Return to Transcripts main page


Interview With Idaho Senator James Risch; Interview With New Jersey Senator Robert Menendez; Senate Questions Trump's Secretary of State Nominee; : Trump: Won't Sell Firm, But Sons 'Taking Total Control'; Unprecedented Criticism of Trump's Attorney General Pick; New U.S. Response to North Korea Missile Threat. Aired 6-7p ET

Aired January 11, 2017 - 18:00   ET



WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: The president-elect explains what he will do with his business holdings, as he steps back from his company to run the country. Some ethics experts still are concerned about conflicts of interest. Stand by for all the new information from Donald Trump's news conference.

Breaking with the boss. Secretary of state nominee Rex Tillerson exposes some important air why is of disagreement with Donald Trump. We are following the fireworks during confirmation hearings up on Capitol Hill.

And Senate showdown. Democrat Cory Booker makes an unprecedented plea to stop fellow Senator Jeff Sessions from becoming attorney general of the United States. This hour, I will talk to another critic of Sessions and his civil rights record who testified today, the NAACP chief, Cornell Brooks.

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

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

BLITZER: The breaking news tonight, Donald Trump acknowledging for the first time he believes Russia was behind the election-related cyber-attacks. During his first news conference in six months, the president-elect denied allegations that Moscow has compromising personal and financial information about him.

Trump calls it a disgrace if U.S. intelligence agents leaked the allegations, adding to his tensions with the intel community. An exclusive CNN report revealed that Trump and President Barack Obama were presented with classified documents on this matter last week. Trump also is offering new details about the plans for his business once he is president.

He says he is putting his holdings in a trust that will be run by his two sons as they take total control of the company. But Trump says he won't sell his stake in the firm, a move urged by some watchdog groups and ethics lawyers to avoid conflict of interests. Tonight, Senator Marco Rubio is refusing to say whether he will vote

to confirm Trump's nominee to be secretary of state, Rex Tillerson, this after a day of very tough questions for Tillerson during his confirmation hearing, especially about his ties to Russia.

The former ExxonMobil chief breaking with Trump on some key foreign policy issues, including Russian aggression in Ukraine and climate change.

Also breaking, U.S. military's first response to North Korea's claim that it could launch an intercontinental ballistic missile. CNN has learned the Defense Department has deployed a high-tech sea-based radar system to watch for a potential launch in the coming months.

Our correspondents, expert analysts and guests, they are standing by as we cover all the news that is breaking right now.

Up first, our senior White House correspondent, Jim Acosta.

Jim, you were there at the news conference at Trump Tower in New York City and it got very heated.


Donald Trump held his first news conference since winning the election. And of course there were fireworks. Trump lashed out at the news media, including this news outlet, over reports that the Russia government may have compromising information about him.

And it got personal.


ACOSTA (voice-over): Donald Trump wasted no time ripping into news report that the U.S. intelligence community provided unproven information to him in a meeting last week that the Russian government has collected damaging personal and financial details on him for years.

The incoming 45th president accused U.S. intelligence agencies of leaking the unsubstantiated material as part of a smear campaign.

DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENT-ELECT: Again, I think it was a disgrace that information would be let out. I saw the information. I read the information outside of that meeting. It is all fake news. It is phony stuff. It didn't happen.

ACOSTA: As for the U.S. intelligence community's findings that Russia directed a hacking operation to damage Hillary Clinton, Trump suggested he has accepted that conclusion.

TRUMP: As far as hacking, I think it was Russia. But I think we also get hacked by other countries and other people.

ACOSTA: But he said there is nothing wrong with being friends with Russian President Vladimir Putin. TRUMP: If Putin likes Donald Trump, I consider that an asset, not a


ACOSTA: But Trump is still refusing to release his tax returns to prove that he has no business interest at stake in Russia.

TRUMP: The only ones that cares about my tax returns are the reporters.

ACOSTA: And the president-elect refused to take follow-up questions from this reporter on whether any of his associates had contacts with Russian officials during the campaign.

TRUMP: Not you. Your organization is terrible.

ACOSTA (on camera): You are attacking our news organization. Can you give us a chance to ask a question, sir?


TRUMP: Quiet, quiet. Go ahead. She is asking a question. Don't be rude.

ACOSTA: Can you give us a question?


TRUMP: Don't be rude. Don't be rude. No, I'm not going to give you a question. You are fake news.

ACOSTA (voice-over): Trump finally answered the question as he was leaving the room, denying there were any contacts.


The news conference was originally scheduled to lay out Trump's plans to place his vast empire in a trust run by his sons Don Jr. and Eric.

TRUMP: As a president, I could run the Trump Organization, great, great company, and I could run the company -- the country. I would do a very good job. But I don't want to do that.

ACOSTA: To avoid a constitutional ban on Trump receiving gifts from other countries, his attorneys revealed that profits from foreign government officials staying at his hotels will be donated to the U.S. Treasury.

Trump did take on other topics, vowing he will sign a bill to replace Obamacare just as soon as the health care law is repealed.

TRUMP: It will be repealed and replaced. It will be essentially simultaneously.

