Return to Transcripts main page

CNN This Morning

Biden Blasts Special Counsel for Questioning His Memory; Justices Signal They May Side with Trump in Colorado Dispute. Aired 6- 6:30a ET

Aired February 09, 2024 - 06:00   ET



DWAYNE JOHNSON, PRO WRESTLER/ACTOR: All that goes away. You play the game. So you know at this level, all that stuff goes away. You have to strip it all away. And you have one intention and one focus, and that's just to ball (ph) out and play the game.



COY WIRE, CNN SPORTS: Man, that's one good looking bald dude, isn't it, Kasie?


WIRE: We'll see how this all plays out. Thank you very much. Thank you, Kasie.

HUNT: That was some great television, Coy. I love it. It's a great way to finish out the week. Have a great weekend at the Super Bowl, and don't bet too much money on a -- an on-field proposal between Travis and Chelsea -- Kelce, right. Taylor.

All right. Thanks, Coy.

And thanks to all of you for joining us. I'm Kasie Hunt. Have a wonderful weekend. Don't go anywhere. CNN THIS MORNING starts right now.

POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning, everyone. It's Friday, and we're so glad you're with us. I'm Poppy Harlow with Phil Mattingly in New York.

President Biden defiant after a special counsel report questioned his memory and his mental acuity. The president insisting his mind is fine and that he is still the most qualified person in America to be president. But did that impromptu news conference backfire?

PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN ANCHOR: Also part of that impromptu news conference, the president sharpening his criticism of Israel, calling its military conduct in Gaza over the top. And the Supreme Court appears to be leaning in favor of Donald Trump

and his bid to be remain on the Colorado ballot. Overnight, Trump speaking out on that critical case.

CNN THIS MORNING starts right now.

HARLOW: Well, Donald Trump just had his best day of 2024, as President Biden grapples with new and embarrassing questions about his mental fitness. A special counsel exonerating Biden for his handling of classified documents, but in the report dealing potentially a huge political gift for Trump.

In it, the special counsel claimed Biden couldn't remember what years he was vice president or when his son Beau died.

MATTINGLY: Now, it describes the president as sympathetic, elderly and a man with poor memory who would be impossible to convict.

Biden furious and firing back in an emotional, hastily called press conference at the White House. His attempt at damage control could have backfired when he mixed up Egypt with Mexico.

At the same time, Trump notching another victory in Nevada in his relentless march towards the GOP nomination. It's looking like he might secure a big win in the Supreme Court, as well, in that battle over Colorado throwing him off the ballot.

We start things off with CNN's M.J. Lee, who's live for us at the White House.

M.J., you were inside the room with the president last night. What was your sense of things?

M.J. LEE, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: You know, Phil, there had been this special counsel investigation hanging over the White House for well over a year now. And there's this quiet expectation and this hope that it would come out really sooner rather than later.

Biden advisers always expected that whenever it did come out, that it would be used as political ammunition. And President Biden himself, in this pretty extraordinary press conference, making clear how much and how vehemently he pushes back on so much of this report.


JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: How in the hell dare he raise that?

LEE (voice-over): A fiery President Biden flashing anger and frustration after an explosive investigation into his handling of classified documents was finally made public.

BIDEN: I've seen the headlines, since the report was released, about my willful retention of documents. These assertions are not only misleading, they're just plain wrong. LEE (voice-over): Just hours after special counsel Robert Hur released

the findings of his 15-month investigation, the White House hastily adding presidential remarks from the White House Tuesday night.

Biden taking issue with not only the media's coverage of the report, which concluded no criminal charges would be brought --

BIDEN: I was pleased to see he reached a firm conclusion that no charges should be brought against me in this case.

LEE (voice-over): But also bristling at the many allegations in the report of Biden struggling with memory problems. The special counsel writing that Biden would likely present himself to the jury as a sympathetic, well-meaning elderly man with a poor memory.

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

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: How bad is your memory, and can you continue as president?

BIDEN: My memory is so bad I let you speak.

LEE (voice-over): But in that same setting, Biden mixing up the president of Egypt with a different world leader as he discussed the situation in Gaza.

BIDEN: The president of Mexico [SIC], El-Sisi, did not want to open up the gate to allow humanitarian material to get in.

