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New Day Sunday

Security Very High at U.S. Capitol Days from Biden Inauguration; Far Right Extremist Groups "Most Persistent and Lethal Threat"; Acting Secretary of Defense Orders NSA Chief to Install Trump Loyalist as Agency's General Counsel; States Look for More COVID-19 Vaccine Doses as Death Toll Nears 400,000; Trump Attempts to Thwart Biden Foreign Policy Agenda in Final Days; Biden to Sign Executive Orders on First Day; Trump Leaving Office with Lowest Job Approval Ever; Alexei Navalny Returning to Russia. Aired 5-6a ET

Aired January 17, 2021 - 05:00   ET





UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We now have a -- 25,000 National Guard men and women in Washington, D.C., that's 10 times the amount of troops that we currently have Afghanistan.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I certainly think that we've done everything possible to prepare for the course of this week.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: A very large part of me grieves as an American, that the peaceful transfer of power is not something we are able to take for granted.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The new variant threatens to become the dominant form of coronavirus by March.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This virus is so efficient in transmitting, that's what makes it more dangerous. A much more effective virus is going to spread a lot more easily in a community.

JOE BIDEN (D), PRESIDENT-ELECT OF THE UNITED STATES: The honest truth is this, things will get worse before they get better. I told you, I will always level with you.



UNIDENTIFIED MALE (voice-over): This is "NEW DAY" weekend with Victor Blackwell and Christi Paul.

VICTOR BLACKWELL, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome to Pittsburgh this morning to start the hour. Good morning to you, Sunday, January 17th. We're starting early at 5:00 am this morning. CHRISTI PAUL, CNN ANCHOR: We begin this week, of course, in the

nation's Capitol this morning. Law enforcement officials across the country, they are on high alert following threats of armed protests in all 50 states ahead of President-Elect Joe Biden's inauguration.

BLACKWELL: Look at this, overnight at least 500 Wisconsin National Guard soldiers and airmen boarded flights, all of them headed to the nation's Capitol. And that's where we start this morning. CNN's Brian Todd is in Washington, D.C.

Brian, 25,000 National Guard troops before the Wisconsin members headed in.

Is this evidence of an expanding fortified zone?

Or are they coming in to back up those who are already there?

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Victor and Christi, they're coming in to back up those already here. But they will be deployed throughout the city. The security posture here is just, in a word, staggering. I was here after 9/11. We have not seen visuals like you're seeing here right now.

You did not see after 9/11 this, for instance. You didn't see a high security fence with razor wire surrounding the Capitol building. This is Constitution Avenue, it goes down Constitution, around 1st Street to the south and all the way around the Capitol.

This is unprecedented. You have not seen scenes like this with razor wire; you have National Guardsmen all over the place inside this perimeter. You have check points on Constitution Avenue and throughout the city, all the way to the Potomac River.

This security perimeter being pushed further and further out, seemingly by the hour, it extends way out from where we are, several blocks in every direction.

You won't be able to even walk in this area in the coming days without certain credentials. We can tell you about other security measures, 25,000 National Guard troops will be deployed by the time Inauguration Day. Some are still coming in.

You have four major bridges from Virginia into Washington, D.C., that are going to be closed by Inauguration Day. They will start to close them. They've already started closing a couple of them, a couple more will be closed by Inauguration Day.

That's a big step, these bridges are major access points to the city. And by closing those four bridges, they are basically telling people, do not come into Washington starting about Monday or certainly by Tuesday. So that's significant.

You've also got mailboxes being kind of uprooted and taken into storage, taken out of circulation in Washington, D.C., and in several states where there are security concerns.

You have the Megabus, the commercial bus service, suspending service into Washington, D.C., because of all the travel restrictions.

So it's really incredible, the security posture here; it's a jittery city. On Friday, a young man from Virginia was arrested when he came upon a checkpoint with an unauthorized ID.

He was arrested for unauthorized -- excuse me -- unregistered firearm and unregistered ammunition. He says it was all a misunderstanding, that he was -- made an honest mistake. And he is not believed to be a security threat.

