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CNN TONIGHT

All in the Trump Family; Trump's Tangled Business Ties; Romney Refuses to Apologize; How Will Trump Handle Syrian Crisis; Aired 11p- 12a ET

Aired December 14, 2016 - 23:00   ET

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


[23:00:00] DON LEMON, CNN ANCHOR: It's the top of the hour. Thank you for joining us. Donald Trump is filling his Cabinet, but will the most powerful people in the White House be his children?

This is CNN TONIGHT. I'm Don Lemon.

Donald, Jr., Ivanka and Eric Trump all at today's meeting with tech titans at Trump Tower. Donald, Jr., helped interview candidates for Interior secretary. Eric Trump was present for at least one meeting between his father and Mitt Romney. And Ivanka Trump will reportedly take on some of the duties normally assigned to the first lady. Her husband Jared Kushner expected to have his own role in the White House.

Is there a line between the Trump family and business and the Oval Office?

I want to begin, though, right now with CNN's Phil Mattingly live for us at Trump Tower.

Phil, good evening to you. What can you tell us about this tech summit at Trump Tower today? Who was there and who wasn't?

PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, it was the titans of Silicon Valley representing Apple, Facebook, Google, pretty much you name it, they were there. And the most interesting element of it, Don, is almost all of these individuals were deeply opposed to Donald Trump during the election. Most supported and some even fundraised and gave money to Hillary Clinton.

But there is a recognition, despite their differences on a number of different issues, most notably some significant policy issues, those policy issues are now largely controlled by President-elect Trump. That's why they met today. There was not a huge amount of substances that was covered and certainly not a huge amount of burying of grievances, if you will, but there was an understanding that this is a relationship that has to work going forward, really for both parties, and this is the first of what will now be quarterly meetings going forward, Don.

Again, an understanding that whether or not the two sides like one another on some level they're going to have to work together over the next four years.

LEMON: Phil, what are you learning tonight about the role that Jared Kushner will play in a Trump White House?

MATTINGLY: Well, look, it's important to note that Jared Kushner has been one of the closest, one of the most valued advisers to the president-elect throughout the campaign process. Obviously his son- in-law, the husband of Ivanka Trump, what has been happening over the course of the last couple of weeks is lawyers and legal teams have been trying to figure out how to get Jared Kushner into the White House, trying to figure out what role he would be.

Now there's a lot of legal issues here, Don. There's Jared Kushner's own portfolio. His own business properties. But there's also anti- nepotism laws that could create problems.

Here's what we know tonight. According to sources, they are getting closer to finding that pathway. They do know that Jared Kushner will have an explicit role in the White House. He will likely have a desk in the West Wing as well. The title has not been figured out but one thing to understand here, he will continue to be one of the closest advisers to the president-elect, somebody that's by his side at all times. His portfolio still being worked out but he will be right next to Donald Trump when he goes into office on January 20th.

LEMON: Phil, another thing, there's news tonight that Trump will be in court before the inauguration.

MATTINGLY: Yes, that's exactly right. And with a seven-hour deposition and this actually all stems from a lawsuit that the president-elect brought himself. This all goes back to his D.C. hotel. Jose Andres, the celebrity, the very well-known chef, was supposed to have a restaurant in Donald Trump's hotel. He decided to pull out of that contract because of Donald Trump's remarks when he launched his campaign 16, 17 months ago.

There has been a back and forth. Donald Trump sued because of breach of contract. Because of that lawsuit Donald Trump will now have to sit just a couple of weeks before his inauguration in front of Jose Andres' lawyers under oath, deposed, taking questions for seven hours.

Now this is something Trump's lawyers agreed to before he was elected. After he was elected, they tried to either call this off altogether, at least narrow the scope, shorten the time, a judge today rejected that requests so the president-elect just shortly before he's supposed to take the oath of office will be fair game for lawyers for seven hours -- Don.

LEMON: Phil Mattingly, in front of Trump Tower, thank you very much for that.

I want to bring in now "Vanity Fair's" Emily Jane Fox and CNN political -- politics executive editor Mark Preston.

I should know that by heart now since you're on all the time. You're like my co-anchor. Good evening. How are you guys doing?

MARK PRESTON, CNN POLITICS EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR: Good evening. LEMON: Let's talk about this. All three of the children were at this

tech summit today. Donald, Jr. helped vet apparently, interview the Interior secretary position candidate. Eric Trump was present for at least one of the meetings with Mitt Romney. Is this too close for comfort, do you think?

PRESTON: You know, I don't actually have an issue with the family being involved in giving him counsel. My issue is that the family is involved in giving him counsel at the same time that they're running --

LEMON: The businesses.

PRESTON: Their businesses. Now, and CNN Money did a breakdown and I believe that Donald Trump has business or ties with 500 different companies, and of those 150 have done business in 25 foreign countries.

That's the issue. Jared Kushner providing help to his father-in-law is not the issue. Jared Kushner running his company at the same time having a desk, as Phil tells us, inside the West Wing, that's an issue.

LEMON: That's an issue. And there is precedent for criticizing a president for having his family in charge of -- a family member in charge of important policy.

PRESTON: Right.

LEMON: Remind us of Bill and Hillary Clinton.

PRESTON: Yes. Hillary Clinton did health care back in 1993. She was -- or in '93 into '94 and was killed for it and quite frankly she had to carry that albatross all the way up through her Senate campaign in her first run for the presidency.

