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GOP Defense, Downplays Trump's Intervention In Roger Stone Case; Moderate Democrats Not Sure How To Stop Sanders Surge. Aired 7- 7:30a ET

Aired February 13, 2020 - 07:00   ET


JOHN BERMAN, CNN NEW DAY: Helping us understand the spread of this virus.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Thank you very much.

ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN NEW DAY: We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and all around the world. This is New Day. And if you're just waking up, there is a developing story courtesy of former White House Chief of Staff John Kelly. John Kelly is speaking out about many things he saw during his time in the White House. Notably, he is defending Lieutenant Colonel Alexander Vindman, who was fired by President Trump for testifying in Trump's impeachment trial.

General Kelly says, Vindman did exactly what we teach them to do from cradle to grave. We teach them, do not 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 you tell your boss, end quote.

That will likely enrage the president who seems hell bent on revenge since he was impeached. And CNN has learned that more career prosecutors may soon walk off the job after the exodus of four federal prosecutors who led the Roger Stone.

They abruptly quit the case after Attorney General Bill Barr requested a reduction in Stone's prison sentence for being convicted for lying to Congress and witness tampering.

BERMAN: The shakeup of the Justice Department comes just a week after the impeachment trial ended. Some Senate Republicans who voted to acquit the president claimed that they believe the president learned his lesson about abusing the power of his office. So how do they think about that lesson learning this morning?

Joining me now is Democratic Senator Sherrod Brown of Ohio. Senator Brown, I want to play you sound from a committee hearing yesterday from a senator who felt it was necessary to speak out about what he saw going on, and that senator was named Sherrod Brown. Listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) SEN. SHERROD BROWN (D-OH): It's pretty clear the president of the United States did learn a lesson. The lesson he can do whatever he wants, whenever he wants. He can abuse his office. He will never be held accountable by the Senate. That was the lesson. He's now, since acquittal, gone a retribution tour. If we say nothing, it will get worse. His behavior will get worse. The retribution tour will continue. We all know that.


BERMAN: All right, this was not a hearing about the president. Why did you feel the need to speak out about this?

BROWN: Well, that was actually a hearing with the Federal Reserve Chair with Jerome Powell, and I just took the first 75 or so seconds of my time as the ranking member in that committee sitting next to Chairman Craig to lay that out in large part because I know what Republican senators say privately. They tell me this president doesn't tell the truth. They were very concerned about the Ukraine call, what led up to it, the call itself and the cover-up afterwards.

And because of their fear that the president would turn on them, they said things, like we know he'll get better, we know he chastened, that impeachment is a serious thing and the president will get better. Of course, he wasn't. They know his character. First, it was the prayer breakfast, of all places, then the east room. And all these senators that said he would get better stood and applauded in the east room when he continues attacks.

And these are attacks on staff people and people he appointed, on political opponents, on judges. I mean, it's unhinged, but we knew it would be. But I count on someone like Mitt Romney. Look at his courage. I could on Republican senators and the media and others to stand up to the president and say, stop.

BERMAN: I don't understand why you're using the conditional. You say, if we say nothing, it will get worse, as if it's still an open question. Because, by and large, your colleagues across the aisle have made the choice, they chose to say nothing.

Let me read you Senator Chuck Grassley, he says, quote, this is about the Justice Department and leaning on the Justice Department or the fact that Bill Barr overruled prosecutors. Chuck Grassley says, it doesn't bother me at all as long as the judge has the final decision.

John Cornyn says, I think the world has sort of turned on its head where subordinates somehow dictate policy. In this case, the judge is going to make the decision, not anybody else. They don't care. They have chosen to say nothing. There's no more question about what will happen if it's done.

BROWN: Well, John, as a Cleveland Indians fan and pitchers and catchers report this week, I always believe hope springs eternal.

[07:05:03] And I am still hopeful that my colleagues wills put aside their fear if only for a few minutes and stand up and do the right thing, that they will prize democracy over their sort of do whatever you have to do to keep your seat in Congress. Because they're -- they -- I've seen the fear in their eyes.

