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At This Hour
U.S. Justice Department Says Trump Likely Made Efforts to Obstruct Probe; Biden Declares National Emergency on Mississippi Water; Biden Declares "Sickening" Attacks on FBI after Mar-a-Lago Search. Aired 11-11:30a ET
Aired August 31, 2022 - 11:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
ERICA HILL, CNN ANCHOR (voice-over): Hello, everyone.
AT THIS HOUR new evidence and new allegations about the classified documents kept at former president Trump's Mar-a-Lago home.
Jackson, Mississippi, still desperately waiting for water.
Are politics getting in the way of this critical need?
And new reporting on just how much Texas is spending to bus migrants to New York. This is what we're watching AT THIS HOUR.
HILL: Thank you for being here, I'm Erica Hill, in for Kate Bolduan today.
We begin with blockbuster revelations the Justice Department. In a court filing last night, prosecutors say classified documents were, quote, "likely concealed and removed" from a storage room at Donald Trump's Mar-a-Lago estate.
The filing making it abundantly clear the Justice Department is focused on efforts by Trump and those around him to obstruct their investigation.
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HILL (voice-over): The document also includes this photo and you can see in it several folders there seized by the FBI. They are clearly marked "top secret" and "secret." It is important to note these photos from the FBI represent their evidence that they were documenting as they do on a regular basis.
This is not to show how they were discovered. Prosecutors are asking a federal judge to deny the former president's request to have a special master appointed. Trump's legal team has until tonight to respond to all of this. Let's begin with CNN's Evan Perez, live in Washington, with more on these new allegations. And there is a lot in here.
EVAN PEREZ, CNN SR. JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Erica, there is a lot more in here than any of us was expecting really. And what this shows from the Justice Department's perspective is that, you know, their allegation is that the Trump team has not been as cooperative as portrayed by the former president, by his legal team, in their filing, asking for this special master, which they're asking a judge not to grant.
They say despite the fact that, in June, they recovered a number of documents, I believe there were 38 documents that were presented to them in a meeting in June, they say that, when they conducted the search, the FBI, in a matter of hours, recovered twice as many documents with classification markings in -- as the diligent search that the former president's counsel and other representatives had weeks to perform, calls into question serious -- into serious question the representations made in the June certification and casts doubt on the extent of cooperation in this matter.
In June, Erica, you will remember that the president's team signed a declaration, saying that there were no additional documents with classification markings to be found and that they had done a diligent search for them. That's what this is a reference to.
The government also talks about how there were signs that there was an effort to obstruct. I will read you another part of this filing.
It says, "The government also developed evidence that the government records were likely concealed and removed from the storage room and that efforts were likely taken to obstruct the government's investigation.
"This included evidence indicating that boxes formerly in the storage room were not returned prior to counsel's review."
Erica, what -- this is a really serious thing -- this is a really serious allegation that the Justice Department is making because what they're saying is that, despite the fact that they were told that the Trump's team -- Trump's team was told to secure this storage room, where these documents were being held, it appears documents were taken out and not returned.
And they know that they have evidence of this, Erica.
HILL: That is certainly an important development. Evan, stay with us. I also want to bring in now for our discussion CNN senior legal analyst Elie Honig and CNN senior political correspondent and the anchor of "INSIDE POLITICS SUNDAY," Abby Phillip.
Elie, picking up where Evan left off there, this evidence, documents removed; there were also, we were told, three documents that were found in the former president's desk. Now that, of course, is a great headline.
However, is it more about where those documents were found or is it what those documents are?
ELIE HONIG, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Well, Erica, it's both. I think one of the big questions that we can now focus in on is who moved those documents out of the secure storage area at Mar-a-Lago, I would put secure, I guess, in scare quotes there, because I'm not sure how secure it was.
But after DOJ said keep all the stuff in there, who moved the stuff out and why?
It's important to know that.
And the fact that some of these documents ended up in the president's desk, how did that happen?
Who would have had access to that desk?
HONIG: And all of this big picture really goes to the questions of knowledge and intent. Those are elements of any case that a prosecutor would have to prove beyond a reasonable doubt if we are to see criminal charges. And I think this is some of our clearest evidence thus far of that knowledge and intent.
