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Source Says, Trump Irate At Outgoing Intel Chief After Lawmakers Briefed That Russia Prefers Trump Be Re-Elected; U.S. Prepares To Sign Peace Deal With Taliban; Democratic Candidates Make Final Pitch To Nevada Voters. Aired 7-7:30a ET

Aired February 21, 2020 - 07:00   ET



JOHN BERMAN, CNN NEW DAY: So welcome to our viewers in the United States and all around the world. This is New Day. And we begin with breaking news.

U.S. intelligence officials telling lawmakers that the Russians are trying to help re-elect Donald Trump and the president is mad about it. Now, not mad that the Russians will be trying to help him. No. Apparently mad that intelligence officials are telling anyone about it, so mad that he berated the director of National Intelligence, so mad that it contributed to him placing a loyalist with no experience in intelligence in charge of all of the intelligence agencies.

So what does this all tell us? Why do the Russians prefer Donald Trump? And one of the big questions this morning is how does any of this, including apparently the effort to silence these officials from talking, how does that make America safe?

ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN NEW DAY: Meanwhile, Democrats are gearing up for tomorrow's Nevada caucuses. We have new reporting about what the Bloomberg campaign is doing after his disappointing debate performance.

Plus, new details on how Senator Elizabeth Warren is trying to bruise Bloomberg and the financial strain on her campaign.

So joining us now to discuss the breaking news on Russian election interference and the president's reaction is CNN Chief Political Correspondent Dana Bash, CNN Chief Legal Analyst Jeffrey Toobin. Great to have you both with us here in New York.

Dana, tell us your reporting. What was it that particularly set the president off?

DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: The notion that -- I'm told it was simply the notion that the Russians not just were interfering but were interfering on his behalf. And as you said, telling that to the Congress, telling that to the House Intelligence Committee, particularly telling that to the chairman, Adam Schiff, who the president sees as a political enemy, which is understandable since he did lead the charge. He was the chief manager in the impeachment trial. And so that is what set him off.

The issue is that if you're not going to tell the House Intelligence chairman about something that is incredibly dangerous and something that is not just looming but happening now, apparently, with regard to the 2020 election in order to get the government systems up and running to do something about it, who are you going to tell?

BERMAN: Jeffrey, if you can hang on one second, I have one more question for Dana here.

JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN CHIEF LEGAL ANALYST: You know what? Take the whole thing. I always enjoy listening to Dana.

BERMAN: Just a little more granular. What exactly happened? There was a briefing by this official from the Intelligence Community, this woman, Shelby Pierson, who told the House Intelligence Committee what?

BASH: My understanding -- now, this is classified, so we're getting this from sources, but who said specifically that the Russians are meddling and they're meddling in the election already to help the president. It is that that set -- after learning about that that set the president off, but more importantly set Republicans real-time on the committee off. They felt that it was too aggressive, that it was too specific, and they questioned, the accuracy of that.

And I am just going to clean it up. I was told by somebody familiar with that that it was a mess show.

CAMEROTA: It starts with an S.

BERMAN: Rhymes with spit.

BASH: Rhymes with spit. I mean, it got very, very ugly. And, look, this is a committee that has had a lot of partisan problems, as we know, stemming not just from the impeachment inquiry, which they took charge off, but even before that.

TOOBIN: Can I just say one thing? I'm so much older than all of you, and I'm so old that I remember when Donald Trump was impeached. Remember back in December of 2019? And remember when what he was impeached for. He was impeached for putting his political interests ahead of the country's national security interests in Ukraine. This is the exact same thing. This is firing the head -- the director of National Intelligence because -- not because he's doing a bad job, not because he's providing inaccurate information, it's because he is providing information that could be used against him. This is what the president does and this is how he behaves. This is how he conducts his presidency.

CAMEROTA: Phil, I mean, there are so many upsetting things about this, but one of them is that the Republicans on the Intelligence Committee who are supposed to be receiving this information, as Dana just said, they questioned the accuracy of it. Okay, maybe, we just don't know because it's classified, if the accuracy is wrong. I mean, they didn't like when the intel officials said that the Russians have, quote, developed a preference for President Trump or if they're questioning the accuracy because they don't like that message.