But it just tells you just how jittery this city is right now as we gear up for Inauguration Day and as we gear up for protests here in the nation's Capitol and possibly in all 50 state capitals. Of course, FBI officials telling CNN, they got chatter, intelligence, that some militants, some extremists, plan to, quote, "storm" all 50 state capitals.

We will see if that happens because these 50 state capitals, like Washington, D.C., are really fortifying themselves.


TODD: And we will see how close protesters can get. If protesters do come to Washington, D.C., today, armed or otherwise, they probably will not be able to get very close to this area. They will be in pockets, probably some distance from here, if they come. So we're going to be monitoring that in the hours ahead, guys.

BLACKWELL: Brian Todd, thank you so much. We will check back with you throughout the morning.

Despite the evidence of planning ahead of the January 6th riot, security officials were caught off guard. Our next guest says that he saw this coming a month before it happened.

PAUL: Let's talk to political consultant Arieh Kovler. His studies are extremism on social media, he has followed chatter of pro-Trump supporters online for some time.

What are you seeing online right now?

ARIEH KOVLER, POLITICAL CONSULTANT: The truth is, the main thing I'm seeing online is confusion, a lack of clarity amongst these most hardcore, I guess you want to call them, the MAGA base. This wasn't the plan.

The plan was, on January 6th, Donald Trump would be declared President of the United States for his second term. That's why they came to Washington, D.C. They came to watch it or take part in it. And now they don't know what's going to happen.

That there are those inside, the most hardcore Trump fans, who still say, you just watch, you just wait, don't count out Donald Trump, he has got something left. And there are those who just don't know what to believe anymore. It's a very strange place right now inside MAGA world. BLACKWELL: Let's go back a couple of weeks before what we saw on the


You tweeted this, "On January 6th, armed Trumpist militias will be rallying in D.C., at Trump's orders. It's likely that they will try to storm the Capitol after it certifies Joe Biden's win. I don't think this has sunk in yet."

What were you seeing then that led you to make that prediction?

KOVLER: Really two different trends: one was that everyone who supported Donald Trump in a serious way was absolutely convinced that he had won the election still, you know, in late December, early January, and not only that he had won but that his win would soon be revealed in some way.

You know, first they thought it was going to be recounts, then they thought the courts and then maybe state legislatures and then maybe the Supreme Court.

As these things didn't happen, January 6th was going to be the last day that anyone could even remotely believe that the election could still be overturned.

So when Donald Trump took to Twitter and said, come to Washington, D.C., it's going to be wild, a lot of these people, you know, these most hardcore fans, thought, today is the day that Donald Trump, when he is proven to be the winner of the election -- and maybe we are coming in order to help him win. Maybe we are going to be his army.

And I'm just putting that together and see how it was going to end.

PAUL: So when we see the fortification that is happening right now in D.C., how potent is the threat outside D.C., not particularly of a large group of people but perhaps individuals?

KOVLER: I think that the threat, as you said, of a large group of people at the moment, is actually very low. Inside the Trump forums they are very skeptical about all these reports of protests. They're saying it's an FBI trap, it's Antifa trying to lie to us.

The main message coming to the Trump forums is, don't go, don't turn out, don't do anything.

That said, you know, the worry -- and I think the worry that a lot of the security establishment has -- is that one person, that small group of people, who, you know -- who -- I'm going to listen to those messages and maybe might do something extreme, whether, you know, armed or, you know -- we know there were bombs, for example, brought into D.C.

And as far as we know, the FBI have not yet apprehended the bombmaker or the bomber. The other concern, I think, is that there are also forces out there, who are seeking to exploit these kinds of divisions, particularly the group known as the Boogaloo movement, whose main aim is to trigger some kind of a civil war, some kind of domestic unrest. And they -- you know, these small Boogaloo militias might also seek to

exploit things by causing violence that will set people against each other.

BLACKWELL: Does the security posture that we have talked about this morning, we have seen over the last several days in Washington, does that make the state capitals more attractive to some of these groups?

