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Former Mar-a-Lago Worker Speaks About Classified Documents; Sasha Issenberg On Lies And Disinformation In Politics; Rep. Madeleine Dean (D-PA) On Hur's Testimony Today On Capitol Hill. Aired 5:30-6a ET

Aired March 12, 2024 - 05:30   ET



CATHERINE LUCEY, WHITE HOUSE REPORTER, THE WALL STREET JOURNAL: And the White House, I think, will be prepared if he brings up any new examples or any -- is it any new conversation about the president's well-being or his mental health. I think they'll be very prepared to push back on that.


Tia, what do you expect?

TIA MITCHELL, WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT, THE ATLANTA JOURNAL- CONSTITUTION: Well, I expect that Republicans during this hearing are really going to try to pull out of special counsel Hur more fleshing out of his criticism of Biden -- Biden's memory, Biden's age. They're going to continuously try to drive that home and they're hoping that his testimony will reinforce that. They're looking for sound bites of him saying basically what he said in his report.

I think Democrats, on the other hand, are going to try to continue hammering the point that the special counsel decided that there was no criminal intent there and try to contrast that with what former President Trump is facing as far as his use of classified documents after taking -- after leaving office.

HUNT: Yeah.

I mean, Catherine, I guess my one -- one of the big things that I keep coming back to when I think about this is why in the aftermath of the report were they so focused on rebutting specifically this thing around his age as opposed to underscoring repeatedly that, like, hey, like, they decided they weren't going to prosecute this year.

LUCEY: Well, actually, I think if you -- if you watched this unfold, especially that day, initially, the White House really did stress that there was no trial (PH) -- and they continued to do that. But the coverage and the attention and the focus around the pieces of the report about his memory -- I mean, that line that we just heard read at him about being a well-meaning, elderly man -- were, like, so explosive and there was so much attention on them.

And because those comments I think really fed into this existing concern about his age that we see again and again and again in polls with voters. So there -- just there was a lot of focus on trying to rebut that.

HUNT: Right. I mean -- and then there's just got to be sort of a level of dread, right, about today, Tia?

MITCHELL: Yeah, I think so. Because, again, they were concerned even before the report came out. They felt that the special counsel had gotten personal, taking it too far in his kind of observations of President Biden and his mental acuity. And so, I think they're concerned that he's going to double down and give the Republicans what they are looking for.

HUNT: The -- I mean, the -- one of the interesting quirks is that he's actually going to be doing this as a private citizen. He no longer is employed by the Justice Department. Sort of an accident of timing, in a way --


HUNT: -- but still interesting in the context of today.

So let's change gears a little bit and talk about Biden's -- we do expect both of these men to become officially the presumptive nominees of their party when all the votes are counted at the end of today. It's a primary day in Georgia and a couple of other states. Donald Trump, the -- presumably, President Biden's opponent in the general election.

My colleague Kaitlan Collins and Katelyn Polantz worked together on a story on Trump employee number five. And this is, of course, on Trump's case around mishandling classified documents. And he acknowledged moving, he says unknowingly, these classified documents into a car in Mar-a-Lago to be shipped up to New Jersey.

Let's look at -- let's watch a little bit of the interview that he did with Kaitlan -- watch.


KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN ANCHOR, "THE SOURCE": You noticed that he had boxes.

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

COLLINS: And did you have any idea at the time that there was potentially U.S. national security secrets in those boxes?

BUTLER: No clue. No, I had no clue. I mean, we were just taking them out of the Escalade and piling them up. I remember they were all stacked on top of each other and then we were lifting them up to the pilots.

(END VIDEO CLIP) HUNT: A pretty remarkable situation here.

What impact do you think this is going to have on that case?

LUCEY: I mean, it's a really -- it's an astounding report in terms of a lot of details in there. We see him talking, as we saw, about how he saw these boxes being handled. And it really reinforces all these arguments about what Trump was doing. How they were handling classified documents.

