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THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER

Roger Stone Sentenced to Three Years in Prison; Trump: Won't Pardon Roger Stone Now, But "Good Chance of Exoneration"; Contentious Debate Sets Stage for Caucuses in Less Than 48 Hours. Aired 4-4:30p ET

Aired February 20, 2020 - 16:00   ET

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


[16:00:03]

BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN HOST: Tonight on CNN, do not miss Former Vice President Joe Biden and Senator Elizabeth warren in back-to-back CNN town halls.

I'm Brooke Baldwin. Thanks for being here.

"THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER" starts right now.

JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: Roger stone gets three-plus years, but could friends in high places keep him from spending even one night behind bars?

THE LEAD starts right now.

Breaking just minutes ago, President Trump weighing in on the sentencing of his former political pit bull and attacking the jury foreperson in the case, and dropping hints that he might use his pardon power to free the man who broke the law in service to him.

He rolled snake eyes in Vegas, but he's still up $64 billion. Did Mike Bloomberg's bad showing on the debate stage last night change any minds today in those states where he has essentially taken over commercial breaks?

And the next intelligence chief and election security boss short on expertise, long on loyalty to President Trump. Why the president's pick for acting director of national intelligence is setting off some alarm bells.

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

TAPPER: Welcome to THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper.

We start with breaking news. Just hours after his longtime friend and adviser Roger Stone was sentenced by a judge to three years, four months in prison, President Trump just moments ago in Las Vegas dropped some strong hints that Stone might never see the inside of a jail cell.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Roger has a very good chance of exoneration, in my opinion.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: In terms of a pardon, President Trump said he would not take any official actions now, since he would like to see the process play out.

But the president also suggested he would make a determination the matter at a later date and that, in his view, Stone had been treated unfairly. Stone, of course, was convicted by a jury last fall of lying to Congress and threatening a witness.

The president has, in the past, attacked the prosecutors in the case and the judge in the case. And, today, he specifically singled out for criticism the forewoman of the jury.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: The woman who was in charge of the jury is totally tainted, when you take a look. How can you have a person like this?

She was anti-Trump activist. Can you imagine this?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: There is no evidence she is an anti-Trump activist.

The forewoman is a Democrat and had run for office before. But Stone's attorneys were well aware of this. They asked her if she would be capable of judging the case without bias. She said yes. They took no actions to remove her from the jury.

We should also note that the president's own attorney general seems to think quite the exact opposite about the fairness of this case, as he told ABC News just days ago.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

WILLIAM BARR, U.S. ATTORNEY GENERAL: The Stone case was prosecuted while I was attorney general, and I supported it. I think it was established he was convicted of obstructing Congress and witness tampering.

And I thought that was a righteous prosecution. And I was happy that he was convicted.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: Mr. Trump's comments come in the midst of his post-acquittal tour, where he seems to be punishing his enemies and rewarding his loyalists.

CNN's Sara Murray kicks off our coverage from the federal courthouse in Washington.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) SARA MURRAY, CNN POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): A federal judge sentenced Roger Stone to more than three years in prison and two years of probation today, as she delivered a scathing condemnation of the actions of President Trump's longtime friend and political adviser.

"This case did not arise because Roger Stone was being pursued by his political enemies," Judge Amy Berman Jackson said. "It arose because Roger Stone characteristically injected himself smack into the middle of one of the most significant issues of the day."

Jackson said: "The dismay and disgust over Stone's behavior should transcend party lines. Stone was not prosecuted," Jackson said, "for standing up for the president. He was prosecuted for covering up for the president."

Stone stood quietly, his hands in his pockets, slightly slouching, as Jackson delivered the sentence for the seven charges, obstructing a congressional proceeding, witness tampering and lying to Congress, including telling lies that protected the president.

TRUMP: The fact is that Roger Stone was treated horribly, and so were many other people. Their lives were destroyed.

MURRAY: The case played out amid extraordinary political intervention, as Trump called Stone's prosecution unfair and suggested the judge was biased.

