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At This Hour

Warner, Rubio Send Private Letter Requesting Info On Mar-A-Lago Search; Trump Under Investigation For Possible Espionage Act Violations; FBI & DHS Warns Threats To Law Enforcement Spike After Trump Search. Aired 11-11:30a ET

Aired August 15, 2022 - 11:00   ET




KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: Hello everyone. At This Hour, demanding answers, two top senators ask America's Intel chief and the Attorney General for information on those classified records seized from Donald Trump's home. And the FBI search of Trump's estate is fueling an unprecedented number of threats against law enforcement now. Plus, Iran denies any involvement in the attack on Salman Rushdie. This is what we're watching At This Hour.

Thank you for being here. I'm Kate Bolduan. We begin with the national security questions and big ones that are now raised after the FBI search of Donald Trump's Florida home. One week ago, we had learned of the unprecedented search of the former president's Mar-a-Lago home. Since then, the Justice Department has revealed the scope of the sensitive and classified documents that were recovered from there.

Sources tell CNN that one of Trump's attorneys signed a written statement back in June, declaring there were no more classified materials left at Mar-a-Lago to top senators on the Intelligence Committee have just asked the director of national intelligence and the Attorney General for information on the record seized in Trump's home, the former president continues for his part to offer shifting explanations for why he took the classified records from the White House in the first place, and then didn't return them after the fact much to get to. So let's begin with CNN Katelyn Polantz live in Washington. Katelyn, what more are you learning about this new request from top senators?

KATELYN POLANTZ, CNN JUSTICE AND CRIME REPORTER: Well, Kate, over the weekend and then today, we have seen a lot of bipartisan calls for transparency around this search, even after we got that search warrant on Friday. So over the weekend, we had to House Committee chairs, so both Democrats asking for a classified briefing from the intelligence community as well as a damage assessment being done by the Director of National Intelligence.

And then this morning our colleague, Daniella Diaz, on the Hill, she received word that Senators Mark Warner who's a Democrat and the chair of the Senate Intelligence Community or Committee, and then Marco Rubio, who was the top Republican on that same committee, they sent a private letter to that Director of National Intelligence Avril Haines, as well as Attorney General Merrick Garland, asking for more information about what happened here, what was taken out of Mar-a- Lago.

So Rubio said in a statement to CNN, we haven't seen the letter itself, but he said in his remarks, Attorney General Garland claimed there was a substantial public interest in the execution of an unprecedented search warrant on President Trump. As such, the Intelligence Committee has asked the Department of Justice to share with us on a classified basis, this specific intelligence documents seized from Mar-a-Lago.

There's other transparency efforts that are happening to that we're waiting to see if there will be a resolution news organizations are asking for access to the affidavit in court that would support, be narrative supporting that search. But we may never know what is actually in these documents. Donald Trump says he declassified them. But there's no evidence that he actually did that. Kate?

BOLDUAN: Katelyn, thank you so much for laying it out for us like that. Joining me right now for more on this is CNN senior legal analyst Elie Honig, a former federal prosecutor. So, Elie, what do you see in the unsealed documents about the FBI search at Mar-a-Lago? What sticks out to you in this moment?

ELIE HONIG, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: Well, Kate, still so many unanswered questions, but we do know a lot more now that we've seen these documents. The most important thing I think we learned about the search itself is what exactly did the FBI find inside Mar-a-Lago and seized. Now we've seen this new document now called the receipt for property, that's a document the FBI fills out at the scene of a search hands over to the lawyer. This document lists about 33 separate headings and sub headings of items seized, about 20 of them are documents.

Now a lot of them just say generally box, box labeled A1, box of documents. But the most important thing, some of these entries indicate that the information was not just classified, but TS SCI. What does that mean? That is the highest level of classification in our government top secret, sensitive compartmented information. We know the FBI found documents with those markings inside Mar-a-Lago. The other thing that's really important here is we know for sure that Donald Trump's lawyer, Christina Bobb, was present at the search, was given this receipt, and signed for it at 6:19 p.m. on the day of the search.

BOLDUAN: Now also, Elie, with this, you also learn more about the potential criminal charges of the crimes that the Justice Department is concerned about in all of this. Can you walk us through that?

