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Bloomberg Enters Democratic Debate Fray Tonight; Is Barr Serious About Resigning?; President Trump Goes on Clemency Spree; Coronavirus Death Toll Tops 2,000. Aired 4:30-5a ET

Aired February 19, 2020 - 04:30   ET




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 on this?

ROMANS: And the president claims he is against corruption. Turns out, corruption could be a ticket to a presidential pardon. What do all of those names have in common there?

Welcome back to EARLY START, everyone. I'm Christine Romans.

JARRETT: I'm Laura Jarrett. Thirty-one minutes past the hour here in New York.

All right. Well, the changing dynamic of the Democratic race, live on television tonight. Billionaire businessman Michael Bloomberg steps on to the national debate stage for the first time.

And this will be a big test for him. He's nearly skipped all the early states, focusing on Super Tuesday on March 3rd and beyond.

Expect Bloomberg to be a big target for his rivals, focusing on his policies, his record as New York City mayor. He'll likely face questions about a tough-on-crime approach critics say hurt minority youth. And some remarks that some call sexist.

ROMANS: Bloomberg has built a lot of goodwill with Democrats. He has backed left-leaning causes. He has 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 anger from many candidates.

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


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're not sure if you would take the money or not. OK. I'll leave it there.

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.


ROMANS: All right. So, national polls show Sanders building his lead. But there are persistent questions about hostility from some of his most ardent supporters. Top officials at the culinary union in Nevada, they accused Bernie bros of swarming them online after the union sent around flyers saying Sanders' plan would end their healthcare.


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 against 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.


JARRETT: And two more presidential town halls on CNN tomorrow night. Joe Biden at 8:00 p.m. Eastern. Elizabeth Warren at 9:00 Eastern, live in Las Vegas, tomorrow night, only on CNN.

ROMANS: All right. Michael Bloomberg's name is synonymous with Wall Street. But the presidential candidate, vowing to crack down on the financial industry. Bloomberg released a plan to reform Wall Street, the calls for restoring some of the post-crisis financial guardrails gutted by President Trump. The plan looks to do several things. Restore the "Volcker Rule" aimed at banning risky trading by banks solely for their own profit, as opposed to on behalf of clients, reinstate consumer protections overturned by the Trump administration. Strengthen the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. And require companies who report climate change risks.

However, he does not support breaking up big banks. Something his progressive rival, Bernie Sanders, has embraced.


Bloomberg has defended Wall Street in the past. So his tougher than expected plan is a surprise to many.

JARRETT: Breaking overnight. CNN has 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 the president's tweets about DOJ criminal cases, something he has made clear 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 prosecutors to recommend more lenient sentence for Trump ally Roger Stone following a tweet, making it appear as though DOJ was just jumping at Trump's demands.

Barr then took to TV to claim that the tweets are undercutting his ability to do his job. But that certainly hasn't stopped Trump from weighing in on cases. Trump told reporters just yesterday that he does make it harder for barr to do his job but he couldn't resist a chance to remind everyone there who's really in charge.


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 law enforcement officer of the country. But I've chosen not to be involved.


JARRETT: A source tells CNN the tension between the president and his A.G. appears to be cooling off. Earlier Tuesday, Trump said he had full confidence in Barr. And the 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 binge, issuing a wave of pardons and commutations for a handful of former officials and wealthy influence peddlers convicted of corruption-related crimes. In doing so with lingering accusations that he tipped the scales of justice for his own friend, Roger Stone. Unclear what Attorney General Bill Barr knew about the pardons or if he supported them. The most high-profile commutation for a man once the target of Trump's pretend wrath.


TRUMP: Rod, you're fired.


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


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.


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.



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.


ROMANS: All right, Jeremy. Thank you so much for that.

JARRETT: You know, Christine, there is actually an office at the Justice Department that the entire job is to help the president weigh in on pardons like this. Make recommendations. Look at the circumstances. See if there is any extenuating --

ROMANS: Right.

JARRETT: That office is essentially just been gutted now.

ROMANS: Interesting.

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



ROMANS: 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 worse than originally expected. The number of confirmed cases has already surpassed some of the most dire predictions. And there are increasing questions about whether the Chinese government is underreporting these figures.

The remaining passengers on board the Diamond Princess in Japan began disembarking, Wednesday, after a 14-day quarantine. 545 cases of coronavirus now linked to that ship.

