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CNN Live Event/Special

President Trump Delivers Farewell Address; Biden Arrives In D.C. Ahead Of Inauguration; Biden To Be Sworn In As 46th President Tomorrow; Trump Will Not Attend Biden Inauguration; Trump Expected To Release Final Pardons Before Noon Tomorrow. Aired 6-7p ET

Aired January 19, 2021 - 18:00   ET



JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: Pretty remarkable, when you think about it.


TAPPER: CNN's special inaugural coverage continues right now.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: A powerful image of the Reflecting Pool over at the Lincoln Memorial, now aglow in honor of the 400,000 Americans who have died of the coronavirus pandemic.

Now look at this, the Empire State Building in New York City lit up as well, New York just one of scores of cities and towns across the United States taking part in the national COVID-19 memorial that's happening tonight.

I am Wolf Blitzer with our special coverage on this inauguration eve right here in Washington.

We heard president-elect Biden just moments ago say, "In order for the nation to heal, we must remember after all we have been through and all we have lost."

And now the incoming president and the country are counting down to the moment he takes the presidential oath just before noon tomorrow over at the U.S. Capitol and begins his quest for national healing.

Let's bring in our political correspondent, Jeff Zeleny. He's down over there on the National Mall, not too far from where we are up on Capitol Hill.

So, set the scene for us, Jeff. This is really a very moving, powerful evening that's unfolding.

JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, it was incredibly powerful and even dramatic here in the silence of the National Mall, as the lights behind me in the Reflecting Pool surrounded it, and, of course, marking the 400,000 Americans who have died of COVID.

But now president-elect Joe Biden has returned to Blair House. And he will be spending the evening there. Blair House, of course, is the place where dignitaries go, where heads of state go. It's directly across from the White House. He can see his new residence, the White House, just across Pennsylvania Avenue.

I am told he will be spending the evening there with his family, also putting the finishing touches on that inaugural address that he will be delivering tomorrow around noon.

I'm told it'll be about 20 minutes long or so. It is going to be, of course, first and foremost, calling the country to unite. It is also going to be, I'm told, steeped in optimism and faith. And faith, as we have been talking about, is a central part of Joe Biden's life.

It's who he is. That is why he is starting tomorrow morning, the day he becomes the 46th president of the United States, at mass. He often goes to mass. He's going to start his day at the Cathedral of St. Matthew the Apostle in downtown Washington. He's also invited Speaker Nancy Pelosi to join him, Senator Chuck Schumer, who tomorrow becomes the Democratic leader, the Senate majority leader, also Mitch McConnell and Kevin McCarthy.

So, he will be going into mass there with the four congressional leaders, trying again to show unity and purpose for what he can accomplish, but, again, then going to the Capitol to deliver that inaugural address. And it is going to be, without question, the most important speech he has ever given.

If you think in history, all the volumes of words that Senator Joe Biden gave for years inside the building, tomorrow, he will stand on the west front of the Capitol, overlooking the National Mall, looking beyond out to the Lincoln Memorial, exactly where he was tonight, framing all of these challenges for the country.

We know that President Trump will not be on hand, the first president in modern history to not be there. But other living presidents will be, George W. Bush, Bill Clinton, Barack Obama, so, clearly steeped in history, but, for tonight, I'm told, spending it with his family, and again putting the finishing touches on that important speech that he will give tomorrow -- Wolf.

BLITZER: It will be critically important. And the outgoing president will not be there. It's been 152 years since a president has not attended his successor's inauguration up on Capitol Hill.

Arlette Saenz is also covering the Biden transition for us, soon to be covering the Biden White House for us.

Arlette, tell us what else we can anticipate.

ARLETTE SAENZ, CNN POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, I think the president-elect, over the course of the next 24 hours, will really be projecting this message of unity with that visit to St. Matthew's Church, with the four congressional leaders invited and expected to attend, and then stretching all the way to his inaugural address on the west front of the Capitol.

Joe Biden has attended many inaugurations in his past, but tomorrow will be the day that he will finally reach that reality that he has been striving for, for so long, as he becomes the 46th president of the United States.

And so much of this inauguration is going to look completely different than the way president-elect probably -- president-elect Biden probably imagined it when he first ran for president. There will be the attendance of the former presidents, but President Trump, notably, will not be in attendance.


Biden has said that he welcomes that decision from the president not to come. Vice President Mike Pence will be on hand there tomorrow. And also accompany this moment for Joe Biden is also another historic moment, when vice president-elect Kamala Harris is sworn in as the first woman, the first black woman, first woman from South Asian descent to be sworn in as vice president.

She has chosen Justice Sonia Sotomayor to give her that oath. Sotomayor, of course, was the first Latina to serve on the Supreme Court. So, that will also be a powerful and historic moment tomorrow, but also hanging over all of this is just how different of an inauguration this is going to look.

