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President Trump Doing Little to Combat Foreign Election Interference; Bernie Denies Accusation He Wanted to Primary Barack Obama in 2012; Trump Calls for Sonia Sotomayor and Ruth Bader Ginsburg Supreme Court Recusal. Aired 10:30-11a ET

Aired February 25, 2020 - 10:30   ET

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


[10:30:00]

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN ANCHOR, NEWSROOM: -- what is the president doing about election interference, OK? I just spoke with John Barrasso, a Republican, he says, well, you know, the president's providing the necessary resources.

But the fact is, one, he won't admit that it's happening, that's one thing. But beyond that, he's had one cabinet-level meeting, for instance, on election security.

From your perch here, is the president prioritizing securing the election from foreign interference?

MARGARET TALEV, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes. I mean, Jim, I think what we have going on is an intelligence structure, a national security structure and a homeland security structure that are all kind of empowered not just at the political level, but at the staff level, to be dealing with things.

But a real political challenge for all of the people working in these agencies about how much do you highlight these efforts, how much do you talk to the president about these efforts, what kind of briefing for the president is productive, and what kind of briefing for the president will end up becoming a political hot potato in your lap?

And look at the context in which we're discussing all of these things. The president and his national security advisor have tried to raise questions about whether Bernie Sanders is the real problem here, there was a muddled intelligence briefing in Congress that, because of the briefing itself and because of the questions from lawmakers, has turned into a complete side issue.

And there is a search for a replacement to head the directorate of National Intelligence, which itself has become politicized, hotly, highly politicized.

And so the truth is that the Russians are going to try to sow chaos and discord no matter what, no matter how we talk about it on the show, no matter how the president talks about it, nothing's going to change what's actually going on. The question is, is the government empowered to respond and do the

people inside government, whose job this really is, can they move about freely without having to -- you know --

SCIUTTO: I don't know.

TALEV: -- walk circles around the president --

POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR, NEWSROOM: Yes.

TALEV: -- so they can stay out of trouble and keep their jobs.

SCIUTTO: A lot of people getting fired if not sufficiently loyal to the president.

HARLOW: Yes. Someone who is very loyal to the president is now overseeing all of them, right? And that is Richard Grenell, Rachael, as DNI.

It was interesting to hear Susan Collins, sort of a lone voice, saying essentially he doesn't have the qualifications. I mean, she was asked, and she said, I care deeply about this position. I believe the person needs the experience in the intelligence community, which regrettably, Ambassador Grenell does not.

I guess the point is, though, there is no then what because this is not -- he's not going to go through a Senate confirmation process, so I guess the most Republicans who think he is not up to it can do is say that?

RACHAEL BADE, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: I mean, that's exactly right. I mean, the president, there's been a whole number of vacancies in his administration. And what he does is, he appoints people in acting positions, people who are loyal to him, oftentimes, who sort of follow through on orders without getting the approval of the Senate.

And so at this point, you know, Susan Collins, a Republican of Maine, might be sort of pushing back, saying he doesn't have the qualifications here. But you know, Grenell is already cleaning house, he's already pushing people out and hiring people that are continuing this sort of purge that's going on.

And I think the really interesting thing here is, we've gone from the president not being able to acknowledge Russian interfering in the 2016 election to help him, to actively working to try to get the intelligence community not to -- not to acknowledge it at all.

SCIUTTO: Yes.

BADE: So at a time when we're supposed to be sort of securing our elections in 2020, making sure Russia is not interfering, he's not even willing to acknowledge that and he's punishing people who are actively acknowledging it and who want to do something. So this is not a good situation for democracy.

SCIUTTO: That's -- that's the concern, right? It's about, Margaret, what he and the government is doing to keep the election safe. And if participating in assessments that identified Russian interference is somehow disloyal to the president and his party, that has consequences. Folks at home who are going to be casting votes, right? In not only in primaries, but in the general election, how should that not be concerning for them?

TALEV: Of course it should be concerning. And this is now -- I mean, however excited you want to be about this, this is now Congress' job to help steer the president to name someone to ODNI who they believe is going to take these issues seriously.

