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Rift Erupts Between Trump, White House Over Hacks; Sources: Russia's Hacking Has Continued Since Election; Obama Vows Retaliation Against Russia For Hacks; First Lady: Feels Like We Don't Have Hope Now; Evacuations Out Of Aleppo Suddenly Halted. Aired 11-11:30a ET

Aired December 16, 2016 - 11:00   ET


CAROL COSTELLO, CNN ANCHOR: -- will all play into that. I don't know.

BRIAN STELTER, CNN SENIOR MEDIA CORRESPONDENT: Yes, there's a shared responsibility here, yes.

COSTELLO: All right, Brian Stelter, thanks so much for stopping by. Thank you for joining me today. I'm Carol Costello. "AT THIS HOUR WITH BERMAN AND BOLDUAN" starts now.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Hello, everyone. I'm John Berman.

KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: Hi, everybody. I'm Kate Bolduan. From foes to something of friends to foes once again. I'm not just talking about the two of us. I'm talking about the fragile truce between President Obama and the president-elect.

It is showing signs of crumbling and crumbling fast today. Why? One word, Russia. President Obama now promising to retaliate against Russia for interfering in the U.S. election. Russia just responded, saying, prove it.

The man in the middle, Donald Trump. He's not only still questioning whether Russia was even behind the hacks of the Clinton campaign and Democratic Party, but he is now taking shots at the White House over it.

BERMAN: Now the White House press secretary is part of this fight and now it seems so, too, is the first lady, Michelle Obama. We will get to that in a moment.

Of course, this all comes as the president himself just hours from now will hold his final news conference of the year. How does he really feel about Donald Trump now? About Russia? And will he really tell us?

Let's begin with CNN justice correspondent, Evan Perez, here in New York. Evan, you have new details about the hacks and the headline is, they are still going on?

EVAN PEREZ, CNN JUSTICE REPORTER: That's right, John. They are still going on. First of all, we will tell you a little of how the intelligence agencies have come to determine that the Russian spy agencies were really deploying sophisticated hacking tools, the kind that frankly were used by the NSA to break into the political organizations in the United States in the past year.

U.S. officials tell CNN that this is part of the reason why the intelligence officials believe Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered the disinformation operation that targeted mostly Democratic Party groups and Hillary Clinton's presidential campaign.

We are told that investigators haven't found any evidence directly linking back to Putin, but officials believe that because of the nature of this operation, he would have had to give the orders on what to do with the stolen e-mails.

In recent weeks, intelligence agencies have been collecting a lot more evidence, including from human sources, to back up these assessments. In the meantime, as you mentioned, the hacking has not stopped.

Law enforcement sources tell us that the FBI is now investigating hacking attempts after the election, targeting the Clinton campaign, some of their staffers are now telling us they have received security notices as recently as last week indicating that they had some attempts to get into their private e-mail accounts.

Officials say that despite the fact that the Russians are expecting better relations with the incoming Trump administration, we are expecting that this Russian hacking activity is going to continue largely unabated.

BERMAN: All right. It continues. Evan Perez, thanks so much.

So Russia and its reported role in our election related hacking is clearly in dispute right now between the incoming and outgoing administrations, but there is only one president at a time, and President Obama is vowing revenge and action against Russia before he leaves office.

BOLDUAN: What exactly that retaliation comes and in what form are now big questions. The president talked about this with NPR in a new interview. Listen here.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA: I think there is no doubt that when any foreign government tries to impact the integrity of our elections that we need to take action and we will, at a time and place of our own choosing. Some of it may be explicit and publicized, some of it may not be. But Mr. Putin is well aware of my feelings about this because I spoke to him directly about.


BOLDUAN: White House correspondent, Michelle Kosinski is joining us now from the White House with more on this. So Michelle, the president promising retaliation. What are you hearing, though, from the White House today on this front? MICHELLE KOSINSKI, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, you know, the president spoke about this just now in that interview so he talked about what we have known for some time. Really, as soon as they named Russia, even you could argue before, they talked about once they determine what exactly happened here, there would be a proportional response.

