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THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER

Bloomberg, Trump Escalate Feud With Personal Insults; AG Barr: Trump Should Stop Tweeting About DOJ, Makes It "Impossible For Me To Do My Job". Aired 4:30-5p ET

Aired February 13, 2020 - 16:30   ET

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


JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The first true test of Bloomberg's candidacy comes that day when voters in 14 states coast to coast weigh in. He spent nearly $130 million on Super Tuesday ads, and $381 million overall, trying to make the point he's the strongest candidate to challenge President Trump.

[16:30:07]

AD ANNOUNCER: By an angry, out of control president.

ZELENY: No matter where you live in America, Bloomberg is inescapable, at least on television. That has allowed him to shape his own narrative until now.

He's suddenly on the defensive over the controversial stop and frisk policing policy in New York, after an audio clip of the 2015 speech came to light, where Bloomberg argued one way to reduce violence was to throw minority kids up against the walls and frisk them.

MIKE BLOOMBERG (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I don't think those words reflect what -- how I led the most diverse city in the nation and apologized for the practice and the pain that it caused.

ZELENY: In three stops across North Carolina today, he did not address it. Several voters we talked to who admire Bloomberg say they wished he would have, and believe he must.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It's really an issue and if he resolves, then we can move on and get my vote.

ZELENY: Days before he jumped into the race last year, Bloomberg rejected his long embrace of the discriminatory stop and frisk policy.

BLOOMBERG: I realized back then I was wrong. And I'm sorry.

ZELENY: But he's rarely addressed it since, hoping to move beyond through a series of high profile endorsements from African-American members of Congress and big city mayors.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ZELENY: Now, Bloomberg is also building a massive campaign battleship, Jake. Some 2,400 employees so far. To give you some sense of scope there, that is more than the number of people who worked for Barack Obama at the end of his 2008 campaign, this is all part of the Bloomberg plan to overwhelm his Democratic rivals in hopes of showing that he's the strongest candidate to take on the man he's a aching to run against.

That is President Trump. But first, of course, that pesky Democratic primary.

TAPPER: Right.

ZELENY: Jake?

TAPPER: Jeff Zeleny, thanks so much.

And let's discuss this. He's going to have some questions to answer from progressive and minority voters especially when it comes to comments and the practice of not only stop and frisk, but also recently unearthed comments in which he seemed to defend the practice of red lining, which is shorthand discrimination against African- Americans in housing.

LAURA BARRON-LOPEZ, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: He definitely will. The first chance that other candidates potentially will have to challenge him on this is most likely the Nevada debate. He's only one poll away from reaching the debate stage, which is next week. And that deadline for that is February 18th. If he does make that stage, Biden has already forecasted that he wants to have this discussion with him about his past comments on redlining.

Of course, candidates like Biden and Sanders also have past comments they have had to answer for and now, the fact that Bloomberg is getting more attention because he is rising in the polls because he does lock like this very big looming X factor on Super Tuesday, in Super Tuesday states, he is getting more scrutiny from the press, from other candidates.

TAPPER: He's getting a hot of attention from President Trump, who is obviously an ardent consumer of television and must see his omnipotent, I'm sorry, yes, omnipresent -- his omnipresent TV ads, which are everywhere. Every time you turn on the television, especially cable news, there is a Bloomberg ad. It doesn't matter the network, it doesn't matter the channel.

DAVID URBAN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: So, if money were dispositive in political elections, you'd have President Perot and Tom Steyer would be the top of the polls right now, right? So, it's helpful, but it's not going to win the day. I think it may actually backfire in a party of progressives that are kind of reeling about, you know, buying the presidency, buying the nomination.

Having two white Republicans who are billionaires run for the president of the United States is somewhat rich.

TAPPER: Two white Democrats?

URBAN: No, I mean, look, touche. TAPPER: Right.

URBAN: Bloomberg and Trump --

TAPPER: You mean Bloomberg and Trump are both Democrats and Republicans. I wasn't even trying to touche you on that one.

