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ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT

Democrats Question Trump's Pick for Education Secretary; Obama Commutes 35-Year Sentence of Chelsea Manning; Interview with Jen Psaki; Interview with Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz; Awaiting Trump at Dinner with 200 Foreign Diplomats; More Democratic Lawmakers Join Inauguration Boycott; Putin: Obama Administration Trying to Undermine Trump. Aired 7-8p ET

Aired January 17, 2017 - 19:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Our special coverage continues with Erin Burnett OUTFRONT starts right now.

BETSY DEVOS, SECRETARY OF EDUCATION NOMINEE: It's faulty -- it's false news.

[19:00:07] ERIN BURNETT, CNN ANCHOR: And thanks so much to you, Wolf. We are going to keep an eye on the DeVos hearing. As you could see, OUTFRONT next, we have breaking news. Chelsea Manning, the army private sentenced to 35 years in prison for disclosing secret documents to WikiLeaks, going to be freed. Why did President Obama do it? The White House responds OUTFRONT tonight.

Plus more democrats boycotting Donald Trump's inauguration. We're going to talk to one top democrat. Is what they're doing un-American?

And more breaking news. Donald Trump arriving at this hour arriving here in Washington. We'll see him momentarily as we count you down to his inauguration. Let's go OUTFRONT.

Good evening. I'm Erin Burnett. Welcome to a special edition of OUTFRONT. We are live in Washington tonight following several breaking news stories in the nation's capital. I want to begin though with the stunning announcement from the White House this evening. President Obama commuting the sentence of Chelsea Manning three days before he leaves office. It's an incredibly controversial decision. It's going to set Manning free. Manning served seven years of a 35- year sentence for stealing classified information and passing it on to WikiLeaks.

The outrage tonight fast and furious. Republican Senator Lindsey Graham issuing this statement, I quote him, "Manning stabbed his fellow soldiers in the back by releasing classified information and putting their lives at risk. President Obama, by granting clemency to Manning, slapped all those who serve honorably in the face." And fellow Republican Senator Tom Cotton also harshly critical of the President's decision saying, "We ought not treat a traitor like a martyr."

Manning's supporters have argued that her sentence was excessive. Manning tried to commit suicide twice in the past year. As a transgender was confined to an all-male prison at Ft. Leavenworth, Kansas. Pamela Brown begins our coverage OUTFRONT on this breaking story. And Pamela, just three days to go, a stunning commutation by President Obama.

PAMELA BROWN, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: It really is, Erin. This active clemency for Chelsea Manning is a surprising move for a president that has taken a very tough stance on leaking during his time in office. And as you mentioned, while supporters of Manning are celebrating her release, criticism has been fierce from Capitol Hill and from those in the Intelligence Community who say she caused harm to National Security.

Tonight in a shocking move, President Obama is allowing Chelsea Manning, the army private convicted of stealing and leaking hundreds of thousands of documents and videos, to be a free woman in May. The reaction on Capitol Hill and beyond has been swift.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. TOM COTTON (R), ARKANSAS: For the president especially the president who's made so much recently about the danger that WikiLeaks has posed to our National Security, to commute private Manning's sentence I think is very disappointing.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BROWN: In 2007, then known as Bradley Manning, the 22-year-old stole hundreds of thousands of classified and sensitive military files as an Army Intelligence Analyst. Manning then gave them to the website WikiLeaks, which published them, causing a massive verbal effect in the United States and around the world and putting WikiLeaks on the map for future leakers such as Edward Snowden. Manning's disclosures included videos of U.S air strikes in Baghdad that launched worldwide discussions about their morality.

The stolen files included embarrassing diplomatic cables. Manning confided in an online associate about the disclosures who then alerted authorities. Manning was arrested in 2010 for leaking classified information. During the court-martial trial, prosecutors argued Manning was a traitor to the United States. But the defense said Manning was a naive whistle-blower who wanted to shed light on human rights violations. Manning pleaded guilty and delivered an apology to the court before the sentencing.

Manning was acquitted of aiding the enemy but found guilty on 20 other counts including violations under the espionage act and sentenced to 35 years in prison. The day after the sentencing, Manning announced she wanted to live life as a woman. And a year later a judge granted Manning's request for a formal name change from Bradley to Chelsea. Tonight, the White House is defending Manning's sentence commutation by drawing the distinction between Manning's case and Edward Snowden, who remains in exile.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JOSH EARNEST, WHITE HOSUE PRESS SECRETARY: Chelsea Manning is somebody who went through the military, criminal justice process, was exposed to due process, was found guilty, was sentenced for her crimes, and she acknowledged wrongdoing. Mr. Snowden fled into the arms of a -- into the arms of an adversary and has sought refuge in a country that most recently made a concerted effort to undermine confidence in our democracy.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BROWN: And over the years, Manning who was incarcerated at a men's military prison, had petitioned unsuccessfully to be placed in a civilian prison and to be given gender reassignment treatment. She will be released from prison May 7th after serving seven years of her 35-year sentence. Erin?

BURNETT: All right. Thank you very much, Pamela. I appreciate it.

And OUTFRONT now, the White House Communications Director Jen Psaki. And Jen, I really appreciate your time tonight. Obviously this is probably the last time we'll be talking in this format. So it's good to have you -- have you with us.

JEN PSAKI, WHITE HOUSE COMMUNICATION DIRECTOR: Good to see you, Erin. That's right. My pleasure.

