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Robert Hur Defends His Report On Biden Classified Docs Probe; Rep. Kelly Armstrong (R-ND) And Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-TX) Discusses About Their Take On Robert Hur's Testimony About President Biden's Classified Documents Handling And Mental Acuity; GOP Rep. Ken Buck Leaving Congress Next Week. Aired 3-3:30p ET

Aired March 12, 2024 - 15:00   ET



VAN JONES, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: I think any fair person would say maybe it's a - it's not as straightforward as Biden would want it but I don't think that's a good use of taxpayer money to go after somebody who when they were asked to turn this stuff back over, all the interest that we have is getting the documents back. The government has the documents back. So I think that - I think he did a good job.

I also think the Democrats tried to and I think often did a good job of trying to continue to use this opportunity to put Trump on trial, even to put Trump's memory on trial and so that was important. So there's a lot of political stuff going on here, but I do think people at home, we should be proud that you've got a special prosecutor like him who did a professional job today, didn't embarrass the country and shows people how you're actually supposed to do it.


ALYSSA FARAH GRIFFIN, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Yes, I felt the same. I felt like he proved that the Department of Justice may in fact act without fear or favor. Listen, I don't think this was the political win House Republicans thought that it was going to be. From the outset, Hur stood by his report but he declined to take sort of the bait to overreach and make assumptions about Biden's mental acuity, step into things that a prosecutor doesn't have any business weighing into in this setting. He also made a clear point to very much differentiate between the Trump case and the Biden case, saying on multiple occasions that there were significant differences between the two.

And finally, I think this is a public servant who just fundamentally believes that officials need to handle classified documents better. He was not, he did not give a pass to Biden on it. He emphasized throughout that there were misdoings. I think the most egregious was the Afghanistan document because there seemed to be a level of intent there.

But overall it showed that this process can work and I think it exposed kind of partisan hackery on both sides honestly. ELIE HONIG, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: If I can also add a word of credit and praise to Merrick Garland, a person who heaven knows I criticize plenty, but I think he deserves credit for the way he handled this. He appointed Robert Hur to be special counsel. He let Robert Hur do his job. Robert Hur made clear zero interference, zero influence. He got Hur's report and he didn't touch it.

In contrast to Bill Barr who destroyed Mueller's report and held onto it for a month. He turned it over, Merrick Garland turned the report over to Congress as is and now we get to see it as is and I think it's worth crediting Merrick Garland for the way he handled this.

GRIFFIN: Can I say one more thing on kind of the political optics? When this report came out it was damning because the public felt like they hadn't heard a lot from Joe Biden. There were very legitimate concerns, which I still believe are legitimate, about his age as there are about Donald Trump's age, but then he gave the State of the Union. And I think a lot of Americans said this is a guy who may be up to the job. Maybe these concerns that we read about aren't as significant.

So in some ways I think this hearing fell a lot more flat with the public having the benefit of having seen Biden themselves.

JONES: I think that's right. I also think that for people who are on Democratic side, we may not recognize there's a deeper subtext here. There's a conversation on the right is there is a deep state conspiracy to undermine Donald Trump. They want to give a pass to Hillary Clinton. They want to give a pass to Biden who are just as bad, maybe even worse and I think that's a very dangerous game for the Republicans to keep playing.

You are undermining faith in our institutions. You're - look, I'm no big fan, by the way, of federal prosecutors. So it's just like - just to be clear, I love you guys, but still - but even I and I think more and more progressives are saying you can't just have termites eating into the fundamental foundations of public confidence in our institutions. It is obvious that Biden is not completely innocent, but it's also obvious he's nowhere near what Trump is doing in terms of just flagrantly violating the law and refusing to cooperate with the government when the government wants cooperation.

And so I hope that Republicans - you had your day, you got a chance to run your - one more lap on this thing. But we have other things to worry about in the country. I'd rather see Congress do anything but spend a whole day undermining public confidence in our federal prosecution.

COOPER: In terms of this - I mean, do you think this puts this to rest now?

JONES: In a rational world, it would, be at four hours and we're the same place we were before. But I think this is - I think it's important for Republicans to try to muddy up Joe Biden's name. And I think that this is the one thing they keep bringing up Hunter Biden and these documents to try to muddy up Joe Biden's name, to bring him down to the same level as Donald Trump, when most people honestly know that Joe Biden's at a very different level in terms of character than Trump. But this is politics.

GRIFFIN: This is also kind of the undoing of norms in the Trump era, because what Joe Biden did was wrong and there are - there's this intent when it came to the Afghanistan documents. He wanted to kind of preserve his record for the history books.

This isn't okay. I was a National Security professional. Had I done what he did, I would be in prison. Now, granted, I wasn't the president. But what Donald Trump did is so egregious, it almost starts to normalize this like flippant mishandling of National Security secrets.