So, you know, Blake Zeff, who worked on the Obama campaign in New York, you must know him, tweeted today about how he sees Bloomberg using his money to manipulate politics. He pointed to a number of examples. One was an article which says Bloomberg spent $4.5 million to elect Congressman Harley Rouda, $2.2 million to elect Congresswoman Haley Stevens, $2.2 million to elect Congresswoman Mikie Sherrill.

And now, all three are endorsing Bloomberg's campaign. It goes on to talk about how he's been able to give money to community groups and all of a sudden, those individuals endorse him and on and on.

JEN PSAKI, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: I mean, let's give some of those members a little bit of credit. A lot of them are looking at who would play in their district and who they would be safe to endorse. That's a bigger factor than I think Blake, who I do know, is factoring in.

Look, the system of money in politics is totally broken. There's no question about that. But if we don't play by the game, we're going to lose, which means we should welcome the money of billionaires or millionaires or anyone who's going to get to Democrats. What Democrats are warming to Bloomberg about is the fact that he may spend $2 billion and have more money than Trump, and spend more money on media (ph) --

[16:35:03]

URBAN: The progressive -- how about the progressive wing of the party?

PSAKI: I still think, David, beside the wing question, I think people in this country of different backgrounds feel like that may be what we need to do to win.

Now, I do think he hasn't been on the stage. He's been running essentially with these great campaign ads.

TAPPER: Hasn't done interviews either.

PSAKI: And he hasn't done interviews, he has been stage. And how he responds to these questions and how he responds to the debate stage I think is going to be a huge factor of his longevity.

TAPPER: I think it's his resources, but I also think the Democrats think, Jeremy, that he is able to go after President Trump in a way that really bothers President Trump.

There's one tweet today: We know many of the same people in New York behind your back, they laugh at you and call you a carnival barking clown. This is Bloomberg to Trump: They know you inherited a fortune and squandered it with stupid deals and incompetence.

And I have to say, that's mean. That's a mean tweet.

JEREMY DIAMOND, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Yes, and it seems like a lot of Democrats are kind of enamored with the idea of someone who can get under Trump's skin, who can get in the mud with him and fight with him at the same level of New Yorker to New Yorker.

But whether that's ultimately the successful strategy in running against Trump, I'm not really sure. I mean, you have Republicans in the primary in 2016 trying to exactly that.

TAPPER: Marco Rubio.

DIAMOND: Marco Rubio, Ted Cruz. They tried to fling insults back and it didn't quite, it's not that they didn't work, is that they weren't able to ding where Trump was, right?

TAPPER: Yes.

DIAMOND: So, I don't know if that ultimately is a successful strategy, even though Democrats seem to be enamored right now.

PSAKI: But that can be, I don't think it will be. The Super Bowl ad was on guns, right?

TAPPER: Yes.

PSAKI: We've got to see more of that I think in order for him to --

TAPPER: Everybody stays. We're coming right back to the panel.

More on breaking news ahead. The attorney general slamming President Trump's tweets, which will no doubt get him tweeting.

Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[16:41:08]

TAPPER: Now, we're back with breaking news. Bill Barr coming out and criticizing President Trump's tweets a about the Justice Department, telling ABC News' Pierre Thomas that it makes it, quote, impossible for him to do his job.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

WILLIAM BARR, ATTORNEY GENERAL: To have public statements and tweets made about the department, about our people in the department, our men ask women here, about cases pending in the department, and about judges before whom we have cases, make it impossible for me to do my job and to assure the courts and the prosecutors in the department that we're doing our work with integrity.

I'm not going to be bullied or influenced by anybody. And I said whether it's Congress, newspaper editorial boards, or the president, I'm going to do what I think is right and, you know, the -- I think the -- I cannot do my job here at the department with a constant background commentary that undercuts me.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: When asked if he expects President Trump to react to this criticism, Barr said he hopes he will and hopes the president will respect it.

CNN senior justice correspondent Evan Perez joins me now.

And, Evan, there are some people who are interpreting this as Barr taking a shot at the president. You don't see it that way. You see this as, Mr. President, I got your back.

