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Now: White House Briefing As More Classified Records Found; Sources: More Docs Research Possible At Locations Tied To Biden; Ex- GOP Candidate In NM Arrested For Shootings At Dem Lawmakers Homes. Aired 2-2:30p ET
Aired January 17, 2023 - 14:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN HOST: Hello everyone. I'm Alisyn Camerota. Welcome to CNN NEWSROOM.
VICTOR BLACKWELL, CNN HOST: I'm Victor Blackwell. Good to be with you.
CAMEROTA: The White House press secretary is holding a briefing right now. This is the first one since the announcement that five more classified documents were found at President Biden's home in Wilmington last week. According to a CNN tally, roughly 20 classified documents have been discovered at the president's Delaware house or in the private DC office he used after his time as vice president.
BLACKWELL: The sources tell CNN that it is possible that more searches elsewhere may happen, also that the White House is shifting into damage control. Sources say President Biden is growing frustrated by how the saga has played out. He cannot escape the questions about the timing of publicly disclosing the classified documents when some of the first pages were initially discovered in November. Once again, today, the president chose not to take reporters' questions.
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BLACKWELL: CNN's M.J. Lee is at the White House. A spokesman for the White House Counsel is defending the communications and the strategy so far. Tell us about that.
M.J. LEE, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Yes. Victor and Alisyn, we just wrapped up a lengthy phone call, a press call with reporters that the White House Counsel's office spokesperson held, trying to offer a robust defense of how the White House has handled all of this so far, including sort of the timing of the disclosure of information, and sort of the decision to wait to disclose certain information and the fact that some of this information has really come out in piecemeal fashion over the last week or so.
But the spokesperson, Ian Sams, really started off the call by saying how -- again, that he was limited in what he could say, given that there is now an ongoing investigation by the special counsel. Though he did emphasize again, that the president takes classified information matters very seriously and that the White House and the president's lawyers have cooperated and will continue to cooperate with this ongoing investigation.
One thing that he said in defense of how the White House has consulted all of this was -- he said, as searches were underway looking for additional documents to be properly handed back to the government, we want it to be respectful to try to provide as complete information as we could, trying to balance with the need to provide that information to you all consistent with the investigation.
I have to tell you. This was a press call that lasted well over half an hour. And, unfortunately, we don't have a better picture right now compared to before that press call as to some of the details that have really been plaguing the White House about how all of this has been handled. Just to name a few of the questions that came up on this call that we didn't get an answer to, why the White House waited months to disclose the discovery of the classified documents in the first place.
No answer to that question. Will there be or are there additional searches that are going on right now? That's not something that the White House Council spokesperson would engage on. Why were Biden lawyers who do not have security clearances, why were they involved in the subsequent searches after those classified documents were discovered?
So, guys, I think, again, we are seeing the White House sort of struggle with the tension of dealing with an ongoing investigation and basically, feeling like they're very limited, but also dealing with the criticism about the lack of transparency as well.
BLACKWELL: M.J. Lee for us at the White House. Thank you, M.J..
CAMEROTA: Joining us now is Republican Congressman Mike Waltz from Florida. He's a member of the House Armed Services and Foreign Affairs Committee, and he tweeted about the classified documents at Biden's office last week wondering why there has not been an FBI raid. Congressman, thanks so much for being here.
An FBI raid, isn't that a little premature? I mean, the FBI didn't go into executing that search warrant with President Trump until 16 months, they've been waiting for him to turn over the documents. It's only been two months for Biden so far, so why would you want the FBI to go in?
REP. MIKE WALTZ, (R-FL): Well, I -- that's -- your math is interesting there, Alisyn because, by my math, it's been five years that these documents have been sitting there. And so, if you know, the White House's rendition of kind of events here is correct that we've done the right thing, we've told the National Archives, we've told the Department of Justice, why didn't they tell and do the right thing five years ago, four years ago, three years ago? And then once were --
CAMEROTA: And they say they just --
WALTZ: And once they were found --
CAMEROTA: I hear you. But they say they just discovered it.
