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CNN Live Event/Special

Robert Hur Testifies to Congress. Aired 9:40-10a ET

Aired March 12, 2024 - 09:40   ET




JIM ACOSTA, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning and welcome to CNN's special coverage of the testimony of Special Counsel Robert Hur. I'm Jim Acosta, up on Capitol Hill.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: And I'm Wolf Blitzer here in Washington.

Jim, a very consequential day for President Biden and for the presidential race.

ACOSTA: Thats right, Wolf. And we should note in moments Robert Hur will face Congress as a private citizen, having finished his work with the Department of Justice.

And he just arrived -- you're seeing some pictures right there on your screen -- up on Capitol Hill. He will argue that he, quote, "did not disparage the president unfairly," end quote, by calling him a quote, "elderly man with a poor memory." That political bombshell was dropped in Hur's damning report that concluded Biden did mishandle some classified information. Hur, of course, decided not to pursue charges.

That enraged Republicans, who wanted to see the president indicted in the case, and Democrats accuse Hur of taking cheap shots at the president's age and argue the Biden case was never as serious as the allegations against Donald Trump, who was charged over his handling of classified documents.

CNN's Paula Reid and Kasie Hunt are here with me up on Capitol Hill.

Good morning to you guys.

But first, let me start with CNN's senior justice correspondent Evan Perez.

Evan, you just got access to transcripts of President Biden's interview with investigators. I was just flipping through some of this. This is very, very interesting. What did it reveal?

EVAN PEREZ, CNN SENIOR JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Jim, I mean one of the things that come - we come away from is, obviously, the president repeatedly says that he doesn't remember how boxes of documents ended up at his home in Delaware, his rented home in Virginia, or his private office in -- in the University of Pennsylvania here in Washington. He said he left it to aides to be able to handle some of these things.

But obviously the big -- the big thing that stood out from the report, the Rob Hur report, at least a few weeks ago, was a mention that he didn't seem to remember what year his son, Beau Biden, died. Obviously, that's a big part of the biography of President Biden. And I'll read you just a part of what - what -- how that interaction went to provide a context of that. You know, it's part of a discussion of how did he keep track of documents that he was using. This is at the time that he had left the vice presidency. And Joe Biden said, you know -- puts the context of 2017, 2018. And then he says, "remember, in this timeframe, my son is either deployed or is dying." Again, he's the one that brings up Beau Biden in this context. And then he says, "what month did Beau die? Oh God, May 30th." And then someone in the room - several people in from say "2015."

And, you know, what comes across there is, obviously, he doesn't -- he doesn't say the day, but he is the one that brings it up. And he's also the one that -- that says May 30th. And, you know, as you look through this this transcript, again repeatedly he says he doesn't know how things got to where they - where the FBI found them when they did these searches. He says - there's another interaction with Rob Hur where Rob Hur says, do you remember how these materials got into this box and then how that box got into the garage?" And Joe Biden says, "No, I don't remember how it got -- I don't remember how a beat up box got in the garage."

The tone of the interview. Jim, I should make clear, again, this is from the written transcript, is generally very genial, right? He jokes a lot. There's laughter in the room. It doesn't really come across as adversarial. And I think that's one of the reasons why there was so much surprise by the people around the president at what they saw in the report.

ACOSTA: Yes, Evan, I mean we weren't in the room. We don't have audio or video, just a transcript, but it doesn't sound like the way it was initially portray that the president just flat-out blanked on the day that is son died. I mean I think that that's kind of interesting.

And the Department of Justice, Evan, has not distanced itself from Hur's report, including the language that upset the White House. What does that say to you?

PEREZ: Well, look, and I think one of the -- that's - that's a very, very clear message you're hearing, you know, that this report was reviewed by the attorney general. It was reviewed by the top career people in the Justice Department. And they clearly defended it when the president's lawyers wrote to dispute some of it.

And, you know, one of the things that's interesting to me is that, you know, you've seen a parade of cabinet officials, people around the president, Democrats come out and talk about their interactions with Joe Biden, saying he's very lucid, he's very in command, he's on top of things.

[09:45:05] We haven't seen anything like that from Merrick Garland, the attorney general. And I doubt you will. It's just not his style, but I think people around the president have noticed that and I think the fact that, again, the Justice Department has not distanced itself from this report I think speaks loud volumes that they stand by the work of Rob Hur.

ACOSTA: All right, Evan Perez, thank you very much. We know you'll be in the hearing room. You'll get some of the flavor from inside there. It'll be very interesting to see how all of this plays out.

Evan, thanks so much.

