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Purge Of Disloyal Staffers In The Trump Administration; Democrats Demand Sanctions For Russia For Election Meddling; Coronavirus Also Causing Harm In The World Markets; Rep. Jim Himes (D- CT) Is Interviewed About Russia's Ongoing Election Meddling; Sanders Surges In The Democratic Race; Sanders Now Frontrunner As South Carolina And Super Tuesday Near; Biden Counting On SC Win Keep His Campaign Live; Movie Mogul Weinstein Guilty On Two Counts; DOW Loses 1,000-Plus Points As Global Coronavirus Cases Surge; Thousands Attend Tribute for Kobe Bryant and Daughter. Aired 5-6p ET

Aired February 24, 2020 - 17:00   ET




WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: Happening now, hit list. President Trump's team is working to identify people inside of the administrations deemed to be disloyal to the president and then to push them out.

And with the U.S. Intelligence now warning that Russia is already interfering with the 2020 election, the Democrats are demanding new sanctions and possibly against Vladimir Putin himself.

Sanders strength -- rivals are scrambling to prevent Bernie Sanders from gaining an unbeatable lead in delegates as the Vermont senator heads into the next primary the undisputed Democratic frontrunner. Will South Carolina slow Sanders down?

And guilty, movie mogul Harvey Weinstein convicted of rape and a criminal sex act and facing five to 25 years in prison when he is sentenced next month. Tonight, his victims and accusers are speaking up. I'm Wolf Blitzer and you are in "The Situation Room."

Tonight, sources are telling CNN that President Trump has told aides he wants fewer people working for him in the White House and only loyalists installed in key positions.

CNN has confirmed that the president's allies have provided lists of people deemed disloyal to Mr. Trump who they want pushed out of the administration.

Also, there is new financial fallout from the coronavirus outbreak. A surge of new cases in Italy, Iran and South Korea has stocks around the world plunging with the Dow Jones Industrial average closing down more than 1,000 points just a little while ago.

And we are following the fight for the Democratic presidential nomination with Bernie Sanders out in the front of the pack headed to the South Carolina caucus -- primary and Super Tuesday. Tonight, his rivals are struggling to stem his momentum.

Our guest this hour, Congressman Jim Himes of the Intelligence Committee and our correspondents and analysts are also standing by. First, let's go straight to the Chief White House Correspondent, Jim Acosta who is traveling with the president in India right now. Jim, Mr. Trump and his team, they are seeking out perceived enemies here at home.

JIM ACOSTA, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: That is right, Wolf. President Trump is in India where he'll be making some remarks with Prime Minister Modi in just a few hours from now, but the president is once again on the world stage with a different country hanging over him, and that is Russia, and yet Mr. Trump is fixated on a different matter as in trying to purge his government of staffers he views as disloyal. The hunt for the never Trumpers appears to be on.



ACOSTA (voice-over): President Trump is hearing a lot of Namaste as he visits India, but it is all about naming names back at the White House. CNN has confirmed that effort is under way to identify so- called never Trumpers working inside the administrations and push them out. And top White House officials are all but endorsing the effort.

HOGAN GIDLEY, DEPUTY WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: Look, if there are any lists, I have not seen them, but the fact is we know there are people actively working against this president. The federal government is massive with millions of people and there are a lot of folks out there working against this president. If we find them, we'll take appropriate action.

ACOSTA (voice-over): Conservative activist Ginni Thomas, wife of Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas has been gathering lists of staffers to be disloyal and part of a deep state and passing them on to the White House.

A Trump advisor tells CNN many people have sent names to Ginni to make sure the right people are in her list. The effort appears to be part of a pattern after acting chief of staff Mick Mulvaney bashed the deep state in a speech last week just before a new presidential personnel director John McEntee told aides his office was on the look out for never Trumpers.

The purge comes as the president has been forcing out aides who testified against him during the impeachment saga. Democrats say the notion of a deep state is pure fantasy.

REP. MIKE QUIGLEY (D-IL): For dealing with something it isn't the truth, we are less safe. So, while the president may seem to believe in a deep state, Mr. President, there is no deep state. You are the state and you need to hear the truth.

