Speculation mounts over top Trump administration posts

This is a rush transcript from "Special Report with Bret Baier," November 15, 2016. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.


REP. PAUL RYAN, SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES: This leadership team is unified. This entire House Republican conference is unified. And we are so eager to get to work with our new president-elect to fix America's pressing problems.

JOHN BOLTON, FORMER U.S. AMBASSADOR TO U.N.: It would be an honor to serve the country again, but ultimately this is the president-elect's decision. I don't think it's appropriate to talk about it in public. In God's good time, he'll make up his mind.

RUDY GIULIANI, FORMER NEW YORK CITY MAYOR: First of all, I won't be attorney general.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You won't be attorney general.

GIULIANI: Good, I won't have to decide that one, thank God.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Made that clear.

GIULIANI: I can escape that one.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I should ask Jeff Sessions that question, should I?

GIULIANI: Wouldn't be a bad idea. But I don't know who's going to be attorney general.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The choice for secretary of state in the Trump administration is down to Rudolph Giuliani and John Bolton.

GIULIANI: John would be a very good choice.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Is there anybody better?

GIULIANI: Maybe me. I don't know.



BRET BAIER, ANCHOR: Rudy Giuliani talking to the Wall Street Journal. We're told that Rudy Giuliani could have pretty much any position he wants after being such an integral part of the Trump campaign. We will see where he ends up. He is being talked about at the State Department.

A new name surfacing today for potentially at the Defense Department, and that is Senator Tom Cotton from Arkansas. He is a possibility. We've also hear, as we reported here, Senator Kelly Ayotte, who just lost her Senate bid in New Hampshire. And there are a list of names. This is the time when you're looking at names, and we'll see what we can nail down.

Let's bring in our panel: Steve Hayes, senior writer for The Weekly Standard; Julie Pace, White House correspondent for the Associated Press; Mercedes Schlapp, columnist for The Washington Times, and Jonathan Swan, national political reporter for The Hill. All right, Jonathan, it's funny to hear Giuliani talk like that, so candid, or not so candid. What are your thoughts in the transition and how close they are to getting these big names nailed down?

JONATHAN SWAN, THE HILL: My sources say that it's unlikely there will be announcements this week. It's not impossible. It's probably going to happen next week, but there's a few people. You said something there which is absolutely correct, which is there's a few people in Trump's orbit there that people say whatever they want, they basically get. Jeff Sessions is one of those people. People have been floating different agencies like defense, homeland security. I was talking to a source today in Trump's inner circle, and they said whatever Jeff Sessions wants, Jeff Sessions will get.

So I think Rudy Giuliani is a bit more complicated. There's some good names in there for secretary of state. And one thing I report today was that Sheldon Adelson, who is a big donor, he's been pushing very strongly for Rudy Giuliani and John Bolton. He likes both of those guys.

BAIER: I've heard Bob Corker's name, Mercedes. I've heard David Petraeus' name mentioned for State.

MERCEDES SCHLAPP, THE WASHINGTON TIMES: I think what you're learning in this transition period is the fact that there's many voices involved, many influencers. That would be the Trump children, obviously Jared, the son- in-law, Bannon, Kellyanne Conway. They're all really having this impact on who will be placed in these top positions. And I think that's important to point out because as we're finding, it's not just -- it's not necessarily a very clean process. It's a bit chaotic. There's a lot of strong opinions on where people should go.

I think to the case of Giuliani, he has been with Trump through good, bad, ugly, and so he obviously will be favored to maybe be at the department of state. I thought Rudy Giuliani would be good for department of homeland security or attorney general, but obviously he put that off the table pretty quickly.

BAIER: Julie?

JULIE PACE, THE ASSOCIATED PRESS: I think what you learn in transitions is that it's better to be behind the scenes than to be out front. What I think is so unusual is how many people are out there talking about themselves and jobs. Normally --

BAIER: It's shocking, right?

PACE: It's unbelievable. Normally if you are in the mix for the top job, you do everything you can to not be out there.