And so, I think it could have an impact. We'll have to see, obviously, how these things play out in court.

HUNT: Tia, one smart strategist I was talking to when I was up covering the New Hampshire primary actually pinpointed this case as the one that might have the greatest political impact on Donald Trump.

And this person was making this argument just because they said it's very straightforward for voters who understand, right, in a way, that election subversion can be politicized in a more complicated way, the details perhaps are not as quite -- as easy to understand as well, if I was in this position and I had a classified document and I did this with it -- like, I should -- I should be punished for it.

What's your sense of the political risk to Trump, especially now when you have someone coming out and saying, like, look, I saw this happen?

MITCHELL: Yeah. It looks like the political risks are a) there's contrast. If the Democrats focus on the actual allegations against Trump versus Biden, you can say this is how Biden reacted to being found to have classified documents versus Trump is accused of trying to hide them and hold onto them, and lying about them.


Also, the fact that there are several former Trump employees, at this point, who appear to be cooperating and maybe willing to testify. So again, these are people who appear to be on the inside, formerly loyal to the former president, saying no, I was there. I participated. There was wrongdoing, to your point. So those both could be risks.

But again, Trump is trying to delay the trial, I think, after the election so that some of these findings aren't brought out before voters ahead of voting.

HUNT: Right. No, of course. That's the whole -- the whole strategy all the way along.

All right, Tia Mitchell, Catherine Lucey. Thank you guys very much for being with us this morning.

All right, now this. If you were on social media last week you might have come across this. These are AI-generated images that show Donald Trump surrounded by groups of Black voters. They were spread by his supporters in an apparent effort to attract the Black vote. And again, we should have a big false label across these. They are AI-generated. Also, a reminder if you were in New Hampshire around the time of the primary you might have received this fake robocall back in January. Listen to it. Who does it sound like?


FAKE JOE BIDEN ROBOCALL: 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.


HUNT: So, again, that sounds like President Biden but it was not President Biden. It was fake.

The explosion of artificial intelligence in the new online landscape has made it easier than ever to deceive voters, creating, really, immense new challenges for campaigns and for all of us trying to figure out what's real and what's not as we barrel towards the 2024 general election.

Author and journalist Sasha Issenberg explores all of this in his new book, "The Lie Detectives: In Search of a Playbook for Winning Elections in the Disinformation Age." And Sasha joins me now.

Sasha, this book could not be more timely. Yesterday's cover of USA Today had this as the lead, so this is something that's really broken through with the general populous.

But how should we be thinking about these challenges? I mean, if you're the average voter, what do you need to be looking for? And how are campaigns trying to talk to people who are getting -- honestly, being flooded with this stuff, probably quickly, probably on their phones, probably with not a lot of tools to figure out what's true and what's not?

SASHA ISSENBERG, AUTHOR, "THE LIE DETECTIVES: IN SEARCH OF A PLAYBOOK FOR WINNING ELECTIONS IN THE DISINFORMATION AGE": Yeah. Well, generally, what's fascinating to me about this topic is the asymmetry that it creates. So if those things had been 20 years ago on a TV ad or on the front page of the newspaper, political professionals have a way of assessing who saw this? What do we think the impact is?

The stuff that's moving around digitally is often very difficult to measure and very difficult to anticipate its impact. And so, it has forced political professionals and people running campaigns -- the party committees -- to totally revisit a lot of their assumptions about when and how you respond to attacks.

HUNT: So is there a difference between Republicans and Democrats in how they view this kind of material?

ISSENBERG: Yeah. I mean, I think Republicans these days often dispute the whole idea that disinformation is a meaningful category. I think if you talk to many Republicans -- we see this in the weaponization of government hearings that Jim Jordan is running. The state attorneys general who are suing tech companies over this. What you hear a lot from Republicans is disinformation is something that -- a concept the Democrats created so that they could partner with government and academia to pressure tech companies to silence conservative voices.

