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Trump Holds First Press Conference Since Election; Trump: "I Think It Was Russia" Behind Election Hacks; Senate Confirmation Hearings For Trump's Cabinet Picks. Aired 12:30-1p ET
Aired January 11, 2017 - 12:30 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
[12:30:02] LARRY NOBLE, GENERAL COUNCEL CAMPAIGN LEGAL CENTER: So no, I'm not really satisfied with the idea that somebody who worked for me is going to make the decisions.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: All right. We're going to continue this, but I want to go to Jim Acosta our White House Correspondent, who's inside Trump Tower. Is that news conference, Jim? I know you very assertively trying to get a question in. And he pointed at you and he said he didn't want to take your questions, it's a fake new. Tell us what it was like for you, when you saw what was going on?
JIM ACOSTA, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, at the beginning of that news conference Donald Trump indicated that he was not going to call on me or call on CNN. He sort of pointed at me at one point and then waved his hand as if you're not going to get a question. And then as the news conference went on, as you heard, he was attacking this news organization repeatedly. And I felt it was only fair that if our news organization is going to be attacked that we get a chance to ask a followup question about what Donald Trump was talking about.
And fortunately, my colleague Cecilia Vega over at ABC did ask a question that I was going to ask, which is did Donald Trump have any contacts who were in contact with the Russians in the context of this campaign? She actually did not get an answer on that question. I don't know if you noticed that at the podium.
But as he was going to the elevators, we all were asking him again to answer that question. And he said, no, that nobody associated with him or his campaign was in contact with the Russians during the context of that campaign. So I do want to pass on that little bit of news along because he did not answer that question formally during that news conference.
I should also tell you that at one point during this news conference, in the interest of full disclosure and so everybody knows what's going on and what was happening in the room. After I asked and I guess you might say demanded that we have a question. Sean Spicer, the incoming press secretary did say to me, that if I were to do that again, I was going to be thrown out of this press conference.
Of course, Wolf, I had to persist there and try to get that question asked. But in the end, the question was asked. And a lot of questions were asked during this press conference. Donald Trump did provide some answers. As you said, Wolf, he is taking the position that this report that the intelligence community warned him that the Russians might have compromising information on him. And he is describing that as fake news. And he is holding to that position.
But at the same time, Wolf, because of, you know, the need to go back and forth with Donald Trump on these key questions. A lot of policy questions did not get asked. And some policy questions did, about Obamacare. It was interesting to hear president-elect say that he is going to have some kind of replace package ready to go. And fairly a short order after a repeal bill, he talked to the Republicans up on Capitol Hill though that that is not what they're saying. And so as is always the case with Donald Trump news conferences, questions are asked, but more questions remain. Wolf.
BLITZER: All right, Jim Acosta. Thanks very much.
He also said within two weeks he would nominate someone to the United States Supreme Court. You know, Jake, there's a statement --
JAKE TAPPER, CNN CHIEF WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: Yeah.
BLITZER: -- that CNN has now released responding to the charges leveled by Sean Spicer and the president-elect of the United States against CNN.
TAPPER: That's right. Let me read this clearly.
"CNN's decision to publish carefully sourced reporting about the operations of our government is vastly different than buzz feed's decision to publish unsubstantiated memos. The Trump team knows this. They are using buzz feed's decision to deflect from CNN's reporting which has been matched by the other major news organizations. We are fully confident in our reporting, it represents the core of what the first amendment protects, informing the people of the inner workings of their government; in this case, briefing materials prepared for President Obama and President-elect Trump last week. CNN made it clear that we were not publishing any of the details of the 35-page document because we have not corroborated the report's allegations. Given that members of the Trump transition team have so vocally criticized our reporting, we encourage them to identify specifically what they believe to be inaccurate."
