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FBI Searches Mar-a-Lago. Aired 9:00-9:30a ET

Aired August 09, 2022 - 09:00   ET



ALEX MARQUARDT, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning. I'm Alex Marquardt, in today for Jim Sciutto.

POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: Good to have you. What a day. I'm Poppy Harlow. We're glad you're with us.

A stunning move overnight by the Justice Department one that could have wide-ranging implications for former President Trump. FBI agents executed an unprecedented search of Trump's Mar-a-Lago residents. At least three sources tell CNN this is related to the investigation of the handling of White House documents including classified information that may have been brought from the White House from Trump's Florida property.

Now, the former president was not there, he wasn't present for this search, but responded to it in writing, quote, in part, these are dark times for our nation. This unannounced raid on my home was not necessarily or appropriate.

MARQUARDT: Now, it's important to note that the search would have required approval of top level officials from the Department of Justice, as well as the FBI Director Chris Wray. Now, according to a person who's familiar with the matter, the search focused on Trump's offices at Mar-a-Lago, as well as his personal quarters.

President Trump also said that his personal safe was searched.

CNN has learned that officials were examining where documents were stored and that some boxes were removed from that resort, Mar-a-Lago.

CNN chief White House correspondent Kaitlan Collins is in Washington and CNN correspondent Leyla Santiago is outside of President Trump's Palm Beach Mar-a-Lago estate.

Kaitlan, let's start with you.

There are two known Justice Department investigations that are connected to Trump. You've got his involvement in the January 6th insurrection and then the removal of those classified documents to Mar-a-Lago after he left the White House.

This search that took place yesterday were told is about the latter. It's about those documents. So, what does this tell us about where that investigation stands? KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, it's a very dramatic escalation to have this search carried out on the former president's primary residence, which is what Mar-a-Lago became after he left the White House in January 2021. That's when he took several boxes of documents with him to Mar-a-Lago. We knew that that is something that investigators were looking at because there were about over a dozen boxes, it was about 15 boxes, that had been taken to Mar- a-Lago.

They were later sent back to the National Archives after there was some requests made to have those sent back. There was even a subpoena issued by investigators to the National Archives to get access to those documents. That is what we knew in the backdrop leading up to this search warrant that was executed yesterday for several hours by FBI agents. Of course, the former president describing it as this unannounced raid, saying that they accessed his safe. They went through a closet according to Eric Trump.

An Eric Trump has actually confirmed what we reported last night, which is that this is tied to that investigation into whether or not classified information was potentially mishandled, and how it was handled and what happen to it. So those are the big questions right now.

I will say Trump was not president at Mar-a-Lago when this happened. He was actually at Trump Tower in New York. He has now since gone to his club in New Jersey, which is often where he spends his summers.

But, of course, you're seeing him describe this as, he believes, politically motivated. An added complicating factor here is that he has been gearing up to launch a 2024 presidential run. Whether or not this changes the timing of that remains to be seen.

I will say, one other thing that we are looking at is that this is not the first time you saw federal investigators at Mar-a-Lago. I am told by sources that earlier this year there was a handful of them that went down. They met with Trump's attorneys and were actually shown a room, Alex and Poppy, where documents were being kept.

Now, we are told that after that they sent a letter to Trump's attorneys asking him the further secure the room. That was two months ago. Of course, a huge gap and a big question right now is, what happened in those two months that went from that letter from investigators to, of course, the search warrant yesterday.

HARLOW: Right. I mean, and it raises such an important question that we were talking about earlier, which is, what lead, you know, from that allegedly cordial meeting, right, to an -- instead of - instead of a subpoena, an unannounced search. That's a -- it's a huge question of what happened in those two months.

Leyla, you're there. You're at Mar-a-Lago, where the search took place. What more can you tell us about it? And also I wonder how people close to the former president are responding this morning.

