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ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT

Bloomberg, Sanders Clash Going Into Ex-Mayor's First Debate As Sanders Takes Commanding Lead In CNN Poll Of Polls; Bloomberg Goes Into His First Debate As Allegations Of Past Misogynistic And Sexist Remarks Loom Over Campaign; Bloomberg About To Debate For First Time In 11 Years As Dem Rivals Slam Him For Trying To "Buy" Election; Trump Names Loyalist Richard Grenell As Acting DNI Chief. Aired 7-8p ET

Aired February 19, 2020 - 19:00   ET

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


WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: Thanks very much for watching. "ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.

ERIN BURNETT, CNN HOST: OUTFRONT next, the 2020 Democrats about to face off at tonight's debate. New polls showing Bernie Sanders well ahead of the pack. What is his strategy tonight? Jane Sanders, his wife, is OUTFRONT.

Plus, Mike Bloomberg gearing up to make his debate debut. Is he prepared for the onslaught of attacks? His campaign manager is OUTFRONT.

And President Trump tapping the loyalist to be the Acting Director of National Intelligence. The move not sitting well with some who are inside Trump's administration.

Let's go OUTFRONT.

And good evening. I'm Erin Burnett. Welcome to a special edition of OUTFRONT.

We are live from Las Vegas tonight. Where in just over an hour the 2020 candidates will take the stage for what could be the most contentious face off to date.

Bernie Sanders, who is the clear frontrunner, heading into tonight already fixing for a fight with the newcomer, Michael Bloomberg. As for Bloomberg, tonight is a defining moment for his campaign. It matters a lot. It is his debut on the debate stage.

Up until now, he has used his fortune to blanket the airwaves with hundreds of millions of dollars in ads. He did not even compete in the first four contests including Nevada and there are now a lot of questions about his record that he will answer.

Jeff Zeleny is OUTFRONT live in Las Vegas for us. And Jeff, Bloomberg is sure to be a big target tonight.

JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORREPONDENT: Erin, there's no question that he is and until now he has been campaigning in a vacuum quite literally on his terms across the country using this fortunate of nearly half million dollars in television advertising. All of that ends tonight as he leaves his entourage behind and steps onto that debate stage.

All of his Democratic rivals say one thing is clear, he needs to be vetted.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ZELENY(voice over): Bernie Sanders and Michael Bloomberg on a collision course tonight in Las Vegas.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. BERNIE SANDERS (D-VT), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Mr. Bloomberg has every right in the world to run for president, but I don't think he has the right to buy the selection.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ZELENY(voice over): It may be the ninth Democratic presidential debate, but it's a whole new political world. As Bloomberg makes his debut on the stage, Sanders is now the clear frontrunner in the primary.

Tonight, a new CNN poll of polls show Sanders with a commanding lead in the race at 28 percent, overtaking Joe Biden as the longtime Democratic leader. Now Biden, Bloomberg and the rest of the field are trailing behind.

Ordinarily, that would put Sanders in the direct line of fire.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. AMY KLOBUCHAR (D-MN), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: And yes, I think you should show how you're going to pay for things, Bernie.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ZELENY(voice over): But this race is no ordinary one. And Democratic rivals are racing to confront Bloomberg, who's using his vast personal fortune to bypass a close up look from voters in the first four contests in hopes of raking in delegates in big state starting on Super Tuesday.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BURNETT: Do you think Michael Bloomberg is trying to buy the Democratic nomination for president?

PETE BUTTIGIEG (D) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Yes. Yes. I mean, what else you call it?

KLOBUCHAR: I don't think that when people look at Donald Trump, they automatically say, can we get someone richer, I just don't think that's what they say.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ZELENY(voice over): Before the debate, Biden welcoming Bloomberg to the stage saying, "We have a lot to catch up on about Barack Obama's record." Bloomberg has risen to the fields' top tier by spending more than $400 million in television and digital advertising, presenting himself as a partner of Obama's in the White House.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Mayor Bloomberg and President Obama work together ...

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ZELENY(voice over): It's been 11 years since Bloomberg was on a debate stage, then running for a third term as Mayor of New York. Tonight, the lights are far brighter on the Las Vegas strip.

For his part, Sanders also facing questions over his decision not to release his full medical records, despite suffering a heart attack last year.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SANDERS: I think we have released a detailed report and I'm comfortable with what we have done.

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

SANDERS: I don't. I don't think we will, no.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ZELENY(voice over): The question of health prompted an unusual back and forth between aides to Sanders and Bloomberg, both of whom 78. On CNN's NEW DAY, a Sanders spokeswoman distorted Bloomberg's health record, suggesting he had a heart attack. She later said she misspoke.

Twenty years ago, Bloomberg did have a stent placed for a blocked artery, not a heart attack. His campaign manager blasted the claim as an absolute lie.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ZELENY: On any other debate night, Erin, Bernie Sanders would be front and center and that all of the targets would be on his back. But this is no ordinary debate night. These Democratic rivals are trying to keep Bloomberg from rising in the polls.

