Return to Transcripts main page

Anderson Cooper 360 Degrees

FBI Executes Search Warrant At Trump's Mar-a-Lago Resort; Sources: FBI Search At Trump's Mar-a-Lago Resort Related To Handling Of Classified Documents; Gangs Rule In Violent Takeover; UNICEF Warns Thousands Of Children At Risk Of Malnutrition; DOJ Indictment: Russian National Conspired To Use Americans As "Illegal Agents Of The Russian Government". Aired 8-9p ET

Aired August 08, 2022 - 20:00   ET


ED LAVANDERA, CNN SENIOR NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: But so far at this moment, we don't know anything about the motive.

ERIN BURNETT, CNN HOST: Ed Lavandera, thank you very much.

And thanks so much to all of you for joining us this hour.

AC 360 starts right now.


JOHN BERMAN, CNN HOST: Even as the details are preliminary, the implications are immense: A Federal search warrant issued and executed at the home of the former President of the United States.

FBI agents on a Judge's authority by definition on a Judge's authority searching Mar-a-Lago.

John Berman here, in for Anderson.

The news broke shortly before airtime. We have assembled a team of correspondents and experts to tell you what is known, what it could mean and where it may lead.

CNN's Kaitlan Collins starts us off. Kaitlan, what are you learning about this FBI operation?

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: John, it's a remarkable development with the former President himself confirming that the FBI has executed a search warrant on his home in Palm Beach, Florida today. He said in his statement that his beautiful home, Mara Lago in Palm Beach, of course, which became his primary residence after he left the White House is "Currently under siege, raided and occupied by a large number of FBI agents."

He says, "After working and cooperating with the relevant government agencies, this unannounced raid on my home was not necessary or appropriate." John, he adds: "They even broke into my safe," and he compared this to Watergate -- reverse Watergate -- and maintains it's an effort to stop him from running for President in 2024. Of course, we should note, we have now learned that this search

warrant had to do with that investigation into how the former President handled potentially classified information, certainly sensitive information when he left the White House.

That is something we knew that already happened, that he had taken about 15 boxes with him to Mar-a-Lago when he left the White House in January of 2021. They delayed returning those boxes back to the National Archives, which wanted them and we knew this had been under investigation because there had actually been a subpoena issued to the National Archives itself for what was included in these documents.

They wanted to know what was in them, who boxed them up, who personally took them to Mar-a-Lago. So those have been major questions surrounding this.

But this is a dramatic escalation for these FBI agents to go and execute a search warrant at the former President's primary residence.

I will note, John that tonight the Justice Department is not commenting when CNN has reached out for this. The Biden White House was also unaware that this was being conducted and so they found out when the rest of us did, which is when the former President confirmed this.

I also want to note, Trump was not present at Mar-a-Lago when this happened. He is at Trump Tower in New York. He was not there in Bedminster, or excuse me in Palm Beach where he often does not spend his summers.

Clearly, though the former President is very unhappy about this, and is saying he believes it was politically motivated as we are waiting to learn more about what exactly was behind this.

BERMAN: All right, Kaitlin Collins, stay with us for a second. As you noted, the former President not at Mar-a-Lago when this happened. He was in New York.

And a quick reminder before bringing in our next guest, this comes just a couple of weeks after Attorney General Merrick Garland made it clear to Lester Holt, that no one is above the law, not even a former President, not even if he happens to be running for office.

Joining us now, CNN senior law enforcement analyst and former FBI Deputy Director, Andrew McCabe; also Norm Eisen, he is a CNN legal analyst, and a former counsel to House Democrats in the first impeachment.

Andy, I do want to start with you. Just the basics here. For the FBI to get a warrant and go search Mar-a-Lago, what needs to happen?

ANDREW MCCABE, CNN SENIOR LAW ENFORCEMENT ANALYST: The world needs to move. I mean, I can't overemphasize to you, John, what a -- how big of a deal this would have been within the Department of Justice and the FBI. This is not a couple of agents showing up at some Judge's door in the

middle of the night to get an emergency warrant. This is something that would have been planned out and reevaluated and legally examined from every possible angle by the entirety of the leadership structure of both organizations.

So let's remember that to get a search warrant in any case, whether it is you or I or the former President, you have to go before a Federal Judge and convince that Judge that there is probable cause to believe both that a Federal crime has been committed, and that evidence of that crime is contained within the space you have described in your warrant request.

So we have in this situation, a Federal Judge who made that determination, giving the agents authority to enter the premises and search every part of the premises that might contain the items that are specifically described in the warrant.

So if it's for instance, documents, classified documents, things like that, and we don't know but that's just a guess, then you can see why they would have the authority to search every space, every drawer, every safe, every closet, every desk that might contain those documents.


