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Face the Nation Transcript December 18, 2016: Conway, Kissinger, Donilon

JOHN DICKERSON, CBS HOST: Today on FACE THE NATION: A turbulent year comes to an end with more revelations about Russian efforts to help Donald Trump got elected and a big question mark as to what to do about it.

Before heading off for a Hawaiian Christmas vacation, President Obama publicly acknowledged what U.S. intelligence has been hinting for weeks.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Not much happens in Russia without Vladimir Putin.


DICKERSON: Mr. Obama said that he personally told Mr. Putin to knock it off and vows to retaliate. But the Obama presidency is coming to an end and his successor still won’t accept that Russia is guilty of tampering with U.S. elections. But president-elect Donald Trump is accepting the thanks of those who voted for him.

He finished his thank you tour by paying his respects to supporters in the Deep South.


DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENT-ELECT: They are saying, as president, he shouldn’t be doing rallies. But I think we should, right?


TRUMP: We have done everything else the opposite.


DICKERSON: Is that any way to run a presidency?

Henry Kissinger thinks maybe so. We will talk to the former secretary of state about how Trump’s unpredictable style could be an asset.


HENRY KISSINGER, FORMER U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE: Donald Trump is a phenomenon that foreign countries haven’t seen.


DICKERSON: Plus, former Obama National Security Adviser Tom Donilon weighs in on the global challenges facing the new president.

And author Graeme Wood discusses new book on ISIS.

Top Trump aide Kellyanne Conway discusses the transition.

And we will have a conversation with writer Ta-Nehisi Coates about Obama’s legacy. It’s all ahead on FACE THE NATION.

Good morning and welcome to FACE THE NATION. I’m John Dickerson.

We turn now to the president-elect ‘s senior adviser, Kellyanne Conway, who is in West Palm Beach.

Kellyanne, I understand you just got off the phone with Mr. Trump. Do he have any news that you want to deliver to us?

KELLYANNE CONWAY, TRUMP SENIOR ADVISER: He did say hello to you, John. And he looks forward to joining you in the future as the president in an interview.  

JOHN DICKERSON:  Excellent. We’ll hold him to that commitment. Let me ask you about a theory I’ve gotten from some Republican officials this week. This is their theory. Once Donald Trump clears the electoral college vote on Monday, he’ll drop his skepticism that Russia was involved in hacking the election. What do you make of that theory?  

KELLYANNE CONWAY:  The entire nonsense about the electors trying to use the Russian hacking issue to change the election result is really unfortunate. I think that actually undermines our democracy more than any other conversation that we’re having right now. We were really struck by what seems to be disagreement and consternation between the President Obama camp and the Hillary Clinton camps this week.   You have Josh Earnest doing remarkable things from the podium of the White House press secretary -- basically telling us all what Donald Trump obviously knew when he would have no way of knowing that and it’s frankly disrespectful. And then you have his own president, President Obama in his final press conference refusing to go all the way here and say that Russia had hacked into emails that went ahead and interfered with the election or shifted the election results. President Obama knows how to win the presidency. He did it twice. And he did it with states like Michigan, which he won by 10 points, which we just won. He did it by winning states like Wisconsin, which Hillary Clinton--  

JOHN DICKERSON:  Kellyanne, sorry to interrupt. But just on this question of -- Mr. Trump is still skeptical that the Russians were even involved. Leaving aside the question of whether it affected the election or not, you have the CIA, the FBI, the Director of National Intelligence, now a number of Republicans saying it’s clear that the Russians hacked – that, just as a basic premise is clear. Mr. Trump since late September has said that he doesn’t think that’s the case. He still says that now. What does he know that all those intelligence officers don’t know?  

KELLYANNE CONWAY:  John, where is the evidence? Why, when CIA officials were invited to a House intelligence briefing last week did they refuse to go? Instead, they’re talking to the media. That undermines our national security, our intelligence operations. Why are they doing that--  

JOHN DICKERSON:  But does he himself have evidence, Kellyanne, that suggests that this isn’t the case?  

KELLYANNE CONWAY:  Well, the president-elect receives intelligence briefings that I am not privy to. But let’s focus on the issue at hand, which is if the CIA, if Director Brennan and others at the top are serious about turning over evidence to we, the American people, they should do that.   And they should show up when the House Intelligence Committee invites them to brief them. But, you know, that’s a closed door meeting. So it’s not so exciting and tantalizing. Because then you can’t leak it to the media. They should not be leaking to the media. If there’s evidence, let’s see it.   I would note that President Obama himself the other day stopped short of saying what many pundits on TV are saying.  And they would have no idea because I’m fairly sure they don’t get intelligence briefings. I’ll tell you what the unintelligence briefing we all know is. Which is that Hillary Clinton and her team spent $1.2 billion, lost an election they should have won, didn’t see us coming. And they got a lot of help--  


KELLYANNE CONWAY:  --frankly from people in the media who are still trying to fight the last war.  

JOHN DICKERSON:  I guess what I’m--  

KELLYANNE CONWAY:  The campaign is over. This man is the president.  

JOHN DICKERSON:  Absolutely. And much more to the point, he’s going to be the president. So what we’re trying to do is figure out how does the president-elect take in new information that’s interesting, that’s volatile, that’s at the center of national security here. So on the one hand, you have the entire intelligence community that says the Russians were hacking the election -- again, leaving aside the question of whether it had an effect. And then you have the president-elect totally dismissing that. So I wonder does his entire team have the same view that there is no merit to the idea that the Russians were involved?  

