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CNN International: Special Counsel's Report Raises Concerns About Biden's Age; U.S. Supreme Court Hears Trump Ballot Case; Nevada Republican Caucuses; Far Right Personality Tucker Carlson Releases Putin Interview; Biden Rebukes Israel's Conduct in Gaza. Aired 4-4:30a ET

Aired February 09, 2024 - 04:00   ET




JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I'm low-meaning, and I'm an elderly man, and I know what the hell I'm doing. I've been president, and I put this country back on its feet.

DONALD TRUMP, FORMER U.S. PRESIDENT, 2024 PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: In watching the Supreme Court, I thought it was a very beautiful process. If we win this state, we easily win the election in November. We have to win the election.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The conduct of the response in the Gaza Strip has been over the top.


ANNOUNCER: Live from London, this is CNN NEWSROOM, with Max Foster and Bianca Nobilo.

BIANCA NOBILO, CNN ANCHOR: Hello, and a very warm welcome to our viewers in the United States and all around the world. I'm Bianca Nobilo. Max has the day off today.

It's February the 9th, Friday, 9 a.m. here in London, 4 a.m. in Washington, where concerns about whether the U.S. president is too old for office are getting new life from an unexpected source, a searing report on Joe Biden's mishandling of classified documents.

The special counsel did not recommend criminal charges, which is a win, of course, for the president, but the prosecutor said that was partly because a jury could potentially see him as a, quote, well- meaning, elderly man with a poor memory, and that assessment will likely cause some political damage. In a hastily called news conference, President Biden insisted his memory is fine, and angrily pushed back on part of the report that said he had trouble remembering when his son, Beau, had died.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) BIDEN: In addition, I know there's some attention paid to some language in the report about my recollection of events. There's even reference that I don't remember when my son died. 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.


NOBILO: When CNN's MJ Lee pointed out that many voters also have concerns about his age and his mental acuity, President Biden became visibly annoyed.


MJ LEE, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Mr. President, for months when you were asked about your age, you would respond with the words, watch me. Many American people have been watching, and they have expressed concerns about your age.

BIDEN: That is your judgment. That is your judgment. That is not the judgment of the press.

LEE: They express concerns about your mental acuity. They say that you are too old. Mr. President, in December, you told me that you believe there are many other Democrats who could defeat Donald Trump. So why does it have to be you now? What is your answer to that question?

BIDEN: Because I'm the most qualified person in this country to be President of the United States and finish the job I started.


NOBILO: Towards the end of the news conference, Mr. Biden was asked about the war in Gaza and misspoke, confusing the presidents of Egypt and Mexico.


BIDEN: The president of Mexico, Sisi, did not want to open up the gate to allow humanitarian material to get in. I talked to him. I convinced him to open the gate.


NOBILO: CNN's senior justice correspondent, Evan Perez, has more on the report and the president's response.


EVAN PEREZ, CNN SENIOR JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Special counsel Robert Hur released a 345-page report detailing evidence that President Joe Biden willfully retained and disclosed classified information, but he also found that there wasn't enough evidence to bring criminal charges against the president.

The 15-month-long investigation found that Biden knew about classified documents in his home as far back as 2017, when he was a private citizen and no longer vice president. And Robert Hur found that he shared some of that information with a ghostwriter for his memoir that was published that year.

The report says, quote: These materials included marked classified documents about military and foreign policy in Afghanistan and notebooks container Mr. Biden's hand written entries about issues of national security and foreign policy implicating sensitive intelligence sources and methods.

President Biden responded to the report, noting that he cooperated with the investigation.

BIDEN: Special counsel acknowledged I cooperated completely. I went forward with a five-hour in-person interview over the two days of October 8th and 9th last year, even though Israel had just been attacked.


But I was especially pleased to see the special counsel make clear the stark differences between this case and Donald Trump.

The special counsel in my case decided against moving forward with any charges. And this matter is now closed.

PEREZ: We've long expected no criminal charges from this investigation, but the report poses major political problems for the president's reelection campaign. The Hur report points out a number of reasons to not recommend charges against the president.

