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Hunter Biden Calls Out "Political Weaponization" Of His Addiction In Emotional USA Today Op-Ed; New Poll: RFK Jr. Gets 22 Percent In Matchup With Trump And Biden; Top U.S. Intelligence Officials Assess Iran And Its Proxies Want To Avoid Wider War With Israel. Aired 12:30-1p ET

Aired November 02, 2023 - 12:30   ET




DANA BASH, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome back to INSIDE POLITICS, an emotional new op-ed out this morning from Hunter Biden. The first son rarely speaks out publicly, but in USA Today, he writes about his struggle with addiction and attacked the Republicans who have used it to hammer both him and his father.

He writes, quote, "Over four years ago, I chose life over the slow strangle-death grip of addiction, which, in my case, consisted of each day a bottle of vodka and as many hits on a crack pipe as possible. I am prouder of that choice and of my recovery than anything I've ever done".

He goes on to write that while his struggle is not unique, quote, "What's distinct about my situation is that I'm the son of the president of the United States. My struggles and my mistakes have been fodder for a vile and sustained disinformation campaign against him and an all-out annihilation of my reputation".


I want to bring in our panel on this. CNN's MJ Lee, the Atlantic's Frank Foer, and Axios' Margaret Talev. Frank, I want to start with you because you have a book out on Joe Biden in particular, but I know you've done a lot of work and reporting on his family. What do you make of this new op-ed?

FRANKLIN FOER, STAFF WRITER, THE ATLANTIC: So Joe Biden's interests and Hunter Biden's interests are not totally aligned here, and they never really have been. Hunter Biden in this split screen set against everything else that's going on in the world is fighting this battle for his reputation that part of the reason that he's not settled his case thus far is that he has his own set of interests. He doesn't want to be prosecuted if Donald Trump returns to power.

He wants to be rehabilitated in the public's eyes. And he is being smeared. But there are other choices he could make along the way that would help his case disappear and his instinct is to really fight hard and fight back.

BASH: His instinct is to fight hard and fight back, and my understanding is that he has been -- and you sort of alluded to this -- incredibly frustrated that he's being attacked because he's the son of a president. But because he's the son of a president, he doesn't feel like he can defend himself in a way that he wants to, which is what made this op-ed really interesting because I know it's been a long time coming.

MJ LEE, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Yes. And you know, I don't think there are many issues for President Biden that are sort of more sensitive than this one. The issue of his son, all of the struggles that he has confronted. Obviously, something that a family, if you're at the White House, you can't afford to deal with these issues in private.

You know, what White House aides will say is that the president himself genuinely does believe that this is a scenario, this is a case where he is seeing his son be sort of politically and unfairly maligned. At the same time, yes, there is recognition that this is sort of the newer strategy for Hunter Biden, and that is to go on the offensive. That is to make his voice heard, whether it's through an op-ed or writing a book.

BASH: Or hiring a new lawyer.

LEE: Right, have a new legal strategy and legal team and sort of make the case for himself as a private citizen. But, you know, as you were saying, that's when you sort of get into, are you being just the son of the president or are you looking out for your own interests? And I think you can't really separate out the two.

MARGARET TALEV, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: I mean, there are benefits to being the son of a president. Hunter Biden would never have been in a position to be able to get many of the roles or clients in the lobbying world or art clients or so and so forth if not also being the son of a president.

I think like many figures in public life, you have the ability and maybe the need to fight your battles on a parallel front, the legal front and the social front. Even though this may not be about or coordinated in any way with the Biden campaign's reelection campaign, I actually see some sort of places where they do align, which is because there are millions of Americans, millions of Americans --

BASH: Yes.

TALEV: -- whose lives are touched by opioid addiction. And they tend to live in important states like New Hampshire --

BASH: Yes.

TALEV: -- in the Rust Belt, in swing states, in --

BASH: (INAUDIBLE) unfortunately. TALEV: -- manufacturing areas in the West. But it diverges at a certain point. He makes the argument in this piece that what he's going through could make it harder for anyone struggling with addiction to come forward and admit it. I'm not -- to me the dots weren't really connected in this, that piece.

BASH: I want to play -- you both alluded to this -- what President Biden has said about his son. This is a moment back in the 2020 presidential debate.


DONALD TRUMP, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Hunter got thrown out of the military. He was thrown out, dishonorably discharged.

JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: That's not true. He wasn't dishonorably discharged.

TRUMP: -- for cocaine use. And he didn't have a job until you became vice president. Once you became --

BIDEN: None of that is true.

TRUMP: He made a fortune in Ukraine, in China, in Moscow --

BIDEN: That is simply not true.

TRUMP: -- and various other places.

BIDEN: My son --

TRUMP: He made a fortune.

BIDEN: My son --

TRUMP: And he didn't have a job.

BIDEN: My son, like a lot of people, like a lot of people, you know, at home had a drug problem. He's overtaken it. He's fixed it. He's worked on it. And I'm proud of him. I'm proud of my son.

TRUMP: But why was he given --


FOER: I mean, it's a form of psychological warfare that Republicans practice because they know that this is the most sensitive subject for President Biden. His relationship with Hunter is just coded in so many different layers of guilt. Hunter is the last surviving member of his family from the car crash.


Hunter knows that Beau Biden was -- had a special place in his father's eyes. And Joe Biden knows that Hunter Biden knows that Beau was his favorite son, and Hunter has all sorts of feelings about that. And these layers of guilt just make it hard for them both to navigate this issue.

