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At This Hour

WH: 5 More Pages Of Classified Docs Found At Biden's Delaware Home; California Getting Hit With More Rain, Gusty Winds And Snow; Debt Ceiling Battle Looms Between GOP, Dems As U.S. Approaches Debt Limit. Aired 11-11:30a ET

Aired January 16, 2023 - 11:00   ET




KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: Hello, everyone. At this hour, President Biden heading back to the White House to face more questions over still more classified documents found at his home. Plus, it is raining again. Right now in California, the relentless storms are causing widespread destruction. We're going to take you there.

We're also going to speak to lieutenant governor about the situation. And the search for survivors amid the rubble of a bombed out apartment complex in Ukraine now one of the deadliest strikes on civilians there since the start of the war. This is what we're watching At This Hour.

Thank you for being everyone. I'm Kate Bolduan. We're keeping an eye on the White House this hour because President Biden is returning to the Oval Office to get back to work. And he finds himself under fire once again over his handling of classified documents and the conflicting explanations that have been coming out from his team.

Over the weekend, the White House revealed five additional pages of classified material were found at Biden's home in Delaware leading the chair of the House Oversight Committee to now request that the White House turn over evidence about that material and more as part of the Congressional investigation. The Republican chairman is now preparing.

The White House has not formally responded to Chairman Comer's demands yet, but the administration says that they are cooperating with government authorities that we now know, is investigating. Let's start right there. MJ Lee at the White House, she's joining us right now. So MJ, what are you hearing At This Hour?

MJ LEE, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Kate, the White House is fully playing defense right now, after we learned over the weekend, about five additional pages of classified documents that were found at President Biden's Wilmington home on Thursday, which we're told were immediately turned over to the DOJ as a part of this ongoing investigation.

And we actually just got a response from the White House Counsel's Office to calls from some Republican lawmakers like Chairman Comer, asking for more information related to these classified documents, including potentially visitor's logs to his Wilmington home, the White House Counsel's office saying there are no visitors logs.

They said in a statement, his personal residence is personal. We are also told by the Secret Service that they also do not maintain any visitor's logs to his Wilmington home.

Now this comes after the weekend where we saw the President's personal lawyer Bob Bauer putting out a very lengthy statement, trying to explain the different processes that the White House has followed throughout this whole saga. And trying to sort of balance he said, the need for transparency but also not interfering with an ongoing DOJ review.

As a part of that statement, Bauer said that personal lawyers to the President do not have active security clearances. And he says that in this statement, whenever a document bearing classified markings was identified, the search was suspended. The potentially classified material was left in place as found.

The government was then promptly notified. And it is for this reason that the President's personal attorneys do not know the precise number of pages in the discovered material, nor have they reviewed the content of the documents consistent with standard procedures and requirements.

Now, I should note that over the weekend, the White House Counsel's Office also said, because a special counsel has now been appointed to investigate this matter, they are going to now refer all questions on these issues to the special Counsel's Office. So Kate, we certainly expect that to be the ongoing response and it's sort of the excuse that we get from the White House going forward.

BOLDUAN: Absolutely, it's good to see you MJ. Thanks for that latest reporting on the fact that one thing that the Republican chairman is not going to be getting is going to be visitors logs because they do not have them at Biden's house and Delaware. Thanks for that reporting.

Joining me right now for more on this is CNN's senior legal affairs correspondent Paula Reid and CNN's senior legal analyst Elie Honig. Paula, do we know yet if this what is known right now is the extent of it when it comes to the documents in Biden's possession, classified documents.

PAULA REID, CNN SENIOR LEGAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Kate, I can tell you definitively we don't know and they don't know either. What we do know is that on November 2nd, those documents were found, 10 documents we know from our reporting classified markings on these documents including top secret information uncovered in President Biden's former office here in D.C.

After that initial discovery, his team decided that they would also conduct searches of other law locations where documents were shipped during the 2017 transition that included his homes in Delaware and this office but that took quite some time. I mean even late last week, they were still wrapping up the search into just those locations.

