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State of the Race with Kasie Hunt
Biden Blasts Special Counsel For Questioning His Memory; Biden Defends Memory After Scathing Special Counsel Report; Trump Has "Great Day" With Nevada Win, SCOTUS Hearing. Aired 11a-12p ET
Aired February 09, 2024 - 11:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
KASIE HUNT, CNN HOST, STATE OF THE RACE: I know what the hell I'm doing, those words from President Joe Biden responding forcefully to a special
counsel report calling him a "sympathetic, well-meaning, elderly man with a poor memory." We're live at the White House. Donald Trump had a much better
day yesterday, the Supreme Courts signaled skepticism about Colorado's right to remove him from the ballot over his role on January 6. And later
in the day, Trump easily won the Nevada caucuses, further cementing his path to the Republican nomination. Plus, fake videos generated by
artificial intelligence rampant disinformation campaigns, even violence at polling places. All nightmare scenarios that U.S. national security
officials are preparing for as the 2024 election approaches. We have a CNN exclusive report ahead.
Good to everyone. I'm Kasie Hunt to our viewers watching around the world. It's 11 a.m. here in Washington, Friday, February 9. There are just 15 days
until the South Carolina Republican primary, 269 days until Election Day. This is today's State of the Race.
When books are written about the 2024 presidential election, I'm pretty sure we can count on reading about yesterday, February 8. Special Counsel
Robert Hur's report did not indict the President as a criminal for mishandling classified documents, but it did indict his memory and mental
capacity in a way that could hand a brutal sentence to President Biden's reelection campaign anyway. Hur's report claims that in interviews Biden
couldn't nail down the dates he served as Vice President and had trouble remembering when his late son Beau died. Hur, seen here, decided not to
charge the President because he believes a jury would be sympathetic to what he described as "a sympathetic, well-meaning, elderly man with a poor
A defiant and visibly angry President struck back when he was questioned about that last night.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
PETER DOOCY, FOX NEWS WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Something special counsel said in his report is that one of the reasons you were not charged is
because in his description, you are a well-meaning elderly man with a poor memory.
JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT, UNITED STATES OF AMERICA: I'm well meaning, and I'm an elderly man, and I know what the hell I'm doing. I've been President and
I put this country back on its feet.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HUNT: All right. Let's dive into all of this with today's panel. Mo Elleithee, he is Executive Director of the Georgetown Institute of Politics
and Public Service. He is also former Communications Director for the DNC. Matt Gorman was a Senior Advisor on Republican Tim Scott's presidential
campaign, and Jackie Kucinich, of course, is a CNN political Analyst and The Boston Globe's Washington Bureau Chief. Welcome all.
Mo Elleithee, this is a day for you.
MO ELLIETHEE, EXEC. DIR., GEORGETOWN INSTITUTE OF POLITICS & PUBLIC SERVICE, & FORMER COMMUNICATIONS DIRECTOR, DNC: Thanks.
HUNT: This was -- I'm sorry. This was -- people are talking about this report from Hur as they're comparing it to what happened with Jim Comey
late in the 2016 presidential election as something that comes out that really changes potentially the course of the race. And one thing I've been
looking for over the past few hours is Democrats defending President Biden because, of course, there have been all these questions swirling for months
now, people raising -- either raising concerns or like expressing their own anxiety about what the President's team was doing or not doing. And we've
had a couple of people weigh in in Biden's defense, a couple of Democrats, but there has not, from what I can tell, been this groundswell of people
who are out there saying, this is OK I think in part because it's a really challenging thing.
HUNT: What does that say to you about how tough this reality is for the President?
ELLIETHEE: Yeah. Look, on the scale of days I look forward to and days I wish never happened, yesterday was more towards the latter end of that. It
wasn't a day that anybody that supports the President enjoy. And look, Democrats, we are by nature professional bed wetters. That's what we do.
HUNT: I appreciate that you're honest about that.
ELLIETHEE: And so, I get why people would be freaking out. But, here is why I might counsel folks not to freak out. One, this narrative is kind of
baked in. Right? Most people out there already have these concerns. It reinforces it. What Hur wrote, it reinforces this narrative. But, does it
change anyone's mind? Maybe not. And there isn't opportunity here for people not to explain away what Hur wrote about the President's memory.
But, you can make a contrast. Right? He yesterday in that press conference mistook the name of the President of Egypt, conflated with the President of
Mexico. But, he did that while giving an incredibly cogent, strong analysis of the situation in the Middle East. 90 minutes later, Donald Trump stood
on a stage and called the President of Hungary the President of Turkey. And he did that while praising and defending one of the world's biggest
HUNT: I think it's a pretty clear contrast.
ELLIETHEE: They both --
ELLIETHEE: -- missed up -- messed up a name. I don't begrudge either of them, the fact that they messed up a name, and they both have done it
before. I promise you, they both will do it again. But, that contrast of a President who is sharp on the issue versus one who is defending an
authoritarian that is when Democrats can and should lean into. People's feelings matter. But, I feel like their feelings are already baked in.
