Return to Transcripts main page


PA Elector "Honored That Trump Picked Me"; Electoral College Voting Underway To Seal Trump Win; McCain: Russia Hacks Threaten To "Destroy Democracy"; Priebus: Intel Agencies Should Issue Report On Hacks; Clinton: Campaign Chief Won't Say If Election "Free And Fair" Aired 11-11:30a ET

Aired December 19, 2016 - 11:00   ET


[11:00:03] JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Hello, everyone. I'm John Berman. Kate Bolduan is off today. It is Election Day in America at least for the most elite college in the land. The 538 members of the Electoral College are meeting today in state capitals across the country. All 50 of them and Washington, D.C. They will cast their ballots for president and vice president today.

Here's a little preview. Donald Trump and Mike Pence, they are going to win. Right now electors in Arkansas, Illinois, Oklahoma and South Carolina are voting, with 12 more states meeting in the next hour.

The overwhelming expectation is that almost every single one of the electors will vote for the candidate who won their state. In some cases they are required to by state law, but, but there is the tiniest whiff of drama in this traditionally ceremonial process.

Some anti-Trump protesters are fighting to convince Republican electors to switch their vote. One elector has already vowed to break his pledge, but it would take nearly three dozen more to defect in order to keep Trump from the White House which honestly, frankly, it is just not going to happen.

Want to go first I believe to Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, where the state's 20 electors right now are going to cast their votes just a short time from now. Sara Sidner is standing outside the capitol there. Good morning, Sara.

SARA SIDNER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, John. Yes, in about 50 minutes, the 20 electors will be inside the house chambers. They will be sworn in and they will make their vote. Now, I have talked to quite a few of these electors, two in particular.

One of whom is an immigrant from India who came here and said, look, I have been able to live the American dream. He's a lifetime Republican and has been supporting the Republican cause all these years and it's been almost 30 years since Republicans in this state won when it comes to a presidential election.

So he says this is a very serious duty and he's going to do what the electorate has asked him to do. Here's what he said about the experience of being elected or being put in place as an elector.


ASH KHARE, PENNSYLVANIA ELECTOR: I was a nobody and that came from a third world country. And I'm making a difference. It's not by a handout. It's by hard work and loyalty. I am so honored that Mr. Trump picked me to be one of the 20 electors and this is making history for me.


SIDNER: Making history for him personally and his family but also making American history. He's absolutely certain he's voting for Trump but he has paid a price as an elector. He has been getting tens of thousands of e-mails, letters, even phone calls all night long.

And he says he's now being protected by law enforcement, a plain clothes officer is following him around because some of those letters contained threats. But he says he has read some of them and he's simply not swayed.

He says he's seen nothing between the election and now that would sway him from voting for Donald Trump. And he's talked to the other 19 electors here and says they're not going to change their vote either -- John.

BERMAN: All right, Sara Sidner for us in Harrisburg. Unfortunately, a lot of stories like that around the country, people receiving threats as they head to cast their votes today. CNN's Jessica Schneider is at the state capitol in Michigan in Lansing. Jessica, what are you seeing?

JESSICA SCHNEIDER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, John, like you said, several people receiving threats including one elector here in Michigan saying he, too, has received death threats. But despite that, all 16 electors here in Michigan are expected to gather here at the state capitol for that 2:00 p.m. vote.

All 16 are in fact expected to cast their ballots for Donald Trump. This is largely a ceremonial process. It's being run by the Republican Party right here in Michigan. It will be presided over by the Republican governor, Rick Snyder.

Everything beginning at 2:00 p.m. and of course, all of these electors were voted at the state political party back in April. All of them loyal party activists. Of course, we have seen several protesters here, nothing massive, just about a dozen protesters who have been circling the capitol for about the past hour.

The vote here starting in a little under three hours. Like I said, that elector, one elector in Michigan receiving death threats. Also of note, Michigan native, Michael Moore, posting to Facebook that he would actually pay the fine for any elector who decided to vote his or her conscience and actually go rogue on this vote.

However, Michigan just one of 28 states that does have a faithless elector law which means all electors here are bound. I talked to Republican Party officials here. They say they do not expect any problems. They expect all 16 electors to cast their ballots for Donald Trump.

