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Trump Administration Giving Special Treatment to Roger Stone?; New Hampshire Votes. Aired 4:30-5p ET

Aired February 11, 2020 - 16:30   ET

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


[16:30:00]

DAVID CHALIAN, CNN POLITICAL DIRECTOR: That is the success of making an argument to people who supported someone else who was not viable, come over to Pete's corner. We want to -- we want to explain to you why he's the right candidate.

He did that more successfully than anyone else. You see here Elizabeth Warren had a gain of 2,323. Bernie Sanders had a game of 2,143. He was hoping for more of that to be competitive in the delegates.

But look at this one here. Joe Biden, he lost between those two rounds 2,692 votes. That is the gut punch, by the way, that he's talking about, obviously, his overall performance, but this is a test of organization, and he was unable to be viable in a lot of those precincts, which is why he lost vote.

His voters went elsewhere, maybe to Buttigieg, maybe to Warren, maybe the Sanders. And look at the other side of the ledger here. You will see the other people who lost share, lost some votes between the first two rounds, Andrew Yang lost a lot, 7,170 between that first round and that final round of voting. Well, Amy Klobuchar lost 1,353. She lost fewer votes than did Joe Biden.

Again, these folks weren't viable in a lot of those precincts. And that's why their voters were able to move elsewhere. But it was Pete Buttigieg that was the biggest gainer between these two rounds. And that is why you see Buttigieg and Sanders heading into New Hampshire in this race making the case to voters that even -- that they should be very much the top of mind for these voters today in New Hampshire.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: We will see if this -- the popular vote outcome in Iowa does portend good or bad for some of these candidates heading into New Hampshire.

CHALIAN: Exactly.

BLITZER: We're counting down to the top of the hour right now and the first results from our exit poll. We could get early hints at how New Hampshire votes.

Much more ahead on this very important primary night after a quick break.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[16:36:15]

ANDERSON COOPER, CNN HOST: We're awaiting the first exit polls out of New Hampshire. We should be getting those in about, as you see, 24 minutes from there.

Right now, back with our panel.

Kirsten, what are you looking at tonight? What are you going to be focusing on?

KIRSTEN POWERS, CNN COMMENTATOR: Oh, well, a bunch of different things.

I mean, one big thing is to look at what happens to Biden. Obviously, he underperformed in Iowa and he was supposed to be sort of the big dog in this race.

(CROSSTALK)

COOPER: He's already going to be heading to South Carolina later today.

POWERS: Yes. He's already moving on to South Carolina.

It's just -- it's become almost a question of how badly does he do. Maybe he will surprise us, right? So that could be something that could be a surprise.

And I think to see what happens with Buttigieg. There's an assumption that this will go to Bernie. He overwhelmingly won it last time. It's in his area near Vermont. What happens with Buttigieg? Does he come in second?

Does he come -- how close does he come to Bernie if he comes in second?

COOPER: There's also Amy Klobuchar, who feels that she's been surging.

CHRIS CILLIZZA, CNN POLITICAL REPORTER: Well, I mean, to that point, Anderson, about expectations, I mean, if Amy Klobuchar finishes third, she will tout it, I think rightly so, as a major victory.

Joe Biden finishes third or fourth, there's a reason he's not in New Hampshire anymore. I want to -- one other B, in addition to Biden and Buttigieg -- and Kirsten mentioned it, but I do think there's a tendency a little bit to overlook Bernie's performance here.

He did win New Hampshire by 23 over Hillary Clinton four years ago. No question. He was the favorite from the start, maybe with Elizabeth Warren at the start kind of coming up on his heels.

That said, he won the popular vote in Iowa. I know he is slightly behind Pete Buttigieg at the moment in terms of delegates, but won the popular vote in Iowa. I think he is very likely to win tonight. And if Bernie Sanders wins tonight, we will have something that many Democratic establishment types said would never happen, which is at least on February 12 Bernie Sanders will be the front-runner for the Democratic nomination.

Now, I know Bakari is not going to like this because I get it. I'm not saying he's a guaranteed victor, because there's a lot of states and a lot of diversity yet to come. I just think it is worth noting that a guy who is a Democratic socialist, who has run as a Democratic socialist for the Senate, he's running as a Democrat for president, will be the Democratic favorite on February 12.

