Return to Transcripts main page

CNN NEWSROOM

The Huddle Over Cabinet Picks; Obama Warns Against Crude Nationalism; Rogers Leaves Transition Team; Ryan on Same Page with Trump; House Dems Delay Vote; Mexico Readies for Deportations. Aired 12-12:30p ET

Aired November 15, 2016 - 12:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[12:00:14] BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN ANCHOR: Hi there and welcome to CNN NEWSROOM. Thank you so much for joining me. I'm Brianna Keilar.

Now some of the biggest decisions that any new president makes comes weeks even months before he or she officially has the job. And so we begin this hour at Trump Tower in Manhattan, the site of a high-stakes huddle between the president-elect and his running mate, seen here. Also happens to be heading up his transition team. Sixty-six days before they are sworn into office, Donald Trump and Mike Pence are said to be matching cabinet positions with candidates. It's a process that as of yesterday was described by one source as a, quote, "knife fight" between Republican main streamers and outsiders.

CNN's Phil Mattingly joining us now with what we know and also, Phil, of course, what we can't wait to find out.

PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, specific names, right?

KEILAR: That's right.

MATTINGLY: And specific answers on things. I think what's most interesting right now is the news that's developed over the last couple -- probably 48 hours, including over the last couple of hours. You mentioned "knife fight." There is an individual who is leaving the transition team today that we've all probably heard of. His name's Mike Rogers. He is the former House Intelligence chairman. He's a former FBI special agent. He was on the transition team. A key player on the transition team on the national security side of things. And, frankly, when you talk to national security and foreign policy folks who are a little bit wary of the Trump campaign, the Trump transition team, Mike Rogers was seen as a good sign to them.

KEILAR: They loved that he was on here.

MATTINGLY: He was -- he was the sign that things would be OK. They were taking this seriously. Mike Rogers no longer on the transition team. Now, officially, he has thanked the transition team. He said it was time for him to leave.

What we are hearing behind the scenes is, this was part of a -- kind of a systemic purge, if you will. A pushing out of top allies of Chris Christie. Now, you remember, Chris Christie was running the transition team. No longer. Has been kind of pushed out. Now top advisers to Chris Christie, top allies of Chris Christie, have also left the transition team.

This is part of a power play is kind of the way it's being described to us. Now, the transition team officially is not commenting on this. But what we're hearing behind the scenes right now is this is a very difficult process. It is a lot of powerful people and power-hungry people that are battling back and forth. And right now, if you're allied with Chris Christie or you came in with Chris Christie, odds are you're moving outside the door.

KEILAR: Are establishment Republicans freaking out about this?

MATTINGLY: Yes, I think so. And I think it's -- there's an interesting element here, right, of Trump officials look at this and say, look, you weren't with us from the beginning. Why should we all of a sudden -- when you told us we were going to lose, we're going to get killed from the primary through the election, why should we all of a sudden listen to you?

And there's nowhere this is more apparent than on the foreign policy side. How many Republicans in the traditional foreign policy camp, the traditional Republican foreign policy camp signed letters saying they're anti-Trump, signed letters saying they were never Trump. Those individuals right now, behind the scenes I'm told, are weighing very heavily, do we come in now and try and help for the good of the country, to be patriots? And the Trump team is saying, look, you weren't here from us from the beginning. Loyalty matters. We don't care what your resume says. We don't want you here.

KEILAR: But what about people -- Ben Carson was very loyal --

MATTINGLY: Right.

KEILAR: And yet his associate is saying he was offered HHS secretary and he turned it down.

MATTINGLY: Right.

KEILAR: And what I found startling about Armstrong Williams, his business manager's statement, was he said that he's a neophyte and that it was a lot to ask. He ran for president, so --

MATTINGLY: Yes. So apparently HHS secretary is less intense than being president of the United States.

KEILAR: I know. Is that harder? Is that harder than the White House or --

MATTINGLY: No, look, when it comes to Dr. Ben Carson, when it comes to Armstrong Williams, you always kind of take what they're saying with a grain of salt. But here's kind of what we know or what I've been told at least. Ben Carson was told that there was a place for him in the administration. Whether or not that was a cabinet secretary position. Armstrong Williams saying HHS was an opportunity for him. Ben Carson has decided that he wants to stay outside of the administration and advise from that capacity. It's --

KEILAR: Where he can also make a lot of money.

