Return to Transcripts main page


Trump Congratulates A.G. Barr for "Taking Charge" in Roger Stone Case; Sanders Wins New Hampshire, Edging Out Buttigieg as Klobuchar Gains Momentum; Emboldened Trump Seeks Revenge Post- Impeachment Trial. Aired 11-11:30a ET

Aired February 12, 2020 - 11:00   ET



KATE BOLDUAN: Hello, everyone. I'm Kate Bolduan. Thank you so much for joining with me.

This morning, the extraordinary move, the fierce backlash, and the president making no secret he's happy about it.

There are so many questions right now about what really happened when Attorney General Bill Barr stepped in, recommending a more lenient sentence for the president's long-time ally, Roger Stone, effectively overruling career prosecutors working the case, who had filed a memo in court asking that Stone get sentenced to seven to nine years in prison for lying to Congress, among other crimes.

This morning, President Trump applauding Bill Barr for getting involved, tweeting this: "Congratulations to Attorney General Bill Barr for taking charge of a case that was totally out of control and perhaps should not have even been brought."

The unprecedented power play has sparked a dramatic protest. One by one, in quick succession, all four of the prosecutors working this case and have been for a very long time, quit the case. One resigning from the Justice Department entirely.

CNN's Laura Jarrett has much more on how this all went down.


LAURA JARRETT, CORRESPONDENT & CNN CO-ANCHOR, "EARLY START" (voice- over): A stunning development as four federal prosecutors withdraw from Roger Stone's case after top Justice Department officials overruled their sentence recommendation, calling it too harsh.

Stone, a long-time confidant of President Trump, was convicted last year of lying to Congress, witness tampering and obstructing the House investigation into whether the Trump campaign coordinated with Russia, a case that stemmed from Special Counsel Robert Mueller's investigation. Prosecutors originally told a federal judge that Stone should serve

seven to nine years in prison. But then the president expressed his outrage on Twitter, calling it a very unfair situation, adding, "Cannot allow this miscarriage of justice."

Hours later, Justice Department leaders intervened.

One senior Justice Department official tells CNN that the sentencing recommendation that prosecutors made was not communicated to leadership at the department before it was submitted.

ELIE HONIG, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: This seems to be a full-scale reversal in a politically charged case by the Department of Justice. I've never seen anything like it.

JARRETT: The official went on to say, quote, "The department was shocked to see the sentencing recommendation. The department believes the recommendation is extreme and excessive, and is grossly disproportionate to Stone's offenses."

Ultimately, the presiding judge in the case will have the final say on Stone's sentence.

JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: The idea that this was just adjustments on the sentence that are somehow routine, nonsense. This is nothing routine about this.

Now, the one thing I would add is that I do think that the seven to nine years' recommendation was very high. I was surprised by it.

JARRETT: A Justice Department spokeswoman insists that the White House was not involved in overruling the prosecutors.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I thought it was ridiculous. But --



TRUMP: No, I didn't speak to the Justice Department. I'd be able to do it if I wanted. I have the absolute right to do it.

JARRETT: Still, in a series of tweets overnight, the president continued to rail against the prosecutors, the judge, and the case, saying, "It's all starting to unravel with the ridiculous nine-year sentence recommendation."

Democratic leadership in Congress outraged by the president's rhetoric.

SEN. RICHARD BLUMENTHAL (D-CT): I have called for an investigation by the office of inspector general.

This political interference by the president of the United States, using the attorney general as his henchman, is not only an insult to the career dedicated prosecutors, but also to the jurors, ordinary Americans, who served on that jury and convicted Roger Stone of nine serious felonies.


JARRETT: Behind the scenes, sources tell CNN that the president has faced some intense lobbying to pardon Stone. Some even taking to TV to make their appeals most effective.

Meanwhile, Trump abruptly withdrew the nomination of Jessie Liu, someone who he had handpicked to serve in a top position at the Treasury Department. But she was the U.S. attorney who led that office in D.C. that oversaw Stone's prosecution. And one source did not dismiss the idea that the scuttled nomination was connected to developments in Stone's case -- Kate?