Now, I'm told he will be standing next to Elizabeth Warren at the end of the stage. So the dynamic here will be so important for this two- hour debate. He's been on the ground here since last night practicing with aides and advisors.

I am told that they have been throwing out all of these attacks at him to see how he responds. But, of course, until he gets on that debate stage, standing all alone, it's anyone's guess, Erin.

BURNETT: It's true. It's true until you're actually there in that moment. All right. Thank you very much, Jeff Zeleny.

And OUTFRONT now, Jane Sanders who, of course, is married to Bernie Sanders.

[19:05:02]

You've been out on the trail every single place. So this is the first debate where, I mean, Bernie Sanders is undeniably the frontrunner and I mean, undeniably. We're talking double digits above anyone else. What is his mindset right now?

JANE SANDERS, WIFE OF PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE BERNIE SANDERS: It's the same as it's always been. It's basically he wants to talk about the issues that affect the working class of America and he just doesn't think about whether he's a frontrunner or behind. He tries to be a champion for the people.

BURNETT: So it is about one year. It is exactly one year since, I'm sure you'll remember. One year since Bernie Sanders said he was going to be running for president.

J SANDERS: Yes.

BURNETT: So the polls though - and during that time, Joe Biden has been the frontrunner in every national poll, pretty much.

J SANDERS: Yes.

BURNETT: OK. But just the past week, you go you go all of a sudden he's leapfrogging everybody. We just showed, what, 28 percent, the next closest is 16 or 15. Specifically Joe Biden, well ahead of Joe Biden. Why do you think that is, Jane?

J SANDERS: Well, I think that what happened was at the beginning of this campaign, I think people thought back to 2016 and thought, well, those ideas weren't accessible. They weren't realistic.

And so then they watched each candidate, every candidate that seemed to be rising to the top and getting all of the attention, the attention, talking about the same issues that Bernie was talking about, whether it's universal health care or Medicare for All or free college tuition at public colleges and universities or the $15 minimum wage.

And I think they started to realize, wait a minute, maybe those ideas weren't seen as realistic in 2016, but they are driving the conversation now in 2020.

BURNETT: Well, that's true. Yes.

J SANDERS: And so then they began to say, wait, we need to give Bernie another look. And I think you've seen he climbed very steadily as more and more people got to know him. He did town meeting after town meeting after town meeting. As you know, he has the most aggressive schedule of any of the candidates.

So he's just working hard and winning votes. You earn them one by one.

BURNETT: So he has been keeping this aggressive schedule, of course, even after he had his heart attack. And I remember that day when you were standing outside your home, a few days afterwards when he had come home and he said, well, maybe the nature of his campaign would change.

And there were a lot of people who would have thought Bernie Sanders wouldn't be in this campaign right now.

J SANDERS: Yes. Yes.

BURNETT: But he's the frontrunner, so this exchange between him and Anderson Cooper last night is getting a lot of attention here. Here it is, Jane.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SANDERS: I think we have released a detailed report and I'm comfortable with what we have done.

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

SANDERS: I don't. I don't think we will, no.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BURNETT: Now, when I've interviewed your husband, he's been very clear. He thinks questions about his age and about his health are fair, right?

J SANDERS: Yes, of course.

BURNETT: He's not trying to say they're not fair questions.

J SANDERS: Of course.

BURNETT: Do you think voters deserve more information?

J SANDERS: I think they've got all the information. Sanjay Gupta just put out a statement on CNN saying that the all of the three doctors letters, he didn't just have one, he had one cardiologist, one rehab cardiologist and the attending physician of the United States Congress who's been his doctor for 29 years. And he told them the entire health history of Bernie, which is very small, because he's always been healthy. He's an athlete.

And we also put out after he had his heart attack, the very specific about what happened. So there's nothing new to be said and we're really glad that Dr. Gupta, who knows about these things said, yes, those letters are all the relevant information.

BURNETT: So today, President Trump spoke to a group of supporters at his hotel in Las Vegas. He comes usually to the state where the Democrats are having their debate to do his rallies. He brought up your husband as he has been doing a lot lately and here is what he said.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: But right now he's got pretty good lead, but it looks like the DNC is going to do the same thing as they did last time. So we'll see if that happens or not. It's going to be a lot of anchor.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

J SANDERS: I think what he's trying to do is so division, just like he does in the country. What he wants to do is start conflict. So he sounds like he's really taking Bernie's side against the big bad DNC.

We're fine. The DNC and Bernie are fine.

BURNETT: So when the President is trying to imply things are rigged and they're going to steal it again from you, Bernie. These are the way he speaks. You don't buy into that. You won't encourage that.

