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CNN Tonight

Five People Onboard A Submersible Finally Killed As It Headed Through The Titanic Shipwreck Site; Barack Obama Tells All On The Trump Indictment And Joe Biden In His Exclusive Interview With Christiane Amanpour; Whistleblowers Say IRS Has Recommended More Tax Evasion Charges vs. Hunter Biden. Aired 11p-12a ET

Aired June 22, 2023 - 23:00   ET




ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: Good evening, everyone. I'm Alisyn Camerota. Welcome to CNN TONIGHT.

The Coast Guard says a catastrophic implosion killed the five passengers onboard that submersible that was headed to the wreck of the Titanic. We're learning tonight that the Navy picked up the sound of an implosion on an underwater listening system on Sunday, just hours after the sub lost communications. So why did the search go on for four more days? We've got a live report from the Pentagon coming up. We'll break down everything we know tonight about, on the ill- fated journey and what went wrong.

Plus, you just heard Christiane Amanpour's exclusive interview with former President Obama, and tonight we've got reaction to what he says about the indictments of Donald Trump. We'll also examine what he says about his former vice president, Joe Biden, so stick around for that.

But let's begin with news of the Titanic submersible. CNN's Jason Carroll is live in Boston, where some of the Coast Guard searchers were based, and Oren Lieberman is at the Pentagon for us. Oren, you're getting new information about this top secret at the time, Navy system that detected this implosion very soon after the sub lost communications. So what do we know tonight?

OREN LIEBERMANN, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: That's right. A senior Navy official tells us that the Navy picked up on a sound or acoustic signature that was likely or could have been an implosion or an explosion at about the time the Titan Submersible went missing and at about the location where it went missing.

According to that senior Navy official, the Navy that immediately passed that information onto the incident commander and it was then used to refine and narrow down the search area, an incredibly wide area as we've learned over the last couple of days. So why didn't it end the search immediately? And this is a crucial question, especially when it was picked up on Sunday.

That's because the Navy official says the sound itself was not definitive and they couldn't say for certain what it was. And because there were lives at stake here, this search didn't automatically become a recovery or a salvage and remained a search and rescue effort over the course of the next several days after the Navy analysts had a chance to look at this and try to figure out what it was.

These analysts also looked at the other sounds that had been picked up. For example, the banging noise that we talked about for the last several days. But officials say that banging noise was likely either natural life or simply a sound or noise coming from the other ships and vessels that were responding to the search area.

Of course, the crucial question goes back to the sound that was picked up on Sunday that we now know was the implosion of the Titan submersible. That sound, again, detected at about the time and location the Titan went missing, but because it wasn't definitive, Alisyn, it didn't immediately end the search and that search continued over several days.

The Navy, using this top secret system of essentially sensors that are able to pick up on sounds or acoustic signatures and they're able to use these different sensors to triangulate exactly where this was and allow them to narrow in on the search, so that when a remotely operated vehicle finally got down to the bottom there, it was fairly quickly able to find the debris field.

CAMEROTA: Okay, thank you for that, Oren. So Jason, did the Coast Guard ever mentioned this? I mean, they obviously were out searching. There were so many vessels, so much manpower. Did they talk about that they'd been alerted that there'd been this sound of an explosion days earlier?

JASON CARROLL, CNN U.S. NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: No, not during any of the briefings that we attended. Obviously, if that had happened, that would have been something that we obviously would have reported. But it seems very clear that, as Oren had reported, since this acoustic signature was deemed to not be definitive, they simply carried on with this, what was a search and rescue mission.

The reasoning behind that being that if there was any chance that someone might be alive to go on ahead and do that. The outstanding question that I think a lot of us have here on the ground after learning about this recent report now, Alisyn, is one particular point.

And that is the Coast Guard has made it abundantly clear throughout all of this that they've been in close communication, close contact with the family members. So that makes one wonder, did anyone then inform the family members very privately about what the Navy had discovered? And if so, one can imagine in a roller coaster of emotions that these poor families were dealing with.