ACOSTA: And he promised once again Mexico will reimburse the U.S. for a wall on the border right after U.S. taxpayers foot the bill first.

TRUMP: On the fence, it is not a fence. It is a wall. You just misreported it. We are going to build a wall.


ACOSTA: Donald Trump also said he will be announcing his pick for the Supreme Court to replace the late Justice Antonin Scalia. That is a pick that Republicans did not allow President Obama to make in his last year in office -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Jim Acosta over at Trump Tower in New York City, a rather lively news conference, indeed. Thank you very much.

We heard president-elect Trump rail against allegations that Russia has compromising information about him. Let's take a closer look at what we really know.

Our chief national security correspondent, Jim Sciutto, was closely involved in our exclusive reporting on all of this.

Jim, what was your take on what we heard from the president-elect and some of his top advisers?


The president-elect nor his advisers did not answer the essential facts of our reporting. Just a reminder to our viewers, Our story was, one, that the president-elect and the current President Obama were briefed on these allegations, two, that the FBI is investigating and, three, that both Democratic and Republican lawmakers are encouraging further investigation of these allegations.

We did not report the allegations themselves for the very simple reason that CNN cannot independently confirm them. Another news organization, after we did our story, the first to report it, then put out the unsubstantiated allegations.

It appears to be the media strategy to some degree to conflate the two, therefore attack the allegations and when doing that also attack our reporting. The president-elect was asked about the headline of our story, which was, were you briefed on this in your briefings about Russian interference in the election last week?

His answer was, it is classified, so I can't say. He was not asked about the FBI investigation, his reaction to that. He was not asked about the fact that senior Republicans and Democratic lawmakers had these materials and considered them important. In fact, Senator John McCain said he considered it important enough to hand it to the director of the FBI.

Those issues, to this point, neither he nor his campaign have responded to.

BLITZER: Very precise reporting on our part. Thank you very much. We are going to have much more on this. I want to thank Jim Sciutto for that report.

I want to bring in Senator Bob Menendez right now. He's one of the top Democrats on the Senator Foreign Relations Committee.

Senator, thanks very much for joining us.

And I want to get right to your questioning of Donald Trump's nominee for secretary of state, Rex Tillerson. We are going to talk about all of that. But let's talk about Donald Trump and Russia first. Were you concerned, Senator, were you concerned that Tillerson hadn't spoken directly with the president-elect about Russia policy? At least that was one of his answers during the course of his confirmation hearing today.

SEN. ROBERT MENENDEZ (D), NEW JERSEY: It was actually a direct answer to a question that I posed to him. I said, surely, you must have spoken to the president-elect about your world view and his world view about Russia. And his answer was that they didn't.

And that was extraordinary, because with everything that is happening, with the hacking, with Russia's evasion of Ukraine, with its bombing in Aleppo, with all of the circumstances under which Russia is playing a negative force in the world today, to believe that you had a conversation about the world and never spoke about Russia is enormously alarming.

BLITZER: Tillerson says he believes the intelligence reports of Russian interference and cyber-attacks in the U.S. election, but he dodged questions on Russia's role in possible war crimes in Syria, for example.

He dodged questions about Russian assassinations of journalists and diplomats. Are you confident that he can hold Vladimir Putin accountable in light of what they used to have at least at one point, a pretty close relationship, the former ExxonMobil CEO and Putin?

MENENDEZ: Well, that's one of the things I was trying to deduce at the hearing. And I walk away not quite assuaged.

Here is someone who received the Order of Friendship and the next year, ExxonMobil was -- not the next day -- the next year, ExxonMobil was lobbying against sanctions against Russia as a result of its invasion of Ukraine, sanctions that I offered and passed here in the Senate, has continuously lobbied against sanctions against Russia and other entities, and cannot squarely define that the indiscriminate bombing in Aleppo by Russia, including of hospitals, for example, is, in essence, an act that not only violates the international norm, but violates the international standards of what is considered a war crime.


And so whether you consider Putin or not a war crime, you would have thought at least his answer would have been that those actions were in violation of what, in essence, is a war crime.

And so it is really troublesome to understand that the person who would be the secretary of state, facing one of the most geopolitical challenges in terms of our relationship with Russia, I don't get the sense that he is necessarily ready to go toe to toe.

There is a difference between cutting a deal, a commercial deal, and getting a country to rejoin the international order and do the right thing and move away from nefarious activities. And I didn't necessarily walk away with the understanding that he is up to that task.

BLITZER: Do you believe he has taken all the adequate, important steps to prevent any conflicts of interest if in fact he becomes the next secretary of state? In other words, has he done enough?

MENENDEZ: Well, that's why I agree with Senator Cardin, the ranking member, to get greater disclosure particularly on his income tax issues, as well as understanding the transactions that he made with ExxonMobil to leave ExxonMobil.

It seems that what has happened here is that he has gotten a windfall as a result of this nomination. He is going to have tax deferrals. He's going to get an accelerated price for his stock and a higher tax price than probably he would have gotten right now.

And supposedly his limitation in terms of dealing with any issues with ExxonMobil is one year. Well, the question then arises, did ExxonMobil give you a sweetheart because knowing that, in a year from now, they are going to be able to call upon you, know that you are going to be the secretary of state, know that you have spent a lifetime at a company and that you have a global view as to how that company operates and other companies similarly situated?

