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Trump Administration Giving Special Treatment to Roger Stone?; New Hampshire Votes. Aired 4-4:30p ET

Aired February 11, 2020 - 16:00   ET

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


[16:00:00]

BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN HOST: CNN's special coverage of the New Hampshire primary starts right now.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: Right now, New Hampshire voters in Nashua, they are putting their stamp on the Democratic presidential race.

You are looking at the live pictures. It's the first primary of 2020 and the second critical test of the candidates after the chaos in Iowa.

We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world. I'm Wolf Blitzer in the CNN Election Center.

We are counting down to the first votes out of New Hampshire about three hours from now. That is when most polling places close across the state. Eleven Democrats are competing in the unpredictable and changing race, but the stakes are highest for a few top contenders.

Bernie Sanders and Pete Buttigieg are in a pivotal rematch after their virtual tie in Iowa. Sanders has history in New Hampshire, winning big in the primary four years ago. Joe Biden is eager to improve on his very disappointing fourth-place standing in Iowa. He calls it a gut punch to his campaign.

Elizabeth Warren and Amy Klobuchar also are hoping to beat expectations tonight to help secure a path forward.

All of them are feeling new urgency to prove they can defeat President Trump after his impeachment trial ended in acquittal.

We will get early clues about the outcome soon. We will reveal our first exit poll information about an hour from now.

In the meantime, let's go to Jake Tapper. He's got more -- Jake.

JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: Thanks, Wolf.

After the Iowa mess, many Democrats are hoping that tonight's results out of New Hampshire will be clear-cut.

Our correspondents are covering it all. They're in key locations across the Granite State and at polling places, as well as campaign headquarters. First, let's check in with the camps of Sanders and Biden.

Ryan Nobles is covering Bernie Sanders for us.

And, Ryan, you spoke with Senator Sanders not long ago.

RYAN NOBLES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, that's right, Jake.

We caught up with the senator about an hour ago. And there's no doubt that he is feeling confident about his chances here in New Hampshire. He stopped short of calling it a must-win, but he does expect a good night. Take a listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

NOBLES: Senator, first, tell me about your feeling for tonight.

And, particularly, will the path to the nomination be more difficult for you if you're unable to pull out a first-place finish here tonight?

SEN. BERNIE SANDERS (I-VT), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Well, we're not going to speculate.

All I can tell you is, we're feeling good. We have done what has to be done. And that is, we have had thousands and thousands of volunteers -- and I want to thank all of them -- who have knocked on hundreds of thousands of dollars in the state. They have made the phone calls. They have done what a campaign, a grassroots campaign has got to do.

And I hope it pays off tonight.

NOBLES: Are you prepared if you come out of here as a victor to leave as the front-runner? And what will it take to unify the Democratic Party?

SANDERS: Well, I think what it will take to unify the Democratic Party and unify the country is an agenda that speaks to the vast majority of the American people.

I think, sometimes, people get confused about that. The agenda that we are bringing forth is the agenda of the American working class. People want to raise the minimum wage. They understand that health care is a human right. We need equal pay for equal work. We need to make it easier for kids, regardless of their income, to be able to go to college.

We need criminal justice reform, immigration reform. Those are the ideas that the American people feel strongly about and I think the ideas that we're fighting for.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

NOBLES: And front-runner is probably not a term that Bernie Sanders feels very comfortable with. He is often the underdog, but if he wins here tonight, Jake, it will be hard to describe him as anything but -- Jake.

TAPPER: All right, Ryan Nobles in Sanders headquarters.

Let's go to Biden headquarters right now, where we find Jessica Dean.

Jessica, the vice president, for sure, is setting expectations low with his activities this evening.

JESSICA DEAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Jake Tapper.

We know that the Bidens have already left their hotel here. They made an unscheduled stop. And they are headed to the airport to go to South Carolina tonight, where they plan to attend a launch party for their South Carolina efforts, this as I talked to a campaign -- a source that's close to the campaign who told me it is put-up-or-shut-up time in South Carolina, that the vice president needs to focus on his base there.