KOVLER: Maybe more the ultra extremist militia types, again, the lone individual, who is out to really cause terrible death and destruction.


KOVLER: I think there are many of these groups, oddly enough, inside some of the pro-Trump extremist groups. They see all this militarization of D.C. as being potentially evidence that Trump is about to pull off his coup.

You hear conversations, looking at the fence around the Capitol, saying that fence isn't to protect them; it's to keep them in there and they're going to turn it into a prison camp.

You know, ironically enough, maybe this big security presence is actually reassuring to some of the most hardcore Trump extremists and might make them less likely to get personally involved because they think that this whole thing is some kind of master plan coup by Donald Trump.

PAUL: All right. Arieh Kovler, we so appreciate you sharing your insights and perspective with us. Thank you, sir.

BLACKWELL: Thank you.

KOVLER: Thank you.

BLACKWELL: President Trump is spending his final weekend at the White House huddled with just a few advisers.

PAUL: CNN's White House reporter Sarah Westwood with us now.

Sarah, good morning to you. I know we haven't heard anything from the president, we know that he's focused on planning a big sendoff, though, and, of course, his upcoming impeachment trial.

What do we know about what he's doing behind closed doors?

SARAH WESTWOOD, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, good morning, Victor and Christi.

Yes, President Trump turning his attention to the way that he will be leaving office as he spends his final days behind those closed doors at the White House. We know that he will be eschewing traditions come Wednesday. He will not be tending the inauguration, won't be welcoming the soon to be president and first lady to the White House to ride over to the White House with them. That is something Mike Pence is expected to do for the administration.

Trump instead focusing on that big sendoff that he wants to see on Wednesday, that includes things like a red carpet, a color guard; one administration official said, potentially, even a 21-gun salute.

Those are the kinds of things that Trump is considering at Joint Base Andrews before he jets off to Palm Beach, Florida, where he is expected to spend a significant amount of his time post presidency.

Trump is resisting advice from his aides to give a farewell address. Trump has not expressed any interest in doing that, focused on leaving office at this point. That's left Pence to be the more visible leader in the Trump administration during these last now three days left in the presidency.

Pence has been embarking on something of a farewell tour. That took him to California yesterday to a naval air station, where he delivered a speech in which he called being the vice president the greatest honor of his life.


MIKE PENCE, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: This is the first administration in decades not to get America into a new war. And as my time in office draws to a close, allow me to thank you for the privilege of serving as your vice president these past four years. It's been the greatest honor of my life.


WESTWOOD: And Trump has been spending his time huddling with allies and advisers. Rudy Giuliani was spotted at the White House yesterday. Also Trump has been meeting with Jared Kushner.

We know that the president is also preparing his defense team for his upcoming impeachment trial, selecting who will represent him for his second impeachment -- Victor and Christi.

BLACKWELL: It's just remarkable that the vice president is there standing in front of Air Force Two, making the farewell speech, and President Trump is huddling with the My Pillow guy.

I want to drill down on something you said and I want to just be clear about this and maybe note this -- or maybe they haven't said.

When you said that the vice president will be partaking in the traditions, will vice president Pence welcome the Bidens to the White House and then ride over to the Capitol with him?

Are we expecting him to do that?

Or have they given no specific details yet?

WESTWOOD: We know that Pence is planning on attending the inauguration. We don't know exactly how far Pence will go in representing the president, whether he will do everything that the president typically does or whether he will just be in attendance like other leaders.

We know that Pence is filling that role that typically the president would do. But Trump has not even picked up the phone to call President-Elect Biden so they haven't had any conversations. We know that Pence has been the one to make that outreach to the incoming Biden White House.

BLACKWELL: Sarah Westwood for us in Washington. Thank you so much.

PAUL: Thanks, Sarah.

Acting secretary of Defense Christopher Miller has issued an order to install Trump loyalist Michael Ellis as the top lawyer at the National Security Agency. This is according to three people familiar with the matter.

Miller ordered the head of the NSA general Paul Nakasone to give Ellis the position by 6:00 pm yesterday. The general did not meet that deadline.


