Return to Transcripts main page

CNN NEWSROOM

WaPo Releases Audio Of Trump Demanding Georgia Officials Find Votes To Tilt Election; 117th Congress Being Sworn In Today; Donald Trump Calls U.S. Death Toll Of 350,000 Fake News As Families Mourn. Aired 3-4p ET

Aired January 3, 2021 - 15:00   ET

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


JAIME HARRISON (D), FORMER SENATORIAL CANDIDATE IN SOUTH CAROLINA: I mean, this is problematic and we can't just say, oh, well, that's just Donald Trump. No, we don't allow this type of stuff to happen in America and we can't allow folks to try to overthrow our government in this way.

FREDRICKA WHITFIELD, CNN HOST: All right. Jamie Harrison, thank you so much for joining us. I know you are stumping on behalf of Jon Ossoff, and also collectively, Reverend Raphael Warnock.

We're just two days away from this runoff election and quickly before I let you go, while we have tried to reach out to Republican Senators Loeffler and Purdue, they have declined to join us for an interview. I wonder, are you excited? Are you feeling excitement? Or are you feeling in any way a nervousness just two days ahead of this runoff election?

HARRISON: Well, I'm always nervous about runoff elections, but I can tell you, Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff are the best among us. They are running amazing campaigns. They've gotten early vote out, three million early voters, but they've just got to keep up that momentum.

And that's why we need people to go to the polls like their lives depended on it on Tuesday, because it really does.

We need them to go out and support Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock because they are going to bring the type of dignity we need back to the United States Senate.

WHITFIELD: All right, Jamie Harrison, now leading up the dirt road PAC, not super PAC, but dirt road PAC, following your defeat of the U.S. Senate race in South Carolina.

Thanks so much for being with us. Appreciate it.

HARRISON: Thank you.

[15:01:42]

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

WHITFIELD: Hello again, everyone. Thank you so much for joining me. I'm Fredricka Whitfield. Major breaking news this hour, a remarkable conversation caught on audio tape, including these words, "find votes," that from the President of the United States.

"The Washington Post" this afternoon publishing audio -- a portion of an hour-long phone call between the President and Georgia's Republican Secretary of State. And in it, President Trump issues threats and asks the Secretary of State to side against truth and voters by recalculating the November results.

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We have won this election in Georgia based on all of this, and this -- there's nothing wrong with saying that Brad. You know, I mean, having -- having a correct -- the people of Georgia are angry and these numbers are going to be repeated on Monday night, along with others that we're going to have by that time, which are much more substantially but -- and the people of Georgia are angry, the people of the country are angry and there's nothing wrong with saying that, you know, that you've recalculated.

BRAD RAFFENSPERGER, GEORGIA SECRETARY OF STATE: Well, Mr. President, the challenge that you have is the data you have is wrong.

TRUMP: Now, do you think it's possible that they shredded ballots in Fulton County? Because that's what the rumor is, and also that Dominion took out machines, that Dominion is really moving fast to get rid of their machinery. Do you know anything about that? Because that's illegal.

RYAN GERMANY, COUNSEL FOR GEORGIA'S SECRETARY OF STATE: Ryan Germany. No. Dominion has not moved any machinery out of Fulton County.

TRUMP: But have they moved? Have they -- have they moved the inner parts of the machines and replaced them with other parts?

GERMANY: No.

TRUMP: You sure, Ryan?

GERMANY: I'm sure.

TRUMP: You should want to have an accurate election. And you're a Republican.

RAFFENSPERGER: We believe that we do have an accurate election.

TRUMP: No, no, you don't. No, no. No, you don't. You don't have. You don't have. Not even close. You've got -- you're off by hundreds of thousands of votes.

You know what they did and you're not reporting it. That's it. You know, that's a criminal -- that's a criminal offense. And, and you know, you can't let that happen. That's -- that's a big risk to you and to Ryan, your lawyer, that's a big risk.

But they are shredding ballots, in my opinion, based on what I've heard, and they are removing machinery and they are moving it as fast as they can. Both of which are criminal finds and you can't let it happen and you are letting it happen.

(END AUDIO CLIP)

WHITFIELD: All right. Extraordinary to hear all of that. Let's bring in CNN's Kyung Lah in Savannah, Georgia and CNN's John Harwood at the White House. John, the White House? Any response now coming from the White House?

JOHN HARWOOD, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: No, we haven't gotten any response. But honestly, Fred, it's hard to imagine what they could say that would matter at all.

We have the President of the United States on the tape. The White House Chief of Staff was also on that call, and what we're seeing in this process given the way Republicans have lined up behind President Trump is we're having a reframing of the difference between the two parties in the country and it's up to Republicans whether they want to tolerate that.

[15:05:09]

HARWOOD: We're used to thinking of the difference between Republicans and Democrats being on a spectrum between conservative to liberal. What we've got now is a spectrum, which is lies versus truth, which is insane versus sane, which is authoritarian versus democratic, un- American versus American.

You know, a lot of talk from the Republican Party about the original intent of the framers. The original intent of the framers was that the people of the United States were sovereign, and what we see from this President on this tape, in crystal clear terms, is he is leaning on someone of his party on the basis of the fact that the person is of his party, and pressuring him to change election results. It doesn't get any clearer than that -- Fred.

