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Trump Departs WH for Last Time in Minutes; Trump Shatters Norms, Snubs Successor in Final Hours. Aired 7:30-8am ET

Aired January 20, 2021 - 07:30   ET


KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: We were told the President was actually pretty reluctant to do so. So I do think it is telling of someone who was incredibly loyal to the President and how all of that turned around in the final few days in office because Mike Pence would not do the President's bidding when it came to the election.

ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: Yeah. Kaitlan Collins, thank you.

I want to go CNN's Jim Acosta. He is at Joint Base Andrews in Maryland. Jim, the plane is fueled up, ready to go?

JIM ACOSTA, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: It is, Anderson. And the music is playing like we're on a Trump rally right now. So obviously, President Trump would not leave any other way. And we are getting some more details about what we should expect to see this morning. We do expect the President to make some remarks before hopping on Air Force One before he heads off to Mar-a-Lago. In addition to that, he is appears to be heading towards getting a 21 gun salute. He'll be greeted by color guard, and so on.

So Anderson, this is looking like, you know, a president or a foreign Head of State, leading Washington. And, you know, in a way, because the president is defying these traditions of not being a part of the inauguration of President Joe Biden. He's almost leaving town like an autocrat ousted from power, heading off into exile.

One thing I can tell you, talking to advisors, is that the President was hoping to have a big crowd here this morning. I could tell you right now, there isn't any crowd at this point. It's just the media in Air Force One behind us, at first, there have been people coming in, some Trump supporters coming in all morning long, lining up to be buzz in over to this site at Joint Base Andrews. And we'll see how big this crowd is.

But the area that they've set up for at this point, this might be one of the smallest Trump rallies you would ever see during the Trump presidency, and so for a president who is obsessed with crowd sizes, this may not be to his liking when he finally gets over here.

As for the conversation about ferns and so on, I will tell you, I was talking to a Trump advisor earlier on this morning, getting back to this discussion about pardoning his former Chief Strategist Steve Bannon. I talked to a Trump advisor who said that these two men have patched up their relationship, they've made up and the words of this advisor. And according to this advisor, the President, the outgoing President believes that Steve Bannon might potentially be of some help to Trump later on down the road. There's been some talk that Trump might try to make some sort of political comeback in the years to come. And Trump I'm told by this advisor thinks that Bannon could help lead that comeback as far fetched as that sounds, obviously, with the president so low in the polls right now, that's hardly a foundation for mounting any kind of political comeback. But it just goes to show you some of the delusional thinking that's going on inside the President's mind right now, as he prepares to leave office.

And Anderson, one thing I can tell you, I mean, having been to a Joint Base Andrews so many times for these kinds of departures, to see a president of the United States leaving office in this fashion, not being a part of the tradition of handing off to a success for being a part of a peaceful transfer of power, the keys to the Oval Office. It's just an extraordinary thing to witness. And a sad thing to witness as an American, just something you would never think you would see covering the presidency. But we're going to see it in just a short while from now, Anderson.

COOPER: Yeah. They were just playing house, the rising sun. I mean, the sun is setting on President Trump right now. What happens when he actually gets there? If you can just kind of tell us, I assume that people who are going to be there are not there yet. What happens when he gets there?

ACOSTA: Right. Yeah, when he gets here, we expect a military band to play Hail to the Chief. We expect a color guard to greet him. Many of those assets are already here. They're going to have a 21 gun salute. And then the president is expected to make some final remarks. And so these should be the final remarks and we'll hear from outgoing President Trump during this presidency unless somehow talks to us on Air Force One or makes remarks down in Florida when he arrives in West Palm Beach.

This should be the last time we hear from President Trump as commander-in-chief, as President of the United States. Obviously, you know, talking to aides and advisers, he wants to tout his -- what he sees as his accomplishments, his achievements from his last four years in office, but hanging over everything, Anderson, is obviously the events that happened on January 6.

And you know, when you talk about some of these people, these Trump supporters who are coming here, these are going to be the diehard Kool-Aid drinkers. You know, I've talked to so many advisors, former officials and so on over the last day or so who said they don't want any part of this departure ceremony. They are disappointed. They're disgusted with this president. Because of the incitement of the riot that took place on January 6.

Anderson, it is going to be quite a scene. We'll be watching it. We'll see how enthusiastic this crowd is, it may feel more like a funeral than a departure ceremony.

