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Michael Bloomberg Will Participate in Next Democratic Presidential Candidates Debate; Bernie Sanders Leading in National Polling on Democratic Presidential Candidates; Concerns Over Early Vote Count in Nevada Caucuses; DNC Chairman Tom Perez is Interviewed About Concerns Over the Nevada Caucuses. Aired 8-8:30a ET

Aired February 19, 2020 - 08:00   ET



JOHN AVLON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Or did not meet its requirements according to analysis by the "Washington Post."

So to recap, the crimes that Trump pardoned include corruption, obstruction of justice, perjury, tax fraud, wire fraud, and bribery. These are many of the same offenses that Trump associates are accused of committing. And not for nothing, President Trump have preemptively declared an absolute right to pardon himself. But, hey, we'll just have to take Trump at his word that he hasn't thought about pardoning Roger Stone.

It's perhaps a good time to remember the founding father George Mason's concern that a president may frequently pardon crimes which were advised by himself. It may happen at some future date that will establish a monarchy and destroy the republic. While the Federal Judges Association has called an emergency meeting to discuss interventions in political sensitively political cases including Roger Stone.

Make no mistake, we are watching the president abuse his pardoning powers, and laying the groundwork for the pardoning of more political cronies by defining deviancy down. This is the opposite of draining the swamp. It's simply restocking it.

And that's your "Reality Check."

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Thanks so much, John. And thank you to our international viewers for watching. For you, CNN Newsroom is next. For our U.S. viewers, a high stakes debate in the Democratic race. NEW DAY continues right now.

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

ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: And good morning, everyone. Welcome to your NEW DAY. It is Wednesday, February 19th, 8:00 in the east. Tonight, a critical test for the six top Democrats, a presidential debate that could make or break any one of them. Former New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg making his first appearance on a debate stage in more than a decade. Joining him will be the current frontrunner Bernie Sanders and former Vice President Joe Biden, who is hoping for a bounce. Also Amy Klobuchar, Pete Buttigieg, and Elizabeth Warren. There's a new poll out overnight, and it shows Bernie Sanders now with a commanding lead.

BERMAN: President Trump will spend part of his day in Nevada as well, perhaps to deflect attention from the Democrats and his high-profile squabble with Attorney General Bill Barr. Overnight CNN learned that the attorney general told people he has considered resigning over the president's interference in Justice Department matters, has considered, maybe is considering. It's not exactly clear. It's not exactly clear if this is serious or if it's all part of a show, maybe to make himself look better or to send a message to the president. Why the message? Because the president has defied or ignored the attorney general's request to keep quiet about law enforcement cases. This comment from the president clearly not helping matters.


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


BERMAN: Meanwhile, the president just pardoned or commuted the sentences of 11 people, including some personal friends, a former "Apprentice" guest, and many big-dollar donors.

CAMEROTA: We begin with the race for the presidency and the big debate tonight. Joining us now, CNN political correspondent Arlette Saenz, CNN political analyst and national correspondent for "Bloomberg Businessweek," Joshua Green, and CNN politics reporter and editor-at- large Chris Cillizza. Great to have all of you. OK, Arlette, tell us what it's looking like from the ground.

ARLETTE SAENZ, CNN POLITICAL REPORTER: Well, in just a few hours, there could be a Democratic debate brawl as these candidates are already taking aim at Michael Bloomberg. We have heard them over the past few days accuse him of trying to buy the election. This comes as Michael Bloomberg will be standing on that debate stage for the first time, and he could take quite a bit of incoming fire. People have been signaling some of the issues that they might touch on. Joe Biden saying that Bloomberg has questions to answer when it comes to stop and frisk policy. He's been arguing that Bloomberg -- it's time that Bloomberg come under scrutiny, his record.

And you've heard over and over these candidates talk about how Michael Bloomberg is also spending millions of his own personal money in this election. It's not just Michael Bloomberg that's going to be a focus. There's also Bernie Sanders who is pulling ahead with a double-digit lead over his rivals in a series of new national polls. And so this could also be a time where Bernie Sanders comes under fire from some of his rivals who are trying to head off his rise.

