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Inside Politics

Source: 10 Docs Marked Classified Found In Biden's Office, Including Intel Memos; DOJ Investigating Biden's Handling Of Secret Docs; Timeline: Biden Lawyers Found Secret Docs Days Before Midterms; Migration Takes Center Stage At "Three Amigos" Summit; Migration A Top Issue At Mexico City Summit; Biden Tries To Secure More Help From Mexico Amid Migrant Crisis; Bipartisan Group Visits El Paso, Calls For Legislative Fixes. Aired 12-12:30p ET

Aired January 10, 2023 - 12:00   ET



KATE BOLDUAN, CNN HOST: It's good to see you, Sanjay. Thank you. Really appreciated. And thank you all so much for joining us At This Hour. I'm Kate Bolduan. Thanks for watching. Inside Politics with John King starts right now.

JOHN KING, CNN HOST: Hello, and welcome to Inside Politics. I'm John King in Washington. Thank you for sharing a very busy news day with us. A mistake or a crime, President Biden's lawyers alert the Justice Department. They discovered Obama era classified documents at a Washington office Biden used during the Trump presidency.

Plus, a juggling act abroad today. The president sitting down with neighbors to the north and the south. The Biden White House wants help curbing migration and drug trafficking. Mexico's president says the United States needs to pay more attention and give more respect for Latin America.

Plus, first on CNN. A special counsel Jack Smith, is Rudy Giuliani with a new subpoena? It's for records about how Donald Trump paid him if Giuliani tried to overturn the 2020 election.

Up first for us, though, new CNN reporting on the classified discovery, kicking up a storm of questions for the current president of the United States. A source telling CNN the documents found in Joe Biden's private office included intelligence memos on a range of allies and adversaries, Iran among them, more details in just a moment.

But just minutes ago, no response from President Biden. He is in Mexico to shouted questions about this classified material discovery. It's a repeat of last night. The president hearing then ignoring shouted questions, asked to talk about that disclosure.

Look at the picture. Where is he, next to the attorney general of the United States Merrick Garland, who will eventually have to decide if this inquiry into his boss deserves a special counsel. Here's what we know this hour. The find has sparked a federal investigation, ordered by attorney general Garland and led by a Chicago U.S. attorney who has a Trump administration hold over. 10 documents the source says, were classified markings and they date back to Mr. Biden's time as vice president.

And Biden lawyers say, they follow procedure to the letter, immediately alerting the national archives when those documents were found back on November 2. But there is also plenty still in need of explanation here.

No explanation as of right now for why Mr. Biden had those documents or exactly what they contain. No explanation also about why the Biden White House kept word of the documents and the investigation quiet for two plus months now. Already, Republicans making a very public case, Congress should look into this.


REP. MICHAEL WALTZ, (R) FLORIDA: How long have they been sitting around who had access all of this time? How many people had access all of this time? Where's the FBI raid? Where is this big show of force to make sure there's no other classified documents there?

REP. DUSTY JOHNSON, (R) SOUTH DAKOTA: I don't know enough about the difference in the volume and the difference in cooperation. I think those are questions that we've got to have a committee ask. I guess at this point, I'm not wanting to take the Biden administration's word for it. Let's ask a few follow-up questions.


KING: With me in studio to share their reporting and their insights, CNN's Dana Bash, CNN's Evan Perez, the former federal prosecutor Shan Wu, and CNN's Jamie Gangel.

Jamie, let's walk as clearly as we can about what we do know and what we don't know in terms of what was discovered. Your reporting is the search of a private office, lawyers involved because the former vice president now president knew there was sensitive family materials in there. He wanted somebody sensitive looking at them, they come across an envelope, open it up and?

JAMIE GANGEL, CNN SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT: So, by and large, I think we have to underscore 98, 99 percent of what is found in this office is absolutely personal Biden material, including things like the arrangements for his son, Beau's funeral, condolence letters.

