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THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER

Bernie Sanders Under Fire Over Medical Records; Bloomberg Set For First Democratic Presidential Debate. Aired 4-4:30p ET

Aired February 19, 2020 - 16:00   ET

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


[16:00:01]

BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN HOST: Let's go to Jake.

"THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER" starts right now.

JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: We are finally going to get to hear from Mike Bloomberg without him disclosing that he approved this message.

THE LEAD starts right now.

Attacks over a heart attack. The battle gets ugly at the top of the Democratic race, as Senator Bernie Sanders says you have seen enough of his medical history, while the Bloomberg campaign calls Sanders the Trump of the left.

From off of the stage to primary target. Mayor Bloomberg expected to catch a ton of heat from his 2020 rivals, as the billionaire's treatment of women in the workplace comes under new scrutiny.

Plus, money, power and pardons, the name drops and cash and major players that all led to President Trump letting some powerful criminals off of the hook.

Welcome to THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper.

We begin today with the 2020 lead.

Quote: "an absolute lie." That is what Michael Bloomberg's campaign is calling the rather stunning falsehood lobbed by the Bernie Sanders campaign today. Sanders' national secretary, Briahna Joy Gray, came on CNN today, and in an attempt to push back against those asking for Sanders, who had a heart attack last fall, to release additional medical records, falsely said that Bloomberg had suffered heart attacks in the past.

Bloomberg's campaign says he had coronary stents placed back in 2020 -- I'm sorry -- back in 2000, but has had no heart attacks ever. Gray has since tweeted -- quote -- "I misspoke when I said Bloomberg had a heart attack. Rather, he underwent the same stent procedure as Bernie" -- unquote.

Well, there's a big difference, of course. Sanders had a heart attack. Bloomberg did not. Another big difference, the Sanders campaign spread a falsehood about Bloomberg. And, notably, the Sanders spokeswoman did not apologize. And for the record, this isn't even the first time this week that this spokeswoman went on TV and made a false and incendiary claim against Michael Bloomberg, only to later go on Twitter to say, hey, I misspoke.

Just yesterday, Gray on CNN falsely claimed that there were 64 sexual assault allegations against Mike Bloomberg. Later on Twitter, she also said she misspoke, that they were sexual harassment claims.

But that's not really accurate either. What is true, according to a "Business Insider" investigation, both the company Bloomberg founded, Bloomberg LP, and Bloomberg have faced -- quote -- "nearly 40 employment lawsuits from 65 plaintiffs since 1996. The majority of those alleged discrimination over gender, race and disability status, as well as pregnancy discrimination and wage theft" -- unquote.

Now, none of that's acceptable, and we will have more on actual allegations against Bloomberg later in the show.

But that isn't what the Sanders campaign accused Bloomberg of doing. She said that there were 64 sexual assault allegations against Bloomberg personally. There are not. There are none.

Look, either facts matter, or they do not. Either a campaign pushes out and tolerate smears, or it does not.

We all know where President Trump and his team stand on these issues. They lie and they smear. But is this now what we're supposed to expect from everyone?

As CNN's Ryan Nobles reports, the Bloomberg campaign is calling this whole episode all very Trumpian, and it all sets the stage for a heated debate tonight.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

RYAN NOBLES, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Bernie Sanders is facing new questions over his health. After suffering a heart attack last fall, Sanders pledged to release his medical records before the primary.

In late December, he released three letters from doctors who treated him that included a summary of the senator's health and some test results. A Tuesday night's CNN town hall, Sanders said that's as far as he plans to go.

ANDERSON COOPER, CNN HOST: Just to be clear, you don't plan to release any more records?

SEN. BERNIE SANDERS (I-VT), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I don't. I don't think we will, no.

NOBLES: That after telling CNN this in October, just days after his heart attack. SANDERS: At the appropriate time, all of our medical records public, for you or for anybody else who wants to see them.

NOBLES: A Sanders spokeswoman telling CNN today that additional requests for the Vermont senator's medical records are unfair.