I think another person that needs to have a very strong debate tonight is Joe Biden. He's had shaky debate performances in the past. And right now, he's really hoping for a turn around here in Nevada after his disappointing finishes in Iowa and New Hampshire. So a lot is at stake for that debate tonight.

BERMAN: Just so people have a sense of where the race stands right now, this is the latest CNN poll of polls, which clearly shows Bernie Sanders out in front, way out in front in the Democratic race at 28 percent on average. And you can see everyone else bunched down below 16 percent. And Josh, you have some new reporting on something Arlette was referring to there, which is that Bernie Sanders is the frontrunner now. And you would think that would make him a target on the debate stage, and in fact former senator Harry Reid, who knows something about politics in Nevada, says this might be the last chance the Democrats get to take on Bernie Sanders.


JOSHUA GREEN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes, I profiled Senator Reid in the current issue and talked to him a little bit about his state of the race. And one constant he had, one message he gave to me was, look, I've talked to a lot of the current Democratic candidates. They call me for advice, their thoughts. One thing that's clearly weighing on their mind is the strength of Bernie Sanders, and Reid told me what he told them, which is if you don't like the fact that Bernie has emerged as the frontrunner, you're going to have to speak up and confront him directly. And I think all the candidates will get a chance to do that on stage tonight.

CAMEROTA: What are you watching for, Chris Cillizza?

CHRIS CILLIZZA, CNN POLITICS REPORTER: I will, quickly on Arlette's point, I do think Joe biden, we barely talk about him anymore, but if he doesn't come in first or second in Nevada, I think he's in danger in South Carolina. Then he's out of the race as the former vice president of the United States who two weeks ago we were saying is still the frontrunner in national polling.

I do think it will be interesting because I think Bloomberg is likely to face a lot of incoming tonight. First time on the debate stage. He's the new guy in the race. He's now up to third nationally, second in some polling, which is interesting because that would be a huge benefit to Bernie Sanders if Bloomberg wound up being the focus of the night. To Josh's point, Bernie Sanders is clearly the frontrunner here, and he has a group of people who are going to be for him. If Bloomberg takes most of the hits, Bernie is spared some of them, and I think he winds up walking away and winning Nevada.

BERMAN: Josh, were you trying to get in there?

GREEN: I think that's a good point. The other person who I think has a huge incentive to go after Bloomberg is Elizabeth Warren. Here's a candidate, a former frontrunner who has fallen way back in the pack but whose entire candidacy is based on issues of money in politics and corruption, all the things she talks about. If you're Elizabeth Warren looking for a recovery, you really couldn't find a better foil than Mike Bloomberg. Now, Warren held back at the last debate. Amy Klobuchar was the one

who came out more aggressive. Clearly that paid off for Klobuchar in New Hampshire. I think tonight we'll get to see, does Warren try and follow that same playbook now that she'll have a billionaire on stage across from her?

BERMAN: Everyone is talking about Michael Bloomberg. We saw that last night in the CNN town halls. This is just a taste of what they're talking about.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Do you think Michael Bloomberg is trying to buy the Democratic nomination for president?


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.

SEN. BERNIE SANDERS, (D-VT) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: 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: And not only that, Chris, but we just had Briahna Joy-Gray, the national press secretary for the Sanders campaign. She refused to say, and I gave her multiple opportunities, whether Michael Bloomberg would be a better president than Donald Trump, just refused to weigh in on that at all. And the other thing she says is that Bloomberg has had multiple heart attacks. We're checking on this. I don't think that's right.

CILLIZZA: I did -- just so you know, John, because I saw that interview and I thought the same thing. First of all, let me say two things. One, great interview. Three things. One, great interview. Two, it's not a smear campaign to ask about detailed health records from a 78-year-old man who would be the oldest president in American history to be elected to a first term and who had a heart attack in the fall. And three, my search on Google news and everything else I could search while sitting here suggests that Michael Bloomberg has an irregular heartbeat for which he has been diagnosed in the past, but at least my initial searches, maybe I'm wrong, maybe it will turn up on the stump. But I didn't see that.