But what happens is, as they're going through the boxes, the lawyer who is doing it for because these were confidential family materials, opens a box and there is a plain manila envelope that says it stamped VP personal. So, maybe that's how this all happened. When it got packed up, someone thought it was personal.

The lawyer opens the envelope and there is something that is classified. Right there, he closes the envelope, Houston, we have a problem. He makes the appropriate calls. He says to the national archives come and get it.

What we know is that when they go through, there were about three or four boxes that did not appear once they started going through them to have just personal things. And what they find a number of records that are unclassified but fall under the Presidential Records Act, and then they find 10 documents that are classified. And what my source says is, they include intelligence memos, national security memos, background briefing memos that cover areas from Iran, Ukraine and the U.K.


KING: Let's wait, come back to this for more. Now, I just want to where are we in this investigation? The president is overseas right now, while he's in south of the border out of the country with the attorney general of the United States. When he got wind of this decided he wanted somebody who he could say was impartial to look at this. So, the Trump appointed U.S. attorney in Chicago looks at this, what's the process?

EVAN PEREZ, CNN SENIOR JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Right. So, John Lausch, who is the one of the few Trump appointees who has remained in the current Justice Department. He has been doing a review with the FBI. And this is a standard process. This happens, actually, you know, more often than people realize, not just with former presidents, obviously, and former vice presidents.

So, the FBI has a process where they take a look at these documents, to try to understand, you know, whether they're still classified, what - who owns that information, which intelligence agency would own that information? And then, whether there's been any harm done to national security as a result of them being stored in a place where they should not have been in clearly. This is what that that's the case where what happened here.

What I understand has happened now is that Lausch and his team have completed at least the initial part of this, and they've come back to the Justice Department, they've come back to Merrick Garland, and the attorney general faces an important decision. It's sort of an inflection point of this investigation, which is, what do we do next? Do we open a formal full-blown investigation?

And having seen Merrick Garland operate, Chris Wray operate. You know, I think - you know, we've seen them try to make sure that they make sure everything is done by that book, cross every T and dot every I. So, I think that's where I would suspect, we go next.

KING: And so, let's try to bring in facts and intersect them with the inevitable politics. This is getting more attention than maybe it might otherwise because of Donald Trump, the former president United States and all the documents found at Mar-a-Lago.

From what we know so far, and let's keep an open mind that we will learn more. But from what we know so far, there are some significant and very, very important factual differences. That doesn't mean politically. We'll get to the politics in a minute. This is you see the Republicans bring in the Congress. Let's investigate. See, everybody does it. Here we go.

But in Biden's case, fewer than 12 documents, some top-secret U.S. attorney investigating, and again, based on what we know right now, his attorneys found this, immediately raise their hand and said, we have a problem, please, what's the process?

In Trump's case, 160 plus documents, 60-top secret. He's been under investigation. He had lawyers sign off that all of them were returned, they found out they were not returned. This went on for months and months and months, and in fact, is still ongoing. What do you see as the differences we know right now from a legal perspective? And what are your questions for the current, the Biden team in this current context?

SHAN WU, FORMER FEDERAL PROSECUTOR: Yes. From a legal perspective, it's totally different kinds of cases. I mean, everything from the way that the lawyers behaved in terms of immediately turning it over to the transparency at there now saying, they've appointed a non- appointed in science difference, a particular U.S. attorney to look at the preliminary investigation.

The questions are simply going to be factual ones, John. How did the documents get there? And that will take a little bit of work because it happened a while back, they need to trace that. How secure were they in that particular room? And probably the most important question, did President Biden know that the documents were there, they have any role and packing them up?

KING: And so, we may get some answers later today. The president is supposed to take questions. He has refused to take shouted questions. During his events in Mexico, his staff saying he wants to focus on the very, very important business that he's discussing there. He is supposed to have a more of a news conference like event later today where we should get answers.