COOPER: And Jim you're actually going to be flying to Florida on Air Force One with the President?

ACOSTA: I have scheduled to at this point, Anderson. So we'll see if they let me on the plane. I'm a little concerned that mid flight, they may hand me a parachute and say good luck, but at this point, Anderson, yes, that's the plan.


COOPER: Wow. Jim, I appreciate it. We'll be checking with you throughout the day. I want to bring in -- the music they're playing, it's classic.

Let's bring in Presidential Historian Douglas Brinkley, Timothy Naftali, Former Director of the Nixon Presidential Library as well.

Tim, you wrote a piece for the Atlantic that came out yesterday titled, The Worst President in History. Is that how this President is going to be remembered?

TIMOTHY NAFTALI, FORMER DIRECTOR, NIXON PRESIDENTIAL LIBRARY: Well, you know, historians don't always agree. But for me, he crossed the Rubicon into the bottom of the basement, if you will, with January 6. The fact that he was is the first president in our history to oppose a peaceful transfer of power puts him in a very special category. The fact that he has shown dereliction of duty with regard to the pandemic and of course, the reasons for his first impeachment which had to do with really subverting U.S. foreign policy for his own political purposes. So for those reasons, I argue that he has surpassed in awfulness, presidents Pierce, Buchanan, Johnson, and Richard Nixon.

COOPER: Doug Brinkley, do you agree?

DOUGLAS BRINKLEY, HISTORY PROFESSOR, RICE UNIVERSITY: Yeah, I do agree with that. I think he is the bottom of the barrel of American presidents. He will be known for the Trump insurrection. There'll be known for claiming that he was a wartime commander-in-chief when the COVID-19 virus hit America, and we had a pandemic and he really did nothing. He had a very fickle policy one day, wear a mask, one day not, missed a explaining what bleach was to put into your body. And then, you know, attacking Dr. Fauci one moment and then the next moment not, holding a rally in Tulsa, whenever it was a horrible idea over the summer and people died from COVID.

So when we look at the death toll, as it grows every day, you feel that Donald Trump is implicated in that death toll. And that's a big stone hanging around Donald Trump's neck. Add to that the two impeachments. And the very simple fact that the economy is worse off than when he came in. And that America is more disunited, in my mind puts them at the ranked bottom, which is good news for James Buchanan and Franklin Pierce. But it wasn't good for our country the last four years.

COOPER: Doug Brinkley, you know, despite the fact that this President attempted to turn the election into what he said was a massive fraud. The election was really extraordinary. I mean, just the number of Americans who decided to come out in person, vote from home, however, they did it but who decided to cast a vote in the midst of a pandemic overwhelming support, frankly, for both candidates. President Trump received a huge amount of votes. President like Biden received more votes, so maybe 1 million votes. This is a day really of celebration. Yes, the president of United States who is about to be the former president United States tried to turn it into something else. But really, America came out and voted and expressed their wishes. And we are seeing the results of that. We are seeing a peaceful transfer of power, despite what this President has attempted to do.

BRINKLEY: I'm so glad you phrased it that way, Anderson. It is a great triumph, the 2020 election, the fact that we -- people mailed-in votes. The people that waited in line six feet apart, wearing a mask, people handing out water and snacks to people waiting in lines, that we hit a record number in American history that that Joe Biden is being sworn in today and Kamala Harris, with 80 million people backing their action. It's really quite amazing.

And you know, we think about the character of Joe Biden and how this is probably the right time for a man of his character. You know, Leon Panetta once said that he was overhearing a phone call that Joe Biden was on. He couldn't tell whether he was talking to the head of a country or whether he was talking to a regular, everyday person. And that's -- there's an authentic everydayness to Joe Biden that people really appreciate. He has lunch bucket, Joe, Delaware daily.

COOPER: Doug Brinkley, Tim Naftali, thanks very much.

Wolf, this President-elect Biden has already set a very different tone. Yesterday, he and a Vice President-elect Kamala Harris going to the near the on Memorial Day to remember the 400,000 lives lost so far in the pandemic.


WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: Yeah, it was a really, really moving moment the day before what is today history, the inauguration. The sun is rising, Anderson, here. It's a new day here in Washington. We're only minutes away from seeing Donald Trump leave the White House for the last time as the President of the United States. Will there be any final surprises much more of our special coverage right after this.


