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ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT

Trump Grants Clemency To Criminals With Ties To Trump Allies; Trump Goes On Pardoning Spree & Commutes Sentence of Ex-"Apprentice" Contestant Rod Blagojevich; New Polls Show Sanders With 12-Point Lead in Dem Race; Dems Attack Sanders, Bloomberg As They Rise in Polls. Aired 7-8p ET

Aired February 18, 2020 - 19:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


MICHAEL BLOOMBERG (D) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: They'll be able to raise lots of money and they'll have a spirited battle. And it's up to the fourth state to make sure that that battle is informative to the public.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: Erin Burnett OUTFRONT starts right now.

ERIN BURNETT, CNN HOST: OUTFRONT tonight, Trump's bail out blitz. Tonight he is pardoning a number of white collar criminals and also shortening the sentence of a man who tried to buy or sell, I'm sorry, Obama's Senate seat. Is Roger Stone next?

Plus also tonight, Bernie Sanders is pulling ahead after two strong finishes in Iowa and New Hampshire. What is next for him here in Nevada where I am tonight?

And Congressman Jim Clyburn, he is a kingmaker in South Carolina and is he ready tonight to finally crown someone in that state. Coming up, he's my guest.

Let's go OUTFRONT.

And good evening. I'm Erin Burnett. Welcome to a very special edition of OUTFRONT. We are live in Las Vegas tonight. In less than an hour, CNN's Democratic presidential town halls will begin and we'll have much more on that in a moment. I'll be speaking with Mayor Pete Buttigieg this evening.

First though, President Trump tonight on a power trip with pardons and some clemency, including the former Illinois Governor, Rod Blagojevich, who tried to sell Barack Obama's Senate seat and also the former NYPD Commissioner, Bernie Kerik.

These are people who were convicted of extortion, fraud, false statements, tax fraud, corruption, the very thing that Trump claims he cares so much about. Some of the men who are getting bailed out, of course, have ties to Trump. And in just two days, another person close to the President will be sentenced and I'm talking about Roger Stone. So is his pardon coming next? Kaitlan Collins is OUTFRONT live outside the White House to begin our

coverage this evening. Kaitlan, what are you learning about how the President decided who to pardon and whose sentence to commute?

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, today, Erin, when the President was talking about this, he didn't indicate that he had gone through those typical DOJ channels where there are vetting procedures before they make a decision like this, but instead he seems to relied on the advice of friends, business allies and even some of his political allies as well.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Yes. We have commuted the sentence of Rod Blagojevich.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COLLINS(voice over): The former Governor of Illinois was serving 14 years after he was convicted of essentially trying to sell President Barack Obama's open Senate seat for personal gain.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: Governor ...

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COLLINS(voice over): He once appeared on The Apprentice, but was fired by Trump on the show.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: But, Rod, you're fired.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COLLINS(voice over): Though lately Trump has paid attention to efforts by his family to get him out of prison.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

PATRICIA BLAGOJEVICH, WIFE OF FORMER ILLINOIS GOVERNOR ROD BLAGOJEVICH: I know the President's got a lot on his hands.

TRUMP: I watched his wife on television. I don't know him very well ...

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COLLINS(voice over): Trump came close to commuting Blagojevich's sentence last summer before being talked out of it by Illinois Republicans who warned him about the blowback he'd face for intervening in what many saw as the pay to play scheme he campaigned against.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: It was a prosecution by the same people; Comey, Fitzpatrick, the same group ...

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COLLINS(voice over): Today, the President also pardoned former New York City Police Commissioner Bernie Kerik, who was found guilty of eight felonies, including tax fraud and lying to White House officials.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

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

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COLLINS(voice over): The President has also watched Kerik on Fox News where he appeared last night. Kerik was also heavily involved in the case of Eddie Gallagher, the Navy SEAL accused of war crimes whom Trump also recently cleared.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BERNARD KERIK, FORMER NYPD COMMISSIONER: This was a retaliatory measure by the admiral, an admiral that has overseen this entire corrupt, unethical criminal investigation and should be booted from the Navy SEALs.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COLLINS(voice over): Trump didn't stop there. He also pardon the former owner of the San Francisco 49ers, Eddie DeBartolo, who was found guilty of attempting to conceal an extortion attempt. And Michael Milken, the 1980s investment banker known as the junk bonds king who was sought to wipe clean his securities fraud conviction for decades.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: He paid a big price, he paid a very tough price, but he's done an incredible job.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COLLINS(voice over): Despite all of that, the President wouldn't say if he's considering leniency for his longtime friend, Roger Stone, who is set to be sentenced in just two days.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: I haven't given it any thought.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COLLINS(voice over): Sources say that's not true and that Trump has weighed pardoning Stone in recent weeks as Stone's allies have lobbied the President to do so.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: I'm actually, I guess, the chief law enforcement officer of the country.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(END VIDEOTAPE)

COLLINS: Now, Erin, the President pardoned or commuted the sentence of 11 people in total today. Most of them are white collar criminals, only about two were related to drug offenses. But we also should note that when it comes to Michael Milken, the former investment banker that the President pardon, we're told that a lot of that had to do with the Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin who favored this pardon and also another source telling them my colleague, Vicky Ward that they believed in part this had to do with an eye toward fundraising for the President's campaign.

