Return to Transcripts main page


Trump Issues 26 New Pardons To More Allies, Including Roger Stone, Paul Manafort and Jared Kushner's father; GOP Officials: Trump's Tantrum Has Nothing To Do With Stimulus Bill, It's About Leadership Accepting Biden's Win; Officials: U.S. Hits Record COVID-19 Hospitalizations At 119,463; CDC: More Than One Million Vaccine Doses Administered In U.S.; CDC Forecast Now Projecting Up To 419,000 U.S. COVID-19 Deaths By January 16. Aired 10-11p ET

Aired December 23, 2020 - 22:00   ET



CHRIS CUOMO, CNN HOST, CUOMO PRIME TIME: I just hope we do the same for each other. I wish you a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year. Let's get after it.

Thank you for watching. "CNN TONIGHT" with the upgrade, Laura Coates, in for D. Lemon, right now.

LAURA COATES, CNN NEWS HOST: That was beautiful. Thank you so much, Chris. A Merry Christmas to you. I can't wait to read the book that you are writing. I can't wait to see that reflection. I'm sure it will resonate with everyone, because so many people see themselves in you and this is a year where everyone is reflecting. So thank you and Merry Christmas.

CUOMO: I think the title is going to be, "don't be me", Laura Coates.

COATES: Well, now I'm really going to read it.

CUOMO: Laura Coates, I'm always a fan. I count you as a friend. It is great to be with you here and on SiriusXM. You represent the best of us. I'll watch you tonight. And have a Merry Christmas.

COATES: I appreciate that. And I feel the same for you. We'll get after it in the words of Chris Cuomo because this is CNN Tonight. And I'm Laura Coates in for Don Lemon and we begin with breaking news. Because on this Eve of Christmas Eve, the ghosts of criminals past have their slates wiped clean with Presidential pardons. But that smell, you smell, that wafting, it's not holiday cheer and evergreen boughs. No, it's the stench of the swamp, rotten to the core. Another blizzard of pardons again tonight, in fact, 26 in total and the big names on tonight's list, a rogue's gallery of convicted criminals.

Paul Manafort, Trump's Former Campaign Manager who was convicted of bank and tax fraud and witness tampering and Robert Mueller's Russia investigation. Now he admitted his crimes and he initially agreed to cooperate with Mueller then lied to prosecutors. Manafort was serving a sentence in home confinement. Roger Stone a long time Trump ally and self-described political trickster, who is convicted of lying to congress and threatening a witness, Trump had already commuted his sentence, and keeping it in the family.

Trump pardons Charles Kushner the father of Trump's own son-in-law and White House aide Jared Kushner. Now the elder Kushner was convicted in the early 2000s of tax evasion. Retaliating against a federal witness, and lying to the federal election commission. He was prosecuted by Trump's long time friend Chris Christie who was U.S. Attorney in New Jersey at the time and said this about Charles Kushner's crimes years later.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I just think it was so obvious he had to be prosecuted, that I mean if a guy hires a prostitute to seduce his brother-in-law and videotapes it and then sends the videotape to his sister to attempt to intimidate her from testifying before a grand jury, do I really need any more justification than that? I mean, it is one of the most loathsome, disgusting crimes that I prosecuted when I was U.S. Attorney. And I was U.S. attorney in New Jersey, Margaret so we had some loads of disgusting crime going on there but I just laid out the facts and any objective person who looks at the facts knows confronted with those facts I had a moral and ethical obligation to bring that prosecution.


COATES: Obvious, obligation, ethics. He just said. But I'm a career prosecutor and I have studied the constitution. And I've worked at the Justice Department as a Trial Attorney and United Attorney at the assistant level. So yes, I know that the President is given pardoning power by the constitution. And there are absolutely times that it should be used. But it is when you're writing a wrong, not exacting vengeance or rewarding your cronies. That is rotten to the core. Well, that is what Republican Senator Ben Sasse of Nebraska says tonight in a statement.

It begins laying out how President Trump has pardoned what he calls a tranche of felons like Manafort and Stone who flagrantly and repeatedly violated the law and harmed Americans. And his "this is rotten to the core". I want to bring in CNN White House Correspondent Jeremy Diamond, CNN's Correspondent Evan Perez, and Senior Political Analyst John Avlon. Someone is sounding the alarms as we speak about this very issue because it really cannot be over stated.

