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Former Special Counsel Robert Hur to Testify on Capitol Hill Regarding His Refusal to Prosecute President Biden for Holding Classified Documents at His Residence; Transcript of Conversation between Special Counsel Hur and President Biden Released; Interview with Sen. Chris Coons (D-DE); US Senators Warn Netanyahu Against Large Scale Rafah Offensive. Aired 8-8:30a ET

Aired March 12, 2024 - 08:00   ET



SARA SIDNER, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: All right, Julie Burkhart, it's --


SIDNER: Thank you. I really appreciate you coming on and explaining and talking through your story with us. Appreciate it.


KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: Also on our radar this hour, the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, which rates cars and SUVs for safety, essentially says driver beware when it comes to self-driving car systems. The driving assistance system by Lexus is the only one of 14 examined deemed acceptable by the group. Even that rating wasn't top notch, still below the highest possible grade of good. The IIHS looked at how these self-driving systems perform in monitoring drivers and reminding them that they need to pay attention. Systems from Tesla, Mercedes-Benz, and Volvo were among 11 that the IIHS rated as poor. GM's system rated as marginal.

And NASA's crew seven splashed down under a canopy of parachutes over the Florida coast this morning. You see this early today, the SpaceX crew dragon capsule could be seen streaking across the sky as it crossed over the Midwest early today. The vessel successfully returned three astronauts and a cosmonaut after their six-month stay on the International Space Station. Welcome home.

The next hour of CNN NEWS CENTRAL starts now.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is CNN breaking news.

SIDNER: Breaking news. Former Special Counsel Robert Hur will soon be on the hot seat on Capitol Hill, defending not only his decision not to charge President Biden for his handling of classified documents, but also why he described the president as an elderly man with a poor memory who couldn't even remember his own son's death date. CNN is now getting a look at the transcripts of the conversation

between Biden and Hur that left the special counsel with that impression. According to the transcripts, President Biden was telling a story that he framed that was between the times of 2017 and 2018. During it, he brought up his son, Beau, saying, quote, "Remember, in this timeframe, my son is either deployed or is dying." He then went on to say, "What month did Beau die?" "Oh, God," Biden responded, "May 30th." That's when someone in the room interjected to say Beau died in 2015, not between 2017 and 18.

CNN's Evan Perez has reviewed these transcripts. Evan, this is a really big moment because there's been a lot of talk, this has been a fodder for a lot of political fighting. You now have the actual words that were used. What else did you find in this report that related to Biden's memory?

EVAN PEREZ, CNN SENIOR JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Sara, I think the big takeaway from the report is that the president repeatedly said that he didn't really handle a lot of these papers, that he left it to staff. He didn't know how things were packed and how things were moved from, for example, his vice presidential residence to a home he rented in Virginia to his home in Wilmington. Repeatedly, he said, I don't remember exactly how that how that got moved from one place to another.

And I think obviously the special counsel, Rob Hur, points out the memory problems. But the big one, obviously, that that stuck out was the one that you just read, the interaction about Beau Biden. It's clear that the president remembered the date exactly, May 30th, that his son died. But someone in the room then suggests the dates.

And I'll read you another part of the of the transcript where you could see that he has a foggy memory of where things happened. Rob Hur asks the president, "But do you remember how these materials got into this box and how that box got into the garage?" which was where one of these some of these documents were found. President Biden says, "No, I don't remember how a beat-up box got into the garage." The tone that we get from the transcript, and to be fair, we don't have the audio from -- the audio recording from the interview, which lasted about five hours, over five hours, over two days last October, Sara. What we have is -- what I've read is simply just the transcript of it. And what comes across is an atmosphere where the president is joking with people in the room. There's laughter. It's generally a pretty genial atmosphere, a very cooperative atmosphere, which is, I think, why the White House and people around the president were so surprised by the words that came out in that 388-page report from Rob Hur.

SIDNER: I do want to ask you, because it is 388 pages, but there's also something in it about Biden's handwritten notes. What can you tell us about that?


PEREZ: Right. Well, this is a big part of this investigation, because it's not only the classified documents that were found in the garage and in different places, including his private office after he left the vice presidency, but it's also his handwritten notes. And those contain, according to the special counsel, according to the investigation, they do contain some very sensitive information.

