanted. There was a lot of personal friction there. Remember, he lost his job running the transition. And so, they had a conversation where I'm told the president-elect felt -- said he felt badly and wanted to patch things up, but it was clearly difficult for both of them.

BLITZER: So, you got Rudy Giuliani, out Chris Christie, out - there's some other high profile supporters of Donald Trump: Newt Gingrich, Mike Huckabee. Ana Navarro, what are you hearing?

[17:35:03] ANA NAVARRO, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Listen, don't cry for me Argentina, OK? These guys are going to go out and make a ton of money in the private sector, selling their closeness and their insight of Donald Trump and his administration, their proximity to it. So, I think -- look, they have a great life. I know Rudy Giuliani pretty well. He's got a pretty great life in the private sector. He gets to play golf, he gets to hang out with his friends, he gets to travel the world and make a lot of money and do it all from his private sector niche. So, if you're going to give that up, why give it up for something that it's not what you really want? I think he was willing to give it up for Secretary of State. I think he wasn't willing to give it up for any other job and I think he's going to have a very profitable four years ahead of him. So, there's a lot of cigar buying and golf playing in Florida in his future. Rudy, I'll see you down there. BLITZER: You'll be down to Florida, too. Richard Quest, Rex

Tillerson is the Exxon Mobil CEO. He's got a lot of international experience. Exxon's involved with about 50 countries right now. They're some suggesting that potentially, there could be - could be some conflicts, ethical concerns, if you will. His name, all of a sudden, has surfaced over the past 24, 48 hours as a possible secretary of state. What do you think about that?

RICHARD QUEST, CNN BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: Well, he's also supposedly knows Putin and not surprisingly, since Exxon has huge resources and deals in various parts of the world. You know, it's not a million miles -- look, it sounds unusual to start with, Wolf, but it's not a million miles from Secretary of State to a CEO, who is of a global company that has strategic interest and strategic importance such as oil and gas in countries like (INAUDIBLE) in Russia and all those sort of parts of the world. It's turning into a fascinating cabinet, Wolf. You've got three military men and you've got five millionaires, some of them bordering on billionaires or some of them many times billionaires. So, the militaries and the millions, and now, if Rex does gets it, you'll have another millionaire. CEO's and generals are making up this cabinet which is a fascinating series of contradictions and forces and egos that will all come to play.

BLITZER: Rebecca, you've heard, Rebecca Berg, that some are saying Donald Trump is approaching this entire selection process as if it's the apprentice if you will. You've heard that -- those suggestions?

REBECCA BERG, REAL CLEAR POLITICS NATIONAL POLITICAL REPORTER AND CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Certainly, certainly, and I would sort of agree with that assessment, Wolf. I mean, look, what we know about Donald Trump from the campaign, from this transition, from even before he was a political figure, is that he knows how to entertain, he values that and he also knows how to market things, how to keep things interesting, keep people interested. e's very good at these things and so, he's taking all of those tools and using them in the selection process, very (INAUDIBLE) to keep the American people, to keep his supporters interested in the process. I mean, it's no coincidence, Wolf, that Donald Trump is going out across the country on a "Thank You" tour continuing to hold these political style, campaign style events to keep his supporters really interested and not only interested but really excited about what is to come. It's clear to me that he wants to enter office as president to be sworn in in January with still some wind at his back. And so, entertaining people through this selection process of his cabinet which is usually a very in the weed, sort of, boring process for people, except people like us who care about politics a lot, it actually keeps his supporters excited.

[17:40:00] BLITZER: Yeah, he energizes his supporters, energizes himself. Everybody stand by. There's more going on. We'll take another quick break. We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: We're back with our political and business experts. Gloria, Donald Trump is staying on as the Executive Producer of the "Celebrity Apprentice", his show. He helped cofound, as we all know, his adviser Kellyanne Conway was on CNN earlier this morning on New Day saying, "Look, this is something he can do in his spare time. Sort of the way President Obama plays golf in his spare time." Is that a fair analogy?

BORGER: Well, I think the analogy might be sort of the way President Obama gets royalties from his books that he has written perhaps. Look, I think - I think everything -- it's sort of a cliche now to say we're in unchartered waters, we're in unchartered waters. He's not going to get paid directly by NBC, he's going to get paid direct by MGM. And I think that -- I don't know how involved he's going to be, other than to have his name up there. And I think he can't resist it because he considers it his baby. I think it's a completely strange for this to occur, but this is Donald Trump. And the Apprentice is something he feels was a very important part of his life that it catapulted him to the presidency and doesn't want to let - doesn't want to let go of it.

BLITZER: He was involved for more than a dozen - a dozen years on that.

BORGER: We have to see if there's - if there's some kind of taping done in the Oval Office. Let's just --

BLITZER: Richard Quest, you've been studying this. How is the President-elect uses business acumen to deal with all of these issues now as President-elect of the United States?

[17:45:00] QUEST: It's fascinating. The people I've been speaking to are quite clear. He's treating it as a project, Wolf. Exactly as if he was building a building. Take the transition. They'd hoped to announce secretary of state by now. But for whatever reason, they weren't able to do so. Well, that for Trump is just the equivalent of the steel didn't arrive in time or the plumbing wasn't ready to go into the building. Move that to one side, bring another part of the project in, and get on with what you can do at the moment.

Everything I hear says that he's just focused in the way that this is a project that has to be done, it's no big, it's just different from building a building, but it's exactly the same sort of skills. You've just got to get it done and you put one foot in front of the other. It's fascinating to watch.

