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2020 Election Meddling; Early Vote Boosts Turnout In Nevada Caucuses But Concerns Remain; Coronavirus Outbreak; Critics Slam President Trump's Attacks On The Justice System. Aired 11a-12p ET

Aired February 22, 2020 - 11:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


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[11:00:11]

FREDRICKA WHITFIELD, CNN ANCHOR: Hello, everyone. Thank you so much for joining me.

I'm Fredricka Whitfield.

It is Caucus Day in Nevada and we are just now three hours away from the next step in the race for the White House. Candidates are hoping to make a big stride in the Silver State. Dozens of all important delegates are up for grabs tonight. And with Super Tuesday just over a week away this is no time to fall behind for the candidates.

But just hours before the votes are cast today, there are new indications that Russia is once again trying to meddle in U.S. elections. Friday, Bernie Sanders confirmed that he was briefed on intelligence that Russia is actively trying to get him to win the Democratic nomination in an effort to split the party.

Sources also tell CNN that Russia is trying to meddle on behalf of President Donald J. Trump's reelection. The President fired his acting Director of National Intelligence Joseph Maguire after he allowed lawmakers to be briefed last week on Russia's plans to interfere.

Both Sanders and Trump are now weighing in on Russia's efforts but with different views on the subject.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. BERNIE SANDERS (I-VT), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: It was not clear what role they're going to play. We were told that Russia, maybe other countries are going to get involved in this campaign.

And look, here is the message. To Russia, stay out of American elections. And what they are doing, by the way, the ugly thing that they are doing -- and I've seen some of their, you know, their tweets and stuff -- is they try to divide us up.

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're 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?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WHITFIELD: We have a team of reporters on the campaign trail and beyond covering all angles.

So let's begin with CNN's Kylie Atwood who is following these new revelations of Russia election meddling.

Kylie -- those are two very different responses coming from President Trump and Senator Sanders. What else are their campaigns being told about the, you know, reported meddling and what are the campaigns saying about all of this?

KYLIE ATWOOD, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Yes. So this is some really big news -- Fred, that both the Trump campaign is being helped by Russia as part of their presidential election, and the Bernie Sanders campaign was briefed that they are also being helped and there are efforts by Russia to try and help Bernie Sanders win the Democratic nomination.

As you've said, we are seeing very different reactions from these candidates. So Bernie Sanders essentially saying that this is a possibility. He's not denying that Russia would try and get involved in the U.S. democratic process, saying that this is what they do, pointing back to 2016, saying they tried to create chaos and hatred.

And when asked -- when his campaign was asked by Wolf Blitzer just last night why they didn't reveal the fact that they had been briefed on Russia's efforts here, his campaign said that they didn't want to reveal any sensitive information. But they also said that they have no idea what the motivations of Vladimir Putin are, why he would want Bernie Sanders to win.

Now, on the flip side we see President Trump essentially denying the intelligence. And this was a report that was brought to Congress last week as part of a classified briefing. And members of Congress on the House Intelligence Committee were told that it was indeed the fact that President Trump was being helped, efforts were trying to help him win the Presidential election.

Bernie Sanders saying maybe the Russians are trying to get involved and President Trump when there is revelations that they are trying to help him saying that it is disinformation -- Fred.

WHITFIELD: Yes, Kylie -- it's quite the contrast. The President saying it's disinformation, undermine what U.S. intelligence is saying; but then Senator Sanders is saying ok a message to Russia, cut it out.

But is the Sanders campaign saying anything about what it feels to the possibility that Russia may be behind why he has front runner status right now? ATWOOD: Well, look, we are seeing other Democratic candidates use this

to their advantage. We have already seen, you know, Bloomberg come out and essentially say this would make sense. They would want Bernie Sanders to win. We are seeing that.

[11:04:48]

ATWOOD: But what we are not being told is specifically what Russia is doing to help Bernie Sanders. We did see Senator Sanders indicate that potentially all the hatred online could be connected to the Russians trying to interfere.

He did not say that that was exactly the case. He didn't say that they have been told that. But he indicated that the aggression of Bernie Sanders' supporters online may be linked to Russian interference.

So that is definitely a space for us to be watching.

WHITFIELD: All right. Kylie Atwood, thank you so much. Keep us posted.

