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Biden Blasts Special Counsel for Questioning His Memory; Justices Signal They May Side With Trump in Colorado Dispute; Candidate to Replace Santos Clash in Debate. Aired 7-7:30a ET

Aired February 09, 2024 - 07:00   ET


COY WIRE, CNN SPORTS CORRESPONDENT: In the Super Bowl, so Swifties can boost ratings was the NFL's plan all along, ha, ha.


And now, some are questioning where Taylor will sit during the game as Travis Kelce's mom, Donna, told us she's sitting in his stands because suites are too expensive. They range from about $35,000 to $90,000 per ticket.

The NFL says they won't comment on any individual situation, but what we do know most other games Taylor's been seen in a suite with Patrick Mahomes' wife, Brittany. His salary alone this year alone is about $56 million, so probably could afford a suite, make of that what you will.

POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: It's going to be amazing, Coy, thank you. Have so much fun out there this weekend. We'll see you Monday morning.

And CNN This Morning continues now.


REPORTER: They have expressed concerns about you age.

JOE BIDEN, U.S. PRESIDENT: That is your judgment. That is your judgment.

ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: President Biden hailing the special counsel for saying he will not charge him with mishandling classified documents and tearing into him for language in his report about his age and mental sharpness.

BIDEN: The president of Mexico, Sisi.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The most damaging things that can happen in politics are things that reinforce a meme that's out there that is hurting you.

ANA NAVAROO, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: That was a major gaffe at a moment when he's pushing back on, I'm good.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The historic Supreme Court arguments about whether Donald Trump should stay on Colorado's ballot. KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN ANCHOR: Signaling that it is unlikely to allow the state of Colorado to kick him off work.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Questions about whether the states have a role to play here. There was some sense this provision of the 14th Amendment should be different.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The chief Justice is under enormous pressure to build consensus across party lines.

DONALD TRUMP, FORMER U.S. PRESIDENT: I hope that democracy in this country will continue.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I hope the justices stay through his lies.


PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN ANCHOR: Well, good morning, everyone. It is the top of the hour. It is also Friday, finally. I'm Phil Mattingly with Poppy Harlow in New York.

And we are watching one key thing in 2024. Donald Trump was just handed a huge political gift as President Biden is now facing down new questions about his age and mental fitness. The special counsel exonerating Biden for his handling of classified documents discovered in his Delaware home and office, but the report includes several eye- popping details.

The special counsel claims Biden couldn't remember what years he was vice president or when his son, Beau, died. And it describes the president as a sympathetic and elderly man with a poor memory who would be impossible to convict.

HARLOW: So, Biden fired back in an emotional and a very hastily called news conference at the White House last night. His attempt at political damage control may have backfired, especially in the moment when he confused Egypt with Mexico.

And meanwhile, Trump just had his best day of the year. He's on a glide path to the Republican presidential nomination after scoring another victory in Nevada. And it is looking like the Supreme Court may very well take his side in this battle over Colorado, throwing him off the ballot.

Let's start with M.J. Lee live at the White House. M.J., good morning. You're there at the press conference. You asked probably the most important questions of the president. What's your sense of things this morning?

M.J. LEE, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, you know, Poppy, there was never any question among White House advisers here that whenever this report came out, it would be used as political ammunition. And the president himself, in this last-minute press conference, making clear that he believes this investigation was politically motivated and fueled by politics and that he vehemently rejects some of the most scathing allegations in this report. (BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

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

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

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

LEE: 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, Sisi, did not want to open up the gate to allow humanitarian material to get in.

LEE: 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.


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 expressed concerns about your mental acuity. They say that you were 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.

LEE: One line of questioning in particular from Special Counsel Hur deeply angering the president

BIDEN: 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, 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 when he passed away.


LEE (on camera): And one White House official I spoke with last night said that these references in the report to these memory lapses were way out of line. And they said that when Robert Hur interviewed President Biden back in October, remember this was the same weekend that the Israel war broke out, that Hur said to the president, look, I'm going to be asking a lot of questions from a long time ago. Try to recall some of these things to the best of your ability, that he even thanked the president for doing the interview in the middle of an international crisis.

The official did acknowledge that that weekend when this war was breaking out, the president was understandably distracted, but that that did not signal any kind of broader issues about memory or recall. Guys?

HARLOW: M.J. Lee, thank you, from the White House this morning.

