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Sources Say Feds Are Weighing New Charges Against Giuliani Associates; NBA Pays Tribute To Kobe Bryant At All-Star Game; Biden Courts Black And Latino Voters Ahead Of Nevada Caucuses. Aired 7:30-8a ET

Aired February 17, 2020 - 07:30   ET



MICHAEL SMERCONISH, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR, HOST, "SMERCONISH": Not only in those national surveys. But when you look at some of the state-by-state breakdowns it's pretty remarkable the rise that he has had.

And, Jim, I think what's about to transpire is that he can only be matched on a percentage basis, not a 100 percent, by Bernie Sanders as we approach Super Tuesday. So I think some of this almost concerted effort is to try and sort of squelch his ascendency before we get to the third of March.


So, Mitch Landrieu, you wrote a piece on, published just this Thursday, on the south's role in choosing the candidate this cycle, saying that this time around it will have a bigger voice. I want to get to why you think that. But before, is Michael Bloomberg the kind of candidate who could do well in the south?

MITCH LANDRIEU, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST, FORMER MAYOR OF NEW ORLEANS: Well, I think -- you can see, actually, Tom Steyer spending a significant amount of money in South Carolina and his numbers in the polls are going up. The same thing is true about Mike Bloomberg and that will be true as you move into Super Tuesday as well. When you're advertising on T.V. and you're in people's living rooms every 30 seconds and they feel like they get to know you, that's going to move your numbers up. That's just -- that's just politics 101.

The reason I talked about the race changing if he comes into the south is primarily because of diversity. If, in fact, South Carolina would have been the first primary, this race would not be where it is today.

And so, we're moving into a whole new battleground, as you said before. When you move into Nevada, when you move into South Carolina, and then you go into Super Tuesday, you just have a completely different group of people that are voting than the demographics of Iowa and New Hampshire.

SCIUTTO: Yes, and given that the results were so mixed, Michael Smerconish, coming out of New Hampshire and Iowa, as we just were talking with Harry Enten there, nowhere near the leads that previous Democratic nominees had -- nominees had coming out of those races. It provides an opportunity, does it not, to those more diverse voters in the south to play a role in choosing the Democratic nominee?

SMERCONISH: Well, I think it puts tremendous significance in who can do well among people of color -- first, in Nevada; then in South Carolina. Joe Biden, as we all know, has been counting on that to be his firewall. So, yes, I think the great sway is going to be held by people of color in these next two states.

SCIUTTO: And I said Smerconeish. I know it's Smerconish -- apologies. For someone with my name, I better pronounce people's name correctly.


SCIUTTO: Mitch Landrieu, I think I got that right.

Let's talk about Elizabeth Warren here because just a few weeks ago folks were talking about Elizabeth Warren --


SCIUTTO: -- as a front-runner. Her poll numbers dropping. I just want to play sound from her over the weekend responding to that and get your reaction.


SEN. ELIZABETH WARREN (D-MA), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: This is our time to choose hope over fear. This is our time to show courage. This is our time to dream big.


SCIUTTO: Elizabeth Warren, we should note, fighting through a cold there. We've all been there.


SCIUTTO: We know how tough that is.

But tell us, Mitch, where you think her chances stand at this point because again, listen, it's still early.

LANDRIEU: Well, first of all, she's a warrior. You can tell that she's really straining but she's giving every ounce of herself to this race.

But I'm just remembering that right after the debate in Detroit, we counted Bernie Sanders out and said that Elizabeth Warren was going to be on the rise. Nobody was even thinking about Amy Klobuchar. So these races go up and down and there are heartbreaks every day.

I was a little surprised coming out of Iowa and New Hampshire that she didn't get a little bit more play and she seemed to fall off the radar screen. But she spent a long time building a national network and I think that she's going to be with us for a little bit.

This thing will start clearing up a little bit after Super Tuesday, I hope. But right now, it's just a mosh pit.

SCIUTTO: Michael, Joe Biden, another one. I mean, people right there -- political obituaries way too early given how volatile this race has shown. But his numbers in South Carolina and also Nevada, better. Could we see Biden perform better than expected there or now have a second-place finish? Perhaps even better than South Carolina, and then resurrect his chances?

