Return to Transcripts main page

CNN LIVE EVENT/SPECIAL

Sanders Wins New Hampshire Followed By Buttigieg, Klobuchar; All Four Prosecutors Withdraw From Roger Stone Case After Justice Department Undercuts Recommended Sentence; CNN Projects Bernie Sanders Wins New Hampshire Primary. Aired 2-3a ET

Aired February 12, 2020 - 02:00   ET

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


[02:00:00]

(MUSIC PLAYING)

CHRIS CUOMO, CNN HOST: Another night, another night of big turns in the Democratic race. The New Hampshire primary, first primary in the season for both sides, is just about over, 97 percent now, the estimated vote.

You know, this little amount at the end takes longer to come in than you might expect. We might not have 100 percent until sometime later this morning.

However, the story is the tale at the top, Bernie Sanders, Pete Buttigieg, tied up once again. Look how close it is once again. In Iowa, Buttigieg wound up coming out with more delegates. Tonight, we believe they'll get the same number.

But Bernie Sanders, the only one in this pack who can say that he is at the head of a movement. But then what had been called a muddle now has Pete Buttigieg making a strong play, 2 out of 2. A lot of people talking about his electability.

So the question becomes, how did we get here, why is it like this?

Let's go to Phil Mattingly.

Everybody knows Bernie Sanders whooped it up here against Hillary Clinton. Very different race this time.

How did it go?

PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN U.S. CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Very different race because there's a lot more candidates. It's a different race not just because Bernie Sanders didn't win by 20-plus points, it's a different race because it's a different number of candidates, different number of ground operations.

But first let's take a look at 2016 and show you just how significant the victory Bernie Sanders had over Hillary Clinton, former secretary of state. She only won four townships. Bernie Sanders won everything else. The light blue, that's Bernie Sanders. That was a great night for

Bernie Sanders. Bernie Sanders once again this time around, winning but significantly closer, only winning by about 4,000 votes, 97 percent reporting.

So why did Bernie Sanders win tonight?

Might not have been as big but still has the delegates, still has the popular vote. One thing you want to keep an eye on, population centers. When you're looking at Concord, when you're looking at Manchester, Nashua, Bernie Sanders won all three. That's obviously important for him.

But he also, not unlike 2016, had big wins in public university towns, places like Plymouth, place throughout the state that are big for the types of voters that Bernie Sanders wants to get. That's Bernie Sanders.

But why was it so close?

This is where it gets interesting. Take a look at what Pete Buttigieg was able to do. If you see light green, that's Pete Buttigieg. If you see light green over here, that's significant.

Why?

Bernie Sanders is from the state right next door. You win border towns and he swept border towns in 2016. Pete Buttigieg was able to make headway in a lot of those border towns and also in these very populous areas down here. So that's Pete Buttigieg.

You also can't ignore what Amy Klobuchar did tonight, obviously putting up nearly 20 percent, 55,000 votes, 56,000 votes, a lot of momentum from that debate. She was winning townships as well. And winning townships that traditionally lean Republican, this kind of insight into what she was pushing for.

CUOMO: Part of the hidden story here, right?

Is that the Democrats start their race off in two states that have more registered Republicans than Democrats and not reflective of the diversity they say their party is about, which is, of course, what Biden is holding out for.

Let me ask you something. Very interesting, Sanders, we'll talk a little more about how well he did here versus what we've seen historically, even if accounting for a big field.

[02:05:00]

CUOMO: But Buttigieg and Bernie are about as opposite in the field as you can get. They represent almost exactly opposite things and yet they're knotted up at the top.

Why?

MATTINGLY: Here's the interesting thing. You think about that, ideologically not aligned.

CUOMO: Not even close.

MATTINGLY: They want different things and they have very different pitches and that's part of what they believe their appeal is. So you can go through and actually start looking.

What's the most interesting thing, Chris, about the top three candidates you see here, is that it was static throughout the course of the entire state. Take a look at Bernie Sanders.

Where was he first?

Obviously the light blue here.

What about where he was second?

You see the map fill in a little more. A lot more light green where Pete Buttigieg was. They were running first and second in the majority of the state.

Where was he third?

That's almost the entire map. And you can do the same thing for Pete Buttigieg, for Amy Klobuchar. You see that, for the most part New Hampshire, was a three-person race and those three people right here are the top three in the state, Chris.

CUOMO: All right. Thank you very much, Phil.

So what an interesting story. You just have to keep thinking about Pete Buttigieg now and how much he overperformed and now we're going to have to stop saying that after two results. Now it will be about what the expectation is.

So Harry Enten, CNN has projected that Bernie Sanders is going to win the primary right around 26 percent.

Is it fair to take a look at that 26 percent as it stacks up historically?