Although this may be predictable we are in yet again unprecedented times. John, let me begin with you. Because what would the founding fathers have thought about the way that President Trump is using his Presidential power? Yes, he has it. But is he doing it in the right way and should he be doing it?

JOHN AVLON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST & ANCHOR: Absolutely not. And the founding fathers debated exactly this kind of context at the constitutional convention.


They were worried about a President acting like a tyrant. They wanted to constrain his power. It is a constant theme. And one of the debates they had is what if a President abuses their power to pardon, to excuse people for crimes that they knew of or crimes that they actually condoned and ordered them to do? This was a constant debate between George Mason and James Madison and they just felt ultimately that the President knowing it would be Washington would be a person of honor and that in that case he could be trusted with his power to move forward justice not to propagate injustice. That's what we're seeing today. What the founders worried about Donald Trump embodies and what he has also done tonight is solidified his status as I think President who will be regarded as the most corrupt in American history.

COATES: To me, you've hit the nail on the head. But if you think about the idea of the founding fathers who is so rejected the idea of a monarch, of a king, of having people not even be able to stand up for themselves unless you were the joker trying to - and the jester of sorts trying to speak truth to power and all of the Republicans by the way, John, besides Ben Sasse, seem to be subjugating to the Trump king's will. And I just can't understand how people could think that was in line with what the founding fathers were rejecting.

AVLON: To your point if you care about original intent this is the opposite of that. And more Republicans beyond Ben Sasse need to speak out. Interestingly, I was doing some of research. When Bill Clinton got a lot of grief from conservatives for the Mark Rich pardon you know who spoke out and said it was indefensible? Senator Joe Biden.

COATES: A Democrat, point taken.

AVLON: A Democrat.

COATES: Evan, let me bring you in here. Because give us some of the specifics of these pardons and the crimes that they excuse away. Just give a nice little shiny, clean slate to.

EVAN PEREZ, CNN SENIOR JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Yes, I mean, look. It wipes away what these people - especially the two characters here we're talking about - these are the people who are associated with the President's campaign, involved in the President's election campaign in 2016 and according to Robert Mueller and the prosecutors who worked those cases, what these men both did was essentially lied or obstruct - they did not cooperate with the investigation in order to protect the President. That is the commonality.

In the case of Paul Manafort he was sentenced to seven and a half years for a bank and tax fraud, witness tampering. He's been in home confinement since earlier this year because of the COVID crisis. And, you know, according to the Mueller prosecutors Rick Gates his cohort said one of the things Paul Manafort told him was that he had had conversations with the President's lawyers and he was told that the President was going to take care of them. And that's what happened today, if you look at what happened.

Roger Stone, he was sentenced for obstruction of congress and witness tampering. This is obstruction of congressional committee that was led by Republicans. He never went to prison because earlier this year the President commuted his sentence. And if you put these together Laura with the two other Mueller defendants who were pardoned yesterday, you kind of see the pattern.

COATES: What I see in this pattern here on that screen right now is lying, lying, lying. But I also see convicted, pleaded guilty, pleaded guilty, which means these are not things that are just in the ether as hypothetical's. These are people who have in at least two of the three we're talking about have pled guilty to these crimes have admitted that it took place. And remember Michael Flynn is one of those people as well in an earlier pardon here.

So Jeremy, I mean President Trump he is showing that his pardons, not only those common threads that we've identified but they are all about this loyalty, this personal connection if you can rub elbows with the President well then you have greased your way into a pardon. Are there more on the way? Because I suspect a lot of people can put a feather in their cap that they have rubbed elbows in this way.

JEREMY DIAMOND, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Yes. You're right, Laura. The connective tissue here of most of these pardons certainly is a connection to the President or a connection to the conservative agenda, the conservative movement. You can see in these pardons it lists people who actually advocated for some of these pardons and almost all of them are either members of the conservative movements or they are people who are personal friends of the President and his allies in congress.

And so that is certainly the connective tissue here. As far as whether we'll see more of these pardons we certainly will. Whether we'll see them in the next few days while the President is here at Mar-a-Lago is another question. But it is remarkable when you look at the pace and the breadth of these pardons that we have seen over the last two days, 49 pardons, four people who are prosecuted by Robert Mueller, three corrupt former Republican Congressmen, one father of the President's son-in-law.