ACOSTA (voice-over): Ironically, Thomas hasn't always been a supporter of the president as she stumped for Ted Cruz in 2016. GINNI THOMAS, WIFE OF SUPREME COURT JUSTICE CLARENCE THOMAS:

Unfortunately, I hear the same kind of the empty promise in another candidate who is saying "make America great again."

ACOSTA (voice-over): But the president is also fixated on recent revelations from the U.S. intelligence community that Russia is already interfering in the 2020 race and has shown some preference for Mr. Trump and Bernie Sanders.


Mr. Trump seemed delighted to hear the Democratic frontrunner's name come up tweeting, "Why didn't somebody tell me this?" But the president and Sanders had two different reactions with Mr. Trump blaming House Democrats --

TRUMP: Adam Schiff and his group, they leaked it to the papers and as usual, they ought to investigate Adam Schiff for leaking that information. He should not be leaking information out of intelligence. They ought to investigate Adam Schiff.

ACOSTA (voice-over): And Sanders pointing the finger at Russia's Vladimir Putin.

SEN. BERNIE SANDERS (I-VT), PRESIDENIAL CANDIDATE: Here is the message to Russia, stay out of American elections.

ACOSTA (voice-over): National Security adviser Robert O'Brien told ABC he hasn't seen any proof that the Russians are out to help the president even though one source presented with the intelligence told CNN that conflicts with what lawmakers heard.

ROBERT O'BRIEN, NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISER: I haven't seen any intelligence that Russia is doing anything to attempt to get President Trump re-elected. I think this is the same old story that we have heard before.

ACOSTA (voice-over): Now the president who paid a visit to the Taj Mahal faces a familiar test, whether he will warn Russia to stay out of American elections.

TRUMP: Good stuff. Excellent. Really good stuff.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: How was your visit, sir?

TRUMP: Really, incredible. An incredible place.


ACOSTA (on camera): Now while the president has been here in India, something he keeps a close eye on, the stock market is in something of a free fall with the Dow dropping 1,000 points amid concerns over the coronavirus, the White House is expected to ask Congress for emergency funds as early as this week to help battle the virus back in the U.S.

And we should note despite it being a very early hour here in India, the president just tweeted about this. We can put this tweet up on screen. He says, "The coronavirus is very much under control in the USA. We are in contact with everyone and all relevant countries. CDC and World Health have been working very hard and very smart. Stock market -- he goes on to talk about the stock market -- starting to look very good to me."

That is in the view of the president right now at 3:30 in the morning, Wolf. He is not the only one up at this hour, Wolf.

BLITZER: Looks like Acosta and Trump, they are both up at 3:30 a.m. in India right now and some other people are up as well. All right, Jim, thanks very much for that report.

Meanwhile, Senate Democrats, they are demanding that the Trump administration slap new sanctions on Russia for its ongoing election meddling. Let's go to our Senior Congressional Correspondent, Manu Raju. He is up on Capitol Hill.

Manu, both Democrats and Republicans, they have seized on the warning that Russia is again interfering in the presidential race. What's the latest?

MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Mitch McConnell, the Senate Majority Leader actually just spoke on the Senate floor and praised the Trump administration's response to election interference. He also praised the service for the acting director of National Intelligence, Joe McGuire, who had been dismissed by the president.

But he did not mention the new person who was installed by the president as acting director of National Intelligence, Richard Grenell. And when I asked Mitch McConnell whether he supports Richard Grenell, he did not answer the question. He ignored the question, walked on to an elevator.

He has yet to say whether he supports that individual who has prompted a lot of concerns from Democrats who say that the president is installing a loyalists and someone with a political background into a job typically reserved for someone with deep intelligence experience.

Now, the reason why McGuire was dismissed was because of a briefing that occurred behind closed doors with the House Intelligence Committee in which one of the briefer suggested that Russia had developed a preference for President Trump in the 2020 elections. There was an ongoing interference in the elections.

They also had developed a preference for Bernie Sanders. Now, the president had concerns about that, and now a set of Democrats say the concerns being raised by the intelligence community should force the Trump administration to slap Russia with new sanctions.

