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AT THIS HOUR WITH BERMAN AND MICHAELA

Pop Star George Michael Dead At 53; Netanyahu Seethes Over U.S. Role in U.N. Resolution; President-Elect to Dissolve Trump Foundation. Aired 11-11:30a ET

Aired December 26, 2016 - 11:00   ET

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


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KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: Hello, everyone. I'm Kate Bolduan. John Berman is off today. Thank you so much for joining me. The music world is mourning the death of pop icon, George Michael. Today, Michael's manager announced that the singer/songwriter died in his London home on Christmas day.

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BOLDUAN: George Michael's career began as a member of the British duo Wham! Wham! was the first western pop group to ever perform in China. You remember their songs so well. I implore you to try to not dance when you hear their music.

When the group broke up in 1986 that's when George Michael began his solo career and a huge career it was, winning two Grammys and selling millions upon millions of albums along the way.

CNN correspondent, Ian Lee, is outside George Michael's home right now. Early this morning, Ian, it was just you and some tributes that we saw outside his door. I see behind you now a lot more people are gathering there. What are you hearing?

IAN LEE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's right. I will give you a look at the people behind me a bit. We have seen this steady stream of people throughout the day coming in. They are leaving flowers, candles, and also personal notes. A lot of people are in shock about George Michael's death. He was 53 years old.

We are hearing from his manager that he died of heart failure. The police are saying it was unexpected but not suspicious. But for people here, George Michael was the sound track to their lives growing up in the 1980s.

He was truly someone who could transcend the time, having a career over a few decades, also crossing genres. We are hearing also from celebrities as well. Ellen Degeneres is saying I just heard about my friend George Michael's death. He was such a brilliant talent. I'm so sad.

Then George Takei of "Star Trek" fame also social media said rest with the glittering stars, George Michael. You found your freedom, your faith. It was your last Christmas and we shall miss you. "That Last Christmas" was one of his famous songs. In talking to people here today, everyone was saying we were listening to the song yesterday and we are hearing about his death.

But he was someone who is more than his music as well. He was a strong advocate for the LGBT community as well as AIDS awareness so this is someone who really left his mark on society.

BOLDUAN: Ian, you are outside his home. What are you hearing from the community? I mean, the world knows him as a pop superstar and as you said, he provided the sound track to so many lives. What was he known as kind of there near and dear in his neighborhood?

LEE: You know, Kate, that is the one thing that really struck me here, because when you hear about celebrities, people meeting their idols, their celebrity idols, they always are hesitant because they don't know who they truly are going to be in person. Everyone here I talked to who knew him said he was a kind and generous man. He knew the people in the community and interacted with them. He was someone who was very warm and generous -- Kate.

BOLDUAN: One of sadly what has become a long list of musical icons that the world has lost in 2016. Ian Lee is there for us today. Ian, thank you so very much.

On a very different headline but a very big headline this morning, in Israel this hour, anger is still boiling over, over last week's U.N. Security Council vote against Israel. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu calling it a shameful ambush after the U.S. abstained and a resolution passed condemning Israeli settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem.

The resolution regarding those settlements, the resolution stated about those settlements this, calling it a flagrant violation of international law and a major obstacle to comprehensive peace with no legal validity.

Typically, the U.S. uses its veto power to stop any measure critical of its ally, Israel. Not this time. At a cabinet meeting yesterday, the prime minister lamented a new low in relations with the Obama administration. Watch this.

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BENJAMIN NETANYAHU, ISRAELI PRIME MINISTER: As I told John Kerry on Thursday, friends don't take friends to the Security Council. I'm encouraged by the statements of our friends in the United States, Republicans and Democrats alike. They understand how reckless and destructive this U.N. resolution was. I look forward to working with those friends and with the new administration when it takes office next month.

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[11:05:09]BOLDUAN: Already looking ahead to the next administration. That message heard loud and clear. I'm joined now by CNN correspondent, Oren Liebermann in Jerusalem, and global affairs correspondent, Elise Labott, watching all of this from Washington. Elise, what does this resolution really mean? What are those words from the prime minister really mean here?

ELISE LABOTT, CNN GLOBAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Well, Kate, in effect, he said it when he read part of that resolution. Now under international law those settlements are deemed illegal and it's not just settlements in the West Bank where there are disputed territory between the Israelis and Palestinians.