They've got to make that contrast as much as possible. That's their -- that's the only way to deal with this.
HUNT: Matt, if you're running against the President.
MATT GORMAN, FORMER SENIOR ADVISOR FOR TIM SCOTT CAMPAIGN: I mean, a couple things. Right? I think it tells me a lot that Democrats and the Democratic
spin last night, they would rather have that press conference kind of try and debate the finer points of mishandling this classified thing and try
and contrast that with Trump than actually addressing the mental acuity in a lot of respects. Right? And in most -- like the worst gaffes, we saw this
with Mitt Romney in 2012, and are the ones that accentuate things people already know about you. Right?
So, when you have Francois Mitterrand, Helmut Kohl, all in the last five days plus this, it just adds to it. And I think more than anything else,
the most dangerous gaffes also aren't the ones that necessarily we obsess with. It's almost, what I kind of call is it passes the Mom Test. Your
people -- like your mom --
HUNT: Two moms are right here. So --
GORMAN: Yes. Your mom talks about it at home. Right? Like it breaks through normal kind of people --
HUNT: We can also call that Dad Test.
GORMAN: Dad Test. Right. It's like when my mom like talks about something and references something, I know it broke through.
GORMAN: And this is a sort of thing with mental acuity and hit like the report, it breaks through in very just acute ways.
HUNT: Yeah. All right. We are -- I want to bring in MJ Lee at the White House, because MJ, you were in the room for this last night. You sort of
experienced what happened in the wake of this report coming out, how the White House scrambled to put together this press conference. I think it's
worth reminding people that they felt like they wanted to put him out there for this. They've been avoiding other opportunities, like the Super Bowl
interview. Can you take us inside the room? And I know you spoke to the President directly.
MJ LEE, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Yeah. I mean, you saw yourself and it was very clear to all of us in the room how frustrated, how
livid, he really was about the way that this investigation was handled. And I think, Kasie, you're right, that this White House purposefully wanted the
President to take on these questions head on. He had made some similar remarks earlier in the day responding to the investigation. So, almost the
bigger purpose of his last minute speech wasn't really just to repeat those remarks. But, it was what came afterwards, taking the questions that he was
clearly prepared to take from reporters about his memory, age issues and everything else.
Let me just play that exchange that I had with the President where I raised the issue of the broader questions that a lot of voters say they have about
his age and his mental fitness.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
LEE: -- for months when you were asked about your age, you would respond with the words, watch me. Well, many American people have been watching and
they have expressed concerns about your age.
BIDEN: That is your judgment. That is your judgment. That is not the judgment of the press.
LEE: They express concerns about your mental acuity. They say you are too old. Mr. President, in December you told me that you believed there are
many other Democrats who could defeat Donald Trump. So why does it have to be you now? What is your answer?
BIDEN: Because I'm the most qualified person in this country to be President of the United States and finish the job I started.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
LEE: Obviously, not helpful as a part of last night's remarks was when he appeared to mix up the leaders of Mexico and Egypt. Kasie, I think one idea
I would just put out there for this White House is maybe having more of these press conference, taking more questions from reporters in these
formal settings. The White House advisors and campaign folks that I speak to, I'm sure you hear the same, is that they like it when he is sort of
fiery and firing back and is really amped up like this.
But, I think there is something to doing this more frequently. The thing about campaigning and being a candidate who is able to get their message
out there is doing this with frequency so that people aren't sort of waiting for these moments and having these moments blow up. You could
easily imagine that mix up with President Sisi referring to him as the President of Mexico being sort of a smaller blip if he were confronting
these questions a little bit more frequently. So, that's just one idea I have in my job as White House reporter, but hopefully, others agree.
HUNT: Well, it's a little -- we're a little self-interested. We always want more of this to happen. But, your points well taken. Dan Pfeiffer said
something similar, the former Advisor to President Obama. MJ Lee, absolutely great work, as always, but particularly great work last night.
Thanks very much for that report.
And let's just pick up there, Jackie, because Dan Pfeiffer did come out and basically say, look, like if you're out there all the time and you make
these little mistakes all the time, then it stops being something that people remark upon. Now, I do think that this happens a little bit more
frequently than a lot of times breaks through. This was a very high-profile instance. President Biden has messed up other names, as Matt was kind of --
and Mo was talking about that Trump has done the same thing. Right? But, that said, Donald Trump actually uses this to great effect. Right? He says
outrageous things all the time to the point that the outrage just becomes noise.
I mean, is there an argument to be made for Biden to just go out there and make the mistakes? I mean, it does feel like the administration, the people
around him are doing this from a defensive crouch.
JACKIE KUCINICH, WASHINGTON BUREAU CHIEF, THE BOSTON GLOBE, & CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: I mean, the bubble wrapping him is not going to help him get to --
I mean, you can do that. They are running against former President Trump, who just says a lot of stuff all the time. And some of that breaks through.
But, keeping him cloistered, feeds into another unfavorable narrative, right, that they're trying to hide him from the American public. And that's
not going to fly going into this deep general election, which we're essentially traipsing into right now.