I saw it during the Iraq War and I voted against that war. I saw George Bush create this -- George Bush and others create a fear, you might be called anti-American, you might be called soft on terrorism. It's the same kind of fear in my Republicans' eyes. They're afraid of Fox. They're afraid of talk radio. They're afraid of Twitter. They're afraid of the president coming into their state and giving them a bad nickname, Lying Ted kind of nickname, or worse, campaigning for their primary opponent. And fear does the business.

And when decisions are made in the midst of fear, it's almost always the wrong decision, and you can see that day-by-day here.

BERMAN: I respect your clinging to the 1948 Cleveland Indians here, but that was a long time ago. And, look, and these Republican senators, I think, by and large, have told us where they stand. And I don't understand what sign you've seen that that will change from them. Do they need to be called out by name at this point? I know there're courtesies, editorial courtesy, but what do you say to Chuck Grassley after he makes a comment like that?

BROWN: I talked to some of them after those statements. And they pretty much shrug. I have said during the impeachment, I said to a number of them, what are you going to do, what are we going to do if he's exonerated to make him not want to steal the election by -- through Ukraine or some other source?

I think what's -- and I guess I am hopeful, but I also understand we've got to do our job that Dr. King said progress never rules into wheels of inevitability, that it's up to us, up to you in the media, up to me as a colleague of theirs to keep pushing as subtly or as brazenly as we need to.

But I think the fact that the election is coming up and every senator -- everybody that voted against witnesses, 75 percent of the public wanted witnesses, every Republican but two, so 51 of them voted not to have witnesses in a trial, for God sakes, that the more information comes out, the more embarrassed they're going to be. More and more is coming out by Election Day. Some of these senators in places like Maine, in Colorado, in North Carolina, in Iowa, in Arizona and Georgia are going to start sweating more as more coming out. And they're all part of the cover-up, period. There is no dispute they are all part of that cover-up.

BERMAN: You are saying now and listing states, Cory Gardner from Colorado, is he part of the cover-up?

BROWN: Of course. I just said I'm not going to -- I don't have to call their names, news clip with my name. But Arizona, Colorado, Maine, Kentucky, Iowa, North Carolina, Georgia, they're all part -- these -- they're all part of this cover-up. They didn't want witnesses. They won't criticize the president. They won't stand up to him when he's unhinged.

I don't know who was at the prayer breakfast, but -- and who was in the east room, I saw some clips and saw a lot of recognizable faces. But they all stood up, they applauded, they ennobled this president. They embolden this president. Ennoble is a wrong word. They emboldened this president. They encouraged this president. And they'll keep doing it until they pay a price. And only the media and the American electorate can make them pay that price.

BERMAN: Okay. Is there anything else you feel that you can do? You chose to use your time at the beginning of a hearing with the Fed chief, and it was notable. You've chosen to come on and speak publicly to us, which is also notable. But what other power do you actually have? Is there anything you feel that you can do at this point to restrain the president of the United States?

BROWN: I also went to the floor yesterday, and Mitt Romney was presiding, which made it interesting. I just think any possible ways I can come up with. I guess I can't give you a litany now. I'm not trying to hide them. I just have to think more about it. My staff and I are meeting regularly about this this. I'm talking to other Democrats about how we do this. But a free media is so, so, so important as a disinfectant.

And this is Watergate. I mean, Richard Nixon didn't even do this stuff. So this isn't the worst time in our nation's history. It's not McCarthy. It's not the civil war. It's not in the streets in the '60s with civil rights where African-Americans were getting clubbed and murdered and lynched. It's not that. But it's a pretty challenging time with a terrible, terrible president that is going to lose in 2020. But it's up to us to make that happen.

BERMAN: Senator Sherrod Brown, we thank you for being with us.

BROWN: Thanks, John.

BERMAN: Larry Doby, thanks to you. Lou Boudreau, thanks to you. On behalf of the entire 1948 Cleveland, and it's one of the very few teams I know a lot about. But thank you for being with us this morning. I appreciate it.

CAMEROTA: That is your wheel House he just walked into there.

BERMAN: He said the Cleveland Indians. He says they still think they have a chance but they haven't won since 1948. So I think he's clinging to the wrong notion here.

CAMEROTA: I got that. I understood that metaphor.


Joining us now, CNN Political Analyst David Gregory and CNN Chief Legal Analyst Jeffrey Toobin.


CAMEROTA: Let's just keep going.