I don't know that they did or didn't. But it certainly raises a serious question. I would like to have seen him say that he was going to for his term as the secretary of state exclude himself from any actions on ExxonMobil. That would have been a greater assuaging reality.

And I would like to have a better understanding of this transaction that sells all these -- basically that he gets all of this stock at a price that's accelerated, at a higher price. And how does that affect potential judgments in the future?

BLITZER: Your Republican colleague Senator Marco Rubio met with reporters after he emerged from the hearing room today before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. He refused to say whether he is ready to announce he will confirm, vote to confirm Rex Tillerson as the next secretary of state. He needs more -- he needs to consider it a bit longer.

What about you? Are you ready to confirm his nomination?

MENENDEZ: No. I am going to need a lot more information.

And I am going to look forward to a series of responses to a slew of written questions that I am presenting for the record. And I want to see his responses to the record. I want to see the responses to other colleagues who I know are pursuing other lines of questioning. I want to see his answers to that. And I really find it difficult to

understand that as the CEO of ExxonMobil that he didn't understand that his company was lobbying millions of dollars. That's why I held up the lobbying forms. It was lobbying against the very sanctions that he says they never lobbied against.

It is equally as difficult to understand he never had a conversation with president-elect Trump about Russia. It's difficult to understand that he didn't know that the SEC brought to his company's attention that they were, in essence, dealing with countries who were subject to the state sponsors of terrorism.

So, I get concerned. Either he is avoiding the questions or, if he is not in command of what was happening at the company, can he be in command of a large organization like the State Department and its employees both here and around the world?

BLITZER: Bottom line, do you think he will be the next secretary of state?

MENENDEZ: Well, look, Republicans have the vote to obviously confirm him if they stay united. And they won't need any Democratic votes for that. There may be some Democratic votes. I don't know. We will see.

But at the end of the day, that's really in the question of Republican hands.

BLITZER: Senator Bob Menendez of New Jersey, thanks very much for joining us.

MENENDEZ: Thank you. Good to be with you.

BLITZER: Let's bring in our senior political reporter, Manu Raju. He's up on Capitol Hill right behind me

You just spoke to Senator Rubio. Manu, what did he say specifically about Rex Tillerson, why he is not yet ready to announce that he can vote to confirm his nomination?


MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, he was not happy with Mr. Tillerson's answers on some key questions, namely on Russia.

Of course, Marco Rubio has taken a rather hard line on Russia. He does not believe that Vladimir Putin is a friend or ally. And of course Rex Tillerson has had a close personal relationship with Vladimir Putin.

But when he was asked at this confirmation hearing today by Marco Rubio do you think that Vladimir Putin is a war criminal, Mr. Tillerson would not say. He said that he needs more information. He is not prepared to go that route. Also, when Rubio was asking a number of other questions, including on

China, what about China, one of the worst human rights abusers in the world, he would not say that either. He said, it is just a bad human rights abuser. He would not say he would go as far as saying they were one of the worst in the world.

There were a number of questions, including on imposing stiffer sanctions on Russia, that Tillerson would not go where Marco Rubio wanted him to go. And emerging from this hearing just moments ago, I asked him, are you prepared to be the one Republican to vote against Mr. Tillerson in this committee in the matter of a week or so?

This is what he said, Wolf. I will read to you what he said. He said that: "I'm not looking at it from a partisan lens. I'm going to do what is right." He said that he believes that this position as secretary of state is the second most important position in the United States government and you need to speak with moral clarity, have moral clarity and be clear about what you are saying around the world.

And in Marco Rubio's views, Mr. Tillerson was not clear on some of those key questions. So I asked him if he will vote against him. He has not made that decision yet. But, Wolf, if he does vote against him, that could mean there will be enough votes to prevent him from getting out of committee. We will see if that happens, because there are other procedures to move him onto the floor.

But suffice to say significant that Marco Rubio has not made a decision yet on what to do on Mr. Tillerson -- Wolf.

BLITZER: We will see how all the 10 Democrats on that committee and 11 Republicans, see if all the Democrats were united against Tillerson. That's a big if, at least right now. Manu Raju, up on Capitol Hill, thank you very much.

I want to bring in another member of the Foreign Relations Committee, Republican Senator James Risch.

Senator, thanks very much for joining us.

What was your takeaway? Are you stunned that one of your fellow Republicans, Senator Rubio, is not yet ready to commit to confirming Rex Tillerson as the next secretary of state?

SEN. JAMES RISCH (R), IDAHO: No, I am not stunned at all, Wolf. Marco is a very thoughtful person, has legitimate concerns. He is going to attempt to satisfy himself regarding those concerns.

And we will go from there. But I thought that Tillerson had a great hearing. He looked like a secretary of state. He sounded like a secretary of state. And he handled himself, I thought, very, very well.

BLITZER: Tillerson seems much more inclined based on his answers at the hearing today to intervene in world affairs, for example, than Trump. Can he truly speak for the president to U.S. allies, adversaries? He also said in response to one question from Senator Menendez he really hasn't had a serious conversation with Trump when it comes to Russia.

