Return to Transcripts main page

THE SITUATION ROOM

Interview With Congressman Adam Schiff; Interview With Senator Cory Gardner; Airport Shooting Suspect in Court; Trump's Big Week; Pentagon: U.S. Navy Ship Fires Warning Shots at Iranian Boats; Trump's Son-in-Law Named Senior Advisor. Aired 6-7p ET

Aired January 9, 2017 - 18:00   ET

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


[18:00:01]

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now: Moscow meeting. A spokesman for Vladimir Putin says a meeting with Donald Trump will take place, as Trump dodges questions about Russian election hacking the U.S. says was ordered by Putin. Will Trump address the controversy at his news conference scheduled this week?

Confirmation bias. The congressional calendar is jam-packed with confirmation hearings for Donald Trump's nominees. But some haven't completed background and ethics checks. Will Trump try to push them through without scrutiny?

Menacing America. Iranian boats come within hundreds of yards of U.S. Navy ships, forcing an American destroyer to fire warning shots. The latest tense encounter between the two countries, is it Iranian backlash against warmer ties with the West?

And caught on camera. New video of the shooting rampage at the Fort Lauderdale Airport, as the suspected gunman appears in court for the first time. Could he face the death penalty for the deadly attack?

We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world. I'm Wolf Blitzer. You are in THE SITUATION ROOM.

With just over a week before he assumes office, Donald Trump is staying largely silent on the election cyber-attacks which U.S. intelligence says were ordered by Vladimir Putin to benefit Trump's campaign.

Today, the president-elect dodged questions about it, promising instead to address Russian hacking at a long-delayed news conference scheduled for Wednesday. Tonight, we are learning Trump's son-in-law, Jared Kushner, will be a senior adviser to the president at the White House. Kushner will not be paid for his White House role and we are told he is resigning all his positions at Kushner companies as well as divesting a significant number of assets.

Also tonight, there is new video of the shooting rampage at the Fort Lauderdale International Airport that left five people dead; 26-year- old suspect Esteban Santiago made his first court appearance and was told he could face the death penalty. As the Syrian civil war is about to enter its seventh year, I talked

about failed U.S. efforts to stop the bloodshed with outgoing Secretary of State John Kerry. He calls the ongoing conflict deeply frustrating.

We are covering it with our guests, including Republican Senator Cory Gardner. He's a member of the Foreign Relations Committee. And the senior Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, Congressman Adam Schiff.

Our correspondents and expert analysts, they are also standing by.

Let's begin with Donald Trump, largely silent on the issue of Russia's election hacking, which U.S. intelligence says was ordered by Putin in an effort to help Trump win the White House.

Our senior White House correspondent, Jim Acosta, is joining us with the very latest.

Jim, Donald Trump takes office, what, 11 days from now.

JIM ACOSTA, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Wolf.

Donald Trump made a major announcement today, tapping his son-in-law, Jared Kushner, as a senior adviser to the president. But he also dodged some important questions today on a range of important issues from Russia to his potential for conflicts of interest in the White House. But Trump promises those answers will come at his first post- election news conference on Wednesday.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

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.

[18:05:03]

ACOSTA: Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer is making his case by reprising a 2009 then from then Minority Leader Mitch McConnell to the majority leader at that time, Harry Reid, outlining a series of standards that should be met before Obama were advanced by the Senate.

SEN. CHUCK SCHUMER (D-NY), MINORITY LEADER: They are almost exactly what Democrats requested.

Mr. President, I don't bring this up to play gotcha. I am doing it to show that our requests are eminently reasonable and, in fact, have been shared by leaders of both parties.

ACOSTA: Now Senate Majority Leader McConnell insists 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 already generating heat is Trump 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.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ACOSTA: Now, a few more details on Jared Kushner serving as a senior adviser to Donald Trump.

The transition says he will not be taking a salary when he's at the White House, that he is also divesting himself of his various assets and resigning from the various positions he has at his multiple companies.

Wolf, as for daughter Ivanka Trump, she will not be taking an official job at the White House for now. She is also though resigning from many of her various positions, divesting herself of her assets. She will be in charge somewhat when it comes to that new Trump hotel in D.C., and when those matters come before the White House, Jared Kushner will have to recuse himself from those matters.

But, Wolf, transition officials are insisting they believe Donald Trump has broad authority to select the team of his choosing. Jared Kushner falls into that category and they believe Jared Kushner will have a pretty free rein when it comes to most of what he wants to do at the White House -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Jim Acosta over at Trump Tower in New York City, thank you very much.

Now let's get some more on the meeting between Donald Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Our chief security national correspondent Jim Sciutto is working the story for us.

Jim, a Kremlin spokesman says there are already plans in the works for this meeting. What are you finding out?

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: That's right.

In fact, the Kremlin spokesman, Vladimir Putin's spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, saying this meeting between Trump and Putin is going to take place. They have not set a timeline. He said, in his words, it's going to be carefully arranged.

What is interesting, Wolf, of many things about this upcoming summit would be the timing, because it will almost certainly happen, particularly if it's early in the Trump administration, while you have a continuing investigation on Capitol Hill or consideration perhaps of new sanctions against Russia for election hacking.

Those are sanctions that have the public support now of both Democratic and Republican senators. The backdrop to any upcoming meeting is going to be very interesting where even members of Trump's own party back here in Washington will be looking at a tougher, rather than a friendlier approach to Russia. BLITZER: Also today, Jim, congressional Democrats renewed their call

for an independent commission on Russia, the hacking and other issues. Where do you see this battle over Russia, intelligence, for example, going from here?

SCIUTTO: This is a test, especially when you speak to Democrats, because they are interested in something that is independent or bipartisan.

