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Soon, Robert Hur Testifies to Congress on Biden Classified Documents Probe; Four States Casting Ballots Today as Trump Vows to Close Border and Release Imprisoned Jan. 6 Rioters; Haitian Prime Minister Will Resign Amid Escalating Violence. Aired 7-7:30a ET

Aired March 12, 2024 - 07:00   ET


KASIE HUNT, CNN ANCHOR: Professional, what on Earth?

KAREN FINNEY, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Indeed, what on Earth? How did this get out? That would be my question. Because when you know that the whole country is wondering what really happened to Kate --

HUNT: Whole world.

FINNEY: Whole world, sorry, you're right, the whole world is wondering what happened to Kate. You cannot put out a picture that has been touched up in this environment, period, full stop, would not have done it.

HUNT: Yes. And, again, we're kind of showing detail after detail after detail here.

All right, here's just hoping that the princess is recovering well and that we'll see her soon for real.

Thank you all for joining us this morning. I'm Kasie Hunt. Don't go anywhere. CNN News Central starts right now.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Breaking just moments ago, I needed to show my work. Robert Hur, the man who declined to charge President Biden for his handling of classified documents, prepares to testify on Capitol Hill this morning. Hur will reportedly say the evidence and the president himself put his memory squarely at issue.

KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: A glimpse into the future of what a second Donald Trump administration could look like, the former president vowing to free January 6th rioters if he makes it back to the White House.

SARA SIDNER, CNN ANCHOR: Absolutely terrifying new details from passengers aboard that LATAM flight, a passenger says the pilot told them he temporary lost control of the plane. Now, investigators looking into the plane's black box to see what happened.

I'm Sara Sidner with John Berman and Kate Bolduan. This is CNN News Central.

BERMAN: All right, breaking just moments ago, I needed to show my work. Those are the words in the opening statement from former Special Counsel Robert Hur in testimony he will deliver this morning on Capitol Hill. That testimony that prepared opening statement just released by Politico. I have it in my hands right now.

Now, Hur declined to charge President Biden for his handling of classified documents. But, of course, he caused a huge stir when he cited the president's memory as one reason he did not charge.

This morning in his opening statement, Hur will reportedly testify, quote, my task was to determine whether the president retained or disclosed national defense information willfully, meaning knowingly and with the intent to do something the law forbids. I could not make that determination without assessing the president's state of mind. For that reason, I had to consider the president's memory and overall mental state. Again, the opening statement Robert Hur will deliver very shortly on Capitol Hill.

CNN's Lauren Fox in Washington. I have to say, if he wanted to take down some of the drama, I'm not sure this opening statement will do that, Lauren.

LAUREN FOX, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, absolutely. What he is preparing for here is a slew of Democrats on the committee who believe that talking about the president's age in this report was gratuitous. But Hur is defending this, saying that he couldn't very well say the president shouldn't be prosecuted without providing a detailed explanation as to why.

In his opening statement again obtained by Politico, he said, quote, I needed to show my work. I knew that for my decision to be credible, I could not simply announce that I recommended no criminal charges and leave it at that. I needed to explain why the evidence and the president himself put his memory squarely at issue.

He goes on to say, we interviewed the president and asked him about his recorded statement. I just found all the classified stuff downstairs. He told us he didn't remember saying that to his ghost writer. He also said he didn't remember finding any classified material in his home after his vice presidency, and he didn't remember anything about how classified documents about Afghanistan made their way into his garage.

My assessment in the report about the relevance of the president's memory was necessary and accurate and fair.

Now, I talked to a number of Democrats yesterday going into this high- stakes hearing who said that they hoped that this issue of the president's age would not be front and center. Reading that opening statement, I think it's clear that that is going to be a key cornerstone of this testimony this morning.

And we should just note that this comes as Democrats were feeling very good about the president's memory, feeling very good about the public perception of the president's energy levels after that State of the Union speech last week. I think Democrats were hoping to turn the page. Obviously, today they're going to be going back in time a bit. John?

BERMAN: Other data points here that are important. We learned overnight that Robert Hur is no longer with the Justice Department. He testifies today as a private citizen and he has retained the counsel of William Burke, who has represented several prominent figures in Trump world in the past, stuff that Democrats may lean into today.


Lauren Fox. A lot of work to do today on Capitol Hill, we will talk to you again shortly. Thank you so much. Sara?