SMERCONISH: We love a comeback story, right? Regardless of your political affiliation, I think Americans love to see someone who's down and out and then, almost rocky-like, rise again in the surveys.

It could be Joe Biden so long as voters of color stick with him the way that they've told pollsters that they will. Those numbers have declined a bit but they're still holding relatively strong as compared to the rest of the field. So, his fate rests in the hands, primarily, of African-American and to a lesser extent, Latino voters.

SCIUTTO: You know, when a race is tight it gets nasty. I don't have to tell you that. But listen to Bernie Sanders going after Michael Bloomberg here. I just want to talk about the overall tenor of the Democrats' race, but have a listen to this.


SEN. BERNIE SANDERS (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: We will not create the energy and excitement we need to defeat Donald Trump if that candidate pursued, advocated for, and enacted racist policies like stop-and-frisk.



SCIUTTO: Strong words to say the least there, Mitch. Does that kind of back-and-forth weaken what Bernie Sanders there said was the main goal here -- was for a Democrat to defeat Donald Trump?

LANDRIEU: Well, first of all, what's interesting when you saw Harry's numbers, Bernie's at 26 percent. And we have a person right now that only gets a quarter of whatever the votes are going to be, and that's going to be the person that's going to win in the general election. That's hard to see. Whoever the nominee is, they've got to get that number up way high in order to be a candidate that can win -- that's first.

Secondly, Mike Bloomberg has parts of his record that he has to answer for -- that's part of being a candidate -- just a Bernie has to convince people that somebody that's a self-avowed Democratic socialist can win, which many people doubt.

So, that's what this is about. All of them have to have this argument, they have to have this debate, and they have to convince at least the folks that are going to voting in the Democratic caucuses that they're the best person to stand against Trump. And they're going to have to confront the voters and do that.

SCIUTTO: Like they say in baseball, that's why you play the games, right? So, we'll see what the voters decide.

LANDRIEU: Definitely.

SCIUTTO: Mitch and Michael, thanks to both of you.


We have some breaking news right now on the investigation into Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman. You remember them, of course -- the Rudy Giuliani associates accused of funneling Russian money into U.S. elections. We have some brand-new CNN reporting, next.



SCIUTTO: Breaking news this hour. Sources tell CNN that federal prosecutors are weighing new charges against associates of the president's personal attorney Rudy Giuliani. These charges could bring their own investigation closer to Giuliani, himself.

CNN's Kara Scannell here with the breaking details. Kara, tell us -- tell us what's in here and what it means for the president's personal lawyer.

KARA SCANNELL, CNN REPORTER: Well, good morning, Jim.

Sources tell me and my colleague Erica Orden that prosecutors are weighing new charges against Giuliani associates in connection with that half-a-million-dollar payment that Giuliani received.

So, sources tell us that prosecutors are considering charging Lev Parnas and at least one business associate of his with misleading potential investors in the company that paid Giuliani. That company was co-founded by Parnas and is called Fraud Guarantee.

Now, prosecutors are looking closely at the marketing pitch in this company and specifically, whether any investors were misled about the value of the business and what they intended to do with the proceeds. Prosecutors have interviewed numerous witnesses, investors who were approached, and have received text messages and documents for subpoenas over the past several weeks.

Now, all this increased scrutiny on Fraud Guarantee and the possibility of charges here brings this investigation closer to Giuliani and raises big questions about what role, if any, he had in the marketing of the company.

Now, a lawyer for one of the investors who did provide this half- million-dollar payment -- he told CNN previously that his client has invested in the business based on Rudy Giuliani's reputation and his expectation that he would serve as a spokesman for the company.

Now, a lawyer for Giuliani said that he had no role in the marketing of the business and never authorized Parnas or others to use his name in their marketing pitches. He also says that Giuliani did do some legal work for this business. But a person close to Fraud Guarantee said that Giuliani did not do any work for the company, not as a spokesman or as a lawyer.

Now, we also reached out to Lev Parnas' lawyer, Joseph Bondy. He gave us this statement. He said, "We have taken into account prosecutors' statements that they might bring additional charges against Mr. Parnas and others since the inception of this case. We are, therefore, not surprised and remain prepared to defend Mr. Parnas against any such charges."

