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At This Hour

Trump's Legal Battles; Trump Organization CFO Pleads Guilty; Biden Administration Accelerates Monkeypox Vaccine Efforts; CDC Overhaul; Iran Nuclear Talks; Interview with Rep. Gregory Meeks on Iranian Sanctions. Aired 11-11:30a ET

Aired August 18, 2022 - 11:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


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KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: Hello, everyone. AT THIS HOUR, a Florida judge will soon be deciding whether to reveal key details that led to the search of former president Trump's Mar-a-lago home.

And the White House is unveiling a new plan to fight the monkeypox outbreak.

Plus, the war over books in Texas: school librarians pulling challenged books off shelves, including the Bible. This is what we're watching at this hour.

Thank you for being here. I'm Kate Bolduan.

Today is a decision day of sorts, a day that the public could learn key details about the FBI search of Donald Trump's Mar-a-lago estate. In hours, a federal judge in Florida will hold a hearing to consider unsealing the affidavit used to justify that search.

The Justice Department does not want that to happen, arguing that making the affidavit public would compromise its ongoing criminal investigation.

On top of that, CNN has learned some people close to Trump are now urging him to release surveillance video of the actual FBI search of his home.

Now in a separate case, moments ago, Allen Weisselberg, the former chief financial officer of Trump's family business, he pleaded guilty to a 15-year tax fraud scheme. We'll have more on that in just a moment.

Let's begin with Katelyn Polantz live in Florida.

Katelyn, set the scene for us here.

KATELYN POLANTZ, CNN CRIME AND JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: This afternoon, Kate, we're going to be listening for Justice Department prosecutors and how much they're willing to say about this ongoing investigation into the handling of classified material, potentially kept at Mar-a- lago after the Trump presidency.

It is going to be about this affidavit. But this is a court hearing over secrecy. The Justice Department says that this is a serious ongoing criminal investigation.

It implicates highly classified materials and that they need protections of confidentiality to keep their investigation going, to keep doing the work that they need to do, to decide whether there should be a charge here.

On the other side, media organizations are fighting for transparency, including CNN, and have written to the judge, saying there is a public interest here. There is a historic importance regarding this search.

Not since the Nixon administration has the federal government wielded its power to seize records from a former president in such a public fashion.

So that's the perspective about what is going to be argued in court today. We don't know if the judge will decide today or what the judge will do. Ultimately the Trump team has not said what they will do, either. So we're watching to see if they show up in court as well. Kate.

BOLDUAN: Katelyn, thank you for that.

This just in, Allen Weisselberg, long time chief financial officer of the Trump family business, pleads guilty to a years-long tax scheme. CNN's Kara Scannell is live outside the court in New York with the details on this.

What happened in court?

Tell us.

KARA SCANNELL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Kate so this court hearing, which began just at 10:00 am, Allen Weisselberg entered guilty pleas to 15 counts of tax fraud and related charges.

According to prosecutors, Allen Weisselberg was receiving corporate benefits, including company apartments, tuition for two of his grandchildren and a pair of Mercedes-Benz. Weisselberg admitted in court today he purposefully admitted these from his tax returns and he said he did this in working with the Trump Organization.

So he directly implicated the Trump Organization in his guilty plea today. He spoke in very hushed tones, answering the judge's questions as he ran through the elements of each of these 15 counts, just saying repeatedly, "Yes, Your Honor."

He did not give any other statements. But the Manhattan district attorney Alvin Bragg calling this today -- calling out Allen Weisselberg's testimony today, saying he directly implicates the Trump Organization, saying this is invaluable testimony that they can use against the former president's company at trial. That trial goes -- that begins in October. And Weisselberg is required

to testify against the Trump Organization, where he's worked for more than 40 years. Kate.

BOLDUAN: Kara, thank you so much for that.

Joining me now for more, CNN legal analyst and former prosecutor Paul Callan; CNN law enforcement analyst Peter Licata, he's a former FBI supervisory special agent; and CNN's senior political analyst Nia- Malika Henderson.

Paul, first with Weisselberg, so he pleads guilty. The point of how this -- the focus on Weisselberg all along was to try to get him to cooperate in a broader investigation into the Trump business.

He's now -- he's apparently not going to be -- not willing to cooperate with them though, as Kara mentioned, he'll be required to testify in court.