It's over two months. Notably, the U.S. attorney in Chicago who conducted the initial review and recommended a special counsel, he didn't wait for them to finish these searches before recommending to the attorney general that he needed to appoint a special counsel.


We're also told the U.S. Attorney didn't do any of his own searches. But multiple sources tell me there are still other offices, other locations where potentially classified documents could be located. What's unclear now is if those locations will be searched, and if they are searched, who will do it. Will the Biden legal team continue to conduct these searches? Or will that be taken over by the special counsel and the FBI? Other outstanding question, if they find anything, will they tell us? Just another thing we don't know.

BOLDUAN: And then the questions continue, as we've been discussing, and you've been reporting out, Paula. Elie, I want to -- there are lots of obviously, as Paula is laying out, there are lots of questions. But one thing I wanted to get your take on is just your analysis of what we are hearing from Trump -- from President Biden's counsel on this. I'll read just part of the statement one more time that MJ read in terms of what we heard over the weekend, when more documents were discovered.

The President's personal attorneys have attempted to balance the importance of public transparency where appropriate with the established norms and limitations necessary to protect the investigations integrity, this coming from Bob Bauer, what do you make of that?

ELIE HONIG, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: So it's a little bit of a cop out. The Justice Department doesn't care. The Justice Department doesn't have any position on whether a person who's subject to an investigation talks or not. As a prosecutor, you would never tell the Biden team or anyone you're investigating, hey, you can't talk publicly about that.

You actually understand as a prosecutor, that it's completely up to that person. Now, on the other hand, it's completely reasonable. And I think smart from a legal perspective for Bob Bauer, for the lawyers for Joe Biden to say, we're not going to comment on this. This is an ongoing criminal investigation. There will be things that come out in the normal course of the sort of public proceedings here, but the best move just strictly, legally, is to stay quiet.

Now, of course, this isn't your typical case. This is the sitting president. So there's a political balance that has to be struck as well.

BOLDUAN: That's a great point. So Paula, on this point of how MJ was saying that they're referring all questions now to the Special Counsel's Office, obviously, because the Special Counsel is now investigating, we have seen the White House Press Secretary fielding continued questions about what was known and when, how transparent they have been and are being.

I had former Attorney General Alberto Gonzales on with me last week, and he actually raised what a distraction this can become for the White House raised at the White House, what a problem that he sees a White House running point on this as a real issue. He also offered a solution. Let me play this for you.


ALBERTO GONZALES, FORMER U.S. ATTY. GENERAL UNDER PRES. GEORGE W. BUSH: I think if I were advising the President, I would try to move this out of the White House. Have the lawyers be the ones that speak for in connection with the investigation to the public, have a private spokesperson so that the White House Press Secretary hasn't -- doesn't have to deal with it again, because there's so much need attention of the White House and the White House staff, the President. And so as much as possible, you try not to let this be a distraction.


BOLDUAN: What are you hearing about this and how this is going to work from here on out?

REID: So it's getting better. We saw a shift in strategy over the weekend. For the first time, the White House got out in front of a new development, it didn't leak through the media. They're the ones that came out and released these statements will from the White House and from the President's personal attorney, disclosing the fact that in fact, what they thought was just one single page was actually six pages comprising of multiple documents.

But they also effectively said don't get used to it. We're not going to come out and update you on every development. We want to defer to the ongoing Justice Department special counsel investigation, but it's impossible to completely divorce these questions from the White House itself. Now, I agree it would probably be best if the press secretary wasn't, I wouldn't use the word fielding, I would use the word deflecting these questions from the podium.

But you have the president himself answering questions. You know, he gave an answer last week, a little flippant about why these classified documents were in the same garage as his sports car. He also offered some information about where these documents were found. It was described as an adjacent room, he identified the room incorrectly, they had to walk that back.

So it is absolutely accurate that they probably need to come up with a more accurate, more controlled communication statement or plan. It does appear that they are moving in that direction. But the biggest thing is they got to get the president on message and speaking correctly, if he speaks at all about this.

