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Intel Agency Warns Russians Are Interfering in 2020 Election; Countdown To Nevada Caucuses; Jet Fuel Tanker Explodes On Indiana Interstate. Aired 5:30-6a ET

Aired February 21, 2020 - 05:30   ET



LAURA JARRETT, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning, this is EARLY START. I'm Laura Jarrett.

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning, everybody. I'm Christine Romans. It is 30 minutes past the hour this Friday morning.

America's Russia nightmare 2.0 briefing lawmakers last week. 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 briefers 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: This 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 a presidential assault on the Intel Community. The first time we went through this the president became so aggravated by the exposure of Russia's meddling he fired the person in charge of getting down to the bottom of it. That was FBI director James Comey -- which, of course, 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. And loyalists, not career intel professionals, are now overseeing national security.

Here's White House correspondent Kaitlan Collins.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) 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 of 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's 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 of 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.


ROMANS: If you don't like the message, keep changing the messenger.

All right, Kaitlan Collins. Thank you.

JARRETT: Let's talk to Shawn Turner, former communications director for U.S. and national intelligence and a CNN national security analyst. ROMANS: Good morning.

JARRETT: Shawn, so good to see you.


JARRETT: If you are a member of the Intel Community this morning -- say you're at ODNI or the CIA or the NSC and you're supposed to go in to brief the president this morning. No way that this is how he reacts. How are you supposed to do his job?

The reporting is that Shelby Pierson was blunt in her delivery. Isn't that what you want from a member of the Intel Community?

TURNER: That is precisely what you want and should expect from a member of the Intelligence Community.

Look, you know, for intelligence agency leaders, including all the previous DNIs, they understand that it is their job to be relentless in gathering and providing the president with the intelligence information that he needs to be able to protect the country from foreign threats. And they should never, under any circumstances, have to stop and think about whether or not the information they're providing would in some way be taken personally by the president and result in some sort of retribution.

If there's an intelligence official in that situation this morning, it's a very difficult situation for them because we simply cannot sustain the safety and security in this country that we've come to expect when our intelligence officials fear retribution from a president for providing them the information that he needs to protect the country.

ROMANS: You know, the reporting around this election security briefing, it just gets more troubling by the minute. And the fact that the president seems to want to replace the career professionals -- the people who have worked through and know this stuff on a granular basis -- with politicians, what does that mean for the safety of the process for Americans?


TURNER: Yes, this is something that every American really should stop and think about. And I say that because I know the president has a lot of supporters out there, but the safety and security that we feel in this country doesn't discriminate, whether or not you support the president or you don't.

When the president selects a leader for the head of one of his agencies, what we know about that leader tells us a lot about what the president expects of that leader and that agency and the role that that agency plays in his administration.

So what do we know about Mr. Grenell? Well, we know that he has very little to no intelligence experience. We also know that he's never led a large organization or bureaucracy. And we know that he's one of the president's acolytes -- he's fiercely loyal.

And what that tells us is that the president isn't interested in putting a strong intelligence leader at the top of the Intelligence Community so that he can have the best information possible. It tells us he's interested in putting someone who will do his bidding at the top of the Intelligence Community, and that should be troubling for everyone.

JARRETT: Shawn, what do you make of the fact that the reporting shows that some of the Republicans that were actually in this briefing were pushing back against the career professionals? So, the politicians almost thinking that they know better. Is that something in your experience that you would normally see that type of exchange?

TURNER: Yes. You know, to use an overused word here, that was -- that's unprecedented.

I was -- when I saw the reporting, I thought we might have expected the president to react angrily because this whole issue of Russian interference in the election has been something that he's had issues with for the entirety of his presidency.

But if the reporting -- as the reporting suggests, if there were Republicans in the room who were getting upset with the intelligence officials who were bringing them the information -- well, that suggests that it's not only the president that intelligence leaders must consider when they're bringing intelligence information to the forefront but also members of Congress. And if they can't talk to members of Congress, then they can't talk to us.

