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House Speaker Kevin McCarthy Announces Impeachment Inquiry into President Biden; Polls Show Majority of Republicans Believe President Biden Did Something Illegal regarding His Son Hunter Biden's Business Dealings; White House Counsel's Office Spokesman Interviewed on Accusations that Led to House Impeachment Inquiry. Aired 8-8:30a ET

Aired September 13, 2023 - 08:00   ET



POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: In a few moments, we'll be joined by Ian Sams, a spokesman from the White House Counsel's Office.

PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN ANCHOR: And Kim Jong-un and Vladimir Putin meeting face-to-face in Russia overnight as U.S. officials sound the alarm about a potential arms deal.

HARLOW: The manhunt for the escaped killer in Pennsylvania now enters week two. Police say he is armed, and his mother says her son's life has prepared him for how to survive.

MATTINGLY: And New York City's pension fund taking legal action against FOX Corporation, arguing that it failed shareholders by allowing FOX News to spread the election lies that led to two defamation cases.

HARLOW: And it was the reunion Phil has been waiting for for more than a decade. All five members of NSYNC on one stage together -- you can hear it here how excited Phil is -- at the VMAs last night.

This hour of CNN THIS MORNING starts now.


REP. KEVIN MCCARTHY, (R-CA) HOUSE SPEAKER: These are allegations of abuse of power, obstruction, and corruption. And they warrant further investigation by the House of Representatives.

REP. HAKEEM JEFFRIES, (D-NY) HOUSE MINORITY LEADER: There is not a shred of evidence that President Joe Biden has committed a crime. This is an illegitimate impeachment inquiry, period, full stop.


MATTINGLY: That was House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries reacting Speaker Kevin McCarthy's impeachment inquiry into President Biden. The unilateral move comes less than two weeks after McCarthy said he would not open an official probe without a House floor vote. It appears to be an attempt to be currying favor with hardline conservatives who have been pressuring him on this issue and on government spending for weeks. Republicans have been investigating President Biden since they took control of the House in January.

They campaigned on the issue. So far they have merely shed more light on his son Hunter Biden's business dealings in which the White House has repeatedly said that the president has had no involvement. McCarthy faced questions about his decision Tuesday since no concrete evidence of misconduct has been found.


MANU RAJU, CNN CHIEF CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: What official action have you guys proven that shows Joe Biden acted -- took official action to help his son?

MCCARTHY: OK, is this an impeachment, or is this impeachment inquiry? An impeachment inquiry is the ability to get the information to answer the questions. That's all we're doing. America needs the answers.


HARLOW: Now the White House is planning to send a letter to U.S. news organizations, including CNN, urging them to intensify scrutiny of McCarthy and House Republicans for launching the probe without evidence of a crime. Ian Sams wrote that letter. He will join us in just a few minutes.

Before we get to that, let's talk to our senior data reporter Harry Enten for a moment. What does the polling show about how Americans feel about what McCarthy has now launched?

HARRY ENTEN, CNN SENIOR POLITICS WRITER AND ANALYST: Yes, so why is Kevin McCarthy doing what he's doing? It's because he is feeling a lot of pressure from Republican congressmen and the Republican base.

So let's start off with the polling, all right. Republican voters who think Joe Biden did something illegal regarding his son's business dealings, this number tells you basically everything that you need to know. The vast majority of Republican voters nationwide believe that Joe Biden did something illegal regarding Hunter Biden's business dealings, and they are putting a lot of pressure on their own congressmen.

Of course, Kevin McCarthy has a bit of a math problem going on here, right, because he has a five-seat majority, so basically five Republicans go against him, that could be big trouble for him.

And remember, there were 20 Republicans who voted against Kevin McCarthy for speaker. Those are on the right. They are pressuring him to launch this impeachment inquiry. And then, of course, there's the 18 Republicans who represent districts that Joe Biden won in 2020. So he is feeling this tug from the right, pushing him towards this impeachment inquiry. And then he's feeling that tug from the middle basically saying, no, we don't want to go there. It's a really hard math problem for Kevin McCarthy.

