Return to Transcripts main page
CNN News Central
"DREAMers" Program Ruled Unlawful, Ending New Enrollments; Hunter Biden Indicted On Gun Charges. Aired 1:30-2p ET
Aired September 14, 2023 - 13:30 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN HOST: A federal judge just dealt a devastating blow to DREAMers, undocumented children whose families made the decision to bring them into the U.S. His new ruling reaffirmed an earlier one that the DACA program is unlawful.
DACA, Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, started under President Obama and it protected DREAMers from deportation.
The Homeland Security secretary expressed deep disappointment by the court decision. He stressed that it does not impact current DACA recipients, permitting renewals, but it will block DHS from processing any new enrollments.
Joining us now is Erendira Rendon, the vice president of immigrant justice at the Resurrection Project. She is a DACA recipient whose family brought her from Mexico when she was 4.
Erendira, thank you so much for being with us.
How are you reacting to the ruling?
ERENDIRA RENDON, VICE PRESIDENT OF IMMIGRANT JUSTICE, RESURRECTION PROJECT & DACA RECIPIENT: We're very disappointed in the ruling, although we did expect that -- the Fifth Circuit Court rulings tend to be conservative and don't take into account the broad authority that the president does have using enforcements with immigrants.
KEILAR: Erendira, in his ruling, the judge said this kind of program should not come from the executive branch, should not come from the judicial branch. The point being this is Congress' job.
Erendira, I'm so sorry, I do need to pause.
We have some breaking news. I need to go to Jim.
JIM SCIUTTO, CNN HOST: We do have breaking news just into CNN. And that is news that Hunter Biden has now been indicted on gun charges.
This, of course, following the breakdown in what had been a deal between prosecutors and Hunter Biden and his lawyers, a plea deal. He will now be charged on the gun charge. Our Kara Scannell has been following this.
Kara, what do we know? What's in the indictment specifically?
KARA SCANNELL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Jim, this indictment just hit the docket. It's four pages long. And it's three criminal counts.
So what prosecutors are alleging here is that Hunter Biden had filled out the form when he bought the firearm falsely. That is because the form asked the question of, are you a user of drugs at the time that you're purchasing this firearm? Hunter Biden checked the box that said no.
But he has since become very public about his abuse of cocaine. So he's charged with two counts of making false statements on these forms and one count of possessing while he was addicted and a user of a controlled substance, again, crack cocaine.
So a three-count indictment of felony charges. These are serious charges.
Now, Jim, as you mentioned, he did have a deal that would have allowed him to avoid prosecution on a gun possession charge. That collapsed under scrutiny by a federal judge.
Now Hunter Biden's lawyers argued this agreement they struck was binding and that the prosecutors could not bring other charges. Clearly, something they're appearing like they're going to fight in this case.
I've reached out to Hunter Biden's criminal attorney. I have not heard back since the indictment hit the docket.
But certainly, very serious charges. This possession charge carries a statutory maximum of 10 years in prison, though that is rarely what a defendant is sentenced to.
Because often these charges accompany another crime and that's not what we're seeing in this case.
But prosecutors did say they're going to bring the charges by the end of the month. It's kind of now.
We don't know yet when Hunter Biden will have to appear in court for an arraignment on these charges, that's not available yet on the docket.
But it's important to note that prosecutors are investigating him for tax charges. He did have a plea to plead guilty to two misdemeanor tax charges. That also fell apart.
Those charges were dismissed. And that's something that the special counsel, David Weiss, is still continuing to investigate. This is not the end of the road for Hunter Biden as far as potential
criminal charges. He's facing three criminal counts today, Jim, pretty serious charges.
SCIUTTO: That's right. These relate to the gun charge. They do not affect the continuing investigation into the tax-related charges.
Kara Scannell, thanks so much.
We should note, this is the first time in U.S. history that the Justice Department has filed charges against the son or daughter of a sitting president.
Our Evan Perez is here now.
This is significant. Before we go to trial, before we get to a point where, if he's convicted, there would be sentencing involved. But tell us how we arrived here. Because until a few weeks ago, the thinking was they had reached a deal.
EVAN PEREZ, CNN SENIOR JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Right. They reached a deal, Jim. And it was at least the judge's discomfort with what she thought was the odd nature of that agreement.
Which basically called for her to play no role. She had to rubber stamp it, was how she viewed it. She was being asked to rubber stamp an agreement between prosecutors, David Weiss, the Trump appointee, the U.S. attorney who is still in office and who is overseeing this investigation as now special counsel.
The deal was, if Hunter Biden abided by a certain amount of terms that were going to be laid out, that he would have this charge essentially go away eventually.
