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ISIS Claims Responsibility for Istanbul Attack; Trump to Fill More Than 100 Vacant Judgeships; Trump Voices Fresh Doubts on Russian Cyberattacks; Democrats Target Eight Trump Nominees. Aired 5-6p ET
Aired January 2, 2017 - 17:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
JIM SCIUTTO, CNN: I'll turn you over now to the very capable hands of Wolf Blitzer. You'll find him in THE SITUATION ROOM.
[17:00:09] WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now, digital fingerprints. President-elect Donald Trump says he knows things that other people don't know about hacking and promises to reveal his information this week. But digital fingerprints indicating Russia orchestrated the election's cyberattack are giving the intelligence community growing confidence.
Nightclub massacre. ISIS claims responsibility for the slaughter at an Istanbul nightclub. Tonight, an American who survived the attack is speaking out as the manhunt for the gunman intensifies.
Cabinet battles. With the new Congress about to convene, Democrats are targeting eight of Donald Trump's cabinet nominees and threatening to drag out the confirmation process for months. But is it a losing fight?
And federal help? Chicago suffers its highest murder rate in two decades, with 762 homicides in the year that just ended. President- elect Trump warns the city's mayor that, if he can't fix the crime problem, he must ask for federal help. What does Trump have in mind?
I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
President-elect Trump is digging in his heels, casting fresh doubt on the U.S. intelligence assessment that Russia directed cyberattacks on the Democratic National Committee in order to sway the election.
But tonight, digital fingerprints tracing the election hacking directly back to Russia are giving intelligence officials fresh confidence that they've got it right. Trump's spokesman insists the intelligence report is not final, and Trump claims that he knows things about hacking that others don't know and that he'll reveal his inside information this week. But top Republican senators say that, with or without the next president, they intend to respond to an attack on the United States with tougher sanctions on Russia.
Also tonight, ISIS is now claiming responsibility for the bloody attack on a nightclub in Istanbul in which a lone gunman killed 39 people and wounded dozens more. As Turkish authorities step up an urgent man hunt for the assailant, we're going to hear directly from an American wounded in the attack.
I'll speak with Congressman Darrell Issa, and our correspondents and analysts and guests, they're standing by with full coverage of the day's top stories.
Up first, the fallout over the election cyberattack. Donald Trump is still skeptical about Russia's role, but U.S. intelligence is now more certain than ever. We begin with our justice correspondent Pamela Brown.
Pamela, I understand you're getting new information.
PAMELA BROWN, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Wolf. We're learning more tonight about that digital footprint in the election hack that has given the intelligence community growing confidence Russia is to blame. This as the president-elect continues to publicly disagree with the assessment.
BROWN (voice-over): President-elect Donald Trump rang in the new year still casting doubt on the U.S. intelligence community's assessment that Russia was behind the unprecedented attack of the U.S. election system.
DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENT-ELECT OF THE UNITED STATES: I know a lot about hacking, and hacking is a very hard thing to prove. So it could be somebody else. And I also know things that other people don't know, and so they cannot be sure of the situation.
BROWN: Asked to describe what undisclosed information he had access to, Trump promised to reveal it soon.
TRUMP: You'll find out on Tuesday or Wednesday.
BROWN: And he said the failed intelligence leading up to the Iraq War makes him skeptical.
TRUMP: I just want them to be sure, because it's a pretty serious charge, and I want them to be sure. And if you look at the weapons of mass destruction, that was a disaster. And they were wrong.
BROWN: CNN has learned the intelligence community traced the hack back to specific keyboards with the Cyrillic text, an alphabet used by Russians, adding to U.S. intelligence officials' confidence Russia carried out the hack.
Last week, this FBI and DHS report put out this report, naming the Russian hacking organization "Grizzly Steppe" and calling out two Russian intelligence groups for, quote, "the intrusion into U.S. political party."
Senator John McCain, traveling this week with other senators in the Baltic region, where countries are most worried about Russia's aggression, said there is no doubt Moscow is the culprit. SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (ARIZONA): It is clear that Russia has attacked the
United States of America. All of our intelligence agencies will affirm that that being the case. We will work in the Congress to have stronger sanctions in order to prevent further attacks on the United States of America.
BROWN: But Trump's incoming press secretary, Sean Spicer, defended the president-elect's skepticism.
SEAN SPICER, INCOMING WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: This report that everyone keeps talking about is not final. The current president of the United States hasn't seen a final report. And I think that the idea that we're jumping to conclusions before we have a final report is, frankly, irresponsible.
