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Intelligence Officials: Russia Trying to Influence Election; Democratic Candidates Make Final Pitch to Nevada Voters; Some Dem Candidates Strapped for Cash. Aired 6-6:30a ET

Aired February 21, 2020 - 06:00   ET


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 21, 6 a.m. 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 Maguire has been replaced by a Trump loyalist with no intelligence experience.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 with efforts to discredit the assessment from the intel community that Russia interfered in the 2016 election.

BERMAN: Yes. And to be clear, again, the intelligence community told this House committee that the Russians prefer Donald Trump. Much more on what that means ahead.

Also, we have new developments in the race for the Democratic nomination. The Nevada caucuses, they are tomorrow. We have new reporting on how the Bloomberg team is trying to readjust after the bruising debate performance. We have new reporting on how Elizabeth Warren is trying to push Bloomberg even more.

And we have surprising new reporting on how the financial strain of the campaign led one leading candidate to take out a line of credit in January.

We want to begin with our top story, though. The information from the intelligence community that the Russians prefer Donald Trump in the 2020 election. And the president doesn't seem to like that fact one bit or want anyone to hear about it.

Laura Jarrett here with us now to explain -- Laura.

LAURA JARRETT, CNN ANCHOR: John, it's like deja view. Here we go again.

Intelligence officials believe Russia is trying to influence the 2020 election. Those are the facts. But the president isn't jumping in to stop it. Instead, he is lashing out and more worried about optics.


JARRETT (voice-over): A warning this morning of Russian interference in a U.S. election again. As first reported in "The New York Times," citing five sources, last week top intelligence official Shelby Pierson told House lawmakers Russia is attempting to help President Trump win and sow doubt about the integrity of the election.

According to a source with knowledge of the briefing, Russia is using hacking weaponizing social media and attacking election infrastructure to protect their U.S. Interests.

The president was angry with acting director of national intelligence Joseph Maguire following the meeting according to a White House official. President Trump then forced out Maguire, replacing him with Richard Grenell, a fierce game partisan Trump loyalist and current ambassador to Germany.

REP. RAJA KRISHNAMOORTHI (D-IL): He has zero intelligence or national security experience. We don't need a director of national propaganda, however. We need a director of national intelligence.

JARRETT: Russia's interference in the 2016 election, and the CIA's conclusion that Russian efforts helped Trump and hurt Hillary Clinton led to the Mueller investigation.

DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: They said they think it's Russia. I have President Putin. He just said it's not Russia. I will say this. I don't see any reason why it would be.

JARRETT: That controversy overshadowing Trump's presidency, despite his constant downplaying of the stakes.

TRUMP: Russia, Russia, Russia. The impeachment hoax. It's a hoax.

You had the impeachment hoax. You had the Mueller hoax. You had the Russia, Russia, Russia nonsense. All scams.

We first went through Russia, Russia, Russia. It was all bull (EXPLETIVE DELETED).

JARRETT: President Trump seemed most outraged over House Intel Chairman Adam Schiff's being part of the briefing. One person familiar with the matter tells CNN.

REP. DEVIN NUNES (R-CA): These guys have lost their mind, OK? Vladimir Putin is not running some operation with Donald Trump. All this is, is they don't have anything to run on, and so they've got to make up Russia again.

JARRETT: Schiff a prime target of Trump's attacks.

TRUMP: Schiff is a very corrupt politician, and he's a sick person.

JARRETT: After leading investigations into Russian election interference and, most recently, Trump's impeachment hearings and trial.

The source says the president believes Schiff will use the information from last week's briefing to harm his reelection bid.

Schiff weighing in, tweeting, "If reports are true, he is again jeopardizing our efforts to stop foreign meddling. Exactly as we warned he would do."

REP. KATHLEEN RICE (D-NY): The fact that this president, time and again, puts his own personal and political future ahead of not just every other American but now our national security is just so outrageous.


JARRETT: "The Washington Post" reports this morning that President Trump told Maguire and other aides in the Oval Office that he didn't believe Russia was interfering to help him or planning to do so and that the intelligence community was getting played.

