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Don Lemon Tonight

Informant Tipped Off Investigators Of Classified Documents At Mar-a-Lago; Donald Trump Invokes The Fifth Amendment At Civil Probe; Mar-a-Lago Documents National Security Implications; Standin Ovation For Jon Stewart At The White House. Aired 10-11p ET

Aired August 10, 2022 - 22:00   ET



SARA SIDNER, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Thank you so much for hanging with me. I will be back tomorrow night, but now you get the greatest. Laura Coates is sitting in for DON LEMON TONIGHT. I know you're digging deeper on all of the twists and turns of what's happening with the former president, and that show begins right now. Hey, Laura.

LAURA COATES, CNN HOST: I want there to be a forever meme that Sarah Sidner, the actual greatest just referred to me that way. I can die happy now.

SIDNER: The love is real.

COATES: Thank you so much. It is -- thank you, sis. Nice to see you, as always, and a great show. I love watching it. This is DON LEMON TONIGHT and I'm Laura Coates sitting in for Don Lemon. And there are big developments on the FBI search for documents at former President Donald Trump's Mar-a-Lago home.

The "Wall Street Journal" reporting tonight that an informant tipped off federal investigators that they were -- there were more -- there were more likely to have more classified documents at the property after National Archives took away 15 boxes of materials earlier this year. An informant at Mar-a-Lago?

Well, CNN has not confirmed this part of the story, but we have already reported that investigators believe that Trump and his aides had not returned all of the documents. And they also believe that Trump representatives were not being entirely honest with them.

Trump, meanwhile, seems to be hiding behind a 5th amendment, which of course, is his right to do. And he did so today during today's admission with New York Attorney General's office, who is investigating of course the Trump Organization. I'm going to give you my take on that a little bit later in the show. But for now, let's remember that Trump once said that only criminals took the fifth.


DONALD TRUMP, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA: You see the mob takes the fifth. If you're innocent, why are you taking the fifth amendment?


COATES: What a difference a few years makes. Today, Trump saying in a statement instead, quote, "When your family, your company, and all the people in your orbit have become the targets of an unfounded, politically motivated witch hunt supported by lawyers, prosecutors and the fake news media, you have no choice."

Also tonight, rumblings within the DOJ. Some officials saying that the DOJ needs to be more public and make a statement about the unprecedented search of a former president's home, especially now that Trump is suggesting that the agents may have planted incriminating evidence. But of course, without offering one iota of proof to that point. The director of the FBI, Christopher Wray, is swatting away a question about that very accusation.


CHRISTOPHER WRAY, DIRECTOR OF THE FEDERAL BUREAU OF INVESTIGATION: As I'm sure you can appreciate, that's not something that I can talk about so I'd refer you to the department.


COATES: A lot to get to tonight. Let's turn it right away to CNN senior justice correspondent, Evan Perez. Evan, so nice to see you this evening. You know, tell us a little bit more about this reporting from "The Wall Street Journal." An informant of some kind tipped off investigators about more documents at Mar-a-Lago. What do you know about that?

EVAN PEREZ, CNN SENIOR JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Well, the extent of the general's report is that there was someone who is familiar with the information that the FBI was looking for at the National Archives, obviously, was looking for informed the FBI that there were more than likely these additional documents being stored there in Mar-a-Lago. We don't know who this person was. We don't know how they would have had that knowledge.

But it is something that it appears helped drive the FBI's decision, the Justice Department's decision to conduct this search on Monday. Keep in mind, Laura, that they had been having conversations with the Trump team for months. And there clearly was some, you know, decisions at some point that they were not getting the full story from the Trump team, which is why they took this extraordinary step.

We'll take you back though, Laura, to the fact that this goes back to May of 2021 when the Archives first came to the Trump team to tell them that they believed that there were documents, there were -- there was information that they should have turned over that were not turned over. And so, this has been a long, long-drawn-out process before we got to Monday. This was not something that just happened recently.

COATES: That timeline is so important because for many people who heard about the search on Monday being executed, their thought was, I thought that it resolved the idea at the 15 boxes having gone back to National Archive. And the idea -- I thought Trump had already spoken to investigators at Mar-a-Lago. Then there was that sort of month or more delay and then it was the unannounced search. There is something that makes sense in people's minds about the prospect of an informant, even though we don't have the information quite yet.

