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State of the Union
Interview With Rep. James Comer (R-KY); Interview With Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-MD); Interview With Rep. Ro Khanna (D-CA). Aired 9-10a ET
Aired January 15, 2023 - 09:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST (voice-over): Deja vu. More classified pages found at President Biden's Delaware home as the Justice Department launches a probe.
MERRICK GARLAND, U.S. ATTORNEY GENERAL: I signed an order appointing Robert Hur as special counsel.
TAPPER: How will this investigation change Biden's presidency?
And top priority. House Republicans launch their own probes into the Biden administration.
REP. JAMES COMER (R-KY): I am concerned about ethics and transparency in the federal government.
TAPPER: Does that apply to both sides of the aisle? I will speak to the chair of the House Oversight and Accountability Committee, Republican James Comer, and then the committee's top Democrat, Jamie Raskin, ahead.
Plus: Hitting the limit? House Republicans make plans to try to handle the fallout if they carry out on the threat to only raise the debt ceiling, accompanied by spending cuts.
REP. KEVIN MCCARTHY (R-CA): We have got to change the way we're spending money wastefully in this country.
TAPPER: Is the U.S. headed for fiscal catastrophe?
I'm Jake Tapper in Washington, where the state of our union is classified. President Biden is in Atlanta, focusing on the legacy of the late reverend Martin Luther King Jr. But, here in Washington, the president is facing sharp political headwinds of his own making.
On Saturday, the White House announced that five more pages of classified documents had been discovered at the president's home in Greenville, Delaware -- that's a suburb of Wilmington -- Thursday night, and immediately turned over to the Department of Justice, which had just launched a special counsel investigation earlier that day, bringing the total to approximately 20 classified records found there and in President Biden's private office in Washington.
Saturday's announcement by the White House heightened questions about repeated delays in informing the public about the discoveries of these classified documents.
And so weeks or months before the president seems likely to announce his reelection campaign, he finds himself under the microscope from an independent investigator and from House Republicans, who downplayed the much bigger trove of more than 300 classified documents found at former President Trump's Mar-a-Lago resort and the yearlong effort by the federal government to recover them.
Those House Republicans are making it clear that now they want in on the investigating too of President Biden.
Joining me now to discuss, the incoming chairman of the House Oversight and Accountability Committee, Republican James Comer of Kentucky.
Mr. Chairman, thanks for joining us.
Let's start on the news yesterday that five additional pages of classified documents were found at President Biden's residence in that Wilmington suburb in a room adjacent to the garage. What's your reaction to this latest development?
COMER: Well, my concern is that the special counsel was called for, but yet, hours after that, we still had the president's personal attorneys, who have no security clearance, still rummaging around the president's residence looking for things.
I mean, that would essentially be a crime scene, so to speak, after the appointment of a special counsel. So, we have a lot of questions for the National Archives. We have a lot of questions for the Department of Justice. And, hopefully, we will be getting some answers very soon.
TAPPER: So, you just -- just this morning, you have a new letter to the White House chief of staff, Ron Klain, demanding more information about these classified documents.
What more do you want to know?
COMER: We want to know the visitor logs to the residence. We want to know who had access to the Biden Center for Diplomacy, because this is the same type of investigation that the Democrats were so outraged and launched and demanded happened to President Trump.
What we see with President Biden is, there are multiple locations. We would never have known about the possession of the classified documents were it not for investigative reporting by CBS that somehow got a leak to determine that this had happened prior to the election. So the administration hasn't been transparent about what's going on
with President Biden's possession of classified documents. And we just want equal treatment here with respect to how both former President Trump and current President Biden are being treated with the document issue.
TAPPER: I will get to Trump in a second.
But I just want to be clear here. Are you accusing President Biden or anyone on his team of breaking the law?
COMER: Well, we don't know exactly yet whether they broke the law or not.
I will accuse the Biden administration of not being transparent. Why didn't we hear about this on November 2, when the first batch of classified documents were discovered? Remember, they were quick to call for a special counsel prior to the midterm elections.
And Joe Biden used as his closing argument during the midterm elections that Republicans were a threat to democracy. And he cited the fact that President Trump mishandled the documents. While he was doing this, he knew very well that he himself had possession of classified documents.
So the hypocrisy here is great. We're very concerned about a lack of transparency. We're very concerned, as I have said many times, about a two-tiered system of justice in America. And we just want equal treatment. And, hopefully, we will get some answers very soon.