MATTINGLY: Let's bring in Republican Strategist Doug Heye, former associate counsel to President George W. Bush, Jamil Jaffer, and CNN Political Commentator Kate Bedingfield, who used to be a very senior adviser and deputy campaign manager at the Biden campaign and the Biden White House.

Kate, I want to start with you on this because I'm less interested in the strategy or what they were trying to do here and more interested in, you know, the president better than pretty much anybody we have on air on a regular basis.

When you watched last night, what came to mind in terms of where his head was at, but also what he wanted to convey?

KATE BEDINGFIELD, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Yes. Well, look, he was angry about, he was incredibly angry about Beau, you know, that he felt that was incredibly out of line. You could see, and I could see, watching him, the emotion and the anger that he felt in having that incredibly personal moment in his life sort of question in some way that felt political and frankly incredibly cheap.

So, you know, it was clear to me watching him last night that that really upset him. And I thought it was actually a good thing for him to go out and set the record straight on that. I mean, I thought the kind of the two things that worked last night were, one, his very honest and raw and emotional response to the Beau piece of this, and, two, you know, I thought he showed some feistiness. And, ultimately, I think showing a little feistiness and scrapping a little bit, it does combat the age perception.

I mean, when he's kind of going back and forth and speaking from the heart and showing fire, that's one thing that he can do to combat the notion that he's too old for the job.

So, you know, I thought those were two things that worked in what he was doing last night, and I think what he was trying to convey, trying to push back on some of the substance, but also just, you know, show overall put in context that some of these swipes were out of line, that they were potentially politically motivated and show that fire in the belly, and I do think he did that.

HARLOW: Jamil, to you, Robert Hur, in this special counsel, who led this investigation, the report found and said in it, the reason we're not going to criminally charge Biden is because there was no willful intent, no criminal intent, not to mention a major difference people need to remember this morning as they hear some like Trump saying two- tiered system of justice. Trump did not go sit down with the special counsel in his case in Mar-a-Lago documents. Biden did in the middle of an international crisis. What are your thoughts this morning on this?

JAMIL JAFFER, FORMER ASSOCIATE COUNSEL TO PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH: That's exactly right. There's a very different set of circumstances that took place with Donald Trump and his removal of classified documents down at Mar-a-Lago, and the way he retained them and the like.

That being said, it is important to note that Rob Hur indicated that President Biden knew that he had taken those documents, knew that he kept them and knew that he was disclosing them to at least one person in the course of his post-vice presidency time.

So, that's obviously very damaging when you add on to the fact the questions that Rob Hur raises about President Biden's current capability to describe the situation to remember events and then, unfortunately, to president performed just last night, mixing up the presidents of Mexico and Egypt.


I mean, this is a real challenge for the president. It's going to cause him difficulties in the upcoming election, and that's going to be a challenge for him going forward, without a doubt.

HARLOW: Trump called Orban the president of Turkey last night also.

MATTINGLY: 2024 is awesome. Doug Heye, it was fascinating kind of texting back and forth with people last night and then watching the response, obviously, on social media. What was your -- when you saw it as a political hand, as a message guy, what kind of came to mind for you?

DOUG HEYE, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: Look, I was reminded of a night in August of 1994 when I was a few miles away from here at Merriweather Post Pavilion seeing Frank Sinatra towards the end of his career.

MATTINGLY: Of course, you were.

HEYE: One moment, Come Fly With Me was awesome and Sinatra was jabbing in the air and it was great. 10, 15 minutes later, he struggled to remember the words to My Way. And that's what the audience took away from that night. That's what The Washington Post reviewed of the concert that night.

So, when Joe Biden was feisty and pushing back when he's talking about his son, Beau, look that comes from a place of passion for Joe Biden but ultimately he says, I remember well the rosary from Our Lady Of and his voice trailed away and he stopped and he just stood there sort of motionless for a few seconds. That's what voters take away from this.

And, look, you know, he messes up people's names, Donald Trump messes up people's name. These are both people within cognitive decline. It's very clear. It's why poll after poll says we don't want this match up. We don't want to see a rematch of this. We have Donald Trump is the resistable force, Joe Biden the movable object and voters are really dissatisfied that this may be their choice come November.

HARLOW: Kate, it is the voters in terms of the polling, like NBC's latest poll, 76 percent of folks said it's a major concern, the president's mental and physical health. If you were in there, in the room still, in the Biden White House, what would you suggest you do over the coming months to change that perception?

