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CNN Live Event/Special
Live Coverage as Joe Biden Prepares for Inauguration; Justice Department Arrests Oath Keepers Leader; National Guard Removes Two From Inauguration. Aired 2-2:30p ET
Aired January 19, 2021 - 14:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: He doesn't keep a lot of things secret when it comes to his emotions and his family and his love for his family. And again, it's such a contrast with the person who is leaving the Oval Office. Because empathy --
ANDERSON COOPER, CNN HOST: Yes.
BORGER: -- as we all know, is something that is very foreign to Donald Trump.
COOPER: Nia-Malika, it's so interesting that one of the first things the president-elect is going to do in Washington is focus on and remember the lives that have been lost in this pandemic, almost 400,000 lives. And those lives haven't been lost, those are people -- those are human beings who have died. And those are our fellow citizens.
And it's -- to me, it says so much about Joe Biden's experience with loss and grief that he understands the language of loss, and he doesn't -- you know, unlike the last president who really did not talk about the dead, Joe Biden is beginning his inauguration with a remembrance of those who have died.
NIA-MALIKA HENDERSON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL REPORTER: And it'll be such an important moment for this country. I don't think any of us have talked about the dead enough. We talk about them as this mass of people, 400,000 dead, but we don't talk about them enough as individuals.
Nor do we see how many people that is, right? I mean, if you think about 400,000 dead, the mothers and fathers and kids and grandparents, the magnitude of that loss? And I think it is poignant that Biden, who has himself experienced such loss in his life -- throughout his life -- that he will be doing that for a nation that has needed to do that over these many months, as we have lost our neighbors and friends and mothers and children and fathers and grandparents of this terrible, terrible pandemic that, as you said, this outgoing administration has downplayed.
Listen, I thought it was also interesting, the way in which Biden sees himself as a figure in advancing multiracial democracy. He talked about meeting a black man on a train -- of course, that black man was Barack Obama, who he then was inaugurated with. And then he'll of course go and be inaugurated with a South Asian and black woman, Kamala Harris. So that is quite interesting.
Listen, he doesn't have the kind of soaring oratory that Obama has and had as president in talking about the leaders of the civil rights movement and seeing himself in that line of people as well. But Biden does it in his own way, and is part of that history as well. And we'll see that on display tomorrow, and throughout his administration.
Coming in, he'll have an administration that I believe is the most diverse this country has ever, ever seen, and he certainly sees that as part of a legacy shaped by what he saw in Delaware, wanting to be a public defender after the assassination of Martin Luther King and becoming a partner to African-Americans in Delaware who were pushing for an expanded view of American power, of democracy and the kind of multiracial democracy that we see on display, that of course is upsetting to some Americans but is really the sort of reality where this country is going.
So a real moving moment for, as Gloria said, a very emotional man. And I think we're going to see that on display throughout his presidency, and what a departure from the president we have now, who does not show any emotion and is rarely a compassionate person.
And that is what I think this country needs right now, crying out for emotion and compassion and empathy, particularly with the loss of so many hundreds of thousands of our neighbors and our friends and our relatives from this terrible, terrible disease.
BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN HOST: And Arlette, I mean, it's just so clear how large the loss of Beau Biden factors in these huge momentous days that are leading up to tomorrow. Obviously, you know, Beau Biden -- we saw the podium there, for instance, Major Joseph Beau Biden, National Guard Reserve Center.
And you know, anyone who's lost someone knows that one of the very difficult things is even going into large occasions in your life -- which clearly this is incredibly meaningful personally to the president-elect and also to the country -- but one of the things that factors in is the loss of that person, not being able to be there.
And it is -- it does not seem fitting that Beau Biden, who has shared this intense -- who shared this intense interest in service with his father, is not there for this day.
ARLETTE SAENZ, CNN POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, and really throughout the presidential campaign and heading into this inauguration, it is very clear that Beau Biden will be on the hearts and minds of the Biden family.
You saw, during the campaign, bits and pieces sprinkled. For instance, the playing of that Coldplay song, which was Beau Biden's favorite song. There will be a song that's played at the end of the virtual inaugural parade that was a song that Beau Biden listened to while he was undergoing treatment for cancer.
