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Classified Documents From Biden's Time As Vice President Discovered In Private Office; Tonight, Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) Facing First Major Test As Speaker; Prince Harry Drops Royal Bombshells In New Book; Key Panel To Meet To Select Committee Assignments As Part Of McCarthy's Deal. Aired 6-7p ET

Aired January 10, 2023 - 18:00   ET




WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: I'm Wolf Blitzer in Washington. We're in THE SITUATION ROOM. We want to welcome our viewers here in the United States and around the world. We're standing by to hear directly from President Biden as he faces reporters and serious questions about the classified documents found in his former private office, his former private office here in Washington.

Any moment now, President Biden will face reporters as he attends this key summit in Mexico City. Right now, let's bring in our Chief White House Correspondent Phil Mattingly. Phil, the revelation of classified documents found at the president's former office here in Washington has clearly overshadowed his trip to Mexico right now. He is about to face questions from reporters there. We'll have live coverage of that coming up. But set the scene for us.

PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Look, what you're looking at right now is where the president's focus has been and where White House officials have wanted it to be over the course of these last two turbulent days given the revelations tied to those ten classified documents that were discovered in an office.

The reality remains that for the president and his team, we're about to hear from him, this has been about this North American leader summit. Critical issues, none more so than immigration, obviously energy, economic issues and trade, sit-down bilateral meetings with both Justin Trudeau and the Mexican president, Lopez Obrador. Now the three of them will come out. Each will give a statement. And the expectation, Wolf, as we will see each take a question from a reporter, certainly, the question the president has not answered the last two days has been the question about those documents. We'll see if that's what he addresses today, Wolf.

BLITZER: Well, these are the three leaders who are there for this summit of North American leaders, the president of the United States, the prime minister of Canada and the president of Mexico. They will begin with opening statements and then take questions from reporters. Let's listen in. I believe President Biden will be speaking first.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Joseph Biden Jr., president of the United States of America. You have the floor, sir.

JOE BIDEN, U.S. PRESIDENT: Thank you very much. It's wonderful to be back here in Mexico City. And I thank you, Mr. President, for hosting the prime minister and me for the tenth North American Leaders' Summit. This is a magnificent forum. And we're true partners, the three of us, working together with mutual respect and genuine like for one another, to advance a safer and more prosperous future for all of our people.

The reason for this summit, this trilateral relationship, they are so impactful, it is because we share a common vision for the future grounded on common values. And I mean that sincerely. Common values we share in our countries.

Since becoming president, I've been laser-focused on rebuilding the U.S. economy from the bottom up and the middle out, not the trickle- down economy, because the bottom up and middle out, it works because the wealthy do very well and everybody else does well too, but everybody does well. And from the bottom up it means investing in priorities for working families.

The United States has made historic bipartisan investments in infrastructure and innovation that already began to deliver concrete benefits for the American people, and I would argue it will ultimately reap benefits for the entire North America.

We've renewed our dependence and deepened our cooperation for our closest friends and allies, none closer than Mexico and Canada, to take on the biggest challenges facing the region and quite frankly the world. Because there can no longer be any question, none, in today's interconnected world. We cannot wall ourselves off from shared problems. We are stronger and better when we work together, the three of us. And together we made enormous progress since our last summit, from fighting COVID-19 and strengthening our ability to address public health threats, to investing in and building a 21st century workforce.

The top of our shared agenda today is keeping north America the most competitive, prosperous and resilient economic region of the world.


And the strength of our economic relationship among our nations not only supports good paying jobs in all of our countries but it generates tremendous growth. Now, we're working to a future to strengthen our cooperation on supply chains and critical minerals so we can continue to accelerate in our efforts to build the technologies of tomorrow right here in North America.

This summit, this summit also builds on the continual consultation and cooperation with one another to take on the challenges that impact all three of our nations. Our entire hemisphere is experiencing unprecedented levels of migration, greater than at any time in history. And North America, at the North America summit leaders hosted in Washington 2021, we launched the idea of a regional wide approach, a regional wide approach to a regional wide problem. The idea grew into the Los Angeles declaration on migration and protection, which 21 countries ultimately adopted at the Summit of the Americas six months ago. And we're working together, especially with our North American partners to fulfill our commitments under that declaration. They'd include the policies I announced last week to expand safe and legal pathways for immigrants from Nicaragua, Cuba and Haiti and are seeking a better life here in the United States of America.

