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ANDERSON COOPER 360 DEGREES

Sanders Rides Momentum from Nevada Into South Carolina; FBI Official: Russia Wants to "Watch Us Tear Ourselves Apart". Aired on 8- 9p ET

Aired February 24, 2020 - 20:00   ET

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


[20:00:24]

ANDERSON COOPER, CNN HOST: Good evening. We're just an hour away from the first of three CNN town halls tonight. Bernie Sanders, Pete Buttigieg and Tom Steyer taking questions from voters in South Carolina.

Michael Bloomberg postponed his appearance tonight, opting instead to prep more for tomorrow night's debate which could be crucial given his performance his first time out. Reports he appears to be positioning himself to trying to focus his attacks of the debate on Bernie Sanders.

Then there's Joe Biden trying to make South Carolina the spark that revives his campaign. He's reportedly about to earn the endorsement of one of the state's most influential Democrats, Congressman James Clyburn.

We'll talk about all of that, plus new reporting on Russian interference which a senior FBI official said was driven by a desire to, quote, watch us tear ourselves apart. A Russian dissident and chess grandmaster Garry Kasparov joins us with his thoughts on the subject.

And along those lines, reporting from CNN and elsewhere that the White House and White House allies have been making lists of government officials to be purged because they're perceived to be disloyal to the president, the kind of thing that used to happen a lot at the Kremlin happening here and now.

First, though, the Democratic race, new insights from the results in Nevada and what it might say about South Carolina.

Let's begin with our political director David Chalian, who's in Charleston tonight.

So, David, is there a sense of whether the Nevada results have shifted the dynamic in South Carolina, particularly for Senator Sanders and former Vice President Biden?

DAVID CHALIAN, CNN POLITICAL DIRECTOR: Yes, well, Anderson, it's shifted the entire race. What we have now after Senator Sanders' commanding victory in Nevada over the weekend is a clear dominant front-runner for the Democratic nomination in this race, and that is Bernie Sanders, the senator from Vermont.

You are right to note the new dynamic and, trust me, senator Sanders must be aware of it, too, because being the front-runner, Anderson, of course comes all that scrutiny. I mean, he has been facing an onslaught from fellow Democratic members of Congress today, never mind his own Democratic opponents in the presidential race sort of going after him and scrutinizing his comments to you on "60 Minutes" about Fidel Castro and praising the literacy program he had run there in Cuba. Comments he made about criticizing a pro-Israeli group, AIPAC. He's feeling the scrutiny of his new front-runner status.

COOPER: And Sanders is obviously, you know, trying to win over more African-American voters. He has made strides with African-American voters. But Sanders could obviously survive a second place finish in South Carolina. Could Biden?

CHALIAN: Joe Biden says he's going to win here, so he has set the bar for himself at victory or bust in many ways here. You are right, I have no doubt that Senator Sanders, who has now amassed a significant lead in the race in these early contests could survive a second place showing here, especially to your point if he shows he's made progress with the African-American vote from four years ago in the contest against Hillary Clinton where she sort of wiped the floor with him, with the African-American vote.

We saw him competitive with Biden but competitive and overwhelmingly winning the Hispanic vote. Bernie Sanders has been broadening his coalition of support throughout these early stages in this race.

COOPER: I think a lot of people may not realize. I mean, once you have the South Carolina primary, which is Saturday, it's just three days until Super Tuesday. It doesn't give the candidates much time to bounce back if they don't do well this weekend. I mean, it's an onslaught of votes coming.

CHALIAN: Now, we have these town halls tonight, big important debate tomorrow night, more town halls on CNN Wednesday.

And you are right, just a couple days after that, the primary and super Tuesday, three days later, where a third of the delegates, Anderson, are going to be apportioned. So this goes into sort of hyper drive rather quickly and all these other candidates know that's why you see so much heat now. I know it's all trained on Michael Bloomberg last week in that Nevada. Now everyone realizes it seems in the race Bernie Sanders is the dominant front-runner and if you're going to try to stop his success at the moment, you don't have much time to do it.

COOPER: David Chalian -- David, thanks very much.

Joining us now is "AXE FILES" host and CNN senior political commentator, David Axelrod, also CNN senior political reporter Nia- Malika Henderson, and Democratic strategist, Aisha Moodie-Mills. She's also a CNN political commentator.

