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Former Attorney General Alberto Gonzales Interviewed on Classified Documents being Found in Possession of President Biden Outside Protected Areas; House Speaker Kevin McCarthy Announces House Committee Assignments. Aired 8-8:30a ET
Aired January 12, 2023 - 08:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
KARINE JEAN-PIERRE, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: I'm not going to go beyond what the president said.
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DON LEMON, CNN ANCHOR: So one House Democrat, I should say, says politics shouldn't be the issue with something this serious.
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REP. KATIE PORTER, (D) OVERSIGHT COMMITTEE: Classified documents belong in classified settings. And if we're having consistent problems across parties with exiting government officials not putting those classified documents where they belong, then I think that's something we should take up. Oversight isn't about partisanship.
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LEMON: CNN's Paula Reid live for us in Washington this morning. Good morning to you, Paula. What exactly do we know about the documents in this second batch?
PAULA REID, CNN SENIOR LEGAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: So we don't know much, Don, which the headline, which is that Biden's attorneys have uncovered a second batch of government documents that include classified information. The first batch, of course, was found back in early November in an office that his attorneys were clearing out. We learned that that included 10 classified documents, including information about Iran, the United Kingdom, and Ukraine, and even included top-secret information.
And we're told that it was that discovery that spurred these searches in additional locations looking for other documents. But we don't know where the second batch was found, what it includes. And one of the biggest questions, is this it? The White House has been very careful not to definitively say that that first batch or even second batch is all that they know is out there. But that's a really big question to have hanging over the White House right now.
LEMON: So how is the GOP responding to this on Capitol Hill? I'm sure they're pouncing. REID: Of course they're pouncing. And they are criticizing the
president. House Oversight wants briefings from National Archives. A short time ago there you played the clip of Speaker McCarthy raising questions about a double standard. He asked why this wasn't disclosed. The speaker knows full well, it's the Justice Department's standard operating procedure. They don't comment on ongoing investigations. And they are especially careful around elections.
He also described what happened as a Mar-a-Lago as a, quote, raid. That is something that even a Trump appointed federal judge has said, look, that's not accurate. This was a duly executed search warrant at Mar-a-Lago, and the former president talked about it, which is why that is public.
But the big question now is for Attorney General Merrick Garland, whether he wants to appoint a special counsel. And now that we have documents found in a second location, Don, that really strongly suggests that he may be left with no choice. But politically, look, if voters feel like they're not getting all the information and they keep uncovering new classified documents in other settings, that can become a big political liability. That's something we, of course, saw in the Clinton email investigation.
LEMON: Paula Reid, thank you so much. Appreciate that.
KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN ANCHOR: So for perspective on this, let's bring in, who better, than the former attorney general Alberto Gonzales who served as the former counsel to President W. Bush and is now the dean at the Belmont University College of Law. Attorney General, thank you for being here with us this morning. You were once in Attorney General Merrick Garland's shoes. Would you appoint a special counsel here?
ALBERTO GONZALES, FORMER U.S. ATTORNEY GENERAL: I think the bar for appointing a special counsel has gotten much higher in terms of what would be necessary. In the Bush administration, yes, I think a special counsel would have been appointed. We appointed a special counsel, John Ashcroft appointed a special counsel in connection with the Valerie Plame investigation. And Ashcroft stepped away because of the fact that he had used Karl Rove as an adviser when he was running for governor many, many years before then.
But I think in today's world, I think that standard has changed. But Merrick Garland will have to make his own independent decision based upon what he thinks is in the interests of justice, what his investigators are telling him. But if you're asking me based on what I know, again, this is only based upon public reporting, I think if I was making the decision during the Bush administration, yes, I would have appointed a special counsel, also, in particular because if we're finding documents in different jurisdictions, we probably need someone who has authority over all the jurisdictions to conduct an investigation.
LEMON: So who would that be then? I'm sorry, did you follow up? Who would that be then? Who has jurisdiction?
GONZALES: No, he would find someone like a former prosecutor to appoint as a special counsel. Look, we're talking about the attorney general --
LEMON: Hang on, if you'll just let me jump in, please. Let me ask you, it seems like in one breath you're saying you don't think -- you said you don't think the special counsel, the bar is very high. You would have done it in the Bush administration, but not now. But then you also just said different jurisdictions and that person would be a special counsel. So what is it? Do you think a special counsel should be, or no?
GONZALES: Based on what I know, based upon my experience in the Bush administration, yes, particularly if it appears that we're talking about evidence that may be in different jurisdictions, I would have a special counsel.