All right. So party leaders in Nevada -- Democratic Party leaders in Nevada are also working to secure today's Democratic primary election. Officials there are hoping to avoid a repeat of the Iowa caucus chaos.

CNN's Dianne Gallagher joining me right now from Las Vegas with more on this. So Dianne -- what kind of measures are being taken? What are you learning?

DIANNE GALLAGHER, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: So, you know, Fred -- that Iowa chaos has really put the heat on Nevada and it directly impacted them because they were using an app originally that was developed by the same company at the center of this situation in Iowa. They abandoned that the day after Iowa, have been coming up with a new plan and settled on this Google forms spreadsheet calculator that will not only help the precinct captains do their math but also fold in those early vote results.

Now, that's something that's never been done before. They had a four- day period of early voting that by all measures was extremely successful. Nearly 75,000 Nevadans participated but it's complicated because they have to fold in not just that first choice but then the viability of the second choice, which might not be the second choice. It could be the third choice if that candidate is not available.

So using that calculator -- and I have done a demo of it -- it's pretty user-friendly on an iPad, will help out those precinct chairs. What they do afterwards, they have to put everything on a worksheet, they then phone in the results to a hotline that is, we're told by the party, manned by about 200 different people and then they have to take a picture of their worksheet, send that in and then deliver their materials to the site lead.

Now, look -- again the pressure is on Nevada at this point because of what happened in Iowa and look, they've been working down to the very last minute. We've been trying to get details about this process. It hasn't always been easy but there's a lot of people here from the DNC. They have we're told nearly 3,000 volunteers who are working on this right now -- Fred. And again, they have been going around the clock trying to make sure they are not another Iowa. I've heard that refrain over and over again. We cannot be another Iowa.

WHITFIELD: And then, Dianne -- party leaders have also asked volunteers who are working today to sign confidentiality agreements. That's not going over well with everybody and explain what is the crux of it.

GALLAGHER: So they've asked some volunteers to sign those nondisclosure agreements. We're told they are the site leads. What those are -- those are the people who are in charge of a location that has multiple precincts there.

And the language is very broad, essentially prohibiting them from speaking to the media without any sort of permission. That's including on background and off the record, as well as from disparaging the party.

One of those site leads that we have been speaking to, Seth Morrison, said that it was something he just couldn't do. So I want you to take a listen to what he went through when he was asked to sign that NDA.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SETH MORRISION, DNC VOLUNTEER: The agreement they asked me to sign said I could not disparage the party in any way. And if I did in their opinion disparage them, they could sue me for everything I own.

The agreement is so broad that nobody in their right mind would sign it. And I said I will be happy to sign an amended agreement that refers to this election and to truly confidential information that doesn't say I can't disagree with my own party.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

GALLAGHER: Now, Fred -- I think, again, looking forward here, when they start lining up here in Nevada two hours from now, caucusing officially begins in four hours. All eyes in the nation are on Nevada right now. The party tells me they're ready but of course, campaigns, citizens and everybody else who is watching just want to make sure that things get right and they want to see if we have results sometime soon tonight.

WHITFIELD: Right. Lots of anxiety.

Dianne Gallagher in Las Vegas -- thank you so much.

Let's talk more about all of this. I want to bring in the chairman of the Nevada Democratic Party William McCurdy. William -- you are looking really relaxed, this is a day that could be a very tense one.

What makes you feel so confident about the potential outcome today and how you all are handling this Caucus Day? WILLIAM MCCURDY, CHAIRMAN, NEVADA DEMOCRATIC PARTY: You know what -- I

am extremely excited for this opportunity as the first diverse state of all the early states to have their voice heard within this presidential primary. This is just a really exciting time.

We had a historic, you know, successful early vote process where we saw nearly 75,000 people come out. And there's a lot of energy here on the ground in Nevada. And I couldn't be more proud of the work that we've been able to do and the work that we will do today and what we're going to do moving forward.

[11:10:01]

WHITFIELD: All right. But consider it's still early because, you know, we don't know a tally of the results, while there have been, you know, a very active turnout for early voting with the 70,000. If you put it that's a lot to be excited about.

But now you've got these reports from the U.S. intelligence community that Russia is actively trying to meddle in U.S. elections. You know, what kind of precautions do you believe that you all have taken to make sure that the results that come from the caucus today also taking into account those 70,000, you know, early votes, that it will be accurate; that people will feel comfortable with the outcome?