LEYLA SANTIAGO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Poppy, I can tell you, as we went by this morning, there are still law enforcement at every single entrance at Mar-a-Lago. But still quite a bit of a different scene compared to what we saw last night. When I was here last night, these roads were lined with supporters and some protesters but overwhelmingly the majority were protesters with flags, with signs, a caravan of trucks making their way up and down the road in front of Mar-a-Lago.


So this is something that has really riled up his base. I see it here. We saw last night and still today there are some supporters that are very vocal about the FBI executing that search warrant.

So, we know, still, as Kaitlan laid out, that there are still a lot of unanswered questions. But we also know that according to Trump's attorney they did take some documents out of there yesterday. Yesterday as the executed this warrant, right around this time. So, the other reason we know that, as Kaitlan mentioned, was because Eric Trump himself said it.

And I want you to listen to his exact words.


ERIC TRUMP, SON OF FORMER PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: The purpose of the raid from what they said was because the National Archives wanted to, you know, cooperate whether or not Donald Trump had any documents in his possession. And my father has worked so collaboratively with them for months. In fact, the lawyer that's been working on this was totally shocking. He goes, I have such an amazing relationship with these people and all of a sudden, on no notice, they sent, you know, 20 cars and 30 agents?

Sean, I mean, this is just more political persecution of Donald J. Trump.


SANTIAGO: And that is the sentiment echoed by his supporters that have made their presence known out here.

We should mention, this is a massive property. You're looking at about 17 acres here. So, a lot of folks are trying to kind of get a peak but it's also very closed off.

That said, very quiet today versus yesterday.

Poppy. Alex.

MARQUARDT: All right, Leyla Santiago in Palm Beach, and Kaitlan Collins in Washington. Thank you to you both.

HARLOW: Let's bring in Elliot Williams, former deputy assistant attorney general, and Asha Rangappa, former FBI special agent.

Well, quite a morning to have the two of you with your backgrounds on talking about this.

Elliot, let me begin with you to talk about, a, how high up this would have had to go at DOJ in this political environment given the stakes to stay yes go ahead, go to this judge, asked for this search warrant and then what FBI agents, what prosecutors would have had to accomplish to get a judge to say, yes, go ahead.

ELLIOT WILLIAMS, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Absolutely, Poppy. So let's start with the, in order to get any search warrant, whether it's against a president of the United States or not, investigators have to establish probable cause that, number one, a crime was committed and that, number two, there is evidence of that crime to be found at those premises somewhere. It doesn't even need to be a crime that that person committed, just that there is evidence there. So that's the - you know, just to get in the door you need that.

Then there's this added layer within the Justice Department where it would be grossly irresponsible for law enforcement to go to a former presidents house or frankly any elected official or prominent person's house without taking it up to at least the deputy attorney general, if not the attorney general. You can imagine all kinds of scenarios where merely executing a search warrant in somebody's house has huge implications. You could move global economic markets by executing a search warrant.

So, they had to make sure, in all likelihood, there was that level of sign of. So I would assume -- like when I was there as deputy assistant attorney general, this would've gone to the attorney general full stop (INAUDIBLE).

HARLOW: All the way - all the - all the way up.

WILLIAMS: All the way, or the FBI director, yes.


MARQUARDT: And, Asha, to Elliot's point, considering that they probably had to go all the way to the top of the FBI and the DOJ, how significant are these documents and whatever else they're looking for, how significant does that have to be to justify this stunning search by the FBI of a former president's home?

ASHA RANGAPPA, FORMER FBI SPECIAL AGENT: Well, they clearly feel that they need to get to these documents. And I think it's important to underscore that because the involved classified documents, this is a national security investigation and there's an ongoing national security threat. I mean you could imagine the kinds of secrets that make their way to the White House and specifically to the desk of the president. These aren't, you know, low level diplomatic cables or correspondents.

These are high-level secrets, defense information, possibly things that end up in the president's daily brief. And they can be a threat to our national security. They can get sources killed. They can compromise, you know, sources of information that we have if they get into the wrong hands. And Trump is sort of a counterintelligence nightmare. In addition to

blabbing secrets, Mar-a-Lago has a lot of traffic, including traffic from foreigners and including possible trespassers from foreign intelligence services as someone was arrested there several years ago. So, I think they want to get there.

