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Special Counsel Hur to Testify on Capitol Hill; Trump Employee Speaks Out about Moving Classified Documents. Aired 6-6:30a ET

Aired March 12, 2024 - 06:00   ET


KASIE HUNT, CNN ANCHOR: It's Tuesday, March 12. Right now on CNN THIS MORNING.


Controversial special counsel Robert Hur about to testify on Capitol Hill after describing President Biden as a well-meaning elderly man with a poor memory.

Plus, a developing story. The prime minister of Haiti resigns as gang violence overtakes the country.

And --


BRIAN BUTLER, FORMER MAR-A-LAGO EMPLOYEE: His phone rings. And it's the former president.


HUNT: Trump employee No. 5 revealing himself and speaking out to CNN. He says he unknowingly handled classified documents at Mar-a-Lago.

All right, 6 a.m. here in Washington. A live look at Capitol Hill. Good morning, everyone. I'm Kasie Hunt. Wonderful to have you with us today.

We begin with two major events that could alter the landscape of the November election. First, the testimony of Robert Hur. Republicans hoping to inflict damage on Biden when the controversial special counsel appears before the House Judiciary Committee in just a matter of hours.

Hur released an explosive report last month, characterizing the president as "a sympathetic, well-meaning, elderly man with a poor memory" who mishandled classified documents.

Hur's testimony serves as a backdrop for today's primary elections in Georgia, Mississippi, Washington, and the Mariana Islands, as well as the GOP caucus in -- out in Hawaii.

By the end of the night, President Biden and former President Trump could officially clinch their respective nominations. It's not exactly a Super Tuesday with Nikki Haley out of the race. But there it is. All right. Our panel's here to discuss. Let's bring in Republican strategist Doug Heye. Democratic Congresswoman Madeleine Dean of Pennsylvania is with us. Karen Finney, former senior spokesperson for Hillary Clinton. And Sasha Issenberg. He is the author of "The Lie: Detectives" and a long-time political journalist.

Good morning to all of you. Thank you for being here.


REP. MADELEINE DEAN (D-PA): Good morning.

HUNT: Congresswoman, let me start with you, because you've got Robert Hur's opening statement, and you're going to be questioning him today on Capitol Hill. What are you expecting to hear from him, and what are you planning to ask him?

DEAN: Well, I read his opening statement yesterday, and that was prior to news that I heard that he has separated from DOJ. So I wonder if his statement will be revised.

But it's a relatively brief statement. In it, he immediately speaks to the issue, and almost offensively, as to why he included what seemed a little gratuitous when he was declining to prosecute, to say he's a sympathetic older man with a poor memory.

And so that's not the big takeaway of this report, this multi-hundred- page, several-hundred-page report. The big takeaway is that President Biden did nothing criminally wrong in terms of classified documents. He has declined to prosecute. And he says it over and over again.

But the throwing in immediately and early of the -- a statement as to the president's mental condition, as I say, was gratuitous. It's not the big takeaway. The big takeaway is no criminality here.

And in his report, he contrasts dramatically what Donald Trump did with documents, as -- as you're about to tease there.

HUNT: Yes. So how does he justify himself in this opening statement today?

DEAN: That he had a reason to make that statement. That he had to make an assessment as to memory, since he was asking him some questions.

As I said, I think it's a little gratuitous. It's not the big takeaway. But of course, it became sort of the bombshell of this thing. I hope people are not confused. I hope they see that this was a special counsel report that he knew would be made public, so he knew when he put those kinds of statements as to memory in there that it would become known during a political season, which I think is rather strange, that he would have done that.

But the law is, and according to what the special prosecutor's investigation showed --

HUNT: Yes. DEAN: -- no criminality. Unlike -- contrast Donald Trump. Moving boxes around, moving them out of the White House as he was president. Remember, this was all stuff from Vice President Biden.

Obstruction, all kinds of different behaviors by Donald Trump.

HUNT: Yes.

Doug, as the Republican at the table, I mean, what are Republicans looking for today? Obviously, Hur decided that this was what he was going to do in his report.

HEYE: You know, timing is everything in politics. This would have been a much more, I think, impactful hearing if this had happened a week or two weeks ago. Because what Hur said was the big takeaway for everybody, whether or not it should have been in his statement a few weeks ago.

But we just had a State of the Union where Biden did very well. He was very animated and active. He was very loud. But that's not an insult, because that's the opposite of the Sleepy Joe that we had heard for so long.


If this had come a few weeks ago, it would have softened, I think, Biden up more on that core issue. This changes that.

But I think one of the challenges for Biden on this, nobody, unless you're a really hardened partisan who wears funny clothes at the State of the Union, thinks that Joe Biden broke the law or proactively acted in a nefarious manner.

