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Intelligence Officials Brief Congress that Russia is Attempting to Interfere in 2020 U.S. Election to Favor President Trump and Democratic Presidential Candidate Bernie Sanders; President Trump Selects German Ambassador Richard Grenell as New Acting Director of National Intelligence; Nevada Presidential Caucuses Soon Underway; Nevada Governor Steve Sisolak Interviewed on Integrity of Nevada Caucus Vote Tallying; Woman Arrested After Failing to Prove Her Two Children are Alive; Current Seasonal Flu Reportedly Caused Death of 100 Children; Prince Harry and Meghan Markle To Not Use the Word "Royal" as Part of Brand. Aired 10-11a ET

Aired February 22, 2020 - 10:00   ET




CHRISTI PAUL, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning to you on this Saturday. We're so grateful to have you with us. It is February 22nd. I'm Christi Paul.

VICTOR BLACKWELL, CNN ANCHOR: I'm Victor Blackwell. You are in the CNN Newsroom.

Caucus day in Nevada and in just a few hours Democrats will meet and vote across the state. Now, this is the third contest in the presidential primary season, but it is the first test in a more racially diverse state. According to several national polls, Bernie Sanders leads the Democratic field, followed by former Vice President Joe Biden and former Mayor Mike Bloomberg.

PAUL: In the meantime, there are a lot of questions about the caucuses and whether they will be smooth. Among the major areas of concern here, integrating the early votes into the process there, how the calculator will count votes, and potential problems surrounding a last-minute confidentiality agreement for some site volunteers. At least one volunteer we know has already quit because of it.

BLACKWELL: CNN national correspondent Ed Lavandera is in Las Vegas with more details. What are you hearing from voters, Ed?

ED LAVANDERA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, I think the voters have been speaking rather loudly here over the last week as about 75,000 voters have already cast their ballots in the Nevada caucus. And to give you a sense of what that means is that that's roughly a little less than the number of people that voted in the last caucus back in 2016. So the question of what the turnout will look like today is something that the campaigns will be looking at very closely, just how many people will they be dealing with in person as they start tabulating those votes. The polls here open in about five hours, noon pacific time here in Las Vegas. That's when the voting starts. We are at the East Las Vegas Community Center. This is a predominantly low income, working class, Latino neighborhood. There is a great deal of focus on how Latino voters will turn out in this election and which candidate they will support. As you mentioned, Bernie Sanders garnering some of the early attention in the polls here from this state, but it's really a question given what happened in Iowa, the main focus here is just how smoothly will this process work throughout the course of the day.

As you mentioned the early voting here at all these precincts, they will have those ballots and they will have to incorporate those vote tallies into what the in-person voters are doing. And the question, is will all of that run smoothly or will we see a repeat of what happened in Iowa? Many people watching that very closely, Victor and Christi.

And wondering if there is a problem what happens from that point on with South Carolina right around the corner. Ed Lavandera, so appreciate it, thank you.

BLACKWELL: Stay out of American elections, that's the message from Russia -- or to Russia from Senator Bernie Sanders. This after confirming reports that he was briefed on Russian efforts to help his campaign.

PAUL: This is a message that is not being echoed by the president at the moment, even after learning that the Intelligence Community does believe Russia wants to help his campaign as well. Instead the president is keeping up his skepticism that Russia wants to see him reelected, and calls the assessment by his own Intel Community a, quote, disinformation hoax by Democrats. Now, the loyalist he has brought in to temporarily be the nation's top spy is reportedly asking to see the intel on Russian interference for himself.

CNN's Sarah Westwood at the White House right now. What more are you hearing from the president about this intel, Sarah?

SARAH WESTWOOD, CNN WHITE HOUSE REPORTER: Christi, it's clear that President Trump is rejecting this conclusion from the Intelligence Community that Russia would prefer to see him reelected in 2020. And sources tell CNN that President Trump was angry after he learned not from aides but from a Republican lawmaker that a top intelligence official had briefed lawmakers on Capitol Hill about these findings from the Intelligence Community that Russia does want to help him in the upcoming presidential election, and the fallout from that led the president to remove acting Intelligence Director Joseph Maguire and install that loyalist that you mentioned, Richard Grenell, the ambassador to Germany.

