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Sources: Mar-a-Lago Staff Subpoenaed In Classified Docs Inquiry; House GOP: Biden Family Received China-Linked Payments; Ukraine Debate Now A 2024 GOP Dividing Line; Poll: Only 4-In-10 Republicans Support Funding Ukraine War. Aired 12:30-1p ET

Aired March 17, 2023 - 12:30   ET



KATELYN POLANTZ, CNN SENIOR CRIME AND JUSTICE REPORTER: So that's quite significant. And it really puts a marker on just how far along the investigation has come. Because we've seen many of these top aides that are very recognizable go into the grand jury in D.C., over the course of the many months of this investigation, Margo Martin, yesterday, but there are others, too, that investigators want to speak with.

JOHN KING, CNN HOST: So as a former prosecutor, when you see this list, restaurant servers, housekeepers, and then much higher ranking political aides, people are actually involved in the President's day to day political business. What does that tell you about what is -- what the special counsel was trying to answer?

Is it about, you know, how careless they might have been, where these documents just carried around like menus? Could they show up in any room? You know, could they be anywhere? What questions do you ask the different levels of people here?

SHAN WU, FORMER FEDERAL PROSECUTOR: Well, I think it really illustrates actually how factually complex that investigation is. I mean, conceptually, legally seems pretty easy. But you really have to tie in the nexus to who was in charge and directing what, and that does require this kind of ground up interviewing of witnesses.

And ultimately, in terms of Trump's personal liability, you have to really lock down what kind of Nexus is there to and when you tell someone to tell someone else that someone tell him they're asking for these documents, we have them all that goes to his sort of plausible, I didn't pack the boxes defense. So to counter that, you really have to talk to a lot of people.

POLANTZ: But really, John, whenever you're looking where they are on this, and who they're trying to talk to, many of those people that we know of, are represented by people who are paid through the Save America pack, this pack that supports Donald Trump.

And there is one person at the top of the pyramid who has been handling this investigation for the former president Evan Corcoran, his defense lawyer, that the Justice Department can't get the answer they want from him, because he's citing attorney-client privilege, saying I'm not answering some of these questions about direct conversations with Donald Trump. And there is this question of, is the court going to force him to answer the questions that just from -- just hasn't been able to get to.

KING: And so could that be part of this? If the attorney is saying you can't ask me these questions, and the Special Counsel needs to go to a judge and say, make the attorney answer the questions. Are you trying to gather evidence from all these other people that gives you the point that, you know, the attorney has to answer the questions if we can give you probable cause that a crime is being committed? That's not attorney-client privilege, then.

WU: Right. And Corcoran has always been in a preposterous position. And he's obviously a material effectual witness here. It's -- I mean, I know Corcoran, but it's beyond me why he didn't just recuse to begin with. And I think there's a very strong argument that he will be compelled to testify.

POLANTZ: We're waiting for a possible decision on that as early as today when the chief judge hands over her gavel to her successor in that position. She's the person that's handling and would decide on it.

KING: New chief -- the old chief judge decides or the new chief judge decides?

POLANTZ: The old chief judge,

KING: On the way out?


KING: All right. So well, what could -- come back if that happens in the next 30 minutes or so we will be here. Appreciate both of you coming. It's an important story.

Up next, the Biden family and business dealings with China. The House Oversight Committee Republicans unearthed some new details on payments.



KING: House Oversight Committee Republicans say they have found critical new details about Biden family business dealings.


REP. JAMES COMER (R-KY): I don't think Hunter Biden could provide the type of service that would generate millions and millions of dollars from the Chinese Communist Party, but I believe his father could. So when they say that Joe Biden wasn't involved, we don't know that.

(END VIDEO CLIP) KING: That's Chairman James Comer there. Hunter Biden's legal team taking sharp issue, quote, "Here we go again as Representative Comer takes something old and tries to make it new by wrapping it in a wild and baseless right-wing conspiracy."

The fact is Chairman Comer is way out over his skis, suggesting President Biden provided some service to the Chinese, as you heard there. Republicans have presented zero, absolutely zero evidence of that. But it's an important but the Hunter Biden legal team is also wrong to say there is nothing new here.

Let's walk through the facts. This is the new memo from the House Oversight and Accountability Committee. The Republicans wrote this memo and they say they are concerned about a $3 million wire from a Chinese energy company to a Hunter Biden business associate.

Now, this is it in the memo, the big headline $3 million. Well, the $3 million is simply not new. Senate Republicans documented that payment to a Hunter Biden business associate. Look at this, November 18th, 2020. So back in late 2020, the Senate Republicans did document that payment and they suggested there was something amiss with it.

But here's what is new. The New House Republican Oversight Committee document does detail some new bank records now in the committee's hands. And those records do show that of that $3 million payment, more than a million of it was transferred into accounts controlled by members of the Biden family. The President son Hunter, the President's brother James, the President's daughter-in-law, Hallie Biden, there are bank records laying that out.

Now, the committee memo then goes on to say the panel still needs to do more investigating to better understand these payments. But again, it's an important but, the committee chairman at least seven times this week appeared on Fox News to make clear what he thinks often going well beyond anything the committee has yet to document.



