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EARLY START

Bloomberg and Democrats Debate Tonight; Is Barr Serious About Resigning?; Refilling the Swamp; Coronavirus Death Toll Tops 2,000. Aired 4-4:30a ET

Aired February 19, 2020 - 04:00   ET

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


[04:00:18]

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: Mike Bloomberg's record, his policies, and his money, all in focus before his first turn on the debate stage. How will he handle attacks from front-runner Bernie Sanders?

LAURA JARRETT, CNN ANCHOR: The attorney general has told people he may resign over the president's intervention at DOJ. But is that the real message? And who is the real audience?

ROMANS: And the president claims he is against corruption. Turns out, corruption could be a ticket to a presidential pardon.

JARRETT: All right. Welcome to our viewers in the United States and around the world. This is EARLY START. I'm Laura Jarrett.

ROMANS: I'm Christine Romans. It is Wednesday, February 19th. It is 4:00 a.m. in New York.

The changing dynamic of the Democratic race, live on television tonight. Billionaire businessman Michael Bloomberg steps on to the debate stage for the first time. This will be a big test as he skips all the early states, focusing on Super Tuesday, March 3rd, and beyond.

Expect Bloomberg to be a big target for his rivals, focusing on his policies and his record as New York City mayor. He'll likely face questions about a tough on crime approach (AUDIO GAP)

JARRETT: Bloomberg has built a lot of goodwill up with Democrats. He's backed left-leaning causes and bankrolled moderates in the midterms, helping the party win back the House.

But now, Bloomberg is seeing the flip side to all that money. His gigantic ad buys drawing a lot of anger from many candidates.

ROMANS: At a CNN town hall last night, three of them addressed the issue. That includes Bernie Sanders, who would not stand behind a claim by one of his advisors that he would refuse Bloomberg money to help him President Trump.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) ANDERSON COOPOER, CNN HOST: If Michael Bloomberg doesn't get it, he says, look, I got $500 million left over. That I'm going to give to you. Would you accept that?

SEN. BERNIE SANDERS (I-VT), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Well, we're going to -- what I did say is that if Mr. Bloomberg wins, and I certainly hope he does not, I will support the Democratic nominee. As of now, we have not taken -- we don't have a super PAC. We're not asking for a super PAC. That is my position right now.

COOPER: So you are not sure if you would take the money or not. OK. I'll leave it there.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ERIN BURNETT, CNN HOST: Would you take his money and his support if you are the nominee?

PETE BUTTIGIEG (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Sure. As a matter of fact -- look, obviously, I'm competing against Mayor Bloomberg. We have, I think, different approaches and different visions. But, you know, his philanthropy supported a million-dollar effort in our community to help low-income people get transportation to go to work. I'm not going to reject that help because -- because it came from a very wealthy person.

SEN. AMY KLOBUCHAR (D-MN), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I don't think you should just be able to buy your way to the presidency. And my issue is that a number of us, including of three of us that you saw tonight, have been going in town halls like this. We've been answering questions. We've been going to states like Nevada, and actually meeting the voters and having them quiz us and ask all kinds of things and put our policies out there. And I think that's what a presidential candidate should do.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

JARRETT: Meantime, national polls show Sanders building a lead. But there are persistent questions about hostility from some of his most ardent supporters. Top officials at the Culinary Union in Nevada accuse Bernie bros of swarming them online after the union sent flyers saying Sanders plan would end their healthcare.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SANDERS: I am the strongest perhaps lifetime supporter of unions in the United States congress. The idea that anybody who works with me would make a vicious attack on the union leader just because we disagree on an issue is incomprehensible to me. We can have debate about the issues but I do not believe in online bullying, end of discussion.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ROMANS: Two more presidential halls tomorrow night. Joe Biden at 8:00 Eastern. Elizabeth Warren at 9:00 Eastern, live in Las Vegas, tomorrow night, only on CNN.