And I mean, last night, Kaitlan Collins had this incredible interview with a gentleman who was actually helping hide and move boxes with National Security secrets that is so ...

JONES: For Trump.

GRIFFIN: ... for Donald Trump that is so ...

COOPER: While the FBI was looking for it.

GRIFFIN: ... while the FBI was looking for it, that is so different. The facts are so different and it was striking to hear Republicans talk about Joe Biden mishandling them and just the cognitive disconnect of what Donald Trump's done.


COOPER: All right. Thanks, everybody. Back to you, Jake.

JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: Thanks, Anderson.

Let's talk with our panel here. But let me start with Paula Reid, because you think this isn't entirely over because there is still a key part of the evidence file that has not been released. Tell us more.

PAULA REID, CNN CHIEF LEGAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: It's going to be all about the tape going forward, because clearly Republicans and Democrats really also didn't get what they wanted out of Rob Hur. This did not move the ball. We didn't really get any news out of this hearing. That's the way Rob Hur wanted it.

But this morning, there was a transcript released of Biden's interview with the Special Counsel that was supposed to be helpful to the President. Many people believe it was. But when you saw the Special Counsel say when he was pressed about the tape is that he made his conclusion about Biden's mental state based on what he heard in that interview, right? He walked right up to the line. He didn't say release the tape, but he said, look, you've read the transcript, but I heard it live.

The tape, the recording, what you hear there, that was part of what led him to say some of these things that the White House finds objectionable. So, you know Republicans have already asked for the tape. They haven't gotten it. The Justice Department has supplied them with a transcript. They are going to continue to press on this issue. What was said? What does it sound like? Why did Rob Hur have so many concerns? Because, of course, this really isn't that much about classified documents for the average American. The average American is curious about Biden's mental capacity. And the tape, according to Rob Hur has something to say about that.

TAPPER: So what's your reaction to the hearing?

MARIA CARDONA, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: So my reaction is that there's a lot of talk clearly from Republicans who are trying to focus on this issue of Biden's mental acuity and I agree that there's going to be interest in this tape. But the bottom line continues to be what Democrats continued time and time again to repeat one after another. We conclude that no formal charges are warranted in this matter.

And the reason why I think that that's so important that Democrats should continue to focus on that as opposed to complaining about the mental acuity thing is because - and I've talked to a couple of lawyers here - I'm not one, so we'd love to hear from those who are - that even if the - even if Hur had not heard the tape, what he said, that in and of itself, there was not sufficient evidence to bring this to a criminal matter.

That's why Democrats were so furious about the fact that he included the commentary about the president's mental acuity, because regardless, if the evidence isn't there - the evidence isn't there.

TAPPER: So Hur's response would be, if I may ...

CARDONA: Mm-hm, please.

TAPPER: ... and then I want to get reaction to this - I didn't say anything about his mental acuity. I said, I'm not going to bring this case. I know that that's what Democrats are saying.

CARDONA: Yes. Yes, sir.

TAPPER: But I said I'm not going to bring this case because he would come across to a jury as a kind old man with a bad memory.

MATT MOWERS, FORMER TRUMP ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL; Right. Well, look, the Justice Department, whether it's a U.S. attorney or whether it's someone from main justice is never going to bring a case against anyone unless they think they can get a conviction. That's just the case, especially if it's the president of the United States. If you're going to bring a case against the president of the United States, you better be well sure that, for lack of better words, it's a headshot, legally speaking ...


MOWERS: ... to make sure that there's a conviction. Clearly, he didn't feel like there was just enough therefore. But I think if you take a step back and you look at where we were walking into today, the only thing most Americans had heard about this at this point was that line that was repeated ad nauseam today from the report that he was a sympathetic, well-meaning, elderly man with a poor memory.


MOWERS: What Republicans spent the entire afternoon doing was trying to knock out the first two points. They were trying to say, no, he's not sympathetic.

TAPPER: Right.


MOWERS: He's not well-meaning. In fact, this was willful intent. His intent, if you heard Jim Jordan say, it was pride and money. And so what you're beginning to see is Republicans try to say, this isn't just your doddering old uncle hanging around the White House. This is a little bit more than that. This is someone who willfully violated the law.

TAPPER: So let me talk now and bring in a Republican member of the House Judiciary Committee, Congressman Kelly Armstrong.

Congressman Armstrong, thanks for joining us.

What's your reaction to the testimony laid out so far?

REP. KELLY ARMSTRONG (R-ND): Well, my reaction is that it's clear that President Biden met the elements of the crime, and the decision not to prosecute had more to do with how he - how special or how Robert Hur thought he would present to a jury. I always get a little frustrated with the willful requirement and acting like any DOJ prosecutor has to, like, walk to and from school without their shoes on, because that's not been my experience in federal court, but it's clear that he did all three elements of the crime.

