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Biden Fires Back; Historic Supreme Court Case. Aired 9-9:30a ET

Aired February 09, 2024 - 09:00   ET



SARA SIDNER, CNN ANCHOR: This morning, we're learning new details of what happened behind the scenes at the White House after the special counsel's report that brings President Biden's age and memory to the center of the 2024 race, with some Republican lawmakers now calling for him to be removed from office under the 25th Amendment.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: And have you seen this man? A manhunt underway as police search for a suspect to kill the deputy and injured another. New details on the traffic stop that turned deadly.

SIDNER: Plus, we're in Las Vegas ahead of the big game on Sunday. There it is, Super Bowl with the 49ers flip the script and beat the Chiefs in this Super Bowl rematch. The countdown to kickoff starts right now. Kate Bolduan out for a bit, I'm Sara Sidner with John Berman. This is CNN News Central.

President Biden emotional, defiant and angry after escaping report paints him as a forgetful elderly man with frequent memory lapses. The special counsel investigating the President's handling of classified documents, questions his recollection of dates, including claiming that he forgot when his son, Beau, died. And this morning, we're getting new details and what happened behind the scenes in Biden's private meeting with Democrats in Virginia just a few hours later. This is how he addressed it to the American public.


JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF UNITED STATES: Another some attention paid to some language and report about my recollection of events. There's even referenced that I don't remember when my son died. How in the hell dare he raised that? Frankly, when I was asked the question I thought to myself it wasn't any of their damn business.


SIDNER: CNN's MJ Lee joining us now from the White House. MJ, one of the big things about this report is that he was not criminally charged. But that is all lost in what has been put into the report about his mental acuity. Can you give me some idea of -- more of the President's response last night? That was an extremely emotional moment that we saw just there. MJ LEE, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Sara. It was clear to those of us in the room and I'm sure for everybody watching that the President was quite angry. He was forcefully pushing back on the way that this investigation was handled. And the suggestion in the report that he was an elderly man with a poor memory.

You know, you saw in the clip that you just played one line of questioning from Robert Hur, in particular, very much anger the President, questions about the President's son's death, Beau's death, and the suggestion that he didn't remember when exactly his son had died.

We're learning this morning that in private, at that private Democrats retreat in Virginia yesterday that he erupted into anger allegedly saying, "how would I effing forget that?" Now, the issue of just about his age and alleged memory issues is not just about the fact that some of these details the White House and his allies find unflattering and gratuitous, it is that they speak to a broader issue that we've seen expressed by voters, concerns about his age, concerns about his mental acuity.

I want you to take a look at other ways in which the President fielded some of these questions that he got last night.


BIDEN: I'm well meaning. I'm an elderly man, and I know what the hell I'm doing --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: How bad is your memory? And can you continue as president?

BIDEN: My memory is so bad, I can let you speak. That's -- that's --

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Do you think your memory has gotten worse?

BIDEN: Look, I'm the most qualified person in this country to be president of United States and finish the job I started.



LEE: And one White House official I spoke with yesterday after the report did acknowledge that he was understandably distracted the weekend of the Robert Hur interview. Remember, this was the weekend that the Israel-Hamas war broke out. And another thing just worth noting from the President's response, he very much leaned into and highlighted the distinctions that Robert Hur made in that report between how he handled these classified documents versus former President Donald Trump saying, you know, he immediately turned in the documents, he allowed for multiple searches that he sat down for a multi-hour interview.

But clearly, Sara, this is a White House that is fuming about the fact that almost 400 pages were released, when at the end of the day there were no criminal charges.

SIDNER: Yes. MJ Lee, I know this story has legs. We'll be talking to you a lot about this. Thank you so much for all of your reporting. Appreciate it. John?

BERMAN: Yes. White House in full damage control mode this morning. Also this morning, Donald Trump is the proud winner of Republican caucuses in Nevada and the US Virgin Islands. And the Supreme Court appears to be leaning his way in his fight to stay on Colorado's ballot. CNN's Kristen Holmes is in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania where Trump is scheduled to speak later today. Kristen, any word yet if Trump plans to lean into Biden's issues when he takes that stage a little bit later?

