White House says Republicans have ‘zero credibility’ over Biden documents case – as it happened

Last modified: 09: 01 PM GMT+0

House Republicans are seeking to embarrass president over retention of papers from time as vice-president

Closing summary

Republicans are continuing to pressure Joe Biden over the classified documents found at his residence and former office, while Democrats are telling anyone who will listen that there are significant differences between the president’s case and that of Donald Trump. Meanwhile, the White House is demanding Kevin McCarthy release the details of agreements he made with conservative Republicans to win their support for his House speaker bid, arguing he has empowered extremists.

Here’s what else has happened today so far:

  • The White House attempted to explain why it didn’t announce the discovery of classified documents in Biden’s possession when it was first made in November.

  • Trump may be the big winner of the kerfuffle over Biden’s classified documents, especially if it undermines the investigation into the government secrets found at Mar-a-Lago.

  • Daniel Goldman, who served as the Democrats’ lead prosecutor of Trump during his 2019 impeachment, will play a major role in defending Biden from the GOP’s investigation campaign.

  • State Democratic parties are revolting against Biden’s plan to shake up the primary calendar for presidential nominations.

  • George Santos lied his way into office, but he will nonetheless serve on committees in the House, McCarthy said.

It’s going to be a tough couple of months for Alejandro Mayorkas, the homeland security secretary who has become the subject of near-daily criticism from Republicans for his handling of the surge of migrants at the country’s southern border.

The GOP has already vowed to call him repeatedly before the House, and will probably use the hearings as another cudgel against the Biden administration. Today, CNN reports that several top Republicans are ready to impeach the secretary – something that hasn’t happened to a cabinet secretary since 1876:

The House Judiciary Committee, which would have jurisdiction over an impeachment resolution, is prepared to move ahead with formal proceedings if there appears to be a consensus within the GOP conference, according to a GOP source directly familiar with the matter. The first impeachment resolution introduced by House Republicans already has picked up support, including from a member of the GOP leadership team.

A GOP source said the first Judiciary Committee hearing on the border could come later this month or early February.

One top chairman is already sounding supportive of the move, a sign of how the idea of impeaching President Joe Biden’s Cabinet secretary has moved from the fringes to the mainstream of the conference.

‘If anybody is a prime candidate for impeachment in this town, it’s Mayorkas,’ Rep. James Comer, chairman of the House Oversight Committee, told CNN.

But not all Republicans are on board, with several lawmakers worrying the public won’t see the need for the effort, which is sure to die in the Democratic-controlled Senate anyway. Here’s Republican Dusty Johnson’s thoughts on the matter, to CNN:

Clearly, the management of the Southern border has been incompetent … That is not the threshold in the Constitution for impeachment – it’s high crimes and misdemeanors. … I would want to think about the legal standard the Constitution has set out – and whether or not that’s been met.

Mario Diaz-Balart was of a similar mind:

Has he been totally dishonest to people? Yes. Has he failed in his job miserably? Yes ... Are those grounds for impeachment? I don’t know.

For all the bombast of Kevin McCarthy and the Republicans in the House, keep this fact in mind: their margin of control is only four seats. If the party wants to maintain its grip on the chamber for the next two years, the GOP simply cannot afford to have any of their lawmakers leave office.

That said, not all Republicans were happy with the deals that McCarthy cut to win the House speakership, and Puck reports that one lawmaker is particularly aggrieved over the Californian’s bargaining. That would be Vern Buchanan, who was passed over as chair of the tax-writing ways and means committee in favor of Jason Smith, an ally of the speaker.

With no committee to helm, Puck reports that the 71-year-old Buchanan could decide that now’s the time to retire. According to their story, he already told McCarthy what he thought of his decision to promote Smith rather than himself on the House floor:

Just how angry was he? Well, a source on the House floor during the vote told me that while McCarthy was gaveling down the votes, Buchanan walked up to McCarthy and said, ‘You fucked me, I know it was you, you whipped against me.’ He then proceeded to chew out McCarthy’s deputy chief of staff for floor operations, John Leganski. It was shocking to see such fury from Buchanan, who’s known for being mild mannered. Indeed, I heard that the tirade was so heated that the Speaker’s security detail stepped in with a light touch. (McCarthy’s spokesperson Matt Sparks disputed this detail saying, ‘at no point did anyone have to step in.’ A spokesperson for Buchanan declined to comment.)

The House hasn’t convened its committees yet, and thus Democrats and Republicans have taken their squabble over the investigations into Joe Biden and Donald Trump’s possession of classified material to the next logical venue: Twitter.

