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THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER

Trump Thanks DOJ For Intervening in Roger Stone Case; Interview With Rep. Eric Swalwell (D-CA); Bernie Sanders Now Democratic Front- Runner. Aired 4:30-5p ET

Aired February 12, 2020 - 16:30   ET

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


[16:31:22]

JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: The 2020 lead now.

The focus now shifts to Nevada and to South Carolina and a radically different set of Democratic voters, after the first two contests of the Democratic presidential race.

And, as CNN's Ryan Nobles now reports for us, Senator Bernie Sanders, who leads in votes, he leads in fund-raising, and he leads in national polling, sees this as a chance to further cement his front-runner status.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

RYAN NOBLES, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Bernie Sanders is not wasting any time.

SEN. BERNIE SANDERS (I-VT), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: This victory here is the beginning of the end for Donald Trump!

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

NOBLES: On the heels of his narrow win in New Hampshire, the Vermont senator is embracing the role of front-runner and setting his sights on the road ahead.

SANDERS: I believe we're going to win in Nevada. I think we're going to win in South Carolina. I think we're going to win a whole lot of states on Super Tuesday.

NOBLES: Sanders has plans to crisscross the country in the coming days, making stops not only in Nevada, the next state on the calendar, but also Super Tuesday states like North Carolina, Texas and Colorado.

And as he takes up the mantle as the leader, he's also taking incoming heat from his opponents, including the runner-up in New Hampshire, Pete Buttigieg, who's echoing a critical push from the Culinary Union in Nevada attacking Sanders' Medicare for all plan.

PETE BUTTIGIEG (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Senator Sanders' message that he's going to erase those plans and replace them with a single government plan for everybody is going to be, I think, a very tough sell among voters who want to have that choice.

NOBLES: Following his second-place finish, Buttigieg's campaign announcing plans to expand staff in Nevada and releasing a new television ad in a state focused on health care.

And he's not the only one.

SEN. AMY KLOBUCHAR (D-MN), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Hello, America. I'm Amy Klobuchar, and I will beat Donald Trump.

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

NOBLES: Minnesota Senator Amy Klobuchar seeking to capitalize on her surprise third-place finish to raise money and launching two ads of her own in Nevada.

KLOBUCHAR: We have a president who thinks everything is about him, his tweets, his golf courses, his ego.

NOBLES: Meanwhile, both Elizabeth Warren and Joe Biden are looking to regroup after disappointing showings in New Hampshire, vowing they're in the race for the long haul.

SEN. ELIZABETH WARREN (D-MA), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: And we are just getting started.

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

NOBLES: Biden counting on more diverse Democratic electorates in Nevada and South Carolina to help give his campaign a much-needed jolt.

KATE BEDINGFIELD, BIDEN DEPUTY CAMPAIGN MANAGER: Vice President Biden has been -- has been in this race the candidate who's been able to rally that support, build that coalition.

These are the voters that we're going to need to turn out to beat Donald Trump.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

NOBLES: And after poor performances in Iowa and New Hampshire, Joe Biden is looking to reassure donors about his path forward.

He held a conference call with those donors today. And he told them that his campaign is in good shape financially, and his team expects the former vice president's connection with African-American voters will help deliver him a win, Jake, sooner, rather than later.

TAPPER: All right, Ryan Nobles, thanks so much.

Paul Begala, let's start with you.

Is Sanders the candidate to beat? I mean, I think he's pretty much the front-runner. He leads in votes. He leads in fund-raising. He leads in national polling. He is the only one of the three who did well in New Hampshire who has support among African-American and Latino voters, at least as of now.

PAUL BEGALA, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: He's a weak front-runner, though. It's a weak win.

TAPPER: Weak front-runner?

BEGALA: A win is a win. And you got to give him credit.

Put it this way. If I had told you two weeks ago that Elizabeth Warren would collapse down to 9 percent, and I told you that New Hampshire turnout would increase 18 percent, you wouldn't believe that Bernie Sanders didn't get a single point out of that.

The day of the Iowa caucuses, Bernie was polling at precisely 26.5 percent.

TAPPER: And that's what he won, yes.

BEGALA: He won. No, that was in New Hampshire. He got 26.5.

TAPPER: Right.

BEGALA: And he got 25.8 now.

