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Hunter Biden Indicted On 3 Gun Charges; President Speaks On Economy Amid News Of Son's Indictment. Aired 3-3:30p ET

Aired September 15, 2023 - 15:00   ET





BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN HOST: We are back following the breaking news. President Biden's son, Hunter, indicted on three federal gun charges today. Special counsel, David Weiss, recently elevated to that role, brought this case tied to a 2018 firearm purchase. And we're expecting the President to speak at any moment, that was previously scheduled, as he becomes the first sitting president to have his child indicted by the Justice Department. But that's not the only reason that this is extraordinary.

A few months ago, this gun case was literally minutes away from being resolved, but the plea deal collapsed in court in front of a judge - before questions from a judge. And this could mean a Hunter Biden trial in the middle of his father's reelection bid, adding to the already unprecedented 2024 political landscape.

We have full coverage of this. Let's start with CNN's Evan Perez.

Evan, walk us through the charges here and how this five-year investigation - let's reiterate five years - got to this point.

EVAN PEREZ, CNN SENIOR JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Right. Well, we have now the President's son, Hunter Biden, has been charged with three counts. One of them relates to lying on the form back in 2018, the form of the - for the bureau of alcohol, tobacco and firearms that you fill out when you buy a firearm. He possessed it for about 11 days and he lied on that form, which required him to attest that he was not addicted to drugs at a time when he was.

He later admitted that he was addicted to drugs.

The second count relates to lying to the gun seller, the dealer that sold him the gun. And the third is for possessing that firearm, again, at a time that he was not legally allowed to possess that firearm. Those are the three counts.

And as you pointed out, the real head-scratching thing, certainly for Hunter Biden and his legal team, is how they got here. This is something that was just minutes away from being resolved under a plea deal and a lot - a great deal of controversy that surrounded it. But the judge asked not unreasonable questions about the structure of this deal, whether Hunter Biden was truly insulated and absolved from any other legal liability. Pretty simple questions, actually, for a judge to ask.

And it fell apart because the two sides, the lawyers for Hunter Biden and prosecutors, had a disagreement as to whether this plea deal covered everything that they were - could - had been investigated as part of this five-year investigation. The other part of this, of course, was this diversion agreement for the gun - the allegation of the gun purchase, which under this terms of this deal, Hunter Biden would have had this charge go away completely if he abided by certain terms, including staying away from drugs, not possessing firearms, those types of things.

All of this, of course, coming to a head during that extraordinary hearing before the judge in Delaware and she finally decided that she could not accept that deal and now here we are. We're about two weeks away from the deadline where this charge could be brought and prosecutors have brought it. This is being brought by special counsel, David Weiss, an appointee of former President Trump, who was kept on in this job to oversee this investigation.

And it is an investigation that has covered the waterfront, has looked at all of his financial dealings. They've looked at his taxes. They've looked at whether he was laundering money that he had from some of his money, from some of his business dealings in China and in Ukraine. They've looked at, again, this - whether he was supposed to register as a foreign agent and failed to do so.

Those are all the things that have been investigated as part of this five-year investigation. And so now here we are, the first charges. And this may not be the last, because the former president - I'm sorry, the President's son is also facing possible charges on those tax violations, which would be filed possibly in Los Angeles and in Washington, D.C., because Hunter Biden lives in L.A. and his taxes were filed here in Washington.


That's something that could be coming, guys, in the next two to three weeks.

BORIS SANCHEZ, CNN HOST: Yes, those tax charges were part of that plea deal that ultimately disintegrated.

And Paula, after that deal fell apart, things for Hunter Biden and his legal team became especially complicated. You're plugged in with them, how are they reacting to all this?

PAULA REID, CNN SENIOR LEGAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Look, Hunter Biden is trying to put a good face on it, but he's in a bad place, as anyone would be if you had just had federal charges filed against you. He was under investigation for five years and they believe that this would have been resolved with a plea deal. Even when that plea deal appeared to implode in that initial hearing, they were still optimistic that a judge would ultimately approve it and they could move beyond that. Then, of course, over the past weeks, we've seen that is not the case.

Now, David Weiss is a special counsel and Hunter Biden has just been indicted. He is millions and millions of dollars in debt for the legal fees that he has incurred throughout the course of this investigation. Going up against the Justice Department in any case is extraordinarily expensive. It is almost impossible for him to find employment and it is increasingly difficult for him to find sources to help him pay for these legal fees.