BERMAN: All right, Norm Eisen, the reporting from Kaitlan here that this raid, this FBI operation is in relation to the handling of presidential documents, including possibly classified documents. Why might that merit an FBI operation like this at the home of a former President?

NORM EISEN, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Well, John, in America, nobody is above the law and the Federal laws are very clear that anybody who removes, mutilates, or destroys records, it is 18 USC 2071, is subject to penalties, including criminal penalties.

There even more strict rules for classified documents being removed from official premises because of the damage that can do to national security.

When I was the White House Ethics czar, this was one of the first things that we trained everybody in the White House and the administration on starting with the President and the Vice President, because the rules are the same for everyone.

Very serious for a search warrant to be served on a former President, it doesn't get any more ominous than that.

BERMAN: So presumably, Andy, if I can go to you again here, the Secret Service at Mar-a-Lago, how would that work when the FBI shows up? Or would they be there given that the former President wasn't there at the time.

MCCABE: There is probably some contingent of Secret Service that are there to protect, you know, to kind of maintain consistency in terms of their security presence at Mar-a-Lago, though it's not the full detail that would be present with the former President, wherever he is, in New York, or wherever that might be.

In this case, we know that the White House had no former knowledge that this search was going to take place. It is likely that those agents reached out to their counterparts who provide security at that location at the absolute last minute possible.

I'm sure everything they could possibly do to keep this quiet, to keep it confidential before it happened, I'm sure they went to every length they possibly could.

So you can imagine some very tense phone calls being made to whether it is local police or Secret Service, whoever is protecting the property, in essence, immediately before agents showed up and executed that warrant.

BERMAN: And Kaitlan, just remind us again the issues and the questions surrounding these documents -- 15 boxes of potentially what? And who wants them in why?

COLLINS: We were told really, it's vague still what exactly were in these boxes. That obviously is a big question that investigators have as well as how this was handled.

We were told at the time it was documents, mementos, maybe some gifts as well included in this and I should note, the charges are really brought in a mishandling of classified information situation, but of course we don't -- we just don't fully know the story here of what exactly is going to happen.

This is a dramatic escalation, we do know that. And we also know from people who worked in the Trump White House and in the Trump West Wing that the former President did have a penchant for not handling documents in the way that they believe they were supposed to be handled.

We just heard from Stephanie Grisham, who was former President Trump's press secretary for a time who said that she witnessed it herself, him mishandling these documents, which they have a very certain way that they store them, they put them in a certain -- you don't just throw them in the trash, these documents when you work inside the White House and that pertains to any documents inside the White House because of this thing known as the Presidential Records Act, because it is a Federal law about how you deal with these.

And Stephanie Grisham said she witnessed Trump sometimes take them and throw them away, rip them up. Of course, Maggie Haberman from "The New York Times" has reported several times where there are documents clearly with the former President's handwriting that had been ripped up and then attempted to be flushed down a toilet.

And Stephanie Grisham also added that she sometimes watched Trump put some of them in his pocket. And so, those have been the big questions surrounding this and I don't think to anyone who worked in the West Wing, would be surprised by this the way he handled it. I think a lot of people in the Trump -- in the foreign President's

orbit are shocked by the fact that this raid as the former President is referring to it, a search warrant that was executed has happened because it does seem to be a dramatic escalation in this.

I will note in Trump's statement, he basically is implying that because he had spoken to the government about this or his attorneys, I should say, that he believes that this raid was conducted unfairly, that the search warrant was conducted unfairly because he says, "After working and cooperating with the relevant government agencies, this unannounced raid on my home was not necessary or appropriate."

We should note that they were had about 15 boxes of documents and we were told that they had delayed in actually sending them back to the National Archives until it became clear that action could be taken and then those documents were sent back.

So still a lot of details that we don't know, but this is quite remarkable -- John.


BERMAN: So Norm, what Kaitlan just said there according to Trump, there had been discussions between his people and investigators about the archives. What step or what -- why would have been crossed in your mind, and again, there's so much we don't know and people need to know that, we're going to be perfectly transparent about what we don't know here, but in your mind, what line would have needed to be crossed for the FBI for perhaps Merrick Garland, if he was going to approve this, for this raid to have taken place?

EISEN: Well, you always have to have the probable cause to believe that a crime or crimes were committed. You always have to have judicial approval, but when it comes to a former President, that hurdle is even higher, John.

So I think there would need to be a showing of probable cause that not only were documents removed, but that had happened repeatedly; that not only were they removed, but they may have been mutilated or destroyed. We all saw those pictures of documents in the toilet. That issue of classified documents, there had been reporting that some of those 15 boxes included classified materials. When the materials were returned, was there information in there that jeopardized our national security?