You and I know well, Wolf, that committee hearings on the Hill that are sponsored by one party as opposed to another party, they can have the whip of partisanship, no question.

Right now, Republican leadership, Mitch McConnell among them, have said they would be satisfied with non-bipartisan investigations of this. So who wins this out? And do you then take a further step like we saw after 9/11 of not just having bipartisan congressional hearings, but something more independent that brings in outsiders?

That's something that hasn't been decided yet. From Democrats' perspective, it will be a test of how hard-hitting, how thorough any investigation is.

BLITZER: Jim Sciutto reporting for us, our chief national security correspondent. Thank you.

Let's get some more on all of this.

Congressman Adam Schiff of California is joining us. He's the senior Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee.

Congressman, thanks very much for joining us.

REP. ADAM SCHIFF (D), CALIFORNIA: You bet.

BLITZER: One of the frustrating things about the declassified intelligence report that came out the other day was the substance, the backup, if you will.

There were conclusions. They were very, very blunt, why the Russians did this. But the evidence backing it up was missing. I was frustrated as a reader. I'm sure a lot of others were frustrated as well. You are privy to sensitive information. And so we have to take your word and the word of others that they have the goods?

[18:10:05]

SCHIFF: Well, I understand the frustration.

On the other hand, it was very important, I think, to get before the American people just what the intelligence community has concluded and, in fact, Putin's very direct role in orchestrating this, what the motivations were.

But you can imagine the Russian intelligence services are now poring over that document, looking at every sentence, every comma, every punctuation point, to figure out, how do they know this? What is their source of information? The more that we share with the public, unfortunately, the more we are sharing with our adversaries.

And when they try this again -- and one of the key conclusions of that report is, this was not a one-off, they are going to do this again, to us, to the Germans, to the French. We don't want them to know our sources of information. We have to protect it.

One other, point, Wolf, this is why I think it is so damaging when Donald Trump denigrates the intelligence community and calls into question their work product, because he is going to come to rely on it. He is going to come before the country one day and ask us to believe what he is saying and what the intelligence community is telling them.

And by impugning them, he is harming his own presidency.

BLITZER: Because what also stood out was that two of the intelligence agencies, the CIA and the FBI, they said they had high confidence in these conclusions.

The NSA, the National Security Agency, had what was called moderate confidence. Somebody who wants to know more and more -- and a lot of people I'm sure want to know more and more -- why do you think that they disagree on what level of confidence they should have?

SCHIFF: Well, that was only on one of the sub-conclusions.

BLITZER: But a significant conclusion.

SCHIFF: A significant one.

But even moderate confidence is a pretty strong finding on something of that key significance.

BLITZER: But as sensitive of an issue as this, moderate confidence does not suggest complete confidence.

SCHIFF: No, it is not complete confidence. And, indeed, the intelligence community never talks about complete confidence.

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: Why couldn't they release more of the background, more of the reasons, more of the information that led them to these conclusions? I understand you don't want to tip off the adversary in this particular case, Russia. But somebody who studies this, don't you think they could have released some more of the backup?

SCHIFF: I think over time we will release more. It is my hope that the investigation that goes forward in Congress will produce a public component, will have open hearings and will also public its own results so that, over time, we can disclose more.

But the sole reason, the 100 percent reason why they didn't do more by way of disclosure is that they don't want to tip off the Russians. There is nothing the Russians would like more than that. And we don't want to inform our own public at our own expense. But it is obviously not a bright line. And they have to make judgment calls and that's why they made them.

BLITZER: What's wrong with wanting to have better relations with Moscow? What's wrong with a summit meeting between the incoming president and Putin?

SCHIFF: Well, there's nothing wrong with it in theory. I would like nothing better than the mullahs to resign and have better relations with Iran.

That's not likely to happen, because the Iranian interests are different than ours, just as the Russian efforts -- interests are very different than ours. And what we can't do is to allow Donald Trump to go to the Kremlin and be given a great big steak dinner and have nice things said about him and then persuade him he ought to change U.S. policy because he's being flattered by the Kremlin. That would be a terrible mistake.

I think what the president-elect needs to do is say, look, I would like improved relations, but they have to be on terms that meet our national interests. And here's what our interests are. We need the Russians out of Ukraine. We need them to abide by the Minsk accords. We need them to stop bombing modern opposition and civilians in Syria.

We need them to stop trying to tear down democratic institutions around the world. And we are going to push back on you hard in these areas. Where you want to work together on counterterrorism, we will work with you, but only when it is in our national security interest.

BLITZER: I know you don't have a high degree of confidence in the president-elect, but what about his top national security team that he is putting together, General Mattis, the incoming, assuming he's confirmed, defense secretary, Rex Tillerson, secretary of state?

What do you think of some of those people? I know you like Mike Pompeo, the congressman who has been nominated to be the CIA director. I wonder how you feel about Dan Coats, who is nominated to be director of national intelligence.

SCHIFF: With respect to Dan Coats, relieved I think is the emotion I first felt.

BLITZER: You have confidence in some of these?

SCHIFF: I do.

I think Dan Coats was a good selection. I think he is someone committed to the intelligence community and the work that they do. He is someone that is viewed as I think quite rational, not a partisan ideologue. I think he's a good solid choice.

I like General Mattis. I had some initial heartburn over the fact that we need to grant a waiver. But, frankly, given the president- elect's other choices, many Democrats are putting their hope and faith in General Mattis to be a voice of reason within that Cabinet.

But others, I have a lot less confidence.

BLITZER: General John Kelly, secretary of homeland security, I assume you appreciate him too?

SCHIFF: I do. I do very much.

BLITZER: It sounds like on national security, homeland security, intelligence, you are more positive than negative?

