Return to Transcripts main page

CNN News Central

Soon: House GOP Grills President Biden's Behind Closed Doors; House GOP Tries to Flip Script On FBI Informant Charged With Lying; Trump Calls Navalny "A Very Brave Guy," Doesn't Condemn Putin; Haley Vows To Stay In Race, Continues Attacks On Trump. Aired 10-10:30a ET

Aired February 21, 2024 - 10:00   ET




JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Moments ago and for the first time, we are hearing from Republicans trying to impeach President Biden after the revelation that an FBI informants who gave false information about President Biden was fed dirt by the Russians.

SARA SIDNER, CNN ANCHOR: President Biden calling out Donald Trump for his, quote, outrageous comments. This after Trump once again refused to condemn Vladimir Putin and he's comparing his legal troubles to that of Alexei Navalny.

FREDRICKA WHITFIELD, CNN ANCHOR: And tragedy in Texas. The body of a missing girl has been found days after she disappeared. The man police say is responsible has a long criminal history.

I'm Fredricka Whitfield, along with Sara Sidner and John Berman. Kate is off today.



BERMAN: All right. Any minute now, House Republicans trying to impeach President Biden will meet behind closed doors with the president's brother, James. This interview comes as a series of Biden family business associates have testified that the president was not involved in his family's foreign business dealings, which undermines the central allegation that is part of the Republican investigation.

On top of that, the stunning revelation overnight that one of the informants relied on by House Republicans said he was given information by the Russians information the prosecutors say is false.

And now for the first time, we are hearing from Republicans who are processing this -- you might say spinning this news.

Let's get right to CNN anchor and chief congressional correspondent, Manu Raju, who's on Capitol Hill chasing down these lawmakers about to hear from James Biden.

Manu, what are they saying?

MANU RAJU, CNN CHIEF CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yeah, they're actually defiant in the face of these damning revelations that really undercuts a central component of an impeachment investigation into the president, that as vice president, he acted in a corrupt scheme with his son, Hunter Biden, that has been was the basis of the FBI informant, Alexander Smirnov's testimony or what he told federal prosecutors, and that's what has been the cause of his indictment, saying that at the FBI and DOJ saying that he essentially made all that up and that could be the source of Russian disinformation.

Now for the first time we've put the question directly to the Republicans who are investigating all of this, including the chairman, the House Judiciary Committee, Jim Jordan, who I asked him about this revelation, whether he would take back what he had said about the president being involved in this bribery scheme. And Jim Jordan was defined.


RAJU: And about the president's involvement in a bribery scheme now that Alexander Smirnov is proven to have made it up, and it was based off Russian intelligence.

REP. JIM JORDAN (R-OH): It doesn't change the four fundamental facts. Hunter Biden was on the -- put on the board of Burisma, gets paid a million dollars a year. Fact number two, he's not qualified to be on the board. He said so himself in an interview, I don't know with you or some network.


Fact number three, Zlochevsky and Pozharsky (ph), the two executives at Burisma, specifically, asked Hunter Biden, can you weigh in with D.C. and help us deal with the pressure we are facing from the prosecutor?

Fact number four, Joe Biden, then he gets called -- Hunter Biden calls his dad, according to Devon Archer, Hunter Biden's business partner.

Fact number four, Joe Biden then goes to Ukraine three days later and conditions the release of the money, American tax money on the firing of the prosecutor who was applying the pressure to the company that Hunter Biden sat on the border.

RAJU: You said the 1023 is the most corroborating piece of information you have?

JORDAN: It corroborates but it doesn't -- doesn't change those fundamental facts. So now --

RAJU: It's not true.

JORDAN: Well, so okay. So the FBI told us that this source was selling --


RAJU: So that is one thing that Jim Jordan did actually say just a few weeks ago about that information from the FBI informant who is alleged to have made all of this up, saying that there's what Jordan said, this is the most corroborating evidence we have, is that 1023 form, referring to the form that the FBI officials filled out while they were interviewing this informant. He said this is coming from a highly credible, confidential human source.

And now we know that that is not true, but it really underscores the challenges that Republicans face here and trying to build the case to impeach Joe Biden. A number of members, especially in the rank and file, especially from swing districts, simply believed that the case has not been made and that was before this indictment of this FBI informant shows you the hurdles they face as they hit -- face a critical moment in this more than yearlong investigation into the president with James Biden, the president's brother, here behind closed doors. That testimony about to begin in a matter of minutes.

Hunter Biden expected to come next week -- John.

