A rush transcript of "This Week with George Stephanopoulos" airing on Sunday, January 15, 2023 on ABC News is below. This copy may not be in its final form, may be updated and may contain minor transcription errors. For previous show transcripts, visit the "This Week" transcript archive.
JONATHAN KARL, ABC “THIS WEEK” ANCHOR: Under investigation.
JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I don't know what's in the documents. They've turned over the boxes to the archives.
KARL: The attorney general names a special counsel to investigate President Biden's handling of classified information.
REP. JIM JORDAN (R-OH): The double standard is obvious.
SEN. CHUCK SCHUMER (D-NY): President Biden has handling this correctly. He's fully cooperated.
KARL: Two presidents, two special counsels, unprecedented scrutiny.
Pierre Thomas and Sarah Isgur on the state of the investigation. Plus, Republican Don Bacon and Democrat Adam Schiff.
REP. RAPHAEL WARNOCK (D-GA): The people have spoken.
KARL: His win in Georgia solidified Democratic control of the Senate. Senator Raphael Warnock on the future of bipartisanship in this Congress.
RACHEL SCOTT: Will you step down?
REP. GEORGE SANTOS (R-NY): I will not.
KARL: Embattled Congressman George Santos defies calls to resign, as some Republican leaders stand by him.
NANCY MACE (R-SC): He should resign, but obviously he won't.
REP. KEVIN MCCARTHY (R-CA): He is seated. He is part of the Republican conference.
KARL: Our powerhouse roundtable covers all the fallout.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
ANNOUNCER: From ABC News, it's THIS WEEK.
Here now, Jonathan Karl.
KARL: Good morning and welcome to THIS WEEK.
As we come on the air this morning, there are new details emerging about those classified documents found at President Biden's private office and at his residence. For the fourth time, the White House is revealing new details. At first it was documents found in a locked closet at an office Biden used after he was vice president. Then we learned of documents in the garage at his home in Wilmington. Then a document in another location near the garage. And now, just yesterday, the White House said five more documents had been found at President Biden’s home. The White House says it is committed to transparency, but the first batch of documents was discovered on November 2nd, just days before the midterm elections, and the public didn't learn of it until this week, and only after reporters started asking questions.
On Thursday morning, Attorney General Merrick Garland appointed a special counsel to investigate yet another president. An extraordinary case of deja vu.
This week, Garland said almost exactly virtually word for word what he said in November when he appointed a special counsel to investigate former President Trump.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MERRICK GARLAND, ATTORNEY GENERAL (November 12, 2023): The extraordinary circumstances here requirement the appointment of a special counsel for this matter.
GARLAND (November 18, 2022): Such an appointment underscores the department’s commitment –
GARLAND (November 12, 2023): To both independence and accountability –
GARLAND (November 18, 2022 and November 12, 2023): In particularly sensitive matters.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KARL: The White House has been quick to point out the differences between Biden's handling of all of this and Trump's. The differences are real. They are significant. First, based on what we know now, there were far more documents in Trump's possession than Biden's. And much more significantly, Trump failed to turn over the documents in his possession, even after receiving a grand jury subpoena.
In fact, when investigators visited his home last June, Trump's lawyer signed a declaration saying that all documents had been turned over. But the search of Mar-a-Lago two months later revealed more than 100 more classified documents still in Trump's possession.
The Biden administration says they've been cooperative, searching for and immediately turning over documents to federal authorities.
Trump was anything but cooperative. Although he has claimed, without evidence, that he declassified documents in his possession.
But for all the differences, both men had highly sensitive documents in their possession when they left office that should have been turned over. When it was Trump, Biden called it totally irresponsible.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES (September 18, 2022): 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? By that I mean names of people who helped or -- et cetera. And it’s just totally irresponsible.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KARL: After it was revealed that classified documents were found in the president's garage, Biden downplayed the significance, comparing the security of government secrets with the security of his sports car.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: And, by the way, my Corvette’s in a locked garage, OK, so it's not like it's sitting out in the street. But anyway --
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: So the material was in a locked garage?
BIDEN: Yes, as well as my Corvette.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KARL: To say it is unprecedented would be an understatement. Two presidents, who may well be running against each other next year, both facing special counsel investigations. And fairly or not, this week’s developments complicate any effort for the Biden Justice Department to prosecute Trump over his handling of classified documents.
We’re going to cover all the angles this morning. We begin with ABC's chief justice correspondent Pierre Thomas and Sarah Isgur, a veteran of the Trump Justice Department who is now an ABC News contributor.
So, Pierre, let me start with you. What was the tipping point here? Why did Garland appoint a special counsel?
PIERRE THOMAS, ABC NEWS CHIEF JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Jon, first of all, these documents being out of place for six years is a nonstarter. Classified documents are supposed to be in very secure locations under strict guidelines. I'm being told by sources that the tipping point was finding those documents, those classified documents, at his home, in his garage, no less. That the first batch found at the office could be perhaps explained away. But the whole notion that they were at his home at least raises the specter that he perhaps may have wanted them there or played a role. We don't know that to be the case, but they could not rule that out.
KARL: And he has said, to be clear, that he has no idea how they got there, but I guess we’re going to learn whether or not he did know or should have known.
THOMAS: They’re not going to take his word for it.
