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AT THIS HOUR WITH BERMAN AND MICHAELA

Obama's Busy Schedule over Next Few Days; Evan McMullin: Trump Manipulating U.S. Public on Russia Hacking; North Korean Regime Claims Close to Testing Missile that Could Reach U.S. Aired 11:30-12p ET

Aired January 2, 2017 - 11:30   ET

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


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[11:32:47] JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: President Obama right now deplaning, walking off Air Force One with his family. They're returning from a holiday vacation in Hawaii. That is the final trip to Hawaii that President Obama will make as president. You can bet he'll go back quite a lot there as a retired president. After all, he did grow up in Hawaii.

The president has a busy, busy schedule over the next few days. He's heading to Capitol Hill on Wednesday where he'll meet with Senate Democrats and House Democrats, we're told, to try to figure out a way to preserve or protect what he can with Obamacare.

We're taking a look. You can see the president depart. I don't think he's going to talk to us after that long flight. There's a wave from the First Lady Michelle Obama, getting into the vehicle. They will head back to the White House where President Obama has 18 days left, 18 days left as president.

We did just learn that he is going to give a farewell address. That farewell address will be January 10th in Chicago, of course, the city where he lived for a long time, after Hawaii. A walk down memory lane for the president.

Let's go to the White House and bring in Joe Johns with a sense of what we can expect from the president over the next several days -- Joe?

JOE JOHNS, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: John, I think the most important thing on the agenda here in Washington, dc at the White House in a lot of respects is the Affordable Care Act. As you know, the president is headed to Capitol Hill on Wednesday to talk to congressional Democrats about what they're going to do when Donald Trump takes office and the new Congress comes in and starts working to repeal the Affordable Care Act. Democrats, as a matter of policy, do have to figure out how they're going to proceed, the extent to which they're going to obstruct or try to block all or part of any repeal, the extent to which they're going to cooperate with Republicans on getting rid of some elements of the Affordable Care Act, and keeping some others. And so, that's kind of a complex question for them. The president wants to talk to them apparently about that, and some of the other things that Republicans may want to change, fix, tweak, what have you. The president over the weekend was tweeting quite a bit, trying to

sort of cement his legacy, if you will, talking about some of the areas that he feels were a success, including the Affordable Care Act. There was this tweet that went out that said, "After decades of rising health care costs, today, nearly every American now has access to the financial security of health care." So, that's on the agenda.

As you said, John, the president is going to Chicago next week to give his farewell speech. He'll meet with people who were with him back in the day, if you will. Then we'll still have several days before January 20th.

Back to you.

[11:34:59] BERMAN: 18 days left in total.

Joe Johns, at the White House, thanks so much.

Want to talk all about this now. We're joined by CNN political commentator, Democratic strategist, Maria Cardona; and back with us, former Trump campaign adviser, Steve Cortes, from the A Team.

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Maria Cardona, I want to talk about what the president is doing this week. We saw these tweets from President Obama claiming credits for a number of things, the achievements he thinks he's accomplished over the last eight years. The first and last are very interesting. He says, "As we look to the future, I wanted to take a moment to take a look back at the remarkable progress you've made possible these past eight years." And he talks about a number of subjects, including job growth, health care, foreign oil, troops, marriage equality. Then he closing my saying, "It's been the privilege of my life to serve as your president. I look forward to standing with you as a citizen. Happy New Year, everybody."

It's interesting, as the president leaves office, Maria, he is claiming credit for a number of things, jobs growth, certainly, something that happened during his administration. You can't argue that. Marriage equality, something that happened during his administration. You can't argue that either.

With all of these accomplishments, do you feel that the Democratic Party, after eight years, is stronger than when he came into office?

