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CNN Obtains Transcript of Trump on Tape; Trump Faces Espionage Act Charges; Republicans Defend Trump. Aired 9-9:30a ET

Aired June 09, 2023 - 09:00   ET



JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: The breaking news this morning, a CNN exclusive. Our first look at what could be crucial evidence in the indictment against former President Trump. A transcript of a conversation where the former president admits having national security documents that he had not declassified and seems to have wished he had. Secret -- this is secret information he says. Look -- look at this. Really, a moment of stunning clarity in an investigation that has been swirling for months and that has brought us to this historic morning.

KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: And that brings us to Miami, where right now we are all watching this federal courthouse you see on the wall there, waiting to see if the indictment is unsealed, and, if it is, how much detail prosecutors offer.

There's a lot the public still does not know, of course, but so far here is what we have learned. We're told there are seven counts in the indictment. CNN has learned the counts include a possible charge under the Espionage Act, as well as obstruction of justice, destruction or falsification of records, conspiracy and making false statements.

SARA SIDNER, CNN ANCHOR: The former president reacting to the indictment says he is an innocent man. He lashed out on his social media site last night. He claims the charges are politically motivated and calls them election interference.

His allies, rallying behind him. House Speaker Kevin McCarthy said it was a dark day for the United States of America. Next hour we expect to hear from presidential candidate, and Trump's former vice president, Mike Pence before the indictment and this new news that we're hearing. He said he believed in the rule of law but did not think the president should be indicted. Now let's see what he says after all this has happened. We'll bring that to you live.

BERMAN: Our reporters, correspondents and analysts standing by to bring you the very latest information.

First let's go to our senior legal affairs correspondent Paula Reid.

Paula, you're part of the team that broke this story, this transcript just stunning words in black and white. Why don't you tell us what you've learned. PAULA REID, CNN SENIOR LEGAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: That's right.

Well, last week, with the powerhouse team of Kaitlan Collins, Katelyn Polantz, Sara Murray and Kirsten Holmes, we broke the news of the existence of this audio recording, something that the former president's attorneys only found out about a few months ago, where the former president claims to be in possession of classified materials and also acknowledges the limits of his ability to declassify once he was out of office. And now we have the full transcript of this audio recording where the former president acknowledges that he has secret information.

I'm going to read the transcript to you here. So it starts with him. He's at his Bedminster, New Jersey, golf club. He's speaking to some visitors. Among the people in the room, we know from our reporting, are two people working on Mark Meadows' autobiography and at least two of his aides. At the time he was very upset about a recent article about General Mark Milley. And he says, quote, well, with Milley, let me see. I'll show you an example. He said that I wanted to attack Iran. Isn't that amazing? I have a big pile of papers. And we're told from our sources that at this point you can hear him rustling through papers.

This thing just came up. Look, this was him. They presented me this. This is off the record, but they presented me this. This was him. This was the Defense Department and him. We looked at some -- this was him. This wasn't done by me, this was him. I'm going to stop for just a second. I mean he says this was him at least four times in this recording. Clearly trying to emphasize the fact that whatever he is pointing to was allegedly written by Mark Milley, although we know from our reporting that that is not true.

So he goes on to say, all others of stuff, pages long, look, wait a minute, let's see here. I just found -- isn't that amazing. This totally wins my case. I also want to note here, here he is not referring to the pending criminal prosecution. He appears to be referring to just this dispute with him and General Milley.

Except it is like highly confidential, secret. This is secret information. Look. Look at this. Again, I want to stop, secret and confidential are two levels of classification. He seems a little bit confused as to which one it is. But he also appears to be showing it to whoever else is in the room in front of him.

Now, then he says, as president I could have declassified, but now I can't. And that's really the key quote here. He is acknowledging that not only are these materials not -- so they are still classified, but that once he left the White House he no longer has the power to declassify them.


And that undercuts so many of the claims made by the former president, his allies and his attorneys publicly. They've argued that he had a standing declassification order. So anything he left with from the Oval Office was automatically declassified. He said he could do it with his mind. His lawyers have alternatively argued that he had no idea he had classified information. It was all just packed up in the chaos at the end of the administration.

But this recording undercuts all of those arguments. But arguably the most damning thing from this transcript today is the fact that he is saying that he has secret information that he knowingly, willingly, intentionally kept it and he appears, according to this full transcript, to be trying to show it to other people. And we know from our reporting no one else in that room had a secret clearance.

BERMAN: Secret, secret, look at this, he says. It's right there in the transcript. And those words could have profound implications.

