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The Lead with Jake Tapper
Fulton County DA Wants Trump Trial To Start On March 4, 2024; Exclusive: Secretary Of State Blinken Speaks By Phone With Paul Whelan, Who Is Wrongfully Detained In Russia; 106 Dead, 5 Identified As Painstaking Maui Search Continues; Biden Announces He'll Visit Maui On Monday; County Prosecutor Withdraws Warrant That Was Used For Police Raid On Kansas Paper. Aired 4-5p ET
Aired August 16, 2023 - 16:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
JIM SCIUTTO, CNN HOST: It seems like he's owning the Bidenomics title now. Of course we'll continue to follow that. All developments in the Trump investigations as well.
THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER starts now.
JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: This just in, a proposed trial date for Donald Trump in Atlanta, Georgia.
THE LEAD starts right now.
Right as the 2024 primary season kicks into high gear, so, too, could a criminal trial for Donald Trump in Fulton County, Georgia, as CNN also learned about his possible plan to turn himself in in the coming days.
Plus, the siren system that did not sound, drawing questions and outrage in Hawaii after we learned that the Maui emergency siren system was tested, but was not used before the wildfire torched the historic town of Lahaina. Now, the painstaking process to identify the remains of the 106 so far confirmed killed.
And an unexpected twist for a small town newspaper after an outrageous police raid raised alarms about the freedom of the press and the United States.
Welcome to THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper.
And we start today with our law and justice lead, and what is gearing up to be a battle over who gets Donald Trump to appear in court and when. This afternoon, Fulton County district attorney, Fani Willis, in Atlanta, Georgia, asked a judge to set March 4th as the start date for the trial of Trump and his 18 codefendants for their alleged efforts to overturn the 2020 election in Georgia. But that sets up potential clashes with multiple other Trump trials, which are also said to begin in early 2024.
I want to bring in CNN's Sara Murray who just returned from Fulton County, CNN's Evan Perez, and former federal prosecutor, Elie Honig. Sara, walk us through this proposed schedule from Georgia.
SARA MURRAY, CNN POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, it's a pretty tight timeline that she's proposing. And again, this is her proposal. This is not something the judge has set. So, this is what she is asking for, essentially. And she's asking for an arraignment the week of September 5th for these defendants, that's Labor Day week. And she's asking to go to trial on March 4th, 2024.
But, Donald Trump already has a very packed legal calendar. You might have heard this.
TAPPER: Sure does, sure does.
MURRAY: And I think we have a couple of dates on what might already be on his dance card. So, January 2nd, 2024 is the suggested date by the Justice Department to move ahead with this election interference case. There's also a date set on January 15th, 2024, which is another defamation case from E. Jean Carroll. There's also a March 25th, 2024 date for the Manhattan D.A.'s criminal case in that whole hush money scheme to go to trial. And then, the classified documents case is set to go to trial in May of 2024. And then, of course, you have the whole running for president business scattered --
TAPPER: Right. January 15th is the Iowa caucus.
TAPPER: Yeah, that's a busy dance card.
Evan, what do we know about how realistic this March proposal is for Fani Willis?
EVAN PEREZ, CNN SENIOR JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: It seems a little farfetched, I mean, to be honest, because, you know, there is going to be between now and there's so much that has to happen. You know, first of all, they have to try to figure out whether they are going to -- they're going to keep all of these people together, these 19 defendants together, right? There's also the question of whether they are going to move some of this out of the state courts.
So, there's so much that a judge will have to sort of referee, all of this, not to mention the fact that, you know, you have those federal trials which, you know, take precedents over the state cases.
TAPPER: And, Evan, while I have you, what do we know about the negotiations going on behind the scenes right now between Trump's team and Fulton County over his surrender?
PEREZ: Well, they're going back and forth, and it appears, sources are telling Alayna Treene, that they are looking at perhaps next week for him to do this. He has until the 25th. And, of course, you know, he has a date that he could be showing up for a Republican debate which we don't know whether he's going to do or not.
So, there is so much that he needs to do. Of course, they need to negotiate this with the security people at the Secret Service because they want to make sure that, you know, if the sheriff goes through with it, he will get mugshot it, and, you know, presents perhaps some new opportunities for the former president to raise some more money.