TAPPER: So, just to give the answer that the Trump lawyers gave, because I have also been asking, why did it take so long for them to disclose this, given the fact that Biden attorneys -- rather -- I said Biden -- I said Trump -- I meant Biden.
Biden attorneys discovered this November 2, I think, and we didn't find out about it until January. And the explanation from Biden's attorneys are, they -- there's a balance here between wanting to disclose and also not wanting to impede any Department of Justice investigation, because, when you announce it, then you are getting potentially in the way of investigators when it comes to witnesses and such.
That's what they say.
COMER: Hard to believe.
I would consider the fact that it was right before midterm election, a very important midterm election that was close and that was going to determine the balance of power in Congress, the fact that they had -- they were quick to call for a special counsel with Trump.
It seems political here. It seems hypocritical. It seems like a double standard. And that's our concern. I have jurisdiction as chairman of the House Oversight Committee over the National Archives. This is the agency that I'm most frustrated with, to be honest with you, Jake, because they have not been transparent at all.
They should be briefing both myself and now Ranking Member Raskin, who will be your next guest on the show, about what's going on here. They never did tell us about November 2. We have asked questions about what went on with Mar-a-Lago. Why was Mar-a-Lago raided, but the president's home not?
Why are the president's lawyers still allowed to go rummage through, looking for documents, after a special counsel has been appointed?
COMER: It doesn't make sense. It's not fair. We just want equal treatment.
TAPPER: So, let's go there, because you're talking about the Trump documents.
Former President Trump is under an investigation for his own classified documents. There are about 20 in the case of Biden. For Trump, there are about -- there are more than 300 classified documents at Mar-a-Lago.
A big difference here, just on the facts, Trump did not fully comply with a subpoena. His lawyers falsely told investigators that they turned everything in.
Take a listen to what you told CNN about the situation last November.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
COMER: I don't know much about that. That's not something that -- we have requested information just to see what was going on, because I don't know what documents were at Mar-a-Lago. So, that's something we're just waiting to see what comes out on that.
QUESTION: But is it fair to say that investigation won't be a priority?
COMER: That will not be a priority.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
TAPPER: So, what do you say to viewers who don't understand why President Biden's documents seem like a big priority for you, but President Trump, who took hundreds more documents, did not comply with the subpoena, did not reach out to the National Archives or the Justice Department to say, hey, we found these documents, it's not a priority?
Do you only care about classified documents being mishandled when Democrats do the mishandling?
COMER: Absolutely not.
Look, we still don't know what type of documents President Trump had. That's one of the questions we have asked the National Archives. Just because Joe Biden's lawyer said they turned over five documents doesn't mean they just turned over five documents. They could have turned over 500 documents.
I'm sorry, but I don't have a lot of confidence in President Biden's personal lawyers. At the end of the day, the National Archives implied to us, at former Chairman Maloney's request, and told us that the National Archives was working with the Trump administration during the transition.
That's the last communication we had with whether or not the Archives had worked with Trump on removal of all the documents from the White House. So, we don't know exactly what Trump has vs. what Biden has. At the end of the day, my biggest concern isn't the classified documents, to be honest with you.
My concern is how there's such a discrepancy in how former President Trump was treated by raiding Mar-a-Lago, by getting the security cameras, by taking pictures of documents on the floor, by going through Melania's closet, vs. Joe Biden. They're like OK, your personal lawyers who don't have security clearance, yes, they can go through.
COMER: They can just keep looking and keep looking and determine whatever's there. That's not equal treatment.
And we're very are you concerned. And there's a lack of trust here...
COMER: ... at the Department of Justice by House Republicans.
That's the outrage.
TAPPER: So, I get that, but there's a big difference in how President Biden and his team reacted and how President Trump and his team reacted.
The FBI searched Mar-a-Lago because Trump for more than a year refused to turn over documents to the National Archives and the Justice Department, which was trying to get them back into secure hands. Trump and his lawyers lied about it. Trump lied about not having classified documents, did not keep them in a secure location, did not comply with a subpoena, but said he had.
And that search warrant, which Trump forced out into the open through his legal machinations, that cited laws that Trump might have violated, including the Espionage Act. COMER: It's my understanding that President Trump did let the
National Archives go through on numerous occasions Mar-a-Lago looking at the documents.
What my understanding is -- and, again, we don't know because we haven't been briefed -- was that President Trump was arguing with National Archives over what is classified and what is not. As we have heard the president say before, the president has the authority to declassify document.
Now, the question is whether or not the president actually declassified the documents. The vice president does not have the authority to declassify classified documents.
