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Hur Testifies to Congress; Ian Sams is Interviewed about Hur's Report; FAA Audit Finds Issues at Boeing; Hur to Testify on Biden Case. Aired 9-9:30a ET

Aired March 12, 2024 - 09:00   ET



KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: Put his memory squarely at issue. That is what the now former special counsel, Robert Hur, is expected to say when he gets into the hot seat on Capitol Hill. At the top of the hour, that is when this begins. And lawmakers will be questioning her on his decision to not recommend charges against President Biden over his handling of classified documents. And Hur will also face questions about his decision to describe the president in his final report as an elderly man with a poor memory. We're also now learning exactly what Biden said when that special counsel, Bob Hur, interviewed him, including a section in which the president appeared to forget what year his son passed away.

CNN's Evan Perez, he read that transcript. He's joining us now.

Evan, talk to us more about what you saw in this transcript and what it shows.

EVAN PEREZ, CNN SENIOR JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Kate, you know, that -- that episode, that interaction between Rob Hur and the president is the one that really made all the headlines from that 388 page report that was released a few weeks ago. And what we got to see from - from looking at this transcript is a bit of the context of how this came to be.

And so what we know is that there was a discussion between the president and the interviews about where he kept papers that he was working on when he left the vice presidency and as he was trying to melt -- he was mulling his future, including any political future. And he is the one that brings up -- he says the time frame is 2017 and 2018. And then I'll read you just a part of what he says. He says, "remember, in this time frame, my son is either deployed or dying." Again, he's the one that brings up Beau Biden. And then he says, "what month did Beau die? Oh God, May 30th." And then someone -- multiple people in the room remind him that it was actually in 2015 that Beau Biden, his son, died.

Again, it's one of those interactions that really stands out because we know the death of Beau Biden was something that is of immense importance to the president. It's a big part of what has gone on in the last few years. And the idea that he didn't remember is something that really stood out. But the context, I think, really shows you a little bit more about

that interaction. We also have another interaction where the president is being asked about how materials get moved. I'll read you just a part of that transcript. It says, "OK, do you have" - Rob Hur asks the president, "do you have many idea where this material would have been before it got moved into the garage?" This is his garage at his Wilmington home. The president says, "well, if it was from 2013 - when - when did I stop being vice president?" A White House lawyer in the room says "2017." And President Biden says, "So I was vice president. So it must have come from vice president stuff. That's all I can think of."

What you see repeatedly, obviously, is the president, he doesn't pay a lot of detail -- attention to detail about who handles these classified documents, these papers. He knows he has aides who handle them. He describes a process whereby if he wanted to see something, he would ask for it to be brought to him. He says he didn't pack any of these boxes that got moved from the vice presidential residence to his -- to his homes after he left the -- left office. So, you know, I think that's going to play a big role of today, which is, you know, the idea of his memory and what that means for Joe Biden, of course.


BOLDUAN: Yes, Evan, there on Capitol Hill, no charges were recommended with the - Biden's handling of classified documents. What that means now as he runs for re-election, all of this, the report and this testimony today. First, let's see what happens with this testimony today.

It's good to see you, Evan. Thank you.


JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: All right, with us now is Ian Sams, a spokesperson for the White House Counsel's Office.

Ian, thank you so much for being with us.

We have Robert Hur's prepared opening statement in here. In it he says, quote, "we have identified evidence that the president willfully retaining classified materials after the end of his vice presidency when he was private citizen. The evidence included an audio recorded conversation during which Mr. Biden told his ghostwriter he had just found all the classified stuff downstairs. When Mr. Biden said this, he was a private citizen speaking to his ghostwriter in his private rental home in Virginia. We also identified another recorded conversation during which Mr. Biden read classified information aloud to his ghostwriter. We did not, however, identify evidence that rose to the level of proof beyond a reasonable doubt."

I read all of that because it included the issue where Robert Hur said we had evidenced the president willfully retain documents, but it did not rise beyond a reasonable doubt. Do you have the issue with that characterization? IAN SAMS, SPOKESPERSON, WHTIE HOUSE COUNSEL'S OFFICE: Yes, I mean, I

think it lays bare pretty clearly that the result of this 15-month investigation, that was led by a Trump appointee prosecutor who was named special counsel, found that there was no case here.


I think that some of those -- that language that you just laid out is a little bit misleading.

In fact, later in the report, 200 pages in, not on page two, but 200 pages in, he says very clearly that the evidence does not fully support the idea that he willfully retained classified documents. When it comes to sharing information with others, he says hundreds of pages into the report that the evidence does not support that the president knew that he was even telling him classified information.

And so I think that what's lost in the shuffle of all this is that it's the evidence and the facts that were accumulated over a 15-month investigation, comprehensive, very long, very intrusive, actually refuted these theories that the special counsel explored and found very plainly that there was not a case to be made here.

