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Biden Says He Was Surprised To Learn Government Records, Including Classified Documents, Were Taken To His Private Office; Exclusive, Source Tells CNN U.S. Intelligence Materials Related To Ukraine, Iran And U.K. Found In Biden's Private Office; House GOP Select Panel To Target DOJ And FBI And Their Ongoing Criminal Investigations; Landslides, Sinkholes, Flooding Continue To Plague California; Rep. Pat Ryan (D-NY) Is Interviewed About The Ethics Complaint Filed Against Rep. George Santos Of New York; Chinese Government Downplays Number Of COVID Deaths; President Biden Addresses Classified Documents Issue. Aired 10-11p ET
Aired January 10, 2023 - 22:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
LAURA COATES, CNN ANCHOR: Well, good evening, everyone, I am Laura Coates and this is CNN TONIGHT.
Now, President Biden is responding this evening to the discovery of at least ten classified documents in his former private office.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JOE BIDEN, U.S. PRESIDENT: People know I take classified documents and classified information seriously. I was briefed about this discovery and surprised to learn that there were any government records taken there to that office. But I don't know what is in the documents. My lawyers have not suggested I ask what documents they were. I have turned over the boxes, they have turned over the boxes to the Archives and we are cooperating fully, cooperating fully with the review, in which I hope will be finished soon.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
COATES: Well, the documents were discovered on, wait for it, November 2nd. From Joe Biden's time as vice president, including -- and it include U.S. intelligence memos and briefing materials about Ukraine and Iran and the U.K.
We are learning exclusively at CNN that a couple of days later, Biden's lawyers handed over everything in the office, some 50 or 55 boxes, out of an abundance of caution. And here we go, the House oversight chairman has already sent letters to the White House Counsel's Office and the National Archives in the opening salvo of congressional investigations of Biden's handling of those documents.
Now, the DOJ already had its hands full with two very different documents cases. And what happens next will all come down to how those cases diverge after the documents were discovered to be in the possession of something other than the National Archives. At least ten classified docs found in President Biden's private office in downtown Washington, at least 325 classified documents found for President Trump's beach club at Mar-a-Lago.
Now, some of those ten or so Biden documents, they were marked top secret. 60 Trump documents were marked top secret. Now, of course, the idea of how many were there, if it is intentional, and if it is serious enough, just one document is problematic. So, don't be swayed by the number alone. But team Biden, the words you heard, words of cooperation, they are cooperating with the National Archives and the DOJ. Now, Trump, he is under investigation for obstruction. President Biden's lawyers found his documents and immediately notified the National Archives. But the Archives had to reach out to team Trump and ask for his documents. And the DOJ doesn't think it has got all the Trump documents even as we are sitting here today.
And sitting with me here tonight is CNN's Phil Mattingly, also retired senior CIA Operations Officer Douglas London, author of the great new book, The Recruiter. it is out in Paperback as we speak, also National Security Attorney Bradley Moss and CNN's M.J. Lee, who has been covering the president while in Mexico City. I am glad that you are all here right now.
Let me begin with you, M.J., because you are where really the action is for the president of the United States and, of course, what is on everyone's mind is the dates here. We are not just finding out that the president has just found out. Why did they not allow people to know or tell this earlier?
M.J. LEE, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Yes. You know, Laura, as much as we just heard the president address this issue for the very first time at this press conference in Mexico City, that is the one question that he really didn't answer and it is a question that the White House isn't answering either, the question being if the Biden team knew and found these classified documents at a private office where they clearly shouldn't have been, going back to November, why are we only learning about this now?
And earlier today when we were asking the White House about this, a White House Counsel Office spokesperson said they are just limited right now in what exactly they can share. The spokesperson also said that they are committed to doing things the right way and maybe at some point in the future they will be able to share more information.
But right now, as things stand, it is just not clear why that decision was made, sort of what went into that thought process and exactly who might have been involved. You know, the summit with, the North American Leaders' Summit that took place right behind us is now over and Air Force One is headed back to Washington, but this issue is clearly waiting for the president back at home.
