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Dems Ready to Debate Bloomberg Tonight; Source: Barr Considered Resigning Over Trump Tweets. Aired 6-6:30a ET

Aired February 19, 2020 - 06:00   ET

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


(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

DAVID CHALIAN, CNN POLITICAL DIRECTOR: One thing that was consistent across all three town halls was Michael Bloomberg.

[05:59:20]

SEN. BERNIE SANDERS (I-VT), DEMOCRATIC PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: His policies humiliated and offended hundreds of thousands of people.

SEN. AMY KLOBUCHAR (D-MN), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I don't think you should just be able to buy your way to the presidency.

PETE BUTTIGIEG (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: By throwing colossal sums of money on television, shows you what's wrong with our system.

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

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The question is, is Bill Barr actually going to resign over this?

DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I'm actually, I guess, the chief law enforcement officer of the country.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

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 a NEW DAY. It is Wednesday -- I see you looking at me. It is Wednesday, some date. And it's 6 a.m. here in New York.

Nice to see you.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Some --

CAMEROTA: Great to have you back.

BERMAN: You know, it's good to be here. I missed you terribly during my days off.

CAMEROTA: I missed your terribly, as well. It's great. So did the viewers. It's great to have you back.

BERMAN: I slept until 9:30 every day. It was great.

CAMEROTA: How dare you?

BERMAN: I know.

CAMEROTA: How dare you?

BERMAN: I know.

CAMEROTA: Six Democratic candidates square off tonight in the high- stakes debate in Nevada. Mike Bloomberg making the debate stage for the first time. And his opponents seem ready to pounce.

New national polls show Senator Bernie Sanders with a double digit- lead, breaking away from the field. But Bloomberg's standing has allowed him to qualify for the next debate beyond Nevada. That will be in South Carolina.

BERMAN: And then there's this. Overnight, CNN learned that Attorney General Bill Barr has told people he has considered resigning over President Trump's interference in Justice Department matters. Has considered or perhaps is considering, it's not clear how much in the past or present tense this is. Or if the attorney general is serious or just trying to send a message to the president.

So why the message? Because the president has defied or ignored the attorney general's request to keep quiet about law enforcement matters. He continues to attack federal judges, declaring himself the chief law enforcement officer of the country.

This after issuing a flurry of pardons and commutations to folks who might be on the Mt. Rushmore of political and financial corruption. Or maybe Mt. Swampmore? Can we call it Mt. Swampmore?

CAMEROTA: That's great. Either one works.

BERMAN: I just thought of that. See, when I'm well-rested, I can come up with "Mt. Swampmore" like that.

CAMEROTA: Really good.

BERMAN: All right. We're going to get to that in a moment.

Let's begin, though, with the very different Democratic debate stage tonight. Arlette Saenz is live in Las Vegas with that -- Arlette.

ARLETTE SAENZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hey, good morning.

The New York billionaire Michael Bloomberg is set to make his debut on the debate stage tonight, and his rivals have shown they are ready to pounce, accusing him of trying to buy the election.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) SAENZ (voice-over): Michael Bloomberg on the debate stage for the first time tonight. But he won't be receiving a warm welcome from his Democratic rivals.

SANDERS: Anybody here worth $60 billion? You can run for president.

SAENZ: Bloomberg has spent over $400 million in TV, radio, and digital ads across the country. But his team argues there is more to his campaign than money.

JASON SCHECHTER, BLOOMBERG CAMPAIGN DIRECTOR OF COMMUNICATIONS: Mike believes that Donald Trump is an existential threat to this country. His re-election poses a huge, enormous challenge to America. So he will spend whatever it takes to get Donald Trump out of office.

SAENZ: The former New York City mayor holding mock debate sessions in recent days to prepare. Three candidates previewing their attacks on Bloomberg at CNN town halls last night.

KLOBUCHAR: I actually thought he should be on the debate stage, because I don't think you should just be able to buy your way to the presidency.

SANDERS: But I do think it's a bit obscene that we have somebody who, by the way, chose not to contest in Iowa, in Nevada, or in South Carolina, in New Hampshire. He said, I don't have to do that. I'm worth $60 billion.

