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Putin: "Acute Political Struggle" to Undermine Trump's Legitimacy; Growing List of Dems Boycotting Inauguration. Aired 9- 9:30a ET

Aired January 17, 2017 - 09:00   ET

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


[09:00:18] CAROL COSTELLO, CNN ANCHOR: And good morning. I'm Carol Costello. Thank you so much for joining me.

We do begin with breaking news this morning. The Russian President, Vladimir Putin, just accusing the Obama administration of trying to undermine Trump's legitimacy, saying attempts are damaging to the United States, and compromising material against Trump is, quote, "obviously fake."

Let's get right to Jill Dougherty. She's a Global Fellow with the Woodrow Wilson Center and a former CNN Moscow bureau chief. These are extraordinary statements by Vladimir Putin.

JILL DOUGHERTY, GLOBAL FELLOW, WOODROW WILSON INTERNATIONAL CENTER FOR SCHOLARS: They really are, Carol. You know, it came up at the end of a rather uninteresting news conference, and then all of a sudden, a reporter, I believe it was Russian, asked about the dossier with allegedly compromising material. He then uttered the word "prostitutes," and it was quite extraordinary.

President Putin went on for several minutes. And here is a gist of what he just said. He said that there is an acute or sharp political struggle in the United States to undermine the legitimacy of Trump's victory.

He said that they are -- and meaning this administration, the Obama administration -- trying to bind the hands and feet of Trump, preventing him from doing what he wants to do. He said compromising material is obviously fake. And then he said, I don't know Mr. Trump, I never met him. I don't know what he's going to do internationally. I have no basis to attack or criticize him.

And then he went on to mock reports that the FSB, the security forces, were following American millionaires around Moscow when they came. He said that's absolutely ridiculous, insanity, to think that.

And then finally, it got very personal because that word "prostitute" came up again. And Mr. Putin said that Trump is a man who organized beauty pageants, who was around the most beautiful women in the world, and he said it's hard to imagine that he would have to socialize with girls of low social responsibility, as he put it. Although Mr. Putin added, although they are the best in the world. And there was a bit of laughter in the room. Finally, he said people who fabricate false information and use it for

political purposes are worse than prostitutes. And then finally ending with the hope that relations will improve. He said, we will succeed in restoring a normal relationship between Russia and the United States for a peaceful economy and security.

So there are the headlines. It was quite extraordinary, and you could see the vehemence with which President Putin was speaking about all of this, Carol.

COSTELLO: All right. Jill, you stick around because I want to go right to Trump Tower and Jason Carroll, because Putin's presence in the debate comes as Trump faces what may be an unprecedented split with the U.S. intelligence community that will report directly to him.

Jason Carroll, tell us more.

JASON CARROLL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes. Well, certainly, you know, his comments and some of the things he has said about the intel community, certainly not helping to ease tensions between himself and the intelligence community. We've got the outgoing CIA Director John Brennan, he's been speaking about this, as you know.

Donald Trump has blamed, you know, leaks coming out of the intel briefing he received about Russia and those cyber attacks, he has, in part, blamed those leaks on the intel community, at one point, drawing a comparison between the leaks and Nazi Germany. Brennan called those comments basically repugnant. He said, and I quote, "Tell the families of those 117 CIA officers who are forever memorialized on our Wall of Honor that their loved ones who gave their lives were akin to Nazis."

Brennan going on to say, Carol, that, basically, he draws the line when someone makes, what he called, dishonest statements about the intelligence community and leaks. That's where he draws the line. That's why he is making these statements now at this point.

So, once again, Trump is saying what he is saying, but, again, not doing much to ease tensions between himself and the intel community going forward -- Carol.

COSTELLO: All right, Jason Carroll reporting live for us this morning. So let's dig into this extraordinary turn of events with our panel.

Former CNN Moscow Bureau Chief Jill Dougherty joins me again, and also the former U.S. Ambassador to Russia -- oh, actually, he's not with us, right, Steven? Leighton, right? Colonel Cedric Leighton is also with me.

[09:05:10] Oh, Steven, you are here. I'm sorry. Steven Pifer, the former U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine and Senior Fellow at the Brookings Institution is with me. And so is Colonel Cedric Leighton, CNN Military Analyst.

Errol Louis will join us later. Is that correct? That is correct. All right.

I want to start with you, Steven, and I really want to ask you the question, has Vladimir Putin ever talked like this in your memory?

STEVEN PIFER, SENIOR FELLOW, BROOKINGS INSTITUTION: This is pretty specific. We haven't heard Mr. Putin talk like this in the past, but I think you have to understand it's a pretty extraordinary time where, although there are lots of questions about the dossier that came out last week, there's no doubt among American intelligence agencies that Russia blatantly tried to interfere in the American political election. And now Mr. Putin is trying to do everything he can to try to distance Russia from itself and discredit those reports.