EVAN PEREZ, CNN SENIOR JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Oh, yes, exactly. And, look, I think it is news, the fact that the attorney general is even saying something a little bit critical of the president. He's criticizing the tweets, which, by the way, the president has a lot of people who criticized his tweets. Some of his friends, some of the people who voted to acquit him criticized his tweets. He's OK with that.

What the attorney general did in this interview -- look, you look at him as sort of a magician, right? A sleight of hand. What he did in this interview is that he said that the president did not order him to do this, in the Roger Stone case, to overturn the prosecutors on the Roger Stone case, and he's also saying that he did the right thing. He's standing by his decision.

There's no regret over exactly how this went down, which was a disaster for the Justice Department. So, I think what the attorney general is trying to do here is throw out a little bit of red meat to say, look, we don't like the tweets. But he is not stepping back at all from what happened in the last few days, which has really shaken the department.

TAPPER: And also, as, Evan, you reported, the four prosecutors who were prosecuting Stone withdrew from the case after the senior leadership of the Justice Department withdrew their recommendation and undermined them. Sources tell you that more prosecutors are considering resigning.

Do you think any of that is a part of what motivated Barr to say this?

PEREZ: Well, look, I do think that some of that has gotten back to the headquarters of the Justice Department. I think we know of a number of prosecutors who told friends that they're ready to walk. They want to see how the department behaves in other cases.

And so, I do think that is something that weighed here with the department. They needed to say something. But again, Jake, it's a little bit of a magic show happening where the department and the attorney general is making sure everyone and the president knows he is still on the reservation. He's not gone rogue. He's going to criticize the tweets, but there's nothing wrong with what happened this week.

TAPPER: All right. Evan Perez, thank you so much.

Coming up, who needs the Russians? What some South Carolina voters are being encouraged to do to mess with that state's upcoming Democratic primary.

Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[16:48:41]

TAPPER: In our 2020 lead today, it's being called Operation Chaos, Republicans actively interfering in the Democratic Party primary process by purposely voting for the weakest Democrat.

And it's mischief actively being encouraged by President Trump.

Here he is earlier this week:

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Because you have crossovers in primaries, don't you?

So I hear a lot of Republicans tomorrow will vote for the weakest candidate possible of the Democrats.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: That was President Trump in New Hampshire, but the effort appears even bigger in South Carolina, as CNN's Lauren Fox reports.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

LAUREN FOX, CNN CONGRESSIONAL REPORTER (voice-over): Conservatives in South Carolina pushing for Republican voters to disrupt the upcoming Democratic primary.

CHRISTOPHER SULLIVAN, CONSERVATIVE DEFENSE FUND: I guess you could call it meddling.

FOX: One grassroots organizer, Christopher Sullivan, calling it -- quote -- "Operation Chaos," a nod to Rush Limbaugh's 2008 effort to encourage Republicans to vote in Democratic primaries and keep Hillary Clinton in the race longer to hurt Barack Obama.

SULLIVAN: I would love to see the Democrat, whoever wins the South Carolina Democrat primary, for everybody else to accuse him of having stolen the election because he was actually elected with Republican support, and therefore prolong the chaos and the disruption.

[16:50:02]

FOX: It's also the latest obstacle for Joe Biden, who needs a victory in South Carolina to bolster his campaign.

JOSEPH BIDEN (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Our votes count too.

KAREN MARTIN, CONSERVATIVE ORGANIZER: Biden was expected to win South Carolina. We wanted to disrupt what was expected.

FOX: South Carolina has an open primary, allowing eligible voters to cast ballots in either party's primary.

Conservatives have complained for years it's resulted in Democrats boosting moderate Republicans in the state. With South Carolina's Republican presidential primary canceled this year, conservative leader Karen Martin said she saw an opportunity to finally give Democrats a dose of their own medicine.

MARTIN: We thought, aha, what would happen if we made a grassroots statewide effort to cross over and vote for one candidate in the Democratic primary?

FOX: Martin is pushing for voters to back one candidate, Bernie Sanders. Others say they're leaving it up to the voters.