However, they do say if there were to be a problem, it actually wouldn't be a problem because any elector who does not cast their ballot here in Michigan for Donald Trump would simply be replaced -- John.

BERMAN: That's what the state law says in that state. Jessica Schneider, thanks so much.

[11:05:11]You know, Jessica was talking about a Michigan elector who had been receiving threats. That man is Michael Banerian, one of 16 electors in that state. He joins us now by phone.

Michael, thanks so much for joining us. Why don't you tell us what the last week has been like, how much pressure you have been receiving and the nature of that pressure?

MICHAEL BANERIAN, MICHIGAN ELECTOR (via telephone): Yes, thanks for having me, by the way. I appreciate it. Unfortunately, the divisiveness of this political cycle bled over into the weeks following the election and I have just received thousands and thousands of letters, Facebook messages, and e-mails begging me to change my vote to Hillary Clinton or another Republican.

Unfortunately, in some of those, I have received death threats. I had people that have talked about putting a bullet in the back of my mouth, burning my family, sending me pictures of nooses. It's been a pretty despicable frankly experience from getting letters from people like that.

BERMAN: Simply no place for that in this system. Michael, now the Michigan state law, let me read it, "Refusal or failure to vote for the candidates for president and vice president appearing on the Michigan ballot of the political party which nominated the elector constitutes a resignation from the office of elector, his vote shall not be recorded and the remaining electors shall forthwith fill the vacancy."

What that essentially means is that it doesn't matter whether or not you vote for Donald Trump, he will get all 16 electoral votes in the state of Michigan. That's what the state law says. But let me ask you this, if the state law did not say that, would you have been tempted to switch your vote?

BANERIAN: No. Not at all. I don't think any of the other 15 electors would have done that either. I think if we look at the fact here, we were nominated at our state conventions in August to be electors for Donald Trump and Mike Pence. And we've signed an affidavit saying that we would do that.

We were then put on the ballot as Trump and Pence electors. To change our votes going into this meeting would be completely deceptive to the voters of Michigan. Millions of people voted for us as Trump/Pence electors, so I don't think there's any precedence for it.

I think it's absolutely wrong. I know there's an elector in Texas that's talking about it. I think it's shameful. He went through the same process and I think it's deceptive to do that to the voters.

BERMAN: There were some electors who wanted to be briefed on the intelligence that's out there on the Russian hacks into the campaign process. Do you feel like you should have been privy to that information?

BANERIAN: No. Absolutely not. I think there's no precedence for giving national security briefings to presidential electors. Let's not forget a lot of these things are rumors. We are not getting a clear picture. I believe the "New York Times" article that reported on this was an anonymous source which also claimed the RNC was hacked into which was not true.

BERMAN: Michael, we don't have to argue about the nature of the intelligence. The CIA has said clearly they believe that the election was hacked and the Russians were part of it. The FBI actually shares that view. What they say and agree on is that the motives behind it could have been many but one of the possible motives was to help Donald Trump.

Even if it wasn't, the overwhelming intelligence we are being told right now is that the Russians were behind the hacks. I do get your point that a briefing for the electors was unnecessary.

Let me ask you this because you are active in politics, active in Republican politics. This is something no doubt you studied. You are a college Republican, I should tell our viewers.

Do you think that the Electoral College process as written in the constitution and the twelfth amendment, do you think it does allow for electors to vote their will?

BANERIAN: No. I think what it allows is for states to make these decisions. The Constitution lays out the process for the Electoral College and then gives the power to the states. What these states are saying, the process, let's just pretend Michigan doesn't have this faithless elector law.

In Michigan, the state law says that each political party will nominate a slate of electors at their conventions. They will be listed on the ballot as electors for a particular candidate.

I think that what Michigan law says, taking out the faithless elector, is that our electors are chosen by popular vote and those electors by nature are already bound to the Republican candidates in this case.

So I think it's very much constitutional what we are doing right now and I think going against the will of the voters would be going against state law, absent a faithless elector law.

BERMAN: Michael Banerian, Michigan elector who will be casting his vote for Donald Trump today, congratulations on being part of this American process. Thanks so much for joining us.

