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Comer: Santos To Be Removed If He Broke Campaign Finance Laws; China: Nearly 60,000 People Have Died Of COVID Since Early December; Janelle Monae Talks New Movie, "GLASS ONION: A KNIVES OUT MYSTERY." Aired 7:30-8a ET

Aired January 16, 2023 - 07:30   ET



MARK ESPER, FORMER DEFENSE SECRETARY UNDER PRESIDENT TRUMP (via Skype): The bigger issues to sort through -- the more challenging ones are the political dynamics.

And what -- importantly, what that means for Merrick Garland down the road when he -- once the special counsels have completed their work and they present recommendations to him, he's going to have to decide -- and I think at that point, the two do have some interaction -- will have -- affect one another in terms of how he proceeds.

DON LEMON, CNN ANCHOR: All right. Certainly, an interesting turn of events, so I think we can all agree on that.

Thank you, Secretary -- appreciate it.

ESPER: Thank you.

LEMON: Thank you.

So, the top Republican on the House Oversight Committee calls -- the committee calls Congressman George Santos a bad guy who will lose his job if he broke campaign finance laws.

Up next, we're going to talk to two experts about his biggest legal problem, including a $700,000 loan. Why this, a penny, is raising a red flag on many of his expenses. We're going to explain that. I think people know, though.


LEMON: Well, another day, another revelation from Republican Congressman George Santos' past.


Back in 2020, he worked at a company that he called 100 percent legitimate. The following year, the SEC was calling it a classic Ponzi scheme. Santos' lawyer says his client was just as disturbed as everyone else to learn about those allegations. But that's just the latest news that's putting the new New York freshman on shaky footing. So, fellow Republican James Comer, the new chair of the House

Oversight Committee, says if Santos broke campaign finance laws, then he is out.


REP. JAMES COMER (R-KY): Look, he's a -- he's a bad guy. This is something that -- you know, it's really bad. He's not the first politician, unfortunately, to make it to Congress to lie. It's pretty despicable the lies that he told.

But at the end of the day, it's not up to me or any other member of Congress to determine whether he could be kicked out for lying. Now, if he broke campaign finance laws, then he will be removed from Congress.


LEMON: OK, so losing his job may be the least of his worries with so many investigations mounting.

We have two pros who know all about these kinds of allegations, specifically, and they're joining us now. The former general counsel at the Federal Election Commission -- that's Larry Noble. And CNN legal analyst and former federal prosecutor, Jennifer Rodgers. Good morning to both of you.

Larry, I'm going to start with you. What is the biggest legal threat facing Santos right now?

LARRY NOBLE, FORMER GENERAL COUNSEL, FEDERAL ELECTION COMMISSION (via Webex by Cisco): Well, good morning, Don and Poppy, and thanks for having me.

Probably the biggest legal threat are questions of where the $705,000 loan to his campaign came from. This is a man that when he ran in 2020 said he had few assets -- reported few assets. And now, all of a sudden, he's reporting large assets and allowed -- that allowed him to make a $700,000 loan to his campaign.

A candidate can make a loan of any size to their campaign but it has to be their own money. So the question is where did that money come from? And if that money came from another source --


NOBLE: -- and was for the purpose of him giving it to his campaign, then he violated the law. And it's a serious violation of what's effectively money laundering -- a contribution in the name of another. Probably, an excessive contribution. Could it have come from prohibited sources? And that can be both civilly prosecuted and criminally prosecuted.

HARLOW: So, it's interesting, Jennifer, that Matt Gaetz -- Republican Congressman Matt Gaetz actually asked Santos this question last week -- where did that money come from to fund your campaign? Here is what he said.


REP. GEORGE SANTOS (R-NY): Look, I've worked my entire life. I've lived an honest life. I've never been accused or sued of any bad doings. So, it's my -- it's the equity of my hardworking self and I invested inside of me.


HARLOW: Well, I mean, that's not true that he hasn't been sued of doing anything bad. Look at the ongoing case in Brazil right now for essentially stealing a check -- fraudulent finances there.

What are your questions about his finances, specifically, right now?



RODGERS: I mean, what happens is he reports $50,000 income and then turns around and, all of a sudden, has millions of dollars and he's giving his campaign $700,000 of it. So where is that money coming from?