MARIA CARDONA, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, I think, you know, clearly, we had a big disappointing election just now. But I do think when it comes to the issues, John, the American people are mostly supportive of the Democrats as a whole. Let's remember that President Obama still has pretty high approval ratings, higher than any the other recent president that has gone out of office after eight years. And let's also remember -- and I know the Trump people hate hearing this -- but it's a fact, that Hillary Clinton actually got more votes by almost 3 million than President-elect Trump did. So, more Americans actually preferred her view, the Democrats' view, of where this country wants to go or where they wanted to take this country than they did President-elect Trump.

So, with that in mind, when you move forward, Republicans have to understand they don't have a mandate, and that what President Obama was able to accomplish these past eight years, he did with the support of the majority of the American people. And if they don't keep that in mind, they're going to be a complete failure for the next four years.

BERMAN: Even with what you're calling a mandate for President Obama, Democrats lost 70 seats in the House, they lost 11 Senate seats, 10 governorships, and Obamacare, his signature legislation, may be largely repealed. So, that's what happened. A lot of other things did as well.

Steve Cortes, that's a pretty harsh criticism of the White House. But what about Maria's notion that President Obama does have a very high approval rating right now. People do think the country is moving economically speaking in a better direction. There's job growth right now. So, he does have some things to brag about, doesn't he, Steve?

STEVE CORTES, FORMER TRUMP CAMPAIGN ADVISOR: Right, John. Listen, I'll be the first to concede and to laud this president as being historic. The fact that a country once held slaves elected an African-American as president is a great testament both to him and to the country. And he does remain a popular figure. But I think that that popularity at the top masks what you've been talking about and almost puts a veil over the reality underneath that, particularly in the states, which is a Democratic Party which is in systemic decline under his administration. They've lost almost 1,000 state legislator seat. That's just astounding. So, the American people are voting, quite literally voting largely for the Republican agenda. And I think one of the reasons, by the way, that the economy is starting to perk up is because people are already anticipating what's going to be unleashed next year, which is a simplified tax code, sensible regulations, and besides the policies, the intangibles are also important here, a sense of optimism and confidence that we can once again grow. This president will be the only one to leave the presidency without a 3 percent-plus GDP growth year. That has to stop.

[11:40:08] BERMAN: A lot of years of growth, after a lot of job loss. Steve, I will note, a lot of the gains made in the economy and stock market happened before November.

MARIA CARDONA, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Yes.

BERMAN: Maria Cardona, I want to ask --

(CROSSTALK)

CORTES: Not the stock market gains, John. That's not accurate. Not the stock market

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CARDONA: Most of them did, Steve. (CROSSTALK)

BERMAN: A lot of them happened after --

(CROSSTALK)

CORTES: Not true.

BERMAN: -- up 6 percent. It was up 6 percent as of November and then it went up more after that. So, you're both right on that front.

Maria, Obamacare, right now, the president going to Capitol Hill tomorrow to meet with members of the Senate and House Democrats to figure out how to protect parts of Obamacare. Without control of either chamber and without the White House, other than, you know, strongly worded letters in speeches, Maria, what can he do?

CARDONA: You're right, John. It's going to be a very difficult, I think, and challenging task moving forward for Democrats to protect the majority of the Affordable Care Act. But what I think that Republicans also have to understand -- and I believe they do see this challenge as well -- is that the Affordable Care Act right now gives 20 million Americans health care coverage and health care security that they didn't have before. And Obamacare, the Affordable Care Act, is constructed in a very complicated but solid manner, meaning if you get rid of one part, the other parts that Republicans claim are very popular and they want to keep are going to fall apart. So, I hope that what Republicans want to do is not completely take it all away. And frankly, Trump has alluded to this. But that they will work with Democrats to do what we have said from the beginning, which is, it's not perfect, let's work together to fix it, to make sure that the 20 million Americans that have health care don't lose it, to make sure that Americans with preexisting conditions can continue to get health care coverage, which is one of the big, big great things that Obamacare has given us, and to make sure that kids can continue to be on their parents' health care until they're 26, expansion of Medicaid, et cetera. Hopefully, Republicans will keep an eye on that moving forward.