BRIAHNA JOY GRAY, NATIONAL PRESS SECRETARY, BERNIE SANDERS CAMPAIGN: And what you're seeing right now is really reminiscent of some of the kind of smear, kind of skepticism campaigns that have been run against a lot of different candidates in the past.

NOBLES: Then going further by distorting Michael Bloomberg's pass heart issues.

GRAY: It's really telling, given that none of the same concern is being demonstrated for Michael Bloomberg, who's the same age as Bernie Sanders, who has suffered heart attacks in the past.

NOBLES: That's not true. Bloomberg underwent a coronary stent replacement in 2000 for a blocked artery, but did not have a heart attack.

Bloomberg's campaign firing back, calling the statement a -- quote -- "absolute lie" and saying: "Facts matter. This isn't the way we defeat Donald Trump in November."

Sanders' press record later tweeting that she misspoke. But the back- and-forth comes as Bloomberg and Sanders prepare to face off on the debate stage for the first time tonight.

[16:05:08]

Both candidates are 78 and would be the oldest president ever elected to a first term. Bloomberg released a letter from his doctor in December saying he was -- quote -- "in outstanding health" with -- quote -- "no medical concerns present or looming that would prevent him from serving as president of the United States."

And Sanders' doctor's letter says that he is -- quote -- "in good health currently and that engaging vigorously in the rigors of your campaign travel and other scheduled activities without any limitation."

SANDERS: If you think I'm not in good health, come on out with me on the campaign trail. And I will let you introduce me to the three or four rallies a day that we do. How is that?

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

(END VIDEOTAPE)

NOBLES: And, of course, it's not just Democrats being criticized for the lack of transparency as it relates to their health records.

President Trump was criticized during his campaign in 2016 as well. Since he's been president, he has been given exams by White House physicians, but, during the campaign, all he released was a letter from his physician at the time that was filled with superlatives about his health -- Jake.

TAPPER: Yes, I think we all remember that physician.

Ryan Nobles, thanks so much. Appreciate it.

We have two former campaign spokespeople at the table. So I'd like to start.

Karen, you were the senior spokesperson for Hillary Clinton's campaign. I have to say, just as somebody who covers politics, I'm really shocked that to have two days in a row the same spokeswoman for the Sanders campaign -- he's the front-runner, by the way -- making wild incendiary allegation allegations against Mike Bloomberg, and then responding the way they did, especially for a campaign that is constantly attacking Trump for lying.

KAREN FINNEY, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: It is a very significant mistake, in my judgment, for a couple of reasons.

Number one, this is the time where, particularly as a front-runner, particularly as voting has started, and things are getting tighter, you don't have any room for mistakes, right? I mean, Bernie Sanders is trying to be the front-runner, show that he can build a coalition. And it's not just that she misspoke, but, as you said, this were outlandish, outright falsehoods, right?

One of the things I noticed, though, sometimes with the younger spokespeople -- and I don't know this young woman, so I will be clear about that. How we talk online and in social media is not how you talk to reporters, is not how we talk on television.

And sometimes it feels like -- as I was watching her, it felt like, what are you trying to say? And then she just kind of blurted out these falsehoods, and there was a much better way to make the point without just flat-out lying, and now putting Senator Sanders in the position, he's going to have to clean this up himself.

You never want to make such a big mistake that your candidate is the one cleaning it up.

TAPPER: And, Amanda, Bloomberg's campaign manager, Kevin Sheekey, told me about this.

He said -- quote -- "Bernie Sanders is the Trump of the left. I honestly can't tell the difference in their campaigns."

You're a former campaign spokeswoman, most recently I think for Ted Cruz. What do you make of this?

AMANDA CARPENTER, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, listen, it's a factual misstep, but, more importantly, it's a strategic misstep by the campaign.

Bernie Sanders should be -- he's prepared his whole life for this debate. He doesn't -- he shouldn't want to have a debate about Bloomberg's health. He should want to have a debate about people who've tried to buy their way into the political system, like, example number one, and they're picking this ridiculous fight over medical records?

Listen, if you want to question Bernie Sanders' health and bring up the fact that he had a heart attack, go for it, but you better come right on the facts. But when it comes to how Bernie Sanders built this movement that I think we're all still mystified by, it wasn't because he took cheap shots at people.