Doesn't mean he will be on March 12.

BAKARI SELLERS, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: I cannot disagree with Chris any more than I'm about to do now.

First, you cannot be the front-runner or the favorite to win the Democratic nomination without black people voting in this election. That has not happened. It will not happen until you get to Clark County in Nevada, and you won't seriously have that until you get to South Carolina.

And so all of these obituaries that are being written about everyone from Biden and Warren and everyone else, I mean, everybody just needs to slow down. Before we crown Bernie Sanders the front-runner, before we do all of these other things, let's just slow down and actually let some black people vote.

(CROSSTALK)

COOPER: For any candidate, for any Democrat, is it make a break tonight? I mean, are there some who will not be going...

(CROSSTALK)

SELLERS: I was going to say -- and this is kind of backtracking on what I said earlier.

I do think that candidates such as Pete Buttigieg has to run up the score tonight. I think he will do well, but also Elizabeth Warren. And the reason I say Elizabeth Warren is because you're underperforming with African-Americans, right?

And if you don't do well in Iowa and New Hampshire, then the question that campaign has to ask is, where do you do well? Because after you leave New Hampshire, you get to a more diverse state in Nevada, you get to an extremely diverse state in South Carolina. On Super Tuesday, there four or five states that look very similar to the electorate in South Carolina, and more states where African-Americans will play a role.

And so Elizabeth Warren just has to ask the question, if I'm not doing well here, where will I do? I just caution everybody. Like in the words of the great quarterback Aaron Rodgers in football...

COOPER: Yes, I got it. Yes.

SELLERS: ... Anderson, R-E-L-A-X. relax, OK? It's a lot of ball game.

(CROSSTALK)

SELLERS: Let's hear the governor.

[16:40:01]

JENNIFER GRANHOLM, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Yes, just first of all, just to ratify what you're saying, coming out of this tonight, we will have allocated 4 percent of the delegates needed to win.

This is -- I mean, everybody says it's a sprint, not a marathon. This is a marathon. And a marathon is 26 miles, right? Four percent? You're not even -- no, wait, I think it's even 2 percent.

SELLERS: I don't run that far.

GRANHOLM: You're not even at a quarter of a mile of 26 miles.

So everybody needs to chill out and quit writing the obituaries for people.

SELLERS: Amen.

GRANHOLM: And number two...

COOPER: But aren't they writing their own obituary?

If they don't have money, they're not going to make the end of the marathon.

GRANHOLM: Well, no, some will probably have to go after this night.

I mean, Michael Bennet, I don't know. I mean, how do you -- unless maybe you just hang in there. But it is going to be tough. But this is one month, right? It's one month. You got a debate in the middle of next week.

At that debate, even though it is a Las Vegas debate, there's going to be signals towards South Carolina. Joe Biden went to South Carolina because he wants to signal the importance, particularly of the African-American vote.

So we cannot write it off so soon. The second thing I would say, just to jump on your point about Bernie Sanders, I am -- I am going to be thrilled if Bernie Sanders has been successful in increasing voter turnout tonight, because that's his theory of the case.

So I'm going to be super looking forward to hearing what David Chalian says about the exit polls and what we're seeing...

(CROSSTALK)

COOPER: Governor? JOHN KASICH, CNN COMMENTATOR: Well, I understand.

I mean, look, Iowa and New Hampshire, you can't even compare them, in my opinion. I mean, they're two different places. New Hampshire is, you meet somebody for the sixth time and you say, can you support me? And they say, well, I have got to see at least three more times.

And I did 106 town hall meetings. People want to see you, they want to X-ray you. And I think what happens with New Hampshire, Iowa, but New Hampshire, its momentum.

(CROSSTALK)

KASICH: And I think Warren is the one at risk here because I think, to what he said, I think is true.

She probably will not do that well in Nevada, and then she has to go to South Carolina, where it doesn't look like she has much. At some point, you got to decide, do you have the resources?