[17:06:03] BROWN: And we are still awaiting the comprehensive review that President Obama ordered that Sean Spicer is referring to. But the intelligence community remains confident in its analysis, citing the extremely high-quality intelligence on Russia. As one official put it, this is not a black hole like North Korea -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Thanks very much, Pamela Brown, for that report.
Let's turn to CNN's Jessica Schneider. She's outside Trump Tower in New York City for us. Jessica, Trump was asked how important cyber- security would be for his new administration. He gave a rather surprising answer. Tell our viewers what he said.
JESSICA SCHNEIDER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: He did, Wolf. Donald Trump not only doubling down on his doubts about U.S. intelligence but also talking about the dangers of computers and even urging Americans to essentially go back in time.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: It's very important. But you know, if you have something really important, write it out and have it delivered by courier, the old-fashioned way. Because I'll tell you what. No computer is safe. I don't care what they say. No computer is safe.
I have a boy who's 10 years old. He can do anything with a computer. If you want something to really go without detection, write it out and have it sent by courier.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SCHNEIDER: So we know that Donald Trump, for the most part, does stay away from e-mails, but he certainly does not stay away from computers. Of course, Donald Trump, Wolf, tweeting multiple times, many days.
BLITZER: He doesn't e-mail, though, but he says be careful of those computers. He also seems to still be celebrating his November victory. Tell our viewers about that. SCHNEIDER: Yes. That's right. Donald Trump took to Twitter
initially, wishing everyone a happy new year's, and then extended those well wishes to his, quote, "enemies who lost so badly."
And then today, Donald Trump continued to espouse about the election as he's been known to do since winning the election back in November. He tweeted out this today, saying, "Various media outlets and pundits say that I thought I was going to lose the election. Wrong. It all came together in the last week. And I thought and felt I would win big, easily, over the fabled 270." He, of course, won 306. "When they canceled fireworks, they knew and so did I." So referring there to Hillary Clinton's canceled fireworks.
But you know, truth be told, Wolf, Donald Trump even admitted to a crowd in Wisconsin at one of his thank-you rallies back on December 13 that he wasn't always so sure he was going to win the election. He said he actually rented out a smaller ballroom on election night, because he wasn't sure he was going to win. He also told the crowd that he had actually told his wife, Melania, that he said he had worked hard. But he told her, "If I lose, I lose" -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Jessica Schneider outside Trump Tower in New York City. Thank you.
Joining us now, Republican Congressman Darrell Issa of California. He's a member of the Foreign Affairs and Judiciary Committees. Congressman, thanks very much for joining us.
REP. DARRELL ISSA (R), CALIFORNIA: Happy new year, Wolf.
BLITZER: And happy new year to you, as well.
Do you believe Russia was involved in the hacking of the DNC and John Podesta's e-mail account, for that matter?
ISSA: Well, belief and proof are two different things.
BLITZER: What do you believe?
ISSA: I look forward to the proof. The reality is that, during my time in Congress and on the Select Intelligence Committee, I certainly became aware of the actions of Russia, including in their invasion of foreign countries where they used cyber as part of their orchestrated attack. So this is a sophisticated enemy that has used it.
Additionally, and I'm not defending when President Obama made his -- his exodus of these diplomats. But we have been harassed, both in Russia and in other countries in which Russia has a presence, some of the "Stans," for years. And it has been tolerated.
So on one hand, I look forward to an actual report of what they did, how they did it and how we stop them.
BLITZER: Have you been briefed by the intelligence community?
ISSA: We have not yet. BLITZER: Because members of the Intelligence Committee, members of the Armed Services Committee...
BLITZER: ... they have been briefed. You have not?
ISSA: No. A select group have been briefed. Generally, we have not yet.
But in past briefings, this has all the earmarks, obviously, of something that Russia and a few other countries are capable of doing. I think the important thing is not to ask did they do it or could they do it, but let's talk about what they wanted to do and how they used this information and how to prevent that. Because whoever did this certainly had a nefarious plan to release this information. And I think, whether you are a Republican or a Democrat, you want to make sure that we stop that in the future.
But Wolf, just going back, President Obama had a good reason months and months, even years ago, to have a different attitude towards Russia. They were harassing us. They would, for example, go into diplomats' homes while they were away, mess it up just so the diplomat would know to live in terror, both in Russia and other countries. So Russia is still the evil that used to be an empire.
BLITZER: So what you're saying is you don't think that President Obama and his administration over these past eight years was tough enough, forceful enough in dealing with Russia?
ISSA: He should have done more sooner, and he should have said that the relations in dealing in Syria and Iran had a prerequisite that certain levels of behavior occur. He didn't do that.