And you really haven't seen. Last night was the first time I can remember that Biden actually seemed to confront the age issue head on, even a little
bit. I mean, I think -- I wish they would do it more just -- because I think that's a question that voters -- that's what we hear from voters when
we're talking to people in the field.
KUCINICH: We've tried self-deprecation. They've done it like that, tried to make a joke about it. I'm joking. He has met the founders, that sort of
thing. But, I think actually addressing this in a serious way -- when you level with voters, I mean, that sometimes works.
HUNT: We haven't shown everyone yet this hour exactly what he said when he was asked directly if he feels his memory has gotten worse. Take a look at
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Do you feel your memory has gotten worse, Mr. President?
BIDEN: My memory is not -- my memory is fine. My memory -- take a look at what I've done since I've become President. None of you thought I could
pass any of the things I got passed. How did that happen? You know, I guess I just forgot what was going on.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Do you fear that this report is only going to fuel further concerns about your age?
BIDEN: Only by some of you.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HUNT: Only by some of you. I mean, Mo, what's your take on the question of this? I mean, should they be out there putting him out there more or --
ELLIETHEE: 100 percent.
ELLIETHEE: 100 percent. When you're running for President, you are asking very fundamentally for people to trust you.
ELLIETHEE: And the advice I give to every campaign is, if you want people to trust your candidate, you have to trust your candidate. So, put them out
there as often as possible.
HUNT: It seems clear that they don't encourage this.
ELLIETHEE: I don't --
HUNT: There is this faction inside the White House.
ELLIETHEE: I don't know. I don't know whether or not they do. But, they need to present very clearly that they do.
HUNT: They need us. Steve, we got a spot for you at the table. Matt.
GORMAN: Real quick. I think the people who are behind the White House press team did him an absolute disservice last night. That press conference like
slapped together, it looked just out of nowhere. He came at night. The scrum was yelling at questions ay him which is -- there to do. It wasn't
organized press conference. It looked desperate and a little defensive. It was not planned well. They put him in a bad situation. He didn't make any
of the help himself. But, fundamentally, that scenario he was walking into was messed up from the start.
HUNT: Do you think so?
ELLIETHEE: Could he have done it this morning instead of last night? I don't know. And how much of this was driven by them versus him?
KUCINICH: That's what my question is.
ELLIETHEE: He was angry.
ELLIETHEE: Right? And I think that anger was driven fundamentally by one thing in the report, which was the reference to the death of his son --
HUNT: I heard the same thing.
ELLIETHEE: -- and whether or not he had forgotten when that happened. If you don't know anything about Joe Biden, you know that when it --
ELLIETHEE: -- comes to that, he takes it very personally.
HUNT: Let's play what he had to say about that, because you can really see the anger that the President has, because he -- I mean, this is where we
started off the show with the quote, "how in the hell dare he." Watch.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BIDEN: I know there's some attention paid to some language in the report about my recollection of events.
There's even a reference that I don't remember when my son died. How in the hell dare he raise that. Frankly, when I was asked the question, I thought
to myself it wasn't any of their damn business.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HUNT: Jackie. I mean, you can see it. Right?
KUCINICH: You can see it. And I was talking to folks, who know the President, who worked for the President, last night, and that was something
that was pointed out that you don't -- that is one thing you do not touch when it comes to President Biden. And the fact that that was in there, I
don't know for a fact that that's why he decided -- that's why this press conference was if it was thrown together, but certainly, you could see it
there how angry he was. And when it came -- when it's come up elsewhere on the campaign trail, you see that same fire, and it just seems to be a very
understandably vulnerable spot for him.
GORMAN: That's what breaks through also. That's what's kind of talk about regular people. They can debate world leaders, but people understand in
this report not possibly knowing the name of -- the date your son died, or their time as Vice President. That breaks through. That resonates with real
people more than misplacing names of world leaders does.
ELLIETHEE: But, that's why I liked him going out last night, right, because I hear that. But, at the same time, you talked earlier about the Mom Test.
I'm a dad. The Dad Test here, I would be just as furious too. And I would want to go out there and show that anger, and I think real people would see
that and get that, get why that made him so mad.
GORMAN: No. Look, I think maybe so but it also -- the report is still out there. Right? It doesn't necessarily refute that this also could have
happened. It's -- it really kind of out the burden on that.
HUNT: Well, and you're -- now you're hearing Republicans on the Hill demand the transcript as well. I will say, it does save them. I mean, look, if
they put them out this morning, we would have had one new cycle of Hur's report and what it said, and then another one, they would have prolonged it
All right. We got to move on. It is -- it's been a pretty good week to be Donald Trump. It's been tougher to be a Republican on Capitol Hill.
Still ahead, how Trump is responding to his major victories on Thursday.
HUNT: All right. Welcome back. It was a pretty good day for a Thursday for Republican presidential frontrunner Donald Trump, both on the campaign
trail and in the courtroom, it seems. CNN projects that he won the Nevada caucuses with almost 100 percent of the vote. OK. That was him and one
nominal candidate, Ryan Binkley, although his supporters in Iowa wouldn't want me to call him that. Nikki Haley did not participate in that contest.