[19:05:00]

BURNETT: All right. Thank you very much, Kaitlan. And I want to go OUTFRONT now to Greg Brower with me in Las Vegas, former U.S. Attorney, former FBI Assistant Director and former Republican state lawmaker. Gloria Borger also here, Chief Political Analyst for us at CNN and Patrick Cotter, former Federal Prosecutor who has worked with and against Patrick Fitzgerald, who was the U.S. attorney who led the Blagojevich prosecution.

So Patrick, what do you make of these pardons?

PATRICK COTTER, FORMER FEDERAL PROSECUTOR: I think they're an obscenity. I think there's 171,000 people in custody in the federal system. And the notion that somehow Mr. Trump and this committee he claims he has looked around and these people, all of whom have personal connections to him or people around him, friends and family, these are the people that they came up with that were deserving of clemency.

It's a lie and it's disgusting. And it's another assault on the rule of law and equal treatment before the law and this president seems hell-bent on doing everything he can to destroy the rule of law.

BURNETT: I mean, Greg, when it comes to the Blagojevich pardon, specifically which Patrick is talking about along with others, obviously, in his comment, the White House put out in a statement that Democrats, Dick Durbin, Jesse Jackson, Obama's Attorney General himself, Eric Holder, had all supported shortening Blagojevich's sentence. So that's what the White House puts out.

But when the President himself had a chance to talk about it, he made it about his enemies and himself.

GREG BROWER, FORMER FBI ASSISTANT DIRECTOR: Right.

BURNETT: He said, "It was a prosecution by the same people, Comey, Fitzpatrick, the same group." Fitzpatrick being Patrick Fitzgerald.

BROWER: Fitzgerald.

BURNETT: Right.

BROWER: Right.

BURNETT: For him it's personal.

BROWER: Yes. Yes, really the fact that there may be some bipartisan support for one of these commutations doesn't take away the fact that it really looks political. I mean, it looks like it's about settling scores and about granting political favors more than it's about doing justice.

BURNETT: I mean, he's saying that's what it's about, right?

BROWER: Well, every case is different, but Jack Johnson pardon from a few months ago.

BURNETT: Yes.

BROWER: That was legitimate. I supported in the Nevada legislature, a few years ago, a resolution to - we adopted a resolution urging President Obama to pardon Jack Johnson. Unfortunately, that didn't happen.

So there are among these pardons and commutations, some that might make sense. But the problem is that overwhelmingly they look political.

BURNETT: Yes.

BROWER: And I should remind you, all of these people who are convicted, they were charged by ordinary citizens, they were convicted by juries of ordinary citizens, judges approved those convictions and judges impose those sentences based upon the federal sentencing guidelines that Congress adopts. And so it really, in a way, undermines the whole system of justice by shortcutting and, as I understand it, bypassing the DOJ process for pardons, which the President doesn't have to follow, but really should.

BURNETT: Well, especially given the situation that we're in.

BROWER: Right.

BURNETT: When he says it's because of personal reasons. I mean, Gloria, look at Michael Milken. A source familiar with the President's thinking on that one says, it's clearly aimed at fundraising for the campaign. That's what they're saying. I mean, this is all personal. GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, it sure seems to be

that way. I'd like to know what the process was. I'd like to know if the official process was even considered, much less used. And when you look at all of these names, it clearly may be about campaign contributors, but it's also at least in Blagojevich's case, about people who know how to flatter the President, his wife was out there talking about the President, what a difficult job he has, but how much they liked the President.

And so it's a combination of they really like me and I can really use them, and the people who want me to pardon them are people who can be useful to me. So all of this in the end is about Donald Trump.

BURNETT: Yes.

BORGER: It's also about the President being unbound. What are the Democrats going to be able to do about this other than complain? Not much. And what are the Republicans going to be able to do or will they want to do anything because they're all in with Donald Trump. So he feels completely liberated after impeachment and this is what we're getting.

BURNETT: I mean, Patrick, I want to give people a chance to understand why this is different. So obviously controversial pardons kind of go with the presidency. We hear about them every time. When President Clinton pardoned Marc Rich, we all remember, he had fled to Switzerland. Charges of fraud, racketeering, tax evasion, he would have had 300 years in jail. His wife was a major Democratic donor.

Clinton pardoned Rich on the last day of his presidency. At the time The New York Times called it indefensible. What makes the Trump situation with these pardons and the Justice Department overall different? What makes it worse?

COTTER: It's worse because it's bigger. The Rich pardon was ridiculous and wrong, but what Trump is doing is multiplying that and he's doing it so crudely, so obviously.