What is he doing here?

What happens?

PAUL CALLAN, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Well, he's been entirely unwilling to testify specifically against Donald Trump. And in negotiating this plea, he worked out this special deal, where he will testify against the Trump Organization but not against the former president himself.

So I think that's a defeat for prosecutors. This is -- it is a big deal because somebody from the Trump Organization.

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CALLAN: And he's a key figure, he's a central figure to the Trump Organization, has pled guilty to this 15-year scheme of tax fraud. But we have no agreement that he'll say anything about the former president.

BOLDUAN: So I want to ask you real quickly on this hearing that will be happening in Florida that Katelyn Polantz was telling us about. This gets to a judge going to decide whether or not the affidavit that led to the FBI search of Trump's Mar-a-lago home should be, will be released in some way.

Do you think it will?

CALLAN: I don't think it will. And I've read the Department of Justice's 13-page memorandum of law to the judge. And it is very persuasive. This is what they say.

They basically say we have an ongoing investigation here. We have witnesses who came forward to give important information. We used, quote, "special investigative techniques" in this investigation. All of these things are revealed in the affidavit.

And it simply would be totally disruptive of an ongoing criminal investigation to release this information to the public. And they add something else. They think it will actually endanger the lives of agents and potential witnesses, who may be listed, because a lot of threats have been made to people and even to FBI agents who are involved.

So I think DOJ makes a very persuasive case that these documents should remain sealed.

BOLDUAN: Peter, that is the perfect question for you.

What do you think will happen if the affidavit is released?

PETER LICATA, CNN LAW ENFORCEMENT ANALYST: I don't think a lot is going to happen, as Paul said. And I'm not too sure it will. Generally affidavits are not made readily available. There is reasons for that, as Paul indicated.

It is generally set out by the prosecution to protect sources and techniques, whether it is confidential human sources or electronic techniques in a method to gather information.

So even if the affidavit were released this afternoon, it would be extremely redacted, which those are those black Sharpie marks across most of the page. So they wouldn't -- you wouldn't see a lot or be able to glean a lot out of it.

BOLDUAN: Nia, I want to get your take on what you think this new reporting from CNN, that Donald Trump is considering releasing the surveillance footage of the FBI executing the actual search warrant. There seems to be some debate amongst his inner circle, if it is a good idea or if it could backfire.

What advantage does he get with that, do you think?

NIA-MALIKA HENDERSON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, listen, if you heard from Donald Trump and his allies, they're trying to portray this as a giant overreach by the FBI, by the DOJ, essentially saying that there was this raid, that they ransacked this beach house that Donald Trump has and even planted evidence, which there is no evidence of.

Remember, Donald Trump himself watched as this search of his premises was going on. So the idea that somehow something went on, planting evidence, just makes no sense. They think that this will raise the temperature around this. This will enrage his supporters and sort of make them rally even more around them.

The danger here, I think, is it will raise the temperature around FBI agents. We have seen already that names and information about some of the FBI agents, who did conduct that search, had been revealed.

We have seen already that there have been attempts at violence against FBI agents and concern all around that agency because of the way that Donald Trump and his allies are portraying this search.

I think one of the things this search, if they revealed this, it was probably a fairly orderly search. They didn't go in, in those jackets; there was no battering ram to get into the beach house. It was conducted in a fairly orderly and professional way.

So in that way, it could backfire because it would show, listen, this wasn't the way Donald Trump tried to portray it as a kind of unlawful search and seizure and raid that he has tried to make it seem like.

BOLDUAN: And this also potentially fits with the pattern we have seen with the former president over time, which is floating, like, I could release it if I wanted to or it is coming and then it doesn't in regard to many topics.

But Peter, same question though to you, what if Donald Trump would release this surveillance video of the FBI search, what do you think that kind a release would do?

LICATA: Well, let's say that I hope -- you would expect that the FBI would encourage the release because we would hope that the agents that were there, conducting a legal search, by the way and not a raid, as our colleagues have said, that they did everything in accordance with best procedures and operations, in the highest tradition of the FBI.

So you know, the planting of evidence -- 21 years in the FBI, I don't know anyone that's been accused in my organization of planting evidence; law enforcement I work with, public safety squads as well.

