Return to Transcripts main page

Inside Politics

Prosecutors, Hunter Biden Agree to More Limited Plea Deal; Rudy Giuliani Concedes to Smearing Election Workers. Aired 12:30-1p ET

Aired July 26, 2023 - 12:30   ET



LAURA BARRON-LOPEZ, WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, PBS NEWSHOUR: The thing is, Speaker McCarthy can try to go down this road but does he even have his entire conference behind him? Because there are about 18 or so House Republicans that are sitting in Biden-won districts and I think a number of them are really hesitant about going down this road.

NIA-MALIKA HENDERSON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: And it seems like, you know, if you sort of look at the timeline, they would need to do it pretty quickly. They are about to go on a six-week recess. They probably want to wrap this up by the end of the year. Would they actually have sort of the timeline?

Kevin McCarthy basically says, "Well, this is an inquiry." This will allow us to get more information to get out there and see if in fact what Comer has been describing, this idea that there's a Biden crime family. They have been using that phrase for many, many months. They haven't produced much evidence. So now, they are saying, well, we -- actually, if you give more time, we'll do this impeachment inquiry and we'll get more evidence possibly.

DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT AND ANCHOR OF 'INSIDE POLITICS': What about, Shan, the point that Manu just made which I think is a really critical one, that the House Republicans may -- even though they do have oversight ability, I mean that's basically -- basic in the constitution, but it might be harder for them to get what information they are striving for, if the DOJ says, "No, you can't do this because we're investigating first."

SHAN WU, CNN LEGAL ANALYST AND FORMER FEDERAL PROSECUTOR: It's absolutely right. It's going to be much harder. That's going to be like a complete shield for DOJ (inaudible) testifying. You just keep going back to the fact that I told you (inaudible) investigation. I said that in court as well. Now, it does give them a little bit more to dig on too, which is a -- what happened in court. Was there pressure on you to give this broader deal and you were trying to put something over on the court, they can ask him about that.

You might have a slightly harder time completely shutting that off, but what he should say is that's prosecutorial discretion, that's between us and the defendant. That's a little harder to shield with the fact that this ongoing investigation or saying, what happened. Really important, in case you are coming to court, there's a screw up here. Was there pressure put on you to make this deliberately ambiguous and to broad (ph)?

BASH: I want to go back to Capitol Hill. Manu, you have been talking to lawmakers about this very conversation, in fact, I alluded to your reporting just a minute ago about how a potential impeachment inquiry and what we're seeing in Delaware and the DOJ continuing a broader investigation apparently, how it all ties together.

MANU RAJU, CNN CHIEF CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yeah, that's right. And you know, actually, the Speaker himself tried to make the -- to tie what was going on with this Hunter Biden investigation into the possibility of launching an impeachment inquiry. Even though -- even the allegations that were made by those IRS whistleblowers that there might have been some political interference by the Justice Department, pointed a finger that justice Department, not the president himself. But, McCarthy is trying to add -- suggest that perhaps the president may have some culpability there, at least they have tried to explore whether or not he does.

What the Speaker wants in the impeachment inquiry to look into allegations that the president may have been involved with the Hunter Biden's business dealings, including that allegation from an FBI informant that back in 2016 as Vice President, Joe Biden was involved with a foreign national in a bribery scheme with his son Hunter Biden and investigators (ph) a range of payments. Now, those are unverified allegations. It's something that has not been substantiated or tied directly to the president, despite the allegation made there by the FBI informant, but what McCarthy is indicating is that he wants to move forward and look into all of these different issues.

But the big bar will be whether they can actually directly link this to the president and whether, once they move down the impeachment inquiry efforts, it's going to almost certainly move to the very likely chance of actually having a vote on impeachment as well. And that is going to be a major, major test for Kevin McCarthy because there are a number of Republicans that I have been speaking to, ones in swing districts who are not certain yet whether this is the right way to go and whether the evidence is simply there to charge the president of the United States for his high crimes or misdemeanors, (inaudible) high bar. That has only been done three times in American history, for three presidents.

Donald Trump is the only president to have it done twice to be impeached by the House. So a lot of questions from McCarthy, who told his conference behind closed door this morning, do not overstate the evidence that we have against Joe Biden. Let's look into what we have and then we will ultimately decide whether or not to go down the road of impeachment. The question is, can his members listen to that, because a lot of them are saying that there's a smoking gun, even as that evidence (ph) link between the president and his son's business dealings have not been substantiated yet.

BASH: That reporting that you had this morning, Manu, out of that closed door House Republican meeting with the Speaker saying what you just reported again, don't -- basically, don't get too far out of your ski -- over your skis. It's -- I mean good luck with that.

All right, standby, Manu.

RAJU: Yeah.

