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Mike Bloomberg To Face Democratic Rivals In Nevada Debate; Source Says, Barr Has Said He's Considered Resigning Over Trump Tweets. Aired 7-7:30a ET

Aired February 19, 2020 - 07:00   ET



JOHN BERMAN, CNN NEW DAY: Yes, it is. Welcome to our viewers in the United States and all around the world. This is New Day, and it's a vastly new moment in the Democratic race for president.

Tonight, for the first time, former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg will be on stage for a debate. It will be the first time he's debated anyone in more than a decade. Still, he has shot up in the polls in recent weeks and his rivals have found billions of reasons to attack him, accusing him of trying to buy an election. And also they've gone after his record as a one-time Republican and a three-term mayor of New York.

Also in the spotlight, Bernie Sanders, now fairly clearly the national frontrunner in the race, at least one prominent national Democrat says now is the time his opponents need to challenge Sanders forcefully and directly.

ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN NEW DAY: And then there's this story. Sources tell CNN Bill Barr has said he has considered resigning as attorney general over President Trump's tweets interfering in Justice Department cases. It is not clear whether the attorney general is still considering that or simply trying to send a message to the president. If it is a message, it's not getting through. Because, on Tuesday, the president declared himself the chief law enforcement officer of the country, and he spoke out again about the Roger Stone case, and he issued a flurry of pardons and commutations in sensitive political corruption cases.

Let's begin our coverage with Arlette Saenz. She is live in Las Vegas where tonight's debate will happen. Set the stage for us, Arlette.

ARLETTE SAENZ, CNN POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Alisyn, the New York billionaire, Michael Bloomberg, will be making his debut on the debate stage and his rivals have shown that they are ready to pounce, already accusing him of trying to buy the election.


SAENZ: Michael Bloomberg on the debate stage for the first time tonight, but he won't be receiving a warm welcome from his Democratic rivals. SEN. BERNIE SANDERS (I-VT), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Anybody here worth $60 billion, you can run for president.

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

JASON SCHECHTER, BLOOMBERG CAMPAIGN DIRECTOR FOR 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.

SEN. AMY KLOBUCHAR (D-MN), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: 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, 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?


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.


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

BERMAN: All right. Arlette, thank you very much.

Joining us now is CNN Political Commentator and Democratic strategist Paul Begala and CNN Political Commentator and former mayor of Tallahassee, Andrew Gillum.

Paul, I want to start with you, because two major things have happened since the last time Democrats debated. Number one, Bernie Sanders is clearly the national frontrunner now.


Every poll is in agreement on that. And the second thing is, this will be the first debate where Michael Bloomberg is on stage with the other Democrats and the first debate where Michael Bloomberg got on any stage since 2009, when we were all younger.

PAUL BEGALA, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, and that couldn't be better for Bernie Sanders, both of those things. Obviously, it's good to be the leader. But the bad part of being a frontrunner is that you become the lightning rod. Everybody attacks you. Guess what? Bernie has a lightning rod out there for himself and that's Mike Bloomberg.

So Bernie is going to win the debate, period, because, first, he know what us he's saying, he's got a powerful message. But probably more important and tactically, everybody is going to be attacking Mike Bloomberg, who is not even on the ballot in Nevada this Saturday.

So I think this matches up perfectly for Bernie. He can attack Bloomberg, I'm sure he will. But more importantly, his rivals will attack Bloomberg, thereby diverting fire away from the frontrunner. That is a rare thing in a debate.

CAMEROTA: But, Mayor, do you agree? I mean, is that a foregone conclusion? Are Klobuchar and Warren and Biden and Buttigieg all definitely going to go after Bloomerg or Sanders, given these new polls, their new target?

ANDREW GILLUM, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: I mean, I think they're going to have a pretty bifurcated strategy here. There is no way you cannot go after Bernie Sanders, who is, without a debate, our unquestioned frontrunner in this race. You've got to put some dents in his armor. You've got to make the case that he's unelectable. You've got to make the case what will happen to down battle (ph) races, if you believe that. That's not necessarily my shared belief. But I do believe that that's the argument many of the other candidates are making.

