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At This Hour

FBI Found File on Foreign Nation's Nuclear Defenses at Mar-a- Lago; Bannon to Surrender on Charges over Border Wall Fundraising; Nuclear Watchdog on Ukraine Facility Says "We Are Playing with Fire"; Pentagon Planning How to Shape, Support Ukraine Forces in Long Term; Interview with Representative Adam Smith of the Armed Services Committee on Ukraine. Aired 11-11:30a ET

Aired September 07, 2022 - 11:00   ET




KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR (voice-over): AT THIS HOUR, a foreign nations nuclear readiness. A new report shedding light on just how sensitive some of the documents were found at Mar-a-Lago.

The warning from the world's top nuclear agency that the fight in Ukraine is now playing with fire and begging for a safe zone around Europe's largest nuclear plant.

And California's heat wave potentially crippling the power grid and forcing the state to rethink how to even approach this extreme weather. This is what we are watching AT THIS HOUR.


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

A new report from "The Washington Post" as more detail about what was in those highly sensitive documents picked up from Donald Trump's Mar- a-Lago home. "The Washington Post" says that the FBI found highly classified documents related to nuclear weapons capabilities during that court-approved search of his Florida residence last month.

That includes some documents describing, as "The Post" puts it, "a foreign government's military defenses, including its nuclear capabilities and nuclear defense readiness."

What country was the subject of this classified material was not revealed. But some of the material so secret that it's described as many senior national security officials are kept in the dark about them. Only the president and some members of his cabinet or a near- cabinet level official know about them and can authorize others to be read in.

This comes as the Justice Department is weighing its next steps after a federal judge sided with Donald Trump, agreeing to appoint a special master to review all of the documents picked up in this investigation. That could include the possibility of appealing the decision on the

part of the Justice Department, something Donald Trump's former attorney general Bill Barr now says that he thinks they should do, they should push to fight for. We will much more on all of that in a moment.

But there is also another former member of Trump's inner circle facing justice. Steve Bannon is expected to surrender to state prosecutors in New York tomorrow. This development comes after he was indicted on charges related to a fund-raising effort to build the war on the southern border. Kara Scannell is tracking this one for us.

Kara, what are you learning about this latest Steve Bannon legal situation?

KARA SCANNELL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Kate. Sources tell me that Steve Bannon will surrender tomorrow here in New York, where he will face charges related to that effort to raise money for a border wall along the U.S. southern border.

Now Bannon, you may recall, was indicted on federal charges relating to this very same conduct in August of 2020. He was then pardoned by former president Donald Trump as he was leaving office.

That's when the Manhattan district attorney launched its investigation, looking into this same conduct. Now according to the federal prosecutors, Bannon and his co-conspirators had raised more than $25 million for this "we build the wall" effort.

But they say -- prosecutors say that Bannon and the others then siphoned away at least $1 million that they used to cover some personal expenses. Bannon pleaded not guilty and was never charged and that case never went through. Trump then pardoned him.

But you know, state charges are not covered by a federal pardon. And the fact that he was never fully prosecuted means that there is not an issue of double jeopardy here, at least according to numerous lawyers I've spoken with.

So Bannon will be in court tomorrow facing these charges. He has called them phony and says that this is just another partisan political weaponization of the criminal justice system.

And these charges come just two months after Bannon was convicted in Washington, D.C., on charges that he was found guilty of contempt of Congress for failing to comply with a subpoena by the House Select Committee investigating January 6th.

BOLDUAN: Great to see you, Kara, Thank you for that.

Joining me for more is CNN senior law enforcement analyst, Andrew McCabe, CNN legal and national security analyst Carrie Cordero and CNN political and national security analyst David Sanger.

Thank you a little for being here. We will talk about Steve Bannon in just a second. The new detail from "The Washington Post," more detail about what was in these highly classified documents picked up at Mar- a-Lago.

David, I wanted to ask you about that first. There is a list of known and suspected nuclear nations, of course, nine of them.

Which country could this be about?

DAVID SANGER, CNN POLITICAL AND NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: There are nine known nuclear weapons states and countries like Iran, which are seeking nuclear weapons, we believe.

The Iranians deny that but are certainly putting together the material for it so they're a nuclear aspirant. Seems unlikely that the president would have documents about allies who have nuclear weapons --


SANGER: -- Britain, France, Israel strike me as the most likely but not the only possibility -- would be Iran or North Korea. We know that he held on to some of his letters from Kim Jong-un, the so-called love letters back and forth on the summit.

President Trump was very determined to make the case that he had succeeded with North Korea, even though they didn't give up a single weapon during his time, which was, of course, the goal.