I think you got to be really careful to start throwing those sorts of claims around. And again, Bernie Sanders, oldest person to ever be elected if he wins, and he had a heart attack on the campaign trail in the fall. I have seen -- this is not a partisan thing. I've seen critics from the left and the right of Sanders in the last 24 hours since he answered that question in our town hall, basically said I'm not going to give up any more medical records, I've seen critics emerge on both sides. This is the treatment you get when you are the frontrunner, when you are the most likely person to be the Democratic nominee to be president against Donald Trump. And I think it's still an open question. It's not a place Bernie Sanders has ever been before. He's always been the guy charging at the window. He's not the dog who caught the car. Well, now he is, at least for the moment in the race, and we'll see how he handles it. Early indications are not great.

CAMEROTA: What does that mean?

CILLIZZA: I just think when you have someone who is a national press person saying it's a smear campaign to ask about the medical records of a man who is 78-years-old and had a heart attack three months ago, that's not a smear campaign. I've seen smear campaigns in politics. That ain't one.

CAMEROTA: And my point is that if you laughed at President Trump releasing a letter from his doctor saying all is A-OK, then a letter from a Democratic candidate doesn't pass muster either.


Arlette, we're not even -- Pete Buttigieg has got even, obviously, before these past couple of weeks, so much attention. Amy Klobuchar has gotten so much attention since New Hampshire, and we're not even talking about them because of Bloomberg's onto the stage. But there are a lot of people to watch tonight.

SAENZ: Yes, and Michael Bloomberg certainly has been sucking a lot of the oxygen up in this conversation. But you're right, Pete Buttigieg and Amy Klobuchar both came out of New Hampshire with very strong showings but here haven't been as involved in the debate. But they have both showed a bit of a willingness to go after Michael Bloomberg.

I think one other thing about Michael Bloomberg is, this is really his first major test up against his rivals face-to-face. He hasn't debated in quite some time while the other Democrats on stage have been through this rodeo a few times now. And so there are some questions about how Michael Bloomberg will meet the moment as he stands on that debate stage. He's been preparing with his advisers, holding some mock debate prep sessions, some of his top advisers playing some of the other candidates on stage. So I think they are very prepared. He could become the target of a lot of incoming fire tonight. And it really could come from any of a number of candidates on that stage.

BERMAN: Josh, I want to give you the last word on all of this.

GREEN: Yes, I think the interesting question tonight is going to be, who do Democrats by and large go after? Do you go after the frontrunner who is surging in Bernie Sanders, or do you go after the new guy with a lot of momentum and a lot of money who it would be advantageous for a lot of the candidates to attack, Warren and Sanders because they're lefties and he stands for everything that they're against, or Joe Biden who is fighting to maintain his role as the electable moderate in the race at a time when Bloomberg seems to be pushing him off the stage? So we'll have to tune in and see.

BERMAN: Indeed, we will. Josh, Chris, Arlette, thank you very much.

There's a lot more going on in Nevada after tonight. CNN is going to have two more town halls tomorrow night. Joe Biden at 8:00 p.m. followed by Elizabeth Warren at 9:00 p.m.

CAMEROTA: OK, so with the Nevada caucuses just days away now, are there still problems with this app that counts votes? What's the plan for Nevada to avoid the debacle that we saw in Iowa? We ask, next.



JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: So, following the debacle with the Iowa caucuses, the Nevada Democratic Party has its own concerns about vote counting for Saturday's caucuses there. CNN got an inside look at how election officials will tabulate the results, I hope well.

CNN's Dianne Gallagher live in Las Vegas with the latest on this.

What did you find out?

DIANNE GALLAGHER, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, John, some people come to Las Vegas for the slot machines. I come for the caucus calculator. And we've really wanted to get our chance to take a look at this.

