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CNN This Morning

More Documents Found in Biden's Home, Republicans Demand Information; More Rain on the Way Amid Deadly Flooding in California; Ukraine Says, 40 Killed in Russian Strike on Apartment Building. Aired 7-7:30a ET

Aired January 16, 2023 - 07:00   ET



DON LEMON, CNN ANCHOR: Are you going to the meetings? I'm like, I'm not alcoholic. I just wanted to be clear. And it actually felt good. I mean, I've exercised better, I slept better, I looked better I lost weight.

POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: Sleep is the thing. Elizabeth, I get, like now at 40. Even if I have one glass of wine, I wake -- what, that I'm 40 -- that I wake up in the middle of the night. It's just different when you're old like me.


HARLOW: Yes, that's true. Elizabeth, thank you.

LEMON: That's true. Thanks, Elizabeth.

CNN This Morning continues right now.


JOE BIDEN, U.S. PRESIDENT: We have to choose a community over chaos. Are we the people are going to choose love over hate? These are the vital questions of our time and the reason why I'm here as your president. I believe Dr. King's life and legacy show us the way.


LEMON: Good morning, everyone. Today is Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day. We're so glad that you can join us. Kaitlan is off, obviously, she's not here, and just Poppy and I. Are you doing okay?

HARLOW: Good morning. I'm doing great. Yes, it's good to be by your side.

LEMON: It's a good day. Not so great for the current administration, from bad to worse, really. President Biden's aides finding more classified documents at his home in Delaware. Now, Republicans are demanding information.

HARLOW: Millions of Californians under a flood watch again this morning as that state prepares for even more rain.

LEMON: Plus, an extremely close call at JFK airport. The FAA now launching an investigation into how two commercial planes nearly collided. Details on all of that coming up.

But we are going to begin with new details about the classified material found at President Biden's Delaware home and the fallout.

Here's what we know this morning. The White House confirms the president's aides found five additional pages of classified materials on the same day a special counsel was appointed to investigate the matter. That brings a total of documents recovered to about 20. The White House Counsel's Office announcing it will no longer answer questions about the controversy because of a special counsel investigation under way. President Biden's personal attorneys say that they have been trying to balance the importance of public transparency with protecting the integrity of the investigation.

But the president has not been transparent enough for House Oversight Committee Chairman James Comer. He's demanding more information from the White House.


REP. JAMES COMER (R-KY): We don't know exactly yet whether they broke the law or not. I will accuse the Biden administration of not being transparent. Why didn't we hear about this on November 2nd when the first batch of classified documents were discovered?


LEMON: Well, Democrats are coming to President Biden's defense determined to highlight the differences between Biden's handling of classified documents and Donald Trump's.


REP. JAMIE RASKIN (R-MD): We were delighted to learn that the president's lawyers, the moment they found out about the documents that day turned them over to the National Archives and ultimately to the Department of Justice. That is a very different posture than what we saw with Donald Trump.


LEMON: So, let's bring in now CNN Senior White House Correspondent, there she is standing in front of the White House, of course, M.J. Lee. M.J., good morning to you.

Look, there is a difference, but if you're explaining, you're losing. Because over the weekend, we got yet another update of more documents being found. So, what is going on here?

M.J. LEE, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Yes, good morning, Don. You're right, yet another update from the White House Counsel's Office over the weekend about more classified documents that were found that we weren't previously aware of. We are talking about five additional pages of classified documents that were found at President Biden's Wilmington home on Thursday night.

This is according to Richard Sauber. This is the special counsel to the president. He says that he went over to the Wilmington house with DOJ officials to hand over one classified document that had been discovered on Wednesday and it is at this point that this group discovered the additional pages with classified markings.

Now, he says that the DOJ immediately took over those documents and that now that a special counsel has been appointed to investigate this matter, the White House Counsel's Office is no longer going to be answering questions.

LEMON: And the president's personal lawyer put out this lengthy statement over the weekend trying to defend how everything has been handled so far. That's kind of tricky again. So many details, I'm not sure if the American people can parse the details. I'm sure they know the difference. But at the end of the day, M.J., one person had documents that were mishandled, another person had documents that were mishandled, and maybe that's just how the public is going to see it. But what are the lawyers saying?