HARRY ENTEN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: I mean, I think it is fair. And if you stack it up to where it is historically, it's the lowest percentage ever won by the winning candidate in a non-incumbent Democratic primary in the modern era. It's lower than Jimmy Carter, lower than the Mario Mendoza line, as we pointed out earlier.

Look, this to me is a sign of a very muddled primary currently. That is, you go back to Iowa, there were four candidates who finished above 15 percent. That was the first time that ever happened in the Iowa caucuses.

And this result tonight, of Bernie Sanders just getting 26 percent of the vote and comparing that historically, is another sign of the muddled nature of this primary.

CUOMO: Have we seen races in the past where you had this many good candidates?

ENTEN: I mean, look, what's the definition of good?

Good is something you can tell through the rearview mirror, right?

But this is not an example -- you know, they'll say, well, he's running against so many candidates. Keep in mind, Edwin Muskie was running against a ton of candidates in 1972 and Muskie got 46 percent of the vote. And, of course, he was from next door in Maine.

The other thing I'll point out, Donald Trump in 2016, he was running against a slew of candidates. But remember, he won that primary by about 20 percentage points, got about 35 percent of the vote. So this 26 percent to me not necessarily a strong sign for Sanders though a win is a win.

CUOMO: I wasn't impressed with the Muskie thing but you are right, Donald Trump did emerge from a huge field.

So Nevada and South Carolina.

How large did they loom and why?

ENTEN: They loom very, very large.

Why?

Take a look at the demographics: Iowa, New Hampshire almost completely white. But look at Nevada. Look at the entrance poll from 2016. Only 59 percent of the Iowa caucus -- I'm sorry -- of the Nevada caucusgoers in 2016 were white. 19 percent were Latino, 13 percent African American.

If there is one state of the four states that vote early on the Democratic side that looks most like the rest of the Democratic primary electorate, it is in fact Nevada. If you do well in Nevada, you're probably going to do well nationwide. Flip forward to South Carolina.

What do you see there?

You see the majority of that Democratic electorate back in 2016 was African American, 61 percent. Of course African American voters are the base of the Democratic primary season.

So to me this is a state obviously Joe Biden wants to do very, very well in. That's the group he's done best among. If he doesn't do well in South Carolina, his bid is probably adios, amigos, goodbye, see you later.

CUOMO: And now well means something different, right?

Because these two first results are worse than people expected. So now that's going to mean the expectation for South Carolina is bigger. All right. So do this, quickly. Go through how these first two results have changed odds to win. ENTEN: Yes. Take a look at Bernie Sanders, right?

He now has a majority chance of getting the highest number of delegates going into Milwaukee at 5.5 in 10. Before Iowa and New Hampshire voted it was just 3 in 10. Let's flip forward to somebody else.

Take a look at Buttigieg. He is now at a 1 in 10 shot to get most amount of delegates going into Milwaukee. That is up slightly from a 0.5 in 10 before Iowa and New Hampshire voted.

Take a look here. Take a look at Michael Bloomberg. He's at a 1 in 10 chance to have most delegates going into Milwaukee. That was just a 0.5 in 10 shot before Iowa. We've seen his national poll numbers improve pretty dramatically, actually.

And Amy Klobuchar, she's at a 0.5 in 10 shot that's not particularly high but it's certainly higher than where she was before Iowa when it was just a 0.1 in 10 shot of getting the most amount of delegates going into Milwaukee.

CUOMO: Contested convention.

Do you bite my head off or is there a chance?

ENTEN: I think there's a real shot if I'm being honest with you. In fact I might argue this graphic's a little low if I'm looking at some of what my other friends have been saying, a 3.5 in 10 chance.

[02:10:00]

ENTEN: Yes, we will have a contested contention. It means no one will have a majority of delegates going into Milwaukee. The truth is, this is the thing that political folks like me dream about and it's never really a true possibility. This year, Christopher, I really believe it could happen.

CUOMO: Thank you very much, Harry Enten, always a pleasure.

You're going to have to hear about senator Amy Klobuchar. She did well in the debate but now a finish like this in New Hampshire, she's in the conversation. Third place, strong, ahead of Elizabeth Warren, ahead of Biden.

Now the campaign says it's going to expand because, toward Super Tuesday, she has momentum.

How much can she capitalize on this Klomentum?

Not my word -- next.

(MUSIC PLAYING)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(MUSIC PLAYING) (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. AMY KLOBUCHAR (D-MN), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: We love you, New Hampshire.

(APPLAUSE)

KLOBUCHAR: Hello, America. I'm Amy Klobuchar and I will beat Donald Trump.

(APPLAUSE)

KLOBUCHAR: My heart -- my heart is full tonight. My heart is full tonight. While there are still ballots left to count, we have beaten the odds every step of the way. We have done it on the merits.

