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Special Counsel In Biden Case Attacked By Both Parties; One-On- One With Rep. Jake Auchincloss (D-MA); White House Announces Surprise $300 Million Aid Package For Ukraine. Aired 5:30-6a ET

Aired March 13, 2024 - 05:30   ET




KASIE HUNT, CNN ANCHOR: All right, a live look at the lakeshore in Chicago. I love Lake Michigan. Good morning to all of you. Thanks for being up with us. It's 5:30 on the nose here on the East Coast. I'm Kasie Hunt.

It seems that no one is happy with Robert Hur. During a long day of testimony before the House Judiciary Committee, Republicans demanded to know why the special counsel failed to charge President Biden for mishandling classified documents. Democrats were outraged by Hur's characterization of the president as a sympathetic, well-meaning, elderly man with a poor memory.


REP. ADAM SCHIFF, (D-CA): You understood when you made that decision, didn't you, Mr. Hur, that you would ignite a political firestorm with that language -- didn't you?

ROBERT HUR, SPECIAL COUNSEL: Congressman, politics played no part whatsoever in my investigative steps.

REP. TOM MCCLINTOCK (R-CA): All I have to do when I'm caught taking home classified materials is say I'm sorry, Mr. Hur, but I'm getting old? My memory is not so great.

HUR: Yeah. Congressman, I --

MCCLINTOCK: This is the doctrine that you've established in our laws now and it's frightening.

HUR: Congressman, my intent is certainly not to establish any sort of doctrine.


HUNT: Just a pro tip. Don't take classified documents home. Just don't do it.

Here's how Hur defended his investigation.


HUR: I can assure you and I can tell you that partisan politics had no place whatsoever in my work. It had no place in the investigative steps that I took. It had no place in the decision that I made. And it had no place in a single word of my report.



The special counsel hearing took place as the presidential race was unfolding -- voters were voting. President Biden and Donald Trump clinched their respective nominations after last night's primary wins in Georgia, Mississippi, and Washington State. This sets up the longest general election in a presidential campaign that America has ever seen.

Let's bring in The Boston Globe's Washington bureau chief Jackie Kucinich. And, Farnoush Amiri. She's congressional reporter for the Associated Press. Ladies, thank you so much for being here.

You guys were both up on the Hill yesterday, is my understanding.

Farnoush, Robert Hur seemed to come in for it from all sides, right? There was something for everybody in his testimony. But also, he clearly -- I mean, if you read his opening statement, he kind of knew he wasn't the sympathetic figure in the room.

What was the -- what was the vibe check up there?

FARNOUSH AMIRI, CONGRESSIONAL REPORTER, ASSOCIATED PRESS: Yeah. No, it was -- it was not a good vibe at all in the room. I mean, usually, these hearings, right, there's Republican witnesses, there's Democratic witnesses, there's a special counsel that's investigating the president of the other party, and there is some reprieve for the guy.

There's moments where they talk about how great his work. How happy they are that he did the work. And there was a few moments of levity. But mostly -- I mean, he was getting it from both sides. And it was kind of stunning to watch that he was screwed if you do, screwed if you don't type of thing for --

HUNT: Yes.

AMIRI: -- not -- for not charging him and for charging him.

So -- I mean, what he tried to do over and over again is obviously stick really closely to the report because the transcript came out a few hours before the hearing. And obviously, that was much more enlightening to the public than his report had been.

HUNT: Right. Well -- and Jackie, it raised -- I mean, the transcript itself raised all kinds of questions about the initial kind of read of the Hur report, right?

I mean, we did learn that it was Hur who brought -- or, excuse me, it was President Biden who brought up Beau. It was not Hur. I mean, President Biden was very emphatic and angry that Hur had brought it up in that press conference. It turned out that's not the case. However, it was also clear from the transcript that Biden remembered the date of his son's death. He needed a little bit of help in terms of the exact year but he was in the right vicinity.

Democrats seized on all of this and said this -- the Hur report is not true. The press coverage around it was not true.

