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Capitol Building Riot Security Failures; Interview With Former White House Chief of Staff John Kelly. Aired 4-4:30p ET

Aired January 7, 2021 - 16:00   ET



JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: The attack committed by a violent mob President Trump's supporters after he encouraged them to -- quote -- "walk down Pennsylvania Avenue" and -- quote -- "take back our country."

That's what this group of domestic terrorists attempted to do. In this video captured by BlazeTV, you can see members of this mob descending on the Capitol, violently shoving police, breaking through barriers outside the Capitol, a mob fueled by President Trump's lies and conspiracy theories.

President Trump has so far refused to condemn the violence by his supporters. And now there are serious discussions about removing him from office.

This afternoon, Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi said the 25th Amendment should be used to remove President Trump from office, and, if not, Democrats may pursue impeachment. Pelosi joins Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer and Republican Congressman Adam Kinzinger of Illinois, all because of very grave concerns of what Trump might do in these last 13 days before he leaves office.

In the early hours of the morning, Congress confirmed what we have known to be true for months: President-elect Biden won the 2020 presidential election, though that confirmation came only after 138 members of the House and eight senators objected.

They aligned themselves with the same disgraceful conspiracy theories that inspired the bloodshed at the Capitol. Senator Hawley, Senator Cruz, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, and 143 others, this is their legacy. In many ways, each one of them has blood on his hands.

And now a member of President Trump's Cabinet has joined the administration resignations following this attack on the U.S. Capitol, transportation Secretary Elaine Chao.

CNN's Kaitlan Collins joins me now.

And, Kaitlan, Speaker Pelosi is now saying President Trump must be removed from office using the 25th Amendment. Is anyone on -- in the Cabinet, which is actually the body responsible for using the 25th Amendment, are they on board? KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: So far, no one has

said so publicly. But we do know that the House speaker tried to call the vice president earlier today. She did not successfully get through to him. It's not clear if he's actually going to call her back, given he knows probably what it is that she's calling about, given she has made it so clear.

But there are these growing conversations happening about removing the president from power in his final days in office, given the chaos that we saw play out yesterday. And they are now being led by the House speaker, Nancy Pelosi, Jake, who held this remarkable press conference earlier today where she was calling out members of the Cabinet, asking if they're really going to let the president stay in office for the next 13 days and, she said -- quote -- "assault democracy" while doing so.

And, of course, this comes as one of those key Cabinet officials who could have played a role in this just announced that she is going to resign because of what the president did yesterday.


COLLINS (voice-over): Washington is still reeling today after a mob of President Trump supporters incited by his lies breached the Capitol and wreaked havoc on a sacred constitutional process.

President Trump didn't appear publicly today, as aides who were shaken by his behavior headed for the exits. Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao became the first member of Trump's Cabinet to resign in protest today, telling staff in an e-mail that what happened in Washington was a -- quote -- "traumatic and entirely avoidable event," adding, "It has deeply troubled me in a way that I simply cannot set aside."

Chao, who is married to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, joins over half-a-dozen officials who have now resigned...

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: That's right. We own it!

COLLINS: ... including Trump's deputy national security adviser and his former chief of staff who was serving as a special envoy.

MICK MULVANEY, FORMER ACTING WHITE HOUSE CHIEF OF STAFF: I can't stay here, not after yesterday. You can't look at that yesterday and think I want to be a part of that in any way, shape or form.

COLLINS: Even those who used to work for Trump are breaking with him.

Former Attorney General Bill Barr rebuked the president in a statement that read: "Orchestrating a mob to pressure Congress is inexcusable. The president's conduct yesterday was a betrayal of his office."

Fearful of mass resignations, Trump committed to a peaceful transition of power overnight in a statement that had to be posted to an aide's Twitter account because his was suspended.

Trump said: "Even though I totally disagree with the outcome, and the facts bear me out, nevertheless, there will be an orderly transition January 20."

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We love you. You're very special.

COLLINS: His words had less to do with a change in heart, after sympathizing with those on Capitol Hill, and more to do with growing conversations about removing him from office using the 25th Amendment.

REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA): If the vice president and the Cabinet do not act, the Congress may be prepared to move forward with impeachment. My members are very much interested, as my phone is exploding with impeach, impeach, impeach.

COLLINS: House Speaker Nancy Pelosi calling Trump a very dangerous person.

PELOSI: This is urgent. This is emergency of the highest magnitude.

COLLINS: Though invoking the 25th Amendment is unlikely to happen, at least one Republican is joining in on the call.

REP. ADAM KINZINGER (R-IL): The president is unfit and the president is unwell, and the president must now relinquish control of the executive branch voluntarily or involuntary.


COLLINS: Sources tell CNN that former national security officials are urging the secretary of state, director of national intelligence and the national security adviser not to resign, so a political crisis doesn't become a national security one.

Trump's relationship with the vice president is also at an all-time low, as CNN has learned he called him a vulgarity once Pence made clear he wouldn't do the president's bidding and would instead comply with the Constitution.

MIKE PENCE, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The votes for president of the United States are as follows. Joseph R. Biden Jr. of the state of Delaware has received 306 votes. Donald J. Trump of the state of Florida has received 232 votes.

The chair declares the joint session dissolved.



COLLINS: Now, Jake, what plays out between the president and vice president over the next two weeks will be fascinating to watch, because we do not believe they have spoken since what happened yesterday.

But Pence is not the only one that the president is on the outs with. There are several more Cabinet members coming forward to express displeasure with how he acted yesterday. Another one is a Trump favorite, the ag secretary, Sonny Perdue, who came out and said he is disappointed in the president's actions yesterday, and he does not believe that he should have supported those who were, of course, not in support of a peaceful transfer of power in a few weeks from now.

TAPPER: All right. Kaitlan Collins, thank you so much. Appreciate that report.

Joining me on the phone is retired Marine General John Kelly, President Trump's former chief of staff and the former secretary of the Department of Homeland Security.

General Kelly, thanks so much for joining us.

I know you have been distressed by a lot of the things you have seen since leaving the White House. What was your reaction to what you saw yesterday?


It's an unbelievable scene at the Capitol. Frankly, the president's action and words didn't surprise me at all, but I was very, very surprised that those people would assault the people's house, do the damage they did, and embarrass us all.

TAPPER: Attorney General Barr has accused President Trump of -- quote -- "orchestrating a mob to pressure Congress."

Do you agree? And do you think that President Trump has blood on his hands? There were four people killed yesterday.

KELLY: You know, the president knows who he's talking to when he tweets or when he makes statements. He knows who he's talking to. He knows what he wants them to do.

And the fact that he said the things, he has been saying the things he has been saying since the election, and encouraging people, no surprise, again, at what happened yesterday.

TAPPER: How much blame do you lay at the feet of those who, along with the president, have pushed these deranged election lies, Senator Cruz or Kevin McCarthy?

KELLY: Well, I -- my strong feeling is, so long as there was a possibility in the courts that the election could be proven to be inaccurate or fraudulent or something, the process is designed to work, and it was working.

I'm just surprised at members of Congress -- you know, and they have to look themselves in the mirror -- but just surprised at members of Congress that were encouraging, not necessarily the behavior yesterday, but encouraging the president.

And there's very, very few -- certainly, I -- this is two years ago this month I left the White House. Very, very few of them were looking the president in the eye and telling him what he was considering -- this is back then -- what he was considering was wrong or whatever. But, as I say, they have to live with themselves. But I don't believe

they were encouraging that action at the Capitol yesterday.

TAPPER: No, I guess not, but I guess the point is, when you see this angry mob, they have been fed these lies now for years, but specifically about the election since November.

And they were obviously -- they believed them. They believed these lies. And it's not just President Trump telling them. It's people -- it's anchors at a -- at other news channels. I shouldn't say news -- anchors at other channels, and Kevin McCarthy, and Hawley.

And 126 members of the House, Republicans, signed on to that crazy lawsuit from the attorney general of Texas.

