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Sources: Special Counsel Not Expected To Charge President Biden In Classified Documents Probe; IDF: Body Of Israeli Hostage Found Near Gaza's Al-Shifa Hospital; House Ethics Panel Releases Scathing Report On Rep. Santos; Gov. Kathy Hochul (D) New York Talks About Her Take On George Santos Resigning; Appeals Court Temporarily Lifts Gag Order In Trump Civil Fraud Trial. Aired 3-3:30p ET

Aired November 16, 2023 - 15:00   ET




BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN HOST: All right. We have some special - or pardon me, we have some breaking news on the Special Counsel investigation into President Biden's alleged mishandling of classified documents. Sources telling CNN that Special Counsel Robert Hur is not expected to bring charges.

Hur was appointed in January after classified documents from Biden's time as vice president were found at his private office and home.

CNN Chief Legal Affairs Correspondent Paula Reid is here with the details.

Tell us what's happening.

PAULA REID, CNN SENIOR LEGAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: So several weeks ago, we reported that it wasn't looking like any charges would be filed by the Special Counsel in this case. And today, multiple sources telling us that they do not expect criminal charges to be filed in this investigation.

But right now, the special counsel, Robert Hur, and his team, they are working to compile a very detailed report about exactly what they did in the course of this probe. We've learned from multiple sources that they have been fastidious, going to witnesses once, twice, going back again. And re-trotting a lot of the ground that they had already covered, leading some lawyers for witnesses to even complain about just how tedious this investigation has been.

So we expect this very detailed report to come in the coming months. We have learned that investigators who are on this team have told some people that they expect this to all be wrapped up by the end of the year, but that deadline could slide. Now, of course, if there are no charges brought in this case, that is likely to draw some criticism from the President's Republican adversaries.

But a key part of this case is the fact that once these classified materials were found, the president's team alerted the National Archives and they did return the materials that they were required to.

KEILAR: Let's be clear here, he shouldn't have had those materials.

REID: Yes.

KEILAR: But there is this false equivalence that some critics of Biden's will try to make between Biden and Trump in handling of classified materials. It is very different what Trump did with handling of classified materials.

REID: Exactly. And two big ways these cases diverge, one is just the volume of materials, right? We're talking about dozens of pages versus hundreds of pages. And then once the discovery was made or it was known that these materials were in your possession and the government was seeking to get them back, how cooperative these two entities were.

I mean, it's just - there really is no clear comparison beyond questions about the possible mishandling of classified documents. And Biden's case appears to be closer to the review of former vice president, Mike Pence, and his retention of classified materials than the Mar-A-Lago case, which is now, of course, a full blown criminal case expected to be tried in May of next year.

KEILAR: I'm so glad you bring Pence up, that is a better comparison.

Paula, thank you for the very latest here. Pamela?

PAMELA BROWN, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: We're also following breaking news out of the Middle East. Israeli soldiers have found the body of a second hostage taken by Hamas on October 7th. Israeli defense forces say she is a 65-year-old grandmother and she was found in a building next to Al-Shifa Hospital. Yesterday, the IDF raided Al-Shifa, claiming Hamas has been using tunnels beneath it as a command center.

And this just in to CNN NEWS CENTRAL, Israel saying it has found an operational tunnel shaft inside the hospital complex.

Let's get right to CNN Reporter, Nada Bashir in Jerusalem.

So what more is the IDF saying about this tunnel? What proof is it showing to support its claims?

NADA BASHIR, CNN REPORTER: Well, look, Pamela, as we know this operation is ongoing and we're also waiting for more details from the Israeli military with regards to this latest statement. They say they have located tunneling infrastructure and an operational tunnel shaft inside the Al-Shifa Hospital complex.

As we know, the IDF has long held that they believe there is a Hamas command and control centre beneath the hospital.


As we saw following that raid overnight on Wednesday morning, the early hours of Wednesday morning, there was mounting pressure on the Israeli military to demonstrate and show further evidence of these allegations, given the fact that in that initial video released by the IDF, there were clearly signs of military equipment.

And according to the IDF, technological assets belonging to Hamas, but no clear proof of this said command and control centre beneath the Al- Shifa complex. We are still, of course, waiting for more details on that.