And that's where the judge drew the line and started asking questions and, frankly, where this all began unraveling.
But the other thing worth noting is that Hunter Biden himself caused a lot of the problem for, obviously, the fact that he was addicted to drugs and he bought this firearm. He possessed it for about 11 days, I believe, according to the information, according to the prosecution.
But what made this certainly more easy for prosecutors to bring was that Hunter Biden wrote a book, he discussed his struggles with drug issues, and he talked about the time when he possessed the firearm.
And that really drew the attention of investigators at the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms.
Who were already looking at the issues and really cemented the idea that he should not have been able to buy the firearm or at least when he bought it, Jim, that he did not truthfully fill out that form, which everybody fills out when they buy firearms.
Look, you and I have talked about this before. This is one of those things that cases like this don't often get brought. And I think Hunter Biden's attorneys are going to make a big case of this.
Because usually there's other things that are attached to it, other criminal conduct attached to it related to the gun. It's unusual for this to be brought as a single charge without anything else, perhaps violence or anything else.
PEREZ: So we'll see. This will be litigated, obviously, by Hunter Biden's attorneys. They're going to point out that he's being singled out. They'll claim it's for political reasons because of all of the criticism from Republicans on Capitol Hill.
SCIUTTO: Evan Perez, as you note, it's a federal crime to lie on the ATF form but it's not a violent gun crime here. It does not relate to the use of a firearm.
Kara noted that the top end for a sentence for a crime such as this is 10 years. That will often get mentioned on stories like this. But you and I know that rarely do folks get sentenced to the top end of the range here.
Have you spoken to anybody who has given you a range for what might typically be a sentence for a single charge such as this one?
PEREZ: In federal cases like this, it's very unusual for you to not get some kind of prison sentence. So it's going to be up to the judge.
And the fact that he is a first-time offender, doesn't have a history certainly with the federal court system, and as far as I know. I don't know if he has some kind of state -- any kind of record with state authorities anywhere in the country. But all of those things will be taken into account.
And obviously, the fact, again, there is no violent crime attached to this, nothing attached to this will bring it down significantly.
But look, we point out that this is a felony, and under federal rules, it's almost always -- judges at least give some kind of prison sentence as a result of a violation like this.
SCIUTTO: Good to keep in mind as we go forward.
Evan Perez, thanks so much. Please stand by.
I briefly want to go back to Kara Scannell.
Because as you noted briefly prior, Kara, they were very close to a deal encompassing not just the gun charge but also the tax charges with Hunter Biden, extremely close, it fell apart. Tell us the back story.
SCANNELL: Yes, Jim. So they had reached this deal after a five-year investigation where they had taken a very expansive look at a range of conduct, including possible foreign bribery, possible failure to register as a foreign agent, a foreign lobbying charge.
And then it had narrowed down to the tax charge and the gun charge and that was something that both Hunter Biden's team and prosecutors had negotiated this plea deal for.
It was essentially all agreed to, they brought it to the judge in Delaware and, as Evan noted, it was structured in, in such a way that she was supposed to be, essentially, a rubber stamp on it.
And as part of the deal for the tax charges, Hunter Biden would have faced a sentence of probation. That's what prosecutors agreed to recommend. It would ultimately still be up to the judge to decide. But they were coming in with the idea that it would be probation.
And the gun charge was structured differently, where it would go away if he agreed over the course of 24 months to abide by certain things, such as not using drugs, not purchasing a gun.
And his lawyers said he was meeting weekly, regularly, with probation now as though the deal was valid and in place.
But then the judge asked a lot of questions about it, including what the scope of potential immunity Hunter Biden would have from future charges in connection with the tax component and then also on the gun charge. She wasn't sure it was constitutionally sound the way it was structured.
They had wanted her to serve as an arbiter to decide if either one, if the prosecutors thought that Hunter Biden had violated the terms of his release and the terms of the deal, she wasn't sure that would stand up in court and asked them to rework it.
And soon after that, both sides said they couldn't find a deal. They were working towards it in court. They had actually come back to the table after a break telling the judge they figured it out.
And she said, no, no no, I want you to go, you know, back. And then it really did fell apart. They weren't able to see eye-to-eye on it.
As then, as this was all becoming public, we learned that the U.S. attorney in Delaware, the Trump-appointee, David Weiss, had asked for special counsel status and that Merrick Garland, the attorney general, had granted that.
He said it reached a stage in the investigation. And there has not been any clarity on what prompted -- you know, what he meant by "reached a stage."