It's -- as Larry said, it's a campaign finance violation, almost certainly. But he's also in more trouble than that if it's a Ponzi scheme, which his previous employer was deemed to be by the SEC. If it's a different kind of financial fraud. Those penalties are greater than campaign finance penalties. So he's in a whole bunch of hot water here on the campaign finance side, but also, potentially, regular old financial frauds.

LEMON: Larry, I've got to ask you then -- look, there's much to -- let me just ask you very simply, does he face -- what's the possible -- what's the -- what are the legal ramifications here? Jail time? Is that possible?

NOBLE: It's possible. I mean, normally, campaign finance violations are handled as civil matters. But the Department of Justice can launch its own investigation and there are criminal sanctions if it's a knowing and willful violation, meaning he knew what he was doing and he knew it violated the law.

So, I think this is the kind of case that the DOJ may very well look at -- the kind of large amounts of money getting into a campaign not knowing the sources of that money.

And his idea that he worked hard and earned this money -- where is it showing up on his reports? In 2020, he didn't have it, so he must have gotten it since 2020. And his financial disclosure reports with Congress doesn't really show, as it should, the real source of the money. It shows it coming from his company, but he doesn't show any clients. So there's something just very fishy about all of this. And when you're talking about sanctions, I also should mention there is the possibility -- remote -- that he could be expelled from Congress. I don't think that's going to happen because it's a two- thirds vote. But there's also that.

So I think he does face real problems and I don't think Congress should avoid looking into this. And I think DOJ and the FEC are going to have to look into this.

HARLOW: What's up with the penny? You said -- where's your penny?

LEMON: Oh, gosh, I don't know. Here it is.

HARLOW: Don brought a penny up in the -- before we went to commercial because this is really key -- the penny.



HARLOW: So his campaign, Jennifer, filed all of these expenses -- $199.99. That number matters a lot because when you hit $200, something changes. And we're talking about everything from restaurant bills at subsequent restaurants, the W hotel in South Beach, which our team looked and in October, it's like $600, not $199.99.

Why does that number matter so much and could put him in legal jeopardy as it pertains to campaign spending?

LEMON: That one penny --

HARLOW: That one penny.

LEMON: They knew what they were -- he knew what he was doing.

RODGERS: Right. So, dozens and dozens of expenditures on the expenditure reports that you have to file say $199.99. Two hundred dollars is the limit at which you have to collect the receipts and have them available --

HARLOW: Prove it.

RODGERS: -- for inspection. Exactly.

So what you have here -- it's like structuring with a bank. When you see all of these numbers just under the one that triggers some sort of additional scrutiny, it makes you suspicious, right, that those are falsified.

So you have dozens of $199.99. No receipts for all of those. Does that mean that those expenditures were bogus? I mean, they are also a lot of expenditures to companies that were brand-new and not working in the campaign space, tied to Santos and people close to him. So there's lots on the expenditure side as well that's really fishy that the FEC and federal prosecutors should be looking into. LEMON: There was this watchdog group last week who filed a complaint, asking the FEC to investigate. Do you think -- and, you know, you've been talking about this and the legal jeopardy, Larry. But, I mean, will they -- how far do you think this will go or should go, at least, considering what you know about this case?

NOBLE: Well, based on what I know about this case, I don't think there's any doubt that the FEC should launch an investigation at the very least, and then let's take it from there. Let's get answers to all these questions.

The problem with the FEC is that in recent years it has deadlocked over serious investigations. The three Republicans on the FEC have basically said they don't want to investigate unless you give us proof that there was a violation. So, I'm somewhat skeptical.

But having said that, there are cases that are even too much for the FEC, where they say they have to investigate this. I think this is very well one of those cases because one of the things going back to the expenditures for a second -- one of the things is that one of the allegations is that he's used some of this money for personal use which, again is a serious violation. It's one that the candidate himself will be liable for.

And if what he was trying to do was hide the real sources or the real expenditures and where they went to, because some of this could be seen for personal use, that even shows some sort of scheme. Now, I don't know that's what happened but it is very strange to see $199.99. I guess it's the $199 dollar store for political expenditures. But we've -- I have not seen that before and it's pretty blatant.

