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NYT: Biden's Team Says He's 95 Percent Committed To A 2020 Run; Sen. Sherrod Brown: "I'm Not Running For President"; Today: Paul Manafort To Be Sentenced In Virginia Court; Ocasio-Cortez Denies Campaign Finance Violations. Aired 12:30-1pET

Aired March 7, 2019 - 12:30   ET


[12:30:00] JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: After that so he does need to make his case anew for why this is a good idea. And, I think, he also has to be prepared to write out a long summary, if you will. He's not going to stay on top the whole time, he knows that. He's very well aware of that.

But look for him to try and build a quick coalition of African- American leaders and others and try to command the month of April, if you will, if that's when he jumps in. We think now, although he's broken a lot of these time lines and deadlines, self imposed, we think now if he's going to do this, it will be early April to jump in and people are anxious for him to do so because he can't wait forever.


JOHN KING, CNN ANCHOR: So just, I'll show you the numbers as you look at these Gallup numbers, if you look at these numbers, look at the graphic. He's favorability among Democrats, former Vice President Biden is off the charts. He's at top, there you see the line going all away across. Bernie Sanders is beneath in there also popular among Democrats.

The other candidates, some of this is just because they're still in the getting to know you phase. They're not known national names. But the Vice President starts with this overwhelming reservoir of goodwill.

Is that mean support for a presidential candidate, those are different issues. To your point and listen to these voters here. These are Democrats talking earlier this week with CNN Alisyn Camerota, this is hardly scientific. This is not scientific but just it does show the reflection of a lot of people saying, I love this guy but we want something new.


RUSSELL BANKS, DEMOCRAT VOTER: I used to think like, you know, because obviously I was riding on like kind of the Obama wave and I thought he was the -- I thought he was a person that would unite the party. But to be honest, you know, Senator Biden really comes from the kind of the good old boy politics of the past. OWEN EVANS, DEMOCRAT VOTERS: I don't think Joe Biden represents that new thing that we need. We just -- we need a new economy, we need new politics and we need someone different.


KING: That would be the challenge. He wants to come in and say, I'm a president. You can look at me, you can see as me as president. And I'm an adult. We need an adult to go up against President Trump. To allow the energy in the basis, let's turn the page.

JULIE PACE, WASHINGTON BUREAU CHIEF, ASSOCIATED PRESS: One of the things you heard earlier from Joe Biden advisers and a lot of the people that he was talking to is that he was only going to jump in this race if he looked at the rest of this field and thought, none of them can win, I have to step in.

And you're starting to hear that a little bit less now, I think, in part because they are realizing that there is some energy behind some of these other candidates and at the very least some interest from voters and checking out a Kamala Harris or Cory Booker or Elizabeth Warren certainly a -- or Bernie Sanders. So he has to make a different case than, I'm the only one who can get elected.

You know, I am with Jeff in thinking that five percent for Joe Biden still leaves open a real possibility. I mean, we have literally lived this before.

KING: Literally.

PACE: Literally, we have the place to borrow a phrase from Joe Biden.

RACHEL BADE, CONGRESSIONAL REPORTER, THE WASHINGTON POST: And it does seemed like in of the time says this morning seems like his heart was in that five percent and if you're going to run for president and convince voters that they should back you, you have to be into that 100 percent completely. There is a quote by Cedric Richmond who is a former Congressional Black Caucus Chairman in the House, very close with Biden, and he said you know, I know he's going to run but I don't know that Joe Biden knows he's going to run and I think that's a big problem.

FRANCO ORDONEZ, WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, MCCLATCHY: You mentioned the Gallup number. The Gallup number also showed the favorability among Republicans of Biden and he has high favorability among Republicans and that's something that the White House is very closely watching.

I was talking with some, you know, sources Republicans who are saying they're very nervous, if he can get to the general election that he is the guy who could be the most danger. And they point out that take the Republican National Committee. They have not been talking about Joe Biden very much.

KING: The president -- the president does sometimes. Let's just listen because there's a play, he mocks Joe Biden but if you talk to people, you're right. People around the President say he's the one who and worries about the scrappy kid Scranton, the blue collar appeal.

Let's listen to the president.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: And I hear Biden wants to take me to the back of a barn. He would be in big trouble, I will tell you.


Remember he said that? "I'd like to take him." You know with Biden, you go like this, phew (ph), and he goes down.