The judge and government prosecutors appeared determined to defend the judicial system in the face of Trump's attacks. Prosecutors initially asked the government to sentence Stone to seven to nine years in prison, but Attorney General William Barr overruled the recommendation in favor of a lesser sentence.

In response, the four prosecutors resigned from the case. The new government prosecutor named to the case, John Crabb, defended the original trial team. "This prosecution is righteous," Crabb said.

Jackson drove home the seriousness of Stone's crimes.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

[16:05:03]

MURRAY: Now, Roger Stone left court today without speaking on his behalf. He did not speak in the courtroom. He did not speak to the press when there was a frenzy on his way out of the courtroom today.

Instead, he left here. He went to a Washington, D.C., restaurant, the Palm, where he watched the president's remarks about him on his phone -- Jake.

TAPPER: OK.

Sara Murray, hold on right there. I want to come back to you.

President Trump just went off about Roger Stone while speaking to a group of former prisoners at a criminal justice event, as we keep refreshing the president's Twitter feed to see if he is going to make an official comment about whether or not he's actually going to issue a pardon before Stone goes to jail.

Let's bring in Kaitlan Collins at the White House.

And, Kaitlan, the president did not explicitly say a pardon is coming. He said he wanted the process to play out. But he was pretty clear he doesn't like the way this has gone down and that Roger Stone is going to be exonerated, one way or another, is how I interpreted it.

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Yes.

And, Jake, I want to highlight where the president made these comments. He's speaking at the Las Vegas Police Department at a graduation ceremony for former prisoners who are reentering society, where he essentially indicated he is not going to pardon Roger Stone right now.

But, Jake, he is leaving the door open to doing so in the future.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: I'm not going to do anything in terms of the great powers bestowed upon a president of the United States. I want the process to play out.

I think that's the best thing to do, because I'd love to see Roger exonerated. And I'd love to see it happen.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COLLINS: Now, Jake, speaking in front of these former prisoners, the president downplayed Roger Stone's crimes, saying they say he lied, but other people lie too.

TAPPER: All right, Kaitlan, stay there.

Sara, let me bring you back.

Sara, take a listen to President Trump just moments ago talking about the forewoman of the jury.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: It's my strong opinion that the forewoman of the jury, the woman who was in charge of the jury, is totally tainted, when you take a look. How can you have a person like this?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: Sara, fact-check that for us.

(LAUGHTER)

MURRAY: You know, there is a foreperson of the jury that Roger Stone and his allies have taken issue with.

They have actually used juror misconduct as the basis for their submission for a new trial. And the predominant thing that got their attention was this foreperson posted on social media about how she was defending the integrity of the prosecutors, the four prosecutors who resigned from this case that the president and the president's allies have attacked.

Now, Roger Stone's, allies have flagged other social media posts. They're trying to make this woman appear to be completely anti-Roger Stone, completely anti-Trump.

And, look, this is an appeal that's before the judge. The judge has said that she's going to consider it. But they also had an opportunity to remove this person from the jury at the beginning and didn't do so.

TAPPER: That's exactly right. And it's not like we live in a world where only Democrats are on juries for Democrats and Republicans for Republicans.

Sara, take a listen to what Seth Cousins, a different member of the jury, told our Chris Cuomo just last night.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SETH COUSINS, JUROR IN ROGER STONE TRIAL: Tomeka actually was perhaps the strongest advocate in the room for a rigorous process, for the rights of the defendant, and for making sure that we -- that we took it seriously and looked at each charge.

Without her in the room, we would have returned the same verdict. And we would have returned it more quickly and without looking as deeply into the evidence.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: Seems to undermine exactly what President Trump is saying, Sarah.

MURRAY: Yes, it does undermine -- it does undermine what Trump is saying.

I mean, you see another member of the jury saying, this foreperson made us look harder at the facts and really evaluate this. And I think when we talk about how this jury was selected, yes, the judge was one of the people who was ferreting out any potential bias. That is something that was considered.

