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Donald Trump's Pick for Secretary of State Rex Tillerson Draws Criticism; Interview with Representative Chris Collins; Actor Alan Thicke Dies; Interview with Congressman Keith Ellison of Minnesota; Ceasefire & Evacuation Plan Falling Apart in Aleppo. Aired 8-8:30a ET

Aired December 14, 2016 - 08:00   ET


[08:00:00] CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR: We've got every angle covered. Let's start with Sunlen Serfaty in Washington. Sunlen?

SUNLEN SERFATY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Chris. There has certainly been a firestorm of criticism from Democrats and those within Donald Trump's own party, slamming his pick for secretary of state. So the president-elect is now responding by using the campaign-style rallies to push publicly for his nominee, bracing for the battle ahead.


DONALD TRUMP, (R) PRESIDENT-ELECT: A great diplomat, a strong man, a tough man.

SERFATY: In Wisconsin, Donald Trump defending his choice for secretary of state, Rex Tillerson.

TRUMP: Rex will be a fierce advocate for America's interests around the world.

SERFATY: Trump talking up the Exxon CEO after facing backlash from both sides of the aisle over Tillerson's ties to Russia, especially now in the wake of the CIA's finding that Moscow meddled in the election.

TRUMP: Rex is friendly with many of the leaders in the world that we don't get along with. And some people don't like that. They don't want him to be friendly.

SERFATY: The president-elect now filling most major positions for his administration.

TRUMP: I believe we're in the process of putting together one of the great cabinets, certainly a cabinet with the highest IQ.

SERFATY: Trump tapping freshman Republican Congressman Ryan Zinke as interior secretary and one-time rival former Texas governor Rick Perry for energy secretary. Perry now set to run the energy department after trying to suggest eliminating it altogether but forgetting to name the department during this 2011 presidential debate. RICK PERRY, (R) FORMER TEXAS GOVERNOR: The third agency of government

I would do away with the education, the commerce -- let's see. I can't. The third one, I can't. Sorry. Oops.

SERFATY: It's confirmed the top four picks of Trump's administration will be led by white males, a first for any administration since 1989. As sources say, some Trump loyalists are expressing frustration over being shut out after supporting Trump's campaign from its early days. But the president-elect giving conditional praise to his one-time antagonist House Speaker Paul Ryan during their first joined appearance.

TRUMP: He's like a fine wine. Every day goes by I get to appreciate his genius more and more. Now, if he ever goes against me, I'm not going to say that, OK.

SERFATY: The relationship warming up since Trump's victory.

REP. PAUL RYAN, (R-WI) SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES: I want to thank Donald Trump. I want to thank Mike Pence for helping Wisconsin, Michigan, Pennsylvania, the Midwest finally see the light of day and put a Republican back in the White House.

SERFATY: Trump, though, continuing to attack the media.

TRUMP: They're very dishonest people.

SERFATY: But happy to pose for cameras when meeting briefly with rapper Kanye West at Trump Tower in New York City.

KANYE WEST, RAPPER: I just want to take a picture right now.


SERFATY: And today another interesting round of meetings at Trump Tower. The president-elect is convening a big meeting with executives from the tech industry like Tim Cook, Sheryl Sandberg, Elon Musk, and Jeff Bezos, who was very notably outspoken against Donald Trump during the campaign. Alisyn?

ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: OK, Sunlen, thanks so much for all of that.

Let's bring in now Republican congressman Chris Collins of New York. He's a member of the president-elect's transition team executive committee. Good morning, congressman.

REP. CHRIS COLLINS, (R) NEW YORK: Good morning. Good morning, Alisyn.

CAMEROTA: Good morning. Let's start with a couple of the cabinet picks. Rex Tillerson, are you comfortable that you know all you need to know about Mr. Tillerson's relationship with Vladimir Putin and Russia?