We also want the thank you, Mr. President, for stepping up to receive into Mexico those not following the lawful pathways we've made available, instead of attempting to unlawfully cross the border between our countries. On my way here, I stopped in El Paso, Texas to see the situation from my own eyes and to meet with U.S. border security officials. It's putting real strain on the communities in both Mexico and the United States. We're working together to address this challenge in a way that upholds our nation's laws and protects the human rights of migrants facing desperate circumstances.

We're also working together to take on the scourge of human smuggling and illegal drug trafficking. In just the last six months, our joint patrols in Mexico have resulted in the arrest of more than 7,000 human smugglers. We've seized more than 20,000 pounds of deadly fentanyl at the border. And today, we've discussed how all three of us can continue to deepen and strengthen our shared efforts to cut off the flow of illegal fentanyl, including by tackling the precursor chemicals used in synthetic drugs as we go after the laboratories where they're made and the stash houses where they are stored.

We also talked about meeting our commitments to make North America a clean energy powerhouse. And I believe that's within our grasp, and a global leader in addressing the climate crisis. That means working together to promote zero emissions vehicles, to build charges stations for electric vehicles that are compatible across our international borders. It means exploring shared markets for clean hydrogen and it means working together to meet our ambitious commitments under the Paris agreement, including tackling methane and black carbon.

And finally, as three vibrant democracies, we recognize our greatest strength is our people. Let me say that again. Vital democracies we are and our greatest strength are our people, the strength of our people. And a key to our competitive edge in the world is our incredible diversity. So, together we're working to address the inequities that for too long have plagued historically marginalized communities in each of our nations to make sure everyone gets a fair shot. It's one of the smartest investments we can make for our future, and we're going make it together.

So, Mr. President, Mr. Prime minister, I'm honored to stand with you today, and I'm grateful to have both of you as partners, and I might add friends as we work together to realize a shared vision for North America. Thank you very much.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Let's give the floor to his Excellency, Prime Minister of Canada Justin Trudeau.

JUSTIN TRUDEAU, CANADA PRIME MINISTER: Bon jour, good afternoon, buenas tardes.


President Lopez Obrador, mi amigo, thank you for having us here in Mexico City. President Biden, my friend, thank you for all your hard work and your valuable insights at today's meetings.

As a continent, we are unique. We are three large democracies committed to freedom, human rights, equality, and creating real opportunity for everyone. We share deep ties as friends and trading partners.

TRANSLATOR: -- have become closely tied because of NAFTA. This trade agreement helped our economies grow and created millions of good employments and the trade amongst our borders drew investors from the world over --

TRUDEAU: -- competitive in the world. It makes sense why. Combined, we are home to half a billion people. We have an extraordinarily strong innovation ecosystem. Our combined GDP is larger than that of the European Union. And as leaders, we are all dedicated to driving economic growth that supports the middle class and those working hard to join it. These are all foundations of a strong and resilient continental economy.

People remember what happened just a few years ago when the certainty of this partnership was in question. Investors, businesses, workers and citizens all worried about what would happen. When free trade is at risk, that isn't good for competition in the global market. Thankfully, the belief in free and fair trade won the day. We renegotiated and we got an even better deal. To put it simply, we are and always will be stronger together.

The world today is facing a lot of uncertainty with the rise in authoritarian leaders causing global instability and the high cost of living, putting stress on families at home. It's important that we come together as leaders and as friends to look at ways to make our economies more resilient. Today, we discussed how we can build reliable value chains on this continent for everything, from critical minerals to electric vehicles, to semiconductors. This is good for workers, good for consumers and good for communities across our countries.

TRANSLATOR: Show us the importance of supply chains and economic resilience, the importance of being prepared, being ready to face a new pandemic and try to prevent it. Today, we spoke about a way to improve our cooperation in the realm of health services in order to be ready to intervene. We --

TRUDEAU: -- our economic resilient even further through our work to build a clean economy, things like clean energy, including hydrogen, manufacturing zero emission vehicles, and encouraging more people to adopt them. This is an enormous opportunity for workers and for business.

TRANSLATOR: We should all be part of climate action. Government and private sector should work together to attain the 2030 goals and objectives. These goals are not only about reducing pollution to get to the Paris objectives. They have to do with our engagements to preserve 30 percent of our lands and oceans in 2030. In the last COP15 in Montreal, Canada convened countries around the world, and we reached a historic agreement to preserve and protect nature. This is essential for the health of the economy.