So that is a statement from CNN. And I would just underline having worked on this story with Carl Bernstein, Jim Sciutto here with me, Evan Perez and many other reporters at CNN. We were very careful to not even mention one of the allegations in the uncorroborated document. And anyone who suggests we did, is not telling you the truth, Jim.
JIM SCIUTTO, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: If I could just add this. A lot of charges were leveled at CNN, including my brave colleague there, Jim Acosta. If I could say, what Donald Trump in that press conference and his surrogates, Sean Spicer, including that press conference, including in our attempts to reach out to them, have not answered, are the essential facts of our story.
One, that the intelligence community chose to include these allegations and briefing materials to the president-elect and to the current president of the United States, Barack Obama. Two, that the FBI is investigating these allegations. They have not determined them to be true, but they are investigating this. And they are taking them seriously.
[12:35:05] Three, that both Democratic and Republican lawmakers, senators, are taking these allegations seriously and pursuing them. That was the essence of our story.
Now, Donald Trump did not mention or was not asked about the FBI investigation or Republican and Democratic lawmakers pursuing it, his camp, nor he have addressed that. Two, the one thing he did address was the intelligence briefing. When he was asked directly about that he says he could not comment.
TAPPER: He said he could not comment because it was a classified nature.
SCIUTTO: Because it was classified in nature of intelligence.
TAPPER: I would say he did address something that was in the buzz feed printed memo.
TAPPER: And that we're not going to go into, except to say it has to do with allegations of how anybody would get personal damaging -- personally damaging information.
TAPPER: And he talked about at quite some length how when he travels abroad with his security team. He tells everybody, be careful how you behave, there are cameras everywhere. And so that would seemingly disprove the idea that there was any personally damaging information.
SCIUTTO: But let me just note, he mentioned in regarding the personal behavior that we are not describing that was contained in this report. One, he seemed to be saying "I wouldn't do that because I know there are cameras there that might catch you". He then made in a comment that he is a germophobe, a well known germophobe.
SCIUTTO: He did not at any point describe the behavior as bad or reprehensible. He just -- those were his --
GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, yeah. Well the question was about blackmail, I think. And that was --
BORGER: That was his response to that. He also went out of his way over and over again to say that, he has no dealings with Russia. He is not doing any deals. He hasn't done any loans. To which the question the question was raised, well if that's the case why not release your tax reference. So everybody can know that
SCIUTTO: He said they're still under audit. He said they're still under audit.
DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: And the other thing that's still is not resolved is his relationship with the intelligence community. It certainly didn't get better with this press conference. It just didn't, because he was blaming them for releasing what they released without actually confirming that what was released was true or not.
So that was not resolved. And it is still -- I will say again a very, very big problem for an incoming president to have this issue regardless of whether or not he will have his own people at the helm of some of the agencies because it is the rank-and-file who do the work.
SCIUTTO: And his implication was that once my guys, in effect, are in there. That I will get intelligence that I trust more. And that is -- that could be concerning because you could setup circumstances where -- I mean, does any president, Republican or Democrat wants an unvarnished, unbiased view of the intelligence. They don't want to give the impression and the intelligence community certainly doesn't want to give the impression that they are on someone's team as they make these assessments.
RICK SANTORUM, FORMER U.S. SENATOR FOR PENNSYLVANIA: Although -- you can ignore the reality of the politicization of this intelligence right after the election. That the president of the United States asked for a report, that we've been hacked as Donald Trump has mentioned repeatedly, constantly in.
BASH: I say. I have to interject.
SANTORUM: Let me finish and then you could done any of that (ph).
SANTORUM: That we have been repeatedly hacked, OPM and others. And Barack Obama has done nothing. And that he has done nothing. He basically said don't do it again. They've done no make. They've no major reporting --
SCIUTTO: That they made no press results, no issued charges against named Chinese individuals for that hacking.
SANTORUM: The bottom line is nothing of this profile has been done in response to hacking, until this moment, which was conflated deliberately with the election and legitimacy of Donald Trump.