This is in Jerusalem which Israel considers its capital, it means all settlements. So obviously a very terrible resolution for Israel and it means that in International Criminal Courts, other types of legal organizations, now the Palestinians have this legal precedent to take Israel to court.

So for them, it's very concerning to them for their sovereignty and those types of issues, but for the relationship with the U.S., I mean, look, this is really seen as a parting shot by President Obama on his way out the door against Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu.

But also about this settlement policy that the administration has said is not conducive to peace that kind of impinges on what could be a two-state solution.

So obviously, as Prime Minister Netanyahu said, he's hoping when President-elect Trump comes into office, he could maybe help overturn this or move forward but right now, it is a new low between these two men that have had a rocky relationship.

BOLDUAN: Rocky relationship, absolutely, Elise. Oren, reaction from the Israelis has been fierce and it has been swift. What happens next?

OREN LIEBERMANN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, the reaction isn't slowing down yet. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu just released another statement, this one not directed directly at President Obama but backing up his own statements. He called Netanyahu, that is, called his own response up until now measured and vigorous and he insists there won't be any diplomatic fallout from this point.

But Israel's not out of the woods from its perspective just yet. Why is that? Because there's concern about another Security Council resolution that would try to set parameters, that is conditions about negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians for a two-state solution.

The main date which the Israelis are looking at, the Palestinians as well for when that might happen is January 15th when there is an International Peace Conference in Paris. More than 70 different nations will come together to try to make some sort of headway on a peace process.

Israel has said it will not attend. But notably, that's five days before President Obama leaves office, more than enough time for a Security Council resolution on parameters. Israel is working once again feverishly to try to avert that.

BOLDUAN: Elise, I spent a brief amount of time with you and Oren in Israel. You spent a lot of time there. You know a lot about this relationship. When you hear how Oren is describing how the Israelis are reacting and that it is not slowing down, their anger and frustration here, what do you believe is the view of how that relationship might change when a President Trump takes office?

LABOTT: Well, I mean, clearly, they are expecting a much more Israel- friendly relationship. Not only because of Donald Trump's statements. That he would move the U.S. Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. That he would -- there would be no daylight between Israel and the United States.

And he also appointed a very controversial ambassador who agrees with settlement expansion, who feels that the West Bank should be annexed, who wants to move the embassy to Jerusalem.

So I think there's a feeling that they will be able to work together. They have also said that they hope Donald Trump might be able to actually be the one to negotiate Mideast peace.

So I think they think it will be much better under Donald Trump just to the point of that resolution they are floating around. They have been talking about it for some time, this resolution about parameters.

I think the administration was considering it, but what they really wanted to do was make a statement on the settlements because they thought that was really not conducive to Mideast peace.

But I think with all the fallout of this, even from President Obama's own party, I think the administration is going to be very careful about supporting that kind of resolution.

BOLDUAN: An amazing moment we are in in the waning days of the Obama administration. That is for sure. Oren, Elise, it's great to see you both. Thank you so much.

With me now to discuss further is Josh Rogin, is a CNN political analyst and columnist for "The Washington Post." Errol Louis is also here as well, a CNN political commentator and political anchor for Spectrum News. Guys, it's great to see you.

Josh, I chased you around Capitol Hill for years as you were covering many of these issues with regard to foreign policy. I want to get your take on what we heard just this morning from the Israeli ambassador to the United States. We heard Oren Lieberman say the reaction is not slowing up. This surely fits into that category of not slowing down. Watch this.

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[11:10:08]RON DERMER, ISRAELI AMBASSADOR TO THE U.S.: Look, it's an old story that the United Nations gangs up against Israel. What is new is that the United States did not stand up and oppose that gang-up and what is outrageous is that the United States was actually behind that gang-up.

I think it was a very sad day and really a shameful chapter. What this resolution just did is it gave the Palestinians ammunition in their diplomatic and legal war against Israel. The United States not only didn't stop it. They were behind it.

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BOLDUAN: That's Ambassador Dermer saying very clearly there that they believe that the U.S. was behind this resolution. He did not -- no one has yet offered the evidence that leads them to believe the United States was behind this resolution, but what is your take? What is Dermer trying to say?

