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Early Start with John Berman and Zoraida Sambolin

Special Counsel Report: Biden An "Elderly Man With Poor Memory"; Justices' Questions Suggest Support For Trump In Ballot Dispute; Lamar Jackson Wins NFL MVP Award For Second Time. Aired 5:30- 6a ET

Aired February 09, 2024 - 05:30   ET




REPORTER: Something the special counsel said in his report is that one of the reasons you are not charged is because, in his description, you are a well-meaning elderly man with a poor memory.

JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I'm well-meaning, and I'm an elderly man, and I know what the hell I'm doing. I've been president and I put this country back on its feet.


KASIE HUNT, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning. Thanks for being up early with us. It is just before 5:30 on the East Coast. I'm Kasie Hunt.

That, right there, was President Biden sparring with reporters yesterday as he defended himself in the wake of a report from special counsel Robert Hur about his mishandling of classified documents. Though the report announced that Biden wouldn't face any legal repercussions, it did seem to deal the president a significant political blow.

In the report, Hur said that he made the decision not to bring criminal charges -- in part, because Biden would appear to a jury as a quote "sympathetic, well-meaning, elderly man with a poor memory." Hur also said the president had quote "diminished faculties and faulty memory," alleging that he could not recall what year his son Beau died during an interview with the FBI.

These claims raising questions about Biden's mental acuity, something that polls tell us worries voters.


MJ LEE, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: For months, when you were asked about your age, you would respond with the words "watch me." Well, many American people have been watching and they have expressed concerns about your age.

BIDEN: That is your judgment. LEE: They --

BIDEN: That is your judgment.

LEE: This is according to public polling. They express concerns --

BIDEN: That is not the judgment of the press.

LEE: They express concerns about your mental acuity. They say that you are too old.

Mr. President, in December, you told me that you believed there are many other Democrats who could defeat Donald Trump, so why does it have to be you now? What is your answer to that question?

BIDEN: Because I'm the most qualified person in this country to be President of the United States and finish the job I started.


HUNT: That was our MJ Lee there questioning President Biden.

After that unfolded, Biden seemed to be concluding the news conference walking away from the podium, but then you can see he was asked a question about Israel and he paused and he returned to the podium after which he said the following.


BIDEN: The president of Mexico, El-Sisi, did not want to open up the gate to allow humanitarian material to get in. I talked to him. I convinced him to open the gate.


HUNT: El-Sisi, of course, the president of Egypt, not Mexico.

Let's bring in White House reporter for The Wall Street Journal, Catherine Lucey, who was also standing in that crowd of reporters.

Catherine, take us inside the room. What was the mood like in the White House last night as they scrambled reporters together? What were you hearing about what their response was and what they were trying to accomplish by putting the president out there?

CATHERINE LUCEY, WHITE HOUSE REPORTER, THE WALL STREET JOURNAL (via Webex by Cisco): Yeah, this was a hastily called news conference last night, Kasie, and we weren't -- you don't usually see the president at this hour. This was put together quickly -- limited notice for reporters. It was a small group that was brought in.

And it was clear that the president wanted to send a message. He was very combative, as you can see in those clips. He was angry. Particularly, he was visibly angry when he spoke about his son Beau and the questions about the timing of Beau's death. He got very emotional then. But he was combative, sparring with reporters after he made his opening remark. He clearly wanted to send a message in response to the commentary in the report about his memory because there is an awareness that this is a vulnerability for his campaign and for his political future.

But obviously, as you said, this report raises real things. I mean, the voters are really concerned about this issue. This is a key vulnerability for him and it's -- I don't think the appearance last night is going to make that go away. I mean, it's just something they're going to continue to have to grapple with.

HUNT: Well, I mean, there were a couple of instances last night that seemed to underscore some of the points.

Catherine, let's talk through some of the reactions we've seen so far to what's been said about the mental fitness questions.

There is, of course, the Democratic primary challenge Dean Phillips. He hasn't had a lot of success at the ballot box but has, so far -- has also been running around saying that President Biden is too old functionally.