KELLYANNE CONWAY:  But remember, you just said the word election. I have to push back. Because that’s what everybody’s doing. They’re conflating whether Russia hacked into the emails and how it affected the election. Read -- I see in paragraph in every story. I listen to people who don’t know what they’re talking about on TV and frankly are never under oath.   We’re listening to the White House press secretary himself make these allegations. Hillary Clinton is telling her donors that. And I’ve talked to some of those donors. And they don’t believe it. They were given all those fancy maps and graphics that assured them Hillary Clinton would win in a blowout.   They don’t accept it. Look, I also want – I want to say something else. I listened to Donna Brazile on a different network on this morning. And I very much appreciated the fact she seems to be pushing back against President Obama and this idea that after President Obama, as he clearly stated in his final press conference on Friday, John.  He said, ‘I told Vladimir Putin to cut it out, and he did. The hacking stopped.’ It seems like she was in disagreement with that. It seems like people in the Democratic Party wanted the president to go further and want him to go further now. And I guess that’s his right. We’ll see what he does in the next couple of weeks.  

JOHN DICKERSON:  All right. We are not going to get any insight into the president-elect’s thinking here, but let me try this. Did anyone involved –  

KELLYANNE CONWAY: I gave you plenty.  

JOHN DICKERSON: -- in the Trump campaign have any contact with Russians trying to meddle with the election?  

KELLYANNE CONWAY:  Absolutely not. And I discussed that with the president-elect just last night. Those conversations never happened. I hear people saying it like it’s a fact on television. That is just not only inaccurate and false, but it’s dangerous.  

JOHN DICKERSON:  Does the president-elect--  

KELLYANNE CONWAY:  And—and it does undermine our democracy.  

JOHN DICKERSON:  Does the president-elect approve of President Obama’s decision to retaliate against the -- Russians for hacking into the election?  

KELLYANNE CONWAY:  The president-elect respects the ability of President Obama to do what he sees necessary in any different – any number of different arenas. It does seem to be a political response at this point because it seems like the president is under pressure from Team Hillary, who can’t accept the election results. And I would point out--  

JOHN DICKERSON:  So -- sorry, Kellyanne. I just wanted--  

KELLYANNE CONWAY:  -- to you, since I know this is meant to --  

JOHN DICKERSON:  -- make sure I didn’t misunderstand that. You’re saying the president is retaliating because he’s doing it purely for political and not national security reasons?  

KELLYANNE CONWAY:  John, what I’m saying is that the president-elect respects the ability of President -- the right of President Obama to do what he wants. He’s the president for the next several weeks. We believe in sanctions that work, not just sanctions for sanctions’ sake. But it’s very clear that President Obama could have, quote, retaliated months ago if they were actually concerned about this and concerned about this, quote, affecting the election. Whatever his motives are, what his action is, we’ll respect it as Americans.  

JOHN DICKERSON:  But you--  

KELLYANNE CONWAY:  That doesn’t mean that new President Trump will agree with it and continue with it. But I also want your viewers to be—to be reminded of one thing. When it comes to Russia and coziness, let’s not forget it was Hillary Clinton through her craven foundation requests -- Bill Clinton got a million bucks to give a speech in Russia. And then she turned over 20% of US uranium rights. So let’s be honest about who for money, and who for power, and who for access has cozied up to the Russians.  

JOHN DICKERSON:  Just so I’m not left with the wrong impression, I -- the impression you’ve left me is that you’re saying that President Obama’s reacting here to the Russians because he’s feeling political pressure. Do I have a misimpression?  

KELLYANNE CONWAY: No, I didn’t say that.  

JOHN DICKERSON:  Okay. I just want to make sure --  

KELLYANNE CONWAY:  No, no. What I’m saying is, John, he is under political pressure. Definitely. Because you’ve got people from Team Hillary saying something very different than what President Obama himself is saying --  


KELLYANNE CONWAY:  They are disagreeing. And, look, it’s his legacy that’s—that’s being questioned here. That’s obvious.  They’ve lost 1,000 state legislative seats --  

JOHN DICKERSON:  All right, Kellyanne. We’re going to have to leave it there--  

KELLYANNE CONWAY:  --they’ve lost the Congress --  

JOHN DICKERSON:  All right.  

KELLYANNE CONWAY: --many governorships and senators.  

JOHN DICKERSON:  We’ve run out of—we’ve run out of time.  

KELLYANNE CONWAY:  Thanks for having me.  


For analysis on the Russian hacking story, as well as the deteriorating situation in Syria, we’re joined by former Obama National Security Adviser Tom Donilon, “Washington Post” columnist David Ignatius, and CBS News foreign affairs correspondent Margaret Brennan.

David, I want to start with you.

On the one hand, you have a president who is saying that he is going to retaliate against the Russians. You have this consensus in the intelligence community. The president-elect doesn’t even believe the beginning premise, which is that the Russians were involved.

What do you make of that pretty big gulf?

DAVID IGNATIUS, COLUMNIST, “THE WASHINGTON POST”: I was struck during Kellyanne’s just now, as I have been by Donald Trump’s comments for weeks and months, by his reluctance to do what typically happens in national security matters, which is seek some kind of bipartisan unified consensus.

