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State of the Union

Interview With Arizona Senator John McCain; Trump's Family Business; Interview With U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch; Will U.S. Retaliate Against Russia?; Electoral College Votes Tomorrow. Aired 9-10a ET

Aired December 18, 2016 - 09:00   ET




JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR (voice-over): Pointing to Putin.

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Not much happens in Russia without Vladimir Putin.

TAPPER: President Obama threatens to retaliate against Russia for interfering in the U.S. election.

OBAMA: Whatever they do to us, we can potentially do to them.

TAPPER: But will the U.S. respond before Trump takes office? Senator John McCain will be here live.

And fallout. Hillary Clinton blames the FBI for her loss. Now the attorney general weighs in.

LORETTA LYNCH, U.S. ATTORNEY GENERAL: It was painful for me.

TAPPER: What Loretta Lynch wishes she could take back.

LYNCH: When you make a mistake, you own it.

Our exclusive exit interview with her next.

Plus, family business. As the Trump kids have both a seat at the transition table and a hand in the family global business empire, Democrats cry foul. Will Trump sell any of these businesses?

And the best political minds will be here with insights on what happens next.


TAPPER: Hello. I'm Jake Tapper in Washington, where the state of our union is walking through a winter wonderland.

More specifically, we are wondering what 2017 will be like in the, shall we say, "unpresidented" nature of it all. Before heading to Florida for Christmas, Donald Trump gave what he said would be the final rally of his so-called thank you tour and then promised to do more rallies.


DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENT-ELECT: This is the last time I will be speaking at a rally for maybe a while. You know? They are saying, as president, he shouldn't be doing rallies. But I think we should, right?


TRUMP: We have done everything else the opposite.


TAPPER: The thing he shows no sign of giving up, his Twitter feed, which Trump used last night to chum up the waters of international intrigue.

First, he called the Chinese seizure of an underwater drone in international waters "unpresidented," fixed to unprecedented later in the day.

In negotiations with the U.S. government, the Chinese then agreed to return the device, which Trump spokesman curiously took credit for. But then the president-elect tweeted -- quote -- "We should tell China that we don't want the drone they stole back. Let them keep it."

Joining me live to discuss this and much else is Arizona Republican Senator John McCain. He's chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee.

Good morning, Senator. Good to see you.

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: Good morning, Jake.

TAPPER: So, let me ask you about this tweet. What do you make of president-elect Trump reacting like this? More to the point, what does it mean to tell the Chinese to keep the drone? Is there a strategy behind that?

MCCAIN: I don't know.

I know that the Chinese are able to do a thing called reverse- engineering, where they are able to -- while they hold this drone, able to find out all of the technical information. And some of it is pretty valuable.

But the fundamental here is that the Chinese have taken an American vehicle, and in international waters, in gross violation of international law. Maybe they saw the success that the Iranians had after they captured two American vessels and put American sailors on their knees.

And then when they were returned, the secretary of state thanked them for that. Look, there's no strength on the part of the United States of America. Everybody is taking advantage of it, and hopefully that will change soon.

But it's almost unheard of, Jake, for American vehicles in -- and ships in international waters being taken by another Iranian or, in this case, Chinese ship, in gross violation of international law. They are flaunting it.

TAPPER: Let's turn to Russia. President Obama on Friday defended his response to the Russia hack during a press conference. Take a listen.


OBAMA: In early September, when I saw President Putin in China, I felt that the most effective way to ensure that that didn't happen was to talk to him directly and tell him to cut it out, and there were going to be some serious consequences if he didn't.


TAPPER: What do you think of the president's response, and how do you think the U.S. needs to respond going forward?

MCCAIN: Well, the president's response was sort of an acknowledgement that -- and endorsement of what they have already done.

The president has no strategy and no policy as to what to do about these various cyber-attacks that have possibly disrupted an American election.


We need a select committee. We need to get to the bottom of this. We need to find out exactly what was done and what the implications of the attacks were, especially if they had an effect on our election.

There's no doubt they were interfering and no doubt that it was cyber- attacks. The question now is how much and what damage and what should the United States of America do? And so far, we have been totally paralyzed.

I'm sure that when -- when Vladimir Putin was told "Cut it out" -- unquote -- I'm sure that Vladimir Putin immediately stopped all cyber- activity. The fact is, they are hacking every single day in other areas of our military and on all kinds of different aspects of American life that they are able to penetrate.

