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CNN This Morning

President Biden Holds Press Conference after Special Counsel in Classified Documents Investigation States Biden has Poor Memory; Donald Trump Wins Nevada Caucuses; Supreme Court Seems Likely to Overturn Colorado's Banning Former President Trump from Presidential Ballot; Interview with Rep. Daniel Goldman (D-NY); Biden: Israel's Conduct in Gaza is Over the Top; Officials Confront Limits in Election Threat Drills. Aired 8-8:30a ET

Aired February 09, 2024 - 08:00   ET



MUFFET MCGRAW, TWO-TIME NCAA BASKETBALL CHAMPION HEAD COACH: The work ethic, how to persevere, how to be relentless in going after your goals. And it teaches you about mental toughness. You learn how to fight through adversity. You learn patience waiting for your opportunity. You learn so many great skills that are going to help you in life.


POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: I learned a lot from her. Now I'm going to go home and let my kids fail.

PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN ANCHOR: It's a strategy, and a good one. Best series.

HARLOW: Thank you, friend.

MATTINGLY: CNN THIS MORNING continues right now.


JOE BIDEN, (D) PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: 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? I'm well-meaning and I'm an elderly man, and I know what the hell I'm doing. I'm the president and I put this country back on its feet. And the fact is, they made a firm conclusion -- I did not break the law, period. Thank you all very much.


HARLOW: Good morning, everyone. So glad you're with us on this Friday. I'm Poppy Harlow with Phil Mattingly in New York. What a press conference from the president there. That was President Biden firing back after the special counsel's report ignited new and embarrassing questions about his mental fitness. The special counsel did exonerate Biden for his handling classified documents discovered at his Delaware home and office, but his report contained some eye-popping details.

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

Our own M.J. Lee pressed the president on the concerns surrounding his fitness to reelection. This is that exchange.


M.J. LEE, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: 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.

JOE BIDEN, (D) PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: That is your judgment. That is your judgment. That is not the judgment of the press.

LEE: They expressed concerns about your mental acuity.

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 --

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


MATTINGLY: It was a sharp and fiery press conference, but Biden's attempt at political damage control may have actually backfired when he confused the presidents of Mexico and Egypt during that news conference.

Meanwhile, Trump just had what I think you could saw was probably his best day of 2024. On the glide path to the GOP presidential nomination after scoring another victory, this time in Nevada, and by all accounts it looks like the Supreme Court might take his side in the battle over Colorado throwing him off the ballot.

HARLOW: CNN's M.J. Lee joins us live at the White House. So the president, obviously, wanted to address that and speak last night. He did. You asked such important questions. What is the White House doing now about all of this?

M.J. LEE, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, they're pushing back. You saw the president pretty peeved as he was pushing back on the suggestions that he has memory problems, recall lapses. And the issue, though, is not just that they think some of these details are gratuitous and unflattering. It is that they speak to a broader concern that voters have raised about his mental acuity and about the fact that they simply see him as too old to be president.

The lawyers in this report yesterday that came out said that these references to his memory problems were inappropriate, and we had a White House official saying that they thought these references were simply out of line. And they said that when Robert Hur came to the White House back in October -- remember, this was the same weekend that the Israel war broke out, that he said to the president, look, I'm going to be asking a lot of questions from a long time ago. Just try to do your best to recall some of these things from a long time ago, and he even thanked him for doing this multi-hour interview in the middle of an international crisis. And they said, look, of course the president was understandably distracted given everything that was going on that weekend, but that that doesn't speak to a broader sort of memory problem that this report alleges the president has.

MATTINGLY: M.J., in the president's remarks about the report itself, there's some things he said that didn't actually match with the report. What were they?

LEE: Yes, a couple things from our colleague Daniel Dale that I think are worth highlighting on air. For one, the president said that everything that was discovered in his home were in filing cabinets that were either locked or able to be locked. Well, the report says yes, there were some documents that were inside of cabinet drawers, but there were other documents, including ones related to Afghanistan, found in an unsealed and badly damaged box inside the garage. Some of these photos obviously show the bad shape that some of these things were in. He said that there were notebooks, too, that were unlocked drawers in the office and den of the president's Wilmington home.


Something else that the president said. He said that none of the documents were high classified. But if you look at the report, it specifically says that some of these documents were marked as top secret sensitive compartmented information, which is a high level of classification, and that there were some notebooks that contained information that were also at this level.

Just the last thing I would point out, too The president said in his remarks yesterday that he didn't share any classified information with his ghostwriter. This is the ghost writer who helped him work on his memoir. Well, the report explicitly says the opposite. It says that the president shared information, some of which were classified, with this ghostwriter and read from some notebooks, including notes that came from meetings in the Situation Room.

So clearly, the president was trying to defend himself, but there were some comments that were contradictory to the details that were in this long report. Phil, Poppy?