It's because he talked about the influence of money in politics.

ABBY PHILLIP, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: I do think you make a really important point about how this whole thing really undermines the Sanders campaign.

The Bloomberg campaign is banking on being able to say to voters that a vote for Bernie Sanders is effectively the same as a vote for Donald Trump. And in several ways, this really plays into that hand, the falsehoods, the reluctance to pull back on the falsehoods.

But then also Bernie Sanders himself was the one who said I think everybody should know about my health condition. I think the medical records should be released. He undermines that by walking that back, first of all, having his campaign spokesman walk that back.

And then she likens it to birtherism, which was also a perplexing part of her comments.

(CROSSTALK)

TAPPER: You know what? Let's actually play that. It's from question four, if we could play that sound bite.

Here she is comparing reporters trying to find out the full story, more health records, more medical records, comparing -- seeming to compare it to the racist lie that Barack Obama wasn't born in the U.S.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GRAY: What you're seeing right now is really reminiscent of some of the kind of smear, kind of skepticism campaigns that have been run against a lot of different candidates in the past, questioning where they're from, aspects of their lineage, et cetera, et cetera.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: Every candidate gets asked for their medical records.

And he had a heart attack last fall.

SEUNG MIN KIM, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: There is no comparison here.

I mean, he is running to be the most powerful person in the world, the leader of the free world. All the voters have -- as he said months ago, all the voters deserve full disclosure to his medical records.

[16:10:00]

KIM: So, there are two problems here.

Obviously, he's going back on a pledge that he made. And, also, I mean, we deserve transparency. And we will continue to push for transparency on the health issues from every candidate from 70-year- old -- 78-year-old Bernie Sanders to 38-year-old Pete Buttigieg.

That's critical information that the voters have a right to know.

TAPPER: And I think Buttigieg says he's going to release all his results, including tests and everything.

Let's talk about this now, because Sanders said he would release -- quote -- "comprehensive medical records."

Here he is right after that October heart attack talking to CNN's Sanjay Gupta.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SANDERS: So people do have a right to know about the health of the senator and somebody who's running for president of the United States.

Full, full disclosure. And we will make it at the appropriate time all of our medical records public, for you or for anybody else who wants to see them.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: Now, I asked Sanjay, who I think we all respect as completely apolitical, and also somebody who is fair, about what Sanders has released, which is these three letters from doctors.

And he said -- quote -- "While it's true that Senator Sanders has not released all his medical records, the three letters do provide the relevant medical information about his overall health and important detail about his heart. After a heart attack, the biggest question is the function of the heart, which is described for Senator Sanders is being above average for men his age. He does not appear to have any symptoms that took him to the hospital in the first place. These summarized letters are often and typically used as an important tool of communications between doctors."

So it's not worthless. But he does acknowledge this is not all his medical records.

PHILLIP: It just also doesn't meet the criteria that Sanders himself set out. That's part of the problem here, is that Sanders makes a claim that it's -- he wants to release full information to the public, and he didn't do that.

And, frankly, if he's in good health, just release the records. I don't understand why there would be a reason to not release them if he had -- if he was, as he says, in good health and as his doctors have indicated, in good health.

And the walking back of it is, I think, what is politically damaging to him. It makes it look like he has something to hide and like he's doing what Donald Trump did, which is essentially releasing a letter saying that he's in great health, and then refusing to release anything else, even though he would be the oldest -- if he were to be elected president, the oldest president we have ever had in this country.

TAPPER: All right, everyone, stick around. We got a lot more to talk about.

Joe Biden is road-testing some new lines of attack that may be a gamble in Vegas tonight.

Also ahead, connecting the dots between President Trump and some of the criminals he pardoned. It seems, guess what, money talks.

Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[16:16:20]

TAPPER: In our 2020 lead, we are just a few hours away from what is shaping up to likely be a contentious debate. Here's a look at the lineup in the Democratic presidential hopeful's faceoff in Nevada tonight. And for the first time, this group includes former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg.

Let's discuss.