But Roger Stone's team also had an opportunity to question these jurors about political bias before they were selected. So it wasn't just the judge handpicking these folks. It's not like Roger Stone's team is suddenly learning about this member of the jury for the first time.

Again, it is ultimately up to the judge to evaluate these facts to decide whether Roger Stone deserves a new trial based on them. But this is not someone who was flagged to be removed from this group at the beginning, when they were screening for political bias.

TAPPER: Kaitlan, take a look at what President Trump tweeted this morning, the same time that Roger Stone was being sentenced by the judge.

The president tweeted: "They say Roger Stone lied to Congress." I guess he was watching CNN.

And then the president says: "Oh, I see. But so did Comey. And he also leaked classified information for which almost everyone, other than crooked Hillary Clinton, goes to jail for a long time. And so did Andy McCabe, who also lied to the FBI. Fairness?"

So, Kaitlan, I find it very difficult to imagine President Trump just letting the system play out, and if that includes Roger Stone going to jail.

COLLINS: Yes. And you would be right in that, because the president is essentially saying, let's let this play out.

We know Roger Stone wants a new trial, but the president is making pretty clear, he's indicating that, if that does not play out to his satisfaction, that a pardon or a sentence commutation for Roger Stone is in the future.

[16:10:08]

And, Jake, we should also keep in mind that Roger Stone's allies have been lobbying the president for months to pardon Roger Stone if he did get jail time today. Of course, he did not get a short sentence from that judge today.

So it's really hard for people who know the president well, know what he's been saying about this privately, to see how he does let this go.

TAPPER: Right.

It's a shorter sentence than the original prosecutors recommended, but, still, three years, four months in jail is not pleasant for anyone.

Thanks so much to both of you.

Coming up: how President Trump's new attacks could have a lasting impact on the judicial system. That's next.

Then, it's not as if he will be overseeing multiple U.S. intelligence agencies or anything. President Trump names a new acting director of national intelligence who has some key expertise missing from his resume.

Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) TRUMP: Roger has a very good chance of exoneration.

I'd love to see Roger exonerated, and I'd love to see it happen, because I personally think he was treated very unfairly.

[16:15:08]

I'm going to watch it very closely. And at some point, I'll make a determination. But Roger Stone and everybody has to be treated fairly, and this has not been a fair process, OK?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: That was President Trump just moments ago in Las Vegas doing nothing to dispel the rumors that he will pardon his long-time friend Roger Stone. He went off about the fairness of the conviction, all but assured that one way or another Stone will be exonerated.

Let's chew over all this.

So, he said he's going to be watching the process. The next step in the process is that the judge will consider whether this petition from his lawyers, Stone's lawyers, that the whole case should be thrown out and retried because there was a foreperson who had said things critical of President Trump on her social media posts, whether or not that would necessitate a new trial.

Assuming that does not happen, and I'm pretty sure it won't, don't you think he's going to pardon him?

MIKE ROGERS, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY COMMENTATOR: Yes, I just think he set it up to say, I don't know, pick a time frame, second week of November 2020, he'll reconsider it. If you look at the way he was talking today, he was clearly laying out I want all the appeals. He'll be exonerated, actually even used some of the defense's points on the chairperson in their appeal for a retrial. So, I think he's set it up for that.

But can I say, this is really important to me. I wasn't happy with the sentence guidelines. I thought the prosecutors overstepped their bounds.

TAPPER: Obviously, the judge agreed.

ROGERS: My argument is, this is a really great day for the judicial branch. She could have taken a motion into this and given them a lot more time. She had that document in front of her. She said the fair sentence is this, basically three years, two months or something.

I argue this is a great day for the judicial branch of the United States. It shows despite the misgivings of the prosecutorial team, there could have been a circus. She came out, she -- based on the facts she heard before her and what he was doing, gave I thought a fair sentence for what he did. That's to me is a good day. I feel more confident today about the judicial branch moving forward and doing the right thing on this.