BEDINGFIELD: Get him out there more, not less. I think the more he's out interacting with people, the more people see him in his element, talking to people about what's going on in their lives, expressing empathy, when people see him out and about, it takes the focus off of any one given slip of the tongue.

I mean, look, Doug's right. We're all going to mess up names. We're all going to misremember dates. Obviously, as you said, Poppy, Trump literally just did this last night with Viktor Orban. So, I don't think that a slip of the tongue, as late as last night, the president was explaining in great detail what he's doing to try to ease the humanitarian crisis in Gaza is, in and of itself, something that voters are going to look at and say, oh, well, he screwed up Sisi's name, so he's too old to be president.

But he has to be out there. He has to be talking to people, making the case for his presidency for the second term, taking it to Trump, which he's very effective at doing, and also puts that fire on display, which pushes back on the notion of age.

So, the short answer is get him out there more, not less.

MATTINGLY: Jamil, can I ask you from a legal perspective, or at least how a special counsel is supposed to work? The fury that you heard behind the scenes from White House officials last night was that there was no reason to put the kind of, in their view, editorialized commentary about the president's state in the interviews in this report. Are they off on that, or is that a fair criticism?

JAFFER: I think that's exactly wrong. And the reason why is the reason that Robert decided not to pursue the prosecution, was not that the president didn't commit a crime. What Robert says is he will fully retained classified documents that he shouldn't have and knowingly did that.

The challenge is he says, look, he can convince a jury that he was a sort of old man who didn't really remember what was going on, and he had to explain that theory of the case, why he didn't bring charges. So, laying that out was not a political effort.

Robert is a longtime prosecutor. He's a serious guy. I think there's nobody who can really claim that he's a politically motivated actor, right? What in fact he's doing is saying, look, here's the reasons why I chose not to prosecute the president. They are good reasons. They're not about his decision to retain the documents, which was illegal, because he convinced a jury that maybe he forgot about them, forgot they were there and the like, and he had to lay out the case for why. That's why he laid it out, not for any political reasons and certainly not to help Donald Trump.

HARLOW: Jamil, Doug, Kate, thank you guys very much. Yes. Yes.

BEDINGFIELD: I can tell you one thing.


BEDINGFIELD: He says repeatedly there's a shortage of evidence. So, I would just -- there's important context there. Throughout the report, he repeatedly says he didn't charge Joe Biden because there was a shortage of evidence. So, it's just important to have that context when you're talking about why he ultimately came to this decision.

HARLOW: Hey, it's the weekend, got time to read 300 pages. People can read it all for themselves. But, seriously, you should read it. Thank you.

Supreme Court signaling it appears to be on Donald Trump's side in the Colorado dispute. We're going to speak with the head of the group trying to keep Trump off the presidential ballot in that state, ahead.


MATTINGLY: And in the race to replace George Santos in the House, it is heating up just days before voters hit the polls highlights from the candidates first, the candidates only, debate, that's just ahead.


HARLOW: The blockbuster challenge to keep Donald Trump off Colorado's presidential ballot, well, Supreme Court justices did seem pretty skeptical of it during oral argument yesterday, during more than two hours before the Supreme Court, several justices, including some of the more liberal justices, posed pretty tough questions to the lawyers opposed to Trump. Listen.


JUSTICE SAMUEL ALITO, U.S. SUPREME COURT: We've been told that if what Colorado did here is sustained, other states are going to retaliate, and they're going to potentially exclude another candidate from the ballot. What about that situation?

JUSTICE KETANJI BROWN JACKSON, U.S. SUPREME COURT: They were listing people that were barred, and president is not there.

JUSTICE BRETT KAVANAUGH, U.S. SUPREME COURT: Your position has the effect of disenfranchising voters a significant degree.


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


HARLOW: So, let's bring in Noah Bookbinder, President of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington. That is the group representing the voters challenging Trump in this case. Noah, I'm so glad you're here this morning.

Just what Kagan said there, just to start off with, you know, why should a single state decide who will be president of the United States? After you -- you were in the room, you were at the court yesterday, when you left, did you think your side would prevail?

NOAH BOOKBINDER, PRESIDENT, CITIZENSHIP FOR RESPONSIBILITY AND ETHICS IN WASHINGTON: Well, look, we knew from the very beginning that this was going to be a tough climb. I mean, this is an extraordinary thing that we are asking courts to do. It's an extraordinary thing because we've never been in this situation before where we had a former president of the United States engaged in insurrection.