KRISTEN HOLMES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: What's been so notable, John, is that in response to Robert Hur's report, which was a political gift to Donald Trump, is that even though Republicans, Democrats, the President himself are focused on these lines about age and mental acuity, Donald Trump has not weighed in. Instead, he has used this as an opportunity to do what he does, which is blur the lines between his case, the Jack Smith's handling classified documents and Biden's case, saying that it's a two-tier justice system that Jack Smith should drop the charges, that he was more cooperative than Biden, which obviously we know is not true given that the FBI had to execute a search warrant at Mar-a-Lago to retrieve some of those documents.

But so far, he has not yet touched on the mental acuity, mental fitness, the age lines from that document. And one thing to point out is while Donald Trump has alluded to Biden's age often called him incompetent, he never actually brings up his age. For two reasons, I am told by senior advisors, one, because Donald Trump himself is an older man too, because Donald Trump's supporters are also older. He is trying to not risk alienating some of those people as well and drawing attention to his own age.

So, will he bring attention to the mental acuity? Likely. Will he bring attention to the age? Likely. Now, the one thing I want to note is that it is undeniable that yesterday was arguably one of the best days for Donald Trump in the time since he has actually announced that he was going to run for office in November of 2022, including with those Supreme Court arguments. He watched them, he thought that they went very well. This is what he said at a rally yesterday about them.


DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Our Supreme Court, hopefully, we'll be doing something in terms of helping our country and preserving democracy. We have to preserve our democracy. And I think they had a very, very interesting day and a very beautiful day, perhaps I think it was really a very beautiful sight to watch.


HOLMES: And the other thing to note here is winning Nevada. That's also a big win for a number of reasons. One being that the Republican Party there has really become the party of Donald Trump, something we saw in the primary there as well.

BERMAN: Swept up the caucuses. Kristen Holmes in Pennsylvania, keep us posted with all your new reporting. Thank you.

SIDNER: All right. Here to discuss further is CNN senior political analyst John Avlon and CNN political commentator, Paul Begala. Thank you both for being here.

Look, the special counsel put some very clear language in there about the President's mental acuity. And, you know, the headline would have been no charges for President Biden in this case. The headline has completely changed. How much is this damaging President Biden's potential reelection?

JOHN AVLON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST & ANCHOR: Look, I think you need to keep these things in context. The headline shouldn't be the President's exonerated. His Justice Department appointed a special counsel, a Republican special counsel, to show independence. And that's the way the system is supposed to work. Those details that were added in by the special counsel, legal experts have argued that, you know, they're a little option, little spin on the ball from their perspective.

It's also true, of course, it doubles down on Joe Biden's greatest negative when it comes to, you know, the American people is. And the right way to answer just to go out and show that you're crisp and vigorous, and take and answer questions. But I don't think we should fall into the trap of saying, you know, his exoneration is a political, you know negative.


But there's no question to the extent it deepens the narrative that his campaign and he have to address because time moves in one direction, that's a bad day.

I will say defending, you know, yourself that you shouldn't be disqualified for the ballot because you participated in an insurrection. You know, even if it seems the court case is going in your direction, is also let's not put too much lipstick on that particular pig.

BERMAN: So, Paul, a friend, David Axelrod, was quoted in the New York Times saying something that I know you know well, which is that one of the things that -- the worst thing that can happen to you in politics is when you play into one of these preconceived notions about you.


BERMAN: Which is why people think this may hurt President Biden more than other things. So you've tried to fix a lot of things in your career doing political strategy, how do you fix this? You can't make him younger.

BEGALA: No, you can't. You know, people like Clinton was too liberal so he pivoted to the center. Joe can't pivot to being 45 again. And so, what you do is attack, right? Changes and you can't unring the bell. And John pointed this. I'm not sure why the White House isn't pointing this out. This Republican counsel was a Trump appointee to the -- US attorney for Maryland.

Before he had clerked for a right wing Judge Kozinski in California in the Ninth Circuit who resigned, being accused of sexual harassment, then he clerked for Chief Justice William Rehnquist, who Senator Joe Biden voted against confirmation. This guy has donated to Republicans, he is a partisan and this stuff, the only job he had was to indict or not indict.