She had put her name on Tuesday's primary ballot where she lost to the option "none of these candidates." That does sting a little bit.
Meanwhile, here in Washington, there was that pivotable -- pivotal, excuse me, Supreme Court hearing. Questions from the justices seemed to signal
that they were pretty skeptical of Colorado's right to remove Trump from the ballot, and they largely avoided the merits, the topic of the
insurrection, which is all pretty welcome news if you're Trump.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP (R), FORMER U.S. PRESIDENT AND 2024 PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: This was a great day. This was a great night. Supreme Court hopefully will
be doing something in terms of helping our country and preserving democracy. Is there any way we can call the election for next Tuesday?
That's all I want. I want to call the election for next Tuesday.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HUNT: OK. Panel is back with me.
Matt Gorman, it does seem like he is on glide path here. I mean, obviously, we've got South Carolina looming. Nikki Haley is still in the race. I will
say, he talks about her briefly also at that press conference. I want to show you what he had to say about her because he was much more blase than
he has been in other recent appearances. Watch.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: I don't know why she continues, but she is a -- I don't really care if she continues. It's -- I think it's bad for the party. I think it's
actually bad for her too.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HUNT: That was earlier in the day. What do you make of that?
GORMAN: The opposite of hates and difference. Right. So, it's -- finally, he is moving on, it seems like. And there is really no more -- there is no
path for her, really, it seems like right now. She is not going to come close in South Carolina and it looks like. So, he is moving on, I think,
and focusing on Biden. Look, this started for me with -- Sunday NBC News poll was really surprising for me, he up five, head to head, up one with
Hispanics, up 20 in the economy, Biden's lowest approval, to now. It's been a tremendous week for him. Look, it can change on a dime. Don't get me
But, as of today, I mean, you'd rather -- as of this moment, rather Trump than Biden, certainly. But, what I was surprised at was how the -- in light
of all the courtroom dramatics, that poll came out after either E. Jean Carroll verdict. His numbers are still resilient, so to speak. And I met --
mike up a few more points after all this Biden stuff.
HUNT: Mo, what do you thing?
ELLIETHEE: I mean, look, all these -- these campaigns are won week by week, and this was the week he might have won. But, there is a lot of runway
here. There is a long way to go.
HUNT: Lots of court cases. It's not exactly a safe bet.
ELLIETHEE: There is lot of court cases. And yeah. I mean, I get why he would like to have the election next Tuesday, because once this campaign
really kicks into high gear -- yesterday, people were reminded of the things that made them nervous about Joe Biden.
ELLIETHEE: But, once this campaign kicks into high gear and Donald Trump is really out on the campaign trail, which he really hasn't been except for
election night, victory parties and court room press conferences, once he is out there, people will start to get reminded what they don't like about
Donald Trump. Remember, this is not a big persuasion election. There aren't a lot of people out there who are saying, gosh, I don't know how I feel
about Biden or Donald Trump.
HUNT: I have no clue.
HUNT: Never heard of --
ELLIETHEE: They know -- right. So, now it's about reinforcing the narratives. We talked earlier about the narrative about Joe Biden being
reinforced. As he gets out there, the narrative about Donald Trump will get reinforced. And so, he should take the wins when he can get them because I
think there is a lot of danger zone for --
ELLIETHEE: -- him moving forward.
HUNT: Well, and that's been the theory of the case for the Biden team, Jackie.
HUNT: Once Trump like -- they'll also say that people don't actually think yet that Trump is actually going to be the nominee. Somehow that's not
KUCINICH: Which I find -- I don't know if I've -- if people are that checked out. But --
HUNT: They may be checked out of politics entirely.
KUCINICH: -- which, you know what, I can't blame them. But --
HUNT: Exactly. Good point.
KUCINICH: True. But -- and there is -- I mean, we -- not -- only two states have voted, well, three states, I'm counting Nevada, so there is a lot of
primary left. However, I think that puts the Biden campaign on defense, kind of permanently, right, if they're just waiting for Trump to fail. So
far, we've seen these court cases actually work out pretty well for him in terms of support from his base, whether that continues to turn off
independents. We'll have to see. There is so much election which is why -- I can't even bring myself to look at national polls most of the time --
KUCINICH: -- because it just -- we are -- it is a true snapshot and there is just -- I will -- I've said this before and I don't want to spook
anybody here. But, I think -- what day is it? At this point, in the --
HUNT: There are 269 days to the election. That's what we said at the top of the show.
KUCINICH: -- 2020 election, COVID hadn't happened yet in the United States.
KUCINICH: We hadn't locked down yet in the United States. That was at the beginning of the 2020. We could still have a plague, guys. I'm kidding.