And, Paula, and, Kasie, you're both out here on the Cannon Office Building balcony. It's an interesting spot overlooking -

KASIE HUNT, CNN ANCHOR: A beautiful spring day.

ACOSTA: It's beautiful out here. I thought it was going to be a lot colder. I thought I was going to need a coat.

It might be a little chilly at times in this hearing room. As we were pointing out in the beginning of this, I mean, both Democrats and Republicans are a little upset about how all of this played out. Obviously, Republicans wanted to see the president indicted over this, but Democrats initially thought Hur might not take these kinds of shots that they think he did, and it appears he did in this report.

But, Paula, I mean you have a draft of some of these statements that Hur is going to make. What stands out to you?

PAULA REID, CNN CHIEF LEGAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: So, I just spoke with a source close to Rob Hur, and it's interesting, he's walking in, I'm told, a with the viewpoint that he's not looking to make anyone happy, which is probably pretty good because we know everyone is unhappy with Rob Hur for one reason or another.


REID: But he has prepared for this. Interestingly, he left the Justice Department last week. But before he left the Office of Legislative Affairs actually helped him prepare for this. Now, they didn't tell him what to say, but helped him prepare for this.

Now he knows he's going to get questions from Democrats who are furious about the comments he made about President Biden's memory. But as we see in this opening statement, he said, look, I had to, quote, show my work.

Now we also know Republicans are going to be mad at him because he didn't charge Biden, right? They're going to make the comparison with Trump. I'm told that he is going to remind them that he did not find Biden innocent, but did not believe that he could win at trial. And he believes - Hur believes that if everybody is mad at you, you did your job as special counsel. ACOSTA: Yes, but, you know, Kasie, you know, lots of things should be

pointed out here, I suppose. First of all, we have to say this for the, what, ten thousandth time that Biden, when asked for the documents, they got the documents back to the government. When Trump was asked for the documents, lots of other things happen. That did not play out.

Kasie, your initial read when you hear some of these new excerpts coming out, especially -- I mean I thought that was fascinating, you know, the detail that Evan Perez was talking about, this exchange over Beau Biden the day that he died.

HUNT: Yes.

ACOSTA: It does not sound the way it was initially portrayed.

HUNT: As Evan outlined.


HUNT: And, you know, we have this transcript, five hours, right


HUNT: So its enormous, right? We printed it out.

ACOSTA: That's a lot.

HUNT: I probably killed too many trees doing that, but I'm going to sit here and go through it.


HUNT: But what I have managed to glean from it, and Evan touched on this, was, this didn't come across as though it was a president under duress, who was being grilled on details that he could not come up with. This was someone who was having -- and we've seen Biden do this in public, if you are ever with him in private, he does it in private too, right, he has these kind of freewheeling conversation joking discussions. That's what was going on here.

And, you know, I think, for the Biden team, I mean, my big question is - goes back to that press conference that the president had when this first came out where he was clearly angry, clearly wanted to go and do that, but had he not, would we have been more focused on the substance of what's in here, which is that they ultimately didn't charge him.

And, you know, it is worth, I think, especially in light of that, you know, incredible, exclusive that our colleagues Kaitlan Collins and Polantz had, where you have a Trump -- one of the Trump employees in that indictment talking about moving -- talking about essentially what was the cover up, right? And I think the clearest contrast here between the Biden and Trump cases around classified material is, what did they do once it was discovered, right? And I think that's what you're going to hear from the White House as they mount what is a typical rapid response style operation for any White House or political campaign, I guess, depending on your circumstances would be to try to push back on those things today.

ACOSTA: Yes. I mean, and when this bombshell was dropped, I mean much was made of Robert Hur saying that, you know, Biden comes across as an elderly man with a poor memory. That enraged Democrats.

REID: Yes.

ACOSTA: But now democrats are sort of walking around with a spring in their step after the president had that performance up on Capitol Hill where he sort of dad yelled at the Republicans for over an hour.

HUNT: Dad yelled?

ACOSTA: He kind of - kind of - well, it's a term I'm familiar with. But, anyway, was very feisty, in contrast with how Robert Hur describe the president during their exchange.

But the other thing that stands out in the Hur report is Hur was careful to explain that the Biden case does differ from the Trump case. He talks about that in the case as well.

REID: Yes.

ACOSTA: Something that Democrats did not seize on because they were so upset about the stuff about his memory.


REID: Exactly. He had to do this.