MATTINGLY: You can also make money. And Ben Carson has made a lot of money on the speaking circuit. But, again, it just -- it underscores that there are a lot of loyalists here that want big-time positions. There are a lot of people on the outside that want positions that are trying to figure out their way in. The baseline reality here is, as you noted, we are 60-plus day away. There are major decisions that need to be made for hundreds if not thousands of government positions right now and there is still a lot of dissention, a lot of tension inside the transition team.

KEILAR: Secretary of state is so interesting. Let's take a look at some of the names that we have. Josh -- or, I should say, former Ambassador Bolton. We also have Rudy Giuliani, Newt Gingrich, Bob Corker, Richard Haas. What do you make of this?

MATTINGLY: So, what we're hearing right now, what I've been told, is that Rudy Giuliani has a lead in this. And you've heard -- you might have seen some comments from Rudy Giuliani last night essentially saying that he thinks he's probably the best person for the job.

There's one thing that I'm continuously cautioned of as we start tossing out names, and you can look at Treasury Department or Defense Department, or attorney general, and we're all getting names back and forth. Here's the reality. Until Donald Trump signs off on this name, it could change from hour to hour. So while we are hearing right now that Rudy Giuliani has the lead, Ambassador Bolton has a lot of Republican support with him as well. Bob Corker is always around. So keep that in mind. Also worth noting real quick before we close, Mike Pence showing up there is a very big moment. He's now running the transition team, but he is also somebody with definitive connections across the Republican Party. What he says, what he recommends carries a lot of weight, I'm told.

[12:05:07] KEILAR: That's really interesting. All right, Phil Mattingly, thank you so much for sorting all of that out.

Well, President Obama is in Greece today as part of his last scheduled overseas trip before he leaves office. And at a news conference that you may have seen live here on CNN, he was asked more than once about the U.S. election. And here's some of what he had to say.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I think at times of significant stress, people are going to be looking for something, and they don't always know exactly what it is that they're looking for and they may opt for change, even if they're not entirely confident what that change will bring.

I do believe, separate and apart from any particular election or movement, that we are going to have to guard against a rise in a crude sort of nationalism or ethnic identity or tribalism that is built around an "us" and a "them." And I will never apologize for saying that the future of humanity and the future of the world is going to be defined by what we have in common, as opposed to those things that separate us and ultimately lead us into conflict.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KEILAR: Fascinating comments after the president's press conference at the White House yesterday.

Joining me now to discuss this is David Swerdlick, he's the assistant editor of "The Washington Post," and CNN political commentator and CNN Politics executive editor Mark Preston.

You listened to that. That was a warning in a way, guarding against tribalism. He talked about crude, meaning, he's -- he's talking about guarding against racism and some of the heightened rhetoric that we saw from Donald Trump and the support that he got from the alt-right xenophobic, anti-Semitic ideologues, basically. What -- this is interesting. He's saying this abroad, and it is a bit of a counterpoint to what he said yesterday, where he said, you know, basically he's giving Donald Trump a chance. He didn't take a swing at him.

DAVID SWERDLICK, ASSISTANT EDITOR, "THE WASHINGTON POST": Yes. No, and I think President Obama is trying to do three things and weave them together right now with his speeches over the last several day. One is to, you know, sort of set the example for this peaceful transition of power, two, defend his own record, which he -- he did in the press conference yesterday just with a few key highlights, and then now, today, warning against -- that there is a potential for division and for a stoking of the -- of the divisions that were there in the campaign if both sides, if both partisans sides and if the new administration is not careful.

KEILAR: He's speaking to concerns of Democrats it sounds like.

MARK PRESTON, CNN POLITICS EXECUTIVE EDITOR: Yes, no doubt. Not only Democrats, but also just folks who were concerned about a Donald Trump presidency and not necessarily Donald Trump or perhaps Donald Trump, but really those who he surrounds himself with and who is going to have his ear at the very last time to make those all-important decisions, whether it's domestic or whether it's dealing with foreign governments.

