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Attorney General William Barr Criticizes President Trump's Tweets on Cases Being Handled by Justice Department; Republican Senators Refuse to Comment on President Trump's Tweet About Roger Stone Sentencing; HHS Secretary Alex Azar is Interviewed About the Coronavirus Outbreak and How the U.S. is Preparing. Aired 8-8:30a ET

Aired February 14, 2020 - 08:00   ET



SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL, (R-KY): The president made a great choice when he picked Bill Barr to be attorney general, and I think the president should listen to his advice.

REP. NANCY PELOSI, (D-CA): The attorney general is lying to the American people under oath.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The number of confirmed cases, confirmed fatalities continues to rise each day.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: If we don't understand more about how they got infected, what happened, it's very concerning.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This virus, you can start to think of it like seasonal flu. The only difference is we don't understand this virus.


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

ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning, everyone. Welcome to your NEW DAY. It is Friday, February 14th. Happy Valentine's Day, everyone.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Happy Valentine's Day.

CAMEROTA: It's 8:00 in the east.

The attorney general criticized President Trump. That's the headline. The White House says the president is fine with it. What is wrong with this picture? Bill Barr delivering this rare rebuke for a sitting cabinet member. Listen to what he said.


WILLIAM BARR, U.S. ATTORNEY GENERAL: To have public statements and tweets made about the department, about people in the department, our men and women here, about cases pending in the department, and about judges before whom we have cases, make it impossible for me to do my job.


CAMEROTA: He went on to say that he is, quote, not going to be bullied or influenced by anybody.

BERMAN: One of the key questions this morning, what exactly is the attorney general speaking out against? Is it necessarily leniency for the president's friend Roger Stone? Not so sure. Is he really just taking a stand against tweeting?

Joining us now, CNN political commentator Ana Navarro, CNN political commentator Joe Lockhart, he was White House press secretary under President Clinton, and CNN chief legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin, a man I like to call captain valentine.


BERMAN: Jeffrey, what exactly is the attorney general saying? What isn't he saying? And what's the significance of the gap in between?

TOOBIN: The tradition at the Justice Department has always been that decisions about individual cases have been left to the Justice Department and not the political leadership of the country. The presidents do not get involved in who should be charged, who shouldn't be charged, what sentences they should get.

What the president has done is violate that norm most dramatically with the Roger Stone sentencing issue this week. And the attorney general said yesterday, that's an impossible situation for him, that he can't be told by his boss how to handle these individual cases. It makes his job impossible, as he said.

What happens now is what's really important. Does the president back off? His press secretary said he's behaving fine, and there is no reason to back off. We'll see. But I think what the attorney general was saying is that these comments on individual cases shouldn't go on anymore.

CAMEROTA: Ana, was this --

ANA NAVARRO, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: I don't know that I buy this. I've got to tell you, we have seen over and over again Bill Barr carry Trump's water. We have seen the whitewashing that he did of the Bob Mueller report, how he manipulated the timing so as to help Trump. He has helped Trump. He has covered up for Trump. He has been complicit with Trump on so many occasions. And now he comes and protests? So it's very strange to see Bill Barr speaking out. It's even more strange to see Donald Trump not speaking out against somebody that's speaking out against him.

CAMEROTA: So what do you think is happening?

NAVARRO: I don't know, but it almost feels like a synchronized swimming routine going on here between the two of them. And I do think there is a very unique problem for Bill Barr now, and that he's got people resigning on the spot. And the morale at the Justice Department, you probably know better than I do, has got to be on the floor.

CAMEROTA: So maybe this was just that. Maybe this was just a face- saving measure on the part of Bill Barr and a department-saving measure.

NAVARRO: I think it was a face-saving measure. I think it was, also -- I suspect that Trump and the White House heard from some senators who have now enabled him and legitimized him and empowered him, and just one day, two days after the acquittal of the impeachment, he begins doing that. So I think they've got to be shaking in their boots thinking, what is he going to be doing between now and the election, which is going to impact us and people like a Susan Collins?

