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Trump Gives Clemency; Passenger Infections Increase on Quarantined Ship; New Democratic Polls; Advice for Democrats to Win in November. Aired 6:30-7a ET

Aired February 19, 2020 - 06:30   ET

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


(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[06:33:24]

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: So new questions this morning about President Trump's use of executive power after he granted clemency or he pardoned a laundry list of high profile white collar criminals. Another thing you can call them is just criminals. The question is, is this a taste of what is to come?

Joining us now, John Avlon, CNN's senior political analyst.

And let's throw up on the screen the Mt. Rushmore or corruption or Mt. Swampmore, as we called it, just so people can see some of these people here.

JOHN AVLON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: I like that.

BERMAN: Eddy DeBartlo, $400,000 in new $100 bills to build a casino. Pleaded guilty to that. Michael Milken pleaded guilty to security fraud, the junk bond king, Bernie Kerik, pleaded guilty to sever counts of corruption, accused of having a mobbed up construction firm renovate his apartment for free. And then there's former Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich.

Let's play the tape.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ROD BLAGOJEVICH, FORMER ILLINOIS GOVERNOR: I've got this thing and it's (EXPLETIVE DELETED) golden. And I'm just not giving it up for (EXPLETIVE DELETED) nothing.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BERMAN: All right, convicted of not having a potty mouth but of trying to sell former President Obama's Senate seat, John.

AVLON: Yes, like, literally trying to sell the president-elect's Senate seat. And a whole other list of really sundry crimes, including withholding funds from a children's hospital in exchange for campaign donations.

Look, President Trump, yesterday, made it very clear where he stands. And he's been consistent about this. If you appeal to him via Fox News, if you're a corrupt pol (ph), a corrupt businessman, a reality show star who's done time in the slammer or sycophant, you've got a good chance of getting a pardon or a commutation, especially if he does -- goes through not proper channels and side-steps the Justice Department.

[06:35:02]

This gives a green light to this kind of behavior. It normalizes it. And it does set the stage for future pardons down the road. Make no mistake, he's changing the standards.

ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: But he did explain his deep thought process about this.

AVLON: Deep thought process, Jack Andy (ph).

CAMEROTA: Here's a -- yes.

AVLON: Legal counsel Jack Andy (ph).

CAMEROTA: About -- here it is. Here's what the president said. Quote, I watched his wife on television, end quote.

AVLON: Yes.

CAMEROTA: That was the deliberation of President Trump watching Patty Blagojevich on TV and deciding to grant clemency to Rod.

AVLON: Yes. Yes. No, there's a very clear pattern here. You know, having -- having your clemency appealed for on Fox News. He also mentioned that it bothered him that Blagojevich was put in prison by the same lawyer who represented Jim Comey.

CAMEROTA: Bingo.

AVLON: And so there's an animus there as well.

And -- but this is not -- lest we forget, this is not the way these things are supposed to be done. Yes, previous presidents have used pardons. They tend to be for low level crimes or people who have change their debt to society.

This is all about people who have just appealed to the president's ego or creating a precedent, because if you look at what these folks are being pardoned for, they happen to line up with a lot of what Trump's own circle has been accused of (ph).

BERMAN: And, let's be clear, the president has the power to do this. He can do it. That's not the issue. The issue is whether he should. And you brought up corruption. These people are poster boys --

AVLON: Yes, Blagojevich in particular.

BERMAN: For -- for different types of corruption. For different types of corruption. When you talk about the swamp, again, these are the poster children for that. And many of the same things that the president himself has been accused of, and the other thing you bring up, I mean we just have to assume at this point, don't we, that he's going to partner Roger Stone? Why would we assume anything else?

AVLON: There's no reason to. It doesn't have any credibility. He says he hasn't thought of it. Why in the world would you believe that?

Again, he got -- he has commuted the sentence for Blagojevich against the overwhelming advice of Republicans from Illinois. The house speaker, the Republican house speaker of the Illinois state legislature yesterday came out and slammed this decision, said it sent a terrible message. He was a rogue governor on steroids. But he is setting a precedent. He is normalizing corruption.

