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tv   Situation Room With Wolf Blitzer  CNN  December 14, 2016 3:00pm-4:01pm PST

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>> happening now. donald trump's children join the president-elect at a high profile transition meeting. how much power will they have once their father moves into the white house? new questions about their role and possible conflicts of interest. russian infilltation. the obama white house insists knew that moscow was mettling in the election to benefit his campaign. plunging into hell. as pro-syrian government forces bombard aleppo, a top u.s.
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official warns the slaughter of innocent civilians may amount to war crimes. tonight, tens of thousands are trapped in an exploding humanitarian crisis. and the seating chart in the white house briefing room could affect news coverage of the next president will. the trump administration mix things up? we want to welcome our viewers in the united states and around the world. i'm wolf blitzer. you're in "the situation room." tonight, we're learning more about the role of donald trump's adult children in his frtransitn and the influence they may have. they're all taking part in the president-elect's meeting today with tech industry leaders. this as sources say don jr. and eric were involved in vetting and interviewing cabinet posts.
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trump has said his son also take the help of his business. tonight, new evidence that ivanka trump may be a very visible presence in the white house, a source saying she'll get space in an office usually used by the first lady. we're told it will be designated as the first family's office. we're also monitoring a new attempt at a cease-fire in the city of aleppo. 50,000 civilians are believed to be trapped in a small rebel held area. pro-syrian government forces are on the brink of retaking the city after pounding it with heavy air strikes, one resident telling cnn there are dead bodies everywhere. i'll where senator lindsey graham about the crisis. and our correspondents and analysts are standing by as we bring you full coverage in the day's top stories. first, let's go to cnn's political reporter sara murray,
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over at trump tower in new york. the president-elect's children are clearly in the spotlight tonight. update our viewers. >> reporter: absolutely, wolf. while ethics experts and lawyers have raised questions about the role trump's children might play once he enters the white house, donald trump's transition aides are already down playing that as his children sat in on a very important meeting today at trump tower. donald trump's transition turning into quite the family affair. the trump children all sat in on the meeting. >> i just want to thank everybody. this is a truly amazing group of people. >> reporter: as the president-elect taps congressman ryan zinke to lead the interior department, a source says don, jr., helped interview candidates for that post. another source says eric trump sat in on a meeting with mitt romney as donald trump evaluated his secretary of state option.
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but trump, poised to turn his business operations over to those two sons, the opportunity for conflicts of interest appears abundant. but not to trump transition aides. >> bottom line is, he's been clear from day one with his family, the role his family plays and the trust he has in them in terms of how to guide decisions. >> reporter: there's no sign the family's influence is waning. once trump novembers to the white house, the first lady's office is slated to become the first family office. trump chatted with apple's tim cook, and others about growing u.s. tech jobs. >> anything we can do to help this go along and we're going to be there for you. and you call my people, we'll call you.
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we have no formal chain of command around here. >> reporter: that's a far cry when trump accused bazos of buying "the washington post" to avoid taxes. >> we're probably going to lead with obamacare repeal and replace. then you'll have tax -- small tax reform package and then a bigger tax reform package at the end of april. >> reporter: and trump is springing to the defense of paul ryan, a former critic and key player in ensuring the success of his agenda on the hill. >> oh, no. i've come to appreciate him. honestly, he's 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.
