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Crisis in Syria; Trump Skipping Intelligence Briefings; Did Russia Interfere in U.S. Election?; Regime Moves Closer To Taking Back Aleppo; 7-Year-Old Girl Tweets About Her Life In Aleppo; Attacks In 5 Countries Leave Nearly 200 Dead; Veteran's Body Left Unattended For Nine Hours. Aired 4:30-5p ET

Aired December 12, 2016 - 16:30   ET




MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: So, do you think that Trump in any way is an illegitimate president because of the Russian involvement?

SEN. HARRY REID (D-NV), MINORITY LEADER: No, I have never said that. No, I have said it.

Of course, now, I wish someone else had won, even though Hillary is going to get about three million more votes than he did. And we have a system, Electoral College system, and he won. We accept that.

RAJU: But would Trump have won -- in your opinion, would Trump have won this race if Russia did not get involved?

REID: All I know is that Russia helped a lot.

Those WikiLeaks coming out drip, drip, drip hurt her. And Comey helped Trump significantly. A week before the election, he came out with this. Oh, we found some more e-mails.

And, as a result of that, we lost Senate seats and I think we lost the presidency.


JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: Joining me now is Manu Raju.

And, Manu, just to clarify, did he say that the Russians were coordinating with the Trump campaign?

RAJU: He absolutely did, Jake. And I asked him for specific evidence of that. He would not go there. All he would say is, well, it was in press reports. I said, well, what press reports? And he wouldn't cite anything in particular.

But this was Harry Reid defiant until the end, not showing any regret whatsoever for the losses in November. He also talked about some of his colleagues, Jake, who were up for consideration for the White House posts, including Joe Manchin, the West Virginia Democrat, who he took a swipe at and said he actually seems to be campaigning for the job.

And he does not think that Heidi Heitkamp, the North Dakota Democrat, will take a job with Donald Trump. But one person he did say would have a hard time getting confirmed, Rex Tillerson, the likely secretary of state pick for Donald Trump. He does not think he could get the 51 votes needed to be confirmed.

But, Jake, as we know, Harry Reid will not have a vote next year.

TAPPER: I know you pressed him on it. And I know you're going to go back and try to get any evidence whatsoever for coordination between the Russians and the Trump campaign.

Manu Raju, thank you so much.

And don't forget the first book from CNN Politics, "Unprecedented: The Election That Changed Everything," is available in stores now.

Donald Trump says he does not need the daily presidential intelligence briefings because he's a smart person and they are often redundant. Is this the right point of view to have? That story next.



TAPPER: Welcome back to THE LEAD. We're going to stick with politics.

I want to bring in my political panel, Ramesh Ponnuru, senior editor of "The National Review," Jackie Kucinich, Washington bureau chief for The Daily Beast, and "Washington Post" columnist Josh Rogin.

Thanks, one and all, for being here.

First of all, just to respond to this baseless allegation that Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid just made that there was coordination between the Russians and the Trump campaign, Josh, I'm very surprised he said that.


Throughout the campaign, Harry Reid has been in the forefront of making these accusations about collusion between the Trump campaign and the Russians. Most of them have not panned out. There's no direct evidence that there's direct coordination.

They seem to be working in parallel at times. There are things they do to help each other, but various allegations of direct cooperation have not borne out. Harry Reid has committed to those allegations. It's not been supported by the facts and he has declined to provide the evidence that proves them.

TAPPER: Ramesh, I wonder, given the fact that today we have the speaker of the House, Paul Ryan, and Mitch McConnell and a bunch of Republicans taking these allegations very Russia very seriously, do you think Harry Reid saying something like that helps or hurts the cause of trying to find out what actually happened?


There is bipartisan interest in investigating this story, but nothing is going to discredit it more than the idea that it becomes a partisan witch-hunt with these kinds of loose, baseless allegations being made by Harry Reid.

TAPPER: Let's talk about on Capitol Hill. There really do seem to be some Republicans who are very upset about this.

You saw Marco Rubio talking about Rex Tillerson in a personal tweet saying no friend of Putin is what he's looking -- he's not looking for a friend of Putin to be as secretary of state. And it seems to me that Tillerson almost might become a lightning rod for this entire issue of Russia.

JACKIE KUCINICH, THE DAILY BEAST: The timing is not great for someone like Rex Tillerson to be top of mind, because, of course, he has very -- because he works for Exxon, he was in charge of making deals with Russia. That was his job.

That said, it wasn't his job to get the friend of Vladimir, as Marco Rubio called it, medal. Certainly, his confirmation hearing is going to be -- if he ends up being nominated -- is going to be a contentious one, because it's not just Marco Rubio.