SCHIFF: Well, yes and no.

[18:15:00]

BLITZER: Mike Pompeo, I know you like that.

SCHIFF: Questions that I have raised about General Flynn in terms of his temperament and judgment and problems he had at DIA, and he may be running the show there.

(CROSSTALK)

SCHIFF: There may be a real collision course between he and General Mattis. That concerns me a great deal.

The degree to which Steve Bannon wants to get involved in national security and foreign policy, that concerns me a great deal. I do have profound concerns. And even with Mike Pompeo, who I like and respect, he is going to need to set aside some very strongly partisan instincts to do that job well. I think he can do it. And he is going to have to do it.

And we will see the first test of that during the confirmation hearings.

BLITZER: But on the whole, though, you are encouraged by at least most of these national security, the team that he is putting together?

SCHIFF: Most is probably stronger than I would say. I have very serious concerns about Rex Tillerson.

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: What's your biggest concern about him?

SCHIFF: Well, that he won't be able to set aside a lifetime of work for a single company whose interests are not coincident with the national interest. Sometimes they are. Sometimes they are not.

The fact that when he was asked not to engage in the Kremlin when we were trying to sanction them, and did nonetheless, some of the work that he did in Iran, for example, these are profound concerns.

Will he be a vigorous champion of continued, indeed, increased sanctions on Russia over Ukraine when it hurts his lifetime callings at his former company? It is possible, but it gives me profound concern.

BLITZER: Because a lot of people leave big business experience and when they take a job as a national security adviser or secretary of state, secretary of defense, they no longer represent in his particular case ExxonMobil. They represent the United States of America.

SCHIFF: Well, yes. But have we ever had a case where someone got a Special Friendship Medal from the Kremlin and whose whole life was devoted to a single company and who now must take on that very company and that friend who gave him that award?

I don't think we have ever seen this kind of situation. And it ought to give Americans a lot of heartburn. He is going to have some very tough questions to answer and he should.

BLITZER: The whole notion of the intelligence community though moving forward, you are frustrated that the Obama administration did not react more assertively during the campaign to the Russian cyber- attacks.

SCHIFF: I was frustrated about it.

Senator Feinstein, as you know, took the extraordinary step in September, the month before the Intelligence Committee released their own attribution, calling out the Russians on what they were doing.

I understand the reasons why the administration was hesitant. They didn't want to be seen as putting their hand on the scale in the American election. They didn't want to risk retaliation by the Russians.

But, nonetheless, our experience with the Russians is, if you don't push back hard with, they view everything as an open door. I was urging that we take a harder line on Ukraine years ago and provide the defensive weapons and urge the stronger support response when North Korea hacked Sony.

I think all of these things did contribute to a Russia that felt it had more of a green light than it should have.

BLITZER: Would the appropriate response, a U.S. cyber-attack on the Russians or something else?

SCHIFF: That ought to be one piece of it, frankly. I think, in a covert way, we can make the Kremlin and Mr. Putin pay a price for their interference in our affairs.

But much of the deterrent should come overtly and it ought to come in the form of working with our allies who are also the subject of Russian malign influence to sanction them.

What Putin cares about more than anything else -- sometimes more than anything else -- is the perpetuation of his own regime. And the number one thing that threatens that is the poor Russian economy. BLITZER: Because President Obama has said the Russians are good in

cyber-attacks, the Iranians are good, the North Koreans are good, the Chinese are good. But you know what? He says the United States is better than all of them. Is that true?

SCHIFF: It is true. It is true.

BLITZER: If the U.S. wanted to launch a cyber-attack, let's say, against Russia and release a lot of embarrassing information about Putin, it could do that?

SCHIFF: It absolutely could do that.

BLITZER: Would you recommend that?

SCHIFF: I would recommend that we take appropriate cyber-steps.

We don't want to escalate all out of control and get in a very destructive cyber tit for tat. But I do think we do need to push back hard. And we have the capabilities of doing it.

Yes, at one level, if we decide to get into cyber-warfare, there is nobody that has the capabilities we do, but we also have a lot at stake. We are more technologically integrated than any other country on Earth, so there are risks.

But there are ways to show that two can play at this game. And if Putin wants to dump embarrassing information about U.S. political figures, there is a lot that he ought to be worried about that we could do as well.

BLITZER: So, when President Obama last September at one of the international summits told Putin, cut it out, referring to the cyber- attacks, did Putin listen, did he cut it out?

SCHIFF: The administration has been making that argument. Frankly, I'm not fully persuaded by it.

If what they mean by that is they didn't escalate further, they didn't try to affirmatively manipulate the vote count or the voter registration databases on Election Day, yes, they didn't do that.

[18:20:03]

I am not sure that they were prepared to cross that line anyway. But if they mean by that they feel they have established enough of a deterrent to stop Russia from doing this again, I don't think that deterrent has been established.

BLITZER: Congressman Schiff, thanks for coming in.

SCHIFF: Thanks, Wolf.

BLITZER: Much more coming up.

We will take a quick break and we will be right back. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

We are watching a dangerous new confrontation between the United States and Iran. The Pentagon now says a U.S. destroyer fired warning shots at an Iranian boats that came within hundreds of yards of three U.S. Navy ships in the Strait of Hormuz.

[18:25:00]

Our Pentagon correspondent, Barbara Starr, is working the story for us.

Barbara, what are you finding out about this incident?

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Tonight, Wolf, new details about a very tense nine hours in the Persian Gulf just yesterday.

Three U.S. Navy ships were going through the Strait of Hormuz, going up into the Persian Gulf when they were approached by a total of six Iranian ships. It began with them just shadowing, pretty typical, but then it got very tense, because five of those Iranian fast-attack boats started moving in very fast, very close, especially to the U.S. destroyer the USS Mahan as it was going through the Strait of Hormuz into the Gulf.