(CROSSTALK) And so the point is the way Donald Trump is viewing it and why many Republicans are viewing this --
SCIUTTO: Hold on.
SANTORUM: The intelligence community -- the intelligence community acted first by cooperating with Barack Obama in this politicization of intelligence. And so now you are abhorred that he being politically backed and I think that --
SYMONE SANDERS, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Donald Trump politicizes information. When the information was leaked from WikiLeaks and he repeatedly used it in his campaign. He capitalized on the information. He used it again today in his press conference. So if you want to talk about politicization, you also have to hold Donald Trump accountable, something that many people in the Republican Party are not currently doing. And I would hope that folks would step up and do so.
Look, the fact of the matter is Russia meddled in our democracy, in our elections. That is not a partisan issue. If you want to talk about that you know, Donald Trump doesn't necessarily agree with some of the folks in the intelligence community. I think it goes back to Dana's point in which that this is -- this is much more about -- much more than his ego. This is about the future of our democracy, what is happening in the streets across America. And it is incorrect to note that, you know, it's President Obama and Obama administration officials that politicize this. Donald trump has repeatedly used this information.
TAPPER: And so I want to go to David Axelrod, but before I do this. Just added context, we should note and just acknowledge that the accusation that the intelligence agencies are politicizing intelligence is not new to the Obama administration. The Bush administration faced in. I could name every president as far back to George Washington, probably. There's always an accusation that people are getting information that comports with a certain political world view.
[12:40:04] And the other side is always talking about how they want to get in there and depoliticize the intelligence. Let me get to David Axelrod right now to know what his thought.
DAVID AXELROD, AMERICAN POLITICAL OPERATIVE AND POLITICAL ANALYST: Well look I -- you know, when you -- I hear Senator Santorum talking about the political nature of these agencies. The people who lead these agencies have served for decades and decades and decades under Republican administrations, Democratic administrations, some in prominent roles under Republican administrations. They pride themselves on that, on serving the country and not a particular political party.
As to the people who work under them. And, you know, John Brennan, the CIA Director at the University of Chicago, at our Institute of Politics and on my podcast last weekend. And he said he hoped that things would improve under -- when the president takes his oath of office. But he said if he persists in this line of attack, you're going to see a lot of very, very good skilled committed and experienced people leave the service, and it's going to leave the country exposed.
These are not political issues. These are security issues. And when you compare the intelligence community or the intelligence chiefs to Nazi Germany or accuse them of Nazi tactics. That is a very, very serious thing to do when you're the president of the United States and you're going to be reliant on them for help keep the country safe.
GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: You know I would ask the question and maybe it should be to Rick Santorum whether this wouldn't have been more political, we have to assume this information has been around, whether it wouldn't have been more political to do this during the campaign.
I mean, the campaign is over. Donald Trump is the president-elect of the United States. It would have been easy to -- for the president to have these briefings during the campaign to be used extensively to the benefit of a Democratic candidate, right? I mean wouldn't it --
TAPPER: Well, there's -- certainly, there's a lot of information out there during the campaign.
BORGER: Well not all of them, but not all of them. I mean so they waited. Is that is not a good time?
RICK SANTORUM, (R) FORMER SENATOR FOR PENNSYLVANIA: Again, the whole point is that they acted in a way that was in confluence with all sorts of other activities that were trying to delegitimatize Trump. You mention other times when the intelligence community politicized intelligence.
SANTORUM: But this is the first time that it personally attacks to the president of the United States or the president-elect. I mean this was much more personal than what we've seen in the past, and that's -- and I think that's --
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What was personal?
SANTORUM: Well, the idea that the -- that Donald Trump won the election, the narrative. That Donald Trump won the election because the Russians participated.
BORGER: They say they couldn't make a judgment on that.
SANTORUM: I understand that, but the whole --
SANDERS: Again, it's the Trump folks that are concerned about the legitimacy of Donald Trump as the president.
