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GOP Defends, Downplays Trump's Intervention in Roger Stone Case; John Kelly: Vindman Heard an 'Illegal Order' on Trump-Ukraine Call; China Reports Dramatic Spike in Coronavirus Cases. Aired 6-6:30a ET

Aired February 13, 2020 - 06:00   ET



DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I want to thank the Justice Department. They saw the horribleness of a 9-year sentence for doing nothing.


SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R-SC): If thought he'd done something that had changed the outcome inappropriately, I'd be the first to say.

SEN. CHUCK SCHUMER (D-NY): What is more stinking than the most powerful person in the country changing the rules to benefit a crony guilty of breaking the law?

SEN. BERNIE SANDERS (I-VT), DEMOCRATIC PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: We are taking on Trump, the Republican establishment, Carville and the Democratic establishment.

JAMES CARVILLE, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: Seventy-eight years old, stand up screaming in a microphone about the revolution and give people an alternative.

SEN. ELIZABETH WARREN (D-MA): We need someone who's going to be able to unite this party.


ANNOUNCER: This is NEW DAY with Alisyn Camerota and John Berman.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome to our viewers in the United States and all around the world. This is NEW DAY. It is Thursday, February 13. It's Valentine's Day Eve.

ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: Oh, good. I know. You are very observant.

BERMAN: We're celebrating.

CAMEROTA: I should let everybody know that. You are very observant.

BERMAN: I care.

CAMEROTA: I already got my card from you, and it's a good one.

BERMAN: Because I'm full of love.

All right. This morning a former top adviser to the president says you better get used to it. Steve Bannon says that now the president knows how to use the full powers of his presidency, we should expect to see more of the venom and vengeance. What one senator called the retribution tour. Firing two impeachment witnesses and an unprecedented intervention in the scales of justice to help the friend convicted of a crime. You better get used to it.

Republican senators seem either used to it or resigned to it, greeting it all with nothing more than a shrug.

But overnight, new comments from someone on the subject that are likely to enrage the president when he wakes up for executive time and his morning typing exercises. Former chief of staff John Kelly is standing by fired National Security Council official Lieutenant Colonel Alexander Vindman, who testified in the impeachment investigation.

General Kelly said of Vindman quote, "He did exactly what we teach them to do from cradle to grave." Kelly also suggested the president's call to the Ukrainian leader was, quote, "an illegal order." An illegal order. A remarkable comment from someone who worked for the president just a short time ago. We are waiting to see how the president responds this morning.

CAMEROTA: Meanwhile, the Democratic candidates are battling it out on the campaign trail. Moderate Democrats are reportedly growing concerned about Bernie Sanders's frontrunner status. There's also growing scrutiny of Michael Bloomberg's record as he targets voters in Super Tuesday states.

We have a lot to get to this morning. So let's begin our coverage with CNN's Suzanne Malveaux. She is live on Capitol Hill.

What's the latest, Suzanne?


Really, it is just a week ago that President Trump was impeached and acquitted. And now new questions emerging over his role, the attorney general's role in trying to lessen the sentence of longtime ally Roger Stone.

I talked to many lawmakers yesterday, Democrats like Senator Cory Booker, who called the president's actions stunning and appalling.

But I also talked to Republicans like Senator John Kennedy who are simply giving the president the benefit of the doubt.


MALVEAUX (voice-over): President Trump thanking the Justice Department for intervening in the sentencing of his long-time confidant, Roger Stone.

TRUMP: I want to thank the Justice Department for seeing this -- this horrible thing. And I didn't speak to him, by the way, just so you understand.

MALVEAUX: Top DOJ officials overruling the initial recommendations set by prosecutors who tried the case. Now, the timing of the sudden change coming into question.

The president has repeatedly projected how he felt in a series of tweets before and after the Justice Department got involved. Four federal prosecutors quit the case after the stunning reversal.

TRUMP: I don't know what happened. They all hit the road pretty quickly.

I'm not concerned about anything. They ought to go back to school and learn, because I'll tell you, the way they treated people, nobody should be treated like that.

MALVEAUX: President Trump also thanked Attorney General William Barr "for taking charge of a case that was totally out of control and perhaps should not have even been brought."

On Capitol Hill, Democrats are accusing Trump of pressuring the Justice Department.

SEN. RICHARD BLUMENTHAL (D-CT): This brazen assault on the independence and integrity of the Department of Justice is unprecedented.