They are saying under the existing authorities, legislation that was enacted in 2017, the Trump administration should take steps to hit Russia with new sanctions and warn Russia not to move forward saying doing anything less would be an abdication of its responsibilities, but no word yet, Wolf, about whether the administration will take that step, Wolf.

BLITZER: All right. Important information indeed. Manu, thank you very much. Manu Raju up on Capitol Hill. Let's get some more on all of this. Democratic Congressman Jim Himes of Connecticut is joining us. He is a key member of the House Intelligence Committee. Congressman, thanks so much for joining us. Let's get to the news that's unfolding right now.

Democratic senators, they are calling for additional sanctions on Russia right now following these intelligence reports that the Kremlin is once again trying to interfere in the U.S. presidential election potentially maybe to help President Trump, potentially maybe to help Senator Bernie Sanders.

Do you believe new sanctions against the Russians, including Putin himself maybe, is that really a realistic option?

REP. JIM HIMES (D-CT): Well, it should be, Wolf. And let's be clear, it's really important to frame this right, right. The Russians don't have any particular love for Donald Trump or for Bernie Sanders. It's not really about them as individuals.

I obviously can't speak specifically to intelligence I have seen, but the Russian objective is to cause polarization, to cause division, to cause infighting, and I think it's fair to conclude that President Trump and Bernie Sanders and as much as Senator Sanders could kind of cause a riff in the Democratic Party, that serves those goals.


But yes, you know, I have been on your show plenty, very critical of President Trump, as you know, Wolf, but quite frankly, the Obama administration's response to the 2016 electoral meddling that the Russians did was inadequate.

The message that the Kremlin took away was that you can mess around in the U.S. elections and basically get a wrist slap for that. So not only would I favor being really aggressively forward leaning with sanctions on people that we believe are in the process of trying to mettle again.

I would be fairly direct probably quietly with the threat that if there is another assault on our election, there will be United States' offensive counter measures that exact a cost from those who seek to mettle at the very heart of our democracy.

BLITZER: Because you remember the then Special Counsel Robert Mueller indicted 12 Russian entities for interfering in the 2016 election. The Russians did get some sanctions as a result of their interference in the U.S. presidential election in 2016, but they are still, according to U.S. intelligence, engaged in that kind of the meddling and may pick up steam as we get closer and closer to November. Do you believe that sanctions are an effective deterrent?

HIMES: I think they can be. Look, we know that Vladimir Putin is very, very angry about the sanctions. It has an impact on his economy and I think that sometimes, they can have a signaling effect of saying we're not going to tolerate this, which is why I made the point I just did, Wolf.

I'm not sure sanctions in and of themselves are enough. Again, I do believe that the Obama administration missed an opportunity to demonstrate our offensive capability. Yes, we shut down some "diplomatic facilities" that the Russians had. Yes there were a number of "diplomats sent out of the country" and there was some punishment.

But look, we have the best cyber offensive capabilities on the planet, and it is time for the Russians to know and to understand that if they strike at the heart of our democracy, there will be a significant cost imposed.

And we have to be careful about that of course because, look, we're more wired than the Russians are, but we have the capability to wreak some havoc inside of Russia.

And the Russians need to understand and I would suggest that the president should make it clear even though I am not holding my breath on that, that if they attack us, they should expect to pay a pretty severe cost not just in sanctions, but in terms of our offensive capabilities.

BLITZER: Clearly, the activity by the Russians if you believe U.S. intelligence is continuing. Congressman Jim Himes, thanks so much for joining us.

HIMES: Thank you, Wolf.

BLITZER: All right. Stay with us. We're going to have more on the reports that the president wants to purge disloyal staffers so-called from his administration.

Also, fears the coronavirus will hurt the U.S. economy sparking a huge sell-off on Wall Street. Look at those numbers.

Plus, Kobe Bryant's widow, his friend and fellow NBA legend Michael Jordan and thousands of players and fans, they turn out for a very emotional star-studded memorial service.



BLITZER: Tonight, top Senate Democrats are demanding the Trump administration impose new sanctions against Russia for its ongoing election interference. Let's bring in our experts to discuss. And Dana, what do you make of this call for new sanctions? Is this serious or just posturing?

DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Both. This is a situation where they can be both, but it is I think more serious than anything else. I mean, the whole -- part of the outrage about what happened I guess, now, a week before last with the blowup of the intelligence committee on the House side is that it became so partisan.

You know, our reporting, Jake Tapper's reporting, is that the briefer wasn't exactly, you know, accurate or wasn't as clear as she could have been which maybe led to the blowup. But it took away from, and I'm sure you guys feel this more than I having worked in this field, the really big problem, which is that someone has got to do something about it.

We are in it. We are in the middle of the 2020 election and the partisan squabbling is one thing, but having an actual strategy and a plan across the government, the executive branch and Congress is really key. And so, the fact that the senate Democrats are saying let's have sanctions, I mean, why not?

BLITZER: Is it realistic to think that even if the Senate Democrats want it that the president of the United States would sign these sanctions or approve these sanctions?

BASH: So, likely not because this is such a trigger for the president, but we have seen on other issues of national security that there has been a bipartisan effort to overrule the president even in the few cases they have, past things dealing with Syria and other issues that the president did not want, but he was forced to sign it.

I'm not sure that that's going to happen now because it is so political. But I wouldn't rule it out.

PHILIP MUDD, CNN COUNTERTERRORISM OFFICIAL: I'll tell you what gives (ph), there is a fascinating piece of this from inside government and that is, you know, I think the national security adviser for the president put his foot into it in the last day or two by saying -- and we had a clip on this earlier in day -- by saying that he has not seen anything about Russian interference that favors the president.

This is why this is significant and timed to what Dana is saying. If you are the national security adviser, you were supposed to be pulling a plan together to protect us and that plan with congressional Republicans includes things like covert action against the Russians and sanction.

So my point is you've got Congress trying to take the lead. In a typical presidency, you would have the National Security Council saying to the president here are our options, but they're not going to do that.


BLITZER: You know, John Kirby, you spent many years working in the U.S. government, a retired U.S. Admiral, you were at the State Department, at the Pentagon. What do you think of these reports, and you heard our reports of a purge that is now ongoing to get rid of these so-called never Trumpers who work in the executive branch of the U.S. government?

JOHN KIRBY, CNN MILITARY AND DIPLOMATIC ANALYST: Well, clearly he feels empowered now because of his acquittal and this is retaliation in some sense, but it's also I think a desire to close the ranks around him.

Look, put aside for the fact that it's petty and small, which it is. I don't think the president cares about that. And put aside for the fact that he is not now going to be getting solid, good, unvarnished candid advice because I don't think he care about that either.

This is going to have a chilling effect throughout the government, not only in terms of our recruiting and retention, but in terms of people being able to actually do their jobs. And where is the line? Where is the loyalty line?

Where do you say you are no longer loyal to President Trump? How are these mid-career officials going to figure that out? I think it's incredibly damaging.

BLITZER: The morale, the mood must be pretty sad right now based on what I'm hearing, you know, a lot of number career diplomats, career intelligence officials, career military who are very, very nervous.

MUDD: Sure. I mean, some of us know, I know some of the individuals who have been ousted, you know, they have been around for decades, some of the best I have seen. I will tell you what worries people in mild (ph) positions.

It's not just replacing a leadership. When you start embedding staff and there are stories about that in Washington already, that is Trump staff going over to places like the director of the National Intelligence.

That means you're going to have people with the president's stamp affecting the message every day. This is mind control. They're going to try to tell the staff what to tell us and the Congress, that's the problem.

BASH: And that's really question, is how far down does this go? Does it go far down enough that you are affecting people who should be nonpolitical depending on what their job is or is this as was described to me earlier, more about the president feeling obviously emboldened post impeachment, but also feeling that he was not served well when he first became president because he didn't know what he was doing.

He had a very, very small team in the campaign. It was chaotic and he relied on traditional Republicans to give him names of people, who did not like him, but they wanted to serve -- they were happy to serve in the government and that is what he is trying to purge. The question again is how far down does that go?

BLITZER: Everybody stick around. There is more news we're following. Senator Bernie Sanders riding high after a big win in Nevada. Could Super Tuesday, a week from tomorrow, make him unbeatable?


