Return to Transcripts main page

CNN LIVE EVENT/SPECIAL

New Hampshire Votes; All Four Prosecutors Withdraw From Roger Stone Case After Justice Department Undercuts Recommended Sentence; New Hampshire Primary: Final Voting Under Way, Most Polls Close Momentarily. Aired 6-7p ET

Aired February 11, 2020 - 18:00   ET

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


[18:00:02]

SEN. RICHARD BLUMENTHAL (D-CT): And today, if he needed any other signal, the attorney general got it from the president, when he called that prosecution ridiculous.

I have never seen anything like it. I served as U.S. attorney in Connecticut for four-and-a-half years. I still have the Department of Justice seal on my wall, because I have the utmost admiration for those four prosecutors who resigned in protest. They are profiles in courage.

JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: All right, Senator Richard Blumenthal, Democrat of Connecticut, thank you so much.

Our coverage continues. We will be right back after this quick break.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: You're looking at live pictures out of Concord, New Hampshire.

The Democratic presidential race is certainly right now in the hands of New Hampshire voters. Live pictures once again coming in from Concord on this very important primary night.

We're back here in the CNN Election Center. I'm Wolf Blitzer.

Voting is starting to wind down in New Hampshire. We're about an hour away from the first results, when most polling places close across the state.

There are certainly a lot of candidates to choose from. We will soon find out if New Hampshire can bring any more clarity to this presidential contest.

We're expecting a new showdown between Bernie Sanders and Pete Buttigieg, as their razor-close results in Iowa are still under review. Joe Biden and Elizabeth Warren both want to up their games after Iowa to recharge their campaigns. They may be facing heightened competition tonight from an energized Amy Klobuchar.

Jake, we're about an hour away from the first results of the night.

TAPPER: That's right, Wolf. And there's a lot hinging on this evening.

Let's go right to the Sanders campaign headquarters, where we find Ryan Nobles, Manchester, New Hampshire.

And, Ryan, how are the Sanders people feeling right now?

RYAN NOBLES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Jake, I think you can tell by the size of this arena where they plan to hold a victory party tonight that they're feeling pretty confident.

And I talked to Senator Sanders earlier today. He's managing his expectations, stopping short of saying that this state is a must-win. But they certainly feel confident. This is a state he won handily four years ago. It's also a state of which he is the neighboring senator in the state of Vermont.

In fact, the Sanders campaign already thinking about the future. After this primary tonight, Senator Sanders plans to travel to two important Super Tuesday states. On Friday, he will make a trip to North Carolina and then on to Texas.

The Sanders campaign feeling that they're in a very strong position right now, but they are still concerned about their turnout operation and making sure that their voters get to the polls. They're continuing to work on that right up until the last minute.

But, Jake, it's clear that they're hoping to bring home a victory tonight here in New Hampshire.

TAPPER: All right, Ryan Nobles with the Sanders headquarters in Manchester, New Hampshire.

And let's go to Abby Phillip with Buttigieg headquarters.

And, Abby, Sanders did not know who his primary competition was going to be for this primary. He's obviously from neighboring Vermont, won the New Hampshire primary four years ago against Hillary Clinton. But it is Pete Buttigieg from the fourth largest city in Indiana, South Bend, who came in with the momentum and looks like he's actually giving him a run for his money.

ABBY PHILLIP, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: That's exactly right.

I think a lot of people did not expect Pete Buttigieg to be in this position coming into New Hampshire, but the campaign is taking as much advantage of it as they possibly can. And now their measuring stick has shifted a little bit. It shifted from being in relation to Joe Biden, the former vice president who has for so long been at the top of the polls, to Bernie Sanders, who they ended in Iowa in a virtual tie with.

So, now, as I'm speaking to aides the last few days and today, they're telling me that they're hoping for a close finish with Bernie Sanders going into this thing. And, in fact, over the past couple of days, as Buttigieg has been the

center of attacks from all of these different candidates, they have been feeling pretty good about that situation. They view it as an opportunity for him to redirect to his core message. And it's given him a bigger platform, they believe, to have that core message seen by a lot of voters.

And as we just heard from our early exit polls, it seems that almost half of New Hampshire voters made up their minds in these last few days. For the Buttigieg campaign, that is very good news.

The combination of the surprise finish out of Iowa and the heightened attention from all of these other candidates makes, for them, they think, a good opportunity for them to get in front of a lot of voters who are just now making up their minds, Jake.

TAPPER: All right, Abby Phillip, thanks so much.

And, as Abby noted, we have some early exit poll results. The polls are still open in New Hampshire, so we're not telling you about the candidates, but we're looking at the electorate.

And David Chalian has more for us on that.

DAVID CHALIAN, CNN POLITICAL DIRECTOR: Jake, one of the most interesting questions we asked voters as they left the polls today in New Hampshire is, what quality in these candidates are you looking for the most? What really do you want from these candidates?