David, how much of a boost do you think the Nevada victory gives him in South Carolina? DAVID AXELROD, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, we'll see.

He's certainly moving up in the polls. As you point out, he doesn't need to win South Carolina. He'd like to. If he did, he would basically put Biden out of the race or cripple him dramatically.

[20:05:06]

But he just wants to continue to amass delegates. The advantage he has now, Anderson, is that he is dominant in that progressive lane of the party. He's putting delegates away. And the rest of the party is divided. The non-Sanders wing is divided and that suits him just fine.

I think that the debate tomorrow night is going to be very important in this way. Michael Bloomberg had a terrible debate in Nevada and it stemmed his progress. He was making steady progress with all the money he was spending in the Super Tuesday states. If Biden does very well on Saturday in South Carolina and Bloomberg has another bad debate tomorrow night, Biden could actually emerge as the alternative to Sanders, and that is what they are betting on.

COOPER: Nia, I mean, if a large number of African-Americans do vote for Sanders in South Carolina, would that put to rest the lingering criticism that he hasn't made enough progress in terms of attracting a more diverse voters?

NIA-MALIKA HENDERSON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL REPORTER: You know, I think that in some ways is already put to rest by showing --

COOPER: It's already been answered?

HENDERSON: Yes, I think so. I mean, he's showing in Nevada, he's clearly growing among Latino voters winning in that state. He has a coalition of the other folks in this campaign so far don't have a multiracial coalition, right?

You look at Biden, he does well with African-American voters. Not nearly as well as Hillary Clinton did. She won black voters in South Carolina, like 86 percent of the black voters. You look at this latest poll, I think Biden is like 35 percent of black voters.

You know, it hurts him that the field is so large and you've seen Sanders make inroads with black voters but also white voters, right? These sort of moderate white voters in the south. He does pretty well in the last poll I saw in South Carolina and even in Nevada you can see him making strides with upper income white voters as well. So, you know, you got South Carolina. It's clear that even if Biden wins, it's not going to be by the same margin you saw Hillary Clinton win, so that's going to cut into any sort of delicate haul he would take out of South Carolina.

Super Tuesday, states -- some of those states are white states like Colorado has Latinos there, too. It's a state Bernie Sanders did really well in already. California, he didn't lose it by that much. Texas has a lot of Latinos there. This is really hard.

You've got these town halls coming up. You have these debates coming up. But this is a train that is fast moving, that has been on this track before, right, Sanders has won many states before and put together a grassroots organization so that's hard to stop.

COOPER: Yes.

Aisha, I mean, there's obviously a lot of questions here among moderate Democrats about the electability of Senator Sanders. Those questions get answered, though, the more he wins. I mean, if he does well, incredibly well in South Carolina, it's hard to imagine somebody else overtaking him.

AISHA MOODIE-MILLS, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: It is and I like to remind people at the end of the day the Democrats, the Democratic base, and we, the people who don't want Donald Trump in the White House, are going to be the ones who get rid of Donald Trump from the White House. We are very much fixated on who the figurehead is and every four years, we play this game of who is electable and who is not.

The reality, though, is that we are going to need to see a movement like we did in 2018, literally, a blue wave. At that point it was about resist coming off the heels of the women's march. We're going to need to see a groundswell of people coming out to get rid of Donald Trump in order for this to work. The truth is --

COOPER: Right now the only candidate who has a movement is Sanders.

MOODIE-MILLS: Exactly. And that's an interesting thing you can't discount. You can't discount the fact that he's got this big delegate lead.

One person, though, I'm going to be watching in South Carolina come Saturday is Tom Steyer. This is all about -- we keep talking about Bloomberg and nobody has cast a vote for Bloomberg at this point. But what's interesting is Steyer has been on the ground also making inroads in the African community, right now looking like he could very well walk away from this state getting himself on the delegate board. That changes, he thinks, his trajectory for Tuesday as well.

COOPER: Yes, he's put most of his money in South Carolina in ads.

MOODIE-MILLS: Trying to buy that credibility to then be able to shift the scales for next Tuesday.

COOPER: Yes.

MOODIE-MILLS: So, that will be interesting. This idea of who is electable or not, at the end of the day, if we are serious -- serious about our democracy, if we are serious voters, we are the ones who will have to come out energetically to vote in our interests and our interests, so many people in this country believe, the majority believe, that our interest is not Donald Trump.