LEE (voice-over): Critics of the president quickly seizing on the unflattering descriptions of Biden in the report, but the president trying to swat away broader questions about voters' concerns about his age and mental fitness.

LEE: 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.

LEE: The public have concern --

BIDEN: That is not the judgment of the press.


LEE: They expressed concerns about your mental acuity. They say that you are too old.

Mr. President, in December, you told me that you believed 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. LEE (voice-over): One line of questioning in particular from Special

Counsel Hur deeply angering the president.

BIDEN: There's even a 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.

Let me tell you something. I don't need anyone -- I don't need anyone to remind me of when he passed away.


LEE (on camera): And we heard from the president last night and expect to continue hearing from the White House about the distinctions that Robert Hur made between his handling of classified documents and how Donald Trump has handled those issues, including consenting to multiple searches, quickly turning over the documents, sitting down for a multi-hour interview. But when he was asked whether he would have done anything differently, this is what the president said.

He said he takes responsibility "for not having seen exactly what my staff was doing." In other words, he says he wishes that he had overseen all of the transfer of these documents himself -- Phil and Poppy.

HARLOW: M.J. Lee, not only great reporting but such important questions you posed to the president yesterday. Thank you very much for that.

MATTINGLY: And joining us now to discuss all this: CNN political commentator and political anchor for Spectrum News, Errol Louis; former Republican strategist and pollster, Lee Carter; CNN senior political analyst John Avlon; and former federal prosecutor, Jeffrey Toobin.

Errol, let's start with you. What you heard from the president at the end of that piece was real. That was not a manufactured fury. My understanding according to people who were in the room, that behind closed doors at the House Democratic Caucus a few hours prior, he had been more profane and saying the same exact thing. He was mad. Did he help himself or hurt himself at the press conference last night?

ERROL LOUIS, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: It will vary from viewer to viewer. I thought it was good for him to show who he is. This was not handlers. This was not pollsters. This was Joe Biden, you know, sort of letting everybody know kind of where he's coming from and how he feels.

I think that makes him seem more youthful, more engaged, more human, more relatable. There are pollsters who will tell you differently. It will play differently, you know, when you get it looped into a campaign ad.

But I think it can only help to have him do what I think a lot of us all know, which is that, yes, this is somebody we haven't seen before, a president who's up in age. And that means there are going to be verbal flubs. There are going to be questions that are raised.

How he responds needs to be how he wants to respond, not what pollsters think, not what some ad down the road is going to try and portray, but sort of who he is and what he's doing. And I -- I think authenticity wins out over a lot of different problems in his case.

JOHN AVLON, CNN SENOR POLITICAL ANALYST/ANCHOR: I think there's a lot to that. I think in politics and in life the best defense is a good offense. And you get ahead of the story. You don't just let the narrative be.

Now, that's going to create some unforced errors. He is a man of a certain age, and time moves in one direction. And so that's something he's going to have to deal with. But to assuage fears, you're not going to -- you can't hide him. He needs to talk to the American people directly and take questions. And so I think that's the right thing to do, and ultimately the smart thing to do.

HARLOW: As a prosecutor, did Robert Hur and his team cross the line here? The White House case is -- you already explicitly laid out in this report why you're not going to prosecute Biden. It is unnecessary and over the top to list out all these things why you think a jury would be sympathetic to him.

JEFFREY TOOBIN, FORMER FEDERAL PROSECUTOR: Well, part of that report was an outrage, was a disgrace. I mean, the idea that they -- that he would make such a big point of Biden being elderly is not something a prosecutor needed to do. That report didn't have to be 300 pages.

I mean, that report showed that Merrick Garland, again, made the classic Democratic mistake, which is, I know, I'll appoint a Republican, a Republican partisan, to investigate; and that will give us credibility. No, it never works.

James Comey trashed Hillary Clinton in a very similar way when he -- when he said, We're not going to pursue charges. He then trashed her.

What -- what Hur did is exactly the same thing. He exonerated him, but with the other hand, raised these really unnecessary points.

HARLOW: That's what I'm wondering. Unnecessary. You would never need to put that to help justify why you're not going to bring a case.

TOOBIN: The issue in this investigation was criminal intent. That's the difference between the Trump case and the Biden case.

