Return to Transcripts main page

AT THIS HOUR WITH BERMAN AND MICHAELA

Russian Ambassador Shot; Electors Meeting in 12 States to Cast Ballots; Electoral Votes Underway in Pennsylvania; Electors Meet in Michigan Today; Electoral College Voting; Obama on Democrats' Loss. Aired 12-12:30p ET

Aired December 19, 2016 - 12:00   ET

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


[12:00:00] MUHAMMAD LILA, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: And, in fact, in this entire region has no shortage of enemies. You have to look just next door at all the various groups fighting in Syria that have a gripe with Russia because of Russia's staunch support for Syria's President Assad. So the question is, who is going to claim responsibility and who is behind this. And, again, after that, how is Russia going to respond?

JOHN BERMAN, CNN HOST: Muhammad, I should tell you, we have a statement now from the State Department here in the United States. John Kirby just said on the record, "we have seen reports that the Russian ambassador to Turkey, Andrei Karlov, has been attacked by a gunman in Ankara. We condemn this act of violence, whatever its source. Our thoughts and prayers are with him and his family."

And we did just get in a picture of the ambassador. I believe this was when he was at this art gallery speaking before he was shot. You can see him right there, Andrei Karlov, on the right-hand side of your screen right there. He is now in a hospital in serious condition after being shot several times.

Muhammad, as you said, we do not know who was behind this attack and it is crucial. There have been ISIS attacks in Turkey over the last year. There have also been, over the last several years, attacks by Kurdish separatists pushing for different political motivations, one or another. Explain what their role has been in Turkey and specifically what their role has been inside Syria recently.

LILA: Sure. Well, let's start with the Kurdish separatist groups. They've been waging a low-level insurgency inside Turkey, fighting for their own separate, independent homeland several decades. Many of the targets they've chosen when they -- when they conduct these terrorist attacks inside Turkey are military targets or police targets, but they have, in the past, targeted civilians as well. We have never seen, at least in the last recent history, the Kurdish separatists attack anyone on the diplomatic level, certainly as high as an ambassador of another country. Of course we know that ISIS has also attacked inside Turkey as well. The most recent and the most well-known and famous attack was the ISIS attack on the Istanbul International Airport earlier in July.

So when I say that Turkey has no -- when I say that Russia has no shortage of enemies in this region, it's also tied to their role next door, because Russia is a key backer of President Assad. They've been running a campaign of air strikes in Idlib province, which is a province right next Turkey to Syria. They've been launching airstrikes on the rebels that are fighting to free themselves from Assad for many, many months now. So that sort of lays the groundwork and takes a look at all the different people who might have a motivation to target the Russian ambassador. But, again, we don't have an official confirmation or claim of responsibility at this point.

BERMAN: All right, Muhammad, thanks so much.

Again, live pictures right now from Ankara right now, where the Russian ambassador to Turkey, Andrei Karlov, we're just getting word shot several times, and condition unknown. He is at the hospital right now.

Joining us now by phone from Moscow, Jill Dougherty, Russian analyst for us right now.

And, Jill, you know, Russia, obviously, trying to exert new influence in the Middle East, certainly inside Syria. It has been intimately involved in discussions with Turkey over the last several months over what is going on in Syria, including Aleppo, where they helped reach some of the various deals that have been some successful, most not, to reach a cease-fire there. What is the view right now from Moscow on this incident?

JILL DOUGHERTY, FORMER CNN MOSCOW BUREAU CHIEF (via telephone): Well, John, I just wanted to correct you. I flew back from Moscow, but I am right on top of what's going on.

And I think it's important to point out that this is happening one day before the foreign ministers of Russia, Iran and Turkey were supposed to meet in Moscow to discuss, in fact, Syria and Aleppo. And that, you'd have to think, is a key factor. Here, of course, this is all surmisal (ph). But, as you just heard, you know, Iran and Russia support Assad and the attacks on the rubbles, but Turkey opposes Assad. And one of the reasons, the prime motivations in their actions in Syria are, they do not want the Kurdish militias to get more territory in Syria. So that would be one group that you could immediately at least look at as possible, although we just heard they don't do that often, attacking diplomats, but that is one factor. ISIS could be another.