Among those is that Joe Biden believed he was entitled to keep these notes with classified information and that if prosecutors tried to bring charges, Biden would be able to present himself to a jury as, quote, a sympathetic, well-meaning elderly man with a poor memory.

The report notes that in an interview last October with investigators, the president couldn't remember key things, such as when his vice presidency ended and when his son Beau died. The special counsel noted key differences between how President Biden dealt with this investigation and how Donald Trump handled the investigation of classified documents that were found at his Florida home.

Biden cooperated with investigators, and he invited the FBI to come and search his homes and office. Trump not only refused to comply with a subpoena to return documents, but he also allegedly obstructed the investigation by trying to hide documents from the FBI and telling witnesses to lie.

Evan Perez, CNN, Washington.


NOBILO: Meantime, the former U.S. president appears poised for a big win at the U.S. Supreme Court. The official ruling is likely weeks away, but based on their questioning, the justices seem inclined to overturn the Colorado Supreme Court's decision to disqualify Trump from running for office due to his role in the insurrection, despite spending very little time analyzing Trump's actions on January 6th. CNN's Paula Reid explains.


PAULA REID, CNN CHIEF LEGAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): In one of the most anticipated Supreme Court cases of the year, the justices signaling they will side with Donald Trump on the question of whether he's eligible for the 2024 ballot.

The former president did not attend Thursday's arguments. Most justices didn't address his role in the January 6th insurrection, instead focusing on legal arguments around the 14th Amendment.

Trump's lawyer, Jonathan Mitchell, an experienced Supreme Court advocate, argued Trump isn't covered by the so-called insurrectionist ban.

JONATHAN MITCHELL, TRUMP'S LAWYER: A ruling from this court that affirms the decision below would not only violate term limits, but take away the votes of potentially tens of millions of Americans.

REID (voice-over): And argued January 6th was not even an insurrection. Only one justice asked about whether it was.

JUSTICE KETANJI BROWN JACKSON, U.S. SUPREME COURT: So the point is that a chaotic effort to overthrow the government is not an insurrection?

MITCHELL: This was a riot. It was not an insurrection.

REID (voice-over): Jason Murray argued for Colorado voters who won their case at the lower court.

JASON MURRAY, LAWYER FOR COLORADO VOTERS: By engaging in insurrection against the Constitution, President Trump disqualified himself from public office. States have the power to ensure that their citizens' electoral votes are not wasted on a candidate who is constitutionally barred from holding office.

REID (voice-over): But the justices appeared much more skeptical. In an ominous sign, the chief justice said Murray's arguments were at war with history.

CHIEF JUSTICE JOHN ROBERTS, U.S. SUPREME COURT: That seems to be a position that is at war with the whole thrust of the 14th Amendment and very ahistorical. The whole point of the 14th Amendment was to restrict state power.

REID (voice-over): And question the consequences of a ruling in favor of Colorado and other states then following suit.

ROBERTS: It'll come down to just a handful of states that are going to decide the presidential election. That's a pretty daunting consequence. REID (voice-over): Even liberal Justice Elena Kagan asked this.

JUSTICE ELENA KAGAN, U.S. SUPREME COURT: I think that the question that you have to confront is why a single state should decide who gets to be president of the United States.

REID (voice-over): It was Murray's first time arguing before the high court, and he engaged in several contentious exchanges with the justices and even got a scolding from Justice Gorsuch, who he once clerked for.

JUSTICE NEIL GORSUCH, U.S. SUPREME COURT: No, no, no we're talking about Section 3. Please don't change the hypothetical.

REID (voice-over): And even though the arguments seemed to go well for Trump, he still wanted the last word, addressing reporters outside Mar-a-Lago.

DONALD TRUMP, FORMER U.S. PRESIDENT, 2024 PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Can you take the person that's leading everywhere and say, hey, we're not going to let you run? You know, I think that's pretty tough to do, but I'm leaving it up to the Supreme Court.