SCIUTTO: Yes.

TALEV: The president has said that he now has a list of five people he's going to name someone really soon. A couple days ago, he said it was four people. Two of those people are congressmen who've taken themselves out of the running, so we are trying to sort of follow the ball on this, obviously.

A lot of questions about whether Rick Grenell really is a temporary appointment. I think we've seen enough senators now on the Republican side, signal publicly to the president that that is a nonstarter, if he was in fact floating it for a long-term plan. But who's that ODNI going to be and how much scrutiny are the Republican senators going to put them through on some questions --

SCIUTTO: Right.

TALEV: -- exactly like this. It's going to be really important.

SCIUTTO: Well, we had John Barrasso on, who just seemed to signal the same thing. But the fact is, while he's acting, Rick Grenell is already having an impact --

HARLOW: Yes.

TALEV: Yes.

SCIUTTO: -- because he's sending people on their way for good, so --

HARLOW: Yes, there you go.

SCIUTTO: -- sit there for six months. And if you put the person in later, you know, the job's done, and that's the concern. Rachael Bade, Margaret Talev, thanks to both of you.

TALEV: Thanks.

BADE: Thank you.

[10:34:54]

SCIUTTO: Senator Bernie Sanders, refuting a recent attack ad that he reportedly considered a primary challenge against then-President Obama. We're going to speak to Obama's former campaign manager, next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

HARLOW: Senator Bernie Sanders is pushing back against a recent report in "The Atlantic" that claims that he wanted -- or considered at least then -- challenging then-President Barack Obama in the primary in 2012. Listen to him talk about that last night at our town hall.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. BERNIE SANDERS (D-VT), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: In 2012, I was very busy running for re-election to the United States Senate from the state of Vermont, that's what I was focusing on. In fact, I ended up campaigning for Obama, and I'm a strong supporter of all that Barack Obama has accomplished. And I did not give any consideration to running for president of the United States until 2015.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

[10:40:16]

SCIUTTO: With us now, Jim Messina. He's former manager for the 2012 Obama campaign. He's also the former deputy chief of staff for President Obama. Jim, good to have you on this morning. You heard Bernie Sanders, telling that story there. Is that accurate?

JIM MESSINA, FORMER MANAGER, 2012 OBAMA CAMPAIGN: No, sadly, it's not. I mean, there's -- there's tape, there's audio of him saying that Barack Obama should get a primary and everything in "The Atlantic"'s story's been confirmed by multiple sources. So you know, I just have a difference of opinion with the senator on that issue.

HARLOW: Does it matter? Do you think it matters today, do you think it's relevant in this election?

MESSINA: Oh, I think it absolutely matters. Look, in eight years of Barack Obama's presidency, there were good times and bad times. And some people stuck with him, and some people didn't. And you know, in a race where Barack Obama is the most popular elected official in America, people are going to talk about that support of the president and it's a fair issue.

And, you know, Bernie Sanders started out this campaign by saying he wanted to get rid of Obamacare. That was obviously a very big deal, and it was very controversial at the time. Other people, you know, don't want to do that.

And so, you know, people's support of the president at that time is an issue in this campaign and I think you'll continue to see that as we go forward.

SCIUTTO: All right, so everybody and his brother is now claiming to be Obama's best friend, as you run into this --

MESSINA: Yes.

HARLOW: True story. SCIUTTO: -- have a listen to some of these ads, and I want to get

your reaction to that.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (voice-over): he had his back and you had his back. But back in Washington, there was one guy with another plan.

SANDERS: I think it would be a good idea if President Obama faced some primary opposition.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I switched from the Biden campaign to the Sanders campaign because I want to see the kind of lines around the building that we saw in 2008.

BARACK OBAMA, THEN-PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: He's been a leader throughout the country for the past 12 years, Mr. Michael Bloomberg.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SCIUTTO: So, Jim Messina, that's kind of the campaign ad equivalent of everybody's D.C. office wall, right? Shaking hands with the president, claiming --

MESSINA: Totally.