J SANDERS: No. We will trust and verify. We'll monitor. And I think in Iowa, we're having the re-canvassing that we did and he won the popular vote in Iowa, he won the entire primary in New Hampshire and we expect to do well in Nevada and in South Carolina, and the DNC is being the DNC hosting the primaries.

BURNETT: So there's no tension right now between team Sanders and DNC.

J SANDERS: No.

BURNETT: All right. So we were watching the Jeff Zeleny piece. We were sitting here together. Viewers, you were watching it.

[19:10:00]

A spokeswoman for your husband's campaign appeared in it, Briahna Joy Gray, and she said she misspoke ...

J SANDERS: Yes.

BURNETT: ... when she said that Bloomberg had a heart attack. And just to be clear, in fact, she did not have a heart attack. But it is the second time in two days that she has said she misspoke when it comes to Michael Bloomberg. Are you concerned that these statements which are quite damaging to another candidate are hurtful to your campaign as well?

J SANDERS: Well, we certainly don't like any attacks on other candidates from our campaign. I think she misspoke. She had the wrong information. She apologized right away. I mean, what more can we do? Everybody makes mistakes.

BURNETT: So what is your advice to your husband tonight? You're out here with me, what does he do right before the debate?

J SANDERS: Be himself. Let the people know what he stands for as, I think, they already do. I think that's why he's at the top of the polls that he is seen as somebody who's consistent and somebody they can trust. They know that he has always and will always stand up for the working families of America and that he's the candidate that can beat Trump.

Demonstrate that, show who he is and I think he'll do fine.

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

J SANDERS: Thank you.

BURNETT: Good to see you. Jane Sanders.

And next, Mike Bloomberg is about to face an onslaught of attacks over his controversial comments and his campaign spending. So how is he preparing? Is he ready? Well, his campaign manager is my guest.

Plus, Bernie Sanders campaign claims there are serious cracks in Joe Biden's South Carolina firewall.

(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.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BURNETT: And breaking news this hour, Trump loyalist with a lack of intelligence experience has been tapped for the crucial job of Intelligence Chief for the United States. Can he even be confirmed?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[19:15:30]

BURNETT: Tonight, a major test for one of the Democratic presidential candidates, former New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg will be on the debate stage for the first time in this campaign. Which means the first opportunity for his fellow candidates to confront him directly and they are just thrilled about that. That is what they want to do.

And there will be questions on a variety of issues, perhaps from stop- and-frisk to allegations of misogynistic comments from his past. M.J. Lee has been digging on that story for CNN.

And M.J., what is Bloomberg accused of saying?

M.J. LEE, CNN NATIONAL POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Erin, CNN examined two lawsuits dating back to the 1990s. These are lawsuits that other media outlets have scrutinized as well. The first one was leveled by a woman named Sekiko Garrison, a former Bloomberg, L.P. employee. She described a boys club-like atmosphere at the company. She said

that women there were encouraged to have sex appeal and that women who were married or had children would lose out on career opportunities.

And in the complaint, she says that when she found out she was pregnant, she informed Michael Bloomberg and his response was to say kill it. And that he also muttered, "Great. Number 16. Suggesting to plaintiff," this is Garrison, "his unhappiness that 16 women in the company had maternity related status." There were other crude remarks that were detailed in this lawsuit and the Bloomberg campaign says that Bloomberg has never said any of those things that are detailed in this particular lawsuit.

And the second lawsuit that we examined also comes from a former female Bloomberg, L.P. employee who actually accused a Bloomberg executive at the time of rape, so a very serious allegation. And according to The Village Voice, which looked at Michael Bloomberg's deposition as a part of that lawsuit, Michael Bloomberg said that he would only believe a rape allegation if there is an unimpeachable third party witness.

This is what his spokesperson Stu Loeser said about that. Said, "It was a contentious deposition and this is not what Mike believes." Erin.

BURNETT: So M.J., you also had a chance to speak to a former Bloomberg employee about these lawsuits on the culture at the company. Obviously, it's one person, but what did they tell you?

LEE: This person said that they saw and experienced the kinds of sexism that are described in these two lawsuits that we just talked about. 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 means stuff."

Now, the Bloomberg campaign's overall pushback on these kinds of allegations has been to say that Michael Bloomberg himself does not condone this kind of behavior. They gave us a statement from campaign Chairwoman Patti Harris.

Part of that reads, "In any large organization, there are going to be complaints - but Mike has never tolerated any kind of discrimination or harassment, and he's created cultures that are all about equality and inclusion. Anyone who works hard and performs well is going to be rewarded, regardless of gender, race, sexual orientation or anything else." Erin.

BURNETT: All right. Thank you very much, M.J.. And I want to go OUTFRONT now to Michael Bloomberg's Campaign Manager Kevin Sheekey. As you are getting ready for the debate tonight, Kevin, look, this is going to be one of many issues that that could come up, that your rivals are focusing on.

