tv Situation Room With Wolf Blitzer CNN January 17, 2017 2:00pm-3:01pm PST
happening now, breaking news, prison release, president obama commutes the sentence of chelsea manning, the army intelligence analyst sentenced to 35 years for a massive leak of u.s. military secrets. and the president pardons a former vice chairman of the joint chiefs of staff who pleaded guilty to making false statements about a leak of secrets on iran. power play, first on cnn, the outgoing u.s. ambassador to the united nations samantha power warns the trump administration not to ignore russia's interference in the u.s. election and says it would be a grave mistake to start a new dialogue with russia from a position of weakness. putin pushes back.
russia ams president comes to the defense of donald trump, dismissing as rubbish the claims that moscow is compromising information on the president-elect. disapproval, our exclusive new poll shows that just four in ten americans approve of the way donald trump is handling his transition. that's the lowest rating of any recent president-elect. it comes as dozens of democratic lawmakers show their disapproval by boycotting trump's inauguration. i'm wolf blitzer. you're in "the situation room." >> announcer: this is cnn breaking news. >> we're following multiple breaking news stories right now. president obama has commuted the remaining prison sentence of chelsea manning. the soldier convicted of stealing three quarters of a million pages of documents and videos and turning them over to wikileaks. and the president has pardoned james cartwright, the former vice chairman of the joint chiefs of staff who pleaded
guilty to making false statements about leaking secret information on iran to journalists. and first on cnn, the u.s. ambassador to the united nations samantha power warns it would be a grave mistake for the trump administration to overlook russia a gres and interference in the u.s. election. she says trump should not begin a new dialogue with russia from a standpoint of weakness. fire works are expected as a hearing is about to begin for president-elect trump's controversial pick for education secretary. the michigan billionaire betsy devos. she's known as a strong advocate for school choice and education vouchers, but critics say she has no connection to public education. democrats are digging in for a fight. we'll bring you that hearing live. that's coming up momentarily. and an exclusive, our new cnn orc poll shows that donald trump's approval rating just 40%, that's the lowest of any recent president-elect, more than four dozen democratic members of congress say they'll
boycott trump's inauguration. a move sparked by trump's feud with their colleague congressman john lewis. i'll speak with democratic senator robert man endes. and guests will have today's coverage of top stories. let's begin with white house correspondent michelle kosinski. breaking news, president obama commuting the sentence of chelsea manning. michelle, was this a surprise? >> not in the sense we knew this was a possibility. the white house has been asked about it repeatedly over the last couple of weeks leading up to this, but that doesn't mean it's not a bomb shell, especially to the intelligence community. chelsea manning leaked hundreds of thousands of pages of classified or sensitive documents, ending up on wikileaks. many feel that she hurt national security. and when the white house would talk about, say, edward snowden by comparison, that's exactly what they would say his situation was, that he harmed national security. as we speak, we're getting a
briefing from white house officials to shed more light on the decision making here on why he did this. keep in mind we're going to hear from the president tomorrow. the president can be asked directly his thinking on this. but there have been petitions, several of them. one on the white house website was more than 100,000 signatures saying that chelsea manning has suffered behind bars. she was sentenced to 35 years. she's already served several years. she has tried to commit suicide. she has been held at times in isolation. so, it could be that there is a sense that she's served her time, that she faced her crime as opposed to edward snowden, that she served part of that. but keep in mind -- and edward snowden, again, by comparison, he didn't apply for clemency. but we did hear former attorney general eric holder say that he felt snowden did a public service, at least in the sense that he shed some light and started a conversation about secrecy within the government, and the nsa.