And as you laid out in your intro there, just real distinctions between sort of the Biden document situation and the Trump docs, and, certainly, the White House is trying to make clear that those distinctions are real, we have seen over the last 48 hours how many Republicans and Trump allies definitely don't care about those distinctions.
COATES: You know, it is a really important point. I want to go to you, Bradley, on this. Bradley Moss is national security attorney and had dealt with classified documents throughout your career. And, of course, I'm wondering, and as much that we talk about, there are some distinctions. Obviously, we have laid out the distinctions. M.J. makes a fine point about whether that nuance will ever be appreciated and the difference to that distinction. But I do wonder from your perspective, are there red flags here that people are missing? Do you feel skeptical about the president's response or when they knew?
BRADLEY MOSS, NATIONAL SECURITY ATTORNEY: No. Look the two roads diverged here in the woods and Joe Biden took the path you are supposed to take. He did what you are supposed to do when you find out that, for whatever reason, whether it was incompetence, sloppiness, ignorance, whatever, classified records or documents with classification markings wound up in your possession. You notify the government, you get it returned to then immediately. That is, according to what we know from the media reporting and what the White House Counsel said, is what happened.
I want to still see what comes out more details-wise. I'm not just taking their word for it, but if that is what transpired here, then, in terms of at least Joe Biden, he's in the clear. He did what you are supposed to do. Donald Trump is the case study in how to get yourself into more trouble when you didn't have to be and how to tick off the Justice Department.
COATES: Well, Doug, on that point, the idea that we are thinking about not taking one's word for it, spoken like a true lawyer, like I'm not going to take your word for it, it's the whole trust and verify or just not trust you at all moment. But I wonder, I mean, if you are looking at this and you are trying to think about how to evaluate and assess one's accountability, or to trust somebody, he could easily say, I didn't know. And some talking points already saying, isn't that what Trump would say? And why is this so different? How do you see it?
DOUGLAS LONDON, RETIRED SENIOR CIA OPERATIONS OFFICER: Well, from a counterintelligence perspective, Laura, you are looking at the material itself, control and intent, intent may be speaking to the accountability factor. In terms of material, there may be ten documents on the special access programs, but they're finished products which are for clues but not sources and methods. When you compare that against what President Trump held, 60 odd top secret documents, there's a lot more clues there.
In terms of control, these were locked in an office that perhaps only Biden and his team had access, to where with Mar-a-Lago, this is a common storage space with boxes that common workers could have access to. In terms of intent, as you've explained, President Trump perhaps might find himself charged with obstruction because he went out of his way to prevent these documents from being retained, which means he had an endgame. It could very possibly be the actions of President Biden's staff but he seems to say he doesn't know about it. Either way, the numbers themselves, the metrics and the clinical evaluation makes it less of a potential hazard for sources and methods, as what we saw in Mar-a-Lago.
COATES: And, of course, Phil, thinking about this, I mean, there is the divergent paths taken. There is the idea of what one knows when you are aware of it, but that awareness factor. I mean, we are talking about it was known in November. It is January. I know last week was an entire year, but it is technically still January and it is not November by anyone's imagination. What do you make of the idea that we didn't know about this sooner? I mean, this was a hell of a timeline.
PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Yes. Look, as a reporter, I am not thrilled by it but I've also spent the last 24 to 36 hours making calls about this and not being thrilled about the general lack of answers. But to some degree, I think that underscores the approach the White House and their team have taken. It is not satisfying from an informational perspective or from a journalistic perspective, but it also very much tracks with the caution that they've operated with throughout this entire process.
And I think part of what we're seeing right now, a lot of the issues you laid out, who had access to it, where they came from, what the process was, that's part of the review. That's what they expect the U.S. attorney is looking into as he presents his information to the attorney general.
COATES: And they already gave a preliminary report.
MATTINGLY: Already a preliminary report but don't expect any more coming out of that, which means a decision may be coming soon.