There are so many people who would traditionally travel here to Washington to see the president of the United States at his inauguration, but, due to the coronavirus pandemic, that is just not possible this year.

And, as you can see behind me, there are thousands of flags lining the National Mall, about 200,000 flags, representing those people who cannot travel here to Washington due to the pandemic, due to the security concerns, the Biden Inaugural Committee really wanting to shine a light on that and trying to make this an inclusive ceremony for all.

And you will see the president-elect at the west front of the Capitol tomorrow. As he takes the oath, there will also be other elements throughout the day, including a visit to Arlington Cemetery, where he and the ex-presidents will lay a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.

There will be a virtual inaugural parade, looking a bit different than years past. And then, even in the evening, there will be more celebrations. There will not be an inaugural balls. But there will be that prime-time celebration, where the president -- then soon-to-be President Biden will be speaking to try to cap off this momentous moment, as he becomes the 46th president of the United States.

BLITZER: We, of course, here at CNN will have live coverage. All of that, including the celebration tomorrow night, all of that will be airing live right here on CNN.

Arlette, don't go too far away.

With just hours left in office, President Trump is secluded over at the White House, hasn't been seen in public in days. But he did release a video just a short time ago, a farewell message highlighting what he believes are the achievements of his presidency and making a rare acknowledgement, very rare acknowledgement, of tomorrow's transfer of power.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: This week, we inaugurate a new administration and pray for its success in keeping America safe and prosperous. We extend our best wishes, and we also want them to have luck, a very important word.

We restored American strength at home and American leadership abroad. The world respects us again. Please don't lose that respect.

I want you to know that the movement we started is only just beginning. There's never been anything like it.

I go from this majestic place with a loyal and joyful heart, an optimistic spirit, and a supreme confidence that for our country and for our children, the best is yet to come.

Thank you, and farewell. God bless you. God bless the United States of America.


BLITZER: Want to bring in our White House correspondent, Kaitlan Collins.

So, Kaitlan, how is the now outgoing president spending his final hours over at the White House?

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, I think that taped address from yesterday really does say a lot, because no reporters were invited in for that. It wasn't conducted live in real time, like typically you have seen past presidents do.

And what we are told by sources is, basically, the president is sheltering in place during his final hours in office. And he has this muted demeanor after he's been talked out of using his pardoning power for his family, for his political allies who were involved in that rally that happened on the National Mall, where Arlette was just standing, of course, before that riot that happened on Capitol Hill involving his supporters.

And the president is finding himself in a position, Wolf, that he has not really been in his four years in office, which is being boxed in by his own actions, and actually worried about Senate Republicans and what they think of his last steps before he does leave office.

And that is playing a big role in what we are going to see in this pardon list that we're expecting to get tonight, but still have not received yet from the White House. That is -- it appears there's some last-minute negotiating going on. But the president is actually concerned about who he's pardoning and

what Senate Republicans will think of it, because he is legitimately concerned about being convicted in that Senate trial, Wolf. And this is something that's new for the president.

Typically, Senate Republicans are often responding to what the president does and making sure they don't anger him. The reverse is happening now, and that is incredibly unusual for the president.


But I'm told that the reason he is so worried about being convicted in the Senate is not necessarily because he could lose some of the perks that an ex-president gets or he's worried about not being able to run for office again. He's actually worried about what it could do to his legacy if he's a Republican president who does get convicted in the Senate.

Of course, this is going to be his second trial. So it is remarkable that the president has basically been completely out and removed from the public eye during his last full week in office.

BLITZER: Stand by. I want to get back to you, Kaitlan.

John King, he clearly is leaving office. He will leave tomorrow morning. He's got a little ceremony that they have organized at Joint Base Andrews, a little departure ceremony. He's clearly leaving as a disgraced president, given what has happened.


The administration that very early on, four years ago, brought us the term alternative facts, the president of the United States in that farewell address living in an alternative reality.

Let me read one of the lines from it. "Above all, we have reasserted the sacred idea that, in America, the government answers to the people."

That is the same president who, for two months, lied about the election, disrespected, tried to defy the will of the people. He did not listen to the people. He tried to defy them. And he sent his supporters on that building to try to defy them in the end.

So, it is beyond an alternative fact. It's a parallel universe. But contrast that to what we have seen in the last hour or so here in Washington, the president-elect paying tribute to the 400,000 of our friends and neighbors and fellow Americans.

We don't know who they voted for. We don't care who they voted for. They're citizens of America, and they deserve our compassion. Tonight, they got it from the man who at this time tomorrow will be president of the United States.

The coarseness and the chaos of Trump giving way to the compassion of Joe Biden. That does not mean Joe Biden will not have giant policy challenges. That does not mean Joe Biden will not make mistakes. But just the difference in the tone and how you view your own people, your citizens, you saw that.