So, despite Elizabeth falling -- I would have said -- I thought -- I mean, I thought the function was, as Warren went down, Bernie went up. It didn't happen.

[16:35:04]

I thought, as more voters came in, Bernie went up. He's got -- this is not a party looking for a revolution. I'm telling you, if you look at Pete, if you look at Amy, they're not running a revolutionary ticket. And they're moving quickly.

They gained 10 points in the last week.

TAPPER: And if you look at -- I just want to come to you on this because I know this is the Democratic establishment point of view, no offense, but, like, that, if you combine the vote in New Hampshire of Buttigieg, Klobuchar, and Biden, it adds up to more than the vote for Sanders and Warren, the more progressive candidates.

KAREN FINNEY, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: That's absolutely true.

And, look, I am one who believes that this primary is going to go long, and it's going to be a lot of back-and-forth of voters trying to decide who they really believe can beat Donald Trump, but also trying to remind Bernie, we're not Democratic socialists, by the way, right?

And he's got a job to do. He's trying to talk about unity and building a broad coalition. I just don't know if most of the party is going to buy it. He's going to have his chance to make the case. We will see.

SCOTT JENNINGS, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Yet, at the debate, when the candidates were asked that question, are you nervous about Democratic socialists, only one had the courage...

(CROSSTALK)

TAPPER: Amy Klobuchar.

(CROSSTALK)

FINNEY: But this is part of the problem.

They're afraid of his base. That's part of the problem.

TAPPER: I have seen that movie.

(CROSSTALK)

JENNINGS: We used to sit around in 2016 and do this same...

(CROSSTALK)

TAPPER: Yes. That's what I'm talking about.

JENNINGS: Donald Trump, he only got 30-something percent. And we add these together, and we add these together, and, oh, my gosh, he's being sworn in. We used to have this same algorithm.

(CROSSTALK)

BEGALA: This is the difference.

I'm sorry, Mary Katharine.

MARY KATHARINE HAM, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: No, go ahead.

(CROSSTALK)

BEGALA: Donald Trump had a claim on the heart of the Republicans, white Christian evangelicals.

Bernie does not yet at all have the heart of the Democratic Party, which is African-American, especially African-American women. He may earn that in South Carolina. I think South Carolina is up for grabs.

But that is a crucial difference is that, until I know where African- Americans are going, I don't know who my nominee is going to be. And Bernie does not yet have the pole position with those voters.

JENNINGS: And Trump did not start with the credibility with the evangelical community, and he ended up earning it. And he got the nomination with 44.9 percent of the popular Republican vote.

(CROSSTALK)

HAM: I mean, I think the consolidation is not nigh.

TAPPER: Right.

SANDERS: Right.

HAM: A W. is a W.

There are some issues with I think the types of voters that are coming out. They're getting fewer young voters and not a surge of first-time voters, which I think is bad news for Bernie moving forward.

TAPPER: Although the turnout in New Hampshire did beat 2008.

(CROSSTALK)

HAM: Yes, I just mean like the type -- the subsets of voters that he needs to move forward.

(CROSSTALK)

HAM: I'm enjoying the Klobuchar no-to-socialism surge. I'm enjoying that sensibility out there.

And I think she's slow and steady and has proved herself in some -- in some interesting ways and is getting ready to swerve into that lane.

TAPPER: All right, we're going to keep talking about this, because Joe Biden is betting on support from black voters, but he could be losing some of that backing to another candidate.

We're going to talk about that next. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[16:42:08]

TAPPER: In our 2020 lead: It is the conundrum of the Democratic presidential race.

Fact: No one has ever come in fourth in Iowa and fifth in New Hampshire and gone on to become the Democratic presidential nominee. And yet also Kate Bedingfield with the Biden campaign reminds us of this other fact.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BEDINGFIELD: No one has gone on to be the nominee who has -- does not have the support of African-American voters. Joe Biden has those long relationships in the African-American community. Black voters know him. They know his heart. They know his record.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: All right, so let's talk about this.

According to polling from Quinnipiac University, Biden is the national front-runner among African-American voters with 27 percent of support, but we should note -- and there's Mike Bloomberg in second place with 22 percent, Sanders 19. We should note that that 27 percent support with Biden is a steep

decline from three weeks ago, when he had 49 percent support. Now, part of that is Bloomberg gaining 15 points. What's going on?

