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Mike Bloomberg and Democrats Debate Tonight; CNN: Barr Has Told People He's Considered Resigning Over Trump's Interference in Justice Department Matters; Trump Refilling the Swamp; Coronavirus Death Toll Tops 2,000; Ryan Newman Awake and Talking After Daytona 500 Crash. Aired 5-5:30a ET

Aired February 19, 2020 - 05:00   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'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.

ROMANS: Bloomberg has backed causes and bankrolled moderates in the midterms helping the party win back the House. Now Bloomberg is seeing the flip side to 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.

(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'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: 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.


ROMANS: 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. 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. You can see him there at the White House. And the Justice Department spokeswoman says the attorney general has no plans to resign.

ROMANS: All right. 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.

Now, 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.

(END VIDEO CLIP) 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 to President Trump?

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


ROMANS: The longtime grateful 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.


JARRETT: No better way to get attention than go on television and make your case.

ROMANS: Right.

JARRETT: All right. Still ahead, after two long weeks, passengers finally, finally leaving a cruise ship quarantined because of the coronavirus. One doctor who worked on the ship has major concerns about what happens next.

CNN is live in Japan.



JARRETT: 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.

Let's go live to Yokohama, Japan, and bring in CNN's Will Ripley.

Will, we understand even more cases now linked to the ship, will, and what about the conditions on the ship? Is that sort of -- speaks to the spike in the numbers.

WILL RIPLEY, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, I'll start with the number -- 79 new cases just confirmed minutes ago. Eight hundred is the number of passengers that walked off the Diamond Princess today. All of them tested negative, not positive, they tested negative for novel coronavirus. However, we know that people sometimes can test negative for a while and then test positive. People can have the virus unknowingly.

And this is the concern of a Japanese infectious disease professor we spoke with who has been sounding the alarm about the conditions on the ship. He just visited yesterday. He's been on the front lines of outbreaks all over the world, SARS, MES, cholera outbreaks in Africa. He says -- Ebola, you know, and yet he's never been more frightened. So, juts listen for yourself what he says.


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: That was Professor Iwata who seeing all the numbers jump day after day, he had a hunch and wanted to get on the ship. He pulled some strings and was able to get on board and he described what he saw.


It left him pretty much -- it gave him chills.

So, he brought it up with the people who are running the show, those bureaucrats he mentioned from the Japanese health ministry. Instead of listening to him who, you know, someone who's being this for decades, they kicked off the chief him off the trip. The vice health minister was worried about the remaining people on the ship including more than 100 Americans.

He actually said that people who were disembarking because the ship is basically -- you have no way of knowing what's contaminated, what's not. They could just touch a surface or be in the elevator with someone else as they're walking off and end up getting infected and carrying it unknowingly back to their communities.

JARRETT: It's just amazing. As he said, there's no one this charge, no point person. As we kept seeing the numbers rise and rise, you would think somebody would be in charge.

All right. Will, thanks so much.

ROMANS: Sixty minutes past the hour. Two presidents sparring over just who is responsible for the strong

American economy. It began when former President Barack Obama tweeted about the anniversary of the Economic Recovery Act, paving the way he said to a deck now of growth and the longest streak in history.

Well, President Trump, the current president, and said Obama had the weakest recovery since the Great Depression.

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


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.


ROMANS: Well, in economics, it is said the trend is your friend. Meaning, don't look at just one number, look at the long patter.

Look at the trend, look at job creation. Job creation in President Trump's first creation in Obama's last three years. The unemployment rate now 3.6 percent, a 50-year low. Look at the trend. It was 9.8 percent in 2010 and has been steadily falling.

Here's President Obama's economic adviser, Gene Sperling.


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.


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.

More than a few people this morning emailed me and tweeting me saying that Ben Bernanke and Janet Yellen bear most of the credit for the economic recovery because what the Fed did to save the economy 10 years ago.

JARRETT: All right. A first major step for Ryan Newman after a horrific crash at the Daytona 500.

Carolyn Manno has the "Bleacher Report", up next.


ROMANS: All right. Some good news this morning for NASCAR fans about this race car driver Ryan Newman.

JARRETT: Carolyn Manno has more in this morning's "Bleacher Report."

Hi. How are you?


This brought the sport to a complete standstill. So a lot of relief for everybody to hear that the veteran driver is awake and speaking with family and doctors after Monday's horrific crash at the Daytona 500. That according to his team, Roush Findlay racing. They've been updating everyone. Newman was in the lead on the final lap, within sight of the finish line, when he was bumped and sent into the wall.

His car flipping over. He was hit on the driver's side while the car was upside down and airborne. The car eventually catching fire. Rushed to the hospital where his injuries were called serious but not life threatening.

In a statement, Newman's team saying that he and his family appreciate the heartfelt messages from across the country. The driver, a father to two young girls. He is awake.

In the meantime, Yankees slugger Aaron Judge is the latest to speak out on the Houston Astros sign-stealing scandal. And he did not hold back. Judge feels the Astros should be stripped of the 2017 World Series title.


AARON JUDGE, NEWE YORK YANKEES OUTFIELDER: You cheated, and you didn't earn it. And that's who I feel is it wasn't earned playing the game right and fighting until the end. Sick to my stomach to find out you got -- I had a lot of respect, you know, for those guys and what they did. And you know, especially when they did for the city of Houston and the organization.


MANNO: In the meantime, Baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred is surprised at the outcry from the players and the leak over the lack of punishment for the Astros players.


RON MANFRED, MAJOR LEAGUE BASEBALL COMMISSIONER: I've never seen the kind of commentary from players about other players in the entire time that I've been involved. One of the principal complaints is that the Houston players were not disciplined. You know, that lack of discipline, the immunity was negotiated with the union that represents players.


MANNO: Well, that did not get by the Major League Players Association who is disputing the commissioner's statement. It fired back at Manfred saying: Any suggestion that the association failed to cooperate with the commissioner's investigation obstructed the investigation or otherwise took positions which led to a stalemate in the investigation is completely untrue.

Even LeBron James is speaking out about how this situation was handled. Now the NBA superstar tweeted that if he found out somebody cheated him out of a title, he would be irate.


LeBron urging Manfred to listen to how disgusted and mad and broken his players are and to fix the situation for the sake of sport in its entirety.

And congratulations in order for Baylor head coach Kim Mulkey with last night's win over Texas Tech. She is the fastest division-one coach in basketball history to reach 600 wins. Remarkable it only took 700 games to reach the milestone.

The Lady Bears have won three national championships in Mulkey's 20 seasons. She said afterwards, coaches don't have time to stop and smell the roses. That's true. They have the national championship to prepare for.

ROMANS: Wow, good for her.

MANNO: And the baseball scandal not going away. The latest the twist, the drama, so much drama.

ROMANS: Oh, my gosh. All right. Thank you so much, Carolyn.

JARRETT: Thanks, Carolyn.

All right. With more Democrats fractured, Bernie Sanders is surging. The establishment is going nuts. So how is Bloomberg going to handle the spotlight in his first national debate?