LEE: Yes. I mean, we are clearly seeing the White House play defense right now.


As you said, the president's personal lawyer, Bob Bauer, put out a pretty lengthy statement over the weekend trying explaining the different processes that the White House and lawyers around the president have followed throughout this process and particularly explaining why lawyers couldn't really disclose all of the information that they knew at any given time for fear of interfering with an ongoing DOJ review.

Now, I just want to read a key part of that statement from Bob Bauer that I think tries to explain a major part of this process. He says, because President Biden's personal lawyers do not have active security clearances, whenever a document bearing classified markings was identified, the search was suspended of the box, file, or other space where the document was discovered with the potentially classified material left in the place as found.

Now, he says the government was promptly notified. It's for this reason that the president's personal attorneys do not know the precise number of pages in the discovered material nor have they reviewed the content of the documents consistent with the standard procedures and requirements.

Now, the White House has faced a ton of questions about both the messaging and just the transparency front. And I think what we can say with certainty right now is that it is very possible that in the coming days and weeks we could be learning about additional classified documents. We just don't know.

LEMON: Boy. M.J. Lee starting us off at the White House this morning, thank you, M.J.

HARLOW: So, let's talk about this with the legal heavyweight. Donald Ayer. He served in the solicitor general's office under President Reagan. He served as deputy attorney general under President H.W. Bush. Good morning, sir, thanks for joining us.


HARLOW: So, we were struck -- thanks for coming on, because we were struck by two op-eds in two days in two different publications, one was yours in The Atlantic with two others on the byline. The title is Biden's classified documents should have no impact on Trump's legal jeopardy.

And then there's this piece in The Washington Post, quote, if the Mar- a-Lago case collapses, disaster dodged America. That one argues that a case against Trump, quote, will probably not be brought no matter how many side-by-side charts are created to distinguish between the known allegations against Trump and the (INAUDIBLE) so far unknown culpability of Biden.

It goes on to say, according to the latest Gallup data, 45 percent of Americans that identify as Republicans or leaning towards the Republicans, 44 percent Democrat or lean in that direction, the Justice Department serves them all and its credibility rests on being perceived to play fair.

So, you wrote in your piece one of the most superficial parallels. Only the most superficial parallels can be drawn between the two. But I just wonder, Donald, if you think in the eyes of the public these cases are inextricably linked?

AYER: Well, what's why we wrote the article we wrote, it's because it's certainly true that when you have two presidents, one current and one past, who both have -- you know, it's fair to say their teams and them perhaps have mishandled classified documents, it's really important to understand what conduct is at issue. And as far as we know now, as you've just accounted, the Biden people clearly made a blunder in having these documents taken and -- taken away from the White House. There's no two ways about that.

But it appears from what we see, and time will tell if it's true, but it appears they don't have any interest in concealing these documents. They're not trying to keep these documents. They're as eager as anybody to get them back to where they belong in the government. And Trump's team, and Trump himself, it appears from the evidence, have actively been engaged in essentially figuring out ways to not give them back over a period of many, many months. Now, it's that intentional concealment and obstruction that gives rise to criminal possible prosecution. And that's the key difference here.

So, I think what's important is for the public to try to understand, essentially, the critical difference, why it matters to have a former president deliberately keeping and concealing classified information of the highest sensitivity. And I think Merrick Garland, the attorney general, has actually handled it quite well by appointing special counsels. Because, clearly, there are people out there who are going to say, even though I don't think it's fair, and I don't think it's justified, there are people who are going to say, oh, Merrick Garland works for Joe Biden, so Merrick Garland is in the tank and he'll do whatever Joe Biden wants. Not true. But much better to have someone who's actually an excellent lawyer but also a Trump appointee looking at the Biden situation.


So, I think that's where we are now and I hope people can learn from it.

HARLOW: That was really back-to-back as it pertains to the Biden documents Merrick Garland sort of went out of his way to make sure it was Trump appointees, first out of Chicago and now the special counsel, a Trump appointee as well.