Now, the good news, I suppose, is that according to sources in the White House and in Hunter Biden's team, he's still very close to his father. They enjoy a good relationship. I'm told he tries not to bring up his criminal cases. Look, I don't have a wiretap into their phone. I don't know if that's true, but that's what people in his camp tell me.

But they also believe that the White House, writ large, advisers around the President have not been supportive, have left Hunter Biden out to dry. We know some White House advisers, though, had some reservations about the recent, more aggressive strategy that Hunter Biden has taken since the beginning of the year, bringing on very aggressive lawyer Abbe Lowell. Hunter Biden and his longtime friend and attorney, Kevin Morris, have gotten a lot more aggressive, suing people who they believe have gone after Hunter Biden.

Just yesterday, they sued Garrett Ziegler, a former Trump White House official, claiming that he hacked into Hunter's laptop and iPhone. They've been a lot more aggressive. That is something that has made the White House uneasy because they weren't sure what else potentially could come out. And, of course, today we see criminal charges, but it's unclear if these will hold up in a court of law.

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN HOST: Well, he has his own legal interests separate from the President's campaign and political interests and he has his own legal rights, right? He's going to pursue them and he sees this as something that's dragged on for five years.

Manu Raju, you're at the Capitol. Republicans have a view of this. Are they feeling vindicated? Still frustrated? Satisfied? Close to satisfied?

MANU RAJU, CNN CHIEF CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: They're certainly not satisfied. There's actually a fair amount of criticism. Republicans wanted much more thrown at Hunter Biden. They believe this is simply a slap on the wrist. The question is going to be, how does this, in fact, affect their investigation that is ongoing into the President.

Remember, one of the big questions that they had was whether or not to subpoena Hunter Biden. That has not happened yet. There's been a lot of pressure, particularly among members on the right, to push for a subpoena, how will that impact that, will they be able to get some of those questions.

They have tried to lump in the investigation into Hunter Biden. David Weiss, the special counsel's investigation to Joe Biden himself suggests that there was some sort of interference by the White House into this initial plea deal that ultimately collapsed. There's no evidence that the White House was involved in that at all.

But that's all part of their broad investigation into Hunter Biden, as they tried to find anything to pin Hunter Biden's actions to Joe Biden. Now, talking to a number of Republicans and Democrats, the argument from Republicans is that this was simply not enough. And Democrats are saying that justice - this is a sign that the Justice Department works. Have faith in the Justice Department.


REP. MATT GAETZ (R-FL): I'll be honest. I mean, getting Hunter Biden on the gun charge is like getting Jeffrey Dahmer on littering.

RAJU: Frustrated there has not been a subpoena issued yet for Hunter Biden?

REP. MARJORIE TAYLOR GREENE (R-GA): No, I'm not frustrated at all. I'm excited we have an impeachment inquiry and I want this to take a long time.

REP. DANIEL GOLDMAN (D-NY): The reality is, as - I as a Democrat am saying that if Hunter Biden, the President's son, committed crimes, he should be held accountable for them. You don't hear any Republican saying that if Donald Trump committed crimes, he should be held accountable for them.


RAJU: Now, Republicans have tried to get information from the special counsel himself, David Weiss, in the aftermath of that plea deal that later fell apart. They tried to call in a whole range of people who had been involved in the Hunter Biden investigation. They have been unsuccessful in getting those - that - those records, the witness testimony as this Hunter Biden probe has played out, the expectation on the Hill is that it's going to get even harder as this trial continues to play out into next year, but unclear exactly how this will impact the impeachment inquiry.

Just moments ago, Kevin McCarthy leaving the Capitol, our colleague Haley Talbot, caught up with him, tried to get him to comment on this.


No comment at the moment from the Speaker, so unclear how he views this at the moment and how this will impact the Republican probe going forward. Jim?

SCIUTTO: Well, we should note, in terms of keeping track, that Republicans called the plea deal a slap on the wrist. They wanted charges now. Now, these are, in fact, charges. And of course, the tax charges are still being investigated.

Manu Raju, thanks so much, on the Hill. KEILAR: Paula, there is some irony in all of this, in particular, when we think of people like Matt Gaetz, who are championing an impeachment inquiry. I mean, just his comment there, this is someone who actually has enjoyed the DOJ not charging him for an investigation, separate sex trafficking investigation.