Since all this have has come to light, the president has attacked this assessment from intelligence officials as a disinformation hoax, as you mentioned. He also went after it not just on Twitter, but at his rally in Las Vegas yesterday. Take a listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I was told a week ago, they said, you know, they're trying to start a rumor. It's disinformation. That's the only thing they're good at. They are not good at anything else. They get nothing done. Do nothing Democrats. That Putin wants to make sure I get elected. Listen to this. So doesn't he want to see who the Democrat is going to be? Wouldn't he rather have, let's say, Bernie? Wouldn't he rather have Bernie who honeymooned in Moscow? These people are crazy.



WESTWOOD: Grenell started off on the job this week with some aggressive moves, including, according to the "New York Times," getting rid of a long-time veteran of the Intelligence Community, his number two, bringing in a former staffer of Republican Congressman Devin Nunez and also asking to see the underlying intelligence backing up the Intelligence Community's assessment that Russia prefers President Trump. So a lot going on on the Russian intelligence front raising questions about how President Trump will handle it if, in fact, Russia does meddle in the 2020 election.

BLACKWELL: Sarah, before we let you go, there are reports the president is now escalating this fight to keep his conversations with former National Security Adviser John Bolton private. How is he doing it?

WESTWOOD: That's right, Victor. The "Washington Post" is reporting that President Trump wants to exercise executive privilege over all of the conversations that he had with then National Security Adviser John Bolton. Lots of those conversations, the contents of them, are reportedly included in Bolton's unpublished manuscript which his team of lawyers sent to the White House for review for whether or not it contains classified information. And that review is ongoing, and Bolton's team is aiming for a March publication date. "The Post" also reports that President Trump doesn't want that book to be released before the November election. So an ongoing battle, Victor and Christi, between the White House and Bolton's team over what can be revealed in this book.

PAUL: All right, Sarah Westwood, always good to see you. Thank you for the wrap. We appreciate it.

Our next guest frames what's happening with the Intelligence Community right now in this way. This was her tweet, she said "Imagine if the DNA warned the House Intelligence Committee that terrorists might try to bomb the U.S. and the president got mad, fired him, and then appointed someone who would deny this was a threat, and the GOP went along with it. It's pretty much what's happening, sans bombs."

Asha Rangappa joining us now. She's a CNN analyst and former FBI special agent. Asha, always good to see you. That's a pretty frightening scenario that you described there. And maybe it is a bit extreme, but I'm wondering if there is a particular national security threat that you see that could be at risk right now? ASHA RANGAPPA, CNN LEGAL AND NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: Absolutely.

This is the threat that we have been warned about by the Intelligence Community since 2016, which is that Russia is engaged in information warfare operation to interfere in our elections. What that means is that they are trying to psychologically manipulate voters to either nudge them in a particular direction or to suppress the vote and not get them out, but ultimately to impact the outcome of our Democratic processes.

I think that as Americans we've become so used to thinking of national security threats as something that involves bombs or dead bodies or terrorists that it's hard for Americans to get their mind around the idea of disinformation as being a weapon that can be wielded with devastating effects.

PAUL: So I want to refer back to the sound that Sarah just played of the president last night in Las Vegas at a rally basically saying -- and I'm paraphrasing, but basically saying maybe Russia should be looking at Bernie Sanders. This is coming just hours after we learned Bernie Sanders confirming that a month ago intel -- U.S. intelligence agencies told him that Russia is looking at him and wanting to help him. What do you make of that -- of that statement from the president, particularly in light of the timing?

RANGAPPA: Yes, so it's not surprising that Russia is also trying to boost the Sanders campaign. This is pretty much exactly the same playbook as in 2016. Special Counsel Robert Mueller --

PAUL: It reminds us of the, hey, why don't you look at Hillary Clinton's 33 emails -- 33,000 emails, yes?