And to add all this, the only thing he didn't add was the legal disclaimer that this is a political ad in support of Donald Trump. It was a total cheap shot. And I think Biden made it worse, no question about it. And Axe is right, it plays into the master narrative, the negative narrative, of Joe Biden. But I think people have stopped for a minute and say, that help appointment was this by Merrick Garland to put a partisan Trumper in charge of this.

And then what the hell was this guy doing editorializing way, way out of his league, way out of his depth, way out of his purview or his job. And picking the most damaging political attack he could wage on Joe Biden. I think it smells.

SIDNER: All right. I wanted to ask you, John, in hearing this, right, from Paul. You look at this, and you've got a former president who is facing 91 criminal charges against him. But you have a current president who is facing this -- this issue of people thinking that his memory isn't good, like this is a problem.

Will the folks that are voting for him, or the folks thinking about voting him will say, well, this is just political, as Paul Begala sort of laid out for people. Or, like they've done for Donald Trump, or will this really stick and especially with those like the Independents who are wavering, who don't want to vote for either candidate but are leaning towards?

AVLON: Look, I think it's a long time till November. And I think we're headed for something that looks a lot more like a parliamentary election than we've seen in the United States. By which I mean, it may not be about the person at the top of the ticket in many cases, but the policies and the party and what they're trying to bring. And also what will be the relative merits or demerits of each candidate.

You know, with Donald Trump, you are getting someone who's campaigning on a frankly authoritarian platform. Someone who has unspooled in public on a regular basis, lies all the time and has not one counts and tried to overthrow democracy last time he's in.

Joe Biden, you have someone who is old, someone who's seen as decent, because that's true. Somebody's been an effective and consequential president. It's reasonable to have concerns about what a second term would look like. What you need to balance those two things and take into account what's in the national interest ultimately.

For a lot of people, this will be an agonizing decision. But I think if you look at character, if you look at policies and think about this as a broader election, about a direction for the nation, and not so much about the personalities at the top, I think that may be where people start coming down, particularly swing voters in the center.

BERMAN: Well, how much democratic bedwetting do you think there will be? I bring up the term (inaudible).

AVLON: It's a political term of art, John.

BERMAN: It is used in democratic being de-politics, is what people say about Democrats. I'm not say anything offensive to Paul's --

AVLON: Delicate sense.

BERMAN: -- delicate ears. So, how much of that will there be? And if you are the White House, how do you assuage said bedwetting?

BEGALA: Oh yes. Look, I'm a Biden supporter. I slept like a baby last night. I woke up every two hours crying and wet the bed. This is terrible for Democrats, and anybody with a functioning brain knows that. But here's what you do, instead of calling a press conference saying I really am sharp, you attack the other guy.

You know, the Joe Biden gave the strategy in 2012. He was, I remember, he was vice president, and he said don't compare us to the Almighty compares to the alternative. So everything was Biden has to be not I'm great but the other guy's really damaging, dangerous, a threat.


You know, the -- this is an -- John is exactly right, right? This is going to be a really rough, ugly, unpleasant campaign. Look at years ago, David Duke, the former Klansmen, was running for governor against Edwin Edwards, who had been charged, indicted, convicted of any number of criminals. Edwin won the campaign with a bumper sticker that said, vote for the crook. It's important. And they're going to tell Democrats, look, both for the old guy, support the old guy. It's important.

BERMAN: So you think they blew it last night? Just to be clear, do you think last night was -- it was a mistake to have him out there?

BEGALA: Well, no. I want to see more Joe Biden, but in the gaps are built in. But instead of simply saying, I'm OK. He just simply -- he needs to be on the attack 24/7 for the next 269 days.

BERMAN: Uplifting, uplifting message from Paul right there.

AVLON: Appreciate the ad whenever it's referenced. I think that's right. But, look, the best defense is a good offense. And he does need to address people's concerns by how he presents, showing vigor and clarity and Christmas. And by saying, here's what I've done, is the country better off than it was three, four years ago, because a strong case be made it is economically and otherwise.

