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Netanyahu Seethes Over U.N. Resolution; Trump Urged U.S. to Veto Resolution; George Michael Dead at 53; Trump Dissolves Foundation; Trump Conflicts of Interest; Obama Suggests Win; Obama on Clinton Performance. Aired 12-12:30p ET

Aired December 26, 2016 - 12:00   ET



[12:00:27] KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: It's the top of the hour now. I'm Kate Bolduan. Thanks so much for sticking with me. John Berman is off today.

We're going to begin this hour with the fallout from the startling diplomatic dustup between the Obama administration and Israel. It started Friday when the U.S. broke with tradition and allowed the U.N. Security Council to pass a resolution condemning Israeli settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem. Typically the U.S. vetoes U.N. measures critical of its closest Mideast ally. A point not lost on Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.


BENJAMIN NETANYAHU, ISRAELI PRIME MINISTER: Over decades, American administrations and Israeli governments have disagreed about settlements, but we agreed that the Security Council was not the place to resolve this issue. We knew that going there would make negotiations harder and drive peace further away. And as I told John Kerry on Thursday, friends don't take friends to the Security Council.


BOLDUAN: So, last night, Netanyahu took his complaints directly to the U.S. ambassador there during an in-person meeting. Today, we heard more from the Israeli ambassador to the United States right here on CNN.


RON DERMER, ISRAELI AMBASSADOR TO THE U.S.: What this resolution just did is it gave the Palestinians ammunition in their diplomatic and legal war against Israel. And the United States not only didn't stop it, they were behind it.


BOLDUAN: That's Ron Dermer right there. For their part, Palestinians are calling the Israeli position, in their words, "hysterical and irrational," while Republicans and Democrats in Congress are now talking about cutting U.S. funding to the U.N. if it doesn't reverse course on this resolution.

I want to go right now to CNN correspondent Oren Liebermann, he's in Jerusalem, and global affairs correspondent Elise Labott, she's in Washington but has spent a very long time in Jerusalem covering the relationship there.

Oren, the prime minister, he's speaking out again today, even though he had quite a lot to say over the weekend about the resolution. What is the prime minister of Israel saying now?

OREN LIEBERMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, he's not backing out - off at all. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is doubling down in his criticism of President Barack Obama, of Secretary of State Kerry. He says his response was responsible, measure and vigorous. Not only that, Netanyahu goes on to say that there will be no long-term diplomatic fallout. In fact, he says, quite the opposite. Countries around the world will respect Israel more because it shows that it can stand up for itself.

As for what we've seen, this is unparalleled criticism from Netanyahu directed right at President Barack Obama. He's calmed this a, quote, "shameful move," and said it's irresponsible and not how friends treat (INAUDIBLE). He hasn't backed off that at all. He's continuing with is criticism.

As you pointed out, over the weekend, on Christmas Day, he summoned not only the U.S. ambassador, but the ambassadors from ten other countries who voted for this resolution. Those other countries met with the foreign ministry. It was the U.S. ambassador who met directly with Prime Minister Netanyahu in what we've seen as this continued criticism of President Obama.

BOLDUAN: Elise, as Oren says, and he's quoting the prime minister saying that he doesn't believe there's going to be any diplomatic fallout, what's your take on that there? Is that just diplomatic speak? What is - what happens next here?

ELISE LABOTT, CNN GLOBAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: I think there's going to be huge diplomatic fallout on both sides, Kate. I mean, look, you've heard about these efforts to defund the U.N. The U.S. is really up in arms about this. And Senator Lindsey Graham has told us directly that he has a bunch of Republicans that are willing to defund the United Nations if they do not repeal this vote. So that sets the U.S. up with the United Nations on an - on a kind of standoff there.