BURNETT: So talking Manning of course, convicted of a massive leak, hundreds of thousands of secret American documents. You've heard obviously what republicans have said. These documents were originally leaked to WikiLeaks, to Julian Assange. Julian Assange has just come out with a statement about what the President of the United States did. I wanted to read it to you and get your reaction. He says, "I welcome President Obama's decision to commute the sentence of my alleged source, Miss Chelsea Manning from 35 years to time served.

Ms. Manning should never convicted in the first place. Ms. Manning is a hero whose bravery should be applauded." Should President Obama be on the same side as Julian Assange?

PSAKI: I don't think President Obama is on the same side as Julian Asasnge, Erin. Chelsea Manning was -- is guilty of a serious crime. Chelsea Manning went through the criminal justice system, went through the military justice system, has served more than six years in Leavenworth Prison. Chelsea Manning was also sentenced to a time -- a period of time that is much longer than those who have been convicted of comparable crimes.

So, the president made a decision, it's been no secret of the request by Chelsea Manning and Chelsea Manning's team to receive a commutation. But he made a decision based on all those factors. But certainly we don't take Julian Assange's recommendation prior to this statement, the tweet from a week ago, that has not been a factor in any way in the President's decision.

BURNETT: So, the president though has spoken about Manning directly. He actually did back in 2011 at a Fundraiser. We were able to obtain the audio and I've put lower thirds on the bottom of the screen so people can read if you can't hear it. Let me just play it for you. BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I have to abide by certain classified information. If I was to release stuff that I'm not authorized release, I'm breaking the law. We're a nation of laws. We don't individually make our own decision about how the laws operate. No, he's all fine, he's all fine. And he's being courteous when he's asking a question.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (INAUDIBLE)

OBAMA: Oh, he broke the law.

BURNETT: And you could hear him loud and clear there, Manning broke the law. I mean, the real question here, Jen, of course is, is it hypocritical to now reverse course and have sympathy for Chelsea Manning?

PSAKI: Well, I don't think the President would say he didn't break the law or she didn't break the law. She did break the law and she went through the justice system, has served time, has admitted guilt, has taken responsibility. So really this is a question about the comparable aspect of time served and that's a part of the -- big part of the reason why the President made the decision he did.

BURNETT: So Manning obviously leaked the documents via Julian Assange, and as we all know, President Obama has unsuccessfully tried to have Assange extradited to the U.S for trial. Assange now says he's going to come, he'll come to the U.S if Manning is released. So, you know, we know, Assange also released documents during the campaign that hurt Clinton, helped Trump. Is part of the reason for this pardon, Jen, at all to force Trump to be the one to bring Assange to the U.S for trial?

PSAKI: Well, those are a lot of different pieces. I have no insight into Julian Assange's travel plans and nor do I have any insight into the President-elect's plans. There is some irony that I hope isn't lost here on people that a lot of the criticism of the President's decision is coming from individuals in the republican party who supported a candidate who applauded WikiLeaks, who even suggested that they should release some of his opponent's information.

So there are a lot of decisions that -- or a lot of discussions perhaps that need to happen within the republican party about this. But I have no insight into Julian Assange's plans, into President- elect's plans at this point in time. Don't expect I will.

BURNETT: All right. Jen, thank you very much. I appreciate your time.

PSAKI: Thank you, Erin. My pleasure.

BURNETT: All right. And now Mark Preston, Executive Editor for CNN Politics, Jamie Gangel, CNN Special Correspondent Nia-Malika Henderson, our Senior Political Reporter Michael Nutter, the former Mayor of Philadelphia, Kayleigh McEnany, Conservative Columnist and Laura Coates, a former federal prosecutor and CNN Legal Analyst. Mark, this is a stunning announcement, all right, and I think I made the point at the beginning that statement just breaking from Julian Assange. You have Julian Assange basically saying Manning is a hero and President Obama, you know, by default is a hero for freeing.

MARK PRESTON, CNN POLITICAL EXECUTIVE EDITOR: Well, yes, in many ways, and we'll hear from Barack Obama directly tomorrow when he holds his final news conference. I mean, I was surprised, I think that probably a lot of people sitting here on this panel surprised. What I find even more surprising though is that some of the critics though of the release of Chelsea Manning are the same ones who are not coming out and being as forceful about the Russians hacking into our systems.

It's just a very bizarre situation that we're in right now. It's quite frankly where you see democrats who are, you know, the law and order party, political party when it comes to the Russians and then quite frankly the republicans when it comes to Chelsea Manning, they're the ones that are law and order. It's very bizarre.

BURNETT: And Laura, what do you make about this? What happens next here? Because there is a great irony as she pointed out and the fact Donald Trump may be the one to have to deal with Julian Assange coming here which would uncover of course anything Julian Assange was doing related to Donald Trump and the Russians.

LAURA COATES, FORMER FEDERAL PROSECUTOR: You know, I think that's the fascinating point here because remember, what they're talking about is they want to make sure that people are brought to justice and have due process, not focus on the outcome necessarily and the thought is that because Chelsea Manning faced some form of due process, that to commute it, not pardon it, remember but to commute it and now there's still a conviction is enough.

But with Assange, we haven't had that opportunity in the United States to say whether or not this person has done something wrong, should be brought to justice. And that -- I mean, tweeting is the one to try extradite him, for being totally different and we're trying to do. So, I think this is going to be very telling to figure out what Donald Trump's plans are in terms of whether he views Russia as an adversary and whether or not he wants people who have aided and abetted Russia in some form to brought to justice in the United States.