You say if you don't have any money -- Anderson, you don't have any money, how do you go to these places? How does your staff go? When the reports are that Biden is on fumes and everything, then what I thought about when I heard that is, well, who's going to work for him?

I mean, somebody wants to get paid. And so New Hampshire is an awful lot about momentum. And it'll be interesting to see. They say Klobuchar is gaining. I talked to some folks there today.

COOPER: And if Elizabeth Warren seems weakened, it's likely a lot of her supporters would go to Sanders.

(CROSSTALK)

KASICH: Let me just say, it's really interesting, because some people have been saying, speculating today that some -- this is hard to believe, maybe, but her supporters, some of them are going to Klobuchar.

POWERS: Yes.

KASICH: And part of that is because they want to prove that a woman can be president of the United States.

And so I wouldn't -- I think we have got a -- we do have a ways to go. But this is important tonight. And when we went to South Carolina, when South Carolina ended in our race back years ago when, everybody dropped out. I mean, Bush dropped out.

Then, after New Hampshire, I think we lost Chris Christie.

(CROSSTALK)

CILLIZZA: Just to this point, just to bolster my momentum does matters, to the governor's point, I looked this up.

KASICH: It does.

CILLIZZA: In 2016 -- now Iowa, because the result this time was so late, we didn't have anything.

But Iowa, in 2016, Santorum and Rand Paul dropped out immediately after. Right after New Hampshire, Chris Christie and Carly Fiorina dropped out.

KASICH: That's right.

CILLIZZA: And then, to the governor's point, Jeb Bush and others dropped out after South Carolina.

So we haven't seen any winnowing yet. I think we will. The question is from whom?

COOPER: All right.

We're -- just minutes from now, we're going to get early clues about tonight's outcome from our exit poll.

We're also learning more about the stunning resignation of two federal prosecutors from the Roger Stone case.

Much more of our special coverage ahead.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[16:48:00]

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: Welcome back.

We will have more of our special coverage of the New Hampshire primary in just a moment.

But, right now, we are following some big breaking news in the case against longtime Trump friend and confidant Roger Stone.

Just now, a third federal prosecutor who was prosecuting Stone resigned as counsel for the government, after the Justice Department decided to reduce those prosecutors' original sentencing recommendation for Stone, after President Trump publicly complained about the sentence.

Let's go to CNN's Kaitlan Collins.

And, Kaitlan, the president just commented on this.

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Yes, he did. He's denying that he got involved and asked the Justice Department to change that sentencing recommendation that those prosecutors you're talking about made on Monday night for Roger Stone to go to prison for seven to nine years. But the president is making clear he doesn't agree with that

recommendation, calling it disgraceful, saying that it is an insult, and talking about this in the Oval Office with reporters just a few moments ago in a situation where reporters were not expected to be called into the room with the president. But he is discussing this, though, Jake, one thing he's not saying is whether or not he would commute Roger Stone's -- whatever sentence he is expected to get next week or pardon him, though we know the sources have been telling us that's something that the president has been considering for months.

We reported this first back in November. And essentially what the president is deciding between, as these advisers, these friends of Roger Stone who have been telling the president he should pardon him for months, and then, of course, they only increased that lobbying after they got that sentence, which they found ridiculous, that recommendation of seven to nine years on Monday night.

But, Jake, there are other people telling the president that this would be politically terrible for him if he did pardon Stone. So if he does make the decision, another crucial question is going to be, when is he going to do it?

Would he do it next week after his sentence, or would he wait until after the election, hoping that it would not hurt his chances at being reelected, which, of course, is something that has been weighing on his mind as well?

TAPPER: OK, but, Kaitlan, just to make clear, the president is denying that he had any direct phone conversations with Attorney General Barr or the Justice Department about lessening the sentence recommendation for Stone?

[16:50:06]

But he's not denying that he said it publicly on Twitter and elsewhere. And so they got the message even without a phone call.

COLLINS: That's the thing.

The president doesn't necessarily have to call Attorney General Barr and tell him what he thinks because he's got his tweet last night where he tweeted multiple times saying it was disgraceful, a horrible and very unfair situation.