And we have no strategy, nor do we have any policy towards that. And it's very disturbing.

TAPPER: But just to underline what you said, you're calling for a select committee, joint House and Senate, to investigate what exactly happened with the Russian hack.

Let me ask you. You're being critical of President Obama's posture towards Russia. But president-elect Trump seems to have a friendly posture towards Russia, one that must upset you, given the fact that you have been -- long been suspicious of Vladimir Putin. When president-elect Trump called to you discuss the nomination of

General Mattis for secretary of defense, which will obviously go through your committee, did you raise your concerns about Russia to him?

MCCAIN: No, because it was a brief conversation. And he mentioned that he was -- that General Mattis was going to be his nominee. There was not a conversation.

But, look, Jake, what's happening here, when we see the seizure of these ships, when we see the cyber-attacks, when we see the dismemberment of Syria, when we see the tragedies that are taking place there, which are heartbreaking, actually heartbreaking, while we sat by and watched all this happen, this is a sign of a possible unraveling of the world order that was established after World War II, which was made one of the most peaceful periods in the history of the world.

We're starting to see that, the strains and the unraveling of it, and that's because of an absolute failure of American leadership. When America doesn't lead, a lot of other bad people do. And that's why we're seeing this slaughter in Aleppo that breaks your heart.

TAPPER: I understand that you're critical of President Obama on this issue, but are you not even more concerned about the fact that president-elect Trump seems to want to be friends with Vladimir Putin? I haven't heard him ever criticize Putin ever. Have you?

MCCAIN: No, I have not heard him criticize Putin.

I think reality is going to intercede at one point or another, just because of the Russian activities. And I hope that, with people like General Mattis and some other people around him, that he will very quickly understand what the Russians are all about.

And that is, they are ahead of us in many respects in this whole issue of cyber-warfare. So, we not only need a select committee on exactly what they did in this case, but the whole issue of cyber-warfare, where we have no strategy and no policy, because it is one of the areas where they have an advantage, perhaps the only area where our adversaries have an advantage over us.

TAPPER: Hillary Clinton spoke to her donors on Thursday night in New York City. She sought to explain the election's outcome. She pointed the finger at Putin. Take a listen.


HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON (D), FORMER U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE: Vladimir Putin himself directed the covert cyber-attacks against our electoral system, against our democracy, apparently because he has a personal beef against me.


TAPPER: I have heard some commentators criticize Clinton for saying that Putin directed cyber-attacks against -- quote -- "the electoral system," suggesting that she's misleading voters about what happened, that it sounds like she's saying the voting machines themselves were attacked.

Do you agree with that criticism? And what do you make of her overall argument?

MCCAIN: I have seen no evidence that the voting machines were tampered with.

I do -- I have seen no evidence that the election would have been different. But that doesn't change the fact that the Russians and others, Chinese to a lesser degree, have been able to interfere with our electoral process.


Whether -- how serious it is and how -- whether -- whether it would have affected the outcome of the election not is the reason why we need to have a select committee.

Jake, the responsibilities for cyber is spread over about four different committees in the Senate. And each doing their own thing, frankly, is not going to be the most efficient way of arriving at a conclusion. This is serious business.

If they are able to harm the electoral process, then they destroy democracy, which is based on free and fair elections.

TAPPER: Just before you go, sir, if a Democrat were in the same position as Donald Trump right now, had the Democrat had been helped arguably by the Russians interfering, if the Democrat had never criticized Vladimir Putin, if a Democrat had appointed somebody to be his secretary of state who had received a Friendship of Russia award, don't you think you would be much more critical of that president- elect than you're being of Donald Trump?

MCCAIN: Well, I think I have been quite concerned about the nominee for the secretary of state.

I would have been much more -- well, as I say, I would be -- I'm heartbroken over what's happened in Aleppo, the genocide that's taken place, one of the greatest in the 20th century. I have been -- no matter who would have been president when that happened, I would have been, just as critical just as I was critical of the failures of the George W. Bush administration.

I was critical of the Reagan administration when they put the Marines in Beirut. So, I think I have got a pretty clear record of not being partisan in my criticisms. And I believe that, right now, when you look at America's position in the world, we're in very serious jeopardy.

