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Roger Stone Sentenced to 40 Months in Prison; Trump: Won't Pardon Stone Now But "Good Chance of Exoneration." Rep. Jim Himes (D) Connecticut is Interviewed About Roger Stone Sentencing, William Barr and Russia Interference; Trump Tweets on Stone Case After Barr Signaled He May Resign Over Trump Comments on DOJ Cases; NYT: Intel Officials Say Russia Trying to Get Trump Re-elected; Bloomberg Resumes Campaigning After Rough First Debate; Dems Slam Bloomberg Over Policing, Treatment Of Women; New Polls: Sanders Ahead In Multiple Upcoming States; Bloomberg Campaign: $464 Million Spent On Race So Far; NYT: Intel Officials Say Russia Trying To Get Trump Re-elected; Wash Post: 14 Cruise Ship Passengers With Coronavirus Allowed To Fly Home With Others Over CDC's Objections. Aired 5-6p ET

Aired February 20, 2020 - 17:00   ET

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


[17:00:00]

JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: Somebody powerful who might be able to work on solving the problem.

Our coverage on CNN continues right now. Thanks so much for watching.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: I'm Wolf Blitzer in "The Situation Room" where we're following major stories including a 40-month prison sentence for President Trump's long-time friend and advisor Roger Stone. The judge dismissed claims says Stone was singled out for his politics telling him he was prosecuted not for standing up for the President, but for covering up for him instead. Mr. Trump says he won't pardon Stone, at least not now. But he thinks he has, "a good chance of exoneration."

We're also following the Democratic race for the White House. And the fallout from the most heated debate so far. Former New York mayor Michael Bloomberg is trying to regain his footing after coming under attack from all sides in his debate debut which critics say was underwhelming and uneven. We'll talk about it with the man who succeeded Bloomberg, New York Mayor Bill de Blasio. He's backing Bernie Sanders.

We'll also be joined by Congressman Jim Himes of the Intelligence Committee. And our correspondents and analysts are also standing by.

First, let's get some more on Roger Stone's sentencing. Our Senior Justice Correspondent Evan Perez is here. Our Crime and Justice Correspondent Shimon Prokupecz is also working the story for us.

Evan, you were inside the courtroom when you heard the Judge Amy Berman Jackson read out her decision. It was a dramatic moment.

EVAN PEREZ, CNN SENIOR JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: It was. It was over an hour where she was essentially going through methodically, Wolf, the aspects of this case, including some of the arguments that were made by Roger Stone, by the President and some of his allies that Roger Stone was being targeted for some of -- for his first amendment right to stand up for President Trump. That he was essentially being targeted for being a political trickster. She says none of those things are true.

I'll read you just a part of her remarks during the sentencing today. She says, "Stone wasn't obstructing, not some secret anti-Trump cabal," but he lied to Congress. You'll remember that he was convicted of lying to Congress during testimony to the House of Representatives as well as witness tampering, threatening one of the witnesses in this case. And so she took all of this on.

She talked a lit bit about some of his e-mails, some of the threats he made to Randy Credico, one of his associates. And during that time, Wolf, we were all watching Roger Stone and he behaved himself mostly in court. But during that time as she read some of his obscene e- mails, you can see him turn around smirk and look at their two rows of his followers inside the courtroom today.

She also took on the issue of the politics that are at play in this case, Wolf. And she say, "He was"-- Roger Stone she says, "He was not prosecuted as some have claimed for standing up for the President. He was prosecuted for covering up for the President."

One of the things we're watching today, Wolf, was the prosecution. John Crabb stood up today and essentially walked back to the original sentencing memo, the recommendation that was made for seven -- to -- sorry, seven to nine years from the prosecution team which resign, which quit the case in the middle of controversy over President Trump's interferences. And the prosecutor stood up and said he apologized for all the drama that happened in the past week, Wolf. And he said that the original sentencing memo was essentially submitted in good faith. It was exactly according to Justice Departmental policy. And it was within the guidelines that are established.

BLITZER: You know it was interesting, Shimon because we know the President clearly tried to influence the outcome of this trial from the very beginning. And the judge. Amy Berman Jackson, she addressed that specifically.

