Return to Transcripts main page


Interview With Minnesota Senator Amy Klobuchar; North Korea Nuclear Fears; Trump's Big Week; Airport Shooting Suspect in Court. Aired 4-4:30p ET

Aired January 9, 2017 - 16:15   ET



JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: Meryl Streep is overrated, says the guy who had a cameo in "Home Alone." I'm sorry, "Home Alone 2."

THE LEAD starts right now.

Trump's huge week, confirmation hearings, a news conference, an Obama farewell address, and now sources say a new job in the White House for his son-in-law, Jared Kushner. But what about those anti-nepotism laws?

The man accused of mass murder at an airport in court and facing the death penalty -- today, new details about his mental health history and how authorities once took his gun and then gave it back.

Plus, ready to launch? Kim Jong-un making a birthday threat to fire a missile at the U.S., and the Pentagon is saying it is ready.

Good afternoon, everyone. Welcome to THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper.

We are going to begin today with politics.

In 11 days, Donald Trump will be taken the oath of office right over there on Capitol Hill. But in many ways, his presidency really gets rolling this week with confirmation hearings for some of his top Cabinet picks beginning tomorrow morning, including Senator Jeff Sessions for attorney general, retired General John Kelly for Homeland Security, and the president-elect's first news conference comes smack in the middle of it all on Wednesday morning.

He's going to be competing with the hearings of his own nominees. All of this as Mr. Trump continues to dance around a direct acknowledgement and specific condemnation of the singular role played by Russia and Vladimir Putin, according to U.S. intelligence officials, in hacking and attempting to interfere in the U.S. election to damage Hillary Clinton and undermine faith in our democracy.

Now, this being a day that ends in Y, there was another Twitter dustup this morning, this one a response from the president-elect to actress Meryl Streep, who used her Golden Globes lifetime achievement awards speech to pointedly critique the president-elect as a bully. We will have more on that new front in the culture wars later in the show.

But first let's go live to Trump Tower and CNN senior White House correspondent Jim Acosta.

Now, Jim, the president-elect came out today and apparently did not answer a fairly direct question about Russian hacking.

JIM ACOSTA, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Jake. Donald Trump avoided answering questions on a slew of important topics, from Russian to his potential for conflicts of interest at the White House.

But the president-elect is promising to provide those answers at that news conference you mentioned on Wednesday.


ACOSTA (voice-over): With Inauguration Day closing in, Donald Trump is trying to change the conversation away from the cloud of questions hanging over his looming presidency.

DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENT-ELECT: We will talk about that on Wednesday.

ACOSTA: Asked by reporters about Russia's attempts to meddle in the election, Trump punted to his news conference Wednesday. A key question for Trump is just how much he buys into the U.S. intelligence community's report that concludes Russia directed hackers to tilt the election his way.

Top transition advisers are not offering much clarity, indicating Trump believes some of the findings.

REINCE PRIEBUS, INCOMING WHITE HOUSE CHIEF OF STAFF: He is not denying that entities in Russia were behind this particular hacking campaign.

ACOSTA: But suggesting it doesn't really matter.

KELLYANNE CONWAY, TRUMP SENIOR ADVISER: There's no smoking gun when it comes to the nexus between these hacking activities and the election results.

ACOSTA: Over the weekend, Trump tweeted: "Having a good relationship with Russian is a good thing, not a bad thing. Only stupid people or fools would think that is bad," part of a softer tone on Moscow that worries Republicans.

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: If after having been briefed by our intelligence leaders, Donald Trump is still unsure as to what the Russians did, that would be incredibly unnerving to me because the evidence is overwhelming.

ACOSTA: Trump is creating even more questions with transition sources confirming to CNN that his son-in-law Jared Kushner will serve as a senior adviser to president. Critics wonder how Trump will hand his businesses off to his sons while other relatives like Kushner are working in the White House. Not to worry, says Trump.

