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INSIDE POLITICS

Michael Bloomberg To Face Democrat Rivals For First Time On Debate Stage; Democrats Take Battle To Debate Stage Ahead Of Nevada Caucuses; Senator Elizabeth Warren Lagging In Polls, Looking For A Breakthrough In Nevada; CNN: Attorney General Bill Barr Considered Resigning Over Donald Trump's DOJ Interference; Donald Trump Flexes Post-Impeachment Power, Grants Clemency To 11 People. Aired 12-12:30p ET

Aired February 19, 2020 - 12:00   ET

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


[12:00:00]

BRIAN STELTER, CNN ANCHOR, RELIABLE SOURCES: --three journal reporters been told they have to leave.

KATE BOLDUAN, CNN HOST: There are repercussions that there is nothing to stop them. The journalist putting on a statement saying that this expulsion makes the country appear less like a confidence raising power than a thin-skinned bully. It is good to see you Brian. Thanks for being on. I really appreciate it.

STELTER: Thanks.

BOLDUAN: Thanks so much for joining me. "Inside Politics" with John King starts right now.

JOHN KING, CNN HOST, INSIDE POLITICS: Thank you, Kate. Welcome to Inside Politics. I'm John King, thank you for sharing your day with us. Tensed times for the President and his Attorney General tweets meddling an ongoing case and pardoned issued without Justice Department input. But is the talk of Bill Barr resigning is real or just his way of sending a message.

Plus, a big Democratic debate night Bernie Sanders is the candidate with momentum just four months after a heart attack caused a brief campaign pause. Senator Sanders says he will not release any additional health records.

Michael Bloomberg joins his 2020 rivals for the first time expect heat over his money, his record on race and police issues and allegations he was central to a climate of sexism and misogyny at the business where Bloomberg made his billions.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. BERNIE SANDERS (D-VT) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: There are number of things about his record that I think the American people may not know.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Do you think Michael Bloomberg is trying to buy the Democratic nomination for President? PETE BUTTIGIEG (D) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Yes. Yes.

SEN. AMY KLOBUCHAR (D-MN) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I don't think that when people look at Donald Trump they automatically say, hmm, can we get someone richer?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: A lot of news to get to this hour but we start right there with tonight's potentially volatile debate in Nevada. Nevada's Caucuses are Saturday and there's a lot at stake tonight. Bernie Sanders for example looking to solidify his front-runner status.

Joe Biden meanwhile hopes to prove he has a comeback plan. But the biggest spotlight without a doubt will be on the debate newcomer, Michael Bloomberg he is skipping Nevada's Caucuses entirely but he is picking up support with the states that vote in March that threatens all of the other Democrats who look for Bloomberg to be challenged over his lavish campaign spending his past support for controversial policing policies and allegations of misogyny and sexism in back in the 1990s at his business.

Let's start in Nevada this afternoon. Alex Burns of "The New York Times" and CNN's Arlette Saenz are in Vegas. Arlette let me start with you. Is this debate bigger for Bernie Sanders or for Mike Bloomberg?

ARLETTE SAENZ, CNN POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: I think it's bigger for both of them. This could turn into a Democratic primary brawl right here on the Vegas strip. As this is going to be the first time that those Democratic contenders are coming face-to-face with Michael Bloomberg.

This is something that they have been waiting some time for quite some time now for his record to come into the spotlight. He could be criticized on a host of issues whether it's the allegations of misogynistic and sexist remarks that he has allegedly made or there are questions about really need to criminal justice his past offense of stop-and-frisk.

You know Joe Biden has been saying that he thinks other candidates like Bloomberg should have their record scrutinized the same way that he's been scrutinized for months in this Democratic field. Then, there are also questions of who may be going after Bernie Sanders tonight?

He is now the front-runner has pulled away with a double-digit lead in those national polls and could these candidates sight also take aim at Bernie Sanders. Michael Bloomberg is braising to be a focus. He has been preparing for quite some time with his advisors and we will see how all of this plays out in just a few hours right here in Vegas.

KING: And Alex I think that point from Arlette makes it interesting. If you're the other candidates on the one hand it is Bernie Sanders who is taking off in the polls right now nationally, has momentum in Nevada, just won New Hampshire.

