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President Trump Leaves White House for Last Time; President Trump Will Not Attend Inauguration of President-Elect Biden; Analysts Examine President Trump's Legacy of Reluctance to Admit Defeat in 2020 Presidential Election; President Trump Departs Washington for Final Time. Aired 8-8:30a ET

Aired January 20, 2021 - 08:00   ET

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


JOHN KING, CNN ANCHOR: Rule of law. The president has 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, threes they counted the votes in just that one state of Georgia. Three times Joe Biden was the winner in the recount.

And yet the president of the United States called the Republican secretary of state after all that and said I need you to find me 11,700-plus votes, enough votes to win. He called other officials as well. He sent people into court where, again, judges turned it away time after time after time.

So you could give some period of time where, OK, let the president run out his legal recourses. But then there were two months, two months where he lied to the American people, he lied to his own supporters, saying that he had won in a landslide. Never picked up the phone to Joe Biden. There were some hiccups in the transition. We should thank the career people in government and some of the Trump appointees who decided in the end they needed to start cooperating with the Biden team on the transition.

But I don't know the words for it. I'll use "rude." It's certainly outside of tradition. But the fact that the president of the United States refused to accept the results of the election after they were recounted, after every state certified them, after a number of Republican states -- Arizona is an all-Republican state. Georgia is an all-Republican state. The president lost the election, and to this day he refuses to accept that with respect and decency, and to extend his hand to the new president of the United States.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: It's been 152 years since a president of the United States refused to attend the inauguration of his successor. Pamela Brown, I understand you're getting new information on the vice president, Mike Pence.

PAMELA BROWN, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: That's right. I just spoke to a source close to Pence who says he is not expected to be there, to say his final goodbye to President Trump at the White House today. I'm told by this source that he had said his final goodbye yesterday. But you do have to wonder, given what John just laid out, if Pence would be there this morning had there not been this falling out over the election and the president's push to overturn the election results and have his own vice president do so. As we know, the president called Pence a vulgarity. His supporters threatened Pence because he would not overthrow the election results, which he is not able to do, and just because he was following the Constitution.

And so as the president departs today, this morning, it is notable that Pence is not there. And as we have seen, Pence has really been filling the role as president in recent days. One of the questions is, did Pence leave a letter for Kamala Harris? We know he has called her. Did he leave a letter for her or Biden? And we know that there had been discussion of the president leaving a letter for Biden. Did that happen? There's still some questions as the president departs the White House for a final time this morning.

BLITZER: Plenty of questions out there that will be interesting to get all of the answers as we await. This is momentarily, we're told, the president and first lady will be walking out that door on the South Lawn of the White House, board Marine One, and make that brief flight over to Joint Base Andrews. There will be a little ceremony, goodbye ceremony for the president at that point. Then he's out. He will land in Palm Beach, in West Palm Beach, before the inauguration, the swearing some ceremony behind us up on Capitol Hill.

We're watching all of this unfold. Anderson?

ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: Van Jones, as we watch this and wait for the president, I am wondering how many of us kind of realize the degree to which this change -- kind of the import of this change. To not have President Trump, the name "Trump" in our heads 24 hours a day is going to be a big adjustment, and something I think a lot of people in this country welcome.

VAN JONES, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: I think that's right. I think right now you have, I don't know, 10 million, 20 million, 30 million people holding their breath, just holding their breath, looking at this. And I think when that sigh of relief comes out, it's going to be audible around the world.

And the sad part about it is, you have got -- this is how you don't do it. Kids at home, this sore loser send-off which puts your own ego and your own hurt feelings above the team, above the community, above everybody else, this is how you don't do it. And what you're going to see is -- you've seen the collapse of an icon. It used to be like, be like Trump, meaning be rich. Now the word Trump is going to mean sore loser. Don't be a Donald Trump. So you see the collapse of that icon.

But the resurrection, the renewal, the restoration of that White House as a citadel of democracy and civility and decency -- civility is key to civilization. It's not optional. And you're going to have that restored today. But this is -- young people, this is not the way to do it.

COOPER: On the right-hand side of the screen you see Blair House where President-elect Biden and Dr. Jill Biden have spent the night. David Axelrod?

[08:05:07]

DAVID AXELROD, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Just a little bit earlier, John King was talking about the election, and said it's math. It's math. Biden got more votes. That's how democracy works.

But in the perverse calculus of Donald Trump, there's only division and subtraction. And we've lived in this heightened state of agitation for four solid years. We've gotten a little taste of what relief is like just with his absence from social media, which has stirred this country and the world for four years, and led to some of the events we saw, tragic events in Washington on January 6th. So this is really a huge thing.

