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Trump's Cloud of Controversy; Interview With New York Congressman Chris Collins; Interview With Delaware Senator Chris Coons; Trump Feuds with Civil Rights Icon on MLK Day; Trump Promises Health Insurance For All; Wife of Pulse Nightclub Shooter Arrested. Aired 6-7p ET

Aired January 16, 2017 - 18:00   ET



WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now: Trump takes on the CIA chief, China, and "Saturday Night Live." But on MLK Day, it's Trump's feud with civil rights hero John Lewis that is causing concern. I will speak with Martin Luther King III.

International disorder, hang-wringing in Europe after the president- elect calls the NATO alliance obsolete, slams the European Union and lashes out at Germany's leader and Germany's cars.

Terrorist wife. Months after the massacre at a Florida nightclub, federal authorities arrest the widow of pro-ISIS gunman Omar Mateen. Why now?

And out of the woods. After spending time walking in the woods near her New York home, Hillary Clinton is stepping back into the spotlight. Now she will take the very tough step of attending her rival's inauguration.

We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world. I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Donald Trump meets with the son of Martin Luther King Jr. even as he feuds with another civil rights icon, Congressman John Lewis. Now just days before he's sworn in, the president-elect is facing the fallout, an inaugural boycott by dozens of Democrats. Trump is stirring up more conspiracy at home and abroad.

He slammed the outgoing CIA Director John Brennan, suggesting he leaked information. Brennan warns in return that Trump's open contempt for the intelligence community could undermine national security.

Trump is raising anxiety in Europe after calling the NATO alliance obsolete and saying German leader Angela Merkel made a catastrophic mistake in accepting millions of -- a million refugees. The president-elect does not say saying whether he trusts Merkel and a key U.S. ally more than Russian President Vladimir Putin.

And seven months after a pro-ISIS gunman slaughtered 49 people at an Orlando nightclub, federal authorities have now arrested his widow, charging she knowingly aided her husband and obstructed the investigation.

I will speak with Martin Luther King III and key lawmakers on both sides of the latest Trump controversy. Our correspondents, analysts and guests, they are standing by with full coverage of the day's top stories.

Let's begin with our senior White House correspondent, Jim Acosta. He's outside Trump Tower in New York City.

Jim, Trump may be sparring with one civil rights legend, but he did meet today with the son of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.


And Donald Trump did decline to talk to us about his meeting with Martin Luther King III. King did come up and he said he disagreed with Donald Trump's tweet that Congressman John Lewis is all talk and no action. But their meeting comes as the incoming 45th president is generating alarming new headlines all around the world.


ACOSTA (voice-over): On the heels of his battle with Congressman John Lewis on this MLK Day, Donald Trump met behind closed doors with Martin Luther King III, the son of the civil rights icon.

(on camera): Isn't there something that just cuts to your core when you hear the president-elect refer to John Lewis as all talk and no action? I mean, nothing could be further from the truth, isn't that right?

MARTIN LUTHER KING III, PRESIDENT & CEO, REALIZING THE DREAM: No, absolutely, I would say John Lewis has demonstrated that he's action. As I said, things get said on both sides in the heat of emotion. And at some point, this nation, we have to move forward.

ACOSTA (voice-over): But it was only a brief reprieve from the controversies swirling around his inauguration. The incoming 45th president is slamming German Chancellor Angela Merkel for allowing Syrian refugees into her country.

DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENT-ELECT: I had great respect for her. I felt she was a great, great leader. I think she made one very catastrophic mistake. And that was taking all of these illegals and taking all of the people from wherever they come from. And nobody really knows where they come from. You will find out.

ACOSTA: That drew this sharp response from Secretary of State John Kerry to CNN's Christiane Amanpour.

JOHN KERRY, U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE: I thought, frankly, it was inappropriate for a president-elect of the United States to be stepping into the politics of other countries in a quite direct manner. And he will have to speak to that. As of Friday, you know, he is responsible for that relationship.

ACOSTA: Trump appears to be placing Merkel in the same category as Russian President Vladimir Putin.

TRUMP: I start off trusting both. But let's see how long that lasts. It may not last long at all.

ACOSTA: Trump is once again signaling a new, softer policy on Russia, hinting in a published interview that he wants to work out some sort of deal with Russia.

"You do have sanctions. And Russia is hurting very badly right now because of sanctions. But I think something can happen that a lot of people are going to benefit."


And Trump sounds like he is not sold on the NATO alliance.

TRUMP: And I said a long time ago that NATO had problems. Number one, it was obsolete because it was designed many, many years ago. Number two, the countries weren't paying what they're supposed to pay.