TAPPER: In your questioning, you brought up Hur's assessment that Biden would not be convicted by a jury if brought to trial. Were you satisfied with his answer? He was saying he just didn't think that a jury would convict. He didn't think - he thought the jury would find him sympathetic.

ARMSTRONG: No. I mean, that very well may be and I think there's a reason that the White House went into complete spin zone after the report originally came out.


I just think you have 30 years of experience in being warned by two different consultants, National Archives, his own advisors, his own lawyers, all of which, and he was storing these documents in numerous different places. I think that shows willful intent. And I think that - I think the report and the conclusion aren't really consistent with each other.

TAPPER: The report also makes it very clear that the charges against - the details about the charges against President Trump - President Biden are very different than the ones against Donald Trump, because the ones about Donald Trump include an attempt to influence witnesses, not cooperating with the FBI, obstruction of justice. Do you agree?

ARMSTRONG: Well, I think if you're talking about obstruction, that's a different charge than the underlying conduct and that's another frustrating thing. I mean, it's clear there - I mean, I said this in the hearing, only three people have ran for president since 2016. All three of them have been accused of mishandling classified documents. Only one of them has been prosecuted.

And if Donald Trump was only being prosecuted for obstruction, maybe that argument would have a little better place, but none of the other two were charged with mishandling classified documents either.

TAPPER: But obviously Donald Trump didn't cooperate and didn't hand over the documents when asked and that does differ with President Biden, at least according to Robert Hur.

ARMSTRONG: Well, President Biden's been cooperating with mishandling documents for 30 years. He had Senate papers from the '70s. He had Senate papers from the '80s and the '90s. He had been told, and that wasn't the reason they didn't prosecute him. They didn't - or they didn't refer - they didn't recommend prosecution because they didn't think they had the willful requirement, which is where I think there - I mean, I just think the report shows they absolutely did.

You can't get that much advice from learned counsel as a vice president, consultants, National Archives over the course of 50 years. Actually tell your ghostwriter that you know these are classified documents while you're reading to them and then tell me there's not willful conduct.

TAPPER: I don't think that's what happened. I think he referred to the fact that there were classified documents in a box. I don't think he was reading them to him.

ARMSTRONG: Well, he had - he said I have these classified documents in my basement. And then later on, he was actually reading classified documentation to his ghostwriter.

TAPPER: What ...

ARMSTRONG: One was in February. One was in April.

TAPPER: What questions do you have that ...

ARMSTRONG: And we have it in his own words on the recovered audio.

TAPPER: What questions do you still need answered?

ARMSTRONG: Well, I think we need answers to why there's a two-tiered justice system and why there are some people - when all three of the last three presidential candidates have met the same exact underlying elements of the crime and only one of them has been prosecuted and that's just - that's absolutely true.

TAPPER: You really don't see the abstraction as being a part of this because obviously the difference between Hillary Clinton and Joe Biden and their alleged criminal behavior is different significantly in the sense that Donald Trump refused to cooperate when asked over and over and over again. And in fact, I've heard Republicans say if he had just cooperated then Special Counsel Jack Smith never would have brought charges.

ARMSTROGN: Well, I'm not entirely sure you can have more obstruction than running a program called bleach it on your server and destroying things with - destroying cell phones with hammers. But beside the fact that - again, you're talking about a different set - a different crime. The crime here is possession and maintaining classified documents and all three of them did it. All three of them met the elements of those crimes.

And if you want to say one of them shouldn't have been charged for obstruction, I'm wondering why the ghostwriter wasn't charged with obstruction. He tried to delete this information and only after the DOJ recovered it, did he - I mean, did we even know it still existed?

TAPPER: Congressman Kelly Armstrong, thanks so much for your time. Really appreciate it.

We're going to have much more of our coverage of the special counsel testifying on Capitol Hill. We're going to squeeze in a quick break. We'll be right back.



COOPER: Democrats repeatedly pushed Robert Hyde today on his decision ultimately to not prosecute President Joe Biden.

Here with us now, a Democratic member of the House Judiciary Committee, Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee.

Congresswoman, what did you take away from what you heard from Robert Hur today?

REP. SHEILA JACKSON LEE (D-TX): Robert Hur told the truth in his opening sentence and there was nothing more for us to even pursue. The hearing could have ended when he acknowledged that there were no criminal charges that could be brought against President Biden and there was no basis for prosecution. There was no evidence. There was no facts. And that was the extent of his report, except for the ad hominem points that he made that I think were enormously sad.

And at the very, very end, even though I didn't have enough time, Anderson, I asked, did he give the President any extraordinary mercy, did he show him any deference and, of course, he did not answer. But it shows that he did not. That there was no equality between the actions of President Trump, and the openness and the conspicuous willingness to comply with any request between Biden and Trump. It was completely different.