And then finally, it's important to remember, although this search warrant, according to what we know now seems to be focused on these presidential documents that were removed, any evidence of crime that is found during a properly executed search warrant can be utilized by the government.

So if there's evidence there of the allegations about obstruction of Congress, the conspiracy to defraud the United States, the false elector schemes. We know there have been raids on the lawyers -- Jeffrey Clark, John Eastman -- if there is any evidence of that that was gathered by the government today, DOJ can use that as well. BERMAN: Andy, I have to ask you, because you've been in the FBI

during these politically charged and perilous moments. So, when you saw this today, I mean, how did it strike you? This, I can't think of a precedent for this where the FBI raids or searches the home of a former President. What struck you, Andy, when you saw this?

MCCABE: You know, John, it's both amazement along the lines of what you just described, like, has this ever happened in the history of our Republic that a former President -- that a Federal Judge apparently made a decision that there might be evidence of a crime in the residence of a former President? I mean, it is just astounding.

But on the other hand, as with so many things with the former administration, it is also not that surprising. The former President currently finds himself in the crosshairs of so many varied and different criminal investigations that honestly, the first thing that I thought of when I heard notice of the search warrant was which investigation might this be a part of? There are so many options here. It's literally head spinning.

But I think the one that we've zeroed in on and that people from the scene have allegedly reported makes the most sense and to follow on Norm's comments from before, this is not the kind of thing that would happen in the event that they -- you know, the folks at the National Archives and the FBI just thought, well, maybe some classified documents by accident ended up in the President's personal boxes that went to Mar-a-Lago.

The FBI would not have taken a step as drastic and serious as this unless they had good information to indicate that this was the result of some knowing, willful, intentional act of removing classified documents or sensitive documents, documents in violation of some Federal law.

So I think what we're going to see is a very serious allegation when it's ultimately uncovered.

BERMAN: Andrew McCabe, Norm Eisen -- thank you both for your help and your experience here. Kaitlan, we will let you get back to reporting. Please, if you learn anything more, let us know right away because these developments are coming in fast and furious.

Next, more on the political repercussions especially with the former President on the campaign trail for others and dropping more hints about another run in 2024.



BERMAN: We are talking tonight about the FBI's search this morning at Mar-a-Lago, what agents were looking for, and what they took. CNN's Sara Murray has been working our sources over the last hour and joins us now.

Sara, what have you learned? SARA MURRAY, CNN POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: That's right. You know, we

have been told by a number of sources that what this search had to do with was the Presidential Records had to do with these documents that the former President took with him to Mar-a-Lago and that allegedly included classified documents.

Now, we're also hearing more from my colleague, Evan Perez that part of this had to do with examining where the documents were kept and trying to determine if anything was left behind.

You know, we heard Kaitlan Collins explaining earlier, we've previously reported that Trump took 15 boxes of documents with him and the National Archives arranged for much of those to be transported back.

But the fact that this search continued is an indication obviously there was more they were looking for.

BERMAN: All right, Sara Murray, thank you very much for that.

For more on the implications, especially in the middle of a primary season, we are joined now by CNN chief political analyst, Dana Bash; also CNN senior political commentator, and former Obama senior adviser, David Axelrod; and CNN political commentator and former Special Assistant to President George W. Bush, Scott Jennings.

Dana, you've got some new reporting. Obviously, we learned about this from a statement from the former President himself. What have you heard?

DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: That that was intentional. I mean, it may seem obvious, but it is important to point out why the former President did what he did, the lengthy statement.


BASH: This could have been done and we could have gone for weeks and months without knowing about this search warrant and the fact that the FBI went to Mar-a-Lago. The former President wanted people to know. He wanted to stir the political pot because what is happening right now in Trump World and among those who were kind of wanting to see, particularly on the Republican Party, even those who may have been drifting away from the former President, what's happening is they are rallying around him.

Now, I don't know how long that's going to last and if he is in real legal Jeopardy, which is a big if, because it seems like this is narrowly focused on the National Archives and what they wanted those 15 boxes, but what matters for him, in his mind, I'm told by people close to him is having a political bump out of this unprecedented legal matter.

BERMAN: You know, David Axelrod, to you on this, you know, for the FBI, for the Department of Justice, what are the political possible perils -- excuse the alliteration? DAVID AXELROD, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Huge. I mean, this

has never been done before in the history of this country, and so the idea that they would raid the home of a former President and search the home of a former President is obviously as big a stakes as you can have.

And you know, Merrick Garland is a notoriously cautious person. He would not have authorized it unless they believe they had significant evidence that a crime has had been committed and a Federal Judge wouldn't have signed off on it. They were aware of the stakes as well.

