Return to Transcripts main page

CNN News Central

Hunter Biden Indicted On 3 Gun Charges. Aired 2:30-3p ET

Aired September 14, 2023 - 14:30   ET



KRISTEN HOLMES, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: I think what you're going to end up hearing is what we heard from Representative Comer, that this is a small start, kind of incremental responses here.

But this is years of messaging that they are now going have to figure out how to rewrite because the messaging has been that this is only happening to Donald Trump because it is political.

Now you are seeing it happen on the other side. And they are going to have to navigate that.

As we know, Donald Trump, we're not talking about just legal options here, legal ramifications, legal challenges that his team is making.

We're talking about the court of public opinion, which is where Donald Trump likes to play in, and that's the argument that he has been making for years.

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN HOST: I do want to bring in former Congressmen Charlie Dent and Francis Rooney back into the conversation.

Congressman Rooney, the reason, I mean, the political part of this, that's what it's about for Republicans obviously. This is about 2024 as they are trying to draw links to the president that's so far not here, that are really not here that we're not seeing.

At what point do you think this sticks? And how much do you think it's already sticking?

FRANCIS ROONEY, (R), FORMER U.S. CONGRESSMAN FROM FLORIDA: Well, you know, they have a habit of outrunning their skis. I mean, this impeachment thing, as Charlie alluded to, I think he's absolutely correct, is not a good move for a variety of reasons.

They don't have anything. They've got three committees working on all of this. If they can't figure it out and get the evidence out to the American people, why have one more process to do it?

It makes us wonder why they have House committees in the first place if they can't get their job done. That's a separate question.

The other thing is, you know, swing districts, you know. As Paul Ryan used to say, hard core conservative districts knock the RINOs and things like that, but without the RINOs, you won't have a majority. And Charlie can speak to that because he was from a swing district and

I was from just the other kind.

They have just put a lot of Republicans in some serious jeopardy, I think.

KEILAR: Charlie, what do you think?

CHARLIE DENT, (R), FORMER U.S. CONGRESSMAN FROM PENNSYLVANIA: House Republicans represent districts Joe Biden won. So at least with respect to the impeachment inquiry, this is terrible for those members because they are getting hammered every which way.

They are getting called in their offices right now from the right saying, you know, you're a RINO, a squish, a bed wetter, don't have the guts to vote to impeach Biden. They're getting calls from the left saying, you're a MAGA Republican.

They are in a terrible situation. They don't want to be talking about any of this. A lot of swing district Republicans, this is just bad for them.

What I argued, Hunter Biden, it's a bit of a sideshow. Yes, this whole thing is malodorous and it speaks to influence peddling, which is very bad for Biden.

Do you think that's an issue driving this election? I don't think so.

But still, if you're trying to draw a contrast with Donald Trump, who is very corrupt and ethically and legally challenged, and you've got this the situation with Hunter Biden that certainly muddies the water.

Again, Republicans always have this problem of overplaying their hand on these investigations, whether it was Benghazi, Fast and Furious, the Clinton impeachment.

And now here we are again with the Hunter Biden situation. They don't know how to take a political issue and use it.

I mean, it's malodorous enough with all the money from the gas company and the Chinese business dealings. That's all they have to talk about. They don't have to go down the impeachment road.

But that's what they have done and it's not going to help them in the elections.

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN HOST: Congressman Rooney, so devil's advocate question here. And you know better than me, given your political experience.

It may not pay off in the voting booth, right, but -- but it may succeed in creating a reality, right? We saw that with the false claims about the stolen 2020 election. Most Republicans believe that today, you know. That lie has worked.

Doesn't look like it paid off in the midterms in 2022. We'll see what it does in 2024.

But does this successfully at least create a reality that if, in the minds of some Republican voters --and we see this in the polling, right that, there's a two-tiered Justice Department system or legal system here, right -- that at least that skepticism is now -- is now baked in.

ROONEY: Well, I don't think they can count. Because what they have got, these things that you're talking about, these trends have created a very hard 35 percent bloc that can probably make sure Trump gets the nomination or something.