But -- but when Biden's people discovered classified information in the -- one of the offices, they called in the Archives; they cooperated with the FBI; and they told the truth.

Donald Trump lied and obstructed -- at least according to the indictment -- extravagantly, endlessly. That's what a prosecutor should be talking about, not -- not Biden's elderly qualities.

[06:10:16] LEE CARTER, FORMER REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST AND POLLSTER: And I do think that's what's going to be lost in all of this, because at the end of the day, what's happened is there's a narrative that's been reinforced. The narrative out there, eight in ten Americans believe that Joe Biden has mental -- mental fitness issues in running for president, including five in ten Democrats.

And so when you have that kind of a narrative exists, what are people are going to take away from this? They're only going to take away that he's elderly and has -- they have questions about his mental fitness. They're not going to talk about criminal intent.

And then the other challenge that we've got here is that 79 percent of Americans say that there's a two-tiered system of justice. And so without the people coming -- without people coming away saying this is about criminal intent, and saying this is about age, that's going to be reinforced. And it's just going to give more steam to the Trump opposition.

AVLON: So yes, I think -- I think you're right. That's already hearing a talking point for Republicans. It's really important to understand and underscore that there is not a two-tiered system of justice.

That the Justice Department and the special counsel on a sitting president and appointed a Republican in an attempt to appear so unbiased, which it seems to be itself a partisan thing. Democrats appoint Republican special counsels. Republicans appoint Republicans.

It is not true. It is not true that there's a two-tiered system of justice. And that -- so I don't think we want to treat the perception as sacrosanct. We want to address that with facts.

MATTINGLY: Lee, can I ask -- I would note, they're also prosecuting the president's son currently.

The Justice Department in the polling, I think it's important what you point out. Because there is a perception by some inside the administration. It seemed like the president has the same last night -- this is just a -- this is a media mob thing. This is an Acela corridor thing.

You talk to voters, they ask about this.


MATTINGLY: People find out I covered the White House, they ask about this.

CARTER: Right.

MATTINGLY: Given that's the baseline and this just happened, how do you turn that around for them?

CARTER: I -- I wish I had a clear answer. A lot of people are saying that the answer is let's just let him be out there more so that people can make the judgment for themselves. And I think, in some ways, what he did yesterday was really smart. He

needed to get out there. He needed to show his emotion, his vim and vigor. But he couldn't afford to make any mistakes.

And so now what's going to be replayed in everybody's -- in everybody's mind from yesterday? Is it going to be the feisty Joe Biden who said, you know, to Peter Doocy, it's -- you know, I shouldn't be talking to you?

Or is it going to be the mistake that he made confusing Egypt with Mexico?

I fear for him that the answer is going to be that what people are going to take away is the gaffe rather than the vim and the vigor that he displayed. So it's a really tough call, because I think the only way that he counteracts this whole thing is that people see him more, and they've just been seeing him less.

LOUIS: Well, I mean, the whole thing with the gaffe is that it has to confirm what people suspected in a way that is substantive and meaningful. Right? So it's not great that he said Mexico instead of Egypt, but I think we all understood --

TOOBIN: Do you think? You're going out on a limb there, Errol.

LOUIS: Seriously, what substantive harm to foreign policy springs from that? Right?

AVLON: That's a great point. That's a great point.

TOOBIN: Oh, come on. It's a big mistake.

AVLON: I think Errol is making a big point. It's the difference between a slip and a mistake; and mistakes have consequences.

HARLOW: It's not the first.

AVLON: It's not great.

HARLOW: It's not the first.

LOUIS: Gerald Ford going way back --

AVLON: Yes, yes, yes.

LOUIS: -- in a presidential debate saying that Poland is not being influenced by the Soviet Union. That's a problem, because that's a substantive problem.

TOOBIN: And then he actually turned out to be right because that's what Solidarity and Lech Walesa --

AVLON: Come on. Come on, Toobin.

MATTINGLY: Now we're going towards the direction --

TOOBIN: I think we need to talk about Poland in the 1980s. I'm sorry.

MATTINGLY: Actually, that was the second topic on the panel we just got to. We've got a lot more to get to, guys. Stay with us.