COLLINS: Oh, I am just thrilled with Rex Tillerson. As a side note, he's an Eagle Scout and president of the Boy Scouts. I chair the scout caucus in Washington and I'm an eagle scout and so is my son. So when I talk about character, that's all I need to know about Rex Tillerson.

But, truly, his business interests around the world, a very get it done kind of guy, exactly the type of individual that will serve this president, and no procrastination. He'll be putting America first. So I'm very pleased with Rex Tillerson. As you know, I was never a Romney guy. So yes, I'm smiling.

CAMEROTA: OK. Do you think feel that he will be able to hold Vladimir Putin's feet to the fire or have an adversarial relationship with him if necessary?

COLLINS: Oh, there's no question. Anyone that's been the CEO of a company such as Exxon Mobil knows what it is to negotiate. You study the strengths, the weaknesses of someone you're negotiating with, whether it's a customer or a vendor. You strategize on how you're going to ultimately end up succeeding in what you're attempting to do, and in this case, putting America's interests first. So as a skilled negotiator, someone from the private sector spending a lifetime traveling the world and dealing in other parts of the world, I think Rex Tillerson's just a great pick.

CAMEROTA: Congressman, do you doubt that Russia meddled in the U.S. elections?

[08:05:00] COLLINS: I suppose we'll never know. But if we want to stipulate that they did as far as hacking and releasing e-mails, if you want to stipulate that, that's fine. I don't think we should continue investigations because, at the end, what do we really accomplish? We need to unite the country. People who are calling on Mr. Trump, the Electoral College president, that's insulting to our democracy --

CAMEROTA: Yes, but, but congressman this is different. I mean, you're saying that, well, if Russia meddled and they hacked into the DNC, well so be it. We'll never know and I guess that we'll just move on and that's OK.

COLLINS: Well there's nothing we can do to change it. The truth came out. I should say the people that are aghast at what happened, it was really the lies, deceit of the DNC and the going on relative to the DNC's favoring Hillary over Bernie. Who knows, you know, if that hadn't come out, the truth. So those who are upset are saying we're upset by the truth and when Americans sue the truth that may have had an impact on elections --

CAMEROTA: Not exactly, congressman. I mean, those who are upset are saying that Russia, one of our often enemies, meddled in the U.S. election and could have subverted democracy. That's what they're upset about.

COLLINS: Well because the truth came out. But again, let's say they did. It's not going to change the results of the election. And again, it was the truth that came out. So, you know, we need to move on and unite behind president Trump, so --


COLLINS: Again, this -- what would you do? So it comes out and it is determined they did. What's the action you take? Well, there is no action you can take --

CAMEROTA: But you don't do anything. I'm -- I want your point on this.

COLLINS: What could we do? What could we do?

CAMEROTA: You don't think that our president should retaliate somehow? Should make our great displeasure known somehow? Should say that that's unacceptable somehow? I mean, it sounds like you're saying we just accept it and move on.

COLLINS: Well, I'm suggesting that you know, pretty much every country in the world, including the United States, is hacking and using cyber technologies to gain an advantage. I'm suspecting the U.S. is doing it, as well. Also, you don't do this kind of thing in the public eye. You do it behind the scenes. If you're going to take some steps and send a strong message, I don't think you do it on a newscast. You do it, you let the other side know it's happened, what the repercussions are, and at some point I think there's a place to get it done but not necessarily holding a press conference on it.

CAMEROTA: Well, sure, I mean and in fact the Obama administration says that they were quietly dealing with this for months before the election, trying to figure out what to do about it because they didn't want to broadcast it. But just so that I'm clear, do you doubt the intelligence agencies that they say definitively that Russia did interfere?

COLLINS: Oh, I'm not going to doubt the intelligence agencies that said that -- would say Russia was hacking. WikiLeaks did what they did. As I understand it the hacked e-mails were turned over to WikiLeaks who then decided what they would release and not release. We're never going to know whether WikiLeaks decided to release some and not others. I don't think anyone's suggesting that Russia was the one that was actually releasing these. It came through WikiLeaks, and I guess --


COLLINS: Again, there's a question we may never know the answer to.