The obvious thing for Kellyanne Conway to say and Donald Trump to say is, I want a full congressional investigation by a bipartisan panel so the American people will know the facts.

Instead, I did hear her say that this call for covert retaliation against Russia, which President Obama said we will take action, I heard her say that was a political response.

It’s the opposite of saying we need to come together as a country and be unified.

I just would note one more thing. In this whole crazy story, the one thing that we really do need to know is whether there is any kind of leverage that Russia has over Donald Trump. That’s the question we couldn’t really uncover because we never got the tax returns.

It’s crucial before he takes office, not to attack him, but to liberate him from any pressure. It’s a really important thing. And I hope -- again, there should be bipartisan support for that.

DICKERSON: Tom, the president has said he is going to retaliate against Russia. What are his options?

TOM DONILON, FORMER U.S. NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISER: Well, he has a broad range of options.

But it’s important to kind of lay down some of the predicates here. And I want to get to something that David. As you said, there’s a uniform (INAUDIBLE). The president used that word -- that phrase yesterday with respect to this.

The DNI, the head of the National Security Agency and private sector firms -- I spend a lot of time in this area, right? We just delivered a report to the president on cyber-security. All agree with high confidence that in fact that Russia actually hacked and released this information for an effort to try in some way to effect the election, right?

So, it clearly should be investigated. And the investigation should put forward to the Congress as they prepare to investigate and to the American people what the facts are, get underneath these issues of intent, and to try to come up with ways in which we can facilitate efforts to prevent this from happening in the future.

I think this is, by the way, part of a broader effort by Vladimir Putin, since he came back into office in the spring of 2012, to undermine Western institutions and Western confidence and to split allies.

So, it’s a broader strategic question, I think, that needs to be addressed here. And that includes, I think, shoring up some of these Western institutions. On the responses you asked me about is that he has a (AUDIO GAP) cyber area, but also (AUDIO GAP) cyber area, but (AUDIO GAP).

The United States has an awful lot of leverage in the financial world, for example, and in the monetary world, where it could act. So, I think that he will consider all these. And, again, I think that’s a pretty broad range of responses.

MARGARET BRENNAN, CBS NEWS FOREIGN AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: And I thought it was interesting, because while I heard all the same things you did from Kellyanne Conway, she also she, we want sanctions that work.

I’m not sure if she means sanctions in this case or if that was a condemnation of the financial sanctions that the U.S. already has on Russia. But Republicans like Lindsey Graham are for calling in the new Congress for some kind of pressure. And the administration now is looking at tightening some of those sanctions -- or financial punishment, essentially, on senior leaders in the GRU, Russia’s main intelligence arm.

The problem is, that’s punitive. It’s not prohibitive. And that doesn’t in any way really counter the attack on the cyber-front. It’s merely a punishment.

DONILON: There’s support and I think it’s part of this effort to get out with public attribution with as much information as possible.

I think that’s what the president intends to do. The other thing, on David’s point on -- in 2008, President Bush 43 and his chief of staff, Josh Bolten, initiated a process which we found very helpful. And that was this, to bring the outgoing Cabinet members in the national security area and the incoming Cabinet members in the national security area together several time in the Situation Room to go through key issues and establish facts and get a deep understanding of the actions and programs that were under way.

And, again, the incoming administration will agree and disagree in areas. But it was a really, I thought, very helpful exercise that we were a little kind of skeptical of at the beginning. But it turned out during the course of these things that in fact the world looks a lot different when you sit in the Situation Room, right, with your predecessors, right, and go through the facts and get detailed briefings.

I think it’s an exercise that I would certainly recommend that we do in this case.

DICKERSON: Well, this is what I was trying to get at with, how does the new president-elect take in new information that might be inconvenient -- inconvenient in this case because it puts a little cloud over his election victory?

David, speaking of facts and the way politics play a role, the presidential essentially said in his press conference that Republicans are now thinking more warmly about Putin basically because it’s in their rooting interests as Republicans.

What do you make of that assessment? And do you think Republicans are, because Donald Trump has a warmer view of Vladimir Putin, actually shift, or is there -- where do things stand?

IGNATIUS: I think Republicans so mistrust Barack Obama, that if Barack Obama says Putin is terrible, they will be some Republicans who just take the other side.

I thought the most powerful thing that the president said in his farewell news conference was Russian covert actions against us during our election season have been successful to the extent that we’re a divided country.

We are a soft target. We’re the ideal target for this kind of thing because it’s just so easy to push us further apart. The president was pleading almost, as he has now for several years, to come together.

Again, this is the challenge for Donald Trump is to say to the country, we’re too divided. On this issue, we need to come together as we assess Russia’s intents, on every issue.


Margaret, I want to switch to Syria. What did you make of the president? Outgoing (AUDIO GAP) Aleppo now, the rebel stronghold, is a synonym for hell.

What did you make of Barack Obama’s wrestling with that at his press conference?

BRENNAN: His language couldn’t be more different to John Kerry comparing it to the 1995 Srebrenica genocide days before, Kerry using and coming very close to saying, this is out ethnic cleansing.

President Obama said, yes, I do feel some reasonability, as leader of the free world, when I see this kind of mass killing. Particularly, he called out the images of children that deeply trouble him.

But then he also stepped back and said I don’t have blood on my hands. That’s Iran. That’s Russia. That’s the Assad regime. So, he went back to that argument of what his critics call a straw man argument, that short of military invasion and American boots on the ground, there’s simply nothing the United States can do.