TRUMP: We will talk about it on Wednesday. It's very simple. All I can say is it's very simple, very easy.

ACOSTA: Adding to the pre-inaugural drama, hearings for a slew of Trump's Cabinet picks are getting under way. And Democrats are howling over delays in background materials coming in to the committees.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is a parade of people who are really not your normal nominees and we need that information to hold a responsible hearing.

ACOSTA: Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell insisted there will be no holdup.

SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY), MAJORITY LEADER: Everybody will be properly vetted, as they have been in the past, and I'm hopeful that we will get up to six or seven picks of the national security team in place on day one.

ACOSTA: One name sure to generate heat is Trump's selection for attorney general, Alabama Senator Jeff Sessions.


Gold Star parent Khizr Khan sent a letter to the Senate reminding lawmakers of Sessions' past battles with civil rights group: "Thirty years ago, a bipartisan group of senators rejected Mr. Sessions' nomination to be a federal judge. His record since then does not give us any reason to believe that those senators were in error."

Trump is standing by Sessions.

TRUMP: I think he's going to do great. High-quality man.


ACOSTA: As for Jared Kushner, transition officials are saying that they will be providing details to reporters in short order, Jake, to lay out exactly how Donald Trump's son-in-law will not be violating federal anti-nepotism laws that bar a president from putting his relatives in important positions in an administration.

As for his daughter, Ivanka Trump, Jared Kushner's wife, she is expected, at this point, we are told, to retain the title of first daughter. Meanwhile, there are some important meetings happening up on Capitol Hill starting this evening. We're told that top Republican lawmakers will begin having meetings with transition officials on a big GOP priority, tax reform. That's coming soon, Jake.

TAPPER: All right. Jim Acosta, thank you so much.

Trump's refusal to publicly point the finger directly at Putin and Russia comes at the same time a spokesman for the Russian president says a meeting between the two leaders, Putin and Trump, is in the works and will be planned -- quote -- "very carefully."

Joining me now to talk about all this is Democratic Senator Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota. She serves on the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Senator, thanks so much for joining us. We appreciate it.


TAPPER: So, you are calling for a bipartisan independent commission to investigate foreign interference in the election. Now, the intelligence community put out its report, as you know, which concluded Moscow was behind the interference and favored Trump.

Why the need for a bipartisan commission? Why can't this just be handled by the Senate Intelligence Committee or the Senate Foreign Relations Committee?

KLOBUCHAR: Well, I think you want to have both things happening.

Of course, you want the Intelligence Committee, Armed Services. Senator McCain just led a strong hearing. I think the Judiciary Subcommittee that Lindsey Graham has been involved in, we'd like to do something there.

You're going to have those hearings. But when you look back through history, say, the 9/11 Commission, you had a group of people that were devoted to working on something, not just looking at what happened in the past, which is important, but using the past to make recommendations for the future.

This wouldn't be a bunch of politicians, Jake. This would be experts that would be appointed by Democrats and Republicans to be able to make recommendations going forward as well as looking at what happened. Based on my trip with Senator McCain and Lindsey Graham to the Baltics and Ukraine and Georgia, the people out there, they have seen this movie before.

There have been attempts all over the world where Russia has tried to influence democracies and make changes. So, it's no surprise that our 17 intelligence agencies came to the same conclusion.

TAPPER: Now, obviously, if Russia committed this interference, as the U.S. intelligence community says it did, this is Russia's doing. But on another level, to be perfectly candid, isn't this all a huge failure of the Obama administration in terms of cyber-security and foreign relations?

Under this watch, all this happened to his party and to the detriment of his would-be successor, Hillary Clinton.

KLOBUCHAR: I think it's easy to cast blame. You can look at a lot of things, that this has happened to other countries as well.

But I think, in our country, I don't think we were ready to think that a major nation like Russia would get into this kind of mess with our own country.

