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At This Hour

Ex-Twitter Executive Blows Whistle on Alleged Lax Security Policies; Trump Seeks "Special Master" to Review Documents Seized at Mar-a-Lago; Memorial for Putin Ally's Daughter Killed by Car Bomb. Aired 11-11:30a ET

Aired August 23, 2022 - 11:00   ET




KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: Hello, everyone. AT THIS HOUR, a whistleblower accuses Twitter of being a risk to national security and democracy.

Plus, Donald Trump makes his first formal legal move since the FBI search of his Florida home.

And flight cancellations and delays, they seem to, unfortunately, be the new normal.

But do they have to be?

And can the federal government do anything to fix it?

The Transportation Secretary is our guest. This is what we're watching AT THIS HOUR.


BOLDUAN: Thank you so much for being here. I'm Kate Bolduan. There are several developing stories we're tracking at this hour.

First and foremost, a one in 100 year flood bringing Dallas to a standstill with more than 9 inches of rain falling in 24 hours. At least one person was killed when her car was swept away by some of the floodwaters.

And the threat is not over yet.

And in a CNN and "The Washington Post" exclusive, a whistleblower complaint from a former top Twitter employee claims the social media giant has major security problems that poses a threat to users, company shareholders and national security.

And former president Donald Trump is suing the U.S. government over the FBI search of his home two weeks ago now. His legal team wants an independent third party appointed to review the materials seized by the Feds.

Let's begin with this major weather threat still underway. CNN's Ed Lavandera in Dallas on this historic flooding.

What are you seeing today, Ed?

ED LAVANDERA, CNN SENIOR NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Kate, if you wanted to experience a weather whiplash roller coaster ride, Texas was the place for you yesterday.

After enduring months of drought, weeks of extreme temperatures, all of that wiped away in 24 hours. The conditions much better today. But the deluge that pummeled this area was historic and breathtaking, really, if you stop and think about it, an entire summer's worth of rain falling in 24 hours.

Most places receiving almost 10 inches of rain. There were some isolated areas that received 15 inches of rain, simply staggering amounts. But all of that comes with some tragic news as well.

A 60-year-old woman was swept away in the floodwaters. The police chief in the city of Mesquite, which is just east of Dallas, says that the woman was actually on her phone, talking to her family, trying to find her when they lost touch. Presumably that's when she was swept away into the floodwaters.

But the weather conditions here today, Kate, much different from yesterday. There has been mostly drizzle throughout the morning.

The forecast is calling for periods of rain over the next couple of days but nothing like we have seen on Monday, where you saw all of that rain, the historic deluge of rain, where hundreds of calls for rescues and high water incidents were spanning out all over the area.

In fact, first responders were saying that one of the things they kept hearing over and over from people they were encountering is they were surprised by how quickly these floodwaters came up and took them by surprise.

BOLDUAN: Ed, thank you so much for that. Appreciate it.

Let's turn now to the new lawsuit filed by Donald Trump. The former president's lawyers are asking a federal judge now to appoint a special master, a third party to review what the FBI seized from Trump's Mar-a-Lago estate, and return any private documents -- any documents that are deemed private. Katelyn Polantz has more from Washington.

What does this mean?

KATELYN POLANTZ, CNN CRIME AND JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: This is an attempt by Donald Trump and his legal team to delay or to put a pause on the Justice Department investigation into that handling of classified or other presidential records that were at Mar-a-Lago and that were removed from the beach club two weeks ago.

So what is happening here is Donald Trump is asking specifically for a special master, a third party appointee, appointed by the court, who can come in and make sure the Justice Department is able to access the evidence that they collected.

And what he's also asking for is that pause. He's asking for the court to say, to the Justice Department, hold on; let's get this special master in place, going through things, making sure things are slowed down and done correctly.

The Justice Department, as far as we know, has already been using a third party team, a filter team, to review that evidence. They already have been working on this for two weeks. Donald Trump here is making claims he could have made weeks ago.


POLANTZ: He is claiming constitutional violations. Potentially he's claiming there are privileges that need to be honored, potentially for him as a former president.

And he's also saying he does deserve some sort of special treatment here. We're going to have to see what happens in court and what the Justice Department does in response to this.

This is one of those things that a lot of legal experts that have looked at this Trump filing, seen that it has shortcomings. So it is not entirely clear how much this will get as play in court right now, even if there is a quick response by the judge or the Justice Department.