HONIG: Yes, Kate, so anytime prosecutors execute a search warrant, you have to write out and show a judge that you have what we call probable cause that certain federal crimes were committed, important to know, probable cause is a lot less than proof beyond a reasonable doubt which you need in order to charge and convict somebody. Also it does not specify any person Donald Trump or anyone else just says we believe that these crimes were committed, three crimes specified by DOJ, one, mishandling of defense information under the Espionage Act. This Espionage Act has drawn a lot of attention, but all the crime here really means is to conceal or mishandled or destroy information that could be harmful to the national security.


The second one is destruction or concealment of government documents, whether classified or not. And then finally, obstruction, that just means, removing or destroying documents, because they want to keep them out of the hands of some sort of investigators. Important to note, Kate, none of these rely on whether the documents are classified or were declassified.

BOLDUAN: If they're classified and declassified, also important. Both of these things are true at the same time, though, as you're pointing out, what happens next, legally, what more --

HONIG: So in terms of the formal legal process nothing will happen unless and until Merrick Garland and DOJ bring a criminal charge against somebody. If that happens, at that point, these documents and much more will be turned over to the defendant in any potential case, that person will then have the ability to challenge the legality of this search. But Kate, we may not hear a lot more through the formal legal channels for many weeks or months.

BOLDUAN: All right, Elie, thank you for that. Elie is going to be joining us over here at the table. But also with me here is CNN senior law enforcement analyst Andrew McCabe. He's a former Deputy Director of the FBI and also with us, CNN senior justice correspondent, Evan Perez. So Andy one thing, Elie laid out really well kind of like what we know in these documents.

But if you add what we learned from -- in these unsealed documents with the subsequent reporting of kind of the timing here, how National Archives sought all of these documents, how some documents were returned from Mar-a-Lago, and then kind of -- they attested to that there were no more documents at Mar-a-Lago, and then they go up and pick up 11 additional sets of classified information. What do you see in that? Does that surprise you?

ANDREW MCCABE, CNN SENIOR LAW ENFORCEMENT ANALYST: It really does. And I think you're right to focus on the facts of the timeline, as we know it. If you're an investigator looking into this case, you are constantly thinking about intent. Intent is typically the hardest piece of a criminal case to prove. So as you're looking at this evidence, you're trying to understand, was this just a matter of mistake, or incompetence or poor planning that this material ended up in Mar-a-Lago. And the thing that really works against that, in this case, from my perspective, is that there was that long exchange between the National Archives and the Trump folks beginning in May of 2021, and culminating in January of '22, when they turned over 15 boxes of documents.

But as we now know, they also retained 33 boxes of documents, that makes the retention of those documents seem much more intentional to me, it's hard to imagine, you could have gone through all these materials, seeing all this stuff that was marked, you know, highly classified TS SCI, and made the decision to keep it rather than turning it over.

BOLDUAN: It's an interesting point. Evan, what do you see? And what are you hearing? What happens now do you think?

EVAN PEREZ, CNN SENIOR JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Well, one of the things that we're waiting for, and we're frankly, just astonished, Kate, that we haven't seen is a formal effort by the Trump team, by the former president and his lawyers to try to put some brakes on the Justice Department, what they -- what routinely happens in cases like this is they go to court and ask a judge, hey, they took attorney-client privilege material as part of this search. You accuse the Justice Department of overreach, and you try to at least slow things down to give the former president time to figure out how he's going to defend himself. They haven't done that.

The only thing we've seen is this sort of Michael Scott style declaration by the former president on his Truth Social platform where he says that he's declaring that he -- that there was attorney-client material taken, one of his allies or lawyers has also suggested that there was executive privilege here, which of course, is kind of a bizarre thing. But, you know, this is what we were expecting a little bit of -- some litigation between Monday when this was taken. And now we haven't seen it yet. It still may happen. And, you know, this is a case that probably still has a long way to go, but they haven't done it yet.

BOLDUAN: It is a really interesting point, Elie, because if -- the president, the former president, if nothing -- he is litigious, and he is quick to go to court, we've seen it many times. It does -- but Evan raises a really interesting point of why not yet in this regard.

HONIG: Yes. So I'm with Evan, I've been waiting for this motion, now in the normal course of a legal process. You don't get to challenge a search warrant until you're charged like I just said, so the way it would work is the person who gets charged, then you turn over all the documents, all the underlying documents, whatever seized and the person can do what we call move to suppress, go to a judge say they got that for me in an unconstitutional way, they can't use that as evidence against me. I keep waiting though for Donald Trump to sort of make up the rules as he goes along and put in a motion saying, this violated all my rights, executive privilege, all that, and therefore I want to stop them.


