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GOP Allies Defend Trump; Donald Trump Indicted in Mar-a-Lago Documents Case. Aired 1-1:30p ET
Aired June 09, 2023 - 13:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
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JIM SCIUTTO, CNN HOST: New details coming in this afternoon after former President Donald Trump's historic indictment on federal charges. We have learned he is shaking up his legal team. Two of his lawyers now say they no longer represent him.
We're also learning a second person has been indicted in the special counsel's investigation, Walt Nauta, Trump's personal aide. He is seen on surveillance footage at Mar-a-Lago moving boxes of classified material with the help of a maintenance worker there. The specific charges against Nauta have not yet been revealed.
BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN HOST: And another potentially significant wrinkle in Trump's case. We're told the judge who will oversee it, at least initially, is federal district Judge Aileen Cannon. She is a Trump appointee, and a higher court rebuked her for giving the former president unusually beneficial rulings in the past.
And this: CNN exclusively has obtained a transcript of a taped conversation where the former president admits he kept a classified Pentagon document about attacking Iran, and that he did not declassify that information while he was president. CNN previously reported the recording was obtained by prosecutors, but we are now learning exactly what Trump said in that private meeting, Jim.
SCIUTTO: So let's begin with CNN's Sara Murray and the potential charges the former president may be facing.
Sara, you have been digging in to what we know at this stage. Tell us the details of the charges as we know them.
SARA MURRAY, CNN POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Jim. I mean, a lot has happened in the 24 hours, but the top line remains the same.
I mean, for the first time in history, a former president is facing federal charges. Now, we still have not seen this indictment. It has not been unsealed. And Donald Trump's team still has not seen this indictment. But they did get a summary that sort of lays out what we can expect to see from the charges, laying out seven criminal charges.
This is from Trump's former -- now former attorney. There's a charge under the Espionage Act. There's obstruction of justice. There's destruction or falsification of records, various conspiracies, and there is false statements.
So, again, this is a broad outline of what we are expecting to see in this indictment. But we still have not heard anything from the Department of Justice. We still have not heard anything from the special counsel. And we still have not seen the indictment, which is going to put more meat on the bones of what we're seeing here from these charges.
Again, this is going to be the first step in this process, getting this indictment unsealed. Trump himself said on social media, though, that he is expected to appear at a federal court in Miami on Tuesday afternoon. He's already told media outlets that he is, of course, going to plead not guilty, Jim.
SCIUTTO: The charges under the Espionage Act particularly serious.
Sara Murray in Washington, thanks very much -- Brianna.
KEILAR: CNN's Evan Perez and Paula Reid are here with their latest reporting on this.
Evan, sources are telling CNN that a close Trump aide is also facing these charges in the classified documents case. Tell us about this aide.
EVAN PEREZ, CNN SENIOR JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Walt Nauta is the name of the aide he is a military veteran. He was -- worked as a valet with the former president in the White House.
And after the former president left office, he went down to Mar-a-Lago to be, again, somebody who's very close to him. He's a body man, is what they call it. And he looms large in this investigation, in part because prosecutors appeared to be trying to get him to turn on the former president. That's according to some of the lawyers involved in this case, in part because he was involved.
According to some of the witness testimony, he moved some of the boxes. He -- according to some of the witness testimony, prosecutors seem to believe that he may have been part of a conspiracy with the former president to try to do some of the obstruction, some of the things that the former president is now formally accused of.
Now, just like the charges of the former president, we haven't yet seen the indictment against Nauta. We haven't seen anything from the Justice Department. So we're having to read between the lines.
But we do know, based on some of the questions that witnesses were getting, that prosecutors have a suspicion of, I guess, Nauta, and, apparently, they were trying to leave on him to testify against the former president. Interestingly, he has been alongside the president in the last few days at Bedminster.
KEILAR: Yes, he is there. It's really fascinating.
KEILAR: Paula, you have obtained a transcript of the taped phone call, of a taped call. And there is a damning quote that Trump talks about here -- quote -- "As president, I could have declassified. But now I can't."
He's publicly said that there was no -- he's publicly said something very different, if you can spell that out for him.
PAULA REID, CNN SENIOR LEGAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: That's right. Let's set the scene here.
This is this summer of 2021, several months after he left the White House. He is at his golf club in Bedminster. And he's in a meeting, several people, including a few of his aides, and two people working on an autobiography for his former Chief of Staff Mark Meadows.
And, at this time, he was in the habit of having his aides record conversations with journalists. So it's key. He knew he was being recorded when he said the following.