The White House is very sensitive on this topic, because keep in mind President Obama’s the very first American president to say prevention of mass atrocities is a national security priority. And he’s seeing that happen.

And what he’s authorized at this point are largely inconsequential diplomatic initiatives backed with no real leverage. Secretary Kerry has even characterized it as weak diplomacy, though it’s continuing to go on.

DICKERSON: All right, Margaret, thanks so much. Thanks to both of you.

And we will be right back in a moment.

Thanks. Few people knows much as about foreign policy, especially as it pertains to Russia, as former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger. We sat down with him in his office in New York.


DICKERSON: You have President Obama saying that he is going to retaliate in some fashion for this hacking.

President-elect Trump says he’s not even sure the Russians did the hacking. How do you explain that big gap between those two?

KISSINGER: Everybody has the hacking capability.

And probably every intelligence service is hacking in the territory of other countries. But who exactly does what, that would be a very sensitive piece of information. But it’s a very difficult to communicate about it, because nobody wants to admit the scope of what they’re doing.

And I don’t doubt that the Russians are hacking us. And I hope we’re doing some hacking there. Then what use you make, whether it’s a hostile use, that then becomes an international problem.

DICKERSON: You have met with Vladimir Putin a number of times. What do you make of him?

KISSINGER: He’s a character out of Dostoyevsky.

And he is a man with a great sense of connection, inward connection to Russian history as he sees it. And he is a cold calculator of the Russian national interests as he conceives it, and which he believes, probably correctly, has some very unique features.

So, for him, the question of Russian identity is very crucial, because, as a result of the collapse of communism, Russia has lost about 300 years of its history. And so the question of what is Russia looms very large in their mind. And that’s a problem we have never had.


DICKERSON: When we come back, Dr. Kissinger gives us his thoughts on the president-elect. Back in a minute.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) DICKERSON: We continue our conversation with former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger.


DICKERSON: What’s your feeling now about president-elect Donald Trump?

KISSINGER: I had not thought of President Trump as a presidential candidate until he became a presidential candidate.

And the first appearances, I thought it was a transitory phenomenon. But I give him huge credit for having analyzed an aspect of the American situation, develop a strategy (AUDIO GAP) against his leadership of his own party and prevailing.

Now his challenge is to apply that same skill to the international situation.

DICKERSON: You told Jeffrey Goldberg of “The Atlantic” that, with Donald Trump, it could create opportunity, but also serious dislocation.

What’s your assessment now on that?

KISSINGER: Donald Trump is a phenomenon that foreign countries haven’t seen.

So it is a shocking experience to them that he came into office, at the same time, extraordinary opportunity. And I believe he has the possibility of going down in history as a very considerable president, because every country now has two things to consider, one, their perception that the previous president or the outgoing president basically withdrew America from international politics, so that they had to make their own assessment of their necessities, and, secondly, that here is a new president who is asking a lot of unfamiliar questions.

And because of the combination of the partial vacuum and the new questions, one could imagine that something remarkable and new emerges out of it. I’m not saying it will. I’m saying it’s an extraordinary opportunity.

DICKERSON: Do you have a sense of what his emerging foreign policy vision is?

KISSINGER: I think he operates by a kind of instinct that is a different form of analysis as my more academic one, that he’s raised a number of issues that I think are important, very important and, if they’re addressed properly, could lead to -- could create results.

DICKERSON: You have advised presidents.

One of the things that voters have said about Donald Trump, since he has no government experience, is that he will be able to surround himself with good advisers. Is that really possible?

KISSINGER: A president has to have some core convictions. He couldn’t get those from advisers.

But he also cannot possibly know everything. It’s in the nature of the presidency that most of the people you meet want something. So, to get objective advice is hard, but that depends very much on the personality of the president.

DICKERSON: What advice would you give incoming President Trump about advisers, about being the president in these times?

KISSINGER: One of the hardest things for the president is to distinguish the routine issues that come through from the essential issues that affect the long term, and not to let himself get sucked into the battles of the bureaucracy for marginal issues, and to keep them focused and to keep his mind clear on what the fundamental things are that he has to accomplish.

DICKERSON: Dr. Kissinger, thank you so much.



DICKERSON: Next week, many of you will be celebrating Christmas, instead of watching FACE THE NATION, but we encourage you to set your DVRs.

We will be talking with “The Late Show”’s Stephen Colbert for a discussion on the year in review. You won’t want to miss it.


DICKERSON: Some of our CBS stations are leaving us now, but, for most of you, we will be right back with a lot more FACE THE NATION, including Graeme Wood’s new book on ISIS, a discussion of President Obama’s legacy with the writer Ta-Nehisi Coates, and our political panel.

Stay with us.


DICKERSON: Welcome back to FACE THE NATION. I’m John Dickerson.

President-elect Donald Trump says he’s looking for a simple plan for defeating ISIS within his first 30 days of taking office. But even as ISIS has suffered setbacks in Iraq and Syria, its violent ideology continues to spread. Joining us now is Graeme Wood author of “The Way of the Strangers: Encounters with the Islamic State.”

Graeme, welcome.

You’ve spent a lot of time with recruiters, sympathizers and -- and supporters of the Islamic State. What -- what have you learned?