But when it comes to the FBI search at Mar-a-Lago, Evan, there is some new reporting and information you have that some DOJ officials think that the Justice Department ought to make a public statement about it. What are you learning?


PEREZ: Well, look, you know, it is not uncommon for the FBI and U.S. Attorneys to at least acknowledge that there was a search, a court authorized search that took place at a certain location simply because often the public finds out about it and it helps explain what the FBI was doing at the location. They don't have to explain what the investigation is, they don't have to get into a lot of detail.

And that is where, I think, you will see some frustrations inside the Justice Department because the fact that the Justice Department has said nothing, okay. The only reason we know about the search, Laura, is because the former president put out a statement in which he attacked the agents. He said that there was a siege today. He added that there was possible that FBI agents were planting evidence or planting documents there.

These are all accusations that have gone unanswered from the Justice Department and it has an impact because you can see the number of threats that are now being sent to members of law enforcement, to FBI agents as a result of some of this. And so, that is where some at this frustration is going inside the Justice Department.

I will note though, everyone is aware of the shadow of James Comey and 2016, and the fact that, you know, the FBI and he Justice Department have changed the way they do things to make sure that something like that does not happen again. Where, you know, you go out and you say a lot of things about uncharged conduct against somebody, you know, like in that case, it was Hillary Clinton. So, I think everyone is aware that there are limitations, it's just right now, the silence is deafening. Laura?

COATES: I mean, Evan, it's quite a catch 22, right?


COATES: I mean, you can see people walking into a sort of a trap of being more vocal and transparent and you can imagine the talking points that come from that. The catch 22, if you are silent and have it lingered out there. We'll see what happens. Evan, thank you so much.

I want to bring in senior law enforcement analyst Andrew McCabe, the former FBI deputy director. He's also the author of "The Threat: How the FBI Protects America in the Age of Terror and Trump." Also joining me now is CNN legal analyst Elliott Williams, a former deputy assistant attorney general under President Obama. Great to have both of you here. I've got the FBI component, I've got what's happening and the (inaudible) of the DOJ.

Let me begin with you, Andrew, here because, look, I have to be honest with you, when "The Wall Street Journal" reported this, the idea of having an informant there wasn't the shock of the century to most people reading, going, well, there must have been some reason to go back at that particular point in time. Who it might be? If actually there's a person there. Do you have questions about that particular notion? Do you have the same sort of instinctive vibe that says somebody must have picked up a phone or done something to say, you didn't look over here?

ANDREW MCCABE, CNN SENIOR LAW ENFORCEMENT ANALYST: Absolutely, Laura. So, for many reasons, right. First and foremost, the sequence of events here just didn't make sense, that they were all meeting, that both sides were meeting at Mar-a-Lago as recently as June and discussing the documents, reviewing things that were in the basement. And then a month or a month and a half later, we have a search warrant.

So, it seemed clear to me that something happened in between that time that caused the FBI and Department of Justice to be much more concerned about what might be on the presence -- what might be on the premises and their ability to recover documents that may create some sort of national security concern.

And so, always in the situations you wonder whether or not someone has come forward to provide additional information to the bureau that changes the way they think about these things. It's very common, as you know, from your history in the Department of Justice.

And people reach out to the bureau, and thankfully they do, with information of that sort. So, it's not hard to imagine that that happened in this case.

COATES: Of course, if that were to be the case, and we do not yet have information that it is, that person, this informant couldn't just be sort of a willy-nilly, no one has access, who is this person. I would have to be the same reason we talk about getting a warrant actually approved by a judge in the home of a former president. I would suspect if there is an informant, they had to have damn good evidence to support it in some respect.

Another point though before I get to you, Elliott, I want to bring you in here, but I just go to know, Andrew, I have to tell you, I was a little stunned and taken aback by Christopher Wray's response about the even suggestion about having evidence planted. I would expected there to be a more vociferous protest that would have happened as opposed to a referral to the DOJ.

What do you have to say about the idea, I mean, I know you mentioned it was absurd, but what do you say about the idea that there is even a suggestion that the FBI is doing that or might have done that?


It doesn't really bode well for public's confidence in the FBI, does it?

MCCABE: No, it doesn't. And at a time when FBI agents are under attack, literally being threatened by people online over the kind of the kerfuffle that's come up over this whole search warrant. And I will say, look, Laura, the director of the FBI does not have to talk about the specifics of an ongoing case to stand up for the integrity of the men and women who work for him.