COOPER: Some Democrats did try to get her or try to portray her as exonerating the President, which Hur categorically said he did not exonerate him. And in answer to a question from a Republican, he did say that a fair-minded juror might have found - might have been able to determine that the President was guilty on some aspect of this.


So it was not an exoneration, was it?

LEE: I'm going to say that he cannot have his cake and eat it, too. I'm going to hold Mr. Hur to his words and his words were that there were no criminal charges. Yes, some Democrats use the word exoneration, but then he cannot extend it to suggest that a juror might have had a different interpretation.

One, the Republicans wanted to use this as a foundation for the impeachment of the President of the United States. They fell completely short because Mr. Hur gave no substance to suggest that there were any impeachable offenses at all. But what he did do that really concerned me is ask Mr. Biden about his deceased son and any of us in this country that knows the Biden family. We have seen the hurt and pain that generates when you speak of both. That was unnecessary.

So he didn't show him any mercy. And as well, he didn't give deference over the ex-president for him and his ad hominem comments about an elderly man was, again, Mr. Hur knows that that is inappropriate and the Department of Justice frowns on that. So if anything was wrong, it was the wrong language that he used about an elderly man that could be driven to be sent out and then to personally ask the question about your deceased son.

Mr. Hur was wrong. He didn't get what he might have wanted. Maybe he was acting professional in his mind, but he was not acting professional in my mind. And as far as I'm concerned, he should have ended the testimony. We should. The hearing should have ended, like I said, Anderson, at the very beginning, no criminal charges were warranted for Mr. Joseph Biden, now the president of the United States.

Quite contrary to the ludicrous behavior, the hiding, the rejection, the refusal to respond to Mr. Hur's team that President Trump did - former President Trump did. He did everything he could to thwart the investigation, to stop the investigation and to prevent any facts from coming out about the documents that literally he had co-opted, one would say stolen, and he did not want to give them back. That was quite contrary to what President Biden did.

He was open, he was direct, and everything that he had, where the documents were, he made it available to Mr. Hur. It was Mr. Hur, I think, that overreached in his questions about the status of Mr. Biden or his beloved son. No mercy was given to Joe Biden, and he handled it beautifully.

COOPER: Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee, thank you very much.

Jake, back to you in D.C.

TAPPER: Thank you so much. Well, perhaps the most surprising news out of the last few hours of Special Counsel Robert Hur's hearing before the House Judiciary Committee was what happened during the break when Republican House member and committee member, Congressman Ken Buck of Colorado, suddenly announced that he would be resigning at the end of next week.

His departure narrows the Republican Party's already razor - slim - razor-thin majority in the House of Representatives to just five seats.

Let's bring in CNN's Melanie Zanona.

Melanie, you have reporting about Ken Buck's announcement.

MELANIE ZANONA, CNN CAPITOL HILL REPORTER: Yes, that's right. Ken Buck made this announcement. Remember, he had already said he was going to retire. But this early resignation announcement is really a big blow to the House Republicans' already razor-thin majority. And Speaker Mike Johnson told us that he was caught off guard and that he was given no heads up that this big announcement was coming.

Now, Buck says that he did try to call the Speaker and leave a message, so it may have been just a miscommunication or a misconnection there. But no doubt, this is going to have implications for how they're going to govern.

Right now, Republicans can only afford to lose to Republicans on any party-line votes. And meanwhile, this also raises questions for Republican Lauren Boebert, who is planning to run in Buck's district because it's more conservative, more safe. So a lot of implications, a lot of developments here today.

And, of course, it also speaks to the fact that right now it's pretty miserable to be a House Republican. Buck talked to Dana about that a little bit ago and just said right now the tensions are so high in the conference. There's been infighting. They can't even pass basic procedural votes. A lot of sore feelings in the wake of Kevin McCarthy's unprecedented ouster as speaker.

So Buck's early resignation, just a prime example of all of that, Jake.

TAPPER: All right. Melanie Zanona on Capitol Hill. Thank you so much.

We're going to have more on our coverage of the testimony of the Special Counsel after this quick break. Stay with us.



COOPER: Special Counsel Robert Hur has finished his testimony to the House Judiciary Committee.

CNN's Evan Perez was in the hearing who saw lawmakers clash with Hur from both sides of the aisle.

Evan, what did you take away as you watched the hearing?

EVAN PEREZ, CNN SENIOR JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Anderson, I think for Rob Hur, he came here to present his report, to defend it because he knew that there had been so many attacks, frankly, from both sides. And you heard that from him sort of early on. He's - perhaps he came across a little defensive, right, in trying to explain some of the language that was used in the report and which, of course, has come under attack from the White House and from Democrats. Listen to him explaining why he used the words he used in the report. Listen.


ROBERT HUR, FORMER SPECIAL COUNSEL, JUSTICE DEPARTMENT: My assessment in the report about the relevance of the President's memory was necessary and accurate.