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More Biden Classified Documents Found; Renato Mariotti and Susan Page are Interviewed about the Biden Documents; Storms Leave 19 Dead in California; Napal Plane Flight Data Recorder Recovered; Russian Strike on Dnipro; Mafia Boss Captured in Italy. Aired 9-9:30a ET

Aired January 16, 2023 - 09:00   ET




JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Hello, everyone. I'm John Berman. Jim is off this week. I'm here checking out the furniture.

Happening this morning, President Biden is facing increased criticism after his lawyers say five additional classified documents were discovered at his Delaware home. House Oversight Chairman, Republican Congressman James Comer, is demanding answers. We will tell you what he wants from the White House as he plans a congressional investigation.

Plus, parts of California seeing a new round of treacherous weather. Flood watches are in effect following days of torrential rain. President Biden has approved a disaster declaration after storms ravaged the state killing at least 19 people. CNN is live on the ground in northern California in just a moment.

First, though, we begin this hour with the discovery of those five additional pages of classified material at President Biden's home in Delaware.

CNN's senior legal affairs correspondent Paula Reid and CNN's senior White House correspondent MJ Lee with me this morning.

Paula, first to you. What's the latest on these five pages?

PAULA REID, CNN SENIOR LEGAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Well, John, these five pages were discovered among previously disclosed documents uncovered at the president's Wilmington residents. Initially they thought it was just one page. But then when someone with the proper clearance started going through them, they discovered it was, in fact, a total of six pages. So now we have approximately 20 documents with classified markings found at two different locations connected to the president.

And over the weekend, we actually saw a shift in strategy from the president's team. Over the past week we've seen that most of the new information, seemingly a new breaking news story every day about this, was all coming out through the press with the White House following along, with sort of begrudging statements. But over the weekend, the president's lawyers got out in front of this. They are the ones that disclosed these five additional pages. But they say, going forward, they're not necessarily going to offer updates continuously on this case. Instead, they want to defer to the Justice Department and its criminal investigation. But that is not stopping Republicans from calling for their own probes.

Let's listen to what Representative Comer said over the weekend.


REP. JAMES COMER (R-KY): At the end of the day, my biggest concern isn't the classified documents, to be honest with you. My concern is how there's such a discrepancy in how former President Trump was treated, by raiding Mar-a-Lago, by getting the security cameras, by taking pictures of documents on the - on the floor, by going through Melania's closet. That's not equal treatment.

With respect to investigating President Trump, there have been so many investigations of President Trump, I don't feel like we need to spend a whole lot of time investigating President Trump because the Democrats have done that for the past six years.


REID: Well, let's be clear and fact check the congressman there. Even a federal judge in Atlanta, a Trump appointed judge, has said this was not a raid. This was a duly-executed search warrant at Mar-a-Lago after federal investigators realized they didn't have everything and believed that it was possible the documents were being moved. So the biggest difference here between these two cases is cooperation. That's why the former president is also under investigation for obstruction.

But, Don, to the average American who right now is worried about what they're going to do with their kids on the holiday, the price of eggs, they may not necessarily be paying attention to these distinctions. It's going to be difficult for the White House to continue to draw these distinctions between these two criminal investigations.

Also very important for our viewers to understand that at this point, from our sources, we know not every location has been searched. It is still possible that additional classified documents could still be found.

BERMAN: And that's a great point. We'll talk much more about that in just a moment.

Paula Reid, terrific reporting. Thank you very much.

This morning, the White House is mulling its response to Republican Oversight Chair Congressman Jim Comer, who you heard a little while ago.

CNN's senior White House correspondent MJ Lee with me this morning.

MJ, what are you hearing from the president's attorneys?

MJ LEE, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, John, we have entered the stage of things where the White House is on full defense trying to explain the seeming lack of transparency and also what seems to be a breakdown in the messaging with so much information over the last week really coming out in piecemeal fashion. For the five page that were discovered last week, Richard Sauber, the special counsel to the president, said that he had gone to the president's Wilmington home on Thursday, along with DOJ officials, to hand over one document that has been found the previous day and is - it is at this moment and during this visit that they discovered that there were five additional pages with classified markings. He said that DOJ officials immediately took possession of those documents.

And then over the weekend we also heard from the president's personal lawyer, Bob Bauer, trying to explain in a really detailed statement the different process that the White House has followed throughout this process and really trying to balance transparency but also not interfering with an ongoing review.


