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tv   The Lead With Jake Tapper  CNN  December 14, 2016 1:00pm-2:01pm PST

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commander in chief before he has even taken the oath of office. welcome to "the lead," everyone. that's the closing bell. we're going to get to all the headlines in a moment. first we have the breaking news in the money lead. the dow continuing to flirt with its 20,000 points 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 at the stock exchange. borrowing money just got a little bit more expensive. how is the market reacting? >> reporter: you're seeing the dow closing down 117 points. it's not because the hike happened. that was expected. the problem with that -- what
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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 home equity line of credit or an adjustable rate mortgage, you'll pay more. car loans will be more expensive. there are some winners in this, though. for one, savers, senior citizens who need the interest on their savings. those getting close to retirement have moved a lot of cash. the banks are winners. they can charge more for taking out loans. the biggest losers, those looking to buy a home. the average 30-year fixed rate mortgage right now is 4.2%. for a $250,000 loan that's a
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monthly principal and interest payment of $1,223. so that payment will go up about $45. looking at the life of the loan, borrowers are paying $16,000 more. jake. >> alison kosik at the market. thank you so much. moving to politics. donald trump wrapped up a meeting with tech leaders from facebook, apple, amazon and others. 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 white house. also at the tech meeting, mr.
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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? >> reporter: well, that's right, jake. tomorrow was supposed to be the big day. now that is being pushed to january so they can sort all of this out. 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. donald trump's transition turning into quite the family
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affair. as the president-elect tops montana congressman ryan zinke to lead the interior. sources say don jr. helped interview people for the most and eric 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. >> bottom line is he has been clear from day one of the role his family plays and the trust he has in them. >> reporter: there is no sign the family's influence is waning. 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
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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. today bezos along with facebook's sheryl sandberg, apple's tim cook and others met trump to chat about growing u.s. tech jobs. >> nobody like the people in this room. and anything we can do to help this go along, we'll be there for you. you'll call my people. you'll call me. it doesn't make any difference. we have no formal chain of command around here. >> reporter: as trump picks the brains of the business community, his team is turning to how best to execute the president-elect's legislative priorities. >> we're probably going to lead with obamacare repeal and then replace. then you will have tax -- small tax reform package. and then a bigger tax reform package at the end of april. >> reporter: while trump himself defends former critic paul ryan,
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a key player in ensuring the success of his agenda on the hill. >> i've come to appreciate him. you know, honestly, he is like a fine wine. every day goes by, i get to appreciate his genius more and more. if he ever goes against me, i'm not going to say that, okay. >> reporter: trump is doing defense work of his own, using his thank you tour to defend his pick for secretary of state. exxonmobil ceo rex tillerson. >> rex is friendly with many of the leaders in the world that we don't get along with. >> reporter: now, as for those concerns about rex tillerson, among some on the hill, donald trump's transition advisers are certain that once senator meet with the candidate they'll change their tune and ultimately vote in support of him. we'll see if he passes through the senate with flying colors, jake. >> sara murray, thank you so much. let's turn to a republican senator serving on homeland
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security and foreign relations committees. senator ron johnson from wisconsin joins me now. senator, thank you for being here and congratulations on your reelection. >> jake, appreciate that. >> 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? >> well, i am actually heahead the curve. we have held a number of hearings on russian interference, their propaganda and disinformation. techniques. and we have known this for quite some time. they're meant to destabilize. they're meant to sow confusion. this is all well known before the election. i am happy to gain more information. leader mcconnell said if there is a formal investigation it will probably occur in the intelligence community because it will deal with sources and methods of information. i have not heard new information. i was one of the original 12
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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 effeaffect the outcoy hacking into election machines and we were supposed to calm people down and offer the services of the department of homeland security to any state asking for it. i am not sure why this has all become politicized. >> in october the intelligence committee put out a statement saying they are confident that the russian government directed the compromises of e-mails from 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. >> it certainly does. i don't want anybody interfering
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in u.s. elections. but what really concerns me about russian cyber activity is, for example, their cyberattacks, 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. >> 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? >> what i have heard him say is he wants to strengthen our economy, stop hollowing our military and he wants to defeat isis and secure our borders.