TOOBIN: I'm sorry, my mom is from Cleveland. So, anyway --

CAMEROTA: Senator Brown just said that these are really challenging times. Prosecutors have come out in the past 24 hours and feel the same. They feel very strongly that President Trump is violating the rule of law.

Here is what a former U.S. Attorney in the Obama administration says about his meddling in the Roger Stone sentence. She writes, 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 an enemy. That means a president is fully above the law in the most dangerous kind of way. This is how democracies die.

TOOBIN: One of the things about being a federal prosecutor is that, you know, it's sort of the ultimate power of government. You can lock someone up. You can execute people if you decide to prosecute them. So there are rules in place. Not all of them written down, but norms that say, there have to be procedures that apply to everyone that you don't pick and choose people for lenient treatment or harsh treatment based on the political passions of the people at the top.

You know, is the system perfect? No. But the idea that the president, out of all the federal cases, in the country can reach to the Justice Department and say, go easier on my friend. That's what is so chilling to people who are experienced in the system because it leads to -- if he gets away with this, to the opposite that, you know, get me enemy as well as help my friend.

BERMAN: But the point I will take with what you just said and what Sherrod Brown, the senator from Ohio, said, you keep using the word if. There's no question about if. He did it. It's over. There's no more conditionality to it. He has made clear what he has done and what he will do. And Steve Bannon, in a quote in The Washington Post this morning, I think, David, says it all. He says of the president, quote, now that he understands how to use the full powers of the presidency, the pearl-clutchers better get used to it. This is it. This is the rest of the presidency. We're seeing it play out before our eyes. He does not feel as if there are any restraints and he might be right.

DAVID GREGORY, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: And he certainly doesn't adhere to any boundaries or restraints before now even before getting impeached. So this has very much got to be on the minds of voters who have questions about this kind of use and abuse of power by the president.

You know, this is also an escalation in his attack on the Judiciary, a co-equal branch of government, that has I think done a pretty good job standing up for its co-equal status in the government. The chief justice of the United States has rebuked the president for talking about Obama judges or Trump judges, saying that they're all judges who are serving in their capacity with impartiality. His attack on Judge Berman Jackson in this case has happened in a couple of instances and is part of what he's done in this latest instance. And I've been curious following Republicans. You know, Lindsey Graham, who couldn't be a bigger supporter of the president, said in classic understatement, the president shouldn't have said anything, which if you put that in a normal filter, would mean that this was outrageous.

And I just think Republicans should be held to their previous views on such matters. You know, John Cornyn said there should have been a special prosecutor appointed when former President Clinton approached then-Attorney General Loretta Lynch at a time when Hillary Clinton was being investigated for her emails, something that was roundly criticized and I thought appropriately so for that potential, even the appearance of that kind of interference. And Republicans were critical of President Obama when he saw to absolve Hillary Clinton in the email controversy.

So Republicans are on record saying what they would consider abusive in this regard and now they've just completely walked away because the new standard seems to be whatever his inclinations as long as the judge has the final say that it shouldn't matter.

CAMEROTA: Bill Barr is also on record. The attorney general is also on record from 2001. He used to feel very differently about a president trying to meddle with the Department of Justice. Let me read for you what he said back then.

Watergate made Republican administrations very wary of the Justice Department. And I think Republican administrations, including the Reagan administration and certainly the Bush administration took the view that the attorney general Justice Department was special and different and you didn't mess around with it, didn't intervene. You didn't interfere. There was a lot of deference paid. Well --

TOOBIN: That was then.

CAMEROTA: Yes. I mean, I guess what I find so interesting is he -- if that was his strong belief and he articulates it very clearly, is he comfortable with taking instructions now from President Trump?


TOOBIN: Well, you know, I can't look into Bill Barr's soul.


TOOBIN: It's beyond my ability as a journalist.

CAMEROTA: I can. And here is what I want to say about that. His spokesperson at the Department of Justice says that they decided this before President Trump's tweet, okay. The spokeswoman says that thye decided that this sentence was too long before President Trump ever tweeted and that they already weren't comfortable with it.

If that's the case, you normally, and in a normal administration, bend over backwards to avoid the appearance of a conflict of interest. Maybe he should have held off, for instance, making the suggestion because it would look bad. But now, he appears to not mind being told -- appearing to be told what to do.

