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Interview With Indiana Congressman Andre Carson; Trump vs. China; Trump to Nominate Secretary of State Friendly to Russia?; Did Russia Interfere in U.S. Election?; Trump Business Announcement Delayed Until January; China Warns Trump with Nuclear Bomber Flyover; Syrian Forces Making Gains in Aleppo. Aired 6-7p ET

Aired December 12, 2016 - 18:00   ET



WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Tonight: new information as to why U.S. intelligence officers suspect the hackers tried to help Trump win the election.

Putin's pal. Sources say Trump is electing to choose ExxonMobil chief Rex Tillerson to become America's top diplomat. But some members of Trump's own party, they're spoiling for a fight right now, citing Tillerson's personal ties to the Russian president.

Nuclear warning. There's rising tension in disputed international waters, as China responds to provocative comments by president-elect Trump with an unprecedented show of force. Could it explode into a military conflict?

An about-face on Obama. Trump denies he's planning to wipe out the 44th president's legacy, describing the current commander in chief as terrific. Tonight, insights into the post-election praise of the man he once bashed during the campaign.

We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world. I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Tonight, president-elect Donald Trump is escalating his dispute with the U.S. intelligence community, rejecting findings that Russia tried to help him win the White House as ridiculous. The Trump camp now suggesting that intel about Russian hacking is part of a partisan conspiracy to delegitimize his presidency.

There's a bipartisan push right now to further investigate claims that Moscow tried to influence the U.S. presidential election. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell says he backs the idea of a congressional investigation.

The Clinton camp also weighing in. Former campaign chairman John Podesta is supporting calls for members of the Electoral College to get an intelligence briefing on Russian hacking, some electors asking for the information before they vote next week presumably to seal Donald Trump's election victory. The president-elect may be just hours away from revealing his choice

for secretary of state. Sources say ExxonMobil CEO Rex Tillerson remains the leading candidate. But there are increasing signs that Tillerson may face a confirmation fight in the Senate. Some top GOP senators, they are joining with Democrats right now in raising red flags about Tillerson's personal ties to Russia.

We're also following an unprecedented military move in disputed waters where tensions have boiled over before, China flying nuclear capable bombers over the South China Sea for the first time in an apparent warning to president-elect Trump, this after Trump questioned whether the United States should keep its longstanding policy that Taiwan is part of one China.

We will get reaction to all of this from a Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, Congressman Andre Carson. And our correspondents and analysts and guests, they are all standing by as we bring you full coverage of the day's top stories.

First, CNN's Ryan Nobles is over at Trump Tower in New York.

What's the latest as far as the transition, Ryan, is concerned?

RYAN NOBLES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, it's been a busy day for Donald Trump here on Fifth Avenue, as a parade of potential administration officials have made their way into Trump Tower.

And as the Trump transition continues to take shape, the president- elect remains at the center of a fierce debate over the alleged role of Russia in an attempt to interfere in the presidential election.


NOBLES (voice-over): Tonight, Donald Trump refusing to accept CIA reports that conclude Russia actively attempted to intervene in the presidential election, tweeting: "Can you imagine if the election results were opposite and we tried to play the Russia/CIA card? It would be called a conspiracy theory," this just hours after flatly telling FOX News the same thing.

DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENT-ELECT: I think it's ridiculous. I think it's just another excuse. I don't believe it.

NOBLES: Trump also falsely claiming that the accusation of Russian interference never came up during the election, even though it did, and that hackers weren't caught in the act, which they were. Now a chorus of bipartisan senators are calling for a deeper probe.

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: It's clear the Russians interfered.

NOBLES: And Trump suggests it's the Democrats, not the intelligence community, placing the blame on Russia.

TRUMP: I'm not sure they put it out. I think the Democrats are putting it out because they suffered one of the greatest defeats in the history of politics in this country, and, frankly, I think they're putting it out and it's ridiculous.

NOBLES: Which entirely misses the problem of a foreign entity attempting to undermine the integrity of the U.S. election and makes any potential investigation challenging if Trump remains opposed to the effort once he takes office.

But the Senate's most powerful Republican is also pushing back, arguing that the intelligence is correct and an investigation is needed.

SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY), MAJORITY LEADER: I agree with Senator Schumer, Chairman McCain, Burr and others. This simply cannot be a partisan issue. The Russians are not our friends.


NOBLES: And now the Clinton campaign is backing a demand from Electoral College electors who are asking for a full intelligence briefing on the matter ahead of their official vote on December 19. This flap adds to growing concern amongst leaders of the president- elect's own party about his view of Russia.


NOBLES: And his likely pick for secretary of state, ExxonMobil CEO Rex Tillerson, and his close ties to Putin and Russia.

