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Incoming North Carolina Governor Threatens To Sue Over "Power Grab"; White House Suggests Trump Knew About Russian Hacks; Senator Reid: FBI Director Comey Should Be RNC Chair; Guilty Verdict In Charleston Church Massacre; Scientists Scrambling To Save Climate Change Data. Aired 4:30-5p ET

Aired December 15, 2016 - 16:30   ET


SENATOR CHRIS COONS (D), DELAWARE: -- stand up and fight for them. I agree with Joe that Democrats are the natural allies of the working class in America and that, going back to the FDR coalition, we have had the ideas and initiatives and solutions that have met their real needs and problems day in and day out.

We may have gotten away from that in recent years and I think it's something that as Democrats look at our prospects going forward we need to spend more time listening to folks who voted for Barack Obama in 2008 and 2012 and then turned and voted for Donald Trump in 2016.

JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: Senator Chris Coons, as always, thank you for your time, sir. Appreciate it.

COONS: Thank you, Jake.

TAPPER: Political chaos going on in a viciously contested state. Why critics say this is an attack on democracy, next.


TAPPER: Welcome back. We have much more on our Politics Lead. If Virginia is for lovers, North Carolina is for lawyers, at least right now as the governor-elect Democrat, Roy Cooper, today threatened to sue the North Carolina's Republican dominated state legislature over a Republican push to strip the governor of some of his major powers before he takes office.

Such as requiring Senate approval for the governor's cabinet appointments and drastically cutting from 1,500 to 300 the number of state employees the governor can hire. Ron Cooper won November's election by 5,000 votes over GOP incumbent, Pat McCrory.

Let's talk about politics with our panel, Mary Katherine Ham, CNN political commentator and senior writer at "The Federalist," Carol Lee, White House correspondent for the "Wall Street Journal," and Abby Phillip, national political reporter at the "Washington Post." Thank you one and all for being here.

So let's talk about all this Russia hacking stuff. It's really been interesting to watch the White House, specifically Press Secretary Josh Earnest, tweet Donald Trump from the podium every day about what Donald Trump may have known and when he may have known it. Here's an example.


JOSH EARNEST, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: It's a fact. You all have it on tape, that the Republican nominee for president was encouraging Russia to hack his opponent because he believed that that would help his campaign. That's not a controversial statement. I am not trying to be argumentative, but I am trying to acknowledge a basic fact.


[16:35:10]TAPPER: What do you make of all this, Carol?

CAROL LEE, WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, "WALL STREET JOURNAL": Not trying to be argumentative. There is a couple things going on here. One, you are seeing the breakdown of the camaraderie that was happening between the Trump folks and the Obama White House. This is obviously a bump in the road and then the there are two things.

The White House is on the defensive because of these questions about why the president didn't do something sooner. That element is playing into it. And the president was not happy with the way Donald Trump has come out and questioned the intelligence community.

And so, all of that is kind of mixing together and into create what is -- has become in the last few days kind of a back and forth between -- with Donald Trump tweeting. There was Kellyanne Conway had something to say about Josh Earnest and he then responded to her again today.

MARY KATHERINE HAM, SENIOR WRITER, "THE FEDERALIST": This is something we should take seriously, right --

TAPPER: The hacking.

HAM: Yes. I want to make sure we're not all vulnerable to this. If we're serious, let's not use it from the White House podium to tweak the guy on the other side. That sends the message to his supporters that are is a partisan issue. Trump is sending the message about.

This is a White House that's been happy to say in the past there is an ongoing investigation, we don't want to talk about this. If you want to try to unite with the Trump team in taking this seriously -- it's tough, but if you want to, don't use it.

TAPPER: One of the things that General Michael Hayden was on the show yesterday, former CIA director, and he said people in the intelligence community are going from frustrated with Donald Trump and his team bashing them to angry. I don't know but I wonder if josh earnest feels as though he needs to speak up and do this on behalf of the members of the intelligence community who can't do that.

ABBY PHILLIP, NATIONAL POLITICAL REPORTER, "WASHINGTON POST": There are two things happening here. The fact of Russian hacking is something that Donald Trump and his team are calling into question in general. So that's the one thing. The second part is, what are the motivations? Even putting aside the motivations, Trump is going up against the intelligence agency on the very fact of hacking, which is frustrating to both the White House, Democrats, to people in the intelligence community. That part of it is not in dispute.

