Return to Transcripts main page

Inside Politics

DOJ's Simultaneous Special Counsel Investigations Into Biden, Trump; Robert Hur Named Special Counsel In Biden Docs Probe; Classified Docs Found In Biden's Delaware Garage, Office; New GOP House Wraps Up Hectic, Chaotic First Week; George Santos Steals Spotlight From Packed GOP Agenda; Paul Ryan: "Fraudulent" George Santos "Should Step Down"; Schumer Slams "House GOP's Extreme First Week"; Politico: GOP "Vow To Put Don Quixote To Shame" Over Budget. Aired 12-12:30p ET

Aired January 13, 2023 - 12:00   ET



JOHN KING, CNN HOST, INSIDE POLITICS: Hello, and welcome to Inside Politics. I'm John King in Washington. Thank you for sharing your very busy news day with us. We begin with new developments in two investigations to leave Washington in a remarkable and unprecedented place. Both the current and most recent former president, now face special counsel investigations for mishandling classified documents.

The Trump investigation is months old, and the Justice Department is now questioning whether former President Trump has fully complied with the subpoena issued back in May to hand over all classified documents he took with him when he left office. Sources telling CNN federal investigators want to talk to two people hired to search Trump's properties back in November for any additional records that have not been turned over.

And now President Biden faces his own special counsel investigation after his lawyers discovered Obama era documents in his garage and a personal office in his Wilmington home and also in a Washington D.C office, Mr. Biden used during the Trump presidency. There are important distinctions between the two investigations.

The Trump reviews involved way more classified records and questions of obstruction once the government demanded their return. Team Biden says it immediately notified the appropriate agencies when the first documents were found, and that it worked with the Justice Department on the search that turned up additional classified records at the president's home. Still, there are important unanswered questions in both investigations.

CNN senior crime and justice reporter Katelyn Polantz joins us now with some new reporting. Katelyn, what do we know?

KATELYN POLANTZ, CNN CRIME AND JUSTICE REPORTER: Well, John in the Trump Mar-a-Lago documents investigation this continues on. Kaitlan Collins and I have confirmed that the Justice Department now wants to question to people that Donald Trump's legal team hired in November to go and search four different locations, his properties in New Jersey, New York City and Florida.

Those two people had found two classified documents just this November, after the Mar-a-Lago search, after the Trump team sent back many classified documents to the Justice Department last year, they still were finding records. Now the Justice Department wants to talk to them.

So, this is an indication of an ongoing criminal investigation where work is still being done by prosecutors. And we also know that the Justice Department has considered whether there has been obstruction of justice here, that is something that they have been investigating that makes this much different from the Biden situation as we know it right now.

We also know that the Justice Department federal investigators want to make sure that they have gotten everything back from the Trump team two years after his presidency, that they are in court under seal that court fight is still unresolved, and that court fight is about making sure they get everything. Now they are still trying to investigate and nail down what happened with these investigators who found two classified documents just in November. John?

KING: Katelyn Polantz, appreciate the new reporting. We know you'll stay on top of it. Let's continue the conversation on both investigations. With me to share their reporting and their insights, Tamara Keith of NPR, CNN's Evan Perez, and our senior legal analyst Elie Honig.

Evan, let me follow up on Katelyn's point based on everything we know today. And we're open minded to surprises because they often happen in special counsel investigations. What is the clearest way to explain the distinction? A Trump investigation that's months old, more documents, allegations and some evidence the Justice Department would say of obstruction or at least not cooperation? And what we know about the Biden investigations?

EVAN PEREZ, CNN SENIOR JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Right. I think that's the starkest difference, right? But Katelyn is just describing is this month's long process that has been going on before judges. It is not a cooperative process, despite what the former president's team likes to portray.

In the case of Biden, you know, they are trying to portray that they had been Boy Scouts on this right, that they went to the archives as soon as they found these initial set of documents. And then of course, while the U.S. attorney in Chicago was starting to investigate it, they turned up another set of documents in December 20.