And let me just say from a standpoint, and Van can speak of this, of someone who served in that building, there has been a sense that, not because of his views, but because of the way he's governed, that that sacred building has been defiled for the last four years. Every time I walked into that White House, I felt a sense of awe and responsibility. And I think most people, Republicans and Democrats who served there, felt the same way. And to see it defiled the way it's been has been really heartbreaking. And so, as Van says, there's that sense of relief today as well.

COOPER: Gloria?

GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: It's not only a sense of defiling, but we have watched so many norms be broken that Americans respect. And there's a sense that maybe that will be restored because this president-elect, to be president very soon, is all about those norms. And another thing, a sense of optimism that we have not had in this country because we have gone through so much, and because we have had a president who is all about grievance and vengeance.

COOPER: Let's go back to Jake.

JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: Thanks, Anderson. As we watch President Trump's helicopter, it's interesting. He really is doing everything he can that's wrong. It's like, as I think Van was just saying, this is a textbook case of how not to leave the presidency -- whine and cry, pretend that you didn't win, incite your supporters, stage an insurrection. And on his way out the door, he pardons a bunch of his cronies. Elliott Broidy, Steve Bannon. There's an ethics group that just put out a statement saying even Nixon didn't pardon his cronies on the way out the door. Really, you think that he couldn't get any more disgraceful. Well, just give him a few hours.

DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: And this was just the last set of pardons. He's already issued some pretty horrendous pardons for the people we have covered who have done some pretty bad things, been convicted of doing some pretty bad things in Donald Trump's name.

But right now, what I'm definitely sensing, and I'm sure you two are here, sitting above this city, is a palpable sense of sort of suspended animation, that we know that this is going to happen intellectually. We see that helicopter on the White House lawn. We know he's going to get in it for the last time. But there has been such desire by more than half of the country in a very passionate, activist way to see this man go. And now they are watching their television screens waiting, holding their breath for it to happen.

And I have -- we have never covered anything like this. Certainly, people have been disappointed or excited, but nothing like this. It is in people's constitution, small "c," about how they feel about it.

ABBY PHILLIP, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: It's sometimes hard to remember, but the truth is, four years ago, a majority of Americans voted against Donald Trump, and they've been governed by this president for four years. And then another majority of Americans voted to vote him out of office, and he rejected their decision for months and months leading up until this point.

But I do think we should remind people of what normal means, when we say this is not what it's supposed to be like. We don't know if President Trump is going to write a note to his successor, but the note that he received when he came into the White House said, regardless of the push and pull of daily politics -- this was written by Barack Obama -- it is up to us to leave those instruments of our democracy at least as strong as we found them. George H.W. Bush wrote to Bill Clinton, you will be our president when you read this note. I wish you well. I wish your family well. Your success is now our country's success.

[08:10:05]

This is a president who in everything that he does and everything that he says rejects that kind of notion, that it's not about who is in the presidency. It's about what is good for the country. We'll see him today giving himself a big party at the end, even though, as Jamie noted, he's leaving this office in disgrace.

TAPPER: Complete disgrace. And we should note, let's got to Kaitlan Collins. Kaitlan, the reason the president is doing it the way he's doing it is because, a, he doesn't have the strength of character to attend the inauguration of the person who beat him, but, two, he wants to get down to Florida before he is no longer president because he doesn't want to be on a private plane. He wants to be on Air Force One. But he's running behind schedule.

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Yes, he is, Jake. He was supposed to actually leave the White House about 10 minutes ago. Obviously, you can see there he has not walked out of the residence side of the White House. That's where he's coming from, not the Oval Office where you sometimes see the president depart. We're being now told by White House officials he's running about a half an hour behind. So that gives you an indication of what's happening inside the residence of the White House as the president is prepared to leave.

One thing that we did learn, Jake, we do know the president is going to speak at Joint Base Andrews. Notably, it's going to be without a teleprompter. Of course, we have seen over the last four years what that means between teleprompter Trump and when Trump is off the cuff. His own aides sometimes sigh over remarks that they've written and prepared for the president and he goes off script. But we're now being told he's not even going to have a script as he is making these remarks. So this may mirror more closely with how the president actually feels leaving office than that taped farewell address that he did the other day.