MCCURDY: You know what -- any foreign entity that is tampering with U.S. elections and our process, you know, that should be condemned and that's not welcome here in Nevada or in our country. But to speak specifically to what we've done, we've been able to implement a process that is secure, efficient and also simple that will enable us to be able to be successful today.

And I am confident with the work that has been able to be done. We have consulted with security consultants and others to ensure that we put forth a very successful caucus. And I couldn't be more proud of the work that we're doing here at the Nevada state Democratic Party.

WHITFIELD: So I wonder, too, Michael -- I mean, William -- we just heard from Dianne Gallagher, you know, who explained that originally Nevada was going to use the same kind of app as Iowa, you know. The outcome wasn't so good, you changed things up.

But now it's very complicated -- just listening to her sequence of events, you know, that there will be an iPad, you know. And then there is a worksheet and then there is a phoning in of results and then people who are working, you know, with the system are to take a picture of the worksheet.

I mean, there are a lot of steps and it almost seems like there is a lot of room for error. How do you assure people that actually all of those steps will reassure a much more proficient outcome?

MCCURDY: You know what, since what happened in Iowa was less than ideal for Nevada, we made sure that, number one, we committed to the saying that what happened in Iowa will stay in Iowa. It will not happen in Nevada. And what we've done is implement a process that will enable us to be successful. And yes, it is a process that, you know, again, was less than ideal, but our goal is to make sure that we execute the most successful, transparent, expansive caucus yet. And we are really confident in what we've been able to do within the party. And we will see that it's going to be successful today. I am very confident.

WHITFIELD: Ok. So if transparency is something that, you know, you and others within the party there in the state are very proud of then what's with these nondisclosure agreements?

You just heard the sound bite from the one gentleman -- Seth Morrison, who said, you know, he was given this nondisclosure agreement and it meant that he was not to, you know, disparage the party in any way; to keep, you know, most of the activity private, not to talk to the media. But then he said, no, I'm not going to sign this and, you know.

What does that mean? Why are you asking people to do that? Is it everyone who is a volunteer or working in the process? What is it that you're trying to protect or preserve or what are you nervous about?

MCCURDY: Yes, I'm really glad you asked that question. Yes, I did say transparency and I underscore transparency but I also want to include another term which is making sure that we preserve the integrity of our election process.

So what we did is to make sure that any site lead who was going to be handling sensitive information they be, you know -- have the ability to sign a nondisclosure agreement. But again, this is a voluntary -- a voluntary, you know, option. And again, the goal is preserving the integrity and making sure that folks have an ability to know that when they cast their vote it's safe.

WHITFIELD: And if there were a violation of this nondisclosure agreement, what would the penalty be?

MCCURDY: We hope that, you know, the goal is no one, you know, violates a nondisclosure agreement and the goal is to ensure --

(CROSSTALKING)

WHITFIELD: Yes, but you have an NDA -- an NDA is offered because with it also comes a penalty if you defy the NDA. What would that penalty be?

MCCURDY: Well, we want to just make sure that folks who sign the document know that this is a serious process and if you don't --

(CROSSTALKING)

WHITFIELD: But everyone knows that. Everyone knows that because they're signing up for something that is one of the most important, you know, privileges of being an American and to preserve and protect the process.

But a nondisclosure agreement, which is a legally binding agreement, you're asking volunteers to sign that in order to continue on with this, you know, civil service. If you violate that NDA then what would happen?

[11:15:01]

MCCURDY: It is outlined what could actually happen within the agreement. And that is why, you know, you are presented it. You are able to read it, review it and if you so choose, you sign it. And that is exactly what it's designed to do. And our goal, again, is to make sure that we preserve the integrity of this process, that is extremely important within the Nevada state Democratic Party and that is why it is a voluntary document.

WHITFIELD: Ok. So it's a voluntary document. You could continue as a volunteer working the process and not sign it because the gentleman we spoke with earlier, Seth Morrison, claims that he would and others would get sued if they were to defy the nondisclosure. If they were to talk about the process, if they were to disclose their experience. Is that true?