And when he goes out and says, I'm the chief law enforcement officer, it's nonsense. When he goes out and says that, you know, I have an absolute right to pardon myself, that's highly debated. But this is a dangerous precedent being set. This is the normalization of corruption by the president of the United States.

CAMEROTA: So are you saying that Senator Susan Collins was -- had a misconception when she thought he had learned his lesson about corruption?

AVLON: I mean this is so obviously delusional from jump, but now you really need to confront the fact that you've been duped. Full stop.

CAMEROTA: John Avlon, thank you very much.

Now to this update.

Passengers have started disembarking from that quarantined cruise ship in Japan despite dozens of new cases, people being diagnosed with coronavirus overnight. We have an exclusive interview with the CEO of Princess Cruises about what's going on, next.

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[06:41:49]

BERMAN: Breaking news, 79 new cases of coronavirus on the quarantined cruise ship in Japan bringing the total number to 621 passengers, 621 who have tested positive. Still, passengers on board who have tested negative have begun to disembark.

CNN's Matt Rivers spoke exclusively with the CEO of Princess Cruises. He joins us now live from Japan.

Six hundred and twenty-one, Matt. The scope of this just so much bigger than we ever anticipated.

MATT RIVERS, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, without question, John. It's just day after day the numbers keep going up. I mean 621, that means we're getting close to nearly 20 percent of the entire number of passengers and crew that were on board the ship are now testing positive. And those numbers could keep going up. And as a result, passengers that remain on board the ship, people here in Japan, they're concerned. They're worried. And earlier today we had a chance to ask the president and CEO of Princess Cruises about those worries.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JAN SWARTZ, CEO, PRINCESS CRUISES: What I can say is today, as our guests disembarked, they had tested negative for coronavirus. They had a health check right before they got off. They had a thermal screening. And the Japanese Ministry of Health issued them a certificate saying that they had tested negative for coronavirus.

So I would just defer those types of questions to the Japanese Ministry of Health, who have been in charge.

RIVERS: On a human level, though, you can understand the concerns. If you put yourself in the shoes of those passengers, you can understand why some people may feel that way or they might feel uncomfortable.

SWARTZ: I think on a human level, right, this is an unprecedented situation. I mean nobody going on vacation thinks that they're going to be notified in the last days that they've got an extension of 14 days and they're not going to be allowed to live in their -- leave their cabin. So our heart breaks for everybody who experienced this situation.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

RIVERS: And so Princess Cruises here is saying, look, we're trying to keep our passengers comfortable, but ultimately we have to do what the Japanese Ministry of Health health protocols tell us to do. They have no choice in the matter. And for now the Japanese Ministry of Health is saying everyone that is being taken off this ship is safe, that they are not testing positive for the virus and that they are sticking to their current plan. That's going to happen whether Princess Cruises wants it to happen or not. But the Japanese Ministry of Health, Alisyn, just holding this line, even as the number of cases continues to go up.

CAMEROTA: All of it is so confusing, Matt, but thank you very much for the latest reporting from there.

OK, back here, tonight, Democratic presidential candidates face off in a debate. Another poll just this morning cements Senator Bernie Sanders' frontrunner status.

Let's get the forecast with CNN's senior politics writer and analyst Harry Enten.

I know you've been crunching the numbers.

HARRY ENTEN, CNN SENIOR POLITICS WRITER AND ANALYST: Bernie is flying away higher and higher into the lead.

CAMEROTA: Wow.

ENTEN: Look --

BERMAN: You've got a lead in the polls and a song.

ENTEN: I'm leading the polls. I just -- you know, look, there was that new ABC News poll that came out. Obviously we've spoken about it. But I want to put all these polls in the context, in an average, because it really does show you that Sanders is gaining ground and he's very much separating himself out from the field.

So, pre-Iowa in the national, he was actually behind Joe Biden, 27 Biden, 22 Sanders.

[06:45:02]

Look at it now. Sanders up to 27, Biden down to 17 percent. Bloomberg's also up 9 to 16. But, again, look at this, this is a ten- point separation between Biden and Sanders. And Bloomberg is 11 points behind Sanders.