It moved very close. The Mahan tried to warn the Iranians back with calls to the bridge, radio calls, bells and whistles. A helicopter overhead even dropped a smoke flare. Nothing pushed the Iranians back. Finally, the Mahan commander decided he had to fire warning shots to push the Iranians back so it did not pose a danger to the ship.

At that point, the Iranians did stop, we are told, but it was a tense nine-hour transit through this very narrow patch of water -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Barbara, this is not the first warning shot fired. What is behind Iran's provocations right now and how tense is this situation?

STARR: The problem right now is that the Navy is not really sure what led to all of this because the Iranians had largely backed off in the last several months.

Earlier in 2016, the pace of Iranian harassment and coming close to Navy boats, acting in a dangerous manner had been quite high. But they backed off. We have video of one of the most dangerous encounters last year that happened when the Navy had to really get these Iranian fast boats to turn away.

These are generally boats belonging to the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps, the most militant wing of Iranian maritime forces. So, right now what needs to happen is there needs to be an assessment. Is this just a one-off incident or is there some new level, some new pace of provocations that are going to start happening, Wolf?

BLITZER: Very tense situation and worrisome situation as well. Barbara Starr at the Pentagon, thanks very much.

Let's get some more on all of this.

Republican Senator Cory Gardner of Colorado is joining us. He's a member of the Foreign Relations Committee.

Senator, thanks very much for joining us.

It is a very tense situation right now. What's your analysis, your sense of why the Iranians all of a sudden are launching these kinds of provocative acts?

SEN. CORY GARDNER (R), COLORADO: Really, this action shouldn't surprise anyone. What we have seen over the past several years under Barack Obama's administration is an emboldened Iran. They are emboldened because their sanctions have been relieved.

They've received billions of dollars and sanctions are being lifted. That's why today we also saw the news that they are increasing their defense spending and they're developing and continuing to infuse cash into a continental ballistic missile program.

These actions should surprise no one. We have seen their aggression in the Strait of Hormuz and other places. We have seen the U.S. have to fire warning shots towards Iranian ships. We have seen the illegal seizure of U.S. sailors and we've seen the embarrassing response from this administration when that happened.

BLITZER: You voted against the Iran nuclear deal.

Donald Trump throughout the campaign said it was the worst deal ever. Do you believe he is going to rip it up?

GARDNER: I hope he rips it up.

Look, the fact is, if we want to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon, the deal provides a patient pathway to that nuclear weapon. And no deal is better because it would at least allow us to a way to get to no nuclear weapons for the Iran regime.

BLITZER: But the deal, which, apparently, as far as the nuclear part of the deal, the administration says the Iranians are honoring that part. It would delay their getting a nuclear weapon at for least 10 or 15 years.

That's what they say.

GARDNER: What they're saying is that this would delay. Now they are saying delay it. Before they have said it keeps them from getting it.

Look, in eight years, they are going to start developing advanced research -- advanced centrifuges with the research that they're going to be allowed to have. They are going to able to replace the centrifuges that they gave up. They're going to greatly expand their enrichment opportunities and the fact is they will be on a path to a globally recognized nuclear program. BLITZER: Let's say the president-elect rips it up.

They have already received billions of dollars in previous sanctions, whatever, sanctions relief. If the deal is ripped up, what's to stop them from immediately going back to those centrifuges and developing a nuclear bomb?

GARDNER: That's where the United States and its global partners that want to prevent Iran from getting a nuclear weapon have to come together.

BLITZER: But the global partners oppose ripping it up, the Russians, the Chinese, the French, the British.

(CROSSTALK)

GARDNER: That's the mistake the Obama administration entered into when they entered into a deal that allowed Iran global permission to have a nuclear program within just eight years of the deal being...

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: But what happens if the other partners of the deal, the U.N. Security Council members in Germany, what if they refuse to rip that the deal like the United States does?

GARDNER: If their interest is to keep Iran from going nuclear, then they will join us in this effort.

Look, if the interest of our partners is to make sure that Iran does not have a nuclear program, then they will admit that this deal is not the avenue to get that done, because they will be allowed within eight years to have a nuclear weapons program going forward.

BLITZER: Senator, how far would you go in preventing Iran from developing a nuclear weapon, including military action?

[18:30:06] GARDNER: I don't think you take anything off of the table. But diplomacy ought to be where we start. And that diplomacy doesn't mean that we have the Iran nuclear deal.

Diplomacy means we double down on our strength position. We don't show weakness that we've shown for the past eight years. We get tough with Iran. We make sure that our allies are tough with Iran. That's what we should have done from the beginning.

BLITZER: Do you think Trump is going to rip it up?

GARDNER: I hope he does. He said he would.

BLITZER: He would at least fry to renegotiate it, he said.

GARDNER: Again, I think...

BLITZER: Because his position sort of evolved over the course of... GARDNER: The bottom line is this. We don't want Iran to have a nuclear program. They remain the largest leading state sponsor of terror in the world. That's not changing today. That didn't change because of the Iran nuclear deal. In fact, you saw Congress unanimously pass and put on the president's desk an extension of the Iran sanctions act. They did it not because Iran has suddenly started becoming friends with the United States and friend to our allies around the world.

We did it because we belief they continue to be a threat to peace and stability around the globe.

BLITZER: Do you accept the conclusions of the intelligence community about Russian cyberattacks during the U.S. election?

GARDNER: Yes, I do. And I've read the report, continuing to work through pieces of the report where it talks about sources and methods. We've been briefed by Victoria Newland and other members of the intelligence community through the Foreign Relations Committee. And we have a briefing coming up later this week with the administration.