Who do you think -- this doesn't feel clear to me at all. It feels very muddy and confusing. I mean, who do you -- who do you think actually cut through, if anyone?

JACKIE KUCINICH, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST, WASHINGTON BUREAU CHIEF, THE BOSTON GLOBE: So, I think this -- I think what this did is it further -- it made -- it made the Justice Department look political through the lens of -- that Congress casted it yesterday, right? We saw this during the Trump administration.

We saw this -- and I think it really continued yesterday. Democrats were trying to walk the line of being -- of saying we -- the Justice Department is an entity that is not involved in politics. And yet, you did see people like Schiff and some of the other members of the committee, and frankly, some of the Republicans really try to turn this into a partisan battle.

And part of it is the Judiciary Committee. Let's just say that. Because it is -- it does tend to be kind of a rock 'em sock 'em kind of place.


But that erosion that you've seen -- that has -- that has -- that has continued. Really, I saw that as a thread going from Bill Barr to where we are now.

HUNT: Yeah.

All right. I also want to kind of pull this into --


HUNT: -- the conversation because conservative Congressman Ken Buck made this surprise announcement yesterday that -- we knew he was going to leave Congress but now he's peacing out at the end of next week. The Colorado Republican did not hold back when it came to explaining why he was leaving, blaming dysfunction on the Hill.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) REP. KEN BUCK (R-CO): But a lot of this is personal and that's a problem. Instead of having decorum, instead of operating in a professional manner, this place has just evolved into this bickering and nonsense, and not really doing the job for the American people.

DANA BASH, CNN ANCHOR AND CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Is it that bad that you're saying I'm done?

BUCK: It is the worst year of the nine years and three months that I've been in Congress. And having talked to former members, it's the worst year in 40-50 years to be in Congress.


HUNT: He, of course, talking to our Dana Bash there.

His decision to step down is going to trim the Republicans' razor-thin majority in the House to just five, and that means Republicans can only afford to lose two votes to pass any legislation along party lines.

This is also, guys, what Buck told reporters, according to Jackie Alemany, a reporter on Capitol Hill. We can put it up here. Buck elaborated on his news with reporters just now. Quote, "We've taken impeachment and we've made it a social media issue as opposed to a constitutional concept. This place keeps going downhill and I don't need to spend more time here."

I mean, Farnoush, he said out loud what a lot of people are thinking privately.

AMIRI: Yeah. I mean, I was in -- I was in that scrum, and at one point, someone said is it really that bad? I mean, don't you think this will make things worse if people like you -- if moderates -- if people unwilling to just follow along in party line leave? And he said why don't you run, to the reporter?

So I think he's at a point that he feels that he -- I mean, obviously, he's facing the trail from leadership for difficult votes he's had to make on Mayorkas. He's been really critical of the Biden impeachment and continues to talk about that.

But I think it's -- I think it's fascinating if more people like Ken Buck leave -- like, what does the Republican Party in the House look like?

KUCINICH: Well, it just shows that Speaker Johnson absolutely has no juice and no loyalty among some of these members. I mean, he was just --

HUNT: He was blindsided by this.

AMIRI: It's twice now.

KUCINICH: He was blindsided.

HUNT: I mean --

AMIRI: Even before he announced it, he left him a voicemail.

KUCINICH: I mean, that is not what you do --


KUCINICH: -- to a leader that you believe in if you're a member of Congress. And that's what I took from this. Because if you keep on pressuring people and you keep on putting the screws to people like Ken Buck and some of these other members that don't want to fall in line on some of these more -- these issues that aren't necessarily something they need to do and need to pass, this is what's going to happen because they're unhappy.

HUNT: Yeah.

KUCINICH: And then you end up with the teeny -- a majority basically in name only.

HUNT: I mean, Farnoush, I have to say -- look, Congress comes in for criticism on the regular. Always has, always will. But the level of dysfunction that we are seeing from this particular Congress -- I mean, there's a text flying around the Hill from a Democrat who clearly had sent it to multiple people that basically just said, like, why don't you hand us the majority for a little while?