[19:10:01]

I mean of all of the prisoners, he happens to pick the guy who was on The Apprentice. I mean, it's insane. It is taking a bad precedent, which was the Rich pardon and multiplying it. And he's doing it, as I say, for people that know people in the cabinet, for people that are helpful to him on television, who flatter him, who tell him lies like the James Comey had anything to do with the Blagojevich prosecution.

James Comey was not in the government during the years that the Blagojevich prosecution was put together. So they tell these convenient lies to the President and then he crudely in front of everybody misuses his pardon power.

BORGER: But he is friends ...

BURNETT: I mean, Greg, the President obviously - yes.

BORGER: Comey is friends with Patrick Fitzgerald and that may be enough for Donald Trump, don't you think?

COTTER: Well, that's insane, I mean, if you're going to say that just because you know somebody ...

BURNETT: I mean, Greg, that could be what it is about.

BROWER: It could be but, look ...

BURNETT: Yes.

BROWER: ... yes, Jim Comey has a lot of friends and I served as U.S. attorney with Pat Fitzgerald. There's a lot of us who have served as U.S. attorneys over the years. I mean, is he really going to look for every connection that Jim Comey may have and look at pardoning those defendants, it makes no sense.

And I'll tell you, as I said at the outset, the President has the power to grant pardons for a good reason. And there are, overtime, legitimate pardons. I referenced the Jack Johnson pardon. That conviction was decades ago.

BURNETT: Right.

BROWER: It was clearly racially motivated.

BURNETT: Right.

BROWER: And it was inappropriate. So justice was finally done ...

BURNETT: I think there were issues of domestic abuse that was made - it might have been Obama's issue with it.

BROWER: It may have been. But it was clearly a racially motivated unjust conviction decades old. And so pardons can be legitimate, commutations can be legitimate, but when we're talking about people who have not served their entire time, when we're not talking about decades old convictions and we're talking about what appeared to be political payback sort of pardons, that undermines the integrity of the system.

BURNETT: So then Gloria, what happens to Roger Stone? Final word.

BORGER: Well, I think he probably feels a little more comfortable tonight and if I were Rudy Giuliani, I'd feel a little more comfortable about what the Southern District of New York is looking into tonight. Because in the end, although the President says he hasn't considered a pardon for Roger Stone, I don't see how we can think that he hasn't.

He's been complaining about his sentence. He's going to be sentenced on Thursday. I don't think the timing of this is any kind of coincidence. Now, the President has everybody expecting a pardon eventually for Roger Stone. And if I were a betting person - you're there in Vegas, if I were a betting person, I bet on a pardon for Roger Stone.

BURNETT: All right. Thank you all three very much.

And next, the start of Democratic town halls, just less than an hour away. Bernie Sanders will be up first. Now tonight, a new poll shows him pulling away. Is he the undeniable frontrunner in the Democratic race at this point?

Plus, one of the most powerful Democrats in Congress, a friend of Joe Biden for years, but he still has not endorsed the former Vice President, why? Well, Congressman James Clyburn will be OUTFRONT.

And tonight, why fears are growing that the Nevada caucuses could be a repeat of the Iowa mess.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[19:17:16]

BURNETT: And welcome back to a special edition of OUTFRONT. We are live in Las Vegas just ahead of tonight's CNN town halls.

Just days before the Nevada caucuses, Bernie Sanders has been surging in the polls. We have two new national polls now showing him with a 12-point lead in each over his Democratic rivals in 2020. NBC/Wall Street Journal Poll shows Sanders at 27, the next closest Joe Biden almost half at that 15, Michael Bloomberg and Elizabeth Warren both have a 14 percent, Pete Buttigieg at 13 and those are your double digits.

The new NPR/PBS/Marist Poll has Sanders at 31, Bloomberg comes in second there with the 19, which qualifies him for his first debate here in Las Vegas tomorrow. In that poll, the former New York City Mayor is up 15 points since December.

OUTFRONT now, David Chalian, our Political Director and Astead Herndon, National Political Reporter for The New York Times.

I mean, David, look, there's a lot of things in these polls that sort of make you go, wow, this is pretty incredible just to see it all happening, whether it'd be the surge of Michael Bloomberg in one, but in both. Is it undeniable now Bernie Sanders is the clear frontrunner?

DAVID CHALIAN, CNN POLITICAL DIRECTOR: He's in the driver's seat of this entire nomination race right now and it's about to experience a new element, of course, with Michael Bloomberg on the debate stage. As you noted, he qualified.

In fact, he qualified from that PBS/Marist Poll and then in that NBC/Wall Street Journal Poll, he qualified for the South Carolina debate. So Michael Bloomberg will now be part of the conversation in the fray, not just on television ads. But there is no denying, Bernie Sanders through the power of young voters, liberal voters and a significant chunk of non-white voters.

BURNETT: Yes.

CHALIAN: He has built a coalition that has put him in this position. Now, the question for Bernie Sanders is where do you go from here? How do you grow beyond? You may not need to. He's doing well and he's out in front with these double digit leads, but I do think his quest to get to Milwaukee with a majority of delegates is to grow that coalition from here on out.

