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AT THIS HOUR WITH BERMAN AND MICHAELA
Trump White House Won't Pursue Clinton Prosecution; Report: Trump Charity Admits To Violating "Self-Dealing" Ban; Trump's Biz Ties Pose Unprecedented Ethical Questions; At Least Five Children Killed: School Bus Driver Charged; White Supremacist Leader: "Hail Trump! Hail Victory!" Aired 11-11:30a ET
Aired November 22, 2016 - 11:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
CAROL COSTELLO, CNN ANCHOR: -- yes. I'm going to be drinking a lot. Coy Wire, thanks so much. And thank you for joining me today. I'm Carol Costello. "AT THIS HOUR" with Berman and Bolduan starts now.
JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Hello, everyone. I'm John Berman. Kate Bolduan is off today.
The big news this morning, Trump Tower becoming won't tower. The president-elect with some notable and some cases surprising decisions about what he won't do. Whether the country likings it or not. Whether, in fact, he has the power to make these decisions or not.
He won't pursue charges against Hillary Clinton. He won't apologize or explain if and how he has been doing personal business during this transition period when he's getting really to do the nation's business.
He won't answer questions on the record from "The New York Times" or he wouldn't because just a few minutes ago after backing out of the sit-down with the paper, he backed back in.
Let's start with the never mind on the lock her up. Trump senior adviser and campaign manager, Kellyanne Conway, seemed to confirm that the incoming Trump administration will not seek further investigation into Hillary Clinton's private e-mail server or the Clinton Foundation.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
KELLYANNE CONWAY, TRUMP SENIOR ADVISER: I think when the president- elect who's also the head your party now, Joe, tells you before he's even inaugurated he doesn't wish to pursue these charges, it sends a very strong message, tone and content to the members.
And I think Hillary Clinton still has to face the fact a majority of Americans don't find her to be honest or trustworthy. But if Donald Trump can help her heal then perhaps that's a good thing.
I do -- look, I think he's thinking of many different things as he prepares to become the president of the United States. And things that sound like the campaign aren't among them.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BERMAN: I want to bring in CNN's Jessica Schneider. She is live in front of Trump Tower in New York right now. Jessica, what are you learning?
JESSICA SCHNEIDER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, John, you know, it was Donald Trump's repeated rallying cry throughout this campaign. He continually called his opponent Crooked Hillary, and he relished those cries at his rallies of lock her up.
In fact, it was late August when Donald Trump first talked about appointing a special prosecutor. And then, you'll remember, it was at that second presidential debate on October 9th when Donald Trump issued that threat directly to Hillary Clinton. Here it is.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, U.S. PRESIDENT-ELECT: If I win, I am going to instruct my attorney general to get a special prosecutor to look into your situation. Special prosecutor, here we come, right? If I win, we're going to appoint a special prosecutor.
She deleted the e-mails. She has to go to jail. Hillary is running for a lot reasons. One of them is because she wants to stay out of jail.
HILLARY CLINTON (D), FORMER PRESIDENTIAL NOMINEE: It's just awfully good that someone with the temperament of Donald Trump is not in charge of the law in our country.
TRUMP: Because you'd be in jail.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SCHNEIDER: And despite all of that, Trump adviser, Kellyanne Conway stating unequivocally this morning that there will be no further investigation into Hillary Clinton's use of a private e-mail server as secretary of state, nor any investigation into the Clinton Foundation itself.
But Kellyanne Conway taking a bit a dig still at Hillary Clinton saying that the majority of Americans do not find her honest or trustworthy. Even going a step further to say that Donald Trump can, quote, "Help her heal by not actually going through with any investigation."
And in addition, Rudy Giuliani earlier this morning was inside Trump Tower where he talked to reporters about this decision to not move forward with an investigation.
Actually saying that he agreed with Donald Trump, whichever way he decide to go, and he believed that this decision would help unite the nation. Rudy Giuliani saying that maybe Americans who didn't vote for Donald Trump would now give him a second look -- John.