so, it's possible that there isn't a sense that what she exposed and part of it was human rights abuses or what she saw as that, had some value publicly. but we're really going to have to hear from the white house directly and the president to hear what went into this. already, though, we are hearing from those in opposition, from republicans saying that a traitor should not be held as a mart irmartyr. and we're hearing from wikileaks, too, that tweeted out "victory." wolf? >> michelle kosinski at the white house. we'll be holding a full scale conference, his last. let's bring our justice correspondent evan perez. evan, what are you hearing from your sources? >> this was a shock to the national security establishment in washington. the fact that the president, who in the last -- his administration, frankly, over the last couple of months has
taken a strong line against wikileaks and the role in the leaks of information stolen by russian intelligence, at least according to the u.s. government, and the role wikileaks played in that, in the recent election, the idea that you would commute the sentence of chelsea manning who is the one that put wikileaks on the map with her leaks was something that people just could not fa fathom. the idea that, at least in the view of national security officials, they believe that she endangered people's lives. hundreds of thousands of documents. not only the lives of people, but also the relationships between the united states and other governments. a lot of information that other governments had passed on to the u.s. government, to the state department, was released as part of that. obviously there was a tremendous outpouring from the human rights community in favor of chelsea manning. they viewed her case as one that was simply about human rights. she is somebody who is struggling with her gender identity. she was seeking to figure out a
way to get out of a male prison, as you know. and, so, from the view of human rights, this was a simple case. in the national security arena, it was not so simple, especially in light of the 2016 election, wolf, and the decision that or the signal that this would send, they view, to other leak cases in the future. >> evan perez with the latest on that. evan, stand by. the manning and cartwright cases had significant impact on the united states military. i want to go to our pentagon correspondent barbara starr. so, how is this news about chelsea manning's commutation being received where you are over at the pentagon? >> well, i think it's fair to say, wolf, with a very raised eyebrow. the u.s. military firmly believes that chelsea manning, as a low-level junior army soldier, mind you, stole illegally hundreds of thousands of documents, downloading them off a classified system, putting
them onto a personal computer data device. this is something that is against the law. the military already long before taking a very hard stand on it. and back when this all happened, top pentagon leaders were absolutely furious about it and wanted to send a very strong message that stealing information and then leaking it would not be tolerated. and, of course, it really did put wikileaks on the map and now this action by president obama comes against the backdrop of wikileaks' potential involvement in the russian hacking scandal, potential involvement. we grant you that. so, this is going to be looked at in a very difficult fashion, i think, by u.s. military leaders. there is an understanding of what chelsea manning personally is going through in prison. everybody gets that. but in the meantime, the view from the pentagon is this person stole some 400,000 defense department documents, hundreds
of thousands of state department cables. the president has had the absolute right to do what he did, but it is the reaction from the u.s. military. and i would say the same thing about the james cartwright case, but that, oddly enough is a little bit different. people like to say the junior troops get the full weight of the law, and senior commanders when they violate the law, get excused from it. but there's a general understanding that general cartwright did what he did, offering that information about iran to reporters, because the administration wanted him to. he was not out there freelancing completely on his own. but then he did lie to the fbi, according to what he pled guilty to. but general cartwright as a four-star would indeed have been one of, if not the most senior u.s. military person to serve a prison term for something like this. and he was someone, when he served, that was very close to president obama. so, i think there was a sense
that perhaps this action for general cartwright was coming. the manning one, on the other hand, may be a very unpleasant surprise to many military commanders, wolf. >> general james cartwright, the former vice chairman of the joint chiefs of staff. he pled guilty, one count of lying, in effect, to federal investigators about a leak to journalists involving iran. so, i take it, barbara, very difficult he rent reactions to the decision to pardon general cartwright over at the pentagon as compared to the decision to commute chelsea manning's prison sentence. >> there are different reactions, wolf. but i do think that people probably want to appreciate the fact that this whole business is a very long-standing issue in the u.s. military. why is it that very senior commanders don't appear to serve the same punishment that more junior people do? other senior commanders, general david petraeus is on probation
still for his involvement in disclosing classified information to his biographer. he did not go to jail. he reached a plea agreement. general cartwright -- there is a feeling that, very deeply in the junior ranks of the u.s. military, that they got the worst of the punishment, the worst of the prison sentences, and top officials appear not to. for all of the extenuating circumstances we've just discussed, that is what has happened to general cartwright, to general petraeus, to other top officials who have conducted themselves with wrongdoing, but it is a very deep feeling that runs in the junior ranks that perhaps they do bear the brunt of military law enforcement, wolf. >> all right, barbara, i want to you stand by as well, barbara starr at the pentagon. our chief national security correspondent jim sciutto is with me. you're getting more reaction to this decision by the president. >> well, wikileaks is
celebrating now. they just tweeted out "victory" exclamation point. it is an interesting test for wikileaks. let's just remind oir viewers of the association here. wikileaks of course founded by julian assange, and chelsea manning was to some degree really their greatest source ever. put them on the map. they had done some releases before, but the documents that manning stole from the u.s. military gave and then were released via wikileaks were just this massive trove as we know, essentially created wikileaks as this kind of global force as it were, revealing these secrets. so, he is indellably tied to julian assange. if obama grants clemency, assange will agree to clemency despite constitutional it he has been hold up in london to a steroid extradition to sweden. he is facing allegations there of sexual assault by two women.
the reason he has given repeatedly, he feared if i go there to face these allegations, that's really a -- an attempt for the u.s. to then extradite me from there back to the u.s. for releasing these documents. but five days ago he said, listen, you grant clemency, i will come to the u.s. i will face extradition and, of course, face charges for his involvement in this. the question now is does julian assange keep that promise? of course there's no connection -- we're not trying to make any connection between that assange demand and the fact the obama administration decided to do this, but the fact is they have done it. five days ago julian assange promised to come here to the u.s. we'll see if he follows through on that promise. and imagine if he does, you will have, i don't know if you want to call it the trial of a century, but you will have quite a legal proceeding here with julian assange, particularly as barbara mentioned, wikileaks' involvement in russian hacking and the u.s. election. it is the assessment of the u.s. intelligence community that wikileaks was in effect the vessel for all these stolen documents, stolen by russia and
then released via wikileaks. so, if they follow through on this promise would be an enormous event. >> wikileaks' tweet victory, obama commutes chelsea manning sentence from 35 years to seven, release date now may 17. >> we have edward snowden, of course, who has his own exile, as it were, in russia for his involvement in releasing documents. he's saying as well in five more months he will be free, addressing this to chelsea manning much course. thank you for what you did for everyone, chelsea. stay strong awhile longer says edward snowden. >> we're going to get more reaction right now. democratic senator robert menendez of new jersey, key member of the foreign relation iz committee. senator, thanks very much for joining us. >> good to be with you, wolf. >> all right. so, president obama just commuted chelsea manning's sentence, we pointed out she was sentenced to 35 years in prison, three or four years ago. respond to this. why do you think he did it? did he do the right thing?
