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CNN NEWSROOM

Electoral College Expected to Formalize Trump Win; McCain: World Order May Be "Unraveling"; McCain: World Order May Be "Unraveling"; How Will Trump Affect U.S./Russia Relations?; Trumps Taps Billionaire Vincent Viola As Army Secretary. Aired 9-9:30a ET

Aired December 19, 2016 - 09:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


[09:00:07] ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: That's a good "GOOD STUFF." Time for NEWSROOM with Carol Costello. Good morning, Carol.

CAROL COSTELLO, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning. That is a good "GOOD STUFF." You guys have a great day. NEWSROOM starts now.

And good morning, I'm Carol Costello. Thank you so much for joining me.

The Electoral College on track to seal the deal for President-elect Trump. Today, 538 members will cast ballots across the country. The process, largely seen as a ceremonial one, now taking an unusual step into the spotlight. Next hour, electors at Indiana, in New Hampshire, Tennessee, and West Virginia all expected to begin voting, and the pressure is on.

Some electors are now being urged to break their Party's pledge and vote their conscience. Recent revelations of Russian hacking only adding fuel to the fire. But in order to block Trump from the White House, 37 Republicans electors would need to switch their votes, something highly unlikely.

Let's begin, though, with CNN's Jessica Schneider. Hi, Jessica.

JESSICA SCHNEIDER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Carol. That's right, Michigan's 16 electors will cast their vote right here at the state capitol starting at 2:00 this afternoon. This is largely ceremonial. It will be presided over by the Governor here, Rick Snyder.

Now this vote is actually organized by the Republican Party. All of the electors were chosen at the state party convention back in April. All of these electors are party loyalists.

But you know, despite that, these electors here in Michigan and all over the country, they've been receiving letters asking them to go rogue, to vote their conscience. In fact, one elector right here in Michigan said he's even received death threats. You combine that with the fact that Michigan's own Michael Moore has even taken to Facebook to pledge to pay the fines of any electors who do vote their conscience and don't vote for Donald Trump, both here in Michigan and all over the country.

But as you'll know, 28 states have faithless elector laws. Michigan is one of those states. That means that all of the electors are bound to vote for the candidate that their state voted for. And Republican Party officials right here in Michigan tell me that if one of their electors here was to go rogue, which they say will not happen, they would just simply replace that elector with someone who actually will cast their vote for Donald Trump -- Carol.

COSTELLO: All right. Jessica Schneider reporting live from Lansing, Michigan this morning. So let's talk more about this. With me now is one of those electors, he's from Rhode Island. He's name is Clay Pell. He's a Democrat, and he'll cast his vote in the Electoral College sometime today.

Welcome.

CLAY PELL (D), RHODE ISLAND ELECTOR: Good morning. Thanks for having me, Carol.

COSTELLO: Thanks for being here. So what time do you cast your vote?

PELL: So we, in Rhode Island, will meet at noon in the state house here in Providence, and we will each cast our vote here in Rhode Island. We're all planning to vote for Hillary Clinton.

COSTELLO: So you were one of the electors who signed a letter and then sent the letter to the Director of the National Intelligence Agency asking for a briefing on Russia's role in the election. Did you ever hear back?

PELL: We did hear back. And unfortunately, the information about this unprecedented hack was not released. That's unfortunate because, in the absence of facts, people make up their own facts. And that's why today, in our Electoral College meeting, we will be calling upon the Congress to go ahead and proceed with a bipartisan, independent commission to make sure that the American people have the full information about this unprecedented foreign intervention into our election.

COSTELLO: We have found no evidence that that you're going to get 37 Republican electors to switch sides, and Donald Trump knows that. In fact, he kind of twisted the knife in Alabama for those electors hoping that things will change. He taunted Clinton supporters for assuming this big win before all was said and done. Listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT-ELECT OF THE UNITED STATES: I spent $7 million on fireworks, and they knew something was wrong. One of their people, who's a high level guy, said we made a big mistake. We made a big mistake. We're going to lose. And he was telling that to people, and I felt we were going to win.