BLITZER: And the evidence that you've seen, the classified information, for example, is compelling?

GARDNER: I don't disagree with the conclusions of the intelligence community.

BLITZER: So why is Donald Trump, the president-elect sort of lukewarm when it comes to it?

GARDNER: I don't think he's been lukewarm. In fact, if you look at what Reince Priebus has said over the weekend, if you look at what Donald Trump has said, his response has been to create a 90-day task force to make sure that we can prevent this from happening again.

Look, what I believe we ought to do -- and I have advocated this for well over a year now -- is the creation of a permanent committee on cybersecurity. That way we can have a whole of government view, a whole of government approach to cybersecurity policy that can address Russia, that can address Iran, that can address North Korea.

Look, the Russian -- the Russian revelations, it's not new. It's something we learned about over the summer. The president didn't respond in a forceful manner, just like he didn't respond to Ukraine in a forceful manner, just like he didn't respond to Syria in a forceful manner. He didn't respond to North Korea in a forceful manner as a result of the Sony attacks, didn't respond to Iranian cyberattacks against infrastructure in this country.

So we ought to have a policy in this country, set in place, that can be overseen by a permanent committee on cybersecurity to make sure that we're addressing it all.

BLITZER: And do you think the U.S. should retaliate against Russia with its own cyberattacks against Russia? GARDNER: I think it's appropriate to use all measures where

appropriate and if advised by our commanders of this country's military and other leaders of the government. So if that's appropriate, then by all means yes. If there's something else we should do, if it's sanctions, maybe more than kicking out just 35 people, then we ought to pursue that.

But the problem is, we don't have a whole-of-government view in Congress, or I believe the administration that is adequately preparing this country for our cyber future. If you look at China, President Xi has taken basically control of the cyber administration in China. That's how serious he takes it. He's put himself in charge of his cyber command.

I have met with the cyber administration in China to try to learn more what exactly they are doing. Other nations around the globe, I believe, are taking this more seriously than this administration has over the past eight years. I hope President Trump, when he takes office, will make this a very serious effort on his behalf to protect the country -- protect this country's assets from our commercial sector to our national security when it comes to cyber.

BLITZER: Do you agree with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell that Donald Trump's hopes of having a great relationship with Putin and Russia, according to Mitch McConnell, those hopes will be dashed pretty quickly after he becomes president?

GARDNER: Look, if you -- if you have a relationship because Russia has decided to get out of Ukraine; if you have a relationship where Syria...

BLITZER: There's no indication Russia is getting out of Ukraine.

GARDNER: That would be a good relationship. If you have a meeting with Vladimir Putin and you say, "This business in Ukraine is stopping. This business in Syria is stopping. Your cyberattacks against the United States and our interests is stopping," that's a good meeting to have.

But I don't think that we can all of a sudden turn around and be friends tomorrow if those types of conversations and commitments aren't made.

BLITZER: How close is North Korea under Kim Jong-un to developing an intercontinental ballistic missile with a nuclear warhead that potentially could hit the U.S.?

GARDNER: They're getting closer and closer every day...

BLITZER: How close?

GARDNER: ... while they continue. Again, they're getting closer and closer every day.

We know from people like Admiral Gortney, who is the recently retired director and admiral -- combatant commander of NorthCom, that the situation on the Korean Peninsula was at its most unstable point since the armistice. We know that they have a miniaturized nuclear weapon. We know that they have 60, if not more, to 100 in the near future nuclear warheads. They have the capacity to miniaturize. And they are working each and every day on the ability to deliver that to the United States homeland.

We know from recent tests that they've been able to reach out. That's why we're in the region, and to our allies. That's why we're working on the deployment of THAAD, which is the Terminal High-Altitude Area Defense System in South Korea to shoot down anything they could fire that way. I believe that we need to expedite that. I believe the Trump administration, I hope that they will support that effort.

Bottom line is this: North Korea presents a significant challenge to the safety of the American people. And we have to stand strong with our allies like Japan and South Korea, forcing China to do what they can to put an end to the nuclear program of North Korea.

BLITZER: Good luck.

GARDNER: Thank you.

BLITZER: Thanks so much for joining us.

Senator Cory Gardner of Colorado.

Just ahead, here in THE SITUATION ROOM, we have details of the role Donald Trump's son-in-law, Jared Kushner, will play in the White House. And there's new information tonight about Ivanka Trump, as well.

Plus, breaking news. A deadly day for police and a manhunt tonight in Orland for a cop killer.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[18:40:08] BLITZER: Just into THE SITUATION ROOM, we're getting some new details about the future of a key player from Donald Trump's presidential campaign. Donald Trump's son-in-law, Jared Kushner, will now become a senior adviser in the president in the White House.

Let's dig deeper with our political experts. Dana Bash, let me start with you. What kind of a role are you hearing that Jared Kushner will play?

DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: A big one, just like he did all through the campaign, just like he has been through the transition. He will be in the White House. He will be a senior adviser to his father-in-law, the president of the United States. And they have taken a very detailed series of steps to try to make sure that he complies with all of the ethics laws, just as he would if he were anybody else working in the White House.

He obviously is a very wealthy individual, and he has a lot of assets with his family's company and beyond. And what his team has said this afternoon is that he is going to divest himself of a lot of the work that he's done with his family and interests he has with his family. Those that he is not going to completely separate himself from financially, he's going to recuse himself from when issues arise. And he's not going to take a salary.

What I think is also fascinating is that his wife, who's the first daughter...

BLITZER: Ivanka.

BASH: ... Ivanka, she also is going to take some steps to separate herself financially from the company. But at this point, it's not necessarily immediately because of her role in the West Wing. But it's because she is the wife of the senior adviser.