BERMAN: Yeah. What an interesting conversation you just said there, Manu, with Jim Jordan for the night to think about this, trying to explain away this new revelation. Thank you so much for being there. Keep us posted again, expecting to see James Biden arrived fairly shortly.


SIDNER: It's me, John.

All right. CNN senior law enforcement analyst and former deputy director of the FBI, Andrew McCabe is joining us.

I know you were listening. I have -- the first question to you really is, looking at this, Republicans have been using what is now debunked information as a critical part of this impeachment hearing against Biden. What do you make of the fact that they have now turned this on behalf of the FBI and said, hey, why didn't they know that this informant was a liar? He's been, you know, talking with them for over a decade.

What's your reaction?

ANDREW MCCABE, CNN SENIOR LAW ENFORCEMENT ANALYST: Well. A couple of things, Sara. So, were this a legal matter, which it's not, this is -- impeachment is a political matter, if this were a case making its way to an intended prosecution, there's almost no way it would go forward at this point. It's almost impossible to salvage a successful prosecution after your primary informant is exposed as a fabricator.

But, of course, this isn't -- that's not where we are. This is politics. So I suppose the Republicans feel like they have to take some position.

I think there are legitimate questions to ask about reliance, about what the FBI thought about this source early on. We know that he has been official informant for them for as long as I think ten years now. He's received numerous admonitions along the way. He likely has had some record of success and corroborated reporting, but this one went completely off the rails.

It seemed to me that the FBI was not, if you look back at the history of this, they were not really convinced about this reporting early on. They received it in 2020. They didn't act upon it in 2020.

We also know that after receiving this reporting, the special prosecutor Weiss, was compelled to agree to a very favorable plea agreement for Hunter Joe Biden that did not include any allegations of corruption.

So I think the bigger question to ask right now is why only after pronounced political pressure from people like James Comer and Chuck Grassley, did the special prosecutor do a complete 180 and begin to kind of treat this reporting is something that that needed to be dealt with investigatively.

SIDNER: Republicans had complained that they weren't getting all the information on this informant, but they believed what he said, hook, line and sinker.

How do you think it got this far before the FBI and ultimately the DOJ as a whole realized just how many lives had been told?

MCCABE: Well, I think it's significant that the bureau tried to resist turning over the 1023 to Congress. And that's likely because in that period of time, they were trying to corroborate what had been told to them.

The 1023 is we know is raw source reporting. It is not an opinion about whether or not the reporting is accurate is simply are -- the FBI's way of documenting what the source tells you. We also know from the indictment that they went through a pretty extended process of investigating the reporting.


They talked to his associates. They looked at his communications in email. His associates' communications, his travel records, other people's travel records, and ultimately were able to patch that together to determine what he was telling them about these alleged meetings in 2015, and 2016 couldn't possibly be true.

That takes sometime to do, and obviously, they got -- they're at the point now where they feel very confident that the source made the entire thing up.

SIDNER: There are like, you said, a lot of questions that need to be answered by Hunter and this relationship. But what happens now to him when you have -- this is really explosive information. You just said a criminal prosecution with -- this is your lead witness. Boy, you're in trouble. That's probably the end of the case.

What happens now, do you think with Hunter Biden?

MCCABE: Well, it's interesting here because this witness who is now flamed out is not really a witness in the two cases that are going forward against Hunter Biden. Those are cases based on tax charges and also a gun charge.

But his lawyers have done kind of interesting thing here. They made a filing to the court yesterday, basically saying that they had an agreement -- a plea agreement which they -- was favorable to them and that the prosecutor walked away from that agreement only when on the basis of this reporting, which we now know to be false, and they are saying so therefore, judge, you should require the prosecutors to live up to the agreement they formerly he entered into, and impose this plea agreement back on the parties.

I'm not sure that's going to work, but it is an interesting way of trying to tie his to prosecutions to this -- to the fallacy of this false testimony,

SIDNER: Andrew McCabe, it is always nice to have you on to unpack all of this because it is a lot of complicators -- lot of complications here. We appreciate your time.

MCCABE: Thanks.


WHITFIELD: All right, Sara.

Also this morning, former President Donald Trump is comparing the legacy of Russian opposition leader and Putin critic Alexei Navalny to his own legal troubles. At a town hall in South Carolina last night, Trump refused to blame Russian President Vladimir Putin for Navalny's death in prison.

CNN's Alayna Treene is joining us now with more on this.

So, Alayna, exactly what did Trump say? And not say?

ALAYNA TREENE, CNN REPORTER: Well, the former president is essentially co-opting Alexei Navalny's legacy to suggest a false equivalency, comparing it to his own legal troubles, and instead of condemning Russian President Vladimir Putin and condemning the death of Putin's top critic, Alexei Navalny, Donald Trump was arguing essentially that he's facing similar political persecution.