BERMAN: All right, Jessica Schneider for us outside Trump Tower. Want to talk more about this with our panel, Lanhee Chen, a CNN political commentator. He was Mitt Romney's public policy director for two campaigns.
Also with us, CNN political commentator and political anchor for Spectrum News, Errol Lewis, and CNN global economic analyst, Rana Foroohar, and CNN legal analyst, Jeffrey Toobin.
Jeffrey, I want to start with you. We have these words on our screen that say Trump White House won't pursue Clinton prosecution. Well, in fact, White Houses don't pursue prosecutions.
So in and of itself, the entire structure here is a little bit flawed. I mean, Trump as president would never have the power to charge anyone with any crime. However --
JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: I think this story is far from over. I think Donald Trump's Justice Department may well continue this investigation. You have a group of FBI agents who are dedicated, fanatically opposed to Hillary Clinton, who want to see her prosecuted for the Clinton Foundation in particular.
Even though there has never been an allegation made -- I mean, a serious allegation made that she committed a crime. I think the door remains wide open for the Justice Department to say we found new information, in good conscience, we can't avoid looking into this.
[11:05:04]I think that statement from Kellyanne Conway was sufficiently ambiguous to let a very conservative Justice Department, a very dedicated FBI to continue their investigation.
BERMAN: It isn't a White House decision. Presidents don't charge. Presidents don't investigate. Presidents don't prosecute.
TOOBIN: They are -- no, you're right, although they do have a lot of influence over what the Justice Department does and doesn't do.
BERMAN: All right, Jeffrey Toobin is taking the view that this doesn't matter, that actually the Trump administration writ large may still investigate Hillary Clinton. A lot of people, Errol, are taking the other view of this right now.
What basically happening is the Trump team is admitting that rhetoric used during the campaign won't be the reality and they're going back to this position. You know, a lot things are said in the campaign.
ERROL LOUIS, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, I think their position pretty consistently on a number of topics is we're going to be ambiguous. We'll talk about both sides of a particular proposition and leave ourselves the leeway to do whatever we want whenever we feel like it.
I mean, that's what I take from it because this is not -- you played the clips. He promised, you know, earnestly and repeatedly to take a specific course of action to appoint a special prosecutor to go after her. He said she belongs in jail and so forth. So you he either has to disavow those, which we know he won't do, or sort of leave things up in the air.
BERMAN: He might when he sits down with "The New York Times" later today. That's a whole different story. We'll talk to that a little bit, but his campaign manager seemed to suggest that he is backing off. Isn't that sort of what the country wants the healing process to not go forward with something like this?
LOUIS: Something a little bit more coherent and transparent such as, you know, following my briefings during this transition period. I agree with the FBI director. I don't think anything's going to happen. Something that straight forward I think is unlikely to come out of this particular transition.
BERMAN: All right, Lanhee, I want to bring you in. Because there is one group that doesn't seem to be satisfied with this stance so far. That's sort of the ardent right supporters of Donald Trump particularly Breitbart News.
Steve Bannon ran Breitbart News. Now Steve Bannon is going to be chief strategist in the White House. Breitbart just now is putting this headline out, "Broken promise. Trump doesn't wish to pursue Clinton e-mail charges."
But Lanhee, do you think that any Trump supporters would hold him to this or, you know, end up being displeased or turn their backs on him if he did not, you know, push his FBI and Justice Department to prosecute this?
LANHEE CHEN, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: It's very interesting, John, you know, there's been some great reporting here at CNN. Talking to voters who supported Donald Trump during the election, asking them about some of his key campaign promises like the promise to build a wall and have Mexico pay for it, et cetera.
And I think a lot of his voters actually take him more figuratively than literally in a lot of ways. I think that they are willing to give him the benefit of the doubt. I think frankly many Republicans at this point are.
I think there are some Republicans who are probably glad to hear that the focus of the first 100 days the Trump administration is not going to be an ongoing investigation into Hillary Clinton, but instead efforts to roll back regulations, to explore energy and potentially to deal with Obamacare.
So I actually think this might be a welcome announcement to some Republicans even those who enjoyed some of that rhetoric during the campaign.
