Return to Transcripts main page

At This Hour

Interview with Senator Lindsey Graham; Obama, Merkel Joint News Conference; Aired 11-11:30a ET

Aired November 17, 2016 - 11:00   ET


[11:00:00] KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: And for that, let's -- joining us right now is Republican senator of South Carolina, Lindsey Graham, who of course ran against Donald Trump in the GOP primary.

Senator, it is great to have you. Let's get to it.


BOLDUAN: And lost. I think that goes without saying, Senator.

GRAHAM: That goes without saying.

BOLDUAN: When you woke up Wednesday after the election, what did you think of the results?

GRAHAM: I was surprised. You know, I bought into what a lot of people were saying. You know, she underperformed and Donald Trump ran a campaign that got a lot of blue-collar Democrats to vote for him. He is now president of the United States and like every other election, once it's over, it's over. And he's got a lot of challenges ahead of him. And I want to help him where I can. And if I disagree, I disagree.

BERMAN: Have you had a chance to speak with the president-elect since the election?

GRAHAM: Nope. Nope. Nope. I'm sure he's very busy trying to put together his team. And I'm in the book. Call me if you need me but don't worry about Lindsey. I'll be here helping where I can. And if I can't help you, I'll tell you up front. I won't blindside you. But, you know, about Cabinet picks, that seems to be the topic of the day. And I just want to make --

BOLDUAN: Let's talk about that. Let's talk about those Cabinet picks, Senator.


BOLDUAN: We've got to make sure also that Trump has your cell phone number because you had to change it after he handed that last one out.


BOLDUAN: Let's talk about Cabinet picks. Let's talk about Rudy Giuliani as secretary of state. GRAHAM: Right.

BOLDUAN: You have said that you are supportive of Rudy Giuliani for secretary of state. There's also another name out there, John Bolton, for secretary of state. You are supportive of him. Someone who is not, Senator Rand Paul. He has called Bolton totally unfit. He has called Giuliani -- said that Giuliani will have a stiff uphill climb. What do you say to Rand Paul?

GRAHAM: You can put the Republicans in a very small car who is going to follow Rand Paul's advice when it comes to national security. He is my friend, he's a libertarian, he's an outlier. Overwhelming majority of Republican senators have the utmost respect for Rudy Giuliani. He led the nation and New York through 9/11. He's a citizen of the world, eminently qualified.

John Bolton was U.N. ambassador under President Bush. He's been my friend for 20 years. He's a reformer. He would turn the State Department upside down and make it work better. He knows where the bodies are buried in the U.N. and we see the world very similar. So I think overwhelming majority of Republicans would support both candidates and Democrats would, too.

And I would tell my Democratic friends, I voted for virtually every Cabinet appointment of President Obama and you will never convince me that Rudy Giuliani and John Bolton are not qualified to serve at this level so I'm confident there will be Democratic support, bipartisan support for both of them.

BERMAN: We are talking about Mayor Giuliani, some of the things that have come up over the last few days, the work he did both as a lawyer and a consultant for other countries, you know, including the nation of Qatar, including Venezuelan oil interests, including giving many paid speeches around the world including, you know, giving paid speeches for this Iranian dissident group.

None of this concerns you? Or put it another way, do you think this should all be discussed in a confirmation hearing?

GRAHAM: It should all be discussed when it comes to the MEK, the Iranian group. I have tried to be helpful to them because we promised after the fall of Iraq that we would give them protected person status. These are Iranians who are in Iraq that oppose the regime. Yes, we'll look at Rudy's dealings but to my Democratic friends, if you thought Hillary Clinton was qualified to be president, then given all of her conflicts and allegations against her, I hope you will find Rudy Giuliani acceptable to be secretary of state. We will not tolerate a double standard here.

BERMAN: But hang on one second. When we're talking about double standard, there are a lot of people on your side of the aisle who did not think Hillary Clinton was qualified to be president for just those reasons.

