Return to Transcripts main page


Obama Warns Trump on Daily Intelligence Briefings; Evan McMullin Talks Trump; Trump Postpones Announcement on Business Organization Plans; Trump Meets with Kanye West; Civilians Trapped in Aleppo as Syrian Army Closes In. Aired 11:30-12p ET

Aired December 13, 2016 - 11:30   ET




[11:30:16] BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: It doesn't matter how smart you are. You have to have the best information possible to make the best decisions possible. And my experience with our intelligence agencies is that they were not perfect. They'd be the first to acknowledge that. But they are full of extraordinarily hardworking, patriotic, and knowledgeable experts. And if you're not getting their perspective, their detailed perspective, then you are flying blind.


KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: Flying blind. President Obama sending a warning to Donald Trump after the president-elect said he does not need daily intelligence briefings because he is, quote, "a smart person" and he also thinks "it's repetitive." Instead, Trump has been delegating daily briefings to the vice president-elect and top advisers.

Let's talk about this and more. Evan McMullen, he's joining me now. He ran against Trump as an Independent candidate for president. He's also a former CIA agent and former policy director for the House Republican Conference.

Evan, great to see you. Thanks for coming back in.


BOLDUAN: Thank you.

On exactly what President Obama was talking about here and the fact that Donald Trump has said he doesn't need daily briefings, some of the information it appears he thinks has seemed repetitive. If they got something new, if the assessment changes, they know where to find him is what he says. Does that work for you?

MCMULLIN: No, not at all. It shouldn't work for any American president. Look, when the CIA briefers come to you, they're bringing information that is based on signals intelligence. That means intercepted foreign communications, information from human sources, information from a range of other open and covert sources. You simply cannot function as a president without having access to that information. At least not function well. So, it's highly concerning. It should be highly concerning for all Americans that Donald Trump first and foremost doesn't have interest in that information.

That's not to say that it's always perfect. We live in an uncertain world. Our intelligence analysts are connecting dots that are, you know, not always obvious and that have to be discovered and it's not -- it's not always easy but that's why they're there. That's why they're there. That's why they have the expertise they do. That's why any American president needs to make sure they're tapped into that information and that expertise.

BOLDUAN: Kind of to that point, we've talked a lot about Russian influence, and over the weekend, the intel assessment that Russia was behind the hackings during the election and did so in order to tip the scales in favor of Donald Trump.

Kellyanne Conway, Trump's campaign manager, she has spoken about this. Listen to this.


KELLYANNE CONWAY, DONALD TRUMP SENIOR ADVISOR: Politics, plain and simple. We, in the Trump presidency, do not want foreign governments interfering in our elections. We also don't want -- we don't want intelligence interfering in our politics. We certainly don't want what we have now, politics interfering in our intelligence.


BOLDUAN: You were at the CIA. You've moved into the world of politics. Do you think politics bled into this?

MCMULLIN: I think what you just heard from Kellyanne Conway is politics. What you're hearing from the CIA is not. Absolutely, not. We cannot lose sight of something that is highly troubling. We have a U.S. president-elect staunchly in favor of aligning our country with the very country that sought to undermine and influence our election. Think about that. An all-alarm alert. It should be something that all Americans, regardless of political persuasion, regardless of what ever party you belong to, this should be something we reject. We need to stand up and oppose this. We need to watch everything this administration does. I mean, it is highly, highly troubling.

BOLDUAN: One of the things that the president has done -- well, when you look at the relationship with Russia, is coming out as pick for secretary of state, Rex Tillerson. Do you like him?

MCMULLIN: I don't know him personally. Still, this isn't about Tillerson. I think Trump was going to choose somebody for secretary of state that would not get in the way of his plans to align our country with Putin and Russia. We should talk more about what that means. And we need to make sure we all understand what that means. He wasn't going to choose Mitt Romney or somebody who would get in the way of that. That's the only thing Trump has been consistent about during the campaign and post-election. He wants a stronger relationship with Vladimir Putin and Russia even as it undermines our democracy. In Tillerson, he's chosen someone who is not going to get in his way.