President Trump never talks about the pain of this pandemic. He tries to wipe it away, as if it's not happening. Joe Biden tonight acknowledging it head on, paying tribute to the 400,000, and promising to tell the truth as he moves forward as president and deals with the pandemic.

So, coarseness and chaos that defined Trump, the disruption that defined Trump, I think we're seeing dignity and compassion from the new president tonight. Again, that does not wipe away the policy challenges, nor does it make them any easier when it comes to narrow majorities in the building behind us.

But, if you're Joe Biden, number one, you want to keep what you have, which was a resounding win in the election. And you're hoping to chip away at those who are skeptical. I think the dignity those pictures showed tonight, the power of those pictures, the lights along the National Mall, it's pretty amazing.

And it's the beginning of the turning of the page, the beginning of a new chapter. We don't know where it takes us. But we know what it's closing the books on.

BLITZER: We know that the president-elect has been saying repeatedly for months and months he wants to try to bring the country together.

But the country right now, let's be honest, is deeply divided. There is a huge, huge number of Trump supporters who still believe the election was stolen.

KING: I mean, remember, years ago, we covered the Clinton White House during the impeachment. We thought the country was divided and polarized then.

We saw two weeks ago tomorrow violence on the United States Capitol, a violent assault, an insurrection against the United States government, inspired by the American president. It remains unthinkable.

Now those who were behind it are being held to account. It will forever -- never mind the impeachment trial. That insurrection will forever be a stain on President Trump. And that is part of the Biden challenge. He is not naive. He knows he cannot wipe that away.

His best hope is to begin to speak to them and to hope. People get a vaccine, doesn't matter who you voted for. People get a stimulus check, doesn't matter who you voted for. The economy starts to come back, doesn't matter who you voted for.

That's what Joe Biden has to hope for, that, in his actions and in his performance, he can begin to at least turn the temperature down. That's his only hope right now, and then just fidelity to his agenda, beginning with vaccine rollout, economic stimulus, and we go from there. But that's all the policy and what will come ahead. Your first act is

to just try to make a statement. And, again, we will be showing those pictures throughout the night. I just think those lamps, the lights and the flags along the National Mall -- look at that.

That is your president-elect just paying respect to the pain of this pandemic, something President Trump has simply refused to do. And the number one job of an American president is to keep the country safe.

And I think, as Joe Biden said tonight, to heal, you have to remember. That's remembering.


President Trump seems to be mostly concerned about how big the crowd will be at Joint Base Andrews tomorrow morning when he leaves Washington, gets on that plane, Air Force One, and flies down to Florida.

David Chalian is with us as well as.

David, the president, the new president, the incoming president, President Biden, after noon tomorrow, after he's sworn in, delivers his speech, supposed to about 20 minutes, how, if at all, will he address the former president?


DAVID CHALIAN, CNN POLITICAL DIRECTOR: Well, his team has indicated he's going to acknowledge this moment that the country finds itself in right now.

And, obviously, that has been a moment largely defined by Donald Trump in many ways. And whether or not that means actually stating President Trump's name, or just the broader time that the country finds itself in as Joe Biden is taking the oath of office remains to be seen.

As you heard Jeff Zeleny reporting, there's still some tinkering going on with the inaugural address. But his aides have made really clear it's not like he's trying to ignore or paper over either what happened at the Capitol two weeks ago or what we have been through throughout four years of the Trump presidency.

And the contrast on display tonight was so stark. I mean, those lights that are just shooting out from the Lincoln Memorial along the Reflecting Pool, I -- look, it's like almost extensions of Joe Biden's arms embracing America. It was a moment where the new president came to town, and sort of convened the country in this moment of remembrance, outstretching his arms.

And contrast that with that video you just saw of a disgraced president on his way out at his lowest point in his presidency, at the very end here, by himself, fighting for his political movement to live on, and not even necessarily promising that he's going to be leading that movement, you noted, in his remarks tonight. I just think that sort of isolated moment of Donald Trump inside the White House vs. Joe Biden on the National Mall with an embrace of the country in these -- in this dark time, on the eve of his becoming the 46th president, you couldn't get a stronger contrast.

BLITZER: It was amazing, when you think about it, for those of us who have covered all of this over these past several years.

Evan Osnos with us as well, the Biden biographer.

Evan, what do you think? You know Biden well. How do you think he's going to address the whole issue that he's -- there's a transfer of power from Trump to Biden?

EVAN OSNOS, BIDEN BIOGRAPHER: Well, he has the task before him of doing two hard things.

He has to describe the moment we're in, and then also path -- a path forward. He can't pretend that we are not where we are. And he also cannot allow us to just stay in this agony of the moment.

And the way you fuse that together is, you begin to talk about practical steps that can lead us out of this predicament.