So, of course, Jake, those conversations don't necessarily need to happen. But the president is saying he did not directly intervene and call the Justice Department, though he says he believed he would be allowed to do so if he wanted to.

So, of course, Jake, this is only going to raise further questions about if there's been any interference on the president's behalf on this sentencing recommendation for someone who has been a longtime friend of the president and was around him when he was still deciding whether or not he should even run for office.

TAPPER: All right, Kaitlan Collins, thanks so much. I mean, it recalls not so much as -- nothing so much as President

Trump saying, Russia, if you're listening, Hillary Clinton has 30,000 e-mails I'd like you to hack. I mean, you don't have to secretly collude if you're doing it out in the open.

DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: He does things in plain sight all the time.

TAPPER: What is the reaction of the House Democrats?

BASH: So -- well, first of all, Chuck Schumer, the top Democrat in the Senate, is saying, immediately, the inspector general, who's the watchdog internally at the Justice Department, should do an investigation.

We talked just a few minutes ago about the House Judiciary chairman, who has the power, because that Democrats have control of the House, saying in a tweet that the committee will try to get to the bottom of this.

Since then, I was communicating with somebody on the staff, saying to me that it is highly unusual for the chairman of the Judiciary Committee to comment at all about a sentencing before it is complete, because they're just not supposed to get involved.

TAPPER: Highly unusual for Nadler to comment, yes.

BASH: For Nadler, because they're not supposed to get involved.

But because these circumstances are so extraordinary that you have the president of the United States interfering with an ongoing criminal case right in the open in the sentencing of his friend, that is why he did it.

But one other thing that is interesting is that this is not happening in a vacuum. This is happening a week after, as you mentioned earlier, the president was acquitted and also after...

(CROSSTALK)

TAPPER: Not even a week.

BASH: Not even.

And also after weeks of Democratic members of Congress, House managers, arguing over and over again to the Senate, if you don't do something, the president is going to feel like he has -- he's unshackled and he can do what he wants. And I'm getting a lot of messages from Democrats on Capitol Hill saying, this is exhibit A or maybe it's B, C or D at this point.

TAPPER: Well, that's right, because obviously he's fired some key impeachment witnesses as well.

BASH: Precisely.

TAPPER: Joining me now, Carrie Cordero, a CNN legal analyst and former counsel to the assistant attorney general of the United States.

Carrie, just as a legal expert, somebody who worked for the assistant attorney general of the U.S., how unusual is this? I mean, obviously, we have seen outrage when presidents have pardoned or commuted the sentences of well-connected individuals.

I'm thinking of Marc Rich 20 years ago, but that at least went through something of a process, no?

CARRIE CORDERO, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Well, I think the question has always been, how much can the institutions withhold the constant political pressure that the president is trying to put on them?

And he has long had his sights on the Justice Department, on prosecutions, on prosecutions of people that he thought were -- quote, unquote -- "unfair," people that have been affiliated with him, friends of his, people who were affiliated with his campaign, and prosecutions of political opponents, where he's the one advocating the use of the Justice Department to do his own political bidding and retribution.

And so the timing of his tweets about this, and then the decision today that they are changing the sentencing recommendation looks like it has caused the resignation of assistant U.S. attorneys.

And I can't emphasize enough how unusual, how dramatic a step that is for individuals who are career prosecutors, not political appointees.

TAPPER: Right, three individuals.

CORDERO: Career prosecutors.

TAPPER: Right, individuals now, Aaron Zelinsky, Jonathan Kravis, and Adam Jed, have all -- who they were all working for the government to prosecute Roger Stone. All three of them have resigned.

Hold on right there, Carrie Cordero, because I want to go to Evan Perez, who has some new information.

Evan, tell us.

EVAN PEREZ, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Jake, the Justice Department has now filed a new sentencing memo here with the federal court.

And now essentially they're punting to the judge overseeing this case. They're saying that they're not going to make a recommendation as far as how much time Roger Stone should get in prison, but they are recommending some prison time. They're just saying they're not going to say how much.

They say it should be far less than what the prosecutors last night in the court filing said, which was seven to nine years. And, of course, as you guys have been talking about, the Justice Department leadership here in the building behind me took issue with that.