First of all, let me start with you, Amanda. Joe Biden just previewed the attacks he plans to use against Bloomberg tonight. Take a listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JOE BIDEN (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: He's basically been a Republican his whole life. The fact of the matter is, he didn't endorse Barack or me when we ran. This is a guy talking about using Barack's pictures like, you know, they're good buddies. I'm going to talk about his record.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: I mean, to be fair to Bloomberg, he was a Democrat before he became a Republican before he became an independent before he became a Democrat. But that said, I mean, there are a lot of Democrats, including Elizabeth Warren's first opponent, Scott Brown, whom Bloomberg raised money for.

CARPENTER: Listen, here's what I'm afraid of as a conservative who's afraid that the Democrats are going to nominate a socialist who will be beaten by Donald Trump. Tonight is going to be the Bloomberg show. Meanwhile, Bernie Sanders is up double digits in the poll of polls, and almost every poll that's been taken. He's going to float up there. He might as well write Bloomberg a "thank you" note for making the debate all about him.

It is -- you know, it just rubs me the wrong way. I'm from a small town, watching the guy who is not even on the ballot, buying his way into the race, astroturfing the movement.

TAPPER: Bloomberg is not in the Nevada caucus, yes.

CARPENTER: Yes, hasn't even got a single delegate yet. And now, the debate is all about him. And so, I'm just -- I'm watching this thing happen, and I'm fearing for the worst.

TAPPER: So, Senator Sanders is trying to steal support away from the Biden campaign by saying he's the one that has momentum, and enthusiastic support. Here's a new ad Sanders is running in South Carolina.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I switched from the Biden campaign to the Sanders campaign, because I want to see the kind of lines around the building that we saw in 2008. I want to see people motivated to get out and vote for a candidate that they believe in.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: Again, Sanders with Obama. By the way, just another -- Bloomberg didn't endorse Obama in 2008. Sanders was talking about needing to primary Obama in 2012. But in any case, the electability argument being made by Sanders.

KIM: Sanders and Obama, they had a little bit of a prickly relationship because of a lot of their policy disagreements. But he is attacking Biden at his -- basically his whole argument for running is his electability issue. And while in head to head matchup with Trump, Biden still does do nationally better against Trump than any other candidates.

If your premise is on electability, then you have to start winning some contests, particularly within your own primary. And if you're not doing that and you're coming in fourth and you're coming in fifth, you're sending that signal that you're not generating enthusiasm within your own party. And you see Sanders capitalizing on that.

Nevada is going to be important for Biden, but South Carolina critically is going to be very, very crucial for him.

FINNEY: OK. First of all, I think we have to step back from the paranoia about Bernie Sanders being the Democratic nominee. We've had two contests.

TAPPER: He's the front-runner.

FINNEY: OK, we got two contests. It's, you know, still very, very, very early. And I -- you know, you've heard me say this, go back to 2016, go back to 2008, we've got plenty of time. Voters will want to have their say. I actually think, potentially, tonight will be excellent for Joe

Biden, because the opportunity for Michael Bloomberg to say something crazy, sort of like old man out of touch crazy --

CARPENTER: For a lot of men there on stage.

FINNEY: True, but more so even than sometimes Joe has said. I mean, he's never said let's throw black people up against the wall. I -- that may not be the exact quote.

TAPPER: He said minority.

FINNEY: Minority, OK. Black minority.

TAPPER: That's right. It's not a defense.

FINNEY: You get the point.

TAPPER: It's not a defense, right.

FINNEY: So he is going to be on defense. And this is the beginning of the vetting process of Michael Bloomberg. He to this point has been able to control his message, when he's had an interview that didn't go well. They'd take -- you don't see or hear from him again until he's got a teleprompter in front of him.

Now, he's going to have to defend his record in real time. And I think all the other candidates have to decide, what's their strategy? You know, when you prep for a debate, like this, it's very different, right, because he's brand new. So, he's also trying to start from the beginning in some ways, whereas these guys have been debating each other for a while.

TAPPER: And, Abby, we should point also, while Sanders, I've seen him doing well in the polls in Nevada, nobody really knows how to poll a caucus it seems, Sanders has run into issues with one of the largest unions in Nevada after it warned all of its members that his Medicare- for-All plan would get rid of their union health care. That union has not endorsed the candidate.