REID: It's unclear when the justices will issue their opinion. They may want to provide voters with some confidence ahead of Super Tuesday on March 5. They'll know whoever they vote for will be on the ballot in the general election.


But really, it's probably going to take as long as it takes Chief Justice John Roberts to build consensus, to come up with a compromise that can garner bipartisan support. This is a court that is under scrutiny for ethics and partisanship, so this is as much a test for the chief justice as it is for Donald Trump.

Paula Reid, CNN, Washington.


NOBILO: Trump, meanwhile, is also another step closer to securing the Republican nomination.

CNN is projecting he will win the Nevada caucuses, taking all 26 delegates. Little-known Texas pastor Ryan Binkley was his only opponent. The vote was organized by the pro-Trump Nevada Republican Party, and Nikki Haley refused to take part.

Trump told supporters in Las Vegas he's expecting the Supreme Court to rule in his favor in the Colorado ballot ban case.


TRUMP: I think they had a very, very interesting day and a very beautiful day, perhaps. I think it was really a very beautiful sight to watch, and it's the way it's supposed to be. And hopefully the decision will be a very important decision, but there's never been anything like it in the polls. We're leading everybody. We are right now -- is there any way we can call the election for next Tuesday? That's all I want.


NOBILO: More now on Trump's win in Nevada from CNN's Alayna Treene.


ALAYNA TREENE, CNN REPORTER: Former President Donald Trump declared victory in Las Vegas on Thursday, shortly after it was announced that he had won the state's Republican caucuses.

And that didn't come as a surprise to his campaign at all. They had gone into the state's caucuses in a very strong position. He was really the only player in Nevada, and that's because Nikki Haley, his one remaining rival, was not on the ballot. She instead participated in the state's primary earlier in the week, but still a great opportunity for Donald Trump to tout his victory and also try to use some of his more general election rhetoric.

Now, his win in Nevada really capped off a great day for the former president. One, his campaign advisers argued is his best day of the year so far.

We saw earlier on Thursday the Supreme Court make arguments that seemed that they were likely to side with Donald Trump's lawyers in the case regarding whether he is allowed to remain on Colorado's presidential ballot.

It also comes after special counsel Robert Hur released a report on President Joe Biden saying that he had willfully retained classified documents and mishandled those documents.

Donald Trump notably did not bring up that report during his remarks on Thursday, but something that he had really talked about all day leading up to his appearance in Nevada. And then, of course, the big win on Thursday, both in Nevada but also winning the Virgin Islands Caucuses as well.

Now, he really did use his remarks on Thursday to pivot to more of a general election strategy, and as part of that, he talked about winning in November. He said that if they can win this state, if they can win Nevada, they can easily win the general election. Take a listen to what he said.

TRUMP: If we win this state, we easily win the election in November. We have to win the election.

Is there any way we can call the election for next Tuesday? That's all I want.

TREENE: Now, I just want to point out one thing there, is that Donald Trump did not win Nevada in 2016 or in 2020, but his campaign is confident that it could be better for him this year in a potential general election. And also, as you heard, he also mocked Nikki Haley for not performing well in the primary earlier this week where it was declared that she had lost to none of these candidates.

Alayna Treene, CNN, Las Vegas.


NOBILO: Next up on the political calendar, Trump and Haley will go head-to-head in the South Carolina Republican primary on February 24th. Haley was the state's governor for six years, but recent polling has Trump ahead by 26 points.

Just ahead, Tucker Carlson goes one-on-one with Russia's Vladimir Putin. What did they discuss? We'll get into that in just a moment.

Plus, a major shake-up in Ukraine's war effort as the country's president fires his top military commander.

Also ahead, President Joe Biden offers one of his sharpest public criticisms of Israel's military campaign in Gaza. His comments and much more right after this quick break.



NOBILO: The interview of Russian President Vladimir Putin conducted by right-wing media personality, Tucker Carlson, is out.