Democrats, of course, have been running against a president that they have criticized as misogynistic, sexist and, of course, much worse in his case. Are you concerned at all about the damage of the allegations that M.J. is Talking about might due to Bloomberg candidacy?

KEVIN SHEEKEY, MICHAEL BLOOMBERG CAMPAIGN MANAGER: Well, I worry about anything that people say when it's untrue. I've worked at Bloomberg since 1997 and Bloomberg is one of the most inclusive and, quite frankly, the best workplace I've ever worked in. And I know lots of female colleagues who feel exactly the same way.

What CNN is trying to push out today as news is something that happened when Mayor Pete was in high school 30 years ago, that has been well-covered in the New York City press. That Village Voice article you reference is so old that the reporter that wrote it has passed away and not at a young age.

And so listen, I think people will go back, they will try to find things that are untrue, and they'll try to make news when they're not.

Mike Bloomberg has an incredible record. He's created a business that's hired hundreds of thousands of people all over this country and all over this world. He's created an open place where people are respected and where people are hired in a company that creates some of the best jobs and some of the best executives in New York many of which are women.

BURNETT: Yes.

SHEEKEY: And so, yes, it concerns me when people say things that are not true.

[19:20:01]

BURNETT: So the campaign though - Kevin, of course, you've acknowledged that he has made comments that you say do not align with his values. That's been the response, at least, that's Stu Loeser put out, formally. So I guess the question is, is he ready to respond to that tonight? Is he going to say that he is sorry for things that he may have said or is he going to be more aggressive in denying it?

SHEEKEY: What Mike Bloomberg is going to talk about is who's the best candidate to ultimately face against this president, who can build the strongest possible campaign, who has the strongest possible record.

Mike Bloomberg is on the stage tonight with a lot of people who have sat in committee hearings, some don't have much government experience at all. Mike was the mayor of the largest and most diverse city in New York City. He brought it back from 9/11. He took over control of the schools. He created 400,000 jobs. He ran tough elections in races that he wasn't supposed to win.

He's quite frankly, one of the most successful businessmen and one of the most successful politicians in this country. And he's probably the only person, ultimately, who can beat Donald Trump in November. So Mike is going to talk about his record. He's going to talk about what is an incredible progressive record on the issue of guns, on the issue of environment and other issues tonight in a way that maybe a lot of Americans have not heard yet, but certainly one that I think that they will consider. BURNETT: So one other thing that's going to happen tonight and you're

ready for this, is that they're going to be going after him on a variety of things. One of them is going to be the money he's been spending and we've been interviewing various candidates over the past few days, Kevin, and they are all telling us pretty much this. Here they are.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BURNETT: Do you think Michael Bloomberg is trying to buy the Democratic nomination for president?

BUTTIGIEG: Yes. Yes. I mean, what else you call it? What else you call it when you dip into your endless reserves of millions and billions and don't go through the process of campaigning in states like Nevada or Iowa or New Hampshire?

KLOBUCHAR: I actually thought he should be on the debate stage because I don't think you should just be able to buy your way to the presidency.

SANDERS: I don't think he has the right to buy the selection.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SHEEKEY: So let's take that in two parts.

BURNETT: When they say that tonight, because they will, what is he going to say? Because you know that's going to be coming from everybody else on the stage.

SHEEKEY: Well, listen, stay tuned to find out what Mike Bloomberg says. I'll tell you what I say, Mike Bloomberg is the only candidate in his campaign in all 14 Super Tuesday states. Mike Bloomberg is the only candidate who's actually done a public campaign event in Bernie Sanders' home state of Vermont. Mike Bloomberg has traveled all over this country.

I will say also two more things, Mike Bloomberg is spending his own money just as he has in every election he's ever run. He is not beholden to special interest. What has been incredibly uncovered by CNN and others is that more than half the money being spent on television right now in this state of Nevada where you are, which will have a caucus on Saturday, on behalf of the candidates is being spent by outside packs.

Four out of five of the candidacies other than Mike Bloomberg are being outspent by packs supporting them with millions of dollars. And so listen, you can have a choice, you can have a mayor who's going to go out and spend his own money to take on Donald Trump or you can have outside special interest to fund other candidates.

I think people wanted to have a candidate who comes in who's independent and ultimately going to stand up for them.

BURNETT: So, today, Bloomberg has been running an ad, your ad that has been touting his relationship with President Obama. Some who worked with President Obama have been critical of it, the former NSC spokesperson for Obama Tommy Vietor tweeted, "It is jarring to see all of these Bloomberg ads that suggest Obama has endorsed him, especially considering how perfunctory his endorsement of Obama was back in 2012."

Again, that was Tommy Vietor. And today Joe Biden was asked for the truth about Bloomberg and here is what Joe Biden who, of course, will be up there tonight with Mayor Bloomberg said.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JOE BIDEN (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Truth is 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 - he's using Barack's pictures like they're good buddies. I'm going to talk about his record. I'm going to talk about it.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: All right. Guys, we got to go. Thank you. We got to go.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Do you think the ad is disingenuous? Do you think the ad painting him as a friend of Bloomberg's is disingenuous?