[17:10:13] Having said that, President-elect Trump is going to inherit an Iran deal with Russia in the middle, a Syria deal with Russia in the middle. And then this revelation, if you will, that Russia may have, again, exceeded any norms in trying to interfere with our election. And I think it's important that we do that.
But let's do one more thing. Let's remember President Obama tried to defeat Bibi Netanyahu and used government funds to do it. So I have a lot of questions for the new administration.
BLITZER: All right. Well, let's stay focused on Russia for a moment. Do you believe that the -- what the U.S. has now done, what the Obama administration has done, should stay in place after Donald Trump becomes president of the United States? Because as you know in recent days he has been saying very nice things about Putin.
ISSA: Well, I think you want to get a fresh start with all the leaders of the world. And I think that's something that President- elect Trump needs to do. He needs to say, "There's a clean slate. We'll begin where we -- where the last administration left off."
In the case of undoing the pushing out of spies -- let's not call them diplomats. Let's call them spies. Because if they weren't spies, they shouldn't have been pushed out. If those facilities didn't aid in spying, they shouldn't have been pushed out.
But assuming that that is the case, undoing it when you're looking to retaliate for past things well before the hacking of the DNC, I certainly think he should be cautious in undoing that, but take a "let's start anew with Russia," let's remember, Russia, since the Reagan time, has not stopped being an evil empire.
BLITZER: Wait. When Donald Trump says he's got new information that he's privy to that the general public is not privy to and he'll release it tomorrow or Wednesday, do you know what he's talking about?
ISSA: I don't. But he does have a large group of confidants. I was on his national security advisory team. Many of those people do have independent sources that could well have leaked, quite frankly, good information to people who hold high clearances.
Having said that, again, President Obama is leaving office. President Trump is coming in. And he needs to start with the world as it is. He needs to repair relationships with Israel. He needs to take on Russia as Russia is, and that means that President-elect Trump is going to have to look at all this information and make an independent decision, not one that I would give him and not one that John McCain would give him.
BLITZER: Well, speaking of John McCain, let's listen to what he's just said -- he's visiting Ukraine -- about Russia.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MCCAIN: When you attack a country, it's an act of war. And so we have to make sure that there is a price to pay so that we can perhaps persuade the Russians to stop this kind of attacks on our very fundamentals of democracy.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: He's also talking about the Russian annexation of Crimea, which he said was an act of war against Ukraine. But he's clearly convinced the Russians did engage in the cyberattack against the United States.
ISSA: Well, he's sitting in Ukraine, a country that we promised to defend. And then, when it came time to defend them, we didn't. And there were cyberattacks that shut down their eyes and ears, as so- called little green men came in, who were really Russian soldiers. So it's appropriate to be there talking about having to provide a tit- for-tat check of Russia, equal and responsive answers.
You know, John McCain is a great American, and he is a Cold War warrior. And I think we have to remember that the Cold War taught us one thing, which is don't let them have an inch or it won't stop. That does mean that, in Ukraine, first discussion with Russia is, what you've done in Ukraine, not in Crimea but in Ukraine, cannot continue. And your continually meddling in these, are important to be talked about.
BLITZER: Congressman, based on everything you know, everything you're hearing, do you think that the president-elect, once he's president, will do the right thing as far as Russia is concerned?
ISSA: I believe that, after he listens to General Mattis, certainly after he listens to General Kelly, who will have a different role but certainly has a domestic portfolio, he's going to come up with a measured but strong response to Russia so that we don't start off, quite frankly, where President Obama and President Bush started which was giving too much to Russia in the early days and, by the end of their administrations, having a soured relation over the last 16 years with two administrations.
So when I look at his key advisers, particularly those two generals who I know well, I believe they're going to give him the kind of advice that's going to have him start off much more like Reagan and Gorbachev and much less like Obama and President George W. Bush.
BLITZER: General Mattis will be nominated to become secretary of defense, General Kelly nominated to become secretary of homeland security. He tweeted this about Putin the other day when Putin decided to overrule the foreign ministry in Moscow and not expel American diplomats in retaliation for the expulsion of Russian diplomats here in the United States. This is Donald Trump: "Great move on delay by V. Putin. I always knew he was very smart."
You're smiling. You're laughing.
ISSA: President-elect Trump is very quick with a compliment. And in this case he chose a compliment of Putin rather than what I would have said in private which is, this is a slight on President Obama. Putin is brushing away the outgoing president by not taking an answer. And it really is a slight on President Obama not to respond.
Will that mean that President Trump automatically undoes what President Obama has done? I think he's going to look at it independently; and I hope he very much will, because I think he'll be more measured in his response, and that will set the stage for our relations with Russia going forward.
