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Trump Insists Transition is Smooth Despite Reports; NYC Mayor Meets with Trump; Reid Demands Trump Rescind Appointment of Bannon. Aired 12-12:30p ET

Aired November 16, 2016 - 12:00   ET



[12:00:15] PAMELA BROWN, CNN ANCHOR: You are live in the CNN NEWSROOM. I'm Pamela Brown in Washington.

And we begin this hour with new information on the intrigue and widely reported in-fighting in transition team at Trump Tower. That's where Eric Trump, a highly placed source told reporters this morning, to expect some hiring announcements anytime now.


REPORTER: Are you guys planning on naming any more positions today?


REPORTER: Likely? Anyone in particular?


BROWN: So no answer yet to that one, as you see, but today's procession of insiders, allies and potential hires also included Senator Jeff Sessions, said to be in the running for Defense secretary and as well as attorney general. And Donald Trump Jr., late this morning, New York's Democratic mayor, a Donald Trump critic, showed up for a sit-down with the president-elect supposedly on what the people of New York City are feeling. Bill de Blasio is due to speak to reporters any minute now.

And through it all, the winner of last week's election insists the transition is going so smoothly despite reporting by CNN and many other outlets to the contrary.

CNN's Sunlen Serfaty is watching the comings and goings and our chief political analyst Gloria Borger is with me right here in Washington.

So I want to begin with you, Gloria, on this new reporting you have just about what's going on behind the scenes and how insular this transition process is around Trump and how different it is.

GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: It's different. And why would we have expected anything else -

BROWN: Exactly. BORGER: Given the - given the nature of the campaign.

I have spoken with a source familiar with the transition who says that they didn't start focusing on the transition until quite late because, quite frankly, they didn't expect to win, period.

BROWN: Right.

BORGER: That's it. And when they did, they saw some things they didn't like and they tried to understand what was occurring. What strikes me, and you put your finger on it, is the insular quality to all of this. They are hearing from people who were in the Bush administration. Don't forget, you've got eight years of pent-up demand from Republicans who want to go into government and help. And I think, above all else, this is about loyalty and the Trump team is saying, huh-uh, you weren't with us. Sorry, we may not be returning your calls. That goes to the political class, as well as to the donor class.

BROWN: That's fascinating. And what about Jared Kushner because there's been a lot of talk about his role, of him being a critical player in this -


BROWN: And maybe ruffling from feathers. Does the fact that some of these people have been pushed out have anything to do with the fact Chris Christie -

BORGER: Right.

BROWN: Prosecuted his father?

BORGER: Well, we're getting two stories on that, quite honestly. There are people who have been pushed out who say they have been told that it is because they were on team Christie. There is a long-running feud between Jared Kushner's family and Chris Christie, who prosecuted his father and sent him to jail. And so there is a sense that there was a Christie purge among - including Christie himself, who was running the transition.

Now, somebody else inside the transition is saying to me that Jared is not Fsvengali (ph) here, but that he is not unhappy that the Christie people are gone. So take that for what it's worth. It seems to me that the truth may lie somewhere in between, but that - that it's well- known that Jared and Chris Christie are not friends.

BROWN: Understandably. All right, Gloria Borger, thank you so much.

And I want to turn now to Sunlen Serfaty, who has been monitoring all the developments.

Sunlen, what can you tell us?

SUNLEN SERFATY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Pam, Mayor Bill de Blasio came in about an hour ago. You mentioned their meeting off the top before you talked to Gloria. And I can tell you, he didn't offer very much by way of specifics about what his meeting with Donald Trump would be about today, but he did say he'll be talking about what the people of New York City are feeling and what we need.

And I can tell you that, at least in the short term, many New Yorkers are concerned about the security of perimeters set up around Trump Tower, this being a main thoroughfare in the city, that has really crippled traffic, both street traffic and foot traffic on the sidewalks here and really concerns a lot of people in this immediate area. Certainly that potentially would be on the agenda to discuss today. But likely also this is all about turning over a new leaf between the two men, given that they have had a storied relationship. It was only last year, Pam, that Donald Trump called Mayor Bill de Blasio a maniac and the worst mayor of New York City.


