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Sources Say, Biden Cursed in Fury About DOJ Report in Private Meeting; Seven People Indicted After Clash With NYPD Officers Near Times Square; Officials Brace for Election Disinformation, Deepfakes. Aired 10-10:30a ET

Aired February 09, 2024 - 10:00   ET




SARA SIDNER, CNN ANCHOR: This morning, President Biden's age and memory rising to the spotlight of the 2024 race. New details on Biden's reaction to the special counsel's stinging report and the GOP's new push to have the president removed from office.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: New body cam video this morning of the brawl that led to the arrest of several migrants for attacking two New York City police officers.

SIDNER: And the White House is cracking down on election threats ahead of the 2024 presidential election. New CNN exclusive reporting on how the Biden administration plans to combat Deepfakes and disinformation.

Kate Bolduan is out for the day. I'm Sara Sidner with John Berman. This is CNN News Central.

Fury behind closed doors, we have new details this morning about President Biden's angry reaction in a private meeting after the special counsel's report exonerated him of legal wrongdoing, but then put in the report that he wouldn't be charged because he's an elderly man with memory issues.

The special counsel wrote on Biden's diminished faculties and memory and even went on to say that he didn't remember even within several years when his son, Beau, died.

The president was livid about this reportedly and in a meeting with Democrats in Virginia, lashed out saying, how could I effing forget that?

CNN's Katelyn Polantz is following all of the details for us. Katelyn, we saw his emotional response to all of this. And then you have this report that came out that exonerated him, but then threw in this barb about his memory. What else came out in this report?

KATELYN POLANTZ, CNN SENIOR CRIME AND JUSTICE REPORTER: Well, Sara, we learned about an episode where Joe Biden did willfully retain and disclose classified materials. That is a core finding of the special counsel report, even though Joe Biden was not going to be charged and is not going to be charged as a sitting president or even if he were to be a private citizen and not the president of the United States right now.

That finding primarily was based around Joe Biden's conversations with his ghostwriter in 2017 that he had handwritten notebooks still in his possession in his private residence. He told the ghostwriter he found all the classified documents downstairs or found all the classified stuff downstairs. He had kept information from his time as vice president about Afghanistan, the military, foreign policy, and that was something that the ghostwriter should not have been privy to or that Joe Biden should have had after he left the vice presidency.

Now, part of the reasoning that we saw that he is not being charged is the special counsel found this wasn't a trialable case before a jury and putting in writing that damning assessment really, politically, saying at trial Mr. Biden would likely present himself to a jury, as he did during our interview of him, as a sympathetic, well-meaning, elderly man with a poor memory.

Sara, you don't usually see assessments like that from a prosecutor in writing, but you do here because we have the special counsel report in the hands of Congress.

SIDNER: All right. Katelyn Polantz, thank you so much for all of that reporting. This is going to be a story that a lot of folks are going to be talking about. I appreciate it. John?

BERMAN: They are talking about it on Capitol Hill. As you might expect, Republicans are jumping all over this.


CNN's Lauren Fox is there. Lauren, what are you hearing?

LAUREN FOX, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes. Republicans not really seizing on the details of this report, but instead seizing on a very specific piece of writing that you all have highlighted this morning, which is that Joe Biden will not be charged, but because the special counsel felt as though he was just a well-meaning elderly man with some of those memory issues.

And, you know, Republicans were really quick to react to this because now they're viewing this as a really political issue that they can seize on as part of their election messaging. You know, you had Senator Lindsey Graham, a Republican who has known Joe Biden for many years because of their work in the Senate. Here is what he said yesterday.


SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R-SC): So, the summary of the special counsel about the status of President Biden was unnerving. I mean, people from all over the world are going to read that. And it was basically one of the defenses was, he's a nice man whose elderly and can't remember. I mean, that's the special counsel's observation of President Biden.

Yes, I've tried not to say anything about, you know, Beau was a great man. I mean, listen, I haven't gone down that road. But now I don't know what to tell people. I mean, the special counsel's observation was pretty stunning.