[17:25:00] BLITZER: We are counting down to tonight's back-to-back Democratic presidential town halls with Senator Bernie Sanders up first right here on CNN, 9:00 p.m. eastern. Our senior Washington correspondent Jeff Zeleny is in South Carolina for us. So Jeff, where - the next Democratic primary this coming Saturday, what's the latest and what are you hearing?

JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON COORESPONDENT: Wolf, there is no question the South Carolina primary on Saturday and the Super Tuesday contest just three days after that are the most important stretch of this Democratic primary campaign.

Bernie Sanders is coming into South Carolina as the clear frontrunner after that commanding victory in the Nevada caucuses over the weekend. That is why his rivals are doing everything they can to slow his rise. They have eight days to try and do so, or it may be too late.


SANDERS: They say, you know, Bernie can't beat Trump. So let's look at some of the polls out today.

ZELENY (voice-over): Bernie Sanders is on a roll, driven by his winning momentum and his campaign movement.

SANDERS: And the key battleground states, Michigan and Wisconsin and Pennsylvania --

ZELENY (voice-over): A very Trumpian move, calling out his own poll numbers.

SANDERS: General elections, CBS, Sanders 47, Trump 44.

ZELENY (voice-over): It's setting up the most critical stretch of the Democratic primary with rivals scrambling to slow Sanders from mounting an unsurpassable lead in delegates. Joe Biden is hoping South Carolina voters put the brakes on Sanders' rise telling us the self- described Democratic socialist would doom the ticket.

JOE BIDEN (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: It's not just can you beat Donald Trump. Can you bring along -- can you keep a Democratic House of Representatives in the United States Congress and can you bring along a Democratic Senate? Can you help people up and down the line?

ZELENY (voice-over): Pete Buttigieg making the same case.

PETE BUTTIGIEG (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: We had better make sure we got a nominee at the top of the ticket who cannot just take back the White House, but to keep the House in the right hands and send Mitch McConnell packing.

ZELENY (voice-over): Backing his argument up with T.V. ads here in South Carolina.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Bernie Sanders's Medicare for all would completely eliminate private insurance. Instead of polarization, progress.

ZELENY (voice-over): With new urgency in the race, fresh scrutiny for Sanders. Tonight, he's facing backlash from his Democratic rivals for his partial defense of Fidel Castro.

SANDERS: We're very opposed to the authoritarian nature of Cuba, but you know, it's unfair to simply say 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?


ZELENY (voice-over): Florida Democrats say yes, with Congresswoman Donna Shalala firing back, "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."


ZELENY: So the Biden campaign has just announced they're starting an add here, Wolf, saying that Bernie Sander's cannot be trusted. This is a big moment for his campaign. He'll have a town hall here tonight on CNN and of course that big debate tomorrow evening.

Wolf, the next several days are so critical to Bernie Sanders and all of the Democratic rivals. Wolf.

BLITZER: Certainly it's very, very critical indeed. Jeff Zeleny, thank you very much.

Let's discuss with our political analysts. And Gloria, Sanders is impressive and how did he do it? And is anyone out there right now capable of stopping him?

GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, it's -- the window is closing and closing. We'll see what happens in South Carolina.

But I was just looking at a some of the numbers from Nevada. It's so impressive the kind of multi-racial coalition that he had, all ages. But four years ago when he ran, his base of support was white voters. And this time, in Nevada, he won 51 percent of Hispanic voters. He increased the share of African-Americans by five percent. He has a combination of whites who have not graduated college and minorities and the last democrat to do that, well with those groups, was Bill Clinton.

CHRIS CILLIZZA, CNN POLITICS EDITOR AT LARGE:: Just to quickly -- one quick point on that, I think that's why you now see Sanders going more all-in on South Carolina. Because, if he can beat Biden or come close to beating Biden --

BLITZER: In South Carolina?

CILLIZZA: -- in South Carolina. Well now if you look at who the second choice of lots and lots of African-American voters are, it's Sanders and not Buttigieg, it's not Warren. So now he then -- to Gloria's point, he can tell the Hispanic voters, maybe black voters.

And remember that March 3rd, we focus on Super Tuesday in California and Texas rightfully, so there's six southern states and then the Democratic primary, the electorates can be very, very black. And if Sanders is the guy at that point, now you're talking about the ball really rolling down.

