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Report: Tillerson Mentioned "Close Relationship" With Putin; Governor McCrory Concedes To Democratic Challenger Cooper; North Carolina Lawmakers Mulling Repeal Of "Bathroom Law"; Israeli Ambassador Backs U.S. Embassy Move; Final Evacuations Underway in Aleppo; Trump Q&A. Aired 4:30-5p ET

Aired December 21, 2016 - 16:30   ET


S.E. CUPP, CNN POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: I just think this could backfire.

[16:30:00] When you have people like Condoleezza Rice backing up Rex Tillerson as a man of integrity and skill and talent, if they go real hard against him and it turns out he has got fantastic answers, then I think they sort of blew their one opportunity to make an example of a Trump appointee that has some sort of nefarious background.

Let's not forget. If we're going to look at former secretaries of state, with interesting/troubling relationships with overseas actors and world leaders, no one epitomizes that more than Hillary Clinton who came in with relationships, both political, personal and profitable with overseas actors. So I think -- I think Democrats might be over-pushing on the Rex Tillerson.

JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: Let's turn to this one interesting story about Dr. Harold Bornstein.


TAPPER: Who we all recall as President-elect Trump's personal physician. "Stat News," which is a national publication focusing on health and medicine. I know you read it all the time. They nabbed an interview with Dr. Bornstein. He said he had zero concerns about Trump's health saying, quote, "It never occurred to me that he was the oldest president. Not for a second."

Seems an interesting thing for a doctor not to be concerned, focused on science. He said he does not anticipate sharing information about the president-elect's health on a regular basis adding, quote, "If something happens to him then it happens to him.

It's like all the rest of us know. That's why we have a vice president and a speaker of the House and a whole line of people. They can just keep dying."

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: At least he didn't promise that Donald Trump is going to live forever.

TAPPER: And I appreciate his knowledge of the line of succession. What do you make of this?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I think we know now why he declared Trump the healthiest president ever because he didn't realize at the time he was also going to be the oldest president ever.

TAPPER: Maybe he thought he was going to be the youngest president.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Given that this is the guy who did the top-to- bottom analysis of the president's health that we actually probably know very little about it, which tells us nothing about whether he's healthy or unhealthy.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: He just sounds like a Muppet doctor, a cartoon doctor, some kind of Muppet creation. I cannot get enough of this guy.

TAPPER: I just think, you know, there is going to be --


TAPPER: Please, don't put ideas in the president-elect's head. There is going to be an official physician, usually somebody from the Navy. I just hope that the president-elect avails himself of that medical expertise.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Apparently they haven't talked since the election. That was also in the interview.

TAPPER: Whoo! Anyway, guys, thank you so much! Merry Christmas.

Stick around, actually. News from the Trump transition team. He has tapped Carl Icahn, a billionaire and a friend as a special adviser on regulatory reform. We're also getting word that President-elect Trump will address reporters at his Mar-a-Lago estate. We'll take you to that live when it happens. We'll take a quick break. Stay with us.



TAPPER: In other politics news -- hold on one second. Right there you're looking at a picture of Mar-a-Lago. We're expecting President- elect Donald Trump to come out and talk to the media any minute. When that happens, we will bring that to you live.

He has been huddling with national security officials for most of the day and we could see some of those generals and admirals as well. We'll bring that to you as soon as he comes out.

In other politics news now, a turbulent transition of power happening in the state of North Carolina. First there was a month-long bitter dispute over the governor's race. The current governor, Pat McCrory, a Republican, finally conceding to his Democratic challenger, Roy Cooper last week. Cooper won by about 5,000 votes.

Then perhaps even more shockingly, within days of that concession, the outgoing Republican governor and the current Republican legislature worked together to strip powers from the governor's office causing the editorial page of the "Raleigh News Observer" to say that McCrory, quote, "Had one final chance to redeem his pride and demonstrate strength in statesmanship and failed," unquote.

McCrory first made national headlines, of course, with the so-called "bathroom law" following months of intense criticism and some economic backlash. Right now, North Carolina lawmakers are mulling over repealing the controversial law, which would require everyone including transgender individuals to use the bathroom for the gender they were assigned at birth.

Let's bring in CNN's Nick Valencia. He is in Raleigh, North Carolina. Nick, state lawmakers have been in this special session all day reconsidering HB2, the so-called "Bathroom Law." What's going on? What's the update?

NICK VALENCIA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Jake, there has been no shortage of drama today in the North Carolina legislature. The day started with a Republican representative starting in the House chambers by saying today's special session was unconstitutional and anything that happens here should be null and void.