Do I wish we had done things differently? Yes. Do I wish we had responded more quickly? Yes. But my question now is, how do we work together across the aisle to respond more quickly?

The president has limited power with some of the sanctions he put forward a few weeks ago. There are some today that are unrelated to the cyber-hacking, but he continues to do that. The best thing that I think we can do is not just keep the economic sanctions in place we have right now, but also expand them, because that is where I believe you're going to see change.

We have to show economic power, and we have to show strength.

TAPPER: Senator, as you know, the Office of Government Ethics has asked that the confirmation process for president-elect Trump's nominees be slowed down. They say some of them have not been fully vetted by their office.

Take a listen to what Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell had to say yesterday.


MCCONNELL: We confirmed seven Cabinet appointments the day President Obama was sworn in. We didn't like most of them either. But he won the election. So all of these little procedural complaints are related to their frustration in having not only lost the White House, but having lost the Senate.


TAPPER: What's your reaction to that?

KLOBUCHAR: Well, first of all, I am sure that some of these nominees will be confirmed and that Democrats will be supporting some of them, not all of them.


That being said, President Obama's nominees had their information in. They had their FBI background checks done. They had their ethics forms filled out.

And, in fact, some of them withdrew their names because of what came out of that process. So, that is unprecedented. It would be unprecedented if we didn't have that information. How can we ask questions at hearings when you have a number of people that are billionaires that have holdings all over the world that could have potential conflicts in their work?

We're simply asking for the information that they had available before the hearings when President Obama's nominees were before the committees.

TAPPER: I believe that president-elect Trump's choice for attorney general, your colleague Republican Senator Jeff Sessions, has handed in all of his paperwork, and I believe he begins his confirmation hearings tomorrow before your committee, the Senate Judiciary Committee. Based on what you know about him, do you see any reason to vote

against his confirmation?

KLOBUCHAR: I think everyone on the committee is going to give him a fair hearing here.

Obviously, a number of us have concerns. We have worked with him on some things, in my case adoption legislation. Others worked with him on prison rape and other issues.

But we have some concerns, serious concerns about some of his past views on immigration, on things that -- his vote against the Violence Against Women Act. In my case, I think that's something that has to be discussed.

So I think you are going to hear a lot of questions. And, again, I think it's going to be tough, but fair-minded in our approach to this nominee.

TAPPER: Senator Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota, thank you so much. Appreciate your time.

KLOBUCHAR: Thank you. Appreciate it. Thank you.

TAPPER: Be sure to tune in to CNN tonight for a special town hall with Bernie Sanders. The Vermont senator will take questions from a live studio audience and my colleague CNN "NEW DAY" co-host Chris Cuomo. It all starts at 9:00 p.m. Eastern.

And then tomorrow night, a special "ANDERSON COOPER 360" with live coverage of President Obama's farewell address from Chicago, that begins at 8:00 p.m. Eastern.

Coming up, he's the first Trump nominee to be put to the test, to go before Congress for his confirmation hearing. We just talked about him. So, just who is Senator Jeff Sessions and why are some lawmakers refusing to support him for attorney general? That story next.



[16:16:17] JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: We're back with more on our politics lead. We're going to take a deeper dive.

Senator Jeff Sessions of Alabama is getting a rare Capitol Hill do- over. President-elect Trump's pick for attorney general will face the Senate Judiciary Committee again for confirmation hearings, the same congressional body that denied him a federal judgeship over allegations of racism three decades ago. Now, last week, members of the NAACP staged a sit-in at Sessions' Alabama office to oppose his nomination. One of those protesters included NAACP President Cornell Brooks who, by the way, will testify against Senator Sessions during the confirmation hearing tomorrow.

CNN's Dana Bash took a closer look at Sessions' career and the controversies surrounding it.


DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENT-ELECT: I have a man who is respected by everybody here.

DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Jeff Sessions, Donald Trump's nominee for attorney general, was the first U.S. senator to endorse him.