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that's operating from more a position of strength. president obama's strategy peace through a drought, has been a miserable failure. i'll give the president-elect's nominees the benefit of the doubt. i look forward to meeting mr. tillerson and the confirmation hearings and look forward to an administration focusing on reducing regulatory burden and having a competitive tax system and turning the economy around. >> 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? >> again, i can only speak for myself. i have criticized vladimir putin repeatedly. and we've held hearings on this.
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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'll get all the information and he should be very wary of russia. >> he should be very wary of russia, but to be clear, when i asked you if you could name one think that donald trump ever said critical of vladimir putin, i didn't hear an answer. >> i am not on encyclopedia of what statements he's made. >> congratulations on your reelection victory. >> have a merry christmas. 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, will not happen for a while. but what is happening is a new dustup over his new hotel in washington. that story next. my budget used to be a real downer.
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welcome back to "the lead." sticking with politics. 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. president-elect trump postponed an announcement until next month about how he would wall himself off from his businesses. in the meantime, we are learning more about potential conflicts of interest surrounding his washington, d.c., trump hotel. cnn political reporter manu raju is live outside the trump hotel. manu, the 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? >> 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.
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today also, jake, trump's team pushing back on those claims. and republicans on capitol hill staying quiet. donald trump has never been shy to tout his luxury hotel in washington's old post office pavilion. >> a magnificent place at that. >> reporter: 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 of all ownership interest and managerial control. >> i care about the 60-year
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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. >> reporter: 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'll explain in january. >> 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. >> reporter: but the office of government ethics recently tweeted at the president-elect, writing, bravo.
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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. 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. >> manu raju, thank you so much. the president-elect says both of his adult sons will run his businesses but donald jr.
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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? buses sitting empty instead of carrying the stick, starving and wounded while the ceasefire in syria fails to take hold. what's next for aleppo and for the thousands of people still trapped there? stay with us. so she makes her pie crust from scratch. and sprinkles on brown sugar streusel. so that you can spend more time making special moments... ...with your family. marie callender's. it's time to savor.
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welcome back to "the lead." staying with politics. bringing in my panel. mollie hemingway, senior editor at the federalist. heidi and glen rush from politico. glen, i know people don't care too much about the press. >> yes. >> and our needs and our wants and what we think we do -- >> oh, we have needs! so does everybody else, jake. >> i want to ask you one thing and then we can move on. listen to what president-elect's incoming chief of staff, reince priebus, had to say about possible changes to the press operation in the administration. >> 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 -- >> no. it's horrible. >> -- 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
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be done. >> 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. >> i remember. you were in the front row always blocking me. look, here is the thing that people don't know. 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. see how it works. >> heidi. let me ask you questions about the roles of the trump sons who were told -- we don't know exactly what the wall that will be built between the president-elect and his businesses is going to be. the suggestion has been eric and don jr. will run the businesses and there will be this wall. we know don jr. was involved in the interview process for secretary of the interior. a big out doorsman and that eric
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was in some of the meetings when it comes to secretary of state. that doesn't seem to be much of a separation. >> 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. and does it really pass the plausibility test that he's not going to discuss his business with his children. 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. regardless of whether they have a wall and they discuss things or don't, the money is still going into trump's pocket. in particular -- there are domestic conflicts of interest and foreign conflicts of interest. the foreign conflicts of interest become problematic because you have diplomats openly opining about how they can use the trump properties to try to curry favor with the president. may not work, but there will be a lot of people who try to do things and have conversations that they shouldn't be having
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and things they shouldn't be doing. >> let me ask you about ivanka trump. we're being told now by a transition source that the office of first lady will become the office of the first family and that ivanka trump, it looks as though she'll have much more of a leadership role in the white house itself. what do you make of that? i know some conservatives think ivanka is the squish of the family, the democrat, possibly. are you concerned about it? do you applaud it? what do you think? >> 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. >> sure. >> but yeah, ivanka trump's speech at the republican national convention could have been given word for word at the democratic national convention. that's sort of a reflection of the realignment that we are seeing in the political parties right now. she is a good example of that. >> yeah. no. talk about realignment, the president-elect was in
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wisconsin, and speaker paul ryan was there. take a listen. >> 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, okay. >> i always appreciate the genius of a good borolo. glenn, that's not nice. 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. >> no "lock him up." that's a start, right? i think like -- somebody else
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who has to talk to steve bannon, the president's counselor who as we know from leaked e-mails in 2015 said his goal was to take paul ryan out. we have a little bit of a honeymoon here. the most significant thing that has happened in the transition, three investigations likely to proceed into the russian hacking of the elections. i think the problems will come up more on the senate side. >> what do you think about the booing for paul ryan? >> a lot of this is these are just -- the 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. steve bannon released him home address and sent out the address of his kids' school. he could be upset but seems to be working fine with trump. >> the person who said boo to the press and said hush to the press corps. >> was that true? >> it was reported in today's playbook. >> i didn't see that.