To accuse law enforcement officers of planting evidence, that is about the most serious and defamatory thing you can say about any law enforcement officer. And in this case, without any basis whatsoever, if there are facts or evidence of that sort of behavior, they should be bringing that to the attention of the FBI and other authorities immediately and I'm sure it will be taken with all seriousness.

But the fact is, the 37,000 men and women of the FBI put their lives on the line every day for the American public, and it is despicable to see people on Twitter, in social media or places like on other news outlets, I'm referring to Lindsey Graham or to the FBI director himself, to countenance these allegations without actually challenging them and standing up for the integrity of the men and women of the FBI. I think it's disgusting.

COATES: As I said, I was a bit taken aback by the fact that it wasn't -- there were more gusto in it. Elliott, I want to bring you in here. And of course, let's be clear, you know, the FBI has not just suddenly been under the microscope and the scrutiny of the American public. Theirs has been brewing and perhaps a bit of a combination of that mistrust.

But let me ask you, Elliott, about the potential for there to be this informant. Somebody who may have known Trump or in his inner circle. I mean, we don't actually know that, but I wonder about the motivation here because who would be, in your mind, motivated to give investigators a tip like this? Is it sort of a moral compulsion? Is it a save my own hide? What would be the motivation?

ELLIOTT, WILLIAMS, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Yes, it could be any number of factors, Laura. It could be, number one, like you said, someone saving their own hide, someone who could have been notified to have been the subject of an investigation or the target of an investigation, and it became in their interest to come forward and step up.

Sometimes people just do the right thing, and it is the, whether you wish to say morally just or correct thing to do to come forward with evidence or information. It could be someone with an ax to grind. There are all kinds of reasons why people step forward and testify as witnesses and it's just hard to know what, you know, what might have motivated this one here.

COATES: And, of course, at that point, Andrew, right, I mean, because there is that possibility that Elliot spoke about, I mean, there is the what makes me smile, that people might do the right thing. Then there's the idea of CYA.

But you have to sort of vet the potential source of information because your credibility is sort of ticked away by how much you might be motivated by an ax to grind because there might be something more nefarious and less truthful in what you're saying. But there's one thing that doesn't seem to be likely to lose credibility, and that's surveillance video, right? What I can actually see and what's captured.

MCCABE: That's right.

COATES: We know the FBI had previously subpoenaed surveillance tapes and they have received them. And agents focused on Trump's offices and personal quarters. It seems like they knew right where to go and what they were asking for. Does this make more sense about who this information may be coming from and why the footage?

MCCABE: It really does. You know, you can only imagine the level of specificity and the level of confidence in the information that the bureau and the Department of Justice must have had before they took that affidavit to a federal judge to even consider. And in this case, you would absolutely vet any individuals who were bringing information to the bureau along those lines.

You would absolutely have to vet that information and you would have to let the judge know exactly what you knew about this source and what their motivations might be and where this might be coming from. There are all kinds of ways that a source could confirm the veracity of what they're telling you. They could maybe have provided photographs of information or specific information that could not have been, you know, essentially presented by anybody else who was outside the situation.

So, we can only imagine that there was a high degree of vetting and confirmation in what they presented to the judge because as we know, the judge read that affidavit and signed the search warrant indicating that he found it -- he found it credible. That there was probable cause to believe that there was evidence of a crime in that premises. So, that ultimately is the only standard we need to worry about.

COATES: I mean, I think looking at the screen, we can probably all confirm you're looking at three skeptics, right?


Three skeptics walk into a bar. We're all going to vet and think to ourselves, why should I trust you? Give me a reason to do so. But then there's the idea, and I want to rely on you here, Elliot, because you have been a deputy assistant attorney general in the Department of Justice.

And let me tell you, we're hearing from Evan's reporting that there seems to be some disagreement, shall we say, about whether to be public or not. Some want to go public and make a statement about the search. Do you think that is the right thing to do or is this kind of in the year of 2022, the time of catch-22? Damned if you do and damned if you don't?

WILLIAMS: Yes. I think damn if you do and damn if you don't is exactly the right way to say it. Look, I understand, Laura, in 2022, the public has a hunger for information. Just look at the availability of news on the internet and so on.

So, you know, look, I get it. At the end of the day, cracking the door open to providing any information about an open or ongoing investigation is only fraught with peril for the Justice Department because anything that the attorney general says will lead to follow-up questions that could ultimately end up jeopardizing sources or evidence or information that they're working on right now.