BOLDUAN: So Elie, just finally, then there's a congressional investigation into this we've -- into Biden's handling of the documents now being promised. I want to play with the chairman of the House Oversight Committee what he told Jake Tapper yesterday. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. JAMES COMER (R-KY), CHAIRMAN, OVERSIGHT COMMITTEE: We just want equal treatment here with respect to how both former President Trump and current President Biden are being treated with the document issue.



BOLDUAN: Words like double standard being used is applied to these two situations, words like hypocrisy, I think is what Kevin McCarthy uses. What do you see as the role of Congress in this since it's now in the hands of both of two different special counsels?

HONIG: You know, look, from a logical point of view, it's hard to justify investigating just one of the documents, scandals, but not the other. But this is Congress, Congress is political. Republicans have taken over majority rules. I expect them to dig in. But there's one really important line in the sand here, Kate. DOJ cannot answer and should not answer questions about specific ongoing investigation, because if they do that, that's going to set a very dangerous precedent.

So if they tried to get Merrick Garland to testify about the specifics of either case, I think Merrick Garland needs to say absolutely not. And if it lands him in contempt, so be it.

BOLDUAN: It's good to see you, Elie, thank you. Paula thanks, as always, great reporting.

Let's turn to California right now and focus in on the unrelenting rainfall, which is still hammering the state. About 8 million people are under flood watches right now. At least 19 people have been killed in this wave after wave of storms that have been impacting really every part of the state.

And all of that rain is very clearly taking a heavy toll on the state's infrastructure. Look at this video, a road in Pescadero just collapsing in this washout, asphalt breaking off, sliding, breaking off, breaking away as it falls down that hillside because of just how saturated the ground now has become. Natasha Chen, she's live in California for us with the very latest. Natasha, what are you see and hearing right now?

NATASHA CHEN, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Kate, behind me is one example of the many road closures throughout the state. This one because of the water from the Novato Creek spilling over onto the highway, crews trying to pump that water off of the road yesterday, but keeping this closed because they knew that the rains overnight would potentially bring that water back.

And last night, we heard of another road closure because of a mudslide south of us in Santa Clara County, so just another example of some of the challenges that emergency crews have had to deal with this weekend. (BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

CHEN (voice over): Dramatic helicopter rescues in California, emergency crews rescued this woman fighting high winds and heavy rain. The unrelenting storms have left California reeling with deadly floodwaters, washed out roads, and mud slides.

GOV. GAVIN NEWSOM (D-CA): By some estimates, 22 to 25 trillion gallons of water have fallen over the course of the last 16, 17 days.

CHEN (voice over): In the state, around 8 million people are still under flood watches and thousands have been forced to evacuate after atmospheric river events left whole neighborhoods looking like lakes. But some are choosing to ride out the storms.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We just got our power back on two days ago and now it just went out. So, we're firing back up the generators, keep our freezers and refrigerators cold.

CHEN (voice over): Several rivers have overflowed, including the Salinas River and Russian River causing flooding in nearby communities. The large amounts of rain saturated the ground and caused roadways like this one in Pescadero, to break away and slide down a cliff. And in Los Angeles, a downed tree crushed cars in a parking lot of a shopping mall.

NATASHA NICHOLS, WITNESSED TREE FALL ON CARS: It came down and then there were four cars -- or three cars over there that got hit. Four people were in one car, two of them were able to get out OK. The other two we had to help them out, but no injuries.

CHEN (voice over): One community got inventive, installing a zip line to cross the Russian waters after a bridge washed out.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well, you live in the woods, you have just got to be prepared.

CHEN (voice over): In Belmont, part of a hillside came down into a neighborhood. And in Fairfax, a mudslide displaced 19 people.

MARK FLEISHER, FAIRFAX RESIDENT: I thought I heard thunder. It was not thunder. It was the hillside giving away between two flats behind us. Trees went into their bathroom. It was coming down this broad, about this deep, all mud flow.

CHEN (voice over): The Sierra mountain region in Northern California saw up to three feet of snow in some places. The heavy snowfall left highway treacherous.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm kind of wishing it would quit for a while. I'm tired of it.


CHEN: It was pouring this morning. But as you can see it's dry. And now we're expecting the rain and the winds to let up by later today. Still, there's that threat of roads giving way, trees coming down because of the saturated ground. But residents I've talked to said they are very much looking forward to the drier part of the weekend just a few days, Kate.