BIDEN: Mildly. Mildly.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: All right. Thank you.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BURNETT: What do you say when people point out that Mayor Bloomberg, as he says a Republican his whole life?

SHEEKEY: Well, the first is this is a lie. It's easily disproved by a simple Google search. I have enormous respect for the former Vice President. I happen to know him. I respect him. He's one of the most decent public servants that I've known. But a simple Google search proves he's wrong.

Mike Bloomberg has been a Democrat for the vast majority of his life and the Vice President knows it. It's unfortunate that he would say something knowingly or unknowingly that's untrue, but certainly I believe he knows it to be untrue.

BURNETT: All right. Well, Kevin Sheekey, I appreciate your time. And, of course, all eyes will be on Mayor Bloomberg tonight. Thank you, sir.

SHEEKEY: Erin, do me a favor, put a bet on Mike Bloomberg in Vegas tonight.

BURNETT: Joe Biden and Elizabeth Warren are trying to regain their momentum tonight. Pete Buttigieg and Amy Klobuchar are trying to widen their base.

[19:25:04] So there are a lot of people with a lot to gain and a lot to lose

tonight, who has the most at stake?

Plus, breaking news, the backlash building tonight from within the administration after President Trump taps a staunch defender to be the Acting Director of National Intelligence.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[19:29:13]

BURNETT: Welcome back to a special edition of OUTFRONT live in Las Vegas for tonight's Democratic debate. Just three days before the crucial Nevada caucuses. Former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg expected to take incoming from all sides and Bloomberg's campaign manager just giving me a preview of what we can expect to see tonight in Bloomberg's debate debut if Democrats accuse him of trying to buy the election.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SHEEKEY: You can have a mayor who's going to go out and spend his own money to take on Donald Trump or you can have outside special interest to fund other candidates. I think people want to have a candidate who comes in who's independent and ultimately is going to stand up for them.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BURNETT: OUTFRONT now, Political Reporter for The Nevada Independent, Megan Messerly, Laura Barron-Lopez, National Political Reporter for Politico and our Senior Political Analyst, Mark Preston.

Mark, look, they've made it clear. Well, they're going to go after Bloomberg a lot of things.

[19:30:02]

But buying the election is what they're -- they're going to go there, and that is going to be what Bloomberg is -- at least that's a preview of what he's going to say.

MARK PRESTON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes, what's interesting is that the candidates on stage tonight are broken into two groups, into real liberal and centrist Democrats, and they don't have much in common when it comes to policy prescriptions on some of the big issues.

But what they do have in common is that they don't like the fact that Michael Bloomberg can come in and write a check. Does not have to spend any money fundraising, doesn't have to spend any money begging for money, and the fact of the matter is, it's really angering them that Michael Bloomberg was able to get on a debate stage after literally just announcing his candidacy a few months ago.

BURNETT: Right, and he's not even on the ballot in these early states, Megan, as you know, here in Nevada. But what's interesting is, I guess the question is, are voters mad about that? He didn't put time into the state.

What are you seeing on the ground?

MEGAN MESSERLY, POLITICAL REPORTER, THE NEVADA INDEPENDENT: I don't know if they're mad about it, so much as I'm talking to voters who wish they could actually caucus in support of Bloomberg and are upset that he's not on the ballot and don't understand why that is. They don't understand why he's not campaigning here, talk to folks that have had to default to a second choice, Amy Klobuchar, Tom Steyer, because they can't vote for him.

But that shows you how much, even though he's not spending time here, his ads and his national media buys are bleeding over here, and that is having an effect on folks.

BURNETT: So, Laura, when you look at that stage tonight, you've got the -- as Mark said, they'll all agree on Bloomberg. That may be the one they'll agree on, OK? But you have Sanders who would be the one who was getting all the incoming fire, I mean, the rules in the past few days, 32 percent of Democratic-leaning registered voters now support Sanders. It's up nine points since January. You go a whole year with Biden in the front and boom. There's Sanders.

LAURA BARRON-LOPEZ, NATIONAL POLITICAL REPORTER, POLITICO: We're seeing poll after poll where Sanders appears to be far and ahead the lead Democrat right now, heading into Super Tuesday states. And the -- I guess ironic dynamic is that Bloomberg is seen by some Democrats, especially more establishment ones, the potential foil to Sanders, as someone who could maybe eventually stop him.

And yet it appears as though he might be helping him on nights like tonight because everyone as Mark said, wants to go after Bloomberg, we've seen it forecasted in the days leading up to the debate, with Buttigieg, Warren, with Biden just today. Going after Bloomberg, and so rather than directing it toward Sanders, which is typically what happens when you see someone become the front-runner, they're going to be all looking to the new billionaire on the stage.

