Return to Transcripts main page


Obama & Trump Spar Over Who Gets Credit For Economic Boom; Trump Commutes Blagojevich Sentence, Pardons Former NYPD Commissioner Bernie Kerik. Aired 1:30-2p ET

Aired February 18, 2020 - 13:30   ET




BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN HOST: President Trump lashing out at former President Obama over the economic boom and who should get credit for it. What prompted this? Obama tweeted out that it was 11 years ago that he signed the Economic Recovery Act, quote, "paving the way for more than a decade of economic growth and the longest streak of job creation in American history."

That seemed to infuriate Trump, who responded by calling it a, quote, "con job" and saying Obama had the weakest recovery since the Great Depression despite a zero Federal Reserve interest rate and massive amounts of money being injected into the economy.

Let's talk this over now with Gene Sperling. He was President Obama's economic adviser.

Gene, take us through this. What's the basis for saying the Economic Recovery Act led to this period of economic growth, and is it solely accountable for it?

GENE SPERLING, FORMER ECONOMIC ADVISER TO PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: You might remember that Ann Richards was famous for saying that George Bush Sr was born on third base and thought he hit a triple. I think with Donald Trump, it's was more like he was the pinch-runner for the guy who hit the triple. And when he scores on a wild pitch, he wants to insist he hit the homerun.

I think what you have to remember is, first of all, what Barack Obama inherited was the worst economy since the Great Depression. We say that but it's worth pausing on what that means. The growth, GDP, was contracting by 8.4 percent.

Think about that for a second. We think it's pretty good if growth is up 3 percent. It was contracting by 8.4 percent. We were losing 7,000 to 8,000 jobs a month. That's what Barack Obama inherited.

Trump inherited an economy that created 8.1. million jobs in the previous three years. Under his three years, it's created 6.6 million. That's just numbers. Barack Obama's job creation was 23 percent higher. Even on the things that looked kind of strong, like where you had low

unemployment rate, let's look at the trend. Unemployment in January 2010 was 9.8. When Obama left, it was 4.7. So it had gone from 9.8 to 4.7.


It's great that it's continued to keep going down under Trump. That's good for our country. But to suggest he turned things around when nothing more than a trend continued, it's just not -- you know, there's no validity to that.

Even the one number they like to tout, which is GDP growth, if you actually look at the private-sector economy, take out the government and look at private-sector growth, in Obama's last seven years, private-sector growth was 2.9 percent. That's higher than the private- sector growth under Trump, even with a reckless $2 trillion tax cut that he put forward.

KEILAR: So let me ask you about this. I covered Obama, so I'm familiar with -- as we saw him climb out of the recession, and certainly the economy was creating jobs, and he gets credit for that. Any president does.

But as you know, a president also gets credit for the things that his predecessor put in place, which is what you're accusing Donald Trump of doing now, and we see that happen.

But that was also the case, for instance, for Obama when it came to some energy issues. He was able to capitalize because the numbers looked really good for him, really when some of the groundwork he was able to see for his presidency was laid in the Bush administration.

I do want to ask you this because we know it's not like shop closes up when a president leaves the White House. There's work that continues into the next term.

Does President Trump get credit for anything, in your estimation?

SPERLING: You know, the one thing that you would have thought he might get credit for is that, even though his tax cut was very tilted toward the well off, I thought it had just an excessive, uncalled-for tax cut for the largest companies. They, at least, had a theory of a case that this was actually going to really have a lasting effect on private investment.

On that one thing, which I still don't think would have made it worth it for what's done for crowding out important investments we're going to need or for how aggressive and unfair that tax cut was, but even on that regard, private investment has already gone down. There's no evidence that that is working at all.

So to be honest, I think, you know, President Trump is lucky in inheritances. He's lucky to inherit wealth. He's lucky to inherit an economy that was moving in the right direction. But I really can't see anything that he has done that really does deserve credit. And I feel that, for working families, they have to look at what he's

tried to do. He tried to get rid of preexisting conditions protections. He tried to knock 15 to 20 million people off health care. He's done nothing to help on student loans or childcare.

So I think we'll have a robust discussion. I think they'll run tons of ads. But I think the case against him being a strong economic president is quite strong. And I think that you'll see a Democratic nominee making that case forcefully come the summer.

KEILAR: Real quick, 50-year low on unemployment. No credit?

SPERLING: Well, as I said, it was at 9.8 percent in 2010. It went down to 4.7. It's down to 3.6. So, yes, it went down from 9.8 to 4.7, and it kept going.

I can say that at least he didn't do anything that kept that positive trend from going forward.

But, no, I really -- I really can't see anything in his economic policy that I think has contributed. And I kind of wish I did, because I guess I would sound more balanced if I could think of something. But I actually -- I just don't see it.

KEILAR: All right, Gene, thank you so much. Gene Sperling.

John Bolton breaking his silence and hinting that he that he knows more about Ukraine but it's all in the book. Now there are calls for a boycott of that book.