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>> reporter: but his defense work doesn't end there. he's using his thank you tour to stand up for his pick of 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, one of the interesting things and the question of conflict of interest in donald trump's family members, they've been very transparent about the role trump's children will play and they were clear about naming donald trump's own children as transition officials. but aside from this meeting today where reporters were allowed to get in and we were informed the children would be involved, it's really been through sources, not through the trump transition efforts' own disclosure, we found out the children have been involved in some of these other high-level meetings for cabinet posts. >> sara, thank you. the president-elect is facing growing pressure to unload his -- unload his stake in the trump -- the new trump hotel
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just down the street from the white house on pennsylvania avenue. the question tonight, what will happen if he doesn't do that? let's go to our senior political reporter at the trump hotel in washington. what's the latest on this, manu? >> reporter: donald trump and his attorneys are having discussions about how exactly to separate himself from his business and real estate empire, including this very lucrative property behind me. because if he does not fully divest himself from this hotel, he's going to open himself up from scathing criticism from democrats and be potentially in violation of his contract with the federal government. donald trump has never been shy about touting his luxury hotel. in washington's old post office pavilion. but as president, he could be forced to give up his ownership stake in the hotel or be in breach of his deal. because he's renting the property from the federal
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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. tonight, house democrats say a top official at the general services administration, which oversees the lease, told them this month that trump must divest himself not only of managerial control but all interests. >> i care about the 60-year 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 divests his ownership interests. >> reporter: but a spokesperson said in a statement 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 say the president-elect is undergoing an
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extensive review of his real estate empire, including how he'll handle the hotel located steps away from the white house. plans they originally promised to explain tomorrow. but now say they will explain in january. >> we're sitting down with lawyers and accountants and making sure that it's crystal clear he can focus. 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 wrote, bravo, the only way to resolve these conflicts of interest is to divest. trump has said he would hand over his companies to his two adult sons, don, jr., and eric. but he has not said if he would fully divest his own stake in his companies. 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. republicans on capitol hill are
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so far staying quiet about any potential conflicts. >> he needs to make sure that the appearance of any conflict is taken care of, and i'm sure they'll do that. divesting is an onerous thing to do with somebody with that complex work. >> reporter: two questions, what role will ivanka trump play going forward with this hotel? of course, now she's going to be advising her father, the soon-to-be president. and two, will republicans on capitol hill decide to investigate and look further into this issue if donald trump does not go far enough to separate himself from his business? we don't know the answers to either of those questions just yet, wolf. >> manu, thank you very much. tonight, the obama white house says donald trump was "obviously aware that russian hacking was intended to benefit his campaign." the president-elect has repeatedly rejected u.s. intelligence about election meddling by moscow. joining us to discuss this and
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more, the former republican presidential candidate lindsey graham. senator, thank you very much for joining us. so you've called for investigations to try to determine precisely what the russians did, what their motive was. do you believe vladamir putin, though, swayed this election? >> no. i think hillary clinton lost because she wasn't an agent of change and tried to disqualify trump and wasn't able to do it. i do believe the russians hacked into the dnc. i do believe they hacked into podesta's e-mail account. they hacked into my e-mail account. i believe all the information released hurt clinton and not trump, but i don't think the outcome of the election is in doubt. what we should do is work against one people to push back against russia. if you don't, china and iran will do this. trump is going to take china and iran on, he should, but they'll turn on him and hack into his
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e-mails. >> i didn't know your e-mails were hacked by the russians. tell us about that. >> our campaign vendor that we used was hacked. we were told by the fbi in august that we were hacked in june. so they're trying to destabilize democracy all over the world, not just here. it's not just about pulling for trump, they're trying to break the back of democracy. they're trying to get us to fight among ourselves. and here's what we should do. we should tell the russians, you interfered in our elections, we don't care why. we're going to hit you and hit you hard. i'm going to introduce sanctions that will be bipartisan that names putin as an individual, his inner circle, for not only hacking into our political systems but destabilizing democracy throughout the world. >> what happened to the information that was hacked? you say a vendor was hacked. was it just your campaign or other information hacked by the russians? >> i think some of it was
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released. i've never sent an e-mail, and i'm not about to start now. >> do you know what they released? >> they went through the d.c. leaks thing. but we were called in august by the fbi that this vendor was hacked in june. >> and they said the russians did it? >> they pointed us to the fact that the russians did it. yes, the russians did it. >> why do you think the president-elect till refuses to accept that the russians were involved? >> the iranians are hacking into our system. if it's a 400 pound guy, it was a 400 pound russian guy. there's three reasons, i guess. number one, he's been briefed and just can't put the puzzle together. he's very smart, so i take that off the table. that he hasn't received the briefings, might be that's true. or he just doesn't want to know if he was briefed. there is no doubt in my mind that the russians hacked into political systems throughout the united states, trying to interfere with our elections. they're doing it all over the world. and when it comes to mr.