But we also heard from the president early on after this hack, when Russia was suspected, but the White House had not yet named Russia, where the president spoke while he was in China, in fact, where cyber- security is always a big subject of discussion.

He had met with Vladimir Putin then, that's what he was referring to in this most recent interview, and he said he didn't want to make this like a back and forth or an escalation of cyber-warfare. He didn't want to make it like the wild, Wild West.

I think everyone is waiting to see or we may not even know when it happens, what this proportional, meaningful, response will look like and how can there really be a proportional response when you are talking about Vladimir Putin himself being involved, and this being designed to upend the American presidential election?

[11:05:07]What could the U.S. possibly do that would be proportional to that? That's some of the many questions circulating out there. It could be something like deep financial sanctions.

Of course, there's plenty of argument over sanctions right now anyway, whether that works, and whether the next administration would continue that.

But what we have been hearing over the last couple of days is this sort of back and forth that's been growing now between Donald Trump and the White House directly. Listen to what Donald Trump said last night.


DONALD TRUMP, U.S. PRESIDENT-ELECT: Although this foolish guy, Josh Earnest, I don't know if he's talking to President Obama. You know, having the right press secretary is so important because he is so bad, the way he delivers a message. He can deliver a positive message and it sounds bad. He could say ladies and gentlemen, today we have totally defeated ISIS and it wouldn't sound good.


KOSINSKI: So he's talking there about the press secretary, Josh Earnest, who in response to many questions over the last several days has gotten to the point where he's directly criticizing Donald Trump, but he's using words that Donald Trump said.

Things like during the campaign, calling on Russia to go find Hillary Clinton's e-mails. So the White House response now, what we are hearing from senior administration officials is they are looking at Donald Trump's words now. And saying there's a material difference between him calling Josh Earnest a foolish guy and Kellyanne Conway saying that he's deeply irresponsible and the White House simply repeating facts as they put it, things that Donald Trump has said himself.

BOLDUAN: Michelle Kosinski, thank you so much, Michelle. Lot of these questions will be posed to President Obama later this afternoon when he has that final press conference.

So Hillary Clinton has her own theories on why the hacks were targeting her campaign and the DNC and the role that Russia played in all of this. She says it comes back to an old grudge that the Russian president has with her.

BERMAN: Want to bring in CNN's Dan Merica, who covered Hillary Clinton throughout the campaign. Dan, in fact, there was a campaign event last night of sorts, a post-campaign event where Hillary Clinton talked about Russia.

DAN MERICA, CNN POLITICAL PRODUCER: That's exactly right. It was very clear to donors last night who met with Secretary Clinton at the Plaza Hotel that she was focused on issues that she and her aides deeply feel cost her the election.

In reaction to Putin's connections to the hacking, Clinton told donors that she was proud she stood up to Putin as secretary of state and as you said, attributed the hacking to some comments she made about Russia's 2011 parliamentary elections, calling it a grudge according to one donor that was in the room.

The popular opinion of Clinton since she lost in November is that she's been hiking through the woods taking selfies with people at grocery stores and while she's hiking.

But the comments donors said made it very clear that she is still in a way hung up on why she lost and is attributing it to things like the Russian hacking and Director James Comey, who one donor told me came up multiple times through the night.

And this donor said it was clear Secretary Clinton had that on the front of her mind. One thing she didn't mention last night or one person she didn't mention last night, Donald Trump.

BERMAN: All right. Dan Merica for us covering the Hillary Clinton situation. Want to bring in our panel right now, joining us, CNN chief national security correspondent, Jim Sciutto, "New York Times" editor and CNN political analyst, Patrick Healy, CNN politics reporter, Sara Murray, and CNN political commentators, Kayleigh McEnany who's been supportive of Donald Trump for a long time now, and Hilary Rosen, who supported Hillary Clinton for a long time now.

Sara Murray, I want to start with you and I want talk about Donald Trump and Trump world when it comes to the Russian hacks because over the last 24 hours, we have been getting this word that well, yes, Donald Trump we are told by aides is concerned about the reports of the Russian hack, yet he's still saying if it's so bad why didn't we hear about it.

Yet he's still going after Josh Earnest on this subject, and yet he's still stopping short of calling for congressional investigation here. So what exactly is going on inside Trump world?

