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Donald Trump Puts Executive Branch Independence Through A Stress Test; Senator John Cornyn On Roger Stone Trial Judge: "I'm Confident Judge Will Do The Right Thing"; Michael Bloomberg Campaigns In North Carolina Skipping First Four States; Michael Bloomberg Gets Heckled Over Stop And Frisk Policy; Joe Biden On Michael Bloomberg: "I Don't Think You Can Buy An Election". Aired 12-12:30p ET

Aired February 13, 2020 - 12:00   ET




JOHN KING, CNN HOST, INSIDE POLITICS: Welcome to "Inside Politics." I'm John King. Thank you for sharing your day with us. President Trump's post-impeachment score settling rattles career prosecutors at the Justice Department but gets mostly a shrug from Congressional Republicans. His former Chief of Staff says there's no one left at the White House who will challenge the President's rash behavior.

Plus on to Nevada a new Spanish language ad for Pete Buttigieg. New immigration questions for Amy Klobuchar. And a sharper tone as the Democratic campaign shifts west for contest number three. And don't forget Michael Bloomberg. He isn't on the ballot in the first four contests. But he is spending heavily to boost his standing in the states that come later. And he says there's clear proof he is the strongest Democratic contender.


MICHAEL BLOOMBERG (D) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: He calls me little Mike, and the answer is, Donald, where I come from, we measure your height from your neck up. If he doesn't mention you, you've got a big problem. But the President attacked me again this morning on Twitter. Thank you very much, Donald.


KING: Back to 2020 in a minute. But we begin the hour with President Trump. His instincts and the wrecking ball-like impact of his post- impeachment actions. The President who once said he could shoot someone in the middle of Fifth Avenue and get away with it is now directing fire of a different sort of those he sees as his enemies or in his way.

The short list just from the past week firing an impeachment witness from his National Security Council months ahead of that Colonel's scheduled reassignment. Attacking the federal judge presiding over the trial and now the sentencing of Trump ally Roger Stone pulling the nomination of the top attorney who oversaw the Stone prosecution and praising his attorney general for, "Taking charge" and overruling career Justice Department lawyers who said Stone should spend nearly a decade in jail.

It is retribution and retaliation in plain sight. Not to mention actions that obliterate the idea that justice is supposed to be blind and free of political interference. Democrats are livid. But ask a Republican to weigh in? And mostly what you get is, "Not my problem."


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What do you think? Do you think it's a smart idea?

SEN. TIM SCOTT, (R-SC): I'm not the President.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Should the President even be weighing in on a case involving his friend?

SEN. BILL CASSIDY, (R-LA): I am not somebody who is going to tell the President what to do.


KING: The President's Former Chief of Staff says one big issue here is in his view, there's no one left inside the West Wing willing to stand up to the President. More proof today that loyalists are what the President demands. CNN confirming that Hope Hicks now returning to the White House as a Counselor to the President she will report to Presidential son-in-law, Jared Kushner.

Let's get straight to CNN's Kaitlan Collins live for us at the White House. Kaitlan bringing back Hope Hicks the President getting his way again?

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Yes but she is coming back to a very different White House John than the one she left in February 2018, when there was a different Chief of Staff, different top officials in the West Wing, and of course that was when the Mueller investigation was still underway.

But we have now been told by multiple sources that Hope Hicks is going to be returning. She'll have a different title, as well. She was the Communications Director when she left the White House and she's been working for Fox out in L.A., in the time being and now she's going to be coming back as Counselor to the President, reporting to Jared Kushner.

But what we're really told is that as the President is moving past impeachment, on to this re-election effort that you're seeing, starting to play out, he wants people that he can trust around him, and Hope Hicks is one of those people.

Now, what's interesting is they actually had a little bit of some distance between them after she moved out of the White House and went to L.A. They didn't speak very often. She testified they had only spoken about five to ten times in the year and a half since she had left the White House, but now she will be coming back.

And john, we should note that she's coming back at a time that there's another departure happening next door in the Treasury Department, and that's just Jessie Lew, who is the person we've been reporting on, she is a Former U.S. Attorney who oversaw the office here in Washington that oversaw that prosecution of Roger Stone and several other cases that stemmed from Mueller's investigation.