COSTELLO: Jill, it's intriguing to me, too, that he keeps talking up Donald Trump through all of this, accusing the Democrats, in essence, of delegitimizing Trump's presidency.

DOUGHERTY: Right, but they have been saying that. I mean, the narrative right now is extraordinarily vituperative toward the Barack Obama administration. I mean, they are dissing Barack Obama and his administration. And now, very specifically, coming from the President saying that it's really a vendetta by the Obama administration to destroy any chance that Mr. Trump can carry out what he wants to carry out.

I mean, they're talking about, you know, that this is a political struggle to undermine the legitimacy of Donald Trump. So the gloves are off, this is really a goodbye.

In fact, the way Mr. Putin started out by saying, you know, there are some people who kind of leave and they say goodbye, and then there are other people who don't leave. And then he said, and I think this is the latter, in other words, Obama couldn't leave soon enough but is leaving things behind that he is going to try to hurt Donald Trump with. That is what the Russians are saying, the Russian president.

COSTELLO: So, Colonel Leighton, what position does this put the U.S. military in when it comes to Russia?

COL. CEDRIC LEIGHTON (RET.), CNN MILITARY ANALYST: Well, Carol, it's a really difficult position to be in because, right now, we've got deployments going on in Poland. We have efforts to strengthen NATO. We have exercises in the Baltic States. And all of this is clearly designed to send Russia a message that the United States is there to stay in Europe and that the United States is, of course, part of NATO.

But given Mr. Trump's pronouncements and the things that have gone on, not only this morning but also, you know, throughout the entire election campaign, we have to call into question exactly what all of the commitments are and whether those commitments mean anything. And that makes everybody in Europe extremely nervous.

COSTELLO: So, Steven, what Mr. Trump said to the international press yesterday, that, you know, as far as trusting Angela Merkel and Vladimir Putin, it's even right now. Is that emboldening Vladimir Putin to say these things? PIFER: Well, that's a pretty amazing statement. I mean, Chancellor

Merkel is the leader of Germany, which has been a very close American ally for decades.

And Chancellor Merkel has also worked very closely with the United States over her tenure on a lot of areas where American and European interests coincide, for example, the sanctions that have been applied jointly by the United States and the European Union against Russia following Russia's illegal annexation of Crimea and then Russia's support for armed separatism in east Ukraine that have killed more than 10,000 people.

And to put her on the same plane with Mr. Putin, who, I think, if you look over the way he's talked about the United States going back the last four or five years, he clearly sees the United States as an adversary. He's not our friend. And so put them on the same plane is a pretty remarkable statement that has caused a lot of concern, not just in Washington but I think among American allies in Europe about what the Trump presidency is going to mean for how the United States engages with Europe and deals with Russia.

COSTELLO: So, Jill, what if, in the end, Mr. Trump decides that Vladimir Putin really isn't such a great friend and he turns on him? What might happen?

DOUGHERTY: That's entirely possible. I mean, as Mr. Putin himself said, we don't know what he's going to do. But I think what the Russians are doing right now is, they are kind of taking an insurance policy, which is, as President Putin said, you know, I never met him, I don't know. I don't know what he's going to do. But then, they oppose him to the Obama administration, and they paint a very bleak picture of what the Obama administration has done internationally and also, Mr. Putin said, even hurting the United States.

[09:10:16] So now, you know, another person comes in. Mr. Putin is not willing to say, yes, specifically, we are hoping that he will follow through on X, Y, and Z, because they don't know. They're not prepared. They have no idea. But they can certainly say, it will be much, much better than dealing with the previous administration. So he is staking out a position, but he's not locking himself into some type of position.

COSTELLO: And might that be, because General Mattis, you know, he's going to serve as part of Donald Trump's Cabinet, Colonel Leighton. He has markedly different views on Russia than does Donald Trump. So is that giving Vladimir Putin pause, or doesn't he listen to our confirmation hearings?

LEIGHTON: It sounds like he's not listening to our confirmation hearings, Carol, but I think he is in real life. But what he's doing is, he is taking what the top is saying, in other words, what Mr. Trump is saying, as the real policy pronouncements that are happening. And so with that, he is, in essence, disregarding what Mattis has said, although what Mattis has said may, in fact, end up becoming U.S. policy. At least that's what our allies hope it will be.

COSTELLO: OK. So, Steven, last question for you, where do you see all of this going?

PIFER: I don't think we know. I mean, if you look at American policy towards Russia, you have what general Mattis said last week during his confirmation hearings, which was very mainstream Republican foreign policy -- support for NATO, support for Ukraine, skepticism about Russia -- and then you look at what Trump said during his campaign and continues to say, and there's a huge spectrum. We're going to come down somewhere in the middle, and we don't yet know about this.

