Return to Transcripts main page


Inauguration Preparations. Aired 3-3:30p ET

Aired January 19, 2017 - 15:00   ET



DANA BASH, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: And that, to me, just sounds kind of perfect for Donald Trump, that he would want the best of the best.


BASH: There's a 16-year-old who is sing. She was made famous in "America 's Got Talent." She, of course, is a Guinness record holder as the youngest solo act in the U.S. with a top three album at age 10. Seems fitting.

TAPPER: Interesting, and also fitting that it's somebody from reality television that would get a nod.

Without question, Democrats tend to attract bigger stars when it comes to performances, but the performances here have produced something of a backlash when individual talent has said they will come and perform. There has been criticism of them.

Some performers have said they were going to perform, not necessarily supporting president-elect Trump and his politics, but supporting the institution of the presidency and supporting the peaceful transition of power. And there was a very strong and harsh backlash from liberals in the entertainment community and others and they withdrew their names.

We haven't seen that kind of thing in a long time.

BASH: That's right. And then the people who did agree to perform, like Piano Guys, for example, who are wonderful...

TAPPER: You followed them around one summer.


BASH: I did. I did. I did. But we're not going to talk about that. That's from my youth.

TAPPER: Selling grilled cheese sandwiches.

BASH: Sure.

But they and other groups that are performing felt the need to release statements explaining themselves, which we haven't seen before, talking about the fact that this is an American tradition, an American -- critical part of American democracy and why wouldn't they participate in that no matter what is going to be inaugurated?

TAPPER: Let's go to CNN's Barbara Starr right now. We're going to go to talk about the laying of the wreath with Donald Trump, president- elect Donald Trump, and vice president-elect Mike Pence -- Barbara.

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Jake and Dana, that's going to happen a short distance from you across the river up the hill across the Potomac River.

This is the beginning of seeing the very somber elements of being commander in chief begin to assemble around Donald Trump. Nothing is more somber than going to Arlington Cemetery, where tens of thousands of Americans' veterans from America's wars over 200 years-plus have been laid to rest.

He and the vice president-elect will lay a -- Tomb of the Unknown. There are the remains of unknown soldiers dating back to World War I, almost 100 years there. There will be a very solemn ceremony.

As you look at those pictures, those who live in Washington or have visited Arlington from across the country know that U.S. soldiers stand guard at the tomb 24 hours a day in all kind of weather. If there's a winter blizzard in Washington, you will find them out there honoring the nation's fallen.

And this location at Arlington is also interesting, because he will be just up the hill from Section 60, where dozens and dozens of America's fallen from the war in Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as other conflicts, are laid to rest.

What we have seen today is the beginning of the assembly of these elements of being in commander in chief begin to arrive really right in front of Mr. Trump. It began this morning. He got on a U.S. Air Force military aircraft to arrive in Washington. He is here at Arlington, very somber.

And tomorrow when he's on the stand at the nation's capital, he will have the nuclear football close by. If there's a crisis, he will have all elements of being commander in chief.

TAPPER: Barbara Starr, thank you so much.

And of course there's nothing more serious in terms of the role of being president than keeping this nation and its people safe, a reminder as the president-elect and vice president-elect go to the Tomb of Unknowns of that solemn responsibility -- back to you, Wolf.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Guys, we're going to continue to watch.

We're standing by over at Blair House, the official residence, official guest house for visitors of the president across the street from the White House. You're looking at live pictures.

Momentarily, the president-elect and his family, the entire entourage, they will be leaving the Blair House, and we will have live pictures for our viewers. They will be heading over to Arlington National Cemetery for this wreath laying ceremony. We will have coverage of that.

In the meantime, I want to bring in our panel. And we have a really good panel to assess what we have heard today.

And, David Gregory, we have heard, what, almost five hours of testimony from the secretary of the treasury nominee, Steve Mnuchin. He was asked some tough questions, but, by and large, he seemed to handle himself pretty well.


He pushed back on areas where Democrats came at him hard about his personal holdings, his personal wealth, things that he didn't initially disclose, the issue of his role in the subprime mortgage fiasco that was such a major topic as President Obama was coming into office and as somebody who was at Goldman Sachs some 15 years ago.