SEN. JEFF SESSIONS (R), ALABAMA: This is a movement. Look at what's happening.

BASH: The Alabama Republican gave the New York reality TV star credibility with the GOP base because Jefferson Beauregard Sessions III is a rock-ribbed conservative, an Eagle Scout from the heart of the South who was a U.S. attorney and Alabama attorney general.

Yet, 30 years ago when Ronald Reagan nominated Sessions to be a federal judge, Democrats blocked him. Something Sessions rarely talked about but did with us in 2009.

SESSIONS: It was not a pleasant event. I got to tell you. It was so heartbreaking.

BASH: He was accused of racial insensitivity, calling a black lawyer "boy", and civil rights group like the NAACP, un-American, which he denied.

SESSIONS: I am not a racist. I am not insensitive to blacks.

BASH: Sessions was pounded by Democrats, including then Senator Joe Biden.

SESSIONS: They may have taken positions that I consider to be adverse to the security interests of the United States.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Does that make them un-American?

SESSIONS: No, it does not.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Does it make the positions un-American?


No, that was not fair. That was not accurate. Those were false charges and distortions of anything that I did, and it really was not. I never had those kind of views. And I was caricatured in a way that was not me.

BASH: Now, the son of civil rights activists whom Sessions prosecuted for voter fraud is coming to his defense.


BASH: Albert Turner Jr., an Alabama county commissioner, says he has worked extensively with Sessions, who was elected senator 20 years ago.

TURNER: When I was -- talked to Senator Sessions about historical black colleges and trying to get historical black colleges some assistance and funding, he listened. I can go on and on about the particular issues that Jeff Sessions and I have discussed.

BASH: Susan Collins, a moderate Republican, was elected to the Senate the same year as Sessions.

(on camera): You don't agree with him on a lot of issues.

SEN. SUSAN COLLINS (R), MAINE: We don't agree on a host of issues.

BASH (voice-over): Still, she plans to introduce Sessions at his confirmation hearing for attorney general.

COLLINS: I don't know what happened more than 30 years ago. But I do know the Jeff Sessions that I would have worked with in the past 20 years. I want a person of integrity and experience. And Jeff Sessions has all of those characteristics and qualities.

BASH: Sessions spent two decades in the Senate fighting for conservative causes but did team up on a bill with this high-ranking Democrat.

(on camera): You worked with him on legislation.

SEN. DICK DURBIN (D), ILLINOIS: This was like a miracle.

BASH (voice-over): Dick Durbin was trying to reduce the penalty for crack cocaine, which was 100 times higher than powder cocaine.

[16:20:04] Then, he saw Sessions in the Senate gym.

DURBIN: We both showered, we're putting our clothes on, about to leave. I said, "Jeff, give me a number. If you can't do one to one and you won't -- I won't go for 100 to one, what is it?" It was 18. I can't tell you why. But it was 18. We agreed.

BASH: Still, Durbin says he disagrees with Sessions on most legal issues, making it hard to support him for attorney general. Other Democrats Sessions got to know in the gym agree.

SEN. CHARLES SCHUMER (D-NY), MINORITY LEADER: I said to Jeff Sessions in the gym the other day, if he made you trade, head of the trade representative, we'd be working together very well. We can kibbutz in the gym. You keep these positions on immigration, you keep these positions on civil rights and voting rights, it's going to be very hard for me to support you.

BASH: Dana Bash, CNN, Washington.


TAPPER: Our thanks to Dana Bash.

And be sure to tune in Thursday night for a special town hall with House Speaker Paul Ryan. He will join me and a live studio audience here in Washington to answer questions about the incoming Trump administration. You can see this only on CNN at 9:00 p.m. Eastern on Thursday.

Coming up, he is 11 days away from being president of the United States, but Donald Trump is refusing to let a dig from Meryl Streep go by unnoticed. And now, the White House is weighing in.