ACOSTA: The president-elect is still fuming over the disclosure that U.S. intelligence officials briefed him on unsubstantiated allegations that Russian operatives claimed to have compromising information on him. Trump is slapping back at outgoing CIA Director John Brennan, who said the incoming president should treat Russia with caution.

Trump tweeted: "Oh, really? Couldn't do much worse. Just look at Syria. Red line. Crimea, Ukraine, and the buildup of Russian nukes. Not good. Was this the leaker of fake news?"

SEAN SPICER, INCOMING WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: It was John Brennan, someone who the president-elect is supposed to be trusting, who came out and attacked him on his breadth and depth of understanding of Russia, which is unbelievable. The idea that you could question the president-elect's knowledge and understanding of Russia is pretty remarkable.

ACOSTA: Trump is again raising questions again about how he will repeal and replace Obamacare, telling "The Washington Post" his plan is insurance for everybody. But the transition is offering few details.

MIKE PENCE (R), VICE PRESIDENT-ELECT: The president-elect made it very clear to the leadership in the Congress that he wants to do repeal and replace simultaneously. And we're working earnestly to do that.


ACOSTA: And CNN has confirmed that Monica Crowley, who was tapped to be a spokesperson for the National Security Council over at the White House, will be foregoing that position after it was discovered by CNN, which broke the story over at the K-File, that she had plagiarized portions of her book -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Jim Acosta in New York City over at Trump Tower, thank you. Donald Trump's feud with the civil rights icon John Lewis has led more

than two dozen Democratic lawyers -- lawmakers, I should say, to boycott his inauguration. The spat began when Congressman Lewis questioned the legitimacy of Trump's election win.


REP. JOHN LEWIS (D), GEORGIA: I don't see this president-elect as a legitimate president.

I think the Russians participated in helping this man get elected, and they have destroyed the candidacy of Hillary Clinton.


BLITZER: Trump quickly fired back, saying Lewis -- quote -- "should spend more time on fixing and helping his district, which is horrible shape and falling apart, not to mention crime-infested, rather than falsely complaining about the election results." And Trump continued: "All talk, talk, talk. No action or results. Sad!

Let's bring in our senior Washington correspondent, Jeff Zeleny.

Things actually went south from there.


And it was particularly those words, all talk, no action, that really agitated and outraged people across the political spectrum. It defies history, for one, but, for two, on a day like this when the country is celebrating Martin Luther King Jr., it simply defies what John Lewis did in that, the black and white images, the pictures from his march in Selma, Alabama, Bloody Sunday so vivid in everyone's mind.

But John Lewis was in Miami today celebrating the legacy of Dr. King and he chose not to respond, at least directly, to Donald Trump, but listen to his message he gave young activists there.


LEWIS: Never give up. Never give in. Stand up. Speak up. When you see something that is not right and not fair, not just, you have a moral obligation to do something, to say something, and not be quiet.


ZELENY: So that in fact is what Congressman Lewis is doing, not being quiet on this.

And you could say that he perhaps started this by questioning the legitimacy of the election, but some Democrats also say, look, Donald Trump actually started this by questioning President Obama all this time.

But, Wolf, John Lewis is now one some of 26 or 27 Democratic congress men and women who are not going to the inaugural, which is really extraordinary. I can't recall anything like that in recent inaugurations as well. And that list could be growing.

BLITZER: And you're saying Donald Trump, according to some Democrats, he started because of the birther comments that he used to make.

ZELENY: Exactly, saying Barack Obama is not a U.S. citizen, so should not be president. Of course, it's all history. Regardless of who attends, Donald Trump will be inaugurated four days from today.

BLITZER: Yes, he will right behind us.

Jeff Zeleny, thanks very, very much.

Let's get some more. By the way, later this hour, I will speak with Martin Luther King III about the meeting he had over at Trump Tower in New York City today with the president-elect. And we will also talk about what they said about the president-elect's feud with Congressman Lewis. So, stand by for that. That's later this hour.

Joining us now, Democratic Senator Chris Coons of Delaware. He's a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

Senator, thanks very much for joining us.

SEN. CHRIS COONS (D), DELAWARE: Thank you, Wolf. It's been a very busy weekend.

BLITZER: It certainly has.

Do you agree with the outgoing CIA director's assessment that Donald Trump doesn't understand Russia?


COONS: I'm gravely concerned that Donald Trump not only doesn't understand Russia and Vladimir Putin, but doesn't understand how to conduct himself in a balanced and thoughtful way.

Over this weekend, Donald Trump has been very busy picking fights with NATO, with Chancellor Merkel of Germany, with the head of the CIA, with China over the one-China policy, with Republicans in Congress over the ACA repeal, and with living civil rights legend John Lewis.

