Return to Transcripts main page

CNN Live Event/Special

Special Counsel Report Ignites Partisan Firestorm Over Biden's Handling Of Classified Materials. Aired 2-2:30p ET

Aired March 12, 2024 - 14:00   ET



DAVID URBAN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: I think he's shown the work on the old man sitting on the bench feeding the pigeons. He's like, this is why we did not move forward to prosecution. Notably, he said, this is not, my report. Did not exonerate the president, right? So that's a key takeaway for Republicans. But, you know, the part about the mental capacity wasn't necessarily today. But he's saying, I can see in another year or two, and if this does go to trial, he's going to get older.

And this is what a jury is going to perceive, right? In my opinion, as a prosecutor, this is what a jury is going to perceive. And he's shown his work. And this is what I did not move forward for. And he's putting his thinking down, as Paul said, he's giving his reasons. And he showed up today to kind of clear the air, get his reputation straight, because he's not, he's an umpire here. He's not a Republican. He's not a Democrat. He was a great special counsel in this case, calling balls and strikes.

JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: And Anderson, I mean, I think it's fair to say, Robert Hur felt that if he was not going to bring charges, he had to explain why. And saying I wouldn't be able to get a conviction is just following the words of Omar from The Wire. If you come for the king, you best not miss.

ANDERSON COOPER, CNN HOST: I always love an Omar reference.

TAPPER: I know you do.

COOPER: Thank you, Jake Tapper. The panel is going to reconvene after taking some votes. So we'll obviously be bringing more of that. Joining me now are CNN political commentators, Van Jones, Scott Jennings, and our legal analysts, Ellie Honig and Jen Rogers. Jen, let's start with you from a legal standpoint. What's the--

JENNIFER RODGERS, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Not a lot of news today. I mean, not a lot of legal news, at least. A lot of political back and forth. I mean, neither side got him to say what they wanted him to say, right? The Republicans wanted him to say that Biden was guilty and he got off because it's a senile old man that they couldn't convict at trial. Democrats wanted him to say that Biden was completely exonerated by his investigation.

So the truth lies somewhere in the middle, which is what the report says. There is evidence suggesting that Biden kept and held improperly held classified information and that he knew he had at least some of it. But it didn't get to the point where he said, I could bring this case and win this case, and so we shouldn't prosecute. And that's where it ended up. That's where the report started out. And so I think Hur did a good job of kind of mostly keeping his cool and just sticking to the four corners of the report, left both sides unhappy, as Paula Reid was saying down in D.C. Which is what someone who's supposed to be independent is likely to do.


ELIE HONIG, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: There's something here for everyone. There's something here for Republicans to love and Democrats to hate and vice versa. And I do think it's important to point out two consistent overstatements that I think need to be fact-checked. First of all, Republicans time and again suggested what Biden did and what Trump did, one and the same. How could one be charged and not the other?

There are substantial differences, the most glaring one being that Donald Trump obstructed. Joe Biden mostly, not perfectly, but mostly cooperated with the investigation. That's not necessarily determinative, but that's a big factor. But Democrats and the White House, frankly, overshot as well by trying to claim this was a complete exoneration. It was not that. They tried to claim there was no evidence.

And it's really important people understand, because I think sort of normal viewers at home may be thinking, well, how could there be evidence but not a charge? There is a broad gulf between the evidence you need to bring a charge as a prosecutor and no evidence whatsoever. And I think Robert Hur has made it very clear there was some evidence. It was substantial. He even said on questioning by Representative Kiley, Robert Hur said that a reasonable juror, could have convicted. So that means there's evidence that a prosecutor could have decided to charge. But in his exercise of discretion, which I think was sound, he decided it was not worth it because he wasn't confident enough. You could go to a jury and get them all unanimously.

COOPER: A lot of this revolves around handwritten notes that then Vice President Biden had written down that he felt based on Ronald Reagan keeping his handwritten notebooks and never going after him. He felt he was entitled to keep.

HONIG: Crucial point here. This is not one set of classified documents. This is about five to seven different sets of classified documents, which made their way through various homes and offices of Joe Biden's in Virginia, in Delaware, in D.C. One of those sets involved handwritten notes. And Robert Hur said, I think, pretty clearly in the report and today that that would be tricky to charge for exactly the reason you say, Anderson. That there is a tradition of people keeping their diaries, keeping their notes. So that's one of the sets where the evidence was weaker.

