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DOJ Tells Trump He's Target in Classified Documents Probe; Wildfire Smoke Engulfs East Coast, Pushes South; Supreme Court Orders Alabama to Redraw Voter Maps. Aired 10-10:30a ET
Aired June 08, 2023 - 10:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: On the left is Miami, in Florida. On the right is Washington, D.C. We are waiting to see if there is any movement from either of these locations. Why? Because they are the site of two federal grand juries where we have seen activity over the last several months.
The Justice Department has officially notified Donald Trump's legal team that he is the target in the ongoing federal investigation. This is the clearest sign yet that former President Trump could be indicted and possibly soon. This is all in connection with failing to turn over classified documents. Federal investigators searched the former president's Mar-a-Lago last August.
Now, Trump has repeatedly denied any wrongdoing. He says the classified documents that he declassified them while he was still in office, though we should note there is no corroborating evidence that we have seen to that effect.
Let's get right to Senior Justice Correspondent Evan Perez watching these courthouses along with the rest of us. Evan, why are we on such high alert and what is it that could happen soon?
EVAN PEREZ, CNN SENIOR JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Well, John, it's very meaningful for the former president and his legal team to be told at this stage in an investigation that we know has been ongoing since at least year, last spring, that he is the target of a criminal investigation, and that really, I think, underscores the legal peril that he is finding himself. And so what this means is that it is not just people around him, people who may have been moving the boxes, people who may have signed documents or lied to prosecutors or the FBI about these documents, about the fact that these documents were held at Mar-a-Lago. This is squarely on the president, the former president of the United States.
And it is a moment really that we have not faced before. A former president has never been in this position. And so here we are. We are watching the grand juries both in Miami and Washington where we know that there have been witnesses in recent days who have been talking to the prosecutors, talking to the grand jury. And, really, the question is, you know, does the Justice Department go ahead with these charges against the former president, against anybody else? There is, of course, always a chance that Merrick Garland, the attorney general, could step in and tell Jack Smith, the special counsel, that he cannot proceed. Nothing indicates that that is where we are, John.
BERMAN: Again, as you say, the former president of the United States is a stated target of a federal investigation. That is in and of itself is historic. An indictment, a federal indictment, would be even more so.
Evan, we've been watching these two courthouses, one in Miami, one in Washington, D.C. What are the mechanics? If an indictment were to happen, what are the mechanics? Would it come from one of those places, both of them? How does it work?
PEREZ: It could come from one of those grand juries. It could come from both. We do know that, certainly, we have looked at the law of the charges that the Justice Department has said in court documents they're investigating the former president for. One of them, 793 is statute called the Espionage Act. It is -- if you talk to legal experts, it is possible that because the former president left Washington hours before the new president, Joe Biden, took office, it is possible that the best place to bring a charge like that is in Miami.
There are other statutes that are under consideration or under investigation, John, that would possibly be more appropriate to be brought here in Washington, which is where the documents came from before Trump went down to Mar-a-Lago.
The mechanics of this is that after the grand jury returns an indictment, if it does, then the former president would be notified and the arrangements would be made for the Secret Service to bring him to whichever courthouse he has to present himself to hear those charges for the first time.
Again, there's a lot of steps between now and then, right, that Merrick Garland could always step in and to try to tell Jack Smith that he cannot bring these charges. The other thing that -- John, the meaningful thing about this letter, this target letter, is that the former president still has time. He can to tell Jack Smith and the special counsel that he wants come in and provide evidence to grand jury himself. We do not anticipate that that is going to happen, John.
BERMAN: A range of possibility, but no question, as we said, Evan, we are on high alert, watching for possible news to come from one of the locations. We will let you go back to work, back to the phones. Thank you so much for being with us this morning. Sara?
SARA SIDNER, CNN ANCHOR: All right. Thank you, John.
Let's bring in CNN National Correspondent Kristen Holmes. And I want to ask you quickly, I know that you have been talking to the Trump team. What are you hearing? Are they nervous that an indictment may be imminent?
KRISTEN HOLMES, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Sara, it is not so much nervous but they are anticipating an indictment imminently.
And they're not basing this, as far as I'm told, on anything they have been told by the Department of Justice, but, instead, they are looking at exactly what we are looking at.