One thing I want to add about this search warrant is, you know, they need to have not only probable cause that there's evidence of a crime, but they need to be pretty confident in the location that -- they can specify the locations that they're going to search.

HARLOW: Right.

RANGAPPA: And they knew exactly where they were going.


They need to go to a safe. They need to go to a closet. And I think this suggests that they have recent information possibly from, you know, a source inside Mar-a-Lago that what they disclose to -- what was disclosed to them by Trump's lawyer several months ago may not been the complete inventory of the documents that he had and that he was concealing them in other locations.

HARLOW: So, Elliot, it -- we've established it's hard to -- and you have to be very specific about the -- whatever potential federal crimes you think may have been committed to even get a judge to sign off on this, to get a search warrant. But when you're there, and when a raid like this is going on, as happened yesterday, even if you're in search of evidence for alleged crime a, which Alex laid out, right, these documents, if you find something pertaining to alleged crime b, something totally different, perhaps to the second prong of what DOJ is looking at, and that is January 6th, et cetera, you can use it still, correct? You can't go on a fishing expedition but legally you can use it.

WILLIAMS: Yes, now, Poppy, you must have been a great law students at your fellowship last year because you just identified what is called the plain view doctrine where when investigators go into search for a certain type of evidence, anything that's in plain view they can get to. Now, that happens on hard drives a lot. It's not just a bag of crack cocaine sitting on a table. With a hard drive, if you're going in, looking for evidence of one crime and something else is plainly obvious and evident there, you can use it. Anything they uncover they can use in other investigation.

And, like you said, like as long as it's not a fishing expedition where they didn't use the warrant to get in for one purpose and then go looking for everything else they can't do that.

MARQUARDT: Asha, I want to ask you a little bit about the timeline. We just heard from Kaitlan Collins talking about that meeting back in June at Mar-a-Lago. There were DOJ investigators, four of them, including the DOJ's chief of counterintelligence in the export control section. There were two Trump attorneys. President Trump himself stopped by. It appears to have been a cordial meeting. Five days later we understand they wrote back saying please lock up these documents, and a padlock was put on a room.

But how do we get from that, just two months ago, to now this incredible FBI raid with nothing as far as we know in between, no subpoena in between? It seems like a remarkable escalation.

RANGAPPA: It is. And it suggests that working cooperatively was not getting them the results that they wanted. And as I mentioned before, it suggests that, you know, they were not being forthcoming in providing the full scope and location of where these documents were being contained.

I think there's also a possibility that in the interim there may be increase urgency. For example, you know, if there is -- if they're getting information or intelligence that sources and methods are being compromised somehow. That there is a leak in some way inadvertently or winningly of this information, that increases the urgency. And I'll also note that the search warrant would have to, you know, specify what they are looking for. And to the extent that the National Archives identified missing documents or the DOJ had to, you know, inventory and itemize exactly what they're looking for, that could take time in between as well.

But the fact that they asked him to have -- to padlock that. These aren't just the Kim Jong-un love letters. You know, these are possibly, you know, secrets that could really harm our national security. And so I think they want to make sure they dot all their i's, cross all their t's before they take this extreme step.

HARLOW: And, Elliot, just to put a button on it, let me ask you about somethings a number of folks are pointing at this morning. They're looking at a statute of - it's 2017 of the U.S. Code -- Title 18 of the U.S. Code that basically says, look, if you're a government official and you willingly conceal, remove, mutilate, destroy documents, you cannot hold public office again. Any federal office. And they're saying, well, if Trump did this, if, right, then he would be disqualified from holding public office. It's not as simple as that, right? Wouldn't that be constitutionally challenged all the way up into the Supreme Court?

WILLIAMS: Yes, and I think folks often have a hard time with these questions. None of this have really been - you know, we think the law is very straightforward. And you check a box and something automatically happens. It would have to go to a court to determine what the penalty would be But that is certainly a possibility if you look at the language of 18 U.S.C. 2017. So, it very well may happen.