First, having to deal with that, then probably in all likelihood hearing about these reports of these banging noises, which also it turns out ended up being not true. And then finally today, getting that word, the official word from the Coast Guard, that this Remote Operating Vehicle, this ROV had gone down to the surface this morning and had come across the debris.

And so that's the question I think that a lot of folks are now wondering out here on this end. What were the families told? And if so, what a roller coaster of emotions it must have been for them for the past 48 hours or so.

CAMEROTA: Jason, what's the latest on the recovery efforts?

CARROLL: Well, that is something that they've spoken about here in Boston at Coast Guard headquarters. They talked about those remote operating vehicles, those ROVs. They are still actually going to be down there on the seabed near the Titanic. They're going to be mapping out that location near the debris field.

They're going to continue to map out that area to see if there's any chance, Alisyn, that they can come across any other wreckage, any other evidence of what happened down there. And, but of course, we also got word that they are going to be pulling back on some of their other resources within the next 24 hours or so.

CAMEROTA: Okay. Jason, Oren, thank you both very much for the latest from the Pentagon and from the scene there in Boston.

Here with me tonight, I have Christine Dennison, who plans and runs expeditions like that of the Titan, Tim Taylor, an expert in deep water searches. We also have underwater forensic expert Rhonda Moniz.

So, Tim and Christine, James Cameron, famous director obviously of the epic "Titanic" film, says that he knew about the explosion noise on Sunday and he started calling his circle and they started being able to mentally prepare. So it sounds like there were people who knew that was a bad sign and do you have questions about why the search with all of these resources and manpower and energy and money went on for so many days?

TIM TAYLOR, PRESIDENT AND CEO, TIBURON SUBSEA: I'll tell you one thing, talking to engineers that I seen is this machine is the submersible. They utilize my understanding a glass sphere in the aft compartment for electronics and for equipment and the glass sphere is a really good tool for keeping these electronics in place, but it's full of air and it can implode. It's a basically a bomb sitting on the back of their housing.

No ROV, no submarine group uses them in their submarines. And I'll take it one step further. No submarine will go near, some submersible operator will go near, they're used in all sorts of beacons and buoys and ocean that are unmanned. Because if they blow up, it's unmanned. But no operator of a submersible will go near a sphere in one of an unmanned equipment to do work on it. They won't go near it because if it blows up, it's like it's a small bomb that will take --

CAMEROTA: So that's what you think happened.

TAYLOR: Well, when you're talking about the Navy sound, if they can't determine what it is, was it the sphere that blew? Are they still intact? Or did the sphere blow and blow up and damage their housing, and that's what caused them to blow? Or did they just implode on the main housing? So there's a forensic study, which your next guest might be able to weigh in on that.


TAYLOR: But there was, they, this design.

CAMEROTA: They couldn't be sure exactly what the explosion sound was.

TAYLOR: Correct. And this design, they used that, no one else uses that, and it's man submersible. It's another thing that they use along with carbon fiber that was, what they thought was cutting edge and may have been what did them.

CAMEROTA: I mean, now we're hearing about so many people who raise safety questions about the manufacturing of this Titan. What are your questions next?

CHRISTINE DENNISON, CO-FOUNDER AND PRESIDENT, MAD DOG EXPEDITIONS: Well, I think Jay, I saw the interview with James Cameron earlier. And I think he was just so exact and precise. And to hear it coming from an expert like him that has firsthand experience. It's very valuable and it's very telling that within the community, which is a very small community, there have been issues, there have been a lot of red flags for years that this was an experimental sub, that passengers should not have been exposed to it going on this and that it was a catastrophe waiting to happen, which unfortunately it has.

And now our efforts really are not just on the recovery but we've got families and we have so much information that we really have to delve into, and the questions that we all have from the first day, the timing. We've heard so many different stories.

I've had so many different sources tell me that they heard there was a distress call, that there was a final ping and the timing wasn't right. And now we're hearing about the Navy. And transparency at this point where we can't help them, I mean, it's kind of done, is what we need to do and answer questions for the sake of the families because they are just in tremendous pain.


CAMEROTA: Understood. Rhonda, you're often called in to consult on these underwater forensic investigations. So where would you start with this one?