And so that is why the Trump team says that she, too, is going to separate herself from her Ivanka Trump brand and, for the most part, from the Trump Organization.

BLITZER: Ryan Lizza, as you've heard, there are some concerns about nepotism.

RYAN LIZZA, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes.

BLITZER: What are you hearing?

LIZZA: Well, there's a debate among the legal scholars about whether the anti-nepotism laws apply to the executive office of the president, right? And Jamie Gorelick, a former Democratic official, who is Kushner's lawyer, talked to reporters today and was -- made a strenuous argument that the law doesn't apply.

I will say that even some of the most hawkish ethics people like Norm Eisen and Richard Painter, former White House ethics counsel, have said -- said that this is a sort of murky area. You'll find a lot of conservative legal scholars who say the anti-nepotism laws do not apply to the White House. The president can appoint anyone he wants. That's the power he has in the Constitution.

And I think the issue will be whether Democrats or anyone who is upset about this makes a big deal out of it. There is a federal agency, the Office of Special Counsel, that enforces anti-nepotism laws. Will they step up and say anything? Will any congressional committee say that this is problematic? There's a lot of stuff going on in the Trump administration for Democrats and others to worry about. I doubt that this one raises to that level. And I bet he's -- he serves without a problem.

BLITZER: Because usually, they give a president of the United States a lot of discretion. And...

LIZZA: That's right.

BLITZER: ... in terms of the personal staff at the White House.

LIZZA: Yes, if you look at the history of this law, it really was created not to target the president. Some people say it was meant to target when JFK had RFK as his attorney general. Actually, when I was looking at the history of that law today, it was for much lesser, smaller agencies.

And a lot hangs on the question of a law agency. Is the White House, is the executive office of the president an agency? And you'll find a lot of legal scholars who say that he is free and clear to serve in this role. That's not -- that's not an unambiguous position. There is another side to it. But that's -- a lot of legal scholars will say that.

BASH: And more importantly, just to add to that, what Kushner's lawyers are arguing is that, since that law, Congress has passed a law that specifically says a president can basically have whomever he wants around him in the White House as an advisor, and that's what they're hanging this on.

JACKIE KUCINICH, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: The interesting thing is how many are comparing this to Hillary Clinton's role in the White House. Because -- because of her role in health care, saying Bill Clinton was able to bring her in. Why shouldn't be able to Trump -- Trump be able to bring in his son-in-law?

But I think another interesting thing about Jared Kushner separating himself from his business is...

BLITZER: The Kushner business.

KUCINICH: Kushner business.

BLITZER: Not necessarily as huge as the Trump Organization.

KUCINICH: True.

BLITZER: But it's still very formidable.

KUCINICH: True. But it will be interesting to see how much that is mirrored by Donald Trump in this press conference, how much pressure this puts on him, if at all, because this is Donald Trump that we're talking about. But it does -- it does up the -- up the game a little bit because of what -- the lengths that Jared Kushner appears to be going through to separate himself.

BLITZER: We're going to learn a lot more about the removal of these interests on Wednesday at this Trump news conference. Presumably, he's going to open up with an explanation of how he's going to make sure there are no conflicts of interest, or as limited as possible.

DAVID SWERDLICK, ASSISTANT EDITOR, "THE WASHINGTON POST": Yes, Wolf. Assuming that the press conference goes forward. We've had delays in the past.

I think that, if you step back a little bit to Ryan's point, right. They seem to have lawyered this and thought this through pretty carefully. And there is an argument on both sides that it's OK for the Trump team to appoint Jared Kushner to the White House. [18:45:03] I think, though, when you step back, it still raises

questions about this idea that all throughout the campaign, President- elect Trump sort of pitched to the American people, "Look, I want to go into public service. I want to be your president." I believe at one point, he said, "My business is peanuts." Maybe he was exaggerating there a little bit.

But -- and then, my grown kids will take care of the business. Now, it's a little different. Even if he can legally do this, this is a little bit different than what he promised.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: His two adult sons will take care of the business. They're not coming into the administration.

SWERDLICK: Well, his two adult sons but also -- my read on it was he was talking about all of his adult children including Ivanka Trump. He clearly relied on Jared Kushner throughout the campaign.

DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Right.

SWERDLICK: And it makes sense that he wants him in the White House. But he is his adult son-in-law.

(CROSSTALK)

BASH: Just on the idea of his two adult sons taking over the business, it is likely what's going to happen. What we don't know is how Donald Trump is going to separate himself from the business so he doesn't have conflicts of interest.

As, you know, sort of dorky Washington reporters want to do, Ryan and I were having a very serious discussion about the Emoluments Clause of the Constitution means.

RYAN LIZZA, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Who's the dorky reporter you're talking about?

BASH: I own that -- which makes it illegal for a president or any elected official to take gifts from foreign governments and it goes beyond that. There are lots of murky areas for Donald Trump and also for Ivanka Trump, because she might be the first daughter. But the open question that we're all waiting for, once they figure this out, is she going to have an office in the West Wing, to your point about Hillary Clinton? I mean, that's going to be fascinating.

LIZZA: And just put in the conflicts of interest and the nepotism issue aside, they were very clear just in the press release they put out a little while ago that Kushner was basically going to be at the same level of the two most senior people they have announced in the White House already, Bannon and Priebus. So, we're going to have this very interesting structure in this White House.

BLITZER: So, Kushner will be reported directly to the president?

LIZZA: Well, they didn't specify that exactly. They didn't specify -- BASH: That's why he's the son-in-law.

