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Trump Talked of Pardoning Kids and GOP Lawmakers; McConnell: Capitol Mob Provoked by Trump and Fed Lies; VP Pence Will Not Attend Trump's Departure at Joint Base Andrews; Will Chief Justice Roberts Preside Over Trump's Second Impeachment Trial; Blinken Says Trump Largely Got It Right on China Threat. Aired 3:30-4p ET

Aired January 19, 2021 - 15:30   ET



JIM ACOSTA, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Of course, Trump being Trump, he could do it at the last second. I talked to a source close to the process a short while ago, who said, you know, he could write it out on a cocktail napkin before leaving office.

I mean that is how unpredictable this president has been and we know he's been even more unpredictable lately. He's also been agonizing over Steve Bannon and whether or not he should pardon his former chief strategist who is facing federal fraud charges. And the reason why is because the president sees Bannon as one of the last holdouts, one of the last high-profile conservatives to continue to defend the president until the very last minute of the very last day. And because of that he's agonizing over this.

Does Steve Bannon's name surprise everybody and show up in the list of pardons? That is something of course we'll be looking for. We're not expecting that at this point either. But, you know, it's one of those -- one of those continuing aspects of this presidency, you almost have to wait until it's tweeted and, of course, he can't tweet anymore or until after it's e-mailed by this White House before we know exactly what is going to be in that list of pardons.

ANDERSON COOPER, CNN HOST: Jim Acosta, appreciate, thanks, Brianna?

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Anderson, let's talk now with this about Harry Litman, he is a former deputy assistant Attorney General and former U.S. attorney. Harry, this warning --


KEILAR: -- that the president received -- hello -- this warning president received from White House counsel that he would actually be put in legal jeopardy if he were to pardon himself and his family members, what do you think about this?

LITMAN: I think it's right. It's a stern rebuke. There's a lot of people out there are, Brianna, who are saying the pardon power is completely open-ended, you can do anything with it. Obviously, the White House counsel doesn't believe that and they are worried they he would subject himself to legal jeopardy and an ineffective pardon. But even more than that we have after four years of his bulldozing through every check and balance in the constitution finally one that has stuck, and that's the prospect of the impeachment trial after he leaves office.

He's obviously concerned as are his close advisers that were, he to pull that trigger there would be Republicans right now on the fence who would go over to the other side and they could then participate in a vote banning him from public office for life. And whether it's the sort of scarlet letter of it or the practical loss of being in the fray down the line, that's obviously got him jumpy.

KEILAR: So you know, next steps here potentially for the president are legal implications when it comes to, for instance, the Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance. How does Trump being out of office affect his work?

LITMAN: Profoundly, because there's the general holding or supposition that a sitting president can't be indicted even by a state but a former president is just a citizen, and even if there's a pardon, Cyrus Vance can indict him in New York as can the Fulton County D.A. for the call he placed to the Secretary of State in Georgia. So that's another aspect.

New York in particular. Because they passed a law saying if he pardons himself, we can still go after him. That used to be cloudy in New York and now it's clear that they can. So he has to consider as well that a self-pardon would be something of a poke in the eye with a stick to the New York D.A. and make charges against him there that he can't pardon away be more likely.

KEILAR: Yes, good reminder of the change in New York. Harry, great to see you. Thank you.

LITMAN: Thank you, Brianna.

KEILAR: Anderson?

COOPER: Let's go now to CNN political commentator Michael Smerconish who anchors "Smerconish" on CNN Saturday mornings. Michael, on the Senate floor, Republican leader Mitch McConnell said that the president provoked the mob that attacked the Capitol nearly two weeks ago. I'm wondering what you make of that.

MICHAEL SMERCONISH, CNN HOST, "SMERCONISH": I think he's green- lighting a vote for impeachment. I don't think there's any other way to read it.

You know, in the prior process when we went through this the first time around with the Ukraine phone call, totally different posture by the Senate majority leader, made it clear that he wanted to keep his caucus in the tent, but I think he's given them carte blanche. He's called it a vote of conscience. He's let them know that he can do whatever they want. Sadly, I think, Anderson, what's most important is not the evidence

but the polling data. I think that they've all got their fingers to the wind with an eye toward, can I get away with voting for conviction?

BALDWIN: And McConnell did say that what the president did, that it was based on lies, that these people were motivated -- that they basically bought into a lie.

SMERCONISH: I think the questions that need to be asked -- I don't know that we'll ever get to the bottom of it. But we need to know from the president and from those around him, were they aware of the fact that the individuals -- some of the individuals who gathered on January 6th had the intention, had the plan of breaching the Capitol?