But the problem is that they cannot get away with tonight allowing Michael Bloomberg to go unscathed. The only -- if I had advice to give, if they take it, it would be -- I don't know -- that sort of laying down in this argument around buying the election and what he can afford. Because I actually think that everyday Americans might conclude, look, if the man got out there and earned resources, why shouldn't he be able to spend it, especially if our number one concern is competing with a president who himself has what might be unlimited sources to compete for the presidency.

I think it's much more fertile ground to go after what his record has been. Talk about stop-and-frisk. Talk about what his experience has been with women in the past, some of those issues. Talk about what he thinks about redlining. But he's got three terms as mayor, a public policy to dissect, and also, God knows, countless speeches and statements that he's made that points to a political philosophy that I think is pretty vulnerable in a Democratic primary.

I would much prefer that they go after that than simply saying he's a rich guy on stage and doesn't deserve to be here. I get the point, but I'm not sure that that's what's going to be motivating and activating regular everyday voters here.

BERMAN: So, Paul, when the other candidates do go after Mayor Bloomberg for not just the money but the other issues that Mayor Gillum brought up there, how will or should Michael Bloomberg respond?

BEGALA: That's the challenge. Finally, we're going to see Michael Bloomberg without ads, without aides. He will be standing alone. I went back and looked at the last debate he had, as you say, back in 2009, where he debated the titan, obviously, the titanic talent of Bill Thompson. He's a fine guy, but he was in the New York City controller. And Bloomberg was unruffled. Thompson did exactly what Andrew is advising against. He attacked Bloomberg's wealth. He attacked his record a little bit. But he attacked as well.

I think Andrew is exactly right. It is a wrong thing to go after Bloomberg's wealth. They should be talking about him, his words on redlining, which is discriminatory practice on African-Americans, stop-and-frisk, these outrageous comments about women. But they won't. They won't. You watch. They'll go after his wealth. And he will say, look, if you want the purist, it's not me. But if you want the toughest, it is me, and I can take the fight to Trump. And that's what all of them ought to be doing.

GILLUM: Yes, it plays directly into his strength, right? I'm talking to so many voters who were saying that, you know, they're kind of willing to look past some of these things because he's got the resources. He can go head-to-head with Trump. Well, listen, there are weaknesses to that line of thinking.

And I think these candidates, if they want to really pierce through, they ought to be piercing through what are the weaknesses in those arguments that, okay, maybe your wealth gets you to a Democratic primary. But in a general election, these issue will come back. We will be carpet-bombed with your comments, with your statements and it will have an impact on an election that is largely going to be decided in the margins, especially in a state like mine like Florida where, you know, our presidentials have been decided by about one percentage point.

BEGALA: If I could jump in here, here is why -- I'm sorry to interrupt, but this is why it's so important. At this stage of the race, candidates have become very self-referential, right, because they're working their hearts out. I really do feel for them. I love politicians. But they're thinking about themselves. And Bloomberg's wealth wounds them. It doesn't wound my mama, right? So they need to be talking about what Bloomberg has said about stop-and-frisk, what he has said about it. So that's the thing.

And understand, this is why they're going to fall for it. They're going to rise debate. They're going to attack as well.

CAMEROTA: But how do you know that? Why do you have such --

BEGALA: Because I know politicians, because I know these people. They're politicians and they're great people and I love them all, but they can't resist when they're wounded. It's so unfair that I don't have $60 million. By the way, if you make a million dollars a year, you'll have $60 Billion in 10,000 years. That's how much money he has.

CAMEROTA: All right. So, Andrew, Paul doesn't have much faith in their strategy. Stylistically, I just want to ask you a question about Bloomberg, because we're told that this is not -- the debate forum is not his forte, we keep hearing. And, in fact, he is not great at speaking off the cuff. This is what people who know him say he has been preparing for weeks. If he has just a passable performance, is that a win for him tonight?

GILLUM: No. I think it's got to be better than passable. I think he owes the American people a deeper explanation across the issues that we talked about, some of them very, very painful for certain communities. I hope that they don't believe that simply because there are some encouraging numbers amongst the African-American community that black people have or brown people have suspended with their concerns around, let's just take, for instance, stop-and-frisk.

There isn't a black man my age in America who does not remember the first time that they were pulled over. Mine was 24 years ago. And I've got to tell you, I remember it like it was yesterday. I wasn't pulled out. I didn't get handcuffs on me. I didn't even a citation, but the experience was so traumatic I had to drive a few blocks later to pull over because I couldn't stop shaking.