It's long been considered Biden's firewall, that overwhelming support he's seen from African-American voters. The question now is, will it hold and can it be the firewall they want it to be?

In the meantime, back here in Nashua, New Hampshire, we have got a ballroom. We have got an event tonight, but we have no candidate, because he will be in South Carolina at that time.

We know that Valerie Biden Owens, his sister, has been dispatched here. She's going to address whoever shows up. And we also are told that they will -- Biden will address his supporters via livestream.

[16:05:03]

But, Jake, we just don't know right now. I have been asking around, how many people do you expect? Nobody really knows how many people will show up tonight here in Nashua with the candidate in South Carolina.

TAPPER: Yes, not exactly a display of confidence.

Jessica Dean, at Biden headquarters, thanks so much.

Dana, let me punch up the Tapper tablet here. I want to talk about the importance of New Hampshire, specifically, the Democratic primary in New Hampshire, to who ultimately gets the nomination.

And, if historically, you look, you will see, in the 1970s, the very worst that a candidate could do and then go on to get the nomination is second place, McGovern, Carter, Mondale, Dukakis -- Mondale and McGovern coming in second, Carter and Dukakis coming in first.

And the same trend held true in the '90s and aughts, Clinton, Gore, Kerry, Obama, Clinton all either coming in first or second place in the New Hampshire primary.

So, I mean, that's generally how people feel about the importance of this state. You really have to be in the top two. DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: That's right.

And one of the remarkable things about what you just showed is that there are some really prime examples of New Hampshire breathing life into a campaign that was left for dead, both -- maybe not Hillary Clinton so much left for dead, but she was in big trouble back in 2008 after Iowa. Barack Obama beat her big time.

And then it brought her back to life. Bill Clinton is probably the best example.

TAPPER: Of course, yes, Bill Clinton, the comeback kid.

BASH: The comeback kid. And he had a lot of problems, a lot of problems going in there.

And -- but the big difference between then and, for example, what we just saw with Jessica at the Biden campaign is that they fought, they fought hard. And they got that new life in their campaign.

And Joe Biden and his campaign clearly just don't see that happening, getting that spark from the Granite State, which is why he's not even there. And that is a big telltale sign. And it really kind of conflicts with what we have seen in history.

TAPPER: Yes, although , of course, it could be an expectations game. For instance, if he comes in third, even though he's in South Carolina, people will be like, oh, Joe Biden, he came in third -- Wolf.

BASH: Right.

BLITZER: All right, thanks very much.

I want to go over to John King at the magic wall.

John, first of all, what are you looking for in this very, very early stage?

JOHN KING, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Not to be too snarky, I'm looking for them to count votes, given our experience in Iowa.

And in the early voting last night, we know that they're actually counting votes as they're cast in the state of New Hampshire so far. We will see how it goes.

If you look at the state, part of it is to remember the history for Bernie Sanders. He cannot escape the history, in the sense that he won New Hampshire, and he won it huge, in a two-person race back in 2016. But he is from neighboring Vermont. He ran it up, winning.

Look at how little Hillary Clinton won in terms of the towns of New Hampshire. So Sanders ran it up. It's a crowded field. It's four years later. He's not going to get 60 percent. But the expectation is he has to do well, and most people in New Hampshire think he has to win. Then you want to see how are the Democrats doing all over the state,

in the sense that it's only four electoral votes, but this could be -- this could be an important state come the general election. And if you look there, Hillary Clinton lost the New Hampshire primary, but did carry the state in the general election against President Trump.

But look at that. Look at that. Remember how many races where things were close. So one of the things Democrats are looking for tonight, do they have decent turnout? Are Democrats energized by the Democratic race? Because, come November, whoever's up here for the Democrats is probably going to face stiff competition in New Hampshire.