Then, North Korea says it can launch an ICBM, an intercontinental ballistic missile, anytime and anywhere it wants and that the U.S. is to blame. The Pentagon's response, coming up.


[16:25:56] TAPPER: Welcome back to THE LEAD.

The pop culture lead now. The days leading up to a presidential inauguration are typically a time for healing wounds torn open during a tense election year. But with fewer than two weeks until Donald Trump takes the oath the wounds appear as raw as ever, the cultural divide front and center again last night when award-winning actress Meryl Streep said Donald Trump is the one putting on a dangerous act.


MERYL STREEP, ACTRESS: Disrespect invites disrespect. Violence incites violence. When the powerful use their position to bully others, we all lose.


TAPPER: CNN's Jeff Zeleny joins me now.

And, Jeff, I probably could have come pretty close to predicting what Mr. Trump was going to respond on Twitter. But I was surprised that the White House weighed in.

JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: We have certainly seen the movie before from Donald Trump. But the White House reaction was interesting, Jake. And not surprisingly, Meryl Streep was actually at the White House on Friday evening with many other celebrities attending one final farewell, if you will, to the Obamas. White House spokesman Josh Earnest said today he was asked about these

remarks at the Golden Globes. He said, look, it's entirely appropriate. He said that it was a thoughtful, carefully considered message that she believes in deeply.

Now, of course, she did not mention Donald Trump by name at all. But there was no mistake who she was talking about.


STREEP: It was that moment when the person asking to sit in the most respected seat in our country imitated a disabled reporter, someone he outranked in privilege, power and the capacity to fight back.


ZELENY: Now, even before sunrise this morning, Donald Trump was responding, weighing in, of course, on his favorite medium of Twitter. He said this. He said that she is one of the most overrated actresses in Hollywood. She doesn't know me but attacked me last night at the Golden Globes. She is a, quote, "Hillary flunky who lost big. For the 100th time, I never mocked a disabled reporter, would never do that, but simply showed him."

Of course, the reporter we're talking about is "New York Times" reporter and he did actually mock him during his campaign. That is really without dispute. But now, the point here is, we are seeing a culture divide. The Clintons Sunday night were at "The Color Purple", the final showing of that. The applause in the room was so different than how Vice President-Elect Mike Pence was reacted to when he saw "Hamilton" here.

So, we have seen this divide before. The ironic thing, Donald Trump would not be elected president without his own celebrity.

TAPPER: It's true. Jeff Zeleny, thank you so much.

Turning now to the money lead, even more Donald Trump tweets appearing to take more credit for steering the auto industry back to America's heartland after other car manufacturer announced plans to invest more in the Rust Belt. Mr. Trump posted, quote, "It's finally happening. Fiat Chrysler just announced plans to invest $1 billion in Michigan and Ohio plants, adding 2,000 jobs." This week after Ford said it will expand in Michigan and U.S. instead of building a billion dollar plant in Mexico.

"Thank you, Ford and Fiat Chrysler", unquote.

Joining me now me is Brent Snavely. He's auto reporter for "The Detroit Free Press".

Brent, thanks for joining us.

How much credit is due Donald Trump for these announcements by G.M. and Fiat Chrysler? BRENT SNAVELY, AUTO REPORTER, DETROIT FREE PRESS: Well, I think,

certainly, you're seeing that President-elect Trump has been very outspoken with the auto industry and is putting pressure on the auto industry to respond and change. I -- what really appears to be going on here, though, is that our changing market conditions that are allowing automakers to consider or make changes that they would have made anyway and in many cases have been long in the works before Trump was even -- was elected or even the lead candidate, that automakers are kind of positioning now in a way so that Trump can take credit.

TAPPER: What do you make of the timing of the Fiat Chrysler announcement coming two weeks before inauguration day?

SNAVELY: Here again, is the timing -- Sergio Marchionni said before that these changes were in works for over a year. They were under discussion with the UAW back in 2015, as possible things that could come. ,