TAPPER: Let's say for sake of conversation that there are 100 reasons why Donald Trump won, OK? One of them might be the Russians. One of them might be Hillary Clinton not going to Wisconsin after the -- let's take that off the table because I have not heard anyone in the intelligence community or even in the U.S. Senate say that the Russians are why Donald Trump.
TAPPER: What is the opposition to the opposition to the--
SANTORUM: You can't take that off the table.
TAPPER: But is it not true that the Russians interfered?
SANTORUM: It is true, but it's probably true four years ago the Russians interfered in four years before that. The idea that the Russians are not using propaganda which they do constantly to try to undermine our political figures, they do this all the time.
TAPPER: Yeah, but they did it successfully this time. They --
SANTORUM: OK. So they're successful. That doesn't mean that there's anything different in what they're doing, it's what the American public to see.
BASH: Senator, if you -- when you were member of the Senate Republican leadership and George W. Bush was in White House and these would have happen then. You guys would have been screaming from the roof top rightly so that how dare another country, especially one like Russia, interfere in our most precious democratic process, which is the elections? You would be, right?
So you think it's appropriate for this investigation to be ongoing and even for as have been reporting for the intelligence agencies, the heads of the agency to report to the president-elect now that he is president-elect. You should know, sir, that this is what they have been working on, which is all they reported.
SANTORUM: Again, all I'm suggesting is that the nature of this investigation and the public nature of it at the time that it was taken place is suspect, and there's -- there are better ways to do this.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Right.
SANTORUM: Than publically going out there and making the case that we have all this intelligence.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: And you said do you think Hillary would be tougher?
BLITZER: I want to bring in Monica Langley our CNN Political Analyst, Senior Special Writer over the Wall Street Journal. You listen very, very closely to what we heard from the president-elect. Monica, I want to get your thoughts as well.
[12:45:02] MONICA LANGLEY, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, first of all, a part from what we've been talking about on the intelligence and Russia. The one thing having covered him for a year and a half since he announces, he is still Donald Trump. He still going to not give as many details as you want. And I was just starting down things I've heard a gazillion times. Obamacare is a disaster. You think Hillary would be tougher? Give me your break.
We don't make good deals anymore. These companies are getting why it was marker. Nobody has ever got crowds like Trump.
So he's still got same things that he brings up so it's going to -- people who voted for him will love this press conference. They're also going to love the fact that he is standing tough against the media and blaming them for fake news, including, you know, despite what CNN is saying. I know he is trying to come after the media still.
And then the other thing that I just wanted to note from listening carefully is I followed a lot about Trump business and Trump's organization. And he is going to put his interests in a trust, but the one thing that I know they said Ivanka, you know, she's not going to be running it, which she did with her two brothers.
I know they said she will be, you know, relocating her family. Well, it's more than that. Ivanka has, I'm told, is converting all the equity that she has in Trump organization. She's actually converting it into fixed payments and, therefore, she will get no chance for any up side. She can't make any profits. If the businesses do well while her father is president.
And she wants to go beyond what her father did because she doesn't believe he has to deal with conflicts. She wants to. The reason she wants to? She plans to be a "modern day first daughter," and she's not going to be just relocating the children. She's going to be in the west wing and be one of his top advisors, the way she was during the entire campaign.
TAPPER: Fascinating. Monica, let me ask you as somebody who has covered Donald Trump for so long. This is somebody who talks about the National Inquirer being a reputable news source. He obviously used the tabloids in Manhattan for years to get out his personal stories that he wanted to get out or professional stories he wanted to get out. What is real news to Donald Trump?
LANGLEY: Well, if he likes it, I think it's real news. Let's be frank. But I also think that he always picks and chooses the facts that he likes and he works those really hard, and then when he comes up with one of his lines, like I just went through a bunch of the lines with you guys. I mean, that's the way he operates.