I just want to read a part of that statement because it kind of explains a key part of their thinking and how they have handled these classified documents. He says, because the president's personal lawyers do not have active security clearances, 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, the White House Counsel's Office said over the weekend that because a special counsel has now been appointed to investigate this matter, they are going to refer all incoming questions going forward to that office. So, we fully expect that that is going to be the excuse and the response that we hear from the White House going forward to all questions related to this matter.


BERMAN: MJ Lee at the White House.

MJ, great to see you this morning.

Here now, Susan Page, Washington bureau chief for "USA Today. and Renato Mariotti, former federal prosecutor.

Friends, there's the legal side of this and then there's the political side of this. And I understand there's a lot of crossover between the two. But can I start with the legal, Renato, and first, what would good lawyering be from Joe Biden, the president of the United States, his perspective right now. What would good lawyers do with this case?

RENATO MARIOTTI: Well, a good lawyer, back in November, when this issue first arose, would have immediately searched all the other relevant locations, would have hired individuals with clearance so we didn't have to have that sentence that was just said a moment ago where you have lawyers who are stopping their search and, you know, go -- they don't know what was in the materials. And then there would be statements that were given to the public that were very carefully crafted and were vetted so that there aren't any, you know, disagreements about what they mean, there isn't any ambiguity and we are having debates about whether or not the White House is referring to numbers of pages, numbers of documents.

Ultimately, what you want to do, when there's a DOJ investigation, is outrace the DOJ, get to the bottom of the fact yourself, so that this way you're able to craft your defense around that.

BERMAN: And that's not what happened in this case. You're saying that's what good lawyering would have been, but that isn't what happened.

Now to the politics of this. And it's sort of tied into that, Susan, a little bit because the dribs and drabs we keep hearing, documents here, documents here, what's the political impact of that?

SUSAN PAGE, WASHINGTON BUREAU CHIEF, "USA TODAY": And let's be clear, John, we think the political risks are much higher for President Biden than the legal risk. People at the White House insist that this was a mistake, that it's something that was a surprise to the president, that there was no intent. That it's very different from the case involving former President Trump.

But the political risks are incredibly high in terms of distracting his administration, in raising questions about his own treatment of these sensitive documents. And so they have chosen the worst possible course for a White House that faces a problem and such, as almost every White House has done. Every White House except Barack Obama since Watergate has had a special counsel appointed to investigate something about them. And the first thing you do, get all the information out there. Get it out accurately. Make sure that you look transparent or answering all possible questions. And that was not how the White House got started with this.

BERMAN: And it's interesting because what both of you are saying are the same things. In this case, good lawyering is good politics. Neither seem to have happened exactly in a timely fashion here.

Renato, you point out, for all the people trying to compare this, Joe Biden and Donald Trump here, there really isn't that much of a comparison, you say the better comparison to what's happening with President Biden is actually Hillary Clinton. Why?

MARIOTTI: Well, in the Hillary Clinton case, you had the, you know, it was alleged mishandling of classified material. Ultimately, the statute that James Comey looked at was the statute that he had a standard of gross negligence. And, as he pointed out, it was a statute very rarely prosecuted in United States history. The bar actually was very high. And there there was really not -- even no significant legal culpability there, although it, obviously, had political ramification. You just heard from Susan a moment ago. She thought that the political

- the political danger here outweighed the legal - it's the same thing here for - for President Biden. Ultimately, if the, you know, the statements that have been made are true, ultimately that this is inadvertent mishandling of classified material, that he voluntarily brought to the government's attention, you know, this is something where literally you're going to have the same statutes, the same legal analysis, and I would not expect charges.


But, nonetheless, if - if this is handled with the special counsel here, and handles the matter the way James Comey did, there will be political ramifications, which is why I think he can hopefully learn from the mistakes of James Comey.

BERMAN: You know, Susan Page, we heard a little while ago from Chairman James Comer, the Oversight Committee, basically saying there's a double standard in his mind between the treatment of President Biden and former President Trump.

Look, Jamie Raskin, Congressman from Maryland, a Democrat, says, yes, there's a double standard, but the exact opposite kind.



REP. JAMIE RASKIN (D-MD): It's a bit disturbing to me that people who are saying there was no problem with what Donald Trump did, which was to defiantly reject any cooperation in turning over hundreds of classified documents, are upset about President Biden's voluntary and rapid turnover of a handful of documents that they found.


BERMAN: Does he have a point, Susan, in terms of what Republicans are saying now versus several months ago?