BANERIAN: Thank you. Thanks for having me on. BERMAN: All right, President Obama makes a big admission about why he believes his party lost the election. An admission that many Democrats are still refusing to make.

Plus First Lady Michelle Obama responds to being labeled a quote, "angry black woman." What she says was the reason behind it.

[11:10:02]Just in, we are learning the fate of 47 orphans who begged to escape Aleppo as bombs fell around them. We will tell you what just happened. Stay with us.


BERMAN: This morning the whole world order might be unraveling with democracy being destroyed. Season's greetings from john McCain. Those strong warnings come from the Republican senator over Russia's election related hacking. Senator McCain is pushing for a special select committee to investigate the alleged cyber-attacks, pressing his case right here on CNN.


SENATOR JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: There is no doubt they were interfering. No doubt it was cyber-attacks. Question now is, how much and what damage and what should the United States of America do. And so far, we have been totally paralyzed. This is serious business. If they're able to harm the electoral process, then they destroy democracy which is based on free and fair elections.


BERMAN: Want to bring in CNN senior political reporter, Manu Raju. Manu, you know, there does seem to be agreement at the senior levels of the Republican Party inside the Senate that Russia hacked into the campaign process, but not necessarily agreement on exactly how to deal with it.

MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL REPORTER: That's exactly right, John. Senior Republican and Democratic senators are amping up calls for a more sweeping investigation into what happened in the election with Russia. Now, McCain along with Republican Senator Lindsey Graham are joining Democratic Senator Jack Reed and the incoming Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer saying there should be a select stand-alone committee looking explicitly at this issue of Russia.

That committee would have a much broader authority to investigate all aspects of the intelligence, even more so than the existing National Security and Foreign Policy Committees on Capitol Hill that already plan to dig into this Russian issue next year.

[11:15:11]Now last week, at a press conference, I asked Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell why he's not backing select committee. This is what he said.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) RAJU: You talked about an investigation. Do you support a separate bipartisan investigation, a commission in any way, or do you want to do this through the intelligence committee?

SENATOR MITCH MCCONNELL (R), MAJORITY LEADER: We are going to follow the regular order. It's an important subject and we intend to review it on a bipartisan basis.


RAJU: Now, McConnell saying regular order can be interpreted as him saying he does not want a special committee, because looking into this could create problems potentially for Donald Trump. Critics believe that the Republican leadership wants this buried and behind closed doors so it won't be a distraction for Trump.

McConnell believes this can be done through the Intelligence Committee which is led by Republican Senator Richard Burr who last week, John, promised a wide-ranging investigation to hear testimony from Obama and Trump officials.

But that will happen in classified private settings and Democrats are worried that those findings will never be aired publicly. So John, expect a lot of pressure for a select committee in the beginning of the new Congress.

BERMAN: You know, one point, Manu. We heard from John McCain. He's the chair of a powerful Senate committee, Armed Services, so in theory, if he doesn't get what he wants out of the Intelligence Committee, could he not too hold hearings himself?

RAJU: He will. He plans to do that. The difference is that he will not have access to the wide scope of intelligence information that's under the purview of the Intelligence Committee that is not under the purview of the Senate Armed Services Committee. Remember, there's 17 intelligence agencies that do not report to the Senate Armed Services Committee.

It would be difficult for him to get some of that intelligence information. So if there's a select committee, they would have presumably access to all of that intelligence. So that is the reason why there is this procedural dispute happening right now. The one that could have a lot of significance.

BERMAN: The mechanics of these are very important. Thanks so much for explaining exactly why. Manu Raju, appreciate it.

RAJU: Thanks, John.

BERMAN: So far, President-elect Trump has refused to publicly accept the notion that Russia hacked into the campaign at all, especially the sense from the CIA last week that it was done to help him win. The Clinton camp is refusing to say if the election was free and fair. This was Clinton campaign chair, John Podesta.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And you believe this was a free and fair election?

JOHN PODESTA, CLINTON CAMPAIGN CHAIRMAN: Well, look, I think the Russians clearly intervened in the election and I think that now we know that both the CIA, the director of National Intelligence, the FBI, all agree that the Russians intervened to help Trump and that as they have noted this week, NBC first revealed that Vladimir Putin was personally involved with that.