TAPPER: Yeah. Elie, another defendant in this case out of Georgia's former White House chief of staff, Mark Meadows. He has filed to have his case moved from Georgia court to federal court. Why?
ELIE HONIG, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: Well, Jake, this is more than procedural wrangling. This could be outcome determinative because if Mark Meadows could show that the charges relate to his performance of his official duties, in this case, as White House chief of staff, then a couple of things happen.
First, he gets move across the street to the federal courthouse. Second of all, he is on the doorstep of a dismissal, because under the law, federal law, if a person can show that they've been criminally charged for something that they did, quote, under color of law, meaning, in their capacity as a federal official, then, the case gets thrown out all together.
So, there's no question Mark Meadows has a reasonable argument to make here. I look for Donald Trump to make a similar argument. I don't think he has a strong an argument. I look for Jeffrey Clark who worked at DOJ to make a similar argument. All of these are going to be potentially dispositive motions.
TAPPER: What's that mean dispositive motions?
HONIG: Dispositive means they either stay or they go away. They live or they die.
TAPPER: Rudy Giuliani and Donald Trump are also expected to make the same request. Do they have a strong case, do you think?
HONIG: Donald Trump does not have as good a case as Mark Meadows because Trump will say these were my -- this is my effort to regulate and make sure that the election was clean as president. But I think that DOJ, or excuse me, the prosecutors are going to respond no, this was you as a private citizen and as a candidate way overstepping your authority as president.
As for Rudy Giuliani, he's got nothing. He was not a federal employee at the time. He's going to have to argue that I was somehow hired by Donald Trump. But that had nothing to do with Donald Trump's official job as president.
TAPPER: So, Sara Murray, this is -- this arraignment is different than what we have seen play out in Miami, in Washington, D.C., and in New York, right? Because it is not going to happen the same day as when he surrenders?
MURRAY: Yeah. We got use of this one and done thing. You know, you go in, you get processed, you make your first appearance in court, you knock the whole thing out and that is not what is going to happen in this case. They obviously have until next Friday to turn themselves in and then she is proposing this day for an arraignment. We will see when that actually is.
One of the questions on the attorneys have in this case is are they going to try to arraign all of them together or are they going to try to bring all of these 19 defendants together in a courtroom to do this arraignment at the same time?
Other people have questioned whether everyone is actually even going to be there in person. This court has done a lot of appearances virtually, particularly since COVID. And so, it's possible the judge could allow for something like that as well. So we kind of need to wait and see for the judge.
PEREZ: There's also a stadium next door where Beyonce was a couple of nights ago.
MURRAY: Well, right, maybe we could just do it in the stadium.
TAPPER: Coordinated with the Bae if possible.
Sara Murray, Evan Perez, Elie Honig, thanks to you.
How could all of this be playing out inside Trump world? Well, let's bring in CNN's anchor of "THE SOURCE", Kaitlan Collins, as well as political commentator, Alyssa Farah Griffin, the former White House communications director for the Trump administration.
Kaitlan, another proposed trial date is now filling up Trump's calendar, right, in the thick of the GOP primaries in March. In fact, the date Fani Willis has proposed is the day before Super Tuesday. How do you think this is going over for the former president and his team right now?
KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN CHIEF CORRESPONDENT: Not great, but I do think that they feel that they have confidence. They are going to fight this. It is almost guaranteed that they will fight this date back, Jake, if this is something that a judge would agree to. Of course, that is a question on what that ultimately looks like.
But they are already preparing to fight against the date that has been set -- it has been proposed by Jack Smith's team in the January 6th case there. And so, certainly, they are going to also, likewise, push back against this one.
But the reality that they do have is, you know, Trump's going on Truth Social and saying that none of these trials should happen before the 2024 election. I think it's pretty obvious why he thinks that, Jake. But the question and the reality that is facing his legal team is that the judges have so much leeway here.