And so, you have a lot of Republican political operatives who are very interested in tracking what people are saying online but they don't really buy the idea that this is a meaningful category.

HUNT: How do -- but how do they -- how do they square that when -- I mean, if somebody were to make fake -- a robocall of Donald Trump? I mean, they just don't see that as a problem? Like --

ISSENBERG: They think that the term 'disinformation' is a sort of tool that Democrats use to silence conservatives. And also, sort of, is an excuse post-2016 to evade, sort of, blame for running bad elections. I think it's what Democrats -- I mean, it's sort of what Democrats probably say in inverse about Republicans claiming election fraud, right? This is a thing that you use as a -- as a -- as a crutch to claim that you were sort of unfairly attacked.

I think what we are seeing now is that Republicans are very interested in investigating the way that tech companies have enforced their content moderation policies.

HUNT: Right.

ISSENBERG: And it has made the tech companies far more reticent to be enforcing even rules that they themselves have adopted.

HUNT: To moderate anything at all -- fair.

For Democrats, if you're President Biden's campaign, what are you doing, like, right now to combat -- what misinformation are you paying attention to? What are you ignoring? You obviously can't deal with all of it. I mean, it's like we're inundated. What is their sort of strategy?


ISSENBERG: Yeah. Their theory is to focus on what they call 'market- moving disinformation.' So lots of people are lying on the internet all the time. Lots of people are lying about Joe Biden all the time. Much of it is happening in corners of the internet with people who support Donald Trump and are not persuadable voters.

They, in 2020 -- I got into a lot of detail about this research project that they did to identify not just which disinformation narratives have the biggest reach but which were most likely to affect the opinions of the small share of voters who are actually persuadable.

HUNT: Independent voters.

ISSENBERG: One thing that they found --

HUNT: Yeah. ISSENBERG: -- was that the stuff related to his age was a real

electoral problem because -- not because voters were worried about Biden's physical fitness but because they saw him as like a fundamentally weak political figure and that this was a way --

HUNT: Yeah.

ISSENBERG: -- of getting into that.

At the same time, they didn't see the Hunter Biden stuff as a problem. Even though a lot of people knew about it, voters did not see Biden as being sort of driven by personal financial interests.

And so, what they are looking at is to identify the underlying anxieties and not end up in a position where they are chasing a piece of content every day when a new deepfake pops up or a new conspiracy theory, but understanding what the underlying anxiety of voters is that those -- that those disinformation narratives are playing to and address the anxiety without sort of playing whack-a-mole with the content.

HUNT: Yeah, really interesting.

All right, the book is "The Lie Detectives" and it is on sale today, right?


HUNT: It goes on sale today. Check it out. Sasha has done an incredible amount of excellent reporting over the years. I promise it's worth it.

And Sasha is going to hang around with us and talk on our -- with our panel shortly.

Coming up next here, New York Giants fans see their superstar running back to Philly. That one's for Bruce.

Plus, Congresswoman Madeleine Dean is here. We're going to ask her what she wants to hear from special counsel Robert Hur today on the Hill. That's up next.



HUNT: And that's a live look at Capitol Hill where in just a few hours, special counsel Robert Hur will testify in front of the Republican-run House Judiciary Committee. Hur investigated President Biden's handling of classified documents. No charges were filed -- however, political damage was done. The report called into question Biden's memory, giving fuel to Republican arguments that Biden doesn't have the mental acuity to be president.

Joining me now is Democratic Congresswoman Madeleine Dean of Pennsylvania. Congresswoman, wonderful to see you. Thank you so much for being here.

REP. MADELEINE DEAN (D-PA): Good to be with you.

HUNT: What do you expect today from the special counsel, and how do you view this in terms of his decision to put this claim into the report about the president's fitness?

DEAN: Well, actually, I discount that because the report really is a detailed declination of his decision not to prosecute the president for any wrongdoing in connection with classified documents. That's the takeaway. The gratuitous throwing in of he's a sympathetic older man with a poor memory -- it was completely gratuitous.