One of the things he's going to have to answer for. And again, the facts as we know them so far are very different. President Biden, former President Trump, they're very different. But, but this is Joe Biden talking about Donald Trump, he's going to have to answer for this.


SCOTT PELLEY, CORRESPONDENT & ANCHOR, CBS NEWS: When you saw the photograph of the top-secret documents laid out on the floor at Mar-a- Lago, what did you think to yourself looking at that image?

JOE BIDEN, 46TH U.S. PRESIDENT: How that could possibly happen? How one anyone can be that irresponsible? And I thought, what data was in there that may compromise sources and methods? By that I mean, names of people help there et cetera, and it just totally irresponsible.


KING: Again, the facts are different, but the totally irresponsible part. Joe Biden, 40 years in the Senate, eight years as vice president. His calling card is, I know how to do the sensitive stuff. I know how to do the hard stuff. I don't make these kinds of mistakes, even if it's an honest mistake. There's a trail when these documents are removed from a sensitive place, somebody knows they were removed. There's a log, they go out, they go to a file, now he's going to have to answer for this.


DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: My understanding is that he is - he knows he's going to have to answer for it. He's prepared to do it when he paces reporters later today when he's in Mexico. And that he - there is a very clear-eyed understanding of the politics of this inside the Biden administration.

KING: Forgive me for interrupting, but Trump doesn't do nuance. He's just going to say, see. He does it too, everybody does it.

BASH: Well, this is a problem because it is very hard to explain. You have to have people who are willing to listen beyond the see, I told you so. And in our polarized environment, it's hard to get people to listen. There is the explanation for why they're there, we still do not know.

And I don't think we're going to know until the investigation is over. And my understanding is that the president is going to be careful with that because of the DOJ inquiry, maybe not an investigation yet. But when it comes to the facts that you just laid out in that graphic, that is what you're going to hear from the president. And he's right, they are very, very different situations.

The Trump situation was he or his people took classified information, and then misled or even lied to the national archives and the federal government about what he had it to the point where they had to go raid. The Biden people found something in the closet, according to your excellent reporting, Jamie, as soon as they found it, they turned it over. It's past tense, it's done. It's not ongoing.

KING: So, in Trump's case, the evidence we've seen before since they proactively took documents as they knew they were shutting down and had them shipped to Mar-a-Lago. Do we know the answer to this question when it comes to Biden? Where these documents brought because it is perfectly appropriate and perfectly normal?

If you have had a clearance in the past and you're a former government official, say you're writing a book, or you're about to take an important international trip, or you're about to take a phone call from an international leader, maybe you're helping the current administration, maybe you're doing something on your own as part of some issue.

If you still have your clearance, you can see documents to prepare for trips, to prepare for calls. They're supposed to go back. Do we know the chain of command on these documents yet?

GANGEL: We don't. Yes, we absolutely don't. But I do want to point out just for context, that speaking with sources, we're very familiar with the national archives in cases like this in the past. This happens. It happens with former presidents. It happens with former vice presidents. It happens with high level intelligence officials, where there have been cases where someone died, a widow was going through a closet, found a folder and said, works, we shouldn't have this, or a university finds papers.

Those are considered honest mistakes and oversights. They get returned. They have normally not been referred. My sources say that this feels to them, like an honest mistake at this point. And that if it wasn't for Trump and Mar-a-Lago, they would not have referred to it.

KING: But that's the boxy attorney general is in that.

PEREZ: Right. Once you cross that bridge, and of course, it's understandable why the archives felt, they needed to make the referral. But for the Justice Department, obviously, there's some important facts here, including the fact that, you know, this one of these briefing papers has a reference to Ukraine. What does that mean? We don't know, again, the details of this.

But that leads to important, you know, questions out there as to whether this has anything to do with the president's son, right, people are going to ask those questions. And I think it's important for the White House for the president to try to at least answer some of those to try to clarify, even, you know, again, there's limited information that they may be able to present, but they do need to clarify some of this.