WHITFIELD: Right, he says, you know, and you're a Republican. And you know, when he says, and it would be criminal. You know, it's criminal for -- and a risk for you and your attorney.

So it's not only trying to change the facts, twist the arms, but I mean, I don't know if you want to call it a veiled threat, if not, it's just a threat to say it would be a risk to you and your attorney.

HARWOOD: It's a straight up threat.

WHITFIELD: Yes.

HARWOOD: And look, this is a President. Remember, the President is somebody who from his 2016 campaign has always allowed a backdrop of the use of force to be part of his conversation.

Remember those 2016 rallies where he talked about protesters there and said, I'd like to smack that guy in the face. We have seen him as President talking about law enforcement officers suggesting that they rough up criminal suspects. Part of that call was the President was saying, the people of Georgia are angry. The people of America are angry.

The reality is, Donald Trump is angry about what's happened. He has riled up many of his supporters, there is a threat of violence in the air. We've seen some sporadic violence pop up since the election, not a lot and that's been a blessing thing.

But this is a President, when he says you're taking a big risk, there is meaning behind those statements and it's a dangerous meaning for an American President to be suggesting.

WHITFIELD: And the President also is encouraging his supporters, people to flood the streets of Washington, D.C. this Wednesday on the very day that on Capitol Hill, lawmakers will either vote to certify the election or in his hopes, not, and we already know that there are 12 senators who say they will not.

Kyung Lah, you're there in Savannah, Georgia. So any comments coming from other Georgia officials? We know that the Secretary of State tweeted, almost signposting that something like this recording was coming out by saying the truth will come out and we just heard a lot of that truth.

KYUNG LAH, CNN SENIOR NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, I mean, we haven't heard anything from the Secretary of State since that tweet and that tweet was several hours before "The Washington Post" published this audio, that remarkable phone call between the President and the Secretary of State.

And perhaps what's most remarkable about it here from the perspective of Georgians who are heading to the polls on Tuesday, is that the Republican Secretary of State defied this Republican President.

We have reached out to Senators Kelly Loeffler and to David Perdue. Their campaigns have not heard back yet. They have been unwilling -- and throughout this campaign -- to defy what the President has said. They've had to do this high wire dance of trying to make sure that they do not displeasure this President because they need his supporters to come out on Tuesday.

So what we've seen them do over and over again is to walk right behind the President and try to avoid these giant landmines that he is throwing in their way.

Just today, we heard Senator Perdue from his home where he is quarantined because he came in contact with a COVID positive person on the campaign trail. We heard that senator say that he was encouraging and supporting his Senate colleagues to follow the President on the stick and do the President's bidding, and encouraged them to stand up and not support the voters, and that's essentially what he was saying.

And so it would be more newsworthy and more remarkable, Fredricka, if these Republican senators were to actually not follow the President. Right now, it is radio silence. We have not heard from those campaigns. We understand that the Democrats are trying to figure out what their response is going to be. But even the Democrats here in the state who have really gotten used

to seeing some incredible stuff out of this President were quite flabbergasted to hear this audio because it is just extraordinary -- Fredricka.

[15:10:08]

WHITFIELD: Yes. We know you're right close to that audio. We appreciate you doing a great job trying to get through it there ahead of the Democrats who are campaigning there and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris will be there in Savannah, too, stumping for these Democrats just ahead of the Senate runoff elections.

Kyung Lah and John Hardwood, thank you so much.

Joining me right now, CNN Political Analyst Carl Bernstein. He is the reporter who helped break the Watergate story in the early 70s. Carl, I mean, is this deja vu for you to hear this kind of audio tape of the President of the United States, a sitting President, who is trying to change the truth, who is trying to instigate overturning of election results in Georgia.

CARL BERNSTEIN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: It's not deja vu. This is something far worse than occurred in Watergate. We have both a criminal President of the United States in Donald Trump and a subversive President of the United States, at the same time in this one person, subverting the very basis of our democracy, and willing to act criminally in that subversion.

But more important, what we hear on this tape, this is the ultimate smoking gun tape. It is the tape with the evidence of what this President is willing to do to undermine the electoral system, and illegally, improperly and immorally try to instigate a coup in which he remains the President of the United States.

And in any other presidency -- any other presidency -- this tape would be evidence enough to result in the impeachment of the President of the United States, his conviction in the Senate of the United States, and really an immediate call by the Members of Congress, including of his own party that he resign immediately. That's really what we ought to be hearing from Republicans at this moment.

Mr. President, resign, leave the White House, this is unconscionable. It is wrong. And we, of your party, will not permit it and we're not going to hear that -- we might from a few Republicans -- but that's what's really called for here, and the one thing we should recall from Watergate is that the heroes of Watergate were Republicans who would not tolerate Richard Nixon's conduct.