Paula Reid, we'll come back to you in a while. Thank you so much for laying the groundwork, what really moves the ball forward in all this reporting today.

SIDNER: Now, former President Trump is expected to turn himself in and appear in a Miami federal court at 3:00 p.m. on Tuesday according to his attorney. So far the indictment has not been released with all those charges that we are hearing about.

CNN's senior justice reporter Evan Perez is live for us now on this part of the case.

The indictment remains sealed. Is there any chance we're going to see it before the Tuesday court appearance?

EVAN PEREZ, CNN SENIOR JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: There is that chance. There is a chance that the Justice Department could go to a judge and ask the judge to unseal this document. They could do it this morning. They should have done it, frankly, yesterday when they notified the former president knowing that he was going to go immediately to his social media platform and start telling the story of what the - about the -- what this investigation led by Jack Smith, the special counsel, has done. We know that they got a notification by email that this - that this summons had been delivered and that this indictment had been handed up and they started working the mechanics of when the former president is going to show up to Miami to make his first appearance before a magistrate.

We know that Jim Trusty, the -- one of his attorneys who received this information, says that he doesn't know much more beyond just the outlines of the charges that he was told. So, it's possible it might be more than seven counts that the former president is facing.

Here's Trusty talking last night on our air about what he knows.


JIM TRUSTY, DONALD TRUMP'S ATTORNEY: They basically break out from an Espionage Act charge, which is ludicrous under the facts of this case, and I can certainly explain it, and several obstruction-based-type charges and then false statement charges, which are actually, again, kind of a crazy stretch just from the facts as we know it.

So, there's a lot to pick at eventually from the defense side, but that appears to be the charges and it appears to be something that will get off the ground on Tuesday.


PEREZ: And what you hear there is the beginnings of what - you know, how they're going to defend this. The 793 charge, this is the Espionage Act, that has to do with the willful retention of national defense information. That is the sort of central place where this investigation began. That's where we saw -- that's the statute, the law, that the Justice Department told the former president he was being investigated for when they conducted that search, an extraordinary search last August in Mar-a-Lago.


SIDNER: All right, Evan Perez, thank you so much for all of that reporting.

BOLDUAN: Joining us now for more on all of this is CNN's senior legal analyst Elie Honig, and former assistant district attorney with the Manhattan DA's office, Dan Horwitz.

Great to have you guys here.

Let's start with the new reporting coming from Paula Reid and the whole team about the transcript from this conversation, 2021, from Donald Trump. We can -- let's take it apart in pieces.

First, let's talk, Elie, when you see this statement in the transcript, as president I could have declassified, but now I can't. As a prosecutor, unclear what charge, if the charges are related to anything involving this document, this conversation, with that caveat. You hear that statement. You hear that from a transcript. And as a prosecutor you do what with it?

ELIE HONIG, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: This is just remarkable. I mean, look, I have a policy here at CNN against calling something a smoking gun because there's always a response, there's always a defense. Not going to violate that policy here.

But this reporting, these tapes are a big damn deal. This is golden evidence for prosecutors. Starting with that quote, saying, I could have declassified when I was president but I didn't, that is the exact opposite of what Donald Trump has been saying repeatedly in public.

So, first of all, I think it ends the whole issue, did he, in fact, declassify. Second of all, prosecutors are going to say, folks, he's been lying to the public for months. Why do you think that is? So, it's a hugely important piece of evidence.

BERMAN: And then I have to say, as interesting as the declassification conversation is, it's this statement that may be the most legally perilous.


Secret -- this is secret information. Look. Look at this. So, Dan, what potential laws may have been broken with those ten


DANIEL HORWITZ, FORMER ASST. DISTRICT ATTORNEY, MANHATTAN DISTRICT ATTORNEY'S OFFICE: I mean, there are seven counts, probably every single one of those seven counts. And let me tell you, just to pick up on what - what we were just talking about. You have to ask yourself, if this plays out and goes to a trial, right, because that's what we're talking about, charges, evidence, what happens at a trial. You've got defendant Trump saying, in his own words, I know what the law is and I'm breaking it. And for a jury, what - what is a jury going to be thinking about? Why do we care about this? Why do I care if the president had these classified documents? Does it really matter?

I mean - and this tape tells you it absolutely matters. This implicates the national defense. You've got the ex-president talking about the head of the joint chiefs of staff and a classified, highly secret defense document. And he knows he's not supposed to talk about it. And he puts the law and takes it in his own hands and disregards it. That's very compelling evidence in front of a jury.

