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Trump Irate After Intel Agency Warning of Russian Interference; Democratic Candidates Jockeying for Support in Nevada a Day Before Caucus; Roger Stone Sentenced to 40 Months in Prison; Iranians Head to Polls for Parliamentary Elections. Aired 4-4:30a ET

Aired February 21, 2020 - 04:00   ET



LAURA JARRETT, CNN ANCHOR: The Russians are back and the president is irate. But not because of a threat. He's just unwilling to accept the facts.

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: The Nevada caucuses a day away. The candidates making a final pitch and a dash for cash.

JARRETT: A catastrophic tanker fire in Indianapolis. The driver is lucky to be alive. Just wait until you hear who saved him.

Welcome to our viewers in the United States and around the world. This is EARLY START. I'm Laura Jarrett.

ROMANS: Good morning, everybody. I'm Christine Romans. It is Friday, February 21st. It is 4:00 a.m. in New York.

America's Russia nightmare 2.0. Briefing lawmakers, the intel community said it believes Russia is already taking steps to interfere in the 2020 election with the goal of helping President Trump win. The assessment comes less than nine months before America votes. Three sources tell CNN the briefer said Russia's interference is also designed to raise questions about the integrity of the election system itself.


JAMES CLAPPER, FORMER DIRECTOR OF NATIONAL INTELLIGENCE: It is not a big surprise but it illustrates the tremendous challenge that the intelligence community has where they're teeing up facts that our president doesn't want to hear.


JARRETT: The new revelations once again prompting an assault on the intel community. The first time we went through the president became so aggravated by the exposure of Russia's meddling he fired the very person in charge of getting to the bottom of it. Of course FBI director James Comey which then led to the Mueller probe. ROMANS: Now round two and the president is again unable to accept both

that his victory could be legitimate and that an adversary could be interfering. Already intel officials who tried to sound the alarm are paying the price. Loyalists, not career intel professionals, are now overseeing national security.

Here's White House correspondent Kaitlan Collins.

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Laura and Christine, it's really a fascinating turn of events that we're learning about and I want to start with last week. There was this intelligence briefing on Thursday on Capitol Hill with a group of bipartisan lawmakers, both Democrats and Republicans, with this official, Shelby Pierson, who is in this role.

Essentially she is overseeing all of the intelligence related to election security. She's coordinating all that. It's a new position that was created last summer. And she told these lawmakers that their latest assessment is that Russia is trying to interfere in the 2020 election and that they are favoring President Trump to win.

Now she told this to a bipartisan group of lawmakers. We are told by sources the Republicans in the room grew angry with this assessment and then later, the president found out about what exactly had been telegraphed to them and he got irate with the acting director of National Intelligence, that would be this official's boss, and that's Joseph Maguire, someone who was widely expected to be permanently nominated to that job.

But we are told now that after that briefing happened on Thursday, he met with the president on Friday. That's when they had that tense exchange over this briefing because essentially the president was operating under this belief that Democrats would try to weaponize that information against him. Even though it was a classified briefing, they're not allowed to repeat that when they're not behind closed doors.

The House Intelligence chairman Adam Schiff was in the room and, of course, he has been one of the president's biggest foils through all the impeachment inquiry and the impeachment trial. And we're told that the president blew up on Maguire and essentially, now we are learning -- of course, learned days later that now Rick Grenell is going to be named as the acting director of National Intelligence until the president picks someone else to take that top job.

Now, we are being told by officials that the two are coincidental, the Russian report and the idea that Grenell is now going to be taking over as the director of National Intelligence. But, of course, the question is going to be whether or not the president is receiving intelligence he does not like and that is why he is changing, essentially, who it is giving him the information.

JARRETT: All right. Kaitlan Collins, thanks so much for that.

President Trump now says he's considering Congressman Doug Collins of Georgia to become the permanent director of National Intelligence. Collins was a staunch defender of the president during the impeachment proceedings. He could face some of the same criticism that's been raised about Richard Grenell, little to no intelligence experience.