JOSH ROGIN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes. I think he's trying to say this resolution, while the administration says will encourage peace, will actually make peace harder to achieve. There's an argument for that if you think about it, right?

Because what's happened in the past few days, actually the sides retreated to their corners. It forced the Israelis to make a precedent out of we are not going to be bullied around by this kind of thing, these kinds of things.

As you pointed out, in Congress there's bipartisan support for punishing the U.N., punishing the Palestinians, taking away aid, starting a major fight over the U.S. role in the United Nations. That's going to happen. So Israeli argument is what have you achieved? It's actually done more harm than good.

BOLDUAN: But Josh, on that point, where do you think this goes in terms of we have now heard very quickly from Senator Lindsey Graham that he will lead the charge to essentially what he wants to do is take funding away from the United Nations if they do not reverse course on this. Is there traction for that, do you think?

ROGIN: Yes. I spoke to Senator Graham this weekend. He claims that he has about half a dozen Republican senators who are willing to support him on this. He's talked about Prime Minister Netanyahu about it and also talked to the new appointed U.S. ambassador to Israel, Friedman, on this, and they all seem to be on board.

So this is going to be a thing in the coming Congress and there's also potential you could have high level Democratic support from people like Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer. So we don't know how it will play out but this will get worse before it gets better.

As -- from the administration's point of view, they sort of created this sort of situation and they are not going to be around as it plays out. That's going to be something that they are going to sort of leave as their legacy as sort of a new crisis in U.S., Israel and U.N. relations.

BOLDUAN: So Errol, as Josh talks about, you know, Republican lawmakers outraged, they are talking about this, even Democratic lawmakers, high ranking Democratic lawmakers critical of this, is the Obama White House in the minority on this issue? Are they out there by themselves? What does that mean for them?

ERROL LOUIS, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: No, not at all. In fact, to add a dose of reality to this, the policy of backing settlements at all costs no matter what is not even a tremendously popular position within Israel. You can look at the polling. Something like 60 percent plus want the peace process to resume.

Many Israelis believe and again, a majority if you look at the polls that continued intransigence could pose an existential threat to Israel. You have all kinds of very conservative governments in Israel, in the United States, over the last four or five decades, who have all recognized that the international law is clear on this.

You cannot start building permanent settlements in land that has been taken as the result of a war. That is what has happened since 1967. Someone's got to dial this back. The United States under the Obama administration wanted to be in their words, an honest broker who will have some credibility in trying to make that happen. If Donald Trump wants to go in a different direction, we will soon find out.

BOLDUAN: That I think is a key question, when you say someone needs to dial this back that means leadership. Someone's going to have to take the lead, not lighting a fire on this diplomatic debacle in the very least, this diplomatic fight between the United States and its closest Middle East ally.

Someone has to take the lead to dial that back. Donald Trump, is that the person that's going to dial back this rhetoric and kind of defuse this, Errol? Do you see that? Do you see him in that role?

LOUIS: He is certainly not going to do it on Twitter. I think somewhere along the line he will either feel through his gut or be told by his advisers that the percentage of Americans who favor economic sanctions against Israel because of its settlement policy increased from 37 percent in November of 2015 to 47 percent now.

That all of the tough talk may be great for some of the donors, may be great on Capitol Hill, it doesn't necessarily resonate with the American people.

And again, it's going to have to, you know -- some parts of his very unorthodox approach to politics and governance is going to have to change when it comes to this particular very sensitive part of the world.

[11:15:10]ROGIN: Yes. I think what Errol is saying makes a lot of sense, but I don't think Donald Trump cares that 47 percent of the people want tougher measures on Israel. It's not going to happen. He's going to bring U.S. and Israel as close as lips and teeth, to quote Chairman Mao.

There is just no way that he is going to use these kinds of pressures against the government of Israel. We are entering an era for better or worse where the U.S. government and Israeli government will be aligned. BOLDUAN: A little bit more on Israel's reaction to this vote. Here's a little bit more from Ambassador Dermer just this morning on what Israel's going to do about this going forward. Listen to this.

