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Prosecutors Quit in Stone Case; Democrats Shift to Nevada and South Carolina; Severe Storms Increase Flood Risk; Angry and Unaccountable Trump after Acquittal. Aired 6:30-7a ET
Aired February 12, 2020 - 06:30 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
LAURA JARRETT, CNN ANCHOR, "EARLY START": 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 was furious about the original sentencing recommendation for Stone and Trump has faced some intense lobbying to pardon him, some even taking to TV to make their appeals most effective.
Meanwhile, President Trump abruptly withdrew the nomination of Jessie Liu. Someone who he'd picked to serve in a top position at the Treasury Department, but she was the U.S. attorney who led that office in Washington, D.C., that oversaw Stone's prosecution. And one source did not dismiss the idea that the scuttled nomination was connected to the developments in Stone's case. So a lot more questions here, John and Alisyn.
JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: More questions going even further than just the prosecution itself.
Laura, thank you so much for being with us this morning.
How unusual, how unprecedented is this and what's the bigger picture here? What exactly does this show us about how far the president is willing to go to exert his power?
That's all next.
ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: President Trump appears to have gotten the Justice Department to try to get a shorter sentence for President Trump's long-time friend Roger Stone. In a stunning development, the entire prosecution team resigned over this.
Joining us now is CNN legal analyst Elie Honig. He's a former assistant U.S. attorney.
Elie, this is so stunning. They resigned because they couldn't believe that the sentencing guidelines that they proposed, seven to nine years for Roger Stone, convicted on seven counts of lying to Congress, of witness tampering, that the Justice Department, their own bosses, who is -- who Bill Barr runs, wants leniency for this guy.
ELIE HONIG, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: There is absolutely nothing normal, absolutely nothing common, absolutely nothing routine about any of this. Just so people understand, this does not happen. I've never seen a case -- I don't believe there's been a case in this entire administration or prior administrations where we have prosecutors going on record approved through proper channels recommending a guideline sentence and then the bosses at the Justice Department publically saying, no, we want less. Never mind the fact that there's a presidential tweet in the middle there.
BERMAN: What message does it send?
HONIG: Well, it -- number one, this is about so much more than just how long will Roger Stone spend behind bars. The message it sends is that the president and Bill Barr are tampering with the independence and the integrity of the Justice Department. And I may be biased because I'm a Justice Department alum, but the Justice Department is different. It's different from all the other departments. It needs to stand apart. It needs to be free to prosecute cases independently without politics.
CAMEROTA: And that there are different rules for President Trump and his pals who can lie to investigators, who can tamper with witnesses then the rest of us.
HONIG: Yes, how can you ignore the pattern, right? So Roger Stone, not just any defendant picked at random. The president's long-time friend, political ally, convicted of lying to Congress to protect the Trump campaign.
And, let's not forget, just a week or two ago, DOJ softened its sentencing stand on Michael Flynn as well. They had come out asking for six months. Then they took it back and said, probation is fine. So you can't ignore that pattern.
BERMAN: I want to point one thing out here. This was a jury that convicted him.
BERMAN: So the president, who was critical of it in this tweet, in somehow denying that his influence or his tweet had any role in this, but the president has tweeted about the verdict. He doesn't like the verdict, period.
BERMAN: So he's actually being critical of the Americans, the citizens who are sitting on this jury.
HONIG: Yes, memo to President Trump, this is what happens when real juries, not the Senate, but real juries made up of everyday citizens get to hear a case and weigh the evidence. And to undermine the jury system, I mean the jury system is the bulwark of justice in our system.
And to say, I don't like that jury verdict -- and, by the way, to the president, if you don't like the jury verdict, you have the pardon power. You do constitutionally have the ability to pardon. But he's not willing to right now because there will be political blowback. And I think he knows that.
CAMEROTA: Maybe. I mean, if the judge gives Roger Stone a sentence, it's coming up, that the president doesn't like, he'll pardon Roger Stone.
HONIG: I think he will pardon Roger Stone eventually. I think after the election, win or lose, it's very likely.
But, you know, go ahead and take the political blowback. That's the way our system works. But don't sit there and undermine the prosecutors, undermine DOJ. Use DOJ as a back door. Do it the constitutional way.
