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New National Poll Shows Sanders With Big Lead Ahead Of Debate & Nevada Caucuses; Trump Issues Pardons For White-Collar Criminals Despite Saying He Wants To End Corruption; Soon, Ex-Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich's Family To Hold A Presser; CNN Spoke To Princess Cruises President As Passengers Leave Quarantined Cruise Ship; China Revokes Credentials of Three "Wall Street Journal" Reporters. Aired 11:30a-12p ET

Aired February 19, 2020 - 11:30   ET




KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: The candidates are getting ready to hit the debate stage and face off for final time before the Nevada voters have their say this weekend.

And Bernie Sanders is sitting on top. According to a new national poll from "Washington Post/ABC News, the Vermont Senator has a double-digit lead over Joe Biden, who was long-seen as the frontrunner. Sanders with 32 percent while Biden, Bloomberg and Warren are in a statistical tie for second place because of the margin of error.

Let's dive into the trends, as my friend, Harry Enten, likes to discuss so much. He's is here.

I'm laying out one poll --


BOLDUAN: -- as I just mentioned it. What are you looking at in terms of where people are trending right now?

ENTEN: I think it's important to average the polls. I do this. I have the pre-Iowa numbers and now numbers.

What you see clearly is Bernie Sanders is really picking up ground. He's up five points before Iowa. Meanwhile, Joe Biden falling through the floor. He was at 27 percent. Now at 17. Bloomberg is also up 9 percent to 16 percent.

But really, I think the big picture here really is Mr. Sanders. Because he's up and has a 10-point lead on the rest of the field.

BOLDUAN: Ten-point lead on the rest of the field at this moment, and it's been trending, trending in that direction.

ENTEN: Trending in his direction.

BOLDUAN: Can he -- are there -- where are you looking for signs of can he hold the momentum?

ENTEN: Yes. There's all this talk. There's Bernie Sanders' ceiling. He's going to get stuck. Well, I'll tell you, he hasn't gotten stuck yet. I'm not sure he's going to get stuck.

Yes, it's true, in Iowa and New Hampshire he didn't really win that many of the late deciders. But look at this. Take a look at the national --

BOLDUAN: He didn't really --


ENTEN: He didn't. he didn't really. But take a look at this in the national polling. The first, plus the second choice. This is the average in most recent polls. He's at 41 percent among the first, plus the second choice.

It gives you an understanding that, although he's at 27 percent, when you add the second choice, he jumps up to 41 percent. There are a lot of voters who aren't voting for him yet who are considering them as their second choice.

BOLDUAN: Again, bust through that ceiling argument, as you were saying.

So the race to 9,991. Did I get that right? What does it mean to his delegate pickup or his potential?

ENTEN: I think this is rather important. If you look for the next few states, there's a lot of polls taken. There's a 15 percent threshold to get statewide delegates or delegates on the congressional district level, the state Senate level if you're in Texas. And look at the states -- Arkansas, California, Georgia, Maine, Massachusetts, Nevada, New Jersey.

BOLDUAN: Without confusing people, there's a lot --

ENTEN: A lot, a lot, a lot,

BOLDUAN: -- of Super Tuesday states. South Carolina after Nevada.

ENTEN: Correct. He's hitting the 15 percent threshold in a lot of states. That means he's going to pick up delegates in all of them. You can't say the same thing about the other candidates.


BOLDUAN: Before we jump ahead to these, what does it me? How is he looking in Nevada? If he has a double-digit lead nationally, he's trending north, what does it look like in this important state?

ENTEN: Right. We don't have a lot of polls here. Based upon the poll and the betting markets, Bernie Sanders is the clear favorite. About a 14 to 20 shot, which is about 70 percent, for math wizards at home. That's trending upward in the last week. To me, it's pretty clear right now that Bernie Sanders is not just the

favorite nationally but is the favorite in the next contest. And when you have this momentum effects in primaries, it will only help to build his national lead.

BOLDUAN: All right, Harry, good to see you.

ENTEN: Shalom, be well.

BOLDUAN: To you as well, my dear. Thank you so much.

A programming note to all of you. Join CNN tomorrow as we continue our special town halls ahead of the Nevada caucus. Joe Biden, Elizabeth Warren live from Las Vegas tomorrow. That's starting at 8 p.m. Eastern.

Still ahead for us at this moment, President Trump announces a blitz of pardons and clemencies. He's using a power unique to his office. But is he also sending a message?

We'll be right back.



BOLDUAN: Yesterday, President Trump went on a pardoning spree, granting clemency to 11 white-collar convicted criminals. Flexing his presidential powers a further indication of a newly emboldened president.

Of the 11 people who receive clemency, most are well-connected offenders with personal ties to the president.

So what can you learn from that list?

CNN's Senior Political Analyst, John Avlon, is here with more -- John?