BERMAN: What the special counsel explicitly says is the evidence did not rise the level of proof beyond a reasonable doubt. He says because the evidence fell short of that standard, I declined to recommend criminal charges against Mr. Biden.

You were quoting from the actual 400-page report, which I tried to read as much of it as I could.

SAMS: Yes. Yes, and I - and I -

BERMAN: I was just quoting - I was just quoting - Ian, just to be clear, I was just quoting from the opening statement that he's going to deliver to Congress today.

SAMS: Yes. Sure. Of course, yes. And I think it's important on page two -

BERMAN: It says largely the same thing in a condensed form.

SAMS: I just have it - I just have it written down right here actually. On page 215 the report says, quote, "there is in fact a shortage of evidence on these points."

So, I think that he's going to have to reconcile those two things. And that's up to him to do. But the report is very clear that the evidence and the facts that were gathered over 15 months show that there is no case here. And what people are going to see in the transcript that now I heard Evan talking about having access to, and I believe the Justice Department has produced to Congress this morning, the transcript is going to show that the president had very clear and detailed testimony to the special counsel that he did not know he had these, that he was unaware. We've said that from the very beginning of this case that as soon as these documents were discovered, we fully cooperated with the Justice Department to ensure that they were returned.

And why did we do that? We did that because the president takes classified information seriously.

BERMAN: There is a -

SAMS: He testified to the special counsel, for example, that if he had ever found anything, he would have given it back. And that's proven out by the way this case has played out in exactly how he handled this from the very beginning by totally cooperating -

BERMAN: The special counsel -

SAMS: And making sure that anything was given back.

BERMAN: In the initial report, the special counsel made absolutely clear how cooperative the president and the White House has been, and listed that as a reason or a differentiating factor between the decision not to charge President Biden and the decision to charge former President Donald Trump.

Obviously, Robert Hur's inclusion of issues surrounding President Biden's memory has been a major issue. One that you have not been pleased with. I want to read you - again, this is from the opening statement that he's going to deliver to Congress. Hur will say, "the evidence and the president himself put his memory squarely at issue. We interviewed the president and asked him about his recorded statement. I just found all the classified stuff downstairs. He told us he did not remember saying that to his ghostwriter. He also 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 the garage."

Again, part of Hur's opening statement. What issue do you have with that?

SAMS: Sure. Yes, well, I guess it's not that surprising that he might not remember something that he testified repeatedly he didn't know he had, he didn't intentionally take and that he relied on staff members, like most principals do, especially someone at the level of the vice president, he relied on staff to pack and move his papers and boxes.

I think also on this issue of the memory, it's been selectively chopped up and edited and sent around because of the confusing way that that report was written. But also in that report -- and again I wrote this down. Later in the report he says explicitly, quote, "we expect the evidence of Mr. Biden's state of mind to be compelling." He said that he provided, quote, "clear" and, quote, "forceful testimony." These are things that he says in the report. And in the transcript he says - at one point he praises the president's, quote, "photographic" memory. And so there's a little bit of a distinction here and a little bit of picking and choosing which issues to criticize the president's memory on.

But I think that, at the end of the day, it's because the facts and evidence don't support this case. Nothing else, nothing about the president's testimony. It's a fact -- the facts and evidence over 15 months of investigating prove that there is no case here.

BERMAN: It is notable that in his opening statement, which is a little bit over four pages long, Robert Hur spends almost two pages talking about the issue of the president's memory and why he did include that.

I have not seen the transcript of the president's testimony. You said it's been released by the Justice Department to Congress. So perhaps we all will see some of it. Evan Perez has seen some of it. His reporting this morning on the issue -- and again this is something that President Biden himself took issue within in the original report, bringing up his memory of the death of his son, Beau. This is a quote from Evan's reporting. "The transcript shows that the president brought up his son amid a broader discussion about his handling of sensitive documents as he mulled his future after leaving public office after five decades.


Asked where he kept papers that he was working on, Biden began a story framing the context as the 2017, 2018 era. The president brought up the 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." Not the 2017 to 2018 time frame.

Again, so this is more context about how the death of his son ever became an issue. It wasn't as if, if I'm not mistaken, he wasn't asked about the death of his son by the special counsel, was he?

SAMS: The president was, in fact, asked about his work on his book about his son's passing, about his work after his vice presidency on the Biden Cancer Initiative, something that was so deeply motivated by Beau's illness and passing. These are deeply personal and emotional issues for the president. And he's talked openly about those to the American people for years about how he overcame that grief and how he worked through it and how he hoped to find purpose beyond this grief. And that was what he was being asked about.

And so anybody who has even a familiarity with the president understands the personal nature of this and that he would talk about his son, Beau, and the impact that he had on the work that he was pursuing after his vice presidency on the book and on the cancer work.