[23:05:04] So there is precedent for it. I mean, you go back to LBJ, for god's sakes, and even before that where we've always had family members involved.

LEMON: Yes. We learned today, Emily, that -- from the transition team that Ivanka Trump, they're planning to have an office in the East Wing of the White House apparently to work with the incoming president. Her role is going to be, at least, one would assume, sort of the role as first lady as Melania stays in New York. Correct?

EMILY JANE FOX, VANITY FAIR: I don't know that I would necessarily call it the role of the first lady. I think this is going to be an unprecedented role for a first daughter. I think she wants to play a real policy position, whether that's supporting women's issues, as we've learned. She's also interested in climate change as well.

I don't know that's necessarily the traditional first lady role. I don't think that that role will be filled because I don't think we will have the traditional president as well, so I think her role is still being figured out. I think she's still has a lot to decide on. I think that there's nothing certain.

From my sources she's still figuring out how to unwind from her own business, how to unwind from the Trump Organization and I think she really has no idea what she'll play --

LEMON: But traditionally we would be talking what about the first lady's role will be, how they're going to impact -- you know, impact the upcoming administration and we're not doing that. We're talking about the daughter this time.

FOX: Sure. I think we still need to figure out what Melania's role is going to be. Sure, she's going to stay through at least June, but she still is the first lady.

LEMON: Yes.

FOX: She's not abdicating that role by just staying in New York.

LEMON: So what about -- how does Ivanka -- what about her own businesses? How does she avoid conflicts of interest here? If she is working -- you know, because she has her own business. Her brothers are, you know, going to be running her father's business. How does she avoid conflicts of interest if she's working for the administration?

FOX: I think it's the same way that all of the Trumps avoid conflict of interest, and there's really only one way to avoid true conflicts of interest, and that's to divest from the businesses. Anything else is kind of mental gymnastics, figuring out how can I avoid the appearance of conflict of interest, how can I skirt this criticism, how can I skirt that criticism. But unless you fully sell off your assets, you're still going to have conflicting interests.

LEMON: Do you think a Republican-led Congress is going -- because that's really -- the American people will be the watchdog. But the people who had the power to change things and make a difference and hold his feet to the fire will be Congress. It's a Republican-led Congress.

PRESTON: Right.

LEMON: Do you think that they're going to be able to do that between administration, Trump Organization and the children?

PRESTON: I think there's an incredible amount of pressure on the Republican-led Congress to keep a really close eye on Donald Trump, decisions that he makes as president, rules that he may repeal and how they may affect his businesses. Meetings his children may have and what their involvement is with their father in the West Wing and meetings that they're having as well.

The problem is, is that Democrats don't have any power at all in Washington. Zero power. Subpoena power is in the hands of the Republican-led Senate and Republican-led House of Representatives. You know, it remains to be seen whether they'll use that. Now we do know on the issue of Russia, they have decided --

Republicans have decided to go forward and said they're going to really look into the election hacking and, you know, much to the chagrin, I think, of Donald Trump and his advisers, but there's going to be an incredible amount of pressure for them to stay on Donald Trump if they do see issues of problems arising.

LEMON: Emily, when Ivanka Trump first sat in the meeting with her dad and Shinzo Abe, which is the prime minister of Japan, after the election, I think some people just said I'll give him the benefit of the doubt, they're trying to figure this out. But then sitting in on today's meeting one would wonder, how long does that benefit of the doubt last?

FOX: Well, Donald Trump always gets the benefit of the doubt way longer than anyone else would normally get the benefit of the doubt but the things is, with the Trump kids is they've always sat in on meeting with their father. Since they were children they've been following him around to construction sites.

LEMON: But Dad wasn't president-elect, though.

FOX: I'm not saying this is right. They -- sources close to the family, initially when they first have them in the meetings with foreign officials said to me, look, they're transitioning out of this. This is what they've always done. Give them some time to figure out the role. To me, time is up. It's been almost what? Six weeks since the election? You pretty much have it figured by now. I think this is going to continue. This is the way that they've always done business and I don't see a reason for them to change. Nothing seems to stick.

LEMON: Do you think they're pushing the envelope to see just how much the American people and the Congress will accept come January 20th?

PRESTON: I don't think they care. I mean --

FOX: But that's like --

(CROSSTALK)

PRESTON: I mean, I just don't think care --

LEMON: You said it more directly than I did. Because that's how --

PRESTON: No, no. I mean, I don't. I think they think that they won, which they did, and, you know, the keys to the White House are going to be handed over to them. And the keys to power and --

LEMON: But that doesn't matter. They still work for the American people and --

PRESTON: No doubt. I'm not saying they're doing in an arrogant way. I think they're doing it in the way --

LEMON: Yes. They are. PRESTON: I'm not saying they're doing it in an arrogant way.

LEMON: Well, it doesn't matter.

PRESTON: What I'm saying is that --

LEMON: If they cared they would answer to it, he would hold a press conference.

PRESTON: Right.

LEMON: If they actually cared they would -- I always tell people when they say, I'm sorry, I didn't mean to hurt you.

PRESTON: Right.

LEMON: The way to do it is not to do it. Right?

PRESTON: Well --

LEMON: If you actually cared about what the American people thought, you cared about precedent, you wouldn't do it.

