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Russian Hacking Controversy; Interview with Thomas Friedman; Video Shows Controversial Remarks by Trump Commerce Pick; Traces of Explosives Found on EgyptAir Crash Victims; Sports Reporter Craig Sager Dies After Cancer Battle. Aired 6-7p ET

Aired December 15, 2016 - 18:00   ET




WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST (voice-over): Thomas Friedman about Trump, Putin and America's security.

Inexcusable attacks: secretary of state John Kerry condemns the Syrian regime for a massacre in Aleppo. Thousands of civilians finally are being allowed to flee the city as strongman Bashar al- Assad tightens his grip with help from Russia.

And traces of terrorism: there's disturbing new evidence in the deadly EgyptAir crash that suggests the disaster was not an accident.

But is it enough to confirm that terrorists were to blame?

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


BLITZER (voice-over): Tonight, the White House is demanding that Donald Trump stop criticizing the U.S. intelligence community and accept its assessment that Russia was behind election-related cyber attacks.

This as we're learning new details about U.S. intelligence, indicating that Vladimir Putin personally approved the hacking. Officials tell CNN that a variety of intel from digital and human sources led analysts to reach that conclusion.

But Russia is denying that the Kremlin leader played any role in the hacks. The Trump transition team, meanwhile, is also firing right back, accusing the Obama administration of creating an uproar about Russian hacking to try to undermine Trump's presidency.

Also tonight, the strongest evidence yet that terrorists may have brought down EgyptAir Flight 804. Egypt revealing that traces of explosives were found on the bodies of victims of the May airline disaster.

I'll ask journalist Thomas Friedman about the Russian hacking controversy and Trump's relationship with Vladimir Putin.

And our correspondents and analysts are also standing by as we bring you full coverage of the day's top stories.

First, let's go to our Justice correspondent, Pamela Brown, with more on the Russia hacking controversy.

Pamela, what are you learning?

PAMELA BROWN, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, tonight we're learning about the sophisticated tools used in the election hacks that officials say top Russian government officials, including Vladimir Putin, must have authorized.

This comes as a transition source tells CNN Donald Trump is concerned about the intelligence community's assessment that Russia was behind the election hacks, as well as attempts to use that assessment to undermine his election win.


BROWN (voice-over): Tonight, the White House is squaring off against President-Elect Trump over the intelligence community's assessment that Russia conducted unprecedented cyber hacks on American political operatives and organizations during the presidential election.

JOSH EARNEST, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: It might be time to not attack the intelligence community but actually be supportive of a thorough, transparent, rigorous, non-political investigation into what exactly happened.

BROWN (voice-over): The terse response comes after Trump tweeted today, "If Russia or some other entity was hacking, why did the White House wait so long to act?

"Why did they only complain after Hillary lost?"

White House spokesman Josh Earnest pointed out that this claim was not accurate, noting an October intelligence statement pointing the finger at Russia. Earnest even suggested Trump may have known well before that about Russia's role.

EARNEST: It's also possible that he consulted with one of his closest aides, Roger Stone, who, back in July -- July 27th to be precise -- tweeted, quote, "Of course, the Russians hacked Hillary Clinton's e- mail."

Mr. Trump obviously knew that Russia was engaged in malicious cyber activity that was helping him and hurting Secretary Clinton's campaign.

BROWN (voice-over): Tonight, a Trump transition official is pushing back, saying the White House is trying to undermine the election results.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: At a certain point, they have got to realize that election from last month is going to stand, whether it's the recount or continued questions along this line.

BROWN (voice-over): As Russian president Vladimir Putin arrives in Japan, Moscow is denying allegations Putin was directly involved in the hack, with the Kremlin spokesman calling it "ludicrous nonsense."

CNN has learned intelligence officials believed Putin was aware of the hacks even before they released that October statement, saying Russia's senior most officials authorized the theft of documents from the Democratic National Committee and Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The way the Russian state operates when it comes to cyber activities of this type, they have people that do the work for them and that gives them plausible deniability.

BROWN (voice-over): Tonight, Republicans on the Hill are vowing hold the Russia accountable. Senator Lindsey Graham, who claims his campaign e-mail was hacked by Russians, didn't mince words, calling out Putin by name in an interview with Wolf.

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R), S.C.: We're going the hit you and hit you hard. I'm going to introduce sanctions that will be bipartisan, that names Putin as an individual, his inner circle for not only hacking into our political systems but trying to destabilize democracy throughout the world.


BROWN (voice-over): But Trump's surrogates are signaling sanctions likely won't happen. This week in Moscow, former Trump campaign surrogate Jack Kingston met with American business people and suggested the Trump administration will lift Western sanctions imposed on Russia because of its armed intervention in Ukraine.

JACK KINGSTON, FORMER TRUMP CAMPAIGN SURROGATE: I said that sanctions, not something that the administration is going to lead with at all, the sanctions have been in place a while now.

The administration can take a look at say, are the results what we were looking for?