And so, that's the biggest difference, but we can look at what was happening in the Trump case, to sort of get a little preview of what we're going to see in the Biden case. And that is, you know, at some point, the Justice Department is going to ask the Biden team to attest, but there's nothing more right, that there you've searched everywhere, and they're going to want to talk to those people.

There might come a time when they were going to ask to talk to the president. How do they handle that? Again, that's going to be where the spirit of cooperation and, you know, getting along, may get its first test.

KING: And again, we should focus on the legal matters and the substance first and foremost, but that is when the politics of everything you've said about Trump and team Trump comes into your own decisions, including whether the president United States would sit down.


Elie Honig, join the conversation. We do know, again, based on all the evidence we have before us, these are two different things. They're both very serious. And that's not excusing what former vice president now President Biden did classified documents. It's just the public record that we have so far, is that this is a and z in terms of the scope and severity, but still a problem for the current president United States.

What do we know about Robert Hur? He's the new special counsel who has been appointed in the Biden documents case. He was a Trump appointee. He was practicing privately right now. He was a Trump appointee and a U.S. attorney. But he also served as a top aide to Rod Rosenstein back during the Mueller investigation, essentially his point of contact right there.

What do we know about him? And what does it say that the attorney general who has repeatedly including yesterday said, we should be able to do this on our own, felt he had no choice but to do a special counsel?

ELIE HONIG, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: So, Robert Hur, John, is an experienced federal prosecutor. He's what we typically call a career prosecutor. Now he has conservative credentials. He was nominated to a prior position by Donald Trump. But I think when you look at the body of his work, he's not a partisan player. I think he's somebody who based on what he's done, can be trusted to do this in a straightforward way.

And by the way, I think it was a very smart and necessary move by Merrick Garland, both to appoint special counsel and to appoint somebody who at least gives the perception of being if anything leaning conservative. Because if he had appointed somebody who had Democratic leaning credentials, that would override the entire purpose of appointing special counsel, which is to get rid of any potential appearance of a conflict of interest.

I think Merrick Garland had to appoint special counsel here, especially because he already appointed special counsel for Donald Trump. If there's a conflict of interest in Joe Biden's DOJ investigating Donald Trump, there absolutely is a conflict of interest in Joe Biden's DOJ investigating Joe Biden, so we did the right move here.

KING: We'll talk more about the politics just in a minute, but Tamara should cover the Biden White House, you know, this is week, the Congress comes back in. He got a good inflation report this week. The president wanted to get off on a very different early January, if you will, or mid-January.

Instead, we're going through the timeline and trying to answer questions about how this happened. It was back in November, Biden lawyers found documents at his former D.C. office, they notify the archives. On the two days later, the archives notified the Justice Department. The attorney general asked the Chicago based Trump holdover U.S. attorney to look into this very smart there, give it to a Trump holdover.

Biden lawyers then find additional docks in the Wilmington garage. The White House acknowledges not in January, January 9, December 20 they were found. January 9, the White House acknowledges them. And then on January 12, yesterday, we get the special counsel. In terms of having to deal with this, what is it doing to the White House?

TAMARA KEITH, WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, NPR: Well, and I think it's also notable that on the ninth, they acknowledged the first tranche of documents, but they didn't say anything about the documents that were found on December 20, which came as a surprise to a lot of people. When the next day a story breaks, and they're like, oh, yes, by the way, we found more documents, and yet another one somewhere else in the house.

KING: How do they explain that? Again, they promised to be the most transparent, most open and, you know, former Senator Biden, Vice President Biden, President Biden often talks about how if there's anybody who knows how to do sensitive stuff, it's me.

KEITH: Yes. And their definition of transparency seems to be shifting and perhaps entirely out of line with what normal people would consider transparent. Their argument in the briefing yesterday and the day before is that that they're being transparent by reaching out to the archives in the Justice Department right away.

They didn't tell the public, the midterms happened. They didn't tell the public before the midterms, even though they had found the documents. They didn't tell them after. Their argument is that they've been waiting for the process to play out. And if you look at the president's public remarks, he keeps saying, well, God willing, I should be able to talk more about this soon as if he thought it was going to end. Obviously, it is not ending it, it's sort of metastasized into becoming a special counsel investigation. And it's going to be a lingering challenge as they were already going to face investigations from Republicans in Congress. This is just added to the pile.