PRESTON: But I don't think (INAUDIBLE) different, though.

FOX: I think also a lot of Americans do not care about this.

[23:10:03] They have a lot more pressing things to worry about than whether or not the Trump children are sitting in meetings.

LEMON: Now. They don't care about it now.

FOX: Right. So why stop now?

LEMON: But they may in the future if there's a conflict of interest.

PRESTON: Huge.

FOX: Could be.

LEMON: OK. So let's just say that there is some foreign territory, some foreign land.

PRESTON: Right.

LEMON: Donald Trump is building a golf course, Donald Trump is building a hotel.

PRESTON: Right.

LEMON: His corporation or his company while he is president of the United States.

PRESTON: Right.

LEMON: Someone picks up the phone, Eric, hey, you remember that guy that we met, the -- you know, the Chinese guy or whatever that --

PRESTON: Right.

LEMON: Who led this such and such. How do I get in touch with him? That is a clear conflict of interest and can happen very easily when you have all these business interests around the world.

PRESTON: Let me make it even simpler to the point of the kids being in the meeting today. They grew up with their father at his office, you know, when he was building projects and what have you. You've got to assume whenever they sit down at the dinner table they're talking business, so no matter what, the mental gymnastics, you know, that was brought up earlier and I totally agree that's all it is because they're going to sit around the table and they're still going to talk about business.

LEMON: Yes.

PRESTON: That's what they know.

FOX: I think that until the American people en masse speak up and say, this is really crossing the line, they're going to keep doing it. Why should they have to change?

LEMON: But to your point, though, the American people, I mean, you know, they have better things to deal with or bigger things in their lives to deal with, like putting food on the table, getting kids to school.

PRESTON: Right.

LEMON: Waking up and taking care of their job. But then all of a sudden, fast forward down the road, they're going to -- they may eventually say, why didn't we know about this? What happened? How did you -- what happened to that conflict of interest? They may not be paying attention now, which is our role to make them pay attention.

PRESTON: Right.

FOX: Exactly.

LEMON: But -- I mean, our role to give it but it's not our role to make them pay attention, so then what? Then what? Shouldn't --

PRESTON: I mean, I think you cross that bridge when you get to it.

LEMON: This could all be easily avoided.

PRESTON: But it is our role to continue to raise concerns about it and I do think we have to give them the benefit of the doubt that they won't do it. I mean, look, I don't think that the Trump folks are evil but like, you know, the whole idea is trust but verify. The whole idea is that you just keep an eagle eye on it and make sure that they don't do anything that's wrong.

(CROSSTALK) LEMON: Not by -- yes, of course, but if it was the Clintons, if it was the Sanders, if it was the Romneys, if it -- no matter who's in the White House.

PRESTON: Right. We would do the same thing.

LEMON: The conflicts of interest should be -- we should be looking at conflicts of interest.

PRESTON: Absolutely.

FOX: Sure. The Trumps just get a longer leash and they always do.

LEMON: Yes. So we'll see. Thank you, appreciate it.

When we come right back, blurred lines. Will Donald Trump draw a line between his business and the White House? More on that.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[23:16:21] LEMON: President-elect Donald Trump insisting that he'll leave his businesses before inauguration day and that his sons, Don and Eric, will take over, but does that answer questions about potential conflicts of interest or raise even more?

Here to discuss, CNN commentators Sally Kohn, Peter Beinart, Paris Dennard, and John Philips.

Good evening, everyone. Thank you for joining us. John, I'm going to start with you.

Donald Trump's sons, Donald, Jr. and Eric, appear to be actively involved in the transition efforts. They have sat in on candidate meetings, vetting candidate picks. Trump has said that he will have his sons manage his company.

How are the boys still working on transition efforts, then?

JOHN PHILIPS, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, it's two separate entities. They're going to be running the company, and I don't know why you're so convinced that Donald is going to listen to his kids. I bark orders at my parents all the time. We still haven't built that guitar-shaped swimming pool I've been looking for. But every time you open up the newspaper it's someone else that's controlling Donald Trump.

Today in the "Washington Post" they said that Joe Scarborough and Mika Brzezinski were controlling him. You read that he's a puppet of Vladimir Putin. You read that Condoleezza Rice is picking his foreign policy team. Now it's the kids.

Donald Trump seems to be a guy that takes a lot of counsel, a lot of advice from a lot of people, and he does what he's going to do.

LEMON: I would say that it would make -- listen, if my parents -- if my dad was president-elect, I might think differently about asking them for a guitar-shaped swimming pool, so --

(LAUGHTER)

SALLY KOHN, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well now I want one.

LEMON: I don't see the parity there but it was an interesting comparison.

KOHN: It sure worked to trivialize the entire conversation. Good job.

LEMON: But this is -- but it's very serious, Sally.

KOHN: Yes, I mean, that's the whole point. We're not talking about swimming pools. We're not talking about, you know, he gets to sort of sit there and talk about what he wants for Christmas. Right?

This is very simple, you're right. They are two separate entities in theory. Trump's businesses and Trump's role as president of the United States and leader of the free world. Now if he said he's going to separate these things and his sons are going to run the business, then it would suggest his sons should not be involved in setting up and deciding how he's going to run his presidency.

If you're going to have a firewall, you have to make a firewall. And it's -- I think it's pretty clear why he delayed the press conference he was supposed to have this week to announce that his sons are going to take over his business because he was going to suggest there's a firewall but obviously doesn't exist.