BROWN: And Kingston says that he was not there on behalf of President-Elect Trump. He was there as a private citizen and business man.

And meantime, intelligence sources say there is still no smoking gun evidence showing Putin's personal involvement; largely because Putin and others in the Kremlin don't use e-mail and go to great lengths to cover their tracks in cyber espionage operations -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Pamela Brown reporting, thank you.

Our correspondents are working their sources, they're digging deeper into the U.S. intelligence on Russian hacking.

Let's bring in our Pentagon correspondent, Barbara Starr. What are you hearing, Barbara?

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, a U.S. official I spoke to earlier has told me that they believe the hacking tools, if you will, that the Russians used, were so sophisticated that it could only point to the highest levels of government involvement.

These hacking tools used by the Russians, essentially the equivalent of what the United States' National Security Agency, the NSA uses. And that of course is the part of the U.S. government that engages in covert cyber activity, very sophisticated.

There's two agencies, two entities in Russia that can engage in this type of activity. One of them is part of the Russian intelligence community; another is a contractor that works for the Russian intelligence community.

So when you get to this level of cyber activity, this official says it would have to be authorized at the highest level. That's essentially what the director of national intelligence here in Washington, James Clapper, has already said.

Another indicator the U.S. may not have the smoking gun, may not have the fingerprints on the piece of paper but they have the indicators that very strongly lead them to believe that Vladimir Putin knew exactly what was going on -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Barbara, thank you. Barbara's at the Pentagon.

Tonight, we're also getting new indications that President-Elect Trump has some big plans for Russia as part of his broader foreign policy agenda. Let's go to our global affairs correspondent, Elise Labott. She's joining us from the State Department.

What are you learning, Elise?

ELISE LABOTT, CNN GLOBAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, Walid Farris (ph), who has been a close foreign policy adviser to President- Elect Trump since the campaign, talks to Arab ambassadors this week about how President-Elect Trump sees Russia as key really to solving some of the crisis in the Middle East.

Dr. Farris (ph) met with members of the Arab League, Arab diplomats here in Washington this week. And he talked about his broad priorities for a president-elect for the Middle East this coming administration.

Front and center of that is Syria, where he said that he wanted to first focus on ISIS but also talking about ending the civil war, alleviating the humanitarian crisis there.

And he said that Russia was key to that, improved relations with Russia would be key as well as Rex Tillerson, who has a great relationship, he said, with the Russian president, Vladimir Putin.

And he could help facilitate Russia working together with the United States. Farris (ph) also talked about Iraq, Yemen, Libya as being priorities. He also talked about the Iran deal.

There's been a lot of question about whether Donald Trump would rip up the Iran deal. He said that he did expect him to come into office, take a look at some parts of it, maybe renegotiate, strengthen implementation of other parts of the deal.

And, Wolf, very interestingly, he talked about the Middle East peace process. He thought that Donald Trump would want to get deeply involved in helping solve the long-standing crisis between Israel and the Palestinians.

He thought that his son-in-law, Jared Kushner, could play a very key role in that. And there's been a lot of talk whether he would move -- Donald Trump has promised, to move the embassy to Jerusalem. He didn't think that would happen right away -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Elise Labott over at the State Department, thanks very much.

Let's get some more now from "The New York Times" columnist and author, Thomas Friedman. He's the author of a brand new book, entitled, "Thank You for Being Late: An Optimist's Guide to Thriving in the Age of Accelerations."

We're going to talk about the book in a little while. Let's talk about the news, Tom, first.

What do you think about this notion that Donald Trump, as president, would put Russia at the center of his new strategy in the Middle East?

How would that impact the balance in the region, indeed the world?

THOMAS FRIEDMAN, "THE NEW YORK TIMES": Wolf, there's nothing wrong with wanting to work more closely with Russia. It's a big power. It has influence in the region.

The question is, on what terms?

Is it on the terms of backing Russia's support for a Syrian genocide in Aleppo that's going on right now?

Is that what we'll be doing?

Or is it on terms of getting the Russians to actually stop that --


FRIEDMAN: -- and create a power-sharing agreement in Syria that will finally end the crisis there?

So it all depends on what terms.

BLITZER: What does it say to you that the president-elect is refusing, at least so far, to accept the analysis of the U.S. intelligence community that Russia was responsible for hacking Hillary Clinton's campaign and the Democratic National Committee? FRIEDMAN: Wolf, it's fully excusable for anyone to question whether we really know Russia hacked this election or not. What is inexcusable is for the president-elect not to sit down with the intelligence community, go for a day, sit down, look at all the sources, look at all the information and then decide, one way or another, whether you believe it or not.

But to dismiss it all out of hand without actually accepting a briefing from the intelligence community on what we know, I don't understand that.

BLITZER: He hasn't been getting that daily briefing but he's accepted several of those briefings over the past, what, five weeks since he won the election, the presidential daily briefing. That's, as you and I know, that's the most sensitive information that the U.S. intelligence community has.