TAPPER: So, Carrie, let's -- because you've actually tried cases, there are a lot of people out there who might not be familiar with the process of selecting a jury. And here, oh, this woman ran for office, the foreperson of the jury. She's a Democrat. She said negative things about President Trump on social media, one way or another. That doesn't sound fair.

Explain how the process works, because the Stone jurors -- the Stone lawyers knew that she was a Democrat, knew that she had run for office.

CARRIE CORDERO, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Right. So, they went through the voir dire process. So, they asked for a whole --

TAPPER: That's the process of picking a jury.

CORDERO: Of selecting the jury.

TAPPER: Yes.

CORDERO: So lawyers, they ask a whole series of questions to discern whether or not a juror would have potential biases or not. And then they have an option whether to ask for that person to not be part of the jury.

And so, in this particular case, the lawyers did ask her a series of questions, and some that revealed that she had been a candidate for some kind of political office herself. And that she had heard a little bit about Roger Stone in the news. And so, they had that information, and they did not request that she be excluded from the jury.

So that was the process. Now, they are going to use some of that information to try to argue that he should have a new trial. But based on what we've seen so far in terms oh of what's been reported and that record in the case, I don't think it looks like there is a substantial basis on which a judge would decide that he is -- deserves a new trial.

TAPPER: And, Toluse, the other side issue here is Attorney General Bill Barr, who has made it very clear he wished President Trump would stop tweeting and interfering in the carrying out justice. And this is what Barr said just a few days ago about this specific prosecution.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

WILLIAM BARR, ATTORNEY GENERAL: The Stone case was prosecuted while I was attorney general, and I supported it. I think it was established he was convicted of obstructing Congress and witness tampering. And I thought that was a righteous prosecution. And I was happy that he was convicted.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: President Trump says not a fair process, he's getting ready to give him some sort of clemency I think it's fair to say. But the attorney general says it's a righteous prosecution.

How long can Attorney General Barr stay on the job with President Trump doing this?

TOLUSE OLORUNNIPA, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes, it was completely different messages and not only is Barr saying that it was a righteous prosecution, that President Trump is attacking the prosecutors. He's attacking the judge. He's attacking the foreman of the jury.

And Barr has said that makes it impossible for him to do his job. He's laid it out there. He said it publicly that when the president keeps tweeting and commenting about attending a legal case, that he can't do his job as attorney general. The fact the president has continued to comment and tweet about this case and now is sort of dangling this pardon does make it harder for Barr to have any credibility within the Justice Department, that he's willing to stand up to the president.

[16:20:10]

And if he's not willing to stand up to the president, there's going to be a lot of consternation within the Justice Department that Barr is not going to defend the independence of the Justice Department. And we'll have to see whether or not he does that.

TAPPER: And, Jackie, during sentencing, the judge, Judge Jackson, said, quote, the truth still exists. The truth still matters. Roger Stone's insistent that it doesn't, his belligerence, his pride and his own lies are a threat to our most fundamental institutions, to the foundations of our democracy.

JACKIE KUCINICH, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, the president took into account that Roger Stone didn't tell the truth and just said everybody lies.

So, this is -- this boils down to loyalty. Roger Stone has been a friend of the president's for several decades now. The president doesn't have a lot of friends that go back that far and know him that well and have stuck by him as Roger Stone has. And I think that trumps what the attorney general says, what the judicial system has decided for Roger Stone, none of that matters. It is fealty to the president, and Roger Stone has proven that to him.

TAPPER: All right. Everyone, stick around. We got a lot more to talk about.

The attacks have not ended after the fiery Democratic debate. Why one candidate says the real winner of last night's debate wasn't even on the stage.

Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[16:26:12]

TAPPER: After the most contentious Democratic debate this cycle, Michael Bloomberg is declaring President Trump the winner of last night's Democratic debate, to which the president tweeted, I agree.