GRAEME WOOD, “THE ATLANTIC”: Well, I’ve discovered that they’re a very diverse group, but they’re unified by a few things. One thing is that they’re idealist. I spent time going to their little club meetings, talking to them over coffee, even playing soccer with them. And I discovered that, first of all, they’re true believers and they have kind of a warped rationality that feeds a belief in a utopian ideal. And that Utopian ideal happens to be a very evil one. They’re -- they’re still dangerous people. But to really understand them, we need to figure out what it means for them to have come to that conclusion.

DICKERSON: What is it like playing -- and you write about this -- but playing soccer, having coffee. By all exterior standards looks like a normal person, and then who has that ideology that you write about that’s so vicious and evil.

WOOD: Yes, I would talk to them and they would say in no uncertain terms that they (INAUDIBLE) my throat to kill, you know, anyone who was -- was standing near us because we were in (INAUDIBLE) Australia, like Norway, like the U.K. And it’s -- it is very (INAUDIBLE) to find that you’re talking to someone who says it’s OK to kill (INAUDIBLE). In the end it was fascinating because these are human beings. They’re people who like to read. They’re very serious about their religion. And they’re very eager, in the case of -- of the people I spoke to, to explain where they got all of that and to tell me what the prophecies said and why I should believe them too.

DICKERSON: And just to make sure nobody gets confused, you’re -- by saying they’re true believers, your view is, when they say this about cutting your throat, they’re not -- it’s not an idle thing.

WOOD: No, the -- they were not kidding around. And one way I can tell that they’re true believers is that in many cases they have acted on it, not necessarily by killing someone, by -- but by, in one case, trying to take a boat to Islamic State territory and now being in jail because of it.

DICKERSON: What’s the biggest misconception people have about the Islamic State?

WOOD: I think people misunderstand about foreign fighters in particular the whole range of -- of motivations and backgrounds that these people come from. They, as I say, are -- they’re -- they’re missing something in their live. There is a kind of meaning that they lack. And I think people often think that that meaning or that -- that -- that -- that feeling of lack is because they come from positions of poverty or they -- they feel rejected in their home societies. Often it’s actually because they come from conditions of abundance. They’re -- they’re from rich families in some cases and they find that that is not enough to give them meaning. They’re looking for something (INAUDIBLE) but wealth (INAUDIBLE) that (INAUDIBLE) search of that -- that terrible goal.

DICKERSON: How does a (INAUDIBLE) figure out how to combat that ideology? There’s the battlefield, but then there’s the ideology. So is there a lesson in how to combat it based on what you’ve found?

WOOD: I think there’s some important things that say the president-elect would have to know. I mean he’s said that radical Islam is one of the targets of his foreign policy. And I guess the next step -- step is to find out, what are the differences within Islam, within radical Islam in particular, that motivate people to -- to do one thing or another, and then to understand that this is a pathology within the hearts and souls of individual people who are Americans, who are British, who are Australian, who are Egyptian, and it’s not going to be a problem that is solvable by just going to Syria and stopping what’s happening there. It’s -- it’s a problem within people’s souls and that makes it much more difficult to solve.

DICKERSON: Yes, Dr. Kissinger, in an interview he did with Jeffery Goldberg of “The Atlantic,” said that he thought the (INAUDIBLE) might challenge the new president and hope for an overreaction. What do you think of that theory?

WOOD: I think the -- the idea that -- that overreaction is their goal is -- is absolutely (INAUDIBLE). (INAUDIBLE) operating at 100 percent right now. If they can act, they will. They -- they tell people, don’t delay, just attack as it is, right now, wherever you are.

I also think that it’s important to realize that -- that when they attack, it might not necessarily be a challenge within the borders of the United States. There are allies that -- that Donald Trump has said he’s looking forward to working with, like Sisi of Egypt, for example, who have an ISIS insurgency within their own border -- borders. And overreaction can come also in -- in Egypt, not just through policies of Trump administration.

DICKERSON: And what’s the benefit of overreaction for ISIS?

WOOD: ISIS has been saying about the Trump presidency in particular, that it demonstrates that Muslims cannot have a -- a home in the west. They must move to an Islamic country. So if they can see anything that they -- they can milk for propaganda purposes that shows that that’s the case, then they will absolutely feature that front and center.

DICKERSON: Speaking of which, 30 seconds left. Michael Flynn, who’s the incoming national security adviser, told Al Jazeera in 2015, “when you drop a bomb from a drone, you are going to cause more damage than you are going to (INAUDIBLE) good.” Is that in the same category of propaganda victory?

WOOD: I think it depends on where that bomb’s being dropped and -- and who’s the target of it. There are some people for whom there is no solution other than dropping a bomb on them, but it is an ideology that people share and that my book shows exists in countries around the world, in the hearts of people, and drones obviously aren’t going to solve that.

DICKERSON: All right, Graeme Wood, thank you so much.

We’ll be right back with a look at President Obama’s legacy. Stay with us.


DICKERSON: On Friday, President Obama gave what could be his last full news conference. He reflected a bit on his time in office.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I always feel responsible. I felt responsible (INAUDIBLE) snipers. I felt responsible when millions of (INAUDIBLE) displaced. There are places ((INAUDIBLE) happening and because of my office.


DICKERSON: (INAUDIBLE) confidence is that we’ve done what works. That I can prove I can show you (INAUDIBLE) show you were we are now and you can’t argue that we’re not better off.”