Jim Jordan, chair of the House judiciary committee, fired the latest salvo by reiterating his latest talking points about the investigation into Biden’s documents:

Why was President Trump’s home raided but not President Biden’s?

Why did the FBI take pictures of President Trump’s so-called classified documents but not President Biden’s?

Americans are tired of the double standard.

— Rep. Jim Jordan (@Jim_Jordan) January 17, 2023

To which Daniel Goldman, a Democrat who has lined up to be one of Biden’s chief defenders in the House and served as the lead counsel when Democrats impeached Trump in 2019, fired back:

1) because Trump obstructed justice by failing to comply with a subpoena. Biden volunteered all docs.

2) It’s standard procedure for the FBI to photograph everything they find during a search warrant.

In the future, feel free to reach out to me directly with your questions. https://t.co/05JVjbNCgI

— Daniel Goldman (@danielsgoldman) January 17, 2023

And before you “investigate the FBI” to obstruct their investigations into you and others, you might want to brush up on the FBI Manual of Investigative Operations and Guidelines (MIOG) so you don’t ask any more dumb questions.

— Daniel Goldman (@danielsgoldman) January 17, 2023

Arizona’s US senator Kyrsten Sinema, who recently left the Democratic party and declared herself an independent, drew political fire from critics Tuesday after defending her congressional chamber’s filibuster rule at Switzerland’s Davos World Economic Forum.

Among other remarks Tuesday, Sinema reportedly said the Senate filibuster was the “basis of the productivity for some incredible achievements” in Congress during Joe Biden’s first two years in the White House.

Both Democrats and Republicans have used the rule, which allows a relatively small group of senator to block action by the majority. Sinema outraged Democratic supporters before she left the party in December when she opposed filibuster reform to pave the way for the passage of voting rights legislation.

A group named “Replace Sinema Because Arizona Deserves Better” on Tuesday issued a statement arguing that the first-term senator preferred to be at Davos rubbing elbows with “billionaires and Wall Street execs” as well as others belonging to the global elite rather than “doing her job” in her state or on Capitol Hill.

The Arizona US senator Kyrsten Sinema arrives for a meeting on 3 August 2022.
The Arizona US senator Kyrsten Sinema arrives for a meeting on 3 August 2022. Photograph: J Scott Applewhite/AP

Meanwhile, one journalist snapped and tweeted out a photograph of her appearing to speak warmly with former Donald Trump White House spokesperson Anthony Scaramucci and ex-US House speaker Paul Ryan, both figures in the Republican party. The tweet referred to both Ryan and Scaramucci – Republican figures and Democratic opponents – as “old pals”.

Sinema, like centrist Democrat Joe Manchin (who was alongside her on stage at Davos), has often taken stands that undermined key Biden administration agenda items along with other left-leaning interests in the nation’s capital. Her defection from the party came shortly after Raphael Warnock’s victory over Republican challenger Herschel Walker in Georgia left the Democrats thinking they had a clear one-seat majority in the Senate.

There has been no indication that Sinema will caucus with Republicans, and she has said she doesn’t intend to. Either way, when the Senate was split 50-50 for two years beginning in 2021, Vice-President Kamala Harris broke ties in the Democrats’ favor.


Key event

The White House on Tuesday defended its public handling of revelations that classified documents were discovered at Joe Biden’s home and the president’s private office.

In a call with reporters, White House spokesperson Ian Sams said the decision not to immediately inform the public of the discovery of sensitive records in November was “consistent with safeguarding the integrity of the investigation”.

“We understand that there’s a tension between the need to be cooperative with an ongoing DOJ investigation, and rightful demands for additional public information,” Sams said. “And so we’re trying to strike that balance.”

He pointed reporters to a line in a statement released by the president’s personal attorney, Bob Bauer, after the discovery of additional documents, which stated that “regular ongoing public disclosures also pose the risk that, as further information develops, answers provided on this periodic basis may be incomplete.”

The explanation did little to satisfy Republicans – or reporters – who have repeatedly pressed the White House on why it was not transparent with the public when the documents were first found at the president’s private Washington office on 2 November. On 2o December, Biden’s personal lawyers found “a small number of potential records bearing classified markings” in the garage of the president’s Delaware home. Five more pages of materials were found at his home on Thursday.

‘Rampant hypocrisy’

After the first discovery two months ago, the White House said it “immediately”notified the National Archives and Records Administration, which then informed the US justice department.

Sams repeated that the White House was cooperating with the investigation and would continue to do so, drawing a sharp distinction with the way Biden’s presidential predecessor Donald Trump handled sensitive documents.