And, in fact, right now, according to the Russian media, President Putin is huddling with the foreign ministry and with his intelligence services and unsure, trying to analyze exactly what happened. But this is -- this is a very serious step in a very complex relationship, which is back and forth over the past year ever since the Turks shot down that Russian plane.

BERMAN: All right, Jill Dougherty on the phone for us right now.

Again, you're looking at live pictures coming in from Ankara, where the Russian ambassador to that country, Andrei Karlov, shot multiple times, taken to the hospital. The last we heard on his condition, he is in serious condition.

[12:05:03] And we did just get an update from a Turkish news agency reporting that the Ankara attacker has been neutralized with an operation. Now, it is not clear if the attacker is dead or if he is in custody or if it is just one person, but we do believe that whoever it was, whether it be one person or two, has been neutralized, and that will be the first step, no doubt, in investigating who was behind this attack. We'll bring you updates as they come because this is a crucial part of the world right now, and there is a lot that hangs in the balance.

Now to politics here in the United States and a very, very busy, very important day in this country. In just a few short hours, Donald Trump is expected to reach the 270 electoral votes he needs to become president, as 538 members of the Electoral College meet to cast their ballots. Votes being cast right now in Arizona, Connecticut, Georgia, Kentucky, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Virginia and Wyoming. Look at the map there, 12:30 in Louisiana as well. Each elector must sign six copies certifying their votes for president and vice president. When it is all said and done, Donald Trump will have the votes he needs to win, likely reaching 306 electoral votes, give or take one or two. The issue here is, will some electors go rogue and vote against the will of the people in the states that they represent.

CNN's senior Washington correspondent Jeff Zeleny joins us now with a look what is going on across the country.

Mr. Zeleny.

JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: Hey, John, this is really the final opportunity here, the punctuation mark, the period on this long campaign. And, you know, if there's any hope for Democrats that things will be overturned today, they should really set that aside because, as you said, this is the day that Donald Trump officially becomes the president-elect. There is no sense that we are seeing out there in any of the states that are -- are happening -- have happened already and that are going to happen in this hour, that there's any drama or anything else really going on.

It would take 37 Republican electors to leave and to, you know, to set this all into somewhat of chaos. But even if that were to happen, this would send the campaign, the election, back to the House of Representatives, controlled by Republicans, of course. So this is a moment that some Democrats had been hoping for. But the Clinton campaign is not -- has not been aggressively working electors in any respect. This is the day that it ends. This is the day this afternoon we may even hear from Donald Trump, who is in Florida, that he will become the president-elect. We're, of course, keeping an eye on all these states overall, John, but so far this is pretty pro forma, just a piece of our democracy in action.

BERMAN: That's right. There may be one or two who vote one way or another, but it will not be enough to change the outcome of this election.

ZELENY: Right.

BERMAN: Jeff Zeleny, thanks so much.

Sara Sidner is in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. Donald Trump, he will earn, we believe, the 20 electoral votes that Pennsylvania has. He won that state by more than 40,000 votes in the popular election.

Sara, what are you seeing?

SARA SIDNER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: We are now seeing the ceremonies go underway. The electors are in here, inside the House chamber, in the capitol here in Pennsylvania. What you can also hear just outside are dozens of protestors who have been singing carols, they've been singing the national anthem. You are literally hearing some of their voices inside of this chamber while you're also listening to the officials as they get ready and prepare to swear in the electors, the 20 electors, and then have those electors vote for president. This has gotten away under a little bit late, but they are going forward and we are expecting, after talking to the electors, every single one of them to vote for Donald Trump.

BERMAN: Sara Sidner for us on the floor there in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. This is our republic at work as laid out in the Constitution, as laid out in the 12th Amendment right now. You can see it happening live before our very eyes and, frankly, it is just plain cool to see it like this.

Sara Sidner, thanks so much.

At 2:00 p.m. Eastern, electors will meet in Michigan, a state really that wasn't officially called until three weeks after the election because it was so close there. Donald Trump won, and he will win the 16 electoral votes up for grabs.

Jessica Schneider joins us now from Lansing.

Jessica, what are you seeing?