Plus, we're just learning that President Trump is strongly considering giving clemency to the former Illinois governor and "Apprentice" contestant, Rod Blagojevich. Stand by for that.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Yes, we have commuted the sentence of Rod Blagojevich. He served eight years in jail. It's a long time. And I watched his wife on television.

I don't know him very well. I've met him a couple of times. He was on for a short while on "The Apprentice" years ago. Seemed like a very nice person. Don't know him.

But he has served eight years in jail. He has a long time to go. Many people disagree with the sentence. He's a Democrat. He's not a Republican. It was a prosecution by the same people, Comey, Fitzpatrick, the same group.

Very far from his children. They're growing older. They're in high school now, and they rarely get to see their father outside of an orange uniform. I saw that and I did commute his sentence.

[13:45:13] So he'll be able to go back home with his family after serving eight years in jail.

That was a tremendously powerful, ridiculous sentence, in my opinion. And in the opinion of many others.


UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Do you have confidence in your attorney general?

TRUMP: I have total confidence in my attorney general.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: And do you agree with his statement that you should stop tweeting about the Justice Department --


TRUMP: But you know, everybody has a right to speak their mind. And I use social media. I guess I use it well because here I am. I'm here.


TRUMP: And I probably wouldn't have gotten here without social media because I certainly don't get fair press. So I wouldn't have gotten here without social media.

And perhaps with all of the hoaxes, you had the impeachment hoax, you had the Mueller hoax, you had the Russia, Russia, Russia nonsense. All scams. If I didn't have social media, I probably wouldn't be here. So I'm very happy with social media.

But I think he's doing an excellent job. He's a strong guy. I never spoke to him about the Roger Stone situation.

Roger Stone, just so you know, never worked -- he didn't work for my campaign. There might have been a time way early, long before I announced, where he was somehow involved a little bit, but he was not involved in our campaign at all.

And I think it was a very, very rough thing that happened to Roger Stone.


TRUMP: Because when you look at what happened with Comey after a 78- page -- horrifically put. When you look at what happened with McCabe with a recommendation of prosecution. And you look at all these other people.

And then you look at what happened to General Flynn, a highly respected man. Look, I mean, his life has been destroyed. You look at Roger Stone, for a tweet and some other things. You take a look at what's happening to these people, someone has to stick up for the people. So my social media is very powerful. I guess Mark Zuckerberg said

recently Trump is number one in the world on social media, which is a nice thing, I guess. Something I can be at least a little bit proud of. But it means I have a voice, so I'm able to fight the fake news.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Do you think William Barr will resign over your tweets? And he also said you're comments on Twitter are making it impossible for him to do job.


UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Do you make his job harder?

TRUMP: I do make his job harder. Yes, I agree with that. I think that's true. He's a very straight shooter. We have a great attorney general and he's working very hard.

He's working against a lot of people that don't want to see things happen, in my opinion. That's not his opinion, that's my opinion. You'll have to ask what his opinion is.

But I will say this. Social media for me has been very important, because it gives me a voice. Because I don't get that voice in the press, in the media. I don't get that voice. So I'm allowed to have a voice.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Do you think he can still do his job with integrity, though?


TRUMP: Oh, yes. He's a very --


TRUMP: He's a man with great integrity. The attorney general is a man with incredible integrity.

Just so you understand, I chose not to be involved. I'm allowed to be totally involved. I'm actually, I guess, the chief law enforcement officer of the country. But I've chosen not to be involved. But he is a man of great integrity.


TRUMP: But I could be involved if I wanted to be.


UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Are you also pardoning Bernie Kerik?

TRUMP: Yes, I just pardoned Bernie Kerik, a man who had many recommendations from a lot of good people.

You know, often times, pretty much all the time, I really rely on the recommendations of people that know them. We have Bernie Kerik. We have Mike Milken, who has gone around and done an incredible job for the world with all his research on cancer, and he's done this, and he suffered greatly. He paid a big price, paid a very tough price. But he's done an incredible job.

And, yes, these are all people that you have to see the recommendations. I rely on recommendations.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Are you going to pardon Roger Stone?

TRUMP: I haven't given it any thought. In the meantime, he's going through a process, but I think he's been treated very unfairly.




KEILAR: You are listening to President Trump there as he departs Andrews Air Force Base.

I want to go to Kaitlan Collins at the White House.

Kaitlan, he announced he commuted the sentence of the former Illinois governor and also "Apprentice" contestant, Rod Blagojevich, who was a Democrat, is a Democrat. And he's pardon pardoning former New York Police Commissioner Bernie Kerik.

Tell us more about this. Tell us -- as he said, there were recommendations that were made but there are also signals being sent here.

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: And Brianna, this comes after this morning, he pardoned the former 49ers owner as well. So that pardon and, of course, Bernie Kerik, who appeared on FOX News last night, we should note.


And commuting Rod Blagojevich's sentence, which is notable because he was still serving out that sentence. And that's something that's been a really big internal debate where the president went back and forth on where he's actually going to commute the former Illinois governor's sentence.