And you know, one thing, Biden originally was going to take the train down from Wilmington, here to Washington, leaving from that train station that bears Joe Biden's name. Now, that got scrapped due to security concerns, but instead, today, Biden was saying his farewell at that Delaware National Guard headquarters that was named after his son Beau.
And the Biden family has been very clear in how he is remembered in these big moments that they are facing. In fact, his daughter Ashley did an interview earlier today, where she noted that Beau Biden passed away from brain cancer at the age of 46, and her father is about to be inaugurated the 46th president of the United States.
So it's very clear that he is at the top of their hearts and minds, heading into this week. But of course, also, the mentions of Beau just reinforces Biden's empathy factor, and how he always tries to make these connections with people who have undergone loss, who have suffered through the grief, trying to tell them that they will be able to do that too.
And the Biden campaign and his advisers have always felt that that's really one of the hallmark and calling cards of the president-elect. And you will see that on display tonight where, just on the other end of that National Mall, where I am, where Biden will be attending that memorial service for the nearly 400,000 lives lost due to COVID-19.
The president-elect, throughout this pandemic, has really tried to put a personal face on the lives that have been lost and the suffering that so many families have endured, and that is a connection that he shares with people who have lost loved ones and are struggling amid the pandemic, as he himself has endured such intense, intense loss over the course of his years.
And really, one other thing I want to note, Biden so often talks about his upbringing in Scranton, Pennsylvania, and how that formed the person that he was. But Delaware is really that state that turned him into the political figure that he is now. And you heard him say that when he passes, he will die with Delaware on his heart.
So it's a very emotional moment as he is preparing to leave there to come to the White House, something that he strived for for decades.
KEILAR: Indeed. Arlette, Nia, Gloria, thank you so much for lending your voices here with us.
COOPER: It is seven minutes past the top of the hour, I'm Anderson Cooper alongside Brianna Keilar. To our viewers here in the United States and around the world, this is CNN's special live coverage of a historic 48 hours in American history.
KEILAR: The end of one presidency, the start of a new one. But this transfer of power is unprecedented in a country divided like never before in modern times. Washington, D.C. is largely under lockdown, with streets and bridges closed.
COOPER: Two weeks after President Trump incited domestic terrorists to storm the Capitol, the contrast could not be more stark in Washington, with a show of military force in the middle of what has always been the nation's most high-profile and staid display of a peaceful handoff of power. Twenty-five thousand National Guard troops, now patrolling the streets to help secure the inauguration.
Moments ago on the Senate floor, Republican Leader Mitch McConnell put the blame on President Trump for the invasion of the U.S. Capitol.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY): The last time the Senate convened, we had just reclaimed the Capitol from violent criminals who tried to stop Congress from doing our duty. The mob was fed lies, they were provoked by the president and other powerful people, and they tried to use fear and violence to stop a specific proceeding of the first branch of the federal government, which they did not like.
November's elections did not hand any side a mandate for sweeping ideological change. Americans elected a closely divided Senate, a closely divided House, and a presidential candidate who said he'd represent everyone.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KEILAR: That comes as we get some breaking news about a major arrest in the Capitol siege. It is the first time federal prosecutors are alleging charges of conspiracy. The Justice Department says a Virginia man is a leader of the extremist group the Oath Keepers, and they are charging him with, quote, "planning and coordinating the Capitol breach."
I want to bring in CNN security correspondent Josh Campbell and also CNN national correspondent Sara Sidner, who has been reporting on extremist groups for CNN for years now.
Josh, to you first, what do we know about this suspect and how he coordinated with others on the day of the attack?
JOSH CAMPBELL, CNN SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Brianna, as you say, this is the first significant conspiracy charge that we've seen against this Oath Keeper extremist movement -- and more on that group in a moment from my partner Sara Sidner.
But today, prosecutors say that this man was arrested, 65-year-old Thomas Caldwell, a Virginia resident who they said was involved in planning and coordinating that siege on the U.S. Capitol on January 6th.