I mean, he will get facts to support his position, and he will pick the news that he likes. So today he was citing the news organizations who didn't repeat what he thought was fake news. So this is the way he works, and I haven't seen him changing in today's press conference.
BLITZER: Monica, thanks very much. Don't go too far away. You know I also want to point out referring John McCain put out a statement a little while ago as well as we reported. He submitted some information to the FBI. Let me read.
TAPPER: Well just to be precise, sorry to interrupt. It was this dossier, this dossier of uncorroborated charges that we have not reported that others have. He got a copy of it from government officials from other countries, and then he explains here.
BLITZER: And then he put out this statement a couple of hours or so ago, "Late last year I received sensitive information that has since been made public. Upon examination of the contents and unable to make a judgment about their accuracy, I delivered the information to the director of the FBI. That has been the extent of my contact with the FBI or any other government agency regarding this issue."
So he was concerned enough when he saw the information that he gave it to the director of the FBI.
TAPPER: We did get a response earlier in the day from the Kremlin as to the information presented to President-elect Donald Trump.
Let's go to Clarissa Ward who is in Moscow. And, Clarissa, obviously just to set the table here, this is the Kremlin. They say things that are not true. People in the U.S. government say things that are not true. But I would argue that they do it in the Kremlin to a greater degree. What did they have to say today?
CLARISSA WARD, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, I think, Jake, that the Kremlin has been really very consistent in its messaging with regards to allegations of hacking and now with this specific report.
We heard from the Kremlin spokesperson Dmitri Paskov who has reported and called these reports in the past ludicrous nonsense. Today he also was prone to several rhetorical flourishes. He said it was a clear attempt to harm our bilateral relationship. The fabrication of such lies in terms of the previous open part of the report and this one, which is a comparable lie, it's called pulp fiction in English.
[12:50:00] He then went on to address the allegations that Russia may have so-called "Kompromat" on president-elect Donald Trump. Kompromat obviously is a Russian tactic that has been used for decades by the KGB, now FSB. It involves gathering compromising material on potentially targets of blackmail.
With regards to Kompromat, he said no, the Kremlin does not have Kompromat on Trump. The information does not correspond to reality. And it is complete fiction. And that is basically what he said as well with regards to allegations in this report that Kompromat may have been gathered also on Hillary Clinton.
He said we have no Kompromat on Clinton. The Kremlin does not collect Kompromat. And he went to say that the Kremlin and the Russian president are only interested in trying to foster better relationships and create stability and security in the world.
Take it with a pinch of salt, Jake, but one thing that we can say for sure is this is their story. They're sticking to it. It's the same song they have been singing now for several months. It has not changed. As long as there is plausible deniability and often with the Kremlin when there is not plausible deniability, this is their version of events. Jake?
TAPPER: But, Clarissa before I let you go, just to under line the fact, not getting to any specific charge about anyone, the claim by the Kremlin that the Russian government never gathers compromising material on anyone, true or false?
WARD: Well, there could be a clever bit of sophistry by using the word Kremlin. The Kremlin does not gather Kompromats. Well, maybe because technically it would probably fall under the purview of the KGB as it used to be called or FSB as it now is called. So, that could be a semantic game, if you will, but certainly, the whole issue of whether Russian intelligence used Kompromat as a tool is not one that I would say is up for debate.
TAPPER: Clarissa Ward in Moscow.
BLITZER: You know, its interesting, Jake, as all of this is taking place as Rex Tillerson, who's been nominated to become the Secretary of State of the United States, has been testifying before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee as the ExxonMobil CEO has been with ExxonMobil for about 40 years or so.
Aaron David Miller is with us, former State Department Official, CNN Contributor. You've been listening closely to the hearings right now. I want to play an exchange he had with Senator Marco Rubio, the Republican senator just reelected from Florida, a very tough exchange on Russia. Watch this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SENATOR MARCO RUBIO, (R) FLORIDA: You've engaged in significant business activities in Russia. So, I'm sure you're aware that very few things of a major proportion happen in that country without Vladimir Putin's permission.