I can't imagine a more destabilizing weekend, Wolf.

BLITZER: What about the president-elect's assertion once again in these newspaper interviews over the weekend that NATO is an obsolete alliance?

COONS: Well, to try to be gracious for a moment, I think the one point Donald Trump tried to make there was that NATO wasn't originally created to confront terrorism.

But it is far from obsolete. Anyone who knows the recent history of NATO knows that the one time NATO has come together to defend a member state was when all NATO members came to our defense after 9/11. Thousands of NATO troops from Western Europe have joined our troops in Afghanistan.

Many have died. Hundreds of millions, even billions of dollars of European funds have been spent in our joint effort in Afghanistan. To suggest that it's obsolete, in the face of the terrorist attack on the United States on 9/11 and in the face of a resurgent Russia, is frankly to show a lack of historical knowledge and I suspect is somewhat naive.

BLITZER: The nominee to become the next secretary of defense, retired General James Mattis, has a much harder line when it comes to Russia than the president-elect, says he wants to maintain the strongest possible relationship with NATO at the same time.

How much influence do you think he will have, the incoming defense chief, on the president-elect?

COONS: Well, Wolf, I hope he will have strong influence. As we are newly deploying American troops into Poland, the eastern edge of NATO, facing potential Russian aggression, I think General Mattis in his confirmation hearing acquitted himself well.

He spoke on a number of important issues in ways that really differed from what Donald Trump said as candidate and in ways that I think were reassuring to both Republicans and Democrats on the Armed Services Committee.

BLITZER: Do you believe that the U.S. military exercises taking place in Eastern Europe are an effective deterrent to Putin?

COONS: They're important.

I think we need to strengthen them. Wolf, as you know, I led a bipartisan delegation to the Czech Republic, Ukraine and Estonia in August, and I'm convinced we need a stronger presence. The United States has withdrawn too much from Western Europe. We need to invest in and strengthen our NATO alliances, and particularly to protect the Baltic states from Russian aggression.

BLITZER: What do you make of the Kremlin's assertion that these military exercises are simply a provocation?

COONS: Well, Russia has engaged in many more so-called snap exercises all along the eastern border of NATO. In recent years, they have moved significant troops, new material, equipment and supplies and have engaged in many, much larger and more provocative acts, crossing into NATO airspace and into our naval space off the coast and above the territory of NATO countries.

Russia has frankly been very provocative in recent months.

BLITZER: As you know, many of your Democratic colleagues, especially in the House of Representatives, say they won't be attending Donald Trump's inauguration on Friday. Congressman John Lewis says Trump won't be a legitimate president.

Are you sending -- are they sending, I should say, the Democrats who are boycotting the presidential inauguration, are they sending the right message?

COONS: Oh, I think there was an important development in the Senate late last week, Wolf, when the Republican chair and Democratic co- chair, vice chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee agreed that they are going to proceed to hold hearings into whether or not there was inappropriate connections between the Trump campaign and the Russian government or Russian intelligence.

I'm going to attend the inauguration. I think it's important to be there, along with President Obama and Vice President Biden and Hillary Clinton, as we witness the peaceful transition of power. But I do think that a significant number of Democratic members of the House, several dozen now, are sending a signal that they intend to challenge President Obama forcefully.

And many of us, Republican and Democrat, are going to question his views on Vladimir Putin and Russia and what role they may or may not have played in undermining the independence of our electoral process.

BLITZER: Senator Chris Coons, thanks very much for joining us.

COONS: Thank you, Wolf.

BLITZER: Just ahead, we are going to get the president-elect's side of the latest controversy. Congressman Chris Collins of the Trump transition team, he is standing by. We will discuss.

And months after the Florida nightclub massacre, authorities now arrest the widow of pro-ISIS gunman Omar Mateen. Was there a bigger plot?



BLITZER: As inauguration week gets under way, the president-elect is facing controversies at home and abroad.

Joining you now, Republican Congressman Chris Collins of New York. He's a member of Donald Trump's transition team.

Congressman, thanks for joining us.

REP. CHRIS COLLINS (R), NEW YORK: Always good to be with you, Wolf, on a great week, exciting week.

BLITZER: All right, let's talk about some of the controversies right now.

When he was asked in these newspaper interviews over the weekend, the president-elect, who he trusts more, German Chancellor Angela Merkel or the Russian president, Vladimir Putin, president-elect Trump said he will start off trusting both.


Is that a mistake, to trust Putin as much as he trusts a key U.S. ally, Angela Merkel?

