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Biden's Week Overshadowed By Classified Docs News; Biden: U.S. "Fully Committed" To Alliance With Japan; At Least 8 Killed After Tornadoes, Severe Weather Hit South. Aired 12:30-1p ET

Aired January 13, 2023 - 12:30   ET




JOHN KING, CNN HOST: Both special counsel investigations stir interesting and, yes, difficult politics for just about everyone involved. There are obvious clouds over Donald Trump and now Joe Biden as both prepare for the 2024 campaign pressure on the Attorney General too. And as Congress demands answers, it's easy to see some hypocrisy. Our great reporters are back at the table and let's start there. The Trump investigation has been underway for months. You ask House Republicans about it, they say it's the Justice Department that's weaponizing the government to go after the former President. Listen here, this is the chairman of the new House Oversight and they call it the Oversight and Accountability Committee now. Listen to the distinction if there is one.


REP. JAMES COMER (R-KY): We've requested information just to see what was going on because I don't know what documents were at Mar-a-Lago. So, you know, that's something we're just waiting to see what comes out on that.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: But is it fair to say that investigation won't be a priority?

COMER: That will not be a priority.

We wonder why the FBI didn't raid Joe Biden. We wonder why we're just now learning about this when the first set of documents were discovered, November the 2nd.


KING: Can you square that circle?

MANU RAJU, CNN CHIEF CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: I mean, it's politics, right? I mean, they -- we know that they're going to go after Joe Biden because he's from the opposite party. It's blatant. And it's pretty clear they are trying to make the case that these are similar cases that Joe Biden should have been had his house searched by the FBI and Donald Trump had his. But without getting into the fact that --

KING: The facts without getting into the facts. Let me stop you there, without getting into the facts.

RAJU: Donald Trump was battling with the Justice Department, with the Archives about turning over the documents, later led to the FBI searching Mar-a-Lago. All those things did not apparently happen here, but it doesn't mean they're not going to push forward. And look, we'll see what they figure out because already Comer's Committee has sent over letters to the White House, the National Archives asking for records, asking for these documents, asking for communications.

And it's unclear how did the White House respond? Did they cooperate with to James Comer or do they lead to a subpoena fight, a legal fight, things that we saw in the Trump years.

KING: And the President of the United States, having a very important meeting right now with a key American ally to talk about the China challenge and other big global issues. He was in Mexico City earlier this week to talk about another giant challenge that not only economic cooperation in the neighborhood, but the border as well. But this has been, let's just look at some of the headlines, Biden in a whole of his own making, Special Counsel inquiry leaves Biden and Garland in awkward spots. Furor over documents creates unexpected political peril for Biden. Not the way he wanted to start the second half of his term.

TAMARA KEITH, WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, NPR: Right. Well, I think that President Biden and he had interviews, criticized former President Trump for mishandling documents. Now it's cloudy. It can't just be Trump bad, Biden good, Biden administration totally clean. Now there is this challenge hanging over him. I think the White House hopes that this will be dispensed with relatively quickly. They have handled these documents like hot potato, whereas Trump hoarded them and did everything he could to hang on to them. But it does just cloud the waters, as Leanne Panetta, former Chief of Staff at the White House, told one of my colleagues.

KING: And it is, again, these are separate, different. But if you just think about the last 10 years of American life, Hillary Clinton's e- mails investigation into presidential campaign, third cycle in a row now. Trump's lies to Russia, ties to Russia, excuse me. Trump's efforts to overturn the 2020 election, a very serious ongoing federal investigation. Trump's handling of classified documents, also a very serious ongoing federal investigation. And now Biden's handling of classified material, another serious federal investigation. This has become, unfortunately, investigations part of our campaigns.

RHONDA COLVIN, SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT, THE WASHINGTON POST: That's exactly right. The DOJ has almost become a reoccurring character in our elections, in our election cycles. And it looks like that will continue into 2024. And one thing that I'm sure the Biden White House right now is calculating is how long is this going to take because we know special counsel investigations aren't quick matters. They're not done swiftly. This will be months long, and they usually have a lot of twists and turns, too, that come out over the course of weeks and months. So there's that. And there's also the angle over in the House GOP, where you've had the top chairman of the Judiciary Committee, the Oversight Committee, as well as intel, saying they're going to be looking into this and investigating this with their jurisdiction. So this is something that the White House will have to add into their calculations and how to handle any sort of announcements that will be running in 2024.


RAJU: And Democrats are really uneasy about this too. I mean, Hakeem Jeffries, the Democratic leader, has said virtually nothing about this. He said that he has confidence in Joe Biden. That is his line. I asked him, is it OK, should congress investigate this? He said, I have confidence in Joe Biden. Today we heard Chuck Schumer saying he supports the naming of the special counsel, but really didn't want to go further than that because they really don't know where this is going to go. So they, you know, they know this could be a big political problem.

