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White House Plans for Hur Hearing; Hur Testifies on Capitol Hill; Trump Poses Threat to TikTok Bill; RNC Lays off Dozens of Staffers. Aired 6:30-7a ET

Aired March 12, 2024 - 06:30   ET





That's a live look - hey, it's lit up this morning. It's just before 6:30. That's the White House with the Washington Monument in the background. They are, in that building, getting ready for Special Counsel Robert Hur's testimony. Hur finds himself on the receiving end of questioning today when he appears before the Republican-led House Judiciary Committee. Hur investigated President Biden's handling of classified documents. He decided against bringing charges against the president. But the special counsel did deliver that political bombshell in his report last month, providing a less than flattering assessment of President Biden's memory.

Priscilla Alvarez joins us now live from the White House with more.

Priscilla, how is the White House planning to respond to what unfolds on The Hill today?

PRISCILLA ALVAREZ, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, they have their rapid response operation ready to go. And what we expect to hear from the White House over the course of the morning is reminders that there was, at the conclusion of this investigation, no case and no charges.

Of course, this is a report that the White House pushed back on as soon as it was released, particularly because it touched on the president's age and memory, two issues that they anticipate congressional Republicans are going to attack the president on over the course of this morning's hearing.

And again, the White House, when they pushed back on this, they took issue with the way that the president was characterized. And the president himself was clearly irritated in a press conference that occurred in February, just after its release.



REPORTER: Do you feel your memory has gotten worse, Mr. President?

BIDEN: Now, look, my memory has not gotten - my memory is fine. My memory - take a look at what I've done since I've become president. None of you thought I could pass any of the things that I got passed. How did that happen? You know, I guess I just forgot what was going on.

REPORTER: Do you fear that this report is only going to fuel further concerns about your age?

BIDEN: Only by some of you.


ALVAREZ: Now, notably, Kasie, since then the campaign has released a new ad tackling Biden's age head on, where he says and acknowledges that he's not a young guy. So clearly, since then, they have developed their strategy to use the president's age to their advantage. But it's still going to be a sensitive issue when it comes up this morning.

HUNT: Yes. I'm not sure to their advantage is going to be totally possible, but certainly to try to neutralize the issue.

Priscilla Alvarez, thank you very much for that reporting. I really appreciate it.

Doug Heye, Karen Finney, Sasha Issenberg are back with me now.

In fact, let's -- let's play a little bit of that ad because, look, there's a stark contrast between the president that we saw in that press conference after this report came out and the president -- the president that they want to present to the country.



JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Look, I'm not a young guy. That's no secret. But here's the deal, I understand how to get things done for the American people.

I believe the job of the president is to fight for you, the American people. And that's what I'm doing.

I'm Joe Biden, and I approve this message.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Can we do one more take?

BIDEN: Look, I'm very young, energetic and handsome. What the hell am I doing this for?



HUNT: So now we got us all laughing, right, saying oh it's cute. FINNEY: Yes.

HUNT: Big difference from that press conference after the Hur report dropped.

FINNEY: Yes, well, you could -

HUNT: Was that press conference a mistake?

FINNEY: Personally, as a comms person, I would not have done it. However, that's easy for me to say sitting on the outside when instead of on the inside when you're trying to convince the president of the United States -

HUNT: Right.

FINNEY: Not to do something that you know he wants to do.

But look, here's the other thing I'll say. You know, obviously, internally we've been testing a lot of different clips, clips from the State of the Union, for example, and clips -- and looking at how -- what is the best way to talk about his age. And one of the things we found is -- and by we I mean this is some of the outside groups, when you talk about it just head on, straight forward, it actually does do better. It actually mobilizes people and kind of gets people to shift away from the age and more to be -- about the ideas.

So, I suspect that's why the White House did that, because I think -- the campaign rather -

HUNT: Yes.

FINNEY: Because I think they're seeing the same thing that, just take it head on and then move on.

HUNT: Well, and, Sasha, when you were looking into kind of how voters interpret this, it's really about a question of weakness, right, this idea that is President Biden weak. What's the best way -- I mean what's your understanding of how the campaign, the Biden campaign could push back on that idea?

