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Early Start with John Berman and Zoraida Sambolin

President's Son Faces 9 Criminal Charges in Federal Tax Case; Trump Set to Testify in New York Civil Fraud Trial Monday; U.S. Officials: Two Rockets Hit U.S. Embassy in Baghdad, Iraq; Police: Man Fires Shotgun in Front of Albany Synagogue; House Votes 214-191 to Censure Bowman for Fire Alarm Incident. Aired 5-5:30a ET

Aired December 08, 2023 - 05:00   ET




Hunter Biden under criminal indictment again. The president's son now accused of being a tax cheat.

Plus, a developing story out of Baghdad. The embassy there hit by a pair of rockets just a short time ago.

And --


DONALD TRUMP, FORMER PRESIDENT: I should be right now in Iowa, and New Hampshire, and South Carolina. I shouldn't be sitting in a courthouse. And I don't have to sit here.


HUNT: Donald Trump at a courthouse instead of on the campaign trail. Is this about the law or politics?


HUNT: Good morning to our viewers in the United States and around the world.

I'm Kasie Hunt. It's Friday, December 8th. Happy Friday, 5:00 a.m. here in Washington, 2:00 a.m. in California.

There's new trouble for the president's son. Hunter Biden now facing a second criminal case this morning with nine tax charges brought by special counsel David Weiss. The 56-page indictment filed in California alleges Hunter schemed to evade at least $1.4 million in federal taxes from 2016 to 2019. And instead, he spent his money on drugs, escorts, girlfriends, luxury hotels and rental properties, exotic cars, clothing -- so basically everything but his taxes.

If convicted in a tax case, Hunter could face up to 17 years in prison. Let's bring in civil rights attorney Areva Martin.

Areva, good morning to you. Thanks very much for being here. What stands out to you about this case?


I think what stands out to me the most is the charges in this new 56- page indictment are similar to if not the same charges that we've learned about earlier this summer that were going to be a part of a plea deal that was going to be entered into by Hunter Biden, but we know that federal judge derailed that plea agreement when questions were asked about some of the fine print in that agreement.

So here we are now with the same charges about tax evasion being brought in this very, very serious indictment after clearly no agreement could be reached between Hunter Biden and the special counsel assigned to this matter.

HUNT: So what do I think of the strategy that Hunter Biden's defense team has been using, the fact that the plea deal fell apart and now their reaction to these charges in California?

MARTIN: I think what we've heard consistently, Kasie, in this case is, is that according to Hunter Biden's attorney, this is all political. This is a case according to his attorney that would not be brought if Hunter didn't have the last name Biden, if this was any other taxpayer, any other individual that had not paid their taxes but, you know, subsequently did pay because we do learn -- we have learned that Hunter Biden did pay the taxes owed to him.

According to his lawyer, this is all political. That this is pressure brought by the Republican Party on this special counsel to move forward with these charges, charges that he says otherwise would not have been filed.

HUNT: Which set of charges do you think carry more risk for Hunter, the new tax charges in California or the gun charges in Delaware?

MARTIN: I think these are very serious charges, Kasie. There are six misdemeanor charges and three felony. And not only are the tax charges when you look at the indictment, it is not just that Hunter didn't pay his taxes, there are also allegations that he tried to defraud the government, that he claimed business expenses for items that clearly were not business expenses, and that he engaged in conduct to try to avoid having to pay taxes on substantial income that he earned during the applicable period.

And we've seen other individuals serve jail time for similar charges. So I think these tax charges are very serious and as I stated earlier, any effort to resolve them via any kind of plea agreement seemingly has fallen apart. And we know Hunter's attorney on Tuesday of this week sent a letter to the special prosecutor asking for a meeting to talk about these charges. And apparently that meeting wasn't held and the suspect prosecutor went forward filing the charges. HUNT: All right. Areva Martin, civil rights attorney, thank you very

much for getting us started this morning. I do appreciate it.

To politics now. In Iowa and New Hampshire, the GOP candidates hitting the post-debate campaign trail, except the far and away frontrunner, Donald Trump, who has instead is getting ready to testify in a New York courtroom in his civil fraud trial.


That, of course, doesn't mean that he is not using the platform that he has to still continue campaigning.


TRUMP: This is a political witch hunt. This is meant to influence an election. It is a disgrace to our country. Again, I should be right now in Iowa, and New Hampshire, and South Carolina.

I shouldn't be sitting in a courthouse. And I don't have to sit here. I could just do whatever I want to do. But I want to make sure that you get the true story.


HUNT: So the former president will get to tell his version of the story and he will be under oath when he takes the stand for the second time on Monday.

CNN presidential politics reporter Alayna Treene joins us now with more.

Alayna, good morning. Thanks very much for being here.

Trump has basically said, hey, I don't have to be here, and he said, I should be somewhere else. This is what his lawyer said about his testimony yesterday. Take a look. I think that we have that sound.


