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CNN Live Event/Special

Biden to Take Oath of Office in Unprecedented Ceremony; Trump Leaves Nation in Turmoil After Four Chaotic Years; Trump Pardons Ex- Chief Strategist Steve Bannon; DC on Lockdown as Biden Prepares to be Sworn In; McConnell: Mob was Fed Lies, Provoked by the President. Aired 4-4:30a ET

Aired January 20, 2021 - 04:00   ET



POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: We're glad you're with us, it's the top of the hour. Welcome to inauguration day in America. I'm Poppy Harlow.

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN ANCHOR: And I'm Jim Sciutto. Quite a day, just hours from now, Joe Biden will be sworn in as the 46th president of the United States. He will lead a nation divided like never before in modern times facing the worst health crisis in 100 years, and yet hope for change, a different approach. President-elect Biden's first gesture upon arriving in Washington was to pay tribute to the nation's 400,000 coronavirus victims. It was quite a moment. You see it there. A somber ceremony at the Lincoln Memorial reflecting pool, a respectful one calling on the nation with an important message to heal.



JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT-ELECT OF THE UNITED STATES: To heal, we must remember, it's hard, sometimes to remember, but that's how we heal. It's important to do that as a nation.


SCIUTTO: Today's transfer of power is unprecedented. Washington, D.C. is on lockdown this morning. 25,000 members of the National Guards are all of the streets. Fencing is up, bridges are totally closed. Two weeks after President Trump incited the mob of supporters that stormed the Capitol, the president has now decided to snub the Bidens. He has no plans to come to the inauguration or meet the incoming president or welcome them to the White House, the way he was welcomed by the Obamas.

His final move in the oval office is to grant a number of pardons and commutations overnight. More on the president's final plans before he leaves office in moment. But let's begin with Jessica Dean our colleague, on soon to be President Biden's schedule this morning. What's about to happen. JESSICA DEAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, good morning to both of you,

listen, if you talk to Biden aides, they are ready to get in there and ready to get to work. President-elect Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris are very much the same.

And we're getting some new details about Biden's schedule today that kind of illuminate some of these key differences that we're going to begin to see on day one between a Biden administration and a Trump administration. President-elect Biden starting this morning off attending a church service. He will be accompanied by bipartisan Congressional leadership. He reached out and invited everyone there to attend, including Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. So that will be interesting to see them in this show of unity.

Of course, then we have the inauguration itself. He's going to be signing those executive orders we've been talking about, from the oval office, later today. And he will also take part in inauguration celebration later today. And interesting to note, Jim and Poppy, they are bringing back the daily briefing. Press Secretary Jen Psaki is promising to hold a briefing later today and every weekday going forward.

All of this a lot of change from what we've seen with the Trump administration. And the president-elect talked earlier today as he departed his home state of Delaware, before he takes the oath of office about being part of this change, about breaking barriers. Take a listen.


BIDEN: Twelve years ago, I was waiting at the train station in Wilmington for a black man to pick me up on our way to Washington where we were sworn in as President and Vice President of the United States of America. And here we are today, my family and I, about to return to Washington, to meet a black woman of South Asian descent to be sworn in as President and Vice President of the United States.


DEAN: And all of this so important to President-elect Biden. He's talked a lot about how important he believes it is for his cabinet to look like America, is how he put it, Jim and Poppy. And it was notable, too, to see him today in Delaware, as he left his beloved home state. We hear him talk about Pennsylvania and growing up in Scranton, of course. But Delaware is where he became a Senator.


It has been his home for decades and decades. He grew emotional as he prepared to come back here to Washington, D.C., a place where he spent so many years of his life but never like this. Of course, never as president of the United States -- Jim and Poppy.

HARLOW: Yes, Jessica dean, thanks so much for the great reporting.

Let's go to David Swerdick, the assistant editor of "The Washington Post" and Margaret Talev managing editor, at Axios. And guys, thanks for getting up so early on such an important day. Margaret, you know, what we just heard from Biden talking about meeting Obama to be the vice president and then meeting Senator Harris, soon to be the vice president, and the history that both of those moments made. Today, Kamala Harris will be sworn in as vice president by the first Latina justice of the Supreme Court, Justice Sonia Sotomayor and her hand will be placed on Thurgood Marshall's bible. It's just such a sharp contrast of the last four years and says so much about what is ahead, does it not?