MCCURDY: The goal is to ensure that we preserve our integrity of this process. and as you know what we've experienced, you know, within the last few weeks here within, you know, the early process, anything could happen.

And we want to make sure that folks who have taken this responsibility to be responsible for the information know that, you know, Nevada state Democratic Party will make sure that we go to the extent to make sure that we protect and, you know -- protect the integrity of this process and that is extremely important to us.

(CROSSTALKING)

WHITFIELD: So if any one -- so if any of your volunteers or anyone working today or part of this whole caucus process and they were to talk to the media, they were to share with someone what the experience was, would they be sued? And they've signed the nondisclosure?

MCCURDY: Again, for our site leads who are handling sensitive information who voluntary sign this document, they signed on the dotted line and they've reviewed it. And they would have to, you know, abide by the rules of what they signed and that's just a fact.

WHITFIELD: All right. William McCurdy -- best of luck today. I know a lot is on the line for everyone, not just your state but the entire, you know, Democratic and the election process. All eyes continue to watch every primary and caucus state.

MCCURDY: Thank you so much.

WHITFIELD: William McCurdy -- thank you so much, chairman of the Nevada Democratic Party.

All right. Still ahead, President Trump still refusing to acknowledge Russian interference in the 2020 election, dismissing the critical U.S. intelligence as, quote, disinformation. How the President is trying to influence Democratic voters, next.

[11:17:29]

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WHITFIELD: All right. Welcome back.

Nevada Caucus Day. President Trump is dismissing reports from U.S. intelligence that Russia plans to interfere in the upcoming election and help him get reelected. Instead of being outraged at the Russians, the President is lashing out at his own intel experts.

Trump claiming the discovery by U.S. intelligence sources that Russia wants to prop up his campaign are just rumors, and I'm quoting now, disinformation. That from the President of the United States. And that this is being spread by Democrats.

For more on this let's bring in CNN's Sarah Westwood at the White House. So Sarah -- what more are you learning about the President's reaction to these intel reports on Russia?

SARAH WESTWOOD, CNN WHITE HOUSE REPORTER: Well, Fred -- President Trump is essentially rejecting this assessment from his intelligence community that Russia would prefer he be reelected in 2020.

Now sources tell CNN that President Trump was angry about the fact that he learned not from his own aides but from a Republican ally that a top intel official briefed lawmakers last week about this conclusion from the intel community about Russia's preferences.

Sources say that it was Congressman Devin Nunez, a top Trump ally, who informed the White House about this briefing. The fallout President Trump being angry about information being given to lawmakers led to him removing acting intel director Joseph Maguire and installing a staunch loyalist Richard Grenell on an interim bases in that role.

Now, on Twitter, the President has railed against this as a disinformation campaign and he continued to lash out at this intel conclusion at his rally in Las Vegas yesterday. Take a listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: 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? Wouldn't that be -- wouldn't that be? These people are crazy.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WESTWOOD: Now, in one of his first acts as the new Acting Intel Chief, Grenell according to "The New York Times" asked to see the underlying intelligence backing up this conclusion that Russia wants to help Trump in the upcoming election. Democrats have criticized his appointment because they say he's underqualified for this job -- Fred.

WHITFIELD: All right. We also know that the President was fuming about those he considers disloyal. And that he is now taking action or at least asking others to take action and seek out people who are not loyal enough?

WESTWOOD: That's right. Sources tell CNN, Fred -- that the President's personnel chief, a loyalist Johnny McEntee, who was newly installed in that role, this week told agency officials to expect staffing changes across the government. McEntee has asked liaison from cabinet agencies to the White House to provide names of political appointees who are perceived to be insufficiently loyal to the President.

This is all part of a pattern of the President expecting and enforcing loyalty among administration officials in the wake of impeachment.

[11:24:50]

WESTWOOD: He felt, the White House felt, that he was burned by bureaucrats who were not loyal to him and now there is this increased focus on loyalty and personnel as the President moves into this election year in the post-impeachment phase of his presidency -- Fred.

WHITFIELD: All right. Sarah Westwood -- thank you so much.

All right. With me now, Steve Hall. He is the former CIA chief of Russia and Ukraine operations and a CNN national security analyst.

Good to see you -- Steve.