BERMAN: It will be a complicated discussion. Whether it's a one- sided discussion, we'll wait and see.

Maria Cardona, Steve Cortes, thanks so much for being with us. Happy New Year.

CARDONA: Thanks so much, John.

CORTES: thank you.

BERMAN: The president-elect claims he knows things that others do not when it comes to Russian hacking. According to one of Donald Trump's biggest critics, that's claim is all part of an effort to manipulate the American people. That critic joins us live.

Plus, a warning from North Korea. The secretive regime claims it's close to testing a missile that could reach the United States. Is this a real threat or just tough talk?

Stay with us.

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[11:46:06] BERMAN: President-elect Trump is continuing to question U.S. intelligence that says Russia meddled in the U.S. election, comparing it to the failed intel in the lead-up to the Iraq war. Listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT-ELECT OF THE UNITED STATES: Well, I just want them to be sure, because it's a pretty serious charge, and I want them to be sure. And if you look at the weapons of mass destruction, that was a disaster. And they were wrong. And so, I want them to be sure. I think it's unfair if they don't know.

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BERMAN: Mr. Trump also says he has inside information about the hacking or he has information that the rest of us don't know, which he will reveal this week.

Joining me now is Evan McMullin, a former CIA agent, who ran as an Independent candidate for president. He's also a former policy director for the House Republican Conference.

Evan, great to have you here.

EVAN MCMULLIN, FORMER CIA AGENT & FORMER INDEPENDENT PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Great to be here, John.

BERMAN: I'm going to read to you, a dramatic reading, of your own tweets. You say, "If the media plays his game and repeats 'Trump knows something' over and over, many Americans will believe it. That's exactly what Trump wants."

MCMULLIN: That's right. That's what he does. Donald Trump wants America to believe he is the ultimate source of information. We've seen this as he attacks the media, as he attacks the intelligence community. This is something that people with authoritarian tendencies, which I've said Donald Trump has over the last several months and beyond, this is what they do. They want to undermine other authorities, other sources of information so that they become the only ultimate source of information. That's what he's doing. So, he claims to know things that no one else knows.

I'm highly skeptical that he does. I'm very curious to hear what he comes out with when he does. But the game that he's playing is for -- he's dangling that out there. And then, we, in the media, will discuss that over the next few days. Americans will hear it, millions of Americans will hear it, and they'll believe it, even though, in the end, I highly doubt he has anything of significance.

BERMAN: What's the alternative? Not reporting what the president- elect of the United States says out loud?

MCMULLIN: No. And I get your -- I hear your point. But I think to listen to what he says and then come out with the information when it does come out --

BERMAN: If.

MCMULLIN: If he does, exactly. I have serious questions about that. If he does have serious information, he ought to be going to the FBI, the CIA, the authorities with it. After all, we're talking about a foreign adversary undermining our democracy, attacking our democracy. So, he should go with that information to the authorities, not talk about it, not announce it on public television, and then not say what it is. For a variety of reasons, I'm highly skeptical he has anything. I think he's painted himself into a corner by making this claim. I'm very curious, yes, indeed, to see what he has to see. But I think we're pulled into this trap of his and it's very manipulative.

BERMAN: You say, to be clear, "Real Donald Trump is siding with America's greatest adversary, even as it attacks our democracy. Never grow desensitized to this."

MCMULLIN: Yes, we cannot be desensitized to this. We talk a lot about it these days. But I fear that many Americans don't understand how serious this is. We have a foreign adversary in Russia, not a country we've arbitrarily decided that they would be a foreign adversary. This is a country that undermines democracy and basic human rights around the world. They are attacking our democracy in a variety of ways. And we have a president-elect in President-elect Trump who wants to align our country with that foreign adversary.

BERMAN: Two separate things, I want to get to both of these. First, on Russia, he made quite it clear during the election he wants a better relationship with Russia. That's part of the election that Americans voted on.