You know, I always tell people there's a reason there are no press briefing rooms in the Intelligence Community and that's because you provide that information to members of Congress and the president and they take it to the American public. So, we're in a situation where we're looking at being locked out from all this information -- all of this information if we have Republicans who are also --


TURNER: -- saying we don't want to hear it.

ROMANS: Shawn Turner, thank you so much for being here this morning.

And just to let everyone know, CNN is just learning this morning that the Kremlin is calling reports of Russia's 2020 meddling "paranoid messages." So we are right where we've been for the past few years --

JARRETT: All over again.

ROMANS: -- where you have --


ROMANS: -- intel officials in the United States sounding the alarm the Russians are, right now, hard at work trying to chip away the legitimacy of the American electoral process and the Russians say it didn't happen.

All right. With all that as a backdrop, Nevada votes tomorrow. Make or break Super Tuesday now 11 days away. Lisa Lerer of "The New York Times" is here, next.



JARRETT: Well, 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. There are lingering questions about whether his rivals will 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), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I'm not going to tell you that 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 at my side. If somebody else wins he'll be there at their side.


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

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

ROMANS: Democratic presidential contenders racing to refill campaign coffers. Early-nominating states proved costly and now, looming big- money ad buys in Super Tuesday states, along with almost half a billion dollars Michael Bloomberg has already poured into his campaign. The former New York City mayor isn't even on the ballot in Nevada.

Bloomberg downplaying his rough first debate.


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.


JARRETT: Elizabeth Warren is looking for a bounce after her strong debate performance early this week. In a CNN town hall last night, she kept up her attacks on Bloomberg's non-disclosure agreements with women who have sued his company.


SEN. ELIZABETH WARREN (D-MA), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I wrote up a release and covenant not to sue and all that Mayor Bloomberg has to do is download it -- I'll text it -- sign it, and then the women or men will be free to speak and tell their own stories.


JARRETT: Former Vice President Joe Biden needs a strong showing, to be sure, in Nevada and South Carolina to revive his campaign. He's again facing questions about age and health.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Some express concern about the ages of you and Sen. Sanders. Would you, if you are 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 two youngest men on the stage now are me and Buttigieg. No -- see, that's the way it goes. You know what I mean?

I'd give all my medical records -- everything, OK -- the whole deal, so you know who I am.

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



ROMANS: All right, let's bring in "New York Times" political reporter Lisa Lerer. She's a CNN political analyst. Good morning, so nice to see you this morning.

A go day for folks in Nevada tomorrow. And after that big debate -- huge viewership for the debate -- the Democratic debate this week --


ROMANS: -- you've got the Democrats jockeying for position and advantage. Michael Bloomberg isn't even on the -- on the ballot there in Nevada.

How important is it for Bernie Sanders to stay on top?

LISA LERER, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST, NATIONAL POLITICAL REPORTER, THE NEW YORK TIMES: Well, Bernie Sanders is really the front-runner in this race. That's why the debate was so striking this past week because all the knives were out for Michael Bloomberg, but Bernie Sanders is actually the guy who seems to be winning this thing. And you're increasingly hearing fears that he could come out of

Nevada, roll into Super Tuesday with momentum, and -- and roll into -- sorry -- South Carolina with momentum, and then Super Tuesday and really capture a delegate lead out of all those states. That makes him really very challenging to beat just because the other candidates will have trouble catching up to him in terms of the number of delegates.

So I think it is important that he does well in Nevada tomorrow. He is the favorite, of course, in that race --


LERER: -- but it's largely important not for delegates, but so he can keep up this momentum he has going.

JARRETT: Lisa, Bernie Sanders had quite a week -- sort of a Trumpian week if you will. We put together a little list of some of the things that have only happened just this week. Take a look at this.

Sanders is implying that Russia, not his supporters, may be behind some of the Bernie Bro attacks that we see -- the online trolls. He gets mad at a reporter after being grilled about that online abuse.

And then his spokesperson came on our air and falsely claimed that Bloomberg had suffered heart attacks (plural) in the past when in reality, he had some stents put in.

