Return to Transcripts main page

CNN Newsroom

Chairman of House Oversight Committee Wants More Information on Biden's Classified Documents; Storms Continues to Sweep California; UGA Mourning the Loss of Two Lives After Championship Win; Russia Missile Strike Kills 35 in Dnipro Apartment Block; Data Recorder Recovered From Yeti Airlines Flight; Female Former Member Of Afghan Parliament Killed; Biden Speak On King's Legacy At Ebenezer Baptist Church. 2-2:45a ET

Aired January 16, 2023 - 02:00   ET




ROSEMARY CHURCH, CNN HOST: I'm Rosemary church. Just ahead here on "CNN Newsroom," two presidents, two special counsels, and classified documents that neither should have had. We'll discuss the politics and possible punishment.

Just hours after celebrating back-to-back national championships, tragedy strikes the Georgia Bulldogs football team. What we are learning about a deadly car accident in Athens, Georgia.

Plus, epic flooding in California, deadly winter storms have forced evacuations, shifted landscapes and caused millions of dollars in damages. We're live in Monterey County with the latest.

Good to have you with us. Well, U.S. President Joe Biden is under growing scrutiny over his handling of classified documents. And Republican lawmakers who now control the House of Representatives are now ramping up the pressure. The Republican Chairman of the House Oversight Committee has asked the White House for visitor logs from Joe Biden's Delaware residence where several classified items have been found.

James Comer is also seeking records and communications related to searches of the president's homes and other locations. On Sunday, Comer said he wanted Mr. Biden's case to be treated just like the probe involving Donald Trump and his own handling of classified documents.


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 floor, by going through Melania's closet versus Joe Biden, and they're like, okay, your personal lawyers who don't have security clearance, yep, they can go through, they can just keep looking and keep looking and, you know, determine whatever's there. That's not equal treatment.


CHURCH: Well, let's discuss all of this now with our panel. Caroline Heldman, Democratic strategist and political scientist at Occidental College, and CNN political commentator and former Republican Congressman Charlie Dent. Welcome to you both.


CHURCH: So, we know that about 20 documents with classified markings have been found in President Joe Biden's private office and his Delaware home. Democrats say it's a false equivalent to compare this to Trump's classified documents found at his Mar-a-Lago home. But Republicans say they want to see justice applied equally claiming that Mr. Biden is receiving preferential treatment. And they're calling for more investigations in addition to the special counsel appointed Thursday. So, Charlie, I'll turn to you first. Who is right here? What needs to happen next? And how bad is this?

CHARLIE DENT, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, at a political level this is certainly a very big problem for Joe Biden because he -- you know, he ran for office saying he was capable, stable, competent and knew how to handle classified material. And in fact, you know, he's essentially the waters have been muddied with respect to this issue politically. I get there are nuances, there are differences between Donald Trump's situation and Joe Biden.

Donald Trump has obstructed and has not been -- has not been cooperative and Biden has been. That said, I mean, I just think this is just a horrible situation for the current president because he basically undercut his own narrative about how he was going to be able to handle this material properly. I mean for those of us who had the privilege to handle classified material, I always thought we had to handle them in secure spaces, we could never take them out of those places.

And now we have had a problem with not only former President Trump but now Joe Biden and of course with Hillary Clinton before when she was handling classified material on an unsecured private server. So, this is a problem. So, I mean, it's hard to say who's right or wrong, but Joe Biden I think has a real problem both political and legal. I'm not saying it's a criminal problem, but he's got an issue here and I think this really is going to do some damage to him.

Is it going to be the big issue that voters are concerned about in 2024? No, I don't think so. But it's one hell of a blemish and they really -- and basically, they've given Republicans a gift.


Jim Jordan has got to be salivating over all this. They've got an opportunity to change the subject from that -- from the speaker performance that will harm Republicans. So, bad shape right now for the Democrats.