NIA-MALIKA HENDERSON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL REPORTER: Yes. And then you look at the Super Tuesday states as well, you said we focus on the big ones, but there are states that Sanders already won that Super Tuesday winning (ph) states like Colorado, like Utah, like Minnesota and Vermont, for instance and Maine. So he is likely to do very well in those states as well.

You know, you look forward immediately to South Carolina, he lost that state by almost 50 points in 2016, there's no way he's going to be blown out by that much, because Biden isn't as strong as Hillary Clinton was, isn't as strong as Barack Obama was among the African- American voters and Sanders isn't as weak either, so he is in a really good position. He looks a lot, like I mean, you mentioned Bill Clinton, he looks like the sort of person or the nominee that wins, because that I have a multi racial coalition, right?


HENDERSON: Coalition just isn't one bloc of voters like Sanders, or like Biden has or like Buttigieg has, it's actually multiple coalitions.

BORGER: Right.


HENDERSON: And that's what Sanders is doing.

BLITZER: Gloria, Joe Biden used to say South Carolina is his firewall. Then he said just the other day in Nevada that he will win in South Carolina. If he does not win in South Carolina, is it over?

BORGER: It's a big problem for him. Is it over? I think lots of Democrats are going to start telling him it's over.



BORGER: I'm not so sure whether he --

CILLIZZA: He may not acknowledge it.

BORGER: I'm not so sure whether he is going to admit it. But when you set this up, and you say, I've got to win here, this is my firewall and he's always been saying that, that he's got to win with black voters, and we'll see how he does. And whether winning with black voters is going to give him a win.


BORGER: Is going to give him a win.


BORGER: We don't know.

HENDERSON: That's the whole thing. Is -- OK. Win South Carolina, good for you, but is that actually enough, right? You're not going to win by the same margins and you've got somebody who's got this multiracial coalition who does well with Latino voters, does really well with the white voters, too, you can't just rely on the African-American voters. Hillary Clinton just didn't win because she had African-American voters, she had lots of different voters and that's where you see --

BORGER: And he has Hispanic.

HENDERSON: And Hispanic as well.


BLITZER: You know, Sanders is getting slammed by Democrats, a lot of Democrats for the Fidel Castro comments.

CILLIZZA: He is -- and I think probably rightfully so particularly vis-a vis Florida and it's nature as a swing state. Look, when you're the frontrunner, he is going to get more scrutinized on its health, I think he'll get more scrutinize on the cost of these plans. He told Anderson the other day that he doesn't really know that every nickel and dime of what he is spending, well, that's a potential problem and how he is going to pay for it, and he'll get hit on comments like this.

But, the thing that is difficulty with Sanders is in some ways the more that the establishment looks like it's ganging up on him, the more it solidifies -- and he was saying coalition.

The thing that Sanders has more than anyone else, David Chalian always says his voters are sticky. I think that's a good way to think of it. Bernie Sanders is probably going to have a most Super Tuesday states and beyond 35 percent, 35 percent who will never change their mind in the primary. So he has that.

So the question is Biden, Buttigieg, Bloomberg, Warren, Klobuchar, can you get near that, because those voters aren't going anywhere. No external circumstance, no comment about Fidel Castro is going to peel them off. They've been with him, they're staying with him.


BORGER: And the last thing in the world the Democrats want to do, let's say it's not Bernie Sanders, but the last thing the Democrats want is for the Sanders' voters to stay home. And the question is whether their love for Sanders is actually transferable or whether their interest in politics and in Democrats is just for Bernie and whether they can say, OK, he didn't do it, but sure, I'll go for Joe Biden.

HENDERSON: Or Mike Bloomberg or whoever.

BORGER: Or Mike Bloomberg. And that's -- you know, that's right a real question out here.

BLITZER: Well, wild card in Bloomberg super -- he's got hundreds and hundreds of millions of dollars to spend --

BORGER: Right.

BLITZER: -- and I assume he will.