So, all right. Let's begin, you know, with the President dismissing these intel reports that Russia plans to meddle in the 2020 election to help him, you know, win reelection and of course leading to essentially the dismissal of the DNI Maguire.

STEVE HALL, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY CHIEF ANALYST: Yes, Fred -- I think it's really interesting when you see the response and compare the response between President Trump and candidate Sanders on this. I think by and large Sanders got it right when he responded to questions about an intelligence briefing he got about how the Russians might be working inside of his campaign perhaps to try to increase the likelihood he will be elected.

He said, look, Russia, stay out. Knock it off. I mean he sounded, you know, very much like an American leader ought to sound. President Trump on the other hand immediately politicized it and said, look, this is -- you know, it's the Democrats, it's the do nothing Democrats. Again, sending the message both to Russia and to the U.S. intelligence community that he simply doesn't believe the intelligence that he is once again being presented about Russia's intentions.

So it's unfortunate that that's the pattern, but that comparison I think is interesting. WHITFIELD: So, then, Steve -- you know, it's also unclear how Russia

might be interfering, you know. But should the intel community be telling the public -- be a little bit more specific so that people can discern upon themselves, you know, what to believe, what not to believe, what to know is Russia meddling or not?

HALL: Well, first to address why this might be happening. So there have been questions, ok, how is it possible, for example, that the Russians are going to try to support Trump in this election as well as Sanders. I think it's worth remembering that Putin's primary goal here is destabilization and division which weakens the United States and our Western allies.

So it's perfectly understandable how he would insert himself and make this sort of a hair trigger situation which is what we've got. Anytime Russia is mentioned, you know, the President goes crazy and we start talking about it.

With regard to the question as to, you know, should Bernie Sanders or should any candidate or even the President talk about the meddling and the attacks on this election cycle that the Russians are undoubtedly going to undertake, you know, it's a really difficult balance because you do have to protect sources and methods to make sure that we can continue to collect clandestinely about what the Russians are up to.

So you can't tell them too much about how we got that information. But by the same token, I think this information is a little bit like counterterrorism information these days where the public and the candidates do need to know a little bit more.

So it's really walking a fine line to try to get that balance right.

WHITFIELD: You said Bernie Sanders, you know, handled it right in your view and that he said, you know, hey, Russia, you shouldn't be doing this. But then, you know, he was informed a month ago, publicly we're learning of it now, I mean he learned of it because of, you know, being on the intel committee.

But, you know -- do you believe that because he is also a candidate, you know, that he has a certain responsibility to share if not with his supporters then to just share, you know, with the American public that he has been informed, he learned in this intel briefing that, you know, Russia is at it again?

HALL: Again, it's a really fine line, Fred -- to walk that. I mean, I'm sure his briefing from intelligence officials included some sensitive information which, again, we don't want to get out there because the Russians will be able to figure out from simply what comments are made how it is that we're detecting this and then they will cover their tracks better.

But you know, Fred -- I think really the issue here is as a population we don't need, I don't think, in the United States to rely so much on the federal government, even so much on the candidates. What we actually need to become ourselves as citizens is sort of a well- organized cyber militia. We need to look and see what it is that we're consuming and ask ourselves where is this really coming from. When you see something online that you go, yes, that's great or something that makes you laugh out loud maybe it's worth looking into that site. That's I think our best --

(CROSSTALKING)

WHITFIELD: Knowing the source.

HALL: -- not relying. Yes -- knowing the source.

(CROSSTALKING)

WHITFIELD: Trying to better understand the source of the information.

HALL: Yes. Trying to identify where it's coming from.

WHITFIELD: All right. Let's talk about somebody else who is formerly, you know, working alongside the President, John Bolton and now there's new reporting from "The Washington Post", you know, on the President wanting to block complete publication, you know, of the book by the former national security adviser John Bolton over claims of classified conversations.

Can the President do that because isn't it also the case that John Bolton and his publisher provided a manuscript early on months ago, you know, asking for the White House to say, you know, thumbs up, thumbs down, that didn't happen. Now it's going to, you know, be printed.

Can the President now block this book or claim some of that information is classified?

HALL: He can certainly try to and I put this into the category of things that this president and this administration has perverted.

[11:29:52]

HALL: So yes, you do have to be careful when you had access to very classified and sensitive information as did I. I'm not allowed to publish anything in the written word without first clearing it with CIA to make sure and double-check that there are -- that there is no classified information. So there is that power inside the executive branch.