I do wonder, the chair of the House Oversight Committee, James Comer, says subpoenas are on the table for the Biden White House in this case. If that happens, if you were working in this White House, you worked under two Republican administrations, but if you worked in this White House, what would your advice be?

AYER: Well, I think it's clearly inappropriate for Congress to be investigating an ongoing investigation -- an ongoing criminal investigation. They can look at it after it occurs, but they don't have any right. It's really a separation of powers violation, to come in in the middle of an ongoing investigation and essentially try to disrupt it by, I guess, what they want to do is make public what's going on in the investigation.

One of the very sacred things about our criminal process and the investigative process that the Department of Justice engages in is that it's not supposed to publicly pillory people or facts that are under investigation. The job is to investigate, figure out what the facts are, figure out if there's a case to be brought and then bring it and then talk about it. But you don't do it while you're investigating. So, I think, clearly, one would resist the subpoenas with regard to the ongoing criminal investigation.

HARLOW: So, you think McCarthy is wrong when he said yesterday on Fox News there's an obligation for Congress to do this now?

AYER: Yes. Well, I think certainly they have a right to do oversight, certainly, of what the executive branch is doing but they don't have a right to get into the specifics of an ongoing criminal investigation. I mean, I'm afraid what we're going to see is, you know, really an effort that's entirely aimed -- talk about politicization. It's entirely aimed at trying to politicize the situation in a way they believe will appeal to far-right MAGA Republican supporters and they want to stir up that pot. And it's really regrettable because this country doesn't need to have controversy and conflict stirred up any more at this point.

HARLOW: Former Deputy Attorney General Donald Ayer, thanks very much for your time this morning.

AYER: Thank you.

LEMON: To California now where more rain is expected today in an already rain-soaked state. Atmospheric rivers have devastated communities from weeks of storms leaving floodwaters in its wake, thousands of evacuations and 19 people dead so far.

CNN's Natasha Chen live for us in Novato, California, for CNN This Morning. Good morning to you. What are you seeing on the ground today?

NATASHA CHEN, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Don. This is the ramp State Route 37 and this section has been closed since Saturday afternoon because the Novato Creek has been spilling over onto the highway.

Now, crews did a great job pumping water off of that roadway yesterday but this ramp to the state route remains closed because they're worried the overnight rains will have just bring that water right back. This is just one of the many issues keeping emergency crews extremely busy throughout the state.


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

GOV. GAVIN NEWSOM (D-CA): By some estimates, 22 to 25 trillion gallons of water have fallen over the course of the last 16, 17 days.

CHEN: 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, keep our freezers and refrigerators cold.

CHEN: 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 had to help them out, but no injuries.

CHEN: One community got inventive, installing a zip line to cross the Russian waters after a bridge washed out. UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well, you live in the woods, you have just got to be prepared.

CHEN: 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 the hillside giving away between two flats behind us. Trees went into their bathroom. It was coming down this broad, about this deep, all mud flow.

CHEN: The Sierra mountain region in Northern California saw up to three feet of snow in some places. The heavy snowfall left highway treacherous.

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


CHEN (on camera): Now, this rain will let up later today. The high wind advisories will let up later today. But because there's been storm after storm here in the last couple of weeks, the ground is so saturated, the rivers are saturated, there's still a lot of threat of roads giving way, trees coming down. People we've talked to in the areas, they welcome the rain to help with the drought but wish it was more spread out, bringing new meaning to the phrase, when it rains it pours. Don?

LEMON: It certainly does. Natasha, thank you.

HARLOW: Well, this morning the FAA launching an investigation after two planes nearly collided on a runway at JFK. The terrifying moment involved one plane about to takeoff, another plane crossed in front of it. Air traffic controllers quickly alerted the pilots to slam on the brakes with just 1,000 feet to spare.

Our Pete Muntean joins me now. You think about it all the time, especially at busy airports. How did it get this close?

PETE MUNTEAN, CNN AVIATION CORRESPONDENT: No doubt, seconds to spare, Poppy. We'll lay this out for you. But the good news here is that this was avoided thanks to the quick thinking of that air traffic controller in the tower at JFK and also the quick reaction by that Delta crew on board that 737.