BLITZER: All right. I want you to stand by, Congressman. There's a lot more to discuss. He's also reacting to this horrendous murder rate in Chicago for this past year. He's got specific proposals, apparently. We'll take a quick break. Much more with Congressman Darrell Issa when we come back.
[17:20;11] BLITZER: We're back with Republican Congressman Darrell Issa of California. He's a key member of the Judiciary Committee.
Donald Trump tweeted this today about the crime, the murders; it's horrendous what happened this last year in Chicago. He tweeted this: "Chicago murder rate is record-setting; 4,331 shooting victims with 762 murders in 2016. If mayor can't do it, he must ask for federal help."
Mayor Rahm Emanuel's office said they would look forward to working with Donald Trump once he's president to deal with this. But what does Trump have in mind? What -- what can the president-elect do to try to bring down that horrendous murder rate in Chicago?
ISSA: Well, this is something even in California we deal with all the time. One of the things the federal government can do is help form gang task forces. Remember, a lot of these murders in Chicago are gang related. That's where you can break down, arrest, deport, incarcerate people before they kill.
Seven hundred and 62 murders, I guarantee it's not 762 separate shooters. It's a lot of repeat offenders, a lot of very dangerous people that need to be taken off the street. And that's where a combination of local law enforcement with the FBI and other agencies can really help.
BLITZER: Because, you know, there were more people murdered this past year in Chicago than in New York, a larger city, and Los Angeles, a larger city, combined. And so something is obviously very, very wrong in Chicago.
ISSA: It really is. And not to get into the gun question, but they have strong gun laws. The problem is the gangs have guns, and you're not going to take them away.
BLITZER: They say -- the mayor and others say the problem they have is most of those guns don't originate in Chicago or even Illinois. they originate in neighboring Indiana, where the gun laws are much more lax.
ISSA: Well, of course, they're illegally bought in most cases. You can't buy a gun to take to Chicago in Indiana.
So yes, guns are a problem in the hands of criminals, but criminals are a problem whether they have a gun, a knife or a machine tool. The reality is, is that what Rahm needs to do is he does need to work with President-elect Trump when he's president and ask for the kind of federal help that will allow him to break up these pockets of very bad people to help -- and then let his police work on community policing, getting traumatized neighborhoods to be willing to part of reporting crimes before they happen. And this, in combination, works.
BLITZER: I want to move on to Obamacare. But you can go to Indiana and buy a gun legally a lot easier than in Illinois, for example. You go to a gun show, you don't even necessarily need a background check to legally purchase a weapon that you drive back to Illinois, go back to Chicago and kill someone.
ISSA: If ease of buying guns was the problem, Gary, Indiana, would be the crime capital, not Chicago.
BLITZER: They've got plenty of problems in Gary.
ISSA: They do. And historically, they've been the tougher side of those twin cities.
So, you know, having gone to Chicago for many years, the South Side of Chicago has a long reputation. But again, if you go back to what the federal government and the city and state can do together, President- elect Trump is offering that help. And I think Rahm, having worked with him when he was a congressman, will be wise to take that help, build those teams and crack down. Because he can stem this in a short period of time.
BLITZER: Like other Republicans, you want to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act, Obamacare, as it's called. But are you willing to -- you can repeal it but not -- but until you replace it, you've got to keep it going so that, what, 20 million people who now have health insurance are going to still be able to have some health insurance.
Are you willing to delay the implementation of something new in order to prevent people from suffering?
ISSA: Well, I think everybody understands it's a phase-in, phase-out, no question at all. And that's what the Affordable Care Act, Obamacare, was when it was first implemented. The tax was phased in quickly.
BLITZER: So they can't really repeal it until they have something ready to replace it.
ISSA: Well, repeal simply means that you do the action of Congress, signed by the president, that calls for that phase-out.
Understand that Republicans overwhelmingly supported portability in health care. In other words, preexisting conditions not being a determinative of whether you can move to a new healthcare plan, a form of helping your children as long, as they're reasonably dependent, stay on your plan, certainly accessible and reasonable.
But I'll tell you. When we were fighting as Republicans against the Affordable Care Act, I had said a long time ago, if you took the FEHBP, the Federal Employees' Benefit Plan, and opened it up so those hundreds of plans available to federal workers of all stripes were simply available to the public, they didn't have gender discrimination. They didn't have age discrimination. They, in fact, were portable with no preexisting conditions.
[17:25:06] To a certain extent the federal government already enjoyed a multi-million-person plan that, as we're phasing out of one, we could phase into an expansion of that for those willing to pay. Wolf, one of the biggest problems that was in the Affordable Care Act was the fact that, instead of a 50-50 relationship for Medicaid and MediCAL in California, we ended up with a 90 percent ratio of the federal government to the states.