TAPPER: Actually, the vice president does have the...
COMER: So, there's a big difference here.
TAPPER: The vice president does -- I'm not saying that...
COMER: We don't...
TAPPER: The vice president does have that authority.
COMER: We disagree with that.
COMER: We disagree that the vice president does.
TAPPER: But just to put a -- first of all, you're asking for the visitors logs at President Biden's Greenville, outside Wilmington, Delaware, home.
Are you also asking for the visitor logs at Mar-a-Lago? Because the issue of whether or not sources and methods are compromised, whether or not any of these documents gotten into the wrong hands, whether or not Biden or Trump allowed documents to be kept in a haphazard way, that exists, period.
And I'm wondering why the request for visitor logs in Greenville, but not in Mar-a-Lago?
COMER: Well, we're doing the Biden family influence peddling investigation.
And I can tell you, what we have learned just in the last few days from Biden's mishandling of classified documents is that the Biden Center was funded primarily through anonymous donations from China. A lot of those financial transactions...
TAPPER: Was it the Biden Center or University of Pennsylvania?
I know the University of Pennsylvania had...
COMER: It was the University of Pennsylvania that funneled it through the Biden Center.
And then you have the Hunter shady business dealings.
TAPPER: The Biden Center says they didn't get any money from Chinese anonymous donations.
I mean, I get that schools get money from Chinese donations, but -- and there is...
COMER: This is a pattern here.
TAPPER: Where's the...
COMER: What the American people are going to see from our investigation is a pattern of anonymous donations going to Hunter's business deals, to the Biden Center, to the artwork that Hunter sold at the art gallery in New York.
There's a pattern here of anonymous sources of money flowing into Biden pockets and Biden interest. And it's very concerning. This is a national security risk. That's my biggest concern. And that's why we're pressing forward with this investigation.
TAPPER: So, guess, the average American who doesn't really care whether the person you're investigating has a D or an R next to their name might listen to this interview and think, I don't have any problem with anything he's investigating when it comes to Biden, but how come he's not investigating all the same stuff when it comes to Trump?
I mean, there are questions about influence peddling when it comes to the Trump family. There's questions about visitor logs when it comes to Mar-a-Lago. I mean, if you are going to be doing the Oversight and Accountability Committee, which you have renamed, for the American people, not just for Republicans, it would seem to me that all of it should be investigated.
COMER: And I think the influence peddling with respect to the Trump administration will be a part of our overall investigation, because both Democrats and Republicans have complained about this with the previous two administrations.
So, something needs to be done. Also, something needs to be done with respect to how classified documents leave the White House and go to the post-presidency or post-vice presidency. That's another issue we try to -- we will try to fix from a legislative point of view.
But with respect to investigating President Trump, there have been so many investigations of President Trump, I don't feel like we need to spend a whole lot of time investigating President Trump, because the Democrats have done that for the past six years.
So, no one's been investigated more than Donald Trump. Who hasn't been investigated is Joe Biden. And that's why we're finally launching an investigation of Joe Biden, the House Oversight Committee, one investigation, and I hope to have it wrapped up as soon as possible.
TAPPER: All right, let's move on to another issue, because Treasury Secretary Yellen said just a few days ago that the U.S. will formally hit the debt limit next week and could default on its debt as soon as June.
We have just learned that House Republicans are working on a plan to direct the Treasury Department to keep funding bare-bones necessities such as interest payments and the military. If Republicans in the House refuse to raise the debt limit and the country cannot pay its bills in June, you know how potentially destructive to the American economy it could be if we default or any of these measures really.
And I get you want to have spending cuts too, but why aren't Republicans working with Senate Democrats to bring down spending to avoid this disaster, instead of planning for the best way to manage the disaster?
COMER: Well, we hope that this is avoided.
We hope that the Senate, Democrats and Republicans will agree to spending cuts. Look, this has to stop. We cannot continue to operate with these types of deficits. Our national debt is one of our biggest threats to our national security. China continues to have leverage over us because of the basic financial strength of their overall economy vs. ours with respect to the national debt.
So, Republicans were elected with a mandate from the American people in the midterm elections. We campaigned on the fact that we were going to be serious about spending cuts. So, the Senate is going to have to recognize the fact that we're not going to budge until we see meaningful reform with respect to spending.
TAPPER: We keep learning things that Speaker McCarthy apparently agreed to during the speaker fight last week, these side deals with members of the insurgent group, the rebels.