Florida Senator Marco Rubio, who sits on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, tweeting: "Being a friend of Vladimir is not an attribute I'm hoping for from a secretary of state."

These battles are being waged as Trump continues to shape his upcoming administration. Making trips to Trump Tower today...

CARLY FIORINA, FORMER HEWLETT-PACKARD CEO: Really cool stuff in his office.

NOBLES: ... former presidential candidate Carly Fiorina, former Congressman Allen West, and former Texas Governor Rick Perry, once a sharp critic of Trump, now considered as the next energy secretary, a department that, as a presidential candidate, he suggested be shut down.


NOBLES: And after a day of meetings here in New York City, Donald Trump will get back on the road. He will wrap up his thank you tour this week with stops in Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, Florida, and Alabama -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Ryan, thanks very much, Ryan Nobles reporting for us.

Tonight, we're also getting new information about the U.S. intelligence that president-elect Trump refuses to believe. What clues led U.S. intelligence officials to conclude that the hackers were trying to help Donald Trump win the presidential election?

Our chief national security correspondent, Jim Sciutto, has been digging on this.

What are you learning, Jim?

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, tonight, the new information is that hackers also breached several Republican targets, lawmakers, as well as Republican Party organizations, as part of this broad hack.

But one thing that's leading the intelligence community to believe that this hack was intended to primarily target or injure Hillary Clinton, hurt her chances is that information from Republican sources was not released to the public.


SCIUTTO (voice-over): A former senior law enforcement official with direct knowledge of the inquiry tells CNN the investigation discovered Russian hacking of Republican entities, not just the Democratic National Committee and Hillary Clinton's top aide, John Podesta.

CNN is told that hackers got hold of information from some Republican House members, pundits, a third-party entity that held data for the Republican National Committee and nonprofit groups tied to the party. Most of the information relating to the Republican Party was not released by hackers.

That in part led the intelligence community to assess that Russia could have been acting to impact the election for Trump, though it was not clear whether this was truly for Trump or just to weaken Clinton.

FBI investigators were not as convinced. Some of the data appears to have been outdated and perhaps of less value to hackers. Tonight, the White House said it believes it is clear who Russia was trying to help.

JOSH EARNEST, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: These were e-mails from the DNC and John Podesta, not from the RNC and Steve Bannon.

SCIUTTO: This has put president-elect Trump and his team at odds with the U.S. intelligence community over this assessment. The president- elect himself is questioning the assessment that Russia was involved in any election-related hacking at all.

TRUMP: Once they hack, if you don't catch them in the act, you're not going to catch them. They have no idea if it's Russia or China or somebody.

SCIUTTO: Trump's transition team is also disputing a report that the Republican National Committee was hacked as well, though no information was made public.

SEAN SPICER, REPUBLICAN NATIONAL COMMITTEE COMMUNICATIONS DIRECTOR: The intelligence is wrong, because they're writing that the conclusion that they came to was based in part on the RNC was hacked. It wasn't hacked.

SCIUTTO: Though investigators do have evidence Republican entities, though not the RNC, were breached.


SCIUTTO: That's the key difference there.

So, Sean Spicer can make the argument credibly that the RNC was not hacked. But, Wolf, and this is key, other Republican entities and individuals were successfully breached.

But, again, part of judgment the I.C., from the intelligence community, that this was intended to help Trump is that that information, at least most of it, was not released to the public in the way we saw this slow, almost daily drip of e-mails targeting the Democratic Party in those days leading up to the election.

BLITZER: Yes, a lot of that information so embarrassing and damaging to the Hillary Clinton campaign.

Thanks very much, Jim Sciutto, reporting.

Joining us now, cyber-security expert Dmitri Alperovitch. He has unique insight into the investigation of the Russian hacking.

Dmitri, thanks very much for coming in.


BLITZER: Your firm CrowdStrike investigated the cyber-attacks on the Democratic National Committee.

Why are you so certain that the Russians did it?

ALPEROVITCH: Well, president-elect Trump said yesterday and today again that you have to catch these hackers in the act.

And actually he may not be aware, he may not have been briefed that our firm, CrowdStrike, actually did catch them in the act. When the DNC hired us back in May, we actually came in, deployed our technology called Falcon on all of the systems inside their corporate network.

We actually watched these adversaries for a number of days and weeks, as we were preparing to kick them out.


BLITZER: Who were these adversaries? Who were these people that were actually doing the hacking of the DNC?


ALPEROVITCH: There were two groups, two independently working groups that we associate with Russian intelligence agencies. One of them, we associate with GRU, the primary military intelligence

agency in Russia that is responsible for what in Russia they call active measures, disinformation campaigns such as this. They're also responsible for the takeover of Crimea. You may remember the little green men taking over military bases in Crimea. Putin had actually admitted these were GRU operatives.