[18:05:00]

Take a look at the big winners here; 35 percent of the electorate said looking for someone who can bring needed change. Almost an equal share of the electorate are looking for somebody who can unite the country. These are really the two different messages we have seen from Sanders talking about revolution and from the Klobuchar/Biden/Buttigieg wing of the party talking much more about uniting the country; 19 percent said looking for somebody who cares about people like me.

And only seven percent are looking for a fighter. We should note liberals are driving the folks that want needed change. The moderates and conservatives are driving the desire for a uniter.

We also asked, are you going to be with the Democratic nominee in November, no matter what? Eighty-three percent of today's primary voters say, yes, they are going to vote for the Democrat in November no matter what. But 13 percent say no. It matters who that nominee is.

And this is going to be an important number to watch throughout the entire primary season as it gets more intense, as there becomes a more heated Democratic battle. Will the party start fracturing or is it going to stay unified on the goal of defeating Trump?

And then this may be one of the most interesting numbers of the night. We asked folks, do you think that if a woman is nominated as the Democratic Party standard-bearer, would it be easier to beat Trump? Eleven percent said it would; 30 percent said it would be harder to beat Trump with a female Democratic nominee; 58 percent said no difference.

And I'm sure no woman watching is going to be surprised at this, but women were actually more apt to say that nominating a woman would make it harder than were men -- Jake.

TAPPER: That's fascinating, David Chalian.

And, Dana Bash, let's start right there, because, obviously, the idea of whether or not being a woman candidate would be harder, 30 percent, with women really leaning into that one, perhaps not a surprise. But in an election where a majority of the Democrats that were polled today said that beating Trump was more important than agreeing with the candidate they voted for, that is a harrowing number.

DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: No, it really is.

But it also -- so there's the woman issue, and I think you're also referring back to the first thing that David Chalian was talking about, about how split the people who were voting today said that they were on the bring needed change or can unite the country.

And it's a reminder that the bring needed change is definitely -- obviously, all the candidates are arguing that they're going to bring change, and they will, but it's much more the Bernie Sanders/Elizabeth Warren message.

TAPPER: Sure, revolutionary change.

BASH: Revolutionary, rather than the Joe Biden/Pete Buttigieg/Amy Klobuchar, we need to come back together message.

And the fact that there's almost no difference, it's about a third believe in each, it just shows how conflicted the electorate as a whole is as to which way to go.

TAPPER: And you can see why some candidates have been changing their message in the last few days.

BASH: That's right.

TAPPER: Amy Klobuchar really leaning into the empathy. You see cares about people like me, 19 percent. Amy Klobuchar the last few days on the campaign trail really talking about how she has empathy -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, guys, thanks very much.

I'm with John King over here. About 15 minutes away from most of the polls closing in New Hampshire.

What are you looking for?

JOHN KING, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Get to count votes, which is going to be fun. These are the early votes from those two towns that vote at midnight, and do their votes. So that's an early start, but it's just a beginning.

This is going to be when we get going. Senator Sanders is obviously favored. One thing we want to do, remember, this is New Hampshire. This is Vermont. We can go back in time. This is a two-candidate race. We don't expect a blowout like this. Sanders is favored.

One thing to look at when results start to come in was, let's take a look at places where he ran really strong last time. You see a lot of that New Hampshire-Vermont border. He ran strongest closest to home.

Let's see if that plays out tonight, or if there's a dilution of some of his support there. Some over here in the eastern part of state as well, more liberal, progressive strongholds, in those places, you're looking, is Sanders winning again? And even if so, by what margin, as Elizabeth Warren, Pete Buttigieg, even Amy Klobuchar, are they cutting into his progressive base?

That's one thing we will look at there. Another thing to look at is if you remember, go back to the Iowa experience. I'm going to flip this up, and then I'm going to go back to the 2020 map, but these are counties.

This is from the 20 -- primary. So let me come back to this. It's an easy way to look at it. These counties highlighted are all -- they're not counties. Excuse me. It's New Hampshire. They are townships.

All voted twice for Barack Obama in a general election and then flipped to Donald Trump. Remember, we watched that on Iowa night. We didn't get results on Iowa night, but when the results finally did come in, that was a place where Mayor Buttigieg has focused a lot of his time and energy trying to convince more moderate, remember, a lot of undeclared or independent voters in New Hampshire.

Trying to convince those people, come back to the Democratic Party. Does he run well there? And let's just come back, just blank, take those off a little bit to come back. Just a few other places to look for.

Most of the people -- I'm stretching this out because most of the people in New Hampshire live in the southern part of the state. Is Elizabeth Warren going to disappoint or -- she's from Massachusetts. If Bernie Sanders is going to be strong on the Vermont border, can Elizabeth Warren get some help from a lot of people who've left Massachusetts, especially to move to places like Nashua, to escape the higher taxes?