TRUDEAU: Canada is pleased to have our Mexican and American friends committed so strongly to protecting clean air, clean water, and a brighter future. Canada is also pleased to see all three countries take steps towards building a more diverse, equal, and inclusive society, a society where there is opportunity for everyone, where women and girls are politically and economically empowered, including indigenous women and girls, where the benefits of growth are felt by workers and families across the economy.


By doing this, we create a more stable, prosperous, and equal future. And we build economies that work for all North Americans.

We made progress on a lot of different things today. There is a lot going on in the world right now, and as North American leaders, we recognize the roles our countries play in being a source of stability and security, not just in the region, but around the world.

TRANSLATOR: This summit was extremely fruitful. We were able to reiterate our vision and the force of our partnership.

TRUDEAU: -- progress in the coming year. And I look forward to hosting you both in Canada for the next North American Leaders' Summit. Thank you, merci, gracias.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Now, let's give the floor to Mr. Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, President of the United Mexican States.

ANDRES MANUEL LOPEZ OBRADOR, UNITED MEXICAN STATE PRESIDENT: I want to thank in a very sincere passion the participation of President Biden and the prime minister of Canada, Justin Trudeau. And also the participation of their respective wives, Jill, Dr. Sophie, and I also want to thank their delegations and teams.

The mere fact of being here together today as good neighbors in this environment of respect to look for the well-being of our peoples in a joint manner is in itself a very important, historic event, a true happening. Nonetheless, I wanted to highlight that we've agreed on strengthening our economic trade commercial relations, and for that, we're going to be creating a joint committee aimed at planning and substituting imports in North America so that we may try to be increasingly self-sufficient in this part of the world and to turn development cooperation into a reality as well as the well-being of all the countries of our continent. We want that to be a reality.

The United States, Canada and Mexico will propose -- each one of those countries will be proposing four members for the formation, for the creation of this task force of this committee of 12 specialists that not only know this issue we are going to be working on, but they will also have our absolute trust to motivate, to persuade and invite the business community, workers, public servants of all three governments and to convince them the importance the transcendence of being united in North America, and for us to be able to seek from here on this unity in everything we do throughout the American continent.

On the part of Mexico and this group, we are going to be represented by Foreign Minister Marcelo Ebrard, Rogelio Ramirez de la O, Finance Minister of Mexico, Raquel BuenrostroSanchez, who is the secretary of economy, and Alfonso Romo Garza who represents the business community. He is an independent businessman, Mr. Romo is.

And we also discussed as priority issue economic commercial trade, integration of this side (ph) have already expressed of the entire American continent and the well-being of the peoples and the new relations of cooperation, leaving behind interventionism, hegemonic interventionism.


Let me do set aside here to express my acknowledgment, my recognition to Prime Minister Trudeau and President Biden for the way which has been so solitary in which they've acted, in which they are acting vis- a-vis the attempt of coup d'etat in Brazil. This shows that there is a commitment, authentic commitment in favor of democracy, our support for President Lula of Brazil.

We have to -- together, we have to be able to accomplish all this. Everything that President Biden just said, we have to be able to accomplish this. That is in equal footing, for us to be treating each other as good neighbors, economic allies and as friends.

We, of course, will be helping to turn this dream into a reality and we are very enthused at the certainty that this is something we can accomplish. Peace is the result of justice. Social problems cannot be solved only with courage and measures. We should always attempt to discourage violence and the migration phenomenon with an approach, humanitarian approach of opportunities for the well-being of everyone.

People are good by nature and its circumstances that sometimes make it necessary for someone to take the path of anti-social behaviors. We have seen this in Mexico and also in our sister countries, the countries of Honduras and El Salvador, for instance. In our country, in Mexico, since corruption is not allowed, and the budget is used for development and supporting the poorest sectors of our population today who not only have jobs, employment, we have seen reductions in violence. We have less migration as well. And we've also tempered frustration. And what we can see is this flame, this flame which is alive. I'm talking about the flame of hope. Peace is the fruit. It is the result of justice.