This revelation about the debt ceiling just came out. Also, we just learned from Congressman Matt Gaetz about a separate agreement to release more footage from January 6. Do you know what else McCarthy agreed to? And why not just disclose -- why shouldn't he just disclose everything he agreed to?
I mean, these are things -- it's not Kevin McCarthy's house. It's the people's house, right? I mean, these things are not his to give. It's the speakership. Why not just -- in the interest of being transparent?
COMER: Well, I wasn't a part of the group of 20. I don't know exactly what they were negotiating or not negotiating.
But I will say this. What the American people got to see last week was what really goes on behind closed doors in Washington and in state legislatures. I served in the Kentucky General Assembly for over a decade, the same things happen. You have arguments. You have heated debates going back and forth.
You have a lot of giving and taking to try to get to a consensus. And it's always hard to get to a consensus with a roomful of politicians. Even our founding fathers had the same type of problem. But this is the first time we had a lot of cameras and a lot of media and it was played out in real time.
So I'm not concerned about any of the concessions that Kevin McCarthy made, because, at the end of the day, the majority of our Republican Conference are serious about spending cuts. And we recognize that our national debt is one of the biggest threats to our -- the future of our democracy.
So, we have to focus on making spending cuts. We have to live within our means. And that battle starts today.
TAPPER: Last question for you, sir.
Seven of your fellow House Republicans have called for Congressman George Santos to step down. Former House Speaker Paul Ryan told me a couple days ago that Santos' was a fraudulent candidacy, and he should step down.
COMER: Look, he -- he's a -- he's a bad guy. This is something that it's really bad.
He's not the first politician, unfortunately, to make it to Congress to lie. Elizabeth Warren wasn't truthful about her ethnicity. And I could go on and on.
But, look, George Santos was duly elected by the people. He's going to be under strict ethics investigation, not necessarily for lying, but for his campaign finance potential violations. So I think that Santos is being examined thoroughly. It's his decision whether or not he should resign. It's not my decision.
But, certainly, I don't approve of how he made his way to Congress. And I haven't even introduced myself to him, because it's pretty despicable, the lies that he told. But, at the end of the day, it's not up to me or any other member of Congress to determine whether he could be kicked out for lying.
Now, if he broke campaign finance laws, then he will be removed from Congress.
TAPPER: Chairman Comer, thank you so much for being with us today. Really appreciate your time.
COMER: Thanks for having me.
TAPPER: What are the House Democrats thinking on the strategy when it comes to these new Republican investigations?
The top Democrat on the House Oversight Committee, Congressman Jamie Raskin, will join us to respond to his colleague, Chairman Comer, next.
And what would happen if America breaches its debt ceiling? We're going to -- we might be about to find out.
Stay with us.
TAPPER: Welcome back to STATE OF THE UNION. I'm Jake Tapper.
This week, it was Democrats facing questions about the drip, drip, drip news of classified documents disclosures by the current White House, but now, in the House, Democrats are in the minority.
And they have been forced to sit back and watch as Republican investigations move forward, whether Democrats like it or not.
Joining us now, the top Democrat on the House Oversight Committee, Maryland Congressman Jamie Raskin.
Congressman Raskin, we have a lot to cover, but, first, of course, this is the first time I have spoken to you since you announced that you have been diagnosed with a form of lymphoma, which you called serious, but curable. I know the chemo has started.
How are you feeling? How's your prognosis?
REP. JAMIE RASKIN (D-MD): Well, thank you for asking me, Jake. I am hanging tough.
My energy is good. I'm losing about 40 or 50 hairs a day, I would think, to chemo. So that's upsetting. But, otherwise, I'm hanging tough. And the doctors are very optimistic and I'm very optimistic that the chemo is going to get the cancer.
TAPPER: All right, well, I just on -- speaking on behalf of all of us, including Chairman Comer, who has said very nice things about you in the context of this, we're all rooting for you.
Let's proceed with the interview, though.
If we could, I want to get your reaction to what you just...
RASKIN: And I should say...
TAPPER: Yes, go ahead.
RASKIN: Yes, I was just going to say that Chairman Comer has been very kind to me. And I have gotten lots of support across the aisle and from all my colleagues, and I'm very grateful for that.
TAPPER: That's nice to hear.
Let's get your reaction to what you just heard from Chairman Comer about President Biden's handling or mishandling of classified information.
RASKIN: Well, I think every American has an interest in seeing that classified documents are properly handled by whoever's president and by any administration.
And all we're looking for is equal treatment. We were delighted to learn that the president's lawyers, the moment they found out about the documents that day, turned them over to the National Archives, and ultimately to the Department of Justice.