WHITFIELD: And then, to a parallel then, perhaps a hero here would be your Georgia Secretary of State, Brad Raffensperger, who is willing to stand up to. You listen to this audio recording, he is standing up to the President saying, no, Mr. President, you know, our numbers, say this; your numbers might be different. And then you go to the court and the courts have already seen fit, that our numbers are correct. But the President continues on the tape defiant and he threatens the

Secretary of State and the attorney saying point blank, it would be a great risk to you, you know, to do something other than what I'm instructing.

BERNSTEIN: First of all, your implication is absolutely correct. This is a threat, a real threat, but not just for some general purpose, but a very specific criminal purpose. For the Secretary of State to come up with a certain number of votes plus one to deliver illegally an election to the President of the United States.

We've never had a tape like this before, including the Nixon tapes. But as the heroes, yes, the Secretary of State in Georgia is a hero, but so are hundreds of other election officials and state officials who have done their job, counted the ballots, stuck with it despite threats, including to their safety and health. We've had a lot of heroes here.

Where we have not had heroes is in the Senate in the United States, particularly Republican members of the Senate of the United States, except for a few who have been craven in refusing to condemn this kind of conduct by an out of control President of the United States and the real disgrace in the House of Representatives, more than 140, probably a majority of the Republicans in the House willing to promulgate and continue this idea despite the evidence of upending a legal proper election in which the evidence is clear. The results are clear.

This is fantasy. It's not delusion, because they know what they're doing. And the question really is, as some real leader of the Republican Party, Liz Cheney has done and I hope she continues to, but is there a leader in the Senate? Could McConnell? Miracle. No, I doubt it -- get up and say, now, Mr. President, you have gone too far. That would put somewhat -- not an end, but would certainly curtail some of the craziness and the outrages that we are seeing from the Republican Party.

[15:15:06]

BERNSTEIN: And also in the long run -- look, I don't have a crystal ball, but I would think that the Republican Party that this presidency and particularly it's end and supporting what this President is doing in the final days of his presidency, may be the end of the Republican Party as we know it as a constructive decent force in our politics in this country.

And all of these Republicans from Cruz, all the rest of them who have participated in this sham really ought to be made to pay by history as should their party. This is not some kind of forgivable act. This is not about two simple equal sides of an equation. There are no two sides to this question.

This is about democracy, fundamental principle and the astonishing thing is to see one of the parties, one of the great political parties, the party of Lincoln, the party of Eisenhower, et cetera, et cetera, what was also for a while the party of McCarthy; and now we have a first -- for the first time, a President of the United States who has exceeded McCarthy in his authoritarianism and his disrespect for the Constitution, the rule of law and the Republican Party of our time, with McConnell's leadership, with McCarthy's leadership has gone along with it to their disgrace.

WHITFIELD: So Carl Bernstein, stick around. I also want you to be thinking about what the next 17 days might be looking like before inauguration of the next President of the United States. We're going to take a short break for now, and we'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WHITFIELD: All right, this staggering breaking news right now, the President of the United States, sitting President caught on tape trying to pressure the Georgia Secretary of State into inventing votes out of thin air and tilting the 2020 election and using the Georgia Senate races as a reason to do so. Take a listen.

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We have won this election in Georgia based on all of this, and this -- there's nothing wrong with saying that Brad. You know, I mean, having -- having a correct -- the people of Georgia are angry and these numbers are going to be repeated on Monday night, along with others that we're going to have by that time, which are much more substantially but -- and the people of Georgia are angry, the people of the country are angry and there's nothing wrong with saying that, you know, that you've recalculated.

BRAD RAFFENSPERGER, GEORGIA SECRETARY OF STATE: Well, Mr. President, the challenge that you have is the data you have is wrong.

[15:20:10]

TRUMP: Now, do you think it's possible that they shredded ballots in Fulton County? Because that's what the rumor is, and also that Dominion took out machines, that Dominion is really moving fast to get rid of their machinery. Do you know anything about that? Because that's illegal.

RYAN GERMANY, COUNSEL FOR GEORGIA'S SECRETARY OF STATE: Ryan Germany. No. Dominion has not moved any machinery out of Fulton County.

TRUMP: But have they moved? Have they -- have they moved the inner parts of the machines and replaced them with other parts?

GERMANY: No.

TRUMP: You sure, Ryan?

GERMANY: I'm sure.

TRUMP: You should want to have an accurate election. And you're a Republican.

RAFFENSPERGER: We believe that we do have an accurate election. TRUMP: No, no, you don't. No, no. No, you don't. You don't have. You

don't have. Not even close. You've got -- you're off by hundreds of thousands of votes.

You know what they did and you're not reporting it. That's it. You know, that's a criminal -- that's a criminal offense. And, and you know, you can't let that happen. That's -- that's a big risk to you and to Ryan, your lawyer, that's a big risk.

But they are shredding ballots, in my opinion, based on what I've heard, and they are removing machinery and they are moving it as fast as they can. Both of which are criminal finds and you can't let it happen and you are letting it happen.

(END AUDIO CLIP)

WHITFIELD: All right, let's talk about this. Joining me right now, again, CNN political analyst, Carl Bernstein back with us. He is a reporter who helped to break the Watergate story while at "The Washington Post."

Also joining me Alexandra Rojas. She is the Executive Director for Justice Democrats; former Republican Congressman Charlie Dent; and Democratic strategist, Hilary Rosen. Good to see all of you. Charlie Dent, you first.

