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EARLY START

Michael Bloomberg Enters Democratic Debate Fray Tonight; President Trump Goes On Clemency Spree; Diamond Princess Passengers Being Disembarking After Coronavirus Quarantine. Aired 5:30-6a ET

Aired February 19, 2020 - 05:30   ET

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


(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[05:30:42]

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: Mike Bloomberg, his 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. It turns corruption could be a ticket to a presidential pardon.

JARRETT: Good morning, everyone. This is EARLY START. I'm Laura Jarrett.

ROMANS: And I'm Christine Romans. It's 30 minutes past the hour this morning.

All right, the changing dynamic of the Democratic race live on television tonight. Billionaire businessman Michael Bloomberg steps onto the national debate stage for the very first time. Now, this will be a big test as he skips all the early states, focusing on Super Tuesday, March third, and beyond.

Now, 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 critics say hurt minority youth and some remarks that some called sexist.

JARRETT: At the same time, Bloomberg has built up a lot of goodwill 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. And his gigantic ad buys drawing frustration and criticism 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 advisers that he would refuse Bloomberg money to help him beat President Trump.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR, "ANDERSON COOPER 360": If Michael Bloomberg doesn't get it -- you get the nomination -- would you accept -- if he says look, I've got $500 million left over that I'm going to give to you, would you accept that?

SEN. BERNIE SANDERS (D), 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?

SANDER: (Silence).

COOPER: OK, I'll leave it -- I'll leave it there.

ERIN BURNETT, CNN ANCHOR, "ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT": 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 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 the 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: National polls show Sanders building a strong 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 around flyers saying Sanders' plan would end their health care.

(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 against the union leader just because we disagree on an issue is incomprehensible to me.

We can have a debate about the issues but I do not believe in online bullying. End of discussion.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

JARRETT: Let's bring in "Wall Street Journal" reporter Catherine Lucey, who covers the White House, live in Washington this morning for us.

ROMANS: Good morning.

JARRETT: Good morning.

CATHERINE LUCEY, WHITE HOUSE REPORTER, THE WALL STREET JOURNAL: Good morning, great to be here.

JARRETT: So this is the first time we're going to see Mike Bloomberg on the debate stage. He hadn't focused on any of these states. He hasn't focused on South Carolina, Nevada. He's been focused on -- instead, on Super Tuesday.

What, in your mind, is his biggest challenge tonight? Is it the other Democrats on the stage? Is it the fact that he really hasn't been on a national platform like this?

LUCEY: This is a real moment for Bloomberg. I mean, up until now, he has had the luxury of really defining himself outside of this Democratic fray. He's been spending, as we know, huge amounts of money on ads, really flooding all these Super Tuesday states -- and national ads as well.

[05:35:13]

And so, he has not really gotten caught up in this scrum of the fight and that's going to change tonight. And a couple of things that we're really going to be watching, he hasn't been on a debate stage in a very long time and it certainly wasn't a debate stage like this with this many candidates at this pace and this scale, so that's going to be different for him. We know he's been preparing for this.

But also, he is going to come into this as someone who's rapidly rising in polls with a real target on him. A lot of these other candidates have already been looking to make contrast, have already been critical of him. We've seen a real blitz of stories in recent days about his past statements, his former policies -- some of the policies like stop-and-frisk that he has tried to apologize and walk back from.

And so, you're going to really see them pushing on those things as well as on the way he is spending. You just showed a clip of Amy Klobuchar, for example, talking about should someone be able to buy their way to the presidency. So he's not only going to be on a big stage for the first time in a long time, but he is also going to be under a good amount of pressure on that stage.

ROMANS: And I think in our town halls we are seeing, sort of, the preview of how --

LUCEY: Absolutely.

ROMANS: -- some of those Democrats are going to treat him -- you know, saying that he's trying to buy the -- buy the election -- I mean -- and that is not fair.

Let's talk about Bernie, though. Bernie Sanders is the front-runner here. A couple of national polls putting him right there on top. And we know, we hear, we see the crowd size and enthusiasm of Bernie supporters.

Interesting that NBC poll, though, shows him exactly where he was back in January. So he is right on top, but he's -- there's a shuffling below him with Bloomberg entering the race.

What's Bernie Sanders' position here and how important it is for him to maintain this position tonight?

LUCEY: Yes, and I'll note it's an NBC-Wall Street Journal poll so we're writing a lot about that today.

Yes, that poll -- I mean, it is a very good poll for Sanders. It shows him in a very clear front-runner spot. You're right that he hasn't necessarily moved up, but Joe Biden has moved back quite a bit. And what you really see is him firmly at the top with a multi-way, almost tie for second place.

And so, it's a poll that is both very clarifying and sort of very confusing. It shows a clear front-runner and yet, it also shows that there is no clarity around who is coming in next.

