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Robert Hur Defends His Report on Biden Classified Docs Probe; Georgia Judge in Trump's Election Subversion Case on Track to Rule this Week on Whether to Remove DA Fani Willis; Biden Admin Announces New Weapons Package for Ukraine. Aired 3:30-4p ET

Aired March 12, 2024 - 15:30   ET





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

Most importantly, what I wrote is what I believe the evidence shows, and what I expect jurors would perceive and believe. I did not sanitize my explanation, nor did I disparage the President unfairly.


PEREZ: And Anderson, you know, look, there was a lot of criticism, including from people -- former people at the Justice Department, Democrats, who thought that he went outside of the bounds of what the Justice Department is supposed to do.

You know, I've talked to people inside the Justice Department who defend the language and say this is what these reports, this is what a prosecutor does when they make a declination. It's just that very often, or it's very rare -- rather, for us to see this language, and it's because he was a special counsel.

Now, you know, talking to people around the former special counsel, the now former special counsel, you know, they feel that he came here to do the job, they think he did it appropriately, and now he's hoping to go away and not have to deal with this anymore -- Anderson.

ANDERSON COOPER, CNN HOST: We shall see. Evan Perez, thanks very much -- Jake.

JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: Thanks so much, Anderson.

There's something that Democrats have been talking about for weeks now, really, that I want to clear up, and there are really two parts of it. Let me start by saying, obviously, the loss of Biden was a horrible loss for anybody who knew him. I knew him.

It's very sad. He was a really good guy, a great father, a great husband, and his loss is a tragedy. That said, his loss has been used by people defending President Biden as a cudgel against a special counsel.

So let's just talk about how this actually comes up. On page 82 of this interview, they're talking about where documents were kept. The special counsel is trying to find out where documents were kept.

President Biden says he starts trying to figure out when this was. He says, this is what, 2017, 2018, that area? Mr. Hur says, yes. President Biden says, remember, in this time frame, my son has either been deployed or is dying.

And so it was. And by the way, there were still a lot of people at the time when I got into the Senate. They were encouraging me to run for president, et cetera, et cetera.

And then he goes he goes on a little bit. And then he says, what month did Beau die?

Oh, God. May 30th.

And then somebody says 2015. Somebody else is 2015. President Biden says, was it 2015 he had died? Somebody else says it was May of 2015.

President Biden says it was 2015. His lawyer says, or I'm not sure the month, sir, but I think that was the year. All right.

Now, look, losing a son is -- losing a child is unfair. It's horrible. And here he is being asked about all sorts of dates thrown about 2015, 2009, 2020, whatever.

But it is true that for a moment there, he seems confused about the year that his beloved son, Beau, died.

Now, Robert Hur didn't bring it up, despite what we've heard from Democratic members of Congress. Robert Hur was trying to find a date.

Joe Biden has that as a point of reference. He's trying to figure out the times he brings this up. He seems unsure of the year.

And that's where this all happens. So that's point one. Point two, Paula, let me ask you. If Robert Hur had not mentioned this in his report, had not mentioned the fact that Joe Biden at one point seemed confused about what year his son had died. If he'd not mentioned that. And this transcript came out today, clearly suggesting that Joe Biden at one point -- and people get confused. I understand. But at one point he seems confused about what year his son died in. Robert Hur would have been ferociously attacked for covering it up.

PAULA REID, CNN CHIEF LEGAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Exactly. And that's why you heard Robert Hur say repeatedly today that I had to address these issues to make my report complete. This is what I had to do to explain my decision. Now, there's no guarantee that that transcript would ever see the light of day.

TAPPER: It would have been (INAUDIBLE). REID: But obviously it was released today. Likely yes, eventually it would have come out. But he absolutely understood the circumstance in which he was conducting this investigation while he refers. It's technically a confidential report. You know, it's going to be released publicly. And he had to make sure he included every detail, even if it was going to antagonize the White House.

GLORIA BORGER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: The context is and the question that was asked is, where did you keep your papers --

TAPPER: Right.

BORGER: -- after you left the vice presidency in 2017, that's what they wanted to know. And then what happens is that Biden starts conflating what occurred in his life in 2016, when he decided not to run for the presidency and does a little riff on that and how Obama didn't want him to run.