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i assume they mean it. thank you so much. the cia says the russians hacked the dnc to try to help trump win the election. the former head of the nsa and cia join me next. and the best deals are on the best network. with no surprise overages, you can use your data worry free and even carry over the data you don't use. and right now get four lines and 20 gigs for only $40 per line. you'll even get the samsung galaxy s7, the pixel phone by google, or the motoz droid for only $10 per month. hurry, these offers end soon. get the best deals and the best network, only on verizon. we'll play something besides video games. every day is a gift especially for people with heart failure. but today there's entresto®- a breakthrough medicine
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welcome back to "the lead." i'm jake tapper. turning to our world lead now. russian president vladimir putin says he is prepared to meet with president-elect trump at any moment and that the two countries should normalize relations. this comes as cnn learned the obama administration delayed going public with information about russia's interference in the u.s. election over fears of giving donald trump new ammunition in his claims that the whole system is rigged against him as well as the threat of an escalating cyber war with moscow. joining me now is the former director of the cia and nsa, retired four-star general michael hayden. thank you for being here. >> thanks, jake. >> appreciate it.
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listen to what white house press secretary josh earnest had to say in response to donald trump saying the community doesn't know who is behind the hacking. >> there is ample evidence that was known long before the election and in most cases long before october. about the trump campaign and russia. everything from the republican nominee himself calling on russia to hack his opponent. it might be an indication that he was obviously aware and concluded, based on whatever facts or sources he was -- he had available to him, that russia was involved. >> there you hear the white house seeming to suggest, hey, it's obvious that donald trump himself knew. he made that remark that donald trump later said was a joke, suggesting that the russians
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should go ahead and hack hillary clinton. >> look, i think the president-elect is the only prominent america about whom i am aware that has not yet conceded that the russians conducted a massive covert influence campaign against the united states. i think that is accepted throughout the intelligence community. that is not contentious. there are a few things on the margins about intentionality being debated, but the fact that the russians did this has been the conclusion not just of the american intelligence community but of private sector companie that have looked at the dnc computer system. >> the question, i guess, is that there is a debate among the intelligence agencies as to what the reason was russians do this all over the world. >> right. >> sometimes it's to sow doubt so that the public doesn't trust any institution. sometimes it's to sway an election one way or another. what do you think about what the motive was? >> so my personal belief at the moment based upon the evidence that i have been able to see in the open press is i think the
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russians were messing with our heads, right. i am not prepared to personally conclude that they were trying to pick a winner. jake, i am not doing that on any evidence either. i just thinking that the ability to predict how that information would affect the american political process, you know, both campaigns used that event for their own talking points. the ability to predict that is so difficult. i think they've been quite hyapy to sow the confusion that we've just seen. i called this a covert influence campaign. it has succeeded beyond all expectations. look at what we are doing now because of it. we have the president-elect of the united states publicly condemning the intelligence services on which he will have to rely as president. if i am running that covert action, i am putting it in the win column. >> that is a stunning -- it is a stunning development, the fact that the intelligence agencies have reached this conclusion about the russians, the enemy,
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in a way. and essentially the president-elect is siding with the enemy. is that too harsh an assessment? >> no. what i can say is that, on this particular event, what mr. says about it is the same thing that mr. putin says about it. and there is, frankly, no arguing that point. >> now, you wrote in the "washington post" about this relationship between the president-elect and the intelligence community. one of the things you wrote about this problem, intelligence should be called on to create the basis and set the boundaries for rational policy choices. that's still true. the odds that it will happen, though, seem bleaker after this past week and we are moving in the wrong direction. >> yeah. >> what is your advice to intelligence officers, the kind of people that you used to lead when you were head of the cia? >> we've got a big close-in problem. what the russians just did. i also think, jake, we've got a big longer-range problem. and that's the reality that the