I mean, like, I talk to lobbyists --


HUNT: -- who feel like they can't -- there's nothing moving, so there's nothing at all that they can get done.

I mean, is there a solution here? I mean, is there anything that the Congress is going to accomplish between now and the elections?

AMIRI: I mean, it seems like the only thing that maybe they will do is ban TikTok, which is stunning to think about. This is the most ineffective Congress in our -- in modern history and the one thing that they are focusing dead on is banning an app that 170 million young people, and small businesses, and voters use right before the election.

So that is -- the priorities are kind of stunning when you consider how slim their majority is. When you consider the fact that they're really likely to lose it to Democrats in November.

HUNT: OK. Well, here we are. We've got eight more months of this, guys.

AMIRI: Yeah.

HUNT: Come back soon. Jackie Kucinich, Farnoush Amiri, thanks very much.

AMIRI: Thanks.

HUNT: All right. Coming up here, legendary coach Nick Sabin tells Congress he gave up the game he loves.

Plus, Congressman Jake Auchincloss of Massachusetts joins us live on CNN THIS MORNING. We're going to talk to him about that upcoming House vote to ban TikTok.



HUNT: All right, welcome back.

Later on today, the House expected to vote on a bill that could lead to a nationwide ban on TikTok. The legislation would bar TikTok from U.S. app stores unless it's spun off from its China-linked parent company. That's up for a vote under an expedited process that requires a two-thirds majority to pass, and it could move on to the Senate even with Donald Trump coming out against it.

Joining me now, Democratic Congressman Jake Auchincloss, of Massachusetts, who is backing the bill. He's the original cosponsor of it, in fact. Congressman, thank you very much for being here.


HUNT: So do you expect this ban to pass today? I mean, we have seen some progressive opposition to it. We've seen President Trump essentially flipflop on a TikTok ban. Is that influencing Republicans? How do you see this playing out today?

AUCHINCLOSS: I can't speak to Trump's influence on Republicans. That's always an open question.

I do think it's going to pass the House of Representatives with a strong bipartisan majority. And to be clear, it's not a ban. It's a forced sale. And the reason the forced sale I think is the appropriate measure here is that Congress needs to hold social media corporations accountable. They need to hold them accountable for their effect on kids' mental health.


I'm the youngest parent in the Democratic caucus. I spend a lot of time talking to fellow parents both inside the chamber but more importantly, in my district. And what I hear is a tremendous amount of anxiety about the effect of not just TikTok but Twitter, Instagram, YouTube, and Meta are having on their kid's attention span, socio- emotional development, cognitive development. And I hear that from kids, too.

Congress needs to step up and regulate these corporations on behalf of American parents. But we can't do that if they're answering to Xi Jinping, not to Congress.

HUNT: Right.

Well, I mean, what's -- what do you see as the difference between American-backed platforms, like Meta, and TikTok? Because the big argument that Mike Gallagher, for example -- Republican congressman who has been leading the charge on this -- says is that there's a national security problem here. That China is able to influence how our young people are thinking.

AUCHINCLOSS: There is an actual security problem. I actually think that's secondary. But Chairman Gallagher is correct. TikTok's algorithm, TikTok's data, which includes personally identifiable information about Americans is subject under Chinese law to the control of Xi Jinping. And that's not ambiguous; that is Chinese law that says if Xi Jinping wants it he gets it.

And they can control that algorithm to amplify certain types of content and suppress other types of content. I mean, try posting about the ethnic cleansing in Xinjiang province and see how many likes you get on TikTok. It's just not going to happen.

So there's no doubt that they --

HUNT: I don't imagine the word "Uyghur" has surfaced.


So there's no doubt that there is political interference there. But actually, to me, that's secondary. I'm just as interested in regulating Meta, and Twitter, and Instagram, and YouTube as I am in TikTok. The difference is those are American companies already subject to U.S. law. TikTok is not.

We need to hold all of big tech accountable for the effect they've had on platforming disinformation. For the effect that they've had on kids' mental health. For the effect that they've had on our civil discourse. They need to be reined in just like we've put in sense -- put in place common-sense regulations for linear TV and print media, all respecting the First Amendment but just guardrails.