So despite the fact we're getting all that attention towards Bloomberg, it's really Sanders right now who's a clear frontrunner.

BERMAN: One of the questions people ask, though, Harry is, you know, is this the ceiling for Bernie?

ENTEN: You know what, I understand why they ask that, right. So, you know, if you -- look, does Bernie Sanders have a ceiling. Decide in the final month, you know, in Iowa and New Hampshire, he got a much lower percentage of that vote share than he did overall, right? In Iowa and in New Hampshire he got about 26 percent. But he got a much lower share of the late deciders, those who decide in the last month.

But look at the first plus the second choice, because I think this gives you a real understanding that I don't think that ceiling exists. First plus second choice in my average of the most recent polls, 41 percent for Bernie Sanders. So that's a clear indication that there is more support for him out there beyond the first choice. He will be able to build. And we've seen that so far in the national polls. Since Iowa, he's been building that support.

CAMEROTA: What's the 15 percent threshold and where he is with it?

ENTEN: Right. So I think this is rather important, right? We're going to have a lot of primaries coming up. But I looked at the most recent polling and essentially averaged them. And the 15 percent threshold statewide, you know, you have to reach at least 15 percent to get statewide delegates in the congressional districts as well, or the state senate districts in Texas. And take a look at all of these states, right, where he is reaching at or 15 percent, Arkansas, California, Florida, Georgia, Maine, Massachusetts, Nevada, New Jersey, North Carolina, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Texas, Vermont, Virginia. That means he is in a position to pick up a lot of delegates and that is the name of the game.

BERMAN: He will fill the delegate bank. Cha ching.

Let's skip ahead to California because I think actual that explains this even in greater detail, right?

ENTEN: Yes, so, take a look, California, this is a new poll that came out last night. I was waiting for it. I was getting sushi. And the poll came in. Public Policy Institute of California --

CAMEROTA: Then what happened?

ENTEN: Look at this, 32 percent, blowing out the field, 415 pledged delegates. If this was the exact total, and it ran across all the congressional districts as well, he would actually sweep the delegate count. It won't happen that way, but it will be a lot of delegates.

BERMAN: And the point is, when you're talking about a month's long delegate race, if something like this happened in California, this alone, Harry, this alone could give Bernie Sanders the type of delegate lead that would be hard to catch up to him with.

ENTEN: It would be very hard. And you might be able to keep him from getting a majority of delegates. But keeping him from getting a plurality of delegates, which is a heck of an argument going into a potential contested convention, it's very difficult to argue against the plurality winner if, in fact, we ever got to a contested convention.

CAMEROTA: Let's look at the soonest race, Nevada, coming up.

ENTEN: So this is also important. You know, it's not just national. It's transferring to states. We spoke about California. Look at Nevada, right? Not a lot of polling out there. But what I can say is Bernie chances -- Bernie Sanders' chance of winning in Nevada, 14 in 20. That is up from a 12 in 20 last week. So, clearly, there's some momentum going on. This is not a sure thing. He may, in fact, lose here, but he's the clear favorite. And if you win there, and then all of a sudden you get to South Carolina, where he may not be in that bad of a position, you know, Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada, South Carolina, that is a very, very tough train to stop.

BERMAN: You have some fears you'd like to tell us about.

ENTEN: Yes, I have some fears.

CAMEROTA: Uh-oh.

ENTEN: So tonight is the last showing of "Criminal Minds." I just want to say, that show is really too scary. I don't like it. It freaks me out. So, instead, I'll be watching Bob Ross paint some mountains instead on YouTube.

CAMEROTA: Do you find that scary at all?

ENTEN: No, I don't. I love happy little accidents and I love him putting me to sleep because his voice is just so soothing.

BERMAN: Harry, thank you very much.

ENTEN: Thank you. Thank you, Alisyn.

BERMAN: Your hair is almost as good now as Bob Ross'.

CAMEROTA: Aren't you supposed to be watching the debate tonight?

ENTEN: Afterwards.

CAMEROTA: OK. Got it.

Harry, thank you very much.

