Return to Transcripts main page

Inside Politics

Thousands Of Flights Delayed, Cancelled After FAA System Issue; Buttigieg: We Have To Understand How This Happened In The First Place; Dem Lawmaker Says FAA Has Outdated Tech, Needs More Funding; Garland Faces Decision Over Launching Criminal Inquiry Into Biden; Senate Intel Leaders Want Access To Material Found In Biden Office; Timeline: Biden Attorneys Discovered, Turned Over Material On Nov. 2; House GOP Makers First Moves In Hunter Biden Probe; GOP House Oversight Chair Seeking Info On Biden Family's Finances. Aired 12-12:30p ET

Aired January 11, 2023 - 12:00   ET



JOHN KING, CNN HOST: Hello, and welcome to Inside Politics. I'm John King in Washington. Thank you for sharing your day with us. Coast to coast chaos. A nationwide system outage delays every single morning flight across the country. Right now, yes, planes are back in the air but too little runway, too little airspace means thousands of travelers are stuck.

Plus, court surprise. President Biden says he doesn't know how classified documents found their way into his private office. And enough, influential New York Republicans call for one of their own Congressman George Santos to resign that after a drip-by-drip dismantling of his campaign lies and shady accounting.

We begin though with a morning of travel hell and demands that the government get its act together. The FAA says right now its flight control system is back online and it is working. But an early morning outage grounded all flights earlier today. In all, that means more than 6,000 flights were delayed and as a result, more than 1,000 were canceled.

Today's masks comes of course, just weeks after the Southwest Airlines holiday season meltdown that led it to cancel 16,000 flights. So front and center, questions about the technology running America's airlines and its air traffic. Just moments ago, right here on CNN, the Biden Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg, offering his first pass on an explanation of what happened. The secretary says, the CSI still ongoing.


PETE BUTTIGIEG, UNITED STATES SECRETARY OF TRANSPORTATION: Now we have to understand how this could have happened in the first place. Why the usual redundancies that would stop it from being that disruptive, did not stop it from being disrupted this time and what the original source of the errors or the corrupted files would have been.

(END VIDEO CLIP) KING: Let's get some on the ground reporting. CNN's Amara Walker joins us now live from the always busy Atlanta Hartsfield-Jackson Airport. Amara, what do you see?

AMARA WALKER, CNN ANCHOR & CORRESPONDENT: Well, John, the FAA may have lifted its ground stop and operations, and many airports across the country are resuming as normal, including here at Atlanta International Airport. But of course, the delays and cancellations are continuing. There's a huge backlog of passengers who need to be rebooked on flights.

As you mentioned, according to FlightAware, nearly 7,000 delays in airports across the country, including more than 1,000 cancellations. As you'd imagine a huge headache for so many passengers with a lot of them telling me what's on the back of their minds is the mayhem that some of them had to deal with over the holidays. And we saw the Southwest Airlines meltdown.

Listen to what one passenger in Charlotte, North Carolina told us about missing her connecting flight or missing her flight in general. And now she won't be able to get to Costa Rica.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Well, my original flight was supposed to take off at 9:05 going to Miami, and then from Miami to Costa Rica. Well, now we've been delayed three times. There are no more flights leaving today that would get us there on time, nor tomorrow, nor Friday. And at the very moments our flight is set to arrive in Miami after the flight takes off to Costa Rica.


WALKER: Back out live here at Atlanta Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport. The spokesperson just told me a few moments ago that, you know, operations are back to normal, no substantial impact on operations here, but of course, the delays and cancellations continue.

And again, some passengers telling me that yes, they are frustrated. One gentleman telling me that he was heading up to New York, he was supposed to. The flight was delayed by two hours, which meant that he has now missed a family funeral. John?

KING: That is the personal fallout from all of the summer. Walker, grateful for the live reporting. On the ground, again, travelers are asking questions. Lawmakers are asking questions. And just moments ago right here on CNN, the transportation secretary says the usual redundancies in the system failed. Pete Buttigieg, the Transportation Secretary saying, there's no direct evidence right now of any cyberattack.

Let's get straight to the White House, CNN's Arlette Saenz. Arlette, the transportation secretary talking, the president also wants some answers.

ARLETTE SAENZ, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Yes, John. Really the White House and the Department of Transportation trying to show that they are getting - trying to get to the bottom of what exactly caused these system outages for the FAA. Now, just moments ago, Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg said on our air that they're still working through that investigation.

And when he was asked specifically about the possibility of cyberattacks, he said that there's no evidence to suggest that is the case at this moment, but they're also not ready to rule it out. That is something that officials are still examining whether or not as cyberattack may have been involved in this process.


But this all comes really as the latest headache well for both the FAA and aviation industry. When you think not just have the assistant outages today, but also that meltdown with Southwest Airlines over the holiday. And it's also important to note that this is all playing out as the FAA is without a permanent leader at this moment.