BLITZER: We're live here in Washington as one of the most important rituals in American democracy is about to unfold with the inauguration of President Joe Biden.

But first, we'll see the current president exit the White House momentarily defined democratic traditions to the very, very end.

Jamie Gangel is joining us right now. So Jamie, what are you learning right now about the Republicans, how they're seeing this unfold, because this is an extraordinary moment?

JAMIE GANGEL, CNN SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, I think what we're seeing here is the question of where does the Republican Party go now? This is really a moment of truth for them. You may remember that Jared Kushner told Bob Woodward quite bluntly that Donald Trump had hijacked the Republican Party. The question is, is the Republican Party ready to cut? What are those Senate Republicans going to do? How many of them, if any will vote to convict?


And I think the other thing we have to remember is we've talked a lot about -- this about Joe Biden bringing the country together. Several Republicans have said to me in the past few days, it's their responsibility as well. They need to make a cut with Donald Trump and leave behind some of the ugliness that came along with him that we saw on January 6.

BLITZER: We're looking at live pictures from Capitol Hill. You can see the social distancing that has already been planned, given the fact that this COVID pandemic continues full speed ahead. Jamie, standby, Senior White House Correspondent Pamela Brown is with us as well.

Pamela, tell us what you're learning because there's some significant developments?

PAMELA BROWN, CNN SENIOR CORRESPONDENT: Well, one thing we have been keeping an eye on, Wolf, is what and Vice President Pence will do? We know that he is attending the inauguration today something that the President is not doing. And we know that he's not supposed to go to the President's farewell. But there was a question of whether he would say goodbye to the president at the White House this morning. And at this point, there is no indication that is happening. The two men have a fractured relationship as they depart this administration. And you've seen Pence really step into the role recently, a president essentially he will be the one at the inauguration today.

There will be a moment after the ceremony when the incoming second family Kamala Harris and her husband walk the Pences to the motorcade, and that is as per tradition. But it's also notable because we will not see the moment the Trumps and the Bidens going to Marine One. And so that is all under this context. And under with the understanding, too, that the President is leaving the White House today, under the cloud of the January 6 riots at he -- as you know, release pardons overnight. The pardon list looks very different because of the riot. I'm told by sources. There were many people he wanted to pardon and that changed including his personal attorney Rudy Giuliani, his kids, himself, because of the riot, because of the concerns of that.

However, he did take this step to pardon his Former Adviser Steve Bannon, and that is controversial, given Steve Bannon his rhetoric around the riot but that this is something the President wanted to do. They have patched up their relationship. And the President in these last minute frantic meetings at the White House wanted to take that last step.

BLITZER: And he certainly did late last night, overnight, that's what he did.

Kate Bennett is also watching all of this unsolved case, our White House Correspondent. Kate, you're getting some new information about the now outgoing First Lady Melania Trump, what are you learning?

KATE BENNETT, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Wolf. I mean, we haven't seen the First Lady in public. Today will be the first time we were seeing her in public since December 31. So it's been quite some time. We saw her on video saying goodbye. This is the First Lady that sources tell me is checked out, that just wants to go home. And I've learned that she, sources told me that she has outsourced her thank you notes to the residents staff, which is, you know, very unorthodox as most things Trump administration, the residents staff are the people that care for the president, the First Lady their family. These are Butler's ushers housekeepers, people who clean up after them, who cooked for them, who helped them around this giant White House residents that they're leaving, and she -- lower level staffer in the East Wing actually wrote the thank you notes. She signed her name to them and most of the staff thought that they were coming from the First Lady herself.

This is just another indicator of a First Lady and the president as well who have simply sort of hunkered down in the White House these last few weeks have not made public appearances. It took Melania Trump five days to acknowledge the insurrection on Capitol Hill.

So certainly as they gear up to leave today, this is going to be, you know, a final goodbye and yet at the same time, it feels very much as though at least the First Lady, the East Wing is empty. She has long checked out and long sent her boxes and storage down to Mar-a-Lago.

I'm sorry, I'm hearing helicopters. We're here in front of the White House waiting to see the arrival of Marine One that will pick up the President and First Lady and bring them to Joint Base Andrews. Wolf.

BLITZER: Yeah, Marine One will be landing on the South Lawn of the White House and taking the President and the First Lady over to Joint Base Andrews for the last time as they get ready to fly down to Palm Beach.