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tillerson, he's a very prominent fellow. i've been told by people i'm close to that i really respect that he would be a good secretary of state. here's what he's got to do to convince me. i want him to be briefed by the fbi and the cia about what the russians did in our election and what they're doing all over the world, particularly helping assad, and i want to hear from him if he believes the russians tried to interfere with our election and trying to destabilize democracies. if he doesn't believe that, i would have a hard time voting for him. secondly, obama has been so weakened in the eyes of the russians and that's what has led to this mess. and you don't want to follow weakness with more weakness. >> do you think the obama administration by not publicizing all these leaks? we know in early october, general clapper, the head of the national intelligence, he did release a joint statement with jeh johnson, accusing the
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russians of doing this. but do you think they made a mistake not publicizing this more assertively? >> they should have came to the congress saying we have definitive evidence the russians interfered with our elections and we want your help to hit them back. but he's been so afraid to take on russia or iran, he's more worried about russia's help the iran deal, and god knows russia and iran have been marching through the middle east. look at aleppo. >> there seems to be a disagreement with some of the intelligence agencies. some say the motive was to help trump become the president of the united states. others say it was just to disrupt the american democratic process and embarrass the united states. what is your understanding what the russian motive was? >> i don't think it matters. we know they interfered in our elections. whether you like john podesta or not, he's an american. and it could be us tomorrow. it could be steve bannon if we take on the chinese and
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iranians. i don't know what their motive was, but most of the information that was hacked into was designed to hurt clinton, not going after trump. but it could be us the next time. this is not a republican/democratic issue. i want to punish them for interfering in our elections, trying to destabilize the entire world, democratic movements throughout the world. and if you don't, the chinese and the iranians are going to see this as weakness and they'll come after us when we take them on. >> when you say "punish," what should the u.s. do? >> crippling sanctions that -- >> do you think donald trump as president will approve sanctions? as you know, at the republican convention over the summer, in the platform, there was a call for greater sanctions against -- in the republican platform against the russians because of what they did in crimea and ukraine. but that was eliminated, that plank, by -- at the request of the trump campaign.
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>> i don't work for donald trump. i'm in the legislative branch. we have ability in the legislative branch to formulate foreign policy. but he's the commander in chief. i want to help him when it comes to china and iran and reset the world when it comes to russia. obama has been incredibly weak in the eyes all of all of enemies, particularly putin. my job is to put on president trump's desk crippling sanctions, they're trying to destroy democracy all over the world. they've been a chief benefactor of the butcher of damascus assad, and every republican needs to understand if we don't stand together as a nation, we will be next. i want the iranians, the chinese, the north koreans to know that america will not stand for this. >> tillerson opposed sanctions when he was the ceo of exxonmobil and just resigning
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now in order to get ready for confirmation. if he tells the committee he still opposes sanctions against russia, what will be your reaction? >> i can't imagine i would vote for anybody that believes we should not sanction russia given the fact that they did interfere with our election, they've been destabilizing democracies all over the world. estonia, lithuania, georgia. i can give you 20 minutes of russian misdeeds toward our allies. i can tell you what they've done in terms of war crimes in syria. if somebody wants to be secretary of state, and they hear the briefings that i've heard and they don't believe the russians were involved in our election -- interfering with our elections, i really question our judgment. if they don't believe sanctions are appropriate given what putin has been doing all over the world, i don't think they have the judgment to be secretary of state. if you don't go after russia, you're inviting the other bad
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actors to come after you. >> the president-elect said it's ridiculous to assume the russians did this. >> to the president-elect, if you were listening to what i'm listening to, and general hayden best, i have not found one person who believes the russians did not hack into the dnc. i know they've been doing this all over the world. you don't have to be sherlock holmes to understand what russia is up to. >> the president-elect in that famous tweet, as you know, senator, he recalled that the intelligence community was wrong in the build-up to the war in iraq to remove saddam hussein, because the intelligence community said there were stock miles of weapons of mass destruction. he said take a look at their word. he really smeared the intelligence community, recalling that blunder that there was a serious blunder leading up to the war in iraq in 2003. >> intelligence is an art and a science. they say we filled 50,000 isil
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fighters. the original estimate, there was about 35,000. it's hard to know exactly how many people have gone to isil's cause. but when it comes to technology, when it comes to hacking, when it comes to espionage, it's easier to identify. here's what i would challenge president-elect trump to do, tell everybody, including me, why we're wrong. be specific. i think the fbi and the cia have made an incredibly detailed case about russia's involvement in our election throughout the entire world. and here's what i would ask president-elect trump, do you think they're interfering in the balkans? estonia, georgia, ukraine? i'm going there. i'll be glad to tell you what i found. they're going to france and germany next. so mr. president, don't be like obama. don't lay down in the face of
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aggression -- russian aggression, push back. if you want to push back, i'll help you. >> we have a lot more to discuss, including this war against isis. all the statistics coming out from the pentagon from u.s. officials. senator, stay with us. we'll resume this interview right after this. afoot and light-hearted i take to the open road. healthy, free, the world before me, the long brown path before me leading wherever i choose. the east and the west are mine. the north and the south are mine. all seems beautiful to me.