PAUL: So there is no word yet on what the Trump administration or Miller will do next.

BLACKWELL: A source cold CNN the administration wants Ellis because the position is a civil servant position, not a political appointee. That would make it harder for the incoming administration to fire him.

Ellis was first chosen for the position in early November two days after Joe Biden won the presidency. But his start was delayed because of administrative procedures, including the requirement for a polygraph test, according to "The Washington Post."

PAUL: Before joining the Trump administration, Ellis served as the head counsel to California representative Devin Nunes, one of the president's most vocal supporters.

BLACKWELL: Be sure to watch "STATE OF THE UNION" today at 9:00 Eastern, Democratic Senator Dick Durbin and former national security adviser H.R. McMaster are two of Jake's guests. That's today at 9:00, right here on CNN.

PAUL: Still ahead, I know it might sound numbing, more than 3,000 people have died due to the coronavirus in one day. The rush to boost vaccinations is growing now, as more states are keeping an eye on faster spreading COVID-19 variants.

BLACKWELL: And after surviving an attempt on his life, one of Vladimir Putin's fiercest critics is returning to Russia. Coming up, the immediate danger that he faces when he returns.





BLACKWELL: The U.S. is closing in on a terrible milestone in the coronavirus pandemic, 400,000 deaths. Another 3,200 deaths were reported yesterday, along with almost 200,000 new cases. More than 126,000 people are fighting COVID in hospitals.

PAUL: States are juggling this challenge, trying to boost the rate of vaccinations. So 12.2 million shots have gone into arms so far nationwide, according to the latest CDC figures. That equates to just over 39 percent of the more than 31 million doses distributed.

Adding to this urgency, there are new warnings about this fast spreading COVID-19 variant from officials in several states. Here is Polo Sandoval.


POLO SANDOVAL, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: The list of U.S. states seeing what's possibly a faster spreading COVID-19 variant is growing. This weekend, Michigan reported its first case with a woman west of Detroit, who officials say had recently traveled to the U.K., where the variant was first discovered last month.

And there will be more of these cases as the new variant threatens to become the dominant form of coronavirus by March, warns the CDC, the agency now imploring Americans to double down on preventative safety measures.

DR. JORGE RODRIGUEZ, INTERNAL MEDICINE AND VIRAL SPECIALIST: This virus is so efficient this transmitting that's what makes it more dangerous.

What we're hoping is that there is not a mutation in the future that makes the virus immune to the current vaccines. So a much more effective virus is going to spread a lot more easily in a community.

SANDOVAL (voice-over): The virus' mutation only adding urgency to vaccination efforts that continue largely at a frustratingly slow pace, due in part to supply. Take New York, for example; the state reporting a recent expansion of eligibility means about 7 million residents can now get their shot in the arm.

The problem is, vaccine supplies from the Feds have been enough to cover only a fraction of those eligible.

GOV. ANDREW CUOMO (D-NY): We are receiving 300,000 vaccinations per week. It takes you about six months to do 7 million people at 300,000 per week. We are -- our constraint is the federal supply.

SANDOVAL (voice-over): New York governor Andrew Cuomo pleading for patience and asking residents to stay out of lines unless they have an appointment.

In neighboring New Jersey, frustration is building among unvaccinated essential workers. The state announced it will allow smokers under the age of 65 to get vaccinated as per federal guidelines, considering them as high risk.

Teachers in the Garden State, however, are still waiting their turn.

This weekend COVID-ravaged L.A. County became the first in the U.S. to surpass 1 million COVID cases. This L.A. city firefighter describing the number of deaths as impossible to fathom.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's hard to imagine that many people passing away. And each one of those is a story. It's a family. It's -- it's horrible to just imagine. We, on our fire department, have lost two of our members, two valuable members, to this disease. And so it hits home.

SANDOVAL (voice-over): Polo Sandoval, CNN, New York.


BLACKWELL: President-Elect Joe Biden has a big job ahead of him when it comes to repairing the U.S.' relationships with some allies abroad.

So what will it take to move past President Trump's America first platform?