SEN. SHERROD BROWN (D-OH): We cannot give him a permanent license to turn the presidency and the executive branch into his own personal vengeance operation.

MALVEAUX: Democratic leaders from both chambers calling for emergency hearings and investigations into Trump and Barr's actions.

SCHUMER: Left to his own devices, President Trump would turn America into a banana republic where the dictator can do whatever he wants, and the Justice Department is the president's personal law firm.

MALVEAUX: Trump's allies are downplaying the controversy.

GRAHAM: I had real concerns about overzealous prosecution more than anything else.

If I thought he'd done something that had changed the outcome inappropriately, I'd be the first to say.

REP. DOUG COLLINS (R-GA): This is just crazy. I mean, there's nothing happening here except Bill Barr, who is the adult in the room, saying, Wait, look. We got a problem here.

MALVEAUX: In the days since his acquittal, the president is targeting those who testified against him, dismissing two key witnesses in his impeachment hearings.

Now, CNN has learned President Trump directly revoked the nomination for a top Treasury Department job for Jessie Liu, the former U.S. attorney in charge of Stone's case.

Democrats are fearful Trump is assaulting America's democracy.

SEN. CHRIS MURPHY (D-CT): The foundation of our democracy, that you can't use your official powers to try to preserve your power. And that's what the president is doing today on almost a daily basis.


MALVEAUX: And the chair of the House Judiciary Committee Jerry Nadler has struck a deal with Attorney General Bill Barr. Barr will testify before the committee on March 31. Very likely, of course, to be grilled about the Stone sentencing and other controversies since the impeachment trial -- John.


BERMAN: March 31. That is of 2020, just to clarify. So far ahead. It still is 2020, though?


BERMAN: All right.

MALVEAUX: There you go. Hold on.

CAMEROTA: Set your calendar.

BERMAN: Suzanne Malveaux. March 31, seven weeks.

CAMEROTA: I know. When I read that, I was like, Wow.

BERMAN: What's the rush? What's the rush? Why -- why get the testimony so quickly? Just cool your jets.

CAMEROTA: Who knows what could happen between now and then?

BERMAN: Cool your jets. All right.

Dramatic new comments from the president's former chief of staff on what he calls the president's illegal orders. We are waiting for the president's reaction as he continues what one senator called his retribution tour. That's next.


BERMAN: All right. New this morning, the president's former chief of staff, John Kelly, is now defending the actions of fired National Security Council official Lieutenant Colonel Alexander Vindman. Kelly says that Vindman did exactly what he was supposed to do when Vindman saw illegal acts.


This comes as the president continues to show the world how he intends to wield his power after his impeachment. Listen to what he said when he was asked about what he's learned.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What lesson did you learn from impeachment?

TRUMP: That the Democrats are crooked. They've got a lot of crooked things going. That they're vicious. That they shouldn't have brought impeachment. And that my poll numbers are ten points higher.


BERMAN: Joining us now, CNN political analyst Maggie Haberman. She is a White House correspondent for "The New York Times."

And Maggie, I want to read you a quote from Steve Bannon that's in the papers this morning. Because this, in a way, I think, sums up the attitude that might be coming from the president.

Bannon writes -- or says of the president, "He is mad and he should be mad. The Democrats and the media wasted three years of the nation's time on a witch hunt." Here's the part, though, that I think is telling. "Now he understands how to use the full powers of the presidency. The pearl-clutchers better get used to it."

He understands how to use the full powers of the presidency, and get used to it. Bannon is basically saying we are now seeing what we will see more of going forward.

MAGGIE HABERMAN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: I think that's right. And I think Bannon is right. I think that you are seeing somebody who was -- we've heard repeatedly from Republicans, from advisers to the president, he has the authority to do "X," "Y," "Z." Presidents do actually have pretty broad authority in a number of areas. Previous presidents have decided it was a bad idea to use that authority in certain cases.

This president was told that it was a bad idea to do it at any number of points over his first two years in office, and he has now decided he's not listening to that view any more. And he is going to use it to punish people who he thinks deserves to be punished and to reward allies and friends, which is what we saw with the Roger Stone case.

And I think that Bannon is right, that what we saw the president doing, look, it's not clear to me exactly what he did in terms of the Justice Department behind the scenes. There's a lot we still don't know. But what he has said publicly has been really explicit. We are clearly going to continue to see that going forward.