WALTZ: Well -- so, that's my other question. You know, on top of the list that that you guys have rightly asked is why were $1,000 an hour, high-priced attorneys suddenly on November 3 starting to look through these documents and since then, the University of Pennsylvania said we didn't ask them to clear out that office, so, what drove that look and then -- and then disclosure in the first place?
Let's add that to the whole list of questions. But I think what we need in the most immediate term, which we asked about the previous -- the previous president, as well in the Mar-a-Lago documents is what was exposed? What were the nature of them? A lot has been made of this was only 20 versus 300, but it only takes one. This is about the quality and the sensitivity of the documents.
WALTZ: Not just the quantity. And we have yet to get any answers, that's why we're going to have to investigate.
CAMEROTA: Now the content, obviously, is key. And you do pose good questions at -- actually, at the moment, the White House press secretary is addressing all of this. Congressman, I hope that you can stick around with us. So, let's just take a listen to what she is saying.
KARINE JEAN-PIERRE, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: The Department of Justice, when it comes to legal matters when it comes to legal issues, we have been very clear that we are not going to comment, we are not going to politically interfere, and that continues with this -- also, this legal issue.
And so, I would refer you to the Department of Justice, refer you to the special counsel as it relates to specifics on this issue, and also my White House Counsel colleagues are engaging with all of you and we'll certainly continue to have a cooperation -- conversations on this. I will say that we are consistent with what we have said on cooperating fully with the Department of Justice on this issue. And we will continue to cooperate fully with the special counsel.
CECILIA VEGA, HOST, ABC NEWS: Things break up. On Friday, you stood here though, and were asked about the documents issued by our counts of 18 times at that point, the president's lawyers had found these five additional pages of classified documents. So, did you not know on Friday that those documents have been found when you were at the podium, or are you being directed by someone to not be forthcoming on this issue? JEAN-PIERRE: I have been forthcoming from this podium. What I said yes to was the statement at the time that we all had, right? You all had the statement and I was repeating what the -- what the counsel was sharing at that time. And so --
VEGA: We had that statement, so we knew what was in it. But you all say --
VEGA: You knew. Did you not know that (INAUDIBLE)
JEAN-PIERRE: I'm telling you -- I just answered the question. I just said that I was repeating what the information that we had at that time, right, that you all had. I was confirming from what the special counsel had provided to all of you, and what we knew as well from here. So just to be very, very clear.
And look, I've also been very clear about being prudent from here as also being very clear about being consistent from here, and not going up beyond what is currently happening, right? And again, this is an ongoing -- I also said this was an ongoing review that was happening with the Department of Justice and as we know, with the Special Counsel. I've been very consistent about that as well.
And that's one of the reasons -- your question to me is one of the reasons why I'm -- we are being very, very careful and very mindful, and to not interfere here and to make sure -- to make sure that the Department of Justice has their independence. Your question actually proves that and that's why we're going to continue to refer you to the Department of Justice and refer to the Special Counsel, all my colleagues at White House Counsel.
VEGA: Does President Biden have competence in the way his team is handling this with this truckload of information and the documents being found day after day?
JEAN-PIERRE: I can tell you this. The president has confidence. I can tell you this, the President and his team rightfully took action when they learned that the documents existed. They reached out to the archives. They reached out to the Department of Justice. That is the steps. We have been very clear about that. The steps in the process that we took here.
And look, we're going to continue -- we're going to continue to, as we have said, fully cooperate with the Department of Justice, we're going to fully cooperate with the president's team is, we're going to fully cooperate with the Special Counsel. That does not stop and that will just continue. Again, we're going to respect the independence of the Department of Justice.
VEGA: Could you just write his move to us in the conversations you've had with him on this issue?