So, I ask based on your views of Russian politics and your experience. Is it possible for something like this involving the United States elections to have happened without Vladimir Putin knowing about it and authorizing it?
REX TILLERSON, AMERICAN BUSINESSMAN: I think that's a fair assumption.
RUBIO: That he would have?
RUBIO: Is it so? If Congress passed a bill imposing mandatory visa bans and asset freeze sanctions on persons who engage in significant activities undermining the cyber security of public or private infrastructure and democratic institutions in the United States, would you advise the president to sign it?
TILLERSON: I would certainly want to examine all the corners, all four corners of that.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: He also pressed -- he also pressed Tillerson to say that Russia was engaged and Putin specifically, in war crimes. Tillerson refused to go that.
AARON DAVID MILLER, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Yeah. I mean, I think the purpose of the confirmation hearing is to get confirmed. But, it's also to try to maintain your personal credibility and also your functional role because Tillerson knows he is going to have to be dealing with Putin. He's got a boss who's clearly inclined that way as well.
So, what he is trying to do, I think, is juggle and balances a lot of equities. He's not going to go ahead and call Vladimir Putin a war criminal. I'm not even sure Barack Obama did that, even though John Kerry did press for war crimes investigations as a consequence of Russian and Syrian bombing policy and artillery shelling in Aleppo. So, Tillerson is dancing, and I wouldn't have expected, frankly, anything else right now.
SCIUTTO: Well, it actually, he said earlier in the hearings as well, in response to questions from democratic Senator Jeanne Shaheen that Russia does not share our values. He said that. They don't share our values. They're an authoritarian system. But then, he went to say that there's way, in his words, to lower the temperature with Russia.
He seemed to be laying out in a nutshell what promises to be the Trump administration approach to acknowledge. He has Russia hacked the election. We have differences here and there, but that there's a way forward here that we don't have to be at longer hits, right? So, we don't have to be, you know, in an escalation of tension and so on.
Obviously, Donald Trump has gone further than that many times saying we could be friends and even question up until really the last 24 hours that Russia did the hack, but that approach is not from ours, right. I mean, you know, there were folks --
[12:55:03] MILLER: It's from the Democratic Party. It's not from the Republican Party.
SCIUTTO: No, wait, Democrats and Republicans, the point being that there is a change in Russia policy that is a position that many disagree with, including GOP senators, that he seemed to be articulating there.
BORGER: But then, there's a question of these pending sanctions right now that Republicans want and Democrats want to place on Russia. And, you know, there were questions raised to Tillerson about whether, in fact, Exxon had lobbied against sanctions, and he said not to his knowledge, but in fact, they were registered on that very issue.
BLITZER: Everybody, stand by for a moment. We have a Transition of Power alert. The president-elect announcing his pick to head the Department of Veterans Affairs. It's David Shulkin, who is the current undersecretary for Health at the V.A. He's been with the V.A. for almost two years. He's the former President-CEO of Beth Israeli Medical Center in New York City, was the Chief Medical Officer for the University of Pennsylvania, Health System as well.
Very busy day on Capitol Hill, our special coverage continues right after a quick break.
BLITZER: Hello. I'm Wolf Blitzer. Just stand for 1:00 P.M here in Washington. We're live right outside of the United States capital. Wherever you're watching from around the world, thanks very much for joining us.
You're witnessing the most significant day in Washington since the presidential election. Today, three of the presidential-elect's cabinet picks are being grilled by Senate members who will have to decide whether they are qualified to lead the country and serve as the incoming president's closest cabinet advisors.
Its day two of confirmation hearings for Senator Jeff Sessions, Donald Trump's pick to become the next Attorney General of the United States. Any moment now in an unprecedented move Senator Cory Booker and Representative John Luis will testify against his nomination.
We will bring you that live once it happens.