FRIEDMAN: Wolf, I'm talking about something else. I'm talking about the specific evidence related to hacking, not what's going on around the world, what terrorist is moving here, what Russia is doing there.

If I'm Trump, I want to know; let's see the evidence. Let's go to Langley where the CIA's headquartered. Let's sit down with the national director of intelligence. Show me what you've got.

But to just dismiss it out of hand without being willing to accept looking at the evidence, that's very suspicious to me. It says you don't want to see the evidence.

BLITZER: He said it was ridiculous the other day when he was questioned about Russia's meddling in the U.S. election.

FRIEDMAN: But how do you know it's ridiculous if you haven't seen it?

BLITZER: I'm sure he's been briefed by national security officials. I'm sure they've been telling him that but he's not buying it.

FRIEDMAN: Well I don't think he's actually sat down and looked at the evidence, as far as I know. And I think that's really the critical question.

BLITZER: Well, is he very -- I guess some have suggested he's got a crush on Putin right now and he's reluctant to do anything that's going to undermine that. You've heard that analysis.

FRIEDMAN: Look, this is a guy who has done a lot of business in Russia; he has Russian partners, we understand, that some of his real estate deals.

Again, Wolf, I actually oppose NATO expansion because I think we should be working with Russia. There's nothing wrong with that, Trump's instinct.

But if Russia has hacked our election, that is an attack on our democratic process. That's an act of war. That is intolerable. And, by the way, it may have supported Trump or not. I accept Trump as president. I don't think the Russians decided this election.

But it could blow up in his face two years from now, four years from now. We need to get to the bottom of this. A foreign country is alleged by our national intelligence director of having hacked our election.

By the way, Democrats and Republicans. And for us just to turn away from that, to dismiss it out of hand without looking at the evidence, both human and electronic evidence, and approaching it in a very serious way, the fact that Donald Trump won't do that, that's what bothers me.

BLITZER: We heard today from the White House press secretary, Josh Earnest, saying that what Russia has done, in his words, "merits a proportional response."

Do you believe that, after January 20th and Donald Trump becomes the next President of the United States, he will move forward with some proportional response against Russia?

FRIEDMAN: First, he's got to get a briefing on what happened, OK, and understand the severity of it. I really can't predict that. And I find it very disturbing.

Look, I'm bothered by the fact that the Obama administration didn't respond. If we have evidence that Russia did this, we should have melted down some servers immediately and let them understand this is intolerable.

You're attacking the very core of our democratic institutions and they're doing it for a very specific reason. They want to sow chaos in the West.

BLITZER: They did issue a statement -- and I have it right here, October 7th, the director of national intelligence, the Secretary of Homeland Security, accusing Russia of being directly involved.

The U.S. is confident, the U.S. intelligence community, is confident the Russian government directed the recent compromises of e-mails from U.S. persons and institutions, including from U.S. political organizations. That was October 7th.

What else would you have thought the Obama administration should have done?

Because they knew about this months earlier.

FRIEDMAN: I would have liked them to retaliate in some way or announce immediately more sanctions. I would pull my ambassador out of Moscow.

BLITZER: But they were dealing with Russia on all sorts of sensitive issues, the Iran nuclear deal, for example; they were hoping Russia would play a constructive role in Syria, helping hundreds of thousands of people in danger -- you call it a genocide, right. They were working with Russia on a whole bunch of issues, hoping the Russians would cooperate. So they didn't want to overly -- presumably -- antagonize Putin.

FRIEDMAN: Wolf, when you attack the core of our democracy, our presidential election process, that trumps everything else. And there should have been, to me, immediate and --


FRIEDMAN: -- I think very vigorous response to tell the Russians that is a red line. You have crossed it. Never even think about that again.

BLITZER: The other argument I've heard from some officials is that they were reluctant to do so because they simply assumed Hillary Clinton was going to win in any case.

Why get into this big fight with the Russians over this?

You've heard that as well.

FRIEDMAN: Yes, I'm sure that could have been it. It could have been the president fearing that, if he intervened in some way, it would be seen by the other side as tipping the election one way or another.

The fact is if we know that Russia intervened in our election, it required, I think, a very vigorous response.

Which part of this message don't you understand, Mr. Putin?

This is the core of our system.

BLITZER: Let's talk about the Middle East for a moment. You know the subject well. You met -- you and editors and columnists and reporters from "The New York Times" had a chance to sit down, you had a lengthy exchange, a lengthy interview with Donald Trump, what, a couple of weeks or so ago.

At the time, he was suggesting that his son-in-law, Jared Kushner, could play a significant role in the Israeli-Palestinian peace process. You heard that directly from the president-elect.

Do you think that's possible?

FRIEDMAN: I think it's possible. I don't think what ails the Middle East peace process today is the absence of a Barack Obama or Jared Kushner or Donald Trump. What ails it is the fact that the leaders of Israel and Palestine right now, the Palestinian Authority, are simply unwilling to sit down and make the compromise they need to because there's no trust between the two of them.