GRAHAM: All I can say is I didn't think she -- I didn't oppose her candidacy because of the relationship she had with Bill Clinton. I opposed her candidacy because of her policies. So bring it up if you would like but I will tell my Democratic colleagues that all of you have fallen behind the Clintons all these years and that Rudy Giuliani, whatever he did or may not have done, needs to be discussed, but his qualifications to me are beyond reproach. You'll never convince Lindsey Graham that Rudy Giuliani is not qualified to be secretary of state.

And when it comes to John Bolton, I know him very well. He's one of the most gifted people I have met in terms of foreign policy. He understands the way the system works. He was a great voice for reform in the United Nations. And if he is secretary of state he will understand who our friends and enemies really are and will be a good adviser to a president facing many challenges.

BOLDUAN: But, Senator, what if Rand Paul, a Republican senator, filibusters either of these men?

GRAHAM: Well, he can't filibuster because Harry Reid changed the rules when it came to appointments. So Rand Paul makes you want to think it's 52-48.

[11:05:01] Here's what I believe. I believe that either candidate, either nominee, and it could be anybody. If it's Nikki Haley I will support her. She's very talented. If it's Newt, I will support him. But we're talking about John Bolton and Rudy Giuliani. The fact that Rand Paul would oppose them is not going to keep them from serving because most Republicans would enthusiastically support them and there will be Democrats who will support them because they're qualified.

BOLDUAN: So you think it's a done deal? Do you think it's a done deal regardless of what Rand Paul is saying?

GRAHAM: I think we could get either one of them through the Senate because they're qualified. And I would tell every Democrat, I'm asking no more of you than I ask of myself. I voted for Loretta Lynch, I voted for Holder, I voted for Kerry, I voted for Secretary Clinton. I think Bolton and Giuliani are eminently qualified for the job and there will be bipartisan support.

It's up to Donald Trump. I'm going to support his nominees if I can because we all owe that to him. They have to be qualified. And I think these people are.

BERMAN: One person -- one person that Donald Trump is meeting with today is your governor, Nikki Haley.


BERMAN: And CNN, you know, is getting word that she is being considered for secretary of state. We were just talking about Mayor Giuliani and also John Bolton along those lines. I'm sure you're supportive in general of Nikki Haley.

GRAHAM: Right.

BERMAN: Does she have the qualifications, you think, the experience to be secretary of state?

GRAHAM: I would say that she did a good job as governor of South Carolina. She's talented, she's capable. I think she could do a good job in any assignment given. I don't know about her foreign policy. I haven't really talked to her. Her husband was in the South Carolina National Guard. He deployed to Afghanistan. I think Nikki is a traditional Republican when it comes to foreign policy, probably more like Ronald Reagan than Rand Paul.

And at the end of the day I would support her. But we are talking about two people supposedly going to be blocked by Rand Paul. I just want the country to know that I think Rudy Giuliani and John Bolton are eminently qualified for the job and they'd get bipartisan support if the president-elect chooses to nominate them. And I certainly would support Nikki Haley. I like her a lot. She's very talented.

BOLDUAN: Let's talk about another important decision that is facing Donald Trump right now. One -- the Supreme Court. One person that was seen surprising many to go into Trump Tower this week is Senator Ted Cruz and what may surprise folks even more is that you have suggested that maybe Senator Ted Cruz could be Donald Trump's pick to fill the vacancy in the Supreme Court. That made some of us who have followed you for a long time say the following. What?


GRAHAM: So here's what I think. We are replacing Justice Scalia. A great jurist who was probably the most conservative person on the court. Ted Cruz is a constitutional conservative, very, very smart, in the mold of Scalia. The people on the list that I have seen potential picks, I could support them all. I just suggested that if you are looking for a Scalia type figure, somebody to replace Judge Scalia in sort -- in their image judicially, Ted Cruz would fit the bill.

BOLDUAN: Right. Right. But is this more you think he's eminently qualified for the job or is this more, Senator, you would like to get him out of the way?