In other words, the states gave up part of their responsibility to help the poor get health care.
BLITZER: How long is it going to take to replace Obamacare from your perspective?
ISSA: I think it's probably about a three-year program to transition to something. Faster if we leverage existing systems. Also faster if we get bipartisan support so that we really are getting a hybrid that's a better product.
BLITZER: I suspect you're not going to get a whole lot of bipartisan support.
ISSA: Well, it's a new year, Wolf, and I have bipartisan support on a lot of things I do. This one may be harder.
BLITZER: All right. Well, we'll see how you do. Congressman Darrell Issa. Happy new year. Thanks for joining us.
ISSA: Happy New Year.
BLITZER: Coming up, potential trouble for some of President-elect Donald Trump's nominees for top levels of the administration. Will Senate Democrats be able to sink their nominations or simply drag out the process?
Also ahead, new developments in the manhunt for the terrorist who killed dozens of people in a nightclub on New Year's Eve. ISIS now claims he's one of its soldiers.
BLITZER: The new Republican-dominated Congress gets back to work tomorrow. But Senate Democrats are already getting ready to make their presence known by trying to slow down or attempt to block eight of Donald Trump's nominees for key cabinet posts and other top jobs.
[17:30:39] Our chief political correspondent, Dana Bash, is here in THE SITUATION ROOM. Dana, tell us more about who's on the Democrats' hit list.
DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, as you said, there are eight people that Donald Trump that tapped to run the departments like state, justice and education.
Now remember, several years ago, when Democrats controlled the Senate and had the White House, they changed the Senate rules to make it harder to filibuster presidential nominees. That change is now coming back to bite the Democrats, but they still have some tools to at least make a statement.
BASH (voice-over): Democrats may not have the votes to defeat Donald Trump's nominees but can delay their confirmation.
SEN. CHUCK SCHUMER (D), INCOMING MAJORITY LEADER: I am concerned about a bunch of the nominees...
BASH: And incoming Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer is warning Democrats will slow-walk eight of Trump's picks unless they turn over additional financial information to the Senate, saying in a statement, "If Republicans think they can quickly jam through a whole slate of nominees without a fair hearing process, they're sorely mistaken."
Democrats say these eight Trump nominees have yet to provide key committees and the Office of Government Ethics enough records for senators to make informed decisions about potential conflicts of interest.
For example, Rex Tillerson, Trump's nominee for secretary of state, handed over information about his taxes. He is not required to turn over his full tax returns. But Democrats want to change that.
SEN. DEBBIE STABENOW (D), MICHIGAN: Without seeing their tax returns, it's impossible to know if his nominees have conflicts of interest from their financial dealings that would influence their decisions affecting the American people.
BASH: Tom Price, Trump's nominee for Health and Human Services, is also on the Democrats' target list. This year he bought and sold 12 healthcare stocks. Democrats are pushing for more information to investigate whether Congressman Price violated a 2013 insider trading law.
But the reality is, beyond his business dealings, Democrats strongly oppose Price on policy.
SCHUMER: When it comes to issues like Medicare, the Affordable Care Act and Planned Parenthood, Congressman Price and the average American couldn't be farther apart.
BASH: In act, these eight Trump nominees are being singled out by Democrats because of what they believe as much as where they invest. Like Hardee's CEO Andrew Puzder, Trump's pick for labor secretary.
SCHUMER: Mr. Puzder, who's supposed to be for Labor, has been pretty anti-worker, when he was the head of Hardee's.
BASH: Incoming White House press secretary Sean Spicer says Democrats should act as the GOP did eight years ago, allowing Democrats to confirm seven of Obama's nominees on the day he took office.
SEAN SPICER, INCOMING WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: Each of these individuals is an unbelievably agent of success and change who's going to help this country move forward. And the idea that the Democrats' choice is to figure out from day one how to oppose every one of these individuals is just -- if, frankly, sad.
BASH: Democrats argued the difference now is that Trump is filling his cabinet with billionaires who haven't handed over enough information to be properly vetted.
Still, Democrats aren't just doing this to scrutinize Trump's nominees. This is also a way to try to mess up the GOP legislative agenda, like repealing Obamacare by burying the Senate floor with lengthy debates on nominees, which could take weeks or even months. (END VIDEOTAPE)
BASH: Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is planning to confirm several Trump nominees on inauguration day, just like the Senate did when Barack Obama took office, but that could be in jeopardy if the eight nominees that the Democrats are targeting don't relent, Wolf, and hand over documents that show that there are not the conflicts of interest that Democrats say that they're worried could be.