BERMAN: Based on what? That's the question. Based on what does the president make this claim?

JARRETT: A strong feeling.

BERMAN: A strong feeling. Not the report from the intelligence community that, apparently, the Russians prefer Donald Trump. Much more on all of this ahead. Laura, thank you very much for being with us.

Also this morning, Democratic contenders making their final pitch to the Nevada voters ahead of the caucuses. They are tomorrow. Bernie Sanders, certainly the national frontrunner going in. One of the questions is, what will the impact of the debate be on the voting tomorrow?

Arlette Saenz live in Las Vegas with more. One thing I should note, Arlette, a lot of people have voted already in Nevada.


ARLETTE SAENZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, that's right. Over 70,000 people cast early votes here in Nevada, and more will come. Bernie Sanders remains the frontrunner here. And he did quite well among Latino voters here in the state back in 2016 and is hoping for a repeat in the caucuses tomorrow.

There's also Joe Biden and Elizabeth Warren, who both need strong finishes in the state after disappointing losses in Iowa and New Hampshire.

And last night in our CNN town halls, they both took aim at Michael Bloomberg, who isn't even competing here in the state. Take a listen.


JOE BIDEN (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: He's advertising himself to be Barack's best buddy. No, have you seen his ads? For real. You'd think Barack endorsed him. Well, he didn't support Barack, No. 1, or our administration.

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: Now, Michael Bloomberg is hoping to move past that rocky debate. He only mentioned it for a short bit yesterday at an event in Utah, saying he's concerned Democrats might nominate someone who can't win in November. That being a veiled reference at Bernie Sanders.

And one other thing the Democrats are hoping here in the state is a much smoother process tomorrow compared to what happened with that Iowa caucus debacle earlier this month. And we'll see how that all plays out tomorrow -- Alisyn.

BERMAN: That's a low bar. That's a low bar. The Iowa bar, very low.

CAMEROTA: But it's still a good goal, I would say. If that's their main goal, good goal.

BERMAN: Don't mess it up.

CAMEROTA: Arlette, thank you.

American's top intelligence officials believe Russia is already interfering in this year's election to help President Trump. And the president apparently does not want to hear about it. We'll bring you the latest next.


CAMEROTA: Breaking overnight, the intelligence community's top election security official warned House lawmakers last week that Russia is already trying to interfere in the 2020 election to help President Trump win.

After being told of this briefing, the president was reportedly irate with outgoing acting director of national intelligence Joseph Maguire. "The Washington Post" reports, quote, "Trump told Maguire and other aides in the Oval Office that he did not believe that Russia was interfering to help him or planning to do so and that the intelligence community was getting, quote, 'played,' according to an administration official with knowledge of the meeting. He said that the information would be used against him unfairly. And that he could not believe that people were believing such a story again."

Maguire was fired earlier this week.

Joining us now, CNN counterterrorism analyst Phil Mudd and CNN senior political analyst John Avlon.

So Phil, not surprising that Russia is doing this again and that they prefer President Trump. We have heard that for a long time. But President Trump doesn't want to hear it. And apparently, if you tell President Trump about this, you risk your job.

PHIL MUDD, CNN COUNTERTERRORISM ANALYST: That's right. I think we got to look at two pieces of this. The first you're talking about is the intel piece. As a former intel guy, there's a second piece that I'd be equally worried about.

And that is this a -- this is a rare time in the intelligence business where the public piece is as important as the private intel. Who is going to speak to the American people going into next November about the threats they face by things like Russian trolls on social media? The FBI director can't do it. The CIA director can't do it. Not only because they don't have a voice but because the president will squelch them.

Typically, going into an election, the president of the United States would be speaking to the American people coordinated with his cabinet. The bottom line here, Alisyn, is that nobody will speak to the American people with the power the president does. That's a problem in this case.

BERMAN: John, I have two basic questions out of this. No. 1, what does it tell us that the intelligence community believes that the Russians prefer Donald Trump? Why would they prefer Donald Trump? And No. 2, what does it tell us that the president seems to want to silence or hide this information?