And so, at the end of the day, that's what matters above and beyond whether, you know, Bernie is electable or Elizabeth Warren is electable, et cetera. COOPER: We're going to take a quick break. We'll have more from our

folks, our panel, to focus next on Joe Biden and the firewall that he's hoping to make out of South Carolina. That and more to tonight's CNN town halls which start in about 50 minutes from now.

Later tonight in our hour, the implications of what we touched on at the top, what Bernie Sanders told me in response to a question I asked him about Cuba and Fidel Castro, the impact it may have in the crucial state of Florida and what he actually said and was -- what he actually said wrong?

[20:10:07]

Even the people criticizing him haven't criticized him on the facts. We'll look at that, ahead.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

COOPER: We talked before the break about Bernie Sanders' victory over the weekend in Nevada and what it may say about his chances in the races to come. He performed especially well there among Hispanic voters and with African-American, Senator Sanders was just 6 percent behind Joe Biden, which means he's making inroads among the very voters who Biden has been counting on and will be turning out a much higher numbers in South Carolina.

Back now with our political team.

David, is South Carolina do or die for Vice President Biden? I mean, he can't win there, can he -- where can he win?

AXELROD: I do think that. I think he has so pointed to South Carolina as a place where he was going to have a good showing.

[20:15:03]

He's underperformed in the first two states. He did the bare minimum in Nevada but got beaten pretty badly by Bernie Sanders. This is a state with 55 percent to 60 percent African-American vote. That is his base. He should do very well in this state.

If he were to lose here, he's going to have to reconsider his race. Firstly, he has to raise money and he hasn't done very well at it so far. He's not going to do well if he loses this. I think he's going to have to reevaluate. They seem very confident that they can pull this off. If they don't, it's very bad news.

COOPER: Yes. Aisha, if Biden wins in South Carolina, does that -- I mean, if you're Bernie Sanders, does that really worry you? I mean, it's not as I mean, it's Sanders who has the movement, who is pulling big crowds and who has, you know, a lot of money.

MOODIE-MILLS: Right now, Bernie Sanders has 45 delegates and Joe Biden has about 15. So, even -- even if Joe Biden picks up some more in South Carolina, he's still probably going to be behind Bernie Sanders. I don't think this is a calculus going into Tuesday. I think coming out of Super Tuesday is really going to be a testament to where things stand and who ends up staying in the race.

What's interesting to me, too, is that we are going to have to start talking more about the actual issues on the campaign trail. Right now, we keep talking about electability and there's this presumption that the person who is more moderate, in this case Joe Biden, is the person that people think is electable. I don't think that's the case. I think Elizabeth Warren, and Bernie Sanders, are having conversations about real issues, that young people and people of color care about. And when Joe Biden starts talking about more of the same, he loses some of those folks.

And at the end of the day, I think that those issues are going to come back at the fore and matter in terms of mobilizing the base again and who is actually able to have a movement.

COOPER: Nia, I mean, Senator Klobuchar and Mayor Buttigieg, they've struggled to show that they can attract minority voters and both of them didn't do well with Latinos in Nevada. If they fail in South Carolina, does that -- I mean, are they done? Does that cement the narrative that they just -- they can't build a diverse coalition?

HENDERSON: Yes, I mean, it's hard to think where they go from there, what states can Pete Buttigieg or Amy Klobuchar win on Super Tuesday or come close, right? You got states like California, you got states like Texas. You need money. You need a coalition, right?

I mean, that's the whole thing. Pete Buttigieg talks about being an inclusive candidate, talks about people having a sense of belonging if he wins the presidency but he doesn't actually have a coalition, and Amy Klobuchar the same thing. I think they're in single digits, 4 percent or 5 percent among African-Americans in South Carolina, didn't do well with Latinos.

So, yes, I think for a lot of these candidates, it really is put up or shut up time particularly after Super Tuesday, those big, big states. California, almost 500 delegates, right.

If you're any of these candidates that hasn't been able to put together any sort of fund-raising, any sort of energy, any sort of crowds, any sort of just outright victories, it's hard to see how you go on.

COOPER: David, what about Elizabeth Warren?

(CROSSTALK)

COOPER: Yes, go ahead, David.

AXELROD: Yes, no, I was going to say, I think she is an interesting question. She continues to do fairly well in national polls. One out over the week she was running second to Bernie Sanders, but she's underperformed in these first few states.

