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VP Harris, Dem Senators Slam Special Counsel Hur; Special Counsel Concludes Biden Willfully Retained Classified Docs, But Says No Criminal Charges Warranted; Rep. Debbie Dingell (D-MI) Discusses About Special Counsel's Report Effect on Voters; Tucker Carlson Interviews Vladimir Putin In Moscow. Aired 3-3:30p ET

Aired February 09, 2024 - 15:00   ET




UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is CNN Breaking News.

BORIS SANCHEZ, CNN HOST: A furious President Biden is now being forced to confront a key vulnerability facing his 2024 re-election bid, his age. Special Counsel Robert Hur released a scathing report on Biden's handling of classified documents and while Hur decided not to bring charges against Biden, throughout the report, he called into question the President's memory and mental sharpness. We actually just heard a long briefing from the White House. And now Democrats are rallying around the President, slamming Special Counsel Hur.

Here was Vice President Kamala Harris just a short time ago.


KAMALA HARRIS, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The comments that were made by that prosecutor, gratuitous, inaccurate and inappropriate. The way that the President's demeanor in that report was characterized could not be more wrong on the facts and clearly politically motivated.


BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN HOST: All right. Let's break this down now. CNN Senior Political Analyst, Gloria Borger; CNN Legal Analyst, Elliot Williams; and CNN Political Director, David Chalian.

I want to start with you, Elliot.


KEILAR: Because what you're hearing from the White House is that this was gratuitous, inappropriate and inaccurate. It's hard to judge if it was inaccurate without having the transcript, right? But talk about whether it was inappropriate and whether it was gratuitous in your opinion.

WILLIAMS: I'll show you here. So the rules that lay out the Special Counsel's report are very vague. They just say the Special Counsel needs to lay out his or her reasons for the prosecution or the declination, why we're choosing to prosecute or why we're not, right? Now, the mental acuity or the memory of a witness is certainly relevant to the question of can we bring this case, can we put this in front of a jury, that extra bit of stuff about, well, he's older and we think he's a sensitive, but sympathetic - I mean, come on. It's stepping a little bit into the realm of - gratuitous is a decent word to use, but you don't need that in order to establish that you have a proof problem at trial. You don't need to actually talk about the witness himself and I think it sort of stepped up to the line.

Now, in terms of attacking the prosecutor himself, I don't know if you really gain yourself many points from that. It's happened to me as a prosecutor. It happens to everybody (inaudible) ...

DAVID CHALIAN, CNN POLITICAL DIRECTOR: And I think it's interesting that Vice President Harris did that, calling him politically motivated. But the White House counsel spokesman, Ian Sams, was asked multiple times at this briefing ...

KEILAR: Right.

CHALIAN: ... just in the last hour if he agreed with the Vice President's remarks that Hur was a politically motivated prosecutor, he wouldn't repeat the words. He just simply said, I thought the Vice President spoke very forcefully and strongly. I thought the Vice President spoke very forcefully and strongly. He would never repeat from the White House podium the accusation that it was politically motivated.


WILLIAMS: And moreover - no, just one more quick thing, there's - in - frankly, in the Justice Department guidelines, the prosecution manual, it's - prosecutors should remain sensitive to the privacy and reputation interests of uncharged parties. This is a party that they chose not to proceed with criminal prosecution of. And that's fine, you have to be sensitive about how you are speaking about that person in public in a manner that doesn't tar them up, particularly when that person is a candidate for office, something we've been talking about quite a lot.

BORGER: As a non-lawyer, let me say, the way that I read this was - in parts of this report and they kind of said it in two different ways, as Ian Sams pointed out. They said there had been - that the President had willfully kept documents.


And they had to find some reason to justify if the President willfully kept documents when he was vice president, then why did they not prosecute him as Donald Trump is being prosecuted and sort of in a CYA mode, I think they went overboard and said a serious felony requires a mental state of willfulness, which is a big slap to Donald Trump saying, he - it was in no state of mind or could not be a - be on the witness stand and could not recall things. And what they were doing was covering themselves and saying, okay, this is why because we're going to get this backlash. We know we're going to get this backlash from Republicans and so we're going to put this out there to - as a way of explaining it.

WILLIAMS: But in fairness, it is entirely - willfulness is an element of the statute. It has to be proven. It's entirely fair to say we believe that this conduct may have been met, but we don't think we would get it passed a jury for any number of reasons, some of them being we think the witness was cooperative, but many of them being we just simply don't think we could prove it for these reasons.

And so, get - at the risk of getting into it and trying to divine the motivations of the prosecutors.