And America is still the greatest nation in the world, but we have a lot of work to do to restore our position in the world and defend this nation. And we need a select committee on cyber. And we need to do a lot of other things, like sail the international waters without fear of being impeded by Chinese activities.

TAPPER: All right, Senator John McCain, thank you so much. Good to see you. Merry Christmas to you and your family, sir.

MCCAIN: Thank you, Jake.

TAPPER: President Obama arrived in Hawaii this weekend for the holidays, but before he left Washington, he addressed reports that the CIA has determined that Vladimir Putin was directly responsible for the cyber-attack on the Democratic National Committee.


OBAMA: Not much happens in Russia without Vladimir Putin. This is a pretty hierarchical operation. Last I checked, there's not a lot of debate and democratic deliberation, particularly when it comes to policies directed at the United States.

We have said and I will confirm that this happened at the highest levels of the Russian government.


TAPPER: (AUDIO GAP) ... is seemingly pointing the finger of blame for her loss at two people, Vladimir Putin and FBI Director James Comey, both of whom are on the mind of Attorney General Loretta Lynch these days.

She supervises the FBI responsible for investigations into both the Clinton private e-mail server and the Russian hacks.

I sat down with Lynch for this exclusive interview.


TAPPER: Let me ask you about the Russian hacks.

Right now, there's a big debate about whether or not the Russians were motivated by a desire to tip the election to Donald Trump. What do you think was the motive for the Russians, based on the evidence you have seen?

LYNCH: This is a serious issue, and I think it requires and calls for the study and the review that the president has directed that all of us who are in the intelligence community or affiliated with it undertake.

And so I think it requires that kind of serious review of all the information that we gather, before we can come to conclusions that can be discussed about motivation and intent. We began that process, obviously, over the summer.

As you know, in October, the intelligence community came out with the assessment and the attribution that Russia was behind the hacks. And, as you know, we rarely do attributions.

TAPPER: Right.

LYNCH: But it is an important issue. And it is an issue that people are concerned about and do need to have information about.

Our goal is to provide them with the information that is -- that's thoroughly investigated, fully vetted, and that we can provide in an open setting.

TAPPER: I have to ask you about this op-ed in "The Washington Post" by the Clinton campaign manager, John Podesta.


He said he's -- quote -- "Surprised to read in 'The New York Times; that when the FBI discovered the Russian attack in September 2015, it failed to even send a single agent to warn senior DNC officials. Instead, messages were left with the DNC I.T. help desk."

Is that accurate? Is that an accurate description of the outreach that the FBI did to the DNC? And, if so, is that sufficient?

LYNCH: So, as we've talked about earlier this year, the investigation into the hacks of the DNC and the DCCC is an ongoing investigation.

It's an active investigation. So I'm not able to comment on the specifics of how people were reached, were contacted.

But I can say that the FBI has worked closely with those organizations, both to discuss what we've learned about the hacks, to gather information about them, so that we can continue this investigation.

TAPPER: Whether or not you can get into specifics, is it true that there was this level of calling the DNC that doesn't sound particularly competent or doesn't sound like it had the urgency that one would think? Is -- that basic description that Podesta makes, is it accurate?

LYNCH: Well, what I can tell you is, this investigation was taken seriously from the beginning. This is an incredibly serious issue. I can't comment on Mr. Podesta's sources or where he gets his information or why he has that view.

What I can say is that he's not involved in the ongoing investigation, so he wouldn't be privy to everything that would have been done or said to that. But, as I said, he's entitled to his opinion, but what I'm...


TAPPER: But he's not entitled to his facts. And that's what I'm wondering about, is if his facts are accurate, because he says he finds it -- quote -- "downright infuriating" that -- quote -- "nearly the exact same that time no one at the FBI could be bothered to drive 10 minutes to the DNC, two agents accompanied by attorneys from the Justice Department were in Denver visiting a tech firm that had helped maintain Hillary Clinton's e-mail server."

He is suggesting, without question, that Hillary Clinton's e-mail server got more attention from the Justice Department and the FBI than this hack investigation by Russia, which I think it's fair to say seems fairly serious.

LYNCH: Well, that's an ongoing investigation. So I would say, it's been taken very seriously.


TAPPER: Did it get more -- did the Clinton e-mail investigation get more attention than the hacks?

LYNCH: You can't characterize it.