To me that's the -- that's the critical question. I'm looking at this as a trial lawyer. I'm looking at this as causation, and that's what I want to most know from Mark Meadows, that's what I want to know from Rudy Giuliani, that's of course what I want to know from President Trump.

COOPER: We're learning that Vice President Pence is not going to attend President Trump's departure ceremony at Joint Base Andrews tomorrow. How extraordinary is it to you that concerning, you know, what the two men have been through the past two weeks?

SMERCONISH: I'm sure he's laying it off on, you know, traffic congestion, can't be in two places at once. I think that there's significance in it. I think that Mike Pence has very carefully tried to navigate all worlds. He's tried to show some sense of diplomacy which the president has not and tried at the same time not to alienate that base.

Some of the elements of which, you know, came in with a noose at the Capitol on January the 6th. He's trying to navigate all those different worlds.

COOPER: We just also learned that Senator Josh Hawley, one of the Senators who riled up the election conspiracy has already blocked consideration of the president-elect's homeland security pick.

SMERCONISH: So the polling data so far that I was referring to a moment ago suggests that half the Republicans don't regard President- elect Biden -- won't regard President Biden as a legitimate president and you wonder, well, what does that spill over into? It spills over into the sort of thing that you're describing.

Anderson, one of my first remembrances as a kid was playing little league baseball and at the end of the game we would line up and we would all slap hands with the opposing team, and we would say good game, good game, good game whether we believed it or not.

The president is refusing to go through that ritual. He's setting a bad example, and mostly he's saying to his base I don't regard Joe Biden as the legitimate president of the United States, and you shouldn't either. To me that's real the big picture story.

COOPER: Yes, Michael Smerconish, appreciate it, thanks -- Brianna.

KEILAR: Anderson, there are new questions about the historic impeachment of President Trump. Why it's unclear whether Chief Justice John Roberts will preside over this second trial.



COOPER: As we wait to learn more details about President Trump's impeachment trial in the Senate there are questions whether the Chief Justice John Roberts will preside as he did at Trump's first impeachment trial one year ago.

Want to talk about it with CNN's Supreme Court analyst Joan Biskupic. She's the author of "The Chief, The Life and Turbulent Times of Chief Justice John Roberts."

Joan, normally for a sitting president it's the chief justice who presides over the trial but what does constitution say when a president is no longer in office?

JOAN BISKUPIC, CNN SUPREME COURT ANALYST: Good afternoon, Anderson. Yes, the constitution says just one sentence. It says, "when the president is impeached the chief justice shall preside."

It does say the president, so of course, the question has come up what does it mean for an ex-president? Scholarship is actually divided on this.

It's a -- we're really in unchartered territory because no former president has been brought before the Senate in a trial, even though former other officials have been put to a Senate trial after impeachment, so the scholarship is split this way, Anderson.

Some people think that -- look at the reason for why the president needs to preside -- why the chief justice needs to preside when the president is there? Is because of a conflict of interest that the vice president who normally would be presiding over the Senate would have because if the president of the United States were removed from office, the vice president would take over the job.

So some people think that if -- if it's not a sitting president, there's no conflict so the chief doesn't need to preside. The over school of thought though, Anderson, is that for the legitimacy of this process, that of course, the chief justice should preside even though the president will be gone from office.

And the other thing I would note is that, of course, this process began while Donald Trump was a sitting president so why not finish it all out under the normal routines that the constitution spells out.

Now, the chief justice himself, as I know you remember from last year right at this time, you know, had to sit up elevated from the Senators, you know, in their 100 little wooden desks, and he didn't have much control. It was not a great, pleasant experience for him. He didn't enjoy it that much, and I'm sure he's reluctant right now to go through it again.

But John Roberts is never going to want to send the signal that he's running from some responsibility here. He would probably feel a need to explore all options if the Senators do write him a letter and ask him to preside.

And one bottom line on impeachment that you should know, Anderson, is it truly is the Senate's show. It's not up to the Supreme Court to decide how they conduct this. It's up to the Senate. And I think it would be very tough if John Roberts receives an invitation that says we want you to preside to say I'm not showing up.

COOPER: Interesting.

BISKUPIC: Anderson?

COOPER: Joan, appreciate it. Thanks very much. Under way now, President-elect Biden's pick for Secretary of State is testifying in his confirmation hearing and he just paid the Trump administration a big compliment on one of its policies. Stand by.



KEILAR: The process of vetting the top nominees in the new administration began today. Right now, Secretary of State nominee Anthony Blinken is facing a Senate panel. And so is Secretary of Defense nominee retired General Lloyd Austin. During Blinken's hearing, he made clear that his top priorities include China.