SARA MURRAY, CNN POLITICAL REPORTER: Right. Donald Trump himself has given no indication publicly, obviously, on Twitter or otherwise that he is concerned about the Russian situation and what you are seeing I think from a lot of his advisers is sort of this defensive stance.

They believe that we are talking about this now and that people are bringing this up now as an attempt to undermine the legitimacy of his presidency.

So rather than focus on the fact the Russians attempted to meddle in the U.S. elections, the fact from our reporting today that cyber- hacking attempts are continuing against U.S. political organizations, they are approaching this from the view of a political battle.

The other thing I would note about his advisers insisting he may have concerns now, his advisers also insisted he believed President Obama was born in the United States before Donald Trump was willing to come out and say it.

[11:10:02]They have a way of trying to soften his tone on issues before he actually comes out there and says that publicly. Does that mean he won't ever be critical of Russia? Not necessarily. But we certainly have not seen any indication from him directly that he is concerned about this from a policy standpoint, beyond the political side of it.

BOLDUAN: Politics and policy, Jim, I want to ask you really quick, President Obama now promising repercussions against Russia for the hacking. How significant is that and what is that going to look like in the last 30 plus days he's in office?

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Well, it's significant because you are talking about cyber-retaliation here, potentially, right? You have a whole host of potential options here ranging from things that have already happened, frankly, publicly naming and shaming the adversary for doing it is one step in that arsenal, saying, we know what you're doing, here it is.

That's already happened, have not deterred the behavior. You have other steps including economic sanctions, that's a path this administration has tried with Russian military action in Ukraine, caused economic pain to Russia, didn't stop the military action in Ukraine. We will see if that's applied here.

And then you have up the ladder, sort of escalating up this ladder of responses, the possibility of cyber-intrusions in the other direction. I mean, do you go in and seek out and expose embarrassing information about the Russian leadership in response. Possible or do you take even more substantive steps that might target critical infrastructure in Russia. No one is talking publicly about that but that is a response. But the administration has said in the past, listen, if you go that path we have to worry that Russia would do the same to us, right, and they don't want to spark that kind of cycle of escalation.

One other point I would make is to say it kindly, it's not a fact- based conversation. If you are saying this is being talked about now because of politics, because remember, it was the month before the election, when the intelligence community, the director of National Intelligence and Department of Homeland Security fingered Russia.

And in that same statement, said senior most Russian leadership which many were already reading at that time to be Putin because the way Russia is built, it's very top-heavy, so this conversation about Russia being behind it and Putin likely ordering it was a month before the election. So it's not fact-based to say that it's politics to be talking about it now.

BERMAN: No, no. Trump's claim to the contrary is flat out wrong. Guys, I want to shift gears if I can because one thing this has done is expose this rift between the Obama administration and Trump transition. There really had been a detente there. When I say rift, I want you to listen to the first lady, Michelle Obama, who did an interview with Oprah Winfrey, and I want to listen to the word she said.


OPRAH WINFREY: Your husband's administration, everything, the election, was all about hope. Do you think that this administration achieved that?

MICHELLE OBAMA, FIRST LADY: Yes. I do because we feel the difference now. See, now we are feeling what not having hope feels like, you know. Hope is necessary. What else do you have if you don't have hope? What do you give your kids if you can't give them hope?


BERMAN: So Hilary, what exactly is the first lady saying there? We are feeling what not having hope feels like now? That's very different than the message we have been getting from President Obama himself throughout this transition where he said he will work with Donald Trump and he thinks the future will be just fine. Not having hope is a pretty extraordinary statement.

HILARY ROSEN, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, it is. These are extraordinary times. Let's just say I think President Obama intended all along to give Donald Trump some rope to have a smooth transition, but I think when he is so dismissive of our national security agencies and the facts that are on the ground now as Jim just talked about it.

You know, there is one president at a time and this president says you are not allowed to be so dismissive of America's national security interests just because you think the ends justified the means. Just because you got elected president and potentially was helped by the Russians doesn't make it OK that the Russians did that. I think what we see the first lady doing is really echoing a much broader theme, which is for the first time in the last 40 years, a president's transition has an almost 65 percent disapproval from the American people by virtue of the kinds of things the president-elect is doing.