But makes it very difficult to reach across and care the middle of the road people like Charlie Dent used to, that George bush carried and Ronald Reagan carried. And you can't get there with just the hardcore fanatics.

If it were me, I'd be talking about MAGAnomics in a really good way. I would be ignoring the fact that Trump was the messenger because that's defective.

But I would be talking about how our national debt, our interest rates, our inflation and our unemployment were lower before January 2021 than they are right now. That's the kind of argument that they ought to be making.

BORIS SANCHEZ, CNN HOST: I want to share with you a statement we just got from Republican Congressman Andy Biggs.

He says, quote, "The Hunter Biden indictment on federal gun charges is a move to make you think that the DOJ is fair. Don't fall for it. They are trying to protect him from way more serious charges coming his way."


We can debate the potential for more serious charges.

In fact, I wanted to ask Evan Perez, if he's still with us, about that.

We know that special counsel, David Weiss, is considering charges on tax-related issues.

But I recall that one of the reasons that the plea deal for Hunter Biden fell apart is because there was disagreement between the prosecution and the defense over the potential for additional charges, specifically on the question of Hunter Biden acting as a foreign agent.

Do we know what other charges the special counsel might be investigating beyond the question of tax evasion?

EVAN PEREZ, CNN SENIOR JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: We don't, Boris. At this point, we do not know.

Look, a special counsel, that's one -- that's one of the things that you always worry.

Certainly if you're on the receiving end of one of these investigations, if you're on the receiving end of a special counsel, you're always worried that they may spend time and additional resources trying to find things for -- you know, essentially for the reason that they exist, right, to come up with things.

And so that's always one of the -- one of the concerns if you're on the receiving end of this. That's one of the reasons why Donald Trump was so mad about a special counsel being assigned to -- to look into his affairs.

So we don't know whether David Weiss is going to look beyond this.

We do know that this has been an investigation that, again, over five years, has gone all over. Has looked at -- at the entire waterfront. They have looked at, again, the foreign lobbying allegations.

And I should note that the -- that the foreign lobbying aspect of this was looked at by the FBI. This was part of their investigation. And at end the -- the prosecution decided that there just wasn't enough there. And that's one of the reasons why that fell away.

To me, it was a bit of a surprise when -- when one of the prosecutors stood up before the judge in Delaware and said that that was still a thing that was hanging in the air, right?

And so certainly, because everything that we've heard from our reporting is that that is not likely to add up to much in the end. We don't know what else could be -- could be looked at.

Certainly, what the wording of the appointment letter for David Weiss makes clear that he can look at crimes that are related to the ones that were already being investigated.

And so that could be a lot of things. That could be -- again, just speculating here, but it could include things related to other members of the family who were involved with Hunter Biden's business dealings.

We know that one of the -- one of the sitting president's brothers was involved in some of his business dealings.

So look, if you're the special counsel, those are the things that you, under the law and certainly under the rules, you can start looking at.

We don't have any indication that that's the case, but it is -- obviously this is something that I think Republicans believe. They want more investigation. They think that there's more to find.

And certainly, the investigation that we know that has looked at -- has been looked at for five years has gone over all of these things and arrived at, in the end, that -- that the things that they could bring were the tax charges and, of course, the -- the gun case.

I should note that even for the tax cases, there are things that have expired for the statute of limitations. So because this thing has gone on so long, there are certain things that were being investigated that they can no longer charge because the statute of limitations, in some cases, for tax cases are six years.

Other crimes, other potential crimes, alleged crimes, could be five years, so some of those things have expired.

As a matter of fact, if they are going to bring the tax cases that we know they are looking at, they need to move quickly because some of those might expire as soon as three weeks from now in October.

So that's one of the reasons why we certainly don't know what else David Weiss could be doing.

But it does beg the question because they have looked at every single thing that we -- at least from our knowledge, and this is where they have arrived.

Now, I should note that if you look at the testimony from some of the whistleblowers, these IRS agents, they think that they were prevented from looking into other things.

Including looking more closely at then-Vice President Biden, now President Biden. They believe that they should have been allowed to look at that stuff.