Look, when he talks about unity, as he likes to say, it's not some pie-in-the-sky notion. It's not just a term. It's the idea that there are things we can agree on, things as basic, as John says, as the idea of getting some -- 100 million vaccines into people's arms.

That's not something that blue states and red states need to disagree on. And if you can begin to do some of those things, well, then you begin to break down some of those barriers of distrust. And that begins to form the foundation of unity.

That's the spirit that he's going to try to convey tomorrow. But part of that is acknowledging what we have been through. This is, after all, a period of mourning. We're not just mourning for the lives that have been lost in COVID. We're mourning for the image of ourselves as a country. We're mourning for the Capitol and the damage that it -- that was inflicted on this symbol of democracy.

And, in many ways, this is going to be an address tomorrow that is -- it's a -- in a sense, it's a way of talking about grief more explicitly than we often do. And Joe Biden knows of grief.

BLITZER: And Gloria is with us too, Gloria Borger.

This is going to be an inauguration tomorrow like we have never seen before.

GLORIA BORGER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: No, and I think we're starting tonight, because tonight is something we have never seen before.

I think tonight is, in effect, about the survival of people who have lost. And we have lost a lot over the last four years. And I think that there is a tone that is being set of quiet, not chaos, but quiet in front of that Washington Monument with memorials.

And don't forget, Joe Biden is a man of Washington. He's a man of the Senate. I think he was there for 36 years.

Evan, correct me if I'm wrong.

And he understands it. And I think, when the Capitol was attacked, he felt it viscerally, because that is where he lived, and those are the people who saved him after his wife and young child died and took him under their wings and said, we're -- we want you to be senator.


And don't forget, Joe Biden was sworn in as United States senator at his children's bedside, after they had survived a car crash in which their mother and their baby sister died. That's how he started his career. That's how he overcame his grief.

And I think he wants to send that same message to the country, which is: I did it. I was able to overcome it, but with the help of so many people, and that's what I want to tell you. We can do this together.

It's not naive. Some may think it's naive. But he's kind of looking for our better angels. And if they don't exist, Biden will be very happy to play hardball with them, I believe. But he will give it a chance, because he knows that everybody kind of has to take a beat.

And I was told by somebody in the Biden transition that, when people were getting exercised about, oh, they're not holding confirmation hearings early enough, they're slow-walking this or slow-walking that, Biden would tell them internally, he would say, just slow down, take a breath, take a beat. We will come back to this in a day.

So, that's his temperament and that's his nature. And I think that's what he's telling the country with this memorial you're seeing right now, that the country needs to take a beat and breathe.


And he clearly wants to work with the Republican leadership in the House and the Senate, Kevin McCarthy, Mitch McConnell. By the way, they both will be joining him at church services here in Washington tomorrow morning.

And, Jake, to some, it's encouraging. I'm sure Biden really believes he could have a bipartisan cooperation and get things done.

TAPPER: That's right, Wolf.

And we're talking right now about the more than 400,000 Americans who have died because of the COVID pandemic, there are families for seven individuals who are now dead after or during the Capitol Hill terrorist attack, two of them Capitol Police officers, five others among the insurrectionists.

And let's go to CNN senior correspondent -- congressional correspondent Manu Raju right now, because, Manu, we heard for the first time today from Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell in terms of his view of how that terrorist attack on the Capitol happened and who was to blame.


This was the first time we heard the Senate majority leader, soon to be Senate minority leader, Mitch McConnell, make that case on the Senate floor just earlier today. Of course, he is a key vote when it comes time for the impeachment trial. He has not said what he will do. But we are told by sources who are familiar with his thinking that he does believe the president committed impeachable offenses.

Whether he votes to convict Donald Trump is still an open question. But when he did speak on the Senate floor this afternoon, he made clear who was to blame.


SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY): The mob was fed lies. They were provoked by the president and other powerful people.


RAJU: Now, in talking to a number of top Republicans today, a lot of them are saying very similar things that McConnell is saying.

They are not committing one way or the other about how they may come down on this impeachment trial. A lot of top Republicans quietly say that they want to hear the arguments laid out by the House Democratic impeachment managers, are not leaning one way or the other.

And that is much different than last year, during the president's first impeachment trial, when most Republican senators aligned with Donald Trump. This time around, some Republicans like Senator John Cornyn of Texas calls it a vote of conscience when it comes time to whether -- to decide whether or not to convict Donald Trump and effectively bar him from ever serving in office again.

And McConnell, I'm told, wants to hear those arguments before making his case made and also wants to test the mood of the country at a time when -- the time when it comes time to vote, but still questions tonight about when that trial will take place.

McConnell and Chuck Schumer, who will be the Senate majority leader tomorrow afternoon officially, they had -- they sat down today, talked about the upcoming Senate schedule, when they can confirm Biden nominees on the floor of the Senate, and when that trial will take place.