HUNT: You raised that possibility,
KUCINICH: I know. I know. But not. But, I'm saying, like that just gives you like a tiny example of just how much can happen between February and
HUNT: Yeah. Well, I mean -- and Mo, you've been on campaigns like this. I mean, some of this -- look, they're -- flashing back to Hillary Clinton
doesn't seem entirely inappropriate to me, although the timing is a little different in terms of the Justice Department acting here. I mean, I
remember reading that letter that came down from Jim Comey. I was sitting in the bureau and I am looking --
HUNT: -- at my phone and like running to camera, being like, what has just happened, and it totally upended the race in the final days.
ELLIETHEE: It did. Right? I mean, remember, that wasn't that like within 24 hours of the Access Hollywood tape dropping, right, around the same time.
HUNT: It was very much in the same period. Yeah.
ELLIETHEE: Right? I mean --
KUCINICH: I blacked out. Busy day.
ELLIETHEE: And that's the most predictable thing about Donald Trump is the unpredictability of the maelstrom around him. Right? And so, I don't know
that I think the Biden campaign is just sitting back and waiting for him to fail. I think they need to be out there drawing a sharp contrast. And the
best way to do that is to put Joe Biden out there more. But, I do think that what they have a keen awareness of is that this is not your typical
election that is going to be a referendum on the incumbent. This is an election that is a referendum on two different incumbents --
HUNT: It's like a --
ELLIETHEE: -- at once.
HUNT: Yeah. It's one the first times we've ever seen that.
GORMAN: Yes. Exactly right. This is not like -- this is going to be two massive armies just slugging it out. It's not going to get over a couple
points. And you're absolutely right. It's going to be, I think, very tough because let's face facts. If it was anybody else in any other party, it
would be a blowout for whatever other party it is. Right? If it's not Trump or it's not Biden, we're looking at a very different race. These people are
uniquely unpopular, much like Trump and Hillary, where they're kind of stuck with each other, and they're fighting it out in the margins.
HUNT: Yeah. Let's talk briefly, we haven't touched on those historic arguments at the Supreme Court yesterday. It seemed very clear that
justices from differing ideological sides were in relative alignment in terms of the questions at hand. Take a -- let's -- we're listening to them
because we only have the audio here, is Justice Alito and then Justice Kagan speaking yesterday. Listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SAMUEL ALITO, ASSOCIATE JUSTICE OF THE SUPREME COURT OF THE UNITED STATES (VIA TELEPHONE): There will be conflicts and decisions among that states
that different states will disqualify different candidates. But I'm not getting a whole lot of help from you about how this would not be an
ELENA KAGAN, ASSOCIATE JUSTICE OF THE SUPREME COURT OF THE UNITED STATES (VIA TELEPHONE): Why should a single state have the ability to make this
determination not only for their own citizens but for the rest of the nation?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HUNT: So, I just want to put this in a little bit of context here, because I was sitting here with some people that are -- eight lawyers. I've not
been to law school. Right? And other people who watched the Supreme Court much more closely than I, including Steve Vladeck, who is our Supreme Court
analyst, and the sort of suggestion is that if they're able to dispense with this, to leave Donald Trump on the ballot, that opens a role for the
court to be able to look at the immunity case that Trump is facing. Right? Where is he or is he not immune from prosecution by Jack Smith for
subverting -- trying to subvert the election on January 6? The thinking being they can leave them on the ballot and then say, basically, wash their
hands of it and say, no, he can absolutely be prosecuted. He is not immune.
Mo, how do you see the court kind of as an actor in this, because trust in that institution is very low? And I don't see how they can avoid this
forever. And it is like a ticking time bomb in some ways.
ELLIETHEE: Yeah. I mean, they have no choice. They have no choice but to involve themselves. I think yesterday's oral arguments I don't think
surprised very many people. I think the most surprising thing actually was how unTrumpy the Trump lawyer was. But, otherwise, I don't think it was
very surprising. But, the fact that they even had to sit and hear it shows that they know they're going to be involved. And I think you're right. I
think the immunity case is going to be sort of the big blockbuster conversation at the court up until -- until we see what happens after the
You're right. Trust in the institution is not high. And no matter what the court does, it will be further eroded by one half of this country or the
ELLIETHEE: And that is a -- it's not a good situation that we're in, but they do have to weigh in. There is going to have to be someone who puts
down a definitive marker.
HUNT: I think either way. It's going to be very trying year for our country regardless of how you slice this.
All right. Coming up, assessing election threats, we're going to get an exclusive report on how the Biden administration is gaining out a
coordinated federal response to some truly troubling scenarios.
HUNT: Welcome back to State of the Race. I'm Kasie Hunt Live in Washington. Deep fake videos generated by AI, violence at polling stations, rampant
political disinformation, these are all nightmare potential scenarios for U.S. national security officials who are tasked with making sure that the
2024 election is legitimate, free and fair. CNN has exclusive reporting that the Biden administration has been gaining out a response to possible
threats. And one U.S. official familiar with the election security drill tells CNN that when it comes to a coordinated federal response, we're all
(EXPLETIVE DELETED), tied up in knots. We've (Inaudible) just so you know.
I'm joined now by CNN Cybersecurity Reporter Sean Lyngaas. Sean, very grateful to have you on this new reporting. Take us inside the room. I
mean, what are they gaming -- what scenarios are they gaming out, how and why?