He also owned a company called IndyMac that was involved in purchasing subprime loans. There's a lot of self-righteousness around the issue of the subprime market. Nobody has really got a monopoly on that. Certainly those who were in the financial industry were culpable. And there's a lot of different views on Capitol Hill about who should have been villainized on all of that.

He kind of caught all that incoming fire and had to deal with issues like China, the debt, the debt ceiling and taxes. He becomes a very key appointment by Donald Trump, by president-elect Trump. And he's held up pretty well under a lot of fire still coming.

BLITZER: Do you agree, Matt? How did he do?


I think the problem for Democrats who are hoping to score political points is that with most of these it's really a tale of two nominees. It's a he said, she said. So either Steve Mnuchin is a guy who kind of raided businesses and kind of got people when they were vulnerable and took advantage of them or he's a guy that stepped up and bought failing banks during a financial crisis, rebuilt them and helped them thrive.

That's a heroic version. And the question is, which version will we end up with at the end of the hearing?

BLITZER: And the other thing that is going on now, we are going to see the first inauguration event. This will be somber, in contrast to the concert at the Lincoln Memorial, this wreath laying ceremony for service members who have died without their remains being identified.

It's always such a moving moment. And we will see the president- elect, the vice president-elect at Arlington National Cemetery for the ceremony, the first official inauguration event.


He's been such an unorthodox candidate starting in June of 2015 and then running up into being a very unorthodox president-elect even, tweeting all the time and doing things really I think that have set people on edge.

Oftentimes, in Washington, we're used to establishment Washington. So here he is entering into this moment which has the trappings of the establishment. This is a president-elect who basically is just going to go through all the very standard procedures here and very standard rituals.

And I think the hope for a lot of people is this will bring people together, this is a real moment for the country, the peaceful transfer of power, and we will get to see Trump in a way we haven't seen him so far.

GREGORY: It's also really one of the first time that the president- elect, where it really starts to dawn on him that he is going to become the president, that he's becoming commander in chief of our armed forces.

That has got to be an awesome moment for anyone. And as he thinks about all the enthusiasm in the country for him in the military and otherwise, this becomes a proud moment, but no doubt a humbling moment.

BLITZER: Tim Naftali is with us, our CNN presidential historian.

Tim, we saw a little bit of that at Joint Base Andrews, when he arrived on the U.S. Air Force jet and the military was there to receive him as the incoming commander in chief, but now this will be more formal.

TIM NAFTALI, CNN PRESIDENTIAL HISTORIAN: One thing that we have seen, Wolf, with presidents-elect who have not had military service or have not been associated with military, the military, is that it's very important for them early on to establish a connection.

President-elect Obama, for example, also paid a visit to Arlington during the day before the election -- before the inauguration. It's very important to send a signal that they understand the seriousness of being commander in chief. It's not a matter of spectacle or performance.

It's a matter of lives and security. It's extremely important and I would say a good choice on the part of president-elect Trump that he and the vice president-elect are going to Arlington today.

BLITZER: But this is something that's traditional. All incoming presidents usually make an appearance there, is that right?

NAFTALI: Some have not.

BLITZER: Really?

NAFTALI: No, some have not. It was very important for president- elect Obama not only go to Arlington, but to also visit some of the wounded warriors, to send the signal that the country was at war, that he was a war president, too, that he was succeeding another war president.

It's extraordinarily important. The symbolism -- everyone should be watching the symbolism in the next two days. Not only is power passing, but in a sense the personification of the American presidency is changing, and Donald Trump will change it, but there's much that he cannot change. It's tradition.


BLITZER: And this will be an event not just for the president-elect, the vice president-elect, but for their respective families as well. They will be included.


As Tim said, there's so much symbolism in these two days, especially for the first lady. We're all waiting to see what kind of a role she's going to play and how she's going to use the symbolism of her position to express really the emotional tenor of the private side of the White House.

BLITZER: What are you going to be looking for?