MARGARET TALEV, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: I think that's right. I covered both terms of President Obama and his campaign and his inauguration day as well. I remember that and I think anyone who has spent five minutes with Joe Biden assumed if he ever became president, he would take his own Amtrak ride in. We have a different kind of morning here.

But I do think that both with Joe Biden and with Kamala Harris, this represents its own kind of history. For Biden, it's half a century of just slow incremental sort of movement towards this moment. For Harris, a rocket ship of a ride politically, but she embodies so much of that sort of continuation of Barack Obama's dream.

I live in southwest Washington. My condo is attached to Thurgood Marshall's former church. So it's really great being sort of part of that moment. I'm going to walk out the door, it looks different than the Thurgood Marshall was part of this church, but it is his church active in the community here. A real moment in history but I think what you saw and what you're going to see today. Because it has to be so muted both because of COVID and because of the threat to public safety that January 6th made everyone aware of.

It is sort of also this this forced reset for Biden and for Harris to a much more austere. This like less of a coronation, less of a victory lap and more of a real moment to say that's not what this is about right now. It is about beginning to try to bring sort of the warring factions of this country together.

SCIUTTO: Yes, there's going to be a lot of that in the ceremony today, kind of going out in the country, right? Not just so much about the man as we saw in a Trump presidency.

David, a moment for hope here. Because Margaret, of course, mentioned Thurgood Marshall's church. First thing that Joe Biden is going to do on the day of his inauguration is go to church. He's going to mass, St. Matthew Cathedral here, the Catholic church downtown with notably several Republicans, including Mitch McConnell. Tell us of the importance of that, you know, both the symbolism, but the substance of that moment and what it may hopefully, right, foreshadow in coming weeks and months?

DAVID SWERDICK, ASSISTANT EDITOR, THE WASHINGTON POST: Yes, good morning, Jim, I just want to follow on Margaret and say the other thing about Vice President Harris, that I think hasn't been played as much, is the fact that we finally have a woman as vice president, never -- still haven't had a woman as president. But that's a major milestone. In terms of president-elect Biden going to church. He's a religious

person. He comes from a time in the U.S. Senate were members from the two parties have closer relationships. Even if they fought on issues, they were friends. They socialized together. They played cards together, you know, off hours. And that Senate has gone away. But Biden still wants to resurrect those relationships. I expect him to try and be a uniter in his speech tomorrow, because that's his nature. The question is -- and our colleague S.E. Cupp made this point earlier in the evening, whether there are parts of the country that want to be united. And that is going to be the real the challenge.

SCIUTTO: And do -- are the political reality such that there is no political incentive, right, to actually do something with the symbols of, you know, coming together. David Swerdlick, Margaret Talev, thanks so much to both of you.

And please do stay with us because we've got more questions for you. Joe Johns, he's at the White House now for more in the final hours of President Trump's presidency. Joe, we saw him unleashed a wave of expected pardons earlier. What else in the final hours of the Trump presidency?

JOE JOHNS CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: Well, you know, he's not doing a lot of stuff. He's not meeting with Joe Biden who's right across the street.


He is not going to the inauguration. But what he is doing, is he's going off to Joint Base Andrews for his big sendoff. Not sure how many people are going to show up there. They sent a bunch of invitations. And a lot of people have told CNN they're not going partly because of hard feelings, including the vice president, of course, he's not going as well.

Now, about those pardons, we do have 143 total, which includes pardons and commutations. Something like 73 commutations which means a reduction of sentence. And 70 full pardons which are essentially a complete absolution, if you will, for this crime.

Now who's on the list? Steve Bannon, that of course, is a big name from the administration at the very beginning. A top aide over at the White House. He was charged and faces trial if he doesn't get this pardon on the grounds of defrauding people who thought they were giving money to help pay for the president's border wall. A couple of others, Elliott Broidy, who is an unregistered agent. He was charged with that. And Paul Erickson, that also a Republican operative, if you will. Back to you.

HARLOW: Joe, thank you for the reporting very much. And you've been up all night like most of us. Thanks for being here.

David is back. Margaret is back. Margaret, did the president just make his chances in the Senate trial over impeachment less strong now among Republicans because he pardoned Bannon who said the day before the insurrection all hell is going to break lose tomorrow? TALEV: Poppy, you know, I think it's a good question. Bannon is a

major thorn in Mitch McConnell's side --


TALEV: -- and we've seen the Senate majority leader, the outgoing Senate majority leader but the Republican leader in the Senate, we have seen him increasingly speak out critically about Trump and Trump's role in inciting the insurrection at the Capitol. I think part of Mitch McConnell's play, in terms of how he has dealt with the impeachment coming over to the Senate has been able to leave himself the option of rallying Republicans to join for a conviction of the president, without committing to it. And that's what of what we'll see in these closing days.