[11:35:10] BOLDUAN: What we've seen was a lot of Republican lawmakers, you know, coming, happy with the picks. Tillerson is getting praise and concern. Republican leaders, they're getting behind Tillerson as secretary of state. Are you getting more comfortable or less comfortable with his presidency now that you see people he's surrounding himself with?

MCMULLIN: There's some speaking out against Tillerson. McCain is one of them, and there are others. We'll see how things play out.

Look, I hope he'll be blocked in the Senate. I'm calling on Americans to stand up --


BOLDUAN: You want to see Tillerson blocked?

MCMULLIN: Yes, I would like to see Tillerson blocked. Again, It's not about him as much as it alignment with President Putin in Russia. Tillerson is a proxy for that. That's the issue. We cannot lose sight of that. That is what the issue is.

Now, as far as the broader cabinet, there have been many picks I'm neutral on. Some picks I think are good. I think Pompeo at CIA will do a good job. I know him. I know he's a very, very smart man. He's got a very -- he's strong willed. So, can stand up for truth. I'm confident he'll do a good job at CIA. I'm hopeful. General Mattis is a world-class leader.

But there are other troubling appointments. Sessions, for one, on civil rights issues. Flynn is - is somebody who has had a financial relationship with the Russian government through RT, America, their cable channel in the United States, which has promoted Donald Trump through the election while undermining American's faith in our Democratic institutions. Then you've got Bannon, of course, who has promoted, or turned "Breitbart," into as he described it, a platform for the white supremacist or the Alt-Right movement, which is a euphemism for the white nationalist, white supremacist --


BOLDUAN: I take this as Evan McMullin still not happy with Donald Trump --


MCMULLIN: No, it's not going to change. Kate, I am eager to praise this administration. And I've praised decisions I agree with, but we've got to stand up to this. We cannot be desensitized to the things we're talking about today. BOLDUAN: Evan, great to see you. Thank you so much for coming in.

MCMULLIN: My pleasure, Kate. Thank you.

BOLDUAN: Thank you.

Coming up, one of the most important questions that Donald Trump has yet to answer before taking office: How does he plan to separate himself from his business empire? You're going to have to wait a little longer for that answer it appears. Why the president-elect says he had to postpone a highly-anticipated news conference for the big announcement.


[11:41:14] BOLDUAN: Donald Trump failing to meet his own deadline for explaining how he plans to separate himself from his business empire. The president-elect has not set a date yet -- now that he's moved it back -- for a long-awaited news conference that was supposed to be this week. He's committed to speaking to the press in the near future. Trump tweeting this, he will, "leave his businesses before January 20th to focus full time on the presidency." He goes on to say his sons, Don and Eric, plus executives, will manage the business and no deals will be done during his term or terms in office.

Let's discuss this with Michael Crowley, senior foreign affairs correspondent for "Politico"; and David Chalian, CNN's political director.

David, what are you hearing at this moment is really behind this postponement? Now it's been pushed back.

DAVID CHALIAN, CNN POLITICAL DIRECTOR: I just don't think all the ducks are in a row to take questions and be scrutinized for it. You want to make sure all of that is buttoned down. That's my sense of why this might be kicked down the road a bit. Look at those tweets you just had. It's pretty clear Ivanka Trump, his daughter, who has been groomed to be part of this business for the long term, is not going to be in that role because, clearly, she and her husband, Jared Kushner, are going to be playing a role much more directly inside the White House not related to the business, which I think is the subtext of what he's saying there as well.

BOLDUAN: And an important subtext.

But also, this line, Michael, I found fascinating. Want to get your take on in that tweet. When he said, "no deals will be done during my terms in office," what does that mean for him in terms of actually cutting ties? Or is it that he's actually just not going to cut ties and they're not going to do any deals? What's your sense here?

MICAHEL CROWLEY, SENIOR FOREIGN AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT, POLITICO: Yes, that does seem to set a pretty low bar. Ideally, you would have somebody sever their financial stake entirely. So, that he's not thinking when he's conducting foreign policy with a country like turkey for instance about the value of the Trump Tower and shopping mall complex in Istanbul. To say we're not going to do any deals, it's just not that tough of a standard. And, of course, if you have a huge empire of real estate properties around the world and other businesses, you know, things are happening to those businesses all the time that you have to respond to. The environment is changing. It's not saying that much to say I'm not going to do any more deals, as though that takes this issue off the table. His businesses are constantly being affected by changes in the world.