KARL: In – in – in practical terms, what does this mean now that you have a special counsel out there? What does it mean for Biden? What does it mean for the White House?
THOMAS: The potential for grand juries. Witnesses being called to be interviewed. FBI interviews. Also the notion that the special counsel might want to interview or question the president himself. So, there will be all kinds of negotiations about that in particular.
KARL: Sarah, there’s been a lot of talk out of the White House and a lot of it is completely accurate that this is a very different case than Donald Trump. I mean there's -- seems to be cooperation on one side, obstruction on the other. But as a practical matter, does this make it harder for the Justice Department to go forward with a prosecution, with an indictment of Donald Trump for his handling of classified documents?
SARAH ISGUR, FORMER JUSTICE DEPARTMENT SPOKESPERSON & ABC NEWS CONTRIBUTOR: Absolutely. I mean the Justice Department has a whole series of problems right now. You have two special counsels working on independent timelines with very different facts. But at the end of the day, are you going to be able to compare those because the Justice Department doesn't just work on the statutory definition of the crime, which in this case is knowingly removing classified documents. It also looks back at precedent. You go back to Comey's 2016 press conference where he announced that they would not be pursuing charges against Hillary Clinton. He said all of the cases ever brought by the Department of Justice met at least two of these four factors, knowingly and intentionally and, you know, negligently removing the documents, vast quantities of documents, working with foreign government basically and, lastly, obstruction. And so the Department of Justice wants to treat like cases alike. And that's going to be a huge problem when you have two of these moving at the same time.
KARL: Two different special counsels. They may have two different recommendations. We don't know exactly how it comes down. But the bottom line is, the decision on prosecuting either one of these cases, moving forward with either one, will be up to Merrick Garland
ISGUR: That's right. Special counsels are outside of the political appointment process at the Department of Justice. They're outside in that sense. But, at the end of the day, they report to the attorney general. They’ll be giving their recommendations to the attorney general. And that's who’s going to make this decision of whether to move forward on either, both or neither case.
KARL: Big decisions ahead for the attorney general.
Pierre Thomas, Sarah Isgur, thank you very much for joining us.
House Republicans have already launched their own investigations into President Biden's handling of classified documents. We're joined now by GOP Congressman Don Bacon of Nebraska.
Congressman Bacon, let me ask you just first up, what do -- do you agree with the appointment of the special counsel?
REP. DON BACON (R-NE): I do. I think the American people see how President Trump has been treated on one hand, and they want to see a sense of fairness. I -- granted the situations are different, but they’re both about classified information being in areas that’s illegal and the improper handling of highly classified information. So, I think it shows a sense of fairness to have a special counsel for both.
KARL: And you acknowledge these cases are different? I mean they do both involve handling of classified documents. But in President Trump’s case, he essentially defied a subpoena. In this case, it appears at least that President Biden has, you know, voluntarily turned everything over.
BACON: Well, I agree that they are different. In one case you have long-term negotiations where President Trump was not handing over the information. And then you have, on the other hand, classified information that’s been stored for six years, in one area where Chinese nationals have access, another where it’s in a garage. Who knows who had access to that. And the third batch was in the president’s home in Delaware.
I would just say they’re both wrong. Granted they’re different. What strikes me, though, is having President Biden be highly critical of President Trump, calling him irresponsible. And it just reminds me of that old adage, if you live in a glass house, do not throw stones. And I think the -- President Biden was caught throwing stones.
KARL: And we’ve seen some of the Republican reaction. Not from you, but let’s take what Congressman Mike Turner, the chair of the House Intelligence Committee. When the Mar-a-Lago documents were discovered, he said it all sounded like a bookkeeping issue. And now, he’s demanding an immediate review and damage assessments in the case of the Biden documents.
Is there some hypocrisy going on here?
BACON: Well, I think you see hypocrisy on both sides of those who point fingers. And I just -- we just got to acknowledge, classified information and I dealt with them for 30 years. I’m a retired general. I worked in the intelligence career field. I flew reconnaissance aircraft.
It’s not to be kept in vaults. We call them SCIFs. And having top secret special compartmented information in your garage or your resort or in an area where Chinese nationals have access, it’s all wrong. And we shouldn’t just be point fingers at the other side.
So, I think there’s blame to go around to both sides of this, and I think if you’re an honest statesman, you just can’t point fingers to the other guy and deny that there was problems on our side as well.
KARL: Let’s turn to the congressional agenda. We’ve heard from the Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen that the debt limit will be released -- reached on January 19th, just in a few days. And they’re going to do extraordinary measures that will get them to June before a default.
How real is the risk of default here given some of the demands that are being made by the Republican leadership?
BACON: Well, I think it is a real threat that both sides have to take serious. You know, the Republicans were largely elected to get control of reckless spending. That’s the mission that their voters have given them.
So, when President Biden says he’s just going to refuse to negotiate with Republicans on any concessions, I don’t think that’s right either.
But on our side, we have to realize, we control the House with a four-seat majority, the Senate is run by the Democrats with a one-seat majority, and the president obviously from the Democrat Party. So, we can’t get everything we want either. This is not a parliament system where the majority party and the parliament can sort of dictate those terms.
So, I want our side to negotiate with the Democrats in good faith. But President Biden has to also negotiate. He can’t say he refuses to negotiate. That’s a nonstarter as well.