KING: And so, adjust this when they explain why the Attorney General felt he had to do this, is it just because of the Trump investigation? And you know, Joe Biden is a likely candidate for President Donald Trump is a candidate for president that he felt he had to treat them equally? Or was there something in the Biden initial response that led him to say, OK, too many unanswered questions. I can't be the one handling this. PEREZ: I think there is an element of both there. I think we know, certainly from the attorney general that he got a recommendation from John Lausch, the U.S. attorney in Chicago that was doing this. So, once he had that recommendation, it's very hard for the attorney general to go against it.

Keep in mind, John, that the attorney general and the president traveled to Mexico on Sunday. The attorney general had already made a decision to appoint a special counsel. So, you know, those awkward pictures we saw on the screen of them sitting next to each other in Mexico City is even more awkward if you consider that, right?

And the process at that point was in - was trying to pick somebody and Robert Hur came to the top pretty quickly apparently. You know, there is a quick - I'll tell you a quick anecdote of his, you know, the Barr era at the Justice Department they tried to do an investigation of John Kerry for violations of Logan Act for his interactions with the Iranian. The Jeff Berman in US attorney in New York decided not to bring a case DOJ tried to have rob her in Maryland do the case and he declined to do it.


So, that's one of the things that I think Merrick Garland and his team looked at and they knew that he seemed to have the credibility that would assure both sides that this was being done fairly.

KING: So, Elie Honig help viewers at home who might be trying to think OK, how long is this going to take? Again, let's focus on the answer, answer about the Biden investigation. But we know that Trump investigation has gone on forever now.

There's a difference between a special counsel but I covered the White House in the Clinton days when the Ken Starr investigation was never ending. I came to Washington back in the days of Lawrence Walsh Iran- Contra that went on, I believe, for seven years something to that effect.

If this - view and Evan both described Mr. Hur as a stand-up guy, as a career prosecutor, a guy who's going to follow the letter of the law based on everything we know. If this was just a mistake. If it's wrong, I'm not justifying it in any way.

But if the documents came for some briefing that was legitimate, and then were not returned, and there's no nefarious intent here, how long would something like this end? And what is the end? If it's wrong, and it shouldn't have happened. People should have had the experience to not do this, but you find no nefarious event. What is the conclusion?

HONIG: Yes, John. So, as you know, special counsel, independent prosecutors, whatever they may be called over the years, tend to expand and take astonishing amounts of time. And sometimes the mission tends to expand. But that said, I think you've hit on the exact make or break issue here, which is, did Joe Biden know about these documents? Did he have intent? Now he has denied categorically that he knew anything about them. That's where you have to focus your investigation. Now, you don't necessarily take someone at their word, you want to test that? So, you want to investigate? How did the documents get there? Why are they stored this way? Who didn't know about this, but if you can confirm and locked down, that Joe Biden did not know about these documents, it's over case over.

There's no criminal case to be made. I'm not saying that's what the conclusion is going to be. But if you can get there very quickly as a prosecutor, then you don't need to worry about all the other stuff because there's no criminal charge without knowledge.

PEREZ: One benefit of it, John, is that at the end of a special counsel, they usually produce some kind of report to the attorney general. And so, you can bet that we're going to demand, right? We're going to want to see that and so the public may get the benefit of being able to see the final word from these investigators

KING: And the president's team is on record saying they can't talk right now because in the middle of this, they will when they can that will hold them to that as well. Appreciate everybody that discussion. Up next for us. And noteworthy first week for speaking Kevin McCarthy and the new Republican majority, new power players yes new investigations too and a storm around a new member who lied his way to a campaign win and keep flying. As he rejects demands he resigned.




KING: The new Republican House majority is ending its busy and chaotic first work week. There were some big steps to advance the GOP agenda. A vote for example on abortion restrictions, a vote to cut IRS funding, launching probes into Hunter Biden and the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan, some early steps to prepare for the impeachment possibly of the Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas and creating a new committee to investigate what House Republicans call the weaponization of the federal government.