She didn't -- one interesting nuance of Nevada where she had a very strong debate, and she did very well among those voters who said they decided at the end. She was in the 20s with those voters. Can she have another strong debate performance tomorrow that translates into a surprise finish here?

She's the one candidate I would think Bernie Sanders would like to see out of the race because he competes with her -- she competes with him for some of those votes on the left. So, she's an interesting candidate but she has to pull off something of a surprise here if she has another fourth or fifth place showing, it's going to -- I think it's going to depress her ability to do well going into Super Tuesday.

MOODIE-MILLS: Yes.

COOPER: Aisha?

MOODIE-MILLS: I just wanted to jump in and add to what Nia-Malika was just saying, this idea about building a coalition is crucial. I just don't understand where, say, a Bloomberg has spent all of his time not talking to people, not building a coalition on the ground, not mobilizing a base, but throwing ads up. I don't know where the folks who are just playing an ad game think they're going to get real voters from.

I mean, to Tom Steyer's credit, he's been buying ads but he's been out there talking to people, my whole family in South Carolina, hey, we've been hearing from him. But the idea you can just run this as a marketing campaign, it doesn't work that way.

COOPER: Yes. Thanks very much, David, Nia, thank you. Appreciate it.

The White House pushing back on reports of Russia's preference for President Trump. What we know and don't about a now controversial House intelligence meeting.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[20:24:14]

COOPER: The one consensus about the election is that Russians are indeed interfering again. But whether to any one candidate's benefit, well, that's where the waters get muddy.

Multiple conflicting reports now about a House intelligence briefing earlier this month have only complicated the matter. One intelligence official tells CNN that the initial characterization of Russia actively aiding the president was, quote, misleading. A national security official went further, saying that Russia sees the president as, quote, a deal maker.

To help untangle the story, I want to bring in CNN's Alex Marquardt.

So, what went wrong in this briefing by the intelligence official of Congress?

ALEXANDER MARQUARDT, CNN SENIOR NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Anderson, this seems to be a story of nuance and overstatement. And this briefing took place behind closed doors, classified briefing to the House Intelligence Committee, by the most senior security official in the intelligence committee. [20:25:02]

Her name is Shelby Pierson. And what we're told including by an intelligence official who told me a couple of hours ago is that she did not go into what was a very routine briefing with talking points that included possible Russian support for any of the candidates but it clearly came up.

And what she said according to numerous officials is that there is Russian support and preference both for President Donald Trump as well as Bernie Sanders in the Democratic primary. Of course, those things are not mutually exclusive when your goal is to sow discourse and division.

Now, where the nuance comes in, where we have to clear, is that there's no intelligence assessment, there's no evidence that Russia is actively working to support any of the candidates, including those two men. I spoke with a senior intelligence official in the past hour who said that at no point did Shelby Pierson say that Russia is aiding in the re-election of President Trump.

Clearly, Anderson, it was taken that way by some. Now, we've seen Pierson's former boss, the former acting director of national intelligence, Joseph Maguire, get pushed out and now replaced by the president with Ambassador Ric Grenell who has no intelligence expertise.

COOPER: So, is there -- I mean, it's confusing. Is there clarity on the goals and tactics of the Russians? I mean, they're interfering -- what is the goal? What are the tactics?

MARQUARDT: There is no disputing that Russia is meddling. They continue to. They never stopped.

Their goal is chaos, division, anger, pitting us against each other. An elections official at the FBI earlier today said that their goal is to watch us tear ourselves apart. So, what we're seeing in terms of the tactics are some of the old tactics that we've seen before as well as an evolution in those tactics.

Intelligence officials tell us that there will be an evolution in their playbook. They're going to come at these U.S. elections with misinformation, disinformation campaigns, getting Americans on social media to share things that make us angry and divide us and misinform us.

There are going to be likely hacking situations in which they go after candidates, campaigns, parties, election infrastructure.

And one interesting thing that we're keeping an eye on, Anderson, that officials have talked about is Russians using servers here in the United States, which means that agencies like the NSA and the CIA which work overseas, will have a harder time keeping an eye and thwarting that Russian threat -- Anderson.

COOPER: Alex Marquardt, appreciate it. Thanks. President Trump is feeling vindicated. For the second day in a row, he lashed out at House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff. Here, he tweeted a link to comments by Congressman Jim Jordan. The president wrote, quote: Set up by Schiff's lies and leaks, same with the Mueller witch-hunt three years ago.