So this story is still developing. This investigation is still continuing as prosecutors are digging into the written -- the monetary relationship -- this business relationship between Parnas and Giuliani and just what role the combination led to in their joint effort to try to oust the U.S. ambassador to the Ukraine, Marie Yovanovitch -- Jim, Alisyn.

CAMEROTA: Thank you very much, Kara. It does feel like this investigation is ramping up instead of slowing down. Thanks for the reporting.

Joining us now to talk about this and more, we have CNN legal analysts Elie Honig and Elliot Williams. They're both former federal prosecutors who signed a letter this weekend calling for Attorney General Bill Barr to resign. We'll talk about that in a moment.

Elie, I want to start with you with Kara Scannell's reporting. You and I have so many mornings, sat here and said follow the money.


CAMEROTA: Follow the Giuliani money. He was paid half a million dollars by Fraud Guarantee and it looks like investigators think, surprise, that company might be fraudulent somehow.

HONIG: Yes. Who could have imagined that a company called Fraud Guarantee might be engaged in fraud? But, Alisyn, you have good prosecutor instincts -- follow the money.

And the big question I have -- this company, Fraud Guarantee, paid half a million dollars to Rudy Giuliani and my question is for what? What did he do? Did he give them a half-million dollars of legal services and if so, for what?

Was it for cybersecurity? I mean, this guy can't even stop butt- dialing people from his own phone, meaning Rudy Giuliani.

So there's a big question about that half-million dollars. Where did it come from? Why was it paid to Rudy?

CAMEROTA: Elliot, while I have you, what do you think of this new reporting about the investigation broadening?

ELLIOT WILLIAMS, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST, FORMER FEDERAL PROSECUTOR, FORMER DEPUTY ASSISTANT ATTORNEY GENERAL: Again, we'll just have to wait and see, obviously. But once it ensnares Rudy Giuliani and gets closer to the President of the United States -- and many of us on this program and elsewhere have questioned Mayor Giuliani's role, both with respect to Mr. Parnas but also, I guess his work for the President of the United States.

And so, obviously, more is going to come out. We don't know if he's going to be charged yet but I think we'll just have to wait and see. And I back up everything Elie said. That's what you do -- you follow the money.

CAMEROTA: OK, let's go to this letter that you both signed, as well as basically, 1,100 other former Justice Department officials -- prosecutors, basically -- because you have both been so alarmed by what you're seeing happen in the Department of Justice.

I'll just read a portion of it.


It says, "A person should not be given special treatment in a criminal prosecution because they are a close political ally of the president. Governments that use the enormous power of law enforcement to punish their enemies and reward their allies are not constitutional republics; they are autocracies."

Elie, so why did you want to sign it?

HONIG: So, I had two purposes, really, in signing the letter. First of all, I'm under no expectation that Bill Barr is going to read this letter and decide oh, that's it -- I need to go.

I had two purposes. One, I want the public to understand how unusual it is what happened here. The Justice Department prosecutes over 60,000 cases per year and for the attorney general to step into really two of those 60,000 cases -- Michael Flynn, a couple of weeks ago; and now, Roger Stone -- is so unusual. And I think what we're seeing is politics injected into this process.

And the other thing I wanted to do was really send a message to the women and men who work at the Justice Department every day, who do the work on the lines, and let them know we know this is not normal. We have your backs. We have been through this.

Keep your head down and do your job. Don't let politics play into it.

CAMEROTA: Elliot, it sounds like you wrestled more with whether or not to sign this letter.

WILLIAMS: I did -- I will be perfectly candid about that.

You know, calling on an attorney general of the United States, under which I -- I served under four of them -- to resign is a big deal. But as Elie said, the stakes here are very high and the conduct is very troubling.

So -- but, to me, it's less about William Barr's individual conduct and it was more about the president's conduct and what he seems to have expected of the attorney general. You know, the president has said I have the power to step in and I guess it was end the criminal investigations. He said about the Mueller probe, I could have shut this whole thing down. And that actually, to me, is far more toxic behavior than anything William Barr has done.

