Return to Transcripts main page

Inside Politics

Hunter Biden Pleads Not Guilty To Gun Charges; Soon: House To Hold Key Vote On Effort To Out McCarthy; Rep. Cuellar Unharmed After Carjacking At Gunpoint. Aired 12:30-1p ET

Aired October 03, 2023 - 12:30   ET




DANA BASH, CNN HOST: This morning, Hunter Biden was back in court. The President's son was arraigned in Wilmington, Delaware, on three firearms charges. He pleaded not guilty. This marks the first time a child of a sitting president appeared in court to fight criminal charges.

Joining me now from Wilmington is CNN Senior Legal Affairs Correspondent Paula Reid. Paula, it was a very quick moment today inside the courtroom. Tell us what happened inside.

PAULA REID, CNN SENIOR LEGAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Dana, this was a quick procedural hearing. Hunter Biden sat quietly listening attentively as the judge laid out the charges that have been filed against him, the possible penalties and the conditions for his release, which include that he abstained from drugs and alcohol is also prohibited from owning a firearm.

Now, he entered that not guilty plea through his attorney, Abbe Lowell. Even though this was a short hearing, this is still a historic moment. But shortly after the hearing, Abbe Lowell issued a statement accusing the Justice Department of bending to pressure from former President Trump and his, quote, MAGA allies to bring this case against the President's son.

They have pointed to the fact that no one in the District of Delaware has ever been charged with something like this based on a similar fact pattern. And legal experts have questioned the strength of the government's case here. And, of course, this was supposed to originally be resolved with a plea deal. That plea deal fell apart would have also included tax charges.

And Dana, at this point, it is unclear if prosecutors will also file those tax charges against Hunter Biden. But what we've seen, it's been interesting over the past nine months or so, we've seen a much more aggressive, forward-leaning strategy from Hunter Biden and his lawyers.

This has been spearheaded by one of his lawyers, Kevin Morris. He brought on Abbe Lowell. They've been a lot more litigious with some of Hunter Biden's detractors, like Rudy Giuliani. They sued him several days ago. We were also seeing these more forward-leaning public statements, statements that some people around his father, around President Biden, would prefer that Hunter not make, that he not say anything.

And it appears, even though, this has gone from a plea deal to a full blown criminal case, it does not appear that they're backing off of that more aggressive strategy going forward.

BASH: Paula, thank you so much for that reporting. Appreciate that.

And, you know, Democrat after Democrat, when they are speaking out and speaking up against what's going on and in favor of Hunter Biden, we'll argue, wait a second, these charges are nothing burgers. And if somebody were named, you know, Jim Smith and not Hunter Biden on these gun charges, it wouldn't be brought necessarily. It's very unusual and that it's only being done because the plea deal fell apart and there's political pressure on the now special counsel running the investigation of Hunter Biden.

JEFF ZELENY, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: And Democrats certainly say that and there might be some truth to that just given the nature of the charges. But the reality here is the President's son is in this courthouse and a lot of it -- it takes away some of the high ground that President Biden likes to assert in these cases.


Even though, it's totally different, this is not a split screen moment of New York and Delaware, this is completely different. Hunter Biden is not a candidate for high office and these are minor charges in some respect, but it just makes you wonder why was this sort of dealt with, why didn't he plead to something in these last several years?

It is clearly a mistake. And this gets to the President without a doubt because Hunter is so close to him, of course. He's all he has left of his family, basically, I mean, from the first part of his family. So that's why this is a big deal.

BASH: No, absolutely. It is a huge deal to have a sitting president's son go in and my impression is that, it wouldn't have been the worst thing from the perspective of the Biden -- Hunter Biden side to get a plea deal, but it was impossible. And then, obviously, we saw what happened when it all fell apart.

Margaret, you heard Paula talk there about the shift in legal strategy, which is legal and political, from Hunter Biden's team. Kevin Morris, his friend and attorney Abbe Lowell was brought on. Let's just talk a little bit more about what they have been trying to do.

MARGARET TALEV, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: They're countersuing, filing lawsuits against Rudy Giuliani. That's just a suit, not a countersuit, alleged hacking. Robert Costello, who was Giuliani's attorney, alleged hacking. Garrett Ziegler, alleged hacking. The IRS, allegedly illegal releasing tax information. TALEV: Because Abbe Lowell who also has represented Jared Kushner in the past is not Joe Biden's campaign manager. He's Hunter Biden's lawyer, and he is going to say and do whatever he thinks will put his client in the best possible posture to be free or to be limited in terms -- to be mitigated legally.