Joining me now is the former director of national intelligence and CNN national security analyst, James Clapper. He's also author of the book "Facts and Fears: Hard Truth from a Life in Intelligence.

Director Clapper, you see a lot -- you see the fallout from this intelligence briefing. I know you had similar briefings back in 2017 about Russia's influence in the 2016 election.

How does something this important get misstated or misinterpreted? What do you think went on here?

LT. GEN. JAMES CLAPPER (RET.), CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: Well, you know, I obviously don't know, Anderson, since I wasn't there and nobody is talking to me, for understandable reasons, about what did happen. I think probably, Shelby Pierson went in with kind of under the operating basis to set up the office like Dan Coats did last summer with the premise the Russians were going to continue to behave as they did in 2016, interfering in our election and will probably be supportive of President Trump.

Now, the election isn't until November. The Russians will evolve their strategy and tactics as time goes, just as they did in the run up to the 2016 campaign. But their basic objectives have not changed. And they want someone that they're comfortable with in the White House, that they can deal with. And they want to sow as much doubt, discourse and distrust in this country as they possibly can just as they did in 2016.

And, regrettably, we are a ripe target for that. And, of course, what's recently happened with ODNI, with the firing, essentially, of Joe Maguire and Andrew Hallman --

COOPER: That's the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, ODNI.

CLAPPER: Exactly, and his acting director -- well, this plays perfectly to Putin's hand. So, now, he has demonstrably weakened the U.S. intelligence community and succeeded in having the intelligence community cowed into reporting on those very activities. So, the winner in all of this is Vladimir Putin and Russia.

COOPER: I mean, it's no surprise, the president has pounced on this. He's going to be over any mistake by the intelligence community as it relates to Russia and the election.

[20:30:00]

I mean, it's -- can you fault him on that?

JAMES CLAPPER, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: Can I fault President Trump?

COOPER: Yes, for jumping on this. I mean, it does seem clearly whatever happen in this briefing -- I mean, it's not really clear what happened, I guess.

CLAPPER: Well, it's not. And, yes, obviously it is. I mean, it plays to his paranoia and insecurity, I suppose. But, I mean, it's correct for him to be sensitive about it. But at the same time by overreacting to this, which I guess is the objective, the end result is going to be suppressed further reporting on the Russian activity. Now, maybe that's what he wants. You know, he just doesn't want to hear about it so that comports with his world view better.

COOPER: There's reporting from CNN this evening that the Acting DNI Richard Grenell has yet to communicate with the full state -- the Office of National Intelligence despite having gotten the job some five days ago. Is that unusual? I mean, does it take -- you know, I don't know what the security clearance situation is. He's coming from being ambassador in Germany. What do you make of that transfer?

CLAPPER: Well, I don't think that Ambassador Grenell is put there to try to master intelligence, to familiarize himself with this huge enterprise that he sits atop of. He's there to do a purge and to get the intelligence committee, and I use air quotes here, under control.

So typically, yes, you'd put out some communication to all of the employees, you get to know the staff, you find out what the problems are, you know, the typical thing you do, say, hey, how do you do business around here. Well, that's not what he's about. He's there for a different reason.

COOPER: James Clapper, appreciate you being on. Thank you very much.

CLAPPER: Thanks, Anderson.

COOPER: We're going to have more in just a moment on President Trump and Russians. Garry Kasparov, a Russian pro-democracy leader and former world chess champion joins me to discuss his take on Putin's strategy for 2020.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[20:35:59]

COOPER: As we discussed before the break, one belief that came from that House Intelligence Committee meetings that Vladimir Putin has, if not, actively aided the President's reelection, at least show any preference for him. Today in response to the reports on that briefing, the told CNN that, "No one has been tougher on Russia than this administration."

Joining me is Garry Kasparov, former world chess champion, Russian pro-democracy leader and chairman of the Human Rights Foundation. He's also the author of the book "Winter Is Coming: Why Vladimir Putin and the Enemies of the Free World Must Be Stopped." So, a senior FBI official is saying today that Russia's goal is essentially to watch us tear ourselves apart. Do you -- does that sound accurate to you?

GARRY KASPAROV, RUSSIAN PRO-DEMOCRACY LEADER: Absolutely. Absolutely. Spreading chaos, that was Putin's goal, not only in America, it's across Europe. You could see him eagerly supporting far right or far left, making sure that the center is decimated. And, again, every country looks like a house divided.