LIZZA: He made -- the press release did sort of talk about the three of them as a team. And so, you are going to have this very interesting group, sort of triumvirate, who are sort of first among equals with Trump. And if you look at the history of White House structures, that hasn't always worked out so well when you have more than one person at the top.

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: News conference, Jackie, Wednesday morning, it will be fascinating. But tomorrow, confirmation hearings begin. They continue on Wednesday. They continue on Thursday. There are seven or eight, nine of these confirmation hearings in the works right now. And they could be very lively.

JACKIE KUCINICH, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: They could be very lively. One of the things I'm watching for, particularly with some of the national security picks, General Mattis, General Kelly, where they separate from Trump, because, as you know, some of the first questions that they're going to get are going to be about Russia and what their policy will be. So, that is going to -- to see where the lines will be drawn, and taking aside some of Tillerson and some of the others, that will be very controversial. But some of these that we expect to go through, where they separate with the president will be fascinating to see.

BLITZER: You are hearing how they are preparing, Dana, for these. Rex Tillerson, for example, Senator Sessions, the attorney general nominee, they are really going through, what, mock rehearsals.

BASH: Right, they call them murder boards.

For Rex Tillerson, it is obviously a very new experience. He's not been in Washington, nevermind, you know --

BLITZER: Former ExxonMobil CEO.

BASH: ExxonMobil, right, right.

For Jeff Sessions, it is completely different. It is all too familiar for him. Not only because he was, himself, rejected by the very committee he is going to go before tomorrow morning when he was nominated by Ronald Reagan for the federal bench, but also because he has served on this committee for the majority of the 20 years that he has been in the United States Senate.

I am told he was preparing very hard. He was doing those murder boards over and over again since before Christmas and even up to this past weekend ironically in his Senate office working with his team. So, they are working very hard.

BLITZER: What are you hearing about these confirmation hearings that are about to begin tomorrow morning? SWERDLICK: Well, I think one of the things that we're going to have

to see, Wolf, is whether or not Democrats, you know, are able to sort of lock arms in their opposition even if it is only rhetorical to some of these nominees. I think that --

BLITZER: Even if they do, they don't have the votes, right?

SWERDLICK: They don't have the votes to stop any of these nominees. I don't anticipate that they'll -- certainly, that they will be able to delay any hearings as they have suggested they would like to do or stop any nominees, but whether they will stick together on message. It will be a dry run for something like a Supreme Court hearing down the road, or an Obamacare fight.

Republicans proved during the Obama administration tat they could stick together. Democrats have a more mixed structure.

BLITZER: Well, there are a whole bunch of Democrats that are up for reelection in two years, in states that Donald Trump carried overwhelmingly. So, they're going to be pretty nervous about going against him.

LIZZA: Yes, especially someone like Manchin in West Virginia, that Donald Trump won by a huge margin.

[18:50:03] That's right. The Democrats have a very tough map in two years.

I think since they don't really have the votes to stop anyone, what they'll use these hearings for is much more of a referendum on Trump. Go through the list of controversial Trump statements and policy proposals and ask each of one of these, do you agree with what he said about banning Muslims, do you agree with what he has said about Russian hacking, and take the most controversial things and try and get these cabinet secretaries on record, breaking with Trump.

And so, at these murder boards, it will be very interesting to see how they're prepared for that, if they're just going to be noncommittal or if they're prepared to say, well, I disagree with the president-elect on that.

BASH: And with someone like Trump, it's not just necessarily about breaking with him. It's genuinely learning about where his administration is going to go, because, you know, we've all reported that he chose people very specifically to really run, really run a lot of these cabinets, unlike presidents in the past who have done a lot of it from inside the West Wing, he wants, for example, Rex Tillerson to be a really strong secretary of state and Mattis to be a really strong secretary of defense and help to shape policies.

So, what they say really will be an indicator of where a Trump administration will go.

BLITZER: You know, Ryan, it's very interesting. Today, he's receiving a lot of foreign visitors at Trump Tower. Today, he received Jack Ma, who's the head of Alibaba. LIZZA: Yes.

BLITZER: His net worth, $27.2 billion. He escorted him into the lobby and made an appearance before cameras.

A little bit after that, Bernard Arnault, the French billionaire, he's worth only $40.1 billion, Louis Vuitton, all sorts of other companies. He also escorted him into the lobby to welcome him to Trump Tower.

It's interesting who he decides to go down the lobby of Trump Tower with and who sort of shows up at least.

LIZZA: Yes, he likes to show off certain important people.

BASH: With money.

LIZZA: With money. Each one of those is worth -- I think each one of them is worth even more than the billionaires in the Trump cabinet. So, that's some serious net worth.

Yes, it's very interesting. I think he likes the idea that there are people like that who are not -- who we typically associate with Trump that are sort of coming around to him or at the very least going in and kissing the ring.

BLITZER: All right. Everybody, stick around.

I want to let our viewers now, stay with CNN for two important town halls. Tonight, 9:00 p.m. Eastern, the Vermont senator, former Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders takes questions from a live audience with CNN's Chris Cuomo moderating. And House Speaker Paul Ryan will join Jake Tapper for a town hall this Thursday, two must-see specials only here on CNN.

Right now, we have some breaking news coming into THE SITUATION ROOM. A manhunt unfolding tonight in Orlando, Florida. Police are looking for the killer of Officer Debra Clayton who was shot while chasing a murder suspect identified as Markeith Lloyd.

These are live pictures you're seeing right now. He fled in a vehicle, firing shots at another officer, abandoned it, carjacked another vehicle, later ran into an apartment complex. A short time later, a sheriff's deputy searching for Lloyd was killed when his motorcycle crash. A reward of up to $60,000 is being offered for information leading to Lloyd's arrest.

