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NYT's Opinion Writer Charlie Warzel Criticizes Billionaire Bloomberg's Ads & Buying the Election; Victim's Brother Accuses Rep. Jim Jordan of Coverup in OSU Sex Abuse Case; Trump May Stop Aides from Listening to Calls with Foreign Leaders; Pro-Trump Group Accused of Using Cash to Wood Black Voters. Aired 2:30-3p ET

Aired February 14, 2020 - 14:30   ET



BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN HOST: He has been in the headlines, you know, plenty this week, including for what my next guest describes as the shameless amount of his own money he is putting into TV and social media ads. In Texas alone -- listen to this -- Bloomberg has spent more than $32 million. That is rivalled only by California where he dropped a whopping $39 million.

So in the "New York Times" Charlie Warzel writes, quote, "Take Mr. Bloomberg's brazen spending, which has prompted claims he is an oligarch, trying to bypass democracy by buying the presidency, plenty of candidates will get defensive at such speculation. Mr. Bloomberg is unfazed."

Who cares? More than that, the conversation is now centered around the idea that he could very well win.

And Charlie Warzel is with me now.

Charlie, welcome.


BALDWIN: To your point, we just ran through the numbers. If you're Michael Bloomberg, why not? How do you see it?

WARZEL: The way that I see it is that this is -- it's almost like he's running this campaign as some kind of control group experiment for some, you know, larger study that is, you know, what if you ruthlessly optimized everything about campaigning to kind of cut out the campaigning part or cut out the human element to some degree.

It's really just focused on attention and that is a strategy that, you know, we see, hey, we're right here talking about it right now. It works.

BALDWIN: Yep, yep, no, and you're not the first person who's used the word experiment, and that may work too. It's not just about all the spending, though. He's hitting back at Trump on Twitter. Trump had called him Mini Mike, taking a shot at his height. And Michael Bloomberg hit back calling the president a carnival barking clown.

Like never in a million years, when I was in journalism school, did I think I'd be discussing this. This is where we are, right?

So forget the whole when they go allow low we go high. He's playing right out of the Trump playbook, and I'm just wondering if you think, though, it is effective?

WARZEL: Well, it's definitely effective. That last sort of response tweet from Bloomberg that you mentioned, that actually outperformed Donald Trump's tweet, and it's very rare that you kind of get that. It is working.

Also, you see that generate a lot of interest, programs, cable news. Again, we're sitting here talking about it. It flashes on the -- it becomes sort of a self-sustaining cycle.

I think that's really what he's doing. He and the campaign are trying to generate controversy at every turn. They're not turning away are from it. Like you said, you know, no -- they go low we go high. It's no, we get in the mud and we wrestle, and everyone will talk about the fact we're sitting here wrestling.

BALDWIN: Are there some lines that Michael Bloomberg won't cross?

WARZEL: I think that remains to be seen. I mean, obviously, there's a fair amount, you know, coming out he's got the past history of Stop- and-Frisk. There's other reports around things like red lining that are coming out. And it's unclear exactly what he's going to do towards valid criticism of his past proposals.

It's very easy to sort of just, you know, go after the president, go after a lot of that, sort of that brazenness, but I'm not really sure where that's going to fall. Those are very valid criticisms. Those are things -- but I will say, I think it all kind of plays into the strategy.

If we're talking about him, every minute that he is sort of getting, you know, this earned media and also buying a lot of media, too, this paid media, he doesn't have to engage in Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada. He's already -- he's there. We're in the mix. He's in the mix.

BALDWIN: Here's my last question on all of this. You know I had this guy, Adam, the creator. He's got like a gazillion Instagram followers. He's one of those Instagram meme guys. He's the beneficiary of one of these high-dollar meme ads with Team Bloomberg and this third-party party.

He was open to the political dialogue happening around whether or not candidates should be able to do this.

I'm just curious, Charlie, if you're surprised other candidates aren't capitalizing on the opportunity in this space?

WARZEL: I think it's really difficult, you know. The reason I said "shamelessness" with Bloomberg is he's basically saying, I'm a boomer. I'm out of touch. I'm old. Like I don't really understand this stuff, but I'm going to throw money at it and make that a bit of the joke.

I think there are a lot of candidates who are maybe not quite as shameless at the moment, but also don't have that organic thing that Trump or, on the left, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez has who is just innately good at this stuff.

I don't know. It's a weird balance but he seems to have found something that works. And it's kind of disheartening that democracy sort of means, you know, two men in their 70s yelling at each other on Twitter.

BALDWIN: Will the experiment work? TBD.

Charlie Warzel, great piece.

Thank you very much.


WARZEL: Thank you.

BALDWIN: Are Trump allies trying to use cold hard cash to win votes. What CNN has learned about the events being held in black communities. Next.


BALDWIN: Now to the latest lesson the president has learned from his impeachment, which involved Trump's July 25th phone call with Ukraine's president, being facetious.