The idea that the incoming president of the United States will deny the sort of consensus of the intelligence community based on information that, as far as we know, he was briefed on throughout the campaign, is surprising to everyone involved.

And I think it's -- for people who devote their lives to service, many of them die in the line of duty -- it is -- it's hard for them to watch this happen.

LEE: It's also something that really irritates the president and that's clearly reflected in the way that Josh Earnest has handled this. You remember when President Obama came in, there was a lot of effort to rebuild morale in the intelligence community.

TAPPER: After the Bush years of water-boarding and everything.

LEE: All of those things and he put a lot of time and effort into that, made a number of trips to Langley.

TAPPER: Wouldn't let the DOJ prosecute anyone who may have broken the law by torturing people.

LEE: Exactly and so the idea that those men and women are now in the cross-hairs of Donald Trump, the incoming president, really has gotten the president back up.

HAM: It may have the president's back up but many look at him and go, this is the same president that told Mitt Romney that the '80s called and wants his foreign policy back. Many in the press laughed heartily at the campaign for thinking that Russia was a problem.

So there is a bit of that and the way that people are observing this, which is why I am saying, when it's a fairly nuanced conclusion or non-conclusion from the CIA at this point that playing it safe and down the middle and nuanced on this from that podium is actually the smarter thing to do.

TAPPER: I want to play a sound from Democratic Senator Harry Reid. He made a comment today about FBI Director James Comey that I want you to weigh in on.


SENATOR HARRY REID (D), NEVADA: I think that it's about time that Comey acknowledged publicly what a disservice he has rendered to our country by doing nothing, nothing except interfering with the election that is beyond all precedent, what he did. He became such a partisan that he should become the new chair of the RNC.


PHILLIP: Two things to remember about Harry. One, he is on his way out the door. Second, he is a boxer. That's pretty much what we're seeing here. I mean, Harry Reid has been calling for Comey's resignation for a while now.

Democrats, you know, the hacking aside, I think Democrats think no matter what Comey's dealing of the Hillary Clinton e-mail investigation had a profound impact on the race, not just in those last two letters that he sent but also going all the way back to the press conference.

And so, you know, this is a man who has no more races to run in his life, and he is going to let James Comey have it.

HAM: He did this before he had -- when he still had races to run, he was happy to go this way.

[06:40:02]TAPPER: It's interesting. I interviewed Vice President Biden a few days ago. We talked about Hillary Clinton losing. Two things he did not mention were Russia or Comey. Vice President Biden was all fired up about white working class voters.

LEE: That's what he thinks the Democrats really need to be focusing on, that the rest of this is all swirled up in political back and forth and that Democrats really need to reset here.

TAPPER: Mary Katherine, Carol, Abby, thank you so much.

Never seen such levels of human suffering before. That's how aid workers are describing the thousands of men, women and children slowly being evacuated from Eastern Aleppo. But their nightmare is far from over as they are now being bussed to a different war zone.

Also why researchers and scientists are now scrambling to preserve all of their work as climate change skeptic Donald Trump transitions to Washington. Stay with us.


TAPPER: We have some breaking news in our National Lead, guilty on all charges. Moments ago, a jury convicted the racist mass murderer, Dylann Roof, in the massacre of nine black church members in Charleston, South Carolina. The jury took fewer than two hours to find him guilty of killing these nine people who had gathered at the historic Mother Emanuel Church for bible study.

The victims, nine devout Christians as young as 26 and as old as 87. The church's pastor Clementa Pinckney, along with churchgoers, Cynthia Heard, Susie Jackson, Ethel Lance, DePayne Middleton Doctor, Tywanza Sanders, Daniel Simmons, Sharonda, Coleman Singleton, and Myra Thompson. They all suffered gunshot wounds and died as a result of those wounds. Now jurors will decide whether the convicted murderer should be sentenced to death or spend the rest of his life in prison. The shooter will defend himself in the penalty phase which will begin next month.

Let's bring in CNN correspondent, Nick Valencia. Now, Nick, you just got out of court where the jury delivered the verdict. How did this now convicted killer react?

NICK VALENCIA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: I was just a couple of rows behind him, Jake, watching him the whole time as this verdict was read out loud. For those in the courtroom, it was no surprise. It seems that Dylann Roof was not surprised himself. In fact, he'd already confessed to the killings.

Only pleading not guilty because he didn't want the death penalty. This is the only time that we've seen some sense emotion in him. His right hand was fidgeting the whole time as the verdict was read out loud.