CAMEROTA: Here is how Joyce White Vance, a former U.S. attorney in the Obama administration, in the Obama Department of Justice, categorizes what she has seen: "If a president can meddle in a criminal case to help a friend, then there's nothing that keeps him from meddling to harm someone he thinks is his enemy. That means that a president is fully above the law in the most dangerous kind of way. This is how democracies die."

Other people are saying that, as well, that this is a real moment that requires a hair-on-fire, sort of break-the-glass response from what we've -- just the Roger Stone -- what we've seen in terms of the president in that. Do you think, as some observers have, that he is growing more untouchable, that he is feeling more unchecked?

HABERMAN: I think that when you have an impeachment battle, impeachments are supposed to be how you check executive power in this country. And when the impeachment ended, and he was acquitted, I think for him, that was a real sign that he isn't going to need to be checked. So I'm not surprised to see it this way.

The checks that we have in this country on executive power, at the end of the day, is elections. And it is going to be if voters do not want this president in office anymore, they are going to need to mobilize to vote him out.

I think he has made pretty clear what he is going to do, or at least what he's going to say. I don't know what this is going to translate to into other actions. Right? And again, I just want to stress, we don't know what actions he actually took behind the scenes on Roger Stone or Michael Flynn or any of these other cases. But the mere act of speaking about them conveys a clear sense to the rest of the government of what his priorities are and what he wants.

And there's no reason to believe that he would do anything differently if re-elected. So I think that's something people need to be bearing in mind.

BERMAN: We do know some actions he's taken since impeachment.

HABERMAN: Sure. I'm talking about those two. That's all.

BERMAN: Absolutely, absolutely. But I'm tying it all together, because he has fired or pushed out --


BERMAN: -- Alexander Vindman. He did pull back Gordon Sondland. They did withdraw the nomination of Liu from the Treasury Department because of her role in overseeing these investigations over time, is CNN's reporting. And he has said out loud what we heard him say out loud about Roger Stone.

The totality of that does indicate a change in behavior since impeachment. And you talked about a break-the-glass moment. It was a little bit of a break-the-glass moment for at least four prosecutors from the Justice Department, who up and quit when they saw it happen.

HABERMAN: Right. They quit the case. They didn't quit their actual jobs with the government, just to -- just to be clear on that.

And in terms of the -- Liu, the fired prosecutor, it's -- it's interesting. She was supposed to testify this week before the Senate, and I don't think that that's unrelated to why she was dismissed. I think this administration has avoided that kind of witness going before Congress who might be adversarial to them. So I think you have to factor all of that in.

But to your point, this is all of a piece. And again, his allies and Republicans in Congress are going to say he was entitled to do this. He absolutely has a right to choose what NSC staff is going to be at the White House. Ambassadors do serve at his pleasure. But there is a reason that some Republican senators were asking him not to do at least some of these things right after they had taken this vote to acquit him.


CAMEROTA: I mean, one of the ironies is that this is how a winner supposedly acts. In other words, he feels that he's won. His Republicans allies feel that he won. He was impeached, but he was acquitted in the Senate.


CAMEROTA: And so this -- all this vindictiveness, is this new? I mean, you've covered --


CAMEROTA: So he's always been a vindictive person. Even when he allegedly has the upper hand, he still punishes people who he thought were against him.

HABERMAN: Everything -- everything is about finding some win in whatever engagement he is involved with. And that often means being vindictive toward people who he thinks have harmed him.

Now, if those people become useful to him in some other arena, he can very quickly forget that he had a problem with them; and it depends on the scope of the problem. I'm not sure John Bolton is ever going to be somebody who he feels kindly about, for instance.

But this is who he is. This is who he has always been. This is what we covered extensively during the campaign. I know there's a lot of talk about how he wasn't vetted. That's just not true. If people want to go back and look at the clips. It was right -- well, it was there in what he was saying. There's this constant need to look for some -- some deeper, secret plan that's going on. He's literally telling everybody what he's going to do and what he thinks.

BERMAN: Although the difference, if you listen to Steve Bannon -- I think you'll agree with this -- is he now understands --

HABERMAN: I do think that's true.

BERMAN: -- exactly how much power he has --

HABERMAN: That's right. No question. BERMAN: -- and he's using it. And that's a chance in the last week. And that's something that is worth watching.

HABERMAN: No question.

BERMAN: Which brings us to John Kelly, the president's former chief of staff, Marine general for decades, who was speaking at an event in New Jersey, I believe, overnight. This happened just overnight.

