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Sources: Trump Tells Aides He Wants Fewer People Working for Him; Stocks Set to Drop Amid Coronavirus Fears; Stocks Set to Tumble as Coronavirus Spreads Outside China; Democrats Pivot to South Carolina After Bernie Sanders' Landslide Win in Nevada. Aired 9-9:30a ET

Aired February 24, 2020 - 09:00   ET

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


[09:00:35]

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN ANCHOR: Very good Monday morning to you. I'm Jim Sciutto.

POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: And I'm Poppy Harlow. Let's begin with the breaking news this morning because Wall Street is bracing for a major hit. Stocks set to tumble hundreds of points at the open as coronavirus spreads outside of China.

SCIUTTO: And more than 800 points there. Let's go right to CNN Business chief correspondent, Christine Romans.

Tell us what's behind this.

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN CHIEF BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: Well, you know, look, you're going to see all of the year's gains, 2020 gains, for the stock market likely evaporate at the opening bell here and it's the spread outside of China that's the big concern. New cases in Italy trying to get a grip on just where that originated and how bad it is there, and also in South Korea, some new cases in South Korea.

So the fact that you've got other major economies grappling with this, when you look at the losses in global markets really ugly performance overnight. Big losses for Italian markets, and 5 percent South Korean markets, the biggest loss there in well over a year. Also when you zero in on the damage from China, still trying to get a grip on how bad that's going to be. And China today, we really don't have the same precedent history as a guide here.

Back in SARS -- this is already worse than SARS. Back in the case of SARS in 2003, China was about 4 percent of the global economy. Today it is a much, much bigger part of the global economy, guys.

HARLOW: Completely is. You'll be back at the opening bell. We'll see how bad this is.

Romans, thank you very much.

Also this morning Democratic candidates emerging as the crucial stretch they head into ahead of the South Carolina primary and of course Super Tuesday.

SCIUTTO: Bernie Sanders pushing to build off what was really a landslide win in Nevada and take advantage of division over his more moderate rivals. Are they splitting up the moderate vote?

Joining us now is CNN's Abby Phillip live from Charleston, South Carolina.

And what is the picture there in South Carolina? Because for months we've been hearing that that was Joe Biden's firewall in particular because of his support among African-American voters.

ABBY PHILLIP, CNN POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, that's right, Jim. South Carolina is still very much Joe Biden's to lose. With the large African-American population here, that is supposed to be his base of support. And so far he still has an advantage here. But some of the recent polls have shown Bernie Sanders within about a handful of points of Joe Biden and following behind him Tom Steyer.

So there is some competition now for not only the African-American vote but for the state at large. The Biden campaign knows that they have to pull out a win here and they have to pull out a convincing win here but check for Bernie Sanders to really try to make a play for this state. He has spent roughly $300,000 on the air in South Carolina ads. That's not a whole lot of money and it's not anything really compared to what billionaire Tom Steyer has spent.

He's poured millions of dollars onto the airwaves followed by Pete Buttigieg who's actually spent the second most amount on the air here. But Bernie Sanders now that he has won Nevada with a massive margin has an opportunity here to continue to make inroads with African- American voters. And if he is able to do that could totally change the narrative going into Super Tuesday given that Joe Biden really wants this place to be where he shows that he's the one who has locked down the support of the Democratic base, which are African-American voters, especially as we head into more states on Super Tuesday where they will be an even bigger part of the electorate as well.

SCIUTTO: Yes, another big contender on Super Tuesday, Michael Bloomberg, of course where he's focusing his attention and his money.

HARLOW: Yes.

SCIUTTO: Abby Phillip, thanks very much.

Let's crunch the numbers now. There are lots of them. How critical are these next few days and context -- contests, rather, for Sanders' rivals?

HARLOW: Let's ask now CNN's senior politics writer and analyst, Harry Enten.

Good morning, Harry.