HARLOW: What about Americans overall outside of just Republicans? Democrats, independents? ENTEN: Yes, so take a look here. I think there is this idea that a

lot of Republicans believe, hey, Donald Trump's in trouble, so let's put Joe Biden in trouble, too. But Americans don't see it this way. So voters overall who think they did something illegal, overall just 38 percent of Americans believe that Joe Biden did something illegal with regards to his son business dealings. Take a look here, though -- 53 percent of Americans believe that Donald Trump did something illegal trying to overturn the 2020 election. So Americans overall do not see those two things equally.

Now, you mentioned independents. I think there are a lot of Democrats who are salivating at the idea of being able to do something on this, because independents do not like Joe Biden -- 66 percent of them hold an unfavorable view of him. Bug get this. Just 34 percent of them think he did something illegal. So I think there are a lot of Democrats who are looking at the numbers and basically saying, hey, Republicans are going to go a bridge too far, and maybe we're going to be able to turn this around on its head and basically be like, you know, bring this forward because this is a fight that they want to have. It's something they think could help Joe Biden, especially going into 2024.

HARLOW: So interesting, Harry. Thank you for the numbers. We appreciate it.

ENTEN: Thank you.


HARLOW: Phil, a lot of interesting numbers. You have got the perfect guest to respond to this from the White House. Take it away.

MATTINGLY: Yes, thanks, Poppy. I want to dig through all those numbers. There's definitely a lot going on here. But first, we want to start with the specifics of what's actually being followed by House Republicans and what the White House things of it.

Joining us now to discuss McCarthy's call for an impeachment inquiry, the Spokesman for the White House Counsel's Office, Ian Sams.

Ian, I appreciate you taking the time this morning. I want to start with something that House Oversight Committee Chairman James Comer said. He is one of the three committee chairs that will be leading this process, has been investigating the president, said a lot of things about what that investigation has entailed up to now. Take a listen.


REP. JAMES COMER (R-KY): If the president and this administration was cooperating with our investigation, we wouldn't have to do impeachment inquiry. Unfortunately, we do. We now have every tool we need to move forward in court successfully, and that's where we're headed.

(END VIDEO CLIP) MATTINGLY: Well, the idea of cooperation, and that that's why the Republicans are here to this point, what are the areas in which you guys have not been willing to comply up to this point?

IAN SAMS, SPOKESMAN, WHITE HOUSE COUNSEL'S OFFICE: You know, that's a great question for Chairman Comer. His own committee, just on Monday, members of his own committee, put out a memo that outlined that he has received through this process access to reports from the Treasury Department, access to documents from the FBI, witnesses from the DoJ and the IRS, not to mention outside of the government, his subpoenas. He has received 12,000 pages of bank records, 2,000 pages of documents from Treasury. So, don't take my word for it.

Just a couple of months ago, James Comer himself went on Fox and said, you know, as the chairman of this committee, everything I've subpoenaed, I've gotten 100 percent of what I've asked for.

So, I think when you ask this question about, oh, what's he talking about, are we obstructing, that question needs to go to him. He needs to be held accountable for the fact that he is saying things that are patently untrue.

MATTINGLY: Ian, when he talks about the potential for going to court, the new tools that they believe they have by utilizing an inquiry, I'm wondering, is this administration planning to continue to utilize the 2020 Office of Legal Counsel opinion or 2019 opinion related to impeachment, that it's not valid if there is not a floor vote?

SAMS: Well, I think that Republicans over the last year, Republicans in Congress, have proven that these sorts of poking around inquiries are nothing but a wild goose chase that are illegitimate. And you know, that question you asked specifically, I think, again, you should ask that of Speaker McCarthy. He is the one who 10 days ago went on television or talked to Breitbart, or whichever far right news organization they're selling these lies to today, and said that we're going to have a full vote of the House.


SAMS: They can't just be a declaration by fiat.


SAMS: You know, that goes to exactly what he said in 2019, which was that if there was not a vote, it would be "devoid of any merit".

MATTINGLY: No. I understand that.

SAMS: So, I think that these questions are ones that need to go to the Speaker --

MATTINGLY: But, the OLC opinion applies to you guys.

SAMS: -- about how they are going to proceed with this.