COLLINS: Well, I think what Donald Trump is saying is that it's a new day, he's turning the page.

There is no question Germany has always been a great ally. We have major issues with Russia. And if Russia could come on board and help us defeat ISIS, or he could somehow, negotiating with Vladimir Putin, as he has said, reduce the nuclear threat, reduce our weapons, he's just saying he is going to start with a fresh slate and move forward from there.

I don't think he was in any way trying to denigrate Merkel or anything like that. He said he's turning the page. It's a new day. He is going to move forward and put America first. And I'm comfortable with that, keep America safe. So I don't have any problem what he said. I think it's been taken out of context.

BLITZER: But you see the way the reaction has been in Germany, elsewhere, in Europe that he seems to be putting Angela Merkel, a longtime U.S. ally, basically on the same platform as he's putting Putin, who has been an adversary.


BLITZER: You understand the concern that generates?

COLLINS: Yes, but what he's really saying is he is going to turn the page and start fresh with Russia, with Vladimir Putin, have discussions. He knows from his security advisers and certainly General Mattis that we have major concerns and reasons not to trust Russia, but I don't have a problem with him saying let's start fresh, let's move forward.

And I don't think he was connecting that with Merkel. The press has done that in the way it came out, but that I don't believe is how he intended it.

BLITZER: Well, he could clarify it. He could issue another statement or at least tweet saying he wasn't trying to equate Angela Merkel and Vladimir Putin, but he hasn't done that yet.

Congressman, he also caused a lot of stir by once again saying NATO, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, is obsolete, this alliance. Couldn't those remarks really undermine the important relationship especially with the European allies and Canada, for that matter, a member of NATO?

COLLINS: Well, it goes back to what Donald Trump has said. He is going to put America first. He's been troubled by the lack of financial commitment by our European allies. He and his staff, his security staff, his new secretary of state, his secretary of defense and the like, are going to have discussions.

We all know the value of NATO being united as we stand up to the threat of Russia, as well as other nations, clearly North Korea. And so I don't have any qualms whatsoever that we're not going to be standing with our European allies, even as President -- then President Trump is going to try to negotiate a better financial deal for the country.

But the people he is surrounding himself with, they understand the importance of NATO, and I'm confident myself we will move forward. NATO will continue. And Donald Trump is going to be a very strong leader on that front.

BLITZER: The president-elect called the German Chancellor Angela Merkel's refugee policy of letting a million refugees come in from Syria and elsewhere in the Middle East, he said that that was catastrophic. And in response, Secretary of State John Kerry told CNN it's inappropriate to wade into other countries' politics, especially close U.S. allies like Germany.

Do you believe Kerry has a point?

COLLINS: Well, I don't think John Kerry has been a very effective secretary of state. So we will put that on the side.

But there is no question the illegal immigrants that have come in that have not been vetted from some of these terrorist nations, Donald Trump is really contrasting his immigration policy to keep America safe with Andrea (sic) Merkel's position of really bringing in over a million immigrants without really knowing for sure where they came from.

And now I think that is a piece of the Brexit pie where those then immigrants could go to the U.K. because they have open borders within the European Union. I think that was a big piece of the U.K. through Brexit withdrawing from the European Union.

And I think the biggest piece here was Donald Trump is contrasting his position on immigration, the extreme vetting he's going to do from countries that have terrorists active and involved in those countries to the actions of Merkel. And it's a contrast more than anything that I would say he was making. And it's a big contrast.

BLITZER: Let's talk about some domestic issues. The president-elect told "The Washington Post" over the weekend he wants insurance, health insurance for everybody.

He says that is not a single payer. But what does he mean? How would you pay for insurance for everybody? He says that once it's repealed and replaced, Obamacare, there will be insurance for everybody.

COLLINS: Well, Wolf, we have been saying in the Republican Conference in Congress being we want to make sure we have affordable insurance for everyone, and there is going to be a way to help those on lower incomes, whether it's tax -- refundable tax credits. There's other things being discussed. [18:25:07]

But I use the term affordable insurance, which we don't have today, for every American to have lower deductibles than we're seeing, lower premiums, competition.

So, to use the term -- and Donald Trump was very clear when he said it's not single payer, because single payer would be a government-run, European, Canadian-style, through some kind of income tax, which, while it insures everyone, it's not the kind of insurance Americans want.

So I would more likely use the term affordable insurance for every American, lower deductibles, more affordable premiums and they can pick their doctor, they can pick their plan.

BLITZER: And so what I hear you saying is that Donald Trump's plan to replace Obamacare will guarantee affordable health insurance for every American citizen, whether they have the money or not, they will have health insurance, everyone will have affordable health insurance? Is that what I'm hearing from you?