BERMAN: All right, guys, stand by. Rana, we are going to bring in just a minute, but we have more breaking news this morning. Sort of from the irony department. The Trump Foundation admits it broke the law apparently. That's right. On the same morning that Donald Trump says his administration will not pursue charges against Clinton family charity. We are learning that his own charity is admitting it used donation dollars to benefit either the Trump family or its businesses.
David Farenthold (ph) of "The Washington Post" has been really the leading reporter on this story for months. He joins us now by phone. David, explain what exactly we have learned this morning, what has the Trump Foundation admitted to?
DAVID FAHRENTHOLD, "WASHINGTON POST" REPORTER (via telephone): Sure. One of the basic laws of run a charity is you can't take money out of your charity and use it to buy something for the president of the charity or buy something for the president of the charity's business.
With the Trump Foundation admitting now is that in the past, in 2015 and before that, it violated those rules. It took money out of the charity and spent it to benefit someone who ran the charity, presumably Donald Trump.
BERMAN: Now, we don't know exactly what they're admitting to this morning in terms of what dollars they use to buy what stuff for either the business or the family. But you have reported in the past some examples where this might apply.
FAHRENTHOLD: That's right. We've uncovered a number of examples in the past where Trump used money out of the charity to buy things for himself. He bought two giant portraits of himself for a total of $30,000 and he spent $258,000 out of the charity to settle lawsuits that involved his for profit businesses. Basically to get his businesses out of their obligations arising from legal trouble. Any of those could be it or it could be something that I haven't found yet.
BERMAN: David, and again, the campaign is behind this now, but when you were covering this during the campaign, did the Trump Foundation or the Trump campaign ever admit to the wrongdoing that now this morning after the campaign is over, they apparently are admitting to?
[11:10:05]FAHRENTHOLD: No, in fact, they repeatedly said -- they didn't answer a lot of my questions. When the stories came out, they said the stories were full of falsehoods. The closest they got to acknowledging any of this was in one particular case the Trump Foundation bought a painting, a $10,000 painting, of Trump himself.
That was later found hanging on the wall Trump's sports bar at a golf resort he owns outside Miami. And their response was, well, actually Trump's business is doing the charity a favor by storing the painting on its wall. That doesn't hold up to scrutiny, but that's the closest they've got be to explaining any of this.
BERMAN: Yes, a strange definition of storage wars there. David Fahrenthold, thanks for joining us by phone. Again, you're reporting for the last several months, pushing this story forward. We appreciate you being here. I want to bring back in our panel. Rana Foroohar, I want to start with you. This new information is about the Trump Foundation, not exactly the Trump business empire. But it gets to what is going on at Trump Tower over the last two weeks.
Everyone is looking for where these lines will be between the Trump family business and the Trump administration. And it's getting harder and harder to discern where these lines are.
RANA FOROOHAR, CNN GLOBAL ECONOMIC ANALYST: Absolutely. I mean, it's really unprecedented situation. You know, you've had presidents in the past that have had business interests and put them in blind trusts, but you've never had a situation in which a president is running a business, as Donald Trump has, with his children.
Those children are now in meet in meetings with delegations without security clearances. You know, there is a complete blurring and I think that this is something that unless it's worked out pretty quickly, it's going to dog his presidency.
I mean, it's -- it's got to be said that the kids are either running the business and/or, you know, they're doing policy but there has to be a bridge between those two things and a wall.
BERMAN: So Donald Trump doesn't seem to think there's any problem right now. Overnight on Twitter, one of a series of tweets he put out on a series of subjects, he wrote about his business interest.
He said, "Prior to the election, it was well known that I have interests in properties all over the world. Only the crooked media makes this a big deal."
So Jeffrey Toobin, you could envision a scenario where a Hillary Clinton was going into power and there were -- it was information or revelations about the Clinton Foundation that came out during the transition and then the Republican-led Congress would hold hearings or launch an investigation into said foundation. Is there any chance of that happening now?