HILL: We also look at, you know, according to the filing here -- and I'm quoting here -- "In some instances, even the FBI counterintelligence personnel and DOJ attorneys conducting the review required additional security clearances before they were permitted to review certain documents."
Evan, give us a sense; what type of documents or information would be too sensitive for their existing clearance?
PEREZ: Yes, that really stuck out to me, too, Erica. Look, you can see in the photograph that was -- that was included in the filing, there is one document that you can clearly read the codes, that the CIA and other intelligence agencies use to mark the specific classifications.
And one of them says HCSP and then there's several other markings on there. What that tells you is that there's specific clearances that are required to read those specific programs that this document relates to.
And so even if you have the highest level of security clearance, you may not be read in to know about this specific program. In this case, we are talking about confidential human sources. These are foreign- based human spies that work for the U.S. government in, most likely, hostile countries.
And these are, again, the most prized possessions of the intelligence community, of the CIA in particular. This is their bread and butter and they have to protect it. And so that's the reason why you have that level -- that compartment that is -- that separates that kind of classified documents from others. HILL: And why it raises the question again of why anybody would need
those documents at Mar-a-Lago.
Setting that aside because we are not going to get that answered today, Abby, when we look at the facts that were laid out in this filing here, it does contradict some of the narrative that we've been hearing from Team Trump about their level of cooperation and sort of how those conversations and maybe those interactions went down.
That being said, look, this is probably the narrative. This is going to play right into the president's narrative of him being a victim, of the government coming after him.
Is there anything that was revealed in this filing that you think could be an issue with some supporters of the former president?
ABBY PHILLIP, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: You know, I mean, it's very hard to say that there's any factual information at all that would cause some of the former president's supporters to -- to think differently about him and his actions.
I mean, the reality is that the fact pattern here, from beginning to end, has not been in Trump's favor. And instead of dealing with those facts, you see Trump and his lawyers even omitting just the basic issue here of the fact that these were government documents, that they were highly sensitive.
They are just ignoring those facts and moving straight to, well, the FBI acted improperly. I think that the strategy here on the Trump side is simply to ignore things that are not to their advantage. And his supporters are simply going to follow suit.
And, in fact, you're also going to see them -- and we're already seeing this -- just jumping straight into conspiracy theory, you know, territory. And that's where they are actually most comfortable, because so much of what Trump says, what he's been saying on Truth Social, it's all about conspiracies that he feeds to his supporters.
They buy it and it doesn't matter what the facts of the reality are.
HILL: It's an excellent point and I know we've said it a number of times but I think every time, Abby, it bears repeating, right, and laying out as you've done so well there.
Evan, when we look at some of -- again, some of what we've learned here. So according to this filing, Trump's counsel calls the DOJ on June 2 and says we need you guys to come tomorrow. You can get these documents tomorrow.
So one DOJ attorney, three FBI agents go to Mar-a-Lago on June 3rd, where, according to this filing, again, I'm quoting here, "The former president's counsel explicitly prohibited government personnel from opening or looking inside any of the boxes that remained in the storage room, giving no opportunity for the government to confirm that no documents with classification markings remained."
This is the same day that we're told Trump himself popped in, said hello. It's certainly a twist on the narrative of that day.
PEREZ: It really does twist the narrative that they had put out, which they have successfully done for a couple of weeks now, which was everything was going great. We're being cooperative. Even the president came and talked to -- chitchatted with the agents and they thanked him.
They quoted statements that they said were told. What they didn't say was this, that the agents and the prosecutor who were down there were not permitted to look at the documents inside those boxes.
PEREZ: So that's one reason why there was, again, more suspicion and why the government decided that they needed to take this extraordinary step, which is to get a warrant and do a search and seizure of the former president's home.
That's something that, you know, you can tell from these documents, the Justice Department just -- didn't want to do unless it was a last resort. And that's what they did.
HILL: And that's ultimately where they ended up.
Elie, as Abby pointed out, there is going to be the narrative we will hear and we are starting to see, right, the more conspiracy, not a fact-based response.
When it comes to what should be a fact-based response, how do you think Team Trump, legal Trump team, responds to this?
HONIG: Erica, we will see by 8:00 pm today. But I'm looking for a couple things.
First of all, do they start to commit on paper in a legal filing to any particular legal defense?