SIDNER: And it's not only us that will be watching this closely, the White House is going to have all eyes on Robert Hur's testimony. They are planning a real-time rapid response fact-check, both the formal special counsel and Republicans on that committee.

CNN's Priscilla Alvarez is joining us now from the White House. What is this going to look like as they're watching this, trying to fact check it in real-time?

PRISCILLA ALVAREZ, CNN WHITE HOUSE REPORTER: Well, as you heard there from the testimony, the president's age and memory is going to be front and center in this hearing, and the White House fully anticipated that congressional Republicans were going to attack President Biden on just that over the course of this hearing.

So, here at the White House, the rapid response operation is getting ready to essentially fact-check this in real-time and remind people that at the conclusion of this investigation, there was no case there. There were no charges there.

But, again, Sara, this is a White House that has taken issue with the report from the beginning. They pushed back on the substance of this report, even though there were no charges in the present. The president was clearly irritated by it, particularly mentioned that he couldn't remember when his son died.

Take a listen to what he said in February at a press conference following its release.


JOE BIDEN, U.S. PRESIDENT: How in the hell dare he raise that? Frankly, when I was asked the question, I thought to myself it wasn't any of their damn business. I don't need anyone, I don't need anyone to remind me when he passed away, he be passed away.

I'm well-meaning, and I'm an elderly man, and I know what the hell I'm doing.


ALVAREZ: Now, allies of the White House have pointed fingers at the legal team and the communications team here in saying that there were missteps, for example, questioning the president when he was in the middle of a Middle East crisis. He was questioned after, of course, those October 7th attacks in Israel.

But the White House and the campaign trying to tackle the president's age, the campaign releasing an ad over the weekend that acknowledges that the president is not young, and they are trying to use that now to their advantage by saying that he doesn't hold on to old ideas the way the former president does.

But all the same, Sara, this is clearly going to be front and center here at the White House, and their rapid response team is ready to respond to all of it.

SIDNER: Priscilla Alvarez, thank you so much for your reporting. Kate?

BOLDUAN: So, voters are heading to the polls today in the key battleground state Georgia and others, just as Donald Trump is offering a new preview of what he says he'll focus on immediately if he wins the White House, including releasing the January 6th rioters currently behind bars.

And a new report is hitting the safety record of self-driving cars. We'll bring that to you.

And one passenger's account of that terrifying mid-air incident that left 50 people wounded, now saying the pilot told him that his gauges went blank and he lost control of the plane.



BOLDUAN: Polls have just opened in battleground state Georgia, a state where not only is Donald Trump facing 13 criminal charges for attempting to overturn the 2020 election results there, this is also a state crucial to anyone's chance of winning the White House in November.

And overnight, Donald Trump said on social media that if he retakes the Oval, he will close the border and also free January 6th rioters who have been charged and found guilty of crimes because of their actions that day.

CNN's Alayna Treene has much more on this. She's joining us now. Alayna, you have how Donald Trump put it on Truth Social. What is he doing here?

ALAYNA TREENE, CNN REPORTER: Well, Kate, I do want to just start with looking at the primaries today, but, look, the Trump campaign already sees Donald Trump as the presumptive Republican nominee, but they really do see the primaries today in these four states as the way for him to cement that status and clinch the remaining delegates he needs to officially become the Republican nominee.

And you brought up Georgia, Kate. That is a state where both Trump and Biden were over the weekend. I think that just underscores the importance that both men see Georgia as they look ahead to November. And also, Georgia, as you mentioned, is a place where Donald Trump is facing a series of criminal charges. And that does relate to what he posted on Truth Social last night. We know that Donald Trump has repeatedly called for the release -- or for President Joe Biden, I should say -- to release the defendants who were convicted for their role in January 6th. But he's also facing his own charges, both in Georgia and at the federal level, for his role that day.

And so, you know, he's made these comments before. He's used this rhetoric on the campaign trail. But I also think him vowing to release them on social media last night is some of the farthest language we've seen from the former president related to this.

And I do just want to point out what we saw of former Congresswoman Liz Cheney, one of the people who was key on that Jan. 6th committee in the House, what she said in response to this. She said, quote, if your response to Trump's assault on our democracy is to lie and cover up what he did, attack the brave men and women who came forward with the truth and defend the criminals who violently assaulted the Capitol, you need to rethink whose side you're on. Hint, it's not America.