BURNETT: And Kayleigh, that's the big question here that Donald Trump has to face because -- well, it used to be the Julian Assange was a bipartisan issue, although as Mark points out now when it comes to Russia it's a little bit more split. But Donald Trump isn't going to have a lot of friends if he doesn't want to bring Julian Assange here.

KAYLEIGH MCENANY, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: And I think he will. Look, Donald Trump applauded the fact that the democrats were exposed, that the DNC was exposed for what they are, setting up the candidacy of Hillary Clinton at the expense of Bernie Sanders. He applauded that. But what he does not applaud and what he will never applaud and what Obama's has tacitly endorsed by this commutation of the sentence is the leaking of sources and methods information, the most highly classified information that put American lives in danger.

Like Tom Cotton said, "I was over there fighting in Afghanistan while this man -- while Private Manning, this woman, Private Manning was leaking information to undermine the United States. It is serious, and today is a very sad day because Obama sent a message, you can do this and get away with a seven-year sentence.

BURNETT: All right. Thank you all very much. We are going to take a break. When we come back, more breaking news. Donald Trump is about to arrive any moment. He's going to land at Reagan National Airport right here just moments away. One of the most beautiful things about Washington is when you land in that airport you really land right next to all of those monuments. A beautiful way to approach. And new details. He's got a big dinner tonight. We're going to have him as he arrives there tonight.

And more breaking news coming up later this hour. Trump's pick for Education Secretary, Betsy DeVos, grilled on Capitol Hill at this hour. Why does she want to get rid of the Education Department if she's going to be leading it?

And country singer Lee Greenwood going to be singing his big hit at the inauguration. What's his message for those deciding not to perform? He's my guest tonight.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BURNETT: Breaking news. You're looking at live pictures of the Andrew W. Melon Auditorium right here in Washington. Donald Trump is going to arrive right there any moment. It's an invitation Only Black Tie Dinner, it's called The Chairman's Global Dinner, it's his first pre-inaugural event who is going to land at Reagan National Airport come there (INAUDIBLE) going to be there. Foreign diplomats that's (unprecented), they will alongside Trump's cabinet picks and top political donors.

An exclusive group that comes as Donald Trump is speaking for the first time about the list of democrats now boycotting his inauguration. That number has surged overnight. It is now 50. Jim Acosta is OUTFRONT right here in Washington with me. And Jim, what did Donald Trump say about that?

JIM ACOSTA, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Erin, the nation's capital will be fairly divided when Donald Trump is sworn in as the 45th president on Friday. Now, more than 50 democrats, Erin. We understand there's now 52 in the house, have announced they're boycotting Trump's inauguration to protest the President-elect's history of inflammatory rhetoric and most recently his comment dubbing civil rights icon and Congressman John Lewis, "all talk and no action."

That was after Lewis said Trump was not a legitimate president. Now Trump is not backing off any of this, accusing Lewis of lying when he said this would be the first inauguration that he has skipped in his three decades in congress. In fact, Lewis sat out George W. Bush's inaugural in 2001. Trump did tell Fox News earlier today the democrats who are boycotting will actually be freeing up seats for others to attend. Here's what he had to say.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, U.S PRESIDENT-ELECT: I think for him to have grandstanded, because I think he just grandstanded, John Lewis, and then he got caught in a very bad lie. So let's see what happens. As far as other people not going, that's OK, because we need seats so badly. I hope they give me their tickets. Are they going to give us their tickets or giving them to other people? Now what happens to their tickets? I hope they're going to give us their tickets.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ACOSTA: Now while the Trump transition says it's a, "Shame that these members of congress won't be attending," a top democratic strategist noted that most lawmakers, Erin are minorities and they feel like they are taking a stand according to the strategist against what they consider to be the President-elect's divisive language. Now, as for tonight, as you said, Donald Trump will be in Washington. He's going to be here shortly to attend a dinner.

He's going to be honoring the chair of his inaugural committee, investor Tom Barrack and then he'll head back to New York later tonight, his last break in Manhattan before he becomes the next president. Erin.

BURNETT: All right. Thank you very much, Jim. OUTFRONT now, democratic congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz from Florida. And Congressman, thank you for being with me. You will be attending Trump's inauguration unless you have something to tell differently to tell me right now. 52 of your colleagues though as of this moment will not. Why are they wrong?

REP. DEBBIE WASSERMAN SCHULTZ (D-FL), FORMER DNC CHAIRWOMAN: Oh, they're not wrong. I 100 percent respect their decision not to attend because we each have to make our own decisions. And I'm completely comfortable with the members that have not decided to attend. You know, from my perspective and the choice that I'm making is that, you know, I am the representative of the constituents who live in my district and as a representative of a co-equal branch of government, the legislative branch, I want to make sure I am there.

Sending a very clear and strong message to Donald Trump and his administration that I'm going to be watching every single day and I'm going to be doing all I can to prevent him and his team from rolling back all the progress we've been able to make over the last eight years.

BURNETT: So when you say they're not wrong, I want to ask you specifically -- look, some of them had said they would not come out not come before Congressman Lewis but there is no doubt that when he came out and said that Trump was not a legitimate president, that is when he started seeing people come out in scores and saying we're not -- we're not coming. He said that Trump is not a legitimate president because he says the Russians participated in helping Trump get elected.