Also CNN has confirmed Kash Patel, a former aide to Congressman Devin Nunes, will be an adviser to Grenell at the DNI office. Kash Patel was directly involved in efforts to discredit the assessment that Russia interfered in 2016.

ROMANS: With the Nevada caucuses set for tomorrow, Bernie Sanders is surging in the polls after emerging unscathed from a scorched earth debate in Las Vegas. But there are lingering questions about whether his rivals would unite around him if he is the nominee. But the Vermont senator is confident he will have the backing of at least one critical Democrat, Barack Obama.


SEN. BERNIE SANDERS (D-VT), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I'm not going to tell you he and I are best friends, but we're friends. And I have talked to him on and off for the last many years.


If I win, I'm sure he'll be there on my side. If somebody else wins, he'll be there at their side.


ROMANS: Sanders and Obama had their disagreements on some big issues like the Trans Pacific Partnership, TPP, but Sanders says the former president's support is necessary for any Democrat to beat Donald Trump.

The president is holding a rally in Las Vegas tonight. It will be the third time he has rallied in a state where Democrats are about to vote.

JARRETT: Democratic presidential contenders are raising to refill campaign coffers. Early nominating states proved pretty costly. Now looming big money ad buys in Super Tuesday states along with almost half a billion dollars Michael Bloomberg has already poured into his own campaign. The former New York City mayor isn't even on the ballot in Nevada. Bloomberg downplaying his first debate was pretty rough.


MICHAEL BLOOMBERG (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Look, the real winner in the debate last night was Donald Trump because I worry that we may very well be on the way to nominating somebody who cannot win in November.


ROMANS: Elizabeth Warren looking for a bounce after her strong debate performance. In a CNN town hall last night she kept up her attacks on Bloomberg's nondisclosure agreements with women who have sued his company.


SEN. ELIZABETH WARREN (D-MA), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I wrote up a release in covenant not to sue and all that Mayor Bloomberg has to do is download it. I'll text it.


WARREN: Sign it, and then the women or men will be free to speak and tell their own stories.


ROMANS: She used to teach contract law, you can see that there. Former vice president Joe Biden needs a strong showing in Nevada and South Carolina to revive his campaign. He's again facing questions about age and health.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Some expressed concern about the ages of you and Senator Sanders. Would you, if you were the nominee, go as far to commit to only one term if it meant uniting our party?

JOE BIDEN (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: No, I wouldn't do that. By the way, the three youngest men in the state now are me and Buttigieg.


BIDEN: You know, that's the way it goes. You know what I mean? I give all my medical records, everything. OK? The whole deal so you know who I am.


BIDEN: Anybody who starts off saying I'm only going to serve one term is already behind the 8 ball because then you're a one term president and no one worries about what the hell is going to happen after that.


JARRETT: Nevada votes tomorrow. CNN will take you inside the results. Special live coverage starts tomorrow at 2:00 p.m. Eastern.

ROMANS: All right. Seven minutes past the hour, new estimates suggest China could purchase much less farm products from the U.S. than thought, renewing uncertainty around the phase one trade deal. Economists at the USDA estimate exports to China would reach roughly $14 billion in the year that ends September 30th. Now that falls far short of President Trump's promise of $40 billion in egg products this year.

"The Washington Post" reports when USDA chief economist Robert Johansson was asked why the numbers aren't matching up Johansson said, "When the secretary," that's Sonny Perdue, "was asked this question, he said we're not just taking the additional $30 billion and sticking it into a Chinese export number." Johansson added some of the discrepancy is the difference between a calendar year and a fiscal year, meaning October, November, December numbers were not included in the estimate.

The new X factor in all of this, the coronavirus. Earlier this month White House economic adviser Larry Kudlow said the outbreak could delay some of those exports.

JARRETT: President Trump says his longtime friend and former associate Roger Stone has a very good chance of exoneration, but he won't pardon him for now. The president says he'll let the process play out first. Stone was sentence Thursday to three years, four months in federal prison for lying to Congress about his efforts to aid Trump's campaign back in 2016.

