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Bloomberg Spends more than $400 Million in Ads; Civilians Flee Syria's War; Former DOJ Officials Call for Barr's Resignation. Aired 6:30-7a ET

Aired February 17, 2020 - 06:30   ET




JIM SCIUTTO, CNN ANCHOR: We're just five days away from the Nevada caucuses. Democrats united and taking aim at one candidate who is not even competing there. Have a listen.


JOE BIDEN (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: $60 billion can buy you a lot of advertising, but it can't erase your record.

SEN. AMY KLOBUCHAR (D-MN), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I've got to answer questions like I just did, on my record. And he has to do the same thing. I don't think you should be able to hide behind airwaves and huge ad buys.

SEN. BERNIE SANDERS (I-VT), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Democracy to me means one person, one vote. Not Bloomberg, or anybody else spending hundreds of millions of dollars, trying to buy an election.


SCIUTTO: MJ Lee back with us. Also joining us, CNN political analyst Alex Burns. He's a national political correspondent for "The New York Times."

Let's just show those numbers in case folks at home aren't aware. Michael Bloomberg has spent $418 million. That's almost half a billion dollars. Tom Steyer behind him. But that's ten times, MJ Lee, what the next non-billionaire candidate Bernie Sanders, by some measures the frontrunner in this race. I mean that money shaking up the race, but it is also opening him up to the kind of criticism we saw there from Sanders.

MJ LEE, CNN POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: That's right. I mean this is a staggering figure. And I think anybody who looks up and looks at that graph and sees how much he is ahead of everybody else in spending, I think it's the knowledge of knowing that there's no limit to how much more he can spend, right? And given that he has spent this much -- and clearly it has had an effect. I mean you turn on any channel on a TV set and see his ad playing in all kinds of places. The Democratic rivals who are taking him on very much know that he can continue to spend because money is not a limit. And so far those ads have had an effect because he has gotten a boost in poll numbers. And I think, you know, up until this point, because he did not compete in the early states and isn't competing in the early states, he sort of felt like this far away, well, we'll deal with him and we'll see where he is once we get to Super Tuesday. But now that we're seeing him get a real boost in the polls, I think Democrats are starting to take him a lot more seriously.

SCIUTTO: It's hard not to turn on the television or to be online and not see a Bloomberg ad. (INAUDIBLE).

ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: I saw a Bloomberg ad last night where it was edited in such a way that it looked like Barack Obama had endorsed him. They basically were using Barack Obama's words from years ago that we're -- it was like Mike Bloomberg can heal this country.

SCIUTTO: That's --

CAMEROTA: It was saying things like that.

SCIUTTO: And that's interesting because, of course, Biden has kind of embraced the Biden -- the Obama legacy (INAUDIBLE).

CAMEROTA: For sure. I mean they're see -- he's selling (ph) that.

So and that leads me to the question of, if he makes the debate stage this week, how will the other candidates approach Michael Bloomberg?

ALEX BURNS, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: I think aggressively is how they will approach him on the debate stage. A lot of them are dying for the opportunity to go after him. You have heard them on a different -- a number of different fronts taking on Bloomberg in the last couple of weeks. You've heard Elizabeth Warren talk about the non-disclosure agreements he has with women who have sued him or his company for discrimination or harassment. You have heard Joe Biden raise the issues of stop and frisk and other racial dimensions to Mike Bloomberg's record. You've heard Bernie Sanders do that as well. And also the larger question of trying to buy the election. You've heard all of them go at him on that front. So I think he would be in for a really tough night if he made this debate.

At the same time, when you talk to folks close to his campaign, they say they feel like it's a risk that they kind of do have to take because now that voters are tuning in, in a more intense way, if they are thinking about their options in the California primary, which, by the way, is already underway in voting by mail, and they turn on the TV to examine the candidates before them and everybody's there but Mike Bloomberg, what kind of conclusions are they going to draw about him and the kind of campaign he's running and how serious a candidate he actually is.

SCIUTTO: Well, you talk about taking aim at stop and frisk.


Bernie Sanders used the racist word for that. He said, here's a man who's enacted a racist policy.

I wonder, though, you know, because in the Democratic race, MJ Lee, when you look at voters, right, their number one -- Democratic voters issue here is finding someone who could beat Trump, right? I mean is there a risk? Because we've seen candidates take shots at each other. You remember the shots at Biden early on and so on and how that hurt candidates who did that. Is there a danger for going too aggressively against Bloomberg here?