PAGE: Sure. I mean, you need - if you're - you need to be consistent on these things. If - if Republicans didn't think this was a big deal with Trump, how do they argue it's a big deal with Biden?

But, you know, Democrats face the same standards. If they said this is the apocalypse for Trump to have gotten these classified and secret documents and taken them with him when he left the White House, they have to also acknowledge it is a serious matter warranting investigation when it happens with President Biden.

BERMAN: Susan Page, Renato Mariotti, great to see you both this morning. Thanks so much.

MARIOTTI: Thank you.

BERMAN: So, Californians looking forward to dry weather later this week, but this morning they are dealing with a new round of heavy rain and flooding. Over the weekend, President Biden signed a disaster declaration for the state. So far there have been at least 19 storm related deaths, fatalities blamed on rushing water and falling trees.

CNN's Natasha Chen is in Novato this morning for us.

Natasha, what are the concerns where you are?

NATASHA CHEN, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, John, the rain has stopped for the moment. And we know that it will be letting up. The high wind advisories will be letting up later today. But because this has been storm after storm after storm for a couple of weeks now, the ground and rivers are so saturated, there's nowhere for the water to go.

So, what we're seeing behind us right here is an example. Though, this road is -- this ramp is closed. You see all the traffic diverting off of the highway here. Because the next chunk of State Route 37 has been shut down since Saturday afternoon. The water from the Novato Creek has been spilling over on to the highway. And while crews did a good job pumping the water off of the highway yesterday, they're keeping this closed because they knew that the rain overnight what just going to bring the water back up.

This has caused a lot of problems around the area, including landslides, mudslides, where the soil is so wet. In Fairfax, we met a man who had to evacuate his home after part of a hillside came down on to the back of his apartment complex.


MARK FLEISCHER, APARTMENT RESIDENT AFFECTED BY LANDSLIDE: I thought I heard thunder. It was not thunder. It was the hillside giving way behind the two flats behind us. Trees went into their bathrooms. There were little kids there. There were floods. This is nothing. It was coming down this broad about this deep, all mudflow.


CHEN: Some dangerous situations included Orange County. Authorities having to airlift or rather rescue this person who was hanging on to a tree. That was in Laguna Hills. They brought in swift water rescue teams. And you can see them lifting her out and bringing her to safety.

Overnight, the same team posted on social media a photo of them rescuing a man out of the water. So, a lot of really risky situations there. And the high winds as well bringing down trees on top of vehicles in a parking structure also in southern California.

So, throughout the state people have been dealing with this for the last couple of weeks. And people we've talked to said they really welcome the rain to help with the drought, but they really wish this was more spread out, John.

BERMAN: Yes, stunning pictures. Natasha Chen, glad there is some relief in sight. Thank you so much for your reporting. Investigators are searching for answers after a devastating plane

crash in western Nepal killed at least 69 people. What they are hoping to learn from the just recovered black box.

An arrest 30 years in the making. How Italian police tracked down their number one most wanted man, the boss of the notorious Cosa Nostra mafia in Sicily.

And we are live in Athens, Georgia, where the University of Georgia celebration of its college football national championship turned tragic this weekend.


The latest on the car crash that killed a player and team staff member and injured two others. One witness saying it is unbelievable that anyone survived.


BERMAN: This morning, authorities have recovered the flight data recorder from Nepal's worst plane crash in 30 years. At least 69 people died when the Yeti Airlines flight went down Sunday in a gorge in the central part of that nation. At least three people are still listed as missing, but authorities say the chance of finding survivors at this point is extremely low.

CNN's Vedika Sud joins me now.

Vedika, what are investigators learning at this point about the crash?

VEDIKA SUD, CNN REPORTER: Well, I think it's a significant development, like you mentioned, John, that the black box, the flight data recorder, has been retrieved.


This should have the answers to the questions that the investigators, the government, as well as the family members who have lost their near and ones are looking for. But that will take some time.

We do know that the Napal government has constituted a committee of five members to look into what really happened inside the cockpit moments before the plane crashed in Pokhara, in western Nepal. Now the leaders from the search ops, 69 bodies have been recovered. Today there was just one body that was recovered in addition to the 68 that were recovered yesterday. But these bodies were pulled out today using a crane from the gorge. And there will postmortems that will be conducted after which these bodies will be handed over to family members.

