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Informant Got Information from Russia; House Grills President Biden's Brother; Additional Sanctions on Russia; Ian Bremmer is Interviewed about the Sanctions on Russia; Jury Selection Beings in "Rust" Trial; Biden and DNC Have Cash Edge over Trump and RNC. Aired 9-9:30a ET

Aired February 21, 2024 - 09:00   ET




JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: The president's own brother about to appear before House Republicans pushing to impeach Joe Biden. This even after the stunning revelation the prosecutors say an informant, one that Republicans based their inquiry on, that he says he was fed information by the Russians and is accused of actively pedaling new lies that could impact U.S. elections.

SARA SIDNER, CNN ANCHOR: Plus, prosecutors say she loaded the prop gun that later fired a live round and killed "Rust" cinematographer Halyna Hutchins in 2021. But will the film's armorer be held criminally responsible? Jury selection begins this morning in her trial.

FREDRICKA WHITFIELD, CNN ANCHOR: And President Biden slamming former President Trump for trying to compare his legal woes to the death of Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny. Biden says Republicans must decide, will they serve Trump or the American people.

I'm Fredricka Whitfield, with John Berman and Sara Sidner. Kate Bolduan is off. This is CNN NEWS CENTRAL

This morning, possible Russian fingerprints on this too. So, in just a few minutes, the House Republican impeachment inquiry into President Biden hears from its highest profile witness yet, the president's own brother.

Yet, as this is happening, perhaps the most stunning twist yet in the at times floundering investigation. Remember the ex-FBI informant whose testimony had been central to House Republican allegations? The one that special counsel David Weiss already charged with lying. Well, the special counsel now says not only did he commit perjury in implicating the Bidens in a business deal, this informant has now told prosecutors that he was trafficking in information, false it turns out, provided to him by the Russians. So, follow the bouncing ball here. House Republicans within an impeachment inquiry, based at least in part on false information from a guy who now says he got stuff from the Russians.

CNN's senior crime and justice reporter Katelyn Polantz with all this, this Russian connection.


KATELYN POLANTZ, CNN SENIOR CRIME AND JUSTICE REPORTER: John, just information coming from Alexander Smirnov, who's now arrested and released from detention, coming into the FBI for years, and even recently. So, what is at stake in his case is questions about what he was telling the FBI related to Hunter Biden, Burisma and Joe Biden. He had alleged that there were millions of dollars that was connecting the Biden family to this Ukrainian oil company at a time when Joe Biden was vice president. That's not true. That's the lie that he's charged with funneling to the FBI.

But as the FBI has continued to speak to him, even after his arrest, and as the Justice Department has gone to court to give us more details about this longtime FBI informant, Alexander Smirnov. We're now learning that he was getting information from Russian officials, including about Hunter Biden as recently as this fall.

There were four different Russian officials that were providing him information that the -- that he then passed along to the FBI about Hunter Biden. So, all of that is calling into question the -- everything that this man was sharing with the FBI, specifically if it was information that was damaging about Joe Biden or Hunter Biden.

And on top of that, John, it just is highlighting how much disinformation there was in the 2020 election about Joe Biden and his son and their foreign contacts, as well as what appears to be disinformation coming from Russia still in the 2024 election about Joe Biden.

BERMAN: Really are stunning revelations, Katelyn, that draws into question so much of what is happening before our eyes even today. Keep us posted on all these developments.


SIDNER: My family would call that a hot mess.

That closed-door meeting, by the way, with President Biden's brother, James, begins next hour on Capitol Hill. A critical interview as Republicans try to hold together their unraveling impeachment investigation.

Let's bring in CNN congressional correspondent Lauren Fox now for the very latest on this.

Lauren, what is the new information that Republicans think they're going to be getting from the president's brother?

LAUREN FOX, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: While Republicans have been having a series of interviews over the last several months, and they're looking for a critical piece of evidence that would directly tie President Joe Biden to his family's business dealings abroad.

[09:05:11] But so far they've been unable to find that smoking gun, Sara. That is what they're going to be looking for this morning in this closed door meeting.

And it really comes at a critical point for the impeachment inquiry as House Republicans are really struggling to produce any evidence that connects Biden directly to getting some kind of benefit from these business dealings from his family.

