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Oversight Chair Sends Letter To UPenn For Info About Biden Docs; Biden's Brothers Repeatedly Referenced Him In Private Business Dealings; White House, McCarthy Clash In Debt Limit Showdown. Aired 12:30-1p ET

Aired January 18, 2023 - 12:30   ET



PAULA REID, CNN SENIOR LEGAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: It'll be very interesting to see how this cooperation continues once they fire off subpoenas and especially around this question of whether the President should sit and answer questions.

JOHN KING, CNN HOST: So we're just getting started there and Congress says it won't wait. The question is there'll be tension between the two investigations, obviously. This is James Comer, the chairman of the House Accountability -- Oversight and Accountability Committee. The Committee requests documents and information related to the foreign influence at UPenn. Joe Biden had an office at UPenn during the Trump years in the Penn Biden center. It is imperative to understand whether any Biden family members or associates gained access to the classified documents while stored at the Penn Biden Center.

Again, legitimate questions, how the documents get there? Who had access to them in the like? And the House Republicans work in the foreign influence part, the innuendo, with the fact requests.

LEIGH ANN CALDWELL, EARLY 2022 CO-AUTHOR, THE WASHINGTON POST: Yes, the innuendo is also Hunter Biden. It's a theme with that within the Biden administration is foreign influence. Now, one thing of course, the Oversight Committee was just formed yesterday. But one thing I'm also going to be looking for, are they just going to keep sending letters and make noise? Are they actually going to hold hearings about this?

And what are those hearings going to look like? Because Republicans privately admit to me that their goal is in large part to muddy the water to take down the temperature on the Trump document saga. And that might be a success in their eyes, if voters can no longer understand the difference, even though there are major differences between the two cases.

KING: And a key question as we jump in, as you jump, I just want to listen to the Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, he has a very different take than the House about the tone of certain things. But here, he says, so far, so good.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY), MINORITY LEADER: I think the important thing with regard to documents is that both these guys ought to be treated exactly the same way. Exactly the same way. And so I think the Attorney General probably did the right thing by having two special counsels. What's good for one candidate for president ought to be good for another one.


KING: Let's set aside the delicious irony Merrick Garland as Attorney General because the Mitch McConnell you just heard there denied him a Supreme Court vote in the United States Senate. So that's why he's the attorney general. What does the Senate do here while the house goes full speed ahead?

EVA MCKEND, CNN NATIONAL POLITICS REPORTER: Well, I think that that kind of muted response is what you're going to expect from Senator McConnell. Republicans won't be able to do a whole lot in the Senate because they're not in control. But you know, I imagine there are going to be hearings in the House because this issue, even though they are very different, it really speaks to a central theme that Republicans have long harped on that there is a dual system of justice, that conservatives are railroaded and treated differently. So I would imagine they very much are going to continue to capitalize on this.

REID: And do they need Hunter now that they have Joe?

KING: Well, that's an interesting point.

JEREMY DIAMOND, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: It certainly has focused their attention. Yes.

KING: Yes, well, we'll see where they go. We're just getting started and we'll keep an open mind as we march forward.

Up next, it's related to this, a CNN investigation into how the president's son and brothers have cashed in on the family name. The details of the context are critical as House Republicans promise investigations of their own.



KING: Some important news CNN reporting now on a question House Republicans promised to answer, have the President son and brothers blurred across ethical lines in their business dealings during Joe Biden's four decades in public office. Our CNN's chief investigative correspondent Pamela Brown reports here. A new CNN review does show Biden's brothers and son Hunter traded on the family name in a way some ethics experts say could well be problematic.


PAMELA BROWN, CNN CHIEF INVESTIGATE CORRESPONDENT & ANCHOR (voice- over): He has built his political career on promises of honesty, hard work, and a pledge that a family name means something.


I give you my word as a Biden.

BROWN (voice-over): But while Joe Biden swears by his name in politics, his son and two brothers spent years trying to benefit from the Biden name. It's all now the focus of a Republican-led congressional investigation.