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hi, we(laughter)lford quads. we're in 8th grade. technology is the only thing that really entertains us. i'm gonna use this picture on sketchbook, and i'm going to draw mustaches on you all. using the pen instead of fingers, it just feels more comfortable for me. be like, boop! it's gone. i like that only i can get into it and that it recognizes my fingerprint. our old tablet couldn't do that. it kind of makes you feel like you're your own person, which is a rare opportunity in my family. (laughter)
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we're back with senator lindsey graham. there's breaking news on the crisis of aleppo, syria. let's bring in our correspondent, the last western journalist to report out of the rebel-held parts of aleppo. what's the situation, clarissa, right now? >> reporter: so wolf, what we're hearing now from a spokesman for one of the rebel groups on the ground in that ever-shrinking rebel held conclave of eastern aleppo is, in fact, a truce deal is going to go into effect. this should be take within a grain of salt, because we have seen this movie before. just last night we heard a truce was supposed to go into effect,
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after just a few hours, it collapsed, the primary purpose of this truce is to try to get the estimated 50,000 people who are still trapped in that ever-shrinking enclave out of aleppo alive. since the truce collapsed last night, we have heard reports of rockets raining down on aleppo. i have spoken to residents who have been taking cover in underground bunkers. but it's important for our viewers to understand, wolf, they don't have food, water, there's no power. we've heard an eyewitness report telling cnn that the hospitals are covered in the dead bodies and the injured, because the hospitals don't have medical equipment to treat these people. and we've seen these incredibly touching and profound goodbye messages from some of these residents. one of which i personally received myself, wolf, from someone who i know in eastern aleppo who said to me simply, i appreciate your friendship. i appreciate your work that you've done in syria, and quite
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simply, we do not know, we do not think that we will live to see tomorrow. it is really difficult to describe in words, wolf, just how harrowing and how horrifying the onslaught has been. now we wait to see if both sides can come together in that truce to get some of the 50,000 people out of eastern aleppo. >> clarissa, it is a horrific situation. thanks for that report. let's get back to senator lindsey graham. some have suggested that congress shares at least some of the blame for what's going on in syria. >> you're right. >> as you know, the president had that red line, but he said he was waiting for congressional authorization, even though he didn't need it he said. but you never gave him that authorization to deploy troops. >> i would say that those who opposed the authorization to use force on this, those members of
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congress, i'm not one of them. on labor day weekend, i can't remember the year -- >> 2013. >> i went up with senator mccain. i was briefed by the president and susan rice. he said he was going to attack assad -- >> after they used chemical weapons. >> yes. that he was going to use military force against assad's infrastructure. he was going to upgrade the rebel capability and try to change the momentum on the ground. i went outside the oval office with senator mccain. a week later i found out we're coming to congress, which was a huge mistake. but to those members oh of the republican and democratic party who said if you authorize the use of force after the red line has been forced, you're al qaeda's air force. but here's the deal, assad was on the ropes four years ago. obama's entire national security team said if you act now by helping the free syrian army, assad will fall.
