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Sources: Biden Annoyed With WH's Wait-And-See Approach To Docs; Former Obama Strategist: Biden WH "Just Don't Look Good"; Oversight Chair: Why Wasn't Biden WH, Homes Searched By FBI?; House Republicans Demand More Info In Biden Classified Docs Probe; Some GOP Reps Uneasy About Impeaching Mayorkas; GOP Rep: Mayorkas "Violated His Oath"; GOP Rep Nancy Mace: Mayorkas Has To Go; Ex-GOP Candidate In N.M. Arrested Over Shooting At Homes Of Dems; Youngkin Blasts "Maniacal Focus" On Equity In VA Schools. Aired 12-12:30p ET

Aired January 17, 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 day with us. Joe Biden is mad. New CNN reporting this hour, painting a portrait of a frustrated president, anointed how disclosure after disclosure of classified materials where they do not belong, has swallowed up a string of White House successes.

Plus, the Republican plan to force a Biden cabinet official out of office. New CNN reporting spotlights the momentum and the maneuvering inside the House GOP effort to impeach the homeland security chief and revenge plot stoked by delusions of a rigged election. Police arrest a former Republican candidate in New Mexico, they say he paid cash, gave gunman addresses, even pulled the trigger in a scheme targeting the homes of elected Democrats.

Up first for us though this hour. The president of the United States unable to escape the gravity of a self-inflicted crisis. Just moments ago, President Biden at the White House, you hear it there, appearing with the Dutch prime minister. You can hear the president getting shouted questions. He gave no answers about the documents story that simply will not go away.

The president's public posture sticking to the confines of what his lawyers have already said or avoiding questions altogether, belies private angst inside the West Wing. Sources telling CNN, the West Wing mood one of resignation or aides waiting along with everyone else to watch another shoe drop. The president himself has weighed, measured and found his own White House's approached wanting. He is complaining about his staff's handling of this story. And this is another complication.

Sources telling CNN additional searches of other locations connected to the president may happen soon, though we should be clear remains murky, who would conduct them or where they would take place. This narrative leaves the president's fellow Democrats with little to say except, trust the process.


SEN. CHRIS COONS, (D) DELAWARE: I think Attorney General Merrick Garland is playing this straight down the middle, having appointed special counsel to oversee both the ongoing investigation of the former president's mishandling of classified documents and these classified documents that have just come to light. And I expect as we get to know the facts better in the months ahead will better understand what if any risk there was to national security.


KING: With me in studio to share their reporting and their insights, CNN's Nia-Malika Henderson, Seung Min Kim of The Associated Press. Punchbowl's Heather Caygle, and the former federal prosecutor Shan Wu.

In a great CNN report today about how this has consumed the White House. Doug Jones, the former United States Senator, also a former federal prosecutor, a man who understands the issues quite well, says this about what he views his White House missteps. Once you make a statement, once you have the facts you have to have - you have to have to be full and complete. They weren't full and complete.

Gosh, come on, y'all. You got to do a better job when, forgive my language, shit likes this happens. Seung Min, what is the mood inside the White House? Initially, they said some things that they had to say more things, and now it seems to be a where is this going?

SEUNG MIN KIM, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: I mean, remember how good of a mood they were at the beginning of this mess when they're sort of competence and governing was contrasted by the mess in the House Republican leadership with that speakership battle. That is a completely different, different situation than what they are finding themselves in right now.

Because I think the biggest struggle for the White House is they don't know what's coming next. It's clearly stepped on their narrative, their narrative of, again, a competence and governing White House that they hope to carry with them. Once President Biden launches his reelection bid later this year. But they can't really rely on that right now.

And I think just the going - like underscoring the point that they don't know what's coming next, I was struck by the fact that at the White House briefing. On Thursday, the Press Secretary Karine Jean- Pierre said the American people can quote assume that the review has been completed and that there are no more documents.

Richard Sarver went to Wilmington that night and found five more classified documents at the White House than disclosed on Saturday. So that makes it really tough for them to move on from the story of if, if they don't know what's going next.