And so there's no magic cure; the president-elect's son-in-law, the president-elect, Obama -- this is a region -- the Middle East, Wolf, only puts a smile on your face when it starts with them. And if it starts with them, then Obama, Trump, Jared Kushner, anyone can be helpful. We can do the catering. You know, we can provide the lawn. But it's got to start with them.

BLITZER: We're going to take a quick break. I want to talk about the new book, "Thank You for Being Late." I want to talk about what's going on in Syria and Aleppo. Much more with Tom Friedman right after this.





BLITZER: We're back with journalist and author Tom Friedman. Tom, stand by for a moment. I want to get a quick update on the situation in Aleppo, Syria, right now and the evacuation of civilians from the city decimated by war.

We're joined by our senior international correspondent, Clarissa Ward, she was the last Western journalist reporting from rebel-held Aleppo.

What's the latest, Clarissa?

CLARISSA WARD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, after several false starts, the evacuations are finally under way. They started earlier today. The first convoy that went out actually came under live fire. One person was killed, four people were injured. It had to turn back.

But then a little bit later, the first convoy was able to successfully leave Eastern Aleppo. There have been at least two convoys so far. An estimated 3,000 people have been able to get out of that absolutely decimated sliver of the eastern part of the city that is still under rebel control.

There are still tens of thousands of people left inside that small sliver of rebel-held Aleppo, Wolf. But these evacuations and convoys are expected to continue throughout the night and also throughout the whole of tomorrow.

Now the real question is, how much hope of security do the people have who are getting into these convoys?

Most of them are leaving Aleppo to go to the neighboring Idlib county. Of course Idlib is one of the last bastions of rebel power in Syria. It is now the very focus of Russian and regime airpower. It has been getting bombarded significantly in the past few weeks.

So, actually, I think it's a mistake, really, to look at this as any kind of a massive breakthrough, because any security that these people see is essentially short-lived. They're moving out of the frying pan and into the fire, so to speak.

We did see President Bashar al-Assad come out on a YouTube channel and say that he was declaring this liberation, as he called it, a great victory, though, frankly, Wolf, it would appear to be a pyrrhic victory with very little left of these parts of Eastern Aleppo that are now finally being evacuated -- Wolf.

BLITZER: These pictures are horrendous, the slaughter enormous. Clarissa Ward, thanks so much for that reporting.

We're back with Tom Friedman.

Tom, it is so painful to see those pictures. You've covered this region for a long time.

What, if anything, would the new President of the United States be able to do about it?

What should he do about this?

FRIEDMAN: Well, if Donald Trump really does have influence with Putin, Wolf, the most important thing he could do was enforce the cease-fire in Syria and produce a process for power sharing in Syria between Assad and the rebel groups. I see no indication they're going to do that.

BLITZER: I see no indication; Assad thinks he's winning, he has got the backing of the Russians. He's got the backing of the Iranians, Lebanese, Hezbollah. You know those players. He thinks he's winning right now.

FRIEDMAN: He's winning; of course, he's destroyed the second largest city in Syria, Aleppo. You see what the pictures look like. He still doesn't control his own country.

It's been an exercise in madness. I personally would still favor an internationally established safe zone in Idlib province to protect these people. But I don't see us going down that route.

It's going to be -- what's tragic, Wolf, this country is never going to be normal -- or it's not going to be normal for a long, long time.


BLITZER: You're talking about Syria.

FRIEDMAN: Yes. And therefore, it's going to be an open wound in the region, bleeding into Turkey, bleeding into Lebanon, bleeding into Jordan, bleeding into Iraq.

And somehow we have got to find a way to stabilize that country and it's only going to happen, Wolf, on the principle of no victor, no vanquished, a power sharing agreement. If Assad thinks he's going to control that country by force, I think he's wrong.

BLITZER: Yes. I'm sure he thinks that.

And Donald Trump has said repeatedly, his number one goal is to destroy ISIS, worrying about Bashar al-Assad and the Syrian regime, that's a secondary issue as far as he's concerned.

FRIEDMAN: Well, you know, what Assad is doing is producing a huge refugee flow out of Syria, destabilizing all the states around it, including --


FRIEDMAN: -- now parts of the European Union. And until and unless we get a power sharing agreement there that is somehow also guaranteed by Western powers, it's going to continue to be this open sore that destabilizes the entire Middle East.

BLITZER: Another quick question on the Middle East, if Donald Trump does what he said during the campaign he would do, including in an interview with me, move the U.S. embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem -- and you covered that story for a long time.

First of all, do you think he will actually do it?

Other presidents during campaigns have made that promise; they've never delivered.

A, do you think he'll do it and if he does, what is the result?

FRIEDMAN: Well, I doubt he would do it, Wolf, but who knows with the president-elect?

All I can tell you is this, right now in Tehran, all the mullahs are sitting there praying, please, please, President-Elect Trump, move the embassy to Jerusalem. Please move the American embassy to Jerusalem, please move -- because then we will embarrass every Sunni regime in the region, OK, because we, the Iranians, will take up then the Palestinian cause, the cause of Jerusalem.