All of those personal connections controversial pardons to see that number of them come down in just the last two days, tells you about what we are going to see in these next 28 days of the President's term in office. And remember, he is working his way up here in terms of the level of how controversial these pardons are. We know that the President is still considering other pardons including for himself, for his family members, and people like Julian Assange for example who is somebody else whose name has come up repeatedly in these discussions about pardons that the President is considering.

COATES: Yes. I look at all this as kind of before the intermission right now and the final acts are still yet to come. And I'm wondering what this big finales are going to look like. And will they be the nail in the coffin for so many people who already doubt whether lady justice is blind? They suspect it's not. And of course, look here, John. I mean you heard what Chris Christie said about Charles Kushner's crimes. He called them loathsome, he called them disgusting. But for President Trump, he doesn't care because as Jeremy was talking about the connective tissue, I mean, it's his son-in-law's father. This is a gift is it not to the family? AVLON: Of course it is. And that is the sign of coming attractions. I mean the flow through lines as you've said, are political cronies, political loyalists, people who have committed financial crimes especially in politics, people who committed tax fraud, people who lied to investigators. Look in the mirror much? And so that is the underlying flow through. But as you look to what is coming down the pike you've got this questions of preemptive pardons possibly to family members or other political appointees.

The question of self-pardoning, but you get it - if you want to go back to the founders it is completely absurd, not only can no person act as judge in their own case but the language - the existing language explicitly says to grant a pardon which means to a third party. And to begin the party you have to enumerate a crime. So the President will push this line as far as he can but again anyone who wants to call themselves a constitutional conservative better make a gut check about this and look to make sure they are on the right side of history and not the side of a corrupt would be autocrat in the waning days of his administration

COATES: You know Evan, I think about my time as a Career Prosecutor at the Department of Justice. Not a political appointee, a Career Prosecutor. Like most people there rolling up our sleeves, nose to the ground trying to do the right thing. And I'm wondering from you has the Justice Department even aside from political appointees or including political appointees, have they had any role in these pardons? Do they - are they being circumvented completely? Do they have any particular role in deciding let alone identifying and following through on these pardons?

PEREZ: Yes. That is what's been so strange about the way Donald Trump has done these. And look, he has operated on his entire presidency has been un-orthodox. But as you know, there is an entire bureaucracy at the Justice Department, the office of the pardon attorney. Their entire - their job is to review and to vet these clemency requests. And that is what they're supposed to do. And the President has bypassed them completely almost. In the case of the pardons or the clemency that were given last night, the 20 they announced last night, only three of them even had applications before the Justice Department.

Before that there were 27 that were granted. I think only eight of them had even had any involvement with the Justice Department. So I think what you're seeing a pattern of as you guys have been talking about is you get a pardon. You get clemency through relationship with the President, through being donors to the President, through friends and allies, through Fox News Hosts, people friends of the Kardashians, I mean it is a bizarre way the President is going around this.

And as you said, it's kind of - he is warming up because we don't know what others are coming forward. I mean there are, Steve Bannon who has become very chummy with the President lately. Rudy Giuliani who is running around trying to, you know, help the President overturn the election on these false claims. So we don't know what else is coming down the pike. COATES: I guess, I have to tell you when you said those numbers about the number of people who even applied for pardon versus those who actually got it, it makes me immediately say to myself I thought we spent the better part of four years hearing about how wrong it was for people in the immigration context to circumvent a process to not go through a process. And now I'm seeing that apparently applications were optional when it comes to this sort of thing in spite of having an office that deals with specifically and could actually implement systemic change about this very issue. I mean Jeremy these pardons. They are part of the broader chaos that we are seeing this week. I mean, up ending the stimulus deal, vetoing military spending. What does this say to you to the nation about President Trump's priorities in his final days in office?


And I tell you, you have to judge somebody by the way they prioritize things in their final days. And if this is what we're seeing how are we to judge? Harshly?

DIAMOND: Well, Laura, we talked about this a little bit last night. This is all about the President himself. It is all about him exerting the power that he still has as President. He is a lame duck President and he is very aware of it. And so you see him exerting these - the pardon authority that he has that only the President of the United States has. It is something that people who are seeking pardons have used. They have tried to stroke the President's ego pointing out to him that he is the only person who can actually grant these pardons.

And you're also seeing the President as he is lashing out by threatening to veto one bill actually vetoing another bill. All of these things are ways for the President to say, hey. I'm still here. I'm still the President of the United States. You have not gotten rid of me yet. And yet what we are also seeing perhaps not with the pardons but certainly with the vetoes and the threaten vetoes is that the President is looking for a win but all he is doing here really is generating more losses. Because, in the case of the National Defense Authorization Bill for example you are going to see most likely congress override that veto.