But motivation is really critical here. Why is the President doing this? Do we honestly think that the President is doing this because he's eager to protect classified information? I don't think so. There's political motivations here.

And so what you're using is a valid mechanism -- what he's using is a valid mechanism to control classified information but he's using it for political purposes which is something that I've seen in Banana Republics before but not here.

(CROSSTALKING)

WHITFIELD: You mean nine months -- nine months ahead of election day in a general election?

HALL: Yes.

WHITFIELD: I got you.

HALL: Yes. Ironic -- right?

WHITFIELD: Yes.

All right. Steve Hall -- appreciate it. Thank you so much.

HALL: Sure.

WHITFIELD: All right. Next -- as Russia interferes in both President Trump and Bernie Sanders' campaigns, Joe Biden is claiming this is further proof the Kremlin is afraid he could end up in office. What will voters decide?

[11:35:54]

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WHITFIELD: All right. Welcome back.

The Nevada caucuses are set to begin in just a few hours and just as we are learning of new indications that Russia is once again trying to meddle in U.S. elections. And it's not only Russia trying to ensure that President Trump stays in office, officials say they are also trying to pick Trump's Democratic opponent, by helping Senator Bernie Sanders and his campaign.

Joining me now to discuss Patrick Healy, politics editor for "The New York Times", and David Swerdlick assistant editor for "The Washington Post". Good to see both of you.

DAVID SWERDLICK, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Hi -- Fred.

WHITFIELD: All right. So Patrick -- you first. You know, unlike in the 2016 election, we are now seeing news of Russia interference unfold in real time and early on publicly. There is a lot of pressure on Nevada to get this right, get accurate results immediately, effectively.

But then now with this U.S. intelligence information about meddling -- what kind of impact is this making on the Democratic race?

PATRICK HEALY, POLITICS EDITOR, "THE NEW YORK TIMES": It really layers on confusion to the chaos that we already saw in Iowa, Fred. The real concern here is that the Iowa caucuses created among Democrats a sense that democracy was something that they were sort of losing control of. That they weren't able to execute a free and fair and clear and transparent election. That the numbers were getting wrong and sort of sowing that level of doubt. And now this information that the intelligence agencies believe Russia may be trying to help Bernie Sanders, it just adds sort of confusion on to that chaos.

And depending how things go today, Fred, the reality is that if Nevada isn't able to execute a really smooth caucus process, it just creates a real psychological effect, I think, within the Democratic Party that there's already so much division, questions about whether ultimately the party can unite and whether or not the Russians are really making a difference on behalf of Bernie Sanders.

It really is just about that destabilizing effect that after the first three contests there may just be concern that this isn't, you know, a smoothly running and fair process.

WHITFIELD: Right. Which obviously is something that, you know, Russia would revel in if they had in any way, you know, an impact on this.

So, David -- you know, here is what Senator Sanders had to say, you know, when asked why this is being reported now, even though the intel briefing happened a month ago.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: How so you think it come out now if you had the briefing a month ago?

SANDERS: I will let you guess about one day before the Nevada caucus. Why do you think it came out? "The Washington Post" -- good friends.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WHITFIELD: Ok. So Senator Sanders suggesting there, you know, David, that "The Washington Post" may want to hurt his campaign by releasing this information ahead of today's caucuses in Nevada. I mean that's kind of the, you know, conclusion you come to with the way he answered that question.

What is the response from your paper, then?

SWERDLICK: Yes, so I'm not speaking for the paper but my analysis -- Fred, is this. That he's basically complaining about people doing their jobs.

He is a United States senator with an oath to the constitution. He made a decision about what he did with that sensitive information that he was provided by the intelligence community. That's his job. And the job of my "Washington Post" colleagues is to report information at the highest levels of government factually, as they find it, to the American people, to our readers.

So everybody is doing their job here. His line there on that tarmac is good as a throw away line, but I think in the end it's really just fueling the narrative about him that's the one thing that's sort of similar about him and President Trump which is that both of them have this theory of the case that both in 2016 and 2020 that the system is rigged against them and he's playing into that maybe to his benefit.