Now, procedurally, that is very unusual and probably incorrect. So if Donald Trump tries to make this kind of motion in the court, I believe he likely will lose, not even on the merits, I think a judge will just say, you're out of order here. It's not time for you to make this motion yet.

BOLDUAN: Interesting. Also, now, Andrew, we have Democrats, they want a damage assessment of the national security risk if these documents would be disclosed. Republicans, they want to see the affidavit, they want to see the documents themselves. And now we have something of a bipartisan effort to push in that direction with a top Republican and top Democrat on the Senate Intel Committee wanting to see the documents.

The letter that CNN was able to obtain says they want to please share with us on a classified basis, the specific intelligence documents seized from Mar-a-Lago. A lot of people are asking for more information. What would you do with any of that in the middle of an investigation? Especially when it's high profile as this?

MCCABE: Sure. So from the damage assessment side, that is a totally normal next step for the investigators. That's the biggest concern right now, right? To figure out if sources and methods have been compromised, do we need to remove people from places where they are or protect technologies that --

BOLDUAN: You conceal a real urgency in that?

MCCABE: That's absolutely right, so the fact that they are asking the DNI to help with that process, totally normal. The briefing Congress on an ongoing investigation is where things really get off the rails. It is possible to do it. It is done in very limited circumstances only in cases that are have a ongoing national security threat. It's typically done to a small group. We refer to as the Gang of Eight, the kind of leadership from House and Senate and the intelligence, respective intelligence committees, where I the Department of Justice, I would be resisting pretty strongly right now.

The problem with providing that briefing is you take -- you run the risk of compromising both the investigation and the subject of the investigation. We keep these matters quiet, because we don't want to essentially litigate out in the open and accuse people of things that we don't know, at this point, whether or not they've done. So it's both to protect the investigation and the person who's the subject of it.

BOLDUAN: Andy is going to stick with us, Elie, thank you so much. Evan, thank you so much as well. Coming up for us, a troubling uptick in threats against federal law enforcement after the FBI search of Donald Trump's home, the threats include everything from a dirty bomb to calls for civil war, that's next.



BOLDUAN: The FBI and the Department of Homeland Security are warning now of an increase in threats against federal law enforcement after the search of Donald Trump's Mar-a-Lago estate in Florida last week. A source tells CNN the number of threats is quote unprecedented. CNN's Jessica Schneider is live in Washington with details on this. Jessica, what more are you learning about this?

JESSICA SCHNEIDER, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Well, you know, Kate, the FBI security division right here in Washington, they've notified the FBI's nearly 40,000 employees and they're telling them remain vigilant when you're working at FBI facilities. You know, that's on top of that joint bulletin from FBI and DHS over the weekend. They're laying out how these threats online have intensified. They wrote this over the weekend, the FBI and DHS have observed an increase in violent threats posted on social media against federal officials and facilities, including a threat to place a so called dirty bomb in front of FBI headquarters and issuing general calls for civil war and armed rebellion.

So really serious threats there, and they've only increased since that search warrant was executed at Mar-a-Lago last Monday. And our team is now told the FBI is in fact investigating an unprecedented number of threats against bureau personnel and property. And that includes threats against two of the Special Agents listed in court records as being involved in this recent short search. Now the agent's names, they were redacted from the official copy released from the court. But their names were in fact listed in the leaked copies that were put out earlier on Friday.

And we also have learned that the FBI has noticed an uptick, Kate, in what's called Daxing. That's when online actors publicly post the personal information of FBI employees. So we've seen the threats online. We've seemed armed protesters outside that FBI office in Arizona. We saw the standoff with an armed man last week in Cincinnati. So there is a lot swirling and the FBI taking this very seriously warning their employees to stay vigilant. Kate?

BOLDUAN: Yes. It's good to see you, Jess, thank you so much.

Back with me now, Andy McCabe, Evan Perez for more on this. Andy how do you describe the threat level right now against the FBI?

MCCABE: Unprecedented, never seen anything like this in my 21 years with the Bureau. You know, it's not completely crazy for individuals in the FBI to be subjected to threats as a result of cases they're working. But this is a first time I've ever seen a broad side, all FBI personnel are considered a part of this reporting. It's just terrifying. You know, there are 56 field offices around the country. There's about 400 FBI locations total, including those field offices. So you're talking to a lot of people in a lot of different places and communities all around the country who are exposed to this --

BOLDUAN: And not faceless, not nameless, like these are people who are -- they are known and they're out there which is different than other, you know, top level investigators in the federal government. Evan add to this what has already been a period of heightened threat, the FBI, I mean, I'm sure it's more now but the latest data we have is FBI has about 2,700 open domestic terror investigations which is double, which has doubled since spring 2020. Is the FBI doing anything differently to protect agents while they are doing this most important work?