Again, it's very concerning when you have a guy who's going to be conducting American foreign policy and making decisions about America's relationship with countries around the world, and, most importantly, having foreign leaders who understand that Trump has these big financial stakes in their country, and that is going to be part of the context with which he's dealing with them. And are they going to want to do favors for him? Are they going to make it easier for his businesses to operate?


CROWLEY: Even if there aren't all these pro-active deals.

BOLDUAN: All of these questions. Folks were looking for answers when this press conference was going to happen this week. Now that's delayed until -- we don't yet know exactly when it will happen.

CHALIAN: But, Kate --

BOLDUAN: Yeah, David.

CHALIAN: -- I just want to underscore what Michael is saying. This is clearly because he's not divesting himself, not doing a true blind trust, liquidating assets and then --


BOLDUAN: He was never going to do it, it right. He didn't even know the definition of blind trust during the debates.

CHALIAN: Right. But my whole point is anything short of that means this is a narrative and story line through everything he does. Every time we see Don Jr or Eric come into the White House to visit with their father, every time, this is one of the story lines tying back to how does this impact his businesses.

[11:45:09] BOLDUAN: So then this happened. Donald Trump, Kanye West. We can talk about it as we show you the video of when they came down for a photo op.

David Chalian, what happened?


CHALIAN: I don't know that I want this one. I'm going to defer -- listen, obviously, Kanye West has made some post-election comments, if you recall, that were exactly the kind to appeal to Donald Trump. They have a pre-exiting relationship. Donald Trump loves surrounding himself with this kind of buzzy celebrity and, clearly was doing something today. I don't think we're going to see Kanye West in the administration.

CROWLEY: There's been a lot of debate about when Trump tweets something outrageous is he trying to change the subject. I think in a lot of cases it's maybe not that strategic. In this case, I really do have to think there's a lot of negative stories. A lot of talk about Tillerson and Russia that they don't welcome. This really looks like a bright shine object to me. Almost more than anything we've seen in the transition so far.

BOLDUAN: You don't want to step on it the day you announce your secretary of state though. This was just the only time that Kanye could come to Trump Tower. It was a scheduling conflict.



BOLDUAN: Guys, great to see you. Thank you very much.


BOLDUAN: All right, we have breaking news coming to us out of Syria -- Aleppo, Syria -- where one leader says, "We're watching" -- in his words -- "the worst humanitarian tragedy of the 21st century." Kids, one 7 years old, now saying good-bye on social media, putting their final messages out to the world as they come to grips with their brutal situation. The stunning new details coming out in just the last 24 hours. That's ahead.


[11:50:24] BOLDUAN: Breaking news. Tens of thousands of families -- mothers, fathers, sons, daughters -- trapped right now in Aleppo, Syria, in what the United Nations is calling a "complete meltdown of humanity." Aid groups in Syria desperately pleading for help for some 100,000 people as government forces are making a brutal final push into rebel-held areas of the city. Many people that are stuck there are simply saying good-bye in the only way they can, sending out on social media.

This is a tweet from a 7-year-old Syrian girl saying, "Last moment to live or die." An activist tweeted, "It is doomsday inside Aleppo," and he also says people are running, but don't know where to go.

I want to bring in Fred Pleitgen right now, just in Aleppo, but out now.

Fred, what are you hearing? What is happening there right now? Things seem to have changed in just the last 24, 48 hours?

FRED PLEITGEN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORERSPONDENT: Yes. You know, they're changing by the minute there in Aleppo. The reason, rebels have a very small territory left inside that city, besieged on all sides by the pro-government forces, of course, also have much more fire power.

You're right. The big concern at this point in time, the people still trapped inside those besieged areas. By all accounts, it seems though the rebels will only be able to hold out a couple more hours, unless they possibly reach an agreement with the Syrian government and pro- government forces to perhaps give them safe passage out in return for those government forces moving in.