LEMON: And let me -- I just want to -- look, I just want to do something here, just a little experiment. I'm going to read my first question again. Roll that back in the prompter and then I'm just going to change the names here. So I will say to John Philips. So, John.

PHILIPS: Yes.

LEMON: Hillary Clinton's daughter Chelsea Clinton appeared to be actively involved in the transition efforts. She has sat in on candidate meetings and vetted candidate picks. Clinton has said she will have her daughter manage her company, manage the Clinton Foundation and still working on the transition efforts. How is that going to play out?

PHILIPS: Chelsea was deeply involved in the Clintons' operations the whole way through. She was involved with the Clinton Foundation. She was involved in their various campaigns. She's --

LEMON: Her parents weren't president at the time.

PHILIPS: Well, they were -- she was a U.S. senator at one point and she was the secretary of State at one point.

(LAUGHTER) LEMON: You're not answering my questions. You're not answering my question. It was just a little experiment. I just wanted to put that out there but go on.

PETER BEINART, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: I mean --

LEMON: Go on, I'm sorry.

BEINART: The Republican Party would be talking about impeachment right now. I mean, let's be honest about this. Right? If the Clintons were doing this, the Republican Party would be talking about impeachment.

[23:20:00] Our system of government is based on the idea that people in power are not angels and that power corrupts. That's why our founders were so concerned about corruption. Many of the articles in the Constitution are actually designed to try to prevent -- it's why we have this precedent for decades and decades now that you have to put your money in a blind trust because we know that power corrupts, and we are supposed to believe that of all people the Trumps are immune from the very corruption that our entire system assumes people will fall prey to?

LEMON: Yes. Paris, you were saying that's not true, you don't believe it's true, that things would be different if it's the Clintons?

PARIS DENNARD, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: No, listen, I think everyone needs to take a breath, calm down, it will be OK. Look, at the end of the day --

(LAUGHTER)

LEMON: I don't see anyone as upset here, we're just discussing --

DENNARD: Yes, but I mean --

KOHN: I'm upset.

LEMON: You're upset?

DENNARD: She's upset. Listen, he's the president-elect. He has not put his hand on the bible and been sworn in as the president so until then he can -- look, his pick for secretary of State is still the CEO of Exxon. And so is that a conflict of interest? He says --

KOHN: Yes, actually. Yes, actually.

DENNARD: He said --

(CROSSTALK)

LEMON: People would say it is, Paris.

DENNARD: He said -- well no, he said he will step down at the end of the year after he is -- before he is sworn in. KOHN: And keep his stock interest in Russian oil contracts?

LEMON: Paris, hold on. You know you can still be a Trump supporter and disagree with some of his policies and some of the things that he's doing, right? You understand that?

DENNARD: Thank you for that enlightening fact, Don. I do know that. But to your point about Secretary Clinton and Chelsea Clinton, I didn't have a problem with that. If she had won the election and Chelsea was still there advising her just like Huma has been advising her who is just as close to her as a daughter I would not have a problem with it, because you should surround yourself with people that you know, that you trust.

Now here's the point that you're going to like, Don. If in fact the president-elect puts his hand on the bible and becomes the president, when that happens and his children are still actively involved in their companies, they have not divested and have not separated themselves and are still in the West Wing, and still doing things of that nature, that would be a problem, but I have every bit of confidence to believe that they are going to -- if they're going to serve in the White House as employees, separate themselves just like anybody else would have to do.

(CROSSTALK)

LEMON: Can we get a round of applause for Paris, please? Thank you very much.

KOHN: I do but they --

LEMON: Go on.

BEINART: They don't need to be employees of the government for this to be a problem. Right? You cannot be employees -- if you're sitting in as we know Donald Trump Jr. was on the choices for Interior secretary even if you're not an employee, you are very intimately involved in important ways with the managing and decision-making of government and you have every incentive therefore to think, huh, well, how could my business benefit from certain things the government would do?

KOHN: And we've already seen evidence of Donald Trump --

DENNARD: Really? We're talking about hotels.

KOHN: We've only seen evidence of Donald Trump bringing up some of his business, and meddling -- co-mingling his business interests with his newfound role in government. We've already seen it. And now we're seeing him appointing. It's not just him. He's appointing people --

LEMON: But Paris, also, quite honestly, it's a little bit more serious. I heard Paris say it's -- it's a little bit more serious than that, especially when you know the secrets of the world. It's a little bit -- it's a lot more serious than just hotels. DENNARD: I promise you Eric Trump does not know the secrets of the

world. I promise you his daughter Ivanka Trump does not know the secrets --

PHILIPS: But I think it is --

LEMON: How do you know that? Are you in on those meetings?

DENNARD: No, I'm not in on those meetings but I'll tell you they don't know the secrets of the world.

KOHN: Oh, OK.

DENNARD: It's because they don't have the appropriate clearances to know that.

KOHN: I'm sorry, but does anyone really not think Donald Trump is not going to try to just make money off the presidency?

PHILIPS: The nature of the industry is important, too.

KOHN: Like -- just straightforward. Maybe he has the best interest of the American people at heart but he has shown, number one, he has his own interest at heart. And number one, he is a businessman and he --

DENNARD: When you're worth $10 billion -- no, hold on.