And what I am told is that what they are most concerned that could happen while this campaign is ongoing in 2024 is that he's running for president and it is a federal indictment from Jack Smith when it comes to the election subversion case. They were actually worried the judge they're based on what she's been saying in court, her comments made last Friday when they were there talking about the scope of evidence and what Trump could see and what his attorneys can see and who else can see it, that she is pushing really aggressively and that she's making comments about whether or not he could taint a jury pool, whether that could move up.
So, this one, they do have confidence they'll be able to -- this is not actually going to happen in March of 2024, that when they do have concerns that it could potentially happen next year in the election season.
TAPPER: Alyssa, Trump's team is a negotiation with Fulton County authorities over the terms of his surrender. It is possible we'll see a mugshot. No doubt if that happens, his team will use it for fundraising. But do you think that Donald Trump would be ultimately deep down embarrassed by the existence of a mugshot?
ALYSSA FARAH GRIFFIN, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: I think deep down, he would certainly hate to see a mugshot. I think something that he's never expected would exist of himself, but they're absolutely going to capitalize on it, if we end up seeing one. I wouldn't be shocked if we saw, you know, Trump mugshot NFT, and whatever other grift they could come up with.
But listen, the Trump team is worried about this, the series of events that they may have, where it's from January to March and it could effectively be on two different trials if they can't get this date moved back. And he's benefited tremendously and remarkably from these indictments and the polls and his fundraising. I think you're going to see that decline in the New Year, though.
Campaigns are going to be in full swing. You're going to come up on the Iowa caucuses. He may not be able to attend events because of trial dates. You're going to come up on New Hampshire and he may have to be down in Georgia or dealing with the Department of Justice.
I think he's very cognizant of that could force him to lose a very critical election window ahead of, you know, actually determining who the nominee is. So, he is worried about that.
TAPPER: Kaitlan, Trump on Truth Social yesterday wrote, quote, they never went after those that rigged the election, they only went after those that fought to find the riggers. A word I am not particularly familiar with, riggers. Keith Boykin, a Democratic political commentator and former White House aide to Bill Clinton, he took issue with that term. Take a listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
KEITH BOYKIN, FORMER CLINTON WHITE HOUSE AIDE: And he wants to find the riggers, his word not mine, who stole the election from him. Rigger, please.
(END VIDEO CLIP) TAPPER: Boykin went on to say that Trump's choice of words is not an accident after spending days making racist attacks against Fani Willis, the Black women leading the prosecution against him in Atlanta. What do you make of that?
COLLINS: I mean, it's entirely unsurprising if you've been watching and listening to Donald Trump attack, essentially everyone who has criticized him, certainly those who investigated him. But I think what is different here is that he is pushing the limits of the criminal justice system in the sense of what he is saying online.
His attorneys certainly recognize that. I mean, they argue publicly and in court that he has a First Amendment right, that he's running for office, and what he says should not be limited but they also recognize the reality that these are prosecutors and judges that are either overseeing the case or handling the investigation in and of itself, and that this is not helpful to them. This is problematic.
But Trump is someone who can't necessarily, you know, be told what to do. I mean, his post yesterday about holding the major -- or two days ago, about holding the major press conference at Mar-a-Lago -- or Bedminster on Monday talking about how he is finally going to prove election fraud is something he did entirely on his own. It wasn't something that was coordinated campaign strategy.
So, I mean, he has access to these truth social accounts. He is the one who posts these posts. And so, the question is, does the judge weigh in on any of these cases and do they get involved and does it hurt him potentially as Judge Chutkan in Washington has warned that it would? Whether or not that happens remains to be seen.
TAPPER: Alyssa, what do you make of the racial accusation that Keith Boykin was making there, that the use of the word rigger is not unintentional? Mr. President, Mr. Trump, President Trump, has certainly been accused of racist language before.
GRIFFIN: Right. With Trump, you don't need to look for a dog whistle. It's a bull horn when it comes to race. And I do think that's deliberate.
We've seen the -- I mean, slanderous attacks that he has put out against Fani Willis, you know, alleged things I won't even repeat. So, he's not really hiding that he's going to lean into that element and this is, you know, taking place just outside of Atlanta. When you saw the courtroom, it was a lot of Black men and women who are serving in that courtroom.
The fact he is introducing racing to the prosecution surprises me. It's disgusting. It's textbook Donald Trump but it comes as no surprise.