She's the one who had her nomination for a top treasury job pulled this week. She was supposed to be in her confirmation hearing today. And I'm now being told by a source that she resigned, effective immediately last night from this job that she was holding at the Treasury Department, just really on a temporary basis, until she got confirmed.

But now that her nomination has been pulled, she is resigning from the administration overall, john.

KING: Loyalist in, those who the President thinks are in his way, out. Kaitlan Collins, appreciate it, live at the White House. With me in studio to share their reporting and their insights, Julie Pace with "The Associated Press" Ayesha Rascoe with "NPR" Karoun Demirjian with "The Washington Post" and CNN's Abby Phillip.

It's interesting, because Hope Hicks comes back in the President knows from her role in the campaign, even before that in the Trump Organization, that she's on his side, very close to Jared and Ivanka.

At the same time, the President is having a fight with someone else that used to be close in the West Wing, his Former Chief of Staff.


KING: John Kelly giving a speech and some remarks in which he defended Colonel Alexander Vindman, the National Security Council aide, who testified in the impeachment proceedings, was supposed to leave soon and the President decided not soon enough and had him escorted out of the White House.

John Kelly says this. He did exactly what we teach them to do, from cradle to grave. He went and told his boss what he had just heard. We teach them, don't follow an illegal order, and if you're ever given one, you'll raise it to whoever gives it to you that that is an illegal order and then tell your boss. I should mention if though - we should remember Kelly is a former Marine General.

The President quickly responding this morning, when I terminated John Kelly, which I couldn't do fast enough, he knew full well that he was way over his head. Being Chief of Staff just wasn't for him. He came in with a bang, went out with a whimper. But like so many axes, he misses the action and he just can't keep his mouth shut. It goes on from there drama.

JULIE PACE, WASHINGTON BUREAU CHIEF, ASSOCIATED PRESS: A lot of drama. And John Kelly, when he was Chief of Staff, was trying to put some guardrails around this President, which is part of the reason that that relationship didn't work.

And now you see the President entering this new phase, where, you know, he looks over the past year and he sees no punishment through the Mueller investigation, no punishment through - permanent punishment through the impeachment process Republicans in Congress standing by him, Republicans out in the country standing by him. His approval rating, in fact, ticking up a little bit, according to some surveys.

So in a lot of ways, it's no surprise that this is a President who is feeling emboldened, who is feeling like he can be even more aggressive than perhaps we have seen over the past three years.

KING: Right and John Kelly are saying, in addition to what I read about Colonel Vindman, that if he were there, he would stop the President from doing some of the things we've seen in recent days. That has been a line, he said that before too, that he said he told the President, don't hire a "yes" man or you'll get impeached.

AYESHA RASCOE, WHITE HOUSE REPORTER, NPR: Yes I mean, I mean, so he does have that forum, John Kelly can say that President Trump was not impeached while he was there. I'm sure that some people would have questions about some of the decisions that were made. And I don't know that anyone can really control President Trump.

The thing of it is, even with his approval rating going up slightly, some polls are showing that he's kind of in the same level. It seemed like during the impeachment trial, at least, he seemed to be pulling back a bit. He wasn't doing all of these bold actions, even with his tweets, they were mostly re-tweets. He wasn't doing as much as he's doing now.

And I wonder, does that have an effect on his poll ratings, because normally, when President Trump is really out there, driving the action, doing things that the Presidents normally would not do, that's when his approval ratings start to go down. And there's a reason why you normally would have guardrails in a White House, so things that like getting impeached don't happen. Like, that's the - that's the risk with taking the guardrails off.

KING: It is the risk. And yet at the same time, there's so many of these outrages that I think one of the things that frustrates Democrats and one of the things that leads Republicans thinking, it's safe to just not answer questions, turn, look the other way, say, not my problem, say, talk to the President, to not challenge him when, yes, there are a lot of outrages, but the ones in recent days, meddling with the Justice Department? I mean, that is a ruby red, thick line that you're just not supposed to cross.