MARTIN: Just for the sake of optics, it would be great to be able to contrast the ideology of an avowed socialist against capitalism.

FOX: The campaigns have caught the attention of Biden's team, including surrogate and state senator Marlon Kimpson. He says Republicans in the state fear Joe Biden in a one-on-one matchup with Trump.

MARLON KIMPSON (D), SOUTH CAROLINA STATE SENATOR: They are trying to interfere with this election to choose the weakest candidate, because they know, without cheating, Donald Trump will not be reelected.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

FOX: And, of course, Jake, we don't know how many Republican voters are actually going to participate in this effort or whether or not they're going to make an impact.

The South Carolina state party is saying they are not endorsing this effort -- Jake.

TAPPER: Always a lot of intrigue in the Palmetto State.

Lauren Fox, thank you so much. Appreciate it.

Just days after being awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, radio host Rush Limbaugh, who has a decades-long record of bigotry against blacks, women and the LGBTQ community, attacked Democratic presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg because Buttigieg is gay.

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)

RUSH LIMBAUGH, RADIO TALK SHOW HOST: How's this going to look, 37- year-old gay guy getting his husband on stage next to Mr. Man, Donald Trump? What's going to happen there?

There may be some Democrats who think that's exactly what we need to do, Rush, get a gay guy kissing his husband on stage. You ram it down Trump's throat and beat him a general election.

Really? Having fun envisioning that.

(END AUDIO CLIP)

TAPPER: Buttigieg has not responded yet.

Former Vice President Joe Biden defended Buttigieg, saying, Buttigieg, who served in the Navy in Afghanistan, has honor and courage.

We should point out Buttigieg is married to one man. I don't even know what number spouse Limbaugh is up to.

Coming up next: proof that experience and name recognition may not matter in the 2020 race.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[16:57:36]

TAPPER: Eight months, two weeks, six days.

A lot can happen between now and November 3, Election Day.

And, as CNN's Tom Foreman reports, front-runner status and a household name, that does not always guarantee a victory.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): For Democrats, the 2008 contest started with our fifth most memorable moment, Hillary Clinton jumping in with the best odds ever for a female contender.

BARBARA PERRY, UNIVERSITY OF VIRGINIA: She's the former first lady. She is a well-respected senator. She is married to Bill Clinton.

HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON (D), FORMER U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE: And I'm in it to win it.

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

FOREMAN: For Republicans, another seasoned pro was emerging, John McCain, a war hero with yours in the Senate.

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: I know who I am and what I want to do.

FOREMAN: What neither of them could have foreseen is our fourth most memorable moment, the explosive rise of a far less experienced contender.

BARACK OBAMA, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: People call me Alabama, or they call me yo mama, but the name is Obama. UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He's a candidate running for president.

FOREMAN: Barack Obama electrified young voters and shocked the old guard.

OBAMA: You were a corporate lawyer sitting on the board of Walmart. I was fighting these fights.

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

FOREMAN: By the time Clinton realized her race was in trouble, the nomination was effectively his, and McCain was waiting, along with the third most memorable moment.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No, no, no, not God bless America. God damn America.

FOREMAN: Obama was soon being hammered over his ties to a controversial family pastor and an old acquaintance.

NARRATOR: Barack Obama and domestic terrorist Bill Ayers friends.

FOREMAN: Still, he weathered those storms and began surging again, triggering the second most memorable moment. Desperate to improve in the polls, McCain made a wildly unorthodox choice for a running mate.

MCCAIN: Governor Sarah Palin of the great state of Alaska.

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

FOREMAN: Palin drew praise from conservatives.

SARAH PALIN (R), FORMER ALASKA GOVERNOR: They say the difference between a hockey mom and a pit bull? Lipstick.

FOREMAN: And scorn from liberals.

But, mostly, she and McCain failed to deliver the votes the party needed.

And, in the end, the number one most memorable moment is one the country will never forget.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: Barack Obama, 47 years old, will become the president-elect of the United States.

FOREMAN: Tom Foreman, CNN, Washington.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

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