BERMAN: First of all, I'm never going to be able to unsee Bill Barr synchronized swimming with the president.


NAVARRO: I don't think they're up for a medal.

BERMAN: It is an Olympic sport. "The New York Times" reported overnight, "The attorney general had let the president know some of what he planned to say and is remaining in his job, a person familiar with the event said. But as with other issues, Trump's view may depend on how the news media, particularly FOX News, covers Mr. Barr's comments."


Joe, I follow you on Twitter, and I think it's safe to call you skeptical about all this.

JOE LOCKHART, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Listen, this was political theater. We don't know exactly who wrote the script or what part people are playing, but this isn't on the level. I think when you get into these things, we should focus more on what people have done rather than what they're saying. And what they've done, I think as Jeffrey was alluding to, is Trump, of course, can back off now. He got what he wanted. He wanted Roger Stone to get a less lenient -- or more lenient sentencing. He got that.

CAMEROTA: Not exactly. The judge may not go along with it.

LOCKHART: Well, but the one thing he has control over, or he thinks he has control over, is what the Justice Department recommends. That's the issue at hand. And he got Bill Barr to intervene in the case. Bill Barr has no business intervening in this case. Donald Trump has even less business intervening the way he did.

BERMAN: Barr claims that he had no contact with the president beforehand. So --

LOCKHART: But Bill Barr, he's been very careful, particularly if you go back to his confirmation hearing. He's very careful about the words he uses. So when he says the president didn't talk to me, he didn't say, I had no contact with anyone or no one on my staff had talked to me. So again, Donald Trump wanted something to happen. It happened. And now we're all sort of doing this little like, oh, Donald Trump is showing restraint here. Of course, he is. He got what he wanted.

TOOBIN: And one thing Barr did not answer or even was asked, I think, in the ABC interview was, why out of all the thousands of cases in the Department of Justice did you decide to intervene in the sentencing of Roger Stone, one of the president's old associates? That, to me, is the central issue. Whether it was because of the tweet, whether it was because of a phone call, when the president's associates get special treatment, that's the problem.

NAVARRO: Everybody knows why. Because it is public knowledge that Roger Stone is close to Donald Trump. Roger Stone knows where the skeletons are buried.

BERMAN: Roger Stone lied to Congress about -- exactly, about conversations with the president.

CAMEROTA: And was convicted by a jury of his peers. Just to be clear. This was a regular jury. These are regular people. These weren't people who are the deep state. These are people who, off the street, just like all jury process, they were chosen. They convicted him on seven counts of lying to Congress and witness tampering.

NAVARRO: And to your earlier point yesterday, the D.C. court came out with a statement saying we are not going to be influenced by any of this. This is what we do. We are an independent branch, and I think it was a very strong statement.

CAMEROTA: And a juror came out. She was so upset about what she's seeing, she came out and said these prosecutors made their case. That's why we voted for commission. But that didn't stop the president from trying to nullify it or whatever he is trying to do, certainly to not have Roger Stone go to prison. But in terms of why the president is showing restraint, isn't it that he needs Bill Barr in this job? Isn't that it?

LOCKHART: The fact of the matter is Bill Barr is doing everything the president wants. Just look at the track record here. He basically nullified the Mueller report in a very dishonest way by two weeks before, saying, he's got nothing. And then by the time we got the report and realized there was something, everyone had kind of moved on. He's done the president's bidding all along. So I don't get the president needs Bill Barr because the president is getting what he wants. Bill Barr is his advocate.

CAMEROTA: I mean like he can't be mad at him and fire him like --

BERMAN: Also, this move has been blessed by the highest authority in the land. By that, I mean Sean Hannity.

TOOBIN: And Mitch McConnell. That's right. Sean Hannity said that this was appropriate. By the way, the president has not spoken personally yet about Barr's

comments. We have this statement, this paper statement from the press secretary. Let's see when the helicopters -- he has one of his helicopter press conferences, whether he admits he did anything wrong.