This is the animation from Flight Radar 24, and you can see the Delta flight there was about to takeoff on runway 4 left there at JFK when an American Airlines 777 crossed right in front of it.

I want you to listen now to the urgency by the air traffic controller in the tower warning the crew of that delta flight to slam on the brakes and stop to make sure they don't hit that other plane taxiing across the runway. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Delta, 1943, cancel takeoff plans. Delta 1943 cancel takeoff plans.



MUNTEAN: Now, the FAA says about 1,000 feet of separation between these two planes in the end. It sounds like a lot to a layman. About 1,000 feet is about three football fields but pretty close in aviation terms when you think about this, Poppy. This is known as a runway incursion. These happen all the time, according to the FAA, 1,600 of them in 2022, typically not as dramatic as this one, although the consequences are written in blood. Tenerife the disaster back in 1977, two 747s hit each other on the runway, 500 people killed, the single worst airplane clash in commercial aviation history, Poppy.

HARLOW: That Delta pilot, calm.

LEMON: Very calm. Can I ask you something, Pete, that I'm not quite sure about? So, how -- the Delta plane was about to take off. Do you know how fast? Was it gaining momentum or was it just the beginning of the taxi?

MUNTEAN: They were accelerating for takeoff. And this is something that pilots practice all the time in the simulator. They're typically not very often confronted with it in real life. And so they were just about before the speed that you need to takeoff. You have to commit at a certain point. And so once you hit that speed, you have to keep flying. They did not get there just yet and so, thankfully, they were able to stop and decelerate, stop before that 777 that was still on the runway.

LEMON: Can you imagine if you're on that plane too?

HARLOW: No. But every time -- you're a pilot. Every time I get off the plane, every single time, I look in the cockpit and say, thank you. Serious, thank you.

LEMON: Wise words.

HARLOW: Thank you, Pete, and thank you, our friend --

LEMON: I like what my friend, Joy Behar, does.

HARLOW: What does she do?

LEMON: When she gets in the plane, she goes to the cabin, she goes, everybody sober up here?

HARLOW: I'm worse. I'm like how's it looking? Any turbulence? What's ahead? And my husband is like embarrassed going back to our seat.

LEMON: Well, a lot to come with Ukraine and beyond. HARLOW: Yes, a lot, because there are dozens dead and dozens missing in Ukraine after a Russian cruise missile hit a nine-storey apartment building. Former Defense Secretary Mark Esper joins us next on the state of Putin's war.

LEMON: Plus, as legal troubles mount for Congressman George Santos, we're going to speak with his former roommate who claims Santos is also a thief.



LEMON: Well, this morning, rescue efforts continue in the Ukrainian city of Dnipro after a Russian missile strike on an apartment building killed 40 people. Dozens have been saved from the rubble, including children. Meanwhile, in the east of the country, fighting rages on in the town of Soledar despite Russian claims that its forces have taken that town.

So, joining us now to discuss is the former defense secretary under President Donald Trump, and that's Mark Esper. Thank you so much this morning for joining us, Secretary.

Listen, we have been getting reports from our folks there on the ground just this morning. We had just a report moments ago about the brutality. It hasn't really stopped. Civilians are dying there. How do you make sense of this phase of the war?

MARK ESPER, FORMER DEFENSE SECRETARY UNDER PRESIDENT TRUMP: Well, you can't, Don. It's just horrible what happened, the killing of three dozen civilians, but it's been going on for months and it will continue to go on because this is all the Russians have left in terms of their strategic approach to the conflict. That said, I think that they seem to be preparing for some type of offensive in the spring. And my sense is the Ukrainians are trying to do the same. And I think that's what we need to look out for in the coming weeks and months.

HARLOW: So, Secretary, could you speak to what Ukraine needs at this point? Because Frederik's reporting the last hour for us, he's on the ground in Dnipro, showed us that this kind of weapon that was used to take down that apartment complex is actually meant to take out aircraft carriers, that's how powerful it is, and that the Ukrainians do not have the defensive weaponry to block it.


So, is that coming to Ukraine from the west? And if it's not, what can they do in the face of that?