>> well, i don't know why he did it and so i'll look forward to hearing his reasoning because i just heard about it. but the reality is i have serious concerns about equivocating sentences when national security is at stake. what happened here is that literally hundreds of thousands of documents were released. it put national security at risk. it put individual operatives at risk. it put our national interests at risk with other countries. and at a time that we are seriously questioning what russia did as it relates to our recent elections and the role that wikileaks and the different iteration has played in that regard, i'm not sure what type of message we send here. and, so, i'm really surprised that the president took this action and i have concerns about what message we send about ultimately revealing a sensitive national security documents. >> so, you have serious questions about why the president did this. you'd like to hear more of an
explanation directly from him, is that what i'm hearing? >> i would. i'd like to hear why it is that he took this step because there are very serious consequences when you release the type of documents that she did. and at the end of the day, what message do we send for the next person who thinks that they can get a treasure trove of documents released because something inspires them to do so and the consequence that flow from that. we have agents in the field. we have operatives in the field. we have security situations set up across the world both through our military and non-military entities. we have interests in terms of our advocacy and countries abroad which is also revealed here. so, at the end of the day there was enormous damage done. and whether it be her or whether it be snowden or whether it be assange, at the end of the day we're going to have to have a clear and unequivocal message that, in fact, you cannot ultimately put the united states at risk because of your individual actions by making
public critical documents that are classified and secret and put the u.s. at risk at the end of the day. there has to be serious consequences for that. and if at the end of the day you think you can do that and then have your sentence commuted, i'm not sure that we send the right message. >> the argument that i've heard from some, some critics already, senator, is that what the president has done in commuting chelsea manning's sentence is in effect to send a message to others in the u.s. intelligence community, the u.s. military, go ahead and do what she did and down the road you probably will get a more lenient sentence. that's the argument that will encourage more of these kinds of leaks to wikileaks. i'm sure you've heard that concern as well. >> well, i've heard that and other arguments in the past. and it is something that is a legitimate, i think, valid argument. the reason at the end of the day that there are consequence,
punishment when convicted for ultimately releasing national security documents that put the national security of the united states at risk, those who served in the armed forces, those who served through clandestine operations, those who served in our embassies abroad is to send a very clear message that you cannot do that. and whatever calling you think you're answering, i think there has to be a severe consequences. now, if, in fact, people believe that you can do that and at the end of the day have your sentence commuted, or maybe walk away without that consequence, i think that is a real risk at the end of the day and a legitimate public policy issue. >> senator, i need you to stand by because we have more questions for you. but first i want to get back to our chief national security correspondent jim sciutto. he's following another major breaking story today ahead of the inauguration. donald trump now sparring with u.s. allies and adversaries
alike, with the exception, i should point out, of russia. jim, vladimir putin is actually coming to trump's defense. >> interestingly enough, because you do have allies. many adversaries, including china unsettled, even confused by some of the president-elect's comments with the exception of russia that is welcoming many of them. even sharing many of the same talking points with mr. trump. tonight russian president vladimir putin dismissing allegations that the kremlin has compromising personal and financial information on the president-elect. >> translator: what do you think? we have special security services running after every american billionaire? of course not. it is complete nonsense. this is rubbish. >> even joking about some of the more salacious and unsubstantiated details of such allegations which many news organizations including cnn have declined to report on in detail. >> translator: it is hard to believe that he ran to a hotel
to meet with our girls of a low social class, although they are the best in the world. >> and attacking those who prepared and published the dossier. >> translator: people who order false information and spread this information against the elected president who fabricate it and use it in a political fight, they are worse than prostitutes. >> president obama's spokesman took a parting shot in his press briefing putin's comments defending trump's legitimacy echo those of the president-elect. >> first it sounds like he got his copy of the talking points. second -- >> from whom? >> well, i don't know. it certainly sounds a lot like what the incoming administration's team is saying. but it is not the first time that the russian president has called into question he the veracity of the united states government. >> three days to his inauguration, the president-elect's rhetoric is
unsettling u.s. allies and adversaries alike. china's president ping apparently warning mr. trump. >> translator: no one will emerge as a winner in a trade war. >> this after trump has repeatedly vowed to get tough with china on trade. >> they haven't played by the rules. and i know it's time that they're going to start. they're going to start. they've got to. >> u.s. allies in europe also pushing back. germany expressing disbelief that trump's dismissal of nato as obsolete. >> translator: i just can't believe that an american administration would follow the thought process that europe is not somehow important to the u.s. with a look at the history of the u.s., i just can't believe this. >> the trump transition team says that the president-elect does not want a trade war with china. in fact, a senior advisor to the transition says that the chinese, in his words, and