KEILAR: Let's talk a little bit about the future here. What Donald Trump and those he surrounds himself with, what that's going to look like. The knife fight is what we heard this described as yesterday. Is Mike Rogers a casualty of this? He may have been someone who was aligned with Chris Christie, but is that the only reason why he's gone?

PRESTON: You know, look, we're still learning why Congressman Rogers decided to pull himself out of it. Look, I think it's a disservice actually to the nation because we all know Mike Rogers. I mean he has -- he's worked here at CNN. He was very well respected on Capitol Hill. He was very well respected within the intelligence community. And not having his input and his mind and, quite frankly, his guiding force I think is a mistake for the Trump transition team. As you discussed, a knife fight is going on. And just to explain what the knife fight is, that means there's a lot of blood. There's a lot of blood being spilt right now.

SWERDLICK: Yes, no, I agree with Mark. I mean when you have someone who was a respected committee chair, someone who's a former FBI special agent or a senior agent leaving the Trump transition team this early, even though he left -- you know, tried to calm the waters with his statement, it strikes me that this is a loss more for the Trump team than for Congressman Rogers.

KEILAR: There's so many people who are really paying attention to who's going to be secretary of state. A huge job. And Rudy Giuliani is publicly campaigning for this job. But you look at -- let's just say his personality profile, right? He is -- he's not the most diplomatic guy. So what is the thinking here? What is the prevailing opinion on who's going to be secretary of state at this point?

PRESTON: I think it's Rudy's if he wants it. Listen, talk about someone who has been very loyal to Donald Trump through all of this, who has been really his big cheerleader, has defended him on every count. Look, Rudy's got a lot of New York in him, right? He is very blunt. He says what's on his mind. And as you say, you are the top diplomat for the world. You are speaking for the leader of the free world. The question is, if he does become secretary of state, will he be able to temper that, because that really is a job. And Hillary Clinton did a very good job for Barack Obama in tempering it, not making it about herself.

[12:10:31] KEILAR: David, I want to ask you about John Bolton because the former ambassador is -- he is still not sorry about the Iraq War. Some people have -- you know, Donald Trump, obviously, tries to make the case that he was against it, even though we know he actually was not. How could he possibly pick John Bolton?

SWERDLICK: Well, I think he could because Donald Trump likes a certain posture. Whether or not he and John Bolton agree on everything policy wise, John Bolton has been unapologetic. He has presented and aggressive face. He has the resume, right? He was the former U.N. ambassador. So you could see a situation where a foreign policy type could convince President-elect Trump to pick Bolton, even if they may wind up disagreeing down the road on how to approach Russia, how to approach Iran, how to approach other issues around the globe.

KEILAR: A very good point. All right, David Swerdlick, Mark Preston, thank you so much.

Up next, the Trump team isn't the only transition tango in town. House Republicans are set to elect their leadership team, while House Democrats still shell shocked over the Trump win just decided to delay their vote. Does this mean, perhaps, that Nancy Pelosi's days as leader are numbered?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[12:15:33] KEILAR: In less than an hour from now, House Republicans will begin their leadership elections. It's a process that is expected to take several hours.

Just a short time ago at a news conference, Speaker Paul Ryan talked about the transition and the path for 2017. Here's what he said.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. PAUL RYAN (R), HOUSE SPEAKER: We are on the same page with our president-elect. I talk with Donald Trump virtually every single day. I spoke with Mike Pence this morning. We are on the same page. We're working hand in glove. And we're going to make sure that this is a very successful administration. But more importantly, we're going to make sure that the voices we heard from this election, from the American people, are acted upon.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KEILAR: CNN's senior political reporter Manu Raju and CNN's senior Washington correspondent Jeff Zeleny on Capitol Hill for us.

So, Manu, what else was said this morning that we need to know about? What do we expect to come out of this leadership vote today?

MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL REPORTER: Well, Brianna, I can tell you, what a difference a month makes. Paul Ryan, just a month ago, said that he could not defend or campaign with Donald Trump in light of that "Access Hollywood" video of Trump's rather vulgar comments about women. Things have changed dramatically. Winning changes a lot.