But Joe Biden's core promise was, I'm not going to do the dumb things that Donald Trump did. And it turns out, well, he did some of them. Maybe he didn't do them maliciously, but he did some of them. And this is where Republicans are going to lean, and I think heavy, today.

KAREN FINNEY, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: You know, not so much, Doug, because we learned yesterday it's even worse than what we thought with the interview that Kaitlan Collins was able to do. I mean, we learned very specifically that an Australian businessman got in a car and was on the phone, talking about what Donald Trump had told him, which were national security secrets.

I hope that comes up today in this hearing, because in terms of the comparison of the behavior, there is absolutely none in terms of endangering national security secrets.

So I think I agree with Doug that timing is everything, and the fact that this comes the day both after the State of the Union and the day after we have that interview, and we've learned what I think is explosive new information about just hurling boxes, you know, willy- nilly from a car to an Escalade to a plane.

I mean, that's -- that's -- and we heard it from first, you know, person accounts. That's pretty damning.

HUNT: Sasha, how do you think voters think about this? I mean, you've been kind of spending a lot of time thinking about what breaks through with people, what doesn't. And certainly, Donald Trump's strategy all the way along has been to make legal problems look the same, right?

That all this mess with Hunter means that, you know, Joe Biden has just as many legal issues as, you know, et cetera. Like muddy the waters, right?

And certainly, President Biden having old classified documents in his garage, you know, from his time as vice president doesn't necessarily help their case in terms of making it look very clear-cut, as in President Biden does it all correctly; President Trump does it all incorrectly. That said, there are critical differences.

For voters, what do they see here, do you think?

SASHA ISSENBERG, AUTHOR/JOURNALIST: Yes. I mean, I think we need to anticipate how different the environment will be when there are actually criminal trials underway. You know, I mean, there's a reason, like, half of prime-time TV is based around what happens in courtrooms, because it's dramatic. There are surprises.

And I think the reporting that CNN has is that a pretty good early look at the types of disclosures that will come out when people are called to testify, if -- especially if this goes to trial before -- before November, and how much that will dominate the news on any given day when you start to get these kind of vivid, colorful details that don't always come through in charging documents.

But when people are testifying, they're being elicited. And you know, we have a small share of persuadable voters in this country, and they tend to be people who are, you know, low-information voters, people who aren't paying close attention, who aren't following the details of indictments.

But I suspect that the drama that's attached to some of these episodes when it comes out in court will -- will break through in a way that wouldn't otherwise.

HUNT: One second. I just want to show everyone. We talked a lot around it. I just want to make sure we get kind of the video here, played out there. Let's play a little bit of what Trump Employee No. 5 had to say to CNN about moving these classified documents around.


KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN ANCHOR: You noticed that he had boxes?

BUTLER: Oh, yes. 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. I had no clue. I mean, we were just taking them out of the Escalade, piling them up. I remember, they were all stacked on top of each other. And then we're lifting them up to the pilot.


HUNT: Congresswoman Dean, what's your reaction to that?

DEAN: Well, if you read the indictment, it's -- it's almost comical, if it weren't so serious. The moving of these documents. Their arguments from Trump's daughter that she had more suitcases she needed to put on the airplane.

These employees being asked to move them around, from bathrooms to ballrooms. Meeting behind the bushes because they were asked -- some employees were asked to try to change the surveillance video, or erase it. It was just a Keystone Kops kind of obstruction.

But it's incredibly serious what Mr. Trump did.

From the Hur [SIC] report, something I'm going to point out is, according to the indictment, he -- Trump -- not only refused to return the documents for months, but he also obstructed justice by enlisting others to destroy evidence and then tell them to lie about it. As he also lied to his own attorneys, as he was defying a subpoena and he's hiding and moving things around.

Just a total contrast between the non-willful having of documents by the vice president.


HUNT: Doug, I mean, in terms of timing is everything, we're talking about --

HEYE: Yes.

HUNT: -- classified documents and mishandling of them by Biden as this news is breaking overnight.

HEYE: Yes, look, and these are bad news cycles for Donald Trump. But also, I think the reality is -- and sometimes, it's a real relief to be a Republican who does not like Donald Trump. What did we expect? Did we expect that Donald Trump was going to handle these in a responsible manner, and tell the truth, and be a Boy Scout? Of course not. To Sasha's point --

HUNT: Donald Trump's a lot of things. A Boy Scout is not one of them.

HEYE: No. On every level. Right?

HUNT: My father was a Boy Scout, and an Eagle Scout, in fact.