TAPPER: Yeah. Kaitlan Collins and Alyssa Farah Griffin, thanks to both of you.
And as Rudy Giuliani's legal cases unfold, the CNN original series digs into how he got here. It's called "GIULIANI: WHAT HAPPENED TO AMERICA'S MAYOR?" That's a good question. It is airing this Saturday night, at 8:00 p.m. Eastern, right here on CNN.
Coming up next on THE LEAD, the horror in Hawaii, where 106 lives have been lost in wildfires but only -- only five people as of now, only five have been identified. That statistic alone gives you an idea of just how unimaginably painful the damage is.
Plus, the siren system that did not sound. Could it have done more harm if it did go off?
And the CNN exclusive just in, a phone call between Secretary of State Antony Blinken and a wrongfully detained American in Russia.
Stay with us.
TAPPER: We have some breaking news for you now. CNN has learned exclusively that America's top diplomat, Secretary of State Antony Blinken, spoke on the phone to Paul Whelan today. Whelan is the former marine, the American, who has been wrongfully detained in Russia since 2018. He was sentenced to a 16 year Russian prison sentence for espionage charges, which he vehemently denies and the U.S. government says is not true.
CNN's Kylie Atwood is live for us at the State Department.
Kylie, how rare is a phone call like this?
KYLIE ATWOOD, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: It's incredibly rare, Jake.
We are told, according to the source familiar with the calls, a second time that they had a call. But it's significant that Paul Whelan was able to speak with the secretary of state from a prison camp in Russia where he has been for more than four years now. And we don't know the logistics of how this all came together.
We do know that Whelan is able to make phone calls from the prison cell. He has phoned our colleague Jennifer Hanson (ph) multiple times from there. But, of course, it's logistically complicated to stand up a phone call with the secretary of state.
Now, according to a source familiar with the call, the secretary's message to Whelan was to keep the faith and that the U.S. has doing everything that they can to bring him home as quickly as possible. And when it comes to those efforts, we do know that the U.S. put a substantial offer on the table for Russia to try to secure Whelan's release.
That was much earlier this year. That was more than eight months ago. And we are told by senior administration official that that offer is still absolutely live offer. But, of course, after that offer was put on the table, Russia also took another American, Evan Gershkovich. And so, the U.S. is working to get both of those Americans home right now. And Russia has not responded in a substantial way to the offer that the U.S. put on the table back earlier this year for Paul Whelan alone.
So, of course, we continue to watch this. U.S. officials working feverishly around the clock to try to figure out something to get both of these Americans out of Russia and back home to the U.S. -- Jake.
TAPPER: So, the Russians are not showing any signs that they're interested in any negotiations for either Whelan or Gershkovich?
ATWOOD: As far as we know, there is no negotiations that are happening right now. There's been contact between the two sides but one of the major complications here according to current and former U.S. officials is that they suspect that Russia wants someone who's in the Russian spying apparatus. The U.S. doesn't have any Russian spies and its custody right now. So they are scouring the globe to try to come up with offers that would enable Russia to actually engage in these negotiations.
TAPPER: All right. Kylie Atwood at the State Department for us, thank you so much.
CNN is live on the ground in Hawaii. Let's go there now. It's typical -- typically a place of paradise. But right now in parts of the island of Maui, it is currently a disaster zone. One week, of course, after those horrific wildfires. We are learning in some areas the flames are still burning. We're going to show that to you, next.
TAPPER: Back now with our national lead and the deadliest wildfire in the United States in more than a century. It has been just one week since 1,000-degree flames ripped through Maui at 60 miles an hour, leaving behind a path of destruction and devastation that evokes comparisons to ground zero in the days after 9/11. Only five of the 106 individuals confirmed killed, only five have been identified. In most cases, all that is left from the dead is ash.
Officials do not know exactly how many residents of Maui are missing. And since just one third of the scorched area has been searched, only a third, the death toll is almost certain to climb, authorities say.
But today, some relief for frustrated residents of Maui. The key Lahaina bypass road reopened to residents and to responders. This will allow aid to flow into disaster stricken areas.