JESSICA SCHNEIDER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, John, it was so close here in Michigan. Donald Trump winning by about 10,000 votes over Hillary Clinton. But, today, those 16 electors will be right here at the state capitol. They'll arrive in about an hour. The vote happening at 2:00 p.m.

But already here, about 100 protestors. They've circled the capitol. They're not in front of the capitol chanting to say, "vote your conscience." They're urging electors here to not cast their ballots for Donald Trump.

However, that likelihood is extremely slim. These are electors who were voted unanimously at the state party convention back in April. This entire vote is led by the Republican Party, it's presided over by the state's governor here, Rick Snyder, also a Republican.

[12:10:08] However, these electors have been receiving threats. In fact, one elector right here in Michigan receiving death threats. In addition, Michigan's own Michael Moore, the documentary filmmaker, as well as activist, he took to FaceBook saying that he would pay the fines for any elector who did, in fact, go rogue and vote their conscience.

But, again, not likely to happen, especially here in Michigan. Michigan one of 28 states with an faithfulist (ph) elector law, meaning that electors are bound. They have to vote as their state has vote. And I've talked to Republican Party officials here. They tell me they aren't worried about any problems but they do say if any elector were to go rogue, which they say will not happen, they would just simply replace that elector with someone who would cast their vote for Donald Trump. So that all happening at 2:00 right inside the state capitol.

John.

BERMAN: All right, Jessica Schneider in Lansing, Michigan. Thanks so much for being with us.

I want to bringing in Mike Shields, CNN political commentator, former chief of staff at the RNC.

And, Mike, let's not take the suspense ouch this. Donald Trump is going to get the electoral votes he needs to be president, almost all of the 306 that he won based on the states that he won. How would you describe the activity that has gone on the last couple of weeks between some Democrats who were upset about the results of the election, petitioning electors to vote their conscience. And I understand hearing from electors around the country, some electors in Republican states that have been lobbied directly by either the Trump transition or Republicans to make sure they stay in line.

MIKE SHIELDS, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, this might surprise you, but I think it's great because I love watching the Democratic Party focusing on the last election and not be able to sort of cope with it and accept the results and keep living in denial because that's really good for Republicans. And when you hear people like Michael Moore, when you see John Podesta on the weekend shows this weekend, the way that they're talking, the way that they refuse to accept the results, the longer they live there, the longer they are away from actually fixing what's wrong with their party and actually admitting why they lost the election. And so if you listen to Democrats right now, Vladimir Putin somehow went to Michigan and got millions of voters to switch from Obama to Trump and caused Americans -- 5 million fewer Americans to vote for Hillary Clinton than voted for Barack Obama. It's frankly absurd.

But that's really good for Republicans because we went through a process after the 2012 election. I was a chief of staff at the RNC when we got the Growth and Opportunity Report. We had an honest conversation with ourselves about why we lost and what we could do to be better. And that really began the comeback for the party and you see the results. We ended up winning the election. Our ground game and data operations were fantastic.

But Democrats are still living in denial. They won't accept this. I saw a woman on CNN this morning saying, look, we've just got to keep fighting. Our answer to all of this is to keep fighting and fighting and fighting. And as long as the Democrats live there, they're a very long way from accepting and understanding why these Americans voted against their party, rejected Barack Obama's policies and voted for Donald Trump. So in a weird way, I think it's sort of good for us that they're continuing to do that in the partisan sense.

BERMAN: When you say good for us, you mean good for the Republican Party?

SHIELDS: For Republicans, absolutely.

BERMAN: Right. Right. And I should say -- I should that, you know, while we have heard a number of Democrats say that they don't trust the legitimacy of the election, most that I have heard from say that they believe the results of this election, Donald Trump won fair and square, and insofar as they have concerns about the Russians, they don't think the Russians should have hacked into our campaign system at all. And I was talking about, you know, the electoral vote process in general. Are you a fan of the Electoral College, Mike?

SHIELDS: Well, the Electoral College exists for a very good reason and I think it's one of the things that gets lost in all this is to talk about how -- you know, the -- the popular vote. You know neither -- neither -- neither one of the two main candidates actually got over 50 percent because there were third-party candidates. And so the way the election results come out, you can sort of spin them any way you want. There were target battleground states where the resources were put into the campaign. People weren't campaigning in California where the numbers can go up really high one party or the other. They were focused on the battleground states.