REID: He had to address -- and it does in a very legal way -- why former President Trump is being charged but he's opting not to charge President Biden. And he talks about what are called aggravating factors, right? A very blurry (ph) word. All right, you found some classified documents. Then what did you do? With Biden, they reported them, right? They went through the exact chain of command to get those back to where they belonged. They consented to searches and then allowed Biden to do a voluntary interview. Whereas former President Trump, not only did he refuse to give the documents back for months, he allegedly tried to obstruct efforts to get them back. So, that's how he describes the difference.

I think there's also differences in the volume of material that we're talking about, but he doesn't get as into that in his report. But it's something he absolutely had to address and it's something that's going to come up again repeating today.

ACOSTA: And one has to think that during this hearing what we're going to hear from Democrats time and again are these differences between the Biden case in the Trump case.

REID: Yes.

ACOSTA: I mean they're going to spend time laying that out, I think, throughout this proceeding.

Kasie Hunt, Paula Reid, stay with us.

I want to go back to Wolf Blitzer.

I know, Wolf, you have a panel of folks to talk to about all of this as well. But this is going to be fascinating to watch. I mean it - I - it's not often where we see sort of an equal grilling from both sides. I mean Robert Hur might say, well, yes -- as Paula Reid was saying a few moments ago, Wolf, OK, that shows that I did my job right. I think both sides of the aisle would probably disagree with that, but, Wolf, I'll send it back to you.

BLITZER: This is going to be a very, very lively hearing, Jim, as you know.

Take a look at the makeup. The chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, Jim Jordan. It's going to be very, very lively. Let me start with Jamie Gangel.

What do you think the Republicans are up to going into this hearing this morning?

JAMIE GANGEL, CNN SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT: Look, no question, we're going to see fireworks today. We're going to hear them talk about his memory. We're going to see -- go to the point, as Jim mentioned, that he was not charged. Why wasn't he charged? They'll make as much political hay as they can. The Democrats are going to try to make their points about how he's different from for Trump.

But I just want to say, I think the most fascinating thing coming out today will be this transcript, because, as you leaf through it, you see Joe Biden as Joe Biden. There are digressions. He talks about how he wanted to be an architect. He makes noises about car noises about his cars. And, you know, you get the sense of who he is. At the same time there - there are these memory issues, but they're more nuanced when you read the transcript.

BLITZER: So, from a legal perspective, Laura, do you expect any new, major legal ground to be broken today?

LAURA COATES, CNN ANCHOR AND CHIEF LEGAL ANALYST: Oh, I want a -- kind of a dramatic reading. I will not be satisfied until I hear this transcript come to life through the eyes of somebody who was there to witness it. I mean words on a page or one thing. They can be misconstrued. The tone is always going to be important. Contexts is going to be very, very key here.

I want to hear exactly how the president was actually saying things. What was the climate like in the room in terms of how it was being received. Did Hur have immediate misgivings about the nature of his memory issues? Were there, in fact, memory issues or simply turn of phrases that led him to believe that he was not going to be precise in his testimony or that he couldn't convince a jury. As a lawyer, I want to know, is this witness going to get me where I need to be to meet my burden of proof? Are you going to be able to convey that there is actual criminal conduct afoot, or are you going to be, as he described, a sympathetic, well-meaning elderly man with a poor memory who I cannot assign nefarious actual motives to. That's really important here.

And also important I want to find out about is, just how far deep he goes into the idea of the distinction between the conduct of, well, Mike Pence, for example, of Donald Trump, and, of course, Joe Biden, because this is all about what you intended to do here. You can't simply sort of pull the okey-doke on these well-seasoned prosecutors to suggest, oh, were their national security issues in these boxes? I had no idea. He would have to have clear and convincing evidence to suggest that I don't have enough to run on, to go on, and why he said, even if he were not running for office, even if he didn't have this DOJ memo of a sitting president, I still wouldn't have prosecuted him. That's a very important point.

GANGEL: Right.

BLITZER: We're showing our viewers, David, live pictures of the hearing room that Chairman Jim Jordan will gavel this in momentarily we're told and then Rob Hur, who is now the former special counsel -


BLITZER: He retired from the Justice Department just a few days ago. He's now testifying as a private citizen.

But walk us through the political impact potentially of what we're about to see.

CHALIAN: Well, listen, there is much in this testimony today that is going to frame this presidential election that we are in. It deals with some of Donald Trump's legal problems that he's facing, such as his own documents case. That's going to be front and center today. Obviously, one of the big vulnerabilities for Trump. One of the big vulnerabilities for Biden is the issue of his age.


And that's clearly going to be on display today, even though his performance last week at the State of the Union gave Democrats a sort of sigh of relief, that energetic performance. Here it shows us this issue is never going away from now through eight months from now. It's something that's going to have to be encountered every day by the Biden campaign. Perhaps not always in a spotlight like this, but clearly it will be today.