This legislation was passed with a veto proof majority. And if the President chooses to follow the same path with this coronavirus relief bill he may face a very similar fate. So you're seeing again the President lashing out, trying to seize back the spotlight, but at the end of the day other than these pardons in every other way the President is being rebuffed and being reminded of his status as a lame duck President.

COATES: Sometime, gentlemen, the point is to frustrate and that's all there is. Thank you to all of you. I appreciate. We have got much more on our breaking news. Trump's sending a very loud message, pardoning 26 more people tonight. But when he faced with the reporters earlier this evening, well, crickets.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Mr. President! What do you say to those who are waiting for COVID aid? Mr. President, why did you veto the defense bill?





COATES: Breaking news. President Trump issuing another round of pardons tonight with less than 28 days left in his presidency. Pardoning Paul Manafort, Roger Stone and Real Estate Developer Charles Kushner who as you know is Jared Kushner's father. Let's discuss now with Anne Milgram the Former Attorney General in New Jersey and Elie Honig, a Former Federal Prosecutor, the perfect panel to talk about these issues with. Because I am just guessing we may share some similar view points. But let's flush it out. Elie I begin with you, because these pardons they don't have anything to do with justice. I mean when you look at these pardons, please tell me what do you see?

ELIE HONIG, FORMER FEDERAL & STATE PROSECUTOR: Laura, what I see is the injustice and the abuse of power getting deeper, literally, by the day. It was 24 hours ago you and I were on the show having a conversation about how outrageous yesterday's batch of pardons were and now we have two dozen more. And I think it is particularly painful for dedicated and proud DOJ alums like you and Anne and me to see what's going on here. Now there is a pattern emerging that I think is hard to ignore and disturbing.

If you look back at the Mueller investigation, the four main players who refused to cooperate or lied to prosecutors, Manafort, Flynn, Papadopoulos and Stone they have all now been pardoned and the two significant defendants who did testify and cooperate, Rick Gates and Michael Cohen they have not been pardoned. You cannot ignore that. Remember Robert Mueller found that Donald Trump dangled pardons to know to keep these people silent. Well, now he has moved from the dangling to the delivering. I think there is something really wrong with that.

COATES: You scratch my back I'll scratch yours, the whole lot of back scratching. But by the way, and you know full well that this pattern that Elliott is talking about is not trickling down to the average defendant. The average person who chooses not to cooperate and just thumbs their nose and says no I'm going to obstruct them. I am going to try to terrify witnesses. Forget about it for the average person but if you rub elbows long enough I guess, it's OK, because as you see Mueller in his final report documented how President Trump signaled to people like Manafort, to people like Stone that they could receive pardons. So what does it say now to you that they both got them?

ANNE MILGRAM, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Yes. I think that is exactly the right question. I mean if you look at the 65 people that the President has given clemency to, 60 of them have a personal or political connection to the President. When it comes to stone and Manafort, this is all about trying to erase I think the 2016 investigation and any liability that the President may have and also to do a favor for his friends.

And as all three of us know, for having worked on political corruption cases, corruption is a really simple thing. It is when someone in a public office uses that office for personal gain. And so even though the pardon power is clearly in the United States constitution this is an abuse of that existing power the way that the President is using it.

COATES: I mean, it's almost as if, and maybe I'm just getting deja vu but something you said reminds me of a phrase called quid pro quo. I don't know if the nation is even ready yet to recall that time that just happened about a year ago but Anne you know, the Former Deputy Director of the FBI Andrew McCabe told Chris Cuomo that these pardons basically complete this cycle. They complete the obstruction of justice that was detailed in the Mueller report. As Elie mentioned the idea of going from perhaps dangling to delivery, are they right Anne?

MILGRAM: Yes. I mean, look. I think there is a really strong argument that what the President has been trying to do since day one on the 2016 investigation into his campaign is to undercut it, get rid of it, to basically have there be no connection - to basically delegitimize everything that the Department of Justice did, that the FBI did, that Robert Mueller did. This is like the - almost the last thing. I mean, I still personally think the last thing is him pardoning himself, right, that there is still more we may see that comes.

But, yes. This is absolutely an effort to undo all of that liability. This is really about accountability, right and we should be really forth right in saying that these are people, Paul Manafort was convicted. He had his day in court. He got to stand up before a jury before a judge and he was convicted by Americans. And he was being held accountable. And this takes away that accountability.