SHIMON PROKUPECZ, CNN CRIME AND JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: She did. And it's not just the outcome of this trial. It's this entire -- the entire Mueller investigation where you see the President has inserted himself, tweeting, talking about it at campaign rallies, publicly talking about it. And the judge really today that's what some of this was about. She wanted to address some of the influence. And also the attempted influence. And also the prosecutors who now have taken over this case.

They too said that the Department of Justice, there's no political interference. You know, we're here to be fair. And the judges continue. I mean, we saw her going after Roger Stone, we saw her in some ways going after the President and then taking on the whole political drama surrounding this case. And what she said, and this is Judge Jackson, she said that "The dismay and disgust at any attempt to interfere with the efforts of prosecutors and members of the judiciary to fulfill their duty should transcend party."

This is a big moment in this sentencing. This was the overall, I should say theme, I felt, throughout her sentencing proceeding. It was a larger message here because judiciary is under attack. And this was a moment and a time for the judge to defend the judiciary, defend other judges and defend the system, which is really under attack right now.

[17:05:09]

BLITZER: And continues to be under attack by the President today. He railed against what's going on his remarks.

PEREZ: And raise the prospect of a party (INAUDIBLE).

BLITZER: He certainly did. All right, guys, stick around. Evan and Shimon reporting for us.

Now, let's go to the White House. Our Chief White House Correspondent Jim Acosta is also working the story for us. Jim, the President was quick to speak out about Roger Stone's sentencing.

JIM ACOSTA, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Wolf. The President responded to speculation that he is about to pardon Roger Stone. The President suggested he will wait and see how the appeals process plays out for his former adviser saying he hopes Stone is exonerated.

And while the President didn't offer Stone an immediate pardon, he didn't exactly close the door on that possibility either.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ACOSTA (voice-over): President Trump threw his support behind his convicted former adviser Roger Stone, stopped short of offering a pardon to the dirty trickster.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You sold your country out, traitor.

ACOSTA: Just hours after he was sentenced in federal court.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: 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. Because I personally think he was treated very unfairly.

ACOSTA: And an event honoring rehabilitated prisoners in Las Vegas, the President ripped into the jury forewoman at the Stone trial accusing her of being an anti-Trump activist. That was in response to her Facebook post defending the prosecutors in the Stone case. TRUMP: So if this woman was tainted, I hope the judge will find that she was tainted. And if she isn't tainted, that will be fine too. Now you wouldn't know about a bad jury. Anybody here know about how bad -- no?

ACOSTA: The President questioned how Stone can be sentenced to 40 months in prison in part for lying to Congress. But Mr. Trump unleashed a flat-out falsehood of his own when he said Stone was not involved with his campaign. In 2015 the Trump campaign said it fired Stone.

TRUMP: Roger was never involved in the Trump campaign for president. He wasn't involved I think early on -- long before I announced he may have done a little consulting work or something, but he was not involved when I ran for president. And he's a person who, again, he knows a lot of people having to do with politics.

ACOSTA: Stone is now part of a growing group of Trump associates sentenced or awaiting prison sentences. Democrats worry the President is floating the idea of pardons to try to keep those associates quiet.

REP. RAJA KRISHNAMOORTHI (D-IL): Well, I think he dangled the pardon often with regard to Mr. Stone and Mr. Flynn in part to, in my opinion, to signal to them that if they stay on the team, that they don't reveal further information that they might possess about the President that they'll be taken care of.

ACOSTA: The judge overseeing Stone's trial took a jab at Mr. Trump at one point saying that the for Trump campaign adviser sentencing that "He was prosecuted for covering up for the President."

Mr. Trump had been teasing the possibility of the Stone pardon tweeting a video of a Fox host calling for leniency.

TUCKER CARLSON, FOX NEWS HOST: The whole thing is enough to shake your faith in our justice system unfortunately. President Trump could end the travesty in an instant with a pardon and there are indications tonight that he will do that.

ACOSTA: Trump allies are also reminding the President he has the power to pardon Stone with GOP Senator Lindsey Graham tweeting,"Under our system of justice, President Trump has all the legal authority in the world to review the case in terms of commuting the sentence or pardoning Mr. Stone for the underlying offense."