BAIER: Go out of town.

PACE: You leave town, you send your wife and kids on vacation, you do not want to be in the mix. But as we know with Trump, it's a very different process. Sometimes people communicate to him through television. So for some of these people, it might not be a bad idea to be out there so much.

BAIER: It reminds us a little bit about like "The Apprentice." Maybe something, I don't know.


BAIER: But he is a businessman. He's going to figure out who's the best position to get his ideas and campaign promises across the finish line. Chris Christie was not that person, and he was moved aside. Pence put in the transition spot. And it's being portrayed as some just normal evolution. It seems more than that, the changes that have been happening.

STEVE HAYES, THE WEEKLY STANDARD: Yes, I think that's right. I mean, it was clear from the beginning from the moment he picked Mike Pence that if Donald Trump were elected president, he would rely heavily on Pence, both his experience in Washington, his experience as a policymaker. And I think we're seeing that right now very clearly. I mean, Mike Pence is running the process. Everybody reports to Mike Pence. And then they'll take these decisions to Donald Trump.

I think it's true that there are some people who basically have their pick, but for everybody else there's this sort of mad scramble. And it is funny to see people doing it, politicking in the open. You've had people who are politicking quietly. I mean, people who are, you know, having their surrogates make phone calls to important people who they think can influence the decision. The poor people who are named to the executive committee and the vice chairs, probably voicemails are all full now because everybody's lobbying to get one of these jobs. But Mike Pence is very clearly in charge.

BAIER: We rarely hear from the 43rd president of the United States, but he weighed in on this election today.


GEORGE W. BUSH, FORMER U.S. PRESIDENT: People become very frustrated. They become angry. They become frustrated in their lives, and that gets reflected in a political process. And I think that's part of what was taking place during this recent election. I can understand anger, and some people might have been angry when I was president.


BUSH: But anger shouldn't drive policy. What needs to drive policy is what's best for the people who are angry.


BAIER: Now, the president, Jonathan, who won the Electoral College, and he obviously dealt with a situation with the Iraq war that he was facing a lot of pushback.

SWAN: Yes, and it's interesting now, you speak to people in Trump's orbit, and there's almost a glee with which they have, you know, obviously in public they're accepting the warm words of the Bushes after the election, but there's a real glee that they've destroyed the Bush wing of the Republican Party. And I think foreign policy is just one of the areas we're going to see the most interesting action in.

And Steve Bannon, you should watch for him to have big role in national security and foreign policy. Everyone just talks about him on a domestic level. But this is someone who has got very big ideas for America's role in the world.

BAIER: Julie, Rand Paul was out today pushing back on John Bolton very hard, saying it doesn't fit with Donald Trump, how he talked about foreign policy on the trail.

PACE: And I think what you learn from that, what we should take away from that is that even though Donald Trump is going to have a Republican Senate and Republican House, his nominations and eventually his policy positions are not going to be a cakewalk. There are still divisions within the Republican Party that were not solved by this election.

And you have some folks in the party who are more isolationist. You have some who are more hawkish. And he's going to have to try to strike that balance, and I think it's going to be a real challenge for him, especially as someone who does not have a lot of experience with the workings of Congress.

BAIER: I want to just quickly, Mercedes, talk about Barbara Boxer's efforts. The Electoral College, she said "The Electoral College is an outdated, undemocratic system that does not reflect our modern society and it needs to change immediately. Every American should be guaranteed that their vote counts." An uphill battle for Democrats.

SCHLAPP: Absolutely. I think that you would go to any of these smaller states who would argue against changing the Electoral College because it's not what you would see as candidates simply campaigning in the urban big city areas, in California, in Texas, where there's -- where there's a lot of population. So that idea won't go nowhere.

BAIER: And Donald Trump agrees with you now, "Electoral College is actually genius in that it brings all states including the smaller ones into play. Campaigning is much different." So that's settled as far as the president-elect is concerned.

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