BOLDUAN: Yes, no kidding. Thanks for being there. I really appreciate it. Joining now for more on this is lieutenant governor of the state of California Eleni Kounalakis. Lieutenant Governor, thanks for coming back in. I mean another round of it today albeit slightly less intense, I guess we'll take whatever we can get in terms of improvement. Where is your major focus and concern right now?


LT. GOV. ELENI KOUNALAKIS (D-CA): Well, Kate, we have had three weeks of extraordinary rainfall, nine atmospheric rivers coming in one after another. And this is after four years of drought conditions, extreme drought in this state. So these are wild weather swings to go for four years with very little rain, to now suddenly, in a three week period, nine atmospheric rivers compressed into just such a short period of time. And this is about a year's worth of rainfall in a wet year, not a drought year, a wet year, all at once.

So you see from those images, the massive amounts of flooding, we've had levee breakages, mudslides, power outages, mass evacuation, school closures, it has been a very difficult time in the state of California. But as you noted, it's raining today. But we're looking at the rest of the week, a little bit of a reprieve and the ability to clean up and hopefully get people back to their homes and have a break from this.

BOLDUAN: And I'll run that video once again, this is a road in Pescadero, west of San Jose and the road just a piece of it just part of it just giving way and sliding down the hillside is obviously the ground so clearly just so saturated, that it just can't hold up anymore.

And it really had me thinking, you know, this, of course was caught on video, which is why it's so amazing to see. But we know this isn't the only place, this has happened in multiple places around the state. How significantly has infrastructure, like roads been damaged and impacted by these weeks of rainfall?

KOUNALAKIS: So for decades, we have been investing in shoring up our levees and shoring up our infrastructure. Certainly, the Biden administration's big investments in infrastructure in this state will help this and has helped this. But our big effort here has also been about pre-deploying and pre-positioning equipment, because we have known that this kind of thing is possible.

And whether we're pre-positioning equipment for wildfires, which we have had, as you know, over the last couple of years, or now for severe storms, being able to get, to be able to predict to some degree where there would be this kind of damage and getting equipment and people out there to be able to respond quickly has been very important. But as you can see, with this kind of volume of rain, we knew and we know that damage comes and that's what we're experiencing, just all across the state. And we're a very big state, the most populous, 40 million people, 500 miles of coastline. And we have seen damage from down in Santa Barbara and Montecito, all the way up north, on the coast in the valley in the mountains, it has really hit us hard from one part of the state to the next.

BOLDUAN: Yes, three weeks of relentless wave after wave of these atmospheric rivers. It's going to be weeks and months to try to clean up after all the damage that it has brought. Thank you so much, Lieutenant Governor, I really appreciate your time.

So there is a battle brewing --

KOUNALAKIS: Thank you for having me Kate.

BOLDUAN: I appreciate it. Thank you. There is a battle brewing and a deadline coming as the new house speaker Kevin McCarthy appears to be digging in when it comes to the debt ceiling.


REP. KEVIN MCCARTHY (R-CA), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: What I am saying and it's my conversation with the President on our first conversation, let's sit down together. Let's look at the places that we can change our behavior.



BOLDUAN: That's next.


BOLDUAN: A battle over the nation's debt ceiling is shaping up to be one of the first major clashes on Capitol Hill since Republicans took the majority in the House. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen warning now that the country will reach its debt limit this week triggering the need for extraordinary measures and really laying down the marker that the country could default this summer.

That is unless Congress in the White House can get their act together. Melanie Zanona is on the Hill for us. Here we go another round of it, Melanie, I mean, where do things stand with us?

MELANIE ZANONA, CNN CAPITOL HILL REPORTER: Kate, this is going to be a massive showdown on Capitol Hill early on in the new Congress. So speaker Kevin McCarthy and his quest to become speaker has promised to tie the debt ceiling with spending cuts, which potentially means cuts or reforms to Social Security and Medicare, which is a hard line for Democrats.

Now, Kevin McCarthy said he wants to sit down with President Biden and start negotiating, but he's also making clear that spending cuts need to be on the table. Take a listen.