Sleepy Joe Biden, we call him, one percent Joe because he ran at least twice. I think three times, they say twice. I think he ran three times and he never had more than one percent.


KING: Both band relish of a good fight in the sense that, if you see that you're Biden and you think he want to get into that fight. The question is, can he sell this in the sense that, just look this right here, on the top five elected officials in the Democratic field.

Biden has 47 years of elected office experience, Bernie Sanders has 36 years, Jay Inslee, 30 years between the House of being governor, Cory Booker, 21 years mayor and senator, Amy Klobuchar, 20 years.

He wants to make the case that, you know, look at me I have the experience. Is that what the party is looking for? Donald Trump was elected with no government experience. Barack Obama was in the Senate for about 12 minutes before he ran for president.

ZELENY: It depends, I mean, if there's definitely a new call for a new generation of leadership (INAUDIBLE) --

KING: I have to stop you right there. We're just getting a statement and I hope I can get more details of it. But Sherrod Brown, the Democratic Senator from Ohio is not running for president. We're in this conversation about Joe Biden, here's another a Senator Democrat from Ohio, more of a centrist -- or he's a progressive but he views himself more of a blue collar working class candidate, announcing that he is not going to run for president.

[12:35:04] That is a significant development in this Democratic field which has been, you travel in Iowa recently, if you say, we want somebody from the Midwest. We want some Democrats look at the Trump map and say we want somebody who can test Ohio and Pennsylvania, and Michigan, and Wisconsin.

Sherrod Brown not running for president.

ZELENY: Which is a surprised because most of his advisors thought he was -- I was with him on that Iowa on that first trip. He was just in South Carolina over the weekend. I was talking to someone who talked to him on Saturday. They thought he was going to run.

So as we looked through this, his statement here. He says, I will keep calling out Donald Trump and his phony populism. I'll keep fighting for all workers across the country, but the best place for me to make that fight is in the U.S. Senate.

Some of these candidates also though are accepting the reality of time is running out, it's hard to fund-raise, it's hard to do some of these things. So I think this is another good thing for Joe Biden. He also may have sense that Biden is running. That was one of Senator Brown's calculations.

If Biden may not be getting in, maybe there was more of lane for him. So, I think this is really interesting and it is connected with to Biden. All these candidates (ph), Will Barr, Brown, Biden. Beto --

PACE: Two big developments for Biden that are really positive this week is Bloomberg and now Brown getting out.

ZELENY: Right.

PACE: And Bloomberg's team, they are very data driven and they were pretty clear when they announced this decision this week that when they looked at the data, they saw that there was room for a moderate to win the Democratic Primary even with all the energy right or left.

And then there was not going to be room if two moderates ran. And their assessment, they say they were not told this directly by Joe Biden, but their assessment based on everything they heard is that Biden is getting in and so they made the choice essentially to clear the lane for him and Brown, though he does view himself more as progressive, his background in Ohio. Some of the positions he has taken does fit him sometimes more into that moderate category. And so --

ZELENY: I think those are red states in Ohio (INAUDIBLE) --

PACE: -- A red state, right. So both of these developments do give Biden the lane should he choose to take that.

RACHAEL BADE, CONGRESSIONAL REPORTER, THE WASHINGTON POST: All right, yes, I mean Sherrod Brown not talked about a lot recently given all the presidential candidates jumping in, but, I mean, the one thing he really had was Ohio and rewinning Ohio which, for a long time is and still is considered a swing state but it's becoming more and more increasingly Republican and increasingly red and that is one state that Democrats will going to have a big problem with in 2020. And so perhaps he's going to be communicating some pointers to whomever runs in that middle lane.

ORDONEZ: It's also a little space for Amy Klobuchar that was a lot talk that there is too many Midwest, potential Midwest candidates was there enough to go around. So that's a plus for her. ZELENY: And as for Biden, I mean, were showing the sound of the president is in that book. We're told that in meetings every week that they have, as Kaitlan Collins and I have been reporting about the President's meetings, he talks about Biden a very different way privately. He asks his advisers how he's doing and thing. In Pennsylvania, you mentioned Scranton is a shorthand. The President believes that Biden should he get through a primary would be a tough election opponents.

So, I can't wait to see how the President's and starts aiming at this. He probably won't go after Biden all that much out of the gate, but he's talking about him totally differently privately than he was at those rallies.