The Central American case is exceptional. With just few resources, we are helping producers in communities in Honduras and El Salvador so that they can grow their land, so that they can grow their crops with technical assistance, support, and basic income. And in those towns where we are applying those actions, particularly the program we call sembrand la vida, which means sowing life and youth, building the future program, we've not just seen a reduction of people wanting to migrate to the United States seeking opportunities of better living conditions and jobs. But for many young people of those countries, crime has stopped being the only possibility of survival and the only way to move forward in life, the migration issue, as many other issues, as discussed in a very broad fashion, and we reached important agreements among the three countries for the benefit of our peoples, as you will be able to see, as you will also be able to know, through a communique, joint communique that we have that will be provided to you immediately.


Finally, I want to thank Prime Minister Justin Trudeau for his extraordinary and fraternal program that consists of granting temporary working visa's for laborers, workers. This program is already benefiting 25,000 men and women, 25,000 Mexicans. This is a path to follow that is orderly migration. Prime Minister Trudeau is a great ally of Mexico.

President Biden, I want to thank you sincerely for maintaining with Mexico a relationship of cooperation, of friendship, sincere friendship, sir, of respect for our fellow man who live and work in a very honest fashion in the United States who are not harassed. They're not suffering rates as it unfortunately it used to happen in the past. We have said this, and I repeat it today. I insist on this. You, President Biden, you are the first president of the United States in a very long time that has not built, not even one meter of wall. And that we thank you for that, sir.

Although some might not like it, although the conservatives don't like it, in a very special manner, I also want to say that I have requested in a very respectful manner of President Biden, I have requested on insisting, and I know that this is not a simple issue or matter but it's a fair and very just matter. And that's why I'm proposing it. That's why I'm mentioning this. And also because I truly -- I fully trust President Biden. I've asked President Biden to insist before the U.S. Congress to regularize the migration situations of millions of Mexicans who have been in the states working, living in the United States and contributing to the development of that great nation, which is the United States of America.

I have reasserted, reaffirmed that President Biden is a man with convictions. who maintains principles, ideals to guarantee, to ensure, as many others, men, women, in the United States and throughout the world, and the Statue of Liberty never, never, ever should become a symbol of void, an empty symbol.

Let me conclude by saying that my professor, great poet, Carlos Pellicer, my master, my teacher, 1930, he said that the whoosh of freedom of liberty is the biggest fruit that has materialized that is in the heart of humans. To be doing that, we have to be free. The sentiments of justice are the children of freedom, of liberty. Never, ever being slaves can we -- will we be able to be just and fair. Thank you very much.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Now, let's begin a Q&A session.


Ladies and gentlemen, and the U.S. Pres, your Excellency Joseph Biden Jr., President of the United States of America will take a question from a journalist, a reporter from the United States. Please?

BIDEN: All right. I was having trouble hearing, but I'd like to call on Associated Press Colleen Long for the first question.

REPORTER: Thanks, Mr. President, ola, senor and hi, Prime Minister Trudeau. For Mr. President, you have been accused of being too soft on border security and now too hard following the recent border policy changes. What's the right balance? And on the news at home, can you explain how classified documents ended up in one of your offices and should the public have been notified sooner?

For Prime Minister Trudeau, there's been a suggestion that Canada lead a multinational security force in Haiti. I wondered if that was a possibility and what you would need.

(SPEAKING FOREIGN LANGUAGE) you would be willing to accept more migrants arriving at the U.S.-Mexico border. What do you want from the U.S. in return?

BIDEN: And so, first, let me get rid of the easy one first. People know I take classified documents, classified information seriously. When my lawyers were clearing out my office at the University of Pennsylvania, they set up an office for me, a secure office in the Capitol when I -- the four years after being vice president, I was a professor at Penn. They found some documents in a box in a locked cabinet, or at least a closet. And as soon as they did, they realized there were several classified documents in that box.

And they did what they should have done. They immediately called the Archives, immediately called the archives, turned them over to the Archives, and I was briefed about this discovery and surprised to learn that there were any government records that were taken there to that office.

But I don't know what's in the documents. My lawyers have not suggested I ask what documents they were. I've turned over the boxes. They've turned over the boxes to the Archives, and we're cooperating fully, cooperating fully with the review in which I hope will be finished soon, and there will be more details at that time.

The first question, now I forgot. Your first question related to --

REPORTER: I asked if we --

BIDEN: I'm only joking. The answer is you've got -- both extremes are wrong. It's a basic middle proposition.

Look, as was mentioned by all of us in one way or another, this has been the greatest migration in human history around the world, as well as in this hemisphere. And when I got elected, the first thing -- the first major piece of legislation I introduced was to reform the immigration process to make it more orderly, to make it more -- to make sure people have access under the law.