KEITH: Well, and for months and months, Democrats have been saying handling classified information is a really important, legitimate issue. Now, it's also an issue for the Democratic president.

KING: Right. And so we will see. I think you mentioned earlier, consistency is hard to find sometimes in this town. We will see if there's any of that on this very important issue for both the current and former president.

Up next for us, though, the China challenge, Japan's prime minister is at the White House right now discussing new economic and security steps designed to send a clear message to Beijing.



KING: An important meeting at the White House today as President Biden welcomes Japan's prime Minister. The two leaders working right now to strengthen their partnership in a visit that comes just days after the United States announced a significant boost in its military presence in Japan.


BIDEN: Modernizing our military alliance, building on Japan's historic increase in defense spending and new national security strategy. Let me be crystal clear, the United States is fully, thoroughly, completely committed to the alliance.


KING: CNN's MJ Lee and CNN's Kylie Atwood. Join us now. MJ, let's start at the White House with you. What was the most significant takeaway from the conversation so far?

MJ LEE, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, John, first of all, I would point out that sometimes we do have some luck getting the President to answer some shouted questions in that setting in the Oval Office. But as heard there, reporters trying to ask him about various issues, including of course, about the classified documents drama swirling around this White House, he wouldn't take any questions. But I think what stood out to me was this emphasis on building on an existing relationship as opposed to starting anew, obviously both leaders mentioned the fact that last year the two of them had seen each other.

This is a reference to the fact that the two of them saw each other both in Tokyo and then later in the year in Cambodia. And they talked about different areas of major cooperation, including the President mentioning the fact that Japan now has this new national security strategy which the U.S. has been largely supportive of, and this joint U.S.-Japan cooperate -- military cooperation agreement. They also talked about areas of economic cooperation as well. And it doesn't need to be said explicitly that so much of this has to do with trying to contain China.

And the two countries believe that this is where there is ample room for cooperation, that the two countries can work together with other regional partners to contain China both militarily and economically as well. Now, when they do go into this bylaw and actually that meeting is happening right now, we of course, expect them to talk about other issues, like the ongoing war in Ukraine. Another area, of course, where the two countries feel like they can show support to Ukraine and discuss and deal with the global economic impact that the war has had all across the world. So again, this is a meeting where they are really emphasizing the strengthening of an existing alliance as opposed to building something from scratch, John.

KING: MJ Lee at the White house. And Kailey, as we come to you striking, it's been a long time since I covered the White House but back in the Bill Clinton days and even the George W. Bush days, in these conversations, sometimes on the table, was the Japanese perspective that maybe it was time for the United States to shrink its military presence in Japan. That is now off the table because of the rise of China. Listen to the Defense Secretary just this week.


LLOYD AUSTIN, DEFENSE SECRETARY: Today welcomed an historic alliance decision to optimize U.S. force posture in Japan by force stationing more versatile, mobile, and resilient capabilities. These actions will bolster deterrence in the region and allow us to defend Japan and its people more effectively.


KING: Help us better understand what that means both militarily and diplomatically. And obviously the focus is Beijing.

KYLIE ATWOOD, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Well, listen, John, I think a lot of times when you see these types of meetings, you hear a lot about a strengthening alliance. But what we are seeing here is that the administration and Japan are actually taking steps to enhance that alliance militarily. So what the United States announced earlier this week with Secretary Austin being with his counterpart, Secretary Blinken's counterpart, also here in Washington, is that they're going to be putting a new Marine unit in Japan. And it's an advanced Marine unit, so it's going to give the U.S. capabilities in the region that they didn't previously have.

They'll have advanced intelligence, the capability to shoot down antitank missiles and the like. So these are very substantial new upgrades. And of course, it comes, as you guys have been talking about, this threat from China in the region, Chinese aggressions in the region, the concerns about a potential Chinese invasion of Taiwan. Okinawa, where these Marines are going to be based, is pretty close to Taiwan.

The other thing that they did in terms of the U.S.-Japan alliance, their defense alliance, is to upgrade it to include any attacks to or from space. And the reason that is significant is because China has also been working to advance its work in the space arena. John?


KING: Fascinating conversations. MJ Lee at the White House, Kylie Atwood with the State Department, thank you both.

When we come back, deadly storms, dozens of tornadoes hitting across the south, leaving sadly, at least eight people dead and a wide swath of damage. We'll be live on the ground next.


KING: Terrifying situation is dangerous and deadly storms tear across the south.