John, I just want to say one word about what Dana just said. I was just by coincidence speaking to a former Trump administration official this morning, and I asked, would he be more or less likely to run if he were -- if these prosecutions moved forward? And he said without hesitation, "More." Because he wants to make himself the victim and we saw this when he lost the election. We saw this around January 6, and you can see it in his statement today.

This is not just an electoral strategy. This is a legal strategy on his part. He wants to rouse the American people. Perhaps he feels he can prolong this legal entanglement until he is President the United States again.

BERMAN: So Scott, a Judge had to sign off on this. The FBI believed it to be necessary. Still, what is the view you are hearing tonight, from those in the Republican Party?

SCOTT JENNINGS, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR Gosh, I've talked to a few people and I've been watching some reaction, John, and most people have reacted this way and that is if you don't convict Donald Trump now, you have martyred Donald Trump, you have basically guaranteed him the nomination for the Republican Party in 2024. And you're going to give him a big weapon to go after Joe Biden or, you know, whoever Democrat emerges in 2024, if they don't convict him.

I mean, they've raided the guy's house. I mean, one person told me there is no going back now. I mean, this is total -- you know, there is no reconciliation here when you raid somebody's house.

And so because of the political implications of that, I'm curious to know about what did the White House know? There was some reporting from Jonathan Martin from "The New York Times," not CNN, but "New York Times" saying senior political figures in the Biden White House didn't know, they were blindsided by the news on Twitter.

I want to know if Joe Biden knew, and frankly, given the implications of this, a former President and probable candidate, I think the current President ought to say whether he knew about it in advance from the Attorney General, because I think a lot of Americans, a lot of Republicans are going to want to know the answer to that question tonight.

BERMAN: Dana, we do have the answer to that.

BASH: Yes. Our understanding is know that the White House didn't know and Kaitlan Collins was just on earlier in this hour saying that she heard as well as I that the Biden White House outside of -- the actual White House, not in the Justice Department, they didn't know. They were blindsided.

They found out when we all did, when the former President put out that press release. There will be more reporting to be done, but especially given what David was just saying, and given how buttoned up and cautious Merrick Garland is, especially with something as sticky as this, it is hard to imagine that they gave the White House a heads up.

BERMAN: David, you know, again, but Scott just said that it's possible that they have murdered Donald Trump there. That language is so interesting, and Merrick Garland, at least from outward views has been so careful up until this point. I mean, wouldn't you think all of this would be taken into account?

AXELROD: Oh, a hundred percent. I mean, I think that Garland understands -- and he has crossed a Rubicon here. If you are going to prosecute a former President of the United States, you'd better be pretty darn sure that you have an open and shut case, and I'm sure that a lot of discussion among prosecutors took place.


AXELROD: I do agree, I would be stunned if anybody in the White House, including the President knew. I mean, think of all of the criticism that the President laid against Donald Trump for his intervening and trying to shape what the Department of Justice did.

I mean, that was really an essential part of his campaign. The whole -- the ethics of a President meddling in these kinds of investigations. So, I would be stunned but to your original question, absolutely.

They must feel very sure that they have something here. I don't think this is a fishing expedition. I think they know what fish they're looking for here.

BASH: If I may, John, I think we have to be --

JENNINGS: John, one more --

BERMAN: Hang on one second, Scott. Dana and then I'll come to you.

BASH: And this is related to what Scott said, I don't know if he did it intentionally or not, but we have to be careful not to adopt the term "raid." That was an intentional use of a word, and we haven't done it all night. But just -- and I know, Scott, you were saying that the Republicans are saying that this is a raid, and that he'll be martyred.

But the use of the word "raid" was clearly very intentional, as was the rest of the language in the former President's press release in order to do just what you were describing, to make himself a martyr to get on -- to put the lexicon out there and the terminology, the branding, which he is a master at before other people could. BERMAN: A Judge approved search -- a Judge approved search operation

with a warrant, and Scott, and I'll let you jump in here and answer whatever you wanted to say before, but let me just throw this out there also, I know Republicans, many of them are weighing in now and talking about this. Oh, if this is just about the archives, why did they do this?

But you'll remember, there were a lot of, you know, "lock her up" chants about Hillary e-mails -- Hillary Clinton's e-mails when the issue was, you know, classified information and records and the like.

So Republicans have had an issue with this type of thing before.

JENNINGS: Yes, and obviously, you know, they'll have to fight that out and deal with their own past statements. What I was going to say, I think the 2024 ramifications here that I'm also looking for tonight are what do the other possible presidential candidates say?

I already saw Kristi Noem -- Governor Noem come out and slam what the FBI did here. I suspect more people will do that. And so, it will be interesting to me to see who in the Republican Party adopts an aggressive posture, attacking what has happened here, who lays off, who lets it settle for a day. I'll be sort of watching the positioning of that because obviously, you know, there are several people circling Trump here about 2024.

