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Hunter Biden Makes Surprise Appearance On Capitol Hill As Lawmakers Consider Holding Him In Contempt Of Congress; Tonight: Haley, DeSantis Face Off At CNN Debate In Iowa; Sources: Trump Plans To Speak During Tomorrow's Closing Arguments In New York Civil Fraud Case. Aired 12-12:30p ET

Aired January 10, 2024 - 12:00   ET




MANU RAJU, CNN ANCHOR: Today on Inside Politics, Hunter in the House. The president's son making a surprise appearance on Capitol Hill to watch the House committee meeting called to hold him in contempt of Congress. Chaos, shall we say ensued. Plus it's debate night in Des Moines. Get ready for Nikki Haley and Ron DeSantis to go head to head for the first time, live on CNN.

The stakes are incredibly high, which is five days left for the top Trump alternatives to chip away at his massive league. And demanding answers. Multiple investigations are now underway after the Pentagon waited weeks to reveal the Defense Secretary was battling cancer. Why was even President Biden kept in the dark until yesterday? I'm Mana Raju in for Dana Bash, let's go behind the headlines in Inside Politics.

First up, Capitol Hill needs reality TV. A wild scene unfolded today as House Republicans were starting to move towards punishing Hunter Biden for refusing to sit for a closed door deposition when the president's son showed up. Hunter Biden has been asked to testify in public but today he was silent. Instead just watching as Republicans grew angrier and angrier.


REP. NANCY MACE (R-SC): Who to bribed Hunter Biden to be here today? That's my first question. Second question. You are the epitome of white privilege coming into the Oversight Committee, spitting in our face, ignoring a congressional subpoena to be deposed? What are you afraid of? You have no balls to come up here and -

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Mr. Chairman, point of inquiry.

MACE: Mr. Chairman -

REP. JAMES COMER (R-KY): The lady is recognized -

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: If the gentle - if the gentlelady wants to hear from Hunter Biden, we can hear from him right now, Mr. Chairman. Let's take a vote and hear from Hunter Biden. What are you afraid of?

MACE: Are women allowed to speak here?

COMER: Hold on, hold on, hold on. Order, order.

MACE: Are women allowed to speak in here or no? Are women allowed to speak in here or no?

COMER: Order.

MACE: You keep interrupting me.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'll interrupt the Chairman.

MACE: You keep interrupting me.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I don't know that he's a lady.

MACE: I think that - that Hunter Biden should be arrested right here, right now and go straight to jail. Our nation is founded on the rule of law.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Come on, come on.

MACE: And the premise that the law applies equally to everyone, no matter what's your last name.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Point of order, Mr. Chairman.


RAJU: CNN's Melanie Zanona is on Capitol Hill. Well, Melanie, you are in the middle of all that chaos. Take us through that moment.

MELANIE ZANONA, CNN CAPITOL HILL REPORTER: Yeah, I was definitely trying to channel my inner Manu amid all the chaos and the cameras going on. But look, this was already going to be a very contentious moment here on Capitol Hill. There are two committees, both House Oversight and House Judiciary, who are poised to recommend today that the president's son be held in contempt of Congress for refusing to comply with a closed door deposition.

But as Hunter's surprise appearance really injected even more drama and more political theatrics into the already unprecedented situation, we started hearing so what minutes before really the hearing that Hunter Biden might be showing up. Our colleague, Annie Grayer then confirmed that reporting. He showed up, he sat in the audience and listened for about 20 minutes, and then he exited. But before he left the building, his lawyer did make a brief statement about why he was here today. Let's listen.


ABBE LOWELL, HUNTER BIDEN'S ATTORNEY: The Republican chairs today then are commandeering an unprecedented resolution to hold someone in contempt who has offered to publicly answer all their proper questions. The question there is, what are they afraid of?


ZANONA: So the point that Hunter Biden was trying to make today and has been making in the lead up to this moment is that he is willing to publicly testify under oath and that if Republicans really wanted to hear from him, he could. But Republicans have really pushed back. They say this is not how this works. He doesn't get to dictate the terms of his appearance.