Look, the worst case scenario out of this, not the politics of it, not whatever House Republicans are going to do, the worst case scenario is that the attorney general decides this is suspect enough to try and appoint a special counsel. That is a nightmare for any White House. And that is certainly something this administration is cognizant of and wants to avoid because, at least according to them, they don't believe they've done anything to merit that. That drives the caution both on the timeline of things, willingness to talk about this in just how few details they've been willing to let out up to this point.
The one thing however they had made clear of, and it has been implicit, but it is pretty blatant, if you look at special counsel statement or the White House Counsel statements from last night, if you listen to the president today, they are drawing a very significant contrast from the former president. That is not unintentional. They are doing that with the little information they're giving. They're making clear that this is a very different scenario. That is an understanding of the politics even with the restrictions they feel like they have on the moment (ph).
COATES: M.J., let me bring you back into the conversation here because I wonder what -- I mean, this is really taking center stage. And, of course, Biden, Trudeau and everyone wanted this to have a different vibe today, to say the least. What is the atmosphere like there? Even having to address this, I think many people were surprised President Biden didn't just punt and say, this is not why I'm here, we'll talk about this back in Washington D.C. In some respects, it speaks to the idea -- I think we lost her for a second. It speaks to the urgency of how knew that this was.
Let me go to you, Bradley, on this, because I wonder about the timing issue. The fact there has already been somebody to look at this, somebody who is a Trump appointee, a U.S. attorney out Illinois, the fact that there has already been a preliminary report handed over, what does that signal to you about either the pace of the investigation or how this might end up?
MOSS: It shows me that it's running by the proper course. That it was turned over. When everything was turned over back in November to NARA, they quickly sent it to DOJ. It wasn't like what we know with the Trump team, where they dragged that out for months, fighting about executive privilege with NARA, DOJ got the records, they had no problems getting information out of whoever they needed it from. They're being able to interview people, if they need it. They're being able to get an understanding of what has transpired.
COATES: You mean, to have that report, interviews have been done, maybe even lawyers for Biden.
MOSS: Quite possibly. We already know the president has his personal lawyers. So, if there are, in fact, lawyers being involved, the fact that journalists haven't been found out about it is kind of disappointing but that would -- you brought that up.
COATES: There was no -- that wasn't shame (ph). That was just a little bit of a moment.
MATTINGLY: It was though. It's definitely a shame. We're a Carter (ph) fellow. I get it. I hear from my bosses from every day.
COATES: A minor cloud. Go ahead.
MOSS: But that does show that this is going by the pace that, for something like this, it is supposed to. The reason it is taking so long in Mar-a-Lago was because of all the obfuscation and the obstruction. They made it take longer and they put up those roadblocks.
COATES: So, what about Attorney General Garland, though? I mean, he has a bit of a dilemma on his hands. You hear that with the criticism coming out right now from anywhere from the former vice president, Mike Pence, to Congressman Marjorie Taylor Greene, who are expressing, look, there might be a double standard unless there is a protocol that's followed precisely in the same way it happened for Trump. Even with those divergent paths, Attorney General Garland has to really rely on these reports but also has a political and legal calculus. What do you think?
LONDON: Well, to avoid the double standard, at some point, the intelligence community probably has to get involved to take a look, is there any damage, do you have an assessment (INAUDIBLE) chain of evidence. As you know far better than me, they would have to depend on justice to let him know, to provide the subject lines, the serial numbers of those reports to then take people offline and see -- have we seen anything?
Again, this intelligence reporting has to predate 2017 because it's Obama-era material. So, some of it might be already overtaken by events and certainly there would be an opportunity that, had damage been done, had these documents out of control fallen into bad hands, by now, we would certainly see indications for the sources and methods that were involved in collecting the material used in those assessments.
COATES: Real quick, is it a good thing that lawyers told them not to ask what documents there were?
MOSS: Yes. He doesn't want -- have any need to know, do not talk to him about, don't ask about it.
COATES: There you go, Phil. That is why they didn't tell you.
MATTINGLY: That's exactly right, which, by the way, we reported that before.
COATES: See how that happened?