MCCARTHY: What I am saying and it's my conversation with the President, on our first conversation, let's sit down together. Let's look at the places that we can change our behavior. The first thing I would say is, why don't you make the House and Senate both produce a budget. They don't produce a budget so you know they're wasting money.


ZANONA: Democratic leaders, meanwhile, have put out a letter calling for swift action. They want a clean debt ceiling hike, noting that Republicans lifted the debt ceiling multiple times under Donald Trump without putting any conditions on it. So it is really unclear how this is going to resolve itself.

And meanwhile House Republicans are making contingency plans. They are planning to pass a proposal that would direct the Treasury Department about which payments to prioritize in case of default, just a sign of how serious and threat this really is on Capitol Hill, Kate.


BOLDUAN: Yes, a political, a truly political fight that has very, very real ramifications depending on how this goes. It's good to see you Melanie, thank you.

Let's take a closer look at this, at this issue, the debt ceiling and what it really means for Americans. Christine Romans is here to try to mix it. It's -- I will say it's hard to make sense of this, because these two things shouldn't even be together when you're talking about spending cuts and raising the debt ceiling, but remind people what the debt ceiling is and what it means to -- what it should mean to everyone who's not on Capitol Hill today.

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN BUSINESS CHIEF BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: I mean, you can think of the debt ceiling like your own credit card limit. Now, I would argue that a typical American family and the $21 trillion American economy are very, very different, right? We can't just issue debt as a personal, you know, family to continue to spend, but the U.S. government can.

And essentially Congress a century ago, put a limit on how -- where that debt ceiling could be to keep Congress in line with spending and taxing and fostering an economy that grows quickly. But what has happened is they don't have that spending restraint or that tax cutting restraint. And in fact, you have a debt ceiling that goes up and up and up $31 trillion is what it is right now.

And essentially, if you don't raise it, then you're talking about Social Security, Medicare benefits, military salaries, interest on the national debt, tax refunds, all kinds of payments, then there isn't enough money coming in to pay all those things, and you start to have to juggle, it won't be until June maybe when there's a real crisis. So they've got some time to work this out. But the early indications are, there's going to be another showdown.

BOLDUAN: Yes. But I mean, but did it's a real crisis, even before it gets to crisis mode. I mean, it's doing extraordinary measures start, like, enters the vocabulary once again. We've seen this before. But it also is frustrating to so many because of the misapplication, the hypocrisy when it comes to this, Melanie points out Republicans raised the debt ceiling multiple times under President Trump as is needed. And with no fanfare, no showdowns, no crisis, we're going to maybe, no matter what happens with the recession in 2023, we're not just going to create our own financial crisis.

ROMANS: Well, I think that's really important, because now you have people at the end of last year, we're starting to say maybe the U.S. economy can have a soft landing, maybe if there is a recession, it'll be just minor, maybe we will skate through this with minimum damage. And then you have the self-inflicted wound of a political crisis over paying bills we've already spent.

I think that's what's really important to remind people, this isn't about future spending. And that's what Kevin McCarthy wants to say.

BOLDUAN: And then it should be discussed.

ROMANS: Absolutely. That's what you do when you negotiate new spending packages and the like, that's what you do when you negotiate tax cut packages. That's what you do there. But now you're talking about not paying what Congress has already spent, in order to use leverage against Democrats in the White House to get future concessions if you default on your debt.

And that would mean if for some reason you were not paying the interest on our on our loans, which is a lot of money, you have all kinds of downstream effects that hurt real people. Again, if you manage to escape by 2023, with only a mild recession, and then you put something like this on top of it. It's a self-inflicted, Washington imposed tax on real working people.

BOLDUAN: Talk about it now. So maybe a crisis is averted.

ROMANS: Maybe, hopefully, we've got a few months to worry about that.

BOLDUAN: Which brings eternal, whenever you're around. It's good to see you Christine. Thank you so much. We'll continue on this for everyone.


There's also this, a Russian missile just obliterating a Ukrainian apartment complex. It is one of the now deadliest attacks on civilians since the war began. We're going to take you there.