JARRETT: Breaking over night, CNN learned Bill Barr has told people he's considered resigning over President Trump's interference with Justice Department matters. Now, behind the scenes, Barr has been frustrated with president's tweets about DOJ cases. Something he's made clear even to Trump. But news of potentially resigning would be a dramatic escalation and raises the question of whether Barr is actually serious about this. Or whether he's, instead, trying to send a message to the public that he won't be pushed around.

Tensions reached a high point last week when Barr ordered, suddenly, prosecutors to recommend a more lenient sentence for Trump ally Roger Stone following a tweet. Making it appear as though DOJ was jumping at Trump's demand.

Barr then took to TV to claim that the tweets are undercutting his ability to do his job, but that hasn't stopped Trump from weighing in on cases.

[04:05:01]

Trump told reporters just yesterday he does make it harder for Barr to do his job but he couldn't resist a chance to remind everyone who is really in charge.

(BGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Just so you understand, I chose not to be involved. I'm allowed to be totally involved. I'm actually, I guess, the chief

so you understand, I chose not to be involved. So you understand, I chose not to be involved. I'm allowed to be totally involved. I'm actually, I guess, the chief law enforcement officer of the country. But I've chosen not to be involved.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

JARRETT: He says I guess.

Well, a source tells CNN the tension between the president and his A.G. appears to be cooling off. Earlier Tuesday, Trump said that he had full confidence in Barr and a Justice Department spokeswoman says the attorney general has no plans to resign.

ROMANS: President Trump undermining his own core theme of draining the swamp with a clemency bench, issuing a wave of pardons and commutations for a handful of former officials and wealthy influence peddlers convicted of corruption-related crimes and doing so with lingering accusations he tipped the scales of justice for his friend Roger Stone. Unclear what Attorney General Bill Barr knew about the pardons or if he supported them. The most high profile, a man once the target of Trump's pretend wrath.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: Rod, you're fired.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ROMANS: That's former Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich back home after his release from prison last night. That's him with the mane of silver hair. We're used to seeing dyed brown.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ROD BLAGOJEVICH, FORMER ILLINOIS: I feel great. How are you?

REPORTER: What do you say of President Trump?

BLAGOJEVICH: I say thank you. I'm profoundly grateful.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ROMANS: The long-time Democrat now calling himself a Trump-ocrat.

CNN's Jeremy Diamond traveling with President Trump. He filed this report from California.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JEREMY DIAMOND, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Christine and Laura.

President Trump, on Tuesday, issuing a series of high-profile pardons and commutations. The president, once again, wielding that pardon power that he has really relished using at a number of points during his presidency. This time, to reward several political allies and their friends who have been lobbying the president, in some cases, for years to follow through with these actions.

Now, there were 11 total pardons and commutations that the president issued on Tuesday. But a few especially high profile ones. They include Bernie Kerik, a former New York police department commissioner, a political ally of the president, as well as long-time friend and associate of Rudy Giuliani, the president's personal attorney.

Then you also have Michael Milken, the investment banker who was convicted in the '90s on securities fraud charges. He had sought this pardon from several previous presidents but was unable to do so until President Trump, on Tuesday, delivered.

But the most notable of all is perhaps the former Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich. He was serving a 14-year prison sentence on bribery and corruption charges after he's, essentially, trying to sell former President Barack Obama's Senate seat back in 2008.

Now, the president explained why he actually moved forward with some of these partisan commutations. And it's all about who he talked to. Listen.

TRUMP: Oftentimes, pretty much all the time, I really rely on the recommendations of people that know them. We have Bernie Kerik. We have Mike Milken, who's gone around and done an incredible job for the world. With all of his research on cancer and he's done this and he's suffered greatly. He paid a big price, paid a very tough price. But he's done an incredible job and yes. These are all people that you have to see the recommendations. I rely on recommendations.