PHILLIP MUDD, CNN COUNTERTERRORISM ANALYST: Look, I think if you're an intel professional, one of the things you hate to do -- we really were reluctant. I'm going to go back to George bush era to get involved in what Al-Qaeda wanted in terms of American elections. We had a little bit of intel about who they might want to win. Intel people don't want to weigh into the domestic political sphere.

My point, Alisyn, is if the intel people are saying that it looks like the Russians have a preference for Trump, they've got some intel, because that's something they don't want to say. They do missiles. They do nukes. They don't do domestic politics. So I'm going to guess that the intel is pretty good and the problem is Republicans on the committee clearly are embarrassed by this as they were in '16 and don't want to hear the message.

TOOBIN: Well, just to point out the obvious, in 2016, they sure had a preference for Donald Trump. I mean, you know, they hacked the emails of the DNC and of John Podesta. They engaged in the social media conspiracy out of St. Petersburg. I mean, it is a well established fact. So it would be surprising if they were doing something else four years later.

BASH: Not to be Pollyanna about this, but it also -- the fact that we're having this discussion and not a discussion about what the Intelligence Community is doing to stop this, to combat it, to prevent it, which was the intent of this briefing in the first place to say, you know -- to send up a flare saying, this is happening now, again, guys.

And, you know, four years ago, then-President Obama was criticized for not doing enough when he heard that this was happening, because he was worried that it would look too political if he said something publicly. So everything is scrambled, but it's the same kind of issue. And the fact that that is not the conversation is frightening.

BERMAN: It's also not the conversation why the Russians want Donald Trump to get re-elected, which is interesting in and of itself. And then after that meeting, there are other developments that have taken place over the last week. Number one, the president got mad at the then-acting director of National Intelligence, Maguire, then he pushed him out. And he put in Rick Grenell, the ambassador to Germany with zero intelligence experience, Jeffrey, but with a whole lot of experience being loyal to President Trump. What does that tell you about how he wants information being disseminated?

TOOBIN: And it's part of a pattern we've seen from the president since the impeachment trial ended, that all the professionals are being sent to, you know, Siberia and --

BERMAN: No pun intended.

TOOBIN: Yes, that's right, Siberia, where there's a lot of support for President Trump, apparently, and being, you know, replaced by loyalists, and being replaced by people like Bill Barr who are notwithstanding what they say toadies for the president.

BERMAN: You could extrapolate that if you don't like what the Intelligence Community is telling people, put someone in charge who might keep them from telling people those things.

TOOBIN: And, you know, the politicization of intelligence is such a scary prospect. It winds up getting us into things like the Iraq War when intelligence is shifted to move -- to push the country in directions that the political leadership wants to go rather than where the intelligence says things are going.

CAMEROTA: Phil, just give us the big picture. What does it mean that the acting DNI now has no intelligence experience and that the new reporting is that Republicans on the Intelligence Committee and President Trump don't like when intel officials give them certain information?

MUDD: I tell you, this is taking me back to when I was a child. It's like if I played the game of battleship, I can be the secretary of defense. The guy knows nothing about intelligence.

Now, there is an upside to this if you're an intel person. I'm going to be really cynical, but that's who I am. I apologize. If you watch what Grenell said, he said, I'm not going to be around for long, meaning, he doesn't the job. Legally, he can't stay around for that long. So if you're an intel person, I'm sitting there saying, I'm on a slow roll. I'm not going to pay attention to what he says.

Now, there's a challenge there when staff comes in from the White House that stays beyond Grenell, there's a problems, there are reports of that happening. But, first, they're going to slow roll him. Second is what's his ability to control the message? The information he gets on Russian hacking is going to come from people who have been around for 20 or 30 years. Is he going to change it before he goes to the Hill to testify? That's going to get out in the leak.

