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WH: 5 More Pages Of Classified Docs Found At Biden's Delaware Home; Republicans Shy Away From Calling On Santos To Resign; Relentless Wave Of Storms Leaves At Least 19 Dead In California. Aired 3-3:30p ET

Aired January 16, 2023 - 15:00   ET




VICTOR BLACKWELL, CNN HOST: Top of the hour on CNN NEWSROOM. It is always good to be with you. I'm Victor Blackwell.

Today the country honors the civil rights champion, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., at an event honoring Dr. King in the nation's Capitol. President Biden highlighted what his administration has done to try to bring Americans together and ensure racial equality. But his call for unity comes as he faces growing questions about the classified documents that were found that his home and his Washington office.

This weekend, the White House announced five additional pages of classified material that were found at President Biden's house in Delaware. That brings the number of classified documents in total found at his home and private office to about 20.

Let's bring in CNN Legal Affairs Correspondent, Paula Reid.

So talk more about these five pages, what the President's attorneys are saying.

PAULA REID, CNN SENIOR LEGAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Well, Victor, these five pages were among previously disclosed material located at the President's Wilmington residence. Initially, his attorneys said that this was just one single page and it was found in what was described as an adjacent room. Well, now they're saying that this was actually six pages and it comprises multiple documents.

So as you just said, we're now at a total of approximately 20 documents with classified markings and these include top secret documents. Ten of these, we know, were found at the president's former office here in D.C., the rest at his Wilmington home.

And Victor the question many people have right now is: Well, is this it? And I can definitively say, we don't know, because multiple sources have told CNN that there are other locations that they still could potentially search. After that initial discovery at his office, the President's lawyers decided to look specifically at locations where the new documents were shipped during the 2017 transition. Now there are other locations that could potentially be searched. The U.S. attorney in Chicago, he didn't want for - don't' want to wait for an exhaustive search of every possible location before recommending this to a special counsel. But another question now that there is a special counsel, Robert Hur, overseeing this, is who would do any other searches.

Would it continue to be the Biden attorneys who are moving at what appears to be a pretty slow pace? Would this potentially be federal investigators? Would they hire outside investigators? These are all big questions now, Victor that are being mold as we speak.

BLACKWELL: Paula Reid, thank you.

Congressional Republicans, they want the visitor logs from Biden's home in Wilmington, Delaware. CNN's White House Correspondent, Arlette Saenz is with us now. There is a problem, though, Arlette with responding to that request. Explain.

ARLETTE SAENZ, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Victor, House Republicans are eager to launch investigations into President Biden's handling of classified documents. And one thing that House Oversight Chairman James Comer has been asking for is he wants more information including logs of who exactly came and went from that home in Wilmington, Delaware.

But the White House and Secret Service also says that those logs simply don't exist. The White House Counsel saying in a statement: "Like every president across decades of modern history, his personal residence is personal." The Counsel added, "But upon taking office, President Biden restored the normal tradition of keeping White House visitor logs, including publishing them regularly, after the previous administration ended them."

The Secret Service also noted that while they clear people to go into the home, they're not keeping a long-term record of who exactly went into that Wilmington residence. But this all comes as the administration has been facing mounting questions over their handling of the situation involving classified documents and more questions about their eagerness or uneagerness to share some this information publicly.


Of course, Bob Bauer, the White House - the President's personal attorney has said that they are limited in what they can share because they don't want to compromise the integrity of the investigation, because these are all questions that the Special Counsel will be pursuing as this investigation gets underway.

But for President Biden's part, even as these questions about the classified documents swirl, he is trying to keep business as usual moving forward with their messaging. Yesterday, spending the day down in Atlanta, speaking at Ebenezer Baptist Church and today attending an event honoring Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

And the President talked about Dr. King's legacy as well as the vision of unity that he's hoping to project to the country.


JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We face another inflection point in our nation's history. One that's going to determine what this country looks like several decades from now. This is a time for choosing, will we choose democracy over autocracy, or community over chaos, love or hate. These are the questions of our time that I ran for President tried to help answering, that Dr. King's life and legacy, in my view, show us the way forward.


SAENZ: Challenges going forward for the White House in the coming months is trying to get these types of messages across, especially as the President could potentially launch a reelection bid in the coming months. But certainly this conversation about the classified documents is really what has dominated so much of the news over the past few days. The White House is hoping at some point they will be able to turn the page on that.

BLACKWELL: Arlette Saenz for us at the White House. Arlette, thank you.

House Republicans are stopping just short of calling for New York Congressman George Santos to resign. You know him. He's the one who lied about his education, and his work history and his family history so much. Over the weekend in an interview, House Oversight Committee Chairman, Republican James Comer called Santos a bad guy.

CNN National Politics Reporter Eva McKend is with us now.

So Republicans now, I guess, bad mouthing him, but they're not actually doing anything more than that, at least not yet. What can you tell us?