And so, of course, there are going to be a lot of tough questions. There have been tough questions at every stage in this case left thinking that these justices, as we expect that they would, are taking this very, very seriously, are digging hard into the issues here.

We very much expect that, as they continue to look into it, that they will continue to take it seriously. We believe very strongly that the law is on our side, facts are on our side, and we'll see where it goes.

HARLOW: Right. But that's a very different thing than just the question that I asked, which is, when you left, you felt it. You were there. You heard the whole thing. Did you leave thinking it's more likely than not that you prevail? BOOKBINDER: Not really. You know, I wasn't really thinking about predicting outcomes. I think that, you know, obviously, we faced a lot of tough questions. We expected to face a lot of tough questions. But, you know, we think that the answers were very effective.

We think the judges are going to think hard about those answers. They're going to look hard at not just our briefs, but the amicus briefs from experts across a whole lot of different fields across the political spectrum saying, you know, this is a provision that clearly applies. It clearly applies to presidents, and it clearly can be effectuated by states. We know that's an issue that the court expressed some real concerns and questions about. We think the law is ultimately on our side.

HARLOW: I just want to take through a couple of the key arguments as I was listening yesterday, just starting with Justice Alito, concern that if Trump is removed from the ballot, it might encourage political retaliation and abuse of the 14th Amendment in the future, right? The court may be deciding a case about Colorado, but this is precedent for the country.

BOOKBINDER: That's right. Well, I mean, this question about, you know, if you find that Donald Trump engaged in insurrection, won't we have attempts to remove other people for having engaged in insurrection all over the country?

Ultimately, I don't think we find that to be a particularly persuasive concern. We have gone for 150-plus years without any interactions in this country, without any attempts to remove anybody for insurrection, because there haven't been any.

And this question of, you know, well, that people could now say that all kinds of things are interactions, that's why we have courts. We have sought to say in this litigation that the standard for what constitutes an interaction and what constitutes engaging an insurrection is appropriately high.

And if somebody brings a frivolous case against somebody else saying they also engaged in insurrection, that's why you have hearings like that in this case, that's why you have courts that consider evidence. And we're not overly concerned that suddenly everything would be called an insurrection because that's not the way the law works.

HARLOW: Finally, I thought Robert's questioning on the 14th Amendment was really, really interesting. Maybe it didn't get all the headlines, but the fact that he said the whole point of the 14th Amendment was to restrict states' power. So, wouldn't that be the last place you would look for authorization for the states? Do you believe that your counsel, Murray, was able to overcome that?

BOOKBINDER: I mean, I think he did an extraordinary job in really exploring the nuances there. That certainly is a real thing that the justices need to grapple with, that, of course, coming out of the Civil War, thinking about the limits of state power.

But what we're talking about here is our election system, and the Constitution gives control to the states over our election. And so if you're going to challenge somebody's ballot eligibility, it essentially has to be done through the states.

And what I think that Jason Murray was very effective in saying is that we can't have a situation where there is no avenue for effectively challenging whether somebody engaged in insurrection is therefore disqualified.


This is the one we've got, and we've got to use it.

HARLOW: Well, Noah, thanks very much, Noah Bookbinder, for joining us. It was so fascinating, really riveting to listen to. And you got to be there in the court. I'm mildly jealous.

BOOKBINDER: Absolutely.

HARLOW: Yes, thanks very much.

MATTINGLY: Just mildly.

HARLOW: Just mildly.

MATTINGLY: The candidates trying to replace George Santos in Congress, they went head-to-head over the migrant crisis and abortion in their only debate. We're going to have the highlights next.

HARLOW: And ahead, I sat down with Notre Dame basketball legend, Muffet McGraw, about so much, especially that viral moment she made when she said, men rule the world, hear it all, straight ahead.


MUFFET MCGRAW, TWO-TIME NCAA BASKETBALL CHAMPION HEAD COACH: Women need female role models. We need more women leaders. We need to see more women in power.



MATTINGLY: Well, the election to fill George Santos' empty seat in Congress is coming up on Tuesday, very high stakes contest, and the two candidates aiming to replace Santos had their one and only debate last night. Democrat Tom Suozzi and Republican Mazi Pilip clashed on issues like immigration and abortion. The attacks, they got personal at times.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You promised, you never deliver.


When I promise, I deliver. UNIDENTIFIED MALE: How are you going to do it?


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Tell me will you do it. How?

How are you going to pass legislation?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I know how to do it.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: How do you do it? How?