As we know, of course, Hamas and doctors on the ground at Al-Shifa have long denied these allegations, have denied Hamas military presence within the Al-Shifa Hospital complex. And as we know, there is mounting concern over the safety and security of civilians inside Al-Shifa, hundreds of patients, hundreds of medical staff, and of course, other civilians who have taken shelter around the complex. As we know, we've been hearing from doctors within the hospital in the early hours of Wednesday morning describing the terrifying scenes outside of the hospital.

But since then, communication with doctors inside Al-Shifa has largely been cut off as a result of a communications blackout. So getting more details on the ground from doctors, from medical officials has proven extremely difficult. And as we've heard from human rights organizations, as well as other international medical organizations who have lost contact with their teams on the ground, there is a huge amount of concern around the safety of patients and medical staff.

As you know, of course, this operation is said to be taking several days. It isn't just a one-day operation. And, of course, we heard earlier in the day from the Israeli military spokespeople saying that they are quite close to completely dismantling Hamas' military systems in northern Gaza.

Northern Gaza has, of course, been the focal point of Israel's now relentless Arab bombardment and now ground incursion. But there is, as we said, mounting fears over the possibility of that ground incursion moving further south.

Now, as we know, the Israeli military has been calling on civilians to move southward from the early weeks of this war. We have seen some 1.5 million Palestinians internally displaced. The Israeli military says it has allowed for safe evacuation routes and we have seen thousands, hundreds of thousands of Palestinians moving from northern Gaza to southern Gaza.

But today now in the southern parts of Gaza, near Khan Yunis, the largest city in the southern region, leaflets were reported to have dropped from the sky, warning civilians to move to known shelters. Now, of course, there is concerns that this warning could signal a push by Israeli troops on the ground into southern Gaza. And there is mounting fears that there simply isn't anywhere safe anymore for Palestinian civilians inside the Gaza Strip, Pamela?

BROWN: All right. Thank you, Nada.

Let's get right to retired Army Colonel Liam Collins who co-wrote the book "Understanding Urban Warfare" for more perspective here. Colonel, thanks for coming on.

I want to get to this news coming in, Israel saying it has found a "operational tunnel shaft" inside the Al-Shifa Hospital complex in Gaza City. What is the significance of this finding? What do you make of it?

COL. LIAM COLLINS, U.S. ARMY (RET.): Yes, I mean what this shows is something that Israel has known and most likely U.S. intelligence has known and that's Hamas, right? They don't follow the international humanitarian law. They use hospitals, schools, churches, right, things like this for their own protection in turn what would otherwise be unlawful military targets into lawful military targets. Israel has no desire to go into this hospital, but they're forced to go in there, because that's where Hamas is set up either in the vicinity inside of and used for their protection and put their own citizens at risk.

BROWN: I want to ask you about the news also coming in the sad news today. The discovery of a deceased hostage. We know the IDF has taken control of northern Gaza. How do you see these shifting dynamics impacting hostage negotiations in the wake of this body found?

COLLINS: Yes. I mean, I think that's what's been really unique about this conflict from the start is just the number of hostages and how that impacts negotiation and how the war will be fought. I mean, obviously, Hamas has no real desire to release any of these hostages. They didn't attempt to do that in the three weeks leading up to the ground war.

And so it complicates it, but it - I think it's - it isn't a surprise that unfortunately that at least some of them have died and it won't be the last one. I think what's more telling is where this one turned up and that's right next to a hospital that if anything if they're trying to keep these hostages, they should not have - that's probably where they have a command center, obviously.

BROWN: I want to ask you about the leaflets. We heard Nada talking about that, these leaflets falling in southern Gaza telling civilians there to go to known shelters.


What does this signal to you in terms of what's next in this war?

COLLINS: Yes. I mean, if Israel is dropping these, this typically isn't some kind of deception, right? There - they want the civilians out of there so they can do military operations. They want to minimize civilian casualties as they've attempted to do throughout. Just like they did before the invasion into northern Gaza, right, it took three weeks to try to get everybody out of there.

So it's a good indicator that they're going to expand into that area next. And remember it's not all of southern Gaza, they're going to at least at this point but expanding into that, that's what it would indicate. BROWN: You talk about minimizing civilian deaths. The Palestinian ministry of health, which is Hamas-controlled, says that - I believe the last number was more than 11,000 civilians who have died so far in Gaza. A top EU diplomat has urged Israel not to be "consumed by rage." Of course, we should note this all started with the October 7th attack by Hamas on Israel. We're now six weeks in and your view is Israel upholding the laws of war.