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president-elect seems to have far more confidence in his intuition, in his au priori judgments and assumptions and doesn't allow them to be affected by the intelligence communities. this is trouble enough. what worries me is will we be able to establish that kind of healthy relationship between the american intelligence community. frankly, jake, that exists to inform the president, between that community and the incoming president. so -- so what i would say is, my guys, they have a heavy lift. it's their job to get into the head of the new president. now, it's nice when the president makes that easier. but whether the president makes it easy or hard, the intel guys have to figure out, how do they get their data into the minds of that -- into the mind of that principal. so, again, it's never a syllogism, jake. whereas, whereas, therefore,
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hayden. but you do have the responsibility to set the left and the right-hand boundary of logical, realistic policy discussions. >> kellyanne conway the other night said that they didn't like foreign governments trying to intrude in the political process, and they didn't like the intelligence agencies trying to intrude in the political process. what's your response to that? and what is the personal response of your friends who are still in the agency? >> so, i'll take that one first, all right. there is a great deal of disappointment and, frankly, disappointment trending towards anger to be so casually dismissed. with regard to being political, jake, let me put it to you this way. john brennan, the current director out there, john loves cia. john has been in cia all of his adult life. there is no earthly reason john would shove the agency he loves out into this traffic lane, where they are now, unless he
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was compelled to do so by what they believe to be the facts. and so this is not cia being political or being politicized. i take it, once you put that information into the public domain, in washington's current atmosphere, one side or the other, depending on the issue, is going to pick it up and use it to hit the other side. but that doesn't mean the intelligence is politicized. >> one of the things that the russians have tried to do is convince the europeans and others throughout the world that there is a moral equivalence between the united states and russia, that essentially it's just two superpowers fighting and there is really no difference, as if they have the same human rights record and stand for the same freedoms that the united states does, which is obviously not the case. are you at all afraid that this posture that the new president-elect has towards russia could actually create that kind of impression within the united states of u.s. versus
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russia? >> well, i mean, the president-elect -- and he is the president-elect, and his legitimacy is not in question. >> no one has questioned it, right. >> he did create quite a dystopian view of america, the american economy, american borders, and american political processes. now, look, i know how campaigns are run. one expects, then, that successful candidates kind of trend back towards the center, tack back towards the center. we'll see if this -- if this president does it. but you created an interesting formula there, jake. i talked about creating this equivalency between the russian political process and the american. you know, jake, if you live inside the russian information sphere, if you are there being bombarded each day by r.t., your russian television, in your native language, they do, they are attempting to build up that equivalency between themselves and the united states. it's horribly false. but more and more people, i fear, are beginning to believe
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it. >> general michael hayden. thank you so much for your time. appreciate it. there were supposed to buses full of people escaping the horrors of war. instead we're being told there are buildings full of bodies in aleppo. now is there new hope? frederik pleitgen is live for us. fred. >> reporter: that's right, jake. our services are telling us the ceasefire for aleppo is back on. but what does that mean for the people on the ground? we'll have more after this. [burke] hot dog. seen it. covered it.