And in 2015, then, of course, is when Beau died. And it was probably a lawyer of his who reminded him that it was 2015 that Beau died.

TAPPER: Right.

BORGER: So he was sitting there going, well, what year? OK, let me get this straight.


What year was it that I left the vice presidency? What year was it that Beau died? What year was it that I decided not to run for president? And he was -- he was almost thinking out loud.

TAPPER: Well, look, you're 81 years old, you've lived a long life. There's a lot of stuff we're talking about two or three years.

But my point, Evan Osnos, is not to vilify or defend President Biden here. My point is to say Democrats keep acting as though Robert Hur is bringing this up to be a jerk. He didn't bring up Beau Biden dying. And once this cat was out of the bag, he had to mention it in his report or else he'd be accused of covering something up.

EVAN OSNOS, BIDEN BIOGRAPHER: You know, the context is the essential thing. This is what's remarkable about this transcript is. If you had just read the special counsel's report, you might have come away with the impression that this is a man who has suddenly lost the ability to remember one of the most seismic moments in his entire life.

TAPPER: Right.

OSNOS: What you see if you go into this transcript is something very different, which is they were having a complicated discussion about dates, about times, about paper management.

TAPPER: Right.

OSNOS: And in the course of that, he says, as Gloria, I think, put it so well. He's sort of essentially thinking out loud like, well, now remind me, when is it that I was vice president? When was this that happened with my son? Because he's trying to understand what they're really talking about is where boxes were and when.

And I think your point is right, Jake. Look, this came up when Joe Biden brought up his son's death in the context of Robert Hur pursuing the question of what were you doing in those years?

TAPPER: Right.

OSNOS: And in those years, I could tell you Joe Biden was thinking about one thing, which is his son had died. He was writing a book about it and he was also out of government for the first time in his life.

So when you ask him about 2017, Joe Biden has those things reverberating in his mind and he gives you an explanation of it. But it is the context. In some ways, the most -- some of the most important things that happened in this hearing today were parts when Democrats pointed out things that were not in the special counsel's report but were in the transcript. I'll just give you one example.

When Democrats said Eric Swalwell pointed out at some point along the way, Robert Hur actually praised Joe Biden's photographic understanding. That was Hur's word, photographic reconstruction of the geography of the Naval Observatory. Americans didn't get that from the special counsel.

MARIA CARDONA, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: That's exactly what I was going to bring up.

And the reason why this is such a big deal for Democrats is because when Robert Hur makes that -- when he talks about how Joe Biden is, you know, having his memory failed or however it was he described him, the connection that they're making is when he talks about Beau Biden, his son. And that's why it was also so hurtful for the president. When you go back and look at the transcript, that's exactly what a lot of Democrats, frankly, mentioned it today as well.

And the fact that this prosecutor, special prosecutor, special counsel talked about how he also looked at how President Biden recalled several events from way years back, talked about the details of those, praised him for having a photographic memory.

So then Democrats continue to go back. And why -- why was there the need to talk about him in that way in the final report?

MATT MOWERS, FORMER TRUMP ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: This wasn't like he was asked about some date back in the mid 2000s when he's in the Senate. He's on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

He was going back and forth between D.C. and Delaware on an Amtrak. This was literally a delineating time I would imagine his life. Saying, did this occur when you were the sitting vice president living in the Naval Observatory? Or was it when you're in a new house and you didn't have a job? It's a very big defining line. So the defense that, well, maybe he was just missing up the dates and he was trying to get around it. These are some very key moments to think about the context around it. And I just point out one other thing.

I think what this is, is the Democrats on that committee today looked pretty good when they stuck with the facts and they tried to confirm the facts. I think they actually hurt themselves when they tried to undermine the credibility of Robert Hur. You saw Adam Schiff do that, I'm sure, in part because he needs to raise a lot of money for U.S. Senate race in California after a nasty primary.

But ultimately, those are the moments I think they felt flat. And that's what you're continuing to see Shiloh, Jackson, Lee and others do right now.

BORGER: And Republicans kept asking about, you know, the documents and why didn't you indict him? And one thing Hur said is there are other innocent explanations for the documents that we cannot refute.