But it is something we're watching. It's the first time Trump's team has spoken in a filing in this situation.

BOLDUAN: Absolutely, Katelyn, thank you so much for that.

I want to get over to CNN's Evan Perez, with new reporting just in to CNN, with regard to the National Archives and hundreds of documents.

What is this?

EVAN PEREZ, CNN SR. JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: This is a letter that was posted last night by John Solomon, a conservative journalist, on his website. And it is a letter from May from the National Archives to representatives of former president Trump.

And it is an extraordinary letter because it describes for the first time now publicly we can see what NARA said they found when they retrieved the 15 boxes of documents in January from Mar-a-Lago.

It says there were 700 pages contained, there were 100 pages with classified information and including information under this very, very sensitive category, the special access programs.

This is stuff that, even if you have the top security clearance, you need additional clearance to be able to access these types of information.

What the letter really describes, Kate, for the first time, we know, you know, the back and forth that was happening between the National Archives, between the Justice Department and the FBI, the FBI wanting to go in there and look at these documents to do an assessment of the security damage from having these documents stored in an unsecured location at the president -- the former president's beach house.

And you see there, giving great deference to former president Trump over a period of weeks, Kate.

BOLDUAN: This is important. Just that sheer scale and number of the number of documents deemed classified, that's really quite something. Evan, thank you so much for that. I appreciate it.

Joining me right now for more on this is former Trump White House acting chief of staff Mick Mulvaney.

Thank you for being here. You heard the reporting just in from Evan, as I just did, 15 boxes that we know were retrieved from Mar-a-Lago in January; 700 pages, more than 100 documents deemed classified.

What do you think of that number?

MICK MULVANEY, FORMER TRUMP CHIEF OF STAFF: Well, the number is certainly large. The classified is an important part there, Kate -- by the way, thank you for having me.

Classified covers a whole range of things. This could be low classifications, medium classifications, stuff that is TS/SCI, top secret, et cetera, that catches my attention, including the stuff that is designated as SAP, special access programs.

The SAP materials is stuff that you are supposed to sign in for, sign out for, go to a special place to read. It would be very, very difficult to accidentally walk off with those documents.

So I would be curious if we learn any more. We probably will not see what those documents are, because they're so sensitive. But any information might shed light on how they ended up in Mar-a-Lago.

BOLDUAN: That's what I was going to ask you.

From your experience in Congress and your experience in the White House, how easy would it be or reasonable would it be for someone to believe these documents would be taken off accidentally, especially these very top classified documents?

MULVANEY: That's two different questions. Classified information, yes; you can easily throw a bunch of stuff in a box of documents and there might be classified materials in there.

Classification covers a large broad sort of variety of documents. TS/SCI and SAP is different. Those are documents with special covers. With the SAP materials, you have to sign up and sign out for them.

It makes me wonder what happened to the chain of custody of the documents. They're supposed to be somebody, typically at the national security -- that is John Bolton's office or Robert O'Brien's office -- that's supposed to track those documents. So the large number of documents doesn't necessarily get my attention.

Again, it is the small number of TS/SCI and special access documents that has me scratching my head.

BOLDUAN: Yes. Also I want to ask you about this lawsuit that Trump's team filed, asking for a special master to review the documents that were taken in the FBI search of Mar-a-Lago.

What do you think of this request?

MULVANEY: It doesn't surprise me. It telegraphs the Trump team doesn't trust the FBI. Keep in mind, if you put your Trump hat on and look at this through his perspective, this is the same FBI that presented false information --


MULVANEY: -- about him to a judge as part of a FISA court investigation into the -- or surveillance of the 2016 Trump campaign. So there is some very bad blood between the FBI and president Trump.

So for them to say, look, we don't want the filter team, which is an internal team to the FBI, going through these documents, we want an independent third party master, why?

Because some of these documents, yes, they could be special because he's president. That's stuff we cover by executive privilege. But there may be materials -- and I believe they're contending there are -- that would be attorney-client privileged that everybody would be entitled to.

So yes, there is a low level of trust between the FBI and the Trumps. The motion for the special master does not surprise me. And my gut is that it is probably one of the things will be able to award Trump in the filing of this argument.

BOLDUAN: The message, the full breadth of the message that Trump says he sent to attorney general Merrick Garland, they lay it out in the filing. Let me read this. This is the message they said was delivered to the attorney general.