And so what we found out in not just in my visit to El Paso but before that, we found out is that our Republican friends and a few Democrats are very critical of what's going on at the border, but yet refuse to even look at the detail document I submitted for the Congress to consider to reform the process completely.

And so, number one, right now, a majority of migrants are coming from four countries, Venezuela, Cuba, Haiti and Nicaragua. And we're expanding the very successful parole program we have with regard to Venezuela to Cuba and to Nicaragua and to Haiti, to provide safe and orderly and humane processing for people fleeing those countries to come to the United States and claiming under the -- seeking asylum. This is going reduce the number of people legally trying to cross -- illegally trying to cross the border.

Venezuelans were trying to enter the country that has dropped off dramatically because we've allowed them to go directly to whatever country, the first country they go to, directly contact the United States, make sure that they make their application, showing that they have -- they do a background check, they, in fact, have access to a sponsor, and that they have been examined.


In that way they're able to come through ports of entry. And it's dropped off -- I'm going to make sure I get the numbers right -- dramatically from 1,100 persons trying to enter per day to 250 a day.

I've asked the -- and I want to thank the president of Mexico for agreeing to take up to 3,000 people back that don't meet this criteria. Because, look, right now, the cartels make a lot of money, which they use for drug trafficking as well, people go through -- have to make it through jungles and a long journey to the border, and many are victimized, not only in terms of what they have to pay, but victimized physically in other ways. And so we're trying to make it easier for people to get here, opening up the capacity to get here, but not have them go through that God awful process.

We're going continue our efforts to address the issue root causes of migration to help people stay in their home countries. I've asked for $4 billion to provide that. We've also had our vice president provide for private donations of over $3 billion to make sure that people -- look, all of you know all of us in the United States are immigrants. Mine go all the way back to the Irish famine, but the point is all of us have been immigrants.

And one of the things that comes across fairly clearly is it's not like people sit in their home city, county, town and say, I've got a great idea. Let's sell everything we have, give it to a coyote, go through some jungles and a long path up to the United States, smuggle us across the border, drop us in the desert, won't that be fun in a country we don't even speak the language? We have -- we can do more than merely just make legal immigration more streamlined, but we can also do it by preventing people from wanting to have to leave in the first place, by helping their communities, in fact, better their circumstances.

And so I hope -- and, by the way, my proposals are supported by the Chamber of Commerce, by the American Labor Movement, which is an unusual coalition, and a whole range of people. The point here is that my Republican friends in Congress should join us in the solutions.

And the one last point I'll make, and I'm sorry to go on so long, but we spent a lot of time talking about it, is we have to increase the technological capabilities at the border, both to intercept illegal drugs and other contraband, as well as people being smuggled across the border. We have now the ability to use and use -- some of you have seen them, I know you have, I'm sure, these trucks that ride alongside of a tractor-trailer. It's like a giant x-ray machine, and it can determine what's inside that tractor-trailer, and thousands cross the border every day in legal commerce.

And so we're allowed to determine whether or not there are fentanyls in there, drugs in there, people being smuggled across the border. We're going provide significantly more of those vehicles for the people to be able to determine at the border what is coming across legally and illegally. A lot more to say, but I've probably already said too much. Thank you.

BLITZER: All right. We're going continue to monitor this news conference. The president of Mexico, Lopez Obrador and the Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, they're going to answer some questions from reporters from their specific countries. We'll continue to monitor that. But this is the first time we've heard directly from the president of the United States about this latest issue that has come up, the discovery of classified documents in his former office here in Washington.

I want to get some reaction from our analysts who are here. Jamie Gangel, you've done amazing reporting on all of this. The first time the president has gone into some specifics what he knew, what he didn't know. Does this line up, first of all, with what you've been reporting?

JAMIE GANGEL, CNN SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT: The facts about the documents being locked away and his lawyers finding them, absolutely. That's what happened. I think it's interesting that President Biden said people know I take classified documents seriously, but what it doesn't answer is how did these documents get to the office. They should never have left the White House to begin with.

So, I guess he put his best foot forward on this, but we still don't know how they got there, why, and were they secure this whole time.


BLITZER: Phil Mattingly is over at the White House. He has been monitoring all of this over the past 24 hours or so. Give us your sense of what we just heard, Phil.