[18:10:05]

That's a key test for Senator Warren. And when you're talking about this late energy around Buttigieg, around Klobuchar, they focused a lot of time here. They focused a lot of time in Manchester, which is the largest population center. And, Wolf, just one way that we can get a hint early on when these

votes come in, I just want to show you, these are bellwether townships. There are six of them. They have been right in every Democratic primary going back to the 1950s.

So it's a quick way to -- it's a cheat sheet, if you will, to see if one candidate is winning all of those six, New Hampshire's following tradition. If we see a mix of colors in those six throughout the night, we will know we're going to be here a little while having some fun.

BLITZER: And the populated areas, as you point out, in the south, especially in the southeastern part of the state.

KING: Yes, you come up here essentially from -- I'm going to stretch it out again, just so you can see it.

Concord is the state capital. Beautiful towns up here. But the majority of the people live here, Manchester to the south, over here to the Portsmouth, by the sea here.

I have put a line right through Nashua there the way I drew it, so I'm going to do it and do it again just to note that you have here urban areas, the suburbs around Manchester, Bedford, for example, a little town just right next to Manchester, it's Republican. It'll be red in November most likely, but it's one of those places.

Remember, in 2018, the suburbs revolted against Donald Trump. Hillary Clinton won Bedford against Bernie, one of the few places, few towns she won against Bernie Sanders, more affluent suburban voters. That has been a place where Warren, Buttigieg, Klobuchar are fighting it out.

A lot of places to watch for some clues.

BLITZER: Boston, Massachusetts, not too far away from the southern part of the state.

KING: World's greatest city, some of us would say.

(LAUGHTER)

BLITZER: Some of us.

(LAUGHTER)

BLITZER: All right, we're getting closer to the first votes out of New Hampshire, when most polling places close at the top of the hour.

Right now, we're seeing a surge in new registrations among voters in Dover. We will go there live. That's coming up next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[18:16:20] BLITZER: Looking at live pictures of voters in Manchester. They're getting ready to participate in this presidential contest. Voting in most of the state closes in about 43 minutes or so. We're standing by for the first votes out of New Hampshire on this truly crucial primary night.

Right now, we're getting new information from our reporters inside some of the key polling places.

Let's first go to CNN's Miguel Marquez.

He's in Dover, New Hampshire, for us.

Miguel, what are you learning?

MIGUEL MARQUEZ, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, 45 minutes to go here, and we have seen the biggest crowds that we have seen all day.

One measure of enthusiasm for voters here are the number of new registrations. This table that you're looking at right now, those are people who are registering for the first time in Ward 1. They have hundreds of new registrants, Democratic, undecideds or those that don't choose a party, and Republican.

I can tell you I have done my own sort of unofficial exit poll for much of the day. They have over 1,800 votes in at this location right now in Ward 1. That will put them around the 65 percent turnout, which is pretty good, about as good as 2016, not as great as 2008 so far.

Most of the people in this ward supporting Bernie Sanders -- back to you.

BLITZER: All right, Miguel, thank you.

Let's go to Brian Todd. He's at a voting site in Concord, New Hampshire.

What are you seeing over there?

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Right, Wolf.

We have got a rush hour surge of voters with a little less than 45 minutes to go until the polls close here. This is Ward 10, Broken Ground Elementary School here in Concord, one of the most active precincts in the entire city.

The story here runs along a couple parallels. You have had a surge. This is -- that table over there is where the new voter registrations are. People are still doing that. They have been doing that all day long, some 50 new voter registrations there, a very healthy number for a precinct like this.

Also, they have people who are declaring -- undeclared voters coming in, changing to a party affiliation and then changing back. That's what they're doing at this table. I can also tell you that they are nearing their levels of total voter turnout in this precinct close to the number that they had in 2016.

They're only a couple hundred shy. They have passed the 2,000 mark just a few moments ago. They need a couple hundred more to match that, which was among the record turnouts in any New Hampshire primary in this ward in 2016.

They're just a couple of hundred away from that. Can they get there in the next 40 or so minutes? They're optimistic, but they're not sure. We have been in touch with the secretary of state's office, who says that voter turnout all day long has been very steady, but they may not break the records.

I can also tell you, Wolf, what's very interesting here in this precinct and in the northern precincts that were at, at midnight, that midnight vote in Dixville Notch, Hart's Location, and Millsfield, where Amy Klobuchar won those three places collectively.

Amy Klobuchar here is giving Bernie Sanders a run for his money. She's a close second to him here in the voters that we have sampled. We have sampled more than 50 voters coming out of the polls here.

Sanders has a narrow lead, but Klobuchar in second, Buttigieg in third, and almost all of these voters, Wolf, say they're going to vote for the Democratic candidate, no matter who it is, against President Trump.

BLITZER: All right, Brian, thank you very much.

Anderson, what, polls closing in most of the state in about 40 minutes or so from now.