Again, just to step back, Poppy, how remarkable this time is. You know, I've been hearing folks saying, well, they're, you know, some of these statues are only misdemeanor. Well, you're talking about a former president of the United States and his house being searched. Like, you know, it's not only a misdemeanor, it is a profound, historic moment regardless of what happens here. And this is pretty egregious conduct no matter how you look at it.


HARLOW: We appreciate your brilliant legal minds on all of it this morning.

Elliot Williams, Asha Rangappa, thanks very, very much.

And we have a lot more, obviously, to discuss this morning. We haven't even really touched on the politics of all of this, they political battles that have already exploded over this unprecedented FBI search. What Republican leaders are promising to do if they take the House in November.

And, it is primary day in several states, four states today, across the country. A lot of eyes on Wisconsin in particular where two Republican candidates for governor have dueling endorsements from Trump and former VP Mike Pence.

MARQUARDT: And also coming up ahead, the families of some of the Muslim men who were killed in Albuquerque, New Mexico, they're speaking out. We will be speaking with the city's director of equity and inclusion about how that community is coping.

Stay with us.


HARLOW: So, this morning, outrage and condemnation swiftly pouring in from top Republicans following the unprecedented FBI search of former President Trump's Mar-a-Lago residence.


Congressman Mike Turner, the top Republican member on House Intel, tweeted this, as the lead Republican on the House Permanent Select Committee on Intel, I am demanding an immediate briefing by FBI Director Wray regarding the national security risk that allegedly rose to the level of ordering a raise on the residence of a former president.

MARQUARDT: And this is from the Republican House minority leader, Kevin McCarthy. He tweets at Attorney General Merrick Garland to, quote, preserve your documents and clear your calendar.

Joining us now to discuss all this is CNN anchor and senior political analyst John Avlon, and Republican strategist Alice Stewart.

John and Alice, thank you so much for joining us this morning.

Alice, I want to go to you first. We learned about this not from the DOJ, not from the FBI, but from President Trump himself. He wasn't necessarily confirming this. He was blasting it out there. He appears to see this as beneficial. How does he think that this is going to help him?

ALICE STEWART, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, it appears as though he could turn out to be a martyr in this situation. Alex, you all know me. I'm hardly an apologist for Trump, but I am a very strong Republican. And what I'm hearing from social conservatives, Republican members of Congress, they are outraged at the lack of transparency here.

Look, we understand that DOJ has information they need to withhold, but it's really hard to look at what happened yesterday as anything short of an overreach by the federal authorities and potential political persecution. And many are saying, and I've talked to a lot of folks up and down the political spectrum, doing such a raid to this magnitude, a search to this extreme, anything short of finding the nuclear codes at Mar-a-Lago is going to hugely backfire on the Biden administration.

Donald Trump, as he has said, and as many have indicated, has complied to some degree with the federal authorities. But until we find out more about why they went to this extreme, people are going to be outraged.


STEWART: And I'm hearing from people who were over Trump and ready o move on. Now they are galvanized behind him and showing support because they feel he is being singled out by the Justice Department.

HARLOW: So, John, to Alice's point, I mean, legally, that's just not how it works at the Justice Department. You present an affidavit to a judge and you say here are the specific reasons why we think there is probable cause that a federal crime was committed. OK. You don' release -


HARLOW: That affidavit is under seal if and until charges are brought. That's how it always works.

AVLON: That's right. And that's why the idea that this was somehow done in secret as part of a witch hunt doesn't line up with what an impartial just inquiry by Justice would entail. That's what we're dealing with here. And that's why I have a lot of respect for Alice, but I'm not buying this idea that, you know, Trump playing simultaneously victim and aggressor constantly and that this is -- is somehow a persecution. This is unprecedented in American history. Let's be clear.

But the Justice Department, under Merrick Garland, has been proceeding in a way to depoliticize its work. And we will find out details. It's appropriate. Chris Wray should answer questions about this. We may --

HARLOW: Appointed by Trump, by the way.