BURNETT: I mean, Astead, it is stunning when you think about it. Bernie Sanders didn't expect to be in this position a couple of months ago. He had had a heart attack. He himself had talked about changing the nature of his campaign and yet here he is, undeniably the frontrunner. And in a sense, it shows how little anybody knew or predicted.

ASTEAD HERNDON, NATIONAL POLITICAL REPORTER, THE NEW YORK TIMES: Yes. In that October to November period, it was unclear where the Bernie Sanders' candidacy was going. But we have seen a steady rise that has culminated with what is now the undeniable truth of him as the frontrunner of this race. He has made it worked in Iowa, in New Hampshire and then even as the electorate shift in Nevada and South Carolina.

He has enough of that non-white population combined with liberal voters and young voters, as David said, to give them a kind of coalition that can cross supply across states.

Unlike these other candidates, we had seen Buttigieg surge in the early states, but he looks less like a frontrunner in Nevada and South Carolina.

[19:20:02]

We've seen Klobuchar do well in New Hampshire, but that can't apply. Elizabeth Warren hasn't been able to make it work.

BURNETT: Yes.

HERNDON: But Bernie Sanders has been able to make that happen in multiple states with Bloomberg (inaudible) ...

BURNETT: And what's been amazing with different people kind of having their moment has been all of the daggers come out for that person. So we remember this fall, the daggers were out for Elizabeth Warren. Everybody said, oh, the nomination is hers and they were slamming her on health care. Now, Sanders in the front and here we go. This is a taste of what's happening.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TOM STEYER (D) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I think Senator Sanders should also be explaining how he's going to pay for Medicare for All.

PETE BUTTIGIEG (D) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: My friend, Senator Sanders, doesn't seem to think it matters how much things cost. There's a gap of $25 trillion in his plan, which is bigger than the whole U.S. economy.

JOE BIDEN (D) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Bernie acknowledges that he don't even know how much his program is going to cost.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BURNETT: Those were the daggers for Elizabeth Warren, now they're for Bernie Sanders.

CHALIAN: But I would note, Joe Biden has been making this argument against Bernie Sanders ...

BURNETT: Yes.

CHALIAN: ... since last summer.

BURNETT: Excuse me.

CHALIAN: Since last July, he made this argument on our debate stage last July in Detroit and it hasn't been holding. By the way, Hillary Clinton tried very hard to use these arguments about price tags against Bernie Sanders. Obviously, she emerged with the nomination.

But this notion of how are you going to pay for your plan, it hasn't stuck to him in a way that I think these candidates are hoping it does. Now, maybe we're in a different time, voters' minds are trained now that we're in the electoral contest. It's not the year before.

But I would argue that we've heard this argument against Bernie Sanders. He's been answering that question whether satisfactorily or not for years and I think that they - if they're really looking for daggers to start taking a piece of hide out of him, I don't know that that's going to be the final answer.

BURNETT: So now Michael Bloomberg is going to be on the debate stage and David is pointing out, both debate stages, OK? Now, we get to find all of the things he said. Now, he is Trumpian in some ways. He says what he thinks and he's unashamed about it, but now these clips start to surface and here's one of them, our archive file uncovered this clip of Bloomberg talking about Bernie Sanders and his supporters just a few years ago, 2016. Here's Mayor Bloomberg.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BLOOMBERG: The Democratic socialism and the young people - I don't mean to knock young people, I wish I was one again - but young people listen to Donald Trump - to Bernie Sanders and they said, yes, Democratic, that's good. Socialism, yes, that's that social media stuff.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BURNETT: And we're going to hear a lot more of this.

HERNDON: Yes. I mean, we've seen this even in the last week, the red lining comments. The comments about transgender individuals. This will come on and on for Bloomberg as he goes through that vetting stage as candidate.

BURNETT: Right, transgender referring to them as it.

HERNDON: Yes, exactly.

BURNETT: Yes.

HERNDON: And as candidate, see those same polls that show him rising. What's going to be difficult, however, is his vast amount of resources allow him to define himself uniquely in these Super Tuesday states. He's kind of playing a game unto himself. He has told these voters something about him as the figure who can go up against Trump and he has been able to saturate that message.

The candidates now have to redefine him and make him somewhat who voters are now individually scared about. That's going to be a difficult task, because for months now, they've been seeing these Bloomberg ads, and they have created a story about him in their heads.

BURNETT: All right. Both, thank you very much.

And don't miss our Democratic presidential town halls tonight on CNN. Anderson is going to kick it off at eight o'clock with Bernie Sanders. I'll then moderate the town hall with Pete Buttigieg at nine. And then Anderson will come back with Amy Klobuchar at 10 o'clock. And on Thursday, Joe Biden and Elizabeth Warren. We will be speaking to them on Thursday.

OUTFRONT next, Pete Buttigieg sounding the alarm when it comes to defeating Trump.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think if the socialist Bernie Sanders wins the nomination, Trump will beat him. What do you think?

