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Jury Selection Begins in 'Rust' Trial; Trump Allies Plotting Mass Deportations and Detention Camps?; Were Republicans Relying on Russian Informant in Hunter Biden Probe?. Aired 11-11:30a ET

Aired February 21, 2024 - 11:00   ET



SARA SIDNER, CNN HOST: As we speak, President Biden's brother is in the hot seat on Capitol Hill in a closed-door meeting with House Republicans, who seem determined to try and impeach his brother, Joe Biden.

This all happening as new revelations are coming out about a former FBI informant who Republicans called highly credible, more on his lies and his ties to Russian officials.

FREDRICKA WHITFIELD, CNN HOST: And it's all about the money. And Biden's camp has a sizable advantage. How his war chest compares to his Republican rivals.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN HOST: And jury selection now under way for the woman who was in charge of the guns on the set of the movie "Rust."

I'm John Berman with Sara Sidner. Fredricka Whitfield is in for Kate today. This is CNN NEWS CENTRAL.

And at this moment, House Republicans are questioning President Biden's brother James behind closed doors as part of their impeachment probe. Not behind closed doors, the fact that the now-indicted informant at the center of their probe says he got false information from Russia. The lead Democrat on the House Oversight Committee moments ago hit back at Republicans still pushing impeachment.


REP. JAMIE RASKIN (D-MD): Now we know that Russian intelligence operatives were behind creating the propaganda and disinformation at the very foundation of this investigation.

So I think it's time for Chairman Comer and the Republicans to fold up the circus tent, and we should get back to work for the American people. This impeachment investigation is nothing but a wild goose chase that is based on Russian disinformation and propaganda.


BERMAN: All right, CNN anchor and chief congressional correspondent Manu Raju in the middle of where it is all well happening this morning on Capitol Hill.

Manu, what are you hearing?

MANU RAJU, CNN CHIEF CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, this is the first time we've had a chance to question the Republicans who are leading the charge in the investigation in the aftermath of that revelation that the FBI informant Alexander Smirnov allegedly made up the whole bribery scheme that has been really central to this impeachment investigation for several months and has been part of this larger Biden family probe that has gone on now for several years.

Republicans have essentially been defiant in the face of these new revelations, including the chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, Jim Jordan, who just a few weeks ago said that that FBI informant's testimony was central, the most corroborating piece of evidence that they had.

And just moments ago, I had a chance to question him about the new allegations that this is all made up.


RAJU: Do you take back what you said 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, and gets paid $1 million a year.


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

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

RAJU: But it's not true.

JORDAN: Well, so -- OK. So the FBI told us that this source was -- 14 years, this source was a paid source by the FBI. When we were trying to get the 1023, they told us, oh, this could jeopardize national security, this -- to this source, didn't want to release it.

And now they're saying, oh, he gave false information. The other thing, there was a story out. Scott Brady, the U.S. attorney, did check the travel records of this confidential human source and found that he was at those places he said he was. So...

RAJU: But your promotion of a bribery scheme was false.

JORDAN: Not at all. We're looking at the four facts I just gave you. Those facts are true, absolutely true.

(CROSSTALK) JORDAN: Joe Biden bragged about it.

RAJU: What Smirnov said is not true. Would you concede that?

JORDAN: Well, yes, that's what the FBI is saying.


RAJU: And this is a critical moment for this impeachment probe, because not only is the president's brother James Biden now behind closed doors, but it's -- Hunter Biden, the president's son, who's been at the center of this investigation, is also expected to come behind closed doors next week.

And then the question is going to be for the Republican leadership., what do they do from here? Do they actually go forward with articles of impeachment, despite the fact that they yet to prove that Joe Biden acted corruptly to benefit his son, something that has essentially blown up in some ways because of that FBI informant, allegation that he's made up that bribery scheme here.

So, big questions for the Republican leadership, because, if they do go ahead, John, getting the votes to impeach the president in this razor-thin Republican majority in an election year will be incredibly difficult, but a key decision ahead for the speaker of the House -- John.


BERMAN: Yes, and, politically speaking, finding an off-ramp may not be so easy amongst some of the more conservative members of the House either.

Manu Raju, this will be fascinating to watch. Thanks so much for being there -- Fred.