KING: And so, a special counsel is different than an independent counsel. But you work in an independent counsel investigation, you know, what it takes to put the building blocks of these things together? At a minimum, we're looking at what, weeks or months. Assume for the sake of this conversation that they find no criminal intent, no nefarious intent. This was just screw up after screw up after scrubbing and these documents were left in places they didn't belong. Just still, how long and what do you see as the next key investigative steps?

SHAN WU, FORMER FEDERAL PROSECUTOR: Well, they have to figure out who was originally responsible for handling those documents. It was a while back, so they have to kind of deconstruct that. Interview them and then maybe you have a clue as to what protocols went wrong. Could there have been any criminal intent but you know, messaging misfires are not crimes. And really, this looks like a messaging misfire right now. But in order to corroborate that impression, they'll have to figure out who they need to talk to and that could take a little bit here.


KING: And does it involve a grand jury without a doubt or likely or what?

WU: I'd say without a doubt. I mean you want the integrity and the independent record of the grand jury in terms of what documents you may put in, and what witnesses you may put in.

KING: So that sounds like months at a minimum.

WU: I would say so.

KING: Months in a minimum. And so, you mentioned the point, you know, the expectation is that President Biden will run for reelection. The expectation is that he would announce that late first quarter sometime early mid - early to mid-second quarter this year, just to get out of the gates, right?

Now, you have this political story and potentially legal story overhanging the White House, which is why David Axelrod, someone the president knows quite well. He was Barack Obama cited, two presidential campaigns work in the Obama White House says, wow, you people have screwed this up.


DAVID AXELROD, FORMER OBAMA STRATEGIST: But on this particular story, that just don't look good. The essence of crisis communications is figure out where the story's going, get there as quickly as possible, get there as thoroughly as possible. But you know, the thing I don't understand, frankly, is, if they found these documents on November 2, why has it taken so long to search these other properties?


KING: It's one of many key questions, anyway. And again, this is supposed to be team adult, not just President Biden, but the team that has been with him for decades, many of them are supposed to be the people who understand how government works. So, understand how crisis communication works to understand the severity, the gravity of classified material.

NIA-MALIKA HENDERSON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: That's right. And you talked about the contrast there that they wanted to make with teen Trump. Some of that was competency. A lot of that was transparency too. Biden always talks about himself as somebody who shoots straight from the shoulder. And in this case, we had multiple days, in a drip, drip, drip and multiple shoes to drop. Even though when they came out of the gate, it sounded like, you know, everything was fine. And they've gotten all the documents. So, they've got to figure this out.

Listen, Democrats I talked to early on said listen, the special counsel will get to the bottom of it. It'll sort of insulate Karine Jean-Pierre from having to do with China. She's been doing at the presser and Biden too from having to answer all these questions. But it's also one of those things where it begins somewhere, and you don't know where a special counsel could end up. We, of course, saw that with the Clinton administration began with a real estate deal and ended with an extramarital affair and impeachment.

KING: And so, we don't know that. And so that will be an uncertainty. Is this a pretty quick investigation and we get a finding. Does it drag on for months? For whatever reason, one of the hopes of President Biden's team, the Democrats is that House Republicans overstep. That House Republicans just take this too far, get out over their skis politically, and help essentially the president out of a mess of his own making.

This is James Comer, the chairman, they call it now the House Oversight and Accountability Committee. He wants answers, which he has every right too. The Congress should want answers to Democrats and Republicans. The question is, is this too far?


REP. JAMES COMER, (R) CHAIRMAN, OVERSIGHT COMMITTEE: At the end of the day, all we're asking for is equal treatment here. Why was Mar-a-Lago raided by the FBI? Why did the FBI go in and go through every room including Barron droom and Melania's closet? Why did the FBI take surveillance cameras from our Mar-a-Lago, but yet they haven't set foot to our knowledge on the premise of either the Biden center for diplomacy, or the Biden residents.


KING: He's playing to the Republican base there. I get the politics. He's the chairman at a very important early days of this new Republican majority. They searched Mar-a-Lago because Donald Trump and his lawyers fought the Justice Department for months and months and months and months and months. And it turned out what they told the justice department wasn't true, wasn't true, wasn't true.

