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Interview With Wisconsin Senator Ron Johnson; Russia Investigation Continues; Trump Says He'll Present Plan for Businesses in January; Priebus Weighs In On Daily Press Briefings. Aired 4-4:30p ET

Aired December 14, 2016 - 4:00   ET




JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome to THE LEAD, everyone. That's the closing bell.

We're going to get to all those headlines in a moment.

But, first, we have the breaking news in the money lead, the Dow continuing to flirt with its 20000-point milestone, this as the Fed this afternoon raised its key interest rate for just the second time in a decade. That interest rate, of course, affects everything from bank accounts to home loans, the announcement just moments ago from Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen.

Let's get right to Alison Kosik, who is at the stock exchange for us.

Alison, borrowing money just got a little bit more expensive. How is the market reacting?

ALISON KOSIK, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, right now, you're seeing the market react in an unfavorable way.

You're seeing the Dow closing down 117 points. It's not because the hike happened. That was expected. The problem with that what the Fed said that is causing the market to end in the red is that the Fed indicated that it's going to be more aggressive in how it raises rates over the course of the next year.

As far as what have this means to businesses and consumers, this, once again, is not a huge rate hike, but still means borrowing costs are going up. If you take out a new mortgage or a home equity line of credit or if you an adjustable-rate mortgage, you are going to have to get ready to pay more.

Car loans will be more expensive. If you run a balance on your credit card, you could see higher rates there as well. There are some winners in this, though, for one, savers, senior citizens who need the interest on their savings, plus those getting close to retirement who have moved a lot of cash.

Also, the banks are winners. They can charge customers and businesses more money for taking out loans. The biggest losers are those looking to buy a home. So, right now, to give you an example, the average 30- year fixed rate mortgage in the U.S. is 4.2 percent. So, for a $250,000 loan, that's a monthly principal and interest payment of $1,223.

So with rates a quarter-point higher, that payment goes up about $45. But then you look at the life of the loan, borrowers are paying $16,000 more -- Jake.

TAPPER: Alison Kosik at the market for us, thank you so much.

Moving to politics now, Donald Trump just wrapped up a meeting with tech leaders from Facebook, Apple, Amazon and others. Now, you may be surprised to learn who was not invited, and that is anyone from the tech company that is for Mr. Trump what television was for John F. Kennedy.

I am referring, of course, to Twitter. Politico is reporting that the snub was a response to Twitter's refusal to let the Trump campaign use a crooked Hillary emoji during the election. Three of the president- elect's adult children sat in on the meeting with tech leaders, including Ivanka, whom a presidential transition team source says will have a real leadership role in the new White House, the office of the first family replacing that of the office of the first lady.

Also at the tech meeting, Mr. Trump's two adult sons, Don Jr. and Eric, who Mr. Trump says will run his businesses to wall off the president-elect from conflicts of interest.

CNN political reporter Sara Murray is live outside Trump Tower.

And, Sara, Trump was supposed to announce his business plan tomorrow, how to wall off his presidency from this empire. But that press conference, that announcement, it's been postponed. Why?


Tomorrow was supposed to be the big day. Now that is being pushed to January, so they can sort all of this out. Look, ethics experts have raised a number of concerns about the roles the children have been playing, both in the Trump Organization and in the building of Donald Trump's administration. But as of today, there still seems to be no wall. Don Jr., Eric Trump and Ivanka Trump all sitting in on that very important meeting between Donald Trump and top tech CEOs.


MURRAY (voice-over): Donald Trump's transition turning into quite the family affair, as the president-elect taps Montana Congressman Ryan Zinke to lead the Interior Department.

A source says Donald Trump Jr. helped interview candidates for the post, this as another source says Eric Trump sat in on a meeting with Mitt Romney as Donald Trump evaluated his secretary of state options. With Trump poised to turn his business operations over to those two

sons, the opportunity for conflict of interest appears abundant, but not to transition aides.

SEAN SPICER, REPUBLICAN NATIONAL COMMITTEE COMMUNICATIONS DIRECTOR: Bottom line is, is that he has been very clear from day one with his family -- the role his family plays and the trust that he has in them in terms of help guide decisions.