Although we should note that there were several Republicans who in the last session of Congress refused to apply with a congressional subpoena with the January 6 Select Committee. Now, ultimately, it is going to be up to the DOJ to determine whether to prosecute Hunter Biden over this. That's assuming that this resolution passes the full House which we're hearing could happen as soon as next week.

But Manu just a remarkable showdown here on Capitol Hill today between congressional Republicans and the president's son as Republicans continue to try to and pursue an impeachment inquiry into President Biden.

RAJU: Circus on Capitol Hill. Go figure. Melanie's Zanona in the middle of it all and thank you for that. And now I want to bring in my roundtable of great reporters this - this afternoon, CNN Kasie Hunt, Laura Barron-Lopez at the PBS Newshour and the Atlanta Journal Constitution's Tia Mitchell.


All right, what a morning, what a - now afternoon but what a morning it was. Just what do you think about what happened here? And in Hunter Biden's decision to show up? Clearly, he knew - no one knew, this is a surprise, actually the last time he appeared to make that public statement, that was also a surprise. Caught everybody off guard. This is clearly designed to - to derail the proceedings.

KASIE HUNT, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL AFFAIRS ANALYST: Yeah. Well, I mean, I think that it's part of a new, much more aggressive strategy from Hunter Biden and his team to try to make sure that what Republicans are saying about him doesn't go unanswered. I think the old playbook for something like this would be to try and always take the high road, especially if you're the child of a president who's running for re- election, right? Don't respond, don't give more oxygen to what's going on.

I think Donald Trump really changed the playbook and the way that people think you know how, in particular voters are going to respond that they think that people want to see you fighting, that if you let the allegations go unchallenged, that you basically are mincemeat for kind of the sort of churn of our national media.

And that's what you saw today. I mean, honestly, I'm really interested to know - what they - what needed done in the White House, and other Biden officials thought about how they're doing this, but I get why they did it if you're - if you're just trying to defend Hunter Biden.

RAJU: Yeah, I mean, that's a great point, because we have not really seen Hunter Biden over the last couple of years. And now suddenly, he's much more visible, as Kasie said, a clear shift in strategy.

LAURA BARRON-LOPEZ, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Yeah, I mean, the White House was never going to forcefully or publicly, support him or defend him. You know, the President and his aides will say, look that he loves his son, and he supports his son, but they're not going to be out there trying to counteract everything that the Republicans are doing.

They want to show that there is a separation from the Justice Department and from them. And I think that there was a lot of frustration from Hunter Biden and those that are helping him and his and his lawyers, because they - they realized that the White House and that Democrats were never going to provide a support system for him. And so that's why I think what led to this shift, because if - if no one else was going to go out there and publicly defend him, he needed to go out there and publicly defend himself and counteract everything that Republicans are saying.

RAJU: And before you jump in Tia, I want to just go to the White House real quickly to try to get the reaction from the President or his team, if there is any, because as we know, Hunter Biden has been a very touchy subject even among for top Biden aides. So CNN's Arlette Saenz is outside the White House. Did the White House know about Hunter's plan to show up here? And are they supportive of it?

ARLETTE SAENZ, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Manu, we're still waiting to hear whether the White House or President Biden himself had any types of heads up that Hunter Biden would be appearing up on Capitol Hill today. We know that in the past, when Hunter Biden went and spoke outside of the Capitol that day that he did not show up for his closed door deposition. We know that the President was familiar with his remarks at that time.

Of course, Hunter Biden and his lawyers had argued that he was willing to sit down with these committees if it was in a public venue. But we are still waiting to hear if in this exact instance of whether the White House had any heads up. Of course, heading into these meetings today, they said that they were pushing back against what they described as baseless attacks of amid these House GOP investigation saying that these committee members, Republicans are simply interested in playing politics at this moment.

But there have been moments where the White House and Hunter Biden's legal team didn't exactly see eye to eye on the more aggressive strategy approach. But really, they've taken - the White House has taken this hands off approach, not engaging in every twist and turn of Hunter Biden's legal drama. And we'll wait to see what - what they'll have to say a little bit later today about his appearance today.