So that's why they went back for the documents. So again, I'm not excusing Biden's behavior, but are the Republicans, will they be careful with this? Or will they announce their conclusions and then hold hearings? HEATHER CAYGLE, MANAGING EDITOR, PUNCHBOW NEWS: You know, that's a great question. I think they are very eager, as you have pointed out, and we've seen I mean, this is probably one of a dozen probes that they have talked about launching into the Biden administration and his family are going to launch in the coming months.

So, I think if you're a moderate Republican, there's definitely a fear that you do have the potential to overstep here. But on the other side of it, what we've seen from Democrats is a very tepid defensive Biden, and part of that is they do not want to walk the plain for the president if they don't know what else is going to come out.

KING: Right. So, from a legal perspective, team, White House and the Justice Department when the House oversight committee and other committees on Capitol Hill could be Senate committees as to and by Democrats say we want information. How much information if any, can you give at this juncture? When can you say, OK, now we'll cooperate but when and how is it justifiable to say, sorry, this is too sensitive, we're in the middle of it not now.

WU: They should give zero information. And they should have done that as early as they could. If they really were this mystified about what the real facts were, the special counsel can provide them with a legal shield to give him more information and insulate them from potential further errors. They should leave it to the special counsel, we're cooperating fully. That's all we're going to say. And I think that's very defensible, and Congress can try to do its oversight. That's fine, but the push back the wall there is going to be there's an active criminal investigation, let it run.


KING: We'll see if they could sell that politically but that's the question in this town at the moment. UP next for us, the homeland security secretary under fire. So brand new CNN reporting details a House conservative strategy to impeach Alejandro Mayorkas, at issue his border policies.


KING: Some important new CNN reporting now. House Republicans on top committees are laying the groundwork to potentially impeach a cabinet secretary, would be the first time that happened in more than a century. But some of the Republican Party moderates are skeptical, saying yes, Republicans should absolutely highlight profound problems at the border. But no, they do not see these big policy differences as meeting the bar for impeachment.

Let's get straight up to Capitol Hill. CNN's Melanie Zanona joins us. Mel, share your new reporting. And also, just moments ago the House speaker reacting. What did he say?


MELANIE ZANONA, CNN CAPITOL HILL REPORTER: Yes. The House Republicans are really starting to build a case against Alejandro Mayorkas, the Homeland Security Secretary which could serve as the basis for potential impeachment proceedings. So far, there are three different committees that are vowing to hold hearings on problems at the southern border that includes the, House Judiciary Committee where impeachment articles would originate.

In fact, a GOP source told me that those hearings could start as early as later this month or early February. Then there's also House Homeland Security Committee, which has a five-phase plan to start digging into issues at the southern border. And finally, the House Oversight Committee whose Chairman James Comer told me that he believes Mayorkas is a prime candidate for impeachment.

So clearly, this is not just an idea limited to the fringe wing of the party. It is something that is really gaining steam with the mainstream of the GOP. And in fact, speaker Kevin Mccarthy is really leaving the door open to an impeachment inquiry. Just take a listen to what he told reporters moments ago.


REP. KEVIN MCCARTHY, (R) HOUSE SPEAKER: Yes, wait till we see what the December numbers come across. OK. If those December numbers are even higher, and breaking new records, should he stay at this job, we can investigate, and in that investigation could lead to an impeachment inquiry. I don't predetermine because I'll never use impeachment for political purposes. But if the person is a derelict in their duties, and they, they're harming Americans and Americans are actually dying by the lack of their work that could rise to that occasion.


ZANONA: Now, at the same time, McCarthy has to balance the wing of his party that wants to impeach with the demands of his majority makers, the moderates who are going to be key to holding their majority. And he knows that he's going to need to get nearly the entire conference on board with impeachment in order for this to work.

And so far, they do not have the votes because several moderates, particularly in Biden, one districts, are expressing reservations, if not outright, opposed to the idea of impeaching, they're worried about seeing - being seen as overreaching. They're worried about it being backlash in the next elections. So, this is going to be a process, John, but clearly Republicans are ready to get the ball rolling.