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staying in our world lead, that's a look at the eiffel tower in paris this evening in the city of light. the lights were turned off on the eiffel tower, for a show of solidarity with the people of aleppo as the city appears to fall to bashar al assad and his sources. the ceasefire is now reportedly back on after evacuations. the deal aimed and now aims again to get families, women and children, away from the fighting and moved to the north and western countrysides, but with new shelling today, an estimated 50,000 people seem to still be trapped in the war zone. the new ceasefire could help to get buses moving, currently sitting, waiting to rescue civilians. u.s. ambassador to the united nations samantha power blasted assad and his benefactors for
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slaughtering civilians. >> is there no execution of a child that gets under your skin and creeps you out a little bit? >> cnn's frederik pleitgen has more in this report after spending the last week in syria. >> reporter: on a day that was supposed to see calm and a ceasefire, instead, heavy fighting. mortar and artillery fire and war planes dropping bombs. the civilians in the last rebel enclave in aleppo once again fearing for their lives. >> just a few on the roof. my building. now the people who were leaving on the bus have turned back. >> reporter: this was supposed to be the day the trapped and wounded citizens and the rebels were going to evacuate, with a ceasefire brokered by russia and
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turkey. buses were already lined up when it all fell apart. and once again, the blame game started. assad's government is brazenly committing war crimes and crimes against humanity in aleppo. everyone should see the truth, including those who support him. >> reporter: opposition activists spoke of many casualties on their side, blaming the regime. while the syrian government said rebel shelling killed several in areas controlled by them as well. in an interview with russian tv, syrian president bashar al assad said his forces would only accept a rebel surrender. >> translator: there will be no pause because this only happens in an area in which terrorists say that they are prepared to hand in their weapons or leave the area. only then military operations can stop. >> reporter: and so, instead of an end to their nightmare, the tired, weak and traumatized in the rebel enclave live in fear once again. anger not only at russia and the
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syrian government but at the west as well. >> the whole world let us down. and we couldn't help our people. now you can't help us. >> reporter: the u.n. has called for an immediate halt to the fighting in aleppo as they have for years with little success. but with every hour that passes and every shell that's fired, the prospect for an end to the carnage in aleppo fades a little more. so now, jake, it seems as though there is the glimmer of hope once again. and the way all of this is supposed to work is that the ceasefire is supposed to be on right now. though we are still hearing reports of sporadic gunfire. a lot less than before, certainly. then tomorrow morning the first people are set to be evacuated. wounded people first, sick people first, and then, after that, the civilians and the fighters are supposed to get safe passage out of aleppo. of course, hoping that this time it's going to be for real.
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>> fred pleitgen, thank you so much, in syria and iraq. isis is losing ground and major manpower according to u.s. officials. since 2014, they say, the american led coalition has killed 75% of the terror group's fighting ranks which is believed to now stand at approximately 12,000 to 15,000 terrorists. the pentagon says over the last few years 50,000 isis militants have been taken off the battlefield. they say that is a conservative estimate. to barbara starr at the pentagon. we learned yesterday that the pentagon said three isis leaders had been killed in a drone strike in syria. how has the u.s. campaign affected the terrorist group's operational capability in syria and iraq? >> jake, the obama administration thinks they've had real impact against isis. you'll remember donald trump said he wanted a new plan to fight the war from his generals. he may come into office finding a very different war with some progress -- some real progress having been made.
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as president obama prepares to hand off the fight against isis to the new commander in chief, donald trump, the white house says there is significant progress. >> the number of battle-ready fighters inside iraq and syria is now at its lowest point that it's ever been. >> reporter: the u.s. estimates there are now 12,000 to 15,000 isis personnel, a dramatic decline from the peak in september 2014 when isis had amassed close to 32,000 fighters in iraq and syria. isis had always been able to replace its ranks, moving people across the turkish border into syria. but no more. >> sighsal now has no access to an international border and this has significantly impacted the overall campaign because they're now a very isolated entity. >> reporter: based on estimates from 17,000 coalition strikes, the u.s. believes 50,000 isis fighters in total have been killed over the last two years.
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its ranks slashed by nearly 75%. the top coalition commander says that's only part of the story. >> we have taken back over half of the land that iraq, for example, lost to isil in 2014. so i think that's a measure of the progress. >> reporter: now the top priority, get isis out of its self-declared capital in raqqa, syria. >> we also know that they are plotting attacks on the west. and we know that central to external operations plotting is the city of raqqa. and that's why we need to get down there and isolate that city as fast as we can. >> reporter: u.s. special operations forces watch raqqa around the clock from drones overhead. it's all led to key intelligence and a critical strike. one drone struck a vehicle with three isis leaders inside.