BERMAN: Because there is an element of this that is infantilizing the president. It's basically saying William Barr along with Mitch McConnell and Lindsey Graham are out there saying, you know what maybe it would be better off if the young man didn't have access to his phone for a little while. We're going to cut down on his screen privileges for some time.

NAVARRO: I hate to break it to you, but it is not Lindsey Graham or Mitch McConnell infantilizing Donald Trump. He does a pretty good job of it himself.

CAMEROTA: Here's what some other Republican senators had to say about all this, which you'll notice is different than the tact that Bill Barr chose. So listen when Manu Raju caught up with them.


MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Should the president even be weighing in on a case involving his friend?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I am not somebody who is going to tell the president what to do.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He's going to express things that he's thinking about.

RAJU: What do you think? Is that a smart idea?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm not the president.

RAJU: Do you have concerns about what happened in the Roger Stone case at all?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's not the kind of thing I've been following.



CAMEROTA: He's not following it.

LOCKHART: I tweeted the other day that Manu has become a national treasure. And if you are a good press secretary on the Hill you've got someone walking 10 feet in front of you, behind you, and taking a left or right turn if you see him. These guys do not want to go on the record. It's an impossible situation for them, because if they take on the president, all of a sudden, they become a subject of his ire.

NAVARRO: I find that embarrassing. I find it mortifying. It's almost like Republicans in Congress have been reduced to four words. I'm disturbed. I'm disappointed. I'm troubled. I haven't been following it. No comment.

TOOBIN: And I support the president. The fear of becoming Jeff Flake, the fear of becoming Bob Corker, the two senators -- Republicans who had to retire because they had offended the president, look at the cowering behavior that you see.

BERMAN: Manu is menacing.


BERMAN: The real issue, though, isn't whether or not the president will continue to tweet or not tweet. It's will the president continue to behave in the way he has since he was impeached? Which is, will he continue to use his power in ways that have not been used before.

LOCKHART: And will the Justice Department under Bill Barr continue to enable him to do that? Remember, Rudy Giuliani's adventures in Ukraine have been legitimized by Bill Barr. And by setting up, by assigning a U.S. attorney to this. The stonewalling of Congress, which was an article of impeachment, the legal foundation of that was provided by Bill Barr and the Justice Department. So he's getting everything he wants. That's why there's no problem here.

TOOBIN: That, and I think you are so right about the actual acts are so much more important. There is this ridiculous John Durham investigation going on now where they are trying to essentially prosecute John Brennan, the former CIA director, because the president doesn't like him because of his conclusions about Russia's involvement in the 2016 campaign. That's far more consequential than any tweet.

CAMEROTA: Jeffrey, Joe, Ana, happy valentine's day.

LOCKHART: Happy Valentine.

BERMAN: Captain Valentine.

TOOBIN: Yes, that's me.

CAMEROTA: Now to something not romantic. The coronavirus, the head of the CDC says it will probably be with us beyond this year. So up next, we talk to the administration's top health official on how the U.S. government is preparing for this.




DR. ROBERT REDFIELD, DIRECTOR, CENTERS FOR DISEASE CONTROL AND PREVENTION: I think this virus is probably with us beyond this season or beyond this year, and I think eventually the virus will find a foothold and we will get community based transmission. And you can start to think of it in a sense like seasonal flu.

(END VIDEO CLIP) CAMEROTA: That's the director of the CDC in a new interview with CNN's Dr. Sanjay Gupta. So what is the U.S. government doing to prepare if the coronavirus sticks around and gets worse?

Joining us now is the secretary of Health and Human Services, Alex Azar.

Secretary Azar, it is so good to have you here because Americans are worried, obviously, about the coronavirus. And we just don't seem to have enough information.

So let's start with China. Do you feel that you are getting enough information, and do you trust Chinese officials are giving us the right numbers and the right facts about the virus?