Do they bear some responsibility, I guess, because, I mean, these -- this mob was angry because they have been -- they believed these lies.

KELLY: I mean, at some level, some responsibility, for sure.

But, again, the -- it was the president over these weeks and months that has been stirring these folks up. And what happened yesterday was probably somewhat predictable.

And, again, his response yesterday afternoon was just -- was just totally ridiculous.


And I watched President Biden's speech yesterday afternoon. I saw Mitch McConnell's comments before the riot. There are two men talking to the country in the way the country needs to be spoken to. And the president, in my view, has never spoken to the country. He has just spoken to his base.

TAPPER: There's now talk of invoking the 25th Amendment to try to get the Cabinet to remove the president from office.

It's not just Democrats saying it. It's Republicans, too, including the congressman from Illinois, former Republican Congressman Paul Mitchell of Michigan.

Do you support such an action? Should he be removed by the Cabinet?

KELLY: I think, Jake, that the Cabinet should meet and have a discussion.

I don't think it will happen. But I think the Cabinet should meet and discuss this, because the behavior yesterday and the weeks and months before that have just been outrageous from the president.

And what happened on Capitol Hill yesterday is a direct result of his poisoning the minds of people with the lies and the frauds.

TAPPER: The -- you were a former member of the Cabinet, in according -- in addition to being a White House chief of staff. If you were in the Cabinet right now, would you vote to remove him from office?

KELLY: Yes, I would.

The one thing we have going for us here, Jake, is, it's only 13 more days. No one -- as indicated yesterday by our vice president, no one around him anymore is going to break the law. He can give all the -- all the orders he wants. No one is going to break the law.

And we saw Mike Pence, Vice President Pence, stand his ground yesterday.

TAPPER: Nobody around him will, but he has got this mob of ardent supporters who are willing to break the law. Are you worried about what he might do in these last 13 days?

KELLY: You know, no longer.

I mean, again, this -- this has so enraged -- what happened yesterday so enraged the country and has turned most of the country back on to the right course. And that is a course that no longer listens to Donald Trump.

Sure, there will be some -- the core of the core. But I wouldn't worry too much about it.

And we have magnificent police, federal agents. Everyone's on heightened alert. I wouldn't worry about it. And I know you have people like Chris Wray at the FBI and -- well, all of them, all of the leadership in law enforcement and the intel, working to prevent anything that he might want to do in the next 13 days.

And I would also argue, Jake, for these people, particularly the people in our national security, Homeland Security, DOD, Chris Wray, to stay on the job. Don't resign. We need people at the top to see this thing through. It's only 13 more days.

TAPPER: Do you worry what it might mean for the nation if there end up being no consequences for President Trump, beyond his losing the election?

KELLY: No, I think -- I'm not a lawyer, but I think his actions yesterday and before that, his phone calls to the Georgia delegation -- or to the officials, I mean, I think these things have to be looked into.

But, most importantly, most importantly, he's gone in 13 days.

TAPPER: Multiple people told CNN that President Trump was borderline enthusiastic over the riots. Does that surprise you?

KELLY: Not at all.

I mean, I -- again, I worked very, very closely every day for 18 months with the president. And from a distance, you have -- it's impossible to understand who he actually is. But when you work closely with him, you understand very, very -- he's a very, very flawed human being. It doesn't surprise me.

In fact, when I left the White House, I really implored the president to not -- to hire the right guy to be his chief of staff, someone who will tell him the truth, someone who will try to keep him on the straight and narrow. I said, please don't hire a bootlicker or a yes- man, because you will be impeached.

And I -- and towards the end of my time there, all I ever heard from some of the real devotees in the White House was, you got to let Trump be Trump, let Trump be Trump.

My replacement -- well, let me just say, this is what happens. Yesterday and other things he has done in the last two years comes as a result of letting Trump be Trump.


TAPPER: Well, your replacement was Mick Mulvaney, who is obviously one of Trump's biggest enablers when he was chief of staff.

He's now resigned from the Trump administration. He was on -- he had some position, but not -- he wasn't chief of staff anymore.