BROWN: And just a couple days ago, Mayor de Blasio encouraging protests against Trump.

Sunlen Serfaty, thank you so much for that.

And I want to move along here and turn to our - another panel. Joining me now with their thoughts on all of this, "Washington Post" columnist and CNN political analyst Josh Rogin, and Matt Viser, political reporter for "The Boston Globe."

[12:05:01] So, Matt, I want to turn to you first because you just heard the conversation I had with Gloria about what's going on beside - behind the scenes and some disarray. So my question to you is, as you've been reporting on this, is - is Trump's team sort of hapless here or is this just sort of par for the course when you're dealing with a transition like this?

MATT VISER, NATIONAL POLITICAL REPORTER, "BOSTON GLOBE": Well, it's not par for the course for a transition. It's par for the course for Trump. You know, Trump's campaign was run very much in this sort of state of disarray. I mean you had three different people running it. They often switched gears. But if you look back eight years ago with Barack Obama and a similar period, things were much smoother. Barack Obama had already had a press conference. He was sort of moving things along and being a lot more public than Donald Trump has been so far.

BROWN: And as we know, Josh, many national security people in that world came out against Trump during the campaign.


BROWN: How much of this is an issue of finding interested candidates for the jobs?

ROGIN: Right. Right. Until we know who Trump will pick for the top national security positions, we don't know how that will affect all of the down race sort of second, third tier Republicans, right? Many of them, even some of the never Trumpers, will try to work with the administration. They believe that they can serve their country by helping Trump and his team towards better policies. Some of them will be ex-ed out. Some of them have been never Trumpers too long and can't reconcile themselves to it.

But it's all driven by the cabinet members. Rudy Giuliani as secretary of state looks very different than John Bolton as secretary of state. Jeff Sessions as defense secretary looks very different than Tom Cotton as defense secretary. So first we've got to get those top leaders in place, then everyone else can figure out what's going on.

BROWN: And how much of what's going on right now is just the typical Trump not doing things the conventional way, and the fact that essentially the Trump team didn't even think they were going to win this election.


BROWN: And as we saw, they came in and all of a sudden we're, you know, interested in the transition and moving people out, like Chris Christie?

VISER: Yes. I mean I think it's a mixture of both. I mean this is sort of how Trump acts. I mean he's impulsive. He - he sort of, you know, has gut reactions to things. And so I think that's a part of this, is that the country is sort of seeing this unfold in a way that we saw his campaign unfold a lot of the time with Trump.

The other thing, and as you mentioned, they were not thinking they were going to be in this position. So they were not laying the groundwork for, you know, drawing up these short lists and having an idea of who they wanted to call and who they wanted to talk to or consider for these jobs.

There's also a vindictiveness, I think, that Trump has, where people - I was talking to one person who's been interacting with the transition team and their first comment was, where were you in August, you know, with a couple expletives thrown in there too, you know, where they - they don't feel like people who are not with them earlier on have any right to be with them now.

BROWN: Right. And we just were talking to Gloria who said some of these establishment politicians are calling and trying to get into the process and essentially they're being shunned because of the loyalty issue. That those around Trump are really the ones who have been with him from the beginning, including people like Jeff Sessions.

ROGIN: Right. Make no mistake, the establishment Republicans of in retreat and the loyalists to Trump are on the march, OK. That's what we see from every piece of news that's coming out of here. If you are part of what's called the swamp, then you are fighting against the tide to get into the Trump administration. In the end, they're going to need to take some of those people, those thousands of jobs. But right now, those people who are closest to Trump and most loyal to Trump are winning the day.

BROWN: But then, you know, there's the whole draining the swamp idea. But then you look at people who are in the running, like Mike Flynn, who has a lobbying firm. As we know, Rudy Giuliani, his name has been floated for secretary of state. He has business ties overseas, Qatar, Canada. He's given speeches where he's made, you know, a lot of money and he went after Secretary of State Clinton. So how will that play into all of this, Matt?