ALEX AZAR, HEALTH AND HUMAN SERVICES SECRETARY: Well, I think we have to be guarded in making any assessment pro or con at this point because China is facing an unprecedented public health crisis. Look, they've got 60 million of their citizens in a geographic quarantine. They're facing a complete stressing of their infrastructure and public health system.

So, some of the data issues might just be the chaos of a public health crisis. But it's very important that the World Health Organization hold China to account for transparency and cooperation as they would any other country, including the United States.

CAMEROTA: And how are you planning to do that? Because you just -- you might have heard in that interview with the CDC director, he believes that the CDC needs to be in China. Needs to have boots on the ground and know what's going on. But China is not extending the invitation and is resisting.

So, what's the plan?

AZAR: Well, Dr. Redfield and I made the offer on January 6th, 36 days ago, 60,000 cases and 1,300 deaths ago. We made the offer to send the CDC experts in to assist their Chinese colleagues to get to the bottom of key scientific questions like, how transmissible is this disease? What is the severity? What is the incubation period and can there be asymptomatic transmission?

And the World Health Organization, we believe, has secured agreement to deploy a WHO team with our U.S. public health experts as part of that team. We are ready to go. And we are waiting for final clearance from the Chinese government to make that happen.

CAMEROTA: And when do you think that will happen?

AZAR: I don't know because it's dependent on the Chinese to make their decisions and facilitate that. But even then, Alisyn, it's important to remember it will not serve a purpose if the WHO team goes and is just confined to a conference room and handed sanitized data.

They have got to be able to work shoulder to shoulder with their Chinese scientific colleagues looking at raw data, running the studies --


AZAR: -- looking at genetic sequencing, doing the virology and epidemiology that is their mission. Or it won't be a useful mission.

CAMEROTA: President Trump seems to think that the coronavirus will go away on its own in April. Let me play for you and our viewers what he said.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The virus. They're working hard. Looks like by April, you know, in theory, when it gets a little warmer, it miraculously goes away. Hope that's true.


CAMEROTA: Do you agree with that?

AZAR: What the president is saying is, we hope it will respond the way regular coronaviruses do and be heat responsive. But it also could just as equally respond the way SARS, a coronavirus adaption response and continue in the warm season.

So, the president was expressing his hope and my goodness, I'm sure we all hope that it will have that type of epidemiological curve, but we're planning as if it won't. We're working aggressively across the whole of government to protect the health and safety of the American people and using the time that we have bought through our very aggressive, multilayered approaches of public health to prepare, proactively prepare in the event that we get the type of community transmission that Dr. Redfield mentioned is possible.


CAMEROTA: Yes, Dr. Scott Gottlieb, the former FDA commissioner, says that there's no sign that the warm weather is going to make the coronavirus magically go away. Listen to what he said yesterday.


DR. SCOTT GOTTLIEB, FORMER FDA COMMISSIONER: It's quite warm in Singapore right now, about 90 degrees at a high during the day, lows in the 70s. While we would hope that this summer would be a backstop against propagation of coronavirus as it typically s, it may not be in this case.


CAMEROTA: That worry you?

AZAR: That's exactly what the president was saying. We hope that it will go on a down slope in warm seasons but we plan for the worst that it won't. That's our job, we are proactively planning now to prevent further spread in the U.S. but also to conduct aggressive surveillance, to have an early warning system.

You know, our public health system is the best in the world, and it's working. That system is what identified the 15 cases that we have. It's important the American people know, 13 of those people were in Hubei province and the others were transmitted by intimate close contact with people from Hubei.

So, so far, we're seeing very limited impact here in the United States, but that could change at any time. We're working to prevent that from happening, keep that risk low, and working to proactively prepare with states, local governments, and the private sector so we're ready if it gets here.

CAMEROTA: I want to ask about the travel restrictions. Just so they can make a little more sense. So, foreign nationals who have traveled to China are not being allowed in the United States at all. But U.S. citizens who have traveled to China are. So, viruses don't discriminate. What's the difference?