Everybody stick around. There's more we're following including an important note to our viewers later tonight at 9:00 p.m. Eastern. Join CNN for back-to-back presidential town halls live from Charleston, South Carolina, with Bernie Sanders, and Pete Buttigieg and Tom Steyer. It's the first of a two-night special event featuring seven of the Democratic presidential candidates. It starts once again at 9:00 p.m. Eastern later tonight.

Coming up, movie mogul Harvey Weinstein goes to jail after a jury convicts him of sex crimes, but not the most serious charges.

Plus, stocks in the United States and indeed around the world plummet today over a fear spark by the spread of the coronavirus.



BLITZER: Movie mogul Harvery Weinstein is spending his first night in New York's notorious Rikers Island prison after jury convicted him of sex crimes today. CNN's Jean Casarez cover the trial for us. Look extensively and exclusively with one of Weinstein's attorneys after the verdict.

Jean, tell us more.

JEAN CASAREZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, we just got finished with that interview. We're going to show you a bit in just a moment. But this was a trial that began in January with the jury selection, it ran four weeks of testimony, and then it came to the closing arguments and this deliberation that went on for 26 1/2 hours. And the jury did come back with that verdict.

There were five counts, and the two most critical counts were predatory sexual assault. Meaning that someone is a predator, not guilty the jury said on both of those. Criminal sexual act in the first degree, a very serious felony emulating from a very violent assault in 2006 in New York City, guilty. Rape in the first degree not guilty, but rape in the third degree, they found him guilty stemming from rape in a New York City hotel room in 2013.

The defense team that I watched so closely in trial was very, very strong. They did not victim bash when they had those cross- examinations, but they were strong when they had to be strong to show what they thought was the reasonable doubt in this case. I spoke exclusively to lead attorney Donna Rotunno just minutes ago. She talks about her concern for her treatment of her client not only outside of court, in the media, but also inside during the trial.


DONNA ROTUNNO, WEINSTEIN DEFENSE ATTORNEY: And the district attorney's office wanted to shame Mr. Weinstein and they wanted to get him on all accounts, and that's another factor that plays into the whole list. I mean, when you look at just the media attention and the press coverage, and, you know, their continued attempts to try to silence us, and, you know, they were constantly leaking things to the press everyday and they don't want us to be able to speak. I mean, it was just a one-sided attack from the very beginning.


CASAREZ: And the defense is filing a notice of appeal there where there'll be many issues. They did not want to talk on camera about that, but notably juror number 11 who is writing a book on predatory older men and younger women that will be finalized in July, they wanted her to not be on the jury and not successful. We can confirm that Harvey Weinstein is at Rikers Island as we speak.

BLITZER: Yes, the prison in New York. And he faces between five and 25 years potentially in prison. The sentencing will come next month. Jean Casarez, thank you very much.

Now the latest on the coronavirus and the financial fallout as the outbreak spreads far beyond China. CNN's Brian Todd is working the story for us.

Brian, we're seeing more cases in other Asian countries and elsewhere as well.

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Right, Wolf. World Health Officials are calling this new spread of the coronavirus very concerning. We're seeing new spikes in South Korea, but also today in Iran and in Italy. And world financial markets are taking the first biggest hit, the biggest hit yet rather, from the spread of this virus.


TODD (voice-over): In South Korea, the cruise in HAZMAT suits spray the streets with disinfectant. In northern Italy normally bustling streets and plazas are nearly empty, many of those who do venture out wear surgical masks. These images illustrate an alarming jump in cases of coronavirus tonight outside mainland China with newly reported cases surging into the hundreds in South Korea and Italy and Iran.

DR. TEDROS ADHANOM GHEVREYESUS: The sudden increase of cases in Italy, and Islamic Republic of Iran and the Republic of Korea are deeply concerning.

[17:45:03] TODD: It's also concerning to the financial markets. A massive sell- off in the DOW Jones Industrial Average and in markets worldwide.

ADAM POSEN, PRESIDENT, PETERSON INNSTITUTE FOR INTERNATIONAL ECONOMICS: I think they are reacting to most the fact that these means a lot other economies are going to be under strain and so the disruption can't be limited to what's happening in china.

Todd: This virus has spread around the world, has been steady for more than a month now. So why are cases now spiking in Italy, Iran and South Korea?