They, of course, know that he received this target letter. They have watched as Mark Meadows reports came in that former Chief of Staff Mark Meadows testified before a grand jury, something that was widely believed to happen in those final stages of the investigation. But they are preparing and bracing for that.
Trump currently is in Bedminster with a small group of aides and advisers. Over the next couple of days, more advisers are set to join him. And he himself does believe that it's possible that he will be indicted. He has told allies that. I reported yesterday that he was asking people what they thought. Now, it seems as though he is telling people he does believe that that is going to happen.
Now, I am told right now there are no concrete plans in place if that is to happen. Right now, it feels like a waiting game to these advisers and aides that I am talking to. But, again, they do believe that this indictment is coming.
SIDNER: All right, thank you to you, Kristen Holmes.
And now I want to go to Senior Crime and Justice Reporter Katelyn Polantz, who is in Miami, where there is also a grand jury expected to be meeting. Are you hearing that there could possibly be any new witnesses that come in today?
KATELYN POLANTZ, CNN SENIOR CRIME AND JUSTICE REPORTER: Well, Sara, we did have a witness that appeared yesterday before this grand jury, an aide of Donald Trump who had worked as a spokesperson at the time he was making public statements. And there was an additional witness expected after that man testified, Taylor Budowich. But it's a secret proceeding of the grand jury, and so we don't know if there are any more witnesses.
But, Sara, when you look back at this investigation, what has been happening in this federal courthouse in Miami, as well as the federal courthouse in Washington, D.C., the Justice Department has left, it appears, no stone unturned. There are so many people here that could be witnesses. And I was going through the list of ones that we have confirmed, have testified, and the list is quite long.
It is nearly everyone that you can think of. It is Trump's defense attorney, Evan Corcoran. It is other attorneys working for him who were managing the documents or who were the custodians for his records. It's Mark Meadows, his former White House chief of staff. It is other aides who were handling records or knew about records. It is people that worked for him at Mar-a-Lago within the Trump Organization, handling security footage, moving boxes.
Every single person that we can think of in this investigation, we believe, has been subpoenaed, with many of them having been confirmed, going before that grand jury. And the question for all of them is what Donald Trump knew and when?
That is what builds this case. It is the type of information that unfurls after and before that search of Mar-a-Lago that the FBI did in August of 2022, where they went into his office on the search warrant affidavit the office, 45 Office. That is Donald Trump's office after the presidency. That is where they searched. That is where they found boxes of classified records.
They also searched in storage rooms at a time when the Justice Department, the National Archives, the federal government made no mistake. To be very clear with Donald Trump, you need to turn over everything. And even into the end of last year, there were still documents that were being found at Mar-a-Lago and in other Trump properties.
And so all of this appears that it could be coming together, culminating in that target letter or that target indication that was being given to Donald Trump's team from the Justice Department, and now we just wait to see who else could they possibly bring. Sara?
SIDNER: All right. Katelyn, we're also seeing, just next to you, the 100-plus classified documents where they were seized in Mar-a-Lago from a storage area to his home. Thank you so much for that. Kate?
KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: So, as we stand by for any movement here, well, where Katelyn Polantz is, or also in Washington, D.C., there are two angles to really dissect, the legal fallout from this, and, of course, when it comes to Donald Trump or any presidential candidate, the political. Let's focus on the legal here.
Joining us right now, former Federal Prosecutor Renato Mariotti. It's great to see you, Renato. Thanks for coming in.
We don't know what is going to happen, and we don't know when anything would happen. We know we state very clearly. But why does any federal prosecutor inform someone that they are a target of the investigation of an investigation?
RENATO MARIOTTI, FORMER FEDERAL PROSECUTOR: Well, first of all, they don't do that unless they are confident that they are going to indict the person, all right? So, that's the first thing. It's a very significant statement by a federal prosecutor because it means that they intend to proceed with an indictment.
But why would they provide that letter? Really, for a few reasons. In a typical case, it might be because you actually want to make sure that there's a settlement conversation about a potential plea agreement, something along those lines. You may want to make sure that the person has proper representation and can plan for an appearance and for the legal proceedings that are going to come.
Here, I think there's a bit of a formality here. In other words, there's been some communications back and forth between Trump's team and Jack Smith, the special counsel, and his team. And I think this is a formal statement by them to Trump's team to be as fair as possible to let him know in the front end that an indictment is coming.