americans have common cause and a very strong bilateral relationship. the question, of course, wolf, which message wins out, what is going to policy be regarding china. but also russia under a trump administration. >> jim sciutto, stand by. we're going to be speaking about this and more with senator menendez in a moment. but we also are following a breaking development, a stark warning for donald trump from the outgoing u.s. ambassador to the united nations. our global affairs correspondent sat down with ambassador. samantha power just a little while ago. elise tell our viewers what you learned. >> wolf, it was a very interesting conversation. we sat down right after ambassador power made a bold and blistering speech against russia, warning that russia was a major threat to the u.s. that must be stopped. now, in our conversation, we talked about president-elect's calls for warmer ties with russia and president putin. you heard this week the president-elect saying he would consider easing the sanctions on russia in exchange for perhaps a deal on reducing nuclear
weapons. now ambassador power said it is necessary to. a dialogue with russia and she conceded that the new administration has a chance to improve ties, but she warned against letting russia off the hook for their actions in syria, ukraine, the meddling in the u.s. election, and warned against appeasement. take a listen. >> are you concerned that the wrong signals are being sent to russia? >> i would be concerned if we looked away from russian interference in our election. i would be concerned if a country that just lopped off part of a neighbor got to keep that because i think it would unleash dynamics around the globe that we can't even predict. and i would certainly be concerned if we thought that, you know, violating human rights, murdering opposition politicians and journal cysts and some of the tactics putin has used internally, that that would make for a reliable partnership over time. i think one would have to ask real questions about that.
what i, though, do think is the case is that we need a dialogue with russia and the new administration has a chance to kick one 0 of. we should not do so from the standpoint of weakness or the desire somehow to kind of give russia a bunch of things, notwithstanding everything they've done over the last few years. i think to have historical amnesia when the stakes are this high, for us, for our shared security, for prosperity, for trade, for everything would be a grave mistake. >> we also talked about calls by the president-elect and members of congress to de-fund the u.n. after that very controversial vote condemning israeli settlements. ambassador power warned trump and woman who he picked as her successor nicky haily against such a move. she said countries like russia and china would be all too happy to pickup the vacuum of u.s. leadership and that is not a world we want to live in, wolf. >> all right, elise, thanks very
much. let's get back to democratic senator robert men endeps of new jersey. a key member of the foreign relations committee. i want you to respond to what we heard, senator, from the russian president vladimir putin today dismissing these allegations that the russians have compromising information on the president-elect. does his seeming defense of the president-elect concern you? >> well, i have to be honest with you, wolf, this whole relationship, at least as it appears at this point in time, between the president-elect and vladimir putin and some surrogates here, they all alarm me. you know, this isn't a game of monopoly where you sit at the monopoly board and you decide, well, i'll let you have crimea and i won't make an issue of it, or part of ukraine in return for this. i'll give up sanctions if you give me this. this is not a grand deal that
you make as if you were, you know, flipping real estate. at the end of the day, i think there is a strong bipartisan view here in the senate about russia as a adversary, russia's efforts against our national interests, our national security interests, about its pejorative role in the world of trying to destabilize the international order that we work so hard since world war ii to build. and, of course, in the most recent manifestation of their efforts to try to affect the u.s. election. so, i hope that the president-elect will come to some rhyme or reason to understand that for whatever admiration there is of him being, quote-unquote, a strong leader, there is a difference between strength and thuggery. there is a difference between being a decisive leader and being a decisive leader that ultimately takes your people
into hardship, as we see russian soldiers coming back dead from some of the incursions in the ukraine and in syria and other places, all to pursue a geo policy to try to strengthen russia's hand in the region in the middle east. so, this is, as he props up assad who is a butcher, so, i mean, there are clearly divergent reasons. and, of course, we would all like to have a good relationship with russia, but it has to be a relationship that is based on some common values, some common interests, some common goals, some common efforts at the end of the day that are in sync with our national priorities, that are in sync with also our principles. and that's what alarms me. i just don't see where the president-elect sees this. and then i see putin who is kgb, and they still do everything that he used to do when he was
at the kgb. they spend enormous amounts of money spying. they spend enormous amounts of money seeking to compromise individuals in the united states who are in positions of authority. and at the end of the day, you have to realize who your adversary is. and, so, this is really alarming and i hope we have a change in course of events when he has all the information available to him. >> senator, i don't know if you saw this new cnn orc poll out today. it shows more americans actually want to improve relations with russia rather than take strong steps against russia. you can see the numbers, 41% want strong steps, 56% want to improve relations with russia. so, you think americans -- do you agree with those americans who want to work with russia right now? clearly the president-elect wants to do that. >> well, look, you know, we want to work with countries in the world that share our values, that are willing to support our mutual goals, not just goals of the united states, but the goals of the international community.