So that's what he's looking for because he's afraid that, you know, with American leadership the free world can be united against his aggression in Europe. And it's especially stupid to deny that Putin wants Trump to be reelected, because Putin said it himself then next to Trump in Helsinki.

So, he made no secret that he wanted Trump to win 2016 and he made no secret that he wanted to see wins Trump to be reelected because it's not just for what Trump does, but it's probably more for what Trump doesn't do. So he doesn't talk about human rights. He doesn't talk about democracy. He doesn't foster the alliances with traditional American allies. Exactly, that makes the free world weaker.

COOPER: It's interesting, though, the idea of -- you know, the idea that he could be through disinformation or whatever it may be or election interference pushing Trump but also pushing Bernie Sanders, the idea of the center is sort of the enemy, that he basically is trying to --

KASPAROV: Yes.

COOPER: -- they try to support the various sides of the spectrum.

KASPAROV: Yes. And I think they're coordinating the efforts, because if you see that's -- what's happening now in the conservative media, it's somewhat a reflection what's happened in 2016 in the liberal media ignoring Trump because many believe that Trump would be ideal opponent for Hillary to beat.

Now, folks just has a moratorium on Sanders. You know, it's amazing. It's just so become socialist and he's just not on the radar, but at the same time if you follow Trump's speeches like in Davos at World Economic Forum or his State of the Union when he brought Guaido, it's the president of Venezuela, so definitely I recognized him. So it's clearly shows that he's prepared his campaign. He's shaping it Sanders.

So, and of course Putin believes, I know and I think it show this with Trump that Sanders could be ideal candidate to go after. Don't forget, Sanders made many state in supporting Soviet Union here in America.

Imagine what Senator Sanders, at that time Mayor Sanders, could have said in the Soviet Union back there when he was, you know, just wanted to please his host. And I have no doubt that if he said something incriminating, Vladimir Putin has it on files.

COOPER: I mean, the statement that he made publicly was about youth programs in the former Soviet Union.

KASPAROV: Yes, but here, but it's -- you know, eating and drinking there in Soviet Union he could be now more open about praising Soviet Union. And I have no doubt that it's already you know, just you know, piled in the White House ready to go when or if Sanders needed (ph).

COOPER: It is remarkable that, you know, we now talk about the White House having purges of officials who are not toeing the line. Again, it is reminiscent of, you know, when you think of the word purges you think Soviet Union.

KASPAROV: I hate telling you, I said so many times. Now, it's not just, you know, solving one problem at a time. I mean, firing the head of DNI after this agency said, allegedly that's what I understand, adhering that Russia was interfering, it's not just simply, you know, putting Trump's man on top of the Trump's lucky, on top of organization, but it's sending a message across-the-board.

COOPER: To the entire organization.

KASPAROV: Exactly. You go against me, that's what going to happen. The same happened with Alexander Vindman. Everybody talked about him being fired. But it's more important what Trump did to his twin brother.

[20:40:05]

COOPER: He was removed from the White House.

KASPAROV: Exactly. But that's a message, you know. If you do something against me, I will go after your family. That's what classical books, you know. That's from Mario Puzo, "The Godfather." This is dictators and what mafia bosses do to protect their interests? They go after the family of their ascenders.

COOPER: The idea that they're making lists now, which we are reporting about today, of potentially anybody who they think is disloyal to be purged out --

KASPAROV: Absolutely.

COOPER: -- it's weakening what they would call the deep state or the bureaucracy.

KASPAROV: Exactly. Because it is less people are just in the powerful positions, you know, as more power is concentrate enhance of inner circle and it will dictating himself. And let's imagine, Trump has been doing it now in the election year. If he, God forbid, is reelected, you know, he will have no more constraints. And that's what Putin is betting on.

COOPER: It's, you know -- I remember Marie Yovanovitch, the former American ambassador to Ukraine who was removed, she talked about the State Department being hollowed out from the inside.

KASPAROV: Absolutely.

COOPER: Which is a terrifying idea. It sort of you don't even notice it from outside, but inside it's been hollowed out.

KASPAROV: But it's a record number of positions in the state, in defense, and many other agencies, intelligence agencies, that are not being filled because, again, less people are just missed positions, more power will be concentrated in the hands of chosen few that Trump nominated.