And look, I mean, if he gets convicted of a crime here, I mean, he may not be able to run in 2024. And so how these people that are struggling and now, you know, treat that is going to be obviously part of the Republican primary to come.

AXELROD: But we should point out, John, that a lot of Americans believe today that the last election was stolen, that the last election was rigged based on no evidence, based on the insistence of the President of the United States or the then President of the United States.

There are going to be a fair number of people, particularly in the Republican Party, who believe that he is a victim here, that he is being -- and he used the language of the kind of extreme right, you know, that's why Dana's point about raid is very important.

He used a language that you know, implied an overweening government, the FBI. And so, this is the stuff you hear from the extreme right. So he has -- he knows what he's doing. He knows what he is doing here.

BERMAN: And right now, he is waging a one-sided PR campaign. He is running a political campaign in regards to this Judge-approved search of Mar-a-Lago, Dana, it's not typical for the Department of Justice or the FBI to comment at length about what they were searching for or what they were doing. How long will they be able to maintain their silence, do you think?

BASH: We don't know the answer to that because what has happened is unprecedented. The person they're dealing with and the fact that he is so aggressively trying to own the narrative, and what the two hours since this has happened, not even has been successful, and the way that that is going to change is by hearing from the people who thought it was appropriate, and it's really unclear.

I mean, David, you've worked in a White House when you had to deal with that, and maybe he knows better than I, but it's really unclear. Maybe this is such an unprecedented situation where they will feel the need to explain and why they thought they had it buttoned up enough that they went to the Judge to get the search warrant.

AXELROD: You know knowing Garland, my guess is that they are going to play this out in the four corners of a Courthouse. I don't think they are going to play it out on television. They are going to play it out in the Courthouse and do everything by the book.


You know, there are a lot of particularly Democrats who are complaining that oh, he's moving too slowly on these matters. He should be more aggressive on these matters. He took his time for a reason. He's going to do everything by the book, and the book says you don't talk about these things until you have to in a courtroom.

BERMAN: I got to say it raises a whole lot of questions. We have a whole lot of questions going forward.

Dana Bash, David Axelrod, Scott Jennings, really appreciate you coming in and working through this with us tonight.

Coming up, a former secret service agent joins us for his take on what happened.


BERMAN: All right, the breaking news tonight. The FBI executes a search warrant at the former president's Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida. We touched on this earlier how delicate it must have been for the FBI and Justice Department to plan and organize a search of a former president's home which is protected by other Federal officers namely the Secret Service and do it all in as much secrecy as possible to protect all concern while safeguarding the investigation as well.

For perspective, we're joined now by CNN law enforcement analyst and former Secret Service agent Jonathan Wackrow.

You know, Jon, I was talking to Andy McCabe earlier, and he said there's probably a small contingent of Secret Service still at Mar-a- Lago even when the former president isn't there. But still, this is so unprecedented. How do you imagine it all went down?

JONATHAN WACKROW, CNN LAW ENFORCEMENT ANALYST: Well, good evening, John. First of all, let me just make sure I make this point to everybody. We keep referring to this as you know, the Mar-a-Lago resort. This is actually the primary residence of the former president of the United States, just like Chappaqua is for the Clintons, just like the Crawford branches for former President Bush. This is the private residence of the President. So, it is protected by the U.S. Secret Service, the detail does maintain 24/7 presence at that property, and the reason being is to protect it and make sure that the residents remain safe and secure so that the former president can return at any time. They're duty bound to do that.


Now what we-re -- the reporting today is really unprecedented. I've never heard of any type of action by a law enforcement entity coming to a former president's residence to execute a search warrant. But what this was not was a raid. And I think that the segment just prior to this, that outlined, you know, the discussion around a raid that that phraseology that was used by the former president, that's absolutely not what this was. This was a very well planned, calculated search, execution of a search and seizure warrant that required federal agents to go before a federal magistrate and swear out under oath that there were items of evidentiary value located at that, at that location.

Upon that, I am sure, and I hope this to be true. That coordination between that federal agency, the Department of Justice, the FBI, and the Secret Service was made to make sure that this process was as seamless as possible.

BERMAN: Coordination when though? Do you think there was a phone call beforehand? Or do you think the coordination happened when the FBI showed up with the signed warrant?

WACKROW: Listen, I would hope that at the highest levels, information was given between the Federal Bureau of Investigations and the Secret Service, director-to-director, again, what we want to do is make sure that we deconflict any issues. The Secret Service has a mission, they have a job, but they're also federal agents, and they're sworn to uphold the Constitution. So they're not going to stand in the way of the FBI or delay any part of their duty to execute that search and seizure warrant. But again, things go much better when there's coordination in advance.