BERMAN: Is there anything -- the pardon issue aside, is there anything to keep the president from tweeting every hour on the hour about this? Is there anything to keep the attorney general from overruling prosecutors every hour on the hour?
HONIG: The only thing that would really prevent that is just adherence to norms, right? There's no law on the books saying the president shall remain hands off with DOJ. But it is such an important norm that has been observed through administrations of both parties before this that you lay off DOJ. This is -- we're talking about prosecutorial power. It's one of the most important powers that our government has. And when you start interfering with that for political means, you go down a dangerous path.
Now, who can do something about it, right? The judge in this case.
HONIG: Judge Amy Berman Jackson can demand, OK, prosecutors, I need to know how this went down. And then there's Congress. The House can dig in. they need to be tougher than they've been in the past and follow through on their subpoenas.
BERMAN: I will say, she's in a hell of a bind, this judge right now, with the president weighing in.
And the other thing I will point out here is the president's basically saying that he is the one who determines innocence and guilt here. Despite what a jury says, he has determined, I know who's innocent here. And when he's talking about guilt, he's, you know, launching all these prosecutions and investigations.
That is what is also unprecedented here.
HONIG: Yes, it's absolutely unprecedented. I mean who is -- the president of the United States has very broad powers, but he does not have the power to determine guilt or innocence. It's way beyond the pale. And, look, it raises questions about some of the other pending investigations, including Rudy Giuliani, who's under criminal investigation by the Southern District of New York. I have real questions now about whether that investigation will be permitted to go forward in the normal course as it should.
CAMEROTA: You should have those questions, Elie. Thank you very much for your expertise.
HONIG: Thank you.
BERMAN: All right, big results out of New Hampshire. Bernie Sanders emerging the winner there. The clear frontrunner in the Democratic race for president. What about the exit polls? What do we know from the numbers that tell us about how Democrats are now voting and will vote as the contest moves to Nevada and South Carolina?
BERMAN: All right, what do we know this morning? We know that Bernie Sanders won the New Hampshire primary. We know that Pete Buttigieg and Amy Klobuchar were close behind. Those are the top line numbers. But there was a lot more that we learned from the exit polls. Who voted and why they voted and a lot more it tells us about the races going forward.
So we're back with Harry Enten, who's got the numbers at the magic wall who can help us understand where things are going forward.
And the first thing, Harry, that's important to remember, Iowa and New Hampshire not like other Democratic voting states. Very different than what we're about to see. How?
HARRY ENTEN, CNN POLITICS WRITER AND ANALYST: Yes. So, you know, look, I'm going to play a little white board for you here.
BERMAN: Literally. ENTEN: What was -- what was the percentage of the electorate in New Hampshire, the Democratic primary electorate, that was white? Ninety- one percent of it was white. Ninety-one percent. Just 5 percent of it was African-American.
Now, take a look at Nevada, which will, obviously, be the next state that's going to be going. And look at the 2016 electorate by race. What percentage of that electorate was white? Fifty-nine percent of it was white. Look at that drop from New Hampshire. Look at the Latino population in Nevada, 19 percent of it was Latino back in 2016, 13 percent of it was African-American. So a much more diverse electorate is Nevada.
And you see the same thing in South Carolina, right? Look at the 2016 electorate by race. What do we see? Sixty-one percent, the majority -- the majority, Mr. Berman, African-American. Just 35 percent white. What a drop-off from a 91 percent white electorate in New Hampshire and a very similarly white electorate in Iowa. So things are about to get much more racially diverse and much more like the Democratic primary as a whole, electorate as a whole, where 50 -- about 57, 58 percent of it is white.
BERMAN: I like how you had to use the white board literally and figuratively to describe the demographic makeup in Iowa and New Hampshire.
All right, Harry, polling in Nevada and South Carolina. We do have some, but -- but explain.