[02:15:00]

KLOBUCHAR: We have done it with ideas. And we have done it with hard work because we are resilient and strong as the people of this great nation.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

DON LEMON, CNN ANCHOR: You have got to give senator Amy Klobuchar her due. There she is in New Hampshire at 19.8 percent. She's up there with Bernie Sanders and Pete Buttigieg, beating out the former vice president and another sitting senator, senator Elizabeth Warren.

Everyone probably thought Elizabeth Warren would be in the position that Amy Klobuchar's in. So you have to give her her due.

Back with my experts. The last time we saw Amy Klobuchar with that big a smile on her face, she was in the Manchester airport arriving. It was last week arriving in the airport. She was saying, I'm punching above my weight class.

We were like, wait, you're still fourth or fifth.

But I said, I've been saying, Mark Preston, she has defied gravity. Maybe not gravity but she's definitely survived. She's beat the odds because everyone thought she would be out by now. She hadn't been polling that high in -- nationally among Democrats and independents, Amy Klobuchar's at 4 percent.

MARK PRESTON, CNN POLITICAL DIRECTOR: Don, let's go back to February 2019 when you did her first town hall in New Hampshire. We all talk about the Pete town hall which clearly that took him off. You know, that CNN town hall.

You might even be able to go back and look at how Amy Klobuchar introduced herself to the nation. When she went and did the town hall in New Hampshire that you moderated, she was able to talk about her issues in a way that wasn't outside in a blaring snowstorm.

And I wonder if other candidates, as we talk in between break and how these campaigns are working and who's been successful, who hasn't been successful, if you look at Amy Klobuchar, look her success has just been basically hard work, put her nose to the grindstone, had no money, literally has no money, had to fly commercial back and forth between Iowa and D.C. during the impeachment vote while the other candidates were flying privately.

It's a testament to the campaign. It really is a testament to her hard work.

(CROSSTALK)

LEMON: I've been saying, though, I've always thought that she would be a dark horse, she would be the one -- there would always be a lane for her because of her -- because she's a centrist, because she's moderate, because she builds coalitions.

I've always thought there could be a lane for Amy Klobuchar beyond the personality. Everyone thinks, because of Trump, you've got to have a big personality. Obama was sort of the star president, you've got to have a big personality. She is just steady and she's on message, this is what I think, and she can build a coalition.

JEN PSAKI, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Yes. And to Mark's point, I mean, she's been running like she has nothing to lose. I mean, when she got into the race, there were a fair number of people saying really, is she running?

People doubted how long she would go. And here she is.

Who would have thought it?

LEMON: And hiring more staff to move on.

PSAKI: Exactly. If you look at what's probably happening inside the Klobuchar team tonight, it's the opposite of what's happening inside the Warren camp. The Klobuchar team is probably trying to figure out what to do with all this money and how to hire enough staff to get them on the ground in South Carolina and Nevada.

Is it too late, how do you get the operation up and going, how do you get ads up on the air?

The Warren team we see what she's presenting publicly but internally they're probably getting calls from donors saying, what's your path forward?

How are you going to hang in there?

(CROSSTALK)

LEMON: That's my question. How does she keep that momentum?

LAURA BARRON-LOPEZ, "POLITICO": Well, Warren's team put out a memo today setting expectations in New Hampshire as many people expected her to do but also the difference with Warren between her and Klobuchar is Warren has had people on the ground in Super Tuesday states and in other states for a very long time.

And it looks as though she is not cutting there. Where she's cutting is she's moving around ads. She did cut in South Carolina. She's moving some of that money over to Nevada.

With Klobuchar, what I noticed about her, especially in the final days heading up to Iowa when I was there, was the way that she benefitted from Cory Booker's absence. The number of voters that had been Cory Booker that moved over to her was surprising to me.

Just by talking to people at her events, benefiting from that, benefiting from Booker. Her consistent performance in debates appears to have clearly helped her. The fact she was able to stay on the debate stage, I think, helped with the money aspect, which was an issue that Booker raised as to why he wasn't able to stay in the race.

(CROSSTALK)

ANDREW GILLUM, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Could be one of the few candidates on the debate stage who could throw punches and not like be punished for it. Everyone else who threw punches on that stage, thinking back to the very beginning to this point, were penalized.

(CROSSTALK)

LEMON: Having worked in Chicago and St. Louis, they call that Midwestern nice.

(LAUGHTER)

MITCH LANDRIEU, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: I mean, she did it in a strong way but she didn't take a cheap shot.

LEMON: Not at all.

LANDRIEU: When she needed to get after Pete the other day about experience.

[02:20:00]

LANDRIEU: And him seeming to belittle her work as a senator, you know, she came back with him very directly and very forcefully.