And I don't think that it is going to be helpful to try and draw equivalencies to any investigation with others to say, and therefore it means that one was more or less important, because, as I said, one is resolved right now. One is finished. And one is very active and very ongoing.

So, there, you see a great deal of activity still continuing.

TAPPER: I know you can't comment on the active investigation, but let me just put it this way. John Podesta is out there trashing the FBI. And he's saying that the investigation into the hacks of the DNC was substandard. I mean, that's clearly what he's saying.

Do you agree with that characterization?

LYNCH: I don't. I don't.

First of all, the investigation isn't even over, so I think it's impossible to characterize it in any one way or the other. You know, again, I don't know where Mr. Podesta is obtaining information.


TAPPER: He said "The New York Times." There's a big, long "New York Times" story that I'm sure you read.

LYNCH: So -- and I know also, because of his involvement with the campaign, he's going to have a certain interest in this and a certain view of that.

And so I -- again, I allow him his opinion. Everyone has a great deal of respect for him, so I allow him that opinion. But I disagree with that, if that is, in fact, the characterization he's trying to make.

I think you've got to look at every investigation separately. You've got to look at every case separately, and you've got to allow for the fact that the way in which someone may be contacted isn't indicative of the full relationship that they develop or the response that they may have gotten initially from that organization as well.


TAPPER: Coming up, the attorney general on what really happened during that controversial meeting she had on her plane with former President Bill Clinton.



TAPPER: Hillary Clinton this week blamed FBI Director James Comey once again for, in her view, moving swing state voters to Donald Trump in the days before election.

Now, for the first time, you will hear from the woman to whom Comey reports, Attorney General Loretta Lynch, on what was going on inside the Justice Department and any regrets she might have about the way any of it was handled.


TAPPER: I'm sure you know that Hillary Clinton and her campaign feel as though Comey and his actions, the FBI director, had a very negative effect on her campaign.

Is it fair to say that, as a general note, you wish that basic protocols had been upheld throughout the year when it came to dealing with investigations that could have affected the election?

LYNCH: You know, I think that, you know, people are very close to this issue right now. And, certainly, the Clinton campaign is going to be closer than anyone to this issue, and so they are going to have strong feelings and strong views about that.

And, as I said, I allow people to have those feelings and to express them as they choose. That's their right.

What we have said here is that, you know, we have handled the investigation in a way that was consistent with the way all investigations were handled. Unusual circumstances developed. The FBI director has spoken about why he made a decision to go in a particular route, and how he made that decision. So, I'm going to let that stand as it is.

TAPPER: But it's been reported that you disagreed with his decision, especially the decision to write that letter in October. Is that reporting accurate?

LYNCH: Well, look, I can tell you the discussions were had at the highest levels of the department. My views were made known. They were communicated to him.

But, as I said, I think that there is going to be a lot of analysis about this. And I think we will all be looking at a whole host of factors that went into this election cycle, ranging from that issue to, again, the ongoing investigation and review into Russia's activities, to activities that were occurring throughout the country at the local level.

And I think we're all going to be looking at that for a long time.

TAPPER: Take me back to June 27. You and President Clinton were both in Phoenix, Arizona. He saw your plane on the tarmac. He got on board your plane. How did that visit happen? Did somebody say, hey, President Clinton is outside, he wants to come in, or did he just come in?

LYNCH: Well, I can't say what President Clinton saw or thought, because I wasn't in communication with him before that.

So, I don't know what was in his mind. All I can tell you...

TAPPER: No, but did an FBI agent say, hey, he's outside, he wants to come in?

LYNCH: All I can tell you is that we were landing and we were moving on with our program. And we were about to leave and about to go into our cars and move on to our evening events.

And it was communicated to me that he wanted to say hello. And that was all the information that we gained.

TAPPER: Trump campaign manager Kellyanne Conway told me that that meeting, President Clinton coming to you -- quote -- "bothered" some voters because it -- quote -- "played right into the culture of corruption," the notion that there's -- quote -- "different set of rules for elites like the Clintons."


Looking back, do you wish that, when he came over, you said, we really shouldn't talk, it would really be inappropriate, and hello and goodbye?

LYNCH: So, as I have said at the time, I think like days after that meeting, I regretted not seeing that issue and not seeing around that corner.

I regret it, viewing it as, just again, as the number of people who come by and say hello, as you see.