"President Trump wants the attorney general to know that he has been hearing from people all over the country about the raid. If there was one word to describe their mood, it is angry. The heat is building up, the pressure is building up.

"Whatever I can do to take the heat down, to bring the pressure down, just let us know."

What do you think Donald Trump was trying to say here?

Do you see that message as threatening?

MULVANEY: Yes, well, my guess is that how you interpret that message probably depends in large part about how you perceive former president Trump. If you don't like him, you can see a veiled threat. If you like him, you can take the document on its face value.

I sent a text to Mark Meadows during the January 6 riot that said, let me know if I can help. And my intent was to say, let me know if I can help. There was no underlying threatening message.

So I take the message at face value. I think you probably should until you get more detail around it. But it wouldn't surprise me that folks who don't like Donald Trump see a veiled threat in that.

BOLDUAN: The filing talks about the storage room in Mar-a-Lago where these documents were kept.

During your time as chief, did you know about a storage room, a storage unit in Mar-a-Lago, where documents may have been kept?

MULVANEY: Well, we didn't store documents there, at least not a lot of them. We would bring documents with us when we would go down on the weekends and so forth. There was a basement that I was familiar with, that the United States Secret Service used. I'm not sure if that's the same place.

What jumps out in my mind about the storage of the documents at Mar-a- Lago was that the FBI was there, in January, I believe, took the first 15 documents that you mentioned earlier, back again in June and recommended additional security be placed.

What does that tell me?

You can read that as saying, well, there was not enough security, probably an arguable point. But also that the Trump -- the Trump team seems to have done that.

So if the FBI was there, in January and went back in June and then sent a note about increasing the security, makes me wonder why they didn't do more at that particular time. So I don't focus much on the building.

When we were there, it was different. He was the sitting president. The security was outrageously tight, at least to get on the property.

Once on the property, you could move around a little bit and my guess it is a much lower level of security now. But the FBI knows a lot more about the security at the building right now that I'm going to. So I'm not sure what the issue is on the security at the building itself.

BOLDUAN: Let me also ask you, in this filing, they make it very clear, they say they believe that Donald Trump is not only the front- runner to -- in the 2024 Republican presidential primary but also the front-runner in the 2024 general election, should he decide to run. He sees himself as a front-runner in 2024.

Do you want to see him run?

MULVANEY: Sure, my guess anybody running for president perceives themselves as being a front-runner. I know Liz Cheney sees it that way here in the last couple of days. I've been very public. I think the president's policies spoke to me as a conservative and as a Republican.

I was very pleased with the policies we put in place in the administration. I think we're at the point where Donald Trump may be the only Republican, if the election were held today, who might lose to Joe Biden.

The environment is very favorable to Republicans and there is any number of them who could beat Joe Biden, in my opinion, fairly easily. Donald Trump would have a difficult time doing that and could lose to Joe Biden.

As a Republican, I'm thinking to myself, if I can get the policies that Trump represents, without having the baggage that Trump represents, why wouldn't we do that as a party?

I think there is a growing number of Republicans that see it that way.

BOLDUAN: Then you're faced with the question of, would you have trouble voting for him?

MULVANEY: I get that question all the time. We vote in secret. I don't want to make it by myself but there is a lot of Republicans who liked him, voted for him twice, hope he doesn't run again, to not put us in that situation.

There is some really, really good Republicans out there. And regardless of how this FBI investigation goes, regardless of how the January 6th investigation goes, Donald Trump still embodies a lot of anger --


MULVANEY: -- on the other side of the aisle that a lot of the Republicans don't. So I think there is a growing number of Republicans who prefer to see him not run.

There has been a tremendous amount, Kate, of sympathy for him in the last two weeks from all sorts of potential challengers in 2024, critics such as myself who have defended him in response to this raid. In a roundabout sort of way, the raid has probably helped him politically, which is one of the great ironies of American politics.

BOLDUAN: Irony in American politics is a very -- it is a constant. Good to have you on. Thank you for being here.

MULVANEY: Thank you.

BOLDUAN: Coming up for us, a former Twitter executive blowing the whistle about the platform's safety and what he describes as the real threat it poses to democracy. That's next.



[11:20:00] (MUSIC PLAYING)

BOLDUAN: This morning, a whistleblower accusing Twitter of security failures so serious, they are a risk to national security.