And I think that the American people can see clearly that the president doesn't need a reminder as to when his son died. He says right there, May 30th. This is something that the president carries with him every single day, the memory of losing his son. Families across this country understand the power of loss and grief and the way that that impacts someone.

And this is a president who's taken that loss and grief and turned it into purpose. And I think it just goes to show again how outrageous it was for that to even be included in this report. And don't take just my word for it. Former attorney general, former deputy attorney general, former Justice Department prosecutors, senior officials, all came out in the aftermath of this report and said, this is totally inappropriate. You can make the point without talking about that.

So, it just shows how outrageous it was for that to be included in the final report.

BERMAN: Ian Sams, I know you have a busy day. We appreciate you taking some of your time out of it to spend with us. Thank you.

SAMS: Thanks, John.


SARA SIDNER, CNN ANCHOR: All right, coming up, a scathing audit highlights the results of an FAA investigation into the production of Boeing's 737 Max airplanes.

Plus, a CNN exclusive. A former longtime Trump staffer known only as "Trump Employee 5" in court records, says the classified documents case against Donald Trump is not a witch hunt. How does he know?


KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN ANCHOR: You noticed that he had boxes?

BRIAN BUTLER, "TRUMP EMPLOYEE 5": Oh, yes, they were the boxes that were in the indictment. The white bankers boxes. That's what I remember loading.


SIDNER: And a team of experts from the CDC is now headed to Chicago following a measles outbreak.

We'll discuss it all, coming up.



SIDNER: All right, we're learning new details on what the FAA found while auditing the production process of Boeing 737 Max. Regulators began taking a closer look after this incident back in January when a door panel blew off and Alaska Airlines flight. Since then, the FAA conducted 89 product audits, and Boeing failed 33 of them.

CNN's Pete Muntean is joining us now.

Pete, the FAA administrator is making very clear there are significant issues here when it comes to Boeing and this 737 Max.

PETE MUNTEAN, CNN AVIATION CORRESPONDENT: And that reporting from "The New York Times" comes from a PowerPoint presentation that it viewed, only insult to injury, after this fallout that Boeing is facing after the 737 Max 9 door plug blowout on January 5th. First, the National Transportation Safety Board said that Boeing would

not produce paperwork when it comes to the work done and on that 737 Max 9 that left the Renton, Washington, factory without the four critical bolts in place to hold the door plug on the airplane. Now the FAA is saying that it has found issues on Boeing's production line, part of the FAA audit of Boeing quality control triggered by the door plug blowout.

FAA Administrator Mike Whitaker said in a press conference just yesterday that there are problems with what he calls plant hygiene. That means the order the work is done, also with tool management, which is an issue because tools could be left behind onboard the airplane. Essentially just sloppy procedures that could lead to larger problems.

Listen to what FAA Administrator Mike Whitaker said.


MIKE WHITAKER, FAA ADMINISTRATOR: It wasn't -- it wasn't just paperwork issues. Sometimes it's order that work is done. Sometimes it's tool management. It sounds kind of pedestrian, but it's really important in a factory that you have a way of tracking your tools effectively so that you have the right tool and that you know you didn't leave it behind.


MUNTEAN: Boeing says it's working on fixing those issues and the FAA has given it until late May to come up with a plan and says it will take comprehensive action to improve safety and quality. But just one of the other bad headlines to come as a result of that Max 9 door plug blowout back on January 5th. We're two months away and we're still waiting on the full results of Boeing's audit.

SIDNER: All right, I want to ask you about another incident not involving a Boeing 737, but involving a Boeing 787. That flight aboard LATAM where you had dozens of people injured, thrown up into the sky.


What are you hearing from those passengers? You're now getting some information from them as well.

MUNTEAN: We're getting information from passengers and from investigators. They're now trying to recover the black boxes from onboard LATAM Flight 800, a Boeing 787 that was flying between Sydney, Australia, in Auckland, New Zealand.

What happened here is that this plane experienced a sudden jolt. That's how passengers describe it. Where some passengers were thrown up to this ceiling and bloodied by this big jolt onboard the plane. It initially sounded like severe turbulence. But now there is a big question about was there a problem with the autopilot or the flight controls after LATAM put out a statement saying there was a technical event on board the plane which caused this sudden movement. And this passenger, Brian, said that he was on board and he felt like

it was a scene from a movie. He actually even talked to some of the pilots on the way out of the plane, and he said that the pilots told him their screens want dark.



BRIAN JOKAT, PASSENGER ON FLIGHT THAT EXPERIENCED "MID-AIR DROP": And I immediately engage with them and said, you know, what was that? And 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. And he said, the gauges came back and then re-engaged - and the plane just re-engaged to its normal flight pattern.


MUNTEAN: Some really big questions here about what triggered that, Sara.