REID: Exactly. Congressman Gaetz was under investigation, an investigation that also started either in the Trump administration under Bill Barr. He was under investigation for sex trafficking, questions about like how campaign funds were used and then also possible obstruction of justice.

Now, he was not ultimately charged because while the prosecutors believe they had a very strong case for obstruction of justice, they weren't sure if the underlying crime, the sex trafficking case would actually hold up in court. So he was not charged. So it is interesting to see him being so flippant about the process there when he too was vetted. He too was investigated.

Again, it was an interesting ...

SCIUTTO: Yes. Still ...

REID: ... an interesting perspective, given his scrutiny from the Justice Department.

SCIUTTO: Still searching for principle in Capitol Hill.


REID: Yes.

SANCHEZ: We should remind our viewers, we're waiting to hear from President Biden at any moment. He's speaking in Maryland, specifically a speech designed to talk about Bidenomics and the economy.

David, to you, obviously, we don't know how much of the President's speech is going to be related to any of this news. He's been reluctant to speak publicly about these issues with his son. It's something that's very personal for him.

DAVID CHALIAN, CNN POLITICAL DIRECTOR: I'd be surprised if he speaks about it at all ...


CHALIAN: ... in the context of this speech. But there's the political for him and there is the personal. The political, obviously, this is an unwelcome development for any White House. As we said, it's the first time ever a president's child is indicted on criminal charges. Nobody would want that. It is an unwelcome development for this campaign season that is getting underway. It's a distraction from what the White House and his team would want to focus on.

But it is hard not to think about the personal for Joe Biden as well. And just where this fits into this unbelievable Biden story of the last 51 years. He ...


CHALIAN: Just remember he has buried two children.


CHALIAN: So he understands pain. And this is a painful day for Joe Biden, no doubt, but probably not pain like that, right? And in fact, when his young daughter and his first wife died in the car crash, his two young boys, Hunter and Beau, were hospitalized. And he almost didn't take up the post that he was elected to as a young United States senator, wanting to be with them and raise them.

And so they have been - these two boys were like the centerpiece of his life. He goes to the highest heights. He gets to the vice presidency. His son, Beau, dies as Attorney General of Delaware of brain cancer. And then as he's about to launch a presidential campaign and achieve his lifelong career dream, they are dealing with the ramifications of Hunter's drug addiction and how all of his troubles are going to play into the campaign and consider that into their political calculation.

Remember, Jill and Joe Biden put out a public statement when Hunter Biden began a relationship with his brother's widow, and they actually like publicly addressed that prior to the campaign. There have been more emotional ups and downs for this family. And this is now another day where the President is going to suffer an emotional down that his son is under these criminal charges.

So I know - I'm certain that he's not just viewing this through a political lens, but obviously he is somebody so identified with his children and his grandchildren as at the very center and core of his being.

KEILAR: So David, then what is the risk for Republicans? If in this impeachment inquiry process Republicans find no link to Joe Biden and then we see this legal process play out with DOJ and Hunter Biden, what is the risk that Republicans might be making if it looks like they are just kind of reaching for something and hitting at someone at a sensitive spot?

CHALIAN: There's certainly some risk for blowback, but I would just say right now, if you look at the - our recent polling, they're leaning into public perception on this, right? I mean, 55 percent ...

KEILAR: Very good point.

CHALIAN: ... of Americans believe Joe Biden has acted inappropriately in this investigation. Six in 10 Americans believe as vice president, there was something nefarious going on with Joe Biden in the business dealings of Hunter Biden, 42 percent think ...


CHALIAN: ... Joe Biden acted illegally. So the Biden White House has a real perception problem around this, that these charges are not going to help in any way. But you'll notice that Donald Trump put out on his Truth Social on social media, to your point, he says, these are the only charges that could be brought against Hunter Biden that are not connected to his father.

So the challenge remains for Republicans to actually show some direct evidence of Joe Biden's actions related to wrongdoing, that has not emerged yet.

KEILAR: Are voters tending to believe that because that is all they are hearing and there is a void on the Democratic side?


CHALIAN: Well, this gets to Paula's point about this more aggressive strategy, Abbe Lowell. For a - there has been a vacuum, right, that the Republicans have filled here because Joe Biden, as you noted, doesn't really want to talk about this day in and day out and is trying to maintain independence from the Department of Justice investigation.