You know, you're the one Republican here. You have not -- we have not heard from your Republican cohorts throughout Washington on a response of what we're hearing from the President. He's making inferences that are wrong. He is then corrected by the Secretary of State, and then he is accusatory and then downright threatening. Your thoughts?

CHARLIE DENT, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, I think what Carl Bernstein said earlier, the President should resign over this -- over this call. I mean, this is beyond the fence. This is grotesque. It's an obscenity. This is a frontal assault on representative government and democracy.

I do think that Brad Raffensperger and Ryan Germany should take the tape of that call and refer it to the Georgia Attorney General and to the U.S. Department of Justice.

I can't imagine that had a Member of Congress done something like this, tried to change an outcome of an election, apparently criminally that the Department of Justice would not be, you know, crawling up their backsides over this. I mean, this is just beyond -- well beyond the pale.

We've seen things like this before with the Ukraine tape, but this is an extortion attempt as far as I'm concerned. I would urge any Republican congressman right now who is going to be part of this suicide mission to not certify the electoral vote on Wednesday to run away from that initiative right now because this is going to end badly.

And it's just -- it's just so shameful. I mean, Abraham Lincoln and Dwight Eisenhower and Ronald Reagan must be turning over in their graves watching this happen to the party.

WHITFIELD: So Charlie, that Ukraine call, I mean, the President -- recall, even as incriminating as it was, he called it the perfect call. The expectation is he is going to defend this one as well, and won't it be easy for him to defend this call if those Republicans who have already said that they will be defying certifying the election come Wednesday, if they continue to dig in their heels and say the President is right.

What impetus does the President have to resign or to even say anything was inappropriate about this call?

DENT: Well, he won't -- he won't do the right thing, we all know that. But I think what's most important now for Republican elected officials, to stand up and speak up, because right now, Republican voters need to hear an alternative narrative to what the President is spewing and his Confederates who are out there, you know, propagating this myth, all this about this election fraud, which didn't occur. They need to stand up and simply tell the truth.

WHITFIELD: Is it embarrassing? Is it shameful to you, particularly among Republicans who will not, you know, be critical of the President and call it like they see it right now?

DENT: Well, it's very upsetting to me, and I think that they should be -- Fredricka, there's simply no excuse for the President. He is not only -- he is undermining the elections of all these Republican candidates around the country who did very well. They won. They did not win fraudulently.

How could an election be stolen for President, but not for the down ballot races? If you're going to steal an election, you're going to steal everything, not just the top of the ticket.

So I mean, by continuing this obsession of the President to, you know, demean the election outcome, he is actually the meaning the election results of all these Republican candidates who were successful several weeks ago.

WHITFIELD: Hilary, the President has been emboldened, right? I mean, particularly when you have Republicans who say, come Wednesday, they are not going to certify the election. The President was bold enough to make this or at least the phone call, as we know happened yesterday. We're just now hearing portions of the recording being released by "The Washington Post."

[15:25:39]

WHITFIELD: So he feels like he has the momentum. He has some momentum to try to overturn the election with just 18 days to go before the swearing in of the next President.

HILARY ROSEN, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Look, I think this is showing some divisions in the Republican Party at a really opportune time. You know, Brad Raffensperger, he is not some liberal, like, he is no hero of mine, and Alex Rojas. You know, he has been somebody who has actually tried to limit voting in black communities. He has tried to purge voters from the rolls.

I mean, he is a solid, conservative Republican standing up for the President. That's what makes this so significant. And I think doing it now, the timing of this call, the timing of this action, you know, just a couple of days before the fate of the Senate is in Georgia's hands, means that the President is disrupting the entire Republican Party of Georgia, disrupting the entire Republican Party of the United States Senate.

And so that kind of narcissism I think, leaves these senators and Members of Congress, you know, a choice. And look, we know that right now they're afraid of him, right? They're not operating out of principle, they're operating out of fear.

They think somehow he can hurt them. He has a following that will take turn on them. You know, the people have to think beyond January 20th when his Twitter account gets shut off, when he is no longer, you know the President, when Joe Biden is President, people need to have a longer view of this entire episode because these Republican officeholders, they think I believe, oh, well, you know, as soon as he's gone, this will just calm down. And no matter what I do now, it's fine.

I think they have to think about the longer term ramifications. And I think, we, in the media probably have to do the same. Are we going to keep giving this narcissist this amount of attention when, as Charlie says, his behavior is never going to change?

WHITFIELD: Yes, except at stake here is we're talking about democracy and forever changing, you know, the bedrock of elections. So Alexandra -- go ahead, sorry.

ROSEN: Democracy is not at stake in this regard. You know, truth and justice from certain people are at stake. But on, you know, these elections results are going to get certified, Joe Biden is going to become President. The Constitution will prevail. There's no legitimate constitutional lawyer that thinks that this effort will be successful.

So I think when we say things like democracy may be at stake, we're actually empowering the chaos, because really what we can be doing is telling people actually, don't worry, Joe Biden is going to be President. Trump doesn't have a case here, and the courts have already said so.