CNN's Bill Weir is on the island of Maui for us.
And, Bill, one week later the fire risk is not even completely gone yet.
BILL WEIR, CNN CHIEF CLIMATE CORRESPONDENT: That's true, Jake, even around Lahaina they're still hotspots. I'm going to show you the hotspots up in the upcountry Kula fire in a moment.
And we also actually spend some time with family who are sort of this limbo now after giving DNA and fearing the worst about someone we love so much. So, there's not part of the story we are worried about but then they actually found men trying to put out hot spots with a bottle of water in the high country.
Here's a look.
WEIR (voice-over): With an upcountry fire only 60 percent contained, Maui's fire department stretched painfully thin and winds were kicking up once again. Some residents in Kula are using sprinklers and hope to protect their homes.
Well, careful, careful.
And I met volunteer first responders trying to knock down hotspots with bottled water.
MERRILL KALOPODES, VOLUNTEER: Oh, man, you can feel the heat. Under these smoldering pit over there. All it needs is a good wind to get it going. By the way, we got there, it was already flaming.
KALOPODES: Yeah, it started off with just a little smoke and then we said, okay, let's get some water and haul it over there and then by the time it got over there is started flaming. So, you know, we will go back and put more water on it.
WEIR: In this city smoky brush, one long step into smoldering ash means a burned foot.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I went to go check it out and then it's so deep, I couldn't get through it.
WEIR: But they stay at it until they are spotted by a helicopter dropping water scoops from swimming pools. They finally get the help they need. And they wonder why more skilled firefighters aren't being brought over from Oahu.
JACOB VANDERVELDE, VOLUNTEER: My mind is blown right now.
VANDERVELDE: I don't even know what's going on. How is this even happening? This whole road should be blocked off. We should be blocked off right now. And the fire department is all-hands-on-deck. Obviously, keep people on Oahu, but they have enough personnel.
BRENDA KEAU, MOTHER-IN-LAW MISSING: I stayed up until two in the morning watching because I knew that the gas station was going off and the propane tanks and -- you know, my favorite store that used to go get for gardening supplies, it's gone. The people that lost their homes, I was watching that.
WEIR: Brenda Keau's 83-year-old mother in law was in her Lahaina home in the day of the storm and her husband was among the first to provide a DNA sample. So now, they are in grieving limbo.
Has he accepted the idea that she's gone? Does he have to get confirmation before he can --
KEAU: I mean, the truth about it, we accepted it on the day that we saw that there is no house. But there -- you never give up hope. So, it's both. When he needs to talk, I just check in on him. We check in on each other. We say how are you doing? Mentally? Spiritually? Physically? Emotionally?
And we take time to check, and answer. And, I -- you know, my husband was saying I am okay, okay, I told him no you are not. And if people ask you are you okay, know you are not, the word is, I am concerned.
WEIR (on camera): So much concern on so many levels. We actually have updated numbers from the Kula fire. Now, 75 percent contained. So, a little bit of good news. But still smoldering up there -- Jake.
TAPPER: What passes for good news on the island of Maui.
Bill, CNN is learning that the warning siren alert system on Maui was tested just days before the fires broke out. But apparently, they did not go off. Are officials saying why they didn't?
WEIR: We're hearing conflicting stories from the governor who at one point said some were mobilized. Yesterday, he said that somewhere broken but for most people on the island, if they hear that sound it's a tsunami warning so the instinct would be to run away from the ocean uphill which in this case would've been more hazardous. But a lot of locals say that this was the time to actually reevaluate that warning system and have rallying points given a siren.
Right now, they are flying planes over and making announcements. They probably couldn't have done that with those high winds last week. Right now, but -- and there was also a text message alert that some people say that they got and others didn't. So, all part of this ongoing investigation into what happened.
TAPPER: All right. Bill Weir on the island of Mau, thank you so much.
Coming up next, how that DNA matching process is playing out to identify those killed in this horrific disaster.
Plus, we're going to ask a Hawaiian official about that siren system. Shouldn't have been used in this situation?
TAPPER: We're sticking with our national lead and more on the horrific Maui wildfires as additional mortuary victim identification and cadaver dog teams arrive on the island to the hardest hit areas. FEMA head Deanne Criswell returned from Maui and reported back to President Biden earlier today.