As of now, according to officials, 38 bodies have been identified. We know of 15 foreign nationals who were onboard that ill-fated plane from Katmandu to Pokhara. Now, we do know that their bodies will be airlifted to Katmandu. Postmortems will be conducted after which those bodies will also be handed over to family members. According to officials, the weather did hold up yesterday. So that

perhaps could not be one of the reasons they say for this crash. But we, of course, we'll have to wait for the report that should be out in about 45 days from Sunday. That's what the government is expecting. And, like I said, the black box really holds the key.

Meanwhile, there have been families grieving outside the hospitals. This is a huge loss to them and they're hoping they finally get to know what happened on that flight.


BERMAN: Yes, they are looking for answers.

Vedika Sud, thank you so much for your reporting. Please keep us posted.

In Ukraine this morning, crews still searching for survivors after a Russian missile strike destroyed an apartment building in the city of Dnipro. At least 40 people were killed, which makes it one of the deadliest single attacks of the war to date. We know at least threats of the victims were children. Officials says there could be dozens of people still buried in the rubble.

CNN's Frederik Pleitgen is on the scene outside that apartment building in Dnipro.

Fred, give us the latest.


You know, it is indeed a devastating scene here on the ground in Dnipro. I'm just going to get out of your way and show you what's going on here because you're absolutely right, the rescue crews are definitely frantically still searching to see whether or not anybody might be under that rubble.

However, I spoke to the local mayor here a couple of minutes ago and he was telling me that, of course, with every minute that passes, the chance of actually finding anyone becomes slimer and slimmer. And you can already see some of those crews there on that building. They are using some pretty heavy equipment.

As we can slowly see, as this is turning from a rescue operation more and more into a recovery operation. And, of course, with all the devastating things that go with us - with that. You've already mentioned that at least 40 people have now confirmed to have been killed. We were at the memorial procession for one 15-year-old girl a little earlier today, and there were a lot of people who turned up with flowers. A lot of people in absolute despair and agony. That's really something around the scene here that we've been seeing a lot. A lot of people cursing the Russians. A lot of people grieving and a lot of people, obviously, in a lot of anger.

And, you know, John, one of the reasons why this building was destroyed as bad as it was, the Ukrainians say, is because the Russians used a cruise missile, the Ukrainians say, that is normally designed to destroy aircraft carrier strike groups and, obviously, completely annihilated this building when it impacted. The Russians, by the way, we have to mention, they came out earlier today in the form of a spokesman for the Kremlin saying that they were not behind any of this, saying that they do not target civilian areas, as they say, and they believe that this was a stray Ukrainian missile defense rocket that hit this building.

Obviously, the Ukrainians not having any of that. They say they are absolutely sure that it was this Russian cruise missile that hit this building. They also say that they do not, at this point in time, have the means to defend against such cruise missiles. One of the things that they say that could change that is the patriots. The patriot missile defense system that obviously the U.S. is currently conducting training with the Ukrainians on. But needless to say, a devastating scene here. And certainly the authorities fear that more bodies could be found under this rubble.


BERMAN: Just an awful scene, Fred. People killed in their homes.

Our thanks to you for your reporting. Fred, please keep us posted. Stay safe.

This morning, Italy's most wanted man, mafia boss Matteo Messina Denaro captured after 30 years on the run. Police took the 60-year-old into custody during a raid on a private hospital in Palermo.

CNN contributor Barbie Nadeau is in Rome for us.

So, this guy was able to elude authorities for decades, right? So, how were police able to find him and get him now?

BARBIE NADEAU, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Well, that's a big question is why it took so long.


And, you know, this is a man that didn't look much different from the age progression images that the police have been putting out over the years. He was basically kind of hiding in plain sight, it seems. You know, 30 years on the run and during which time he was conducting a business of the Sicilian Cosa Nostra. He has been sentenced to several life sentences for murder, including being involved in the murder of two beloved anti-mafia prosecutors and of an 11-year-old boy who was, you know, dissolved in acid. This is a terrible, terrible history of this man.

But what's interesting is if there's any - going to be any kind of other arrests, if there's some complicity, this was a private clinic, in the center of Palermo, the largest city in Sicily, surely someone saw him go in and out of there. And so we're expecting to have a little bit more information about who was hiding him, how he got away with it and, of course, who's in charge now that he's behind bars. John.

BERMAN: Yes, 30 years in the making. A lot of questions about why now.

Barbie Nadeau, thank you so much for your reporting.

So, from triumph to tragedy. College football national champs, the Georgia Bulldogs, are mourning one of their own, killed in a fatal car accident just hours after their victory parade. A team staff member was also killed. We are live in Athens, Georgia.