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At This Hour

West Wing, East Wing Fight for Head of DNC; Trump Nominates S.C.'s Nikki Haley to be U.N. Ambassador; Trump to Uphold Conservative Principles Important to Heritage Foundation; Russia Hopes for Better Relations with U.S.; Jared Kushner Gives "Forbes" Rare Interview. Aired 11:30a-12p ET

Aired November 23, 2016 - 11:30   ET


[11:30:00] JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Let me ask you for your take on a couple developments quickly. Number one, overnight, people who are doing the counting, our friends watching this very closely, say Hillary Clinton's lead in the popular vote is now over two million. You and I both know this gets her nothing, and that's not how campaigns are run and won in the United States. Still, two million is a pretty significant margin.

JONATHAN MARTIN, NATIONAL POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT, THE NEW YORK TIMES: It's going to be the widest popular vote margin for a loser going back over a century and a half. It makes this even tougher for Democrats. It makes, John, the question of rebuilding even more complicated, because they are now grappling with, well, how big is the problem, how significant are our challenges? Was this just a matter of 100,000 votes in three states or are our problem more structural and more serious? And I think that, John, is going to sort of frame this debate that we are talking about for the next chairman of the party.

And just real fast, I should add, a big issue sort of looming is this proxy war between the Bernie Sanders forces and the more Obama/Clinton mainline Democratic forces. Bernie Sanders loves Keith Ellison, very close to him, and Bernie came out very early after Ellison had got in, even before he got in, to encourage him to run. Keep an eye on that dynamic, too.

BERMAN: Quickly, you mentioned 100,000 votes in three states. There are computer scientists --

MARTIN: Yeah, right.

BERMAN: -- saying you should recount in Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania because the computer ballots are different than the paper ballots. They did a conference call and senior Clinton campaign people to listen, but this doesn't feel like it's going anywhere, does it?

MARTIN: If the Clinton folks were interested in that, John, I think we would have heard by now. Time is of the essence when it comes to these challenges, these recounts. The fact they are not pushing it, I think sort of tells you the story.

But this is tough for Democrats. The line I have heard, John, over and over again is that you can put the margin that Hillary lost the presidency by in three states in Michigan stadium and still have extra room. It's that close of a deficit, Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin. But those are the rules of the game and she was aware of that and the fact is that she scrambled in Michigan too late and they didn't see Wisconsin coming.

BERMAN: If you are going to fill the Michigan state stadium you have to campaign there, maybe, a little more.

Jonathan Martin, great to have you with us. Thanks so much.

MARTIN: Thanks, John.

BERMAN: Donald Trump says he doesn't want, a quote, "reset with Russia." Russia says it is fine with that. The Kremlin cites Hillary Clinton for not caring for the "R" word, adding that it would be hard for Trump to make U.S./Russia relations any worse. What's going on? Details ahead.

Plus, all eyes on the White House. If only we could get a countdown clock for this. We have had them for other things, why not this? In about three hours, the president will make a decision, will it be Tater, will it be Tot? Who will receive the final presidential turkey pardon from President Obama?

Stay with us.


[11:37:25] BERMAN: The breaking news this morning, word that President-elect Donald Trump has selected Nikki Haley. He will nominate Nikki Haley to be his ambassador to the United Nations. Nikki Haley is the popular governor of South Carolina. This is the first woman or minority that Donald Trump has decided to bring in to his inner circle.

While that's going on, Donald Trump sat down with "The New York Times" yesterday for an hour, and talked about a wide range of issues, talked about his positions on a wide range of issues.

For reaction to all this, I want to bring in the CEO of the Heritage Foundation's political arm, Heritage Action. Michael Needham joins us.

Mike, if you read the articles, the Heritage Foundation right now is key in helping Donald Trump through this transition process. So, we assume you are big on making all the decisions or you made them all yourself. What do you make of the Nikki Haley decision?

MICHAEL NEEDHAM, CEO, HERITAGE ACTION FOR AMERICA, HERITAGE FOUNDATION: Donald Trump is making all the decisions. We are trying to help him and offer our expertise as desired.

Nikki Haley has been a phenomenal governor, she created jobs, did ethics reform down there, she's bright, a quick learner. She will be a fantastic representative of the United States. BERMAN: Do you need foreign policy experience to be ambassador to the

United Nations?

NEEDHAM: I think, as the governor of a state, you have foreign policy experience. She went overseas over a dozen times but she's also been an incredible governor.


BERMAN: Would you say foreign policy is her main area of expertise?

NEEDHAM: I think that running an administration has been her main area of expertise in South Carolina. And now as the president's representative at the United Nations, she will be involved in the exact same types of skills that she has been using running a state, interacting with people, and representing interests.

BERMAN: We were talking during the break, and we were talking about Donald Trump's interview with "The New York Times" yesterday, the hour-long sit-down. You suggested it shows that he will stand up for the conservative principles that are so important to Heritage. Well, the flipside of that, a lot of people are reading this thing and noticing that in this sit-down with "The New York Times," he seemed to be open to at least not -- seemed to be open to the idea that climate change, the Paris Accord would stick. He seemed to be open to the idea that he would not waterboard. He seemed to be open to the idea of maybe not doing infrastructure spending he said before. It's hard to know where he is on the positions.