Because the mission we’ve given is to control reckless spending, which has been not the only contributor but one of the main contributors to inflation.
I just read a stat yesterday -- 21 months in a row, American wages have fallen behind inflation. The standard of living for America has gotten worse over the last two years and part of it is reckless spending. And that’s our mission.
So, I want us to meet that and have good faith negotiations. And to our voters, on the Republican side, they want to see some progress in getting control of spending.
KARL: Has the Biden administration reached out to you on the debt ceiling?
BACON: They have not.
BACON: And I -- both sides are going to have to be willing to work together. We have large groups on both sides of the aisle that’s my way or the highway. That does not work in our country.
And I encourage President Biden to reach out to the leadership on the Republican side. You know, in the last two years, he’s invited the Republican leadership to the White House twice. That’s not a very good record.
And we’ve got to do our part, too. You know, James Madison put together a Constitution that said factions have to work together to find areas of consensus. That’s how he designed the system with a bicameral separation of power. And when parties say, my way or the highway, it just doesn’t work.
So, we’re going to have to work with Joe Biden and we’re going to have to work together with the Senate to find a middle ground here.
KARL: We’re almost out of time but I’ve got to ask you about George Santos. His lies are so numerous that they’re easy to lose track of.
I want to tick through just a couple. He claimed that he was Jewish and a grandson of Holocaust survivors. He claimed to have attended Horace Mann Prep School in the Bronx, he did not.
He said he graduated in Baruch College as the top 1 percent of his class and he was the star volleyball player on the team, volleyball scholarship. He never even attended the school.
He claimed he worked for Goldman Sachs and Citigroup, he didn’t.
He said his company lost four employees at the Pulse nightclub shooting. He did not.
He claimed his mother’s death was somehow tied to 9/11. This also appears to be false.
There are many more I could go forward. Should he be -- should he resign? I mean, should he be in Congress?
BACON: You know, if that was me, I would resign. I won’t be able to face my voters after having gone through that.
But this is between him and his constituents largely. They’ve elected him in and he’s -- they have to deal with him on that. I don’t think his reelection chances would be that promising, depending on how he handles this.
KARL: But that maybe -- that maybe be the understatement of the day.
All right. Congressman Bacon, thank -- thank you very much. I appreciate your time.
BACON: Thank you.
KARL: All right, let’s get the Democratic response from Congressman Adam Schiff, the outgoing chair of the House Intelligence Committee.
Congressman Schiff, you were on this show just after Attorney General Garland appointed a special counsel in the case of the Trump documents. You said it was the right move. Do you feel the same way about this special counsel?
REP. ADAM SCHIFF, (D-CA): I do think it's the right move. The attorney general has to make sure that not only is justice evenly applied, but the appearances of justice are also satisfactory to the public. And here, I don't think he had any choice but to appoint a special counsel. And I think that special counsel will do the proper assessment.
I still would like to see Congress do its own assessment of -- and receive an assessment from the intelligence community of whether there was an exposure to others of these documents, whether there was harm to national security, on the case of either set of documents with either president. But, yes, I think the special counsel was appropriately appointed.
Jonathan, if I could also, though, because my state is still trying to dig out from these terrible storms, I want to thank the president for making an emergency declaration and let Californians know that in the three most affected counties they can now apply for help in terms of rebuilding their homes and their businesses and that other counties need to report their damage as soon as possible so they can qualify for relief as well.
KARL: Yes, thank you for that.
Back to the – to the documents.
You raise the possibility of those national security assessment. Is it possible that national security was jeopardized here as – as many, including you, raised that possibility with the Mar-a-Lago documents?
SCHIFF: I don't think we can exclude the possibility without knowing more of the facts. We have asked for an assessment in the intelligence community of the Mar-a-Lago documents. I think we ought to get that same assessment of the documents found in the – in the think tank, as well as the home of President Biden. I'd like to know what these documents were. I’d like to know what the IC's assessment is, whether there was any risk of exposure and what the harm would be and whether any mitigation needs to be done. I think that would be appropriate and consistent with what we requested in the case of Mar-a-Lago.
KARL: The White House knew about this on November 2nd. So that was almost a full week before the midterm elections. We didn't learn about it -- the public wasn't informed until this week and it was only after the story was, you know, was out there, reporters were asking questions.
Should they have been more forthcoming? Should this information have been revealed earlier?
SCHIFF: I think the administration will need to answer that question. I'm going to reserve judgment until they do. But I think it's important to point out that the Biden approach was very different in the sense that it looks, as far as we can tell, that it was inadvertent that these documents were in these locations. When they were discovered, they were immediately provided to The Archives or to the Justice Department. There was no effort to hold on to them, no effort to conceal them, no effort to obstruct the Justice Department's investigation. All of that is a very sharp contrast to Donald Trump's handling of the situation.
So, as you point out, this is a very different matter. But, nonetheless, I think it's appropriate for special counsel to look into both situations.
KARL: Republicans are saying they are going to investigate -- House Republican, the Oversight Committee chairman. Comer gave -- sent a letter to the White House Counsel making a very specific list of requests. He wants to know what the documents were, they want internal communications between the Biden White House and the Penn Center where the documents were first found, a list of all people would worked there that would who would have potentially handled these documents and a few other requests. They seem, on the face of it, to be reasonable requests. Should the White House cooperate with the House Oversight Committee on this?