RHONDA MONIZ, WORKED ON A PREVIOUS EXPEDITION WITH OCEANGATE: Well, I think I would start exactly where they're starting and with what they're doing currently. So they've got two sites here, debris sites, that they're going to have to map. They're going to have to use sonar, which uses acoustic waves, and gets really very detailed 3D mapping of those areas.

As I understand, there's two sites. There's a larger site and a smaller site. They'll map those, and then they'll recover the debris that they can. Anything that's large enough that they can recover, they will.

So the first thing they have to do is map the site and collect as much data as possible. And mapping it is the way to do it. And it's very, very detailed. And that'll give them information in addition to what they can salvage to put this investigation together.

CAMEROTA: And Rhonda, you went on a previous expedition, as I understand it, with OceanGate, this company, and Stockton Rush, who is now one of the deceased, but who was the CEO behind OceanGate. So what were your impressions? I mean, there are so many questions now about whether corners were cut, et cetera. What were your impressions?

MONIZ: Well, I went on a different expedition. It was a different, it was an earlier version of their sub called Cyclops. And it was on the Andrea Doria wreck, which is 250 feet. Of course, it's a vast difference between 12,500 feet and 250 feet.

And my job there was as the ROV pilot and I brought redundant systems and redundant parts and my job was in case something happened with that system, I could put ROVs in the water and assist in a search and rescue operation. So that was a much different project. And I felt that there was a lot of redundancy in that. There was a plan in case something happened. In this situation, it's much, much different. It's a different system. And we're talking about a considerably deeper depth.

CAMEROTA: I want to play something that Stockton Rush said in 2021 about the materials that he was using, that plexiglass, acrylic, and why he felt confident about it.


STOCKTON RUSH, CEO, OCEANGATE: It's acrylic plexiglass. Wow. Yeah and it is seven inches thick. It weighs about 80 pounds. And when we go to the Titanic it will squeeze in about three quarters of an inch. It just to form the acrylics great because it squeezes in and before it cracks or fails it starts to crackle and so you get a huge warning if it's going to fail.


CAMEROTA: So Tim and Christine you heard him there. He's justifying why he's doing something different than what the industry does and he's saying you have huge warning before it fails.

DENNISON: Tim, go ahead.

TAYLOR: His whole premise was the industry doesn't evolve. This industry evolves but it evolves at a pace that's safe and tested. All right, lithium ion batteries. They use them now. 10 years ago, they didn't. They cost a lot of money, but they have to be certified. They have to be inspected.

It's a self-regulating industry, but it hasn't had an accident in 50 years. And he was a renegade in here, and he was warned. And he went out, not only did he do carbon fiber, he did glass sphere, now he's doing acrylics. Changing one thing and testing it, but changing everything, and it need to be some responsibility here.

CAMEROTA: We have to go. Do you have any last thoughts, Christine?

DENNISON: No, just that we should keep the families close to our hearts and that we get some transparency and that we get the forensics to find out really what happened and how it took place.

CAMEROTA: Thank you both very much. Rhonda, thank you for your expertise. Really interesting to talk to you this evening.

We've got much more on the catastrophic implosion of the Titan submersible and the five people on board.

Next, the tragic history of the Titanic and why it still fascinates us 111 years later. Here with James Cameron says about the eerie parallels between the Titan sub and the Titanic.




CAMEROTA: The discovery of debris from the missing sub confirming everyone's worst fears tonight. The mission to see the wreck of the Titanic had a tragic ending.

CNN's Tom Foreman is at the Magic Wall to explain some things to us. So, Tom, what was found exactly today?

TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: What was found was what they needed to find to know what had happened, really. They found this part first back here, this sort of tail cover back here. That was the first thing they came up with. They said the second thing was this, this titanium nose cap that contains that window about a little bit ago in that video.

And then they found the back cap back here. As soon as they found this, they knew everyone had perished because this is nothing but a titanium tube in here. Without a cap on either end, that's the end of it because there's 5,000 pounds of pressure for every square inch down there.

Knowing that also based on the time when they stopped getting communications from the people on board, now you match that up with the sound signature you mentioned that the Navy recorded. And you get closer to knowing that this probably happens somewhere around this depth.