BLITZER: All right. Let's see what happens. Dana, stay with us. I want to get to our panel.
And Jeffrey Toobin, do you think the Democrats be successful in this, or is this simply an effort to express a protest, if you will?
JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: Well, protests can be successful. One thing Mitch McConnell demonstrated as -- during the Obama presidency --is that opposition and delay is good politics.
The -- so the idea that the Democrats will somehow get credit for being patsies and just confirming everybody without -- without much quarrel, that's -- that's a myth. So I think the Democrats have the chance, not only perhaps to defeat some people -- remember, they only need three Republican votes -- but in addition, they get to define the terms of the debates about these areas, about the Justice Department, about the State Department, by talking about these issues with these -- with these nominees.
[17:35:13] BLITZER: You're assuming...
TOOBIN: Probably they can't stop the confirmation, but they can accomplish some things politically.
BLITZER: You're assuming that all 48 Democrats will stay in line against -- and vote as a bloc. But there are a lot of those more moderate, conservative Democrats, especially those, Jeffrey, who are up for reelection in two years, who may decide to go with the Republicans.
TOOBIN: Absolutely. That's why delay in and of itself could have -- could be advantageous. Because if you are talking about with, say, Congressman Price, who's up for -- who's up to run HHS, about whether the government should fund Planned Parenthood, that is a debate that the Democrats are on the winning side of politically. So the longer they talk about that, the better, even if he ultimately gets confirmed.
BLITZER: Dana, you know they need 50 senators to confirm someone.
BLITZER: Because if it's a tie, the vice president is president of the Senate. He breaks the tie. Mike Pence goes and votes in favor of the confirmation. It seems pretty obvious that the Republicans are almost certainly going to be on board. BASH: That's right, but I think Jeffrey is exactly right about the
notion that, the more that the Democrats take up the time on the Senate floor and make each of these nominees -- all of whom don't necessarily just have, as I mentioned in the piece, potential conflicts of interest but really are anathema to what the Democrats believe, policy-wise. If they can take up the time and discuss that day after day on the Senate floor, they can, at least in some way, shape or form, regain the narrative and shape the agenda and, frankly, also bring Democrats together.
Because that's a whole other problem, potential problem, for Democrats because they're -- they are in disarray, as well. If they can come together over a common enemy, if you will, that could help them.
BLITZER: David Fahrenthold of "The Washington Post" is with us. David, you've done a lot of excellent reporting on Donald Trump over the past year or two. How do you think he will react to what the Democrat strategy we just heard from Chuck Schumer -- the Democrat strategy will be to, at a minimum, delay and drag out this process?
DAVID FAHRENTHOLD, "THE WASHINGTON POST": well, I think what we've seen from Trump all along is that he's very distractible and that he really holds a grudge. And I think this is an effort by the Democrats to try to take that tendency that we saw on the campaign trail for Trump to be distracted by individual fights, to not let things go by, and also to use Twitter as a sort of way to let everybody know what he's thinking. They'll use those as sort of weapons against -- turn that against Trump by making the controversy of the day something that Trump talks about for days afterward, when really, the Republicans would like to be moving on to something more substantive.
BLITZER: Well, you think the Democrats, if their strategy is to sort of goad Trump into over-reacting, that he'll go along with that?
FAHRENTHOLD: I've seen no evidence that he won't.
BLITZER: And so what's going to be the impact of that?
FAHRENTHOLD: Well, I think that the -- one of the things you need as a president, any president, to succeed is discipline. You need to stay on your subject. You need to only talk when it's advantageous to you.
And in this case, Congress is going to be trying to push through some Republican measures they've been wanting for years. And if they can't keep Trump on the same page with them, or tax reform, or whatever else. If he's fighting with some Democrat or if he's fighting with some Republican who won't go along, that ruins their momentum.
So I think for the Democrats, it's a smart move to try to turn Trump -- you know, use Trump's distractibility against him.
BLITZER: Speaking of -- let's get to Russia for a moment, Dana, because Donald Trump said over the weekend he will make a statement either tomorrow or Wednesday with new information about these reports that Russia has been involved in the cyberattacks against the U.S. What do you anticipate? What is he talking about, the new information
that he's holding, that he's ready to release?
BASH: I have no idea. I don't think most people have an idea. You know, a lot of times with Donald Trump -- he is the president-elect, but he also is a showman, and he understands timing and suspense and everything that goes along with that.
And there has been so much focus, rightly so, on how he's going to handle Russia and, more importantly, questions about whether or not he believes the intelligence.