VISER: Well, I think - I mean you saw it even initially where Trump's transition team was filled with lobbyists, you know what I mean. They've sort of since changed course. But that sure shows you the disconnect that they have right now and the lack of being able to make a decision.

You also have to take into account that lobbyists in Washington right now are very excited. You know, they're going to have a great year coming up. There's going to be a lot of legislation moving. So the swamp is not being drained by any sense of the, you know, imagination. It's being filled up. You know, there's hoses out sort of filling up the swamp at this point for lobbyists.

BROWN: And in Trump we should point out tweeted today in light of these reports that there's disarray saying that that's not true. That everything is organized, despite the "New York Times," as he sort of went after, the tweet is put up here on our screen, and CNN and others, reporting to the contrary. What does - what does the Trump team need to do? Do they need to come out and name some more positions today to try to put those rumors, if you want to call them that, to rest, that things are dysfunctional behind the scenes?

ROGIN: Well, yes. If this is smooth, what would chaotic look like? I mean, let's face it here, right, it doesn't pass the laugh test, OK? But the bottom line here is that in three weeks, eight weeks, ten weeks from now, no one's going to be reporting about - that it was a messy process. They just want to know who's going to get these very important jobs that are important for American national security and American governance. And once those jobs come out, that will be the story because that will tell us what - how Trump wants to be president, what tone does he want to set and what policies does he want to pursue. All of those are complete unknowns at this moment, and that's creating a situation of anxiety.

[12:10:10] BROWN: And I want to just ask you, as we wrap this up, and we're going to touch on this later in the show, but we know that Chuck Schumer has now been - is going to be taking over Harry Reid's spot in the Senate. What kind of a dynamic do you think there will be between Trump and Chuck Schumer? They're both New Yorkers. They've said kind words about each other, some not so kind words about each other. In fact, Trump donated to Schumer from '96 to 2010. What do you think that dynamic's going to be like?

VISER: It's going to be a fascinating dynamic. I mean I think they're both also instinctively dealmakers. So to the extent that Trump talks about doing infrastructure first, I mean I think that that's something that Chuck Schumer would want to play ball on. Trump has talked about a $1 trillion infrastructure plan. Chuck Schumer is trying to get through a $275 million infrastructure plan - or billion dollar. So -

ROGIN: And Schumer is all for squeezing Iran, OK. That's going to be a big thing in the Senate next year. Chuck Schumer voted against the Iran deal. Trump has promised to reexamine, renegotiate that deal. He'll find an ally in Chuck Schumer on that front.

BROWN: Yes, it's going to be an interesting few years, to say the least. Thank you so much to you both. Really appreciate it.

ROGIN: Thank you.

VISER: Thank you.

BROWN: And, up next, Trump's huge success as a businessman helped get him elected, but once he takes office, could his international empire turn into a big problem? What will he have to do to avoid conflicts of interest? We'll be back.


[12:15:13] BROWN: Well, Donald Trump is putting away his CEO plaque on his desk for one of a much higher office and says that he'll hand over control of those many Trump businesses to his adult children. Sort of a blind trust situation while he's in office. Trump's critics, not so happy with that arrangement, shouting conflict of interests on just about everything from who's running the hotels to Trump's daughter promoting jewelry that she wore during a TV interview.

CNN Money's Cristina Alesci is in New York.

So, Cristina, Donald Trump is insisting that his business success proves he's an effective leader, but now those huge companies are proving to be something of a liability. Past presidents have avoided conflicts of interest by putting their assets into a so-called blind trust. The Trump organization is proposing something different. How so?

CRISTINA ALESCI, CNN MONEY CORRESPONDENT: Yes, very different, Pam. Trump's solution to resolve these conflicts really falls short from an ethics standpoint, and that's according to experts that I've spoken to on both sides of the aisle, Republicans and Democrats. In most cases, to your point, presidents put their assets into a blind trust. What does that mean? It means they sell all of their holdings, but the proceeds in the trust, which is, by the way, run by an independent trustee who doesn't have any connections to the family. In this case, Trump is not proposing selling any of his assets and his family's going to run the business, as far as we know. Those are the details that we had so far.