MATTINGLY: Yes. I think how Jamie frames things is probably the correct one, in the sense that this is what the president knows, this is what his team has briefed him has happened and it also underscored the fact that the president is still not aware of what the documents are. He was not informed when he was briefed initially and he still has not been informed by his legal team up to this point. That was our understanding going into this press conference. That is what he confirmed there.

He made clear he was surprised when he was briefed about that, kind of as Jamie alluded to, the idea that he takes classified information very seriously and how this was able to occur, how these documents were able to go, make into it this private office in this locked closet here.

Look, I think the other key piece here, Wolf, that I think is most interesting, and we've gotten some reporting on this throughout the course of the day, through Evan Perez and our colleague, Paula Reid, and that is that, he said this is going to be over very soon, in terms of the review or he hopes it's over very soon.

The understanding is that this is very much in that process, that the U.S. attorney who has been involved in this has already delivered an assessment to U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland, who would have to make a decision about next steps about where this may go. And the president seemed to hint at the possibility that that answer may be coming sooner rather than later.

And that's critical, one, to understand the scale of what may be happening next, how significant this may be going forward, but also because White House officials have made clear they feel like they can't talk about the details about this process, about how things have played out over the course of the two months when they knew about this and did not talk about it until that review is complete, until the attorney general has weighed in.

So, that will be a critical moment for a number of different reasons, not the least of which could answer some of the questions that we still don't have answers to right now.

BLITZER: Yes, good point.

Dana, the president said we take classified information seriously. Then he went on to explain what he knew and didn't know. This is the first time, as I said, that he has really gone into it at least a little bit of detail about how these classified documents, top secret, SCI, sensitive compartmented information wound up in this private office.

DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Right. And he didn't answer the question that was asked, as Jamie said, which is how did it happen. What he answered was what they did when they found out that it happened. Whether or not he actually knows how it happened, we don't know, because he also said he doesn't want to sort of engage anymore because this is now in the hands of the Justice Department. But he did say he was surprised to learn about this happening. And, look, he's also -- never mind the politics of this happening on the back of what happened at Mar-a-Lago, which we cannot say enough is a very, very different situation. He's also, because of other issues in his predecessor's administration, promised during the campaign and has pretty much stuck to it not to meddle in things going on at the DOJ, especially when it's about him and his office and his previous office.

So, he is in a bit of a bind when it comes to that. We'll see how quickly, as Phil was saying, the DOJ can at least release something and perhaps that will allow the administration to be more forthcoming.

BLITZER: That U.S. attorney in Chicago is investigating what exactly is involved in all of this.

Carrie Cordero, our CNN Legal Analyst, is joining us right now. You've done a lot of work in national security, Carrie. These documents were related, we're told, to the United Kingdom, Iran and Ukraine, and some of these were marked top secret, as I said, SCI, which is highly sensitive information. You've worked in the intelligence community. What concerns does all this raise to you?

CARRIE CORDERO, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Well, first of all, in present day context, from a national security, homeland security perspective, it's a huge distraction. I mean, here, the president is in Mexico. He is supposed to be talking about one of the most critical homeland security issues that is important to both parties right now, very important to the new Republican Congress, border security, migration, and that is being overshadowed by this new classified document issue.

Obviously, whenever classified documents are in a place that they are not supposed to be, that is a problem. And that's why it's appropriate that the Justice Department look into what happened. The president, I think it's interesting that he did actually answer the question given the fact that there is some type of ongoing Justice Department, at least inquiry into whether a special counsel needs to be appointed, whether there is anything further that needs to be investigated from a Justice Department standpoint.

There are questions, from the Justice Department standpoint, in terms of how did these documents get there? This is back from when he was vice president.


So there is a timeline that they would need to reconstruct, and this is many years ago now presumably that documents have been in a place that is not cleared for classified storage, and there would be questions about who potentially saw those, how long they've been there, and how they got there.

BLITZER: And did they have security clearances to actually go through those documents. That's going to be investigated as well.

Elliot Williams is with us, our legal analyst, former federal prosecutor. Merrick Garland, the attorney general, he has a tough assignment right

now how to handle this.

ELLIOT WILLIAMS, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: So there is a substance point and process point. Substantively, any criminal investigation is going to hinge on intent, right? What did the person who is accused or being investigated to the crime know at the time they did it.

It's not an accident that the president in this press conference here said number one, I was surprised to learn this information. And number two, I didn't know what was in these documents. That speaks to the intent as to did he know he was mishandling or misappropriating classified information, right? And that's just -- you know, we talked about this basically for the last four or five months.