And Hillary Clinton's team botched it. They didn't even go to Wisconsin. They clearly, we see in stories, weren't listening to their people on the ground in Michigan where they had a real problem and then they spent the last three days in one state trying to fix it. And so I think there's some really tough questions that democrats apparently are afraid to ask themselves and are afraid to admit about how terrible a candidate Hillary Clinton was, how much the country was rejecting the policies of Barack Obama, and instead they want to find every excuse they possibly can to blame people, call the Republicans racists, say it's the Russians, let's try and get the Electoral College to change the vote. And so, you know, it's a real problem for the Democrats moving forward that the first -- the first step to recovery is admitting you have a problem, and they haven't gotten to that step yet.

BERMAN: Mike Shields, thanks so much for being with us.

Apropos of exactly what Mike Shields was just talking about, President Obama made a big omission about why he believes his party lost the election. And, by the way, he does think his party lost the election. That coming up.

[12:15:13] Plus, Russia now responding to President Obama, saying he will -- that he personally told Vladimir Putin to cut out the hacks. Why the Kremlin seems taken aback by the president's remarks.

And then, of course, our breaking news right now. The Russian ambassador to Turkey was shot multiple times while attending an art exhibition there. We're going to take you there, coming up.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BERMAN: All right, some live pictures right now we want to show you from Albany, New York. This is inside the state capitol there. Look who it is. That is former President Bill Clinton sitting next to New York Governor Andrew Cuomo. Bill Clinton is there not as the former president of the United States, not as the spouse of the Democratic nominee, but he is a New York state elector. He will be casting his vote very shortly for Hillary Clinton, his wife, to be the president of the United States. He's not going to win, and neither is she. Donald Trump will get more than the 270 electoral votes he needs to become the president of the United States, but the scene that's playing out right here in Albany is just one of many being played out across all 50 states today, and the District of Columbia, where all 538 electors are casting their ballots for president. This is laid out in the Constitution and the 12th Amendment, and this is the process at work. Bill Clinton apparently he's got his reading glasses on right now, reading along. He's got to sign six documents as an elector, casting his votes not just for Hillary Clinton. He will also cast his votes for vice president. He will vote for Tim Kaine, the man who will not be the next vice president of the United States.

[12:20:10] Why not? Well, there are differing opinions about why Hillary Clinton lost. Why the Democrats did as badly as they did in this election. President Obama has been speaking about this and he did it again in an interview with Steve Inskeep of NPR. Listen to what he said.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: You've got a situation where there are not only entire states, but also big chunks of states where if we're not showing up, if we're not in there making an argument, then -- then we're going to lose. And we can lose badly. And that's what happened in this election.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BERMAN: All right, I'm joined right now by the man who did that interview, NPR's Steve Inskeep joins us from Washington. Also with us, CNN political commentator Bill Press, who supported Bernie Sanders in the primaries, and then Hillary Clinton in the general election.

Steve Inskeep, it's very interesting when I listen to President Obama use the line he did with you, saying that Democrats need to go everywhere, because usually it's coupled with the fact that he believes that he did that when he ran in 2008 and 2012. He knows that he went everywhere in Iowa. In fact, he says he did it in 2004 when he ran for senate in Illinois. He went to places he said where Democrats didn't normally go, and the subtext there is that Hillary Clinton didn't. STEVE INSKEEP, NPR CORRESPONDENT: Absolutely. And he did not directly

criticize Hillary Clinton in this interview, but he made some of the points you just did, John. And it's certainly true that in 2008, for example, the future president was way out in the far western tip of Virginia, which is a very conservative area, a very white area, and he didn't expect to win those counties but he hoped to do decently enough that he could win what was then considered a very tight swing state, although it's become more Democratic over the years since then.