We will talk about that next.





PAUL: It's 26 minutes past the hour.

The expectation is President-Elect Joe Biden's first days in office will likely focus on domestic issues; however, the Trump administration appears pretty intent on handing him a number of foreign policy problems.

BLACKWELL: As CNN international diplomatic editor Nic Robertson explains, some of these are life or death situations.


NIC ROBERTSON, CNN INTERNATIONAL DIPLOMATIC EDITOR (voice-over): As president Donald Trump's loyalists stormed Congress, America's global standing sagged and President-Elect Joe Biden's job to unify at home and rally overseas allies got harder.

BIDEN: Let me be very clear. The scenes of chaos at the Capitol do not reflect a true America.

ROBERTSON (voice-over): In the days since, Trump has worsened Biden's overseas woes. From the Caribbean to the Mideast to the Far East, Trump is miring Biden in foreign policy problems.

January 9, lifting self-imposed restrictions regarding Taiwan. January 10, saying it will designate Yemen's Houthis a terrorist organization. January 11, designating Cuba a state sponsor of terror. And January 12, adding yet another complicating twist to years of escalating tensions with Iran, with this claim.

MIKE POMPEO, U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE: Al Qaeda has a new home base. It is the Islamic Republic of Iran.

ROBERTSON (voice-over): With days left in office, Trump's administration appears to be further limiting Biden's diplomatic options. The president-elect hoped for international backing to bring Tehran back into compliance with the Obama-era multinational nuclear deal that Trump unilaterally exited.

BIDEN: The only way out of this crisis is through diplomacy, clear- eyed, hard-nosed diplomacy.

ROBERTSON (voice-over): Tehran's position now, as Trump heads for the exit, Biden is isolated.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's going to take so many years for world countries to trust the U.S. and that was a major loss.

ROBERTSON (voice-over): Tensions with China have also been kept bubbling by Trump, last Saturday lifting restrictions limiting diplomats and other officials' travel to Taiwan, a red line for China.

ZHAO LIJIAN, CHINESE FOREIGN MINISTRY SPOKESMAN (through translator): Any action the harms China's core interests will receive a resolute counter strike from China and won't succeed.

ROBERTSON (voice-over): In Yemen, the following day, Trump's plan to designate the Iranian-backed Houthis, who control much of the country, as a terrorist organization condemned by aid agencies for limiting aid and stunting Biden's already limited ability to help end the war.

Next day in Cuba, more of Biden's diplomatic reach curbed: Trump designating Cuba a state sponsor of terror. Normalization could cost Biden political capital.

On the border with Mexico a day later, Trump's taunt to Biden:


ROBERTSON (voice-over): "My legacy will live on.

TRUMP: The 25th Amendment is of zero risk to me but will come back to haunt Joe Biden and the Biden administration. Be careful what you wish for.

ROBERTSON: Biden's challenge at home and overseas: repair Trump's damage. And unlike the outgoing president, Biden has the diplomatic experience to at least put some of the pieces back together -- Nic Robertson, CNN, London. (END VIDEOTAPE)

PAUL: Now also looming over Biden's first days in office, the second impeachment trial of President Trump. Let's talk to CNN political analyst and historian Julian Zelizer. He is also the author of the book "Burning down the House."

Always good to have you with us. I want to read you something from "Politico" that struck me. It says that there's always concern that Biden will be hamstrung in his early days.

Senator Joe Manchin of West Virginia, a centrist who supports convicting Trump, says, "A trial impedes that first week or two that basically should be dedicated to putting our government back in place."

How does Biden do that amidst an impeachment, that really is an impeachment like none we have ever seen before?

JULIAN ZELIZER, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, he's already started; before the inauguration President-Elect Biden has already laid out his stimulus package. He's already used the bully pulpit of the presidency, even though he hasn't had that inauguration yet, to start talking about what he wants to do.

And that's a pretty powerful thing to do. Remember, executive action doesn't require Congress. So he will be able to move forward on many of the items he talked about yesterday.