ANTHONY BLINKEN, SECRETARY OF STATE NOMINEE: Let me just say that I also believe that President Trump was right in taking a tougher approach to China. I disagree very much with the way that he went about it in a number of areas, but the basic principle was the right one and I think that's actually helpful to our foreign policy.



KEILAR: I want to bring in Susan Glasser, who's a CNN global affairs analyst. That's pretty interesting. He said that there is no doubt China poses the most significant challenge of any nation state to the United States. So he said in that regard the tough stance was good. What did you think of him? It was kind of a compliment.

SUSAN GLASSER, CNN GLOBAL AFFAIRS ANALYST: Well,] look, you know, our future Secretary of State also knows that he's testifying before the Senate, he's looking for Republican and as well as Democratic votes and I think a nod to the reality, the new reality of the situation, this is probably the area, Brianna, where there is the biggest difference, this might be a group of very experienced Obama administration veterans who've been nominated to key foreign policy and national security roles.

But when it comes to dealing with China, this is one area where they can't just roll back the clock, I think to 2016. There is a new reality in the world and to hear Tony Blinken use the phrase "adversarial," in regard to China, is a striking change from what we heard from even the late era Biden administration. I mean sorry, Obama.

KEILAR: Yes, I want to bring in Kylie Atwood, Susan, to this conversation. She has been tracking this confirmation hearing. Kylie, what else has the nominee for Secretary of State been saying?

KYLIE ATWOOD, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY REPORTER: Well largely, Brianna, Secretary of State nominee Tony Blinken has been making a commitment to revitalize the State Department, to really bring back U.S. working with allies to push forth American foreign policy.

That's something that, obviously, fell apart in large part because President Trump did not get behind U.S. allies and work with them. I think that is one of the things that we are seeing here, where he is trying to draw some division with the Trump administration on China. Because he says that, you know, working with China on the world stage is only going to be as effective as possible if the U.S. does it from a position of strength. Working with allies on that.

But you are right, it is very significant that he has come out today and say that Trump was largely correct in having a tougher approach on China. I think this also, you know, gives Democrats, Democratic Senators some ability to come out and also work with their Republican allies on China, as we turn from the Trump administration into the Biden administration.

Because Blinken also said that, you know, China was one of the most controversial and challenging nation-states that the United States faces on the world stage. So this is going to be an area to watch.

We're watch Tony Blinken though really try and, you know, thread the needle here in terms of demonstrating that there are some things that the Trump administration did on foreign policy that were actually effective, even if the way that they carried them out wasn't as effective as he would have thought they would have been.

KEILAR: And listening to him, Susan, it's pretty interesting also because, you know, Tony Blinken and Joe Biden are really of one mind. They have this long relationship. They have a shared view of so many things. They are expected to walk very much in lock lockstep, unlike the disorganization we've seen between the current president and his State Department at times.

So what does this stance on China portend for the trade war once Joe Biden becomes president?

GLASSER: Well, again I would expect that they will a very different approach to executing what essentially is now a shared consensus about the state of the world, right? It's not actually embracing the Trump administration policy for China in my reading of it so much as it is acknowledging the new and more confrontational read of the world. You know, both with China and with Russia you have, for the last several decades, in effect, a policy that ultimately did not succeed trying to strategic engagement, trying to bring both China and Russia into sort of the community of global stakeholders.

That essentially has come to an end. I don't think you're going to see them mounting aggressive tariff wars. That's not within the economic policy wing of Democrats.

However, I don't think you're either going to see a renewed free trade push. Which remember at the end of the Obama administration there was all this talk of the Transpacific Partnership that was canceled by Donald Trump.

And very interestingly, you don't see President Biden saying that he's going to rejoin the TPP, even though he said he's going to undo a lot of the other Trump administration policies.

KEILAR: No, it's a very good point. Susan, Kylie, thank you so much to both of you. And our special coverage of this historic transition continues as an emotional Joe Biden heads to Washington, D.C., we are on the ground to see how state capitols are beefing up security.

Plus, breaking news, federal prosecutors have now charged a total of 100 people in the Capitol Hill riot, and this includes members of extremist groups.



WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: We're getting live pictures. This private plane just landed at Joint Base Andrews outside of Washington D.C. in Maryland. This is the plane that's bringing the president-elect of the United States, the first lady -- soon to be first lady of the United States Jill Biden and their family to the nation's capital for tomorrow's inauguration.

This was the eve of the presidential inauguration. And it's an inauguration unlike any other. The president-elect returning here for the first major event before he takes his solemn oath.

We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world.