But chaos was a constant this first week, some of it internal GOP debate over trying to find out exactly what concessions Kevin McCarthy made to win the final votes to be speaker. Loudest though, the storm around the new member and serial liar, George Santos.


REP. GEORGE SANTOS, (R) NEW YORK: I've worked my entire life. I've lived in honest life. I've never been accused shooter of any bad doing.

REP. KEVIN MCCARTHY, (R) HOUSE SPEAKER: They're innocent till proven guilty. So just because somebody doesn't like the press you have, it's not me that can have an oversight what the voters say. REP. NANCY MACE, (R) SOUTH CAROLINA: This is an individual that fabricated their entire life story, their entire resume to get elected.

REP. ANTHONY D'ESPOSITO, (R) NEW YORK: That is not our brand. That's not what we stand for.

REP. MARCUS MOLINARO, (R) NEW YORK: No way I believe he can fully fulfill his responsibilities.


KING: Joining our conversation is CNN's Manu Raju and Rhonda Colvin of The Washington Post, Tamara Keith of NPR is still with us. A lot of substance and policy and investigations to talk about. But let's just start there in the sense that you have a new majority, you're trying to get off to a good foot, and you spend the week if you're in the leadership.

Kevin McCarthy saying not my job, and I'm going to point this out every time. He says it's not his job to overturn the will of the people. He tried to do that on January 6, after the insurrection at the United States Capitol. He still tried to overturn the will of the American people on that day. But fast forward, he stands by him because he needs the vote. Is that simply it? Is that the raw politics he needs the vote?

MANU RAJU, CNN CHIEF CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: This is raw politics. That's really all of this comes down to. If George Santos were to resign. This is a district that could very well be picked up by Democrats. Joe Biden won this decision by eight points. This is in - the Democrats certainly believe they can cut into Kevin McCarthy's margin.

And he comes in as we're having one of the tightest margins of any first-time speaker in a very long time. He knows that. We saw that the speaker's race, he can't afford to see another member go down. So, his belief whether the storm, let's see what happens, it'll probably go to the ethics committee, that's going to take some time.

Yes, there'll be new revelation after revelation. He also says that look, the precedent in the - the rules in the conference, say if someone's indicted, you lose your committee assignments, then they'll take action like that. And there's really no other way to get him out of the office other than having a two thirds majority vote to expel him. And that's simply won't happen if Kevin McCarthy oppose.

KING: As long as Kevin McCarthy opposes it, the leadership opposes it. And again, the real politics is with a tiny - they're afraid to lose a vote. So, you have at least seven of his colleagues, including five I believe, from his state, New York, who called on him to resign, a couple of others as well. The former House speaker was on the lead with Jake Tapper yesterday, who says I don't know this guy. I'm going to bet he's not here all that long.

[12:20:00] (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

PAUL RYAN, (R) FORMER HOUSE SPEAKER: The fraudulent candidacy, he hopes his voters, so of course, he should step down. He doesn't strike me as an animal person though, I don't know the guy. So, my guess is it will probably go through the ethics course, I can't imagine the guy is going to stay very long.


KING: But if the former speaker is correct, ethics investigations can take months. And if you want to stall, they're long anyway. And if you want to slow them down, you can. So is McCarthy's bet that I get two years of George Santos, or I get this first year anyway, we're trying to get stuff done?

RHONDA COLVIN, SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT, THE WASHINGTON POST: It's all about the politics that Manu just laid out that McCarthy is really calculating in the things that he is saying about George Santos. For instance, if you think about it, this week alone is how we've heard so much from McCarthy on Santos. When we didn't hear anything when this story was breaking back in December, we've heard him say that he's going to not see him on the top committees.

But if you think about it, members of Congress do have access, they are privy to certain security issues. If you think about it during the few months of the Ukraine war, they had briefings on the Hill for all members of Congress. So, it's not just about the committees, it's really a broader look at how much access a member of Congress has.

So, this issue, we've seen McCarthy and others kind of carefully worded how they want to handle it this week, but it's going to metastasize. It's going to be bigger than what it is this week, it will continue to be a headline.