At least nine aides and staffers were listening in on that phone call. Now the president is suggesting he may no longer allow officials to listen in on his calls with foreign leaders. This is what he said on a radio call with Geraldo Rivera.


TRUMP: That call was perfect. And I say it again, it was perfect. It was totally appropriate. And it wasn't one call. It was two calls. They were both perfect, appropriate calls.


RIVERA: Why are so many people allowed to listen to your calls anyway?

TRUMP: Well, that's what they have done for years. When you call a foreign leader, people listen. I may end the practice entirely. I may end it entirely.



BALDWIN: Joshua Geltzer served as senior director on counterterrorism on President Obama's National Security Council. And, Josh, can he do this and might this make you nervous?

JOSHUA GELTZER, FORMER SENIOR DIRECTOR ON COUNTERTERRORISM, NATIONAL SECURITY COUNCIL: He can do it, but, boy, does it make me nervous that he's thinking about it. I mean, this would go a long way toward defeating the whole point of having these calls in the if first place.

The reason two heads of state talk on the phone is so they can agree on things and their staff can implement what they've agreed to. If you don't have a staff listening in, you don't have a staff who knows what you've signed up for, it defeats the purpose of the calls and leaves the executive branch without direction.

BALDWIN: I read one of the notes that you said how it would also potentially give leverage to foreign governments. Explain why?

GELTZER: Well, you can be sure that other governments are not going to emulate Trump's approach. They are going to take notes. They may even record the call. And when Trump turns around as the only person on the U.S. side and claims that he said X or Y, those foreign governments are going to know when he's lying, and we know that he lies quite a bit to say the least.

That is then leverage they'll have over him. They'll know he's lying and they can exploit that in their interactions with him lest they choose to call him out on it publicly.

BALDWIN: Does the president not have an obligation to inform his team, the American, you know, public of what's discussed on these calls with said foreign leaders?

GELTZER: We thought -- when we worked at the White House that the president did not just have that as an obligation, the president wanted that. He wanted his people to know what it was he'd said yes to or no to because then you knew what the executive branch policy was.

This is a president who seems uninterested in normal functioning of the executive branch. He would rather not have people hear his improprieties than have them be positioned to do the job of the executive branch. It's the deliberate destruction of normal executive branch functioning.

BALDWIN: One more question, on you also served as deputy legal adviser to the National Security Council.

And so just this past week, Judge Amy Berman Jackson, who is the same judge who's presiding over that Roger Stone case, she ruled in favor of the White House, saying it is not the federal court's job to make sure that the White House keeps notes and records of the president's meetings with foreign leaders, including those details regarding those meetings between Trump and Vladimir Putin.

So is there anything to stop the president from banning others on his calls?

GELTZER: As a matter of law, he is probably entitled to have the calls be private, but there's supposed to be more than law that guides a president. The president takes an oath to serve the country faithfully. Article II says he'll take care that the laws be faithfully executed.

There's good judgment. There's just basic morality that you do this job in a way that facilitates the national security of the country, not the personal political advancement of you, the president.

Of course, that brings us right back to the Ukraine scandal, right back to how this president would rather use the office to advance himself rather than advance the national interests.

BALDWIN: Josh Geltzer, thank you for your expertise and your honesty. Good to have you on.

GELTZER: Thanks for having me on. Thank you.

BALDWIN: More questions today about allegations of sexual abuse at Ohio State University back in the late '80s, early '90s. What the brother of the allege victim is now telling CNN about the role of Republican Congressman Jim Jordan.



BALDWIN: Today, CNN talked to a former Ohio State wrestler who is accusing Jim Jordan of a cover-up. Jordan is one of the president's most loyal and vocal allies in the House.

And he says, when he was assistant wrestling coach at Ohio State in the late '80s, he was not aware of the sex abuse the students allegedly were experiencing by this man, Ohio State Dr. Richard Strauss. He killed himself in 2005.

But this week, the brother of one of Strauss's accusers says Jordan told him in 2018 to keep quiet.

Adam DiSabato made the statement during a state hearing for a bill that would allow a victim to sue a university if a university doctor abused him or her.

DiSabato talked this morning to Alisyn Camerota about the call he received from Congressman Jim Jordan on the 4th of July two years ago.


ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: He was, you said, crying --


CAMEROTA: -- and groveling. What was he asking you to do?

DISABATO: He was begging me -- he was begging me to go against my brother's testimony basically and come out with a statement. Ad so I just listened to him and, you know, expressed that I didn't know what my brother was -- what his motives, I hadn't talked to him or anything.

But I said, you know, I'll -- I can't really give you an answer right now. I'm in the middle of something, and I said let me talk to my family, and that was that. And I kind of just brushed him off, you know, and that was the conversation.

CAMEROTA: Here's what Congressman Jordan said in a statement to CNN: "Congressman Jordan never saw or heard of any abuse. And if he had, he would have dealt with it. Congressman Jordan would never ask anyone to do anything but tell the truth".

What's your response to that, Adam?