With So Alexandra, has this -- has there been erosion, however? Is this that much more costly for Republicans to stand behind the President, whether be complicit by being silent or in expected refrain from a vote of certification on Wednesday? I mean, this President was essentially caught red-handed. He is on tape trying to overthrow the election.

ALEXANDRA ROJAS, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Yes, I mean, I believe that we've got to put up a fight to make sure that whether you're an elected official with power in Congress right now, within the Democratic or Republican Party, you should absolutely be using your position to talk about how our democracy maybe, yes, Joe Biden will be sworn in, but there are millions of people across America and 300,000 Americans that are dead because our government is failing them right now.

And so what I think needs to happen as we move forward, because we know that this is not the only smoking gun that we've seen this President commit illegal acts, and now we've seen him continue to stoke authoritarianism, by literally committing to steal or trying to rig and steal an election, this is the time where every elected official, Democrats and Republicans, need to use whatever power they have in Congress and the incoming administration to set the record straight.

Because the reality is, it is that the Republicans right now are choosing to focus on these, you know, claims that make -- that have no basis in reality, when the reality is that 300,000 Americans, over 300,000 Americans are dead. We are not at the vaccination rates that we need to be, 80 percent of small businesses are going to go out if we continue to not do anything, months and months into this year.

So we've got way bigger problems to worry about, and so I hope that -- and I know that the American people as well as lots of young people are not surprised by the Republicans actions. And that, you know, the scope and scale of the problems that lay before us don't leave any room for the media, the Democratic Party, us, as Americans to waste any time holding our breath to see if Republicans are going to be coaxed into caring about people, because right now, we can see that the G.O.P. and Congress clearly does not.

[15:30:41]

WHITFIELD: So Carl, before the break, when you and I were talking, I asked you to be thinking about, you know, what do the next 17 days look like? Because certainly during -- at the start of this lame duck presidency, there were people who made predictions about we will see an unhinged, you know, moody President. He continues to be lacking of compassion and lacking of the acceptance of the reality of what COVID- 19 has done globally and to this nation.

There are still 17 days left, and on the 18th day prior to the Inauguration of the next President, he is on the phone with the Georgia Secretary of State and we've seen the evidence of that. What do you expect the President's potential is, he is not going to step down, you know, just what Charlie Dent was saying. It's not likely he will step down. But what can we expect from the President likely?

BERNSTEIN: I'm a reporter. And I don't have a crystal ball. But what you hear on this tape, aside from the fact that the President of the United States is proposing a criminal conspiracy, and asking others to join him in that conspiracy to undermine the election, by manufacturing votes, finding votes and actually declaring him the winner from -- through this illegal process that he is proposing a conspiracy to make this happen.

So the desperation is in his voice and it's in his actions, and it's in his delusions as well. And so what I think we need to look at is: what are the other frightening areas in which the President might act? And we have some heart reporting on that.

We know that a few weeks ago, that the military, the top military officials and some Intel officials pushed back at the President of the United States when he proposed to do something that deeply disturbed we don't know all of the details yet.

But we do know that Chiefs of Staff of the Armed Forces pushed back with Intel people to say, Mr. President, what you are talking about, you cannot do in some form, they pushed back, and whatever it was they were talking about, was not done. And it partly is a result of the Biden transition. I believe that this is the case.

Based on some reporting, this is one of the reasons to Biden transition has not been getting information from the Department of Defense. They are trying to keep the Biden people from learning what may have happened.

We have situations all around the globe in Iran, in the Middle East, in the South China Sea, where a wrong move, a provocative move could be terribly dangerous. And I think there is real -- I know, there is real concern -- this is reportorial, not opinion -- real concern among those who have listened to this President of the United States in the last two weeks about what he might do in terms of military action that could be provocative and cause grave, grave problems. So we have that too, as well as his total disregard for the law, and the constitutional process of how the transition from one President to another takes place.

But make no mistake, Joe Biden is going to be the President of the United States and if the Republican Party has some principled leaders on Capitol Hill, perhaps with this smoking gun tape, some of them will change their tune and say let's try to save the Republican Party from this authoritarian demagogue the likes of which we've never seen.

WHITFIELD: Charlie Dent, there's a lot to be concerned about whether you're Republican or a Democrat or Independent, right? I mean, we are talking collectively just in the matter of weeks, we're talking about a lack of leadership on COVID coming from the President of the United States, a lack of response from the cyber hack -- the cyber hacking; Russia, being placed at blame, to this now coup attempt.

So what are your thoughts and concerns about what else maybe in the back pocket of the President?

[15:35:04]

DENT: Well, I've said for some time that I believe that this President, you know, there are consequences to chaos. I've been saying this for a long time. I mean, I've just never thought I'd see again, a President, he just accused Brad Raffensperger and Ryan Germany of a crime for not being willing to participate in overturning the outcome of an election.

I mean, the beating that these Democratic institutions are taking is profound. Now, they've held up and I agree with what everybody said, the outcome will not change. Joe Biden is going to be the President in a few weeks, but who knows what's going to happen between now and January 20?