We weren't allowed to use cameras. Now, Las Vegas here right now, they've been working in Nevada on this caucus calculator for the last two and a half weeks after they had to abandon the apps they were originally using in the wake of Iowa.

And my initial impressions are, look, it was relatively user friendly. It was a bit clunky in certain areas. You had to toggle between the letter keyboard and the number keyboard to input the number of people who were in the room with each candidate.

But that really was the most -- the thing that stood out the most to me in terms in usability that may have gotten in the way. It had plenty of prompts and additional slides when you went through that told you to check your work and then fill it out on the math worksheet.

The part we've been very concerned about and the campaigns have been concerned about was this early vote caucusing, the preference ranking, how that was going to work on this calculator. They showed up on our demo as these preload results. We didn't see anything except the preloaded results on the caucus calculator. We took those and put them on the math sheet.

You don't really get any details. They do provide you these lists showing you by like voter number, not identifying them, how many and how they rank if you had candidate A, candidate B, candidate C in what order. But they say that you may have to use that if the iPads go down. If you're unable to use it, or you chose not to use it, that's going to be longer and far more cumbersome. Alisyn, you know, caucusing is a cumbersome process to begin with.

This seems like it potentially could make it a little easier, but, of course, the key is, if it works.

ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: I'm not sure you're comforting me, Dianne. I mean, I really am glad that you gave it this dry run and I think that's really important, but this involves math. And I hope that the precinct captains are prepared to have to do these calculations.

GALLAGHER: And I think that they are prepared to do these calculations. They have the worksheet which lists the formula there. And then they do have the calculator which does the math for you. That was a little easier for myself and some of the other people who are doing this, Alisyn.

The key is going to be whether or not if they don't have the iPad if it goes down, they can do the math themselves. That's something they were going to have to do whether they had this calculator application or not. In caucusing, there is math involved.

Some of the volunteers we've spoken with since they've taken some of these classes that have given them an idea of how the application is going to work and I'm sorry, not application, the calculator is going to work, their fears are certainly being alleviated and they're feeling better caucus day. But, again, it all rests on if this calculator goes through and works on caucus day.

CAMEROTA: OK. Dianne, thank you very much for going through the process and explaining all of that to us.

Joining us now from Las Vegas is Tom Perez. He's the chairman of the Democratic National Committee.

Tom, great to see you this morning.

You just heard --


CAMEROTA: Great to have you.


CAMEROTA: You just heard Dianne Gallagher's reporting. From trying the technology herself, from talking to the precinct captains --

PEREZ: Right.

CAMEROTA: -- can you assure our viewers and Americans today that Nevada will go smoothly?

PEREZ: I have a lot of confidence in Nevada. A really, really strong party. We have gone to school on the lessons of Iowa. We're as low tech as humanly possible while still preserving efficiency.

We had -- the problem -- one of the problems in Iowa was we had a lot of volunteers who had to do back of the envelope math.


The caucus calculator is a simple tool. It's an off-the-shelf tool that enables them to do that math.

And I'll tell you, the math of the first -- of the early voting phase has been remarkable. First three days, there were 36,000 early voters. We had 84,000 total participants in 2016. And that 36,000 doesn't include yesterday which I think may be the biggest day of them all.

And so, what people understand is, and I -- I've been -- I was in a number of sites. I just want to get this president out, I'm here. I don't mind waiting because democracy is priceless and we've held over a thousand trainings --


PEREZ: -- for over 3,000 volunteers. We continue to train them. Going to school in Iowa --


PEREZ: -- making sure the story Saturday night is the candidates, not the process. That's our goal.

CAMEROTA: And -- understood. And, Tom, have you personally given this technology a dry run?

PEREZ: Uh-huh. Yes, it is much more user-friendly. We had a tabulation app. There's no app.

During the early voting, people were voting on paper. So, it was very easy.

If you were limited English proficient, you could vote in Spanish. If you're Filipino, and your primary language is Tagalog, you could vote using a Tagalog ballot.

And again, the training that has been done, I underscore -- you know, there's been over 1,000 trainings. I participated in one probably two or three months ago.