CHALIAN: So he doesn't want to get wrapped up in talking about it or defending his son in some way. The White House isn't eager to. You just heard Democratic congressman, Goldman, there from New York saying, obviously, if he did something illegal, he should be held accountable. So there has not been a robust Hunter Biden defense. We're seeing this more aggressive thing from Abbe Lowell and his defense team to push back on some of that. But no doubt that lack of a robust political defense of him has contributed to the public's perspective.

SCIUTTO: There's a reason the President is not commenting in the ongoing investigations, either of his son or of the former president, right? I mean, that's a deliberate decision by him not to appear to be influencing the actions of his Justice Department. So is there a solution that does not involve the current president breaking that promise, in effect?

CHALIAN: I mean, when the President has talked about Hunter Biden, it has been mostly in personal terms, right?

SCIUTTO: As a father would.

CHALIAN: And not about ...


CHALIAN: ... the investigation. And I would imagine we will probably hear at some point, if not today and the days ahead, from President Biden in that personal capacity ...


CHALIAN: ... as somebody's father.

SCIUTTO: But specific - if you're talking about a counter message, because the polling as our - we've been discussing as our polling shows people do believe there's something nefarious going on here. It affects his approval ratings. And on that specific question, is there something short of the President breaking his own promise, in effect, not to comment about ongoing investigations that would deliver that counter message or it doesn't get advocates or is that just baked in?

CHALIAN: I mean, I think to Brianna's point about potential blowback in the impeachment inquiry, if they - if the Republicans are unable to either actually move forward with impeachment at this point, one of the reasons you hear Republicans say they fear you launch an inquiry and then you don't actually have a vote on articles of impeachment and impeach the President, it looks like you are exonerating him.


CHALIAN: And I believe if indeed they don't deliver the evidence and there - and Kevin McCarthy doesn't have the votes for impeachment, some of that perception may change because some of that will seem like they didn't bring the goods and Joe Biden is moving on. So that's the danger about the blowback.

SCIUTTO: (Inaudible) made that point a short time ago.

SANCHEZ: We should know there was reporting a few weeks ago that there was concern among the President's allies over him not addressing this and him being sensitive in closed meetings about speaking over his son. They see it within the White House as a potential political liability as we get closer to 2024.

We also want to bring in former Republican congressman, Adam Kinzinger. He's the honorary chairman of the Country First PAC.

Adam, thanks for being with us. What's your reaction to this news that the President's son has been charged?

ADAM KINZINGER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, let's - the good side of it is nobody's above the law. And I think for those that were trying it doesn't mean that the Republicans aren't going to still do it. But for those that were actually buying into this DOJ only targets Republicans. This is a counterpoint to that.

I would be very curious, I'm not the law guy, but I'd be very curious at who's been charged with similar crimes for - with similar things for similar crimes. But I also - when the Republicans now and this is kind of my biggest pet peeve in all of this, they act like they're trying to be the guardians of the flame of the Constitution and going after Hunter Biden.

Let's be very clear, all they want to do, Hunter Biden is simply a prop they can use to hang around Joe Biden's head. And these same people have never looked into. I would take it a much more serious if they'd be looking into Jared Kushner's deal with the Saudis after office, Ivanka in office, investigating the Trumps. SANCHEZ: Congressman Kinzinger?

KINZINGER: Using their father's name ...

SANCHEZ: Pardon ...

KINZINGER: ... yes.

SANCHEZ: Pardon us for a moment, I hate to interrupt, but President Biden is speaking right now in Maryland. Let's listen in.

JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Do you have seats? Oh, okay. I once said that, early on in my tenure, Gov. And I said, "Everybody take a seat." None of them had seats.

Well, I tell you what, you guys are impressive. And the three of you are really close, close friends, and one is about to become a close friend.

Gov, my problem is your biceps are a little small. I mean, you're not in very good shape. But I - maybe - I'll work with you and see what we can do.

No, but really and truly, thank you, thank you, thank you. And I appreciate it very much.

Sen. Ben Cardin is one of the great - I hate the phrase "public servants," but it is true.

I judged my colleagues over the years based on not just their intellectual capacity and their decency but their integrity. The men you have here have incredible integrity. Integrity. And it's just amazing.

Chris Van Hollen is one of the reasons why I got elected vice president. He's the guy that did my debate prep for me. And without it, I'd have been in real trouble.