I don't know whether there's anything there and whether that stuff is even something that they could bring charges on right now.

KEILAR: And that's something that some Republicans, even Republicans like Nancy Mace, who said they are concerned about where this whole thing will go politically, have said they hope that this inquiry is going to lead them in the direction of that kind of data. We will see.

Evan, stay with us.

Everyone, if you could stay with us as well here on CNN NEWS CENTRAL.


Ahead, we'll have more on our breaking news. The Justice Department indicting Hunter Biden, the president's son, on three gun-related charges. This is the first time in U.S. history that the DOJ has filed charges against the son of a sitting president.

We'll have much more after a quick break.


SANCHEZ: We have breaking news into CNN. Hunter Biden, the president's son, has been indicted on three gun charges.

Federal prosecutors charged Hunter Biden with two counts for alleged false statements he made while purchasing a gun and a third count for possessing the gun while he admitted in a biography that he was addicted to drugs.

We have an entire team tracking this story for us now.

Let's go to Kara Scannell now, who can breakdown the latest information coming from the special counsel.

There was a deadline looming to file these charges, Kara, and now they are here. Obviously, it's an historic move by the DOJ.

KARA SCANNELL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Boris. I mean, this is the first time a president's son or a president's child has been indicted on federal charges.

And here, Special Counsel David Weiss' team has announced the filing of this three-count indictment and two of the counts, as you said, relate to making false statements on the forms that Hunter Biden filled out when he purchased this revolver in Delaware in 2018.

One of those was lying on the form for saying that he was not addicted to a controlled substance at the time that he made this purchase.


And the other, a second count on false statements relates to the filings -- the similar false statements made to the dealer of the gun who he bought the gun from.

Now the third count is another felony count where Hunter Biden was possessing this gun while he was addicted to crack cocaine, and he possessed this gun for about 11 days in October of 2018.

Now they had reached a deal where Hunter Biden would have avoided prosecution on a gun possession charge if he abided by certain conditions, such as not using drugs or buying another gun over a 24- month period.

That part of this -- this broader deal that he had reached with the Justice Department had collapsed upped the scrutiny of a federal judge who raised questions about whether it was constitutional.

Now both sides went back to the drawing board, the Justice Department and Hunter Biden's team here, trying to renegotiate, but they ultimately didn't make a deal.

Instead, the U.S. Attorney David Weiss, a Trump appointee, had asked the attorney general, Merrick Garland, to elevate him to special counsel status, which would give him additional powers. That granted.

And then the prosecutors from his office came to court and said that they would be bringing this gun charge because of issues about speedy trial and other matters before the end of September. So here we are today with the new indictment being filed.

Now, the big question here though, is Hunter Biden's lawyers have already signaled that had they believe that that deal they reached was still binding. They said Biden was complying with it. He was meeting with the probation department as part of this arrangement.

So they are clearly signaling that they think that the DOJ was prohibited from bringing new charges.

We've yet to hear any charges from the Biden camp yet since this indictment hit the docket about an hour and a half ago.

You know, there is this question of tax charges. Special Counsel's Weiss' team look like they are moving forward to bring certain tax charges. We don't know exactly how they will be fashioned.

They did have a deal for misdemeanor. They are also -- they could also bring federal tax evasion charges. Those are all possibilities on the table.

And that those charges would be brought, something that would take place in either Washington, D.C., or California where there is -- where the alleged crimes would have taken place.

So today is one step in this broad investigation. But it's not over for Hunter Biden.

We also still don't know when he'll make his first appearance. That has not been decided yet. But he will be facing these three charges that carry some serious prison time if convicted -- Jim?

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN HOST: As we noted, we're already five years into this.

Kayla Tausche is at the White House now.

Kayla, I understand President Biden is going to speak soon.

KAYLA TAUSCHE, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: He is. President Biden just arriving in Prince George's County, Maryland, where he had planned to give a speech on Bidenomics.

And the goal, according to senior White House advisers, was to establish counterprogramming of sorts, to what they saw as a sideshow on Capitol Hill, as Republicans launched an official impeachment inquiry and were barreling towards a government shutdown in just 16 days.