BORGER: Right. But details of not recalling the day of his son's passing is something that is gratuitous and did not need to be included in a report.

WILLIAMS: Probably not.

SANCHEZ: And the White House described as being mischaracterized, they could easily point that out and prove that if there were ...

BORGER: (Inaudible) did.

SANCHEZ: ... transcripts ...


SANCHEZ: ... as well, they could easily prove that if there were transcripts or perhaps a video of the interview being discussed by Robert Hur, is that likely to ever be released?

WILLIAMS: I mean, perhaps in redacted form. Now, certainly, if in fact this is dealing with classified or sensitive information, obviously the government is going to have interest in protecting some of it, but perhaps they do. I don't know.

CHALIAN: And the White House made clear today that a process of looking at the classification that's inside of the transcript is underway. They didn't promise that they would release it, but he certainly didn't say that the President would be opposed to releasing some form of a redacted transcript. And we don't know if there's a recording.

I thought this was really interesting, that in this briefing with the White House, Ian Sams took pains to say to a reporter, I'm referring to a transcript, not a recording. I don't know if there's an audio or video recording of this. I don't think we know that yet.


KEILAR: Wouldn't it seem likely that there would be a recording ...

CHALIAN: It should ... BORGER: It does, it would ...

CHALIAN: ... would seem likely.

BORGER: It would. In fact, they just had someone there ...

KEILAR: Isn't that, (inaudible) how it works?

WILLIAMS: Not necessarily.

BORGER: ... and let's say ...

KEILAR: Not necessarily, okay. Not necessarily.

WILLIAMS: It might be transcribed but not reported.

KEILAR: All right.

BORGER: And maybe the White House preferred that it not be recorded.


KEILAR: Interesting.

SANCHEZ: David, to a point that Gloria made just a moment ago, Robert Hur details the differences between this investigation into Joe Biden and the Trump investigation. And he points out that we likely wouldn't even have seen an investigation that Joe Biden had not raised his hand - his attorneys had raised their hands to say we found these documents, we want to make sure we get this right.

Nevertheless, from a public perception standpoint, it's going to be difficult for the White House to make the argument to voters that not only is there a difference there, but that the memory issues invoked in this report aren't pertinent to President Biden when he's struggling at times to answer questions.

CHALIAN: Well, I think those are two totally different things. I don't know that it will be difficult. I know that, obviously, Donald Trump is already well underway trying to muddy the waters between the two investigations. I actually think this report may help the White House make the distinction between these two cases because this Republican- appointed prosecutor makes that distinction for them in this report. So I don't know if the public will buy into the goal of muddying the waters.

On the issue of the perceptions of age, which again, the White House says are inaccurate, but there's no way for us to judge the underlying assessment that Hur made here other than we see Joe Biden all the time. And so the American people are going to make a judgment for themselves over these next many months and we know already in public polling about the real concerns the American people have about the President's ability to serve as a full second term, about his age. There are real questions there.

And so the White House can say all they want that they think Hur's assessment is inaccurate. That is - it would be a mistake for them, I think, politically to end it there. They know they have to deal with this issue, with this perception among American voters about the President's stamina to serve.

BORGER: And when the public is an overwhelming majority, the public is predisposed to believe that Joe Biden could not serve out a term - his final term and believe that he suffers from some kind of mental problems. It's very hard to turn a battleship around when you have, I think the NBC poll said 76 percent of Americans feel that way.


So what does the White House do to try and counter this?

I mean, in my reporting, there's talk of putting him in smaller groups, showing the old Joe Biden, who does very well that way. But it's very, very difficult when you have Republicans pounding on this every day.

And my question is, what is Donald Trump going to do. Because Donald Trump, while he does talk about Biden in many ways, deranged, et cetera, whatever he uses, hasn't been pounding on this the way one might expect. And I'm wondering what the - there's got to be a calculation there. And the question is, is the calculation because Trump knows that he's an older person as well and he doesn't want it to backfire and he makes those same kind of mistakes himself. I don't know the answer to that.

KEILAR: No spring chickens in this race except for Nikki Haley. But she is trailing quite now in the polls. And that is another David Chalian segment for another time.

David, thank you so much. Elliot and Gloria, thank you to you as well.


KEILAR: I want to bring in Democratic Congresswoman Debbie Dingell of Michigan to speak with us here. And I first want to speak with you about the Special Counsel's report here. Are you worried about the effect that this may have on voters?