RISCH: I think he will be able to carry the water for the president. And, obviously, they are going to have to spend a lot more time together discussing these things.

These guys are drinking out of a fire hose right now. They are trying to stand up a government. We are all trying to stand up a new government. And there are a lot of things going on. It always amazes me that they can do as well as they do in a hearing, particularly someone like Tillerson who comes really not from a governmental background, not from a foreign relations background, sat there and I thought answered the questions really, really well.

He has made that transition from the business sector, I think, very well to a diplomatic approach that he is going to have to have. He has mastered the language. He sounds like a diplomat. And really, he answered the questions I think very well. I was very impressed with him.

BLITZER: Are you confident he can hold Putin accountable in light of their once close friendship, if you will, their relationship? He received an award a few years ago from Putin, as you know.

And Marco Rubio left that hearing very, very upset by the answers he heard from Tillerson.

RISCH: Sure.

You know, I don't think hold someone accountable under the situation you are talking about is an appropriate analogy. Look, there are 200- plus countries in the world. We have to deal with almost all of them. We don't deal with Iran and we don't deal with North Korea. But almost every other country in one way or another we have issues we have to deal with them.


So, when you talk about holding someone accountable for it, there are different ways to do that. And I was impressed with Tillerson's understanding of the various tools that are available to hold a country accountable.

Having said that, again, this is a diplomatic spot. And diplomacy is different than holding people accountable. It is working through the issues that you have and getting to a common ground that you can stand on. I like his personality.

I hope that Putin gets to know Trump and Tillerson better, because I think when he gets to know those people, he is going to know that he is not dealing with Barack Obama. He is dealing with somebody like in the case of the president-elect who when he says something, he means it.

And I really believe Putin is going to understand that if he gets to know the president-elect well. BLITZER: Here is a problem that the president-elect has. He still

has a very serious amount of tension going on with the U.S. intelligence community. He said the leak of an unverified report is a blot on the intelligence community.

He tweeted earlier in the day, he said, "Intelligence agencies should have never allowed this fake news to leak into the public. One last shot at me. Are we living," he said, "in Nazi Germany?"

Making the analogy to Nazi Germany. How serious of a problem is this, this bitterness he apparently has with the intelligence community right now?

RISCH: Well, in nine days, they are all going to work for him.

So, I think that probably those rough spots, those rough patches are going to get taken care of. But they have got some sitting down and talking to do. He is going to need to rely on the intelligence community just as we do. I can understand why he was upset with that absurd article that came out.

It was fake news. There's no question about it. And I think we will move on from it probably pretty quickly.

BLITZER: You are talking about the 35 pages that BuzzFeed published, including all of those unsubstantiated allegations, the president- elect clearly blaming the intelligence community.

But there is a lot of concern that he is making this analogy to Nazi Germany and the U.S. intelligence community in the United States right now. Has he gone too far in raising the specter of Nazi Germany?

RISCH: Wolf, I have a rule of thumb, don't talk about Hitler. Don't talk about Nazi Germany. It never serves a person well.

As he goes on, I'm sure that these things will smooth out. One would hope that it would. Those kind of analogies always cause problems. They never land well. They are never received well.

BLITZER: Were you satisfied with the business arrangements that he announced today, laid out to try to prevent conflicts of interest while he serves in the Oval Office?

RISCH: I have been in hearings on this and other things all day long. So I haven't -- I have heard about them, but I really haven't had a chance to analyze them.

But having said that, look, there is an army of lawyers out there that are advising him. There are, I think, very clear ground rules about what a public official can do and can't do when it comes to doing business. And I have every confidence that he is going to get really good advice as to what he can and what he can't do.

Look, we are all human beings. We have other interests in life. We have financial interests, we have family interests. We have the things that make us human beings. And, certainly, that's true with Donald Trump. People in America knew what they were voting for when they voted for Donald Trump.

You guys publicized his holdings widely, his beliefs widely, his statements widely. The American people are smart people. They did what they did, and I can tell you the landscape up here is such that there is a lot of anger from the other side about how the election came out. It is spilling over into these hearings. It's unfortunate. There is a lot of anger up here right now.

BLITZER: Senator Risch, thanks very much for joining us.

RISCH: Nice to talk to you, Wolf.

BLITZER: James Risch, a member of the Foreign Relations and Intelligence Committees.

I want to bring in our experts to talk about Russia, Trump, the president-elect's news conference.

Evan Perez, you have been sitting here listening to all of this. You were among the team of CNN reporters who meticulously went through what the intelligence community knew, why they were concerned about these unsubstantiated allegations. We heard what Donald Trump, what some of his senior advisers had to say. You listened very closely.



And one of the things I think we have to step back a little bit, even the president-elect I think ought to step back a little bit and instead of taking shots at the intelligence community, look, they were trying to tell him, warn him about what's out there and what has been out in Washington.

Members of Congress are sharing this stuff. Members of the media have been looking at this stuff. This is stuff that certainly I started looking into last summer. Gloria Borger, who is sitting right here, also heard some of this some months ago.