He did move a little bit in his rhetoric when he gave his quick gaggle with reporters wearing his tuxedo on New Year's Eve, not completely ruling it out, not completely ruling out the notion that Russia may have been involved in hacking during the election. But we'll see what he says.
It is -- it is a critical moment, and Wolf, you know this because you covered the intelligence agencies for a long time. Because this president, any president, should have skepticism of the things that they are being told by intelligence agencies. But it is a fine line between skepticism and ostracizing them. And a lot of people in the intelligence community right now feel ostracized. And it's tricky for a president.
BLITZER: I assume he's going to get a briefing from the highest- ranking intelligence officials before he makes that new statement, and then he'll make a statement. Is that your understanding, David?
[17:40:04] FAHRENTHOLD: I think that's what he'd like us to believe, but he's been getting those intelligence briefings all along.
Dana is right. Trump has always sort of functioned by changing the topic or changing his audience. Right? He can't change his audience now, so he's going to try to change the topic.
Think about the excuses for the taxes: "My taxes are under audit." Think about he was going to give a press conference about his conflicts of interest, and then that got moved. This is just a way of shifting the time pressure a little bit, pushing it forward into the future. I would honestly be surprised if he comes out and has some really substantive disproof of the entire intelligence community's conclusion that Russia was behind this.
BLITZER: He also said that before the inauguration, David -- you've done a lot of reporting on his personal business actions, tax -- his tax issues, his charitable contributions. He's going to announce at a news conference before the inauguration how he's separating himself from the business. Do you still anticipate he will do that?
FAHRENTHOLD: I think he'll do something. I don't think that he will fully separate himself from the business or use what they call a blind trust that he talked a lot. He promised on the campaign he would put his business in a blind trust; he wouldn't know what was going on so he couldn't have a conflict of interest. I don't believe he'll do that. He's given no indication he'll do that.
But I think he'll have some kind of press conference. He'll say, "I'm give it to my sons; I'm giving it to my executives, but I'll keep some sort of hand in it, and I'll keep a knowledge of what's..."
BLITZER: Very quickly, Jeffrey, what do you anticipate?
TOOBIN: I don't think there's going to be anything. I think he's just going to say, "Look, I ran for president as a businessman. I'm a businessman and deal with it."
BLITZER: We'll see.
TOOBIN: I mean, I think that's -- I think we're going to get nothing.
BLITZER: He told us we'll have a news conference and a statement. We'll see if he does.
Everybody stand by. We're getting an update on the urgent manhunt for an ISIS terrorist who attacked a nightclub in Turkey and got away after killing 39 people and injuring dozens more. Stand by.
[17:45:35] BLITZER: ISIS is now claiming responsibility for the New Year's Eve attack on an Istanbul nightclub. Turkish authorities are stepping up the manhunt for the terrorist who killed at least 39 people. Our Brian Todd has the very latest for us.
Brian, what are you learning?
BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, tonight, we have new information on the manhunt which is intensifying across Turkey and in neighboring countries. Turkish officials have just put out new images of the suspect, but at the moment, they are not giving a name. A key question tonight, how involved was ISIS which claimed responsibility for this massacre?
TODD (voice-over): Inside one of Istanbul's most popular nightspots, a jubilant New Year's Eve countdown. Not long after the cheering and sparklers, this man appears at the entrance. In surveillance video, you can see shots ricocheting as the gunman unloads, entering the nightclub. From another angle, he is seen outside, firing.
Nearly 40 people are killed, scores of others wounded. An American inside the club says he played dead to survive as the gunman walked just inches from him.
WILLIAM JACOB RAAK, U.S. CITIZEN WOUNDED IN ISTANBUL ATTACK: I got shot in the (inaudible) leg, man. These crazy people came in shooting everything. I don't know. I saw one person. They're shooting in hiding.
TODD (voice-over): From another witness, a horrific account of how determined the suspect was to kill.
YOUNIS TUERG, WITNESS (through translator): As soon as he entered the club, he started firing and he didn't stop. He fired nonstop for 20 minutes at least. We thought that there were several of them because it just didn't stop, and there was some kind of bombing as well. He threw some explosives.
TODD (voice-over): Turkish officials say the gunman got away. And tonight, there is a massive dragnet across Turkey and neighboring countries. Turkish media had put out images of the suspect, including this surveillance grab obtained by CNN from the Turkish police. CNN cannot verify its authenticity.
JAMES SCHIELD, FORMER UNITED STATES MARSHAL: There are certainly facial features there that you can recognize -- jawline, the eye area. Someone who knows him would be able to pick that photo out.