And finally, the negotiations over the stimulus will start in the House, not the Senate. So I think if the Senate spends a couple weeks on a Senate trial, it doesn't necessarily hamper President Biden as he starts his term.

PAUL: You mentioned six months.

What do you think his priorities should be for those six months?

ZELIZER: Well, the first priority, pandemic, pandemic, pandemic. I think the vaccine rollout is his top priority. That's an implementation challenge, not a legislative challenge. And then getting our economy going again. I think those are the two twin challenges.

If he can do both of those, he might find himself with another 100 days come summer or fall, when Americans are feeling more normal again.

PAUL: How confident are you that that can happen, though, given some of the -- given the fluidity of this virus?

Now we are talking about a new variant. We are talking about not having the resources from the vaccines, that we thought were going to be a backup.

What realistically is a President Biden able to do? ZELIZER: It's an enormous challenge. The question will be whether he's willing to use the resources of the federal government in terms of producing and helping to produce more vaccines, imposing tougher rules, as he proposed recently, in terms of using a mask on federal property in interstate areas.

If he's willing to do all that, what we hear from the experts is we can make a lot of progress. But you're right, it's going to be very difficult, especially with resistance at the state and local level.

PAUL: Initially after the election, he had promised he -- you talk about these executive orders that he promised to sign upon his swearing-in, which, of course, we are now just three days from.

He talked about rejoining the Paris climate accords, reversing President Trump's withdrawal from the World Health Organization, repealing the ban on nearly all travel from some Muslim majority countries. And he says he will reinstate DACA.

Do you get the feeling that there is this expectation he is just going to try to erase the Trump era altogether?

ZELIZER: That's exactly what he's trying to do and it's a familiar pattern. Presidents have increasingly used this kind of executive power over the past couple of decades -- and I think his first 100 days, instead of being about laying out a new agenda and starting bold new directions in government, a lot of it's going to be about undoing the damage that he believes happened during the Trump presidency.

And that will range from public policies that moved us in a bad direction to the damage to our democratic institutions, to our image overseas. And I think that's his biggest priority, in addition to trying to end this COVID pandemic.

PAUL: And how potent do you think that will be, the realism of all of that happening, particularly after the Capitol siege?

I mean, do you get the sense that there are -- there might be a little more support from certain Republicans to do some of these things, particularly after what happened at the Capitol?

ZELIZER: There might be.


ZELIZER: I'm not expecting a lot of support. I think senator McConnell, his goal will remain obstruction. He doesn't change very much. But it might quiet some of the initial Republican opposition just a little bit.

And that's where the Senate impeachment trial might actually help the administration because it will continue to talk about holding President Trump accountable. And that puts Republicans in a defensive position because they have been by his side all along.

PAUL: Julian Zelizer, your perspective is always appreciated here. Thank you.

ZELIZER: Thank you. Good morning.

PAUL: Of course. Good morning to you.

Tonight at 10:00, be sure to watch CNN's special report "Kamala Harris: Making History." Abby Phillip sits down with the soon to be vice president and her family. This special report airs tonight, again, at 10:00 pm, right here on CNN.

BLACKWELL: So in fewer than 79 hours President Trump will be former President Trump. He ends his term with the lowest approval rating of any president in the history of polling.

So what is next for Trump and Trumpism?




BLACKWELL: Three days left of the Trump administration and President Trump leaves office as the only president to be impeached twice. A new poll from Pew shows his approval rating is an all-time low of 29 percent. The sharpest drop is among Republicans, from 77 percent in August down to 60 percent now.

With me now to talk about this is the director of the University of London Centre on U.S. Politics, Thomas Gift.

Good morning, Thomas. Let me start with Senator Ben Sasse, who has been a vocal critic of President Trump. He wrote an op-ed for "The Atlantic" this weekend, about the time for choosing for the Republican Party.

He writes, "If the GOP is to have a future outside the fever dreams of internet trolls, we have to a call out falsehoods and conspiracy theories unequivocally.


BLACKWELL: "We have to repudiate people who peddle those lies."

Any indication that Sasse is in the majority after what we've seen over the last couple of weeks?