DIAMOND: And that just highlights the unconventional way in which the president has wielded that pardon power. In many cases, the president relied on political allies. But in some cases, it was also television.

Rob Blagojevich's wife made frequent appearances on Fox News, which clearly got into the president's ear about that pardon he had been considering for some time. Despite opposition from a lot of Illinois Republicans.

And then you have the case of Michael Milken. The president issuing that pardon just days after he attended a fundraiser at the home of billionaire Nelson Peltz. Now, on Tuesday, when the president issued that pardon, the White House actually listed Peltz as one of those individuals who had recommended this pardon to the president.

Laura, Christine, back to you.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

JARRETT: All right. Jeremy Diamond, thanks so much for that.

As for the pardon many are anticipating, President Trump says he hasn't thought about whether he will commute the sentence of his long- time confidante Roger Stone. Stone is set to be sentenced tomorrow. He was convicted last year on seven charges of obstruction, lying to Congress, and witness tampering. Trump has attacked the judge handling stone's case, suggesting without evidence that she is biased.

ROMANS: All right. After two long weeks, passengers finally leaving a cruise ship quarantined over the coronavirus. But one doctor who worked on that ship has major concerns about, well, what happens next? CNN is live in Japan.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[04:14:07]

JARRETT: All right. Welcome back.

The coronavirus has now killed more than 2,000 people. All but six of them in mainland China, and there are growing concerns the economic impact will be far worse than originally expected. The number of confirmed cases has already surpassed some of the more dire predictions.

And there are increasing questions about whether the Chinese government is underreporting the figures. The remaining passengers on board the Diamond Princess in Japan began disembarking Wednesday after a 14-day quarantine, 545 cases of coronavirus are now linked to that ship. Let's go live to Yokohama, Japan, and bring in CNN's Will Ripley.

Will, there's so many questions about how all these people continued to get sick, and whether the quarantine really worked.

WILL RIPLEY, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes. I mean, the fact that Japanese authorities denied, I guess, people from the Diamond Princess to disembark when they arrived here a few weeks ago with one confirmed case.

[04:15:04]

Now, you have 550 or so confirmed cases.

Clearly, this is a failed quarantine. Let's just call it for what it is. That's why the U.S. and Canada and South Korea and Australia are all, you know, taking their citizens off the ship but putting them in a 14-day quarantine before they can go back home.

But here in Japan, it's different. They say this was a quarantine, even though the number of infections has continued to jump every single day. And so they have given people this letter that allows them to basically leave the ship and go anywhere -- subways, buses, back to school, back to work, and that is a really scary situation.

According to a Kobe University infectious disease professor who we spoke with who's been sounding the alarm saying what he saw on the ship just yesterday frightened him.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

KENTARO IWATA, PROFESSOR OF INFECTIOUS DISEASES, KOBE UNIVERSITY: Inside Princess Diamond, I was so scared. I was so scared of getting Covid-19 because there was no way to tell where the virus is. No green zone. No red zone. Everywhere could have virus and everybody was not careful about it.

There was no single professional infection control person inside the ship. And there was nobody in charge of infection prevention. As a professional, the bureaucrats were in charge of everything.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

RIPLEY: That was Professor Kentaro Iwata, who says when he tried raising those concerns on the ship, they kicked him off. Japanese government says he was asked to leave because he wasn't there, necessarily, in an official capacity. He kind of pulled some strings to get access to the ship. But it doesn't change the fact that he is an expert.

And he says it's bureaucrats who are not experts, who are making calls that he believes could put public health in danger. And it's not just here in Japan. Remember, Laura, there are still more than 100 American citizens on the Diamond Princess right now. And this professor says that they could actually get infected, theoretically, just by walking through the hallways off the ship because potentially the whole thing is contaminated.

JARRETT: And they've already been stuck in their rooms, some living without windows for weeks now.

Will, thanks so much for being there for us.

RIPLEY: Yes.