But now the split screen will be one that the White House had not anticipated and certainly does not want. The split screen between the president delivering a speech on his policy platform against the backdrop of this indictment, against the president's son.

The White House has referred all questions, all inquiries to the Department of Justice and to Hunter's personal legal representatives, noting that this is an independent investigation and one of a personal nature.

The White House has engaged on this topic, it's gone to great lengths to point out that David Weiss was first appointed to his role in Delaware by former President Donald Trump and that the five-year nature of the investigation means that they turned over every stone possible and that it was conducted in a fair and independent manner.

Of course, that was largely when the investigation was going to result in a plea deal. And there was a sense of relief by the White House, according to sources that I've spoken with, that this situation was expected to be tied up neatly with a bow several weeks ago.

That before the plea deal fell apart. And certainly there's been some consternation behind the scenes as there was a lot of uncertainty about exactly how this would go for the president's son who has continued to keep incredibly close and a member of his inner circle and has not shied away from appearing with Hunter publicly.

We're still awaiting the president in Maryland. We're awaiting further word from the president's inner circle about exactly how he's feeling and reacting to this news.

But certainly, this is not the image that the White House hoped for today.

SCIUTTO: Kayla Tausche, thanks so much.

SANCHEZ: Yes. Let's talk about that split screen that Kayla was describing between what's going on with President Biden, the impeachment inquiry, what's happening with his son, Hunter, and all of Donald Trump's legal woes.

Because, Paula, part of this, part of the impeachment inquiry certainly, has Donald Trump's fingerprints on it.


I think Republicans, it's fair to say, are eager to muddy the water when it comes to hint's legal issues and anything related potentially without evidence, so far, to the president.

PAULA REID, CNN SENIOR LEGAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Yes. When this is in the political arena as opposed to the legal arena, it's not that hard to do with Hunter Biden. The Internet is littered with images of the president's son engaging in what I think most people would say are depraved acts.

He went through a time in his life where he was heavily addicted to drugs. He was engaging with prostitutes, he was holding weapons, posing for photos during all of this. Those are all over the Internet.

But sometimes it's easy to conflate those photos with the evidence that criminal prosecutors believe can be proved beyond a reasonable doubt in a court of law.

And after investigating for five years, they were only willing to sort of engage in a plea deal for tax charges and potential gun charges that a lot of experts have suggested would not necessarily be brought against just anyone.

They are not commonly bought and that his team could not be proved beyond a reasonable doubt. So there's no doubt this is a deeply flawed person. And there are

photos everywhere that, politically, most voters would look at that and say, of course, this guy must have done something wrong, ew.

But when prosecutors did a five-years investigation with a Trump- appointed prosecutor, this is what they came up with, tax charges and a gun charge.

SCIUTTO: There's a difference between scandal and crime.

REID: Exactly.


SCIUTTO: That's simply a fact.

JESSICA DEAN, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: But you have to make sure that if you're the Biden re-election team, that you're able to make that point, that this is different. And look, and Trump team wants to play this out, as Kristen Holmes noted, in the court of public opinion.

And that is different than what Paula is talking about, the legal barriers and what you have to rise to meet there versus all you have to do with voters is shake it up just enough that they're confused about it or they just get a kind of feeling and that is enough to sway some voters.

REID: Yes, most voters don't know he's been investigating for five years. They've turned over every single rock. A lot of this investigation happening under the Trump administration.

Most people don't know that. They just have those images, right, burned in their brain when they think of Hunter Biden.

SCIUTTO: You'll hear Republicans say there still, though, needs to be more investigation, we do not trust the process. And so you have Republicans and Trump saying we are looking, we believe there is. But they haven't found it yet, links between Hunter Biden and Joe Biden.

The thing, and to your point, Jessica, even if they don't find that, there is utility in all of this for them as they look towards this impeachment inquiry, which is now becoming entangled certainly, at least politically with what we're seeing here.

DEAN: And look, Jim, you read the statement from Andy Biggs, the congressman, and we started to see this messaging they're going to start to telegraph, which is, so far, the DOJ has been prosecuting only Republicans. It's unfair they're coming after Republicans.