ESPER: Yes. Look, I think the fact they had to use an anti-ship missile to destroy an apartment building tells you about the Russian's ability to supply, to support their own war. They've been running low on munitions material and men until they held the conscription a few months ago. I think the problem right now is Ukraine is kind of trapped in the Russian method of warfare, this stalemate where you're grinding, using infantry and artillery, and it's just a grinding piece of warfare. I think what the Ukrainians need, they need to break out of this, they need to fight their fight. And the key to that is for the United States and its allies to provide Ukrainians with armor and with mechanized fighting vehicles.

And they have already committed to providing the fighting vehicles, the Bradleys or Marders and other things, but the tanks are next. Importantly, the Brits just decided to provide Challenger II tanks. But what we've been waiting for is for the Germans to provide their tanks. And I think when that happens, once we get them delivered to the Ukrainians and the Ukrainians can train up, then the Ukrainians can go on a counteroffensive and reclaim large swaths of their country.

LEMON: Well, let's stick into that a little bit more. You said you're waiting Germany, but the U.K., Poland, France has said that they're going to provide these tanks to Ukraine. Finland is saying that they are considering doing the same. So, the significance of this move for Ukraine and western support for Ukraine, because without western support, Ukraine would not be in the position that they're in now and that support has to continue or they're going to fall behind.

ESPER: Yes. And just to be clear, Don, the Poles and others, and France promised to provide fighting vehicles, promised to provide fighting vehicles but not tanks. To provide the tanks, they need German approval.

Now, the Brits have okayed the provision of 14 Challenger II tanks but you can't do much with just 14 tanks. So, I think what we're trying to do is nudge, push the Germans along to approve the re-export of tanks and provide their own.

But that said, the bigger picture is this. Again, we need to get out of the stalemate, this war of attrition and allow Ukraine to get on the counteroffensive. Just the last few days, we've begun training hundreds of Ukrainian soldiers at an American military base in Grafenwhoer, Germany, another important factor.

HARLOW: Secretary Esper, because we have you here, we'd like your take on the national security implications of now two back-to-back presidents mishandling classified documents. So, we know that some that were recovered of the 300 at Mar-a-Lago were top secret, right? We saw the markings. It also turns out that some of the Biden classified documents that were mishandled, not stored correctly, were also top secret. It included some intelligence memos. It included topics like Ukraine, like Iran, like the U.K., memos from President Obama to Biden and Biden to Obama, calls with the British prime minister, on and on.

I thought it was notable that yesterday on ABC, Adam Schiff, a Democrat, former chair of the intelligence committee, didn't rule out that national security could be compromised as a result. Here's what he said. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Is it possible that national security was jeopardized here, as many, including you, raised that possibility with the Mar-a-Lago documents?

REP. ADAM SCHIFF (D-CA): I don't think we can exclude the possibility without knowing more of the facts.


HARLOW: How concerned are you that national security may have been compromised?

ESPER: Well, I am concerned. And we really won't know the impact until the damage assessments conducted by the intelligence community are completed. Now, I'm glad those have begun, and I said it last summer when it came up with Mar-a-Lago. We need to have those damage assessments. We need to understand whether sources and techniques were exposed and revealed because that could really hurt our national security, it could our military capabilities. So, we just need to find out really what happened, who had access, what was in the documents and so on.

LEMON: The political realm, I'm not sure what you can say about this, but I have to ask anyway, do you think one investigation hinders the other? And you know what I'm talking about. Does the Biden investigation hinder the Trump investigation? Because, listen, I think to most people, they're kind of the same, both people had documents in their possession that they shouldn't have. The circumstances are different, though, Mr. Secretary. Do you think one hinders the other or one affects the other?

ESPER: Well, both men were irresponsible, the situations are similar but not the same. I think from a legal perspective, one should not hinder the other, but from a political perspective, obviously, it all gets mixed together from both sides in terms of who did what when, what it means, who was more responsible or irresponsible.


So, I think the bigger issue to sort through, the more challenging ones, are the political dynamics.

And, importantly, what that means for Merrick Garland down the road when he wants the special counsels.