In a CNN and "The Washington Post" exclusive, the whistleblower is speaking out for the first time. And we have obtained the whistleblower disclosure sent to Congress and several federal agencies last month.

It is not just the accusations in this complaint that are important; it is also who this the whistleblower was: Peiter Zatko, the former head of Twitter security, a former famous hacker and now a major name in the cybersecurity world.

CNN's Donie O'Sullivan has this reporting. He joins us now.

This is fascinating to listen to and see the fallout from already today.

What did Zatko tell you?

DONIE O'SULLIVAN, CNN TECH CORRESPONDENT: There is a lot in this. I think what stands out for me really is what Zatko is alleging is that Twitter employees, thousands of them, have too much access to the kind of main critical controls at Twitter.

We all might remember 2020, the summer of 2020, there was a huge Twitter hack. We saw Biden, who was running for president at the time, his account was compromised as was Elon Musk's, Kim Kardashian's, Obama's.

When that was compromised by hackers, some of them were teenagers. The point that Zatko is making and his lawyer is making is, if teenagers can do this, just imagine what nation states can do, what hackers from Russia, China, elsewhere can do.

I want to play for you some sound of Zatko and his lawyer.


PEITER "MUDGE" ZATKO, TWITTER WHISTLEBLOWER: Your whole perception of the world is made from what you are seeing, reading and consuming online.

And if you don't have an understanding of what's real, what's not, what data to trust what not to, whether your information that you're producing could be misused or could be accessed by a foreign agent to identify patterns that may or may not even be there, yes, I think this is pretty scary.

JOHN TYE, FOUNDER, WHISTLEBLOWER AID: We think it is important that the law enforcement agencies investigate these allegations and do their job. They are charged with protecting investors and users so that no social media platform, whether it is this or others, can be abused. (END VIDEO CLIP)

BOLDUAN: And he's not pulling punches on what he's saying, especially in the disclosure, about the problems that Twitter -- what is Twitter saying about this now?

O'SULLIVAN: They're pushing back very hard, saying Zatko is basically mischaracterizing or exaggerating the problems.

BOLDUAN: But he's not some low level guy.

O'SULLIVAN: And that is the challenge for Twitter. We made so many calls this weekend to so many cyber people in Silicon Valley and Washington, D.C. As soon as people heard Zatko's name -- "Mudge" in the cyber community is what he's called -- people said, oh.

Well, if he's saying there's something here, there's probably something here. There is so much more to this. We have a lot of it on Not least there's a whole issue involving Elon Musk and bots in an upcoming case, a court case about that, as Musk tries to back out of that deal.

It is very possible that some allegations in this disclosure will help Musk in that case.

BOLDUAN: When you said Twitter is pushing back, what can they do about this?

O'SULLIVAN: That's a good question. I mean, I think a lot of the -- a lot of what people are saying today is, if any of these -- if 10 percent, if 20 percent of what is raised in this disclosure is absolutely accurate, that Twitter has a major problem, then they have holes they need to plug immediately.

And as for Zatko, he wants to go testify. He wants to appear before Congress. We'll see if Twitter executives will be willing to do the same there. Right now, they're not willing to come on our air and defend themselves.

BOLDUAN: They should definitely come speak to you. Thank you, Donie.

Coming up for us still, the U.S. government urging Americans to leave Ukraine right away over fears of new Russian attacks. Details in a live report next.





BOLDUAN: Hundreds of mourners attended the funeral for Darya Dugina, the daughter of a major Putin ally, who was killed in a car bombing near Moscow over the weekend. Russia blames Ukraine for the attack and Ukraine is now responding. CNN's Fred Pleitgen has the latest.

What are you hearing?

FREDERIK PLEITGEN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Hi, there, Kate. The Ukrainians continue to say they had absolutely nothing to do with that. In fact, they're saying they believe it was a false flag operation on the part of the Russians.

The Russians completely deny that for their part. What was going on today is the memorial service for Darya Dugina. You heard a lot of mourning, a lot of grief but also a lot of anger on the part of a lot of the people who were there.

And many of them were calling for an escalation in Russia's, what they call the special military operation, obviously meaning the war in Ukraine. They say they want even tougher stance by Vladimir Putin on Ukraine.

And they want to hit Ukraine even harder than they have in -- up until now. Now one of those who was speaking was Alexander Dugin, the ideologue who is very close to Vladimir Putin.