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LICATA: So you hope the FBI would encourage it, kind of like go ahead and show it. And you'll see no impropriety by the agents on scene. That's what you would hope. And that's what I would expect as a former FBI agent of 21 years, just that.

BOLDUAN: Interesting and a great point. Go ahead, do it. Let's see what it shows.

Good to see you all. Thank you very much. Appreciate it.

Coming up for us, the White House announcing now new efforts to get a handle on monkeypox. What they're trying now to make vaccines easier to access -- next.

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BOLDUAN: The CDC reports there are now more than 13,500 confirmed monkeypox cases in the United States. And now just this morning, top health officials in the Biden administration have announced new moves.

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BOLDUAN: A big boost in the monkeypox vaccine supply and a greater focus on getting shots to those most at risk. Jeremy Diamond is in Wilmington, Delaware, where the president is traveling and joins us now.

What are the details coming from the administration?

JEREMY DIAMOND, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Kate, what we're seeing from top administration health officials is that they are accelerating their fight against this monkeypox outbreak.

And, in particular, accelerating the timeline for the distribution of additional monkeypox vaccines, 1.8 million doses of that vaccine becoming available starting Monday to state and local jurisdictions.

That's two weeks ahead of schedule in terms of when they were anticipating putting more doses on the market and available for these state and local jurisdictions.

In addition to that, what we're also seeing is efforts to launch a new pilot program to make the vaccines available at LGBTQ events.

We already have seen several state health departments, including in North Carolina, Georgia and Louisiana, set to make some of those vaccine doses available at some of those LGBTQ events.

And making 50,000 courses of this monkeypox antiviral medication available to state and local jurisdictions so that those doses can be prepositioned in places where they are expecting higher case loads of monkeypox.

A lot of these additional doses of the vaccine in particular are going to be going -- becoming available to states and jurisdictions that have already reached 90 percent of their current supply and that are administering the doses in that new intradermal way rather than the subcutaneous way. That allows a vial to be used five times per doses -- Kate.

BOLDUAN: Jeremy, thank you so much for that.

Joining me now, Dr. Richard Besser, former acting director of the CDC, now the president of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

More vaccines available to the public is a very good thing. I'm wondering why, though, they didn't move this way sooner, considering it is clear that the administration, public health in general, does not have a handle on this monkeypox outbreak yet.

What do you think of this?

DR. RICHARD BESSER, FORMER ACTING DIRECTOR, CDC: I think, Kate, it is a good thing that additional attention is being put to this, in particular attention to helping people understand where the risk is the greatest and what needs to be done.

This is an outbreak that is primarily affecting men who have sex with men and there's a lot of transmission at summer events. So focusing on those events, focusing on messaging so people know what they can do, what to look out for, to help protect their health is really, really important. One of the things that I think is exciting here is that the FDA

stepped up and looked at the current vaccine supply and said, is there a way to make this vaccine supply go further in a way that is safe and is effective?

And so, as we're hearing from Jeremy, the change from injecting the vaccine under the skin to injecting it into the skin allows them to get five times the number of people protected as they could have before with the existing vaccine supply.

BOLDUAN: Yes, being more nimble, in the midst of an outbreak, is something then. This dovetails to what we're now hearing from the CDC, announcing pretty big changes, as it has been described, as a sweeping reorganization of the agency.

And the aftermath of the COVID pandemic, Rochelle Walensky, the CDC director, in their announcement of these big changes coming to the CDC, said this, "For 75 years, CDC and public health have been preparing for COVID-19.

"And in our big moment, our performance did not reliably meet expectations."

So the new focus is on responding faster and communicating more clearly with the public in real time. The reorganization is right now somewhat light on specifics.

But what -- do you think it is needed?

BESSER: Well, you know, I think the announcement from Dr. Walensky has been a long time coming and is very welcome. What I really like in her announcement is the importance of focusing on communication, getting information to people faster, getting it to people in a way that is clearer, that people can use.

I look forward to seeing the full report. It is hard for me to judge whether these changes will be enough without seeing what were all the findings that came out of that report, what were the recommendations.

And are there changes that are being lifted up going to -- going to meet that need?

One of the areas that I would like to learn more about is really what CDC is doing to ensure that everyone in our country has what they need to be safe. COVID, as you know, has affected the entire nation. But it had a disparate impact on Black communities, Latinos, indigenous communities, lower income communities.