And so, on -- you know, at the end of the day, the role has become so corrupted that I don't think anyone can serve this president in that role in good conscience. At a certain point, wanting to be the person in the room who can stand up and fix things, it just doesn't work anymore. And you're serving an individual with a truly flawed notion of what the role of attorney general ought to be.

So, you know, that's where I got on it. It was less about did Barr violate some norm and what's he being asked to do and who's he serving. And I think if he truly loved the department as much as he purports to, he needed to get out a long time ago.

And, of course, backing up Elie's point, you know, showing support not just for the men and women broadly of the department, but of the four people who stood up and said I have been asked to do something and I'm being almost superseded by my supervisors in such an offensive way that I have to step down. And I wanted to show support to them as well.

CAMEROTA: Elliot, just to let people know what you're referring to, it's this tweet where the president said on February 14th -- he quoted Attorney General Barr saying, "The president has never asked me to do anything in a criminal case." Then, the president went on to say, "This doesn't mean that I do not have, as president, the legal right to do so. I do, but I have, so far, chosen not to!"

That is what upset you so much. And, Elliot, I mean, just to follow up on what you were just saying, if no one can serve as an attorney general for this president because you think this president is going so outside the bounds of what his -- are his rights to do, then where does that leave us?

WILLIAMS: Well, I think we need a new president, frankly.

But look, the president is the head -- I want to be clear about this -- this is a little nuance. The president is the head of the Executive Branch. He runs the operation that has the Justice Department in it.

But we go back centuries, at this point, of presidents staying out of criminal investigations -- staying out of the role of prosecutions and so on. And so, the idea that the president seems to think he is almost a monarch with respect to law enforcement, it is a dangerous, dangerous place that takes us.

And again, William Barr is purporting to be an institutionalist who wants to serve the department, but it's very odd to be in that role and to express that, given how toxic the president's conduct has been. Elie, we're out of time but very quickly, can someone do a better job than William Barr or is it out of the question with this president?

HONIG: Yes, I think someone can do a better job than William Barr. He gave us a quick -- a quick indicator of that on Friday when he stood up and said stop tweeting, I need to do this myself. If someone would follow through on that, then yes, they can do a better job.

CAMEROTA: Elliot Williams, Elie Honig, thank you both very much -- Jim.

SCIUTTO: Well, the NBA is paying tribute to Kobe Bryant during a thrilling All-Star Game last night.

Andy Scholes is in Chicago and has more on the Bleacher Report. Andy, it's hard to believe it was three weeks ago the NBA lost Kobe Bryant. You saw a lot of the emotion there last night.

ANDY SCHOLES, CNN SPORTS CORRESPONDENT: Yes, that's right, Jim, and it was such an emotional night here in Chicago.

And I'll tell you what, the new format for this All-Star Game, it was a huge success. That untimed fourth-quarter had so much drama. It's going to go down as one of the best All-Star Games of all time.

But before the game, the night started with tributes for Kobe, his daughter Gigi, and the others who died in the helicopter crash, as well as late NBA commissioner David Stern.

Lakers' legend Magic Johnson spoke about what Kobe and Stern meant to the NBA and the entire world. Then, Jennifer Hudson sang just a touching tribute to Kobe. And then, Chicago native Common, he was just great during player introductions, honoring Kobe while recalling Chicago's great history.


Then, team Giannis, they wore Kobe's number 24 for the game, while team LeBron, they wore Gigi's number two. And when it came to that untimed fourth quarter, Team Giannis, they only needed 24 points to reach that target score to win the game, while Team LeBron needed 33.

These guys all wanted to win so bad. They played with incredible intensity -- it was back and forth. The crowd was really into it. In the end, it came down to Chicago native Anthony Davis at the line to win it, and he would make the free throw to claim victory for Team LeBron.

The Clippers' Kawhi Leonard winning the first-ever Kobe Bryant All- Star MVP Award and he said it's an honor that he's going to cherish forever.


KAWHI LEONARD, WINNER OF KOBE BRYANT ALL-STAR MVP AWARD: Words can't explain how happy I am for it. To be able to put that trophy in my room -- in my trophy room and just be able to see Kobe's name on there, it just means a lot to me. He was a big inspiration in my life. He did a lot for me.