He's got a huge lead in Nevada right now. I don't think it will affect in the short term but I agree with Patrick that long term, confidence is being eroded in the process.

WHITFIELD: What did he mean by they are good friends? What was your understanding of that?

SWERDLICK: I took it as sarcasm -- Fred, to suggest just what I was saying a minute ago. You know, my colleagues and me, and I'm sure Patrick would say this about his colleagues and himself at "The New York Times", we do our jobs to provide information to our readers.

WHITFIELD: Ok.

(CROSSTALKING)

HEALY: I would just add, Fred --

WHITFIELD: It confused me. Ok. Go ahead -- Patrick.

[11:39:51]

HEALY: No, I just want to add this was really good reporting by "The Washington Post". And neither "The Washington Post" nor "The Times nor others sit on stories to pop them 24 hours before a vote.

SWERDLICK: Right.

HEALY: In fact, we often don't run stories that sometimes are sensitive if we think it will have a really destabilizing -- we try to be very mindful and thoughtful about not really sort of springing something on the last minute. So --

SWERDLICK: Yes.

HEALY: -- this was very Trumpy, frankly, by Bernie Sanders that kind of throw away line, you know, in an otherwise, it seemed like pretty well-handled reaction to Russia.

WHITFIELD: And it was interesting because Joe Biden kind of weighed in, too, you know, saying this kind of underscores, you know, why, you know, he really is in the best position, you know, to be the nominee.

Do you see any credence to that -- Patrick?

HEALY: You know, Joe Biden is looking for a life line -- Fred. And he has been going in a lot of places recently in terms of rhetorical statements.

So, you know, the reality is that the Trump campaign does see Joe Biden as a real threat. There is no question about that. That in head to head polls, that in internal polling they do see Joe Biden as a real threat.

But I think Biden right now is trying to connect a lot of dots that don't, I think, actually, you know, connect in the way that he would like.

SWERDLICK: Right.

HEALY: But I understand the rhetoric.

WHITFIELD: Yes. He's underscoring, too, that this is just evidence that he would be the biggest threat to a Donald Trump and that's why, you know, I guess the Russians would be helping Bernie Sanders as opposed to him. It's all so confusing and crazy, isn't it?

SWERDLICK: Yes.

WHITFIELD: Bottom line, I think everyone can agree on the crazy part, all right. But we have to pay attention.

Patrick Healy, David Swerdlick -- thank you so much.

SWERDLICK: Thanks -- Fred.

HEALY: Thanks -- Fred.

WHITFIELD: All right. So could the first votes in the West shake up the race? CNN will take you inside the Nevada caucuses like no one else can. Special live coverage beginning today 2:00.

[11:41:45]

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WHITFIELD: All right. Cases of coronavirus continue to grow topping 77,000 worldwide as a staunch warning comes from the top infectious disease doctor in the U.S.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DR. ANTHONY FAUCI, DIRECTOR, NATIONAL INSTITUTE OF ALLERGY AND INFECTIOUS DISEASES: You get countries like Japan and South Korea that have these cases that are person to person to person, without any real ability to point to where it came from, that's the makings of a pandemic.

And if you have multiple countries like that, then the horse is out of the barn and it's going to be very difficult to prevent more cases from coming here to our own country.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WHITFIELD: And there are currently 35 confirmed cases in the U.S. Including the passengers evacuated from the Japanese cruise ship. And in Westchester County near New York City, 17 people are under quarantine over fears that they were exposed to the virus after visiting China.

Polo Sandoval is following developments from New York. So Polo -- what do we know about those under quarantine now? POLO SANDOVAL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Fred -- that number initially stood

at about 26 people but recently nine of them successfully completed that voluntary quarantine. As for the rest of them, we're told they are doing well, exhibiting no symptoms whatsoever.

So this is really being done out of an abundance of caution something that we've seen across the country now for the last several weeks, just as a precaution here.

Globally, this is how the numbers really stand at this point. You mentioned about 77,000 confirmed cases now. As of the last update from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 35 of them here in the United States and that's where context is key.

You see, the CDC has been reevaluating how it classifies the cases here domestically. Those -- differentiating between those that have been repatriated patients and those who have actually been diagnosed.

And at this point I can tell you, Fred -- that 21 of them were actually repatriated. That's 21 out of the 35. 18 of them are people who were taken off that cruise ship. So, again, that is some important clarity here.