Now, I also want to note, contextually, at this moment, he was very upset about a magazine article that features some quotes from General Mark Milley that suggested that Trump had wanted to attack Iran.
And he says: "Well, with Milley -- let me see. I will show you an example. He said that I wanted to attack Iran. Isn't that amazing? I have a big pile of papers." And our sources tell us you can hear him shuffling through papers. "This thing just came up. Look, this was him. They presented me this. This was off the record. But they presented me this. This was him. This was the Department of Defense and him.
"We looked at some -- well, this was him. This wasn't done by me. This was done by him. So, clearly, he wants the people in the room to know this was done by him."
But then he goes on to say all sorts of stuff, pages long: "Look, wait a minute. Let's see here. I just found -- isn't that amazing? This totally wins my case, you know, except it is, like, highly confidential, secret. This is secret information. Look. Look at this."
I will stop there for a second. Secret and confidential, obviously, two different levels of classification. And he's also buttressing that by saying, "Look, look." It appears, based on this recording, that the former president was trying to share sensitive information with people who did not have a security clearance.
But the most damning quote of all is, at the end of the tape, he asks: "Can we declassify?" and then sort of answers his own question, saying: "As president, I could have declassified. But now I can't," an incredibly important piece of evidence for prosecutors, because it's so rare that we ever have the former president -- again, in his own words, he doesn't e-mail, he doesn't text.
And, here, you have him describing what he clearly understands to be the continued possession of sensitive information, appearing to try to share it with people. Why? Because he's trying to settle some score with General Mark Milley.
Now, at the end of the tape, I will note, he also just calls sort of off screen for someone to bring them some Cokes. So, incredibly, he knows he's being recorded. And he doesn't seem to really in any way grasp the gravity of this moment, or how it could potentially come back now two years later to haunt him legally.
KEILAR: Presumably, whoever is bringing him Cokes doesn't have the type of clearance.
REID: Possibly Walt Nauta. It is possibly Walt Nauta.
KEILAR: That's possible.
REID: That's one of the things that he does.
KEILAR: Someone who may not have the clearance to be looking at these. He's admitting that he has classified information...
KEILAR: ... and also that he understands the process very clearly for declassifying it.
Evan and Paula, if you will stay with us, we do want to get some more reporting -- Jim.
SCIUTTO: That's right, the story moving very quickly.
South Florida will be in the spotlight on Tuesday, when Trump is set to appear in court. And there is new reporting this morning, this afternoon the judge who may oversee the classified documents case, at least initially seen. CNN's Katelyn Polantz is in Miami.
Katelyn, this is a judge who's made an appearance before at an earlier state -- stage of this investigation.
KATELYN POLANTZ, CNN SENIOR CRIME AND JUSTICE REPORTER: Indeed, she has.
Judge Aileen Cannon who sits in this district, she's a lifetime appointee to the federal bench by Donald Trump, no less. And Judge Cannon previously, when she -- after the search warrant, she got a petition from Donald Trump to try and slow down the Justice Department investigation, essentially, and she allowed that to happen.
And then an appeals court said she got the law wrong. So, Judge Aileen Cannon, the reason we're talking about her today is because her name was on that summons, that document that went to Donald Trump and his lawyers yesterday telling him that he has been indicted. And it indicates that she is the judge that will handle and shepherd this case through the court system and through a jury trial.
So, the things that she will get to oversee are how the law is interpreted for this trial. She will also get to see what evidence can come in and out. She will get to make decisions on that after hearing arguments from both the Justice Department and Donald Trump's team.
And then crucially, timing, that is something judges have a lot of control over. And so this question of whether she will have this case move very swiftly through the court system and get to trial well before the election, that's a possibility, but she also could make the determination that she wants it to go long and she wants to take her time with the pretrial proceedings, being a pretty complex national security case.
And so the Justice Department clearly was very concerned, Jim, when she had this before because, when she was dealing with appointing a special master, she essentially slowed it down, put a pause on the investigation, and then the appeals court, when they said, no, that's not the law here, they said, we cannot write a rule or we -- nor can we write a rule that allows only former presidents to block government investigations.
And so a lot of anticipation for how the judge, Judge Aileen Cannon, will handle this case going forward.
SCIUTTO: No question, and a track record to follow, of course.
Katelyn Polantz in Miami, thanks so much.
KEILAR: And let's discuss this. So much to discuss.
We are joined now by CNN chief legal analyst, Laura Coates.
We are awaiting some more specifics here. But you have heard the reporting and we have heard from Trump's team about what some of these charges are expected to be. How serious is this, Laura?