ENTEN: Thank you.

BERMAN: All right, this is the question the Democrats all have for themselves and each other, how can they beat President Trump in November? We're going to speak with someone who's got an idea, got a new book out. One of President Obama's key advisers weighs in, next.

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[06:53:04]

BERMAN: Democrats still a long way it seems from uniting behind a presidential nominee. But when and if they do, how will that candidate defeat President Trump in November?

My next guest has a few ideas. Joining me now Dan Pfeiffer, former senior adviser to former President Obama. He is the author of the new book "Un-Trumping America: A Plan to Make America a Democracy Again."

Dan, it's always great to see you. Thanks so much for being here.

DAN PFEIFFER, FORMER SENIOR ADVISER TO PRESIDENT OBAMA: Thanks for having me.

BERMAN: There's a ton in here, practical advice for the nominee right now and also some long-term advice for Democrats.

I want to kind of do a lightning round of some of these (INAUDIBLE) interesting.

PFEIFFER: Sure.

BERMAN: You say in general Republicans have -- and Alisyn doesn't like it when I swear, they have a bass hole advantage over Democrats.

PFEIFFER: Yes.

BERMAN: What do you mean by that and how do Democrats fix this?

PFEIFFER: Yes. Well, I think the greatest asymmetry in politics is that Democrats view political power as a means to accomplish a policy goal. Republicans view political power as a means to an end. And that gives them a fundamental advantage in politics because once you have that attitude, there's almost anything that's on the table. And the media has bought into that. And so if Mitch McConnell does something incredibly cynical and anti-democratic, that's seen as savvy. If a Democrat does something like that, it's hypocrisy. I'm not arguing that Democrats should adopt McConnell's tactics. We have to understand who the Republicans are and that ultimately Trump is an extension, not an aberration, of the Republican Party.

BERMAN: And when dealing with the president, you say, don't be a paler shade of orange.

PFEIFFER: Yes.

BERMAN: What do you mean?

PFEIFFER: We did -- you hear this all the time, right, which is, Democrats could just be as tough and as mean as Trump, we could succeed, right? And the problem with that is, is Republicans and Democrats have to play two different political games. The Republican strategy is to fire up a set of certain voters and make everyone else feel so cynical about the process that it's not worth turning out. The Democratic nominee has a much harder task, which is they have to inspire people who would not otherwise vote to get involved in political process. So we can't surf American citizens into the Oval Office. We have to have inspiration and hope.

BERMAN: So what does that mean practically when Donald Trump makes fun of Michael Bloomberg's height or makes fun of Joe Biden in different ways?

[06:55:05]

How would you advise them to respond?

PFEIFFER: I think the trick for the Democratic nominee is to call out Trump's game, not play it, right? You have to explain not -- don't -- getting into this like tit for tat, this bullying thing, I think that's problematic. What I think you have to do is explain why Donald Trump acts like this, right? What he is trying to distract you from. Ultimately he's fear mongering, he's lying, he's doing these juvenile insults in order to distract from the fact that he wants to cut Social Security and Medicare to pay for a giant tax cut for Wall Street. That's what voters care about and that's what we have to get back -- we have to get them (ph) that issue.

BERMAN: You also note that there's something the Democrats probably aren't focusing on enough here, which is that Donald Trump is an incumbent. And that alone create a set of challenges.

PFEIFFER: Yes. I think we spend all this time -- I know, I do it every day, what went wrong in 2016? What can we do differently? What are the lessons of that election? And it's definitely worth looking at that, but we have to recognize that a race against an incumbent is a fundamentally different task than a race against -- in an open seat race. So I would like to look to the 2012 election and recognize that what we have to do is make this a choice between two candidates. We cannot be obsessed about Trump. He wants to make it all about him. That's his (INAUDIBLE). BERMAN: A key word you use is choice there, a choice not a referendum.

PFEIFFER: Yes. Yes. I think making it a referendum is a mistake. Voters have a very good sense of what they have with Trump. They don't have a sense, particularly the ones we need to persuade who haven't tuned into the election yet, they won't know who the nominee is. So wherever we have our nominee, whenever we have he or she, we have to spend time and energy telling their story, what they care about, who they are, and what they would do.