As for how to try to prevent further spread, I can tell you that the World Health Organization did send multiple people to Wuhan. In fact they landed just today as part of this ongoing research to try to stop the spread of this virus -- Fred.

WHITFIELD: All right. Polo Sandoval -- thank you so much.

And we'll be right back.

[11:48:05]

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WHITFIELD: All right. President Trump campaigned as a law and order candidate in 2016, but some critics warned the President's open attacks on the justice system are eroding confidence in the system.

Joining me now, CNN Supreme Court Analyst, Joan Biskupic, who recently wrote a book on Justice John Roberts. But Joan -- in an op-ed today you write that, and I am kind of quoting now from your op-ed. "President Donald Trump's actions this week attacking the U.S. justice system are stunning only in how much they conform to a three-year pattern that seems unstoppable."

So what are the concerns that you're hearing in the, you know, legal community about just how far the President can go from here. And what's most alarmed you most?

JOAN BISKUPIC, CNN SUPREME COURT ANALYST: Well, in the very beginning, Fredricka -- you might remember, there was so much attention on some of his startling comments back in 2017. People thought well, you know, it is early on. Perhaps there will be some repercussions in the courts, perhaps the dignity of the office will change some of his tone.

But here we are three years later, and the challenge to judicial and legal norms have become the norm. His idea of what's law and order doesn't have anything to do with scales of justice or neutral justice, it is what Donald Trump thinks justice should be.

Just consider what we saw this week with the Roger Stone sentencing. After prosecutors have made their recommendation, Donald Trump took to Twitter to pressure them to reduce the recommendation saying that it was unfair and horrible.

And then on Thursday after he was sentenced by Judge Jackson -- after Roger Stone was sentenced by Judge Jackson, Donald Trump, you know, dangled the possibility of a pardon, which was ok -- I mean that's definitely his right. but he talked about how the jury was a bad jury. That might have been political bias.

He talked about some people, he transitioned then immediately into talking about some scum at the FBI and dirty cops, and just railed against the system in ways that are much different than other presidents.

Other presidents have been, you know, critical of certain judicial actions at times, but he is attacking the fundamentals of American democracy. And Judge Jackson mentioned that.

(CROSSTALKING)

[11:54:47]

WHITFIELD: Well, while people are expressing that that's uncomfortable, it doesn't seem like, you know, to an extent of stopping or putting up any kind of barriers. So I mean to your point about the President being unstoppable with this method, it seems that just might be the case.

BISKUPIC: That just might be. And I think Judge Jackson in sentencing Roger Stone certainly had him in mind when she talked about the truth matters, justice matters, and she referred to pressure that people put on the justice system, either on prosecutors or on judges themselves, and said that justice should transcend party. It should transcend your particular political point of view. There should be something such as neutral justice, but so far we haven't seen it in the President of the United States.

WHITFIELD: All right. Joan Biskupic -- fascinating reading -- thank you so much.

BISKUPIC: Thank you.

WHITFIELD: So much more straight ahead in the NEWSROOM.

But first, here is today's "Wander Must".

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Welcome to Miami.

SAMANTHA NIEVES, BALL AND CHAINS: Miami is very unique. There's a little bit of everything to see in the city. You have your beach, always sunny. We have an art district. You have downtown. You also have Little Havana.

The Ball and Chain is like an iconic spot for live music, food and beverage, and Cuban culture here in the heart of Little Havana. Bar food is authentic Cuban cuisine.

One of our favorite entrees is a Cubano sandwich inside a spring roll. So inside, you have a slice of ham, pork, swiss cheese, and mustard aioli with a small pickle inside. It is really good.

There's salsa dancing all the time. So even if people that don't know how to dance, they come in here, and they come out knowing how to dance salsa. There's never a dull moment here.

JESSE KENNON, COOPERTOWN AIRBOATS: Welcome to the Everglades. Miami is home of one of the most unique ecosystems in the world.

Coopertown Airboats -- we are in middle of the heart of the Everglades. You're going to see what Miami used to look like before all the buildings were here. You're going to see some different birds, alligators. We have some endangered species.

Most people are really surprised when they come out here and realize that it is so close to the city. It is basically stepping back in time.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

[11:57:09]

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