GRAHAM: I think Ted Cruz can serve either the Senate, on the court or in the Cabinet. I like Ted Cruz. We have our differences. But even his worst critics cannot say that he's not one of the smartest people you've ever met.

BOLDUAN: You were one of his worst critics, Senator.

GRAHAM: Yes, I have been at times.

BOLDUAN: I don't think --

GRAHAM: At times. But because you disagree with somebody doesn't mean you take your disagreements to the point that you can't recognize reality. Nobody can tell me that Ted Cruz is not a constitutionally gifted talented lawyer because he is. We do have areas of agreement. I think he'd be a great judge but it's up to Donald Trump. I just suggested if you are looking for people like Scalia, take a look at Ted Cruz.

BERMAN: Senator, one of the phrases we keep hearing from you is it's up to Donald Trump. You know, he does get to nominate the people he nominates. He gets to hire the people he's going to hire.

GRAHAM: You know, people 200 years ago figured that out. Not me. So they were way ahead of me.

BERMAN: But, but, but, look, you are a senator, you have oversight over the issues, you know, of Cabinet appointments.

GRAHAM: Right.

BERMAN: And you know, I think it's not unusual to have opinions about who the president hires to be the White House staff. And one of the people we are hearing this morning who may end up with some kind of senior advisory role inside the White House is Jared Kushner. His son-in-law. The "Wall Street Journal" has a report today that says he will end up as a senior adviser. We're not sure. We do know that he's obviously very close to the president-elect and has a role in the transition.

Do you think it's appropriate to have your son-in-law working for you in the West Wing?

GRAHAM: That would be fine with me. I mean, it shows they got a good relationship. I don't know how many father-in-laws would pick their son-in-laws to do anything. So the bottom line is he's going to need all the advice he can get and if he thinks Mr. Kushner is an indispensable part of him being president, I am all for it. I don't think it violates any nepotism law. I know people are concerned about that.

[11:10:04] I know people are concerned about the business dealings of the Trump family and how it relates to the presidency. That's all fair game. But when it comes to Mr. Kushner, I'm all for him being able to help President Trump in any fashion the president deems appropriate.

BOLDUAN: For a lot of folks who covered the campaign and, you know, covered you for a long time, hearing the words I'm all for Donald Trump having whomever he wants around him, I want to help him where I can, it is surprising. I mean, we don't need to --

GRAHAM: You shouldn't be surprised.

BOLDUAN: We don't need to look too far in the past that you spent a year in the campaign, you know, going up against Donald Trump, ridiculing Donald Trump. I mean, and this man we do know, Senator, he rewards loyalty. As you stand here today, are you worried at all about backlash, about retribution of a Trump presidency?

GRAHAM: Absolutely not, because I'm going to be the best I know how to be. You know, I campaigned for John McCain. I was his right hand guy. I was his wing man. We've campaigned against Barack Obama. Barack Obama won. I did what I thought I could as a senator from South Carolina to help the president. I voted for almost every pick he made. I voted for Sotomayor and Kagan not because I would have picked them because I thought they were qualified. So if you know anything about me, you shouldn't be surprised.

And I can tell you, if I disagree with the president, I have a different view of Russia. I don't think Putin is our friend. I'm going to investigate along with my other colleagues the role Russia is playing in the world, what they have done in the Mideast and Syria, what they have done to the Baltics, what they are trying to do to the Baltics, what they have done to the Crimea and what role if any they had in terms of hacking into our elections.

So I'm going to push back when I need to push back but my philosophy is pretty sound here. I try to help presidents, including Donald Trump, because he's president and congratulations to Donald Trump.

BERMAN: Well, and I'm glad you brought up Russia there. I was just going to ask you, besides Russia, because I think you just brought it up, where do you see differences that you do intend to stand up to the president-elect on?

GRAHAM: I don't know what he's going to do with Assad but I see Assad as butcher of Damascus, that his continued presence in Syria throws the Mideast in complete turmoil. So I don't see Assad as an ally or friend of the United States. I'm trying to basically -- on immigration we disagree. But let him send over a proposal. Here's what I will do. I will vote for any bill that secures our border, increases legal immigration, controls who can get a job through the national e-verify system.

