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THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER
Interview With Louisiana Congressman Steve Scalise; Trump Transition Team Turmoil?; Senator Harry Reid Speaks Out. Aired 4-4:15p ET
Aired November 15, 2016 - 16:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
JIM SCIUTTO, CNN ANCHOR: One of Donald Trump's favorite movies is "Bloodsport," which also matches how some sources are describing the transition.
THE LEAD starts right now.
One source compared it to a knife fight. Another used a term I can't say on the air, as Trump allies battle for key positions, some just heartbeats away from the presidency, and big announcements could come at any moment.
From the reality TV boardroom to the Situation Room? What could Trump's grownup children end up seeing if they're granted unprecedented security clearances?
Plus, do coalition troops know where ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi is hiding now?
Welcome to THE LEAD. I'm Jim Sciutto, in today for Jake Tapper.
And our politics lead, conflicting reports out of Trump Tower. And depending on what you believe, there is either a purge going on or it's all smooth sailing inside the Trump transition team. Some sources tell CNN there is knife fight going on behind the scenes, buffoonery, another source tells me.
Another source telling CNN that stories of CNN dysfunction inside the Trump transition are being -- quote -- "overblown."
But there have been changes on the transition team, significant changes, to say the least, just within the past 24 hours.
I want to get right to Jim Acosta. He's in New York.
Jim, do we know any big names who have been pushed out now?
JIM ACOSTA, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Jim.
Mike Rogers, the former House Intelligence Committee chairman, he was a key transition figure. He is out. But I think the other big development today, Jim, today, Donald Trump received his first presidential daily briefing, a rundown of threats facing the country presented by the U.S. intelligence community. It's another sign that he is easing into the business of being president of the United States.
Trump and vice president-elect Mike Pence met at Trump Tower to continue hashing out just who will join the Cabinet in the incoming administration. And the fight over who will land there and where inside the administration, it is definitely on.
ACOSTA (voice-over): Don't tell Mike Pence vice presidents don't have much power. The new chair of Donald Trump's transition team now has a critical mission, to end the infighting over who will snatch up some of the most powerful positions inside the new administration.
Among the front-runners for key Cabinet spots, Senator Jeff Sessions for attorney general, Senator Tom Cotton for Defense, Trump finance chair Steven Mnuchin and Congressman Jeb Hensarling for Treasury, and former U.N. Ambassador John Bolton and Rudy Giuliani for secretary of state.
Giuliani is publicly jockeying to become the nation's top diplomat.
RUDY GIULIANI (R), FORMER MAYOR OF NEW YORK: John would be a very good choice.
QUESTION: Is there anybody better?
GIULIANI: Maybe me. I don't know.
ACOSTA: But Giuliani may not be a lock, as some transition officials worry about his past business dealings overseas. And Bolton could put Trump in an odd position. Bolton was a strong supporter of the Iraq War, which Trump insisted he opposed.
DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENT-ELECT: Does everybody believe me? I was against going into Iraq.
SEN. RAND PAUL (R), KENTUCKY: You want to have a diplomat in charge of diplomacy. You don't want a bomb-thrower.
ACOSTA: Inside the transition team, one source describes a knife fight, as high-level adviser former Congressman and CNN contributor Mike Rogers has stepped down, along with a slew of officials who worked for the team's ousted chairman New Jersey Governor Chris Christie.
One former Bush administration official tweeted after his own exchange with the Trump transition team that applicants should stay away. "They're angry, arrogant, screaming you lost. Will be ugly."
Sources say Christie may be blocked from the Cabinet altogether and Trump surrogate Ben Carson says he is also out.
DR. BEN CARSON, CONSERVATIVE ACTIVIST: I have lots of offers, but I don't particularly want to work inside the government.
ACOSTA: Another headache, Democrats are howling over Trump's selection of Breitbart News executive Steve Bannon as chief strategist, accusing the president-elect of putting a white nationalist in the West Wing.
SEN. ELIZABETH WARREN (D), MASSACHUSETTS: I just want to underline something that every one of you know. Bigotry is bad for business.
ACOSTA: After once criticizing Trump for using racist language during the campaign, House Speaker Paul Ryan is defending Bannon.
REP. PAUL RYAN (R-WI), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: This is a person who helped him win an incredible victory, an incredible campaign. The president is going to be judged on the results of his administration.