Now, let's just come back here. As we wait for the votes to come in, what are you looking for? I'm going to stretch the state out a little bit. Forgive me for turning my back and just bring it up.

Most of the population in New Hampshire is down here. Right? And so you have Portsmouth over here on the Seacoast. This is a very progressive area. Is Bernie Sanders running strong here? It's a little bit suburban as well. Can Elizabeth Warren challenge him here? What's happening over here? It should be a Sanders stronghold. We will take a look as that plays out.

Another thing you look at, college towns. You come up here, Hanover, college town here. Is Sanders running it up, or is Elizabeth Warren giving him competition among younger progressive voters? Is Pete Buttigieg sneaking in there? He's trying to do that as well.

Another thing we will look at there, New Hampshire is overwhelmingly white, over 90 percent white. Nashua, it's more diverse. So look down here. It wasn't a competition here. It's along the Massachusetts border. This in theory should be Elizabeth Warren's stronghold.

But there's been a lot of competition own there, Klobuchar, Buttigieg as well thinking they can do some business here. A lot of different places we will go through the night, 200-plus towns. We will have some fun.

BLITZER: We're just getting started. It's going to be a fascinating night, indeed.

We're getting closer and closer to the big reveal from our exit poll and the first clues about the outcome tonight.

We're also following breaking news in the Roger Stone case.

All that and much more, as our special coverage continues right after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[16:13:38]

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

BLITZER: As we cover the New Hampshire primary, there's also breaking news unfolding right here in Washington.

A second U.S. prosecutor just resigned from the case against longtime Trump confidant Roger Stone. This comes after the Department of Justice revealed plans to reduce its original sentencing recommendation for Stone.

Let's go to our senior justice correspondent, Evan Perez.

Evan, tell us more about this truly extraordinary development.

EVAN PEREZ, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Wolf.

These are a really stunning series of events here at the Justice Department. You have two prosecutors who have announced withdrawal from this case against Roger Stone, after the Justice Department essentially disavows and criticizes them for recommending seven to nine years for Roger Stone, who, as you know, is a close associate of President Trump.

The president last night was tweeting about this, criticizing the Justice Department. And, of course, a few hours later today, the Justice Department issued a statement saying essentially that the sentence that the prosecutors had recommended was way beyond what the department was expecting, that they say that essentially they're going to file a new document with the court later today, essentially saying they want to provide -- they want to ask for a lesser sentence for Roger Stone.

We have two prosecutors, Aaron Zelinsky, who announced that he was withdrawing from the case. Another one, Jonathan Kravis, announced that he was withdrawing from case and also resigning, effective immediately, from the Justice Department.

[16:15:02]

So, we don't know exactly what the new sentence that the Justice Department is going to ask for in the Roger Stone case. We can tell you that the Justice Department is saying that there was no communication between the president, between the White House and the Justice Department over this, that this is something that appears to be a miscommunication of sorts that happened here at the Justice Department, Wolf.

BLITZER: Evan, stand by.

I want to go over to the White House.

CNN's Kaitlan Collins is also working the story for us.

Kaitlan, these two prosecutors -- they resigned after the president, after President Trump publicly criticized the Justice Department's original recommended sentence for Stone.

What are you hearing? What's the latest?

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Wolf. They're two of the four who signed on to the sentencing recommendation we saw. The one the president said he believed was disgraceful and was tweeting about just last night, saying this is a horrible and very unfair situation. He said the real crimes are on the other side as nothing happens to him.

And, Wolf, this is the key line from the president. He said, cannot allow this miscarriage of justice.

So, the president is not saying there at the end that he is going to pardon Roger Stone. That's something he left the door open to, not ruling it out, of course, when reporters have asked him multiple times if that's something he's weighing for his long time confidante.

But, Wolf, if you're reading that sent there at the end of the president's tweet from last night, it's pretty clear how he feels about this situation and it does seem to indicate that is something he is considering.