We will impose -- we will intimidate every Sunni regime in the region. All our American friends, they will then have to come out against it. You'll have a competition for who can be the most American.

So the mullahs, I tell you, they are all praying, please, Mr. Trump, please move that embassy to Jerusalem.

BLITZER: Do you think somebody is telling him that?

FRIEDMAN: I hope somebody is telling him that because it would be the greatest gift to Tehran that Trump could give.

BLITZER: Let's talk about, "Thank You for Being Late: An Optimist's Guide to Thriving in the Age of Accelerations." It's already a "New York Times" -- not surprising -- best seller.

The reason you wrote this book is what?

FRIEDMAN: Well, wolf, what the book is about is an attempt to really -- it's a brief theory of everything, to tie together what are all the forces now shaping and reshaping the world?

And my argument is that we're in the middle of three accelerations all at the same time, with the three largest forces on the planet, I which I call the market, Mother Nature and Moore's law. So Moore's law is that speed and power microchips will double every 24 months going to 1965 by Gordon Moore.

It's still with us today. If you put Moore's law on a graph, it looks like a hockey stick. The market for me is globalization but not sure grandfather's globalization, containers on ships. This is digital globalization.

Everything is being digitized and globalized. Put it on a graph, it looks like a hockey stuck. And Mother Nature for me is climate change, biodiversity laws, population growth -- put it on a graph, it looks like hockey stick. We're in the middle of three hockey stick accelerations, all at the same time. with the three largest forces on the planet.

And they're all interacting with each other, more technology drives more globalization; more globalization drives more climate change and more solutions to it.

And these accelerations, Wolf, they're not just changing our world, they're reshaping it.

BLITZER: Because when you met with Donald Trump, you and the editors and reporters from "The New York Times," you were a bit encouraged on climate change by what he said to you, that there is a human involvement related to that.

But you've been -- I read your column yesterday. You're bitterly disappointment in the actual people he's naming to deal with that specific issue.

FRIEDMAN: Well, again, I go back to my attitude about him on the intelligence question.

Wolf, it is totally excusable to question whether climate change, how serious it is, what are the components in, very complex things. What's inexcusable is to appoint climate deniers to every energy and environmental position in your administration without first asking for a briefing from the world's greatest climate scientists at NASA and the -- and NOAA, our climate and scientific institutions that Donald Trump will be the boss of.

So you can question anything.

But why this determined unwillingness to sit down with the people who actually know?

BLITZER: What's the answer?

FRIEDMAN: Well, because this seems to be a pattern of his, that he gets things locked into his brain and he's unwilling to sit down with the director of national intelligence and say tell me what you know.

Or let's see, let's spin the data together. Tell me what you know.

Or to sit down with our incredible climate scientists at the -- at NOAA and NASA and say tell me what you know. If, after that, he says, you know what, I believe a little, I don't believe it, that's fine. But to do it on the basis of not spending five minutes studying the facts, that is scary.

BLITZER: The book is entitled, "Thank You for Being Late: An Optimist's Guide to Thriving in the Age of Accelerations."

Tom, thanks for writing the book. Thanks for joining us.

FRIEDMAN: Good to be here, Wolf.

BLITZER: Tom Friedman of "The New York Times," Pulitzer Prize winning best seller -- best selling author as well.

Just ahead, Donald Trump's sons are poised to take over his business empire. But they're also sitting in on transition meetings.

Is it a conflict of interest?

Plus new signs of possible terrorism emerging right now in a plane crash probe. We have details of what investigators have just uncovered.



BLITZER: Tonight, Donald Trump is attacking the Obama White House for its focus on Russia's election-related hacking. This as we're getting new details about U.S. intelligence indicating the cyber-attacks were approved by Vladimir Putin.

[18:34:11] President-elect Trump is also taking aim at the news media for its scrutiny of his business and potential conflicts of interest.

Let's go to our senior White House correspondent, Jim Acosta. Jim, what are you hearing from the Trump camp?

JIM ACOSTA, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, sources inside the transition tell me that lawyers for the president-elect are busy working on disconnecting Trump from his businesses, but critics say if Trump stops short of total separation, he could be violating the law on day one of his administration.


ACOSTA (voice-over): Donald Trump is sounding as if cutting his ties to his vast real-estate holdings may not be so tough after all, saying in a tweet, "The media tries so hard to make my move to the White House, as it pertains to my business, so complex when actually, it isn't."

But that's not how his own transition team is putting it. On the same day Trump was supposed to hold a news conference to detail his separation from his businesses, a spokesman said it's complicated.

[18:35:06] JASON MILLER, COMMUNICATIONS DIRECTOR, TRUMP TRANSITION TEAM: There are obviously internal considerations as far as what the structure will look like for family members that will be taking the reins of the business. And I think the priority here is to make sure that we get it right.