The intelligence community was simply doing their job. They were presenting some of this stuff so the president-elect is fully informed when he comes into office. They are looking at some of these allegations, simply because they have to. That's part of their job.

He wouldn't -- he shouldn't want them to do otherwise. Certainly, the FBI has to get to the bottom of this. If people are making these allegations, then he deserves the FBI to run this down and get to the bottom of it. And if there is nothing there, then they can make that clear at the end of that.

But they first have to make an effort to investigate it. And so I think the shots that he is taking at the intelligence community are kind of misplaced, frankly. If he wants to take shots, he can take shots at his political enemies perhaps who first started this. But the shots at the intelligence community seem a bit misplaced.

BLITZER: Yes. You speak to the intelligence community all the time. They are pretty upset about it.

SCIUTTO: Yes, no question. That goes for high-ranking officials, but also to the folks in the ranks, right, the folks who are really working really hard, take their jobs very seriously.

Some of them work in dangerous places to get this information out. You have heard that in public comments as well from Director of National Intelligence Clapper relating those concerns too.

That is a concern going forward for the president who is going to need to lean on this intelligence community when the U.S. faces up to its biggest national security risks.

GLORIA BORGER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Maybe when the president gets his own leaders in there, because there seems to be a sense among the Trump folks that this is politically motivated and the leaks are politically motivated, whatever it is, and that maybe once he gets his own people over running the intelligence agencies, that he will feel a little bit more comfortable with the information they are providing him.

We can only hope that, because it is really an untenable situation to have a president of the United States in conflict with his own intelligence community. You can be skeptical about intelligence, you should ask questions about intelligence, you can say go back and find out some more, that's a president's job.

But to be in complete conflict is difficult, because these are the people you are depending on when you make major national security decisions. So if he is more comfortable with his own people at the helm, OK, great.

PEREZ: And that will happen very soon.

BORGER: Right.

PEREZ: And again let's remember that the president-elect, Mr. Trump, went as a candidate first starting taking these shots at James Comey, the head of the FBI, director of the FBI, when he didn't like the outcome of the investigation into Hillary Clinton's e-mails. That's when this began.

He has continued all throughout through the campaign taking shots at these people. So it is not like this is something that just began because we reported a story yesterday. This is not something that just began yesterday and it didn't begin two weeks ago or a month ago. This began over the summer.

And so that's part of the issue here. I think Gloria is right. When he has his own leaders in place, I think he will have a better sense of why this is happening, that they are taking this stuff seriously. They have to. They do have to get to the bottom of some of these allegations whether or not people in his campaign and his circle, people who are his surrogates were in touch with members, surrogates and intermediaries of the Russian government. It's a very important question. BLITZER: Richard Quest is with us as well.

Richard, how do you think the president-elect handled the entire issue of his business relationship? He is trying to walk away from potential conflicts of interest. Especially when it comes to foreign ties to the Trump Organization, did he meet the bottom line basic standards required?

RICHARD QUEST, CNN CORRESPONDENT: No. And that's not my verdict. That's the verdict of the head of the Office of Government Ethics tonight, who has described the Trump plan to create a family trust with an ethics adviser as being in their words wholly inadequate.

The problem here, Wolf, is that it is not a blind trust. The sons will be running the company. And he could return to the company after he has finished being president. Look, we had a real-life example of this today.

There is a Dubai property company called DAMAC that apparently in a meeting with president-elect Trump and his family offered a $2 billion deal. Now, the president-elect said today that they rejected the deal. And DAMAC agrees that that was the substance of the conversation.

[18:30:11] But just think of what happens in the future, Wolf. First of all, you're going to have foreign companies who are going to try and curry favor by going to the sons. You don't need to go to the president. The sons are running the company.

And secondly, how can you have a blind trust when you know everything that's in it, because you've refused to divest yourself?

So tonight, the ethics experts say that the Trump plan is simply not adequate.

BLITZER: So how does it play out, Richard? We're only nine days away from the inauguration.

QUEST: Oh, it plays out. It goes ahead. I mean, that's the problem here. That is the big problem here, Wolf. I've asked numerous people, so what happens? You've got Democrats who are determined to try and raise questions both in the House and the Senate, particularly in the House. Some of the Democrats I was talking to in the House say they are going to raise questions. They're going to demand answers for how this trust will actually work in reality.

But, you know, look, what we got today was an enormous amount of show- and-tell. We got a lot of manila files that were supposed to be holding documents. But the truth cannot be escaped. And that is that the Trump empire will still be run by the Trump family even after inauguration day.

And it beggars belief and stretches credulity to beyond breaking point for anybody to believe that the sons and the father are not going to talk about business at some point. BLITZER: Jeffrey Toobin, he did say at one point, Donald Trump, that

-- and his lawyer made the point, as well, that any of the profits that Trump hotels, for example, make from foreign entities, if a foreign government were to book an event at a Trump hotel in Washington or New York or anyplace else, the profits from that event -- the rooms, the ballrooms, whatever, the restaurants -- the profits would go directly into the U.S. treasury. It would be money that would go to U.S. taxpayers. You heard him say that. How would that work?