RAJU: And I'm sure Republicans will be asking, did the president talk to his son about this. I'm not sure they'll get those answers. Arlette Saenz, thanks for this. Tia let's talk about the president. How do you think the President views this moment right now? They don't want to be talking about Hunter Biden, they want to be talking about their agenda or Donald Trump.

TIA MITCHELL, WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT, THE ATLANTA JOURNAL CONSTITUTION: Yeah, I think the President, I would guess that the President is frustrated about it all. You know, he feels that his son is being targeted, he feels like it's politically motivated to hurt him, his administration and his campaign. But I think that the President is kind of old school, so he probably isn't great on the spectacle, but to Kasie's point, the spectacle is out of the Donald Trump playbook crafting the narrative in a way that speaks to regular people, and not people inside the beltway who care about the decorum and the tradition in history.

That's what this is all about because Hunter Biden and his team are saying, we're not worried, maybe not even worried about the White House. Definitely not worried about Congress. But for the people watching at home who can say, well, he showed up, why would you - why would that be a problem?

RAJU: And that's a good way to just remind the folks what the dispute is about. Hunter Biden has agreed, come testify publicly but Republicans want him privately first. They say yeah, public can happen down the line but we want a deposition to happen first. Hunter Biden's team said they would cherry pick and distort that closed door testimony.


That's what they're saying why he would not show up to that deposition. Why he defied the subpoena. This played out in the hearing today, there was a back and forth between a Democratic congressman and the chairman of the committee. It got a little heated.


COMER: After the deposition, Mr. Biden can come in front of a public hearing.

REP. JARED MOSKOWITZ (D-FL): Mr. Chairman, I don't want to play the video. But that is not what you said, on television multiple times. We have the quotes, we can put them up. You said the witness can choose between a deposition.

COMER: Listen, Mr. Moskowitz, Mr. Biden doesn't make the rules. We make the rules.

MOSKOWITZ: No, no. Mr. Chairman, you make the rules. No, you issued those subpoenas after he took you up on your invitation to come. And then you were like, oh, no, no. Oh, my God. What did we - what did I do?


RAJU: Look, I mean, the thing about deposition - I mean these investigations, though the Republicans would say, this is how typically what happens, you have deposed the witness behind closed doors, then you have them publicly. But of course, this is different because it's the president's son.

HUNT: Right. And I mean, look, he's - they're not the first ones to be concerned about private testimony. Why are they concerned about it? They're concerned that selective portions of it will be leaked, and that the public will not have access to the whole story.

RAJU: But that happens all the time too.

HUNT: Yes, it is a tale as old as Congress or at least our modern investigations. I mean, I think that the very simple thing here and - and Moskowitz was a pretty, you know, he was - he was very prosecutorial in how he went after Comer at the top of this hearing. He also, you know, put into the record all of the times that Republican members of Congress, Scott Perry, even Kevin McCarthy, Jim Jordan, defied subpoenas in the wake of the January 6 attacks on the Capitol.

And I do think kind of what we were getting at before you played that soundbite really is the top line here. For the average voter, what are they trying to cut through with? They're just trying to say simply, well, they asked for him to show up. He showed up, they didn't want to talk to him.

RAJU: Sure.

HUNT: Right?

RAJU: And the question is, how do voters respond? This is just a poll showing where things are right now on how the - whether the Republic supports an impeachment inquiry into President Biden, because after all, this is what it's about. 49 percent approved, 40 percent disapproved. This all comes - a split electorate comes as House Republicans themselves are not sure about - we're talking about a bunch of them, who are not sure if they actually will go forward with Articles of Impeachment against Joe Biden because of the fact that there simply is not enough support at the moment and they have a narrow majority.

Even one Congresswoman who's been pushing for Biden's impeachment since day one, Marjorie Taylor Greene indeed suggested as such, just to me yesterday.


REP. MARJORIE TAYLOR GREENE (R-GA): We are going to impeach Mayorkas and we'll be having those two hearings this month. Moving into impeachment. We - it doesn't look like we're moving towards an impeachment vote for Joe Biden as of yet. So - but we're still working through that investigation in our oversight committee.