SASHA ISSENBERG, AUTHOR, "THE LIE DETECTIVES": Yes, and in my book I quote a pollster in 2020 who did all this research on the subject, and they -- they identified the underlying worry as voters thinking that Joe Biden wasn't going to be the author of his presidency, in the pollsters words. That -- that the age thing was not that he was, you know, physically or mentally, you know, damaged, it was that he was a politically weak figure.

I think the (INAUDIBLE) of being vice president as your sort of primary identifier to voters and the way he kind of like stumbled into the nomination, never really being the center of attention. And so they saw that the way to counter that in 2020 wasn't as they tried for a time to show him bicycling and photo ops and like running up the stairs of a plane, but really like basic, even banal fixes, like these 15 second like digital ads that they were putting out in front of sort of right leaning audiences.


They were just Biden, unedited, speaking to camera about his values. They thought that that's what would assuage the underlying anxieties that voters had, that manifest in concerns about his age.

HUNT: What do you -- how do you think about that, Doug?

DOUG HEYE, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: Yes. Look, Joe -- Joe Biden's charming, tells jokes, they're funny. We've known that for a long time.

To me what's -- what's critical in that ad is when he says, this is about you. This is about the American voters. And I go back to 2016 where we all thought, Donald Trump couldn't do anything and couldn't beat Hillary Clinton. And when he said, Hillary has these signs that say, I'm with her, well, I'm with you. That's when I sat back and said, oh, wait a second here, he understands some of this.

And voters are very selfish people. We all are. We want to hear about ourselves. And we want to hear about what we deal with in our lives every day.


HEYE: And if Biden gets to that, he's in a stronger place because he talks about those issues very passionately.

FINNEY: Yes. And the, what I'm going to do for you.

HEYE: Uh-huh.

FINNEY: And to that point, I mean, one of the things I think will be critical in the election, you know, people, if you -- you know, how you feel about Donald Trump is pretty baked in. The thing that the campaign needs to do is connect, why is the fact that he may be corrupt or selfish, how is that bad for you? Because if people -- because many people might say, well, it's OK, as long as he's, you know -

HUNT: You kind of knew that about Trump actually.

FINNEY: Right. As long as the market's OK. I mean you even hear voters say things, like in some of the pieces John King has done.

HUNT: Right.

FINNEY: Well, I don't like all the things he tweets and says, but I thought the economy was better.

HUNT: My life's fine. Right.

FINNEY: Right. So the key is to make the argument, and this is why it's bad for you. When he's looking out for himself, it means things aren't getting done for you. HUNT: All right. Well, and we haven't even talked about my colleague,

Jim Sciutto's reporting about how he said great things about Hitler. So, there's that too. What a day.

All right, coming up next here, Donald Trump shaking up House Republicans by opposing a ban on TikTok.

Plus, how safe is self-driving technology in cars? I personally find it terrifying, but we'll talk about it.




SETH MEYERS, HOST, "LATE NIGHT WITH SETH MEYERS": In a new interview, former President Trump agreed that TikTok is a national security threat, but said that banning TikTok would increase the popularity of Facebook, which he considered to be the, quote, "enemy of the people." You think Facebook is the enemy of the people? Dude, have you been on Facebook? Everyone's uncle is on there and they love you.


HUNT: All right, the House is on track to vote tomorrow on the fate of a bipartisan bill that would effectively ban TikTok in the United States. But there is a potential new roadblock, Donald Trump. The former president has Republicans on edge after he flipped his position, insisting a ban on the app would make people, quote, "go crazy."

Here is what the bill's Republican co-sponsor told CNN's Manu Raju.


REP. CHIP ROY (R-TX): Well, he's wrong. And, by the way, he had - he had his own what executive orders and in his own actions he was doing, and now, you know, now he's suddenly flipped around on that. I mean it's not the first or the last time that I'll disagree with the former president. The TikTok issue is pretty straightforward. It's not even about TikTok. It's about ensuring we're protecting the data of the American people.


HUNT: All right, CNN's Alayna Treene, who covers Donald Trump for us, joins us now.

Alayna, I mean this is a straight up flip flop. Why is the president doing this? Former president.