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the russians and iranians came in to help assad. the russians had been bombing the forces we trained, not isil. when aleppo falls, and it will, big win for russia, iran, assad, and isil, because with assad in power, isil can recruit for generations to come. big loss for the united states. and there are a bunch of kids growing up in syria that are going to hate the west, and they probably should. >> president trump has made it clear he has no desire to deploy troops to that part of the world. >> you can blame bush for going in and having the invasion and toppling saddam hussein. but trump has said that we're better off with saddam hussein in power, gadhafi, ben ali, and assad. let me tell you this, mr.
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president, would you want your family to grow up in a dictatorship where they could take your daughter any time they wanted? so you're going to be the leader of the free world. obama left iraq too soon. he didn't act when assad was on the ropes. he owns aleppo. this is as much a part of his legacy as obamacare. >> does he have a good national security team getting ready to take charge? >> i think so. i like general flynn. but to destroy isil, you have to hold the territory. shia militia are not going to hold mosul. kurdish fighters are not going to hold raqqah. we need more arabs in the fight inside of syria and security fier forces less sectarian. >> do you believe all these numbers, that 75% of the isis fighters in iraq and syria have been killed? >> nobody knows. we have patriots out there on the battlefield giving us the
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best picture they know, but it's one thing to estimate the number of isil fighters, but we know what the russians are doing inside toward our election and throughout the world. the intelligence community are patriots. they got it right when it comes to russia interfering with our election. in syria, if you leave assad in power, the arab also never accept him, the syrian war never ends because the syrian people will not accept him. turkey is going to be under constant friction. so i hope the president will re-evaluate. i would destroy isil with more of an arab force that could hold, train what's left of the syrian free army and recruit more people. i would have a no-fly zone and tell the russians and syrian it is they come over to bomb these people, i would shoot them on and then the russians and the
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iranians would come to the table to negotiate an end to the war. >> one final question, i know you're a strong supporter of the u.s.-israel relationship and strong supporter of israel. donald trump said he would move the u.s. embassy from tel aviv, where it's always been, to jerusalem if he were expected president of the united states. do you think he should? >> yeah, i do. but he should not leave assad in power, because assad is the biggest supporter of hezbollah. if you want security for israel, you better get syria in a better spot. so yes, moving the embassy is a symbolic move that i appreciate. but if you want to help israel, give them more weapons and money. the iranians threaten to destroy israel every day. trump is right to want a better deal with iran and the only way is to support new sanctions on the ayatollah. and i look forward to working
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with president trump to deal with iran. >> thank you very much for joining us. just ahead, he says they're going to run his business empire. but donald trump's sons are also helping him pick cabinet members. should the president-elect untangle these family ties? plus, new progress reported in the fight against isis. thousands of fighters according to u.s. officials have been killed. is the u.s. closing in on the isis leader, al baghdadi? he bes. 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.
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generosity is its oyou can handle being a mom for half an hour. i'm in all the way. is that understood? i don't know what she's up to, but it's not good. can't the world be my noodles and butter? get your mind out of the gutter. mornings are for coffee and contemplation. that was a really profound observation. you got a mean case of the detox blues. don't start a war you know you're going to lose. finally you can now find all of netflix in the same place as all your other entertainment. on xfinity x1. tonight, the obama administration is defending itself against criticism that it was slow in responding to russia's election related hacking. the white house pointing a
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finger at president-elect trump and what he knew about russia's intentions. listen to this. >> there's 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 aware and concluded -- based on whatever facts or sources he was -- he had available to him, that russia was involved. >> let use discuss with our expert analysis. david axelrod, let me start with you. did the president make a mistake by not more assertively speaking about this russian hacking during the campaign, if you will, they waited until october when general clapper released a
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statement. but it was really not a big issue at the time. >> well, first of all, let me just say i ceased being a spokesperson for the administration or the government five years ago, so i can only comment as a commentator for cnn now. but i will say that, you know, i remember in mid october vice president biden speaking pretty forcefully to this, and i don't think there was a mystery about the fact that the russians were up to no good here. there are questions that have been raised about whether more covert actions should have been taken in response to that. i'm sure we'll hear more about that as this investigation moves forward. but i agree with senator graham. the one thing that seems to not be in dispute by the fbi or anybody in the intelligence community is the fact that the russians did do this. there's some dispute as to motive. and he's right in that they're doing it all over europe. so this is a real challenge to