KOHN: And he wants to do well out of this job.

DENNARD: Let me stop you right there. When you're worth $10 billion, you're not trying to make money off the presidency.

LEMON: But we're not sure how much he's worth.

KOHN: We don't know that actually.

DENNARD: He already said --

LEMON: We're not sure how much he's worth, Paris. Come on.

DENNARD: When you're worth -- OK, that's fine, Don. When you're worth a billion dollars, let's give him that.

LEMON: OK.

DENNARD: You're not trying to make money off the presidency. When you gave $66 million of your own money to run this campaign, you're not trying to make money off the government. When you already said that I'm not going to take a salary, that shows you he's not going to try to make money off being the president.

PHILIPS: Don --

DENNARD: What we do know -- what we do know is that President Obama and other presidents do make money after they -- they become millionaires. That happens. But that's not Donald Trump's --

(CROSSTALK)

LEMON: Hold on. But that's not the purpose of this conversation. Yes, presidents do make money.

DENNARD: Exactly.

LEMON: They make money off books and other things, and we have said on this show, I don't think anyone had a problem for getting credit for a show he produced or helped create. That's fine, I don't understand the comparison.

BEINART: I mean, the people who actually do these ethics jobs for a living, like Richard Painter, who was the ethics -- kind of the ethics czar for the Bush administration.

DENNARD: I know Richard Painter very well. Right.

BEINART: Right? Say this is an extremely big problem, potentially a violation of the Emoluments Clause of the Constitution because you're not allowed to take foreign gifts from another country without the consent of Congress, and when people are staying in your hotel in order to curry favor with the government because they want something from the government, that is essentially a foreign gift.

[23:25:06] So you guys may say that there's no problem here but the people who actually do this for a living in your own party think it's a problem.

LEMON: I promise you John Philips will get to weigh in after this break.

PHILIPS: All right.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

LEMON: Back with Sally Kohn, Peter Beinart, Paris Dennard, and John Philips.

So, John, I promised that you would get to weigh in on the whole conflict of interest thing. Go.

(LAUGHTER)

PHILIPS: Yes. I want to piggyback on the point that Paris made earlier, which is, we're talking about the hotel industry here. He's not working in some clandestine industry. He's putting up big gaudy hotels with his name written all over the top of it in gold. If he's doing something shady it's going to be obvious for the world to see in crackerjack report --

(CROSSTALK)

LEMON: But that's what he's doing now, but what about the future? That's another thing. PHILIPS: Well --

LEMON: Maybe they're setting themselves up for something else in the future which is what this whole thing is about avoiding that.

PHILIPS: If he does something shady he'll get killed by the papers and he'd be -- he deserved to be killed by the papers.

LEMON: Then they'll say it's straight news.

BEINART: Except you'll come on -- except that you'll come on and defend him.

KOHN: Yes.

(LAUGHTER)

KOHN: I mean, it's like -- I like this, we should just trust in Trump. That's great. Just trust our dear leader. I'm sure he has --

PHILIPS: Oh, the media is not going to give him a pass.

(CROSSTALK)

KOHN: Your people aren't going to listen to the media. He spent a year getting people to not listen to the media so you're right, it won't matter.

(CROSSTALK)

[23:30:02] DENNARD: But you know what, at the end of the day, the American people trusted him --

LEMON: You know you can disagree with what Donald Trump is doing and still be a supporter, right?

KOHN: Oh boy.

PHILIPS: I'm sorry, I didn't hear it.

(LAUGHTER)

DENNARD: The American people trusted him and they voted for him, that's why he's the president-elect.

LEMON: Listen. We're not denying that, we're just -- I mean, it's obvious to point out that there should be some concerns about his businesses and government and where does one draw the line. That's all this is. And as an American citizen, Democrat or Republican, Donald Trump supporter or not, you should have the same concerns. No, Paris?

DENNARD: I don't have the same concerns because I think you're all making a big deal out of nothing.

LEMON: Oh, my gosh. DENNARD: There's no evidence that he's going to do this when that

he's going to do this.

LEMON: And there's no evidence that he's not going to do this.

(CROSSTALK)

DENNARD: So why not have a little faith in the system? Let's have faith to believe that this man is going to do the right thing.

BEINART: Our political system is not based --

LEMON: You didn't just say that.

BEINART: Our political system is not based on faith in the goodness of our leaders. It's based on the idea --

DENNARD: Then let's base it on fact. Let's base it on fact.

(CROSSTALK)

DENNARD: Let's base it on fact and you have none of them.

KOHN: But there are facts. There are facts that he met with Indian businessmen --

LEMON: OK. That's fine. Let's base it on facts. Go ahead, Sally.

KOHN: There are facts that he has been having business meetings since becoming president -- since becoming president-elect. I don't want to rush it. There is evidence that he was using some of his foreign calls with world leaders to talk about some of his business interests, that has been reported. So there is in fact facts that you're choosing to ignore.

DENNARD: No.

KOHN: Because you want us to just assume that Donald Trump, who has always looked out for Donald Trump and his bottom line for his entire career, is now suddenly not going to do that at all. Again, we don't owe him the benefit of the doubt, he has to earn it and he hasn't done a single thing to suggest that he's worried about the optics or the reality of entangling his business interests with his job as president. He hasn't done a thing.