RAJU: I mean, the conference wants to go after somebody. It seems like Alejandro Mayorkas who is facing his first impeachment hearing today is going to be the target at the moment rather than Joe Biden.

BARRON LOPEZ: Yeah, he looks like the easy target for Republicans right now, because of the fact that they are, as you said, split about whether or not to impeach President Biden. I think this is a bit of a runaway train, though. I mean, the fact that they opened an impeachment inquiry, I think that means that eventually they will have that vote.

Now, whether or not they have enough votes to actually impeach the president is another question. But there are so many Republicans that want to just have that vote. And as you know, Manu, I mean, Speaker Johnson is in a precarious position. And so anything that he can do to keep those conservatives on his side, the ones that really want that impeachment vote, regardless of whether or not there's any evidence to back it up, I think means that we are likely headed for it even if it takes (inaudible)

RAJU: And that precarious position of Speaker Johnson, we'll talk about later in the show as well. So make sure you tune in for that. All right, live look at the CNN debate stage right now and that's where for the first time, Nikki Haley and Ron DeSantis will be going head to head. This will be one of their final chances to change the dynamics of the race with just five days left until the Iowa caucuses. We're live from Iowa, next.




RAJU: Tonight, a final face off before the Iowa caucuses right here on CNN. With five days until the Iowa caucuses, it's a critical night for both Nikki Haley and Ron DeSantis. Perhaps - perhaps their final chance to reach those crucial undecided voters. Donald Trump, the dominant front runner will not be there. Yet again, he's skipping a primary debate, which so far has not hurt him, especially in - not in Iowa. CNNs Jeff Zeleny is in Des Moines. Jeff, there is still a lot on the line tonight between these two candidates.

JEFF ZELENY, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Manu, there's so much on the line tonight and in the next coming days because both candidates are hoping to amplify the arguments they make onstage tonight. But for the Florida Governor, there is no doubt that Iowa is where he needs to revive his campaign.

And they've really been working at it for more than a year through organization, through a ground effort. But he knows that he needs to slow the rise of Nikki Haley, not only here in Iowa, but also in New Hampshire. Of course so that is what he is planning on doing tonight. He's been in deep debate of preparations, we're told.

He's going to challenge our South Carolina record when she was governor. Of course that was a different time in the Republican Party during the era of the Tea Party. She was elected in 2010. For her part, she has done very well in these debates, but she's never been one on one with just a single rival. She has benefited of course from having Chris Christie on stage, having Vivek Ramaswamy on stage but tonight, it is one on one a chance for these Iowa voters to size up these two Trump leading alternatives. Of course with the overall goal of one of them going head to head with Donald Trump.

RAJU: And Jeff, Ron DeSantis' super PAC is out with a new ad today, targeting Nikki Haley's comments about New Hampshire quote, correcting Iowa's results. How do Iowans react to Haley's comments?


ZELENY: Look, it's been a bit of a mixed bag. There's been a long running history of sort of some competition between Iowa and New Hampshire, the first of the nation caucuses here, the first in the nation primary's in New Hampshire, but Nikki Haley sort of stepped in it a bit a couple of weeks ago when she said the New Hampshire result can correct the Iowa result. While the DeSantis' super PAC is making sure Iowans know about that.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Haley told New Hampshire what she really thinks about Iowa.

NIKKI HALEY (R), 2024 PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: You know, Iowa starts it. You know that you correct it.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: New Hampshire corrects Iowa.

HALEY: Oh, my God.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Nikki doesn't respect you. She thinks New England knows better.


ZELENY: Look, when we've asked so many voters about this. To Nikki Haley supporters and fans, they're not bothered by this at all. To a DeSantis supporters, they believe that this is the thing that's going to finally slow her rise. We'll see about that. The reality is this is likely to turn on policy issues for some.

DeSantis is making a hard pitch to evangelical voters. Nikki Haley is making an electability pitch that she is the one who can beat a President Biden in a general election she says. So look, these are certainly some of the sideshows, if you will, it might affect things on the margin. But there's no doubt that what happens here on the debate stage tonight is important.