But I also want to note, if you are looking there at the South Lawn of the White House, on the left side of the screen you see those reporters waiting for the president to come out. Typically, on the right side there are a lot of guests waiting for the president. Any mundane departure, you can still see dozens of guests or White House staffers waiting to see the president off. Notably, they're not there. I'm assuming some of them are at Joint Base Andrews, but none here as to what the president typically sees, because lately he's been leaving the White House. He doesn't often take our questions anymore, even though he used to, and he would go over and greet the guests. But instead, we just saw a few aides go and board Marine One with some bankers boxes, Louis Vuitton luggage that we presume is the first lady's. But Jake, it will be notable to see the president speaking off of a teleprompter, without a teleprompter, when he does finally make his way to Joint Base Andrews, which we are expecting in the next 15 minutes, but of course that could slide depending on the president's schedule.

TAPPER: Yes, the fact that he's adlibbing a speech is not good news for the country, if I may observe.

John Harwood, one of the biggest frauds of this presidency has been the idea that he's draining the swamp, as he promised would happen in 2016. Obviously, the swamp has only accumulated more alligators and critters since he came here. I'm looking at the list of people he pardoned. A lot of financial crimes, a lot of rich people, a lot of well0connected people.

Here it is. Here is President Trump. So hold on. Let's take in this moment. President Trump and First Lady Melania Trump saying goodbye. Is that the press they're talking to, talking to reporters? We will get the tape of what he is telling the press in a few minutes. It's something called what's taped turn. It's not being fed in live. It's taped, and then when we get that, we will bring that to you. It is the arrangement.

It is a stunning moment, Dana. The disgraced 45th president of the United States and First Lady Melania Trump walking to Marine One for their last ride on Marine One ever. That will take them to Joint Base Andrews where the president will give an adlibbed speech. One can only imagine what he will say, and then they will fly to Florida, Dana.

BASH: He looks small. He just looks like a small man. And that is exactly the way that he has handled his presidency since he lost. And he just has appeared smaller and smaller and less and less courageous. And it does take courage. It takes fortitude. It takes a sense of self to be able to not do this, to be able to get into the motorcade with your successor, to take that ride, which we have seen and heard in so many history books. [08:15:01]

There are -- there are conversations that happen that are snapshots, that are legacy moments. That is not happening.

ABBY PHILLIP, CNN POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: They ride in -- they used to ride in the same motorcade.

JAKE TAPPER, CNN CHIEF WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: Yeah.

PHILLIP: I mean, literally, Donald Trump and Barack Obama, the man who he said wasn't born in the United States, sat in a car together four years ago.

But I am watching this scene, seeing, you can see at the south portico there of the White House, the president being saluted as he was walking out. He's now in Marine One. You're just reminded, as someone who's covered this president, he loves this part of the job. This part of the job where he is saluted, where thee is -- has the red carpet rolled out for him, where he gets to board Marine One. That is what he loves so much about the job.

Not so much, it seems, the other parts of the job which he has by all accounts and all reporting, really not been doing since at least Election Day, really neglecting so much of the hard work of the presidency, but always wanting to have these moments where he's being treated with deference and being treated with the pomp and circumstance of the job. That's what this is all about. Even though there is so much grandeur to what usually happens at the Capitol with the outgoing president and the incoming president and it is sad that we will be missing that today.

TAPPER: Marine One, the -- preparing to take off. President Trump, outgoing President Trump and First Lady Melania Trump aboard. The helicopter will take the first couple to Joint Base Andrews where President Trump will deliver his final address as president of the United States. We are told that it will be an ad libbed speech.

It's truly an historic moment. I have to say, there are tens of millions of Americans who are upset that Donald Trump will no longer be president. And tens of millions of Americans more who are relieved and this moment could not have come quickly enough for them.

BASH: Yeah.

TAPPER: A disgraced former President. We have not seen an incumbent president be defeated since George H.W. Bush. But George H.W. Bush carried himself with class and dignity. He was welcoming to Bill Clinton. They became friends.

Van Jones, as a former White House employee, this is not a fun moment for a White House employee to see their former boss be defeated. But then again, there are a lot of White House employees who are very distressed with the ugliness that Donald Trump has wreaked on the country, just since he lost. VAN JONES, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Yeah, well, a lot of former

White House staffers, I think a lot of human beings. People who have functioning brain stems and beating hearts to watch what's happened to the country.

As you watch this thing lift off and go away, you have to imagine for Muslim families who had a bull's eye on their back and, you know, women who were afraid to wear a hijab because people who said people who pray like you shouldn't be here. You shouldn't be allowed in the country. Imagine how they're feeling watching this, a repudiation, a complete repudiation of that approach.

You know, the House, the Senate and the White House given to a party that sees them as human beings. You think about all the immigrant families. You think about the babies snatched away at the borders. We still don't know what's going to happen to those babies.

So, it's a moment of relief for a lot of people.

TAPPER: Wolf Blitzer?

WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: Yeah, this is a brief flight. This Marine One chopper flight from the south lawn of the White House over to the Joint Base Andrews. But this is a moment that, John King, this is a moment in history. The last time this president will be aboard Marine One. The last time he will board Air Force One.

He will have a little bit -- he'll have a little bit of a speech, I suspect. It looks like a tiny little crowd has gathered at Joint Base Andrews. But it looks like he's going to take a little tour over the city before he heads over to Joint Base Andrews.

JOHN KING, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: One last look down at Washington. Remember four years ago the question was, would the disruption of Donald Trump change Washington for the better? Would it break the paralyzed politics?

That was the conversation four years ago on this day. It is clear that disruption of Donald Trump made Washington more divided. It included in the end a violent attack on the United States government by his supporters two weeks ago today. I believe that's the president's hotel, the building you just saw the helicopter pass behind it, not far from the White House. And now he's behind us about to pass the Capitol building where in under four hours, Joe Biden will put his hand on a Bible and become the president of the United States.

[08:20:06]

You saw there the helicopter Marine One passing by the Capitol dome. Again, it's just hard to fathom. It was two weeks ago today that supporters of this president, carrying his flag and wearing his hat and wearing other hateful, hateful messages on their clothing stormed that building, stormed that building because they believe the president's lies. That's not excusing their conduct. Dozens of them have been arrested and will face the authorities, but that is the final legacy of Donald Trump. He challenged the very system that made him president four years ago.

He tried to ignore and defy in the end. And the system survived that. And today, Joe Biden, a person who respects the office and respects democracy, respects tradition will become the president.

BLITZER: Yeah, he's flying over Washington, D.C., right now heading toward Joint Base Andrews. A brief little flight. Looked like they wanted to do a little circle over the U.S. Capitol as -- and we could hear the Marine One flying just over our heads not too far away at all, but should be landing Joint Base Andrews.

What a difference four years makes. He had a very impressive, huge crowd at his inauguration. It's going to be a little pathetic, tiny crowd at Joint Base Andrews where he's going to say good-bye.

KING: As we watch this circling over the capitol a little bit to give the president and first lady one last look and, again, when he gets off the helicopter, he'll not ride it again as president unless he tries a comeback in four years. I'm sure he wants to savor this moment. He's entitled to that. But, yes, on his way to Joint Base Andrews and then to Florida.

BLITZER: Kaitlan Collins is watching all of this.

Kaitlan, you're getting more information. What else are you learning?

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, we're watching Marine One right now taking one final trip over Washington with President Trump and the first lady on board. Barron Trump is already there. He's not on Marine One. It's flying just past the Washington Monument.

They just flew over the Capitol where these preparations are under way for Joe Biden's inauguration. At any moment now, in the next few hours, the inauguration that the president will not be attending but apparently wanted to see. And now you can see they just hung a left past the Washington Monument. They now appear to be en route to Joint Base Andrews.

But it is notable, the president took one last circle over Washington. Wolf, that's typically what the outgoing president and first lady do after their successors are sworn in here at the Capitol. They get on Marine One and then they are taken to Joint Base Andrews where they typically would take a government plane to their next destination. Of course, that is Florida.

But we are told by sources the president did not want to have to ask the Bidens for use of a government plane. He wanted to not leave Washington as an ex-president. So, now, he is still leaving Washington as the current president on Air Force One. So that played a factor into this decision to break tradition and be the first president in over 150 years not to attend inauguration, but clearly he wanted to get a look at what the preparations are under way on the Capitol, Wolf.

BLITZER: Yeah, and Pamela Brown is already getting some more information as well.

What else are you learning, Pamela?

PAMELA BROWN, CNN SENIOR CORRESPONDENT: That's right. As Kaitlan just mentioned, it's been 150 years since a president did not attend the inauguration of the incoming president. But as much as the president is breaking tradition, his final hours in the White House were very much in tradition with what you see in presidents in their final hours and that was working on pardons.

I'm told by a source close to the White House he was in the White House, working on the pardons with his daughter Ivanka by his side who has been very involved in the criminal justice reforms in recent days. And he signed the paperwork, the final paperwork just before midnight. His daughter Ivanka I'm told left around 10:00 and was making calls until 2:00 am to some of the families impacted by the pardons of criminal justice reform pardons.

But I'm told by sources as the president leaves the White House today that in some ways, he's also relieved to be leaving behind the pressure of the presidency. But it is notable that he is leaving behind the White House with much fewer people standing by his side in the wake of the January 6th riots. In fact, on Air Force One this morning, he will be surrounded mainly by staffers I'm told, mainly by people staffing him there in Florida. He'll not be with his daughter Ivanka and son-in-law Jared Kushner as of now on Air Force One.