The kinds of people he's appointing, what he's spending his time on and what he's saying, the obfuscation around the role his kids are going to play in the business. It is discouraging. And I think the first lady is expressing those views and by the way, the views of the American people.

BOLDUAN: Kayleigh, what do you think?

KAYLEIGH MCENANY, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Look, if you look at polling, it actually shows, depends which poll you look at, that people do have a good outlook for what is to come. It was only something like 30 percent are scared of --

BOLDUAN: Polling aside, what do you make of Michelle Obama?

[11:15:06]MCENANY: Well, I think Michelle Obama needs to give the president a chance. I have been encouraged that President Obama at least up until yesterday when we saw Josh Earnest come out, has given President-elect Trump a chance. I don't agree with Michelle Obama about not having hope.

I think that's a very dire way to look at the future. I think when you look at the cabinet Donald Trump has put together, you see captains of industry. It looks a lot like President Ronald Reagan's cabinet. President Ronald Reagan's cabinet had on average 6.8 years government experience, ten years less than President Obama's.

Donald Trump is about on par with that. These are people from the private sector, people who are going to bring new ideas, new life and I think that to not have hope, I think it's a sad way to look at the future. I think Donald Trump's going to end up proving Michelle Obama wrong and I think the nation will be encouraged.

BERMAN: So Patrick Healey, what happened here?

ROSEN: Can I just say one thing?

BERMAN: Hang on one second. I want Patrick to be part of this conversation if he can. I want to know from a reporting standpoint, what happened? Because there was this detente between the Obama administration and the Trump transition. There really was.

Donald Trump has been gushing about how he's getting advice now from President Obama and President Obama has been very careful not to criticize directly. He still hasn't yet, but a lot of people around him have. What was the tipping point?

PATRICK HEALY, CNN POLITICS ANALYST: That's right. Former presidents usually try to give wide latitude to their successors, the current president trying not to weigh in with criticism during a transition. It's especially sensitive. President Obama has not commented on a lot of the appointments that Donald Trump, the President-elect Trump has made that certainly raised hackles among his party and party leaders.

What's changed, John, is a national security threat to the institution of the presidency itself, to free and fair elections in America. Grave questions being raised by intelligence agencies within the government, which President Obama is the head and he has to take that seriously.

In his language, he has been at least so far relatively measured and not making judgments about Donald Trump and what he said, especially compared to what President-elect Trump said certainly at the rally last night.

So I think that is a tipping point. You are going to see President Obama now having to make a decision about the press conference this afternoon, about how much to hold President-elect Trump to account in being a protector of free and fair elections.

If he's serious about that in America, at the very least, you have got to wonder will President Obama call on him to support an open investigation of what happened.

BOLDUAN: How measured his comments are at this press conference because you can be sure that's pretty much every question he's going to get is going to be about this. Guys, thank you so much. Really appreciate it.

We also have new reporting this morning on just how much the president-elect is going to cut himself off from his businesses before he moves into the oval office. Fear of a fire sale is driving some of the decision. What that means for his sons that he's putting in charge of it all.

BERMAN: Plus, a provocative pick for the U.S. ambassador to Israel. The president-elect tapped his bankruptcy adviser, who has strong views about where Israel's capital should be. Not just that.

Evacuations from Aleppo suspended, now families are being forced to turn back inside the war zone. Hear what's behind this breaking development.



BERMAN: We have breaking news out of Syria. The evacuation of thousands of refugees in the rebel-held area of Aleppo has suddenly come to a halt. Residents are now trapped inside. Rescue workers have been ordered to leave. Convoys taking innocent people out of the crossfire have been forced to turn back.

BOLDUAN: The entire rescue operation is essentially now in a holding pattern, exactly what the people stuck there do not need as this humanitarian crisis unfolds before the world eyes. Senior international correspondent, Fred Pleitgen, is joining us now. He was in Aleppo and is now in Beirut. Fred, where's the breakdown here? Why is this all stopped?