MATTINGLY: That's what I'm asking, just from an administration kind of legal perspective, as you view this process, you guys are clearly prepared for, you have been preparing for it, given like the scale of response and aggressive nature of it over the course of the last couple of days. From an administration perspective, do you view that counsel's opinion as the guiding force as you deal with this?

SAMS: No. I understand the question, and I think that we're going to see what they're going to do. I don't want to speculate on what the House Republicans may or may not ask for. I mean, they won't even vote for it, and they can't even say what they're impeaching him for. So, I think we're going to have to see what exactly they try to do with this newfound impeachment inquiry.

MATTINGLY: To that point, you know, what they're impeaching him for, Republicans have been clear that they don't have -- a lot of Republican moderates have been clear they haven't seen direct evidence yet. I want to tick through some of the things that Speaker McCarthy laid out as the rationale for why he decided to go this route, the idea that there are -- there was a trusted FBI informant that provided information about alleged bribes to the Biden family. What's your response to that allegation?

SAMS: Well, what's interesting about that is that the source of this alleged bribe told the Congress during President Trump's first impeachment that that's not true, that he had never asked President Biden of anything. So, the very source of this so-called allegation has already refuted. And that's come out as part of the years of Republican investigations targeting the president baselessly, going after him without any evidence just to try to score political points that they've been doing for almost half a decade now.

And I think that the question that we need to focus on here is, is this really what the Congress should be focused on? The American people have needs. They need their leaders in Washington to be focused on them. That's what the president is doing. You see that with him, talking about our investment to take on cancer research today.

MATTINGLY: No. I understand. You know, I just want to --

SAMS: Both the things Republicans want. But, when it comes to that -- when it comes to the bribe, you know, these are allegations that they've been making without merit for months, and they can't truly prove.

MATTINGLY: But, I think the point I'm trying to make here is to have you -- if -- and this has been your position for a long time. And I think, you know, I've covered the policy side of this White House quite a bit over the course of the last several years. I understand that. But, I kind of want to tick through these to have you --

SAMS: Yes. Sure.


MATTINGLY: -- respond to them since it's the basis of it, you know, the idea of bank records. One of the things you laid out, bank records showed that nearly $20 million in payments were directed to Biden family members and associates.

The Treasury Department has more than 150 transactions involving the Biden family and business associates that are flagged as suspicious activity. Anything in there that you can respond to in terms of how it links to the president?

SAMS: Sure. "The Washington Post" factchecked that and found it false. The members of the House Oversight Committee who actually reviewed those reports at Treasury have stated that there was no tie to President Biden.

So, yet again, they've had access to these documents, and they've over and over again turned up no tie to the president --


SAMS: -- and that's from their own members.

MATTINGLY: The idea of that there has been special treatment -- the president's family has been afforded special treatment by the Biden administration as it relates to Hunter Biden's plea deal, and that eventually fell apart and where it stood --

SAMS: Yes. I mean, the president has been very clear about this since before he even took office, that the Justice Department and his administration is independent. He has not been involved in that case. He has not talked to anybody about that case. But don't take his word for it. Take the words of the GOP's own witnesses in the House who testified in an open hearing that neither Attorney General Garland nor President Biden interfered in this case.


SAMS: And so, their own witnesses, their own investigations, not only are they not turning up evidence of the allegations they claim, they're actively refuting the allegations that the Speaker is leading on to launch this baseless impeachment.

MATTINGLY: Ian, one of the other allegations is the president was present at some of the meetings between Hunter Biden and his business associates. Why was the president at those meetings on those phone calls?

SAMS: Well, again, I think this is part of the right wing's misinformation machine to try to confuse people about what the truth is. The truth is that the president, as he has said publicly for years, calls his family every day to check in. He calls his son every day to check in. He calls his other family members to check in to see how they're doing. He loves them. There is -- they're a tight knit family.

And what the GOP's own witness testified in this case is that, that's exactly what the president was doing. He was checking in with Hunter during a particularly hard time, I might add, a time where the family was going through Hunter's brother Beau's illness, and of course, the president checks in with his son and talks to him. But, again, that witness testified no business dealings of Hunter Biden's or anyone's was discussed in these conversations. And so, again, they're trying to make this sort of strange connection when their own investigation has disproven these claims.

