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Sources: Classified Docs Found At Mike Pence's Indiana Home; Hearing On Grand Jury Report About Trump's Election Plot; Sources: U.S. Finalizing Deal To Commit Abrams Tanks To Ukraine. Aired 12:30-1p ET

Aired January 24, 2023 - 12:30   ET



JOHN KING, CNN HOST: We want to return now to our major breaking news this hour. Roughly a dozen classified documents uncovered at the Indiana home of the former Vice President Mike Pence. We're back with our reporters and legal analysts. Our special correspondent Jamie Gangel broke this exclusive news at the top of the hour. I'll let you just walk through for anyone who wasn't with us at the top of the hour, precisely what we know about how this happened and what now has been turned over.

JAMIE GANGEL, CNN SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT: So even though former Vice President Mike Pence repeatedly has said that he did not take any classified documents, in fact, last week, out of an abundance of caution, I think because of all of the Biden documents that had come out. He had a personal lawyer who's had some security clearance before and who knows how to go through these things, go through four boxes in his house Indiana.

And in fact, they found roughly 12 documents that appeared to be classified with classified markings. They immediately informed the National Archives. The National Archives, because of everything that's going on, informed the Justice Department. And at 9:30 at night on January 19th, the FBI showed up and they picked up those documents. Those documents were not kept in a secure place. They were in the house we're told, the boxes were sealed. But the question is how did they get from the White House, the Vice President's mansion, you know, why were they packed up to begin with it?


KING: And do we know anything about the subject matter?

GANGEL: We do not know the subject matter. We do not know the level of classification or the sensitivity.

KING: And so the issue now is the Justice Department is involved. And again, it appears that the former Vice President, out of an abundance of caution, said, let's just check. Let's go back and triple check. And so then he calls the FBI. So he did, quote, unquote, the right thing after coming into possession. How the chain of custody is going to be an issue of the wrong thing. Now what? EVAN PEREZ, CNN SENIOR JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Right now, the Justice Department and the National Security Division of the Justice Department and the FBI are doing a review. They're going to check to see what the documents are. According to the Vice President's team, which notified the Archives, we've obtained the letters that they sent to the National Archives and to the White House's office that deals with this stuff. They said that some of the documents that have classification markings were found interspersed with other personal material.

And of course, those four boxes that they did find, they had them shipped to Washington. They had them driven and they arrived here in Washington yesterday. So the Justice Department now and the Archives have everything that the Vice President's team is aware of. And so now we'll see what happens next.

NIA-MALIKA HENDERSON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: And that's the key that they're aware of because this of course, happened with Biden. They found some documents, then they found some more documents. There was a thorough search of his home. They thought there were all the documents and then there was an additional search by the FBI. So what other documents could be out there? Listen, I was texting with some Democrats about this, they are in some ways happy about this.

They saw the hot water that Biden has been in over this. And to now see that it happening with Pence suggests this is something that sometimes happens. Things get interspersed in with other documents. And a lot of these folks might not even know. If you are Mike Pompeo, if you were Nikki Haley, both of whom might want to run for President, they might want to start checking boxes as well.

KING: Right. It's not supposed to happen. Clearly, you know, Mike Pence, considerable experience in the Congress, governor of Indiana, Vice President of the United States. Joe Biden in the Senate, Vice President of the United States, now President of the United States, so it happens for people who say that they are the responsible ones, both of them. And I don't say that to be snarky, it happens. The question is what happens now if you're Merrick Garland? Because just yesterday just Republicans have been making the case and again, we could fact check this. Republicans have been making the case that Donald Trump is somehow being treatedly differently than Joe Biden. Merrick Garland says not true.


MERRICK GARLAND, ATTORNEY GENERAL: We do not have different rules for Democrats or Republicans, different rules for the powerful and the powerless, different rules for the rich or for the poor. We apply the facts and the law in each case in a neutral, nonpartisan manner. That is what we always do.