TAPPER: Right.

BORGER: Period.

TAPPER: Oh, I forgot that I put it there.

BORGER: Right.

TAPPER: And that's part of what a jury would have to contend with.

BORGER: Exactly. So, so much so much emphasis has been put on, oh, my God, the president's memory and all this. When, in fact, they listen to -- to the -- to the testimony about the documents and they had no way of disproving it.

TAPPER: You have to prove it in court.

BORGER: Right.

TAPPER: Beyond a reasonable doubt.

BORGER: Exactly.

TAPPER: Thanks one and all. We'll be right back.



COOPER: This just into CNN. The Trump -- in Donald Trump's Georgia election interference case says he is on track to have his order finished by the end of the week on whether to remove Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis.

Judge McAfee telling WSB radio, quote: I'm calling as best I can and the law as I understand it. So I still feel like I'm on track to having that done by the deadline that I put on myself.

Want to talk about that here with the panel in New York.

Obviously, that will be a big deal for the Georgia case. If he decides that she stays on, what does that mean for the actual scheduling of the case?

ELIE HONIG, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: So massive consequences to this decision. If the judge decides that the D.A. has a conflict of interest, she is off the case. She's conflicted off the case.


But so is the entire office because she's the D.A., which would completely sidetrack this case. Timing wise, it may never see the light of day.

What would happen in that instance is it goes to this independent panel of prosecutors in Georgia. They'll take their time. Heaven knows if they'll ever pick it up.

If the judge denies the motion and says no conflict of interest, the D.A.'s fine to stay on the case. Then the case can get back on track. The status quo is the D.A. has asked for an August trial date.

Now, that is, in my view, completely unrealistic. They wouldn't even be done picking a jury by the November election. That's not a set trial date in August. That's what the D.A. is asking for.

So I think if the judge denies this motion, keeps Fani Willis on the case, we will see a trial eventually, but not before the election.

COOPER: Jen, do you agree with it?

JENNIFER RODGERS, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Yes, I agree. I agree. There's no way this is being tried this year, no matter when it happens. And there's some really consequential decisions the judge has to make here.

You know, one of them being a legal issue of whether there has to be an actual conflict or the appearance of a conflict. Different judges have decided that different ways in Georgia. A lot of legal analysts have said it has to be an actual conflict.

And that makes a real difference here because the actual conflict they're talking about is all of this financial stuff, which was gone into in great depth in the hearing. But I thought actually Fani Willis and the witnesses that the state called did a good job of dispelling the actual conflict here. So if he decides that there has to be an actual conflict, I suspect she will win this one, although it's close.

COOPER: What an extraordinary, though, just turn of events. I mean, you can't imagine this. I mean, of all the things to derail this case, something that has nothing to do with this case per se.

HONIG: Yes, this happens. Prosecutors are held to a very high standard of conduct. And I think it's worth stepping back and reminding ourselves this is a case where Donald Trump is accused, along with 18 other people, of trying to steal the 2020 election in Georgia and elsewhere.

And if you're wondering, how do we get here? How do we get to the D.A.'s romantic life and finances? This is a conflict of interest argument. And conflicts of interest don't necessarily have to have anything to do with the allegations. In fact, ordinarily, prosecutors will acknowledge a conflict of interest, say, yes, I have some crossed wires here. I have a personal relationship. I have a financial relationship. Hence, I'm out.

It's rare that you see it fully litigated in a mini trial like this. And the key issues -- and I was trying to read the tea leaves there in the judge's statement. He's being, as he should be, cagey.

But the judge is going to have to decide, did Fani Willis have some sort of financial conflict here? Did the fact that she chose Nathan Wade, who she had a relationship with, there's a dispute about when. Who was in turn paid hundreds of thousands of dollars to work this case, over $600,000. And some of that money, relatively small amount, made its way to benefits for Fani Willis.

She said, well, I repaid him in cash. That's what the judge has to sort of sift through here. And it's a tough call. I don't envy him.

COOPER: Yes. Nick Valencia is joining us, who's been following this case, obviously covering it very closely.

Nick, is it unusual for this judge to be speaking out like this on this radio station?