You know, John, it's so awkward for those of us who have covered inaugurations over the years and you and I have done several of them. It's so awkward that this President is getting out of town and refusing to even participate in this peaceful, democratic transfer of power.


JOHN KING, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: You're being polite because you're such a gracious man. Well, if it's more than awkward. It's reprehensible. He says not called Joe Biden. Joe Biden won the election. He won the election. Donald Trump had every right to challenge it, to ask for recounts, to go to court. He did that. And more than 60 time judges, including judges he appointed told him to go away. You have no evidence and he does not have the grace to pick up the phone and call the president-elect. He was not. We'll see if it happens. We are told he's not planning to adhere to the tradition of leaving a note. No, maybe as part of this as the COVID era but no meeting at the White House, nothing, nothing to show respect for the office and respect for the democracy. So it is more than awkward. It's reprehensible. But it is a testament to what we have seen for four years.

This has been the grievance presidency every day. It's the Mexicans fault. It's black people's fault. It's rhinos fault, meaning Republicans in name only. It's Nancy Pelosi's fault. Now it's Mike Pence's fault, that he wouldn't defy the constitution and stand up for the President in the Capitol building. This president, president Trump for a few more hours, always blame somebody else, which I think is part of the turning of the page we will see today.

Again, Joe Biden's personal tragedy to become president now after a life of personal tragedy and political tragedy to come to the White House at this moment is such a turning of the page. He lost two elections for the presidency. His wife and his daughter were killed in a tragic car accident. After his first campaign for the presidency, Joe Biden had a brain aneurysm and many thought he might not survive that. He does not blame other people. He does not hear his grievances every day. He gets up and he goes to work. So I think the departure of the grievances when that plane leaves Joint Base Andrews, it takes four years of grievance politics away from Washington and leads to a very different era.

Again, Joe Biden has many policy challenges. He will not be perfect as a president. But the page turning today and getting rid of every morning reading the tweets to find out it's somebody else's fault. That will be welcome.

BLITZER: This is Marine One, John, this is the chopper that is going to land on the South Lawn of the White House and take the President and the First Lady over from the South Lawn of the White House about a 10 minute little flight over to Joint Base Andrews outside of Washington, D.C. in Maryland, to short flight.

We're going to see momentarily, John, we're told the President will be leaving the White House heading off to the South Lawn. We'll see if he stops and talks to reporters. Sometimes he does usually in the last several weeks. He doesn't but this will be the last time, John, he will board Marine One. And we'll see him get on that helicopter and head out the last time we will see him as President of the United States, board Marine One.

Remember, when we, you know, with the historic moment when we saw Nixon Board of Marine One for the last time after he resigned as President of the United States.

KING: And again, though it gets to the, who is Donald Trump? And what has he represented as President? Normally, that helicopter would be behind us, Wolf. It would park at the Capitol. It would park at the Capitol and the President of the United States would attend the inauguration of his successor, then the two of them would walk down the stairs, the former president and the new president. And you could get in Marine One and fly to a Joint Base Andrews to say goodbye.

But we are told by our great White House team that Donald Trump did not want to get on Marine One, when it was called Special Operations one, they take away. It's not Marine One, and it's not Air Force One if you're not the President, and it was so important to him to have that one last time. Well, he will get it one last time. And this is always, again, we covered the White House for a long time together. This is always majestic. This is supposed to be this ceremonial day where whether it's a Democrat or Republican being sworn in, whether it's a Democrat or Republican leaving the White House, where we celebrate. And we have these amazing pictures of these amazing rituals to celebrate a democracy. What we will today because the system survived an attack from the man who lives in that house right now, the man who's leaving that house in just moments in which is part of the remarkable splendor of this day.

But President Trump will be leaving, you see a small audience there. My bet is he will not stop and talk to reporters today. In one way, so that was one good, if you will of his presidency that he was so accessible. But in the end, we are told he is angry. He is solid. He is sulking. As I said before, he's trying to blame other people. He lost an election. He got 74 million votes, and he lost an election. That's called math and democracy. And there's Marine One which will carry him away from the White House.

BLITZER: Yeah, at left you can see over there, you can see a pool of reporters, a bunch of reporters who were standing by. There'll be shouting some questions as the President and the First Lady walk out and head over to Marine One. I suspect he will not stop.

We do expect though, John, that when he gets the Joint Base Andrews at this little farewell ceremony that he's organized, we do expect to hear from him there, right?