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DERMER: Look, if people thought that this resolution was going to make Israel capitulate and go down on its knees, they are sadly mistaken. Israel will stand taller than it's ever been and we will respond to this action by the international community. You saw what the prime minister did yesterday, but I think that's just the beginning.

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BOLDUAN: Josh, he said this is going to get worse before it gets better. What's Dermer saying there?

ROGIN: He's saying that this creates an incentive for the Israelis to be less cooperative because they can't let this kind of thing become a precedent, OK? He's saying there's no way we are going to set a tone whereby if you pass these kinds of resolutions we are going to make you think these can be a successful way of negotiating Mideast peace.

He wants to bring it back to the sort of Israeli-Palestinian direct negotiations. Whether or not that's sort of a good faith offer or not is debatable, frankly. But if the U.N. is going to keep doing this, the Israelis are going to keep raising the stakes because they feel that's more important than dealing with the actual issue right now.

They don't want to allow the United Nations just to become a venue for Israel bashing with the United States looking the other way.

BOLDUAN: There could be another resolution coming, as Oren Lieberman points out even before Trump's inauguration and the diplomatic fallout, we are looking at it play out. Political fallout, what that means for Trump on his first day in office couldn't be more of a tricky question for him to be taking on in terms much Mideast peace on day one or even before that as he's weighing in. Guys, great to see you. Thank you so much.

President-elect Donald Trump says his foundation will close its doors but maybe not so fast. An investigation into his charity may not let him close his doors. That's ahead.

Plus President Obama says if he had run again, he could have won even though clearly legally, he cannot or constitutionally he cannot. That's according to Obama himself. Ahead, the new exclusive interview with the president.

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[11:21:03]

BOLDUAN: In just 25 days, Donald Trump will be sworn in as the president of the United States. As an effort to untangle himself from any conflicts of interest the president-elect plans to dismantle his charity, the Trump Foundation. That was just announced over the weekend.

But New York's attorney general is saying about that, not so fast. Our national correspondent, Ryan Nobles, is watching all the transition news for us from Washington. Ryan, what do we know about this announcement and what's going to happen next?

RYAN NOBLES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, logistically, it really shouldn't take that much to shut the Trump Foundation down. They currently have no employees. They haven't raised money in some time. Trump himself hasn't donated to the charity since 2008.

But it is a different story legally. A spokesperson for New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, he was, of course, a Hillary Clinton supporter and launched an investigation into the charity during the campaign, said the foundation cannot dissolve itself until his investigation is complete.

Schneiderman has been investigating how Trump used the foundation to settle some personal business dealings. Now Trump is hoping that shutting down the foundation could begin that process of separating his private affairs from his work as president.

And in a statement he said, quote, "To avoid even the appearance of any conflicts with my role as president, I have decided to continue to pursue my strong interest in philanthropy in other ways."

The much bigger chore for Trump is figuring out how to isolate himself from his vast business interests around the world in a way that avoids potential conflicts of interest.

Trump has said he will outline that process, but the details of that plan won't be revealed until the New Year. Of course, Kate, we are getting very close to him being inaugurated as president so many of us waiting to see how he plans to unpack his business dealings before he becomes president.

BOLDUAN: Yes, it seems that the second part of the equation, how to untangle himself from his business, is a much more difficult question because he was going to announce it, and then because of how challenging it is and how difficult it is to figure it out with his type of business, they had to push back that news conference. We don't have a date certain, right? It's just in January, sometimes before inauguration?

NOBLES: Yes, that's right. As you mentioned, he originally planned to do it sometime in December, but as his transition got into that it was clear it would take more work than they anticipated. Now they just said wait until after the New Year for more information.

BOLDUAN: All right, more information we are waiting for, but still, got new information about the Trump Foundation. Ryan, it's great to see you. Thank you.

Joining me to discuss this is Richard Painter, a former White House ethics attorney under President George W. Bush. He is also professor of corporate law at the University of Minnesota. Richard, it's great to see you again.

Spoke with you what feels like eons ago when you came out with an opinion piece saying that Donald Trump must do more to untangle himself and protect himself from any potential of conflicts of interest.

So we now have this information. He is dissolving or at least wants to dissolve his charity. This is good news, right, for good governance folks?