MATTINGLY: I will say, one final thing, I know we're on the clock here, that has been an interesting element of this. It is not just the president, mostly people on his team also don't have a great sense, they certainly haven't reviewed it in the counsel's office or in his broader senior advisers, and that has complicated their response as well. They don't know. They have a broad sense of things just based on the fact that the review has been ongoing, that some of their personal lawyers have been involved as well, but that complicates the ability to get information out.
But to Bradley's point, there is a reason the president doesn't know about this. That is also not unintentional.
COATES: Fine point from Phil Mattingly. And all of you stick around, please. The lawmaker caught in multiple lies being sworn in, that is up next. And, of course, now, his fellow members of Congress are asking should George Santos really be entrusted with classified information? I will speak with a Democrat who is demanding McCarthy block Santos' access to that information, next.
[22:15:00] COATES: Well, everyone, there was a party line vote today in the House establishing a committee that Republicans say will investigate what they call the weaponization of the federal government. And it is one of the first acts of the speaker, Kevin McCarthy-led House, as we get a clearer picture of what comes next for House Republicans after the brutal speakership battle.
Joining me now to discuss, former GOP Congressman and CNN Senior Political Commentator Adam Kinzinger. Nice to see you today, Adam.
It is interesting, first of all, most people saw that screen flash for a moment and had a bit of a deja vu and thought, oh no, are we back here again at a long speakership vote? It is not that but this was truly a test today.
Before we get into that, though, I am really curious to hear your take on the news of the day, President Biden speaking and addressing from Mexico City that there were classified documents found in a private office. He has not asked his lawyers about what is in it, they handed it over immediately apparently to the Archives and there has already been some preliminary report handed over to the attorney general, Merrick Garland from a Trump-appointed U.S. attorney who is a holdover in Illinois. What is your take on this?
ADAM KINZINGER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, first off, the U.S. attorney is a great guy. I know him, he is fair. So, I trust what will be in that report. I think in any other time this would be a news item, but, obviously, given what had happened with the former president, it is huge.
Thankfully, in the justice area, they do nuance. And there is a lot of nuance differences here, including just, you know, yes, there was classified information but what was the reaction after that was found out? Politics-wise, nuance hasn't done very well in this.
So, from an ammunition perspective, from a difficulty now in prosecuting Trump, I don't think it's going to make a difference in what the Justice Department does but it certainly gives ammunition to the Republicans to say that you're targeting President Trump, but I don't think that is necessarily the case. COATES: Of course, interestingly enough, if you were to look at it,
and you are a Republican congressman who is attempting to do what you are talking about, then if you are condemning more broadly the idea of the possession of classified materials for a former executive officeholder, that you necessarily have to then condemn the former president, Trump, but that nuance won't apparently be there. I mean, hypocrisy really is something that seems to be part and parcel as well, right?
KINZINGER: Yes. I mean, I think, look, everybody can agree that the possession of classified material is wrong. It shouldn't happen. What you are going to see from my former colleagues in the Republican side is a lot of attacking President Biden, saying he should be in jail and ignoring what Donald Trump did. And I heard it yesterday and somebody is saying, basically, look, he was vice president at the time, he shouldn't have had access to this material, which is patently false.
But there is no excuse for either side on this but I do think former President Trump has a much different case and, again, justice will do nuance, they do nuance far better than politicians do.
COATES: I mean, the law is about the behavior in part, but let's talk about part of this, because as I mentioned at the top, Republicans did create a new select committee today to investigate what they are calling the weaponization of the DOJ and the FBI. And I'm wondering what this is going to mean for the administration and also for the public's perception of the credibility of the DOJ more broadly.
KINZINGER: I think we are in a moment where people already have their minds made up. I'm not sure this is going to change anybody's mind. I guess what I'm confused about generally is there is an oversight committee. The oversight committee is the one that is supposed to be dealing with this. So, that is what is ominous about creating a whole new committee that says anybody that is under investigation, now we are going to get after the investigators.
I worry about any kind of a chilling effect this put on the execution of justice. Are we targeting individuals now who are out doing their job? If you believe that there is corruption, for instance, in the DOJ or in government agencies, that is what the oversight committee is for. This seems like an extra layer. But what I am worried about is this actually seems like something akin to McCarthyism in the 50s, not Kevin McCarthy, in terms of who are we going to target, who are we going to put out in front of us and embarrassing people for doing their job.