but i think if you ask in the abstract, the average american would it be better to get along, have good relationships with russia, the answer would be yes. but then when you cite what russia is doing, indiscriminate bombing in aleppo and killing of innocent civilians, its invasion in ukraine and the annex asian of crimea and what it did in georgia and in our elections and the list goes on, you say, do you want a good relation at any cost, i think the answer would be overwhelmingly no. it depends how you ask the question and how you pose it. and, so, we have a country that is adverse to our national interests and to our national security interests. and until they are willing to be in alignment closer with us, and most importantly willing to be in alignment with the international order that we created that they have violated, both in ukraine and in syria, i don't think the american people would accept a good relationship at any cost.
>> amidst all of this, senator, the president-elect also once again called nato, the nato alliance obsolete. how do you think this kind of rhetoric could impact the u.s. relationship with key allies, especially in europe? >> well, nato is, you know, the tour de force of our strategy of being able to bring an alliance together of european countries for which our strategy is to ensure security on the european continent so that we don't relive the past as we have seen, twice the united states went to europe during world wars 1 and 2 and secondly, not to deal with the challenges here at home. so, nato, invoked its charter when we were struck on september 11th. nato has engaged with us in afghanistan, for example. nato is a critical element of
our international security structure. it is not outdated. can it be prepared to meet new challenges, like the challenge of isis where we have challenges of individual actors and entities that are not state actors? of course. can it work to improve, to respond to irregular forces as what russia did in the invasion and ukraine if it was part of a nato alliance? yes. but at the end of the day it's critical. and the opportunity for us to have our bases in many of these countries to create forward projection of strength anywhere in the world is a value that i don't think that the president-elect has fully come to understand. hopefully his designee for the secretary of defense can ed identify him on that. >> senator menendez, thanks very much for joining us. >> thank you, wolf. >> we're standing by to hear from one of donald trump's most controversial cabinet picks, senators will be questioning education secretary nominee betsy davos.
she's a billionaire, a major donor to conservative causes as well as a major advocate for school choice and education vouchers. we're going to go to the hearing live as soon as she begins her statement, starts answering questions from the senators. right now i want to bring in our political correspondents and experts to discuss a lot of what we just heard. david, let me begin with you. the very controversial decision by the president of the united states to commute the sentence of chelsea manning from 35 years in prison, she will have served about seven years in prison when she's finally released in may. the political fall out from this, i anticipate, will be intense. >> and i think it's going to be across party lines. i don't think you're not going to see all democrats just lineup behind president obama on this. we've seen some congressional reaction from some democrats already coming out quite concerned about this. and you have to go back and remember at the time, wolf. when those state department cables were released, the work
that the clinton state department at the time and the obama administration had to do to apologize around the world, hillary clinton -- i was just refreshing my memory -- called it an attack at the time. so, it is indeed controversial. this is clearly one that i don't think is going to sit well with everyone up there on capitol hill. >> we just heard from democratic senator men dennes. he wasn't very happy with this decision. he wants more information directly from the president. you're getting more reaction, dana, as well. >> that's right. i think just the opposite. you're exactly right. that is not going to sit well with many, i think. it seems as though it's not going to sit well with most democrats. obviously the most interesting because they're breaking with their outgoing president. lindsey graham who is a very loud voice and respected voice on national security in republican circles just told me that manning stabbed fellow soldiers in the back and president obama slapped them in the face. so, pretty strong stuff. i mean, i just got him on the phone. he what livid, absolutely livid. like i said, he's clearly not
alone. >> you know, sara, we haven't heard any official reaction from the trump team yet, have we? >> no, we haven't heard any official reaction. we've asked, and donald trump is sort of in a he weird position when it comes to leaks at this point in his tenure. >> and wikileaks in particular. >> and wikileaks in particular. i think he's been critical in the past about some of this information leaking out, some of those confidential state department documents, but he's been on the campaign trail in recent months saying, i love wikileaks, i love we can i leaks. when it comes to the recent leaks around john podesta, hillary clinton's campaign chief's e-mails, he has essentially all but said the means justified the ends and that hacking situation. so, i think people will be watching very closely to see how donald trump walks the line on this particular issue. i don't want to try to guess what exactly he's going to say because -- >> and if julian assange comes back, he said that if chelsea manning was pardoned, he would come back. so, regardless what he thinks about the justice department, so, how donald trump -- and his
justice department handles julian assange who is someone that he's kind of been on both sides of the fence on these, i think he said he should have some kind of capital punishment. and then he's praised his work in recent years, last year. so, that's going to be a really interesting test if he does decide to return. >> i think the question this president the white house will have to we are here, will answer, and i think it's an important one, how much was the personal story of chelsea manning involved in this because the outcry from the left was so strong on this, and she's having a difficult time in federal prison, no question. but to me that is a central question. without that, you have to wonder if the outcome would be the same. >> because he transitioned. >> she transitioned from a man to a woman. i think all of that certainly played into this. without that, it's hard to imagine, i think, this president would have done that. >> you covered trump throughout the campaign. he repeatedly, as you point out, praised wikileaks, said, i love