BOLDUAN: Renato, when you talk about any conversation over a settlement agreement, if and when that would happen, would that kind of a conversation include other than what we would traditionally understand would be a settlement agreement when we're looking at federal charges. In this situation, could that also include a conversation about agreeing to not run for political office again?
MARIOTTI: So, there's really not a lot of precedent for that. Spiro Agnew would be one example. Of course, that was a different case in a different situation. But I think that if Trump was a different person, if he had a different mentality and his legal team had a different approach to this, they could come to Jack Smith and try to come up with a very unique or original proposition regarding, hey, we're going to agree not to run for office. We're going to agree to do X, Y and Z in exchange for some sort of plea to some count. That would be much less serious.
And we have seen, for example, with General Petraeus and others who were high ranking government officials, that when there is an acceptance of responsibility and a plea to something, the government is willing to resolve those cases on favorable terms. But I don't think that's actually going to happen here.
BOLDUAN: So, President Trump has defended, has publicly spoken out many times with regard to the investigation, that multiple investigations, but defended his handling of classified documents. He has said that he -- we've heard him say that he can instantaneously declassify documents and anything he wants, also suggesting that just by thinking it, he can declassify documents as well. Last night, one of his former attorneys put out a different sort of defense. Let me play this for you. I want to get your take. Listen to this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TIM PARLATORE, FORMER ATTORNEY FOR TRUMP: Simply the fact that it has a classification marking on it, if it does have a classification marking on it, doesn't make it automatically some type of contraband. It has to be national defense information, one, two, under the Presidential Records Act, we're talking about original documents. Not a single one of those marked documents are originals. They're all copies, every single one of them.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BOLDUAN: Renato, what do you think of that?
MARIOTTI: Well, the latter part of the argument I think is silly. I don't think that's going to go very far. Like, it's not the original. I don't think that's going to have any legal weight. But as to the first piece, he's right. It has to be national defense information. And it's fair to say that the Espionage Act was created before our modern classification system. But I think Jack Smith would not be considering an indictment if the materials here did not involve national defense information. And I would expect that, in fact, that they did involve national defense information.
So, I have to say, I don't think that's where ultimately the defense is going to lie here. Like you had mentioned earlier that potential declassification defense, Smith is clearly very focused on rebutting that given some of the witnesses he's brought in. I think that's more likely where a defense is going to go.
And, realistically, the challenge for Trump and what the Trump team has to focus on is what former Attorney General Bill Barr talked about the jerking around of the Justice Department, the various ways in which he refused to produce the documents and the potential obstruction of justice.
BOLDUAN: Yes, the obstruction piece of this investigation. Renato Mariotti, always good to see you. Thank you so much, super interesting. John?
BERMAN: That was a great discussion.
MARIOTTI: Thank you.
BERMAN: A Ukrainian official says offensive operations are taking place in several directions, a sign that the war in Ukraine is entering a new critical phase.
Cities shrouded in smoke. Look at that. Nearly 75 million people under air quality alerts as this thick smoke from wildfires still blankets the Northeast.
And then, one of the greatest athletes ever to walk the earth, bringing his golden boots to Miami. Let the rejoicing begin.
SIDNER: Choked by smoke. This morning, 75 million people across the U.S. are under air quality alerts as smoke from Canadian wildfires continues to descend. This is a live look right here behind me at Philadelphia, where the Philadelphia International Airport issued a ground stop due to low visibility.
The wildfires burning across Canada still raging. President Biden now directing all available federal firefighting assets to be deployed to help out.
Here in New York City, there has been a slight improvement from the apocalyptic scenes that this time lapse is going to show you. These are from yesterday. You can barely make out the huge buildings. You can literally see the air turning orange as the day goes on.
Today, Philadelphia and Washington D.C. are faring the worse. The U.S. air quality index now says air quality in those two cities are hazardous, while gauges in Baltimore and New York read very unhealthy. Joining us now is CNN's Danny Freeman. He is in Philadelphia for us. You've got your mask on, which is the right thing to do.
What are conditions like at this hour?