The day went forward anyway, but it was not void of fireworks. It was just about an hour ago that Senate Bill 4 was introduced by the Republican leadership. It is not a full repeal, what State Democrats were anticipating.

Senate Bill 4, it's called repeal HB2, but it is not a full repeal, as I mentioned. It grants a six-month moratorium on non-discrimination revisions meaning that there are other city councils in the state that cannot follow what Charlotte did earlier this year.

The drama kicking off in February, HB2 being a direct reaction to that. There was a lot of anxiety going into today. Some optimism among state lawmakers that there could be a full repeal of HB2. That was expected to happen by midday and we're still waiting -- Jake.

TAPPER: And Nick, explain to us how the outgoing governor, Pat McCrory's new laws will limit the power of his Democratic successor.

VALENCIA: I mentioned the anxiety going into today. A lot of that being amongst State Democrats because of what happened last special session. That session was called under the guise of Hurricane Matthew relief funding. What it did, eventually, was strip powers of the incoming governor, Governor-elect Roy Cooper.

Among those things, there used to be until last week the ability for the North Carolina governor to make some unilateral appointments. Some of those have been taken away. They now have to be approved by the legislature. Sixty six education appointments have been now taken away from Governor-elect Roy Cooper down to zero.

And also his staff has been reduced by hundreds. There has been a lot of back and forth between these two parties over the course of the last ten months. There should be no explanation that this law, HB2 has cost state tens of millions of dollars, upwards of around $650 million is the estimate.

Today we had heard that a deal was brokered between the Democratic leadership and the Republican leadership in the state. Democrats were expected to take care of the Charlotte City Council, rescinding that initial nondiscrimination ordinance and the Republicans were anticipated to put forward a bill that would repeal House Bill 2. That has not happened just yet -- Jake.

TAPPER: All right, Nick Valencia in North Carolina, thank you so much.

In just minutes, we're expecting President-elect Donald Trump to emerge from inside his Mar-a-Lago estate and speak to reporters. We'll take a quick break. We'll be right back.



TAPPER: Any minute now we are expecting President-elect Donald Trump to walk down the stairs and appear in that shot you see right there. He is at his Mar-a-Lago estate today meeting with a bunch of military brass, some of the high ranking military officers including Navy Admiral William Moran, Air Force General Steven Wilson, Air Force General Carlton Everhart.

We could see them walk up with him. We'll bring all of that to you live the second it happens. But until it does, let us turn to our "World Lead." It is a promise that President-elect Trump repeated time and again on the trail, a promise experts warned could have serious diplomatic consequences.

Now Israel's ambassador to the United States is it pushing for the promise to be upheld for the American embassy to be moved from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. President-elect Trump's nominee for U.S. ambassador to Israel also supports the idea despite the fact that it does break with longstanding U.S policy.

Both Palestinians and Israelis claim Jerusalem as the capital so such a move is considered premature. Moving our embassy until a peace agreement is reached.

CNN's Oren Liebermann is in Jerusalem for us now. Oren, when I asked the Israeli defense minister about this a few weeks ago, he suggested this was not a top priority for the Israeli government. Is there concern in the Israeli government about the potential fallout of moving the embassy to Jerusalem?

OREN LIEBERMANN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, there is no doubt that the Israeli government and the right wing are celebrating Trump's announcement and his campaign promise that he would move the embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, and recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.


We saw that in Ron Dermer's comments. Dermer is the Israeli ambassador to the U.S.

When he said he hopes that next year the U.S. ambassador to Israel celebrates Hanukkah in Jerusalem, the capital of Israel, therefore recognizing Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.

The Left here, even if they support the move, they're much more cautious about that move. They realize the implications it could have not only between Israelis and Palestinians but also between the U.S. and the Arab states in the region and the Israelis and the Arab states in the region.

So they're more cautious about approaching that. They realize it's one of the most sensitive, one of the most complex issues in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and that's exactly why the U.S. has left the question of Jerusalem open-ended to final status negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians.

Meanwhile, Palestinian leaders are furious at the idea that trump may move the embassy to Jerusalem. This is what PLO general Saeb Erekat said when talking about the possibility of moving the embassy.

He said I can assure you that the PLO will revoke the recognition of the State of Israel and revoke all agreements signed. There he is referring to agreements between Israelis and Palestinians. That would be a drastic step from the Palestinians.

But that indicates how sensitive Jerusalem is -- Jake.

TAPPER: I want to -- David Friedman, who is Trump's choice to be U.S. ambassador to Israel, he has certainly ruffled some feathers, offended individuals with his positions on the Israeli-Palestinian issue.

LIEBERMAN: He is viewed very much like Trump here, which is to say he split Israel's roughly down the middle between the Left and the Right. He's very closely aligned with Trump as his bankruptcy lawyer.