HUNT: Fair enough.

Do you have TikTok on your phone?


HUNT: Yeah. I finally put it on mine after years of -- on my work phone only. But still, some of these things that are coming out about it make me nervous.

Do you think there's a risk to Democrats?

Let me show you what your colleague Maxwell Frost had to say about this -- watch.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) REP. MAXWELL FROST (D-FL): I don't think it'll be helpful with young voters. But my argument here -- yes, it has to do with young people. But taking a step back, I just think it's bad policy in fixing this problem that we do have to fix.


HUNT: He, of course, the first, I believe, Gen Z member of Congress.

Do you think there's a problem for Democrats if the president signs this bill?

AUCHINCLOSS: Uh, I haven't looked at opinion polls on it. I don't know and I prefer not to let opinion polls drive the policy that we make in Congress. I think it's incumbent upon us a policymakers to say we've got access to information and experts and we have made this informed judgment. And now, let's go out and try to explain why we think it. And if American voters are going to push back hard on that we'll get that feedback.

But I am going out into my district over the next several months and saying I've heard from you as parents and kids that you're concerned about the effects that social media screen time is having on your family time. Here's what we're trying to do about it.

HUNT: Yeah. All right, fair enough.

Let's talk a little bit about Ukraine. The administration has announced they're going to send another $300 million. They claim that they found it in savings from weapons contracts after they had previously said that the money wasn't there.

Do you support their move to do this?

And also, there is a discharge petition. Your leader Hakeem Jeffries is encouraging Democrats to sign onto that from Congressman McGovern. Some progressives, including Pramila Jayapal, have expressed opposition to that.

Do you support the discharge petition, and what do you think the best way is to get this money to Ukraine?

AUCHINCLOSS: Yes, I support the president's $300 million to Ukraine. They need everything they can get as a stopgap measure. But we need the full $60 billion to help them continue this fight. And for that reason, I signed the discharge petition yesterday.

I don't agree with progressives who are not signing onto that discharge petition over concerns about Israel. Even if they are not ultimately going to vote on the final legislation, they can still help put that legislation on the floor for an up or down vote. We have to allow the people's house to work its will because Speaker Johnson is too afraid of Donald Trump to do so.

HUNT: Um, Congressman, I also want to talk about something that I know is important to you. You're running for reelection and you have formed a new PAC called Beyond Thoughts and Prayers. Thoughts and prayers, obviously, something we see a lot of on social media in the wake of school shootings and other mass shootings.

Tell me a little bit about why this is what you're focused on here as you -- as you mount your reelection campaign.

AUCHINCLOSS: My worst day in Congress was not January 6. My worst day in Congress was the night of Uvalde. And I've got three little kids. And I thought about those parents identifying their children by their shoes and I was so angry and upset.

And I just felt like we need to politicize this issue. People keep on saying no, you can't politicize this issue. Send thoughts and prayers. It's a mental health challenge. And it's just a copout and it's the Republicans caving into the gun lobby.


We have got to put this issue on the ballot across the country. We have to support Democrats whose profile, whose experience, whose passion supports gun violence legislation so that we can ban assault weapons. So that we can require safe storage and keep kids safe when they're the leading cause of death.

So that we can stop shielding gun manufacturers from prosecution. They're the only industry in America that can't be sued for the misuse of their wares. It's an abomination.

All of this stuff has majority support from Americans. It now needs majority support in Congress.

HUNT: Um, do you feel like this is an issue that is a totally safe one for Democrats across the country to run on if you're looking at, like, Sen. Jon Tester, for example, in Montana? I mean, there have been some situations where gun reforms have honestly been stopped because there have been Democrats who have been nervous about their position. It's evolved in recent years. I'm curious how far you think it's changed.

AUCHINCLOSS: Different Democrats are going to talk about it differently in rural states versus more urban states, for sure.