TAPPER: It didn't cross your mind when you were sitting there, like, oh, somebody is going to make a big deal out of this?

LYNCH: And our conversation went on a lot longer certainly than I had anticipated, because it was just going to be hello, how are you, and everyone was going to go on about their evening, as far as we were concerned.

TAPPER: He's a talker.

LYNCH: He is a talker, yes, yes. He is a talker.

I really do believe, Jake, that things happen. And, as I said, I wish I had seen around that corner and not had that discussion with the former president, as innocuous as it was, because it did give people concern. It did make people, is it going to affect the investigation that's going on?

And that's not something that was an unreasonable question for anyone to ask. And my view is -- and always has been -- that when you are in public life or even in private life, and you make a mistake, you own it. And you talk about it right away. You let people know what you're going to do to deal with the impact of that mistake.

And my concern was, what impact was that going to have on people's views of the Department of Justice and the work that we were doing?

TAPPER: So, in retrospect, I'm sorry, Mr. President, it would be inappropriate for us to talk?

Do you wish you had said that?

LYNCH: Well, I do regret sitting down and having a conversation with him, because it did give people concern.

And, as I said, my greatest concern has always been making sure that people understand that the Department of Justice works in a way that's independent and looks at everybody equally.

And when you do something that gives people a reason to think differently, that's a problem. It was a problem for me. It was painful for me. And so I felt it was important to clarify it as quickly and as clearly and as cleanly as possible.

TAPPER: Do you think that Director Comey's press conference was also affected by this, the idea that he wanted to be as transparent as possible in that summer press conference because of this impression that some people might have because Bill Clinton came to you that day?

LYNCH: You know, I didn't speak to the director about why he had his press conference before he did it. We learned of it right before that.

My view is, he was trying to be as transparent as possible in a matter that was of great attention and that was generating a lot of attention.

TAPPER: But, certainly, if Bill Clinton hadn't gotten on the tarmac that time and gone to you, things might have been different. You would have had more say. You would have been able to control Comey more. It might have changed the letter that he gave at the end there.

LYNCH: I don't think that it would have changed his view of what he had to say or not say to Congress. I mean, that was what he based his letter on. And so I...

TAPPER: You would have deferred to him?

LYNCH: And I also can't speculate also as to how anyone might have considered that view differently at all. TAPPER: I know that the uptick in hate crimes around the election has

been an issue, a focus for you.

Why do you think there was an uptick around the election?

LYNCH: We have been seeing this uptick really in the last several years.

The report that the FBI just issue focused on 2015 and saw a rise in hate crimes overall, and a rather alarmingly large increase in hate crimes directed against Muslim-Americans. And, certainly, we have gotten reports of incidents over the last several months. And those reports are under investigation also.

And so we're watching it very, very carefully. So, I think it's a combination of things. I think the rhetoric certainly around the election makes people -- it awakened certain views in certain people, and they may or may not feel empowered to act on it.

My advice to the new administration would be to look at this issue very carefully, as we are. And I know that they will take public safety very seriously. And I will leave it to them as to how they want to respond to it.

For me, it's important for me to talk to these groups and these communities who are feeling concerns, who are feeling anxiety over the statistics, over the numbers, over the rhetoric, over the freedom that some people seem to feel at this point in time to just express hate.

You know, it's -- look, and, obviously, what we do in the department is defend the First Amendment as well. We defend to the death people's right to say things, no matter how hateful they are at times.

But you have always got to wonder, why is it so important to some people to express themselves in the most vitriolic and negative terms possible? But I will leave that for people to consider for themselves.

TAPPER: We're sitting in a room with portraits of your predecessors, Elliot Richardson, Janet Reno, Bobby Kennedy.


TAPPER: What do you want your legacy to be?

LYNCH: I would like -- and, again, you can never pick your legacy.

TAPPER: Right.

LYNCH: People are going to look at what -- at your -- the body of work, and things will stand out.

But I would hope that the legacy of my term here as attorney general would be the time that the Department of Justice reached out to all Americans and made sure that, no matter where they were from, where -- they looked like, where they lived, that the Department of Justice reached out to all Americans and made sure that no matter where they were from, what (ph) they looked like, where they lived, that the Department of Justice reached out the them to hear their voices and connect them to the deepest, deepest, elements of justice, of equality of freedom in this country.