EVA MCKEND, CNN NATIONAL POLITICS REPORTER: They aren't, Victor. What I can tell you is the Democrats they're taking this fight right to his district. New York Congressman Ritchie Torres is going to be in Great Neck tomorrow meeting with concerned residents.

Torres and another New York Democrat, Dan Goldman, they've really been leading the charge here. They sent a letter to top Republicans basically asking who knew what and when. This comes after CNN reported the president of a Republican Super PAC expressed concerns about Santos' background prior to the election, and contacted lawmakers and donors with those concerns.

Now, as for House Republicans, they are clearly trying to keep their distance. Take a listen to Congressman Comer.


REP. JAMES COMER (R-KY): Look, he's a bad guy. This is something that - it's really bad. He's not the first politician, unfortunately, to make it to Congress to lie. It's pretty despicable the lies that he told. But at the end of the day, it's not up to me or any other member of Congress to determine whether he can be kicked out for lying.

Now, if he broke campaign finance laws, then he will be removed from Congress.


MCKEND: So you heard there from a powerful member of the conference. He, of course, chairs the House Oversight Committee. And he said, he hasn't even introduced himself to Santos.

So even those lawmakers like Comer, who aren't explicitly calling for Santos to resign suggests they have very little appetite to work with him, which of course, Victor, can make things difficult on Capitol Hill. But I would say a space to watch is the organizing strength of residence in the district. They continue to be really fired up about this.

BLACKWELL: We will certainly watch it. I know you will too. Eva McKend for us there from Washington, thank you.

A.B. Stoddard is the Associate Editor for RealClearPolitics, Scott Jennings is a CNN Senior Political Commentator and former Special Assistant to President George W. Bush, and Harry Litman is a former federal prosecutor. Welcome to you all.

Scott, let me start with you. Short of evidence, of violation of campaign, finance laws, is the Republican response to George Santos is going to be boo, hiss for the rest of this Congress?

SCOTT JENNINGS, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, the Democrats, at least two Democrats, I think have already filed an ethics complaint with the Ethics Committee. And it would be my hope that the Ethics Committee would take that up and the Republicans would support that and say, we fully want the Ethics Committee to look into this.

I think what the Republicans want is some kind of official proceeding here that lays out chapter and verse what he did. We know he lied. We know he's a pretty despicable person. We know he's kind of a charlatan. But as Congressman Comer said on CNN on Sunday, I think what a lot of people are looking for is to this guy break actual laws and so if he did, and it's proven that he did or the Ethics Committee finds that he probably did, then all of a sudden you can make the case for taking the next steps.

Short of that, I think the people who will deal with it next at a minimum are the voters of that district who now, of course, know everything they need to know about this person to turn them out of Congress.


So that happens at a minimum.

But it strikes me, Victor, that given you have state and federal investigations going, probably an Ethics Committee investigation going, we're going to find out exactly what George Santos did and then Congress will have all it needs to get rid of him.

BLACKWELL: A.B., there about a half dozen or so New York Republican congressmen who are saying that we don't need to wait for the ethics investigation, knowing that he's lied so much about his presentation to the voters of New York's third that he cannot serve them effectively, that they are calling for him to resign. What is the political cost, for Kevin McCarthy, for House Republican leadership as he stays on Capitol Hill?

A.B. STODDARD, ASSOCIATE EDITOR, REALCLEARPOLITICS: Well, it's interesting they've definitely changed their message, Victor, in the last few days. First, they sort of wanted to avoid the question. McCarthy said George Santos has a long way to go to earn trust and he's before the Ethics Committee. And you can tell that their language is getting more - a little more desperate, because revelations continued to come in every 36 hours, the Washington Post is now reporting that he has business ties to a Russian oligarch, there are so many questions about where he has gotten his money and how he funded his campaign.

So these revelations seem like they're going to continue and this will be untenable for Republicans. That's why you're hearing them basically reject him now, rhetorically. Those investigations in the Ethics Committee, state and federal, they take a long time.

So the interesting thing about calling for his resignation is that George Santos is defiant. He has no interest in - I don't know what it would take for them to convince him to step down. So for now, he remains in enormous distraction unless Speaker McCarthy can find a way to get the ethics panel to accelerate their probe and make revelations sooner rather than later so they can try to push him out.

BLACKWELL: More than losing his seat if he's found having violated these campaign finance laws, Harry. What else does he potentially lose here?

HARRY LITMAN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: His liberty, so jail for fraud.

I agree with everything that Scott and A.B. have said, but I think the drumbeat will get very, very strong if they have something concrete. It's unlikely to come from the Ethics Committee, unfortunately, because one of the things that Republicans did was really weaken it, take a couple people out, they seem in no hurry to put it up to full staffing.