FOX: And Republican leadership in the House not mincing words writing in a statement, quote, among the most disturbing parts of this report is a special counsel's justification for not recommending charges, namely that the president's memory had such significant limitations, that he could not convince a jury that the president held a mental state of willingness that a serious felony requires.

Now, Democrats are defending the president up here on Capitol Hill. In fact, one of his close allies from Delaware, Tom Carper, told me yesterday that he's never seen any memory issues in meetings that he has had with the president, also Senator Chris Coons saying the same, he has no concerns about the president's memory.

But we should note this is a serious issue the Democrats are going to be asked about repeatedly not just over the next couple of days, but over the months ahead as this election looms closer. John?

BERMAN: Lauren Fox on Capitol Hill, yes, I expect you will be hearing much more about this right where you are standing. Thank you. Sara?

SIDNER: All right. Joining me now for more on the special counsel's report on President Biden is CNN Political Analyst and Washington Bureau Chief for the Boston Globe Jackie Kucinich and CNN Political Analyst and White House Reporter for the Associated Press Seung Min Kim. Thank you so much, both of you for being here.

I mean, there is good news in this report from the special counsel. He is not -- Biden not being charged with anything by the special counsel. But the bad news is what everyone is talking about, the special counsel pointing out issues with his memory and mental acuity.

Let me start with you, Jackie. This particular report, it's pretty rare for someone to start talking about someone's mental health or mental acuity when they're talking about a criminal -- potential criminal act. But it's sort of used in a way that it's because of it that he is being, if you will, exonerated. What is this going to do to President Biden politically, you think?

JACKIE KUCINICH, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: So, one of the most damaging things that can happen to any candidate in a political campaign is that something comes out that elevates a weakness that was already there. And we know from hearing from voters, seeing polling, that President Biden's age is something that people are worried about going into this presidential campaign.

And so the fact that it really did hit on that, it is damaging. And I think it's one of the reasons. You saw the president so angry and his lawyers and just across the board about the verbiage that was used. Because from the campaign on up, everyone knew that this was going to be used against him politically.

SIDNER: I do want to ask you, Seung Min Kim, to respond to that, just your thoughts on this report at this time as we are hurdling into the middle of an election year.

SEUNG MIN KIM, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: I think the timing issue is really interesting too, because while Democrats are obviously looking at this report and seeing what kind of vulnerabilities it lays out for President Joe Biden, remember that we are still in a February of an election year. This is not July. This is not an October surprise.

I think that is one of the several factors, or one of some of the factors that are heartening Democrats right now, that if had this happened much later in the election year, it could be incredibly damaging.

But it still remains too, thinking with that dynamic in mind, everyone assumes we're kind of already in general election mode.


I know Nikki Haley is still in the Republican race, but everyone has been really looking at the Trump-Biden matchup, looking at that rematch headed into November.

And what Jackie said is right. I mean, we talked to -- it is not just a creation of the press. We talked to voters over and over at the A.P. and that other news organizations, I know Jackie's organization has done so, in those early states, and this is a concern that voters bring to us, whether President Biden is fit for office.

I do think his really fiery attitude, and I was in the room with him last night when he was talking to reporters, is something that Democrats have wanted to see. They have wanted to see him really fight back, get passionate. I have never seen him that angry before, Sara. And I think that is something that did hearten some Democrats last night.

SIDNER: He was both angry and emotional because Beau Biden was brought up and there are people who may look at that and say, wow, that was a punch to the gut.

Jackie, I do want to ask you this question because politics is politics, right? You look at this report and there are people that will look at it potentially and say, is this political? Because Garland appointed someone who was a Trump appointee to be the special counsel and all of this is coming out of that.

And on the flipside, you've got Donald Trump and the people who support him no matter what, who look at these 91 counts that have been brought against him that are criminal counts against him and they're saying much of the same thing. Do you think that Biden will have people that will do the same, will say this is pure politics?