SCIUTTO: -- to be his best friend. But who -- you served for the president. Which of the candidates has the most substantive claim to helping the Obama agenda, the Obama legacy?

MESSINA: Oh, Jim, no chance I'm going to answer that question.

HARLOW: Come on!

SCIUTTO: Come on, Jim.

MESSINA: Look, I think everyone's going to attempt to claim this and voters are just going to have to decide what the truth is. And you know, this is obviously an issue because Bernie got asked about it last night at his town hall, he's going to get asked about it today again.

But voters are going to have to figure this out. I just think people should look at the record, and see who was with the president when it really mattered, who wants to continue his legacy and who's attempting to take down his legacy.

HARLOW: Well, on that point, some of our reporters here -- Andrew Kaczynski and his team uncovered some audio of Mike Bloomberg a few years ago, talking about his 2012 endorsement of Barack Obama, and using the word "backhanded." And essentially saying, yes, I gave him my endorsement but I thought Romney was better at things previously, and then he didn't stick to his, you know, values as governor of Massachusetts.

The way that the Bloomberg campaign is responding is, they're saying he wanted to push people who were on the fence to support Obama and talk about his own sort of inner wrestling. What actually happened? You remember that endorsement.

MESSINA: I do. And, look, the truth is, Michael Bloomberg endorsed Barack Obama for president and campaigned for him. You know, we can talk about how he got to that decision, that's a better question for him. But the fact is, just as a matter of record, he endorsed Barack Obama and campaigned for him. And as the campaign manager for that campaign, I was happy to have the help.

HARLOW: All right.

SCIUTTO: Final question before you go, which Democratic candidate has the best chances of defeating Donald Trump?

MESSINA: I don't think we know that yet. And I think this is why we have a primary, because we want to see people compete through this. Barack Obama in 2008 went through the toughest primary anyone had ever seen, survived Hillary Clinton, went through the Reverent Wright stuff and came out of the other side a much stronger candidate.

And I know Democrats are freaking out right now about how long this primary could be and how difficult it is, but I think we're going to come out of this primary with a better candidate.

SCIUTTO: Yes. People forget. I mean, the 2016 Republican primary was no friendly, you know, kumbaya. So --

HARLOW: Yes, not at all.

MESSINA: That's exactly right.

HARLOW: Twenty seconds left, what should Bloomberg do on the stage tonight? He needs a better debate.

MESSINA: He needs a better debate. He needs to do the two things he's been doing in his campaign ads, which is talk about his accomplishments as mayor of New York, and then talk about how he's the candidate to beat Donald Trump. He's got to stay off the defense and spend less time explaining his past and more time laying out his vision to Democrats about where he's going to take this country.

HARLOW: All right. Jim Messina, good to have you. Come back soon.

[10:45:00]

MESSINA: Thank you.

HARLOW: And join us tomorrow night. We have night two of our special town hall series, live from South Carolina: Michael Bloomberg, Joe Biden, Amy Klobuchar, and Elizabeth Warren, all join us. It starts 7:00 p.m. Eastern, only right here on CNN.

SCIUTTO: Well, President Trump, again attacking justices. This time, Supreme Court Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Sonia Sotomayor. Why he says those justices should recuse themselves from all Trump-related cases now. And does that claim have any substance?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SCIUTTO: President Trump is repeating an unfounded attack on Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor.

[10:50:01]

HARLOW: In a fierce dissent on Friday, Justice Sotomayor criticized the court's conservative majority for granting a number of emergency applications submitted by the Trump administration but largely denying them in other cases.

Let's go to our Supreme Court analyst Joan Biskupic. Joan, the president continuing to talk about it. Listen to what he said in the press conference this morning.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I just don't know how they cannot recuse themselves from anything having to do with Trump or Trump-related. Her statement was so inappropriate, when you're a justice of the Supreme Court.

And it's almost what she's trying to do is take the people that do feel a different way and get them to vote the way that she would like them to vote.

HARLOW: So talk about the facts here. And Justice Sotomayor's dissent, is it as controversial as what the president would have us believe?