They're still negotiating a lot of those key issues, as well as how to structure a power-sharing agreement in the 50/50 Senate. But the big thing that will be dominating this Senate in the first few weeks will be confirming those nominees and, of course, deciding whether to convict the soon-to-be-former President Donald Trump -- Jake. TAPPER: All right, Manu Raju on Capitol Hill, thanks so much.

We're going to squeeze in a very quick break right now.

Stay with us. We will have more coverage of this night before the presidency of Joe Biden begins.



TAPPER: Welcome back to CNN's special coverage of the historic events unfolding right now here in Washington surrounding tomorrow's inauguration of Joe Biden as president and Kamala Harris as vice president, including tonight's moving tribute to the more than 400,000 Americans who have died during the COVID pandemic.

You saw just a second ago -- maybe we can get that shot back -- of the more than -- I think it's about 200,000 American flags that are on the Mall. And there are also hundreds of lights that have been illuminated here in honor and memory of those who have been lost during this pandemic.


I want to bring CNN Chief White House Correspondent Jim Acosta right now, and Jim has some new reporting about President Trump's departure ceremony.

Jim, earlier today, former White House chief of staff, retired Marine General John Kelly told me that he had been invited, even though he has been rather critical of outgoing President Trump, suggesting perhaps they're having trouble packing the room. What more can you tell us about the event tomorrow?

JIM ACOSTA, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: I think that's definitely the case, Jake. We're going to see a lot of pomp and circumstance tomorrow. The president is hoping for an event over at Joint Base Andrews that will rival the inauguration of Joe Biden, but he's just not going to get it. I was talking to a White House official earlier today who said the president may try to do a flyover of Washington in Marine One on his way to Joint Base Andrews.

But talking to a number of former senior White House officials, former senior White House advisers, there is a lot of animosity directed at this president right now, and it's coming from people who used to be Trump loyalist.

I talked to one adviser earlier today who said he is not going to be at the president's departure ceremony tomorrow. This official said, is there a disappointment factor, yes. Another senior White House adviser said, quote, sending the mob was a red line for this adviser, quote, unquote. Another White House adviser said, he has eviscerated his legacy. Another one after that said to me, Jake, that, you know, the fact that the president and his team were allowing invitees to bring five guests, up to five guests to the ceremony tomorrow smacks of desperation.

And so if you talk to adviser -- former official after former adviser over and over, you get the sense, Jake that there are a lot of people in Trump world who are just not eager to join the president tomorrow, largely because of his actions that led up to the siege on the Capitol on January 6th.

I talked to another former White House adviser who said that this is a president who is like food that was leftover in the refrigerator. It is time to throw him out. I mean, it's just -- they're saying these things privately, Jake, but it just goes to show you there are some deep, deep feelings of animosity that are being directed at this president.

One other thing we should point out, Vice President Mike Pence, the outgoing vice president, will not be at that departure ceremony tomorrow. Now, aides close to Pence say that is because, logistically, it is just not possible to have the vice president go all the way over to Joint Base Andrews and participate in the inauguration activities tomorrow for Joe Biden. The vice president will be there tomorrow to help Joe Biden usher in his new administration.

But make no mistake, when you talk to Pence advisers, they are still stung by the fact that Donald Trump did not check on his vice president when he and his family were fleeing those protesters up on the Capitol on January 6th, Jake. A lot of hard feelings inside Trump world tonight.

TAPPER: The protesters that were chanting, hang Mike Pence, who were mad at Pence because President Trump had incited them to be mad at his own vice president, Jim Acosta, thanks so much.

And I think, Dana, when we think about tomorrow and what tomorrow means, this is not just a transition as we saw between, let's say, Bill Clinton and George W. Bush. There are tens of millions of Americans who voted to reject outgoing President Trump who are desperately hoping that Joe Biden can make things normal again and there won't be the obscenities of a president sicking a rabid mob on legislators and his own vice president.

DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Absolutely. That is one of the many things that people across this country are going to be able to say good riddance to, things that they couldn't have imagined not that long ago. But Donald Trump came here saying that he was going to bust norms.

Having said that, even at his own inauguration four years ago tomorrow, he had his rival there with him, somebody who won the popular vote and still lost to him, and she was pretty shell shocked about it, and yet she showed up with her husband, the former president. And that is the tradition that we have seen in our lifetime, certainly in modern times.

We haven't not seen a president go and be there to witness his successor sworn in since the 1800s. And, you know, it is something that we have all taken for granted, that's just the way it is, that's what's done in America. And not until Donald Trump, again, in our lifetimes, do we realize that that is a sign of respect for the office and one that he doesn't have.


ABBY PHILLIP, CNN POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: But it is funny how at this 11th hour, White House aides who remain with President Trump seem to be really actively trying to kind of finesse what is left of his legacy. In that video we played a little bit earlier, President Trump talking about how he wishes the incoming administration luck.