ENTEN: But -- but, look, here's the key little nugget right here, right? Right here at the bottom. What does it say? No polling taken after the Iowa caucuses. So in Nevada, before, look, Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders were in a very tight race, 22 percent for Biden, 20 percent for Sanders. In South Carolina, Joe Biden was well out in front, 32 percent, Bernie Sanders back at 16 percent. The big question Mr. Berman is, how much does that change after the results in Iowa and New Hampshire after Joe Biden, to be perfectly frank, fell flat on his face.
BERMAN: What do we know about bounces coming out of Iowa and New Hampshire heading into those contests?
ENTEN: Yes, I mean -- exactly.
Let's take a look back at 2008, right? That was -- before Iowa and New Hampshire voted back in 2008 in Nevada, look at this large lead that Hillary Clinton had, 40 percent to 22 percent over Barack Obama. Of course remember then Obama won the Iowa caucuses and came in a very close second in New Hampshire. Look at what happened afterwards. That 18-point margin shrunk to just a four-point margin, which was very, very similar to what happened, of course, in the actual caucuses in Nevada.
And then, take a look here. Look at this. Look at South Carolina in 2008. Before Iowa and New Hampshire voted, look, it was a one-point lead for Hillary Clinton. Look what happened after Obama won those Iowa caucuses. Obama opened up a double digit advantage and he ended up winning the state by nearly 30 points.
So, you know, we have these polls from before Iowa voted for both Nevada and South Carolina. But history tells us that those results can really change the landscape in both Nevada and South Carolina.
BERMAN: So one of the things that people notice is that Bernie Sanders won about 25.9 percent of the vote last night in New Hampshire. And a win is a win. And congratulations to the Sanders campaign.
But when you bring up that low vote total to Sanders people, they get all mad at you.
However, it does have a real life impact going forward when you're talking about delegates and when you're talking about trying to get to the convention with a majority of delegates, doesn't it?
ENTEN: That's exactly right. The -- look, there's a fantasy that people like myself have, right? People who've watched the West Wing. People who followed elections for a long time. We're wondering whether or not this can finally be the year of a contested convention.
I looked across a bunch of different sites and sort of averaged out the chance that there might be a contested convention.
Look, a six in 10 chance, no, that, in fact, someone will get a delegate majority. But look at this, a four in ten chance that, yes, in fact, no one will get a delegate majority. So we could, in fact finally get that contested convention. Of course we'll have to wait and see, John.
BERMAN: And it is one of your few fantasies that doesn't involve feathers and peanut butter.
Harry Enten at the magic wall, thank you for being with us this morning.
ENTEN: See you tomorrow, buddy.
CAMEROTA: Did that just happen (ph)? Did I -- did I -- wow.
Remember all of those Republican senators who said that President Trump had learned his lesson from being impeached? We have a must-see "Reality Check," next.
CAMEROTA: More strong storms are headed towards the Gulf Coast and southern U.S. This comes as the region is already dealing with severe flooding.
CNN Meteorologist Chad Myers has our forecast.
How does it look, Chad?
CHAD MYERS, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Alisyn, in places across the deep south we've had eight inches of rain in February alone. And it's still going to be raining today with more severe weather obviously likely with this storm.
This weather is brought to you by Jared, dare to be devoted.
So where is it now? It's over Texas. It's over Arkansas. But it is headed to Nashville and also into Memphis. This is a big storm system that's going to spread some snow as well on the north side of it, but it's the flooding that we're really, really worried about because it has been -- this area has been inundated with rain for the past, what seems like ten days.
So, here you go. Right now we'll see the weather move to the east by 11:00. It will be snowing across parts of the Midwest by 5:00. Watch your commute home, Indianapolis, Cincinnati, even up toward Columbus.
And then the arctic air comes in behind it. How arctic? For you, Chicago, Punxsutawney Phil has nothing for you. One below zero will be your low temperature and you'll get up to 17.
Go back to bed, Phil.
BERMAN: Look, that guy sleeps too long anyway.
All right, Chad, thanks very much.
So it has been just one week since the president was acquitted in the impeachment trial. The question this morning is, what has he learned?
John Avlon is here with a "Reality Check."
But first, remember this?
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. SUSAN COLLINS (R-ME): I believe that the president has learned from this case. The president has been impeached. That's a pretty big lesson.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
JOHN AVLON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, wishing and hoping don't make it so. And now we know that Senate Republicans' decision to excuse Trump's actions has resulted in an unrestrained and unaccountable president.