MATTINGLY: All right, M.J. Lee, very interesting night at the White House last night. Thanks so much.

Score another win on the other side of the aisle for Donald Trump. The former president victorious in Nevada's Republican caucuses last night, effectively running unopposed to capture the state's 26 delegates. Nikki Haley chose not to be on the ballot. The U.S. Virgin Islands also held caucuses last night. Trump dominating Haley by a three to one margin, 250 votes there, locking up the territory's four delegates.

HARLOW: Trump also seems poised for a pretty significant win in the Supreme Court. The justices appeared skeptical of Colorado's bid to keep the former president off the ballot.


JUSTICE BRETT KAVANAUGH, SUPREME COURT: What about the idea we should think about democracy, think about the right of the people to elect candidates of their choice, of letting the people decide?

JUSTICE ELENA KAGAN, SUPREME COURT: Why should a single state have the ability to make this determination not only for their own citizens but for the rest of the nation?


HARLOW: The justices largely avoided talking about the January 6th insurrection. Trump taking a victory lap last night in Nevada, lashing out at President Biden after a special counsel report found that he willfully retained classified documents.

MATTINGLY: Our Kristen Holmes is in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, where Trump is preparing to address the NRA tonight. Kristen, it was unquestionably a big day for the former president, his campaign. What are you hearing from his team about what tonight is going to bring?

KRISTEN HOLMES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Phil and Poppy, arguably, this is the best 24 hours that Donald Trump has had since he announced his third bid for the White House in November of 2022. His team knows that, and they are all feeling very good. Starting with those Supreme Court arguments, Donald Trump watched, as we all did. I'm told that he told his advisers he was pleased and that he believed, as many of our legal experts did, that he was poised for a victory in the Supreme Court, something he talked about at that Nevada rally last night. Take a listen.


DONALD TRUMP, FORMER U.S. PRESIDENT: 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 interesting day, and a very beautiful day, perhaps. I think it was really a beautiful sight to watch.


HOLMES: So shortly after reveling in those arguments, Donald Trump was given nothing short of a political gift with that special report. He seized on the opportunity, doing what Donald Trump does, which is blurring the lines. He said that Jack Smith should drop the case against him, that he, Donald Trump, was more cooperative than President Biden, which we obviously know not to be true. In fact, Trump was so uncooperative that the FBI had to issue a search warrant of his Mar-a-Lago home to return some of those documents. But nonetheless, he still went out there saying it was a two-tiered justice system.

And the end of the day was him winning his big win in Nevada, a place, a state in which the GOP party has largely become the party of Donald Trump. So yes, it was a good day for the former president who is running again for the White House.

Now, the one thing I will point out because I think this is very notable. Donald Trump has spent much of his campaign seizing on the opportunity to call Joe Biden incompetent, to say that he is bumbling. One thing you have not heard from him is mentioning any of the lines about Biden's mental fitness when he's talking about the Robert Hur report. He is leaving that to his allies right now. Unclear if that's going to change, but it is notable given he has campaigned largely on the fact that he is stronger than Joe Biden.

HARLOW: That is interesting. Kristen, thanks very much for the reporting.

MATTINGLY: And joining us now, Democratic congressman from New York, Daniel Goldman. Congressman, I always appreciate your time. I wanted to ask you, behind closed doors at the House Democratic Caucus retreat yesterday, I'm told the president gave a little preview to how frustrated he was, with a little more, maybe less TV friendly profanity to some degree. Are you aware -- did you get some of that information last night before that hastily called press conference?

REP. DAN GOLDMAN, (D-NY): I did not personally get that. I think he met with Leader Jefferies and some of the other leadership members.


But what I did understand from talking to folks at the White House is that part of the problem and part of the frustration with Special Counsel Hur, a Republican appointee, cherry picking very few remarks from a five-hour interview, is that there are other occasions where President Biden demonstrated tremendous recall of very specific conversations from years and years ago that were not included in the report.

And given the very, very flimsy evidence that the special counsel relied on to even say that he willfully retained the classified information, it does appear as if this became a justification for the special counsel's investigation, and that in order to inure himself, a Republican appointee, from criticism by Republicans because he did not charge President Biden, who cooperated fully, whereas Donald Trump was charged, partially because of his extreme obstruction of justice, he wanted to deflect from his ultimate decision. And I think that's why this report is misguided both in its conclusion and its excessive editorializing.

MATTINGLY: I think the rationale that the special counsel's team used for talking about the mental acuity or talking about whether or not he remembered specific things is in the report, it says, "At trial, President Biden would likely present himself to a jury as he did during our interview of him as a sympathetic, well-meaning, elderly man with poor memory." They were trying to back up the statement in their decision, specifically on the notebooks that he believed he shared with the ghostwriter, why they did not believe that they could not win in trial on the issue of willful retention and dissemination. You don't think that backs it up?