As for the attacks on the forewoman in the Stone trial, a fellow juror in the case said the President and the attorney general are doing damage to the justice system.

SETH COUSINS, JUROR, ROGER STONE TRIAL: They cast doubt on the bedrock of the equal administration of justice that it's just so important to our country. I think he damages our democracy by attacking this way. And I wish he would stop.

(END VIDEOTAPE) ACOSTA: Now as for a pardon for Roger Stone, Trump advisers tell me they expect the President to eventually settle this score if Stone's conviction is not ultimately overturned.

Meanwhile, Wolf, we should point out on the selection process for a permanent director of National Intelligence, a senior administration official just told me a short while ago that the U.S. Ambassador to Germany Rick Grenell who was selected for that position on an acing basis will not have that job on a permanent basis only on an acting basis.

Meanwhile the outgoing acting director of National Intelligence Joseph Maguire apparently got into a testy conversation with the President last week. The President got irate with Maguire, we are told. We are still finding out the details at this moment as to what was going on in that conversation, Wolf.

BLITZER: Jim Acosta at the White House, intriguing information. Thank you very, very much.

Let's get some more in all of this with Democratic Congressman Jim Himes of Connecticut who's joining us. He's a key member of the House Intelligence Committee.

Congressman, thanks so much for joining us, lots to discuss. Let's start with this. The President spent 12 minutes railing against the Roger Stone verdict today, all in public. He then went on to attack the Justice Department and the criminal justice system. Based on everything you heard from the President today, what do you think is going to happen now?

[17:10:16]

REP. JIM HIMES (D-CT): Well, Wolf, what we're seeing here is just a wholesale deterioration of the institutions that we rely on to keep our democracies strong. The Republican Party now has become a cult in support of the President. United States Senate and their failure to even call witnesses in the trial, of course, has become a cult in support of the President. News outlets like Fox News, you know, are urging on, you ran that Tucker Carlson clip.

You know, behavior that by any other president they would regard as corrupt. And of course we see this now in the Justice Department, with the attorney general acting as the President's attorney. And, of course, the nomination of Rick -- of Ambassador Grenell, a man with zero intelligence experience to be -- to sit atop the intelligence community of the United States. All of this is an attempt to turn the United States government into an instrument for a deeply corrupt President.

And, you know, I -- amidst this we hear Judge Jackson's words and the judiciary, of course, may be the last bulwark standing between us and, you know, the entire government being a tool for President Trump. We hear the words of Judge Jackson saying that the truth is still there. And the truth matters in trying to clear up some of this stuff. But honestly, it's a pretty ugly -- I was going to say day, but several weeks since Trump has been unchained by the Senate's acquittal and tacit endorsement of his corrupt behavior.

BLITZER: As you know, Congressman, the Attorney General William Barr has been privately threatening to resign if the President were to continue to publicly comment on these various criminal cases. But after the President's comments today, is it time, do you believe for Barr to make good on that threat?

HIMES: Well, Wolf, I can't tell you how tired I am at this moment of crisis in our democracy. And when the President is reaching into individual court cases and talking about individual jurors, you know, had that happened four years ago, it would be a three-week news cycle. Now it's just Donald Trump's afternoon activity. So I'm completely unimpressed by people scratching their chin like the attorney general and saying, gosh, this is hard. Or Susan Collins of Maine saying I'm so concerned.

You know, this is the time for patriots to stand up and say that this is not OK in our democracy. You know, this is what -- there are still months left in Donald Trump's first term. We can talk about whether there will be a second term. There are months left, and if people who don't value the institutions of American democracy don't stop scratching their chin or making excuses or rationalizing behavior, this democracy will slip away.

So, you know what, if the attorney general wants to salvage whatever shred of his reputation remains, he shouldn't just talk about how hard his job is. He should stand up and say I care about the constitution. I resign and I'm going to tell my story about the bastardization of a hinder to independent institution in this country.

BLITZER: There's a related development unfolding right now. "The New York Times," Congressman, has just moved a story. Let me read the headline and the lead for you. The headline is "Russia backs Trump's reelection and he fears Democrats will exploit its support." Here is the lead of "The New York Times" story.