So if you're trying to stop the "Front-Runner", it would be Bernie Sanders, and yet if you're one of the moderates, looking down the road, the guy with the unlimited bank Michael Bloomberg is a bigger - is he a bigger threat?

ALEX BURNS, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Look, I think if you're Pete Buttigieg or an Amy Klobuchar or even to some extent to Biden, you cannot leave this debate without addressing the obstacle that is Michael Bloomberg in this race.

At the same time John, as folks will remember very, very well from 2016 there is a road that's paved to somewhere other than victory with the idea that you should go after everybody except the guy who is actually leading in the polls.

This idea that the way you take on Bernie Sanders is to kill off all the other moderate options and eventually you will be the alternative. These candidates just don't have that kind of time. So if we are talking at this time tomorrow just about this pile on against Mike Bloomberg, I think that's a great night for Bernie Sanders and very problematic night for everybody else.

KING: That's an interesting point. And Arlette just before we came on the air Joe Biden going after Mike Bloomberg saying let's talk about Obama. We're going to spend a lot of time on this later in the program but Joe Biden clearly thinking again Michael Bloomberg trying to steal his space.

SAENZ: Yes that's right. And the fact that Michael Bloomberg is trying to make himself appear as if he's linked to Obama, that's certainly strikes a nerve with Joe Biden given the fact that they had such a close working relationship.

And tonight's debate is also very critical for the Former Vice President. He is hoping for a turnaround right here in Nevada to then propel him into more diverse states like South Carolina and those Super Tuesday contests, but after those disappointing finishes in both Iowa and New Hampshire, Joe Biden needs really needs a strong commanding performance tonight.

[12:05:00]

KING: And Alex let me close with this, Elizabeth Warren, not mentioned, the candidate of the summer who suddenly finds herself almost lost in the Democratic Race. What are the stakes for her?

BURNS: I think the stakes are pretty high. This is a state that six months ago or a year ago I think a lot us would have look at and said this is potentially Elizabeth Warren country. She does still have a strong campaign organization here and the question is she going to use this debate to caterwauler herself back into position, not maybe not first place but closer to first place than she has been in the last couple of contests.

And she is one candidate where if you look at the presence of Mike Bloomberg on stage. He is potentially an extremely useful foil for her on a number of levels the question is will she use it. KING: It is a great question we will watch and see in the debate tonight. Arlette Saenz and Alex Burns appreciate you helping us at the stage. Now Senator Bernie Sanders as we noted has a clear and growing national lead heading into tonight's debate. Look at the number here a new CNN poll shows him ahead of the pack with a 12 point lead over Former Vice President Biden.

We're also getting some fresh inside into the demographics of the Sanders support base. Look at this new ABC Washington Post poll 29 percent of white voters support Senator Sanders. He's also leading this is significant, by double digits among non-white voters, with 35 percent.

Former Vice President Biden however still holds a narrow 5 points lead over Sanders among black voters. With me in studio to share their reporting and their insights CNN's Abby Phillip, Michael Shear with "The New York Times", Heather Caygle with POLITICO" and Margaret Talev with "AXIOS".

It is such a strange dynamic in that Bloomberg is not competing in Nevada and yet there he is for the first time on the debate stage. If you're a Bernie Sanders or Elizabeth Warren the progressives he's the billionaire foil.

If you're one of the moderates, whether it is Joe Biden or Pete Buttigieg, who wants to say hello, I just won Iowa and I did very well in New Hampshire. What about me. Amy Klobuchar has a surprising third in New Hampshire and yet they are almost lost because of the unlimited spending of Michael Bloomberg.

ABBY PHILLIP, CNN POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: I think really encountered somewhat unexpected factor in Michael Bloomberg and that I think a lot of the non-Biden candidates who were moderates were expecting to be seen as the alternative to Joe Biden by this point in the race and to have a shot at that if they performed well in the first two seats.

And now, there is Michael Bloomberg who is rising so quickly that they don't have a chance really to take him down. The question for them is how exactly do they do that? The attacks from the progressive left are pretty obvious on the money, the sort of approach to politics and "Buying the Election".

But on the moderate side they're going to have to figure out who is going to be the one to bring up some of these issues of race and policing? What else can they use to take Michael Bloomberg down a notch?