And this may be one thing that, although it's pretty clear from what you've seen out of Moscow in the last couple of months they wanted to see Mr. Trump as President over Secretary Clinton, I'm not sure that's going to be the best thing, though, for Russia or for U.S.-Russia relations because they now have, in three days, an American President who prices unpredictability.

With Secretary Clinton, the Russians would have known, if we do X, the American response is likely going to be Y. The Russians now have to say, if we do X, what is going to be the response of Mr. Trump? And having that kind of uncertainty, unpredictability, volatility in the relationship between Washington and Moscow may not be good for either side.

COSTELLO: All right, I have to leave it there. Jill Dougherty, Steven Pifer, Colonel Cedric Leighton, thanks to all of you.

Coming up in the NEWSROOM, so much for uniting. A growing number of Democrats boycotting Trump's inauguration. We'll talk about that, next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[09:16:20] COSTELLO: President-elect Trump heading to Washington just three days before he is sworn in, facing his historic low approval ratings and a growing number of Democrats boycotting his inauguration. According to a new CNN/ORC poll, more than half Americans disapprove of the way Trump is handling the presidential transition, and only 40 percent prove. He trails far behind his immediate predecessors, President Bush, Clinton and Obama, all had support above 60 percent.

And Trump also faces a growing boycott among lawmakers, nearly one in five House Democrats say they will not attend the inauguration on Friday.

CNN's Jason Carroll live outside of Trump Tower to tell us more about that.

Good morning again.

JASON CARROLL, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: And good morning to you again, Carroll.

You know, at last count, 39 Democratic lawmakers now saying they are not going to be attending inauguration festivities. That number really increased significantly after Donald Trump came out and criticized Congressman John Lewis saying this was a man that was basically all talk and no action, and you look at history and that's not the case. This is a civil rights leader who is one of the freedom writers, arrested and beaten, and marching for civil rights during that tumultuous period of time.

Congresswoman Barbara Lee, one of those Democratic lawmakers coming out and saying she simply cannot go to Washington to support the president-elect, and a number of Republican lawmakers, on the flip side, saying this is not about lawmakers following their conscience, they say it's more about partisan politics as usual.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. BARBARA LEE (D), CALIFORNIA: I don't want to celebrate, you know, a president-elect coming in that campaigned on a campaign of bigotry and divisiveness, and he continued to campaign even after he won the campaign on this platform.

REP. SEAN DUFFY (R), WISCONSIN: The Democrats lost. Donald Trump won. You may not like him, you may not agree with his agenda, just like we didn't agree with President Obama's agenda.

But show up. That's your duty as a Republican congressman. Be part of the process.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CARROLL: What does the president-elect have to say about all of this? He is being basically upbeat about what is to come later this week. He says people are pouring into Washington in record numbers, and Bikers for Trump are on the way.

In terms of some of those numbers, we should also note that a number of people showing up in Washington later in the week will be protesters who plan to voice their opposition to the president-elect -- Carol.

COSTELLO: All right. Jason Carroll, reporting live from Trump Tower.

The partisan divide, well, it's now a canyon, like the Grand Canyon. There's a reason all the lawmakers are skipping Trump's inauguration. Back to that CNN/ORC poll, 80 percent of Republicans approve of Trump's handling of the transition, but only 8 percent of Democrats feel the same way. When asked if Trump will do a good job as president, 93 percent of Republicans say yes, and only 14 percent of Democrats think he will.

With me now to talk about this is Errol Louis, CNN political commentator and political anchor of Spectrum News, and Lara Brown, program director for the George Washington University Graduate School of Political Management.

Welcome to both of you.

ERROL LOUIS, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Good morning.

COSTELLO: OK. So, Errol, this poll suggests Trump is shaping up to be one of the most polarizing president-elects the nation has had in modern times, yet, this weekend, Mr. Trump tweeted this, quote, "For many years, our country has been divided, angry and untrusting. Many say it will never change. The hatred is too deep. It will change."

Errol, will it?

LOUIS: Well, I don't know if putting four exclamation points after it and all capitals will do it.

[09:20:05] It's a little bit deeper than that. The reality, of course, is that this president-elect -- let's be clear, he is not that much of an exception, and we had a string of presidents who ran on polarizing programs, who divided the country and took advantage of the country and decided to win and govern with sort of 50 percent plus one.

Donald Trump is clearly intending to do that. There are a number of things we could roll back the clock over the last six weeks of opportunities that he had an opportunity to bring people together and did the opposite, and the fight with John Lewis being the most recent and spectacular example. So, we're not I think going to do well by looking at his tweets, but we should look at his actions and his words.