KING: Well, it's an important day the reporting that Joe Biden is getting closer and a very significant development Sherrod Brown Democrat Senator of Ohio deciding not to run for president. An opening for the vice president especially as you note earlier, of the Bloomberg withdrawal we will see how this one plays out.

Up next, the first American woman to fly in combat now a United State senator reveals she's also a victim of military rape.


[12:42:50] KING: Topping our political radar today, the fight against ISIS, "Far from over." That's from the U.S. general in command of operations in the Middle East, General Joseph Votel appearing today for the House Arm Services Committee. He says the terror group is smaller and less effective but then ISIS fighters and leaders are still out there. General also is asked if it's time for the United States to get out of Afghanistan.


REP. MICHAEL WALTZ (R), ARMED SERVICES COMMITTEE: Do in the conditions now merit a withdrawal on your advice? You know, four years that's come on your way out?

GEN. JOSEPH VOTEL, COMMANDER, U.S. CENTRAL COMMAND: The political conditions and where we are in the reconciliation right now don't merit that.


KING: Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Lindsey Graham, a Republican telling CNN he plans to hold a hearing on gun control later this month. That hearing expected to cover so-called red flag laws that some states have passed. Those laws designed to take guns out of the hands of people deemed dangerous to themselves or to others. Senator Graham, wants that to be a Federal law.

Arizona Senator Martha McSally tweeting this out, just a few minutes ago, "Thank you for the outpouring of your support. It means a lot for all who have reached out." She's referring to her emotional revelation on Capitol Hill just yesterday when she described how she was preyed upon and raped by a superior officer when she was a pilot in the United States Air force. The Senator said she decided to speak out not only for herself but for all women in uniform.


SEN. MARTHA MCSALLY (R), ARIZONA: I just felt that I needed to talk about it. But it isn't about me. I wanted to give a perspective of why I am advocating so strongly for women in the military and why I'm advocating that the command chain has to step up and do their job to rid them of sexual assault.

NORAH O'DONNELL, CBS THIS MORNING ANCHOR: Was it difficult for you to say it publicly in a forum like that?

MCSALLY: It, you know, it was. It brings back the very real memories and the realities of it all, but I'm glad I did.


KING: Up next, judgment day for Paul Manafort.


[12:48:55] KING: A big afternoon in court today for Paul Manafort. After nearly two years in the Special Counsel crosshairs, Manafort will be sentenced later today in Federal Court of Virginia. The former Trump campaign chairman convicted last year on eight counts, ranged from tax and bank fraud for failing to disclose tens of millions of dollars he had in foreign bank accounts.

Special Counsel Robert Mueller's Office says the punishments with the crime and served with to others from following Manafort's example. He faces up to 25 years in prison. That's essentially a life sentence for the 69-year-old. And he'll have another sentencing day for separate charges in D.C. next week.

CNN Sara Murray is outside the courthouse. Sara, what are we expecting from the judge today?

SARA MURRAY, CNN POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, look, John, this is basically the day Paul Manafort is going to learn whether he spends the rest of his life behind bars. And you know, prosecutors have said he should. They have suggested 25 years in jail, they've said Paul Manafort has shown very little remorse for his crimes. He wants to blame everyone but himself for his own criminal activity.

You know, they also point out that when they had a plea deal with him and he was supposed to be cooperating, Paul Manafort was in fact lying to them. We did not see Paul Manafort when his trial was going on in Virginia actually take the stand in his own defense.

[12:50:02] But he will have one last opportunity here in Virginia to speak in his own defense today. He can speak, if he chooses to do so, before he's sentenced and that's his last opportunity to essentially beg for leniency from this judge. And finally Manafort has insisting that he's sorry, he's begged for leniency.

Obviously that didn't move prosecutors much but, you know, we do know Manafort spent the last nine months incarcerated. His health has been deteriorating, we've seen him with a cane at point, we've seen him and he's in a wheelchair at other points, so that could be his last opportunity to try to move the judge.

And this is really the big one John, I mean, you pointed out he's going to sentenced again, next week in Washington, D.C. for conspiracy and witness tampering but the decision but the decision by judge today, this idea that he could spend, you know, more than 20 years in prison. That's going to be the big one for Manafort, John.

KING: That's a sobering afternoon for him. Sara Murray, appreciate it, live outside the courtroom. Joining me in studio, former Federal Prosecutor Shan Wu. He was also a member of Rick Gates Defense Team. Back in the day Rick Gates of course the business partner for Paul Manafort.