ALINA HABBA, TRUMP ATTORNEY: He still wants to at that time stand even though my advice is at this point, you should never take the stand with a gag order. But he is so firmly against what is happening in this court.


HUNT: What is going on there?

ALAYNA TREENE, CNN REPORTER: Well, look, a couple things. One is that this is a case that Donald Trump cares very much about. I mean, it strikes at the heart of his brand, both as a business person and business mogul, but also what he has staked his career on as a political leader. I mean, he is running for president. We saw in 2016 and 2020 and now the third time that he is running that he talks about his businesses and his success as a real estate mogul a lot on the trail. So that is something that he cares deeply about.

The other thing is that, you know, increasingly over the last several months now, Donald Trump's campaign has really merged his legal strategy with his political strategy. We've seen over the course of the summer when he was indicted four different times that he's been enjoying a fund raising boost, polling boost. And what is really interesting, you know from my conversations with Trump's team that there was a concern at one point sure, they are seeing a boost in the polls, boost in donations in the immediate term, but will that -- will that boost continue.

And I think that they have kind of seen it has. So what they have done is lean into the messaging. Of course you are hearing his lawyers say, we don't want him to take the stand and testify. But the political part of it actually lends good optics for the campaign.

HUNT: Pretty striking, good optics. I'm not disagreeing with you, but it's a remarkable, remarkable set of circumstances. What do you expect to hear from his testimony? I mean, obviously, it's not going to be on camera, but he will be there on the stand.

TREENE: You know, I think it will mimic some of what we saw when he testified last month, except, of course, then he was grilled by the prosecutors in the case. This time, he's going to be in the driver's seat. He's going to be answering questions from his own defense attorneys, very carefully crafted questions I'm told.

But look, I think that it will be a lot of, you know, political speech again. We saw last month the judge and him clash very heavily because Donald Trump wasn't answering questions directly. He was trying to give political speeches. A lot of what you've heard from rallies where he is railing against the judge, railing against the attorney general in New York who has brought this case forward.

And again, that was when he was being questioned by the prosecution. So I think on Monday when he has the opportunity to speak and being asked by his own lawyers, I think that you're going to see, you know, a lot more open reign for Donald Trump to make those kinds of statements. And, of course, he's going to be very defensive. I remember when I was speaking with his lawyers when he was testifying last month, they said he's going to be defiant. He wants to push back on this.

And you did see that. You know, Donald Trump pleaded (ph) between the courtroom and camera outside, always knows which camera is where, and where to look at --

HUNT: Sure does.

TREENE: -- to deliver his message, to call this what we've heard him say about all his cases so far, that this is a political persecution, that it's election interference. Of course, the lawyers completely disagree with the claims.

But that's what he's trying to get out to the public. And I think here too is that as we've seen with Donald Trump and his other cases, but in New York as well, that they don't necessarily want to fight this in the court -- inside the courtroom itself, in the legal courtroom. His campaign, again talking about his campaign and not his legal team, but they want to fight this in the court of public opinion.

So that is really where I think you're going to hear him ramping up the rhetoric, going after this case, being very defensive. And also, I think they're going to be taking the opportunity to try and get Donald Trump to just show -- you know, there is a lot of questions about his valuations, about what kind of personal activity that had gone on with his accounting because this is a fraud case.

And I think they're going to try to get him as well to just make this seem like he was doing exactly what he was being told that he was following the rules, things that they have been laying out in their case so far.


HUNT: All right. CNN's Alayna Treene, thank you very much as always. I appreciate you being here.

All right. Still ahead here, Republicans in the House take another step toward an impeachment inquiry into President Biden.

Plus, a pair of rockets hitting a U.S. embassy just a short time ago. We're going to have those developing details ahead.

And severe thunderstorms headed to the East Coast. Don't go anywhere.


HUNT: Now to this developing story. Two rockets hit the U.S. embassy in the heavily fortified Green Zone in Baghdad, Iraq, just a short time ago. There are no casualties reported and minor damage has been reported at the embassy compound.


U.S. officials say no group has claimed responsibility but that, quote, the attacks appear to be initiated by Iran-aligned militias.

This as Secretary of State Antony Blinken is set to meet in Washington with America's Arab partners this afternoon.

CNN's Jennifer Hansler joins us now with more.

Jennifer, good morning to you.

Blinken met with human rights in Washington on Thursday. He had some critical words for Israel. This, of course, all coming now with the backdrop of this rocket attack.

Tell us what he said and what are the goals of his meeting today?

JENNIFER HANSLER, CNN STATE DEPARTMENT PRODUCER: Well, good morning, Kasie. We have heard Secretary Blinken become increasingly more pointed in

his calls for Israel to protect civilians as they take out this offensive. And also allow more humanitarian aid into Gaza.