Worth noting: Donald Trump said Viktor Orban is the leader of Turkey last night. That is obviously not true, as well.

Also last night, another victory for Donald Trump in a race that was decided before a single vote was even cast. The former Republican president winning Nevada's caucuses last night, effectively running unopposed, to capture the state's 26 delegates. Nikki Haley chose not to be on the ballot.

Haley did appear on Tuesday's primary ballot. She actually lost to the option "none of these candidates."

The U.S. Virgin Islands also held caucuses last night. Trump trouncing Haley there by a three to one margin for the territory's four delegates.

HARLOW: And making it an even better day for the former president, the Supreme Court appears to be leaning Trump's way in his fight to stay on the Colorado ballot. We'll talk about, really, an historic hearing. It was.

MATTINGLY: And former FOX News host Tucker Carlson granted a one-on- one interview with Vladimir Putin. What the Russian leader said about Ukraine and jailed U.S. journalist Evan Gershkovich, next.




DONALD TRUMP (R), FORMER U.S. PRESIDENT, 2024 PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Our Supreme Court, hopefully, will be doing something in terms of helping our country and preserving democracy. We have to preserve our democracy. And 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.


HARLOW: That is Donald Trump speaking in Las Vegas overnight after winning the caucus in Nevada. He is talking about the Supreme Court's oral argument yesterday about whether he should remain or be kicked off the ballot in Colorado.

This case centers on whether Trump's role in the events of the January 6th insurrection disqualify him from running for office again or certainly holding office under the 14th Amendment's insurrectionist ban.

MATTINGLY: Now, the Supreme Court justices appear poised to side with the former president. Even the liberal justices skeptical of Colorado's arguments.


JUSTICE ELENA KAGAN, U.S. SUPREME COURT: This question of whether a former president is disqualified for insurrection to be president again is -- just to say it, it sound awfully national to me.

JUSTICE KETANJI BROWN JACKSON, U.S. SUPREME COURT: The thing that really is troubling to me is I totally understand your argument, but they were listing people that were barred, and president is not there.


MATTINGLY: Our great panel, having solved Poland's history, is back with us now.

Jeff, I want to start with you. There seemed to be a fairly unanimous opinion outside of the court that the arguments did not go well for Colorado, did go well for Trump. Do you believe that's the case, and if so, why?

TOOBIN: A hundred percent I agree with the case. In fact, I have rarely seen a contested case where the political breakdown did not -- was not reflected in the oral argument. This was close to unanimous.


Justice Sotomayor, a little harder to read, but the other eight, every argument that was put out in favor of the -- disqualifying the Trump candidacy, you know, went nowhere.

Was he -- was he covered by Section 3 of the 14th Amendment? Did Colorado have the right to do this? Is the process that they followed correct?

All of those arguments seemed to go in the direction of letting Trump stay on the ballot.

I -- from painful experience, I don't usually like to predict the outcome of Supreme Court cases based on oral argument. I'm going to make an exception and say this was a slam-dunk victory in the offing for the Trump campaign.

AVLON: Look, I -- due respect, I think, obviously, Trump's team did have a better day of it, but I was troubled by some things.

First of all, this is a national issue; it's not a state issue. That's why it's in the Constitution; why it rises to the Supreme Court.

When -- when Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson said there's a question about whether it's covered under the officers of the court, that's a knowable thing if you go back and look at the debate over the ratification, in which case one senator asked another senator in the record, Does this cover the president? And he said, yes, of course it does. That's why it's any office.

So there are some things that are knowable that, you know, should have been and presumably were part of the brief.

I think politically and as a practical matter, the justices were looking for some kind of bipartisanship and probably an off-ramp, because it's too contentious. But they can't just shut the door on what the Constitution says.

HARLOW: No. This was, Errol, the most significant case the Supreme Court weighed in on in terms of the presidency since Bush v. Gore. But in an alternate mode -- It sounds like they're going to decide, we're not going to determine the presidency here.

LOUIS: That's right.

HARLOW: What I found Roberts's questioning on the 14th Amendment and states' rights really, really interesting. And what he wants here is unanimity for the reasons that he has always wanted people to perceive this court as not political. I wonder how important you think that is here for democracy.