BUTTIGIEG: I share that concern.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BURNETT: Plus, Tom Steyer admits the next two contests maybe make or break for his campaign. So how confident is he that he can win here in Nevada and South Carolina? He's my guest OUTFRONT.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[19:28:08]

BURNETT: Welcome back to a special edition of OUTFRONT. We are live from Las Vegas tonight. Tonight, several of the 2020 candidates will appear on the stage, in the room where I am, including my town hall with Pete Buttigieg who tonight is questioning whether Bernie Sanders can defeat President Trump.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think if the socialist Bernie Sanders wins the nomination, Trump will beat him. What do you think? BUTTIGIEG: I share that concern.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BURNETT: Well, Buttigieg in saying that is possibly previewing what he might be saying tomorrow night at the debate. There is a lot of pressure on some of these candidates like Joe Biden, like Elizabeth Warren to stand out after losses in Iowa and New Hampshire.

Jeff Zeleny is OUTFRONT, been with all of them every step of the way. Look, this race is not what people expected it to be. And for a long time there was this, OK, Joe Biden is the frontrunner and then everybody else shifts around. Now, he's not the frontrunner anymore in these polls and he's got a lot to prove. Who has the most to prove or to lose tomorrow night?

JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORREPONDENT: I think Bloomberg has a lot to prove to show that he actually is the frontrunner. But let's go to Joe Biden, because he really is in an unusual place. I was with him in Reno yesterday and watching him he still acts like he's the frontrunner, he still has the trappings of that.

But when you talk to voters and sort of see the confidence has gone a little bit. So I think Joe Biden, at this debate tomorrow, has to show that he still is in this game. Not just for Nevada, for South Carolina, for Super Tuesday. He has to show some fight.

And when voters see him in person, they still like him, they still think he can do it. So I think the most is riding on his performance and how he confronts Mike Bloomberg.

Also Elizabeth Warren, she has to get back in the game if she wants to stay in the game. So she has a pretty strong following out there in terms of Super Tuesday, probably not as much here in Nevada, even South Carolina, but she also has a lot riding on it.

But Joe Biden I think first and foremost, if he wants to revive himself in South Carolina, which he says is his firewall, he has to have a strong showing here. That's what they're counting on.

[19:30:08]

ERIN BURNETT, CNN HOST: Right, because it's so close. It's not like you just cannot do well here and hope for next week. It's just now how it works.

All right. Jeff Zeleny, thank you very much.

And I want to go OUTFRONT now to Democratic Congressman Jim Clyburn of South Carolina, the majority whip.

And I appreciate your time, sir. Thank you very much for being with me tonight.

Look, I'm just going to be blunt here. You're a key endorsement in this race. You're one of the people everyone looks to. Who will you endorse?

You've said, though, you're not going to announce who you are voting for until after the debate in Charleston, South Carolina, next week. But I know you've known Joe Biden for a long time. You spoke at one of his events about a month ago.

What's been holding you back from endorsing him?

REP. JAMES CLYBURN (D-SC): Well, because I promise -- first of all, thank you for having me.

But I made a promise to the network that is doing the debate that I would not get out in front of the debate. I said the same thing to the National Democratic Committee that I would stay out of any kind of endorsing early in the game so that we could have a good, valuable, and valuable (ph) debate and primary.

So, I decided to keep my vote to myself until after the debate.

BURNETT: Have you decided or are you, yourself, still unsure?

CLYBURN: Oh, no. I'm not unsure at all. I know exactly who I'm going to vote for. I've known that for some -- some time now.

BURNETT: All right. So, I'm not going to try to read between the lines. I respect -- I respect what you've chosen to do.

Let me ask you, though, about something that "The Wall Street Journal" quotes the chairman of South Carolina's Democratic Party as saying. It says, quote: This race is wide open here, talking about South Carolina. Joe Biden has some work to do in order to close the deal and win South Carolina.

Do you agree with that, Congressman, that Joe Biden has work to do to win South Carolina?

CLYBURN: Yes, I do agree with that. I said several days ago that there's a five-way contest in South Carolina right now. So I do believe that all the candidates need to continue to work because South Carolinians will be looking at Nevada in order to make some determination as to whether or not they will -- their vote will be one in vain.

So, I really believe they'd have to keep working.

BURNETT: And, Congressman, I just want you to know what you're hearing in the background is our Washington bureau chief getting the crowd ready for the town halls tonight where we will hear from Senator Sanders, Mayor Pete Buttigieg, and Senator Klobuchar.

CLYBURN: Sure.

BURNETT: Mike Bloomberg, though, we'll also be here in Las Vegas, Congressman Clyburn, for that debate tomorrow, and I know you have known him for a long time. You have said though that the stop-and- frisk policy bothers you. He's apologized for that on the campaign trail.

I want to play what he's been saying again and again about it for you. Here he is.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MIKE BLOOMBERG (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I spent a long time speaking with black leaders and community members. I've listened to their stories. I've heard their pain, their confusion, their anger. And I've learned from them and I think I've grown from them.