HARRY ENTEN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL WRITER AND ANALYST: Good morning. HARLOW: Give us the state of play but also your -- you know, you had

an interesting column over the weekend about how well the president is doing in the face of all of this.

ENTEN: Right. Exactly. You know, I think Abby hit it exactly right. South Carolina is the chance to stop Bernie Sanders because if we look nationally, look at this, he now has a double digit advantage on the rest of the field. Up to 28 percent. I wouldn't be surprised after Nevada if that lead jumped even larger.

And look at South Carolina. Right? This is supposed to be Joe Biden's firewall. But right now he's up for just 26 percent of the vote. Sanders is right behind him at 22 percent. Tom Steyer, a playing in South Carolina at 17 as well. If in fact Bernie goes on a win in South Carolina it may be impossible to stop him. And indeed I've been calculating sort of these delegate odds, right? The chance of getting a plurality.

And right now Bernie Sanders' chance of winning the most delegates, gain that plurality, is a 7 in 10, Joe Biden just 1 in 10. Michael Bloomberg who you mentioned Jim a 1 in 10 as well.

[09:05:03]

The rest of them really just not that competitive. So if you're going to be able to stop Bernie Sanders, stop this train, you've got to do it in South Carolina, otherwise he may run away on Super Tuesday.

SCIUTTO: OK. So there's conventional wisdom, which I suppose we should dismiss right away because conventional wisdom is so often --

ENTEN: I can tell you that right now.

SCIUTTO: But that Sanders is the weakest among the field against Trump. What does the polling show you?

ENTEN: You know what, if you look at polling, right, there where these three polls that came out last week from Quinnipiac University. I think this is rather important to point out. Bernie Sanders is actually quite competitive with the president in the states that ultimately matter, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin. Right? These are states that went for Barack Obama in 2012, then went for Donald Trump in 2016.

What we see is Bernie actually has small leads in Michigan and in Pennsylvania. He is behind in Wisconsin. I'll point out the rest of the Democrats are also behind.

HARLOW: Yes.

ENTEN: But if you were to sort of the electoral map, right, and sort of play this out, if you have the 2016 presidential result but Michigan and Pennsylvania go Democratic, look how close it is. We could have a very tight general election heading down the stretch.

HARLOW: Wow. SCIUTTO: Incredible. Yet another tight one.

ENTEN: Here we go. Thank you.

HARLOW: Harry, thank you very, very much. Let's discuss all of this, what happened in Nevada, now it happens in South Carolina. David Swerdlick is the assistant editor for the "Washington Post." Hilary Rosen joins us, Democratic strategist.

Good morning, guys. Thank you for being here.

Hilary, when I -- when you get past the headlines of Sanders win in Nevada, what struck me and I think may have Biden, Buttigieg, Klobuchar, et cetera, shaking in their boots is how well Sanders had to do with moderates and conservatives there? The fact that our entrance polls show he and Biden were tied in terms of people who declared themselves as moderate or conservative. I mean, a Democratic socialist walking away with those numbers, what should that tell us?

HILARY ROSEN, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, it tells you that mostly people want to be with a winner. That, you know, the more that the media talks about Bernie Sanders as the inevitable nominee, the more people start to think, well, maybe we need to start to get behind him now because after all remember the thing that Democratic primary voters want the most is a candidate who will beat Donald Trump.

So, you know, the calculation is, does -- you know, can you get from Sanders coalition, you know, the most ideological voters in a way, add that to the coalition of people who want to beat Donald Trump, and does that add up to, you know, a winning coalition to actually beat Donald Trump. And you know, we haven't really had a nominee that has been so ideological in many, many years.

You know, I was thinking this morning, almost back to like 1972 with George McGovern or something, that there -- so we have tended to nominate people who are more in the centrist part of the party, and so the coming together has been a little less fraught. And I think the big question now is how are you going to expand Bernie Sanders beyond his plurality into a majority, but the other candidates have the same problem. How are they going to take what they have, even though their majority in theory adds up to more than Sanders vote? Can they actually hold that on and win over the Sanders voters? So sort of --

SCIUTTO: Right.