BOLDUAN: So even in the quick succession of things that happened yesterday, with the prosecutors dropping out, there's even more with the withdrawal of the nomination. There's a lot to get to.

Thank you. Laura, stick with me

Because here also with us is two former federal prosecutors, CNN legal analysts, Elie Honig and Anne Milgram.

Just off the bat, Anna, your reaction to this.

ANNE MILGRAM, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Look, this is stunning. I was a line attorney at the Department of Justice and a senior attorney at the Department of Justice. I never saw anything like this happen.

I've also been a state attorney general where I was the chief law enforcement officer.

This is the kind of thing that it is the last thing that anyone who is in law enforcement or criminal justice wants to see happen, because all Americans need to believe that when the criminal justice system, whether it's an arrest or a sentencing, that it is the fair administration of justice.


BOLDUAN: You said to me last night, when I saw you, this hits you harder than any other of the breakings of norms, busting through barriers that we've seen.

MILGRAM: This has been tremendous. I think Elie would probably see the same thing.

This was home to me. I never left to try a case without someone saying do justice. Meaning, do the right thing. It wasn't about winning or losing. It was about being fair and following where the facts and the evidence went.

This kind of thing, to see the government and the people who tried the case, who were the actual trial lawyers, to put in a sentencing recommendation and have it literally flipped within 24 hours by political bosses, and it looks like, based on the president's tweet, undermines everything about the rule of law in our country.

And it really, really concerns me so deeply for our country and our institutions.

BOLDUAN: Elie, you've been outspoken on this. I have a two-part question for you. Do you think, in the line that came from justice at first, that they were surprised when they saw this memo, this sentencing memo put forth by the line prosecutors, do you think top officials could have been surprised by the sentencing memo that was filed as they suggest?

And if they were, and there really was no involvement from the White House in what happened in the 24 hours after or less, what should justice be doing right now to clear it up, to remove any of the fear that Anne is getting at right now?

HONIG: First of all, DOJ has a lot of questions to answer here. They need to be answered either to the judge or to Congress as to how this went down because it's so unprecedented to see this.

This is why you see, I think, federal prosecutors, former federal prosecutors like Anne and me, reacting so strongly.

In terms of what can be done now, I'm not exactly sure. I think the damage is done. I think they have taken a serious bite out of the independence of DOJ. I think the damage is going to be long lasting.

Did DOJ know about it at the highest levels? They should have. You need to have your house in order. If not, why not.

The question as to whether -- did the president directly order this? I don't know. Maybe we'll find out. The thing is he doesn't even have to at this point. He tweeted it. That's more than enough.

BOLDUAN: This is bad, even short of a direct phone call.

HONIG: Sure. They don't need a direct phone call. The tweet is enough. Bill Barr is on the same wavelength. He's using DOJ over and over to bail out Trump's associates and to potentially target his enemies.

JARRETT: Prosecutors, their initial requests, it doesn't come out of nowhere. It's not just presented in a vacuum. There are sentencing guidelines that the Justice Department attorneys have to follow. In fact, --


BOLDUAN: And there's internal debate, right?

JARRETT: Debate happens all the time. Main justice and line prosecutors disagree all the time. What they don't do -- and I know these former prosecutors know this better than anyone. What they don't do is put out a sentencing memo and then pull it back hours after the president says I don't like it. MILGRAM: It's really important to understand that. You're 100 percent

right. But once that memo is done, there are levels of review upon review. The Department of Justice is far more administratively bureaucratic than any other prosecution office I've worked in or run. And so maybe --


BOLDUAN: Maybe for good reason.

MILGRAM: Yes, but as a rule, there are a lot of eyes that would have seen that.

The U.S. attorney, who was Bill Barr's right hand at the Department of Justice, Tim Shea, would have absolutely signed off on it. I find it hard to believe that this was not communicated to main justice.