SCHIFF: Well, those requests are completely hypocritical when you consider what he said about the Mar-a-Lago situation. I think Congress ought to handle both situations the same way, and that is we ought to get a briefing from the intelligence community about any potential risks to national security of where those documents were and what they contained. But Congress shouldn't try to interfere with the investigations. I think, sadly, that's what Mr. Comer's object is. He showed no interest in investigating the far more serious situation with about 100 classified documents at Mar-a-Lago with evidence in the public domain of obstruction. Now he is suddenly interested in investigating President Biden.
I think Congress needs to be consistent here and take the same approach. I don't think we ought to be doing things that are willy intended to interfere with the Justice Department's work.
KARL: So you don't think the White House should cooperate with the – the committee on this? I mean you fought mightily –
SCHIFF: Well, I didn’t say – I didn’t –
KARL: And then they, for the most part, did not. But you don't --
SCHIFF: Jonathan --
SCHIFF: I never said the White House shouldn't cooperate. What I said was Congress ought to ask consistently, and we shouldn't try willfully to interfere with what the Justice Department is doing. That's what I think Mr. Comer is intending.
But, yes, I think the Biden administration ought to cooperate with any appropriate inquiry from Congress.
KARL: You've endorsed President Biden's re-election. He hasn't announced yet, but we expect he will. Does any of this complicate his efforts to -- to mount a re-election campaign and make a stark contrast with Donald Trump?
SCHIFF: I think there are so many stark contrasts with Donald Trump, on policy, on decency, on a devotion to the truth, on his handling of foreign policy, on his domestic policy priorities, on his accomplishments in attacking climate change, in getting a bipartisan infrastructure bill done when Trump talked about it for four years but did nothing, when Trump misused millions, hundreds of millions of dollars in aid meant for an ally at war, Ukraine, to try to extort that country into helping his campaign; in contrast, Joe Biden helping Ukraine fight against a Russian invasion of their lands.
So there are lots of sharp contrasts for Joe Biden in the next election.
KARL: All right, Congressman Schiff, thank you for joining us.
The roundtable is coming up. Plus, his dramatic runoff victory solidified Democrats' control of the Senate. Georgia's newly re-elected senator, Raphael Warnock, joins us next, in a "This Week" exclusive.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. RAPHAEL WARNOCK, (D) GEORGIA: Georgia, this is my promise to you. I will walk with you even as I work for you.
Because here is what I've learned as a pastor. You can't lead the people unless you love the people.
You can't love the people unless you know the people. And you can't know the people unless you walk among the people.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KARL: That's Senator Raphael Warnock after winning his first full term to the Senate last month. Warnock also serves as the senior pastor of Atlanta's historic Ebenezer Baptist Church, the spiritual home of the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., which will host President Biden later this morning.
Senator Warnock, thank you for being here. Welcome to "This Week."
WARNOCK: Good morning. Great to be here with you. Happy Sunday morning.
KARL: Happy Sunday morning. I want -- you're going to be with President Biden this morning. I want to ask you about the latest with this documents case. What's your take?
Was the appointment of a special counsel the right move, by the Justice Department?
WARNOCK: Well -- well, certainly. Let me say at the top that classified documents are to be taken seriously. And they are to be handled with a great deal of care. And no one is above the law. So I'm glad to see the Justice Department doing its work, and we ought to let that work proceed.
KARL: Do you think -- the White House knew about this back in November, even before the midterms. Do you think that they should have told us about this earlier?
WARNOCK: I'm glad to see that the president and his administration are cooperating, and they should continue to cooperate. Nobody's above the law. And we need to get to the bottom of this so that we don't see this kind of thing happen again.
KARL: But -- but should they have said -- told us about it in November?
I mean, there are some -- some Republicans are alleging cover-up. Even some Democrats have expressed some concern.
WARNOCK: Well, look, the Justice Department is engaged in the investigation. And that's one of the questions that I think they will explore. And I don't want to get in front of that investigation.
KARL: OK, let's turn to the congressional agenda. You've -- you were elected your first full term. You've run five times in the last three years, I believe. Obviously, an incredible divided Congress.
Realistically, what can you do working with the Republicans in this congress?
WARNOCK: Well, listen, I came to the Congress and we were 50/50. We got a lot of bipartisan work done. I’m the 18th most bipartisan senator in the Senate.
I think that has something to do with being a pastor. You know, when you're a pastor, you have to welcome and embrace whoever comes through that door, and I look forward to getting good things done for the people of Georgia and for the American people.
KARL: So House Republicans are saying that they want something in return for raising the debt limit. That there's got to be some controls on spending in exchange for raising the debt limit.
You've heard from the White House that they will not negotiate. That's the message from the White House. No negotiation on this. The Republicans just have to raise the debt limit.
Is that a mistake? I mean, you’re -- you just said, you know, you were the 18th most bipartisan. You campaigned on working with Republicans. Shouldn't there -- the White House at least be open to negotiations?
WARNOCK: Here’s the thing that we have to be careful of. We have to make sure that we don’t make the work in D.C. about the politicians. The fact of the matter is, we can do deficit reduction, we can deal with our national debt, but at the same time, the last thing we ought to be doing is playing chicken with the American economy.