Remember it was about two and a half miles all the way down, somewhere down in this area is where it would have happened. And then the debris landed out here, the Titanic off the bow of the Titanic, remember the Titanic's in two parts, one half is about a half mile away, the bow is up in this area. So all of that, what did they find? They found really conclusive evidence quickly, that everyone had passed away in that explosive moment recorded by the Navy.

CAMEROTA: And Tom, what's the plan for recovering those things and the rest if there's any more debris?

FOREMAN: They're going to be doing a lot of work with these rovers as we heard. They're going to try to get them down there and see if they can pick up more and more things, get photographs as mentioned before, very careful mapping of everything there.

And that's because obviously there are huge concerns the families and respect for the people who have passed and everything, but from an engineering standpoint, they need to get as close as they can to getting as many pieces as they can from this to figure out what exactly went wrong.

Was it the seal here or was it the seal here or was it that window up front here? Did something like that give way and maybe the debris, if you get enough of it and put it all back together, even if you have to do some of it virtually from photographs, maybe it will tell you what actually went wrong instead of just what you think went wrong because at this depth, remember you could have a pinhole problem, and that could cause systemic failure, and everything goes to pieces there.

The sad truth of it is, though, they're going to be gathering all of this evidence truly so close to the Titanic itself. The thing that drew these people down there, that have drawn people down there, the Titanic, which has been sitting there for more than a century now, more than 1,500 dead on that ship. Alisyn?

CAMEROTA: Tom, thank you for explaining all of that really helpful time.

So, the tragedy of the Titan submersible is now forever tied to the historic catastrophe of the Titanic. And tonight, James Cameron, the director of the epic movie, talks about the eerie parallels.


JAMES CAMERON, DIRECTOR, TITANIC: I think there's a great, almost surreal irony here, which is Titanic sank because the captain took it full steam into an ice field that night on a moonless night with very poor visibility after he had been repeatedly warned by telegram, by Marconigram, by radio during the day that that's what was ahead of him.

And so I think we're also seeing a parallel here with unheeded warnings about a sub that not certified where the entire deep submergence community actually, or not the entire community but a large number of them got together to write a letter to OceanGate, the company, and say, we believe that this could lead to catastrophe.

(END VIDEO CLIP) CAMEROTA: I'm back now with Tim Taylor and Christine Dennison. What do you think about, basically what James Cameron is saying there is that in large measure it was hubris, which is a parallel. And again, I know that tonight that people are grieving and we're being respectful, but that was the point that he's, I think he's making there.

TAYLOR: That's true.

CAMEROTA: Because, I mean, basically it's your feeling that Stockton Rush, who was the head of OceanGate, was always pushing the envelope. I mean, he was pushing the boundaries. That's what he was known for.

TAYLOR: I think he was believing his own hype sometimes, and he wanted to make so many changes. From my perspective, looking at this, and not to badmouth the deceased here, but he was warned by a lot of people. He didn't take those warnings. And the people that he took, believed him and that's the next step in this catastrophe is they thought they were safe or safer they know the risk everybody knows the rest but there was an element here of -- of danger for them that they weren't aware of.

CAMEROTA: I mean, they did sign a release. They did sign a release that mentioned that death was possible. But I hear what you're saying. They had to suspend disbelief that it was really going to be catastrophic.

TAYLOR: There was no third party agency verifying that. They didn't go to the competition, or they didn't go to another engineering firm and ask.

DENNISON: No, I'm not going to interrupt. But I think that they do mention the word death, that you could die seven times. And that is an element of any kind of extreme adventure. However, if you are a client. And you don't know what to ask. You won't ask. You don't think about the idea that they had a balance.

CAMEROTA: Yeah. It doesn't occur to you to know the things that you were just describing of what, you know, fiberglass is, how it's different than whatever else.

TAYLOR: Carbon fiber doesn't hold up like this.

CAMEROTA: Hold that thought for a minute because we're joined now by a Titanic historian, Craig Sopin, of the Titanic International Society. Craig, thank you so much for being here. I don't know if you could just hear there James Cameron talking about what he's saying as the eerie similarities now, knowing that this, that the Titan, as submersible, was going down because they were lovers of the Titanic and the Titanic lore and history, and that now that is their final resting place.