I think it's a difficult problem for some of these other candidates. I'm not sure that even one debate night is going to be sufficient to do that job given that already this dynamic of Bloomberg versus Bernie is starting to really be the dominant narrative of the campaign right now.

MARGARET TALEV, POLITICS & WHITE HOUSE EDITOR, AXIOS: I do think and this is Elizabeth Warren has the most to gain and the least to lose in this equation. We have seen both in her case and in Amy Klobuchar's case but it is more noteworthy in Elizabeth Warren's case. The formation of Super Pacs by supporters of her to try to get her at least through the weekend in terms of funding and being on the air with ads and that kind of thing.

What's ironic of course in Elizabeth Warren's case, is not like one of the central pillars of her campaign is she's against Super Pacs. So you have got this group of progressive women saying we know you're against this but we think you need this or we're going to do it anyway.

A statement from her just out from her campaign saying that her position hasn't changed since day one she's been against this and she thinks all the candidates should ban together and be against this.

But nonetheless, this is an opportunity for her. She was at one point the leading progressive and the support coalesced around Bernie Sanders. She got stuck in this weird middle space the middle has been like a terrible place to be. The middle of between the really liberals and the sort of liberals centrists liberals, and she's fading financially.

But Michael Bloomberg is an opportunity for her to return to her sort of core values, right, like the criticism of billionaires, criticism of Wall Street Corporation the idea of kind of the status quo capitalism. We'll see if she does is and if she can do it and how he responds?

KING: Can she do it? Or will she do it? I guess is the question when she was the candidate the growth stock candidate over the summer, she sort of deliberately stepped back at debates even though she has made her name because she is a great debater. She is a good debater. She deliberately stepped back. Here she is in Nevada yesterday trying to reassert herself saying, you need me.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. ELIZABETH WARREN (D-MA) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: It's not enough just to go out and say as many candidates have, I have a good immigration plan. You also need a good plan for getting it enacted because I don't want to be President just to talk about good things I want to be a President to get it done. That's my plan on immigration. It takes a woman with a plan to get something done!

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Trying to play on a number of factors here.

[12:10:00]

KING: Number one, trying to appeal to Democratic voters, a lot of women that you want a woman in office someone who can get things done, trying to make the case, I'm progressive like Bernie but I can actually build relationships and get things done.

The other thing I would note there as you just heard in the voice, it is tough to run for President. Whoever you're supporting at home, whatever you're politics at home. They've been at it for months now and some of them are at a crossroads. You get worn out. It's hard.

MICHAEL SHEAR, WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, THE NEW YORK TIMES: Totally is and you know I think that underscores a point that I wanted to make about Bloomberg, not to take anything away from the attacks on his record which will certainly come and that those are important. The examination of his record is really important.

But Mike Bloomberg is somebody that has not been sort of impressionistically seen by people. They don't know who he is. These other candidates have been out on the trail in some of these states talking to people talking to voters. They've seen them in debates again and again.

This is the first time outside of slickly produced campaign ads that people are going to see who Bloomberg is? How he reacts and answers questions? How does he interact with his colleagues and with the moderator?

And I think that's really important. And that first impression is going to set in motion or kind of to help determine whether or not he is really going to be a force come the Super Tuesday states or whether he is going to fade quickly if people don't react well to them.

KING: And so does it help or is it annoying to Bernie Sanders and his supporters that people are talking about Michael Bloomberg so much because it is his first debate and because he has spent $400 million and he is going to spend God knows how much more and he is making an impact at a time when Sanders has passed Biden now in several national polls he is opening up a double-digit lead in national polls and clearly is the early front-runner of the race and yet the attention goes elsewhere.

I just want to put that on the context of Super Tuesday states when we get out of here California, the largest basket of delegates available to any Democrat. Bernie Sanders, if you look at it here, 32 percent, more than 2-1 over Joe Biden and Elizabeth Warren.

I mean that is stunning. And look that those other numbers. You need 15 percent to get any delegates out of California. So if you're down below, you're hurting. And then you look out at this way and you go through it and you look among liberal voters Bernie Sanders, 40 percent Elizabeth Warren at half of that.