He didn't name Joe Biden, he didn't specify what he was talking about. But he actually said, I wish them luck, I pray for their success. And it is interesting because that is probably the right sentiment. But in his actions, what he is doing tomorrow by leaving town before participating in the inaugural ceremonies, it really tells you the truth of the story, which is that this is not a president who wants to participate in the handing over of his position to someone else. Whether it is his ego or his self-absorption, he will not allow himself to do that one thing.

It is so unusual, as you just, Dana, in modern times for us to see that in our presidents because the example has been set and it has been followed by most American presidents to hand over power peacefully, to walk off the stage when your time is up. And no matter what he said in that video tonight, he is not actually doing that. He is actually dropping the ball and walking off the field without shaking hands with the other team.

BASH: Yes.

TAPPER: And one other point, Dana, which is just you said that President Trump doesn't have respect for the office, I think it is beyond that. Because when you pointed out that Hillary Clinton attended the Trump inaugural four years ago tomorrow, that must have been very difficult, right? But it took an incredible strength and resilience. I think that's really what's going on here as much as his lack of respect for the office.

For all his talk of strength, he is not a particularly emotionally strong person. He is actually pretty fragile. And I think that's one of the things going on.

BASH: That's a very, very good point. We were talking about the difference in every single way between what the Biden incoming administration wants to show about the memory of all those who have died from coronavirus and in part they did it by bringing tonight in a beautiful rendition of amazing grace, and it was sung by a Michigan Nurse Lori Marie Key. She performed the song in her hospital's COVID unit last year. The video went viral. Here is how she sang it earlier this evening.


LORI MARIE KEY, MICHIGAN NURSE WHO SANG AMAZING GRACE AT MEMORIAL: Amazing grace how sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me. I once was lost but now I'm found, was blind but now I see.


BASH: Just beautiful. And joining us now is Lori Marie Key. Thank you so much for taking time to be with us.

What a beautiful, beautiful rendition, we just played it again. And you said when you spoke briefly that you sing at work because it helps heal. And, as I mentioned, the world got to know you when you singing Amazing Grace in the hospital went viral back in April. You sang it tonight and you chose a song that obviously means a lot to you. Talk about that moment and talk about the song.

KEY: Well, first of all, thank you, Dana, for allowing me to be here. And yes, back last year in April when COVID was at its peak, our unit was transferred over to a COVID unit and things were pretty hard. One of my co-workers actually came to me, asked me to sing Amazing Grace during one of the shift change and I agreed to it. My co-workers know I am always on our unit singing and trying to make sure everybody is having a good time, but nonetheless, this is one of those times where we really needed our spirits lifted.

So I sang the song and I just would never imagine it would bring me to this moment.


BASH: And I imagine part of this moment, Lori, is that you got to honor the people that you have been treating day-in and day-out in the COVID ward where you work and those who have been suffering across the country.

KEY: Yes. It was pretty hard, like I said, during that time. And I know some hospitals are still struggling with what's going on right now. And just thinking back, it was hard trying to say goodbye to patients because families couldn't be allowed in the room, so most times it was nurses that were allowing to say their final goodbyes to their families through their phones or through tablets, and that part was hard as well.

BASH: And did you use song in those moments when because of this horrible disease, family members couldn't be with their loved ones as they were passing away? Was that part of the way that you helped the moment and helped them find some spirituality?

KEY: Yes. Most times, I usually gave encouraging words. But I can probably count maybe twice where I did sing at the bedside of a patient Amazing Grace and it gave them so much strength, just trying to make it another day, each day at a time through what they were going through.

BASH: And, Lori, talk about what this moment was for you to be where you are tonight in the moment in time right now in history, especially given the fact that you were introduced by a woman who will be the first woman vice president, the first person of color to be vice president, what was that like?

KEY: It is just an honor to be here in D.C. at this moment, like you said, in history. I never thought I would be here. It's an honor to actually get the chance to see and meet Vice President-elect Harris, which is going to be the first African-American woman as vice president, like I was so humbled. And then sticking by the reflection pool, just thinking back to years ago, Martin Luther King gave his, I have a dream speech.

Just seeing how, you know, in my culture, how far we have came and are continuing to progress. You know, I felt proud, felt embraced and I felt loved coming here and meeting everyone. And I am just so blessed and humbled to have this experience. I just -- I'm blown away, lost for words, but those are the best words I could come up with right now.

BASH: You are not at a loss for words, Lori, having that presence of mind to think about the history that you were part of, particularly given the spot where you were singing that beautiful song. What was it like meeting and talking to the vice president-elect, Kamala Harris? What did you say to her, what did she say to you?

KEY: Well, it was very brief because the schedule, you know, we have to be on time. So I just gave one of my big hi and she waved back at me. And President-elect Biden, he just said, in heaven, it is probably all nurses. And I just laughed, and I know the expression meant that in the nursing community, we are compassionate population of people. And just to hear him say that and just talk to me, it just -- my heart was filled with just love just then and I still can't believe that I got to meet the president.