LOUIS: It was extremely important. I mean, there should be some clarity around this. In fact, the main thing that the court can give us on this is some clarity.

I -- I thought what they kept come back to about whether or not this is self-executing: do we need an actual law and some procedures to bring this to life? Not to say that this section is null and void or not relevant, but you've got to have a procedure. Like, when and how do you get declared an insurrectionist? When and how do you get a chance to maybe rebut that if you think that you weren't an insurrectionist? They raise some really good and important questions.

Do we -- and then the practical side of it, which is what reminds me of Bush versus Gore, where they really were sort of openly asking, Are we going to let 50 states just determine on their own who can and can't --

HARLOW: Right.

LOUIS: -- appear on a national ballot? And the answer is, of course you can't.

TOOBIN: This case was interesting. It was not as important as the immunity case that is coming down the pike.


TOOBIN: The only -- the only states that were going to throw Trump off the ballot, he wasn't going to win anyway.

HARLOW: Maine.

TOOBIN: Maine, Colorado, perhaps other blue states.

However, the issue in the case that was just decided by the D.C. Circuit is can Donald Trump be tried before the election in the January 6th federal case in Washington? That's the case that could put Donald Trump in jail for years, and that case either will or will not go to trial, based on what the Supreme Court does, perhaps as early as next week, on issuing a stay.

HARLOW: If they take it.

TOOBIN: If they take it. That's -- and that is more important, frankly, in the outcome of this election than whatever they did yesterday.

CARTER: I think it's really significant in this moment, though, that this is happening, because you've got Trump now saying this is a beautiful hearing. This is a beautiful thing that's happening in the Supreme Court.

Now, let's just think for a minute. This is somebody who's said there's a two-tiered system of justice; we can't trust the legal system. And now he's saying, I trust the Supreme Court completely. This is amazing.

Well, 42 percent of Americans don't trust the Supreme Court. I think this is really, really significant, because coming out of this, I think Republicans will take a victory and maybe will start to have some faith in the system. And if they --

TOOBIN: Wait. Do you think if the court rules against Donald Trump he's going to not change his mind and say the court is terrible?

CARTER: Oh, yes, completely. What's -- no, but I think once he -- then we're going to talk about immunity. And then, when he loses that case, then it's going to be terrible again.

But I think what's significant is you can't -- Americans have been hearing about Donald Trump and not from Donald Trump for the last couple of years. He's sort of been underground. We've all been talking about him, and we haven't heard from him directly.

Now we're starting to hear from him directly. And we're going to see these inconsistencies. We're going to hear these inconsistencies. And I think that's going to be really important.

So right now he's saying that it's beautiful when it's in his self- interest. In two weeks he's going to be saying how horrible it is again, and people are going to start to say -- but I think this is really important that we see these kind of variabilities, so that people don't always say, you know what? It's in --


AVLON: And also that when Donald Trump talks about defending -- the importance of defending democracy, know that he's lying. Based on his record.

HARLOW: Stay with us, everyone.

I really want to know if the Supreme Court is going to take the immunity case, Jeff. So we'll know pretty soon.

TOOBIN: We'll know.

MATTINGLY: Also new this morning, indictments after that attack on NYPD officers outside a migrant shelter. New body cam footage shows how authorities tracked down the suspects.

HARLOW: Also tornadoes hitting the Midwest. Wisconsin saw its first ever February twister. More on that ahead.


MATTINGLY: Well, new this morning, prosecutors in New York releasing body cam footage of NYPD officers being attacked last month outside a migrant shelter near Times Square.

The video you're watching right now shows the officers' perspective as police ask a group of men to clear the area. Overhead surveillance video provides a clearer picture.

One of those men resisting arrest. That ultimately led to a scuffle between the man and police. And just seconds later, other suspects joined in. Seven men total have been indicted on assault charges. It's not clear how many of them are migrants.

HARLOW: All right. Really severe weather. Thunderstorms across the upper Midwest dropping at least two reported tornadoes in Illinois. Another one was seen in Wisconsin. It's the first time a February tornado has ever been reported in that state. Watch this.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Then the tornado hit, and everything exploded. So the windows blew out, the down stairs. It was rumbling like a train.


HARLOW: Large hail, high winds also downed trees and damaged multiple homes.