KING: We know we have different facts in the Biden and the Trump cases. There's many more documents proactively sent to Mar-a-Lago and then the lawyer signing papers saying they were all returned and the Justice Department finding up, no, they weren't. So the facts are different. But if you're Merrick Garland and you're trying to look at the facts and the law but also deal with the politics, as you mentioned earlier, Biden, a presumptive candidate, Trump a declared candidate, Pence a possible candidate. What does he do?

CARRIE CORDERO, CNN LEGAL & NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: Well, the Justice Department, when classified information is revealed and discovered in a place that it's not supposed to be, has an obligation to investigate both from a potential prosecutorial standpoint, but also from a national security perspective. They have to go back. They're going to have to do interviews. They're going to have to find out whether there were documents from the former Vice President Pence's locations that were taking to other locations. Did he have an office? Has he been living in any temporary locations like President Biden was at one point?

And so they're going to have to go through this inquiry. They're going to have to find out what the chain of custody of documents was. And they have to conduct that investigation. It doesn't matter that he was a former Vice President, anybody else who was in this situation. And now you start to think about what about former other national security officials who had access to information because the truth of it is, is really, as far as we know publicly, this isn't something that happens a lot. These particular circumstances are, at least from my perspective as a national security lawyer, they are unusual.

And so it does fall on the Justice Department to determine, working with the intelligence community where this information has gotten out, who has had access to it, and is there any harm to national security.

GANGEL: And to your point earlier, if former Vice President Mike Pence is planning to run for President, which we think he may very well want to do, are we waiting for another special counsel --


PEREZ: By the way --

GANGEL: -- to be appointed? We're going to run out of --

PEREZ: The most recent special counsel has not even yet taken his position yet. I mean, he's still trying to wrap up his law practice and so he hasn't even gotten on the job yet. And we already are talking about a potential fourth special counsel at the same time of the July.

GANGEL: Can I just add, this is political good news for two people. I think this is politically good news for Joe Biden. He has been through a miserable couple of weeks of this. I think it is also potentially legally good news for Donald Trump.

KING: In that, even though the facts are different, it just makes it hard to prosecute one than the other. And it raises, I'll end it with this, it raises a giant question for the House Republicans who are demanding Secret Service logs of who visited Joe Biden's home without raising a peep about Donald Trump. What do they do now about Mike Pence? You make that call at home. We'll, watch if people are treated equally as this one plays out. We'll end the conversation for now. We'll bring you any new information as we get it.

Right now, another very important legal hearing in Atlanta area, Judge is hearing arguments as we speak on whether to release a special grand jury report on former President Trump's effort to overturn Joe Biden's 2020 Georgia win. You see the hearing right there. We'll take you live to the courthouse next.



KING: Right now, courtroom drama playing out in Georgia. The issue should you get to see the evidence collected by a special grand jury that investigated Donald Trump's efforts to steal the 2020 election. The grand jury worked for seven months. The prosecutor now must decide whether to bring charges against the former president or those who tried to help him. Today, you see the hearing right there. That's the judge who supervised the grand jury, hearing arguments about whether all or parts of its report should be made public. CNN's Sara Murray is live outside the Atlantic courthouse with the very latest. Sara?

SARA MURRAY, CNN POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, we just heard from District Attorney Fani Willis in court and she says decisions are imminent, main decisions about whether bringing charges. She also signaled pretty clearly that even though we have not seen this special grand jury's final report, that it did recommend some kind of indictments. She continued to refer to protecting the rights of future defendants, suggesting that there could be multiple, and arguing that the report should not be released because it could potentially jeopardize the rights of these defendants and their ability to get a fair trial in this jurisdiction. Take a listen to what else she had to say in court today.


FANI WILLIS, FULTON COUNTY, GA DISTRICT ATTORNEY: In this case, the states understands the media's inquiry and the world's interest, but we have to be mindful of protecting future defendant's rights. In the interests of justice and the rights of not the state, but others, we are asking that the report not be released.