As Abby laid out, the defenses thus far have been all over the map, often are internally contradictory. I'm also interested to see how they respond to some of the concrete, factual allegations we just learned about.
For example, we now know that one of Donald Trump's attorneys -- and we had heard this before but now we've seen the document -- certified to DOJ, hey, we've looked everywhere. We've given you all the classified information we have.
That ended up being very, very wrong. There was plenty of classified information.
Do they offer an explanation on that?
And on the legal side, Erica, I think the argument we will see from Trump is, first of all, I disagree with you on executive privilege, even as a former president. While the law is very difficult, he will argue, it does leave the door open perhaps just a crack for a former president to invoke executive privilege.
And on attorney-client privilege, DOJ said we already did this ourselves. We reviewed and I think Trump's team will say, great, thank you for doing that. But we don't trust you, DOJ. We want a neutral third party.
And what are you afraid of?
Why wouldn't you want a neutral third party to come in and be a special master?
So that's what I'm looking for in the brief, which we will see in a bit.
HILL: Countdown is on. They have until 8 o'clock. So there we go. We know what you're doing tonight, Elie, what all of us are doing tonight. Elie Honig, Abby Phillip and Evan Perez, thank you all.
Still to come here, the water crisis in Jackson, Mississippi, is so bad at this hour that, at one point, the city ran out of bottled water. Ahead, we will speak to a state senator about what is actually being done to fix things for the long term.
HILL: New this morning, President Biden approving an emergency declaration for Mississippi to provide federal help to more than 150,000 residents in the capital city, who don't have safe drinking water. Some can't even flush their toilets.
The main water treatment facility in Jackson began failing on Monday after days of flooding and years of neglect.
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UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It is very frustrating to have to fight for some water, you know what I'm saying?
You have to mess around, buy five cases of water just to stay hydrated.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It's just kind of scary because we don't know if anything is going to get done or when it's going to get done.
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HILL: CNN's Amara Walker is live in Jackson, Mississippi, with the latest.
That's the biggest question, right, the if and the when. AMARA WALKER, CNN ANCHOR AND CORRESPONDENT: Yes. And I do, Erica,
have a little bit of good news. So Jackson's mayor, Chokwe Lumumba, has told CNN he is feeling more confident today that the residents of Jackson will be able to drink the water, cook with the water, brush their teeth, take a shower within the week.
But -- there is a big but here -- he's issuing that with a heavy dose of caution because this is an extremely challenging situation.
You were just mentioning that this main water treatment facility has faced decades of neglect when it comes to maintenance. So the mayor is saying, look, it's a tenuous situation because we had significant gains yesterday but then also regressions. Listen.
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MAYOR CHOKWE ANTAR LUMUMBA (D-MS), JACKSON: We believe and are optimistic that we can see water restored to our residents within this week.
We had significant gains yesterday and, true to form, for a very fragile system that we always say is in a state of emergency, there was some regression last night.
So crews are working; you have both city crews and the state that are on the ground, working to restore water and to bring in additional equipment to help achieve that end.
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WALKER: So while the repairs at this water treatment facility are underway, as you would imagine, drinking water is in high demand. We are at a distribution center for bottles of water here at the Sykes (ph) community center in Jackson.
The organizers telling us many of these centers don't get underway in terms of distributing until about 3:30 this afternoon. So water is in short supply although the state has said they will be bringing in truckloads of water over the next few days.
HILL: Yes, people desperately in need. Amara, appreciate it, thank you.
Joining me now, Mississippi state representative De'Keither Stamps.
It's great to have you with us this morning. As Amara just pointed out, here on CNN this morning, the mayor said he's optimistic that water will be restored this week but did call this a huge mountain to climb.
Based on the information that you're getting, do you believe that all residents will have water restored sometime this week?
DE'KEITHER STAMPS, MS STATE REPRESENTATIVE: Well, I believe that, for the first time in a long time, we've got the right people working together to solve this problem. And hopefully, with direct support from the White House, we will be able to get the resources necessary to put the repairs in place to stabilize the system.
So within the next week, it should be stabilized. But long term we got a long road to go to fix our long-term problems.
HILL: It is absolutely a long road to go and one that I know you've been trying to climb that hill for some time. You served eight years on the city council; now you are in the state government.