REP. JAMES COMER (R-KY): We want to know what the Biden administration has tried to hide from the American people and why they are not being transparent.

BROWN (voice-over): Republican Congressman James Comer now chairs the House Oversight Committee and has set his sights on Joe Biden's son, Hunter. A mysterious laptop, now in the hands of the FBI, and long- held conspiracy theories about President Joe Biden and what he does or doesn't know.

J. BIDEN: I have never discussed with my son or my brother or anyone else anything having to do with their businesses, period.

BROWN (voice-over): Despite his denials, a CNN review of the laptop data, as well as other public material, shows that Joe Biden did, in Iraq, with some of his son's associates while serving as vice president, though it's unclear exactly what was discussed.

One example the Republicans cite, Miguel Aleman Magnani, a Mexican businessman and son of the former president who Hunter was trying to woo. In 2014, Aleman Magnani and his dad were photographed at the White House with then-Vice President Biden.

In a later e-mail, Hunter Biden reminds Aleman Magnani of the favors he's done for him. "We have been talking about business deals and partnerships for seven years. I have brought every single person you have ever asked me to bring to the f-ing White House, and the vice president's house, and the inauguration."

Hunter Biden bluntly acknowledged the power of the Biden name in a memoir, writing that the Ukrainian energy company Burisma, which put him on its board, "considered my last name gold."

HUNTER BIDEN, SON OF PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: I don't think that there's a lot of things that would have happened in my life that -- if my last name wasn't Biden.


BROWN (voice-over): Joe Biden's brothers have repeatedly referenced him in their private dealings.

Frank Biden, a developer of for-profit charter schools, has invoked his brother in trying to convince local officials to approve his projects, like in Sunrise, Florida, where he told the city in 2015 to trust his venture. FRANK BIDEN, BROTHER OF PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: Not because of Frank, but because of the honor of being the brother of a guy I think we all know and love.

BROWN (voice-over): In 2021, at a gathering of medical professionals, he made this pledge.

F. BIDEN: The bully pulpit that I have as a result of the privilege of being associated with my brother, Joey, and I'll do everything in my power to support you to get the job done, to get federal dollars to your research.

BROWN (voice-over): Frank Biden told CNN there has been zero interaction between his brother's public office and his private business, adding, "Do I engage in any way in quid pro quo on any level? Absolutely not."

MICHAEL FREY, HEALTH CARE ENTREPRENEUR: The last name gave credibility initially.

BROWN (voice-over): Health care entrepreneur Michael Frey told CNN Joe Biden's other brother, James, broke financial promises he made while referencing the Biden name. Frey's company filed a lawsuit alleging fraud by James Biden who denied the claims. Frey spoke to CNN before the lawsuit settled in 2020.

FREY: Everything was on the Biden name, and so we took that to heart.

BROWN (voice-over): James Biden was also named in a lawsuit filed in July. He allegedly received about $600,000 in loans in 2018 from a company he worked with, Americore Health, based upon representations that his last name, Biden, could open doors and that he could obtain a large investment from the Middle East based on his political connections. The suit states that the investment was never delivered. The lawsuit was settled, though James Biden denied the allegations in court filings. He did not respond to a request for comment.

Kathleen Clark, a government ethics expert, calls it all troubling.

KATHLEEN CLARK, LAW PROFESSOR, WASHINGTON UNIVERSITY, IN ST. LOUIS: We have, certainly, examples of Biden family members explicitly trading on his name, trying to convince business partners to do deals with them. That's outrageous.

BROWN (voice-over): Even so, government ethics experts say the Biden's ethical challenges pale in comparison to Donald Trump.

CLARK: One of the differences is that Trump, himself, personally was corrupt and certainly did enrich himself through the use of government power.

BROWN (voice-over): Even the Republican congressman leading the Biden investigation raises concerns about Trump's dealing while president.