KAROUN DEMIRJIAN, CONGRESSIONAL REPORTER, THE WASHINGTON POST: Right. And it's the latest norm that's just completely out the window, and yet you're seeing a lot of the Republicans on Capitol Hill kind of regroup and hide behind the DOJ statement saying, we were going to do that anyway, even before the first tweet came out.

So you've got basically this confidence that something else will come around the corner that will distract us all from what the actual thing is. And frankly, once you've been through an entire impeachment process and an acquittal, things do seem somewhat smaller in comparison, even when you're talking about basic judicial independence.

So I think that's why you're going to see this discussion continue, but the main question really is how much are potential voters' ears opens to this still? And how much are they absorbing as a total crisis and a shock to the system or potential threat to the system, or just yet the next thing and fine, my life hasn't changed that much anyway, so you just tell me about what actually affects me at home.

KING: Right Bill Clinton gets on a plane with the Attorney General Loretta Lynch during the Clinton email investigation, every Republican in the town says, burn the town down. Impeach them all and lock them up. The President of the United States Tweets to the Justice Department, he says he didn't asks - he didn't have to, he sort of told them, he tweeted, I want you to do this, then they did it.

Now he's attacking the federal judge overseeing the sentencing of his friend, Roger Stone. And one of the issues in the Stone trial was did he lie about telling the President - tipping the President off about WikiLeaks and those things during the campaign.

Senator John Cornyn, Former Attorney General of the State of Texas, knows something about it or should know something about the law enforcement system, asked about this and says.


SEN. JOHN CORNYN, (R-TX): I have confidence in the judge who's going to actually impose the sentence. I'm confident the judge will do the right thing. The jury found him guilty of a couple of crimes. And the judge will assess an appropriate sentence.


KING: What you don't get is I'm confident the judge will do the right thing, and add, and the President did a wrong thing here. You just don't hear that here. That the President must stop.


ABBY PHILLIP, CNN POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, no, they don't think that he should stop doing anything. They're perfectly fine--

KING: They think he should, they're just not willing to say so.

PHILLIP: The reality is that, they have every opportunity to do what they did for the first two years of the Trump Administration which is to say I don't agree with what the President did but. They're not doing that part anymore. They're not doing the, I don't agree with the President part anymore. And that's a choice that Republicans have largely made that they're living with right now.

I mean, let's take a step back and reflect on the sheer number of people who worked for this President. Who do not work for him now, and are now saying that he has routinely wanted to or has done illegal things or unethical things while in office.

John Kelly, Rex Tillers, John Bolton. There are a lot of people out there who Republicans in Congress, you know, went to bat for when they were in the administration. And they are now ignoring all of these people who are coming out and saying, we thought that this had crossed the line.

And I think that this is - where we are with the Republican Party is that they have crossed that line. They are now fully behind the President. They will not say a cross word about him, because he's been impeached and acquitted. He is running for re-election. And they all have to run with him.

KING: That's the last part is critical. It's an election year and they know if they fight with him, he fights back with them. They also know that they rise or fall, most of them - no ticket splitting left in America - most of them rise or fall with him. There is going to be a big conversation we will continue.

Up next, we shift to the Democratic race and the unorthodox candidacy of Michael Bloomberg. So unorthodox he doesn't spend much time on the other Democrats. He wants to pick a fight with the President.



KING: Former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg is campaigning in North Carolina today, hoping to prove right his strategy of skipping the first four Democratic contests. Those are all in February. Instead, Bloomberg is banking on making a big splash in March.


BLOOMBERG: I don't know that you can see very many Presidential candidates here in Winston, Salem they're spending all their time in South Carolina. But I think the voters in North Carolina deserve just as much attention especially because this is a swing state that we need to win in November. And we have momentum. I guess you can look at this crowd and say, all the candidates would kill if they could have a bigger crowd at 7:00 in the morning.


KING: The Bloomberg Campaign said they had to change venues for that event because it needed a bigger space. Now Democrats who initially laughed of this wait to later Bloomberg strategy are now taking notice, especially Democrats loyal to the struggling Joe Biden.