Trump refused to turn over troves of government documents that he took with him to his Mar-a-lago estate, even after being subpoenaed. Agents dispatched to his home to retrieve the materials, which Trump said he had the right to keep, and even argued without evidence that he had declassified.

Sams accused Republicans of fomenting “faking outrage about disclosure and transparency” and “rampant hypocrisy.”

‘Fake outrage’

He seized on comments by the newly installed Republican chair of the House Oversight Committee, James Comer, who has promised to aggressively investigate Biden’s handling of the documents. In a CNN interview this weekend, the Republican said: “At the end of the day, my biggest concern isn’t the classified documents, to be honest with you. My concern is there’s such a discrepancy between how President Trump was treated … versus Joe Biden.”

Asked last year about Trump’s handling of the documents, Comer, Sams noted, said it “didn’t amount to a hill of beans.”

“House Republicans lose credibility when they engage in fake outrage about an issue that they’re clearly pursuing only for partisan gain,” Sams said.

Sams said the White House was reviewing “a few letters” from the House Oversight committee related to Biden’s retention of classified documents and will make a “determination about our response in due course.”


Speaker of the House Kevin McCarthy has vowed to investigate both the classified documents found at Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago resort and at Joe Biden’s properties.

But his sympathies were clearly with Trump. The Republican leader argued that the former president had been treated more harshly than Biden, which “just does not seem fair.”

“This is why the American people get so upset and distrust their government when they see that the law is not applied equally,” he continued, accusing Biden of “hypocrisy” for not making the document discovery public before the November midterms.

Here’s C-SPAN with his full comments:

.@SpeakerMcCarthy (R-CA) on Biden and Trump documents probes: "It's not a fair process when you equalize this out, and that is what is wrong with the system." https://t.co/wY8OFxGe89 pic.twitter.com/FZ8vlO1aDZ

— CSPAN (@cspan) January 17, 2023

Republicans to seat George Santos on committees despite his lies

George Santos will be seated on committees in the House, even though the New York Republican admitted to lying about his qualifications for office, House speaker Kevin McCarthy said.

While he did not say on which committees the freshman lawmaker will serve, the comment underscores that Republican leadership is disinclined to take any major steps to exclude Santos, who is facing an array of investigations into his admitted dishonesty on the campaign trail.

Here are McCarthy’s comments, courtesy of C-Span:

.@SpeakerMcCarthy (R-CA) on Rep. George Santos (R-NY): "He'll get seated on committees." https://t.co/77obCJittk pic.twitter.com/Oo2JIBf9Cc

— CSPAN (@cspan) January 17, 2023


The day so far

Republicans are continuing to pressure Joe Biden over the classified documents found at his residence and former office, while Democrats are working to point out the significant differences between the president’s case and that of Donald Trump. Meanwhile, the White House is demanding Kevin McCarthy release the details of the agreements he made with conservative Republican to win their support for his House speaker bid.

Here’s what else has happened today so far:

  • Trump may be the big winner of the kerfuffle over Biden’s classified documents, as it undermines the investigation into the government secrets found at his Mar-a-Lago resort.

  • The House Democrats’ lead prosecutor of Trump during his first impeachment will play a major role in defending Biden from the GOP’s investigation campaign.

  • State Democratic parties are revolting against Biden’s plan to shake up the primary calendar for presidential nominations.

In Florida, the Guardian’s Richard Luscombe reports that US authorities are turning back more and more migrants amid a surge in arrivals:

Authorities in Florida have been turning back growing numbers of undocumented Cubans and Haitians arriving by sea in recent weeks as more attempt to seek haven in the US.

Local US residents on jet skis have been helping some of the migrants who attempted to swim ashore after making arduous, life-threateningand days-long journeys in makeshift vessels.

Joe Biden’s turn to the center over immigration comes as Florida’s Republican governor, Ron DeSantis, attempts to plot his own strategy for handling a sensitive situation in the south of his state, calling out national guard troops in a hardline approach.

To the GOP, the White House’s demand for answers from Kevin McCarthy is little more than a distraction from the unfolding investigation into Joe Biden’s classified documents.

Here’s Republican operative Matt Whitlock:

The communications wizards at the Biden White House right now: https://t.co/dT9swCaPVc pic.twitter.com/hTKj4qIntv

— Matt Whitlock (@mattdizwhitlock) January 17, 2023

White House calls on McCarthy to reveal 'secret, backroom deals' in speaker election

The Biden administration is calling on House Republicans to “come clean” about the deals Kevin McCarthy made to win election as House speaker, and accusing the party of embracing extreme policies.