BASH: Well, I'm sure. And I'm speaking on behalf of people around the country or around the world to say thank you so much for everything that you have been doing, everything you've gone through, the way that you were trying to bring peace to the people who you were caring for. And you're right, I wrote down that the president-elect said, if there are angels in heaven, they are all female and male nurses. So thank you so much for your time --

KEY: Yes, that's what he said.

BASH: -- and your beautiful words.

KEY: Thank you so much. Thank you.

BASH: Thank you.

Wow. I mean, she is not just a wonderful singer, she is an incredibly articulate spokesperson for the frontline workers who are out there every single day helping people in a way that they don't normally have to because their families can't be there.

PHILLIP: And it does bring a smile to your face. I mean, she's probably seen so many awful things, held so many hands of patients who are going through really terrible moments in their lives.


And you see in her some joy and levity and she has a sense of purpose. It really is just a reflection of what's happening at hospitals all across this country, thousands and thousands of nurses and doctors holding up cell phones to patients to say last good-byes to their families, it is extraordinary and it's inspiring.

And also, she's a beautiful singer.

BASH: Oh, yeah.

PHILLIP: An amazing singer. So, it was really wonderful to hear from her.

TAPPER: Let me just say, my mom's a nurse. It is true that they're angels and that they are not as recognized as such too often by our society, but during this crisis it has been absolutely horrible for doctors, nurses, front line health care workers. Hopefully they're getting more support now that there's a new administration.

There's much more ahead as we look to tomorrow's historic inauguration of Joe Biden as president and Kamala Harris as vice president.

Our special coverage continues after this quick break. Stay with us.


BLITZER: A beautiful live picture of the reflecting pool here in Washington, D.C. Welcome back to our special coverage of the truly historic events surrounding tomorrow's inauguration.

The extraordinary security is also historic and has turned Washington into a fortress capitol, including some 2,500 National Guard troops.

I want to go to our senior national security correspondent, Alex Marquardt. So, Alex, set the scene for us.

What's going on right now?

ALEXANDER MARQUARDT, CNN SENIOR NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, it's just about 17 hours time until Joe Biden becomes president. With each passing moment, the concerns grow about renewed violence, the kind of violence we have seen in the past few weeks. More people coming to D.C. to carry out some kind of violence, so you have this massive security presence out here, but right now, there is no concrete plot that we know of, according to federal authorities. What concerns them is chatter.

And one really interesting and potentially dangerous piece of chatter, this is according to "The Washington Post," that the FBI is picking up on is that followers of the QAnon conspiracy theory might try to pose as national guard troops.

As you mentioned, there's some 25,000 National Guard troops here in the streets of D.C. they have said in an intelligence briefing yesterday according to the post that followers of QAnon and other loan wolves might try to come here to carry out some sort of violence. As you mentioned, so much of the downtown area, the central part of D.C. has become a fortress. We are just on the eastern side of the capitol.

You can see that razor wire on top of this 8-foot high nonscalable fencing as they're calling it calling it. Just beyond that, some of the National Guard troops who have come from all over the country, every state, territory, and here in Washington, D.C.

Now, part of that chatter that we were just talking about has also included the downloading and sharing of maps of Washington where there might be more sensitive targets. There is a concern that because of this kind of security presence that you're seeing here, National Guard, Supreme Court police, roads being closed down. Bridges being closed, that attacks could happen elsewhere in the city, and in other 50 states and state capitols.

Wolf, as you know, this is the federal enclave as the mayor of D.C. calls it, and this is over here is Capitol Hill. This is where some of D.C.'s 700,000 residents live. This is a city that people live in. And people often forget that.

And so there is a concern. We've heard this from the Secret Service, from the mayor herself, that because of all of this tight security that anyone who might want to carry out some kind of attack might do so elsewhere in the city, and in other states.

The question now, Wolf, especially for those of us who live in the city, when do things get back to normal. Some of this will disappear following the days follow the inauguration, some of the troops will go home. The mayor has said given this new threat that we have seen, this insidious far right extremist threat that we are living in a new normal, and some of these security measures will have to remain -- Wolf.

BLITZER: They certainly will. It is extraordinary situation that has developed in the nation's capitol.

Alex, thank you very much.

I want to go to CNN national correspondent Sara Sidner. She actually had a chance to speak to one of the leaders of this group called the Oath Keepers.

Tell us about that, Sara.

SARA SIDNER, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: You know, it's important because we wanted to find out if some of the information, what they thought happened on January 6th. We know that Thomas Edward Caldwell, who's a 65-year-old out of Clark County, Virginia, was arrested and charged with perhaps the most -- the strongest charges we have seen yet that basically he helped conspire to attack the capitol. The authorities said that he was a member of the Oath Keepers and potentially a leader in that group.