Nikki Haley wants him to take a mental competency test.

The House Oversight Committee is now demanding the transcript of that interview that some of this report is based on.

And then you have Mike Lee -- I think we can show this tweet -- saying that the 25th Amendment could be invoked.

How damaging is this, and what do Democrats have and how are they starting to defend the president in the wake of this?

LUCEY: Certainly, this report gets at this key problem for the president and highlights these questions around his memory, his ability -- his abilities, his mental acuity.

We've already seen from Democrats and from his campaign and from his White House some of how they are defending him. We saw the press secretary yesterday when she was -- she was pressed in the press briefing yesterday about some recent comments he's made where he's mixed up current and past European leaders. And she basically argued that lots of people make these flubs from time to time. That the president is in good shape. That he is doing well. That he is leading the American people.


The campaign certainly will argue that they have survived attacks and queries about his age before. I mean, broadly, his campaign and a lot of his allies feel that as this race becomes a two-person race between Biden and Trump that they can draw a damning picture of the former president and that when voters are faced with a choice between the two that they will choose Biden. But certainly, polling right now is very close and these -- this report doesn't help. HUNT: Right. And just to -- I do want to put this up so everyone who

looked at how Biden pushed back against MJ -- that we see 46 percent of Democratic voters do have concerns about Biden's age. Only five percent say they have concerns about his mental sharpness. And I think we should also underscore that it was memory that Robert Hur talked about here.

You mentioned how he was emotional in talking about the reference to his son's death. I want to show everyone how he responded or what he had to say about that particular piece of this report -- watch.


BIDEN: I know there's some attention paid to some language in the report about my recollection of events. There's even reference that I don't remember when my son died. How in the hell dare he raise that? Frankly, when I was asked the question I thought to myself it wasn't any of their damn business.


HUNT: I do actually have questions about -- they don't release the transcript of this interview, right? This is a characterization in the report. Clearly, it made Biden angry.

What's your sense of why his aides wanted him to kind of show that anger? Is this kind of the sense that you have to get out there and fight; otherwise, you're kind of letting the narrative get away with you -- away from you? I mean, I'm interested in kind of the strategic decisions based on that emotion that we saw there.

LUCEY: Certainly, there is -- are people who think that putting him out and having him show his emotion and show that he's taking questions and show that he's doing these things is important.

And when it comes to his late son, the president is very emotional. This is something, obviously, that is very -- continues to be very hard for him that he talks about a lot and he carries it very close to his heart. He spoke about the fact that he wears Beau's rosary beads around one of his wrists, and I think the message there was that he is with him always. That this is always something that is on his mind. So he was very, very emotional and upset about that piece of this.

HUNT: All right, Catherine Lucey of The Wall Street Journal. Catherine, I know you had a late night at the White House last night. I really appreciate you being up here to help us understand it this morning. Thank you.

LUCEY: Thanks so much.

HUNT: All right. Joining us now to discuss -- we've got two major political headlines that are playing out in the legal realm -- CNN legal analyst and criminal defense attorney Joey Jackson. Joey, always great to have you. Thanks for being back.

Let's just -- I want to kind of dig into why this report came out the way it did -- Robert Hur's report. Why the decisions were made because clearly, they -- he wanted to make a point about the president's mental fitness, about his memory. But he also didn't charge him with anything.

What stood out to you in that, like, set of decisions? And there are some criticism from -- we heard Andrew Weissmann, who worked on the Mueller probe, coming out there and saying, like, hey, this is putting your finger on the scale. What do you make of it?

JOEY JACKSON, CNN LEGAL ANALYST, CRIMINAL DEFENSE ATTORNEY (via Webex by Cisco): Yeah, Kasie. Good morning to you.

It had to be done, right, and let me explain why. What happens is that when you're assessing whether someone should be charged with a criminal case you're looking at intent. Intent gets you into state of mind and so you have to justify if you're writing a report why did you make the decision you made.