Intelligence officials warned House lawmakers last week that Russia was interfering in the 2020 campaign to try to get President Trump reelected. Five people familiar with the matter said in a disclosure that angered Mr. Trump, who complained that Democrats would use it against him. This is your Intelligence Committee. There was this briefing. Tell us about that, what you can.

HIMES: Wolf, I really can't tell you about things that happen behind closed doors in the Intelligence Committee. So I can't confirm that story. I can't go to what was said there.

But it is worth the American public thinking about the question of what does Vladimir Putin want. Does Vladimir Putin want a traditional American president who respects the intelligence community, who stands up for NATO, who doesn't berate our allies, who, you know, like the current President might actually criticize Russia? Or would Vladimir Putin perhaps think that the divisiveness and the polarization and the questions of our allies and the failure to, you know, secure an agreement with North Korea and the instability in Iran in the Middle East, is it possible that Vladimir Putin might say, hey, that's actually pretty good. It's a hypothetical.

But if he were thinking that way, how concerned do you think that Vladimir Putin might be that President Trump would call out that behavior? Of course, the President wouldn't call out that behavior. In fact based on the performance that we saw in the previous campaign, there's a very good chance that the President would welcome Vladimir Putin's assistance in his reelection.

[17:15:11]

But again, I can't comment on the specifics or anything that was said behind closed doors in the Intelligence Committee.

BLITZER: We're going to have more on this story. "The New York Times" Maggie Haberman, one of the co-authors of this story, she's going to be joining us momentarily.

Very quickly before I let you go, I know you can't provide details, it's a classified close door briefing, but can you simply confirm that a briefing like this occurred?

HIMES: Wolf, I don't want to go there. Again, there's a reason why this is all done behind closed doors. So, sorry, but I don't want to go there.

BLITZER: I understand completely. All right, Congressman Jim Himes, thanks so much for joining us.

HIMES: Thank you.

BLITZER: All right we're going to have a lot more on the breaking news right now that's unfolding. Maggie Haberman, she's standing by. She'll report on what she has learned about this briefing before the House Intelligence Committee. Much more on that and much more on the Roger Stone decision today, 40 months in prison. Also all the political news, we'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[17:20:26]

BLITZER: We're following the breaking news. "The New York Times" just now reporting that U.S. intelligence officials have told members of Congress that Russia is interfering in the 2020 U.S. presidential raise hoping to get President Trump reelected. Let's bring in our political and legal experts.

So Maggie Haberman of "The New York Times," one of our political analysts is with us as well.

Maggie, you're one of the coauthors of this articles, give us the up shot.

MAGGIE HABERMAN, WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, THE NEW YORK TIMES: Sure. Wolf, there was a briefing given by intelligence officials to the House Intelligence Committee last week on February 13th. And in that briefing, officials said that they believe or one official said that their intelligence is that Russia is interfering or attempting to interfere in the 2020 election with the goal of reelecting President Trump. This angered Republicans on the committee, who pushed back.

And when the President learned about this briefing, he was very upset and berated Maguire, who until today was the head of -- he was the ODNI overseeing the national intelligence office. And they had never personally gotten along. There's been a lot of speculation that this is why the President moved in the last two or three days to replace Maguire with Rick Grenell, a loyalist.

Look, the President's argument was that Adam Schiff, the ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee would use this information against him in some way. That was basically his main complaint. A lot of administration members argue that the same thing that Republican House members argued which is the, you know, they can point to a lot of areas where they suggest the President has been aggressive against Russia.

We also have obviously seen a lot of commentary from the President in public where he has sounded appeasing to Russia or where he has negated the intelligence community's findings that Russia interfered in the last one. We know the President see this as some kind of an asterisk on his own election in 2016, but it really tells you a lot about how the President is viewing intelligence and how it is being presented and handled in the context of his reelection campaign.

BLITZER: And it looks, Jim Baker, like the President dumped Joseph Maguire as the acting director of National Intelligence because of this briefing. Word got back to him from Republicans on the House Intelligence Committee of what was told that Russia apparently getting ready to, if not already, interfere in the 2020 election to help the President get reelected. And convinced the President, Maguire have to go. And that's why Richard -- Rick Grenell is now the -- going to be the acting ODNI.