So, I'm sure we're going to see other comments like this from people who are, of course, had a role on that committee, who are dismayed by Donald Trump's actions and his continued rhetoric in embracing some of these defendants.


And I also think, you know, he repeatedly refers to those convicted for their role on January 6th as hostages, something we've also seen the White House very strongly criticize Donald Trump for.

BOLDUAN: Yes. Can I ask, let's also talk about the RNC and what's going on there right now, Alayna. Donald Trump's team takes over, that's not necessarily a surprise, but then the shake-up that is happening amongst the staff, Politico is now describing it as less a shake up, more a bloodbath. What's happening?

TREENE: I mean it is, it's a blood bath. There's wide layoffs and they really go farther, I think, than many people at the RNC were expected. We're told that they announced many of these layoffs yesterday in an internal email.

And, again, you pointed out, Kay, and you're totally right, that, yes, when there is a new team that comes in, new leadership with a nominee or a candidate, that isn't totally out of the norm, neither are layoffs, but I think the depth of these just underscore how much the new leadership wants to overhaul the committee.

And I did speak -- I was in Houston last week, while they had these elections where the new chairman, Michael Whatley, and Lara Trump became the co-chair. And I spoke with many of the staffers there as well, and they told me that they were expecting some layoffs, but, again, I don't think they're expecting the depth of some of these cuts.

We're told that the affect departments ranging from communications to the data team, to the political team. And they are not just senior staffers that are being laid off, also vendors and also having their vendor contracts be revoked. And so wide changes here.

And we did hear from one person in this internal e-mail, Sean Cairncross. He's someone that Chris LaCivita, one of Donald Trump's senior advisers, who is now going to be -- have a new role at the RNC, as well as chief operating officer, he brought in Sean Cairncross as his number two.

This is what Sean wrote in that internal e-mail. He said, quote, Chairman Whatley is in the process of evaluating the organization and staff to ensure the building is aligned with his vision of how to win in November.

So, Kate, I do think this is a bit of a preview of what we can expect the new leadership at the RNC to be really overhauling the committee, wanting to change things and really align themselves with the former president's campaign.

I'm also told that the Trump campaign wants to really have the RNC be an extension of them. They want it to operate as one and the same. And so I think we'll see a lot more of some of these changes and what the RNC is doing to help Donald Trump and boost him in any way that they can ahead of November. Kate?

BOLDUAN: It's good to see you, Alayna. Thank you always for your reporting. John?

BERMAN: All right. Breaking overnight, a country in chaos with questions about what happens next. The prime minister of Haiti announces he will resign. But this morning, it is unclear how or when he would give up power.

The pilot told passengers he lost control of the plane, new details of the panic and chaos inside the flight that left 50 people injured.


BRIAN JOKAT, PASSENGER ON LATAM FLIGHT: I opened my eyes and there was various individuals at the top of the plane just stuck to the roof and then they fell to the floor. And I just realized I'm not in a movie, this is actually for real.

There was clearly a moment in my head and then I just kind of resigned to this fact this could be it, you know, this might be it.



SIDNER: A major development in Haiti overnight, the prime minister, Ariel Henry, announcing he will resign after weeks of chaos in the country. There's a caveat though. Henry says he will step down once a transitional council is put in place.


ARIEL HENRY, HAITIAN PRIME MINISTER: My government will leave immediately after the integration of the council. We will be a caretaker government until they name a prime minister and a new cabinet. Haiti needs peace. Haiti needs stability.


SIDNER: Henry says, during his resignation and announcement, it comes just hours after U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken and regional leaders met in Jamaica to discuss a framework for a political transition.

CNN's Patrick Oppmann is following the story for us. Patrick, as you look at this, is there some sense of timing as to when Henri may actually step down? Because there haven't been votes cast in that country for a very long time, which is why people have been out protesting.

PATRICK OPPMANN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Absolutely. And Henry himself was never elected, we should point out. He came into power after the assassination of the former president. So, while this is a result of the mounting pressure on Henry, both inside of Haiti, as you mentioned, Sara, and from outside of Haiti, over the United States, pushing to take this step, no clear sense of timing.

Listen, this is being made up as the international community goes along here. I think it's fair to say. But, first, you'd have to have this transitional council named, and then they would pick a new prime minister.