And so when you consider that over the course of his term as mayor, over 5 million of these, 900,000 in one month, black and brown boys thrown up against the wall, when mothers hear that narrative, there has to be an explanation for why that is. And if there's an apology, and there has been, you got to tell us where the growth moment has been so that we can be assured that if we're going to trust you with our nomination, with the presidency and you're the chief policy officer as it relates to public policy around a criminal justice issues in this country, how do we ensure it doesn't happen again and that you put us on a better pathway to the future?

I'm not a never-Bloomberger, but I do think that he has got to lean into some of these things and give much more compelling heartfelt answers here. Voters could be looking for that. And if he does that, I think he can really help right his own course. But if he fails to, then I don't think an okay performance is going to be acceptable enough for him to be able to stop what appears to be a train moving amongst at least Bernie Sanders in this Democratic nomination.

BERMAN: It is notable there will not be a candidate of color on stage tonight to bring out these issues.

GILLUM: No, but those issues --

BERMAN: Absolutely. But, you know, there were other candidates who could speak to them personally before, and tonight, there won't be, not exactly.

GILLUM: And, John, to your point, I think that sometimes takes a little bit of the wind out of the argument. One person I've seen do it very well has been Elizabeth Warren. I think Bernie Sanders has also been effective here. But they will have to be able to compel and tell a story around how these public policies really impacted the everyday lives of people. And if they can do that, then I think that they start to shred away at the attraction of Bloomberg. And if Bloomberg can have a good answer, then maybe he stops some of the bleeding.

CAMEROTA: Billions of dollars worth of knowledge right here from you two gentlemen.

GILLUM: I'll take the billions instead though.

BERMANS: Thanks for being with us this morning.

It is not over in Nevada tonight. CNN will host two more town halls tomorrow. Joe Biden at 8:00 P.M. Eastern followed by Elizabeth Warren at 9:00 P.M.

CAMEROTA: All right. So is President Trump's inability to stop tweeting about Justice Department cases going to be a breaking point for his attorney general? We discuss, next.



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

President Trump addressed Barr's concerns yesterday after he granted clemency to a laundry list of high-profile white collar criminals.


DONALD TRUMP, U.S. PRESIDENT: 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.


CAMEROTA: All right. Joining us now with her thoughts, CNN Senior National Security Analyst Lisa Monaco. Lisa, great to have you here.

You worked for 15 years, if I'm right, in the Department of Justice under Democrats and Republicans. This is a very worrisome moment for you. Just in terms of the facts, is the president the chief law enforcement officer? I thought the attorney general was.

LISA MONACO, CNN SENIOR NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: So It's interesting. I actually think -- I'm really glad you asked because I think people have been getting this wrong. The president is the chief law enforcement officer. Of course he is, just like he's the commander in chief of the armed forces, just like he's the chief diplomat.

But the difference here is past presidents have chosen to delegate those powers to their attorney general, to their secretary of defense, to their secretary of state. Why? Because the president occupies a unique role. He is both the head of our government and the head of his political party. That makes him a uniquely partisan political figure.

And we, historically, have wanted our institutions of government to operate in ways that are indifferent from partisanship. And so that's really the difference here. We want people to have faith in how those institutions are run in non-partisan ways, particularly with regard to the Justice Department.

BERMAN: Is the difference between can and should, and is the difference between laws and norms, that is what has been tested so fundamentally during the Trump presidency. Whether we agree with him or not, he has clearly broken the norms that have governed how a president behaves over the last 200 years. In reading what you have written to me, it strikes me that you're trying to make the case that what we are seeing now is just so fundamentally different that you decided you had to speak out.


MONACO: It's right. So, usually, you have me here talking about national security issues. So this is different for me. And I did choose to speak out. I wrote an article in Just Security. And I chose to speak out because I grew up in the Justice Department. I was a career federal prosecutor. And we're seeing the department tested in ways that it hasn't been before.

The department wears, really, two hats in our system. It's both a policy arm of the executive branch. It has to follow whatever president is in power, what their policies are. But, importantly, it is an independent investigator and prosecutor. And it's that second function that has to be both actually fair in how the law is administered and perceived to be fair.