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BESSER: What is CDC doing to ensure the issues of equity are built into everything that CDC does?

There is an office being built.

But what will that do and how will we ensure that, with the next crisis, everyone will have what they need to be protected?

BOLDUAN: Do you think the agency lost its way?

BESSER: Yes, I don't think I'd use the phrase "lost its way." But I think it is too late to change the narrative around COVID. It is not too late to change how the CDC is perceived in response to monkeypox, to polio, to whatever the next crises will be.

It was very challenging for CDC to be in a role at the beginning of COVID-19, where public health recommendations were not the drivers for the governmental response. And I don't think the agency has recovered from that.

I also don't think the agency has recovered from the chronic underinvestment in public health at the federal, state and local level. And as Dr. Walensky lays out, there are certain things that Congress needs to change if we want CDC to be the kind of agency that it needs to be.

One of those is CDC has to be able to require states to report when there is a public health crisis. Right now it is voluntary. The best information we are getting during COVID on the number of cases around the nation wasn't coming from CDC. It was coming from Johns Hopkins.

And we deserve and need to have a public health agency that can require reporting, a public health agency that has discretionary money, so that they can put it toward a new health crisis.

Right now the CDC director's hands are tied in terms of what she can do when there is a new health crisis without Congress providing additional money. And that just isn't the way to have an agency that needs to respond in a crisis.

BOLDUAN: Absolutely. And I think a lot of people would even today be surprised to hear that the CDC does not have that power to require, in light of everything that was put upon them, in the midst of the pandemic and beyond. It is good to see you, Dr. Besser, thank you.

BESSER: My pleasure.

BOLDUAN: Is the Biden administration moving toward striking a new nuclear deal with Iran?

The chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee joins us next.

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BOLDUAN: There is currently lots of talk around new nuclear talks with Iran.

But is there real action and progress? The United States is reviewing Iran's response to an E.U. proposal for a revived nuclear deal right now. Iran, in doing so, is making several demands.

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BOLDUAN: For one, an Iranian diplomat tells CNN they want compensation if a future U.S. president pulls out of the pact. Kylie Atwood is live at the State Department tracking all of this for us.

Where do things stand with negotiations?

KYLIE ATWOOD, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: The Biden administration continues to say they are reviewing what the Iranians have put on the table here. We're sort of left reading the tea leaves because they're not describing what they think of that Iranian proposal, at least at this point.

But the fact they haven't outright rejected it is significant. There could be some momentum here.

But when it comes to the things that the Iranians are saying, these assurances that they want -- maybe they are economic, maybe political -- to keep this deal intact, those assurances that they want from the Biden administration will be extremely hard for the Biden administration to actually give.

And that's because of the constraints on the U.S. political system. There could be a future president who could try to get out of the deal, like we saw with president Trump.

We should also look to Congress because Congress' support here will be key in the Biden administration being able to maintain the assurances that are part of this deal.

And Congress on the whole has been incredibly critical of the Iran nuclear deal; there are some Democrats who are supportive of the Biden administration continuing to pursue these talks. But a lot of Democrats were not and, of course, a lot of Republicans who are highly critical. Kate.

BOLDUAN: Kylie, thank you for that.

Joining me now for more on this is Democratic congressman Gregory Meeks, the chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee.

Thank you for being here. Another one of Iran's demands has been removing Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard from the designated terrorist list in the United States and lifting sanctions, which could require congressional approval, as Kylie is laying out.

Could you get behind either of these if it meant stopping Iran from getting a nuclear weapon?

REP. GREGORY MEEKS (D-NY), CHAIRMAN, FOREIGN AFFAIRS COMMITTEE: My number one goal is to make sure Iran does not have a nuclear weapon. That's for sure.

That being said, there are sometimes provisions that could prevent this from happening. But I hope that we can figure out a way to get back into the agreement, because what is clear is that Iran was further away from having a nuclear weapon when we were part of the deal.

Us pulling out, Trump pulling us out, has made us less safe and have given and helped Iran now reduce its time that it could produce a nuclear weapon. So there is a lot of negotiations that's taking place.

And I think that there is a push back and forth that will continue to take place.