LEMON: The chair -- we have to go, Larry, but just -- can you just respond to this? Because the new chair of the House Oversight Committee -- you saw James Comer there saying oh, people lie all the time. But this is not that. This is beyond that. For him to say that is a little too cute by half.

HARLOW: But he -- I think he also said if he did something, like, financially wrong, he's got to go.

LEMON: I mean, look at the evidence. Go -- yes. Go ahead. Go ahead, Larry.

NOBLE: But the lying all the time, that is very serious here. I mean, he's not just lied potentially on his campaign finance reports, it's also been alleged that he has lied about his background. That he did not go to the college he said he went to. That he did not work at the places that he said he worked. He potentially lied about his family background.

I even heard him on, I guess it was a radio show or a podcast the other day saying that he played soccer for Baruch, where he didn't even go there. And that he needed knee surgery because he played -- he's such a hard player.

It seems he lies about a lot -- LEMON: Volleyball.

NOBLE: -- of things. And so -- yes. And -- volleyball. I'm sorry, it's volleyball.

And I think that tells you something. If those are all true -- if those are all true lies -- that it's true that he lied, it tells you something about his character. And I think that's very important when you're a member of Congress. It is frightening that a member of Congress says everybody lies.

LEMON: Yes, how true.

Thank you, Larry. Thank you, Jennifer. Appreciate it.

HARLOW: Well, this morning, there is a massive jump in reported COVID deaths in China. Why the country went from reporting 37 to nearly 60,000 COVID deaths. We'll take you live to Hong Kong, next.



LEMON: So, China has revised its COVID death toll drastically to nearly 60,000 people since it overturned its zero-COVID lockdown restrictions in early December. Beijing was accused of underreporting the severity of its outbreak after reports emerged of overwhelmed hospitals and funeral homes.

Let's go straight now to Marc Stewart. He's live in Hong Kong for us this morning. Marc, good morning to you.

Until just recently, Chinese officials were reporting just 37 deaths. And we knew it would be higher but, I mean, this is a surprise. This is a huge surprise -- so high.

MARC STEWART, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It's high, Don, but it's also being met with a lot of skepticism and really, for two reasons.

Consider this. China has a population of 1.4 billion people and this number of 60,000 deaths -- it is just hard to reconcile with the reality.

And then the other issue is what we're seeing on the ground. You mentioned hospitals are overwhelmed. Crematoriums and funeral homes have had very long lines. And that also calls into question some of this data that we're looking at.

Right now, the government says the peak has hit China but outside observers, like the World Health Organization, are still demanding more transparency.

The weeks ahead are going to be very critical. Right now, we are approaching Chinese New Year, and in Mainland China, it is seen as the biggest migration of humans on Earth. This is when Chinese families who are in city centers will go out to the countryside into more rural areas where health care is not necessarily as strong. And Don, there is concern that with the new year with so many people on the move, COVID will spread even further.



Marc Stewart in Hong Kong. Marc, thank you very much.

New demands from Republicans after more classified documents are found inside President Biden's Delaware home. We have new CNN reporting.

HARLOW: We also sat down with a superstar, actress and music star Janelle Monae, about her new murder mystery "GLASS ONION: A KNIVES OUT MYSTERY."


JANELLE MONAE, SINGER-ACTRESS, NETFLIX "GLASS ONION: A KNIVES OUT MYSTERY": OK, spoiler alert. If you have not seen it -- yes.

LEMON: Can we do that?


LEMON: Can we --

MONAE: We'll just say spoiler alert and say you're --

LEMON: Spoiler alert.




LEMON: A modern-day whodunit with twist after twist. We're talking about the "GLASS ONION: A KNIVES OUT MYSTERY," streaming right now on Netflix. The movie chronicles an eccentric billionaire inviting his old group of friends to a murder mystery getaway on a secluded Greek island.


HARLOW: And one guest, Andi, played by Janelle Monae, puts quite a wrinkle in the trip when she arrives. Watch this.




LEMON: Whew -- so dramatic.

HARLOW: She is so good.

We sat down with actor and music superstar Janelle Monae.


LEMON: It's good to see you. Welcome, welcome, welcome. Thank you for joining us.