COLLINS: Yes. I mean, if you look at it, right, there - they're following the law, right. The laws that are set out, right, military necessity distinction, proportionality - probably proportionality is where people might have discussion and debate about what it is. But by and large they're following those laws.

If you look, Hamas is the one that isn't primarily, right, hiding in and amongst the population, putting them at grave risk. And so there should be more public outcry against Hamas for endangering their own citizens and their reckless behavior, for example, of having a command center in or near a hospital.

BROWN: But with so many civilian deaths there, how would you determine, right, if a line is crossed?

COLLINS: Yes. I mean, that's the challenge in war, right? I mean, right, you've got to look at military necessity. Is it for legitimate military purposes, right? They're going in there, conducting this operation in Gaza to eliminate the Hamas threat, right, distinction, right? They're trying to distinguish between combatants and noncombatants, which is hard to do when Hamas is hiding amongst them, but they're trying to displace the civilians and still trying to distinct them.

Again, proportionality is where the debate is and no doubt people will come in after and try to do that. But that's a challenge, right? They're trying to minimize what type of munition, what they're doing. But that's really where the big debate is going to be about, are they being proportional enough with their use of force.

BROWN: All right. Col. Liam Collins, thank you so much.

Congressman George Santos says he will not run for re-election after a damning House Ethics report. We're going to tell you what he allegedly bought with campaign funds as he claims he is innocent. He's not guilty of these claims.

Plus, new polling in New Hampshire is showing Nikki Haley has jumped into second place after the last GOP presidential debate. Details on that and the donors she is now attracting just ahead.

You're watching CNN NEWS CENTRAL and we'll be right back.



BROWN: Embattled New York congressman, George Santos, is not running for re-election and may end up booted from office after a damning House Ethics Committee report released just hours ago.

It says he sought to fraudulently exploit every aspect of his House candidacy for financial profit. It also says there is substantial evidence Santos misused his office and then lied about it. Some of the suspicious conduct cited, he allegedly paid off personal credit card bills, spent over $4,100 at a luxury store, shopped at Sephora, racked up excessive travel expenses, paid for Botox spa services, and made purchases at the online porn subscription service OnlyFans.

The report also says the committee found even more illegal activity by Santos and has now referred it to the Department of Justice. Santos, for his part, calls the report biased.


MANU RAJU, CNN CHIEF CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: You bought designer goods, you benefit yourself with a donor's money.

REP. GEORGE SANTOS (R-NY): So essentially everything I do, everything I've ever spent in my account is going to be deemed as, oh my god, George Santos stole money. George Santos bought designer clothes.

That's what I buy. I mean, I've been a client of the same stores for many years and if you go and you go through my closet, you'll see. It's not like I amassed and bought all my clothes, all my shoes in the last campaign. So it's very - that's what I say - narratives can be built and I'll accept that. That's fine. But I'll go and defend it.

The government has the burden of proving guilt. I have the benefit of proving my innocence.


BROWN: So that was George Santos talking to our Manu Raju days ago before this report was officially released. Let's bring in CNN Capitol Hill Reporter, Melanie Zanona. So after this report came out, you have Santos saying he's not going to run for re-election, so changing his stance on that.

New York's governor is calling for his resignation. And now there could soon be another move to get him booted from Congress, right?

MELANIE ZANONA, CNN CAPITOL HILL REPORTER: Yes, that's right. There certainly will be another expulsion vote. And we are seeing that momentum is growing for that effort inside the GOP. I am told that Michael Guest, the Republican chairman of the House Ethics Committee, is planning to make a motion to expel George Santos as soon as tomorrow.

And that would set the stage for a floor vote, potentially after the Thanksgiving break, but before the end of this month. Now, previous efforts have failed to expel George Santos. It is a high bar. It takes two-thirds of the entire chamber to succeed. But now that this effort has the weight of the House Ethics Committee behind it, that is significant. And we have already seen a number of Republicans, nearly a dozen at this point, who have said they will now support expulsion after previously saying they would not. That includes members of the Ethics Committee, some vulnerable swing district Republicans and some fellow members of the New York Republican delegation. So this would be a dramatic step.

Expelling someone is exceedingly rare here on Capitol Hill. The last member who was expelled was James Traficant back in 2002, and he was already convicted.