THOMAS GIFT, UNIVERSITY COLLEGE LONDON: I don't think so. In fact, I think you can make a reasonable argument that the time for choosing was quite a while ago. And we've seen repeatedly, time after time, scandal after scandal, challenge after challenge, Republican leaders, if not vocally endorsing Trump at least standing behind him.

So I think you could potentially make a reasonable case that this time is different, that Trump really crossed a red line in encouraging and inciting this violent insurrection at the Capitol building. But you have to look at so many times before, where Trump has run into

resistance as well and yet he's somehow been able to maintain his support. So I'm somewhat doubtful that the Republican Party, as a whole, is going to make a sharp pivot here.

BLACKWELL: Let's look at these numbers from Quinnipiac because they released a poll after the siege on the Capitol and -- the attack, I should say; 70 percent of Republicans believe that the GOP members who tried to stop the certification of Biden's win were protecting democracy -- 70 percent.

Now the violent insurrectionists aside, how does someone who is of the ilk of Senator Sasse, a Romney, a Liz Cheney, how do they bring that large number of the Republican Party back into reality?

GIFT: I'm not sure that they can, Victor. I mean, one fact that we can take from the last four years is that Trump's support, the reality that he has created, regrettably, isn't fragile. And it resonates with a sizable portion of the GOP, so much so that I think it's almost impossible to reverse, at least in the short term.

We heard predictions that the Mueller investigation would sink Trump, that impeachment over Ukraine would sink Trump. And each time Trump supporters have stayed with him.

Again, it's possible that this time is different and maybe it provides an opening for some more mainstream or establishment Republicans to change the narrative. But the Republican voter bloc is standing behind Donald Trump.

In addition to the poll numbers you showed, you know, an NPR poll found that eight in 10 Republicans think that the 2020 election was illegitimate.

Another poll from Ipsos found two in three Republicans think that their party is better off with Trump in it.

So even if Trump doesn't run again, this MAGA movement, Trumpism, all that it represents has such a stranglehold over the party that I think it will be very difficult for these mainstream politicians to change the tune.

BLACKWELL: Speaker Pelosi is going to send the article of impeachment over to the Senate this week. We know from the reporting that leader McConnell believes that convicting Trump would be an opportunity for the party to break away.

The timing of the trial, if they hold it off for a while, does that allow for the anger to subside, the immediacy of the attack?

Or does that give some people a moment to lose some of that fear of repudiation from Trump?

What do you expect that the timing of the trial, that element will play into, whether he's convicted or not? GIFT: Well, it's a real challenge and there's no doubt that the calendar puts Democrats in a tough spot with the Senate trial for lots of reasons. The risk of holding it immediately is that it could seriously distract from Biden's agenda.

Republicans want to drag this process out precisely because they know that it could hobble the new president out of the gate.

As we know, the first 100 days is crucial. But at the same time, if Democrats were to delay the trial, that also risks having the immediacy of the Capitol insurrection fade into public view and lose momentum for conviction.

And I think that that is a real issue. To the extent that there is some push among Republicans in the Senate to actually vote against Trump in the Senate trial, I still think it's an uphill battle. But if there is, I think it loses steam significantly the further and further it's pushed out.

BLACKWELL: All right. We shall see. Thomas Gift, thanks so much for being with us this morning.

GIFT: Thanks, Victor.


PAUL: Opposition leader Alexei Navalny is going back to Russia today. Remember, he survived being poisoned by a Soviet-era nerve agent. Now as you can imagine, he's facing a new threat when he goes home.





BLACKWELL: Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny is expected to return to Russia today. You will remember he survived an attempted assassination. Navalny is an outspoken critic of the Russian president, Vladimir Putin. He was poisoned in August and nearly died.

PAUL: The Kremlin has repeatedly denied any involvement. But a CNN investigation with the group Bellingcat found Russian security agents trailed Navalny for years before he was poisoned. Navalny says he never doubted he would return.