There's an irony to all of this. If these are successful arguments, it will feed the argument that Joe Biden somehow controls the justice system. The reality is that the fact that 100 Biden is facing prosecution, totally obliterates the argument that Joe Biden controls the deep state.

I mean, if we'd like, I'd love to ask --

BASH: Margaret, you're so logical.

TALEV: No, it's like -- I mean, would Donald Trump allow, like, this is how you might perceive the question, allow one of his children to be prosecuted by the Justice Department if they had violated a law or were charged with violating a law? This is Joe Biden saying let the justice system take its course and that's why his son is in this position because he has not sought to control the process.

SALEHA MOHSIN, SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT, BLOOMBERG: But at the same time, if this was happening to Donald Trump and his -- one of his children, Trump would not be as silent the way you said that Biden is. Hey, we're going to set this aside.

BASH: Which makes a lot of Democrats frustrated --

MOHSIN: Exactly.

BASH: -- (INAUDIBLE) that as well.

MOHSIN: He's using that to campaign. I will say that Hunter Biden -- Joe Biden has made his family part of his brand as a president. He talks about what his father told him and his grandfather and he talks about Beau Biden a lot. So, bringing Hunter in and talking about the politics of it, while some Democrats might say that's not fair game, it's his child, you should set it aside. Even he said, my son, my son, to Trump on -- during a presidential debate, he has brought his family into the force so much that, of course, now we need to talk about it.

BASH: All right, everybody stand by.

Coming up, we're going to go back to the big story that is happening on Capitol Hill right now, whether or not history will be made, whether a House speaker will be ousted through votes on the House floor by his own party. We're going to talk to a Democratic congressman about whether there's any chance they will try to save him.


[12:43:14] BASH: The question of the hour is, will any House Democrats step in to save a Republican Speaker Kevin McCarthy from a revolt within his own party? The House Democratic Caucus just met to discuss that and much, much more.

And joining me now to share his insight is a member of that caucus, Democratic Congressman Ritchie Torres of New York. Thank you so much. It's nice to see you in person. What's the mood right now in your caucus?

REP. RITCHIE TORRES (D), NEW YORK: Look, within the Democratic Caucus, there's a presumption against Speaker McCarthy. The burden falls on him to reach out to House Democrats in pursuit of a negotiated outcome and there are members like me who will presumptively vote for a motion to vacate unless there's a compelling reason.

And at the moment, I see no compelling reason. You know, the burden is on Speaker McCarthy. The ball is in the court of House Republicans. In government, there's no such thing as a free lunch, and no House Democrat should be expected to bail out Kevin McCarthy for free. You know, we're repeatedly told that Republicans are against bailouts, handouts, and free lunches, or no free lunch.

BASH: What could he say that could sway people like you?

TORRES: Well, look, for me, it's not a decision that I would make individually. It's a decision that we should make collectively as a caucus under the leadership of Leader Jeffries. So my rule is simple, and Hakeem Jeffries I trust. But I'm ultimately going to defer to the judgment of Hakeem Jeffries. And the burden falls on Speaker McCarthy to reach out to the Democratic leader.

BASH: But understand that that you seem to be quite unified --

TORRES: Unprecedented unity, I would argue.

BASH: -- when it comes to this. Well, first of all, just take me inside the caucus meeting this morning.


My understanding and the reporting from my colleagues on Capitol Hill is that it was very unified, but very heated and people were pretty angry, particularly after there were clips played of Speaker McCarthy just this weekend kind of trashing Democrats for the way that you acted when it came to the shutdown and more.

TORRES: Yes. Look, I never comment on family conversations, but it's fair to say that there's democratic discontent with Speaker McCarthy with his, you know, kangaroo investigation into President Biden and the erosion of trust. You know, Speaker McCarthy negotiated an agreement with President Biden around spending levels only to renege on the agreement.

And in a futile attempt to pander to the far-right, he opened a kangaroo investigation into President Biden. And so that erosion of trust undermines bipartisanship within the House, and that is of Speaker McCarthy's making.

BASH: Is there any Republican -- you say there's an erosion of trust. Things are not exactly kumbaya on Capitol Hill right now. It's always been partisan, particularly in the House. But it just -- it feels different right now. I'm not asking you to name names, but do you think it is possible for somebody other than Kevin McCarthy to be speaker where that erosion of trust that you just discussed subsides?