So I think that people went to the polls, cast their votes, Hillary Clinton got 2.9 million more votes than Donald Trump, but Donald Trump is claiming the Electoral College victory and tomorrow, the electors will get to vote.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You didn't answer the question. You believe this was a free and fair election?

PODESTA: Well, I think it was distorted by the Russian intervention. Let's put it that way.


BERMAN: All right, let's discuss this more with Democratic strategist, Matt Bennett, Harlan Hill is here. He supported Donald Trump during the election, and Margaret Hoover, CNN political commentator, veteran of two Republican presidential campaigns.

Margaret, I want to start with you here because the Trump team including the incoming chief of staff, Reince Priebus, publicly refusing to sort of accept what is now accepted by Republican leaders in the Senate and stated clearly by CIA and FBI officials that they believe Russia hacked into the election. Listen to Reince Priebus what he said yesterday.


REINCE PRIEBUS, INCOMING WHITE HOUSE CHIEF OF STAFF: I think he would accept the conclusion if these intelligence professionals would get together, put out a report, show the American people that they are actually on the same page, if there is this conclusive opinion among all of the intelligence agencies, then they should issue a report or stand in front of a camera and make the case.


BERMAN: You know, politics, that's what we call muddying the waters a little bit. Why not just say, yes, we have seen this intelligence, the CIA and FBI seem to think that Russia hacked into the election and we think something needs to be done about it?

MARGARET HOOVER, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: It seems clear, that seems perfectly reasonable, John, but it seems clear that Reince, who is representing his boss, the president-elect of the United States, are incredibly uncomfortable acknowledging any sort of meddling from Russia because they think it somehow diminishes the legitimacy of their win. That's what's very clearly at stake here. So it seems to me there's a lack of ability to de-link two things. One, that Russia interfered in the elections and two that it had any outcome on what ended up happening with the election.

[11:20:01]That's actually what needs to be investigated. But I don't think one needs to interfere with the other. I think Donald Trump and Republicans could acknowledge that both things, Russia interfered but then get to the bottom of whether it actually had an outcome on the election. I think that's what they're most worried about.

BERMAN: Harlan, there was no more vocal supporter of Donald Trump during the election than you. No more strenuous supporter of Donald Trump during the election, but we have spoken about this. You think that the Russian hacks into the election system is something that needs to be investigated.


BERMAN: You're backing off now.

HILL: I think it should be investigated, but I actually have not seen a shred of evidence to prove that the Russians were behind it. I have seen unsubstantiated reports and claims of a secret investigation by the CIA --

BERMAN: You do know you have seen the October 7 memo from the DNI and Homeland Security --

HILL: I have it right here.

BERMAN: -- which talks about it. The language is quite clear that they think they've seen the evidence --

HILL: No. What they say is that --

BERMAN: Read the top line.

HILL: It says consistent with the methods and motivations of Russian directed efforts. That's not conclusive at all. That says this looks like the Russians could he done it. That doesn't say we have any evidence to substantiate this claim. This is what Hillary Clinton used in the debate --

BERMAN: Let's not talk about Hillary Clinton. Let's not talk about Hillary Clinton.

HOOVER: Isn't it important to discern whether or not it was the Russians?

HILL: Absolutely. That's why I support an investigation.

BERMAN: Wouldn't it be great if the incoming chief of staff, Reince Priebus, and the president-elect said hey, let's investigate --

HILL: I understand why they're not doing it because it feels like, this smells like an attempt by the Democrats and mainstream media to undermine the incoming president. That's what this feels like it's designed to do.

BERMAN: Is John McCain trying to undermine the incoming president?

HILL: I think he is. I think John McCain and Lindsey Graham are incompatible with Donald Trump. I think that they are neocons.

BERMAN: Is Mitch McConnell, the Senate majority leader, trying to underline the incoming president?

HILL: Once again throughout the entire Republican nominating progress, those three were probably the most vocal adversaries on the Republican side.

