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CNN NEWSROOM

Trump Brushes Off Russian Election Hack Intel; Electoral College Expected to Formalize Trump Win; Interview with Ayla Brown; Bana Alabed Safe from Aleppo; Manhunt Underway for Killer of 3-year- old Boy; Jon Stewart's Fight for 9-11 First Responders. Aired 10:30- 11a ET

Aired December 19, 2016 - 10:30   ET

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


[10:30:00] CLARISSA WARD, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Battle brewing. They see squabbling between U.S. intelligence agencies. They see Democratic institutions in the U.S. seriously rattled after this hacking, and that all is frankly music to their ears. Officially the Russian party line has always been to strenuously deny any involvement with this hacking.

I wouldn't expect that to change even if after this investigation, we do see some concrete physical, tangible evidence, although I think from speaking to analysts it's clear that it's actually kind of difficult to produce that kind of smoking gun, if you like, because so much of this is more of an art than it is a science, sort of trying to put together a larger picture and extrapolate based on your knowledge of hacking in general.

So I wouldn't expect the Russians to change their line here at all. I don't think they're trembling in their boots about what President Obama is going to do to retaliate for these hacks. The Russians perceive President Obama as being weak and they have seen before with the annexation of Crimea, with red lines in Syria, et cetera, that most of their actions have not really brought many consequences beyond of course sanctions.

Those sanctions have hurt their economy but a lot of people here are now hopeful that under President-elect Donald Trump and with the potential Secretary of State Rex Tillerson those sanctions could be repealed.

CAROL COSTELLO, CNN ANCHOR: OK. So, Congressman, in light of what Clarissa Ward just said, would it behoove Donald Trump to talk tougher about Russia since Russian leaders are sort of sitting back and saying this is great, look at America, they are going through all this angst?

REP. DENNIS ROSS, MEMBER, DONALD TRUMP'S TRANSITION TEAM: Well, as Clarissa pointed out, for the last eight years we have had no tough policy with Russia. We need to be tough with Russia but we also have to be --

(CROSSTALK)

COSTELLO: But it doesn't seem like we're going to have -- it doesn't seem like we're going to have a tough policy on Russia going forward either.

ROSS: We're 34 days -- we're 34 days away from an inauguration, 33, I guess now, and you are going to see this change. I mean, Rex Tillerson as secretary of State, who has good relations with Russia which is going to be necessary if we're going to be able to demand the -- what we want out of Russia which is not only cooperation but look, you know, we've got to flex our muscle as well. We can't run from it like we have for the last eight years. We can't draw a line in the sand and then do nothing when it's crossed. We've got to be able to assert ourselves.

COSTELLO: So how -- how does the Trump team plan to flex its muscle in Russia?

ROSS: We're still putting together a team here but I would tell you, we've got some all-stars on this team that will make sure that we do not allow for Russia to have its way with the United States or its electoral process.

I mean, Carol, you've got to look at who he's putting in these offices. Mike Pompeo, my colleague, as CIA director. I mean, Nick Mulvaney, OMB director. These are people that are very good at what they do. Dr. Tom Price with HHS, Rex Tillerson as secretary of State, my gosh, Mad Dog Mattis. These are people with whom Donald Trump will surround himself to make sure that we don't have the last eight years that we had submitting ourselves to Russia.

COSTELLO: All right. I have to leave it there.

Congressman Dennis Ross, Clarissa Ward, thanks to both of you.

Still to come in the NEWSROOM, bombarded by thousands of letters and phone calls. Why one elector says nothing will stop him from casting a ballot for Donald Trump.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[10:36:30] COSTELLO: Voting now under way for some members of the Electoral College. Throughout the day electors will be officially casting ballots. And despite some pressure by activists to break the party pledge, it is expected that President-elect' Donald Trump's win will be formalized.

Sara Sidner is live in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. Good morning.

SARA SIDNER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good morning. Yes, the electors are inside the state capitol here. They are practicing before their big moment which will come at noon. We were able to speak with a couple of the electors about what it is they're going to do and some of the pressure that they have been facing. One of those electors, Ash Khare, was an immigrant from India. He came here with $8 in his pocket and a couple of diplomas and had a scholarship.

And to him this is a momentous moment in his own personal life but also for America. And he says no matter how many thousands of letters and e-mails and phone calls that he's been getting over the past few weeks, he is voting for Trump.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ASH KHARE, PENNSYLVANIA ELECTOR: These people believe that because they sent this letter I will change my vote. The people sending me e- mails believe, honestly believe, that if they sent me an e-mail I'll change my vote.