Now, he's - they're going to be meeting today with James Biden, the president's brother. Then, in a week, they are going to be hearing from Hunter Biden, the president's son, for a highly anticipated meeting. But the reality for the Republican Party in the House of Representatives is that they have a narrow majority, which means they have to convince basically every one of their members to support impeaching Joe Biden, if that is the decision that they want to make and go forward with. And right now there just isn't the kind of evidence that would make some of those Republicans running in swing districts comfortable with moving forward. We expect that the House leadership is going to make a decision after these two critical interviews whether or not to proceed with trying and impeaching the president. But the reality is that they are going to have to make that decision with the political reality happening with this inquiry that has been going on for months now in which they have yet to find that direct evidence.


SIDNER: All right, Lauren Fox, thank you for your reporting on this.


WHITFIELD: All right, thanks, Sara.

The White House is ready to unveil another round of major sanctions against Russia in just days. A response, not just to the war on Ukraine, but the death of opposition leader Alexei Navalny. The U.S. is working with European partners to hit Vladimir Putin at the same time. The EU just reached an agreement on its package. The main target, Russia's drone production. Russia has been ramping up drone production over the past year. The U.K. also announcing a new round of sanctions today. They are sanctioning six workers at the penal colony where Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny died last week.

Alex Marquardt is with us with more on all of this.


ALEX MARQUARDT, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Well, in the wake of the announcement of Navalny's death on Friday, President Biden making clear that he intended to add more sanctions against the Russian regime. And now that is going to be happening later this week.

The White House is making clear that they had already intended to impose more sanctions against Russia, timed this week with the anniversary of Russia's invasion of Ukraine. That is tomorrow, in fact. But now those sanctions are being supplemented.

So, this package is coming out on Friday. We don't have specifics just yet. We are getting a few more details. Biden's national security adviser, Jake Sullivan, saying that these American sanctions will target what he calls Russia's defense industrial base and revenue for what he called Russia's war machine.

Here's a little bit more of what he had to say yesterday.


JAKE SULLIVAN, U.S. NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISER: But this is another turn of the crank, another turn of the wheel. And it is a range of targets, a significant range of targets that we have worked persistently and diligently to identify, to continue to impose costs for what Russia has done, for what it's done to Navalny, for what it's done to Ukraine, and for the threat that it represents to international peace and security.


MARQUARDT: So, we expect more of those details on Friday. We do know that the Biden administration likes to sync up their sanctions against Russia with key allies. We are seeing that this week. The EU announcing the 13th round of sanctions against Russia, the 13th package targeting the production of drones, some 200 individuals and companies. We're also learning today that the United Kingdom is sanctioning six individuals who are leaders of that arctic penal colony where Navalny was being held.

But, Fredricka, the Biden administration is making clear that they believe one of the best ways to counter Russian aggression is to pass that supplemental funding bill for Ukraine, Israel, and other -- and elsewhere. But some $60 billion there for Ukraine, which, of course, is being held up by Republicans in Congress.


WHITFIELD: All right, Alex Marquardt, thank you so much.


SIDNER: All right, thank you, Fred.

Joining me now, president and founder of Eurasia Group and GZERO Media, Ian Bremmer.

Thank you so much for being here, sir.

You know, you look at these sanctions. What, if anything, will these new sanctions due to Vladimir Putin? We know that they can sort of hurt the economy. They can do other things. But is this any -- is there any chance they're going to stop him from going forward with the things he's been doing, including potentially killing one of his opposition leaders and the war in Ukraine? IAN BREMMER, PRESIDENT AND FOUNDER, EURASIA GROUP AND GZERO MEDIA:

Absolutely not. I mean what we have found is that the only thing that is slowing down Vladimir Putin is the provision of additional military support directly for Ukraine, essentially a proxy war, allowing NATO to give the Ukrainians what they need to defend themselves.


That's made a difference. But, I mean, this year, the IMF expects the Russian economy to grow at a reasonable clip. Of course, Russia has critical natural resources that everyone around the world needs. And the Americans are in no position to try to cut that off. Food, fertilizer, oil, gas. It -- and - and the sanctions that have been placed on Russia by the United States and Europe are pretty maximal.

I do have to say, it should surprise people, given that this war has been going on for two years, that there haven't been sanctions against drone manufacturers in Russia yet. You'd think that that would be something the Europeans would have already gotten around to with the initial 12 rounds. But, no, I mean, the Russians are not going to be sanctioned into changing their behavior, either with their own people or in terms of the war in Ukraine.