But clearly, Pam, Republicans here on Capitol Hill just ready to put this entire George Santos saga behind them.

BROWN: Understandably. All right, Melanie Zanona, thanks so much. Brianna?

KEILAR: All right, thank you.

On the phone now with us, we have New York governor, Kathy Hochul.

And you are calling for his resignation, Governor. You have called for it before. It's also possible that he could be expelled, as we're hearing. If that happened and you called a special election, when would that be?

GOV. KATHY HOCHUL (D) NEW YORK: Well, first of all, yes, I did call for his resignation. He has to go away. This mega clown car has to come to a screeching halt instead of shifting into high gear. And so he and his colleagues and his enablers need to be held accountable.

So I'm very happy to have him resign, stop the embarrassment that has befallen the people of his district in the state of New York, just go away. And I'll be very happy to call for that election within 10 days of the official vacancy. Then also I have to call it within 70 to 80 days. So that's the timeframe.

KEILAR: That you would call for the special election. It would be scheduled within that other time frame of 70 to 80 days. So far, though, he is just saying he's not going to run for reelection. What would change his mind, do you think, especially considering Santos flipped his seat, a Democratic seat, a Democrat could win a special election, why do you think that he would listen to your calls and the calls of others, including Republicans, telling him just to get out?

HOCHUL: The gig is up. It's time to move on and if he gets expelled from Congress, he won't have any choice. I served as a member of Congress. He has brought disgrace to an institution that was once more respected and honored and he has debased it with his actions. He must move on and let's start restoring some semblance of integrity into that institution.

KEILAR: You served. You know what it takes to get expelled. It is no small thing. It doesn't happen very often. Do you think they will expel him?

HOCHUL: How much more evidence do they need that he's abused his position in office? I mean, you have - you're entrusted with the responsibility of fighting for your constituents, not feathering your own pockets, not abusing the role and taking advantage of the position. That's exactly what's been happening.

So his colleagues have a moral responsibility to expel him, let us move on. I'll call for that election as soon as possible. And let's start regaining some sense of dignity with that institution and not the shame that's befallen it because of his actions. And the rest of the mega (inaudible) riders, who are now trying to talk about fighting each other, why don't we just call it a boxing arena if they're going to start attacking each other.

I have to tell you, this is shocking. I am in utter disbelief of what has happened in the last few days. We need to restore some dignity and respect in that institution. And it starts, hopefully, sooner than next year's election.

KEILAR: What do you think was the worst part? What stood out the most to you in this Ethics Committee report?

HOCHUL: Oh, my god. There's so much to work with here. I don't know how I'd single out one particular crime that he committed, but lining his own pockets, stealing money and lying about it, the list goes on and on and on. I mean, I don't know who he's trying to emulate here. We have all the crimes and allegations that it's Donald Trump. I mean, they're just in the same category. I mean, I'm still shocked and in disbelief of what he has done.

KEILAR: Governor, we appreciate you joining us as you are calling here yet again for Santos to resign. But we are seeing some Republicans change their mind on whether or not he should be expelled. Thank you for your time this afternoon.

HOCHUL: All right. Thank you, bye-bye.

KEILAR: Still to come, Elon Musk under scrutiny for agreeing with an anti-Semitic post on X, formerly Twitter, that claimed Jewish people push hatred against white people.



BROWN: This just in to CNN, a New York appeals court temporarily lifts the gag order on former president, Donald Trump, and his attorneys in a civil fraud trial.

CNN's Kara Scannell is right outside the court.

So why is this happening, Kara?

KARA SCANNELL, CNN REPORTER: Well, Pam, so Trump's lawyers filed an emergency petition asking an appellate court judge to lift this gag order that the judge placed on the former president and his attorneys. And after a last-minute called emergency hearing, one of the judge who heard the case had agreed to lift this temporary - lift temporarily the gag order on Trump and his lawyers.

Now, the judge has imposed the order because Trump had made social media posts and comments about his law clerk who sits just beside him on the bench. The judge said he was issuing the gag order out of concerns about safety and security for his staff members, saying that they had received hundreds of threatening emails, texts and packages.

But Trump's lawyers have argued that this is unconstitutional. And they have made the claim in a mistrial motion that they filed yesterday saying that this - the judge appears to be biased.


He - the law clerk appears to be biased and that's the basis for their mistrial motion as well as this emergency action they've taken.