SIDNER: And will you?

KHARE: No.

SIDNER: You're going Trump for sure?

KHARE: Yes. And you know why? Because Trump won Pennsylvania fair and square, and I have not seen anything from the election to today of anything that he has done that will change my mind.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SIDNER: Now Khare is a life-long Republican. He became a Republican after about 10 years of being in this country in the 1980s. And if you look at that table and you saw all those letters stacked up, that's just from the past three days. He says he's received so much mail but a lot of them are form letters and he's just not swayed by those who are writing, who by the way are writing from as far away as Japan -- Carol.

COSTELLO: Sara Sidner, reporting live from Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. Thank you.

So many Republicans are excited about a Trump presidency, including Ayla Brown. She is former Senator Scott Brown's daughter, who was a force in her own right. Brown is a country pop singer based in Nashville. She sang the national anthem at the Republican National Convention.

I sat down with her to talk about the Republican Party, millennials and how we can heal as a nation.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

COSTELLO: Were you aware that what you were doing was part of history?

AYLA BROWN, SINGER: No. Not at the time. And let me tell you, I was just as surprised as everyone to know that Donald Trump was going to be our candidate.

COSTELLO: So Donald Trump was not your number one choice?

BROWN: No. He was not my number one choice.

COSTELLO: Who was?

BROWN: At the time it was Rubio. COSTELLO: The country appears so divided. Why do you think that is?

BROWN: I think in some ways we are. In some ways we aren't. For example, I live in Tennessee. When the smoky mountains literally caught on fire, people came out of the woodwork and we weren't divided in any sense.

COSTELLO: What will it take to heal the divide?

BROWN: I know that words hurt but I think people need to develop a little bit of a tougher skin and understand that you and I, we may not have the same opinions on abortion or taxes or whatever, but, like, don't bring me down because I don't believe in the same things you do.

COSTELLO: I guess I'm intrigued by developing a thicker skin. Not letting words affect you so much.

BROWN: People just hide behind words on a computer screen, especially people in my generation.

[10:40:07] COSTELLO: Some people thought that Donald Trump's rhetoric was racist. Was that fair?

BROWN: Fair in what regard? For them to think that or for Donald Trump to say it?

COSTELLO: Both.

BROWN: I don't think -- I think that can definitely be debated. There are things that Donald Trump has said that I didn't agree with, you know. However, for me, like I said before, it came down to policy and how I saw the rest of the country shaping up in terms of our strength.

COSTELLO: So in your mind, you could ignore --

BROWN: I could.

COSTELLO: Those things that he said?

BROWN: And I did ignore it. And that's why I voted for him.

COSTELLO: Even though it might have been hurtful to others who couldn't ignore it?

BROWN: Correct.

COSTELLO: See, they would probably look at you and say really? You just don't get what it's like then to be African-American or Muslim American or --

BROWN: Nope. But I will say that I've had, you know, black boyfriends growing up, I've been to the Middle East to sing for the troops. My name is Turkish. I mean, that doesn't mean I hate one group of people or the other. I'm not racist. It just means that I have a different viewpoint on how I think that our country should be run.

COSTELLO: Right now you are focused on policy.

BROWN: As I have said before, culturally speaking, and socially speaking, I'm more moderate to left than I am conservative.

COSTELLO: Support gay marriage?

BROWN: Yes. Yes. I played women's basketball.

COSTELLO: Oh gosh.

BROWN: I mean, I'm totally cool with gay marriage. Yes. And some of my best friends are gay and I have married women, you know, and guy friends have married guys. And if they ask me to be in their wedding, I would never say no.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT-ELECT: I will do everything in my power --

BROWN: He was the first GOP candidate who gave a shout-out at the RNC, because I was there, to those in the gay and lesbian community.

TRUMP: -- to protect our LGBTQ citizens.

BROWN: The crowd actually gave him a resounding applause. That was an amazing moment for the Republican Party.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

COSTELLO: That was Ayla Brown.

Michelle Obama has some advice for the incoming first lady, Melania Trump. She talked about their meeting at the White House in an interview with Oprah Winfrey which aired on CBS this morning.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OPRAH WINFREY, HOST: Do you have any advice for Mrs. Trump?