wikileaks, because of the damaging information that was presumably being released about hillary clinton and the democrat. >> right. and he seems to view leaks that are damaging to his political opponents in one way, whereas leaks that could be potentially damaging to national security in a different way. that's sort of the closest i could say for differentiating these two things. but i think this is going to be sort of the first real indication. okay, this is a person who is not liked by many democrats, not liked by many republicans and many people do believe he put many of our intelligence assets at risk. so, how do you respond to that? from that points i would say donald trump would respond forcefully not negatively to this move by president obama. but it does put him in a box where he says, i feel fine about hacking directed by russian president vladimir putin, but i don't feel fine about these leaks. >> go ahead. jackie, your point about julian assange is so important as the story is breaking. that is important to talk about
because not just has he changed his view over the past few years on julian assange. remember, julian assange was sean hannity's guest recently. >> right. >> and sean hannity we know from fox and talk radio, is a close appriser of donald trump. they talk quite often. following that interview, donald trump started tweeting praise for julian assange. so, he's going to be president in a few days. it's going to be up to him to decide what happens if julian assange does try to -- >> david, do you think julian assange would be more likely to come to the united states, face the consequences during a trump administration as opposed to an obama administration? >> well, i'm sure that calculus probably makes sense if you were choosing between that. but i don't know that that will happen. i do think, though, to jeff's point, this can't be -- and obviously there is going to be a press conference tomorrow. i would imagine the president is going to get a lot of questions about this because, i mean, look, edward snowden just tweeted out publicly a heart
felt public thank you to barack obama. that is not what a sitting president wants from somebody who has been labelled a traitor. i think it is a very complicated issue that barack obama is probably going to take up several questions tomorrow and have to spend quite a bit of time explaining to the american public how this isn't rewarding behavior that put our national security at risk. >> which is why he did it today. he wants to explain it, he wants to have a final word on this. not something he did on his way out the door. you have to think that donald trump is going to oppose this because it is an obama position. and republicans, it's what you said senator graham said, that's the common thinking up there. >> sure. the white house has already drawn the distinction between snowden and chelsea manning on what they said was, chelsea manning actually went through a trial. he was sentenced. he stood in front of his peers and she stood in front of her peers and was sentenced where edward snowden ran and has been hiding in a country that is an adversarial country. so, they've already sort of started drawing the distinction.
i think you'll hear something similar from the president if he's asked about that. >> this is going to be one of those legacy issues for the president two or three days before he leaves office. this controversial decision is something that's going to stick around for a while. and you covered him, jeff. you appreciate that. >> add it to the list. i thought our list was sort of over of the legacy item. i think you're absolutely right in terms of how he is viewed by hawks and national security people. like lindsey graham and others, i think that this will, in their view, offer one more piece of evidence that this president is weak in that area. but i think, again, i do expect him to explain this tomorrow. this is not -- i'm not sure how high it is on the list of legacy items, but it's fascinating, something i did not expect after covering him for ten year. i didn't think he would do this today. >> i think a lot of us were surprised. david, i'm sure you were surprised as well. >> i was surprised. and i do think that it is an enormous sort of gift to the
left and the grassroots base of the left on barack obama's way out the door. this has been a vocal sort of rallying cry for many, many groups in the president's base. >> it's going to be something as we points out the hawks are really going to go after, this soon to be ex-president of the united states. >> oh, absolutely. and it's going to give them fodder and it's going to give them a rallying cry, something to rally around, not that they needed it when they have obamacare and everything else. but it's certainly i think politically does help. i wonder how much -- i can't wait to see this press conference tomorrow -- how much he's going to say. he won't admit -- i was pressured by the left. that's never going to happen. but how much he is going to tell the personal story of chelsea manning and about, never mind the transition and the going from a man to a woman, but more specifically, why she decided to
do this. the fact that she decided to stay in the united states, face trial, you know, that she didn't have a choice. and i think my guess in covering president obama is that it's going to be not -- his explanation is going to be not so much about national security, but more about who this person is and why she -- >> i have a feeling we're going to hear from professor obama -- >> exactly. >> pleading interest in this case and how he came to the conclusion. >> we just got a statement from the speaker of the house, paul ryan. let me read the full statement. this is just outrageous. chelsea manning's trenchery put american lives at risk and exposed some of our nation's most sensitive secrets. president obama now leaves in place a dangerous precedent that those who compromise our national security won't be held accountable for their crimes. i suspect, sara, that's just the beginning of the reaction we're going to get a lot more from a lot of republicans and some democrats as well who are deeply upset by the president's
decision. >> i think that's absolutely right. and i think if you are donald trump and you are watching this play out, for instance, you could see a moment for your party to rally behind you. a lot of members of the republican party, a lot of members of the democrat party have questions what he's going to be like as a commander in chief. he's planning this inauguration where he's trying to come off tough as a strong leader and this could sort of be the first chance we see of whether he's going to send that signal to republicans. look, if there are leaks, i'm not the kind of president who is going to allow that to happen on my watch. i will crack down on people who put our national security at stake because i think there are fair questions out there right now among some members in his own party about just how he will approach this as president. >> all right. everybody stand by, there is more breaking news coming "the situation room." let's take a quick break, resume our special coverage right after this.