COATES: Well, when you try to investigate the investigations and the investigators, a lot of legislation is also not happening, to your larger point. But speaking of committees and about how the oversight is done, Speaker McCarthy was promising Democratic Reps Schiff and Swalwell and Ilhan Omar that they will not be on the committees that they served on previously. And we already know we have come to think about even in the campaign platforms and looking ahead to even November and let alone beyond, there were conversations about what would happen if Republicans became the majority and the tit-for-tat of removal from committees, as we saw, for other reasons, by Democrats as well. Swalwell was reacting to that today as payback. Listen to this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. ERIC SWALWELL (D-CA): They are planning to stake me, Adam Schiff and Ilhan Omar off the committee is and put George Santos, Marjorie Taylor Greene and Paul Gosar back on committees. I think you can see that that is an uneven, vengeful approach.
They can try and do what they want to do but I think the voters see that this is nothing more than one side trying to take the best of the other side off the field in a very vengeful way.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
COATES: How do you see it? KINZINGER: Look, it is a really dangerous, slippery slope we're on here. Let's go back in time to why Marjorie Taylor Greene and why Paul Gosar were pulled off of their committees. By the way, I voted for both of them to be pulled off of their committees.
If you go even further back, Kevin McCarthy had pulled Steve King for some white person supremacist comments off of his committees. He was asked if he could do the same for Marjorie Taylor Greene for denying school shootings, the whole Jewish space laser, all those conspiracies, he refused because that was politically tough at the time. Same with Paul Gosar, who addressed a white supremacist conference, when he refused to do that, then the House took it up.
We took it up because of a legitimate reason and it was a bipartisan vote. What is being done now is retribution and payback. And, listen, we start getting into this tit-for-tat, retribution and payback, this House, as dysfunctional as it is now, will continue to be even more dysfunctional. It is very scary where this is tracking, I think, at the moment.
COATES: Real quick, we think about the idea of -- you're talking oversight and what we are watching. I do wonder what you make of the C-Span video cameras. There is an amendment right now from Congressman Matt Gaetz to have them up. Just speaking about how people are watching what is happening, is there some incentive if the cameras are on or if this amendment were to pass for some reason that you think could be greater or responsibility or accountability you would see from people knowing that the big brother is watching?
KINZINGER: Well, let me just give you my personal opinion. Either way this goes, I don't think it is going to be a massive deal. Of course, Matt Gaetz wants that so he can go out and perform on the floor anytime he can to get on T.V. But, listen, what I worry about, right now anytime anybody speaks in a committee or on the floor of the House of Representatives, all they think about is, at any given time, there is actually 7,000 people that watch C-Span, believe it or not, all they are thinking about is addressing those folks. That is why you don't have legitimate debates really anymore.
I am a little concerned with what happens if now, let's say, I'm on the floor and I go talk to somebody that is politically very different, could be a good story, but in the base, it could be like, why is Adam talking to somebody on the far-left? I do worry about now making everything a performance. If they end up freeing the cameras, fine I don't think it is a huge deal. I just kind of lean on the side of we probably shouldn't do that.
COATES: Showmanship in Congress? I don't know what you are talking about, Congressman. Is that a thing? So, nice to talk to you this evening, thank you so much.
KINZINGER: No, it is a surprise, yes. You bet.
COATES: Spoiler alert, it's not. Thank you so much, Congressman. Nice talking to you tonight.
Listen, everyone, speaking of, well, what you call it a show, what Mother Nature is doing. But let me tell you, sinkholes and flooded roads and heavy snow, there are desperate rescues. California's deadly storms have killed at least 17 people. And it has forced tens of thousands to evacuate just so far. We are going to have more after this.
COATES: There are dangerous storms battering California with relentless rain and deadly flooding. At least 17 people have now died, thousands have been forced to evacuate, millions are under flood watch. You can see firefighters rescuing a 70-year-old driver stuck on a suburban street near L.A. County. Luckily, he survived.