He explained in an op-ed that President Trump, in his view, is -- quote -- "not the same as he was eight months ago" -- unquote.

Is that true, or is Mulvaney engaging in some revisionism to try to save his reputation, or what's left of it?

KELLY: Well, again, I go back three-and-a-half years.

I didn't know the president before I took the job as -- at DHS. I was there for six months. I very seldom saw the president, mostly because what I was seeing in the White House was pretty chaotic. And, again, I don't need to be too close to the flagpole.

When I took over, when I was drafted into the chief's position, I got to know the president very, very, very well. I don't think he has changed one little bit.

You know, when the guardrails are off, it's very predictable that he will do the kind of things he has been doing. And, of course, he's enraged because he has lost an election. He's a laughingstock now. And he's striking out.

But, again, someone -- someone needs to help manage him. And I don't think those people took up the task when I left.

TAPPER: Right.

KELLY: It was hard enough when I was there.

TAPPER: Right. KELLY: But, as I used to say to the president, you can fire me. I

will be a hero. I can quit. I will be a hero. You need to listen to me, sir. You need to listen to me. And you need to listen to the Cabinet and the experts we bring in here and make the best decisions for our country, not -- well, for our country.

TAPPER: The -- I guess one of the big mysteries of the -- not mysteries, but one of the big debates that I always have when it comes to his completely unacceptable behavior, and the disgraceful day that we had yesterday in American history, just an absolute -- just a black eye for this country, is, does he believe these lies that he tells about the election?

Does he not understand that all the information he's getting from the Breitbarts and the Alex Joneses of the world is false? Or does he have a psychological issue that I can't diagnose?

What do you think?

KELLY: Well, look, I would just tell you that he -- he believes what he believes. And he will go and find people that will give him the opinion he's looking for, and then carry that ball, hopefully, across some goal line.

As I say, he's a very, very flawed man. I'm not a psychiatrist. I could never -- I could never address anything that has to do with mental health. I would just say very flawed man who has got some serious character issues.

But, again, if he had had a staff and people around him that could help manage and control -- not control, but help manage him, so he could make the right decisions, but he's -- he's not -- he doesn't like that. And you don't survive by telling this president the truth, for very long anyway.

TAPPER: I do want to ask you, just as a former secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, about what we saw yesterday.

Are you concerned by the fact that these rioters, insurrectionists, terrorists, were able to breach the Capitol? You had members of Congress, people who had fought in wars sheltering in place.

Obviously, the mob is responsible for the violence, and they were incited by the president and his son and his lawyer. But to what degree was this a failure by the U.S. Capitol Police and other law enforcement agencies?

KELLY: Well, again, I was just reading something on one of the Web sites that the mayor of the city had asked the federal government not to deploy in the way that they had done before.

I will take that as -- it's reporting. I will take it as truthful.

But one of the things you do in cases like that is, you worst-case them. And you gather sufficient force, in this case, police force. So, in my opinion, they should have had hundreds of police, not only around the Capitol, but a quick-reaction group that could then -- in their hundreds, that could then deploy if things got out of hand.

I can remember, as a kid, during the Vietnam riots. And they moved hundreds of thousands of U.S. troops up from North Carolina, Marines and soldiers, and staged them all at Andrews Air Force Base, just in case.

There was no just-in-case force there yesterday, and there should have been.


And, again, they -- there should be investigations as to why, and people that made the wrong call should be dealt with. But there was insufficient force there to deal with those people.

And my hat is off to the police. I love the police. But the leadership somewhere above them all, the uniformed men and women, let us down. And it may have been the mayor. It may have been the Capitol Police. I don't know. But it needs to be looked into.

TAPPER: Lastly, sir, we do appreciate your calling in. This is a rare interview.

I do have to ask you, though. Some people have criticized you and others, like General Mattis and the rest, for working for President Trump for -- to begin with, and then, after you left, for not decrying him publicly more forcefully or sooner.

Why not? What do you say to them?

KELLY: Well, I...