That is a very different posture than what we saw with Donald Trump, where he was fighting for a period of more than eight months to not turn over hundreds of missing documents that the Archives was asking about. He defied a government subpoena, and they ended up having to go to court to get a court-issued subpoena to go and search Mar-a-Lago.
RASKIN: So that's just a completely different posture.
So, when my friend Mr. Comer says, we're just looking for equal treatment, that's all we're looking for. I think it's good that this is in the hands of special counsels on both sides. And the special counsels are both trustworthy lawyers who I think will get to the bottom of it.
TAPPER: Comer raises an interesting question, which is why the president's lawyers, who do not have security clearances, doing these searches at the Penn Biden Center here in Washington and at the president's a Greenville, Delaware, home.
Why are they? I mean, if they don't have the proper security clearance, shouldn't FBI agents or Justice Department officials actually be doing the searching?
RASKIN: Well, that's one of the things we can look at. What is the proper thing for a former president to do if he finds that there are government documents or classified documents that are in his possession?
And my understanding is, they did the right thing by immediately alerting the Archives and turning them over that day? But maybe there's a different procedure for dealing with them that we are unaware of, and that's a meaningful thing that we could look at.
But, obviously, we don't want to turn this into just a political football. And it's a bit disturbing to me that people who are saying there was no problem with what Donald Trump did, which was to defiantly reject any cooperation...
RASKIN: ... in turning over hundreds of classified documents, are upset about President Biden's voluntary and rapid turnover of a handful of documents that they found.
TAPPER: Well, speaking of political footballs, take a listen to President Biden's reaction last year when he was asked on "60 Minutes" about declassified documents found at Trump's home in Mar-a-Lago.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: How that could possibly happen, how one -- anyone could be that irresponsible.
And I thought, what data was in there that may compromise sources and methods? Just totally irresponsible.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
TAPPER: Now, we learned the President Biden had roughly 20 classified documents, including some marked top secret in three different locations.
By Biden's own standard, wasn't Biden totally irresponsible with classified information? And aren't we right to wonder, to use Biden's words -- quote -- "what data was in there that may compromise sources and methods"?
RASKIN: Well, and I think we will get to the bottom of all of that. I mean, that's why a special counsel has been appointed by Attorney General Merrick Garland. He did the right thing there to look into it.
I'm hoping that we will keep a sense of symmetry about our analysis of these situations and a sense of proportion about the underlying offenses. There are some people who are trying to compare having a government document that should no longer be in your possession to inciting a violent insurrection against the government of the United States.
And those are obviously completely different things. That's apples and oranges. So, we should keep a sense of proportion and measure about what we're talking about.
TAPPER: The first batch of documents was found on November 2, a week before the midterms, but the public didn't learn about it until it was reported in the press just this past week.
And even then the White House didn't acknowledge that a second batch of documents had been found in December until that too leaked. I mean, Chairman Comer has a point when he says we learned about this because CBS News reported on it and then everybody else followed and got that information.
Now, we have learned they found more documents than previously disclosed in a third location. It's hard to argue that the administration has been transparent and told the American people about this as soon as they could have.
RASKIN: Well, of course, I mean, it was a very rapid clip at which we learned about it, compared to the Trump case where he fought it for nearly a year or perhaps over a year, and the government investigators had to go to court in order to get a subpoena to go to Mar-a-Lago to get dozens of boxes of classified material and government documents that were being held down there.
So, look, I don't know yet and I'm hoping our investigations will reveal what you're supposed to do if one of these documents surfaces. Obviously, presidents and vice presidents are able to take those documents while they are president or vice president home with them.
And if some of them get mixed in with their other stuff, well, then they're there. And then the question is, what do you do with them afterwards? And I have not seen a set of protocols or procedures that defines what exactly should happen.
But I'm satisfied that President Biden's lawyers did the right thing in immediately contacting the Archives and turning them over, as well as over to the Department of Justice.
TAPPER: Well, you're satisfied. Chairman Comer didn't sound like he had much confidence in Biden's attorneys.
But let me ask you another question, because we're learning all these side deals that Kevin McCarthy made to secure the speakership. Republican Congressman Matt Gaetz said the McCarthy promised him he would release all of the Capitol security footage from January 6. What do you make of that deal?
And as someone who has seen this footage, presumably all of it, do you think it should be released? Is there any issue with it?
RASKIN: Well, on the Oversight Committee -- and I think Chairman Comer just restated this himself -- what we're interested in is transparency.