AZAR: So, Alisyn, not quite accurate there. People who are not U.S. citizens or permanent residents of the United States may not enter the United States if they have been in China in the previous 14 days. Once they've been out of China for that 14-day incubation period, they are welcome as always into the United States.

U.S. citizens, we need to let them come back into the country, and we also need to prioritize our efforts. We do have limited public health resources, and we want to focus those efforts and so Americans coming back who have been in China in the previous 14 days, we ask them to both funnel to 11 airport, ports of entry where they can be inspected, surveilled, and we ask them voluntarily to isolate themselves at home for 14 days. If they've been in the hot zone, which is an increasingly diminishing number of people who've been in Hubei province in the previous 14 days, we will quarantine them for the 14-day period.

We can't do that on an unlimited basis for any national who is traveling. This is just about protecting America's borders and allowing us the time to continue our proactive preparations.

CAMEROTA: Secretary Alex Azar, we appreciate the information and you coming on NEW DAY. Thank you.

AZAR: Thanks, Alisyn.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: So the attorney general of the United States, William Barr, says he's not going to be bullied by anybody. How does this rank with history? How unusual is it for a member of the cabinet to take a stand of any kind against the president?

Presidential historian Doris Kearns Goodwin joins us next.



BERMAN: So, the attorney general of the United States, William Barr, took a rare public stand saying that the president in his tweets are making it impossible for him to do his job. He also insisted he would not be bullied by anyone.

So what's an historical precedent for this?

There is one person who has the answer for that. I want to bring in presidential historian Doris Kearns Goodwin. She's the executive producer of the new history channel, three-night mini series "Washington".

CAMEROTA: Executive producer, you go, girl.

DORIS KEARNS GOODWIN, PRESIDENTIAL HISTORIAN: I finally got to know George Washington. One of the guys that I didn't know at all through a team of collaboration and through historians who knew better than me. And it's got drama. I'm very excited about it.

BERMAN: He's been hard for us to book here --

GOODWIN: I'll bring him in. Don't worry.

BERMAN: So, look, we've been talking for the last 2 1/2 hours about William Barr, what were his motivations for speaking out. Does he really mean it?

Let's leave that aside for a second and talk about historical precedent here because I was scratching my head in whether you believe that he's really taking a stand against the president. The attorney general of the United States is being publicly critical of something the president is doing, which is tweeting. And I would be hard pressed to sit here and come up with names of cabinet officials who have said anything like this about a president before.

GOODWIN: Well, the only thing I can think of, now that I'm thinking about it is way, way back in Lincoln's time, the secretary of the treasury, Chase, was saying all sorts of things publicly against Lincoln because he wanted to run against Lincoln in 1864. So he has to resign his post because of that. People got upset with him in the whole cabinet.

But then the incredible thing is, when Lincoln wins the election and he needs a Supreme Court chief justice, he puts Chase in that position. They say, why are you doing this? This guy said these terrible things about you? He said he's the best man for the job. He will deal with black free people in the best way because he was an abolitionist.

So, that's the lack of resentment that we don't see today.

CAMEROTA: So, what do you make of Attorney General Barr's public rebuke?

GOODWIN: I mean, I think whether it's orchestrated with the president or not, I think at a certain point, he's the head of the Justice Department. He's losing the integrity of the Justice Department, the prosecutors are leaving, and he has to say -- he said in his hearing that, you know, I've got to keep this department sacrosanct from politicians.

So, at some point, I think his own reputation was on the line. And maybe not. Maybe I'm being naive, but I'd like to believe that they think about history some day when they get in there and how am I going to be remembered? We've wondered that about him the whole time. This may have been a breaking point, whether it's orchestrated or not.

BERMAN: You talk about the independence of the Justice Department. Historically speaking, is it really as independent as we all like to believe at this point?

GOODWIN: Well, you know, we've had traditions where you think about JFK appointing his brother Robert Kennedy to be attorney general. And it was a huge outcry at the time, not only over the nepotism --