We’ve been through the onslaught of a very long pandemic that has created a lot of challenges for the American families. They pay their bills. I think they expect the government to pay its bills. We can do this on a bipartisan basis, and we’ve done – as we’ve done time and time again.
But I think we -- we lose our way when we make the issue about the politicians. I'm focused on the people of Georgia. I'm focused on farmers who are trying their best to -- to make it work, their businesses work in this tough economy. I'm thinking about ordinary workers who deserve a livable wage. I'm thinking about those who are trying to make their lives work.
And when we make it about the politicians, we lose -- we lose our way.
KARL: And, obviously, if there’s a default on -- a U.S. government default, it’s going to affected everybody, all the people you just mentioned.
WARNOCK: Oh, absolutely. There’s no question. The people who are on the margins, who are the most venerable are the ones who would suffer the most when we put the full faith and credit of the United States government in jeopardy. We shouldn’t be playing chicken with the American economy.
This is not a game. This is people’s lives. They have given us the sacred trust of representing them at the highest levels of government. It’s something I take very seriously, which is why I'm so deeply honored that the people of Georgia decided finally, after five elections, to give me a six-year term. And I'm -- I'm going to remain focused on them.
KARL: You waited until after your -- your victory in the runoff to endorse President Biden. So you’re on record endorsing him. If he doesn’t run, is there any chance you would -- you would make a run for president? I mean, like I said, you have run five times in Georgia, one of the most important swing states, in the past three years, and won five times.
WARNOCK: Listen --
KARL: Any chance you’d consider national office?
WARNOCK: Have -- you should take a look at my life. I'm -- I'm the junior United States senator from Georgia. I continue to lead the Ebenezer Baptist Church and have a six year old and a four year old who I -- I owe a trip to Disneyworld. I'm going to remain focused on the people of Georgia and try to get a nap.
KARL: All right, well, that didn’t sound like a no, but let me ask you finally before you go. We do have Martin Luther King Day. Obviously, you serve as the senior pastor at the Ebenezer Baptist Chuck where he himself preached.
I want to ask you. At the March on Washington in 1963, A. Philip Randolph called -- called Dr. King the moral leader of our nation. Who is that now? Who’s the moral leader of America now?
WARNOCK: Well, there’s a reason why we all come to this moment every year. I don’t know that there’s another person that we ask annually, what would they be thinking? What would they be doing in this moment?
But we all ask that question when it comes to Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday and holiday. Today would have been his 94th birthday.
I'm struck by the fact that when you go to D.C. today and you go to The Mall, you see the monuments to presidents. And among those presidents is a Black man who grew up in the segregated south, who came in the 20th century to articulate the meaning of the American dream perhaps more effectively than anybody, certainly in the 20th century to articulate the meaning of the American dream perhaps more effectively than anybody, certainly in the 20th century.
And what it shows is that any one of us, if we’re deeply committed, if we’re driven by the North Star of our moral compass, if we center the concerns of other people rather than just ourselves, we can -- we can have an impact in a powerful way.
I'm honored to serve as pastor of Ebenezer, where Dr. King served, and I'm honored to president the President of the United States there where he will deliver the message and where he will sit in the spiritual home of Martin Luther King Jr., Georgia’s greatest son, arguably the greatest American, who reminds us that we are tied in a single garment of destiny, that this is not about Democrat and Republican, red, yellow, brown, black and white, we’re all in it together.
KARL: All right, Senator Warnock, thank you very much for joining us on “This Week”.
WARNOCK: Great to be with you. Happy Sunday.
KARL: Happy Sunday.
Up next, will House Republican’s new blitz of investigations into President Biden impact whether he’ll run for re-election in 2024? Nate Silver, plus our roundtable, weigh in next.
KARL: Nate Silver is coming up and the roundtable is here and ready to go. We'll be right back.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. STEVE SCALISE (R-LA): We've talked about bringing accountability to government. A government has needed accountability for a long time, and we’ve seen none of that over the last two year.
REP. JAMES COMER (R-KY): We're concerned that the millions of dollars that the Biden family has received from our adversaries in China and Russia could have potentially compromised this White House.
REP. JIM JORDAN (R-OH): That is what so frustrates the American people and it’s why we have formed this committee to look at the double standard and the unequal application of the law on American citizens.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KARL: Ten days into their new majority, House Republicans have already launched more than a half dozen investigations into the Biden administration and the Biden family, with many more on the way. But will any of them impact Biden’s political standing as he gears up for a potential re-election bid?
Here's FiveThirtyEight's Nate Silver.
NATE SILVER, FIVETHIRTYEIGHT: President Biden has entered 2023 at a comparatively high-water mark. His approval rating in the FiveThirtyEight tracking index is currently right around 44 percent. That's not going to have the White House doing cartwheels, but it’s the highest it's been since October of 2021.
In theory, GOP investigations into Biden could threaten those numbers and how honest and trustworthy voters think that he is. A recent YouGov poll put him at 46 percent in that department, which closely tracks his overall approval numbers.
But there's also a risk for Republicans here. Investigations could be seen as being, a, highly partisan and, b, off (INAUDIBLE) from issue like the economy, what voters care more about.
In a "New York Times" poll just before the midterms, only 2 percent of likely voters identified the Biden administration or Democrats as the most important problem facing the country. And, no surprise, virtually all of them voted for Donald Trump in 2020, so not too many swing voters there.