MURRAY: There is no sign the family's influence is waning, though. Once Trump moves to the White House, the first lady's office is slated to become the first family's office, to help incorporate Ivanka Trump. But Trump's focus is elsewhere today, as he convenes a meeting with tech luminaries he has lobbed insults at in the past. Trump once accused Amazon CEO and "Washington Post" owner Jeff Bezos of buying the newspaper for purposes of keeping taxes down "at his no-profit company Amazon," while Bezos suggested it was time to send Trump to space.

But today Bezos, along with Facebook's Sheryl Sandberg, Apple's Tim Cook and others, met Trump to chat about growing U.S. tech jobs.


DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENT-ELECT: There's nobody like the people in this room.

And anything we can do to help this go along, and we're going to be there for you. And you will call my people, you will call me. It doesn't make any difference. We have no formal chain of command around here.

MURRAY: As Trump picks the brains of the business community, his team is turning to how best to execute the president-elect's legislative priorities.

REINCE PRIEBUS, INCOMING WHITE HOUSE CHIEF OF STAFF: We're probably going to lead with Obamacare repeal and then replace. Then you will have tax -- a small tax reform package and then a bigger tax reform package at the end of April.

MURRAY: While Trump himself defends former critic Paul Ryan, a key player in ensuring the success of his agenda on the Hill.

TRUMP: Oh, no, I have come to appreciate him. And, you know, honestly, he is like a fine wine. Every day goes by, I get to appreciate his genius more and more. Now, if he ever goes against me, I'm not going to say that, OK?

MURRAY: And Trump is doing some defense work of his own, using his thank you tour to defend his pick for secretary of state, ExxonMobil CEO Rex Tillerson.

TRUMP: Rex is friendly with many of the leaders in the world that we don't get along with.


MURRAY: Now, as for those concerns about Rex Tillerson among some on the Hill, Donald Trump's transition advisers are certain that once senators begin to meet with Donald Trump's candidate for secretary of state, they may change their tune and ultimately vote in support of him. So, we will see if he passes through the Senate with flying colors, Jake.

TAPPER: Sara Murray outside Trump Tower for us, thank you so much.

Let's now turn to a Republican senator who serves on two key committees, Homeland Security and Foreign Relations. Senator Ron Johnson from Wisconsin joins me now.

Senator, thanks for being here and, first of all, congratulations on your reelection.

SEN. RON JOHNSON (R), WISCONSIN: Jake, appreciate that.

TAPPER: Many of your Republican colleagues plan to review Russia's attempts to influence the U.S. presidential election. Will the committee you run, the Homeland Security Committee, undertake a similar review?

JOHNSON: Well, I am actually ahead of the curve on this one.

I also chair the European Subcommittee of Foreign Relations Committee. We have held a number of hearings on Russian interference, their propaganda, their disinformation techniques. And we have known this for quite some time. They're meant to destabilize. They're meant to sow confusion.

And this was also well known before the election. So, I am happy to gain more information. I think Leader McConnell said that if there is a formal investigation, it will probably occur in the intelligence community, because it will probably deal with sources and methods of information.

But I have not heard any new information. I was one of the original 12 members in the first briefing in September. And, really, the conclusion on that was that the administration was saying that Russia will not be able to affect the actual outcome of the election by hacking into election machines and we were all supposed to calm everybody down and offer the services of the Department of Homeland Security to any state that was asking for it. I am not sure why this has all become politicized.

TAPPER: Well, I don't know that it's become politicized.

Obviously, In October, the U.S. intelligence community put out a statement that said: "The U.S. intelligence committee is confident that the Russian government directed the recent compromises of e-mails from U.S. persons and institutions, including from U.S. political organizations."

So, I know it's not new that Russia has tried to sow doubts in institutions throughout Europe, tried to influence elections throughout the world. But this would be the first time that they did so successfully in the United States. That must concern you.

JOHNSON: It certainly does. I don't want anybody interfering in U.S. elections.