Now, how far in advance, John, that remains to be, you know, seen. You know, hopefully, we'll hear a little bit more about this. But I also want to put one note on this as well, when we have a search and seizure warrant, they describe in the first page, the front page of that warrant, and in the affidavit. They describe specifically what they're looking for. There's a second part of that warrant, it's called the return those agents that participated in that search -- of that property have to clearly list out exactly what was seized during that search process. And they have to return that and certify that back to the court. So we'll know exactly over time what exactly was taken from Mar-a-Lago again, the president's home,

BERMAN: Eventually, we'll know it could take some time --

WACKROW: Potentially.

BERMAN: And Jon, just to throw this out there, the Secret Service, obviously, they are present there, and they may see things over time. Do they have any obligation to report if they saw anything odd in terms of document retention, in terms of the record of the boxes that may be under question here?

WACKROW: Listen, you know, if they see, you know, criminal activity afoot, if they know that criminal activity is taking place, yes, they are duty bound, they are sworn law enforcement officers for the U.S. federal government, and they will do their duty to uphold the oath that they took. Now, they're not going to investigate if they see boxes, it's not for them to go look through and rummage and make a determination whether that was something that was taken from the White House, if that was an item of evidentiary value. They're not investigating crimes against the President unless they were asked to join an investigation. And right now, there's nothing that you know, is leading us to believe that.

However, if there is, you know, clear evidence that you know, criminal activity is taking place, of course, they would, you know, raise that in coordinate with other authorities to make sure that that criminal activity ceases immediately.

BERMAN: All right, really unique perspective. Jonathan Wackrow, thank you so much for being with us tonight.

Coming up, we are going to check in with Randi Kaye outside Mar-a- Lago. Also tonight, CNN's Nick Paton Walsh takes us into the gang ridden violence of Haiti, a disturbing look at a country that has become unlivable as democracy disintegrates.



BERMAN: Even by the standards of Haiti's violent history, the current moment there is desperate and bloody. Gangs once again ruling the streets leading to unimaginable death tolls including of children, and that violence has also once again led to images such as this. Hundreds of Haitians desperately trying to escape into the United States taken into custody over the weekend.

Last week, UNICEF said thousands of children are at risk of malnutrition. And over the weekend, the Washington Post summarized the crisis there in an editorial quote, Haiti has no functional government, no democracy, no peace, no hope.

Despite the obvious dangerous, CNN's Nick Paton Walsh journey there and reports on the hell that has been unleashed.


NICK PATON WALSH, CNN INTERNATIONAL SECURITY EDITOR (voice-over): The descent into the abyss in Haiti is fastest here. But one certainty is when the police SWAT team we are with cross into gang territory. They will take fire. It is now a prolonged war for control of the capital.

(FOREIGN LANGUAGE) WALSH (voice-over): I think the police need to prove they can be here. The gangs, the police cannot. And its ordinary citizens who are caught in between, here a passenger on a civilian bus that was hit in the street.


WALSH (voice-over): And the days before, police said they rescued six hostages in this same area and killed a leader of the 400 Mawozo gang. The police struggle to hold ground so the gangs whose currency is kidnapping and drugs are gaining far too much.


WALSH (voice-over): Especially right here. Rounds hit the armored vehicle. They think they see with a gunman armed.


WALSH (voice-over): They run but not like it's their first time on the fire perhaps even this day.


WALSH (voice-over): They slide back, perhaps the gang have fled down the alley.

(on-camera): It's this kind of intense violence that so many sites when they talk about (INAUDIUBLE) the spiral towards collapse.

(voice-over): The firepower they bring doesn't in itself change who's in control. Gangs able to block main roads at will with trucks.


WALSH (voice-over): It requires a major operation to clear them. Gangs now often match or outgun the police. They have a bulldozer to demolishing rivals houses in one area Cite Soleil.


WALSH (voice-over): Locals fled at night during 10 days of clashes in July that left over 470 dead, injured or missing said the UN. As the G9 gang expanded control, burning and demolishing. Those who survived flood the nights here were a mix of flies and rain stopped them from even sleeping.


WALSH (voice-over): To see where acute desperation can lead, we traveled to where what's left of the government rarely treads. Don't be fooled by the beauty. There is no paradise here, only hunger, heat, trash, and the business of leaving. Traffickers boats out to the Bahamas, Cuba, Florida if you're lucky. And while these places are sending Haitians back in record numbers, the U.S. Coast Guard is also stopping four times as many this year as last. These exits are what Johnny (ph) arranges.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translation): If we die, we die. If we make it, we make it. I'm the one who buys the boat. It can cost up to $15,000. We're hoping to get 250 people for the next trip because the boat is big.