I mean, it just seems that the President is just so unhinged and erratic that, you know, he could do just about anything, it seems. I mean, nobody can predict his actions. Again, what's most shameful is that he is surrounded by a bunch of enablers who just simply don't have the capacity to tell him the truth.

And that's what we're witnessing. I mean, as I said earlier, this is so upsetting to me, you know, as a Republican, and I mean, there are so many people -- he doesn't -- the President of the United States doesn't care about tradition, he doesn't care about the people who came before him, the people who built things up.

No, the President is good at breaking things down. Like I said, the consequences and the chaos are real. We're experiencing them firsthand, but never would I have thought I would see it in such a dramatic way, by actually, this kind of a phone call to the turnover an election.

WHITFIELD: So Hilary, one of the roles of the President is to protect the nation. But now the question has to be asked, who is going to protect the nation against the sitting President of the United States with just 17 days to go before what is scheduled to be the Inauguration of the next President? What are your thoughts?

ROSEN: It is the right question. I mean, you know, he is acting like the rulers of previous centuries, you know, strung out on opioids, and, you know, randomly giving orders to slaughter thousands.

I mean, there was a -- there is this sense that the country is on the brink here of something, and I think holding it together for 17 days is really all of our collective job.

And I think we have seen that, as Carl said, there have been some attempts at the Justice Department, there have been some attempts at that the Defense Department, at the Homeland Security, where people have essentially refused to engage in some of the President's most outrageous demands.

And, you know, we just hope that there are enough patriots buried in the system because we know he's not surrounding himself with them. We know he's not talking to them. No one can talk him out of his crazy. But we just have to hope that there are enough patriots buried in the system, that they prevent the crazy from happening.

And I'm not sure you can do much more than that. But, you know, short of storming the gates and hauling him out of there, and I'm not sure how we ho get past that point, but that is what we have to do, and I think Joe Biden is silent for now. I think the country is going to look to him if this gets crazier to try and step in and say some things.

But I think right now, if it's going to be up to Mitch McConnell and Nancy Pelosi and the Defense Department and the Justice Department to do what they need to do to keep him reined in. WHITFIELD: All right, we'll leave it there for now. Thank you so much,

everybody. Carl Bernstein. Hilary Rosen, Alexandra Rojas, and Charlie Dent, appreciate it.

Happy New Year. Question mark on that one. All right, we'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[15:42:08]

WHITFIELD: All right, returning to our breaking news. A stunning recording obtained by "The Washington Post" of a phone call between President Donald Trump and Georgia's Republican Secretary of State. The phone call taking place yesterday and it cannot be overstated, the President is asking the Georgia Secretary of State, Raffensperger, point blank to manipulate votes and subvert the election. Listen.

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)

TRUMP: Well, under law, you're not allowed to give faulty election results, okay? You're not allowed to do that and that's what you've done. This is a faulty election result. And honestly, this should go very fast.

You should meet tomorrow, because you have a big election -- election coming up and because of what you've done to the President, you know, the people of Georgia know that this was a scam and because of what you've done to the President, a lot of people are going out to vote and a lot of Republicans are going to vote negative because they hate what you did to the President.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WHITFIELD: All right, this breaking news happening just as the 117th Congress being sworn in today. A live look right now on Capitol Hill where House of Representatives Members are in session right now. For the latest, let's bring in Phil Mattingly on Capitol Hill.

So, Phil, this swearing in taking place today and a vote for, you know, House Speaker. Nancy Pelosi to return to her post all this taking place and then really upstaging it all is this recording of the President of the United States who is trying to overthrow the results of the Georgia election and possibly interfere with the upcoming Senate runoff race.

PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN U.S. CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Happy New Year, right. Look, in any normal year, a House Speaker race where the margins are exceedingly tight, very tight right now, the expectation is Nancy Pelosi will be re-elected Speaker. However, everybody knows it's going to come down to a couple of votes.

We normally lead every newscast, it would be the most important thing that's happening on the day. And right now, it is simply not and the reality is when you have President Trump doing what he's doing, obviously that recording shining new light on the efforts that he has been kind of not exactly trying to put under veil on Twitter and in public comments up until then.

And I think the big question right now is, you start with this, you stipulate that on January 6, when Congress certifies the Electoral College results, Joe Biden will once again be confirmed as President- elect of the United States. On January 20, Joe Biden and Kamala Harris will be sworn in as President and Vice President. There's no doubt about that.

What it does for the long term interests of the country; however, what's happening right now leading into January 6, and what it does, frankly, for the long term efforts of the Republican Party is also very much an open question.

I want to focus on the latter point right now, because what we've seen over the course of the last three or four days, it's just a rupture inside of the Republican Party over how to act on January 6, whether or not to object to slates of electors, even though it is very obvious and reality states that Joe Biden won the race.

You obviously have a group of senators that are willing to object. Josh Hawley on one side, Ted Cruz leading a group of 11 senators on another side. You have more than 140 House members that say they're willing to object as well.

But you're starting to see more and more Republicans come out and object to where their colleagues are on this issue. We've seen several Senate Republicans do so. We saw Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell behind closed doors multiple times, tell his colleagues that this was a bad idea.