But there's other sets of evidence where the evidence was way stronger. For example, the tape where Joe Biden says in February 2017, I just found all the classified document classified materials downstairs. That relates to marked classified documents about Afghanistan. So, they're not all one in the same. And I think Hur was careful. And you see Democrats cherry picking from the weaker ones. And you see Republicans cherry picking from the stronger ones.

SCOTT JENNINGS, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: I had a few takeaways. I do want to stand up for Hur. He was really between the Scylla and Charybdis today. I mean, and had people coming at him from both sides. I thought the attacks on him by Hank Johnson and Adam Schiff were particularly egregious. This guy's obviously a public servant. He's not there for partisan political reasons to portray him as otherwise was beyond the pale.


My takeaways, him saying, I did not exonerate Biden, that's obviously, that was the main pushback of Democrats after the report came out. Biden was exonerated. He put that to bed today. The transcripts that came out today do show Biden did have a lot of memory lapses. Hur told the truth about that. He also confirmed that the White House tried to get the Department of Justice to change his report after he wrote it and after it came out. And finally, and one crucial thing, Joe Biden lied in his press conference when this came out.

He said, I'll guarantee you, I didn't disclose any classified information of my ghostwriter. Hur made clear today they have a tape of all this. He told his ghostwriter about the material. He told him where the classified information was stored. It's fairly obvious that the evidence shows Biden misled the American people about this.

VAN JONES, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Look, I mean, this is a great big mess about nothing because at the end of the day, the reason that you want to charge somebody for doing something like this is to punish, deter, incapacitate. Joe Biden and Donald Trump behaved so completely differently. I think that did come out. But the Republicans win on this just by making it an issue. Just having Biden classified docs investigation, Biden investigation, Biden investigation. What they're trying to do here is create this equivalence in the public mind. That Biden and Trump both did best up with documents. And that is a win for them regardless.

COOPER (?): Lauren Fox is in the ring with Jim Jordan, let's listen.


JIM JORDAN, (R-OH): We know we know Jack Smith and what he's done in the past. So we'll see. I do got to get the votes. I apologize.

LAUREN FOX, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: What would you like to see happening?

(END OF VIDEO CLIP) COOPER: Let's, -- we'll check in with Lauren to hear what he may have said prior to us going to him. But Van, continue.

JONES: I'm just saying that the bigger politics here, you wrote, we were on the tape four years ago. Most people in this country, when they went to vote, they had a variable view of Biden, which is unusual. Biden, good man, Trump, bad man. Biden, kind, Trump, mean. And what the Republicans have been trying to do is to dirty up Biden's reputation. And that's why they're making such a big deal about a charge that obviously shouldn't be brought.

COOPER: I want to get back to Dana Bash on Capitol Hill with more reaction from a member of the committee. Dana.

DANA BASH, CNN HOST: Thanks, Anderson. I'm here with Congressman Ken Buck, Republican of Colorado. You just came from the hearing. Before we get to that, you announced some big news. You're leaving Congress. at the end of next week?

REP. KEN BUCK, (R -CO): I am, yes. I'm resigning my seat and creating a vacancy in my district.

BASH: Why?

BUCK: Well, everywhere I go in Colorado, Dana, I hear that people are not happy with Trump and they're not happy with Biden. And I think we need to change our electoral laws here. And I have a passion for that. And I'm going to leave and I'm going to find the right organization to join and I'm going to start working on that issue. We have to have better candidates up and down the ballot, not just president, but Senate, House, local offices. We've got to find better ways to elect candidates and bring America together.

BASH: You already had announced that you were going to not run for re- election. Why leave now and leave a vacancy in an already very narrow majority for your party?

BUCK: Yeah, because to me, it's important to get in the mix of this election cycle and start talking about the issues that people recognize are such a problem right now.

BASH: You know, my colleague Melanie Zanona is reporting that there is such tension among House Republicans, Republicans that many of them aren't even going to a retreat that's going to happen at the end of this week. Is that tension part of why you're leaving so abruptly?

BUCK: I think this place is dysfunctional. For example, I am the number third ranking member of the Judiciary Committee. I haven't even asked my questions yet. Forty, fifty people have gone before me.