But then all of a sudden, they canceled their fireworks a week in and I said, because you know what? I found fireworks just don't work when you lose. Do you agree with that? Just to be cute, we sent an offer in. We offered to buy their fireworks for 5 cents on the dollar.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COSTELLO: So Trump appears to be saying, either jump on the train or get left behind, it is over, stop it.

PELL: Yes, I think that, I mean, President-elect Trump will be formally elected today. And I think it's very important that he focus not on the election and continued divisiveness, but instead on making sure that he stands with the intelligence community and stands up against this Russian intervention.

This is not a partisan issue. That's why we're calling for a bipartisan investigation. And this is something that, I think, all Americans can stand behind.

[09:05:02] COSTELLO: Well, I think that even lawmakers are calling for a bipartisan investigation. But I think that when electors in the Electoral College try to convince others to change their vote, then it becomes, in some Trump supporters' minds, sore losers. And again you got to get on the train, because it's over.

PELL: Oh, well, President Trump is going to be formally elected and that really is going to be the outcome, so our focus is not on persuading or suggesting to others what they should do. Our focus is defending the integrity of the American democracy. And really that's something that all Americans including Trump supporters can get behind. This ultimately will help the legitimacy of President-elect Trump as well.

COSTELLO: Clay Pell, thanks for joining me this morning.

The Russians, namely Vladimir Putin, are shaking the political world in the United States. Senator John McCain said the Russian election related hack threaten to destroy democracy. President Obama is demanding a quick end to the investigation, yet the whole confusing ordeal has made its way into our popular culture and not in a good way.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BECK BENNETT, ACTOR: Mr. Trump, I'm here because your CIA is saying that we Russians tried to make you win election.

ALEC BALDWIN, ACTOR: I know. All lies made up by some very bitter people who need to move on.

BENNETT: So you trust me more than American CIA?

BALDWIN: All I know is I won.

BENNETT: Wow. Wow, this guy is blowing my mind.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COSTELLO: Sometimes you just need to laugh, right? But it's no laughing matter in Russia. Clarissa Ward is following the story in Moscow. Hi, Clarissa.

CLARISSA WARD, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Carol. Well, so far the Kremlin will not really be drawn on in terms of responding to President Obama's press conference. They said that we have given our answer so many times to this issue. We have objected strenuously to these accusations since they first emerged two months ago. And there has not been really, Carol, any shift whatsoever in that.

CNN did try to ask the Kremlin spokesperson today, as well, what the content of the conversation between President Obama and President Putin back in September was. You may remember that, in his press conference, President Obama said that he told Putin, quote, "to cut it out," but the Kremlin spokesperson said he would not be revealing any details of those conversations because they are private conversations.

Unofficially, though, I think it's fair to say that Russia is kind of relishing its moment in the sun here, relishing the idea that it could have the kind of power and sway that would be needed to pull off such an audacious move such as swinging the U.S. election.

And as far as the party line goes, it's really just a case of the Russians are saying there's no credible, physical, tangible evidence here. What you are bringing to the table is circumstantial evidence. We are not seeing actual proof of any Russian involvement, and until we do see that proof, and, Carol, perhaps once we see it, even, we will continue to deny it. Carol.

COSTELLO: All right. Clarissa Ward, stay with us because still to come in the NEWSROOM, Russians hacking the U.S. election, the Chinese stealing of an American drone submarine, the slaughter inside Syria. Why Senator John McCain says, right now, we may be witnessing the unraveling of the world order.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[09:11:45] COSTELLO: Transition of power alert to tell you about now. Donald Trump has announced he intends to nominate U.S. Army Infantry Officer and current Virtu Financial Founder and Executive Chairman Vincent "Vinnie" Viola as the Secretary of the Army. This is another billionaire that Donald Trump wants to appoint to his staff and Cabinet. He also owns the NHL team, The Panthers. We're going to talk a little bit more about this in just five minutes, so bear with me here.

