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White House Ends Briefing Of Media After Scathing Special Counsel Report; White House Doesn't Rule Out Redacted Release Of Special Counsel Report; Swiftmania Grips Super Bowl LVIII. Aired 2:30- 3p ET

Aired February 09, 2024 - 14:30   ET



EVAN PEREZ, CNN SENIOR JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: That's him discussing what -- according to this report, that then-former vice president was discussing classified documents or classified information with the ghostwriter who was not cleared to receive that information.

That is a problem. And it is plain as day that is on him. That is nobody else's fault but him. But his fault.

And so, that is part of the effort by the White House, and Ian Sams is very capable of trying to defend what the president is trying to say. But they are sort of misfiring on some of this. Because again, the report makes clear that the line was crossed in these interactions.

Now, we haven't heard -- we haven't heard these recordings, we haven't heard some of the evidence here, for us to be able to judge whether Robert Hur is portraying this correctly. They are saying -- they are disputing some of this. So we will wait.

By the way, one of the most important things that Ian Sams seem to be open to, at least in his remarks, where a reporter asked about releasing some of these materials, investigative materials. Now let me tell you this, the Justice Department now considers this investigation closed.

Which means Republicans are going to be asking for the materials that are behind this investigation. Reporters are going to be putting in Freedom of Information Requests to, again, access some of that information.

And there is no reason why it should not be released. Ian Sams, on the podium just now, said it will be reviewed based on whether the class of information.

But it seems at least the White House is open to releasing some of that. The only way it would not be released is if the president declares or asserts that there is executive privilege that he wants to assert.

One final thing I want to just quickly talk you guys about is one of the things that the president's lawyers are pushing is this idea that this was out of the norms of the Justice Department, that Robert Hur exceeded the regulations or violated the regulations by producing this report.

The problem here is that this is a special counsel. And a special counsel is required to produce a report. So this is basically what is usually what the Justice Department calls a declination memo, right?

And they are ugly. They are not pretty documents. Because they lay out everything that was found in the investigation. And then, for the -- to explain why they are not prosecuting.

And we don't normally see these documents. But because this is a special counsel investigation, it was required for this to be produced.

And let me tell you, if Merrick Garland, the attorney general, had looked at this report, and found fault with some of the language, the stuff about the elderly, man with a faulty memory, that stuff, and asked for it to be removed, it would trigger a number of consequences.

It would have to require for that to be reported to Congress and that would become a whole new scandal.

So, it is a problem. And I understand why they don't like the report. But these are the regulations. But these are the regulations. And this is not a violation of the Justice Department norms or regulations.

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN HOST: Yes, it's very important that you note that, Evan, as the White House is attacking this as inappropriate and also inaccurate and gratuitous. Those are the words they are using here.

I want to get now to David Axelrod to talk about this.

You heard that, David, not ruling out the possibility of releasing a transcript, but that that would be something that is pretty extraordinarily. I don't believe we saw transcripts released in, for instance, the Mueller investigation.

And, he may have not ruled it out, Ian Sams, but he also raised that possibility that there may be some classified information. So there is a way to back out of it.

Would you want that released, if you were advising the president?

DAVID AXELROD, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: I don't know what's in the transcripts. If I were advising the president, and I knew what was in the transcripts, and the transcripts bore out what the president said, yes, I would want them released. If the transcripts don't bore out what the president said, probably not.

But here is the thing. This is like a steak thrown in the middle of a bunch of hungry dogs, when it comes to the House Republicans, who want to keep this thing going, and want to highlight this issue.

And so, they've already signaled this morning that they're going to try and dislodge some of this material. I don't know if they can. But just the effort to get it will keep the story going. So, this is a sticky wicket for the White House. I thought Ian Sams -- I agree with Evan's analysis. Ian did a

brilliant job there of handling those questions, and keeping the focus on the issue of the documents and how the president handled them, how it differed from Trump.

But there's a difference between the legal issues and the political challenge. The political challenge is, fair or not -- and I do think that what the special counsel put in that report, it seemed gratuitous and unnecessary.


Those words are out there, and you can't and ring the bell. And this creates an additional political problem for a president, who is already facing questions among voters about his age and his capacities, that are based largely on his performance by other cameras.

I believe the president has done a very competent job and continues to do a competent job. And you can see that in a variety of ways.