SEAN LYNGAAS, CNN CYBERSECURITY REPORTER: Yeah. Kasie, there were some really interesting scenarios, actually. And this is the first time in three
years in office that this senior level of officials have had this kind of drill where you've got the Deputy Director of the FBI, the Deputy Attorney
General, and other folks around the table in the White House Situation Room saying, how are we going to respond if there is a deep fake attributed to
the Chinese government showing -- purportedly show a Senate candidate destroying ballots? How are we going to respond if there is violence at the
polls on Election Day?
And the answers are not straightforward for them because of the mistrust that the public has with the federal government when it comes to elections,
and also because of this political environment where a large portion of the electorate falsely believes that the election in 2020 was stolen.
So, they have to be navigate that politics, and they ended up deciding in that exercise to let state and local officials lead the way in terms of
messaging, while the feds take a more quiet coordinating role in Congress and other things. So, it's a really a thorny issue, and it'll only grow
more critical as we approach November, Kasie.
HUNT: So, Sean, can you explain a little bit more about the AI piece of this? Because I think that that's really been at the forefront in a lot of
people's minds. We had this robocall with a fake Joe Biden voice that a lot of people attributed to AI. How concerned are they? I mean, how does that
concern manifests? Well, how do they think it might show up?
LYNGAAS: They're trying to anticipate that. I mean, basically, as you know, the domestic information environment in terms of what people believe and
what they trust is already at a pretty low level in terms of conspiracy theories. But, with AI, one official told us that it had the potential to
sort of supercharge the environment. It's not necessarily a new threat, but it's adding on to a very uncertain environment in terms of what we saw with
the robocall, the fake robocall in New Hampshire out of the primary that mimicked President Biden's voice. That -- one U.S. official familiar with
the meeting that we reported on told us that that robocall imitating the President has only heightened concerns with the administration about how
they're going to deal with this, Kasie.
HUNT: All right. Sean Lyngaas is our cybersecurity reporter. Sean, thank you very much for your great reporting. I really appreciate it.
All right. Our panel is back. Matt Gorman, Donald Trump, it's hard to argue if he is the chicken or the egg in a lot of this kind of scenario. Does the
information environment enable Donald Trump? Does Donald Trump -- he clearly does things to create his own information environment, but he is
able to do that because of the way it kind of were splintered. What -- like, if your campaign consultant trying to get your guy elected, how do
you worry about this stuff?
GORMAN: A couple things. I think it's a -- Trump was more of a symptom. I did some work in this space before 2020. And one of the groups I worked
with held kind of a symposium with secretaries of states and local clerks, people who actually helped run these elections. And they said, you'd be
shocked in 2016 how many people thought votes run the elections, thought votes were changed by foreign actors. And like, it was an informal thing.
But, like -- these sorts of things happen a lot. I will say this, though, too. I think whether it's AI or wherever editing software, this can happen
a lot more commonly, whether it's AI or just somebody with kind of a software.
HUNT: I was playing with Photoshop the other day --
HUNT: -- which I cannot use, but now you can tell it, I would like a picture of a house on fire --
HUNT: -- that looks like my neighbor's.
HUNT: Right? And there it appears.
GORMAN: Exactly. So, I tend to be a little bit more open source, open free speech about this. I think people tend to navigate the right way. I don't
tend to believe in kind of guardrails on that stuff as much.
HUNT: No guardrails.
GORMAN: I understand that as much.
HUNT: Not as many guardrails.
HUNT: Mo, what do you think about this?
ELLIETHEE: I mean, look, there has got to be a coordinated response. And one of the challenges we have is that we are a decentralized election
system in the United States. Right? Elections are administered at the state level, the local level.
HUNT: I can be the safest thing about it, but it's also a huge structure.
ELLIETHEE: But, it can also -- it makes it incredibly challenging, I think, to have a truly coordinated response to this sort of thing. I do think
there needs to be one that includes the federal government, state and local governments, social media. Tech companies need to be part of this problem,
because -- and the government has never truly figured out how to deal with tech and politics. They can't even get a simple thing done for internet
advertising, let alone once we start looking at these deep fakes that are going to come flooding our way. The government -- the federal government is
thinking about what do we do if a foreign government tries to meddle? What about non-state actors?
ELLIETHEE: That -- and so, there is a lot of layers.
HUNT: I mean, the congressional strategy seems to be the shame of the companies into trying to do something different, as opposed to figuring out
how to actually regulate it.
GORMAN: I mean, look, like, I think, what was it a week or two ago, X did a pretty good job shutting down the Taylor Swift AI issue very quickly on
GORMAN: -- platform as well. So, when companies can act and act quickly, it does help a lot.
KUCINICH: No. That's because they would have been sued by Taylor Swift. They had nothing to do. That happens to normal people all the time. It's
because they had a behemoth.
HUNT: Well, that's been my experience with social media companies.
KUCINICH: 100 percent. They just like -- they shut down your name.
ELLIETHEE: They got the capacity, but do they have the will?
ELLIETHEE: Right? In this case, they surely will have the will. But, what happens when it's a political thing?