It also, I think is important to note that our -- the pollster that we quote in our story who talks about the poll shows that we don't think Sanders has necessarily hit a ceiling yet in his support. That they think there is room for him to grow, particularly, for example, if, say, Elizabeth Warren gets out of the race. That there are other candidates -- their supporters may actually come to Sanders if it comes to that. And so, they see that he is -- there's still a potential there for him to expand his support.

And you're certainly right that he is -- he is -- of all the candidates right now, he is -- he's riding a real crest of momentum.

ROMANS: Yes.

LUCEY: So he's having these huge rallies. You know, you've seen tons of people come out.

And I think that means also that people are giving him a -- he's consolidated a lot of support. He's really consolidated the liberal wing of the party in a lot of ways. But I think that also means that other people are starting to give him another look.

JARRETT: Catherine, before we let you go, since you cover the White House, I want to get your thoughts on what is going on between Bill Barr and the president.

I mean, we knew behind the scenes he's obviously been frustrated about the tweets. He has told the president that it's making his job harder. He went on ABC to do that interview. And then, the president did not change --

LUCEY: Right.

JARRETT: -- one iota nor did we expect him to.

And, Barr knew what he was getting into. He saw the president tweeting before he took this job and the president's been tweeting about it the whole time.

But what do you -- what do you make of these multiple reports now that Barr is actually considering resigning?

LUCEY: Yes, we have sort of a new flurry of reports yesterday suggesting that he had made some of these statements privately to confidants.

JARRETT: Sure.

LUCEY: But his spokesperson made very clear last night he has no plans to leave. I think some of this, obviously, is both the president and Barr flexing their muscles a little bit.

The president yesterday, when he was speaking to reporters, made very clear he said he saw himself as the sort of lead law enforcement officer in the country. That's not going to change.

Barr is also trying to send messages, I think, to his aides and his supporters that he is trying to do his job.

As we've seen before with a lot of these staff, sort of, relationships in the White House, they often unravel -- unfold over a long period of time and it doesn't appear that this one is -- that we've seen, necessarily, the end of this yet.

I do think that we're not -- the thing that we do know and we always know with this president is the president is not going to change the way that he works --

[05:40:03]

ROMANS: Right.

LUCEY: -- the way that he talks, the way that he tweets, and Bill Barr is very aware of that.

And historically, they have had a good relationship. So, I think it remains to see -- be seen if this is sort of a flurry of --

ROMANS: Right.

LUCEY: -- frustration or if it's something deeper. JARRETT: What's just so interesting about it is though, arguably,

Bill Barr has been the most effective cabinet member for this president. Nobody, I think, has done more to support the president on multiple fronts since he was sworn in a year ago. So it's interesting to see this public rift --

LUCEY: Right.

JARRETT: -- at least, now, coming to the fold.

LUCEY: Yes, and I think --

JARRETT: Thank you so much, Catherine.

ROMANS: Nice to see you, Catherine.

LUCEY: Thank you so much for having me.

ROMANS: Thank you.

OK, two more presidential town halls on CNN tomorrow with Joe Biden at 8:00 eastern time; Elizabeth Warren, 9:00 eastern, live in Las Vegas. That's tomorrow night only on CNN.

JARRETT: She was drugged by a photographer who tried to steal her baby. Hear what a Washington State woman says about this crazy ordeal.

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[05:45:13]

ROMANS: All right, 45 minutes past the hour. Welcome back.

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, and doing so with lingering accusations he tipped the scales of justice for his 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.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, "THE APPRENTICE": But, Rod, you're fired.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ROMAN: Former Illinois governor Rod Blagojevich back home after his release from prison last night.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

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

REPORTER: Rod, what do you say to President Trump?

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

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ROMANS: The longtime Democrat now calling himself a Trumpocrat.

CNN's Jeremy Diamond traveling with President Trump. He filed this report for us 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, the former New York Police Department commissioner, a political ally of the president's as well as a longtime friend and associate of Rudy Giuliani's, the president's personal attorney.

Then you also have Michael Milkin, the investment banker who was convicted in the nineties 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 of them is perhaps the former Illinois governor Rod Blagojevich. He was serving a 14-year prison sentence on bribery and corruption charges after he essentially tried 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 pardons and commutations and it's all about who he talked to -- listen.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Well, oftentimes -- pretty much all the time, I really rely on the recommendations of people that know them.

We have Bernie Kerik.

We have Mike Milkin, who has 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.

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

And then you have the case of Michael Milkin. 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)

ROMANS: All right, Jeremy Diamond for us, traveling with the president.

We'll be right back.

[05:53:24]

JARRETT: The coronavirus has now killed more than 2,000 people, all but six of them in Mainland China.

The remaining passengers onboard the Diamond Princess in Japan began disembarking Wednesday after a 14-day quarantine. Last hour, another 79 cases confirmed from the ship, bringing the total number of cases to 420 -- 624 cases, I should say. That's about 20 percent of the people onboard.

Let's go live to Yokohama, Japan and bring in CNN's Will Ripley. Will, a lot of questions being raised about the conditions on that ship.