Look, I remember back when I was deputy assistant attorney general fielding calls from members of Congress and people in the White House, you know, who would ask, why didn't you guys give us a heads-up about X, Y, or Z step you were taking? They take it very personally, other folks in government.

Well, we didn't tell you because we would run the risk of jeopardizing the investigation if we did. And we're kind of glad we didn't. If you don't like it, come work at the Justice Department. But at the end of the day, it's incredibly risky even setting aside this public need for information. It is incredibly risky to start going down that road.

So really, you know, I think I'm with where the attorney general has been on this, that even in spite of sort of the knocks that the Justice Department appears to be taking from some in the public, it just isn't a good idea to go down that road.

COATES: Well, we will see what road they eventually pursue. Andrew, Elliot, thank you so much.

MCCABE: Thanks, Laura.

WILLIAM: Thanks.

COATES: Speaking of a road that's not really traveled, well, how about taking the fifth for somebody like Donald Trump, after saying previously that only mobsters do that. And now the report that an informant may have tipped off the feds that there were more classified documents at Mar-a-Lago? Up next, we've got Trump's former fixer, Michael Cohen, on why the president who once said only the mob pleads the fifth said, you got to plead the fifth today.



COATES: Today in the Big Apple, the former president taking the fifth, declining to answer questions to the New York A.G.'s investigation of the Trump Organization's business dealings. This as "The Wall Street Journal" reports that an informant told investigators that there is still have been classified documents at Mar-a-Lago even after the initial removal of those 15 boxes earlier this year from the National Archives. Joining me now to discuss, Trump's former attorney, Michael Cohen.

He's the host of the podcast "Mea Culpa with Michael Cohen" and principal of Crisis-X. Michael, thanks for joining us tonight. I have to tell you, I've been eager to ask --


COATES: Nice to see you. I've been eager to ask you in particular about what's going on because you are intimately aware of not only what it's like to had your home searched, the idea of what Donald Trump might think about this, but also you were around and in case anyone forgot about this, I want to remind our viewers of what your old boss had to say about people who take the fifth. Listen to this.


TRUMP: Have you seen what's going on in front of Congress? Fifth amendment, fifth amendment, fifth amendment. Horrible. Horrible.

The mob takes the fifth. If you're innocent, why are you taking the fifth amendment?

When you have your staff taking the fifth amendment, taking the fifth so they're not prosecuted, I think it's disgraceful.


COATES: I wonder what you make of him taking the fifth for literally hours today, Michael.

COHEN: Yes, it's one of the first times I'm going to agree with him in a long time, right? Only gangsters, mobsters, and guilty people take the fifth, right? You know, remember when he was going after Hillary Clinton, when he was going after Congress, he'll say anything so long as it benefits him. And that's exactly what he was doing.

He was using the fact that they were taking the fifth because in his mind, it benefited him. Well, right now, it's not benefiting him, so he's going to do what he wants to do and plead the fifth despite the fact that he has for many years now gone on the attack against anyone who took the fifth.

Look, Eric Trump didn't take the fifth. He took the fifth a couple hundred times. Don Jr. didn't take the fifth, and neither did Ivanka Trump. So, you know, why Donald is doing what he's doing? Because in his mind, someone told him that this is going to benefit him. And the reason it's going to benefit him is because he's really stupid.

To be very honest with you, if you've ever read any of his depositions, he lies with impunity, and at the end of the day, they would end up getting a second charge on him, which of course would be lying to the authorities.

COATES: So, I mean, the idea of the stupidity on that point, it sounds for many if you think about the strategy here, if the idea is to, on the one hand, convince your supporters and your base that it is wrong to take the fifth although it is your right to do so, it's the government's burden to prove it, and then to be able to turn it around.

There's been a lot of support and people saying that's a good decision because everyone's against you and you're not going to have a fair shot. There's no due process for you whatsoever. You can't comply with the system.

What do you make of that sort of thought process of, well, it's appropriate as he thought for him because everyone's against him. Everyone's trying to attack him. He wouldn't get a fair shot. He's a victim.

COHEN: Right, except -- that's the point I was going to make. He always cries the victim when he knows he's going to lose.


The problem for Donald and whoever it is that provided him the information, as you're well aware, pleading the fifth does nothing for you in a civil matter. This is not a criminal matter where you could take the fifth and you cannot make an inference that taking the fifth sort of puts you in the guilty position.