Last August he came very close to doing so, saying he was strongly considering doing it. People inside the White House were expecting it to come any day now.

And then Illinois Republicans stepped in, essentially gave the president an earful and said you cannot commute this guy's sentence because he was convicted of essentially trying to sell President Barack Obama's Senate seat for personal gain. And they were saying this is what you came into office to not do. This is a pay to play scheme there.

But now we do know that the president has commuted his sentence anyway as well in addition to these two other pardons.

And of course, Brianna, the number-one thing that bring up to most people is whether or not the president is going to pardon his long- time friend, Roger Stone, who is set to be sentenced on Thursday.

Now, there are several discussions going on with that case. We know Roger Stone wants a new case because there's a discussion about what happened and whether or not members of jury were biased. But the judge said today they are still going to move ahead with that sentencing on Thursday.

But, Brianna, when the president was asked, before he was getting on Air Force One, is he considering pardoning Roger Stone, someone he has known for three decades and was one of the first people to encourage him to run for president, he said he hasn't given it much thought.

Brianna, we know that actually he has because he's been discussing it based on several sources that we've been speaking with for several months now, not just in the last few weeks here. So it is certainly something on the president's mind. It does not appear clear he's made a final decision about whether or not he's going to do so.

But it does send a message he is pardoning these two other people and commuting a third on the day of this -- just two days before Roger Stone is going to be sentenced.

KEILAR: It certainly does, Kaitlan.

I'm going to bring in Carrie Cordero and Tom Nichols, a professor of national security affairs at the Naval War College, to analyze this with us.

You can't miss the timing on this, Carrie. Two days before the Roger Stone sentencing. As we do know the president has been weighing what to do with Roger Stone, if he has an extended sentence now that he's been convicted.

CARRIE CORDERO, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: If he does, and also he also mentioned the flint case and his remarks right there, so clearly the president is willing and enthusiastic about using his executive authority to pardon individuals to grant clemency.

But this number of cases in one day coming on the week that we're coming up on the Roger Stone sentencing really feels like just justice being undone.

If you're a former prosecutor who worked on any of these cases -- and this is why we see the reaction from the alumni in the Justice Department we were discussing earlier in the hour.

If you're a former white collar prosecutor, if you were an figure investigator, and FBI investigator who worked on all these cases, someone like Rod Blagojevich, who was convicted on multiple federal counts, federal public corruption counts for trying to sell a Senate seat, I mean, the corruption is just right there in your face. It just feels like the justice system under this president is in reverse and that he feels for some reason simpatico with individuals who are charged with crimes and who are convicted of crimes.

KEILAR: And there's a lot of different kind of threads to pull here, Tom, because when you think of Rod Blagojevich, you're thinking quid pro quo, right? Essentially trying to sell the Obama Senate seat that was vacated when President Obama was elected and his Senate seat was open. So there's that.

Roger Stone, here in a couple of days. The fact that he also likes to un-do cases that were tried and won by U.S. attorneys who were appointed by President Obama. I think Patrick Fitzgerald, right, in this case of Blagojevich, and also in the case of Scooter Libby.

CORDERO: Patrick Fitzgerald was a longtime federal prosecutor, nonpartisan, Independent, who worked across multiple administrations. So he prosecuted Scooter Libby and he prosecuted Rob Blagojevich.

KEILAR: Blagojevich.

So I wonder what you think, Tom, what do you see about these different cross currents?

TOM NICHOLS, PROFESSOR OF NATIONAL SECURITY AFFAIRS, U.S. NAVAL WAR COLLEGE: Well, there's a pattern here, and it's not hard to miss. It seems to me -- and of course, I don't represent the Navy here. It seems to me that if you're famous and you're on television and you're an old white guy who has tried to rig the system in your favor for your personal gain, the president sheds emotional tears for you and your children, and the fact that they have to see you in an orange jumpsuit.

He has no similar empathy for people doing long stretches for various miscarriages of justices, mandatory sentences or minor offenses that snowballed into long stints in jail.

There's a clear pattern here, famous old men who have tried to rig the political or economic system in their favor, earn Donald Trump's empathy, and he pardons them to show that he can.


I mean, again, there's that almost childlike insistence that says I can do anything I want.

I think with Roger Stone, of course, it's laughable to say, well, I haven't given it any thought. It's probably all he's been thinking of for the past few weeks.

And I think -- you know, I think when the former FBI inspector general was on your network a few days ago, and he said, you know, the president should just cut to the chase. If he really wants to pardon Roger Stone and short circuit justice, he ought to just get on with it instead of all of this kabuki. I think that also raises the role of Attorney General Barr because I

don't think that -- you can see from the president's remarks, he's not upset with Barr. I think this was all a carefully scripted tiff between them so that Barr could then be able to look less humiliated in front of a federal judge who's going to ask questions about what happened and why four prosecutors walked away from this.

This whole thing has been about as -- has been about as authentic as professional wrestling.

KEILAR: All right, Tom, Carrie, stand by for me if you will.

We have more on our special coverage of the president meting out his form of justice.

We'll be back in a moment.