And so, I'll read you just one interaction from the second day of this interview in which Mark Krickhbaum, the deputy special counsel, says, "OK, but I think it would be helpful for us to understand. And I think with respect to your notebooks that you wrote by hand, you view these as yours." President Biden says, "Yes, they're mine." But Krickhbaum says, "And you were authorized to have them?" President Biden says, "Every president before me has done the exact same thing."

And I think that's going to be a big part of the discussion in today's hearings, Sara, because President Reagan took home notes when he left the presidency, he took notes that he took from while he was president. There was some controversy over that at the time. And President Biden is saying, everything that I took I was authorized to have and those are mine. Obviously, the National Archives and I think some people in the federal government believe that that shouldn't be the case, because if you bring, if you write notes while you're president, those belong to the archives and to the people of the United States. Sara?

SIDNER: Evan, thank you so much for bringing us this reporting. Again, this is the first time that we've really seen starkly exactly what was said between the special counsel and President Biden. John?

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: And, of course, this comes as the now former special counsel, Robert Hur, is going to testify on Capitol Hill this morning. He now has left the Justice Department. We learned he is testifying today as a private citizen. And not only that, he has hired as a personal attorney someone who has represented prominent Republican figures before, including folks in Trump world. And CNN now has our hands on the opening statement he will deliver. It is about five pages or so long. In it, extensively he goes into why he leaned into President Biden's memory here to explain why he did not bring charges.

Let's get right to CNN's chief legal affairs correspondent Paula Reid. She has got much more on what we can expect from Robert her. And if he wanted to take the temperature down here, Paula, I have to say this opening statement, I'm not sure it's going to do that.

PAULA REID, CNN SENIOR LEGAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Yes. And you know what, in speaking to sources close to him over the past year covering this investigation, I'm not sure he cares if he, quote, takes the temperature down here. He views himself as not being partisan, as being a special counsel who is independent. And he knows that folks on both sides of the aisle are unhappy with him.

John, I actually just got off the phone with a source close to Hur who talked to me a little bit about how he's preparing for the big day. And as you noted, he has hired a lawyer who has worked with former President Trump and his allies. And I want to note, though, before he left the Justice Department last week, the Office of Legislative Affairs at the Justice Department actually helped him prepare for today. They did moot hearings, these are practice arguments. That is significant because it's just another example of how he has received a support from the Biden Justice Department.

Now, once he left the Justice Department last week, he has continued to practice with his attorney and others for today's hearing, anticipating questions that he's going to get on both sides. They know that Republicans are probably going to hammer him on why he opted not to charge Biden. They will probably make some comparisons to the classified document prosecution of former President Trump. Hur is going to be ready for that.

He also knows that Democrats are going to amplify these criticisms from the White House about comments he made about Biden's memory. But as we see in his opening statement, he defends that, saying, quote, he needed to show his work. Now, we also anticipate, according to the source, Hur emphasized that he did not find President Biden, quote, innocent. It's just that he did not think that he could win at trial.

Now, as you just heard Evan Perez talking about some of this new information coming out about the interview from Biden, I asked the source about the timing for this new information, and they said, look, it's clear the White House is concerned that under questioning Hur could potentially release new, possibly damaging additional details about the president. They're trying to get out in front of that. But the source again noted that the tape of that interview has not been released.

So this is notable. And I also want to emphasize that the source did that even though the White House is quite upset with Hur, a lot of Democrats are, it was the attorney general, the Biden handpicked attorney general Merrick Garland who oversaw this investigation and clearly did not object to the contents of this report.

BERMAN: Merrick Garland had to read the report before it was released and made public. So we know that to be true. And again, just his opening statement, Robert Hur's opening statement will say the evidence and the president himself put his memory squarely at issue. It tees up what could be a contentious hearing.


Paula Reid, we'll talk to you again. Thank you very much. Sara, Kate?

BOLDUAN: I will take it, my friend.

A mystery Mar-a-Lago employee now speaking out about the classified documents case against Donald Trump. Why employee number five tells CNN the case against Trump is not a witch hunt.

And a new safety audit into Boeing's production lines finds dozens of problems, including using the same dish soap that you may have in your kitchen as lubricant for door seals.

And minutes from now, the latest check on what you are spending at the grocery store and also at the gas pump and spending in general. Are prices going up for consumers or down?


KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: Our top story this hour, CNN's Evan Perez reviewing transcripts of President Biden's interview with then Special Counsel Robert Hur, and Hur's investigation into Biden's handling of classified documents.

Here is CNN's reporting of the transcript. I'll read you some of it: "Asked he kept papers that he was working on, Biden began a story framing the context as the 2017-2018 era. The president brought up his son, Beau, who he said had encouraged him to remain politically engaged. Remember, in this time frame, my son is either deployed or is dying, Biden said, according to the transcript. The president brought up his son's death, and he remembered the month and day. What month did Beau die? Oh, God, May 30th, several people in the room interjected to remind him that his son died in 2015."

Now, Robert Hur also determined that there was not evidence enough to win a conviction on the documents question. That was the key of the investigation. No charges were recommended.

Hur will address all of this when he testifies this morning before a house committee. In his opening statement, as CNN has obtained, he is expected to say this: "The evidence and the president himself put his memory squarely at issue." Also saying his task was to determine if the president willfully retained or disclose national defense information with the intent to do something the law forbids.

Hur will add according to the opening statement: "I could not make that determination without assessing the president's state of mind."

Joining us now is Democratic Senator Chris Coons. He serves on the Senate Foreign Relations and Judiciary Committees. He is also national co-chair for the Biden-Harris re-election campaign.

Senator, thank you so much for being here. What is your reaction to what I've laid out there? CNN's reporting on the actual transcript of the president's interview with Hur, and also his commentary about Biden's memory that he will be bringing up in his opening statement this morning.

SEN. CHRIS COONS (D-DE): Kate, look, I think what really matters here about this whole kerfuffle is that at the end of the day, former President Donald Trump is facing 40 felony counts in a federal action because of his mishandling of federal classified documents, while President Joe Biden has been cleared.

All the back and forth about the commentary by the special counsel, I think at the end of the day has been put to rest by President Biden's forceful and compelling State of the Union address on Thursday, which makes it clear that the stray comments by a special counsel and a report really don't amount to much compared to the underlying reality that President Biden has deep respect for the classified document process, fully cooperated, and his predecessor did not.

BOLDUAN: Hur says that he called it like he saw it in his investigation. He says that he did not disparage the president unfairly. His report as you note, highlights that there is a material distinction between the two investigations of Trump and Biden on classified documents.

COONS: That's an understatement to say a material distinction one charging a former president with 40 felony counts and the other clears the current president. Yes, that's a material distinction, Kate.

BOLDUAN: No, Senator, for clarity, I'm quoting how he put it in the report. So that's why I said material distinction.

COONS: I understand that. Certainly.

BOLDUAN: Given that and given all of this added together, the fact of the matter is, Robert Hur is coming before this committee. He's going to face questions about all aspects of this, for sure. And it also does highlight that he was -- he is now a former special counsel, but he became a special counsel because the attorney general put him in place.

Given all of this and what you know now, do you wish that Attorney General Merrick Garland had not put him in as special counsel or any special counsel?

COONS: Look, that's a hypothetical that I think is best answered this way. President Biden has shown over and over his respect for the independence of the Department of Justice, for the independence of the attorney general.

Attorney General Merrick Garland has run his Department of Justice in a way that shows his commitment to independence, appointing a former Trump administration official, Robert Hur, to be the special counsel in this particular case, and in many other ways, President Biden has shown that he's maintained an arm's length distance from the attorney general and the Department of Justice in sharp distinction with the former president, who repeatedly pressured the attorney general and the Department of Justice to act as if it were his own personal legal department.

We have a president today who understands and respects the obligations of the office, to treat classified documents in a different way, and at the end of the day, this report and I expect the testimony that Mr. Hur will deliver today in the House will reinforce that sharp distinction between President Biden, who puts our security first, and former President Trump, who doesn't.


BOLDUAN: That hearing is going to get underway very soon. CNN is going to bring it to everyone live.

I also want to ask you, you recently -- you were recently on a trip overseas, and I want to ask you about President Biden's recent comments on Israel's war against Hamas.

The president called a military offensive in Rafah a red line in an interview this weekend. He said in the next breath, though, that he's never going to leave Israel. He's not going to cut off all weapons to Israel.