REP. DEBBIE DINGELL (D-MI): Look, I'm going to react to this in two different ways. I am not a lawyer, haven't been a prosecutor as many of the people that you've been talking to. And I had not read the report last night. But bottom line, he didn't find enough evidence. There was no reason for him to go forward.

And I think I'm going to use the Vice President's words, there are a lot of gratuitous cheap shots that are in this report. And the more the day has gone on, I'm just getting madder and madder. And I'm going to give you a very personal story. And I mean personal and one I wasn't going to share because it's nobody's business, but apparently everybody's business is everybody's business.

I went to Michigan with the President last week. And he was very close to my husband, very close to me. He was there at one time when they, after John finished serving and they thought that John might die the next day, Joe Biden and Jill were at that hospital in two minutes flat. John went on and lived another five years.

He remembered last week, Beau's birthday is February 3rd and John died February 7th. And he knew on the plane that I was heading into this very tough, awful week that I was going to have and nobody's reminding him of that. That is something that's very personal that he and I talk about.

So for people to take these kind of cheap shots just really angers me when I know who Joe Biden is and the person that he stands for. Do we have to worry about it politically? They're sure going to try to make people worry about it politically and I want to know why we're not talking about - we're talking about Joe Biden's age, not the 91 felony counts that Donald Trump has against him.

KEILAR: Well, I thank you for sharing that personal story. And also the humanity, I think, too, of some of this, which is that this is a difficult time and you certainly drive that home. We hear the White House here saying that this is inaccurate. And we know there's a transcript of the interview. Do you think that it should be released to make that point that they're saying from the White House that this is inaccurate?

DINGELL: Look, I listened to the same press conference that you did. There - I don't know what's there. I don't know what kind of reports they are. I have nothing to do with what - we're all learning at the same time. I didn't want to make comments last night because I didn't even know what they were talking about. I think a whole lot of people like to talk about a whole lot of stuff that they know nothing about.

If there is solid evidence and shows what the interviews are, I think the lawyers who know what they're talking about need to do it. But I know what I'm talking about. I know Joe Biden. I was in Michigan with him last week. And we were talking about issues, all kinds of issues, issues that matter. And I'll tell you, we were talking about the Mideast and my Arab Americans.


DINGELL: And we had some of the bluntest, and I mean blunt, conversations. This is a man that's on his game.

KEILAR: Let's talk about that, because I remember talking to you during the Hillary Clinton campaign when I was covering Hillary Clinton, and you were sounding the alarm for her campaign about Michigan, where she lost in the primary, unexpectedly to Bernie Sanders, I'd say less surprising to you. And then she lost in the general election to Donald Trump there. You are sounding the alarm clearly to President Biden. What is your worry as we look at administration officials going there to Michigan, talking to the Arab American population that is so concerned about how the U.S. and Biden is supporting Israel in its prosecution of its war?

[15:15:00] DINGELL: Look, it's taken too long. I'm going to tell you that. But I will say you saw him come this week after - he came to Michigan last weekend and we talked. People don't understand how this community is hurting, how many innocent people have died. I have friends on both sides and I think a whole lot of America believes Israel's got a right to exist, that what Hamas did was wrong. But Palestinians have a right to exist.

We have seen more than 12,000 children die, we - I don't - somewhere between 25,000 and 35,000 innocent civilians have died. They have been forced into areas that are being bombed again. People are dying. These are human beings and this issue is going to have to be dealt with. There needs to be a ceasefire. And this community is not going to really be open to listening or talking or to understanding until they see the people they know. They have families.

My - I have had so many people that have lost family members or talking to people there who have nothing to eat, nothing to drink, no medical care. I do believe - I don't think - I think that sometimes people don't get to tell people directly how people are hurting and what is happening and I think a lot more of those conversations have been happening.

KEILAR: Yes. No, they certainly need to. Congresswoman Debbie Dingell, thank you so much for being with us. We really appreciate it.

DINGELL: Thank you.

KEILAR: And still ahead, a climate scientist tried to warn the world about global warming. Skeptics attacked him, but he found a way to fight back, and he made them pay. We're going to speak with him about his fight and a million-dollar verdict.

Plus, Vladimir Putin sitting down for a two-hour interview, if you can really call it that, with right-wing media host, Tucker Carlson, walking away with a propaganda victory.

And then later, with credit card debt reaching record highs, more Americans are failing to make minimum payments. And experts are now making an alarming prediction about credit card delinquencies.

Those stories and much more coming up on CNN NEWS CENTRAL.