Now remember, you have to be mindful, obviously -- and not that you should ever be, but the optics of not charging Biden and going after Trump with dozens of counts of classified documents becomes problematic.

You know you're the special counsel and first and foremost, you want to predicate it upon the law. And when you predicated it upon the law you sat down with the president -- President Biden for two days. You assessed many things about what he did, what he didn't do, what he remembered. Why he took the documents. Where did he bring them? Were they in Delaware? Were they in D.C.? Who did you share them with, if anyone?

And when you're evaluating that they drew the conclusion Kasie, as you mentioned, that this was willful. That's important because an element of any charge relating to classified documents will be that. Not that you were negligent, not that you were careless, but that you were willful.


So if you're not charging and you can't prove it beyond a reasonable doubt, you have to explain why. And that explanation came with listen, I don't really think there was any criminal intent. I think it was that he just didn't remember. And then you want to explain well, why didn't he remember -- and that you did.

But in doing that, you know that he was savaged yesterday by Republicans with respect to double standard, another witch hunt, it's ridiculous. Why does Trump always get charged? Why does Biden get a free pass?

So I think that as unfortunately politically as it was that was out there Kasie, it needed to be done for purposes of justifying why you're treating Trump one way and Biden another.

HUNT: Very interesting, Joey. Thank you for that. Let's talk about the other major -- you know, we saw these just historic arguments before the Supreme Court yesterday about whether Trump should be allowed to be taken off the Colorado ballot. It seems like -- you know, as I was talking to some of the experts that were sitting around or table -- we were listening to the arguments -- the sense was that, in some ways, to protect the court that they could make this decision to leave him on the Colorado ballot. That certainly seemed to be the way that they were leaning -- and not just the conservative justices.

But then also, they have to consider this question of whether he's immune from prosecution in the election subversion case. There is some thinking that they could either decline to take that up entirely or take it up and declare him not immune there. And in that way, they would be potentially washing their own hands of it.

What do you make of that kind of thinking and what we heard from the court yesterday?

JACKSON: Yeah. So, Kasie, as it relates to the decision about Colorado, the issue is -- the big picture is it's not just Colorado, right? There's movement throughout the country with many states considering the notion of whether he should be put on the ballot -- that is, the former president. And in the event that he's excluded, what would be the legal basis?

So I think the court was very mindful in their questioning that while this decision affected the Supreme Court of Colorado and their decision to reject Trump from being on the ballot that we're speaking to everyone else in the country. And in doing that, it seemed that the justices were pretty uniform in answering that question, at least it did to me -- that they would reject the Colorado decision and therefore allow him to be on the ballot. Why?

There were questions from a liberal justice, Ms. Jackson, regarding listen, does it even apply to the president?

And in doing that, Kasie, they assess what's called the intent, right? The intention of when the 14 Amendment, Section 3 was passed. Was it really designed for the president, and if it was, why did it not say so?

You look at things from conservatives, like Kavanaugh, which would suggest that hey, we'd be disenfranchising way too many voters. When you look at Roberts and his discussions with regard to should we really be giving states this power and authority? Insurrection --

HUNT: Yeah.

JACKSON: -- while it wasn't really addressed -- Kavanaugh kind of addressed it by saying hey, there's a statute. It's called -- you know, regarding insurrection. If you're convicted of that, right, then you can't be on the ballot anyway. So what are we doing here?

So it seemed to me that they really wanted to try not to be political -- HUNT: Yeah.

JACKSON: -- about it and to make a decision based on the merits. And ultimately, Kasie, I think that they really reject that decision.

HUNT: All right, Joey Jackson for us. Joey, always grateful to have you. Thank you.

JACKSON: Thank you, Kasie.

HUNT: Up next, President Biden trying to defend himself after a special counsel report said he had faulty memory. We're going to talk with a former Biden campaign spokesperson up next.




REPORTER 1: Do you feel your memory has gotten worse, Mr. President?

BIDEN: No, look, my memory -- 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 I got passed. How'd that happen? You know, I guess I just forgot what was going on.