And he was talking about a number of things in a question and answer, and he spoke at length about Lieutenant Colonel Alexander Vindman. And I have a long excerpt here I think I'm going to read, because I don't think we have the shorter one ready yet. So I'm just going to dive in. This is from "The Atlantic," from a reporter, Peter Nicholas, as "The Atlantic" who wrote this up.

He says, "'Vindman was rightly disturbed by Trump's phone call to Ukrainian President Zelensky in June,' Kelly suggested. 'Having seen something questionable, Vindman promptly notified his superiors,' Kelly said. 'When subpoenaed by Congress in the House impeachment hearings, Vindman complied and told the truth.' Quote, 'He did exactly what we teach them to do from cradle to grave.' When Vindman heard the president tell Zelensky he wanted to see the Biden family investigated, that, for Vindman, was tantamount to hearing, quote, 'an illegal order,' Kelly said. '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 this is an illegal order and then tell your boss.'"

All right. John Kelly overnight, a lot to digest in that.


BERMAN: First of all, Kelly calling it an illegal order.


BERMAN: Those words -- That word choice is explosive.

HABERMAN: Yes. It's -- it's very specific. It's very significant, and coming from a general, it has significant weight. It is remarkable to hear the former chief of staff describe the president's actions, which the president wanted every Republican and his own lawyers to say there was nothing wrong with, he did nothing wrong, say very bluntly there's not only something wrong; this was an illegal order.

People are going to take from that what they will, but you have to consider the messenger. He's not just anybody. He's not just a political commentator. This is somebody who served in the military for many, many years.

CAMEROTA: And he knows how the White House works under President Trump. He was there.

HABERMAN: That's right.

CAMEROTA: He was chief of staff, and he goes on beyond Vindman. I mean, that -- that alone is obviously a huge headline that the president gave an illegal order. But he goes on to talk about all of his misgivings with what he saw in the White House about immigrants, about Ukraine beyond just Vindman. About North Korea.


CAMEROTA: He basically says that President Trump is being duped by Kim Jong-un. I mean, he is unburdening himself.

HABERMAN: Yes. And is becoming, I think, more emboldened himself the more he is talking, because we have seen, you know, dribbling out some commentary from him at various speeches over the last couple of months. It's gotten more pronounced, more direct.

I don't think it's a coincidence that it's coming before the election. And I think that people who worked under President Trump who are not happy with what they saw, who feel like they were part of something that they're not proud of, are now going to be speaking more.

I -- you have to give him credit for the fact that he's saying it on the record and not doing it on background, which a number of former officials have been doing.

I think he's glossing over some of what he himself was a part of while he was there. And I think a lot of former Trump officials have been doing that in various ways. And I think he's going to have to come to grips with that himself.

But he's clearly -- he's not mincing words. And I mean, he's being very direct. He is not pretending that he's saying something other than what he's saying. He's not being coy, and he's not leaving much to the imagination. I imagine this is not the last we will hear.

BERMAN: Wrong, say the president -- What about the president this morning when he wakes up?

HABERMAN: Certainly not going to be the last we hear from the president. It's -- What it is, 6:20? We have some time.

CAMEROTA: I mean, you know, he'll cast him as a Never Trumper or something like that, but he wasn't. he worked there. He worked for the president.

HABERMAN: Not only did he work for the president, he was basically Trump's sort of central casting model of what he thought a chief of staff should be when he picked him to replace Reince Priebus. And again, one of the problems for the president with almost anybody he ends up in a fight with is that he has praised them at some other point. And you can point to those words, too.

CAMEROTA: Maggie Haberman, thank you very much.

All right. There is an alarming spike in the number of coronavirus cases in China this morning. And China's government firing officials now over the handling of the crisis. So we have live reports for you from the region next. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)


BERMAN: Breaking overnight, China reporting a dramatic spike in coronavirus cases in the province at the center of the outbreak. The staggering new number now show that more than 60,000 people are infected around the world worldwide. And more than 1,300 have died.

David Culver is live in Beijing with the breaking details.

And David, people are waking up to this new number that is so much bigger than yesterday and wondering how can this be?

DAVID CULVER, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: All right, John. Yes. And the context here is everything. Because it is alarming to look at this jump from a day to another day and looking at some 2,000- something cases one day. And then 14,000 the next. You're saying what's going on here?