And he was very determined to show that his sanctions against Iran were working, even though, by the time he left, they were getting closer to the bomb than they had ever been. So it seems that those are two of the most likely; China is always a possibility, of course.

BOLDUAN: Absolutely.

Carrie, this document according to the reporting, was found -- the timing I think is important -- was found and retrieved during that search of Mar-a-Lago. So this is a document, at least a document or more than one document that Trump held onto, despite multiple requests from the Archives for months, to return.


BOLDUAN: Why would he hold on to this information?

CORDERO: Well, I think that is one of the big questions. It certainly is probably one of the questions that the Justice Department and the FBI are trying to investigate, why he was hanging on to them, whether he was doing anything with them or whether they were just residing at his residence.

But I think it also underscores the reason why the FBI needed to execute this search and why the Justice Department made the decision to go to the judge and get a warrant under probable cause to be able to execute the search.

Because the high level of classification, the sensitive nature of the documents indicates that, even though they had engaged with the former president's team for so much time, many, many months, that the significant level of classification and the national security implications of him hanging onto these documents just demanded that they finally go in and seize them.

So I look at the seizure of these documents and the high level classification and the fact that now we are learning what at least some of the documents were about, just to underscore the reason why they had to take this investigative step.

BOLDUAN: Andrew, what do you think about that?

ANDREW MCCABE, CNN SENIOR LAW ENFORCEMENT ANALYST: I think that is absolutely right. I think the seriousness of the documents, it eliminates any question about whether or not the department and the FBI actually had to go in with a search, which, you'll recall at the time, was perceived as this overly aggressive move that was taken, you know, kind of out of the blue without any sort of appropriate windup.

Of course, we now know that is not true. We know the parties were not negotiating in good faith. We know that the folks on the Trump team were misleading the government, apparently, at several points in the exchange.

They had resisted the return of these documents for, you know, basically 1.5 years, knowing what was in there. They absolutely had to go in and recover this material. It's essential to national security.

BOLDUAN: David, regardless of his motivation or those around him for keeping the document, do you think there could be a real impact going forward?

I mean, other nations now know a former U.S. President had these highly sensitive documents at his house. I mean, it's described as a foreign government's nuclear defense readiness.

SANGER: Well, you know, it depends in large part on what country it is and how determined they may have been to try to get some of this information, if the information isn't already partly out in the public realm.

Just because something is classified does not mean it hasn't already been written about. Obviously there's been a lot written about U.S. operations against North Korea, certainly against Iran.

But the fact that these documents, which were -- at least some of them -- marked Sensitive Compartmentalized Information, some of them, we believe may have pointed to human sources, were behind basically a single padlock in the basement of a country club, even if it's the president's own country club -- or ex-president's -- does suggest that somebody who was launching a significant operation might have gotten to them.

Of course, the big mystery is still, what was in those sleeves of secret information, where we couldn't find the documents?

And are they actually missing? Have they already been returned to the government?

Could they be in somebody else's hands?

And all of those questions need to be answered and that is why this is getting so complicated for president Trump.

BOLDUAN: Absolutely.

Andy, on Steve Bannon, he is expected to surrender to face state charges in New York tomorrow. I want to read the statement that Bannon issued on this.

"They are coming after all of us, not only president Trump and myself. I am never going to stop fighting.


BOLDUAN: "In fact, I have not yet begun to fight. They will have to kill me first," Bannon's reaction to this.

You and I have talked about the impact of incendiary language like this.

What does this do?

MCCABE: Well, I mean, this is what Steve Bannon has to traffic in, right?

It's this kind of language that Steve Bannon uses to attract viewers to his programs, whatever those might be, and to attract support to what he is interested in and, ultimately, as we know from the allegations in this case, to attract funding to support himself.

So it is -- this is what he appeals to, this, "I am standing up, the lone man against the government" or maybe in tandem with the former president. And, therefore, you should support me.

We know there is nothing to that, certainly in the case of this criminal investigation, which I should add, Kate, this is not going to be your average state level fraud case.

This is a case that was developed carefully over time at the federal level with all of the resources that it has to offer. It's a case that the Feds have now convicted two of Bannon's former co-defendants in, either one of whom might decide to benefit themselves by now testifying against Bannon in a state matter.

And I'm quite confident that the Feds are sharing the information that they have developed and their witnesses and that sort of thing with the Manhattan DA. So this is a very serious case that New York is apparently going to move forward with. And he faces significant jeopardy.

BOLDUAN: Carrie, what do you think of the legal case?

Much more to learn but what do you think of the legal case he is up against?

CORDERO: Well, I think the first part is I'm curious to see what the indictment actually charges, right?