CRAIG SOPIN, TITANIC HISTORIAN: Yeah, and you know, today the Titanic took five more victims, unfortunately, to add to those list of those who perished.

[23:25:08] And you know, there's something that distinguishes the Titanic from many other sea disasters. It was a ship that was practically unsinkable, and it sank. And it sank of all times on its maiden voyage. And the captain went down with the ship.

The band played until the end. It was a microcosm of society. There were class structures onboard the ship. There was cowardice, there was heroism onboard that ship. So it really distinguishes it. And what we had here for the last four days was not merely a missing submersible. It was a missing submersible connected to the Titanic.

And that's where the passion was. It was totally different than just anything else. And that's why everyone woke up the past four days. having to turn the television on and to see what was happening with respect to the rescue. So while there are some parallels, the Titanic was in the class all its own, but everything the Titanic touched became very important to everyone because of their passion for the ship and the 22 stories that are out there that have been told through countless books. magazines and plays and films, et cetera.

So this was a very, very sad day for the Titanic community, I think, and the rest of the world. I knew P.H. Nardule, who was on that voyage, and he was part of our family, and that was the Titanic family, and now he's gone, and it's a very sad loss for us.

CAMEROTA: We're sorry for your loss. Craig, thank you for explaining all of that. We feel the lore of the Titanic, still 111 years later. Great to talk to you. Thanks for being here.

SOPIN: Thank you. Take care.

CAMEROTA: Up next, former president Barack Obama speaking to CNN exclusively about race in America, about the indictments of Donald Trump, and President Biden as he runs for reelection.




CAMEROTA: Tonight, a CNN exclusive interview with former President Barack Obama, Christiane Amanpour sat down with him in Athens to get his thoughts on the state of democracy and the 2024 election. They also talked about the recent criticism of his comments on race from GOP presidential candidates Senator Tim Scott and Nikki Haley. He declined to respond to them, but said this about race in America.


BARACK OBAMA, FORMER U.S. PRESIDENT: I think race has always been the fault line in America. Life in American politics, that is not original to me, I think any observer of America would say that. I am, by the way, that historically is not been, sort of, a one-sided, partisan issue. My favorite president, Abraham Lincoln, did an awful lot to advance the cause of freedom and conversely the Democratic party was where the Dixiecrats resisted civil rights and progress for years and imposed Jim Crow.

So it is something that America has had to grapple with for centuries. I think that we have made real progress and, you know, although I was always skeptical that my election somehow signified a post-racial America, if you look at any speech that I made throughout my presidency I was always somebody who reminded the country of the progress that was possible, that was my brand. Right? That is part of the hope and change thing. But, what i have also always said about hope was that it can be blind hope. It can't be a willful ignorance to our history. We reckon with our history, that is how we then get better.


CAMEROTA: Let's bring in our panel. We have senior reporter for "The Route" Jessica Washington, CNN senior political analyst John Avlon, Republican strategist Jason Osborne, and CNN senior legal analyst Ellie Honig. Great to have you all here tonight. So Jessica, does President Obama, do President Obama, and Nikki Haley, and Tim Scott just fundamentally see race in America differently? Is that what the debate is here, is it systemic or not systemic?

JESSICA WASHINGTON, SR. EDITOR, THE ROUTE: I think to a certain extent. I think that you hear Tim Scott saying what's kind of not talk about this past, and that is how we are going to come together. And Obama is really saying that we have to talk about it in order to come together.

So, you are hearing two people who are saying that we have to make this better, we have to have conversations about race that are not so toxic in the society. At the same time, what Obama is saying is that we both have a history of racism and we are also currently dealing with that aftermath, currently dealing with the effects of racism in our society and into a deal is that we are never going to have a kumbaya (ph) moment that people like Tim Scott would like us to have way the second.

JOHN AVALON, CNN SR. POLITICAL ANALYST: You know, Tim Scott in his systemic speech early in Iowa, and talked about how his grandfather in South Carolina, in, you know, the early part of the 20th century, dealt with Jim Crow racism, discrimination.