ELLIETHEE: And Elon Musk doesn't think something is a problem, but a lot of other people do. That's what we're going to have a real problem.
HUNT: I just -- really big picture, I think the most important thing and the thing that -- honestly, when I worry about this stuff, I flashback to
the Capitol on January 6, and the question of whether or not people are going to believe that somebody legitimately won our election or not.
Right? I mean, that like fundamental question of whether people are going to believe these results, I feel like is really on the line in this
On that cheerful note, President Biden and former President Trump are both accused of improperly handling classified documents. So, what's the
difference? Up next, we're going to talk to former Federal Prosecutor Elliot Williams, who is going to break it all down for us.
HUNT: Welcome back. We're continuing to monitor the fallout from the special counsel report finding that President Joe Biden failed to protect
classified information, but recommended against charging him. Former President Donald Trump is facing charges over the classified documents
found at his Mar-a-Lago home. However, in the case of Biden, the special counsel doubted they could get a conviction due to President Biden's age
and at times declining memory.
Joining me now is former Federal Prosecutor and CNN Legal Analyst, Elliot Williams. Elliot, always wonderful to have you. Did this -- my first big
question for you is, whether the special counsel in your view overstepped in making these judgments about Biden's mental state? Or I do know that
there is a question of intent around some of these things. Did he --
ELLIOT WILLIAMS, CNN LEGAL ANALYST, & FORMER FEDERAL PROSECUTOR: Yeah.
HUNT: -- mean to lay out some of these details when it came to this?
WILLIAMS: Yes and no. And I dance your question, Kasie. It's just not in the level of detail that was put in here. Now, the law that lays out, the
report that the special counsel did, just says that merely the special counsel needs to issue a report describing the prosecution or declination
decision, just merely saying, why they chose to prosecute or not prosecute? Now here, certainly the acuity of a witness is relevant information, and
they could -- and they were laying out the fact that we did not think that this individual had the memory or whatever in order to for us to sustain a
The problem is that when they attribute it to his old age, you start veering into the territory of just adding information that didn't need to
really be there.
They could have just said we're choosing not to prosecute. And on this basis, we just don't think we have the evidence to do so. But, it got a
little personal, and I think that's what active -- folks in the Democratic Party mostly are complaining about.
HUNT: Yeah. So, in your view, why did Hur do this?
WILLIAMS: I don't know. And -- following 2016, which, as you know quite well, Jim Comey issued a report -- his report about two weeks before
Election Day, did a press conference, and many people in the public and the media raised concerns that this put a thumb on the scale of the 2016
election in a way that didn't really need to be necessary. It was putting out information, somewhat in violation of Justice Department guidelines,
wagging a finger at someone they weren't charging a crime with. And there was a -- it was an astonishing level of detail in this report. It's just
not clear why they went as far as they did.
HUNT: Yeah. Elliot, do you think -- I mean, I think for average voters, right --
HUNT: -- if you're making an argument, the system is rigged because Joe Biden and Donald Trump both misclassify -- mishandled classified
information and they're being treated differently, can you kind of dig --
HUNT: -- into what is actually different between these two cases?
WILLIAMS: It's -- and I think it's the nature of the willfulness of the conduct. And I say the word willful, that's in the law. Someone has to know
what they're doing and be intentionally doing it. And the former President Trump said on a number of instances, these are my documents. Can you
believe that they're saying that they're not mine? I'm the former President. Right there that evinces a level of willfulness. So, that's on
the possession point.
And then, with former President Trump, you also had the acts of obstruction of justice afterward, trying to explicitly thwart the investigation and get
in the way of prosecutors. Now, certainly, and I want to be clear, this isn't a fully embracing President Biden. There was sloppiness with respect
to how he handled his documents, and we need to embrace and own that fact, if we want to be honest about it. But, it is apples and oranges to compare
these two individual's conduct and Mike -- former Vice President Mike Pence is also in the Biden category as well, where it was sloppy, but not
HUNT: It sort of makes you think that, well, if you go digging around in any former Senator, former vice presidents, former, whatever, basement,
that you're going to end up finding boxes of this stuff which is not --
HUNT: -- super encouraging in terms of our national security.
WILLIAMS: No. No. And frankly -- if someone were to ask me the question, do you have sensitive documents in your house? My answer would be, to my
knowledge, no. Right? And I am someone that worked with them for many, many years. You have to do your best to safeguard this information. But, I am
certain that many, many elected officials have also been careless, sloppy, or perhaps even criminal. But, you have to do your best to turn it back
once you discover that it's there.
HUNT: Yeah. Underscore the legally correct answer as "to my knowledge, no".
WILLIAMS: Yeah. And if I discover it, I turn it back. Right.
HUNT: Right. Fair enough. Elliot, can I ask you about -- we were talking about the Supreme Court arguments --
HUNT: -- earlier and kind of how the court may thread this needle between the ballot access and the immunity. What's your view of how we're going to
see the court navigate this?