JOAN BISKUPIC, CNN SUPREME COURT ANALYST: No, not at all. It was very much in the mien of -- the spectrum of dissenting opinions. First of all, she voiced a legitimate complaint that the Trump administration has repeatedly tried to sort of buck the appellate process by going right to the Supreme Court and preventing lower court rulings and orders from taking effect before the merits of a case have been heard.

And in this situation, it was on a very important matter involving green card applications and a kind of new wealth test. So she had strong feelings about the issue, but then she also wanted to point out a pattern of the Trump administration, rushing to the Supreme Court and frankly, the majority of the Supreme Court agreeing with the Trump administration and allowing it to intervene and get these lower court injunctions lifted. So --

SCIUTTO: Right.

BISKUPIC: -- on the substance she was right. But then she did not make any personal attacks on her colleagues or on the Trump administration. And I have to say, if you're talking about heated dissenting opinions, Justice Antonin Scalia was known for that and --

HARLOW: Yes.

BISKUPIC: -- President Trump constantly holds up Justice Scalia as the model of a jurist.

SCIUTTO: Now, to be clear, that's what a dissent is, right? It's trying to convince your opposing justices of something -- on that point.

But on the substance here of what she accused the administration of doing, it's in the numbers, is it not? The number of times they've taken this unusual path. And is it correct to interpret that as the Trump administrating ferrying these cases to what it sees as a friendly court?

BISKUPIC: Oh my goodness, yes. And it's something that the Trump lawyers are -- keep doing because they keep winning, they keep prevailing. So it's frankly -- from the Trump advocate's point of view, it's a success story and Justice Sotomayor is a very lone voice protesting it.

In fact, as you both know, that order last Friday was five to four, but only Justice Sotomayor even wrote something. So here she is, by herself, voicing this opinion and President Trump doesn't even like that. He's winning, he's winning at the Supreme Court.

SCIUTTO: Yes. And at many other levels of the court as well --

BISKUPIC: That's right.

SCIUTTO: -- given Senate confirmations. Joan Biskupic, thanks very much.

BISKUPIC: Sure.

[10:53:13]

SCIUTTO: Remembering a sports legend, friends and family honored NBA legend Kobe Bryan and his daughter Gianna. It included an appearance by his wife. The emotional tribute, next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

HARLOW: In case you missed it yesterday, it was remarkable, an emotional goodbye for Kobe Bryant and his 13-year-old daughter Gianna and those seven others, killed in that helicopter crash, all honored yesterday in Los Angeles.

Amazing to hear her there. Yesterday, some 20,000 people packed into the Staples Center for a public memorial. The event was filled with stunning tributes, including performances by Beyonce, Alicia Keys and Christina Aguilera.

SCIUTTO: Kobe's widow and of course Gianna's mother, Vanessa Bryant, spoke publicly for the first time. Have a listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

VANESSA BRYANT, WIFE OF KOBE BRYANT: You take care of our Gigi. And I got Nani, Bibi, and Coco. We're still the best team. We love and miss you, Boo Boo and Gigi.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HARLOW: Some of basketball's biggest names paid their respects, including Michael Jordan.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MICHAEL JORDAN, NBA HALL OF FAMER: When Kobe Bryant died, a piece of me died. And as I look in this arena and across the globe, a piece of you died.

DIANA TAURASI, WNBA'S ALL-TIME LEADING SCORER: Watching Kobe play the great western forum as a rookie, made this little girl believe she could be a Laker one day. It was like getting to know myself every single day.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SCIUTTO: Of course, Kobe, a big supporter of women's professional basketball, the dreams of his own daughter.

There were some humorous moments, some laughs amid the tears.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SHAQUILLE O'NEAL, KOBE BRYANT'S FORMER TEAMMATE: The day Kobe gained my respect was, (ph) the guys were complaining, saying, "Shaq, Kobe's not passing the ball."

I said, "I'll talk to him."

I said, "Kobe, there's no 'I' in 'Team.'"

And Kobe said, "I know but there's an M-E in that (inaudible)."

(LAUGHTER)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

[11:00:05]

SCIUTTO: Wow. That was --