MCMULLIN: Other presidents have said the same thing. Our last two presidents have also wanted a better relationship with Russia. If I were president, I also would want that. But there's a difference between pursuing that, hoping for it, and simply aligning yourself, adopting Russia's policies, carrying Russia's weight, turning a blind eye on its attacks on our democracy.

[11:50:02] BERMAN: I don't want to keep that running, but I wanted to get your perspective on this because you did serve in the CIA. You know, when you hear Donald Trump question the intelligence on the Russian hacking and comparing it to the intelligence on weapons of mass destruction and Saddam Hussein, what's your reaction to that?

MCMULLILN: I just think it's disingenuous. The intelligence community makes a variety of judgments. I would say hundreds of judgments every day. And they do that based on years and years of experience and intelligence and new information coming in from human and electronic sources. It's not perfect. That's why we have them.

But Donald Trump is doing something else. He is attacking another source of information, another authority, another source of power. Because he, as someone who has these authoritarian tendencies, is uncomfortable with that. And it's textbook. And that's what he is doing. And we need to be very aware of it.

BERMAN: Ed McMullin, I appreciate you bringing your view. That is your view of Donald Trump, obviously.

MCMULLIN: It is.

BERMAN: You ran against him, so you are no fan of him from the beginning.

It's always great to have you here with us. Thank you so much.

MCMULLILN: Thank you.

BERMAN: New Year, a new warning from North Korea. They say they're closer to testing a missile that could hit the United States. Is this idle talk or the real deal? We're live at the Pentagon, next.

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BERMAN: North Korea's leader says his country is close to testing an intercontinental ballistic missile. In a New Year's Day address, Kim Jong-Un called his country a nuclear and military power. Kim says the country will move forward with increasing military capabilities if the U.S. continues what it calls threats and blackmail against it.

Joining me now to discuss, CNN's Pentagon correspondent, Barbara Starr,

Barbara, does the Pentagon think this is real?

[11:54:44] BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, you know, they're looking. This appears to be Kim Jong-Un's New Year's resolution, to develop in intercontinental ballistic missile that could hit the U.S.

What's the reality check here? The Pentagon says they know and they have seen the evidence of this, that North Korea is continuing to test missiles, warheads, and that it is trying to do this.

Kim -- I just want to read a little bit of what he had to say. He said that they were in the, quote, "last-stage preparation of tests for intercontinental ballistic rocket launch."

Now, they have been able to do that in the past, but that is with a satellite on the front end. What they haven't been able to do yet -- and this is the key -- is to put a warhead on the front end, send it up, and bring it back down into the earth's atmosphere, able to hit a target. That's what he has to master. And all indications are that North Korea is on the road to doing this. It's going to pose an interesting dilemma in the coming weeks and months. They are getting closer to the ability to do that. As a result, U.S. intelligence is watching North Korea around the clock. Right now, they say it's all quiet, but this could really change at a moment's notice. They could launch something. They could conduct another underground nuclear test. They had a lot of options on their plate -- John?

BERMAN: Barbara, is there a sense that this is being timed for the presidential transition here in the United States?

STARR: Well, if not timed, in particular, Kim at least has given plenty of indication he is well aware of the election, the transition to Donald Trump. The feeling is that he may try and do something, possibly provocative, with another test in the final days of the Obama administration, or he may try to do something in the initial days of a Trump administration.

BERMAN: Barbara Starr, we'll be watching this over the next several days.

Thanks so much, Barbara.

STARR: Sure.

BERMAN: Democratic lawmakers now gearing up for a fight. They're planning to target eight, eight, of President-elect Donald Trump's cabinet nominees. But can they do anything really to stop them from being confirmed? We'll have details on that ahead.

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[12:00:12] PAMELA BROWN, CNN ANCHOR: Hello, and welcome to the CNN NEWSROOM. Thanks so much --