So that's not really an effective mechanism, but he certainly seems likely to violate a campaign finance laws. That's not again, a crime, but it could result in federal election commission proceedings and a finding against him. They'd go pretty slow. But as A.B. said, we have both state and federal authorities looking at him, you can lie a lot, it turns out to the public, but you - but once forms come into play, you're in trouble.

And the $700,000 that he - went to his campaign when we know he didn't have a dime, he's made up everything about how he made his money, that seems likely ripe area for fraud, including this Russian oligarch angle that the Post has reported this morning.

And when that happens, it's not automatic expulsion, even if he's convicted.


LITMAN: However, I think the drumbeat will get so strong that he'll have no - they'll pull the rug out completely. It could take a few months.

BLACKWELL: Yes, that Washington Post reporting, CNN has not confirmed that connection to the Russian oligarch. I just want to make that clear.

Let's turn to the Biden documents drip, drip, drip here. And the investigation now from House Republicans, the request for visitor logs at the Wilmington home that the White House Counsel, the Secret Service they say they don't exist.

Scott, is there an explanation beyond just partisan politics why Chairman comer is so interested in these visitor logs from the Wilmington home, but didn't ask, isn't interested in any visitor logs from Mar-A-Lago?

JENNINGS: Well, his explanation was is that Donald Trump's being looked at seven ways from Sunday on his documents and Joe Biden really hasn't been looked at - at his at all, so that was the explanation.

BLACKWELL: There's a special counsel investigation now.

JENNINGS: I'm sorry?

BLACKWELL: There's a special counsel investigation now, so the explanation for not asking for him in the Trump document cases the same explanation that one would expect for not asking for them in the Biden case, but there is a request outstanding.

JENNINGS: Look, here's the reality. What they ought to do is request everything from both people at both sites. Why did these documents leave either White House, who had access to them, how secured were they are unsecured as it seems that they were in perhaps both cases and play it right down the middle.

There's nothing wrong with that because ultimately, remember, the Oversight Committee doesn't exist or at least it shouldn't exist. It's just a punishment tool for the other party. It should exist for legislative purposes.


And I think what I've heard Chairman Comer say and this is correct is at the end of this, we have to do something legislatively and it strikes me that one of the things they're going to have to do is clamp down in the law on how these documents are getting out of the White House when someone leaves the White House and then if they do get out, what happens. I mean, there's clearly some cleanup so they ought to play it right down the middle, Victor, and request everything from both. Although now as you pointed out, with special counsel investigations going on, I don't know how those two things are going to play off of each other. But at the end of this, Congress ought to act because obviously there's information out in the open that ought not be.

BLACKWELL: A.B., we've heard from Sen. Stabenow of Michigan. She says this is embarrassing. We've heard from Congressman Clyburn that says that the White House should cooperate with the House investigation and so far that Republicans investigate Trump. How aggressively do you expect or are we seeing Republican - Democrats rather will defend this President?

STODDARD: Well, the problem for Democrats, as you can hear in language, like embarrassing is that Joe Biden has served in public office for most of his entire life longer than most people we have in public service, he should have known better. He ran on his competency and the competency of his team. And the idea that a former vice president would have classified documents surfacing at multiple locations is a huge political embarrassment for the White House.

And that's why it's very hard for Democrats to do anything but say they support the Special Counsel investigation, because there's really no excuse for someone like Joe Biden to have turned up documents on the loose at different locations, including his home.

So while the Department of Justice has not found any evidence that the President knew that these things ended up in his possession, and that obviously - intent is directly tied to whether or not this is a crime, it is still easy for Republicans to what about this and say these things are the same thing and everyone in the Department of Justice came down too hard on President Trump.

This is a really bad problem for the White House, not so much legally but in terms of the political objects and their shifting responses make it just more difficult for that.

BLACKWELL: So let's turn to the legal question, of course, we just had Paul Reed on talking about this now headline question of who should conduct searches moving forward (inaudible) went to - the Special Counsel there at the White House went to the Wilmington home to try to facilitate handing over the document that was found, five additional pages were found and now he's a witness, potentially.

So Harry, to your - to that question, who should lead the search? Should it be the FBI? Should it be the President's attorneys there at his home?

LITMAN: At this point, it should be the Special Counsel, but two really important points here, first, to Scott's notion of playing it down the middle. People need to understand I've been there in these situations, you tend to think there's the White House or the executive branch, there are three different entities when something like this happens, and they retreat to their corners and they are at arm's length. The DOJ is one, the White House is one and Biden's personal lawyers are another.

This has the unfortunate slow drip of a scandal, but that's because there often are no right answers. You think if we give this right now to the DOJ, do we have to keep it quiet? If we don't, well, the DOJ will be mad at us. It's very complicated, that's one.

And then second, to A.B.'s point, look, it's true that it started out - mistakes were made, that happens, and it did start out with this feel of, is it a possible scandal. And as these revelations come down and people begin to talk as if, maybe he's 5 percent or 10 percent as guilty as Trump.