“House Republicans have yet to come clean with the American people about the secret agreements Kevin McCarthy made with the most Maga members of their conference in order to end their leadership election debacle,” the White House said in a statement. “But as we learn more about what was hashed out behind closed doors, it has become clear that these hidden agreements could impact the lives of every American.”

Here’s more from White House spokesman Andrew Bates:

An unprecedented tax hike on the middle class and a national abortion ban are just a glimpse of the secret, backroom deals Speaker McCarthy made with extreme MAGA members to end this month’s chaotic elections and claim the gavel. The few agreements we know about would fundamentally reshape our economy in a devastating way for working families and criminalize women for making their own health care decisions. They’re also planning to plunge the economy into chaos and take millions of American jobs and 401k plans hostage unless they can cut Medicare. What other hidden bargains did Speaker McCarthy make behind closed doors with the most extreme, ultra MAGA members of the House Republican conference? The American people have a right to know – now – which is why we are calling on him to make every single one of them public immediately.


Police in New Mexico have arrested an unsuccessful Republican candidate for the state legislature on charges of arranging shooting attacks on Democratic politicians, the Associated Press reports:

A failed Republican state legislative candidate, who authorities say was angry over losing an election last November and made baseless claims that the vote was “rigged”, has been arrested in connection with a series of drive-by shootings targeting the homes of Democratic lawmakers in New Mexico’s largest city.

Albuquerque police chief Harold Medina held a news conference on Monday evening hours after Swat officers arrested Solomon Pena at his home.

Medina described Pena as the “mastermind” of what appears to be a politically motivated criminal conspiracy behind four shootings at, or near, the homes of two county commissioners and two state legislators. The shooting took place between December and early January.

Pena lost an election in November to incumbent state Representative, Miguel P Garcia, the longtime Democrat representing House District 14 in New Mexico. Garcia won by 48 percentage points, or roughly 3,600 votes.

Police said Pena had approached county and state lawmakers after his loss, claiming the contest had been rigged against him despite no evidence of widespread voter fraud in New Mexico in 2020 or 2022. The shootings began shortly after those conversations.


State legislatures nationwide are starting their legislative sessions, and the Guardian’s Kira Lerner reports Republican lawmakers have already floated new proposals to tighten down on voting:

Republican lawmakers across the country have already filed dozens of bills that would restrict voting, including proposals in Texas that would increase criminal penalties on people who violate voting laws and enact a new law enforcement unit to prosecute election crimes.

The 2023 legislative session comes in the wake of an election that was described by many voting rights advocates as a triumph of democracy, despite the restrictive voting laws that were in place in 20 states for the first time last year.

Before this session, at least 26 states enacted, expanded, or increased the severity of 120 election-related criminal penalties.

This year, Republican-controlled legislatures plan to continue pressing for laws that they say would help prevent widespread voter fraud, a problem that voting advocates say does not exist but nonetheless continues to be alleged by Donald Trump and his allies. Several pre-filed bills would further criminalize voters and election officials, a trend that has been occurring across the US in the past few years.

As chair of the House judiciary committee, Jim Jordan will be one of the Biden administration’s chief antagonists over the coming two years, and he appeared on Fox News to accuse the president of misleading the public over his possession of classified documents.

“I want to know why they kept this from us, and maybe the most important question that we’ve asked now for over a week is, why did they keep it from the American people when they knew about it before the election?” Jordan asks, after recounting how the documents were first discovered shortly before the November midterms.

Here’s the full interview:

📺 MUST WATCH: @Jim_Jordan blasts the White House’s hypocrisy on @JoeBiden’s classified documents scandal. https://t.co/Po14gcO2gi

— House Judiciary GOP (@JudiciaryGOP) January 17, 2023

Jordan last week announced his committee would launch an investigation into the documents.

Meanwhile, Joe Biden’s plan to shake up the Democratic presidential primaries is running into opposition from states that traditionally lead the nominating process, the Guardian’s Adam Gabbatt reports:

The Democratic party’s rationale for shaking up its presidential primary process was fairly straightforward: the current system is dominated by two predominantly white states who vote first, giving people of color little say in choosing the potential next president.

Facing fuming New Hampshire officials, however, and a Georgia Republican party happy to meddle in Democrats’ plans, the Joe Biden-led effort to make things more equitable now looks increasingly in peril.

New Hampshire, which has held the first presidential primary for decades, is proving itself particularly unyielding, raising the prospect of a rogue vote taking place in the state.

Daniel Goldman was the lead prosecutor when House Democrats impeached Donald Trump in 2019, and is now set to become one of Joe Biden’s main defenders in the chamber against the Republican investigation campaign.