COLLINS: Yes that's what you're hearing.

I can't tell you every American is going to take advantage of it. We have Medicaid for the poor. And for the lower-income folks that do struggle, we are going to have something along the lines of refundable tax credits, which means you can pay no taxes, but still get a refund back, using that money to buy insurance.

Now, you are going to use the money to buy insurance. You are not going to be able to use it for other purposes. But we use the term we're going to have affordable health insurance for all Americans with lower deductibles, lower premiums.

And where we have to help through something like refundable tax credits, that's what we're planning to do.

BLITZER: We will look forward to the details, Congressman.

Congressman Chris Collins of New York, thanks very much for joining us.

COLLINS: Always good to be with you, Wolf. Have a great day.

BLITZER: Thank you.

Still ahead: Federal authorities arrest the widow of the pro-ISIS gunman who massacred dozens of people at an Orlando nightclub. But why is she now being charged a half-a-year after the slaughter?


BLITZER: There's breaking news we're following. Arrests in two terrorism cases, both involving bloody attacks on night clubs. [18:31:53] Turkey's news agency now says police in Istanbul have taken

into custody the main suspect in the New Year's Eve attack at a club. At least 39 people killed when a gunman opened fire on celebrants, and dozens more were injured. A number of foreign nationals were among the victims. ISIS claimed responsibility for that attack.

Turkish media also are reporting four other people were arrested along with the suspected night club attacker.

Also breaking tonight, more than half a year after a pro-ISIS gunman slaughtered 49 people at an Orlando, Florida, night club, federal authorities have now arrested his widow. Our justice correspondent, Pamela Brown, has the very latest for us.

Pamela, what are you learning?

PAMELA BROWN, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, we've learned from law enforcement officials that the FBI took the widow of the Pulse night club attacker into custody this morning after the seven-month investigation, based in part on her statements to investigators not standing up to the facts.


BROWN (voice-over): Tonight, Noor Salman, the widowed wife of Omar Mateen, the man responsible for the deadly rampage at Orlando's Pulse night club, is in federal custody, facing charges of obstruction of justice and aiding and abetting her husband's attempted material support to ISIS.

Salman's family, in this San Francisco area home with drawn curtains and closed doors, refused to comment.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Can you tell me if this is where -- where it happened?


BROWN: A law enforcement official tells CNN authorities believe Salman knowingly and willingly obstructed the investigation into the shooting.

LORETTA LYNCH, U.S. ATTORNEY GENERAL: We said from the beginning we were going to look at every aspect of this case, of every aspect of the shooter's life, to determine not just why did he take these actions, but who else knew about them, was anyone else involved? Is there any other accountability that needs to be had here in this case?

BROWN: Law enforcement sources allege weeks before the attack, Omar Mateen made sure his wife had access to his bank account and added her name to important documents, like his life insurance policy. He also bought his wife an expensive piece of jewelry.

In the middle of the three-hour massacre, the deadliest shooting in U.S. history, that took the lives of 49 people, Mateen and Salman exchanged texts after he asked her if she had seen what was happening. Salman also called her husband multiple times after news broke of the shooting.

Salman also allegedly told investigators Mateen was angry when he left their Ft. Pierce home the night of the attack and carried with him a bag full of guns. She claimed that she pleaded with him not to leave, grabbing him by the arm. She maintained she did not know his specific plans.

Salman talked to "The New York Times" in November about the horrific attack saying, quote, "I was unaware of everything. I don't condone what he has done. I am very sorry for what has happened. He has hurt a lot of people." She also told investigators her husband was abusive towards her.

But according to a law enforcement official, evidence will show Salman was complicit of her own free will in her husband's actions.

Today Salman's neighbors were shocked at her arrest.

GLAUBER FRANCHIE, SALMAN FAMILY NEIGHBOR: All the blinds are closed all the time, so we don't see what happens there. Caught me by surprise to know that she was there. So it's kind of weird.


[18:30:07] BROWN: And Noor Salman's attorney released a statement today after her arrest, saying, "Noor Salman had no foreknowledge, nor could she predict what Omar Mateen intended to do that tragic night. Noor has told her story of abuse at his hands. We believe it is misguided and wrong to prosecute her and that it dishonors the memories of the victims to punish an innocent person."

Salman will have her first court appearance tomorrow morning in California -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Pamela Brown, thanks very much. Pamela Brown reporting for us.

Let's get back to our top story right now. President-elect Donald Trump involved in multiple controversies on this day, at home and abroad, just days before his inauguration.

