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CNN Live Event/Special

Special Counsel Testifies on Biden Classified Documents Investigation. Aired 10-10:30a ET

Aired March 12, 2024 - 10:00   ET



WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: We're going to watch it very closely.

I just want to point out one thing. Rob Hur's folks say he resigned as the special counsel a few days ago because the investigation has been completed and there was no longer any need for a special counsel and we all know the results of his investigation.

I want to go back to my colleague, Jim Acosta. He's up on Capitol Hill. Jim?

JIM ACOSTA, CNN ANCHOR: Yes, Wolf, that's right. It is worth pointing out to our viewers, Robert Hur, now a private citizen, testifying before the House. And you could see just a few moments ago, as Wolf was pointing out, those committee members making their way into the into the committee hearing room. They'll get started in just a few moments.

I'm back with Kasie Hunt and Paula Reid. I do want to read just a portion of the Hur opening statement where he talks about what the president was up to with respect to these classified documents. And if we have, we could show it to our viewers and he says, and he's going to say this in just a few moments, my task was to determine whether the president retained or disclosed national defense information willfully, meaning knowingly and with the attempt to do something the law forbids.

I could not make that determination without assessing the president's state of mind. For that reason, I had to consider the president's memory and overall mental state and how a jury likely would perceive his memory and mental state in a criminal trial.

Paula, I mean, much has been made, and I suppose Democrats are going to seize on this and want to talk about this. I suppose Republicans will take some shots perhaps at this as well, you know, wondering why Hur put this in there to begin with, why did it need to be in there?

PAULA REID, CNN CHIEF LEGAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Well, he said he had to do it. He had to lay out his reasoning as a prosecutor. He said, as a prosecutor, these are the kinds of considerations that you must make. He says in the first few lines of his executive summary, he says, our investigation uncovered evidence that President Biden willfully retained and disclosed classified materials. And then he has to go through the steps to assess the strength of his case. Can I prove this beyond a reasonable doubt? And these comments about his memory, well, I know that they aggravate the White House. This was how he viewed the case, not strong enough to bring because he couldn't prove it beyond a reasonable doubt.

And I'm told from a source very close to Hur that they believe one of the reasons that the transcript was released today by the White House is because the White House is probably concerned that additional damaging information could come out under questioning. But I'm also cautioned that Hur hopes to not really reveal too much more new information and stay within the contours of his report.

ACOSTA: Yes. Kasie, you know, just some final thoughts from you before we get started here because we're going to get going at any moment, but the fact that this was included in this report at the time that it was when there were these questions that were being raised about the president's fitness and so on. I mean, the president addressed a lot of that during the State of the Union speech.

So, I mean, this is -- they're going to go back and forth over this issue. But in the minds of a lot of Americans, this may have been resolved, maybe not everybody, but to some extent during the State of the Union.

KASIE HUNT, CNN ANCHOR AND CHIEF NATIONAL AFFAIRS ANALYST: Well, the White House caught a break with the timing here that this is happening after the State of the Union. And, look, I think that from a political perspective, you have to remember that the thing that is the most damaging to the president in terms of how his age impacts voters is this idea that it means that he is a weak leader.

It's not necessarily about his health or his sharpness. It's, is he strong enough, right? And so that is the theme that I'm looking for from Republicans on this committee.

Let's also take a step back and remember that we are living in just incredibly divisive and polarized times, right? I mean, these are not typical political times. And you're going to see that from Jim Jordan at the dais here today.

ACOSTA: Yes. I don't mean to interrupt, but we should note one of the things that we're hearing right now that is taking place in the hearing room is that there are protesters in the hearing room as we speak. It might be delaying things just touch. It looks like there's a bit of a back and forth should be listening for just a moment just to see what is being said. Let's listen in just a moment just to see what's happening here.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: There have been 17,000 orphans in Gaza right now in the last four or five months. Our country is responsible for funding it. Our tax money (INAUDIBLE). Why are you taking money from APAC (ph)? Stop taking money from APAC. This is funding genocide. Look at these pictures. These are real children. These are real children.

ACOSTA: There's the special counsel, the former Special Counsel, Robert Hur, coming in to testify. He's going to be taking a seat in just a few moments.

But as we're seeing on the right side of the screen, there are some protesters. They appear to be with the organization, Code Pink, which is an anti-war organization. And as you were hearing some of the sound in the hearing room just a few moments ago, it sounded as though they were making reference to the war with Hamas.