JEAN-PIERRE: His mood has been very clear. I saw him this morning. He's very focused. I was with him -- I traveled with him this weekend. He wants to make sure that he's continuing and we are continuing to deliver for the American people. And we've been -- you know, we've been pretty consistent on that.
If you think about last week, you heard from him about his -- how his economic plan is working, how we have seen inflation go down for six months straight, how we have seen unemployment numbers at its lowest level in 50 years, that matters. That is also the things that this country -- that people in this country are also very, very concerned about and want to hear what this president is doing every day. That's his focus. And that's what he's going to continue to talk about. Go ahead, Steve.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: So, what's the White House reaction to the news in Dnipro where the Russians bombed an apartment --
CAMEROTA: OK, we've been listening there to the White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre answer -- well, attempt to answer questions from the press about those classified documents found at President Biden's home and office.
Congressman Mike Waltz has been standing by. Thank you for your patience, Congressman.
CAMEROTA: We've just wanted to hear where she was going to say about that. So basically, what she said -- what Karine Jean-Pierre is saying there is that it's now in the hands of the Department of Justice and the special counsel, and she can't really answer specific questions. Is that fair?
WALTZ: Well, look, I think the special counsel is going to be a blessing and a curse for this White House. I mean, on the one hand, you can see the deflection that's going on to very legitimate questions. But on the other hand, you know, if the special counsel operates as they -- as they should, this White House, and the Department -- and the attorney general really has no control.
But to my point on, you know, asking about the FBI Raid is, I think, you know, Americans continue to feel like they're seeing two tiers of justice here. And the question that I had on that Raid is why, at some point, did the attorney general no longer trust President Trump's attorneys in the back and forth in the negotiation, but they're still trusting President Biden's attorneys? Why are we taking everything they're providing at face value?
CAMEROTA: Well, I mean I think that -- I just feel like they -- Yes, I hear what you're saying.
WALTZ: And my goal is not to do the what about-ism.
WALTZ: But it's to say that, look, we have to restore trust, and a lot of trusts has been eroded for a lot of reasons over the last few years across our national security institution.
CAMEROTA: Yes, let me just -- let me just try to answer that for the viewers because I think it's the timeline. I think that the reason that the trust was eroded with the Trump team was it for 16 months, the National Archives said we know these are missing, we -- here are the ones that we know are missing and they tried to negotiate with the Trump team, and they weren't getting full answers. They got boxes and boxes but still, these things were missing until finally, they couldn't get the pieces, whatever those documents, were they needed to have a search warrant. With -- as I understand it, so far as we all understand it --
CAMEROTA: It was the Biden lawyers who alerted the National Archives. They didn't know that anything was missing. And they've been cooperative. So that's, I think, a real difference. I think that's an important distinction.
WALTZ: Well, I think -- I mean, look, in fairness, they got boxes and boxes back, there were ongoing discussions, and from what we know thus far, the things in question were things like personal correspondence between the president and the leader of North Korea that I think is a rightful negotiation of whether that's a national security issue or that's a personal affecting the presidency --
CAMEROTA: But wait a second. You don't think that that -- hold on, Congressman. That's interesting.
WALTZ: So -- hang on. I know, but I will send --
CAMEROTA: You don't think that that belongs to the American public that documents like that? You think those are mementos that President Trump could keep?
WALTZ: I think that's a -- I don't think that is worthy of an FBI raid on a sitting president two days before the blackout period when people think -- I mean, it was largely expected that he was going to run again as a future political candidate. So, I think that is -- you really have to think carefully about the erosion, the 70 million people who voted for President Trump of trust there and the seemingly political nature over if that's indeed all there was, that's why we need to get to the bottom.
But at the same time, why didn't the National Archives reach out to Vice President Biden for five years? Why were they so adamant that we were going to go to such extraordinary measures with President Trump, but not for five years until his own lawyers expose them? So, was that a --
CAMEROTA: I mean it's possible they didn't.