LAURA COATES, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: This is extremely serious. It's unprecedented.
But so is the conduct that has allegedly led to this actual moment in time. Think about it in different categories and buckets. You have on the one hand the retention of classified documents or some form of document that is prurient and prescient -- excuse me -- that's pertinent -- excuse me -- to national security or defense-related documents.
You got the idea of obstruction that is likely there, meaning you refuse to hand them over, even though you know you're not the lawful custodian. You have got the idea of possibly inducing someone to make false statements to law enforcement about the subject matter of their investigation, and, of course, conspiracy, the meeting of the minds and some overt action to try to create or harm someone or to break a law.
The key witness to me in all this will also be Evan Corcoran, who, of course, was the attorney for Donald Trump, who had his attorney-client privilege pierced. That was highly unprecedented. We want our clients and our attorneys to have candid conversations, because we want them to be able to have a defense.
We want them to have a fair trial, where you have a fair opportunity to get legal counsel. And so the second that was pierced, and we knew there was copious notes, apparently, taken by Evan Corcoran about whatever direction may have been given and allowed to be before a grand jury, this was really perhaps a foregone conclusion that this might happen.
SCIUTTO: Let me ask you, because, as I understand it, intent is key here.
SCIUTTO: Proving intent is key to getting, beyond the indictment, getting a conviction on these charges, explain why and how one would go about proving intent here.
COATES: Well, in order to make the bulk of these claims, you have to have knowing or willful conduct. It can't just be inadvertent. It can't be that I had no idea that I had these documents.
It's a total plea of ignorance. I had no idea. And the second I learned about it, I made every effort to try to correct this in some way. Instead, what we have here -- and you would have to prove that the person was knowing, that they were willful, and they doubled down so many times, as in to buck any notion that they did not know it was actually happening.
Why that's so important, of course, is because, normally, it's so hard to find the intent of a witness, let alone a defendant or a target, because you have to go into their minds, and they're not going to be very forthcoming with you about what they want, because they know they have got this sword of Damocles.
So you have got this great reporting. You have got this idea of the recording. You have got the notion of what he knew and who told him information, because you cannot look at it in a vacuum. You can't simply say, well, I'm assuming someone told him something.
We know that this over a year had been a process between the National Archives saying specifically, we are the lawful custodians of documents. We need to have them returned. There was a subpoena as well. You haven't given them.
KEILAR: Is the taped conversation that CNN and Paula and team have a transcript, a partial transcript of, is that a smoking gun into this point of intent?
COATES: Well, first of all, the dramatic reading of it, Paula, unbelievable, because it gave the gravitas...
REID: I didn't do my Trump voice.
COATES: I'm telling -- you did not, but you didn't have to do with the gravitas assigned to what was said.
If you just heard about it conceptually, that there was some mention of a document, you might not have heard the full context. To hear it in the way that it was described and how the transcript goes down leaves no room for any doubt that he was aware that there was a declassification process. He had not followed it.
There were documents in front of him that were demonstrably about areas of sensitivity, which is the subject matter of the Espionage Act, not about spying and "Mission: Impossible," Ethan Hunt, but being able to disclose information.
And so that is really important. The question, of course, that that's Bedminster. That's New Jersey. This is being brought in Florida. And so how they intend to be able to get that in, is that part of it? Or is there something more?
SCIUTTO: And, by the way, that move is one of the pieces of news. Many pieces of news in recent days is that move from a case that we thought, we imagined might be prosecuted here in Washington, D.C.
I do want to ask you, Evan, on the Espionage Act specifically, because that is among the most serious of the charges here. On conviction, that could bring conceivably years in prison, but it's also one that in cases like this has rarely been charged. If you look at a case like General David Petraeus, right, keeping and retaining documents, the Justice Department considered, but ultimately did not charge on the Espionage Act.
Hard thing, right? Hard thing to prove and quite a serious charge. Explain that to folks at home. Listen, a president being charged with any federal crime is a big deal. [13:15:05]
SCIUTTO: Espionage Act stands out.
PEREZ: Right. It does.
And the statute is called 973. And what it calls for is simply it doesn't turn on whether the documents are classified. It turns on whether this is national defense information. And, certainly, when this goes to trial, one of the things that you will expect that the former president and his legal team -- you heard some of this on our air last night, but some of the lawyers were already saying, look, you're talking about schedules.
You're talking about very unimportant things. And what the Justice Department's job here, what the prosecutors are going to have to do to the -- in front of this jury is to show that this -- the former president, right, was being cavalier with something -- for example, something related to Iran, one of the most serious national security threats that this country faces.