There's also new video tonight of the shooting rampage at the Ft. Lauderdale airport that left five people dead. And now, the suspect has learned he could face the death penalty.

CNN's Boris Sanchez joining us with the latest.

Boris, Esteban Santiago appeared in court today for the first time, you were there, tell our viewers how it went.

BORIS SANCHEZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It was very short, Wolf, the whole thing lasted about 10 to 15 minutes. Esteban Santiago did not say much. He only gave very short answers to the judge when she asked him if he knew his rights and if he understood that the charges that he's facing are extremely serious with very harsh penalties.

This court appearance coming on the heels, as you said, Wolf, of the release of this video and as we hear more from Santiago's family members, who are revealing more about his mindset before the attack.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

SANCHEZ (voice-over): The man seen in this terrifying video obtained by TMZ pulling a pistol from his waistband and firing toward the crowded baggage claim at Ft. Lauderdale's airport is now charged with three federal crimes, two of which carry a possible death penalty.

Five people were killed in that violent attack on Friday. In court, 26-year-old Esteban Santiago told the judge he was currently unemployed and only has five to ten dollars as his name. He added that he had previously worked as a security officer and served about a decade in the Army.

His family telling CNN that his personality changed dramatically after his last deployment to Iraq.

All this as new questions emerge regarding Santiago's health and just how he was able to gain access to the weapon used in the deadly airport massacre.

[18:55:00] ANNIKA DEAN, FORT LAUDERDALE SHOOTING SURVIVOR: There was no escape. I began to pray, pray that my children wouldn't lose their mother.

SANCHEZ: Police say this .9-millimeter handgun had been confiscated from the shooter in November after he walked into a FBI office in Alaska to tell them he was hearing voices and was being influenced by ISIS. But after a mental health evaluation, he was not deemed mentally defective. The gun was returned.

PAUL CALLAN, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: How is that possible? Well, under existing law, mental illness can only be grounds to take away somebody's weapons if a court has ordered you involuntarily committed to a mental hospital. If you're merely surrendering voluntarily, that does not deprive you of the right to have weapons.

SANCHEZ: It's a loophole that baffled Santiago's own family.

BRYAN SANTIAGO, ESTEBAN SANTIAGO'S BROTHER (through translator): How are you going to let someone leave a psychological center after four days when he's saying he's hearing voices?

SANCHEZ: Court documents show Santiago has confessed to planning the attack. He recently began selling his possessions, including his car. Friends and associates noticed more erratic behavior, investigators say, all leading up to Friday, when he fired approximately ten to 15 rounds aiming at his victims' heads.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: One of the ladies is killed. Her husband was shot in the face, the guy next to him was shot in the cheek.

SANCHEZ: Families of the victims are providing images of their loved ones killed in the attack, including mothers, fathers, and grandparents. Those left behind no doubt wondering how things could have been different.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SANCHEZ: Esteban Santiago is due back in court next Tuesday for a bail hearing, Wolf. It's highly unlikely he'll be released on bail.

BLITZER: Boris Sanchez, thanks very much.

Meanwhile, 400,000 people killed, 10 million displaced. The civil war in Syria rages on, about to enter its seventh year. It's among the biggest challenges the Obama administration has faced. And I talked about it with the outgoing secretary of state, John Kerry.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: You recently were captured on audio saying how frustrated you were that the U.S. didn't use force in Syria to prevent the slaughter that continues to this day. Hundreds of thousands of people over the past four years have been killed. Many more have been injured. Millions have been made homeless, refugees.

Was this your biggest failure, stopping the bloodbath in Syria?

JOHN KERRY, SECRETARY OF STATE: Well, you know, I think it's -- was it our biggest failure? No. Because stopping it was not up to or necessarily in the capacity of one country, the United States.

BLITZER: But the United States is the world's leader.

KERRY: Yes, it is the world's leader. And there are many things --

BLITZER: And on your watch -- this must be so frustrating to you, Mr. Secretary, because I know you, to have gone these four years and to see the slaughter.

KERRY: Sure, it's frustrating, I've said that very, very clearly. It is deeply frustrating. But --

BLITZER: Was this the biggest failure of your administration?

KERRY: Again, I want to repeat to you, the United States of America doesn't have the power by itself to end the war in Syria. It could make the war bigger.

BLITZER: Not by itself, but the U.S. could have done more, you know that.

KERRY: Well, yes, but Putin had to do more. Assad had to do more. Iran had to do more.

(CROSSTALK) BLITZER: Putin is working with Assad right now to slaughter a lot of these people.

KERRY: That's correct. And that is why, unless you choose to go to war and/or engage in other kinds of choices, and I don't want to run through all of them right here and now, the simple reality remains -- yes, it's deeply frustrating that the war in Syria has not been able to be stopped. But do I look on it as the failure of this administration or otherwise?

I look on it as a failure of the international community and of other countries to see reasonable ways in which this war could have been stopped. Now, are there things we might have been able to do to effect some of that? Perhaps. That's a debate for the future. And I'm not going to start going backwards today.

But I do think that we did what was appropriate, which is try in every way possible with whatever leverage was available to us, to be able to try to end the war. And I'm proud of what we did in that regard. I don't view it -- I mean, we are the single largest donor in the world to the refugees, in terms of those finding themselves in other countries. Turkey is a huge donor to its own country to take care of the people who have come across the border. Jordan likewise is struggling.

But we've worked I think diligently to try to guide this thing to a place through the international Syria support group, through our U.N. resolutions, through other efforts to try to encourage people to make peace. But there's an old saying, you know, you can lead a horse to water, you can't make it drink. And we've done a lot of leading and a lot of getting to the water. But people were not in a mood to drink.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: That's all the time we have. Thanks very much for watching.

"ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.