WALTZ: Kind of politicization. And these are things --
CAMEROTA: Is it -- is it possible -- is it possible they didn't know those documents were missing? WALTZ: Oh, sure. So that goes to the is this incompetence or is this a politicized bureaucracy? And those are the things -- look, at the end of the day, we cannot have whole swaths of the American public who believe that the DOJ has become completely politicized and have it out for the candidate that they --
CAMEROTA: Yes, understood.
WALTZ: So, that's why this isn't (INAUDIBLE) --
CAMEROTA: Absolutely. So, special counsel should help solve that.
WALTZ: Politicize, that should be our collective goal here.
CAMEROTA: And I think that that's why the attorney general has named a special counsel here to try to relieve any impression of politicization. But, Congressman Mike Waltz, thank you very much for your perspective.
CAMEROTA: I really appreciate your patience during this.
WALTZ: Thank you.
BLACKWELL: Sources tell CNN that additional searches and locations connected to President Biden are possible, but it is unclear where those searches would happen or who would conduct them. CNN's senior justice correspondent Evan Perez joins us now. So, what do we know about these potential searches?
EVAN PEREZ, CNN SENIOR JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Well, we know, Victor, that the White House says that the president's team -- legal team conducted these searches at places that they knew documents -- things that had been moved from the vice president's residence at the end of the Obama-Biden era where those items were taken.
And so, that's the reason why there was the discovery at the Penn Biden Center, which is a private office here in Washington that he used during the Trump administration, and why there was a subsequent search at the Biden home and his beach house and also in Delaware. There is one other resident that the Biden family rented for a period that could be one of those places that could become a search -- location for a search, and that's a home in Virginia that they rented for a period.
Now, we don't know whether those places will end up being searched but you know, there's -- there isn't -- there is a fear, let's just say, or a concern at the Justice Department that there might be documents still outstanding, that there might be other things that haven't yet been found.
And so, the one of the things when the early things that you're going to see happen between the new special counsel and the president's legal team will be to try to figure out how they can reassure that all the searches have been done, how have they been done, who's done them, for the FBI to talk to those people and for them to get some kind of reassurance that there are additional documents out there? Now, the question is, if there are more searches that are to be done, who will do them? Will they allow the FBI to do them? Of course, that would be a huge, huge step to take.
To Congressman Waltz, I think, Alisyn, you did a pretty good job of trying to, you know, explain why the difference in the search that happened in Mar-a-Lago. But you know, the truth was, that, you know, the president -- the former president, Donald Trump, his legal team had told the Justice Department we're going to lock away this room at Mar-a-Lago and make sure nobody -- nothing moves out of there.
According to the FBI -- according to the Justice Department in these court filings that we have now seen publicly, they said that they had witnesses or they had evidence that developed that indicated those boxes were being moved out of that room that there was supposed to secure. That's the reason -- one of the major reasons why they took that extraordinary step.
CAMEROTA: I'm sorry, Evan, we're also just with one ear listening to the White House press secretary who is still being asked about documents. So, it's obviously a frothy situation today --
CAMEROTA: With lots of -- lots of --
PEREZ: Frothy is a good word.
CAMEROTA: Yes. But I appreciate your point about that they've done -- that boxes removed but also -- I mean, I think it's also true, they just weren't getting back some of the documents that they were expected.
PEREZ: Hundreds -- right, hundreds of documents. At this point with the Biden case, we're still talking about approximately 20 documents or so.
BLACKWELL: All right, Evan, thank you.
PEREZ: Thanks, guys.
BLACKWELL: Joining us now, Bradley Moss partner and National Security attorney at the law office of Mark Zaid. And Ron Brownstein, CNN's senior political analyst and senior editor at The Atlantic.
Brad, let me start with you and a bit of the conversation that Alisyn was having with the congressman and what we heard from Evan, the searches that will now happen next. And the question of who should do them, how the Justice Department should treat these searches and these documents, your thoughts on what you've listened to the last couple of minutes?