ALEXEI NAVALNY, RUSSIAN OPPOSITION LEADER: I am Russian politician and, even when I was, not just in hospital, I was in intense therapy. And I said publicly I will go back and I will go back because I'm Russian politician.

I belong to this country and definitely which I -- especially now when these actual crime is cracked open, revealed, I understand the whole operation. I would never give Putin such a gift.


BLACKWELL: Let's bring in CNN chief international correspondent Clarissa Ward.

Clarissa, it is not an overstatement to say that Navalny is risking his life by going back to Russia.

CLARISSA WARD, CNN CHIEF INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: It is not an overstatement at all, Victor. Keep in mind, back in August, that Novichok was used against him, a horrendous nerve agent. If it hadn't had been for the quick thinking of the pilot on the flight he was on when he fell ill, he would probably be dead.


WARD: And as our investigation found out, it is almost certainly the Russian state that was behind this, Russian state security services specifically.

And Navalny has subsequently gone on to humiliate those state security services, actually going so far as to dupe one of them over the phone into believing that he was a member of the National Security Council and getting him to admit, on an open line, that Novichok was used by this team of toxins experts by sprinkling that Novichok in his underwear.

So he has caused a lot of embarrassment to some of the most high up and most dangerous people inside Russia. The question now is what happens to him when he goes back today.

We know that his flight is taking off from Berlin in about three hours. He did a public Instagram post, where he called on people, supporters and journalists, to come and meet him at Moscow's airport.

One can only assume that he's hoping that might afford him a measure of protection, try to draw a lot of attention to his arrival, to ensure that nothing bad happens. But many people expecting that he will be arrested.

PAUL: So outside of an arrest, what are specific risks that he is facing by returning?

WARD: This is the million dollar question, right, Christi, because it could be anything. It could be that he lands in Moscow and he is simply able to go home, although that's unlikely.

The Russian prison authority has said, by being in Germany, he violated the terms of a suspended sentence that was outstanding for him. So they have to -- or they are appealing to try to get him to serve the rest of that sentence in jail.

But then there is a much bigger worry than the possibility arrest. There is the worry that potentially someone could try to assassinate him again. Even if it didn't come from president Vladimir Putin himself, it's important to remember that he has upset and humiliated some of the most powerful and dangerous people in that country.

Now the Navalny team says they're trying to stay positive, that they want to go back and continue the work they're doing, exposing corruption in Russia. And working as a Russian politician he understands, if he stays in Europe, he becomes irrelevant.

So he's trying to stay positive but, at the same time, let's be very clear, the risks here are enormous and the eyes of the world are on Russia right now to see how they will deal with the issue of Navalny returning this afternoon.

BLACKWELL: Remarkable commitment to getting back to the people of Russia there from Alexei Navalny. Clarissa Ward, thank you so much.

PAUL: Thank you, Clarissa.

So let's talk about NFL playoffs, the big stage, big plays. We're going to show you what had one team's fans reacting like this:


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Oh, my God. You are kidding me. Oh, my God. Oh, my God.






PAUL: All right. If you care, you know that we're halfway to championship Sunday in the NFL. Two dominant performances put on by the home teams yesterday and --

BLACKWELL: A giddy Coy Wire.


PAUL: So listen, today the Delaware Humane Association is hosting a virtual ceremony honoring Major Biden, President-Elect Joe Biden's German shepherd, because Major will make presidential history as the first shelter dog in the White House.

BLACKWELL: The Delaware Humane Association has coined today's celebration an indoguration.

PAUL: I love it.

By the way, for all of you who always ask me, I'm still trying to get Victor to get a dog.

BLACKWELL: I'm getting closer. PAUL: I know you are.

BLACKWELL: I'm getting closer to it.

PAUL: I'm going to take him to a shelter and see if he can't leave with one of them.

BLACKWELL: A French bulldog, I'm all in.


BLACKWELL: Next hour of "NEW DAY" starts right now.



UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We now have 25,000 National Guard men and women in Washington, D.C. That's 10 times the amount of troops that we currently have in Afghanistan.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I certainly think that we've done everything possible to prepare for the course of this week.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: A very large part --