REPORTER 2: Do you fear that this report is only going to fuel further concern about your age?

BIDEN: Only by some of you.


HUNT: Pretty testy -- President Biden there, yesterday night, firing back at reporters during a press conference after the release of a report from special counsel Robert Hur claiming that Biden has diminished faculties and faulty memory.

Let's bring in someone who knows the White House very well, Michael LaRosa. He's the former spokesman for the Biden campaign and former press secretary to the first lady. And we should note he now works for Facts First USA, which is a super PAC that is helping to defend Hunter Biden. Michael, thanks for being here.


HUNT: So, Michael, let's talk strategy, initially. Obviously, the president's team felt that they needed to put him out there last night in the wake of this report. But the -- that's a deviation from the usual strategy.

He's done about half as many press conferences on average as his predecessors. And this week, he declined to do the traditional pre- Super Bowl presidential interview. That's the second year in a row. We also did see him and we've showed everyone that he did confuse the presidents of Egypt and Mexico yesterday.

Why'd they put him out last night, and why are they keeping him back in these other instances?

LAROSA: Um-hum. Well, it was the right decision to put him out last night. Whether it was his or theirs, I don't know. But you don't weather a crisis by hiding from it. You have to confront it. The American people need to hear directly from him. He needs to tell his story on his terms and he needs to tell it right away, and that's what you saw them do. It was the right now.

Whether it stopped the bleeding or the performance worked it's yet to be seen. However, a lot of the scrutiny that he receives for common mistakes, like misremembering a name -- things that are usually pretty inconsequential are more amplified Kasie because as you noted, he doesn't engage a lot with the press and that's a problem.

The American people need to see him. They need to hear him. Politics is a visual medium. It's about show and tell.


He needs to reconsider doing that Super Bowl interview. It's -- last year, there was 120 million people who watched the Super Bowl. In 1992, there was 80 million and 34 million stuck around to watch the Clintons talk about their own vulnerabilities. And it was one of the best things they could have done for their campaign.

I'm not saying it's going to save Joe Biden, but what it is is an opportunity. And they need to be thinking about the media and their approach to the press as an opportunity and not so much as a hazard because it hasn't worked, so far, for him.

HUNT: So, Michael, just to give kind of our viewers a little bit of context, you worked for the first lady, which means that --


HUNT: -- you were really embedded in the family.


HUNT: And she has been President Biden's chief protector in the White House. I just say that to kind of give you a -- give our viewers a sense of the texture you have available to you.

LAROSA: That's right.

HUNT: I think one question that a lot of people have when they look at what's going on with the president is they wonder if the White House and the people around the president are covering up how bad things may be with President Biden. Do you think that that's what's happening? LAROSA: No, that's silly. The first lady isn't his keeper. She is his spouse. She has her own independent professional career. She's the first lady. She doesn't get involved in policy or politics. She supports her husband the way many spouses do.

HUNT: She doesn't get involved -- I mean, she's -- I mean, I understand. I think what you mean --

LAROSA: I'm sorry. I guess I should clarify she doesn't advise on politics. She helps and supports him. And she goes out and campaigns and is his biggest champion. But she's not his keeper. He has enough advisers around him to advise him on policy.

And look, from my experience in the three years that I was in that Biden traveling bubble, he couldn't have been sharper. He called me out because he thought I wasn't paying attention a few times. He's smart. He's alert.

And again, like he said last night, he wouldn't have been able to accomplish so much as what he's been able to accomplish in four years if he wasn't.

HUNT: Michael, do you think any -- do you think his advisers, on the whole, are too overprotective of him?

LAROSA: I think we need to see more engagement from him. I think he needs to be engaged -- he has an opponent who loves the press, who loves the medium of the press, and loves engaging with the press. He needs to flood the zone, like, better than his opponent, not less.

He needs -- that's why he needs to reconsider doing this big interview on Sunday. He needs to go out there and he needs to show and tell why he needs to be in office another four years compared to the alternative we have. There's a choice to make and he has to go and make that argument himself.