JOHN AVLON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: It says that there's been no learning curve in the Oval Office since the Russian interference in 2016 which was designed to benefit Donald Trump. He doesn't like it. It's an uncomfortable fact. He's worried -- a generous explanation is he's worried that it compromises the legitimacy of his presidency.

But we know from the Mueller report, from -- we know that the Russians interfered in the last election to help Donald Trump. President doesn't want to confront that. We know from Robert Mueller that the Russians were going to try to interfere in this election in an ongoing basis, going back to his testimony last summer.

And now we know the intelligence community believes they're going to try to do the same play again to re-elect Donald Trump.

What's dangerous isn't just that the president still thinks this is all a hoax, that it didn't happen. It's that Republicans increasingly don't want to hear intelligence either. And then there's the question about whether the intelligence community will accept this. Because this is a clear and present danger against the integrity of our elections. This is not a tough call. This is something that should wake up everybody regardless of party. But that willingness to confront this truth seems to be divided along partisan lines. That is a very dangerous moment.

CAMEROTA: Well, Phil, there is one person that the president believes, as he's told us many times. Let me just remind you of what he said --

AVLON: Right.

CAMEROTA: -- in Helsinki on the world stage, Phil.


TRUMP: My people came to me, Dan Coats came to me and some others, they said they think it's Russia. I have President Putin. He just said it's not Russia. I will say this. I don't see any reason why it would be.


AVLON: I mean, why in the world would -- I mean -- you know, it's just -- so naive.


CAMEROTA: I mean, Phil, so we just -- nothing has changed since then, except that as of today, we know the president doesn't like that message. He also doesn't like the messenger. He also doesn't like the delivery system. So that's a little bit different. We know he doesn't believe the intel. Now he doesn't even want the intel officers to be able to brief the Intel Committee. So that's their job. Intelligence officials, as you can tell us go to the Congress to the Intelligence Committee and tell them about the information they're getting. And the president didn't like that part either.

MUDD: Well, I think a couple things have changed. And let me tell you in a second how this is going to play out.

The first is over the course of the last three, three and a half years, the president has realized that if he plays Pinocchio, the American people, they'll believe him. So I think he's been confirmed in saying, If I just go out there and say what I want about Russia, it's fine.

The second thing is we've learned in the past couple days is that he's going to appoint somebody as the chief intel guy, Ambassador Grenell, who's a supporter of his. So he's presumably anticipating that Grenell will carry water for him.

Let me tell you why this is going to be really interesting as an intel guy. First, Grenell doesn't control the bureaucracy. So when he goes to Congress or the White House with talking points, the people in my old jobs preparing talking points are going to say, The Russians are interfering. What are you going to say, Ambassador? Are you going to lie?

The second that we're not talking about, and final is, the CIA director, an old friend of mine, she's tough. She is tough, Gina Haskell. She is not going to go before a congressional committee and say anything that's not the truth.

So the president thinks he can control the narrative. He can on Twitter. He can't with the intel people.

BERMAN: There's a lot going on here with this. And No. 1, you keep saying the president doesn't believe that the Russians will want him to win. I don't know that. I don't know what the president believes. What I do know is the president doesn't want anyone to be told that the Russians want him to win. And that's what he's taking action on right now, to keep it --

CAMEROTA: I'm just basing it on his words. So I'm just taking it at his words, that he says, I don't know why it would be.

BERMAN: At your own peril you choose to believe the words of Donald Trump.

John Avlon --


BERMAN: -- again, just to review here. Not just that the Russians prefer him. Not just that the president doesn't want it public. Not just that he's pushing out someone who allowed this information to be given to the congressional committee, but that he's putting people in who might keep it silent. What Phil Mudd was just bringing up there. Rick Grenell.


BERMAN: All of a sudden everything that's happened in the last 48 hours is painted in a much different light.


BERMAN: Why do you put in a guy -- why do you put in a guy with no experience in intelligence right now when the intelligence community is telling people that the Russians want Trump to win?