ACOSTA: While sources stress the president-elect's plans are not final, Trump's sons Don Jr. and Eric are expected to take the reins of the family businesses, while daughter Ivanka and son-in-law Jared are likely to work at the White House, Ivanka in the East Wing and Jared as a key advisor.

DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENT-ELECT OF THE UNITED STATES: We need to keep going with the incredible innovation.

ACOSTA: Critics argue that's a problem, asking how Trump's sons could be poised to run his companies while sitting in on transition meetings like this round table with tech giants.

KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: There are laws on the books against this.

SPICER: And he will follow every one of them.

BOLDUAN: So -- so Don Jr. and Eric Trump are not going to have any -- are not going to advise the president?

SPICER: As of January, he will lay out the process by which he will focus on this country and leave his business to his family and others to run.

ACOSTA: A new poll finds the public is worried about the potential for conflicts, with 52 percent saying they're concerned Trump will place business interests ahead of the American people. A group of Democratic senators led by Elizabeth Warren plans to introduce a bill that would force Trump to put his holdings in a blind trust, saying in a statement, "The American people deserve to know that the president of the United States is working to do what's best for the country, not using his office to do what's best for himself and his businesses."

Top transition advisers say not to worry and maintain he has the right to have his children serve as advisers.

KELLYANNE CONWAY, SENIOR TRUMP ADVISOR: The president does have discretion to choose a staff of his -- of his liking. And so if that actually is true and that legal advice holds, then that will open up a realm of possibility.

ACOSTA: But experts say Trump could be in danger of violating a little-known cause in the Constitution, the Emolument Clause, which bars presidents from accepting gifts from foreign governments.

RICHARD PAINTER, GEORGE W. BUSH ADMINISTRATION ETHICS LAWYERS: The president has to make sure that he does not have money coming in from foreign powers. That is prohibited.


ACOSTA: Now as for Ivanka Trump, sources tell CNN that she has been calling members of Congress about one of her top priorities. That is new childcare legislation. And transition officials announced that retired Lieutenant General

Keith Kellogg and Monica Crowley are joining the National Security Council at the White House. Crowley is the second FOX News analyst to move to the NSC. And sources say Trump is on course to finalize the separation from his businesses by January, in time for that news conference that's been pushed into the new year. Wolf, we're still waiting for the president-elect to hold a news conference since winning the election -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Thanks very much for that. Jim Acosta reporting.

Let's talk about the Trump transition, also talk about the Russian hacking controversy with our political, legal and counterterror analysts. And Jackie Kucinich, I'll start with you.

Trump's -- some of Trump's aides now are saying they are concerned, that he's concerned about Russian influence as a result of the hacking and all of that. But have any of the president-elect's actual words or actions since winning the election underlined that particular concern?

JACKIE KUCINICH, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Right now it just seems like he's trying to turn the ship. I think he took this very personally initially. He thought that Democrats and perhaps Republicans that don't really like him were trying to say he isn't a legitimate president.

And now that it's becoming very clear that that's not going to hold a lot of weight, and there's overwhelming evidence that he's incorrect here, he's trying to turn the ship. And you can almost see him starting to blame President Obama for not being tough enough on Russia. I think that's step two.

BLITZER: The White House press secretary, Jeffrey Toobin, he was pretty tough today in going after Trump. Listen to this.


JOSH EARNEST, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: It's also possible that he consulted with one of his closest aides, Roger Stone, who, back in July, July 27 to be precise, tweeted, quote, "Of course the Russians hacked @HillaryClinton's e-mail."

So, again, I don't know if it was a staff meeting or he had access to a briefing, or he was just based -- basing his assessment on a large number of published reports, but Mr. Trump obviously knew that Russia was engaged in malicious cyber-activity that was helping him and hurting Secretary Clinton's campaign.


BLITZER: You know the president and the incoming president since the election, they've had a very cordial relationship, only positive words exchanged between the two of them. But potentially, that could change. JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: You know, count me as

skeptical about this supposedly warm relationship between Donald Trump and Barack Obama.

BLITZER: At least publicly.

TOOBIN: Well, publicly, sure. But I mean, Donald Trump ran for president saying Barack Obama was a total failure. He was -- his chief priority is to overturn the Affordable Care Act. He doesn't believe in climate change, which Barack Obama believes in with all his heart.

So the idea that there is some sort of alliance between the two of them, other than just basic politeness, has always seemed to me absurd. And I think we are starting to see the breach get public, and it's only going to get more public.

[18:40:07] BLITZER: Because in that tweet today, Donald Trump went after the White House.


BLITZER: He didn't go after the president by name.

BROWNSTEIN: No, but we have never -- I don't think we have ever seen what we saw today in terms of an outgoing president and an incoming president clashing as directly, in recent times, as we saw in that clip that you played. And it's going to only go further.