ANDERSON COOPER, CNN HOST: Yes, a few polls will remain open longer, but the vast majority will be closing in 40 minutes.

Governor, I heard you saying you found that interesting, the exit polling, the approximate one, in Concord.

[18:20:03]

JENNIFER GRANHOLM, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Yes, the exit polling there, or at least the informal exit polling showing there that Amy Klobuchar is so close to Bernie Sanders.

It's a little bit surprising, because everybody thought that Pete Buttigieg would be there. And it also kind of goes against what some of the exit polls showed about the people thinking that a woman will have a tougher time to win.

I do think that Amy Klobuchar is uniquely talented in this regard, that she has a sense of humor that it's not often easy to find in politicians. And it is such a compelling thing, an unusual thing. She's the funny one up on the stage.

And I think that there's something -- there's a bit of sparkle to that that I think that is underlying a bit of this.

JOHN KASICH (R), FORMER OHIO GOVERNOR: She's likable.

GRANHOLM: She's totally likable. And you are completely right about the I see you bit of it, because I think that's really important.

KASICH: Anderson, I just wrote a couple things down.

We didn't talk about this, but health care was the number one issue in the poll as to what people care about. Then you look at that and then you have got to -- I always look at everything now in this election.

I know New Hampshire is going to matter, but I look at it through four states, really three, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania and Michigan, and maybe Arizona. So what I think about is health care, kitchen table issues, job security, wages.

Those issues to me, as articulated by a Democrat in those states, can turn those states around. At least, I think if he -- if they win Pennsylvania and Michigan, that's really tough for Trump to make it up somewhere else.

But what's so interesting about this is that Amy doing better tonight shows -- somebody said they're kind of liberal. I don't know what that kind of means. Are you kind of conservative? Are you kind of liberal? There aren't a lot of people saying they're very liberal, which is interesting.

And the fact that they want to win, they want to win. And so I think the person that can best articulate these issues has the best chance coming through the primaries to be in a good place in a general election.

(CROSSTALK)

BAKARI SELLERS, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Let me just throw out I think that Amy Klobuchar does something which many Democrats don't want, is that she doesn't allow the field to be culled.

If Amy Klobuchar does well tonight, even comes in second, or happens to surprise somebody and comes in first -- I don't know if that could actually happen.

KASICH: Or third.

(CROSSTALK)

SELLERS: Or third. I mean, she's doing it at the expense of maybe even Elizabeth Warren and a few others in this race.

But I don't think people will drop out of the race then. You know, Democrats, it's 11 people still running for president, I think.

(CROSSTALK)

SELLERS: I think my aunt is running and a few other people. I don't know. I don't even know the eight through 11. Right?

But it doesn't help trim that.

But I will say this. And I'm going to beat this dead horse until I have to. The fact is, Amy Klobuchar and Pete Buttigieg, to some extent Bernie Sanders, all have the same problem, which is that when you leave Iowa and New Hampshire, can you build a coalition that can replicate that energy that looks like the coalition that Barack Obama built?

The only person -- and we give Pete Buttigieg hell for his polling with black voters. The only person who does worse than Pete is Amy Klobuchar. The more disrespectful part of the Amy Klobuchar campaign is that she doesn't even try.

Like, there's no -- there's no ground game in these -- there's no ground game in South Carolina. There's no efforts made. There's no sitting down with African-American media. There's not these things that are being done.

So I hope -- you know, I hope she does well. I think she's an awesome candidate. But there comes a point in time when you have to look at a campaign and say, are you running for the nomination? There's a whole base that you got to talk to.

CHRIS CILLIZZA, CNN POLITICAL REPORTER: To Bakari's point, I don't want to get too far ahead, because South Carolina is not until the 29th.

But --

SELLERS: And Nevada, because they will be mad at us if we --

(CROSSTALK)

CILLIZZA: Right. Don't want to leave them out, my God.

SELLERS: Don't skip Nevada, yes.

CILLIZZA: It is noteworthy.

I just went and looked at visits to South Carolina. Bakari and I were talking about this off-air.

The most visits to South Carolina is Kamala Harris, who's not in the race anymore, 50. Second most, Cory Booker, who's not in the race anymore. Third most, Tom Steyer.

You have got to go way down that list, 24 visits total, Joe Biden. And below him -- and this is to Bakari's point -- Amy Klobuchar.

You have to have some relationship, some structure in states in order to capitalize on momentum.

(CROSSTALK)

CILLIZZA: You can't just walk in.

KASICH: Chris, Biden has been going there for 30 years.

CILLIZZA: And Biden has been going there a long time, that's right.

(CROSSTALK)

CILLIZZA: But Klobuchar...

(CROSSTALK)

CILLIZZA: Even if she gets momentum in New Hampshire, and maybe Nevada, you have got to have a structure in place.