But what really concerns me about Russian cyber-activity is, for example, their cyber-attacks, we believe, that shut down Ukraine's electrical grid. These are very serious matters. I am very worried of Russia. I think President Obama's foreign policy toward Russia has been a disaster.

And my guess is that president-elect Trump and his secretary of state nominee will view the world as it is from a realistic standpoint and start dealing with Russia from a position of strength, rather than weakness.

TAPPER: Well, I am confused as to why you think that. I understand you're critical of President Obama and his position towards Russia, but have you ever heard Donald Trump say anything critical about Vladimir Putin or Russia ever?

JOHNSON: What I have heard him say is he wants to strengthen our economy, he wants to stop hollowing our military, he wants to actually defeat ISIS and secure our borders.

That's operating from more a position of strength. And let's face it. President Obama's strategy has been peace through a drought. It has been a miserable failure.

So, again, I'm going to give the president's nominees the benefit of the doubt. I look forward to meeting Mr. Tillerson. I look forward to the confirmation hearings and look forward to an administration that is really focusing on reducing regulatory burden and having a competitive tax system and really turning our economy around.


TAPPER: The president-elect hasn't even been willing to criticize Russia when he was told that Vladimir Putin is thought to have been behind murders of political opponents and journalists. The president- elect said he hadn't seen any evidence to that effect.

I have never heard him criticize Vladimir Putin ever. And I understand what you're saying about the United States being in a position of strength, but why do you think that he is ever going to be willing to take on Vladimir Putin if he has never disagreed with Vladimir Putin on anything?

JOHNSON: Again, all I can speak for myself. I have criticized Vladimir Putin repeatedly.

And we have held hearings on this. And certainly Vladimir Putin, we need to be very wary of him and his aggression, whether it's Crimea, Ukraine, Syria, the Baltic states.

Again, my guess is that, once Donald Trump assumes the presidency, he will get all the information and he should be very wary of Russia.

TAPPER: He should be very wary of Russia, but just to be clear, when I asked you if you could name one think that Donald Trump has ever said critical of Vladimir Putin, I didn't hear an answer.

JOHNSON: Again, I am not on encyclopedia of what statements he's made or not made.

TAPPER: All right.

Senator Ron Johnson of Wisconsin, thank you, and congratulations again on a battle well fought in your reelection victory.

JOHNSON: Have a merry Christmas.

TAPPER: Thank you so much, sir.

This was the week Donald Trump was supposed to explain how he would wall off his businesses from his presidency. That news conference, of course, is not going to happen for a while. But what is happening is a new dust-up over his new hotel in Washington -- that story next.


TAPPER: Welcome back to THE LEAD.

Sticking with politics now, we're going to bring you the latest installment of our conflict of interest watch, in which we keep tabs on the president-elect's attempts to retain his vast global business empire without raising any ethical or legal concerns.

[16:15:02] President-elect Trump postponed an announcement that was supposed to be tomorrow until next month about how he would wall himself off from his businesses. In the meantime, we are learning more about potential conflicts surrounding his Washington, D.C., Trump hotel.

CNN senior political reporter Manu Raju is live outside the Trump Hotel.

Manu, this hotel has raised persistent questions about influence, about diplomats from other countries, hiring the hotel to gain and curry favor with the president.

What's new today?

MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL REPORTER: Today, Jake, Democrats in the House releasing a letter detailing private conversations that they had with a federal official who said that Donald Trump cannot have an ownership stake in this hotel behind me, or he could be in breach of his contract.

Today also, Jake, Trump's team pushing back on those claims and Republicans on Capitol Hill staying quiet.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) RAJU (voice-over): Donald Trump has never been shy to tout his luxury hotel in Washington's old post office pavilion.

DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENT-ELECT: A magnificent place at that.

RAJU: But as president, Trump now could be forced to give up his ownership stake in the hotel or be in breach of his deal.

That's because Trump is renting the property from the federal government, which wrote into its contract with Trump that no elected official of the government of the United States shall be admitted to any share or part of this lease. House Democrats said Wednesday that a top official of the General Services Administration which administers the lease privately told them this month that Donald Trump must divest himself not only of managerial control, but of all ownership interest as well.