ROSEN: Everybody has the same problem right now.

SCIUTTO: Listen, people were asking the same questions about Donald Trump in 2016, someone who --

HARLOW: Right.

SCIUTTO: You know, came from kind of extreme ends of the party. But I want to ask you, David Swerdlick, are the chattering classes potentially wrong here? I mean, you have the sense that Sanders is a weak candidate against Trump in the general but look at the numbers. In national polling Bernie Sanders leading Trump 47-44. That number, of course, means less than the state by state polling in those swing states as Harry was talking, in Michigan and Pennsylvania, which Democrats need.

Sanders, like some of the more moderate candidates. So is it jumping the gun to say that Sanders is too far left to beat Trump here given his strong base of support?

DAVID SWERDLICK, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Yes, good morning, Jim. I don't think it's necessarily jumping the gun. I think it depends on how you slice it. There's three things. I agree with Hilary that people want to be with a winner. And if Sanders has got the momentum and winning these early states, that gives other people an opportunity to look at him and say, well, maybe he can win, maybe I'll give him another look.

The second thing, I think, is that he ran last time. He's more familiar to voters than some of the other candidates because he was out there in 2016. And then lastly to that question about whether he's too far left, clearly we know from polling that younger voters don't see socialism as a dirty word the same way that older voters, who maybe lived through the Cold War, let's say, or some of the Republican messaging during the Reagan era, let's say, do, they don't see it as a dirty word.

So then the question becomes, OK, he's viable in the Democratic primary. What happens in the general if it's Sanders versus Trump? And the Trump campaign has an opportunity to hammer him day after day after day with that socialist tag among all voters.

HARLOW: You know, and people should listen to his interview with Anderson last night on "60 Minutes" because he asked him, you know, what is Democratic socialism to you, and you hear him lay out what his vision means versus sort of the conventional wisdom.

[09:10:05]

Hilary, South Carolina was a disaster for Bernie Sanders in 2016, an absolute disaster. He lost to Hillary Clinton by more than 40 points. Now you look at how he's polling in the state and you look at how well he did with black voters in Nevada, it looks like it could be a very different story this time around even if he's not able to win it, not going to be a disaster the way it was for him then.

ROSEN: Look, Sanders hasn't stopped running for president since 2016, and so I think he has done a lot of work with people of color and expanded his campaign operation and his field operation to make sure that he works hard on the ground in communities of color. Look what happened particularly with the Latino vote in Nevada. I think that does have an impact. I think it will have an impact in South Carolina.

I think the other piece on, you know, can he beat Trump? His numbers against Trump -- there's no state that Bernie Sanders wins against Trump that every Democrat in the field also doesn't win. I think what we see in this is that there are certain states where voters really just want to beat Donald Trump. And so the case really is, how do you get there in a Democratic primary?

I think that Bernie can beat Trump, but I also think that any one of these candidates now in this sort of final five can beat him as well.

SCIUTTO: David, it's still very early in the delegate count. And in terms of delegates those couple first early contests were essentially a split. Our Harry Enten gives on the big 7 in 10 for a plurality for Sanders by the convention but Bloomberg has barely entered the race at this point and he's focused on Super Tuesday. Is it too early to pronounce Sanders not so much frontrunner but as the anointed?

SWERDLICK: I think he's certainly the frontrunner. I do think it's too early to pronounce him as the anointed. But he has all the momentum right now, as Hilary said, especially among Latino voters who are an emerging force in this primary. And then you have the situation where even if he's not anointed yet, we're going to know a lot more in about a week and a half. If Biden doesn't win South Carolina outright, I think it's very hard for him to have a path forward. And if Senator Warren doesn't come in with a very strong showing, then I think all her eggs are in the Super Tuesday basket and that is not the position that she wanted to be in.

I want to see how it plays out in the debate tomorrow night because tomorrow night if it goes like it did last week, I think advantage Sanders no one came at him directly.