The more and more we find out about the planning or any, you know, steps, any coordination ahead of that insurrection I think is also going to play a role. So, I don't know if that's going to happen. But I don't think that Steve Bannon particularly enamored Mitch McConnell to how treat President Trump after. And I think that's just there. The fact that McConnell and Kevin McCarthy are going to join Biden at church. The fact that Mike Pence is going to skip the president's sendoff to be part of the Joe Biden's inauguration shows us the potential. And I want to caveat, the potential, for a bit of a reset towards, you know, some kind of working together --


TALEV: -- just in an outright partisan warfare that we're seeing every day.

SCIUTTO: David, because this president so rarely bothered with the effort of legislation, except with the exception of the tax cuts. You know, a lot of his measures were executive orders, regulation changes, et cetera, which Biden can and intends to reverse very quickly. The Muslim ban, that's going to go away, for instance. A lot of these regulatory changes, particularly environmental one.

What then is the -- and a lot of things that Trump, of course, promised to do didn't happen. I mean, for instance, the wall. Just tiny sections of that actually built. What then is the most lasting legacy in terms of, you know, not just, you know, the lies, et cetera, but actually actual legislation, actual policy moves?

SWERDLICK: So, Jim, you know, I think that even though President Trump is going to go down as an ineffective president, he did follow through on promises in a weird way. He pushed the tax cut. He tried to get the wall but failed. He promised xenophobia and anger and overturning the apple cart. He did that. That's not legislation, but that's what a lot of his supporters liked about him. You can go on down the list.

I think if you look at a Biden administration, they are going to be able to take those couple of initial steps rejoining the Paris Climate Accord, rescinding the Muslim ban. Trying to do some things to sort of stop the pain on the economic effects of the pandemic. And I do think they'll get some traction early on with this almost $2 trillion stimulus package that they have said they're going to try to push.

After that with a 50/50 Senate with Vice President Harris as the tiebreak, but not guaranteeing that every vote will be party line.


I do think bigger legislative initiatives are going to be tough as we get deeper into this next Congress.

SCIUTTO: Yes, big question, infrastructure, right? I mean there's talk about it, and there's been bipartisan support for that but heck, that's more money.

SWERDLICK: The administration is going to rise and fail on how they deal with vaccines and pandemic, not so much big legislation.

SCIUTTO: For sure. At least early on. David, Margaret, thanks so much to both of you.

SWERDLICK: Thanks Jim.

SCIUTTO: Still to come this hour, there's a lot happening today. President Trump may be leaving the White House, but that does not mean he gets to leave his legal troubles behind. Far from it. Will Senate Republicans break with the president and vote to convict?

HARLOW: Also in Washington, D.C. this morning, tens of thousands of troops, and bridges and streets shut down. Next a look at the huge security operation under way just ahead of inauguration today.

SCIUTTO: Plus, chilling text messages and instructions on how to make bombs. Authorities dish out a new round of charges against suspects in the Capitol Hill attack. The plot looks worse, more organized, more dangerous. The details, next.



SCIUTTO: Well, today, the same day as the inauguration as a new Senate is sworn in as well, members will be waiting for the impeachment article from the House to make it over from the Senate. With that in mind, listen to how the Republican leader Mitch McConnell characterized the Capitol riot and more importantly the president's role in it.


SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY) SENATE MAJORITY LEADER: The mob has shed 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 federal government who was fed a lie.


SCIUTTO: Sounds a lot like the speech of someone who might vote to convict. Joining me now CNN election law analyst Franita Tolson. She's vice-dean at the U.S.C. Law School. Good to have you on, thanks for joining early in the morning.

His words there. I mean, this is the Republican leader saying the president provoked this is riot, this insurrection. Based on, you know, the Article of Impeachment as presented by the House, they accuse him of fomenting an insurrection. And based on your understand of high crimes and demeanors, I mean, if the president provoked it, that's the case there, is it not?

FRANITA TOLSON, CNN ELECTION LAW ANALYST: So, I will say that that's the strongest statement I've heard from Mitch McConnell about sort of breaking from President Trump to date. I was quite shocked, honestly. And I do think that kind of signals that he's more likely to convict.