(CROSSTALK)

COOPER: I got to get a break here.

We are standing by for the first votes out of New Hampshire at the top of the hour. Stay tuned. We have more ahead.

Also, an update on the breaking story, the resignation of all four federal prosecutors from the Roger Stone case.

A lot more ahead.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[18:29:27]

TAPPER: As we cover the New Hampshire primary, there is also a different major breaking story here in Washington.

All four federal prosecutors have resigned from the case that they were prosecuting against longtime Trump friend and confidant Roger Stone.

This comes before sentencing, but after the Justice Department reduced those prosecutors' original sentencing recommendation for Stone.

This followed, of course, public criticism by President Trump.

Let's go to CNN Senior Justice Correspondent, Evan Perez.

Evan, what more are you learning on this extraordinary matter of the four prosecutors resigning from the case even before Roger Stone was sentenced.

[18:30:04]

EVAN PEREZ, CNN SENIOR JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Right, Jake. Look, this does not happen. Prosecutors don't resign just days before they go to sentencing after a case that they worked so hard on. And so that's one of the things that we asked in a briefing to a senior Justice Department official who just gave a briefing to reporters here at the Justice Department. They were trying to downplay the disagreement behind the scenes saying that the Justice Department makes adjustments, so to speak, all the time. But the official did acknowledge that these four prosecutors were appearing to be resigning in protest. And he said that to him, at least, it was surprising. Because to the Justice Department officials, the top officials here in this building, they think it was simply a case of miscommunication, that essentially these prosecutors recommended seven to nine years, which was they believe a very harsh sentence for Roger Stone and that they should have recommended something much, much less, which is what the new court filing, what their new recommendation is.

And it appears, Jake, that behind the scenes, what was going on was simply a disagreement over whether or not Roger Stone should be punished more harshly because he was witness tampering, because he was threatening one of the witnesses in this case. And that appears to have made the big difference between, say, three or four years, which would have been a likely sentence and seven to nine years, which was the recommendation that the prosecutors made in their court filing last night.

So the Justice Department now is saying that something much less than the seven to nine years is appropriate. They're not saying exactly what it should be. They're leaving it up to the judge. But between lines, you can see what they're getting at. They are saying Roger Stone still deserves to go to prison. They're saying, however, seven to nine years is extraordinarily harsh.

And I've got to tell you, reading the new brief from the Justice Department this evening, you know, it reads a little bit, Jake, like a defense memo, like a memo from Roger Stone's own lawyers, right? They're saying Roger Stone is an old man, he didn't really -- maybe he wasn't really trying to threaten a witness. These are things you normally hear from the defense attorneys, not from the Justice Department, Jake.

TAPPER: All right. Evan Perez, thanks so much.

Let's talk about this with former U.S. Attorney and CNN Chief Legal Analyst Jeffrey Toobin who joins me now.

And, Jeffrey, now, first of all, respond if you would to the fact that Evan Perez said that this new memo from the prosecution, from the Justice Department in terms of what sentence there should be, this, of course, coming after Donald Trump, President Trump expressed criticism, concern about the sentencing guidelines when it comes to his friend, Roger Stone, that the prosecution memo reads like a defense memo, according to Evan Perez.

JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN CHIEF LEGAL ANALYST: I had exactly the same thought. I have never read a document like that that came from the government and I have never seen an event like this in decades, certainly since the Nixon era. Think about three things that are extraordinary, each on their own.

One, you have the president of the United States injecting himself into the sentencing of one of his old friends on the eve of sentencing, completely unprecedented in my experience. Second, you have the Justice Department on a dime, less than 12 hours later, following the president's lead and saying, the sentence is too tough. And then you have all four prosecutors quit.

Now, it's unclear to me how many of them are quitting the Justice Department altogether and how nany of them are just quitting this case but there's no doubt that all four are gone.

TAPPER: Yes. I think just to be precise that one of them has resigned completely from the Justice Department and the other three have resigned from the prosecution, from the case but still work for the Department of Justice.

TOOBIN: That appears to be my understanding as well. But this kind of thing doesn't happen at the Justice Department. I mean, you know, having four prosecutors leave overnight in protest for what their bosses have done. And the idea, as Evan reported in on the briefing that this was just adjustments on the sentence that are somehow routine, nonsense. This is nothing routine about this.

Now, the one thing I would add is that I do think that the seven to nine years recommendation was very high. I was surprised by it.

TAPPER: Right.

TOOBIN: But the answer to that is not to jump when the president says, you know, too high. Jump when he says -- you get what I'm saying.

TAPPER: Jump when the president says jump, right?

TOOBIN: Exactly.

TAPPER: Or say how high.

TOOBIN: How high, that's what I was trying to say.

TAPPER: But let me ask you, Jeff, Because President Trump -- the spin, it sounds, like Evan Perez is getting from senior officials at the Justice Department is that this is really just a misunderstanding and miscommunication between senior officials of the Justice Department and this prosecution team.