In a civil matter, it's exactly that. They now have the ability, which is what the attorney general wanted anyway -- she has now the ability to go ahead and to presume that by not answering the questions, that he's guilty of it. That's just how it works in a civil matter.

COATES: That's an important point because many people may have thought, Michael, hold on, if he pleaded the fifth, then why would this go on for hours? I mean, why would you -- you ask every single question because then you can raise that adverse inference for every single question. It doesn't have to be, hey, I'm not going to answer questions and let's all go home.

Part of the point is to lock in that answer, to draw that negative adverse inference. But speaking of information, I wonder what you make of this "Wall Street Journal" reporting tonight that somebody may have tipped off investigators about there still being more classified documents at Mar-a-Lago.

We've played a lot of the montages all throughout the day of the idea of remember this comment about the fifth amendment? But I also remember a lot of comments about those who might be leakers, the idea of snitches, the idea of people informing and the problem with that. What do you think his reaction is going to be this reporting if that is, in fact, the case?

COHEN: Look, it's definitely the case. How did they know? Look, as you stated accurately, when I received the knock on the door from the FBI, from the agents with the warrant, you know, I opened up the door. I greeted them despite what Donald said in my specific case, and of course he's parroting it now, which is that they ransacked the place. They destroyed it, that they were unprofessional. It's absolutely not true. The FBI is always professional. They're

courteous, and they're respectful, and I'm sure they treated Mar-a- Lardo exactly the same, alright. So, rest assured its once again Donald playing the victim. But as it relates to what's going on here, Donald knows that there are leakers or people who are -- I'd like to say doing the right thing for the right reason, I don't believe so.

But whatever it is, every single person that he comes in contact with, and that includes his own children, he has to be wondering who is it that provided the information to the government for them to be able to obtain this warrant because you could bet your bottom dollar in order to get the warrant, this thing was scrutinized and significantly.

COATES: I also would assume that even if somebody were to tip off, there had to have been some level of corroboration because, you know, unlike, say, the average person, and we know full well that part of this absurdity of the idea of if this could happen to Trump, it could happen to anyone, is that it happens to everyday civilians all of the time.

I mean, the idea of an executing of a search warrant happens all of the time. The idea, the novelty is that it happened to a former president here. But on the idea of your own personal experience of being at the receiving end of this federal search warrant. I mean, I wonder how do you think that Trump is personally reacting to having Mar-a-Lago in particular searched by FBI agents? I mean, this is -- he's even suggesting that the FBI may have planted evidence, which is -- there's no evidence whatsoever about that.

COHEN: Oh, man. Yes, and aren't they supposed to be the party that protects blue? I mean to make a statement like that, it's so reckless and it's so despicable. I truly don't even want to give it any air time because it's just -- it's just wrong on every sense. But one thing for certain, Donald's not so much concerned that the FBI came to Mar-a-Lago. He's not.

What he's concerned about is he knows what information exists in the boxes that were taken and that's what's concerning him. That coupled with who is it that was providing the information, because right now he feels trapped. He feels all alone, and he should.

He should feel this way because rest assured whatever the person that provided the feds with the information, they're willing to provide more, and they will continue to do so until ultimately, and one thing you know, when the feds raid, usually what comes after that is an indictment and incarceration, and nobody knows that better than I.


COHEN: And one thing also when it comes to Donald, I love how he's playing victim, right, for the weaponization of the Justice Department. I have a book that I'm going to be making an announcement tomorrow regarding a new book of mine that's going to be coming out that deals exactly with this issue.

[22:30:00] This is Donald Trump's weaponization of the Justice Department is now coming back to bite him in his, you know, in his extremely large backside, right? And I constantly put in my twitter feed, #karmaboomerang. He's the one that created this and what he's doing is he's using exactly what he did to myself and others in order to play the victim on. It's really an amazing way of deflecting.

COATES: Well, either you know how to read tea leaves or you're extremely prescient to already to have a book ready to go about this very topic, Michael. I got to tell you, you know, it's fascinating to think about in many respects, that for some, as you've articulated, there's not the surprise about the playbook that's happening right now.

There are remnants and sort of bread crumbs leading up to how we've seen this play out in the past. I do wonder how it's going to play out politically going forward. Really important to hear your insight. Thank you so much.

COHEN: You know, so one quick statement here.