RANGAPPA: Well, this was the operation in 2016 which is outlined in the Mueller report, which people should try to read at least that section of it. Russia was engaging in three major actions. One was to promote Trump and at the expense of Hillary Clinton kind of more directly. One was to boost Bernie Sanders as a way of disillusioning his supporters and fragmenting the Democratic base. And then the other, which I don't think gets enough attention, was targeting the African-American community specifically as a way to suppress that vote which would also harm the Democratic Party.

And I think we're going to see all three of those tactics happen again because what Russia wants more than anything is to have a polarizing election, one in which either side that wins will be challenged by the other side as having an illegitimate outcome, and ultimately to erode the influence of the United States on the world stage.


PAUL: In terms of Richard Grenell, what do you make of the reporting that he wants to see the intelligence on Russian interference for himself? And he's been in the position for one day.

RANGAPPA: Well, if he is the acting director of national intelligence, I'm glad to hear that he actually wants to see the facts. It's the responsibility of the Intelligence Community to gather intelligence and then come up with conclusions so that policymakers can make decisions.

Just as a reminder, the position of the director of national intelligence was created after 9/11 in order to facilitate the sharing of information because of the intelligence failures that led to 9/11. So providing this information to Congress and ultimately to the American people, if they can do so in an unclassified manner, is really a part of his job, and we will have to see whether he is going to step up to that role.

PAUL: OK, real quickly, I know the Intel Community has been on record regarding Russian interference in 2016, in 2018, the warnings with 2020. The most pressing question at the end of the day really for both sides of this is from voters saying is my vote going to count? What do you say to them?

RANGAPPA: I say to them that that is exactly the outcome that I think Russia wants from this, whether you are a Republican or Democrat, is for you to question the integrity of our democratic process. So I think it's important to be engaged, to go vote, and to be aware of the tactics that are being used. The way to -- I work perception management cases in the FBI, this is what disinformation is called in the Intelligence Community, and the way to neutralize it is to be aware of what is happening, and so that you are able to critically evaluate the information and make an informed vote.

PAUL: Asha Rangappa, always appreciate your expertise. Thank you.

RANGAPPA: Thank you.

BLACKWELL: A six-month-old boy is reported missing after his mother is arrested for robbery and assault, and now she's refusing to tell police where this child is. The fuller story next.



PAUL: We're going to alert to a story out of North Carolina right now where police are looking for a missing child. So if you have a moment, please just look at your screen here. An amber alert went out this morning for this little guy, six-month-old Chi-Liam Cody Brown- Erickson. He was last seen with his mother yesterday, but when she was arrested last night on an unrelated issue, she refused to tell authorities where the baby was. Officials say he weighs about 26 pounds, has brown hair, brown eyes, again there is his picture. They say he does have a red birthmark on the back of his head and was last seen wearing a red and black hoodie. So police are asking anyone with information please to contact police in Matthews, North Carolina.

BLACKWELL: The mother of two children who have not been seen since September is now charged with two felony counts of desertion of a child. Her name is Lori Vallow and she appeared in a Hawaii court yesterday. She is being held on a $5 million bond and could be extradited to Idaho next month.

PAUL: In January she missed a deadline to prove that her children, who you see on the screen, 17-year-old Tylee Ryan on the right and seven-year-old Joshua J.J. Fallow on the left she failed to prove that they were alive. CNN's Natasha Chen has been following this story for us. And I want to start with those two children. It's been since September since we've not seen them.

NATASHA CHEN, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Absolutely. And there is no trace of them even after Hawaii police did surveillance. They don't believe they are in the state of Hawaii. And we should mention that they had recently moved with their mom from Arizona to Idaho, and when JJ's grandmother hadn't heard from him in a long time she asked police for help. And they did a welfare check at the Idaho home in late November. And that's when Lori Vallow told police that JJ was staying with a family friend in Arizona. Turned out not to be true. During the investigation police learned Tylee hadn't been seen since September, either. When police returned with search warrants, Vallow and her new husband, Chad Daybell, had fled the home. Vallow and Daybell went to Kauai. And here is the Kauai police chief at a press conference late last night.