BLITZER: And Rebecca, he's moving quickly. Quick -- as apparently doing it more robustly than some of his predecessors including President Obama eight years ago.

BERG: That's right, and it's been amazing because you think back just a few weeks and republicans, they are still quite a few republicans who are very wary of Donald Trump, not excited about his candidacy, and now you have a dynamic where republicans are actually, by and large, thrilled with the choices he has made so far. Really encouraged by what they're seeing out of the transition for the most part. And as you mentioned, they're doing it very quickly, doing it at an encouraging pace for many republicans. So, it's kind of the opposite of what we have seen from the Republican Party and Donald Trump to this point. BLITZER: Speaking of Republican Party, Ana, what are you hearing from

your republican friends? Are they impressed, not so much?

NAVARRO: You know, I think Rebecca is right on the money. I think there was a lot of fear as to what kind of people he would be appointing. And right now, a lot of those fears have been appeased. He's got congress people who are very respected within the republican congress like Cathy McMorris Rodgers, the highest ranking woman, seems to be the name for Secretary of Interior, Tom Price. These are people that are known, people with ability and who are respected within the Republican Party.

I think he's been fascinating in how he builds himself wiggle room. He threw out these three names for the base. Bannon, Sessions and Flynn at the beginning, and after that, he really has gone off on chartered territory, very different than what he promised in the campaign.

BORGER: But that's why a lot of Trump loyalists are really upset about this, because they believe that he has forgotten the people who brought him in and who were loyal to him throughout the last 18 months. And that he's bringing in a lot of never-Trumpers, or people who just kept quiet during the campaign or even considering somebody who led never-Trumpers like Mitt Romney for top positions, and they're saying, you know, "Donald Trump, you have to remember us and don't get co-opted by the establishment."

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NAVARRO: Well, if it made them better, he hasn't called me yet.

BLITZER: All right, guys. Everybody, stick around. There's other news we're following right now including a senior U.S. military official telling CNN that U.S. Special Forces nearly captured or killed the leader of ISIS. We have details of an operation that came in this official's words, tantalizingly close.

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[17:50:00] BLITZER: We're learning new details right now about the hunt for the leader of ISIS. Let's go straight to CNN's Brian Todd. You're hearing U.S. forces, Brian, what nearly got him?

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Wolf. Tonight, we have new information about a series of U.S. operations against top ISIS commanders right near their stronghold. The shadowy, illusive leader of ISIS, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi came close to being captured or killed. And tonight, the pressure on him remains very intense.

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TODD: Tonight, CNN has learned of a close call for the world's most wanted terrorist. A man with a $10 million bounty on his head, ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. A senior U.S. military official tells CNN, U.S. Special Operations Forces came, quote, "tantalizingly close to capturing or killing Baghdadi in May of last year near Raqqah, Syria."

LUKE HARTIG, FORMER NSB COUNTERTERRORISM OFFICIAL: Any time you have the chance to kill somebody like Baghdadi would be a big deal. The sooner the better.

TODD: The U.S. military official told CNN's Barbara Starr, when U.S. forces raided a compound last year and killed ISIS operative Abu Sayaff. That terrorist's wife, Umm Sayyaf, who was captured, told them they'd been with Baghdadi a few days earlier in Raqqah.

MICHAEL WEISS, ISIS INSIDE THE ARMY OF TERROR CO-AUTHOR: Umm Sayyaf who was captured in that raid, she was the den mother for a lot of the sex slaves, the Yazidi Girls, many of them are underage that were taken at Sinjar, including the one western hostage Kayla Mueller. Kayla Mueller was Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi's personal sex slave. He was raping her. So, he would have come to where Umm Sayaff and therefore Abu Sayaff where located, and that was exactly the location where U.S. Special Forces raided in Deir ez-Zor.

TODD: Where is Baghdadi now? Earlier this year, U.S. officials said he was most likely hiding in Raqqah, the ISIS stronghold. At some point he's believed to have gone to Mosul, Iraq. But Iraqi sources tell CNN, just after the Iraqi offensive to retake that city began in October, Baghdadi is believed to have left Mosul, despite apparently recording this audio message for his fighters. "Holding your ground in honor is a thousand times better than retreating in disgrace." U.S. officials tell CNN, Baghdadi's days are numbered. But tonight, he remains elusive. Known as the invisible shake, he has said to be obsessive about secrecy. Luke Hartig was a National Security Council Official involved in the campaign against ISIS leadership.

How good is he at evading detection?

[17:54:56] HARTIG: This guy takes it really to a whole new level if you look at the way that he approaches operational security. The amount of information that we have about him is compared to somebody like Bin Laden in his past. He's actually much thinner.

PAUL CRUICKSHANK, CNN TERRORISM ANALYST: There are rumors that this is the guy who used to cover his face even when meeting with some of his own people, someone who took extraordinary precautions when it came to his own security.

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TODD: And that likely also applies to how Baghdadi communicates. Tonight, a U.S. intelligence official tells CNN, Baghdadi and his lieutenants understand that any level of communication they use beyond couriers and face-to-face interaction, makes them vulnerable to being killed. Wolf?

BLITZER: Brian Todd reporting. Thanks, Brian, very much.

There's "BREAKING NEWS". Rudy Giuliani is out of the running for Secretary of state. Who's left on Donald Trump's short list and when will he decide? (COMMERCIAL BREAK)