KING: If you can't trust George Santos to tell you where he went to school. How do you trust him with sensitive government classified information secrets. So, I think that's an issue. So, let's move to the agenda. As I noted, the House did pass a bill that would impose in a very rare, rare, rare cases, but they want to impose new abortion restrictions, or they also want to get the funding that was in the Democratic bill to create, I think 80,000 plus new IRS agents.

The Democrats say that's to do more aggressive oversight of the wealthy and corporations. Republicans say it's, you know, big brother. This is the Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, the Democrats see this, and they say, thank you, again, it's January 2023. But this is all about the next campaign.


SEN. CHUCK SCHUMER, (D) MAJORITY LEADER: There are a whole bunch of Republicans who are not MAGA. My hope is and I believe this, that after a little while, they will see that following this extreme fringe is like following Thelma and Louise over the cliff, and that they will come and start dealing with us in a serious way. (END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Divided government is not new, but it is interesting out of the box. I mean, again, it's January 2023. The Republicans are taking these votes, Democrats did the same thing. They know these legislations can't pass, but it's important to them to frame a political debate. And the Democrats think this is actually going to help us.

KEITH: Right. These are message bills, and Republicans need to send the message that they came, you know, they got the majority, and they did what their voters wanted them to do. Of course, it hits a brick wall in the Senate, and it hits an even bigger brick wall, if it ever were to make it to the White House, which it won't. But President Biden can say, look, I would veto all of these things.

And I will say that yesterday, he gave remarks about inflation, because there was this good new inflation number. And he spent more of his time in the remarks, talking about how House Republicans are out of sync with the American need to address inflation.

And look at them, they're going to, you know, help the wealthy and they're doing this and they're doing that, and that's not why you sent them there. And that is just a preview of the next year and a half of messaging, because President Biden has a foil that he didn't have before.

RAJU: Yes. I mean, look, there's going to be so many messaging votes as the House does. They can pass things along party lines. The Senate needs 60 votes to overcome a filibuster. But what we saw this week is setting the stage for just momentous fiscal clashes in this year.

Just today, Chuck Schumer, the majority leader sent out a letter to his colleagues saying they would not accept what Kevin McCarthy had to agree to do when the speakership, which is the cap funding levels at 22-22 levels heading into the new fiscal year, because that can cause the key domestic programs, he said Democrats will not let that happen. So, there is going to be a big fight to fund the government.

And also, another deal that Kevin McCarthy cut to ensure that when they have to raise the debt limit, likely this summer, maybe a little bit after that, they would have to have some corresponding similar spending, because tied to that, also a red line for Senate Democrats. So, all of the everything that happened in the last two weeks will just set the stage for this knockdown drag out fight, they're going to have huge economic implications.

KING: And that's what it actually matters. Again, the Republicans campaigned on things. I'm not criticizing them for bringing to the floor, legislation they campaigned on. That's what happens and you should keep your campaign promises whether they're going to pass or not. But you get to the key point and here's the challenge.

Chuck Schumer says, we won't take that. The question is what happens? Kevin McCarthy can give them what they wanted on the House floor. The House can vote that. The question then is do you negotiate and compromise and how to deal political colorfully getting at this today.

House GOP temps fall government shutdown with impossible spending demands, House Republicans are vowing to put Don Quixote to shame by tilting at a huge window, slashing federal spending by at least 130 billion without cutting defense. The math doesn't work for House Republicans. The question is what happens when push comes to shove in July or August?


COLVIN: That's exactly right. It's the fiscal bills. It's the appropriations bills. It's all the bills that keep the lights on, you know, throughout the federal government, but it's also the things that we don't know. Think about any further aid to Ukraine, think about, you know, there are a lot of natural disasters happening right now that need funding or government support that Republicans in the House are going to have to figure out deals in order to get packages pass.

So, you are right now seeing a lot of tension, the bicameral tension. Right now, that I think is just a preview of what we will see in the next few years.

KING: They're getting their footing. We will see where it takes them and us. Up next for us. The collision of politics and special counsels. The attorney general is in a tough spot, so are the current and former president. And how the House Republicans square ignoring Trump's behavior, but rushing to investigate Biden's?