I know I can't change history, but what I can do is learn from my mistakes and use those lessons to do right by black and brown communities who have suffered.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BURNETT: Congressman Clyburn, when you hear that, is that enough? Does that go far enough for you? Do you believe that he is being genuine?

CLYBURN: Well, as you know, I was born and raised in a parsonage and I always apply some of those early learnings to whatever I hear in the political arena. So, I always say, I can appreciate your words. It's your deeds that make it for me.

And so what I will be doing is watching his proposals, seeing exactly what he says he's going to do to help us overcome what we know to be a big problem in this country, and that's trying to make the greatness of this country accessible and affordable for all of its citizens.

We've got a great health care system in this country. It's just not accessible and affordable to everybody. Same thing with education.

We have got to have proposals laid out that will demonstrate exactly what you're going to do in order to overcome some of this. So, I'll be watching for the deeds irrespective of the words.

BURNETT: Your grandson, Walter, works on Pete Buttigieg's campaign and he is featured in this ad which is airing in South Carolina this month.

[19:35:05]

He talks about you. Here's a clip.

CLYBURN: OK.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ABE JENKINS: My grandfather is my hero.

WALTER A. CLYBURN REED: My grandfather is my hero.

JENKINS: Community organizers, civil rights activists.

REED: One of the leading voices for the disenfranchised.

JENKINS: I'm working for Pete Buttigieg because he's got a real plan to combat gun violence and get health care for everyone.

REED: I'm working for Pete because he spelled out policies for lifting people out of poverty.

JENKINS: Tackling racism.

REED: Investing in child care and after school.

JENKINS: He's a fresh start.

REED: He's the change we need.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BURNETT: Congressman, you recently told our Dana Bash that older African-American voters may have a hard time voting for Buttigieg because he's gay, and your comments did get a lot of people talking. Do you still believe that?

CLYBURN: You know, there's a big difference between what I personally feel. I've had conversations with my grandson. I know what some of the feedback is that he is getting. His fiance I spoke with yesterday, and she tells me the same thing.

So, I want my grandson who I'm very proud of to know exactly what he is up against. I don't want him to go out there working, not helping him get prepared for what he might hear.

So, all I did was express what I know my grandson is going to hear, what all of us have heard all of our lives, so he can be prepared to deal with that.

I do not have a problem with it. But I know of a lot of people whose expressions are to the contrary and I think it's showing up in a lot of people you talk to.

BURNETT: All right. Well, I appreciate your time, Congressman Clyburn. Thanks very much again.

CLYBURN: Well, thank you for having me.

BURNETT: All right. It's great to see you, sir.

And I will be moderating the town hall with Pete Buttigieg coming up at 9:00 Eastern. You can hear us getting ready for these now.

You'll also here from Bernie Sanders and Amy Klobuchar tonight live from Las Vegas.

OUTFRONT next, Tom Steyer says Nevada and South Carolina are do-or-die for his campaign. He's my guest.

Plus, we are now less than 30 minutes away from the Democratic town halls as officials here in Nevada insist they are ready for the upcoming caucuses. There are, though, some red flags.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[19:41:21]

BURNETT: Tonight, do-or-die, that's what billionaire businessman Tom Steyer says the next two contests in Nevada and South Carolina mean for his campaign. He's spending nearly $35 million combined in advertising in those two states. In South Carolina, where he has more than 90 campaign aides on the ground, he polled as high as second place last month. He says he will do well there.

And he is OUTFRONT now here in Nevada, Democratic presidential candidate Tom Steyer.

OK.

TOM STEYER (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Hey, Erin.

BURNETT: What does do-or-die mean for you in Nevada and South Carolina? How do you define it?

(CROSSTALK)

STEYER: Well, I don't think I agree with those words, but I think this -- I have to be able to show to people that I can get people to vote for me and that I can pull together a diverse coalition of Democrats. Nevada and South Carolina, the first two diverse states, they more reflect the Democratic electorate and the American people.

BURNETT: Yes.

STEYER: And so, I've spent a lot of time on the ground here. I think more than anybody else. I've spent a lot of time on the ground in South Carolina I think more than anything else -- really going out seeing people face to face, talking to them, holding town halls, really listening and understanding what's going on in the ground. That's what I love to do.

BURNETT: So, you've invested a lot of your time and money in Nevada. Now, obviously, you're not going to be on the debate stage tomorrow night.

Mike Bloomberg will be, even though he's not campaigning here. But now, according to the polling, the way they have the rules, the national polling, he will be there.

Do you respect those rules, the rules they have for the debates?

(CHEERS AND APPLAUSE)

BURNETT: I did warn you --

(INAUDIBLE)

STEYER: They loved your question, Erin. They loved your question. Let me say this, I am in second or third place in Nevada, and I am in second or third place in South Carolina. There have been no polls counted towards those states because it's supposed to be either national polls or state polls, so that people in the debate can reflect.