BLITZER: Where were these people based? Where were they doing the hacking from?

ALPEROVITCH: We can't get that specific, but we know that the headquarters of the GRU is in Moscow.

BLITZER: The GRU, but the hackers you say were working for the, which is GRU the major Russian intelligence agency.

ALPEROVITCH: We believe they're affiliated with them. Highly likely these were actually GRU operatives, people in military uniforms working out of buildings in Moscow, perhaps a headquarters that is nicknamed the Aquarium in Moscow, but perhaps contractors also working on behalf of GRU.

BLITZER: You say you caught them in the act of actually doing this to the Democratic National Committee. Talk to us about that. How do you do that?

ALPEROVITCH: The Democratic National Committee suspected something may be wrong. They brought us in, in early May. And we deployed our technology, this Falcon technology, across all their systems.

And we immediately picked up the trace of these two attackers. We saw them going after e-mail communication servers, stealing e-mails from the DNC for a period of nine months going back to 2015, and then going after sensitive documents that the campaign was preparing on Donald Trump and other Republican candidates that were running for the primary.

BLITZER: And so the working assumption is the GRU, the Russian intelligence agency, then gave these documents, all these e-mails to WikiLeaks, and then WikiLeaks would release them on a daily basis; is that your understanding?

ALPEROVITCH: We actually have two other leaking campaigns that were set up, an organization called DC Leaks and then Guccifer 2.0 character that popped up. And both of them starting leaking this information initially.

And then Guccifer claimed actually claimed on Twitter that he had given the information to WikiLeaks, providing a direct connection from Guccifer to the WikiLeaks dumps of e-mails.

BLITZER: What is your reaction when you hear John Bolton, the former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, a man considered possibly a deputy secretary of state in a Trump administration, saying this could have been what he calls a false flag?

ALPEROVITCH: You can never discount that, but the evidence here is overwhelming.

We looked at all the forensic evidence. We had the FBI and the intelligence community confirm publicly in October, independently, that they believe the Russians were behind this hack.

And the thing you have to understand is that we have been tracking these groups, the intelligence agencies for years. In fact, one of them, the GRU, has been active since mid-2000. We have over 10 years of history of their campaigns, literally hundreds of intrusions into different organizations.

BLITZER: How high is your level of certainty that the Russian did this?

ALPEROVITCH: We have very high level of confidence that Russian intelligence agencies were behind this hack.

BLITZER: And is it your understanding that the U.S. intelligence community agrees with you?

ALPEROVITCH: Yes, absolutely. They would not have come out in October with a public statement from the head of the DNI and the DHS saying the same.

BLITZER: What is your reaction when Donald Trump says, as he did over the weekend, it could have been some guy sitting on his bed in New Jersey doing this?

ALPEROVITCH: Well, I think that the evidence here is overwhelming. I hope he's getting briefed on the evidence that the intelligence community has, which is much wider than what we're looking at, just the forensic evidence.

They may have human sources inside Russia. They may have signal intelligence that suggests specifically the people that may be behind this. So, hopefully, they're briefing him on this.

BLITZER: Has the Republican National Committee asked you to come and in do a similar investigation into whether they were hacked?

ALPEROVITCH: They have not. But we are working with other organizations on the Republican side. We're nonpartisan. We work with both sides.

BLITZER: And have they been hacked similarly, other Republican- related organizations?

ALPEROVITCH: There have been Republican operatives that have been hacked by the Russians.

BLITZER: When you say operatives, what does that mean?

ALPEROVITCH: People affiliated with the Republican Party.

BLITZER: Political operatives, if you will, because that's what Mike McCaul, the chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, told me back in September.

Originally, he said on our show that the -- that he believed the Republican National Committee was hacked. He said that was a misstatement. He later issued a statement saying: "I misspoke by asserting that the RNC was hacked. What I had intended to say was that, in addition to the DNC hack, the Democratic National Committee, Republican political operatives have also been hacked."

ALPEROVITCH: That is correct.

BLITZER: That is your understanding?


BLITZER: But that information was not released through WikiLeaks or Guccifer or anybody else?

ALPEROVITCH: We saw some releases. We saw Colin Powell's releases getting released. We some low-level operatives in the Republican Party actually getting released, their e-mails on DC Leaks. That hasn't gotten a lot of attention, but certainly not in the volume and scope of the DNC hacks.

BLITZER: Dmitri Alperovitch, thanks so much for coming in.


BLITZER: We will continue this conversation.

In the last hour, we spoke with a Donald Trump ally, the former House Intelligence Committee Chairman Pete Hoekstra.

Now let's talk to a current member of the Intelligence Committee, Democratic Congressman Andre Carson.

Congressman, thanks very much for joining us.

REP. ANDRE CARSON (D), INDIANA: Thank you for having me, Wolf.