NICK VALENCIA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Extremely rare, Anderson. Yes, extremely rare. There's only been a handful of times that Scott McAfee has addressed the case.

He's not given very many interviews. He's been asked repeatedly to be interviewed about this case. And he actually agreed to this interview in part because he was talking about his re-election bid.

Not only is Fani Willis up for re-election, but also Scott McAfee. And it was last week that we learned McAfee had a challenger to his post there as a judge. He was interviewed about that on WSB radio. And during the course of that interview, he did mention about how this case has affected him personally.

He talked about -- which you've been talking about there with the panel -- that this is going to take time. You know, it was almost as though he signaled that two weeks, the self-imposed deadline that he gave himself, wasn't going to be enough time.

And there's a theory that he could potentially be writing new Georgia case law. If you remember, during those disqualifications hearings, it was talked about how a district attorney had never been disqualified in the state of Georgia over forensic misconduct. Steve Sadow, the attorney here for former President Trump, has requested that Fani Willis be disqualified in part because of forensic misconduct.

So McAfee's signaling that he's going to probably take the entire two weeks that he gave himself to do this. So we're expecting a decision to come any moment now, but more likely towards the end of this week -- Anderson.

COOPER: Nick Valencia, thanks very much.

How likely do you think it is that Fani Willis will stay on, that her office will stay on?

HONIG: Gosh, you know, I would say if I felt one way or the other, I keep looking at this from both ways. It actually sort of reminds me of what we just saw with Robert Hur in the following respect.

There is a difference as a prosecutor between knowing something and being able to prove it in a concrete way where you can establish your burden of proof. I think there are real doubts about whether Fani Willis was truthful when she said her romantic relationship only started after the fact. I think there are doubts about whether she repaid all of the financial benefits she got in cash. There's no receipts or withdrawal slips.

But I also agree with what Jen said before. I think the evidence and the defendants bear the burden in that case. The evidence is a mess. The evidence is unclear. It was muddled.

And to make the comparison to Robert Hur, he says, look, there is some evidence of wrongdoing, but the burden that he bears as a prosecutor is very high.


It's proof beyond a reasonable doubt. And so, while Hur's conclusion is, yes, Biden did wrong, I don't think I have enough proof that's specific enough to bring a criminal charge.

So, look, this happens in the law. You end up in that gray zone. A lot of times it's not always satisfying, but that's the reality of it.

But ultimately, this judge is going to have to rule, Judge McAfee. Thumbs up or thumbs down with enormous consequences.

ALYSSA FARAH GRIFFIN, FORMER TRUMP WHITE HOUSE COMMUNICATIONS DIRECTOR: And, Anderson, can I mention, listen, irresponsible when the stakes are this high. Dozens and dozens of witnesses put their lives on hold to testify in this case. I think Cassidy Hutchinson, who basically moved down to Atlanta, spent months when she was under threats for cooperating in this case. And this delays it.

We will likely not have resolution before the election. And there's even a chance that this could fall apart because of her actions. We've seen this before, but the stakes are so high, she should have been more responsible.

COOPER: It's insane that she would have a relationship with somebody on her staff while this was going on.

GRIFFIN: And while having previously made statements about how she would not do that.

COOPER: Right.

VAN JONES, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: And I think it's heartbreaking because I think there is this sense, when you hear the right wing say, oh, it's a double standard, double standard against our guy.

I think for most people, there's a double standard in favor of people like Donald Trump, who can just seem to get away with anything. And to have the ball securely in her hands, I think a lot of people were seeing her as a hero. To have her fumble the ball in this way is terrible.

But it does come down to what standard the judge holds her to. If it's an apparent standard, then it's over. But the idea, I mean, you have to think about how ludicrous -- what is a conflict of interest? That the only way that she could figure out a way to get money to go on vacations is to give her boyfriend a job, and that's why she's prosecuting Donald Trump.

Like, it's messy, she shouldn't have done it, but I don't think that is affecting her judgment. Whatever financial benefit she's getting from her boyfriend is not affecting her judgment as a prosecutor. I don't think she's only going after Donald Trump because of that.