President Biden's nominee to lead the FAA. Phillip Washington, his nomination has been stalled up on Capitol Hill. He is currently the CEO of Denver International Airport. But that's the first experience that he's really had in the aviation industry, prompting some questions from Republicans and Democratic senators about his experience to lead such an agency.

So, while that nomination is still being considered up on Capitol Hill, there are certainly many challenges still facing the FAA. Now, President Biden said, he spoke with Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg, earlier today, and he's also expected to receive further updates as the day progresses.

KING: Arlette Saenz for us live at the White House. Arlette, thank you. Let's get some perspective now from a colleague who is someone with a very deep understanding of both domestic and global travel challenges. CNN's Richard Quest. Richard, happy for your time today and your insights. So, is this a leadership question? Is this a technology question? Is it both? Why does this happen?

RICHARD QUEST, CNN EDITOR-AT-LARGE: Oh, I don't know. And that's half the problem. You see the reality is there should be a ton of redundancy in the system as the secretary made clear and they need to look at what went wrong. Now, I'm not going in circles here, John, because the FAA has received billions of dollars in new generation investment. But it's all gone into things like air traffic management, spacing of aircraft, all the own route commands.

The bit that's gone wrong here. The no towns is to an extent crucial and vital, but it's the Cinderella part of it. It's the bit where they tell I'm an pilots, you know, well, there's a runway out here. This ILS is broken there. You'll have to go slow over here. It's not the sort of own route bit, whichever where the attention has been.

And that's going to be the core question. How did something as basic but crucial managed to fail? And when it did so, John, take the whole system down with it. KING: And so, in the early hours, we pressed for answers. And sometimes the answer you get today is a different answer than you'll get in a week or two when they actually have more data. But let's listen to the Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg, this is on his watch. This is his department, he says, here's what we know so far.


BUTTIGIEG: We have to understand how this could have happened in the first place. Why the usual redundancies that would stop it from being that disruptive, did not stop it from being disrupted this time.

KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR & HOST AT THIS HOUR: Any indication that there was a cyberattack involved?

BUTTIGIEG: There's been no direct evidence or indication of that.


KING: So that's comforting, if true, that it's not a cyberattack. But you still have the question. You mentioned the redundancies in the system. And you also talk Richard, and you understand this better than most. A lot of investments, yes, but perhaps maybe done in the wrong way. Obviously, you want passenger safety, you want the safety, any new safety thing you can put into the system, you want put into the system right away.

But in the digital age, where you can pick up your phone and find out where your package is that's being shipped from London to the United States, or from California to Costa Rica, and you can pick up your phone and see where it is. Why can't we do a better job of lining up the planes to get them to take off and as you note, having a plan B, a plan C and a plan D if you need redundancies?

QUEST: Now that is because of a lack of previous investment. Absolutely, the U.S. has needed to update because not only do you need a safe system, which is what you've got, but you need an efficient system, one that can cope with the increased dramatic increase in capacity. So, billions are being spent. And arguably, it is not enough. That is the simple truth.

No matter how much they're spending, they probably need to spend more because the system is groaning as anybody who's flown on a weekend, or the rush hour knows you're parked for miles in terms of planes waiting to take off. In terms of the no time in terms of the investigation, the fear, the worry, the concern will be that it was cyber.

Now the secretary says there's no direct evidence. They're going to want to look a great deal closer to make sure there's no indirect evidence of that either.

KING: (Inaudible) this is a both your technical expertise and a little bit of a political judgment of your view, and you know, the economy quite well. Is this an issue? Because the people getting on airplanes happen to be Democrats, Republicans and Independents, or you don't travel based on party. We're in this new Washington of divided government where Republicans say we're going to be careful about spending any money, they want to spend less, not more. Is this the type of issue, you say it's going to require more capital investments that this one they might say, OK, we need to do this, even though overall, we don't want to be spending more money.


QUEST: I leave the politics to you, John. I'll give you the economics and the infrastructure. Yes, yes and yes again. Look at the money spent in Qatar. Look at the money spent in China. Look at the money spent in all the new major airports. Adding runway capacity, adding infrastructure so that more planes can fly in the same airspace safely and efficiently. The United States is not falling back dramatically, but there is more money that needs to be spent. That's politics. That's back to you.

KING: I'll deal with that part, Richard. That's always great to see you. I appreciate your perspective. Thank you, sir. Up next for us. President Biden says, he does not know how classified documents ended up in a private office. Well, the Justice Department is now investigating, and Congress wants answers too.


KING: Now fallout from a classified discovery. The leaders of the Senate Intelligence Committee now asking for access to those top- secret materials found at Joe Biden's private office. House Republicans say they want to investigate too. All that happening as the president explains and as attorney general confronts another giant decision.