MURRAY: Now, John, we of course, still haven't seen this report. We don't know what the judge is going to decide, but the DA also said that this panel heard from 75 witnesses as they reached their conclusions and their recommendations. We also don't know who they may have recommended for indictment. Of course, Donald Trump was under scrutiny in this investigation, as well as a number of his associates, John.

KING: Sara Murray for us live outside the courtroom. Sara, before I let you go, do we have any sense not -- when the judge will decide. We know that's likely to take a few days, but did Fani Willis give any indication of, judge, I need X amount of time before you release this because I'm debating all these potential charges?

MURRAY: You know, what she said in court is decisions are imminent. When I have spoken to legal experts about, you know, the timeline for indictments, they say, look, if she's talking about a complicated case, if she's talking about a racketeering case where you could potentially indict multiple defendants at once, you're going to want to take a little time putting that together. You're not going to want to go to a regular grand jury and get that indictment until essentially your case is camera ready and ready to go to court.

KING: Sara, stand by. Stay with us and please just jump in. It's hard when you're not in the studio, but jump in if anything comes up if you want to join the conversation. Still with me at the table, CNN's Nia- Malika Henderson and our CNN legal analyst, national security analyst Carrie Cordero. And Carrie to you first in the sense that you have a special grand jury, which is of itself a little unique, it's not unique, but it's different. And then you have the charging decisions by the prosecutor and the media organization saying, we want this report now.

CORDERO: Yes, this is an unusual situation, the role that this special grand jury played where they're issuing in a report, but we don't actually have an indictment. Normally, prosecutors want to speak through their charging documents, and it speaks to the fact that then they know that they have the evidence because they don't put the information in a charging document unless that's evidence they believe they can prove at trial. And it speaks, as we heard in the clip just now, to the rights of the defendant, to not be just publicly maligned in a report that gets issued.

And Judge McBurney in this case, who actually I had the opportunity to work with when he was a former federal prosecutor at the Justice Department, he has a hard decision to make here because there is a public interest, but there really is the integrity of the judicial process and the rights of the defendants that are --

KING: And you talk about public interest. We're waiting. There are federal investigations into all of this. The fake electorate plot, the insurrection of the Capitol trying to disrupt that. But this grand jury had remarkable success. Sara notes 75 witnesses. They include the former secretary of state, the current secretary of state of Georgia, secretary of state at the time, Brad Raffensperger. He's there as an information witness. Donald Trump called him, remember, saying, I need to find votes. Senator Lindsey Graham, Rudy Giuliani, Governor Kemp, again, Governor Kemp stood up to Donald Trump, they want to know, how much pressure did you get under here, a slew of the Trump national security adviser, these legal aides and all that. The people who were helping Donald Trump were all brought before this grand jury. We don't know what they said, but we'd like to.


HENDERSON: Yes, we'd like to know what they said. I think the judge has to weigh what Carrie is talking about in terms of the public interests versus the future defendant's rights. And everybody wants to know what defendants are they are going to be in this. Is it going to be Donald Trump? Is it going to be Rudy Giuliani? For instance, in hearing about the folks that they assembled, you're just reminded once again that Donald Trump was at the center of this. He was the one calling around, trying to find the votes. He was the one trying to advance this fake elector scheme, for instance. And so we'll see what happens. I think, you know, sort of political observers always saw this case as the one that was maybe the most potentially damaging to Donald Trump's political future. And so we'll see what happens. This comes as Donald Trump seems to be inching closer into being much more public as a presidential candidate.

KING: He has an event Saturday in New Hampshire, an event Saturday in South Carolina. And Sara Murray is still with us in Georgia. Interestingly, Donald Trump has huge stakes in whether this is made public, but his lawyers are not there arguing one way or the other, are they?

MURRAY: No, his lawyers are not here arguing today. They basically said Donald Trump was not subpoenaed as part of this investigation. So we take that as a signal. You don't need us, and he did nothing wrong. Now, of course, they don't know what the grand jury report says, that hasn't been made public. Donald Trump's attorneys haven't seen it. So they're taking some liberties there and essentially trying to say, we're not going to be a part of this process.