BLITZER: So, based on the briefings you have received on the House Intelligence Committee, do you believe the CIA, in its conclusion that Russia not only wanted to erode trust in the entire Democratic process here in the United States, but was actually working to try to get Donald Trump elected president?


CARSON: Well, my personal opinion is that I trust what we have been hearing from news outlets, that, in fact, there was an honest attempt -- or an attempt -- pardon me -- by Moscow to disrupt our electoral process.

And to me, that's unacceptable. It brings into question, where do we go from here? And it could be us reverting back to a system that is non-electronic as it relates to our local and federally elected positions. (CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: Why do you believe Russian hackers potentially could sit on stolen information from Republican targets, whether members of Congress, Republican pundits, an RNC vendor, and not release that information, as opposed to releasing information that was embarrassing to the Democrats and Hillary Clinton's campaign?

CARSON: Well, I think we're still gathering additional information as we speak. I think that the Senate Intelligence Committee, the House Intelligence Committee, we will certainly have hearings related to unearthing these matters going forward, as well as working with House and Senate leaders in terms of pressing the issue to get to the root causes.

But it seems as if Mr. Trump's language, his overtures to Russia could have been a motivating factor. That is not to say that Mr. Trump gave a directive or was in concert with the Russian government, but it is to suggest that his favorable comments throughout the campaign opened the door for the Russian government to feel as if they have an ally in the White House, and that is very troubling for our national security.

BLITZER: I want you to stand by, Congressman.

We're getting some breaking news coming into THE SITUATION ROOM. But we have got to take a quick break. We will resume this conversation, share the new information we're getting right after this.



BLITZER: Breaking news we're getting in.

Two transition sources, Trump transition sources now confirming to CNN that the president-elect will delay his scheduled news conference on his business plans. The news conference had been scheduled for this Thursday.

The sources now tell CNN the president will make announcement on how he's splitting up his business to avoid any potential conflicts of interest as much as possible, handing over the business to his adult children, that news conference, the sources say, will now take place in January.

We're getting more information on this.

We're back with House Intelligence Committee member Andre Carson.

Are you satisfied that he will be able to make sure that his adult children, his two sons in particular, some others, run the business, so that he avoids any potential conflict of interests as president of the United States?

CARSON: Well, Mr. Trump's decision to choose whomever he wishes to run his organizations is a personal one. I just want to make sure that we don't have the appearance of impropriety or any impropriety as it relates to our commander in chief being focused on the issues of the day.

The job of president is very demanding and it requires that that president be freed of any personal business obligation to focus on the American people and focus on our presence in the world and moving our country forward.

BLITZER: As you know, the president-elect is rejecting the CIA's concern, the intelligence community's concern about Russia's involvement. He's concerned that all of these stories, all these reports are politically motivated to raise questions about his legitimacy as the elected president of the United States.

What is your response going to be?

CARSON: I think the men and women who work hard each and every day throughout our 17 intelligence agencies do a great job. I think it's important to note that we cannot minimize their great work, nor can we recklessly accuse this of being a false flag operation.

I think it's irresponsible and it's unbecoming of a commander in chief. And my hope is that Mr. Trump will walk back his language going forward, because I think these times are ever critical, Wolf. And it's time for us to take these assessments quite seriously, because we are the greatest nation in recorded history. And that does not come without its enemies.

BLITZER: How do you respond to that tweet that the Trump campaign released over these past few days saying, look, the U.S. intelligence community got it way wrong as far as Saddam Hussein's stockpiles of weapons of mass destruction, and they might be getting -- and so don't believe everything you hear from the U.S. intelligence community?

You're a member of the Intelligence Committee. What's your response?

CARSON: It's obvious that intelligence is not perfect. We're always making corrections. The intelligence community is always coming with additional information from additional sources. And so it's not fail- proof.

But at the same time, he cannot cite the situation that happened with Saddam Hussein and Iraq and compare it to this one. I think what is most important is that he has the microphone. He has the largest stage in the world. And to talk recklessly, because he still is speaking to his group of supporters -- he's styling himself as being someone who is anti-establishment.

He's styling himself as someone who is a bit of a maverick, and that fits into his narrative.

BLITZER: I want you to listen, Congressman, to what the president- elect said yesterday about the daily presidential intelligence briefings that he's been getting maybe once a week. The vice president-elect gets them every day. He gets them maybe once a week.

Listen to what he said.


TRUMP: These are very good people that are giving me the briefings. And I say, if something should change from this point, immediately call me. I'm available on one minute's notice. I don't have to be told -- you know, I'm, like, a smart person.

I don't have to be told the same thing in the same words every single day for the next eight years. Could be eight years, but eight years. I don't need that.