Joe Biden has a hard time telling Hunter Biden, no, you're taking the wrong course here. And Hunter Biden has this strong desire to just continually assert himself. There's this pride underneath what he's doing that he's putting himself in some ways first.

BASH: So interesting. It really is an interesting op-ed. It kind of surprised me when I saw it pop up this morning.

Thank you all. Appreciate it.

And actually, stay with us because we're going to talk about more political drama coming up with one year to go until Election Day 2024. Some stunning new poll numbers show a three-way general election race. Who's the third? You're going to want to see this. Don't go away.



BASH: A new poll shows independent candidate Robert Kennedy Jr. gaining in a three-way race with President Biden and former President Trump. To help me break this down, what it means, or maybe -- I don't know if it means anything, our panel is back with us.

So let's look at what we're talking about here. This is from Quinnipiac, the Q poll as it's known. Joe Biden, 39 percent, Donald Trump, 36 percent, Robert F. Kennedy Jr. 22 percent. Now let's just go a little deeper into independent voters. Joe Biden, 30 percent, Donald Trump, 31 percent, Kennedy, 36 percent. A third, a third, a third.

Now let's do the caveat. And the caveat is that this early in the race, voters tend to say, I'm going to go with the independent because they're just annoyed at their choices from both parties. It's still a pretty stark number --

LEE: Yes --

BASH: -- if you're the Biden campaign.

LEE: It's early. There's not a lot of polling on this. But I do think we have already seen both sides take this candidacy seriously enough, like you're hearing Republicans, Democrats saying, well, here are all the reasons why you shouldn't take this guy seriously.

Is he really a Democrat? Is he actually a Republican? I think that if you are the Biden campaign, just to point out the obvious, yes, the issue is that the candidate is unpopular, the candidate being President Biden he has a serious enthusiasm problem. So if you're in a situation where anybody can even take even just a sliver of voters away from you, whether it's young people who are just not enthusiastic, whether it's, you know, Democrats who are just kind of curious about the Kennedy name --

BASH: Kennedy curious.

LEE: Kennedy curious, yes, that's going to actually add up and be really problematic.

FOER: Yes. Well, what will be so interesting is that they're likely to be -- it's not just a third party, there's going to be a third or fourth and a fifth party this year. You use Cornel West --

BASH: Right. Which -- by the way, he's at 6 percent at this point.

FOER: And then there's going to possibly be a new -- no labels. Candidate representing the center in some sort of way and Bobby Kennedy Jr. And then who knows how this cuts in different states or if it hurts Biden more than it hurts Trump. It's so hard to say at this early stage.

BASH: And we should also note that it's not like the easiest thing in the world to get on the ballot.

FOER: Yes, in particularly, in every state has different rules and timelines, but in some of the states that will determine who the president is, maybe challenging.

TALEV: Yes. This poll doesn't show that Robert Kennedy is going to be the next president of the United States, but it does show the potential for a spoiler or multiple spoiler candidates, especially when you have two men who are the standard bearers of their party heading toward the nomination for whom there's a huge amount of controversy on one side and a fair amount of apathy on the other side.

And so I think it's something to watch. It's something that bears watching and it also reflects independence and younger people and in general a societal trend where people don't like the two party system anymore, but there's no mechanism to break it. And with each cycle, things move --

BASH: Yes.

TALEV: -- further towards the bases and nobody knows what to do. And so, some third party option is the closest to a protest vote people think they have.

BASH: So well said. You came in here when we got this Hunter op-ed. We want to make sure to plug your book because it's really good. I read it, "The Last Politician." You see it there. Frank, thank you so much. MJ and Margaret, thank you.

Stay with us because up next, we have new CNN reporting about Iran's role in the Israel-Hamas war and whether the Islamic Republic plans to get more directly involved. Details after the break.



BASH: New reporting right now, top U.S. officials in the intelligence world say that Iran and its proxies want to avoid a wider war with Israel. CNN's Katie Bo Lillis is joining me now with more. Katie, what are you hearing from your sources? KATIE BO LILLIS, CNN INTELLIGENCE REPORTER: Dana, the U.S. intelligence community currently believes that Iran and its proxies across the region are trying to calibrate their response to the Israeli invasion of Gaza to both avoid sparking a broader or direct conflict with Israel or the United States that would likely result in some pretty devastating strikes on Iran itself, while also still exacting some costs from both Israel and the U.S.

But as the director of the National Counterterrorism Center told Senate Committee yesterday, this is a pretty fine line to walk and it's ripe for miscalculation. Part of the problem here, both for Iran and U.S. intelligence officials who are trying to kind of determine how these different proxy groups are going to react is that Iran doesn't actually have perfect command and control over all of these different proxy groups.


They all operate in alignment with with Iran's wishes when it suits them. But some of them behave a little bit more independently than others. And so, for example, one of the groups that the U.S. intel community is watching particularly closely right now is Lebanese Hezbollah. It's probably the largest and most capable of Iran's proxy groups. It's right on the border of Israel.

They've traded some sort of tit for tat rocket fire back and forth across the border since October 7th, although broadly they have acted with restraint. And so with -- for the intelligence community right now, the question is whether or not this group, which has sort of positioned itself as a resistor to Israel, is going to be able to stay out of this conflict if things get particularly dire for Palestinian civilians or for Hamas in Gaza.

BASH: Katie Bo Lillis, thank you so much. Appreciate your reporting and for joining us.

And thank you for joining INSIDE POLITICS today. "CNN NEWS CENTRAL" starts after a break.