The real drama, though, came from the judge. Amy Berman Jackson says Stone was prosecuted for covering up for the president and that this belligerence and his pride in his own lies are a threat to the foundations of democracy. She said, "Sure the defense is free to say, so what, who cares, but I'll say this, Congress cared, the American people cared, and I care."

We get more from CNN's Katelyn Polantz who is at the courthouse for us for Stone's sentencing.

KATELYN POLANTZ, CNN CRIME AND JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Christine and Laura, we finally heard from the judge, Amy Berman Jackson, who has been under attack by the president. Remember, she's handled several of the criminal cases from the Mueller investigation. Now, Jackson spent much of the sentencing criticizing Stone's actions in 2016 saying he was prosecuted for covering up for the president whenever he lied to Congress.

Jackson also saved some fire for President Trump. She didn't directly comment on him but instead made several veiled remarks. Just before she told Roger Stone his sentence, Jackson repeated that both political parties should be disgusted and dismayed by what Stone did and how others have defended him. At the hearing a prosecutor from the U.S. attorney's office in D.C. largely sided with his former colleagues from the office who quit the case last week.

The attorney general overrode their recommendations after they sought a harsh sentence for Stone. The prosecutor yesterday also said that they had acted in good faith and that this case against Stone was a righteous one.

Stone has asked for a new trial alleging juror misconduct, so Stone's ongoing argument means that he won't have to report to prison right away, and the judge is still deciding whether Stone deserves a retrial.

Christine and Laura, back to you.

ROMANS: All right, Katelyn, thank you for that.

JARRETT: Yes. The judge's comments yesterday really passionate in court.

Well, how much food is wasted around the world? Turns out it's twice as much as previously thought.


JARRETT: An Indianapolis interstate badly damaged after a tanker carrying 4,000 gallons of jet fuel overturned and exploded. The driver survived but suffered serious burns. It could have turned out a lot worse for him if not for Holly McNally.


Holly just had a baby five days earlier. She was leaving the hospital after visiting her newborn in the intensive care unit when she spotted the tanker driver staggering out of his semi.


HOLLY MCNALLY, HELPED SAVE DRIVER'S LIFE: I'm scaling and people are videotaping and watching but nobody's running over there. Smoke was hitting us and I was like, you know, just praying, like, God, please let me get out of there so I can go see my baby, but I thought what if that's my son, what if that were Connor, you know, when he's 30? Would you want somebody to just leave him there?


JARRETT: Wow. The driver is still in critical condition this morning. It's just amazing.

ROMANS: It really is.

All right. A Tennessee death row inmate credited with saving the lives of three corrections officers executed by the state last night. Nicholas Sutton who's convicted of multiple murders also helped prison guards out of a life-threatening situations three separate times. His lawyer says that was part of his appeal for clemency which was denied by the governor. The 58-year-old has been on death row since 1985.

JARRETT: The mother of two children missing for months in Idaho has been arrested in Hawaii. 46-year-old Lori Vallow is being held on $5 million bail facing two felony counts of desertion and non-support of dependent children. 7-year-old Joshua "JJ" Vallow and his sister, 17- year-old Tylee Ryan, were last heard from in September. About two months later, Vallow and her husband fled their home in Rexburg, Idaho, when authorities began looking for their children.

ROMANS: USC is waiving tuition for families who have an annual income of $80,000 or less. The offer begins this fall. A typical year of tuition at the private university with room and board and other expenses is $77,000. And homeownership will no longer be considered when determining a student's financial need. USC's president says the idea is to open the door wider to talented students from all walks of life. JARRETT: Food waste around the world is twice as bad as we thought.

One-third of all food available for human consumption is wasted. People in wealthier countries are largely responsible. According to researchers at a Dutch university they even discovered people in poorer countries waste more food when they start to earn more money. Climate experts have identified food waste as one of the top sustainability problems worldwide.