[16:55:07] They decided that this was extreme and excessive to ask for seven to nine years for Roger Stone.

So, the new filing, which you have to believe was overseen by the leaders in this building behind me, is essentially leaving it up to the judge, saying that while seven to nine years is beyond the pale, is excessive, they're not going to give a specific recommendation to the judge.

And I think you guys have been talking a little bit about how unusual this is. I have been covering the department for about a dozen years, and I have never, ever seen anything like this. I mean, look, there's disagreements behind the scenes here and -- between here, this building, and U.S. attorney's offices around the country.

There's disagreements about whether you should throw the book at someone. They get overruled. What never happens is that a court filing is made giving a recommendation for a sentencing, and then obviously the president is tweeting about it. And then a few hours later, the department reverses course. That never, ever happens.

And, of course, as you guys have mentioned, now you have three of the prosecutors who are overseeing this case withdrawing from it. One of them is resigning completely from his job at the Justice Department. Again, very extraordinary series of events here at the Justice Department just in the last few hours.

TAPPER: Evan, is there any reaction from people in the building, the ones who have not resigned in protest, about what the president has obviously orchestrated here by publicly protesting a stiff sentence recommendation, we should note?

It is a stiff sentence recommendation for somebody who has been a friend of his for decades, who, according to prosecutors and a court, lied, lied to Congress and more.

PEREZ: Yes, Jake, I mean, look, I think stunned is the word I have heard from prosecutors inside this building and elsewhere in the country, who they're simply stunned, because, look, there's been a lot of dysfunction in the last three-and-a-half years.

There's a lot of things that happened as a result of the president tweeting. What has not happened is that the people in this building -- usually, they have been able to keep it together and at least present the front that what the Justice Department is doing is independent, is separate from what the president is asking for.

And so, look, we have heard from the Justice Department today. I think we have heard from the White House that they say that the president has not talked to Bill Barr, the attorney general, has not leaned on him to bring -- to reduce the sentence, to go lenient on Roger Stone.

TAPPER: Let's listen to President Trump.

Evan, let's listen in to President Trump. We have comments that he just made in the Oval Office. Let's listen in.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: ... ridiculous that -- no, I didn't speak to the Justice -- I'd be able to do it if I wanted. I have the absolute right to do it.

I stay out of things to a degree that people wouldn't believe. But I didn't speak to him. I thought the recommendation was ridiculous. I thought the whole prosecution was ridiculous.

And I look at others that haven't been prosecuted, or I don't know where it is now. But when you see that, I thought it was an insult to our country, and it shouldn't happen.

And we will see what -- what goes on there. But that was a -- that was a horrible aberration. These are the -- I guess the same Mueller people that put everybody through hell.

And I think it's a disgrace. No, I have not been involved with it at all.

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE) commuting (OFF-MIKE)

TRUMP: I don't want to talk about that now. I think it was a disgraceful recommendation.

They ought to be ashamed of themselves, what they have done to General Flynn, what they have done to others. And then the really guilty ones, people that have committed major crimes, are getting away with it. I think it's a disgrace.

We will see what happens.

Go ahead, Jon.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: That was President Trump attacking prosecutors who work for not all that much money, could make a lot more working in private practice, putting people who break the law in jail, attacking prosecutors, federal prosecutors, while he defends his action of publicly tweeting that a sentence handed down -- recommended, rather -- about a friend of his of decades, somebody who lied to Congress and more, was too stiff.

And the Justice Department acquiesced to his wishes, undercut their own prosecutors, and then submitted a new recommendation, prompting the resignation of three prosecutors.

Anderson, it is a stunning turn of events. And I cannot imagine what would happen, what a Republican Congress or Senate would do if President Obama had done something like that for a Democratic crony, interfering, involving himself in the course of justice like that.

COOPER: Yes, Jake. I mean, we have talked a lot about sort of the assault on institutions over the last several years. I mean, this is -- this goes right to the heart of our legal system, of our system of justice, of what -- of what is -- a president can -- can do.

It's extraordinary that the Department of Justice so quickly acquiesced after a tweet by the president of the United States.

Governor Granholm --

[17:00:00]