The hearing has gaveled in. Let's go to the hearing now.

REP. JIM JORDAN (R-OH): -- of Special Counsel Robert Hur. The chair now recognizes the gentleman from the state of Wisconsin for the purpose of leading us in the pledge.


Pursuant to an agreement with the ranking member, Nadler, and without objection, Chairman Comer and Ranking Member Raskin will be permitted to participate in today's hearing for the purposes of making opening statements and asking questions of the witness. They each will receive three minutes for an opening statement and five minutes to question the witness.

The chair now recognizes himself for an opening statement.

Robert Hur was appointed special counsel on January 12th, 2023. He had a fundamental question to address. Did Joe Biden unlawfully retain classified information? The answer, yes, he did. Page one of Mr. Hur's report, he says this, our investigation uncovered evidence that President Biden willfully retained and disclosed classified materials after his vice presidency when he was a private citizen.

He further writes, Mr. Biden willfully retained marked classified documents about Afghanistan and handwritten notes in his notebooks, which he stored in unsecured places in his home. Joe Biden kept classified information and Joe Biden failed to store classified information properly.

Mr. Hur made these determinations after interviewing 147 witnesses. He examined 7 million documents, including emails, text messages, photographs, videos, toll records, and other materials from both classified and unclassified sources.

But there's more. He not only -- Joe Biden not only kept information he wasn't allowed to keep, and he not only failed to secure that information properly, he also shared it with people he wasn't allowed to -- who weren't allowed to see it, shared that information with his ghostwriter.

And remember, this is information that only individuals with a security clearance are supposed to see. Mr. Hur told us on page 200 of his report that it's the kind of information that, quote, risk serious damage to America's national security.

And what did Joe Biden have to say about all this? What was his explanation? On page 94 of Mr. Hur's report, Joe Biden said he took his notebooks with him after his vice presidency because, quote, they're mine. And every president before me has done the same exact thing, never mind the fact that he had never been president when he took this information, but what comes through is Joe Biden felt he was entitled.

You can almost hear it. You can feel the arrogance in the statement. They're mine. But even with all that, Mr. Hur chose not to bring charges because, quote, Mr. Biden would likely present himself to a jury as he did in our interview of him as a sympathetic, well-meaning, elderly man with a poor memory, a forgetful old man who Mr. Hur said did not remember when he was vice president, forgetting on the first day of the interview when his term ended, and forgetting on the second day of the interview when his term as vice president began.

Mr. Hur produced a 345-page report, but in the end, it boils down to a few key facts, Joe Biden kept classified information, Joe Biden failed to properly secure classified information, and Joe Biden shared classified information with people he wasn't supposed to.

Joe Biden broke the law, but because he's a forgetful old man who would appear sympathetic to a jury, Mr. Hur chose not to bring charges.

Mr. Hur, we think it's important that you be able to respond to President Biden's response to your report. So, we're going to play a short video of President Biden's press conference after your report was released because there's things in this press conference that the president of the United States says that are directly contradicted by what you found in your report.

So, if we could play that video.


JOE BIDEN, U.S. PRESIDENT: Everybody, good evening.

Let me say a few things before I take your questions. As you know, the special counsel released this finding today about their look into my handling of classified documents.

REPORTER: President Biden, 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.


BIDEN: 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. I don't need his recommendation.

REPORTER: How (INAUDIBLE) is your memory and can you continue as president?

BIDEN: My memory is so bad I let you speak. That's --

REPORTER: Did you figure that your memory has gotten worse, Mr. President? BIDEN: My memory is not -- 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 did that happen? You know, I guess I just forgot what was going on.

REPORTER: Mr. President, voters are concerned about your age. How are you going to assuage them? Do you fear that this report is only going to fuel further concerns about your age?

BIDEN: Only by some of you.

REPORTER: (INAUDIBLE) today. Do you take responsibility for at least being careless with classified material?

BIDEN: I take responsibility for not having seen exactly what my staff was doing. It goes in and points out things that appeared in my garage, things that came out of my home, things that were moved not by me, but my staff, but my staff.

REPORTER: Mr. President, for months before 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. That is your judgment. That is not the judgment of the press.

REPORTER: They expressed concerns about your mental acuity, they say that you were too old. Mr. President, in December, you told me that you believe 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 be president of the United States and finish the job I started.