Friedman is also the president of the American Friends of Bet El, which is an Israeli settlement in the West Bank just outside of Ramallah.

So it would be -- he's -- it's very sensitive, his appointment there. He has split the country here. And in no uncertain terms here is what he had to say about what Trump would do when it comes to Jerusalem.

TAPPER: Actually, Oren, we're not going to run that sound right now because President-Elect Trump, we're told -- actually, never mind. We're told he is not coming out.

Please run the sound that Oren was throwing to.


DAVID FRIEDMAN, TRUMP AMBASSADOR TO ISRAEL NOMINEE: When Donald Trump has his first meeting with the lifers (ph) in the State Department, and they're going to say, well, you know, Mr. Trump, with all due respect, you've only been president for a couple of days. We've been living here for the last 20 years. We don't do it that way. We do it this way. You know, we don't move the embassy. That's been the State Department policy for 20 years.

The reaction from Donald Trump is going to be, you know what, guys, you're all fired.


LIEBERMAN: It seems, Jake, that Trump is keeping you on your toes there as he is keeping Israeli politicians on their toes as they try to understand exactly what his Israel policy would be and will he really move the embassy to Jerusalem. Of course that is such a sensitive issue and perhaps always will be.

TAPPER: All right, Oren Liebermann in Jerusalem for us, thank you so much. Appreciate it.

Again, we're expecting Donald Trump, President-Elect Trump to come out and speak any moment. We'll bring that to you live when it happens. We're going to take a quick break. We'll be right back.



TAPPER: Welcome back. We're waiting on President-Elect Donald Trump to come out and address reporters. The soon-to-be commander in chief held meetings with his national security officials at Mar-a-lago today. The second he walks out, we'll take it live.

More now on our "World Lead," what could be the final round of evacuations for civilians trapped in Aleppo. That is underway. The Red Cross confirming that all critically wounded sick whom they know about have been able to escape the war-torn city.

For the first time in five years, the Syrian regime appears to be on the brink of taking complete control of Aleppo. This as we are getting another update from the 7-year-old Syrian girl. who brought the plight of Aleppo's victims to Twitter. She is now settling with her family in the new country. Today she was seen meeting with the Turkish president.

CNN's Muhammad Lila reports from the Turkey-Syria border for us.

MUHAMMAD LILA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Jake, if you think about this like a marathon, sometimes the most important part of the marathon is that last dash towards the finish line. That is where we are right now in this evacuation process, just moments before the end. All of the indications on the ground are that the evacuations are continuing and they should finish at some point overnight.

In fact, they were supposed to finish earlier today. But there was an unusually long delay. Now it depends who you ask as to why there was a delay. The government blames the rebels. The rebels blame the government. We've seen this happen before. A couple of things have been complicating this. One has been the

weather. It has been freezing and snowing in Aleppo all day. But also this is a simultaneous transfer. So as people are being evacuated from that rebel-held part of Eastern Aleppo, simultaneously proregime loyalists are being evacuated from a couple of cities that have been under siege by jihadi militant groups for several months.

So of course that takes time and assurances and they have to be done simultaneously. Now a bit of good news: the Red Cross says that all of the critically wounded people in Eastern Aleppo have now been evacuated. They are now in the countryside and getting treatment.

Now all of this, Jake, what this means is that, once this evacuation process is expected to be finished, overnight, Syria, this region, the United States, the entire world will be waking up to a reality that basically was impossible to think about just a few years ago when this revolution began.

That reality is that, for the first time in more than five years, tomorrow the regime, the government of Bashar al-Assad will be in full control of all of Syria's major cities. And the question that's being asked now is, will that mark an end to the Syrian revolution -- Jake.

TAPPER: Mohammed Lila, thank you so much.


TAPPER (voice-over): In other world news at least 32 people were killed in this fireworks explosion in Central Mexico. Forensic teams are now sifting through the debris searching for more remains and evidence of what might have sparked the horrific scene.

One man's 3-month-old granddaughter is among the 12 people who remain missing. He told CNN that the infant somehow disappeared after everyone panicked and ran for cover.

The explosion happened in Tultepec, Mexico, which is just north of Mexico City. The town depends upon its pyrotechnics industry. CNN's Leyla Santiago is there for us now live.

Leyla, are investigators any closer to figuring out what sparked this horrific explosion?

LEYLA SANTIAGO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Jake, we are more than 24 hours since that explosion that you just showed and still no answers. Still no answers. Now there is a federal investigation underway but they're telling me that they don't even have a preliminary cause. And this in a market that just nine days ago government officials called one of the safest in Latin America.