Do you want President Biden drawing red lines with Israel?

COONS: Look, here's what I said to Prime Minister Netanyahu when I met with him in Israel just a few weeks ago, that he needs to understand the balance between having American support for continuing the campaign against Hamas to restore a sense of deterrence and security to the Israeli people after the horrific attack of October 7th, and his obligation to provide for civilian protection.

That means if he sends a massive troop offensive of IDF soldiers into Rafah without providing any way for civilians to get out of the way of that combat, that would be, for me, something that Israel should not do, and would, for the very first time, lead me to discuss conditioning aid to Israel. That is the last thing on earth I want to do.

I want to see us get a hostage deal. I'm wearing this yellow ribbon today because later this morning, Kate, I'm meeting with a father of an American-Israeli hostage who is still being held beneath Gaza by Hamas.

This crisis in Gaza could end tomorrow. If Hamas lay down their arms and release the hostages. But this is a war, a war between Israel and Hamas and President Biden is trying to balance showing deep concern for the civilians who are suffering and in many cases, now starving in Gaza and Prime Minister Netanyahu and the far right-wing elements of his government, ministers like Smotrich and Ben-Gvir, who have made it very difficult to get humanitarian aid into Gaza.

President Biden is trying to do the best in a very difficult circumstance.

BOLDUAN: Red line is, you know, carries a lot of weight to that statement. I don't need to remind you of when President Obama drew a red line in Syria, and the fallout from that.

The red line is what? And if the red line is crossed, it leads to what?

COONS: I think that's for President Biden to communicate privately to our valued ally, Israel. I think it is important.

BOLDUAN: What is it for you?

COONS: For me, making no provision for humanitarian aid or for civilians to leave Rafah. There are more than a million relocated civilians who have fled to Rafah at the IDF's direction, as they carried out attacks against Hamas that have flattened civilian infrastructure from all over the rest of the Gaza Strip.

So there is no way to carry out a campaign, a military campaign at scale against four Hamas battalion in Rafah without massive civilian casualties if you don't allow for them to leave. In my meeting with Prime Minister Netanyahu, he said, I understand

that, and we are getting a plan from the army for how we will relocate civilians before that offensive. I think it's important to keep clear that distinction.

I am in no way saying that Israel should stop its campaign against Hamas, just that it needs to conduct it, given the unusual circumstances of having an enemy who is using civilians as human shields, they need to conduct it in a way that comports with international law and our expectations of our allies.

BOLDUAN: Senator Chris Coons, thank you for coming on this morning.

COONS: Thank you, Kate.


JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Do you ever feel like the owner of your Airbnb is watching you? They may have been.

New rules Airbnb is putting in place to make sure your stay is a bit more private.

In a new federal investigation into Boeing, it found 33 failures in their production process out of 89 audits. That's 62 percent, that's a D-minus.



SARA SIDNER, CNN ANCHOR: New this morning, an FAA audit has found dozens of problems in the production process of Boeing 737 Max aircrafts, according to "The New York Times" this morning.

The audit happened after a door panel blew off during an Alaska Airlines flight in January. The FAA conducted 89 product audits and Boeing failed 33 of them.

In one instance, the FAA saw mechanics from one of Boeing's suppliers using liquid Dawn dish soap as a lubricant for the door seal.

CNN's Pete Muntean joins us now.

Boeing, under the microscope here. This could have some serious ramifications, could it not?

PETE MUNTEAN, CNN AVIATION CORRESPONDENT: Only insult to injury after the NTSB wanted paperwork from Boeing that Boeing says probably does not exist, details the work done on the Alaska Airlines 737 Max 9 that left the factory without those four critical bolts that led to the door plug blowout back on January 5th.

Now, the FAA says separately from this "New York Times" reporting that it has found issues on Boeing's production line. This is part of the FAA audit of Boeing's quality control triggered by the Alaska Airlines Flight 1282 incident, and FAA administrator Mike Whitaker said in a press conference yesterday, there are problems with hygiene at the plant in Renton, Washington. That's a bit of a euphemism there that really means something about the order of the work is done, Whitaker says.

Also, the management of tools on the factory floor, so that tools are not left behind. Plain sloppy procedures that can lead to larger problems.

This is what FAA chief Mike Whitaker said.