But that is not the road in which we live. The world in which we live is that people see you on camera, and that is how they judge you, and it is a problem for the president.

And the special counsel's words have sort of torqued up that whole issue. And it's a problem that wasn't resolved by his press conference.

BORIS SANCHEZ, CNN HOST: David Axelrod, appreciate the analysis.

We have much more coming up on this news coming for the White House, and from this scathing report in just moments. Stay with CNN.



KEILAR: All right, we are just following this a White House response to the special counsel report. And specifically, the White House is not ruling out a redacted Hur transcript being released. But of course, that is still very much TBD.

I want to bring in Paula Reid.

If you could just tell us what the biggest takeaways were to you here?

PAULA REID, CNN CHIEF LEGAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Well, Ian Sams is actually the right person to come out and answer these questions. He has been the one whose been handling communications with the White House Counsel's Office throughout this investigation.

The president has not only the White House counsel, but he also as outside counsel, Bob Barr, who has been helping him, shepherding him through this process. But I am not sure if that press conference really resolved the issues

that they now have, in combatting some of these damning findings in the report.

And also, I'm going to reiterate what Evan said. Special Counsel Rob Hur, as part of his appointment, he is required to issue a report. There have been comparisons, for example, to former FBI director, James Comey, talking to the Hillary Clinton probe or other prosecutors.

We had a special counsel required to issue a report. James Comey was not required to come out and talk about that case. Traditionally, prosecutors do not publicly talk about cases when someone is not charged. But it is different with the special counsel.

And the most comparable example is, of course, the report from former special counsel, Robert Mueller. It was incredibly critical of former President Trump and many of his associates. It was equal in length to Rob Hur's report.

There are no page requirements, right, or any real restrictions on the special counsel. They are expected to comport with the Justice Department norms. And I think intelligent minds, including our Norm, can disagree with what this means and if he did go outside of the lines.

But in speaking with witnesses who were interviewed in this case over the past year -- as we have broken a lot of stories on this investigation -- they described Hur as someone who is meticulous.

He would call multiple times about the same question that in their minds was pretty minor, where did people sit, what were they doing, who lifted the box?

He was meticulous. So, if he included these details -- and this is someone who is being described to us as, again, taking this very seriously, and being meticulous, he understood there would not likely be charges.

Instead, he wanted to offer the public a detailed report. And we will likely have an opportunity to hear from him one more time, at as it is highly likely that he will have to testify, as Robert Mueller did before Congress.

SANCHEZ: Norm, you disagree that this report was gratuitous, that it crossed the line, and some of the assertions specifically about President Biden's memory.

NORM EISEN, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Not the report, Boris. The -- by and large, the report is on the money. I had a TSSE (ph) clearance. I was the lead White House drafter on the executive order governing the classification and handling of classification documents.

Biden did not properly handle these documents. I agree with the report. Also, no criminal intent, because he cooperated. Unlike President Trump, his failure to cooperate both proves intent of breaking the law, and holding the documents, and obstruction.

But this happens. I've been working with the special counsel investigations for over three decades. There are always a few points of disagreement.

And that is what that White House press conference was like, was about. And I think the White House has a point in calling attention to practice protocol and policy.

That's a quote from the inspector general report criticizing Jim Comey when he made these kinds of gratuitous remarks about Hillary Clinton.


REID: The special counsel is not required --

EISEN: That point.

Paula, the principles of federal prosecution, Section 760, "Prosecutors must be sensitive to the privacy and reputational interests of uncharged parties."

That applies to all prosecutors.

And my point, I've been struggling with it for the past 24 hours. I called my fellow ethicists, people who deal with it every day, all over the country, what do you think?

I called the Bush ethics czar, and we've come to the view, you know, what there are a few lines in here that are gratuitous digs. The former attorney general agrees.

I think it violates Justice Department policy, practice, procedure, protocol, and norms.

KEILAR: But a question, not that he would completely ignore the issue of memory, if he thought that it was germane to why he could not charge Biden. Because it appears that it was germane.

But what you are saying is -- I mean, for instance, when you look at the words "hazy, fuzzy, faulty, poor," different quotes -- those are different quotes to describe his memory -- that it was just too much, that it should have been more minimized?


KEILAR: Because it wouldn't have ignored the issue altogether. Are you suggesting that?