A source close to Biden Campaign telling CNN that Bloomberg is a threat, and if the Former Vice President doesn't bounce back in Nevada and South Carolina, "There's also going to be people looking for off- ramps". CNN's Jeff Zeleny joins us live from Raleigh, North Carolina where Bloomberg is due to speak in just a few minutes. It's just inescapable, Jeff, that there's a connection between Biden and Bloomberg?

JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: John, there's no question. Michael Bloomberg was always seen as the insurance policy for Joe Biden if things didn't go well in Iowa or New Hampshire. Now some Democrats are wondering if it's time to cash in on that policy.

You can see the crowd behind me gathering here in the Raleigh Train Station a few hundred people or so. And they are eagerly anticipating the Former New York City Mayor. This is his third stop of the day here in North Carolina. He doesn't just happen to be in the neighborhood, John.

He's here today because early voting is starting in North Carolina. Of course, North Carolina one of those 14 critical Super Tuesday states but there's already considerable back and forth between Joe Biden and Michael Bloomberg.

Just this morning on "The View" a short time ago, Joe Biden was essentially saying that, look, he's been vetted and it's time for others to be vetted, as well. Talking about some of those old comments you know about stop and frisk, about red lining, so we are about to see this contest be incredibly engaged.

Michael Bloomberg, as of now, has been calling the shots. He's been controlling the message through an extraordinary amount of television advertising. $350 million, he's either spent or reserved in terms of time. No one else can compete with that. But he's largely controlled the narrative.

That will change, particularly if he joins the debate stage next week in Las Vegas. He still must qualify for one national poll to do so, but John, this is about to become a clash here between Biden and Bloomberg and I can tell you, talking to voters here, they are eager to hear Michael Bloomberg's message, because they believe that he can beat President Trump.

But John, it is still less than three months - this campaign is less than three months old. It's hardly a start-up. They have more staffers already than Barack Obama had at the end of his 2008 campaign. The question, of course, is the candidate. Will candidate Bloomberg be able to jump into this fast-moving race? We'll find out. John?

KING: We'll find out. And we have to wait a little bit to see the votes, but as you mentioned, early voting underway in North Carolina. Jeff Zeleny, appreciate that from the trail. Let's bring into the room. Before we talk, to Jeff's point, Vice President Biden raising questions an audio came out yesterday of Michael Bloomberg defending, actually almost like bragging about the stop and frisk policy.

Saying crimes in minority neighborhoods, what do you do, you go and you throw them up against a wall and you frisk them. He is going to have problems with the Democratic base there. The red lining story "Associated Press" reporting, some great reporting on how he blamed the fiscal crisis in 2008 on the easing of mortgage lending and other lending policies there. Last night, he got heckled on the stop and frisk issue. I want to see, there's a just the headline of the CNN story that matched the AP reporting there. You judge a candidate sometimes about how they react? A, to questions about his record and "B" when those questions come from voters?


BLOOMBERG: Let me go around to all these other states and so in the end it turned out--

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: --terrorizing inner city youth. Stop, stop and frisk.

BLOOMBERG: Okay, okay, thank you. That's all right. Thank you. I just wanted to thank him for making me feel like was at home.


KING: Now, he's going to have to answer the question substantively in interviews, if he gets up on the debate stage. But you do see there a guy who served three terms as New York City Mayor who has been yelled at. Some candidates will get flustered when a heckler gets up. I'm not saying he answered the gentlemen's question, because he didn't, but he handled it well.

PACE: And his campaign and Bloomberg himself of course know that this is coming. They have been prepared for this. But it is going to come pretty aggressively and it's going to come on multiple fronts. You're going to get it certainly from candidates who are watching the tremendous amount of money that he's putting in and watching his numbers in the polls tick up.

And the couple of videos that we've seen so far on both the red lining and stop and frisk, those are just the beginning. This is a person who has been in public life for quite a long period of time. We know that he defended stop and frisk in multiple forum. So you're going see this continue. I think the question is whether it matters?

You know how much voters are going to care about this policy particularly black voters who make up a large share of the population in the states where he is competing on Super Tuesday and beyond.