BASH: Because David, I want to ask about the political implications in 2024 of just the limited part of what looks like is going to be go down in Delaware right now, which is the sitting president's son pleading guilty to anything.



BASH: I know they are only misdemeanors and there's a deferred gun charge, but this is historic.

CHALIAN: It obviously is. And if you're putting out a strategy plan for presidential campaign, you would not include in it a close family member being in federal court and pleading guilty to crimes. That would not be a part of anyone's...

BASH: Yeah.

CHALIAN: plan. So it's not a welcome development. The Biden team I think was far more hopeful that -- I was looking at Hunter Biden's legal team's statement from June when the plea deal was announced. And Chris Clark, one of his attorneys, said "It's my understanding that the five-year investigation into Hunter is resolved."

BASH: Exactly.

CHALIAN: That was the statement from his lawyer in June. Well, that would have given some comfort to the Biden campaign effort that maybe they are going to turn the corner into the campaign year and put this behind them. I just want to make one point off of what Manu said there because I want to get to the raw politics of this impeachment inquiry first (ph).

BASH: Please.

CHALIAN: Because Laura and Manu pointed out, there are obviously middle-of-the-road members in tough districts for Republicans who may not want to do this. The calculation here is going to come to, is this something that Republicans see will have appeal to independent voters, suburban voters, voters that you need in a general election, or is this going to be purely a base play? We know the Hunter Biden story thus far has been just about juicing the Republican base. We have seen very little evidence that this story is carrying weight with the voters that will decide elections.

But when it comes down to how the House proceeds and how McCarthy proceeds, as he balances just the right wing of his conference versus what those very endangered members are going to deal, that's going to be the calculus (ph). Does they -- do they see this as having political benefit for them with the broad middle?

BASH: Such an important...

HENDERSON: The other point is, does it rally Democrats around Joe Biden, right? I mean, if you think of Joe Biden, who is not a necessarily beloved figure among Democrats, was sort of the person they wanted in 2020 because they thought he could beat Donald Trump, does this kind of have a rallying effect among...

BASH: Like it did on the other side for Trump.


BASH: That's a really good point. And then, just going back to the sort of political land mines here for any impeachment inquiry for the very few moderate Republicans who are still in the House, but every seat matters when you have a four-seat majority, but also if you kind of look at the difference of what our Hill team, and I'm sure you have gotten from the senators, Republican senators, Lindsey Graham, John Thune and others saying, "OK, let's just take a moment here. Maybe this is not the greatest idea to do politically."

BARRON-LOPEZ: Yeah, because -- look, again, I know we have said it over and over again, but all of these claims are unproven right now. And they have no evidence.

BASH: Say it again, it's important.

BARRON-LOPEZ: They have no evidence that ties this to the president. And so, that's why you're seeing so much resistance from the senators, often the Senate doesn't always -- we have seen a lot of separation from the Senate from Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and from Kevin McCarthy on a lot of matters that pertain to the White House. More willingness from McConnell to work with President Biden than from McCarthy, also less willingness to go down extreme rabbit holes or conspiracy theories, the way a number -- a growing number of House Republicans have.

I mean, to speak to the point about moderate Republicans though, even the Head of the Republican campaign arm, the NRCC just said within the last 24 hours, told some reporters, no one is seriously talking about impeachment. So, that also just shows how clear the divide is right now with the (inaudible).

BASH: Says the guy who is in charge of keeping the majority.

BARRON-LOPEZ: Right, yeah.


BASH: OK. Everybody, standby. Up next, a key Republican congressman weighs in on the Hunter Biden plea deal. Stay with us.



BASH: The major news this hour, Hunter Biden's plea deal gets brought back from near death. Attorneys for the president's son and federal prosecutors struck a more limited deal after disagreement over what crimes the immunity agreement covered. Joining me now is a member of the House Freedom Caucus, Republican Ken Buck of Colorado. Thank you so much for joining me. You're also a former federal prosecutor. So looking at what is happening, still happening as we speak, in a courthouse in Delaware, what are your thoughts?

REP. KEN BUCK, (R) COLORADO: Well, my thought is the judge does the right thing. In this case, the judge has to inquire about the factual basis for the plea agreement and make sure that all parties know what's included in the plea agreement. And the result was they called a time out. The prosecution and defense attorneys met, clarified and responded to the judge. So, I think the judge really was on top of this. High-profile case, everything has to go right in a case like this.

BASH: What does it tell you that the DOJ prosecutors who are in there wanted to make clear under questioning from the judge that this deal is just about the tax charges and the deferred gun charge?

BUCK: Right. Obviously, there are other investigations that are ongoing. Other charges may not be brought, may not brought. But it's important for the defendant to know on the record that there's a possibility of other charges.

BASH: As a member of the House Republican majority, will it be harder for you to get -- for you all to get answers that a lot of your chairman are looking for from the DOJ, if they are still investigating some of the other questions about Hunter Biden's business deals and things that there are allegations out there of, but not clear evidence to support.