MATTINGLY: Before we let you go, Ian, has the president respond -- in terms of how the president has reacted to this, especially as somebody who has been in politics and been in Washington for as long as he has been, the idea that he is now subject to an impeachment inquiry as president of the United States, what's his response to that?

SAMS: You know, the president has been in politics for a long time. And I think, as he would say, he has seen a lot of malarkey along the way, but this might take the cake. You know, he is focused on the issues that actually matter to the American people. You just saw him spending over the last week traveling around the world, shoring up our alliances, advancing national interests in Asia, our economic interests in Asia, showing American leadership on the world stage. He is coming back here. He is announcing today a quarter billion dollar investment in cancer research to try to finally cure cancer.

That's what his administration and this president is focused on every day. They're focused on the actual needs of the American people. And I think what he would say is maybe the House Republicans should join him.

MATTINGLY: You know, one thing, and this is my last one, a lot of people in Washington right now, and I know this is probably going to drive your team crazy that I ask it this way, but I think it's -- it matters because it's accurate, because the columnist who wrote a piece today asking for the president not to seek re-election, David Ignatius, is well respected within the building behind you. What's your response to that idea? It's not just about the president. It's also about the vice president who you worked for in the 2020 campaign.

SAMS: You know, I'm governed by the Hatch Act, and I want to be really careful. But, obviously, the president has announced he is running for re-election, and the president is going to make his case to the American people. And I'll refer you to the campaign for any sort of campaign questions.

But this president has a lot to be proud of and a lot to run on. He has delivered some of the most consequential achievements and economic progress in generations with the Inflation Reduction Act, the infrastructure bill, the CHIPS bill, which is opening new factories and creating new manufacturing jobs around the country. That's what he is going to be talking about versus these sort of political sideshows that congressional Republicans are starting to launch into right now.

MATTINGLY: Any expectation he'll weigh in on this, specifically anytime soon?

SAMS: You know, the president can speak for himself. I will say, I think he is going to stay focused on what the American people want him to focus on, which is helping to improve them, their lives, their families, not these sort of political attacks on him and his family. MATTINGLY: All right. Ian Sams, Spokesman for the White House Counsel's Office, I appreciate your time this morning. Thanks.

SAMS: Thanks.

HARLOW: Really important conversation, Phil, with the questions and trying to get some answers that the American people deserve this morning.


Let's bring in our Political Analyst, Senior Political Analyst and Anchor John Avlon; Senior Political Commentator and Columnist for the New York Magazine, Errol Louis; And former Senior Investigative Counsel for the January 6 Committee, Temidayo Aganga-Williams. Thank you all for being here, I just want to start with you. I think Phil did a masterful job of trying to say, here's what McCarthy but he claims.

What does the White House say? Why isn't President Biden answering these questions or coming out proactively and saying, "Let me detail for you, the American people my interactions with my son, when they happened, why they happened, and what the substance was."

ERROL LOUIS, SENIOR POLITICAL COMMENTATOR AND COLUMNIST: I think probably what the White House team wants to do is not elevate those claims. If you say that the claims are bogus, politically motivated, and unimportant to the American people, the fastest way to reverse that impression is to have the President take time and sit.

HARLOW: I hear you. I'm not suggesting a direct response to each of the claims, but coming out and saying, "Here is, and what were my interactions with my son, here's the truth."

LOUIS: I think, speaking for myself, I don't know what the White House is thinking, but if there's a substantive claim there that can be answered, that's one thing. If you think it's a fishing expedition, then you have no obligation to go out and sort of help them do their fishing expedition if the facts that are known are so laid out.

And I think you did a great job if that's what it is. Those of us who believe that impeachment is a solemn and serious detailed response to obvious claims of malfeasance, high crimes, and misdemeanors are the actual language. If you don't have anything resembling that and, in this case, a phone call from six years ago, about a business transaction, that's not a high crime, that's not a misdemeanor.

What are we talking about here? And frankly, I would be bothered if the President took the time to answer a claim that had so little behind it. If they've got more, then maybe we can talk about it.