BOLDUAN: OK. So now, what can the judge over overseeing this case, what can Judge Amy Berman Jackson do in the moment? If there a range of possibilities? Can she say, you need to answer my questions of how this went down before I get to the point of handing Roger Stone a sentence?


JARRETT: Don't you think she hauls them into court right away? I think she hauls them into court and says, explain right away in an affidavit exactly what happened here? Why the reversal.

BOLDUAN: She can't -- she can't not see -- she can't unsee the sentencing memo that came before her and then what happened --


MILGRAM: So remember Judge Berman in the sentence case where basically the lawyers from DOJ tried to resign and Judge Berman said no. That was in New York City.

BOLDUAN: They tried to.

MILGRAM: So she could -- the lawyers move to come off the case. The judge has to approve that.

BOLDUAN: That is so interesting.

Elie, as you look at what appears to be a campaign of revenge now from President Trump on this, are there laws and rules stopping him from going this far now and later? Because I'm also struck by the president has the power of pardon. Why not just pardon Roger Stone after this?

HONIG: So here's the thing. The only rule on the books is the pardon power. And that's a very broad power. If he wants to exercise it to save Roger Stone or Michael Flynn, go ahead, he can. There will be political fallout, but he has to deal with that.

What he's doing now -- BOLDUAN: Or not.

HONIG: Maybe not. Who knows what --


BOLDUAN: Who cares. It's the power of the president.

HONIG: Right. There's no law saying the president shall not interfere with the Justice Department. But that is, as Anne said, that is a long-standing crucial norm that has been observed and respected by presidents certainly throughout my lifetime of both parties.

Now we are seeing that norm -- of all the norms this president has shattered, this is the most damaging one.

BOLDUAN: There's also one more thing that struck me in how this went down.

The "New York Times" is reporting, "The line prosecutors were even more upset because they were told that they would be reversed only after FOX News had reported it late Tuesday morning, according to people familiar with the situation."


What does that tell you guys?

JARRETT: It's a morale issue. How do you do your job when that's how you have to find out about this? When you're finding out that you get a call, we're going to reverse this, we're going to do a complete about face. Why? Who knows what that conversation was?

BOLDUAN: It's a protest.

JARRETT: It's a protest. I think that that's what you see with --


BOLDUAN: Because that's -- and Carrie Cordero wrote this and I thought this was fantastic: "Four federal prosecutors didn't withdraw from a case because they had a substantive disagreement with management. They withdrew because they were watching justice undone."


HONIG: The question is, who's calling the shots. Is FOX News calling the shots for the Justice Department or Trump's tweets? That's not how it should be done.

BOLDUAN: As we can see, a lot of -- some answers, more questions, and a lot more oversight that needs to be done.

Thanks, guys. Really appreciate it.

Coming up for us, Bernie Sanders gets a big win in New Hampshire. A win is a win. What was behind his support? And can he replicate it going forward?

And, with Pete Buttigieg and Amy Klobuchar nipping at Sanders' heels, are they now going to set their sights on each other?

We'll be back.



BOLDUAN: There's a clear winner in New Hampshire. But after last night, there's more than one candidate claiming victory. Bernie Sanders edged out Pete Buttigieg. Amy Klobuchar surged to a third- place finish, as she gained momentum in the final days, leaving Elizabeth Warren and Joe Biden in fourth and fifth, respectively.

Here's what Sanders says should be the big takeaway.


SEN. BERNIE SANDERS (I-VT): And let me say tonight that this victory here is the beginning of the end for Donald Trump.


SANDERS: With victories behind us, popular vote in Iowa, and the victory here tonight --


SANDERS: -- we're going to Nevada. We're going to South Carolina. We're going to win those states as well.



BOLDUAN: So let's dive into the vote totals. What the data can tell you about where the race is and how it's been reset.

CNN's Phil Mattingly joins me now.

Good to see you, Phil.

You've been looking into all the numbers from last night. What sticks out to you.

PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Let's start with the fact that we have numbers, which is a pleasant surprise compared to last week.