But I'm not going to vote for a bill that can't tell the difference between a grandmother who has been here legally and a drug dealer. I just can't go there. So I want to work with him where I can, I will do for him what I have tried to do for every other president, help them, but also stand up when I need to. And I have done that. I can say I did it to Bush, Obama and I will do the same for Donald Trump.

BOLDUAN: Senator Lindsey Graham, great to have you. Senator, always interesting.

GRAHAM: What? All right. Bye-bye.


BERMAN: Senator Rand Paul in his small car right now. His good friend Senator Rand Paul.

BOLDUAN: What kind of car is that? We'll see.

BERMAN: Fascinating. All right. We are watching Berlin right now. President Obama and the German chancellor Angela Merkel, they will step up to those microphones and speak very, very shortly. Live pictures. We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) [11:17:12] BOLDUAN: Showing you live pictures, waiting right now to hear from President Obama and German Chancellor Angela Merkel in Berlin for a joint press conference. This would be very interesting to hear what the two leaders have to say.

Let's get a preview of what we are waiting for and expecting right now. Let's bring in CNN's White House correspondent Michelle Kosinski, she's live in Berlin for us.

What are you hearing, Michelle?

MICHELLE KOSINSKI, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Hi. We know, though, the president has already had quite a bit to say post- election. I mean, in the first place, we heard him try to be upbeat and optimistic despite everyone knowing how he must really feel about how it turned out. But he didn't want to show that. And, you know, the second press conference we've heard from him, he was more introspective, not optimistic, but almost warning about the potential of how things could go.

So, you know, all eyes are now on this. When you think about not just Americans wanting to hear more from him on his thoughts on the transition, on what this means for these pressing issues that he's been working on with European leaders and then Europe, which has also felt the strains of populism and nationalism, anti-immigrant sentiment, and that growing wave here, they too want to hear what President Obama says.

So, you know, this was originally supposed to be the kind of trip where after the election happened, he speaks to his closest allies that he worked so well with on these issues and says to them OK, we got through the election, here's how things go, we're OK, and the outcome was much different than he expected. So he can't really offer them a whole lot of reassurance here. He can't offer them much clarity at all because no one knows other than Donald Trump and his inside team what he's going to do on some of these initiatives, like the fight against ISIS, the Paris climate agreement, dealing with the refugee crisis. How are his strategies going to change what these countries have been working on together?

BERMAN: And yet, the president finds himself going from nation to nation now in a way trying to reassure many of these leaders of these countries that do have questions, as sort of an unlikely ambassador right now for President-elect Donald Trump.

Michelle Kosinski for us in Berlin. Thank you so much.

Again, we're looking at live pictures right now from that room where any minute now, President Obama and Angela Merkel will step up to the microphones, they will make statements. They will take questions from the press. The president has faced a lot of questions about President-elect Donald Trump and the transition.

Joining us now to discuss, CNN political reporter Nia-Malika Henderson, CNN global affairs correspondent Elise Labott, "Washington Post" reporter David Fahrenthold, CNN senior political analyst and former adviser to many, many presidents David Gergen, and historian professor at Princeton University, Julian Zelizer.

[11:20:01] Also here, "New York Times" political reporter Patrick Healey.

Patrick, you had to wait so long for your introduction I wanted to give you --


BOLDUAN: (INAUDIBLE) because you're the last one.

BERMAN: We just spoke to Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, and we're talking about the fact that Nikki Haley, the governor of South Carolina, is at Trump Tower today for meetings. And this is actually a really interesting meeting. I mean, Nikki Haley was critical of Donald Trump during the primaries. You know, Donald Trump was critical of her. And now we're hearing she could be up for secretary of state. How real is this? You have some reporting.

PATRICK HEALY, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Right. This is a real meeting. What Trump advisers say is that he very much wants to get a feel for her and see if she's willing to be a team player, willing very much to follow his lead, whether -- you know, if she was secretary of state, for instance, you know, how she would work with Mike Flynn if he was national security adviser.