WALSH (voice-over): Not everyone made it on their last trip three months ago.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translation): The boat had an engine problem. While they got inside the boat, we call for help. But they took too long. Twenty nine people died on that trip.

WALSH (voice-over): These aren't people who usually share their trade secrets. But maybe now they're relaxed as the authorities are busy. The boat is aging, scraps of net plugging holes, engines not fixed yet. But this is where Johnny (ph) hopes 250 people will huddle. Maybe as early as next week.

(on-camera): I mean not really something you want to be in on dry land, let alone out the sea for days.

(voice-over): One man tells us why he saved for a year to get into here.


WALSH (voice-over): I graduated and work as a teacher he says, but it did not work out. Now I am driving a motorcycle every day and the sun and the dust. How will I be able to take care of my family when I have one? I'm not afraid, I will be eaten by a shark or make it to America.

A hope so remote it could only exist here where they say the choice is between fire and water, even if all day every day already feels like drowning.


BERMAN: Such pictures, such despair. And Nick Paton Walsh joins us now. Nick, is there any police control on the streets of Port-au- Prince? How close does the city feel to the edge?

WALSH: Yes, look, I mean, it's clear the police have reached into some parts of this. The extent of that is disputed. Just let me explain where I'm standing, what's around us. The port over there key to aid coming into trade coming into the entire country that is controlled mostly by the gang who run the road outside of it the main road to the south of the country where an earthquake struck last year. Well, that is also controlled by the gang there. The Cite Soliel where there was intense fighting, as you saw in July, greater gang control to the north and to the east as well. One estimate hotly contested and denied by the police chief I spoke to from a security source, we spoke to suggested that perhaps three quarters of Port-au-Prince might be controlled or influenced by the gangs.

But there's a swarm of crises here coming together, John, the political crisis since the assassination over a year ago of President Moise, there's an emergency interim government its support is crumbling. And frankly, the idea of elections in this kind of violence absurd, unless reporting 30% inflation enormous queues for gasoline here every day, fears about possible food or cash shortages, people simply going week by week wondering when society here might tip over the edge. And of course, that gang violence you hear the occasional cracker from the balcony, even where I'm standing here over the past day or so.

It's clear that gangs are better equipped at times than the police who are frankly, begging out for better armor. You saw in that report, the armored vehicle we were in Haitian police have one of those in the whole country. The police are asking for better equipment because the gangs are really well-equipped. And they seem pretty organized with a plan now which is making people in this the capital city where they frankly as you mentioned earlier, isn't much of a government to speak of, very nervous week by week as to when things will substantially change here beyond their ability to support normal life. John.


BERMAN: Nick Paton Walsh, you and your team thank you so much for going there to show us what's happening on the ground. Please stay safe.

So next, new details of the search warrant story and a live report from where it happened Mar-a-Lago.


BERMAN: So we just received some new reporting on the nature of the search at Mar-a-Lago as well as the manner of it all. Our Randi Kaye is near Mar-a-Lago right now. And Randi, what's the latest about what we know the results of this search?

RANDI KAYE, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, John, we know this from our colleagues, Evan Perez and Gabby Orr who are getting this new information for us. We are told now that the FBI search did include examining where documents were kept to that is, according to a person familiar with this investigation, telling our colleagues there were boxes of items taken during the search the source said also a separate source telling our Gabby Orr that documents were seized from Mar-a- Lago.

The National Archives previously alleged that documents were --they included classified information that had been taken from the White House to Mar-a-Lago here in Florida. The FBI also of course, had to verify that nothing was left behind this sources is telling our colleagues, according to the person familiar with this investigation, this search started Monday morning, as you know, it went on for hours here at Mar-a-Lago throughout the day, John. Plans for the search at Mar-a-Lago would have been reviewed by the top levels of the Justice Department and the FBI. That is, according to this source familiar with the investigation, telling our colleagues Evan Perez and Gabby Orr. BERMAN: A lot of new details in there, they took boxes out. So Randi, we do know that the President -- the former president was not at Mar- a-Lago during the search today. He was up here in the northeast, but can you remind us how he uses this property?

KAYE: Sure. He changed his residency back in 2019 from New York to Florida, so this is home for him. He bought Mar-a-Lago back in 1985. It was once owned by the cerial company heiress Marjorie Merriweather Post. He bought it to use it as a private residence for quite some time before turning it into the Mar-a-Lago club. And just to give you an idea of what's there are, 126 rooms, 62,000 square feet 17 acres. He's hosted international world leaders, the Prime Minister of Japan had visited here, Shinzo Abe, also the president of China. There are also many politicians who have come here to kiss the ring since he moved here full time to Mar-a-Lago, including Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, Marjorie Taylor Greene, the House Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy, all coming here to visit the former president at Mar-a-Lago, John


BERMAN: Randi Kaye racing to the scene for us in Palm Beach. Thank you very much.