Historically, investigations don't have a great track record of denting a president's popularity. Under constant GOP investigations on Whitewater, Monica Lewinsky, and eventually impeachment, Bill Clinton’s approval ratings actually surged from the 40s before the GOP takeover of Congress in 1994, to mostly 50s and 60s until he left office.
Former President Donald Trump's approval numbers didn't move much when House Democrats began investigating him in 2019.
Special Counsel Robert Mueller's report also didn't really move the needle. If fact, Trump’s approval hit a two-year high when Mueller released his findings in April of 2019.
In other words, there had better be real meat here, otherwise this is a strategy designed to appeal to the GOP base, and I don't buy that’s the best way to hurt Biden’s chances in 2024.
KARL: Thanks to Nate for that. The roundtable is next.
JOSEPH CAIRO, CHAIR, NASSAU COUNTY REPUBLICAN PARTY: George Santos's campaign last year was a campaign of deceit, lies and fabrication. As I said, he's disgraced the House of Representatives, and we do not consider him one of our congresspeople.
REP. KEVIN MCCARTHY, (R) CALIFORNIA: You know, in America today you're innocent until proven guilty. Voters made the decision, and he has a right to serve.
KARL: That was the Nassau County Republican chairman and the speaker of the House, both commenting on Representative George Santos amid growing calls for his resignation.
Let's bring in the roundtable, former New Jersey Governor Chris Christie; former DNC chair Donna Brazile; ABC political director Rick Klein; and Politico Playbook co-author Rachael Bade.
So, before we get to Santos, Rick, on the documents case, we know what Democrats are saying publicly about this. What are they saying privately?
RICK KLEIN, ABC POLITICAL DIRECTOR: I've been hearing a lot of Democrats who say, "Wait a second, on Joe Biden. Let's see how this plays out." This is exactly the moment that he'd be considering to launch that campaign for president. And the key thing about Biden is he's the guy who can win, potentially beating Trump all over again. And I'm hearing from more and more Democrats who say, "We've got to look at what the political fallout of this really is. Who was responsible for this? How long could this last? Is he going to lose control of his presidency?"
The view at the White House is much like Nate was outlining, that this could actually be good for him if the Republicans overreach. But we're a long way from that. We are into a lot of uncomfortable weeks for this White House at the very time that he potentially is most politically vulnerable from his own party.
KARL: Rachael, it doesn't seem like it's going to be good for the White House.
BADE: Yeah, I mean, it's embarrassing. It's like a -- it's a late Christmas gift for Jim Jordan.
I mean, Biden spent, you know, the past few months -- I wouldn't say giddy over Donald Trump's Mar-a-Lago problems, but very much pointing out, saying, "How can you take classified documents to Mar-a-Lago?" -- like, "This is completely irresponsible." He's got the same problem now.
And so it definitely looks, sort of, hypocritical, I think, to a lot of voters. The White House is obviously trying to argue that these are two different case, right? For Biden, there's only a couple documents. For Trump, there's a bunch. Biden is cooperating. Trump didn't. That's why his -- his -- you know, Mar-a-Lago was raided. But, I mean, Republicans are pretty confident they will be able to, sort of, chalk this up to semantics, and that, for everyday voters, that they're not going to see the difference and it's just going to look -- you know, it's going to look bad for them.
KARL: And it's been pointed out that there's this ad from the 2020 campaign, a Biden ad -- and I think we can roll some pictures of it -- of Biden backing his Corvette into his garage, Donna. So take a look. He's backing it in. Now, we see boxes back there. Now, I don't know if those boxes had any of the classified documents. I don't even know if that's the same Corvette tjhat he has now.
KARL: Probably. But, I mean, it doesn't look good.
BRAZILE: Well, first of all, you've got to separate the noise from all of the, quote/unquote, "possible spin" that's coming from this. I took time to read about this. And I know, Chris, you keep telling me to find some better things to do on the weekend.
CHRISTIE: ... I do.
BRAZILE: But, I mean, think about it. Seven days after the discovery of these documents by one of the president's personal attorneys, they -- they reported it the day after. And within seven days, the Justice Department had assigned someone to look into it.
And that individual, Mr. Lausch, I believe, reported back to Attorney General Merrick Garland, on January 5th, and as a result of that, we now have another special investigation.
Look, was it sloppy, you know, to, sort of, tell us on Monday that there was one document and then the drip, drip? You know, whenever you have a drip, there's something else going on. I think the president acted appropriately in -- in making sure that his staff went back, took a second round, looked into the garage, looked in the closet, looked wherever. Just don't look in the kitchen, OK.
BRAZILE: But things will smooth out because I know the Justice Department will get to the bottom.
KARL: Chris, I don't know if you had classified documents as governor of New Jersey.
KARL: But you probably didn't keep...
BADE: In your Corvette?
KARL: ... them in boxes like that...
CHRISTIE: No, and I didn't have a Corvette either.
KARL: You didn't have a Corvette, OK.
But, I mean, does the -- I mean, it is different, obviously, than the Trump case, but politically?
CHRISTIE: Well, the political problem is the one that nobody has talked about yet, which is why did they wait to tell us? I mean, they knew this before midterms.
KARL: Yeah. Six days before.
CHRISTIE: Right, six days before.