TOOBIN: Beats me, Wolf. I mean, I have to say, it sounds -- it sounds very convoluted. I don't know what exactly it accomplishes, especially since the payments for hotel rooms and catering are a very small part of the overall Trump empire.

But even if you believe that that is going to proceed and there will be some check cut some day to the treasury, the fact remains, is that he is going to make decisions every single day that will affect directly how his companies do.

And you know, I think the correct prism to see this through is not legal. I think the president-elect was clearly correct: that, you know, he could just have -- run his business with no recusal at all. But it's a political question. And the issue is, will Republicans who run Congress care one way or the other? At the moment, they don't. But if things start to go sour, this issue may recur.

BLITZER: So you agree that legally, he really doesn't have to do anything. He's not bound by any of these conflict-of-interest regulations that others in the cabinet and the government would be bound with. But what he -- what he did today was his gesture, if he will, to try to make a point that he's trying to at least scale back any potential conflicts.

TOOBIN: Absolutely. And I think it's a very important point to make, in fairness to Donald Trump, which is that there is no legal obligation for him to divest anything, even control, much less ownership of his companies. It is not a legal requirement.

There is this issue with the Emoluments Clause. But frankly, no one really know what that means, and it's very much a side issue.

So this is all about appearances. It's not about legal obligations. But when you're president of the United States, appearances matter. And this will be an issue that a lot of people will be watching, which is how the decisions of President Trump affect the business that he still owns and that his sons run.

BLITZER: All right. Everyone stand by. There were other important hearings today here in Washington, including for the next attorney general of the United States, Senator Jeff Sessions. New developments unfolding. We'll take a quick break. We'll be right back.


[18:39:18] BLITZER: President-elect Donald Trump's choice to be the next attorney general of the United States has been undergoing a second day of questioning by senators. In the process, he faced a source of criticism that's unprecedented.

Let's bring in our justice correspondent Pamela Brown. We saw one sitting senator really go after another sitting senator.

PAMELA BROWN, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: That's right. In fact, Senator Booker came out and said the reason why he is doing this is because he's choosing country and conscience over Senate norms. He was joined today by civil rights leader John Lewis in opposing Sessions, but other African-Americans, including civil rights activists, also spoke out in defense of him.


RAJU: Senator -- Senator...

BROWN (voice-over): For the first time in the history of the U.S. Congress, a sitting senator testifies against his colleague.

SEN. CORY BOOKER (D), NEW JERSEY: I know that some of my many colleagues aren't happy that I am breaking with Senate tradition to testify on the nomination of one of my colleagues.

BROWN: New Jersey Senator Cory Booker, a Democrat, said he believes fellow Senator Jeff Sessions would take the Justice Department in the wrong direction.

BOOKER: His record indicates that we cannot count on him to support state and national efforts towards bringing justice to the justice system. And people on both sides of the aisle who readily admit that the justice system as it stands now is biased against the poor, against drug-addicted, against mentally ill and against people of color.

BROWN: Also testifying against Sessions, civil rights leader and congressman, John Lewis.

REP. JOHN LEWIS (D), MARYLAND: We need someone who's going to stand up, speak up and speak out for the people that need help, for people that have been discriminated against.

BROWN: Lewis criticized Sessions' voting rights record, pointing to a case when Sessions was a U.S. attorney in Alabama, where he unsuccessfully prosecuted three African-American Voting Rights Activists known as the Marion Three.

LEWIS: It took massive, well-organized nonviolent dissent for the voting rights law to become law.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Do you swear...

BROWN: The accusations come one day after Sessions defended himself after charges of racism that sunk his 1986 confirmation as a federal judge. SEN. JEFF SESSIONS (R-AL), ATTORNEY GENERAL NOMINEE: As a southerner

who actually saw discrimination and have no doubt it existed in a systematic and powerful and negative way unto the people, great -- millions of people in the south, particularly of our country, I know that was wrong. I know we need to do better. We can never go back.

BROWN: Sessions and Lewis were recently photographed arm in arm, commemorating the 50th anniversary of Bloody Sunday in Selma, Alabama, only 30 miles from Sessions' hometown.

LARRY THOMPSON, FORMER U.S. DEPUTY ATTORNEY GENERAL: The son of the south who has had up close experiences with our great civil rights movement, Senator Sessions is not oblivious to the fact that we have more to do in the area of racial equality.

BROWNS: And the leader of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights came to Sessions' defense today, pointing to his efforts to change policies that have had negative effects on black employment.

PETER KIRSANOW, COMMISSIONER, U.S. COMMISSION ON CIVIL RIGHTS: The one senator that reached out, being very alarmed and pursuing this case with ultimate vigor, was Senator Sessions.


BROWN: The date for Sessions' confirmation has not been set by the committee yet, but given the Republican majority in the Senate, the numbers are in his favor.

BLITZER: They certainly are. We'll see what happens. Pamela, thank you very much.

Pamela Brown reporting.

I want to hear from another outspoken critic of Senator Jeff Sessions' nomination. We're joined by the NAACP president, the CEO of the NAACP, Cornell William Brooks. He testified at the confirmation hearing today against this nomination.

Why do you feel so strongly against Sessions becoming the next attorney general of the United States?