ACOSTA: But Trump appears to be sensitive to critics who point out he will become the fifth president to have lost the popular vote. After once slamming the Electoral College, Trump has changed his tune, tweeting: "The Electoral College is actually genius, in that it brings all states, including the smaller ones, into play. Campaigning is much different."
One victory Trump can point to, he appears to now have much of the GOP on board.
REP. STEVE SCALISE (R-LA), HOUSE MAJORITY WHIP: We got these hats at conference today. And it's not just a great slogan. But inside the tag you see made in the USA.
ACOSTA: And we're going to seeing more of those red hats in Washington, Jim.
But, meanwhile, not all of the transition team's paperwork we should point out is in order at this point. The White House says it still needs Mike Pence to sign some necessary documents to keep the transition moving forward. Until Pence signs off and replaces Christie's signature, which is still on those documents, the White House says the transition process at this point is essentially frozen -- Jim.
SCIUTTO: They need some time.
Jim Acosta, thanks very much.
Joining me now is Louisiana Congressman and House Majority Whip Steve Scalise.
Congressman, thanks for being here today.
SCALISE: Good to be with you, Jim.
SCIUTTO: So, we just saw you in Jim's report there showing off that famous make America great again hat.
You heard Speaker Ryan say earlier that the House Conference is on, in his words, the same page as president-elect Trump. So, I want to run through some of Donald Trump's signature positions during the campaign and see if GOP supports him in those positions.
Let me start with the Muslim ban. Do you and the GOP Conference support that as a matter of policy?
SCALISE: Yes, what Donald Trump has said, especially about the Syrian ban, is to put a freeze in place until you can properly vet who is coming into the country.
SCIUTTO: He did not say a Syria ban. He said a Muslim ban.
SCALISE: Well, what he has talked about is making sure we can vet people who can come into this country and ensure they're not terrorists. And when ISIS is saying they're going to try to infiltrate and bring people into the United States that are terrorists, we ought to take that seriously. We ought to make sure that people coming here ought to be vetted and that we secure this federal border.
SCIUTTO: For all Muslims, you're saying? Does the GOP Conference -- for every Muslim here has to subject to the extreme vetting that Donald Trump spoke about during the campaign?
SCALISE: It's not a religious test. It's a security test.
And that's what we have been pushing for, for a long time to have a secure border. I think people al across the country want us to secure the border and make sure that terrorists are not coming into our country. So there is a lot that can be done quickly to ensure that.
But, look, under President Obama, he hasn't been focused on the kind of things that make us secure here at home. And we want to reverse that.
SCIUTTO: Representative Scalise, during the campaign, a lot of pressure from the GOP for Hillary Clinton, if she were elected president, to cut all ties to her not-for-profit organization.
Of course, Donald Trump has many businesses. There was talk of a blind trust, so it would be put in the control of his children. But ethics lawyers tell us that would not actually be a blind trust.
Is the GOP Conference going to push the president to sever ties with his businesses while he is serving in office?
SCALISE: Well, obviously, as part of the transition, that's one of the things that Donald Trump has got to deal with. And he has been.
He's talked about turning the company over to his children and that he is going to have to detach himself from it. And, frankly, even if you saw him on "60 Minutes," he said the company is not important to him right now. Saving this country is.
SCIUTTO: There are understandable conflicts of interest if you're leading the country and you have many businesses based in the country. I'm just asking you, does the GOP Conference want him to cut those ties?
SCALISE: That's why you have a lot of good lawyers to figure all that out. That's one of the things that he will be doing in the transition is making sure about that, by the time he becomes president, it's all worked out.
The good news is, he has got a few more weeks to do it, as we're also preparing for that first hundred days and the things we need to do to get this economy moving and get this country back on track.
SCIUTTO: Representative Scalise, I want to thank you for taking the time.
We have some breaking news now, in that retiring Democratic Senate Leader Harry Reid is speaking on president-elect Donald Trump. Let's have a listen.
(JOINED IN PROGRESS)
SEN. HARRY REID (D-NV), MINORITY LEADER: This is a simple statement of fact.
And it raises critical questions for us as a country, as a nation. How do we respond to the election of Donald Trump? Democrats want to work with Mr. Trump when we can.
I understand and respect that impulse, because Democrats like to get things done. That's why many of us are in government, in fact, I think most of us, in the first place. For example, Democrats have been trying for decades, multiple decades, to get Republicans to invest in our deteriorated infrastructure.