GOLDMAN: Yes, but it's unnecessary. No, no, first of all, the evidence that they gathered that he knowingly and willfully retained classified information while he was a private citizen, which is necessary, and the special counsel discusses that, is based on such thin evidence. And when you're talking about notebooks versus actually marked classified documents, that's a significant difference, because President Biden as part of his job took copious notes, some of it must have been on classified information, some unclassified. And he understandably believed his notes were his, and they didn't have classified markings on them. That's a big difference.

And so what you really need to look at is what marked classified documents did he possess that he knew he possessed and maintained. And the notion that his own credibility or recollection would have anything to do with the evidence, which was plainly insufficient, is a fallacy. And not only that, but you're assuming that the defendant in this case would testify at trial. I was a prosecutor for 10 years. I did not consider the defendant's credibility as a witness. I may have considered the defendant's credibility in explaining the evidence and whether or not it would rise to the level of knowing intent.

And so this was extremely gratuitous, unnecessary, and it was just a political potshot in the middle of an election year when the special counsel knows it's two elderly men who are running for president, and this one, who was appointed by Donald Trump, wanted to make sure that he got his licks in.

MATTINGLY: Do you think the president helped himself last night in his response?

GOLDMAN: I do. I think what the president standing out there, really powerfully explaining how absurd it is that there would be accusations that he would not remember when his son died, which was such a critical moment. And it was important, I think, for him to show, as he did in answering the question about the Middle East, how much of a grasp and how experienced and wise he is, especially right now on foreign policy issues.

And I spoke to him on October 7th when I was in Israel a couple hours after the Hamas attack. That was the day before this interview began. And he demonstrated an unbelievable mastery of this entire region. He had already reached out to a number of different leaders. He understood all of the vortexes and all of the issues and tension points. This is someone whose age has a tremendous benefit in his experience and his understanding and his knowledge of foreign policy --

MATTINGLY: Certainly.

GOLDMAN: -- going back many years.

MATTINGLY: And I think that was the message he was trying to get across.

GOLDMAN: And that has been to our benefit in Ukraine -- and that's been to the benefit as he's rallied allies in Europe in Ukraine and dealt with a difficult situation.


MATTINGLY: I understand. What it also created, there was a moment where he conflated or mixed up Mexico with Egypt.

And to be clear, a couple of hours later, Donald Trump thought the leader of Hungary was actually the leader of Turkey. This is just a name flaw, but it is a moment and it's a moment at a time when voters are concerned. And I know the president pushed back on that, people get frustrated about that, but it's just true.

GOLDMAN: Yes, it is also true that Speaker Mike Johnson went on "Meet the Press" and confused Iran and Israel, which is a much more significant mistake than President Sisi as being in Mexico, but I'm not going to sit here saying Mike Johnson has no memory loss or you know that he is ill-equipped to be Speaker of the House because he made an obvious, incidental tangential mistake.

And it's wrong to think that because President Biden made a simple incidental mistake that everyone understood what he was referring to, that that has anything to do with his mental acuity, and especially when you're now trying to compare him to another elderly man who is charged with four indictments.


GOLDMAN: Who doesn't believe that the law applies to him and makes all these mistakes. Nancy Pelosi and Nikki Haley, you know, Donald Trump makes more mistakes on this stuff than Joe Biden does, and for some reason, the media doesn't want to focus on that.

But he is a danger to our country, Donald Trump, whereas Joe Biden has been a tremendous asset to our country as our leader.

MATTINGLY: I want to ask you one more thing on a different topic before I let you go.

Elise Stefanik, she is a member of your New York delegations, Republican conference chair, you two have tangled a little bit, particularly over the issue of January 6, and she had to sit down with my colleague, Kaitlin Collins last night where Kaitlan asked, she's on a shortlist for vice president. I think everybody is aware of that.

Had she been vice president on January 6, 2021, would she have done what Mike Pence did? And she made very clear her answer was no, and I am interested in what you think of that.

GOLDMAN: I think it is unbelievably revealing and incredibly shameful.

She issued a statement on January 6th castigating and chastising those who attacked the Capitol saying they should be prosecuted. She has now erased that statement, and is now going back and saying that she would have overturned a lawful election if she were the vice president.

So you not only have someone at the top of the ticket, who is overtly anti-democratic and wants to be a dictator, but you have someone vying to be his vice president who knows better, frankly, who is also willing to go along and overturn a lawful election. That should scare the American people, because that is anti-democratic, and that is going to lead us down a very, very dangerous road if there is a yes person as vice president who will do whatever Donald Trump wants.

MATTINGLY: New York Congressman Dan Goldman, always appreciate your time. Thanks.