ROSEN: Yes -- really important point.

SCIUTTO: Likely to change. Yes. Absolutely.

ROSEN: Right. The only way to dent this is for people to actually go at him instead of all the shiny pennies of other candidates.

SCIUTTO: Yes. And does it work? Sometimes attacking too hard can actually benefit that candidate.

SWERDLICK: That's true.

SCIUTTO: Hilary Rosen, David Swerdlick, thanks to both of you.

CNN's special town halls in South Carolina begin tonight at 9:00 Eastern Time with Democratic presidential candidates Bernie Sanders, Pete Buttigieg and Tom Steyer answering the questions, continues on Wednesday with Michael Bloomberg, Joe Biden, Amy Klobuchar and Elizabeth Warren. Only here on CNN.

HARLOW: All right. Lincoln had his team of rivals, President Trump wants a team of loyalists. New details on just how the White House is looking to clean house. Pretty stunning report that's ahead. Also we'll take you live to the New York Stock Exchange for the opening bell at the bottom of the hour. Investors bracing for a major drop.

SCIUTTO: Also thousands and thousands of mourners set to fill the house that Kobe built. We're going to be live outside the Staples Center.

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[09:15:00]

POPPY HARLOW, CO-ANCHOR, NEWSROOM: All right. Pretty remarkable that this is happening. Sources tell CNN that the president has told aides he wants fewer people working for him in the White House and he only wants loyalists in key administration positions. Our White House correspondent Kaitlan Collins has this reporting. Kaitlan, obviously, you're traveling with the president who is in New Delhi right now for his visit to India.

But you know, as Jim was pointing out earlier, Nixon had an enemies list, right? This isn't just a list, this is acting on and taking people out of jobs and putting other people in to fill positions as loyalists.

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Yes, these are directions the president is giving his aides. He's saying not only does he want fewer people working for him, he's saying he wants those people who are working for him to not only be loyal to his agenda, but to him specifically. Now, this is an attitude the president has had since the early days of his presidency.

But it seems to have taken on new urgency based on the people who we've been speaking with ever since he was acquitted. We saw some people who had testified against the president or testified in the president's impeachment inquiry moved out of their jobs. We've seen others who the president suspects and the president and his aides suspect to be anonymous, shifted to other departments.

And when they were working in positions close to the West Wing. And now, we're being told that there's a potential for that to continue happening because the president believes that there are these people working in his administration who are working against him. Now, if you speak to some of the people in the West Wing, they'll tell you they do believe there are career officials at the State Department, at the Justice Department who when they don't like something that the president wants instituted, they either slow-walk it or they just simply do not do it.

But the president sees this as this wider scale, essentially a paranoia, some people say that he believes there are just a lot of people working against him. And that's why his administration has had so many of the troubles, so much chaos that it is. Now, Poppy, what's notable about that is the president believes these are these career officials, you know, hold overs from the Obama administration, the Bush administration.

But really when you base on what our reporting has been, you see some people on the president's own closest top aides, his top trade advisors, cabinet officials who actually have disagreed with the president on key positions like the wall, North Korea, his tariffs. And those are the people the president hired and brought into those positions.

[09:20:00] And so, now the question is, whether or not he's going to move more

people out of their jobs because of this belief.

HARLOW: That's a huge question, Kaitlan, thank you for that reporting. We appreciate it.

JIM SCIUTTO, CO-ANCHOR, NEWSROOM: With us now, James Clapper; he's the former director of National Intelligence, more than 50 years in intelligence in the military. Director, thanks for joining us this morning. You heard Kaitlan there, the priority here, loyalty, not just to Trump's agenda, but to Trump personally and that over experience. For folks watching at home, does that make the country less safe in these roles?