And even if you come over here and you clear this out and you look at these other voters moderate to conservative voters Bernie Sanders in California, running second to Joe Biden. So in some ways one state one poll showing some evidence that he can expand his coalition at least a little.

HEATHER CAYGLE, CONGRESSIONAL REPORTER, POLITICO: Yes I think Bernie Sanders posture on the stage tonight is so important. Does he present as the front-runner and does he contrast himself with Trump and not try to get in the trenches or does he feel like he needs to get down and fight Bloomberg and try to land a punch on him.

I mean, we have seen their two camps really sparring on Twitter over the last week and it's gotten very nasty. Does he take that to the debate stage or not? That's the question. I think I mean, how threatened does he feel by Bloomberg? And I think that we'll see that tonight and also on the polls, he is leading.

But there was a NBC "Wall Street Journal" poll yesterday that had a really interesting stat I thought it asked what are the things that really turn you off about a Democratic candidate, and over 75, the term "Socialist," having a heart attack is one of the things they asked so that is the question can he overcome those things to expand his base of support?

KING: Right and now that he's in the lead nationally without a doubt, he is going to get more questions about things like that. About his Democratic socialism, about his health records. We'll come back to that story a bit later in the program.

There is this programming note as we move on. CNN does continue our Town Halls ahead of the Nevada Caucuses tomorrow Joe Biden and Senator Elizabeth Warren live from Las Vegas that's 8:00 pm eastern only here on CNN. Up next, power the President and his Attorney General's future.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

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KING: Today, plenty of evidence the President sees himself as his own best counsel and will use his powers however he chooses. A clean slate this morning for a roaster of well connected criminals Former Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich just one of the 11 pardoned or given clemency by President yesterday. Presidential powers also at the heart of a new Washington debate.

How serious is the Attorney General's suggestion he might resign? The Justice Department calls the multiple reports about Bill Barr considering quitting from CNN and others "Beltway Rumors" and says "The Attorney General has no plans to resign". Exaggerated or not the President made clear Tuesday how he sees his relationship with the Attorney General and importantly who reports to whom?

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT, UNITED STATES OF AMERICA: The Attorney General is a man with incredible integrity. 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.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Let's get straight to the White House with CNN's Kaitlan Collins. Kaitlan I assume the Chief Law Enforcement Officer of the country views himself is in charge here and the Attorney General has to deal with it.

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: And that's what causing that tension but John we should note that is not some beliefs of the President has had. He has felt this way about his relationship with the Justice Department since he took office.

And now Bill Barr is telling people that he is considering resigning from his job because of the President's ongoing inference with these criminal matters at the Justice Department, mainly his tweets. John that has prompted skepticism among many to ask is he really considering resigning or is he just trying to send a message to the President by making sure that people are aware this is something he has been floating out there.

Because we do know that the tension between the President and Attorney General over this is real and it has caused a lot of frustration among those rank and file members at the Justice Department which is making Bill Barr's life harder.

But also John he is a very calculated Attorney General he knows this President well. And we have seen other aides try this tactics in the past. Namely John Kelly, when he was Chief of Staff back in the early days before he and the President had had any real tension he would threaten to resign if he and the President got in disagreement.

So often that by the end of it people did not take those threats seriously. So it remains to be seen if that is the case here though we should know Bill Barr of course is one of the President's favorite cabinet member.

[12:20:00]

COLLINS: He has been a staunch ally of his and has been by his side essentially executing what exactly he wants done at the Justice Department. The question is whether or not he is actually going to consider stepping down from this job if the President does continues to tweet because of course this is a President who people say he is not going to stop tweeting and Bill Barr certainly knew that when he took this job.

KING: Kaitlan Collins live at the White House. I Appreciate it. Keep us up to date on the drama, I guess is the best way to put it.

As we bring in the conversation here I just want to play a little bit more of the President here yesterday who makes it crystal clear, yes, I sometimes make him uncomfortable.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: I have total confidence in the Attorney General. I do make his job harder. I do agree with that. I think that true. He is a very straight shooter. We have a great Attorney General and he's working very hard.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: It's essentially, like, yes, deal with it.