HOOVER: In the current climate that makes no sense. Now the Republicans have the House, the Senate and the presidency. John McCain and Lindsey Graham have absolutely no interest on hurting the incoming Republican president. They have policies they want to get through, too.

HILL: They want to steamroll Donald Trump. They think that he could present a force that changes the very dynamics within the Republican Party, the very agenda of the Republican Party away from corporatist interests back to populist message.

MATT BENNETT, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: Give me a break. Look, this is exactly the problem with Trump and his supporters, they see conspiracies around every corner except for the corner where there actually was a conspiracy.

The 17 intelligence agencies have determined the Russians were attempting to influence this election. If that isn't a shred of evidence or quite a bit more than that, I don't know what is? I think John McCain is exactly right.

There's nothing more dangerous to our democracy than for a foreign power, a hostile foreign power, to be trying to impact our elections. It is insane to me that the Trump people are somehow suggesting that we don't even look into that.

HILL: In all due respect, 17 agencies have not provided a shred of evidence, zero.

BENNETT: That's not how it works. These are intelligence agencies. They don't come before cameras and make these kinds of presentations. What has to happen is the elected branches of government, including the president-elect and his team when they get to the White House, have got to cooperate with this and the elected branches of government are the ones who will make the determination.

Intelligence agencies provide the evidence that they are able to gather and then the policy makers are the ones who make the ultimate determination. That's why the investigation is so important.

HOOVER: When 17 agencies come together and they say something, you may not see the evidence. They have a reason for saying it and all this does is foment a lack of trust in our intelligence agencies. It doesn't help --

BERMAN: Hang on. At the risk of letting you off the hook, when you are talking about fomenting mistrust in our process and everything else, Matt, what about what John Podesta said, where he refused to say this was a fair and free election?

HOOVER: Also foments mistrust.

BERMAN: Doesn't that foment distrust in the system? President Obama, by the way, was asked that directly on Friday at his news conference. He used careful language but what he clearly said there's no evidence at all that the electoral process, meaning the ballots and what not, that anything was affected there.

BENNETT: Right. Look, I think I fall closer to where President Obama is. I certainly understand John's instinct to argue that the very close election where the Russians were involved may not have been ultimately free and fair, but I think John would also agree that there was no evidence whatsoever that actual voting was impacted by this.

It's very hard to disaggregate why someone goes to the polls and casts their vote a certain way. But I think it is clear that the Russians were trying to get people to vote a certain way and if that's what they were doing, we need to know that.

BERMAN: Doesn't the way he answered that, though --

HOOVER: It smacks of being a sore loser like be graceful in your loss. Hillary Clinton was graceful in her loss although I know a few days ago, she also was delving into these theories about Russia's interference.

[11:25:11]But the truth is, Democrats haven't been able to sort of own up to the fact and entirely embrace the fact that they for the first time in about 30 years lost white working class non-college educated voters who swung for Donald Trump.

BENNETT: That's not true.

HOOVER: Just say it was free and fair. It foments distrust in the system. That's not good for moving forward. Let the president-elect have his moment of grace in coming into the office.


BENNETT: Look, first of all, it's just not the case that Democrats haven't accepted that. There is widespread acceptance, one, of the fact Donald Trump won the election and will be president and two, we got killed among a very important sector of the electorate we need to do better in. If we are talking about grace, I think you need to be gracious winners as well as losers and I don't think we have seen much grace coming out of the Trump team either.

BERMAN: Let's hope that as we head into the New Year we get grace from both sides.

BENNETT: Indeed.

BERMAN: Guys, thanks so much. I really appreciate it.

As electors across the country make their votes official, they are doing it right now, one historian says there are still five mysteries about this election, including who leaked the "Access Hollywood" tape. We'll discuss.

Plus a man hunt under way for a driver who shot and killed a 3-year- old boy in an act of alleged road rage. Hear what happened when the boy was riding in his grandmother's car.


BERMAN: Some news just in. A big, big development out of North Carolina involving the controversial law over transgender people in bathrooms. Let's go live now to Nick Valencia. Nick, what's going on?

NICK VALENCIA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: John, this was a surprise move this morning by the Charlotte City Council, which voted unanimously to resin their non-discrimination ordinance.