(on camera): And you believe there should have been more transparency with Trump and his family members and the business that they may have been doing overseas?

COMER: I do. I do. I absolutely do.

BROWN (voice-over): Comer says he wants to introduce bipartisan legislation to tighten ethics laws, but the committee's first priority is the Bidens.


BROWN: It's important to note there is no proof the president has done anything illegal. We sent the White House a list of questions, including whether the president stands by his statement that he never discussed his relative's businesses with them. And in response, the White House sent us this statement. The president has pledged to restore ethics to the White House and has established the most rigorous ethics guidelines of any administration in history. No family member has or will serve in the administration or be involved in government decision-making. John?

KING: Important reporting by Pamela Brown and our CNN investigative team.


Up next for us, the debt ceiling and divided government. Tomorrow, the Treasury starts taking extraordinary measures to avoid a default. Democrats say paying your bills is non-negotiable. But Republicans say we just want the majority, we want spending reductions.


KING: Beginning tomorrow, the Treasury Department says it will have to implement what it calls extraordinary measures to delay an economic catastrophe that would be defaulting on the national debt, this band aid solution will work the Treasury says until sometime in June, raising the government's borrowing limit is always contentious, but all the more so now, because of the new Republican House majority.


REP. KEVIN MCCARTHY (R-CA), HOUSE SPEAKER: If you had a child and you gave him a credit card, and they kept raising it, and they hit the limit, so you just raised it again, clean increase and again and again. Would you just keep doing that? Or would you change the behavior? We're six months away? Why wouldn't we sit down now and change this behavior?


KING: The Republicans view this as a legitimate question. The spending in government is separate from paying your past bills for prior spending. But they say we should negotiate. We just won this majority. We want to reduce spending. You want us to raise the debt ceiling. We have to cut a deal, both the Democratic White House and Democratic Senate say that's reckless. Where is going? CALDWELL: So first, there's an education campaign that's currently ongoing among House Republicans to teach House Republicans the difference between defaulting on the debt and a government shutdown and how these things don't necessarily need to be linked so that people understand the parameters of the debate. That's part of the thing that's happening right now.

But yes, I mean, some of these Republicans, they want to ensure that in order to raise the debt limit that there is reductions in government spending. And Senator Schumer said just last night, I believe it was, that he has no intention of negotiating under those parameters.


KING: And another big player in this, we talked about this earlier in a different context is the Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell who does not like dancing on the cliff whether it's of raising the debt limit or government shutdowns. He thinks as a hurt Republicans in the past, let's be responsible. He says he hopes, hopes Kevin McCarthy has the strength to help.


MCCONNELL: Hopefully, McCarthy was not so weakened about this that he can't be an effective speaker. I'm pulling for him. I think he was the right guy for the job, and I'm hoping it's going to settle down and workout well.


KING: It's fascinating, publicly talked about I hope he wasn't so weakened. And I just want to get quickly at the politics of this. When Trump was president, Republican President, Republican House majority, this is 2018, 167 Republicans voted to raise the debt limit. 2021 Joe Biden is president, only one Republican voted to raise the debt limit. The Democratic majority in the House that there's gambling in the casino and politics in Washington.

MCKEND: There sure is. And listen, McConnell understands that this issue eventually becomes a political loser for Republicans, as this conversation intensifies about the debt ceiling about spending, you know, then Republicans have to take that that hard question, well, what exactly are you going to cut? Are you going to cut Social Security? What social safety net programs are on the chopping block? And they have shown not to be able to really answer that effectively. And I think that is the conversation Senator McConnell is trying to avoid.

KING: So Andy Biggs, Republican from Arizona, one of the guys who ran for speaker and tried to deny Kevin McCarthy being speaker says we cannot raise the debt ceiling. Democrats have carelessly spent our taxpayer money and devalued our currency.