COOPER: Yes. Garry Kasparov, I appreciate it. Thank you very much.

KASPAROV: Thank you.

COOPER: Coming up, Bernie Sanders told me in a "60 Minutes" interview some fair to say everything is bad about Fidel Castro's Cuban regime. I asked him about comments he had made in the past about literacy rates in Cuba. We're going to play for you the entire exchange. Some Democrats are going after Sanders for it, obviously Republicans as well. We'll show you what he actually said and how it stands up to the facts ahead.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[20:45:49]

COOPER: Senator Bernie Sanders prepares for tonight's CNN Town Hall in South Carolina. He'll be on the stage in about 15 minutes. He's facing criticism following his comments to me about Fidel Castro. Sanders sat down with me for an interview with "60 Minutes" that aired last night. Here is some of the report that aired.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

COOPER (voice-over): Back in the 1980s, Sanders had some positive things to say about the former Soviet Union and the Sundanese does in Nicaragua.

SEN. BERNIE SANDERS (D-VT) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: And everybody was totally convinced --

COOPER: He is explaining why the Cuban people didn't rise up and help the U.S. overthrow Cuban Leader Fidel Castro.

SANDERS: He educated the kids, gave them health care, totally transformed the society.

We're very opposed to the authoritarian nature of Cuba. But you know, it's unfair to simply say everything is bad. You know, when Fidel Castro came into office, you know what he did? He had a massive literacy program. Is that a bad thing even though Fidel Castro did it?

COOPER (on camera): There's a lot of dissidents in prison didn't --

SANDERS: That's right and we condemned that. Unlike Donald Trump, let's be clear, I do not think that Kim Jong-un is a good friend. I don't trade love letters with a murdering dictator. Vladimir Putin, not a great friend of mine.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COOPER: Supporters of Sanders point out that he's essentially saying something very similar to what President Obama once said about education and health care in Cuba. Mike Bloomberg and Pete Buttigieg were quick to criticize Sanders' remarks and some Florida Democrats have also attacked Sanders. Florida is obviously a state vital to Democratic hopes for the presidency in November.

Democratic Congresswoman Debbie Mucarsel-Powell joins me now. Her district is in South Florida. Congresswoman, thanks so much for being with us. You're calling Senator Sanders' comments absolutely unacceptable. Is Sanders wrong in what he said?

REP. DEBBIE MUCARSEL-POWELL (D-FL): Anderson, as the first South American member of Congress, I represent thousands of Cuban-American families that have fled the brutal dictatorship under the Castro regime. And, yes, they are completely unacceptable.

The Cuban regime continues to oppress its people. It continues to cause unspeakable harm to thousands of families. It's actually currently propping up another brutal dictatorship in Venezuela. And those comments are extremely hurtful to so many people here in my area and very offensive.

COOPER: All right, but is he actually wrong factually? I mean, agreed, obviously, everything you said about brutal dictatorship, absolutely. I mean, Sanders did say we oppose the authoritarian nature of the regime. He condemns and pressing dissidents.

What he said was what President Obama said about Cuba back in 2016 which is, you know, yes, they have -- their literacy rates are very high and actually for a country that poor that their medical care is relatively good for Latin America.

MUCARSEL-POWELL: Look, there is a saying here in South Florida by many Cubans that they say, you know, Castro may have given us health care and education but he didn't give us breakfast, lunch, or dinner.

So, the reason why the Cuban people have not been able to rise up is because he has targeted any of its dissidents by jailing them and many times even murdering them. So that is why the Cuban people continue to be oppressed.

And I will continue to stand up for my community against any harmful policies or comments like the one the senator made, and that's why I have been continuing to stand up to the Trump administration because he has consistently targeted immigrants that are living in my district, he has consistently rejected any sort of gun violence reform that we have sent them to the Senate. And I will continue to do that. That is what I was elected to do, to stand up for my community and that's what I intend to do.

COOPER: I do want to play for our viewers what President Obama had said, which a lot of supporters of Sanders are pointing to in the wake of this. Let's play that.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BARACK OBAMA, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I said this to President Castro in Cuba. I said, look, you've made great progress in educating young people. Every child in Cuba gets a basic education. That's a huge improvement from where it was. But you drive around Havana, this economy is not working.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

[20:50:04]

COOPER: Is that as offensive to you?