BUCK: Most common answer we get in a questioning of the FBI Director or Attorney General is, that's an ongoing investigation, I can't talk about it.

BASH: So yes, it will...

BUCK: It will be more difficult, but at the same time, the other side, the Democrats will be able to say you're impeding a federal -- a criminal investigation. You shouldn't do that. Now, is it more important to look at criminal conduct by a sitting president or is it more important to look at criminal conduct by an individual, a son of a sitting president that -- that's going to be debated in public.

BASH: What do you think?

BUCK: Well, I think it's absolutely Congress's role to look at possible impeachment, but I also think that if that is just a political game, then we need to make sure that the criminal case goes forward.

BASH: OK. So let's talk about the impeachment. Do you think it could be a political game? And why do you believe that Speaker McCarthy in the last 24 hours to 36 hours has begun to lean more into the notion of opening an impeachment inquiry?

BUCK: This is Impeachment Theater. We right now are starting the appropriations process. And there is no consensus on the Republican side about what the numbers should be. Kevin McCarthy promised when he was running for Speaker one set of numbers. And then he made an agreement with President Biden for the debt ceiling increase on another set of numbers. So right now, he has got to convince the public that he's credible and that Republicans have a duty to follow him.

The party itself is not in agreement and we're going to have some real trouble passing appropriations bills.

BASH: I just want to make sure I understand what you're saying. It sounds like you're saying that the Speaker is talking about impeachment to try to distract conservatives like you from spending bills that don't like.

BUCK: Not just me, but the public. What he's doing is, he's saying there's a shiny object over here and we're really going to focus on that. We just need to get all these things done, so that we can focus on the shiny object. Most of us are concerned about spending, it is an existential threat to this country. And so, we want to move forward with the spending bills in a responsible way.

BASH: Do you believe there's any reason why the House Republican majority should open an inquiry right now other than politics?

BUCK: I don't think it's responsible for us to talk about impeachment. When you are raising the "I" word, it sends a message to the public and it sets expectations. I do think that what's going on in the Oversight Committee and the Judiciary Committee is absolutely fair and is part of our responsibility.

BASH: You mentioned spending, the idea that there are these spending bills, a lot of spending bills that are moving through the House that have a lot of the so-called culture war ideas sprinkled in them, whether it has to do with trans, whether it has to do with education, is that appropriate?

BUCK: Yeah, it's appropriate because it is in response to what President Biden has done. President Biden has, for the first time, said that federal funds will be used for abortion. So in those bills, we are prohibiting federal funds used for abortion. So, it isn't just one side that's involved in this culture war. It's really on both sides.

BASH: I just, before I let you go, want to ask about something else you're working on, which is the idea that the United States continues to use troops abroad under an old authorization by Congress, the so- called AUMF. You're trying to get a new one going. I have seen that movie before. Democrats and Republicans have tried over and over again. What makes you think it's going to work this time?

BUCK: It's a great bipartisan effort, something that Americans love to see Republicans and Democrats come together. We will repeal the four existing authorizations to use military force. We will develop a new one with a sunset. So every five years, the Executive Branch has to come for Congress and ask permission to move forward.

BASH: Congressman Ken Buck, thank you so much. Appreciate it.

BUCK: Thank you.

BASH: Thank you. And up next, Rudy Giuliani collides with irony and makes a shocking concession.



BASH: Now to Rudy Giuliani's concession. The 2020 election featured Giuliani as a key player in pushing bogus voter fraud conspiracies.


RUDY GIULIANI, (R) PRESIDENT TRUMP'S ATTORNEY AND FORMER MAYOR OF NEW YORK CITY: This is real. It is not made up. It is not -- there's nobody here that engages in fantasies. I have tried a hundred cases. I prosecuted some of the most dangerous criminals in the world. I know crimes. I can smell them.


BASH: But in a new court filing, Giuliani conceded he defamed two Georgia election workers. If you don't stop and read it, you might just miss it. But here it is in lawyer's English, "Mr. Giuliani does not dispute for the purposes of this litigation, that the statements carry meaning that is defamatory per se." Ruby Freeman and Shaye Moss are suing the former Trump attorney. They want him to pay and pay bigly for what he said about them, statements like this.


GIULIANI: How can they say there's no fraud? Look at that woman, look (inaudible) ballots now, look at them scurrying around with the ballots. Nobody in the room, hiding around. They look like this, they look like they're passing out dope, not just ballots. It's quite clear they're stealing votes.


BASH: And like this.


GIULIANI: You can see them counting the ballots more than once -- two, three, four, five times. You would have to be a moron not to realize that's voter fraud.