MICHELLE OBAMA, FIRST LADY: You know, I didn't -- we didn't -- we talked about the kids but, you know, my offer to Melania was, you know, you really don't know what you don't know until you're here so the door is open, as I've told her, and as Laura Bush told me, you know, and as other first ladies told me. So I'm not new in this going high thing. I mean, I'm modeling -- I'm modeling what was done for me by the Bushes.

WINFREY: Right.

OBAMA: And Laura Bush was nothing but gracious and helpful and her team was right there for my team all throughout this entire eight-year process.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COSTELLO: Still to come in the NEWSROOM, she captured the world's attention by tweeting while trapped inside war-torn Syria. Now as thousands are evacuated from a city under siege, 7-year-old Bana Alabad is rescued.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[10:46:36] COSTELLO: Thousands of Syrian civilians are being shuttled out of eastern Aleppo this morning as evacuations finally resumed and now the U.N. Security Council has voted to approve a draft resolution that would call for the monitoring of the evacuation of these civilians as they leave the city.

One of the many who are now safe, Bana Alabad. She is now in the countryside of the Aleppo Province. The 7-year-old captured worldwide attention after tweeting from eastern Aleppo with her mother as the bombs rained down on their home.

Here's what her mom said after they were evacuated.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

FATEMAH ALABAD, BANA'S MOTHER: We are happy because our voice reached to all the world and we are felling -- I am sad because I leave my country, I leave my soul there. I want to take our freedom there but not be like a refugee in other countries. I want for my kids' good future.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COSTELLO: CNN's international correspondent Muhammad Lila has more for you.

MUHAMMAD LILA, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Carol, a number of fast-moving and major developments on the ground today. First and most importantly, these evacuations have resumed and they are continuing so far uninterrupted.

Turkish officials tell us about 20,000 people have now been evacuated from the eastern part of Aleppo. They were in those few remaining neighborhoods that the rebels had left completely surrounded by Syrian government forces.

Now in tandem with that, some civilians in a couple of villages that had been surrounded by militant rebel groups are also being allowed to leave those villages. So effectively it's not just an evacuation anymore. It's almost like an evacuation transfer. People are moving different locations simultaneously.

The U.N. tells us that in eastern Aleppo, they were also able to rescue 47 orphans that were in an orphanage. They say that some of those orphans needed urgent medical care and they are now getting that urgent medical care. So certainly some good news there.

Now as all of this is happening on the ground, there are some key diplomatic developments as well. The U.N. Security Council has approved a resolution that will allow U.N. monitors to be on the ground and monitor this evacuation plan. And of course, this is crucial because as we saw over the weekend, all it takes is one rogue militant group to take matters into their own hands, as happened over the weekend, where they went and they torched some of these buses that were heading to some of these smaller villages to evacuate civilians.

As that -- and that scuttled the entire plan over the weekend. But with U.N. observers soon to be on the ground with this resolution passed there's real hope now that the evacuation will have an extra level of guarantee that it will continue over the next several hours and in fact, the next several days. Now looking at the bigger picture, we understand there's going to be a very important meeting tomorrow between the foreign ministers of Turkey, Iran and Russia.

Now these are the key players on the ground. They all have military components to their involvement in Syria and we understand that the Defense ministers of those countries are going to be meeting as well. So it's not just talking about a diplomatic solution but potentially a military solution.

[10:50:00] And that is key, because now that Aleppo has essentially been retaken by the Syrian government, the question becomes what happens to the revolution, what happens to the rebellion and what happens to all of the groups on the ground that are fighting, and there may be some more clarity when this meeting happens tomorrow -- Carol.

COSTELLO: Muhammad Lila reporting for us this morning, thank you.

Here in the United States a manhunt now under way in Little Rock, Arkansas, after a young boy is killed while on a shopping trip. 3- year-old Acen King was riding in the car with his grandma. She was apparently driving too slowly for the man behind her. He got out of his car with a gun.

CNN's Polo Sandoval has more.

POLO SANDOVAL, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Hey, carol. Police here in Little Rock have very little to go on at this point. Only a vague suspect and vehicle description so they are now offering a $20,000 reward for any information leading up to the arrest and conviction of the individual who fired the shot that ended the life of a 3-year-old little boy.