JIM BAKER, FORMER FBI GENERAL COUNSEL: It makes a lot more sense. It helps us understand all that. And I understand the President's perspective. But is anybody shocked that the Russians are trying to interfere in the U.S. election to help the President? I don't think you should be if you have been paying attention for the last three and a half years.

But if the President thinks he is going to win reelection and he should push back on the Russians and say I got this. Like, don't interfere in our election, just keep out of it. He should say that any way. But if he's always telling us how well he's doing and so on, if that's the case, then tell them to stay the heck out our election.

BLITZER: Dana, what does it say to you? This is a pretty explosive development.

DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Listen, this is -- and the -- my two colleagues know this as well as I do, this is -- has been one of the issues that has set the President off since the day he took office, even beforehand. The notion that the Russians helped him, and therefore in his mind, he hears that and he hears people don't see me as a legitimate president. And that has been the undercurrent of how he has used or not used intelligence on this issue from the day he was sworn in.

And it is problematic in the sense that you have the intelligence community ringing an alarm and doing what they are supposed to do, which is going to the appropriate committee and saying this is a problem. We need to address this.

And the problem is that the man in charge is that the man encharge to that Intelligence Committee is the guy who just prosecuted the President on impeachment. So there's so many layers and so many subplots going on here. And it all brings up the notion and the question of what is the President going to do about it and the answer has been not a whole lot. Not about Russia. Yes, he can make arguments as Maggie reported in her piece that they have been tough on Russia in various ways, but when it comes to the core issue of combatting the Russians getting involved in American elections, there's no indications that the President says anything except I don't want to hear it.

[17:25:02]

BLITZER: And apparently according to your reporting, Maggie, the President was so deeply irritated that the chairman of the chairman of House Intelligence Committee, Adam Schiff among Democrats and Republican members of the committee was getting this information asking why is my director of national intelligence sharing anything with Adam Schiff.

HABERMAN: That's exactly right. That is as we understand, that is the main thing that bothered the President or at least one of the main things that he was berating Maguire about in a meeting the day after this briefing.

The President had not been made aware of the fact this took place by other members of his administration and he was upset that he hadn't known. I expect you will hear more about that in the coming days.

Look, we have seen repeatedly that this President since -- even frankly, even before the acquittal vote from the impeachment trial in the Senate, but certainly since then he's been moving to tighten his circle, he's been moving to bring in more loyalist, he's been moving to have people around him who he feels he can trust and we are seeing the lengths to which he is going. There's a pervasive sense of paranoia that the President has. We have seen it over and over again.

His allies and his aides would argue he has a reason to be paranoid. They really are out to get him and they would point to Schiff as the key example. But at the end of the day, if there isn't an agreed upon fact set in the government, that's going to be deeply problematic for any President going forward.

BLITZER: I want everybody to standby, we're going to have much more on the breaking news. We'll take a quick break. We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[17:31:19]

BLITZER: Former Vice President Joe Biden and Senator Elizabeth Warren they take part in the CNN presidential town hall later tonight. Warren in particular is coming off as -- coming off a rather strong showing in last night's Democratic presidential debate where she helped lead a series of withering attacks and former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg. He's campaigning today in Utah.

Let's go to our Political Correspondent MJ Lee. MJ, so what's Bloomberg saying about last night?

MJ LEE, CNN POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, all of the 2020 action over the weekend is going to be in Nevada, but Michael Bloomberg campaigned here in Salt Lake City this morning, turning his focus entirely back to the Super Tuesday states.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

LEE (voice-over): Michael Bloomberg back on the campaign trail trying to bounce back from his 2020 debate debut.

MIKE BLOOMBERG (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: So how was your night last night? Look, the real winner in the debate last night was Donald Trump.

LEE (voice-over): Days out from the Nevada caucuses, Bloomberg's rivals coming out swinging on the debate stage.

SEN. ELIZABETH WARREN (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: A billionaire who calls women fat broads and horse face lesbians. And no, I'm not talking about Donald Trump. I'm talking about Mayor Bloomberg.