But I think the messenger matters. I'm a Marine officer. I slept, ate, trained, and patrolled with an assault weapon for 4 1/2 years. Part of the reason I'm taking on this issue is I do think I can go into purple and red districts and make the case that we're not going after the individual right to bear arms. I respect weapons but weapons need to be used respectfully, and no civilian needs to have an assault weapon.

HUNT: All right, Congressman Jake Auchincloss. Stay with us. We're going to talk to you again in just a couple of minutes. Thank you.

All right, time now for sports. Former Alabama football coach Nick Saban says his stunning decision to retire in January was, in part, because the things he loved about college sports no longer exist.

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


Yeah, change is a constant. Very few people in college sports have as much influence as Nick Saban. He's one of the winningest coaches of all time.

And while he says he supports student-athletes getting paid through name, image, and likeness endorsement deals, he says today's pay-for- play culture has gone too far, telling a group of senators on Capitol Hill yesterday the change was one of the main factors in his decision to step away from the sport.


NICK SABAN, WON 7 COLLEGE FOOTBALL NATIONAL TITLES: All the things that I believed in for all these years -- 50 years of coaching -- no longer exist in college athletics. So it always was about developing players. It was always about helping people be more successful in life.

My wife even said to me -- we'd have all the recruits over on Sunday with their parents for breakfast. And she would always meet with the mothers and talk about how she was going to help impact their sons and how they would be well taken care of.

And she came to me like right before I retired and said why are we doing this? And I said what do you mean? And she said all they care about is how much you're going to pay them. They don't care about how you're going to develop them, which is all -- what we've always done. So why are we doing this?


MANNO: Saban added he doesn't believe athletes should be considered school employees but there needs to be some sort of system or guidelines in place. A federal judge, last month, blocked the NCAA from enforcing some of its rules on NIL and transfer deals as part of a larger lawsuit against the organization.

Elsewhere this morning, some rookie-on-rookie crime here in the NBA. Bucks guard Andre Jackson Jr. soaring for the putback slam dunk. Look how high he got. His chest level with the rim.

Jalen Slawson getting a knee to the back of the head. His team, the Kings, did win by 35. Maybe that helped a little bit -- woof.

March Madness now where Portland stuns 14th-ranked Gonzaga in the West Coast Conference Women's Championship game. Emme Shearer draining the three with just over a minute and a half to go, putting the Pilots up for good and stealing a bid in the process as Portland, who hadn't made the tourney since 1997, is now going back for a second year in a row.

Meantime, the Oakland men are going dancing for the first time in over a decade. Trey Townsend Jr. going off for the Golden Grizzlies -- a senior -- grew up 15 minutes away from campus -- scoring a career-high 38 points helping his hometown school clinch the Verizon League title.

And it appears New York Rangers rookie Matt Rempe has finally gone too far. The NHL suspending him four games for this dangerous hit Monday against the Devils. Rempe coming from behind throwing his full weight and elbowing Jonas Siegenthaler in the jaw.

Rempe's been suspended. He's been in four fights and ejected twice since being called up by the Rangers. He only played in 10 games.

And we usually leave the politics to you, Kasie. It is certainly your wheelhouse. But Aaron Rodgers always keeping us on our toes. Robert Kennedy Jr. says he's talked with the enigmatic Jets quarterback about becoming his running mate on an Independent ticket for the White House. Also floated, former Minnesota governor and pro wrestler Jesse Ventura as a possibility, among others.

RFK Jr. telling CNN he's already made up his mind. He's going to announce his decision in the next two weeks.

Rodgers has said in the past, Kasie, he's not interested in politics. He plans on going back to the Jets in the fall. But Rodgers for vice president? Uh, maybe it'll happen.


HUNT: Uh, yeah. A new level of celebrity in politics, I guess?

MANNO: Yeah. Rodgers always likes to stay in the headlines. We'll see what happens here. I think he might be back for the Jets next season.

HUNT: All right. Carolyn Manno for us. Carolyn, thank you very much for that.

Up next here, it is officially Biden versus Trump for the next eight months. How fun. Plus, is your car spying on you? The new technology that could drive up your insurance premiums. That's next hour.