[18:35:]

I don't know how sentencing recommendations go. Would the Justice Department team, these four prosecutors who have now resigned from the case, would they normally go and get sign-off from Attorney General Barr or whomever before they submit these guidelines? I mean, how credible do you think it is --

TOOBIN: Absolutely not.

TAPPER: Okay. How credible do you think it is that the Justice Department senior officials there did this not because President Trump had written on Twitter that the Justice Department, quote, cannot allow this miscarriage of justice, how credible do you think it is that they just on their own got involved?

TOOBIN: It's completely incredible. There is a process for sentencing. And certainly in a high profile case like this, these line prosecutors would have gone to the U.S. Attorney, who is the U.S. Attorney for the District of Columbia. It's actually a new one, someone who is close to Attorney General Barr.

And remember, this case was indicted by the Mueller office, which is now disbanded. And one of the prosecutors who remained on the case, Aaron Zelinsky, stayed on because he had been part of the Mueller team. But the idea that the U.S. Attorney has some obligation or routinely or even in extraordinary cases goes to the senior management of the Justice Department and says do you think this sentence recommendation is okay. That is not something that's done routinely.

And the idea that this recommendation, you know, overturning the will, the view of the U.S. Attorney's Office was unrelated to the president of the United States, who is obviously the boss of the Justice Department --

TAPPER: Right.

TOOBIN: -- the idea that it's unrelated to the tweet this morning, I think, to say, it's strange credulity is an understatement.

TAPPER: So just in the last hour, we had with us former FBI General Counsel Jim Baker, who also is a former, I think, Assistant U.S. Attorney, and he said, look, if the president is going to pardon Roger Stone, just get it over with already. His argument being that the pardon power is already politicized and has already been abused by previous presidents, so go ahead and continue -- sully that, but like this is sentencing. Keep this sacrosanct. What do you think?

TOOBIN: Well, he's demeaning the Justice Department. He's not just demeaning himself by forcing the Justice Department, at least it seems to me, to lower this sentence recommendation on -- in response to his tweet. That if he exercises the pardon power, it certainly looks like -- he certainly could do it and that would be a cleaner resolution.

And if you look at what the president has said about Michael Flynn, about Paul Manafort and now about George Papadopoulos and about now Roger Stone, after election day, look for pardons for absolutely everybody. Anybody prosecuted by Mueller seems like they're lined up for a pardon right now.

TAPPER: All right. Jeffrey Toobin, thank you so much. We appreciate it.

We're closing in on the first official results out of New Hampshire after primary voting there ends across much of the state. A big question tonight, how angry are Democrats at President Trump? We're going to get some more information on that from our next exit poll. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[18:40:00]

BLITZER: We're back with our special coverage of the New Hampshire primary and we're seeing a final rush of voting right now as polling places are about to close across most of the state. We have our correspondents at key voting sites.

First, let's go to Evan McMorris-Santoro. He's in Nashua for us. Evan, I understand a lot of new voters where you are?

EVAN MCMORRIS-SANTORO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Wolf, hi. I'm at the Nashua's 3rd Ward polling place. And one of the things about New Hampshire is that people who can just show up here and vote if they want to. They're not registered, they can come here and register. And we've seen that to be very, very popular here at this polling site.

In fact, earlier, this area over here where new voters come was completely packed. They had to call in more people to come and help register voters. We've had about 300 new voters here already today and we're not done voting yet.

BLITZER: Very interesting. Let's go Athena. Athena Jones is in a polling place in Manchester. Athena, what are you seeing over there? What about turnout?

ATHENA JONES, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Wolf. Well, very similar to what you heard from Evan. This is Manchester's Ward 12. We're at an elementary school that's been slow and steady throughout the day. About half of the folks registered to vote at this polling location have come out to vote.

But look behind me, this crowd behind me, these are folks who were waiting to register to vote in this ward for the first time. We just spoke to some of the moderates here. This number, the number of newly registered voters is approaching 400. That's almost 10 percent of the number of people who were already registered to vote, so a big jump in turnout for new voters who are waiting patiently here to fill out the form so they can go over and vote.

Now, I spoke to about 90 people here over the course of the day. That's, of course, a small sampling of the more than 2,500 who have voted, but it's anecdotal. But among that group, there was big support for Bernie Sanders, for Pete Buttigieg, and among the other names mentioned most frequently were Amy Klobuchar, Elizabeth Warren and Joe Biden, so a lot of support for Buttigieg and Sanders but support for others as well.

[18:45:06]

Those supporting Sanders most frequently cited his authenticity --

Those supporting Sanders most frequently cited his authenticity, his consistency and the fact that he wasn't wavered in his policy positions over the last 40 years.