Now I actually had a chance to go in. And I'll get out of the way so that you can see more of what I saw. A lot of debris on the ground; workers, be it law enforcement, rescue teams, forensic teams; cadaver dogs. They were all in there trying to make sense of what has happened -- Jake.

TAPPER: All right, Leyla Santiago, thank you so much.

Let's go now live to Mar-a-lago, where president-elect Trump is coming out after meeting with some members of top military brass. He is thanking them and then we're expecting him to make public comments. Let's listen in.

DONALD TRUMP, ENTREPRENEUR: Primarily the F-35. We're trying to get the cost down.


TRUMP: It's a program that is very, very expensive.


TRUMP: Say it?

QUESTION: The security concessions from the Lockheed Martin (INAUDIBLE)?

TRUMP: Well, we'll see. We'll just see. Just, again, it's a dance, you know, it's a little bit of a dance. So we're going to get the costs down and we're going to get it done beautifully. And these are great people. These are amazing people.

QUESTION: And your conversations with Boeing --


TRUMP: I'm very impressed with them. They're good negotiators, too. Good (INAUDIBLE).

QUESTION: And your conversation with Boeing seemed to produce positive results?

TRUMP: I think so. We had the chairman of Boeing, CEO. And I think we're looking to cut a tremendous amount of money off the price.


Take care, everybody.

You comfortable?

Everyone OK?

Not bad, right?

Thank you. Thank you.

General, thank you.


Thank you very much. TAPPER: All right. Well, that was a lot briefer than we had been led to expect. President-Elect Trump talking a little bit about Boeing and renegotiating that contract. Let's talk more with our panel. Heidi Przybyla, one of the interesting things about the president- elect's visit with the CEO of Boeing, in which the CEO came out and said that he'll definitely bring it down for lower than $4 billion, is that I never saw any pricing anywhere that said it was going to be $4 billion.

People from Boeing didn't know where that number came from. The Defense Department didn't appear to know where that number came from. The transition team has never been able to provide any information as to why he said it was going to cost $4 billion.

So when the CEO says, yes, we'll definitely bring it in for under $4 billion, I really don't know what kind of victory that is.

CUPP: No. There is so much we don't know. And that's because, for one thing, Donald Trump hasn't done a press conference in quite some time. He'll pop out and sort of answer a question here and there.

TAPPER: I think 147 days, to be exact.

CUPP: Right. So if it's our job to ask him those questions and we haven't gotten the opportunity, then there is a lot we don't know. And there also seems to be a real lack of communication between all of the various actors and departments to get on the same page.

And I don't want to make too much of this but it is a little concerning and somewhat foreboding to think that decisions like this will be done behind closed doors with very little information to the public and very little information for the press. And just sort of a closed-door operation, a closed-door White House.

TAPPER: There has never been, in the modern time, a president-elect that has gone this long without holding any sort of press conference. He has done a few interviews, mostly with very supportive and friendly outlets but he really hasn't taken questions from the press in a general sense at all. And that hasn't happened since I have been alive.

HEIDI PRZYBYLA, "USA TODAY": This is astonishing because if you recall during the primaries, basically up to the general election, one of his big selling points was that I am who I am, and I got nothing to hide and I'm going to be totally transparent. That's part of draining the swamp, right, is transparency.

So it is concerning but it's also potentially not strategic in that having those press conferences, whether they be by Donald Trump or by someone standing at the podium, is their opportunity to get the message across or spin the message however you want to interpret it.

So I don't know that long-term that will be a great strategy, because when you don't feed the media, the media feeds itself and it goes out and it does the type of harder-hitting investigative stories that they could be hit with an avalanche of. And it's also not good in terms of the relationship. You want to

maintain a good, open relationship with the people who, in principle, are there to ask questions on behalf of the public.

CUPP: Yes. Between the lack of access to the press and then also bashing the press, which he does systematically and routinely, this is creating a real instability between these two institutions, the executive and the press, that could really undermine one of the bedrocks of our democracy.

TAPPER: It's weird, because the last couple of months of the campaign, he did not do a lot of press, other than with certain friendly outlets. But one of the things that marked his rise in 2015 and throughout the primaries in 2016, up until about June, was he was more accessible and took more questions from the press than any other candidate.

Like him or not and whether or not you thought the interviews or the interviewers pressed hard enough or not, sufficiently hard enough or not, and now that seemed to be one of the reasons why he rose and now he is abandoning it.

S.E., Heidi, thank you so much. Really appreciate it. That is it for THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper. You can follow me on Twitter @JakeTapper. I turn you over now to Brianna Keilar, who is in for Wolf Blitzer in "THE SITUATION ROOM." Thanks for watching.