CHIEF TODD RAYBUCK, KAUAI POLICE: We are all hopeful that we are able to locate the missing children, Tylee and JJ, and we appreciate the community's support.


CHEN: And Vallow was arrested Thursday after missing a court-ordered deadline to prove her kids are alive. When hearing that Vallow was arrested, JJ's grandmother told CNN it feels like ten million pounds have been lifted. She said, now, Lori, where are the kids? Our colleagues also spoke with Tylee's aunt who said the arrest was the first flicker of hope, and that the family felt shock and elation. But that aunt also said she is not confident the children are alive even though she would love to be pleasantly surprised. We have reached out a lawyer representing Vallow and Daybell and have not heard back.

BLACKWELL: There are so many facets of this story. There's also the previous spouses of each of these two, both dead, investigations into both of them.

CHEN: That's where it gets really complicated. You're right. So both of the most recent spouses of Vallow and Daybell died last year. Vallow and her last husband were going through a divorce when he was shot and killed by Vallow's brother according to police. Vallow's brother then also died several months later. Then Vallow married her new husband, Chad Daybell, just a couple weeks after his wife died. We checked with authorities on all of those deaths yesterday, and they really don't have any updates on the investigations for those, and no one has been charged in any of the three deaths.

PAUL: But they are looking at possible foul play, which they hadn't looked at initially.

CHEN: Initially they felt like Daybell's wife had died of natural causes, then they later felt it was suspicious, so they actually exhumed her body in December. So we are waiting to see results from that autopsy.

PAUL: Natasha Chen, thank you so much.

CHEN: Thank you.


BLACKWELL: Still to come, there are lots of questions about whether the Nevada caucuses will go off smoothly today. We all remember Iowa, the major areas of concern, plus how officials are planning to remedy them. The governor of Nevada, there he is, with us next.


BLACKWELL: It is caucus day in Nevada, and there are still questions about whether the contest will go off smoothly. One of the major areas of concern, potential problems surrounding a last-minute confidentiality agreement for some site volunteers. At least one volunteer has already quit because of it. "Washington Post" reporting several others. Joining us now is the governor of Nevada, Steve Sisolak. Governor, good morning to you.


GOV. STEVE SISOLAK, (D) NEVADA: Good morning. Thank you for having me. I appreciate it.

BLACKWELL: I want to talk about the confidentiality agreement in a moment, but let's start more broadly. There are a lot of concerns, hopes that Nevada doesn't look like Iowa. How confident are you that things will happen pretty smoothly today?

SISOLAK: I'm extremely confident that things are going to go well today. We've had a tremendous amount of work moving into this session, our volunteers have been outstanding. We had four days of early caucusing, which was great. I was on both ends of the state, probably visited a dozen or so early caucus sites. Volunteers are energized. People are really encouraged to get out and participate in this caucus. And we've had multiple, multiple training sessions in person, online, group sessions. So we are confident that it's going to go very well. And what happens here can only happen here. We're going to get this right.

BLACKWELL: Let me ask you about this confidentiality agreement, this nondisclosure. The top Democrat in Nevada, do you support the Nevada Democratic State Party asking caucus volunteers to sign this confidentiality agreement?

SISOLAK: Well, I left that up to the Nevada State Democratic Party to come up with those solutions. I understand that there's some controversy around the nondisclosure agreement, but what we're trying to do is to protect the integrity of the caucus process, the integrity of the counting, the accuracy and whatnot. We just want everybody on the same page moving forward and don't want any fly in the ointment, so to speak. BLACKWELL: I understand that, but on the Nevada Democratic Party site

it says the 2020 caucuses will be, quote, more accessible, expansive, and transparent. If you, the party, in this document prohibit volunteers from speaking to reporters on camera, off record, or on background, how does that inspire confidence and transparency?