RICHARD PAINTER, FORMER WHITE HOUSE ETHICS LAWYER: Well, yes. This is a step in the right direction. I also wrote another opinion piece over the summer suggesting that Secretary of State Clinton should offer to close down that foundation if she were elected. They didn't do that.

I think that this makes a charitable fundraising foundations with politics and elected office is not a good one. That's a step in the right direction. I hope the New York attorney general will let this close down as soon as possible.

But the much bigger issue is the for-profit businesses. If President Trump does not separate himself from the for-profit businesses, we will have a lot of problems. There will be states attorneys-general, plaintiffs' attorneys and everyone else nipping at his heels with respect to every business operations.

We have buildings overseas with his name on them that could be potential terrorist targets. We could end up with bribery investigations. There's the problem of foreign government money flowing into the Trump business empire. That's a constitutional violation as of January 20.

So they need to make sure there is no foreign government money that would violate the emolument clause of the constitution.

[11:25:06]There are a whole lot of problems that I think President Trump could deal with by selling off his business interests or giving them over to a trustee in a blind trust so the trustee can figure out how to dispose of these properties.

And he could focus on being president. He has a lot of issues to deal with. We have a crisis in the Middle East, global warming and everything else.

BOLDUAN: I want to ask you about his business interests in one second, but as you mentioned, the New York attorney general said he legally cannot dissolve his foundation until their investigation into the charity's money has wrapped up.

Do you think the AG is likely to stand in the way of dissolving this charity since that's what many people have called for him to do? It seems kind of counterproductive if the attorney general would stop that from happening. PAINTER: The priority for the American people is having a president who could focus on his job. That means dissolving this foundation as soon as possible. The New York attorney general can continue to investigate whatever he thinks happened and if he can prove it was wrongdoing I'm sure the people will be held accountable.

But the New York attorney general's investigation is not the priority right now. Right now, we need to have a president who is free of conflict of interest. That means dissolving the foundation.

It also means President Trump selling off his business interests that create conflicts of interest, making sure there's no foreign government money coming into his operations.

BOLDUAN: The -- dissolving the foundation, at least it's described by many, dissolving the charity seems to be the easiest of the conflicts of interest to put to rest. His business seems to be a very different beast in how to deal with in terms of building a clear wall between him and his business interests. From what Donald Trump has announced with regard to his charity, does that tell you anything about how he may cut himself off from his business? Does it give you any further idea?

PAINTER: Well, I think he appears to be willing to take some steps to avoid conflicts of interest. There's a lot more encouraging than we were about ten days ago, where we had his children raising money auctioning off time with Ivanka over coffee, and I think people trying to make the conflicts worse.

So at least we are moving the right direction. It will be a challenge to address the business interests and to divest the businesses, they create conflicts of interest. A lot bigger challenge than the foundation, but he needs to do it.

I hope, I very much hope that he's moving that direction and that also people won't stand in the way, whether it's state attorneys general or anyone else.

BOLDUAN: Now you mentioned the children, it seemed Donald Trump was dissolving his charity, but is very unhappy about the fact at least some of his kids are cutting off their charitable work as well. He wrote this over the weekend that my wonderful son, Eric will no longer be allowed to raise money for children with cancer because of a possible conflict of interest with my presidency. Isn't this a ridiculous shame?

He loves these kids, has raised millions of dollars for them and now must stop. The president-elect saying wrong answer. I found that fascinating.

PAINTER: Well, I think it was the right answer and I'm glad that the Trump children are not going to be raising money. They have money of their own that they can give away, but I don't think having the president's family going out there soliciting money for charitable causes or for anything else is going to improve the image of the presidency. We learned from the episode with the Clintons that the public does not respond well to this type of mixing of roles. There are plenty of people out there very good at raising money for charity, but let's have the Trump family support him as president.

And also they may have some businesses to run and they have plenty of other things to do and they can give away their own money to charity and leave the solicitation to other people.

BOLDUAN: Richard Painter, thank you so much for your expertise on this. A lot more to come before inauguration. We will learn more and we will have you back on. Appreciate it.

President Obama suggests that he could have been re-elected if he had run again. Constitutional problem there. Other than that, what does that say for Hillary Clinton?

And this -- remembering the life and legacy of George Michael after his surprising and shocking death. Tributes around the world pouring in.

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