HILL: There is a lot of back and forth here and maybe you can help us understand it, the conflicting messages and information we heard from both the governor and mayor over the last couple of days. It's clear there is a strained relationship.
How much is that hurting your constituents, who, I'm guessing, really don't care about the politics; they just want the water?
STAMPS: Well, it's a strain. And that's why I feel myself and my other legislative colleagues can bridge that gap, because many of us have local government experience. We have a governor who was elected statewide, so he never served at the local level.
We have a mayor who has been firewater baptized in local politics. SO there is a disconnect in the vantage point of government.
With our experience, we're working together; we sat down with the speaker and the other delegation sat down with the lieutenant governor and we had the governor's office on the phone yesterday, trying to coordinate the exact response necessary. So we are working together better for the first time in history.
HILL: So that's a great development. I have to say, though, looking at this from the outside -- and I would imagine a lot of folks in the Jackson area feel this way, too -- it feels like this is all about politics.
Again, you have this local experience and the state experience, you even said on the local level, just trying to get maintenance for existing water towers or new water towers. You kept running into dead ends.
Why is it so hard for an issue that is so clear, right, access to clean, safe, consistently reliable water, why is it so hard for that to get through at every single level of government?
STAMPS: Well, polarizing politics brought us here. But goodwill is going to see us out of the situation, because, you know, when you're trying to fight these national issues, being the center of the abortion fight and gun fight and all these other national issues, this tragedy has brought us to a situation, where we're going to get back to basics and start to perform for the basic issues that Mississippians need.
HILL: There has been talk about possibly calling a special session of the state legislature. Do you think that would be an effective move at this point?
Do you support that?
STAMPS: Well, as long as we agree on what we're going to vote on before we get there. And that's what these talks are now.
OK, if we call a special session, for what legislation?
What is it going to look like?
If we call a special session I will support that.
Do you have a sense of what some of that legislation could be?
Is there anything that you have proposed?
STAMPS: That's part of the polarizing politics. Some folks want the state to take it over but the State of Mississippi has just as many challenges as the city does.
So I believe right now it needs to be an integrated response to just get the capacity in place. There are a lot of folks who want to take over the system. But that doesn't mean that Mississippi is going to deliver any better government than the city has been doing.
So at this point I don't believe it's (INAUDIBLE) --
HILL: These aren't overnight fixes, this is an issue that's been going on for decades. One of the things that struck me, that the mayor laid out yesterday, was the staffing issue. A lot of these positions, they are highly specialized. They require certain degrees and then advanced training.
What are the most immediate -- and what are the fixes that you see today, that you think could bring in perhaps some reliability for the folks in Jackson, while you work on those long-term solutions?
STAMPS: Well, direct appropriations of resources directly to our water and public works departments, that's the immediate fix, is getting the resources right inside of our public works department without having to go through any state agency or anything like that. Just give the public works folks what they need and they will reform.
HILL: Mississippi state representative De'Keither Stamps, appreciate your time today, sir. Thank you.
STAMPS: Thank you for having me. God bless.
HILL: Just ahead here, the FDA greenlighting new COVID booster shots to target Omicron strains.
So how quickly could you get that shot in your arm?
Those details next.
HILL: Developing news on the COVID front this hour, the FDA just authorizing updated boosters from Pfizer and Moderna. So the reformulated boosters will combine the original vaccine with one that targets specifically those Omicron variants.
Pfizer's vaccine is authorized for those age 12 and up, Moderna's for people 18 and older. Keep in mind the CDC still has to sign off on the new boosters. The agency's vaccine advisers are set to meet and hold a vote tomorrow.
President Biden sharpening his message ahead of the midterm elections, condemning what he calls "sickening" attacks on law enforcement. The FBI is facing an onslaught of threats following the search of former president Trump's Florida home three weeks ago. CNN's Jeremy Diamond live this morning at the White House with more for us.
This is a far more pointed message and he's taking it out there consistently.
JEREMY DIAMOND, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Yes, it certainly is. Listen, for years, Democrats have really struggled to parry attacks from Republicans, who accused Democrats of being anti-police.
Republicans have claimed this mantle of law and order for years now. But yesterday we heard Biden really trying to flip the script on Republicans by calling out what he sees as Republican hypocrisy.
And he pointed to two things.