Also in a speech tonight that I thought was really good, she said I'm Amy Klobuchar and I can beat Donald Trump and then talked about resilience. So I agree with you. I think she and Elizabeth Warren, I think, in different things, her team is thinking about how do I expand quick enough to take advantage of this ticket that I bought myself out in New Hampshire?

LEMON: But that was a really good hit when she said we have a novice in the White House now and look where that got us.

PSAKI: But this is going to change, as we know. There's a few more debates.

LEMON: There's a few more debates but also does she poll among minority voters below...?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: She's below Buttigieg.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: She's zero percent --

AMANDA CARPENTER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: I would expect her to have some problems but I think we should take some moments to reflect on the fact that being a strong female candidate is no longer a novelty.

She I think may be the first one in the Democratic field to not rely on her gender for votes in the way that she makes an oblique ask for it, saying I'm a woman and we need to make history, something like that.

She doesn't make that a defining characteristic of her candidacy but at the same time she's not afraid to point out double standards, like she did against Pete Buttigieg and saying, now listen, I'm a U.S. senator, I deserve the respect he's getting.

So I think she's just done that in a really laudable way that will be a model for other people to follow.

(CROSSTALK)

GILLUM: Also I think inoffensive, inoffensive to most people. I think a lot of times the burden that women candidates have to carry is how it is that you show up on one of these stages or in the course of campaigning and frankly not offend other women, who may not have acceded to the same level you have.

And she has a way of basically reflecting, I'm every woman.

(CROSSTALK)

LEMON: The only time she points it out -- and you're right, I did the first town hall with her, I read her book, I felt like I know her. I read her book on tapes, I hear her voice in my head. Every time I do a town hall with someone, I read the book because everyone's written a book. I read Kamala Harris's book. I read Cory Booker's book, Mayor Pete.

PRESTON: You've got like your own book club over here, the Don Lemon book club.

(CROSSTALK)

LEMON: So I feel like I know them --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I read, "Good Night, Moon."

(LAUGHTER)

LEMON: Her book is really good when she talks about her father being an alcoholic, talks about the work her father did, talks about her relationship with her mother, her relationship with her daughter. It's how they grew up, not having enough money and on and on and on.

She has a very good story. But the only time she really talks about being a woman is when she has to remind everyone on that stage that she was won every contest that she has been in.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Electability.

LEMON: Or the men on the stage, she and Elizabeth Warren.

(CROSSTALK)

LANDRIEU: You remember the exchange she had with Brett Kavanaugh over her father's alcoholism?

(CROSSTALK)

LEMON: Don't you like a drink or something, something he said --

LANDRIEU: She handled that about as well as a human being, forcefully and in a polite way but basically saying, listen, this is how the cow eats the cabbage. And I think people appreciate that temperament.

PSAKI: And I think she's very smart strategically, to Amanda's point, because women don't actually vote for the women candidates, the majority. That's not how it's worked.

LEMON: I'm glad you said that.

(CROSSTALK)

PSAKI: Even in the New Hampshire primary results, it was split between Klobuchar and Buttigieg and Sanders. So leading with that is not necessarily what's appealing to voters, including women. It's smart that she's not -- she's leading with her record of accomplishment.

I will say that the sweet spot in any campaign is when you're on the rise and no one's really tracking you. And people are now tracking her. And she has an entire record as a prosecutor and her cases and everything will be gone through.

So in addition to building up their operation, they'd better be ready because it's coming at them. And I hope they should be ready for it.

PRESTON: Check me on this because I think actually, Mr. Mayor, you may have identified the moment but we sit on these panels and we watch these debates, we watch these town halls and we watch them on the campaign trail, we look for that moment.

Oh, my gosh, that was the moment where it turned. We all look at Pete with the town hall. We talked about that. But Amy Klobuchar hasn't put herself in the position to have that moment, whether it's good or bad.

And it's almost -- it's worked to her advantage because she's very steady and she stands by what she believes in. We talk about Bernie Sanders. People like him for what he stands by. Amy Klobuchar wasn't winning any people over when she said, no, I

don't think we're going to give college for free. I mean, it's a very easy thing to say. But she stood her ground.

LEMON: I don't think it matters to her anymore as long as you check her name on the box. But I remember it being drilled into me, I think I've done three town halls with her, Klobuchar, "shar," not "char." But I don't think she really cares anymore.

(CROSSTALK)

GILLUM: I hate to be a downer. The only thing --

LEMON: They're playing the music.

GILLUM: No worries. We've got --

(LAUGHTER)

(CROSSTALK)

GILLUM: -- many races ahead. And this is going to be challenging obviously to keep pace.

LEMON: All right.

So how does the Democratic race, speaking of the race.