WILLIAMS: I think what the court -- what we saw yesterday was what's likely a 7-2, or 8-1, or 9-0 opinion on one aspect of keeping -- what ends up
keeping Donald Trump on the ballot. Now, my guess is that some of the justices might write their own opinion, saying, well, I would have gone
further than the court, but I agree with the fundamental question that say, for instance, the President is not an officer of the United States,
according to what the Constitution says. But, I think there is broad agreement on the court. And once frankly Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson
weighed in, it was clear that there were at least seven votes for that position, if not eight.
HUNT: And what do you think on -- what they're going to do on immunity? Are they going to take it up or they're going to not?
WILLIAMS: Oh my goodness, I don't know if they -- look, at a minimum, somehow the law in three or four or six months, whatever it is, will be
that Donald Trump is not immune from lawsuits. Now, whether they don't take it or whether they just take it to write a short opinion that says that,
it's going to happen. But, the law seems to be pretty clear. And the decision that was written there was as close to airtight as could be. They
don't have to take it. They could rubber stamp it. They could also regard their role as the Supreme Court to be the final word on it. Take it up,
write a short opinion that agrees with the decision below.
HUNT: All right. Elliot Williams, we're going to be back with you many times in the next year, my friend --
HUNT: -- on all of this. Thank you very much.
WILLIAMS: Thanks a lot. Thank you.
HUNT: All right. It's time for us to take a quick break. But, do stay with us. Our panel is coming back for one more thing.
HUNT: Welcome back to State of the Race. My panel rejoins me. Before we go, we always ask for one more thing on the trail or in Washington you're
watching for in the coming days. 30 seconds. Your thoughts. Mo Elleithee, let me start with you.
ELLIETHEE: Super Bowl weekend. One of my favorite things every Super Bowl weekend are the ads. In recent years, we've seen a lot of the advertisers,
the corporations use the ads to communicate some sort of social, cultural, even light political message. So, I'm looking forward to seeing what
messages they put out there this year, or if the experiences of some companies like Disney and Budweiser force them to pull back on some of
those cultural and social statements.
HUNT: Yeah, I'm interested to see if they acknowledge that Taylor Swift bring in the new audience and we -- maybe the women that are watching are
interested in some other things too. Matt Gorman, what are you looking for?
GORMAN: Speaking of new audiences, you're right. It seems like the Super Bowl, much like everything else in our lives, have been injected with
politics from Taylor Swift, also Joe Biden not doing a traditional Super Bowl interview. But, it's one of the few communal experiences we have left.
I think this year will probably be the most watched, not only Super Bowl, but event in television history, upwards of 116 million people, I think, on
Sunday will tune in.
HUNT: Really. I totally agree with you. It's true that we've splintered and it's true this is one of the very rare times we come together. It's going
to be important. Jackie, what are you looking for?
KUCINICH: I'm talking politics. I'm talking splintering again, Kasie. I'm looking at the February 13 special election to replace George Santos,
between Tom Suozzi and Mazi Pilip. It's coming to a head. They've really used this race to road test the more national messages, things on
immigration, abortion, support for Israel. So, we'll see how that ends up. But, both parties are keeping a really, really close eye on this race.
HUNT: All right. We've got an extra 30 seconds. So, I'm going to take a quick yes or no. I will let you show of hands. Who thinks that Travis Kelce
is going to propose to Taylor Swift on the field if they win the Super Bowl?
KUCINICH: No way.
HUNT: No? No hands?
GORMAN: They're not winning. The Niners are not going to win anyway.
HUNT: Oh, you're predicting that the Niners are going to beat the Chiefs. But, like, isn't America going to be so depressed if that happens? Like,
I'm sorry, Brock Purdy. I really am. He still had a really wonderful season.
GORMAN: It fits. America is already -- yeah. We're already down. So, we just keep it going.
HUNT: All right, guys. Thank you so much.
ELLIETHEE: Is that part of the conspiracy?
HUNT: Exactly. All right. Thank you very much to our panel. And I actually need to take a moment of personal privilege here also to say thank you,
because this is my last day hosting State of the Race here on Max and on CNN International as I'm taking over more responsibilities in the morning.
But, I have had the time of my life hosting the show because of the wonderful people who work on it every day. They have just poured their
heart and souls into launching this on a very short timeline and have been working incredibly difficult with -- under incredibly difficult
circumstances with -- as they have tried to grapple every day with these major stories that we're covering from our tech teams, to our editorial
teams in Atlanta, to the team that works here with me in Washington, D.C. I just want to say thank you.
And I want to say thanks to all of you, the viewers, for joining us every day. I really appreciate it, getting to -- go back and forth with some of
you on social media and elsewhere. I do hope you'll continue to watch the show. It will still be here on Monday. It's going to be in the capable
hands of my colleague Jessica Dean next week. She has been out on the campaign trail for us and really is going to be able to bring her expertise
to you. So, I hope you will tune in and join her on Monday.
In the meantime, I'm Kasie Hunt. This is the State of the Race for today, February 9. You can always follow me on Instagram and the platform formerly
known as Twitter. Don't go anywhere. One World is up next.