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operatives that had been involved, according to the u.s., in attacks against the west, two said to have facilitated the deadly attacks in paris last year. but even with the death of many fighters, isis has not given up the fight. isis has retaken the area around palmyra and captured syrian regime weapons. >> some armored vehicles and various guns and other heavy weapons, possibly some air-defense equipment. >> reporter: the u.s. now watching closely to see if in fact those weapons, possibly including shoulder-fired missiles, will threaten u.s. troops. now, there are still plenty of challenges. one of the enduring worries here is that isis will still inspire people with its etiology and it may inspire for lone-wolf attacks. jake. >> barbara starr at the pentagon for us. barbara, thank you. the trial of a confessed racist and mass murderer takes
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welcome back to "the lead," i'm jake tapper. our national lead, today some major developments in the horrific mass murder trial. dylann roof didn't take the stand in his own defense. so less than an hour after the prosecution rested its case, the defense did the same.
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tomorrow will come closing arguments to the jury. they'll decide the fate of the killer who confessed to killing nine innocent people in an historically african-american south carolina church. chilling surveillance video shows roof walk into the emanuel ame church on june 17th of last year, prayed with a bible study group and went on his rampage. nick valencia is covering the trial. nick, the defense tried to call two mental health experts to the stand but we did not hear from them. why not? >> reporter: the defense has put up very little fight over the past week. that's what we anticipated. we knew the defense wouldn't really cross-examine any witnesses and perhaps not call witnesses of their own. before court ended today, the defense attorney for dylann roof attempted to bring two mental health experts, the judge denying that motion. we can only assume that because a competency hearing for dylann roof before the trial he was found mentally fit to stand trial. the judge during the exchange
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asked roof if he had discussed testifying with his legal team. dylann roof said yes and that he was choosing not to testify. >> our team in the courtroom heard emotional courtroom from a woman named polly sheppard, a survivor of the shooting. tell us what she had to say. >> today's courtroom was emotional. it started like last week began, with the testimony of a survivor. this week it was polly sheppard. she was said to be the woman that dylann roof left alive to tell the world what he did that day. we described in horrific detail what she witnessed that night saying, just as the worshippers closed their eyes, that's when the shooting began. she says initially she thought it was electrical sparks because mother emanuel is a an old church. when she opened her eyes she saw dylann roof standing over the bodies of her friends. she hid under a table and the court then played the 911 call. for his part, dylann roof, as he has been much of the trial sat
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expressionless, showing no remorse as the horrific details were read aroweloud in the courtroom. he's said he is pretty much proud of what he's done. the prosecution started the court case asking the jury and asking the courtroom, i bet you are wondering why we have to go through this trial. it's because dylann roof has pled not guilty. he didn't want the death penalty in this case. he tried to make a deal with federal prosecutors saying he would plead guilty if the death penalty was taken off the table. they refused so the case had to go forward. tomorrow we expect closing arguments. and given the confession by dylann roof, we expect this verdict from the jury to be relatively quick. >> just to be precise, could mental health experts be called to the stand when the case moves to the penalty phase? >> this is where things get pretty weird. dylann roof over the course of the last two weeks said he has wanted to represent himself during the penalty phase. the attorney he has now is a
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famed death penalty attorney, and he won't be able to use his legal mind if dylann roof plans to keep his current plans. he could call his own mental health experts. we don't know, to be honest, jake. >> nick, thank you so much. the first book from cnn, politics, "unprecedented: the election that changed everything," is available in stores now. that's it for "the lead." i'm jake tapper. turning you over to wolf blitzer in "the situation room." family matters, new questions about the role of donald trump's children as they attend the president-elect's meeting with tech leaders. cnn has learned trump's sons were involved in his cabinet picks. why is trump turning the office of the first lady into the office of the first family? trump, quote, obviously knew -- that's what the white house says -- adding there is evidence trump was aware of russian interference in the election long before october and encouraged it. lawmakers from both parties are calling