[09:30:11] TAPPER: Madam attorney general, thank you so much for your time.

LYNCH: Thanks, Jake.

TAPPER: Good luck to you.


TAPPER: Coming up President Obama claims that Ronald Reagan would be rolling over in his grave right now listening to Trump talk about Russia. Apparently the '80s called after all.



BECK BENNETT AS VLADIMIR PUTIN: Mr. Trump, I'm here because your CIA is saying that we Russians tried to make you win election.

ALEC BALDWIN AS DONALD TRUMP: I know. All lies made up by some very bitter people who need to move on.

BENNETT: So you trust me more than American CIA?

BALDWIN: All I know is I won.

BENNETT: Wow. This guy is blowing my mind.


TAPPER: "Saturday Night Live" taking on this simmering tension between president-elect Trump and the U.S. intelligence community. Here with me to discuss this and much more former Republican Congressman of Michigan, Mike Rogers, a CNN national security commentator, Democratic Congresswoman Debbie Dingell of Michigan, CNN political commentators Alice Stewart and Van Jones.


Congressman, try to explain this to me. Why the friendliness to Putin even at the expense of our own U.S. intelligence agencies? What is the game plan here from president-elect Trump if there is one?

MIKE ROGERS, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY COMMENTATOR: Well, I don't know. I would rethink their strategy a little bit.

They are going to get the keys to every cabinet on January 21st. So they'll be able to do their own assessment on where they feel the intelligence community got it right or got it wrong. That I don't understand why you pick a fight early. But that being said I do think that the president-elect is trying to find some places to work together with Russia just like George W. Bush did, just like Barack Obama did, just like Hillary Clinton did. They all kind of came to that same train wreck at the end of the day in those conversations but I think it's imperative for every president to believe that they are the ones that can bring an adversary to heal in certain places in the world to find a common ground. I think that's the same process going on with Donald Trump as it did with all of the other -- with our previous two other presidents.

TAPPER: Congresswoman, you represented a lot of voters in working class Michigan, many of whom voted for Donald Trump who won the state. What do they make of all of this?

REP. DEBBIE DINGELL (D), MICHIGAN: I don't think they knew what to make.

First of all, I think, we got to remind ourselves that this is no longer politics, this is about national security. And I'm very reassured to hear John McCain, a leader in the Senate, be calling for a select committee. We have to remember this is about democracy and that what Putin the s trying to do is undermine people's confidence in institutions and democracy. So when we've got every intelligence agency saying, FBI, CIA, DIH and Homeland Security saying the Russians tried interrupt and to undermine people's confidence we've got to look and know what's happening and that's the responsibility of the Congress. The constitution sets up a checks and balances and we got to be responsible to make sure.

VAN JONES, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: This is baffling to anybody with a functioning brain stem.

I mean, we have to be honest about this. Yes other presidents tried say nice things about the Russians and other, you know, warm things in their heart and they love. Not in the face of an active attack on the country. Cyber war is real war. So you have an active attack on our country and you have the president-elect cannot find it in himself to say this is wrong and it needs stop.

Listen, he can respond personally to an attack. He can respond as a partisan to an attack but he can't respond as a patriot to an attack? This is an attack to our country. And I just think that everybody sitting here trying to pretend this is normal this is not normal and it's dangerous.

TAPPER: Do you think, Alice, that one of the things going on here is that president-elect Trump is concerned that any acknowledgement of the Russian hack which all 17 U.S. intelligence agencies now agreed happened...


TAPPER: ... although they disagree about what the motive was, that anything, any acknowledgment feeds a narrative that he's an illegitimate president. Is that the concern?

STEWART: No. I think -- I think clearly there's one thing to (INAUDIBLE) there's one president at a time.

And if you look at the corner stone of Donald Trump's foreign policy is peace through strength which is something that Putin will respond to. And let's not forget I don't think we need to mistake the fact that he might be friendly towards Putin if that's going to be the way he's going to proceed as president. And rewind four years ago in the debate with Barack Obama and Mitt Romney when Mitt Romney voiced concerns about Russia being a top threat to this country, President Obama mocked him and wrote that off and has not been strong to push back against Russia for many years. So that brings us to this point that we're at now. So I think his weakness towards Russia has made Putin strong and I think that is a big concern.