Take a listen to how he put it last night.


DONALD TRUMP, FORMER U.S. PRESIDENT & 2024 PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Navalny is a very sad situation and he's very brave. He was very brave guy because he went back, he could to stay away. And frankly probably would have been a lot better off staying away.

It's happening in our country, too. We are turning into a communist country in many ways. And if you look at it, I'm the leading candidate. I get indicted -- I never heard of being indicted before.

I was going -- I got indicted four times. I have eight or nine trials, all because of the fact that, you know, this all because of the fact that I'm in politics.

A form of Navalny. It is a form of communism or fascism.


TREENE: Now, Fred, that last line there when he said it's a form of Navalny, it's a form of communism or fascism, that was referring to the $355 million judgment brought in his civil fraud trial against him last week. But look, this is the type of messaging we've long heard from Donald Trump trying to attack the various legal cases does that he is facing.

And part of that strategy is to try and link all of these together as you just heard him do during that town hall. Although we know that these cases are not linked, some are federal some are state, some are criminal, some are civil, but all of that with the goal of trying to argue that Democrats and President Joe Biden are trying to prevent him from becoming president.

But look, I think, you know, we have heard from some of his critics, including Joe Biden, who attacked him for this last night. This was the most extensive response we have heard from Donald Trump in light of Navalny's death. But still, he's still facing a lot of backlash for not condemning him, for not condemning Putin and not condemning Russia for what had happened.

WHITFIELD: All right. Alayna Treene, we'll leave it there for now. Thank you so much.


SIDNER: All right, Fred.

In minutes, jury selection begins in the trial of a woman prosecutor say, loaded the gun, that later killed cinematographer on a "Rust" set. We'll have more on that story.

Plus, Georgia's governor revealing to CNN that he was interviewed in the federal election interference case against former President Trump. What he told the special counsel.

And Nikki Haley trailing Trump in the polls, and in the fund raising race. But she is vowing she is not going anywhere even if she loses her home state, South Carolina's primary.


How voters in her home state feel about her staying in the race.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I think she's strong. I don't think she would flinch at doing what is necessary.



SIDNER: In just three days, voters in Nikki Haley's home state will head to the polls and choose between their former governor and former President Donald Trump. But polls in South Carolina show Donald Trump, like in all the other states with a major advantage.

CNN's Randi Kaye talked to a group of Republican women about their decision about Nikki Haley's decision to stay in the race.



LAURA BETH KIRSOP, VOTING FOR HALEY IN SOUTH CAROLINA PRIMARY: The way she went in there and handled what I like to call those good old boys and gave it right back to them, she stood up to them. And I'd love to see her do that in -- on the federal level.

JOAN FOSTER, VOTING FOR TRUMP IN SOUTH CAROLINA PRIMARY: She was a good governor and I think she'd be a great president. I just am more in line with Donald Trump's philosophy of government needs to be smaller and they need to take less from us.

BECKY MCLAUGHLIN, VOTING FOR TRUMP IN SOUTH CAROLINA: I did not vote for him in 2016. I was aggravated with his language and the way he had to have a nickname for everybody and none of them were flattering. But what he did in those four years made me a supporter.

MARY BRADLEY PAZDAN, VOTING FOR HALEY IN SOUTH CAROLINA PRIMARY: To the rhetoric piece that you just said, that was -- that's the main reason why I'm not voting for him this go around because I think about as an educator who I would want to work with as a principal, I would never want to work for Donald Trump and I would never want him around my kids that I'm teaching. I don't think he's the role model that we need for our country right now.

CANDACE SPRADIN, VOTING FOR TRUMP IN SOUTH CAROLINA PRIMARY: I'd love to work for Donald J. Trump, that would be awesome. And I'm for hire, by the way.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You would be great.

MCLAUGHLIN: But you know what, I think Mary Bradley, this group of Southern ladies have a real hard time with his language.


KIRSOP: The issue I have with Donald Trump is his demeanor and his language and how he treats people and women. We live in a very polarized country and I feel that Donald Trump is very much on a vengeance campaign. SPRADIN: I really wish we could shift the conversation to talk about the border. I think Donald Trump will definitely have a stronger stance on the border and I don't believe that Nikki Haley will have as strong of a stance.

LISA STEVENS, VOTING FOR HALEY IN SOUTH CAROLINA PRIMARY: I think that her stance is awesome. I think she's strong. I don't think she would flinch at doing what is necessary.

RANDI KAYE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: How did you feel when he was arrested?