REP. ELIJAH CUMMINGS (D), MARYLAND: I care about the 60-year lease for President-elect Trump's new luxury hotel here in Washington, D.C., that will be breached the moment he steps into the Oval Office unless he completely divests his ownership interest.

RAJU: But a spokesperson for the federal agency said in a statement to CNN that we can make no definitive statement at this time about what would constitute a breach in the agreement, until Trump indicates his intentions.

Trump officials said that the president-elect is undergoing an extensive review of his real estate empire, including how he'll handle the hotel located steps from the White House.

Plans they originally promised to explain tomorrow but now say they will explain in January.

SEAN SPICER, RNC CHIEF STRATEGIST: We are sitting down with lawyers and accountants and making sure that it's crystal clear so that he can focus on this. He doesn't have to do this. The law is clear he doesn't have a conflict of interest.

RAJU: But the Office of Government Ethics recently tweeted at the president-elect, writing, "Bravo. The only way to resolve these conflicts of interest is to divest."

Trump has said that he would hand over his businesses to his two sons, Don Jr. and Eric. But he has not said if he would fully divest his own stake in his company.

Trump's sons have been heavily involved in his efforts to select a cabinet, and if the sons take ownership of the Trump hotel, they will be negotiating directly with the GSA, an agency that has to report to their father.


RAJU: Now, Jake, the question is also what does Ivanka Trump do, because she was heavily involved with the Trump hotel? And we're not quite clear if she will also separate herself from the hotel going forward, because as we know, Jake, she'll also take some advisory role in the president in the White House. So, that will also raise conflict of interest questions as well, Jake.

TAPPER: Manu Raju, thank you so much.

The president-elect says both of his adult sons will run his businesses but Donald Jr. and Eric Trump both seem to be heavily involved still in the transition process, even attending today's tech leaders meeting. Is there enough separation there?

Then, buses sitting empty instead of carrying the sick, the starving, the wounded while the ceasefire in Syria fails to take hold. So, what is next for Aleppo and for the thousands of people still trapped there?

Stay with us.


[16:22:49] TAPPER: Welcome back to THE LEAD.

Staying with politics now. Let's bring in my panel. It's making me laugh right now. Mollie Hemingway, senior editor at "The Federalist". Heidi Przybyla is senior politics reporter at "USA Today", and Glenn Thrush, senior political reporter at "Politico".

Glenn, I know people don't care too much about the press.


TAPPER: And our needs and our wants and what we think we do --

THRUSH: Oh, we have needs! So does everybody else, Jake.

TAPPER: But I do want to ask you one thing and then we can move on. Listen to what President-elect Trump's incoming chief of staff, Reince Priebus, had to say about possible changes to the press operation in the administration.


REINCE PRIEBUS, INCOMING WHITE HOUSE CHIEF OF STAFF: I think that it's important that we look at all of those traditions that are great but quite frankly, as you know, don't really make news and are just mundane --

HOST: No. It's horrible.

PRIEBUS: -- boring episodes. Even looking at things like the daily, you know, the daily White House briefing from the press secretary. I mean, there's a lot of different ways that things can be done.


TAPPER: I will say, as a former White House correspondent, I was there during the first term of the Obama administration. I found it an incredibly important way to bring issues that were uncomfortable for the administration to light and force them to respond.

THRUSH: I remember because you were in the front row, you are always blocking me.

Look, here is the thing that dirty little secret about the in-house White House press. It advantages the administration more, I think, than it advantages a lot of the reporters. Having a ready outlet for them to get their opinions across I think it is just as good for them. If they want to do this they can try it. Let's see how it works.

TAPPER: Heidi, let me ask you questions about the roles of the Trump sons who were told -- we don't know exactly what this wall that's going to be built between the president-elect and his businesses is going to be. But the suggestion has been that Eric and Don Jr. will run the businesses and there will be this wall. But we know that Don Jr. was involved in the interview process for secretary of the interior. He's a big outdoorsman and that Eric was in some of the meetings when it comes to secretary of state. That doesn't seem to be much of a separation.