GANGEL: To me, this is the biggest political weakness here, apart from the fact that this is a political gift to Trump and the Republicans. If the Biden White House had been completely transparent, and was able to say, this has happened, this was what was in there, then we wouldn't be saying, you know, what is it? Is there any relation?

BASH: But it is classified.

WU: And there's an argument that they are doing the right thing by just being quiet and giving it to DOJ, let the archives and DOJ run with it and not make some sort of public statement that you have in front of it.

KING: So, who has the authority? If there's nothing about Hunter Biden in these documents to say that at some point because you know, what's going to happen? If you know, that's a question that needs to be answered affirmatively or negatively in the political environment we live in. Who has the authority to do that?

WU: Merrick Garland. And this really puts him in the box because his preoccupation with not looking political. If he appoints a special counsel here after the preliminary findings are basically innocuous, he's just creating a mountain out of it.

KING: House Republicans are going to ask these questions in the House. So, it'll be fascinating to see if the president's own party the Democrats who run the Senate decide we're going to do this as well. That's a big question going forward. When they can carefully in accordance with classified information hear this out to the degree they can. Big questions.


Up next for us, neighborly, but still difficult diplomacy. The president huddling with the leaders of Mexico and Canada. Migration tops the agenda.


KING: Just moments ago, President Biden meeting with the Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in Mexico City. The close allies say they will work closely together on economic issues in the region including green energy, but migration remains the top issue in this summit among North American leaders.

The Biden administration today releasing a new plan to help migrants find legal ways to enter the United States, Mexico or Canada. And those three leaders will hold a trilateral meeting later this afternoon. Let's go straight live to Mexico City. CNN's Priscilla Alvarez is there for us. Priscilla, what comes next?

PRISCILLA ALVAREZ, CNN WHITE HOUSE REPORTER: Well, more discussion on all of those issues. And as you said, key among them is migration. The United States has made clear that they cannot manage migration on their own. It requires regional partnerships. And this has become a political vulnerability for President Biden who has drawn criticism from Democrats and Republicans.


So, at the summit they are looking to strengthen the relationships with Mexico and Canada. And to seek their assistance as they work to stem the flow of migration across the Western Hemisphere, and they are rolling out additional announcements to that effect. That includes for example, a virtual portal for migrants to apply for legal pathways to migrate to the United States, Mexico or Canada, serving as a one stop shop for them to see what they may be eligible for.

They are also announcing a physical center in southern Mexico specifically, and that by Twitter. That is a transit location where migrants pass through in another place where they may be able to seek information. Now a senior administration official tells me that this is an experiment, and they are up against smugglers. But all of this is going to come up as they meet later today.

KING: So, Alvarez is live for us on the ground in Mexico City. Important conversation as we look forward to checking back. Priscilla, thank you. Joining the conversation in studio, Olivier Knox of The Washington Post, Heather Caygle of Punchbowl News, and USA Today's Francesca Chambers.

Olivier, we've discussed this issue before, and it goes back presidency after presidency after presidency. And one of the challenges is the specifics. Border policies, all countries involved, drug trafficking policies, all countries involved.

But President Lopez Obrador yesterday, very pointedly told the President of the United States and this is not just about Joe Biden, because he thinks one of the issues here is respect that you can't just keep coming to us asking us for help. You need to respect us, you need to communicate frequently, and not just with Mexico, but with the region.

OLIVIER KNOX, NATIONAL POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT, THE WASHINGTON POST: Sure, the old line in Mexico is poor Mexico, so far from God, so close to the United States. But, but it's true, but more broadly in the region that they do feel neglected, they do feel that we only come to Latin America, when we have an ask, when we want to concrete cooperation on a thing that we care about.

Mexico, obviously it has a deep sense of its own sovereignty, and AMLO in particular, is kind of a nationalist populist figure in Mexico. It's extremely important for the Biden administration to acknowledge this sort of thing. You know, AMLO is he's popularly known, stayed away from that summit on democracies, because he felt the agenda was wrong. And there were people being excluded, countries that were being excluded, that shouldn't have been, he has clashed with President Biden.