I’m here with Ta-Nehisi Coates, who has a piece in “The Atlantic” for next month and it’s called “My President was Black.”

In that press conference, President Obama seemed to be saying here’s what I’ve done. Does he face a different standard as an African-American president or, we’re in politics, every president’s going to try and defend their legacy.

TA-NEHISI COATES, “THE ATLANTIC”: Yes. I mean, at this point, no, I don’t think so, because we’re into this, you know, lame duck period. I would say certainly through his eight years, yes, he did. You know, and I think he was very aware of that. I think the people around him were very much aware of that. I think if you look at the way in which, you know, he went about his campaign, he’s very, very conscious of it. But I think he was also uniquely situated for that stand in a way that maybe someone else might -- might not (INAUDIBLE).

DICKERSON: You said he walked (INAUDIBLE).


DICKERSON: (INAUDIBLE) Well, but you put it in this context, right?

COATES: I did. I did. I did.

DICKERSON: That’s part of what writing is.

COATES: I did. I did. You know, what I -- you know, I thought like the whole challenge of governing a country, you know, with a -- a majority white population, and thus, you know, being, you know, the representative of that population. And at the same time having roots in a community which, you know, to put it mildly, you know, (INAUDIBLE) long periods of its history had not been a beneficiary the policy of the country, that’s a very, very, very difficult spot to be in, to be with and to be without, you know, at -- at the same time. And I don’t know that we’ve appreciated how difficult that actually was. I think, as historians go back over this period, they’ll really, you know, begin to see it

DICKERSON: And you carefully trace his unique place within that community that you’re talking about. You said that he said something to the country -- “something which no black person can but every president must, I believe you.” What gave him the ability to say that?

COATES: Oh, the president is unique, right? And the president isn’t just unique because he’s biracial, because his mom was white and his dad was -- was black. It’s the fact that you had that combination, but he grew up far from the fulcrum of Jim Crow in Hawaii. And on top of that, he had a deeply, deeply loving family of -- of what people, primarily. His mom and his grandparents, who saw no conflict between that love and affirming the fact that -- that he was black. You know, he told me when I was interviewing him that his mom thought black people, you know, were cool. You can sort of, you know, grimace at that or laugh at that, but it’s much better than the alternatives, which many people, you know, who are the result of biracial unions during the time the president was born would have faced in this country. So what he had was a community of white people who were very, very close to him who loved him. As you know as I, you know, said in the piece, he saw the best of white American in the most intimate way possible and thus was able to communicate a kind of trust that, you know, honestly I think African-Americans who we raised, for instance, how I was. And as he said, even as his wife was. You know, have a much more difficultly demonstrating it (ph).

DICKERSON: You have covered him over eight years. He also wrote about this topic himself in his own book. What’s your sense of his arc, of his evolution on this question, that, I mean, he wrote a whole book that was praised before he was ever a politician.

COATES: Right.

DICKERSON: What’s your sense of how he’s -- if he were to write that book about his eight years, what would the journey be that he sketched a similar journey in his own book?

COATES: You know, John, I don’t know that he’s changed. That’s the -- (INAUDIBLE) this is the first time when you -- when you’ve raised that, that I’ve thought about it, but I think, you know, the book is optimistic. The book does have this kind of, you know, measured tone that the president, you know, always takes. You know (INAUDIBLE) in a divisive sort of way, but it’s not a particularly strident, you know, book. And so I don’t -- you know, I think he is who he is. You know, I don’t know that -- that he’s changed much since that time. He did say to me, you know, that he was shocked by the kind of political opposition that he immediately faced when he came, you know, into power, but did that alter any of his basic sense of American institutions or, you know, the American people? I don’t think it did.

DICKERSON: Well, I was struck in his press conference that he ended on hope.


DICKERSON: That he went back to saying, it was what I spoke about in that 2004 speech.

COATES: That’s right.

DICKERSON: What -- and so you have the president saying that and then you have Michelle Obama saying we’re now -- in an interview with Oprah, we’re now feeling what it feels like -- what not having hope feels like.

Hope was at the center of his campaign. What do you -- how do you -- how do you -- what do you make of all of that and this -- and this question of hope that he’s still (ph) hopeful. Is that a -- necessary for politics? Is it a --

COATES: Yes, I think it was necessary for him. And just to, you know, break this up a little bit. I think like the point you just made go back to the question you asked me before about what was different and unique. I don’t know, for instance, the president would say, as the first lady said, that we’re now feeling what it is to be like without -- notice the different, you know, spin, you know, on that.

But it also could be that, as president, like, as a believer of American institutions, (INAUDIBLE) role to speak in that -- in that sort of fashion. So I think part of it is, there’s something within him that angles him in that, you know, deeply optimistic way. But at the same time, he also believes that’s what the role requires, so it’s not, you know, much of an act for him either.

DICKERSON: Does he -- why do you think he wanted to talk to you at such length? You have written about this --


DICKERSON: Well, to be fair, you’ve written about --

COATES: No, I’m serious. This is not false modesty, John.

DICKERSON: No, I know. I understand. But -- but did he -- does he feel like he’s been misunderstood in the African-American community and was he trying to make a case or --

COATES: See that’s -- that’s the hard thing about (INAUDIBLE). No, I mean if you said like obviously I’ve written some (INAUDIBLE) president, right? And if you took the president’s position, and I’ve never been in -- under illusion about it(ph). If you took the president’s position and my positions, you know, and you polled the African-American community, I think it would come out about 80/20 in his favor. He’s hugely popular among, you know, black folks. So why -- certainly in talking to me, he didn’t need me to interpret him.