It's John McCain, Lindsey Graham. There aren't a lot of Democrats that are kind of willing to lend a hand to Donald Trump and his nominees. So, they better buckle up.

TAPPER: And then the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, which will hold hearing on the Tillerson nomination, assuming he's actually nominated, it's pretty evenly divided. I think it's 10 Republican seats, nine Democratic seats?

ROGIN: It's 10-9. It's very unlikely that the committee wouldn't approve him. The real battle would be on the floor, where they need three Republicans.

If you count McCain, Graham and Rubio, that's three, if they all stay opposed to him. Susan Collins has talked about as another one who might be opposed to him in the end. The bottom line is the committee is where the vetting takes place. If Rex Tillerson comes before the committee and he says the right things and he says that he supports Russia policies that the committee supports, it could be OK.

But if more is revealed about his ties to Putin, people are looking into that now, and if he continues on with a pro-Russian anti- sanctions policy, then that will be a big problem for his confirmation. TAPPER: Let me ask you, because Marco Rubio is on the Senate Foreign

Relations Committee. If he votes against him and all the Democrats vote against him, those are a lot of ifs, but then he won't get out of committee.

PONNURU: You have to wonder if the Trump administration, the Trump team wants to hit reset on this nomination, because you don't have this baggage, you don't have this set of problems if you put up Mitt Romney, if you put up John Bolton, if you put up one of the other people who have been discussed for this position.

KUCINICH: But you do have a problem with their view on Russia and John Bolton, his view of the world, than someone like Tillerson.

TAPPER: Let's talk about John Bolton because he said something the other day. He's being floated as a possible secretary of state or possible deputy secretary of state. This is what he had to say about the Russians hacking the Democratic National Committee and John Podesta. Take a listen.


JOHN BOLTON, FORMER UNITED STATES AMBASSADOR TO THE UNITED NATIONS: It's not at all clear to me just viewing this from the outside that this hacking into the DNC and the RNC computers was not a false flag operation.

QUESTION: Are you actually accusing someone here of this administration of trying -- or in the intelligence community of trying to throw something?

BOLTON: We just don't know. But I believe that intelligence has been politicized in the Obama administration to a very significant degree.


TAPPER: False flag operation?

ROGIN: Right.

I think what this issue is doing, it's putting all the Republicans in a tough situation. And how they react is based on their likelihood to get nominated for a Trump administration position on the one hand and their facing a reelection in the near term on the other hand.

If you're facing a reelection, you're going to be tough on Russia. If you're going for a job in the Trump administration, you're going to be more inclined to be more sympathetic to the president-elect's view on this, OK? And that's where people are really shaking out.

TAPPER: But, Ramesh, look, intelligence agencies are political organizations.


And sometimes they shade intelligence reports here and there, not all of them, not always, but it's been known to happen. But suggesting that this is a false flag operation, that this was the U.S. doing it to its own citizens, and then blaming it on Russia, seems to me like a fairly wild allegation.

PONNURU: I didn't hear it that way. And his spokesman, Bolton's spokesman, has subsequently said that he did not mean to suggest that there was a false flag operation by the U.S. government, merely that it could have been a different power.


TAPPER: Oh, OK, so like the Chinese did it to make it look the Russians? OK.

PONNURU: Right. Exactly.

ROGIN: Which is probably also not true.


TAPPER: But not as crazy, but not as crazy.

ROGIN: Right, slightly less crazy.

KUCINICH: But let's also remember, again, Bolton is someone who has said that the U.S. policy shouldn't be in Russia's interests, we should have an adversarial relationship with Russia.

He again is someone whose views in the foreign policy arena are very different than what Donald Trump has espoused.


PONNURU: And in that interview, he comes up for an investigation as well.


ROGIN: And Rex Tillerson is for climate change.

What we can see from all...

TAPPER: Rex Tillerson believes in climate change?

ROGIN: Exxon came out with a statement supporting the science behind climate change while he was CEO.

That's something that's going to come up in the confirmation as well.

TAPPER: This is going to be a lot of fun.


ROGIN: All it means is that Donald Trump, his foreign policy is simply unknowable. TAPPER: This is going to be a lot of fun. And we will all be back here talking about it soon enough. Appreciate it. Jackie, Ramesh and Josh, appreciate it. Thanks for being here.

A sea of humanity pouring out of Aleppo, as the Syrian regime gains ground. All the fleeing civilians have left with what little they could carry. Where can they even go now? That's next.

Plus, a veteran passes away at a VA hospital in Florida, but nine hours later, the body is still sitting in a shower room, seemingly forgotten. What went wrong?

Stay with us.