And the last thing is, how do you control the director of the Intelligence Agency, NSA, and particularly the director of the CIA who is going to get out there in testimony and I suspect say stuff different than what Grenell says? The system here is going to be interesting. I think it will undercut the president's choice for DNI.

BERMAN: You say interesting, I say less safe. I mean, what about any of this makes Americans more safe or protects us from the Russians attacking our democracy?

MUDD: I would agree with that. Let me give you a specific example of that.


The president's primary responsibility as commander in chief, from day one, you're responsible for protecting the American people from foreign threats. If you're going to do that in the case of election security, you need Homeland Security to talk to State Election Boards. You need CIA to conduct covert action in Russia. You need State Department to talk directly to the Russians about interference. You need NSA, the National Security Agency, to start hacking the Russians themselves. That's got to be coordinated from the White House.

Bottom line, do you think the president of the United States, President Trump, has ever directed the White House to have a coordinated plan to speak to the American people, protect voting systems and counter the Russians? I'll give you the answer. No way.

CAMEROTA: Dana, on a much lighter note, the president, if he doesn't like the intel, but he is a movie critic. And so last night, he did feel strongly about weighing in on best picture. Here he is at a rally.


DONALD TRUMP, U.S. PRESIDENT: And the winner is a movie from South Korea. What the hell was that all about? We 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. Yes, I'm looking for like let's get Gone with the Wind. Can we get like Gone with the Wind back, please?


CAMEROTA: Has anything ever been more telling than that he wants Gone with the Wind back? Here is what the movie's distributor --

BERMAN: There's a lot to that.

CAMEROTA: I know that.

BERMAN: Okay. Gone with the Wind isn't exactly the most woke movie in the world.

CAMEROTA: Here's what the movie's distributor followed up with. It says, understandable, he can't read.

BASH: Ouch.

CAMEROTA: Referring to the fact it has subtitles.

BASH: Yes. Look, it's not -- well, it is about that. And that he's performing. He's on the stage, he's performing his rally. He's got his rally shtick. He's looking at the people who want the red meat and he's giving them the red meat. And the red meat for someone like Donald Trump who has always been a pop culture critic.

For a long time, he started using his Twitter handle not just to weigh in on politics but to weigh in on everything from, you know, Hollywood romances to movies. And he just can't help himself. And it does play into the notion, look, that he's saying this is an American Academy Award winner and it's a foreign country, it's a foreign film, it's not American.

TOOBIN: But in fairness, it's like only yesterday that Gone with the Wind was in theaters. So it's -- you know, he was remembering that.

CAMEROTA: Back when America was great.

TOOBIN: Right, yes. That was --

CAMEROTA: Well, you know what, we'll always have Terra. Jeffrey doesn't give a damn.

Thank you, all, Phil, Jeffrey, Dana.

BERMAN: All right. Breaking news, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo just announced a seven-day reduction in violence in Afghanistan negotiated between the U.S. and the Taliban, moving one step closer to a possible deal designed to end America's longest war and remove U.S. troops from the region.

CNN's Nick Paton Walsh is live in london with the breaking details. This has been brewing for some time in several different steps, Nick.

NICK PATON WALSH, CNN INTERNATIONAL SECURITY EDITOR: It has, and it's fallen apart before in the past out of violence against Americans. What we should see coming in tonight is a first key phase, possibly a confidence building measure really in which the guns are meant to partially fall silent in Afghanistan.

Now, not everything will be included in this reduction of violence. It's not called a ceasefire because fighting against ISIS, we're hearing from an Afghan security official, may continue and there may be a lot of confusion about what is and is not included in it.

But if the U.S. military judge at the end of seven days that this reduction in violence has been successful, well, Secretary Pompeo in his statement went on to say that they would anticipate a signing of a deal between the United States and the Taliban in Doha on February the 29th.

Now, of course, there will be many parts of the insurgency very keen to see this next week ahead of us show a reduction in violence and get to that point where the deal is signed. If that does occur successfully, then there will be talks between Afghans representing the Afghan people because the government doesn't want to directly deal with the Taliban. They will talk with the Taliban. That may occur in Norway. It may occur in the weeks and months ahead.

