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Allegations of Sexist and Misogynistic Behavior Loom Over Bloomberg's First 2020 Debate; Sanders: Watch Me Campaign If My Health Concerns You; 2020 Dems Feature Obama in His Own Words in Their Ads. Aired 12:30-1p ET

Aired February 19, 2020 - 12:30   ET




JOHN KING, CNN HOST: Michael Bloomberg's last debate was 11 years ago when he was seeking re-election as New York's city mayor. Tonight is his first time on a presidential debate stage. And we can expect some sharp lines of attack from rivals. One likely focus, allegations that Bloomberg repeatedly used sexist and harassing language whiles the CEO of his data and media company.

CNN's MJ Lee has some important new reporting today on this issue, and joins us live from Las Vegas. MJ, Bloomberg is likely to have a target on his back over this issue. What specifically are you learning about these allegations?

MJ LEE, CNN POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: That's right, John. When Michael Bloomberg takes the debate stage tonight, these allegations from the past of Bloomberg making sexist and misogynistic remarks, they are going to loom large for him. And CNN examined two lawsuits from the 1990s that have also drawn the scrutiny of other media outlets as well. And I just want to walk you through what we learned.

In this first lawsuit, it was brought forth by a woman named Sekiko Garrison, again, from the 1990s, a former Bloomberg LP employee. She described a culture of basically a boy's club, where she says women were encouraged to have sex appeal, that women who were married or had children would lose out on professional opportunities. And she describes telling Bloomberg at the time when she found out that she was pregnant, and according to the complaint, Bloomberg said, kill it and muttered great, number 16, suggesting to plaintiff his unhappiness that 16 women in the company had maternity-related status.

Now, the complaint also describes in detail other kinds of crude and crass remarks that Bloomberg allegedly made in the workplace. And I should note that the Bloomberg campaign says that Michael Bloomberg never said any of the things that are detailed in this particular lawsuit. So, obviously, that pushback is very important to note.

I also just want to point out from the second lawsuit that CNN examined, this is also from a former Bloomberg LP employee. She actually accused a Bloomberg executive at the time of rape. So this is a very serious allegation. And as part of that lawsuit, there was a Bloomberg, Michael Bloomberg deposition and the Village Voice reported that according to the deposition, Michael Bloomberg himself said that he would only believe a rape allegation if there was an unimpeachable third party witness.

Now, this is what Bloomberg spokesman Stu Loeser told CNN about that specific description from that deposition. He said, "It was a contentious deposition and this is not what Mike believes."

So, again, John, this is just one of many issues that Michael Bloomberg might get some heat for either tonight on the debate stage or just in the weeks to come as his presidential campaign continues.


KING: And MJ, in your hunt for context here and guidance, we understand you spoke to a former Bloomberg employee about these lawsuits and the culture at Bloomberg LP. What did you learned of these employees? What did they tell you?

LEE: That's right. This is a former senior Bloomberg LP, excuse me, employee that CNN spoke with. And they said that they saw firsthand the kind of sexist and misogynistic environment described in these two lawsuits that we were just talking about. And I just want to read a part of what they told CNN. They said, "When you're a woman who worked at Bloomberg, you had to look beautiful. You had to be gorgeous. If you were overweight, they would call you horrible names. It's mean stuff."

Now, the Bloomberg campaign's overall pushback to these kinds of allegations has been to say, look, complaints aside, and there have been many of them because Bloomberg LP, of course, is a large company, Michael Bloomberg himself does not condone this kind of behavior.


And I'll just leave you with the statement that the campaign chairwoman Patti Harris shared. She said, "In any large organization, there are going to be complaints but Mike has never tolerated any kind of discrimination or harassment, and he's created cultures that are all about equality and inclusion. Anyone who works hard and performs well is going to be rewarded, regardless of gender, race, sexual orientation or anything else.


KING: MJ Lee, important reporting. Really appreciate you bringing it to us into the context with it. MJ is in Vegas.

Let's bring it into the room. This is a major business leader, a three-term mayor of New York City, now running for president of the United States in the Democratic Party. He's going to have to answer that to his fellow candidates and to the American people tonight, is he not?

ABBY PHILLIP, CNN POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Absolutely. And part of the argument that you're going to hear from the other candidates is that, these allegations that exist against Bloomberg, not just on, you know, the culture at his companies or his own alleged comments, but also his comments on issues of race and also on his relation -- the fact that he is so wealthy and he's using his money in the way that he is in this campaign, is going to undermine the Democratic argument against Trump. It makes the contrast with Trump much more difficult.