And so we should be really clear about what we're seeing happen here and how devastating this is to the rule of law, to people who basically feel like this system is rigged against them. That they don't get a fair day in court and then you look at this and it is really hard I think for people to keep having faith in our system of justice.

COATES: I mean people are starting to not believe that lady justice is blind and if they ever believed that.


But what she just described Elie made me think to myself you're undoing or trying to undo the will of the people, jury of your peers. And we have a system of justice that is set up where we provide a lot to juries. We put a lot on juries. But when they decide something, unless there is some clear error in law, then their will should be followed.

And now that Paul Manafort has been pardoned, now that Roger Stone has been pardoned, even after being commuted in a sentence explain how this will impact going forward there what is called their fifth amendment right against self-incrimination. What impact will this sort of clean slate have going forward?

HONIG: Yes. So unfortunately it really doesn't compel them to testify. There is a theory out there that, well, now they've been pardoned they can be forced to go into grand jury and testify. Unfortunately that does not hold up in practice, here is why. Let's say your federal prosecutor, we were all federal prosecutors. Let's say you subpoena Paul Manafort tomorrow. He shows up in the grand jury.

We as prosecutors would say, well, you can't take the fifth anymore because you've been pardoned. You no longer have any potential federal criminal liability but remember a Presidential pardon only covers federal liability. So what is Paul Manafort's defense lawyer going to say? He's going to say, fine. But my client can still be charged under state law. And on that basis he can and I suspect in this scenario absolutely would still take the fifth. But there is good news and the good news is really the same thing which is they can all still be prosecuted in the state.

And Anne and I were both also state prosecutors and if I'm a state prosecutor now I'm getting ready. I'm alert, I'm walking across the street to the U.S. Attorney's office and saying, I'll take those files. And let me see if there is a state rhyme here. Because, like you both said this is such an injustice, it's undoing the will of juries and of the people and it's undermining public faith rightly so in our Justice Department.

COATES: So that's the idea. But what about on Capitol Hill, could there be an instance Anne or we're just having an impact and been able to testify all there? People want to hear perhaps from these people maybe?

MILGRAM: Yes. I mean, I think the only challenge there which goes to Elie's point is that any statement that is compelled, I mean, I don't think they'll voluntarily testify. So they would have to be placed under subpoena. And so any compelled statement they would argue this could be used against me so they can assert their Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination.

And again to Elie's point you know, a lot of these cases are political corruption cases where you look at Duncan Hunter who stole money from campaign contributions or Collins in New York who was basically committing white collar fraud, these folks like at the end of the day, theft is a state crime. Every single state in the United States theft is a state crime. And so they can potentially be prosecuted in state courts. And so I think all of them would say they're going to take five and not testify before congress.

COATES: Well, I am glad. Go ahead Anne.

MILGRAM: Sorry, no I am just going to say, we should just talk about for a minute the people who got the pardons because this is consistent to me with the President's brand of what he has been doing which is to try to undercut the rule of law. What I still cannot get my mind around is that people - how could you basically be held accountable for murdering a 9 year old child or stealing money from your campaign contribution and think that you deserve to not be held accountable and to have that absolved?

And so I think they will take the 5th amendment but we should talk a little bit about the other side of this is that there are 14,000 people who have applied to the pardon office at DOJ who believe they have a right to some leniency under the law and these sort of 65 folks are in a whole different boat and are coming forward now to say they deserve to have no accountability.

COATES: Anne, you make such a profound point, all the people languishing for their opportunity to have the ear of somebody who has this precise and unique power. Thank you to both of you. I appreciate it.

HONIG: Thanks, Laura.

MILGRAM: Thank you.

COATES: You know tonight's pardons are capping off days of chaos, a GOP official describing Trump's behavior as frankly a tantrum. Saying Trump's, "ego always comes first".




COATES: Man, my head is spinning from all of the chaos coming from the Trump administration, and the President issuing dozens of controversial pardons calling for a special prosecutor on the election, vetoing a massive defense spending bill and up ending, literally up ending months and months of negotiations on the COVID relief package. And by the way, this is all in the span of about 24 hours.

Joining me now, "The New York Times" Columnist, Frank Bruni and Susan Glasser, Staff Writer for "The New Yorker". We're going to try not to give each other vertigo with the conversations right now but our heads are all spinning. Frank, let me begin with you to ground the conversation because even by the standards of this presidency, the chaos, the disruption this week, while thousands of Americans die each and every day, how do you make resell with that, how do you describe that?