And there are some other good news for the president today. A new national Gallup poll shows, for the first time ever, more people approve of the job President Trump is doing than disapprove. That job approval poll is, as of now, an outlier, but it comes as new Quinnipiac polls in three key 2020 battleground states that Hillary Clinton lost last time find Mr. Trump leading the top Democratic contenders in hypothetical matchups in Wisconsin, though he's trailing or about even with the Democratic candidates in Michigan and Pennsylvania. A reminders, if Democrats only pick back up Pennsylvania and Michigan, but not Wisconsin, Trump gets re-elected.

Which Democrat can best prevent that from happening?

As CNN's Ryan Nobles reports, the race right now is shaping up to be Bernie Sanders' to lose.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

MICHAEL BLOOMBERG (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: So, how was your night last night?

RYAN NOBLES, CNN WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Michael Bloomberg today joking around, hoping to move past his lackluster debate performance, even as his main on stage faux, Elizabeth Warren, kept piling on.

SEN. ELIZABETH WARREN (D-MA), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I bet he's reaching at this pocket and spending $100 million more on advertising to try to erase everyone's memory of what happened last night.

NOBLES: But at a campaign stop in a Super Tuesday state of Utah, Bloomberg kept his eye on the front runner.

BLOOMBERG: If we choose a candidate who appeals to a small base like Senator Sanders, it will be a fatal error.

NOBLES: For his part, Bernie Sanders telling me that Bloomberg's attacks are not what Democratic voters are looking for.

SEN. BERNIE SANDERS (I-VT), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: We have more income wealth and inequality today than at any time in the last 100 years. Mr. Bloomberg himself is worth more, this one person, than the bottom 125 million Americans.

NOBLES: Sanders, seeming to survive his first debate, at the top of the polls, with so much of the focus on the new guy on stage, Bloomberg.

WARREN: Democrats take a huge risk if we just substitute one arrogant billionaire for another.

SEN. AMY KLOBUCHAR (D-MN), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I don't think you look at Donald Trump and say we need someone richer in the White House. NOBLES: Not just Bloomberg's billions, his opponents also attacked his

past. Vice President Joe Biden raising Bloomberg's previous support for New York City's controversial stop and frisk policing.

JOE BIDEN (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: It's the policy. The policy was abhorrent and it was, in fact, a violation of every right people have.

NOBLES: While Warren challenged Bloomberg to release women who've alleged sexist and misogynistic behavior by Bloomberg and his company from non-disclosure agreements.

WARREN: So, Mr. Mayor, are you willing to release all of those women from their nondisclosure agreements so we can hear their side of the story?

BLOOMBERG: We have a very few nondisclosure agreements.

WARREN: How many is that?

BLOOMBERG: None of them accuse me of doing anything other than maybe they didn't like a joke I told.

And let me just point -- there's agreements between two parties that wanted to keep it quiet, and that's up to them.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

NOBLES: And one of the big knocks on Bernie Sanders from his Democratic opponents is that he won't the ability to unite the Democratic Party should he win the nomination. To that end, I asked Senator Sanders today about his outreach to former President Obama who's promised to play a big role once the nominating contest completes.

Senator Sanders told me that he's actually in regular contact with President Obama, talking to him at least a couple of times in the past month or two, and he is very confident that should he win the nomination, that Barack Obama will be at his side -- Jake.

TAPPER: All right. Ryan, thank so much. Appreciate it.

Let's chew over all this with our political experts.

A lot of Democrats seem to think Elizabeth Warren had a really good night. Take a listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

WARREN: I'd like to talk about who we're running against, a billionaire who calls women fat broads and horse-faced lesbians. And no, I'm not talking about Donald Trump. I'm talking about Mayor Bloomberg.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: Now, Bloomberg denies saying those things that were from a "Wit and Wisdom" book, a joke book from 30 years ago. Although some people say maybe he did say them.

In any case, I do wonder, do you think that ultimately the debate benefited Bernie Sanders? Because there was so much attention on Bloomberg and not --

[16:30:00]