PHILIPS: This is why there's a separation of powers, and this is why if he does something bad, if he does something illegal, Congress has the power to investigate him and they will.

LEMON: That's the whole -- that's the whole crux of this conversation.

KOHN: That's it?

LEMON: That's what we've been talking about.

BEINART: Right.

PHILIPS: He's not even president yet.

(CROSSTALK)

LEMON: You know -- Sally just said, I don't want to rush things. He's president. He's not the sitting president now but he was elected president of the United States, he will be president of the United States. So let's get over the semantics thing. And it's not what he's going to do once he's president, all the indications as to what he's doing now, that should be an indication of what he's going to do in the future. That's all we're saying.

DENNARD: No, that's not.

LEMON: It's not? OK. So we shouldn't believe what he's doing now. It's --

PHILIPS: Well, if he does something illegal Congress will do what Congress does. And that's --

(CROSSTALK)

DENNARD: There's a reason why there's a grace period, if you will, before our president becomes president of the United States so they can get their finances in order.

KOHN: I'm just curious.

DENNARD: They can do things --

KOHN: If he put his sons in charge of his businesses which he has said he is apparently going to do and after, after he's inaugurated he had a meeting, say, with the tech industry and his sons were in that meeting as they were today, they're supposed to be involved -- they're supposed to be on the business side, not the governing side, but if on January 22nd, President Trump has that meeting, and his two sons are at the meeting who are supposed to be on the business side, are you going to have a problem with that?

DENNARD: No, because Mr. Trump is not benefitting from the fact that he's divested.

LEMON: All right.

DENNARD: He's no longer involved in it.

KOHN: OK.

LEMON: There you go.

KOHN: So -- but they can just --

(CROSSTALK)

LEMON: Sally, Sally, it's a brick wall. DENNARD: You don't understand how the White House works. People come

there all the time for meetings like this who have their own personal interests at the table.

KOHN: You know, even Dick Cheney kept it quiet. He at least kept it secret.

LEMON: This is supposed to be different, remember? This is supposed to be different. Draining the swamp. Let's move on.

KOHN: No, we're building the swamp. We are building the swamp.

LEMON: Let's move on. And you know what, Paris, I'm going to start with you on this one.

DENNARD: Sure.

LEMON: We watched, all of us, with fascination that dinner in New York City right close to where we are now between the President-elect Trump and Mitt Romney and Reince Priebus, however CNN learned that Trump wanted Romney to say publicly that he was wrong about Trump but Romney declined and the secretary of State nomination of course you know went to Rex Tillerson. What do you think?

DENNARD: Listen, I was live on television when that was going on, on this network, and I believe that -- I said it then and I believe it now that Governor Romney needed to apologize for what he did and what he said because I think it was not passing the loyalty test. It wasn't -- it sort of seems like he was just being a political opportunist if you really want my opinion and he wasn't being true to himself. And trying to do --

(CROSSTALK)

LEMON: And do you remember, Paris, I asked you, I said if other people didn't have to apologize because there were other people who hit him really hard as well, including Chris Christie who was up on the stage, Marco Rubio, and a number of people -- a number of supporters, Marco Rubio is not a big supporter now, but a number of people who support him now hit him really hard during the primary. Why would Mitt Romney -- you remember I asked you -- I think it was you -- that question? Why would he have to apologize and not others?

DENNARD: Because the difference between a Governor Perry and a Governor Christie is the fact they came out to support him and they actually went on the campaign trail in support of his candidacy. Governor Romney never did that. He criticized him. Held multiple press conferences talking bad about him on national television before the national audience and then wanted to become secretary of State.

LEMON: His campaign manager did the same thing, criticized him as well before becoming his campaign manager.

DENNARD: But the point is after that she became his campaign manager and supported him publicly. [23:35:05] Governor Romney never had a time frame where he actually

came out and said, you know what, I support him, he should be the president, he is qualified. He never did that. He criticized him and then said I want to be secretary of State or was considered for secretary of State and I think he needed to apologize and set the record straight because he never came out and supported him and said this man is someone I believe in.

BEINART: I'm sorry. I thought that we were supposed to choose secretaries of State based on who would do the best job as secretary of State, not whether someone is willing to publicly humiliate themselves for the cardinal sin of having criticized Donald Trump. Right? Mitt Romney didn't criticize Donald Trump because it was going to help him politically. It actually caused him a lot of problems.

LEMON: And Hillary Clinton never criticized Barack Obama -- wait, and she became his secretary of State.

BEINART: Right. Right. So, I mean, to me --

DENNARD: Then she came out in support of him, though.

BEINART: To me what we learn about this is that it makes it more likely this was simply an exercise by Donald Trump in trying to humiliate someone who'd been a political opponent rather than a serious am examination of whether Romney would have been the best secretary of State.

DENNARD: That's not true.

KOHN: No, I mean, literally the picture shows Donald Trump with this big grimace on his smile as Romney almost looks like he has to kiss the ring. There were two points to it, let's be honest, one was to humiliate Romney, period. And I've heard this, by the way, from credible sources inside Trump Tower as well. And the second, however, was also to sort of do this optical appearances of we're going to look kind of like we're doing moderate sorts of things.