And look, they didn't just help Trump. Their hacking of the DNC cost you your job as chair of the DNC. So let me just ask you this question directly. Do you believe Trump is a legitimate president?

WASSERMAN SCHULTZ: What I believe is there's no question that the outcome of this election was affected by the Russian interference with the campaign and who -- because our Intelligence Community has unequivocally stated that Russia's intent was to influence the outcome of the election in favor of Donald Trump, I believe, one, that the investigation that the United States Senate is going to do into the relationship and interaction potentially between the Trump campaign and Russian -- and Russian officials, that's essential, but I think there's no question that the outcome of this election was affected by Russian interference with the -- with the campaign. No doubt.

BURNETT: So when you say the outcome was affected, do you -- is he a legitimate president then or not? I mean, is there -- is there a distinction between those two things in your mind?

WASSERMAN SCHULTZ: I -- I'm not going to use -- I'm not going to weigh in on the application of the term legitimate or not. I definitely -- I know -- I've run for office many times and I certainly would never want to have the credibility or confidence shaken in the outcome of any of my own elections. And so, I think it's a cause of great concern. It's something that's absolutely as I said needs to be investigated and will be investigated because, you know, the next -- the next layer of this, Erin, is what contact, if any, was there between the Trump campaign and Russian operatives?

And so, one, I believe that the outcome of the election was affected by their interference, and now we need to know, you know, to what degree if any the Trump campaign was actually in collusion with Russia in that effort.

BURNETT: So all these are obviously crucial questions, right? There's -- there are committees now that are going to be investigating this. But with 52 of your colleagues not coming, with some Americans deeply, deeply upset, that #NotMyPresident on Twitter, I have to say I do think whether you use the word legitimate is very important. I mean, he's either a legitimate president or he isn't. Which is it for you?

WASSERMAN SCHULTZ: Well, I think that my view on that, I'll be able to reach a conclusion on when we hear more about these investigations. So, I mean, when you -- when you use a term like legitimate -- and that will be one I'm prepared to use if more evidence is -- comes out that not only were the Russians significant impact on the outcome of this election but the Trump campaign colluded with them to achieve his victory, then most certainly I would be able to use that term.

And good for John Lewis, who has spent his entire life standing up for justice and for human and civil rights and frankly I think not only what Donald Trump said was absolutely vile but I want to make sure that it's understood that my attendance at the inauguration has only a relationship to what I believe my role is to be able to hold his administration accountable. Because I am certainly am not attending out of respect for him.

BURNETT: Respect for the office. You recently confronted the FBI Director -- yes. Go ahead.

WASSERMAN SCHULTZ: Go head.

BURNETT: I was saying that you were at the hearing obviously with James Comey. Some people were in the room, one of them came on the show, we're talking about your altercation I guess, the dispute you had with them. You had a lot of questions. You felt the FBI failed to alert you about the hacks. There had been some, The Wall Street Journal by the way among them, said Jim Comey needs to go and he's to resign or Donald Trump need to fire him. Do you agree?

WASSERMAN SCHULTZ: I think Director Comey has taken enough actions that call into question his ability to continue to serve credibly. I would lean in the direction that he no longer is able to serve in a neutral and credible way. And I -- well, I won't discussed what, you know, what was discussed in a classified briefing, I can assure you I was never contacted and still to this day have never been contacted by the FBI about Russian intrusion on our networks while I was chair.

And that likely left two Russian spy agencies on our network for nearly a year with only cursory efforts to contact our organization and certainly never reaching out to me, when, Erin, I am a member of congress who has the ability to be briefed in a classified setting. It just blows my mind. So I'm waiting, and we'll be following up so that I can get more information about why those decisions were made and, you know, what steps the FBI is taking to ensure that when there is a hack, particularly by a foreign nation, that the assurance that they give us on how they inform people who are the victims of hacks is something that's applied consistently.

BURNETT: All right. Thank you very much. I appreciate your time as always. Thank you.

WASSERMAN SCHULTZ: Thank you.

BURNETT: Now let me go to my panel. Nia, let me start with you. I don't know if you feel how I feel, but I think the hesitancy of saying he's legitimate or not legitimate in the environment we are in, it's hugely significant.

NIA-MALIKA HENDERSON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL REPORTER: Oh, yes.

BURNETT: (INAUDIBLE) a word you can say I'll decide later on.

HENDERSON: Yes. It is. And she pointedly refused to answer a question when you asked it point-blank. If there is this whole dancing around, it depends on what the definition of legitimate really is. This is the democratic party trying to figure out what it means to be out of power and is the model. Essentially what we saw republicans do, which is to oppose a president. And let's remember also in some republican circles at least they questioned the legitimacy of Obama, right? I mean, this is the way Donald Trump rose to political fame over the last five years, essentially saying --

BURNETT: There is a lot of payback. HENDERSON: There is some payback here. So, I think that's what you see from democrats, who some of whom are going to stay away from this inauguration. Obviously you're going to see some of this on Capitol Hill with the grilling of some of these nominees. But this is what we're seeing, the democratic party obviously in disarray because of this surprising loss and they're trying to figure out who they are and how they fight Donald Trump.

BURNETT: And Donald Trump of course has just landed here on the tarmac just mile or so away from here on his way to his first all inaugural event. Jamie, you know, what's hugely significant here though, when -- if you take it by extension and say that some of these things do end up being proven and you have all these democrats saying he's illegitimate, well then you're giving the Russians exactly what they want.