HEYE: So -- but that also means that some of this is built in on him. Like, we sort of knew this. And it's why he doesn't -- why there's a lot of outrage he doesn't get into trouble, maybe that, he should have, legally or politically, for some of the things he does.

Why? Because, as Sasha pointed out, there's a very small universe of persuadable voters here. And what they deal with every day is not did somebody handle documents in a correct -- correct way or not? They're dealing with their everyday lives. And we forget that, I think, very often. And we get caught up with what Washington is focused on, on any given day.

HUNT: All right. We're going to press pause on this, take a quick break. Coming up next here, more on that exclusive with that critical witness in Donald Trump's classified documents case.


BUTLER: I mean, I was out with my family, out of town on vacation. I got a phone call from my attorney, and he said, "Hey, they just arrested Carlos." And you know, my heart just dropped. I mean, I'm like, oh, my God.


HUNT: Trump Employee No. 5 reveals how he unknowingly helped move boxes of classified documents inside Mar-a-Lago.

Plus, the FAA reveals what it found after a door plug blew off a Boeing 737 MAX-9 jet mid-flight.

And we remember Eric Carmen. The singer's family says he died peacefully in his sleep at age 74. You might remember this, from "Dirty Dancing."






HUNT: All right. We're back with this CNN exclusive. One of Jack Smith's central witnesses in Donald Trump's classified documents case going public for the first time.

Brian Butler, the man known as Trump Employee No. 5, speaking exclusively to Kaitlan Collins about his 20 years working for the Trump family and the day he unknowingly helped load boxes of classified documents from Mar-a-Lago to the former president's personal airplane.

CNN's Katelyn Polantz has been working on this reporting. She is live in West Palm Beach for us. Katelyn, good morning. Always good to see you.

This is just an absolute bombshell. What do we need to know? KATELYN POLANTZ, CNN SENIOR CRIME AND JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Kasie, it's not just that this man was moving the boxes unwittingly on the day of June 3rd, when the FBI came to pick up everything Trump had and couldn't find everything at that time.

He also is privy to a part of the investigation that is what makes this case so serious for the Justice Department. He's part of the -- the piece of the investigation, he's part of the witnesses that were hearing information about obstruction. The part of the indictment against Donald Trump, Walt Nauta, and Carlos de Oliveira that outlines the alleged cover-up of Trump keeping these boxes after he was mishandling them at Mar-a-Lago.

We know that because he's best friends with Carlos de Oliveira, now one of the co-defendants; has split from him. They don't talk anymore. Carlos de Oliveira is using a lawyer within Trump's world. Brian Butler, Trump Employee 5, is not and is speaking to prosecutors about what he was hearing from Carlos de Oliveira after all of those documents were supposed to be turned over.

Things like Walt Nauta is secretly coming down to Mar-a-Lago. Don't tell anyone. He's interested in learning how long surveillance footage at the club is kept for. And then after that, Brian Butler was witness to a conversation where Trump reached out to Carlos de Oliveira directly and assured him that he would have a lawyer, that he would be taken care of.

Now one of the things, too, he talks about is the day of that search. And on the interview with Kaitlan Collins, he initially says it was a raid. But then he corrects himself and says it was a lawfully executed search. And he has learned that from prosecutors. That is the facts of the case.

Here's a little bit more about Brian Butler talking about August of 2022.


BUTLER: I was on a cruise the day that Mar-a-Lago -- they showed up at Mar-a-Lago. I was going to a cruise, and I had gotten a phone call.

But when I got back, like a couple days from when I got back, I -- I reached out to a friend of mine who worked at another Trump property. And he said, Hey, by the way, your boy's in trouble. I hear your boy's in trouble.

I'm like, what do you mean?

And he's talking about Carlos.

I'm like, Carlos didn't do anything wrong.

He's like, Well, that's not what I hear. I heard he asked Ucille (ph) to delete video footage.

And I said, He would never do that. COLLINS: But when you started to think about the conversation you and Carlos had about surveillance footage, and then you had this conversation, are you beginning to get suspicious?

BUTLER: It's all like a puzzle. And it's little pieces here and there. And now I'm wondering. And you know, I asked Carlos. I said, Did you say that to him?

No, no. I didn't. I wouldn't. I asked him about the video footage timing and how long until it deletes.



POLANTZ: Kasie, Brian Butler is saying he's coming out now, because he wants to come clean. He wants to tell the truth publicly. He wants people to know the facts of this case and the facts about Donald Trump -- Kasie.

HUNT: I mean, Katelyn, this seems to paint quite a striking portrait of a coverup.

POLANTZ: I mean, that is what is alleged in the indictment. That is the facts that the Justice Department has gathered here to put this together, and they go through the fine detail of the alleged cover-up.

