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Prosecutors Quit Stone Case; Democratic Race Shifts to Nevada and South Carolina; Aired 8:30-9a ET

Aired February 12, 2020 - 08:30   ET



LAURA JARRETT, CNN ANCHOR, "EARLY START" (voice over): 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 believed 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 of Stone's sentence.

JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN CHIEF 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 that --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Did you ask the Justice Department --

TRUMP: No, I didn't speak to the Justice -- 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 continues 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 my colleague, Kaitlan Collins, that the president was furious about the original sentencing recommendation for Roger Stone. And Stone's allies have stepped up their lobbying efforts in recent weeks appealing to Trump by discussing Stone's devastating legal fees and highlighting the damage to his family. But there are also multiple people who have advised Trump that doing that pardon would be harmful politically during his run for re-election.

But, guys, this case is not going away. Prosecutors are back in court on February 20th and they're going to have to face some serious questions from Judge Berman Jackson.

ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: That will be really interesting to hear what she has to say.

Laura, thank you so much.

All right, joining us now is CNN legal and national security analyst Asha Rangappa. She's a former FBI special agent.

Asha, I'm so glad to talk to you because you were so outraged yesterday. I mean beyond outraged. You basically described yourself via Twitter as grief stricken about what you were seeing happening in the Department of Justice. I mean you described it as a cancer that has invaded the Department of Justice. What do you mean?

ASHA RANGAPPA, CNN LEGAL AND NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: Well, I think that the crown jewel of our government has been the Department of Justice because it has remained independent from political influence, and it has been a model, I think, around the world for how justice can be administered equally without, you know, political influence. And I think what we're seeing now is really just this blatant disregard for any kind of political independence. Barr has apparently taken up the matters of interest to the president and seems to be acting on his behalf.

And this, I think, really undermines the faith that Americans have in our justice system and the legitimacy of its outcomes.

CAMEROTA: Asha, Laura just laid it out beautifully, but -- but just so that I'm clear on what has happened here, the main points are that Roger Stone was charged with lying to Congress and tampering with witnesses by prosecutors. He was then convicted by a jury of regular people. Prosecutors then asked for the standard sentence for him, the

sentencing guidelines. President Trump doesn't like that sentence. He doesn't like the guilty verdict. He doesn't want his pal to go to prison.

And then Attorney General Bill Barr basically sided with the president and with a convicted felon over his own prosecutors in his office?

RANGAPPA: Yes, you have outlined that correctly.

So Roger Stone had a full and fair trial. He was able to present a robust defense. He was convicted by a jury of his peers. Now, prosecutors calculate the sentencing range by the sentencing guidelines. It's a whole calculation. And they can come in and recommend something that is at or below, you know, those guidelines and it's ultimately up to the judge.


I think what's unusual here is that they filed this publicly. Then the president tweets and the Department of Justice comes back and reverses the officially filed recommendation. You know, if this was something that was happening behind the scenes, I think there could still be something problematic about Barr intervening. But there is, you know, this apparent response to what the president is tweeting in a case that involves someone he knows and was involved in his own campaign that makes it just, you know, very egregious and, you know, inappropriate.

CAMEROTA: Yes, I'm just curious about the message. So can the rest of us lie to investigators and tamper with witnesses, or is that only for the president's friends?

RANGAPPA: Yes, well, it does seem that the cases in which the president seems to have an interest tend to be people whom he considers friends. And when he considers their sentences to be unfair or his political enemies who he has continued to tweet since yesterday, he believes should be pursued for prosecution.

Remember that under Article 2 of the Constitution, the president takes an oath to take care that the laws be faithfully executed. That means that he has to do that impartially and in the public's interests. This kind of goes back to this abuse of power. He cannot exercise his power in a way that benefits him personally. And we see this happening again, you know, less than a week after he has been acquitted on abuse of power charges in a different context.

CAMEROTA: Asha, as for those four prosecutors who quit, I mean it's not easy to achieve that level in your career. What does it say to you that yesterday they were willing to walk away from that?

RANGAPPA: Well, they are making a statement. So, yes, it is, you know, not easy to achieve that level of professional accomplishment, but I think more than, you know, leaving a job they love, they are making a statement that they took an oath to uphold certain principles and that they are unable to, you know, with integrity, stay in that position. I think that that is the takeaway here.

I mean these are the people who signed their names to the original filing with the court. They would have to go in and explain to the judge, you know, why this has suddenly been reversed. And I -- I wouldn't be surprised if this judge actually might request an explanation from them anyway. I mean she can still do that.

But I think that this has to do with their principles and their inability to stay in alignment with that and remain in that position, which should tell us a lot when four people resign.

CAMEROTA: We'll follow the judge's next move very closely.

Asha Rangappa, thank you very much.


BERMAN: All right, done with New Hampshire. Bernie Sanders wins there. So where does the race go from here? We'll get "The Bottom Line," next.



CAMEROTA: Voters in two states have now spoken, though their message is a little confusing this morning.