His ears turning a noticeable red as that verdict was read. The real emotion though came from the family members of the victims in court. I just spoke to the daughter of Ethyl Land, she is the one of the nine that Dylann roof murdered.

She said the really raw emotion for her came earlier in the day. It was punctuated by the prosecution showing an image of the crime scene, those blood soaked bodies of the worshippers lying on the ground of that bible study was an unexpected image to the courtroom.

Certainly unexpected for the daughter for Ethel Lance. She says though she believed that the jury needed to see that photo just to understand the levity of what Dylann Roof had done.

An incredibly emotional trial, six days of testimony, two hours of deliberation for the jurors unanimously to find Dylann Roof guilty of all charges in this federal hate crime/death penalty case -- Jake.

TAPPER: Was there anybody in the courtroom itself, family of victims, friends, who had any sort of reactions that you observed?

VALENCIA: There was some people bowing their heads seemingly in prayer. Others wiping their brow. Others were wiping tears from their eyes. Earlier in the day, we heard some noticeable sobs and saw one of the jurors in fact, I mentioned that photo of the crime scene. One of the jurors started to tear up. Another one had a noticeable grimace on her face.

Just recounting these horrors and the facts themselves of what happened last year was enough for a lot of people in the courtroom, including members of the media, to really get emotional. You know, Dylann Roof, for his part, showed really no emotion throughout the entire case.

No remorse for what he was accused of. He really sort of stayed stoic throughout the trial and I mentioned that fidgeting and his ears turning red. That's really the most emotion that we saw from him throughout -- Jake.

TAPPER: This guilty verdict came after a very powerful closing argument by the prosecution. Tell us about this image that seemed to have had a visible effect on jurors.

VALENCIA: Well, it was images of murdered bodies, people lying on the ground. The prosecution highlighting that Dylann Roof shot the oldest victim at least ten, perhaps even 11 times, even after she was dead. They highlighted and underscored him as a cold blooded calculated killer, someone who methodically and meticulously planned this out in the months leading up to the shooting.

They highlighted his views fueled by white supremacy, his belief that he was superior to blacks simply because he was white. In the closing arguments for the defense, it was somewhat bizarre, interesting.

We heard from the defense say that their client might be delusional and that's something that the jurors, he wanted them to consider. He also said there was a skewed perception of reality that Dylann Roof has. We expect to hear more from him in January 3rd when this penalty phase resumes -- Jake.

TAPPER: All right, Nick Valencia, thank you so much.

Turning now to atrocities in Aleppo in our World Lead, the first round of long awaited evacuations finally got under way. A long line of buses and ambulances moved nearly 3,000 people out of the last rebel- held pockets of Aleppo.

But many of these civilians who were forced to leave their homes may now face a new kind of danger and tragedy. This as we're getting a heart wrenching message from orphans trapped inside the embattled city.


TAPPER: Let's bring in CNN senior international correspondent, Frederik Pleitgen. Fred, those who have been evacuated may be taken from one war zone to potentially another. Are these evacuation plans working?

FREDERIK PLEITGEN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, they certainly are working bringing people out of harm's way, at least the immediate harm that they were in. You know, we have been watching the battle for Aleppo over the past couple of weeks. I was in Aleppo.

And the amount of fire power that was raining down on that small, little rebel enclave really was causing a lot of carnage. So at least immediately these people are going to be out of harm's way, if indeed all of this happens the way it's supposed to.

[16:50:04]There have been some hitches along the way. There was one convoy that was shot at. All of this was suspended for several hours, but now at least these people are coming out of that area that they were under siege in. And one of the things that's been going on is that these people have been trying to get out for a very long time. Let's have a look at how all this unfolded.


PLEITGEN (voice-over): After months of siege, hunger and violence, finally, a journey to safety. A fleet of buses and ambulances carrying thousands of fighters and civilians from Aleppo's last rebel enclave to other areas held by the opposition. Many glad to be heading to safety but also bitter to have to leave.

SALAH AL-ASHKAR, ACTIVIST (through translator): We wanted the free Syria. No one stood by us. No one helped. Like you see now, we are forced to leave our country, our home, Syria.

PLEITGEN: The evacuation, negotiated by Russia, Turkey and Iran, got off to a tragic start, pro-government fighters apparently opening fire on the first set of vehicles. This video obtained by Britain's Channel 4 TV.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (voice-over): Now we are hearing sounds of weapons. We don't know what's happened now.

PLEITGEN: The evacuation is set to mark the end of the opposition's presence in Aleppo. Bashar Al-Assad's government poised to regain full control.