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momentarily, betsy devos, the nominee of the education secretary, nominee put forward by president-elect trump, she'll be making her opening statement before the senate committee on health education labor and pensions. she will then answer senators' questions. we'll have live coverage of that coming up. stand by. but i want to go right to michelle kosinski, she's getting new information from white house sources on the president's very, very controversial decision to commute the sentence of chelsea manning. what are you learning over there, michelle? >> senior white house officials are boiling down their thinking on this manning commutation to three points.
that she accepted responsibility for at least some of her crimes, that she expressed remorse for those crimes, and that she served more than six years of a very long 35-year sentence. and they said that the president feels that that is sufficient. they wanted to make the point that the president still has serious concerns about those crimes. they say that those crimes were serious. that they were not good for national security, that the u.s. had to respond because of this breach of national security. but the president said, you know, he feels that this commutation doesn't diminish that, they just feel that what she has served already is sufficient. when asked other questions, does the white house feel that she is a trait eras some are now calling her, and have called her throughout this period of time? and if not, why not? the white house wouldn't answer that question. they were also asked, well, does this commutation have anything to do with the fact that she is transgender and has struggled
with that, that she has tried to commit suicide behind bars? has had a difficult time psychologically? again, they wouldn't answer that question, but they kept pointing back to those three targets for their thinking, that she has accepted responsibility, expressed remorse, and has served time. wolf? >> michelle, what are they saying to the speaker of the house paul ryan, says it's just outrageous chelsea manning's trenchery put americans' lives at risk and expoed some of our most sensitive secrets. we're hearing a lot more of that coming in, not just from republicans, but also some democrats. what are they saying about this very angry reaction that has developed over the past hour? >> well, they clearly expected that. they expected words like traitor to come up. they expected the angry reactions, but they also know on the other side there were multip multiple petitions and one of them with more than 100,000 silgts on the white house webb
site. she has had a difficult time and she served a substantial amount of time, more than six years. depends on how you look at it. that is a long period of time. her sentence, of course, was 35 years. so, they're not backing away from the seriousness of the crimes, but they are backing away from things like acknowledging that she is they acknowledge that what she did affected national security and as they put it, was not good for national security. but they're not getting into anymore detail. they don't want to emphasize the harm that was done. they want to emphasize that she did, you know, face trial, accepted that sentence and served at least a part of that, wolf. >> michelle, i want you to stand by because i know you're working your sources over there. we'll be getting more information, more reaction from the white house. we're also standing by for other breaking news we're about to hear from one of donald trump's most controversial cabinet picks, senators will be questioning the education secretary nominee, betsy devos.
she's a major donor to conservative causes, a major advocate for school choice, education vouchers. critics say she has no real connection to public education. our senior political reporter manu raju is outside the hearing room. manu, democrats have plenty of questions about her qualifications. set the scene for what we are about to hear. >> reporter: there's going to be a lot of fireworks at this hearing, wolf, when it's about to take place, sharp lines of questioning particularly from democratic senators concerned about mrs. devos' positions on key issues like public school, and school choice and vouchers, issues they believe she is not in line with the mission of the education department which is promoting public schools. expect more of the liberal members of this committee, elizabeth warren, bernie sanders, to go after betsy devos on key issues. republicans also planning a vigorous defense of her record as well.