TORRES: It's hard to know if the House Republican Conference were a country, it would be a failed state. It has all the elements of a failed state. Incompetence, dysfunction, and extremism, a Republican Civil War, a Republican coup d'etat, and it has created the most ungovernable, dysfunctional House in American history.

The House has been lurching from crisis to crisis to crisis. It has gone from the longest speaker vote in more than a century to a near default on the nation's debt, to a near shutdown of the U.S. government, to the first motion to vacate in more than a century. There's been nothing but chaos, crisis, and confusion.

BASH: Not to get too far into the process, but that's what we're going to be seeing in about 45 minutes. The first vote is going to be whether or not even to allow this motion to vacate, even to allow a vote to oust him. It's a procedural vote. Do you feel confident that Democrats are going to be united even on that? Meaning Democrats will allow the vote to oust Kevin McCarthy?

TORRES: I think it's fair to say that Democrats are going to be united, and that the presumption is against Speaker McCarthy, unless he reaches out and pursues a negotiated outcome. And as far as I know, there's been no negotiated outcome.

BASH: OK. Congressman, thank you so much for coming in. I really appreciate it.

TORRES: Of course.

BASH: Good luck. The next few hours are going to be --

TORRES: Absolutely.

BASH: -- wild.

TORRES: Unprecedented times.

BASH: Yes, for sure. Thank you again.

And up next, a Texas congressman was carjacked on the streets right here in Washington, D.C. What he's saying about the terrifying ordeal.



BASH: Texas Congressman Henry Cuellar was carjacked at gunpoint, just about a mile from the U.S. Capitol. Police are searching for three suspects who stole his car, phone, iPad, and even his dinner. Luckily, the congressman was unharmed.

CNN's Gabe Cohen is on the scene. Gabe, what is the congressman saying right now about this carjacking? Really scary.

GABE COHEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Dana. Look, it is really scary and he seemed upbeat. He even joked around a little bit about it, but no doubt this would have been terrifying as it played out last night, right around 9:30 near this intersection behind me.

He told police he was coming home for the night parking when three men with guns came up and demanded his car. And with it, they took his phone, his iPad, even his dinner, Dana. Now, fortunately, all of that stuff was recovered just a couple hours later and the congressman wasn't injured in any of this.

But, look, we are less than 1 mile away from the U.S. Capitol. You can see it over my shoulder. And that is where the congressman addressed media just a little while ago. Here's what he had to say.


REP. HENRY CUELLAR (D), TEXAS: Three guys came out of nowhere and they pointed guns at me. I do have a black belt, but I recognize when you got three guns. I looked at one with a gun, another one with a gun, a third one behind me. So they said they wanted my car. I said, sure, you got to keep common to those situations. And then they took off.


COHEN: Yes. And so you can hear pretty positive about the whole thing, Dana. He even joked after that. He was most upset that they had taken his sushi dinner, and no, fortunately, that was recovered along with the rest of his belongings. But it got more serious when he was asked about safety for congressional leaders around this area.

He said that it's not just him, he lives in a building along with several other prominent congressional leaders. So it is something that needs to be addressed as we are seeing violent crime rising here in the district.

BASH: And it seems, Gabe, that he was carjacked in spite of the fact that he is a congressman, not because he is a congressman. We don't know all the details, but the point I'm making is that this is becoming much more common in D.C., carjacking, than it was.


COHEN: Yes, Dana. That's right. He said that as far as he could tell, they didn't -- the people who carjacked him didn't have any idea who he was. And we know that violent crime based on police statistics is up close to 40 percent this year here in D.C. A big part of that is carjackings. They have more than doubled in 2023.

You can see if that statistic is up on the screen right now, close to 750 of those carjackings this year compared to just around 360 at this point last year. So that is a major issue. And look, it's not just people who live in the district, it is also those congressional leaders.

Representative Angie Craig was attacked. She's from Minnesota. She was attacked in her D.C apartment around eight months ago. So there have been a lot of congressional leaders talking about this, people on Capitol Hill, about their safety, about their staff safety. A lot of concern about this rising crime rate here in the district.

BASH: As a D.C. resident, as you are, we understand completely. Thank you so much for that report.

Thank you for joining Inside Politics. CNN News Central starts after a break.