BASH: But that could be personal.

BUCK: It could be personal, but a lot of this is personal. And that's the problem. Instead of having decorum, instead of operating in a professional manner, this place has just evolved into a place of just bickering and nonsense and not really doing the job for the American people.

BASH: How much of the fact that you are leaving March 22nd, next Friday, how much does that have to do with the fact that Trump is the presumptive nominee and you're not exactly a fan?

BUCK: Well, I don't think, -- whether he was the nominee or not, I think our system is broken in how we choose candidates and I want to get involved in that process.

BASH: Is it really that miserable right now to be, -- I mean, from the outside in it doesn't look that fun. From the inside in, is it that bad that you're saying, I'm done?

BUCK: It is the worst year of the nine years and three months that I've been in Congress. And having talked to former members, it's the worst year in 40, 50 years to be in Congress. But I'm leaving because I think there's a job to do out there that I want to go do.

BASH: Anybody that you want to fill your seat?

BUCK: I have not gotten involved in that and I'm going to stay out of it.

BASH: And there's a primary in Colorado at the end of June?

BUCK: June 25th is the primary. The primary election in Colorado, right?

BASH: Before I let you go and I toss back to my colleagues, you mentioned that you haven't asked questions in here, but as a former federal prosecutor yourself, listening to what Mr. Hur has said, do you feel comfortable with the fact that he decided not to press charges against the now president?


BUCK: Well, I have to tell you, Dana, I think he is one of the most intelligent witnesses I've ever seen. He has immense credibility and grasp on the facts. I haven't seen the witnesses. I haven't heard the witnesses. I haven't read the underlying documents. I trust Mr. Hur to have made the right decision.

BASH: Anything else you want to add about your announcement, your big announcement?

BUCK: No, just goodbye.

BASH: Okay. Thank you. Thanks for being here.

BUCK: Thank you.

BASH: Jake, back to you. TAPPER: All right, Congressman Ken Buck bidding adieu to Washington, D.C. Let's go live to Lauren Fox now. She's live at the Capitol. And Lauren, both Democrats and Republicans went into this hearing with Democrats and Republicans with their definite strategies. What are you hearing about how these partisans feel their strategies are playing out?

FOX: Yeah, I mean, both sides are extremely frustrated with Herr today. You're seeing that in the testimony. No one completely satisfied with that report. No one completely satisfied with his answers to questions. Republicans arguing that they feel like Hur did not move forward with the prosecution against Joe Biden and that his rationale for doing so was really checkered, messy. You heard that from Jim Jordan, the top Republican on the Judiciary Committee. Here's what he told me just a few moments ago.


JORDAN: Congressman, the American people should have access to those tapes.

FOX: Hur also suggested that there is a difference between Trump and Biden in the sense that Joe Biden--

JORDAN: The difference is Joe Biden kept classified information at about, I forget how many, like nine different locations because the Penn-Biden Center moved like three times in D.C. So three locations there, his garage, his den, his office, upstairs, downstairs, and then at the University of Delaware, the library, and the University of Delaware Biden Center. So, I don't know how many that is in like nine different places. President Trump's classified documents were kept at his home with Secret Service protection, by the way.

FOX: But in the report, Hur does point out that Biden turned that information over when he became aware of it versus Trump who did not.


JORDAN: What he points out in the report is based on what Jack Smith has said. And we know Jack Smith and what he's done in the past. So we'll see. I do got to get the votes. I apologize.


FOX: And you also are hearing from Democrats who are extremely frustrated about the focus about Biden's age and his ability to remember things. Multiple Democrats pressing Hur on why he had to include that information. The top Democrat on the Judiciary Committee, Jerrold Nadler, telling me that it was superfluous and that he feels like Hur is acting as a Republican operator here. So, it's really this unique moment on Capitol Hill where you have a witness who's frustrating both Republicans and Democrats. Jake, no one completely satisfied. But as you noted, both sides clearly went in today with a very clear idea of how they wanted to tackle this moment. Jake. TAPPER: All right, Lauren Fox, thanks so much. We're going to have much more of our special coverage ahead. We're going to squeeze in a quick break. Stay with us.