We know that Roger Stone's allies have been essentially lobbying the president from Fox News saying that they believed he's been unfairly tweeted and when they saw that sentencing recommendation on Monday, we heard the president was discussing at length weighing in on it and, of course, the question is whether or not he picked up the phone and called the attorney general, Bill Barr, about it, someone he's very close to.

Right now, we do know Democrats are saying they are going to be looking into this, potentially investigating this lighter sentencing recommendation.

BLITZER: It's truly an extraordinary development.

Let's check in with Jake right now.

Jake, tell us more about these extraordinary developments.

TAPPER: Well, let's bring in CNN legal analyst and former federal prosecutor, Elie Honig, who joins us now.

And, Elie, how do you view these resignations? Is this clearly -- is this definitely these two prosecutors trying to make a statement?

ELIE HONIG, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Oh, it has to be, Jake. This is completely stunning. I've seen thousands of cases in my career as a federal and state prosecutor. I've never seen anything like this.

Start with the fact that you have the president of the United States saying that his own Justice Department had recommended a completely unjust sentence. And then on top of that, you have the Department of Justice coming back, and now, reversing itself, of course, coming to the aid of some who was a close political and personal ally of Donald Trump.

It stinks to high hell. There's all sorts of problems here. This is not normal. TAPPER: How unusual is it for the Justice Department to announce

plans to reduce the government's recommended sentence after the president took to Twitter to complain about it?

HONIG: I certainly cannot think of anything remotely resembling this. Look, it happened sometimes that prosecutors realized they made a mistake in calculating what the sentence should be. This does not seem to be that. This seems to be a full-scale reversal in a politically charged case by the Department of Justice. I've never seen anything like it.

TAPPER: The sentencing request by the prosecutors was rather harsh, was it not? I mean, seven to nine years, I believe?

HONIG: I agree, seven to nine years is on the high end for someone given Roger Stone's prior -- lack of prior record and given the nature of the crimes here. They're serious. But Seven to nine years seems high.

But it's important that people understand, that's not just a number the Justice Department pulled out of nowhere. That's a number based on the calculation that you have to do under the federal sentencing guidelines. You add up the points, you see where it comes out, you put it on, there's an actual chart, a table, that gives you what the recommended sentencing guideline should be.

And so, that's how they ended up at the seven to nine-year range. It would have been not at all unusual if the Justice Department said to the court, the range is seven to nine years but we think in the interest of justice, the sentence should be somewhat less.

What is completely unusual to have DOJ come out first and say, this is the sentence, this is a just and appropriate sentence, then to have a tweet and now a reversal by DOJ. That's completely unusual.

TAPPER: How do you expect the judge in this case to react? Do you think he or she will abide by the newly recommended guidelines? Go back to the seven to nine-year recommendation? I mean, there must be some way you anticipate the judge will respond.

HONIG: Yes. So, Judge Amy Berman Jackson of Washington, D.C. has handled a lot of these high profile cases. She certainly will take into effect the prosecution's recommendation. I don't know that she can unsee the initial recommendation that already came through, but ultimately, yes, judges to have to and will weigh the prosecutor's recommendation.

Here, she's in a strange spot because we haven't seen the new recommendation yet, but it's clearly going to be lower.

[16:20:03]

Ultimately, it is the judge's decision. I do think ultimately she will come down from the seven to nine years, but I also think she will be sort of recognize how bizarre it is that it happened in this way.

TAPPER: All right. Elie Honig, thank you so much.

HONIG: Thank you.

TAPPER: And, Dana Bash, let's talk about this, because, you know, it hasn't been a full week since President Trump was acquitted from the impeachment articles, and he has already had a little vengeance tour. He sought the resignations or firings of individuals who worked for him, who testified in the impeachment trial.

Now, he is blatantly protesting what his own government, his Justice Department recommended in terms of sentencing guidelines for a friend of his, for a crony. It's all rather shocking.