HENDERSON: Right.

BURNETT: But you end up with for country in complete disarray.

HENDERSON: Absolutely. And I would say it goes back even further. Bush V. Gore. I mean, we have had many, many years now of questioning legitimacy back and forth. And it's a little bit through the looking glass because while you have these democrats protesting by not coming, you also have an increasing number of republicans. I spoke to a whole lot of people today who say, you know, is he a republican? What is Obamacare? They have to get -- the republican party and the elected officials do not feel very out of step, at least privately, with what --

BURNETT: Well, I have to say it's terrifying if they're saying what is Obamacare at this point after how many times -- my gosh, I can't even -- I don't even know where to start with that. But Mayor, what -- what's your take on this issue? And I think Congressman Schultz -- Wasserman Schultz is giving a view that a lot of people feel on the democratic side. But there is this big question. I mean, we are where we are, we are all Americans, legitimate or illegitimate. Should it be hard to say?

MICHAEL NUTTER (D), FORMER MAYOR OF PHILADELPHIA: Well, I think the first thing is let's at least acknowledge however you might feel about all of that, there will be an inauguration on Friday. Donald Trump will be the 45th president of the United States of America. That's just the fact. How you feel about it, what you're going to do about it, you know, last night I said, you know, it's kind of a wind assist. I mean, for me he'll have an asterisk.

There are lot of things going on here that are unknown but it is indisputable, he is, will be the president. Let's move from there. You want to protest, protest. If you don't, if you want to go, if you don't want to go, I mean, all of this other stuff. People have a way of expressing themselves and they a have right to do that in any which way they want. I mean, it's not like it's a -- it's not grade school, it's not a mandatory attendance. You do what you want.

BURNETT: David? DAVID GERGEN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Listen, we need investigations to figure out what really happened and we -- and until then, you can't determine whether he's legitimate or illegitimate, that's what you see.

BURNETT: So you agree with the congresswoman because that was her point.

GERGEN: I don't think you -- I go with (INAUDIBLE) first of all, we've been having these arguments about presidents in my lifetime all the way back to Bill Clinton in 1992. I think -- I think we're wasting much time on this. Let's have the investigation, we need that but in the meantime, it's important to move on and deal with the problem at hand. This president is about to propose some of the most radical legislation and the biggest initiatives that we've seen and I think that ought to be the center of debate until we get the investigatory results in.

MCENANY: But one thing we do know is President Obama said every vote that was cast was counted and counted appropriately. And what democrat are trying to do here is sow a narrative of this presidency being over before it begins.

[19:30:05] It's political tactic and it's one that harms American interests in the long run. It's very sad that partisanship is overtaking American interest.

NUTTER: You mean the way that Mitch McConnell said about a month or so in that his number one goal, notwithstanding 750,000 jobs that have been lost in January when the president was sworn in, his number one goal was to make sure that President Obama was a one term president. You mean like that?

MCENANY: Because he didn't believe in his agenda.

NUTTER: You know, he's in office for a month.

MCENANY: Mitch McConnell and Republicans showed up at the inauguration. The Republican congressmen and women did not question the legitimacy of Barack Obama.

(CROSSTAK)

HENDERSON: They did very little to tamp down on that raging conversation about Obama's legitimacy and birtherism.

(CROSSTALK)

BURNETT: OK, final word and --

PRESTON: I just make a bold prediction right here, is that I hear New Hampshire and Iowa and --

(CROSSTALK)

BURNETT: All right. More breaking news right now, a heated confirmation hearing under way actually at this moment, started late, going on live right now. President-elect Trump's most controversial cabinet picks include Betsy DeVos for education secretary. She's testifying at this moment. Live pictures right now of her on Capitol Hill. She's being grilled by DeVos. Democrats outraged after they were not granted time for a second round of questioning.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. AL FRANKEN (D-MN), HEALTH, EDUCATION, LABOR & PENSIONS COMMITTEE: You said student debt has increased by 1,000 percent since --

DEVOS: Nine hundred eighty percent in eight years.

FRANKEN: I'm sorry?

DEVOS: Nine hundred eighty percent.

FRANKEN: That's just not so. It's increased 118 percent in the past 8 years.

DEVOS: Well --

FRANKEN: So, I'm just asking if you're challenging my figures, I would ask that you get your figures straight about education policy and that's why we want more questions.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BURNETT: Obviously, a fiery hearing, as you could see and it comes just three days before Trump takes the oath of office.

Manu Raju is OUTFRONT now.

And, Manu, that questioning by Senator Franken obviously very contentious, not just questioning her on her point of view but basically saying you don't even know the facts. How big of a fight will this nomination be?

MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL REPORTER: It's very big, Erin, probably one of the biggest confirmation fights where we will see, hear for Trump's cabinet. She, Betsy DeVos, is one of the Democrats' biggest targets right now. They're hoping they can persuade a few Republicans to flip and vote against her on the floor of the Senate.

Now, this hearing focuses on sharp questioning, whether she'll cut funding for public schools, whether she supports Bernie Sanders' proposal for debt-free colleges and whether or not her advocacy and work and conservative causes and how they would translate to her as head of the Education Department, all of us -- none of her answers satisfying Democrats, and Republicans believe she's being treated unfairly. But also significantly on the floor of the Senate just moments ago, Senator Chuck Schumer, the Democratic leader, saying that the Democrats don't get more questions, don't get a second round of questioning, that he may not cooperate on other nominees.