COMER: It's as bad as we thought, Maria, it's very concerning. It does show a pattern that the Biden family was receiving money directly from China.

It looks like it was influenced peddling. And if so, that's illegal.

Every American should be concerned about that. This is an issue of national security. This just shows how deep the Biden family was involved in this influence peddling scene.

The White House was saying it wasn't true. This is a witch hunt. The Republicans are just digging. Now we have evidence.

A lot of areas of concern here where Joe Biden's actually done things in order for his family to receive this massive amount of money from our adversaries around the world. (END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: With me to share their reporting and their insights, CNN's Manu Raju, Margaret Talev of Axios. Rhonda Colvin of The Washington Post and CNN's Melanie Zanona. So two things can be true at once. The raw oversight Republicans have found some interesting bank records for which they have every right and reason to ask questions. Why? Why? What is this money about?

But when you listen to Chairman Comer, sometimes he conditions it, was a lot of innuendo that they've already have some evidence that President Biden or Vice President Biden, these payments were back then or Senator Biden did something wrong of which they have presented zero evidence.

MELANIE ZANONA, CNN CAPITOL HILL REPORTER: Right. John, first of all, you did a great job laying all the new details and not new details out there. I think it's really important context for our viewers. I don't think this memo gets Chairman Comer any closer to the central premise of their investigation, which is that President Biden directly benefited from these payments in any way or that he somehow directed these payments or -- and took steps while he was in office to enrich his own family members.

And that is what they said they're out to investigate. I do think it does shed light on whether the Biden family members were trying to profit off of their dad's political position when he was the vice president, even when he was after vice president. Those are legitimate conversations. It was a legitimate conversation when it came to the Trump children as well.

But that is separate from what Comer has said he has evidence of and what he's investigating. So they're trying to ramp up their investigation. They're using their subpoena power to go even further than what Senate Republicans did. But as of right now, they have not proven their central thesis.

KING: He says it looks like influence peddling. And he often says he's raises questions about national security as to whether the President -- he has said this specifically whether the President is quote, unquote, compromised. There's no question. Hunter Biden, James Biden, it's swampy behavior. It is swampy Washington behavior.

But the innuendo that they have it on the President or the vice -- when he was vice president, where is it?

MANU RAJU, CNN CHIEF CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, look, we'll see what they ultimately come up like we -- to be fair, we are in March of the new Congress, there's going to investigate this for the next two years in the run up to the 2024 elections. I'm sure we'll see what they come up with.

They have requested, transcribed interview of a Hunter Biden business associate. We'll see what happens with that. We'll see if they provide the information that they say. But you're right, James Comer set a very high bar. He said this is not an investigation about swampy behavior about the Biden family. That's not a crime.

He said this is about the President himself. And then the President, in the words of James Comer, is a national security threat. So they need to be able to prove that because he said a very high bar, and we'll see if they're able to do that.

KING: And so we should hold on to account to see if they can deliver on what they say. We also need to hold Hunter Biden to account here in the sense that he said there was nothing new, there is new, there is new in this report. And this is a statement from the Hunter Biden legal team.

"Hunter Biden, a private citizen with every right to pursue his own business endeavors, joined several business partners in seeking a joint venture with a privately-owned legitimate energy company in China."

I have two issues with this statement, Margaret. He is a private citizen. But he knew his dad was the chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee or the vice president of the United States or a candidate for president or president. I'm sorry, it sucks for families in public life, but it's just a fact. You have to be extra careful.

He's, you know, he is not just a private citizen. He's the son of a very important American political figure. He also says a privately- owned legitimate energy company. There's no such thing as a privately- owned company in China. That's just a fact.

MARGARET TALEV, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: It's a state tied energy company.

KING: Right.

TALEV: And Hunter Biden has a lot of problems, including legal exposure right now, that is much bigger, frankly, than what House Oversight Committee would be looking into. But I'd say a couple of things. Hunter Biden is not a White House official. Hunter Biden has no role in the White House as far as we know.

I've uncovered the Biden administration. He's really firewalled from that sort of access to that sort of decision making. And I think, politically, this is a problem for the Biden White House because this comes at a time when they are trying to message that they're taking a hard approach toward China. And they're trying -- they're telling Americans like we may, you know, limit your access to TikTok because we're concerned about national security.

If you were trying to make the case that you're taking the high road and that China's a national security threat, this -- whether it's fair or not, whether it's legit or not, kind of muddies your ability to make that argument.


And I think it's confusing to a lot of citizens. And so the question is, if you're watching this, how much should you be worried about this? At this moment, there is absolutely no evidence that anything sleazy that Hunter Biden, or the President's brother did, is crossed into the White House decision making.

KING: Right. And that's a key point. Donald Trump's trying to raise money off this right now. If you look at the actions on TikTok, the actions on national security sending Australia nuclear powered submarines, the President is actually taking some steps right now that have China quite mad at him.