At the same time, there is that grave concern for the Syrians on the ground. The U.N. says that it has reports there may have been executions on the part of pro-government forces, 234, they say, at this point in time. They're not sure the stories are true but they come from sources credible in the past.

Of course, the most vulnerable caught up in between all of this are the children on the ground. And UNICEF put out an urgent statement saying they believe as many as 100 children are trapped inside a building in the besieged areas. Of course, very much at risk at this point of the heavy fighting, the air strikes, that have been going on in those areas. And, of course, all of these international groups calling for an immediate end to the fighting, a ceasefire to make sure the civilians remain safe -- Kate?

BOLDUAN: Fred, thank you so much.

Let's discuss this more. Joining me now, CNN chief international correspondent, host of "Amanpour," Christiane Amanpour.

Christiane, a complete meltdown of humanity, that's just a one way of describing it. Horrific seems to be the status what's going on now in Aleppo. Images coming out, hard to imagine it could get worse, but seems it has.

CHRISTIANE AMANPOU, CNN CHIEF INTRNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT & CNN HOST, AMANPOUR: Well, Kate, indeed, the very, very worst is if there were to be continued mass executions of civilians, non-combatants, men, women and children, which already, as you heard Fred say, the U.N. is picking up reports. And we also have been talking to people who have been trapped behind the lines. As Fred was following the advance of the Syrian forces further and further into eastern Aleppo, as they took it back from the rebels, after about four years, we were also talking by Skype and telephone to people still trapped behind the lines waiting for the forces just to turn up, and not knowing what to do, because they couldn't escape.

This is what an English teacher there, Mohammed Edel, told us, exactly one week ago, today. Listen.


AMANPOUR: What happens if the regime forces take your neighborhood?

MOHAMMAD EDEL, SYRIAN ENGLISH TEACHER TERAPPED IN ALEPPO: I am going to be killed. That's -- that is what is going to happen. I'm going to be killed. And that's all it means. And also, a lot of the civilians are going to be killed, too. (END VIDEO CLIP)

AMANPOUR: Kate, every night, people told us that. And right now, on this telephone here, we have had a message in the last couple of hours from Mohammed Edel, that man, who literally is pleading for a ceasefire, pleading for people to come and save them, saying that he is seeing bodies in the streets and they are absolutely terrified.

CNN is trying to confirm reports that are circulating on other wires. According to the rebels, they say they may have reached or have reached a ceasefire ending bombardments, reached this with the Russians. We've not been able to pin that down.

But the U.N. is calling, right, now for the Syrians and their backers, the Russians, Iranians, all the other militias, to prioritize the right of life for people in those enclaves that they keep moving into and trying to take back.

This is a very, very bad situation that's going on, reminiscent of what happened in Sebenza (ph) was overrun by the Bosnian/Serb troops and 8,000 men and women were slaughtered. And this is many, many more people, civilians, at the mercy of these advancing troops in eastern Aleppo right now.

[11:55:24] BOLDUAN: Just need safe passage out, just need it, as you're saying, and getting messages from inside Aleppo. It's truly amazing.

Christiane, thanks. Great to see you.

And we're keeping an eye on that very closely and keeping an eye on Syria, especially Aleppo, in the minutes and hours ahead.

From that, back to politics here in the United States. A very busy day over at Trump Tower. Trump making two very big picks for his administration, secretary of state and the Energy Department.

And then, also Donald Trump had another meeting with rapper, Kanye West, today.

Everything that's going on over at Trump Tower today, details on that ahead.


[11:59:47] BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN ANCHOR: Hi, there. And welcome to CNN NEWSROOM. Thank you so much for joining me. I'm Brianna Keilar.

The suspense may be over in the search for America's next top diplomat but the drama is just getting started.


MIKE PENCE, VICE PRESIDENT-ELECT OF THE UNITED STATES: We just couldn't be more grateful that someone of Rex Tillerson's proven leadership and accomplishments has been willing to step forward to serve our nation as our next secretary of state.


KEILAR: That's V.P.-elect Mike Pence singing the praises of --