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democracies everywhere, and we need a strategy to deal with it, and it has to begin with the president of the united states incoming, acknowledging that, in fact, it happened. >> he hasn't done that yet. october 7, when the joint statement was released, that was also the same day that "access hollywood" video came out. that certainly dominated the news. >> yeah, it did. to your previous question, look, i think the general narrative of republicans that president obama has been too weak on russia is exaggerated. president obama in 2014 rallied the world to put sanctions on russia for what they did in crimea. in this case, what happened in this election, if this played out the way it's been reported in "the new york times" and elsewhere, i think the president's response was too lax. >> we're also learning that more than a dozen congressional democrats running for election that their information was stolen, as well, hacked by the
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russians, released trying to undermine them. should politicians now generally assume all of their sensitive information is vulnerable like that? >> certainly the security concerns have always been a concern. that's why you have people in congress who their sole task is to ensure those e-mail networks are secured. but it's not only their house or senate e-mails that are being targeted, we're seeing personal accounts, campaign accounts, ones that tend to be less secure and less subject to these oversights. so certainly on the political side, you're going to see people being more cautious about what they're seeing over e-mail. it's not just the political side or government that needs to worry about this, but corporations we saw with the sony hacking, that corporations are being targeted by foreign nation states, as well, as a form of cyber warfare. so this is something the next administration is going to need to look at in terms of how can we make corporations and the
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government more secure from these sorts of attacks. >> biyana, there's a british parliamentaryian claiming it's likely the russians influenced the brexit referendum, now. are we seeing a pattern now with the russians? >> i think we are, wolf. it's shocking that russia impacting or trying to infiltrate our e-mail systems or influence our elections turned into a partisan issue here at home, opposed to people being outraged and doing something about it. the fact that we're having this ongoing debate is something that vladamir putin loves. he loves it when he's the focus of attention. he's a master of deflection. he's got a load of problems in his own country. the fact that other countries are now talking about his power is something that he wanted to achieve and that we have a president-elect who seems to be
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giving vladamir putin the benefit of the doubt with these claims that he's infiltrated our e-mails when intelligence agencies are saying that he has, and he's saying i don't believe it. >> so david axelrod, do you think the politicians here in washington are taking all this seriously enough? >> i think some of them are. certainly senator graham was outspoken on your air here. but one of the questions is how is the leadership going to deal with this? because what we've seen is a notion of trying to limit the probe, don't have a select committee, don't let this thing get out of control. it seems to me that everybody, republican and democrat, ought to be very vigorous about this, because regardless of what happened in this past, this is going to be an ongoing challenge, not just here but overseas. and we have to have a vigorous response to it. >> if the u.s. does retaliate against the russians, how do you think putin will respond? >> it depends on how we
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retaliate. >> sanctions. let's say greater sanctions. >> well, we'll see if that's something the president-elect chooses to do. obviously, that's going to be his ultimate decision. it's something that his secretary of state or at least he's hoping will be confirmed as secretary of state, has appointed as secretary of state rex tillerson did not support sanctions against russia. it lost his company, exxonmobil, billions of dollars. we'll see if he transfers his thoughts into his new role if he is confirmed that there are things you can do as far as president obama just embarrassing vladamir putin by releasing some of his bank accounts. he by many is considered the richest man in the world. there's a lot of shady dealings with vladamir putin and his ties to oligarchs. >> everybody, stand by. don't go too far away. let's take a quick break. much more news right after this. your insurance company
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tonight, the united states is claiming major gains in the war against isis. i want to bring in our pentagon correspondent barbara starr. what are you learning? >> reporter: you remember that donald trump said he wanted a new plan from his generals so he could wipe out isis. well, given some of the gains the obama administration is now talking about, it seems some of that may already be under way. 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 at its lowest point it's ever