But in central California, a five-year-old is still missing tonight after being swept away in floodwaters. At one point, rescue teams were forced to suspend the search for him when the weather became too unsafe for even the rescuers.
And the heavy rainfall in Fresno led to this rockslide with deep mud and debris forcing highways to close. I want to bring in Bryan May, spokesperson for the California Governor's Office of Emergency Services. Thank you for being here tonight, Bryan. I mean, when you see this, the numbers, at least 17 people have died, do you fear this number may rise?
BRYAN MAY, SPOKESPERSON, CALIFORNIA GOVERNOR'S OFFICE OF EMERGENCY SERVICES: It's hard to put into words just what we are seeing just across the state right now. And you know, California certainly no stranger to danger and events, but normally when we see events in California, we see an isolated earthquake in one part of the state, we see a wildfire in one particular part of the state.
But this really is impacting the entirety of California especially along our coastal communities. We are seeing that the 17 deaths that you mentioned, they stretch from the southern border of Mexico all the way up to the Oregon border on the north side of the state and it's challenging, you mentioned, for our first responders as well.
We did more air rescues today than we've did in the last five years of the event. And we see a lot of events in California. We're just talking about the challenging conditions and trying to get through these series of storms.
COATES: We're watching sinkholes on the screen next to you and seeing where there are, as you mentioned, the entire state tonight. The entire state is under flood watch. And so, what are you telling people in order to keep them safe? This is a very seemingly unpredictable and very dangerous storm in terms of what could actually impact and what could happen next. What is your message? MAY: Well, first and foremost, if you hear an evacuation order in
your specific community, the best thing you can do is heed that warning. Get out, keep yourself safe. And also keep those first responders who don't then have to come in and looking for you. The second thing is, along those lines, just pay very close attention. Watch your local media, watch the weather reports, listen to your local authorities.
These weather conditions are changing very quickly. It's hard to predict the mudslides that we're seeing. It's hard to predict when a 100-plus year-old trees are coming down. It's very dangerous. So, the third message would be just stay off the roads and stay at home if you can and let's get through these next rounds together.
COATES: Such important messages. Thank you so much Bryan May for this evening and we're thinking of everyone out there especially that five- year-old boy little family. Thank you so much.
MAY: You're welcome.
COATES: Everyone, George Santos is kicking off his term in Congress, insisting, despite his multiple lies that he has done nothing unethical. Some of his fellow members of Congress, well, they do not agree. Now, there are questions about whether he should even be entrusted with classified information.
COATES: Newly sworn in Republican Congressman George Santos is maintaining this very evening that he has done, quote, "nothing unethical," unquote. Now, as two Democrat lawmakers today filed a complaint against him with the House Ethics Committee. Now, they're taking issue with the timing and of course the accuracy of his financial disclosures.
And it comes just a day after a watchdog group asked Federal Election Commission to investigate Santos for allegedly using campaign funds for his personal expenses. Now, on top of all of that, federal prosecutors in New York were also now investigating his finances. And this appears to be just the tip of the iceberg.
The Long Island Republican has been caught in a growing number of tall tales, and that's putting it nicely. Facing questions about his work history, his education, the source of his wealth, whether or not he is Jewish and even how his own mother died. Here is how GOP leaders say they are going to deal with it.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. STEVE SCALISE (R-LA): This is something that's being handled internally. Obviously, there were concerns about what we had heard. And so, we're going to have to sit down and talk to him about it.
(END VIDEO CLIP) COATES: We're going to sit down and talk to him about it. Joining me now to talk about this, Democratic Congressman Pat Ryan of New York. Congressman Ryan, thank you for being here this evening. You know, for so many people we are still sort of recovering from the entire speakership election. However --
REP. PAT RYAN (D-NY): I join them.
COATES: Yesh, you joined the recovery of all this. But of course, one of the things that was on the minds of everyone was how Congressman Santos would be treated, number one. How the -- with the slim margin, McCarthy might try to either appeal to him or maybe rebuke him. How would that go? I wonder in hearing that what I can call really a tepid response. They're going to sit down and they're going to talk to him. This is a member of Congress who is accused of all of these lies. What's your reaction?