SIDNER: Yes. I think in the past we have seen the same thing. So, you speak the truth, sir.

CNN has also learned, and I want to turn to this, that the former FBI informant charged with lying about the Biden's dealings in Ukraine, told investigators after his arrest that Russian intelligence officials were involved in passing information to him about Hunter Biden. How concerned should we be and what does this tell you about Russia's intention to interfere with United States politics?

BREMMER: In the run-up to the 2016 election, we found that Russian operatives were behind Facebook groups that were radical Black Lives Matter, you know, trying to stoke racism in the United States. It's the same sort of thing. Russia sees that U.S. democracy is in crisis. They see that American politics are increasingly tribalized and they love to help the Americans destroy themselves. So, and to the extent that our biggest enemy in the United States is internal division, the Russians want to promote that. That should be no surprise over the past few years that we're learning this now.

Having said that, let's not pretend that Hunter Biden suddenly has no problems going forward. There still are real issues around the amount of money that he was receiving as the president's son for a comparatively corrupt Ukrainian energy company. And there was also challenges with him flying on Air Force To when Biden was vice president to China to promote his access to getting cash. All of it smells bad. All of it is challenging, and the Republicans will use it. But the fact that the Russian government and Russian operatives wanted to take that vulnerability and sharpen it and use it as a weapon against the United States and against the American president, that doesn't surprise me in the slightest.

SIDNER: Are you concerned, and should Americans and the rest of the world be concerned, about what is happening with Republicans, some of whom are embracing Russia, in some ways embracing Putin in some ways, including the president of the United States, who has still not taken a moment in word to speak out against what happened with Alexei Navalny. I'm talking about former President Trump here, saying things about Russia, but not really going after Putin. What do you make of all this and what does it tell Russia as they're watching what's happening -- clearly watching what's happening here in the United States?

BREMMER: Greater divisions are useful for Russia. I mean they see that the United States is increasingly unwilling to provide additional military support to the Ukrainians. I was at the Munich Security Conference. JD Vance, channeling former President Trump, was the most outspoken by far in saying, I don't think we should continue to provide American taxpayer dollars in order to support Ukraine. That is music to Putin's ears. And, of course, the more that Trump is seen as owning the GOP, the more that he is seen as able to block support that has a majority of Republicans in favor in the House, in the Senate, Democrats as well. But Trump is increasingly able to block it because he's going to get the nomination and Republicans are increasingly loyal to him. Obviously, that's the best opportunity that Putin has at this point. You've seen that with Tucker Carlson and his trip to Moscow and his embracing of the Putin regime. You've seen it with social media and the way that Russian disinformation continues to have an active channel for American voters.

This is, of course, a deep challenge for the ability of the United States to support the Ukrainians. Also for the ability of the United States to continue to be the strongest ally in the NATO alliance, a country that European allies know they can count on for the long term.


Ukraine is very far away for the United States, but it is a very real and existential challenge for our European allies. They're deeply concerned right now.

SIDNER: And they are deeply concerned. I know that having been there.

Thank you so much, Iran Bremmer, for coming on and sharing your points of view for us.


BERMAN: Jury selection about to begin for the woman who was in charge of handling the guns on the set of the film "Rust." New reporting on who could be called to the witness stand.

Donald Trump's legal team gearing up to file a slew of new motion in his classified documents case.

And the cash crunch at the RNC. New campaign filings show that Democrats have twice as much in their coffers for the 2024 race.



BERMAN: All right, very shortly in Santa Fe, jury selection begins in the trial of "Rust" armorer Hannah Gutierrez Reed. She is charged with involuntary manslaughter and tampering with evidence in the shooting of the film's cinematographer, Halyna Hutchins. Alec Baldwin, of course, fired the prop gun during a rehearsal, killing Hutchins.

CNN's Josh Campbell joins us now.

Josh, what can we expect here?