HUNT: All right, Michael LaRosa. Thank you very much. I really appreciate having your perspective on this today. Thank you.

LAROSA: You're welcome -- um-hum.

HUNT: All right, the NFL handing out some major awards before the Super Bowl this weekend. Which of your favorite players are being honored? That's next.



HUNT: The stars were out in Vegas last night as the NFL handed out its awards for the 2023 season, and no one shined brighter than Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson.

Coy Wire joins us now with more in this morning's Bleacher Report. I think you're in Vegas, Coy. Just, like, -- have you just moved there for the week? COY WIRE, CNN SPORTS ANCHOR: It doesn't feel like the desert. It's in the mid-30s right now and I should have worn my hat. My mom is going to kill me. Hi, Kasie.

Lamar Jackson came up one win short of sending your beloved Baltimore to the Super Bowl but he still made history winning the second NFL MVP award of his career. Just 27 years old, Jackson is the youngest two- time winner since the merger ahead of Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes by about nine months. Only 10 other players in league history have multiple MVPs.

He won this year in a landslide. But it was unanimous like his win in 2019. Jackson received 49 of the 50 first-place votes with Bills quarterback Josh Allen getting one of them.

Jackson's awards caps a season that began, remember, with a contract negotiation saga that saw him requesting a trade last March. Here's Lamar.


LAMAR JACKSON, QUARTERBACK, BALTIMORE RAVENS: I want to thank my organization, the Baltimore Ravens, for finally getting this deal done, and my offensive line. I mean, I can't thank them enough for what they've done. I'm not out there blocking -- you know, catching the ball -- you know, doing everything. You know, it's my team. It's a team thing for these awards.


WIRE: All right. Here's the other award winners, Kasie.

Forty-Niners running back Christian McCaffrey getting Offensive Player of the Year. Myles Garrett of the Browns on the defensive side. Houston, Texas -- C.J. Stroud and Will Anderson getting both Offensive and Defensive Rookie of the Year awards. And listen to this. Browns quarterback Joe Flacco beat out Bills safety Damar Hamlin for Comeback Player of the Year even though he had just 13 first-place votes to Hamlin's 21. Flacco had more total votes.

And finally, the sports and entertainment worlds are colliding this Super Bowl with Chiefs star Travis Kelce and megastar Taylor Swift, his girlfriend. Lots of people with opinions about it about their romance, which has been the talk of the town this season.

I asked someone who has mastered the collision of entertainment and sports, D.J. "The Rock" Dwayne Johnson, here for the kickoff of the upcoming WrestleMania, which will be in Philly. He thinks their love story is great.


DWAYNE "THE ROCK" JOHNSON, ACTOR, PRODUCER, BUSINESSMAN: I love it, yeah. I don't have a problem with it. I feel like it's all part of the game and it's all the game that we play. And a guy starts dating a girl who happens to be the biggest star in the world and he's -- and he's a bad SOB on the field, man, and is a bad dude in the game. And it's part of a story.


But at the end of the day -- and I've shared this with a few people I've talked to privately -- it is just -- all that goes away. You played the game so you know it at this level. All that stuff goes away. You have to strip it all away and you have one intention and one focus, and that's just to ball out and play the game.


WIRE: Man, that's one good-looking bald dude, isn't it, Kasie?

HUNT: Two. Two.

WIRE: We'll see how this all plays out. Two more days until the Super Bowl. Yeah, thank you very much. I appreciate you.

HUNT: That was some great television, Coy. I love it. It's a great way to finish out the week. Have a great weekend at the Super Bowl. Don't bet too much money on a proposal -- on-field proposal --

WIRE: All right.

HUNT: -- between Travis and Chelsea -- Kelce, right -- or Taylor.

WIRE: You got it, Kasie.

HUNT: All right. Thanks, Coy.


HUNT: And thanks to all of you for joining us. I'm Kasie Hunt. Have a wonderful weekend. Don't go anywhere. "CNN THIS MORNING" starts right now.