Return to Transcripts main page

At This Hour

Judge Signals He's Willing To Unseal Parts Of Trump Affidavit; Russia Continues Shelling Near Plant Despite Warnings. Aired 11-11:30a ET

Aired August 19, 2022 - 11:00   ET




BORIS SANCHEZ, CNN ANCHOR: Hello, everyone. I'm Boris Sanchez in for Kate Bolduan. New this morning, a federal judge could force the Justice Department to share details about the search of former President Trump's home. We're going to break down what that means for their case. Plus, playing catch up, the White House scrambling to slow down the monkeypox outbreak. We're going to speak to one of the top officials working on a new strategy. Plus, outrage, an NFL star accused of assault receiving a punishment that critics are calling a slap on the wrist. That's what we're watching for at this hour.

Thank you so much for being here. We start this morning with a federal judge ordering that prosecutors proposed redactions to the affidavit that was used to justify last week's search of former President Trump's Florida home. The judge has given prosecutors a week to do it. But he's already signaling that he's inclined to unseal parts of the highly sensitive document. Plus this, CNN is hearing exclusively from 18 former top Trump officials who tell us that the former president's claim that he had a standing order to declassify documents is nonsense.

Let's begin our coverage with CNN's Katelyn Polantz. She's live for us here in Washington. Katelyn walk us through how much detail we could see in a redacted affidavit.

KATELYN POLANTZ, CNN SENIOR CRIME AND JUSTICE REPORTER: Well, Boris, possibly nothing. I mean, the Justice Department wants to redact blackout. What they say would be nearly everything would render this essentially a meaningless document if it were to be released to the public. So they're going to be arguing to this judge in the next week about how they want to black out nearly everything. And the judge will have to take a look really closely and determine whether that will indeed be the case, whether we do get to see a version of this affidavit that would be the detailed, relatively lengthy narrative that supports the search that took place at Mar-a-Lago a week ago.

So there's that. But even if there were just a couple words released on that affidavit, we know in court filings that there are little things that you can glean about an investigation about the work that the Justice Department is doing. And in this, there was a document released yesterday by this judge, a pretty procedural document a cover sheet to that search warrant application that did specify with a little bit more particularity, exactly what is under investigation here.

Previously, we knew it was the Espionage Act that was being looked at by prosecutors that they believe that they would find evidence of in Mar-a-Lago when they did that search and seizure. And yesterday in this document that was released, there, it says willful retention of National Defense Information is one of the offenses that is being investigated here. That is the part of the Espionage Act that they're looking at for a possible crime. So that is something that we learned out of just a few more words coming out of the Justice Department, but we're going to have to wait and see whether we get anything more substantive out of this case, because that affidavit is really where it all is at. Boris?

SANCHEZ: Yes, and Katelyn, it makes clear these documents that investigators feared that evidence could be destroyed, and that's part of the urgency of having searched Mar-a-Lago when they did. Katelyn Polantz from Washington, thanks so much.

Let's expand this conversation now with David Aronberg. He's the state attorney for Palm Beach County, Florida. And also with us is CNN national security analyst Shawn Turner. He is the former director of communication for U.S. National Intelligence. Gentlemen, I appreciate having you both this morning. Dave, first with you, I want to get your assessment of the pros and cons of unsealing a redacted affidavit.

DAVE ARONBERG, STATE ATTORNEY, PALM BEACH COUNTY: Yes, Boris, good to be with you. I think the judge yesterday wanted to show that he is even handed, that he's deliberative, he's going to listen on both sides and not take an absolutist position, but in the end, I really believe he is going to redact just about everything in this document because there's very little in this document that can be revealed without jeopardizing the sources without inviting Trump World to tamper with witnesses and to tip off suspects so they can coordinate their stories. Nothing good can come out of it. You also jeopardize a future defendants right to a fair trial. So I think when it does come out, if it does, it'll look like Swiss cheese, it will be blacked out throughout the whole thing with little parts of words that don't mean anything. And so, yes, even if it is technically unsealed, the substance won't be and so it won't be of much use to anyone but prosecutors.


SANCHEZ: And Dave, there's also concern that making it public even partially could impact potential witnesses.

