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Sanders Surging Heading into S.C. and Super Tuesday; Axios: Trump White House Assembled Lists of Disloyal Government Officials. Aired 6-6:30a ET

Aired February 24, 2020 - 06:00   ET

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


(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He's bringing new voters into the mix like never before. That's what gave him such a big win in Nevada.

[05:59:19]

SEN. BERNIE SANDERS (I-VT), DEMOCRATIC PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: We have just put together a multigenerational, multiracial coalition.

PETE BUTTIGIEG (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Senator Sanders believes in an inflexible ideological revolution.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: While the Kremlin is indeed meddling, it is not clear that its efforts are aimed at re-electing President Donald Trump.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Although these reports that they want Bernie Sanders to get elected president.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Our national security advisors should stay out of politics. The Russians never stopped interfering in American politics.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ANNOUNCER: This is NEW DAY with Alisyn Camerota and John Berman.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome to our viewers in the United states and all around the world. This is NEW DAY. It is Monday, February 24. It is 6 a.m. here in New York. And the next nine days might very well determine if Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders will be the Democratic nominee for president. And for that not to happen, something will have to change very, very fast.

Sanders crushed it in the Nevada caucus. A dominating, broad-based victory that spanned all kinds of ideological and demographic groups. And now, strong performances in the South Carolina primary on Saturday and on Super Tuesday next week could make his delegate lead, practically speaking, nearly insurmountable.

Now, this has some Democrats in near panic. One moderate Democrat told "Politico," "In 30-plus years of politics, I've never seen this level of doom." ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: And he used his name.

BERMAN: He did. It was Matt Bennett.

CAMEROTA: Exactly.

BERMAN: It was Matt Bennett.

So you hear whispers bordering on shouts that other candidates should drop out to coalesce around a Sanders alternative.

This also means new scrutiny for Sanders, including a new interview with Anderson Cooper, where the senator defends some of the policies of a late human dictator, Fidel Castro. Sanders says it's unfair to simply say everything was bad about how Castro ruled his country.

CAMEROTA: Meanwhile, President Trump is overseas this morning for a two-day trip to India. Overnight, he and the first lady visited Gandhi's home, and the president praised India's leader at this massive rally in the world's biggest cricket stadium, as you can see there.

A short time from now, they will tour the Taj Mahal.

Back here in the U.S., people in the Trump administration say they show up for work every morning not knowing if they'll keep their job until the end of the day.

Axios is reporting, the Trump White House and its allies over the past 18 months have assembled detailed lists of government officials they consider somehow disloyal to the president and the pro-Trump people they want in those positions. This is according to more than a dozen close sources.

The White House has yet to comment on this. We will have much more on that story in this hour.

But let's begin with the latest on the presidential race. Abby Phillip is live from Charleston, South Carolina. What's the latest there, Abby?

ABBY PHILLIP, CNN POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, good morning, Alisyn.

The clock is ticking for several of these Democratic presidential candidates to show they have enough support, particularly in more diverse states like here in South Carolina to remain in this race.

Meantime, Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders appears to be building momentum in this march to the nomination.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

SANDERS: We are in this together.

PHILLIP (voice-over): Bernie Sanders' landslide win in Nevada sending the remaining Democratic candidates into a full-out sprint to slow his momentum.

SANDERS: I've been hearing, you know, the establishment is getting a little bit nervous about our campaign. If the cameras turn on this crowd, and our friends in Wall Street and the drug companies see this kind of crowd, you're going to really get them nervous.

PHILLIP: Joe Biden praying South Carolina and its core base of black voters will be his campaign's lifeline, providing his first victory of the primary season.

JOE BIDEN (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Folks, the vote is in their hands, not a joke. You can control this outcome.

PHILLIP: The former vice president stressing his goal is to defeat President Trump, no matter what, something he believes Sanders cannot do.

BIDEN: I like whomever the Democrat is to beat Donald Trump. I'd vote for Mickey Mouse against Donald Trump.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Sure. But do you think he can win?