Let's go live to Yokohama, Japan, bringing CNN's Will Ripley.

So if they are disembarking after that quarantine, you have so many cases, was that quarantine successful?

WILL RIPLEY, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: It was a failed quarantine, I think is the consensus from most infectious disease experts.

ROMANS: Right.

RIPLEY: The only people saying it was successful, Christine, is the Japanese government. I mean, they've been giving passengers letters as they disembark that say you pose zero risk to others and you are free to go anywhere in Japan. Get on the subway, you know, with lots of other people around. Go on bus. Go back to work. Go back to school.

And that is a really frightening thing according to a Japanese infectious disease expert, someone who's been on the frontlines of outbreaks like cholera, Ebola, MERS, SARS. This is someone who's been around the world for 20-plus years and he told me he has never been more frightened than he was when he visited the Diamond Princess and that was just yesterday.

Take a look.


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.


RIPLEY: He said things were so out of control in that ship that as the 100-plus Americans who are still on board right now disembark, they could potentially become infected just by walking down the hallway and brushing up against a surface. He says there's just nobody there that really understands how

infectious disease works because Japan doesn't have a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention like the United States. It really is bureaucrats running the show who are beholden to politicians, politicians that want this all kind of buttoned up, and so Japan could move on ahead of the 2020 Olympics. But he said, look, outbreaks don't work that way.

The Japanese government is responding to this professor. They basically are saying that he got on board by pulling strings but didn't really have an official reason to be there, which is how they justify kicking him off the ship, Christine, when he raised his concerns and made suggestions about how they could improve the situation and safety of both the workers and the remaining passengers, including all those Americans.

ROMANS: Terrifying. All right. Will Ripley for us in Japan, thank you.

JARRETT: Well, Venezuela is standing by Moscow after the United States slapped sanctions on a Russian oil firm doing business with Caracas. The administration says that financial support from Russia's Rosneft oil allows the Maduro regime to sustain its military forces and stay in power. The Trump administration calls new sanctions against Rosneft, stepping the maximum pressure campaign to force Maduro out. Venezuela's state run company accuses the U.S. of trying to destroy the country's economy and says it will continue to support Rosneft's operations. It's been 13 months since recognized that Juan Guaido is Venezuela's the rightful leader and Marduro's days were numbered.

ROMANS: All right. Twenty -- 48 minutes past the hour.

Amazon's home security system with a big security change after high- profile breaches.



ROMANS: All right. More heavy rain expected with possible flooding across the south, conditions should improve over the next 48 hours but winter weather could also be in play.

Here's meteorologist Pedram Javaheri.



Yes, the flooding concerns remain in the gulf coast states. Another day of some heavy rainfall and, of course, some major cities impacted by this as well when it comes to flooding. That including Atlanta, Nashville, on into Memphis, and along portions of the Mississippi River delta where additional rainfall is going to lead to significant flooding potential moving forward. Across this region, as we move forward, watch what happens here. The

system pushes out of the gulf. This would be Thursday into Friday. That kind of highlights areas of the eastern, say, Tennessee valley on into parts of the Carolinas for a shot of snow showers there from Thursday into Friday.

So we will see how the timing aligns with the cold air and the moisture. But at this point, minimal accumulations of what we are looking at but anytime you're talking about even a couple inches toward Raleigh, approaching toward Wilmington, that's the talk of town when you pick up wintery weather even in the cold season.

But here's the perspective: upper 70s out of Phoenix. How about a trio of 13s there across Sioux Falls, Minneapolis and Minot, cold there in place across the Upper Midwest -- guys.


JARRETT: Pedram, thanks so much for that.

Well, actress Ja'Net Dubois who starred in the iconic 1970s sitcom "Good Times" has died.


JA'NET DUBOIS, AS WILLONA WOOD: I call its husband (INAUDIBLE), two drops behind each ear and he will try to hit more home runs than (INAUDIBLE)


JARRETT: Dubois played Willona Woods. She also co-wrote and sing "Moving On Up," the them for another hit series, "The jeffersons".

Among those paying tribute, Janet Jackson, who played her adopted daughter on "Good Times".


She writes: I saw firsthand how she broke stereotypes and changed the landscape for black women in entertainment.