So I think that's a fair reading of his comments, but I will say that it also signals -- and is somewhat consistent with the constitution on point about what a high crime is. So section three of the 14 Amendment, references insurrection as grounds for disenfranchising individuals who -- not the president, but other individuals who fall for the confederacy and are engage insurrection. And so if you look at that provision, it should inform our understand of what an impeachable offense is. And so in some ways Mitch McConnell's statement is a political statement but it's also consistent with our constitution.

SCIUTTO: OK, so, you know, you have a lot of some Republicans saying now that the whole question of a trial now, convicting the president is unconstitutional. But it's going to happen. There's going to be a Senate trial.


SCIUTTO: Second question will be, one, you'll have a vote to convict or not to convict on the side of impeachment. The second question will then be, should he be banned from seeking federal office again, running again in 2024. Is the law settled on that? I mean the way it's written, right, you just need a simple majority vote, but can that be challenged? You know, is it settled 100 percent?

TOLSON: So, there is some precedent here that suggests that this would be a question that the court wouldn't even take up. So there's a case involving another Nixon, not President Nixon, but Judge Nixon, where the Supreme Court determined that the impeachment process is a purely political process. Right? There wasn't really a role for the court there. And Judge Nixon in particular was arguing that he was entitled to a full trial in the Senate in order to be consistent with the constitutional requirement that he tried. The court said they wouldn't touch it. So it's likely that court won't touch any issues arising from this impeachment either. It's political.

SCIUTTO: Interesting. OK, final question, of course as expected the president with a whole host of pardons out this evening, in the final hours of his presidency, I just wonder, when you look at some of these, you know, the president has a direct interest in these cases here. Steve Bannon, for instance, is someone who might testify against him, were he not pardoned. Although I suppose it's still an open question there. But on the question of pardons, if the president, if they, you know, by their nature, protect him in some way from prosecution, is that settled? Or could those pardons be challenged as well?

TOLSON: So, the pardon power is typically viewed as plenary, which means (INAUDIBLE), now it's not without constraints, right. So impeachment is technically the penalty for an abuse of a pardon power. So you can imagine a situation where the House of Representatives introduces another article of impeachment if the House feels like the president has abused his pardon power.

And also the more outrageous the pardon -- so let's say Trump pardons himself between now and noon tomorrow, the Senate could be more likely to convict. Right? So it's all political process. But you know, the problem that we have a president who's already been impeached.

But I think -- and Jim, let me make one last point. I just think that this reveals more about who Trump is as opposed to anything being surprising on this list. And so, you know in many ways, the problem with Trump is that it is political and cultural. It's not really legal. Regardless of the legal framework. If you elect someone in office who has no moral compass, then he will break it.


And so, you know the fact that we're having this conversation about impeachment being the remedy for abuse of the pardon power and he's already impeached says a lot about where we are legally. And that's a problem.

SCIUTTO: Yes, it sure does. I mean, we've seen the system stretched, you know, sometimes, it's helped. Sometimes it's held, sometimes it's broken. Franita Tolson, great to have you on as always.

TOLSON: Thank you, take care.

HARLOW: All right well coming up, we are just hours away from Joe Biden being sworn into office as the 46th president. In an inauguration unlike any other, in a city that is on lockdown this morning, we're going to take a look at how officials are securing the nation's capital, and what they're doing to target right-wing extremists.


HARLOW: Well, there are thousands more U.S. troops deployed to Washington, D.C. right now than in all of Iraq and Afghanistan combined. Right, Jim? Something like five times as many?

SCIUTTO: Yes, about that 5,000 in both Iraq and Afghanistan, they have 25,000 in D.C. I mean it's insane.

HARLOW: It is. It is.

SCIUTTO: Well joining us now with the latest on that effort and why, why it's all out there. CNN reporter Donie O'Sullivan. It's incredible to see in person. But security officials believe necessary -- Donie.

DONIE O'SULLIVAN CNN REPORTER: That's right, Jim, yes, 25,000 National Guard troops here in Washington, D.C. this morning. We see trucks on the streets. We see gates and fencing and barbed wire. Miles of it, all across the city. I mean, this really isn't what peaceful transitions of power are supposed to look like. And of course, it's all here because of the conspiracy theories that helps flame those insurrection -- that insurrection we saw just two weeks ago on the Capitol behind us. All of that.