Take a listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DEANNE CRISWELL, FEMA ADMINISTRATOR: This is more than just the visual impact of what we are seeing on television, more than the visual impact of the burn landscape. It's the level of devastation from this fire and feeling of loss from such a culturally rich community.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
TAPPER: Criswell will be back on Maui on Monday alongside the president and first lady.
Joining us to discuss, Claudia Rapkoch. She's the spokesperson for Hawaii's Emergency Management Agency.
Thanks for joining us. What is the most pressing need right now for survivors on Maui at this hour?
CLAUDIA RAPKOCH, SPOKESPERSON, HAWAII EMERGENCY MANAGEMENT AGENCY: First of all, thank you, Jake.
Our goal right now is to get people displaced by the fire and into stable housing environments. That is by far our most credible need right now for those who are trying to process all that has happened to them over the past week. At the moment, we've identified 2,000 housing units. They have doubled this effort, that includes vacation rentals that will be made available to housed victims, as well as hotel rooms.
So, at the moment, we've got more than 100 families that have already been placed. And we are in the process of trying to find housing for these people who need stable, safe housing so that they can only then begin to process what's happened to them.
TAPPER: FEMA administrator Criswell said she does not expect the search for those who were killed by this horrific event to be completely over by the time that President Biden arrives on the island on Monday. What is your assessment on the timeline?
RAPKOCH: At the moment, there is no specific timeline. We are so grateful to FEMA and for the resources. We do have more than 49 teams that have been arriving on the island and my understanding is that there is more to come. We've got hundreds of search and rescue personnel that are going through the burned areas. This is going to take time.
And so, at the moment, a very careful, very respectful process. We've got to do this with compassion. The devastation is beyond comprehension for most of us.
And so, it is something that is being done very carefully, very respectful to all of those involved, and those specifically who lost their lives on this, unfortunately. So, time right now we'll tell, at the moment, we don't have a specific timeframe in terms of how long it is going to take, the search and recovery process.
TAPPER: It's always a push and pull when it comes to any president visiting a disaster area. They don't want to divert resources, but they also want to go and make sure everything is working as best it can.
Are you worried at all that resources might be diverted from search teams or survivors when President Biden arrives on Monday?
RAPKOCH: You know, we are very conscious of the fact that there is a crisis that we are responding to, and it is a very active situation right now. It is very fluid. At the same time, we are working with our federal partners, we are working with FEMA. We're working with the advanced teams to make sure that the work on the ground continues unaffected, while at the same time, making that availability to the president, and to his team with him.
So, we are working through that now, and, you know, we'll make sure that we make it happen. And do so respectfully.
TAPPER: Do you have any sense of how long the DNA victim identification process might take?
RAPKOCH: You know, that is another question that is too hard to say. We do have a number of experts in the field, unfortunately, that have a lot of experience in this kind of work. So, we have DNA experts. We've got anthropologists who have been coming, in people with experience from these types of situations, from around the world.
And so, it is something that is definitely a priority but there are, again, in terms of timeframe, it is too difficult to say for sure.
TAPPER: Hawaii has one of the best alert systems in the United States. Today, CNN found out that the siren system had been tested and most were working fine. This was just days before the fire. But the sirens were never activated when the disaster actually came.
Now, the attorney general there on the island is -- or in Hawaii, is investigating.
Do you have any inkling as to what happened?
RAPKOCH: Not at this time. As you -- as you said, the attorney general is conducting a comprehensive review of the critical decision-making that happened in the policies leading up to, before, during and after the wildfires. And so, that process will unfold. The question will be answered in time. But right now, it's still a very active, dynamic situation. TAPPER: Claudia Rapkoch, thank you so much for your time. Really
And as victims of this wildfire try to figure out their next steps, you can help. Head to CNN.com/impact, CNN.com/impact for options, vetted options that you can donate to. You could also test the word, text the word Hawaii, to this number, 707070.
Coming up next, the move we did not see coming today for a small town newspaper raided by police just days ago, raising questions about the status of freedom of the press in the United States.