BLITZER: Do you think that's an appropriate attitude for the incoming commander in chief?

CARSON: I think about the words my grandmother told me. I think about Lee Hamilton, one of our state's dignitaries and statesmen who sat on the Foreign Affairs Committee.

I think about Congressman Andy Jacobs who gave me the advice to master the briefing, master the briefing, master the briefing. It's about showing up, putting yourself into the work, understanding the different policy issues. And it may sound redundant, but if you're there for practice each day, understanding these issues, it will help hone your instincts.

It will put you in tune with the hard work and the sacrifices that these men and women are making in our intelligence community each and every day, and you may miss something if you simply dismiss the intelligence briefing.

There's so much going on in our world each and every day that requires a commander in chief to be briefed by the FBI and the CIA on a daily basis. And to be as dismissive as he has been troubles me, because this is not a business. This is the United States of America.

BLITZER: Ten members of the Electoral College, they're asking for a full intelligence briefing on Russia's role in the election before they make it official. They do their vote next week for the Electoral College.

Today, John Podesta, who was the Clinton campaign chairman, he came out in support of that effort that these members of the Electoral College should have a full-scale briefing. Do you really think that's a good idea?

CARSON: I think it's important that the members of the Electoral College are briefed to the degree that it would bring calm to their minds.

I don't think that a top-secret-level security briefing is necessary. But I think that perhaps a briefing is not out of the question, to the degree that it would calm their concerns.

I think going back to the founding fathers wanting to establish the Electoral College, which is very complicated -- that's another conversation -- but at least in wanting to prevent -- a buffer, in fact, from having the influence of a foreign nation interfere with our elections.

And so here we are right now with members of the Electoral College being deeply concerned about the results. And the fact that there could have been external influences, i.e., Russia, I don't think it's out of the question to have some kind of briefing. The level of the briefing concerns me, but to have a general briefing, I think it's acceptable.

BLITZER: But you really think it's realistic, it's credible at all that the Electoral College, when they meet next week, won't make it official and elect Donald Trump as the next president of the United States?

CARSON: Well, Wolf, based on the numbers, the numbers that you see each and every day, the numbers you see more than I do, I think you could best answer that more than I can.

BLITZER: Well, he has got -- he clearly has a lot more Electoral College votes than Hillary Clinton has.


BLITZER: And that should make it official.

All right, we're going to -- I just want to wrap it up with one final question, Congressman -- I know you have to run -- before I let you go.

Even as Donald Trump is questioning Russia's involvement in the hacking of the DNC, the Clinton campaign, he's also now seriously considering Exxon CEO Rex Tillerson as secretary of state.

That announcement could come as early as this week. How concerned are you, if you are, about Tillerson's work over the years in Russia and his personal relationship with Vladimir Putin?

CARSON: Well, he certainly doesn't have a background as a diplomat.

I'm concerned that anyone who is representing our nation as a global ambassador of sorts will have to be deeply entrenched with the issues of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, issues with Syria, Russia, the Ukraine, South China Sea and other parts of our globe, just to name a few.

But to have someone who is alleged to have ties to the Russian government, given Mr. Trump's rhetoric, given the evidence that has been unearthed by the CIA as it relates to hacking, troubles me even more so.

And I think we have to take a greater look, beyond the political pageantry that's taking place, beyond the narrative of Mr. Trump being this maverick of sorts, going against traditional politics. We have to look at the future of our country.

And going forward, we cannot take this Electoral College process lightly. And we cannot take our electoral process lightly. And we have to really decide the fate of our country, whether you're a Republican, or Democrat, independent, libertarian, we have to really talk about these issues and not allow elections to be based on our emotional response, but really look at the candidates deeply and look at their backgrounds and experience and see who we really want to leave our nation -- lead our nation going forward.

BLITZER: Congressman Andre Carson of the Intelligence Committee, thanks for joining us.

CARSON: Thank you.

BLITZER: Just ahead: Will Donald Trump be able to work with the U.S. intelligence community as president of the United States, when he's bashing its conclusions about Russian hacking and skipping that daily intelligence briefing?

[18:30:03] And China's unprecedented military move in an already tense region. It's a nuclear-charged message to the president-elect. But is he listening?


BLITZER: We're back with the breaking news. President-elect Trump now delaying his planned announcement on the future of his huge business. We're now told in a news conference that it was scheduled for this coming Thursday; won't happen until next month. Our experts are here to assess this and a whole lot more.

Ron Brownstein, let me start with you. Apparently, his aides are suggesting it's a lot more complicated to hand over the business -- it's a huge business, as I said -- to his adult sons, if you will, to avoid the appearance of a conflict of interest. The lawyers are still working on it. What's your reaction when we hear this delay from Thursday, because at the end of November, he said it was all going to be announced on December 15.