WHITFIELD: All right, John, with the South Carolina primary just a few days away, Nikki Haley is marching on with her campaign and saying she won't quit.




HALEY: I'm campaigning every day until the last person votes.

DONALD TRUMP, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I don't think she knows how to get out, actually. I really don't.


WHITFIELD: As Donald Trump and Haley go head to head in South Carolina, new reports show President Biden and the DNC have a considerable cash edge over Trump and the RNC. By the end of last month, the Biden campaign and DNC had a combined

war chest of about $80 million in cash on hand. That's roughly double what the Trump campaign and the RNC had.

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

So, Alayna, break down the numbers for us. What does this mean for Trump and the RNC moving forward?

ALAYNA TREENE, CNN POLITICAL REPORTER: Well, Fred, the big takeaway here is that Joe Biden's political operation has really expanded their financial advantage over Donald Trump's campaign, as the two men are preparing for a potential general election rematch.

And I do want to break down the numbers for you because I do find them pretty striking. Heading into February, the Biden campaign had $56 million cash on hand, compared to $30.5 million that the Trump campaign had. Haley's campaign, for her part, had $13 million heading into February.

Now, the DNC had $24.1 million in their cash reserves going into February, compared to $8.7 million from the RNC. But, look, I do think there's important -- a few important things to note right here at the top, one of which is that, of course, unlike Joe Biden, Donald Trump is still in a primary, and he has a primary challenger who's continuing to raise a ton of money from donors, even though there are questions about Nikki Haley's viability as a candidate.

Joe Biden as well is the incumbent. So he does enjoy some financial benefits from that. But, big picture here, the Trump campaign really is having to confront a lot of very concerning issues about their own financial situation.

And the leading problem here, a concern from them, is really how much money is being siphoned away from donors to pay for his mounting legal fees. Last year alone, his leading super PAC, Save America, spent more than 55 million dollars on legal fees. That accounts for about 85 percent of their spending so far.

And so I think this is something -- I know from my conversations, I should say, with Donald Trump's campaign that they are really trying to figure out, how are we going to continue to pay for his legal fees and his different settlements that we're seeing come in, the hundreds and millions of dollars that he is being told he must pay in light of some of these trials as he heads forward toward a general election, Fred?

WHITFIELD: And, Alayna, Trump also spoke about Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny at his town hall last night. Navalny died in a Russian prison last week. What did Trump have to say about that?

TREENE: Yes, well, Donald Trump tried to argue that the plight of Alexei Navalny and the political persecution that he faced is similar to his own. Take a listen to how Trump put it at the town hall.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) TRUMP: Navalny is a very sad situation. And he's very brave. He was a very brave guy because he went back. He could have stayed away and, frankly, probably would have been a lot better off staying away and talking from outside of the country, as opposed to having to go back in, because people thought that could happen, and it did happen.

And it's a horrible thing. But 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 to -- I got indicted four times.

I have eight or nine trials, all because of the fact that I'm -- and you know this -- all because of the fact that I'm in politics.


TREENE: Now, Fred, I think the main thing to note here is that Donald Trump has not condemned Russia or its president, Vladimir Putin, for the death of Alexei Navalny, something that has drawn a lot of criticism from both Nikki Haley, but also President Joe Biden, who addressed this last night and continued to push Donald Trump and ask, why is he not being able to come out and blame Russia for what has happened, Fred?

WHITFIELD: Right. No comparison between the plight of Navalny and Donald Trump.

All right, Alayna Treene, thank you so much -- Sara.

SIDNER: Thank you, Fred.

All right, new this morning. President Donald Trump, the former president, floating an extreme proposal on how to deal with the migrant surge if he is reelected. And it includes militarized mass deportations and migrant detention camps. That's according to "The Washington Post," who broke the story.


A former Trump administration official says the former president is -- quote -- "obsessed" with getting the military involved. His campaign says Trump wants to pull off the biggest deportation operation ever in American history.

I am joined now by "Washington Post" political investigations reporter Josh Dawsey.

You are one of the reporters who broke this story.

What more are you learning about this plan of this militarized deportation if Donald Trump ends up back in the White House?