TAPPER: In our national lead, a shocking development surrounding the police raid of that small town Kansas newspaper, a case that experts have seen a huge overreach and violation of basic press freedoms.
Today, CNN confirmed the basic search warrant used to search the offices of the newspaper and the home of the publisher, that search warrant has been withdrawn. Police had raided the newspaper over claims that the paper had obtained information illegally, though the co-owner and publisher of the paper consistently had denied any wrongdoing. Normally, raiding a newspaper is supposed to be so rare, one needs to get a subpoena, but that did not apparently happen in this case.
CNN's Whitney Wild has been on this story since the beginning.
Whitney, walk us through what happened today, why was the search warrant withdrawn?
WHITNEY WILD, CNN LAW ENFORCEMENT CORRESPONDENT: Well, the county attorney put it plainly. He said upon further review of the information, it appears that he's come to the conclusion that insufficient evidence exists to establish a legally sufficient nexus between this alleged crime, and the places searched and the items seized.
As a result, his name is Joel Enzi, has submitted a proposed order asking the court to release the evidence seized. He also asked local law enforcement to return the material seized to the owners of the property. Basically, he looked at all the information said there is not enough information here to move on with the search warrant.
What is noticeable in a statement is that he said that the information was reviewed that supported the application for a search warrant on Monday. Three days after the search warrant was executed. So, certainly, many more questions to ask about what information police brought to the judge to compel her to signed a search warrant, and why they apparently didn't consult with their own prosecutors prior to executing that search warrant, Jake.
TAPPER: It's outrageous. Does not mean the newspaper has been cleared of all wrongdoing?
WILD: Well, when I spoke with a paper's attorney, he stopped short of saying law enforcement has said that. So he said that law enforcement has not told them that they are no longer subject of the investigation. The Kansas bureau of investigation put out a statement today saying the investigation is ongoing, but it will continue forward independently, and it will not include examining or retaining those devices.
So moving forward, Jake, they are going to work with the attorney. We are still waiting to find out of they have been totally cleared of any of these allegations that are going on here, Jake.
TAPPER: And when this search happened last week, it sparked outrage over what seemed to be a clear violation of not only the principle of freedom of the press, but a law that was passed in 1980 to make it more difficult for a law enforcement to raid the newspapers offices.
WILD: And that's why so many news organizations, including CNN, wrote letters to the local law enforcement basically demanding that law enforcement give up the items that were retrieved during the search. And say that this is totally outrageous.
Moving forward, Jake, the attorney representing the newspaper says that he will continue to work with local law enforcement. He agrees that this is outrageous. Again, as you mentioned, at the top here, the proper process would have been to issue a subpoena so that the attorney could go to court, and they could determine the parameters of what information, if any, the newspaper was apply to law enforcement, Jake.
TAPPER: Yeah. Whitney Wild, thanks so much.
Let's talk now with the paper's co-owner and editor, Eric Meyer.
First of all, Mr. Meyer, I want to start by offering my deepest condolences for the loss of your mother. The raid on your home and the newspaper took place on Friday and your mother, who was shocked and upset, she died on Saturday. And I'm so sorry for your loss.
ERIC MEYER, CO-OWNER, EDITOR AND PUBLISHER, MARION COUNTY RECORD: I appreciate that, Jake. One nice thing about it is that the outpouring of public support and the support for news organizations and journalistic organizations afterwards would almost vindicate her. I think that she would feel good about that.
TAPPER: Definitely vindicate her. What do you make of the news that the Kansas Bureau of Investigation withdrew the search warrant?
MEYER: I just -- was just told by one of the reporters that the items were turned over a few moments ago to a forensic analyst, who will check to make sure that nothing was done to them, and nothing was checked off or inspected from them, we do not know when they will be back. They are now in route to Kansas City, which is about three hours away. So, I assume that it will be a while before we hear about that.
TAPPER: Are you taking any legal action?
MEYER: Still up in the air. The -- I think it is quite possible because there needs to be a clear line that this is not allowed.
We had initially -- we're actually the ones who told them about this document that existed before it happened, and offered to give them assistance in establishing how the document came into the possession of us. They never returned our call. They answered the email. A week later, they came and they showed up in our office and wanted to search our premises.