JOSH CAMPBELL, CNN SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Well, John, prosecutors say this is the road to accountability for the people that they believe are responsible for the death of cinematographer Halyna Hutchins. We know that Alec Baldwin has been charged. But today's jury selection is all focused on Hannah Gutierrez Reed. This was the person that served as what's called the armorer on the set. She was responsible for the safe handling of firearms, for the safe storage of ammunition. And, of course, we know that a live round of ammunition made its way into the gun that Baldwin was holding that killed cinematographer Halyna Hutchins. So, prosecutors say that Hannah Gutierrez Reed bears some fault here. She's been charged with involuntary manslaughter. Under New Mexico law, the prosecutors offer two competing theories. It's either going to fall under what they called negligence or without due caution. Basically what that means is that she will only, if convicted, be sentenced to one charge, but she still could face up to 18 months in prison.

Now, it's worth pointing out that, of course, she has pleaded not guilty. But as this trial begins, we will get a sense now of what prosecutors are going to prioritize. We know that in court filings prosecutors had alleged that she was likely hung over when she, quote, inserted a live bullet into a gun that she knew was going to be used as part of this movie. Witnesses also allegedly told investigators that Gutierrez Reed had been drinking heavily, using marijuana throughout the course of this movie -- the filming, which, of course, is important because this is the person responsible for safety. So, that person certainly has to have their wits about them.

What I think that we can expect, John, just in hearing from her attorney leading up to this, is that this movie, the prosecutors described it as somewhat chaotic. There was a sense of complacency as it relates to safety on that set.

We also know that Hannah Gutierrez Reed had two actual roles. Not just the armor, but she was also tasked with roles pertaining to props on set, which, you know, I talked to a number of safety experts in Hollywood who say that that's just unheard of. You want your armor focusing solely on the guns, making sure that they're safe. And so I expect as this moves forward we could probably hear her defense saying that she was tasked with all of these different roles which, you know, could have led to what actually occurred here, the negligence.

But we will wait and see. I mean finally, John, it's worth pointing out, this case has obviously received lots of publicity. And so today, during jury selection, we can expect that potential jurors will be asked what they know about this case. There's this misnomer that a juror can't serve on a case if they've heard about a particular case. In reality, what the judge is looking for, whether they can actually render an impartial verdict. We'll have to wait and see as this moves forward, John, but according to prosecutors, the road to accountability here in the death of Halyna Hutchins.

BERMAN: Yes, it all begins today. Josh Campbell covering this so well for us. Thank you very much.


SIDNER: All right, just ahead, President Biden following his own advice after telling aids, we need to highlight Trump's crazy comments. What Biden told fundraisers overnight.

Also, does Nikki Haley have a cash problem? Why there's a blinking light on her super PAC support. We'll discuss all of that coming up.



WHITFIELD: Tonight, President Biden is on the campaign trail hosting two fundraising events as he prepares for a general election matchup in November. And this morning we're learning the president holds a major cash advantage over Donald Trump if he becomes the Republican nominee. Biden and the DNC have a combined $80.1 million on hand, while Trump and the RNC have about half that, about $39 million.

Let's get right to CNN's Arlette Saenz, who joins us now from the White House.

So, what's the explanation of this big gap between their cash?

ARLETTE SAENZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Fred, the Biden campaign is certainly celebrating the fact that they have this cash advantage at this moment in the campaign. As you noted, there's quite a bit of a discrepancy between what the Biden and the Democrats have amassed versus Trump in the Republicans at this time. And if you take a look at the joint fundraising committees as well for Democrats, the campaign says that they have a total of $130 million cash on hand. An even bigger amount.

And part of this is because the Biden campaign, very early on, established these joint fundraising committees earlier than any other Democratic candidate -- presidential candidate in history. And it gives the campaign an opportunity to raise higher amounts of money through those joint fundraising committees. And officials have often also noted the fact that Republicans are currently spending all their money duking it out against each other in the Republican primary. So, the campaign feels like they have an advantage at this moment. There's -- these numbers could quite possibly get a little bit closer as the campaign proceeds. We saw that back in 2020 when Biden secured the Democratic nomination himself against former President Donald Trump.

But the president, today and tomorrow, is still focused on raising more big money for this campaign. He is now on day two of his three- day fundraising swing through California. A bit later tonight he's expected to appear at two events in the San Francisco area, including one with former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who is a fundraising powerhouse and draw for herself and Democrats as well.

And it comes as officials really believed that this could be quite a lucrative swing for the president. One source told me that they expect that they could raise as much as $10 million over this three-day span in California.


But the president isn't just focused on fundraising, he's also focused on trying to go after former President Donald Trump. He spoke very bluntly in a closed-door fundraiser in Los Angeles last night.