Put Manafort into context in all of these. His team says and then they've said in filings. You know Robert Mueller set out to probe Russia collusion. Read all the documents, there's no collusion. Manafort may have done bad things but what's Mueller doing here? Put him to help us understand the context of Paul Manafort.

SHANLON WU, FORMER FEDERAL PROSECUTOR, DEFENSE ATTORNEY: I think for all of the talks there's been that Manafort is not angling for the pardon. That's really a Hail Mary pass form. They have to concentrate on the ground. Get rid of Ellis, so they are focusing on Ellis.

I think what his legal team is doing makes a lot of sense. They've made this proportionality argument and what that basically boiled down means that as compared to other people, they're kind of like him, similar crimes, similar lack of criminal history, the sentencing guidelines range seems disproportional to him. And so they're saying because of that judge, you ought to go underneath those guidelines and they're hoping to get something probably single digits.

KING: And as they made their argument for that they say, the Special Counsel's attempt to vilify Mr. Manafort as a lifelong and irredeemable felon is beyond the pale. They go on and say, he suffers from severe anxiety, panic attacks and a constant feeling of claustrophobia while he is locked alone in his cell each day. There's no high risk of recidivism in this case given the harsh lesson Mr. Manafort has already learned, especially in light of his age.

Is that a case, is that a case to could get a judge to say, OK, I could give you 25, I'm going to give you a 12?

WU: I don't think so, not just on the notion that he's suffering from anxiety and such. Ellis's great experience and he understands the toll that being in jail takes on people. I think though Ellis has given us some clues that he views Manafort perhaps a little bit sympathetically, I mean, he made those remarks beginning that the prosecution was really focused on Trump not Manafort. He's certainly going to acknowledge that the jury found Manafort guilty but we can gleam from that in his mind, he may be thinking, you know, if it was not for this Trump situation, maybe Manafort would not have been the subject of such an intense, deep-looking investigation and prosecution. So I think that may play in.

KING: And we only learn about the Special Counsel's investigations when they're in court actually doing filings and speaking. So it would be interesting to see if we learn anything new today. I suspect now, we'll focused on Senate and we will see.

Shan, appreciate you're coming here.

WU: Sure.

KING: Up next for us, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez fending off allegations of campaign finance law violations.


[12:57:44] KING: Freshman Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez denying allegations of campaign finance law violations that after a conservative group filed a complaint with the Federal Election Commission. The complaint alleges the freshman Congresswoman's top aide funneled hundreds of thousands in 2018 campaign donations from PACs into his private company in order the complaint alleges to hide how the money was spent.

CNN's Fredreka Schouten has been following with us. Fredreka take us what's being alleged here?

FREDREKA SCHOUTEN, CNN NATIONAL POLITICAL WRITER: Well this all goes back to a political operation that the person who became Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez's chief of staff set up back in the midterms and the goal was to create a bunch of PACs and elect a brand new Congress. Find people who had never run for office before and help change the way Congress worked.

And so as part of that, he set up a company that his lawyer said would be like a campaign in a box. It would be a one-stop shop for polling and fundraising and all the activities that these novice politicians needed. Fast-forward, hundreds of thousands of dollars are spent by PACs and some of these candidates to this LLC that he set up.

But there weren't details disclosed in the Federal Election Commission filings about exactly what they did, what other vendors did they pay? So this conservative group is alleging that this is a massive scheme off-the-books operation to hide who ultimately benefited. Ocasio- Cortez and her people are saying, not so fast.

For starters, the Federal Election Commission didn't tell them they had to disclose all these vendors -- the rules on sub-vendors or sort of not as clearcut as you might think. And then also her chief of staff never benefited from the company. So, what she's dealing with now, however, is that she's going to have to answer a Federal Election Commission complaint about this and sort of delve into whether there could be some reporting violations or not. She's obviously, of course, sort of someone that conservatives focus on a lot and she now has a complaint to contend with.

KING: A quick intermediate task given her high profile conservative filed complaints. She denies it, we'll let the process play out and see if we get more information that goes.

Fredreka, appreciate the reporting today and we'll keep track in this one is the FEC case continues.

Thanks for joining us today in INSIDE POLITICS. Don't go anywhere. Busy news day. Brianna Keilar, starts right now. Have a great afternoon.