FRANK BRUNI, CNN COLUMNIST NEW YORK TIMES: Well, I mean there's no sense to be made. You said our heads are spinning. I would say our heads are exploding. I think what we're seeing here and this has been said before but is very, very true is we're seeing Donald Trump have one of the biggest tantrums he's ever had. We are seeing a man who doesn't know how to deal with the fact that the label he despises in life "loser" is now apply to him and hanging around his neck in the deviate way possible. And I think a lot of what he is trying to do is just flex his power in whatever way possible just to show that he has it. Causing chaos, causing pain, causing - not just disruption but dysfunction. Those are all exercises of power if you don't care about how your power is used. If you are a person without any character, if you have no morality, if you are a bit of a sociopath and another "s" word we don't apply to him often enough a sadist this is an exercise of power that feels as good to you as any other that's what I think we're saying.

COATES: Well, Frank, not messing any words, but I saw you nodding along Susan in the notion that damage is the name of the game here. I mean there is damage that's being done and the meltdown is one thing if it is a personal experience but how much damage does this do to Republicans for example and do they know it? Do they care?

SUSAN GLASSER, CNN GLOBAL AFFAIRS ANALYST: You know, I think that really is the point actually because it's not - it is often described as a temper tantrum.


But that implies it is just sort of like a petulant child beating his chest in dismay at having lost the election and facing the prospect of losing his power and losing his office but in fact I think it is profoundly much more destructive of an act than that right. And it really is something that Donald Trump in the end I think would go after this coronavirus relief bill on the Eve of Christmas that his own administration negotiated.

Mitch McConnell, who has gone along, withheld his nose pretty palpably and gone along with Donald Trump for four years, who got - you know, made sure that he was acquitted in the senate impeachment trial earlier this year. And here it is McConnell at the very end agrees to this deal and you have Nancy Pelosi and Donald Trump teaming up to say oh, never mind it's actually not big enough to me. That just shows you how it is never enough for Donald Trump.

Today's Bill Barr's last day. It was never enough for him. He is always going to demand more and more of his followers and what is amazing is that they continue to give it to him.

COATES: You make you make a profound point especially about the idea of just about a year ago, not even we were talking about the idea of what Republicans could be doing, how the votes were going to come in with Democrats as well and the idea of accountability. And you know, tonight Trump was actually retweeting Frank a supporter who posted a memo suggesting that Vice President Mike Pence could actually refuse to accept the results from the six contested states. Is this going to be the next triumphant tantrum and move that makes people's heads not only spin but explode?

BRUNI: Well, I don't think Mike Pence is going to do what it seems President Trump would like him to do and what some of the most deranged Trump loyalists would like him to do but it clearly is going to be the next moment when Donald Trump feels that he has been - that he has faced inadequate loyalty. Susan wisely mentioned Mitch McConnell a moment ago. I think part of what's going on right now is Trump is trying to cause great pain to Mitch McConnell because in Trump's demented calculus Mitch McConnell hasn't done enough to abet and accommodate him.

To any rational person Mitch McConnell bit his tongue and went along and accommodated years beyond what he should have done and only when he had no other choice really or you would have seemed like the world's biggest fool he said the Electoral College has spoken. Donald Trump seems to demand something even more than that and part of what he is doing here, I mentioned being a sadist he is trying to cause pain to those people whom he believes in the end didn't go all the way for him. But all the way for Donald Trump is a bridge way too far.

COATES: By the way, I stick with you Frank, because you write in your new op-ed, you write in part, Trump has taken his refusal to concede to historic, previously unthinkable lengths and an overwhelming majority of Republican members of congress have played along actively or passively many of them knowing better, all of them traitors to democracy and profiles in cowardice.

To this crew, Biden is supposed to extend an olive branch from this bunch? He is expected to wring droplets of decency? You write that Biden has been promising frankly, healing and returning to normalcy. And to your point is that still possible in Washington? I want to hear your take and then I want definitely hear from Susan as well. Frank?

BRUNI: Yes. I know, as I asked in the piece, is normalcy itself obsolete at this point? I think we have the best chance we could possibly have with Joe Biden not because he is a perfect person not because I think he is necessarily going to be the greatest President we've ever had but Joe Biden has been a study in reticence and in discipline. He has not been baited into saying the sorts of provocative and divisive things that Donald Trump seems to want him to say in this transition period.