Here's what we know about that tragic incident that took place on the city's southwest side on Saturday. We are told by investigators that a driver of a black older model Impala became upset with the 47-year- old grandmother who was at a stop sign in front of him so he honked and then proceeded to get out of his vehicle, fired one shot. The grandmother then reportedly assumed that this individual had just fired into the air so she proceeded to a local retail store which is where she was heading with two toddlers who are in the backseat.

When she looked at her car, saw bullet holes, she knew something was terribly wrong. Looked inside the backseat -- looked in the backseat and saw her 3-year-old grandson Acen King was lumped over. The 1- year-old little boy next to him was not injured. Sadly, little Acen was taken to the hospital where he died. At this point now investigators are hoping that the public, that

someone saw something so they are pleading with the public including some members of the churches there as well.

This is now a second young life to be taken after a shooting there in Little Rock in only a month. The previous incident likely not road rage. However, investigators believe that was the case in this particular situation here that played out in Little Rock over the weekend -- Carol.

COSTELLO: So, Polo, this suspect just got out of his car and opened fire?

SANDOVAL: That's what investigators believe happened. Apparently this woman was just not moving fast enough for him so that is when, according to police, he honked and then got out of that older model black Impala, shot one time. Grandma then proceeded to that store, thinking that he had just shot up into the air. It wasn't until she looked at her car and saw that bullet hole and then looked at the backseat that she saw -- that she spotted her grandson that was fatally wounded.

So again, there's still a lot of questions involved in this case, though, as police continue to search for a suspect.

COSTELLO: All right. Polo Sandoval, reporting live for us this morning, thank you.

Checking some other top stories at 52 minutes past. A freezing cold arctic blast is spreading across the country. To give you an idea of just how cold it is, here's a look at Kansas City. The Tennessee game had felt like 9 degrees below zero. Despite the cold crushing temperatures the Tennessee Titans, the team from the warm state, they won 19-17.

This cold snap is bringing freezing temperatures as far south as Texas, though, but there is some good news. Warmer temperatures are expected by the end of the week. So there's a big Christmas present for you right there.

The tap water now safe to drink again in Corpus Christi, Texas. Bathing and cooking are also OK. That's according to the EPA. The tap water was off-limits for four days after a chemical leak. It's not clear where that chemical came from. They believe it came from asphalt in some way. They are still investigating, of course.

Actress and socialite Zsa Zsa Gabor died at the age of 99. Her spokesman says she passed away of heart failure in her Bel-Air home. The Hungarian born actress got her break in the 1952 movie "Moulin Rouge." But she was best known for making cameo. She appeared in "The Naked Gun 2" and a half -- of course you can see her there, she was slapping a police officer that. That was a joke because she actually did that in real life. But she was beloved by many. We say good-bye to Zsa Zsa Gabor.

The force is strong with "Star Wars" this weekend. "Rogue One," the first stand-alone "Star Wars" movie, took in a whopping $155 million in the U.S. and $290 million around the world. That's expected to go up significantly next month when the movie opens in China.

It's been a year since he left his gig as host of "The Daily Show." Now Jon Stewart is speaking out about his post-comedy -- about his post-Comedy Central life including his work on behalf of first responders to the September 11th terror attacks.

Here's Sara Ganim.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

SARA GANIM, CNN INVESTIGATIONS CORRESPONDENT: I mean, what was the frustration --

JON STEWART, COMEDIAN: I'm not supposed to curse on CNN, right?

GANIM: Well, you can but --

STEWART: No.

GANIM: We have editing.

STEWART: You know, it was an exercise in being appalled. They would literally have to chase down Congress people in the hallways and they would hide when they knew those guys were coming. I mean, it was -- it was outrageous.

[10:55:03] And these are the same people that are tweeting out every year never forget the heroes of 9/11. And what these guys witnessed down here was, you know, incomparable in terms of its madness and horror. And I -- you know, peace of mind is a big part of navigating these types of ailments and illnesses. The veterans are in the same position. So the idea that it was -- that they spent an incredible amount of energy and stress battling their own government to prove that, you know, I understand, look, everybody doesn't want to worry about waste, fraud and abuse but not sure this is, you know, let's shift the benefit of the doubt in certain instances like this.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

COSTELLO: More than 75,000 people have already enrolled in the program which is known as the Zadroga Act. But supporters say another 30,000 who qualify have not yet signed up.

Thank you so much for joining me today. I'm Carol Costello. "AT THIS HOUR WITH BERMAN AND BOLDUAN" after a break.

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