CAMEROTA: I think he said he had to get off the sidewalk until let the white pedestrians passed.

AVLON: Absolutely, which was a fact of that era. It's not that Tim Scott is ignoring that past, but the emphasis is clearly from Tim Scott's perspective on where we are and where we are going. Not coincidentally related to the fact that he's trying to win a Republican primary.


And so he is saying let's not focus on the history, he's acknowledging it though and he deserves credit for that. I don't think there's as much a gap. Put aside Tim Scott's recent comments about President Obama, which are, I think, not consistent with his general tone of optimism.

I think both of them are dealing with the past, but Obama's equilibrium is a little more balanced, and Tim Scott's, because he's trying to win the Republican Party, is saying, let's focus on how much progress we've made and where we're going.

JASON OSBORNE, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: I would take a step further and I agree with what you're saying there, but I think he is acknowledging that, hey, despite the past, look what I've been able to accomplish. And look what all these other people have been able to accomplish, not only nationwide, but in my area. You know, the mayor, I think, in his town in South Carolina.

So I think he is saying that we aren't making a lot of progress on this. And yes, to your point, we don't need to necessarily focus so much on the history, but focus on the fact that people have overcome all of these obstacles. But there's still so many more that we have to overcome in order for our country to move forward.

AVLON: I don't hear as much of that. I think that's where a lot of the dealt is.

ELLIE HONIG, CNN SR. LEGAL ANALYST: Early in his presidency, Barack Obama did not want to be known as the race president. He was very resistant to that until he gave his big speech, I think, in Philadelphia at the Constitution Museum when he took the issue on much more headlong.

And I think it's refreshing. One thing that he will always do is talk about the progress we've made. He never says all our problems are solved, but I think it's good for everyone to be reminded we've made and I think former President Obama has always been very effective at delivering that message.

CAMEROTA: Of course, Christiane also asked him about the upcoming presidential race and particularly, I think, why his former vice president, President Biden now, why the poll numbers are so anemic. So here is that.


OBAMA: I think what's true in American politics generally is until you get to campaigns, people aren't paying much attention. People have gone through a difficult time because of COVID and the pandemic and lockdowns, because of inflation, primarily the result of both the war in Ukraine and rising energy prices as well as supply chain issues.

And so people have memories about the, okay, eggs got more expensive and gas was more expensive. And they haven't been paying as much attention to the fact that, for example, the African-American unemployment rate is lower than it's been in decades.

The campaign will allow President Biden to make those arguments. And I think that, you know, in a media environment that's so cluttered, it's very hard to break through until you get to election.


CAMEROTA: Jason, do you think that when President Biden starts campaigning, things will turn around?

OSBORNE: I do agree with him on that standpoint. I mean, polls right now are very fluid, and I think they're going to continue to go up and down. And until Biden gets on the road and starts having to defend some of the things that he's done, we're not going to see some real numbers. I mean, I think we mentioned this the other day, that at this point in the cycle in 2015 or 2011, Rudy Giuliani was in the lead.

And so, and then after Rudy, became Michelle Bachmann and then Herman Cain. I mean, so polls are very fluid and I do think that, you know, Biden does have a lot to make up for. And I think one thing that's interesting is that, to Obama's point about inflation and gas prices, when they were really high at the beginning of last year and everybody thought the Republicans are gonna sweep the house, when the prices started coming down is when people started paying attention to the campaigns and they realized, wait a minute, gas prices are kind of low now.

They forgot that they were really low two years prior, but the economy drives the campaign and the economy drives the voters to the polls.

CAMEROTA: Michelle Bachmann and Herman Cain.

AVLON: Wow. Hey. I will say that with due respect you conflated two Republican primary cycles there 2008 and 2012 --

CAMEROTA: I say fair I say that's just to get in the name checks

AVLON: No, it is. It is, you took us in a funhouse merit tour of recent American politics, and I recall that's it, that's a deep cut. And I recall that the Rudy preeminence the polls acutely as I worked on that campaign, but in all seriousness look, I think The idea that the president doesn't any president doesn't have a bully pulpit where he can't get his message across the American people isn't really credible. So, president of the United States.