But the question, and what you were reading from my piece, the question I have is when you have a Republican party that has gone this far and is this far gone, can even someone as determined to find some comity - not comedy but comity in American politics, can someone is to determined as Biden, can even that person do it at this point in time given the depths to which the Republican Party has sunk?

COATES: Susan, can you answer that question?

GLASSER: I can't answer that.

COATES: I didn't say comedy. I said comity. No laughter. Can you answer it?

GLASSER: You know, we can laugh or we can cry together. Your point about this week of overwhelming chaos and this feeling throughout this Trump final days period that it was both predicted and, yet, even worse than you thought it would be like, even though we knew that he was going to pardon everyone involved with the Mueller investigation in order to somehow feel that it never existed.


It's still painful to see what amounts to an assault on the rule of law by the President and so to the question of what is normal anymore, when I lived in Russia, at the beginning of Vladimir Putin's Presidency that's what Russians told me after the chaos of the 1990s

the break of the - they wanted a normal, civilized country that was the common freeze. You know the problem is that there is no consensus of what normal is and after four years of Donald Trump, the damage to the body politic is such that you just can't go back.

We are arguing over a Democratic adviser to Joe Biden calling Republicans a bad word. What is the bad word for rejecting the constitution? And saying that the Electoral College doesn't matter? I mean, it is - there's a sort of a violence being undertaken right now in our political system that can't just be washed away with an oath of office I'm afraid.

COATES: I hope you're wrong but I fear the opposite. I appreciate both of you. Thank you. You know there is an obvious pattern to Trump's pardons. And it all comes down to one thing. It's always, always about Trump. I'll make my case, next.


COATES: Predictable, partisan, and now pure projection. It is a very obvious common thread in all President Trump does if you have notice, I mean, yes it's no surprise he believes that people convicted and a so-called witch hunt were treated so unfairly and get a pass but he mainly believes that about himself. These guys are just a way for him to send his message and clearly.


Yes, it is no surprise a President who has demonstrated such narcissism that he was more fixated on the loss of 306 Electoral College votes. Than more than 325,000 lives lost to COVID would now use the unilateral power of pardon for unilateral power of pardon for those who remind him of himself. Case in point? A pardon for Jared Kushner's father, a real estate mogul convicted by federal prosecutors, as you see in his mind President Trump is that same rich and powerful guy wronged by federal prosecutors. Facts be damned. And as they always are in Trump world and how about Roger Stone? Now, he was convicted of obstruction of congress and lying under oath among by the way other felonies. But the only crime in the President's eyes was going after him.

The whole Russia investigation, in his mind everyone digs up dirt. No obstruction. No collusion. Stone's sentence commuted. Now he's pardoned. Or Paul Manafort, a man who didn't rat so to speak, like Michael Cohen. Do you doubt that's how Trump sees it? Remember, Trump is a man who sees John Dean as the villain in the Nixon story. He once called him a rat. Turning against a corrupt President? Well, you can't do that. In Manafort's case he said he'd make a deal. And then he lied so much that Mueller's team rejected the deal. Even Trump, himself, by the way refused to cooperate with the Mueller probe. Not even giving an interview. If you doubt that this has anything to do with projection and that it is simply about righting a wrong, then ask yourself this. Why does he routinely circumvent the pardon office treating it as if it were obsolete when the pardon office is in the best position to field, to identify, and to resolve requests at a systemic level? But the President doesn't need your systems, your processes, your rules that are supposed to keep this country on the level. If he did, he wouldn't have fallen asleep at the wheel or upon losing take the proverbial ball and go to the house the people built.

That's the great irony of President Trump. He's like narcissist, singly focused on his own reflection in a pond that when he leans to kiss it, he drowns. It's only Trump's projections that seem to concern him.

Up next another new COVID variant discovered in the U.K. that's two now. Experts say they're more dangerous and more transmissible. What you need to know, up next.




COATES: It seems like every day we're talking about another grim record that's set by the COVID pandemic. You know why that is? That's because it is breaking records and at a pace that becomes depressingly regular. But we cannot become numb to these numbers, especially at a time when it's so critical to stay vigilant. It's important to remember the more than 119,000 Americans who are in the hospital right now because of the coronavirus. Or the 3,300 Americans who today have been included in the death toll, just of today.