I would appoint a special counsel that would have jurisdiction over the various U.S. attorney districts. Yes, I would appoint a special counsel based on what I know, again, based upon public reporting. It's not my place to second guess or try to put any kind of pressure on Merrick Garland. But just based upon what I know, in the interest of justice, yes, I think a special counsel is likely to be appointed, and I might suggest that a special counsel be appointed.
COLLINS: One think we were talking about that we had heard from Trump's attorneys is that this shows how easy it is to take classified information with you when you leave office. President Biden said the other day, he takes classified information really seriously. Is it easier than people think to take it with them?
GONZALES: You have to remember that oftentimes, we're talking about a lot of information and documents that happen at the end of an administration. Generally, you have aides that have responsibility to gather up that information and move it to, say, a presidential library or a place where -- presidential -- private personal documents are going to be stored for the outgoing administration. And so it very well could be that President Biden has no idea, quite frankly, what else might be out there because he didn't actually move the documents.
So is it easy? I wouldn't say it's easy, but certainly possible that when you leave office that you take some documents with you that are classified. You have to remember, I think it's important that once the administration is over, any presidential record is no longer yours. It belongs to the archivist. And at that point you have a responsibility to get it to the archivist. But of course, if you're talking about hundreds of pages of documents, you typically have some people helping you do that. And you may not know whether or not you have all the documents that have been turned over, you do your best to make sure that does happen. Your hopeful that your staff does its job in terms of collecting the information and turning it over.
But in terms of actual firsthand knowledge, it is very difficult for a vice president or a president or even a cabinet secretary to know for sure. And that's why the White House has been so reluctant to say, this is all that there is, because they're, I'm sure, doing a search right now to confirm that there are no additional documents. LEMON: You just said that you should do everything you could to get
them to the proper place. So there is -- look, there are distinctions between what happened with the Trump documents and with the Biden documents. But quite honestly, for people at home, it's hard for them to see those distinctions. To them it just all looks like the same thing. You've got these documents and they shouldn't be where they are, and they've got to get back. The distinction is Biden is saying we want to comply. Trump is saying I don't want to comply, right, and that's how we got to this point. So can you discuss that? Do you understand what I'm saying?
GONZALES: I think it's important for people to understand in any criminal prosecution the facts matter. So the differences in facts are going to make a big difference. And also, to the extent you have different prosecutors, so you have a special prosecutor looking at the Mar-a-Lago documents. You're likely to have a special prosecutor here. So they're going to be different. They're going to be different. They're going to view evidence differently. Their judgment is going to be different. The discretion that any prosecutor has is going to be different.
And so no Republican would want to be prosecuted for committing a crime for certain acts based upon the actions of a prosecutor with respect to a different set of facts. So again, facts are critically important. And a slight deviation in facts might make a difference in the mind of a prosecutor in exercising his or her discretion or discretion as to whether or not to move forward or not.
So the fact that President Biden -- that former president Trump may be charged shouldn't make a difference with respect to whether or not President Biden should be charged, and vice versa, because facts matter. And the American people, I think, need to understand that. And I know it's difficult to perhaps accept or even comprehend in this politically-charged environment, but that's the way it works in our justice system, and that's the way we should want it to work.
LEMON: Does it matter -- just let me follow up real quickly on this -- does it matter that Biden, Biden was vice president six years ago. He had the documents for possibly six years. Trump was president two years ago or so, and they had been working for a year or so to get these documents back.
COLLINS: Over a year.
LEMON: He didn't have the documents as long. But Biden had them for six years. Does that make a difference?
GONZALES: Well, I'm sure at some point he was told, OK, all the documents had been turned over. So there was no additional work to confirm that.
So I'm sure he relied upon trusted aides who were charged with making sure all the presidential records were turned over as they should have been turned over. So it's not surprising that they -- at some point it stopped. That effort to confirm that stopped. And so it just took a long period of time to discover that, in fact, there were additional documents that should have been turned over.
COLLINS: Mr. Attorney General, you were once accused of improperly handling information, saying that you took home information that was not supposed to be taken out of where it was stored within the federal government. And so how does that shape your perspective on this given you've kind of been through a similar situation, different, but similar.
GONZALES: Yes, now look, these were personal notes. They were not stamped classified or anything like that. These were personal notes of a meeting that we had with congressional leaders over a highly classified program. And yes, there was an investigation because of the fact that they were stored in my private office in the department, but it wasn't the right kind of safe. So the lesson I get from that is people take this seriously, and they should take it seriously. So prosecutors take it seriously, investigators take a seriously.