SIDNER: When you look at that, there is another point in here where he talks about what's in the pages. And he's pointing to something and he's saying, here is what I found, isn't that amazing. This totally wins my argument. He's not talking about his argument in this case, he is talking about something else. But he's saying, look at this information.

So, Dan, he's talking to people -- and we just heard from Paula Reid that they do not have the status that would be required to reveal this information. So, does that speak some to the espionage charge or what could be an espionage charge?

HORWITZ: Of course. Of course, it does. It speaks to, again, for every one of these seven crimes they have to prove -- the government has to prove knowledge, intent. And it sort of goes beyond that. Are you taking the law into your own hands? I know what the law is. I'm going to disregard it. Not am I only - not only am I going to take this highly secret, confidential Defense Department document that apparently is talking about Iran, and I'm going to talk to who? Some reporters, some people who don't have national clearance, security clearance. And he acknowledges that. He acknowledges that. Why? Because he says, I'm off the record. He wants to make sure it never comes out. And you could be sure at a trial, prosecutors are going to play that up. I don't want this to get out. Please, keep it off the record. Don't tell anybody that I just told you that I know that I'm not supposed to have this document, that it implicates the national defense and that, by the way, it helps me in a political fight with the Joint Chiefs of -- head of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

BOLDUAN: Elie, we don't know -- we don't know if this is part of the indictment or what is all in the indictment. We've -- I think it's important we continue to just say that because we don't and we'll learn much more when we do see the indictment. But knowing this detail and this element, knowing it's in the hands of prosecutors, is there any way that this transcript, this conversation, isn't part of this?

HONIG: So, when we get the indictment I expect it to be what we call a speaking indictment, meaning this is not just going to be a bare recitation of the elements of the crime. I think -- and knowing the way DOJ and defense work, we tend to try to lay out narrative detail. It would not shock me at all if there are quotes from this tape in the indictment. But if there are not, you do not have to put all of your evidence in the indictment. I mean that would make indictments, in some instances, impossibly long. But this is going -- whether it's stated in the indictment or not, it appears to me that this will be a central piece of the case.

Another beautiful thing, by the way, for prosecutors, it's Donald Trump's voice on tape, right. How do you get out of --

BOLDUAN: It's not someone's notes.


BOLDUAN: It's not someone - yes.

HONIG: It's not an eyewitness. And let the jury hear it in his own words, in his own voice.

BERMAN: How do you defend against that? I mean, seriously, how do you defend against, look -


BERMAN: Look at this. If this is, in fact, what he said. If, in fact, he was holding national security documents, what do you say?

HONIG: It's a great question. The only thing I can think of now - and he -look, Donald Trump has a very good defense team and they will come up with context and defenses. The only thing I can think of now is essentially he was full of bluster. He was exaggerating.


HONIG: And, by the way, people do make that defense at trial. The defense lawyers sometimes stand up and say, look, folks, he's - he tends to bloat things up for people, but what he was saying wasn't actually true. But, you know, he's referring to papers and documents and, look here, look here.


HONIG: So, we'll see if there's an eyewitness to that meeting, by the way. It's going to be crucial.

BERMAN: Other witnesses there, the people there who can testify to what happened at that meeting.

BOLDUAN: (INAUDIBLE). What they saw in that - yes, exactly.

SIDNER: And there were reporters there. They were working on a book about Mark Meadows. So, that's why it was recorded.

HONIG: Good point. Yes.

BOLDUAN: Dan, Elie, thank you guys very much.

HORWITZ: Thank you.

SIDNER: We could learn any minute whether the indictment against Donald Trump will be unsealed, as you heard from Evan Perez, and we could hear from President Biden on this very shortly.


Also, we will hear from someone who was inside the Trump White House.

Our special coverage continues right here on CNN NEWS CENTRAL.


BERMAN: All right, the breaking news, CNN has exclusive reporting that Donald Trump acknowledged in a 2021 meeting that he had retained secret military information that he had not declassified. That is according to a transcript of the audio recording obtained by CNN. He says, secret, this is secret information, look. Look at this.

Now, before that information was released, Donald Trump's lawyer told CNN the former president faces seven charges, including one under the Espionage Act.

CNN's Sara Murray is live in Washington, Katelyn Polantz live outside the federal courthouse in Miami.

Katelyn, we're going to get to you in a moment.


Sara, first, again, we think seven -- you know, a seven-count indictment. What's in there?

SARA MURRAY, CNN POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, John, let's break down what we know. As you said, we don't know everything yet, but we know from Trump's attorney that there is a charge related to the Espionage Act, related to obstruction of justice, the destruction or falsification of records, conspiracy and false statements. And, again, this is coming from Trump's Attorney Jim Trusty.