And then, you know, as Ambassador Dermer has said, the Israelis are very worried about what the fallout could be for them. This resolution calling settlements illegal could set the Israelis up for boycotts, sanctions, claims at the international criminal court. They're very worried about what this does and that's why they've been very - not only because they don't want, you know, to take the negotiations to the United Nations, they want to work with the U.S. on mediating it, but they don't want the Palestinians to internationalize the conflict because then that sets them up to action by the international community. On the Palestinians part, they say, look, we tried direct

negotiations. We've tried dealing through a third party. We need to internationalize this. We need international legitimacy because we're not getting anywhere from Israel.

So I don't think this is over. I don't know what the United Nations is going to do about these efforts to defund, but the diplomatic fallout has just begun, Kate.

[12:05:02] BOLDUAN: Elise, Oren, stand by, guys, I'm going to add - add to the conversation now. Josh Rogin is here. He's a CNN political analyst and columnist for "The Washington Post." And Errol Louis is also here. He's a CNN political commentator and political anchor for Spectrum News.

Guys, thanks for sticking around.

Errol, to you. I just kind of want to get your take on the additional - not fascinating - well it is fascinating, element to all of this is that Donald Trump has very quickly jumped in to the conversation. He is the president-elect and he is known to weigh in on a lot of things before, obviously, he takes office. But on this especially, there's always this kind of conventional notion that there is one president at a time, and that this kind of flouts that notion of there being one president speaking for the country at a time. Is this being seen as inappropriate, though, what Donald Trump has done in terms of weighing in?

ERROL LOUIS, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, I mean, it might be the last piece of china in the china shop that's gotten wrecked by this outsider who has come in and shaken up the political system. The historians will figure out whether it was a good or a bad thing. You tweak the facts just a little bit and I think a lot of people would be outraged. At a minimum, it causes a great deal of confusion and it raises some questions about what will happen when the next international conference about these issues takes place in Paris because it will take place before the inauguration. So we'll have, in effect, the two presidents or sort of one and a half presidents speaking out publicly on a matter of great international importance, and the confusion alone I think becomes problematic.

We saw what happened just the other day when there were some very sharp words exchanged between two nuclear powers. Loose talk is really, really dangerous always in this part of the world and especially when you're - you add to the cauldron the threat of nuclear misunderstanding. So hopefully Donald Trump will not continue to play out the campaign politics that I think has been reflected here, and will wait his turn. He'll have plenty of time to wade into the Middle East mess after January 20th.

BOLDUAN: I think that is one absolute assurance in this whole conversation, Errol.

Josh, with regard to kind of where things stand right now, the White House - you heard from Ambassador Dermer and other Israeli officials saying that the U.S. was behind this resolution, helped craft this resolution, was pushing for this resolution. They have not offered evidence of it, only saying that they're going to provide the evidence to the incoming administration and they can decide to release it if they want to. For the White House's part, they say they didn't draft it, they didn't push it, they didn't introduce it. Who's right?

JOSH ROGIN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes. Yes, I mean, mostly the Israelis are right here. A lot of us in Washington have been reporting for over a year now -

BOLDUAN: And what does it matter? What does it matter? Why is this point important?

ROGIN: Well, because it - you know, because the Obama administration wants to pretend that they weren't involved in this. It's not true. So, first of all, we should just have a clarity about that. They were involved. Whether or not they signed it or they - you know, they were heavily involved behind the scenes. That's just a fact. But it's also important because it speaks to whether or not this is really the international community acting or whether or not this is really Obama's parting shot at Netanyahu.

Here's what happened. About a year ago, President Obama asked his team, they came up with a memo full of options, things that we can do on the Israel/Palestinian issue before we leave office. This was one of the options, OK, and there were other ones that they decided not to do, like laying out parameters, putting sanctions on companies that do business in the West Bank. This was considered the least controversial option. It turned out to be hugely controversial.

But, anyway, this was their idea and now they're trying to say, oh, well, we were just innocent bystanders going along with international community consensus against settlements. It's misleading and disingenuous and that's an important part of the historical record here.