Pete Buttigieg and Bernie Sanders are the early frontrunners in the battle for the Democratic nomination. So let's get "The Bottom Line" with the man who has all of the answers, CNN political analyst David Gregory.

David, great to have you back. So for people this morning who want to know if the Democratic Party is moderate or progressive, what is the answer?

DAVID GREGORY, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: We don't know. See ya, everybody.

BERMAN: Thanks. Good night.

GREGORY: You know, I think a couple of things. One is, we know this morning that Bernie Sanders is the frontrunner. How durable, though, is a question. He certainly has a lot on the liberal wing of the party. But there's a lot of Democrats who are shopping for the Bernie alternative, who are more centrist, who are more moderate voters.

What's a surprise is that it's Pete Buttigieg and now Amy Klobuchar who have emerged as the real answers right now. Maybe it's Mike Bloomberg down the road. And that Elizabeth Warren and Joe Biden notably are really fading and are really on the ropes.

And there is a lot more attention, I think, in -- this year than I've experienced in the past with Democrats and others saying, hold on a minute, there's a lot of Democrats who have yet to be spoken for yet and they happen to be Democrats who are more diverse, who are people of color and they are really the driving force of the Democratic coalition. Let's wait to hear what they say before we invest in the idea that somebody is a real frontrunner.

BERMAN: You know it is interesting, we know that Bernie Sanders won the most votes in Iowa and New Hampshire, but we also know that historically speaking it's not a very high number of votes for a winning candidate.


BERMAN: We also know from the exit polls that voters told us that a candidate that agrees with you isn't the highest thing on their list. The highest thing on the list is the ability to beat Donald Trump. And among those voters, they didn't pick Bernie Sanders as their lead candidate by and large.

So, you know, it is a muddle. It's a muddle of a message as to what we know going forward.

Every candidate has more to prove after yesterday. There's no one who is in a position where they can say, OK, we've settled everything.

GREGORY: No, that's right. And I think that pragmatism of voters that we've talked about in South Carolina, we're going to see it, you know, in Nevada as well, are going to be focused on, OK, well, who's -- you know, what's Trump going to do to this person? That's a big factor because it's not like, oh, they're going to just be defined as, you know, the liberal left here. You have somebody who comes at you in such unconventional and personal ways. And, yes, you have Bernie Sanders as a Democratic socialist.

But, Alisyn, I thought it was interesting in your interview with Mayor Pete this morning, instead of talking about his tactical tricks to try to win in more diverse states, he's talking about health care. So he's banking on the idea that, oh, yes, Democrats won on, you know, maintaining Obamacare and perhaps expanding it in 2018, won a lot of suburban districts. He's thinking about the breadth of his support and not just the idea of free college tuition and Medicare for all, which will turn off a lot of people, including Democrats.


CAMEROTA: Yes, I mean, you make a good point.

GREGORY: So that's one of the tests.

CAMEROTA: I mean -- I mean I appreciate that he also didn't say it in the interview but he is adding 100 people on the ground to Nevada.


CAMEROTA: So they're doing tactical and they're doing philosophical.

BERMAN: And he did mention they're going to try to organize some of the northern counties there. He did really well organizing the Iowa caucuses, perform well in counties that don't necessarily -- and precincts that don't necessarily have a lot of voters and it helps you boost your delegate count there. He may try to do something like that in Nevada also. I actually thought it was very interesting. He said, after we're not doing any tricks, he told us, he's going to try to work the system a little bit there.

GREGORY: And I do think some of the conversation this morning is about, you know, how we make sense of Mike Bloomberg, right, who hasn't faced the voters yet, who hasn't been on a debate stage, although that's coming. When you have the rise of a Buttigieg and now Klobuchar, does that crowd Bloomberg out or is he still the most formidable?

So we have a lot more questions than answers, which is how it should be. Two states have spoken. I think we have more clarity here in terms of upending some expectations and some conventional wisdom. Voters are starting to speak. And I think they are revealing, if you want to strip away a lot of stuff, what we thought was the case, which is there is a liberal wing of the party that believes that electability comes through bold policies and trying to restore faith in institutions and a more centrist wing that says, you know, we can't go too far and that we should put electability over everything else.

CAMEROTA: You know, because I got to hang out with Senator Amy Klobuchar yesterday or go to her events and watch them, her stump speech is freshest in my mind. And she addressed that, David. She said, we know that Donald Trump calls people names. We know that he will insult people. He's already called me -- she said, she thinks he called her a snowman because of her announcement. And she said basically, I'm ready. I can handle it. And, most importantly, she said decency is on the ballot. That was one of the arguments that she was making, decency is on the ballot this year. I don't know if she'll change that message for when she moves to Nevada, if there are different things. But for -- in New Hampshire, that resonated with the people we talked to.