So, potentially, this could have a spillover effect for other nominees because Donald Trump wants to get a sizable chunk of his nominees confirmed by the day he's sworn into office on Friday, maybe six or seven national security nominees. The Democrats are saying they may not play ball because of this Betsy DeVos hearing, Erin.

BURNETT: And you also, Manu, broke the story, by the way, we're seeing Donald Trump going to be getting off that plane, I don't know if he just got in the back of the SUV or will momentarily, but coming to his first even, yes, he is there. Obviously, it's a huge event with foreign diplomats, his cabinet, Mike Pence, and major donors.

His Trump -- his pick for Health and Human Services, Manu, Congressman Tom Price also under fire tonight. You first reported on this, he bought stock in a medical device company, days later introduced a bill that would benefit that specific company. Now, some Democrats are calling for his hearing to be delayed. You spoke to Minority Schumer today. What's he saying about this and what's the significance here?

RAJU: Well, he's jumping all over the report and trying to push for an ethics investigation, even suggesting that Mr. Price may have broken the law against insider trading on Capitol Hill by purchasing this stock and then later introducing this bill that would benefit this company. Here's a little bit of what he had to say earlier today.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. CHUCK SCHUMER (D-NY), MINORITY LEADER: I mean, if he knew about it, it could very well be a violation of the law.

RAJU: You think he broke the law?

SCHUMER: If he knew about it. Now, they say there's a broker. Kind of strange that this broker would pick this stock totally independently of him introducing legislation that's so narrow and specific about this company.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

[19:35:00] RAJU: Now, Trump's team is dismissing this, saying it's only a small amount of money and that also that Mr. Price used the broker and had no knowledge when this stock was purchased.

He did hold on o that stock while he was a House member, even pushing -- continued to push that legislation. And then also recently, Erin, just last week, announcing he would divest from that company because it presents a potential conflict of interest if he becomes health and human services secretary. So, the Office of Government Ethics flagging this as potential red flag going forward.

But Schumer also believing this could be part of an effort to try to derail Price's nomination. He believes it would be difficult for Price to get confirmed to the post, but, of course, Erin, that means Republicans would have to vote against him. Right now, there's no indication that that will happen -- Erin.

BURNETT: All right. Thank you very much, Manu. My panel back with me.

Nia, what's amazing about this is you've got to think Democrats at some point are going to take a stand. They're not going let all of these go through. So, when you look at DeVos, when you look at Tillerson, and you look at Mattis, and you -- all of them together, somebody's got to have, you know --

(CROSSTALK)

HENDERSON: But they're going to have to convince some Republicans because they don't have enough votes. They're only 48 of them. If they ban together against everyone, that's still not enough. I think the most likely one has always been Tillerson. We still don't know what McCain is going to do, we still don't know what Lindsey Graham is going to do. We still don't know what Rubio is going to do and he's on that committee, to see if he gets out of the --

BURNETT: So, Betsy DeVos, this one is contentious, really contentious. And you just heard Senator Franken. Elizabeth Warren is questioning her, Bernie Sanders questioning her.

Here's what Bernie Sanders just came out and said.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. BERNIE SANDERS (I-VT), HEALTH, EDUCATION, LABOR & PENSIONS COMMITTEE: My question is, and I don't mean to be rude, but do you think if you were not a multibillionaire, if your family has not made hundreds of millions of dollars in contributions to the Republican Party, that you would be sitting here today?

DEVOS: Senator, as a matter of fact, I do think there would be that possibility. I've worked very hard on behalf of parents and children for the last almost 30 years.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BURNETT: I mean --

PRESTON: I'll just make this quick.

I think if you look at three specific confirmation hearings. Look at education, because of the teacher unions, very big Democratic constituency, that Democrats have to show they're fighting for. The environment, the environmentalists, when you're talking about the EPA administrator, and, of course, no question when you look at Tillerson right now given all the Russian stuff. Look at the rhetoric that Democrats are using in those specific hearings.

BURNETT: Is Bernie Sanders right? Does this hurt her at all?. I thought her answer -- she didn't deny it. She said possibly.

HENDERSON: Yes.

NUTTER: What is that thing you say, Nia, cute by a little more than that?

HENDERSON: Right, yes.

NUTTER: One, there's no way in the world she's there. But I mean, the legitimate question, back to that word legitimate, this is a person who does not believe in public education. This is a person who fought actively with money against accountability measures for charter schools. She's not even particularly liked by the charter school community in Michigan. So, she has a problem. She wants to destroy the Office of Education and then lead it.

I mean --

HENDERSON: She's also just a standard issue Republican on these issues, right? I mean, she doesn't really --

BURNETT: Right, school choice.

HENDERSON: Yes.

GERGEN: Charter schools are public schools.

BURNETT: Yes.

GERGEN: She is not against public education, unless she's got some ethics problem, unless they deny the additional hearings, I think she's going to go through.

I think the person who's in most trouble is Tom Price. "TIME" magazine reported today there were six additional stocks we hadn't heard of which his broker bought. Two weeks later, he signed financial forms saying he had them. And then, just a short time later, he sponsored legislation which helped them.

That's the kind of thing that's going to get him in real trouble. I don't know if he's going to survive or not. I think the EPA's nominee, he's the person closest to the line.

BURNETT: All right. We hit pause there for a moment.

Next, Donald Trump comes to office at odds with China, with Germany, with NATO, with the E.U. Will his overseas battles derail a very aggressive domestic agenda?