MUCARSEL-POWELL: Anderson, I am going to be very strong against anyone making any comments giving any credit to Castro. I mean, let's be clear here. We still have thousands of Cubans that are here trying to be reunited with their families.

The Trump administration closed down a program, which I actually introduce a bill called the Cuban Reunification Parole Program to restart that program. People are trying to leave that country.

So again, they may have introduced literacy programs, but what they also introduced is a dictatorship that has targeted so many thousands of families that continue to suffer the pain and suffering from that regime.

COOPER: How do you think this -- does this -- I mean, long-term, do you think this hurts Senator Sanders certainly among the people you represent in South Florida?

MUCARSEL-POWELL: For me personally, I'm going to continue to just focus on all the work that we've been doing in the House of Representatives. I do think that it may hurt the senator and I would invite him to come down to South Florida and actually meet with some of these families so he understands the pain that those comments cost.

COOPER: Congresswoman, I appreciate your time. Thank you so much.

MUCARSEL-POWELL: Thank you so much, Anderson.

COOPER: All right. Quick programming note, I spoke with actress and activist Rosanna Arquette after today's filmmaker Harvey Weinstein, the producer, was found guilty of committing a criminal sex act and rape in the third degree. Arquette is one of more than 80 women who've accused Weinstein of sexual misconduct.

You can watch the interview tomorrow on "Full Circle." It's our new digital news program streaming at cnn.com/fullcircle. It will be there -- also at some point, it will be there on demand as well.

Up next, friends and fans gathered to remember former NBA star Kobe Bryant and his daughter, Gigi. The tributes from Shaq and Michael Jordan and Vanessa Bryant, ahead.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) [20:55:45]

COOPER: It hard to say the emotional devastation of the loss in helicopter crash of NBA legend Kobe Bryant, his 13-year-old daughter Gigi, and seven others left in its wake. It was plain to see, however, on the faces of the estimated 20,000 fans, some teammates, friends and family members today at the Staples Center in Los Angeles. It was clearly you could see the wounds, you could also see healing through tears, sometimes laughter and memories.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BEYONCE, SINGER: I'm here because I love Kobe, and this was one of his favorite songs.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Please welcome Vanessa Bryant.

VANESSA BRYANT, KOBE BRYANT'S WIDOW AND GIGI'S MOM: Gianna Bryant is an amazingly sweet and gentle soul. She had the best laugh. It was infectious. It was pure and genuine. She was an incredible athlete. I won't be able to tell her how gorgeous she looks on her wedding day. I will never get to see my baby girl walk down the aisle, have a father- daughter dance with her daddy, dance on the dance floor with me or have babies of her own. Gigi would have most likely become the best player in the WNBA. She would have made a huge difference.

MICHAEL JORDAN, NBA PLAYER: And as I got to know him, I wanted to be the best big brother that I could be. Now he's got me. I'll have to look at another crying meme for the next --

SHAQUILLE O'NEAL, NBA PLAYER: The guys were complaining. He said, Shaq, Kobe is not passing the ball. I said, I'll talk to him. I said, Kobe, there is no I in team. And Kobe said, I know, but there's an M-E in that (INAUDIBLE).

BRYANT: Kobe was known as a fierce competitor on the basketball court, the greatest of all time, the writer, an Oscar winner and the Black Mamba. But to me he was KobKob, my Boo-Boo, my Bae-Boo, my papi chulo.

Kobe and I have been together since I was 17-and-a-half years old. I was his first girlfriend, his first love, his wife, his best friend, his confidant, and his protector. May they both rest in peace and have fun in heaven until we meet begin one day. We love you both and miss you forever and always, mommy.

KOBE BRYANT, NBA PLAYER: You asked for my hustle, I gave you my heart.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COOPER: Kobe Bryant was 41 years old, his daughter just 13. We remember them tonight as well as Christina Mauser who was laid to rest, John, Alyssa, Keri Altobelli, Sarah and Payton Chester and -- Altobelli, and the helicopter pilot, Ara Zobayan. We remember them.

Next on CNN, the first of three CNN Town Halls. Tonight, first up, my colleague Chris Cuomo with Senator Bernie Sanders. CHRIS CUOMO, CNN HOST: All right, live from Charleston, South Carolina, this is a CNN Town Hall event. Good evening. From the Memminger Auditorium, I'm Chris Cuomo. So, we are just five days away from the South Carolina primary. This is the last major test for the Democratic presidential candidates before Super Tuesday.