We saw today I think Klobuchar, Warren, Biden, Buttigieg, visiting some of those very some union members on the picket line today. If you were advising -- I mean, I know it's not your thing --

(LAUGHTER)

TAPPER: -- but if you were advising a candidate, a non-Sanders candidate, this might be an area where you could really go after him just to try to win over those union members.

PHILLIP: I mean, it's a huge -- first of all, it's a huge problem for Bernie Sanders. But I mean, I think you've already seen the other candidates trying to take advantage of this. Early on, the very first day of campaigning in Nevada after New Hampshire, you saw these candidates saying basically, or specifically Pete Buttigieg and Amy Klobuchar, I'm not for Medicare-for-All, I'm not for taking away these plans that you guys have negotiated. And, you know, Bernie Sanders is in a tough position here where not only did the unions say that his Medicare-for-All would take away their health care plan, but then later on, they accused his own supporters of attacking union leadership.

This is a -- this is a minority led organization. It's led by women of color. So it's a real problem for him. And if you were one of those candidates on that stage who hit both of the issues, health care and the issue of the tone of the Sanders' campaign, which flared up.

TAPPER: Yes, civility, certainly.

Everyone, stick around. We got a lot more to talk about.

Coming up next, why Bloomberg's past comments about women may be his toughest opponent on the debate stage this evening. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[16:27:08]

TAPPER: In our 2020 lead, as Michael Bloomberg prepares to take the debate stage for the first time tonight, he's preparing for questions about his past, no doubt, specifically, vulgar allegations of sexism and misogyny. Details from former Bloomberg LLP employees painting an unsavory image of the former New York City mayor, as laid out in multiple lawsuits.

CNN's MJ Lee joins me now from Las Vegas, where the debate will be.

What exactly are former employees accusing him of?

MJ LEE, CNN POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Jake, CNN examined two lawsuits dating back to the 1990s, two lawsuits that have drawn scrutiny from other media outlets as well. And the first lawsuit was brought forth by a woman named Sekiko Garrison, a former Bloomberg LP employee, who described a boys' club-like environment at the company. She said that women were encouraged to have sex appeal and that women who were married and had children would lose out on career opportunities.

Now, according to the complaint, this woman says that when she found out that she was pregnant and told Michael Bloomberg, that he said "kill it," and muttered "great, number 16!", suggesting to the plaintiff his unhappiness that 16 women in the company had maternity- related status.

Now, there were other crude and crass remarks that were attributed to Michael Bloomberg as a part of this complaint and lawsuit. And, importantly, the campaign says that Bloomberg did not say anything that is mentioned in this lawsuit. So that's the important pushback from the campaign.

And this second lawsuit that CNN looked at was also brought forth by a former female Bloomberg LP employee who actually accused a Bloomberg executive at the time of rape. So, very serious allegation and, according to the village boys, which took a look Bloomberg's deposition as a part of that lawsuit, Bloomberg allegedly said that he would only believe a rape charge if there was an unimpeachable third party witness.

Now, this is what the campaign spokesman told CNN in reaction to that, he said it was a contentious deposition and this is not what Mike believes. So, Jake, this is just one of many examples of things that Michael Bloomberg could be asked about certainly tonight and in the weeks to come as his campaign continues.

TAPPER: MJ, you spoke with a former Bloomberg employee about these lawsuits and the culture at Bloomberg LP. What did the employee say?

LEE: We did. According to this person, a former senior Bloomberg LP employee, they say that what they saw at the company themselves is reflected in the two lawsuits that we were just talking about, this sort of culture of sexism and misogyny and coming from Bloomberg himself.

This is a part of what they told us. They said: When you're a woman who worked at Bloomberg, you had to look beautiful. You had to be gorgeous. If you were overweight, they would call you horrible names. It's mean stuff.

Now, the Bloomberg campaign's overall pushback to these kinds of allegations have been to point out that Michael Bloomberg himself does not condone this kind of behavior.

[16:30:00]