DANNY FREEMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Sara, you said the word right there. It is still hazardous here in Philadelphia. That's according to the air quality index that we've been watching all throughout the night. The night and this morning probably has been the worst in Philadelphia so far. But the best way to illustrate is just to look behind me.
We're in Camden right now looking across the Delaware River at Philadelphia. You can see the Franklin Bridge. But this is normally the Philadelphia skyline right here. You should normally be able to see city hall, the Comcast building, Liberty Place, but, barely, you can make it out just across the Delaware River right now.
Like we said, still hazardous. The city of Philadelphia, they say that they're not paying as much attention at the moment to the actual coded color. They're just saying, still, stay away from the outdoors if you can help it. Wear your mask if you're outside. And then close your doors and windows. I know I have been closing my doors and windows at my house just trying to keep all of that smoky smell away.
Philadelphia School District meanwhile, they recommended that students wear masks on their commute back and forth to school. But they and the city, they're hoping that some of this clears up by the afternoon. We actually happened to be in Harrisburg yesterday, speaking with Governor Josh Shapiro, governor of Pennsylvania, and he gave us his thoughts on this smoke that's been filling, in his words, all 67 counties. Take a listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GOV. JOSH SHAPIRO (D-PA): We want to encourage people just to be safe. I'll give you a pretty simple example. I was getting ready to go out for a run this morning rather than going outside and doing that. And I don't have asthma or any other issues like that. I worked out in the house.
So, I just want to kind of encourage people to be vigilant. If you do you have acute health issues, be really mindful of your time outside, and, hopefully, this will pass very soon.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
FREEMAN: Now, Governor Shapiro said again, as I said earlier, that the worst he was expecting would be last night into this morning. Again, we're still seeing that hazardous area. Of course, it's Philadelphia. So, I have to mention that the Phillies, their game last night against the Tigers, that was postponed until tonight, it's scheduled right now at 6:00 in the evening. But, again, that will only happen if, of course, the air is safe at this point. And as we mentioned also earlier, I should say ground stop still at Philadelphia International Airport right next to or very close to where the Phillies play. So, we'll be watching that area throughout the day in the south of the city. Thank you, Sara.
SIDNER: Thank you so much for that.
We're going to go now to CNN's Chief Climate Correspondent Bill Weir, who is thankfully joining us as well. You have been covering climate change for a very long time in California. I know that the fires are burning hotter, they're burning faster over the years. What kind of role does climate change play in all this?
BILL WEIR, CNN CHIEF CLIMATE CORRESPONDENT: Well, it's just a hotter, drier place, Sara. And these heat domes that are parking way up in the northern latitudes in Canada, right above us, are just desiccating those boreal forests, those pine cones are turning into fuel at a staggering rate. And so it's burned 15 times the average so far this year and we haven't even started summer. So we now have to sort of get used to this.
The U.N. predicts that at the current rates, we'll see wildfires like this increase 14 percent by 2030, 30 percent by 2050. And those are nebulous numbers that don't really sink in the way realization that fires 500 miles away are determining whether or not your kid can play outside today. And we have to brace perhaps for a future where that's more of a reality, especially on the East Coast.
You think about at least the mindset among my neighbors this is so bizarre because they think that wildfire and drought and that sort of thing is the price of living out west. But with Canada happening, will it be this bad regularly? That is up to the winds. This was an abnormal event.
But this is another staggering statistic, Sara, that I came across. 60 percent of the wildfire smoke breathed in America today comes from another state, comes from trees burning way far away. So, there's no real escaping it, the way we think about it.
But you can look at lessons from over in Asia, where India has the kind of air we saw yesterday every day. As a result, their life spans are nine years shorter in some places over there, Beijing had index numbers above 700 at one point, which really woke up the government there, and they had a deliberate de-smog program, and now they were having record clean air in Beijing maybe 15 years later.
So, we're now coming to grips with wildfire smoke in the east as part of our new normal luring about the hazards it causes. It can be ten times more harmful than the pollution coming out of your tailpipe, for example. So, this may be a wakeup call, and hopefully we learn the safest lessons from it.
BOLDUAN: Bill Weir, I thank you for being out there and reporting for us, as well as Danny Freeman. I appreciate it. Kate?
We have some breaking news coming in right now, Supreme Court. It's decision day over at the Supreme Court, and the Supreme Court has been ruling and handing down decisions on a series of cases, including some cases that people are watching very, very closely.