PEREZ: Yes, they are. And one of the first measures they've had to do is to try to find a way to protect these two agents who are listed in the court record. Again, the court record did not. The record that was released by the court did not show their names. But the former president's social media platform, pushed out some of these report on conservative media that showed their names. And then right immediately afterwards, you saw people going online, trying to dax them, trying to expose them and figure out how to find their addresses and find their family members. That is what they're dealing with.

And as a result, they're having to take measures to protect those people. And then there's other people who are working on these investigations beyond just this one. There's others, obviously, because of the January 6th investigations. It's something that I don't think I've ever seen, the agents have to deal with, and you know, something like this.

BOLDUAN: Yes. And Andy, you spoke last week, and I remember it, because I took note of it, that it is time for leadership on all sides to step up and calm things down to proactively be out there talking people essentially off the ledge on this. But why do you think that is -- why do you think that is necessary? Because I do wonder if you think it will even work at this point, considering just where things are right now?

MCCABE: Well, first of all, it can't hurt. And secondly, yes, and I think we have good reason to believe that it would have some effect. Let's look back to the last time this happened in a similar way, January 6th, right, the lead up to January 6th. The last time, we've seen these broad based social media threats. And then of course, they were -- they actually happened, right, the mob assembled in the Capitol and rioted on the on the Capitol grounds. That violence tapered off after the president finally told folks to go home.

So that's a community that listens very closely to the things that the former president says. There's no reason to believe that's any different now. Generally, I think we have an accelerated kind of overheated political rhetoric in this country. People are constantly referring to things about war and civil war and fighting --

BOLDUAN: Enemies, battles, exactly right.

MCCABE: That has got to be ratcheted back to get people to reacknowledge the fact that political, you know, violence and pursuit of political aims is never, never acceptable.

BOLDUAN: And Andy is getting to something that I think is a bit -- one of the big challenges, Evan, I'm sure you're hearing is the FBI and the DHS bulletin are pointing to this increased threat landscape. And in doing so, pointing to most of the threats are occurring online, just how big the challenge still is to track such a threat or all of these threats and anticipate when it goes to move far away from online to real life action.

PEREZ: Yes, and look, you hear from Chris Wray all the time, because he gets asked this in congressional hearings where people raise the concern about some of the rhetoric that you hear, and the trick for the FBI is that, you know, they're not allowed to monitor social media for First Amendment protected things, right. You can say all kinds of stuff on social media. And then the trick or the challenge for the investigators is to figure out where to intervene and where to figure out when somebody is doing beyond just saying very heated things and plans to take action. And that's the toughest thing.

Especially look, the previous era where we were dealing with this was, you know, the ISIS and some of the radicalization from Islamist terrorists. That was, frankly, a lot easier because those groups were banned, right? There was a there's a prohibition on associating yourself with ISIS. In this case, there is no such thing so it's even harder to try to intervene.

BOLDUAN: It's great point, an important point, Evan, thank you, Andy, it's great to see you. Thank you so much.

MCCABE: Thanks.


BOLDUAN: Coming up for us, Iran denying any involvement in the brutal attack in award winning author Salman Rushdie, the very latest on his condition and his recovery next.


BOLDUAN: New this morning, Iran denies any involvement in the brutal attack against award winning author Salman Rushdie, who remains in critical condition at this hour. Rushdie's family says that he suffered quote, life changing injuries after he was repeatedly stabbed on stage during a speaking engagement in western New York on Friday. CNN's Polo Sandoval is live at Pennsylvania Hospital where Rushdie is recovering now. Polo, what are you hearing about his condition this morning?

POLO SANDOVAL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Kate, he may be in critical condition but his family says that he is quote pulling through at all which is certainly going to be a relief for his loved ones given just the extent of his injuries. Over the weekend, state prosecutors that are overseeing this case saying that the 75-year-old acclaimed author suffered injuries to his stomach, his chest, his neck, his face. In fact, that's why his literary agent said that he faces the possibility of losing one eye which speaks to the nature of those life changing injuries that his son discussed yesterday.