[16:45:00] TAPPER: Welcome back. Turning to our "WORLD LEAD" now. Syrian regime forces may be in the final stages of their brutal and relentless offensive to take back Aleppo from rebels. Syrian troops backed by Russian airstrikes and Special Forces are closing in on the remaining pockets of the old city held by rebel forces, as the indiscriminate intense bombing and shelling continue.

A mass exodus from the embattled city is growing. Tens of thousands of terrified civilians are streaming out of Eastern Aleppo on foot, many too exhausted, too malnourished. Let me bring in CNN Senior Correspondent Frederik Pleitgen. He was in Aleppo and is now monitoring the situation from Beirut. Fred, you saw hundreds, if not, thousands of Syrians fleeing Aleppo. Tell us about the conditions for them.

FREDERIK PLEITGEN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yeah. Jake, you know, over the weekend, in fact, just a couple of hours ago, we were on the Southern Front in Aleppo, and you could really see those tens of thousands of people coming across. You know, the devastating thing about all of this is that there was a massive battle going on at that point in time. You had jets in the skies, you had mortars being fired, you had artillery being fired, and yet, the only way for these people to get across the front line and try to make it to safety was to just plow right through that battlefield with their children, with a lot of elderly people as well.

And, you know, you're right, a lot of these folks were very malnourished, very scared, very traumatized, and many of the children, especially, really way too weak to continue to carry on. And so, many of them had to be carried by their parents, some of the children were too weak to even stay awake. So, it was really a devastating sight. And the big question is what awaits the next, because there are some shelters for displaced people, but not nearly enough for the tens of thousands who are trying to get out of Aleppo right now, Jake.

TAPPER: And how much longer do we think this battle is going to last? How close is the Assad government to capturing all of Aleppo?

PLEITGEN: Well, you know, they say they're in the final stages of their military operations. If you look at some of the opposition sources, they also say that it really doesn't look as though the rebels are going to be able to hold out very much longer. People are saying that it could be a matter of hours. There's already pictures being broadcast on Syrian government TV. So, the pro-regime channel showing alleged celebrations in the streets of Aleppo in some places. It really is unclear at this point in time. Even the Syrian government sources say there are still pockets where the rebels hold control, but it really isn't very much anymore.

So, it looks like it could be on the brink of the rebels losing their final foothold there in Aleppo, really, in the face of some very devastating fire power, Jake. And I have to say, I've been covering Syria -- the Syrian Civil War for a very long time now, and the amount of fire power that we saw in the past couple of days in Aleppo is something that I haven't seen in that civil war before.

The amount of artillery, mortars, and also of airstrikes is really something that seems also unprecedented even by the standards that we've been seeing in Syria over the past couple of years, Jake.

TAPPER: Alright, Fredrik Pleitgen. Thank you, so much. One of the civilians still trapped in Eastern Aleppo is seven-year-old Bana Alabed. She's the little girl who's been offering the world a terrifying glimpse into her life through her tweets. And today, she tweeted something new. She wrote, quote, "My Dad is injured now. I'm crying." Before this tweet, Bana and her mother explained to CNN's Jomana Karadsheh exclusively why they are still in Aleppo.

JOMANA KARADSHEH, CNN PRODUCER: Jake, since Bana's home was bombed a couple of weeks ago, the family has been on the run. There have been fewer tweets and many questions about the family's state, and also some people have raised doubts about the authenticity of their Twitter account.

On Sunday, Bana's mother spoke to CNN exclusively from an undisclosed location in Eastern Aleppo. Here is some of what she told us.


FATEMAH ALABED, BANA'S MOTHER: I feel that we are really targeted from the regime people, so I can't tell anyone, even my parents doesn't know where I live, really.

KARADSHEH: The tens of thousands of people have left East Aleppo, and they've gone out. Why are you still there?

ALABED: I am afraid to lose one of my kids if I flee with all the people because they think I am work against the regime. I don't belong to any side. I am just what I was speaking about civilian people, about children.


[16:50:02] KARADSHEH: Fatemah denied accusations that they're anti- regime propaganda tool, but she does admit that she helps Bana who speaks little English articulate her messages to the world. Bana told us she misses school, she misses her home, misses her friends, and with little food available, she misses fruit. She was still smiling, and she sang us a song, a 1980s song about children of war.


I am a child with something to say, please listen to me. I am a child who wants to play. Why don't you let me? My doors are waiting, my friends are praying, small hearts are begging. Give us a chance.


KARADSHEH: And with today's developments out of Eastern Aleppo, a lot of concern for the family's safety. Fatima has tweeted, she says, these are her final tweets. She doesn't know how she's tweeting, she doesn't know how she's alive, she says, and she says she is sad the world is not doing anything to help them. Jake?