And this person, Brian Butler, he's only one of several witnesses that are very likely to be called to testify. He's Trump Employee 5.

HUNT: True.

POLANTZ: That means there's four others who are anonymized in the indictment. And then also some attorneys, as well, who were witness to the alleged obstruction conspiracy that Donald Trump was spearheading to try and keep those documents from the federal government, even after he got the subpoena, even after the Justice Department, the FBI visited in June of 2022 leading to that search on August 8th.

HUNT: Yes, just remarkable clarity there. OK. Katelyn Polantz, thank you very much. I really appreciate it.

Panel is back to discuss this. Karen Finney, those -- the pictures of those boxes and kind of lining up with this man saying, This is what I did with those boxes. I mean, it's really just hard to --

FINNEY: It's hard not to go, "What?"

HUNT: Yes, it's very stark.

FINNEY: Particularly, I have to say, having worked in the White House and -- was not a -- did not have a super high level of clearance, but high enough that I was very mindful of the documents that I had in my possession, and when I left the White House with them and when I brought them back.

And the fact that, you know, things can be declassified after the fact and maybe you take them.

But the fact that there's just boxes and boxes sitting around, strewn around. And -- and also the boxes that show, like news articles kind of thrown in, just shows the kind of willy-nilly way in which they were handled.

And again, as part of both the reporting that we've heard and -- and some of the other accounts, the fact that the president was also discussing information that was in, for example, the conversations we know he had around the submarine program that he had with the Australian businessman. And that is not information that you should be sharing with, you know, just your buddy who happens to be, you know, a top businessman in a country that is interested in what's going on with our submarine program.

And so the boxes, I think, are a metaphor for just how he seems to have approached the information and keeping our national security secrets.

HUNT: Yes. Congresswoman, we've talked a lot about the differences between these two cases, for sure. But how big of it, of a mistake or misstep was it, do you think, for President Biden to have all this stuff that he did have, and we should acknowledge he did have in his garage, in that it really makes it a little bit less clear the distinction between these two.

DEAN: I don't think it does make it less clear. This was a different time. He was vice president, some of it -- and in the report, the Hur report, he talks about the understanding that he took notebooks with him. Ronald Reagan did the exact same thing as he left the White House. Those kinds of things are not malicious. They are not an attempt to stack boxes on an airplane, move them to this room, to that room, try to get people to delete videotape, lie to his attorney.

There's just no obstruction. There was a voluntary, please turn over the documents, please come search my house in case I have anything. So the -- the difference is so glaring that, for some reason, Donald Trump constantly gets away with these criminal behaviors and are excused away, whereas, you know, Mr. Biden said, please come search. If I have anything that I should not have, take it back.

HEYE: Now, there's a term we use in politics called talking points. And Donald Trump seems to get talking points in his favor over and over again.

So whether it's Joe Biden having documents in his garage, I agree. They're not malicious. It's a talking point for Donald Trump.

Fani Willis in Georgia is a talking point for Donald Trump. It doesn't change the legalities of the question, but the political calculus is definitely muddied because Donald Trump has something that he can point at that Democrats have handed him.

He's benefited. He's very, very lucky, Donald Trump is that Democrats make these mistakes seemingly in his favor over and over again.

DEAN: Well, Mr. Pence also had classified documents --

HEYE: Sure.

DEAN: So the vice president to Donald Trump.

HEYE: Sure. Got further (INAUDIBLE).

HUNT: Maybe we should go check out Karen Finney's garage.

DEAN: I just moved yesterday. You do not want to take a look at the boxes in my place.

HUNT: All right. Congresswoman Dean, thank you so much for spending so much time with us this morning. I really appreciate it.

DEAN: My pleasure.

HUNT: All right. We're following a developing story, as well here. Haiti's embattled prime minister resigning. Here's the video statement released just a few hours ago.


ARIEL HENRY, HAITIAN PRIME MINISTER (through translator): My government will leave immediately after the integration of the council. We will be a caretaker government until they name a prime minister and a new cabinet. Haiti needs peace. Haiti needs stability.



HUNT: Ariel Henry's announcement comes after gangs spent weeks attacking government buildings, leaving social order on the brink of collapse.

Secretary of State Anthony Blinken just returned from an emergency meeting in Jamaica to talk about the crisis. The U.S. will contribute $300 million for a Kenya-led multi-national security mission to Haiti.

All right. Up next here, he described President Biden as a well- meaning elderly man with a poor memory. Will Special Counsel Robert Hur repeat that in public when he testifies today on Capitol Hill?

Plus, convicted killer Scott Peterson is back in court. Was he wrongfully convicted?


HUNT: Welcome back. That's a live look at -- Hey, it's lit up this morning. It's just before 6:30.