I think you're going to hear that from Bernie Sanders and from a number of the other candidates who have been trying to make this point for a long time. So for voters who have only heard about Bloomberg or seen him in these incredibly glossy ads, some of whom might think that Barack Obama endorsed him, who basically only see him through the best possible lens. Some of these might be news to them and they're going to have to evaluate whether or not they feel like they need a candidate who is the polar opposite of Trump or a candidate who is, in essence, Trump's peer in a lot of ways. I think there are some Democrats out there who actually like the fact that Bloomberg is very wealthy and they think that that something that will get under the president's skin if they are up against each other in 2020.

KING: And I just want as we -- you know, these are very serious allegations and the mayor is going to face questions I assume from the panel tonight and I assume from some of his rivals tonight as well. Most of you watching have never seen Michael Bloomberg on a debate stage, so these are not relative to the issues we're talking about right now, those are the questions you see that could come up tonight. A whole host of questions for Mike Bloomberg who has said he spent almost $400 million to get himself into an advantageous position in the Democratic race.

This is 2005, Bloomberg back running for mayor.


DAVE EVANS, POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT, WABC-TV: If you've done such a good job as you've claimed, why the need to spend so much money?

MICHAEL BLOOMBERG (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I'm trying to get my message out to every community in this city. It cost as lot of money. This city has gone in the right direction I believe but we can do an awful lot more. And explaining the facts to the people takes time, it takes organization, and it takes a lot of TV time.


KING: Pretty straightforward answer there. We just have not seen him in this setting. You know, it from talking to other people, I interviewed him several times over the years, he gets a little prickly sometimes when you criticize him.

HEATHER CAYGLE, CONGRESSIONAL REPORTER, POLITICO: Yes. I mean, he is obviously, we know spent a significant amount of time preparing for this debate. He is going to expect these questions and these attacks. But, the question is how does he answer them?

Does he answer them in a convincing way that puts people at ease especially on very sensitive issues like sexual harassment in the workplace and things like that. He spent almost $400 million in ads, but, you know, that can't buy a debate performance. You can have all the preparation in the world but if you're not come across as authentic, people will see it.

MICHAEL SHEAR, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: That's true but there is also the question of whatever happens tonight, how do the other candidates capitalize on it, right? I mean -- and so, you know, if you have -- if he stumbles, if he doesn't -- if he makes an answer that -- gives an answer that isn't particularly kind of either well thought out or he bumbles it, you know, typically in a campaign, there's a way that the other rivals take advantage of that. None of the other rivals have the kind of money that he has. So, especially going into states like California and elsewhere that were -- they're really expensive.

So, he has an opportunity, yes, he can stumble tonight, he also has an opportunity that maybe other candidates wouldn't have to recover using all the money that he seems willing to use.

MARGARET TALEV, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: There's also the question about whether this is breaking through -- whether this will break through the same way that the ads break through. We all care about it, we all cover politics.

SHEAR: A lot of people don't watch it.

TALEV: And so that is a question and so is the question of how -- the timing of some of these allegations, the allegations about treatment of women tend to be in the decades old category, the criticism about criminal justice policies and how they disproportionately affect people of color, are much more current or recent during his time as -- his tenure as mayor of New York. That will be potentially big impact in southern states in the Super Tuesday state. So there are a lot of different moving pieces here but the Bloomberg campaign's premise so far has been that Donald Trump by all the free media he got in 2016 was just able to get his message out the way he wanted it.


And then Michael Bloomberg through paid media, can get his message out the way he wants to.

KING: Well, we're going to see the interactions tonight. First time on the debate stage.

When we come back, Bernie Sanders says if you have any question about his age or his recent heart attack, don't expect medical records but come follow him on the campaign trail.


KING: Senator Bernie Sanders says do not expect more information about his health. That in the wake, of course, of the heart attack that briefly forced him off from the campaign trail back in October. The 78-year-old senator says he believes three letters released by his doctor after the heart attack are enough, and that anyone with questions about his health should just follow him as he campaigns.


A campaign spokeswoman defending deposition this morning while making an unfounded claim about Michael Bloomberg.


BRIAHNA JOY GRAY, NATIONAL PRESS SECRETARY, BERNIE SANDERS CAMPAIGN: I think the American people deserve to know exactly as much as every other candidate has released in this race currently and historically. And what you're seeing right now is really reminiscence of some of the kind of smear, kind of skepticism campaigns that have been run against a lot of different candidates in the past. It's really telling given that none of the same concern is being demonstrated for Michael Bloomberg, with the same age as Bernie Sanders who has suffered heart attacks in the past.


KING: That in of itself, she was complaining about smears. That was a smear. Bloomberg's campaign manager says that last part is a lie. And Briahna Joy is now -- Briahna Joy Gray, excuse me, is now walking back her comment saying on Twitter, quote, I mispoke when I said Bloomberg had a heart attack. She said attacks, plural. Had a heart attack. Rather, underwent the same stent procedure as Bernie, end quote.

For the record, Mayor Bloomberg's stent procedure was back in 2000, and was done as a preventive measure not after a heart attack.