This has to do with the methodology with how Chinese officials -- and we should point out, that's our source here. That's the only folks that we're getting our data from. So you have to consider the source in all of this. But that's how they're now calculating it, is based on both those who have been tested and confirmed to be positive with the coronavirus, and those who have been tested, clinically diagnosed but tested negative. Which gives an idea as to how reliant or lack thereof some of these testing are.

And now, as far as what they're doing within the Hubei province, which is the epicenter of all of this, we're starting to see that the central government is taking action against some of the local leaders. And we reported on this early on, that this was likely to happen.

The two most senior officials within the city of Wuhan and Hubei province have been fired. Their replacements are proteges of President Xi Jinping.


CULVER (voice-over): U.S. health officials are warning Americans to be on guard for possible new coronavirus cases as the death toll for the novel virus now tops 1,300 worldwide.

DR. NANCY MESSONNIER, DIRECTOR, CDC'S NATIONAL CENTER FOR IMMUNIZATION AND RESPIRATORY DISEASES (via phone): We can and should be prepared for this new virus to gain a foothold in the U.S. At some point, we are likely to see community spread in the U.S. or other countries, and this will trigger a change in our response strategy.

CULVER: The World Health Organization also signaling that it's too soon to say the spread of the deadly virus is slowing down.

DR. MICHAEL RYAN, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, WHO HEALTH EMERGENCIES PROGRAMME: I think it's way too early to try and predict the beginning, the middle, or the end of this epidemic right now. CULVER: The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention revealing

more than 30,000 travelers from China have been screened at airports across the U.S. in recent weeks. The confirmed case count stands at 13 in the U.S. with dozens of test results still pending.

And while nearly 200 Americans celebrated the end of their quarantine in Southern California, hundreds more remain in isolation in Nebraska, Texas, and California for at least a few more days.

In China, CNN spoke with two patients who contracted the virus and say they have recovered.

TIGER YI, STUDENT: I fetched my result. It's positive. So I've been treated.

CULVER: This 21-year-old college student, who asked we call him Tiger Yi, was infected by the coronavirus while studying not far from the Wuhan seafood market believed to be the ground zero of the virus.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): I was scared and fearful, having contracted this disease.

CULVER: This 31-year-old Wuhan engineer says getting tested took days because of scarce hospital testing resources but says he recovered after being admitted for treatment.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): I think for the young and the strong, the disease is more like a heavy cold. Only that it is highly contagious, so it causes panic.

CULVER: Both men we spoke with said they've finished with their treatments but remain in government-monitored hotel quarantines.


CULVER: We've talked about some of the extreme screening, Alisyn, so that officials can find who, in fact, has a fever and may, in fact, have the virus.

But we're also hearing about some other pretty dramatic cases. And that is, they're apparently limiting the purchases of fever and cold medications at some stores. We're hearing about that.

So that people then can't buy them, and they have to go to the hospital so then they get tested. And they're even in some cases offering financial incentives for people to turn themselves in if they have a fever. Or if you know somebody has a fever, you can report on them and then get cash.

CAMEROTA: Oh, my gosh. I mean, these are all interesting tactics. But of course, a vaccine to combat it would be welcome. Thank you very much, David.

More breaking news on the coronavirus. There are 44 new cases on that quarantined cruise ship in Japan. CNN's Will Ripley spoke with a father who is quarantined onboard with ten family members, including many children. And Will joins us live now.

So what did he tell you, Will?

WILL RIPLEY, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, they're now in what they think is the final week of this holiday from hell, Alisyn, where they've had to spend pretty much every hour of the day trying to figure out how to keep six children all under the age of 8 entertained when they can only go outside for less than an hour once every few days. But they're finding ways.

And they've now been told that the quarantine will officially end at 7 a.m. on Thursday local time.

The only issue, they don't know exactly what's going to happen. Who's going to book their flights home? Is the cruise ship company going to give priority to families with children to get off the boat first?

But their biggest concern right now is that they have not been tested for coronavirus, and they think they need to be tested. They think everyone on the ship needs to be tested. Listen.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The numbers are kind of strange to me. I'm also worried because even though I trust my own health, I don't want to be, like, an inadmissible carrier.


RIPLEY: The Japanese government says they just don't have the capacity. They say right now they can only process about 300 coronavirus test kits every day. They hope to get that number more than tripled, but that will happen just at the very end of the cruise ship quarantine. Some are worried, John, that might be too little too late.

BERMAN: All right, Will, thank you very much for your reporting. We're going to have much more on this.