BURNETT: And, of course, Steyer will not be on the stage, so you have Michael Bloomberg there tonight as the only one, Mark. So, senior advisers in the Bloomberg wrote the campaign manager Kevin Sheekey. In the memo, they say, the bottom line is that if Biden, Buttigieg and Klobuchar remain in the race, despite having no path to appreciable collecting delegates on Super Tuesday and beyond, they will propel Sanders to a seemingly insurmountable delegate lead by siphoning votes away from Bloomberg with no upside for themselves.

PRESTON: That -- they're correct. I mean, the idea right now is what we're seeing is such a division amongst the field, that in order for the more moderate wing to overcome Sanders who seems to be, you know, getting a lot of wind at his back right now, his organization is unmatched. You know, Bloomberg is having to buy and build an organization, something that Bernie Sanders has built for six, seven years now. BURNETT: Right, right.

PRESTON: So, when you look at that, Erin, that's how it is. It's an interesting situation to be in, but the fact of the matter is, when Bernie Sanders is going to have to fight back against the -- I don't know how it happens.

BURNETT: It's fascinating what you say about the interest there, Megan. That there is, in terms of people being interested in Bloomberg, and where other votes are going to go. Those other votes from people you're talking to would go to --

MESSERLY: Yes, so, Klobuchar is one I've heard. Tom Steyer, Joe Biden, from folks that said they would have voted for Bloomberg. But I think it's interesting you're touching on how this sort of changes the dynamic of the race.

Here in Nevada we've seen, obviously, Bernie Sanders being the front- runner, it is in some ways kind of muddled between the other candidates, and so rather than having that separation so much of the focus being on Bloomberg, I don't know that it's going to give voters clarity going into the caucus on Saturday.

BURNETT: So, Laura, who has the most to lose tonight?

BARRON-LOPEZ: I would say there are a few that have the most to lose, but definitely Biden. His team is projecting that they will come in second here. They're being very confident about that, but it appears as though it's pretty tight race for second place here, between him, between Steyer, between Warren.

And so, because of that, if he sounds unsteady on the stage, that could maybe swing some of the Nevada caucus-goers, I think also Buttigieg and Klobuchar, they have to have strong performances here, they have not been performing well in polls, so far as we've seen with black and brown voters. So, if they don't show they can win in states as diverse as Nevada, and then the coming states, South Carolina, where do they go from there into the Super Tuesday state?

BURNETT: It's interesting, Megan, you didn't mention Warren or Buttigieg in what you're hearing on the ground.

[19:35:01] What are you hearing about them or not hearing about them?

MESSERLY: Yes, we're still hearing some about them, but I think you make a really good point in terms of, I think folks want to see electability. And so, Warren, you know, some folks have been concerned before her and whether she is electable, given her performance in Iowa and New Hampshire.

Pete Buttigieg, he's had a team here since June. They put up a substantial operation. But he really hasn't proven I think to Nevada voters that he can appeal to voters of color, and he's not made that connection. And it's a relationship that's developed over cycles and years, Bernie Sanders has that relationship. Joe Biden has that relationship here. But the other candidates that are addressing themselves to Nevada's voters don't have those kind of relationships.

PRESTON: You know who could be a big spoiler tonight, could be Tom Steyer. While Tom Steyer doesn't -- I don't know what his path is to a nomination, we could see if he does well here, if he does well in South Carolina. But I don't know where he goes beyond that, but doing well in these few states could really be upsetting Joe Biden.

BURNETT: And this field stays this wide through Super Tuesday or --

PRESTON: I think so. I mean, I've seen no reason they get out, because everything becomes so compacted over the next two weeks and we're going to have Super Tuesday in less than three weeks.

BARRON-LOPEZ: It's three days away from South Carolina.

PRESTON: Yes, it is really. It's a very compact schedule.

BURNETT: All right. Thank you all very much.

And tomorrow night on CNN, two more live halls from Vegas. Joe Biden first and then Elizabeth Warren.

And coming up next, OUTFRONT, Joe Biden previewing his plan of attack on Mike Bloomberg.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JOE BIDEN (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: The truth is, he's basically been a Republican his whole life, I'm going to talk about his record.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BURNETT: Well, you just heard Bloomberg's campaign manager say that's factually untrue. Will the line of attack work?

Plus, breaking news, one former senior intelligence official with a chilling warning tonight about the future of the intelligence community after President Trump taps a loyalist to be the next acting spy chief for the U.S.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[19:41:00]

BURNETT: Tonight, I'm just going to tell the truth -- that's what Joe Biden says his plan will be when he debates Mike Bloomberg for the first time in just over an hour. And speaking to reporters earlier, at a union picket line, Biden previewed the kind of truth he plans to tell about Bloomberg.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BIDEN: The truth is, he's basically been a Republican his whole life, I'm going to talk about his record. (END VIDEO CLIP)

BURNETT: OUTFRONT now, Kate Bedingfield, deputy campaign manager and communications director for the Biden campaign.