And the agency in charge of this investigation will be the directorate general of civil aviation in Chile. That is where LATAM is based, in Santiago. Even though the New Zealand equivalent of the NTSB says it will aid in the investigation, it's doing most of the on-scene work. And they are trying to get the cockpit voice recorder and the flight data recorder right now. A lot of key information in there. And typically on the flight data recorder they can show when switches were thrown or where the systems were set up to make sure that something like this did or did not happen.

SIDNER: Yes, we will be waiting and for that. That was terrifying. Thank you so much, Pete Muntean, for all of your reporting.


BOLDUAN: It ripped the wound wide open again. That is what the former mayor of Uvalde is saying in a CNN exclusive, slamming the new report on the police response that day. A report that had said that the local officers should be exonerated.

And we're heading back the Capitol Hill, where a former special counsel is about to face a lot of questions about his investigation into the current president of the United States. Robert Hur is getting ready to explained his final report on Biden's handling of classified documents. Why Hur says he needed to show his work.



SIDNER: All right, there's Capitol Hill, where moments from now former Special Counsel Robert Hur will testify before Congress about his report on President Biden's handling of classified documents. And that is the hallway he will be walking down in moments. He determined the evidence did not warrant criminal charges. But his

description of Biden's mental fitness and memory was damning. CNN has obtained Hur's opening statement where we know it will say, I have it here, he's going to say, I called it like I saw it.

CNN's senior legal analyst, Elie Honig, is joining us now.

First of all, what do we need to know about Robert Hur? He is now in the capacity of a regular guy, but he was the special counsel.

ELIE HONIG, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: Yes, so Robert Hur has kept a very low profile throughout this investigation.


HONIG: But today, like it or not, spotlights going to be on him.

A couple important things to know about Robert Hur. He was a longtime federal prosecutor. He was a trial prosecutor in Maryland. Then he went over to headquarters in D.C.

He was named U.S. attorney. He was nominated by Donald Trump. He was confirmed in 2018. Important to note, he was confirmed by unanimous voice vote in the Senate. There was no opposition to him from Republicans or Democrats.

And then Merrick Garland appointed him as special counsel about a year ago, in January of 2023. Now, let's just talk about what that means that he came -- became special counsel. That means Merrick Garland gave Robert Hur the powers of any DOJ federal prosecutor. But special counsel has a bit more independence. The regulation say he's not subject to the, quote, "day-to-day supervision of the AG."

And the other important feature is, the special counsel, at the end of his case, has to write a report. And that's the report that Robert Hur wrote. And that's a report that you're going to see a lot of focus on today.

SIDNER: And also one, right, that Merrick Garland reviewed before it went out as well. People should know.

HONIG: He did. And he did not touch it.

SIDNER: Right.

HONIG: And he -- Merrick Garland turned it over to Congress and hence to the American public.

SIDNER: And us (ph). (INAUDIBLE).

All right, can you take us through some of the key and important points of the written report by Hur that Congress has gone over and that we've all been able to take from it.

HONIG: Yes, and reflected in the opening statement that we just received. First and most importantly, no criminal charges. Robert Hur says

criminal charges for retaining sensitive information are not necessary here. However, Robert Hur also says in his report that the investigation uncovered evidence that President Biden willfully retained and disclosed classified material after his vice presidency.

Now, you may be wondering, well, how could there be no charges, but uncovered evidence. And the answer is, there's a lot of room between charges must be brought and no evidence whatsoever. And Rob -- what Robert Hur seems to be trying to say is, there was evidence, some evidence, but not enough to charge him with a crime. That's an important distinction.

In the report Robert Hur showed us photos of where some of these documents were stored in Joe Biden's home and office. And, of course, the single phrase that maybe gained the most attention is Robert Hur's characterization that President Biden would present himself as a sympathetic, well-meaning, elderly man with a poor memory. That's become a very controversial phrase. Did it need to be included? Is it relevant? Robert Hur says it's relevant to assessing his mental state, which is part of the legal calculation here.

SIDNER: He is going to be on the hot seat in front of Congress. You'll have Democrats and Republicans coming for him. What should we expect to hear in the form of questions to Hur?

HONIG: Yes. So, we are in the House Judiciary Committee chaired by Jim Jordan. Jim Jordan will be running the show today. The ranking member for Democrats is Jerry Nadler. There are 25 Republicans on this committee, 19 Democrats. I did the math, that's 44. They get five minutes each. So you're looking at several hours. Also worth noting, they will allow the oversight chair and ranking committee, James Comer and Jamie Raskin, also to speak today.

So, this is going to be a long hearing. We're going to hear from some big names. Matt Gaetz will, you know, try to create fireworks for Republicans. We'll hear from Adam Schiff on the Democratic side.


They're going to ping pong back and forth for five - five minutes each.

Now, the key areas of focus, first of all, of course, Democrats, we just heard -

SIDNER: Right, that's the big headline.

HONIG: Yes, I mean.