COATES: You know, for African-Americans (ph) rub off on me. So it wasn’t that. To be honest with you, I mean the whole time I was going through it, I don’t know why, I don’t know, because he could have picked somebody who’s more in agreement with him. And to be honest with you, I think there were people on his team who felt that way, you know.

DICKERSON: But isn’t that why he picked you, because you weren’t in -- in agreement with him and you’ve been reporting this issue, not just thinking about, but reporting it out. So tell me what your reporting -- where did you start when this -- these conversation start --


DICKERSON: And was it the same place where you ended up? And, if not, what did you discover along the way?

COATES: Well, I was always amazed, you know what I mean? I was always deeply impressed with the president, even when -- even when I was critical of him. You know, as an intellect, as -- as a person. You know, as a piece I -- you know, a piece I wrote in 2012, you know, he was the first -- not just the first African-American president, but the first president who could credibly teach a course in an African- American studies department. I mean his knowledge of -- of race was just that, you know, thorough and that complete. And in addition to that, as I, you know, write in the piece, I saw in several off the record conversations, you know, he has just a deeply curious and active mind. It’s something that, you know, see -- see it at work.

It was difficult to tell when you’re writing from a distance, which (INAUDIBLE) myself until recently, is whether this is sincere or whether it’s an act. (INAUDIBLE) you know, still maintaining, you know, the critiques I’ve had and I’ve (INAUDIBLE). It’s deeply sincere. Its -- it is -- you know, he -- he is (INAUDIBLE). (INAUDIBLE) had to come to, I guess, appreciate that someone with my particular (INAUDIBLE), my particular critique of this country would probably not be president. And I don’t even mean me. I mean like somebody with -- with that, you know, angle. So it left you with this deep question, do you want an African-American president or not? What does that actually mean because it’s not going to be on your political terms. So what’s the worth of it, you know?

DICKERSON: All right, Ta-Nehisi Coates, thanks so much for being here.

COATES: Thank you so much for having me, John.

DICKERSON: It’s a really interesting piece. We appreciate it.

And we’ll be right back with our panel.


DICKERSON: Ron Brownstein.

Susan, I want to start with you.

Russia, election, Donald Trump. Kellyanne Conway seems to still be defending the position that Ronald -- that Donald Trump doesn’t believe Russia was involved at all. Where do you -- what do you make of this story?

SUSAN PAGE, “USA TODAY”: You know, I think that -- that the president-elect seems to be taking the attitude that this is an assault on his legitimacy (INAUDIBLE) election (ph) and is pushing back hard on that. Now, I don’t think there’s any question he’s going to be -- win the Electoral College tomorrow and is going to be inaugurated as president on -- on January 20th, but that’s the only reason I can think of for him to take such a stance that is at odds with the universal conclusions of our intelligence agencies that we’re hearing that Russia did hack with the idea of affecting our election. Not every single agency or maybe not every single official, I think, endorses the idea this was Donald Trump (INAUDIBLE), although there is an emerging consensus among intelligence agencies that that was the case.


RON BROWNSTEIN, ATLANTIC MEDIA: There is another reason. I mean the other reason is that he wants to reset relations with Russia. And this -- acknowledging this, which -- which, you know, becomes more and more difficult not to acknowledge it, and Kelly Anne Conway was remarkable in -- at one point insinuated that the president was not acknowledging the Russia actually engineered the hack, which is not true. You know, it does make it tougher for him to move policy, I think, in the direction that he wants to move. And I think there’s an enormous incentive -- you know, President Obama has taken the high road (INAUDIBLE), and as Donald Trump, avoided personally criticizing each other. But there’s enormous incentive for President Obama to put out as much information as he can and also perhaps to act before Inauguration Day to kind of create facts on the ground that the next president will have to deal with.

DICKERSON: It was -- and I couldn’t quite make sense of her answer, which at one point said Barack Obama was responding against Russia for political pressure, but then -- then seemed to suggest that she wasn’t. Ron, do you think that after the electoral vote on Monday, Donald Trump -- either Monday night or Tuesday morning -- will send a tweet out saying, the Russians hacked?

BROWNSTEIN: I don’t know. I mean I think -- look, I think, you know, there has been very -- there’s been less difference between Donald Trump candidate and Donald Trump president-elect than you might have expected. I mean the -- the thank you tour. I mean watching that yesterday, the themes of that were so strikingly similar to him as candidate, still aimed at that 46 percent that elected him. If you look at the polling that we’ve had, you know, a variety of polls, Pew, Gallop, NBC/”Wall Street Journal,” essentially he is -- you know, he is in good stead with the people who voted for him. He is not getting the honeymoon beyond that that is often the case for -- for an incoming president. He’s still talking to his electorate. You would think that, yes, he would do that because it is an unequivocal conclusion of the intelligence community and at some point it behooves you to acknowledge reality, but I wouldn’t guarantee it.

DICKERSON: Susan, in our poll, six in ten said they weren’t proud of the president, which is another way of talking about the other portion of the county that didn’t vote for him and that is in the hard core camp. He really hasn’t done anything (INAUDIBLE) he’s done the victory tour. He took -- he’s done a lot of (INAUDIBLE) really much to get at that unity that he says that he wants in the country.