ROMANS: All right. Two presidents sparring over just who was responsible for the strong economy. It began when former President Barack Obama tweeted about the anniversary of the economic Recovery Act, paving the way, Obama said, to a decade of economic growth and the longest streak of job creation in American history.

Oh, President Trump did not like that. He lashed out and said Obama had the weakest recovery since the Great Depression.

White House trade adviser Peter Navarro refused to give Obama any credit.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

PETER NAVARRO, WHITE HOUSE TRADE ADVISER: What President Trump realized is that we had a structural problem. He fixed those structural problems. That set up the economic boom that we're having right now. And back in the Obama/Biden years, it was -- it was horrible.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ROMANS: In economics, it is said the trend is your friend, meaning don't look at one number but look at the long pattern. So let's look at the trends. Take a look at job creation. Job creation in Trump's first three years trails creation in Obama's last three years.

Unemployment at 3.6 percent is at a 50-year low. Look at the trend. It was 9.8 percent in 2010. This did not begin the day Donald Trump took office. This is a trend that has long been in place here.

Here is President Obama's economic advisor Gene Sperling.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GENE SPERLING, FORMER DIRECTOR, NATIONAL ECONOMIC COUNCIL UNDER OBAMA: It's great that it's continued to keep going down under Trump. I mean, it's good for our country. But to suggest that he turned things around when nothing more than a trend continued, it's just not -- you know, there -- there's just no validity to that.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ROMANS: A strong economy, of course, is central to Trump's re- election message. His election message is the economic recovery is his alone. The charts tell a different story.

You know, that American Recovery Act, you know, I'm jut am just remembering how it didn't go through in the first. Then some Republicans came on board and it did go through. But that was tax cuts for business and consumers. It was paying teachers and first responders. It was -- there was some infrastructure. It was a humongous fiscal effort to save the economy from a Great Depression. Amazing to be it was 11 years ago now.

(CROSSTALK)

ROMANS: Yes, it is.

JARRETT: All right. Still ahead, she was drugged by a photographer who tried to steal her baby. Hear what a Washington state woman says about this whole ordeal.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[04:23:48]

ROMANS: North Carolina's court of appeals has blocked the state's new voter ID law from taking effect, the decision means it is not expected to be in place for the North Carolina primary in two weeks. Civil rights groups argued the measure would negatively affect mostly African-American voters because they lack accepted forms of ID more frequently than white voters.

This is the second victory for opponents of the bill. A separate ruling in federal court already blocked the voter ID law through the state primaries.

JARRETT: A Washington state woman is now charged with posing as a photographer in a scheme to kidnap a woman's newborn baby. Prosecutors say Juliette Lelani Parker got help from her 16-year-old daughter to drug the victim with spiked cupcakes during a photo shoot and stole her house keys.

The victim, Alicia Miller, describes how this ordeal has just completely traumatized her.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ALICIA MILLER, VICTIM IN ALLEGED KIDNAPPING: Since this happened, I am terrified to be at my house. I don't go anywhere. I don't like being at home.

I'm not sleeping. I'm not eating. I carry a machete, a knife, and pepper spray in my house and in my car. I sleep with a knife even under my pillow as a result of this.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

JARRETT: According to charges, the suspect contacted a former boyfriend last fall about obtaining GHB, that date rape drug, and she allegedly told him she would marry him on the spot if he found her a baby girl in the next five weeks.

[04:25:11] Such a disturbing story.

ROMANS: It really is.

All right. NASCAR driver Ryan Newman is awake and speaking to family and doctors following that horrific crash on the final lap of Sunday's Daytona 500. A statement from his racing team says Ryan and his family appreciate the concern and the heartfelt message they have received from across the country. The 42-year-old Newman was said to be in serious condition. But his injuries, not life threatening.

JARRETT: With moderates fractured and Bernie Sanders surging right now, how will Mike Bloomberg handle the spotlight in his first national debate? Coming up.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

END