RYAN: When is it enough? I mean, when does lie upon lie upon lie become enough to actually grow a backbone and say, this is deeper than gaining 218 seats in the House. This is about trust in our democracy among the American people. And unfortunately, we just continue to see people putting power over the essence of our democracy, the democracy I risked my life to defend as an Army officer. So, it pisses me off, frankly.
COATES: I can imagine. Frankly, for the electorate, they are wondering probably the same questions you're asking, especially about that trust element. Because trust, of course, in our democracy has become imperiled in recent times either through famed accusations of not having a fair and free election, we do, or the idea of trying to sow discord and distrust between people to have self-gain you're talking about.
I wonder, you've written to McCarthy, Speaker McCarthy, today and you called Santos a direct threat, and I'm quoting, a direct threat to national security. That certainly goes beyond the idea of misplaced trust or rejected trust. Why is he a direct threat to national security?
RYAN: I think it's really important that the American people understand. When you're elected to Congress you essentially automatically get access to top secret, national security information, a security clearance. That is undergirded by this idea that if the people know you and they elect you, you should be trusted, entrusted with this highly sensitive information with lives at stake.
The problem is Santos blatantly lied to the American people. Yet, he is going to get the same access to this highly sensitive, top-secret information. So, I said the speaker, I demanded, and along with other colleagues, all of whom are sort of in harm's way in the military or intelligence agencies. We cannot let this stand.
I mean, we don't even know where hundreds of thousands of dollars of campaign contributions have come from, who he might he be beholden to. Until that is sorted out and he is properly vetted, it truly is a national security risk to allow him access to this information.
COATES: You know, you said the idea of vetting, of course, and the idea of an investigation pending -- there is at least one Republican congressman who appears to be on the side, Dusty Johnson out of South Dakota, wanting to have an investigation. I wonder what that would look like to you?
RYAN: Well, there needs to be a comprehensive investigation into, frankly, how he was even allowed to be seated given that we knew these issues had come up, that his lies had occurred and yet, he was allowed to be sworn in. I also --
COATES: Because there was time to catch it.
RYAN: Yeah. We knew, I mean, this was wildly reported before he was sworn in. And me and many others called, let's stop it now, not let this mistake go further. Though I also called for specifically though is, he should be subjected to a national security investigation if he does want access to this information.
The normal American citizen getting clearance goes through months of extensive background checks and vetting given his lies at a minimum, if they want to keep him in the Congress which I don't think he should be, let's at least subject him to a fulsome background check which I don't think he would pass, frankly.
COATES: Speaking of national security, of course, the big news of the day and really the past 24 hours and frankly, several month's given the prior president, Donald Trump's handling of classified documents, there, has been (inaudible) as you know, reporting about classified documents of some nature being found in the private office of a former vice president who is now the president of the United States.
What do you say to the fact that this just happened or this is occurring, we don't have all the information that's true. We're still waiting very much for data for the reporting to come in from the president to talk about what really happened if he knows. What is your reaction to this issue? It's a matter of trust in many respects.
RYAN: It all comes back to trust, which comes back to accountability. I handle classified information every day as an army intelligence officer. If someone were to accidentally misplace it or mis-store it, what you do is you identify that problem, you own it. You address it and fix it and you do it in a transparent way.
That's what the president seems to be doing and that's what everybody should do. It's the opposite of what Trump did, by the way, who tried to cover it up, lie about it and so on and so forth. So, you know, we, as you said, need to learn more. But I think the first step is taking accountability and getting to the facts.
COATES: Congressman, thank you so much for your insight today.
RYAN: Yeah, thanks for having me.
[22:45:01] COATES: Well, China's government denying a COVID surge over there, but picture evidence tells a very different story. We got the satellite images showing crowded crematoriums and funeral homes after this.
COATES: Disturbing, newly-revealed images raised questions about China's COVID deaths. There are growing signs that the number of deaths are far beyond what the government is admitting to at the sudden end of its severe lockdown just last month.