JAMES CLAPPER, FORMER DIRECTOR OF NATIONAL INTELLIGENCE: Well, I think it certainly does. You know, obviously I'm -- I guess, biased about this because I believe that in many of these positions such as the DNI, that people should have experience and expertise. In fact, that's what -- that's what the law stipulates. You know, to some extent, this almost reminds me of North Korea where everybody has got to wear a Kim family button to publicly display their loyalty and fealty to the great leader.

And where, as you say in our case, loyalty and fealty to the administration and to the president personally takes higher precedence over competence, experience or expertise. And that's not good, in my view, for the safety and security of the country. And particularly when it's applied to the intelligence community.

SCIUTTO: You mentioned the law establishing the DNI, director of National Intelligence in 2004 required national security experience. When you filled that role, you've been in military intelligence for more than 40 years. You'd led two of the 17 intelligence agencies yourself. Rick Grenell, in addition to keeping his other job as ambassador to Germany, does not have that or really anything close to that level of experience. Does he have what it takes to fulfill that important role overseeing all 17 intelligence agencies?

CLAPPER: Well, Jim, I'll just say that despite the fact I'd spent decades in intelligence, that I found the position of DNI the hardest thing I ever tried to do. And I just can't imagine -- you know, I'm somebody that at least knows a little bit about intelligence when I walked in the door. I can't imagine what it's like trying to learn the "ABCs" of intelligence while you're on the job.

But that's really not why he's there. I think it's clear that, you know, there's a purge kind of -- there's a purge under way in the intelligence community, at least, at the ODNI level. And that's the main purpose of -- his main mission right now, as opposed to mastering intelligence.

SCIUTTO: And it seems politically motivated here. As you know better than me, I mean, the DNI role was created post 9/11, one, to get everybody talking to each other to prevent another major attack, but also to take the politics out of intelligence. So, it's not to repeat for instance, cherry-picking of intelligence leading up to the Iraq invasion. I just wonder when you see politics so front and center here now, not just in the pick, but in the picks of other folks under the DNI, what does that mean the intelligence community is not then focusing on, right? I mean --

CLAPPER: Well --

SCIUTTO: There are a lot of threats out there. You talk about this being the most diverse array of threats the country has faced really in generations.

CLAPPER: Well, that's, I think, a very apt general comment about with all this focus on loyalty and the constant turnover, which creates turbulence, instability, lack of continuity, and it's a hugely distracting to the Intelligence community, which should be focusing on this wide diversity of threats that confront the United States all around the world.

And so this political overtone is hugely districting, and it causes the intelligence community not to focus to the extent that it should on what the real threats are.

SCIUTTO: There are a lot of accounts from folks who were in the room with him, that this president does not like to hear intelligence, he just doesn't want to hear. The most glaring example being evidence of Russia's interference in the 2016 election, of course, we had another taste of that just last week. If you're in that role, you're advising the president, as you were for many years and bringing him or her the most salient intelligence and can't speak the truth because of sensitivities. How does that affect your job? How does that affect the country?

[09:25:00]

CLAPPER: Well, what worries me is that the message is very clear here that however, ambiguous it may have been -- now, I don't know, but anything that talks about Russia's interference in our election process, and particularly Russia doing so with the ultimate intent of supporting President Trump for re-election is -- you know, that's kind of a thought that's persona-non grata, they just want to hear that.

Well, that puts a very chilling atmosphere on intelligence and tee-ing up information that, you know, they know the president doesn't want to hear.

SCIUTTO: Yes --

CLAPPER: As we've seen recently with Joe Maguire and Andrew Holman, you know, there's a price to be paid here. Well, that's very --

SCIUTTO: Yes --

CLAPPER: Intimidating and very chilling message to the entire intelligence community.

SCIUTTO: Yes, part of the job is hearing difficult information. Director Clapper, thanks very much. CLAPPER: Thanks, Jim.

HARLOW: All right, Wall Street is bracing, the Dow set to fall -- look at that, futures down 900 points for the Dow Jones Industrial Average, all of this because of the coronavirus spread, how this could impact you at home. We'll have the opening bell on the other side.

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