Now Paul Ryan saying he speaks virtually every day with Donald Trump, that they're working to align their agenda so Donald Trump can hit his administration -- hit the ground running once he gets sworn into office. And Paul Ryan really downplaying some of the controversies in the early part of this transition period. He was asked specifically about the appointment of Steve Bannon as a top White House counselor, given the fact that Bannon has ties to so-called alt-right movement. Paul Ryan did not seem to have concern. He said the real thing that we're worried about is Donald Trump getting results.

And I asked Paul Ryan specifically, are you concerned about Donald Trump' children either getting -- potentially getting security clearance, as well as his children running Trump businesses? Would that present a conflict of interests in your view? And Paul Ryan discounted that completely. He said he should rely on good advisers like his children. So a real sound of unity coming out of the Republican conference meeting ahead of these elections, which is a lot different, Brianna, than what the House Democrats are experiencing right now.

KEILAR: Oh, no doubt about that. Jeff, tell us about that, because Democrats are delaying their election.

JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: They are indeed. And Nancy Pelosi, the Democratic leader, was hoping that there would be a vote on her leadership later this week. That is now not going to happen. There has been a decision made to have that vote take place on November 30th. In 15 days from now. And a lot of member we talked to, after they were coming out of this closed door meeting, say, a, the party simply needs time to regroup.

Tim Ryan, the Democrat from Ohio, is considering running against Nancy Pelosi. He has not made the decision yet. But I spoke to him and he said one of the things he believes the Democratic Party needs right now is geographical diversity. He said if you look at the map of what happened last week, the blue is almost, you know, not there in the rust belt area. So he said that someone should rise up from the ranks of the Democratic Party to lead it out and, you know, reach out to more working-class voters.

But, Brianna, as you know from coving Capitol Hill, Nancy Pelosi has held a grip on power among Democrats. Ten years ago she was made the speaker. So she now potentially has a threat, but not a serious threat yet. But Democrats are talking at this hour about if someone will step forward and run against her. All part of the broader plan of Democrats trying to rebuild their party from the top down.

Brianna.

KEILAR: Yes, she has fended off these small challenges before. So we'll see if that's the case this time.

ZELENY: Yes.

KEILAR: Jeff Zeleny, Manu Raju, thank you, guys, so much.

Up next, Mexico may not be ready to write a check for Trump's wall, but they're still worried about paying the price if the mass deportations actually happen, especially if those being deported are criminals. How real is the possibility? We're going to talk with a member of President-elect Trump's transition team about that.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[12:23:46] KEILAR: To say that Donald Trump's victory sent tremors across the U.S./Mexico border would be an understatement. The government in Mexico City is already preparing for the possibility of mass deportations given Donald Trump's promise to send back or jail millions of illegal immigrants when he becomes president.

And I'm joined now by a man who is helping the president-elect craft his immigration policy as part of his transition team, Kris Kobach is the Kansas secretary of state. He also helped write Arizona's controversial 2010 immigration law SB-1070, or the (INAUDIBLE) as its proponents call it.

Secretary Kobach, thank you so much for being with us.

And I want to start by talking about what your president-elect, what the president-elect has said about his plans to build a border wall, a big part of his campaign promises. This is what he said on "60 Minutes."

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

LESLEY STAHL, "60 MINUTES": Part wall, part fence? DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENT-ELECT: A fence will be -- yes, it could be -- yes, there could be some fencing.

STAHL: What about the pledge to deport millions and millions of undocumented immigrants?

TRUMP: What we are going to do is get the people that are criminal and have criminal records, gang members, drug dealers, we have a lot of these people, probably 2 million, it could even be 3 million, we're getting them out of our country or we're going to incarcerate. But we're getting them out of our country. They're here illegally.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

[12:25:05] KEILAR: OK, so can you tell us a little bit about -- about this plan? A couple of things there that we heard him say. One was, there could be fences in places instead of the wall. Some folks have said that's sort of him back-pedal from what he promised during the campaign. Others have said, well, this is him just showing that he can adjust on this. What is that going to look like?