The Democratic National Committee basically --

BURNETT: Go on.

STEYER: -- basically disenfranchised the voters of Nevada and South Carolina by who would be on the debate stage.

Look, I've been going directly to them all along, the people of those states.

BURNETT: Uh-huh.

STEYER: That's what I've been continuing doing. We're getting great response on the ground and we're going to continue with great response on the ground.

And I'm going to show that, in fact, I can pull together that diverse coalition and I'm talking about and show that, in fact, what I'm talking about is really progressive mainstream Democratic stuff.

BURNETT: All right. So, when Bloomberg -- he got in the race late, right? And he got in the race --

STEYER: Yes.

BURNETT: -- four months after you did. You waited a while to decide. He was really --

STEYER: I was July and he was probably November.

BURNETT: November, October/November. You're both wealthy businessmen. You're willing to spend, you say, whatever it takes. You're willing to put your own money on the line, not just OPM, other people's money.

But a new national polls shows him doing way in the polls. I mean, look, he's second in the one of the polls that just came out.

STEYER: I haven't spent any time on national polls. What I've been doing is going to these states to do grassroots organizing.

I'm someone who's built one of the biggest grassroots organizations in the United States, NextGen America. I really believe in seeing Americans face to face, not just running TV ads, but going face to face and listening to people and understanding what's going on in Nevada, listening to Nevadans. Going to South Carolina and understanding what's going on in South Carolina.

I really think that that is -- if you can't do that, I don't how you can be president of the United States.

BURNETT: So, you used the words, just a moment ago with me, progressive mainstream, OK, and you put those two words together.

Pete Buttigieg was asked in Las Vegas today by a voter whether Trump would beat the, quote, socialist Bernie Sanders in the general election. That's what the voter said, socialist Bernie Sanders.

Buttigieg said to that voter, I share that concern. Do you share that concern?

STEYER: I am not in the anybody-but-Bernie camp at all. What I'm saying is this: I believe what I stand for is progressive Democratic values without being a socialist, and I believe that that is in fact something where I'm standing for a choice in terms of health care.

[19:45:02]

BURNETT: Right.

STEYER: A public option in the Affordable Care Act.

BURNETT: Yes.

STEYER: I'm talking about building -- get 4.5 million union jobs to rebuild the country in a climate smart way. I'm talking about a 10 percent tax cut to everybody who makes less than 250,000 bucks. I'm talking about the kind of progressive change that I think Democrats need.

And I'm somebody who will talk explicitly about race and ethnicity, Erin. I'm someone who's for reparations. I'm for someone who wants to explicitly deal with our racial issues and talk directly to those --

BURNETT: I understand in some of those cases you're to the left of some of your rivals, for sure, OK? But on this issue of --

STEYER: Yes, including Bernie Sanders.

BURNETT: OK. But to this issue of a socialist defeating President Trump, do you think that's doable?

STEYER: What I think is this, Erin, whoever the Democrat is, is going to -- we're a tent, that's what people always say about the Democratic Party.

BURNETT: Uh-huh.

STEYER: We're going to have to pull people together across racial lines. We're going to have to have black people and Latinos and Native Americans and AAPI and white people. We're going to have people from across the country, and we're going to have to pull together the progressive and moderate wings, somebody who can really pull together the coalition. What we can't have is a candidate who can't do that.

And I think the whole point about Nevada, the whole point about South Carolina is being able to prove that in fact I can do that -- that I can beat Trump on the economy, that I have a much more progressive approach to the economy than he does and that I know much more than he does, that I can show that he's a liar, that his economy only works for the people in the Mar-a-Lago, not the people of the country.

I was first (ph) to the minimum wage. I've been fighting for $15 for eight years. I think it should be 22 bucks.

BURNETT: All right.

STEYER: We're in a different place and the people of America need somebody to fight for them again. And that would be me.

BURNETT: All right. Tom Steyer, thank you very much. I appreciate your time.

And next, officials in Nevada are scrambling to prepare for the weekend's caucuses. How confident are they that they can pull it off?

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Only 60 percent chance that they will still be problems, but it was an 80 percent chance yesterday.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BURNETT: Plus, a crucial Democratic presidential town hall is about to begin, what Bernie Sanders, Pete Buttigieg, and Amy Klobuchar need to do tonight.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[19:51:25]

BURNETT: Welcome back to a special edition of OUTFRONT. We are live in Las Vegas where the CNN presidential town halls are about to begin.

And here in Nevada, there are concerns that there could be a repeat of some of the chaos we saw in the Iowa caucuses.

Dianne Gallagher is OUTFRONT.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

DIANNE GALLAGHER, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): It's not just the outcome of Saturday's Nevada caucus that's in doubt, but whether or not Nevada Democrats can pull it off.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Obviously, a little frustrating, waiting an hour on line.

GALLAGHER: One volunteer who has been raising the red flag, Seth Morrison (ph). He lets CNN sit in on a recent training webinar, where volunteers were shown the crucial caucus calculator they'll use to tabulate results.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It will also be calculated for you on that caucus calculator.