Now on process, there is a question as to can the Justice Department fairly investigate it. Now something I said on your show months ago, yes, I believe the Justice Department can.

Now, if there is a public perception that politics might be involved, then you may move down the road of appointing a special counsel. That's the decision the attorney general is going to have to make. Again, I think he can. I thought he could with the former president, but it's all about public perception and do people think it's going to be too political.

JAMIE GANGEL, CNN SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT: And, Wolf, I think we have to underscore how different this is from what happened with the Trump Mar-a-Lago documents. First of all, I think it's interesting how the personal lawyer found the documents, 98, 99 percent of what was in that office, it was personal documents, including material about Beau Biden's funeral and correspondence, condolences.

What happened is the personal lawyer was going through a box, and he saw a manila folder. And on it was stamped "VP Personal." He opens it up. He sees something that says "classified." he closes it and he makes a call, and he says we have a problem here. And they immediately cooperate with the archives.

That folder saying "VP personal" may be the answer to the question of why it might have been mistakenly packed up with his things and sent to his private office. We don't know yet. But it's a plausible thing.

And then let's just remember, we are talking about 10 documents here with Biden, with Trump it was hundreds. And most important, maybe, cooperation. They immediately called the Archives.

BLITZER: To their credit.

GANGEL: They immediately handed it over. And what CNN has learned exclusively today is not just that they handed this over, but within a couple days, they said you know what? Out of an abundance of caution, come and get everything. So, all of those personal documents, I'm told that it's 50, 55 boxes, they gave everything to the archives just to be sure they hadn't missed anything. BLITZER: So important. And clearly, the major difference between the

way the former president and his team handled the classified information at Mar-a-Lago as opposed to the classified information that was discovered in this private office. This has become, though, a political issue for the president.

DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: A huge political issue. It would have been a bit of a political issue, but because of the context of the Mar-a-Lago search, again, which is not the same, but because the president has been talking about the notion of funding classified information, that's why Republicans are trying to equate them, even though they're very different.

BLITZER: Everybody, stand by.

Just ahead, some Republican house members are now pressing the Republican speaker Kevin McCarthy for more transparency on deals he struck with hard-liners to get the gavel.

We'll be right back.



BLITZER: CNN has learned that the Republican steering committee will meet tomorrow morning to pick GOP members who will sit on the most powerful committees in the House of Representatives.

CNN Capitol Hill reporter Melanie is working the story for us.

Melanie, what will the steering committee decide tomorrow?

MELANIE ZANONA, CNN CAPITOL HILL REPORTER: So, this is the next organizational step for House Republicans. Yesterday, Republicans elected their final remaining committee chairs who will lead some of these of these investigations into the Biden administration and tomorrow they will begin to actually populate those committees will members.

Start with some of A-list committees like House Ways and Means Committee. Now, Kevin McCarthy has said he will be giving committee assignments to members like Marjorie Taylor Greene and Paul Gosar, despite their history of incendiary remarks. And George Santos, a freshman who's come under fire for lying about his resume among other things also says he expects to get committee assignment. So, we are going to be watching the makeup of these committees very closely.

And another reason to keep an eye on these committees, is that Kevin McCarthy promised to add more caucus members as part of the concessions he made in order to win the speakership. But, Wolf, we still don't know the full extent. GOP leaders haven't made it public and that has caused some concern among rank and file members while the negotiators continue to insist that nothing about these back room deals were secret.

Take a listen.


REP. NANCY MACE (R-SC): We also know that there were certain members of that faction that were trying to get committee chairmanships or special committee assignments. We won't know how that shakes out until steering does its thing. There still some questions that I think many of us have about what side deals may or may have not been, what promises were made, what handshakes were made.

REP. CHIP ROY (R-TX): There's no -- there's no official list. Like, do you to write down notes? I'm going to shake their hands and we move forward, and that's precisely what happened.


ZANONA: Meanwhile, Kevin McCarthy has reiterated his promise to kick Democrats off favorite committees, including Eric Swalwell and Adam Schiff who served on the House Intelligence Committee and Ilhan Omar who serves on the House foreign affairs committee. That is seen as pay back.


And Eric Swalwell even told CNN earlier today that he sees it is a vengeful move by Kevin McCarthy.

BLITZER: Yeah, could be a lot of reaction to that.