Or the 3,400 who lost their lives yesterday, the second highest daily total in this country. Yet there is some good news. More than one million vaccines have now been put in people's arms, out of nearly 9.5 million that have been delivered. The CDC says the disparity that we see, the disparity is because there's a lag in just reporting the data.

Joining me now, Andy Slavitt, Forming Acting Administrator for the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, I'm glad you're here tonight, Andy. Thank you for joining us. Particularly, we're all trying to make sense of these numbers. We don't want these numbers to go up. We can't have it normalized. And you hear about these variants and it really makes people very fearful, with good reason.

I want to ask you about those variants that we're seeing in places like the U.K., in places like South Africa that appear to be more transmissible because they're saying that hundreds of Americans could already be infected by the U.K. strain, and the Director of the NIH even said this today. Listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) DR. FRANCIS COLLINS, DIRECTOR OF THE NATIONAL INSTITUTES OF HEALTH: We don't have the kind of really rigorous surveillance system that would help us right now to find out what are the new variants that are circulating the United States. The United Kingdom has a much more vigorous surveillance system. That's how they found out about this thing happening.


COATES: So, are we stumbling in the dark when it comes to these new strains, Andy?

ANDY SLAVITT, HOST, "IN THE BUBBLE" PODCAST: Well, what Francis Collins said Laura it's exactly correct. If you recall last April, this past April, which seems like years ago, the Trump administration abandoned its effort to build the national testing capability. That national testing capability is exactly the surveillance capability we would need to discover new strains. As you know, we only have barely enough tests to keep up with all the growth in cases we have.

And so, I think we need to assume because we want to be taking the safe assumption that this strain is already in the U.S. and that we'll discover it maybe months after the fact. And the implication of that is that we need to be very conscious of the fact that with this presence of community, it is likely to quickly get into places like nursing homes and other targeted care settings and that would be deadly.

COATES: Absolutely. And the CDC, by the way, is now forecasting up to a staggering - I mean this number takes your breath away, 419,000 deaths by January 16th. That's about 93,000 more deaths in just three weeks with record holiday travel. I mean, could these numbers even end up being higher? It's unimaginable to think so.

SLAVITT: Well, I think most epidemiologists that I talk to, do think the numbers aren't going to go higher. Here's the good news though. We have a lot to say in the matter. If we are - take these steps seriously over the next few weeks and maybe even month or two and really do lockdown.


People do get better about wearing masks, Joe Biden pulls out the bully pulpit and uses it, then we could peak in the number of cases sometime in January and we would peak in the number of deaths sometime later in January and then things would start to improve. So, we have that ability. We always have that ability. We've always had that ability. We've never taken advantage of that capability.

But now that the numbers are getting so grim and so serious, I hope the public acknowledges the fact that this is not a good virus to get. And if you get it, even if you recover, you are very likely in the possibility that you're passing it on to someone else who doesn't recover. And that's nothing that people want to go to sleep thinking about. COATES: I mean, that's such an interesting, I mean, and accurate point that people need to continue to be vigilant right now because the U.S. government - you know, talking about the ability to recover, the U.S. government has bought 100 million more Pfizer vaccine doses. At least 70 million of those are going to be delivered by June 30th. So, what does that mean for the timeline of how people are going to be able to reach that critical number and perhaps even have that curve truly flatten?

SLAVITT: I talked to Anthony Fauci about that a couple of days ago. And he believes there's a very good chance that by April anybody in the country who wants a vaccine should be able to get one. Now, importantly he says that if at least 70 percent and up to 85 percent of people don't take the vaccine, then we are not going to see the kind of changes that we need to see in society. But we will, you know, there will be a third and a fourth vaccine approved in the U.S., likely in January, with the volume that was purchased today, we have enough vaccines for all but say 60 million U.S. adults.

With those two additional approvals in January, we should have enough vaccine. So, now the job we have is to have a conversation with Americans about how they're thinking about the vaccine, why they're - if they're concerned about the vaccine, what are those concerns. Help them discuss those concerns honestly and openly, so that we do get people to hopefully take the vaccine because it's the greatest invention that we could possibly hope for right now.

COATES: Well, there is certainly hope on the horizon. Thank you for that. I sincerely hope you're right. Thank you so much.

SLAVITT: Thank you, Laura.

COATES: You know Trump is pardoning 26 more people late tonight, including two close advisers indicted by Robert Mueller and Jared Kushner's father. Stay with us for more breaking news.