All right, do you remember when Republicans said that Donald Trump really cared about corruption?


UNIDENTIFIED LAWMAKER: Yes, I do think he's concerned about corruption.

UNIDENTIFIED LAWMAKER: There's a corruption issue there. And, of course, the president homed in on that.

UNIDENTIFIED LAWMAKER: The president raised the issue of corruption.

UNIDENTIFIED LAWMAKER: He's talked about corruption all over the world.


AVLON: So that was fun. And also complete nonsense. Because the president just used his pardoning power to commute the sentence of former Illinois governor, Democrat Rod Blagojevich, who was convicted of trying to sell Barack Obama's Senate seat.


ROD BLAGOJEVICH (D), FORMER ILLINOIS GOVERNOR (voice-over): I got this thing and it's (EXPLETIVE DELETED) golden. And I'm not giving it up for (EXPLETIVE DELETED) nothing.


AVLON: Trump has suggested that call was nothing out of the ordinary for politicians.

But Blago was charged with variety of public corruption crimes, including withholding $8 million in state funds to a children's hospital in hopes of getting a $50,000 campaign contribution.

Blago was impeachment before being sentenced to 14 years in prison.

GOP lawmakers warned Trump not to do this. The Illinois House Republican leader said this yesterday.


REP. JIM DURKIN (R-IL): I saw a governor who was rogue on steroids. He was a person that was not -- he didn't care about the state of Illinois He cared about his own ambition.

Why should he get special treatment? I think it's wrong. It sends a bad message to people in this country.


AVLON: But, hey, he was a contestant on "The Apprentice" and his wife appeared on FOX asking for a pardon, which is apparently how things are done in the Trump era.

After all, the same day, Trump pardoned former New York City police commissioner and frequent FOX News guest, Bernie Kerik, who was sentenced in a corruption case for tax fraud and lying on White House forms.

As well as the top procurement officer for Bush '43, David Suffegi (ph), who was convicted of obstruction of justice and perjury in the Jack Abramoff corruption scandal.

And former 49ers owner, Eddie Bartolo Jr, who failed to report a felony after paying $400,000 to the Louisiana governor for a river boat gambling license.

To this list could be added past pardons of political allies like Dinesh D'Souza and Sheriff Joe Arpaio. And it's notable that most of Trump's grants of clemency have gone to

well-connected offenders who have not filed petitions with the Pardons Office or did not meet its requirements, according to the analysis by the "Washington Post."

So to recap, the crimes that Trump pardoned included corruption, obstruction of justice, perjury, tax fraud, wire fraud and bribery. These are many of the same offenses Trump associates are accused of committing.

And not for nothing, President Trump has preemptively declared an absolute right to pardon himself.

But, hey, we're going to have to take Trump at his word that he has not even thought about pardoning Roger Stone.

It's perhaps a good time to remind us, the founding father George Mason's concern that, "A president may frequently pardon crimes which were advised by himself." It may happen, in some future day, he said, that he'll establish a monarchy and destroy the republic.

While the Federal Judges Association is calling an emergency meeting to talk discuss interventions in politically sensitive cases, including Roger Stone.

Make no mistake, we are watching the president abuse his pardoning powers and laying the groundwork for the pardoning of more political cronies all while defining deviancy down. This is the opposite of draining the swamp. It's simply restocking it.

And that's your "REALITY CHECK."

BOLDUAN: Every president, John, has had controversial pardons. Obama, Clinton, you can go back and look at them. But to your point of the opposite about draining the swamp, I'm at the place where I'm not sure anyone -- do they care about draining the swamp anymore? Does anyone?

AVLON: I think you can say Donald Trump never really did. But, yes, corruption is traditionally something that undermines administrations that have flirted with it too much. This is normalizing corruption, Kate. This is really beyond hypocrisy. This is dangerous stuff.


And folks have got to call him on it, particularly people from his own party because they're being made fools of for buying into the lie that he cared about corruption in the first place.

BOLDUAN: Stand by to stand by on that one.


BOLDUAN: Thanks, John.

Soon, we are going to hear from the family of one of the most prominent names the president cleared yesterday, former Illinois Governor Blagojevich. Released from federal prison last night after serving eight of his 14-year sentence. In his home state, his clemency is being met by sharp backlash from lawmakers on both sides of the aisle.

CNN's Omar Jimenez is outside his home in Illinois where the family is getting ready to speak very soon.

Omar, what are you hearing there?

OMAR JIMENEZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Kate, this press conference gets going in about 15 minutes or so where we'll likely hear from the former Illinois governor, Rod Blagojevich, himself standing alongside his family and representatives as well.

Now, as you can see, it is very crowded. The family is very happy that Rod is home. They are all inside right now on a cold Chicago day.

When Rod Blagojevich first got to his home just after midnight yesterday, he was greeted by a mob of reporters, one, but also supporters who are congratulating him as he made his way into that front door as well.