BOLDUAN: So, Elise, when the White House has spoken out about this, we heard from Ben Rhodes, the deputy national security adviser, and he said that this is - in so many words, he basically said, this is in reaction to the fact that they've, in the eight years that Obama has been in office, they have not seen a slowing down of settlements. They have seen an acceleration of settlements. But it's not - even when they're asked directly, they won't answer to the question, is this the parting shot from President Obama to the Israeli prime minister because of their very tough relationship? Is there any other way to see it? Do you see this as a personal shot, a parting shot from Obama to Netanyahu, Elise?

LABOTT: I don't think you can take - it's not, you know, either/or. I think it's both. I think that's one of the reasons that President Obama has a rocky relationship, at best, with Prime Minister Netanyahu because he hasn't been able to move the prime minister on this settlement issue. You remember from back when Secretary of State John Kerry was working on this long effort with the Israelis and Palestinians for a peace deal. That was one of the main kind of impediments to a deal. That was one of the things that they really couldn't make progress on. And so that whole settlements issue is all wrapped up in the Obama administration's opinion that the Israelis are not willing to make concessions to make peace.

[12:10:18] I think, yes, there's a rocky relationship between the two leaders on the Iran deal, on other things. I don't think you can take it and say he's just doing it because he doesn't like him. I think that maybe if they had had a better relationship, a better working relationship on these issues, that he wouldn't have felt that he had to go to the U.N. Security Council.

It is true that, you know, this has been an effort that's been in the works for some time, a long-standing effort on the settlements, and this was one of many things that the administration, as Josh said, thought that they could do, whether it's parameters or - I think there's also a concern that the Israelis have that there will be another resolution kind of laying out parameters of what a, of what a peace deal would be and that the Security Council could vote on that before the administration leaves. But I think that this was as far, maybe, as this administration was willing to go, especially when you see the reaction from even President Obama's own party.

BOLDUAN: Yes, and it looks like the fallout, whatever it may be, is nowhere near over at this moment, although the Obama - Obama's time in office and his time in the White House is coming to a quick close.

Guys, thank you very much. Elise, it's great to see you. Thanks, Josh. Thank you, Errol. Thank you, Oren, very much.

The music world is mourning the death of pop icon George Michael today. Michael's manager, he announced that the singer/songwriter died at his London home on Christmas Day.


GEORGE MICHAEL, MUSICIAN (SINGING): Hold you, touch you. Think that you're mine. Because it ain't no joy, for an uptown boy, who just isn't willing to try. I'm so cold.


BOLDUAN: George Michael's career began as a member of the British duo Wham!, of course. Wham! was the first western group - pop group to even - ever perform in China. Just a fun fact there. When the group broke up in 1986, George Michael began his solo career, and a huge career it was winning two Grammys and selling millions upon millions of albums. CNN correspondent Ian Lee is outside George Michael's home right now.

So, Ian, as the sun sets where you are, what are you hearing right now from the fans and the town?

IAN LEE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Kate, we're still hearing just shock and disbelief about his death. You know, still, people are coming to grips with this news. It's been about - a little over 24 hours since it broke and so you do have a bunch of fans still behind me, you can see, coming in, paying their tributes with their flowers, their candles, their messages. And, you know, of course it's a shock. He was 53 years old. We're

hearing that it could have been heart failure was the cause of death. But this is a man who touched so many lives. He's sold over 100 million albums. Back in the '80s, when he was the biggest star, he was out selling Prince and Michael Jackson at times. But it really was, you know, when he hit his solo career when, you know, as you said, he won those two Grammys, but it was in 1998, which really was a pivotal time when he was caught by an undercover officer in Beverly Hills in a public bathroom conducting lewd acts. He was charged and then later he talked to CNN and where he came out as a gay man. Take a listen.


GEORGE MICHAEL, MUSICIAN: I want to say that I have no problem with people knowing that I - I have a relation - I'm in a relationship with a man right now. I have not been in a relationship with a woman for almost ten years.