TOOBIN: To being a political tote.

By the way, just if we can talk about procedure for a minute, Amy Berman Jackson, the judge in this case, who is now at the fulcrum of all this, has the authority to say, I want to hearing. I want to hear from the Justice Department about how this happened. I've never seen anything like this before. It's my job to administer justice fairly. I need to know what happened here. I want to hear from witnesses. I want to get affidavits. That is at least one way of getting to the bottom of how the system is now working.

BERMAN: We talk about and Senator Sherrod Brown was talking about why Republicans aren't standing up and saying no or stop to the president. There is someone who used to work for the president up until not that long ago who has chosen now to speak publicly about some of the actions the president is taking.

Former Chief of Staff John Kelly, marine general for a long time, was at an event in New Jersey last night, and he was answering questions. And one of the questions had to do with Alexander Vindman, the lieutenant colonel who was fired from the National Security Council after testifying in the impeachment investigation. And this is what General Kelly said. I guess I'll read it off the screen.

He did exactly what we teach them to do from cradle to grave. 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 it is an illegal order and then tell your boss.

David, there's a lot significant about this. Number one, General Kelly, who knows something about orders, having been in the marines for long time, is calling what the president did with Ukraine an illegal order. That in and of itself is interesting. His defense of Colonel Vindman, very interesting given that he was just fired. What do you make of all this?

GREGORY: Well, I mean, it's particularly damning. And I think it's a military man standing up for another military man. I wish that General Kelly would have been that forthright when he was going after the news media for challenging some of his assertions or areas where he didn't stand up to the president when he was in his job.

But in this particular case, there's no holds barred. And he's going to take on the president and support Vindman and try to interfere in what he sees in this retribution tour by the president.

TOOBIN: And let's hear from General Kelly. Let's hear from General Mattis, who quit as secretary of defense, but has not spoken out about why and what the circumstances were. Let's hear it from John Bolton, America's most famous book author, who has kept his -- you know, who has not spoken publicly about the issue on which the president was impeached. I mean, you know, let's have some candor from people who know what's really going on.

CAMEROTA: Well, your wish is General Kelly's command. Because in this Atlantic article, he's speaking out now about a lot of things from immigration to the Colonel Vindman thing, he's speaking about North Korea, he's saying that he thinks basically the president is being played. I mean, he's talking about -- he's unleashing at this matter.

TOOBIN: Better late than never.

BERMAN: We're going to speak to the author of the article about General Kelly. This was at an event lsat night in a college. General Kelly is on a speaking tour and he will answer questions and speak on the record. We'd like him to come here. We'll leave that where it is.

David Gregory, Jeffrey Toobin, thank you very much.

Let's talk about the race for president right now in the Democratic nomination. Bernie Sanders does appear to be the frontrunner. What about that other crowded lane as the other candidates vie to take on Bernie Sanders? That's next.



BERMAN: As the Democratic race shifts to Nevada and South Carolina, a new battle is shaping up among the so-called moderates in the race, Pete Buttigieg, Joe Biden, Amy Klobuchar, Michael Bloomberg. Who will it be that ultimately takes on the frontrunner, Bernie Sanders, for the nomination?

Joining us now is Terry McAuliffe, a former Democratic governor of Virginia and the former chair of the Democratic National Committee. And I'm cheating off at Alisyn's homework. She has a good way of asking this question, so I will let you do it.

CAMEROTA: Thank you. Governor, is there now a traffic jam in the moderate lane? Bam.

TERRY MCAULIFFE, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: There is, clearly. Bernie Sanders is now the frontrunner. And, you know, with that will come a whole new level of scrutiny. I think Joe Biden, Elizabeth Warren last year as frontrunners took a lot of the incoming heat. I think it will now be focused on Senator Sanders. We are now going in over the course of the next two weeks. We're going to have 17 states. We're going to have big states, California, Texas, North Carolina and Virginia. So that is an opportunity for people to really separate themselves out.

But I think what the candidates have to prove now is they have to expand their base. Remember, unlike the Republican Party, we have proportional delegate selection. Donald Trump won South Carolina in 2016 with 33 percent of the vote, he won all 50 delegates. Our candidate gets 33 percent of the vote in South Carolina. They're going get less than half the delegates.