What I do think we have to focus on -- and I'm not going to focus on that in my own questioning -- is what did he find about the behavior of vice -- then-Vice President Biden in terms of classified documents, and contrast it completely with what we know about the behavior of the former president, Donald Trump, in terms of obstruction. Taking classified documents back and forth from his properties, taking them directly out of the White House, and then trying to obstruct the reclaiming of those documents.

HUNT: What do you think Republicans are looking to get out of Hur today, and how do you think that contributes to their investigations overall?

DEAN: Well, you've seen their investigations have been so inept, so weak, coming up with nothing month after month, year after year. I'm sure this -- they will attempt to make this a political theater. I'm sure they will attempt to make it a hit on the president. But as we saw last week in the State of the Union, the president is very up to the task and very up to the Republican majority in Congress.

HUNT: How would you assess the Biden team's handling of -- and we know voters think that this is an issue, right? Like, they think his age is an issue. And if you talk to people -- you more, some more people who are looking at the numbers, they see it as an issue because it presents Biden as a weak leader, not necessarily because of his health challenges.

I mean, what do you hear from voters in Pennsylvania? You're from a swing state from, like, if not -- it's like the critical swing area, right --

DEAN: It is.

HUNT: -- who is going to decide the selection.

DEAN: We are going to be the Keystone State again. I'm telling you that, Kasie.

KASIE: I believe it.

DEAN: Yes.

KASIE: I mean, especially if you look at how much time he's spent there, right?

What do you hear from voters there about their concerns? And do you think the campaign is doing what they need to do to try to convince people that he's up to the task? That's he not a weak leader.

DEAN: What my constituents tell me is they recognize he's an older man, but so is Donald Trump. So that's not what they're judging him on. They're judging these two men by their past performance. We've seen four years of Donald Trump and the chaos, and corruption, and criminality that engendered. And they see in Mr. Biden somebody who is incredibly capable of the character that they admire.

Person after person will say to me remember the days when we would say we hope our son or daughter could grow up to be president because of the character of the president. That's what they see in Joe Biden -- compassion, character, capabilities. Look at all the great stuff we got accomplished last Congress -- transformational legislation. So this is a man of experience and wisdom, not just age.

HUNT: The president has made clear in his approach -- and if you listen to the way, honestly, he talks about any of this -- that democracy is a critical piece of his reason for running for reelection.

DEAN: Yeah.

HUNT: Of the way he looks at the world.


But there are some in the party who think that he needs to be more focused on kitchen table issues. That should be kind of the topline message out of the gate for Democrats.

What do you think is the winning message in your district in Montgomery County, Pennsylvania? Is it democracy first or is it the economy first?

DEAN: I think you have to do both. And I think I've heard the president do just that.

It's what I say to my constituents that we have to take a look at how they're feeling. How does their pocketbook feel to them? We know that inflation has been very, very hard on folks but look at where we are. We've dropped from nine percent inflation down to three percent. What people in my district say -- some things are still too costly, whether it's the cost of housing, the cost of food. Those things are still too costly.

Inflation is continuing to come down. But at the same time, we cannot forget that democracy is on the line.

January 6 was not just an ordinary day here in Washington, D.C.

HUNT: No. DEAN: And so, the president knows we have democracy that must be tended to. It's not a given. We are citizens. We have to tend to this democracy.

HUNT: You also -- on a different topic, you were recently on a CODEL to Israel, is my understanding.

DEAN: Yes.

HUNT: I know that there's a significant Jewish population in the Philadelphia suburbs --

DEAN: That's right.

HUNT: -- as well. And yet, you've called for a ceasefire based on --

DEAN: A bilateral ceasefire.

HUNT: -- what you've seen.

DEAN: Yes.

HUNT: Can you help me understand why you made that call and how you think the politics of this are affecting the president's support and potential for reelection in the fall?