It's a messy road there potentially because the Afghan government, in its heart, doesn't really want the Americans to leave it. It knows it needs their support and sees the Taliban certainly on the ground winning a lot of the time.

But for Americans, essentially, that deal in Doha may mark the beginning of the end of their full-time military presence there. America is always going to be in Afghanistan and somewhere, but the troop numbers may start coming down, they may start repositioning, changing their focus.

This is not a tidy end by any stretch of the imagination. This war, for many, I think, has felt endless. But this is the first time, I think, where we've seen a clear plan long debated and argued for by the United States. I'm sure they'll want this next week be peaceful as will (ph) part of the insurgency too. But for ordinary Afghans, this is not them out of the woods at all.


It's a new dangerous chapter, certainly. Alisyn?

CAMEROTA: Nick, thank you very much for all of that context this morning.

Meanwhile, back here, Team Bloomberg trying to reset after his debate disaster, I guess, that's what it's being called. And Senator Elizabeth Warren's campaign is strapped for cash. So we discuss all the latest in the 2020 race next.


CAMEROTA: Okay. One day away from the Nevada caucuses. Senator Bernie Sanders is entering the contest as the undisputed frontrunner after top finishes in Iowa and New Hampshire. Can his momentum be stopped or will it change? We have so many questions for Dana Bash. Also joining us, Paul Begala, CNN Political Commentator and Democratic strategist.

Okay. Paul, let's start with you. How do you think Nevada is going to go?

PAUL BEGAL, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, first, good morning. Mind my manners, or if the guy running our country is watching, (INAUDIBLE), Mr. Putin. I'm sorry, I'm still on that breaking news. Let me get back to Nevada, soon to be a suburb of Moscow, apparently.

No, I don't think anything slows Bernie's role.


This debate tonight, it was electric, it was amazing, but somehow Bernie's opponent were operating on the theory that attacking Mike Bloomberg will slow Bernie's ascendance. We shall tomorrow if that is an effective strategy.

I thought Senator Warren, again, last night in our town meeting just devastating to Mike Bloomberg. I'm not entirely sure that that slows down Bernie. I think he's on his way to -- cruising to a commanding victory in Nevada tomorrow.

BERMAN: There's a lot going on with Elizabeth Warren. So let's play, people, something Elizabeth Warren said last night where she continued to press Michael Bloomberg on the issue of these nondisclosure agreements that his company signed with various women. So let's play that moment.


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


BERMAN: All right. The part I was most impressed by was that she's saying, I wrote it up. She's reminding people she, of course, is a law professor.

CAMEROTA: Not just a law of professor, like one of the professors on contract law.

BERMAN: And then, of course, there's more to it than just that.

BASH: Of course. No, it was -- look, it was a stunt. It was a clever stunt. We were talking about it this morning. She's keeping it going. But I think what Paul said is really important. She is going after Mike Bloomberg and others are going after Mike Bloomberg while Bernie Sanders is going like this. He's looking at the carnage on the side of the road and waving goodbye as he passes by.

CAMEROTA: So why is she doing that?

BASH: I think that there are several reasons. Number one, she's genuinely offended by everything that Michael Bloomberg represents, from what he's doing in this election, using his own money, to what he did before, whether it was these allegations of the way he talked to women, the way he treated women, the, you know, policies that he had. But also she's anti-Wall Street, anti-big billionaire. And he represents -- he's a foil for her that she just -- she wants to use.

She also -- I'm not saying she wants Bernie Sanders to be the nominee. She wants to be the nominee. But if it's a choice between the two of them, I would think Elizabeth Warren will pick Bernie Sanders over Mike Warren -- Mike Bloomberg.

CAMEROTA: Unless they get married, then it's Mike Warren.


BASH: We're doing the way back machine on that.

CAMEROTA: Well, I think that that's interesting what you just said. That helped me understand it. Basically, going after Bloomberg helps define her. It helps define herself after the debate.