SISOLAK: Well, one of my, you know, foundations is transparency, and I am personally in favor of all transparency that occurs. We are extremely concerned that there is a smooth flow of the process here. I have no problem with volunteers talking to the media, but that's going to be left up to the State Democratic Party. Certainly during the caucus time it's important that they can focus on their function and their plans moving forward, and I'm sure that they will be available to give their opinions in terms of how it's run.

BLACKWELL: So you talked to a local reporter there, and you said that volunteers have been trained, retrained, and probably over-trained. I want you to listen to Seth Morrison on what he was told to do, trained to do, if this new caucus calculator, which is supposed to put this first ever early vote in the caucus with the in-person caucus today, if this new calculator fails. He was a site chair until last night when he was asked to sign a nondisclosure agreement and he quit. Here is what he said about what he was trained to do if the calculator does not work.


BLACKWELL: Are you confident everything that calculator can do can be done on pen and paper?

SETH MORRISON, FORMER SITE VOLUNTEER, NEVADA CAUCUSES: No. It's an amazingly complex process to take first, second, third, and fourth places from thousands of early votes. And the people in the party said to us we're going to give you that paper in a sealed envelope, and if the calculator doesn't work, you open it, and we'll have a video to show you how to read the paper, because it's so complicated.


BLACKWELL: Trained, retrained and probably over-trained. Seth Morrison says not only has he received no training on what to do, but that the instructions for Plan B are in a sealed envelope and he's not even to open them -- open the envelope until Plan A fails. How does that inspire confidence?

SISOLAK: This is the first time I'm hearing what Seth has said. I can tell you I have talked to literally dozens of volunteers. I have never heard anything like this. I have heard complete confidence moving forward. You're always going to get some individuals that might have a little trouble grasping the process. I'm not saying that's the case with Seth, but I can tell you that the volunteers that I have spoken to have complete confidence in the accuracy and the transparency of this process moving forward today.

BLACKWELL: And 75,000 give or take early votes or early preference ballots, I should say, in this caucus process, 2020, 84,000 total participants in 2016. Your 93-year-old mother was one of the people who went in early. I saw the ballot, read the instructions, but what instructions are these participants, the early voters, what instructions are they given or information about how their ballot will be used in the process in the room? Are they told that your votes will be added once people in the room have aligned, and then your ballots will come into play?


SISOLAK: They have explained to that. Now, when I went, my wife and I went for early caucusing, and it was explained very, very thoroughly by the volunteers. Now, unfortunately sometimes the caucus-goers aren't paying complete attention, they're chatting with the people in line, but it is explained how your votes are tabulated and how if your initial preference doesn't get the required 15 percent you move to the second choices. That was all explained to the folks during -- in the lines that they were there and when they got to the front and they actually got the ballot.

BLACKWELL: So Iowa was a debacle because of the app that malfunctioned. Even if everything goes smoothly today, the Nevada Democratic Party has had to jump over hurdle after hurdle to get to this point. Should this be the last primary caucus in Nevada?

SISOLAK: Well, I can't speak to whether or not this is going to be the last caucus and we will move to something else. My focus is twofold. First, that today's caucus go well, that it's accurate, it's transparent and that everybody is comfortable with the results, and, two, that Nevada is reflective of this entire country. Our demographics, we've got a wide breakup here. You have got the African- American community, the Latinx community, the LGBTQ community, the veterans, the disabled. We have got everything, Asian community. We have got all of these communities as part of Nevada, and I think they are more reflective and representative of the entire country. So I think that Nevada should be early -- should be first in the process if not very, very early in the nominating process.

BLACKWELL: I was going to ask you about that and maybe what, instead of, very, very early or first if there should be a completely different structure, because this is the first state where there is a racially diverse population. And when we started with the most diverse field for the nomination in history, the fact that a lot of that diversity didn't make it to Nevada. Let's put up on the screen the minority candidates who did not make it this far. Tulsi Gabbard is still in this race. But what would you suggest beyond potentially Nevada going first, a different structure, a national primary, what do you think?