It's very hard to assess what the consequences will be if we don't actually see what the indictment. So once that comes out, then we will get a sense as to the amounts involved, the number of charges that are against him.

The charging document may reveal information about -- giving clues about what witnesses might be willing to testify against him. So I think, once we have that charging document, we will know so much more.

Just to follow up briefly on David's comment earlier, in terms of the national security implications of the document that was released at Mar-a-Lago -- from Mar-a-Lago, the one additional thing that I would just add to that is that, other countries, whether they are allied countries or they are adversary countries, are all going to be trying to find out what country it was.

And our foreign partnership relationships with those countries, whether they're intelligence or foreign policy relationships, those depends on the United States' being able to keep secrets and being able to have information about other countries' capabilities that are able to be guarded.

So I just want to add that that is one additional reason why the consequences of the severity of that document are so important for our national security and foreign policy considerations.

BOLDUAN: Good point. Thank you so much for adding that.

it's great to see you all. Thank you very much.

Coming up, the Pentagon is now considering how it can support Ukraine in its fight against Russia and in the long term, possibly for years to come. The new reporting and the chairman of the House Armed Services Committee will weigh in.





BOLDUAN: The head of the U.N.'s nuclear watchdog agency says until Ukraine's largest nuclear facility is protected from the war going on around it, quote, "we are playing with fire."

The IAEA's report on the plan reveals everything from the physical structure to its safety and communications systems are compromised and still Russia and Ukraine continue to trade accusations over which is to blame for creating this current nuclear crisis there. CNN's Sam Kiley is in Ukraine with much more on this. What more are you hearing about it, Sam?

SAM KILEY, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: I think, first of all, the blame issues no question it was captured by the Russians on invasion of the country. So as far as the international community is concerned, it is Russia's fault.

The blame game comes in where and how and who is doing the damage to this nuclear power station. What is really concerning, both the IAEA and the Ukrainian authorities, are the power outages supplying power to the two active nuclear reactors, which means they can't get cooled without using the diesel backup generators or what they call islanding, which is the reactor cooling itself using its own electricity.

That is very much a last resort. Just in the last few hours, the Ukrainian government is saying that they are considering shutting the nuclear power station down altogether. That would be their final -- it may be brinkmanship -- their final opportunity to try to offset or mitigate what they all believe could be a nuclear catastrophe if it continues to be a front line location, which it is.

There is no sign at all of demilitarization by the Russians. They are using it as a fire base and the Ukrainians did admit a few days ago they had used precision weapons against Russian targets not very far from the power plant, although they deny any kind of attack on the plant itself.

But because it's on a front line location, Ukrainians are now talking about shutting it down completely. That would be the action of last resort. This is a nuclear power station that provides a fifth of Ukraine's electrical power. Kate.

BOLDUAN: Absolutely, the largest nuclear power plant in all of Europe. Sam, thank you so much. I really appreciate your reporting.

Three U.S. Defense officials are also now telling CNN the Pentagon is working on a plan to support Ukraine's military over the long term, even after the war with Russia has ended. Barbara Starr is live at the Pentagon with this new reporting.

Barbara, what does this mean?



STARR: This morning, as we speak, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and General Mark Milley, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, are on their way to Germany to meet tomorrow with Ukrainian officials and about 40 other nations to talk about the next round of military aid, weapons sales to Ukraine, weapons transfers, if you will.

But even as that is being finalized, here at the Pentagon, Milley is spearheading an analysis, a deep dive into what a future Ukraine military could look like. What kind of strategy do they need?

Do they want to be a ground force?

Do they want to have airpower and what do they need to defend themselves?

Delicate business because Ukraine is a sovereign nation. And they can make their own decisions. But what this does is lay the groundwork for many years to come, potentially, of U.S. arms sales and U.S. military training for Ukraine, so they can credibly defend themselves in the future, even when this war right now is over.

So we are going to be looking tomorrow for what kinds of new arms might be transferred in the near term. But keep in mind, this keep dive analysis that Milley is spearheading is looking out more than five years. The U.S. in this, they believe now, for the long haul.

BOLDUAN: That is really interesting. Barbara, thank you so much for that.

Joining me now for more on this is Democratic Congressman Adam Smith, chairman of the House Armed Services Committee.

Thank you for being here. I'm curious what -- Milley is spearheading this analysis now, looking five years out in terms the long-term support the U.S. can offer Ukraine.

What does that long U.S. support for Ukraine look like to you?

REP. ADAM SMITH (D-WA), ARMED SERVICES COMMITTEE: Well, it looks like Ukraine -- it's also the rest of our allies in Eastern Europe -- being able to defend themselves against Russian aggression.