But a couple of -- one adviser particularly made a cautious note. This adviser said not sure how President Trump -- President-elect Trump is going to feel about Governor Haley right now. She had very tough words for him during the primary. So this isn't like, you know, getting close to a job offer. This is sort of more feeling out.

The concern is, is that right now we're just hearing about a pantheon of white men, you know, on these potential Cabinet, you know, sort of Cabinet lists and OK, we need to find somebody other than sort of floating Sarah Palin's name out there and Governor Haley is respected, she's seen as someone who can speak possibly, you know, truth to power, she's also a woman of color. She'd be sort of an outside the box choice. So if he's not going to pick a Democrat, Nikki Haley is somebody who -- you know, who would be an interesting choice.

BOLDUAN: Fascinating, the meeting is going on today. Nia, I want to get your take. You know, a lot of this week, there has been talk of turmoil or not turmoil going on within Trump Tower. Publicly you hear from Team Trump that everything is fine and going smoothly. Privately, from what I'm hearing from inside Trump's world, is the talk of turmoil was coming from those who have been pushed out from the transition and that it sounds like quite honestly that those inside Trump's world, they didn't like the plan that was presented to them for transition by Chris Christie and now they -- and we've seen kind of the fallout from that.

What are you hearing now?

NIA-MALIKA HENDERSON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: You know, you do find, obviously the Trump team saying publicly, he tweeted everything is fine, there's nothing to see here, and they are now starting to do these daily conference calls where they talk about the transition process and what reporters and what the public should start to expect.

I do think this is very much a continuation of what we saw from campaign Trump. Right? There was often turmoil, some of it was caused by turnover from campaign managers, there was turmoil often caused by Trump himself saying off-color things but, you know, at some point he's going to pick folks. It looks like if you listen to Senator Graham there, there's not going to be a lot of problems in terms of the confirmation process, and so in some ways, everything I think is going to lead up to what we know which is Donald Trump being sworn in as president and the real question is what does he do, what is his vision.

And here we are in the shadow of Obama and Merkel talking about what their vision is and in many ways whatever they say isn't really relevant anymore. There's a new administration coming in very shortly and all of this turmoil we saw on the campaign that we are seeing in the transition ultimately none of that mattered from the campaign trail. He got elected, it worked for him, it was his style.

And now we see that playing out with this transition process where he's essentially parading people in front of the public and doing these sort of public interviews and public vetting of these different candidates.

BERMAN: You know, David Gergen, it was interesting, we were just speaking to Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina who had been a pretty vocal opponent of Donald Trump. And Senator Graham made clear --

BOLDUAN: Yes, disable it.

BERMAN: The president-elect said he can get what he wants. You know, and Senator Graham, his former opponent of Donald Trump, is going to help make sure that he gets what he wants.


BERMAN: One of the things that the president-elect seems to want, we think he wants, is his son-in-law Jared Kushner, in the White House as some kind of a senior adviser.

You have worked inside a White House or two or three or four. What do you think the effect of that would be on his staff? I'm just struck by, you know, if you are a White House staffer, even a senior staffer, and the president's son-in-law says this is the way it's going to be, this is the way it's going to be.

DAVID GERGEN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, Donald Trump as Lindsey Graham said is entitled to choose the people he wants around him. It would be a surprise to me if Jared Kushner went in. I mean, you're going to have a three-headed sort of operation in there with the chief of staff, Mr. Priebus, with Mr. Bannon and now with Jared Kushner. There are going to be lot of staff members who are not quite sure

where the real power is and there could be potential for a lot of collisions. I think the more important question is what happens to the conflict of interests that are going to be represented by Mr. Kushner having a lot of outside business dealings.

[11:25:03] You know, he has a pretty massive business, he runs a real estate business he runs himself, so that -- those are very, very serious issues, these conflicts.