CHURCH: Yeah. And Caroline, this is a gift, isn't it, that Biden has essentially handed to the Republicans? Particularly, former President Donald Trump. How could he let this happen particularly given he criticized Trump for doing the very same thing. And why wasn't this made public before the election when these sensitive documents were initially found?

HELDMAN: That's right, Rosemary. Why didn't he come forward earlier? Why are we just hearing about this? And it's important to note that they knew this -- these documents existed or some of them on November 2nd. The election would be held five days later. Did that have an effect on the outcome of the election, the fact that there wasn't a big red wave as anticipated? It could have had some effect.

Joe Biden, I mean this is out-and-out hypocrisy. With that said, there are obvious differences between Trump and Biden here, right? So, Biden is a case study in what to do when you find documents that you're not supposed to have. Do you turn them over to the National Archives. Whereas Trump was defying a subpoena and covering up documents and refusing to turn them over, which is why Mar-a-Lago was raided.

So, there are significant differences here I think in terms of the potential charges they're facing. It appears that Donald Trump is being investigated for possible espionage charges and obstruction of justice. These are not things that Biden will likely face although we don't know what's in the documents. He's cooperating.

With that said, I couldn't agree with Charlie Dent more, but this goes to the core of the Biden brand which is his competence, that he's the adult in the room, that he holds himself to a higher standard. So, I think it would damage his brand even though we are not going to be talking about what's essentially a paperwork issue going into the 2024 election. But these are the two likely candidates and Biden has hurt his brand.

CHURCH: Right. And Charlie, what impact will this drama surrounding classified documents for both Biden and Trump likely have on the confidence the American people have in The Justice Department? And what should the punishment be for all this?

DENT: I think when the American people look at this and say, okay, these are the people at the highest levels of government, Trump, Biden, and then former Secretary Clinton, and that they mishandled this classified material. They also read about stories of other people within the federal system, you know, who has inadvertently taken classified material home with them and had their careers destroyed and ruined over such infractions.

And I think that's really the issue. Is there a double standard? Not so much between Donald Trump and Joe Biden but between those top-level government official and more ordinary federal employees or folks in the national security space who may make mistakes as well, but who won't get off with a slap on the wrist.

CHURCH: Right. And Caroline, what does need to happen next to make sure that classified documents like this are tracked and retrieved going forward? Because the current system is clearly flawed. It's not working.

HELDMAN: Absolutely, Rosemary. One of things that immediately came to mind for me is how is it that the National Archives didn't have a good sense of what they were going to find at Mar-a-Lago. And why didn't they know these documents were missing from the Biden dossiers? So, at the end of the day, obviously, NARA, the National Archives, right, they need to have and not to -- shift the blame.

But they need have a better system here and better coordination between the recordkeeping that's happening at the White House and the archiving that happens after a president leaves. It is very clear the current system isn't working. And I'd just like to add, you know, Joe Biden has a Stingray, he has a Corvette, very cool tasting cars, my friend, but don't put classified documents, you know, essentially in your garage.

CHURCH: Yeah, absolutely. And Charlie, another big threat facing the United States right now is a possibility of a national debt default if Congress doesn't raise the debt limit. And Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen is warning Congress it needs to act before Thursday, coming up, January 19th. But we've already seen the chaos of the new House of Representatives, haven't we, now led by Republican Speaker Kevin McCarthy.

What will he even try, or do we think he'll -- or try to avoid a default on this country's loans or do you think he'll take a political stance on this?

DENT: Well, here we go again. We've been here before. What will happen with the debt ceiling, there will be a debt ceiling passed. I mean, it's unthinkable there would be a catastrophic outcome in the event the United States were to crash through the debt ceiling. It would set off a global recession or probably a depression. So, it cannot happen. They are now talking about doing a debt prioritization payment plan.


Again, this has been tried before in 2015. I go against such a scheme back then where they're trying to say, yes, a way to delay voting on the debt ceiling, we'll prioritize debt payments to interest on the debt, defense, maybe social security, Medicare. But at some point, the federal government is not going to be able to pay someone which will in effect create a default.