AVLON: For all the reasons that all of a sudden become clear. Because he doesn't want independence and integrity in that position. He wants someone who will act as a suck-up and a sycophant and to funnel information, presumably to him and other loyalists on Capitol Hill.

And then if you are going to see the president of the United States continue his -- and his allies continue in a war against the alleged deep state, which becomes synonymous for people trying to do their jobs impartially, in a nonpartisan way.

Let's not get numb to how crazy this situation we're confronting is. Which is Russia trying to influence an ongoing election on behalf of a sitting president.

And if that still doesn't resonate to you at home or if maybe you're on the right side of the aisle and don't want to deal with it, imagine -- take the moral imagination to imagine how you'd feel if President Hillary Clinton's election was being helped by the Russians. Because that's what we're confronting here.

And stacking the deck with loyalists isn't going to help the cause of truth. Isn't going to help advance the truth. This is a national security issue, supposed to be beyond partisanship. The president seems incapable of it. He's appointing people who also seem disinterested in moving that forward.


BERMAN: Phil, does it make America safer keeping this silent?

MUDD: No. Because you have to have people -- American voters who understand what the truth is. And 40 percent of the American voters are going to say the truth is when I see stuff about Russia on the Internet or when I see stuff about the election, the president told me not to pay attention to it. Somebody has to speak, and without the president, I don't know who that's going to be.

CAMEROTA: John, Phil, thank you very much.

BERMAN: All right. After the costly fights in Iowa and New Hampshire, some Democratic candidates this morning desperate for cash. Some surprising new reporting on which candidate is hurting the most and what it means for the race ahead with Nevada caucuses. They are tomorrow.



BERMAN: The Nevada caucuses, they are tomorrow. The results will be very key. Will Bernie Sanders continue his frontrunner status heading into South Carolina and then Super Tuesday? Or will someone else make a run?

Joining us now, CNN political commentator Karen Finney. She's a former spokesperson for Hillary Clinton's 2016 campaign. Also with us, CNN political analyst Astead Herndon. He is a national political reporter for "The New York Times" who has been covering Elizabeth Warren, who's been in the middle of the news the last few days for her debate performance and for taking on Michael Bloomberg.

But there was a new piece of reporting overnight, Astead, which is fascinating, which is that her campaign has money issues.


BERMAN: They took out, what, a $3 million line of credit at the end of January, because they were concerned about going under.

HERNDON: They were concerned about going under. These new FEC reports give us a key insight into the Warren campaign.

They entered the February month not just looking for cash, but almost broke. They had the lowest cash on hand we've seen. They were spending money at a higher rate.

This is a campaign that has built out very early, has staff in Super Tuesday states. They think that organizing early will be their key to getting delegates in those states, but that comes with a lot of overhead. And she has to raise money consistently at a higher rate to be able to keep that up.

Now she is someone who has not done high-dollar fundraisers. That's been a hallmark of hers. But she has not been able to keep up with the small-dollar money that Bernie Sanders is running. So what that did is have them entering that Iowa month at a critical point where they had to, as you said, tap into kind of an unprecedented reserve of a $3 million line of credit which they say they did not use.

They end up in the last month, it's important to know, having what they say has been their best campaign fundraising to date. After even disappointing results in Iowa and New Hampshire, the debate performance has supercharged their fundraising. And they say they're in a better place now, but that really gives us a key window to know just how close they were to really insolvency going into -- going into February.


CAMEROTA: So Karen, what's the answer? What can they do now?

KAREN FINNEY, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, look, I think they are wise to have had -- and I think it's a very important point that they have had -- I think she's got about a thousand people on the ground in those Super Tuesday states. So really, the point of it is to get to Super Tuesday.

And she has a huge advantage. I mean, obviously, Bloomberg just put 2,000 people, I think, on the ground. But they just got there. And Warren's had people there for quite a period of time. That matters in organizing, right?

So -- and remember that we're going to come out of tomorrow we've got Nevada. Next Saturday we've got South Carolina. And then, obviously, just four days later, we've got Super Tuesday.