[18:35:16] BROWNSTEIN: Well, look, this is why you had that bipartisan group of former ethics officials from the Bush administration, the Obama administration, the conservative author of "The Clinton Cashbook," which you know, excoriated Hillary Clinton, all arguing last week that the only true solution here for Donald Trump was to do what other presidents had done and sell off his assets and create a true blind trust.

It is going to be very difficult in practice to create separation between a Trump company that is still, you know, in essence, in the family, and the -- and the desire of outside parties to curry favor with the new administration. That's just a fundamental problem.

And then you add to what happened yesterday, where Donald Trump said on FOX News that he has turned down, and thus has been considering, further business deals during the transition period after his election. So I just think it's just an indication of how complicated it's going to be to produce something that most Americans will feel truly does create a separation.

BLITZER: Yes. Stand by for that. That will happen in January in the new year.

Julia Ioffe, you're an expert on Russia. You've spent a lot of time studying what's going on. When you see Donald Trump dismissing this notion, calling it ridiculous, that the Russians were hacking the Democrats, if you will, the Hillary Clinton campaign, saying it could have been China, it could have been North Korea, it could have been a guy sitting on his bed in New Jersey...

IOFFE: This time he didn't weigh 400 pounds, though.

BLITZER: Yes. He said that at one point. What's your reaction when you hear that?

IOFFE: You know, it's just -- it's more Donald Trump. It's the same kind of -- it's the same lack of intellectual curiosity, lack of trust in institutions of government. You know, he knows more about ISIS than the generals. This isn't the first time he's disparaged the work of the intelligence community. You know, shirking all kinds of precedent that exists for a reason: you know, intelligence briefings, selling off assets. The stuff didn't like, you know, using the right fork at a very proper dinner party. This stuff exists for a reason. And the fact that he keeps bucking precedent is very troubling.

BLITZER: Phil Mudd, you spent years as a counterterrorism analyst, an official at the CIA. You worked at the FBI. When you hear Donald Trump saying, "You know what? I don't need these daily presidential intelligence briefs. I can do it once a week, if you will. They're just telling me the same thing every single day." You helped prepare those presidential daily briefs. What's your reaction to that?

MUDD: I can't figure that out. Telling you the same thing every single day? This guy is a human migraine for the CIA. Let me tell you why.

If he's telling you the same thing every single day, over the past three days, we've had bombings in places like Somalia, Turkey. We've had action with the South Korean president, right across the border with North Korea. You look at what's happening in Aleppo, where it looks like the government is making major gains against some of the people that we, the U.S. government and CIA, supports.

Meanwhile, if I were him, I'd be curious about what the press and social media is saying about his own comments in China and Taiwan, all over 72 hours, Wolf.

The question is not whether the man is smart. The question is whether he's informed. And if you're not listening to what's going on around the world, the answer is no. BLITZER: Why is he dismissing -- I mean, Evan, you cover the Justice

Department, the FBI? He seems to simply be dismissing not just the CIA's bottom-line analysis, but also the FBI's analysis.

PEREZ: I think this goes back even during -- earlier in the campaign. This is not a new thing. I mean, he sort of suggested all along that perhaps all of these people who have been running the government, and he includes the professionals at the intelligence agencies, at the FBI law enforcement. He suggests that these people have essentially driven the country into a ditch. And so he's here to pull the country out. That's why they keep saying that "We're going to put our own people in those agencies and we're going to fix them."

So in his view, he's here to fix not only, you know, the administration, but also all of these government agencies that he feels has not served the country well.

BLITZER: And Phil, I just want to get back to you. But he also says, you know, "Look at this intelligence community. They got the Saddam Hussein weapons of mass destruction wrong. You can't just buy what they're -- what they're trying to sell."

MUDD: So excuse me, the man who wrote "The Art of the Deal" has been bankrupt how many times? Anybody who's on the field of play, Wolf, occasionally makes a mistake.

I was involved in the WMD mistake. Let's look at a couple of other issues: what the intelligence community has done in 15 years after 9/11. Not one catastrophic attack on that scale on U.S. soil. Who did that? That's the military, that's the intel and that's FBI. If you want to look at every mistake, I'd go back to Mr. Trump and say, "I'm going to judge you on why you went bankrupt in Atlantic City." That's not the way this game works, Wolf.

BLITZER: What do you think, Ron?

BROWNSTEIN: Well, look, you know, I think there's a broader issue here. You know, you remember the famous Daniel Patrick Moynihan, the late Daniel Patrick Moynihan, when he said, "Everyone is entitled to their own opinion. They are not entitled to their own facts."

[18:40:08] And I think what you have here is a question of whether Donald Trump, as president, is going to be willing to accept facts from the intelligence community that contradict or conflict with his ideological predispositions.