KING: That's one example of the fascinating tensions within the New House Republican majority. And great reporting Nia-Malika Henderson. Thank you. Let's bring the conversation back in the room with our great reporters. Let's start with the point, Mel just made in the sense that Kevin McCarthy has what, four seats despair in his majority.

So, the same thing if you're going to impeach somebody, you know, all the Democrats are going to be against it if you try to impeach a Biden cabinet member. If you can't make the case for high crimes and misdemeanors, there's policy differences worth congressional oversight. Every issue is worth congressional performance review, if you will.

But Dusty Johnson of South Dakota, a strong Republican seat, border management is not the threshold in the constitution for impeachment. Don Bacon from a swing district in Nebraska. I don't think impeachment, swing voters are interested in impeachment. Mike Lawler just elected New York 17. I think the top priority is to deal with inflation and the cost of living are.

Two other Republicans Tony Gonzales of Texas, and Mario Diaz-Balart of Florida, saying they don't see it right now. How does Kevin McCarthy deal with many of his members, leading members, committee chairs think this is something they want to do? Can he tell them to stop once they start? Or once they start, is this out of his control?

CAYGLE: No. I think what we're going to see is like a slow walking of this. There's going to be a lot of investigating on these three committees, like Mel talked about a lot of hearings, things like that. But clearly, while McCarthy has shifted in tone, when we talked to him in October, he said he didn't think impeachment was the route for any cabinet official or Biden, then that changed in November after the majority we saw how small it would be.

He has shifted in tone. He's still not rushing to do this. There's a lot of parallels to when Speaker Nancy Pelosi came in 2019. Democrats especially on the far left, were immediately calling to impeach Trump. She really took her time. She did not want to do it. She knew what a political football it was.

And here remember, Democrats still control the Senate. This is - they are not going to convict him. So even if you were to somehow get the votes in your caucus in the House, it's not going to work in the Senate. And then at some point you have to govern, right, you have a debt ceiling to deal with in the summer. So, I just - I don't see the politics here of rushing into this and doing it.

KING: It's yet another issue of a very legitimate issue for Congress to look at. The question is will they do a performance review and raise questions about the Biden administration such as Secretary Mayorkas, he has a boss the president United States. There's a White House team here that's in charge of the border as well, asking questions or going for.

But again, it's how does McCarthy navigate the tensions. This is Chip Roy, who was one of the holdouts, remember holding up McCarthy before he would grip bring him the votes to be speaker. I've been very public about my belief that he has violated his oath, that he has undermined our ability to defend our country.

That would be the challenge. I mean, if you're viewing this as a legitimate inquiry, and they prove high crimes and misdemeanors, just because you might disagree with the level of enforcement. You might disagree with the shelter situation, you might disagree, you know, why aren't you turning people back or why you're getting Mexico, or the Central America countries do more to high crime and misdemeanor.

HENDERSON: I think that's the big problem for them. They don't like the way that he's doing his job. They think he's incompetent. McCarthy has said he thinks that he should resign. Lots of people might think the same, but this threshold of high crimes and misdemeanors, what is the crime? What is the misdemeanor? It can't just be, you know, committee hearing and impeachment over you disagreeing with the way he's conducting himself on the job.


But listen, this is the rock and hard place that McCarthy finds himself in. It'll happen over and over again, with very vocal and hardline Republicans pushing for impeachment. Listen, they had initially wanted people like Marjorie Taylor Greene, impeachment of Joe Biden, he sort of had to tamp down on that. And listen, some of this is you impeached our guy, Donald Trump twice, we're in control now. So, we're going to do the same to your guy.

KING: And you heard the speaker mentioned that he said, wait for the December numbers, he means the border crossing and border apprehension numbers. We can show you the numbers going back to 2020. This is November 2020 to 2021 to 2022. There's no doubt - there's no doubt this is a serious problem at the border.