ARONBERG: Correct, it could put a target on their backs. I mean, you've seen what's going on out there with the attack on the FBI office in Cincinnati, all the threats to federal law enforcement, it really is sad, and it's got to stop, the lies have to stop, because the lies lead to violence. And that is part of the concern. And the judge is going to understand that. The judge is a former federal prosecutor himself, also a former criminal defense lawyer, and he knows what happens when names of confidential informants get released. Remember, a lot of confidential informants, they're led to that place by criminal defense lawyers, so people on both sides of the criminal justice system, know the value of secrecy, especially before there's even an indictment.

SANCHEZ: And Shawn, what kind of redactions are you anticipating that prosecutors are going to propose given that there are national security implications?

SHAWN TURNER, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: Yes, Boris, well, I think as they've said, they really do fall into two categories. I mean, there's a lot of concern about the impact that this would have on future witnesses, as we've discussed. But look, you know, I look at everything through a national security lens. And I've talked to some of my former colleagues in the intelligence community. And they were very concerned that by possibly releasing information in this affidavit, as David said, we might reveal information about ongoing intelligence collection operations, about intelligence sources, and methods.

And so for that reason, I really do think that as the Department of Justice goes back and makes a case, they're not just going to be making a case that's going to be important to the investigation. They're also going to be talking to intelligence officials about the substance of these documents. And they're going to need that additional information as they talk to the judge. And they're going to be talk about the impact of the investigation as well as the impact on intelligence.

I think that in the end, it's highly unlikely, as David pointed out, that we're going to see a very much of this information made available to the public. And look, I understand, the transparency is important. But accountability is also important. And I think that as the Department of Justice makes this case, the judge will be thinking about whether or not he is protecting our ability to hold those accountable those people who took these documents accountable.

SANCHEZ: Shawn, I do want to play some sound for you from Trump's former national security adviser, John Bolton. He had some thoughts on how to best redact these documents. Listen to this.


JOHN BOLTON, FORMER TRUMP NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISER: I'd urge the Justice Department and it goes against the grain to be creative on this instead of simply blacking that out an alternative to think about would be to paraphrase, they might just say, documents regarding U.S. nuclear capabilities, or documents regarding Chinese ballistic missile development or something like that, some innocuous phrase that signified the importance of the information without revealing it.


SANCHEZ: Shawn, how plausible do you think Bolton's idea is to sort of showcase the sensitivity of these documents while not giving up too much? TURNER: Yes, well, I think it's a creative idea. I think it's unlikely. Look, you know, the examples that Ambassador Bolton used are examples that represent what the intelligence community is really concerned about. You know, Boris, as I've said from the beginning, when we understand the substance of these documents, the nature of the information and those documents, that will tell us a lot about the intent. And as I've said previously, you know, there's the idea that the former president took documents that are related to his own issues while he was in the White House, perhaps related to the Mueller report, or to one of the highly impeachment trials.

But then there's the possibility that he took documents that had nothing to do with himself and that we're focused on serious national security issues. And so that gets us to this question of why would someone take those documents? And so I think at this point, the hope is that the Department of Justice can do their investigation get to the bottom of why these documents were taken without having any of that substance out there because it has impacts not only in our national security space, but among our partners and allies around the world where we share intelligence information.

SANCHEZ: Yes, the reasons why they were taken may be elusive, but the process is certainly something to dissect here because CNN's Jamie Gangel has this exclusive new reporting, there are 18 former Trump officials that tells CNN that the former president who made this claim of having a standing order to declassify whatever he took from the Oval Office is simply not true. Look at these quotes, these are former Trump officials calling it total nonsense, ludicrous, BS, complete fiction. Shawn, have you ever heard of such a standing order to declassify information?


TURNER: No. And I would, I would add my voice to those lists of former officials who have said that this is absolute nonsense and would make, you know, it would raise serious issues in the intelligence community. Look, Boris, there is a process that must be undertaken when documents are declassified. Now I should start that by saying the President has wide authority to declassified documents. He is the ultimate classification authority. But we have to understand that if the President says that a document is declassified then what that means is that agency necessarily has to change the handling instructions for those documents. And they have to ensure that that any intelligence collection operations that are ongoing, are dealt with.