[02:25:00]

LEMON: How does it change now that the first two contests are over?

Can Bernie Sanders hold on to his front-runner status?

And how does a former vice president, Joe Biden, recover from the underwhelming finishes that he's had?

That's next.

(MUSIC PLAYING)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(MUSIC PLAYING)

CUOMO: So what will New Hampshire mean?

Let's get the take from two better minds. Ron Brownstein and Rebecca Buck joins me now.

I'm so happy I remembered your name. That was my whole task for tonight.

(CROSSTALK)

CUOMO: Congratulations. I haven't seen you since. What is your read on the result?

RON BROWNSTEIN, CNN SR. POLITICAL ANALYST: I told you last week the muddle is the message. And I think we're still largely there. Iowa, Pete Buttigieg wins with 26 percent of the available delegates. That's the smallest share of the available delegates won by a winner since the caucus began in '72.

Tonight, Bernie Sanders wins the New Hampshire primary with significantly the smallest share of the total vote of any winner ever. All of these candidates are operating with significant limits. None of them look big enough to pull away yet from the others.

[02:30:00]

Pete Buttigieg had the broadest support within the party, and the most diverse support. He's done it in states that have no racial diversity. And as the calendar turns toward the more diverse states, he faces an enormous challenge expanding his support into African American and Latino communities.

Joe Biden, theoretically, was the champion of African American community. It's not clear that he can recover from this, you know, historically bad showing tonight in New Hampshire. Right now, you'd have to say that we are, you know, we are in for an extended grinding slog in which I think none of these candidates are positioned to significantly pull away.

And then you have the new dynamic of Michael Bloomberg coming in with all this money, but also some significant vulnerabilities and limits of his own.

CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR: Rebecca, your take.

REBECCA BUCK, CNN POLITICAL REPORTER: Well, the question for me is what happens over the next few weeks. Because if we were talking about the state of the race, and Super Tuesday, or tomorrow, that would be one thing. But we are going into these types of states where we don't really know what's going to happen now that it looks like Joe Biden's campaign is collapsing or on the verge of collapse.

We haven't really seen any recent pulling out of Nevada, South Carolina to suggest who is the person who fills that vacuum if Joe Biden is not doing as well in those states in light of what we've seen in Iowa and New Hampshire. Perhaps Bernie Sanders is someone. He has been making gains with minorities. He's very well positioned in Nevada, potentially could be in South Carolina as well.

CUOMO: So while you guys talk, I'm going to show February, 3.9 percent of the delegates were available, OK. And of course, we still have Nevada and South Carolina to go, which were very different states than Iowa and New Hampshire, and every measurable metric that should matter to Democrats. In March, to the point that you were making Rebecca, now the game is on.

You're going to have three-quarters of the available delegates and you can't hide. You're going to be in all parts of the country. All different regions are at play. In terms of who's taken a bite out of Biden, Bernie maybe, Steyer in South Carolina, Bloomberg in the latest national poll, billionaires taking a bite out of the guy who's supposed to be the working-class champion? Makes sense of that for --

BROWNSTEIN: Well, first of all, I mean, he is struggling to be the working-class champion. He has not been winning non-college white voters who along with African Americans were supposed to be his core constituency, especially younger ones. I mean, he only one single digits. The CNN polling, you know, ran the numbers for me tonight. In the New Hampshire primary, he won single digits among blue-collar whites who are younger than 45.

The states that are coming in March look a lot more like Nevada and South Carolina than they do like Iowa and New Hampshire. The diversity of the Democratic Party comes in big in the early part of March. You're going to have states like Texas, Arizona, California with big Latino populations. You're going to have the entire southeast with the large African American populations, as well as several Midwestern battlegrounds Michigan, Illinois, Ohio, with large African American populations.

And that is just the enormous question in the Democratic race. I mean, Bernie Sanders last time, ran well with black voters under 35 and then fell off the table among older African Americans.

CUOMO: So you still believe in the ceiling argument about Bernie Sanders?

BROWNSTEIN: Until proven otherwise. I mean, until proven -- he's got -- he's got the money to try to change it. But so far and these first two races, one quick number.

CUOMO: Go ahead.

BROWNSTEIN: In Iowa, according to the exit poll, Sanders won seven percent of the people who voted for Hillary Clinton last time.

CUOMO: Right.

BROWNSTEIN: In New Hampshire tonight, he won 13 percent. He is still depending almost entirely on people who voted for him last time. Now, in a multi-candidate field, could that be the biggest single piece? Yes. Does it get him anywhere near a majority? No.

CUOMO: What does that tell you about the state of the party, though, if it's Bernie and everyone else's? Is that what like the state of play is within the Democratic mindset?