ERIN BURNETT, CNN ANCHOR: Do you think Michael Bloomberg is trying to buy the Democratic nomination for president?

BUTTIGIEG: Yes. What else do you call it when you dip into your endless reserves of millions and billions and don't go through the process of campaigning?

SAENZ: Pete Buttigieg, who leads the delegate count right now, also taking aim at frontrunner Bernie Sanders.

BUTTIGIEG: We're asking people to choose between a revolution and the billionaire. I just don't think that's speaking to where most of us are right now.

SAENZ: Sanders trying to disavow the tactics that some of his supporters have taken.

SANDERS: There are people out there who want to divide the progressive movement. We can have a debate about the issues, but I do not believe in online bullying. End of discussion.

SEN. ELIZABETH WARREN (D-MA), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I'm Elizabeth Warren. I'm going -- the woman who is going to beat Donald Trump.

SAENZ: Elizabeth Warren losing her voice on the campaign trail, but tweeting this, apparently comparing Bloomberg to Trump, writing, "At least now, primary voters can get a live demonstration of how we each take on an egomaniac billionaire." Joe Biden is hoping for a strong finish in Nevada after disappointing

showings in Iowa and New Hampshire.

JOE BIDEN (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: We choose unity over division. We choose -- we choose compassion over cruelty. And maybe most importantly, we choose truth over lies. Truth over lies. So folks, it's time for us to get up.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SAENZ: Tonight's debate is one of the last chances for these Democrats to leave their mark on Nevada voters with the caucuses just three days away. And remember, Michael Bloomberg isn't even competing here in Nevada or South Carolina, focusing instead on those Super Tuesday contests -- John.

BERMAN: All right, Arlette. We're going to talk about the strategy of having to deal with Michael Bloomberg tonight on that stage in just a moment.

First, though, developing overnight. CNN has learned that Attorney General William Barr has considered resigning or maybe is considering resigning over President Trump's tweets interfering with Justice Department matters.

[06:05:07]

CNN's Laura Jarrett, co-anchor of "EARLY START," who has covered the Justice Department extensively, joins us now.

I guess it's unclear how much in the past or present tense this is or how real we should be considering this.

LAURA JARRETT, CNN ANCHOR: Well, one thing, John, is that the president cannot afford to lose this attorney general.

We know behind the scenes, Barr has been frustrated with the president's nonstop tweeting about DOJ cases, something he's made clear directly to Trump. But this news of him telling people that he's considered resigning takes things a step further. And it raises questions about why he told people that.

In other words, is Barr actually serious about this? Or is he 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 a more lenient sentence recommendation for Trump ally Roger Stone following a tweet from Trump, making it appear as though DOJ was leaping at the president's demands.

Barr then went on television to claim he can't do his job with the president's constant commentary in the background. But that, of course, hasn't stopped Trump from weighing in on cases, prosecutors and even the judge and jury, at least in Stone's case.

Trump told reporters just yesterday he does make it harder for Barr to do his job, but he couldn't resist a chance to remind reporters who's really in charge.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: 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)

JARRETT: Now, sources tell CNN the tension between the president and his A.G. appears to be cooling off, and a Justice Department spokeswoman says the attorney general has no plans to resign, guys.

CAMEROTA: All right. That clarifies it. Thank you. Thank you very much, Laura.

All right. Bloomberg's pitch to voters is that he's tough enough to go toe-to-toe with President Trump. But how will he fare tonight against his fellow Democrats? We look at that next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[06:11:19]

CAMEROTA: Six of the Democratic candidates will go head-to-head tonight in Nevada. Michael Bloomberg will be on the debate stage for the first time. And a new poll released just seconds ago shows Bernie Sanders cementing his status at the top of the pack.

Joining us now to talk about how this is all going to go, we have Jess McIntosh, CNN political commentator and former director of communications outreach for Hillary Clinton's 2016 campaign; and Alexandra Rojas, CNN political commentator and executive director of Justice Democrats.

Great to have both of you here. So Michael Bloomberg, new kid in town.

BERMAN: Someone went to the Eagles concert last night. Right?

CAMEROTA: New kid in town on the debate stage; or Bernie Sanders, frontrunner? Who will the rest of the pack go after tonight?