So you know, those officials are absolutely right. I highly doubt that there was a standing order. And even if there was a standing order to declassify those documents, those documents may have never been actually declassified, because the information back to those agencies simply would not have been provided.

SANCHEZ: Dave Aronberg, Shawn Turner, appreciate the expertise, got to leave the conversation there.

TURNER: Thank you.

SANCHEZ: Of course, thanks.

Still to come at this hour, Europe's largest nuclear power plant caught in the crosshairs of Russia's war with Ukraine, very real fears of a potential nuclear disaster. We'll take you live to Ukraine for a live report after a quick break.



SANCHEZ: We want to turn out to the war and Ukraine. There is new video showing Russian military trucks inside Europe's largest nuclear power plant, only about 400 feet from a nuclear reactor. There is now growing concern about the plans safety and stability as Russia continues to reject calls to demilitarize the plant. CNN's Sam Kiley has the latest from Ukraine.


SAM KILEY, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): It's an all too routine seen, a Ukrainian home destroyed by a missile. But here, the lucky escape of a young couple is overshadowed by a potential catastrophe. The first Russian rocket hit the local soccer pitch and sent them scrambling into their basement safe from the second.

After what happened we jump at every sound, Andrei (ph) says, the Ukrainian authorities say that both rockets were fired by Russian troops from the grounds of a nuclear power station captured in March.

(on camera): The International Consternation over the future of the nuclear power stations very obvious when you stand here. And you can see the six reactors of the biggest nuclear power station in the whole of Europe. The United Nations, the international community, are all reacting in horror at the mere thought that this could be at the center of fighting.

(voice-over): Ukraine blames Russia for using the nuclear plants as a fire base, and insist that it's not able to shoot back for risk of blowing up the nuclear facility.

The Russian occupies shoot all the time to promote the armed forces of Ukraine and to spread panic among the people. We understand that the power plant may explode because of their actions. I just don't understand. Maybe they just don't get it, he told us.

The United States, the United Nations, and Ukraine have all called for Russia to leave the nuclear plant and for it to be demilitarized. These demands are growing in volume as the bombardment of Ukrainian towns allegedly from around the six nuclear reactors, has intensified.

Andrei Ters (ph) worked at the plant until he escaped the Russians. But then he was recaptured he says and tortured before being released. Now he's in hiding in Western Europe. And he says the possibility of a disaster is very high. I would say 70 to 90 percent if we're talking about the most optimistic scenario, I'm very worried about it. And civilians in the Russian occupied town next to the plant have been stuck in traffic jams, trying to flee a potential nuclear escalation. Ukraine's claims that it hasn't shelled the nuclear site cannot be verified. But there's no doubt that Russia has used it as a safe location to attack Ukraine from. Ukrainians have been conducting nuclear disaster drills in cities nearby. And both sides have said that some kind of incident is imminent, and could cause massive radioactive contamination or a meltdown, a cataclysm that could be felt far beyond Ukraine, even in nearby Russia.


KILEY: And I think, Boris, that's the essential point that whilst the potential for catastrophe exists, it's not in either sides military interest for something like that to happen. But there are also very severe technical problems as this war drags on. It's harder and harder to get and keep the people working in a nuclear power station on the frontline. And there is a deep concern that a power cut to that location could end up with the cooling system breaking down and a meltdown. And that is ultimately the greatest fear, Boris.

SANCHEZ: And as we saw at Chernobyl, it appears that the threat of some kind of nuclear disaster is now just part of Russia's playbook here. Sam Kiley, live for us in Ukraine. Thank you so much.

Joining us now is the former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine John Herbst. He's now a senior director at the Atlantic Council's Eurasia Center. Ambassador Herbst, we're grateful to have you. We just heard from Sam Kiley about the alarming circumstances at the power plant. What do you make of it?


JOHN E. HERBST, FORMER U.S. AMBASSADOR TO UKRAINE: Well, the Russians believe that they have an advantage. They placed their artillery, their rockets in that area, Ukraine cannot shoot back. So it gives them a certain level of invulnerability. And they're willing to take the risk that some misfiring on their part, can set off that new catastrophe, which you described in the report.