FINNEY: Right.

So, two things. One, I love that we're having this conversation, because having tried to break the stranglehold of Iowa, New Hampshire, it's finally done. And we recognize that the strategy to win means you have to win African-American and Latino voters.

TAPPER: Well, Iowa helped you with that by screwing up the caucus. But keep going.

FINNEY: We've been fighting about since 2005.

TAPPER: Oh, yes, I'm sure.

FINNEY: So -- but I think part of what's happening, African-American voters are very pragmatic.

One of the things that we're seeing in some of the polling work that I'm doing, though, is a lot of black voters are trying to figure out, who will white people vote for, right? So they -- a lot of them love Joe Biden, they feel comfortable with Joe Biden, they feel like they know who he is, but they may also be looking at what's happening in the field and trying to decide, OK, why -- just because I would vote for this person, will those folks vote for this person?

And I think that part of the challenge that Pete Buttigieg and Amy Klobuchar have is, they have not yet really had to face the black community with some of these tough issues. Senator Klobuchar was on "The View" just yesterday.

TAPPER: Yes. Sunny Hostin had some tough questions for her.

FINNEY: It was very tough, and she was not prepared to defend her record as a prosecutor.

That is something she's going to have to contend with. It's great that she's having a great few days, but she better be ready for Nevada and South Carolina.

TAPPER: President Trump is eager to exploit any issues that African- American voters might have with the Democratic candidate.

JENNINGS: Oh, absolutely.

And I think that the Trump campaign thinks, especially among African- American men, they're going to do better than previous Republican nominees have done.

But what you just said about the other two people in Biden's zone is why I think Joe Biden should drop out of this race right now, because let's be honest, this is like the scene in the Titanic where the boat is listing and the lights are still on, and then they sort of blink and they go off.

This is the phase we're in. Eventually, it's going to crack and sink. He's not going to win South Carolina, I don't think. However, he does have popularity and credibility with key voting blocs that he could potentially help Buttigieg or Klobuchar or with.

And so, to me, there's a clear way -- path forward for him to be vital in this primary, but I don't think it's going to be as the nominee.

[16:45:05]

TAPPER: What do you think?

BEGALA: I think he's going to play off the string into South Carolina. He's got relationships there. He's got support there.

I got to say, though, if South Carolina is your firewall, you got to show some fire in the belly. He's got to bring more energy to it. And it's not just a matter of age. Bernie Sanders is even older and hugely energetic, really energetic on the stump.

Joe's got to get down there, and he's got to say, look, there's no quit in you and there's no quit in me. They wrote you off, just like they're trying to write me off. If you lift me up, I will never let you down.

Go in, ask for their votes, but with some passion, and I just -- I have not seen that from him, and I don't have a candidate in the race, but that's free advice for the vice president. Go in there with some passion, sir.

TAPPER: And, Mary Katharine, there's this audio that resurfaced of Mayor Bloomberg talking about stop and frisk, saying -- quote -- "We put all the cops in minority neighborhoods. That's true, because that's where all the crime is," and on and on, very offensive comments.

And yet you see a Bloomberg rising in the polls among African-American voters.

HAM: Yes. I think people are looking for an alternative to Biden. They're exploring.

He's another person who, despite being the mayor of a very diverse city, will have to contend with this issue on justice issues as well.

Look, I don't think you have to win in Iowa and New Hampshire to be the nominee. But I think you got to show people. And I think that black voters in South Carolina, to your point, pragmatic, but when does a practical vote become impractical?

When does his plausibility seem sort of implausible? And we're getting to that point, and so I think there's real danger for him.

FINNEY: I just think we don't know yet. I really do.

I just think we -- the days of figuring this out early are gone. And I just think we can't count anybody out just yet.

TAPPER: But here's the thing.

The Nevada -- the Nevada caucus is a week from Saturday. And it isn't until one week after that, that the South Carolina voters get to weigh in. So Biden might have to go through another rough night before getting to South Carolina.

JENNINGS: Yes.

TAPPER: Everyone, stick around.

Attorney General Barr now set to appear before the House Judiciary Committee after accusations that he intervened in the Roger Stone sentencing.

We will talk to a member of the Judiciary Committee next. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[16:51:13]

TAPPER: Moments ago, President Trump said he learned lessons from impeachment. The lesson he learned? That Democrats are crooked, vicious, and they should not have pursued his impeachment.