And a matter of something isn't that big a deal -- we're talking about in my case they were documents that weren't even stamped, and they were simply a written summary of a meeting that occurred involving congressional leaders where we talked about a classified program. And there was no discussion or description of the classified program, but simply a recording of what the congressional leaders said in response to what we were telling them.
So again, the point is, this is serious business, and sometimes you're not as careful as you should be with information that is classified, whether you know it or not. And I think that's good, because this information could be damaging the national security of our country. It could be proved dangerous to people we have around the world that are helping us collect information. So that's the lesson I get from my experience.
But we also, again, it's very important for your listeners to understand facts matter tremendously in the discretion and judgment of prosecutors, if there are different prosecutors, as to whether or not what happens in President Trump's case may be totally different than what happens with respect to President Biden's case.
LEMON: So having said that, as someone who has sat in this seat, does this hinder, compromise, change the equation for Merrick Garland when it comes to the possible prosecution of Donald Trump? Does it put him in a tougher position to prosecute Donald Trump?
GONZALES: Well, again, as a human being it might. But as a prosecutor, as the attorney general, they're different cases. You have to look at the facts of each particular case, try to exercise your independent judgment as to what is the right thing to do in the interest of justice.
LEMON: Thank you.
COLLINS: That was wide ranging.
LEMON: That was great. Thank you, really. You were the perfect guest to have for this. Thank you, Mr. Attorney General. We really appreciate you coming on. Be well.
COLLINS: That's a good distinction there at the end, because that is something people will ask is how it affects his thinking. And he's saying as a human, I get it, but as a prosecutor, it doesn't matter.
COLLINS: Now that House Speaker Kevin McCarthy is the House speaker, it's time for him to make good on promises potentially that he made to some GOP hardliners. McCarthy was elected speaker on a historic 15th ballot to clinch that victory, but in the days leading up to that he made numerous concessions to conservative lawmakers who were responsible for the reason it took 15 votes to get there. That includes on key committees, pivotal roles, some that have now been assigned, as they were yesterday.
So here with this morning's number is CNN's senior data reporter who is actually looking at all this, Harry Enten. And Harry, we heard from some Republicans who say he didn't promise anyone specific seats, but we kind of saw that come to light yesterday.
HARRY ENTEN, CNN SENIOR POLITICS WRITER AND ANALYST: Yes, so this morning's number is, it is six, because Republicans who once voted against Kevin McCarthy were assigned key committees either on Financial Services or Appropriations, the power of the purse. We can see some of these lineups right here. We see Michael Cloud given Appropriations, Andrew Clyde Appropriations, Andy Harris Appropriations, Andy Ogles Financial Services, Byron Donalds Financial Services, Ralph Norman, as well, Financial Services. Again, the power of the purse, powerful committees.
Now, the idea, essentially, OK, were these guys rewarded? Take a look, when these six holdouts changed their tunes in the speaker race, voted for McCarthy on either the 12th or 13th ballot, by the 12th or the 13th. Look at that, six. Compare that to those who held out and then didn't even vote for McCarthy, they voted present on the 15th and final ballot. None of those folks, none of those folks were given the key committee assignments. So that gives you an idea that there might have been some wheeling and dealing.
Now, how conservative are these folks? Well, we can get a good idea of that by looking at what percentage of the time they voted against Biden in 2021, 2022. Look at these numbers here, all between 93, 93, 94, 95, and 97 percent, only Rep. Ogles does not, in fact, have a voting record, so he's not in that group. But clearly, these are very conservative hardliners.
Of course, there is also some things that Kevin McCarthy wants to do with concern to Democrats and their committee assignments. So, take a look here, Democratic House members who Kevin McCarthy wants to kick off of their committees. Ilhan Omar, he wants to give off foreign affairs, Adam Schiff intelligence, Eric Swalwell, he wants to kick off of intelligence. So, McCarthy is really doing a lot with the concern, the committee assignments. Of course, one little last nugget with concern to Adam Schiff.
Look, he may not be in the House for very much longer, because the fact of the matter is, he has his eye on running for the California Senate race in 2024. And in my mind, he should be considered very high up as his chance to win because he's got $20.6 million in the bank, more than any other of the potential Democrats running in California. Guys?
KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN ANCHOR: Yes, that's going to be a fascinating race. Dianne Feinstein has even said she's not running for that. Harry Enten, thank you for those numbers.
ENTEN: Thank you.