Now, they say that he's been charged with four counts including conspiracy, as well as violent entry or disorderly conduct. Authorities are saying that he interacted during that riot with eight to 10 people. They say that this group -- and I'll quote -- "moved in an organized and practiced fashion and forced their way to the front of the crowd gathered around the door at the U.S. Capitol."
Now, the reason this is significant is because we've seen the FBI cast this wide net, arresting a number of individuals. But what we're reading now into these court documents is that prosecutors are saying that this wasn't simply a large group of random individuals that simply got out of hand, but they're saying at least in part this was a coordinated effort with this conspiracy charge.
And then finally of course, with that conspiracy federal charge, we are potentially talking about significant jail time here -- Brianna.
KEILAR: And Sara, who are the Oath Keepers?
SARA SIDNER, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, we should be really clear. Long before QAnon conspiracies existed, the Oath Keepers had very similar ideas, particularly about the federal government.
This is a group of people, fairly large group, that is loosely organized across the United States. They generally are anti- government, particularly anti-federal government. They have very hostile feelings towards the federal government because they believe there's some shadowy group that is running the federal government and they're worried that their rights are going to be stripped away, particularly their gun rights.
I've been talking to these guys over the years, in the streets. They are often out during protests for example, whether it was Black Lives Matter protests or where there's, you know, left-versus-right protests. They say they are nonpartisan but they are generally on the side of the right-wing protestors whenever I have been out there.
And I've spoken to some of them in the past. And you know, at first blush, they seem sometimes to be sort of guys that are -- you know, they're all decked out in their Army-looking gear, that are playing Army. But now the feds have realized that they're willing to be part of a violent insurrection at the Capitol.
We should also talk a little bit about, you know, what they think about what has happened. And if you look at some of their Facebook posts for example, it was very clear they were very supportive of this move to take over the government.
The Oath Keepers also -- this is what concerns extremists, those who sort of follow the extremist movement in the United States, and that is that they heavily recruit -- they say it on their own website -- they try to heavily recruit former police officers, former members of the military, former first responders. They particularly look for folks in that genre who are in that kind of work.
And the reason probably for the conspiracy charge is that, you know, they can deal with tactical planning. And so that is part of what the group does, is plan things out, worried about the federal government coming down on them in some way. And we should be very clear, that that hasn't happened, no one -- not
a Republican or Democrat who has been in the White House -- has taken away anyone's firearms.
KEILAR: Sara, thank you so much. Sara Sidner and Josh Campbell for us -- Anderson.
COOPER: We are also learning today that two Army National Guard members were just removed from Inauguration duty. It's a result of that extra vetting process of all 25,000 members deployed to the nation's capital, to try to ensure they don't have any ties to extremist groups.
To be clear, officials haven't said what prompted the removal of the two guardsmen. But while the FBI's vetting process is ongoing, the "Washington Post" is reporting -- they have new intel -- on another threat. Some followers of the extremist group QAnon have talked about posing as National Guard members to infiltrate the inauguration ceremony. CNN's Brian Todd joins us now with more.
What intelligence does the FBI have about these plans? Is it just people talking in QAnon chatrooms or is it something more?
BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Anderson, what the FBI has relayed to law enforcement, according to the "Washington Post," is that people who adhere to that false QAnon conspiracy theory had been discussing posing as National Guard members.
Now, the "Post" also says though that the FBI had relayed that it had monitored people downloading maps of the Washington, D.C. area for potentially sensitive areas where they could possibly breach security.
But according to the "Washington Post," there is no specific threat involved in that QAnon situation there. But they are monitoring people but they do believe that they have discussed posing as National Guard members.
Now, a short time ago, D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser was asked if she had confidence in the National Guard members who are guarding the city. Take a listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MAYOR MURIEL BOWSER (D), WASHINGTON, D.C.: You have guards coming, guardsmen and women coming from all over the country at this time. I do think that it is prudent to make sure that they are being vetted, and that anybody who cannot pledge allegiance to their mission and may be pulled by other views, needs not only to be removed from this duty, they need to be removed from the Guard.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
TODD: And that, again, comes as two members of the National Guard have been removed from duty. Not clear if they're connected to each other, not clear exactly what they might have done, but they've been removed from duty as part of that vetting process.