Now, the Oath Keepers just for background are an anti-government group particularly anti-federal government. They say they believe the federal government is coming after citizens and stripping them of their rights, and that is why they stand often against the federal government.

But in speaking with the leader of the Oath Keepers, he talked to us a little bit about the people who have been arrested. There were three people. All of them federal authorities linked to the Oath Keepers.

He has said that Thomas E. Caldwell is not a member of the Oath Keepers, nor is he a leader for sure of the Oath Keepers, not in their data base, for example.

He says that Jessica Watkins, who was also arrested for going inside the capitol on January 6th is, indeed, a member of the Oath Keepers, and he put it this way. He says, I think that she made a poor judgment. I think she made a mistake.

He claims he never tried to get any of his members ginned up to go inside the Capitol and, quote, "storm" the capitol. He says that he did not do that as the leader of the Oath Keepers.

The last person, Donovan Crowl, he says who was arrested and linked to the Oath Keepers, is also not a member according to him.

So, those are his statements about what happened. He also said he didn't believe for the most part the people inside the capitol should be charged with anything more than trespassing, that this wasn't an insurrection except for those who went into the Senate.

Of course, federal authorities may have a very different view, and anyone who has seen some of the videos of people going inside, storming the capitol, have a very different view of what happened there, but those are his comments on the arrests that were made, arrests and charges that were made today -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right. Sara Sidner in Lansing, Michigan -- thank you very much.

We're getting some new information coming in right now about potential pardons by President Trump in his final few hours in office.

Our chief White House correspondent Jim Acosta is getting the information for us.

What are you learning, Jim?

JIM ACOSTA, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Yeah, Wolf, we have been anticipating these pardons to come in, really at any moment. I talked to a White House official just a short while ago who said they literally could come in at any moment. So, we're standing by for that.

I will tell you, Wolf, over the last 24 hours, Trump allies and associates who have been lobbying this White House for presidential pardons in these final hours of the Trump presidency, they are beginning to hear back from people inside the White House as to whether or not their clients made the cut. I talked to one of those Trump loyalists earlier today who was representing a client, who was seeking a pardon, this particular ally of the president got bad news that his client was not going to make the cut.

So, these notifications are going out to a variety of Trump associates, Trump loyalists around D.C. But, you know, keep in mind, we have been reporting on this for several days now along with our White House colleagues that Trump lawyers, White House lawyers have been trying to button down this process to make sure the president's pardon list does not make his final hours in office more notorious than they are right now.

But I was talking to this one Trump ally earlier today about all of this. You know, it is worth noting that word of potential celebrity pardons coming out in this list, word of that is starting to perturb and annoy some of these Trump loyalists who are speaking on behalf of their clients and trying to obtain pardons on behalf of their clients. And word that potentially, Joe Exotic, aka Tiger King could get a presidential pardon, annoyed this one Trump loyalist.

And in the words of this Trump loyalist, I'll put this in a quote. These aren't my words, the words of a Trump ally, I'll be pissed if this dipshit does make the president's list of pardons and my client doesn't.

So, Wolf, as you can see, there are some hard feelings building up as we speak among some of these Trump allies and loyalists who have been cashing in, no question about that, they have been cashing in on their access the last several weeks trying to obtain pardons on behalf of their clients but n all of them will make the cut, Wolf.

BLITZER: That's a good point. Jim Acosta, thank you very much.

John King, let's talk a little bit about this. He's waiting literally until the last couple of hours of his presidency to make an important announcement on pardons and commutations.

KING: That's not completely without precedent. Scope of this might be, the number of them, but I remember standing across covering the parade from the Clinton White House as the transfer of power to the George W. Bush administration came in the morning, just hours before the inauguration, so we will wait and watch that and again, Wolf, we're waiting. This is the last night of the Trump presidency, the Trump term.

The scope of the change, I think, is what is so dramatic. Tomorrow we start the 100 day agenda of Joe Biden. We have to hold him accountable. Can he keep his promises?

The policy shifts begin tomorrow. Tonight, what we have seen is the shift in the personal character of our president, the coarseness, the Twitter chain saw, the disrespective institutions that will be gone at noon tomorrow.

President-elect Biden coming to town, the economy of his words, the priority on healing, the power of those pictures of the lamps honoring those who have died, our friends and neighbors, fellow Americans in the COVID pandemic. Such a dramatic shift.

So, we get the personal shift tonight and the policy comes tomorrow.

BLITZER: It was a very dramatic difference that we saw tonight as well. Seventeen hours left, 17 hours left in the Trump administration, 17 hours until Joe Biden becomes the next president of the United States.

We're going to have extensive live coverage all of this unfolding.

CNN's special inaugural coverage continues right now with Erin Burnett.