Because once we get to a peace deal and we have a sovereign democratic Ukraine still in place, Russia will still threaten them. I remember they took Crimea and parts of the east in 2014 and then waited eight years to launch this attack.

But to make sure that Russia never again thinks that they can successfully launch an attack against Ukraine you have to build a defense structure around Ukraine once this war is over that can deter any future Russian thought about attacking them again.

BOLDUAN: When it comes to the battlefield, the Pentagon acknowledged the reporting yesterday that Russia is in the process of buying millions of rockets and artillery shells from North Korea now, to use in Ukraine. I want to play how the Pentagon reacted to this.


PAT RYDER, PENTAGON PRESS SECRETARY: Certainly, as has been said, we assess that things are not going well on that front for Russia. So the fact that they are reaching out to North Korea is a sign that they are having some challenges on the sustainment front.


BOLDUAN: Mr. Chairman, do you see this as good news that Russia is having a problem resupplying?

Or is it bad news that they are finding resupply from anywhere, especially North Korea?

SMITH: Well, to be honest, it's both. Certainly the weakness of the Russian military has been made obvious since this attack started. And this is further evidence of that. They are not able to build and resupply the munitions they need to go forward.

And that is, you know, comforting in the sense that it reduces Russia's ability to attack Ukraine or any other country in that region. But if they are able to get a large amount of weapons from North Korea, that puts them potentially in a position to perpetuate the fight longer.

And we have to be concerned about that, which is why the next months are so crucial in Ukraine. Ukraine is pushing back both in the north and Kharkiv and in the south in Kherson.

If Ukraine is able before this winter to retake significant chunks of territory, to take advantage of the Russian military's weakness, then they will be in a much stronger position to convince Russia that it's not -- that they can't win.

It is not worth it to continue this fight. But the next couple of months are crucial in putting Ukraine in that position.

BOLDUAN: Maybe becoming a central piece of what direction this heads is this most pressing crisis -- one of the most pressing crises in Ukraine, which is the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant.

The head of the IAEA says it is playing with fire.

What does this mean for this whole conflict if Russia can take Europe's largest nuclear power plant, effectively offline and, according to Ukraine's president -- sorry; Ukraine's ambassador, then also use the plant as a shield for Russian personnel and hardware?

SMITH: Yes. It has the potential to perpetuate the conflict longer, number one, by, you know, weakening Ukraine's energy grid and, number two, by putting the Russians in a position that they can't be pushed out of. I think international pressure has to come on Russia.


SMITH: They are playing with fire and a complete nuclear catastrophe here. And the solution is simple. The Russians need to demilitarize the nuclear plant and let the IAEA inspectors in and let the Ukrainians operate the plant with the IAEA inspectors.

I think we have to keep up the international pressure here, because the danger -- you described the danger quite well. As long as Russia continues to use it as a base of military

operations, you know, first of all, it's risky because you never know where the fight is going to go but, second of all, the Russians really don't know how to operate the plant. If they make a mistake, you have a nuclear catastrophe.

BOLDUAN: Absolutely. You know, this week, President Biden confirmed that he will not support, declaring Russia a state sponsor of terrorism. There has been more than one effort in Congress recently, though, to do just that.

Where do you land on this?

Because Joe Biden and Nancy Pelosi are reportedly on different sides of this.

SMITH: Well, I tend to support the Biden administration. There has to be an off-ramp at some point for Russia. I completely support the sanctions that have been laid down on Russia thus far. All of the efforts that we have done to support Ukraine.

But when Ukraine pushes Russia back, at least, you know, to the pre- February 23rd borders, and it is clear to Putin that he will not be able to destroy Ukraine and take it over as he intended, that is an opportunity for peace.

But if we put Russia into that category, the category that Iran and North Korea is, that makes it far more difficult for them to come to the peace table. So I don't think the benefit is worth the risk.

You know, we will keep monitoring or I'll keep monitoring the situation to see if there is an argument I'm not seeing. But I think the current sanctions campaign is the right way to go.

Making them a state sponsor of terror, I think, would make it very difficult to get to that off-ramp and ultimately get to a peace deal. And what is what we want. We don't want this war to go on. We don't Russia to be destroyed.

We want Russia to stay within Russia and stop threatening the sovereignty of Ukraine. But to get there, you have to have an off-ramp at some point. So I support where the Biden administration is at right now.

BOLDUAN: Mr. Chairman, thanks for coming in. Really appreciate it.

SMITH: Thanks, Kate, always appreciate the chance.

BOLDUAN: Thank you.

Coming up for us, a record shattering heat wave in the West with temperatures hitting 116 degrees and pushing California's power grid to the limit. How California is going to respond to this now, that is next.