Here's another thing. This is a very different race than 2016. Obviously people will say yes, sure, of course. Bernie Sanders won, just like he did in 2016. But what he did in the state in 2016 was vastly different. All of the

light blue is Bernie Sanders. He wiped out Secretary Clinton back in that race.

This underscores this is a different race, different field, different organizations, a lot more money. Still same top-line result.

Here's why. If you go through the largest towns in the state, Bernie Sanders really cleaned up. Bernie Sanders ran up some numbers, in Concord, he ran up numbers in Manchester, he ran up numbers in Nashua.

Also the university towns, in particular the public university towns. When you have youth vote, when you have progressive vote, that tends to go Bernie Sanders' way, and it did again last night. And that, more or less, made up his margin, which, right now, I would note is under 4,000 votes.

What that also underscores is that this was made more of a race than it was in 2016. The reason why is, when you look at Pete Buttigieg and you look at Amy Klobuchar -- look, if you look at two areas specifically, this is the border of Vermont, obviously, where Bernie Sanders is from. He cleaned up in this area back in 2016. These aren't necessarily huge towns, a couple hundred votes here and there.

But Pete Buttigieg punctured that area in at least some form or fashion on the western part of the state. He also did very well down in the southeastern part of the state, some of the more affluent voters, well-educated voters. Pete Buttigieg made headway compared to where Bernie Sanders was in 2016.

Also, Amy Klobuchar. If you look at the dark green, Kate, you see where Amy Klobuchar won in some townships, a lot of places that were Republican-held traditionally.

But also note one key point. These three, right here, were the top three in just about every single town. That means that they were all playing every single town.

And guess who wasn't playing? Elizabeth Warren and Joe Biden. They both had disappointing nights. I think that's underscored by the results.

Clearly, Bernie Sanders happy with the top-line takeaway. Pete Buttigieg happy to basically split delegates coming out of New Hampshire.

And Amy Klobuchar, where a lot of late breakers broke after the Friday night debate performance, obviously feeling good as well.

But keep in mind, Kate, Iowa and New Hampshire look very different demographically than the next two contests coming up, Nevada and South Carolina. I think that's why Joe Biden was in South Carolina last night.

Obviously, a lot more to come. But for tonight at least, these three candidates feeling pretty good about themselves. BOLDUAN: Takeaways but only to a point because of the way the race

turns now.

Good to see you. Thank you.

Joining me now, CNN chief political correspondent, Dana Bash, and former Obama campaign manager, Jim Messina.

Good to see you guys.

Dana, this was a close race. I mean, a win is a win, no question for Bernie Sanders. But the results are likely tighter than the Sanders' team had thought or wanted. What does this mean for him going forward, and also then Buttigieg?

DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: First of all, on Bernie Sanders, yes, of course, it was closer than he would have wanted, especially given the fact that on the moderate side of the ledger, so to speak, it was split.

I mean if there were no Amy Klobuchar, I can just tell you anecdotally and also looking at the exit polls, a lot of her votes would have gone to Pete Buttigieg and he would have won. That's just kind of a fact of basic math. But a win is a win.

And more importantly, just like Pete Buttigieg, Bernie Sanders has staying power. He has people who are his supporters and they don't want to go anywhere.

In the states to come, he's got money. He has infrastructure. He has a movement behind him. Those are no small things, as Jim Messina, who kind of was behind and a part of a movement way back when, will tell you. But Pete Buttigieg has similar.


And so that is why you are seeing and hearing from a lot of Democratic strategists, a lot of Democratic leaders, who feared a long process, saying that's exactly what we think is happening as we speak.

BOLDUAN: Jim, Dana is calling you old. I just wanted to state that for the record.




BASH: Takes one to know one, Jim.


MESSINA: Right, totally.

BOLDUAN: So, Jim, Klobuchar, let me ask you about Klobuchar. Because as Dana noted the impact that she had with late-breaking, late- deciding voters in New Hampshire. Do you see that she has a path to keep this momentum going forward as this race turns now?