BIDEN: The answer is I don't think he can beat Donald Trump. He may have all this enthusiasm, and he's got great supporters. I don't disagree with that. But we have to be able to win and win Senate seats, as well.

PHILLIP: Biden and the other top remaining candidates pitching why they're the perfect alternative to Sanders.

Michael Bloomberg still won't be on the ballot until Super Tuesday, but he'll be on the debate stage in South Carolina where his record as New York City mayor will once again likely come to light.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Pete! Pete! Pete! Pete!

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Pete! Pete! Pete! Pete!

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Pete! Pete! Pete! Pete!

PHILLIP: Pete Buttigieg, who struggled to connect with black and Latino voters, could be further highlighted in the upcoming states, warning how a Sanders nomination could hurt Democrats.

BUTTIGIEG: I respect my friend Senator Sanders, but I also believe that the way that we will build the movement to defeat Donald Trump is to call people into our tent, not to call them names online.

PHILLIP: Amy Klobuchar's campaign suffering from a lack of diverse support, too. But she says not to count her out just yet.

SEN. AMY KLOBUCHAR (D-MN), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Why would I get out? That's not even a close call for me. And I think why would you have a call for the two women to get out when you have two billionaires in the race? Super Tuesday is a way, way different world.

PHILLIP: Elizabeth Warren telling voters to simply check out her accomplishments as senator and compare her record to that of Sanders.

SEN. ELIZABETH WARREN (D-MA), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I have rock- solid values, and I have a record of getting things done. And that translates into what I want to do as president.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

PHILLIP: Congressman James Clyburn, who is a major political force here in South Carolina, is expected to announce his endorsement in this primary race on Wednesday.

[06:05:11]

Now, sources close to Clyburn tell CNN that this is Joe Biden's to lose. However, sources close to both men say that nothing is a done deal, and Clyburn is reserving judgment until after Tuesday night's debate -- John and Alisyn.

BERMAN: Clyburn is a powerful force in South Carolina politics. But powerful enough to help bring the kind of victory Joe Biden needs? That is the question.

Abby, stand by. Because the big question for Democrats this morning is, is there any stopping Bernie Sanders at this point? What does this all mean for the other Democrats running? Stick around.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BERMAN: So the next nine days could prove decisive in the Democratic race for president, with Bernie Sanders running away from the pack with a huge win in Nevada. At this point, the candidates are looking ahead to South Carolina on Saturday, then Super Tuesday next week.

[06:10:08]

Joining us now again from South Carolina, CNN's Abby Phillip. We're also joined by Jen Psaki. She was the White House communications director for President Obama. And Krystal Ball, co-host of "Rising" on Hill TV.

It's not just that Bernie Sanders won in Nevada. It's how he won in Nevada. And this was this broad dominating victory: 47 percent overall.

But then when you break down the demographics, look at Hispanic voters. He won 51 percent -- 51 percent -- of the Hispanic vote. And among African-Americans, supposed to be a weak spot or at least a strong spot for Joe Biden. You know, Biden won, but not overwhelmingly. He had a 12-point edge there. Take my word for it. We do have a graphic for it, but 12 points for Joe Biden in Nevada.

So Krystal, there have been people who have wondered, and by people I mean, you know, five, ten handsome men with great hair who have wondered whether Bernie Sanders has a ceiling.

KRYSTAL BALL, CO-HOST, HILL TV'S "RISING": Yes. BERMAN: What do these results in Nevada tell you?

BALL: I mean, I think the numbers you just put up say it all.

And look, there's been no evidence of this Bernie Sanders ceiling for quite a long time. He has the highest favorability ratings of any of the candidates. People trust him most on the issues that matter most to him, which are health care and climate change in poll after poll. They just needed permission to vote for him. They needed to feel like after, you know, decades of being told, you can't vote for someone who holds these views because they'll be unelectable, they needed to feel like it would be OK for them to vote for someone who they agree with on these issues.

And of course, the more he wins, the more he makes the case that he is that electable person.