Make no mistake, though, some American politicians are deeply, deeply concerned about the hacking of the American presidential election. The Republican Senator John McCain actually said the hack, coupled with world events, signals an unraveling of the world order. Listen to what he told Jake Tapper on "STATE OF THE UNION."

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: What's happening here when we see the seizure of these ships, when we see the cyberattacks, when we see the dismemberment of Syria, when we see the tragedies that are taking place there which are heartbreaking, absolutely heartbreaking, while we sat by and watched all these happen, this is the sign of a possible unraveling of the world order that was established after World War II. We're starting to see the strains and the unraveling of it, and that is because of an absolute failure of American leadership. When America doesn't lead, a lot other bad people do.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COSTELLO: So let's talk about this and more. With me now, CNN Military Analyst Major General Spider Marks. I'm also, again, joined by Senior International Correspondent Clarissa Ward. She's in Moscow.

General, is Senator McCain right?

MAJ. GEN. JAMES "SPIDER" MARKS (RET.), CNN MILITARY ANALYST: Well, he is. To a certain degree, he certainly is. I would not say that it's a complete unraveling, but if you look at the verb, unraveling really speaks to a very slow atrophy of American influence.

Clearly, we have seen a decline of America making itself felt internationally in an incredibly powerful and very clear way, and actions are being conducted right now without consequence. The United States needs to be able to reassert itself. So there isn't too much daylight, I would say, between my assessment and Senator McCain's.

COSTELLO: OK. So when you talk about action, perhaps you're talking about what's happening within Syria, something Clarisse Ward knows about in and out. So when you're in those war-torn regions, Clarissa, do people mention President Obama and the United States, or do they talk more about Russia?

WARD: Well, this is so interesting, Carol. And actually, not to shamelessly plug my own material but I just wrote a piece for CNN's website with Tim Lister about 2016, and one of the things I particularly talk about is the sort of rejiggering of the world order but also what it's like to be in Syria nowadays.

Where before, in the beginning of the uprising, 2011, everybody wanted to know about what President Obama would do and what the U.S. was thinking and people were talking about democracy and people were talking about freedom.

[09:14:56] Fast forward five years later and we see a radically different landscape for many different reasons, but on my most recent trip, what people were asking me about was what's president Putin doing? What's behind his logic? And really, President Obama only came up occasionally in conversation. And even then, that was more just to voice sort of bitter disappointment on behalf of the Syrian people who I was with, who I should stress were supporters of the rebellion.

So it's absolutely clear that the influence of the U.S. has certainly waned, particularly in the Middle East, but also in other areas, as well. And there's a real question mark now as to how and if that might change under President-elect Donald Trump -- Carol. COSTELLO: And that leads into my next question for you, General Marks. How -- how might it change? Because Senator McCain does not like Russia and Vladimir Putin. He doesn't like what they're doing within Syria. I don't think many people realize that Russia is working with Iran inside Syria. So what will Donald Trump do about that?

MARKS: Well, Carol, the key issue right now is does the United States want to compete or does it want to cooperate? Whether that's with Russia or whether that's with China or other bad actors and non-state actors that are out there.

And clearly with the case of Russia, we have to establish where we find a confluence of interest. That's how you begin a conversation. Clearly with the Russian hacking into our electoral process is a good place to start.

Look, what we have right now, and what we see online is what is described as an ungoverned common. People do what they want, when they want, online. The risks of that are not dissimilar to a cataclysmic event that could occur.

I mean, we talk about this right now in political terms, but clearly, that too narrowly defines the risk. We could -- you know, Russia or anyone could shut down a large portion of our financial system and power grids.

We need to -- Carol, to answer your question, we need to be able to begin a conversation, and the risks are high, if we don't, and we need to be able to establish where is there common ground?