JESS MCINTOSH, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: I mean, I think everybody's sort of been champing at the bit to go after Mike Bloomberg, who is skipping all normal manner of campaigning. He's not contesting in the first four states. He's not talking to voters. He's not sitting for interviews. This is just -- it's unprecedented. We've not seen someone attempt to gain the presidency this way. And I think that has to be immensely frustrating.

I mean, look how hard Elizabeth Warren worked to get to third in the delegate count. She's now neck-and-neck in the polls nationally with a candidate who has done none of that work.

So I think, while Bernie is the frontrunner and would otherwise be taking the oncoming, I think everybody is really excited to finally have Bloomberg's record where he can be held account.

BERMAN: You're suggesting it would be life in the fast lane for Michael Bloomberg?

MCINTOSH: I do, yes.

CAMEROTA: All day long.

BERMAN: He might end up with some heartache tonight.

MCINTOSH: Wow.

CAMEROTA: All night long.

BERMAN: So it is interesting, though, that after a year or six months of debates, all of a sudden, it's Michael Bloomberg who's going to be the focus tonight? I mean, what does that say about the other candidates if Pete Buttigieg, if Amy Klobuchar, and if Bernie Sanders -- we saw last night at the town hall, Bernie Sanders talks about Michael Bloomberg almost as much as anything else now.

ALEXANDRA ROJAS, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, I mean, I think, you know, Bernie Sanders is the complete opposite of Michael Bloomberg. And so his campaign and I think what he feels like is he's best positioned.

Whether it's another old, white billionaire that switches parties whenever, you know -- I'm talking about Mike Bloomberg -- whenever it's within his self-interest. And I think for Bernie's campaign, he's looking at it in the same way as Donald Trump. It's Donald Trump, but it's the entire billionaire class and system that allows this level of unbalance that puts power into corporate interests, Wall Street, instead of in the hands of working people.

And so I think that Bernie is also going to have a target on his back because he is a frontrunner. But like other debates, I think it's going to be interesting to see what sticks and what doesn't, with Michael Bloomberg also being onstage.

CAMEROTA: We're told in the reporting that he's been preparing for this. He assumed he was going to make the debate stage. So for weeks, he's been preparing. They've been doing these mock debates.

And that different people on his staff, as is the usual practice, are playing Bernie Sanders or playing different people. And that one of the models they're using -- this is, I think according to "The New York Times," are the two grumpy theater critics of the Muppets in the theater.

BERMAN: Waldorf and Statler. Yes.

MCINTOSH: Statler and Waldorf?

CAMEROTA: And that it -- that's part of what they're doing to help him prepare. That's all funny, but the serious part is that he hasn't been on the debate stage since, I think, 2009? MCINTOSH: Yes. I mean, it's been a long time since he's been mayor of

New York City. It's been a long time since he's had to answer any questions that he didn't want to answer.

You know, he's been focused on the philanthropic good that he's been doing with his billions, which means that he gets to come out and talk about whatever issue he wants to talk about when he wants to talk about it.

So this is not just the first time he's on the debate stage in a while. It's the first time, maybe ever, that he's been on with this many candidates. Because in, you know, when you're running for New York City mayor, you've typically got the one Democrat or Republican, depending on which ticket he's running that year, that you have to be up against. You don't have a whole stage of people with differing opinions coming at you.

[06:15:07]

So this is sort of -- it's unprecedented for him, just like it is for us.

BERMAN: It's high-risk, high reward, though, for Bloomberg. Right? If he shows up tonight for the first time and knocks it out of the park, I imagine it's a good way to make a first impression on people who may not have seen his ads, which is basically zero people.

MCINTOSH: For sure, but there's also the -- he doesn't have to do it at all. I mean, I guess he can just stay on the airwaves and keep talking to camera and reach voters that way. It seems to be working. So --

ROJAS: But let's -- I think --

MCINTOSH: -- I'm glad he has to.

ROJAS: Yes. And I think we have to be -- be clear. He's not earning support to get onto the debate stage. He is purchasing name recognition. And that is what is scary -- a scary precedent to set for the Democratic Party that is supposed to be the Democratic Party that represents the working class.