LEE: Well, I think what's happened so far, though, is that because Joe Biden has performed so poorly in Iowa and New Hampshire, for the Democrat who are not going to be satisfied with Bernie Sanders and, in fact, many of them are sort of scared by the idea of a Bernie Sanders presidency because he has done so well and somebody like Joe Biden has not, I think the folk who were really looking to coalesce behind a more moderate option and sort of seeing that perhaps Joe Biden isn't that option, I think there's a very real chance that those people end up seeing Michael Bloomberg sort of waiting for his chance and very strongly considering going after and throwing their support behind Michael Bloomberg.

So much, I think, of the dynamics in this race right now has to do with Bernie Sanders doing well and sort of coalescing the liberal faction of the party. And then people sort of realizing that maybe there isn't an alternative that can take on Bernie Sanders and his might that he has shown early in this race.

CAMEROTA: I mean aren't Democrats, Alex, just going to have to do some soul searching about how much stock they're going to put into a problematic past? I mean the stuff that's going to come out about Michael Bloomberg in terms of, you know, as we've talked about workplace harassment suits. I mean not so -- correct me if I'm wrong, but not so much sexual harassment about him personally, correct me if I'm wrong, but the --

BURNS: Well, there's definitely some of that.

CAMEROTA: The -- there's some of that?


CAMEROTA: The environment that is created at Bloomberg. And if they're going to overlook that to beat President Trump, who has his own problematic past, obviously.

BURNS: Well, for some Democrats this is not an unfamiliar tradeoff. We published at "The Times," my colleagues and I, a major investigation over the weekend into all the money Bloomberg has directed into the Democratic Party and causes dear to the Democratic Party over the years. You're talking about billions and billions of dollars and you're talking about major groups within the Democratic coalition, like Emily's List, like the Center for American Progress, that have already grappled with this and concluded at the end of the day he's too valuable an ally to alienate on the basis of being sort of an offensive character in different ways or that there may be problematic aspects to his record. I think MJ's absolutely right, that if you are a voter whose sole

concern is who in this race can beat President Trump, and you think that Bernie Sanders is not that guy, when you look at the other range of moderate options available, the idea of a guy worth $60 billion who clearly does know how to use it is not necessarily all that unappealing.

SCIUTTO: And it's a good point, because he spent money, not just on the race. He's been spending money for months and years on issues like gun control, on gay rights, other -- other issues that are, of course, close to the heart of many Democratic voters.

CAMEROTA: Absolutely.

MJ, Alex, thank you both very much.

So now to this story. Hundreds of thousands of people are fleeing for their lives in northwest Syria. They're trying to escape an intensifying war. We will take you to one of the camps to show you the nightmare that they are living.



CAMEROTA: President Trump spoke with Turkey's president over the weekend to express concern over the escalating violence in Idlib, Syria. More than 850,000 civilians desperately trying to flee a brutal war. And the vast majority are women and children.

CNN's Arwa Damon is the only western reporter who has traveled to Idlib province. We warn you, some of the video you're about to see is disturbing. And Arwa joins us now from Turkey.

Arwa, your reporting from there has been heartbreaking, staggering. Tell us what you've learned.

ARWA DAMON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: It's tragic, Alisyn. To put it in the words of the U.N.'s emergency coordinator, he said that if the situation stays like this, we are going to be looking potentially at the world's largest pile of rubble strewn with the bodies of a million children. Just how bad does it need to get for the world to take action?


DAMON (voice over): There is barely enough light to see as we head towards Samia's (ph) tent, in one of Idlib's sprawling camps. A couple nights ago, temperatures dropped well below zero and the family didn't have enough to burn.

I fed my baby and he went to sleep, Samia tells us, still in shock. At 6:36, the children woke me up screening. I touched him and he was icy. The doctors told them he froze to death.

Her husband walks out before he breaks down. She doesn't have a photograph of Abdel Wahab (ph) alive, just this image as they said their final good-byes.

She can't forgive herself. She can't understand how life can be so cruel. Few people here can.

We have made multiple trips into Idlib province. None like this. Roads throughout the province are clogged with the traffic of those on the run. Unending waves.

Many have been displaced multiple times before, but this time it's different. They feel like no matter what they do, they won't be able to outrun the war.