[15:45:27]

MATTINGLY: You also had in the House today, a group of seven conservative Republicans come out and say, look, while we would appreciate from a policy perspective, Donald Trump being re-elected or having won this election, we simply cannot do anything, but count the state votes.

Liz Cheney, a member of House Republican leadership this morning circulated a 21-page memo to her colleagues arguing that the precedent that what Republicans may do on January 6, that it might set, would be damaging for the long term.

You've got all of this going back and forth, and it's just -- it's fascinating to watch, as this party has kind of been divided by the individual who has led it, who clearly has the most support amongst the base, and who many particularly in the House have pledge fealty to, without any hesitation over the course of the last four years.

And I think when you talk about the last four years and what happened to the Republican Party, one of the biggest players was Speaker Paul Ryan and Speaker Paul Ryan, Fred, has basically said nothing since he left Congress.

I think a lot of us have wondered if he was going to weigh in one way or another on any of the issues of the day and he has pretty much refused, until now, just a short while ago, putting out a statement that says in part, "Efforts to reject the votes of the Electoral College and sow doubt about Joe Biden's victory strike at the foundation of our Republic. It is difficult to conceive of a more anti-democratic, anti-conservative act than a Federal intervention to overturn the results of state certified elections and disenfranchise millions of Americans."

"The fact that this effort will fail does not mean it will not do significant damage to American democracy."

So to kind of summarize this, I was talking to a Republican official, a pretty senior Republican official earlier today, asking about this divide how it's all working out, and the point he made was, now you're seeing a moment where people understand that history is watching and that's why you're starting to see people weigh in on the other side of perhaps what's popular with the Republican base.

But how this plays out going forward is going to be fascinating to watch because you mentioned that "Washington Post" tape.

Look, a lot of these Republicans, both in the House and Senate side, Fred, have said, look, we're just doing this to raise the issue, right? We're just doing this to raise the issue. We're not trying to overturn the election.

Let's make something abundantly clear, President Trump is trying to overturn the election. Anybody who is supporting him in this case, would be in line with that as well. And so watching these dynamics play out not just today, but over the course of the next couple days leading into January 6th, there's just a lot on the line as this all plays through.

WHITFIELD: Wow. And so you know, among those Republican sitting Members of Congress, who has been critical about the whole idea of discrediting and undermining the election results has been Congressman Adam Kinzinger. And now we understand he has just tweeted, he, of Illinois saying this, "This is absolutely appalling," talking about that audiotape, "To every Member of Congress considering objecting to the election results, you cannot, in light of this do so with a clean conscience."

I wonder, Phil, whether his words will resonate, particularly, you know, among the what? On 140 or so Republicans in the House, 12 Republicans in the Senate who have said that they are not going to certify the election siding with the President of the United States?

MATTINGLY: Look, I mean, I think, you know, a lot of these members to kind of use a phrase of the past that are kind of already pregnant with this, and they are already all in. I think the bigger question now is how many regret the fact they've taken this step? And the answer might be none of them at all.

They're obviously going to be rewarded by the base, they're going to be rewarded if they want to run for higher office or if they want to run for re-election, but I think the reality of this moment is like, it's not a game anymore. It never was. But it's particularly not when the President makes clear that you just

saying that you wanted to raise issues or that you weren't sure about where things are going, that's false. And you're lined up with the President right now is making very clear that he does want to overturn an election, he does want to undercut democracy and I think the Republicans were already out on this probably aren't going to change their minds. They are pretty firm and where they stand.

But I think this audio tape, and frankly, it shouldn't have taken this audio tape, it's been obvious what the President has been asking for is what separates what Republicans are doing now from what maybe Democrats did back in 2005. Or, you know, the precedent that Republicans try and cite for why they're doing this. It's just not the case. This time is different, and President Trump is the reason why.

WHITFIELD: Yes, and it's very different too, hearing an audiotape with the sitting President. I mean, it's just -- it sounds very gangster like, right? I mean, you're hearing some of the language that the President is using and the inferences being made, asking indirectly, and it's very clear what it is he is asking for.

Phil Mattingly, thank you so much.

So of course the aftershocks continue on this audio tape of the President threatening and trying to twist the arm of the Georgia Secretary of State, but there are other things too, that have new developments today.

[15:50:00]

WHITFIELD: Top U.S. health officials are rejecting President Trump's suggestion that the U.S. coronavirus case and death tolls are fake news. That is what the President has been saying today, fake news to the numbers. The President claiming the numbers are, I'm quoting now, "far exaggerated." That despite 350,000 American families starting the New Year mourning the very real losses of people that they love.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DR. JEROME ADAMS, U.S. SURGEON GENERAL: From a public health perspective, I have no reason to doubt those numbers and I think people need to be very aware that it's not just about the deaths as we talked about earlier. It's about the hospitalizations, the capacity.

These cases are having an impact in an array of ways, and people need to understand that there's a finish line in sight, but we've got to keep running towards it.

DR. ANTHONY FAUCI, DIRECTOR, NATIONAL INSTITUTE OF ALLERGY AND INFECTIOUS DISEASES: The deaths are real deaths. I mean, all you need to do is to go out into the trenches. Go to the hospitals, see what the healthcare workers are dealing with. They are under very stressed situations.