And with all the politics involved in Haiti, violent politics, we should point out, it's going to be tough doing, negotiating who is on this transitional council. Already, the U.S. is saying that certain figures in Haiti who are involved in drug trafficking and criminality will not be included, even though these people are obviously making a case that they want to be very much involved in power sharing in Haiti.


But let's go back to what Ariel Henry said about why he finally has been forced to announce his resignation, something he resisted for so long. He said, we see assassinations, attacks against the government, systematic looting, all these people who are dying. The government that I lead cannot remain insensitive to the situation. I'm asking all Haitians to remain calm and do everything they can so that peace returns.

You know, it's very hard to imagine peace returning with the police completely overwhelmed by the gangs who simply outnumber and outgun them. And so this Haitian -- this Kenyan security force that the U.S. is now paying a staggering $300 million for a thousand soldiers, even that breaks down to about $300,000 per soldier, we are waiting to see when they will arrive, how they can arrive if the airport has been shut down, and then what 1,000 soldiers can really do in a country that is not theirs, that has become so ridden by violence. But, Sara, at this point, we're talking about hundreds of thousands of Haitians who have been displaced and they can wait no longer for help to arrive.

SIDNER: Patrick Oppmann, thank you for that report, really important story. Kate?

BOLDUAN: It's like living through a terrifying movie scene. That is how passengers are describing the moments on board a flight from Australia to New Zealand when the airline says the plane encountered a technical event, one which sent people flying through the cabin, banging up against the ceiling, injuring at least 50 people.

Now, one passenger is now talking to CNN and telling CNN that the pilot came back into the cabin and said he lost control of the plane.


JOKAT: He openly admitted. He said, I lost control of the plane. My gauges just kind of went blank on me. And that's when the plane just took a dive.


BOLDUAN: Other passengers describe feeling a massive jolt before the plane suddenly dropped, throwing some passengers out of their seats.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: There was a 2.5-year-old sleeping on the seat next to us on the other side. He went up in the air and landed on the ground, but his mother was nursing a one year old, so she couldn't control both.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You know when you are in a roller coaster and you just go like this, that sensation, and then everything flew up, went down, and it was like very shocking, very shocking.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The girl in front of my girlfriend, she was pretty much on the roof of the cabin. The girl next to me hit her head on the cabin.


BOLDUAN: Today in New Zealand, the investigation into exactly what happened continues, and they're still working to retrieve the black boxes.

Joining us now to talk more about this is CNN Transportation Analyst, the former inspector general with the Department of Transportation, Mary Schiavo. Mary, thank you for coming on.

So, the airline, let's walk through this a bit, some of the new details we're getting. The airline is calling it a technical event. This passenger that we just heard speaking to CNN's Erin Burnett says that the pilot reported to him his gauges went blank, then the plane took a dive, and then the pilot told the same, these passengers that briefly after the dive, the gauges came back on and everything went back to normal. What kind of malfunction could this sound like to you?

SCHIAVO: Well, it sounds like what the pilot described, a technical malfunction. Now, ordinarily, when something like this happens in flight, particularly over an ocean, they say it's clear air turbulence or turbulence that isn't visible on the weather radar. And usually, that's what this gets blamed on.

But by saying it was a technical event and the instruments briefly went blank and that he lost control of the plane, three huge clues here, that does suggest there was something wrong with the plane. And what that could be is obviously the mystery.

But this should be a major investigation, particularly since it's a new plane, a 787. And I searched the databases. I went back through what's called airworthiness directives, where Boeing has to put out warnings about its aircraft. And there was one way back in 2015, 2016, where if they left a 787 powered continuously, this is unlikely, but powered continuously for 248 days, that the instruments, that the power could go blank to all the instruments, and it would have to reset. So, that's the closest thing that I can find, but it does sound like a technical event with the plane.

BOLDUAN: How much danger do you think this flight and these passengers were in?

SCHIAVO: They were in grave danger, and the pilot said it best himself or herself. The pilot said, I briefly lost control of the plane. Whenever that happens, that's what's called an upset event, meaning you're flying along in an aircraft and no one is really able to control it.

That is a very big deal.


It's a huge issue. The plane could have been lost. In fact, that's really what that means. And when you've lost control of the plane, the plane itself could have been lost.