And the implication of what's happening also isn't just about America alone. It's about autocracy versus democracy, and Ukraine, and whether, you know, turn over to Putin. It's what the Republicans have done refusing to fix the border, to score political points. Those are in some ways the deeper issues, and I think that ultimately be the ground this election spot on.

BERMAN: All right. Paul, our thanks to you. John Avlon, thanks so much to you. No one cares more about the business or America, or about teaching America about what's important than you. So thank you for that.

AVLON: Thank you, my friends.

SIDNER: Thank you, John.

BERMAN: All right. Tucker Carlson, big fan of Vladimir Putin apparently, gets two hours with him. Here how the Russian leader dealt with Tucker Carlson.

A tornado touches down in Wisconsin for the first time ever in the month of February. When we see the damage?

And Taylor Swift, she has one more show in Tokyo. I feel like we need a permanent tracker on her.

SIDNER: I agree.

BERMAN: Taylor Swift just had breakfast. We will tell you what she ate. And she's going to the Super Bowl, in case you didn't know. We will tell you how the NFL commissioner is dealing with Taylor Swift's breakfast.


ROGER GOODELL, NFL COMMISSIONER: I don't think I'm that good at scriptor or anybody on our staff.



SIDNER: Donald Trump's best day of 2024 is under his belt now after winning the Nevada Republican caucus, and signs he could possibly fend off a blockbuster challenge to his eligibility on the Colorado ballot. The Supreme Court justices appear poised to side with him in this historic case, potentially, by a wide margin.


ELENA KAGAN, SUPREME COURT JUSTICE: Why should a single state have the ability to make this determination, not only for their own citizens but for the rest of the nation?

BRETT KAVANAUGH, SUPREME COURT JUSTICE: These are difficult questions. And you look right at section five of the 14th Amendment, as the chief justice said, and that tells you Congress has the primary role here. KETANJI BROWN JACKSON, SUPREME COURT JUSTICE: So if there's an ambiguity, why would we construe it to, as Justice Kavanaugh pointed out, against democracy?


SIDNER: Now comes the hard part settling debate over states power and the 14th Amendment, and how soon can they do it. Super Tuesday, less than a month away and primaries, of course, as you know, have already begun. CNN senior Supreme Court analyst Joan Biskupic is joining us with her analysis on all this.

Joan, I mean, how soon could this ruling come out? I know it usually takes quite some time, but there is a ticking deadline here.

JOAN BISKUPIC, CNN SENIOR SUPREME COURT ANALYST: Good to see you, Sara. Yes. You know, look, often we'll have cases argued in October and we won't see them until June. But this is different. The justices themselves put it on an expedited schedule. And certainly we did see yesterday that Chief Justice John Roberts has a majority, if not a unanimous court to outright reverse the Colorado Supreme Court.

And that court was the bench that said that Donald Trump should not be on the state ballot because of his role in the January 6, 2021 attack on the Capitol. They cited a provision of the Constitution that bars insurrectionists from holding future office. But the issue now is what are their legal grounds? They can't just say, OK, we reverse we're out of here. They need to come up with legal grounds.

And yesterday, Sara, we heard a couple of different options being offered, picking up on the lawyer for Donald Trump, for example, to say that only Congress has the authority to have disqualify someone from the ballot. It shouldn't be up to individual states. But then there were some other issues having to do with the specific text of the 14th Amendment section 3.

For example, is the president even covered by language that refers to an officer of the United States? It sounds like a president would be but in the terms of the Constitution is they were written at the time of the 14th Amendment. There's some ambiguity there.

And finally, I would just say another overriding consideration for this court are the practical consequences. Several of the justices raised, you know, just the whole idea of not just who decides but taking the -- taking a candidate off the ballot and what it would do down the road. Let me just read you something from Chief Justice John Roberts in that regard.

He said, if Colorado's position is upheld, surely there will be disqualification proceedings on the other side. I would expect that a goodly number of states will say whoever the Democratic candidate is you're off the ballot. And others for the Republican candidate, you're off the ballot.