And American needs absolute transparency to everything that Speaker McCarthy gave away to that rampaging right-wing faction from the Freedom Caucus on his way to assembling finally a majority after all of those ballots that we saw on the House floor.
I mean, the first thing that they did was to give a huge gift to millionaire tax cheats by undermining IRS enforcement.
TAPPER: Right, but what about the footage, though?
RASKIN: And now it looks -- yes, but, again, I haven't seen exactly what was extracted or what was demanded.
And my interest has always been in turning over everything that we saw during the January 6 investigation. There are different legal requirements governing different kinds of material that are in there. But, look, the people have a right to know. If they want to rerun the January 6 investigation, then more power to them, because all roads lead to the exact same place.
Donald Trump refused to accept no for an answer from the American people and tried to overthrow the 2020 election. If they think that Antifa was really behind it and Donald Trump, then they can have at it. And we would love to be part of such an investigation.
TAPPER: Congressman Jamie Raskin, thanks for joining us.
And, again, all of us are praying and sending you our best wishes when it comes to your health.
RASKIN: Thank you very much, Jake. It means a lot to me.
TAPPER: President Biden is trying to turn the page today. Will it work?
My panel joins me next.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ROD ROSENSTEIN, FORMER U.S. DEPUTY ATTORNEY GENERAL: I decided that appointing a special counsel was the best way to complete the investigation appropriately.
WILLIAM BARR, FORMER U.S. ATTORNEY GENERAL: Before the election, as you know, I designated John Durham as a special counsel.
GARLAND: Today, I signed an order appointing Jack Smith to serve as special counsel.
I'm here today to announce the appointment of Robert Hur as a special counsel.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
TAPPER: Four special counsels in the last five or so years? Doesn't feel that special to me.
My panel joins me now here on State of the Union.
So, Attorney General Merrick Garland has appointed two special counsels, two separate ones, to look into the classified material in scandals, controversies, whatever you want to call them, by Trump and by Biden.
What do you think? I mean, are they -- it seems to me like -- well, let's compare the two, because these are the points that some of your friends in the White House want to make. Biden, approximately 20 documents. Trump, at least 325. Biden, some top secret, Trump 60 top secret. Biden apparently cooperating with the Archives and DOJ, Trump under investigation for obstruction. Biden, the lawyers found the documents and alerted the Archives. Trump, the Archives reached out and asked for docs, and then it became a whole messy thing.
Obviously, there are differences, but, in both, you have people taking documents out of the White House that they shouldn't have taken.
REP. RO KHANNA (D-CA): Sure.
And no one is going to defend taking documents that are classified. But the point is that the president is fully cooperating, and he did everything that the procedures required, from what we can tell. As soon as those documents were found, he reported them to law enforcement.
And I think, if President Trump had done the same thing, this would be a nonissue.
SCOTT JENNINGS, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: I mean, fully cooperated at the point where they found the documents.
How many years did they lay in that office or lay in the garage...
TAPPER: Six years, I think.
JENNINGS: .. or wherever?
And so, the truth is, Joe Biden had his documents out in the open for -- I mean, heck, they even had him on a campaign video shoot videos of him sitting in his Corvette. You could see right into his garage. And so, yes, I agree that they appear to be cooperating now.
But that's because they got -- they have no choice. They got caught. What they're not being is transparent. And every day, they run the White House press secretary out there to tell us they're being transparent, that it's been completed, whatever. And then the next day, we find out something else.
This is -- this is totally politically neutralized this. And everybody knows it.
TAPPER: Neutralized the Trump scandal?
JENNINGS: Yes, of course.
TAPPER: So, let me just show -- he was referring to the photograph of the Biden garage.
I don't know what your garage looks like. But here's the photograph. So there's Biden in his sweet 1967 Stingray, but look on the back left there. I don't know if we can push in there. But that looks like a mess. That's worse than my garage.
(LAUGHTER) TAPPER: That's worse than my garage. I mean, that's not where -- I don't know exactly where the documents are in that garage. But that does not look like what a secure location would be.
ASHLEY ALLISON, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Now, I think we should mark this day in history, because I agree with Scott, in that...
ALLISON: ... I do think this is a little politically neutralizing for Trump and Biden.
The difference is -- when you go to law school, they give you fact patterns. And these are two different fact patterns, but very similar. It's about willingness. It's about knowing. It's about the intent. Biden has said that he did not know these documents were there. And it appears that former President Trump knowingly took these documents and didn't have the authority to declassify them the way he said he did.