Merrick Garland now has the preliminary findings of an inquiry into how and why classified documents including, top secret intelligence memos wound up in the office, Mr. Biden used during the Trump presidency. Garland's next step is choosing a road, either a path to criminal inquiry, maybe a special counsel or an off ramp. On Tuesday, the president finally addressed questions from reporters and says, he too wants answers.


JOE BIDEN, 46TH U.S. PRESIDENT: People know I take classified documents, classified information seriously. I was briefed about this discovery and surprised to learn that there are any government records that were taken there to that office. But I don't know what's in the documents. My lawyers have not suggested, I asked what documents they were. I've turned over the boxes. They've turned over the boxes to the archives. And we're cooperating fully, cooperating fully with the review.

(END VIDEO CLIP) KING: With me in studio to share their reporting and their insights, CNN's Nia-Malika Henderson, Seung Min Kim of the Associated Press, CNN's Evan Perez and our CNN legal and national security analyst Carrie Cordero.

Evan, let me start with you on the idea that Merrick Garland, the Attorney General asked a Trump holdover, the U.S. attorney in Chicago to take the first look at this. And your reporting is some preliminary findings have been reported back to the attorney general. Do we know what they are?

EVAN PEREZ, CNN SENIOR JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: We don't know exactly what those are. And whether there's been any recommendation necessarily for the next steps. It appears what this is, is simply, here's what we found attorney general, it's now in your hands, right? And so that's a big question for the attorney general. He could order a full-blown investigation where this definitely takes a lot longer to resolve.

One of those paths, of course, could lead through a special counsel, which is a dirty word in for the White House, which is why I think you hear the president saying in Mexico City, you know, you're going to hear a lot more, everything's fine. You know, it's sort of suggesting that he believes they should be over soon.

That might be wishful thinking, because certainly for the Justice Department, for the FBI, the question, I think is a lot more complicated. The issue is, you know, if they close this out, right? If they say, nothing to see here, then they're going to get killed by the Republicans on the Hill who say, well, you're treating him so much differently from Donald Trump. I mean, obviously, we know that there are two different circumstances much different.

The other issue here, John is, you know, certainly for the FBI, I think one of the things they still have questions on is, you know, is it possible that there are other documents at other locations? And that's a big question. That's something that's still hanging over Donald Trump right now. And so, you know, should you do searches of other places that the president was hanging his hat during the time - during the last four years.

KING: Well, if you have a good inventory of the records, you would know if there's anything missing, that's one of the questions. But well, let's leave the Trump part aside for a second. If you were back in the Justice Department with your national security expertise, what are your questions? What do you need to know? I assume it starts with chain of custody, how long were these documents there? When were they removed from the government vault where they were supposed to be? And then what?

CARRIE CORDERO, CNN LEGAL & NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: Right, so there's questions. And I think the time difference here is significant and makes it a little bit more complicated for the Justice Department and the FBI, because these are documents that came from the current president status when he was vice president. So, there's a gap of years. And what the FBI and the Justice Department want to know is, how did those documents get from where they were rightfully, originally during the Obama presidency? How did they get to the Biden office that he was using downtown? Who handled those documents? What happened to those documents when they were in that office? Did anybody ever see them? Was it a box that's been closed for years? Or was there someone who had access to them? Who are the people who had access to them?

So, there is questions about who had access to the information that moved it into this unsecured location? And then who, if anybody? And the answer might be, no one had access to this classified information in the ensuing years.

KING: And so, the president says he doesn't know. What specifically, what's in the documents that he says because they've been turned over? He doesn't want to know. Let the investigation run its course, then we'll have more information because it's so sensitive. That's perfectly understandable. Except, we'll come to the politics of Trump in a minute.

But this is an interesting contradiction in our own reporting, because the president says he doesn't know. Most of his team says, they don't know what's in the documents. But Jeff Zeleny reporting yesterday that a White House official did a call, no talking points, nothing in paper but did a call with some White House allies saying, characterize the documents as fewer than a dozen, we do know that.

Two people familiar with a call say, and then the person said none of which are "particularly sensitive" and "not have high interest in intelligence community." Well, if they don't know what's in the documents, how can they say that? So, they're either making it up or they do know.


SEUNG MIN KIM, WHITE HOUSE REPORTER, ASSOCIATED PRESS: All right. They sort of need to resolve that at this point because I think you kind of need to know what they are to know how damaging or sensitive they are. And I think that's a good example of, in terms of the politics here, obviously, we have talked at nauseam about the key factual differences between this case, and the case involving the former president.

But I do think Democrats need to be careful about not being too much. There's nothing to see here. And I think the approach that, for example, Mark Warner, the Chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, has been a measured and sober one. He does point out the differences between the two. But he also says, we're going to be briefed, this is a matter of national security, and we need to know what's going on.