EISEN: He chose words that, in the light of this standard, that with uncharged parties, you have to be sensitive --


KEILAR: Which ones? Which ones, Norm? EISEN: -- to -- I'm going to tell you the exact quote, the famous

quote, that's going to go down in history about the president being a -- the president being well meaning and elderly, with a poor memory.

I think that Mr. Hur knew exactly what he was doing there. He --

KEILAR: What should -- what should he have said?

EISEN: I will tell you. I will tell you.

I will tell you, when witnesses talk about events spanning over half a century, it is very challenging to recall every detail. It is legitimate to say Biden did not remember. But by stringing together those adjectives about age and memory, that was gratuitous.

I don't want to criticize a special prosecutor, and I agree what Biden did was wrong. But I think it went too far. He threw a bomb into the most hot-button issue in his political campaign by linking age and memory. I don't think it was necessary.

Witnesses of every age have a poor memory. If my wife is watching, forgive me.


EISEN: I can't remember the year we got married.

KEILAR: You're going to have to work on that one, Norm.

ALICE STEWART, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: But it's also putting this report out into a world with a former president who has been charged with mishandling classified documents by a special counsel.

And the average American may have trouble understanding, OK, why was former President Trump charged when he had these classified documents far more appearing to do this intentionally.

And at least in one instance, appearing to have retained them because he disagreed with the assessment of a foreign policy situation, and wanted to prove something to someone.

And that seems very comparable to the Biden situation where he --


STEWART: Yes. You know, he had to look at his notes.

SANCHEZ: The politics are very tricky, and that's why we've seen the White House come out and discuss this multiple times.

We will get to the politics in just a moment, I promise, Alice.

But we do have a voice that worked at the DOJ. Andy McCabe joins us now.

Andy, to the point that Norm was making, if you are the special counsel, and you are trying to argue that a jury would look at President Biden and see an elderly man who has issues with memory, someone that would be perhaps sympathetic, as a reason to not go after him and press charges of mishandling of classified documents.

Should not he then outline instances in his interviews in which his memory was faulty? Is that not something fair to put in this document to justify the fact that he didn't push for charges?

ANDREW MCCABE, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: I think it is absolutely relevant to talk about the fact, or to refer to the fact in the report that a witness, a key witness, in this case, the subject of the investigation, had a faulty memory about certain facts that might bolster his defense of the charges. That is relevant to the special counsel's duty.

But I agree with Norm. It is the way that he characterized that, that faulty memory, that goes beyond what is necessary to communicate a potential weakness in your case. And actually wades directly into a major issue and a current political race.

And it is not the only example of that. There is all sorts of language in the very beginning of the report where the special counsel refers to reasons why the president retained some of these materials.

That he wanted to keep these materials to document his legacy, and as evidence that he was a man of presidential timber. Now that is not cited to any interview.

So presumably, that is the special counsel's conclusion about what the president's motivations might have been, which is presented in what is undoubtedly a kind of distasteful, negative way.

So, it is those characterizations that I think bring a very fair criticism to the way the report is written.

KEILAR: And yet, when it comes to the politics of this, as you heard David Axelrod say, you can't un-ring the bell. This is now out there and Republicans are certainly weaponizing this.

STEWART: Well, they certainly are. And what Norm talks, but what we talk about, the age and elderliness of this president is exactly what this White House does not want to be talking about.

And yesterday, as we went to bed last night, the headline was President Biden emphatically saying, yes, I am elderly, but I know what the hell I'm doing.

That is not with this White House wants to talk about. That is why we saw the vice president come out today and say this is politically motivated. That is why we saw Ian Sams come out today.

He did a tremendous job from a communications standpoint, shifting the narrative to these gratuitous criticisms of the president. Or to put the finger on the scale, and politically motivated, to sow retribution to this president. That is what they would certainly much rather be talking about. The problem is, Republicans are going to go back to what we heard

yesterday. President Biden has a problem with memory. He can't keep facts straight. In his press conference last night, his emphatic denial of, oh, I don't have a problem with memory.


If you are going to go out there with the fierceness he went out there and say, oh, I don't have a problem of forgetting things or being confused, you can't forget things or be confused. And he was. And so that is exactly what Republicans are going to seize on.

And in our own report, a polling from CNN, 25 percent of the people that we polled felt as though President Biden did not have the strength and stamina, and the fitness to be president.