CORNELL WILLIAM BROOKS, CEO, NAACP: Well, I would simply note this. While the numbers are on his side, history is on our side. The fact of the matter is that Senator Sessions, when he was attorney -- U.S. attorney in Alabama, he brought a case of voter fraud that led to voter suppression. And -- then. And now he supports laws of voter suppression predicated on voter fraud.

The point being here is there's a -- there's a record of continuity between his conduct as a prosecutor, his record as a legislator. And if you notice today, he had a number of character references, not professional records -- references. That is to say the people in the Senate chamber spoke to his character, his collegiality, and the collegiality that one has to serve in the Senate is not necessarily the constitutional suitability you need to lead the Justice Department.

And so the fact of the matter is, we're concerned about his failure to support -- take a position against mandatory minimums. With 2.3 million people behind bars, a million fathers behind bars, overpopulated prisons and jails and depopulated families and communities, how then can you ask this man to lead the Justice Department and leading us away from this era of mass incarceration?

BLITZER: We did hear very compelling personal testimony from African- Americans who worked with him over 20 years. A man by the name of Willie Huntley, a lawyer from Alabama; Jesse Seroyer, a former U.S. marshal; William Smith, former chief counsel for the Senate Judiciary Committee. They all testified they worked with him; they got to know him well. They knew his record on civil rights, on these most sensitive issues that are of such deep concern to you. And they said this man should be the next attorney general of the United States.

BROOKS: Again, great character references, not great professional references.

[18:45:03] If wanted to -- if you need to go to a doctor for open heart surgery, you are looking for a cardiac surgeon, you would want someone who is skilled, who is committed to the craft of surgery. We need someone who is skilled and committed to the craft of civil rights and the aspirations of civil rights in this country. His record makes clear that he is not fit to serve as attorney general of the United States.

BLITZER: I spoke yesterday to his spokesperson, Sarah Isgur Flores. And I want to play for you what she said in defending his record.



SARAH ISGUR FLORES, SESSIONS SPOKESWOMAN: I think people were expecting a boogeyman to show up today and instead, they got a man who has dedicated his career to the law, the Constitution and I think it's why it was so important that he said he will enforce the law as the attorney general, defend the law as the attorney general, mend relationship with law enforcement, all things that have fallen by the wayside as the Department of Justice has turned into a wing of the Obama administration and a political branch.


BLITZER: You're smiling when you're hearing it.

BROOKS: I'm smiling because if you ask the young people in Ferguson, ask the young people in Cleveland, ask people all across this country who have lived under predatory policing police departments, ask them about the importance of the Justice Department. What happens when you have Attorney General Eric Holder who goes to Ferguson, what happens when you have a Loretta Lynch who dispatches federal officials to protect the vote.

This is not about politics. This is not about conservative or liberal, Democrat or Republican. It's about justice.

We need someone leading the Justice Department who understands to be a law enforcer means that you have to realize and see that the violation of civil rights laws exist. Senator Sessions can't see violations of the civil rights laws. He doesn't acknowledge them. He doesn't acknowledge voter suppression. So, if you can't see it, it's hard to prosecute it.

BLITZER: Are race relations better in the United States than they were eight years ago? I ask the question because of President Obama's very emotional speech, his farewell address in Chicago last night, and he makes the point that, yes, race relations are better? Do you believe race relations are better?

BROOKS: I think he makes the case that the state of racial justice in this country is better in the sense that African-Americans are better off than they were, say, 20 years ago. But if you ask are things where they should be, he concedes all the time, as do many Americans, that it would be the consensus of Americans that things are not where they should be and we can certainly make them better than they are.

BLITZER: The president also outlined in his speech ways for people to engage as citizens. What does that mean for an organization like the NAACP, looking forward? You're going to have a Republican administration at least for four years, a Republican attorney general, whether it's Senator Sessions or someone else.

BROOKS: Well, certainly, it means that ordinary citizens -- we say this all the time that the election of a president does not mean the de-election of citizenry. People have to vote. They have to protest. They have to demonstrate. They have to come together to seek solutions at the community level, at the neighborhood level.

And it means within the NAACP that we have over the course of our history often worked with the Justice Department. So, if Senator Sessions is confirmed, he should do what a great many attorneys general have done, which is to say they work with the Department of Justice. I should say, work with the NAACP.

I'll tell you what I was told as a trial attorney when I began my career at the Justice Department, I was told, when you bring a case, when you bring an investigation, the first thing you do is call the local branch of the NAACP. Good advice for trial attorney, great advice for an attorney general. That's predicated on believing in the work of the NAACP, which is to say there are civil wrongs that need to be made right, and they can be made right by enforcing the nation's civil rights laws.

BLITZER: What role do you hope President Obama will play now that he is leaving the White House?

BROOKS: Well, he is dedicated to his boys and men initiative. And I believe that is going to be incredibly important. Actually, when we look at criminal justice reform in this country, when we look at some of the school to prison challenges in this country, so we would look to work with his foundation. But he certainly has a large and well- respected bully pulpit and platform that's global. And he can certainly do much and I would hope he would do quite a bit with the NAACP.