ALAYNA TREENE, CNN REPORTER: It is. Although I will say, from my conversations with Donald Trump's team and going back through the audio, it's more that I think he has skepticism about this than it's a straight up reversal. But there's a couple reasons for this. One is that he really does hate Facebook, Donald Trump. We've known

this for a long time. He's, you know, railed against Mark Zuckerberg for years. He believes that they had some role in influencing the 2020 election. Of course there's questions over that. And also he is worried that if TikTok were to be banned, that its users would migrate to Facebook. I loved that Seth Meyers clip because I think a lot of people recognize, like, young kids don't really love Facebook anymore.

HUNT: Are they even on it?

TREENE: They look at it as more like the boomer thing. Exactly. So, I'm not sure if that's, you know, that concern is well placed.

But the other part of this is -- as well is, when I talk to people close to the former president and his aides that they would -- they think that it would be great if Biden were blamed for TikTok being banned. They know that so many young voters specifically love TikTok and that people, as he said, would go, quote, "crazy." They believe that if this was something that could be placed on Biden, if people are really upset with Biden over losing one of their favorite apps, that will only help Donald Trump.

And of course, young voters is a key demographic are a key demographic that his team are trying to peel away from Joe Biden. So, that's part of this as well. It can be political.

HUNT: Sure.


HUNT: Yes.

Sasha, as our resident disinformation expert. A big concern here is how the algorithm, the TikTok algorithm, which, you know, is basically this -- the Chinese Communist Party, the company that owns TikTok is -- has to respond to them, right? So, we don't exactly know the true details of their influence, but we know that it's a possibility that perhaps it exists and there are certain kind of instances where we can point to things. But, for example, videos that are critical of China get fewer views than things that are viewed as divisive here in the United States.

What is the actual threat to our politics from how TikTok is able to influence people just through their phones?

ISSENBERG: Yes, I mean, so it functions differently than -- than other social platforms that are more dependent on you choosing to follow things. You know, it is queuing up content for people, and it makes it very difficult for political campaigns to get a handle on, not just what's on the platform, but who's seeing it.


Are they voters? Are they in the United States? And so if you are Biden's campaign, you're running for office at any level, you're trying to set policy, it's a fairly opaque communications medium. So, like we can, you know, go and see what television ads are running, we can see what's in the newspaper. It is very hard to get a handle on what voters are actually seeing on, on TikTok.

FINNEY: But can we just remember, Trump loved Facebook in 2016 because, remember, it was those algorithms that were getting people into all the disinformation about Hillary. In fact, they had Facebook people literally embedded in their campaign. So, this -- I mean talk about a flip flop, right? He loved them. Now he hates them.

I also think the timing is interesting considering he met with Elon Musk of X, and X is about to launch, what, a video app that is similar to YouTube. So, I would continue to watch this space on that one.

HUNT: Doug, the politics of this. I mean I take Alayna's point, right, if Joe Biden signs this legislation -- and again, just to back up for a second, we say it would ban TikTok. It would be an effective ban. It would basically say that unless the parent company, which is owned by China, divests TikTok, sells it to someone else so that someone else controls it, it will not be allowed in app stores, the Google Play store, the Apple app store, et cetera. If it's Biden who signs this, is that a big political problem? I mean what is the, like - like, what's the calculus there?

HEYE: Well, Biden very much wants to sign a bill that he hopes doesn't come to his desk is sort of the reality of the politics on this.

But I think -- I think the internal Republican politics are more interesting here. You have Donald Trump saying, we've got to get rid of it. Chip Roy, as big a Trumper as you can get, says he's wrong. You've got Rand Paul out there on -- on that side with Chip Roy as well. You're exposing some Republican divides that I think we didn't really expect to see as recently as three or four weeks ago.

HUNT: Yes. How do you think this actually plays out in the Senate? Do you think they're going to be willing to do something along these lines? Because, I mean, I will say, there does seem to be a lot of bipartisan buy in around the idea that, like, there are very real dangers in this app having as much influence as it does.

HEYE: The one thing I've learned about the Senate is, Rand Paul is going to Rand Paul and I think we need to figure out how far he's willing to go to stop this as to whether or not the Senate passes it. But Biden is very proactive, I want to sign this bill, and then very quietly, don't send me this bill.

TREENE: I will add to, just in my conversations with Trump's campaign, that they say this isn't like the bipartisan border deal where Donald Trump very much wanted to blow it up and was glad that he sunk it. They say that he's not going to put as much effort into trying to tank this bill as he did with that. That he's going to -- he believes that Congress will make the right decision here. They can do with what -- with this bill what they want. And I think that also shows that Donald Trump isn't obsessed with this issue like he was with that immigration issue.