But I have to tell you, John, I am fascinated by the fact that Donald Trump has Nikki Haley in there talking today about being secretary of state. She is a, you know, very good governor and many thought she might be a vice presidential candidate on the ticket. But her foreign policy credentials are rather thin. You know, Lindsey Graham, her senator from South Carolina, said he never had a conversation with her about basically about international affairs. It does suggest that Giuliani-Bolton possibilities have hit snags of one sort or another and that he's searching around. But Nikki Haley would be a very big surprise, a very big surprise if she were chosen as secretary of state.

HEALY: Well, one Trump adviser also said, you know, Nikki Haley possibly secretary of commerce candidate. I mean, she's actually done a lot to move jobs into South Carolina. But if the message is probably going to be --

GERGEN: That would be a much more logical choice.

HEALY: -- working toward working class -- right -- white voters, you know, bringing sort of jobs back. But there's another question that David sort of got at if I may just briefly. You know, Jared Kushner, White House staff, doesn't have to be confirmed. He's pretty close to Reince Priebus. So in terms of the --


BOLDUAN: They are reporting that both Bannon and Reince Priebus want Kushner there.

HEALY: Right. Right. Because they know that Kushner is the one who could probably back them up the best with -- you know, with President Trump. But a question that we haven't gotten to, though, is what would Chuck Schumer do here. What would the Democrats do? You have Lindsey Graham on saying oh, all these guys will get their way but Chuck Schumer and the Democrats have to decide which fight are they going to pick. Is over Rudy Giuliani on secretary of state and trying to bring that --


JULIAN ZELIZER, HISTORIAN AND PROFESSOR, PRINCETON UNIVERSITY: But they don't need -- I think they don't need them on a lot of that. And I think -- I mean, I think the story with the Graham interview is partisan polarization is working. And the Republicans are not going to buckle and they are going to act as a united front. And Graham was very clear on that. So I think the Democrats are actually hamstrung on a lot of this.

HEALY: But they're going to want to do some damage. I mean, they're going to pick some kind of fight.


HEALY: Even if they --


BOLDUAN: Yes. Elise, go right ahead.

ELISE LABOTT, CNN FOREIGN AFFAIRS REPORTER: Listen, I mean, I think the whole idea of Nikki Haley, I think David is right. It's a very surprising choice. And I think there's a little bit of psych-ops going on right now, trying to float some trial balloons, see who would stick, see who gets favorable coverage.

You know, this president-elect and soon to be president is the most media-conscious president and he wants to get good reception about some of these names that he's floating out there. John Bolton, Rudy Giuliani, you know, those names have been controversial. Rudy Giuliani more for his international, you know, business, questionable business dealings and John Bolton for a very tough confirmation at the U.N. and also some ideas that mainstream Republicans don't agree with.

I think mainstream Republicans now are trying to rally around some candidates like John Bolton, possibly Rudy Giuliani, that have a little bit more international experience. This is sending such an important message to the world. World leaders are very confused about the foreign policy that Donald Trump is putting out. They want to see some signals about the people that he's going to support for secretary of state, for secretary of defense, for national security advisers, that will give them more of a feeling about what the world view is.

You know, Donald Trump is sitting down today with the Japanese Prime Minister Abe with having not been briefed by the State Department, not being briefed by the Defense Department, and so he's kind of winging it. And so I think the world leaders are looking for a little bit more stability and a sense that he's doing this a little bit more methodically to get a sense of what U.S. foreign policy is going to be going forward.

BOLDUAN: Guys, hold on one second because you hit on a point, the preparation and the contact or lack thereof between the transition team and the State Department, Defense Department.

Let's try to get a quick break in. We're still waiting right now. We'll continue this discussion but we are waiting, we're looking at live pictures once again of Berlin. Waiting to hear from President Obama and German Chancellor Angela Merkel. They're going to have a joint news conference, they'll make statements, they'll take questions from reporters. Very important moment.

BERMAN: Plus one of the nation's top security officials says he is out. The director of National Intelligence, James Clapper, he has submitted his resignation, so what does that mean for the presidential transition? We'll have those details ahead.