TOOBIN: Certainly not at the moment. I mean, the House and Senate are in Republican hands. These conflicts are obvious and they're ripe for exploration, but the only people who are going to do it at the moment are the news media because of the government is under unified control.
And just the idea that Donald Trump will have to address this I think is wrong. I mean, he has, over and over again, proven us wrong about what he has to do. Well, he can't say that about a gold star family, I mean, he can't say, you know, call a Mexican-American judge unfit to sit on his case. He is operating by his own rules. He has won the presidency and I see no sign that he's going to change.
BERMAN: Lanhee Chen, your Republican Party chairs in the House and the Senate, is there not a whiff of hypocrisy here, that there is not a push from them, the same push you know would be there if the shoe were on the other foot. CHEN: I think, John, the issue now is that the Republicans in the House and the Senate want to focus on a policy agenda for the first 100 days of the Trump administration. I think that's really what they're trying to do. I think the concern would be obviously turning the attention away from that, diverts from what are some legitimate and very important policy goals.
I think that's probably what the explanation from the Trump campaign or Trump transition would be at this point as well is that their focus wants to be on what are the things you want to see him get done initially?
That's why they put out the video yesterday with the president-elect's campaign priorities, et cetera. But it would be interesting to see what happened if the tables were turned, no question about it.
BERMAN: You know, Errol, one of the things that the Trump team sort of tells us, Kellyanne Conway, said there is nothing to see here. This isn't a priority. This isn't moving the business of the nation forward, but this stuff matters.
I mean, there's reasons why the Constitution writes about the emollients clause, did I say it right? You can't get gifts from foreign governments. You can't be given money from a foreign government or foreign entity if you're president.
You know, there's a reason why the framers of the Constitution, the American people over the last 225 years haven't wanted their presidents or leaders to be able to enrich themselves while they are in office.
LOUIS: Well, that's right, and it's intended both to protect the public, but also to protect the office holder, frankly, from conflicts of interests. You know, when the Bank of China, if you owe hundreds of millions of dollars to the Bank of China and it's time to sit down and make some decisions, you want to be able to do that with sort a clear head and clear intent.
Donald Trump seems once in a while to make noises as if he understands this. But based on the tweet last night, based on everything we've seen, I got to agree with Jeffrey that, you know, he doesn't think that there's any real important distinction to be made between what enriches him and his family and what's good for the world and for the country.
[11:15:12]TOOBIN: And by the way, we don't know the full extent of his financial arrangements because he never released his tax return which was another area we said, oh, well, he's got to release his tax returns. All presidential candidates release their tax returns.
He defied that convention. He's defied the conventions about separating his private business from his public work, but his candidacy has been an exercise in defying convention.
BERMAN: But Rana, you look at the stock market now, the Dow up 29 points. Not quite over 19,000 at the moment. It did cross that 19,000 barrier, I think the S&P was up over 2,000. The markets at least right now seem to love the incoming Trump administration. If he does create the jobs, jobs, jobs that he says he wants to, does any of this other stuff matter?
FOROOHAR: Well, I think the other stuff definitely matters. The market's response is really interesting. The market is responding to the fact that he's proposing some fiscal stimulus in the form of an infrastructure plan.
That will probably create some kind of growth. We don't know how much growth and it's coming after a period of time where you haven't seen any fiscal stimulus. Basically central bankers have been running the economy since the financial crisis. They're kind of tapped out.
So a lot of people, both Republicans and Democrats, have been hoping for some fiscal stimulus and he's now going to get the credit for this. How this infrastructure plan is structured and what it actually does.
Are we going to get the bridges and roads that we know we need fixed or are or we going to get pet projects of business friends of Donald Trump's working on things they may have done anyway and getting tax credits for it?
That's the big rub. So you'll see short-term growth. The longer-term growth is going to be predicated on how this plan actually rolls out.
BERMAN: All right, guys, thanks so much. Interesting discussion this morning. There are a lot of questions that we do need to keep on asking here.
Meanwhile, brand-new demands that Donald Trump personally denounce a group of racists cheering his victory and chanting "hail Trump" during a meeting just blocks from the White House.