BUCK: I mean, that's what it's looking like. I don't think we can be that reductive about it. I mean, I was just up in New Hampshire speaking with voters there. I was at a Bernie Sanders event and there were folks there who were deciding between Pete Buttigieg and Bernie Sanders. So people aren't thinking about this purely in an ideological way. I think the common thread that we see among many Democrats this cycle is that they want a change agent. So that could be Pete Buttigieg who is one of the youngest candidates

ever to be in this position, or that could be Bernie Sanders, who is calling for a revolution of sorts. It means different things to different voters.

BROWNSTEIN: The one thing Sanders has done compared to last time is he does seem to be clearly improving his standing among Latinos. And that could be very important. It could help him win California. It helped him win Nevada. The question is, what does winning mean, right? If you're winning at 25 to 30 percent, you are not going to get to a majority of the delegates. And then you have this situation where he could easily go into Milwaukee with the most delegates, but not a majority of delegates. And the combined delegates of the more moderate candidates could be a majority. Then what happens?

CUOMO: So what does it mean -- just the Biden factor, let's put up the map for a second for February. So we have South Carolina coming, and then Nevada. What does he have to do in Nevada in order for Biden to be back in the discussion?

BROWNSTEIN: I think he has to come to second. I mean, you know -- I mean, I suppose if he even comes in third, he'll try to say come back here. But I think look, the Culinary Workers Union, as you know, is the most powerful political force in Nevada overall, not to mention the Democratic Party. They are extremely opposed to Medicare for all.

Tonight, they came out guns blazing to their members attacking Sanders by name, saying he would take away the health care that they negotiated for their members. With that kind of opening, you'd have to say Biden needs a very strong showing to get himself back in the conversation.

[02:35:21]

CUOMO: But do the debates matter? (INAUDIBLE)

BROWNSTEIN: Yes. And in fact, you know -- you know, we've gone now through a race and a half, without any Democrat truly taking on Bernie Sanders over the breath of his agenda, many banning fracking, banning the internal combustion engine by 2030, proposing 60 trillion and new spending over a decade that would double the size of the federal government.

These issues have not been litigated. Democrats have not felt that it makes sense because as voters seem to be an island. You got to say, if they're not going to litigate them now, when are they?

CUOMO: Well, we'll see soon enough. Again, you look at that March map, it'll be 65 percent of the delegates all over the country. You can't hide any weaknesses there. Rebecca, Ron, thank you for much. All right, a lot more on how this race is going to change for the Democrats going forward.

But first, we have an update on another major story that we're following. We've never seen anything like this. Four federal prosecutors quit after the Roger Stone case because of being undercut by their bosses on what the right punishment is. Trump's fingerprints are all over this. What it means, next.

[02:40:00]

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CUOMO: All right, one reason that the election matters so much is because of what we're seeing happen in our government, especially tonight, all right, A mutiny by federal prosecutors, four of them. Why do I say that? Well, four left the case against Trump's longest time advisor. It's not a real word. The person has been an advisor for the longest to Donald Trump is Roger stone, OK.

His sentencing recommendation was put in by who they call the line prosecutors, those who were doing the case directly, all right. Then Justice Department officials overrule that sentence recommendation as if they hadn't signed on to it originally. Why? Well, the only thing we know is something that is no coincidence.

The President said the sentence wasn't fair. All of a sudden they put in a thin brief saying there should be less time. Two of our legal analysts are both former federal prosecutors, Elliot Williams, Shan Wu. Gentlemen, thank you. And again, just for the consensus point, have you ever heard of anything like this before?

ELLIOT WILLIAMS, FORMER FEDERAL PROSECUTOR: No.

CUOMO: Have you ever heard of any like this?

SHAN WU, FORMER FEDERAL PROSECUTOR: This is absolute madness.

CUOMO: All right, the normal protocol obviously involves no gaps that especially in a high profile case, the boss was -- will know about the sentence. The idea of debate about the sentence, not unusual. But feeling once it's offered up to the judge, now we have to change this. Has that ever happened?

WILLIAMS: No. That's never happened. No.

CUOMO: All right. So we then have to look at why here. All right, I'll take the opposite. Well, because the President's right, it was grossly beyond what should be seen here. What do you see in this sentencing menu -- the memo in terms of the basis for that argument that wow, did they go way overboard?

WILLIAMS: OK. First of all, I think that's the first time we've heard anything from this administration that a sentence was too broad or too crazy. But set that aside, you know, the way the federal sentencing guidelines work is that when someone has been convicted of an offense, they get essentially a score, right, and things get added to that score based on the facts of the case.

So for instance, if you threaten someone with violence, if you if it's an ongoing scheme, if you use a weapon, and those are the kinds of things to bump the score up. Here, the line prosecutors, the career prosecutors work that all out and it comes out to seven to nine years. Now, you or I sitting here might think that sounds like a draconian sentence or whatever. But that doesn't matter, because that's what the federal sentencing guidelines saying that's what courts across the country rely on.