This plays right into that. And we are seeing many Republicans already do so, asking for information.

Lindsey Graham looks at this from a large perspective, how does this play on the world stage? This is very unnerving, according to Lindsey Graham.

We have others in the Senate. Rick Scott also saying, if he can't remember details of being vice president, he shouldn't be commander- in-chief of the armed forces.

And do expect reporters to continue to ask for transcripts of this special counsel's investigation. And for Ian Sams to say, well, a lot of this is classified information, that's going to really not help them make their case.

If he wants to say that President Biden didn't have a problem with his memory, transcripts of that interview will go a long way to disproving that.

KEILAR: Alice, thank you so much.

Paula and Norm, thank you to you and to Andrew McCabe as well.

The White House firing back against this special counsel report. We will have more on this straight ahead.



SANCHEZ: There it is.

KEILAR: It's the Super Bowl shimmy.

SANCHEZ: There it goes.

KEILAR: That's what it is.

SANCHEZ: The Super Bowl shimmy. KEILAR: It's like a chair wiggle is what it is.

SANCHEZ: It's pretty good. It's pretty good.


KEILAR: It's not good.


KEILAR: -- Boris.


SANCHEZ: It's great.


SANCHEZ: This is the intro that has made Brianna dance every time that we've played it.


SANCHEZ: It is Super Bowl week. And the NFL is hoping this Sunday's Super Bowl could be one of the most-watched ever, thanks to this new phenomenon, the Taylor Swift effect.

Who is Taylor Swift?

KEILAR: Oh, my gosh.

Coy Wire in Vegas with more.

SANCHEZ: Never heard of her.

COY WIRE, CNN SPORTS ANCHOR: What's up, Brianna and Boris? I've covered about a dozen Super Bowls and I've never seen so much focus about something going on outside the lines, the most-watched television program in America has even more type, more intensity as the sports and entertainment worlds collide.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Shout out to the newest members of the Chiefs Kingdom, Taylor Swift, who has officially reached the Super Bowl in her rookie year. That's kind of good).


TRAVIS KELCE, KANSAS CITY CHIEFS TIGHT END: Shout out to Taylor. Thanks for joining the team.

WIRE (voice-over): The NFL and loads of fans are embracing this romance. One thing you can bet on is that Taylor Swift is good for business. NFL viewership hitting all-time highs this postseason.

KELCE: She's rewriting the history books herself. I told her I'll have to hold up my end of the bargain and come home some hardware, too.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: If you're screaming at Taylor Swift saying she ruined it, you're just a loser.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Why is everybody so mad about it?


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Why is everybody so mad about it?

COLIN COWHERD, HOST: This anger it says nothing about Taylor Swift. It says everything about the men bothered by it.

WIRE: It's pretty clear that this has all been quite divisive. Some supporting TayTay, but others?




MCCAFFREY: Any T. Swift songs. And it's hard for me because I have her on my running playlist and everything, so. But if she pops up on -

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: She's dead to you this week.

MCCAFFREY: -- the radio station. And my oldest son Max and I are big Swifties. Nope, she's dead to us this week.

WIRE: Now, listen to this. Taylor's favorite number is 13.

TAYLOR SWIFT, SINGER: This is my 13th Grammy --


SWIFT: -- which is my lucky number. I don't know if I've ever told you that.

WIRE (on camera): This is Super Bowl LVIII. Five plus eight is 13. The game's being played on 2/11. Two plus 11, 13. The Chiefs opponent, the 49ers. Four plus nine is -- you get it.

But seriously, though, this will be Taylor's 13th game this season, leaving some conspiracy theorists to think the NFL is scripted.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I don't think I'm that good a scripter or anybody on our staff.

WIRE (voice-over): Has this first ever Vegas Super Bowl matchup been Taylor made?


WIRE: Yes, it's true. Many online say that getting the Chiefs in the Super Bowl so that Swifties can boost ratings for the NFL even further was the league's plan all along.

Listen, I got a little excited when I realized that today, that during the Taylor Swift event on Sunday, we're going to see a Super Bowl being played. Actual football. Can you believe it? Can't wait.

KEILAR: All right, Coy, thanks so much.

There's a game? Just kidding.

SANCHEZ: She's trying to be funny.



KEILAR: We'll be right back.

SANCHEZ: Stay with us.