Joining me now is Democratic Congressman Eric Swalwell of California. He serves on both the Intelligence and Judiciary committees.

Congressman, thanks so much for joining us.

Tell me what your take is on what President Trump said he learned in terms of the lessons learned.

REP. ERIC SWALWELL (D-CA): He is learning the wrong lessons.

He's acting to now corrupt the Department of Justice.

And we're going to act immediately. We had a meeting today on the Judiciary Committee, an emergency meeting, to decide what's next. And so we're going to bring the attorney general in. We're also going to conduct oversight of what's going on with the Stone sentencing.

But, Jake, I will just say this. He could just pardon Roger Stone. It would be wrong to do that, but to infect his corruption into the DOJ, I think that's what's so concerning to so many people who want independence among our prosecutions.

TAPPER: So, Barr has announced that he will come before your committee, the House Judiciary Committee, in March.

SWALWELL: That's right.

TAPPER: You're on the committee. What do you want to ask him? SWALWELL: Well, we want to know, who's making these decisions? Are

prosecutors still independent? What is going on with other investigations into Trump officials?

Because now we know, in the 2020 election, Barr has the ability to sign off on any investigation. He has to sign off on any investigation into a campaign. And so the erosion of independence among prosecutors is our chief concern.

TAPPER: The sentencing of Roger Stone will ultimately be left up to Judge Amy Berman Jackson.

Republican Senator Chuck Grassley of Iowa said -- quote -- "I think the judge is going to take care of all that, and nobody's going to question the judge's decision."

What do you think?

SWALWELL: I agree.

She's an independent judge. I should not be recommending a sentence. The president of the United States should not be recommending a sentence. She should be given the ability to make that decision herself, based on the facts of the case and where Roger Stone should go based on the sentencing guidelines.

TAPPER: Even some Trump critics said that the seven-to-nine-year recommendation was harsh and excessive.

Do you question that? Do you disagree?

SWALWELL: Well, it fits within the sentencing guidelines.

He should not be treated any differently than anyone else who committed so many crimes and also went to trial. Jake, remember, in our criminal justice system, you are rewarded for taking responsibility early in the proceedings.

If you go to trial, and you put up a bogus defense, or you try and mislead the court, you can be punished for that in your sentence. And that is what is going to happen here, I think.

TAPPER: The Justice Department and the White House and President Trump all deny that President Trump directly told Attorney General Barr what to do or directly coordinated with him.

As always, the president did send out a tweet. Is that enough to object to?

SWALWELL: Yes.

And, as Michael Cohen told our committee, President Trump knows, in many of the mob-like ways that he operates, that he doesn't have to say something directly, that, indirectly, he can signal what he wants someone to do.

That was how Cohen said he would communicate with the president. And I think by tweeting out that, Attorney General Barr got the message.

TAPPER: Take a listen to Republican Senator John Cornyn of Texas.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

QUESTION: Are you concerned that four prosecutors felt so strongly about it that they resigned?

SEN. JOHN CORNYN (R-TX): No.

QUESTION: That they got off the case?

CORNYN: No.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: Cornyn not concerned.

What do you think? Are you concerned?

SWALWELL: Yes, I'm very concerned that the independence of prosecutors, the ability of judges to just weigh the facts and the evidence is eroding, that the president's taken a wrecking ball to that.

And he was just impeached for that. We're not going to stop holding him accountable. We have learned, when you hold him accountable, you can actually stop the corruption, whether he's removed or not.

[16:55:00]

And, ultimately, it's going to be for the voters to judge in November.

TAPPER: Might you impeach him over this, over Roger Stone and the sentencing?

SWALWELL: We're not going to take our options off table.

We don't wake up in the morning wanting to impeach him. We want to work with him on prescription drugs, background checks and infrastructure.

But we're not going to let him just torch this democracy because he thinks that he's been let off once and we're not going to do something about it.

TAPPER: Congressman Eric Swalwell, Democrat of California, thanks so much.

SWALWELL: Thanks, Jake. My pleasure.

TAPPER: Coming up: a new warning from the Centers for Disease Control about the coronavirus.

Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

TAPPER: Thanks for watching.

You can follow me on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter @JakeTapper. Tweet the show @THELEADCNN.

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