And so I think that it is, you know, a public moment of accountability for the first time that Bloomberg is going to have to face. And you know, the American people deserve to answer why is it OK for you to not have to work so hard when all these other candidates --

CAMEROTA: Well, I mean, on the flip side, the other argument is he earned that money. This is his money. This isn't dark, undisclosed donor money, which is also -- makes its way into presidential elections. This is his money. So when you say, like, it's setting a precedent. Sure, I guess if another $60 billion billionaire shows up, it sets a precedent.

ROJAS: I think that's the point, is that I don't think me or you or anybody has got $60 billion lying around -- BERMAN: Yet.

ROJAS: -- to be able to purchase the presidency. Maybe yet. But I think, as of right now.

And I think that's part of the -- sort of what Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders are going to make tonight, is that this entire system that allows hundreds of billions of dollars to accumulate wealth in an economy that's 90 percent, you know -- the first 1 percent owns way more than the bottom 90 percent, it's a big case.

BERMAN: Let's show people where the race stands right now. We have Harry -- Harry Enten, who will be with us later, his average of the national polls. It's crystal-clear.

Which is that, as of now, Bernie Sanders is the clear national frontrunner in this race. We have that as P-114. There we go. So 26 percent. Joe Biden way down at 16 percent. And basically, a four-way tie for second with Pete Buttigieg, Elizabeth Warren, and Michael Bloomberg.

And there's this new "Washington Post" poll that just came out, like, two minutes ago which has Bernie Sanders up at 32 percent. There it is right there, this poll just out. It's the same basic shape as the other polls, here.

But Jess, Bernie Sanders is the national frontrunner.

MCINTOSH: Yes.

BERMAN: Period. Full stop. And I think Alexandra's right That manes Michael Bloomberg will be the focus of tonight's debate to an extent, but Bernie Sanders, I think we've been saying this for a long time, I think he will be. I mean, Harry Reid for Nevada -- We're going to have Josh Green on. He's got an article saying, Harry Reid saying if you want to challenge Bernie Sanders, you've got to do it tonight. This is the time, if you have an issue with Bernie Sanders, to bring it up.

MCINTOSH: Absolutely. He's -- he's about to clinch this thing. If he does well in South Carolina and Nevada, I think it will be really hard for somebody else to come through at that point.

Something really exciting happened with Bernie's candidacy, which I don't think got enough attention, which was when he won New Hampshire, we broke voter turnout records. Broke the 2008 records.

The 2008 records are this watershed that everybody points back to as if we are never going to get any higher than that. That was the primary between Obama and Hillary. It was two history-making candidates. People were really fired up. If we see higher numbers than that, then he has a very, very strong candidacy behind him.

CAMEROTA: Jess, Alexandra, thank you very much. Tonight will be fascinating.

BERMAN: It is a busy week in Nevada. CNN will host two more town halls tomorrow night: Joe Biden at 8 Eastern, followed by Elizabeth Warren at 9 p.m.

CAMEROTA: OK. Now to this. Attorney General William Barr appears to be feeling the heat amid the criticism over President Trump's cozy relationship with the Justice Department. Up next, we'll speak with someone who's known Barr for more than 40 years who says it is time for him to go.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[06:23:04]

CAMEROTA: Developing overnight, a source tells CNN that Attorney General Bill Barr has told people he considered resigning over President Trump's tweets interfering with Justice Department cases.

More than 2,000 former Justice Department officials this week called for Bill Barr's resignation. Among them is former U.S. deputy attorney general under president George H.W. Bush, Don Ayer, and he joins us now.

Good morning, Mr. Ayer.

DON AYER, FORMER U.S. DEPUTY ATTORNEY GENERAL: Good morning.

CAMEROTA: So this new reporting is that Bill Barr is considering resigning or was considering resigning? It's unclear. But are you comforted that he even has that thought process?

AYER: Well, I -- I don't know what he'll do. You know, And I -- I hope he's thinking about it. I think he should resign.

I think the problem -- the problem with Bill Barr is that he essentially doesn't believe in a system of government where no one is above the law. He has written and acted over a long period of time, and especially during the last year, when he's been attorney general, he has acted in many, many ways using the powers of the Justice Department to remove and limit the checks and balances that -- that apply in our system and always have against the president.