NEEDHAM: I read the actual transcript of this thing. If you look at what he says on climate change, it's pretty much what we would have said at Heritage. He said there are questions that need to be looked at, there's research on both sides of the issue, this is not settled science the way some people on the left want to say. Once you figure out what exactly is going on with climate change, we need to have a conversation about what is man's role in it. Most importantly, what is the public policy response and does it cause more harm or --


BERMAN: Do you anticipate he will withdraw from the Paris Accords?

NEEDHAM: He should. And I think when you look --

BERMAN: Will you be disappointed if he doesn't?

NEEDHAM: Sure. I think when he looks at it, as he says in the interview, he will look at the merits, listen to a lot of people, and you will find the damage done to the economy by the Paris Accords does not in any way --


BERMAN: Do you think Donald Trump, the president-elect, has conservative convictions? [11:40:06] NEEDHAM: I do. I think that, especially reading that

interview with "The New York Times," you see -- and I don't know where his convictions were ten years ago, or five years ago. I think certainly over the course of this campaign, the experience of going around the country has made him more conservative. In virtually every single answer in that "New York Times" interview yesterday, I thought that his initial answer was something that shows a kind of deep understanding of conservative instincts.

BERMAN: Is it conservative to not separate your business interests from the business of government?

NEEDHAM: I think it's kind of a cheap shot on Donald Trump. This is the first businessman who has ever been in there. He has an incredibly complicated business. And it's a difficult business to sell off. As he said to "The New York Times," this is not just some stalk that he can go out there and sell. I think that what he's trying to do, it seems, is figure out what is the right way to take a complicated business, to kind of distance himself in a realistic way.


NEEDHAM: It's just not realistic to sell.

BERMAN: Does Heritage think he should create some distance between his private business and the business of government?

NEEDHAM: I don't think Heritage has a position on that. What we think is that ending cronyism in Washington, D.C., is absolutely important.


BERMAN: Does cronyism count for having your business profit while you're president? Because people could look at that and say that's cronyism.

NEEDHAM: I think he's trying to figure out -- is he trying to figure out the right way to do this? It seems to me he is. We go forward, if this becomes a kind of cronyist administration, we are not going to be hesitant to criticize that. I think realistically if anybody has suggestions as to what he should be doing, that are kind of realistic to his circumstances, I would expect him to take them up. If he doesn't, they have a real issue. I'm not sure what he could be doing. I'm not sure what his critics are asking him to do that he's not currently doing.

BERMAN: Michael Needham, from Heritage, great to have you here with us. Come on back. Interesting discussion.

NEEDHAM: Appreciate it.

BERMAN: Besides Michael Needham, we are talking about someone else now. He's young, rich, handsome, successful and normally quiet. We are talking about the son-in-law of Donald Trump, who is credited by many with helping him win this campaign. Now Jared Kushner, who says he doesn't talk, is talking. Hear what he has said about the campaign, everything from Chris Christie to McDonald's.

Plus, I won. I have a countdown clock right now. You can see it there on the bottom of the screen. Three hours and two minutes until President Obama's final turkey pardon. Which turkey will he choose? Will it be Tater, will it be Tot? Three hours and two minutes until the turkey learns its fate.

Stay with us.


[11:46:44] BERMAN: This morning, Russia says it is hoping for better relations with the United States. The Kremlin spokesman says, quote, "Relations are at the bottom, so it's hard to make them worse. He says he hopes the relationship moves back to a constructive course.

I want to bring in CNN's chief international correspondent, Christiane Amanpour.

A constructive course, what does that mean for Russia? What does Russia want over the next four years?

CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN CHIEF INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: I think it means, from Russia's perspective, it wants the United States and, therefore, the West, to accept its terms. So, it wants the West to ignore the annexation of Crimea, the invasion of eastern Ukraine, the harassment of NATO members, like the Baltic States, very close to Russia. And it probably drew a lot of comfort from when Newt Gingrich called the capital of Estonia, Talen (ph) -- used to be a suburb of St. Petersburgh. It was nowhere near a suburb of St. Petersburgh in any historical right. So, Russia is looking for a more sympathetic ear from the United States and to not hold Russia to, you know, what all international law is. I mean, basically, international law is about big countries not invading smaller countries, right? Russia annexed Crimea. It wants that knocked off the books. And Dmitry Peskov, the spokesman who you just quoted, said that to me, hoping that a new administration would ignore those kinds of things and move forward.

Russia also wants to see this war in Syria end, but on its terms. So, end the war by allowing Assad to have at least Aleppo and at least Damascus and a rump state or a big more that it can control to, they believe -


[11:50:54] BERMAN: -- out, a rare interview. Donald Trump may rely on his son-in-law to pave the way for Mideast peace. Is Jared Kushner up to that task?