KUCINICH: I mean, I think no matter whether or not this was meant to be a political document, it's going to be used as a political document. It already is being used as a political document. And you heard Biden's allies, right after this came out, say exactly that, that this was meant to be used against him.

And, again, whatever the intention was, I don't really think that matters at this point in the grand scheme of things because of how it's already being used. I'm sure there's already fundraising emails, you know, that hit send moments after this came out, probably from both sides, honestly, but particularly from Republicans.

SIDNER: Yes. And Republicans -- Seung Min Kim, Republicans in Congress, of course, are seizing on this already, calling for Biden to be ousted using the 25th Amendment. Do they have a case there, or is this another big political talking point?

KIM: I mean, it's a political talking point. It is not going to happen. And I do think that Republicans will find things, like Jackie said, parts of the report and really use it against the president politically. You saw comments from Speaker Mike Johnson on down reacting that way to the report.

And I think the really important reaction here today and in the days ahead, and even the weeks ahead, is how Democrats choose to react to this, not just the Biden campaign, not just kind of Biden's inner circle or his broader circle, but the Democratic Party writ large.

You know, in some of my early conversations with people in the party, there does seem to be a, you know, some sense of needing to rally around the president at this time. They saw the Hur report as gratuitous, perhaps inappropriate. But we'll see if that sentiment sticks.

SIDNER: Yes, we'll see if the Hur report in some ways backfires and people really surrounding President Biden and he gets angry and starts coming out very strong as he's on the campaign trail. We will all be watching what happens.

Jackie Kucinich, Seung Min Kim, thank you both for coming on this morning. John?

BERMAN: Biden administration officials are running drills to prepare for any potential threats to the 2024 election. We have CNN exclusive reporting.

And then seven people have been indicted following an attack on New York police officers outside a migrant shelter. We've got new body cam video.



SIDNER: All right, this is new for you this morning. Prosecutors in New York releasing new body cam footage of people accused of attacking NYPD officers outside a shelter near Times Square. The body camera video appears to show the moment police asked a group of men to clear out and stop blocking the sidewalk. Overhead surveillance video is providing another picture of one of those men struggling with an officer, which ultimately leads to a scuffle between that man and police, and a few seconds later, you'll see here, others join in the fray. Seven people have been indicted in connection with this incident, and four have been released without bail.

Let's get to CNN Chief Law Enforcement and Security Analyst John Miller, the former deputy commissioner of intelligence and counterterrorism for the NYPD.

You look at this case, you look at this video, and you have four people who have been let go right now, waiting --


SIDNER: -- for the case to unfold. It just seems unusual when you see this body cam video of an officer being attacked.

MILLER: It does. And, you know, the announcement of the indictments yesterday is for seven people, a sum total of whom I think one is in custody, four were released without bail, even though the felony assault charge against the police officer was bail eligible even under New York State's very progressive bail reform act laws, the judge in that bail hearing reminded the prosecutor that one of these individuals has two open cases, meaning they're already out on release and they've been charged again, but they acceded to no bail.

Police sources say they got on a bus under false names headed to the Mexican border in Calexico, California. But since they're released on their own recognizance, there's no legal hook to chase them on. So, we're going to see do they show up in court on March 4th or don't they?


SIDNER: Right. And this is where the talking points where people are talking about reform. This tends to blow up politically for sure when they start looking and seeing some of this video and then finding out that people were able to potentially leave the state maybe.

MILLER: But that's why in this kind of confusing morass of pulling issues the district attorney elected to really take a step forward and release all of this video. Alvin Bragg, the Manhattan D.A., was trying to make the point that this is a confusing incident. You have an assault involving multiple people. Not everybody's actions are exactly the same some people use more force than others. Some people then switched clothes afterwards which may have confused identifications of different suspects and that we're trying to proceed judiciously within the office's policy. Not sure that that argument took and that people have developed sides in this.