DISABATO: I think it's a boldfaced lie because a person went to him and told him about an exam to his face, and it's been documented. There were several people that went up to him. We all complained. It was open. It was open discussion around any -- anywhere we were at, but mostly when the physicals came around every year.



BALDWIN: DiSabato's attorney says the Ohio State case now involves more than 350 plaintiffs encompassing 13 male sports over a 19-year period.

A pro-Trump non-profit is coming under fire now. It's accused of using a controversial tactic to try and boost the president's support among black voters.

CNN political correspondent, Sara Murray, has the story.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Come on down --

SARA MURRAY, CNN POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Was it savvy community outreach or political pandering?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I'm going to dinner with this money.

MURRAY: A non-profit founded by President Trump's allies is under fire after doling out cash prizes at a Cleveland event last Christmas.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Four more years of President Trump.

MURRAY: While organizers pumped up President Trump.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I am unapologetically a Donald Trump supporter.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I don't see any other party giving us anything.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I don't care who thinks it's insulting or condescending to bless people with cash money around Christmas time. We're doing it anyway.


MURRAY: At the center of the controversy is a new charity called the Urban Revitalization Coalition, led by Ohio Pastor Darrell Scott.

DARRELL SCOTT, CEO, URBAN REVITALIZATION COALITION: Cleveland, we're here to bless you tonight.

MURRAY: Tax experts contacted by CNN raised red flags, saying the cash events may violate tax laws that bar non-profits from engaging in political campaign activity and could jeopardize the group's tax- exempt status.

In an interview with CNN, Scott says he's been careful to follow the law.

Racial justice groups like the NAACP accused Scott's charity of trying to buy support for Trump in the black community.

DERRICK JOHNSON, PRESIDENT AND CEO, NAACP: It is both worrisome and very disingenuous. You know, we are in a political climate where elections are won by the margins, less than a fraction of a percentage, and people are using many tricks to encourage people to participate or persuade their political point of view.

MURRAY: Scott hit back at his critics, telling CNN, "I really think that's insulting to black people. They automatically think black people demean themselves so much that they will sell out a vote for $300."

Trump has struggled to build support among African-American voters. And 83 percent of African-Americans believe the president is racist, according to a recent poll.

And the organizers have touted the group as a link between the White House and urban communities.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: President Donald Trump, the one they say is a racist, is the first president in the history of this country to (INAUDIBLE) for people that have no money to put it into areas where it is needed.


MURRAY: The Trump campaign says the cash giveaway was not affiliated or sanctioned by the president's campaign.

But Scott has been a fixture in the Trump camp for years, playing a lead role in the president's diversity program for his 2016 campaign and attending White House meetings.

CNN also found Scott's organization has close ties to one of the main outside groups supporting Trump's reelection, America First Policies. It gave the Urban Revitalization Coalition a $238,000 grant in 2018, that quote, "helped get the organization off the ground," an America First spokeswoman said.


MURRAY: And a White House official, deputy assistant to the president, Ja'Ron Smith, even attended the Cleveland event, touting Trump's commitment to boosting urban communities.

SMITH: It was a goal from day one from the president to speak on behalf of the forgotten community.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We've got two $300 gifts left.

MURRAY: Another planned giveaway slated for Martin Luther King Day at a historically black university in Virginia was cancelled amid backlash from students and alumni. It was set to honor Trump and his son-in-law, Jared Kushner, with a $30,000 cash giveaway.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We have a whole lot of money to give away.

MURRAY: Scott said the events helped the community and none of it was an endorsement for Trump.

But critics like Cleveland city councilman, Blaine Griffin, worry that people are being duped into attending pro-Trump events with the promise of cash prizes.

BLAINE GRIFFIN, CLEVELAND CITY COUNCILMAN: The first thing that came to my mind is that our community needs genuine, authentic relationships. We don't need a one-night stand in Cleveland.

MURRAY: Griffin says organizers said they wanted to honor him at the event. After learning more, he instead denounced it as condescending and insulting.

GRIFFIN: When I began to do the math and do two plus two, it just didn't smell right. I thought it was disingenuous.

MURRAY: Scott says the criticism isn't stopping him. His group has more cash giveaways scheduled with an even bigger pay-out.

"A lot of people don't stand up under pressure," he says, "but I'm not going to allow people to make me think my good is bad."

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Come back in February when we give you $50,000.


MURRAY (on camera): When I spoke to Darrell Scott by phone, he said his group has held all kinds of events. They gave away Turkeys around Thanksgiving. They gave away toys around Christmas. But it wasn't until they started giving away cash that people took notice and get offended by the events.

Obviously, that's not deterring them from holding more in the future.

Back to you. (END VIDEOTAPE)


BALDWIN: Sara, thank you for that.

More on today's breaking news ahead. Charges dropped against former FBI director, Andrew McCabe, but the attorney general is ordering another look at the case against Michael Flynn. What is going on with Bill Barr's Justice Department.



BALDWIN: Hour two. I'm Brooke Baldwin. You're watching CNN.

A tumultuous week at the Justice Department ends with even more fireworks.