I think one of the questions that Biden has is how much is he gonna rely on surrogates like Barack Obama to make his argument for him. Obama is a great communicator. But -- but the contrast with Biden is pretty clear.

They're very complimentary figures in some ways, but by the president, he has the opportunity and the obligation to make his own case and if he -- if he relies too much on surrogates, I think that would raise some additional questions

CAMEROTA: Quickly, Jessica?

WASHINGTON: Yeah, I would agree that he can't rely too much on figures like Obama, but figures like Obama are the people is someone's going to bring people out to the polls. I think this is really who his booster is, think enthusiasm for Biden is maybe not super high, but Barack Obama, I think, can still bring people out. [23:40:03]

CAMEROTA: That's the dance. You're right.

AVLON: Yeah.

CAMEROTA: All right. Thank you very much, friends.

Next two whistleblowers told Congress that IRS investigators recommended charging Hunter Biden with far more serious crimes than what he ended up with. So next, we'll bring you CNN's latest reporting on this.



REPORTER: Hunter, How do you feel after taking the plea deal?


CAMEROTA: Hunter Biden arrived via tourist trolley to the White House for a steak dinner tonight. He did not answer that question.

But prosecutors announced earlier this week that he would plead guilty to two tax misdemeanors as part of a plea deal.


Tonight, according to transcripts of his, of, I should say, private interviews with two whistleblowers. IRS investigators initially recommended far more serious charges, including felonies, against the president's son.

CNN's Kara Scannell joins us now. My panel is also back with me. Kara, what did these whistleblowers say exactly?

KARA SCANNELL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, so there were two whistleblowers that testified in private, and the transcripts were released today by the House Republicans. And what we learned from them is that they had, you know, documents, exhibits embedded in these transcripts.

What they showed is that the IRS investigators were recommending far more serious charges, including multiple counts of attempts at tax evasion, as well as other misdemeanors, but a total of 11 counts. It's obviously a lot more serious than this deal with Hunter Biden of reaching with the government where he is going to plead guilty to those two misdemeanors.

And according to our sources, that prosecutors will recommend that he doesn't serve any prison time. So that was kind of the overarching headline here of just that they were prepared to do this and that there were career officials in the Department of Justice that also backed that decision. Now there can always be differences between what investigators want and what ultimately becomes a resolution as Ellie well knows, they're cutting a deal, they're resolving this case.

But that was a key piece of this and one of the whistleblowers was a supervisory special agent. He has a very good reputation at the IRS. His name is Gary Shapley and his -- his main quote here, his main allegation is he says, I'm alleging with evidence that DOJ provided preferential treatment, slow-walked the investigation, and did nothing to avoid obvious conflicts of interest in this investigation.

And one thing that he points to says that DOJ allowed the statute of limitations to run out on some of these tax years, which also then narrowed the ability of the potential charges they could bring.

CAMEROTA: So you say he has a good reputation. He's well-regarded within the IRS. What about the other whistleblower? Do we know anything?

SCANNELL: Yeah. He's another career guy. He was on this investigation from just about its inception in November of 2018. He's been working on it. He's also been on some significant cases. You know, so these are people that are well regarded and they came forward because they didn't really know what was going on here. And they go into some additional details about what evidence they think existed.

And one of the issues was this question of venue. This was investigated by the U.S. Attorney's Office in Delaware. And they said they knew as far back as June of 2021 that could be a potential problem because they usually bring the cases where the alleged crime occurred. So they started looking at maybe in California, that's where Hunter Biden lived or in D.C. because that's where his tax returns were prepared.

So then what this whistleblower says is that he was in this meeting in October of last year where the U.S. attorney in Delaware David Weiss had told him, and this was according to his notes that he was referring to, that both the U.S. attorneys in D.C. and California declined to bring the case.

He also revealed that he sought special counsel status, which would give him more freedom to bring these cases, and that was denied. And so he said, according to these notes by the whistleblower, that Weiss didn't believe he had the authority to do this.