There's all sorts of weird things going on in this. The fact is that you noted earlier that the affidavit for the search warrant was read by the county attorney or submitted to the court until three days after the search was conducted. The normal procedures that goes through the county attorney before it gets to the judge, the fact that there was the document that was supposedly stolen bias that was actually supplied by a source was sitting on my desk six feet from my computer. They didn't take it in the raid. They just loved it sitting there.
There is a lot a very strange things. They searched the reporter's computer who had been sick all that week and hadn't been involved in it. They also took her cell phone. She wasn't even in the office at the time.
So, a lot of strange things that hint of possible intimidation and attempted bullying, and it might be appropriate to let other news organizations -- small ones particularly like ours. Big organizations like yours probably has attorneys on retainer and the sense that you have a voice, but a smaller news organization might be very easily intimidated by this. And the bigger the statement we can make out of this, the more that they are going to likely stick up for their rights.
TAPPER: So, just so people understand -- what do you think it is fair to say that your newspaper -- which I understand as a circulation -- or did at least before this happened about 4,000 -- would you say that you're an aggressive newspaper and that you try to hold people in power accountable and you probably are a pain in the asks to a lot of the people who run Marion County.
MEYER: I think pain in the ass is a kind word people would use for us. Yes. We believe, I believe, I retired as a journalism professor, and really want to establish that good, solid journalism is still important and that we will go after anything surprising, good or bad, we also do entertaining features, we also do other things of that nature, but we will report what needs to be reported. Not with a particular goal in mind but the public made up their mind, that's the way a community stay strong.
And we are -- we got, we're a little weekly in a small town. We have a bigger news staff that any of the dailies in much larger towns surrounding us. TAPPER: Yeah. And even while you are dealing with this you managed to
publish a new addition today that the headline "Seized But Not Silenced". Do you think, do you think -- yeah, we're showing it right now -- do you think this was retribution just because you are a pain for the people in power?
I mean, I still don't understand exactly. This was such a shoddy search, and now they walked back the search warrant. They didn't even look at it.
Are these just people that are powerful in a small town thinking that they could get away with whatever they want and taking it out on the one group of people that say not so fast?
MEYER: It involved all of the police officers in half the county. There was no police protection anywhere for several hours while this raid went on. I mean, we are not like the Medellin drug cartel here.
This is also -- even if they can prove the worse case scenario, it was identity theft. Well, we didn't steal anything. We didn't use it. In fact, the document that was given to us, we decided not to use.
MEYER: So there was no dissemination of it. Yeah, there was -- our chief had been under investigation by another of our reporters a few weeks earlier. The mayor and the vice mayor -- I think it is important to point out that we were not the only people searched and seized. The vice mayor was also part of that simultaneous raid. She, and the mayor, have a relationship that I would say is somewhat reminiscent of Army-McCarthy hearings. The mayor has been very, very contentious of his criticism. That goes back for months and months.
I honestly think that it is just a sense of I'm in charge, don't you dare think that you have any voice in anything. You bow and kowtow to us, when I say that you can publish this kind of information in the future. It doesn't have to do with this particular story.
MEYER: You have to pay attention to us.
TAPPER: Eric Meyer, thank you so much. Thank you for what you do. I'm going to subscribe to the "Marion County Record" during the commercial break. We really appreciate it. We're going to stay on top of the story. Please stay in touch.
MEYER: We appreciate that.
And we've had 2,000 others who have done that in the past five days. So, thank you.
TAPPER: Two thousand and one in just a little bit. Thanks so much, Eric. MEYER: Right.
TAPPER: Busy is an understatement for the 2024 calendar. Coming up, the proposed date for Donald Trump's trial in Fulton County, Georgia, and how that could impact other cases in playing into the 2024 primary voting season.
Stay with us.
TAPPER: Welcome to THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper.
This hour, a CNN exclusive. Secretary of State Antony Blinken spoke on the phone with Paul Whelan, one of two Americans currently being wrongfully detained in Russia. Could this be a sign the negotiations for his release are finally moving forward? Paul Whelan's brother David will join us live ahead.
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