KING: It's not like he's bought by China, as Donald Trump ludicrously suggests there. And then, then there's the issue of context. The Republicans have every right to investigate Hunter Biden, every right to investigate Hunter Biden. The question is, they've also dropped all the Trump investigations, right?

And if you look at the grift of Donald Trump while he was president, not just -- and his family while they were serving in the White House, you have foreign governments spent over $750,000 at the Trump Hotel report shows. Trump hosts controversial Saudi funded golf tournament. He mulls 20 -- as he mulls 2024 bid. Jared Kushner's new fund looks to profit from his Middle East diplomacy.

So the Republicans, they want to selectively say Hunter Biden, Hunter Biden, Biden family, they want to just forget that the grift, the obvious publicly documented grift of Trump and his family is way up here.

RHONDA COLVIN, SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT, THE WASHINGTON POST: Yes, and you have to remember that the House Oversight Committee has jurisdiction over a lot of things outside of looking into the President or the President's family. I mean, there were some parts of their jurisdiction that would include some of the banking issues right now or the classified document issue.

So there are many things that they don't seem to be focusing on right now that they might could and that American people want to hear a little bit more about. It's going to be interesting to see as they build this case against Hunter Biden and the Biden family investigation as they're saying, how this lands with the American people because, you know, a lot of people are kind of fatigued with the tit for tat politics.

KING: There's a lot of that in D.C. Again, we'll watch that comes forward. Always open to new information.

Up next, the GOP and its giant Ukraine divide. Donald Trump and Ron DeSantis are likely 2024 rivals, but on the Ukraine question, they're actually on pretty much the same page.



KING: Ukraine is getting an early 2024 Republican primary spotlight. Thanks in large part to Ron DeSantis. And now, Donald Trump wants his share of the attention.


DONALD TRUMP, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: There must also be a complete commitment to dismantling the entire globalist neocon establishment that is perpetually dragging us into endless wars. Our foreign policy establishment keeps trying to pull the world into conflict with a nuclear armed Russia based on the lie that Russia represents our greatest threat.

Evicting the sick and corrupt establishment is the monumental task for the next president. And I'm the only one who can do it. I'm the only one that can get the job done.


KING: Our great reporters back to the table with us. Trump releasing that video yesterday, after several days of conversation where the establishment has gone after essentially Ron DeSantis for saying it's not a vital U.S. national interest. He calls it a territorial dispute.

In that, it's a giant Republican divide. Before we talk, let's add in the other side, including the former vice president of the United States.


MIKE PENCE, FORMER VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I think anyone who believes that Vladimir Putin will stop if he takes Ukraine has another thing coming. The war in Ukraine is not a territorial dispute. It is a Russian invasion. Vladimir Putin was able to overtake Ukraine, it wouldn't be too long before Russian tanks would be rolling into NATO countries where our service members would be required to enter the fights.


KING: So it's an argument a debate in the party that's playing out in Congress and it will be litigated as a debate issue in the 2024 campaign without a doubt.

COLVIN: That's right. And the issue of supporting Ukraine, of course, as you mentioned, is an issue on Capitol Hill right now. You see polling showing that a lot of Americans specifically Republican Americans say that they don't think that we shouldn't be as heavily involved. And you see that decrease in support.

But calculating that this is going to be a big issue during the primaries, yes, it will be an issue. But just talking to the base about Ukraine and not supporting it may be a dangerous calculation, because it doesn't look like people's views on Ukraine are very hardened. They can be flexible, depending on what might happen in Ukraine might determine how people feel and if that support goes back up. So using this as a primary political issue might be a bit of miscalculation. KING: It's an interesting question, does it matter to voters? This is your Axios-Ipsos polling. Is it -- do you support weapons and money to Ukraine? Only 42 percent of Republicans say yes, 60 percent of independents do, 79 percent of Democrats. So it's certainly Republican support is much lower. The question is, is it a voting issue?

TALEV: Right. I mean, right now, a lot of the issues illuminating the Democrat -- the Republican primary contests involve issues like education or cultural issues, the woke sort of spectrum of stuff, immigration crime. I will say this, those numbers are pretty eye popping, and they correlate heavily with primary source of news.

People who watch Fox News much more likely to feel opposed to Ukraine than people watch mainstream news.


But 80 percent, 90 percent of Republicans say they still want the U.S. to be the global leader. So where does the rubber meet the road? How can you lead?

RAJU: Yes, what a shift from the Bush years? I mean, that is just remarkable to see how this is playing out. It's going to be so difficult, John, the next time Congress has to actually approve funding because House Republicans are in large part aligned with the DeSantis wing of the party. They're divided over this issue.

There are Senate Republicans, I talked to so many of them this week, pushing back on DeSantis. So where do they come down when it's time to find money for Ukraine? Or will there be a strategic shift when it comes to that as well.

KING: The DeSantis team will be grateful. You called it the DeSantis wing of the party, not the right-wing of the party.

RAJU: Trump-DeSantis wing.

KING: This is part -- that's part of the debate right now.

Appreciate your time today on Inside Politics today and throughout the week. Abby Phillip picks up our coverage after a quick break. Have a peaceful weekend.