SPRADIN: Oh, that locked in my vote. I was like, there we go. I'm voting for him.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I want the t-shirt.



SPRADIN: I have the hat.


KAYE: That locked in your vote.

SPRADIN: Absolutely.

STEVENS: I would hope that if, you know, he's exonerated, then everybody accepts that. I hope that if, you know, some things in different places are proven true, then people will accept that.


SIDNER: Some of the female voters in South Carolina with their opinions on both the candidates, the Saturday is when the polls will be opened and that was Randi Kaye reporting for us.


BERMAN: All right. With us now, former Arkansas governor and Republican presidential candidate, Asa Hutchinson.

Governor, thanks so much for being with us. I want to ask you about Nikki Haley's speech yesterday where she said she's in this for the long haul and I want to break it down into parts.

First, what do you think voters and the American people get out of her staying in the race?

ASA HUTCHINSON (R), FORMER ARKANSAS GOVERNOR: Well, first of all, she did exactly what she needed to do yesterday. She showed a fighting spirit. She took on Donald Trump and explain why he's not the right leader for our country as well as Joe Biden, and then she's demonstrating it by also lining up events and Michigan and going on a media campaign there and having events in Texas and into the Super Tuesday states.

So America loves an underdog and she's demonstrating the fighting spirit and the determination to continue in this race.

BERMAN: To what end? To what end, though?

HUTCHINSON: And I think what it's going to be exciting to see what happened --

BERMAN: To what end?

HUTCHINSON: Well, to what end is his America is not ready for a new -- another Donald Trump four years in office and she demonstrates the alternative. If she is out of the race and she succumbs the comes to all of the pressure that's mounting for her, then, all of a sudden, there's a coronation for Donald Trump and he still has all the liabilities that he has brought with him to this point.

And so, she's not given into those pundits and I think she's wise and hanging in there.

BERMAN: What do you think she gets out of it, if anything? And I'm not talking about the possibility that you raised that she could win. If she doesn't win, what does she get out of it?

HUTCHINSON: Well, the satisfaction that you've presented an alternative candidate and not just on the chaos and the rhetoric that he uses, that the ladies reacted to in your previous segment. But it's also the substance.

You know, Trump represents the isolationist wing of the Republican Party. That's worth fighting against. He wants to put a ring around of America economically. He has spent too much money.

He is not a true conservative, and those substantive issues has to be tackled by Nikki Haley.


And it's hard to get if the media to be interested and the public actually to follow the nuances those policy issues, but those are differences that has to be fought for and that's what she gets out of it, as well as the potential of winning.

BERMAN: So, Governor, you've been in politics and government for so long, and I'm not saying that to suggest you're old. Just that you have so much experience in so many different levels here.

And I don't know what you thought was going to happen when you jumped into the presidential race. But I suspect it didn't turn out exactly how you thought it would.

So I do wonder what's surprised you the most?

HUTCHINSON: What surprised me was the entrenchment of Donald Trump's support, and that it is hard to move against that. You present all the arguments, but, you know, the -- this -- the indictments has cemented a lot of his support and he has misled America and has bought into it.

So that's what surprised me, is how deeply entrenched Donald Trump is with the voting base of the Republican Party, and how it takes a lot of work and money it is lodge that.

Time is on the side of those that want to oppose Donald Trump.

BERMAN: Uh-huh.

HUTCHINSON: He's got to wrap this up quickly, or he's in trouble. And so, that's why the fight continues to be important.

BERMAN: Governor, yesterday, "The New York Times" published letters from prison from Alexei Navalny. And one of the things he said and one of the letters published by "The Times" was he really scared -- he was really scared about the prospect of another Trump presidency.

And now you hear Donald Trump comparing himself to Alexei Navalny. How does that sit with you?

HUTCHINSON: Well, it's offensive to me. And there should be common decency, first of all, a respect for Alexei Navalny that gave his life for freedom and fighting against a dictator. There should be respect for that.

And there should also be a clear understanding that Putin is responsible and that Putin is bad for Russia, he's bad for anybody that loves freedom. And the United States should be having a clear voice.

And Donald Trump is offensive in his language. He can't accept the fact that Navalny gave his life for freedom. He tries to compare himself to that, which is a false comparison. And it's offensive.

And people need to wake up and realize this is what our foreign policy is going to be like if he gets four years.

BERMAN: Former Governor Hutchison, thanks so much for being with us this morning. Appreciate it.



WHITFIELD: All right. Well, the armorer responsible for the prop guns on the set of the movie "Rust" be held responsible for the death of cinematographer Halyna Hutchins? Jury selection begins at any moment.