KELLY: I would tell you, when you -- when you first meet or start working with him, in my case, at least, no idea at the flaws.

And when you start working for him, and begin to understand how flawed he is, then it's a matter of staying in the job as long as you can stand it to try to prevent some disaster.

So, when I went to work for him -- I mean, I had spent my entire life in service to the country. This was another opportunity to serve my country. And once in, I stood it as long as I could, until I left.

And, again, as a retired military officer, particularly a senior military officer, to try to preserve the civil-military relationship that's so important to our country, our democracy, it is very unusual for senior military officers to speak out against elected officials.

Now, in my view, the reason I'm on the phone with you right now is, the election is over. And I wanted to try to put some perspective into what took place yesterday.

But, again, as all of us look at what happened yesterday, we really need to step back and decide, how do we fix ourselves? Listen to the words of Joe Biden and Mitch McConnell yesterday. And we need to start this healing process. This is nuts.

But that's why I have not spoken out forcefully against him. I think it's inappropriate for a senior military officer to do so, particularly when there's an election pending.

TAPPER: Retired Marine General and former White House Chief of Staff John Kelly, thank you so much for your time. And, as always, sir, thank you for your service, and best to you and your family.

And, yes, let us have some healing now.

KELLY: Thanks.

TAPPER: The FBI, Homeland Security, Capitol Hill Police, they're all in D.C. So, how did these domestic terrorists storm the nation's Capitol?

The growing questions about the bungled security -- shattered windows, weapons, weed. CNN goes inside with new images as that mob stormed the Capitol.

Stay with us.



TAPPER: In our politics lead today: House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is demanding the resignation of the U.S. Capitol Police chief, after pro- Trump terrorists and insurrectionists were able to breach the U.S. Capitol while in an attempted insurrection.

Pelosi says that the House sergeant at arms has also informed her that he is resigning, as lawmakers from both sides of the aisle demand an investigation into how yesterday unfolded, as CNN's Manu Raju reports.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: That's right. We own it! We own you!

MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The day after deadly mob violence took over the Capitol, lawmakers were still struggling to comprehend how one of the nation's most fortified buildings could have been breached and their lives put in danger.

The damage still visible through the corridors of the Capitol, where pro-Trump rioters broke windows, forced their way through emergency exits, stormed through all corners of the building. Even House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's suite, typically heavily guarded, was vandalized, with a trespasser, breaking in shattering a mirror and leaving behind a threatening note, all while demonstrators removed her nameplate.

PELOSI: Justice will be done to those who carried out these acts, which were acts of sedition and acts of cowardice.

RAJU: The terrorists struck throughout the Capitol, forcing both the Senate and House to go on lockdown, just as Congress was preparing to verify Joe Biden's Electoral College win over President Trump.

But the riled-up pro-Trump crowd instead tried to break into the House chamber, where lawmakers were sheltering in place. One woman was shot and killed by the U.S. Capitol Police. Another rioter broke a window on the chamber's door, prompting an armed standoff with Capitol Police and many frightened lawmakers inside.

REP. RAUL RUIZ (D-CA): It was the closest I got to thinking, there's a possibility I could die. So, at any moment, somebody could have rushed in the door with a semiautomatic.

RAJU: Others were trying to think outside the box.

REP. JASON CROW (D-CO): I had a pen in my pocket that I could use as a weapon. I was looking for other weapons as well. And then I was coordinating with the Capitol Police to try to find a way out for us.

RAJU: In both chambers, a bipartisan call to condemn the violence and proceed with confirming Biden's victory, which Trump has been trying to stop.

SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY): We will not bow to lawlessness or intimidation.

RAJU: And in the halls of the Capitol, Republicans and Democrats placing the blame squarely on Trump's refusal to acknowledge reality and his lies about his election laws.

SEN. JOHN THUNE (R-SD): Had we not had senators who decided to object, we probably wouldn't have had that many people in town, if the president hadn't encouraged them all to come to town.

And there was a lot of anger and a lot of emotion based upon, in most cases, just a lot of false information. You know, they were convinced of things that weren't so.