What kind of a makeup do we have there in the infrastructure? Is it a trillion dollars, $2 trillion? Some say $3 trillion. It's really in bad need of help and repair. It's an automatic job creator. Each time we have tried to do something over these decades on infrastructure, Republicans obstructed.
So, if we can finally get Republicans to make the job-creating infrastructure investments we have been seeking for years, that would be a welcome development for the Senate and the country.
And if Trump wants to pursue policies that will help working people, Democrats will take a pragmatic approach.
Democrats have a responsibility to improve the life of Americans, all lives. But we also have other responsibilities. We have the responsibility to be the voice of millions of Americans sitting at home afraid that they're not welcome anymore in Donald Trump's America.
We have a responsibility to prevent Trump's bullying, aggressive behavior from becoming normalized in the eyes of America, especially the millions of young people who are watching and wondering, for example, if sexual assault is now a laughing matter.
We have the responsibility to say that it is not normal for the KKK, Ku Klux Klan, to celebrate the election of a president they view as their champion with a victory parade. They have one scheduled.
In other words, we have a responsibility to lead.
Outside this Senate chamber, you can hear hammering. We have workers who are hammering on the platform for the inauguration ceremony. It will take several months to do it, but it will be done right. In 65 days, Donald Trump wild step on to that platform.
For four years, he will yield the loudest and most powerful microphone in the world. But even as those workers hammer away on Trump's platform, and even as we as leaders accept the results of this election, let us also give voice to those who are afraid, because there are many that are afraid.
Indeed, a majority of Americans opposed Donald Trump. Many of my Republican colleagues in this chamber opposed Trump. They were not alone. Trump will be the first president to take office having lost the popular vote by two million.
Every day for the past week, a majority of American voters have awakened to a difficult reality. Not only did that man who lost the popular vote win the election,but his election sparked a rise in hate crimes, threats of violence.
Since Election Day, the Southern Poverty Law Center has reported hundreds of incidents of harassment and intimidation, last count, 315, from their calculations, overwhelmingly, hateful acts of anti-Muslim, anti-Hispanic, anti-African-American, anti-woman, anti-LGBT, anti- Semitic and anti-Asian.
I have heard these stories from friends and family. My and my wife's Nevada physician is a Pakistani American of Muslim faith. We think so much of him. We have known each other for 35 years. The day after the election, my friend was in a restaurant in Las Vegas having dinner. A man approached him in a threatening manner and said, where are you
from? He said, where are you from? The man that approached him said, I'm local. The doctor said, so am I.
That same night, in another restaurant in Las Vegas, a Pakistani physician was having dinner. A man walked up to him, same manner, said, where are you from? He said, I'm from Pakistan. Said, why don't you go back?
One of my staffers has a daughter in middle school. I have known that little girl since she was a little baby. The day after the election, the principal addressed the entire student body on the school's P.A. system because two incidents had occurred that he wanted to talk to them about.
In one instance, a boy yelled at a Latina student, telling her that he was glad she was going to be deported now that Trump was president. In other instance, a boy was sent home for yelling the most derogatory, hateful term at an African-American student. The boy justified himself by saying he used that language now that Trump was president.
In Spokane, Washington, the Martin Luther King Center there was defaced with the same hateful word. Those are only a few examples of what people close to me have related, but these kinds of disturbing accounts have been heard across America.
I have here, Mr. President, a compilation of these incidents. One is from NBC News. Another is from another publication, hundreds of incidents in the last few days.
I would ask that be made part of the record.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Without objection.
REID: That was just entered into the record. Those references made are awful, are hateful. They're frightening. They're scary.
I invite any of my colleagues to read these horrible acts. And I invite any senator, Democrat or Republican, to come right down to this floor today and defend any one of them.
SEN. HARRY REID (D-NV), MINORITY LEADER: That that was just entered into the record, those references made, are awful, are hateful. They're frightening. They're scary.
[16:15:01] I invite any of my colleagues to read these horrible acts, and I invite any senator, Democrat or Republican, to come right down to this floor today and defend any one of them -- these examples of hate and prejudice.
I don't believe anyone in this chamber wants to defend the hateful acts that are being committed in President-elect Trump's name. They lead to one unavoidable conclusion. Many of our fellow Americans believe that Trump's election validates the kind of bullying, aggressive behavior Trump modeled on a daily basis.
How will we teach our children that bragging about sexual assault is abhorrent if we rush into the arms of a man who dismissed it as locker room talk? We fail to hold Trump accountable, we all bear a major responsibility for normalizing his behavior.