EMILY JANE FOX, "VANITY FAIR": You also get to see your first look at the first children. And the children have already been posting a number of photos as they've arrived in Washington and over the last couple of days as they have said goodbye to their lives in New York as well.

We have seen Ivanka post a photo of her arriving here in Washington with her children in tow, and Donald Trump Jr. also posted a picture with his wife and his children. And I think this is a really humbling moment for them as well. This is something they never thought they would get to do. And they really seem to be taking it in and appreciating what they are getting to witness.

BLITZER: It's going to be an emotional moment for all them.

By the way, I think the family is getting ready to leave the Blair House right now across the street from the White House near Lafayette Park. We will show our viewers some live pictures coming in from Blair House. They will be getting into the motorcade. It's a pretty quick drive across the Potomac River from the White House, from Blair House over to Arlington National Cemetery.

Dana, this is a moment I suspect the president-elect is really looking forward to, the actual beginning of the formal inauguration events.

BASH: Oh, no question about it. Looking forward to it, I would imagine, as any human would, has trepidation, because Donald Trump started this out on a lark, and look at where he is. He is about to be the 45th president of the United States. Kind of remarkable.

And as your panel is saying, just the awesome weight of having -- there you go. He's in the doorway way at the Blair House.


TAPPER: The Blair House across the street from the White House.

BASH: So he's going to be getting in the car at the Blair House, as Jake said, across the street from the White House, and is going to be making his way to Arlington National Cemetery, certainly not something that Donald Trump ever thought for certainly the first several decades of his life, as a real estate magnate and then a reality TV star, that he would actually be doing, don't you think, Jake?

TAPPER: No, I agree.

And the weight of the office has a way of changing a person. Many former presidents have talked about the moment when they really realize, when it really hits them how much responsibility they have. Oftentimes, it's after they win and they have that first security briefing as the president-elect and really hear about everything going on, all the threats to the nation, 99 percent of which most of us never know about, never hear about.

As is often said, the security apparatus of this country has silent successes. We don't hear about their successes, only their failures. And the weight of that is immense.

It was eight years ago, and we didn't learn about this until much later, that the national security apparatus was really worried about a threat to the Obama inaugural in 2009. And hopefully, thankfully, we don't know of anything like that going on now, but the office and the responsibility just has a way of changing people. There's a reason why presidents in eight years age about 30 years.

BASH: And their hair gets quite gray.


TAPPER: If they still have it by the end of the...

BASH: I don't think that's going to happen this time, the gray hair.

TAPPER: Who knows. Who knows. We're off the map here. It's a whole new era -- Wolf.

BLITZER: The president-elect getting ready to leave the Blair House and he's going to be staying overnight at Blair House, the official residence for guests of the president.

Tomorrow night, he will be staying in the White House and he will be president of the United States, together with his family. Quite a difference. Blair House is very impressive, but the White House clearly a lot more impressive. David Gregory, you have often taken that drive from -- yes, here he

comes out. There's the president, Melania Trump, walking out. He looks like he's pretty happy over there and deeply appreciative of the symbolism of what's about to happen.

He's going to go to the Arlington National Ceremony for the wreath laying ceremony at the Tomb of the Unknowns.

And, Jake, afterwards, he's going to cross the Memorial Bridge and come to where you are a very short drive over to the Lincoln Memorial for a very different event, this concert that's been put together. It is going to be a couple of hours. And I take it at the end of the concert, Jake, the president-elect will actually speak.

TAPPER: That's right, Wolf. We are told the president-elect will speak.

There are obviously a lot of performers here. This inaugural concert, the Make America Great Again Welcome Celebration, has been somewhat controversial in the entertainment community. I don't think I am talking out of school to say that.


But there are some headliners, including Toby Keith, including Lee Greenwood, who will be performing, as well as the Piano Guys and 3 Doors Down, some others.

And we're told Jon Voight will be here as well, the Hollywood actor, not the dentist. The Hollywood actor Jon Voight, will be here, a strong supporter of Donald Trump. And then, of course, the headliner, I suppose it's fair to say, is actually president-elect Donald Trump, who will address the crowd which is starting to gather here.