JONES: But there's a danger for the Trump presidency on this one. His brand is strong for America not weak for Russia. And so he begins to open the door for people who do want to undermine his presidency by not being tough on this and it literally makes zero sense.

TAPPER: Let me ask you a question, congressman, are your concerned at all -- the real practical implications of this are there are NATO states right next to Russia and what if Putin decides to try to go into the Baltics? Do you think that President Trump would send U.S. troops to dissuade Putin from doing that or even from -- or even to defend the Baltics?

ROGERS: I know there have been lots of conversations about what does it took like to push back on the Russians?

And so when you look at what happened in the last eight years you saw, we really walked away from Ukraine. We walked away from the troop increased by Russian in this country of Georgia. We did this convoluted chemical deal that really alienated our allies in the Middle East with Russia and it strengthened their ties with Iran. All of that pretty bad stuff. I think what you're seeing is a deal maker who comes in and says, I'm going to reset to negotiation table.


I want to do a deal with you but it's going to be under my conditions. I think that's what you're seeing setup.

I don't have -- there's really nothing that I would believe that I've seen certainly from my time dealing with people who are now in positions in the transition that they would walk away from any aggressive activity with Russia.

But I do think they are trying to say there's a different way we're going to do this. We're going to do this with a tougher negotiation stance, peace through strength. We're going to increase our military presence. We're going to do better NATO operations. There's some talk about even going in and having joint operations in Poland and other places militarily. So I think that changes the conversation pretty quickly. We're getting hung up on this issue.

Listen, America has been in a cyber war for at least eight years and we're not winning. And so this policy has now bubbled up in the public. I think this is a really strong opportunity for America to finally understand -- listen, lots of nation states, Iran has been after us for eight years. The Russians certainly have been after us for eight years. For the president to make a phone call and say, well, cut that out, tells you how far we are behind in solid peace through strength diplomacy.

TAPPER: All right. Don't go anywhere. To be continued. The Electoral College meets tomorrow. They're going to cast their votes. Will any of them actually flip their votes? You'll hear from one, next. Stay with us.





OBAMA: See, now we're feeling what not having hope feels like.

TRUMP: Michele Obama said yesterday that there's no hope.



TRUMP: But I assume she was talking about the past not the future. Because I'm telling you, we have tremendous hope.


TAPPER: We're back with our panel.

Let me ask you because you know first lady Michelle Obama. When she said, now we're feeling what lack of hope feels like. I mean what did she mean?

JONES: I think she's talking about the more than half of the voters who voted against Donald Trump who now are feeling more fearful than hopeful. She wasn't, I think, speaking about the Trump supporters who are feeling more hopeful and happy.

But you have to remember we have two countries. And there is a level of heartbreak and there's a level of concern and actually a level of fear especially within the Muslim community the immigrant community that she was trying to speak to and I think she's speaking for a lot of people.

TAPPER: What did you -- what did you make of the comment?

DINGELL: Exactly the same. We're a divided country. She was speaking for a side of the country that had wished for a different outcome.

STEWART: I took it as a personal comment as opposed to something more political.

She fought very, very hard for Hillary Clinton to win and they did not win. And I think she's seeing part of her husband's legacy going away with the incoming presidency. So that does take a personal hit on her.

I took it more as a personal thing. I don't think she meant it politically the way it is being interpreted but it's a difficult loss for her and the president, and Democrats, and those who didn't vote for Donald Trump. So I didn't take it as something super strong against Donald Trump.

TAPPER: The electors meet tomorrow and there has been this campaign to try to get some of them to not vote for Donald Trump, to be faithless electors. Some Hollywood celebrities have put out a video appealing to them, even appealing to specific electors by name. Take a look.


BOB ODENKIRK, ACTOR: Hello. Ashley McMillan, this message is for you.

MARTIN SHEEN, ACTOR: As you know, Mr. McMillan our founding fathers built the Electoral College to safeguard the American people from the dangers of a demagogue.


TAPPER: One little thing, Ashley McMillan is a woman but beyond that Ashley McMillan who I believe is the vice chair of the Republican Party of Kansas wrote to the "Wall Street Journal" to talk about the pressure she felt not from celebrities but others.

And Ms. McMillan wrote, "I won't violate the will of the people of Kansas simply because coastal elites think Mr. Trump tweets too much."

Do you think there is -- there is any hope that anything other than Donald Trump becoming president will happen tomorrow for these people, for these celebrities?