So the system is set up to go a long way. The key to this, Alisyn, is who can expand where they are today and expand that electorate to show that they're truly a frontrunner who can take on Trump. And I would advise these candidates you've got to show you can take on Trump, go after him on healthcare, go after him on taxes, go after him on immigration.


That's the pivot. We're done with the first two states.

Now, we're into the big Super Bowl, as I say, over the course of the next two weeks with March 3rd, over 35 percent of the delegates can be chosen in one day.

BERMAN: I think the nature of the discussion is encapsulated in a back and forth that has taken place in over the last 24 hours between James Carville, former Clinton adviser, whom you know well, and also Bernie Sanders, who directly got involved. I want to play a little bit of this listen.



JAMES CARVILLE, DEMOCRATIC POLITICAL STRATEGIST: Some people in this country want a revolution, they want disruption. You know, I don't know what -- they scream at people. They go and bully people. And I don't know how you want to lecture that 78 years old standing up and screaming in a microphone about a revolution.

SEN. BERNIE SANDERS (I-VT), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: James, with all due respect, is a political hack who said very terrible things when he was working for Clinton against Barack Obama. I think he said some of the same things.


BERMAN: I want to bring the idea of Michael Bloomberg into this discussion too, Terry, because Jess McIntosh, who was here before, noted, Michael Bloomberg is in this race dying to run against Bernie Sanders. He wants to be the person who stands up to the ideas about Bernie Sanders. But Jess' point is be careful what you wish for. Because as we saw in that clip with James Carville, that's exactly the fight that Bernie Sanders might want.

MCAULIFFE: Listen, I think a perfect setup for Bernie Sanders is to run against Michael Bloomberg. He would love to run against a billionaire. But that will be a real contest. As you saw yesterday, Michael Bloomberg, very smartly, in my opinion, he rolled out big endorsements in Florida and Michigan. What he is trying to show in those states that we won in 2018 and won the House where we picked up all of those moderate members of Congress seats for us, Michael Bloomberg is rolling out endorsements there.

So he's sitting there and might surge tremendous amount of money, he's running a very good campaign so far and we're going to see where it goes. But my point to everybody is you now have got to show that you can take on Trump.

People at home, they're not all into this back and forth between Bernie and James. They don't care about any of that. They do care about, I'm going to the pharmacy and how much are my prescription drugs and I'm concerned about the taxes that are going, that the cut went to the wealthiest Americans, not get anything out of it. They're worried about immigration reform. These are issues people discuss at home and these candidates have got to zero in on that.

They've got to quit attacking one another and got to show that they can beat Donald Trump. I'm confident we're going to beat Trump. We need 77,000 votes in three states, Michigan, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, but this is going to be a long process and the winner is going to be the person who can take on Trump, show they can take on Trump and unify and expand their base.

CAMEROTA: And, Governor, can you just -- I just want to leapfrog ahead to a scenario that more and more people I hear buzzing about or talking about. Do you foresee a scenario at the convention where there is no clear nominee in terms of the delegate count and that it is a battle at the convention?

MCAULIFFE: You know, that's a great question. I say the likelihood of that has probably gone up. I don't think historically New Hampshire and Iowa has whittled down our field. It has now expanded our field. And, as I say, you need 1,091 delegates. And I'll remind you that Hillary Clinton, in 2016, did not go in with a majority of the delegates. Barack Obama, in 2008, did not go in with a majority of delegates. The only one who did it in recent history was John Kerry in '04. They needed the other candidates to throw their delegates.

But the way it's going now, with the splintering going on, there's a good chance, Alisyn, that this could go to Milwaukee, and that's what we determined. And that's very disconcerting for me and others because we've got to start laying the ground work today. We can't wait until July to build our field operations and staffing in all of these key states that we've got to win in the general election. The longer we go, the better it is for Trump.

And I'm just hoping we'll get a little clarity, more clarity out of this on Super Tuesday and March 3rd. And then we can begin to coalesce. Remember, we're going after Donald Trump.

CAMEROTA: Governor Terry McAuliffe, we really appreciate getting your take on all of this. Thank you.

Republicans seem to have no problem with President Trump and his attorney general intervening on the sentence of the president's pal, Roger Stone. This morning, what are Democrats planning to do? That's next.