So, I would hope that Speaker McCarthy -- he knows this. He's dealt with it before. There's0 going to have to be Republican votes to raise the debt ceiling. Whether or not they can negotiate something with the Democrats remains to be seen. But they cannot take the debt ceiling hostage because this is one hostage that cannot be shot.

There's no way they can allow this to occur, that is a crash on the debt ceiling. So, look, I think we're going to see a lot of drama. Janet Yellen, I think through her extraordinary measures that she can implement, this will give us probably closer to June not next week but to June.

So, I think there's a little bit of time here, but I'm hoping we won't have to go through all the drama that we've been through before, because, again, because the outcome would be catastrophic if we were to fail to pass the debt ceiling.

CHURCH: And Caroline, the last word to you. I mean, the big worry here of course is that little band of rogue extreme right Republicans that won't fall into line even for Kevin McCarthy. What do you think will likely happen with the debt limit?

HELDMAN: I agree with Charlie. It would be raised as it has been almost a hundred times and I think that both parties are going to be highly concerned about a government shutdown and he would be blamed for that, and he would be blamed for a global depression. I do think it will pass like Kevin McCarthy is going to have to round up his ropes.

CHURCH: All right. Caroline Heldman, Charlie Dent, many thanks to you both for joining us. Appreciate it.

HELDMAN: Thank you, Rosemary.

DENT: Thank you, Rosemary. Good night.

CHURCH: Well, rain and snow is once again hitting central and northern California after residents got a small break with light rain Sunday morning. Storms have been slamming the state for weeks now, flooding roads, homes, and businesses, causing mud slides, and leaving at least 19 people dead.

Rainfall is continuing to decrease, but about 14 million people remain under wind advisories across the southern part of the state, and more than 8 million are under flood watches until Monday evening including in the bay area. And take a look at this dramatic rescue in San Diego. It took 90 minutes in the rain and wind to remove the driver of an SUV that had plunged over a cliff.

Well, fears have now passed that flooding could cut off the Monterey Peninsula on California's central coast from the central services. Local reports say a majority of evacuation orders have now been done graded to warnings. Officials say they will still keep flood precautions in place for the weekend and they're telling residents to remain vigilant.

So, let's get some more perspective now from Nicholas Pasculli, the communications director of Monterey County. Thank you so much for being with us particularly at this difficult time for your county and of course your state. So, there was concern that the Monterey Peninsula could be cut off by flooding, but many of the evacuation orders have now been downgraded to warnings at this point.

Still, this is as close as you've all come, isn't it, since the big floods in 1995, and there's still significant flooding and extensive damage. What is the situation right now? Can you tell us? NICHOLAS PASCULLI, COMMUNICATIONS DIRECTOR, MONTGOMERY COUNTY,

CALIFORNIA: Yes, thank you very much for your interest in our area. So, the significant damages to our area are to public infrastructure to the tune of about $30 million which are very initial estimates. These are very initial preliminary estimates. And about $40 million to $50 million in agriculture losses, again preliminary estimates.

Right now, the Salinas River has gone down quite a bit, although it is still being watched very, very closely because of the watershed runoff that goes into the Salinas River.

CHURCH: And what is your advice to most residents in the area given the peninsula has avoided that worst-case scenario of being cut off?

OASCULLI: At this point, it's just to be vigilant. The river system is stretched -- stressed, for sure, and of course, it continues to rain. It's very -- we have high wind advisories right now. We continue to get rain through the night. The river levels will go up which will cause probably localized flooding to secondary and tertiary streets, agricultural land and the encroaching, not necessarily in neighborhoods but coming close to some neighborhoods along the river.

So, it's remain vigilant and to heed the warnings of the officials. That's the primary message because human lives come first and we really are concerned about the safety of our people.


CHURCH: Yeah. And of course, those warnings change, so, it's so important that people stay tuned and find out what is the latest information on that. And so far, you did touch on this. Estimates put the Monterey County storm damage as high as $80 million after a series of winter storms, and that cost will surely rise, of course. How much concern is there about the cost to rebuild and the losses to agriculture in the area after this bad weather?