You know, you have him saying over the weekend again that the science of climate change is not settled. Who knows?

And on this, you know, rejecting not only the idea that Russia intervened specifically to help him, which still is in some dispute in the intelligence community, but also rejecting a point that is not in dispute in the intelligence community, which is that Russia intervened at all.

And so, you know, what you've got is what we don't know is the degree to which he is going to be willing as president to accept information from the intelligence community that simply goes against the way he wants the world to be or the way he wants policy to go.

BLITZER: All right. We're going to have you guys stand by. Everybody stand by. More to discuss, including China, now accusing the president-elect of acting like a child. Tonight, we're getting new information on this part of the story. We'll share it with you right after this.


[18:45:33] BLITZER: We're getting new details tonight about China's unprecedented military response to President-elect Trump after he opened the door to potential dramatic change in America's China policy.

Let's go to our global affairs correspondent Elise Labott.

Elise, China raising serious concerns, and unleashing warplanes. What's the latest?


The president-elect is playing hardball with China over Taiwan, saying he sees no reason to abide by long-standing U.S. policy unless a grand bargain with China is reached over trade, North Korea, and other issues. But China watchers are concerned that could risk a confrontation with China in the Pacific, even before Donald Trump takes office.


LABOTT (voice-over): In a bold show of force, China flies a nuclear capable bomber over the South China Sea, a defiant warning to Donald Trump just days after his controversial phone call with the president of Taiwan. The bomber flew past Taiwan and past disputed islands in the South China Sea, where a massive military build up is underway.

U.S. officials view that muscle flexing as a message to the president- elect.

DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENT-ELECT: I don't want China dictating to me.

LABOTT: In an interview with FOX News, President-elect Trump threatened to overturn a four-decades long policy of treating Taiwan as part of one China.

TRUMP: I fully understand the One China Policy, but I don't know why we have to be bound by One China Policy, unless we make a deal with China having to do with other things, including trade. I mean look, we're being hurt very badly by China with devaluation, with taxing us heavy at the borders when we don't tax them, with building a massive fortress in the middle of the South China Sea, which they shouldn't be doing. And frankly, they're not helping us at all with the North Korea.

LABOTT: But the Chinese foreign ministry said there's no deal to be had with the One China Policy, calling it the bedrock of U.S.-China relations.

GENG SHUANG, CHINESE FOREIGN MINISTER (through translator): If it is compromised or disrupted, the sound and steady growth of the bilateral relationship, as well as bilateral cooperation in major fields would be out of the question.

LABOTT: And a state controlled newspaper editorial mocking Trump as being like a child in his ignorance of foreign policy, "The Global Times" writing, "only by going through some tough times will he come to realize that China and other international powers are not to be bullied," and warning the one China policy is not for sale.

An idea echoed today by the White House.

JOSH EARNEST, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: The Obama administration does not view Taiwan and our relationship with Taiwan as a bargaining chip. Taiwan is not a source of leverage.

LABOTT: And fears from a former secondary of defense that a confrontation with China over Taiwan could spin out of control, possibly even risking a military clash in the Pacific.

WILLIAM COHEN, FORMER DEFENSE SECRETARY: China is a big player in the east, and they're a growing military power. So, it's going to put the United States up to a challenge, how do we respond? We have to ask the question, would the American people support going to war with China over the issue of Taiwan's status?


LABOTT: Now, many long-time diplomats agree the U.S. should strengthen relations with Taiwan, but they caution the incoming administration should thoughtfully consider such a dramatic change in policy and warn against doing it to black mail China, because in that game of chicken, the U.S. could lose cooperation with China on issues such as North Korea, fighting terrorism and climate change.

BLITZER: Lots at stake. Elise Labott, thanks very much.

Julia Ioffe, let's talk a little bit about it. The Donald Trump approach towards China, is it deliberate, well thought out or sort of random based on lack of experience?

JULIA IOFFE, COLUMNIST, FOREIGN POLICY: I just keep thinking, here we go, he hasn't taken office and we're already approaching a military confrontation with China? I don't think -- I'm amazed he said the words South China Sea frankly and that he talks about a fortress in the middle of it. Someone briefed him a little bit probably before that interview, but it doesn't sound like he understands what he's getting into, or what somebody flying a nuclear bomber like that means. That said, I'm worried he's going to see that as a provocation which it is and provoke right back and like Elise said, we can end up in a kind of death spiral with China.

[18:50:02] That's not -- I mean, again, he hasn't even taken office.

BLITZER: Well, Phil Mudd, let me get Phil Mudd.

How do you see it?

PHIL MUDD, FORMER CIA COUNTERTERRORISM OFFICIAL: I'd be a little more cautious on this one. Look, we have somebody who's going to the card- playing table with another poker player. That's the Chinese.