CAMEROTA: But, but if Russia releases incriminating Republican or RNC e-mails, you'll -- you'll still feel as sanguine as you do now of, hey, that's, that's how it goes, occupational hazard?

COLLINS: It is on occupational hazard. But I'm a little tongue in cheek sure that there was nothing that would have been harmful with Republican e-mails.

CAMEROTA: Oh, boy. Congressman, oh, boy. COLLINS: A little tongue in cheek.

CAMEROTA: OK, we shall see, and if anything ever is revealed on that front. Congressman, thanks so much. We appreciate you being on NEW DAY.

COLLINS: OK, Alisyn. Good to be with you.

CAMEROTA: You too. Chris?

CUOMO: All right, we're following breaking news in Syria. Deadly air assaults on rebel-held neighborhoods in eastern Aleppo are going on right now. That is a violation of the supposed ceasefire. Turkey was said to have helped negotiate that deal. They blame the Syrian regime for breaking it. At least two dozen people are dead, dozens more are hurt. Buses have been brought in earlier today to help transport injured civilians as part of an evacuation plan, but at last check those buses are empty. The U.N. estimates there are still 50,000 residents trapped inside a war zone.

[08:10:05] CAMEROTA: The controversial president of the Philippines admitting that he used to personally kill suspected criminals. In a speech late last night, President Rodrigo Duterte said when he was mayor of Davao City he drove around on a motorcycle both looking for trouble to set an example for hesitant police officers. The Obama administration has expressed strong concern about human rights violations under Duterte's populist authoritarian government.

CUOMO: Breaking overnight, Hollywood in mourning at the loss of Alan Thicke. The Canadian-born star whose resume spanned five decades, he was best known, of course, as America's dad Jason Seaver in the hit '80s sitcom "Growing Pains." Here's a reminder.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Ben, what are you doing?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Watching Carol flirt with some guy and he's not Bobby.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well, that's none of your -- what guy?


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I don't know, but I think he's a little weird.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He's interested in Carol. Wait until I tell Bobby.




CUOMO: Thicke leaves behind a wife, three kids, one of them of course is singer Robin Thicke. In an Instagram Thicke says his father was, quote, "the best man he ever knew and the best friend he ever had." Alan Thicke reportedly died of a heart attack. He was only 69 years old. He was supposedly playing hockey.

CAMEROTA: Oh, my gosh.

CUOMO: With one of his other kids. He was very vital. So young, especially in this day and age, to be gone.

CAMEROTA: Gosh. I am not ashamed to say I liked "Growing Pains." That was a funny -- you could see the comedic timing of everybody in that. I liked that --

CUOMO: It's controversial to like "Growing Pains." He was very likeable.

CAMEROTA: He was very likable. I'll find out on Twitter if it's controversial or not.

CUOMO: Well, that is not the measure, that's for sure.

All right, so President-elect Trump says Democrats are urging him to -- urging to undermine him, that that's what this Russian meddling story is about. We're going to ask Congressman Keith Ellison if there should be such an uproar over this, and would it be the same if Hillary had won the race?



[08:15:52] DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENT-ELECT: Rex is friendly with many of the leaders in the world that we don't get along with. And some people don't like that. They don't want him to be friendly.

That's why I'm doing the deal with Rex. Because I like what this is all about. And we're going to have somebody that's going to be very special.


CUOMO: All right. Donald Trump defending his pick for secretary of state, ExxonMobil CEO Rex Tillerson, who is facing criticism from both sides of the aisle over his business ties to Russia, paving the way for a big confirmation battle, maybe.

Joining us now to discuss is the Democratic Congressman Keith Ellison. Mr. Ellison is also running to be chair of the Democratic National Committee.