Plus, any moment now, in fact, in two hours and 55 minutes, the world will learn the fate of Tater and Tot. Which turkey will President Obama pardon? The big event, we're on it. Stay tuned.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) [11:55:25] BERMAN: We have some breaking new on the Donald Trump transition. Dr. Ben Carson tweeted moments ago, "An announcement is forthcoming about my role in helping to make America great again." We don't know exactly what that role will be but the speculation was that he was offered the job of HUD secretary, Housing and Urban Development. And you think he wouldn't be tweeting about helping make America great again unless he was going to accept that offer. So, apparently, an announcement is forthcoming on that. Stay tuned.

Besides Ben Carson, the most intriguing figure of the 2016 campaign, who doesn't give interviews, just gave an interview. How much does Donald Trump count on his son-in-law, Jared Kushner? So much that he now says that he might rely on the 35-year-old to help negotiate Mideast peace.

Jared Kushner was a, if not the, central figure in the campaign.

He spoke extensively to Forbes editor, Steven Bertoni, who joins us now.

Steve, thanks so much for being with us.


BERMAN: Jared Kushner made a point of saying in your interview that he didn't give interviews. So why is he giving one?

BERTONI: I think there was so much press about him, even before the Chris Christie stuff, with stories in "Esquire" and "Vanity Fair," kind of writing big pieces on him, but they never quoted him. I think after the Chris Christie stuff, when he was on the cover of all the newspapers, he decided to have his voice in the public market, and he spoke to us.

BERMAN: He said the Chris Christie thing wasn't him. What was him was bringing in all kinds of new high-tech campaign practices to this. What did he do?

BERTONI: He started from scratch. He's a real estate mogul, but he has a lot of tech investment. He wasn't an expert, so he said, how can I win an election? Donald Trump is a unique non-traditional candidate. How do we build a non-traditional campaign to make this work? Like an entrepreneur, he asked a lot of questions. He had no assumptions. And made -- they did things. They moved fast, broke things, made a lot of mistakes, but then they'd kill, and then whatever would work, they'd scale. They treated it like a consumer start-up, and that delivered -- helped deliver Trump to the White House. It wouldn't work with anyone else. It was custom made for someone like Trump, who was so nontraditional, so Twitter focused, so outside the normal bounds.

BERMAN: He basically said it looked like the "money ball" of politics, for people that aren't baseball fans and don't know on base percentages. It's basically highest return on lowest investment.

BERTONI: Yeah, they were saying that -- he went to the Electoral College. They said every Electoral College vote is worth the same amount of money, but you can buy them, so to speak, at different levels. They said New Hampshire very expensive just in terms of what it takes to get that vote. Let's avoid that and get things that are cheaper, maybe in Pennsylvania, maybe in Michigan. So, they looked at this as if a vote was a commodity and could they get the commodity at the cheapest price.

BERMAN: As was sit here, and Hillary Clinton's popular vote lead grows to two million, that strategy seems incredibly prescient.

BERTONI: It's like football. A lot of times, a team loses, gets more yards, but it's the team with the points. They went for the points, not for the yards.

BERMAN: The Patriots know exactly what that means.

Talk to me about the relationship between these two men? How much does Donald Trump rely on Jared Kushner and exactly why?

BERTONI: Jared is just very - anyone you talk to about him, he's very polite and very even keeled, very quiet. People say he has an open mind. I've talked to people like Henry Kissinger, Peter Thiel and even Eric Schmidt, who is on the other side of the fence and who helped Hillary Clinton build her machine, and they said that, no matter your politics, you want Trump to have Jared in his ear. He's just trusted. He's rational. There's a lot of fear out there about this administration. And people like Eric Schmidt said, if you're scared of the Trump administration, it's good to have --- you want Jared Kushner in there because he's rational, he's centralist, and he's not - he might balance out the more extreme parts of this administration.

BERMAN: Donald Trump told "The New York Times" yesterday that he might rely on Jared Kushner to help Mideast peace. When he said that, that sounds like an enormous task. But is it surprising to you that Trump said that?

BERTONI: Yes. This has been a problem for so many years. It's so complex. I don't think any one person can do that, especially -- he has no international experience. But I think he saying that if Jared kind of takes that fresh look that helped him win the campaign, maybe that mind-set could help in Middle East peace. I don't think one person can solve this. This has been the biggest problem in the past 100 years.

BERMAN: If nothing else, it does show how much Donald Trump counts on Jared Kushner and trusts him.

Steve, thanks so much for being with us.

BERTONI: Thanks for having me.

BERMAN: A great article. And it's the only one of its kind because Jared Kushner has never really spoken like that before.

Thanks for being with us. BARTONI: Thanks so much

BERMAN: If we can put the countdown clock on the screen. In just over two hours and 45 minutes, President Obama will pardon either Tater or Tot. I don't know which is which, but the president does. He'll make that selection. Stay with us for that.

Thanks for watching AT THIS HOUR.

NEWSROOM with Pamela Brown starts right now.

[12:00:08] PAMELA BROWN, CNN ANCHOR: Hello. And welcome to CNN NEWSROOM. I'm Pamela Brown, in for Brianna Keilar.