KARL: So should they have come out and said, "Well, wait a minute, everybody."
CHRISTIE: Well, of -- well, if you're Joe Biden, who says, "I must be transparent. Donald Trump's not. He is irresponsible for having these in his home." And meanwhile now he knows he's got a bunch in his home, and they didn't -- I think the real interesting part of the special counsel investigation, more interesting than the documents themselves, because we don't know what they are right now so we're only speculating, will be, who made that decision? Did Ron Klain make that decision?
KARL: Who made the decision not to disclose?
CHRISTIE: Not to disclose. Did Ron Klain make the decision?
Did the president make the decision?
Who made the decision to not tell the American people six days before an election? And if Donald Trump had not told people six days before an election, what would the conversation be about right now?
I guarantee you it would be about cover-up. And so, as a former prosecutor, you know, it's not always the obvious thing.
KARL: Well, Trump did more than make a decision not to disclose. He made a decision not to respond to the subpoenas...
CHRISTIE: My point -- no, Jon, I'm trying to -- I'm not analogizing the two situations. What I'm saying is, if you substituted President Trump for President Biden in the Biden situation, there would be lots of people on the Democratic side who would be jumping to the conclusion that Trump knew it, directed it and should be held responsible for it. I don't hear that about Biden now.
And here's the problem. The problem is, he withheld this from the American people for six days prior to a -- a midterm election, and I want to know why and who made that decision.
BRAZILE: Cooperation versus confrontation.
CHRISTIE: That's not cooperation, hiding it.
BRAZILE: Cooperation is when you call in the National Archives and the National Archives I.G. calls the -- the DOJ. That's cooperation. Now, maybe -- maybe you wanted...
CHRISTIE: The documents are the American people's documents
BRAZILE: ... a press conference.
BRAZILE: You wanted a press conference...
CHRISTIE: They're the American people's documents, Donna. They deserve to know.
BRAZILE: From what I can see, and I can't see everything, but what I can see is that they -- they are cooperating with the Archives; they are cooperating with the Department of Justice. They're not putting up red flags and red fences and acting like Mar-a-Lago, where you're hiding everything. Eleven thousand documents, and Donald Trump had to -- was forced, with a subpoena. So I don't -- I think it's apples and oranges, the comparison.
CHRISTIE: No, who decided to...
CHRISTIE: Who decided -- who decided to hide this fact from the American people six days before the election? That's the answer I want to have, and that's what I want the special counsel to find out.
BRAZILE: If Joe Biden's staffer got a speeding ticket, the Republicans will call for an investigation...
CHRISTIE: This ain't no speeding ticket. These are classified documents.
KLEIN: The White -- the White House view on this is that the appropriate step was to tell the Department of Justice, that it would have been inappropriate because we're so close to an election for the Justice Department to go out with it.
But I think Chris is right, that they had an opportunity to get in front of all of this, either before the election or since then. As it has come out, you talk about drip, drip, to find every -- with every passing day, that there's another batch of documents adds to the suspicion around this.
And, you know, I think the expectation around town is special counsel, special counsel can go on for a while, this could be a rather discrete investigation depending on what these documents are. Maybe there’s an innocuous explanation. If there isn't, then we’re talking about something that’s going to consume a presidency.
KARL: But the contrast with how the Republicans are handling this, Rachael -- I mean, you know, Comer kind of dismissive of the idea they should investigate the Trump case. Mike Turner, the chairman of the Intelligence Committee, saying it was really a bookkeeping issue about where these documents were.
Now, suddenly, we're going to have a big investigation into Biden.
RACHAEL BADE, POLITICO PLAYBOOK CO-AUTHOR: Hypocrisy, what? In Washington, never.
I mean, yeah. I mean, like I said, Jim Jordan is going definitely have a heyday with this. So, I mean, we'll have to see.
Like I think the White House is sort of best bet on this is, you know, Americans -- I mean, as Nate Silver was showing, they're not interested in these investigations. So it's going to be a challenge for people like Jim Jordan to make a big scandal of this and make people interested as opposed to thinking about inflation and all these other things.
And, you know, we've seen a lot of times as he went through, it can actually help the president so if they overreach and it looks to, you know, hypocritical they turned a blind eye for so long and now, all of a sudden, they want to go after Biden. You know, if it looks overly political, it could actually, you know, hurt Republicans.
KARL: But before this week, the -- I want to say conventional wisdom, but a lot of -- a lot of people thought that the more likely first indictment of Donald Trump if he is to be indicted would be about the documents. Now the sense is, they can't do this in light of what happened this week.
I don't know if that is true, but I want to read you something "The Wall Street Journal" said in an editorial this week, saying: The Justice Department can clarify the facts and explain whether each president handled documents recklessly in ways that would have harmed national security. Barring some explosive revelation, however, Mr. Garland can then close both cases and let the voters have their say next year.
I mean, what you’re -- you were a prosecutor, what's your sense? Can you -- does this really fundamentally change whether or not Trump can be prosecuted?
CHRISTIE: It certainly changes the optics of it. And ultimately --
KARL: As a prosecutor, does optics drive that decision?
CHRISTIE: Optics, in part, though, when you're dealing with public folks, absolutely.
CHRISTIE: And their confidence in the government itself and how these decisions are made.