SISOLAK: I think that Nevada should go first. I really do. You've got a lot of great candidates got in at the beginning and unfortunately didn't have the staying power, didn't have the money to continue through caucus after primary after caucus and didn't get to Nevada. And that was a lot of the diversity in the field. And the Democratic Party represents diversity. We welcome everybody into the party under the tent, so to speak. And I would like Nevada to go first because it's more, like I say, representative. When you have got the minority candidates couldn't make it to Nevada, that's really unfortunate. Those are voices that should be heard and should be part of that process.

BLACKWELL: Governor Steve Sisolak of Nevada, good luck today.

SISOLAK: Thank you. I appreciate it.

BLACKWELL: All right.

PAUL: Well, intelligence officials believe that Russia is helping rival campaigns ahead of the November election. Coming up, how the Trump and the Sanders campaigns are responding.



PAUL: It's 37 minutes past the hour right now. And the CDC is saying more than 100 kids have died from the flu this year, and there are some doctors calling it a really unusual flu season, in fact.

BLACKWELL: They say children under the age of four are among the hardest hit. CNN's Dr. Sanjay Gupta has the latest for us.


SANJAY GUPTA, CNN CHIEF MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: When public health officials described this flu season so far, they're describing it as having started early, early as in September as opposed to typically in October, and also being particularly hard on kids. We've been talking a lot about the coronavirus this year, but let me show you flu numbers so far this flu season.

In the United States alone, some 29 million illnesses, 280,000 hospitalizations, and 16,000 deaths. When you look at that hospitalization number, the most hospitalizations occur in people who are 65 and older, but the next biggest category is newborns to four years old. So this flu can be particularly hard on kids, and this year so far has been the worst year for kids. If you take out 2009, which was the h1n1 flu pandemic, this now becomes one of the worst years on record for kids with regard to the flu.

I want to show you just quickly looking at the flu numbers here, which I just shared with you, and coronavirus, again, because we've been talking about coronavirus so much. On the left, those are U.S. numbers. On the right are global numbers for coronavirus. And you can see obviously flu does cause a lot more illness and a lot more death in the United States and around the world. The reason there continues to be such concern about coronavirus is because it is a new virus, and whenever you have a new virus you are not exactly sure how it's going to behave, how it's going to trend, or if it's going to continue to mutate.

So those are things that researchers are keeping an eye on, but certainly here in the United States, we've got to keep an eye on flu as well, can't take our eye off the ball. And it's still not too late to get the flu shot, something we talk about a lot. Back to you.


BLACKWELL: Thanks, Sanjay. We will be right back.



BLACKWELL: Intelligence officials are warning lawmakers that Russia is actively attempting to help Bernie Sanders in the 2020 Democratic primary, and the same officials also believe Russia is working to go help President Trump's reelection bid. Joining me now, Maria Cardona, Democratic strategist and CNN political commentator, and Republican strategist and CNN political commentator Alice Stewart. Ladies, welcome back.



BLACKWELL: So Maria, let me start here. In the last cycle most Americans learned of the degree of the Russia's interference and that they were interfering to help President Trump in part in December of 2016, after the election. Learning about this in the middle of the primary season, their help for Bernie Sanders, and eight months ahead of the general, what are Democratic voters supposed to now do with this information?

CARDONA: Well, I think what they should do is keep themselves informed. Make sure that what they are seeing and hearing and reading is real news from trusted sources, because one of the things that we know that Russia did in 2016 and we knew way ahead of time even before now, Victor -- this is not news -- that they were going to do it again, is to sow chaos, to sow disinformation, to get fake stories out there about Bernie, about the rest of the Democrats, about everybody who is running so that they can instill chaos.


And what they want at the end of the day is for voters to be disenchanted, to be afraid of going to the polls by thinking that their vote is not going to count. So I say, Americans, don't let them do that. That's exactly what they want. Keep yourself informed and go out and vote overall.

BLACKWELL: So, Alice, Senator Sanders, after confirming that he was briefed about a month ago, said to Russia, stay out of America's elections. What we heard from the president was that when an election security position was created to fight this and went to brief the House Intel Committee, the president called this disinformation hoax, created by Democrats. I mean, how is the Intel Community supposed to fight this when the president is calling it disinformation? This is his reaction.