Let's bring in our political experts. Dana Bash, let me start with you. His feud with Congressman John Lewis, a civil rights icon, caused a lot of controversy over the weekend. The meeting that the president-elect had with Martin Luther King III at Trump Tower in New York City today, did that ease, repair some of that damage, shall we say?

DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: I don't think it repaired it, but it perhaps is going to have an effect of temporarily easing it, because to have Martin Luther King Jr.'s son go out there and try to say, "OK, guys, I had an OK conversation with him. Let's try to lower the temperature," should lower the temperature, at least temporarily.

But the fact of the matter is, John Lewis did what he did as a form of protest so that people would follow him, and they have. Now, this isn't the first time we've seen protests at an inauguration. There were people -- Republicans who maybe didn't make as big of a deal of it publicly, but they didn't go to Barack Obama's inauguration.

And I will say it's not even the first time John Lewis has done this. Just now his communications director released a statement, saying this actually is the second time he has decided not to go. He didn't go to George W. Bush's inauguration in 2001 as a form of protesting what he thought was the Supreme Court inappropriately getting involved in the presidential race and the recount, which he thought was not fair.

BLITZER: David Swerdlick, the president-elect, he struggled to win over African-American support, even though out on the campaign trail, he said he was going to do it. He had some proposals.

His outreach since winning the election, there have been some highly publicized meetings he's had with prominent African-American celebrities over at Trump Tower" Kanye West, Don King, Steve Harvey. He goes into the lobby with them. But he really hasn't succeeded in getting very far, at least not yet, with the African-American community.

DAVID SWERDLICK, ASSISTANT EDITOR, "THE WASHINGTON POST": Yes. And I think if he wants this strategy to work, of bringing in key thought leaders in the African-American community, he's got to broaden the scope of people he's reaching out to, or people that will come to Trump Tower so you get a cross-section of African-Americans across the spectrum.

Have they reached out to Robert Smith, who's the second richest black man in America, an investor in Colorado? Have they reached out to Roland Fryer, an economist at Harvard? These are the kind of people that you want, in addition to some of these name brands, celebrities.

I do think Steve Harvey has gotten a little bit of a bad rap. People think of him as just the host of "Family Feud," or a guy who had a sit-com, but he has a philanthropic organization. He, for instance, he puts on this event called the Hoodie Awards where he recognizes entrepreneurs around the country. So I think Trump could do a lot better at this, but it's not all bad.

BLITZER: As you know, Ryan Lizza, there's a couple dozen Democrats joining Congressman Lewis right now, saying they're going to boycott the inauguration on Friday. Is that the right strategy?

RYAN LIZZA, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: I have to say, it was fairly predictable, once Trump said that John Lewis was all talk and no action, that other Democrats would come to Lewis's defense. Because if there's one thing every American knows about Lewis, is that he's not all talk. His life has been defined by the actions he took in the '60s as a civil rights protester.

So I think it's an easy call for some of these folks to say, "Wait a second. We're going to stand with John Lewis. We're not going to stand with Donald Trump." Frankly, when I looked at the list of Democrats, most of the Democrats who are boycotting also come from reliably safe districts where their constituents are not happy with Donald Trump. So politically, they're not vulnerable.

I think what Lewis has injected into the conversation is a debate about legitimacy. What does it mean to be legitimate versus illegitimate president? His argument is that the influence campaign from the Russians that our intelligence services says took place is enough for the election to be tainted, that he can't accept Donald Trump's legitimacy. That is a big important debate to have: what line has to be crossed in an election where we decide it's not legitimate?

He won the Electoral College. The votes with are not tampered with. From my perspective, he was legitimately elected. And you know, I think that's why, at the end of the day, the most important thing is we need all the facts about the election and what went on to be on the table so we can settle this debate once and for all.

[18:40:00] BLITZER: Ron Brownstein, I want Ron Brownstein to weigh in very quickly. Ron, weigh in on this whole notion, this debate now, whether or not the president-elect, when he's inaugurated on Friday, will be a, quote, "legitimate president."

RON BROWNSTEIN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, I think Ryan is right. I mean, you know, he won. Based on current facts, he won the election; he won the Electoral College. Whether -- you know, and it's hard to argue that what Russia did, what has been alleged so far, was the tipping point in this election.

But on the other hand, there is much more, you know, potentially that we need to know about exactly what happened along the way.

And more importantly, I think, you know, whether it's legitimate or not, what is clear is that Donald Trump will take the oath of office facing more resistance in public opinion than any newly-elected president ever. We've never had a president come into office in their first Gallup poll have less than majority approval. It is highly likely that he will have less than majority approval. We've never had a president come in with more than 25 percent disapproval. His will almost certainly be in the mid-40s.