KING: But based on what we know now, this is a and z, not excusing anything Vice President Biden did or President Biden did, it's wrong. It's wrong. And he's supposed to be smart enough to know how to protect these records. It's wrong. And the questions should be answered by Congress, and by the attorney general and everybody else. But what we know about Trump, having done proactively taking documents to Mar-a-Lago, having your lawyer certify that all been returned when they had now been returned. This is a in z. One, people who don't seem to care are Republicans, including the new speaker of the House.


REP. KEVIN MCCARTHY, (R-CA) HOUSE SPEAKER: This was discovered before the last election, why weren't they rated? Why didn't they have the FBI coming in? Why didn't he in 60 minutes say, well, I understand that because I bet, I have the same problem.


KING: A number of things there. This was discovered before the last election. Kevin McCarthy is absolutely right. It's a fair question to the White House. Why didn't you disclose this as soon as it happened? A, because it's important, and B, understanding the Trump politics. That is a very fair question. Why weren't they rated? Why didn't the FBI coming in?

And then why did he on 60 minutes say, he criticized Donald Trump on the 60 minutes interview, but that interview was in November, the interview, I'm sorry, the interview was in September. The documents were found in November. So, we have no evidence that the president knew anything about it in a 60 minutes interview, but Kevin McCarthy doesn't care about the facts.

NIA-MALIKA HENDERSON, CNN SENIOR POLITICS ANALYST: That's right. And listen, politics often doesn't care about the facts or nuance and the key differences here, and that's why you see a Republicans really pouncing on this. And they're likely going to be more investigations from the House into this. It is inconvenient for this White House, for this president. It was a great contrast.

I think if he had before, being the person who had all of this experience, and Donald Trump, obviously not having that experience in handling the documents in the way that he did. He wants to be on script as much as possible on this. I mean, when he was in Mexico, it almost looked like he was on script talking about it. So, they going to be careful. And Democrats, at this point, have to see what comes out as well.

KING: And in terms of Justice Department to button this up, we don't know. We know Merrick Garland now has decisions. We think we have notions of Dante (Ph).

PEREZ: We don't know. No, no, and certainly, but I think they've got to be thinking that they got to do something soon, right?

KING: Do they have to cooperate with Congress? Or can they say, we have to wait, we need more, we have to wait till we're done?

CORDERO: I suspect that they should brief the intelligence committees about something that they know about the documents, or at least the status of their investigation. I think the rightful place to communicate with Congress would be the intelligence committees.

PEREZ: The minute they close it, they have to brief.

KING: They have too then. The question is, well they in the meantime. Important questions that we hope to answer as soon as we can. Up next for us. Some new details on the many other investigations. House Republicans are launching, including new demands for financial information about the president's son and his brother.




KING: House Republicans moving quickly now to launch long promised investigations, including new steps just today that a key chairman says will help expose questionable conduct by members of the president's family. The Republican oversight committee is now looking to the Treasury Department and former tech officials for some information.

Let's get some new reporting from CNN's Sara Murray, who joins us now. With that, what are they looking for Sara?

SARA MURRAY, CNN POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, John, Republicans have these new investigative powers, and they want to use them. So, they went to the Treasury Department. They're asking for bank activity reports related to Hunter Biden, related to James Biden, the brother of Joe Biden, and a variety of other associates and related companies.

You know, these so-called suspicious activity reports are not necessarily an indicator of wrongdoing, banks file millions of them a year. Many of them don't lead to law enforcement actions. But Comer believes that this is somehow going to show that the Biden's were peddling their influence, particularly when it came to companies that were located in other countries where potentially Joe Biden could be compromised. That, of course, is an allegation that has not been proven.

The other thing Comer wants is he wants public testimony from a handful of former Twitter employees. You know, he and other Republicans have been very concerned about the effort by Twitter to temporarily suppress the Hunter Biden laptop story in 2020. So, he wants that as well. This is what the White House has to say about it.

In their first week as the governing majority, House Republicans have not taken any meaningful action to address inflation and lower Americans costs. Yet, they're jumping out of the gate with political stunts driven by the most extreme MAGA members of their caucus in an effort to get attention on Fox News.

Look, this is going to continue. Republicans have subpoena power. They know that they need to start by sending these letters. The White House said, you have to start by resending all of these letters. So, this is where they begin. KING: This is where they begin, contentious to begin. We'll see where it goes from here. Sara Murray, important new reporting. Thank you. Joining our conversation is Carl Hulse of The New York Times. Carl, let me start with you.

You have a new Republican majority that promises aggressive oversight. There's absolutely nothing wrong with aggressive oversight. Neither party does enough of it when they're guys in the White House. So, that's just a fact. So, but there's a difference between aggressive performance review and performance art. What are we going to get here?