Here's a letter from a seventh grader from Rhode Island, from the day after the election. I have a direct quote from the letter. A seventh grader.
"I'm extremely scared, especially being a woman of color, that the president of the country, that I was born and live in is making me feel unsafe when I actually shouldn't feel unsafe. It's even scarier because this man, who is now the president of the United States of America, has said such rude, ignorant and disrespectful things about women and all other types of people, is now in charge of our country. I want to feel safe in my country. But I no longer can feel safe with someone like Donald Trump leading the country", close quote. End of letter.
Our president is supposed to make people feel safe. But on Wednesday, a seventh grade girl awoke feeling frightened to be a woman of color in America because Donald Trump was president-elect. If we ignore her voice and other voices, this seventh grader will be left to conclude that we as a nation find her fear acceptable. How do we show her that she doesn't have to be afraid?
The first step is facing reality, no matter how hard the rest of us work, the main responsibility lies within the man who inspired the fear. President-elect Trump must act immediately to make America like that seventh grade girl feel that they're welcome in his America. Healing the wounds he inflicted will take more than words. Talk is cheap, and tweets are cheaper. Healing the wounds will take action.
But so far, Mr. President, rather than healing these wounds, Trump's actions have deepened them. In one of his very first if not his first official act, he appointed a man seen as a champion of white supremacy as a number one strategist in the White House.
Number one, everybody else under him. According to CNN and I quote, "white nationalist leaders are praising Donald Trump's decision to name Steven Bannon as his chief strategist," close quote. In the same article white nationalist leaders say they see Bannon, quote, "as an advocate for policies they favor," close quote. And according to the Poverty Law Center, Bannon, quote, "was a main driver between Breitbart becoming a white ethno nationalist propaganda mill," close quote.
When asked to extent on Bannon's hiring, KKK leader David Duke told CNN, again a quote, "I think that's excellent," close quote.
A court filing stated that Bannon said, again another quote, "that he doesn't like Jews and that he doesn't like the way they raise their kids to be whiny brats and that he didn't want his girls to go to school with Jews," close quote. That's court document.
By placing a champion of white supremacists a step away from the Oval Office, what message does Trump send to the young girl who woke up Wednesday morning in Rhode Island afraid to be a woman of color in America? It's not a message of healing.
If Trump is serious about seeking unity, the first thing he should do is rescind his appointment of Steve Bannon. Rescind it. Don't do it. Think about this. Don't do it.
As long as a champion of racial division is a step away from the Oval Office, it will be impossible to take Trump's efforts to heal the nation seriously.
So I say to Donald Trump, take responsibility. Rise to the dignity of the office of president of the United States. Stop hiding behind your Twitter account. And show America that racism, bullying and bigotry have no place in the White House or in America.
I yield the floor, Mr. President.
[16:20:04] UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Under the previous order, (INAUDIBLE). Under the previous order, the Senate will be in a period of morning business --
JIM SCIUTTO, CNN GUEST HOST: We've been listening to Senator Harry Reid, the outgoing minority leader in the U.S. Senate, fewer than 60 days before he retires from the Senate in that position, giving what can only be described as an impassioned speech on the floor of the Senate, making the point, the argument that behavior that he described as bigoted should not be normalized.
He went on to describe a number of incidents of hate chronicled by the Southern Poverty Law Center that have taken place since the election, which he tied to the rhetoric that had come from President-elect Trump during the campaign. Quite an impassioned speech from Harry Reid there.
I want to bring in my panel to react to this. We have Jennifer Jacobs, she's from "Bloomberg", national political reporter. Matt Viser from "The Boston Globe", and Mike Rogers, former majority member on the House Intelligence Committee and also recently with the transition team of Trump.
If I could ask you to react to this, perhaps you were inside the Trump transition team. As you're listening to Harry Reid's criticism there of the rhetoric and the effect that it's having on the country, what's your reaction?
MIKE ROGERS, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY COMMENTATOR: Well, first of all, I think you have to be careful. There are riots in the streets today. I think there is all of this unfortunate rhetoric feeds into both sides of this problem.
I would hope that the majority leader would take his time to try to de-escalate this problem. I just think he's throwing gas on the fire. I never saw it. I was on the Trump team. Half of the team that I worked with on the national security team were women, by the way. There were minorities included there. But nobody looked at it that way. They looked at individuals who had jobs and responsibilities to get done.