But there is obviously a lot of scrutiny by Republicans over this investigation, the handling of it. And that has been something that is a real discussion on Capitol Hill, with hearings and with now this move to open an impeachment into President Biden and whether he has any dealings with Hunter Biden's business.
SCIUTTO: Well, allegations of politics is right. Often coming from the former president himself in terms of what they say is a two-tiered justice system. Here we have it, as you noted, the first time in U.S. history, the son of a president has been charged by the Justice Department.
Kara Scannell, thanks so much.
Going to turn it over to Boris for some legal analysis.
BORIS SANCHEZ, CNN HOST: Yes, let's chat with CNN legal analyst, Jennifer Rodgers.
Jennifer, obviously, again, this is a historic moment, the first time DOJ has charged the son of a sitting president. Your reaction to the news?
JENNIFER RODGERS, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Well, Boris, I think the first time we had a charge against a former president, it was important that prosecutors took their time and built strong cases based on compelling evidence. And I'm afraid the prosecutors have not done that here.
I certainly, if I were making history, would not want to make it with this set of facts and laws. I think this case is weak. It's very rarely charged, this section on being an addict in possession of a weapon.
So I think they have a lot of problems both on the factual side, which is why it's rarely charged,
And on the legal side, after the Supreme Court's court on the Bruin case in the Second Amendment, a lot of legal observers think these gun possession statutes are in jeopardy.
We know Hunter Biden's lawyers will fight vigorously on the legal front saying, after the Supreme Court decision, this conviction could not stand.
So I think they have a lot of trouble here ahead. And we'll see how it plays out. But I think it's inadvisable.
SANCHEZ: It's interesting you say that. Because as an outside observer, it seems simple in terms of evidence. He signed a form claiming he had not been using narcotics. And then, he later writes a biography in which he acknowledges that during that time he was using narcotics.
But you're suggesting that the defense is going to have strong arguments against that?
RODGERS: Most of the gun possession statute talks about statuses that are not really indisputable. Right? Like a felon in possession. If you are a felon, which you can prove on paper, and you possess a gun, you're guilty.
It's a little bit different when you talk about an addict. It's usually very hard to prove. Granted, easier if you are someone who has written an autobiography.
But he could come back and say, I was just embellishing, I was writing a book, I wanted to make money off of it. I was lying.
There's a reason that they don't bring many cases under this subsection. And the proof issue is one of them.
It's also inadvisable because prosecutors and the government in society have an interest in addicts getting clean. So when you look at someone under the rubric, not "can we charge, do we have the evidence" but "should we charge in our discretion?"
If you look at an addict, who says, I'm now clean and I don't even have the gun anymore, is that the kind of case that, in your prosecutorial discretion, ought to be brought?
Prosecutors originally thought no, so we'll divert it. Now they've made a different decision and we'll have to see if a jury can be convinced of that.
SANCHEZ: On the question of that diversion agreement, initially, prosecutors said they would drop the gun charge within two years if Hunter Biden had passed drug tests and stayed out of any other legal trouble.
Is there a chance, do you think, there might be some other kind of deal struck her or do you think this is headed for a trial?
RODGERS: There's always a possibility that a deal could be struck. Our system would breakdown if every single defendant insisted on a trial. And Hunter Biden, I'm sure, doesn't want to roll the dice either.
I think there is a chance that a deal could be struck. And that's really in society's interest, too. As I said, if you have someone who's clearly not dangerous, assuming he stays clean and doesn't possess a gun, that's what we should all want.
So hopefully, they can work out some sort of deal here that will stop short of actually going to trial on this.
SANCHEZ: So how does the fact that the special counsel, David Weiss, is still considering some of the potential tax related charges here? How could that factor into the possibility of a deal?
RODGERS: Well, there was a reason that this was all kind of packaged together, right? Obviously, Hunter Biden wants to wrap up all of this legal jeopardy in one package. And prosecutors have an interest in doing that, too.
If I'm Hunter Biden's lawyers, I'm going to say, again, let's wrap everything up, he doesn't want anything hanging over his head. He wants the tax thing wrapped up. He wants the gun charge wrapped up. So I'm sure they'll be back to the table now.
What really pushed them to do this and kind of forced this is that the Speedy Trial Act was running. They had to take care of this speedy trial requirement.
So obviously, the defendant, Hunter Biden, wasn't going to waive his rights to have the indictment brought within the time anymore, because he didn't want to give them that leeway. So that's why they had to charge.
So now, hopefully, everyone can take a breath, sit down, get back to the negotiating table and see what happens.
As I said, Hunter Biden has a lot of good arguments here. If they get pushed into a situation where they don't have a deal that works for them and go to trial, I think they have a good case.