You know, if Donald Trump continues to express skepticism about this, the White House just has more and more -- they have evidence, right? And so the ability of the kind of leak that we saw again yesterday, that Vladimir Putin was personally involved, I think there's going to be more of that to put pressure on both Donald Trump and also the Republican Congress to take this seriously after President Obama leaves office.

KUCINICH: It will be interesting to see what -- if he says anything in his press conference tomorrow, his kind of get-out-of-town before he goes on his holiday break, what he says about this.

BLITZER: I'm sure he'll say something. I'm sure he'll be asked about it...


BLITZER: ... as well. You spent a career in the CIA. The accusations that the CIA is being politicized, they're getting involved in this, what kind of impact does that have, Phil Mudd, on the professionals, many of whom risk their lives to gather intelligence for the United States government? What kind of impact did this exchange we've seen in recent weeks actually have on the men and women of the intelligence community?

PHIL MUDD, CNN COUNTERTERRORISM ANALYST: Well, Wolf, I'm depressed, and I don't even work there anymore. I mean, the easy impact that you can look at obviously is morale. Let's look at a couple of other impacts that might be more significant in some ways for national security.

No. 1, how do you package intelligence for a president who doesn't read it and is reluctant to take it at face value? Do you have to put a special varnish on it so that it's acceptable to him?

Second, let's look at something we dealt with before the Iraq War, and I saw this firsthand. When you give him that intelligence, and the president of the United States says something that contradicts by 180 degrees what you said -- you say there's a hack, he says he doesn't see the evidence of a hack -- he puts the CIA in the difficult position of determining whether they want to come out in public and say, "The president we support as part of the executive branch just said something that we know isn't true." Tough position, Wolf.

BLITZER: Very tough position. Everybody stick around. Don't go too far away. There's other news we're following. A judge orders Trump to sit for a seven-hour deposition, a legal deposition, just days before his inauguration, but an offer from a celebrity chef could get him out of it. Will the president-elect accept?


[18:46:46] BLITZER: As we await Donald Trump's "thank you" rally in Pennsylvania, we have some new information coming into THE SITUATION ROOM. CNN politics reporter Jeremy Diamond is over at the rally in Hersey, Pennsylvania.

Jeremy, tell us what you learned about some controversial remarks by Donald Trump's pick for commerce secretary, Wilbur Ross.

JEREMY DIAMOND, CNN POLITICS REPORTER: Wolf, we've just found some video that Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross made comments in a 2012 interview defending 2012 Republican nominee Mitt Romney's comments about 47 percent of Americans being victims and dependent on the government. And this video is provided to CNN by the liberal research group American Bridge and actually, Wilbur Ross in that video also made a second controversial comment of his own. Listen in.


WILBUR ROSS, INVESTOR: The Obama administration may try to pretend it's not a fact, it is a fact. It's a fact how many people are on food stamps. It's a fact how many people are long-term unemployed. It's a fact that a very high percentage of the unemployed people claim disabilities so that they can get more money.


DIAMOND: And, Wolf, we've reached out to the Trump campaign for comment. They have not yet responded to us. So, we're still waiting to hear back -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right. Jeremy Diamond in Hersey, Pennsylvania, getting ready for that rally. Thanks very much. Ron Brownstein, is that going to be a serious problem for the commerce secretary nominee?

RON BROWNSTEIN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Probably not enough. From what we heard? No. I mean, if there's more, maybe. But not from that, I think.

The cabinet secretaries get rejected very, very rarely, especially when the party in power is the same party in the White House. The last one was John Tower. There hasn't been one since 1989.

It takes a lot -- I have a feeling all that energy is going to go into one particular one, Rex Tillerson, and the secretary of state, where you had Donald Trump move forward despite clear red flags from a number of Republican senators. I think that's the one we're going to see the biggest debate.

BLITZER: There's an extraordinary legal development happening right now involving the president-elect, Jeffrey Toobin, key word "legal", that's why I'm talking to you.



BLITZER: A judge has ordered that he participate in a seven-hour deposition just days before the inauguration involving a case, a great chef Jose Andres was supposed to have a restaurant in his new hotel here in Washington, once Donald Trump said what he said about Mexican immigrants to the United States, he pulled out. Lawsuits developed. Jose Andres says he's willing to settle it. He tweeted, "Mr. @RealDonaldTrump, can we end our lawsuits and donate money to a veterans NGO, nongovernment organization, to celebrate? Why keep litigating? Let's both of us win."

Is the president-elect going to sit down for a seven-hour deposition on this lawsuit?

TOOBIN: Well, certainly it looks that way now. Remember, 1997, Clinton v. Jones, the Paula Jones sexual harassment lawsuit, the Supreme Court of the United States says, just because you're president of the United States, you can't get out of submitting to depositions. So, Donald Trump has dozens of lawsuits pending against him.

[18:50:02] He is going to definitely spend some time being a witness in these cases. Now, he says he doesn't settle cases. He does settle cases. He settled the Trump University fraud cases just a little while ago. He very well may settle this case. This is a really small money case by comparison.

But certainly, at some point, during his presidency, there will be depositions.