Now that's in direct contradiction to what Weiss has said publicly and what Merrick Garland, the attorney general, has said publicly, and they reiterated that today, saying that Weiss had the power to decide whether, what, and when to charge Hunter Biden.

CAMEROTA: Ellie, go.

HONIG: Part of this I agree with, part of this doesn't concern me at all. Slow walked, 100 percent. This is a five-year investigation. That is ridiculous. There's absolutely no reason this should have taken five years. And if you want to give out the blame, the first half of that was under the Trump administration. The second half of that was under this Biden administration. So slow walked, absolutely. There's no way this should have taken that long. The part where the IRS agents wanted to bring more serious charges,

let me tell you, that happens all the time. Every case is worked by a prosecutor, like what I was, and an agent, FBI, IRS, DEA, whatever the case may be. It is the most common dynamic in the world for the agents to say, let's charge them all the way up to the max, sometimes beyond the max. And the job of a prosecutor is to say, hang on. Let me look at it. Maybe some of these things that you are gung ho to charge with your badge and your gun don't quite meet the law.

And the dynamic usually is the agent wants to go here and the prosecutor says, legally we need to bring it here. And if we're just looking at the universe of what could have happened to Hunter Biden for tax fraud. There's basically three outcomes. The most harsh outcome would be tax evasion, which would be a felony, which apparently is what some of the agents wanted.

The middle ground is the non-payment, which is the misdemeanor. And then some tax cases involving nonpayment get resolved civilly. I had tax cases where my supervisor said, we're not doing that. Send it over to civil. They can file a lawsuit. So he comes out in the middle ground here, not bothered by that part of this.

CAMEROTA: OK, quickly, John.

AVLON: Look, I think this has credibility because there is evidence by this agent. That is a lot more than a lot of the storm around Hunter Biden and his accusers in Congress have provided. So that should be taken seriously. Why should we answer some of the questions that have been raised by this?


But, so, you know, follow the facts, but let's keep in mind this other fact, which is that Weiss is a U.S. attorney appointed by the Trump administration and kept in place by Merrick Garland in order to ensure political independence.

So this whistleblower deserves credibility because he has evidence. So this is not just part of the circus that sometimes surrounds Hunter Biden, and Weiss should answer for that. But Weiss has a record of being independent and there's every reason to believe his independence.

CAMEROTA: Give us the Republican perspective.

OSBORNE: Yeah, I think what the Trump folks are gonna say, and what I think legitimate argument here on the Republican side as well is the process.

As we've seen with this whistleblower saying that this slow walk, that these charges, you know, they wanted to do higher charger or greater charges, even though the end result I think was all going to be the same with it being played out, I think the Trump folks are going to be able to say, look, everything that I've said about the investigation into me, is it showing itself in this investigation as well. And just because that U.S. attorney was my appointee, because I only

have the best people possible, the people underneath that person were not his appointees. So he's going to be able to say the deep state actually helped Hunter Biden on this, and they were trying to help Joe Biden.

CAMEROTA: I mean, that's going to be their talking point.

OSBORNE: Yeah, that's going to be their talking points, but to their base, that's what feeds the fire.


OSBORNE: And that's the problem, I think, in the end.

AVLON: What do you think?

OSBORNE: What I think is I am concerned that DOJ did this. Now keep in mind in full candor I used to work for Ted Stevens who was prosecuted relentlessly during his time at the end of his career and wrongly. Right? So I have a certain feeling about DOJ.

I don't think this whole case helps DOJ's argument that they are nonpartisan that they're going by the book. And even though to the two legal scholars they're going to say. The end result was going to be the same. These charges were going to be played out. The gun charges were going to be dropped. You know, that's a problem.

CAMEROTA: I got to go, Ellie.

HONIG: It wasn't that good.

CAMEROTA: Oh, that's awesome. All right, thanks. We'll be right back.




CAMEROTA: Tune in tomorrow to "CNN THIS MORNING." Anderson Cooper will be live from Newfoundland with the latest on the submersible tragedy and a family member of one of the Titans passengers speaks out. That starts at 6 a.m. Eastern.

Thanks so much for watching tonight. Our coverage continues now.