Now the Biden administration would say we inherited problems with Trump. We have court decisions and legal rulings. But there's also been disagreement within the Biden administration how to do this. For the Republicans, we just mentioned some of the Biden district Republicans saying hey, wait a minute here, this might be a bridge too far.

Chip Roy, the conservative more rebels if you will say let's do it. Nancy Mace someone interesting to watch in the Republican Party, because she seems to sometimes go a little bit back and forth. She's trying to stake out center right, but not center crazy. This is the way. She puts, when you raise your hand and take an oath to protect our country's border, and you intentionally and willfully neglect to do your job, you should lose it either way, Secretary Mayorkas has to go. That is the hope of Republicans to pressure him into somehow resigning at the White House and at the department of security. They say not happening.

KIM: Yes, no plans to resign as of yet. And I would also broaden our look at Republicans who don't necessarily just represent Biden districts. I was really struck by this from representative, Tony Gonzales who represents a border district in Texas. He told CNN, I believe it was last week or earlier this month, that impeachment is a quote in case of emergency break glass situation, trying to underscore how serious the alleged crime has to be for Congress to pursue this past. So, I think there is a lot of kind of uneasiness, private uneasiness and some public in the conference right now.

KING: So, as Mel said, the hearings will start later this month, early next month. I guess we start there and see whether it grows or deflates. As we go up, next for us a very bizarre plot born of election denial. Police, a Republican candidate who won't accept his defeat is the mastermind behind a tax on the homes of four democratic officials in New Mexico. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)



KING: Turning now to an alarming story out of New Mexico. A former State House Republican candidate and election denier is now under arrest. Police say Solomon Pena orchestrated attacks on local democratic officials, giving gunmen cash, addresses, even pulling the trigger in the most recent assault. One of the lawmakers who was targeted, told CNN this morning her family now frightened to visit her home.


ADRIANN BARBOA, (D) BERNALILLO COUNTY COMMISSIONER: When politicians at our highest level of government continue to make threats and violence a regular part of public discourse. It has real impacts on our democracy and our real lives. I was shocked came through my home right where I just hours before been playing with my granddaughter.


KING: CNN's Josh Campbell is following this for us and joins us now live. Josh, this is bizarre tell us what we know.

Josh Campbell: Bizarre and we're learning chilling new details, John, about this alleged plot to attack Democrats. This man, Solomon Pena was arrested yesterday by the Albuquerque SWAT team. Police say that he paid and conspired with four men to shoot at the homes of four democratic elected officials.

Now CNN, has attempted to reach Pena for comment. These shootings occurred between December 4 and January 3. And in the latest shooting, as you mentioned, Police said that they believe that Pena himself actually pulled the trigger. Now no one was physically injured in these shootings, but they did cause damage to these four homes.

John, we've been reviewing the police arrest warrant affidavit that was just released, and it's clear that the identification of Pena and his alleged co-conspirators came about thanks to a trove of evidence that included bullet shell casings that included video surveillance, and perhaps more importantly, police say that they convinced one person with knowledge of the conspiracy to cooperate that obviously key to this investigation.

And in stunning detail that cooperating witness told police that the group members conducting the shootings originally fired above window, so it's not to actually strike anyone inside. But according to this affidavit, I'll read part of it. the cooperating witness stated that Solomon wanted the shootings to be more aggressive. The witness stated that Solomon wanted them to aim lower and shoot around 8pm Because occupants would more likely not be laying down.

Now Police say, they're still investigating whether these four alleged accomplices actually knew who they were allegedly shooting or that they were just shooting at random, you know, for which they were paid, a lot yet still to be uncovered here. But of course, this comes John, as we've continued to report on law enforcement around the United States warning that this heated political climate and these election lies could lead to more violence. You look at this incident appears that that is a key driver here.

KING: A case to watch as we explore that issue on and on. Josh Campbell, grateful for the important reporting. Thank you. We might call this a war on wokeism. The Virginia Governor Glenn Youngkin, Outraged his Attorney General now investigating this after a handful of public schools failed to notify students or their parents that they want a coveted academic recommendation. The Republican governor accusing education officials in the Commonwealth's largest county of choosing equity over merit.