ROMANS: Thousands of people in northern California had their power restored this morning after a paraglider caused a huge outage by crashing into some power lines. The outage affected residents of Olivehurst, north of San Francisco. The paraglider was stuck for more than three hours after failing to land at the Yuba County airport as part of a training exercise. He was eventually rescued by firefighters.

JARRETT: A school resource officer in Arkansas ensuring a second grader who just lost her dad didn't miss out on a father-daughter dance. Officer Nick Harvey escorted 8-year-old Avey Cox to the event in his place.


NICK HARVEY, POLICE OFFICER: The last thing I want to do is get rejected by a second grader so her mom talked to her about it and the next day I formally asked her if she would be my date to the daddy- daughter dance.

AVEY COX, SECOND GRADER DANCER: It meant a lot because I actually got to go and see all my friends there and then get to go with him and have a lot of fun.


JARRETT: They rode with her friends in a limo going out for pizza before the big event. The night ended on a sweet note. They went out for ice cream before Harvey took her home in his police car.

ROMANS: Cool ride. Police car ride is always cool under the right circumstances.

JARRETT: Sometimes.

ROMANS: Right.


ROMANS: Eighteen minutes past the hour. Under global scrutiny, Iran elects a new parliament today. Why the hardliners are the favorite and what it means for Iran on the world stage?

CNN is live in Tehran next.


[04:23:10] JARRETT: Iranians head to the polls today for parliamentary elections. The regime is facing scrutiny at home and abroad over the downing of a Ukrainian passenger plane last month just hours after the Ukrainians launched missiles at the U.S. targets in Iraq.

CNN's Fred Pleitgen is live on the ground in Tehran.

Fred, what are you expecting to see today?

FREDERIK PLEITGEN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Laura. Yes, one of the big things that we're going to be looking at here in these elections is going to be the voter turnout. You're absolutely right. It is a very difficult time right now for the Islamic Republic of Iran. You had that accidental downing of that passenger jet, which not only made a lot of people internationally quite angry but of course here in Iran as well.

Then you had that maximum pressure campaign by the Trump administration, those international sanctions, they're really taking a toll on the economy. And that's one of the things that's really hurt the moderate candidates here in this election around President Hassan Rouhani. Many people obviously not very happy with their economic situation, not very happy also with the nuclear agreement and the fact that the U.S. left the nuclear agreement.

The hardliners here are saying, look, to Rouhani, we told you so in the first place. The Trump administration is not an administration that can be trusted. So they're sort of riding that wave right now of criticism towards the United States. But of course there are a lot of people who are not necessarily say disillusioned but quite disappointed in politics in general here in this country.

So one of the big things that we're going to be looking for here in this election is going to be voter turnout, to see how many people actually come to the ballot boxes. Iran's supreme leader who was the first person to vote today he came out and said that it's people's religious duty to vote. He said that it's that their civil duty as well to come out and vote. So they are hoping to get around 50 percent of people to vote.

They say that's something that they would say would be have a very successful election to them. So voter turnout is clearly the thing that the authorities really are looking at. The political side, it looks as though the hardliners, the more conservative forces, the forces that want a tougher stance toward the United States, those are probably going to get the most seats here in parliament.


And then finally, and this is also very important, one of things that we also are looking at as well is another factor that could also have an effect on turnout, and that is the coronavirus. Iran just had its first two confirmed deaths of coronavirus within the past around 36 hours. And so we're going to wait and see how willing people are to go to public places and to actually cast their vote. That's also something could be a factor for turnout here as well -- Laura. JARRETT: Sure. All right, Fred. Thanks so much for being there for us.

ROMANS: All right. A ceremonial crown dating to the 18th century is back home in Ethiopia. The country's prime minister receiving the crown from the Netherlands in a ceremony Thursday. The crown was stolen from an Ethiopian church in 1998. The man who found it is a Dutch national who fled Ethiopia. He kept the precious artifact hidden and safeguarded for 21 years because he didn't trust the regime in power in Ethiopia.

JARRETT: All right. Still ahead, the president simply cannot square his legitimate election win with legitimate interference from Russia. Given a chance for a redo, he's digging in. What it means for the intelligence community.