Now, we can show you some other layers of security here that are really extraordinary, Anderson. Take a look up here, this is the ramp coming from the Theodore Roosevelt bridge, coming in from Virginia, over on that side into Washington.
That is completely shut down to any traffic coming in from Virginia, the ramp, shut down; you see the personnel carriers up there, you see the National Guardsmen up there, there are police up there. I mean, you really cannot come into D.C. from Virginia on any of four bridges in this area, which is an extraordinary security measure. These are very heavily trafficked bridges, about 800,000 cars a day are going over these four bridges.
And we can also show you further examples of how movement is restricted here. You see a couple of civilians here on a bike and running, but other than this little area here, you can't get anywhere near the Lincoln Memorial right there. Look at that fencing over there, there's another checkpoint just to the right over there.
And the entire National Mall is shut down to civilian traffic, so you cannot get really any further than that point onto the National Mall here as Inauguration Day approaches. They are pushing the perimeters further and further out from the center of the city. Movement inside the city is very, very restricted, roads are closed all over the place.
And again, you know, this is an abundance of caution, but, you know, you do hear them (ph) vetting National Guard's members, you hear about these FBI reports that two people have been removed from the National Guard, that members of the QAnon conspiracy theory, adherents have discussed posing as National Guard members. So they're really not taking any chances here, Anderson --
TODD: -- as we approach Inauguration Day tomorrow.
COOPER: Brian Todd, appreciate it, thanks.
We want to bring in retired Air Force Lieutenant General Jack Weinstein, he's currently a professor at Boston University in international security. He's written in the past about the need for the military to take the threat of extremism inside its ranks more seriously.
Thanks so much for being with us. So we're hearing about this vetting process. What do you know about how the FBI can determine whether troops may have extremist -- you know, ties to any extremist groups? It's a lot of -- 25,000 troops, it's a short amount of time to do this in.
JACK WEINSTEIN, RETIRED LIEUTENANT GENERAL, U.S. AIR FORCE: So, Anderson, thank you. I want to say, first off, that it's an acknowledgement at least that the problem exists, and now we'll be able to root out this extremism as well as these white nationalists from the military, that is a problem.
It's also -- we know we can do this because the Department of Defense, Department of Homeland Security and the Department of Justice were able to weed out these two people. It's going to be challenging though to do this because, since they've been off of mainstream social media sites, you know, Twitter, Facebook, they've gone to the dark web for some of their actions, which become difficult.
But the ability to screen what's on social media, the ability to track that down to individual members is something that both the Department of Homeland Security, Justice and Defense can do because they do that when you have a high security clearance.
But I agree with what the last report was, it is completely incompatible for military service for anybody to belong to any of these organizations. The whole purpose of the military and the whole function -- it works is because you can trust the person beside you. And when you can't trust the person beside you, when they belong to a member of this group, they don't deserve the right to wear this uniform.
COOPER: It's clear though, I mean, the vast majority of active duty, you know, military personnel, National Guardsmen, veterans are heroes. No one knows that more than President-elect Biden.
This notion though of, you know, white supremacists or extremists in the ranks, it's something that countries across the world are dealing with. There have been incidents in Germany recently, in France as well, in other places. How big a problem do you think this is?
WEINSTEIN: Well, I agree with you totally that the vast majority of people that serve their nation are serving their nation with honor, the past veterans. My belief is that every generation that has served their country is the greatest generation.
Do I think it's a big problem? And my answer's going to be, if you have one individual that wants to cause harm based on being a member of this group, then it is a problem. I don't think the numbers are very large, I don't think it's a large percentage.
But I do believe that the number is large enough that the military needs to take this seriously, and we need to vet everybody that's wearing a uniform, whether it's active duty, National Guard or whether you're a reservist.
COOPER: General Weinstein, I appreciate your time. Thank you very much.
We're looking at Joe Biden getting ready to depart for Washington, D.C. He's in New Castle, Delaware with Jill Biden as well. Brianna, we heard just a short time ago, very emotional remarks from President- elect Biden as he starts to head to Washington.