COHEN: The problem -- I'm not prescient. I'm not Nostradamus. What I am is familiar with the man, alright? I was with him for over a decade. How Donald Trump acted at the Trump Organization is identical to how he acts or acted when he was president in the Oval Office, and it's exactly how he continues to act post his presidency.

Nothing with this man changes. He is exactly the same today as he was 10 years ago, and that's why I'm able to provide the insight that I do and so accurately, because the man will never change. Things he did at the Trump org is exactly how he's behaving today.

COATES: Can I ask you, michael, I know we're out of time, but if that's the truth -- and I don't have any doubt that it is -- why didn't you see it sooner?

COHEN: Yes, because I was blinded by the cult of Donald Trump. And it was also not as relevant as it is today. You know, it's one thing when it's the president of the United States making a racist, sexist, misogynistic, xenophobic, homophobic, Islamophobic, antisemitic comment. It's different when it's the president of a small real estate -- a myopically small real estate company in New York.

You know, everybody always knew the kind of person he was, but there was also a lot of good things going on at the Trump organization and somehow or another, myself and all of my colleagues, we were all in this cult of Donald J. Trump and the Trump organization.

When he ultimately left that role and became the president, there were things that I was unable to contend with, and that's really also not what got me out of the cult. What really got me out of the cult was the incarceration.

COATES: Michael Cohen, thank you for your honesty. Nice speaking with you.

COHEN: Good to see you, Laura.

COATES: Investigations are in New York and in Georgia and in D.C. There's the DOJ. There's the SDNY, the January 6th Committee. If you're confused about all the Trump allegations, maybe you're not alone. I'll make my case for why that confusion just might be the former president's secret weapon. Next.



COATES: Alright. I know today that everyone's talking about the decision of the former president to invoke the fifth amendment as a form of hypocrisy. I hear, just like you, the well, well, well moments. I see the memes, and I get it. But there's something else that we really should address. It's a tool that can be a much more effective weapon than just being a hypocrite, and that's called conflation.

The former president is playing up the vulnerability the general public can't distinguish all the investigations involving himself, and it does help in playing the role of a victim. Case in point, I bet many of you hearing the news that Trump's home had been searched by the FBI had to pause for a second and figure out which investigation it even related to.

Maybe when you heard he took the fifth, I bet you had that same head cocked to the side, which one is this for again moment after all. I mean there are investigations in Georgia and in New York involving the National Archives. There's the issue of his taxes, the DOJ investigation, the January 6th. It all seems to be circling around him as well.

And I agree that there is definitely connective tissue, and the name Trump might be that continuous thread. But the fact of the matter is these investigations are not identical. That's where conflation comes in and where language explaining his decision to plead the fifth is frankly instructive.

Remember that he says, quote, "When your family, your company, and all the people in your orbit have become the targets of an unfounded, politically motivated witch hunt supported by lawyers, prosecutors, and the fake news media, you have no choice." Notice there was not a plural word of witch hunt. It was all under one big umbrella, lumped together.

And it suggests that there are no clear boundaries and everyone's in cahoots regardless of the timelines because even though, for example, you'll recall the New York A.G. investigation is about three years old, but still conflation makes you think there's no coincidence. It's just only pretext.

[22:40:05] It wants you then to feel naive if you don't automatically buy into the theory that everyone is in on it, and it's him against the world. It's just politics. I mean false narratives work best when they conflate everything, when it has you thinking something like, oh, yeah, I remember something about that. This is that, then, right?

It's whataboutisms cousin, and they both operate to try to keep you from seeing both the trees and the forest, and that's frankly precisely why we have to unpack what's going on and dive in and resist the urge to somehow take that bait.

Next, sources telling CNN that there are national security implications for the documents seized at Mar-a-Lago. Just how much of a threat are we talking about?



COATES: So, the Justice Department is keeping silent about its search of former President Donald Trump's Mar-a-Lago home. The FBI executing the search as part of a criminal investigation into the handling of classified information, we're told. A source telling CNN that authorities believe that the documents actually had national security implications.

Joining me now is national security attorney Bradley Moss. Bradley, I'm glad that you're here because everyone's talking about the idea of classified documents, and that phrase keeps being used. But my mind, and I'm sure yours as well, go to the idea of what could possibly be in these classified documents. If they actually had national security implications, that's a very big deal. So, what kind of risks are we talking about?