FREDERIK PLEITGEN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, you know, Kate, this is a situation that is obviously horrible for the people who are trying to get out of Eastern Aleppo, but it's also really dangerous because as the situation unfolds on the ground, as the trigger-happy people on both sides of the equation can't move forward, there's a real danger of this escalating and innocent people getting killed once again.

We do know that one of the convoys that was supposed to leave Eastern Aleppo and many had left without incident, it was held up apparently by Shiite militia fighting on the side of the Syrian government. They didn't let it proceed. Apparently, some people were killed in the process of that.

And then eventually, that convoy had to be turned back and all of the convoys were then suspended, all the international aid workers that were on the ground there trying to oversee this had to leave Eastern Aleppo as well.

Usually as in situations like this, both sides are blaming each other. The government says that the rebels were trying to smuggle weapons out of Eastern Aleppo. The rebels for their part are saying it was simply the Shiite militia that didn't like the way that this deal was being implemented.

But at this point in time everything is stopped. The Russians are saying they believe that Eastern Aleppo is empty anyway. However, the Turks say that simply isn't the case and this needs to get back on track as fast as possible -- Kate.

BOLDUAN: I can't even agree on that if people are even in Eastern Aleppo at this point, that says a lot. Fred, thank you so much for bringing us that.

Let's continue this, though. Joining us now is Gayle Tzemach Lemmon, a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations and also contributing editor with "Defense One," a publication focusing squarely on U.S. national security. Gayle, it's great to see you. Thanks for joining us.

Just yesterday, we spoke with State Department Spokesman John Kirby. He had a pretty startling assessment of the situation. He essentially said that Aleppo is a lost cause. Aleppo has fallen. You have been speaking with people on the ground there. If that's the case, what does it mean for people there?

GAYLE TZEMACH LEMMON, SENIOR FELLOW, COUNCIL ON FOREIGN RELATIONS: This is really an overnight crisis that was five years in the making and a year of bombing we see now kind of paying off in terms of Russia and the Syrian regime and Iran shaping the reality on the ground.

For moms and dads who were stuck inside, what this means is convoys that are getting turned back as people continue to fight about, you know, who should be evacuated, how should they be evacuated, who gets to go, who is a fighter, who isn't part of an armed group, and who isn't?

And it translates into confusion and chaos and real danger on the ground for those trying to escape this, you know, post-apocalyptic nightmare of a city that has been bombarded for months.

BERMAN: It's cold and they can't get food and water and are not being accepted anywhere. Now the Obama administration essentially blames the Assad regime, blames the Russians, and blames the Iranians.

[11:25:05]But isn't what we are seeing right now, you called this five years in the making, isn't this catastrophe we are watching right now, wasn't it more or less predictable? Doesn't the Obama administration have to accept some responsibility for it?

LEMMON: Obama administration officials I've spoken to for years have been waiting for this day to come and been incredibly worried about what it meant, especially people who favored greater intervention in 2013, 2014, and you know, one of them even said to me, look, we have to revisit who actually won the cold war.

You know, Russia is bringing the E.U. to its knees and it only took dropping bombs on Syria to cause a refugee crisis. So I mean, I think what you see from the start is one side is all in.

The Syrian regime, Russia, Iran, versus America and others who really did not want to get involved in this conflict and an administration that felt it was elected to end wars in the Middle East, not start them.

And did not want to get involved when it couldn't guarantee that getting involved wouldn't make things worse, not better, even when folks inside were advocating for it.

BOLDUAN: Now this will be squarely in the lap of President-elect Donald Trump in 30 plus short days with major questions and the crisis will only continue to unfold because it's not over with Aleppo. Kirby clearly made that statement yesterday as well. Gayle, thanks so much.

LEMMON: Great to join you.

BERMAN: All right, Donald Trump still hasn't held a news conference to tell us what he will do about his business conflicts. It was supposed to be yesterday, but it was postponed, canceled, who knows? There is new word this morning that he will not divest himself completely from his empire. What does that mean legally, next?

BOLDUAN: Plus one veteran leader calling out the president-elect, asking why does he have time for Kanye West but not for veterans groups like his? He's joining us live.