JOSH DAWSEY, "THE WASHINGTON POST": So former President Trump's campaign is saying this on the record that they wanted to deport millions of people, they would have the largest deportation force in history if he wins the presidency again. But what we were trying to report out are the challenges of doing such

an aggressive operation, right? It's difficult to find. You would have to build potentially detainment camps for people that you would have to put them in. There are lots of challenges with finding judges, with finding the personnel to do all of this.

But it looks like, according to our reporting, that it's going to be one of his top priorities if he starts back in the administration, led sort of by his immigration adviser, Stephen Miller. Trump believes that talking about immigration, promising this sort of drastic approach is something that the American people want. I guess that remains to be seen.

But what he's saying is, if he comes in, not only will he continue trying to build a wall with Mexico, but that the deportations will be immensely bigger than in his first presidency.

A former administration official told us that, when he was in the White House for the first time, he was not nearly as focused on deportations. He was more focused on the wall, on other administrative actions that they could take related to immigration. But, this time, he's made pretty clear that one of the first goals of his presidency will be to deport millions of people.

SIDNER: I want to ask you about something that's in your reporting. It talks about, in the late '50s and '60s, the last time this was done in a very large way was in the Eisenhower White House, where he had a program known as Operation -- and the word they use is derogatory that people use for Mexican migrants.

Did the president or the people around him use those very words, or were they sort of likening their program to what Eisenhower did back in the day?

DAWSEY: No, they didn't use those very words to us, to be clear.

It's just -- it's a similar comparison of trying to round up a lot of people in a short period of time. So, I think there are some parallels to that program that could potentially happen here, but they did not use those words, to be clear, in describing their approach to us.


I do want to ask you about what current and former officials are saying about a plan like this to use the military on the southern border for this particular purpose.

DAWSEY: Yes. And there's a lot of concern from folks who worked in the first Trump administration that, if he was put back in office, that he would use the military for things like this.

John Kelly, his former chief of staff, would repeatedly try to stop him from using the military for things that way in the domestic interest that John Kelly did not think the military should be used for. There were lots of concerns that he wanted to put the military into a large role of trying to secure the border or trying to do what he wants on immigration.

And this time, you could imagine that he would want to do that again. Stephen Miller, his sort of chief immigration adviser, has said, we have to take drastic action. We don't want to wait for the courts to give us these rulings. So what his former administration officials fear is that the military would have a big role in such a plan like this.

SIDNER: Josh Dawsey, thank you to you and the other two reporters who were on this story breaking this information. We appreciate it -- John.

BERMAN: Now seeing CNN senior political analyst Gloria Borger, first of all, great to see you, Gloria. Thanks so much for coming on.


BERMAN: Second of all, there's something about this which sort of hearkens back to 2015-2016, when Trump would say Muslim ban or the Trump campaign would throw things out there and then it would get a ton of talk. It would dominate the discussion and then sort of set the tone for the campaign.

So how should statements like this be treated now, do you think?

BORGER: Seriously, I think very seriously.

I mean, the one thing about this campaign is that Donald Trump has not hidden any of the ideas about what he would do, about how he would prosecute his enemies through the Justice Department, for example, how he wants mass deportations of people coming into this country illegally. I think the use of the military is something that would be very controversial, but he's saying it out loud.

They're not shying away from it because they believe these are issues that the public cares about. We know, particularly, in the Republican electorate, immigration is issue number one in some polls, that this would be popular.


So I think we need to take this seriously and literally, because I think they're making plans. They have got think tanks working on these plans. This isn't something out of thin air here. And I think he's very committed to this.

BERMAN: Look, and, again, back in 2016, people mocked the idea of build the wall, which he never did.

BORGER: Right.

BERMAN: But it was popular with some people, and not as abhorrent as I think some people on the left thought it sounded when it was presented.

BORGER: Exactly, exactly. And compared to the wall, this is huge. And we know he didn't succeed

in building the wall, nor did he get any money from Mexico, as he promised, if you will recall. But I think this is something that he's got people working on. And Stephen Miller was a trusted adviser in the administration and remains one of the few left who's a trusted adviser and is behind all of this.

And we know how dogged he is on immigration.

BERMAN: This is pretty much all he's been thinking about, you get the sense, for the last four years.