HUNT: Right. TREENE: Again, political reasons for the other bill for wanting to take that, and he was successful in those efforts. I'm not so sure that his influence and his comments yesterday on CNBC are going to change the calculus for this and -- in the House, at least.

HUNT: It's -- in many ways it's easier for him to just have his hands off of it.

TREENE: Right.

HUNT: If they do this without him, then fine, it's -- there's no ramifications there.

TREENE: Right.

HUNT: All right, thank you all. We're going to be back with you guys in just a moment.

It is 47 past the hour. Here's your morning roundup.

An FAA audit finds dozens of problems at Boeing. "The New York Times" reports that Boeing was subjected to 89 product audits and failed 33 of them. The audits also found 97 instances of noncompliance.

Overnight, a hydraulics issue forced a United Airlines Boeing 777 that was flying from Sydney to San Francisco to turn around just two hours into its flight. The plane landed safely and no one was hurt.

Former President Trump again denying E. Jean Carroll's rape and defamation allegations in an interview with CNBC on Monday.


DONALD TRUMP (R), FORMER U.S. PRESIDENT AND 2024 PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: If I didn't win on appeal, the most ridiculous decisions, including the Miss Bergdorf Goodman, a person I never - I never met. I have no idea who she is.


HUNT: OK. Now Carroll's attorneys say that they are closely monitoring Trump's remarks and a third defamation suit could be upcoming.

All right, the Scott Peterson murder case returning to court today. Peterson's new attorneys from the L.A. Innocence Project are expected to present motions, exhibits and new evidence.

And now this. A poor rating for self-driving cars from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. Of the 14 systems tested by the agency, 11 earned a poor rating, including Tesla's autopilot and full self- driving systems.

I got to tell you, Karen, I find these things like terrifying. I mean, I get to decide whether or not I'm going to put myself behind the wheel of it, but like -

FINNEY: Right.

HUNT: What if I'm crossing the street with my kid?

FINNEY: A hundred percent. I think there's -- we've seen this time and time again that these questions get raised. I'm going to go for like an old, you know, stick shift myself without any computers, I think, and get a hard line the way this is going.

HUNT: Yes, no, we were talking - I've got an '89 Corvette that, like, is very dumb and I love it for that reason.


There's all these other issues too. Like, I mean, the insurance companies collecting your data apparently.

HEYE: Yes. Look, I still drive a 2004 Chevy Blazer that I bought on the Richard Burr Senate campaign in North Carolina in 2004.

HUNT: There you go.

HEYE: My CD is still stuck in the CD player. It won't come out.

HUNT: Perfect.

HEYE: I've never been happier to have that car than I was when I saw this story.

HUNT: Find yourself -- put a good mechanic on retainer, right, and keep him forever.

All right, up next here, dozens of staffers getting laid off after Donald Trump's takeover of the Republican National Committee.

Plus, Princess Kate's epic photoshop fail has put internet detectives to work.


HUNT: All right, look at that.


That is actually real. That is a beautiful shot of the U.S. Capitol. The sunrise here in Washington, D.C. Welcome back.

A house cleaning is in full swing at the Republican National Committee. The RNC building is actually in that shot we just saw. Dozens of staffers getting laid off just days after Donald Trump's hand-picked team took over the organization. Top officials in communications, the political department, the data team all getting the axe. Lara Trump, the former president's daughter-in-law, is now the committee's co-chair and will focus on fundraising.

Our panel is back.

Doug Heye, you are a former RNC person.

HEYE: Yes.

HUNT: I'm not sure I ever thought I would really see this where a party committee is taken over in part by family members of an incoming president.

HEYE: OK, let's - let's - let's go back in history.


FINNEY: Uh-oh, here we go.

HEYE: Maureen Reagan.


HEYE: Ronald Reagan's daughter, RNC co-chair in the '80s.

HUNT: OK. You corrected me.

HEYE: Now, what was her qualification other than being in "The Love Boat"? I don't know of any. So, a lot of this is actually business as usual.


HEYE: Because it's Donald Trump, we go a little crazy, but -

HUNT: I appreciate you saying that.