[09:25:10] So that gives you a sense of kind of their thinking, OK. Then down to exact timing. They will meet in a coming days in a private session to take a vote and begin hashing out the legal rationale. I would expect because they've expedited the schedule for this, that they are mindful of Super Tuesday, a month from now, that they are going to try to do it fast.

But, Sara, justices are a lot actually like us. The writing is hard. It takes many, many drafts. They go back and forth on their rationale. And I would think by early March, we'll see something up. Thanks, Sara.

SIDNER: I'll take it, Joan. It will be funny, this Colorado has said we disagree and don't call me Shirley. But that's a totally different matter. Joan Biskupic, thank you so much. Great to see you.

With us now, CNN legal analyst Elliot Williams and former Trump White House lawyer, Jim Schultz. There's so much going on that requires legal expertise. Yes, there's Supreme Court. Joan did a really good job explaining where that stands, which seems likely to rule in Trump's favor.

So I want to go back, Elliot, if I can, to this special counsel report from Robert Hur. And why, and we haven't really touched on this yet, why in the last, I guess, 18 hours that hasn't been in 24 yet, I have heard so many Democratic lawmakers and strategists behind the scenes bring up the name Comey. Why do they see this like a Comey thing? Explain.

ELLIOT WILLIAMS, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Well, Jim Comey as Special Counsel released a report. It was actually about two weeks before the 2016 election, but also did a press conference laying out his reasons for not charging Hillary Clinton with a crime and sort of laid out a parade of horribles of all the bad but not illegal, or at least not chargeable things that she was accused to have done.

Now, the -- here, something somewhat similar has happened here in that the report detailed a lot of conduct that would not be charged as a crime, but still looks bad for a political candidate for office. And that's why I think you're seeing Democratic politicians and others excoriating the report a bit.

Now, look, John, on the right in this morning, I saw two different headlines specifically saying Joe Biden challenges report the questions his mental fitness and mental acuity. If that's the takeaway, then someone is failing at their job. This was a declination report, it should have been a report in which prosecutors merely said why they were or weren't charging an individual if the big takeaway is that this is an old man with a bad memory. Then I think prosecutors probably went a little far in detailing information as to why they weren't bringing charges.

BERMAN: Is there any guidelines? Is there any instruction manual that says --

WILLIAMS: No. BERMAN: -- you can and can't do this? Is there anything that says don't do a Jim Comey?

WILLIAMS: There really is not. And it's a really important question. The special counsel statute merely says, a report detailing or identify, I don't want to get the language wrong, the reasons for declination or prosecution. So it's really up to the special counsel to include the amount of information that he or she wants to put in. And here it was that added extra, because he's old that I think that Democrats and other folks are pouncing on.

BERMAN: So, Jim, what was necessary in that report in your mind, and what was optional?

JIM SCHULTZ, FORMER TRUMP WHITE HOUSE LAWYER: So let's take a step back. So there are some parallels. There are some differences. But there are some parallels with the Trump case. The parallels are this. One, you had the president knighted states saying those were my documents, right? And that's kind of what the -- that was the gist of the comments in the report from President Biden.

Same kind of thing, that was -- Donald Trump's attitude was the same way towards them. They knock that down in the report. And then you have this conversation with a person writing a memoir, giving away these classified information. Same kind of thing happened with the Trump discussion, right? Giving away classified information in a -- for an author, same issues.

So then, you know, there are some differences in that, you know, Joe Biden turned over all the information, you know, didn't -- didn't say no to getting the boxes out of his garage, kind of made himself accessible, made his team accessible, you know? And I think that really, that -- that is an important distinction.

But those other issues are important too. Those could lead to criminal charges. And the reasoning behind not charging, one of the major reasons was, look, this guy is not going to be -- not going to stand up well at trial. He's not going to have a good memory. He didn't have a good memory during the questioning, and they probably picked key points in his life when his son died, when he was vice president, all of those questions kind of to, you know, lay out the and ask him questions about when he had the documents, what was going on his life at the time.

So all of that matters, especially when you're declining to prosecute once he leaves office what will then be a former president of United States. They need to justify that and that report goes to Congress.