Ja'Net Dubois was survived by her three children. She was 73.

ROMANS: All right. Fifty-five minutes past the hour. Let's get a check on CNN Business this morning.

Taking a look at markets around the world. Looks like they are trying to lean higher here. U.S. futures right now also looks like they are a little bit -- pull those up -- there they are, 64 points in the Dow right now. Stocks finished mixed on Tuesday.

The broader market fell after Apple warned investors the coronavirus is hurting business more than expected. Apple shares down almost 2 percent. That move shaved $34 billion off its market value. The Dow fell 166 points but the Nasdaq hit a record-closing high. Big changes are coming to HSBC, the London-based bank plans to cut

around 35,000 jobs over the next three years after reporting profit plunged 33 percent last year, partly because of a big $7.3 billion write-off related to its investment and commercial banking arms in Europe. In addition to job cuts, HSBC plans to trim underperforming divisions, close a third of its U.S. branches, and it will ship resources to the Middle East and Asia where it makes most of its profit. The bank had been dealing with a number of headwinds, including protests in Hong Kong, and now the coronavirus outbreak.

Walmart's holiday season wasn't as good as expected. Sales at America's largest retailer only increased 1.9 percent in the first quarter. That included 35 percent spike in online sales but investors had been banking on a stronger performance. Walmart said the shorter shopping season contributed to the slowdown.

Despite a weak season for toys and clothes, Walmart said groceries, its largest business, did well over the holidays. And it plans on expanding there. Walmart said it is monitoring how coronavirus will affect business, but did not include financial effects in its guidance to investors.

JARRETT: After some high profile security breaches, Ring will now require users of its home security cameras to use a one-time security code each time they log on to their accounts. Hackers have gained access to dozens of ring cameras including last December when this 8- year-old girl was startled by a stranger's voice coming from her ring cam in her room. Ring also made so-called two-factor authentication a default on its account earlier this month. Now, it's used will be mandatory.

ROMANS: Police in Utah responding to an unusual 911 call from a mother in desperate need for formula for her six week old daughter. Shannon Byrd who has four children told dispatcher her milk suddenly dried up and she couldn't breastfeed. Officers stopping for milk, which they quickly learned wouldn't do the trick.


POLICE OFFICER: What kind of formula does she need?

SHANNON BIRD, CALLED 911 FOR BABY FORMULA: I don't even know. I've never done this.


BIRD: Like newborn stuff.


BIRD: I'm so sorry.

POLICE OFFICER: We'll leave this with you and we'll be right back with some formula for your baby, OK?

BIRD: OK. POLICE OFFICER: She's adorable.

BIRD: Thanks.


ROMANS: So they made a run to Walmart to get mother and baby what they needed. Shannon said the officers went beyond the call. A spokesman for the Lone Peak Police say they are paid to serve and protect and this was part of the serve.

JARRETT: When that baby needs milk, it needs milk. We can all empathize with that, right?


JARRETT: All right. A women's history museum inching closer to reality in a rare show of bipartisanship, the House overwhelmingly approved a bill to create the museum. The Smithsonian board will be charged with finding a site, preferably on or near the National Mall. The bill now goes to the senate. Its passage comes on the 100th anniversary of women gaining the right to vote.

But it's just a first step, 13 years passed between Congress creating the Smithsonian African-American museum and its official opening.

ROMANS: All right. Comedy coming back in a big way at the White House Correspondence Dinner. "Saturday Night Live's" Kenan Thompson will serve as host for the event in April. "The SNL" veteran will be joined by comedian and TV host Hasan Minhaj as the feature entertainer.

Last year, the dinner broke with a tradition of having a comedian host and went with a historian instead.

JARRETT: Thanks to our international viewers for joining us. Have a great rest of your day.

For our U.S. viewers, EARLY START continues right now.


ROMANS: 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?

JARRETT: The attorney general has told people he may resign over the president's intervention at DOJ, but is that the real message, and who's the real audience?

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

Good morning, and welcome to EARLY START, I'm Christine Romans.

JARRETT: And I'm Laura Jarrett. It's Wednesday, February 19th, 5:00 a.m. in the East. 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 for him as he skips all the early states focusing on Super Tuesday, on 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's mayor. He'll likely face questions about a tough-on-crime approach critics say hurt minority youth and remarks some call sexist.