That means he will still have knowledge of all of his deals and where they are. For example, ethics experts don't like the fact that he's going to be weighing in on important foreign policy decisions in the Middle East, let's say, and at the same time his companies may be negotiating a deal with a company in that region. Look, what is really important here is that the president and the vice president are actually technically exempt from conflict of interest laws that other administration officials have to abide by. So all of this is legal.

But it is risky for a number of reasons. First, it's kind of hypocritical. Some of his own supporters have said, this is the kind of thing that they criticized Hillary Clinton for and they can't have that same dynamic with Trump. Also, although he's excluded from certain ethics law, lawyers are pointing to an obscure part of the Constitution called the emoluments clause. That says U.S. government officials cannot accept gifts from foreign countries. So that is a problem for him because the definition of a gift is broader than you would think. Foreign countries are sometimes involved in those private deals as well.

BROWN: Right. So in a situation where, you know, the Bank of China gives his business loans, how would that play into all of this?

ALESCI: That's a sticky situation, right? What does he do with that loan? This is the kind of example that ethics experts are worried about. And here's the example they say may play out. Let's say he's negotiating a deal with a company in China that is partially owned by the Chinese government. If the Chinese government, for example, gives the Trump organization any kind of sweetener to the deal, maybe better terms than they would give anyone else, or an extra bonus payment, that can open up Trump to criticism and even investigation from political opponents.

And, remember, the structure that he's proposing, handing control to his kids, does not cure this. And as far as we know, Trump will retain ownership. He's handing over control, but not ownership of the assets. And that's an important distinction.

BROWN: A lot to discuss here. Cristina Alesci, thank you so much.

Let's do a deeper dive. We have Matthew Sanderson's take on these possible conflicts of interest. Matthew is an attorney who has experience working on the presidential campaigns of Mitt Romney, Rick Perry and Rand Paul.

Earlier I had mentioned Trump's daughter showing off her line of jewelry in the TV interview. I was talking about this, Ivanka Trump wearing this bracelet that I think we're going to show on "60 Minutes" during that interview that we saw on Sunday. And then later her fine jewelry company promoted the bracelet for sale. Ten grand, by the way.

Matthew, this is one of several blurred lines that the Trump family is dealing with right now. How do you see them handling this complicated business problem that, to my knowledge, we've never seen before?

MATTHEW SANDERSON, POLITICAL LAW ATTORNEY: Yes, it's a -it's a real issue. And, initially, in the - earlier in the election cycle, the Trump campaign came out and said that they released the personal financial disclosure form of Mr. Trump, which lists all of his assets, and they said this is the - the largest ever and most tremendous personal financial disclosure that had ever been released in history.

And now that the Trump campaign - now that the campaign is over, what the Trump transition is dealing with is probably the largest ever and most tremendous thicket of conflict of interest issues, at least in recent - in the recent past. [12:20:00] BROWN: And as we heard Cristina say, handing over everything to his children doesn't necessarily solve all the problems here, right?

SANDERSON: No, because he - he would personally benefit, his net worth would increase with any government decision. Any favorable government decision that happens. So if the government of Azerbaijan decides to give one of his properties a subsidy, i the GSA decides to renegotiate a lease in his favor, there's some real thick - there's a real thicket of conflict of interest issues there for him to deal with.

BROWN: And as we just mentioned, you have guided many presidential candidates and advised them. How would you guide the Trump team right now through all of this? What's your advice to them?

SANDERSON: Well, I think it will inevitably involve selling off a number of his assets, particularly those that are more troublesome. And we mentioned a couple of times during this segment, foreign- located assets. And so those are the ones that are most troublesome. I would expect that his lawyers will advise him to at least sell off those and place the proceeds in a blind trust. He should at least do that, otherwise he's going to be dealing with the steady trickle of these types of stories throughout his presidency. And one of the things that the Trump lawyers mention so far is that there are lots of examples across the world of world leaders also holding active businesses. Well, the problem is that none of those comparables are very - are very valuable to Trump. They're detrimental to his political standing because we're talk - the examples there are dictators in post-Soviet republics. And this is not a two-bit clubtopocracy (ph). This is the United States of America. And I think Americans have come to expect that we shouldn't have to question whether a policy decision is meant to enrich our president.