KEILAR: Yes, incredibly emotional. And I think it's something that speaks to the moment that he's in historically, and also the personal loss that he has suffered, you know, somewhat recently in not having his son with him, which is certainly a loss. You talk to anyone who is reporting on him, anyone who knows him, and they will tell you what a huge void that is for him to not have his son Beau Biden by his side.
But it's also coming at this time in extraordinary time, Anderson, where we see people, all -- Joe Biden and Jill Biden wearing masks, and we are crossing this threshold of 400,000 Americans dead, and that's according to the official numbers. This is a country in pain, this is a country that is divided. And that is the weight of what he is heading into in his presidency, Anderson.
COOPER: It's also a time of transition from the last four years, where the name of the current president has been spoken in sentences from, you know, constantly on television, in people's own lives, even people who said they didn't want to talk about the current president, talked about the current president.
Now, this is a transition to a new president, to an entirely new administration. And it's an adjustment for everybody, both those who welcome the change and those who do not. We are going to continue to follow the journey of Joe Biden to Washington, D.C.
Just in to CNN right now, we've learned that Vice President Pence will not be attending President Trump's sendoff ceremony tomorrow.
Plus, new details about who the president has decided not to pardon in his final few hours.
And the U.S., likely to surpass -- as Brianna just mentioned -- the grim milestone of 400,000 American deaths from coronavirus today, as at least one state says it is running out of vaccine.
COOPER: President Trump has just under 22 hours remaining in his presidency. And instead of spending his final days touting his accomplishments, he has instead spent them in relative solitude: no public events in a week, no closing interviews on primetime.
That might be for a good reason. The attack on the Capitol two weeks ago has shaken the president's support from some in his party. Listen to what Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said just this afternoon.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MCCONNELL: The last time the Senate convened, we had just reclaimed the Capitol from violent criminals who tried to stop Congress from doing our duty. The mob was fed lies, they were provoked by the president and other powerful people, and they tried to use fear and violence to stop a specific proceeding of the first branch of the federal government, which they did not like. (END VIDEO CLIP)
COOPER: CNN's White House Kaitlan Collins joins us now.
Kaitlan, so while we haven't heard from the president, we're expected to find out who is getting his final pardons. What more do we know about that now?
KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, the president appears to have kind of done a 180 on who we are expecting to be on this list. We kind of thought it was going to be this end-all, be-all list from the president where he included a lot of his allies on here, but we are now learning that the president is not expected to pardon himself or his family members in this list that we are going to get in the next few hours.
We're expecting -- and Anderson, that's because of some new reporting about a meeting that happened at the White House on Saturday night, where the president was in the West Wing.
He was there with his White House Counsel Pat Cipollone, Eric Herschmann, who is another White House attorney, who you might remember, that was someone who was on the Senate floor last year, defending the president in his impeachment trial. And we're told that Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump were there.
And basically they had this stark message for the president, warning him what could happen if he did pardon himself or his kids.
But Anderson, here's the new twist that we are learning, that there are Republican lawmakers who have also sought pardons from the president because they are worried about potential legal exposure that they could be facing for the roles that they played in that January 6th rally that happened on the National Mall, right here behind me, before of course that pro-Trump mob went up to Capitol Hill and breached the halls of those federal buildings.
And so basically in this meeting, we are told that the attorneys went to the president and they said that if he pardoned himself, the kids or any of these Republican lawmakers who had been seeking clemency, that he could open himself up to being in a more vulnerable position than if he didn't, given these would be these forward-looking pardons, since none of these people have been charged with any crimes as of now.
And they basically told the president that maybe some of these would be legally sound, but the optics of it would be so bad for the president.
And so what's notable, Anderson, that we're learning from sources is that this broke through with Trump. You know, he doesn't have the best relationship with Pat Cipollone, the White House Counsel. He actually has been dismissive of his advice since the election.
But this message resonated with the president, and I think that really does speak to the mindset that he is in in these final few days in office, because he is basically concerned, really. He's actually worried about angering Senate Republicans, and whether or not they'd convict him in that trial.
And it also speaks to the fear and the fallout from that January 6th rally, that there is real concern about legal exposure.