We should go to Russia right now and hold up a piece of paper a say look, you guys did this, of course, we know you did this. We can talk about tensions all day. We can try to talk about causality in that Russia about this, therefore Donald Trump won, I think that's a false narrative.

But my point is we can go forward and say, look, we've got to acknowledge that you were running wild and free online, you have got capabilities and we have capabilities and we need to put those on the table, discuss what we can and establish some protocols.

Right now, it just doesn't exists and I think we could agree to have that conversation with Russia and make some progress. Then we could bring other nations on board.

COSTELLO: So Clarissa, how might Moscow welcome that kind of conversation?

WARD: I think Moscow would welcome that kind of conversation because ultimately, if the Russians are one thing, it is very pragmatic, and they see quite clearly that U.S. and Russian interests could align much more than they have previously.

Now I think in terms of the U.S.' approach to this potential new chapter in the relationship it will depend a lot on what the U.S. is hoping to get out of this geopolitically.

There are a number of perfectly sensible reasons to favor a closer tie to Russia. Some of them you just heard the general mention in terms of averting further escalation in the cyber warfare, but there's also a lot of people talking about analysts discussing the idea that by working together more closely with Russia, you potentially put a lot of pressure on China.

And that perhaps this is a way of further isolating China, bringing them to the negotiating table. We know Donald Trump feels very strongly that their economic practices have hurt the U.S. a lot.

And finally, I would say there's another argument to be made that by essentially trying to rein the Russians in, and embrace them, you are, in a way, also, as the U.S., almost containing them in terms of what they can do.

Because the narrative here in Russia, from President Putin that the U.S. is the bad man, the U.S. is the evil empire, the U.S. is trying to contain and encroach on Russia, if you take that narrative away, then potentially you take away the excuses needed for more aggressive behavior on the world stage -- Carol.

COSTELLO: OK, I want to switch topics for just a second and talk about Trump's pick for secretary of the Army because General Marks, I know that you know Vincent Vinnie Viola. Tell us about him, will he make a good secretary of the Army?

MARKS: I can tell you he's a wonderful person so I would have to assume he's going to make a magnificent secretary of the Army. Vinnie Viola is a great American story. He's a Brooklyn kid who pulls himself up, gets appointed to the military academy, graduates from West Point, was an infantry officer, served honorably.

And then he departs service, he gets into the financial services, and makes a ton of money, and makes a difference as a result of that. You know, that immediately after 9/11, Vinnie Viola, made a donation to the military academy.

So that the military academy could more broadly study terrorism, all of its roots.

[09:20:03]Create a counterterrorism center so that there might be some synergies, academic synergies that could take place so that there could be learning done immediately on the he's of this cataclysmic event that changed our lives forever.

And West Point was at the forefront of that only because Vinnie Viola said here I want to stroke a check. I want this to happen. So here's an individual who has done extremely well by doing extremely good things for others. I think he's going to be a magnificent pick.

COSTELLO: I just want to ask you one more thing because I've done so many stories on this opening of combat roles to women. Do you think that that will be rolled back under a Trump administration? MARKS: No. I don't think so at all, Carol. I think that opening all roles to women is a magnificent thing. The problem we get into is if there's some type of oversight, and if floors are established, minimums, are established by our Congress, we're totally hosed.

What we have to be able to do is say, all soldiers, irrespective of gender, all soldiers come in, try, if you meet the standards, we're not going to lower the standards, but if you meet the standards, you're a part of the team. I think we can go forward. If we get meddling by Congress, that's going to ruin the whole thing.

COSTELLO: All right. I have to leave it there. General Spider Marks and Clarissa Ward, thanks so much.

Still to come in the NEWSROOM, on the day Donald Trump's election will almost certainly be confirmed by the Electoral College, President Obama is weighing in on what went wrong for Democrats, maybe (inaudible) in the future --

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[09:25:03]

COSTELLO: And good morning. I'm Carol Costello. Thank you so much for joining me. It's 30 minutes from now, electors in states like New Hampshire and Indiana will officially begin casting their ballot for president of the United States.