BLITZER: Stand by. Jeremy Diamond is at the White House for us.

Jeremy, when the president and first lady walked out onto the south lawn to board Marine One, he stopped briefly and spoke to reporters, a pool of reporters who were waiting there. You've got some information on what he said?

JEREMY DIAMOND, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Yeah, that's right, wolf. I was on the south lawn of the White House for the president's final departure on Marine One.

[08:25:02]

And the president stopped briefly just a few feet from the cameras, from the assembled reporters. And you could tell he was trying to take in this moment and instead of doing what he usually does, which is field a series of questions, make a series of controversial statements, the president paused briefly and said, thank you. He said it's been a great honor to be president. And he said good-bye to the press or presumably to the American people. It wasn't clear exactly whom he was addressing.

But he said he hoped that it would not be a long good-bye, which perhaps hints at the president's plans post-presidency to remain relevant, to remain in the news. I did try and shout a few questions at the president, Wolf. I asked the president if he had any regrets from his time in office that have been so tumultuous, so full of controversy and, of course, capped off by the president's inciting that mob that stormed Capitol Hill just two weeks ago today. The president did not answer the question. He walked alongside Melania

Trump over to Marine One and that's where you saw the president stop on the steps of Marine One before boarding. He turned around and he waved. That's something we typically see the president do on air force one but not on the steps of Marine One.

It was notable because it seemed the president was trying to take this in and say one final good-bye here, Wolf. Then the president was off and circling Washington, and now, he's on his way to Joint Base Andrews.

BLITZER: We're going to get the tape of what he was saying. It's a little weird when he said it's not going to be a long good-bye. Not exactly clear what he had in mind about that.

Jim Acosta is over at Joint Base Andrews. He's one of the pool reporters. He's scheduled to fly on Air Force One to West Palm Beach.

So, Jim, give us a sense of what you're learning over there.

JIM ACOSTA, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT (via telephone): Wolf, that's right. We can see the gathered guests right now for this departure ceremony in Joint Base Andrews.

I've got to tell you, Wolf, the president is not going to be happy with the crowd size. I'm seeing maybe 200 gathered guests. But among those guests, the president's adult children, the staff Mark Meadows, his domestic political adviser Steven Miller and other figures are gathered in this crowd as well.

When the president lands, he'll be greeted by a military band. As you can hear blaring over the loud speakers here, the rally music is playing. He's going to get the sense of a rally.

Marine One is landing right now on the tarmac at Joint Base Andrews right behind air force one. So we'll see the president departing from Joint Base Andrews shortly.

We do expect him to make brief remarks. They have a podium set up. A lectern set up. But there are no teleprompters set up.

So the president, if he decides to make some remarks, this could be one of those episodes (INAUDIBLE) talking to advisers (INAUDIBLE) --

BLITZER: Yeah.

ACOSTA: (INAUDIBLE) right to the bitter end, Wolf.

BLITZER: All right. Stand by. Hard to hear you. They're playing "Gloria" over there. It's a little loud.

John King, it looks like -- almost like a campaign rally. He seems to be getting into. Playing the music. Getting ready. Not necessarily a normal send-off.

KING: No, it is not. Again, tradition is that the new president would walk down the capitol steps with the former president and wish him well as he sent him off into retirement.

We have watched that. Bill Clinton did it. It's just -- George H.W. Bush, George W. Bush, did it for Bill Clinton, Barack Obama did it as well. But Donald Trump wants to leave. He's done things his way from day one, and he's going to leave his way.

As you know, Wolf, I'm sure you're getting the same, there are a lot of people watching who view this as an important page-turning day. They don't want us to cover President Trump, soon to be former President Trump anymore.

Obviously, we have to watch this farewell. We will have to watch as he leaves the presidency. Can he still exert influence over the Republican Party? So when he is doing things that affect policy that shape the Republican Party, we are going to have to cover him. And watch the comeback. But now, we're watching this most unorthodox farewell and, again --

BLITZER: John, you can see Jared Kushner, you can see Ivanka, you can see members of the family have already gathered over there. Eric Trump. You can see him there. Presumably all of them will be on Air Force One as well for this flight, less than two-hour flight down to Florida.

KING: And again, this is trademark consistency. He wants this to be about him. This is supposed to be a day about the country. It's supposed to be a day about the new president.

And yes, partly a day of the soon to be former president respecting democracy tradition, the peaceful transfer of power. But to the very end, Donald J. Trump, now still the president of the United States, just refuses to respect that, even as he is on one of the symbols. This is one of the symbols of American democracy you're looking at right there, Marine One.