Plus, an extraordinary suggestion from a president-elect. Donald Trump calls on the leader of Brexit to be named an ambassador. Even though somebody already has that job. Actually the American president doesn't get to choose which ambassadors come to the United States. The U.K. not happy at all about this.
And horrific new details regarding a school bus crash that killed at least five children on their way home from school. We'll give you those details coming up.
BERMAN: Heartbreaking story out of Chattanooga, Tennessee. A school bus slammed into a tree and essentially split in half. Look at these pictures, just awful. At least five children who were on that bus died. Dozens more were injured. The driver, Johnthony Walker has been arrested. He is facing charges of vehicular homicide. Now we are getting new details about this horrific crash.
CNN's Martin Savidge joins us now live from Chattanooga. Martin, what are you learning?
MARTIN SAVIDGE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: John, first, we're outside the hospital where the 12 students that remain hospitalized are being cared for. Six of them are still in intensive care.
And then there is the arresting affidavit that has been released to CNN regarding the basic information they've used to charge Johnthony Walker. I'll just read you a few things.
It says that the defendant was traveling at a high speed on Tally Road, which is a narrow winding road according to this and then based on witness statements and physical evidence, the defendant was driving the school bus at a high rate of speed well above the posted speed limit of 30 miles an hour, swerved off the roadway to the right, striking an elevated driveway, a mailbox, then swerved left and overturned.
So that's what's coming from the arresting warrant that was used with the five counts of vehicular homicide. Then we also have a statement that came from (inaudible) Cook, she is the mother of Johntony Walker.
She says this, "A word of comfort to whom it may concern. My heart love is going out for all that was in harm's way sending out mine and our condolences to every family that God touched yesterday in this horrible accident and I'm asking for compassion also for my son, Johnthony Walker."
She goes on to say that he's never been in trouble before. Of course, police looking further into his background -- John.
BERMAN: All right, our hearts go out to all those families. Has to be incredibly difficult time. Martin Savidge, thanks so much.
Some disturbing new video of white supremacists, racists, neo-Nazis apparently cheering on Donald Trump at a meeting over the weekend. Will Donald Trump personally denounce this?
Plus, news just in, after his big meeting with TV executives and anchors, Donald Trump canceled a similar meeting with "The New York Times," but moments ago, he reversed himself. He will sit down with "The New York Times" in an hour. Hear what's going on here.
BERMAN: This morning, new questions about why the president-elect or his team will not specifically condemn a group by name that calls itself part of the "alt-right" but was really promoting white supremacist notions and neo-Nazi ideals all while saluting Donald Trump using his name as a rallying call for their blatantly racist, anti-Semitic agenda. Watch this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Hail Trump, hail our people, hail victory. (END VIDEO CLIP)
BERMAN: This was the annual conference of the National Policy Institute. Close to 300 members were gathered just blocks from the White House over the weekend at the Ronald Reagan Building. This is their leader.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
RICHARD SPENCER, PRESIDENT, NATIONAL POLICY INSTITUTE: America was, until this past generation, a white country, designed for ourselves and our posterity. It is our creation. It is our inheritance and it belongs to us.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BERMAN: Donald Trump's transition team released a statement saying he has always denounced any form of racism but really said nothing specifically about the meeting or the slogans or the statements that were made over this weekend.
Joining us now is Ryan Lenz, the senior editor of the "Intelligence Project" and "Hatewatch" at the Southern Poverty Law Center. Ryan, thanks for being with us.
Let ask you, you know, this group calls itself "alt-right." How do you know what that means at a certain point? What's the distinction between alt right and what we saw there, which was neo-Nazi white supremacist stuff, coupled with what they said in other instances over the weekend that Jews are not people?
RYAN LENZ, SENIOR EDITOR, INTELLIGENCE PROJECT AND HATEWATCH, SOUTHERN POVERTY LAW CENTER: Well, there's absolutely no distinction to be honest. I mean, alt-right is simply white supremacy rebranded for the digital age. It's the new term for an idea that has been --