BRADLEY MOSS, NATIONAL SECURITY LAWYER: Sure. So, I think it's certainly appropriate that White House Counsel, for example, be the one conducting any searches going forward, that only lawyers with the proper security clearances be doing so. It should not be -- if it is private lawyers for President Biden, it has to be private lawyers who are properly cleared. You can't take that risk anymore, given that they found these documents at more than one location.
That's a legitimate complaint. But the one thing I want to just -- you know mention that was here in this lead-up with the Congressman going into this segment, was the idea that there was just an ongoing negotiation with Donald Trump's team. To be very clear. The reason they got raided out of Mar-a-Lago was the sworn declaration from Trump's lawyers saying, we gave you everything, and then the development by the FBI of evidence saying, no, you haven't, you're concealing stuff, and we have proof of it. That's the distinction.
CAMEROTA: OK. That is also a very important distinction. Ron, to the point of who should be looking, so far, it has been President Biden's lawyers. Now, if it -- when it was just President Trump's lawyers, the press was skeptical, myself included, that they would be fully forthcoming. So, is it time as Bradley just said to not just trust President Biden's lawyers?
RON BROWNSTEIN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: You know, who ultimately -- the question of who ultimately is conducting the search is going to be I think, a complex one for law enforcement. I'm not a lawyer. I'm not sure I can -- I can fully answer you know who the appropriate person is on that front.
I just want to say how struck I was by your interview with the Congressman though, Alisyn, because I mean, two months ago, we were all having these conversations about how much of the Republican Party, the donors, the strategist, other elected officials, were saying that after the midterm election that the party had moved beyond Trump and put him in the rear-view mirror. And that interview was just the latest, I think of many indications that that memo if it exists, has not gotten to House Republicans. And you can see how quickly he moved from criticizing President Biden to defending President Trump's actions. Reminded me of Kevin McCarthy using his literally first press interaction as a speaker to praise President Trump.
There are going to be a lot of ways in which this House Republican Party while trying to wound President Biden is going to reaffirm and reattach themselves to President Trump after a midterm election in which all of his chosen candidates lost in the swing states that decided 2020 and will likely decide 2024. That was really, quite a striking interview, and quite a striking tack that he took during it.
BLACKWELL: Ron, you talked about the memo not getting from the strategist and the donors to Republicans on Capitol Hill. How much do voters care about this?
BROWNSTEIN: Well, look, I actually think the implications of this on current facts, obviously, anytime you're dealing with a controversy like this, you have to -- you have to kind of specify that on current facts, I think this means more for Trump than it does for Biden. I mean I do not think, Victor, based on what we have seen so far that there are any meaningful number of voters who realistically would be open to President Biden who would choose now to flip to opposing him because of what they have seen on this.
I do think that despite all the differences that Bradley and others have pointed out between the two cases, in a practical sense, this probably does make it more difficult for the Justice Department to indict Trump for his handling of classified documents if they're not going to indict President Biden. Obviously, that would be something after office.
But I'm not sure in the end, even that is entirely good news for Trump. Because I've been skeptical that after, you know, 200 years in which -- 200-plus years in which we've never indicted a former president, that the Justice Department would really do it twice. They would do it on classified documents and they potentially would do it on the much more important issue of January 6 and the attempt to subvert the election.
So, if this clears the decks on the classified documents issue, I think it might make it even more likely that the Justice Department moves forward on the question I think almost all Americans would agree is more important, what Donald Trump did after the 2020 election.
CAMEROTA: Bradley, we're basically out of time but do you agree with Ron?
MOSS: To an -- to an extent, I think the only reason they might still bring the indictment of former President Trump is to clear -- make clear the distinction between if you cooperate with us like Biden is done, we will likely actually walk off. But if you mess with us like Trump did, we will bring in the indictment, we don't care who you are.
CAMEROTA: OK. Bradley Moss, Ron Brownstein, thank you both very much.