KING: We do. Jim Acosta was there a short time ago. He said the President does plan to give some brief remarks. Again, outside of tradition, normally the President might have a news conference in his final days might sit in the Oval Office and do it and address, a live address to the American people. Instead, this president taped an address, again in which he didn't speak Joe Biden's name. So we'll watch as this plays out and as he goes away I suspect one of the reasons he won't want to stop and talk today because he will be asked, not only did he pardon a number of people last night, who you would have to define as influence peddling swamp creatures. Remember his signature promise of candidate Donald Trump was to drain the swamp.


The pardons he gave last night included a number of swamp creatures, people who traded in access and influence. And he also rescinded when Donald Trump became president, this is the fraud of this administration, Wolf, he lies repeatedly to his own supporters, which is the ultimate failure of a leader, lying to your own people. He said he was going to drain the swamp. Last night he rescinded the executive order, he signed early in his administration, preventing lobbying by former Trump administration officials. So the whole thing was a ruse. He's taking it away as he leaves.

Again, he's taking with him also a part of a couple 100 million dollars that he raised from his own supporters saying that money was to contest the election, when if you read the fine print, a lot of it went off into a post presidency political fund he can use as he tries. And this will be the defining test as he tries to continue to exert his influence over the Republican Party as he leaves.

BLITZER: It doesn't look as if the Vice President Mike Pence has come over to the White House to say goodbye to the President. He's going to be at the inauguration. He's going to be at the swearing in ceremony for the new president of United States, Mike Pence. But it doesn't look like he's -- like he's there, and it certainly doesn't appear to be the case that he's going to go over to Joint Base Andrews to say goodbye either. This relationship has really been strained over these past several weeks.

KING: Four years of near total loyalty from the vice president of United States, and what did he get, two weeks ago today. The president of United States told his supporters to attack the building that is behind us. He told them to march on the building behind us. I want to be fair to the President. But he sent them up here saying you cannot be weak, you must be strong. You have to take your country back, stand up to the weak Congress people. He mentioned the Vice President, his loyal Vice President at that rally, and his supporters went into the building behind us United States Capitol. Some of them chanting hang Mike Pence.

So you cannot blame the Vice President for the fact that this relationship has fractured and even in the final days. So we are told the President has repeatedly told the few people left to support his grievances and his lies that he thinks Mike Pence could have done more. Mike Pence follow the Constitution. Mike Pence respected the will of the American people and so the relationship is fractured. And I know that the Biden team is actually grateful. A lot of Democrats out there who have no love loss for Mike Pence because he served at the side of Donald Trump, but the Biden team is actually grateful that Vice President Pence and Karen Pence are coming to this inaugural to give it some semblance of decorum and tradition.

BLITZER: There, it looks like they're taking some boxes out. This is staff members taking some boxes out. I assume to Marine One to take over to a Joint Base Andrews with the President and the First Lady.

Jamie Gangel is watching all of this. So you're getting some more information, Jamie. What else are you learning as we wait the President and the First Lady to walk out of the south, on to the South Lawn board Marine One for that brief 10 minute flight over to Joint Base Andrews?

GANGEL: You know, Wolf, as we're watching this I'm old enough to remember when President Nixon resigned and left in disgrace. And I just went back and took a look at the final days of Richard Nixon. Because now we have another president, he has not resigned. But he is leaving in disgrace.

And if you think about the fact that Donald Trump has never conceded, I just want to read you three lines from what Richard Nixon said at the end. He said in his last speech, that the interest of the nation must always come before any personal considerations. I must put the interest of America first. And by taking this action, I hope that I will hasten the start of the process of healing. Even in comparison to Richard Nixon, Donald Trump simply could not rise to the occasion. And I'm also told by a source familiar with President-elect Biden's speech that he will not be mentioning Donald Trump by name. Wolf.

BLITZER: You know, it's really crazy when you think about this, Jamie, that the president since November 3, when the election took place, and a few days later, all of a sudden everybody projected that Biden was the winner. I don't think, John, and maybe remember better than I do. I don't think we've heard Trump mentioned the name Biden even once during all of these weeks?

KING: No, we have not. And again, this is a nice founded on the rule of law, the President have every right to be upset that he lost and he has every legal right as he did to ask for recounts in Georgia, three times, three times they counted the votes.