And I think those are distinctions. But when it comes to the day-to- day coverage of this, I'm not sure that it actually matters to the American people. But I do think this administration is trying to be transparent.
The one line I wish they just would say it was that: We are searching everywhere to ensure that any -- if there is a potential for any classified documents, we are turning them over to the Archives and DOJ.
TAPPER: Sarah, I'm interested in your perspective, both as somebody who worked for Trump who might have some insight into how the 300-plus documents had ended up in Mar-a-Lago, but also, as a communications professional, how you think the Biden people are handling it.
SARAH MATTHEWS, FORMER DEPUTY WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: So I will say I think that the Biden people are handling it kind of poorly, just because Biden, when he was asked about finding documents in his garage, he was quite flippant in his response. He said, oh, well I keep my Corvette in a locked garage.
OK, well, why are there classified documents in your garage? And it wasn't just his garage. It was other locations in his office as well. And so I think that should -- I would imagine, though, the White House did give him talking points on it, but I think he probably got upset and went a little bit off-script and that's where he got that from?
TAPPER: Yes. Don't you how much I love my Corvette? Right.
MATTHEWS: Yes, exactly.
MATTHEWS: And so that was not the appropriate way to handle it.
This is a very serious issue. We're talking about classified material that was out in the open for six years, as Scott noted. And that is a serious concern. And I do think, too, while the Biden administration is cooperating, which is a difference that we saw compared to Trump, there is a little bit of a transparency issue, because they need to answer for, why did these documents that were found two months ago just become publicly disclosed now?
They have not answered that. We should know why they waited so long to publicly disclose the findings of these documents.
TAPPER: Yes, I think one of the Biden lawyers said something about like they didn't want to compromise the Department of Justice investigation, but I still am not sure I completely comprehend that.
Everyone, stick around. We're going to keep talking.
We keep hearing more about these side deals that Kevin McCarthy made to secure the speaker's gavel. What else did he agree to?
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
QUESTION: Can you guarantee that Republicans will provide the votes necessary to raise the debt ceiling and avoid...
MCCARTHY: Look, we want to make sure we -- we don't want to put any fiscal problems to our economy, and we won't. But we -- but fiscal problems would be continuing to do business as usual.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
TAPPER: Welcome back to STATE OF THE UNION.
We're learning about another deal that has Speaker Kevin McCarthy made in order to secure the votes to become speaker. He's going to pass a contingency plan for the U.S. Department of the Treasury in case the debt ceiling is, in fact, breached in the U.S. risks defaulting on its loans.
I'm back with my panel.
So, Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen sent a letter Friday to Speaker McCarthy urging Congress to raise the debt ceiling and saying the U.S. could default on its debt as soon as June. She wrote -- quote -- "Failure to meet the government's obligations would cause irreparable harm to the U.S. economy, the livelihoods of all Americans, and global financial stability."
ALLISON: Yes, and I think that this is a prime opportunity to put the focus back on Republicans about failing the American people.
The -- McCarthy has control of the House. We know, if we default on our debt, it will -- not just on our domestic economy, but on the global economy, and just the belief in America as the great country that we are, will send waves throughout the entire globe.
And if McCarthy plays politics here, he will go -- it's the exact opposite of what he said he was going to do for the American people and why he deserves to be speaker. And that would be collapse our economy and many other components.
JENNINGS: Let me ask you a question.
I agree with you we shouldn't default on our debt. Do you think it was right of the White House this week and leading Democrats to say, there will be no negotiations over this, no negotiations at all? After all, the Republicans did win the House. They did win the national popular vote in the House.
The American people are clearly worried about our national debt and our spending. Don't you think it'd be wise for the other party, now that we're in divided government, to at least open the idea of a negotiation over reducing spending a little?
KHANNA: Sure, but...
TAPPER: Let's turn to a congressman here, yes.
KHANNA: But not over paying our bills.
I mean, this is pretty simple. Look, here's what the Republicans are saying. You got credit card debt, and they're saying, well, we will pay half of it, but not the other half. And most people know your interest rates are still going to spike. You pay your debt.
If you want to debate about future spending, do we want to have defense cuts, do we want to have spending cuts, that's a legitimate debate. I will disagree with them, but that's a debate. But you don't debate whether you pay your debts. You don't debate the prestige of the United States.
And, by the way, the Biden administration has other options if they're not going to play fair. I mean, they can increase the interest rates on the bonds. I mean, there are a lot of other options that they will have. They will make sure, we will make sure we don't default.