So, look, Joe Biden has been going after Mike Bloomberg all week. Everybody has been, but, you know, this is going to continue tonight for sure. So, what is the vice president's strategy to try to get a direct moment with Bloomberg?

KATE BEDINGFIELD, DEPUTY CAMPAIGN MANAGER AND COMMS DIRECTOR, BIDEN CAMPAIGN: Well, I think there are important questions that Democratic voters have. And you have Mike Bloomberg run in a Democratic primary and there are questions about why he did not endorse Barack Obama in 2008, how he oversaw a stop-and-frisk program in New York city that was incredibly damaging to young black men in that city. You know, why in 2010, he called the Affordable Care Act, President Obama and Vice President Biden's signature achievement a disgrace.

So, I think if you're Mayor Bloomberg and you're running a Democratic primary, Democratic voters have some real questions about your record, you're going to hear a lot of contrast tonight. You're going to hear Vice President Biden talk about the things that he and President Obama did together, achieved in the White House, and I think that in and of itself is a pretty stark comparison to somebody like Mayor Bloomberg who was critical of President Obama and the Obama administration at almost every turn.

BURNETT: So, there is the Bloomberg factor. There's also the Bernie Sanders factor. I mean, you all have gone almost a whole year where Joe Biden was the front-runner. Bernie Sanders is surging way above anybody else, Joe Biden and everybody else included. It does seem, though, when you look at the gains a lot of it has come in the polls at the expense of Joe Biden, what does Joe Biden need to do now here in Nevada, here in South Carolina to prove that narrative is wrong?

BEDINGFIELD: Well, I think we're at a point in the race where communities of color are getting to have their say. The vice president has a long relationship, has a long time been fighting for the things these communities care about. He has strong relationships there.

So, you know, I also think there's some really important contrasts here too. You know, on health care, we're in Nevada, where the fight over, you know, Medicare-for-All, versus building on Obamacare is particularly resonant because this is a union state, you have union households who have bargained for and worked for the health care coverage they've earned.

And Medicare-for-All is -- would take that choice away from them. And so, I think you're going to hear tonight a lot of discussion about Vice President Biden's plan to protect and build on Obamacare.

I think another issue I would anticipate you'd hear a lot before tonight, where there's a strong contrast between Senator Sanders and Vice President Biden is on guns. You know, Senator Sanders voted five times against the Brady bill, that was a fight that Vice President Biden led. The Brady bill established the background check process. You know, he -- Senator Sanders sided with the gun manufacturers and voted to give them, to protect them from liability for the damage that their guns do in shootings.

So, I think there are really important contrast here. I would expect you're going to hear some of that on the debate stage tonight.

BURNETT: All right. And I spoke yesterday with James Clyburn who is an endorsement everybody wants. He's been known as the kingmaker in South Carolina, coveted endorsement, long time friend, of course, of Joe Biden. Also knows Mike Bloomberg very well.

Here's what I -- he said last night, he's not endorsing, because the network running the debate next week is asking him to wait. But he knows exactly who he's going to vote for. Here's what he said.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. JAMES CLYBURN (D-SC): I'm not unsure at all. I know who I'm going to vote for. I've known that for some time now.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BURNETT: I'm not sure -- I'm not unsure at all, I'm sorry. I know exactly who I'm going to vote for. I've known that for some time.

Do you think that's Joe Biden?

[19:45:01]

BEDINGFIELD: Well, we certainly hope so. That's obviously for Mr. Clyburn to say. As you say, he has a long relationship with Joe Biden. I know the vice president values his friendship tremendously, with Mr. Clyburn. We hope we're going to earn his votes, I think regardless, you're going to see Vice President Biden in South Carolina next week, campaigning hard, fighting to win every vote. You know, again, he's got a long list of progressive accomplishments on issues that are particularly important to the African-American community.

I think you're going to hear him talk about that on the debate stage tonight. I think it's a strong -- again, it's a strong contrast with some others that you're going to see on the stage tonight. But he's going to be fighting hard to win every vote in South Carolina.

BURNETT: All right. Thank you very much, Kate. Good to see you.

BEDINGFIELD: Thanks for joining me.

BURNETT: Appreciate your time.

And next, breaking news, President Trump tapping a partisan to lead a crucial group of national agencies. Tonight, intelligence officials are raising serious concerns.

Plus, Jeanne Moos on how Mike Bloomberg's past comments on Trump are coming back to haunt him. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MICHAEL BLOOMBERG, FORMER NEW YORK CITY MAYOR: And I said, yes, Donald, I do love you.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(COMMERCIAL BEAK)

[19:50:09]

BURNETT: Breaking news, President Trump announcing who his next acting director of national intelligence will be, tweeting: I am pleased to announce our highly respected ambassador to Germany, Richard Grenell, will become the acting director of national intelligence. Rick has represented our country exceedingly well, and I look forward to working with him.