COOPER: And welcome back. We're standing by for the questioning of special counsel Robert Hur to resume. Democrats have been grilling him over his portrayal of President Biden's memory. Republicans over his refusal to prosecute the president. Joining us now is Democratic member of the House Judiciary Committee, Congresswoman Madeleine Dean. Congresswoman, thanks for being with us. First of all, your reaction to the testimony you've heard from Mr. Hur so far.

REP. MADELEINE DEAN, (D-PA): Yes, I'm a member of judiciary. Had the chance to be there for his opening statement as well as many of the questions and had my own time to offer questions of Mr. Hur. I found him to be a public servant, a straight shooter. But we did have the chance to say, look, what was this actually all about, this multi- hundred-page report? The report begins with this simple sentence. We conclude that no criminal charges are warranted in this matter. First sentence.

And that is repeated throughout the report. Unfortunately, the coverage of this report got muddied, I believe, because of throwing in of information about Mr. Biden being old, a sympathetic man. With a poor memory. I found that to be very gratuitous. And I found it to be inaccurate specifically in one instance regarding the death of Beau Biden. So, I thought that was most unfortunate. The other important.


COOPER: You pointed

DEAN: Go ahead.

COOPER: You pointed out that Mr. Hur had said that the president did not remember the year of his son's death. And you pointed out in the transcript he remembered the month and the day, May 30th, I believe it was.

DEAN: May 30th, exactly. He said, oh, my God, May 30th. You're asking me the month that Beau died? May 30th. So it was rather gratuitous to say he had a faulty memory, couldn't come up with the year, but he came up with the month and the day. So, I found that to be unfair. And he knew Mr. Hur had to know that that would be a bit of a poison of this report. It would be the lightning rod to which media and others would go.


ANDERSON: Do you think he had a motive behind it?

DEAN: I have no idea. He says, and I'll take him at his word, he says that that was part of the evaluation of this case. But really what was the evaluation of this case was the evidence. And what I thought he also did, very, very clearly was contrast the behavior of President Biden, who voluntarily said, take a look in my house, my offices, search anywhere you like.


Voluntarily came in for more than five hours worth of testimony, never asked his employees to move, destroy or lie about documents. Contrast that with Mr. Trump, who is facing 40 counts for his taking of documents and mishandling of classified top-secret documents to Mar-A- Lago, asking his employees to move things, hide things, destroy surveillance tape if they could possibly do that. He lied to his own lawyers after he was subpoenaed. He asked for some of these things, obviously in defiance of a subpoena. The contrast is so stark.

COOPER: Some Democrats on the committee have attempted to get Mr. Hurr to say that he exonerated the president. Mr. Hur has pushed back on that, pointing out that that is not language he used, that this report does not exonerate the president.

DEAN: However, after a thorough investigation, as he calls it, no criminal charges are warranted. You can play with the semantics, but no criminal charges are warranted. He has declined to prosecute because he simply didn't see evidence enough to prosecute.

COOPER: He also said that he didn't think that he could get a conviction in any prosecution. Congresswoman Madeleine Dean, thank you for your time. Jake.

DEAN: Thank you, Anderson.

TAPPER: All right, Anderson, thanks so much. Let's go live now to CNN's Evan Perez. Evan, you were in the hearing room. We saw lawmakers clashing with Hur from both sides of the aisle over the meaning of his report and his decisions. How does the report stand up to what lawmakers are claiming it says?

EVAN PEREZ, CNN SENIOR JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Well, I think, look, what you hear from Rob Hur is he's trying to stick very closely to what the report says, because he knows that there's obviously there's a political effort on both sides to try to get him to say something beyond what the report says. And you saw that play out in a couple of soundbites there where Representative Jayapal from the Democratic side, Representative Scott Fitzgerald on the Republican side, both tried to get him to say, to go, beyond what he found in his report. Take a listen to these two exchanges.


REP. PRAMILA JAYAPAL, (D) WASHINGTON: So this lengthy, expensive, and independent investigation resulted in a complete exoneration of President Joe Biden. For every document you discussed in your report, you found insufficient evidence that the president violated any laws about possession or retention of classified materials. ROBERT HUR, FORMER SPECIAL COUNSEL, DEPARTMENT OF JUSTICE: I need to

go back and make sure that I take note of the word that you used, exoneration.


HUR: That is not a word that appears in the report, and that's not part of my task as a prosecutor.