Thirty-five tornadoes reported in Alabama, Kentucky and Georgia, and at least eight people, sadly, have been killed, seven of them in Alabama. Selma was one of the hardest hit areas, a confirmed EF1 tornado leaving a trail of destruction, causing widespread damage to homes and businesses in that historic city. But the south not the only area dealing with severe weather issues, parts of California, of course, bracing for more rain as people are still cleaning up after extensive flooding and mudslides.

Veronica Miracle is live for us in San Francisco, but let's begin with CNN's Ryan Young, who, as you see, is live in Selma for us. Ryan, what are you seeing?

RYAN YOUNG, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: John, you can understand it's been really tough for people in Alabama, especially with all the lives that were lost. When you look around Selma, you see signs like this where people were running for their lives at some point. I'm going to put this down, but this is outside of a dollar store and you can see this car was crushed. There's another car that is behind that bit of destruction that is there. We've been talking to people who are in stores, who are out shopping, who are just doing their normal day and they started running for their lives. And as you come down here, you can see these scenes sort of repeat themselves over and over. We were told people did expect storms, they did expect weather. What they didn't expect was the storm to be so large and to hit so fast. So when you see the roof here ripped off, when you see the fact that all the insulation is just strewn everywhere.

One woman told us that she was praying to God to get away from this storm. And at some point someone grabbed her and pulled her into a closet. So you can understand her fear. In fact, take a listen to a man who said he realized he had to run as well.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Usually I ignore the sirens because you never think it's going to happen to you, but within minutes of this thing was on the house, I was running around grabbing dogs, cats, and ran to the basement and it was over before it started.


YOUNG: Yes, people here are really upset because they are scared about their loved ones who live in other counties. Power still out for a lot of the area, cellphone towers have been damaged all across the area. But you see that tree back there? It has been wrapped in metal. So all across this area, they're trying to put their pieces back together, trying to figure out hopefully before the next rain comes down again. John?

KING: John Ryan young live for us on the ground in Selma, Alabama. Ryan, thank you. Let's go across the country now to CNN's Veronica Miracle. She is live in San Francisco. Veronica, the problems continue there.

VERONICA MIRACLE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's exactly right, John. You can see here in San Francisco. It is dreary. It is raining a little bit. But this is really the calm before the next big storm is expected to hit tomorrow. That is when a lot of the damage and flooding is expected in the Bay Area and the central coast starting around 4:00 a.m. tomorrow and going all the way through Monday. Officials are very concerned that there could be widespread flooding, mud, rock and landslides, high surf warnings and wind advisories, and this is after weeks of getting pummeled here in this state.

There has really been little time for cleanup in some parts like Monterey. Officials there are already seeing widespread flooding from a little bit of rain that happened on Thursday night. They're now concerned that over the weekend, two major highways that lead into the peninsula there could be flooded and cut off traffic and essentially not allowing people to go in and out. We were there yesterday looking at some of the flooding in the agricultural areas. There were some homes that were already underwater.

And officials were saying this is terrible for farmers, but it was allowing some of that water to flow out and create less pressure for the river there, and that leads to those highways that could potentially flood those highways. So a lot of damage here already happening and more expected this weekend. John?

KING: Veronica Miracle live for us in San Francisco. Veronica, thank you.


Up next for us, the FAA flop, what the agency now says led to this week's massive air traffic meltdown.


KING: Topping our Political Radar today. A $1.6 million fine for two Trump companies found guilty of running a decades' long tax fraud scheme. A judge handing down the maximum possible penalty to the Trump Corporation and the Trump Payroll Corporation. Nobody linked to the companies will go to jail. The former president and his family were not charged in this case. A spokesperson for the Trump Organization says it will appeal the verdict.

The FAA now blaming Wednesday's system failure on a human error. The agency says the corrupted data file that caused the system to collapse was damaged by personnel who failed to follow proper procedure. The issue resulted in massive headaches for passengers across the country, including thousands of flight delays and cancellations.

Inflation is slowly easing and it appears you the American consumer is forgiving. The University of Michigan's Consumer Sentiment Index, jumping to 64.6 this month. That's up 8 percent. It's the highest level since April. The biggest concerns for shoppers remain, though a looming recession and the ongoing recovery from the COVID pandemic.

It is Friday the 13th, but maybe your day to be lucky. The jackpot in tonight's Mega Millions drawing is at $1.35 billion, the second largest in that lottery's history.


He was the mayor during 9/11, and in the midst of tragedy, he stepped up. But what happened to that leader? The CNN original series, Giuliani: What Happened to America's Mayor? Sunday, 9:00 p.m. Eastern.

Thanks for your time on Inside Politics. I hope you have a pleasant weekend. Bianna Golodryga picks up our coverage right now.