And I would just note, Laura was saying no doubt the Democrats are going to be eager to show the difference between the Biden case and the Trump case here. In fact, the different conclusions already on display by the prosecutors. One came to all your questions and said, no, this witness is not going to help me get across the finish line.

COATES: That's right.

CHALIAN: I'm not going to pursue charges. Jack Smith, obviously, felt he had evidence that required him to pursue charges.

What I -- what I think is important to understand is that Donald Trump, if you look at his social media this morning, also seems eager to have this difference of the Trump case and the Biden case on display because he feels it's this too tiered justice system. Why does Joe Biden not have charges and I do. I'm being treated differently. He wants to ignore the fact that the facts are quite different here. But he too is eager to sort of put the contrast on display for very different reasons than we'll see from the Democrats today, which I think is intriguing and worth noting as well.

BLITZER: It's going to be, as I said, a very, very exciting, lively hearing to be sure.

Elliot Williams, what specifically are you going to be looking for now that we've all read his opening -


BLITZER: Rob Hur's opening draft statement.

WILLIAMS: So, a few things. Now, number one, now taking on the point as to why he's -- why he resigned from the Justice Department in the first place, that's -- that's sort of common. John -

BLITZER: Why he's testifying now as a private citizen.

WILLIAMS: Why he's testifying as a private citizen. John Durham, the last special counsel, did so for a big reason, it allows him to bring in his own private counsel in a way he could not if he were still a Justice Department attorney. So, he sort of gets to speak his mind here.

So, a few things jumped out to me from his opening statement. Number one, here, he talks about the independence and how they are separate from the Justice Department and not - and not reporting to the attorney general. Talked about accuracy and fairness and sort of boring Justice Department and prosecutor buzzwords that everybody says and nobody kind of believes.

But the big one, he really does take on the memory point, almost recognizing that this was going to be a central point at the hearing. It is but one of hundreds of pages of -- that at one point in the hundreds of pages of his report, but he chose to latch on to that and devotes a few paragraphs to saying, the president chose to make his memory and issue here. I think he's just trying to preempt in anticipating that it's going to be the source of a lot of questioning. And more to the point, he seemed to make an issue of the president's memory because that largely was the reason why, at least according to the report, they did not choose -- charge the president because they felt that the president's ability to testify as a witness would have been compromised because he couldn't have -- they couldn't have established a crime.

I - you know, I think it's important for all of us to step back and not fixate on this president's memory issue and focus more on the point that they did not think they had a provable crime. Whatever the basis was, and whatever the reasons are, when a prosecutor doesn't think they can charge someone with a crime and win, they don't bring charges. And I think a lot of this political noise has clouded the way people have approached this report.

COATES: A great point, especially, Elliot, because even if they had never interviewed the president of the United States, Joe Biden, if they had corroboration to suggest that he, in fact, knew he was committing a crime or was committing a crime -


COATES: That's one key distinction between the Trump line of cases and the Mar-a-Lago case and, of course, this one in that you've got corroboration.


COATES: I mean Kaitlan Collins had a great interview yesterday with "Trump Employee 5," with an eye and ear witness talking about what was happening, even if they themselves were oblivious to the contents they say of those box -- boxes. So, you have the idea of the absence of that here. That would have been part of the consideration of this special counsel because, you know, when you have somebody who's committed a crime, you normally do not bring that person -- if it's a criminal context -- before the grand jury. You get everyone around them to figure out what they have done, build your case, and then the time you hear from them is if they want to take the stand in their own defense.

WILLIAMS: And, you know, another important point on that council is, you know, so much of this is about Trump versus Biden. How do you compare the conduct of Donald Trump versus the conduct of John -- of Joe Biden -


WILLIAMS: Which naturally makes it into a political fight.

The better comparison is Mike Pence.


WILLIAMS: Another individual who was found with sensitive documents in his home, but behaved in a similar manner to President Biden by, number one, identifying that he had the materials in his home, number two, immediately calling law enforcement, and, number three, getting them the hell out of his house once he realized he had them. This whole idea that this becomes a binary Trump versus Biden, I think, sort of misses the point.

BLITZER: All right, everybody hold your thoughts. We have a lot more to discuss, and we will do -- there you see the chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, Jim Jordan. He's now in the room. We expect this hearing to begin momentarily. We'll, of course, have live coverage. I'm sure all of you are anxious especially to hear Rob Hur's opening statement. I've read it already. Very, very interesting indeed.