JOHN AVLON, CNN ANCHOR AND SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Yeah, look, I think anything is worthy of investigation, but the investigations to date haven't turned up a lot of hard evidence, including the people who've been interviewed by this committee. And so, rushing to an impeachment inquiry is an insult to the historic gravity of impeachment proceedings, which traditionally have been undertaken once.

There are a lot of irrefutable facts and smoking guns that seem to implicate the President in an abuse of power on the level of high crimes and misdemeanors. So, the White House is not taking this seriously. Is that wise? Is that tenable? You know, TBD, I don't think he should give a checker speech on this right now.

But McCarthy is clearly being forced into this by his right flank, even to the extent where he doesn't want to take a vote, which, by the way, may be required according to DOJ statutes.

MATTINGLY: Yeah, to that point, let's be clear. They're not taking a vote because they don't have the votes.

AVLON: Correct.

MATTINGLY: Period and end of story. Let's also be clear. The reason why they're heading into this thing that McCarthy said before the 2022 election he wasn't going to do the American people would decide before he said he was ready to do it is because he has to for internal politics. Period and end of story. This is not like a subtle guessing game here.

That's what's literally happening. But, Temidayo, to the idea, as you look at that, the idea of we're doing this because we need more investigative tools, we're doing this because we need specific things that these three standing committees that are now leading the inquiry don't have the power to have. Is that valid?

TEMIDAYO AGANGA-WILLIAMS, FORMER ASSISTANT US ATTORNEY & JAN 6th SELECT COMMITTEE: Well, I think it's important before we get there to draw a distinction between that the investigations have already been conducted here. You have the DOJ, which has the most extensive tools.

More extensive, I mean, I've been a federal prosecutor and I've been a House investigator, and nothing stronger than the DOJ investigative tools. For years, the Department of Justice, led by a Trump-appointed U.S. Attorney, has been investigating Hunter Biden. And what they have uncovered has now drawn a link between anything Hunter Biden has done and President Biden.

And that's a really important point. After five years, if the DOJ couldn't uncover something, I truly doubt that a House committee, as good as they can be at times, is going to uncover something different. So, I think that's super important.

They've already been engaged in a House investigation now for months that has not uncovered a link between President Biden and any alleged wrongdoing by Hunter Biden. And I think it's all to draw a distinction here between what's happening with President Biden and former President Trump.

When grand juries conduct investigations I think that's a good model for what a thorough, proper investigation looks like. It's based on something when it starts, and it's not just a whim of one individual. And a grand jury is made up of individuals everyday Americans that come together, consider evidence, and take a vote, and they find what's called probable cause, meaning it's more likely than not that a crime is committed.

That's what happened to President Trump. That's why he's indicted. That's a proper basis to move forward on serious charges in that case, criminal. But here, what you're talking about is something different. It's folks moving forward with a serious investigation effectively based upon a whim.


Not based on facts, not based on things that I've seen that appear to be credible, grounded in what's something that's substantiated. I think that's a dangerous move.

AVLON: Otherwise notice, yeah, the objective reality and our inability to decide on common facts is one of the things dumbing down this.

MATTINGLY: I know we got to go, but there's a really telling moment in the Speaker's Press Conference or when he was talking about this, where he said, we have had new allegations rise in the last couple of months which drove them to this. Not new evidence, not new direct links, new allegations. And it was literally he just said it, and I was like, "Wait, I feel like my head's going to explode sometimes."

All right, guys, we appreciate it, as always, for walking us through. But through days of speculation and secrecy, Kim Jong UN and Vladimir Putin finally met overnight. What was discussed and how the international community is responding? That's next.


HARLOW: After so many days of speculation and secrecy, Kim Jong Un and Vladimir Putin finally met in person overnight. Their first meeting since 2019. And it's a significant development, bringing together two leaders who are increasingly isolated on the world stage. Putin signaled a willingness to assist North Korea with its space and satellite program in defiance of international sanctions.

The US. Officials have warned that Kim could be a key arms supplier to Moscow, a possible signoff just how desperate the Kremlin has become. It's not clear if the two discussed this possible arms deal, we've been hearing so much about it. Joining us now is CNN National Security Analyst, and former Deputy Director of National Intelligence, Beth Sanner.