HEIDI PRZYBYLA, SENIOR POLITICS REPORTER, USA TODAY: It really calls into question whether there will be a wall and how you construct such a wall when the Trump family is also interconnected in this business.

[16:25:01] And do we really -- does it really pass the plausibility test that he's not going to discuss his business with his children?

But let's assume they find some way to construct this wall, it does not take away the fundamental problem with conflict of interest, which is ownership, because regardless of whether they have a wall and they discuss things or they don't discuss things, the money is still going into Trump's pocket. And in particular -- there are domestic conflicts and then there's foreign conflicts of interest. And the foreign conflicts of interest become problematic because you already have diplomats openly opining about how they can use the Trump properties to try to curry favor with the president.

It may not work, but there's going to be a lot of people who try to do things and have conversations that they shouldn't be having and things they shouldn't be doing.

TAPPER: Let me ask you about Ivanka Trump. We're being told now by a transition source that the office of first lady is going to become the office of the first family and that Ivanka Trump, it looks as though she will have much more of a leadership role in the White House itself. What do you make of that? I know some conservatives think that Ivanka is the kind of the squish of the family, the Democrat, possibly.

Are you concerned about it? Do you applaud it? What do you think?

MOLLIE HEMINGWAY, SENIOR EDITOR, THE FEDERALIST: Well, one of the things that is interesting about it is that the Trump administration is -- that they're already changing the way things are being set up. It is a great idea to reshape some offices to do that.


HEMINGWAY: But yeah, Ivanka Trump's speech at the Republican National Convention could have been given word for word at the Democratic National Convention. But that's sort of a reflection of the realignment that we are seeing in the political parties right now. And she is a good example of that.

TAPPER: Yes. No. Talk about realignment, the president-elect was in Wisconsin, and Speaker Paul Ryan was there. Well, take a listen.


TRUMP: Speaker Paul Ryan, I have really come to -- oh, no!


I have come to appreciate him. Speaker Paul Ryan. Where is speaker? Where is he?

He has been -- I'll tell you, he has been terrific. And you know, honestly, he is like a fine wine. Every day goes by, I get to appreciate his genius more and more. Now, if he ever goes against me, I'm not going to say that, OK?


TAPPER: I always appreciate the genius of a good Borolo.

Let me ask you, Glenn. That's not nice. I mean, not -- President- elect Trump didn't do anything wrong, but the crowd booing the Republican House speaker, and yet Donald Trump spent a lot of time bad-mouthing Paul Ryan.

THRUSH: Hey, no "lock him up." So, that's a start, right?

I think like -- somebody else who has to talk to Steve Bannon, the president's counselor who as we know from leaked e-mails, ha ha ha, in 2015 said that his goal was to take Paul Ryan out. We have a little bit of a honeymoon here.

I think the most significant thing that has happened in the transition on the Senate side, we have three investigations that are likely to proceed into the Russian hacking of the elections stuff. I think the problems will come up more on the Senate side. I think we're going to have a little bit longer of a honey moon period at far end.

TAPPER: What do you think about the booing for Paul Ryan?

HEMINGWAY: Oh, I think -- a lot of these are just -- these events are fun, people are letting things out. We have had way too much boring political discussions going on for way too long. Is there is just some -- it's kind of fun. I think Paul Ryan doesn't take it too seriously. He actually -- Steve Bannon like released him home address and sent

out the address of his kids' school. He could be upset but he seems to be working fine with Trump.

PRZYBYLA: The person who said booed CNN and he said hush to the press corps, we don't really mean it.

TAPPER: Was that true?

PRZYBYLA: That's true. It was reported in today's playbook, yes.

TAPPER: I did not see that. I assume they mean it.


Anyway, Glenn, Heidi, Mollie, thank you so much. I appreciate it.

The intelligence community is increasingly convinced Russia hacked the DNC and the CIA says they did it to try to help Trump win the election. Our next guest says Russia may not have been picking sides after all. The former head of the NSA and the CIA joins me next.