We'll talk to you about your political fate. Let's talk about the state of play here. How do you feel about Tillerson, the president-elect has said some

people don't like that Tillerson is friends with world leaders? I don't think that's the issue. What do you think?

REP. KEITH ELLISON (D), MINNESOTA: I don't think it's the issue, either. I think the issue is, what are the material connections which may undermine, compromise American national security?

If you are the secretary of state or the president of the United States, for that matter, we need to know that there is nothing, absolutely nothing you're thinking about other than the best interests of the United States. Not your company. Not your business dealings. Not what money you may have on the line.

I mean, the fact of the matter is, that this is a very troublesome situation, because if you expand this to the whole hacking situation, which our intelligence agencies have said that perhaps Russia has favored President-elect Trump, then we have to say what if they turn against him? What if suddenly they don't like him? Will they expose things about him that they know that we don't know?

I mean, will he be able to be full-throatedly, 100 percent for us?

CUOMO: Right.

ELLISON: This is a real concern.

CUOMO: The why behind the Russia hacking has confused the question of whether they hacked. And that's dangerous because the first part, whether or not Russia hacked, the intel community seems to have consensus that they did according to Clapper on October 7th he put out that statement not a new revelation, that's a cybersecurity existential national security issue. Whether or not they did it to help Trump is a political concern and when those get confused, you get reactions like the president-elect's who's saying the idea that Russia hacked at all is ridiculous, which, of course, is basically him saying the intel community doesn't know what it's doing.

But let me ask you something about accountability on this issue. The White House was told at least in July, decided reportedly to do nothing because, one reason was they didn't want to compromise ongoing negotiations on Syria with Russia. The political concern reportedly was they didn't want to give Donald Trump, ironically, something to carp about if he lost.

What do you think of that decision to not have said anything about Russia's role in the hacks on the e-mails and the election?

ELLISON: Here's what I'll say about it: cyber attacks and cybersecurity have got to be top shelf issues for American national security. And we have got to get to the bottom of this issue, investigate it thoroughly, find out exactly what happened. Congress has a critical role to play. And every American official and citizen needs to be focused on what the outcome of such an investigation will be. Now, I will tell you that there's a lot of considerations here but one

thing we should not be confused about is getting to the bottom of this, investigating thoroughly, and holding everyone accountable, including Russia or even some people in the United States for these cyber attacks.

CUOMO: Well, Clapper says they already do know, that there is no need for an investigation. They know, from their signature issues, from work they did on the ground here and abroad, that Russia and different agents of the Kremlin were active in this hacking. They already know.

Why Russia did it, I guess you could hold hearings on that but I don't know that it would bear fruit. What's the bottom line here?

ELLISON: Well, I still think that in a democracy like ours Congress has a certain role to play to just go over the evidence, look at it, review it, and then issue its own findings on it.

[08:20:06] I mean, the Congress is the -- represents the people of the country and we need to have our intelligence committees look at it. And you know, where things are not classified, we should be as open and transparent as possible without -- with due respect to classified information.

But, look, you know, this is an issue of serious public concern. It's only going to get more serious as technological sophistication advances. And people need to know that a cyber attack can shut down our grid, can change our water system, can change all types of infrastructure in our society.

This is nothing to go light. And we need to be very serious about it. And my opinion, there's got to be some accountability for it. And so, I'm all in favor of that bipartisan group that includes several senators on both sides of the aisle who are going to -- who are committed to getting to the bottom of it.

CUOMO: All right. Let's talk about you for a second, and whether or not you'll be the next head of the DNC. You have said, yeah, if I got that job, I would step down from Congress, it's a full-time job. You were deliberating about that.

The main knock that I hear most often about you is questions about your political ideology when it doesn't -- not that you are Muslim, it's about the anti-Semitism isn't because you're a Muslim. As far as I can glean your opinion is wanted on that, of course.