There's a lot in the center of the pot here, that's Chinese human rights, activity in the south China sea, that's trade policy. I suspect what you may have here is a president-elect who says I'm going to throw some cards on the table, too. The first one is Taiwan. So, that the adversary I'm negotiating with when I walk in the room says new sheriff in town, I'm not sure what we got here, we better be careful. That may be giving him too much credit, but I'd be cautious on this one.

BLITZER: You think the Chinese are deliberately sending him a message right now, that nuclear bomber flying over the South China Sea?

MUDD: Absolutely. I do not believe that's a military act. I believe that's a message the president-elect that says when you speak, be careful, there are implications.

BLITZER: What about you, Ron Brownstein?

RON BROWNSTEIN, SENIOR EDITOR, THE ATLANTIC: Look, one thing we learned about Donald Trump from the beginning is he is a disrupter, political disrupter. And for many of his voters, that was a very attractive quality especially applied to a domestic political system they felt has been failing to meet their needs.

It's a little less clear that that will be as attractive to Americans in structuring our relationship with the rest of the world. There may be aspects of that that Americans want to reconsider or at least the Trump coalition wants to reconsider, but I think the sheer level of kind of confrontation and disruption may, itself, become a source of anxiety over whether, you know, Trump has a steady course, a clear thought-out vision, or is simply improvising in a way that can lead us to places that really nobody wants to get.

BLITZER: Evan, you've been talking to your sources, what are you hearing?

EVAN PEREZ, CNN JUSTICE REPORTER: Well, you know, I think with regard to China, I think we also do need to calm down a little bit because I think one of the things we have is to remember, I think the Chinese want (ph) a confrontation either, and so, if he comes in and tries to shake up a policy that was set, Wolf, 30, 40 years ago, when Taiwan was a dictatorship, now it's a democracy, he seems to be saying, let's change the relationship because this is a different country than when this policy was set up.

I'm not sure that you should just -- we should just freak out right now. I mean, let's see how this goes. I don't think China wants a confrontation. I think we have to wait and see.

BLITZER: We may know more once there is a secretary of state in place with some serious views.

Very quickly, Julia, John Bolton, former U.S. ambassador to the U.N., suggesting maybe the Russian hacking, that's a false flag, Russians really didn't do it, somebody else did it, but they're blaming the Russians.

IOFFE: You know, when I heard that my first thought was this sounds a lot like what a Russian politician would say. It sounds a lot like Putin's spokesman saying, eh, it's a false flag, it's a conspiracy theory. Just dismissing out-of-hand facts that contradict your built- in narrative, that's very dangerous because you just marginalize any dissenting voices and you end up with a very, you know, a vertical of power that is not responsive to any developing situations.

BLITZER: All right, guys, stick around. Don't go too far away.

An important note to our viewers, please be sure to check out the first ever book from CNN politics, it's called "Unprecedented: The Election That Changed Everything."

You can pick up your copy today in bookstores or you can get it online at

Just ahead, thousands of ISIS fighters reportedly swarming an ancient city. Have the terrorists retaken a world heritage site?


[18:57:57] BLITZER: Volunteer emergency workers report a mass exodus of terrified civilians in Aleppo where Syrian government forces are making major gains in the city's rebel-controlled eastern neighborhoods.

Our Pentagon correspondent Barbara Starr is working the story for us.

Barbara, what does this all mean for the actual people who live there?

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: It is terrifying for them, Wolf. The fighting in Syria stepping up on several fronts.

First up over the weekend, the Pentagon announced 200 additional special operations forces will go to Syria to help train and advise those forces fighting ISIS. But in Aleppo, these people, this is a killing field. Maybe as many as 10,000 people trying to escape those eastern neighborhoods because Syrian forces are coming at them full tilt.

We have some overhead video taken by drones showing one of the neighborhoods, constant assault by Syrian forces. Civilian casualties, nobody can say at this point how many people have been killed, as people try to escape the fighting but are often killed by those government forces. All of this underscoring, besides the humanitarian disaster, underscoring what the U.S. believes is the very reason to be careful of Russia.

This fighting by the regime has basically been facilitated by Russian support for Bashar al Assad over the months. It has kept him in power. It has given his forces the ability, basically, Wolf, to kill the people of Aleppo.

BLITZER: There are also reports, Barbara, that ISIS has retaken the ancient Syrian city of Palmyra. What can you tell us?

STARR: This has happened over the last couple of days. ISIS moving back into this central area in Syria that is basically unpopulated. It is giving them a toe hold in this ancient city which is also a world heritage site. They had already destroyed the ruins there -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Awful situation, indeed.

Barbara Starr reporting from the Pentagon.

That's it for me. Thanks very much for watching.

I'm Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM.

"ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.