SCHOLES: Yes, and all the players were big fans of the new All-Star format. And it was really cool. The first three quarters all started zero to zero with the teams playing to raise money for Chicago-based community organizations.

And guys, those kids -- they were all sitting right behind the basket, wearing their team's colors, just rooting their hearts out. In the end, Team LeBron raising $400,000 for Chicago scholars and all those kids ran on the floor to celebrate with the players at the end of the game.

The new format, a huge success. I imagine the NBA is going to want to continue it going forward.

SCIUTTO: No question. I just can't stop thinking about his daughter there and all the families impacted by this.

CAMEROTA: I know, what a moment. Andy, thank you very much.

So, former vice president Joe Biden is, of course, looking for a strong finish in Nevada and South Carolina. How's it looking?



CAMEROTA: Early voting is already underway in Nevada days before Saturday's caucuses. Minority voters now get their say and former Vice President Joe Biden is hoping that works for him.

CNN's Arlette Saenz has more from Reno.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No matter what happened in Iowa or New Hampshire, we'll remain comforted in this.

ARLETTE SAENZ, CNN POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Here in Nevada, hope for a revival for Joe Biden's campaign.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: A turnaround is coming.

SAENZ (voice-over): Nevada marks the first test of Biden's theory he'll perform better in states with more diverse demographics. Minority voters made up more than a third of Democratic caucusgoers here in 2016.

As early voting kicked off this weekend, Biden targeted Latino and African-American voters, saying it's time their voices are heard.

JOE BIDEN (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: The reason why we are here is because, you know, 99 percent of the African-American vote hasn't spoken yet and 99 percent of the Latino vote hasn't spoken yet.

SAENZ (voice-over): But, Biden faces stiff competition for the Latino vote from Bernie Sanders, who won the majority of Democratic Latino caucusgoers here in 2016.

Yvanna Cancela is a 33-year-old state senator backing the former vice president and thinks his experience will resonate with Latinos here.

YVANNA CANCELA (D), NEVADA STATE SENATOR: It's really important to voters that they see in a leader experience and making sure that they can deliver on the campaign promises that they're making. Biden has that and I think that's going to be a differentiating point that will win over a number of voters, Latino and otherwise.

SAENZ (voice-over): Biden is also making a hard push for union support.

BIDEN: I know in their hearts the culinary workers are there.

SAENZ (voice-over): The powerhouse culinary union declined to endorse a candidate before the caucuses, but they did express disapproval of Sanders' Medicare for All plan. The former vice president trying to seize on that health care divide.

BIDEN: And we're not going to tell all of you who have broken your neck and given up wages and given up salaries in order to be able to have health care through your employer and you've worked like the devil for it. You're not going to be required to give it up.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Are you planning on caucusing for or voting for Biden? Oh, fantastic. That's awesome news.

SAENZ (voice-over): Biden has expressed confidence he'll place in the top two in Nevada.

SAENZ (on camera): How well do you need to do here in Nevada?

BIDEN: I just have to do well.

SAENZ (on camera): Do you think you need to win? Do you think you need to come in first place?

BIDEN: No, I don't think I have to, but I think we have a shot at doing that.

SAENZ (voice-over): As his campaign hopes the state will be a launching pad in his path to the nomination.

LULA STURDIVANT, BIDEN SUPPORTER: He's in Nevada now and it's going to be a different story. And I believe moving forward, you know, the country will understand the momentum that he will pick up. Joe's our boy.


SAENZ: Now, there are 36 delegates up for grabs here in Nevada and the Biden campaign knows that he needs a strong showing here to propel him into other diverse states like South Carolina and those Super Tuesday contests -- Alisyn.

CAMEROTA: Arlette, thank you for waking up early out there for us. Great to get your reporting.

SAENZ: Of course.

SCIUTTO: She's on the strip there.

CAMEROTA: But she looks very alert.


CAMEROTA: That's a beautiful shot.

Thanks to our international viewers for watching. For you, "CNN NEWSROOM" is next. For our U.S. viewers, we have breaking news on the coronavirus. NEW DAY continues right now.


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