GREGORY: Yes, and you know what else, I think -- and I think your interviews have showed it and I think as we've watched Amy Klobuchar over time, somebody that I have known personally and watched and covered and interviewed myself, she's growing as a candidate. That's one of the reasons you have a campaign. I thought she was kind of stiff, kind of Washington in the beginning and I think she's grown in the course of these debates. She brings all of her, you know, Midwestern personality and humor and toughness to the race. She's growing as a candidate, and she caught a good moment at the right time. That augers well for her. That's -- that's the kind of movement you're interested in seeing in these races.

BERMAN: I've got to say, Pete Buttigieg, too, talk about growing as a candidate.


BERMAN: The guy was the mayor of South Bend, Indiana, and now is, you know, co-frontrunner perhaps for the Democratic nomination.

David Gregory, great to have you on with us this morning. Thanks so much.


BERMAN: But enough about New Hampshire, right? There was another big winner last night. A poodle who won best in show at Westminster.



BERMAN: So earlier this week the president tweeted a clip from "Curb your Enthusiasm" about his make America great again hats.

CNN's Jeanne Moos looks at who is really, though, the butt of the joke.


JEANNE MOOS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice over): Who knew that a make America great again hat could be a protective device. Larry David knew in a scene tweeted out by President Trump, Larry cuts off a biker.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What the (EXPLETIVE DELETED) are you doing? What the (EXPLETIVE DELETED) are you doing?


MOOS: Amid a torrent of profanity, Larry reaches for a MAGA hat.


DAVID: I'm sorry, I didn't see you.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Oh, just be more careful next time, OK?

DAVID: We'll do.

MOOS: Turning the biker into a pussycat.

The fact that President Trump tweeted this prompted fans to say, so refreshing to have a leader with a grand sense of humor. While critics lashed out, it's a joke on you, idiot. It's not in favor of you.

MOOS (on camera): About five minutes after that scene came one President Trump didn't tweet. One that wasn't a feather in his cap.

MOOS (voice over): The hat has come in handy.

DAVID: It's a great people repellent.


MOOS: Larry uses it --

DAVID: Hey, Phil. Good to see you.

MOOS: To cut short a lunch he didn't want to have in the first place.

This is L.A. where a rarely sighted MAGA hat might be a magnet for dirty looks.

DAVID: Phil --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No, no, we'll -- we'll -- we'll -- we'll something.

MOOS: At a sushi bar, it keeps the empty seats beside him unoccupied.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You know what, actually I think we'd prefer to sit at a table, please.

MOOS: In a real interview, Larry David was asked if he's worried about alienating MAGA hat-wearing fans.

DAVID: Go and alienate. You have my blessing. Well, I could give a (EXPLETIVE DELETED).

MOOS: After all, this is a guy who's been playing Bernie Sanders on "SNL" for years.

DAVID: Oh, Hillary, I'll miss that lack of charm.

MOOS: No one would expect him to be charming to President Trump.

MOOS (on camera): When it comes to controversy, it seems like this never gets old hat.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: This is the hottest thing out there.

MOOS (voice over): Oh, it's hot all right.

Jeanne Moos --

DAVID: Sad. Very sad.



MOOS: New York.


CAMEROTA: That's awesome. That is so good. Larry David, I guess he just speaks his mind. I guess that --

BERMAN: Someone should give him a show.

CAMEROTA: He really should have a show.

OK, meanwhile, here's a show for you. The crowd at the Westminster Kennel Dog show was rooting for the golden retriever, but the judges picked the poodle. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The best in show goes to the standard poodle.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Siba takes it all.



CAMEROTA: This three-year-old pup took home the top prize, best in show last night. She's the fifth standard poodle, John, to earn the honor and the first to win since 1991.

BERMAN: Do you know about the dog show?

CAMEROTA: A little bit.

BERMAN: It's an outrage.


BERMAN: It is one of the grossest outrages (INAUDIBLE).

CAMEROTA: Why is it so gross?

BERMAN: It's elite. A mutt -- mutts aren't even allowed in.

CAMEROTA: Oh, no, sometimes they win. Sometimes they're not all poodles.

BERMAN: No, no, no. No, no, no. No, no, mutts are not allowed in. A lab has never won. A golden retriever has never won.

CAMEROTA: Look at that.

BERMAN: Instead you have these inbred elitist poodles --

CAMEROTA: Well, I feel like this --

BERMAN: And shaved cats that win.


BERMAN: It is -- it is an outrage.

CAMEROTA: A cat wins the dog show?

BERMAN: It is an outrage.

CAMEROTA: Oh, I got it.

BERMAN: If it fits on your lap, it's a cat.

CAMEROTA: OK. Understood. I -- well, I feel like the poodle at least was trying.


CAMEROTA: Like she clearly did her hair.

BERMAN: No. She's an unhappy creature. She doesn't want to be there. No one is happy about being shaved like that. Believe me, I know. I know.

CAMEROTA: Disturbing. Deeply disturbing.

BERMAN: Two states have now vote for president. There have been candidates who dropped out. What will happen to some of the others? CNN's coverage continues after this.