We have Al Gore come in, we meet with Romney and so we maintain -- people have actually cited this, Trump people have cited this to say, look, but he -- you know, he's not going to be so bad on the environment, he met with Gore, he's considered Romney for secretary of State but what matters with Trump is not what he says, is not who he meets with, it's what he actually does so then he puts in someone who doesn't believe in the EPA to run the EPA. He puts in an oil executive to run our foreign policy, to run our diplomacy worldwide. So -- but he tries to sort of make it not look so bad by parading Romney around.

LEMON: I'm going to like trademark Paris's logic. I love that, Paris.

(LAUGHTER)

LEMON: Paris, I love having you on the show, love the conversation, thank you. DENNARD: Any time, my friend.

LEMON: Thank you, Paris. Thank you, John. Thank you, Peter. Thank you, Sally. I appreciate it.

When we come right back, how will Donald Trump change our policy in Syria and will it do anything to stop the carnage?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[23:41:05] LEMON: One of the biggest challenges President Donald Trump will face is Syria. The Syrian regime forces have been making a brutal push to reclaim Aleppo from rebel forces who have held the city for the last four years but as the fighting rages, multiple reports accuse pro-government forces of carrying out mass executions. CNN has not been able to independently verify reports of executions.

Let's discuss now, though, with Rula Jebreal, professor of international relations at American University of Rome, and CNN contributor Michael Weiss, the co-author of "ISIS: Inside the Army of Terror."

Such an important conversation. I'm so glad you both are here to discuss.

Rula, I'm going to start with you because you are just back from the Syria-Lebanon border. What did you see there?

RULA JEBREAL, PROFESSOR OF INTERNATIONAL RELATIONS, AMERICAN UNIVERSITY OF ROME: Well, every refugee I interviewed -- and I was there on behalf of the American University of Rome trying to recruit students, actually Syrian refugees to bring and give scholarships here, and every story, every man, woman, child who ever managed to be in touch with somebody from Aleppo the story they told us were horrifying stories of mass murder, of basically rape, mass rape, of rape campaigns, of women committing suicide to actually -- they choose suicide over rape. They don't want to be raped so they kill themselves.

They talk about barrel bombs. People burned in their own homes. They talk about the regime actually have already won the war and have already won every military operation yet they want to destroy -- total destruction of Aleppo.

What we are seeing under our eyes, what's taking place is a modern genocide. It's actually another Bosnia, it's another Rwanda where the world promised never again and yet here we are. They are emboldened, the Russians and the Syrians together with the help of the Iranian militia because they feel that the world doesn't care, basically. They feel the president of the United States doesn't have this as a priority. The president-elect -- I'm talking about Donald Trump something happened since his election. These forces have been emboldened. They feel they have free reign to do whatever they want and there will not be any accountability.

LEMON: Yes. What was the sigh for, Michael? MICHAEL WEISS, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: I'm sorry, say again, Don?

LEMON: I said what was the sigh for when she said the president-elect -- this is not a priority. This has changed.

WEISS: Well, I don't know that I did sigh about that. I mean, I'm sighing in general because everything Rula says -- I mean, I have been reporting for five years and then some. I mean, I've described Syria as a modern day holocaust. I was on the show last night describing what eyewitnesses on the ground have been saying and what the U.N. has confirmed, the murder of 85 civilians at the hands -- and this is the important distinction.

We talk about the Assad regime or the Syrian Arab army. In truth there is very little left of the Assad regime. This is a proxy war being fought chiefly by Iran and Iranian built militias on the ground including imported Afghan and Pakistani Shia death squads, including Iraqi Shia militias that are technically now part of the Iraqi State Security establishment that is said to be an ally and treated as an ally by the United States. These are the guys shooting women and children dead in the streets under the cover of Russian air power.

Now we can have a conversation about what Donald Trump purports to do about this. There has been one consistent thread that has gone throughout his candidacy for president and now throughout this rather tumultuous transitional period and that is everybody seems to be pointing to top Cabinet -- national security posts are very hawkish when it comes to Iran. Mike Flynn has called for regime change for all Islamic republics, first among equals Iran in his latest book. Jim Mattis has said as recently as April that he considers the Islamic Republic of Iran to be a more direct and long-term threat to the United States and regional security than he does ISIS or al Qaeda.

But here's the contradiction or the paradox. Trump's avowed tropism toward Moscow, his pro-Putin leanings, his appointment of a secretary of State who's the recipient of an Order of Friendship Award handed to him directly by Vladimir Putin.

[23:45:09] You cannot be both pro-Putin and anti-Iran, least of all in Syria because the mullahs and the Chekists of Russia and the Party of God, Lebanon's Hezbollah, are completely united and strategically aligned when it comes to propping up Assad. And not just propping up Assad but doing so at the expense of U.S. interests and doing so to the annihilation of whatever remains of the Free Syrian Army and U.S.- backed proxy group.

This is not a campaign being waged in Syria against the Islamic State. Assad came out two days ago and said, you know what, I don't even care about ISIS in Raqqa. Let the Americans deal with that. He's effectively forfeited or ceded one-third of his country away. He doesn't care about it anymore.

LEMON: Yes.

WEISS: This is only about the heartland of Syria. Aleppo is or was until this campaign of extermination got under way, Syria's most populist city. If you ever thought about 50,000 to 80,000 people still trapped, and there's a second round, another ceasefire being put into effect that got --

(CROSSTALK)

LEMON: I want to talk about that ceasefire. I want to talk about that ceasefire because, Rula, again, you just got back. And I wonder if you can answer this question because Michael reported last night what you were saying about the rapes and the suicides but also that a ceasefire would collapse and it collapsed less than a day into the ceasefire.