Good morning to you. I was sort of surprised at how much information we got out of this meeting, but there are also key things we didn't get right. We don't know if anything was agreed to in writing.


And we don't know on the arms front what could have been shared. What are your questions this morning? What did this reveal to you?

BETH SANNER, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: Well, I think that we're seeing two effects here. One is symbolic, and the fact that they made this very public. This is not a hidden thing. And the words that were used, especially by Kim, really reinforced what he called the just war for Putin, and talking about this shared hatred of U.S. Hegemony and their shared anti-imperialist stance.

We're really seeing this symbolism and this unification of Russia and North Korea, a resurgence of that traditional alliance, which also brings in China. But on the practical side, I think we really do need to be watching what comes out of this.

They said no agreements were signed, but at the same time, when Putin was asked, "Were you going to help North Korea with satellites?" He said, "Well, that's why we're here, we're at the Vostochny Cosmodrome." So, I think that clearly, they are going to help in some way.

And certainly, North Korea looks at Russia and says, you know, they pretty much have everything we need.

MATTINGLY: Beth, we have to interrupt you right now. We do have some breaking news that we're going to take you. Stand by. And that breaking news is what we've been following now for more than a week, every single morning. Danelo Cavalcante, the convicted murderer who escaped a Chester County, Pennsylvania Penitentiary, is in custody.

According to a law enforcement source, they have been searching with hundreds of law enforcement officials over the course of more than two, almost two weeks. At this point, just over the course of the last 36 hours, Cavalcante was able to obtain a firearm, a 22-caliber rifle, one with a scope that certainly added urgency to a very long and very stressful time, not just for law enforcement officials, but also those living in the community.

HARLOW: Absolutely. Danny Freeman is on the ground live with the breaking news. Danny, what can you tell us?

DANNY FREEMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Poppy, I can tell you that I just got off the phone with a law enforcement source very close to this investigation, very close to this manhunt, who confirmed to CNN that Cavalcante has been taken into custody. Again, as you just said, after 14 days on the run, 14 days after escaping from the Chester County prison.

This is the update that we're finally learning today. This is an answer to a question that so many residents in Chester County have been waiting for a resolution to this search. I should also say we're getting confirmation from Pennsylvania State Police that there will be a press conference coming up in just over 30 minutes at 09:00 A.m., where presumably, we will hear more details about this capture.

And I just want to paint a picture for you this morning. We've seen a lot of law enforcement officers and agents come into this area. We're right on the perimeter in South Coventry Township. And we've notably seen for the past, I would say hour to hour and a half or so flying helicopters maybe a mile, 2 miles south of where we're standing right here. And we've been seeing a lot of air support helicopters, fixed-wing aircraft fly over the larger area over the course of the past 24, 48 hours. But this morning we really saw helicopters specifically focus on a much tighter circle, a much tighter perimeter.

Now, at the moment, the last confirmed sighting that we were alerted of prior to this capture was back on Monday night. That was when Cavalcante was able to get his hands on a rifle because it was left in an open garage.

And that clearly stepped up the intensity of this investigation. And this manhunt, law enforcement said that they brought as many as 500 law enforcement agents to this area of Chester County to try and flush him out. It seems they have done that this morning.

Again, a law enforcement source confirmed to me just a few minutes ago that Danelo Cavalcante is now in custody. I'll throw it back to you for now.

HARLOW: Danny, do you know how they got him? Where exactly did they get him?

FREEMAN: Listen, that is a good question. We're still waiting on those details. I'm working on my sources. The source I spoke to had to get off the phone pretty quickly after I reached out to that person. But like I said, we're looking at this helicopter specifically just off of camera right here, this state police helicopter.

It's very low and it's in part of this wooded area that we've been discussing this whole time. The specific area a little bit far south of here, there is a creek that runs along this main Route 100 that we're standing on. That could be the area that police are searching and focused on.

But as I said, the troopers are flying down to that area. The helicopter has been low and we're waiting for more details that we will hopefully get at around 09:00 a.m. The Pennsylvania State Police will host a press conference, presumably announcing this capture officially, Poppy.