And Steny Hoyer - he and I share the Eastern Shore of Delaware and the western shore of Maryland. You know that whole area in there? I keep telling him that it really is part of Delaware, but he doesn't ...

And, David, thank you for being such a great partner. You've been great as well. I really do appreciate it.

Prince George's Community College, thanks for welcoming us here today. As many of you know, my wife is a professor at a community college. As a matter of fact, she's teaching today.

She has an expression. And I - this is the God's truth. She said, "Any country that out-educates us will outcompete us." "Any country that out-educates us will outcompete us."

The work you do here in preparing students to compete in the economy of the future is real. It matters.

This summer, I traveled to Chicago, where I spoke about a fundamentally changing American economy - from an economy that for decades rewarded those who were at the very top and left everyone behind who - just on their own, basically. One that gives working people a - in this nation not only a fighting chance they didn't do.

That trickle-down economy, not a whole lot - I grew up in a - I wasn't - we weren't poor, but we had a three-bedroom, split-level house with four kids and a grandpop living with us. And I didn't see a whole lot trickle down on my dad's kitchen table.

But everybody deserves a shot at building the lives they deserve for their families. And we've done that.

For the first time in a long time, we've climbed out of our great economic crisis. It's beginning to work for working people.

This nation is very rich. We have - and who have benefitted the most has been the very rich, though. Not everybody. And that's how - that's not how it should be.

The new economic vision has been labeled by those at the Wall Street Journal and the London Economist and some of the more conservative press as "Bidenomics."

Well, they didn't mean it as a compliment at first. But now they're getting it.

What's Bidenomics? It's about investing in - and I feel like I'm going to try not to repeat some of what my colleagues have already said, but it's about investing in America - investing in America and investing in Americans - American people.

It's about growing the economy from the middle out and bottom up instead of the top down. Because when the middle class does well, the poor have a ladder up and the wealthy still do very well.

I'm a capitalist. If you guys go out here and you can make a billion dollars, go get it. Just pay a little more in taxes.

But, look - but our friends - our friends on the other team, on the other side of the aisle, they have a very different vision for America.

And, by the way, you have this - I think you have this book on your table, on your chairs. Maybe not. I thought they - did you all - did my staff hand this out? You just have the little one.

But I'm the only - I'm the only president who hands out the opposition's economic plan. Oh, you think I'm kidding?

"Protecting America's Economic Security. Fiscal Year 2024 Budget. The Study Committee of Kevin Hern budgets -" and it goes on. This is the MAGA budget.

I want you to take a look at it. I think we have other copies of it. If we don't, we'll get you some.

So, since I've come to office, all they've really done is attack me and my economic plan - there hadn't been much else - even though we've created, as has been pointed out, over 13 million jobs - more jobs in two years than any president has created in a four-year term.

Even though - no, I'm not looking - even though we've had 19 straight months of unemployment under 4 percent for the first time in American history.

Even though we have the lowest inflation rate of any major economy in the world, with core inflation rate the last three months at 2.4 percent. We got more to do, even though we've created 800,000 manufacturing jobs and a manufacturing boom we haven't seen in decades.

Even though America, as we met here - meet here today, has the strongest economy in the world. Let me say that again: America has the strongest economy in the world of all the major economics.

And - but - all they do is attack it. But you've noticed something. For all the time they spend attacking me and my plan, here's what they never do: They never talk about what they want to do. No, no, think about it.

They tell you what they're against. What are they for?

It's like they want to keep it a secret. I don't blame them.

Well, today, I'm going to talk about their plan. Look, we're going to talk about the MAGA Republican economic plan.


And, by the way, this is not your father's Republican Party. This is a different deal.

All kidding aside, we've all worked with Republicans on the other side. Over our careers, we've become good friends: honest, decent people. Disagree like hell with them, but they were in the deal. They thought the institutions mattered. They thought it mattered.

Well, guess what? Our democracy is at risk because I don't think they do think it matters anymore.

Because the country should know the facts. They should know ...

KEILAR: All right. We're listening to President Biden delivering his economic message. He knows that a lot of people are watching him do this, watching him for a different reason which is because DOJ has announced charges against his son, Hunter Biden, three gun-related charges. Not surprisingly he did not address that and the White House is referring questions about it to the Department of Justice.

We are going to get into a quick and we'll be right back with more on our breaking news here on CNN NEWS CENTRAL. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)