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been. >> reporter: the u.s. estimates there are 12,000 to 15,000 isis personnel, a dramatic decline in 2014 when isis has amassed 32,000 fighters in iraq and syria. and syria. it's had always been able to replace its ranks, moving people across the turkish border into syria. but no more. >> isis now has no access to international border and this has significantly impacted the overall campaign because they are now a very isolated entity. >> estimates from nearly 17,000 coalition strike, the u.s. believes 50,000 isis fighters in total have been killed over the last two years. its ranks slashed nearly 75%. the top coalition commander says that is only part of the story. >> we've taken back over half of the land that iraq, for example
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lost to isil in 2014. i think that is a measure of the progress. >> reporter: now the top priority, get isis out of its self-declared capital in raqqah, syria. >> we also know they are plotting attacks on the west. and we know that central to external operations plotting is the city of raqqah. and that is why we need to get down there and isolate that city as fast as we can. >> u.s. special operations forces watch raqqah rarnd the clock from drones override. it's all led to key intelligence and a critical strike. one drone struck a vehicle with three isis leaders inside. men who had been involved in attacks against the west. two said to have facilitated the deadly attacks in paris last
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ye year. isis though has not given up. they have recaptured the area around palmyra. the u.s. now watching closely to see if weapons, including shoulder fired missiles, will threaten u.s. troops. and there is still plenty of worry. there is worry it could inspire lone wolf attacks across the world. >> joined by cnn terrorism analyst paul cruickshank and phil muddy. i want to talk about the accuracy of the figures on isis. we're getting more information. let's take a quick break. we'll be right back. onto the shag carpeting... ...and his pants ignited into flames, causing him to stop, drop and roll.
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terrorism analyst paul cruickshank and phil mud. talking about the new figures released from u.s. officials claiming 50,000 isis fighters have now been killed. they say 75% of the isis fighters already have been killed. how accurate duke the numbers are? >> as the rare moment where i feel like laughing in the situation room. we call this a wag in the intelligence business. a wild ass guess. you are running drone operations and killing 20, 30, 40 people at a time. this is a guesstimate. and second, i'm not sure how relevant the number is. if we want to interpret this to believe that we finish the game against isis let me change your game. there are a couple of characteristics. how leaders of terrorist organizations are out there who think their primary target is washington and new york? and how many spaces are out there where they can plan operations?
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yemen, nigeria, libya. so i think this is significant. we've made huge progress in iraq and syria. but there are still a lot of places where terrorists can operate and a lot of leader whose think about los angeles and new york and washington. don't put your jammies on yet. this number is a wild ass guess. >> paul whew do you think? >> you need to put the claim of 50,000 isis fighters killed into some context. the current estimate for isis fighting strength in syria iraq is 15,000 fighters. that's just 5,000 fewer than the estimate the cia gave t low range estimate in 2014 when this air campaign started. so what that tells you is that isis have been able to replenish their ranks at tens of thousands of new fighters over the last several years. this is a group that's shown significant resilience. but that resilience is indeed now fraying to some degree. they are finding it more
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difficult to replenish their ranks. they control less territory and that makes it more difficult for them to muster new fighters. also there's been a sharp reduction in number of foreign fighters over the border from about 2,000 a month at peak to about 50 a month. now there's made it more difficult for them to reflesh fighters. there is a group losing it's luster. and more difficult for fighters to access isis' territory through turkey. but it is still a very dangerous force. this game is not over by any stretch. and we see a lot of challenges potentially ahead. particularly with this battle for mosul. if that battle for mosul ends up destroying mosul. you could see a mass exodus of sunnis from there without home, dislocated who could be a new recruitment pool for isis in iraq. >> and phil, i assume you agree the more they are pounded on the
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battlefield in iraq and syria, the more likely they will blast out and go forward with terror attacks against the west. we're going to continue this in the days ahead. a very, very serious development right now. that's it for me. to our viewers in the united states and around the world. thanks for watching. erin burnett "outfront" starts right now. >> "outfront" next. breaking fluz. yahoo hacked. more than one billion accounts breached. who is behind it. and ivanka trump's east wing office. will she take on the details of the first lady? and trump's apple. he wants the company to make iphones in america. how much more will you pay? we have the number. let's go "outfront." "outfront" a massive cyberattack. internet

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