STEWART: Well, obviously the president has a different way of speaking about different things, but we do know for a fact that intelligence officials are looking into it. No one wants to have Russian interference in our election. And the reality is they have been doing this for decades, as Maria said, to sow division and get involved in U.S. elections, to upset things. I think Bernie Sanders handled it correctly, calling Putin an autocratic thug and saying that this should certainly stop.

BLACKWELL: And did the president handle it incorrectly?

STEWART: The president is handling it -- I'm encouraged, the fact that the new acting DNI director has sought information and sought to seek intelligence on how to go about stopping this, because it is important. But also, keep in mind, the president won the election fair and square, and he is also concerned a lot of this information about Russian interference in the election is nothing more than a Democrat ploy to try and say that he didn't win the election and try and overturn the election results because the president --

BLACKWELL: So Alice, let me interject here --

STEWART: With or without Russian interference in the election, the president won, and he is on track to win again.

BLACKWELL: We got that, the president did win. And it seems like the president is incapable of separating a legitimate win with a legitimate threat. So the DNI, the director of national intelligence, this position was created to rebut, to stop international or foreign interference in an American election. Then they are supposed to report to the congressional committee. When that happened and they reported what they found, the president calls it disinformation. So for all of the president's supporters who say look at what he's doing and not what he's saying, what he's doing is rejecting the official who is supposed to stop the interference, is he not?

STEWART: There are still investigations going on with regard to that. And, as I said, the new acting DNI head has already sought new information on this. So there is activity going on to try to get to the bottom of this and make sure that it doesn't happen again in the future. And that is critical, because we need to have confidence in our election process, we need to make sure that we have free and fair elections --

BLACKWELL: I don't know how the president calling this a disinformation hoax created by the Democrats creates or inspires any confidence.

But let me come to you, Maria, because for all the Democrats who criticized the president for politicizing national security, after the reporting from the "Washington Post" on Russians wanting to help the Sanders campaign, this is what mayor Bloomberg's team tweeted out. "This is a no-brainer for the Russians they either nominate the weakest candidate to take on their puppet Trump, or they elect a socialist." Yes, Donald Trump is president, and he sets the tone for the government, but for the Democrats who deride Trump for the politicization, is Bloomberg and the campaign not guilty of the same thing? CARDONA: I don't think that was very helpful, Victor, because I think

what we all need to focus on, number one, is to make sure that our elections are as safe as possible, and, number two, to point out exactly what you just underscored, that the reason why it is so critically important to take Donald Trump out of the White House is because he does not know how to keep our elections safe. And what's more, he has no interest in keeping our elections safe.

Alice said that no one wants the Russians to interfere in our elections. Well, there is one person, and his name is Donald Trump, and it just so happens that he is the president of the United States. He not only wants Russia to interfere in the elections, because I think that he thinks he can't win without Russian interference, he invited them to do so in 2016 during the campaign. And he has done nothing to keep them from doing it.

If we are -- we are so unprepared to have these elections be as safe as possible that it is actually scary that this is the president who we have, and he is completely uninterested in keeping our elections as safe as possible. So it's going to be up to the other Intelligence Committee members, the Congress, and Americans themselves to keep themselves informed and to go out and vote.


BLACKWELL: And the president was also --

STEWART: If I can just quickly state.

BLACKWELL: Go on and then I want to move on to another topic. Go ahead.

STEWART: To my friend Maria, it's complete nonsense to say that the president is inviting Russian interference in our election. He is taking steps --

CARDONA: He did in in 2016, Alice.

STEWART: -- to try and stop it and try and prevent it. And it's quite clear --

CARDONA: And he hasn't done anything --

BLACKWELL: Hold on, Maria, let her finish.

STEWART: -- his victory in 2016, and I predict in 2020, will have absolutely nothing to do with or without Russian interference in our elections because he is the duly elected president, and I expect it to happen again.