BASH: Giuliani made Freeman and Moss the center-price of a baseless conspiracy about voter fraud in Georgia. He based it on this video. Watch the whole thing and it shows what Georgia's Secretary of State and experts call normal vote tabulation. The FBI and the Georgia Bureau of Investigations found the fraud claims had no merit, but Giuliani presented their actions as criminal. So did someone else.


DONALD TRUMP, (R) FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA: We had at least 18,000, that's on tape. We had them counted very painstakingly, 18,000 voters having to do with Ruby Freeman. That's -- she's a vote scammer, a professional vote scammer and hustler.


BASH: The former president mentioned Ms. Freeman 18 times in that infamous phone call with Georgia Secretary of State. The conspiracy spread like wildfire across the darkest corners of the internet, places like Gateway Pundit.


It got primetime billing in other much more watched places like Fox News. Google their names, Ruby Freeman and Shaye Moss, and it sprouts headline after headline. But the headlines are far from the end of the story. Listen to Freeman talk about what happened to her, thanks to that conspiracy peddled by Mr. Giuliani and then President Trump.


RUBY FREEMAN, GEORGIA ELECTION WORKER: There is nowhere I feel safe, nowhere. I've lost my name and I've lost my reputation. I've lost my sense of security, all because a group of people, starting with number 45 and his ally Rudy Giuliani, decided to scapegoat me.


BASH: Again, this is an election worker, a public servant, someone who wanted to keep the election safe, not steal it as Mr. Giuliani alleged, someone who paid the price for someone else's lies. Now, Mr. Giuliani's lawyer says that their client has admitted nothing. They say this is just procedural, a necessity, nothing more. His attorney even says some would like to take this stipulation and use it to smear the former mayor. Yes, smear Mr. Giuliani. He wants others to watch what they say, choose their words carefully, but that brushes past the consequences two women endured and still are enduring because of his words.


SHAYE MOSS, GEORGIA ELECTION WORKER: He has turned my life upside down. I don't go to the grocery store at all. I haven't been anywhere at all. It has affected my life in a major way, in every way, all because of lies.

(END VIDEO CLIP) HENDERSON: Yeah, I mean that was one of the most painful and memorable parts of the January 6th hearings, because it was about a real person, a person -- two people in specific terms who were made targets by Rudy Giuliani, by Donald Trump, named over and over and over again, so much so that they endured fearful nights and fearful days because they were named and defamed by Rudy Giuliani.

And listen, they sort of became the face of this whole thing because part of what Donald Trump was arguing was that there were certain people, particularly in urban areas, that stole the election from Donald Trump. And these two African-American women became the kind of convenient scapegoats and targets of this right-wing conspiracy.

BASH: And I just want to say that one of Giuliani's or he calls himself a political advisor, Ted Goodman. He is saying Mayor Rudy Giuliani did not acknowledge the statements were false but did not contest it in order to move on to the portion of the case that (inaudible) motion to dismiss. So he's admitting what he is not admitting, but he is really admitting it, which is basically there's no "I'm sorry."

CHALIAN: Correct. There is no "I'm sorry" and he is not going to use the word "False" but he does concede that he defamed them. I understand they are saying it as a legal ploy, he is conceding that, but he is acknowledging that what we just heard about being a scapegoat actually is -- Rudy Giuliani concedes that point, because he admits to defaming them.

Here is what is so gross and just awful about this. Rudy Giuliani hides through all of this, as if he's trying to make sure there isn't fraud in our elections. He's the fraudster. He is undermining American democracy by pushing this conspiracy theory. This man who was exalted in America in the aftermath of 9/11, he is at like the bottom-feeding rung of our democracy right now because he is actively -- he was actively engaged in trying to undermine the very bedrock of how our democracy works.

Think about it, we've all gone and voted. If you have gone to an election and voted, and you see the election workers are there, what are they doing? They're doing their civic duty and service of like trying to help the democracy move along. And Rudy Giuliani tries to undermine it.

BASH: You share my disgust.


BASH: And all of our disgust. And I just want to -- as I bring you in, Michael Gottlieb, who is an attorney for the Georgia election workers, made clear that basically he doesn't buy what Giuliani is saying, except that he concedes that they were performing their duties and effectively he's going to pay big. BARRON-LOPEZ: Yeah. I mean, look, in addition to everything that we've

laid out here, Rudy Giuliani was doing this at the behest of the former president and in coordination with the former president, spreading all of these lies. And I have traveled to Michigan and other swing states since 2020, and they are -- it's a whole new world for election workers, for people like Ruby Freeman where they now have to put security on their houses when they never had it before. They're going through training that they never been through before, all because they are afraid of their lives. And so, that's a very real- world impact from those lies.

BASH: All right. We are going to have to leave it there. Thank you all so much. Appreciate it. Very busy news day. Thank you for joining "Inside Politics." "CNN News Central" starts right now.