KING: And he has this for the record, he has said he was wrong and he has apologized. Now the question is to people view that as legitimate or do people view that oh he is running for President and he knows he has to appeal in this community.

The Former Vice President as Jeff noted was on "The View" last hour and one other things he suggest is hey, my record has been scrubbed and scrubbed and scrubbed. Look at everybody else too.


JOE BIDEN (D) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I don't think he can buy an election. You know everybody thinks that look, what were the advantages and disadvantages? I've been the only guy through this process for a person who has been totally vetted. I mean, I've had a target at my back since I got in.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Since 2019. Why are you laughing?

BIDEN: Well, I'm laughing because it's amazing how every single thing I've said for the last 40 years has come up and I've answered them all. We're just not getting into the place for looking at other people's records.


DEMIRJIAN: It is going to be really interesting to see what happens I think if Bloomberg is on the same debate stage as well as these other candidates. You know because this is all happening independent fears right now. At rallies, on shows they're not talking at each other yet.

And so I think that you know we're talking the Bloomberg versus Biden dynamic which is clearly important. But remember there are a lot of people that are competing for the same voter space as Biden and they had been pretty gutsy about making some sharp jabs during the debates at other people.

I mean, Klobuchar potentially she is treat and Bloomberg that she might want to take out ahead of time. Buttigieg same deal, and they're also going for the group of voters that might feel fairly marginalized for some of the stuff that's come out in Bloomberg's comments.

So that creates another potential pivot point and as we seen there have been sometimes that at those points at the debate but it is going to be interesting to see if they're all in the same room getting to talk it out and yell at out each other versus just who outreaches and listen to that one moment--

KING: And President Trump's tried to take him out too. If you look at some of his tweets, I'm not going to read them all. We can put it up on the screen here. He calls him mini mike, he calls him a looser, he calls him has less energy than Jeb Bush then he goes on to praise Jeb Bush I'm not sure Governor Bush is going to be cared too much about that.

But one of the interesting issues here is remember Trump in the 2016 primaries he could sight all the records of the politicians. You know if you're Bloomberg and you're Biden and even Klobuchar, this is advantage Buttigieg. And Obama did this as a relative newcomer, hadn't cast so many tough votes as the other people around him.

And so as other candidates say Buttigieg has no experience he can say you voted for this, you voted for this, you voted for that and so in some ways, you're protected. So there's a flip side to that.

PHILLIP: Yes, I think that that is very true. But I do think that cycle, what is surprising to me and what is the controlling narrative throughout all of this, is how little voters are being swayed by actual people - people's actual records. They want to see people's interpersonal dynamics and who seems strong and who seems tough. And I wouldn't be surprised if what we actually end up seeing on a debate stage is not as much sparring over - it's not about the substance of the policy debate that happens between the candidates, but about how candidates handle incoming.

And just - I'm just saying, be on the lookout for that, because I'm not necessarily convinced that people are going to say no to Mike Bloomberg because of a well-known record of supporting and pioneering stop and frisk in New York City. People already know that. And yet, he's rising in the polls really, really rapidly. So that's the "X" factor.

KING: And the spark campaign lined up some African-American endorsements to roll out when this came up. We'll see as it plays out. There is this programming note you get to see more of the candidate tires being kicked if you will next week join CNN for a series of town halls with the top 2020 Democratic Candidates. You see them right there live from Vegas, that is next Tuesday and Thursday night at 8:00 pm eastern only here on CNN.

Up next, Democrats leave Iowa and New Hampshire behind and look West to Nevada and the all important Latino vote.



KING: The next contest in the Democratic nomination chases Nevada, nine days from now the first opportunity for the candidates to appeal to a much more diverse electorate after overwhelmingly white electorates in Iowa and in New Hampshire.

Let's take a look. This is from the General Election, November 2016 exit polls, who voted in the race. You see 62 percent white, but 18 percent Latinos, 9 percent of the population of Nevada who voted in 2016 were black. 6 percent Asian, 4 percent other non white voters so a much more diverse electorate than we've had so far--