AVLON: Appointed by Trump. Important to point out, right. But the idea is that Justice should be non-partisan. This appears to be a non- partisan process. It appears to be related to the Presidential Records Act. I don't think for one second that typically the FBI would ask, you know, for - to searching a former presidents residence if it was simply under the category of a misdemeanor.

So, let's wait for all the facts to come in, but I would encourage my Republican friends to think consistently about the rule of law, something their party always held up, and not to rush to the partisan ramparts in comparing the Justice Department to, you know, a Marxist dictatorship, as Marco Rubio did - recently did.

MARQUARDT: And, Alice -

STEWART: Look, I understand -- I understand the DOJ taking this action was done so with the information and evidence that they had at the time and presented it to a judge and did provide a sign off for the search warrant to be executed the way it did. But the problem that many people have, and even myself, looking at this objectively when you're looking at all the facts in this case, Merrick Garland himself said that no one is above the law.

Well, at the same time, no one should be subjected to selective application of the law. And I am not a person that has ever played whataboutism. But when you look at the facts of this case, trying to find out potential misuse of classified information and records protection act as part of those that are in the executive branch, (INAUDIBLE) this case and the ones out -

HARLOW: Alice, why is selective?

STEWART: Look, let me just - if I can just say, the facts in this case compared to Hillary Clinton and her use of a private server. The DOJ going after Donald Trump and not Hillary Clinton, it does raise serious questions. That's why it's important to find out more.

AVLON: Alice, again, due respect here, but, first of all, I agree there needs to be a lot more information that comes out.


But this is a case where apparently the former president had classified documents of a national security nature. And as a matter of fact, with regard to the Presidential Records Act, if you go to the NARA (ph) website, there have been a dozen folks who have been charged and convicted. And some have done jail time. Some simply paid a fine between 1963 and 2018. So that's not selective. That falls under equal justice. Treating folks the same even if they're an ex-president.

MARQUARDT: And, Alice, I want to ask you, given this cascade of reaction that we've - that we're seeing from Republicans, how important do you think it is that the FBI and DOJ come out now with a bit more clarity on what they were looking for and what may be in that search warrant?

STEWART: Vitally important, Alex. People are angry. We're seeing a lot of people already holding rallies down at Mar-a-Lago. People across the country are calling their members of Congress. They are outraged. And, again, these are people that had moved on past Trump. But they're asking the question, if this can happen to the former president, then it could happen to me. Who is next?

And, on the heels of learning that the - this administration has virtually doubled the size of the IRS, people are concerned about them being targeted as well. So, look, this -- I hope this is done for all of the right reasons. And if they needed to find valuable records and information that they founded. But the important thing right now is answering a lot of the unanswered questions, not just from the DOJ and the FBI, but I do believe it's also important to hear from the Biden administration who knew what about this raid and when and who signed off on it?

HARLOW: They did say that, the White House said they found out when everyone else found out.



AVLON: That's a very important fact pattern given, you know, what Alice and a lot of Republicans, I understand that there's a lot of anger out there. Some of it's being stirred up and some of it is sincere. And I take Alice's point that we need a lot more information about this.

But the fact that the Biden administration reportedly did not know about this in advance, they found out when it became public, I think should go a long way to answering some of the concerns about the politicization of Justice.

MARQUARDT: All right, well, we've got to leave it there.

John Avlon, Alice Stewart, there are a lot of unanswered questions that we will be trying to get to the bottom of. Thank you both for your time this morning.

HARLOW: Thanks, Alice.

MARQUARDT: And still ahead, a vehicle of interest. The only public lead in New Mexico after four Muslim men have been killed in the past few months in separate ambush-style attacks. This as fear is spreading in the Muslim community there. What is the city doing to make residents feel safer?

HARLOW: We're also just moments away from the opening bell on Wall Street. Futures pointing a little bit down this morning. Investors concerned about the next inflation read. The Consumer Price Index will be released tomorrow. How that July inflation data could provide insight into the state of this economy.

We'll watch it all. Stay with us.