SCIUTTO: Plans to strike Iran, though...
PEREZ: Right. He's being -- he's being cavalier with information that is classified.
And, again, it doesn't turn on that. But how do you prove to this jury that this is serious national defense information? Well, you show them that the former president knew that this was classified, that he knew this was something very serious.
And, as you said, it's not charged off in some of these -- in these cases, but it is charged with people who willfully take documents home to places where they should not be held. And, often, what happens in these cases is people plead out. They do not go to trial.
We do not...
SCIUTTO: Exactly what Petraeus did.
PEREZ: Right. We do not expect that the former president is going to do anything like that.
COATES: And two quick -- just quick points on why the Espionage Act does not actually contemplate classification. It predates our classification system.
PEREZ: Yes. COATES: And so the idea of the element being there, it's all about defense-related information. And what does that mean, the second point?
Information that is either going to be harmful to United States that is coveted, that is held to a close the vest for good reason, or that might aid one of our geopolitical or enemies in some respects.
And so these factors come to mind, not only because, one the defense team so far has not raised the declassification magic wand story, likely because they anticipate the fact that it's not actually an element of the crime, but also because it need not actually matter whether it was classified, as long as it has that defense component.
SCIUTTO: Well, I will tell you, if you look at the folks who've been charged under that going back through the nation's history, Julius and Ethel Rosenberg, Aldrich Ames, Robert Hanssen, I mean, this is quite, well, a rogue's gallery.
We're going to stick with this, of course. There's much more to discuss. So, please do stay with us, everyone. We will take a quick break.
But, as we do: They are jacked up and ready to fight. Why some in Trump's camp say this indictment has actually emboldened members of the inner circle. Plus, what Republicans on Capitol Hill are saying about all this, if they're saying anything at all.
All of that and much more ahead on CNN NEWS CENTRAL.
KEILAR: A person who spoke to former President Donald Trump last night tells CNN that the former president and his advisers are -- quote -- "ready to fight" after learning of this historic federal indictment.
In fact, the person said that Trump and his inner circle are -- quote -- "very jacked up." That is -- that's the quote there. They see the charges further energizing his campaign, possibly even giving a boost to his 2024 fund-raising.
SCIUTTO: That's not unlike the reaction to the Manhattan case.
We do have much more on the Trump team's perspective on this.
CNN's Kristen Holmes, she's in Bridgewater, New Jersey. That's, of course, near where the former president is with his team at his golf club there. We also have CNN's Jessica Dean. She's here with responses from Trump's 2024 rivals.
Kristen, first to the latest development, the indictment of the Trump aide Walt Nauta. He was in Bedminster as this came out. Any word of a response from him or his own legal team to this? KRISTEN HOLMES, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Not from Walt or his legal team. But we have heard from the former president, who put out on TRUTH Social -- he praised Nauta. He said that the DOJ was trying to ruin his life, like they're trying to ruin the lives of others.
But I do want to note that I have talked to several members of Trump's inner circle who are very shaken by this news. Nauta is a military man. He was -- worked with him in the White House. He was a valet. And he's been with him ever since he left office. And he is very beloved among Trump's inner circle.
And so this has shaken some of them. Now, I want to talk to you about that quote that "jacked up" quote, because what I think is so interesting about that is that two things can be true at once. They can say that they are energized, that they think this is going to bring in money, and also be deeply concerned that this is going to impact his 2024 candidacy.
And that is exactly what I am hearing from Trump's top advisers. They do believe that this is going to help with fund-raising. They do believe that this is going to help with polling, just like we saw after that Manhattan indictment.
However, there is a sect of Trump advisers who are deeply concerned about this. They do not think that this is going to help long term. Maybe it will help him win the GOP nomination, rev up the base. But how does this play in a general election? We are in unprecedented times.
And one thing that we have reported on is that Trump's team has really tried to broaden his base. That is one of the reasons he's been doing so much, actually, traditional campaigning. Again, he is not traditional, but they have been trying to run a traditional campaign because they want to reach other voters.
Getting indicted in a federal investigation is not something that they believe is going to appeal to suburban women, something that they think that Trump will need to win, a group that he will need to win if he is going to win the 2024 election.
KEILAR: Jessica, what is the reaction from Trump's Republican rivals on the campaign trail?
JESSICA DEAN, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Brianna, as you would imagine, this has been a looming X-factor. It continues to be. This is something that all of these candidates and their teams are keeping an eye on, trying to figure out what's the best way to move forward.