TAPPER: Jomana Karadsheh, thank you so much. New questions about why the remains of a veteran who passed away at a Florida V.A. hospital sat in a room for nine hours before being removed. That story next.


[16:54:57] TAPPER: Also on our "WORLD LEAD" today, three days of terror, a wave of deadly terrorist attacks were unleashed across the globe. Nearly 200 people have been killed in 5 countries from Friday through this weekend.

In Egypt, a suicide bomber blew himself up at a Christian church in Cairo, killing at least 23 people. No organization has claimed responsibility for that horrific act. In Mogadishu, Somalia, a car bomb killed 50 people at a port. The Islamist Terrorist group Al- Shabaab claimed responsibility.

While there are reports of two people being killed in a suicide bombing attack in Nigeria Sunday that bears the hallmarks of the Islamist group, Boko Haram. This is two days after a similar Boko Haram attack in Nigeria that left 31 people dead.

ISIS claimed responsibility for attacking a military base in Yemen, killing 48. And twin bomb blasts rattled the city of Istanbul, killing more than 40 people. CNN's Arwa Damon reports from there.

ARWA DAMON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Jake, dozens have been killed, even more wounded with concerns that the death toll only continue to rise. This attack carried out at about 11:00 p.m. on Saturday outside of the Besiktas soccer stadium after the match was over, targeting specifically the Security Forces, the riot police.

It was claimed by a group called TAC, that is an offshoot of the Kurdish Separatist group, the PKK. Following this violent, the Turkish Government, the president promised a swift response, and that was in fact, what was executed. We saw numerous strikes by Turkish fighter jets on PKK position in

Northern Iraq, as well as a sweeping roundup of around 200 individuals detained for various different things to include direct ties to attacks, but also people accused of being sympathizers with the PKK, many of them members of the Pro-Kurdish group, HDP.

Now, it must be said that the HDP did fairly well in the elections that happened here early on in the summer, and they have consistently come out and distanced themselves, in fact, condemned attacks carried out by both the PKK and TAC. Turkey is fighting a multi-prolonged war on terror. And if you'll remember, the ISIS attack that happened over the summer where they launched a complex assault on the airport. And then, of course, Turkey also had that failed military coup. All of these really shaking this nation to its very core with many people at this critical junction wondering what is going to happen next.

And, of course, Turkey has been a key NATO ally. It has had a fairly tumultuous relationship with the United States. Some Turkish officials are saying that they are perhaps cautiously optimistic that with the incoming Trump administration, given how shaky relations were in the second half of the Obama Administration, they will find in the United Stated a stronger ally when it comes to the war against terror than in the past, but as it is with everything worldwide, it must be said at this stage, things are very much unclear, Jake.

TRAPPER: All right, Arwa Damon in Istanbul, thank you so much. Turning now to our "BURIED LEAD", that's what we call stories that we don't think are getting enough attention. A disturbing story out of a V.A. hospital in Florida. In February, staff members at the Bay Pines V.A. Healthcare System moved a veteran's dead body from his hospice bed to a hallway and then to an unused shower room, where it remained unattended for more than nine hours.

The deceased veteran has not been publicly identified, but according to an internal investigation first reported by the Tampa Bay Times, dispatchers who normally transport corpses from the V.A. to the morgue were not immediately notified. The heavily redacted report states that staff members, quote, "Demonstrated a lack of concern, attention, and respect for the veteran," and subjected the body to, quote, "an increased risk of decomposition."

The report also found that some employees falsely documented the incident after the fact. Over the last several months, the hospital says it has re-trained staff on the proper response procedures and that appropriate personnel action was taken including termination.

In a statement to CNN, a hospital spokesman said, quote, "It is our expectation that each veteran is transported to their final resting place in the timely, respectful and honorable manner that America's heroes deserve, nothing less."

Be sure to follow me on Facebook and Twitter #JakeTapper or tweet the show @TheLeadCNN and then, the first book from CNN Politics "UNPRECEDENTED: THE ELECTION THAT CHANGED EVERYTHING" is available in stores now. That is it for "THE LEAD". I'm Jake Tapper. I now turn you over to

Wolf Blitzer, he's right next door in "THE SITUATION ROOM". Thanks for watching.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: Happening now, ridiculous, Donald Trump rejects the U.S. Intelligence's conclusion that Russian cyberattacks were intended to interfere with the Presidential Election, but a bipartisan call for an investigation is growing. Can Trump simply dismiss the evidence?

Intelligence test, Trump's first daily intelligence briefing saying, and I'm quoting him now, "A smart man doesn't need to be told the same thing every day."