But you gave a speech in 2010 where you said that U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East is governed by what's good or bad for a country of 7 million people which people take to mean Israel. And that this was seen as you having a hostility toward the U.S. relationship with Israel, and that you were turning a blind eye to the value of that relationship, and you were favoring the Arabs essentially over the Jews.

ELLISON: No, absolutely not. As a matter of fact, I was talking to a group of people who asked me how they could look at the Jewish community as a model for political empowerment. In fact, I've been to Israel seven times, voted for bilateral aid to Israel to the tune of $27 billion. And I have supported Israel's U.S. joint defense pact over time.

But I'll tell you this, there's a lot of people around the world and around our country who look to the Jewish community as a community that has used this democratic system order to offer its policy ideas, and that's the question that was posed to me. But --

CUOMO: What does that mean? Because who doesn't use the system to advance its own agenda? That's what people do, that's what constituencies are.

ELLISON: Well, Chris, of course. But, some people in our country, they might be immigrant groups, they might be new Americans, they don't know how to use the system as well and want to learn how to use it. Want to learn how to be effective in lobbying, and in working with our U.S. system.

There's nothing wrong with any group of Americans using our democratic system in order to advance their policy views. And if some groups like, you know -- there's various groups that are effective. I mean, this is something that this is a skill that should be developed, and strengthened, and people who are more successful should be looked to -- towards as models.

This, this statement that I made had absolutely nothing to do with what you're suggesting. Actually it was more about saying, how do people who want to know, how to work with Congress, how to work with members of Congress, how do they learn to do that better. That's what that was all about.

CUOMO: The criticism is out there. I'm giving you the opportunity to respond to it. That's the job and I appreciate you taking the opportunity to do so, Congressman Ellison.

ELLISON: Thank you, Chris.

CUOMO: All right. Alisyn?

CAMEROTA: All right. These deadly assaults in Syria are erasing a possible cease-fire and evacuation plan in Aleppo. What if anything can be done for the civilians caught in the middle? We explore that with Aaron David Miller, next.


[08:27:57] CAMEROTA: A cease-fire in eastern Aleppo is over. Deadly shelling resuming overnight, leaving hopes for evacuations and escapes literally on life support.

Let's bring in CNN's senior international correspondent Frederik Pleitgen. He is live for us from Beirut.


know, Alisyn, you're absolutely right. That cease-fire that's supposed to be in place there in Aleppo and is also supposed to call for the evacuation of those remaining fighters and civilians from that last little enclave that the rebels have in Aleppo that appears to have all about fallen apart.

And what was supposed to happen was that the first fighters were supposed to get evacuated from that enclave very early this morning. That didn't happen. There were buses standing by. And all of a sudden, shooting started once again.

And, as is always the case in cases like this, both sides are blaming each other. The regime is blaming the rebels. The rebels are saying that it was the regime fighters who fired first. What we do know is that the fighting is very intense.

There are some people on the ground who counted some 100 artillery shells falling on eastern Aleppo, also airstrikes reported as well. So, certainly, right now, it really looks as though that cease-fire not holding out very much. The Russians and the Turks who brokered this thing in the first place are trying to get it back on track but, of course, with every second that passes and every bomb that falls, that's going to get more difficult.

And in the end, once again, the civilians there in Aleppo who are suffering, there's already reports of several people killed, several people being wounded. And of course to begin with, these are people who are very weak, who haven't had food in a very long time and who thought they were finally going to be brought to safety, Alisyn and Chris.


CUOMO: Fred, thank you very much for bringing us up to date.

Let's bring in CNN global affairs analyst and vice president for the new initiatives at the Woodrow Wilson International Center, Aaron David Miller. He's also advised Democratic and Republican secretaries of state.

So, let's get your thoughts, of course, on Rex Tillerson as the head of Foggy Bottom. But, with what's going on in Syria, to the American audience, who has been told a lot during this campaign about why the U.S. may want to stay out of the situation, what do you want people to think about?