And we're really seeing kind of a spectrum take place amongst this ever-growing GOP field. And on one side, you have the candidates who are using the language that we're hearing from so many Republicans both on the Hill, but also from the president himself. He's talking about the weaponization of the FBI and weaponization of the DOJ. That's what we're hearing from people like Florida Governor Ron
DeSantis, from Senator Tim Scott. They're talking about the weaponization and that it must end. Then you kind of have people like the former Vice President Mike Pence, who's kind of taking a Goldilocks approach, if you will.
He's saying that the American people need to read this indictment for themselves and figure out if it's weaponization or something else. We also heard from him on the campaign trail just a little bit ago. I will let you listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MIKE PENCE (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I had hoped it wouldn't come to this. I had hoped the Department of Justice would see its way clear to resolve these issues with the former president without moving forward with charges.
And I'm deeply troubled to see this indictment move forward, believing it will only further divide our nation at a time that American families are facing real hardship at home.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
DEAN: So he's certainly in a unique position, as his former vice president, and trying to walk the middle of the line.
Brianna and Jim, one more approach we're hearing from former Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson, he's saying that Trump should take himself out of the race, that he should respect the office and get out of the race, that it is too much of a distraction.
So we're trying to -- we're starting to see these candidates take these different approaches. One thing to keep an eye on as we move forward in all of this, one, there's going to be more to come. Once this indictment is unsealed, what will their responses be to that? And, also, does will you pardon Trump become a litmus test for this field?
That's also something to keep in mind as we move forward.
KEILAR: Yes, we're seeing some candidates who do want to answer that question, and some who definitely do not.
Jessica Dean, thank you. Kristen Holmes, thank you as well.
SCIUTTO: Well, and at the same time, you already have folks looking ahead to the 2024 election on the Republican side and implying that this is, in effect, interference in that election, raising questions about 2024, as we have seen, of course, repeated about 2020.
Before the indictment dropped, sources told CNN that Donald Trump had been reaching out to his allies in Congress. Now reaction pouring in from Capitol Hill.
That's where CNN's Melanie Zanona is standing by. Melanie, I understand you just got a hold of a letter from the House, of course, Republican-controlled House Judiciary Committee. What are they saying about this?
MELANIE ZANONA, CNN CAPITOL HILL REPORTER: Yes, Jim, this is the House GOP is opening salvo in their effort to defend Donald Trump against these charges, even as they don't know exactly what is in the indictment.
As you mentioned, we knew Donald Trump was calling up his allies on Capitol Hill asking them to defend him. They have the power of the majority over in the House. And that is exactly what the House Judiciary Committee is doing. Republicans on that committee sent a letter to Attorney General Merrick Garland today.
They re-upped a request for information about that search on Mar-a- Lago, although they did put a little bit more meat on the bones in terms of what they were requesting in this letter. And they also revealed that Chairman Jim Jordan had a transcribed interview with a former FBI official which Jordan says raises new questions about that search on Mar-a-Lago.
I want to read you part of that letter. They wrote: "Additional information recently obtained by the committee about the department's execution of a search warrant on President Trump's residence only reinforces our grave concerns that your reported actions are nothing more than a politically motivated prosecution."
But, Jim, it is worth pointing out here the split screen between House Republican leaders and Senate Republican leaders in terms of how they're responding. Speaker Kevin McCarthy yesterday was very quick to put out a statement calling these charges unconscionable, saying it is a sad day for America, and also vowing accountability for the DOJ, whether that's in the form of potentially investigating the investigators or even targeting the DOJ in the upcoming spending season.
But over on the Senate side, Mitch McConnell and John Thune, the number one and number two Senate Republicans, have been silent. And we are actually not expecting to hear from them, at least until we see the indictment next week.
But there have been two notable GOP Senate voices we have heard from supporting former President Donald Trump. That includes John Barrasso, a member of the leadership team, as well as Steve Daines. He's the head of the Senate GOP campaign arm. Of course, he wants Trump on his side, not working against him, when he tries to take back the Senate next year.
So that's, I'm sure, part of the motivation there as well. But this divide between the House and Senate GOP in terms of reacting to this news really speaks to the broader divide in the GOP over the former president and whether he should be their nominee, which is likely only going to go deeper in the weeks and months ahead, Jim.
SCIUTTO: No question. It has been a familiar divide, particularly going back to January 6.
Melanie Zanona on the Hill, thanks so much -- Brianna.
KEILAR: Preps for a massive multistate, multiagency security operation are now under way, which will include the Secret Service delivering Trump to U.S. Marshals for processing.
We will have details on that next.