SIDNER: Right. I want to talk about the mayor is saying people shouldn't have been released, but says his hands are tied regarding where they are and regarding the rules that have been put in place. Does this create a big issue for law enforcement as you go forward when they see something like this?

Obviously, morale is going to be an issue and has continued to be an issue. But there is this issue of trying to reform the justice system and there's going to be things that are hard.

MILLER : So, this has been a pull with law enforcement for a long time, which is the complaint that under the new bail reform laws, as you can literally walk into a store, take as much stuff as you want, step outside, meet a cop, get a ticket, not have to show up for court. And there's no incentive, they say, to stop that.

The bail reform laws, of course, were based on the idea of trying to achieve less racial disparity within the criminal justice system. And the jury is, no pun intended, still out on whether it's having the intended effect or whether it's just driving up other kinds of crimes.

SIDNER: Whenever something new happens, there's always wrinkles, there's always problems, there is an effort to make the system more fair. There are problems with the system. But, ultimately, we know how this works. Things swing back and forth depending on public sentiment and who gets into office.

I know you've been through that plenty of times.

MILLER: You've seen this movie before.

SIDNER: I've seen this movie before. John Miller, I love having you on. Thank you so much.

MILLER: Thanks, Sara.

SIDNER: I appreciate it. All right, John?

BERMAN: All right. New this morning, we do have a CNN exclusive reporting on what the Biden administration is doing to prepare for potential threats to this year's presidential election. Officials are running drills on how to respond to things like Deepfake videos and artificial intelligence and to find out how limited a federal response would be.

CNN Cybersecurity Reporter Sean Lyngaas has the details on this. Sean, what have you learned?

SEAN LYNGAAS, CNN CYBERSECURITY REPORTER: John, we got a fly on the wall look inside the room as some of the most senior national security officials in the government prepared for election-related chaos. This is a preparation. They're drilling, so they're preparing for worst- case scenarios.

One of those scenarios was what if violence breaks out at polling stations on Election Day? Well, they determined that that would largely be a state and local issue because the feds don't have jurisdiction there.

Another scenario is what if there's a Deepfake, an A.I.-made video of a senator destroying ballots in an election that he was in? And the answer to that was also difficult because the public right now really does not trust the federal government on messaging, so they're leaning hard on state and local election officials to do that messaging.

One U.S. official familiar with the meeting told CNN, quote, we're all effing tied up in knots right now, end quote, when it comes to dealing with Deepfakes, harassment of election officials and other threats.

So, there's an ongoing, really, wrenching debate about how do you best respond publicly to something where you may not be sure who's behind it? Is the Deepfake made by a foreign actor or a domestic one? And do free speech issues come into play? John?

BERMAN: Sean Lyngaas, great reporting. Thank you so much for sharing it with us. Sara?

SIDNER: All right. Ahead, President Biden offering one of his sharpest rebukes yet of Israel's military conduct in Gaza, calling it, quote, over the top. This as a critical aid bill inches forward.

Plus, Haiti rocked by anti-government protesters, angered by gang violence, just experienced its most violent month in more than two years, according to a top U.N. official, as levels of poverty and despair deepen.

We have much more on that story ahead.



BERMAN: President Biden says Israel's military conduct has been, quote, over the top. This is the sharpest criticism yet from the president who has generally avoided voicing disapproval of Israel.

With me now is Congressman Adam Smith, the ranking member on the House Armed Services Committee. Great to see you here in person.

REP. ADAM SMITH (D-WA): It's good to be here.

BERMAN: What in your mind is over the top when it comes to Israel's conduct?

SMITH: The biggest problem -- first of all, I didn't say that. The president said that.

BERMAN: Do you disagree with him?

SMITH: The biggest problem is what is the future for the Palestinian people, that the need to destroy Hamas, I understand, or significantly degrade Hamas, no doubt about it, but there has to be a future for the Palestinian people in Gaza, in the West Bank. This is a future that the Netanyahu.