LEE: You know, the one thing also, when we were talking to people here, Kate, about his life, they talk about his advocacy, strong supporter of the LGBT community, also a strong supporter raising awareness about HIV-AIDS. So this was a man who was just more than a musician. He was a strong member of this community.

BOLDUAN: George Michael dead at the age of 53.

Ian, thank you so much for bringing us those tributes and that information.

Coming up for us, President-elect Donald Trump says he is dissolving his charitable foundation, but Democrats are quick to respond, saying the effort amounts to a wilted fig leaf to cover up for other potential conflicts of interest with regards to his business. We'll talk about it.

And, President Obama says if he had been running again for the White House, he would have won. More of this exclusive new interview ahead.


[12:18:14] BOLDUAN: In 25 days, Donald Trump will be sworn in as the president of the United States and, in an effort to untangle himself from potential conflicts of interest, the president-elect says that he is dissolving his charity, the Trump Foundation. But New York's attorney general, who's investigating that charity, is saying, not so fast. National correspondent Ryan Nobles is following all of this and he's joining me now.

So, Ryan, what more do we know about how Trump will disband from the charity and how hard will it be, especially in light of what the New York attorney general says?

RYAN NOBLES, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Kate, you're really talking about two different parts of this situation. And, logistically, it really shouldn't take that much to shut the Trump Foundation down. It currently has no employees. They haven't raised funds in some time. Trump himself hasn't even donated to the charity since 2008.

But it is a much different story when you talk about it from a legal perspective. And a spokesperson for New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, who was a Hillary Clinton supporter, and launched an investigation into the charity during the campaign, said that the foundation cannot dissolve until his investigation is complete. Now, Schneiderman's been investigating how Trump used the foundation to settle personal business dealings.

Now, Trump is hoping that shutting down this foundation can begin the process of separating his private affairs from his work as president. And in a statement he said, quote, "to avoid even the appearance of any conflict with my role at president, I've decided to continue to pursue my strong interest in philanthropy in other ways."

Of course, the much bigger chore for Donald Trump is figuring out how to isolate himself from his vast business interests, which are all around the world, in a way that avoids potential conflicts of interest. Now, Trump has said that he's going to outline that process, but the details of that plan won't be revealed until after the new year.

[12:20:02] Kate, many Democrats anxiously waiting to see exactly how Donald Trump lays out this plan that's been a big source of criticism for them before his administration even takes office. So he's going to have to really lay this out in specificity to calm some of those fears.

BOLDUAN: Democrats and Republicans waiting to get that specificity when it does come in the new year. Ryan, great to see you. Thank you so much.

NOBLES: Thanks, Kate.

BOLDUAN: Joining me now, Kayleigh McEnany. She's a CNN political commentator. She was, of course, very supportive of Donald Trump throughout the campaign, and Maria Cardona, also a CNN political commentator, Democratic strategist and supported Hillary Clinton.

Guys, it's great to see you.


BOLDUAN: Maria -



BOLDUAN: He is dissolving the charity. He is getting rid of it. He is cutting himself off. Are you happy?

CARDONA: It's a wee first baby step that he needs to take and I think what he needs to focus on, frankly, are his businesses. Look, shutting down the foundation - first of all, I don't think he can do it until the new York attorney general finishes his investigation of it. So that's going to be interesting, how that finishes up. Secondly, I don't think a whole lot of people will miss the foundation, because it doesn't really do a whole lot of charitable work. I think the people that will miss it the most is Donald Trump. He won't be able to buy six-foot portraits of himself anymore, which is what the charity did in the past.

But I think the big focus here, Kate, are his businesses. And, frankly, I think this announcement may be to deter some attention to what he really needs to be doing, which is liquidating his businesses. So many ethics experts on both sides of the aisle have said that that's the only way that he is going to be able to avoid real conflicts of interests when he has hotels all over the world and you have prime ministers and elected officials from those countries, all they need to do is to stay in one of his hotels and he is breaching ethics.


CARDONA: So it's a very complicated mine field that he needs to really focus on.