I'm hoping that we can get back to that kind of conversation. The longer that Harry Reid, I think, uses the floor of the United States Senate to continue to heighten people's -- who are going to do dumb things and they're racist and they're wrong, guess what, that's going to happen, unfortunately. And I just don't think we need to rise to the level of chronicling each one making it sound like every neighborhood, every school, every location has these people in them.
I just don't believe that's true. I think America is in a better place. Rhetoric will help us get in a better place. I think his rhetoric isn't going to do that.
SCIUTTO: Jennifer Jacobs, he took particular aim of Steve Bannon as senior adviser to the president and his past statements and many pieces that appeared on Breitbart, the news organization that he ran. Does that have power at this point?
JENNIFER JACOBS, NATIONAL POLITICAL REPORTER, BLOOMBERG POLITICS: Yes, it will for sure. He just seemed to be re-upping the things he said in the statement last week where he said Putin and ISIS are applauding the victory of Donald Trump and that people have -- you know, it's rational for people to be afraid of this administration after all the things Donald Trump had done. So, it just seems like he just wanted to repeat the things he had said in writing last week and get that back out in front of a TV camera.
Yes, for sure, there has been a lot of talk about how people are afraid of Steve Bannon and what he represents. Is Steve Bannon a white nationalist? His defenders, his allies say absolutely not, that that's not true. He's just a good conservative who wants conservative things for this country. But there is no doubt that his website did have that sort of rhetoric and he allowed it to be published.
SCIUTTO: Gave it a platform.
Matt Ryan, I wonder as you listen to this, are people listening to Senor Harry Reid? Is this a powerful voice at this point?
MATT VISER, DEPUTY WASHINGTON BUREAU CHIEF, BOSTON GLOBE: I think probably within the Democratic party he is, still. And you have this sense today -- of course, we're seeing the House Democratic turmoil, you know, among House Democrats. I think Harry Reid is vocalizing a portion of the party that wants to sort of punch back at Donald Trump at every opportunity.
There is another portion of the party that is kind of ready to work with him on infrastructure and, you know, on some of the shared policies that they're starting to see. So I think that Harry Reid is, of course, the outgoing leader of the Senate Democrats. We haven't heard quite as much from Chuck Schumer who may be more inclined to try and deal with Donald Trump. But I think that Harry Reid is definitely vocalizing what exists in a
large section of the Democratic Party.
SCIUTTO: Like you say, he doesn't have to stick around and work with this president and these people on the Hill.
Congressman, Matt, Jennifer, please stick around. We're going to have more to talk about.
They've had his ear since he announced he was running for president. So, should Donald Trump's kids be given top secret clearances? That's right after this.
[16:28:14] SCIUTTO: We're back with more in our politics lead.
President-elect Trump has relied on his adult children throughout the campaign. Now, a source tells CNN that the Trump transition team has inquired about the possibility of security clearances for Donald Jr., Eric and Ivanka Trump, as well as Ivanka's husband, Jared Kushner.
CNN'S Phil Mattingly is with me here in Washington.
So, Phil, let's remind our viewers, if they've forgotten, this was a campaign where Donald Trump accused Hillary Clinton of mishandling classified information, not to say any of these folks would mishandle it. But you are at least opening risk factor here and also somewhat unprecedented, is it not, to have children, even if they're adult, to have security clearances?
PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Definitely unprecedented, very unusual. And I think it underscores the reality that we've never seen something like this before. Adult children, very close advisors, intimately involved in every aspect of the campaign and yet still very closely involved in every aspect of the Trump business.
DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENT-ELECT: Thank you. Thank you, Melania.
MATTINGLY (voice-over): A trio of power-wielding advisors to the president-elect, attempting to navigate a veritable ticket, political, ideological and conflict of interest-laden realities.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Congratulations, dad!
MATTINGLY: Don Jr., Eric and Ivanka, invaluable campaign surrogates.
IVANKA TRUMKP, DONALD TRUMP'S DAUGHTER: I can tell you firsthand that there is no better person to have in your corner when you're facing tough decisions or tough opponents.
MATTINGLY: All members of the president-elect's transition team and, of course, all Donald Trump's children. Add in Jared Kushner, Ivanka's husband and one of Trump's closest
advisors, and it's a group that represents a series of holdings integral to the family's business and potentially affected by whoever sits in the White House.
Now, sources say, inquiries about all receiving top secret security clearances.
KELLYANNE CONWAY, TRUMP CAMPAIGN MANAGER: I know everybody is very concerned about security, which is a slightly separate matter.