SANCHEZ: And what do you think Russia should do? I mean, it seems like this is an unnecessary risk.

HERBST: It does mean that the Russian soldiers there who are firing that artillery are safe from Ukrainian counter fire. So they pocket that advantage, even at this much larger risk. It would be useful. I mean, there has been some international pressure brought on them for this -- more should be brought, just as pressure was put on them for their blockade of Ukraine's ports. So they've now started to open that up.

SANCHEZ: Ambassador, I want to get your thoughts on this new reporting from "The Washington Post." It details documents from the Russian intelligence service that revealed the Kremlin utterly failed in its assessment of how an invasion of Ukraine would play out, they outline a litany of strategic failures. I'm wondering how you think Russia and Russian intelligence got this so wrong.

HERBST: Look, these documents are fascinating. But even before they were revealed, we essentially knew that their intelligence, their political leadership, and the military had all failed. They all expected easy Russian winning Ukraine, when those who was very familiar with the country knew that was not going to happen. And of course, the U.S. government, U.S. intelligence agencies made the same mistake.

SANCHEZ: Sir, President Zelenskyy is under fire now from his own people. He told "The Washington Post," that he kept his citizens in the dark about U.S. warnings that Russia was preparing to invade. He said, quote, if we had communicated that, the U.S., assessment, then I would have been losing $7 billion a month since last October. And at the moment when the Russians did attack, they would have taken us in three days. Zelenskyy fear that being honest with Ukrainians would lead to panic, they would flee the country, there would be an economic collapse. I'm wondering if you think his approach was the correct one?

HERBST: Well, it's clear both from the article, that very interesting article in "The Post," but also from my own interaction with senior Ukrainian officials, including the President, that they -- it wasn't -- I didn't think necessarily that Russia was going to launch that big invasion. And many in the West also made the mistake to think they were not going to. I was -- I thought Putin was not going to go in that way because it'd be such a catastrophe for Russia and for him.

So Zelenskyy may not have actually thought it was going to happen. But the excuse, excuse me, the reason he offers was the one that I think drove him. We heard from his own lips, that at the time, he was criticizing the United States for issuing these warnings to see who can be my enemy. So he can be criticized for that. But I would not overstate that criticism, because it's very clear that Ukraine's armed forces and their intelligence agencies were ready for the invasion, because they performed spectacularly well. And that's the main thing of course.

SANCHEZ: Ambassador John Herbst, it does not appear that this conflict is going to end anytime soon. We are grateful that you joined us and we hope that you'll join us again to discuss further in the future.

HERBST: Thank you, I enjoyed it, my pleasure.

SANCHEZ: Appreciate your time, thanks.


Coming up, the White House is taking new steps to address the worsening outbreak of monkeypox. But why did it take this long? We're going to speak with one of the top health officials coordinating the federal response in just minutes.


SANCHEZ: Now to the worsening monkeypox outbreak, the CDC reporting, there are now more than 14,000 confirmed cases in the United States. That number nearly tripling, tripling and just the last 20 days. Vaccines remain in short supply as the White House is announcing new steps to address it.

Joining us now is Dr. Demetre Daskalakis. He's the Deputy Coordinator of the White House's Monkeypox Response Team. Doctor, thank you for being with us this morning. It's been three months since the first confirmed case of monkeypox in the United States. And we've seen it spread precipitously. It was only a couple of weeks ago that the White House appointed a response team and declared this a public health emergency. Why did it take so long?

DR. DEMETRE DASKALAKIS, DEPUTY COMMISSIONER, WH MONKEYPOX RESPONSE TEAM: The outbreak, really, the contrary of the outbreak is what dictated action. So I think the epidemiology of the outbreak really led to the emergency declaration and also the steps to add a new coordination team with myself and Bob Benden (ph). So I think really, it's the right time in the outbreak, we know what we've got in terms of this outbreak. It is acting differently than any monkeypox outbreak we've done before.


It's clear the epidemiology, it's clear what strategies need to be implemented to be able to control the outbreak and it's also clear which populations we need to focus on. So I think really it's more about the right time as opposed to there being a delay.