BLITZER: He's got other things to do getting ready for the inauguration, than sit down for seven hours and be asked questions by Jose Andres' lawyers. JACKIE KUCINICH, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes, I think it's going to be, the question is can he save face here? And that is what he tried to do with the Trump University, saying, well, now that I'm going to be president, I need to put this behind me for the good of the country, otherwise, I wouldn't have settled it. So --


TOOBIN: What's weird about this case compared to the others is that Trump is the plaintiff in this case.

BROWNSTEIN: Yes, he is the plaintiff.


BROWNSTEIN: So, he brought this case. So, he can't say very well say, well, I brought the case but I'm not going to testify. You know, it's not like he's being dragged in the court. He's the one who started this and I just think if it doesn't settle, he's going to have to go --

KUCINICH: Well, because he feels like Jose Andres offended him. And, you know, again, it is going to humiliate Jose Andres and he save face. That's the open question.

BLITZER: Jose Andres has given him an out. You know what? We love the veterans. Let's give them some money. Forget about this lawsuit. You get ready for the inauguration. Let's see if that happens.

Guys, thanks so much more joining me.

To our viewers, an important note. Please be sure to check out the first ever book from CNN Politics entitled "Unprecedented: The Election That Changed Everything." You can pick up your copy today in stores or you can get an online at

Just ahead, did terrorists blow up Egypt Air Flight 804? We're taking a closer look at just revealed evidence in the investigation.


[18:55:55] BLITZER: Tonight, new evidence in the Egypt Air crash, the mystery that points to the possibility now of terrorism.

Let's go right to our aviation correspondent Richard Quest.

Richard, what exactly did authorities discover?

RICHARD QUEST, CNN AVIATION CORRESPONDENT: The Egyptian authorities are now saying -- it was just really in a statement, that an explosive residue had been found on some of the remains of the passengers of the 66 that were onboard the aircraft when it went down over the Mediterranean earlier this year.

Now, you remember, Wolf, that already we know that there had been warning signals from the plane emergency messages by the ACARS system that said there had been a fire onboard, that there were various failures of electrical and computer systems. In addition to which, various debris at the front of the aircraft found had scorching on it, and high intensity sooting which suggests of some sort of explosives.

Now, it seems all we need now is to dot the I's and cross the T's. It seems that a bomb or device of some nature brought down this aircraft.

BLITZER: So, this discovery, Richard, what does it mean for the investigation going forward? Does it rule out mechanical failure as a possibility?

QUEST: Not yet, because they haven't said it definitively. But what it does mean that we've got to look very closely at the six flights, including the last one, that this aircraft did on the fatal day. It went to two other destinations, including Tunisia. It went to Paris, and then somewhere along the line if the device got on board, then it has to be asked, why wasn't the plane checked as it regularly should have been? How did the device get there in the first place?

And more importantly, what preventive measures have been taken to ensure such a thing never happens again?

And frankly, Wolf, I'd be blunt about it. The Egyptians have been downright slow about actually confirming this or putting out a proper statement that says once and for all. It will be nearly a year next year and they should come up with more information, put more into the public domain than they have now. They're obfuscating and they're delaying.

BLITZER: Because it's certainly, if it's explosive residue, if it's found on bodies, very possible, this could have been a terrorist attack on Egypt Air. The plane originated, what, in Paris, on its way to Cairo. But earlier, there had been several stops in the Middle East, right?

QUEST: Correct. As your map shows, the first stop was south and then Tunisia. But each time, the plane went back to Cairo where it should have been cleared and security clearance done once again, even as much as looking in the holes to making sure nothing are being put on. And then it goes up to Paris.

And, of course, the big question, if a device was put on Charles de Gaulle Airport, that's an entirely different situation and in many ways more serious because it's such a large international airport.

The reality is here, Wolf, let's call a spade a shovel. The reality is here, x number of months, eight, nine months out to this incident, we've known no more details. We're not getting reports as we should. There is no real transparency and, frankly, we have a right to expect more information.

BLITZER: Richard, if it was an act of terror, at least so far, correct me if I'm wrong, no terror group has claimed responsibility, right?

QUEST: Correct. No one has claimed responsibility. There have been some murmurings of responsibility. But nothing that anybody can hang their hats. But the reality, of course, is explosive residue, which could have come from somewhere else by the way. I'm told that there are other ways you can get these sort of readings. But we haven't been -- a proper announcement hasn't been made that allows us to test these theories and hypotheses.

BLITZER: Richard Quest, thanks very much.

We leave you now with a remembrance. We're remembering a much loved member of our Turner Broadcasting family, sports reporter Craig Sager died today, after a brave battle with cancer, just two days after being inducted into the Sports Broadcasting Hall of Fame.

Craig was known for his colorful clothes, his tremendous talent, and the incredible talent and effort he put into his work. I was lucky enough to call him a friend. He will be deeply missed by all of us. He had many, many friends and fans.

Craig Sager was only 65 years old.

"ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.