TODD (voice-over): Turkish officials say they also have fingerprints of the suspect and have detained eight people for questioning. ISIS has claimed responsibility for the attack, saying a soldier of the caliphate targeted the nightclub, but the terror group offered no other clues on the suspect's identity. And experts say this could be the work of an ISIS sympathizer rather than an attack directed by the group.
MICHAEL WEISS, AUTHOR, "ISIS: INSIDE THE ARMY OF TERROR": Anybody who's a trained ISIS operative who's conducting a terror operation abroad, typically it's a suicide mission. I mean, we saw it in Paris, we saw it in Brussels. They don't tend to say alive. Now, the ISIS- inspired attacks, these guys tend to be less professional or less beholden to the ISIS mantra of going on a martyrdom operation.
TODD: Now, a key question tonight, ISIS, how responsible is it for this attack? To what degree was it involved? ISIS does have the resources, if it wants to, to possibly help this gunman get away. But former U.S. Marshal James Schield says the more this suspect moves around, the more vulnerable he is to being captured or killed, very similar to what happened to the Berlin truck attacker who was killed in Italy, Wolf.
BLITZER: Brian, but you've got some other circumstances, as you know, in Turkey right now which potentially could make this manhunt especially difficult.
TODD: That's right, Wolf. According to former U.S. marshals we spoke with, a few factors in Turkey make it more difficult for that. And you've got a very porous border between Turkey and Syria. This guy could have slipped into Syria. And if he's getting any help inside that country, he could be a ghost right now.
You've also got refugees are all over the place in Turkey, which makes it easier for this gunman to blend in there. And you've got turmoil within the Turkish government, several factions distrustful of one another. If they are not on the same page tonight, finding this man is going to be much more difficult.
BLITZER: Brian Todd reporting for us. Thank you.
[17:49:23] Coming up, Donald Trump voices fresh doubt on the U.S. intelligence assessment that Russia is behind the election hacking even as digital fingerprints give intelligence officials fresh confidence they've got it right.
BLITZER: One way the incoming Trump administration is poised to bring some sweeping change across the country is through the appointment of conservative federal judges. Right now, more than 100 vacancies are waiting to be filled. Let's bring back our justice correspondent, Pamela Brown, and our senior legal analyst, Jeffrey Toobin.
I think President Obama, when he took office, he had to fill 50 vacancies. Now, a hundred. How is this going to have an impact across the country on so many key issues? Jeffrey, can you hear me?
TOOBIN: Oh, that's me.
TOOBIN: Oh, I'm sorry. I thought you were asking Pamela.
TOOBIN: Well, there is a huge difference between liberal judges and conservative judges just as there is on liberal politicians and conservative politicians. Abortion rights, gay rights, corporations versus labor unions -- on all those issues, you see dramatic differences between Republican-appointed judges and Democratically- appointed judges, especially at the Supreme Court.
And as we all know, there is one vacancy that Donald Trump will have the opportunity to fill. And soon there will be three justices over 80 years old, which raises the possibility of even more.
BLITZER: Which suggests he could have an impact long, long beyond four years or even eight years. The impact of these Supreme Court justices and these federal judges, they go on for 20, 30, maybe even 40 years.
TOOBIN: Absolutely. And just think, you know, Barack Obama, in eight years, got to fill about 325 judgeships. Donald Trump, in his first year, has a hundred judgeships to fill.
[17:55:08] Now, maybe he won't fill them all but, again, Mitch McConnell, by delaying or stopping all judicial confirmations or almost all judicial confirmations in the last two years of Obama's presidency, set the table for Donald Trump to fill these vacancies. And there's not a lot the Democrats can do to stop them.
BLITZER: Pamela, as you know, President Obama has commuted more than 1,000 prisoners' sentences. That's a lot more than all of his recent predecessors. More may be coming still. Why is this number so high in his administration?
PAMELA BROWN, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Well, President Obama has made clemency and communications a priority. In his view, he wants to bring existing sentences of nonviolent offenders in line with current laws that are more lax after an era of strict mandatory minimums. And as you point out, as we saw there on that graph, he has given commutations more than 11 of the past presidents combined. The total is 1,176.
But, Wolf, with only a few weeks left in office, there are still 13,000 pending petitions for commutations. We know that we expect more commutation announcements before the term, but there's really this sense of urgency among sentence reform advocates that President Obama won't be able to get through all of these, and Trump's administration will not carry on the clemency initiative.
BLITZER: I suspect that is absolutely correct. Pamela, thank you very much. Jeffrey, thanks to you as well.
Coming up, Donald Trump says he knows things that other people don't know about hacking, renews his skepticism about Russian cyber attacks here in the U.S., but U.S. officials say digital fingerprints give them growing confidence that Russia is to blame.