There's let me just follow up on the newly elected Republican congressman from New York, George Santos. He's facing a lot of criticism for the lies he told during the campaign about his background, his resume. What's the latest you're getting on Capitol Hill from the Republican leadership?

ZANONA: Santos earlier today did tell reporters that he did nothing unethical, but he has admitted to lying about his resume, and that there were a pair of Democrats who moved to file a formal ethics complaint with the House Ethics Committee. They've asked that committee to look into financial disclosure, reports which have raised a lot of questions.

Some Republicans have also called for an ethics investigation, but Kevin McCarthy is so far remaining pretty tightlipped about his plans. He told our Manu Raju that he likes to handle these sorts of matters internally. We're waiting to see what committee assignments if any that George Santos receives -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right. Melanie, thank you very much. Melanie Zanona up on Capitol Hill.

Let's discuss what's going on with Republican Congressman Warren Davidson of Ohio.

Congressman, thanks once again for joining us. I want to discuss what's going on on Capitol Hill in a second. But,

first, on the classified documents found in President Biden's former private office here in Washington, we just heard the president say that he takes classified information very seriously. Are you satisfied with his response so far? Do you have confidence in the U.S. Justice Department's investigation?

REP. WARREN DAVIDSON (R-OH): Well, first and foremost, the attorney general should have a clear standard. It should be the same standard for what we are talking about with President Trump or President Biden, or anyone else, and clearly we should take classified material seriously. That's why we classify it.

And so, you know, I was interviewed with Pamela Brown on CNN shortly after the Mar-a-Lago raid, and I felt I was excessive. Here, I think the way that this was discovered, clearly, he has an attorney that seems to have done the right thing here. So, I do look forward to seeing what happens, and I hope we have a clear and even standard clearly perceived by the public to be even-handed as well.

BLITZER: But you understand the differences between the way that the former president and his team to handle the classified documents at Mar-a-Lago, as opposed to the way that the current president and his legal team have handled the classified documents found in his private office.

DAVIDSON: I understand has been characterized, but I also understand the history of the Presidential Records Act. Frankly, there's nothing incredibly unique about how the presidential records act has been handled by the Trump administration versus the Biden administration, the Bush administration, the Obama administration. There's been ongoing allegations about people doing inappropriate things with records, which produced the Presidential Records Act in the first place.

So, I think that that dialogue should stay constructive, instead of being escalated in a way that was broadly perceived as partisan. I think that wasn't healthy for the system of justice in our country.

BLITZER: Let's turn to Speaker McCarthy right now. Should he be more transparent with your own caucus, and with the American public for that manner, about the deals that he made with members to become the speaker of the House?

DAVIDSON: I think he was very transparent, and frankly the night that he was working to get the votes, Friday night, we had meetings across the conference broken down, whether it was in the whip's office or elsewhere. Every single member ended up in those meetings, but was socialized across the whole range of actions within the conference.

So I think that people broadly understand the framework of what was being dealt with here. In the official rules package, which is what the conference actually votes on, there's really only one formal change, which moved it from five members on a motion to vacate the chair into one member prior to even January 3rd's first votes. BLITZER: Before you, I let you go, Congressman, as you know, your

colleague Republican Congressman George Santos of New York is facing an ethics complaint after admitting that he lied about parts of his resume during his campaign, lying about his own background. First of all, do you trust him? Can you work with him?

DAVIDSON: Well, he certainly hasn't earned my trust. If you look at his background, if the kinds of lies that he told don't merit an ethics commission, it will really make everybody scratch their heads. But, frankly, broadly, I think that I was pleased as you highlighted, or Melanie did, that some of our colleagues were removed from intel committees, because we do take classified information seriously. I think that's an important level of discipline, and it would make everybody scratch their heads to say that there was some sort of failure to recognize what George Santos has done.

BLITZER: Should Congressman Santos be given any committee assignments?

DAVIDSON: Yeah, that will be interesting to see where the dialogue goes. First and foremost, I think it would be hard to understand why there wouldn't be an ethics investigation into how he was elected and certainly the kind of scrutiny my colleague Marjorie Taylor Greene and remarked that she acknowledged this is what I said, this is what I didn't say. Nevertheless, Democrats on a partisan basis, stripped her of committees. I think the party should decide who has committee assignments from our party.

BLITZER: Congressman Warren Davidson of Ohio, thank you very much again for joining us.

To our viewers, thanks very much for watching.

"ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.