Outside the Blagojevich orbit, however, this commutation by the president wasn't met with supportive -- in supportive ways.

Blagojevich -- this coming from the Illinois Republicans here, congressional Republicans: "Blagojevich is the face of public corruption in Illinois. And not once has he shown any remorse for his clear and documented record of egregious crimes."

Though, that also comes as some have said, from the beginning, "The 14-year sentence of Blagojevich, was given was too excessive" -- Kate?

BOLDUAN: Omar, thank you very much.

Coming up for us, new concerns over the coronavirus as passengers aboard the "Diamond Princess" cruise ship are finally ending their quarantine. Did the cruise line do enough to contain the virus? CNN speaks to the CEO of the cruise line next.



BOLDUAN: You may be able to count this as rare good news when it comes to the coronavirus. Passengers are finally able to get off the "Diamond Princess" cruise ship parked off the coast of Japan.

And that's where we find CNN's Matt Rivers.

Matt, you talked to the CEO of the cruise line amidst this news. What did she tell you?

MATT RIVERS, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: The company is in a difficult position at the moment, especially when you consider that on the same day that some 800 passengers got off this ship, 79 additional passengers tested positive for this virus.

That comes at the same time the Centers for Disease Control in the U.S. is saying, even though people were on board that ship in quarantine, they still feel people had a risk of catching the virus.

There's a lot of concern about passengers on board the ship and among ordinary people in Japan.

So we asked the president of Princess Cruise Lines about some of those worries.


JAN SWARTZ, PRESIDENT, PRINCESS CRUISE LINES: They had tested negative for corona virus. They had a health check right before they got off. They had a thermal screening. And the Japanese Ministry of Health issued them a certificate saying they tested negative for coronavirus. So I would defer those types of questions to the Japanese Ministry of Health, who have been in charge.


RIVERS: Princess Cruise Lines is trying to keep their passengers comfortable but, at the same time, they have to follow what the Japanese want them to do there. They're in Japanese waters and they have to follow the laws, Kate.

So they're between a rock and hard place as this situation keeps going.

BOLDUAN: Not a great moment for them.

Matt, thank you very much.

Coming up for us, China expels three "Wall Street Journal" reporters. Why? And what does it mean for the other journalists in the country?



BOLDUAN: China now cracking down on Western journalists in a way we haven't seen in decades. The Chinese government revoked the press credentials with three journalists with the "Wall Street Journal." It's the largest expulsion of overseas media since 1989, the year of the Tiananmen massacre.

CNN's Chief Media Correspondent, host of "RELIABLE SOURCES," Brian Stelter is here with more on this.

Brian, what's the backstory of these three journalists?

BRIAN STELTER, CNN CHIEF MEDIA CORRESPONDENT & CNN HOST, "RELIABLE SOURCES": A couple of layers. These journals have been working in China for "The Journal." They are outstanding reporters.

One is in Wuhan right now exposing herself to the crisis, trying to cover the outbreak.

They've been told by the Chinese government they have to leave the country. And as you said, this is unprecedented action, dating back decades, really back to the 1980s.

There's a couple of things going on. Number one, the State Department in the U.S. said yesterday Chinese media in the United States are now going to be considered foreign embassies. This is a pretty dramatic action by the State Department to put pressure on China.

You have to wonder if the Chinese government is retaliating by kicking these three "Wall Street Journal" reporters out.

The official reasoning from the Chinse government is that they're offended by a "Wall Street Journal" opinion piece, titled, "The Old Sick Man," referring to China. And that has historic connotations. But that was an opinion piece completely separate from the newsroom. And the "Wall Street Journal" newsroom is outraged by this action.

BOLDUAN: What is -- this is a scary sign. What is "The Journal" saying?

STELTER: It is troubling. It makes you wonder if they're trying to clamp down on international coverage of the coronavirus outbreak.

We have a brand-new memo from the "Wall Street Journal." Here's partly what it says. It says, "Let no one doubt "The Journal" remains fully committed to covering China, with the highest standards of news reporting. We will continue to write about China without fear or favor."

That's a new memo from the editor of "The Journal." They are urging the Chinses government to reverse this action.

And others news outlets are coming to "The Journal's" defense because there's a concern this could be a kind of backsliding, like you start to see journalists being expelled from China and that it could get worse.

But right now, these three "Journal" reporters being told they have to leave.


BOLDUAN: Without repercussions, there's nothing to stop them.


BOLDUAN: Committed to protect journalists. Putting out a statement saying, "This expulsion makes the country appear less like a confident rising power" --


BOLDUAN: -- "than thin-skinned bully." It is good to see you Brian. Thanks for being on. I really appreciate it. STELTER: Thanks.

BOLDUAN: Thanks so much for joining me. "INSIDE POLITICS" with John King starts right now.