But also Manu, organization because the weather forecast very important here in politics. It is going to be below zero, perhaps 15 below on Monday. That's why a strong ground game is essential.

RAJU: Yes, indeed. I suspect we'll be hearing about those Iowa, New Hampshire comments tonight. I'm just going to guess that's - take that wild guess. Jeff Zeleny in Des Moines, thanks so much. As we said Trump is skipping tonight's debate in Iowa. Tomorrow, he'll

be back inside the New York courtroom. And unlike his appearances yesterday in Washington, the court actually may hear directly from the former president. CNN's Alayna Treene is with me, ala Elena, what do you know?

ALAYNA TREENE, CNN REPORTER: Yeah, well, Manu, we are learning that not only is Donald Trump planning to be in court for his New York civil fraud trial tomorrow, but his team is also making preparations for him to potentially speak during the closing arguments. Now, here's where things currently stand according to the great reporting from our colleagues.

Donald Trump's team, and the judge in that case, have been having discussions about whether or not Donald Trump would be able to show up and speak on his behalf for the defense. But the judge is inclined to allow him to do so with some restrictions. And that's according to CNN's Lauren del Valle. Now we're told from our conversations with Donald Trump's team that Trump doesn't want any restrictions if he's going to speak.

So it's still very unclear whether or not we're going to hear from the former President tomorrow. But look, I do think we should just point out some caveats here. Trump has said repeatedly in the past that he wanted to play a larger role in his team's defense just last month, he had plans to testify into this case, and then canceled that testimony at the last minute.

So even if Donald Trump and his team agree on some of the parameters around what speaking in court tomorrow would look like. That doesn't mean that this is a done deal. And that, you know, he won't cancel at the last minute. And just to take a step back Manu and think about the political strategy of all of this, Donald Trump and his team recognizes that this would be a great distraction away from his rivals on the trail.

Tonight is the CNN debate with DeSantis and Haley and having this court appearance tomorrow and Donald Trump speaking himself would be a great way to suck the oxygen away from that as we look forward to Monday.

RAJU: Yeah, no question about it. The effort to try to get the attention back on him. Go figure. All right, Alayna Treene, thank you for that report. My panel is back here in the room.

TREENE: Thank you.

RAJU: What do you think about the - the DeSantis-Haley back and forth? What do you - actually, before you jump in, I want to just give viewers just a taste of what DeSantis and Haley have been saying each other - about each other in the last few days. It has not been particularly nice.


GOV. RON DESANTIS (R-FL), 2024 PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Donald Trump's running for his issues. Nikki Haley's running for her donors' issues. I'm running for your issues.

HALEY: Ron doesn't defeat Biden. Trump is head to head with Biden. On a good day, he's up by two. Wall Street Journal had him up by four. I'm in every one of those same polls. And I defeat Biden by 17 points.

DESANTIS: You have people like Nikki Haley that care more about the Ukraine border than she does about our own borders.

HALEY: Why don't you ask him why he banned offshore drilling and why the Sierra Club loves him?


RAJU: So the first time they're together, one on one. Trump not there. There's other opponents not there. Is their strategy to attack each other or Trump?

MITCHELL: Well, I think it depends on which one of them you're talking about. I think Ron DeSantis may be a little bit more eager to attack Nikki Haley directly, but I do think both of them are going to have to sharpen their attack now that it's one on one. There's going to be no one else for them to really talk about or talk to but each other.


So just by virtue of the - the dynamics of the debate. I do think DeSantis also has sharpened his attacks against former President Trump in ways we don't hear as much from Nikki Haley, perhaps because it's a little bit more problematic for her because she used to work for the guy. But it's interesting that this is coming so late in the game for both of them, quite frankly, and we just can't ignore the fact that in Iowa, they're still competing against each other for a distant second.

RAJU: Yeah. And I was just going to say, when you're talking about the attacks, the attacks have not been - the attacking over Trump's character, they've not going after his character. It's been about whether it's DeSantis on policy, flip flopping. It's Haley about chaos. It has not been going on for Trump's character. Do they change that this close to the Iowa caucuses? Or do you think they stick to the familiar lineup?