GOLDMAN: Thanks, Phil.

POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: More conversation with him, for sure.

Three words reveal possible rifts that are bigger now. The words mean everything really between the US and Israel, President Biden blasting Israel's military conduct in Gaza calling it last night "over the top." We'll take a live to Tel Aviv to hear how Israeli officials are responding, next.

MATTINGLY: And this just in, one of the five Marines killed in a helicopter crash this week has been identified by his family. Twenty- three-year-old sergeant, Alex Langen was on board the chopper that went down on a flight from Nevada to Southern California.

His family told CNN affiliate KNXV that being a Marine meant everything to Sergeant Langen. They say he just got married a month ago.

The other Marines have not been identified.

We will be right back.



HARLOW: This morning, US support for Israel in its war against Hamas is showing some signs of cracks. Certainly, a big change of rhetoric.

President Biden leveling his sharpest rebuke yet of Israel's military conduct in Gaza. Listen.


JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The conduct of the response in Gaza -- in the Gaza Strip has been over the top.

There are a lot of innocent people who are starving, a lot of innocent people who are in trouble and dying and it has got to stop.

(END VIDEO CLIP) MATTINGLY: CNN's Nic Robertson joins us live from Tel Aviv. Look,

Nic, we talked about earlier in the show, when I heard that last night, I thought that was a major, major moment in a press conference that has gotten a lot of attention.

What are Israeli officials saying about what the president said last night?

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN INTERNATIONAL DIPLOMATIC EDITOR: Well, perhaps because it has gotten a lot of attention, they haven't addressed it directly yet. In fact, they've yet to say anything about it. And they may wait a few days to choose their words, but they will also look back to December just when the major ground operation was beginning in Khan Yunis that by the way, is still going on. That was early mid- December when they got going.

And back then, President Biden called the bombing indiscriminate -- Israel's bombing in Gaza, indiscriminate and at that moment, you kind of felt the same thing. Okay, maybe this will make a difference.

We know Secretary of State Antony Blinken, when he was here was really doubling down to hear from the Israeli generals in charge who are actually prosecuting the war on the ground to know how they're going to protect civilians in Rafah, the UN is worried.

UN officials are saying that there are areas and parts of Gaza that are now close to famine. There are about 300,000 people who already lived in Rafah, there are about a million displaced people living there now as well. It's right on the border with Egypt.

The Egyptian foreign minister is saying any push of ground forces into that area could precipitate a situation where the Gazans are trying to get over the fence into Egypt, that would be a different kind of calamity.

But right now, we don't know if the IDF is going to go in. The prime minister certainly positioning himself and said that just two days ago that the ground forces are ready to go in. But is that part of his negotiation tactic with Hamas or is that for real? Is that really going to happen? And I think the president is taking him at his word at the moment it appears.

MATTINGLY: All right, Nic Robertson with the latest. Thank you.

Well, we'll call it a rant from Russia. Vladimir Putin speaking to former Fox News host, Tucker Carlson for nearly two hours. A full history lesson in his version of it, what Putin revealed about his relationship with President Biden and whether jailed journalist, Evan Gershkovich could be released, and his invasion of Ukraine.


VLADIMIR PUTIN, RUSSIAN PRESIDENT (through translator): You know this probably sounds strange given the current situation. But the relations between the two peoples will be rebuilt anyway.




MATTINGLY: Welcome back now to a CNN exclusive. Biden administration officials running drills to prepare for potential threats to the 2024 election, but they've realized how severely limited a federal response would be to things like rampant disinformation, deepfakes and the harassment of election officials.

It comes in the wake of the recent AI made robocall ahead of the New Hampshire primary that mimics President Biden's voice.


AI GENERATED FAKE AUDIO: Voting this Tuesday only enables the Republicans in their quest to elect Donald Trump again. Your vote makes a difference in November. Not this Tuesday.


HARLOW: One official warns "We are in uncharted territory now."

Our Sean Lyngaas joins us now with exclusive reporting.

Talk about what you've learned in terms of training exercises, what the government is doing to try to prevent this stuff as much as it can.

SEAN LYNGAAS, CNN CYBERSECURITY REPORTER: Right, Poppy. Well, we got an inside look, a kind of fly on the wall perspective of a White House Situation Room drill in December, where senior officials from the FBI, DHS, Department of Homeland Security, CIA were confronted with a couple startling scenarios. What do you do if there's violence at the polls on Election Day? And separately, what do you do if there's a sort of nebulous, deepfake, a fake video of a Senate candidate destroying ballots and you eventually trace it back to the Chinese, how do you alert the public? When do you tell them without causing panic?

A lot of really fraught discussions. No clear answers, however, sources tell CNN that these senior officials mostly opted to defer to state and local election officials in taking the lead on public messaging for a couple of reasons.