MESSINA: I do. Look, momentum matters in Democratic politics, right? Half of voters said they decided who they were going to vote for in the final few days of this campaign. Half. People have been campaigning in New Hampshire for 18 months and yet half the voters said, hey, we're thinking about this at the end.

Amy is doing something that's pretty unprecedented. She doesn't have a lot of money. She really is one of the candidates who is surging right now and it's kind of about her appeal saying, I can beat Donald Trump.

The other number that I think was really interesting last night is the most important issue for Democrats is, who can beat Donald Trump. And with those voters, Mayor Pete is now number one, Klobuchar is number two.

Over half of voters last night voted for candidates that were more moderate because Democrats are looking at this saying, we have to beat Donald Trump. And that's why Bernie Sanders, who won by 22 points in 2016 in New Hampshire, only won by two last night.

And going forward, we have a primary that is about passion versus pragmatism. And that is going to be what happens.

We're still in these lily white states where there are no minority voters. We're finally going to get to Nevada and South Carolina.

Then we get to Super Tuesday, where 38 percent of the delegates are going to be awarded, and we have, for the first time, battleship Bloomberg and all of his money coming.

So this race is about to get even more topsy-turvy.

BOLDUAN: When it comes to moderate voters, I'm really curious, Dana, what you think. What does Buttigieg versus Klobuchar look like now?

BASH: It looks like -- look, they obviously have different appeal. They're appealing on different --

BOLDUAN: Different levels.

BASH: -- issues, different levels.

Just the most basic is where she has differentiated herself from him, which is, nice guy, but he doesn't have experience. And he's differentiated himself from her as, nice woman, she's too inside Washington. You know, that sort of continues to be a differentiator.

But on the most important issue that Jim was just talking about is we've got to get Donald Trump out of there. It's a little bit less clear, which is why, again -- I'm curious to see if Jim is hearing this -- but I've been hearing -- there's no panic setting in yet. But there's a lot of concern about the split of the moderate vote.

And I've got to say, there's an irony, at least right now, that Joe Biden isn't part of that conversation.


BASH: He likely will be. He likely will be, to be fair, as we get to Nevada and South Carolina, where, as his campaign is reminding everybody today they have more of a natural base for his vote. As Jim was saying, more Latino voters, more African-American voters.

But if that is the case, there will be even more of a split, which could help Bernie Sanders keep -- stay on top or stay close to the top.

BOLDUAN: Real quick, Jim, what do you make of what we're seeing in turnout? We just got some numbers from CNN that looks like the turnout in the Democratic primary will exceed the record level votes that were cast in 2008. And there are big numbers for President Trump as well on the Republican side.

MESSINA: Yes. That's good news because Iowa turnout was not where we wanted. But we saw, in 2018, the highest turnout in a hundred years in the midterms. Both bases are incredibly fired up.

The one number that made me nervous last night, Kate, that the youth vote was down from 19 percent to 14 percent. That's a troubling number. If you're Bernie's campaign, that's a very troubling number they have to fix going forward. So we have to watch the youth vote.

But overall, big turnout is very good for Democrats looking to November.

BOLDUAN: Good to see you guys. Thank you.

BASH: Thank you.

MESSINA: My pleasure.

BOLDUAN: On to Nevada and South Carolina. Here we go.


Still ahead, President Trump has broken norms and sparked outrage before, many times before. But post-impeachment, this is a whole different game? Is he now more emboldened than ever? And what does that mean?


BOLDUAN: President Trump unrestrained, unleashed and unrepentant, on a tear, settling scores after his acquittal one week ago in the Senate.

Since then, here's a bit of a reminder of what the president has done. He fired impeachment witness, Lieutenant Colonel Vindman. He fired Vindman's twin brother, who had nothing to do with Ukraine policy or impeachment. He removed Ambassador Gordon Sondland. He vowed revenge.

And then, in quick succession, he has attacked the judge and prosecutors handling the criminal case of his long-time friend and ally, Roger Stone.


All of this in the week since the Senate vote.

And Senate Republicans saying that they think that Trump had learned his lesson.