BASH: That's right. I was just pulling up on my phone a tweet from Jerry Nadler, who's the chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, effectively saying that his committee is going to look into this, which probably shouldn't be a surprise, but it is and should be looked in the broader context that you just alluded to, which is what the president is doing and continues to do, especially in the face of Republicans who some of them make tough political decisions to support the president in the Senate, in the acquittal, and at least made it known publicly that they had discussions with the president and the president said, you know, I learned my lesson.

Well, this isn't proof he learned any lesson. It's a different issue, but it's the same way that he feels emboldened, empowered to kind of do what he wants and to shatter the norms. And this isn't just about disruption.

This is about things that are potentially borderline on -- I don't know if it's illegal, but it's completely untoward, and it's not something that comports with anything that any president has ever done before for a reason. It's not that it was swampy before, is that this is not supposed to happen this way.

And it should also be taken in the context of what we're doing today. People are voting in New Hampshire, and a big thing that's on the mind of so many voters I talk to in New Hampshire is how do we get the right person to be the nominee to confront this guy?

TAPPER: It will be interesting to see how Republicans on Capitol Hill respond to this, because, I mean, if it were a Democratic president doing the same thing for a friend of his, who was Democrats, I mean, there would be hearings, there would be outrage. It would be a four- alarm fire.

BASH: Good question.

TAPPER: Wolf?

BLITZER: Truly an extraordinary development.

Coming up, we're going to have more on the New Hampshire primary. We're going to have the first results from our exit poll very soon. It could be an early tip-off about how this night turns out.

Stay with us. Much more right after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[16:27:33]

BLITZER: Only about half an hour or so away from the first exit poll results. That might give us a significant sense of where this election night in New Hampshire is moving.

Let's go over to David Chalian who's watching all of this unfold.

First of all, David, we all remember what happened a week or so ago in Iowa, the debacle there. How is that going to influence what's going on in New Hampshire right now?

DAVID CHALIAN, CNN POLITICAL DIRECTOR: Right. I mean, it took a while, but we actually did get results out of Iowa, and that tees up where these candidates are heading into the race tonight.

I want to remind everyone. Take a look here -- these are the state delegates equivalence out of Iowa, the state delegates, the all- important metric of determining the Iowa winner.

And you see what is such a close race between Pete Buttigieg at 26.2 percent and Bernie Sanders at 26.1 percent. Just a tenth of a percentage point Buttigieg edged ahead of Sanders. Both have gotten momentum out of Iowa because out of how close the result is.

I also want to show you the popular vote in Iowa. This is a key because it's a different order. Take a look here, remember, this is that final round of voting in Iowa. And look at this -- it's Bernie Sanders who's on top by 2,568 votes. There's Pete Buttigieg.

And I should remind you, Wolf, both of these campaigns have filed a request with the Iowa Democratic Party to have a partial recanvass of the vote because of all the inconsistencies that occurred in the vote reporting. And that final tally may get adjusted in the days ahead. This may not be the final count of Iowa. But clearly, you had Pete Buttigieg by a tenth of a percentage point edging ahead there in Iowa.

BLITZER: Let's stay on top of the popular vote right now. Once again, 100 percent of the precincts reporting finally in Iowa right now. What do these -- the popular vote in Iowa tell us if anything about what we might expect in New Hampshire?

CHALIAN: Well, I think this is super interesting about what came out of Iowa. Remember, you got remember how Iowa votes, right? So they had a first round of voting when people showed up at the caucuses and then some candidates didn't make that threshold of 15 percent. There's a realignment. That's the final round of voting.

But pay attention to this final column here. This is who gained and who lost between those two rounds of voting. And I think this is very instructive heading into New Hampshire tonight.

For instance, take a look at Pete Buttigieg here. He was the biggest gainer. See that highlighted green number? Five thousand six hundred and seventy-eight votes between the first round and the final round.

What is that? That is the success of making a argument to people who supported someone else, who was not viable, come over to Pete's corner. We want to explain to you why he's the right --

[16:30:00]