SEN. BERNIE SANDERS (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Mr. Bloomberg had policies in New York City of stop-and-frisk, which went after African- American and Latino people in an outrageous way. That is not a way you're going to grow voter turnout.

LEE (voice-over): The former New York City Mayor under fire for his controversial record on criminal justice.

JOE BIDEN (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: He has stop-and-frisk throwing up close to 5 million young black men up against the wall.

LEE (voice-over): And confronted by Elizabeth Warren over allegations of sexist and misogynistic behavior dating back decades.

WARREN: He has gotten some number of women dozens who knows to sign non-disclosure agreements, both for sexual harassment and for gender discrimination in the workplace. So, Mr. Mayor, are you willing to release all of those women from those non-disclosure agreements so we can hear their side of the story?

BLOOMBERG: We have a very few non-disclosure agreements. None of them accuse me of doing anything other than -- maybe they didn't like the joke I told.

LEE (voice-over): In a rare move, Warren also taking direct aim at her other rivals on stage.

WARREN: It's not a plan, it's PowerPoint. And Amy's plan is even less. It's like a Post-it-note, insert plan here. Bernie has started very much, has a good start. But instead of expanding and bringing in more people to help, instead his campaign relentlessly attacks everyone.

LEE (voice-over): Tensions also riding high between Pete Buttigieg and Amy Klobuchar.

PETE BUTTIGIEG (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: We're not able to speak to, literally, the first thing about the politics of the country to ourself.

SEN. AMY KLOBUCHAR (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Are you trying to say that I'm done? Are you mocking me here, Pete? I said I made an error. People sometimes forget names. I wish everyone as was as perfect as you, Pete.

LEE (voice-over): Warren staying on the attack the day after the debate.

WARREN: I'll bet he's reaching in his pocket and spending $100 million more on advertising to try to erase everyone's memory of what happened last night.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

LEE: And a Bloomberg a tells CNN that their overall message will remain the same that they believe he is the best candidate to beat Donald Trump, and that they will definitely participate in next week's debate as well. Wolf?

BLITZER: MJ Lee in Salt Lake City for us. MJ, thanks very much.

Joining us now, our New York Mayor Bill de Blasio. He succeeded Michael Bloomberg as mayor of New York, also sought the Democratic presidential nomination. He supports Bernie Sanders for the Democratic presidential nomination.

[17:35:06]

Mayor, thank you so much for joining us. Let's get to what happened. Right now, Senator Sanders is leading in the polls. So his message is clearly resonating with some Democratic voters. But he also calls himself as, you know, and all of our viewers know, a Democratic socialist. And according to a new NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll, a combined 67 percent of Americans say they would have reservations or be very uncomfortable with a socialist. Looking ahead to a general election, how would Sanders reassure moderate and independent voters who don't want socialism?

MAYOR BILL DE BLASIO (D-NY), FORMER PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Wolf, you know, what we're seeing in poll after poll is Bernie Sanders is the best candidate to beat Donald Trump. So I'm not ignoring what you said. I'm just going to the head-to-head matchups. We constantly see that Bernie Sanders in the polling is not only the most popular candidate among Democrats, his coalition is growing rather. More and more African-Americans, Latinos, more moderate voters are joining.

We see something very powerful happen. The growth of his support in the Super Tuesday states is stunning. And when you match them up against Bloomberg, actually against Trump, my apology, when you match them against Trump, what you see is he not only can energize the Democratic coalition. A lot of those folks who stayed home in 2016, those younger voters, those progressive voters, voters of color, who didn't feel enough in 2016, to come out to vote, but he also makes huge inroads with working class voters, including a lot of those who ultimately went to Trump. When they hear Bernie Sanders talking about working people, they know he's on their side.

BLITZER: Well let me ask you this -- Mayor, are you comfortable with his description, a Democratic socialist? Do you consider yourself a Democratic socialist?

DE BLASIO: I consider myself a Democrat and a progressive. I have no problem at all. I am very comfortable with the fact that he calls himself what he believes and he's a Democratic socialist, which means he cares about working people, which means he is willing to take on the health insurance companies, big oil. He's someone who has the courage of his convictions.