PASCULLI: You know, our agriculture industry is very innovative and very resilient for sure, but those losses are real, and the agriculture industry is critical to not only Monterey County but to California in general and the nation. We are the salad bowl of the world. We also have a close eye on the Pajaro River, which is the river that divides Monterey County and Santa Cruz County.

That is under -- being monitored tonight with boots on the ground as well as electronically because we are expecting that river to rise as well. So, we are -- we're looking at two rivers at this particular point in time and keeping a close eye on those people who live around those areas.

CHURCH: All right, Nicholas Pasculli, thank you so much for talking with us and we do wish you the very best for your area and of course your state. Thanks for joining us.

PASCULLI: Thank you so much. Have a good night.

CHURCH: You, too. Well, the University of Georgia is mourning the loss of a football player and a staff member. Offensive Lineman Devin Willock and Chandler LeCroy died in a car crash on Sunday near the university's campus. CNN's Isabel Rosales has details.

ISABEL ROSALES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: This loss has been a gut punch. Students and fans coming out here outside of the stadium leaving flowers, some writing 77 on the sign. That was Devin Willock's number. And take a look at this. The grandfather of 7-year-old Bulldog's fan, Camden Gonzalez (ph), sharing pictures on Twitter. They show Willock fist bumping the young boy and letting him wear his massive 2021 national championship ring. The grandfather says the child was star struck and the interaction made his day.

So, here's what we know happened. According to a statement from the Athens-Clarke County police department at around 2:45 Sunday morning, in the morning, their car left the road striking power poles and several trees. The car then striking and coming to rest at this apartment building.

Willock and LeCroy died from their injuries. Two others connected with the football program were hurt. According to the football roster, Willock was from New Jersey, an offensive lineman. He was a redshirt sophomore and played every game this year.

Willock's head coach speaking out saying, quote, "We're all heartbroken and devastated with the loss of Devin Willock and Chandler LeCroy. Devin was an outstanding young man in every way and was always smiling. He was a great teammate and a joy to coach. Chandler was a valuable member of our football staff and brought an incredible attitude and energy every single day."

And take a look at this video showing the team celebrating their national championship victory just hours before on Saturday. So many fans coming to this victory parade right here in Athens. I spoke with a Bulldogs fan who was at that parade route and says he saw Willock in person plus a witness who saw the aftermath of the crash.


DANIEL DEWITT, GEORGIA FAN PAYING RESPECTS: It's just heartbreaking coming off of a celebratory week and the parade yesterday, getting to see this player, and then come to find out, you know, he lost his life early this morning. The entire Bulldog nation is at a loss and I can't imagine what his family's going through.


ROSALES: And that closeness that he's talking about is the immediate UGA fan base, but clearly that expands far beyond to the larger college football community. And you can see from these tweets' players, other teams, the SEC commissioner speaking out sending condolences, prayers and encouragement on this difficult day. Isabel Rosales, CNN, in Athens, Georgia.

CHURCH: And coming up next, clinging to hope in Ukraine where rescue workers are sifting through rubble in search of survivors after a missile strike. The latest in a live report still to come. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)


CHURCH: A desperate search for survivors is ongoing in Dnipro, Ukraine, two days after a Russian missile slammed into an apartment building killing at least 35 people. At this hour, dozens of others are still missing. CNN's Fred Pleitgen traveled to the scene and reports now on the devastation he witnessed.

FREDERK PLEITGEN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The scene apocalyptic as rescuers frantically sift through the debris searching for survivors, the hope of finding any fading by the second as the cold night progresses. For some, the grief is too much to handle.

(Inaudible) says she passed by this building only about half an hour before it was hit. There are many friends and people close to me here, many, many she says. Elena (inaudible) stunned by the scale of the destruction curses the Russians. I simply hate them. Children, people died here, and then she can't speak anymore.

On top of the many killed, Ukrainian authorities say dozens were injured and many more remain missing in (inaudible) in Dnipro after Russia hit sites across Ukraine with barrages of missiles this weekend.