And if the party of Lincoln is now acting like a whole owned subsidiary of Trump Inc., the attorney general is acting like Trump's personal lawyer, backing up his worst instincts and undercutting impartial justice in the process. Because hours after President Trump attacked prosecutors for
recommending a seven to nine year sentence against Roger Stone for lying to Congress and witness tampering, and hours after Bill Barr gave a speech slamming lenient treatment in sanctuary cities, the Justice Department overruled its own prosecutors and pushed for a more lenient sentence of the president's political crony.
Now, the four U.S. attorneys who worked on the case immediately resigned. At the same time, Trump pulled the nomination of their former boss, Jessie Liu, to serve in the Treasury Department, days after Bill Barr replaced her as U.S. for D.C. with his loyal aid Tim Shay (ph).
Liu presided over several politically charged investigation that did not go the president's way. This came days after the Vindman brothers were marched out of the White House, the ambassador to the EU was dismissed after testifying truthfully against Trump, while the president's now suggesting the Pentagon punish Vindman.
It is worth noting that retaliating against witnesses is illegal under federal law. But who will hold the president accountable. It won't be Bill Barr's Justice Department. The A.G.'s opened an official channel with Rudy Giuliani to analyze dirty claims to have dug up in Ukraine against the Bidens while Senate Republicans have received documents about Hunter Biden from the Trump Treasury Department in record time, all designed to hurt the candidate who polls show was once best positioned to beat Trump.
This at a time when Barr issued a memo saying that the FBI must notify the attorney general's office before it opens any investigation into, quote, illegal contributions, donations or expenditures by foreign nationals to a presidential or congressional campaign. While just yesterday the Senate GOP blocked three election security bills, two that would have required disclosing foreign offers of interference.
And if all of that isn't enough, yesterday we also saw more evidence of how the Trump OMB deliberately misled congress about Ukraine aid after Just Security revealed contents of e-mails that had been aggressively redacted by the DOJ. Now, the Republican base has rallied around Trump as, get this, the Louisiana GOP decided to censure Mitt Romney after his vote to convict the president on abuse of power 30 years after they declined to censure KKK leader David Duke.
And all of this has happened in the one week since President Trump was acquitted by Republicans in the Senate. Make no mistake, this isn't a war on the deep state. This is a war on Democratic norms with an angry and vindictive president, enabled by his party and his attorney general, ready to retaliate against any perceived opponents while protecting guilty allies and ready to do anything to win re-election. We should be wide awake in America about what's happening here.
And that's your "Reality Check."
BERMAN: The president's wide awake, John, and he's congratulating the attorney general, Bill Barr, for the action that he took in the Roger Stone case. Again, the president just congratulated the attorney general for stepping in, in an unprecedented way to ask for leniency for his friend.
AVLON: That's what you do when you have someone doing your bidding.
CAMEROTA: Bill Barr must be so excited to have had that congratulations from the president this morning.
So this is a developing story. John, we really appreciate you making us have eyes wide open.
Big New Hampshire results for you.
NEW DAY continues right now.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: CNN projects that Bernie Sanders will win the New Hampshire Democratic presidential primary.
SEN. BERNIE SANDERS (I-VT), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: This is the beginning of the end for Donald Trump.
GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: You had Amy Klobuchar, Pete Buttigieg coming in behind Sanders.
PETE BUTTIGIEG (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: A campaign that some said shouldn't be here at all has shown that we are here to stay.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Four federal prosecutors withdraw from Roger Stone's case after top Justice Department officials overruled their sentence recommendation.
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Well, I thought the recommendation was ridiculous.
JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN CHIEF LEGAL ANALYST: The idea that this was just adjustments on the sentence, nonsense.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
ANNOUNCER: This is NEW DAY with Alisyn Camerota and John Berman.
CAMEROTA: We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and all around the world. This is NEW DAY.
And we do have breaking news overnight. Bernie Sanders wins the New Hampshire primary.
Former South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg finishes a strong second.
Sanders was expected to do well.