BERMAN: So a lot of that was short-term.

PFEIFFER: Yes. Yes.

BERMAN: Everything we just discussed is sort of what the candidates do to beat Donald Trump. A big chunk of your book is what you think Democrats need to do after. Big, structural changes, such as?

PFEIFFER: Well, I think it -- the reason I wrote the book is, there's nothing more important than beating Trump in 2020, but we have to recognize that beating Trump is not enough. We have to recognize that politics is rigged against a progressive majority in this country. So we have to take on things like fixing the Senate, getting rid of the filibuster, try to get rid of the Electoral College, deal with the Supreme Court, which is biased fundamentally towards progressives for decades to come.

BERMAN: Let me just deal with two of those three --

PFEIFFER: Yes. Yes.

BERMAN: Because the art of the filibuster, Democrats don't control the Senate. Aren't you taking away some power from the minority, yourself, if you do that?

PFEIFFER: Well, I -- the only way it's going to happen is if we are in the majority. And there's risk in that because Republicans have this electoral advantage where Wyoming, a Republican state, has the same power as California. They're different sizes. And the question is -- but there's risk in that, but I would rather have voters judge people on the things they do than the things that are being blocked by a minority.

BERMAN: And both the Electoral College and the Supreme Court, you know the argument you will hear is, oh, that's never going to happen. You're never going to make that happen. But you have a response to that.

PFEIFFER: Well, I think we have to start pushing for it now. Some of this stuff is going to take decades. And I think it is up to Democrats to shift the conversation on Democratic reform in this country. And the Supreme Court, we think this is a really hard thing. The Supreme Court -- the conversation that the Supreme Court has been changed dozen -- several times over the last centuries of this House -- of this -- the country. And we even once changed it to prevent Andrew Johnson, in impeached president, from appointing more Supreme Court justices. All it takes is an act of Congress. We can and should do that.

BERMAN: You, of course, advised President Obama. One of his longest serving White House advisers.

What do you think it would take for him to get more involved in the election. You think he's just going to sit out the entire primary process?

PFEIFFER: I think that he under -- Barack Obama understands that he is uniquely positioned to -- help unify the party when this primary is over. And were he to put his thumb on the scale once way or another, it would make that task much harder because we can -- every candidate who is running right now, the leading candidates, can win this election. But they can only do it with a unified party behind them. And I think if barrack Obama is sitting out the primary, I fully expect him to be 100 percent engaged in the general to do everything he can to elect the next president as a Democrat.

BERMAN: Scale of one to ten, ten being the highest, how comfortable do you think he is with Bernie Sanders as the nominee?

PFEIFFER: I haven't talked to him, so I don't -- I don't have the answer to that. I imagine he -- he understands, as someone who navigated this process, who came from outside the Democratic establishment, that the most electable candidate is probably the one -- is almost certainly the one who does the best job of navigating our process. It means you have a good campaign, a good message and a good organization. And if Bernie Sanders is the one who emerges from the process, then he is -- he is our best shot to beat Trump.

BERMAN: Dan Pfeiffer, great to see you. The Celtics are better than the 76ers. We like to have you here. Thanks so much for joining us.

Alisyn.

CAMEROTA: All right, John.

Tonight's debate could change the entire Democratic race.

NEW DAY continues right now.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

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

SEN. BERNIE SANDERS (I-VT), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I'm worth $60 billion. I'll buy the presidency. That offends me.

PETE BUTTIGIEG (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: It's not the best way to pick our nominee.

JOE BIDEN (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: We choose unity over division. We choose truth over lies. It's time for us to get up.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The president, once again, wielding that pardon power, this time to reward several political allies.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We have commuted the sentence of Rod Blagojevich.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Bill Barr is telling people that he is considering resigning if the president does not stop getting involved in matters at the Justice Department.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Bill Barr is the person who is reading (ph) the system on Trump's behalf.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

[07:00:01]

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

BERMAN: Yes, it is. Welcome to our viewers in the United States and all around the --