President Obama is not indulging in some of the things you were just discussed a few minutes ago, excuses for the defeat. The president certainly does want an investigation of Russian hacking, but he's not making a claim, at least in our interview, that that is the reason Democrats lost. He accepts the legitimacy of this election. He has said so in any case in this interview and he's talking about Democrats reaching out more, spending more time in the field, and not just during campaign season. He was trying to make it bigger than saying maybe if Hillary Clinton had showed up a few times in Wisconsin, it would have made a difference. He wants Democrats to be in touch with the people before elections, not just to deliver messages, but also to listen to people so they have a sense of what folks in, say, Iowa are saying, a place that Obama visited dozens of times before the Iowa caucuses in 2008.

BERMAN: So, Bill Press, one of the things that he didn't do too much of in his interview with Steve is take any of the blame himself. Yes, he says that he could have been better at politics early on in his administration, but President Obama rarely acknowledges the possibility that in 2010, 2014, 2016, that voters voted against him, and the policies that he helped implement during his eight years in office. And I ask you, Bill Press, because you are the author of a book entitled "Buyer's Remorse," which deals a little bit with how the president, President Obama, worked over the early years of the administration.

BILL PRESS, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, first, I've got to say, Stephen, great interview. But, also, at the news conference, president's news conference on Friday, John and Steve, he repeat a couple of those same points. I have my notes in front of me and I was really struck by -- here's one particular line. "In my elections, I always cast a broad net." And he said also, "we have to be in those communities where Democratic policies and programs have really worked but the people don't recognize it." He said, again, we have to be in those communities, implying, as Steve pointed out, that he was there but Hillary was not, even though he didn't say that.

He also did say, and acknowledged, John, that he was able to do that in his -- in 2008, 2012, but not during the mid-terms, which gets to the point of my book as I pointed out, that the president really kind of ignored the DNC, ignored the Democratic Party. It was not a high priority for him. He doesn't like that kind of campaigning. And as a result, the Democratic Party lost big time in the House, in the Senate. They flipped. The governorships, they lost about 12 or 13 governorships and 950 state legislative races during his eight years. Now, he says he wants to work on that after he's out of office. I think it's too little, too late. BERMAN: Steve, did he talk about that at all with you, what he intends

to do going forward?

INSKEEP: Well, he described himself as wanting to be a coach. I asked if he was trying to be a talent scout. He didn't disagree with that either. He wants to try to help bring up the next generation of Democratic talent. He expressed hope for the future of his party given some of the young talents that's out there, but clearly there's not a bench. There was nobody else who was -- who was third or fourth, who was really strong in a presidential campaign, for example. That's where he hopes to go.

[12:25:14] But Bill hit on something really quite interesting there. Obama managed to pass things like Obamacare, the Affordable Care Act, and yet it appears that he was not able to sell it in the long term. It was a complicated measure. It had a lot of drawbacks, as well as advantages. And in the end, even in areas that massively benefited from Obamacare, there was a massive vote against Hillary Clinton in 2016.

PRESS: And, John, if I can --

BERMAN: Steve Inskeep -- go ahead, Bill, quickly?

PRESS: Yes, John, one important point, too, and I think you pointed it out earlier, the president didn't make any excuses. He didn't blame James Comey. He didn't blame Vladimir Putin. He didn't blame Loretta Lynch. He didn't blame Bernie Sanders. He said, we've got to recognize Hillary lost this election. And until that happens, I don't think the Democratic Party can move forward. Everybody's got to accept that. And I haven't heard it yet from too many people around Hillary Clinton.

BERMAN: Bill Press, great to have you with us.

PRESS: Thank you.

BERMAN: Steve Inskeep, fantastic interview. Bill Press was not --

INSKEEP: Thank you.

BERMAN: Was not, you know, lying about that at all. It was fantastic. So, thanks for being with us.

INSKEEP Thank you very much.

PRESS: Thanks.

BERMAN: All right, happening right now, the voters in the Electoral College, electors across the country, they are casting their votes right now. These are live pictures from Raleigh, North Carolina, where those members of the Electoral College will cast their votes for Donald Trump. He won that state.

Now, coming up, we're going to speak with one Republican elector who says he has received 30 phone calls trying to lock down his vote. Plus, we have more on the breaking news. The Russian ambassador to

Turkey shot at an art expedition. We will get an update on his condition and we have new pictures just in of the scene. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)