And the reality is, he does not intent to govern as a uniter. He may find some advantage there and that's what will move forward. But for a long time, what is broken about Washington is that you do derive political advantage and in this case, you win the presidency by being a divider.

COSTELLO: And our country is so divided. I'm going to throw some more numbers at you, Lara. We are split geographically, gender-wise, racially and education wise. Trump's transition approval numbers are 30 points higher among rural voters, 20 points higher among men and 20 points higher among whites.

So, I know Errol got into this a little bit. But what do you think this means in terms of governing?

LARA BROWN, PROGRAM DIR., GRAD SCHOOL OF POLITICAL MANAGEMENT, GEORGE WASHINGTON UNIV.: Well, really, what this is about is you can see what the basis of the campaign was, and we had a divisive election, and we had one in which the two sides did not see each other's views at all and there is a great deal of nastiness.

The last time we had sort of numbers that were even approximating anywhere approaching this was actually during George W. Bush's, you know, transition time, and in the run up to the inaugural as he was questioned because of the inversion of the popular vote and the Electoral College, and yet, you know, George W. Bush was obviously in a much better shape than is Donald Trump currently.

But it's also true that Representative Lewis protested and, in fact, boycotted George W. Bush's election back in -- or inaugural back in 2001. COSTELLO: OK. So more numbers to throw at you. According to our

CNN/ORC poll, most Americans do not believe Donald Trump will protect the U.S. from hacking and they don't believe he will defeat ISIS, they don't believe he'll build a wall, but a majority of Americans do believe that he will increase jobs and fix the tax code.

So, what does that say to you?

LOUIS: Well, what that says to me is that people have a realistic sense of when the president-elect is speaking politically, what's realistic and what's not. The wall, we heard from any number of experts is simply a fantasy, it's kind of a metaphor. Something will be built, but it's not going to be what he promised.

I think for a lot of people, it doesn't really make that much difference. The metaphor was intended to signal he'll be tough on the border. When it comes to the jobs, though, this is what people want, this is at the heart of his brand, not so much the wall, but his ability to manage the economy, his ability to sort of bring growth up towards 4 percent, and that's the number he promised and that's the number we should be looking at, his ability to change the trade deal, so that they'll be the kind of prosperity that he promised.

I think his presidency will probably rise or fall more on that than almost any other single thing.

COSTELLO: So, just I want to touch on disunity one more time, and a lot of people are blaming Mr. Trump for that, and a lot of Democrats are going to skip the inauguration, Lara, doesn't that lend to the disunity in the country, too?

BROWN: Well, it does. There's no doubt about it. When one commits to politics in America, that actually means you should be committing to the process and not the results, and in fact, I think the Democrats are doing themselves a disservice by not showing up and not participating and not acknowledging what is the most signature achievement of the country, which is a peaceful transfer of power for over more than 200 years.

So, there is I think a problem for Democrats in the, if you will, optics surrounding this. But I also think it's important to realize that Donald Trump, his honeymoon appears to be more like one following an arranged marriage. Republicans are not even as enthusiastic as one would anticipate, that they should be in relation to having a White House, and certainly everyone seems to be somewhat wary about what Trump's actions will be going forward.

COSTELLO: All right. I have to leave it there. Errol Louis, Lara Brown, thanks so much.

I'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[09:28:42] COSTELLO: And good morning. I'm Carol Costello. Thanks so much for joining me. Walmart, the nation's biggest employer feeling good about the U.S. economy. It's adding thousands of jobs and pumping millions into its stores, but investors are feeling a little shaky returning from a long holiday weekend. We are moments away from the opening bell.

CNNMoney business correspondent Alison Kosik is here to tell us.

What's going to happen in Wall Street today?

ALISON KOSIK, CNNMONEY BUSINESS CORRESONDENT: Good morning, Carol. So happy to be sitting here with you. And we are seeing, investors are really rattled this morning because Wall Street is focusing on London, focusing on Washington, D.C., sitting its sights on London because Prime Minister Theresa May this morning outlined the details of the Brexit, exactly how the U.K. will leave the E.U. And although she gave no big surprises, her news conference leaving Wall Street uneasy about how the U.K. will work out a trade deal with the E.U.

Overall for stocks, expect the run to take a rest, to put away that Dow 20,000 hat this week, and investors are waiting on inauguration day. There's a lot of anticipation of what Donald Trump will say during his first speech to the nation as president.

And you mentioned, Carol, Walmart. That's the nation's biggest retailer, well, it's getting bigger. It's expanding, renovating or relocating stores. So, what Walmart plans to do? Add 10,000 jobs this year, which it expects will lead to another 10,000 temporary construction jobs.

Now, the job growth represents less than 1 percent of the company's American workforce, of about 1.5 million people. But what this really illustrates is this new trend in corporate America, growing jobs in America.