Grenell, though, is already being criticized from within Trump's own administration.

Jim Sciutto is OUTFRONT.

So, Jim, let's just start with this.

Richard Grenell, as someone who as journalist we have all interacted with many times over the years. How unusual of a pick is he for this job?

JM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Erin, listen, I know folks at home are used to hearing alarm about the president's decisions and appointments. Talk about this role for a moment. The DNI was formed after 9/11 to prevent another 9/11, another catastrophic attack, to coordinate among the intelligence agencies to make sure they were speaking to each other and that the nation protects the nation.

I want to read from the Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act of 2004 which formed this position. It said, any individual nominated for appointment as DNI shall have extensive national security expertise. And that has been followed in the 16 years since then.

Let's throw up on the screen the previous occupants of this role. They have been people with extensive experience in intelligence, John Negroponte. Mike McConnell, he was director of national intelligence -- National Security Agency. Dennis Blair, he commanded all U.S. forces in the Pacific. David Gompert, he was a principal director of national intelligence. You look at James Clapper, 50 years in intelligence.

Rick Grenell doesn't not have any intelligence experience except as a spokesman. And that shows when you look at these people who served this role before, Joseph Maguire as well, he was director of the NCTC, which is the coordinating body for preventing a terrorist attack on U.S. soil. This is completely out of the realm of recent experience but also explicitly outside the definition of what this role was designed to be. It's an egregious presidential choice.

BURNETT: So I understand that the Senate confirmation is believed to be so uphill that perhaps he may not formally nominate him. First of all, will he formally nominate him? Secondly, Jim, if he's acting, is that really any different? Can he stay acting as long as the president wants him to stay acting and all the things you're concerned about would still be in effect?

SCIUTTO: Well, you're right. The current feel and CNN's reporting is that even Republican lawmakers are up in arms about this, but the president has filled many senior roles with acting people in those roles. His own chief of staff is an acting chief of staff.

And when you have acting, why do people at home -- why should they care about this? Because the Senate has a role in confirming these positions. These are Senate-confirmed positions. When they're acting, they do not have Senate confirmation. And, therefore, you don't have anybody else but the president with a voice in those choices.

And you may very well have this question, how long does it last? It may last for a few weeks, a few months. Regardless during that time the person overseeing the intelligence agencies to prevent these threats to the country will be someone with no intelligence experience. That is -- that's alarming.

BURNETT: And -- all right, Jim Sciutto, thank you very much with that breaking news.

And next, Jeanne Moos on the love/hate relationship between Michael Bloomberg and Donald Trump.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[19:58:00]

BURNETT: Tonight, Trump, Bloomberg, and when opposites attract.

Here's Jeanne Moos.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JEANNE MOOS, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): It was more like a Valentine's Day card than a headline. Did Mike Bloomberg really say to Donald Trump, yes, Donald, I do love you?

It was enough to make some swear off Bloomberg, two peas in a pod. Next!

Actually two peas of such different sizes probably wouldn't fit in the same pod.

It was Bloomberg himself who described the love quote. He said it happened about a month after President Trump was elected. Trump noted he saw Bloomberg talk about him at the Democratic convention.

BLOOMBERG: I'm a New Yorker, and I know a con when I see one.

MOOS: After mentioning the speech, Trump said --

BLOOMBERG: Bt you really do love me, don't you? And I said, yes, Donald, I love you.

MOOS (on camera): Hold the presses. Proclamation of love looks bad for Bloomberg.

(voice-over): Until you hear the line after the headline.

BLOOMBERG: And I said, yes, Donald, I do love you. I just disagree with everything you've ever said. And we had -- we had a good laugh.

MOOS: Sort of like the photo Bernie Sanders tweeted that made Trump and Bloomberg look chummy.

Bloomberg went on to say --

BLOOMBERG: If you sat and had dinner with Donald Trump, you'd probably walk away saying, everything he said is bull (EXPLETIVE DELETED), he can't be doing that, but you'd have a good time.

MOOS: Public declarations of love can be perilous. Remember Kim Jong- un?

TRUMP: And then we fell in love, OK?

MOOS: Better to express love for the masses.

TRUMP: I love the evangelicals. I love the poorly educated.

MOOS: And safest of all, to proclaim love for inanimate objects.

TRUMP: I always loved trucks, I still do. Even when I was a little boy at 4 years old.

MOOS: Nobody is going to make a headline out of that. That comes back to knock you out.

Jeanne Moos, CNN, New York.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BURNETT: And thanks so much for joining us. I'll be back tonight at 11:00 Eastern right after the Democratic debate. I'll have special coverage and interviews with the candidates.

"AC360" starts right now.