DON LEMON, CNN ANCHOR: I want to bring in now former Republican Congressman Adam Kinzinger, who is now a senior CNN political commentator. Good morning, sir. So, we got a lot to talk to you about this morning. I think -- listen, we'll get to Santos and all of that. You heard our conversation with the former Attorney General there. Do you think that the public at home -- do you think they see the distinction between the Trump documents and the Biden documents, or is it all one thing to them? And what do you make of the discussion, he says, as a human being, it may put, you know, you know, the Attorney General may think differently about whether he would prosecute or not, but as the Attorney General, he's got to do his job.
ADAM KINZINGER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Yes, I think -- I mean, I think what he says is accurate. So first off, if you were -- you know, the good thing is law does nuance, right, the law does differences, the law can look at kind of differences, and what was intention, and that matters. Politics doesn't do that very well. Politics, everything kind of blends together. And what we've learned in the last few years is, if you can just throw enough doubt on the wall, that's enough to kind of win your case.
So, I think, from a human perspective, yes, I think, you know, for Attorney General Garland, he's going to continue to prosecute, even if the Joe Biden case, if necessary, correctly. Politically, this is very -- especially the second batch. I mean, goodness, very damaging for the -- for the current president, and does a lot to throw a lot of cloudiness into the whole narrative here that's going on.
COLLINS: Yes, the White House will still be facing questions on that today. But when it comes to what's happening on Capitol Hill, and some of these Republicans who were initially not voting for Kevin McCarthy, then they voted for Kevin McCarthy, then we saw them get pivotal, critical seats on big committees yesterday. What is your reaction to people where it seems like they are getting seats on these committees in exchange for their votes for him as house speaker?
KINZINGER: So, I'd like to pull the curtain back a little bit. And, you know, Kaitlan, I know you've been following Congress for a long time. And you remember some of these dynamics from the last 12 years, since I've been in, which is, every time we get to something that is going to be tough to pass but has to pass, or a speaker election, what ends up happening is this group called the Freedom Caucus, I call them the Freedom Club. They like to hold out, and they know, and actually, they're quite effective at it. They know that leadership needs their votes, and they'll extract anything.
And I knew after the first ballot, that Kevin McCarthy would be speaker because he would give up anything to become speaker. They were very smart in terms of the politics of this to hold out, and extract things that the Freedom Club never would have gotten otherwise, they never would have gotten what we called A committee assignments.
Now, here's the problem. The so-called moderates, I'll just call them kind of the regular Republicans, the Tuesday Group Republicans, they have as much or more power than the Freedom Club does. The difference is because I was part of this group, we don't like to blow the place up. Like we generally are the ones that want to work as a team and get along. And so, we are always outmatched, because when it comes to things like taking hostages, the one that's the most powerful is the one, pardon the pun, that's willing to shoot the hostage. And that's the freedom kids right now.
And so, they were able to extract a ton out of Kevin McCarthy. And unless and until the so-called moderates come forward and do things like vote against the rules, which they didn't do, easiest vote, they're going to continue to get run over.
LEMON: I'm not sure if you've heard of this guy named George Santos. We got a hold of his -- of his resume. And I mean, honestly, if you look at his resume, I mean, Kaitlan and I were looking at his --
KAITLAN: Are you sure that's his name?
LEMON: Yes, yes, exactly. But I mean, we're not -- you're not being facetious. Do we know -- do we know if anything on his resume is true? You call for him to resign, right? And he came after you on Twitter, basically saying that -- if we have the tweet, I think he said, like, you know, go about -- go on CNN or something, and whine about it. There it is right there. Cry about it.
KINZINGER: Yes. Go cry on CNN?
LEMON: Yes. What do you think of this?
KINZINGER: Look, here's the other thing about throwing a bunch of confusion on the wall. I think I heard Kevin McCarthy say, well, a lot of politicians or somebody said, you know, they exaggerate their resume. Holy cow. OK, let's be clear, this is not exaggerating a resume. It's a total fabrication. It's one thing if somebody -- you know, you see this a lot in military folks, they say, you know, they had a certain job, and they didn't. I think that's disqualifying anyway, but people have survived that. It is another thing to have, obviously, questionable where your money came from. But secondarily, say you were Jewish, and then say, no, I was Jew-ish. OK, come on. And then your mom died in 9/11, then she didn't. Everything about this guy is a lie. That is a fraudulent presentation. So, if I'm running a campaign ad, Don, and I lie -- I openly lie on it. If I say, you know, the sky is green. They can come after me and have that pull off the air for being false. If I don't know that. This guy lied about everything to 700,000 people. I don't think he can continue. And I don't see how Kevin -- I get it, his majority is tight.
LEMON: The people decide.
KINZINGER: I mean, this is about honor.