They've made their bed so they must lie in it. And again, it ignores the spending, where was Andy Biggs during the Trump years, when they also -- Joe Biden would argue he's lowered the deficit a lot more than Donald Trump does and he'd be right on the facts. Still, at the Biden White House, they don't want to go negotiate the debt ceiling, they think that's wrong, but do they understand they're probably going to have to some side negotiation over here to get what they need?

DIAMOND: It's possible but right now, though, the word that I'm getting from the White House is we are not going to touch this discussion. We will not engage in any kind of discussion with Republicans that is tied to the debt ceiling. And I think that that's where they're going to stay because they do have a realization that they believe the politics of this are on their side. They believe that if we do head to a default situation, Republicans are the ones who will catch the blame.

I think one of the other things we're watching is how does McConnell handle this? What influence can he bring to bear on House Republicans and also keep in mind 2011, when we downgraded our credit didn't default, but there was a downgrade in the credit, much larger margin of House Republicans. Now they have such a slim margin. Do these New York Republicans want to take the fall for a potential default, that's something that the White House is also looking at very closely.

KING: Dicey, interesting days and weeks ahead. Thank you all for coming in today.

Up next for us, Donald Trump making a big ask of Facebook.



KING: Topping our Political Radar today, former President Donald Trump's campaign petitioning Facebook to unblock his account, that of course, remember the social media giant locked in the response to the January 6th thrive at the Capitol. Let's bring in CNN Kristen Holmes. She's following this story for us. Kristen, tell us more.

KRISTEN HOLMES, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: So John, as we know, Facebook's ban was not indefinite. And as we reported last week, the Meta, the parent group, was already having meetings deliberating whether or not they were going to let former President Trump back on its site.

In fact, they were taking it so seriously, they had a small working group within the company that was working on that. But now it appears that the campaign is trying to accelerate that process. They sent a letter to Meta asking for Trump to be reinstated and to have a meeting with that parent company. Now, I want to read you one expert -- excerpt of why they say they think that they should be reinstated.

Says, Donald J. Trump is a declared candidate for President of the United States. We believe the ban on President Trump's account on Facebook has dramatically distorted and inhibited the public discourse. Moreover, every day that President Trump's political voice remains silenced furthers an inappropriate interference in the American political and election process. Now, it is not surprising that he would put in the letter this is about free speech. We know that one of his major platforms for his 2024 campaign will be about free speech, but there is something that he didn't put in this letter. And that is about fundraising and raising money. Something that we know that if you are running for president, you need quite a bit of and as we have reported, Trump and his campaign have struggled because of not being on Facebook, they haven't been able to find other donors and it has hurt their fundraising.

So that in itself is also another reason why this might be incredibly important to a presidential campaign and to a presidential candidate. John?

KING: Giant issue we wait for the answer. Kristen Holmes, thanks so much. It would to be fascinating when Meta makes it big decision, Kristen, thank you.

Just moments ago, history, Democrat Wes Moore sworn in as Maryland's first black governor. He's only the third black governor elected nationwide. The Army veteran taking the oath of office using a Bible that once belonged to Frederick Douglass, a Maryland born slave who became a champion of the abolition movement.

Republican campaign staffer now suing Matt Schlapp and his wife Mercedes for sexual battery and defamation. Schlapp of course runs the annual CPAC political conference. That civil suit seeks $9 million. The Schlapp's attorney says the allegations are false and says the family considering a countersuit.

Governor Ron DeSantis, pushing the Florida legislature now to permanently ban COVID restrictions like masks and vaccine mandates in schools and businesses. DeSantis promoting the policy saying in his view quote, when the world lost its mind, Florida was a refuge of sanity.


A high five agreement, look at this picture, Senators Joe Manchin, Kyrsten Sinema celebrating their unity on blocking filibuster reform in the United States Senate. They were both on a panel together in Davos.

Appreciate your time today in INSIDE POLITICS. Hope to see you back here this time tomorrow. Erica Hill picks up our coverage on a very busy news day right now.