DEAN: Well, thank you for asking. I have been to Israel twice since October 7. I was there five weeks in and met with Mr. Netanyahu. I met with hostage families. I wear this each day to recall that we still have hostages that have been held. I need the world -- I hope the world will come around and demand of Hamas ceasefire, return the hostages, allow humanitarian aid in.

It was heartbreaking this last trip. Six of us were there. Six members of Congress were there. We visited the Nova fields -- the fields covered with poppies and now with little trees symbolizing each of the young people slaughtered there.

We visited Kibbutz Be'eri where more than 100 people were killed in the most brutal of ways -- burned out of their houses, shot in their safe rooms -- just absolutely despicable -- as they waited hours for any kind of rescue.

We met with Palestinians. We met with government officials on both sides.

And so, I have to say that what I found is what is unacceptable is number one, we have to remember what happened to Israel. It must never happen again. Israel has the right and responsibility to secure its land and have its sovereignty.

But the suffering in Gaza is too great. Thirty -- more than 30,000 people are dead. Children in the rubble. Women giving birth by Caesarean section without anesthesia. People starving. And humanitarian aid inadequately getting in even as people on the ground are desperately trying to save lives. HUNT: All right. Congresswoman Madeleine Dean, thank you very much --

DEAN: It's good to be with you.

HUNT: -- for spending some time with us this morning. I know you'll be back to join our panel. Thank you for that.

Time now for sports. In the NBA, Mavericks star Luka Doncic's historic run of offense ended against the Bulls, but it wasn't for lack of trying.

Carolyn Manno has this morning's Bleacher Report. Carolyn, good morning.


Luka has been on another planet, Kasie. Six straight games of at least 30 points, 10 rebounds, and 10 assists. And another great start in Chicago last night.

Dallas started the fourth up by 34 against the Bulls. Luka already with a triple-double and needing just six points to make it seven straight. He shot a three that got him to within three of extending the streak. But then after chucking a couple more from deep, Dallas decided to pull him for the final six minutes of the game. So the team too good for its own good.

Doncic finishing with 27 points, 14 assists, and 12 rebounds in a blowout win.

The NFL's free agent frenzy picking up steam. The Falcons and Kirk Cousins reportedly agreeing to a four-year, $180 million deal, even with the 35-year-old quarterback coming off a torn Achilles.

Running back Saquon Barkley is staying in the NFC East trading Giants blue for Eagles green, signing a three-year contract worth almost $38 million.

And a couple of monster defensive deals as well. The Giants trading for and signing Pro Bowl pass rusher Brian Burns for five years, $150 million.

The Raiders getting Christian Wilkins for four years and $110 million.

And this is a great story. The Georgetown women riding this incredible wave of emotion this season. The team playing to honor Tasha Butts, their coach, who was hired by the Hoyas last April before passing away from breast cancer in October before she was ever able to coach a game. And the team wearing a patch in her honor.

They're having their best season in over a decade, led by interim coach Darnell Haney.


They did lose to UConn by 36 in the Big East Championship game last night, meaning that they'll have to wait until Sunday to see if they're into the tournament. But the team showed enough promise that they got this message in the locker room after the game.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: So I'm -- we're going to announce tonight -- you're going to hear that Georgetown and Coach Haney as in discussions for him to become the next coach.



MANNO: This is such a wonderful moment. Haney credited with just providing this family atmosphere, Kasie, keeping everybody on track after such tragedy.

And that semifinal game that they won to get them into the Big East Championship for the first time ever came on the day that Tasha Butts would have been 42 years old. So, a great story there.

HUNT: A really wonderful story, Carolyn. Thank you so much for that.

All right, up next here on CNN THIS MORNING, the man known as "Trump Employee Number 5" in the classified documents case speaks exclusively to CNN about what he saw and what he did as federal investigators searched Mar-a-Lago for evidence.

Plus, Donald Trump shaking up House Republicans after coming out against a ban on TikTok.