In many areas of the country, the hospital beds are stretched. People are running out of beds, running out of trained personnel who are exhausted right now. That's real. That's not fake. That's real.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

WHITFIELD: All right, just putting this into context, further. The more than 350,000 U.S. coronavirus deaths is equal to the number of people killed if the U.S. endured the 911 attacks for 117 days straight.

These staggering numbers are not just anonymous figures and statistics. They actually represent individual people and the countless families that they left behind in this pandemic, and here's how a woman now grieving the loss of her father and uncle reacted to the President's remarks.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ROSA CERNA, LOST FATHER TO COVID-19: How could it be fake news? It took my dad. It took my uncle. It has taken so many lives. I don't think it could be fake.

It's horrible. It's an insult to me. It's an insult to every family, because there's absolutely no way for somebody to say that it was fake because my dad is not a fake dad. My dad is not going to resurrect from here and say, oh, just kidding. It was fake. Ha-ha-ha. It's funny. It isn't. It is not fake.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WHITFIELD: Oh, it's very sad. Joining me now to discuss, Dr. Ashish Jha, Dean of the Brown University School of Public Health.

Dr. Shah, good to see you. So what goes through your mind when you hear the President of the United States who has been resistant to a lot of facts surrounding COVID-19, but to now say the 350,000 people who have died, that that is fake news?

DR. ASHISH JHA, DEAN, BROWN UNIVERSITY SCHOOL OF PUBLIC HEALTH: So, Fred, thanks for having me on. I can't say it better than the woman in the last report who has lost both her father and her uncle.

It's an insult. It's an insult to every family, everybody who is mourning somebody who has been lost because of this virus. It's been -- you know, 350,000 is just an astronomical number. And at this point, instead of taking ownership and thinking about how we prevent more deaths, the idea that we'd go back and suggest that they are fake or that it's mischaracterization and all of the other, essentially nonsense that we've heard out of the White House over the last nine months, it just needs to stop.

We need to like acknowledge where we are and think about how we move forward.

WHITFIELD: Or even that the President, you would think we'd want to take this opportunity to respond to the fact that so many states say we don't even know how to mobilize these vaccines, some of which who say they haven't received the vaccine, but then others who say we don't know how to actually dispense it, because we don't have all the resources in which to do so.

But it would be the expectation to hear from the President right now on some leadership of how to make sure everyone who can be vaccinated is being vaccinated. How much blame do you place on the White House that some three to four million people have been vaccinated, far short of the 20 million that was promised would have been vaccinated by December 31?

JHA: Yes, so it's very clear now. And I guess -- maybe I'm naive, but I'm so surprised by this. Given all of the kind of what we heard about Operation Warp Speed, my sense was that all of that last mile planning was happening, that it wasn't just about getting into states, but then it was about working with states to get it into people's arms. It's very clear now that that second part of it, that planning just didn't happen.

Even now, we've got to look forward. We've got to get these vaccines out. And it would be great to have a President who stood up and said, look, we've got work to do and we're going to work with states and here are the things we're going to do to help states get these out. That's what we need right now. We need federal leadership.

States have an important role to play, but they can't do it all by themselves.

WHITFIELD: The Surgeon General today was on our network and said that January, things will pick up. There will be great momentum in which to get, you know, shots in the arm. And that, you know, it's a slow process, partly because of the Holidays except that they knew the Holidays were coming when they made the forecast of 20 million.

So how hopeful are you that things just might change, pick up in terms of vaccinations taking place within a matter of two to three weeks?

[15:55:11]

JHA: I am hopeful. I am hopeful. I mean, first of all, this whole idea that like, December with the Holidays, again, as you said, we knew that the vaccines were arriving in December, I'd say by early to mid- September, it was pretty clear that's the timeline.

So nobody should be surprised, and we shouldn't be doing planning now. But here we are, we are planning now. The resources are finally going from Congress to states, and I do think things are going to pick up.

States are doing heroic work on this. I've been talking to Health Secretaries across the country. They are working sort of super hard. They're going to get this right. They're also going to have a Federal government that's going to be a partner in a couple of weeks.

But again, it shouldn't have happened this way.

WHITFIELD: All right, Dr. Ashish Jha, thank you so much. Happy New Year to you. Continue to be safe and well. Appreciate it.

JHA: Happy New Year. WHITFIELD: We have so much more on the breaking news, this stunning

one-hour phone call released by "The Washington Post" involving President Trump telling the Georgia Secretary of State to find a way to make sure votes disappear and that the outcome of the Georgia race bodes in his favor.

We'll have live team coverage and analysis right after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

WHITFIELD: Hello again, everyone. Thank you so much for joining me this Sunday. I am Fredricka Whitfield.

This stunning breaking news this hour. Newly released audio tape providing incredible insight into the President's pressure campaign to subvert the U.S. election and confirmation of the obvious that this is about winning for President Donald Trump and not democracy.

"The Washington Post" this afternoon publishing audio of an hour-long -- portions of an hour-long phone call between the President -- the sitting President and Republican Secretary of State of Georgia.

[16:00:01]