TALEV: I mean so there are always questions about, is he serious about may be resigning. I think if he is really serious about resigning, he will resign, and if he did, it could have a cataclysmic effect on the President heading into this election season. I believe there will be repercussions I think that's why you saw Lindsey Graham and Mitch McConnell yesterday sort of preemptively coming to Barr's defense with this statement of support.

KING: A, they want to support him but, B, more importantly B is the A they want him to stay.

TALEV: Yes. The control of the Senate is at stake in the next elections. If the President Trump did get reelected and control of the Senate flipped in Democrats kept the House somehow which would be a difficult electoral math, but there could be massive repercussions and just the administration of government for the months to come if Barr actually were to go.

And so I don't have a truth lasso and I don't know like what he's actually thinking. But I think it is certainly plausible that he has considered it. We were hearing the same thing yesterday as well, and it is hard to calibrate like are you going to report a source story that says someone is threatening to go.

If the whole reason they're saying it is because they're not really thinking about going they're just trying to reset expectations, that's the complexity of kind of the inside Washington picture that we are in right now.

But you have got 2,000 bipartisan former prosecutors expressing real concern about whether he can stay in that role you've got an emergency meeting of federal judges trying to sustain the credibility in the independence of the American Judiciary like this is a crisis point in American governance and democracy.

KING: It is a crisis point and yet the President keeps poking the bear if you will and issuing a whole bunch of pardons and clemencies yesterday to cheaters. If you're Bill Barr and if you want to say we're for law and order if you're the Republican Party you used to be for law and order.

And Rod Blagojevich, Eddy DeBartot Jr., Bernie Kerik and Michael Milken and Paul Pogue David Safavian are people who cheated the system, especially in the case of Governor Blagojevich, Mr. Milken, using their money using their influence using their power to cheat the system, swamp creatures being pardoned or given clemency by the I'll drain the swamp President.

SHEAR: And the thing about this President that is so different than previous Presidents is that there is no shame involved. Past Presidents have on occasion used the pardon power to benefit people who are shady. But they usually either do it on the way out. President Clinton did it on literally the last day he was in office.

KING: Waiting for the Bush Inaugural Parade when that one happened.

SHEAR: But even if they didn't do it on the last day, there is an effort to try to explain away, what you see in front of you is not really what I'm doing, there are other reasons for it. This President doesn't bother with any of that. He just puts it all out there at a time that the hypocrisy saying that he's trying to drain the swamp which clearly this doesn't do it.

He's just finished being impeached over issues of corruption he pardons people who are basically accused of corruption. It's really bald-faced convicted of it and it's really bald-faced and he is sort of, as that clip suggested, he sort of shrugs in the face and says, yes, whatever.

KING: It's the President of the United States celebrating government corruption, is what it is.

SHEAR: True.

PHILLIP: And the President's allies have been noted that he has pardoned or commuted sentences far fewer than his predecessors, which is true but if you look at the why and the how of this? The President acknowledged yesterday that he saw these people on television, essentially some of them, you saw Rod Blagojevich's wife on television and his lawyers and friends and donors have implored him to intervene in these cases.

The President seems to not - there are thousands of cases of the administration of Justice in this country not working fairly. It's obvious in those cases where people are being sentenced for minor crimes or given longer sentenced or even being convicted of crimes that they did not commit. And the President seems to have absolutely no interest in any of those things and he only seems to have interest in the things that he sees on Fox News.

[12:25:00]

PHILLIP: That is what the problem is here with this process, it is not just the sort of pardoning of corruption, it is also that he only seems to care about what his friends--

TALEV: The four handful of those people yesterday, mixed in on that list, you saw, yesterday, this list of white men convicted of financial or corruption crimes. And then this handful of women of color who are much more traditionally part of the political argument that President Trump is trying to make to voters of color, to black Americans and to women of color by saying, look, I'm sensitive to these issues of racial injustice.

You're talking about women who ended up in prison because of drug- related offenses, that sort of thing, being mixed in with these guys who were in a completely different category.

PHILLIP: And also there is no process around this I mean--

KING: They make it more - those cases might get more attention if the President would just focus on those and maybe do an event and say why announce why. That is a worthy cause if he can focus on it. All right quick break when we come back new reporting about Michael Bloomberg's treatment of women in the workplace. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

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