The events of this last weak involving criminal cases, involving criminal cases of associates or even friends of the president, where the department seems to have intervened in order to work out a more favorable deal for the president's friends, are in many ways, the worst and most offensive example of that.

But the conduct has been going on for the entire year. We've just passed Mr. Barr's anniversary. And there are many, many events. And most people will think back most prominently, probably, to the whitewashing job he did on the Mueller report back in --

CAMEROTA: Yes.

AYER: -- March of last year. And there's just many, many things that have happened since I'd be glad to talk with you about, although there probably isn't time.

[06:25:07]

CAMEROTA: Well, that's -- that's interesting, because it is hard to outline all of the things that have gotten the attention of all these former prosecutors and DOJ officials, yourself included, that have made them think that he should resign. Or if he's not going to resign, be impeached.

You go so far, you write this op-ed in "The Atlantic," you go so far as to say he's un-American. Let me just read a little portion. You say, "Given our national faith and trust in a rule of law no one can subvert, it is not too strong to say that Bill Barr is un-American."

And so what do you mean by that?

AYER: Well, what I mean by that really is what I said before. And -- and you don't have to take my word for it.

Bill Barr truly believes that the president, in our constitutional system, has unlimited powers, and especially so and most clearly so in the context -- context of the Justice Department and in the context of criminal prosecutions.

The president -- you had a clip on just before, I think, of the president, I believe yesterday, saying what he has said multiple times before, which is that he is the chief law enforcement officer and has the power to intervene. Oh, he hasn't intervened, but he has the power to intervene in all of these cases.

Well, he is saying that, I guess maybe, because in fact, Bill Barr has told him that. And anyone who wants to can go online and read the memo that Bill Barr wrote in -- in June of 2018, when he was apparently auditioning or at least petitioning to become the attorney general. He sent this 19-page memo.

CAMEROTA: Yes.

AYER: And in the middle of it, it says -- and this is in the article I wrote, it says the president is the executive branch and then proceeds immediately to say he unavoidably has total control over all prosecutions. And specifically, it says that Congress couldn't even intervene to prevent him from interfering or supervising a case in which he is the target. So the president is just repeating what Bill Barr has told him.

And Bill Barr is pursuing this goal, I think, because for reasons that are utterly beyond my comprehension, he actually believes it. I think his -- his career in public service has been one that has been focusing on developing an all-powerful executive. His success has been much more limited in the past, because frankly, as attorney general for George H.W. Bush, didn't have an apt pupil. He wasn't likely to want to be an all-powerful president and certainly did not want to be.

In Donald Trump, I think he has his perfect foil. And so we're in a place now where the democracy is at risk. And if, I think, something doesn't happen to stop the course he's on, like perhaps him resigning, we could be in deep trouble. CAMEROTA: Well, whatever Bill Barr has said publicly, if it was

designed to get President Trump to back off and not interfere, it doesn't appear to be working, since as you point out, the president just yesterday has done all of these various things, criticizing Judge Berman, the judge in the Roger Stone case; saying that he himself is the chief law enforcement officer.

So do you think there is any chance that Attorney General Barr really will resign?

AYER: Well, you know, I honest to God, I think it depends on the American people. And I think it depends on people who care taking action.

I think the next thing that ought to happen, one of the next things that ought to happen is the lawyers of America should stand up and be heard. Bar associations, the ABA, the American Law Institute.

CAMEROTA: Aren't they doing that? I mean, aren't we hearing from them?

AYER: Well, I think we are. We've certainly heard from this letter, but I think organized letters and organized positions being taken strongly and forcefully.

This is not a partisan issue. I used to be a Republican for many decades, and this used to be a partisan sue. I'm sorry. It's not a partisan issue. It's a nonpartisan issue. And people need to speak out. This is our democracy that is at stake.

CAMEROTA: Don Ayer, we really appreciate you coming on and sharing your position on all of this. Great to talk to you.

AYER: Thank you very much.

CAMEROTA: John.

BERMAN: All right. A who's who of political and financial corruption pardoned or granted clemency by the president. So is Roger Stone next? We'll discuss after the break.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

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