These children walked for seven hours in the middle of the night to get away from the bombing near their village. But it's not far enough.

DAMON (on camera): They want to leave from here, but they -- they need to try to figure out transport or something, because if they try to go walk, it would just be impossible.

DAMON (voice over): Down the road, Deema (ph) and Butulic (ph) clutch their stuffed animal for the last time. For theirs is a world where toys are not considered essential. Survival is. They don't cry or complain as they are loaded into the truck.

There is a sense of finality, claustrophobia, compounded by the collective misery of those trapped here, with their regime rapidly closing in and emptying out entire areas.


One village settled down among these third century ruins two weeks ago. A little boy shows us a picture in his father's phone of the bombing overnight.

DAMON (on camera): This is Muhan Ned (ph) and he's 10 and he said that he was very scared the last night because this entire area, the hillsides, all around it were being bombed.

DAMON (voice over): They almost took off walking in the dark.

I would rather die than not be able to protect my children, Safed Dem (ph) vows.

He used to be the village's elementary school director. His tent is considered a palace by this wretched existence's standards.

DAMON (on camera): Two of his kids have fallen over into the stove. Oh, and her face -- her face was burned.

DAMON (voice over): His children are too young to know anything but war and hardship.

Let Trump get a bit angry and send a couple tomahawks, Safed Dem says, half joking. For those here know too well that in the world's view they are dispensable. The last nine years have taught them that.

Obet's (ph) tent is perched on a hilltop away from the countless other makeshift camps.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator); Warning! Russian fighter jets in the air.

DAMON: Our conversation is broken up by warnings from an app he has on his phone about where the planes are flying and bombing.

His elderly mother lies in the corner. She's been that way ever since they found out that his brother died in a regime prison. And the regime is getting closer.

DAMON (on camera): Yes, you can hear that.

This is his brother who was detained in 2012 when he was part of the protests. And then, in 2015, they got notification that he was dead.

This is the photograph they got of him dead in prison.

DAMON (voice over): All I have is this photo. Just this memory, he says, haunted by his pain. Even if the regime tried to reconcile, it's impossible, he swears. You can't trust them.

Nothing in this forsaken place in guaranteed. Gone is the schoolyard laughter and crowded classrooms. They have been converted into shelters and smoke-filled living spaces. But even as new families arrive, some of those here are getting ready to flee again.

Safed Dem, who we met at the camp in the ruins, sends me a distressing voice message.

DAMON (on camera): He's saying that the bombing was all around them overnight and that the aircraft are flying over the camps.

DAMON (voice over): When we arrive, the sounds of the violence closing in echo through the hills. Safed Dem's children are playing in the mud, seemingly oblivious to the encroaching danger, or just used to it.

DAMON (on camera): They've called for a truck, but they're being told that there's no one who can come here that quickly because it's so -- the roads are so crowded and clogged up with other people fleeing.

DAMON (voice over): Those who manage to get transport are packing up. They still cling to a hope that someone, something will save them. That the world will realize it can no longer turn away. That they won't be abandoned to desperately search for a lifeline that doesn't exist.


CAMEROTA: Arwa, this story is so searing. I mean we -- their pain obviously is palpable for all of us. And so is there any talk in the international community? Are leaders trying to address this?

DAMON: Not in the way that it needs to be done. There are meetings that are happening right now between the Russians and the Turks, but at a fairly low level. And even as we're speaking, the bombings are continuing in some areas. We just heard that two hospitals were hit, that they were damaged. These were hospitals that were meant to be essentially protected, but throughout the course of this conflict the regime and the Russians have been hitting hospitals. They've been hitting schools. They've been targeting the civilian population.

When you talk to the civilians there, they'll tell you over and over again that they feel as if they are deliberately being put into the crosshairs of this conflict. Any sort of resolution that ends up at the United Nations as being vetoed by both the Russians and the Chinese, and they feel as if all of these messages of condemnation are nothing more than just rhetoric and that no one is willing to actually do anything that would bring about some sort of an end to this.


And people are really at a point right now where their desperation is suffocating them.

SCIUTTO: Yes, I mean, when help is dependent on countries that are carrying out the attacks on civilians, it's just -- it's a hopeless situation.


SCIUTTO: So good to have you there, Arwa. Just heartbreaking to watch.

CAMEROTA: Arwa, thank you so much for all of your reporting and bringing that to us.

For more on how you can help Syrians caught in this conflict, you can go to

And we'll be right back.