And the spokesperson also claimed that Bloomberg had faced 64 cases of sexual assault. And then she apologized and said she meant sexual harassment.

I mean, it's interesting. He seems to be borrowing from the playbook, but can he pull off Trump-like behavior?

LERER: Well, I think it's not just the behavior, right? And obviously, Sanders supporters hate it when we make this comparison.

JARRETT: They sure do.

LERER: But also there is the -- right. There's the interaction with the media and how he handles misstatements of facts and his campaign's misstatements of facts, his supporters' behavior. Does he condemn them? All the things you listed out.

But it's not just that behavior. It's also the whole delegate situation. Just like Trump, who went -- won the 2016 election by really persevering through a crowded primary, we do see Bernie Sanders doing the same thing. And time is really getting shorter for any other candidate to really stop him or for the party to coalesce around another option and put all their chips in that bag and try to stop Bernie Sanders.

ROMANS: Joe Biden, meanwhile, needs to revive his political fortunes tomorrow in Nevada, but he's really looking to South Carolina. And some of this recent polling shows Biden on top at 24 percent; Bernie Sanders at 19 percent there. Tom Steyer in South Carolina, by the way, at 15 percent.

But, you know, a lot of South Carolina voters appear to be unsure heading into the last week here before they vote. Forty-three percent said they might change their mind.

How important is this South Carolina primary for Joe Biden?

LERER: It's exceedingly important. South Carolina was supposed to be his firewall. The whole theory of that campaign was that he could kind of not do quite as well in Iowa and New Hampshire, which is what happened -- he did very poorly in those states -- and then come back in South Carolina, which his campaign argues, correctly, is a far more diverse electorate. That maybe it's more like the Democratic Party in the country.

But if he doesn't -- so if he doesn't do well in that state it means he has not done well in less diverse states and he's not going to do well -- he will not have done well in a more diverse state. And that's a big problem for his campaign, particularly when Joe Biden's whole theory of the case has been that he is the most electable. The thing that makes you look electable to voters is, in fact, winning.

JARRETT: Lisa, how do the -- how do the other candidates accomplish that? You could sense the urgency in that debate. They were -- they were angry.


JARRETT: They were aggressive because they know time is running out.

But how do they -- how do they make that electability case? Do you they just try to focus on Super Tuesday?

LERER: Yes. You know, I have to admit that I'm a little bit of a fan of reality T.V. shows and nothing prepared me for that debate -- the amount of drama that was in that debate, right?

So you see that this is feeling extremely real. People are voting. And don't forget that early voting is already underway in a whole bunch of states, including --


LERER: -- California and Texas, so this is happening in real time.

And I think the idea for these candidates was that they could make themselves electable by seeming tough and hopefully, voters would look at their performance on this debate against fellow Democrats and say well, that's how they could go up against Donald Trump.

I'm not actually sure that is how voters will end up seeing it. Democrats -- Democratic voters are really anxious right now and they're really worried about trying to make the right choice and find the candidate who would be strongest against Donald Trump.

[05:50:09] And you do get the sense from talking to people out in all these states that what they want to see is much more of a unified front rather than a party that seems like it's tearing each other's throats out and could be cast on "REAL HOUSEWIVES" or whatever, so --

ROMANS: Well, we learned about Lisa that she likes reality T.V. That's a good thing you're a national political reporter for a major news organization because we are living reality T.V.

LERER: Right, always.

ROMANS: All right, Lisa Lerer, national political reporter at "The New York Times." Nice to see you. Thank you -- have a great weekend, Lisa.

JARRETT: Thanks, Lisa.

LERER: Thanks.

ROMANS: We'll be right back.



ROMANS: All right.

President Trump is clearly not part of the Bong-hive. At his rally in Colorado, the president scoffed at the best picture Oscar win by "Parasite." Bong Joon-ho's film made history at the Academy Awards, winning four and becoming the first foreign-language film to be named best picture.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: And the winner is a movie from South Korea. What the hell was that all about? We've got enough problems with South Korea with trade. On top of it, they give them the best movie of the year? Was it good? I don't know.