And so to me, actually those numbers were the most interesting coming out of Nevada. This was really the first state where, when you ask voters, do you care more about someone who matches my principles or someone who can beat Donald Trump, Bernie Sanders won both groups. So he's not only the values candidate at this point; he's also the electability candidate. And I think that marks a major turning point in the race.

CAMEROTA: Jen Psaki, is that how you see it? That people have just been waiting for permission to vote for Sanders?

JEN PSAKI, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: You know, I think give Sanders's team and Sanders the credit he deserves. I mean, he has had support across demographic groups, as John just outlined, and that's been consistent over the past few states.

But people also like winners. And he's been doing quite well over the past few contests.

What is going to change for Senator Sanders now is that he's going to get the frontrunner treatment which is to have his record vetted and then gone through. We've seen that a little bit in response to his comments on Castro. But there are some other big questions he's going to have to answer over the next week or so. And that's a little bit different from where it's been.

Because, you know, a lot of his supporters have been frustrated that he's been underestimated, for good reason. He shouldn't have been, but now he is the frontrunner. It's his race to lose.

So there are questions about his record on immigration, about gun safety. We saw his questions about Castro that I expect he's going to be pushed on in the debate tomorrow night, but also in the days to come on ads and otherwise from candidates.

BERMAN: So Jen brought up the comments about Fidel Castro that Bernie Sanders made to Anderson Cooper. Let's play them.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) SANDERS: We're very opposed to the authoritarian nature of Cuba, but, you know, it's unfair to say simply everything is bad. You know, when Fidel Castro came into office, you know what he did? He had a massive literacy program. Is that a bad thing, even though Fidel Castro did it?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BERMAN: So that comment immediately criticized from some Republicans. But also by some Democrats, including Florida member of Congress Donna Shalala, former cabinet secretary in the Clinton administration.

She said, "I'm hoping that in the future Senator Sanders will take time to speak to some of my constituents before he decides to sing the praises of a murderous tyrant like Fidel Castro."

So Abby, the question is, will this be the type of scrutiny and will this raise questions for Sanders? Is this going to be the focus of the debate tomorrow night in South Carolina, do you think?

PHILLIP: Unquestionably, this is going to come up, probably at the debate tomorrow night but in the weeks and days moving forward, because one of the interesting things about this campaign has been the lack of focus on foreign policy relative to other domestic issues.

And a lot of people are focused on Sanders's view on Medicare for all, health care and other -- you know, federal government spending, domestically versus abroad. But less focused on his overall world view. And I think that that's something that is going to get more scrutiny, frankly, because it needs to get more scrutiny. I think all of the candidates need to be pushed more on their views on foreign policy.

And I think this is for Sanders the sort of razor's edge that he is sort of trying to walk on and that Democrats really are torn about. Which is does Sanders electrify a certain element of the base, Latino voters who live in the southwest, who are maybe more likely to have Mexican origins or that sort of thing, versus the sort of Latino voters who live in Florida, who might come from countries like Cuba who are -- or countries like Venezuela, for that matter, who are much more sensitive to these issues of whether or not socialism is more than a buzzword and kind of more associated with these regimes that they have fled.

[06:15:23]

So for Sanders and for the Democrats, it's a question of is the -- is the turnout going to be supercharged on the Democratic side, but then potentially brought down or depressed on some -- in some of these constituencies that Democrats have been able to get, you know, some percentages of votes from in the past? And I think that's what's making a lot of, quote unquote, "establishment" Democrats nervous, is not knowing what that balance is going to be in a general election. And wondering whether or not it's a risk to nominate someone like Sanders. But I would say a lot of Democrats believe -- and I think this is the

Sanders argument -- that it is about bringing out their own base and not sort of trying to pull out these people who are probably never going to vote for them in the first place.

BALL: John, can I jump in here on a couple of things? First of all, we don't have to, like, guess, hope, wish what would happen in Trump versus Bernie. We have polls that show him polling the best against Trump. So I want to reassure --

CAMEROTA: But in Florida -- I think Abby -- just one second, Krystal, because Abby, I think, was talking about places like Florida specifically, which obviously, is a very difficult state to win. And can Sanders win there with that demographic of Hispanics, who may not take kindly to the comments about Castro's policies?