And In the last week, we've seen the resignation from -- a withdrawal from the Stone case of four career prosecutors and the resignation all together from the department of one of those prosecutors. That's an unprecedented thing to happen in my experience. And you've seen the attorney general reach in to affect the sentencing of an individual and overturn the career prosecutor's recommendations. That has not happened before in my memory.

So, you know, the issue here is both the appearance of political influence and any direct political influence that may be at issue.

CAMEROTA: You're in good company. 2,000 now former DOJ officials and prosecutors have felt so strongly about this, like you, that they have spoken out. And I'm just curious what you think Bill Barr is doing. It's hard to read, because he seems to have been comfortable with President Trump trumping his power. But then we get reporting that he has -- you know, he spoke out in that interview, as we saw on ABC. And then we get reporting that he has considered resigning.

MONACO: Well, look, it wouldn't be surprising if it has crossed his mind at this stage, because, again, the department really has been under siege in a way that it hasn't been before. I think he's got to ask himself really two questions. Have I lost the building? Right? Have I lost the confidence of the career men and women of the department?

Some 100,000 strong who don't care and don't pledge fealty to political party when they go to work in the morning? They go there to do justice, not to win cases, to do justice without fear or favor. So he's got to ask himself, does he still have the confidence of those professionals who are really, as I wrote in my articles, the soul of the department?

And then he's got to ask himself, can I run a department that is perceived to be fair? Because it's only in that perception that you really have the confidence of the citizenry, and that's what the Justice Department needs to have to do its job.

BERMAN: It is awfully convenient to have this story out there that he is considering or has considered resigning, because it does offer this sense of concern to people. Oh, it is like Susan Collins, right? She's very concerned with the president's behavior. He's letting people know it bothers him but he hasn't left just yet.

And CNN is reporting from last week is that he was either on the verge or have lost a significant part of the building. That's why he did the interview with Pierre Thomas at ABC, because he needed to send a message to the employees who were basically in open revolt at that point.

MONACO: Well, look, that interview, again, as a former career prosecutor, as somebody who also held politically pointed positions in the Justice Department, I think it's really important that the political appointees have the backs of the career employees of the department. They are the one who is are supposed to be politically accountable.

And so in that ABC interview, what you saw was the attorney general talk about how his life is made more difficult by the president's tweets, which I don't think is hard to imagine at all that his life is being made more difficult by that.

But what you didn't hear from him is a defense of those career prosecutors. And so I think that's something that the men and women of the Justice Department will be listening for.

CAMEROTA: Really interesting to get your perspective, Lisa. Thanks so much for being here.

MONACO: Thanks for having me.

BERMAN: Thanks, Lisa.

So how does the Democratic frontrunner, Bernie Sanders, plan to take on Michael Bloomberg as Bloomberg is on that debate stage for the very first time tonight? We're going to ask a top member of the Sanders campaign, next.




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, in South Carolina, in New Hampshire, where all of the candidates -- we did town meetings, we're talking to thousands and thousands of people working on. He said, I don't have to do that. I'm worth $60 billion. I have more wealth than the bottom 125 million Americans. I'll buy the presidency. That offends me very much.


BERMAN: Tonight will be the first Democratic debate with former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg on stage. It will also be the first debate with Senator Bernie Sanders as the crystal clear Democratic frontrunner.

Joining me now is Briahna Joy Gray. She is the National Press Secretary for the Bernie Sanders Campaign. Briahna, welcome to New Day, great to see you here, thanks so much for being with us.

BRIAHNA JOY GRAY, NATIONAL PRESS SECRETARY FOR BERNIE SANDERS: Thank you for having me. It's my pleasure. BERMAN: I want to read a quote from Harry Reid. He spoke to Josh Green, who we're going to have on in a little bit. Harry Reid, obviously, the long-time serving senator from Nevada gave some advice to the other Democrats who will be on stage with Bernie Sanders. And he said, quote, if Bernie is the one that comes out ahead, we'll just have to see what happens. But if people don't like what he does, they're going to have to start saying they don't like it rather than just pat him on the back.

Basically, what Harry Reid is saying is that now is the time, maybe the last time for other candidates to take on Bernie Sanders. How do you respond to that?

GRAY: Well, I think when it comes to what the people like, it's pretty, as you've mentioned, crystal clear that they like Bernie Sanders.


Recent polls that just came out yesterday show that Bernie Sanders is now leading with black voters, he is leading with Latino voters and he's leading with white.