I also talked to several folks in the health care industry. We've been talking about how health care is one of the biggest issues on voter's minds. Several of them are registered nurse, a pharmacist, a resident, a doctor, a person studying to be a doctor, all cited Bernie Sander's support for Medicare-for-All. So that was a big theme.

People who cited Pete Buttigieg talked about his energy and his youth -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right. Athena, thanks very much.

Only about 14 minutes or so until the polls close in most of New Hampshire.

In the meantime, let's get some more exit poll results.

David Chalian is joining us.

CHALIAN: Wolf, we have some clues here about how this race may go tonight that I think are really important to pay attention to because it's a dramatic change from what we've seen in the past. It's about when voters decided who they were going to vote for.

Look at this. Forty-eight percent of voters today in the New Hampshire Democratic primary say that they just decided in the last few days. Four years ago, that number was 25 percent. In 2008, it was 38 percent.

This is an electorate that is dynamic. It remained very undecided until late, which means late-breaking developments in the last few days have real impact. We asked about the debate on Friday night and that number is huge as well, 48 percent say that debate is a big factor in their vote. That's an enormous amount.

Just in these last 72 hours as Amy Klobuchar has been doing well, as closing messages from the campaigns, as the battle between Biden and Buttigieg was getting under way and Sanders and Buttigieg, voters tuned in and started making up their minds very late. That is going to have an impact on what we see in the results tonight -- Anderson.

ANDERSON COOPER, CNN HOST: David Chalian, thanks very much.

I want to talk to our panel about the push and pull between the -- you know, the progressive argument for the Democratic Party and I guess what you would say the more moderate side of the Democratic Party. Will there be any more clarity by the end of tonight?

SELLERS: No.

COOPER: Once results are in?

SELLERS: I don't think anybody knows anything. I don't think we're getting any closer to being -- to figuring this thing out. I don't think we're getting any more clarity.

COOPER: You're just giving up.

GRANHOLM: No.

SELLERS: This is exciting.

COOPER: Is it impossible to know anything?

SELLERS: We don't know anything.

No, I think -- I think that's refreshing. I think viewers know that we're just trying to be honest. We just don't know much coming into tonight. We've had after tonight two of the 57 states and territories that award delegates who have voted, which means we have a long way to go. They're now throwing real elbows.

You see Pete and Bernie Sanders sniping at each other about who can pay for what and where they are. The lanes are all muddled. I'm not sure that every Warren voter will vote for Bernie Sanders and vice versa. So I think tonight what you're going to see is someone is going to come out with a little momentum. How they have an infrastructure in place to capitalize on that is important. And one more thing I have to point out. One of the things we always -- we always laugh at the fact we're having all of these debates, but debates actually matter.

GRANHOLM: Yes.

SELLERS: And this next debate in Nevada is going to be the biggest debate we've had to date.

COOPER: Also --

GRANHOLM: Because --

COOPER: What we haven't heard from is a lot of -- well, actually I'm not sure -- I forgot what I was going to say.

KIRSTEN POWERS, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes. So the one thing I was going to say is that I think what's interesting was shown earlier in the exit polls was this liberal/moderate debate, right? You know, they said 58 percent of people in New Hampshire said they're perfectly fine with getting rid of private insurance and having Medicare-for-All and 67 percent said they support free tuition at public college.

So, we've heard about how Bernie Sanders is so wildly out of touch with the Democratic electorate. Well, that's not actually true.

CILLIZZA: He's not, yes.

POWERS: The thing is -- this isn't actually what a lot of people are voting on. What they're voting on is whether or not you can beat Donald Trump, and so, that's what this all comes down to and that's why these -- New Hampshire and Iowa do matter. I take the point that it's not representative of the overall electorate, but they do matter because it's starting to show people who can organize an election and who can win and that does play into people's thinking when they start to think like, is this somebody who can win --

COOPER: Bernie Sanders has also brought the entire Democratic Party --

POWERS: Exactly.

COOPER: -- from where he was, you know, what people said about him four years ago to now.

POWERS: Yes.

CILLIZZA: In 2016, just to boost Kirsten's point, in 2016, when Bernie Sanders would talk about Medicare-for-All and getting rid of private health insurance entirely, that there would be like eye roll and like there goes Bernie again.

POWERS: Yes.

CILLIZZA: In 2020, you've seen now many of them have had fraught relationships but you've seen, broadly speaking, Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren generally speaking, embraced it. That has been the cut line.

But you've seen a lot more movement leftward. Some of that is Trump, not all of it is Bernie, some of it is Trump. But I don't think there's any -- the other thing too is the whole electability thing, I just wonder about because I look at polling.

[18:50:02]

It's February. I look at polling about the general election. And yes, by and large, Biden runs the best across the same number of states, but it's not as though Bernie Sanders is behind by 15 points. Most of the data that I see is he is ahead or competitive. Is he exactly where Biden is? No.