CUOMO: It's harsh but within the guidelines and Roger stone did commit the major foul in terms of the world that you guys used to be in is he tried you. You know, that he said, I'm trying to say so then you're looking at the upper sentence seven to nine is the upper part of the sentence. It's not like the sentencing guideline is three to five, and they just gave him seven and nine.

So what does it lead you to as a logical conclusion about what happened here to have this type of change in disposition?

WU: It can only be a political influence, because the second memo that they did the watered-down version. They're really arguing this a little bit technical, but something called a variance, which is they're saying, we need to vary from the guidelines range to go lower because of these other factors. That's fine. They can do that.

But before you do that, you got to talk through those points with your supervisors before you can ask for the variance. So it's backwards what happened first, then they would come out and do it. But they went through that. We've heard reporting that there was talk as to what the recommendation should be. So that was recommendation seven to nine. Then what happens? Trump was in, sudden reversal.

CUOMO: All right, so now the next push back. So what? He's the president of the United States. He's able to say that he doesn't like a sentence. And if the DOJ decides that they want to modify based on what the chief executive says, we don't know that he had direct influence.

WILLIAMS: So is that -- is that how the law works now? So we have an entire body of laws that have stood for decades that the government -- the Congress has passed, the courts across the country have followed, and all of a sudden, Donald Trump comes in and says, well, I don't like how something works. And therefore, career prosecutors have devoted decades to serving without fear or favor, all of a sudden have their work thrown away, because Donald Trump put it in a tweet. That is nonsense.

CUOMO: Well, the for prosecutors stepping away is a bad fact for me because it shows a level of outrage here. But do you need to show a direct action by the president with the big shots at the DOJ in order for this to be anything more than a political curiosity?

WU: No, because he's publicly stating it really. And tell you, it's pointless. It's interesting because the system doesn't rely on a rule that says the president as head of the executive cannot do this.

CUOMO: Right.

[02:45:00]

WU: But it's a system of integrity and trust that's built up over decades and decades that the higher-ups of justice try to insulate the not only the line prosecutors from political input, but the institution, they tried to protect us from that, and that's what's being lost.

WILLIAMS: And on top of that, the folks who signed the memo that superseded this, they should be ashamed of themselves, because what they did was throw their staff under the bus. These were folks that had spent a lot of time working on -- I mean, the fact they've spent a lot of time on it doesn't matter, but it's right as a matter of law. And then based on a political matter, the bosses came in and said, no, sorry, we're going to throw your work away. That's just bad management and its ugly and it's a dark place that we're taking federal prosecution in this country, if that's how this is --

WU: Yes. The fact that the trial team resigned. I mean, they fought hard for that victory. For them to walk away, it says, I don't feel like this is my case anymore.

CUOMO: Also, it's the president playing the system in two different ways. One is if you looked at his tweet, which there was no reason to show it to him. People can find it themselves. Why? Because it's a malignant tweet. It's filled with a lot of things that aren't true, half true, and it's trying to get you to believe that the institution of justice is corrupt and against it, and only this president can save you.

So he's trying to have a two ways. He's trying to have you not believe in the institution of justice, the administration of justice, but also he's not offering a pardon to his friend. If you care so much about the sentence, pardon him. That's within your exclusive power and you don't have to mess with the administration of justice. It's on you. Why won't you take some risk for your friend? Why just blame the institution instead of blaming yourself? Because the answer is within your own power.

All right, so that's what's going on with this story. We'll take you through more of it. It's certainly isn't over. Senator Bernie Sanders pulls off a narrow win in New Hampshire. That is a good thing. But yes, people expected him to win by more. Pete Buttigieg only less than two percent behind, overperforming again. What does it primary this close mean going forward? Next.

[02:50:00]

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

LEMON: So we've been saying the first of the nation, the votes, the caucus, the primary, it's coming. And guess what, we've had it. So experts, I'm going to go around the table and I want to know what you see going forward. Now what? Amanda?

AMANDA CARPENTER, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: I would say, I mean, I think the biggest thing I'm watching for is what Michael Bloomberg does, and if he materializes into anything that lives outside of the television commercial.

LEMON: Really? CARPENTER: Yes. You got to build a movement. I always tell people when

they tell me their Bloomberg fans, I say, has he ever delivered a speech that brought people to their feet? And then they look at me blankly. So that's what I'm looking for.

JEN PSAKI, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: He may not need to run that way.

LEMON: OK, well, since you spoke up, what do you think? What do you see?