And country singer Lee Greenwood speaks out on why he is performing at the Trump inauguration and says other stars should too. He's my guest coming up.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BURNETT: Welcome back to a special edition of OUTFRONT live from Washington. Just three days before President-elect Trump's inauguration.

You are looking at live pictures outside the first official event. Donald Trump is pulling up right now. You can see that motorcade. He is in it. He is attending what's called the Chairman's Global Dinner.

Once he goes inside and we just saw him lands, he's literally coming in for this dinner. He's going to go back to New York tonight. His cabinet picks will be there, Vice President Mike Pence, his biggest donors will be there, and in a break with precedent, foreign diplomats, about 200 of them, will be attending this dinner tonight.

And as you can see coming in right now, now, what's interesting here about being in Washington with this motorcade coming, the city essentially going to shutting down over the next 24 hours for the inauguration. Road after road for motorcades like this. It looks like we lost our signal. So, when we get that back, we'll see if we see Trump jumped out of that car.

Trump, though, when he's having this dinner with the foreign diplomats, interesting time because he finds himself at odds with leaders around the world. There are some exceptions, but these 200 diplomats there with him tonight obviously are hoping for a lot of access given some of the slams he has put out against countries like China, obviously, Russia not among them. It will be interesting to see whether the Russian ambassador is at this dinner. We know others will be from the Middle East and others.

Jim Sciutto is OUTFRONT.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Tonight, Russian President Vladimir Putin dismissing allegations that the Kremlin has compromising personal and financial information on the president-elect.

[19:45:06] PRESIDENT VLADIMIR PUTIN, RUSSIA (through translator): What do you think? We have special security services running after every American billionaire? Of course not. It is complete nonsense. This is rubbish.

SCIUTTO: Even joking about some of the more salacious and substantiated details of such organization which is many news organizations including CNN have declined to report on in detail.

PUTIN: It is hard to believe he ran to a hotel to meet with our girls of a low social class -- although they are the best in the world.

SCIUTTO: And attacking those who prepared and published the dossier.

PUTIN: People who order false information and spread this information against the elected president who fabricate it and use it in a political fight, they are worse than prostitutes.

SCIUTTO: President Obama's spokesman took a parting shot in his final press briefing, to note that Putin's comments defending Trump's legitimacy echoed those of the president-elect.

JOSH EARNEST, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: First of all, it sounds like he got a copy of the talking points. Second -- REPORTER: From who?

EARNEST: Well, I don't know. It certainly sounds a lot like what the incoming administration's team is saying. But it is not the first time that the Russian president has called into question the veracity of the United States presidency.

SCIUTTO: Three days to his inauguration, the president-elect's rhetoric is unsettling U.S. allies and adversaries alike. China's President Xi Jinping apparently warning Mr. Trump.

XI JINPING, CHINESE PRESIDENT (through translator): No one will emerge as a winner in a trade war.

SCIUTTO: This after Trump has repeatedly vowed to get tough with China on trade.

DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENT-ELECT: They haven't played by the rules. And I know it's time that they're going to start. They're going to start. They've got to.

SCIUTTO: U.S. allies in Europe also pushing back. Germany expressing disbelief at Trump's dismissal of NATO as obsolete.

FRANK-WALTER STEINMEIER, GERMAN FOREIGN MINISTER (through translator): I just can't believe that an American administration would follow the thought process that Europe is not somehow important to the U.S. With a look at the history of the U.S., I just can't believe this.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SCIUTTO: I've spoken to a number of western diplomats from countries allied with the U.S. and principle reaction, the almost uniform reaction is confusion as to what exactly the U.S. policy is. One, President-elect Donald Trump, his public comments, a departure from decades of U.S. policy regarding NATO, Europe, et cetera, but also the contradiction between Donald Trump and many of his cabinet appointees. General Mattis, Rex Tillerson, and others again on issues such as Russia and NATO. Confusion. The truth is they don't know where the U.S. will head under a President Donald Trump -- Erin.

BURNETT: All right. Jim, thank you very much.

And breaking news right now, Senator Elizabeth Warren questioning the education secretary nominee Betsy DeVos. Let's listen in.

SEN. ELIZABETH WARREN (D-MA), HEALTH, EDUCATION, LABOR & PENSIONS COMMITTEE: I look forward to having a second round of questions.

SEN. LAMAR ALEXANDER (R-TN), HEALTH, EDUCATION, LABOR & PENSIONS CHAIRMAN: Thank you, Senator Warren.

Senator Collins?

SEN. SUSAN COLLINS (R-ME), HEALTH, EDUCATION, LABOR & PENSIONS COMMITTEE: Thank you, Mr. Chairman. I cannot help but think that if my friends on the other side of aisle

had used their time to ask questions rather than complaining about the lack of a second round, they each would have been able to get in a second question.

And I've just used 15 seconds of my time to make that point.

Mrs. DeVos, first of all, let me say that I have no doubt that you care deeply about the education of all children. And I say that despite the fact that you and I do not agree on all the issues. Given your lifelong work and commitment to education, any suggestion such as --

BURNETT: All right. That hearing going on right now. We're keeping an eye on it. Elizabeth Warren obviously was complaining about not having a second round. You heard what Senator Collins had to say about that.

This is a battle that Donald Trump has. Of course, Betsy DeVos, David. But also as you heard Jim Sciutto reporting, battles with other countries, battles with John Lewis. Lots of it going on right now.