And you know what you see, Wolf, is that people across the ideological spectrum admire that. They don't have to agree with him on every issue to still say this is a man of integrity, who cares about working people, and that passion, that consistency is registering more and more. The most recent polling shows he is the strongest candidate to beat Donald Trump, because people believe he's actually telling the truth.

And working people have felt like they've gotten the shaft for a long time in this country. They feel the elites in both parties have let them down. Well, Bernie can safely say he was not a part of that. He has been calling for change for a long time.

I think what's happening here, Wolf, is that Bernie has established over years that he's the real thing, and more and more Americans are seeing it and liking it. And I'm especially excited at notion of winning back a lot of those working class voters that the Democratic Party lost that we shouldn't have lost, but we did lose to Donald Trump. Bernie Sanders is the guy who can get him back.

BLITZER: If Bloomberg were to get the Democratic nomination, Mayor, your predecessor, would you support him?

DE BLASIO: I've been very consistent. Whoever gets the Democratic nomination, I will energetically work for. But I'll tell you something. That debate was very telling, Wolf. And one of the things that was clear is that Michael Bloomberg's only asset is his assets, his financial assets. That's the only thing this guy has going for him. He clearly did not understand how to speak to the American people. And Bernie really made the point last night when Bloomberg was bragging about his hard work, leaned all his wealth, and Bernie said, hey, what about all those thousands of people in your company who contributed to your success, who made it possible for you to be wealthy? Bloomberg look like a deer in the headlights to that point because it never occurred to him, that working people matter.

It's clear he does not know how to speak a language that everyday Americans can relate to because he can't relate to everyday Americans. And, boy, that was evident last night. So, now, you know, I thought the debate was necessary to bring out some of these issues. We need a battle tested candidate who can handle anything Trump can throw at them, and has the ability to get our base to be passionate, but also draw in new kinds of voters. That's what I think Bernie can do.

BLITZER: Mayor de Blasio, thanks so much for joining us.

DE BLASIO: You're welcome, Wolf.

BLITZER: We'll continue this conversation down the road. Once again, be sure to watch tonight's back to back CNN Democratic presidential town halls with Joe Biden and Elizabeth Warren. It all starts tonight 8:00 p.m. Eastern.

Coming up, we'll have more on the breaking news. The New York Times now reporting that U.S. intelligence officials have told congressional lawmakers that Russia is interfering in the presidential election to try to get President Trump reelected.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[17:44:33]

BLITZER: This hour's breaking news, The New York Times revealing that U.S. intelligence officials told members of the House Intelligence Committee during a classified briefing of the other day that Russia is already interfering in the 2020 U.S. presidential campaign hoping to get President Trump reelected.

Let's bring in our counterterrorism national security experts to discuss what's going on. What's your reaction, Phil Mudd, to this New York Times story?

PHILIP MUDD, CNN COUNTERTERRORISM ANALYST: Look, if you've got an intel person looking at the facts, that is looking at the information from intercepted Russian communications, what else you supposed to say?

[17:45:04]

We got that story during the last election about Russian interference. The story's got to be the same in this election. The information is not that complicated. Any intel person is going to stand in front of a camera or an intel committee at the Congress and say, the Russians are in this game. It's not that hard. BLITZER: Shawn Turner, you used to work for the Director of National Intelligence. What's your reaction?

SHAWN TURNER, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: Well look, Wolf, I think, you know, if you're an intelligence agency leader or the Director of National Intelligence, they understand that it is their job to be relentless in making sure that the President understands the threats that this nation face. And if you're the president, it's your responsibility to do something about it.

You know, my concern here is that, you know, if we have a situation in which intelligence community leaders fear the consequences of coming to Members of Congress, of coming to the President and talking about the threats that we face, well, that's a threat for the entire nation. The intelligence community, the leaders, the DNI, they have to be able to talk about uncomfortable truths.

Look, when I worked in the administration, I remember times when Director Clapper would have to go downtown and deliver bad news to President Obama. It's something you have to do. You got to be willing to speak truth to power, because then to not do so, puts us all at risk.

BLITZER: And the President apparently, Phil, was so upset at Joseph Maguire, the Acting Director of National Intelligence, because of this briefing --

MUDD: Yes.