During the one-on-one, the two discussed, among other things, Russia's detainment of American journalist, Evan Gershkovich. The Wall Street Journal reporter was arrested almost a year ago and charged with espionage. A Russian court continues to extend his pretrial detention, but Putin says a deal could be made for the reporter's release.


VLADIMIR PUTIN, RUSSIAN PRESIDENT (through translator): We are willing to solve it. But there are certain terms being discussed via special services channels. I believe an agreement can be reached.


NOBILO: CNN's Melissa Bell joins us now live from Paris. Melissa, you and I have been covering this war, you two, obviously, a much more direct and greater extent now for over two years. And what struck me is Tucker Carlson seemed fundamentally unprepared and lacking an understanding of the history of this conflict in part.

But nevertheless, this interview has already received over 64 million views on social media. What impact is it having?

MELISSA BELL, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, if you want to consider whose interest it serves, you need only look, Bianca, I think, at the way it's been amplified by Russian state propaganda outlets ever since it was released on Tucker Carlson's Twitter feed. This was an interview remarkably lacking in any tough questions, remarkably lacking in any pushback at all.

For instance, when Vladimir Putin claimed that it was unelected officials that ran the United States, this was repeated by Tucker Carlson for clarity but never pushed back upon.


Of all the millions of questions that Vladimir Putin might have been asked from the issue of war crimes being committed in Ukraine, children being detained and deported, the internal repression of political opponents and independent journalists, all of that was left aside and essentially a very free ride given to Vladimir Putin in a two-hour interview that served very little else other than the Russian leader's interests in this just over a month before the election. Have a listen, for instance, Bianca, to one of the exchanges on domestic American politics.


TUCKER CARLSON, FAR-RIGHT PERSONALITY: When was the last time you spoke to Joe Biden?

PUTIN (through translator): I cannot remember when I talked to him. I do not remember. We can look it up.

CARLSON: You don't remember?

PUTIN (through translator): No. Why? Do I have to remember everything? I have my own things to do. We have domestic political affairs.

CARLSON: Well, he's funding the war that you're fighting, so I would think that would be memorable.

PUTIN (through translator): Well, yes, he funds, but I talked to him before the special military operation, of course, and I said to him then, by the way, I will not go into details, I never do, but I said to him then, I believe that you are making a huge mistake of historic proportions by supporting everything that is happening there, in Ukraine, by pushing Russia away.


BELL: In fact, the interview began with a question about Vladimir Putin's justification for invading Ukraine, and he had about half an hour's free reign to go over some of the historical inaccuracies, traditional grievances that he's aired over and over again about how he justified crossing the border nearly two years ago now.

But perhaps the only real headline, as you suggested a moment ago, Bianca, is the fate of Evan Gershkovich. The fact that some deal might be struck, I think, a glint of hope -- a glimpse of hope, for his family and friends at least, Bianca.

NOBILO: Well, that would be a tremendous outcome if this gets us any closer to that. Melissa Bell in Paris, thank you so much for joining us and analyzing that interview for us.

A new commander is taking charge of Ukraine's war effort after President Volodymyr Zelenskyy sacked his top general. Valeriy Zaluzhnyi was fired on Thursday in the biggest military shake-up since the start of Russia's invasion.

The general is extremely popular in Ukraine, but he disagreed with Mr. Zelensky over mobilization plans and other issues. He's been replaced by General Oleksandr Syrskyi, who's been in charge of Ukraine's land forces up until this point. Some frontline troops tell CNN they're not thrilled by this decision.

Dozens of Ukrainian troops who fought in the brutal battle for the city of Mariupol are finally going home. Moscow says Ukraine and Russia conducted a prisoner swap on Thursday, exchanging about 100 troops from each side. Kyiv says most of its returning troops held out at the besieged Azovstal steel plant for weeks before surrendering in May 2022. President Zelenskyy says Ukraine is working to get every captured soldier back home.

Two hospitals in Gaza have reportedly come under attack by Israeli forces. A journalist at al-Shifa Hospital in Gaza City says an Israeli airstrike hit a room at the hospital and killed at least five people.