Other news now, a federal grand jury has indicted a Russian national and accuses him of conspiring to use U.S. citizens as illegal agents of the Russian government. The Department of Justice claims for at least seven years he worked under the direction of Russian intelligence as he tried to influence U.S. political groups in Florida, Georgia and California. The DOJ warns the Russian intelligence threat continues with the goal of destabilizing and undermining trust and U.S. democracy.

More now from CNN's Donie O'Sullivan who talked with the accused Russian and an unindicted co-conspirator.


ALEXANDER IONOV, RUSSIAN SANCTIONED BY U.S.: My message so easy, I'm not Dr. Evil.

DONIE O'SULLIVAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Not Dr. Evil but this man Alexander Ionov has been charged and sanctioned by the U.S. government for working with the FSB Russian intelligence to infiltrate American political movements.

DAVID WALKER, FBI SPECIAL AGENT IN CHARGE, TAMPA FIELD OFFICE: Ionov and his Russian government co-conspirators engaged in a malign influence campaign to sow discord, spread propaganda and interfere in elections within the United States.

O'SULLIVAN (voice-over): The federal indictment describes what it only calls U.S. political group one as being co-opted by Ionov. The description of the group leads to Omali Yeshitela.

(on-camera): Are you an agent to Russia? OMALI YESHITELA, CHAIRMAN, AFRICAN PEOPLE'S SOCIALIST PARTY: Please? I mean, it's a really insulting question.

O'SULLIVAN (voice-over): Yeshitela is a lifelong activist and is the chairman of the African People's Socialist Party, and now in the eyes of the U.S. government he is an unindicted co-conspirator in a Russian plot to undermine American democracy,

YESHITELA: Maybe put a zip tie on my wrist, and they wanted me to sit on the curb.

O'SULLIVAN (voice-over): He has not been charged, but his home here in St. Louis was raided by the FBI in late July.

YESHTILA: Some people see as a badge of honor to be attacked by the United States government when you involve in the struggle for freedom. This attack every struggle for free, Mandela was a terrorist. Martin Luther King was spied on.

O'SULLIVAN (voice-over): The Justice Department alleges Ionov funded a campaign run by Yeshitela's group in 2016.

YESHITELA: I can't even entertain a discussion seriously about Russian interference or something. I'm an agent of Russia? I've been doing this all my life and I've been doing all my life because of America, not Russia. Before I have another Russian, this is what I was doing.

O'SULLIVAN (voice-over): Yeshitela strongly denies taking instructions from Ionov. Yeshitela I did travel to Russia in 2015 for a gathering of separatist groups from around the world. That event was organized by Ionov's group the Anti-Globalization Movement of Russia. The U.S. Justice Department says that group receives funds from the Russian government and is tied to the FSB Russian intelligence.

IONOV: This is a bullshit I'm sorry. I am the not the project of FSB. I am the activist. I am the president of Anti-Globalization Movement of Russia. We have many members.

O'SULLIVAN (voice-over): Russia's alleged involvement with American activist groups is nothing new.

RALP BEGLEITER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Demonstrations by anti-nuclear groups have been intensifying. President Reagan has suggested that some of the demonstrations are encouraged even supported by the Soviet Union.

O'SULLIVAN (voice-over): From the Soviet era to today, in 2018, Special Counsel Robert Mueller's investigation found that Russian trolls had been supporting groups on both sides of the U.S. political divide true social media.

YESHITELA: I'm 80 years old. I've lived in America all my life. I don't need any Russians to inform me of my conditions. And I'm the leader of a remarkable revolutionary organization that's intent on having freedom for my people. I don't need a Russian.


BERMAN: And Donie O'Sullivan joins us now. Donie, what other political groups or movements have been targeted here?

O'SULLIVAN: Yes, well, what we've known down through the years, John, from what the DOJ and other U.S. agencies has dug up, is Russia likes to play both sides in the U.S., we've seen them, you know, in the run up to the 2016 election here playing the far right and the far left. In this instance, you saw them targeting a black liberation group. They're in St. Louis and in Florida.

Also, according to the indictment, as they say the Russians were promoting a California as succession movement. So, a group that is promoted for California to leave the United States. It's all very much typical of the Russian playbook. But as you can see there, it has real impact real effect in the United States.

BERMAN: And to be clear, you know, Homeland Security FBI everyone has warned that the Russians still do want to get involved in the systems here in the United States.


Donie O'Sullivan, thank you so much for your reporting. Terrific analysis.

All right, a lot going on, especially with the breaking news at Mar-a- Lago, the FBI conducting a search operation there.

The news continues, so let's hand it over to Sara Sidner in "CNN TONIGHT."