now, one of the things that is overshadowing this hearing also is miss devos' decision, office of government ethics not finishing its ethics review of her assets. she is a billionaire, she's a beingti big time republican donor. questions that republicans are raising potential conflicts of interest. the chairman of this committee, wolf, tells me it there are conflicts she'll sell the stocks. they expect the review to be done before the committee votes. one other piece of news, wolf, i ran into on a separate nomination s nomination, i ran into chairman corker, prepared to move forward with a monday vote on rex tillerson to be secretary of state nominee and if they don't have the votes in the committee, he plans to do an unusual procedure to help move that nomination to the floor to get it confirmed on the floor. he's dead set on getting donald trump's secretary of state nominee confirmed even if he does not have the votes in his committee. a lot of key nominations moving through, confirmation
proceedings right now as we speak, wolf. >> how many republicans on that foreign relations committee, manu are still undecided? we know marco rubio, he has been one. he hasn't said what he's going to do. what about any other -- any other republicans who could vote against the tillerson confirmation? >> reporter: in the committee just marco rubio, we don't know where he stands yet. he's still undecided. we don't know how some of the democrats are going to come down, bob corker telling me he has not had a conversation with marco rubio but if he doesn't get the votes in that committee, he says tillerson will still get confirmed, still use a hardball move to ensure that tillerson is the next secretary of state no matter what happens in the foreign relations committee. so watch for that to really come to a head here in the next few days, wolf. >> all right. manu, we're going to stay in very close touch with you, manu just outside the senate hearing room where betsy devos is about to make her opening statement. then answer some tough
questions. david chalian, i'm looking at the democrats on this committee, bernie sanders, you know he's going to have tough questions, elizabeth warren, she's going to have tough questions. this is not going to be a picnic for her at all. >> no, not at all. i would imagine the two senators you just named there may be getting their questions, ideas from the teachers unions who are going to be infusing the democrats i think with a lot of questions and concerns about vouchers and about some of the more controversial reforms -- controversial, i should say, to the teachers' unions. this has put the democratic party in a bind. this education issue. donald trump as you've seen since the election, he sent ivanka trump to research this issue, she's going to get involved in this in some way. he's interested in shaking up the education divides. betsy devos is the face of that. i think democrats are going to rail hard against it. >> to me this is one of those prime examples of, to quote my friend, jeff zeleny, elections mattering. education is such a
philosophical divide. certainly there's some many the middle, corey bookers, and others who think the teachers' yo unions have too much power. go ahead. >> hold on for a moment. betsy devos began her opening statement. >> thank you for the very kind words of introduction. i honor and applaud your lifelong dedication to the success of our nation's students and your fine public service. i want to begin by thanking my family for their support. many of them seated behind me here except for my five grandchildren, the oldest of which is 5, so it was not advisable that they join us today. i'm very honored that president-elect trump has asked me to join his team and i'm grateful to his dedication to education. if confirmed i look forward to working with him, vice president-elect pence, and all of you, to bring educational
opportunity to every family in this great nation. while we may have differences, i think we can all agree that learning as a lifelong pursuit is a fundamental american virtue. we are blessed beyond measure with educators who pour themselves in to students. the schools in which they work are as diverse as the students they educate. in fact, all of us here and our children have attended a mix of traditional publicly funded and private schools. this is a reflection of the diversity that is today's public education. growing up in holland, michigan, i attended local christian schools and then calvin college. my greatest educational influence in life was a public school teacher named elsa prince. while her students called her mrs. prince, to this day, i just call her mom. when dick and i became parents, education took on a whole new
meaning. we recognized that other parents were not able to make similar decisions about their children's education based on their income or the zip code in which they lived. when our oldest reached school age we visited a christian school which serves many low income families in my hometown. we saw the struggles and sacrifices many of these families faced when trying to choose the best educational option for their children. for me, this was not just an issue of public policy, but of national injustice. i committed to do something about it and it's become my life's work. i applaud the great work of the potter's house and the co-founder, john boy, who's with us here today. he and his team of teachers are doing a great job but here's the sad reality. in the past 28 years the need and demand for these other options have grown unabated. i share president-elect trump's view that it's time to shift the debate from what the system thinks is best for kids to what
moms and dads want, expect and deserve. parents no longer believe that a one-size-fits all model of learning meets the need of every child. and they know other options exist, whether magnet, virtual, charter, home, faith based on any other combination. yet too many parents are denied access to the full range of options. choices that many of us here in this room have exercised for our own children. why in 2017 are we still questioning parents' ability to exercise educational choice for their children? i'm a firm believer that parents should be empowered to choose the learning environment that's best for each of their individual children. the vast majority of students in this country will continue to attend public schools. if confirmed, i will be a strong advocate for great public schools.
if a school is troubled, unsafe, not a good fit for a child, perhaps they have a special need that's going unmet. we should support a parents' right to enroll their child in a high-quality alternative. it's really pretty simple. every child in america deserves to be in a safe environment that's free from discrimination. every student in america dreams of developing his or her unique talents and gifts. every parent in america dreams of a future when their children have access to schools with the rig rigor, challenges and safe environments that successfully prepare them for a brighter more hopeful tomorrow. every teacher in america dreams of breaking free from standardization to deploy their unique creativity and innovate with their students. our nation's schools are filled with atalented devoted professionals who successfully meet the needs of many, many children. but even our best schools don't work for all. this isn't the fault of teachers
but a reality that all students are unique, learn differently, and excel at their own pace. our high school graduates are having increasing difficulty accessing affordable, higher education. escalating tuition is pricing aspiring and talented students out of college. others are burdened with debts that will take years or decades to pay off. we do need to take action. it would be a mistake to shift that burden to struggling taxpayers without first addressing why tuition has gotten to siso high. we need to embrace new pathways of learning. for too long a college degree has been pushed as the only avenue for a better life. the old and expensive brick mortar and ivy model is not the only