And so, if that is -- it that's a way to try to make sense of why a judge might give her a pass on this, you know, I think the evidence is messy. And I don't think the reason that Donald Trump's at the crosshairs is because he's got some financial interest here.

COOPER: And certainly a number of the witnesses who were called to back up the allegations against her certainly did not comport themselves very well on the witness stand.

RODGERS: No, no, they definitely didn't. I mean, everybody was a mess. No one was a good witness. Fani Willis, I actually thought, was a pretty persuasive witness, although way too combative.

But I think the problem for a lot of people here, when you step back from it, and don't think about the legal standards, but just watch it as a show and think about what it means. If you have people, Fani Willis and Nathan Wade, who are willing to lie in court to stay on a case, what does that say? Like, would you really leave prosecutors in place on a case if you believed that they were lying to the judge and lying in their papers? That may not be technically a means of disqualification here, depending on the legal standard that the judge uses. But that's a really bad statement.

Yes, it doesn't have anything to do with the facts of the underlying case. But who wants prosecutors to be on that case?

GRIFFIN: Well, you know Trump's attorneys will use that throughout the defense to try to discredit them.

COOPER: Yes. Thanks, everybody. Let's go back to Jake.

TAPPER: Thanks so much, Anderson.

Also, just into CNN, the Biden administration has just announced a new weapons package for Ukraine after warning for months that there was no money left for those weapons.

CNN's Oren Liebermann is live for us at the Pentagon. Orren, what can you tell us about this new weapons package?

OREN LIEBERMANN, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Jake, this is the first Ukraine weapons package we have seen from the U.S. since December 27th.

And that's because the U.S. had effectively run out of what's called replenishment funding. It had more money and more authority to give weapons to Ukraine, but it couldn't backfill it. And that is a critical part of all of this.

And that's where this money came from. Effectively, over purchasing contracts and weapons bought from arms manufacturers, the U.S. was able to recoup $300 million of that money. And that is what allowed for this $300 million weapons package to be announced earlier today, according to the Pentagon and the White House.

It includes critical munitions for Ukraine. The weapons we have seen play such a critical role, from 155mm artillery ammunition that Ukraine is firing at a far lower rate than Russia. Also HIMARS, that's for the Guided Multiple Launch Rocket System. Anti-aircraft missiles. Those are absolutely critical as Russia continues to launch aerial assaults with devastating impacts.

So those are the weapons needed to keep Ukraine in this fight and make sure they can fight back against Russian forces that have had some significant advances as Ukraine has been waiting for aid.

TAPPER: Oren, how long will this new package help keep Ukraine in the fight?

LIEBERMANN: Effectively, not long at all. $300 million isn't that large of a Ukraine aid package, especially not from the United States. And the White House warned this may only keep them in and keep them supplied for a matter of weeks, perhaps even as little as a couple of weeks.

And that's why officials both at the White House and at the Pentagon pointed out that this does not replace a $60 billion supplemental that has made it through the House -- the Senate and is now waiting on the House. So they said, look, that is still absolutely critical for Ukraine. This $300 million will help Ukraine, but only for a bit here.


TAPPER: Oren, where does this extra 30 -- 300 rather -- this extra $300 million, where does it come from?

LIEBERMANN: It comes from that savings in effectively the purchase of weapons. The Pentagon estimates how much these contracts will cost, and then through negotiations with these arms manufacturers, they are here and there able to get essentially a better price on what is effectively bulk buying of weaponry.

And that adds up. It adds up very slowly here, and $300 million is only a fraction of what the U.S. has sent to this point, but it has added up to this level. It gives the U.S. some replenishment money to work with, so it's able to use some of the authority it has to send money to Ukraine.

And that's a critical point here. The U.S. has $4 billion in authority to send equipment to Ukraine, but it needs to be able to replenish that. And that's the money that the U.S. warned for months had run out.

They were able to get back $300 million so they can send a little more aid here to Ukraine.

TAPPER: All right, Oren Liebermann of the Pentagon for us, thanks so much. Thank you so much for watching our special coverage today.

We're going to have much more on the special counsel's hearing and Super Tuesday 2 as voters in several states go back to the polls. And much, much more of today's news. That's coming up on "THE LEAD" right after this.