It's so important to remember not a scintilla of evidence of anything criminal against Biden and copious evidence with Trump. The solution does need to be as both Scott and A.B. say, policy but it's really important to resist this notion of some false equality or comparison between the two.

BLACKWELL: Context is important. What about-ism is not helpful in this case. Harry Litman, Scott Jennings, A.B. Stoddard, thank you.

The sun is finally out in California. That's good news after days of heavy rain, flooding, mudslides - look at this - road falling apart here. But there are people, especially the officials who are still worried about extreme weather. We'll talk about that next.

And way too close for comfort at JFK Airport, a delta pilot slams on the brakes during takeoff to avoid crashing into an American Airlines flight. What went wrong? We'll get into it next.




BLACKWELL: The latest storm to pummel California is slowly tapering off, but around 8 million people are still under flood watches. The threat of flooding and mudslides is much higher now because the ground is so saturated from the waves of storms. The severe weather has killed at least 19 people over the past few weeks and massive flooding has left several communities underwater. Officials say heavy rain triggered at least 400 landslides.

CNN's Natasha Chen is in Novato, California. Natasha, a bit of relief in sight, so that's some good news. But some areas, as we see, are still feeling that impact.

NATASHA CHEN, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Victor. The rain has stopped right now but there's still some strong winds in various places and we are standing near State Route 37 here that had been closed for quite some time, just reopened all lanes but one and Caltrans tells me that's because that one lane is still flooded. Not only did they get more rain overnight, he said it was also high tide.

[15:25:03] So just one example of the many issues emergency crews are dealing with throughout the state.


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


GOV. GAVIN NEWSOM (D) CALIFORNIA: By some estimates 20 trillion to 25 trillion gallons of water have fallen over the course last 16 to 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 to 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 okay, the other two we got to help them out but no injuries.


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


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We live in the woods, you just kind of got to be repaired. (END VIDEO CLIP)

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 a hillside giving away behind the 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 highways treacherous.


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



CHEN (on camera): And that feeling of being tired of it is certainly what we've been hearing from residents we've talked to all weekend, including one woman who lives here in Novato and she said she wakes up every morning just crossing her fingers that a tree didn't just come down in her neighborhood and that her house hasn't flooded. And so it's this constant worry because of the storm after storm that they've gotten over the last two to three weeks and they are very much looking forward to drier weather at the end of this week, Victor.

BLACKWELL: All right. Let's see when it's coming. Natasha Chen for us there in Novato. Thank you.

Now, you heard the man there say that he just wishes it would quit for a while. Well, it will. CNN Meteorologist Tom Sater joins us now, so when is this break coming?

TOM SATER, CNN METEOROLOGIST AND WEATHER ANCHOR: Okay, Victor. Well, we have rain today. It is lightening up, but there was a terrible landslide in the Berkeley area. There was flooding in the San Diego area.

So once the system today moves out into the Four Corners region, we'll get a break until maybe Wednesday night Thursday, but that's mainly for the Pacific Northwest. After that, we're high and dry, finally. Our watches are slowly whittling away. Now, there will be some river flooding but I really think that maybe by tonight or early tomorrow morning, we will not have to see these flash flood watches anymore. They're going to be lifted. But since Friday, we've had eight and a half, to 15 and a half inches. Many portions of California have picked up over a foot and a half of rainfall. In the Sierra Nevada over 200 inches of snow, that's 250 percent above their average. This system today kicks into the Four Corners.

It's good to have some snowfall, I mean they've had in the central Rockies, but let's get a little bit down here in the desert southwest, that's good for the Colorado River as well. But however, it's now going to blow up into a snowstorm for the Midwest and I should mention there is severe weather right now in Cedar Rapids, we got a tornado warning in Iowa.

We could see another round of severe weather as we get into Wednesday, so the snow map up into the Northern Plains into the Rockies. But here's the atmospheric river and again Wednesday night into Thursday, it's not going to be nearly as powerful as the last ones.

So after that, Mother Nature's finally shutting this off. Since the day after Christmas, we knew for three weeks we were going to have a problem. And look from the 21st through the 25th, below average West Coast, rain in the central part of the U.S.

But really what's been staggering, Victor, is the number of tornadoes. Since Christmas, we've had over 100 Tornado reports that's like half the days of this year already we've had a tornado, 11 states from California to Illinois. It's just been tremendous this kind of activity from the surge of energy and moisture with us atmospheric river. Hopefully we'll not see another one this year.

BLACKWELL: Well, we've got that a warning right now in Cedar Rapids. I know you'll be watching that and the break out west. Tom Sater, thank you.


An American wrongfully detained in Iran is on a hunger strike now and he's written a letter to President Biden pleading for help. We've got that story for you.