Senator Sanders can -- in the age of Trump, you don't release your taxes, you release a letter from a doctor who says you're the most fit man who ever walked the planet, superman would be jealous of you, can we get away with this now. Is that what it is? We don't have to release, we don't have to be transparent. Even if -- and if you watch Senator Sanders, he is right, he is the energizer bunny on the campaign trail but he is a 78-year-old candidate who had a heart attack four months ago.

SHEAR: And look, I covered Senator McCain when he ran in 2008, there were questions about skin cancer, he was older, one of, I think at that point, maybe even the oldest presidential candidate. And he released hundreds of pages of records. I was in -- I was the pool reporter in a room with, you know, piles of papers that we had to go through. You know, there were limits, they didn't release everything, there were some things that they just released to the pool that were then summarized. But there was a kind of understanding that given the particular situation that the senator was in, given the maladies that he had had in his age that there was a need to be open. And I think it's really remarkable, it seems to me, that given the senators -- Senator Sanders' situation, that he's resisting.

KING: And there's a way to do it, you've done in the past, you have an interview with the New York Times medical correspondent, you sit down with Dr. Sanjay Gupta of CNN, you give them the full and you release the records. And then you say, OK, enough. Unless you have any questions about this but we shall see.

President Obama has not endorsed in the 2020 Democratic race but you might not think so if you watch the television ads.

And as we go to break, the former Democratic governor of Illinois, Rod Blagojevich thanks President Trump this hour for his new freedom.


ROD BLAGOJEVICH (D), FORMER ILLINOIS GOVERNOR: We want to express our most profound and everlasting gratitude to President Trump. How do you probably thank someone who has given you back the freedom that was stolen from you. He didn't have to do this, he's a Republican president, I was a Democratic governor. And doing this does nothing to help his politics. He turned an injustice into a justice.




KING: Former President Barack Obama is officially neutral in the 2020 Democratic race. But it's easy to get a different impression if you turn on the television and catch a few campaign ads.


BARACK OBAMA, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: He's been a leader throughout the country for the past 12 years. Mr. Michael Bloomberg is here.

Elizabeth understands what I strongly believe. That is a strong, growing economy begins with a strong and thriving middle class.

Joe's candid honest counsel made me a better president and a better commander-in-chief. And all of this makes him the finest vice president we have ever seen. The best part is, he's nowhere close to finished.


KING: And while we've been on the air, the Sanders campaign releasing a new ad in South Carolina, talked about a voter who switched from Biden to Sanders that shows, voila, Bernie Sanders with Barack Obama who is neutral.

PHILLIP: You really would not know it. And honestly, I have to say I've been talking to the other campaigns, this is a source of real anxiety among the other campaigns where they're like, voters actually are coming away from the television screens believing that Obama has weighed in on this race when he has not. And there's nothing you can really do about it because the ads are everywhere. You know, you're not going to -- a debate stage -- you know, I'm sure someone will bring this up tonight, frankly. But, that's not going to do the trick.

So, I'm not really sure. Specially for Joe Biden, this is a real problem for him.

SHEAR: Somebody will come in and criticize Obama for endorsing them all at the same time.

TALEV: They're going to show you how --

KING: Make a decision.

SHEAR: Please!

TALEV: It just shows you how enduring Obama's kind of good will and popularity inside the party. And yet, there's really no evident in the polls that suggest that any Democrats think we can really return to the Obama era way of doing things after all of these.

KING: I saw the former president briefly this weekend, I was at the NBA all-star game and he came in for a panel discussion. I saw him briefly backstage, he did not want to get involved in this at all.

CAYGLE: I mean, would you, right? I think for Biden, this is the easiest way for him to have a standout moment tonight. He has the most legitimate claim to President Obama so why not attack Bloomberg and, you know, try to have a moment for yourself on this stage. We'll see.

KING: You mentioned Bloomberg who is spending a lot of money on ads where Obama praises him. I just want to remind people, a little context of this.


BLOOMBERG: I would argue that today we are more segregated in America certainly than we were in terms of race than we were a dozen years ago. And yet, we're just finishing up eight years with our first black president.


Why are we more separated than we were before is the question you've got to ask yourself. Why during the Obama administration didn't we pull together? You know, ask the president. That's his job really to pull people together.


KING: That's not love. That's not love.

PHILLIP: And there's no love lost in the Obama camp for Bloomberg. They remember all of those moments and remember Bloomberg has a chance to endorse Obama. So, yes, none of this is going down particularly well. I think we'll hear about -- more about it.

KING: To be continued.

Thanks for joining us today on INSIDE POLITICS. See you back here this time tomorrow. A whole big debate to talk about.

Don't go anywhere, a busy news day. Brianna Keilar starts after a very quick break. Have a good afternoon.