SANCHEZ: Now to Moscow, where former Fox News host Tucker Carlson held a controversial interview with Russian President Vladimir Putin. It's the first time a Western media figure has been allowed to question the Russian leader since the invasion of Ukraine nearly two years ago. Carlson didn't press Putin on alleged war crimes or jailed journalists, but allowed the Russian leader to rant, at one point giving a 30-plus minute revised history of Russia's relationship with Ukraine.


TUCKER CARLSON, RIGHT-WING MEDIA FIGURE: So twice you've described U.S. presidents making decisions and then being undercut by their agency heads. So it sounds like you're describing a system that's not run by the people who were elected in your telling.

VLADIMIR PUTIN, PRESIDENT OF RUSSIA (through interpreter): That's right. That's right.


SANCHEZ: Joining us now in the studio is the former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine, Bill Taylor. He's also the VP for Russia and Europe at the U.S. Institute of Peace.

Ambassador, thank you so much for being with us.

What was your reaction to watching this interview? What were your takeaways?

BILL TAYLOR, FORMER U.S. AMBASSADOR TO UKRAINE: Boris, what struck me was this long, as you just put it, kind of inaccurate historical rant by President Putin. He wants to make the case, he tries to make the case that Ukraine's not a real country. And it turns out, even if you go back in history, go back to the ninth century as President Putin did, the original people living there in Kyiv, the Ukrainians, they're older than the Russians.

Kyiv was there much before the Russians and so President Putin has his history wrong. Not only that, we know, and the world knows, that Ukraine is a real country trying to separate itself from the Russians that have tried to dominate it for three centuries. So him trying to make that case, I think he failed.

SANCHEZ: What does the fact that he did this interview with Tucker Carlson tell you? Like, what audience do you think Vladimir Putin is trying to reach?

TAYLOR: Vladimir Putin clearly wants to make the case that we should not be supporting Ukraine. There are some peoples in this country who don't believe that we should be supporting Ukraine and that's, I guess, who he was after. Putin did reveal during the interview that he and President Biden had not spoken since the invasion of Ukraine began. He recounted the stark warning that he gave to Biden before the invasion. Let's watch.


PUTIN (through interpreter): But I talked to him before the special military operation, of course. And I said to him then, by the way, I will not go into details, I never do. But I said to him then, I believe that you are making a huge mistake of historic proportions by supporting everything that is happening there in Ukraine by pushing Russia away.

(END VIDEO CLIP) SANCHEZ: Putin also indicated that he'd be open to negotiations toward ending the war if he were to negotiate directly with the United States. Is that bluster? Is that real? What do you make of it?

TAYLOR: It's not real. It makes no sense. The Russians invaded Ukraine.


TAYLOR: The Russians have waged war on Ukraine for nearly two years. An agreement to end that war is going to come between the Russians and the Ukrainians. We've been supporting the Ukrainians as they've tried to defend themselves. But this is the Russians and Ukrainians who will end this war.

SANCHEZ: So is that a way, by also referencing the meeting they had before the invasion, was that a way for him to sort of call out or tease President Biden?


TAYLOR: President Biden, in that phone call and in several meetings, told President Putin what a bad mistake it would be for Russia to invade Ukraine. Our intelligence was pretty good on at least one aspect going into that war, and that was we knew, U.S. intelligence knew, that the Russians planned to invade. President Putin said that's not happening. We're not going to invade. His foreign minister said it's the West being hysterical, this business about us invading. And of course, they invaded.

President Biden was very clear about what would happen if they made this mistake and invaded, and that's what they did.

SANCHEZ: Yes, the Kremlin not historically known for telling the truth. But if you were Volodymyr Zelenskyy, the President of Ukraine, and you're sitting there watching this interview, watching some of the political division here in the United States, knowing that aid is log jammed in Congress, how are you feeling right now?

TAYLOR: President Zelenskyy clearly needs the U.S. assistance. He needs the U.S. military assistance. He needs the European assistance. Europeans, he's actually - President Zelenskyy's pleased that the Europeans are stepping up, providing indeed more than we are. But he knows that our assistance is key because it's the military assistance. It's the bulk of the military assistance. He needs that in order to defend what he's got and eventually push back the Russians. So he's worried about this assistance package that's here in Washington.

SANCHEZ: Former ambassador, Bill Taylor, great to get your perspective. Thanks for coming on.

TAYLOR: Boris, thank you.

SANCHEZ: Appreciate it.

So there is a renewed - renowned, I should say, climate scientist who sued after being compared to a convicted child molester. And he's celebrating a major victory today, fresh off a court decision. He's joining us live right after the break.