PEREZ: -- and we've redoubled our efforts every single day.

I used to be, you know, an amateur carpenter in my spare time. There's an old adage, measure twice, cut once. Well, we're measuring three and four times, making sure people are trained, trained again and trained again. And anyone who is not comfortable, we'll train you until you are.

And, again, this is a very strong party. Under Harry Reid's leadership, we've been electing Democrats here because the party infrastructure has been strong for some time. We are ready for this and I -- the excitement around this town.

Again, 84,000 participants four years ago, and we're going to get over half of that just in the early vote. And so, the enthusiasm has carried over from New Hampshire where we had record turnout there. That's what it's about.

CAMEROTA: Yes, no -- I mean, yes, yes, I mean, of course.


PEREZ: Getting the people out (ph), talking about getting rid of this president.

CAMEROTA: Well, look, of course, it's about enthusiasm and it's about turnout. That's really important. But it's also just making sure it works. And the reason that I'm challenging you so much is because just yesterday, the reporting from CNN, Dianne Gallagher, who was our correspondent that you just heard, did talk to some precinct captains. This is just yesterday, OK?

This -- and this is what one said. One precinct captain tells CNN they've had more than four hours worth of Nevada Democratic provided training both in-person and webinars and they feel they have not gotten all the information they need for Saturday.

Quote: They keep telling me, well, we'll get back to you. We'll get back to you. We'll get back to you. And I'm like, it's Saturday, guys.

So I just want to make sure that as of today, you think everybody has had the training that they need.

PEREZ: We have literally been providing over a thousand training sessions. We continue to provide over -- training sessions every single day. Anyone who doesn't feel 100 percent confident in what they need to do, we have said to them very clearly, we will work with you until you are 100 percent confident.

And again, look at the early vote participation numbers. I know you want to talk about the process and that's totally fair. The enthusiasm is what we see here in Nevada. People understand that Nevada has an opportunity as the most diverse state so far to let their voices be heard and people take that responsibility seriously.

We take our responsibility seriously. The party here, I'm so impressed. Harry Reid has built a remarkable infrastructure.

And we're working to make sure that, again, we're talking about the candidates and not the process come Saturday night. And that's what -- that's what our mission is. And I'm very confident that we will be able to carry out a successful caucus.

CAMEROTA: Speaking of the candidates, Bloomberg -- Michael Bloomberg will be on stage because the rules were changed, as you know, obviously, by the DNC. And so, he is going to be making his first appearance and then Bernie Sanders there, new polls out that show him as the really cemented front-runner. So, what do you expect to see on the debate stage?

PEREZ: Well, one thing about the debate stage tonight is you look at last week's, I think, Quinnipiac poll. All six candidates on the debate stage beat Donald Trump in a general election. That's the bench that we have -- a very, very deep bench of candidates.


I don't know who the nominee is going to be. Remember, 1,991. That's the magic number. You've got to get 1,991 delegates to win on the first ballot.

So far, we've allocated 65 delegates. So, as a former marathon runner, we're at like mile two or mile three of the marathon.

And I love the participants in this marathon. They're fighting to make sure that people with pre-existing conditions can keep their health care, fighting to make sure we bring down the cost of prescription drugs, fighting for an America that works for everyone, not just a few at the top, and making sure we restore our guardrails to this democracy. And that's what you're going to see people talk about tonight.

And again, every single candidate on the debate stage is beating Donald Trump in a head-to-head matchup. And we're making sure we build that infrastructure across America, not only here in Nevada but in every state across America so that we can make sure we bring it to the finish line and defeat this president.

CAMEROTA: All right. Tom Perez, we will be watching, obviously, and we'll be watching very closely what happens in Nevada this weekend. Thank you for explaining all of that.

PEREZ: Right. Always a pleasure to be with you.

CAMEROTA: You, too.

BERMAN: So, has the attorney general really considered resigning over the president's tweets? The latest on the tension, real or otherwise, inside the Department of Justice, next.