And we're here at the Lincoln Memorial and the crowd extends and will extend all the way down to the Washington Monument.

BASH: And the people really have gathered, at least coming in, talked to people from Colorado, from Florida. There are certainly VIPs who get the goods seats up there, but there are those who clearly were Trump voters, supporters and wanted to come and be a part of this historic event.


TAPPER: And in fact, as you know, Wolf, we've just seen and just confirmed that Woody Johnson, the owner of the New York Jets, is here. And president-elect Trump will be naming him to be the ambassador to the Court of Saint James, to be the ambassador to the United Kingdom.

So that's one of the supporters here who has been honored in a distinct way, perhaps in a way following in to footsteps of Dan Rooney, whom Obama named, Dan Rooney, the owner of the Steelers, whom Obama named to be ambassador to Ireland -- Wolf.

BLITZER: We saw Michael Flynn, the three-star retired general, the president's national security adviser, also walk down those stairs at the Blair House getting ready for this event.

Michael Flynn, former head of the Defense Intelligence Agency, he will be the president's national security adviser.

Barbara Starr, you have some thoughts on what we're about to see.

STARR: Wolf, as we have discussed, we are seeing all the elements of being commander in chief assemble, beginning to assemble around Mr. Trump.

As they were walking down the steps of Blair House, one of the things that became very apparent, there was a young man in a military uniform at the rear of that line. He had a rope on his shoulder like this, and it's usually a signal in a military uniform that that person might be a military aide to the president-elect.

I'm not sure we have seen that yet, perhaps another sign of military protocol being extended to Mr. Trump and the beginning of what we have been talking about here, all the elements, the very somber elements of being commander in chief beginning to assemble around the president- elect, as we said, the plane he came to Washington on, and very much where he is going now, just steps from where we will be at the Tomb of the Unknown.

Hundreds if not more troops who have fallen in recent wars, especially Afghanistan and Iraq, have been laid to rest. Arlington is perhaps the most highly visited memorial in Washington, D.C., by Americans who visit Washington from across the country.

It's a remarkable place, as all of you know better than me. Millions of people have visited President Kennedy's burial site just steps from where Mr. Trump will be. And the Tomb of the Unknown, where he will lay a wreath, that is so representative of so many presidents.

It is nearly 100 years old. It dates back to World War I, where the remains of the unknown are buried. The military refers to the unknowns as those known only to God because years ago they didn't have DNA, people fell on the battlefield, they could never be identified, they could never be returned to their loved ones.

It's one of the most somber moments in military protocol. And one of the things we know is that before that wreath is laid, military personnel will brief Mr. Trump and brief Mr. Pence on military protocol and they will make sure everything goes smoothly for both of them, Wolf.

BLITZER: We're watching the president-elect's motorcade. The vice president-elect is there, their families, their friends. They are driving through the streets of Washington. They will cross the Potomac River into Virginia. They will go to Arlington National Cemetery.

We are standing by for the first official inauguration event of president-elect Donald Trump. Stay here. He is now in Washington. We will take a quick break. We will be right back.



BLITZER: President-elect Trump, his motorcade arriving over at the Lincoln Memorial -- excuse me -- at the Arlington National Cemetery, and he will going to the Lincoln Memorial from there for a concert, a Make America Great Again Welcome Celebration, as they're calling it, but first this much more somber ceremony at the Tomb of the Unknown at the Arlington National Cemetery, the monument dedicated to the U.S. service members who have died without their remains being identified.

This is the first official inauguration event on the president-elect's schedule.

Tim Naftali, our presidential historian, is with us.

This is history unfolding right now. In only a matter of hours, tomorrow, Donald Trump is going to be the 45th president of the United States, and as we pointed out, he won't be staying at Blair House across the street from the White House. He will be in the White House.

NAFTALI: I think it's important for all Americans and anyone else watching around the world to keep in mind the American presidency is very unusual.

It combines three positions oftentimes separated in other countries, commander in chief, head of state, and head of government, all three things in one person. For different American presidents, one of those titles is easier to handle than others.