You know, I'm looking for like -- where -- let's get "Gone with the Wind." Can we get "Gone with the Wind" back, please?


ROMANS: "Gone with -- make "Gone with the Wind" great again.

Neon, the company that distributed "Parasite," says of the president's distaste for the subtitled film, "It's understandable, he can't read." Ouch.

An Indianapolis interstate badly damaged after a tanker carrying 4,000 gallons of jet fuel overturned and exploded. The driver suffered serious burns. It could have turned out a lot worse if not for Holly McNally. She was leaving the hospital after visiting her newborn baby in the intensive care unit when she spotted the tanker driver on fire.


HOLLY MCNALLY, MOM CREDITED WITH SAVING DRIVER'S LIFE: I'm scanning and people are videotaping and watching but nobody's running over there. Smoke was hitting us.

And I was like just praying like God, please let me get out of here so I can go see my baby. I thought what if that's my son. What if that were Conner, you know, when he's 30? Would you want somebody to just leave him there?


ROMANS: The driver is still in critical condition this morning.

Food waste around the world is twice as bad as we thought. One-third -- 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. Climate experts have identified food waste as one of the top sustainability problems worldwide.

Sport bottle maker Contigo recalling nearly six million of its kids' water bottles. This is exactly the same bottle the company recalled last August and it includes the replacement lids provided in the first recall. There is concern the spout can detach and cause children to choke. The bottles were sold at Costco, Walmart, Target, and various stores online.

Dashcam video shows the life or death moment a New Mexico state police officer saved a choking 11-month-old baby the day after his parents got married. Officer Mario Herrera reached the couple as they were rushing the boy to the hospital.


MOTHER OF CHOKING BABY: You're just an angel on earth for us because we thought at some point, we had lost him.

MARIO HERRERA, POLICE OFFICER, NEW MEXICO STATE POLICE: Wearing this uniform you kind of have to be kind of tough but there's times when you can't. Kids are that time.


ROMANS: Since the scare, the boy has started walking and the family is forever grateful.

Let's get a check on CNN Business this Friday morning. Taking a look at markets around the world, down slightly for most markets, although Shanghai popped a little bit here in a rebound.

Stocks closed lower Wednesday after a sharp sell-off around midday. At one point yesterday, all three major averages were down more than one percent. At the time, they were blaming this brief, weird drop on fears the coronavirus outbreak is not over.

In the end, the Dow was down 128 points. The Nasdaq and the S&P also fell.

In merger news, Morgan Stanley buying online broker E-Trade for $13 billion in this fierce bid for competition for new customers. The move shows Morgan Stanley wants more mom and pop consumers. E-Trade has more than 5.2 million mainstream clients.

Don't like that you're stuck with Safari on your iPhone? You might be able to change that soon. Apple is reportedly considering letting people choose their default IOS apps for a number of tasks, including maps, web browsing, and e-mail, meaning you could replace Safari or maps with alternatives like Gmail and Google Maps.

This would be a big concession for Apple. Apple embraced a closed ecosystem when it launched the App Store back in 2008. The pressure from regulators and customers has caused Apple to slowly make some changes.

All right, thanks for joining us, everybody. Have a great rest of your day and a great weekend. I'm Christine Romans. "NEW DAY" starts right now.

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and all around the world. This is NEW DAY. It is Friday, February 21st, 6:00 here in New York.

And we do begin with breaking news for you because intel officials say that Russians are interfering in America's election again to help Donald Trump win and sow distrust about the election process.

The Intelligence Community's top election security official told House members this in a classified briefing last week. But when President Trump found out about it, a source tells CNN he became quote "irate" not because of the threat to national security but instead, he was worried it could hurt his reputation.

All of this led the president to force out the director of national intelligence, Joseph Maguire. Maguire has been replaced by a Trump loyalist with no intelligence experience. And that loyalist is bringing in at least one staffer who was directly involved in efforts to.