REPORTER: Why are you confusing names of world leaders?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Thank you everyone.

BIDEN: I did not share classified information. I did not share it with my ghostwriter. I did not. I guarantee you did not. The special counsel said -- no, I did not say that. I did not say that.

REPORTER: Mr. President --

BIDEN: Let me answer your question. The fact of the matter is, what I didn't want repeated, I didn't want him to not, and I didn't read it to him, was I had written a long memorandum to President Obama why we should not be in Afghanistan. And I was -- of multiple pages. And so what I was referring to, I said classified, I should have said, it should be private because it was a contact between the president and the vice president as to what was going on. That's what he was referring to. It was not classified information in that document. That was not classified. REPORTER: When you look back at this incident is there anything you would do differently now and do you think that a special prosecutor should have been appointed in the first place in both of these cases?

BIDEN: First of all, what I would have done is oversee the transfer of the material that was in my office and my offices. I should have done that. If I go back, I didn't have the responsibility to that. My staff was supposed to do that, and they referenced that in the report.

And my staff did not do it in the way that -- for example, I didn't know how half the boxes got in my garage until I found out staff gathered them up, put them together and took them to the garage in my home. And all the stuff that was in my home was in filing cabinets that were either locked or able to be locked. It was in my house. It wasn't out in -- like in Mar-a-Lago in a public place where, and none of it was high classified. It didn't have any of that red stuff on it. You know what I mean around the corners? None of that.

And so I wish I had paid more attention to how the documents were being moved and where. I thought they were being moved to the archives. I thought all of those would be moved. That's what I thought.

Now, what was the last part of your question?

REPORTER: -- special counsel should have been appointed in this case and in the case of your rival, former president --

BIDEN: I think a special counsel should have been appointed. And the reason I think a special counsel should have been appointed is because I did not want to be in a position that they looked at Trump and weren't going to look at me just like they looked at the vice president. And the fact is they made a firm conclusion, I did not break the law, period. Thank you all very, very much.


BIDEN: The hostage negotiation.


I'm of the view, as you know, that the conduct of the response in the Gaza Strip has been over the top. I think that, as you know, initially, the president of Mexico, 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, let them make them part of the Middle East, and recognize them fully in return for certain things that the United States would commit to do, and the commitment that we were proposing to do related to two items I'm not going to go in detail, but one of them was to deal with the protection against the archenemy to the northwest -- northeast, I should say, the second one, by providing ammunition and material for them to defend themselves.

Coincidentally, that's the timeframe when this broke out. I have no proof what I'm about to say, but it's not unreasonable to suspect that the Hamas understood what was about to take place and wanted to break it up before it happened.


JORDAN: Chair now recognizes the ranking member, Mr. Nadler, for an opening statement.

REP. JERRY NADLER (R-NY): Mr. Chairman, I'm glad you have such admiration for the president that you allowed him to take the first ten minutes of this hearing.

Mr. Chairman, House Republicans may be desperate to convince America that white conservative men are on the losing end of a two-tiered justice system, a theory that appeals to the MAGA crowd that has no basis in reality.

But your comments today make me wonder if you have read the special counsel's report at all. The Hur report does help us draw a distinction between President Biden and Donald Trump. It's not the one you want.

Two distinctions, actually. First, the report is clear that, quote, at no point did the special counsel find evidence that Mr. Biden intended or had reason to believe the information would be used to injure the United States with the benefit of foreign nations, close quote.

With respect to the classified documents found in President Biden's possession, quote, the decision to decline criminal charges was straightforward, close quote.

And with respect to the special counsel's investigation, quote, Mr. Biden turned and classified documents to the National Archives and the Department of Justice, consented to the search of multiple locations, including his homes, sat for a voluntary interview, and in other ways cooperated with the investigation, close quote.

President Biden acted responsibly, cooperated completely, and the decision to decline criminal charges was relatively straightforward. In short, to borrow a phrase from the last administration, the Hur report represents the complete and total exoneration of President Biden.

And how does that record contrast with President Trump, the documents he retained and the criminal charges pending against him in Florida? We know that Trump deliberately took large amounts of classified information from the White House. He has admitted as much, occasionally pretending that he declassified this information without telling anyone on his way out the door.

We know that he stored that information around Mar-a-Lago in the craziest of places, on the ballroom stage, spilled across the floor of an unlocked closet next to the toilet.