BORGER: That's right. Yes.

BERMAN: Gloria, I want to ask. We had Manu on just a few minutes ago and he was outside the James Biden hearing. He's testifying in the impeachment inquiry into President Biden.

And after all these revelations about this FBI informant who's now charged with perjury getting information from the Russians, you still hear Jim Jordan being defiant about this. Is there an off-ramp? Or what is the off-ramp for Republicans who were pushing so hard to impeach President Biden? Is there one?

BORGER: Well, it seems to me like what he was hinting at was placing the blame on the FBI, saying they told us that this was a very credible informant and would be a very credible witness. They told us to trust him, and we trusted him. And that is why we came down so hard on these charges.

So it seems to me -- and he was doing quite a job of spinning there, but it was a miraculous effort at spinning. But it seems to me what they're going to go at is the politicized Justice Department and say, did they feed us someone who was giving them false information -- giving us false information and did they know it?

And you could hear a little bit of that in what Jim Jordan was saying to Manu, just kind of placing the blame on the FBI and not on the committee for pursuing something that was not true.

BERMAN: When they launched the official impeachment inquiry, when they got the votes for it, there were those who said, look, you don't launch an impeachment inquiry without ultimately getting an impeachment vote, that the fact of an inquiry means there will definitely be a vote on impeachment.

BORGER: Right.

BERMAN: Does that still hold, though, given that they have turned up so little concrete evidence tying President Biden himself to shady business dealings and the fact that you have some blue district Republicans sort of wobbly on this?

BORGER: Yes, well, if they had a vote now, they probably wouldn't get it. So they're not going to have a vote. And I don't even know, given this new information, whether they're

going to go through with it. I mean, Comer has been a little wobbly lately. Jordan was spinning. And given this new information about somebody who was acting more like a Russian operative than anything else, I think they're going to have to pull back.

And what they decide to do and how they decide to do it without having egg all over their face, I think is trying to put the blame elsewhere.

BERMAN: A dizzy morning. Thank you for sharing it with us. Gloria Borger, appreciate it.


BORGER: Thanks.

WHITFIELD: Right. I'm feeling wobbly too, John.

All right, jury selection is now under way for the armorer charged in a cinematographer's shooting death on the "Rust" movie set. What we're learning about who could be called to testify.

And the Pentagon is pleading with the House to pass more aid for Ukraine as Russia makes more gains and global pressure mounts on the speaker to act.



SIDNER: All right, as we're speaking a pretrial hearing for James Crumbley, the father of the teenager who shot and killed four students and wounded seven others at Michigan's Oxford High School, is under way. You see him coming in there with his hands cuffed.

Now, he is facing involuntary manslaughter charges, the same charges that his wife, Jennifer Crumbley, was found guilty on last month. She was the first parent to be held responsible in a mass shooting carried out by their child. The case could be precedent-sending -- setting and have an impact on future cases across the country. We will be watching to see what happens in these pretrial motions here.

Also happening right now, jury selection is under way in New Mexico in the trial of Hannah Gutierrez Reed. She was the armorer -- that's the person in charge of weapons -- on the set of the movie "Rust" in 2021. She has pleaded not guilty to charges of involuntary manslaughter and tampering with evidence in connection with the fatal shooting of the film's cinematographer, Halyna Hutchins.


CNN's Josh Campbell is joining me now.

You have been following this case from the very beginning. What are we learning now about this particular trial?


Well, prosecutors say that this is the road to accountability in the death of Halyna Hutchins. And prosecutors continue to repeat that. Someone died as a result of this incident. No one is disputing that it's an accident, but it led to a death, which is why we're seeing these charges, obviously against Alec Baldwin.

But today's hearing focused on Hannah Gutierrez Reed, who was what was called the armorer on the set. This is a person responsible for the safety of weapons, for the safe storage of ammunition. And prosecutors allege that she was negligent, charging her with involuntary manslaughter. She's also charged with that separate charge of tampering with evidence.

What prosecutors say, they allege that, on the day of the shooting, after being interviewed by police, she had handed off a small bag of cocaine to someone. The reason why that's important is because prosecutors are really focusing on her sobriety surrounding this whole incident. They write in filings that she was likely hung over when the gun was loaded.