BLITZER: -- before the House Intelligence Community effectively dumped him and asked the U.S. Ambassador to Germany, Ric Grenell, to be the new Acting Head of the National Intelligence Community, all 17 agencies even though he has no intelligence experience.

MUDD: Well, he's going to get crushed. Look, there's other people who appear in front of those committees. Not just the President's nominee to be the Director of National Intelligence. Let's talk about the CIA Director, somebody I know personally.

The problem the President has, if he wants to hide the fact that the Russians are going to favor him in the upcoming election is that, it's not just his men, the former Ambassador to Germany, a Trump supporter, who speaks in front of people like you and me in front of the Congress, it's other nominees who have careers in intelligence who will go say, the facts of the facts, the Russians are interfering, you're interfering in favor of the President, that's what it is. You can't escape it, Wolf.

BLITZER: Every body standby, we'll have much more on the breaking news right after this.

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[17:52:08]

BLITZER: We'll have much more on the breaking news. The U.S. members of the U.S. intelligence community told Congress in the classified briefing the other day that Russia is already interfering in the 2020 presidential election with the intention of trying to get President Trump reelected. Much more on that coming up.

But first, other important new information we're learning tonight about the decision to allow more than a dozen Americans infected with coronavirus to return to the United States. CNN's Brian Todd is working the story for us. Brian, the death toll from the outbreak now has topped 2,100.

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Right. The death toll does keep rising, Wolf. And for the first time tonight, we can report fatalities from coronavirus among passengers on that ill-fated cruise ship, the Diamond Princess.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

TODD (voice-over): The first casualties from a cruise ship that has been on a most unhappy journey. Tonight, Japanese official say two passengers from the Diamond Princess have died from coronavirus. They were Japanese nationals, a man and woman in their 80s, official say, who died in a Japanese hospital after testing positive last week. Both had preexisting conditions.

DR. GLENN WORTMANN, INFECTIOUS DISEASE SPECIALIST, MEDSTAR WASHINGTON HOSPITAL CENTER: Most of the people that have had bad outcomes with coronavirus have been elderly, the older population people with underlying medical conditions.

TODD (voice-over): Today, hundreds more were allowed to disembark from the Diamond Princess. They all tested negative for coronavirus. But there are warnings tonight from infectious disease experts that those released could still pose dangers to their communities by unknowingly carrying the virus there, even if they tested negative once.

WORTMANN: Early on in an infectious disease, you may be asymptomatic, be infected but not show symptoms for a couple of days. So you may test early on day -- you may test negative on day one, but then on day two or day three, turn positive.

TOD (on-camera): So that could happen after they get off the ship and are out in the communities if they're not quarantined.

WORTMANN: Potentially, it could have happened if they were exposed a couple of days before they left the boat.

TODD (voice-over): Warnings which take on more seriousness because not every country quarantines people who've come off the ship for two weeks as the U.S. and some other nations do. But tonight, a report says there was friction among U.S. officials regarding their evacuations. The Washington Post citing U.S. officials says on a flight evacuating Americans from the Diamond Princess, 14 people who were infected were allowed by the State Department to fly to the U.S. on the same plane with others who were not infected, over the objections of the Centers for Disease Control. The Post says, the 14 people did not have symptoms and were segregated from the rest. More than 600 people who traveled on the Diamond Princess have tested positive, the largest cluster of coronavirus cases outside Mainland China. With many passengers quarantined on the ship for weeks after the outbreak started, with the possibility that staffers on the vessel, who were not kept separate, could have infected people. Most experts believe this was a failed quarantine.

CELINE GOUNDER, INFECTIOUS DISEASE SPECIALIST, NYU SCHOOL OF MEDICINE: Hindsight being 2020, you know, I think as soon as there was one case, they should have had everybody get off the ship.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

[17:55:08]

BLITZER: All right, Brian Todd, thank you very much. Much more in the breaking news right after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is CNN breaking news.

BLITZER: Welcome to our viewers in the United States and around the world. I'm Wolf Blitzer in "The Situation Room."

We're following major breaking news. A source now tells CNN that U.S. intelligence officials warned Members of Congress just last week that Russia is interfering in the 2020 presidential campaign to try to get President Trump reelected.