Now, does that matter to the Republicans in control of the House and the Senate? Probably not very much. Where they agree with him, they are going to move forward.

But certainly, in the areas where he needs eight Democrats in the Senate to get over those 60-vote threshold for the filibuster, they are not going to feel a lot of incentive to work with him, because I can guarantee you that his disapproval rating among voters in the opposite party when he takes office will be significantly higher than we have ever seen before.

BLITZER: Dana, you wanted to make a quick point.

BASH: Just that, you know, remember John Lewis, this is where he came from; this is what he does. He mobilizes people for a cause. And now, because he has an iconic status, not to mention a seat in the United States Congress, he can do that in a different way, without marching, without -- you know, without those tactics. But by using his voice.

And to your question to Ryan about whether or not we expected this to unfold the way it did, I think he very much did and was hoping it would unfold the way it did.

BLITZER: All right. There's new information coming into THE SITUATION ROOM right now. I want to take a quick break. We'll resume our analysis right after this.


[18:46:42] BLITZER: We're back with our political experts.

Dana Bash, Donald Trump, the president-elect, he got into more controversy, suggesting that the Angela Merkel allowing a million refugees to come into Germany over the past year or so from Syria and elsewhere, a catastrophic mistake. Secretary of State John Kerry told CNN that it's inappropriate for Trump to be meddling in effect in an ally's decision when it comes to refugees and humanitarian policy.

Is Trump deliberately doing this? Do you think he's unaware of the tradition of not interfering in a sensitive issue like this?

BASH: I can't imagine he's not aware, because it's happened now several times and I think he watches. And, you know, if he doesn't know from his own advisers or his own experience, he knows from consuming the news.

And this is who he is. Angela Merkel I think pretty much understands that, as do every single leader of our allies. And they are trying to grapple with this, just as the 435 people behind us, including and especially his fellow Republicans are trying to -- these are unchartered waters when it comes to the leader of the free world and this is what we're going see.

Buckle up, Angela Merkel.

BLITZER: Is he into to go have trouble achieving his foreign policy goals, David, if he's constantly upsetting and angering some key U.S. allies, for example?

SWERDLICK: Yes, I think it's possible. I mean, to Dana's point, there is this challenge with him and traditional of not interfering with other country's elections, but also what happens the next time. Let's say Angela Merkel wins and the next time that Greece needs a bailout or he -- that the president needs to rally Europe to put sanctions on Russia if that will ever happen or if we need help in Afghanistan.

You alienated allies who helped us do these things before. You know, what will their reaction be at that point?

BLITZER: He also seemed to be placing, Ryan, Merkel and Putin on the same footing, if you will, when he was asked who do you trust more? And he said I trust them about the same. Let's see what happens after that. That's caused a big uproar in Germany. LIZZA: It has. I mean, when I watched that clip, I think, you know,

to be as sympathetic as possible to Trump, it may be that he just didn't understand the way that he phrased that, what he was doing. Now, this is an example of not understanding how diplomatic language works having enormous consequences. I mean, when Europeans today in Europe, in Germany, people were aghast, right?

I mean, the problem is --

BASH: But don't you think he understands, he just doesn't care?

LIZZA: I don't know. I mean, he has appointed a defense secretary who said before Congress that the NATO alliance is the most important alliance and that, you know, it should be defended, and obviously disagrees with Trump on this.

BLITZER: Ron Brownstein, what do you think? You've been watching this closely.

BROWNSTEIN: Yes, one other thing that really is striking about that interview is that Donald Trump validated and essentially endorsed the arguments that the far right populist parties will be making in Germany and France in the upcoming elections in 2017, essentially when he welcomed, he said other countries would follow Britain out of the E.U. without any concern about that, which is a cornerstone of the campaign and Marine Le Pen will run for the National Front in the French presidential election and he said repeatedly that, you know, Germany had made a historic mistake by allowing in so many Syrian refugees, which will be the core argument of the alternatives for the Deutschmark Party in Germany.

[18:50:05] So, in effect, he is supporting what will be the core arguments of parties that have been on the fringe of the political debate whose goal is fundamentally to unravel the western alliance in a way that he raised remarkably little concern about and as I say, in many ways, even seemed to abet.

So, this is again, a very unprecedented moment where in some ways Trump is making arguments similar to what Putin is making from the other end, who has been allied with many of the same parties, for example, lending money to Marine Le Pen and the National Front to fund their last campaign. Very -- I think it's a very unsteady moment for the more center left and center right parties in Europe about what they could be caught in, in terms of a pincer movement between Trump and Putin.

BASH: Yes.