BASH: No question.

BERMAN: Well, again, she needs to be in the spotlight right now. How do we know that? Well, we know that because we learned overnight, Paul, and this is surprising. It was surprising to me as someone who covered campaigns. And I don't know if it surprised you as someone who's worked on it (ph), her campaign took out a $3 million line of credit at the end of January just before the Iowa caucus and New Hampshire primary because they were nearly out of money. They only had $2 million cash on hand. And that was before Iowa and New Hampshire even happened. They were worried that they couldn't make it. So they took out a line of credit. They say they didn't tap into it too much, but what does that tell you about the state of the Warren campaign?

BEGALA: Right. They're telling you they're living hand to mouth. And I've been there. Believe me. I do think Dana's right. I think part of that just electric performance is designed to raise money as well, not something to show that she is the alternative. But I think her progressive grassroots donor base loves that. And that will help her raise money.

I will also note apparently yesterday she gave her blessing to a Super PAC, which is few weeks ago that was -- I used to advise a Super PAC. So I don't think they're evil. Apparently, Senator Warren now has my position that they're part of the rules even though we'd like to end them all. But a few weeks ago, she would have attacked any Democrat who had help from a Super PAC, as this example of one of those great laws.

Sometimes in politics, you have to rise above principle and I'm (INAUDIBLE) to see someone doing that.

CAMEROTA: I think you're raising a really interesting point because, again, this gets back to Bloomberg and going after him for the money, okay. What's the alternative? Do you want him spending his own money, Dana, his own money that he earned? We know where it is. It's not dark money being funneled from undisclosed donors. When you're running out of money, maybe your principles change.

BASH: Yes. Well, that's an interesting argument that, you know, wouldn't be surprised to hear on a debate stage near you from Mike Bloomberg, like, well, at least it's not dark money. I'm beholden to myself and nobody else.

You know, yes, I think your principles maybe change a bit. I mean, she's trying to straddle the line by saying, okay, fine. Now, I'm going to play by the rules that exist.


I want to change the rules. We've heard that before. But the reality issue is changing, and that is noteworthy.

BERMAN: Can I play some sounds from Joe Biden last night, because he was part of the CNN town halls last night also. And a lot of the supporters were pleased with the night that he had and also pleased that he is starting to take on Bernie Sanders a little bit more particularly on the issue of guns. So let's listen to that.


JOE BIDEN (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: And the fact is Bernie has had a very different record than me for a long time. For example, I'm the guy that, as the chairman of the Judiciary Committee, worked to pass a very difficult legislation, he Brady Bill that had background checks, as well as waiting period. When Bernie was running for the Senate of Vermont, he said it was a tough state to run in. He voted against it five times in the House of Representatives.


BERMAN: Okay. So walk me through this, Paul, in the next 14 days of Joe Biden's life if he wants to get back in this race.

BEGALA: Well, it may be too little too late. 75,000 Nevadans have already voted early. It is political malpractice that those folks stood on a stage with Bernie Sanders who is winning Nevada. It's a short walk. It's a couple of blocks from that stage to the site where 58 people were murdered, 413 shot and wounded beyond that. And it hardly came up at all. That was political malpractice. Joe is raising it now.

Keep in mind, this is one of the issues where Hillary used to defeat Bernie in the primary four years ago. It is one of the few issues where Bernie has not got a spotless, principle, progressive record. He was very pro-NRA and very much -- I was advising President Clinton. I can fact-check what Vice President Biden just said. He was absolutely critical to the Brady Bill and the assault weapon that we passed and signed on the 90s.

And so this is a huge vulnerability for Bernie. I just wonder if they're not raising it too late.

CAMEROTA: Really good information. Paul, Dana, thank you very much.

BERMAN: He's going to speak a different language next week when he comes back.


BERMAN: Multi-lingual Paul Begala.

All right, so Russia prefers Donald Trump and the Intelligence Community is telling lawmakers that Russia is trying to help get the president re-elected. Why does the president want this quiet? What does this all tell us? That's next.