JONES: I think very little.

I think, again, we have two Americas and one America people feel like, listen, you know, we have a system, he won Electoral College a landslide. Let it go forward.

(INAUDIBLE) people who say, we think this guy is dangerous. We think we may have deep regrets. He may do things that are horrible. We're going to be in a war (ph). Let's do everything that we can in the Electoral College.

You know, Hamilton says there's supposed to be a check on tyranny, a check on demagogue, do your job. So again, it's hard to understand how divided the country is that for some people that makes perfectly good sense to run that ad and other people are saying, what are you doing?

STEWART: I don't know where the liberal elite outrage was when Barack Obama won the Electoral College four years ago and eight years ago. Now all of the sudden Republicans won they're questioning the Electoral College. I think --

TAPPER: Well, I think, the popular vote is an issue. Almost 3 million votes more for Hillary Clinton.

STEWART: I think -- I think at the end of the day I think he wonder 306 electoral votes. I think that's (INAUDIBLE) stand. And I think despite all these pleas from Hollywood it's not going to change anything.

TAPPER: We should point out that, congressman, it's not just Hollywood. John Podesta, Clinton's campaign chairman has been pushing forward these electors to get a security briefing about the role that Russia played. The director of national intelligence said, no, that briefing won't happen.

So I can't say that it's just Hollywood liberals and actors. The Clinton campaign has a hand in this too.

ROGERS: I think, this is dangerous. This whole even notion that there's two Americas and we're going to live with the fact that there's two Americas is dangerous. Because that has (ph) created a level of political divide that's very hard to get over if you go through this process.. And I think this adds fuel to that fire. It's somehow somebody stole it.

So let me get this right. They are basically saying all of the emails that were released showed us doing some really bad things that made Americans lose faith in us had whoever done it, I would assume it would be the Russians through WikiLeaks -- I don't know that just from information I read, had the Russians not pointed out or that information not been pointed out all those bad things would have been kept quiet and we would be president of the United States. That's a losing argument.


ROGERS: And you know what?

The Electoral College is there to protect also states right. They use the demagogue. But it's also to protect other states. Wisconsin, Ohio, Michigan went for Donald Trump because they said something is not working in Washington, D.C. Either in California or New York the way it's not working for us here at home. We've got to change that.

JONES: Listen, I agree with much of what you say. I just want to point out it's the asymmetric part of it is that they released the bad emails from the Democrat but the not the Republicans that gives us heartburn, I think, for Democrats.


TAPPER: And --

DINGELL: I want to -- when you talk about the divided America here's the reality. The reality is when Al Gore won popular vote and George Bush won -- George Bush (INAUDIBLE) needed to pull the country together.

This president is going to be president and I accept that. When Barack Obama was elected continued to pursue a birther conspiracy. We do need to pull together. We are America but there's a reality out there that we are divided.

The Electoral College is not a rubber stamp in many states. You do have to think about your vote in a system --


TAPPER: All right. Merry Christmas. God bless us, everyone for being here.

After the break it won't be hard to figure out who's on the naughty list this year, it is Christmas in Trump Tower.

Coming up next.


TAPPER: Welcome back, this is the show before Christmas, before the day that Saint Nick's gifts are pending from the Melania, Steve Bannon, (INAUDIBLE). As the White House is decorated with bows, snow and ice it's the Donald who now decides who's now naughty and nice.


And that's the subject of this week's "State of the Cartoonion."


TAPPER (voice-over): It is the most wonderful time of the year.

TRUMP: Merry Christmas, everybody. We're going to start saying Merry Christmas again.

TAPPER: And this year, Donald Trump wants to make Christmas great again. And he's starting right inside Trump Tower which closed down early this week for its annual Christmas party.

We in the press were not invited so we have to imagine the festivities such as Kanye singing carols.

One imagines that Santa Trump has a list of naughty or nice which he is definitively checking more than twice.

There are plenty of gifts he has to (INAUDIBLE) such as this one for former Texas Governor Rick Perry. Others however should probably expect a lump of coal. I am looking at you Governor Romney.

TRUMP: Happy New Year but Merry Christmas.


TAPPER: Thank you for spending your Sunday with us. You can go to, STATE OF THE UNION for extras from the show. I'm Jake Tapper in Washington.

Merry Christmas and Happy Hanukkah.