We've heard that from almost all the 2024 presidential candidates on the campaign trail at one point or another. But now this is happening, bop, bop, bop, bop, you know, just wait, this is to protect him.

We are going to continue to see an evolution of that language. But that is something we hear from most of the candidates -- SCIUTTO: Yes, you have to hold them to account. Because they move the

goal posts repeatedly. And now made a deal, the sweetheart deal and the deal collapsed and now they're actually charging him.

So we have to hold them to account and we'll do our best to do that.

Michael Moore, I'm going to go back to you, to your sage legal analysis.

Because there's another issue here, which relates to the gun charge -- and one of our reporters referenced earlier -- that he's being charged under because it's not clear that gun statute is going to pass muster with the current make-up of the Supreme Court.

Last month, the New Orleans-based federal appeals court struck down this law, saying it violated the Second Amendment. This case concerned a man convicted under it in 2022.

That appeals court decision says, in short, it supports some limits on an intoxicated person's right to carry a weapon but does not justify disarming a citizen based exclusively on his past use.

It raises the question as to whether this law will last. I wonder, does it apply pressure for prosecutors to charge now? And will it stand up in the Supreme Court if it goes another way down the line?

MICHAEL MOORE, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: It may have some kind of pressure that they felt but I don't know it was justified in this case.

The question was whether or not, as he filled out his form as he was buying this gun, and it said, are you addicted to drugs, using drugs today basically, and he said, no.

I want you to back up for a minute and think about it's like asking someone with a drinking problem, are you an alcoholic or have a drinking problem, and they may say no because they don't believe they do.

So the question is, at the time, he filled it out, was he addicted to drugs? And I think that's going to be a tougher thing to prove, even though he's got this book and he's made some statements, but at the time, when he filled the questionnaire out.


So there is the Second Amendment challenge. There's an evidence challenge that will be made whether or not there's sufficient evidence to convict him of the crime.

A prosecutor has to do two things. Number one, you can't look like you're going too hard on somebody because of who they are. You can't look like you're going too soft on somebody because of who they are.

Here he's being charged with things you would not typically see in a federal prosecution. Again, this is not a case where he was a convicted felon. He had used a gun in a dangerous way. He'd been adjudicated guilty of some crime, in a bank robbery, now he's got a gun again.

This is not that kind of case, which would certainly mandate and call for some federal intervention. This is different.

So if you look at it, you have to question why this case -- is it because he's the president's son?

When you take that and couple it with the fact this prosecution was not commenced until now after the special counsel was criticized about it by Republicans on the Hill, you have to question, was that the motivation as opposed to what the evidence was in the case?

And it starts to smell at least like a political prosecution. Whether or not it is, I think this is the appropriate time for Mr. Weiss to explain his decision making and if he wishes to do that.

Remember, he's also a Trump appointee. That doesn't mean anything other than he was appointed by a president.

What does matter is, because of these ongoing investigations, both the five-year investigation that took place over the last five years and the current change of status to special counsel, he gets to extend his appointment.

So he remains employed as a high-level DOJ official because no Democrat will remove him or ask that he be removed because it would look like it was a political pay back or retribution. So he's essentially insulated himself.

And it's a good time to come forward and say I know this is why I did it, I know we didn't resolve it with a plea agreement.

I know this is not something we direct U.S. attorneys to do, who would typically look at terrorism and domestic terrorism and protecting America, protecting children, and protecting civil rights, those kinds of things.

This is why I chose to use the course of this office in this particular instance, and I think that'll answer a lot of questions.

SCIUTTO: To your point, what changed between when the prosecutor was willing to make that agreement and when it changed? Was it politics? At least the question, fair to ask, whether politics was involved.

Michael Moore, thanks so much.

SANCHEZ: We look forward to potentially hearing from the special counsel on this decision to bring charges.

Again, a historic moment in history. The Department of Justice bringing charges against the son of a sitting president for the first time. Hunter Biden facing three different counts.

We are set to hear directly from President Biden in just a few moments. We'll bring you his remarks from Maryland when we come back. Stay with us. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)