BLITZER: But, Dana, he could easily, Donald Trump, tweet 140 characters or less a clarification saying, I wasn't putting Putin and Merkel on the same footing if he wanted to.

BASH: Sure, he could. And the fact that he wasn't, maybe he will, maybe he'll see the controversy bubble up and he will, you know, do that with all caps ending with an exclamation point -- but maybe not. And I think that Ron's point is very important when you take a step back and look at it from the perspective of what he and the people who helped get him elected and the Steve Bannons of the world who have sort of the global perspective of this would like to see in a France and in a Germany.

I mean, they said that she wasn't going to meet with anybody in Trump Tower, but Marine Le Pen was actually in Trump Tower last week, which is remarkable.

BLITZER: She got a lot of publicity for that.

BASH: She did. And they said she didn't meet with anybody.

SWERDLICK: Wolf, can I just -- one thing about the tweeting and clarification, I think you make a great point. Up until now, President-elect Trump is still working with a net. For four more days, he's not the president. Anything that happened now is like a live statement from the president of the United States and even if he clarifies it, you know, the cat is out of the bag.

BLITZER: All right. Stand by. We're -- just ahead, after spending some time walking in the woods near her New York home, Hillary Clinton is stepping back into the spotlight. Now, she'll take the tough step of attending her rival's inauguration. Stand by.


[18:56:34] BLITZER: Hillary Clinton has been stepping back into the spotlight after her stunning election loss. This week, she'll take the biggest step yet when she attends the inauguration of her rival.

CNN's Jessica Schneider has a closer look.

Jessica, Hillary Clinton is ready, apparently, to move on.

JESSICA SCHNEIDER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, it certainly seems that way, Wolf. Hillary Clinton has been more and more visible lately, and certainly has not gone into hiding after her election loss. Instead, she's snapped selfies, made surprise appearances and even sparked a sustained Twitter hashtag still prominent post-election.


SCHNEIDER (voice-over): When Hillary Clinton appears seated behind Donald Trump at Friday's inauguration, it will be her most public appearance since losing to him. But it won't be her first foray out of the political woods. In fact, she's been spotted everywhere both in the woods and on the town, captured in a succession of selfies, showcasing her with supporters who still tweet, #Imwithher. There's even a Twitter handle dubbed HRC in the Wild, with more than 33,000 followers, documenting the former presidential contender's every move.

Hillary Clinton has maintained a subtle yet steady presence since her loss, first speaking out about the agony of defeat at a charity gala for the Children's Defense Fund November 16th.

HILLARY CLINTON (D), FORMER PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: There have been a few times this past week when all I wanted to do was just to curl up with a good book or our dogs and never leave the house again.

SCHNEIDER: Since then, Clinton has left her home time and time again. She honored pop star, Katy Perry, during a surprise appearance at the UNICEF Snowflake Ball, drawing on Perry's steadfast spirit in a speech

CLINTON: Someone's whose creative voice and creative lyrics remind us when you get knocked down, to get back up.

SCHNEIDER: And she reemerged in Washington.

CLINTON: Hi! Oh, thank you all so much!

SCHNEIDER: Showing her comedic side at the unveiling of retired Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid's portrait.

CLINTON: This is not exactly the speech at the Capitol I hoped to be giving after the election.

SCHNEIDER: She sat front and center at a State Department museum dedication at the beginning of the New Year, one of four secretaries of state honored with at an exhibition hall in her name.

CLINTON: I'm sure you will notice it is the most transparent part of the entire project.

SCHNEIDER: But it's those unscripted moments Clinton's fan base seems to treasure most, like showing up at Broadway show, "The Humans" on Sunday afternoon and "The Color Purple" last week. Or when she was spotted at her granddaughter's ballet recital, a candid Clinton people didn't always see during the campaign.

PROF. JULIAN ZELIZER, PRINCETON UNIVERSITY: She's someone who didn't like to get her guard down. She was someone who didn't like to show people who she was outside of candidate Clinton. And now, after having lost, she feels more comfortable doing that. It's not a total surprise. She's not running any more.


SCHNEIDER: And, of course, the question of whether she will run for some office continues to swirl. But meanwhile, the inauguration isn't Hillary Clinton's last scheduled appearance. On February 16th, she'll honor her friend and fashion designer, Oscar de la Renta at Grand Central Terminal here in New York when a stamp is issued featuring him -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Jessica Schneider, reporting for us -- Jessica, thanks very much.

And please be sure to join CNN for special live coverage of Donald Trump's inauguration from the swearing in to the inaugural parade and balls. It all begins this Friday 9:00 a.m. Eastern.

That's it for me. Thanks for watching.

"ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.