(On camera): The Ukrainians say they are absolutely certain that the missile that hit this building was a so-called KH22. That's a cruise missile normally designed to destroy aircraft carriers with a warhead of more than 2,000 pounds. And as you can see, it absolutely annihilated the building burying dozens of people underneath.

Russia has not directly commented on the deadly strike in Dnipro but in the past, Moscow has denied its forces target residential areas.


The Ukrainians call the attack state terrorism and the president says rescuers will continue to try and save anyone trapped here.

Let's fight for every person, President Zelenskyy says. The rescue operation will last as long as there's even the slightest chance to save a life.

But even the slightest hope is fading fast, and this could soon turn from a rescue into a recovery operation, the crews searching for bodies where so many lives were violently ended in an instant. Fred Pleitgen, CNN, Dnipro, Ukraine.

CHURCH: And CNN's Clare Sebastian is following developments for us. She jones us now live from London. Good morning to you, Clare. So, the city of Dnipro is already reeling from this deadly Russian missile strike. What can you tell us about new rounds of shelling overnight in Ukraine? CLARE SEBASTIAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yeah, Rosemary, underscoring the

constant threat that Ukrainian civilians are living under, we're hearing from Ukrainian officials of more shelling down on the southern front, the city of Nikopol, which is just across the river it should be noted, from the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant. That was hit by shelling, over a dozen private houses according to Ukrainian officials A gas main has been damaged.

Also, in the city of Zaporizhzhia not very far from there, we're hearing private homes being damaged, a 9 and 15-year-old among those injured taken to hospital. Now, Russian backed official in the city of Donetsk (inaudible) the eastern front also reporting shelling saying that Ukrainians have hit -- rockets have hit the city of Donetsk, a shopping complex and a residential building among the targets hit there. No reports of casualties yet. So, the violence continues over night and into the new week.

And meanwhile, we're hearing of an increased death toll in that deadly attack on that apartment block in the city of Dnipro. Up to 35 people according to Ukrainian officials there, and among them two children, 35 more still unaccounted for. President Zelenskyy saying, they continue to fight to save every life possible. And he had this message to the Russian people.


VOLODYMYR ZELENSKYY, PRESIDENT OF UKRAINE (through translation): I want to say to all those in Russia and from Russia who even now could not utter a few words of condemnation of this terror although they see and comprehend everything perfectly. Your cowardly silence, your attempt to wait out what is happening will only end with the fact that one day these same terrorists will come for you.


SEBASTIAN: So, the problem with that, Rosemary, is that the Russian people may well not see President Zelenskyy's address. They are being fed a constant diet either no mention at all on the attack on Dnipro or discussions like on one Sunday talk show about how this is something that happens in wars, civilian casualties are inevitable, and it is the fault according to one commentator, of Ukraine who provoked this conflict to start with.

Of course, we must remind everyone that it was Russia that invaded Ukraine. Putin, meanwhile, in an interview with a Russian journalist calling the situation in Ukraine a positive dynamic for Russia.

CHURCH: All right, many thanks to our Clare Sebastian joining is live from London.

The search for possible survivors has resumed in Nepal after a deadly plane crash on Sunday. But officials are warning they're not optimistic. We will have the latest in a live report.



ROSEMARY CHURCH, CNN INTERNATIONAL ANCHOR: Authorities in Nepal say they have recovered the flight data recorder, one of these so-called black boxes from the deadly Yeti Airlines crash on Sunday. The box will be handed over to civil aviation authorities. Social media video showed the moments just before the plane crashed that approached the city of Pokhara of the 72 people onboard. 68 are confirmed dead including six children and 15 foreign nationals.

Search and rescue operations resumed early Monday for the four people still missing. But one police official warns the chances of finding them alive are extremely low. So, let's turn to CNN's Paula Hancock. She joins us live from Seoul with the latest on this. And Paula, what more are you learning about this deadly plane crash?