We know that he showed classified military plans to an author interviewing him at Bedminster, quote, as president, I could have declassified it, Trump says on an audio recording, now I can't, you know, but this is still a secret, still a secret, close quote, so much for the declassification theory.

We know from the indictment that Trump is alleged to have shared these classified documents with many other visitors to Mar-a-Lago. And we know that, despite this outrageous conduct, the Department of Justice gave Trump every opportunity to avoid criminal charges.

Again, in the special counsel's words, quote, after being given multiple chances to return classified documents and to avoid prosecution, Mr. Trump allegedly did the opposite. He not only refused to return the documents for many months, but he also obstructed justice by enlisting others to destroy evidence and then to lie about it, close quote.

Why did the president charge former President Trump, but not President Biden? Not because of some vast conspiracy, not because the so-called deep state was out to get him, but because former President Trump was fundamentally incapable of taking advantage of even one of the many, many chances he was given to avoid those charges.


Which brings me to the second distinction this report helps us draw between President Biden and Donald Trump. Simply put, President Biden had the mental acuity to navigate this situation. Donald Trump did not.

Much has been made of the special counsel's gratuitous comments about the President Biden's age, but let's set the context. After returning every classified document, after opening his home to federal investigators, while simultaneously managing the first hours of the crisis in Israel, President Biden volunteered to sit through a five- hour interview with the special counsel.

I believe, as is his habit, that President Biden probably committed a verbal slip or two during the interview. And I'm not sure any of that matters, because when the interview was over, Mr. Hur completely exonerated President Biden.

And then, there is Donald Trump. What kind of man bungles, not one, but dozens of opportunities to avoid criminal liability? What must that say about his mental state? Here, too, the record speaks for itself.


DONALD TRUMP (R), FORMER U.S. PRESIDENT, 2024 PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: One of the great memories of all time.

James Webb, I don't remember the names. I don't remember the name.

Viktor Orban, did anyone ever hear of him? He's the leader of Turkey.

By the way, they never report the crowd on January 6th.

You know, Nikki Haley, Nikki Haley is in charge of security.

Three years later -- how about that?

REPORTER: Did you actually have a one-on-one with Comey?

TRUMP: Not much, not even that I remember.

I like mosquitoes.

We have languages coming into our country we have nobody that even speaks those languages. They're truly foreign languages. Nobody speaks them.

Saudi Arabia and Russia will repeat to -- I have a really good memory.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Your next wife was a woman by the name of Marla Maples?

TRUMP: That's right.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You recalled what years you were married to Ms. Maples?


It's called, like, up here, and it's called memory, and it's called other things.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: So, you don't remember saying you're the one (INAUDIBLE)?

TRUMP: I don't remember that.

And Putin, you know, has so little respect for Obama that he's starting to throw around the nuclear war, Terry, you've heard that, nuclear.

We have to win in November, or we're not going to have Pennsylvania. They'll change the name.

I talk to Putin a lot.

REPORTER: Did you ask him that?

TRUMP: I don't remember that. You know, I saw that this morning. I don't remember asking him that question.

I have a good memory and all that stuff, like a great memory.

For 20 years, they were fighting ISIS. I defeated ISIS in four weeks.

And we did with Obama. We won an election that everyone said couldn't be won.

I'm not cognitively -- and you know what? When I am, you're going to enjoy it. You're going to be the first people -- I know my people. You'll say, all right, Trump, you did a good job. Get the hell out of here. That's it.


NADLER: That is a man who is incapable of avoiding criminal liability, a man who is wholly unfit for office, and a man who at the very least ought to think twice before accusing others of cognitive decline.

Thank you for being here today, Mr. Hur. Thank you for illuminating a stark choice for this country in the months to come. I look forward to your testimony, and I yield back.

JORDAN: The gentleman yields back. The chair now recognizes the chairman of the Oversight Committee, Mr. Comer, for an opening statement.

REP. JAMES COMER (R-KY): Thank you. In August 2022, President Biden questioned in a 60 Minutes interview how anyone can be that irresponsible when asked about classified documents in the possession of former President Trump.

But when President Biden said this, he knew that he had stashed classified materials in several unsecured locations for years, dating back to his time as vice president and even as a U.S. senator. President Biden, the White House and his personal attorneys have not been honest with the American people about his willful retention of classified material and continue to hide information from Congress.