PSAKI: I think that's an interesting thing to watch. I'm going to take it a little smaller. I'm going to be watching to see what the Culinary Workers do because I do think it matters and it could matter in Nevada, which is only just over a week from now. And then I'm also going to be watching the margins.

LEMON: Laura?

LAURA BARRON-LOPEZ, NATIONAL POLITICAL REPORTER, POLITICO: Well, a different Bloomberg aspects which is the Nevada debate. He is one pull away from reaching the deadline. The deadline is February 18th. If he makes it on that stage, that'll throw a whole X Factor ahead of Nevada where he is isn't even on the ballot.

LEMON: Mark?

MARK PRESTON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, before I say what I'm looking for, I just want to say what I'm looking forward to. And that is this all getting together for South Carolina and Nevada for the next two weeks at this great hour for our -- at this great hour.

Look, I want to see if the narratives come true. The narratives that we believe that Joe Biden is going to rebound, you know, or won't rebound out of South Carolina. What will happen to the African American vote? What will happen on Super Tuesday? Will we see Amy Klobuchar burst out of this? Are we going to see a race that continues to remain unsettled for months to come.

LEMON: Now to my Mayor. Gillum?

ANDREW GILLUM (D), FORMER GUBERNATORIAL CANDIDATE, FLORIDA: I will say a different version of what you're looking forward to is I'd like to see whether or not for Amy Klobuchar, Pete Buttigieg. I'm less worried about Sanders, but to some extent, Sanders, whether or not their capacity to grow the base, grow their base of support actually expands over these next few races.

If not, we're going to see a bit of an inverse. And I think those who are at the probably come to the top and those at the top may go to the bottom.

MITCH LANDRIEU, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: And you go for age last, right?

LEMON: I was trying LANDRIEU: I appreciate it. I appreciate it. I'm watching Joe Biden.

That to me is the X-Factor. If he does well in Nevada, he's going to do well in South Carolina, this thing is going to change. If he does not do that, then I think that you're going to have to start looking at Bloomberg and to see what impact he's going to have on the race.

LEMON: I learned after the last election that we all sat here and covered not to be in the prediction business.

GILLUM: It's not an election.

LEMON: Yes -- no, no, no, I'm talking about 2016. I'm talking about 2016 not to be in the prediction business. And I think Chris said it's a lesson that we all learn because you don't know. You know what I want, Chris?

CUOMO: What do you want?

LEMON: I'm going to sit here and I'm going to be open. That's what I'm looking forward to being open and just to see how this thing really plays out. Because listen, this is the first two contests and we've got a long way to go, and you never know. Listen. No one ever thought that Mayor Pete Buttigieg would be in this position.

No one -- I certainly didn't think that Amy Klobuchar might be going as high as she did now. I wasn't sure about that. But I'm open, here we are. Amy Klobuchar is third, Mayor Pete Buttigieg is second. He's won one contest. And you have Bernie Sanders, the Democratic socialist, a self-declared democratic socialist who isn't even a Democrat, he's an independent, who's in the -- in the top spot right now.

CUOMO: It is good to be open, seeing how you are, a journalists. But you're right, we can't make any assumptions. It's too early. I have two questions. One is, is anybody enough in the Democratic field?

LEMON: That's true.

CUOMO: Even Bernie Sanders, is he going to have a ceiling that puts in 30, 35 percent, but that's not going to be enough and they're going to wind up having a brokered convention that will be about as ugly as anything that we've seen? Second question. When do the Democrats going to change this system?

They start off in two states that don't look like the party they say they are. They got more registrants that are Republican in Iowa and New Hampshire. There's no diversity there. And you lost all the diversity in your field. So the party that you say you want to be, all of the diversity is out of it by the time you get through the first two contests with --

[02:55:07]

LEMON: I think that's going to change. I think that's going to change next time. I really don't think that you're going to see Iowa as the first contest next time because it's really not representative of the nation. I don't know -- I don't think -- I doubt that New Hampshire will change. But I tell you one thing, Chris, that they better not change, and that's Dixville Notch. Because every single season, I look forward to seeing --

CUOMO: The midnight vote.

LEMON: The midnight vote, and it is a part of Americana, and I always say it is like -- it's a wonderful life. And I feel like it's a little town and it's a wonderful life, and I expect -- you know, I keep thinking that George is going to come out and say that, you know, the town has been saved and they found all the money and there you go.

CUOMO: Good. I'm for that. They could add more states to it, keep Dixville Notch, put Bedford Falls --

LEMON: Bedford Falls. That's what it reminds me.

CUOMO: Be the party you say you want to be. Don Lemon, love you.

LEMON: Hey, I love working with you. I'll see you next time.

CUOMO: Everybody, thank you very much. All right, our New Hampshire primary coverage continues on CNN. "EARLY START" is next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

END