To the south, doctors at the main medical complex in Khan Younis say one of their colleagues was seriously wounded by Israeli sniper fire while in the operating room.

The IDF says it does not target medical facilities, but will attack Hamas fighters wherever they are.

Meanwhile, Lebanese state media is reporting that at least three people were killed Thursday in an Israeli drone strike on a car in southern Lebanon.

The Israel Defence Forces tell CNN it was targeting a Hezbollah commander believed to be involved in a number of rocket launches on northern Israel earlier on in the day. Hezbollah has not said whether one of its commanders was killed in that Israeli strike. However, the militant group announced late Thursday that it had conducted more rocket launches on an Israeli air base in response.

And while all that is happening, U.S. President Joe Biden on Thursday gave his sharpest public rebuke to date of Israel's military conduct in Gaza. So for more on that, let's chat with Elliott. Elliott, what did the president say and how much of a shift does this mark in the tone from America?

ELLIOTT GOTKINE, JOURNALIST: So it marks a slightly more aggressive tone, let's say, towards Israel, which the United States has been supporting in its war against Hamas since the Hamas terrorist attacks of October 7th.

And I suppose President Biden is facing pressure on a number of different fronts, certainly from within his own Democratic Party. There are elements within that that want the U.S. to be less supportive of Israel, for example, by cutting off the supply of weapons. He's also been hemorrhaging support among Arab American voters and younger voters as a result of the support for Israel in this war with Hamas.


And at the same time, he's frustrated with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Israel's bulk of the support for Israel in this war with Hamas. And at the same time, he's frustrated with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Israel's conduct in the war and for not always paying attention to the demands of the U.S., for example, to get even more humanitarian aid to go into the Gaza Strip.

And so in this news conference yesterday, President Biden did seemingly harden his rhetoric towards Israel with his comments.


BIDEN: I'm of the view, as you know, that the conduct of the response in the Gaza Strip has been over the top.


GOTKINE: And it seems to be a new catchphrase for Biden. You may recall that he used that exact same phrase, over the top, to describe some of Hamas's demands in the ongoing negotiations for a hostage deal with Israel.

But I think the U.S. is genuinely concerned as well about not just what's been going on in the Gaza Strip, but what is to come, with Israel saying it's setting its sights on Rafah, whose population has ballooned some fourfold. And it's not just the U.S. that's concerned. Egypt is also concerned.

It's just the other side of the border there. It is concerned that a big ground operation by Israel could in some way lead to hundreds, maybe thousands, of Palestinians streaming over the border onto its territory, something that it doesn't want either.

So a lot of concerns, and I think these comments from Biden, express the frustration and also the pressure that he's under from many different sides.

NOBILO: Elliott, thank you.

Iraq will hold a second round of talks with the U.S. on Sunday about the future of America's military presence in the country. Iraqi officials say the talks will focus on next steps for the anti-ISIS coalition led by the United States.

The statement comes amid growing calls for the departure of some 2,500 U.S. forces who remain in Iraq in advisory capacity. Those calls are getting louder after a U.S. drone strike Wednesday killed the commander of a pro-Iranian militia in Baghdad. Iraq's military slammed the strike as a, quote, blatant assassination and said the coalition is threatening to pull Iraq into a cycle of conflict. The wave of violence in Haiti continues to escalate. Five agents of a paramilitary group were killed in a shootout with police on Wednesday. The group opposes the government of acting Haitian Prime Minister Ariel Henry and wants him to step down.

This comes as Henry addressed the country, saying elections wouldn't be held until the security situation improved. The country has been plagued by violence. In the last quarter of 2023, more than 2,300 people were killed, injured or kidnapped.

Henry took office shortly after the assassination of the country's last president, Jovenel Moise, in 2021.

Ahead, no charges for President Biden over his mishandling of classified documents, but a new report has definitely hit a nerve and could become, if it hasn't already, a political liability.

And a bill with military aid for Ukraine and Israel has a new lease on life in the Senate, but it still faces an uphill battle, even though it cleared one hurdle in the chamber. That's when we come back.