I thought it was interesting, actually, that this summit got underway with a couple of very symbolic things. Air Force One landing at that airport that AMLO refurbished under a lot of criticism at home. So, you got the symbolism of Air Force One landing there. And then the Mexicans capturing the son of El Chapo, one of the major drug lords - leaders of the drug cartels. But whether that's going to lead to concrete cooperation on immigration, which is the headline on fentanyl, which is another huge issue remains to be seen

KING: So, let's listen to the president on those two issues. The president says them here, almost matter of fact that he understands, they're not matter of fact issues. But giant issues. The President says he hopes to walk away to fly back from Mexico City with some progress.


PRES. BIDEN: And we're also going to discuss our shared security, including our joint action to address a plague of fentanyl, which has killed hundred thousand Americans so far. And how we can tack you tackle irregular migration, which I think we're well on our way to doing.


KING: Do they believe when the president comes back into this new world in Washington, a Republican House that is going to talk about these issues nonstop. They campaigned on the man heading into the 2024 cycle that they can get actual substantive progress on these two very difficult issues.

FRANCESCA CHAMBERS, WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, USA TODAY: Well, Democrats and Republicans did try to come up with an immigration deal in the last Congress. But I would say that it wasn't a priority in the same exact way, for instance, that we saw the Inflation Reduction Act, that was a huge priority. And so, if Democrats and the president come in and say, this is the thing that we want to get done, then put some energy behind it, you know, potentially they could come to an agreement on some of these issues.

But I think it was perhaps Angus King who had said over the weekend that they would have to probably start the conversation with something around border security first, to be able to get Republicans on board with it.

KING: So, the House says that. House Republicans say border security first, then we'll have a conversation after you prove yourself. Listen to this bipartisan delegation that went to the border. Yesterday, President Biden went for the first time as president before he flew to Mexico City. Listen to these senators saying, we can get something done.


REP. KYRSTEN SINEMA (I) ARIZONA: We know that it is our job as members of Congress to change those laws and close the loopholes.

SEN. THOM TILLIS, (R) NORTH CAROLINA: It's the only way it works in Washington. We have to have people get together and understand the border is broken. I'm convinced that we can come together and come up with a solution on this issue that strengthens our border, but at the same time, provides, you know what we need to support our economy.


KING: Do you see any possibility that you could get House Republicans to the table for something that included border security, but also other pieces in the same time as opposed to border security first, then come back to us maybe after the next presidential election. That's what the House Republicans would like. A guest worker program, giving status to the dreamers, citizenship to the dreamers, any possibility?


HEATHER CAYGLE, MANAGING EDITOR, PUNCHBOWL NEWS: Maybe point five percent. I mean, it's just very difficult, especially with Kevin McCarthy. Anyone can file a motion to vacate to try to push him out of the speaker's chair and that's always hanging over his head. The other thing is going into these midterms, where they have a four-vote margin, it's much easier to politicize this issue and make Biden and Democrats the enemy than it is to cut a deal

BASH: There is one possibility. I would maybe put it at 1 percent, not point five percent, I'm doubling, which is that because the margin is so small. There is a group of newly elected and people who had been there before Republicans who do want to make a deal.

If they have the, you know, what to work with Democrats, they can get around the chair, they can get a deal to the floor around the Republican leadership, but it would take a lot of guts, a political guts, and it might be the political end December those Republicans, but it is doable.

CHAMBERS: But it would also take a lot of political will, this would have to (crosstalk) it would have to again be a priority, including for the Biden administration.

KING: They would have to put their shoulder into it consistently, consistently, consistently, and then probably some more. Up next. House Republicans say their family feud is done and it's time to govern. To be votes Monday went off without a hitch. But even speaker McCarthy's allies, the trouble ahead.