BALL: Look, I take the point. And I think it's an open question, but I also think he has several paths to win. I mean, his strength with Latinos really opens up that Sun Belt path. He's always had strength in the industrial Midwest.

So if you look across the board, to me it's very clear he's not only the best candidate to win back some of the working-class folks who went for Donald Trump, but also to expand the base with those young folks and those Latino voters that Democrats have been trying to reach out to and trying to bring in the fold and trying to get out to the polling places for so long. It should be an incredibly exciting development.

I also want to say I think it's a total myth that he hasn't been vetted yet. I mean, the last debate, yes, Bloomberg took a lot of hits. Bernie also got very much challenged on the Bernie bro narrative. Bloomberg called him a communist. He's been facing demands to release more of his medical records. The whole, like, red scare, did you say nice thing about communist regimes back in the '70s and '80s curing the Cold War? That's all been litigated before.

So look, I think he's ready to handle any of these attacks. And I also think that the idea that he said something moderately positive about Fidel Castro is going to turn off people who ultimately want, like, health care and a good job. I just think that's fanciful thinking.

PSAKI: I think the difference, Krystal, now is that he's the frontrunner of the Democratic nomination. He is -- unless something happens, he will probably be the nominee. I don't think we need to sit here and keep questioning whether or not he can win. He's been winning more than the other Democratic candidates have been winning to date. That's totally fair.

But the real questions we should be asking are is he ready to be president? He's been inconsistent on issues like immigration. He has been late coming to issues like gun safety, siding with gun manufacturers. People may be fine with that, but these are real questions that should be asked of him that he should have to answer.

BALL: But he has been asked. My point is it has been asked of him. I mean, the gun thing has already been litigated in multiple debates this cycle. It was litigated in 2016. He gets asked about the immigration thing regularly.

These are all legitimate questions. I give you that absolutely. But it's not like voters have never heard any of this stuff is my point.

CAMEROTA: Well, I mean, they might just be paying more attention now.

PSAKI: Right. Exactly.

CAMEROTA: Now that it seems serious and now that he keeps winning. Though, I mean, I also think we should just say that South Carolina is a big question mark. I mean, South Carolina at the moment, if the snapshot of a poll today has Biden winning there by 28 percent and Sanders at 23 percent. So we'll see if that holds.

BERMAN: I -- but I bet you Bernie Sanders would be thrilled with that outcome.

CAMEROTA: With second.

BERMAN: Well, with just a five-point difference there. The question is can Joe Biden win by enough in South Carolina? We shall see.

Jen, Abby, Krystal, thank you, all, very much.

BALL: Thank you, guys.

BERMAN: So ahead of the South Carolina debate, which is tomorrow, and the primary, which is Saturday, seven presidential candidates take voter questions in a special two-night CNN town hall. It starts tonight at 9 p.m. Eastern, live from Charleston, only on CNN. So important to listen to these candidates at length.

CAMEROTA: Now to this story. New reporting overnight reveals the extreme measures being taken to oust people from government who are not seen as sufficiently loyal to President Trump. We'll tell you about that new reporting next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[06:24:01]

CAMEROTA: A new report from Axios details an effort inside the White House to purge the U.S. government of anyone it deems insufficiently loyal to President Trump.

Quote, "The Trump White House and its allies over the past 18 months have assembled detailed lists of disloyal government officials to oust and trusted pro-Trump people to replace them, according to more than a dozen sources familiar with the effort who spoke to Axios."

The White House has not commented.

Joining us now to talk about this, we have CNN political analyst Margaret Talev. She's a politics and White House editor at Axios. And CNN White House correspondent Kaitlan Collins, who is traveling with the president in India. What a backdrop, Kaitlan. Wow.

Margaret, let's start with this report in Axios. So there's a blacklist being kept in the White House of people who are deemed in insufficiently loyal to President Trump. And this list is being compiled by Justice Clarence Thomas's wife? Is that how this works?