Take a look at these satellite images of a funeral home outside Beijing. Just a matter of weeks last month, it apparently became so crowded they had to build a new parking lot for mourners.
And the clues, while they don't stop there. This video shows people lined up in the night at a crematorium in China. "The Washington Post" reports that scenes like this suggests that families are now waiting for hours just to have a chance to make arrangements for a memorial service and cremation.
Now, in some cases, demand is so high that the person who uploaded this video says there were even scalpers holding spaces. Joining me now is "Washington Post" video forensic reporter Samuel Oakford. Thank you for joining us.
I mean, this is very disturbing to think about what is taking place here, Samuel. I mean, I wonder initially, seeing these images, these images that are around China, showing this increased traffic. I'm wondering what this truly signals in terms of what the current state of COVID-19 is in China.
SAMUEL OAKFORD, VIDEO FORENSICS REPORTER, WASHINGTON POST: Laura, thank you for having me on. The Chinese government is very tightlipped about how many people are dying due to the current COVID surge that's followed the reversal of their zero COVID policy, especially when it comes to deaths in major cities. We are seeing totals that are very, very low if at all showing up.
So, what we wanted to do was look at satellite imagery and available open-source material including videos to see if we can establish patterns across the country and we are able to do that. We looked at multiple cities. Eventually we came up with six cities where we could identify funeral homes that had more activity now in terms of vehicles, people outside, compared to the same time last year. We then took videos that were taken inside of those facilities and we could see how crowded they were.
COATES: That is pretty amazing to think about, just the technology you're using and the idea of using the satellite images to try to get at the heart of the matter of what China is not revealing. I just want to underscore a point that you made, Samuel, because, you know, officially, officially, just over 5,200 people in China, according to their numbers, have died since the beginning of the pandemic.
And that compares in the United States to just over a million. But just 5,000 they say have passed, but your reporting actually has a very different projection. In fact, it projects by international experts, they put the death toll at the 5,000 number per day. How do we get to that?
OAKFORD: All right. Well, our investigation is trying to see what was happening, in cities across the country to see if there was any evidence to suggest that what experts say could happen wasn't, right? And we basically we did not find that there was evidence to contradict what those experts are saying.
We don't know how many people are dying, certainly the evidence suggests that a lot of people are dying especially the elderly who are -- may have lower levels of vaccination or boosters. This is a big problem in China. And when everything changed overnight effectively, in early December, the country as a whole is undergoing what, you know, the U.S. may have gone through over the course of three years.
COATES: And of course, we are learning now that as part of it's relaxing of the COVID protocols and we are wondering somewhat the cause of this recent surge most directly, but China is also allowing people to now travel again. And I'm wondering how this might pose a danger internationally.
OAKFORD: Yeah. Well, our investigation is mostly focused on the spread, the very possible string of deaths within China. I think we all know by now that covid can spread, you know, people travel. But I think that what we are trying to get at was accountability here. The Chinese government is basically is not saying and leveling with the international community as well as their own citizens about what's happening at the moment.
And if you think about what we went through here in the United States with so many deaths and so many dramatic scenes here in the early days with the pandemic, imagine if the government was covering up that -- those deaths and we simply didn't know how many people were dying. And that's what's happening now in China. Our investigation shows that what the government is saying is almost certainly inaccurate.
COATES: A really important story and way to get at the information when transparency certainly is not the name of the game there. Thank you so much.
OAKFORD: Thank you.
COATES: So, the investigations, well they have begun. Republicans are requesting information about the classified documents found in President Joe Biden's old private office. I'll tell you about it next.
COATES: Well, President Biden is breaking his silence tonight in the classified documents from his time as the vice president that were found in his private office. Here's what he said today at the Summit in Mexico City.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA: People know I take classified documents, classified information seriously. When my lawyers were clearing out my office at the University of Pennsylvania, they set up an office for me, a secure office in the capital when I -- for four years after being vice president as a professor at Penn.
They found some documents in a box, you know, locked cabinet or at least a closet.
And as soon as they did, they realized there were several classified documents in that box, and they did what they should have done.