HEYE: But there is history there. There is precedent there.


HEYE: And they're doing some house cleaning. We'll see if it's too much or not. But they're also trying to cut costs and save some cash, which this RNC needs to do.

FINNEY: But, Doug, you know, I mean having been at the DNC, we had the same communications director roles at different agent -- at different places. I mean, to gut it so close to the election, though, you know as well as I do, when you are supposed to be in a mode of building up the campaign operations -

HEYE: Yes.

FINNEY: In the states and coordinated campaigns with Senate and House and other races in the states, it does seem a little bit odd, and it feels a little bit like they're trying -- yes, they're trying to cut costs because they know they're going to have to spend a lot of money on legal fees. But if they under-invest in field, and that seems to mean it's going to be paid for on the outside by the outside groups rather than on the inside, which that would make me nervous.

HEYE: That's part of where our politics have - have changed on this. FINNEY: Yes.

HEYE: And I don't think we know. When I was at the RNC in 2010, it was the rise of the super PACs.


HEYE: They were just starting. And our fundraising was down and everybody freaked out about it because you could put money elsewhere.

FINNEY: That's right.

HUNT: So, Sasha, I mean, how do you look at this? I mean let's -- let's show a little bit of sound of these two. So, there's two new officials coming in. The top chairman is a former North Carolina GOP chairman, handpicked, plus Lara Trump. Here's them talking about the RNC.


MICHAEL WHATLEY, REPUBLICAN NATIONAL COMMITTEE CHAIRMAN: I would like to thank President Trump for his trust and support. There is no one who has been more focused on fighting for the American people. And I am grateful for the opportunity to work with him to win and help revitalize our great nation.

LARA TRUMP, DONALD TRUMP'S DAUGHTER-IN-LAW: I know how important this role is, and it is truly an honor to be here, to work alongside all of you over the next 241 days. The goal on November 5th is to win. And as my father-in-law says, bigly we're going to win on November 5th.


HUNT: Bigly. How much -- how much impact does the committee actually have here this late (ph)?

ISSENBERG: I think the committee and its state parties can have a lot when you look at our resources going to mobilize voters who are going to vote the whole Republican ticket -

HUNT: Right.

ISSENBERG: Or are they working to turn out Trump supporters? And you look at a state like Ohio or Pennsylvania, where there might be some ticket splitters. There might be some people who would vote for Sherrod Brown and Donald Trump. Those part of his appeal. If Republicans are serious about creating a working class coalition, people who might vote for Bob Casey in Pennsylvania and vote for Trump. Is the RNC and these state parties in October going to be making tactical decisions that are about turning out Trump voters, but might also be turning out people who will vote for - for Democrats, for Senate or for governor.

HUNT: Right. Right. Fair enough.

All right, I'm going to leave you with this, which is what we're all really talking about this morning. Internet sleuths having some photoshop fun with the royal family's photoshop fail. The photo released by Kensington Palace of Catherine, princess of Wales, and her children, had so many errors that she apologized yesterday and she blamed it on experimenting with editing. The photo was our first look supposedly at the princess in months, and it set off an internet frenzy.

A senior editor at "The Verge" pointing out Metadata shows it was shot on a standard Canon DSLR camera and that it was edited twice on Photoshop for Mac. Other users claimed that they found the original image, replacing Kate with a sad Oompa Loompa from the disastrous and viral "Willy Wonka" experience in Scotland, which Kate was also apparently found missing at. That was another conspiracy. The user claims it was really Kate's children who were photoshopped to hide their real identities. Taylor Swift, Robert Downey Jr, Mr. Bean. Stephen Colbert claims he found the original.


STEPHEN COLBERT, HOST, "THE LATE SHOW WITH STEPHEN COLBERT": Today, Kate admitted that she had edited the photo. And to put this scandal to rest, the palace has released the original image of Princess Kate skateboarding over a tiger.


HUNT: I mean, Karen, there is also, you know, people who are juxtaposing it with a picture that was on a "Vogue" cover that was taken definitely not since the surgery happened.


HUNT: Like, you're a PR professional, what on earth?


FINNEY: Indeed. What on earth? How did this get out, that would be my question, because when you know that the whole country is wondering what really happened to Kate -

HUNT: World. Whole world.