President Biden's attorneys claim to a first discovered classified material at Penn Biden Center on November 2nd 2022. However, President Biden and his lawyers kept it secret from the American people before the midterm elections.

CBS News broke the story in January 2023, leaving Americans to wonder if the White House had any intention of ever disclosing that President Biden hoarded classified documents for years. One of my first actions after becoming chairman of the House Oversight Committee was to launch an investigation into President Biden's mishandling of classified documents.


This investigation started before special counsel her was named and what we found is alarming. Information obtained through multiple transcribed interviews conducted by the Oversight Committee contradict the White House's and President Biden's personal attorney's narrative about the discovery of classified documents at the Penn Biden Center. In fact, the real timeline began in the spring of 2021, not November 2022, as the White House claimed.

Additionally, the classified documents were not kept in a locked closet as asserted by the White House. We've also learned that five White House employees and a Department of Defense employee were involved in the early stages of coordinating the organizing moving and removing of boxes that were later found to contain classified materials. There's no reasonable explanation as to why so many White House employees were concerned with retrieving boxes they believed only contains personal documents and materials.

Why did President Biden keep these specific documents in unsecured locations for years? Many questions remain. But now the White House is obstructing Congress as we seek the truth for the American people. We've subpoenaed former White House Counsel Dana Remus to appear for a deposition to provide information to our committee but the White House is seeking to block her testimony.

We've also subpoenaed the Department of Justice for audio recordings and transcript of President Biden's interview with Special Counsel Hur. These were due the morning of the State of the Union. Only this morning, a couple of hours before today's hearing, the Department of Justice finally provided the transcript of President Biden's interview with Special Counsel Hur. The timing is not coincidental.

Although we've had little time to review the transcripts from what we have seen, it is clear that the White House did not want Special Counsel Hur's final report to be released. The White House has refused to be transparent with the American people about the president's mishandling of classified documents. And worse, they have appeared to have lied about the timeline, about who handled the documents and even about the contents of President Biden's interview with Special Counsel Hur.

That is why today's hearing is important. Transparency is what we seek today and we look forward to Special Counsel Hur's testimony.

I yield back.

JORDAN: Gentlemen yields back.

The chair now recognizes the ranking member of the Oversight Committee, Mr. Raskin, for his opening statement.

REP. JAMIE RASKIN (D-MD): Thank you, Chairman Jordan.

There are just three basic points that all Americans need to understand about Mr. Hur's report. Number one, the special counsel exonerates President Biden. The very first line of the report says it all, quote, we conclude that no criminal charges are warranted in this matter. We would reach the same conclusion, even if Department of Justice policy did not foreclose criminal charges against a sitting president.

Second, the report establishes that President Biden offered complete and unhesitating cooperation with the special counsel's investigation. The Justice Department and the National Archives were proactively notified of the classified documents, and they were turned over. The president allowed the FBI to search his homes, and he sat for a voluntary interview for more than five hours on October 8th and October 9th, even as he was busy responding to Hamas' vicious terrorist attack in Israel.

The report thus demonstrates President Biden's complete devotion to the rule of law and his respect for a fair and independent Department of Justice. President Biden did not assert executive privilege or claim absolute immunity for presidential crimes. He did not hide boxes of documents under his bed or in a bathtub. He did not fight investigators, nor did he seek to redact a single word of Mr. Hur's report. He consented to the search of numerous locations, including his homes, and he did everything he could to cooperate, not obstruct.

Third, Special Counsel Hur repeatedly emphasizes that President Biden's conduct contrasts sharply with that of former President Trump. Hur observes that unlike President Biden, quote, the allegations set forth in the indictment of Mr. Trump, if proven, would clearly establish not only Mr. Trump's willfulness, but also serious aggravating factors.

He sets forth these points of difference in detail. Quote, most notably, after being given multiple chances to return classified documents and avoid prosecution, Trump allegedly did the opposite. According to the indictment, he not only refused to return the documents for months, but he also obstructed justice by enlisting others to destroy evidence and then to lie about it, unquote.

He returned only a portion of subpoenaed documents and deliberately withheld the rest. Unlike President Biden, Trump did not alert the National Archives or DOJ of the documents, nor did he turn over all the classified materials in his possession. He did not agree to sit down for a voluntary interview with the special counsel.


He never consented to a search of his home.