BLACKWELL: A former GOP State House candidate is now in custody for allegedly orchestrating multiple shootings at the homes of Democrats. We'll hear from one of those targeted lawmakers next.
CAMEROTA: And a manhunt is underway in California for at least two suspects wanted for a brutal cartel-style shooting that killed six people. That search, ahead.
BLACKWELL: New video, this is from one of those doorbell cameras, shows a former GOP State House candidate in New Mexico looking for a local democratic official. Solomon Pena has been arrested in connection with a string of shootings, including one at the home of Debbie O'Malley. She's the official that Pena is trying to find in this video.
CAMEROTA: So, Pena refused to accept defeat in his 2022 election. And according to the arrest warrant, "there is probable cause to believe that soon after his unsuccessful campaign, he conspired to commit these four shootings at elected local and state government officials' homes." CNN's Josh Campbell joins us now. Josh, what have you learned?
JOSH CAMPBELL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: So, Pena was arrested by Albuquerque SWAT officers yesterday. Police say that he paid and conspired with four other men to shoot at these homes of four Democratic officials. Now, CNN has attempted to contact Pena for comment.
Guys, we've been going through this police arrest affidavit that was just released and it describes how authorities used firearm and cell phone analysis to uncover this alleged conspiracy. Police also say that one member of the group, a cooperating witness, said that he intended to shoot above the windows in these homes to prevent from hitting anyone. But -- and I'll read part of this affidavit, the confidential witness stated that Solomon wanted the shootings to be more aggressive. The witness stated that Solomon wanted them to aim lower and shoot around 8:00 p.m. because occupants would be more likely not be laying down.
Now, the motive remains under investigation. But in looking at his social media presence, this suspect has a documented history of election denying. Now, one of the elected officials allegedly targeted was on CNN this morning and spoke about an encounter she had with Pena right after the election. Watch.
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ADRIANN BARBOA, COMMISSIONER, BERNALILLO COUNTY: He came to my house after the election and he's an election denier. He weaponized those dangerous thoughts to threaten me and others, causing serious drama and trauma. Yes, he was saying that the elections were fake, but really speaking erratically, I didn't feel threatened at the time but I did feel like he was, you know, erratic.
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CAMPBELL: Now, in addition to Pena, police say that they're still investigating whether the four alleged accomplices knew who they were allegedly shooting at or whether they were just paid to open fire at these residents. But, guys, this is yet another example of exactly what federal law enforcement has been warning about it.
That is, there's a segment of society out there who is on the receiving end of so many of these election lies, some of them internalize it, some of them start to believe it, and those who are predisposed to act with violence can be very, very dangerous. And looking at this guy's social media past -- history and looking at his pattern of actually going to the homes of these people who were eventually targeted with gun violence, it appears as though he falls into that category. This is an academic. This is very, very serious.
BLACKWELL: But thank goodness no one was actually hurt here. Josh Campbell, thank you so much.
Let's bring in now CNN chief law enforcement analyst John Miller. John, we've seen so many of these, even outside of Congresswoman Jayapal's home and Justice Kavanaugh, the plot against Governor Whitmer, why are we seeing more of these radical political crimes?
JOHN MILLER, CNN CHIEF LAW ENFORCEMENT ANALYST: You know, you have these chat groups, message boards, 4chan, 8chan, where they're bringing disparate groups of what would be small numbers of people into kind of larger crowds through the internet, where they're stoking these fears that elections are being stolen, that fraud is rampant, that something has to be done. But when you look at the climate, the way it's going. 2018, 5000 threats to the new members of Congress, 2021 that 10,000. It doubled over that period. 2022, we're rounding 1800 headed to 2000 and we're not even through the first quarter.
So, you see the pitch and tone of this dialogue is becoming more violent. That's some stats from the federal side. If you take that down to the state side, you've got election workers in Georgia who had been threatened publicly and named.