But it's been interesting listening to the judge try to work this out today. You know, he's talking about how the January 6th Committee made so much information public, and the world is still sort of turning as an argument for why can't we have this information out here? And we're hearing more people from the district attorney's office come forward and talk about how this is a criminal investigation. Releasing documents with an ongoing criminal investigation is a different thing.

KING: So to that point, Carrie, let's close the conversation there. If you were Donald Trump's legal counsel, would you want to be in that room? Or if you walk in there and start making argument, are you open to questioning that maybe you don't want to answer?

CORDERO: No, I don't think there's any reason for them to be in there at this point. If he wasn't a participant in the proceeding, then there's no reason to be there and there's nothing really that they have to gain. The prosecutor needs to make a decision. Is this case going to be prosecuted? And so I am really curious to see how Judge McBurney weighs these issues and determines whether or not he's going to wait to see a charging document as well.

KING: Carrie Cordero and Nia-Malika Henderson, Sara Murray on the ground for us in Fulton County, thanks to you all. We'll stay on top of this one.

Up next, more breaking news this hour, this war in Ukraine related. The new reporting, the Pentagon now putting the finishing touches on a move that just might tilt the battlefield and might lead to other military assistance.



KING: Critical new CNN reporting now on a potential giant change in U.S. policy that could have dramatic consequences for the battlefield in Ukraine. Sources telling CNN the Biden administration is finalizing a deal to send American made Abrams tanks to the battlefield. CNN's Oren Liebermann live at the Pentagon for us. Oren, this is a big shift. What's happening?

OREN LIEBERMANN, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: It is. For a long time, the U.S. and the Pentagon had said the Abrams tank was not the right fit for the fight, urging other countries to send their tanks. We're now learning, according to three U.S. officials familiar with the matter, that the Biden administration is now finalizing plans to announce the commitment of sending Abrams tanks to Ukraine.

The U.S. made M1 Abrams tank, an advanced but complex system that Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has been asking for for months, important for a number of reasons. First, the shift in U.S. policy. Second, this is a signal, another signal, I should say, of ongoing U.S. support for Ukraine in terms of the weapons and the systems it provides. But perhaps most importantly, it breaks an apparent logjam with Germany. German officials had repeatedly said they would not send or approve the sending of their own German made Leopard tanks until the U.S. made a similar move. Although it had appeared last week, German officials were kind of softening their stance a little bit on that one, it still remained out there.

So this if and when it's announced and that announcement could come as soon as this week, would break that logjam, allowing not only Germany to send Leopard tanks, but also any of the more than a dozen countries that operate Leopards. Very much giving Ukraine a direct offensive threat on the battlefield as the war with Russia enters its nears the one-year mark. Also worth noting that the U.K. has committed to sending some of its own Challenger 2 tanks to Ukraine, so this is a big shift from the administration and certainly big news for Ukraine.

KING: A big reward for Ukraine. This is what President Zelenskyy has been asking for saying I appreciate the thank yous, I need tanks instead. You mentioned the complexity, you mentioned the Pentagon had been resistant because it's a big system, it's a gas guzzler, the logistics and the training involved. Walk us through a timeline here from announcement to deployment.

LIEBERMANN: So this will still take months, if not even longer than that. There's little doubt about that. This isn't likely to come directly from U.S. stocks. It's not likely to be a presidential drawdown, especially because the U.S. just announced a $2.5 billion drawdown of U.S. stocks for Ukraine last week. Instead, this is more likely to come through the Ukraine Security Assistance Initiative. What that means is the U.S. creates new contracts with the tank manufacturers but that also takes time to manufacture the tanks, to acquire them and to get them to Ukraine. So John, this is not something we're likely to see happen immediately.

[13:00:11] KING: We'll watch to see if those other diplomatic dominoes play out. Oren Liebermann important news from the Pentagon, appreciate it. Thanks so much. And thanks for your time today in INSIDE POLITICS. Busy day of breaking news. Abby Phillip picks up our coverage right now.