PAGE: This is the other thing that I think for the Trump people they really bristle at, the fact that a majority of Americans did not vote for him for president. The fact that Hillary Clinton won a clear victory in the popular vote, although that’s not what counts when it comes to being elected president and this failure to use this period -- this is the best period he could have that’s under his own control to reach out to people who didn’t support him. (INAUDIBLE) that very disputed election the first Gallup poll after George W. Bush was clearly going to be the new president, 65 percent approval, 26 percent disapproval for George W. Bush.


PAGE: You look at it now, it’s 48 percent -- 48 percent. He hasn’t expanded his support among Americans who are inclined, I think as a people to say, he’s won the election, we need to give him a chance. He’s not benefitting from that. And part of it is because he’s doing things like this victory tour that is designed really to rally his own troops.

BROWNSTEIN: Susan, do you remember the first speech after the Supreme Court ended the vote count in 2000. George Bush -- George W. Bush spoke from the well of the Texas state legislature talking about how he had worked with Democrats and Pete Laney (ph), the House speaker. It’s a very different message. And, you know, if you look at the -- look at the cabinet appointees of Donald Trump. They are about unifying the Republican coalition. And while our focus has entirely been on these foreign conflicts with Russia and China during the transition, you look at the nature of these appointees, whether it’s the OMB or EPA or education or energy, we’re going to have plenty of domestic conflict immediately after January -- you know, after he takes office because they point toward a very aggressive move to not only undo much of President Obama’s agenda, but to make fundamental, structural changes in many of the domestic programs that were not, I think, at the foreground of the presidential election.

DICKERSON: Let’s turn for a moment to the president -- President Obama’s press conference, Susan. What did you make of it? He’s still trying to create space and room and give the guy a chance almost to President-elect Trump.

PAGE: Here’s a critical question, what role is President Obama going to take after January 20th?


PAGE: Is he going to lead the opposition to Donald Trump’s attempts to dismantle parts of his legacy, or is he going to step back, which is what modern presidents have generally done? And I think that’s a hard question to -- to answer at this point.

One thing that struck me about his news conference was how defensive he was. Defensive on whether he should have done more to publicize and push back on Russia hacks before the election too place, defensive, as you discussed in an earlier panel, on whether he should have done more on Syria and very much in his opening statement making the case, I’m leaving the country in better shape than when I found it when I was inaugurated, trying to make the case, I think implicitly against Donald Trump’s argument that everything is terrible and needs to be shaken up.

DICKERSON: That’s right. So will he be Hoover with FDR or George W. Bush with Barack Obama, being silent, basically, about Barack Obama?

Ron, what did you make of the -- of the press conference? He also talked about the Democratic Party and what it needed to do.

BROWNSTEIN: Yes. First of all, I feel that consistently during the transition he is both taking the high road and giving Donald Trump a chance, but also laying the predicate to be more critical and active after -- by being able to say, look, I gave him every chance. And he has said over and over again that, you know, maybe it will look different when you’re president, and I think that gives him a little more leeway to say, you know, maybe -- if it doesn’t look different, that there’s a reason. And, don’t forget, when he was in Lima, Peru, he did not rule out the possibility of being more -- at the APAC, of being more visible.

Look, his -- look, the Democratic Party faces, you know, an enormous challenge. I mean they have won the popular vote in six of the past seven presidential elections. No party in American history has ever done (INAUDIBLE). (INAUDIBLE) a coalition that in some ways is a majority of the national level, but it is not distributed in a way that allows them to easily control Congress, first of all, and now also to win the Electoral College. Donald Trump won the Electoral College fair and square. Democrats have to figure out whether they can find a way to talk to more non-college, non-urban voters, which is where they lost this election, or is their future more in moving further in kind of turning out this new coalition they have, which is diverse, younger, more white-collar and more urban. In politics the answer is usually some of both, but I’ve got to think there’s going to be a lot of Democrats looking at figures, if not literally, like Joe Biden, who can talk to voters beyond the circle where they are doing so well.

DICKERSON: Joe Biden from Scranton, P.A.

Susan, I want to ask you about Chuck Schumer, the Democratic leader in the Senate. Politico had a story this week saying, on some things like infrastructure spending, Schumer’s closer to Donald Trump than Mitch McConnell, the Republican leader, is. What’s Schumer’s role in life going forward?

PAGE: You know, I think Schumer’s role is to align with Donald Trump on stuff like infrastructure that he might agree with and which, by the way, has the subsidiary effect of diving Republicans. I think he likes that. But he is also clearly the leader of the opposition. Democrats are divided. They need to decide who they are. They need to develop a new generation of leaders. But their -- their clear leader at this point is Chuck Schumer, who has the only piece of real leverage they have against the president and the Republican Congress, and that is the Senate filibuster.

DICKERSON: All right, Susan Page, Ron Brownstein, thanks to both of you so much.

BROWNSTEIN: Thank you.

DICKERSON: And we’ll be right back.


DICKERSON: That’s it for us today. Thanks for watching. Next week we’ll be here with Stephen Colbert and our annual CBS News correspondent’s roundtable. Set your DVR if you’re going to be at church or ripping open those presents when we’re on the air.

For FACE THE NATION, I’m John Dickerson.


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