POWERS: Well, I mean --

CILLIZZA: So the electability thing, Donald Trump was -- if we were all here, if you asked me who is more likeable, the governor of Ohio with a proven voting record of winning in a swing state in the general election or Donald Trump, Donald Trump would have been 16th on the most likeable list.

POWERS: OK, but let's not forget that Bernie is leading the Q poll --

CILLIZZA: Yes.

POWERS: -- and Joe Biden cut his support among African-Americans almost in half.

GRANHOLM: It was Michael Bloomberg that cut the support from Joe Biden among that, and to your point --

COOPER: But you're only most electable until votes are actually cast and people realize, actually, you may not be.

GRANHOLM: Exactly. And what Bakari started to say was that this debate that coming up is going to be super important because Michael Bloomberg will actually be on stage for the first time, everybody will have a chance. KASICH: Let me just suggest this to you. My father, you know, I grew

up in a Democratic community, I understand it. If you think you're going to go to these voters in Pennsylvania and Michigan and say, I'm going to take away your private insurance, but don't worry, I have a government program for you, are you kidding me?

Here's the other thing that I want to tell you about New Hampshire, last thing I want to say, when I watched this, all I want to know is about what Bob Dole used to call the big mo, where's the momentum and where does the momentum go, does it carry somebody on. If Amy does well, does that momentum carry her over to Nevada? Does it carry her to South Carolina?

But the question is, it is about momentum coming out of New Hampshire.

SELLERS: You cannot -- I will continue to say this. This race does not truly form itself until black people --

(CROSSTALK)

SELLERS: I'm just saying, we have to flush out -- we can talk about Bernie Sanders, we can talk about Elizabeth Warren. We can talk about Amy Klobuchar, but they have still yet to prove they can overcome that hurdle.

And when we're talking about this, you brought up the q poll, that's what made me think about this, you have Michael Bloomberg who is now running into his own issues because for a period of time, I always told people, that Michael Bloomberg is going up the rough side of the mountain. But now we see while he was mayor of New York, he didn't even have -- he wasn't forthright enough to give African-American men the benefit of their humanity. So, he will now have to deal with these things. I think the race will reshape.

(CROSSTALK)

POWERS: You also have to admit that there's something to do, momentum plays a role in the races.

SELLERS: No doubt.

(CROSSTALK)

POWERS: That's the point people are making.

I just want to address what you said about if you think X will happen when you talk to the voters, it reminds me of Donald Trump frankly. If you think some Republican voter is going to vote for somebody who attacks the Bush family, who opposes the Iraq war, who supported Hillary Clinton, boy, do you have something coming?

Well, guess what? We know what happened.

CILLIZZA: And that's to Bakari's point about lanes. I mean, I think we have a tendency to think about things in lanes, oh, it's the moderate lane, Donald Trump, that doesn't mean the Democratic primary, but he shattered the evangelicals supporting a guy with Donald Trump's background that said the things Donald Trump has said. I mean, he shattered the lane. There's a conservative lane and moderate lane.

Well, I don't know where that fits.

GRANHOLM: To your point on health care, he also shattered this week the commitment that he made to not cut Medicare, Medicaid. He introduced a budget that had almost $2 trillion worth of cuts to health care and cuts to Social Security. So if Democrats don't take advantage of that, regardless of whether you're Medicare for all or not, that to me is a much bigger sin than saying to people that eventually you're going to be on a public system.

KASICH: Well, let me say, further cardinal sin here, if the Democrats had nominated anybody but Hillary who the Republicans have demonized for 25 years, Donald Trump wouldn't have won. And it was a unique time because, look, the media was covering Donald Trump's -- they had an empty podium, they covered him in every one of the town halls. This is one time, just unusual in American political history.

CILLIZZA: You think it is entirely anomalous?

KASICH: I think a large part of it is, thank you.

(CROSSTALK)

KASICH: It's sort of like his party now, but you know -- you know what they're saying, we got some good judges but we don't care about debt, we don't care about immigration.

(CROSSTALK)

KASICH: It's going to change.

SELLERS: While we are talking about the Democratic primary, I think we have to understand that voters, there are 62 million voters of this country who voted for Donald Trump. I'm not so certain all of that was economic anxiety. I know the governor will push back on that. There are a lot of voters decided to set aside racism, bigotry, xenophobia, misogyny, et cetera and still voted for Donald Trump.

[18:55:02]

I do think that Democrats, we have to get our act together and we have to build excitement all across the country in order to beat what we know is going to be at least 62 million voters out there and Hillary Clinton did a damn good job.

(CROSSTALK)

KASICH: You can't beat him just by trashing Donald Trump. You have to have something that's going to get people pumped up and excited.

GRANHOLM: Of course, of course.

COOPER: All right. We are about to get the first votes in tonight's pivotal Democratic primary. Most New Hampshire polling places close at the top of the hour, about five minutes from now. Stay right here for all the results.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[19:00:00]