Beyond putting pressure on the White House over the classified documents found in Biden’s possession, the GOP has also launched an inquiry into the business activities of the president’s son Hunter Biden, among other investigations.

Goldman spoke to Punchbowl News about how he plans to fight back against these inquiries.

“The American people do not care about Hunter Biden’s laptop … And what we’re going to see, as they have foreshadowed, is excessively overreaching partisan investigations that are solely designed to hurt President Biden’s reelection chances in 2024. They have determined the narrative and what they will now try to do is find an investigation that can match the narrative,” he said. “And what we Democrats can do is continue to point out the fact that they are doing nothing for the people while focusing on politicized investigations that have no merit.”

The House GOP may be relishing the Joe Biden’s possession of classified materials, but, as the Guardian’s Peter Stone reports, their ability to govern the chamber has become far more complicated thanks to a deal between Kevin McCarthy and the party’s most conservative lawmakers:

The deals struck between the new House speaker, Kevin McCarthy, and almost 20 members of the far-right House Freedom Caucus are already emboldening the most conservative figures in the Republican party with moves set to give the caucus considerable power in the months ahead.

In order to secure the speakership McCarthy was forced into a humiliating series of defeats before his deal-making and concessions finally offered enough to bring rebel members of the Freedom Caucus onboard.

Now in McCarthy’s first days as speaker, the roughly 40-member Freedom Caucus has already scored big. Several caucus members landed plum seats on rules and appropriations panels, had a role in creating a new panel to launch a far-flung investigation of the Department of Justice (DoJ) and other agencies conservatives argue are “weaponized” against them, and stand to benefit from the gutting of House ethics oversight.

Democrats are playing defense for Joe Biden as he faces his own classified documents case, with several lawmakers acknowledging that the president made a mistake, but arguing he’s acting very differently from Donald Trump.

Senator Debbie Stabenow of Michigan threaded that needle in an appearance on NBC News over the weekend. “It’s certainly embarrassing,” she said of documents dating to Biden’s time as vice-president that were found at his Delaware residence and a former office in Washington DC.

But she likened his case and Trump’s to two car accidents, one that was a mistake, the other intentional. “This is very much about how it’s being handled,” she said, arguing the Biden has been transparent and forthright with federal authorities ever since his aides first found the material. “It’s totally different right now, both serious in terms of having classified documents, but the president is doing the right thing.”

Here’s the full interview:

The discovery of classified documents in Joe Biden’s possession is a boon not only for House Republicans, but also for Donald Trump, who is being investigated by the justice department over the government secrets found at Mar-a-Lago. Even though there are substantial differences in the two cases, the Guardian’s David Smith reports that might not matter to the American public:

The discovery of government secrets at two locations associated with Joe Biden appears to have produced one big political winner: Donald Trump.

The White House was in rare crisis mode last week as it emerged that lawyers for Biden had found classified material at his thinktank in Washington DC and home in Delaware. At an unusually contentious press briefing, one TV correspondent dubbed the affair “garage-gate”.

The justice department appointed a special counsel to investigate Biden’s handling of classified documents from his time as vice-president. It was a rare setback for an administration that promised to be transparent and scandal-free. It also complicated an investigation into Trump over an ostensibly similar matter.

Squabbling begins between Biden, GOP over classified documents

Good morning, US politics blog readers. Republicans were always going to use their majority in the House of Representatives to put the White House on the spot, but last week’s news that classified documents were found in Joe Biden’s possession has given them even more investigative fodder than they expected. Over the weekend, the Biden administration for the first time hit back at House Republicans’ demands regarding the material, saying they have “no credibility” and are “politicizing this issue”. The GOP’s goal is ultimately to embarrass Biden, but the president also faces a legal threat in the form of special counsel Robert Hur, who was appointed by the attorney general to handle the legal investigation into the classified materials. Hur will no doubt do his work quietly, but the Republicans will not. Expect to hear more about this issue from them today.

Here’s what else can expect:

  • Biden is welcoming guests to the White House, including Dutch prime minister Mark Rutte at 11:15 am eastern time, and NBA champions the Golden State Warriors at 2:45 pm.

  • Bernie Sanders will deliver a speech on the state of the American working class at 7 pm. The progressive mainstay is also the chair of the Senate committee on health, education and labor.

  • British foreign secretary James Cleverly is visiting Washington. He’ll speak at the Center for Strategic and International Studies at 9:15 am, then hold a press conference with US secretary of state Antony Blinken at 3:30 pm, where Ukraine and Iran will likely be on the agenda.


Chris Stein in Washington

The GuardianTramp

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