BLITZER: I'm sure he will. Cornell, thanks very much.

BROOKS: Oh, thank you.

BLITZER: Cornell William Brooks, the president and CEO of NAACP.

Just ahead, a new move by the United States military to detect a potential missile strike by North Korea.

And more on Donald Trump's first news conference in six months. The new information he gave and the details he held back.


[18:54:39] BLITZER: We're getting breaking news into THE SITUATION ROOM on North Korea's missile threat and a new response from the United States.

Our Pentagon correspondent Barbara Starr is joining us.

Barbara, what are you learning about the U.S. military moves in response to North Korea's claim it could launch an intercontinental ballistic missile at any time?


Because of that claim by North Korea, an ICBM, an intercontinental ballistic missile that could potentially hit the United States, the Pentagon now has deployed a high-tech radar to see. I want you to look at pictures, video. This is the X band radar.

It may look to us like a giant floating golf ball on the Pacific Ocean, but this has moved out of Hawaii into the Pacific. It will be watching the Korean Peninsula in the coming days and weeks for any sign of an ICBM launch out of North Korea.

There are two scenarios if they were to launch a missile. If it were a threat to the U.S. allies, Japan, South Korea, the U.S. has vowed it would shoot it down. But if it goes out to sea and is harmless, it will not shoot it down. The Pentagon said that yesterday.

This radar gives the U.S. the ability to collect the electronic intelligence either way whether they need to shoot it down or whether they just want to watch it, gain all the intelligence they can about what exactly a missile might look like, how it's configured, how it flies, gain all the intelligence they can about what North Korea is up to.

The bottom line right now is the U.S. doesn't think that North Korea is ready to launch an ICBM, that they haven't perfected the full technology, but by putting this radar out to sea, they will keep watch and it will be the Donald Trump Pentagon, the Donald Trump military that will watch in the coming weeks and months -- Wolf. BLITZER: Barbara Starr at the Pentagon for us -- Barbara, thanks very much. Very worrisome developments.

CNN meanwhile is learning details of plans by South Korea's military to kill North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un if war to break out between the two countries.

CNN's Brian Todd is joining us with more.

Brian, pretty startling developments. South Korea apparently has been practicing for this?


They've been practicing, drawing up plans. And tonight, the South Koreans are accelerating those plans. Tensions are so high on the Korean peninsula tonight that both nations now have plans in place to kill each other's leaders if war breaks out.


TODD (voice-over): Kim Jong-un tonight is dealing with a direct potential threat to his own life -- a special South Korean military brigade whose mission is to kill him.

A South Korean defense ministry official tells CNN his country is speeding up plans to create what some call a decapitation unit. The official says the team would be activated only if war breaks out and would target North Korea's war-time command led by Kim.

MICHAEL GREEN, CENTER FOR STRATEGIC & INTERNATIONAL STUDIES: It's hard for me to imagine a commando raid given the enormous killing power and density of the North Korean people's army. Likely, it would be something like we saw in the Iraq war against Saddam's immediate circle, precision-guided missiles and air missiles and air campaign.

TODD: The South Korean strike plan comes after a series of provocations from Kim Jong-un. He's now threatening to test fire a long-range missile that could hit the U.S. mainland with a nuclear warhead.

And in recent weeks, North Korean media claimed he personally directed an attack drill on a mock drill of South Korea's Blue House, their version of the White House. North Korean special forces stormed the compound, some parachuting in. They took up positions as the building burned, practiced capturing an enemy.

LT. COL. TONY SHAFFER (RET), FORMER SENIOR U.S. MILITARY INTELLIGENCE OFFICER: Doing rehearsals, showing the imagery of a Blue House attack is essentially being able to terrorize the South Koreans. And what's more important, I think the North Koreans may well think about trying an attempt at this sort of thing.

TODD: They've done it before. January 1968. Armed with these weapons, dressed in South Korean uniforms, North Korean commandos infiltrated the South, trying to kill South Korea's president. They got to within 350 feet of the Blue House. But in a furious gun battle, nearly 60 soldiers from both sides were killed.

If the South Koreans target Kim now, how would he respond?

GREEN: I would guess that he doesn't go into hiding because of this particular statement by the South, but instead, he plays it and tries to demonstrate he's as prepared to escalate even sooner and prepared to be even crazier than the South, and he has the advantage he can make that argument credibly.


TODD: Now, analysts say if Kim does eventually go into hiding in the event of a war during some kind of a decapitation strike, he's got a large network of tunnels and bunkers built by his father and grandfather. Experts point out in the early days of the Iraq war when the allies were targeting Saddam Hussein and his inner circle, Kim Jong-un's father, Kim Jong-il, went into hiding for more than a month fearing he would be next -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Interesting, Brian. With this news of a plan to target him, Kim potentially could turn on his inner circle, fearing some kind of betrayal, right?

TODD: That's right. He's paranoid, as we know, Wolf, and some analysts believe part of the South Korean strategy in revealing this decapitation unit is to make Kim Jong-un more paranoid of those around him and engaged in more purges of his inner circle.

BLITZER: Brian Todd, good report. Thanks very much.

That's it for me. Thanks for watching.

"ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.