BOLDUAN: So, Kayleigh, what's your take? If you listen to Maria and Democrats when they put out their scathing statement after he announced that he was dissolving this charity, it's a smokescreen. Is this a smokescreen?

MCENANY: I don't think so. What I think we're seeing is, you have someone who has a $10 billion brand. We've never had a president that has the kind of business, massive business that Donald Trump has, and he's taking all of the right steps. We saw first they figured out that, look, the two sons are going to run the business operationally. Ivanka Trump will separate herself from the business because it looks like she'll be coming into the White House in some capacity. Now we're seeing that he's giving up the Trump Foundation. And I think we have to give him time and space, as his lawyers figure this out, as his accountants figure this out. And I think, come January, you're going to see a very detailed plan that does separates himself as much as he can be separated. But I do think it's unfair to ask him to put the Trump Organization in a blind trust, because that would be depriving his children of their control, it would be depriving them of their livelihoods and their jobs. So I think he will take the appropriate steps. It's unprecedented and he's doing a great job so far.

CARDONA: I think the kids can survive. I don't think their livelihood is in question here. And if he really wants to focus on being president, he should do it.

MCENANY: But, Maria - Maria, if you're so concerned, go change the statutes.

BOLDUAN: Hold on, Kayleigh. Go ahead, Maria.

MCENANY: But, Maria, if you're so concerned about this, change - change the statutes, because 18 U.S. v. (ph) Section 202 says the president doesn't have a conflict of interests. He's exempt from these laws. So if you were so concerned about this, lobby Congress and change the laws.

CARDONA: Yes, and -- that's right. And, you know what - you know what, it's not me that is - it's not - I'm not the only one that's concerned. The majority of the American people believe that he will have massive conflicts of interests. And, frankly, if he wants to really do what he says, which is avoid even the appearance of conflicts of interest, he wouldn't have been so flippant when he got elected to say, oh, I'm the president. I don't have any conflicts of interest. Well, you know what? Actually, you will have a conflict of interest the day that he becomes president, Kate, when he is inaugurated. It's very possible he will be in breach of the GSA lease on his Trump Hotel here in Washington, D.C., the capital of the United States. Let's see what his lawyers come up with. I will give him a chance, as Kayleigh says, to see if he is serious about putting his money where his mouth is, and - and let's see what he comes up with.

BOLDUAN: Well, to that - to that point. To that point, Maria, when you read the statement that the Democratic Party put out, in part it said, "a wilted fig leaf," this is about the foundation, "this is a wilted fig leaf to cover up his remaining conflicts of interest and his pitiful record of charitable giving." And when you - and when you kind of put it as you have, Maria -


BOLDUAN: What I hear from the Trump transition and Trump supporters is, no matter what Donald Trump announces, he's dissolving his foundation, or no matter what Donald Trump announces regarding his business, Democrats, critics, will never be satisfied. Is that fair?

CARDONA: Well, I think what would be fair is, if he comes out in January, before he's inaugurated, and he says that he is liquidating his 111 or how many ever companies that he has -


CARDONA: And putting all of that money in a blind trust, I bet you Democrats would come out and congratulate him.

[12:25:04] BOLDUAN: Guys, I want to get your quick -

CARDONA: But I bet you he's not going to do it.

BOLDUAN: You're a betting woman. I want to see a bet between you and Kayleigh, and then I will not take part in it.

Guys, I want to get your take really quickly on an extensive, new, exclusive interview with President Obama. He sat down and spoke with David Axelrod, of course his former senior advisor, for David's podcast, "Axe Files," and he had an very interesting comment about the 2016 race, saying that if he'd run again on his vision of hope and change, he would have won. Listen to this.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: In the wake of the election and Trump winning, a lot of people have - have suggested that somehow it really was a fantasy. I am confident in this vision because I'm confident that if I - if I had run again, and articulated it, I think I could have mobilized a majority of the American people to rally behind it.


BOLDUAN: Maria, "if I had run again," basically, I could have won on this. What's that message that he's sending to Hillary Clinton there?