We are going to be able to watch today and tomorrow how Donald Trump in his serious moments how he's handling those three huge responsibilities. Going to Arlington is his first major act, though he's not yet president, as the future commander in chief.

It's a major moment. Watch how he acts. Look at his facial expressions. Look at his stature, look at his poise. He's going to be doing this a number of times, Memorial Day. He's going to be doing it again and again, but this is the first time. And the first time sets precedence. It's an important day.

BLITZER: There's nothing more important for a president of the United States than being commander in chief, because that president, that commander in chief will have the lives at stake for so many military personal. The security -- the national security of the country will be in his hands.

NAFTALI: Well, keep in mine, people talk about who is ready to be president, actually, only presidents are ready to be president. There's no deputy job that prepares you for it.

Being vice president is the same. You're not in the line of command. So, tomorrow, at noon, he's going to be responsible for everybody, not simply our security, but everybody in the U.S. military. He becomes their commander in chief.

It's an awesome responsibility. And if we want to know one of the reasons why people age in this job, in this very dangerous world, that's the reason.

BLITZER: Take a look at pictures of President Obama eight years ago, four years ago and today. He clearly has aged with that enormous responsibility.

HENDERSON: Obama famously, because he wanted to get the symbolism of the military just right and convey the respect and honor, he famously practiced the salute privately, so that he could have get it just right.

And we will see today. I don't know if Donald Trump will salute at all, but that's one of kind of the gestures and the elements on the symbolism that is important to this role you're talking about, commander in chief.

BLITZER: He did salute the troops when he landed at Joint Base Andrews, David Gregory, when he got there, when walked off that U.S. Air Force jet, no longer flying Trump Airlines. He's flying a U.S. military plane.

And as of tomorrow at noon, he will be flaying on Air Force One, which is clearly the mark of the presidency, if you will, so he has to get ready for this new assignment.

GREGORY: He does. And it's humbling and it's awesome for those of us -- you fly on Air Force One, you realize what a big deal that is if you're covering the presidency.

Wolf, as you have covered presidents, I don't know any president who has come into office who isn't so taken aback by that moment of realizing what it means to have all that power vested in you, as Tim was saying, to be the commander in chief.

And it also comes at a time when Donald Trump is, as he takes office, a wartime president, troops committed in Afghanistan, some additional troops committed Iraq, but also at a time when he campaigned rethinking what America's role should be in the world, how power should be projected around the world, and in many ways has hearkened back to a pre-World War II time, when American power was used by differently.

This was a Senate that never actually ratified the Versailles Treaty, that was staunchly isolationist in the run-up, in the beginning of World War II. He hearkens back to that time in national security. He's going to figure all of this out, even as he looks at a threat matrix that really is very difficult for America, country challenging time.

BLITZER: Matt Lewis, as the president-elect, soon to be president of the United States, he's already receiving these military briefings. He's got to obey certain military protocols as the president-elect at this event at the ceremony at the Tomb of the Unknowns. LEWIS: That's right.

All of a sudden, things become much more serious. His words have even greater implications than they've always had. I would say, I think one of the things that's really kind of grand about this is, this year has been really crazy for those of us who follow politics and cover politics.

And there have been a lot of unprecedented things and things that in the olden days might have been not done. But this is time to get back to some pomp and circumstance, some of the tradition. And we're seeing that with Donald Trump.

Here is a guy who tweets, but yet he is now going to be observing these traditions and this protocol today. I think that's very special and I think it's a time to come together.

BLITZER: Kate, you spent a lot of time studying the families and the new responsibilities they're going to have, not only the spouse, but the kids, the grandkids as well.


It's interesting, because it's been reported obviously that Ivanka is going to have an office in the East Wing, which is traditionally the first lady's office. But even just today and tomorrow on this stage, taking these first steps in this very traditional ceremony, they are a tableau of our nation. And we're looking at them.

I think it was Oleg Cassini, who designed for Jackie Kennedy, who said, he imagined her as if she was in a movie. And, of course, he was a costume designer for Paramount.

But it's almost like they're in this tableau and they -- and we're looking at this extended family, really, which