Who is responsible for this collapse?

JEBREAL: Absolutely the Syrian forces. I actually believe that what the refugees have been telling us, the Shabiha, which is Assad's militia that he assembled, not only his army, his -- anybody that would carry weapons they allowed them to carry weapons and basically carry mass execution and exterminate whoever is not Alawite, whoever is not pro-regime.

What we are seeing, Don, and I hope the world is aware of what we are witnessing and seeing. This is a total meltdown of humanity taking place. There's nowhere to be safe for any Syrian civilian. If you're in Aleppo, then according to the regime, you're pro-terrorist. Remember ISIS and al Qaeda in Syria has been members of ISIS al Qaeda in 2011 when I went there for the first time and I covered the war.

It was a peaceful protest that started where people demanded democracy, dignity, bread, social justice, political reform and then he crushed them from day one. While he was crushing the pro- activists, you know, the people who are demanding the reforms, he was releasing from the jail actually real jihadists. He was already accused by our intelligence, by the United States intelligence of releasing these kind of jihadists already in 2003 and sending them to Iraq to fight against the Americans at the highest of the war.

He starts releasing them again in 2011. Basically he released (INAUDIBLE), he released the people that founded Al Nusra Front, the sister of al Qaeda, some people became ISIS commanders because for him he wanted to equate everybody who's fighting in Syria, who's protesting in Syria as a terrorist.

LEMON: Yes.

JEBREAL: The first victim of this regime was a boy. His name was Hassan al-Qatib. He was 13 years old, he was arrested in Dara'a, in a city.

LEMON: Yes.

JEBREAL: And then tortured, basically shot with three bullets, and sent back to his home.

LEMON: And Rula -- JEBREAL: His father was arrested and was forced to sign an agreement

that actually jihadists were the people who killed him. Jihadists in Syria where --

(CROSSTALK)

LEMON: Rula, I've got to get to the break. Can you hold your thought? I've got to get to the break.

JEBREAL: Where Assad strategy -- yes.

LEMON: I'll be right back. We'll continue on the other side. We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[23:52:37] LEMON: Back now with Rula Jebreal and Michael Weiss. Sorry, I had to get to the break there. But, Michael, I've been wanting to ask you this. Is this President Obama's Rwanda?

WEISS: Absolutely, it is his Rwanda. I saw him quoted today as saying, well, my Syria policy hasn't been flawless. That is actually an insult to the definition of the word euphemism.

This is a guy for all of his intelligence and I think for all of his moral wisdom when it comes to many other aspects of domestic policy and social policy really did drop the ball on Syria. And he did it because -- well, for a variety of reasons. Number one, I think he rightly so was wary of getting the United States bogged down in another Iraq-style occupation or intervention, but I and others have argued that, look, Syria was not revolution at the end of the bayonet.

It was, as Rula said, a peaceful protest movement summarily suppressed by a fascistic regime backed by other fascistic regimes, and Assad is the only dictator, not even Saddam Hussein used chemical weapons in his own capital city. That's what Bashar al-Assad did in 2013. Violating Obama's own imposed red line.

LEMON: Right.

WEISS: Which rather than enforcing he then went and cut a deal with Putin, thus giving new legitimacy to Assad.

This is his Rwanda, it's his Sarajevo. And look, there's another component to this, too. We have to take into account the geopolitics. Term two for this administration was about one thing, and the Syrian foreign policy. That was getting a deal with Iran over its nuclear program. One could also argue, a rider to that deal, was a creeping rapprochement with Iran, bring the mullahs in from the cold and we'll create equilibrium in the region.

Obama has described this as respecting Iranian equities as he puts it in Syria. Well, Iranian equities in Syria are now killing women and children on the streets of Aleppo. So it's very hard for me to exonerate this president and say, well, there was nothing that could have been done. Because there was actually plenty he could have done. LEMON: I have to ask -- Rula, I have to ask you the same question.

Is this President Obama's Rwanda?

JEBREAL: This is the -- I think this is a scar on President Obama's legacy, but this is about all of us. I mean, there is a responsibility of the international community to protect civilians. There's actually a United Nations resolution. This is about all of us who must demand that this carnage must end. This must stop. And the regime has already won and the fact that they are actually already escalating even more after basically they won everything and they want to crush Aleppo, because basically they want to send a message, never question the regime, never challenge the regime, never ask reform.

[23:55:17] But who's the winners here? I mean, if we look at the winners, this is a failure not only of the international community, of all of us because al Qaeda and every jihadist group will use Syria as an example to tell young, desperate Muslims around the world, you see, democracy doesn't work. Peaceful protest doesn't work. Only violence work. And, you know what, Assad will go down in history as the monster of the century, actually as worse than any other tyrant.

LEMON: And that's it, Rula.

JEBREAL: He will go down in history as the butcher of the century.

LEMON: Yes. I have to go. It is unbelievable to see, and especially if you look at the pictures of Aleppo, and as you said a scar on the Obama presidency. We'll continue to discuss more of that.

Thank you, Michael Weiss. Thank you, Rula Jebreal. I appreciate it.

That's it for us tonight. Thanks for watching. I'll see you right back here tomorrow.

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