MARGARET TALEV, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: It's a little more nuanced than that, Alisyn, but that's the gist of it. Pay attention to a group called Groundswell, which is not a group you've necessarily heard of if you live outside of Washington and you don't follow conservative politics, but this is a group that meets weekly in Washington and is conservative thinkers.

It's led by Ginni Thomas, Clarence Thomas's wife. But also includes many other thinkers. And this has been a list that has been updated not just over the last few months since impeachment. This has been going on for at least a year and a half, a couple of years.

But the efforts have certainly stepped up in the last few months, and we have seen the results more in the last few months.

But this is an effort -- this is everything from broad strokes concerns and suspicions about people who are holding these jobs to preference lists on who some of these folks in the conservative movement would rather see in these jobs. And in some cases, very detailed, point-by-point explicit kind of airing of the grievances about some of the people who are holding these jobs and why there's a feeling they should be removed.

BERMAN: Yes. We should mention Kaitlan Collins is in India, because that is where the president is this morning. He held a rally a short time ago there with the leader there. And we'll get to Kaitlan on what's going on in India in a second.

But first, this reporting from what's going on in the White House, Kaitlan, because you and the White House team from CNN has reporting on this also, with John McEntee, who is back in the White House. He's this young guy who was pushed out because of some financial concerns. But now he's back running the personnel office and, apparently, just weeding out people who aren't sufficiently loyal.

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Yes. So he had a meeting last week with these White House liaisons. This is exactly essentially these staffers who serve as a liaison from the West Wing to the Justice Department, the State Department, the Defense Department.

And essentially, what we're told is that this was an introductory meeting, but he told them to be on the lookout for political appointees at these agencies that they believe are not loyal to the president's agenda and are not trying to enforce the president's agenda. And essentially, what his message seemed to be was these people were not going to be promoted. Potentially, they would try to remove them from their positions.

Though, of course, there are questions about that, because he's only in charge of the political appointees, not necessarily the career people who have been at these agencies like the State Department for so long.

But the message that it sends is this is someone that the president deeply trusted. Johnny McEntee was his body man before he brought him back to run the personnel office. And now in this position, he's essentially trying to find people who are not loyal to the president's agenda.

And as Margaret pointed out, this is something the president has wanted going on since essentially, he took office and they got in there those first few months and realized there were some people who were not necessarily working to enforce his agenda.

But it does seem to be that their efforts have stepped up in recent weeks. And Johnny McEntee's meeting is just further evidence of that.

CAMEROTA: But just to be clear, Margaret, are these people who are working at counter-purposes from the president? Or just people who are not openly praising the president and who may occasionally question the president?

I mean, I'm trying to get to the bottom -- we know that President Trump is quite susceptible to praise and to paranoia. And so are these people who really were, quote, "never-Trumpers," as you know, has become this catch phrase? Or are these just critical thinkers who are -- you know, it's now off with their heads, and they're being ousted from the White House and -- and State Department and Defense.

BERMAN: Homeland security.

CAMEROTA: And homeland security.

TALEV: Yes. I mean, I think you guys raise a good point. And as my colleague, Jonathan Swann sort of detailed, he -- a combination of read these memos and was described portions to him.

But it is a real range of things. And in one case, Johnny McEntee's predecessor, Sean Doocey, was the subject of one of these memos himself. It was a memo that the president ended up passing back to him that said, hey, Basically, these people think you need to go for a variety of reasons like you didn't do enough of this or enough of that. Mr. Doocey now at the State Department.

So Jessie Liu, very high-profile case of someone who Steve Mnuchin wanted over in a top job in Treasury. She was the former U.S. attorney for D.C. And as you know, the president pulled that nomination.

But -- but the reasons involved a detailed 14-point explication of all the ways in which she had politically failed the president, according to one of these memos.

So this is -- this runs very deep and is a combination of personal grievances, preferences for other people, and observations in some cases that they don't feel that these people have helped the president or, in some cases, have hurt him. This group also was successfully active in making the case against

H.R. McMaster when he was removed as the national security adviser a while back.

So the point -- there are a couple points to really keep track of. But one is that these people, to a large degree, are political appointees of the president in the first place.

END