Let's get over to scene as just as Jessica Schneider right now. She's got more on this. Jessica, one involving the Voting Rights Act, a key portion of the Voting Rights Act, and who can challenge Congressional maps. What are you picking up?
JESSICA SCHNEIDER, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: A big win this morning, Kate, for black voters in the state of Alabama. The Supreme Court ruling in a 5-4 ruling just moments ago that the state of Alabama must redraw its congressional maps.
Now, this was a case where black voters had challenged the congressional maps that were actually in place for the last election in 2022, saying that they only had a majority in one out of seven congressional districts despite the fact that black voters make up 27 percent of the state's population.
What's interesting here is that this Supreme Court, a divided Supreme Court with justice Roberts and justice -- Chief Justice Roberts and Justice Kavanaugh siding with the liberals and then four of the conservatives dissenting, they actually ended up siding with the district court. And more than a year ago, the district court had said that these congressional maps should be redrawn.
It was then appealed up to the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court, though, said, no, we're not going to make them be redrawn for the 2022 congressional elections. So, essentially, a bad map was in place in 2022 where voters maybe were disenfranchised for not having enough representation. The Supreme Court now saying those maps were essentially wrong. State of Alabama, you have to go back and redraw these congressional maps.
I mean, this is a very big win for people who may in the future want to challenge voting maps. That's because, over the past several years, the Supreme Court has really gutted many sections of the Voting Rights Act, really depleting the ability of several groups, many groups to challenge different aspects of elections. But in a surprise move from this case this court this morning, they're actually keeping, maintaining that power of minorities to challenge voting maps, other election rules under Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act.
Kate, this is definitely a surprising decision. There were a lot of court watchers sort of holding their breath, thinking that the court would eviscerate Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act. But the court here doing just the opposite in a 5-4 decision, handing a big wind to black voters and telling the state of Alabama, you need to redraw your maps to give greater representation for the 27 percent of black voters in your state. Kate?
BOLDUAN: This is -- I mean, you hit it perfectly, Jess. This is super interesting and goes counter to what a lot of court watchers were seeing as a trend that they would see of the direction of the conservative court going and what this means now with the conservative majority of 5-4. Who wrote for the majority? Do you have that?
SCHENDIER: Well, that's what I was actually just about to mention, because Chief Justice John Roberts is the one who wrote this 5-4- opinion really upholding Section 2. He has been the one on the court that has been the most critical of the Voting Rights Act and has actually helped dismantle parts of the Voting Rights Act.
So, in this case, he's saying that the district court, they went through their fact-finding, and what they found is that they should have redrawn these maps. And the court today, the Supreme Court agreeing with that, not dismantling any of Section 2, and saying to Alabama, go back and redraw these maps, because, essentially, they're just not fair. They violate Section 2, which prohibits any election rule that would result in the denial of the right to vote for a minority group, Kate.
BOLDUAN: Jess, thank you so much. I think that you still may have some more decisions coming down still this hour, so we'll get back to you as those come down.
In the meantime, Jess, we'll get back to listening to the court as they're handing down these decisions. Let me bring in Elie Honig for a little bit on this. Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act just laid it up really wonderfully and making it clear on kind of how surprising this is to a lot of people and what the justices have decided here, really upholding the power of Section 2. What do you think of this, Elie?
HONIG: Well, absolutely a surprising decision, Kate, and a monumental decision, really, that sort of saves the day for voting rights advocates. The Voting Rights Act historically has had two pieces of it that gave it any teeth. First, there was in the past something called Section 5 that required that certain areas of the country get preclearance from the courts, from DOJ, before enacting a new map. But that was struck down in 2013. It was essentially gutted in 2013. And that left voting rights advocates with only what we call Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act, which prohibits discrimination based on race.
And the question was, and I think the expectation was, will the Supreme Court, with its 6-3 majority, use this occasion to get rid of Section 2 as well, which would have essentially left the Voting Rights Act as mostly an empty shell? Instead, what the court has done is reaffirm Section 2, saying, yes, this is still part of the law.
And the thing that I think is really notable here is the coalition that pulled together to do it.
You had the three liberal justices, as expected, joined by Chief Justice Roberts and Justice Kavanaugh.