So whereas the other campaigns are trying to raise the cash and get staff into those Super Tuesday states, I think it's going to be a big advantage for her that she'll be able to turn right around after South Carolina and proceed into Super Tuesday knowing she's got staff on the ground.

BERMAN: And the other thing she can do is put herself right in the middle of the national discussion which she has --

FINNEY: Right, yes. BERMAN: -- with that debate performance. And Astead, you noticed that the fundraising shot up after that. She was in the CNN town hall last night. And we played sound of it before. I'm not going to play it again. But she is really leaning into the issue of Michael Bloomberg and the nondisclosure agreements.

Why is she doing this? What does she want out of it? And what kind of a position does this put Michael Bloomberg in now?

HERNDON: It's kind of a perfect foil for her. Coming out of New Hampshire, our reporting is that the campaign noticed the surge that Amy Klobuchar got after -- after that New Hampshire debate. And then added with these money concerns, added with what had to have been a hugely disappointing result in the state, they knew they needed a shakeup.

And so you have the entrance of Michael Bloomberg, a billionaire. Someone who has this history with these NDA agreements. And it's kind after a perfect storm for Warren to have what was her best debate performance yet.

They wanted to drive that narrative, kind of like they were doing last year, releasing plan after plan after plan to drive media cycles. They wanted to keep up that performance from the debate. And so you had her come into the town hall last night, trying to keep that pressure up. Saying I'm a contract law scholar. Here's a contract that he can sign.

BERMAN: The fact that she wrote it, I think, sells well.

HERNDON: Right. Right, exactly. Because that's her expertise, and that's a true one.

CAMEROTA: And one more question, Astead, just from the reporting. Is it your sense that she had been holding back on a more aggressive style and that they just decided to pivot after seeing Amy Klobuchar?

HERNDON: They believed that pitching an affirmative message was important. That people would latch onto that.

But they got to the point in the primary where these other candidates were doing contrasts day after day after day. And she was the one that was holding off on that.

But they did not see a big benefit. It was the results that did it, really, more than Amy Klobuchar. You have the New Hampshire finish of really forcing introspection here. And then we have the Las Vegas result which is again affirming, due to the money and the interest that is then drove.

BERMAN: Let me put up the South Carolina polling. This is the most recent polling we see from South Carolina. This is from Winthrop University.

And it still shows Joe Biden ahead there. But not by a lot. And Karen, Bernie Sanders is rising there. And this gets to what is probably the most important story now in the Democratic race, which is the rise of Bernie Sanders as the clear national frontrunner, as the one candidate who can more or less end this by Super Tuesday, which is just three or four days after South Carolina. Or not. What do you think?

FINNEY: I don't think that's true. I think we're going to see -- you've heard me say this before -- a longer primary. When I was at the DNC in 2008, we saw that. And in 2016, we saw that.

I think voters are going to want to have their say. I don't buy into this -- and we've seen it play itself out time after time. Voters don't necessarily just go with what the state before them did.

South Carolina, for example. Those numbers look very familiar to me in that we saw in 2016 Sanders had support mostly among younger African- Americans. Hillary had support, older African-Americans. And they turn out.

And so it'll be interesting to see in South Carolina what the turnout looks like, because that's going to -- you know, that's going to determine who wins. And I believe that the Biden campaign knows that very well.

And obviously being a primary and not a caucus, it is a different kind of challenge, right? You just got to get people out and to the polls. They don't have to be there for three hours, which is a big help.

So yes. I don't think we're going to have an answer to this before the convention. Sorry to say. That's my prediction. Sorry. But good for us. Good for cable.

CAMEROTA: Yes. There's just so many things to keep an eye on over the next couple of weeks. Karen, Astead, thank you very much.

FINNEY: Thanks.

BERMAN: Really interesting new comments from White House chief of staff, or acting chief of staff, Mick Mulvaney about the U.S. economy and specifically the deficit under President Trump. We're going to be joined by one of the senior economists in the White House. I see him lurking in the wings right now. Peter Navarro joins us next.