We've seen the secretary travel multiple times to Israel to meet top leaders, including Benjamin Netanyahu and in each of those meetings, most recently last week, he has called for Israel to take additional steps to make sure civilians are safe. And he has made clear that the U.S. does not want to see the current offensive being carried out in the south prosecuted in the same way that Israel carried out it offensive in the north.

He wants to see specific actions taken to ensure that civilians are safe, that they have somewhere within Gaza that they can go to, to ensure take they will not be hurt, they will not be killed as forces are carrying out this offensive.

Now, this is going to be a key topic of conversation as Blinken meets with his Arab counterparts here in Washington today. This is something that we've seen sharp divides between the U.S. and the region on the -- U.S. has not called for a ceasefire, it continues to not call for a ceasefire, but he has urged these humanitarian pauses. We've seen the Arab leaders speak out sharply against the Israel offensive and for the need for unlimited humanitarian aid to get into Gaza and they also want to see a ceasefire now -- Kasie.

HUNT: So, Jennifer, the U.N. Security Council is also voting on a resolution to call for a ceasefire in Gaza today. Obviously tensions between the United Nations and Israel are very high. What do expect there?

HANSLER: Well, we're going to watch to see how the U.S. responds to this resolution. We have seen them veto resolutions in the past that do not condemn Hamas, for example, that do call for a ceasefire, because they continue to say that now is not the time to see this happen. Instead, they want to see the limited humanitarian pauses as we saw in recent weeks to get hostages out, to get aid in and to help civilians move about Gaza safely.

So we'll be watching to see how that vote plays out today. But we'll also be watching to see the discussion around the future governance of Gaza. This is also going to be a key topic of conversation today -- Kasie.

HUNT: For sure. Jennifer Hansler, thanks for that reporting. Really appreciate you being here.

And still ahead here, just hours ahead of Hanukkah, a man fires a gun in front of a New York synagogue. What police are saying about that.

And multi-threat storm system brewing. We'll tell you where it's headed, up next.


[05:22:36] HUNT: All right. Quick hits across America now.

Police say a 28-year-old man is under arrest after firing off two shots from a shotgun in front of temple Israel in Albany, New York, on the first night of Hanukkah. Officials are investigating the incident as a hate crime.

Michigan school shooter Ethan Crumbley will be sentenced today for killing four students and wounding seven at Oxford High School in 2021. He pleaded guilty to murder and terrorism charges and he faces life in prison. It's first case in the country where a school shooter was convicted of terrorism.

The House voted on to censure Democratic Congressman Jamaal Bowman for pulling a fire alarm in a Capitol Hill office building as lawmakers scrambled to pass a funding bill in September. The vote was mostly along party lines.

All right. Let's go now to weather. Heavy rain, strong winds and even snow could hit the East Coast this weekend. Those strong storms taking shape today over the South and the Midwest.

Here to tell us where it is all going to be, meteorologist Allison Chinchar.

Allison, good morning.


Yes, we also have the potential for some severe storms, but that's going to be a multiday threat. So, we start today with that marginal risk over mostly portions of Arkansas and northeastern Texas. By tomorrow, that includes the same area but now we start to see the threat begin to spread and expand a little bit farther east and south. So you now have Nashville, Birmingham, down through New Orleans and even back into Houston that will all have the potential for strong to severe thunderstorms.

And it's all really about the system here that's going to develop across the center of the country. This is going to bring rain from Chicago, all the way down to Houston. You've got some snow and a bit of mixed precip on the north side, but that system is going to progress its way east, taking with it the heavy rain to places like Nashville, Atlanta and eventually Charlotte.

And then by Sunday, now you are talking pretty much up and down the Eastern Seaboard looking at rain and interior portions and especially to higher elevations, say, in the Appalachians. Now, you are about getting that mixed precipitation and yes, even some snow as we wrap up the latter half of the weekend.

By Monday, still a little bit of snow showers lingering across interior New England and Upstate New York.

Overall, most of these areas, especially along the East Coast, you're looking at about 2 to 4 inches of rain. When we talk about the snow, unless you are in those extreme high elevations of the white and green mountains, most of these areas, about 2 to 4 inches of snow, that some spots, especially once you start getting farther north could pick up about half a foot total.


HUNT: Wow. All right. Pre-white Christmas.

Allison Chinchar, thank you very much for that. Have a wonderful weekend.

And up next, politics and law colliding on both coasts. Hunter Biden is indicted on more criminal charges in California. And Donald Trump back inside a courtroom on civil fraud charges in New York.

We're back in just a moment.


HUNT: Good morning. Thanks for being up early with us. I'm Kasie Hunt. It's just before 5:00 a.m. here on the East Coast -- 5:30 a.m. on the East Coast, 3:00 out West.

Hunter Biden, the president's son, under indictment this morning in a second criminal case. Among the nine counts filed yesterday, failure to file and pay taxes, evasion of assessment and filing a false return.

Special counsel David Weiss alleges Hunter Biden, quote, engaged in a four-year scheme, end quote.