SCIUTTO: Welcome back.

More than 1,000 former Justice Department officials who served under both Republican and Democratic administrations are now calling on the attorney general, William Barr, to resign. In a rare statement, the officials write, quote, Mr. Barr's actions in doing the president's personal bidding unfortunately speak louder than his words.


Those actions and the damage they have done to the Department of Justice's reputation for integrity and the rule of law require Mr. Barr to resign.

One of the signatories is the former acting attorney general, Stuart Gerson. He was an adviser to George H.W. Bush.

Mr. Gerson, thanks so much for taking the time this morning.


SCIUTTO: So I find your point of view fascinating here because your argument, in effect, is that Barr is less interested in defending Trump himself than in advancing his own belief in a reactionary, you call it, or right wing agenda here. And that, in effect, he's smarter than Trump and, therefore, able to do this. Explain that.

GERSON: Well, he's a good deal smarter than the -- than the president. The president is able to capitalize on the intellectual depth of Bill Barr, who's setting an agenda that the president can adopt. I think the point of Barr's statement was, get out of the way, Mr. President, and I can advance this agenda.

Barr believes in a -- what he calls -- his view of the unitary executive, which would grant superiority to the executive over the other branches. That's not the way the framers saw it but it's an authoritarian view and the president is very comfortable with that.

SCIUTTO: Respond to the argument, because you will hear from the president's defenders, or from Barr's defenders, saying, hey, Eric Holder looked out for President Obama. Explain where Bill Barr, in your view, has gone beyond previous attorneys general.

GERSON: Bill Barr has never been a prosecutor. He's never stood up in front of a jury perhaps as a white man talking to a black jury seeking the conviction of a black man. It's the job of federal prosecutors to dispense justice without fear or favor, without respect to class or position in life. These prosecutors, who were on the line, who brought in a verdict against someone who was a crony of the president now see that being undone in a way that differs from the way other people are treated. That's the point.

SCIUTTO: And it's not just on Roger Stone, because, as you know, Attorney General Barr has now -- is now re-examining a whole host of cases, including the prosecution of Michael Flynn. Tell us -- tell us about how that might play out in your view and what that does to the line prosecutors who've been entrusted with these cases?

GERSON: Well, it's likely to do nothing to the judges who have these cases. They're experienced judges. They see what's going on. And they're going to decide what sentences should be based on the way they see the facts and what information is made available to them that they don't otherwise get. So I think we'll be safe as a public from that.

Where -- where there's a problem is when what is supposed to be the least political branch of the executive branch, the least political part of the executive branch, where political officials are reaching into pending cases, that is something that's out of the ordinary and out of the norm. Of course there are going to be disputes between prosecutors and their superiors about how cases should be treated and charging decisions and the like of that, but this goes beyond that. This is reaching into a pending case, obviously without the knowledge and input of the prosecutors, else that otherwise couldn't explain their resignations. They were -- they were taken aback by all of this. And it's a very unusual situation. And it's not a good one. SCIUTTO: And that is a concern for the attorney general, is it not, that he has something of a mutiny on his hands here, when you have four U.S. attorneys resign from a case in protest in effect here. And it's CNN's reporting that this extends far beyond those four prosecutors.

GERSON: Well, look at it -- look at it this year, I -- I've seen reporting that suggests that the attorney general doesn't care that there's disputes within the department as long as he's doing the right thing. My experience, albeit for a shorter time is, you can't lead without the people following you. And this is a situation that needs to be resolved and explained. On a day-to-day basis, I'm confident that the assistant United States attorneys, throughout all the 90 plus offices in the country, are going to do the right thing. This makes it a little more difficult, and they're certainly looking over their shoulder.

SCIUTTO: Stuart Gerson, good to speak to you this morning.

GERSON: Thank you very much, Jim.

CAMEROTA: All right, Jim, we are following breaking news with the coronavirus outbreak.

So NEW DAY continues right now.

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

CAMEROTA: We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and all around the world. This is NEW DAY. John Berman is off today. Jim Sciutto joins me.

Great to have you.

SCIUTTO: Good to be here. Just a little bit of news to cover this morning.

CAMEROTA: There sure is.

So, after two weeks in quarantine on a cruise ship in Japan, more than 300 Americans are back on U.S. soil at this hour.


And now they're facing another 14 days in isolation here. These two charter planes have landed this --