Witnesses indicate that, during the filming of the set, she had been smoking marijuana out during the evenings. And, of course, if you -- if there's anyone on a movie set who needs to be lucid and aware of what's happening, it's the person responsible for safety.

Now, it's worth pointing out that, all along, her attorney has claimed that his client is innocent. They say that she is being scapegoated. And beyond her, I want to take you back to last year, when all these charges first came out. I spoke exclusively with the district attorney who first brought those charges, asking, why now?

Describe more this concept of negligence? Listen here to what she said investigators found.


MARY CARMACK-ALTWIES, NEW MEXICO FIRST JUDICIAL DISTRICT ATTORNEY: That there was such a lack of safety and safety standards on that set, that there were live rounds on set. They were mixed in with regular dummy rounds. Nobody was checking those, or at least they weren't checking them consistently.

And then they somehow got loaded into a gun, handed off to Alec Baldwin.


CAMPBELL: Now, again, Gutierrez Reed's attorneys dispute that she is to blame here.

Finally, important to note, Sara, as we watch this trial, one thing that I will be listening for is this notion that Hannah Gutierrez Reed was not just assigned the role of armorer, but she was given other duties, such as handling props. I have talked to numerous safety experts here in Hollywood who say

that's just unheard of. If you have a gun on a movie set, you need to have someone whose sole job is to focus on that. So I imagine we will hear her defense saying, look, she was saddled with all these other responsibilities that probably led to this incident, Sara.

SIDNER: All right, Josh Campbell, thank you so much for your reporting there -- Fred.

WHITFIELD: All right, Sara, joining me right now to discuss more about the case is defense and trial attorney Misty Marris.

Misty, great to see you.

So, we're talking about Hannah Gutierrez Reed facing involuntary manslaughter and the tampering with evidence, but how much of this case is also going to be predicated on eyewitness accounts about the history of Reed as an armorer, everything from weeks leading up to the -- being on this set, to days, to the moment of the shooting?

MISTY MARRIS, DEFENSE AND TRIAL ATTORNEY: Yes, all of that is going to be relevant.

First of all, on the witness list, there's 40 witnesses who are all related to that set. One of them is her stepfather, who's a well-known armorer in the business. So we're going to hear not only about her qualifications...

WHITFIELD: The training.

MARRIS: ... but we're going to hear a lot about the way -- her training.

We're going to hear a lot about the way that set -- and the safety standards on the set in general from these witnesses. And that's going to be critical to both sides of the case, the prosecution and the defense.

WHITFIELD: But perhaps most critical is, how in the world would live rounds end up on this set? I mean, what scenario would you need them? She has to justify all of that.

MARRIS: Right.

And that's been the critical question. And now we're hearing prosecutors say they have evidence that not only was she the one that loaded the live round into the gun and handed it to Alec Baldwin, but there were six boxes of the live rounds on the set, and that she was the one who in fact brought them to the set. Of course, she's denying that.

And they're also saying, in addition to her being the one who actually brought them to the set, that she had ample opportunity to check these bullets and ensure that they were actually the dummy rounds and not live bullets. And she failed to do so. So, that speaks to the gross negligence component. There's also this

issue of potential drug use and heavy alcohol use. They're saying that she was impaired on the set. Of course, she's denying all of that. And, interestingly enough, no toxicology was done that day.


MARRIS: It's interesting to see, but they obviously didn't believe it was an issue at the time.

WHITFIELD: But then how are you -- if you're the prosecutor, how are you going to go about proving someone's sobriety without that?

MARRIS: This was a huge win for prosecutors in pretrial motions.

They're bringing in text messages which allegedly show conversations regarding drug use, including the night before the death.

WHITFIELD: Oh, lord.

MARRIS: And so that's how that's all going to come into the courtroom.


Jury selection, how complicated might it be, especially when you're talking about a very well-known actor also at the center of this with Alec Baldwin? He has been recharged with involuntary manslaughter as well.

Sure, that's a separate case, but in association. "Rust," Alec Baldwin, that's synonymous. So, how are they going to find a jury...


WHITFIELD: ... that doesn't have -- is -- isn't prejudicial?

MARRIS: Oh, absolutely.