TAPPER: Well, let me ask you, because we spend as a government more than we take in, right? I mean, we have these crazy deficits, crazy national debt.
TAPPER: It's $30 trillion right now.
The interest that we pay prevents us from funding school lunches or whatever. Isn't it time that Congress take this seriously? And would the Republicans be irresponsible for not forcing this conversation?
KHANNA: It is absolutely time.
Bill Clinton left this country with budget surpluses. Then what happened?
TAPPER: Because he was forced to.
KHANNA: No, but then what happened?
We got into two wars, the Iraq War. We had the Bush tax cuts and the Trump tax cuts. Let's start with reversing the Bush and Trump tax cuts and not getting this country into endless wars.
MATTHEWS: I don't think any Republican wants to see us default on our debt.
But I do think that the Biden administration needs to come to the negotiating table. As Scott mentioned, Republicans did win the House, sure, by a slim majority, but I think that they should negotiate in good faith. It's not fair for them to just say, oh, no, Republicans need to do this with no conditions.
I also do think, though, there is going to be a large focus on the far right, MAGA Republicans who have said that they voted for McCarthy for the speakership to -- as long as he agreed that there would be spending cuts with a deal to raise the debt ceiling.
But I do think that we should be focusing on moderate Republicans as well, because you have seen moderate Republicans such as Brian Fitzpatrick say that they would be willing to work with Democrats as well on a deal. There are other mechanisms in place where they could force a bill to the floor.
TAPPER: Yes, a discharge petition.
TAPPER: And so I think there's going to be a lot of focus on the far right MAGA Republicans and the spectacle that that's going to create, but I do think, at the end of the day, a deal will get done.
TAPPER: So, I mean, what she's referring to, there's a thing called a discharge petition. If all 212 Democrats signed this discharge petition, they're joined by six Republicans, they force it onto the floor for a vote, and that's the end of that.
Then all 218 can vote for it. And that would be the end of the crisis. I don't know if Democrats are going to do that, though. I mean, it's in the interest of the United States for that to happen, but I think Democrats probably -- I'd have to talk to a Leader Jeffries to see what he thinks -- but they think that this is up to the Republicans to solve. They have the majority.
ALLISON: Well, I do think that they have the majority, but it wasn't -- to your point, it's a slim majority.
And I don't think they should overplay their hand here. I mean, they -- we still kept Congress. We kept a lot of governorships in this midterm. And so to think that the American people are overwhelmingly with this MAGA Republican -- the problem is, is that Kevin McCarthy plays to the MAGA Republicans also.
And so, as he's the person that is supposed to be helping negotiate this deal, he's going to be paying attention to the problem-makers in the caucus, vs. the more moderates who would be reasonable and want to negotiate.
TAPPER: Can I ask you a question?
Do you think it's unreasonable that I want to know all the side deals that Kevin McCarthy agreed to? I mean, is that -- is that -- like, I mean, we're talking about transparency, release the visitor logs at Biden's Greenville, Delaware, estate. Great. I'm all for transparency.
But why not just, like, release all -- a list of all these deals? We keep finding them out in drip, drip, drip. Matt Gaetz does a tweet, we find out about stuff.
JENNINGS: Yes. No, not unreasonable.
And also, again, I will just to go back to the divided government issue. Just because they made deals in the House doesn't mean they have any chance of becoming law. So, to me, it's totally reasonable to say what things were negotiated and how they relate to the principles that the Republicans ran on to win the House in the first place.
TAPPER: And last question for you. Should George Santos resign?
KHANNA: He should. And I don't understand why more people on the Republican side don't say that.
I mean, this story is just going to keep going and going and going. It doesn't help them.
TAPPER: Isn't there part of the Democratic Party that likes it? Don't you get to say George Santos -- Republicans, you're all liars like George Santos, you're all con men like George Santos?
MATTHEWS: In a narrow partisan interest.
But you know what happens at the end of the day? More people say, hey, all these members of Congress, they can't tell the truth. It hurts everyone in Congress. It hurts the institution.
TAPPER: Thanks, one and all, for being here.
A special way that you can mark Martin Luther King Jr. Day with your family -- that's next.
TAPPER: Tomorrow is Martin Luther King Jr. Day.
If you're looking for a place to go with family, friends or by yourself to reflect and mark the holiday, the U.S. National Park Service is waiving all its entrance fees tomorrow. Check it out at NPS.gov, NPS.gov.
Thanks for spending your Sunday morning with us.
The news continues next.