The process, largely viewed as a ceremonial one to formally lock in the commander-in-chief, but for one elector today's vote isn't just about casting a ballot. It's about living the American dream. Sara Sidner live in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. Hi, Sara.

SARA SIDNER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Carol. Yes, Ash Khare is an immigrant from India. He came here with $8 in his pocket and a scholarship to university and a couple of degrees, and he says he came here and he was so poor, but he had a dream and he is now living the American dream.

And this is a very special day for him. He talked about the fact that he will be the first Indian-American to vote the president of the United States into office. And when asked about voting for Donald Trump, here's what he said.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

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. That's all and this is the beauty of America. You don't need family connections. What you need is hard work and loyalty. You have to have a dream. Like I told you, man of La Mancha. Dream the impossible dream. I am so honored that Mr. Trump picked me to be one of the 20 electors and this is making history for me.

SIDNER: A personal history? KHARE: Yes.

SIDNER: As well.

KHARE: To helping elect the next president against all odds.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SIDNER: He has certainly paid a price for his opinion, and for his decision to go with Pennsylvania's electorate, which voted for Donald Trump. He has been receiving, this is just an example of some of the letters he's received not just from here in Pennsylvania, but from all over the country and the world.

He says he's received thousands of letters, so many that the post office has a designated person just for him because he was getting so much mail, as well as e-mails and phone calls. But he says there is nothing that will sway him today. He is voting for Donald Trump. And he says, so are the other 19 electors here in Pennsylvania -- Carol.

COSTELLO: All right. Sara Sidner, many thanks. Let's talk about that and more. With me now is David Swerdlick, CNN political commentator and assistant editor for "The Washington Post," and Patricia Murphy, columnist for "The Daily Beast" and "Roll Call." Welcome to both of you.

So Patricia when you see stories like that, and I know we talk about the Electoral College and we talk about the controversy surrounding it this year, but when you see stories like that, you think good things about America, right?

PATRICIA MURPHY, COLUMNIST, "THE DAILY BEAST": You do. And you know, I think throughout this process reporting on the election, I have told a lot of people, reporting on the high level of the election was very difficult. It was very controversial. It was very ugly. It was very negative.

But talking to individual voters, really kind of restored my faith in America. Even when the leadership was having a hard times being the best of America. I really found the voters were finding the best in America and they were more hopeful and sounded a lot more hopeful even than the people who are trying to lead them were. So we're going to start like that, it's very reflective of my own experience on the campaign trail this year.

COSTELLO: I know, he was so lovely, had tears in his eyes. But you know, still, there is controversy surrounding the Electoral College, or at least there's negative talk, right, David. So you have to wonder how long will all of this stuff last? Will this all go away in a couple of months? Everyone will be on the same page and -- and wanting to work with the new president-elect?

DAVID SWERDLICK, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: I think it's going to be a mixed bag, Carol. I fully expect the Electoral College to put President-elect Trump in place today. There may be a couple of faithless electors who decide that their constitutional duty and their conscience dictates that they vote, even if they're Republican electors that they vote against President Trump.

But that's not going to stop President Trump from becoming president of the United States, from becoming inaugurated on January 20th. Then we'll have to move forward from there. I think there's been a lot of drama and buildup during this transition feared and we'll continue to see it.

There are a lot of unanswered questions from the administration about their picks and about conflicts of interest. But I think ultimately, President-elect Trump or President Trump will be judged by the American people by voters based on the job that he does once he actually is in power.

COSTELLO: So one thing is for sure, Patricia, Democrats will continue to soul search and try to figure out how they got it so strong this time around. President Obama gave an interview to NPR and he said Democrats didn't show up in the states that they needed to be in. And he's talking about Hillary Clinton. Listen.