SANCHEZ: Jennifer, please stand by.
Because outside of the legal, there is also the political. So let's go to Brianna for that.
KEILAR: Yes, there certainly is.
And we should mention that President Biden will be speaking here, we are expecting, in about an hour.
We have Kayla Tausche at the White House. Manu Raju looking for reaction on Capitol Hill.
Kayla, I want to go to you first.
This is going to be President Biden confronting this development with his son as he's also confronting House Republicans launching this impeachment inquiry process as they are seeking to link him -- so far, they have not been able to.
But they are seeking to link him to Hunter Biden's foreign business dealings. This is becoming quite a multifaceted thing that the president is confronting.
KAYLA TAUSCHE, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: And, Brianna, we've reached out to the White House for reaction to the indictment. No word just yet on how they will respond.
But up until this point, the White House had declined to engage, pretty much at all with this particular situation involving Hunter Biden.
Besides noting that the special counsel or the U.S. attorney, as it were, before was appointed by former President Trump and the investigation had been going on for multiple years.
Using those facts to suggest that it was -- it was being done in a fair and above-board manner.
Since it became a special counsel investigation, the White House has been even more reluctant to provide anything on this front. We know that the president views these matters very personally. He
cares for his son very deeply. And White House aides know not to cross him on anything when it comes to Hunter Biden and his love for his family.
We know that when there was a plea deal on the table that aides said that there was a sense of relief that this situation was headed for what appeared to be a neat conclusion within a predictable time frame.
And that there was, of course, more uncertainty and more stress injected into this situation when that plea deal fell apart.
So we're out to all of our sources about what this means for the president, what this means for the family dynamic and the political dynamic in the weeks ahead -- Brianna?
KEILAR: Yes. This is certainly going to dominate the conversation.
Manu, you're there on the Hill.
Look, we look at this today. Three charges, three gun-related charges for Hunter Biden. You heard Jennifer Rodgers, our legal expert, saying that this is actually, in her opinion, a weak case. We also know that special counsel David Weiss is still considering tax-related issues.
But nonetheless, I suspect, considering with what Republicans think of David Weiss, this is not going to do it for them.
MANU RAJU, CNN CHIEF CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes. No question about it. You're going to hear skepticism pushed back and members trying to investigate everything that's happening with David Weiss' investigation into Hunter Biden.
I just caught up with one Republican, Congressman Matt Gaetz, who sits on the House Judiciary Committee, and asked him about this charge. He said, "Indicting Hunter Biden on a gun charge is like indicting Jeffrey Dahmer for littering."
So you're hearing some skepticism from some folks on the right. I'm sure that will be echoed on down the line.
You'll recall exactly what the House Republicans hoped to do. In the aftermath of that plea deal that later collapsed, they wanted to try to figure out all the communications that went into the plea deal.
They raised concerns about David Weiss being named a special prosecutor in the aftermath of that collapsed plea deal, and pushing to try to get Weiss and people who have been closes to the special counsel to come to Capitol Hill, something they have been unsuccessful to do so far.
This is, of course, all part of the Republican effort to try to tie Hunter Biden's actions to Joe Biden, specifically about the Justice Department's handling of this investigation.
There's no evidence that the White House itself was involved in any way with the Justice Department's handling of its probe and the ultimate indictment here into Hunter Biden.
But that's one thing that Republicans continue to raise suspicions of, continue to say is part of their overall effort to investigate the president that could eventually lead to his impeachment.
So no question about it. This announcement here unlikely to satisfy the Republican critics here, who believe much more should have been brought against Hunter Biden.
And are doing everything they can to tie it to Joe Biden and his time in the White House -- Brianna?
KEILAR: All right, Manu, thank you.
Kayla, thank you as well.
I want to bring in Evan Perez.
So, Evan, an appeals court ruling in recent months, it said that the law being used to prosecute Hunter Biden was actually unconstitutional. Does this call into question what DOJ is doing here?
PEREZ: Yes. I think that's something you're going to hear in the coming weeks and months from Hunter Biden's legal team.
You'll hear a lot about this ruling that came down just a few months ago from the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans. And they ruled that you can't -- that the government cannot deny the Second Amendment rights of someone just because of past drug use.
I'll read you a part of what the panel said. It said, "Our history and tradition may support some limits on an intoxicated person's right to carry a weapon, but it does not justify disarming a sober citizen based exclusively on his past drug usage."
Now this was a case dealing with a man who was convicted in Mississippi, who had been -- had problems with alcohol use in the past. And in this case, obviously, there are different facts.