JAYAPAL: Mr. Hur, I'm going to continue with my questions.

HUR: The judgement would be a conviction. I did not exonerate him. That word does not appear in the report.


JAYAPAL: Mr. Hur, I'm going to continue with my questions. You exonerated him.

REP. SCOTT FITZGERALD, (R-WI): Webster's dictionary defines senile as exhibiting a decline of cognitive ability, such as memory associated with old age. Mr. Hur, based on your report, did you find that the president was senile?

HUR: I did not. That conclusion does not appear in my report, Congressman.


PEREZ: And look, Jake, Jake, you know, one of the things that I think you will continue to hear is frustration, certainly from the White House, about this report. They think, from looking at the transcript, that there's a more nuanced view of President Biden from those five hours over two days last October when he sat down with Rob Hur.

But one of the also remarkable things is that you've seen the Justice Department stick by Rob Hur and his findings, everything that he found in here. You know, they defended, certainly, when the White House was trying to push back on some of the language that they find objection to, Jake.

TAPPER: All right, Evan Patras, thanks so much. Let's turn now to CNN's MJ Lee, who is at the White House for us. MJ, how is the Biden White House responding to this hearing?

MJ LEE, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Jake, obviously, this has been a highly partisan hearing about a highly controversial report. And what we have heard so far from the White House is, one, a defense of President Biden, and two, criticisms of Robert Hur and his report, much of it lining up with what we heard from the White House as soon as the report came out last month. The White House, for one, is squarely rejecting the notion that the

president, quote, wilfully retained classified materials. They are once again pointing to specific language from the report that they say speaks contrary to that claim. They are also sort of vehemently taking issue with the language throughout the report that takes issue with the president's memory issues.

Citing media reports that say the president seemed to go into great detail in that multi-hour interview that he had with Robert Hur and saying that he did in fact, remember, if you look at the transcript, the month and the day that his late son, Beau, had died. And the White House is also just continuing to say that the report was completely gratuitous and unnecessary in some of the language that it used, the conclusions that it seemed to draw, again, mostly about his age and his memory issues.


You know, these defenses were very much reflected in some of the Democratic lawmakers and the tax that they use. For example, Congressman Adam Schiff excoriating Robert Hur during his line of questioning, saying that he purposely wrote the report in a gratuitous way for political reasons. Take a listen.


REP. ADAM SCHIFF (D - CA): What is in the rules is you don't gratuitously do things to prejudice the subject of an investigation when you're declining to prosecute. You don't gratuitously add language that you know will be useful in a political campaign. You were not born yesterday. You understood exactly what was going on. You were not born yesterday. You were not born yesterday. You were not born exactly what you were doing. It was a choice.


LEE: And something else that we have heard a lot, obviously, from the White House is just the differences that they say that they see between the way that President Biden handled classified, and that former President Donald Trump did.

Democrats we saw today saying there's simply no comparison, that they're the two scenarios are completely different, whereas Republicans basically said it's not fair that former President Donald Trump is being prosecuted while President Biden is not. So those are some of the political battle lines, of course, that we saw sort of a snapshot of during the hearing so far today. That we are certainly going to see continuing to play out as we get closer to November.

TAPPER: All right, MJ Lee, thanks so much. We're going to squeeze in a quick break. When we come back, we'll talk more about this testimony and hearing today.



TAPPER (?): The heard hearing is just resumed. Let's listen in.

REP. GLENN IVEY (D- MD): I have to note that there are, I think, over 90 transcripts that are being held by the majority here at the Judiciary Committee and Oversight Committee for interviews that we all care about, they all go directly to issues with respect to the alleged impeachment inquiry. You know, it's kind of the pot calling the kettle black, it seems to me, as an understatement. And I noted, too, that when the ranking member requested the majority release the transcripts, the chairman objected.

So, I hope that we can move forward in the mode of cooperation and sharing of information. I think it's just reasonable to do. Mr. Hur, I wanted to thank you, again, for the work you did. I did not agree with everything you wrote in the report, but that's the nature of the business, I think. But I did want to ask you about this. I know you started off with in the first line executive summary, we conclude that no criminal charges are warranted in this matter. And I take it that's still your position today.

HUR: Yes, it is.

IVEY: All right.