BASHAR AL-ASSAD, PRESIDENT OF SYRIA (through translator): The people of Aleppo with their resilience, the Syrian-Arab army, with their courage and sacrifice and every Syrian citizen, who stood with Aleppo and their country and homeland, I just wanted to affirm that today history is being written.

PLEITGEN: And it comes after weeks of violence, so bad many felt they could no longer hold out, simply trying to survive.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (through translator): Me and my children together, that is my final dream.

PLEITGEN: Aid workers say many of those being evacuated from Eastern Aleppo are in some of the worst condition they've ever seen human beings in. And, while those leaving Aleppo may have escaped with their lives, they move into an uncertain future, having left their homes and their city evacuated to another part of Syria where the war is still raging.


PLEITGEN: And Jake, some 3,000 people evacuated alone today by those buses. But by all accounts, it seemed as though 10,000 still in that enclave waiting to be evacuated as well -- Jake.

TAPPER: All right, Fred Pleitgen, thank you so much.

Fears of being wiped out, why scientists are worried their life's work on climate change could disappear, theoretically, in just a few weeks. Stay with us.



TAPPER: We're back with our politics lead, with just 36 days to go before President-elect Trump officially moves into the White House, climate science agencies and academic organizations are planning ahead. They are apparently rushing to stash all data on climate change, fearing their research could essentially be wiped clean or may not be as easily accessible once the Trump administration takes over.

CNN's Rene Marsh joins me now. Rene, you say this is now a movement within the science community. What exactly are they doing?

RENE MARSH, CNN GOVERNMENT REGULATION CORRESPONDENT: It's not just a movement. It's a frenzied movement happening across the country even in Canada. We are talking about scientists and researchers at several universities there organizing hack a-thons to quickly pull publicly available data from databases.

They are also downloading huge amounts of information and transferring it to secure websites. The fear, the incoming administration's denial of climate change may mean data will disappear from government websites.


DONALD TRUMP, U.S. PRESIDENT-ELECT: We are going to end the EPA intrusion into your lives. I will also cancel all wasteful climate change spending.

MARSH (voice-over): It's comments like those from the president-elect that have sparked this.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Science and research is under attack. What do we do? Stand up, fight back.

MARSH: Scientists and researchers taking to the streets. Not a group known for protesting, they are now at the forefront of a nationwide race to retrieve and save massive amounts of climate change data from government websites. They fear years of research that could not be recreated will become less accessible or worse under a Trump administration.

MICHAEL HALPEM, DEPUTY DIRECTOR, CENTER FOR SCIENCE AND DEMOCRACY: There is a lot of critical information that the government collects. Some of it is the health of our rivers. Some of it relates to how much the seas are rising. Without that information, we're making decisions in a vacuum.

MARLO LEWIS JR., SENIOR FELLOW, COMPETITIVE ENTERPRISE INSTITUTE: There is no evidence that the Trump administration plans to deep six any of this data or hide it. If they're worried about this, it's probably because they know that that's how the Obama administration acted. MARSH: But this trifecta of cabinet appointments has raised concerns. Scott Pruett, tapped to head the EPA, an agency he sued multiple times as Oklahoma's attorney general. ExxonMobil CEO Rex Tillerson tapped for secretary of state, Rick Perry, former governor of oil-rich Texas picked to run the Energy Department. All staunch fossil fuel supporters who have expressed doubts about the urgency of climate change. Another concern, Attorney David Schnair.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The questions we have tonight are not is there global warming. The question is how certain are we of it?

MARSH: As part of the Trump transition team, he is helping staff up the EPA. He works for a non-profit that sued the EPA, NASA and universities that have done work on climate change.

HALPEM: Scientists are very ready to push back against any types of politicization of science.

MARSH: But there are federal laws against deleting certain data. Critics say the movement screams of paranoia.

LEWIS: Sometimes data is very hard to retrieve from the government after a period of years goes by. That does not indicate, though, any ill intent. It's just a matter of the churn of business in Washington.


MARSH: Scientists I spoke to said beyond the concern the data will be less accessible, the larger fear is that the data won't be collected at all and, without it, tracking trends and mitigating climate change would be nearly impossible. We did reach out to the Trump transition team. We have not received a comment on this just as yet.

TAPPER: Rene Marsh, thank you so much. That's it for THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper turning you over now to Wolf Blitzer in "THE SITUATION ROOM." Thanks for watching.