WILL RIPLEY, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, and they still haven't finished testing everyone or at least haven't gotten the results back yet, Laura, so we do expect that number to continue to jump.

The Centers for Disease Control and a long list of countries consider the conditions on the cruise ship unsafe. Why else would all those Americans that got evacuated have to do a 14-day quarantine?

Well now, a Japanese professor who actually visited the ship yesterday -- he says what he saw scared him more than some of the most deadly outbreaks that he has seen in his 20-plus-year career.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) IWATSUBO KENTARO, PROFESSOR OF INFECTIOUS DISEASES, KOBE UNIVERSITY: Inside Princess Diamond, I was so scared. I was so scared of getting Covit 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)

[05:55:03]

RIPLEY: Japan does not have a center for disease control. It is really, essentially, bureaucrats running the show and they have -- they have to answer to politicians. They have to answer to the fact that the Tokyo 2020 Olympics are coming up and nobody wants people to be afraid to come here to Japan.

But, Laura, with more than 100 American citizens on that ship right now, he says they could still possibly be in danger of unknowingly picking up that infection, even as they walk off the ship, and potentially bringing it to wherever they go next.

JARRETT: Right. All right, Will Ripley. Thanks so much.

ROMANS: Fifty-five minutes past the hour.

A person of interest arrested in connection with the disappearance of a Georgia college student. Twenty-three-year-old Anitra Gunn, a student at Fort Valley State University, was last seen on Valentine's Day. Her car was found later that day with its tires slashed. Her apartment windows were also smashed.

Yesterday, police arrested 23-year-old Demarcus Little. They say he and Gunn knew each other and he was the last person seen with her.

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 Leilani Parker had help from her 16-year-old daughter to drug the victim with spiked cupcakes during a photoshoot and stole her house keys.

The victim, Elysia Miller, describes how the ordeal has traumatized her.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ELYSIA MILLER, VICTIM IN ALLEGED KIDNAPPING PLOT: 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)

ROMANS: According to the charges, the suspect contacted a former boyfriend last fall, allegedly telling him she would marry him on the spot if he found her a baby girl.

Let's get a check on CNN Business this morning.

Taking a look at markets around the world, mostly moving a little bit higher here.

On Wall Street, futures are also up just a little bit here. You know, stocks finished mixed Tuesday.

The broader market fell after Apple warned investors the coronavirus is hurting its business. Apple closed down almost two percent. That shaves $34 billion off its market value.

The Dow fell 166 points. The Nasdaq, though, managed to hit a record closing high.

Walmart's holiday season wasn't as good as expected. Sales at America's largest retailer only increased 1.9 percent in the fourth quarter. That included a 35 percent spike in online sales but investors were expecting a much 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 to expand there.

Walmart said it is monitoring how the coronavirus will affect business and did not include any financial effects in its guidance to investors.

A very cool reunion at a hospital in New Jersey. Little Zayne Caldwell, born 10 weeks early, was being treated in the neonatal intensive care unit. Nurse Lissa McGowan had been caring for the baby since his birth nearly three weeks ago. It turns out she's the same nurse who treated Zayne's father, David Caldwell, when he was born prematurely at the same hospital more than three decades ago.

Baby Zayne is now home and mom says everyone is well and he is getting stronger every day.

All right, an unusual 911 call in Utah from a mother in desperate need of formula for her 6-week-old daughter. Shannon Bird, who has four other children, told the dispatcher her milk suddenly dried up and she couldn't breastfeed. Officers responded, stopping at a convenience store for milk, which they quickly learned actually wouldn't do the trick.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

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.

POLICE OFFICER: OK.

BIRD: Like newborn stuff.

POLICE OFFICER: OK.

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.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ROMANS: So, they made a run to Walmart to get mother and baby what they needed. A spokesman for the Lone Peak Police says they are paid to serve and protect and this was part of the serve.

All right, see you tomorrow at 3:00 a.m. for debate coverage from Las Vegas. Thanks for joining us. I'm Christine Romans. "NEW DAY" starts right now.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: One thing that was consistent across all three town halls was Michael Bloomberg.

SANDERS: His policies humiliated and offended hundreds of thousands of people.

KLOBUCHAR: I don't think you should just be able to buy your way to the presidency.

BUTTIGIEG: By throwing colossal sums of money on television shows you what's wrong with our system.

DIAMOND: President Trump issuing a series of high-profile pardons and commutations.

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: The question is, is Bill Barr actually going to resign over this?

TRUMP: I'm actually, I guess, the chief law enforcement officer of the country.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ANNOUNCER: This is NEW DAY with Alisyn Camerota and John Berman.

ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and all around the world. This is NEW DAY. It is Wednesday -- I see you looking at me. It is Wednesday, some date, and it's 6:00 here in New York.

Nice to see you. Great to have you back.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: You know, just -- you know, it's good to be here. I missed you terribly.

END