BROWN: Unchartered territory in many ways. Thank you so much, Matthew Sanderson, we do appreciate it.

And up next right here in the NEWSROOM, as we wait and see who Trump taps to fill out his top administration jobs, one name already on the list continues to draw fire, especially from top Democrats, with some now demanding that Steve Bannon be fired before Trump even takes the oath.


[12:26:29] BROWN: Just a short time ago, President-elect Donald Trump's adviser and former campaign manager Kellyanne Conway spoke to reporters at Trump Tower and it sounds like people anxiously awaiting more announcements about his cabinet are going to have to wait just a little bit longer.


KELLYANNE CONWAY, TRUMP ADVISER: Obviously he's meeting with - talking to heads of state and members of - possible members of his cabinet and senior team, filling out his senior leadership team. A lot of activity going on upstairs. So I know - I know he looks forward to addressing all of you.

QUESTION: Are we expecting any names to be announced today, any positions (INAUDIBLE)?

CONWAY: I'm not sure if it will be today, but it will be soon. It's a lot to digest and putting - putting together a federal government is a big task.


CONWAY: They're all a priority to him.


BROWN: Meantime, top Democrats are expressing outrage over President- elect Trump's appointment of Steve Bannon as his chief White House strategist. The retiring Senate minority leader, Harry Reid, led that charge yesterday in a strongly worded speech against Bannon. Take a listen to that.


SEN. HARRY REID (D), SENATE MINORITY LEADER: 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. As long as the 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.


BROWN: And I'm joined now by CNN political commentator and Democratic strategist Maria Cardona, and Republican strategist Josh Holmes.

First to you, Josh. We just heard from Kellyanne Conway, don't expect to hear more cabinet announcements today, although, you know, we're all kind of anxiously awaiting for who else is going to fill those spots.


BROWN: What do you make of that?

HOLMES: Well, everyone's so anxious, right?

BROWN: Right.

HOLMES: Because this is so new. The thing about - the kind of hallmark of the entire Trump transition, this is brand new. There's an establishment of people, both Republican and Democrat, that have kind of made transitions all one way for the last 30 or 40 years and they're just not playing by those same rules. And so everybody's sort of outraged at every - at the process and the process files. But I think at this point, look, a little bit of patience. This is somebody who was elected last week and I think they're going to go through a deliberative (ph) process and find a team that can help him with his agenda as he goes forward. BROWN: Right. I mean, you know, we're all kind of - have these

expectations based on the past, but nothing about Donald Trump, the way he's handled things -

HOLMES: Right.

BROWN: Has been sort of conventional and typical.

But before I go to you, Maria, I want to ask you about my colleague Gloria Borger's reporting, that some of the people who would be involved in the Republican Party establishment figures are kind of being shunned.


BROWN: What do you make of that? How is that going to impact things as we move forward?

HOLMES: Yes, I just don't think that should be a surprise to anyone. I'm actually, frankly, surprised at the folks who spent all year criticizing Donald Trump now are somehow in line for these administration jobs. Look, they disagree with his agenda from the outset and I think he should have the opportunity to pick his own team. I think everybody thinks that no matter if you're a Republican or Democrat, whatever agenda that you've campaigned on, you should have people that believe in that agenda as you try to implement it next year.

BROWN: And I want to talk about a figure who is very controversial who, as we know, will now be a part of Trump's team in the White House, Steve Bannon. You heard Harry Reid pushing for Trump to rescind his offer. How likely is that? And what can Democrats do to sort of bridge this gap?

MARIA CARDONA, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, I don't think it's very likely for Donald Trump to rescind the offer. In fact, I think the more that Democrats and especially people like Harry Reid push on that, the less likely it is to happen, right? But I think that Reid and the Democrats and frankly Republicans as well are concerned that Bannon is there at the White House for several reasons. First of all, he is a very divisive figure.