PAULA HANCOCKS, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Rosemary, as you say the black box has now been found so that will be handed over to civil authorities to help with the investigation into finding out exactly why this happened. What we've heard from the police chief in the district is that they have managed to retrieve 68 of the passengers at this point. The bodies being lifted from the gorge where the plane crashed by crane.

They say they have then transported them to a local hospital. And loved ones and relatives have been invited to come to the hospital to identify those that were killed. Now at this point, there is still a search ongoing. There are four that has yet been unaccounted for, though we have heard from the same official that the chance of finding anybody alive is extremely low. So, that is the priority on the ground at this point.

But when it comes to the actual investigation itself, we know that there is a five-person group that has been created alongside French authorities with their help that will try and find out exactly what did happen. Now we heard from the Civil Aviation Authority that the weather at the time of the crash was clear. This is often something that that can jeopardize and make flying extremely challenging in this particular region.

The weather, a lot of incremental weather but that didn't appear to be the issue. We have also seen a social media video which shows the plane in what appears to be the last moments of the flight. Flying very low over a heavily populated area and then tilting and rolling to one side before it disappears from view. Just a moment later you hear a loud explosion. That is clearly going to be something that investigators will look at very closely to find out if that is going to give them any clues as to what happened.

But the fact that they do have the black box now as well is going to help in that investigation as well. Now today, Monday is a day of national mourning in the pool or so Yeti Airlines, the airline which crashed has granted all of its flights for today out of respect for the victims and message of condolences coming in from the prime minister of Nepal, of India, also of Russia. There were many other nationalities that were involved in this disaster, 15 foreign nationals as well as 53 Nepali nationals have been recovered as of this moment. Rosemary?


CHURCH: All right. Paula Hancocks joining us live from Seoul. Many things.

A female former member of the Afghan parliament who refuse to leave Kabul when it failed with the Taliban has been shot dead at her home. Mursal Nabizada and her body guard were killed during the attack on Sunday. She represented the city of Kabul when the Taliban took over in 2021 and banned women from most jobs. Mursal Nabizada was only 32 years old.

And we'll be back after a quick break. You're watching CNN.


CHURCH: It's Martin Luther King Jr. Day in the United States. A celebration of the civil rights leader known for his nonviolent protests in the 1950s and 60s. U.S. President Joe Biden is said to speak at a civil rights breakfast in Washington in the coming hours. But on Sunday, he was here in Atlanta speaking at the church were King served as co-pastor until his assassination.


JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I stand here humble, be the first sitting president of the United States to have an opportunity to speak at Ebenezer Sunday service. You've been around for 136 years. I know I look like it but I haven't.


CHURCH: Mr. Biden was invited to speak at the Ebenezer Baptist Church by current senior pastor and Senate Democrat Raphael Warnock. The President honored King's work and legacy fighting segregation and choosing love over hate. He also drew parallels to current struggles across the country, including racism and Voting Rights. He called today's issues a constant struggle.


BIDEN: The battle for the soul of this nation is perennial. It's a constant struggle. It's a constant struggle between hope and fear, kindness and cruelty, justice and injustice. Against those who traffic and racism, extremism and insurrection. A battle fought on battlefields and bridges from courthouses and ballot boxes to puppets and protest.


CHURCH: President Biden's remarks come amid an effort to push his own voting rights agenda through Congress. Sunday marked what would have been Martin Luther King Jr.'s 94th birthday.

Well, the latest SpaceX mission is off and running. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Two, one. Engine both power and lift off.

CHURCH: The Falcon Heavy rocket took off from Florida's Kennedy Space Center on Sunday. It is carrying a national security payload into orbit for the U.S. military. The Falcon Heavy is the most powerful rocket SpaceX has known for its booster's ability to make synchronized landings. Now the company is aiming to test its new starship spacecraft and super heavy rocket.

If successful, that ship would dethrone NASA's new moon rocket as the most powerful craft flying today.

And for our international viewers World Sport is coming up next. Everyone else, do stay with us. I'll be back with more news after the break.