The Trump team has received sort of a summary, and that's where he is drawing this from. But even the Trump team doesn't have a copy of this indictment yet. And, again, the indictment has not been unsealed. It has not been made publicly available. So there are still a lot of details here that we simply don't know.

We do know that the Trump team was bracing for this yesterday. They felt the indictment was likely. They were, of course, tracking the news coverage of this. They were so prepared, in fact, that they decided to have Donald Trump prerecord a video responding to the indictment before the team had even been informed that Trump was indicted. He maintained his innocence in that video.

Take a listen.


DONALD TRUMP, FORMER U.S. PRESIDENT: It's called election interference. They're trying to destroy our reputation so they can win an election. That's just as bad as doing any of the other things that have been done over the last number of years.

I'm an innocent man. I did nothing wrong.

I'm innocent and we will prove that very, very soundly and hopefully very quickly.


MURRAY: Now, of course, this is Donald Trump making his case on social media. We will wait to see how he makes his case in court. He is the one who announced the news of this indictment on his social media page where he also said that he has been summoned to appear at the federal courthouse in Miami on Tuesday afternoon.


BERMAN: All right, Sara Murray, thank you so much for that.

And, again, I just keep going back to this new reporting from Paula Reid trying to overlay the transcript that we've now seen with the types of charges that we think might be coming. So, it's really interesting to look at both of those things. Terrific reporting, Sara. Thank you.

BOLDUAN: Absolutely.

One of the big things that we do not know, and are waiting for, is when the federal indictment could be unsealed. That will be the first real look at what exactly Trump is being accused of and how the Justice Department has begun to build its case.

CNN's Katelyn Polantz is outside the federal courthouse in Miami where all of the action turns very quickly.

Katelyn, what are we expecting to happen there today?

KATELYN POLANTZ, CNN SENIOR CRIME AND JUSTICE REPORTER: Well, we are looking for that document, first and foremost, that indictment. Will the Justice Department release it now that Donald Trump has publicly acknowledged he's been - he has been informed through his attorney that he's been charged with these seven counts. That is the thing to look for first because that is what the entire case and the - the every moment going forward here at this courthouse will be turning on, what is charged in that indictment.

But then there is a lot of questions still about what kind of activity we might see today in the federal courthouse. Are the prosecutors here? Are they going to still be working on this case or working on this investment in some way where we will physically see them around the campus of the federal court.

But then also there's a question of security. That is something that is now leading to a scramble, a planning -- many planning discussions that are taking place because the Secret Service didn't know that this indictment was coming down whenever it happened yesterday, and so now there are lots of things that have to fall into place with multiple federal law enforcement agencies. They have to protect the building of this federal courthouse. They have to protect the judges inside the federal courthouse. And there needs to be a protection of Donald Trump himself, someone who still receives protection of the Secret Service because he is the former president of the United States.

BOLDUAN: Absolutely.

Katelyn Polantz, thanks so much.

And just handed to us while we were talking, guys, Donald Trump told Fox News in an off-camera interview that he will, quote/unquote, of course plead not guilty to charges in federal court when he does go -- end up there on Tuesday.

Katelyn Polantz, Sara Murray, great to see you guys. Thank you.

SIDNER: All right, now to what the Trump allies are saying on Capitol Hill, swiftly rallying in his defense. Ahead, House Speaker Kevin McCarthy's reaction and his message to not President Trump, but President Biden.



BERMAN: All right, our breaking news this morning, a transcript of a conversation where Donald Trump seemed to show others secret national security documents after he left office, secret. This is secret information. Look, look at this, he says. He also says, as president I could have declassified, but now I can't. Stunning details, stunning clarity as we wait for new information from the indictment against Donald Trump itself.

Now, as we await word whether that indictment will be unsealed, CNN has learned that the Trump team is pushing Republican allies to publicly defend Donald Trump. And these allies are. House Speaker Kevin McCarthy calls the indictment, quote, a grave injustice and a dark day for the country.

CNN's Lauren Fox up on Capitol Hill.

Lauren, before I ask you what you're hearing, let me just be clear, all of the statements you received were from before this stunning CNN reporting where we see the transcript where Donald Trump says, look, look at this, about apparently secret documents?

LAUREN FOX, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, exactly, John, that's important context to note.

But, you know, Republicans last night really wasting no time in defending the former president, Donald Trump.


You heard immediately from people like Elise Stefanik, who is in Republican leadership, Steve Scalise, the majority.