So I’ve said right from the beginning that this is going to be a very hard decision on Trump for Merrick Garland and only Merrick Garland can make that decision. The special counsel can make whatever recommendation he wants and have the facts to back up that recommendation.
But in the end, Merrick Garland has got to decide, is the juice worth the squeeze?
CHRISTIE: You know, is indicting Donald Trump on these document issues worth the division it causes in the country as a result?
Now, it may be that the conduct was horrible enough that it is. But that's for the attorney general to decide and that's why that job is a tough job.
KARL: All right. I want to turn to big issue facing Congress right now, facing the country right now, the debt ceiling. We have the Treasury Department warning we hit the debt ceiling in just a few days, possibly massive repercussions if the debt ceiling isn't raised by the summer.
Let me play what Kevin McCarthy had to say about this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. KEVIN MCCARTHY (R-CA), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: If you have a child and you give them a credit card and they spend the limit. So you increase the limit again and again and again? When does it end? We've got to change the way we are spending money wastefully in this country.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KARL: Now, Rachael, you can quibble with his analogy here because money that's already been spent, but, but the White House is saying they won't negotiate with Republicans. I mean, how real is a default here?
BADE: Yeah. I mean, we were talking about this in the green room and Chris said, you know, the reality is Republicans won the House, which you're absolutely right about that. So, he's going to have to do some sort of a negotiating.
The problem here in a situation like this is often, when you take something like this hostage, it sort of blows up in your face here politically in Washington. I mean, remember, Donald Trump shut the government down to try to get border wall money and he didn't get a penny for it. Schumer and Pelosi did the same thing with DACA and Dreamers. They didn't get that either.
And so, you know, using this as a leverage point is going to really hurt the economy and you're even hearing conservative economists saying, look, this is not something we should -- they shouldn't play this game of chicken.
And so, you know, will Biden have to negotiate? Probably at some point, but like are they going to get mandatory cuts? Absolutely not. Democrats are not going to go there.
KARL: You know, Obama faced two different debt ceiling battles with the Republican Congress. In the first one he gave in. There was an agreement.
The second one he said, we're not negotiating, you got to do it. And it worked.
It's not going to work with these guy, is it?
KLEIN: I think the first precedent becomes more relevant here.
KLEIN: There already is the groundwork in place to have that kind of investigation and a roughly analogous situation. And Democrats will point out rightly that Republicans raised the debt ceiling without any kind of hostage-taking --
KARL: Under Trump, yeah.
BADE: Three times.
KLEIN: Three different times.
That doesn't matter, though, for what it means in divided government. And as we know now, it's not just divided government. It’s divisions inside one piece of the government, when it comes to the House of Representatives.
Even if Kevin McCarthy were to say right now, OK, you’re right, I’ll give you –
KARL: His speakership would end the next day.
KLEIN: The next day.
KARL: So – so – so, Donna, what – I mean the White House is going to have to negotiate, going to have to do something.
BRAZILE: I wouldn't take that as my first overture. Look, we've raised the debt ceiling 78 times since the 19 – since I was born, OK. Forty-nine under Republicans, all right. And so let's be honest. I think the Republicans are going to first have to do battle within their caucus because we don't know what – what they really stand for other than being extremists and hard-liners. I think the – the president should let them play this out. Janet Yellen, the secretary of Treasury, said that she has some – some things in her tool box to work this through.
KARL: Till June, she says.
BRAZILE: And let's see what happens as this – this raucous caucus begins to figure out what their total messaging will be.
KARL: How real is the chance of default here?
CHRISTIE: Well, I want to use the great Barack Obama phrase, elections have consequences.
CHRISTIE: Elections have consequences. And Joe Biden has got to get real about being a leader here. And what leaders do is, when they see a potential crisis situation, they head it off. And he's going to have to negotiate with the Republicans.
KARL: So, he should bring them down like this week?
CHRISTIE: Well, I don't know about this week, you know, Jon. I think he's got to consult with Yellen and see what his runway is. And like any good negotiator, should use as much of the runway as he possibly can to be able to ultimately get to a deal.
But, look, this is the hard thing about being an executive in government. Like, guess what, when you lose an election, like he just did, that means that you now have to negotiate with people who don't agree with you. That's the way the founder set up the government. That's what – and it's the president's obligation to do that. His job to do it.
KARL: OK. So, we're almost out of time but, Chris, I've got to ask you about Santos. I mean I just have to.
KARL: So, I mean, is McCarthy playing this right?
CHRISTIE: I think he’s playing it the only way he can play it. Do you think that Kevin McCarthy really wants to go from a five-vote majority to a four-vote majority? The only thing worse than a five-vote majority is a four-vote majority.
KARL: So –
BRAZILE: It's a stain on the House of Representatives, Chris. And we should just call it out for what it is.
CHRISTIE: Well, you know, Donna --
BRAZILE: He is a stain on the institution.
CHRISTIE: Donna, I have no –
BRAZILE: This guy has told more lies. If he went to church today, I could not get in mass for a month, OK, that – that’s how many lies.
CHRISTIE: Yes. OK, Donna –
KARL: All right, we are – we are, unfortunately, out of time.
BRAZILE: That’s if he’s really Catholic.
KARL: We will be right back.
No doubt this conversation –
KARL: That's all for us today. Thank you for sharing part of your Sunday with us. And have a great day.