ALEXANDRA PHELAN, GLOBAL PUBLIC HEALTH EXPERT GEORGETOWN UNIVERSITY MEDICAL SCHOOL: We are seeing the effects of people who have traveled, who have not necessarily being tested and that spread is gone undetected until you get that surge of cases.

TODD: But in South Korea, a large percentage of the cases are link to one branch of one controversial religious group. The Shinchonji groups branch in the southern city of Dago. South Korea's top health official says the group's practice of having many people sit close together in confined spaces for more than an hour during services could have led to more exposures. Tonight, the group has halted its gatherings, sanitized its buildings and thousands of members are in isolation.

Coronavirus has spread to more than 30 countries and territories around the globe. In the U.S., the number of cases quickly jumped by 18, all of them, passengers, air lifted from the Diamond Princess Cruise ship. It's not clear if the newly reported cases had the virus at the time of their evacuation.

PHELAN: The time it takes between getting infected and showing symptoms is isn't -- it isn't immediate, so you would expect to see that as people are getting sick, these cases will increase over time from when they were first exposed, when they actually started showing symptoms.

TODD: As for the market downturns from the coronavirus, expert say the U.S. economy may not take a huge hit, but won't get out unscathed either.

ADAM, POSEN, PRESIDENT, PETERSON INSTITUTE FOR INTERNATIONAL ECONOMICS: I think for particular kinds of manufacturing, obviously tourism, certain other industries, hospitality related to tourism, certain retail goods, there will be meaningful disruption.


TODD: And as for the long-term economic impacts around the world, the experts say that while the virus itself may have limited impact, it's the psychological factors we need to watch out for. The travel industry could be hurt by people fearing booking cruises or people watching to see how Italy handles it's outbreak before booking travel there.

And discrimination that we've already against the Asians because of coronavirus might prompt millions of Asians to refrain from traveling and that will also hurt the world economy. Wolf.

BLITZER: Yes. A lot at stake right now. All right Brian Todd reporting for us, thank you very much.

Coming up, we'll have scenes from today's very emotional star-studded public memorial service for Kobe Bryant and his daughter Gianna.



BLITZER: In Los Angeles, thousands of people jammed the arena where Kobe Bryant made basketball history. A truly star studded public celebration for the lives of Kobe Bryant and his daughter Ginna. CNN's Sara Sidner is joining us from Los Angeles right now.

Sara, as you know, a lot of our viewers are watching here on CNN though, it was so emotional.

SARA SIDNER, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: It was almost devastating and beautiful at the same time. This was the last chance for Lakers fans to say a final public good-bye to a man they saw as a legend, an inspiration and his 13-year-old daughter, who was trying to follow in her father's footsteps of excellence both on and off the court.

But we also saw something that was supposed to be a celebration of life that for many people ended in tears after every single speaker.


VANESSA BRYANT, WIFE OF KOBE BRYANT: God knew they couldn't be on this earth without each other. He had to bring them home to have them together. Babe, you take care of our Gigi and I got Nani, Bibi and Coco, we're still the best team. We love you both and miss you forever and always, mommy.

MICHAEL JORDAN, CHARLOTTE HORNETS OWNER AND FORMER NBA PLAYER: He used to call me, text me, 11:30, 2:30, 3:00 in the morning. We talked about business. We talked about family. We talked about everything. And he was just trying to be a better person. Now he's got me, I'll have to look at another cry me for the next --

SHAQUILLE O'NEAL, FORMER NBA PLAYER: Today Kobe got my respect, the guys were complaining. So Shaq, Kobe's not passing the ball. I said I'll talk to him. So I said, Kobe, there's no I in team, and Kobe said, I know, there's an M-E in --


SIDNER: Yes, there was laughter, too. You know, every single person I spoke to who filed out of that two hour memorial said this was like saying good-bye to a family member and it was done perfectly. Wolf.


BLITZER: It certainly was. We were so, so moved. And may he and his daughter and everyone else, may they rest in peace. We'll be right back.



BLITZER: Happening now, disloyalty test. A threatened purge is now underway at the White House as the President seeks to surround himself with only die hard allies after impeachment. Tonight, new details on the target list and who's behind it.