CARDONA: Well, I don't think it's a dig at Hillary Clinton because let's remember that his message and her message was actually the message that the majority of the American people voted for. Hillary Clinton got almost 3 million more votes than Donald Trump. And a win by Donald Trump by a razor-thin edge of less than 80,000 votes in three states is not a mandate.

BOLDUAN: But he clearly thought that something didn't go -

CARDONA: It's not a mandate.

BOLDUAN: That didn't go the way Democrats wanted in the election.


BOLDUAN: I don't think he would have articulated it that way.

CARDONA: You know - sure. You know - you know - you know what didn't go well for Democrats and what President Obama would not have the had to contend with, the Jim Comey letter 11 days before the election.

BOLDUAN: Kayleigh.

MCENANY: Blaming everything on the FBI and Russia and recounts and - what happened here, and the president's right that I think he's a more likable figure than Hillary Clinton. His approval ratings are above 50 percent. He's a popular president. That is true. But what I think Democrats have forgotten is when Obama goes out there and touts wage increases and touts a robust economy, he's neglecting the pain of workers in Michigan, and workers in Wisconsin, factory workers who have lost their jobs all across the rust belt, and that is ultimately what propelled Donald Trump to a victory. And underestimating their pain was a huge factor in why Donald Trump is now the president-elect.

BOLDUAN: Guys - Maria, I want to get your take -

CARDONA: It's interesting that you say that. But just one quick thing. Kayleigh says this, but if you look at the reason that people voted for in those three states and the people who said that the economy was their number one issue, those people voted for Hillary Clinton more than they did for Donald Trump.

BOLDUAN: Barack Obama was asked - he was also - MCENANY: That's just not true, Maria.

BOLDUAN: Barack Obama was asked in this interview kind of about Hillary Clinton and he did say, Maria, to your point, "I think that Hillary Clinton performed wonderfully under really tough circumstances." He also went on to say that the problem is that we're - that the problem is, "we are not there on the ground communicating not only policy but also that we care about these communities." When Democrats are kind of doing their post-mortem still looking ahead as they - kind of the year comes to the end, the president said, "if you think that you're winning, then you have a tendency, just like in sports, to maybe play it safer." Do you think that is what happened, Maria, they played it safe?

CARDONA: Well, I think, you know, Monday morning quarterbacking is everybody's favorite game to do, especially Democrats are doing it, as we should, after this loss. And, sure, there are things that Hillary Clinton should have done. She should have gone to Wisconsin. She should have spent more money in Michigan. You know, you can say, should have, would have, could have, right? But the fact of the matter is, is that her message resonated with more voters and more Americans across the country than Donald Trump's did. And so you can go back and say, she should have done this, she should have done that, if it wasn't for the Russians, she should have gone to Michigan. Yes, all of that. We could say all of those could have played, you know, big factors.

But the fact of the matter is, is that her vision was the one who won out with the majority of the American people, and Donald Trump would actually do himself some good if he realized that he is coming in to be president of a divided states of America, and he had a lot to do with that division, and he's got to challenge, but an opportunity to bring people together and he has not done that.

BOLDUAN: Well, you see in this conversation, President Obama spending some time looking back as he now is starting to look ahead as the clock ticks down from his presidency to his post-presidency.

Kayleigh, Maria, great to see you. Thank you so much for coming here. I appreciate it, guys.

CARDONA: Thanks so much, Kate.

MCENANY: Thank you.

BOLDUAN: Coming up for us, a massive search and rescue operation is underway for a Russian jet that crashed with 92 people onboard. Divers out there right now finding pieces of the plane in the Black Sea, hoping those pieces will reveal just why that plane went down. Details on the search and investigation coming up.

And what's ahead for the relationship between Russia and the United States with Donald Trump as president? He's tweeting about a nuclear arms race, but also about getting a nice letter from Vladimir Putin. Those two things, contradictory. We're going to talk about it coming up. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)