LEMON: Adam Kinzinger doesn't get to decide. You know, the Republicans in Washington don't get to decide. The Democrats don't get to decide. The New York State Republicans don't get to decide. The people get to decide. That's basically what his -- that's what he's saying. And that's what McCarthy is saying.
KINZINGER: And the thing is the people didn't decide, because they thought he was somebody totally, totally different. It was a lie and a fraudulent election. He has to resign. I think he does end up resigning, because --
KINZINGER: -- I think this pressure is going to be too great.
COLLINS: Well, we'll see.
LEMON: You do?
COLLINS: We'll see if he does.
LEMON: OK. Thank you. Go check out his resume, guys. What was it? The volleyball team, which was -- was it the lacrosse or something.
COLLINS: He -- I don't think that's on the resume. But he did -- he told one of the New York Republicans that he was on the championship winning volleyball team at Baruch College, but he didn't go to Baruch College. So --
LEMON: Yes. And when you won that medal in the Olympics, you know, Adam Kinzinger, that looks amazing. A gold. You did a gold, a bronze and a silver all in the same competition. It was pretty great of you.
KINZINGER: It was great.
COLLINS: Yes, I won a national championship at Alabama, too. Just in case anyone's serious. LEMON: Same thing here at LSU. Thank you, Congressman. Appreciate it. We'll see you soon. Investigators are still looking for the Massachusetts mother who has been missing for 12 days. A friend of the woman joins us next.
LEMON: A Massachusetts mother Ana Walshe, still missing this morning. One week after her disappearance was recorded, her husband Brian Walshe has been arrested and charged with misleading police. And we are learning from past court documents that a friend of Brian's father called Brian a sociopath and said that he couldn't be trusted. The couple have three young children, ages 2, 4 and 6. They are now in the custody of the Massachusetts Department of Children and Families.
Meanwhile, investigators continue their search for evidence and honest disappearance, at several locations around Massachusetts. I want to bring in now a friend and a colleague of Ana Walshe, Pamela Bardhi. Pamela, thank you so much. I'm sorry that you're having to deal with this. How are you doing?
PAMELA BARDHI, FRIEND AND COLLEAGUE OF ANA WALSHE: Don, good morning to you. Thank you so much for having me. We're in gratitude to be here, and to shed some light, God willing, on this -- on this story.
LEMON: Before we get into the details.
BARDHI: And I'm doing OK.
LEMON: Before we get into the details, talk to us about Ana. What is she like?
BARDHI: An absolute radiant spirit, the kind of person that when you walk into a room, you just feel her energy. She is all about elevation. She's a brilliant businesswoman, and what I like to call a supermom. And that's exactly what she's been. And knowing her on a professional level, that is literally her whole essence of being. And when I saw all of this that was happening, my stomach went upside down just knowing her, even from a business setting, just hurt my heart and everyone around the world.
LEMON: Yes. Brian Walshe told police that Ana told him that she needed to fly to Washington for a work emergency. Now, he says, he last saw her I think on January 1st. And you know her line of work. Does that surprise you that she would need to travel during the holidays?
BARDHI: So, being in the real estate industry, unfortunately, there are times where emergencies happen, right? So, she was a regional manager dealing with a property management commercial, property management company. So yes, sometimes things do happen. It is a little bit fishy because in a corporate setting, usually there's some backups there. But it is not really that surprising that something could pop up, because real estate is that type of industry, but at the same time, it is a little bit sketchy that it was within hours. LEMON: So, let me follow up on that, because she worked in D.C. Would her kids ever go with her? Did she or her family ever consider moving there?
BARDHI: So, my friends who are very close friends of hers have told us that basically, she would be in D.C. Monday through Friday, and she would travel back home on weekends to be with her husband and her children. And that was my understanding of the whole scenario. Now, she used to be one of my colleagues in EXP Realty. So, she basically ran a real estate team up here in Boston, and then in March of 2022, decided that she wanted to take on a corporate position, and head down to D.C.
And so, that I kind of found a little bit surprising that she -- you know, it was kind of seemed like a very sudden decision with her. But, you know, we thought it was just something she wanted to do with her career. And she had corporate positions in the past. So, we didn't think really anything of it. But you know what, I did find a little bit strange that, you know, kind of going to a brand-new city being there Monday to Friday, and kind of only coming home on weekends was a little bit odd. But, you know, we just figured, hey, that's what she needed to do. That's what she chose, you know?
LEMON: OK. So, then she -- I guess that was an indication that there were some changes coming in her life, and I'm just wondering that -- was there ever an indication that things at home were not OK?
BARDHI: So, my understanding of it.