KRIS KOBACH (R), KANSAS SECRETARY OF STATE: Well, I think the way most people use the term and I think the way that the border patrol has used the terms is that a wall is a -- like a concrete wall that you can't see through. A fence is an impenetrable steel fence. We have those along many, many miles of the southern border. And there are going to be some places where the terrain is really rough where you can't build a 20 foot or a 30-foot-high wall, but you can certainly put up some steel fence that you can't walk through and can't easily get over. So, you know, I think that's what he's saying. He's said all along that he want an impenetrable, physical barrier along our southern border and we've only got that on about 386 miles of our 1,989 mile border. So there's a lot to be done there.

KEILAR: OK. So a physical barrier along the entire border. No opening for electronic -- an electronic fence, as some have talked about, electronic monitoring. The goal of which would be to keep people from crossing the border.

KOBACH: You know, we already have electronic monitoring and I think some people who don't like the idea of an actual wall or an actual fence, they say, well, an electronic monitoring is good enough. Well, it's not. It doesn't stop anyone. It just gives you notification that somebody just went through and oftentimes it's impossible for border patrol to get there in time to apprehend them. So there are going to be some big changes and -- on how these structures are on the southern border and federal law already authorizes the Department of Homeland Security to do it. It's just a question of funds moving forward. It's going to be a multiyear project.

KEILAR: He addressed the number of deportations last year. The Department of Homeland Security said immigrations and customs deported 235,000 people who were in the U.S. illegally. The president-elect is saying up to 3 million, 2 million probably, up to 3 million. Where does that number come from? KOBACH: That number actually comes from a 2013 report issued by the

Obama Department of Homeland Security. It estimated that the number of criminal aliens living in the United States is 2 million. And that was -- that report's three years' old. So President-elect Trump would be saying, it's probably gone up. So it's somewhere between 2 million and 3 million now.

There are a number of ways you can get these criminal aliens out of the United States. We have 193,000 that are already in the removal pipeline or their cases were dismissed by the Obama administration.

KEILAR: Can I ask you real quick, though, just because I want to -- I want to understand something that he said, which was, he was talking about gang members.

KOBACH: Yes.

KEILAR: He was talking about -- it sounded like pretty serious criminal offenses that he's talking about. And other people have looked at that and they have said, you know what, you're really talking about a few hundred thousand people who would be deported. So explain to us how serious a crime someone would have to commit to warrant deportation? Is this any type of criminal record? Is this misdemeanors? What is this?

KOBACH: That's a great question because that's where a lot of the numbers end up not matching. So the way the Obama administration right now defines it, as far as their removal priorities are, they say you have to be convicted of an aggravated felony or convicted of three misdemeanor crimes in order to qualify for being removed, and everybody else is defacto allowed to stay in the United States.

Now, that's pretty outrageous because many times a county will say, look, we've got these gang bangers here. They could be convicted for assault and battery. There was a big fight in the city park last night. But, you know what, we don't have the resources to prosecute every one of them. In the past they would call ICE and say, hey, can you remove these people? But the Obama administration says, no, that doesn't qualify as a criminal because they haven't yet been convicted. I think you'll see probably a Trump administration saying, look, we're going to define criminal more broadly and not so narrowly and we're going to get these 2 million out, starting with that 193,000 we already have identified and then moving from there.

KEILAR: So -- but tell us, because he's saying, drug dealers, gang members. So what are we talking about because I think it's still -- it's still a little nebulous from what you're describing?

KOBACH: What I'm saying is, I think, if you -- the way you get to 2 million, and, again, we're talking about definitions here. If you talk about people who have been convicted or arrested of any number of crimes, then you're talking about a much wider --

KEILAR: But which ones?

KOBACH: Any felony for sure. And then the problem is arrests versus conviction. Such a tiny percent -- well, I don't want to say tiny, but a small percentage of the people who are arrested are ultimately convicted, not because they didn't do it, but because the county involved doesn't have the resources to prosecute every single person who's arrested.

[12:30:01] And that's where -- that's where the federal government could come in and say, look, this guy's a known gang member, he's been arrested maybe multiple times. Sure they haven't convicted him yet, but we ought to get him out of the country. And that's what this administration, the Trump administration will probably do.