HUNT: Yeah, no. I mean we've all been waiting for that this entire time. And then I would sort of expand that to say it's like his legal problems, right? Like all the issues he's going to have in a general election if he's -

RAJU: Almost rallying behind him on the legal stuff.

HUNT: Right. Right. And they sort of have to. I mean, if you talk to a lot of Republicans off the record, or, you know, in background, they will say that Trump getting indicted was actually a real turning point in this primary and that it sort of solidified Trump's base to get that - get out there and defend him.

I mean, Manu, I got to say, I'm looking for one thing tonight. I'm looking to see whether or not Nikki Haley makes a mistake, that jeopardizes the trajectory that she's on, because right now, she has put herself on one that gives her a shot of denting Donald Trump's kind of the - the sense of inevitability around his - his nomination, right?

This is going to be really the first test for her to stand on a stage one on one as Zeleny noted, and to actually show that what he has been out there saying about her isn't true, which is that when the scrutiny lights are the hottest, she doesn't stand up. I mean, presidential campaigns are an incredible crucible, in a way that you know, other campaigns for governor, etc, are not as you know, very well.

So that's honestly my big question here. How does she perform? If she can come out of this the way she's come out of the other debates, I think we are in for a really interesting couple of weeks. If she makes a mistake, a very clear mistake, then I think we could be having a different conversation here in a week.

RAJU: Yeah and then she's spending days cleaning it up like she did with the civil war comments. That will also be a different conversation. Just to get a sense on the money that's been spent in the final weeks here. Just in Iowa, this is ad spending since January 1. Pro-Haley groups, whether it's the campaign or super PAC, together a $7.6 million. She is outspending both DeSantis and Trump, even doubling Trump right there more than doubling him.

Do you think if this - can - is it possible, Haley can come out on top in Iowa and not beat Trump necessarily, but beat DeSantis? And what would that mean for DeSantis' campaign if that happens?

BARRON LOPEZ: I think, yeah, she could potentially beat DeSantis. And again, DeSantis is already facing some calls to drop out. So I think that if he were to come in third, then he's going to face a lot more pressure to just bow out to potentially give Haley an even greater shot at trying to catch Trump in New Hampshire and in other states.

But again, even though she is closing that gap in a state like New Hampshire, when you look at the following state, South Carolina and others, she still has this massive double digit distance between her and Trump. He's leading her by double digits even in her own state.

And so the likelihood that she's going to be able to catch him, I'm skeptical about. I mean, I think it's frankly, just stunning that she and DeSantis have not attacked Trump at all on the legal matters, or the character matters even going so far as to say that they'd pardon him.

RAJU: And the one person we will not see on the debate stage tonight is Chris Christie. Of course, he has not believed in playing in Iowa. He's got a full on New Hampshire play. But given that we've seen the polls shift in Haley's direction in recent weeks, including just our CNN poll yesterday, he's facing growing calls that he should step aside. He should get consolidated behind Nikki Haley, who could be the Trump alternative here that emerges.

He has been pushing back on those calls, including at a campaign stop in New Hampshire yesterday. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CHRIS CHRISTIE (R), 2024 PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Let's say I dropped out of the race right now and I supported Nikki Haley and then three months from now - four months from now when we're get ready to go to the convention, she comes out as his Vice President. What will I look like? What will all the people who supported her at my behest look like? When she's up on the stage in Milwaukee, with her hands up like this with Donald Trump?


RAJU: Does this idea that she has not ruled out being a VP for Trump have any impact on those moderate New Hampshire voters who are getting behind her campaign?

MITCHELL: I mean, I do think it has impact on those who want a clean break from Donald Trump. Now again, when you're speaking to a Republican primary electorate, I don't know that there's - we know that there's a huge chunk of Republicans who don't necessarily feel that way and they might even be more comfortable with Nikki Haley on the ticket, thinking that she can help you know, bring some - some gravitas and some seriousness to - to a Trump White House quite frankly.