BRADLEY MOSS, NATIONAL SECURITY ATTORNEY: Sure, and that's one of the unknowns here is that we don't know quite how sensitive records we're talking about. We have media reporting indicating that some of these records that have already been recovered and retrieved in the past from Mar-a-Lago were classified as high as top secret. That's, you know, very practically the highest level of classification you have.

And so, there's a serious risk to national security if they're stored in an unsecured manner. And that's what's really got Donald Trump in trouble here. You know, if this is just about, you know, archived records not being properly stored, this wouldn't be a criminal inquiry. This wouldn't be a criminal matter. This would be a civil matter at most.

The problem he has is he took properly marked classified documents to Mar-a-Lago after he left the presidency when he no longer had any authorized access or control over them and he did not properly turn them over to the feds when they first came asking about its months ago.

COATES: What do you make of the idea that there's a possibility that he may have sort of verbally declassified -- and first I want to be clear, once you're no longer the president, you don't get to grandfather in the authority to classify or deal with classified materials, right?

MOSS: Correct. The moment Joe Biden took the oath of office, Donald Trump lost any and all constitutional authority he had for four years under Article II of the Constitution and as the president. But up until that moment, he had unlimited, unfettered discretion to declassify documents while he was president.

But there is a process. He couldn't point at a box and say, I declassify everything in that box, but the documents themselves still have to be processed for declassification. There are markings on every classified page, on the header and the footer of every document, indicating the level of classification.

There are classification markings on each document indicating when it was classified, by whom, under what authority. That has to all be addressed. That all has to be marked out and written as declassified by Donald Trump on this date.

Until that happened -- and it doesn't appear it ever did -- those documents still had to be handled and treated and stored as if they were still classified.

COATES: That's a really important point, and of course there's also this point, Bradley, made back in January of 2018, then-president Trump, he signed a national security bill into law that included harsher punishments for those who mishandle classified information. I mean if what you're saying is true, that could very much come back to bite him, right?

MOSS: Oh, yes. Oh, sweet, sweet irony. He upgraded what was a misdemeanor into a felony. This was sort of the aftermath of the Hillary Clinton saga when there was a lot of complaints that even if she had been prosecuted under what is 18 U.S.C. Section 1924, that with all the misdemeanor. So, there was a big push to upgrade it into a felony.

If that provision -- and that's just one of several that could potentially be utilized here to prosecute him is ultimately in play, that would be a felony and that would be sweet irony if it's used against him.

COATES: Well, we will see. We already know that part of the Miranda warnings, anything you say can and will be used against you in a court of law. Who knew it referred to legislation as well one day. We'll see. We don't yet know. Thank you, Bradley.

MOSS: Have a good night.

COATES: Now, you want to know who got a standing ovation at the White House today? I'm going to tell you who did next.

And at the top of the hour, an informant at Mar-a-Lago? That's what "The Wall Street Journal" is reporting. Are they right?



COATES: Today, President Biden is signing into law a bill that expands health care benefits to millions of veterans who were exposed to toxic burn pits during their military service. Burn pits were commonly used to burn waste, including trash and munitions, hazardous material and chemical compounds that the military sites throughout Iraq and Afghanistan and until about 2010.

Then, this is personal to the president. He has said he believes there may have been a connection between the brain cancer that killed his 46-year-old son, Beau Biden, and the burn pits Beau was exposed to during his military service. And it's been a cause for comedian Jon Stewart. The president taking a moment today to honor him.


JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA: For what you've done, John, matters, and you know it does. You should know. It really, really matters. You shouldn't let anybody forget, refuse to let them forget. And we owe you big, man. We owe you big.




COATES: And next, new details of what or maybe who, tipped off federal investigators before their search of Mar-a-Lago.


COATES: There's new developments tonight about what led the FBI to search Trump's Mar-a-Lago home. "The Wall Street Journal" is reporting that an informant tipped off investigators that there were more classified documents at Mar-a-Lago, even after National Archives retrieved 15 boxes earlier this summer.

Now, CNN has not confirmed the "Wall Street Journal's" reporting. But I want to bring in CNN senior justice correspondent, Evan Perez, former federal prosecutor Kim Whaley whose author of "How to Think Like a Lawyer and Why," and former FBI special agent Stewart Kaplan. We got the heavy hitters today, I'm so glad to have you all here.


Let me begin with you, Evan, because I want to know what you're learning about the possibility that the investigators got help from an informant. What do you know?