GALLAGHER: The training session included screen shots at the calculator, but they didn't show it in action, meaning no hands-on experience. That's a concern for another volunteer, Christopher Erby (ph), who will be working the caucus Saturday.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Having it in your own hand and actually working through it and being able to ask questions about something in the iPad that maybe is bothering you.

REPORTER: You have not physically touched an iPad?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I have not physically touched their iPad yet, no.

GALLAGHER: But Morrison says, he's seen enough now to feel prepared.

SETH MORRISON, SITE LEADER FOR SEVERAL NEVADA PRECINCTS: I am definitely satisfied with the training.

GALLAGHER: Nevada Dems say they're confident.

MOLLY FORGEY, NEVADA STATE DEMOCRATIC PARTY COMMS. DIRECTOR: We're doing trainings around the clock. That's going to happen every day up until caucus day.

GALLAGHER: Another concern, after many voters stood in long lines this weekend, they may not have their ballots counted, because they either didn't choose all three options or didn't sign their ballots as required.

The Nevada Democratic Party wouldn't give a specific number of invalid ballots.

WILLIAM MCCURDY, CHAIR OF THE NEVADA DEMOCRATIC PARTY: There was a small percentage of ballots that were missing a signature.

REPORTER: Are you talking dozens, hundreds, thousands, could you clarify that at all?

MCCURDY: Oh, it's a very small percentage. The number one goal is for us to make sure we preserve the integrity of our election.

GALLAGHER: The Democratic Party says it will be up to the campaigns to tell voters with invalid ballots that they can still come back on Saturday to have their vote counted. Melding the information from the early vote with the people who show up for the caucuses Saturday could be tricky. Because of that, Morrison, who will oversee multiple precincts, isn't sure Saturday will be 100 percent problem free, although he says things are improving, somewhat.

MORRISON: Probably 60 percent chance that there will still be problems, but it was an 80 percent chance yesterday.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

GALLAGHER: You've got to love those odds right now here in Vegas, right, Erin?

Now, look, that volunteer, Christopher Erby (ph), says he just wanted to get his hands on the iPad and play with that calculator tool. He's going to get that wish, Erin, as of today. The Nevada Democrats tell me that they're allowing these volunteers to come in, to use the iPad, become familiar with the calculator, so they are comfortable on Saturday.

The Democrats also tell me that they've allowed the campaigns to see the calculator tool, as well, Erin.

BURNETT: All right. Dianne, thank you.

And next, what to watch for at tonight's Democratic presidential town halls, which begin in just moments.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[19:58:21]

BURNETT: Welcome back to a special edition of OUTFRONT, live from Las Vegas. You are looking at the stage and, oh -- you see Anderson behind me.

Bernie Sanders is just moments away from kicking off our night of town halls with Nevada voters. He'll be joining Anderson in a few moments.

And at 9:00, I'll be joined by the former South Bend mayor, Pete Buttigieg.

And at 10:00 p.m., we'll hear from Senator Amy Klobuchar.

David Chalian is back with me.

All right. So these are three candidates with a lot at stake tonight. You've got now the front-runner in the polls, Bernie Sanders, Pete Buttigieg, who has had two extremely strong performances, and Amy Klobuchar, who's had a surge.

DAVID CHALIAN, CNN POLITICAL DIRECTOR: Yes, I mean, what I am really eager to see, Erin, is how does Bernie Sanders wear the mantle of front-runner tonight? He hasn't -- that's not a position he's been in. And so, I'm wondering to see how he handles that on the stage tonight.

You mentioned earlier, daggers coming his way from some of his opponents. Does he sort of brush those off? And does he give us clues on how he plans to take on Michael Bloomberg on the debate stage tomorrow night, since he's brand-new to the fray.

BURNETT: Right, and that's going to be obviously the big question he's coming in.

Now, there's a lot at stake, of course, for Mayor Buttigieg as well, because he did have two strong finishes, but his polling numbers don't look anything like that here in Nevada or in South Carolina.

CHALIAN: Yes. Well, this is the big test now. We always knew this test was coming for Pete Buttigieg. He obviously over-performed in Iowa and New Hampshire, congrats to him, but he's always had struggles with non-white voters, and Nevada followed by South Carolina are the first two big tests.

And by the way, Amy Klobuchar has a similar test. She also has been struggling with non-white voters. These are really important moments to see if they can take their Iowa and New Hampshire success or energy and actually convert it to the long haul.

BURNETT: And it is do or die for some of these candidates, these Nevada/South Carolina races.

CHALIAN: They will re-shape the entire race, heading into that Super Tuesday contest, where 40 percent of the delegates are going to be awarded.

BURNETT: All right. Well, David Chalian, thank you very much. And thanks very much to all of you for joining us. I think Anderson is ready.

And CNN's Democratic presidential town hall with Bernie Sanders live from Las Vegas starts now.