Is this a sign of weakness or actually strength that nobody really know where is he stands or where he's going to come down, and so, therefore he has all the control?

GERGEN: I think it's sowing a lot of doubt in the minds of people overseas about where he's going. He seems erratic and his temperament is not one they're accustomed to.

But I think we saw something very, very important. We see -- there's a sense that -- not starting -- didn't start with Donald Trump but that he is pulling back American leadership from the global order. He wants to come back home.

You see that Europe is starting to unravel. E.U. is under a lot of pressure. Even NATO is under pressure now.

And symbolically, as the old world order is crumbling before our eyes, here today the president of China stepped forward into the breach, comes into a void --

[19:50:08] BURNETT: With a big speech, yes.

GERGEN: And this big speech in Davos. You normally go to the World Economic Forum sessions in Davos, and this is the first time the Chinese president is there, and he is asserting he is going to become the world's champion of economic globalization, that he is going to become the world's champion for climate change. And that America is a retreat. That's his argument.

And we are into a really interesting I think extraordinarily important time --

BURNETT: Extraordinarily, and world leaders were so critical of Barack Obama, because they said he wasn't present, he wasn't there on the world stage. Now, they're open to Trump, but in the sense, Trump's whole point is America first, make America great.

JAMIE GANGEL, CNN SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT: Right, as two Republicans said to me, one said hold on for the ride. I said, is this going to be okay? And this is a very senior Republican who backed Trump and said, quote, "I don't know." They really -- they said let's see what happens starting on Monday.

There's a tremendous anxiety about all of this and what's going to happen down the road with him.

(CROSSTALK)

BURNETT: Thank you all very much. We're going to take a break.

When come back, Lee Greenwood, the singer, going to be performing for his fourth president at Friday's inauguration. It was a decision he said was very easy for him. Next, his message to those who turned down the chance. He's my guest.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BURNETT: Tonight, Donald Trump is here in Washington. It's just three days, of course, before his inauguration, but his festivities and parties begin.

A new name added to the line up for Thursday's kickoff concert at the Lincoln Memorial. Sam Moore, known for the hit song "Soul Man".

He'll perform with Three Doors Down, Toby Keith and Lee Greenwood who, of course, will be seeing this classic.

(VIDEO CLIP PLAYS)

BURNETT: And Lee Greenwood is OUTFRONT with me now.

You have performed here for three different presidents. How will this inauguration, Donald Trump's, be different?

Trump's team, we've heard a lot about it. Some of these stars have not been shy about expressing this on social media, they haven't wanted to come here to perform. Why did you decide to sign on and do it?

LEE GREENWOOD, SINGER: You know, the institution of social media has really changed the environment. I think that maybe the only way, because when you look at the crowd, and you know that you're entertaining all of America, it's accidental that the president is sitting to your left, you walk out from the Lincoln Memorial, and there's like this moment, you know, this surreal moment. It's such an exciting time.

BURNETT: Now, we know, of course, Trump's team, you know, we've heard a lot about it, right? And some of these stars have not shy about expressing this on social media, right, that they haven't wanted to come here to perform. Why did you decide to sign on and do it?

GREENWOOD: I don't know how you could say no, Erin, you know, when you've been asked to come and sing in the capitol of the greatest country of the world and you get that opportunity, my gosh, if you were just somebody off the street and said -- would you like to come and sing at the Lincoln Memorial during the inauguration, they old probably jump at the chance. Well, I'm certainly not going to say no.

BURNETT: You know, some of them who have considered performing, announced they were going to perform or considered it, faced a lot of backlash. Jennifer Holliday, the most recent one. She was going to perform. Her fans got very upset and she dropped out citing that.

[19:55:04] She said her fans were angry.

Are you surprised at the backlash against some performers that they have received?

GREENWOOD: Well, maybe that's just their fan. I haven't received that in my fan base and I'm just -- you know, I don't know that anyone would bow down to social media that much to say it's going to make a difference because I'm just here to watch the president be elected, the transition of power in the greatest country in the world. I can't relate to that.

BURNETT: And for you, that's what it's about. As I say, you performed, this will be your fourth. It's about the transition of power. It's about the office. Not the president.

GREENWOOD: Yes, my song is not controversial. "God Bless the USA" is for all American citizens and I get to see the song I wrote.

BURNETT: And now, Democratic representatives are boycotting, as you know, of course, a lot of them are. But one of the reasons they've cited is Trump's treatment of women. There will be a women's march the day after the inauguration. One of them said, Trump has demonstrated profound disrespect of women, calls them pigs, another, he will turn back the clock on women.

Are they wrong on this issue?

GREENWOOD: I wish I knew more about it. I'm unfamiliar with that. I just know that my wife, Kim, worked for the Miss Universe Organization and has for 25 years. We went to New York and saw the office there. He employs a lot of women. He gives them total power and is respectful of the job they do.

So, I have seen it from a distance, but I don't know how he would ever treat a woman differently than he does those.

BURNETT: And in that, you've seen respect.

GREENWOOD: Yes, very much so.

BURNETT: All right. Well, thank you very much. I appreciate your time. GREENWOOD: Sure.

BURNETT: And good luck. Everyone, of course, around the world will be listening to you sing that wonderful song.

GREENWOOD: Thank you, Erin.

BURNETT: And we'll have more of our special inauguration coverage from Washington right after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BURNETT: And thanks so much for watching.

"AC360" starts right now.