CARDONA: So why did he invite them to intrude in 2016 if he was so confident he could win without them? That's the problem is that he believes that this is conflated. If he was really confident that he won without Russia's interference, then he should say, Putin, stay out of our elections. He would do everything in his power to keep our elections safe. He would put people in the DNI who actually have experience in intelligence and not some of his cronies who have supported conspiratorial theories. That is a scary thought, Victor. That's why we need to beat Donald Trump and get him out of the White House.

BLACKWELL: Alice, let me ask you about this reporting this morning. "The Post" is reporting that the president is now weighing in on the clearance process of John Bolton, his former national security adviser, the book that's due to be released in a couple of weeks, saying that any conversation, according to their sources, that the president had about national security with Bolton is classified, and he wants to stop the book from being published at all. That is a departure from the process that the White House told Bolton's attorney back on the 23rd of January, I believe it was, that they would work to make sure that he could tell the story without publishing classified information. Why is the president with such a heavy hand in this process?

STEWART: Clearly there's probably information that he doesn't want out, or it could potentially be classified information. And I think no one should be surprised that the White House is pushing back on some elements of this book given the way that Bolton has talked since he left his position there. I expect a large majority of the information in there to be released and be out. But certainly the president would have concerns of someone who left his position in such a frustrating way that he's going to say things that are either not true or compromising to the president. So it's not a surprise. But in the end I expect majority of the information to --

BLACKWELL: We have got to wrap it up there. Alice Stewart, Maria Cardona, thank you both.

CARDONA: Thanks, Victor.

STEWART: Thanks, Victor.

PAUL: Rod Blagojevich had his 14-year prison sentence commuted by President Trump this week. The former governor of Illinois was convicted of several public corruption charges in 2011, including trying to solicit money for President Obama's Senate seat. Last night on CNN the former governor claimed he had been unjustly imprisoned. And Anderson Cooper pushed back. Take a look.


ROD BLAGOJEVICH: Well, I don't think they've looked carefully because I am a political prisoner. I was put in prison for practicing --

ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: Wait a minute, you were a political prisoner? Nelson Mandela was a political prisoner. Political prisoners have no due process and are unjustly jailed. You had a jury convict you. You had appeals courts look at your sentencing, and you even appealed to the Supreme Court twice, and they refused to hear you. So you're hardly a political prisoner.

BLAGOJEVICH: Well, first of all, Nelson Mandela went before a court, he was convicted in a court of law. COOPER: By a racist segregationist -- that's right, by a racist

Apartheid government.

BLAGOJEVICH: That's correct, but I think if you were to --

COOPER: Not by a jury of his peers.

BLAGOJEVICH: I bet you if you were to ask Nelson Mandela whether he thought the process was fair back in the early 60s in South Africa, he would say what I'm saying today.


PAUL: Blagojevich had spent eight years in federal prison before he was released on Tuesday.

Another big change for Britain's Prince Harry and wife Meghan Markle. They will no longer use the word "Royal" as part of their brand, at least after this spring. CNN's Anna Stewart has more.


ANNA STEWART, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Ever since it was agreed that Prince Harry and his wife Meghan would step down as working members of the royal family, questions have swirled as to what they would do about the word "Royal" in their brand name. The website they launched only weeks ago is The Instagram handle is @SussexRoyal, and they have made trademark applications for the same brand name internationally.

Now a spokesperson for the couple have said the Duke and Duchess of Sussex do not intend to use Sussex Royal in any territory post spring, 2020, which means their new nonprofit organization to be launched in the coming weeks will no longer have the word "Royal" in it, and the couple have removed their Sussex royal trademark applications already. A rebrand will allow the duke and duchess of Sussex to pursue the next chapter in their lives, and the financial independence to support it.

Anna Stewart, CNN, London.



PAUL: Anna, thank you. And speaking of the Royals, be sure to watch "The Windsors, Inside the Royal Dynasty." New episode premieres Sunday night, tomorrow night, at 10:00 on CNN.

Thank you so much for being with us. We always appreciate your company. We hope you make good memories today.

BLACKWELL: Fredricka Whitfield is up next.