MONAE: Oh my goodness. Good morning. Thank you, guys, so much for having me.

LEMON: People are fascinated with this film -- with "GLASS ONION." Why is that? And you're very intense in it, by the way.

MONAE: Oh my goodness. I was just looking at that scene and I just remember being in Greece on that island in that villa and just the warmth, and just being with my castmates.

I mean, I think this is just such a fun, wild ride of a movie. This is the type of movie -- I can't tell you the amount of texts I've gotten from, like, all my friends. Like, I've watched it with my kids, with my mom, with my grandparents. It's like who doesn't want to solve a murder mystery about a group of rich folks going on an island backstabbing each other?


LEMON: I've been obsessed with you for a long time just as a -- you know, because I've known you from Atlanta. She is obsessed with "GLASS ONION." She's like we've got to do -- we have to interview Janelle Monae.


LEMON: You love this movie.

COLLINS: Well -- and what I love about your character is that you play multiple different characters.

MONAE: OK, spoiler alert. If you have not seen it, yes.

LEMON: Can we do that?


LEMON: Can we --

MONAE: OK, but we'll just say spoiler alert. Say your --

LEMON: Spoiler alert.

MONAE: OK. Spoiler alert.

COLLINS: Spoiler alert.

MONAE: But you can say it. COLLINS: But you play different characters -- multiple different characters. And I kind of wonder what drew you to that role and how it's different than the other roles that people know you as playing.

MONAE: Yes. Well, I played a character that has a lot of secrets. And with that, as an actress, such a great opportunity to -- you know, you're hiding something from the audience and there's so much depth there and there are so many layers after layers after layers that you have to peel back.

And I -- when I read the script, I was just blown away by the twists. You know, by me playing Helen Brand and also Cassandra Brand, and also playing Helen, pretending to be Cassandra Brand before the audience finds out. And then, Helen pretending to be Andi after you find out.

So, all of that -- like, it was -- I knew it was going to be a big challenge in the best possible way. It was essentially like four characters. But I was ready for it. I was excited.

And I just have to give so much thanks to writer-director Rian Johnson because this is a character he created. This is a fun film -- exciting film -- murder mystery that he created. And for him and Daniel to have me along for this ride is like no small thing.


HARLOW: You've called yourself the self-proclaimed transformer and that you love going outside of what you think you know about yourself.


HARLOW: What does that mean? Because it looks like you did that a lot there.

MONAE: Yes. I mean, my word, like, for this year is discovery. Discover --


MONAE: -- something new about yourself. And that's always in the back of my mind as an actor, as a -- as a singer. Whenever I'm telling stories -- whenever I'm creating art, like, I want to present something new for myself and for the audience.

LEMON: Can I just say --

MONAE: Thank you.

LEMON: -- personally that I think I met you, like, in 2006 when I moved to Atlanta.

MONAE: Oh my God.

LEMON: And --

MONAE: It's been that long. LEMON: It's been that long. And I used to see you --

MONAE: I love it.

LEMON: -- like in the club and I'd see you perform. It makes my heart flutter in a great -- to see what you have done -- "Moonlight" and "Hidden Figures" and now doing "GLASS ONION." And your music and just what you're doing for fashion and art in your journey. It's just amazing.

Did Janelle Monae -- did you ever think that -- Janelle, I hate to speak to you in the third person --

MONAE: No, it's OK.

LEMON: -- that Janelle Monae would be the Janelle Monae she is right when you were running around Atlanta in 2006?

MONAE: Oh my God, you just brought back so many memories. I think during that time in my life I may have been still working at Office Depot, singing on the library steps, of Club Woody in the AUC to anybody that would listen to me. Like, selling CDs out of my trunk.

Like, I just remember working hard and I'm happy that I haven't lost that work ethic. I love creating. And no matter -- just thinking about the films that you just mentioned, like if it had not been for the "Moonlight" and the "Hidden Figures" I would not have been prepared for a role of this magnitude.

And I just sit in gratitude. I sit in constant gratitude. There is not a moment in my life that I remember not being able to sing or act or perform. My mom was always taking me to the musicals or the afterschool Shakespearean programs. Like, so many people poured into my life to be able to sit here today.

So, thank you for -- you know what I'm saying -- reminding me.