And I should note that this is a -- this is an appeals court ruling that applies to the circuit that's covered by that court, by that appeals court in New Orleans.
It does not cover Delaware, where this case has been brought, where the Justice Department, where David Weiss, the special counsel, has now brought this case against Hunter Biden.
So, that is, of course, something that is still working its way through the courts. We don't have a final decision yet. Certainly, it's going to end up before the Supreme Court.
But you can see where this is going, right, Brianna? The idea being that, certainly, given the trend from the Supreme Court, which is to expand the definition of people's gun rights, rights to possess firearms under the Second Amendment.
It's been expanding over the last few years with the Supreme Court's view of this, the conservative Supreme Court's view of this, that it is quite possible that the days -- the days are numbered for this law that is being used to prosecute Hunter Biden.
And that's one of the things that I think has to be on the mind of prosecutors, on the Justice Department, of David Weiss, and might have influenced, frankly, one reason why they have tried to secure a plea, some kind of a diversion agreement, again, which is unusual.
But might have been part of the reason why they were so eager to try to wrap this up until, of course, it collapsed in front of the judge there in Delaware.
So that is sort of like a preview of coming attractions, right? You know that Hunter Biden's attorneys are going to point to that ruling in the Fifth Circuit that calls into question whether this law is even going to stand by the time this is all said and done and certainly before it gets to the Supreme Court.
KEILAR: So why then, Evan, pursue it? I mean, if this was another defendant, would they be pursuing it?
PEREZ: I think that's a question that I think you're going to hear a lot from Hunter Biden's team and certainly people who support him because -- you know, again, this is not a final decision.
Certainly, the appeals court in the Fifth Circuit, it's a very conservative circuit. It's one that certainly -- certainly, the Biden administration spends a lot of time fighting with because they keep making rulings that are contrary to things that the Biden administration has been trying to do, right?
So it certainly is not over. Certainly, from the federal government's point of view, from the Justice Department's point of view.
This is a long-standing law. This is a law that's been on the books for a long, long, long time.
And it's only now being revisited because of the trend that we've seen from the conservative Supreme Court and the courts in general that perhaps Second Amendment rights are more expansive than we've ever thought, right?
That's one reason why you could see why prosecutors in Delaware are bringing this case, because it's not final, and it doesn't apply to them. That ruling in New Orleans does not apply to the district in Delaware where this case is being brought.
But it does raise the question. And one reason why I think it may have played at least -- again, this is me being -- doing some analysis here.
It may have played a role, at least partly, in why David Weiss, the now special counsel in Delaware, sitting in Delaware, wanted to try to get this move -- to move on from this.
Because there are very, very big questions as to whether this law that they are using to prosecute Hunter Biden is actually going to stand when everything is said and done, certainly by the Supreme Court.
KEILAR: Evan, if you can just stay with us.
We are going to broaden out this conversation as we have just learned that Hunter Biden is facing three gun-related federal charges.
SANCHEZ: We have with us Paula Reid and Jessica Schneider.
Paula, first to you.
You're hearing from people close to Hunter Biden, his legal team. What are they saying about this?
PAULA REID, CNN SENIOR LEGAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: As we would expect from anyone who is suddenly facing a federal indictment, he's not doing well. He's been under investigation for five years.
They thought this case was going to be resolved by a plea deal. That, of course, fell apart. But there was still a lot of optimism in his team that it would ultimately be approved by the judge. That clearly didn't happen.
Now there's a full-blown special counsel, and he has been indicted here.
This has been a very costly ordeal for him. He faces millions of dollars in legal fees. He's having trouble raising additional money to pay his legal bills. And to fight federal charges, it costs a lot of money.
At this point, I'm told there is no initial appearance scheduled for him. They are still trying to work out the logistics.
Usually, the way this works is you arrange a time to surrender at the local FBI field office and then have you an initial appearance.
But I'm told, at this point, there is nothing scheduled. That will have to be worked out between Hunter Biden's attorneys and the Justice Department.
SCIUTTO: Jennifer Rodgers, still with us here.
Take the politics out of it for a moment. From a purely legal perspective, are crimes like this typically charged by themselves, in effect, lying on the ATF form to purchase a firearm?
And if they are charged, what kind of sentence do they typically carry?
RODGERS: They are sometimes charged by themselves. And the other one, the possession charge, the 922G, is often charged by itself but not for the subsection that deals with drug addicts. [13:59:52]
The most common one is a felon in possession, being a felon in possession of a firearm. But that's frequently charged by itself.
But, you know, it's -- this one provision, because it's so uncertain and so harder to prove, is the one you don't see very often.
The penalties vary. It really depends on the person's prior record.